Thursday, December 31, 2009

On The Way Home

Strange things happen when Santa's all done and headin' home.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar & Another Gospel


My family and I strapped on the eye gear and saw the film, “Avatar” in IMAX 3D night before last. It was quite a spectacle, unlike anything I have seen before . . . unlike anything anyone has seen before.

There was a lot that was new, and there was a lot that was not. What was new was terrific, what was not was not.

Visually, it is mind-boggling. And audio? Incredible. Rocked my world. A+ on both counts.

Storyline? Nothing really new. It is essentially innocent natives threatened by a swarm of greedy bad people. This time ‘round the bad people are American capitalists (Oh, no!), arm in arm with equally bad American military types. And you know what they’re like—shoot anything that moves 481 times, ask questions later. “Hoo, rah!” I was distracted by derision of the Iraq War, as well as the Bush administrations’ war on terror. Fortunately, I’ve grown accustomed to having my economic, moral and political beliefs derided by Hollywood, and I don’t live by or for the standards of this world. So I’m used to quickly looking past a sour smorgasbord at the theater. It gets tiring though.

And because I have been collecting knowledge and wisdom and opinion for more than fifty years now, lots of things jab at my collection that might miss others not so encumbered. It might be more difficult for me to “get lost” in a film because I am distracted by the jabs.

But by far the biggest distraction (and jab) in “Avatar” was the re-packaging of God. The good creatures made every noble effort to convince the unknowing that God (“Eywa”), a mother goddess, was the unifying and life-giving force that could connect every life and bring harmony. Connecting to her allowed for connecting with everything else. Ultimately convinced, the lead character bowed in prayer to God, represented as a tree of life—no kidding. Late in the film, all the good creatures were drawn together in eager and highly animated worship (with uplifted hands) around the tree, and were led by a priestess, who undulated and beseeched Eywa. It was one of the most visually striking and emotionally driven moments of the movie.

I was uncomfortable. I had to work to stay involved with the film, something I really didn’t want to have to do. One moment I was enjoying a magnificent adventure, the next I was refusing to go forward at a meeting of pantheists.

I should say that I don’t normally get all worked-up by films or stories that weakly or wrongly portray God. After all, there aren’t many that accurately portray Him. But most films or stories that include a contrary reference to God do it only slightly and sparingly; the sting of the delivered slap on the face of the Christian doesn’t last long. That’s not the case with Avatar. While there were lesser lessons, like love of nature and the evil of greed, the theme of the film was God and uniting with her. If I had my way, I would have added a subtitle to the film: “Avatar: Goddess Of The Blue Beings”, or, “Avatar: Goddess of Pandora’s Box,” referring to the name of the planet.

In sum, I liked the movie overall, and I had a great evening with my girls. Sarah and I were mostly quiet on the drive home, while Ellen and Emma talked all about the wonder they had just seen. Neither of us believed we should rain on that parade, but wait to talk about it later—which we have. Our point was not, “Those lousy pagans in Hollywood!” but how people might be deluded from knowing the perfect love and stunning grace of God by a false portrayal of something else; another gospel. It’s the something else that dilutes the majesty of the gospel of Christ. And that’s what Avatar is—a visual delight carrying another gospel. The collision left me bothered.

Would I recommend it? Yes. And I bet you’ll have plenty to talk about after.

Twisted Christmas

Yes, I like twisted humor. Well, okay—I have twisted humor. When a funny offers a twisted take on a tradition or on some sort of notable classic, I think it’s particularly clever. And I enjoy inflicting it upon you. Is that wrong of me?

Like this—

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In The Week Between

It's the week between Christmas and New Years, so that's my excuse to post silly, twisted things. Time to goof around a bit. My thanks to those who send me these funny comics.

I hope you're enjoying the week between.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dazzled At Christmas

May you know the stunning measure of God's grace to you in Christ, the power of His love, and the delight of His life this Christmas.

Now and every day, what is it that teaches and enables us?

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:11-14)

Our hope for you is that you remain dazzled by His grace! What is it that we work for? Both to keep ourselves in the knowledge of His love and grace (dazzled), and to assist you toward the same—dazzled.

Dazzled works!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa HO-HO's And NO-NO's


I enjoyed this and thought you would, too. It's by Peter Chianca, and you can go to his blog here. It's a good one.

To: Mall Santas
From: Management

Welcome aboard in your new role as one of "Santa's Helpers." Please review the following guidelines carefully, so that the mall and its patrons can have a happy, healthy and non-litigious holiday season.

1.) As you've no doubt heard, "Ho Ho Ho" is no longer considered an acceptable holiday greeting, having been deemed potentially offensive to women and gardeners. The substitute "Ha Ha Ha" has also been banned, as it is possibly damaging to a child's self-esteem. Also, Santas overheard saying "Merry Christmas" will be summarily removed from the premises. Instead, we recommend you listen attentively to the children, nod, and affect a blank stare devoid of any emotion, particularly fear. They can sense fear.

2.) Please keep in mind that not all children believe in Santa Claus or celebrate Christmas. However, please make no attempt to determine this based on physical cues, such as yarmulkes or "Proud Jehovah's Witness" T-shirts, as this would be considered profiling. If you have any questions, please consult the mall's attorney, who will be standing behind the fake snowman.

3.) Plump Santas are no longer considered "jolly." Instead, they serve as a bleak reminder of our nation's struggle with obesity and are a poor role model to our increasingly overweight and inactive children. Please make every effort to appear slim and fit, and to encourage children to leave you celery and soy products rather than cookies and hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.

4.) Please do not promise children that Santa will bring them anything in particular, as promising a gift that the parents cannot afford or do not approve of could result in a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. Be pleasant but non-committal. If the child is persistent, try to distract him with one of the celery sticks we now give out in lieu of candy canes; if that doesn't work, send him behind the snowman to speak to the attorney.

5.) It has been deemed inappropriate, and a serious legal risk, to have children sitting on a strange bearded man's lap. This year the children will sit on a stool, separated from you by a sheet of soundproof Plexiglas. This also serves the purpose of keeping you from being able to hear their gift requests (see No. 4).

6.) The concept of elves has been determined to be offensive to a host of protected groups, including little people, pointy-eared people and people with high squeaky voices. However, so as to give you the support you need, we are looking at several possible replacements. Right now we're leaning toward attorneys.

We're sure that if you follow these simple guidelines you will succeed in making the children's visits with Santa as unremarkable and non-offensive as possible. Welcome aboard the team here at the mall, and have a merry ... a happy ... Oh, whatever.

Monday, December 21, 2009

24/7 Righteousness


The Spirit's ongoing ministry is the gift and production of righteousness in us and through us. While the ministry of the law, which rightly condemned me brought out my failures, the ministry of the Spirit brings out His success. Offering myself to Him throughout the day releases His activity in me, and that’s the best of life.

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16, NAS)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Heart Revealed

I like this video. It's clever and has a good point, so it makes it into my weekend collection.

With all the chaos and clatter that goes on in our minds and flesh and which demands our attention, I think many of us would be wonderfully surprised to hear what a tremendous change God has made to our heart nevertheless. He alone authors that place, yet the cacophony of other noises often drowns out what He has already done.

Those "other noises" might lead even a Christian to believe that God has not made the change that He said He would when we receive Christ. But He is perfectly capable and perfectly faithful, and the crazy fumblings and stumblings you endure cannot cancel that out.

Has it been awhile since you put your faith and trust in Him who authors the heart? Have a look to Him and His ability, and you'll be refreshed.

video

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Are You A Modification Or A New Creation?


You cannot know how you work if you do not know who you are. Like an airplane coughing and struggling for fuel because it’s doing a maneuver for which it’s not made, you’ll stall out.

If God has made you a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—not an upgrade, but a new original—then what have you become? After new birth, who are you?

You're an actual son or an authentic daughter of God. You didn't just get the title, "Christian," you received a new DNA—you got the guts. Never again will you be only human. Yes, you've got humanity, but in a similar way that Jesus had humanity; something else most-truly defines who you are and where you're from.

Every son and daughter of God receives the genetic of their Father, becoming an actual son of His, with desires and attitudes in keeping with their new nature. Knowing Him and living with Him is now the way to life—real life.

Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter1:3-4, italics mine).

That beautiful italicized phrase means that you and I have become actual partakers or sharers of the divine genetic. After your new birth in Christ, what delighted you was different, and what grieved you was unlike what saddened you before. You discovered new desires (I want to read the Bible!), new delights (I enjoy worshiping God!), and new sorrows (I so dislike sin!) because you had received a new nature with desires, delights, and sorrows to match.

You’ve been re-germinated! Participating with Him is the way to live—it’s the new normal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Humble Warrior


Recently I endured one of those days when the differences between men and women were front and center. I mean, look at this picture. (Click on it for an even better view.) There I am, regal in manliness with my new leaf blower/sucker/mulcher, the epitome of a man protecting and championing his family, and do you think the women in my home grasped the moment? Do you suppose the confirmed reality of being in the presence of a warrior brought respectful appreciation or applause?

Nay.

Even though I instructed my family and Sarah’s mother (visiting for Thanksgiving) on all that could have happened if I hadn’t offered up $60 for a new leaf hog so I could rid the yard of plague inducing debris (leaf rot = creepy critters and microscopic menaces = sick pets and sick people = doctor bills = depression = global warming), the ladies’ Appreciate-O-Meters were on, like, 3 out of 10. One of them even asked straight-faced, “Why don’t you just leave the leaves where they are?”

Wow.

So, I gently and carefully re-visited the threatened horror sequence above (rampaging leaves = the end of the world), thinking repetitive instruction might do the trick. But although she seemed to grasp that the leaves needed to be gone before winter, there was no dawning of how valiant I was in banishing them to a dark, imprisoned, trash bag existence. Even though she knew what awaited those purgatory leaves—the ever-burning fires of the local dump—still there was no gratefulness, no applause, no awe at how those dangerous leaves had been captured.

Covered in the dirt and stench of backyard battle, I steeled myself in the knowledge that while sometimes noble warriors go unnoticed and unappreciated, the pleasure of a clean conscience is it’s own reward.

Right, men?

Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gift Wrapping Tips For Men

(If you're gift wrapping impaired--truly a crippling ailment--then here's a little something to make your Christmas a little bit brighter. And if anyone knows how to get insurance to cover this disease, please tell me.)

This is the time of year we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "... presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: "And lo, the gifts were insideth 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him... she saideth, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:
1. They were wise.
2. They were men.

Men are not big gift wrappers. Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off. This is not just my opinion. This is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know. One is Rob, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is "if it's such a poor gift that I don't want to be there when the person opens it." The other is Gene, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift. "No one ever had to wonder which presents daddy wrapped at Christmas," Gene said. "They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs."

I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.)

If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh's body would be covered only by Scotch tape. On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why today I am presenting...

Gift-Wrapping Tip For Men:

* Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither one of you recognizes it, you can claim that it's myrrh.

* The editors of Woman's Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch. They must be smoking crack.

* If you're giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper! Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it. This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning.

YOUR WIFE MAY ASK: "Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?"

YOU: "It's a gift! See? It has a bow!"

YOUR WIFE (peering into the trash bag): "It's a leaf blower."

YOU: "Gas-powered! Five horsepower!"

YOUR WIFE: "I'm leaving you."

YOU: "I also got you some myrrh."

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Before You Go Anywhere

(Written about a year ago, this post begins with Paul's letter to the Christians at Ephesus—Ephesians 1.)


Before we go any further, before we get into anything else, you’ve got to know this – “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Thank God. That’s indispensable for my day, the one just before me, the race I’m about to run. It is for you, too.

Every letter to the church that the Spirit inspired Paul to write essentially begins with this same sentence. To all those at Rome and Corinth, Galatia and Ephesus, to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonicans, and to his dear sons in Christ, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Paul offers the same truth—you’ve got everything! No more worries with God.

I have a lot to do today. I’ve got to promote and market my book; sign, package and mail those just ordered; write a blog and send an articulate email to hundreds; make calls on a cell phone that doesn’t work very well (“What, Ralph? I can’t understand you—you’re breaking up…”), replace a light fixture, walk the dog, tend the tomatoes, reorganize my office, work out, and be good to my visiting mother-in-law.

Sheesh! It’s all about me. Better get going.

Wait a minute. What would God say to me, first thing? “Grace and peace to you, Ralph, from God your Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

You really think so, God? Because of Jesus, I’ve got everything with you for nothing? Righteousness? Holiness? Love? Hope? Future? And you live in me? All of that? “Yes.” And because Jesus took upon Himself all of my sins as though He committed them, I have not a worry with you? “Yes.”

Wow. Hooray.

“Ready now, Ralph?” Yes, Father.

"Go."

Ephesus (now Turkey) was one of the most important cities of its day. It was like New York or Hong Kong…maybe on steroids. Everybody was busy, everybody was working at a frenetic pace because, well, you just had to. If you didn’t work hard and fast, somebody else would get the deal, close the sale, move the merchandise.

Paul founded the church at Ephesus and spent some three years there, so he knew what the city was like. . .and he loved those people. But Paul, father figure that he was, doesn’t first tell them how to live. He tells them how well off they are with God. Why? Paul knew that a revived heart and an energized spirit comes from the truth and is by faith. So, instead of giving them a motivational speech—“Get going for the glory of God!”—he gave them revival by telling them of the glory of God in them.

“Head’s up, Ephesians! In case you’ve forgotten, you’re really well off with God!”

Can you imagine what that might have meant to the Ephesians? In all their work, in all their trials, through their failures, weaknesses and frustrations, comes God’s word to them: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I so often need to hear that! You too?

You and I were made to have that as our starting point.

Ready now?

Go.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hey There Khalila

It's the weekend, so, well, that's my excuse for posting this. And it's really my eldest daughter's fault since she insisted I watch it. That I laughed was not my fault. After all, I spent 8 months in Saudi Arabia in '79/'80 on a grad program via USC, so this little song and video seemed almost like a walk down memory lane. Sort of. See what you think by clicking on the link.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Don't Mess With The Elderly

A young executive and an elderly man are sitting next to each other on a long flight. The executive thinks that old people are dumb and that he could get easily fool this one.

So the executive asks the elderly man if would like to play a fun game. The man is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks.

The young executive persists, saying that the game is a lot of fun. 'I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me only $5; you ask me one, and if I don't know the answer, I will pay you $500.'

This catches the elderly man's attention and to keep the young executive quiet, he agrees to play the game.

The executive asks the first question. 'What's the distance from the Earth to the moon?' The elderly man doesn't say a word, but reaches into his pocket, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the young executive.

Now, it's the elderly man's turn. He asks the executive, 'What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down with four?'

The executive uses his laptop to search all possible references, which is extensive, considering his profession. After an hour of searching he finally gives up. He wakes up the elderly man and hands him $500. The man pockets the $500 and goes right back to sleep.

The young executive is terribly frustrated because he still doesn’t know the answer. So he wakes the elderly man and asks, 'Well, so what goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?'

The elderly man reaches into his pocket, hands the lawyer $5 and goes back to sleep.

Don't mess with old folks.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In The Book Before

(I wrote this early last fall as my father neared his triumphant entrance into heaven. That it would be triumphant wasn't particularly obvious on this side of things. To the contrary. But my father was not counting on earning his own entrance or parade in heaven--my dad was relying on Jesus to take care of all that. So am I. How about you?)


Regarding my dad, I like what David wrote:

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16, italics mine.)

Over the years of my life in Christ, there have been several times when my awareness of God’s intimate knowledge of my life brought me to tears. He didn’t simply cross His fingers and hope I would do well with what I’ve got, He looked out over my life to come and knit into me all He purposed for all His glory—nothing less.

And would I have too much time or not enough? Too many days or too few? Neither. I would live and breathe the exact number necessary for God to say, “Yes, I got it right. . .naturally. I am satisfied.”

And so it is with my dad. It was all in the book before.

On this day when my father’s body is doing poorly and is leaning in the opposite direction of his spirit, I’m comforted knowing that God is fully aware of the days—my dad’s days. I imagine a heavenly crowd gathering together in anticipation of his arrival, with balloons and signs drawn up—“We’ve been expecting you!” and “Welcome home, John!” And maybe one of the more witty angels will hold up a sign that reads, “Surprise!”

I think my dad would love that.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fog And Sunlight

(I wrote this a year ago last September on the last full day I was to spend with my dad before his passing. I didn't know how poignant this post would be--I will never forget that day. I post it now simply because I'm missing my dad . . . and I think you will benefit. -Ralph)


I took my father to one of his favorite places last Friday; Laguna Beach, CA.

Taking in the view when he first set up his command position overlooking the beach, my dad looked immediately alone and deep in thought. While I’ve never been in the military (my dad was in the Navy), it was as if my dad had returned to the scene of victorious battles waged and won decades ago. No bitterness, but strategies and memories and glory filling his mind.

He looked good.

After a lengthy pause, he assessed, “Boy, I’ve never seen it like this before.” Fog was fighting sunlight for position, confusion versus clarity. The struggle was waged all around us as the low-lying fog sent wispy arms advancing inland. Time and again it crept across tide pools and cliffs, breakers and beach, hiding them from view, only to retreat just a little. For a while it seemed that fog would win the day and altogether deny the beach to sunlight, but after an hour of wrestling, sunlight drove fog a couple of hundred yards out to sea. Unable to reach us, fog sulked and brooded for the rest of the day.

We felt immediately better.

What a picture of life, and we watched it all in a single afternoon.

My dad has been to this spot maybe a hundred times over the course of his life. He has great stories of swimming and sunning and fishing and partying galore. But I had to talk him into a return. It was as if the wonder of those escapades was from another life and not part of this one—as if revisiting them would be more painful than beneficial.

But he was revived. Revisiting the scene invigorated him because he discovered that what mattered was the breadth of his life, the whole film, not just the snapshots.

It helped me, too.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to revisit the joys and successes of your days, particularly the ones you’ve had with Jesus. The fog of this world will wrestle with the light in order to make you lose your memory and your bearings. That can make the right-now picture of your life carry far too much weight or importance, or so you’re induced to believe. After all, it’s foggy. But because God has made you in union with Him, you’ve nothing in common with darkness (Ephesians 5:8). And that’s why you’ll feel it when it creeps in upon you—you’ll feel miserable or hopeless or like the biggest failure in the world. It feels so wrong because it is!

Look to Jesus and remember what He has done for you: He bore all of God’s punishment for your sins as though they were His own; He forgave you completely; He gave you His righteousness and holiness; He gave you God the Holy Spirit; He made you part of His own family; He has given you everything you’ll ever need for life and godliness. And I’ll bet you can think of a few other things Jesus has done for you.

Look to Jesus and remember what He has done to you: He crucified your old self upon the cross and gave you a new self through the resurrection; He put you into Himself; He secured you and seated you in heaven; He made you recognizable throughout the heavens as a spot-on perfect son of God.

Feel better? Lighter? There’s more, but you get the idea.

Revisiting the big-deal things God has done for you and to you will drive the fog out and away from you because light always conquers dark.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)

Oh, yeah. We had a great time, and we caught some fish, too. Really. Just below and to the left is a picture of the 43lb salmon I caught.

Ahem.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

NASA Explains Out-Houses & Shooting Stars

Have you ever wondered how out-houses and shooting stars might be linked? Well, here's a NASA astronaut to explain it for you.

(Warning: it's the weekend, and it can get a little loopy around here.)

video

Friday, December 04, 2009

Compassion In Disappointment

(Written a while back, I hope you find it helpful. My wife has just had surgery on her fractured shoulder, and I have willingly become her personal slave. Would you pray for her?)

We’ve just returned from a brief weekend camping trip, which proved to be a lesson in at least two things:

1) Don’t go camping on the weekend. Insensitive dolts were playing rock ‘n roll and whooping it up at 3:00 a.m., just like they did when I was growing up and camping in Southern California. When I approached to ask them to knock it off, they seem startled that I was bothered. I felt old.

2) God is more compassionate than I thought.

Surprise.

Fishing in a nearby stream and fully enjoying myself, I heard a different sort of question from the Spirit, one I’d never heard before: “Son, if in the next moment you were to join me in heaven, what would you expect?”

Because I didn’t want to be interrupted during such a focus-demanding time—fly fishing—I quickly shuffled the thought to the back of my mind, and got back to the more important business of fooling trout. However, the same thought returned two more times to my inner monitor before I finally dignified it.

Thinking about what I would truly expect upon my arrival in heaven, a curious realization crept across my mind. On the faces of those gathered to welcome me, I would expect to see a hint of disappointment.

Yes, I know about the rich welcome awaiting the faithful upon arrival home—“Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness.” But I was startled to realize that I didn’t think I’d be getting that rousing reception. Or, at least, not that rousing.

I don’t always do so well in this life. I regularly get stuff wrong, needlessly offend people, or fail to be the man I am in Christ. Whether I know it immediately or find out about it later, failure weighs me down. You too? And then I begin thinking about all the work I have to do to make things better or make me better. I’ve proven, however, that I’m not very good at saving myself.

Anyway, in my mind I heard something like this, “I know how difficult it is in the world, I know how very awful it can be. Do you think I have no compassion for you, my righteous son? Do you think I don’t know of your anguish and valiant struggle between flesh and spirit? I am so pleased in your triumphs and rejoice in your success! I love how you are and how you do. Fear not your homecoming—it will be triumphant.”

There on the stream I choked up and laughed a laugh of relief and renewed hope. “He’s really compassionate!” I thought, “He really understands and delights in the smallest success, valuing it far more than the ugliest defeat. He looks upon me with joy and delight. He really loves me in the mess…”

I had a great afternoon. Throughout it I was overwhelmed by the compassion He has for me (and for you) right now in this life, in every trial, in every struggle, in every failure.

And, yes, I caught a bunch of trout. You can ask my wife and girls if you don’t believe me. Really.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,…” (2 Cor 1:3 NIV)

Monday, November 30, 2009

How To Un-Cripple The Sons Of God


Yeah, I’m angry. And this is the longest note I’ve ever posted. But let’s back up.

I paid much closer attention to music after I became a Christian. Before then it was primarily the music that mattered, unless the lyrics were so bad that singing along with the band made me feel stupid.

It was hymns that first got to me. While the music still needed to be stirring, the lyrics made my inner fireplace flame with heat. I vividly recall the first time I attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah after having received Jesus—I could hardly contain myself. Well, actually, I didn’t. I leaped to my feet not fifteen seconds into the Hallelujah Chorus, threw my hands into the air and yelled praise to God. That no one else was yet standing made no difference to me; I was motivated beyond concern by God’s grace to me, which was stunningly captured by Handel.

Music and words light me up.

That’s why when the two, music and words, don’t play well together, I get all upset. Sometimes I’ll be singing along and enjoying the music when I’m suddenly confronted with words I don’t like, words that aren’t true, or words that make a mess of things—words that make a mess of you and me.

And that’s what happened recently.

There’s a song I’ve heard called, “Empty Me,” by Chris Sligh. Now, I don’t want to be a sourpuss when it comes to music, especially Christian music. And I’m as certain as I can be that Chris is a genuinely good guy and a lover of Jesus. Do you sense a “But . . .” coming?

But. (There it is.)

“Empty Me” is one of those songs which, while accurately identifying the feelings and turmoil experienced by virtually every believer, it inaccurately assumes that everything bad in us is us, while the only good in us is Jesus. If that’s true, then who is the new creation me that God created at my new birth? Am I just a facade? A fake? Am I now a son of God or not? Have I become the perfect dwelling place of God, or is He hunkered down in some teeny, tiny little barricaded room deep inside me, surrounded and threatened by awful me? Am I good or am I bad?

If I am bad, then I don’t know what God did through Christ other than to earn my forgiveness. The sins on my record are removed, but I’m still rotten. Is that it? If it is, then this is why many of us picture ourselves as unchanged by God. And if we’re unchanged, guess who has an incredible (and I would add impossible) amount of work to do?

Let the self-beating begin.

But it’s not true! In fact, it’s a lie Satan began spreading just after those people in the upper room received the Holy Spirit and became alien new creations, no longer of this world. You and I must make the distinction that, while we have flesh and that nothing good dwells there (Rom 7:18), we are no longer flesh! We’re Spirit-born sons! Our fight is not with self because we have a new one. Our effort in this life is not to somehow get rid of our old self or to create a new self—that’s what God did through Christ! Can you see how big and awful a lie it is to believe anything else?

I hate this lie. I hate it because it impairs the glory of God by retarding it in the sons of God. And it fosters songs like this. It and others like it induce us to offer a supposed rotten and unchanged self to God, one He does not recognize! This lie makes unbelievers out of the very sons and daughters of God, horribly crippling us in our approach to Him and in our approach to living.

Jesus’ command to deny self and to pick up a cross and follow Him (Mt 16:24) was given to those who did not yet have a new self. They couldn’t have a new self because Jesus wasn’t yet in the business of handing out new ones. That was yet to come—after His crucifixion and resurrection, in which you and I were included (Rom 6:1-7). Now there are lots of people who have been given a new self. One of those is reading this.

You and I no longer have to deny our “self” since we have a new one, a son of God self. We should embrace that one. Frankly, it’s a high mark of faith in God when we do. There is, however, something that seems like the self we must deny, but it’s the flesh—you don’t want to follow after that!

What we need is Peter’s vision. Peter got it three times, but we might need it more.

All of his life Peter heard that only those who obeyed God perfectly would be worthy and welcome in the kingdom. Imagine how tough it must have been to be given as a gift from God perfect worth and welcome in the kingdom through Christ, and then have to live around those who were still working for it. Peter was a New Covenant baby, who soon became fully involved in spreading the new gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ.

However, Peter struggled with the lie that God’s gift wasn’t really as good and perfect as God said it was. So to help Peter believe the truth, God gave him a vision that helped him shift from an inaccurate and faulty estimate of people to a true one—a vision of people according to God, rather than people according to feelings and lies. The point of the vision? "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 10:15)

Boy, do we need that vision.

Satan, ever the strategist, continued to badger Peter with the lie that when God made men and women, boys and girls clean and new, they weren’t really entirely clean and new. And if they weren’t, they’d better do something to get there, like restrict themselves, perform rituals and take up new promises of what they would do to get God’s approval—to create an acceptable self and earn righteousness.

The lie, offered by those who were still selling the old and obsolete model of how to get along with God, the Old Covenant, found a place of influence with Peter. When those selling the lie blew into town, Peter chose to hang out with them, rejecting the newly made clean and holy sons and daughters of God as not clean enough.

Fortunately, Paul knew and despised the lie and its retarding and crippling effect, so he courageously exposed it (Gal 2:11-21). What a scene he must have made. I imagine fierce arguments that revealed both the need of the truth and the strength of the lie.

I hate the lie. But hating a lie of the devil doesn’t mean it goes away. In our day I think we’ve mostly bought it.

Look, you might really like Chris Sligh’s “Empty me”—thousands of people do. But lyrics like, “Lord, empty me of me so I can be filled with you” imply the lie, or at least flirt with it. What “me” do you think He must empty in order for Him to fill ‘er up? Are you at best just an empty tank? You’re not. While you are a vessel of God, when He fills you He is not alone! He’s with a magnificent son of God. If the “me” that I am needs to be gotten rid of and hurled out before the Spirit can fill me, then what of the gospel? Didn’t God already do that? Isn’t it to His glory that we believe Him?

It is. And by believing do the sons of God embrace the freedom they now have in Christ—crippled no more. I think that’s worth an argument.

(The lyrics to “Empty Me” are below. I welcome your comments.)

I've had just enough of the spotlight when it burns bright
To see how it gets in the blood.
And I've tasted my share of the sweet life and the wild ride
And found a little is not quite enough.
I know how I can stray
And how fast my heart could change.

Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

I've seen just enough of the quick buys of the best lies
To know how prodigals can be drawn away.
I know how I can stray
And how fast my heart could change.

Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Cause everything is a lesser thing
Compared to you, compared to you.
Cause everything is a lesser thing
Compared to you. So, I surrender all!

Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.
Oh, filled with you.
Empty me.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Trials Of Tryptophan

What happens after feasting upon turkey? The tryptophan effect!

"Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep. I must sleeeeeeeeeeeeep. . ."

The effect of eating turkey reminds me of the film classic, "The Wizard of Oz," and the Wicked Witch of the West. Determined to thwart the plans of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, the Witch leads them through a field of sleep-inducing poppies. Have you seen it? "Pahhhhhh-peaz. Pahhhhhhhh-peaz. To make them sleeeeep. . .sleeeeep." As she waved her crooked wand, our heroes nodded off to sleep at the most inopportune time in their journey. Sort of like what happens in this video.

Have a look. You'll like it. (Happy Thanksgiving!)

video

I Am Thankful

Since Jesus made me His home in 1980, love—the receiving of it as well as the giving—has become the best and most valuable quality of my life. God seems utterly convinced that love—His, mine and yours—is the vital ingredient of a fruitful and happy life. I am deeply thankful for all of you who help me grow in receiving and giving.

Here’s to fruitfulness.

- Ralph

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fired-Up For Life


“I can do all things through Christ, all things!” the fiery young man at the pulpit yelled. “I can have life the way it ought to be!” He was really worked up, and so was the congregation. And why not? He was preaching from the Bible, and he was preaching good news.

Then, listening to him, why was I slightly disturbed? I wanted him to say more, and then get fiery.

The passage loosely quoted is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, who had received reports that Paul’s life wasn’t looking so good lately. Jail time, floggings, shipwrecks, riots and fights, struggles with fear, worry and lust, and on top of that, he wasn’t sleeping or eating enough. I’ll bet he wasn’t taking his vitamins, either. What had gone wrong?

Jesus had lovingly interrupted Paul’s zealous lifestyle and given him a new life, one born and fit right with heaven, but one at odds with the world. From that day forward, Paul abandoned his lifestyle to the pursuit of knowing Christ Jesus, His new life, who then led Paul on the adventure of a lifetime.

Would it surprise you to know that a most dastardly effort on the part of the devil is to confuse us about life?

As a little FYI, the Greek word for life used most often in the New Covenant is ZOE. Before we received Jesus (who is ZOE), we didn’t even have life—at least not the life that God thinks about. Remember what Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden? Cut off from God, they lost life. While they must have been haunted by what they lost for the rest of their earthly lives, we don’t even know the haunting. We’ve been mustering up fleshly existence and calling it life ever since—but Adam and Eve would know better. All we’ve had is a lifestyle—ZAO—a going through the motions without real ZOE.

But! When we receive Jesus we receive life for the first time. And ZOE explains why you and I have those marvelous new urges and desires, like wanting to know God, and wondering about worship and scripture and holiness and service. The day before we received ZOE, we didn’t care! But everything is different now. One might say that until you get a good ZOE, your ZAO is sure to stink. Or, if after receiving the heavenly ZOE, your ZAO goes stinky, see to your ZOE. That will get you going again.

Isn’t that fun?

Paul’s love for real life (ZOE) meant a lot about his lifestyle (ZAO). If you’ve ever read the eleventh chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, you know how his life looked—and have probably hoped yours wouldn’t look the same!

The point is this: because he had Christ and because he had been changed into someone fit with heaven, Paul let go of his career path as life, and instead chose life (ZOE) as the path for his career. Whether Paul’s pursuit of Jesus (and the life He is) meant lack or lots, nice style or bad, Paul knew he could, indeed, do it all in the One providing life for living. ZOE for ZAO.

How’s your life feeling and looking just now? Struggling with inner riots? Afraid of wrecking on the rocks straight ahead? Fighting with worry and lust? Upset with what the mirror reports? Not too crazy about what people are saying about you and your life?

The style of your life is not worthy of your greatest fight; the fight you’re in is a great fight for life. When you’re having that, when you’re doing whatever you like in order to know Him and receive His life, then whatever the day brings, you can live in it through Christ. And maybe have a bit of that “more than conqueror” thing goin’ on.

And that’s worth getting fired up about.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Whole Lotta Clappin'

Here's a weekend funny I think you will enjoy.

It's a short video of the world's fastest clapper, Ken French. I have never seen someone do anything like this, have you? Bet he could get a job sitting in the audience of sitcoms or late night television shows. Not much of a job, but a job nonetheless.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buh-Bye, Paganomics

Do you remember what it was like when God rescued you from paganometry? Was there a season when you noticed you no longer completely enjoyed romping and mixing with the things and ways of this world?

I don’t mean to say that you never sinned again, or never had some dark days where your behavior didn’t match up with your new birth. I mean that because something real had happened between God and you, it was just no longer possible to easily and fully enjoy what you might have back in the days when you were still a pagan. What was it like?

It had to be a shocker for the apostle Paul. He was such a nasty man—an aggressive, brutish, bull of a human, who chased down the sons of God and sometimes handed them over to death. It was his particular brand of paganomics—what fun. And then he became a son of God—how ironic. Imagine the change.

He describes some of that change in his letter to the Galatians:

“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, . . .” (Galatians 1:13-16)



I love that! Paul didn’t wake up one day and choose Christ, he woke up one day and knew God chose him! That changed everything. One moment Paul is an empty hellion on his way to hell, and the next he’s a modern day holy of holies, the dwelling place of God. What a shocker for Paul to realize! I wonder if he ever thought, “What happened?! What about my business of capturing Christians? Can I still do it? Maybe if I treat them a little nicer . . .” I don’t think so.

I believe that Paul was so transfixed by what had happened to him and by who did it—God—that he didn’t have to think much about what he could and couldn’t do anymore. The presence and influence of God in the formerly pagan Paul made life as it had been impossible. Even if one of his former partners in crime had offered an excellent opportunity to indulge in paganometry, Paul had only to think about what God had done to him, and where He now lived. Sorry, Charlie—Buh-bye. Adios.

And I suggest that’s how it is for you and me. If you’ve grown weary in well-doing, how about taking a look at your beginning with God? I bet it will revive you. Reviewing how God came after you will help you see how He is still doing it today. If He is active concerning you, wouldn’t you like to know how? That kind of interest in God is healthy! That’s how Paul helps the Galatians in asking them:

“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2-5)



In other words, wasn’t your beginning with God because He began with you? You didn’t start anything—He planned for you a long time ago (before He made the earth), woke you up to His plan, and hopped aboard. He still enjoys revealing His plans for people, and knowing what’s up with God is invigorating!

Your beginning was like Paul’s—what a shocker. And it was the beginning of the end of your pagan days.

Buh-bye, paganomics.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Love & A New Covenant Baby


I have sometimes thought about why I’m glad to live in the day and age I do, rather than two or three thousand years ago. I’m thankful for antiperspirant (raise your hand if you are too), braces, Nike’s, monofilament fishing line, multipacks of underwear, stereo, sunglasses, air conditioning and Starbucks. I don’t know what I would do without a weekly pumpkin spice latte at this time of year.

But, really, have you ever thought about what it would have been like to live a long, long time ago? What if God in his wisdom brought you and me out onto the stage of life years ahead of Jesus? He could have. Think how different that would have been. Isn’t it wonderful that He didn’t, and that fluke and chance had nothing to do with it?

“ . . . In love (5) He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—.” (Ephesians 1:5)

It amazes me and stretches my mind that God destined me to live under the terms of the second covenant and not the first. He could have planned for me to be born in Jeremiah’s day, when most of God’s people only flirted with Him; you know, sort of pretended to have a nice little friendship. That didn’t go too well overall.

Or, He could have brought me onto the stage during the happy days of the Judges, when the disobedient Israelites went in and out of captivity nine times at the hands of heathen. Nine times! Of course that means they were liberated from their captors nine times, and that must have been exciting—Here comes God! But I wonder at what point an Israelite or two might have thought, “You know, it has been a while since we’ve been conquered and abused by an enemy. I wonder how much longer this freedom thing will last?”

Or, God could have arranged for my birth not just in the days of Jonah, but as Jonah. I can imagine Jonah’s wife, now my wife saying, “Ralph? Honey? Are you home? Ralph, did you forget to take out the trash? What’s that fishy smell? It’s overpowering!” But, God being God, I’m sure he knew that the book of Ralph didn’t fit in very well with the books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Ralph, Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk. Can you imagine that heavenly timeline conversation? Okay then. Let’s put Jonah here, and let’s put Ralph, hmmm, later, a lot later. Let’s make Ralph a New Covenant baby. Yeah. That’ll work.

Before making the planet, God had already dreamed me up, chosen me and determined I would be His (Ephesians 1:4). And not just His as in the sense of a possession, but His as a much-loved son, having been given the new creation grace of royalty. He wiped out my natural birth—made it as having never even happened—gave me a second birth, and thinks of me and treats me as if I was always one of His. In a sense, I always was. It was always in the works, only a matter of time.

And He liked dreaming and choosing and determining me! It gave Him pleasure. It wasn’t just God’s will, as in moving the pieces of a puzzle toward a satisfying fit; it pleased Him to do it. That’s how it is with all of His sons and daughters. Isn’t it great to think that you give Him pleasure? I can see a smile on His face as, on the day of my second birth, He says, “Ralph, you’ve always been mine, and now you’ll know. This is so fun—I love this part! Wake up now, Ralph! It’s time to receive.”

Can you imagine the smile that lit His face on the day of your new birth? Think of it.

That’s the glory of the New Covenant. He didn’t make the agreement with you or me, determining our relationship with Him on the basis of our performance. That would have been a copy of the first covenant. Instead, He fulfilled and ended the first one, and made an entirely new covenant with Jesus, giving us all of the benefits Jesus earned.

You wanna talk about a benefits package? Goodness!

The next time you wonder if God loves you or if His love ever wavers with you, remember how determined He was at the start. Nothing’s changed.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:3-8)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Oldie But Goodie

It's the weekend--time for some fun.

I don't know how old this clip from the Johnny Carson show is, but it's got to be at least 30 years. Anyone have a guess? In addition to the main guys, Dean Martin and Bob Hope are included.

I think you'll enjoy this clip of about three minutes. Watch what Dean martin starts doing at about 2.15 minutes into the clip.

video

Thursday, November 12, 2009

God’s Little Leech Looks In The Mirror


How do you feel when you can’t see behind?

A while back I was driving on the freeway when my rearview mirror decided to commit suicide. In an instant, it simply jumped away from its secure and helpful position, crashed on the dash and rolled onto the floor, there to lie in state. “What in the world?!” I said. I couldn’t believe it.

Grief over the untimely and unnatural death of the mirror swept over me, and I became vividly aware of how instantly insecure I felt.

I couldn’t see behind.

Until replacing it about a week later, every time I drove somewhere I felt little security about what was before me because I had become so insecure about what was behind. I drove around always on edge and anxious, with virtually no confidence. Can you imagine it? I had to force myself to drive without a look behind, but until I replaced the mirror, I never felt right.

I get that same feeling every now and then when I practically forget all that Jesus has done for me and stop counting on it. Because it’s not front and center in my mind, I’m really not at rest. Does that make sense? It’s as if I run out in the day, joining the working and consuming and transporting masses, and am unsettled and insecure. I’m either hounded by worrisome and bothersome thoughts (“Am I doing the right thing in the right order in the right way?”), or I just force ahead and block out the thoughts. Maybe I play music really loudly in my car.

The truth is God has made me to live off Him. Call me God’s Little Leech if you like, but it’s true. Without a healthy dose of heavenly reality in my day, it won’t be long before earthly reality has me overwhelmed and worn out. In the weighty words of a friend, “It is what it is.”

Before I go forward, I have to look behind. It’s like an addiction to a cosmic rearview mirror—What’s back there?

It’s incredibly effective for me to pause long enough and to think something like, “I lost my life and the ownership of it twenty-nine years ago. God Himself now lives in me—what a wonder that is—and I will be hearing Him, seeing Him, and feeling Him throughout the day, no matter the congestion and chaos. I’m counting on it. For me to live is Christ.”

It’s like sobering-up, only better. (Okay, that just gave you in window into my past, didn’t it?) Re-connecting with God like this keeps me from doing a brilliant imitation of a bumper car at Disneyland—fun for a while, but getting nowhere.

While looking in the mirror, somehow it happens—I remember that I’m a new creation. Everything changed. When Jesus died, in Him the guy I used to be died, too. When Jesus rose from the dead, the new me did, too. And now I’m walking around in all that. (That’s Romans 6, in case you’re reaching for your Bible. The first 6 or 7 verses should do it.)

My look behind at what Jesus did for me and to me means I can go forward, knowing the truth about how to live and look at what’s ahead. And everything’s different. From then on I regard nothing and no one from a worldly viewpoint (2 Cor 5:16). Instead, I listen and look for the Spirit’s involvement with me and figure He knows about everything and everyone else. It’s then I’m led by the Spirit, which has become my new normal way to live.

Knowing what’s gone on behind me allows me to look forward with confidence because I know that now I’m really living. I need that! And it’s then I live for what’s eternally true, not for what’s temporarily before me.

In view of the past, I can see ahead—and it doesn’t look so bad from there.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Lie That Twists - "God Is Reluctant To Give"


(People ask questions of me and make comments all the time, and this one comes from a friend who agreed to let me post it. My response follows her question.)

Hey Ralph,

Did you see this urban legend about the new dollar not having "In God We Trust" on it? It is a false accusation, as the Snopes website chronicles, but the initial email still gets me rolling my eyes. If you read below the mass email, it says if we don't have "In God We Trust" on our money, then "God will turn his face from us." What is that?! It seems insidious at so many levels. It is those kind of comments that not only manipulate Christians into feeling their salvation is based on their own militancy, but it also makes non Christians think, "There goes those right wing extreme fundamental Christians again."

I suppose a Bible reader could argue that our money is actually "Caesars" and we should not expect it to have God's name on it, and someone with a bit of humor might wonder if God isn't just a little insulted to be associated so closely to our cultures most worshipped god of all - money.

What do you think?

(My response is below.)
Brilliant! Much of western Christianity (and a type being sold in Russia and in Asia) asserts that to get what you want, you have to get God to give it up. Think what one could put in the "here's how" part of the equation! So, at the foundation is a terrible error, one that motivates everything else: we don't believe that God has given us absolutely everything for entirely nothing in Christ. We're seduced into believing we have to earn more than the everything we've already been given, and that twists Christians into militant and vigilant, nervous and anxious images of God.

I think that lie, that God is withholding something desirable from us, is the same one the serpent seduced Eve with in the Garden. God is reluctant to give, God is withholding something good from you, but if you'll just do this, you can get it. . .and, heck, He may even want you to get it after all. Does that make sense? So, from that day to this, you can see that lie—God is withholding something good from you—running through history, and running through our bookstores and churches today, twisting us now as it did then.

When I see its' effects, it makes me angry, too. However, I am mostly angry at the liar, the one who sold the lie the first time and who sells it today. It's robbing us and mutating us into rich beggars around God's throne. Think of it. Think of the affront to God that is. It makes elder brothers out of us, slaving away out in the fields away from Dad, working and working for what we already have. And if we work for what we already have, we never get it. And if we're busy in the field working—after all, it's most important—then we don't get to be with dad very much.

A favorite author of mine, Malcolm Smith, put it something like this: "If I walked up to one of you seated here today and told you, "Sit down, man, sit down!" you would either think I was weird in my command, or you'd be miserable trying to be what you already are." That's how it is when we tell Christians how to earn the anointing or get God's promises or favor or national blessing. Everything is entirely ours in Christ already! Strive no more! It's His gift to us. (Except for that little national blessing thingy. I don't think God looks to give us such a thing. But then, that's just my opinion.)

That's the magnificent gospel! And that's the target of the devil. I'm delighted that you're not buying the lie, perhaps even more so because you're seeing the ugly twist.

Well done.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Johnny Cash Glee Club (or Nasty Looks At Love)


Sometimes I’m stunned alert to the intentions and efforts of God. This video did that to me.

A large group of Hollywood celebrities and music industry chart-toppers sing of the coming wrath of God upon sinners. It looks weird, and a little bit eerie. It’s a virtual sing-a-long to a Johnny Cash song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”

I know there are believers in those industries—whenever I breeze past a Grammy Awards or an Academy Awards show it seems like someone always gives glory to God. And I don’t know that person, so I can’t say what their life is like or what the other evidence of their love of God is. But I’m skeptical. I’ve seen one too many crosses noosing the neck of a celebrity bad boy or girl to not be suspicious. But since I’m not swimming in that pool of people, I don’t know if praising God is only faddish or genuine.

And so this video. It’s crammed full of bad boys and bad girls. But they’re not singing about the wonder of the gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ—that I would love! Who better to picture the grace of God than those who already picture the need of it? Instead, they’re singing about His coming wrath! Like they’re warning us. They’re doing the very things they’re warning us about.

I don’t know. Maybe the likes of Chris Rock and Johnny Depp and Kanye West and Kris Kristofferson and Justin Timberlake and Cheryl Crow and Woody Harrelson and the Dixie Chicks and Whoopie Goldberg and lots of other nasty looking boys and girls I don’t recognize know something . . . and I simply don’t know that they know it.

I do know that sometimes God’s love for the nasty looks ridiculous, like He’s misplaced it. I want to tell Him to take it back and put it somewhere else where a better reward is waiting. Oops. That would have meant bad news for me back in 1980.

I rest my life on this (and maybe they do too): The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20,21)

I sure would like to know what those in the video are thinking as they sing . . . It boggles my mind. I don’t know, but He does—and He’s not worried. Have a look at the video.

Never Again Merely Men

While I found plenty of memorable moments in the most recent Narnia film, Prince Caspian, there was one that was particularly so.

In the first Narnia film, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, bears were loyal to Aslan and talked and walked side by side with the just-introduced kings and queens of Narnia—Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy. But fifteen hundred years have passed between that story and this, and the royalty of Narnia were just discovering how different and ugly things were when Lucy comes upon a bear.

Naturally, she assumes a kinship with the beast. “Hello there, Mr. Bear!” However, the bear, intending to kill Lucy, charges her only to be stopped by the arrow of a Narnian dwarf. Shocked, Lucy asks, “What’s happened to the animals?” to which the dwarf replies, “Treat them like mere animals long enough and they’ll forget who they are.”

I think the same thing happens to us—the sons and daughters of God. Oftentimes our enemy, the world and our flesh, seek to hinder us not by rejecting us overtly and outright, but by slowly and persistently inducing us to abide by their vision, methods and goals, one day to believe we are little different than those of this world. To borrow on the dwarf’s response to Lucy, “Treat them like mere men long enough and they’ll forget who they are.”

In my little world of experience, here’s how Christians who have either forgotten who they are (or never knew it to begin with) sometimes sound: “I’m only human, aren’t I?” To be succinct, here’s my response: “Hell, no.” That’s where that thinking comes from.

The apostle Paul chided the Corinthians for just this thinking and behavior: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3, italics mine.)

Did you catch that? You and I will never again be merely men or merely women, never again only human. Anyone who has believed and received Jesus has not only had a change in standing with God, but a change in nature, literally a change in DNA! When the Bible says that we’ve become a “new creation,” God isn’t trumpeting a new way of behaving better, or that we’ve been granted a new kind of good manners for good relationships. He’s telling us that we are now actual Spirit born sons and daughters by nature! We have been born by and of the Spirit. Our humanity has forever been altered because “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17; see also john 3:5,7,8; 2 Peter 1:3,4).

That takes some getting used to, I know.

If you’re familiar with the C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, then you know that virtually all of the books are about the growing awareness of the kings and queens of Narnia—that they are, in fact, kings and queens already. Everyone in Narnia recognizes them, some in awe and delight, some with fear and dread. The more the kings and queens believe it, the more their behavior is affected, to the delight of Aslan. They act like the nobility they are.

It’s the same with us.

Ask God to show you yourself, the self He sees because He remade you. Quit praying things like, “Oh Lord, you know what a lousy sinner I am!”—He disagrees with you! That’s not what He made you. Stop lamenting in prayer, “Oh God, I know I should be a better person than I am now!”—you ARE a better person because you’re a new person! You just don’t know how to live in Christ. And stop saying, “Father, change me.” Father HAS already changed you! Besides, you’ve never heard Him answer those prayers, so don’t you think it’s time to change them?

Give it, oh, two weeks—don’t say any of that stuff. Instead ask God during prayer, “Father, did you change me already?” “Jesus, how well related to you am I now?” “Holy Spirit, what do you like about me?” “God, have you secured me with you forever?” “Lord, am I really an authentic son of yours?”

In the same way that the kings and queens of Narnia struggled to believe they were the royalty of the realm, it’s likely that you will too. So get help! Get after it! Get and read my book (Better Off Than You Think - http://lifecourse.org/Ralphs_Book.html), get and read anything Steve McVey has written, or Lewis Gregory, Dan Stone and Greg Smith, or go to my Recommended Reading List and take the plunge.

This will help you grow up into who you already are. You’ve got to believe it before you’ll see it.

To borrow one more time on the dwarf’s response to Lucy, here’s what will help you: “Treat them like the sons and daughters of God they are for long enough and they’ll know who they are.” That’s what your Father is doing to you right now. Have a look.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers


Have you ever thought that you just weren’t yourself? Like maybe you were replaced in the middle of the night by something less than you, and that what woke up in the morning wasn’t getting the job done?

Note to self—it’s true. You were taken. I have evidence.

The film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was true. Heck, they made it twice—once when I was born (1956), and again in 1978. That ought to convince you. I think National Geographic might have made the film, and they don’t lie. Right?

In the movie fatigue overwhelms you so you lay down to sleep. Big mistake. Right next to you a sinister, pretender-you emerges, having managed to suck the life out of you, thank you very much. And then it shaves and gets dressed and out it goes into what was supposed to be your day. Only you don’t act like you used to. You sort of go through the motions without any real heart or zeal or pep. Maybe a little better than a zombie. (Those are real, too. Think how many movies they’ve made of those. Can you say evidence?)

What else explains the every day awareness you have that there might be two of you? That somehow in the night, something or someone else took up residence and began acting like you, but not exactly. Not quite as on. Not much enthusiasm.

I have days where it seems like the real me, the focused and moving forward me gets hijacked and replaced by a cheap imitation, one that is slow and ugly and dull in the head and heart. The apostle Paul had the same thing happen to him, too. His best defense was to write about it in such a way as to require other people to help him stop the invasion of the body snatchers. In that way together they could stop the whole thing.

To the constantly threatened in Ephesus, he wrote:

“Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Eph 4:21-25 NIV, italics mine.)

Many have told me that after we wrap up a seminar or conference it’s not long before old thinking, old habits and old tendencies begin popping up—stuff they might have done before they received Christ, and now want no part of. That’s the evidence that body snatching has begun. The flesh produces ugly, sinful desires (Eph 2:3) to induce us to follow its leading, which means living without the life of God. If we do, it’s then that the flesh behaves through us, masquerading as us—and don’t we feel awful. (Gal 5:16-21)

The battle you face is for the real you, the new creation you, the new self created in Christ Jesus. We’re to put that new person on and we’ll need help. Paul says we’re to "speak truthfully" to one another, and that means we speak THE truth, biblical truth, especially concerning how we’re doing with the war between the selves. That kind of speaking keeps the important struggle in the open—and that’s vital. If we don’t talk about it much, it’s not long before we’re in danger. It won’t be long until the false self will wear us down, weary us out, and get us to abide by its desires. Even though it looks okay, we’ll know it isn’t. We’ve been snatched.

If we’re to not give place to the flesh we’ll need help. What can you do? Call a Christian friend. Forward or link to this note and talk about it. Ask how the battle of the body snatching goes—you may save your friend loads of turmoil and grief. Besides, the truth always refreshes and revives us, and who doesn’t need some of that?

I know this is a chore, but isn’t it real? Isn’t it how we grow up in Christ, by assisting each other? Don’t wait for someone to call you—pick up the phone, or contact me about it. You know this goes on every day, so in faith fight! Remind each other of what Christ did on the cross to make you a new person, a true son of God, now to live in an entirely new way. Tell each other that the foul desires and thoughts that sometimes plague us are from the flesh and not from ourselves. Tell each other to look to the Holy Spirit who lives in us, to listen for Him, to talk to Him, acting as though He is there because He is! That rescues believers and revives them.

You’ll be invaluable in the fight against the invasion of the body snatchers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dirty Diapers & Divine Acceptance

Strangely enough, I recall learning a great deal about the heart of God when my girls were in diapers. This post is about that. I have programed a few posts to appear while I am away (see below), and what follows is one from Steve McVey.

When my grandson, Jonathan, was a baby, I was holding him on my lap one day. I was laughing at him to see if I could get him to laugh. It worked. Every time I would laugh, Jonathan saw my delight in him and he laughed too. As we sat on the couch laughing together, I was filled with emotion and thought to myself, “It’s amazing how much love I feel for him.”

At that moment a thought came into my mind that I knew was the voice of God. “That’s nothing compared to the love that I have for you.” I was overwhelmed by the realization that my heavenly Father loves me infinitely greater than I could ever love my grandchildren or children.

As we continued to play together on the couch, I became increasingly aware that Jonathan had “sinned against me.” It was a diaper problem, a serious one. Here I was holding him on my lap, showering him with attention and affection and he goes and does something like that! What do you suppose I did? I didn’t throw him from my lap in anger, screaming, “Depart from me, you worker of iniquity!” Not at all. You see, I understand something about babies – they do that kind of thing. I wasn’t pleased with his behavior, but what he did changed absolutely nothing between the two of us.

Jonathan eventually outgrew that habit and began to act responsibly in that area of life. As I thought about the incident shortly after it happened, I was reminded of our Father’s patience and loving kindness toward us. He is always interacting in our lives with a divine determination to cause us to find pleasure in Him. Yet at the very same time, we sometimes sin against Him. We make a mess of things, despite His continuous commitment to cause all things to work together for our good.

When we sin against Him, does He cast us off? Absolutely not! “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

When Jonathan experienced his baby problem, his mood soon changed from happy to sad. He began to cry, instinctively knowing that he needed some sort of help from somebody bigger than himself. That is what happens in the lives of believers when we sin. We know that Somebody bigger who loves us will take care of our problem and deliver us from what we’ve gotten ourselves into at the moment. We just cry out to Him in dependence and anticipation and He does the rest.

Your Father knows you better than you know yourself. The things that have caused you to feel guilty have already been dealt with by His finished work on the cross. Remind yourself all through the day today that your sins have been forgiven and you have already been glorified with Christ in the eternal realm! Reach up to Abba. He'll clean up your mess.

(I am spending a week by myself in a cabin in the mountains. If you think of it as a short vacation in the privacy of God, you've got the picture.)