Thursday, April 30, 2009
Sometimes after a bunch of good days in row, it can seem like someone pulled the plug on them and drained the life all away…slowly. The fun begins to slip, and the mundane, life-as-it-has-to-be takes its place. Pretty soon your days are all about going through the motions, while adding the proper amounts of postured zeal. But on those days you know you really don’t have it anymore. I don’t like those days.
I call them Dracula Days.
If you’re under thirty years old, you may not be real familiar with him, but you’ve probably heard of the famous bloodsucker. In the films of many years ago, Count Dracula would seem to be a fine, up-standing citizen, someone you’d like knowing. Coming from the fictitious Transylvania, he had a magnificent accent, and I nearly always think well of those who do, even if it isn’t warranted. “Vonderful to meet choo—I am Coun Drah-koo-lah.”
Unfortunately, he could turn into a nasty, hairy bat, and swoop in through the always-open window of the unsuspecting beautiful woman. And then he’d suck the life out of her.
For the longest time, Dracula would escape suspicion because he was so, well, nice. Only after he had punctured and drained almost every vivacious and gorgeous girl would anyone finally figure it out. And when he was dragged, hissing and growling, into the sunlight, his life of taking life came to an end.
I’ve got lots of hidden Dracula’s in my days, sneaky ways by which the life I’ve been given in Christ is drained away. Do you? They’re not always easy to identify, either, because I may have grown used to them. Maybe I’ve even accepted them.
I like to watch movies at home with my daughters. But while we enjoy watching, what actually happens between us? What heart value is exchanged? We may laugh or make comments together, but what did it actually draw out of us? What did I really give my girls from me? How did we share in the hope and love and grace of God, or in the things that build us up in Christ, or how did we grow in life by the Spirit? I’m not saying that movie watching together as a family is bad or to be avoided if you’re really a Christian. I am saying that it isn’t life giving or life stimulating. Not really. In fact, it sometimes becomes a default way of entertainment, which distracts me from what really satisfies.
Or maybe it’s reading the newspaper, or going through the mail while someone is with me, or watching the news while one of my daughters sits in the chair next to me. Why not drag her onto my lap and talk or pray with her? That’s sure to stimulate life. Or maybe it’s letting Sarah do the kitchen stuff while I’m parked in front of the computer screen. Why not go out there and empty the dishwasher together? Why not ask a life-provoking question (“What does God think of you, Sarah?”), or offer something that caught my attention today about a lie of the devil I’ve been deceived into believing?
Any of these things (and simpler ones, too) are about sewing to the Spirit with other people. And what happens when you sew to the Spirit, giving Him your attention?
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8 NASB)
Sowing to the flesh essentially means living through your days without the life of God—the life Jesus gave you and which the Holy Spirit now produces. I think it’s the familiar things that drain the life out of us, the mundane stuff we have to do, so we do it without thinking through it. We don’t recognize that those are puncture points.
Next time you have to do the laundry, or clear the table, or when you feel fatigued after a full day of work, resist the familiar impulse to plop down in front of the T.V., or pick up a newspaper, or surf the web, and go for life—real life. It may feel awkward at first, but you’ll soon notice you’ve got more vitality, you’re more alert and with it. Not only will those Dracula Days be at an end, but you’ll also be dragging his sorry carcass into the light, there to sizzle and fry.
And that’s nice.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
“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 delicious 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, 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, having received the heavenly ZOE, your ZAO has gone stinky, see to your ZOE.
Isn’t that fun?
Paul’s love for real life (ZOE) meant a lot about his life (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 life. 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 have 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.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
To my Emma:
You had a difficult day yesterday, and I wanted to write you a note about it.
I have two thoughts: I was sad—I hurt with you. I know what it feels like to be measured or challenged, and to not do well. It feels like somebody just pointed out that you’re dumb or not talented enough or not as good as you should be, and that’s painful.
But it’s a lie. And it’s a really bad lie, too.
Emma, my Beauty, God has made you spot-on perfect—just right. He has made you exactly the way He has planned for the life He has planned for you—no mistakes. You match up perfectly. However, neither the tests at school, nor the tests of relationships, or of sports will always show you how perfectly designed and made you are. Sometimes they will, but sometimes they won’t. Yesterday they didn’t. But nothing has really changed—you’re still just right. Ask God—He’ll tell you.
The lie the devil works with and wants us to believe, Emma, is that how we do in life is how we are—even who we are. So, if most everyone likes us and we get good grades and we do well in sports, well, then, we must be good. How wonderful. But, if there are people who actually dislike us, if we occasionally get bad grades, and if we’re not good at every sport, well, then, we must be bad. But is that true? No. Neither example is true.
None of that stuff has anything to do with who we really are. But, if the devil is successful in getting us to believe the lie that how we do reveals who we are, then we will live and strive to be good and do good in the eyes of people as our highest goal. That will make us slaves to what people think, and we’ll have to always perform just right for them. And that will prevent us from ever knowing who we really are according to God, because we’ll be busy being somebody we think is good.
Satan’s lie will own us.
But not you. What God thinks about you is accurate. Remember what He thinks? You have become His daughter in the deepest sense—He has even made you like Himself. You feel His feelings, you have His thoughts, you know His desires. Incredible! You are a holy girl, a royal daughter of His—no one in this world is actually any better than you, Emma.
I know that you have confusing thoughts and experiences and feelings about who you are. Nuts! That happens a lot to me, too, and I don’t like it. But that’s why you and I go back to the Truth—and that’s Jesus. What He did for you and me on the cross, what He did for us in His resurrection, and what He did for you and me in choosing us(!) makes us incredible. No kidding!
So when we don’t do well in some sort of worldly test, it does not tell us who we are. We get who we are from God. Now, if you believe God made you to be a mathematician or a baseball player, there’s some work you can do. But you don’t do the work so you can become either of those things, you would do it because you believe that’s who you are and what you’re to do. If God convinces you that you’re going to be a rancher(!), then believe it and work at it with all your heart! And you can figure that baseball won’t be very important to a rancher. You might play at it, but you might not be the best at it. Would that matter? No. Not if God made you a rancher. Might people laugh at the way you throw a ball or swing a bat? Yeah, maybe. But that’s okay, since you’re not a baseball player. See? You know God, and He tells you who you are.
My second thought: I was very proud of you yesterday—even more today. Here’s why: you went through something like what Jesus went through, and you’re okay. When Jesus was nailed to the cross and then hung up for all to see, you know that He was dying for our sins. But something else was happening too, and it was awful—terrible. Jesus was being misidentified and rejected by a lot of people all around Him, people He really loved. Some of those people thought He was a deceiver, a liar, and others thought He was misguided or stupid to do what He was doing. “What an idiot!” they might have said. And yet He willingly did it for them, too.
Imagine the pressure Jesus must have faced from all those people. “Just tell us you’re not the Messiah, and we’ll let you go!” “We’ll stop hurting you if you’ll simply say you’re only a man, and not God!” “Think of your parents and the embarrassment and pain you’re putting them through—give up this foolishness!” But Jesus knew who He was. Because He did, He went willingly to the cross. He wanted to! He endured that pain because He knew who He was, and what would happen after the cross! Lots of people misidentified Him and pleaded with Him to be someone else, someone different, but He couldn’t do it because He knew.
He knew about you too, Emma.
Before either of us was born, He chose us, knowing that would mean that we would have incredible gifts and talents and thoughts and feelings and joys because we would be sons and daughters of God. And he knew that we would sometimes be terribly misidentified and mistreated. In fact, Jesus told us to figure that sometimes our life would be like being nailed to a cross and rejected, just as He was. Might as well expect it. If the world mistook and mistreated Jesus, it will do the same to us. Yesterday, it did it to you. I hope you can understand why—it’s not your fault—you’re being identified with Jesus.
I am your very pleased dad, Emma. I see you! I know who you are. It pains me, but sort of reassures me when I see the world misidentify and then mistreat you. Even in that way, you really are a lot like Jesus. It angers me when I see the devil throwing his lie at you, and I want to beat him up. The best way for me to do that is to pray for you (and I do), and to tell you who you really already are, so you can withstand the misidentification and mistreatment you will go through.
When I look at you, I am proud of God! He has made you brilliantly and brilliant. You’re obviously His, even while you’re mine.
I’m yours, too.
Monday, April 27, 2009
“So, what do you suppose the ‘throne of grace’ looks like?” I asked. (We’re reading through the book of Hebrews together after dinner. Rather than get up and move elsewhere, we stay at the table, and any one of us might do the reading.)
Emma, ever the imaginative one, offered, “I picture a big, beautiful, golden throne with God on it, and this long, long line of people snaking along toward it. That’s what I imagine. Just because I imagine it, doesn’t mean that will make it happen, you know. It’s just the way I see it.” She was sure we needed to be clear on this whole imagination thing.
“Alright—I like that, Emma. Now, how are people talking to God, what are they saying to Him who is seated on the throne of grace?” I asked. Sarah gave me an “I know what you’re getting at” kind of look. Ellen and Emma sort of defaulted to the television portrayal of Pharaoh-on-the-throne idea, and said, “Oh, PLEASE, God! Give me what I need! Answer ‘YES!’ to my requests…PLEASE, God!” I loved their dramatics, but not their picture. I wondered how many of us default to that picture, too.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pretend that it’s me on the throne—your daddy. How would you approach me?” Emma got out of her chair, cut to the front of the imaginary line, crawled up on my lap and said, “I love you, daddy! Can I have a cat? Can I have my own computer? Can I? Can I?” Sarah and Ellen laughed, and Ellen said, “We don’t have to beg with you, and we don’t have to beg with God, either. That would be silly!” Sarah asked, “And why don’t we have to beg God? Why don’t we have to plead with Him who sits on the throne of grace?”
And together Ellen and Emma said something like, “Because it’s the throne of grace, not the throne of begging! We already have everything with God because of Jesus. We’re in Him, so God gives us everything because of that. We can go to the throne laughing and joking and skipping if we want. Did you forget, daddy?”
We love this.
I asked, “So what do you suppose is most important and most honoring to God as we approach Him, seated on the throne of grace?” And Ellen laughed, “That we believe we’re always welcome and always wanted and will always get what’s right from God because of His grace to us. Not because we beg just right, but because we believe and ask Him. That’s how it works.”
And we were done. If I had had a football, I would have spiked it and done one of those little swivel-butt dances. (Probably good I didn’t have a football.) But I loved what my daughters were getting and that they were having fun with it.
That’s what I think the fourth chapter of Hebrews is about. Believe God is who He says He is, believe we are who He says we are, believe our relationship is as excellent as He says it is because of Jesus, and, hanging onto that, hang out at the throne! Put your confidence in Him and in what He says is true of you. It often takes some work to hang on to your faith in Him, but you really will find rest.
That's how it works. Did you forget?
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Sunday, April 26, 2009
What's the first thing we do when coming into the world? Okay, some might say we cry, but my experience is that the first thing we do immediately after birth is scream. And I think we're right about it—smartest thing we can do.
Doesn't that explain why we sometimes still feel like cranking up and letting go a really great one, a real ripper? You know, one that really says how we feel and makes us feel better? "Ahhhh. I'm glad I got that out."'
Well, here's one from a guy named Wilhelm that really nails it—for him and for us. Maybe it will be a surrogate for you. It's so good that his recorded scream has been used over and over again in movie after movie. Here's a video compilation of his scream...see if it doesn't make you feel better.
Works for me.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A while back I was driving on the freeway when my rearview mirror decided to commit suicide. In an instant, it leaped away from its secure and beneficial position, crashed on the dash and rolled onto the floor, there to lie in state. 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, each time I drove somewhere I felt little security about what was before me because I had become insecure about what was behind. I drove around always on edge and with virtually no confidence. For a while I forced myself to drive without a look behind, but until I replaced the mirror, I never felt right.
I do that sometimes in life, as well, and it’s terribly dangerous because I don’t do good without a good look behind. My going forward first requires a look back at what has been done for me by Jesus. If I forget to take a look, or if I can’t see behind, I’ll be out of sorts wherever I go.
I must know and have settled in my heart the momentous occasion of my past crucifixion and resurrection with Christ Jesus. If I don’t, I’ll bash around in my day like a bumper car at Disneyland; fun for a while, but getting nowhere. When Jesus died, in Him the guy I used to be died, too. When Jesus rose from the dead, the new me did, too.
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 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.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Spirit reminded me this morning that while I often have widely divergent thoughts about myself—I’m a good man—No, I’m not—Yes, I am—No, I’m not—He has no such trouble.
In fact, His opinion of me is incredibly good, even astounding. It never wavers and He is never indecisive about me. I have moments when it overwhelms me. I like that. God knows exactly who I am because He re-made me into a son when I became a Christian some 29 years ago. Who better to ask than Him? Who better to trust than Him? And it's probably a lock that He's correct, don't you think?
Perhaps the best news is that He is going to carry on with me as though He is correct. Even when my thoughts about me are all messed up, He knows what's real and acts accordingly.
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.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.
Monday, April 20, 2009
What an epistle Steven has about his song, Cinderella. He and Smittty sang a lot of songs together, but he sings this one on his own--as it should be.
Oh. And from now on, call me Ralph Reed Harris. Works for them, maybe. . .
Perched on my daughter’s finger about a year ago, that’s Jesse. Sarah and I saw past our parental reservations (upkeep, cost, what-if-it-dies, etc.) and gave it to her for Christmas. Our daughter had no idea she was receiving a year-long desire, so she went bananas when she realized it was to be.
Tragically, Jesse died three weeks later. Ellen’s hopes and affections were brutally broken, but that’s nowhere near the end of the story.
The real story is that my daughter loved, and she was beautiful.
Long before she met Jesse, she was preparing to love. She read books about parakeets, poured over articles she found on the web, trial-ballooned owning a parakeet while at dinner (“They’re really good pets and don’t need much care, you know.”) watched and got acquainted with one at a friend’s house, and more. So when we brought it to her at Christmas, her affection found a place to go.
And Ellen was stunning. She read aloud to Jesse for hours and hours, with great inflection and feeling. She made sure we all held him at various times during the day in order to ensure we all got along together. She built a tree perch for him, patiently weaned him off an inferior food and onto a superior one, provided a perfect sleeping environment, and spoke calmly and soothingly to him throughout the day. She even made a web page about him. But all the while she was about Jesse, the story was really about Ellen and what love did for her. Really, my daughter lived in a way she had not before, and she was a beauty to behold.
And then came Jesse’s end.
Aside from the immediate trauma, my daughter’s flowering love suddenly had nowhere to go. We cried and grieved together, and had a funeral for Jesse a few days later. And we thanked God for the best part about Jesse—Ellen loved.
To love was worth it.
I have seen boys and men, girls and women, mourn the loss of a pet, including guppies and goldfish, cats and dogs, horses and ducks, birds and ferrets, rabbits and rats. I knew some of those pets, and sometimes I wondered how the owner could have loved it in the first place. In my view, it was a nasty demand on their life.
Yet in each case the beauty wasn’t in the pet, but in the person loving. And what Paul wrote is proven true again—it’s great to love. Without it we don’t live; we have nothing. (1 Cor 13:2,3; 14:1)
Learning the way of love is tough—Ellen would tell you. Love won’t take you anywhere and there is no place for it to arrive and it won’t make a house payment. But it sure lets a person be beautiful.
And that’s worth it.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Cor 13:13 NIV)
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Chapman's current hit song on Christian radio is "Cinderella," a ballad about precious times spent together by father and daughter. It was inspired by a real family moment, one that now holds more meaning than ever for the Chapmans, who lost their youngest daughter through a terrible accident.
"I was trying to give my little girls a bath and rushing and hurrying through it," Chapman told The Press in an interview last fall. "And I got convicted over how much I rush through moments trying to get to the next one, and God telling me to stop and take the moments as he gives then, and see what he's trying to teach me."
Friday, April 17, 2009
A few nights ago during our home church meeting I apologized to Sarah because I’ve been leaving her alone.
Now, I’m around her for much of the day (excepting our work schedules), and whether it’s preparing a meal together and eating it, watching an episode of the television show 24, hanging with our daughters, or lazing about the house, we’re together a lot and we talk about a lot.
Yet it has lately become a rare moment when I ask or talk specifically with her about Jesus and His life with her; what He might be communicating, what He might want to do for her, what He might be asking of her, or how she is growing in believing and trusting in Him. You know – “What’s happening with God who loves and chose you?” I live with this terrific woman of whom the world is not worthy, who has been made into the righteous daughter of God, and I don’t talk with her about how she is and how she is doing? How crazy is that?!
And I’m sure there is little in her day other than me which accurately reflects back to her or honors who she is. And I don’t think there are many occasions in which someone says, “Wow! Here comes Sarah, holy daughter of God. Since Jesus lives in you, Sarah, what do you think about such and such? What is your opinion of this situation and what should we do?” Much of her day seems set up not to stimulate and draw her out, but to stifle and frustrate her.
So, I’m on course again to provoke my wife. I know that word provoke has a negative connotation to it, but I mean it in the best, most helpful sense. I want to help her to think about God and who He is and what He did already for her, and what He has made of her, and what He might be doing right now. That kind of stuff. I know it sometimes feels a bit like a needle, but we need to prick each other now and then to get rid of the puffy, fluff-and-stuff which sometimes captures our attention and covers our hearts.
Here’s what I recommend: have a provoking weekend. Needle each other a little bit. Ask Jesus to fill you with the Spirit, and then call someone and provoke 'em. “Hey, Will. What does God think of you right now?” “Julie, has God given you everything for nothing in Christ, or do you have to earn things?” “Cynthia, where is God right now and is He happy about that? Why?” “Greg, are God’s promises for you conditional, or are they already ‘Yes’ in Christ?”
Or simply hang out with people and ask the Spirit to share with you His thoughts and feelings about those around you. Listening and feeling for Him, you’ll be provoked and clued in. And you might have something to say as a result.
You’ll benefit those around you and find you’re better off than you think.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
(Move your cursor over a picture and a brief explanation will appear.)
Not long ago we returned from a short family vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Because I have been going there since 1965, it holds tons of great memories for me and is my favorite place in the world. I love the mountains and virtually everything one can do in them, like ride horses, hike, camp, canoe, and, with thanks to my father, fly fish – it’s my thing.
God often speaks profoundly to me when I’m fishing. (Which is not to say that whatever He speaks to me at other times is not all that deep!) If you were to ask my wife, Sarah, about it, she would say, “Ohhhhhh, yes! God talks to Ralph and does amazing things when he goes fishing. It sounds like an excuse to get out of the house, doesn’t it? But it isn’t…”
While what He speaks to me is always wonderfully meaningful and eternally relevant, it has also meant fantastic fishing. You can imagine how open and excited I am to go. “Well, honey, I need to spend some focused time with God – think I’d better go fishing.”
Geared up and ready to go, I was standing on the banks of the Buffalo River when I said, “Lord, Jesus, I again ask for you to give Brent (my twin brother) the best fishing day ever. That it would be completely fantastic and beyond his expectations, and that he would be utterly delighted with you.” And this is what I heard:
“What if it is at your expense?”
I didn’t move. Buying some time and hoping I might hear something else, something more exciting, I said (profoundly), “What?” And I heard the same question. “What if it is at your expense?” Pausing to think clearly, I said aloud, “Well, Lord, that would be okay with me…that would be fine …yes, Lord…alright then…his best day.”
I took a deep breath and waded into the stream, my stream, my river, my memory-packed, whopper-filled, river of joy…and proceeded to catch maybe five trout where I would have caught five times that. As a matter of fact, that’s about what Brent caught. Maybe a few more. As we walked the many miles of the river together, all day long my pools were vacant, his were full, my fish were smart, his were stupid, my fish were average, his were outstanding, my attitude ebbed and flowed from content to frustrated, and his hit 10 on the happy scale and never moved.
There was even a time when, because I was walking on the opposite side of the river, I couldn’t fish what should have been my pool. Instead, I sat high up on a bluff overlooking the stretch (of my pool) and, spotting several large and stupid trout, directed him where to cast. “Oh, yeah!” he shouted. “Got him! Ooooooh, it’s a big one!”
For eight hours I was supremely aware of God’s work and pleasure in my life and Brent’s. And I’m still thinking about it.
There’s a lot for me to learn about God’s will and purpose and pleasure, and where I fit with Him in that. I had been looking forward to that day on the river with Brent for months, and my picture of God’s blessing for us meant that nothing much was required of me. Walk along, cast a fly, hook and land a whopper, hold it up for admiration and glory, and release it while praising God. Simple. Hallelujah - what a day.
But in my ongoing desire to know God, there are many things He wants to share with me, not just so I will know what life is like, but so I can know Him in the midst of life. He wanted to bless Brent and He wanted to bless me. That meant fish and joy for Brent and that meant knowing God in a new way for me. And I forget that He has made me a lot like Himself, so it’s no wonder He includes me in what He is doing, even at my expense. He has some history with that sort of thing.
One more thing. As darkness fell upon us that day on the river, Brent announced, “You know, this has been the best day of fishing I have ever had.”
And so it was.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
During a sleepless hour last night it dawned on me that I was working really hard at getting life right – praying enough, walking in the Spirit enough, supporting people enough, making enough money--you know, enough. After all, once you know what to do (and that should certainly be me), shouldn’t you simply do it? Isn’t how you do the ultimate estimate?
No, it isn’t. Oops. How Jesus did when He lived as a man is the ultimate measure of me.
I forget that the ongoing measurement of my life, the way I am seen, the way I am estimated and the way I am judged is not singularly dependent upon me—Jesus became all of that for me. Everyday and all day I am living with His righteousness, His holiness, and His redemption. All that He accomplished has been given to me as my own.
Sheesh--that’s overwhelming. But shouldn’t it be?
I don’t regularly count on Jesus’ righteousness and holiness to do anything for me, other than secure my standing and destination. How dumb! When I remember what He did and gave me, my faith rises and my strength grows. All that ugly judgment I sometimes endure from the evil one and from my flesh vanishes. I can live again. And I’m reminded that faith isn’t just a bunch of important stuff I believe (make sure my file is up-to-date and complete), but a way by which life and strength and the Spirit work in me, a son of God.
That’s my day and that’s my night. Jesus for me and Jesus in me – my hope of great things (Col 1:27).
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Is God fickle? Is He a nitpicker? Can you put Him in a generous mood or make Him stingy? Is it possible that He might be the Grand Benefactor on Monday, but the Cosmic Scrooge on Tuesday?
The Corinthians wondered, and sometimes I do too.
The church at Corinth would have been my favorite place to visit. I’m not sure I would have become a member, but man, it was a happenin’ place. The members’ behavior swung wildly from wanton worldliness to high holiness and back again. They were as neat and tidy as a two year old with a bowl full of spaghetti, but they were truly alive!
Naturally, they were aware that the apostle Paul, a sort of spiritual daddy, knew all about their sloppiness. Paul knew of their ugly failures and fleshly frailties, and they were afraid that he wouldn’t come to be with them because they were often bad. “Will Paul, the one who loves us so deeply, draw away from us? Will he go somewhere else, to people who are better than us?” they might have asked. “We’re so awful—why would he want to come here?”
Knowing their fears, Paul essentially told them: “Are you kidding? I brag about you! And God fills me with grace and love toward you—how can I help but want to be with you like He does? I’m crazy about you! Didn’t I make that clear by my first letter? I did mean to come, but I was working through some personal things with God, so it wasn’t a good time for me to visit. But my heart for you is like God’s—it’s always ‘Yes!’ And that makes sense when you consider that God has secured us the same way: He has brought us into Christ, fully blessed, fully belonging to Him, with God Himself living in us as the Guarantor of what is to come. He has done it all, and He keeps doing it all! Isn’t He amazing? It was Him who sent me to you in the first place. Do you think His heart has changed toward you now that you are His? Impossible! You’re in Christ, and since that’s where you are, everything is ‘Yes!’ for you. Can I get a Corinthian ‘Amen’?” (2 Cor 1:12-2:11)
I’m glad Paul raised the Corinthian question, “Are you a moody nitpicker?” to the highest level. “God, when things don’t go according to how it seems they should, have you left me because I’ve done something wrong? Do my failures drive you away and cancel grace?” The answer is: “Never!” Weakness and failure set the table for grace—it is best seen where it is most obvious. May I remind you? This was the theme of Paul’s life—mine, too. Paul delighted in his own weaknesses and inabilities, he boasted about the insults that wounded him because he found something through them: God is forever faithful and full of grace! (2 Cor 12:8-10)
God has plenty of motivation to be with us—He doesn’t need more, and He doesn’t need convincing. He’s the One who loves and behaves perfectly—have you forgotten? I know it’s not easy to believe because it seems too fantastic! But that’s the gospel that the devil keeps trying to move you away from. If you’ve wandered away, as I sometimes do, wander back.
You’re better off than you think.
My daughter has a Nintendo DS. Yes, my wife and I actually chose to give it to her for Christmas. What evil thing does that say about us?! Hmm…
Anyway, she has this game where she gets and trains puppies, raising them from puppiness through adultness. To do it, she gives them behavioral commands like “Lie down!” and “Sit!” and “Roll over!” Sometimes the Nintendo dogs obey, and sometimes they don’t, which provokes my daughter to say it again—a little more strongly. It’s funny because not only does she speak with clarity and deep authority (well, at least it sounds pretty convincing for a girl her age), but our own dog, sitting next to her, carries out the commands. Well, some of the commands.
And I wondered, “If my daughter said those commands with an encouraging tone, a really upbeat inflection, would the dogs follow through and obey more readily or less?” And that got me thinking.
What if I thought of God’s commands to me as wonderful, life-securing and encouraging orders, instead of grumpy and foreboding demands? I mean, I know God is always correct and spot-on in His assessment of everything, so why does my fleshly mind attach a doom and gloom tone to His directions? Does the Spirit talk to me in the same manner as He would to, say, Pharaoh? Jezebel? Nebuchadnezzar? Or, how about to the devil? Same way?
If I was hanging out with Pharaoh one day and God showed up with something to say, would His commands to me sound the same as those to Pharaoh? Of course, I suppose we’d have to make certain exceptions for content. “Pharaoh, you brutal subjugator of my people, take out the trash...and then go to Sheol.” And, turning to me, “Ralph, you greatly favored, heaven-bound son of mine, take out the trash.” Would it all sound the same?
I don’t think so.
There are those who think obedience is the most important part of the Christian life—I’m not one of them. I think believing God is first. And while the obedience-is-king crowd might say, “Well, of course believing is first,” I don’t think they really mean it, especially because they often come across as stern and dour; as the obedience monitors among us. They major in it, and we’ve noticed.
I think the reason many of us fail to obey the New Testament commands of God is because we think they come to us from a sort of high school principal—Do this, Ralph, and you won’t get into trouble. So, the only thing I believe at that moment is, “Well, I’d better do it, or I’ll get detention.” See what I mean? My belief is in avoiding the consequences of disobeying authority, not in the brilliance and well-intentioned motives of the trustworthy principal. Sounds like a dog’s life. To be certain, obedience is a vital, indispensable part of Christian life, but why we obey is, I believe, even more important.
So, today I’m doing what God says to do because it’s coming from my Father, who is perfect in love, perfect in knowledge and grace, and perfect in how He sees and treats me. I have a pretty good idea of what He did for me and to me through Christ, and I have a decent idea of what He thinks of me. It’s pretty fantastic.
He’s amazing, and He’s amazing toward me—I believe that, and I believe Him. Obedience comes from there.
Monday, April 13, 2009
My daughter worries, and she’s figured it out. It’s like she’s got radar—not Gary Burghoff, Radar—but a radar system that regularly alerts her for something being wrong with someone around her or with herself. And it goes off a lot.
Recently she said, “Daddy, I’m a worry-wart,” and here’s what I thought: “You know, she is. She’s always got something negative to be concerned about, always some wrong or some bad that gets her attention. What a worry-wart. I should tell her to trust God…” As I prepared to blurt out a confirmation (you are a worry-wart) followed by a healthy prescription (trust God), I nevertheless took the briefest of pauses, hesitating ever so slightly to see if the Spirit might interject something. Low and behold, He did.
She’s no worry-wart. She is often plagued by it, but it’s not her; it’s something against her.
Shocked into the reality I cannot see, I said, “Emma, my girl, do you think that worry comes from you, or does it come at you?” Because I wanted her to think and, in so doing, sow to the Spirit, I said no more. She answered, “It comes from the monster. It comes from my flesh—but I’m not flesh. Then, Daddy, why do I worry so much?”
“Well,” I replied, “it isn’t your fault. Our monsters are really monstrous, aren’t they? Everybody’s is. But what you and I get to see is God in us, smacking the monster for us. Remember how to think or talk toward Him when you feel all that fight going on inside? It’s fun to find Him in there, isn’t it?” Pulling her onto my lap, I said, “Come on. Let’s find Him inside together.” She wiggled her little body into a comfortable spot, and I prayed, “Jesus, Emma and I believe you’re in us right now. We feel the fight you’re having with the monster. Would you put it in its place and would you do what you love to do in us, and make peace and trust and love more obvious than fear? Emma and I don’t like the battle inside, but we know what to do about it. Thanks for living in us…” And Emma said softly, “Amen.”
Think that was a good moment?
I don’t want Emma to get overwhelmed by confusing her flesh with herself, which means I have to make that distinction, too. That confusion is so destructive, the effects stretching out like roots to touch everything they can. Not only might she come to believe she is what God believes she is not, but she might come to act upon it and live out her days trying to conquer herself…or give in and give up. And that can stretch through families and friends—even to generations.
I know there are many who think of themselves as the flesh and that they are the monster that produces all the crappy thoughts and desires within. They don’t think of themselves as having become sons of God, now spirit, and not flesh any longer. So when the flesh and the Spirit are at war within them (Gal 5), they think the battle is theirs to resolve. And, misidentifying themselves as flesh, that usually means they get verbally beat up, if only in their minds—You idiot! What a loser! What kind of Christian are you, anyway?! Rather than sow to the Spirit, who would produce what Jesus is like in them (the fruit of the Spirit), they fight the flesh—and that’s no way to live.
Emma has radar of a sort that not everyone else has. Hers looks one way (awareness of need, injustice, ill health, etc.), and yours and mine look another. Perhaps you can’t stand it if people aren’t comfortable and cared for (hospitality), if their needs aren’t met (mercy), etc. In any case, sowing to the Spirit in light of your particular radar (and when it goes off) is how to live. You and I aren’t supposed to do something about everything we see and feel—God in us would love to do something instead. When our own radar goes off, alerting us, we don’t do something by the flesh, we sow to the Spirit to see what He would like to do. He might produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. His life might mean you do something, and it might mean you do nothing. In either case, you’ll be living by the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the monster. And Christ in you will be the delight of your life.
If Emma didn’t learn to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh, she’d look and feel like a worry-wart all her days, even while an indwelt daughter of God. We’re working to help her live as she is, not as she feels, by faith, and not by feel.
That means God gets to use her radar as something life-giving, and it means that she won’t get abused by her radar. What a difference.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Have you ever introduced a guest, a relative, or a special speaker and knew you needed to really do it right? The pressure was on because your guest was worth a great intro?
I don't know anything about comedian Steve Harvey, but I sure like what he does in this clip. In front of thousands of people, he pretends to introduce Jesus Christ.
It's a blast.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I look sick, I sound sick and I feel sick. Other than that I'm perfectly fine.
In honor of my sickishness, I hereby defer to those who have better things to say today than I have. I have a lot to say about all things Easter (as you would expect), but the aches in my body and the fuzz in my head require downtime.
Here's an excellent post by a great writer and friend, Steve McVey. I regularly visit what he's got going on his web site and blog. Oh, and he's on facebook, too.
Just below is an excerpt of the article:
"The message of Easter is that Jesus Christ has drawn us into Himself and settled the issue of our worth once and for all. You were in Christ on the cross and everything about you that would have debilitated you in terms of reaching the potential God intends for you was done away with there. You were buried with Him and on the third day, you arose with Him - full of resurrection life. Now the essence of who you are is Him."
Click here to continue reading.
My warped sense of humor has always been a sure guide for me, leading me to embarrassment and scorn. It really works for me!
Here's a comic you might enjoy. I do. It reminds me of how we nibbled and tortured various Easter candy animals a long time ago. Ah, memories.
Here's a pretty great article about the meaning of this Friday--the shedding of blood in preparation for the coming resurrection.
It's found on a blog I read. Click on the link below and off you go.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Have you ever wanted to beat someone up for their own good? Give ‘em a good whop! across the kisser to wake them up to something great? I have.
Maybe you’ve shown someone a painting or poem you loved, played for them a song that moved you, or told someone of an enchanting discovery only to have them respond with a disinterested, “Um, that’s nice.” How did you feel in that moment? “Hmm…a good whop! might be just the thing…”
Have you ever wanted to beat someone up for Jesus? I have.
There have been times when I have presented the incredible truth of the gospel to someone and have them look as dull when I was done as they did when I began. And I don’t mean only the get-‘em-in-the-door, turn-or-burn gospel, I mean the stunning good news about who they will become in Christ gospel, and the how well related to God they will become gospel. And when I arrive at a good place to stop, either they look like it’s nap time, or like it’s all unimportant. “Well, I’m glad that works for you,” they say.
And what fills my imagination is from one of those silly Pet Detective movies. Suddenly, I’m Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey), and with an exaggerated nod and toothy grin, I hear myself say, “R-e-a-l-l-y......R-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-a-l-l-y…” And--Whop! They had it comin’. And then I see myself doing that silly, jerky, walk-away, grinning big as life. “Turn me down, will you? Ha! Loo-hoo-hoo-ser!”
It’s about then that I come to my senses and repent of Ace Ventura.
Sometimes my fleshly desires get way too involved in the mystery of closing the gospel deal, or of changing someone else. What was once great news to share becomes my story that must be accepted. I forget that I didn’t convince myself about the gospel, nor am I particularly skilled at changing myself, so when I begin practicing on others (Dr. Ralph) I ought to be alarmed.
What’s happened is that I have lost the thrill and confidence of God-in-charge, God-at-work, and God-never-failing. Awe of Him has been superseded by frustration with this world, and sometimes that happens all too easily to me. Joy in God’s ability has been hijacked by a fleshly desire to make life work, mine and yours, and the soon-coming end of that is exhaustion and disappointment. Either I get all worked up—We have to DO something!—or I get all depressed and give up.
It’s right around then that the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am an ambassador of God, not a general. I’m a vessel and messenger for God, not a detective bent on exposing the bad things of this world so I can change them. He reminds me because He is looking to revive and refresh me so I can live and work in the power of God, not in the power of the flesh.
And I can’t imagine Ace Ventura leading anyone to Jesus anyway.
Focused anywhere else, you'll soon weary and begin to grow weak in faith. That's not normal for you! Your judgment will be impaired because there's always more to the story than what's right in front of you.
So get back to looking at where life is found. You'll feel better.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Along with Easter stuff (egg hunts, candy, etc.) around my house, we go all out for Easter. We watch the first half of Ben Hur (A Tale of the Christ) on Saturday night, and the second half on Easter Sunday, pray together, and even make chalk drawings on our driveway about Easter, weather permitting. We sort of overwhelm the fun, if pagan, stuff with the truth.
But I gotta say that this guy goes a little too far in his aversion for the paganomics of Easter. What do you think?
Friday, April 03, 2009
“We’re on approach. Flight attendants prepare for landing.”
As the aircraft pitched slightly from left to right and back again, I was relieved to hear the captain’s voice over the loudspeakers. There were a few more horizontal adjustments, a wah-whump, whump, and we were rolling safely on the runway in Vancouver, British Columbia. At last.
I was there to assist men in their journey with God in the hope that, in addition to growing more confident in Christ, they would discover what it’s like to live by the Spirit. By Sunday afternoon, they had.
A particular passage became beautifully clear:
5For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,. . . (Romans 8:5,6 NAS)
To demonstrate this passage, I asked a young man (Zach) to join me up front, and then asked the men at the retreat to tell me about Zach—as though I had never met him. “He’s fun!” “He’s smart!” “He’s a good friend!” “His wife needs prayer!” And on it went. Then I asked, “Now that I know what Zach is like, tell Zach who God says He is. Tell it directly to Zach. And don’t rush this; there’s no hurry.”
And then this: “Zach, you’re a holy man.” “Zach, you’re righteous.” “You’re perfect.” “You’re blameless.” “You’re forgiven.” “You’ve got God living in you.” “All of heaven recognizes you as a son of God.”
And that included us. We saw Zach.
No one moved. It was amazing. No, it was more than that. It was sacred. When I asked what the men were feeling, somewhat breathlessly they said, “I feel like I’m looking into heaven.” “I feel hope.” “I feel life.” “I feel great.” “I feel peace.” “I feel like I’m really seeing Zach.” “When we changed our minds from looking at the visible to looking at the invisible, everything changed from shallow and fleshly to deep and true.”
They felt God.
Romans 8:5-6 came alive in that moment as we turned our minds away from what was visible to what was invisible. We thought of Zach and addressed him according to what the Bible says God has made of him, and Zach was illuminated to us and to himself. And we felt it. We felt “life and peace,” the kind of life and peace produced by the Holy Spirit whenever we turn our minds toward Him.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal 6:8)
It was tremendous and Zach was a little overwhelmed. He felt the conflict between the flesh and Spirit, but he, too, chose to sow to the Spirit, reaping what God has promised. “I feel holy. I feel clean.” Indeed, he was—indeed, he is.
Approaching or addressing someone as they have become in Christ causes us to change our minds. We go away from the mind of the flesh and begin thinking according to the mind of the Spirit. You can feel the change! This isn’t a game you play or a way of pretending your way through life. A worldly curtain is drawn back to reveal the true image behind—and that’s more than a bit dazzling! I don’t recommend that you immediately begin addressing all the Christians you know as Holy Hannah, Righteous Rudy, or Forgiven Frank, because that makes a methodical mess out of the holy and sacred. You might silently think of them as the holy, blameless and forgiven sons or daughters they have become, and then see what the Spirit gives you or where He leads you. You won’t have to be creative when God is at work. He’s pretty creative already.
An added benefit of setting our mind upon the Spirit in addressing a brother (as we did with Zach) is that we experienced a sort of mini revival. In looking at Zach, we found ourselves too. (Surprise! The Super Heroes of God.) We reaped life, the Spirit invigorated us, and we were deeply encouraged by God. The men knew that they could do this at home with their families, at work, at church, by phone or email, even while driving on the freeway. With all that goes on around us, we’re always on approach. Take advantage.
Setting our minds upon the Spirit is our new normal way of living in this world. We’re not of it—we’re a heavenly colony on earth. But since we’re in it, we do well to see it as He sees it, and to approach it from there. We’ll be looking into heaven.
We’re better off than we think.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
I love the men from Hillside Church and New Life Church.
The Men’s Retreat in Vancouver, BC, went well beyond my expectations. The men were incredibly sincere—they arrived full of desire to know God and to grow in Christ. It seemed all I needed to do was light a match and—woosh—desire met God.
We began on Friday night with a Q & A time, an unusual manner by which to start a retreat. Simply, it’s what I thought the Spirit wanted to do. And the guys were great, asking me about my family, my ministry, life in Colorado, my upbringing, and when I thought the US would get out of Iraq!
One young man (a theology school grad) offered that he was concerned that there were so few men in the church. “Why do you think that is?” he asked. “I don’t think they have found God most desirable,” I answered, “I don’t think they’ve discovered Him to be the very best pursuit that life offers. Instead, they’re enjoying sports and beer and job commitments and being weekend warriors up in the mountains and out into the sea. There’s no fire in their hearts for God, no heat coming from their passion for Him. If we tell them to be committed and to behave well and to do good things for God when they have no heart for Him, we make them worse off. Instead we should be telling them about His heart for them—that He has reconciled them and made them very much like Himself, that He is not counting their sins against them but calling them to come near and to find their life in His life for them. When we start giving that to them, we might see more hanging around.”
When another man asked a question in keeping with the subtitle of my book, “What astounding thing has happened to you?” I told the story of the two most important beatings of my life: one I received, and one I gave.
The one I received was from a neighbor kid when I was in, oh, maybe eighth or ninth grade. The affects of that one lasted for many years of intimidation every time I saw him, until I beat him up years later. And I got him good.
I beat him up with the gospel.
A chance meeting at a gas station led to him asking, “What’s this Christian thing? Why did you become a Christian?” I immediately began pummeling him with how hell is no place I want to be—The fire there burns FOREVER AND EVER, and one never stops BURNING IN PAIN. And because I didn’t want to GO TO HELL, I became a Christian.
While that description is true, what do you suspect my motive was? You got it—to beat the hell outta him. However, I was interrupted by the Holy Spirit’s words in my mind: “You don’t like him, do you? But I do. Would you like my love for him?” After blubbering an inward, “Yeah. I mean, yes.” the very love of God filled me for my opponent. . .I mean neighbor. And His love suddenly was my love. It was the most natural and amazing and uncomplicated love I had ever felt. I found no fault with him and there was not one remnant of bitterness as I began to explain the love of God—from one bully to another.
“And that’s what I want to talk with you about this weekend,” I explained to the men at the retreat. “God in you. Wouldn’t it be thrilling to find Him in you, ready and capable for everything you face?”
So that’s what we talked about: Where is God? (In me.) What’s He doing there? (Having a fight with the flesh.) How can I let Him do whatever He wants from within me? (Hit my pause button.) How can I assist others to know God? (Set my mind on what the Spirit says.)
After communion and some more worship, we concluded with this:
Ephesians 3:14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
It was, perhaps, the best retreat I have ever been a part of. . .at least until the next one.