Sunday, June 28, 2009

Secret Life Of Cats

Okay, I admit it--I'm not much of a cat lover. Over the years I have occasionally run over, I mean come across a cat I liked. But thinking about it, the reason I liked the cat was because it acted somewhat like a dog. It was genuinely playful, liked to hang out with me, and had a personality that wasn't turned on when it wanted food, and turned off at all other times. Know what I mean? Well, I have a couple of great friends who have a bunch of cats. They were her gift to the marriage, but he had to fight them off in order to sit next to her, eat dinner alone, watch a show, and just about anything and everything married people like to do. He knew that, win or lose, it was a turf war. He won. But not long ago his wife spent some time in the northwest, leaving him all alone with the cat gang. This short cartoon is something of what happened every morning while she was away. You'll like it. . .unless you like cats, in which case you'll think it's an unfair characterization, and then you'll start yeowling. . .like a cat.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Dam Beavers

(It's the weekend, and that means giving vent to my sometimes stifled humor. You may want to hide. . .)

This is an actual letter sent to a man named Ryan DeVries regarding a pond on his property. It was sent by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality, State of Pennsylvania.

The Dam

SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County 

Dear Mr. DeVries: 

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond. 

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department's files shows that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated. 

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. 

We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted.

The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2006. 

Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action.

We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions. 


David L. Price 
District Representative and Water Management Division. 

Here is the actual response sent back by Mr. DeVries: 

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County 

Dear Mr. Price, 

Your certified letter dated 12/17/02 has been handed to me to respond to. 

I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane, Trout Run, Pennsylvania. 

A couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood 'debris' dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of natures building materials 'debris.' 

I would like to challenge your department to attempt to emulate their dam project any time and/or any place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic. 

These are the beavers/contractors you are seeking. As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity. 

My first dam question to you is: 

(1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers, or 

(2) do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request? 

If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued. 

(Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental 
Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.) 

I have several concerns. My first concern is, aren't the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation -- so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event, causing flooding, is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names. 

If you want the stream 'restored' to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers -- but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English. 

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond. If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers' Dams). 

So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2006? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them. 

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention a real environmental quality and health problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! The bears are not careful where they dump! 

Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office. 



Friday, June 26, 2009

What An Incredible Message!

(From The Message; Romans 8:3-17. Fantastic!)

3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

12-14 So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You're A Piece Of Work

“You’re a piece of work.”

What if Jesus suddenly arrived where you are right now, and, looking you in the eye, made the above statement? How would you take it? Would you think He was kidding around? Making a joke? Would you look behind your back, thinking He was talking to someone else?

Imagine Him saying it to you—Terry, Mike, Debbie, Kevin, Daniel, Connie—“You’re a piece of work.” What might be your immediate interpretation?

Many of us would have a negative spin on it. No surprise. Most everything and everyone around us estimates and judges us by what we do, how we perform, and what we produce. We easily get used to living with that knowledge motivating us. But while our behavior is not completely unimportant, it does not necessarily reveal who we are.

I can act like a six year old. Ellen, my fourteen year old daughter, can sound like she’s twenty-nine. Sarah can act like a ballroom dancer. Emma, my twelve year old, can sing and wiggle like a rock star.

So when God says, “You’re a piece of work,” it’s highly likely that He isn’t judging your behavior but reviving your spirit. He’s pretty good at that. God makes sons and daughters—brilliant and fantastic—and works always to encourage them to live by faith in what He has made of them. It’s the number one reason why, whenever we beat ourselves up in prayer—“You’re such a worthless loser!”—we don’t hear God agree with us. We’re wrong and He knows better.

“You’re a piece of work.”

To believe what God thinks of you and to live from it, you’ll need regular exercise in the truth and by the Spirit. He works in keeping with what He knows is true, and you have a part in it, too. Agree with Him! Even out loud. “He’s right about me. I am His workmanship, created holy and blameless, made perfect in Him, and all of heaven recognizes me.” You won’t be boasting, you’ll be agreeing with Him and boasting about Him. And you’ll feel better because the gospel, even the good news about you and God coming out of your own mouth, is the power of God.

If you don’t get regular godly exercise, you’ll read that first sentence negatively, rather than positively. And that means you'll be frustrated in life with Jesus because you'll be living by the standards of this world, even though He isn’t. It happens to me, too.

When that happens, it won’t be long before your flesh will be in evidence in most all you do. Your Christian life will become about restraining yourself from ugly and ungodly stuff, rather than about living in Christ, holy, righteous and free.

That’s no way to live.

Take a little time and ask God what He thinks of you. Think of a scripture or two that says what He has made of you—the real you. You'll like what happens.

You’re better off than you think.


4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10, italics mine)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Families & Grace

I've recently re-read some chapters of a great book, "Families Where Grace Is In Place," by Jeff VanVonderen. I highly recommend it.

If you've yet to read it, ask for it at your local Christian bookstore, or you can go here to buy it online.

Here are a couple of quotes:

“If our sense of well-being and value come from the behavior of another person instead of God, we will always be giving off messages that say to others: You’d better perform right. The innate problem is that no human being is capable of performing well enough to establish anothers self-esteem—that person’s behavior will always fall short at some point. If the other person is not willing or able to change their behavior fast enough or in the ‘right way’ to meet our needs, most of us decide that their behavior is an issue we must do something about.” (Page 26)

“Most people who feel worn out in a relationship think they are tired because of the other person. ‘If he would just change,’ or ‘If she would only stop pressuring me, I wouldn’t be so tired.’ This is not true! You and I are the cause of our own tiredness, by trying to make changes in someone else that we do not have the power to make.” (Page 31)

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Big-Picture Reminder

“Let’s not lose our place in the biblical story of which we’re a part.  As believers we are the colony of heaven, fighting our way through a wilderness world with a glad message of galvanizing truth:  The wilderness isn’t forever.  The holy God who made us all has given up on none of us.”  

-Jim McGuiggan

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chicken For Breakfast

It's the weekend, so it's my opportunity to trot out my twisted humor and give it an airing. I feel so much better afterward. I'm not exactly sure you will, but. . .

This short video could be titled several ways including, "When Opposites Marry," "It's Better Than Yelling At Her," "Not A Morning Person," or "Chicken For Breakfast."

You pick.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friendship With God

I’m playing for $1,000,000 on a television game show—all the world is watching—and the final question is: “What’s the most valuable ingredient in your day-to-day relationship with God?”

And my final answer is: “Friendship.”

I believe that the best ingredient in my daily life with God is friendship—He is actually my best friend. If He were not, then my attempts at service and discipleship and obedience would become dry and necessary work-a-day items worthy of who He is—the Big Boss. I would have a sort of employee relationship with God, who would always be scrutinizing and measuring my performance. Did you punch your time card today? Were you on time? Did you have a pleasing attitude? Did you whistle while you worked?

No thanks. Not for me. And not for Him either.

Have you ever gotten tired of serving, serving, serving? What ended your fatigue? Wasn't it when you stopped and got off the job? Doesn't that tell you that there's something missing in your service? There is. It's friendship with God. While ultimately He is the Big Boss in the Big Office, He doesn't confine Himself to proper relationships commensurate to His status, shunning interaction with the lower subjects of his corporation. He's with you! Right there on the job, sharing in your labor, delighting in your style, making much of Himself by pointing at you in front of the angels. He enjoys you!

I don't mean to demean service to God, it's just that many of us have been kept from the delight and honor of it because we're so concerned with how we're doing it and that we have to! Nowadays we commonly measure ourselves by the amount and quality of our service but rarely by the enjoyment of our friendship with our Friend.

One of the most startling things I tell the people in ministry with me, be it Children's, Youth, Music, Women's, etc., is that they don't have to do it. “Cathe, there's no one collecting your time card at the end of this week, you know.” If service to God has become a grinding drudgery, the antidote is not more service or less—it's a renewal of friendship with God. Discovering that we can enjoy His friendship on the job is what keeps us well in the job. When serving becomes more important than friendship with Him, the life and value go out of it, and you probably know what a power outage that is.

Serving God is a high calling—friendship with God is the fuel. Yet if we can be sold on the idea that service is the highest compliment to God and not love reciprocated and friendship enjoyed, then Satan can soon weary us. That will prevent the full stature of who and what we are from emerging in us. And something of the glory of God gets hidden from view.

But what if we give ourselves to enjoying God and His friendship with us? Will we get much out of it? Will we still serve Him? Will it help us on the job and make a car payment? Yes! Sort of. Friends love each other and love works. More specifically, love invigorates and compels us; it motivates us and carries us into the day in order to see where it might rush out, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14. It's relatively effortless, like a perfect stream moving through you. And couldn't you use a little bit of that on the job? How about around home or in your relationships?

Let me ask you this: if you spent a day dwelling upon and enjoying the love God has for you, would you expect to receive an infusion of power, some real "Oomph" for your day? Would you expect to be supplied, compelled and driven by it and think that it would be the best thing for your day?

Many people don’t think so, and that’s a big flaw.

As Christians, when we fail and break down, it's not because we’ve failed to serve enough or “just right,” it's a failure of love. I’m tellin’ you. Fortunately, God's love is at all times available and lavished upon us because of His grace to us in Christ. He has made us entirely lovable! Knowing what He thinks of you, knowing why He approaches you in the manner He does (as a friend!) is all because of grace. When you believe that He has made you His friend, what do you suppose He’ll think when you approach Him as if it’s true? What if you asked Him, “How’s my Friend today?” You know He’d love it! And that kind of approach to Him, that kind of relationship will greatly affect your love and life.

In love and friendship you'll look and act like a servant and disciple of Christ. With appreciated grace in evidence—you'll look great.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pleasure For God

Do you think God loves it when we discover Him to be as good as He says He is? I do too. It’s probably pretty high up there on His Daily-Thrill-O-Meter. So, take a look at the following:

"He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." (Eph 1:5-10)

I used to picture the sins of the world, the sins done long ago, sins now being done, and those that will be done by everyone everywhere, as sort of heaped on Jesus when He was nailed to the cross. There's the scene—Jesus bloodied and battered, with sins that reached to the sky piled atop Him . What a terrible burden. What a sight.

However, a while back it dawned on me that all those sins, yours and mine, weren't just stacked up on Jesus, they became His. No, He didn't commit them, but He took ownership of them, as if He had committed them. And as was just, God punished Jesus with the punishment due each and every one of those sins—the punishment we would have borne had they still been our sins.

Think of them all! Or, just think of yours. Every single failure became His failure, every nasty deed you've done, every ugly thought you've had, every act born of jealousy or vengeance, each impure act or prideful thought, every deception you've ever offered became His. As though He had done it.

Immediately following Paul's description of our being made new creations through Christ, he writes a single sentence describing how that all happened: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21, italics mine.)

Not only have we had our sins forgiven, we've had them removed, as though we had never done them—not even one! And, we've been given the righteousness of Christ as our own. What a trade.

We have been entirely redeemed, made completely right with God! In Him (which is where you and I are), we are perfect sons and daughters, without stain or blemish, or any question as to our belonging in the family. C'mon, that's amazing! It's God's amazing grace that He knowingly and delightedly lavished on us, "according to His good pleasure."

What does God like? What gives Him pleasure? Lavishing His sons and daughters.

We're better off than we think, and it's sure good to think about it. I bet He likes it when we do.

A New Arrival

David Needham gets it. Like a few other authors I could mention, I dive deeply into his puddles.

Needham writes, “Though still 'in the flesh'—our bodies are not yet redeemed—we ‘have no confidence in the flesh.’ If individuals walk ‘according to the flesh,’ their ‘life’ is nothing other than the kind of existence they had before they knew Christ. But we have been born again. In fact, we have ‘crucified the flesh’ in the sense that it is truly dead to us as being our source for life. The old has passed away and the new has arrived." (Phil 3:3; Rom 8:4; Gal 5:24; 2 Cor 5:17)

One of my most favorite books is Needham's—Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?

To go get it and for more information, Click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hero Boycott Addition, Part 3

(Here's an article I found in Leadership Magazine that may interest you--particularly in light of my previous two posts on Hero Boycott.)

Leader's Insight: Hero Boycott
Why the big-name celebrity leaders are turning me off.
by Angie Ward, Leadership contributing editor

A few years ago I attended a large ministry conference that included breakout sessions featuring a variety of speakers and "experts" on all things related to ministry and leadership. At one point during the conference, I was waiting in the lobby when one of the speakers (we'll call him Mr. Jensen) walked by, surrounded by at least 25 groupies who hung on this man's every word, nodding their agreement. I actually like this man's writing and philosophy, but was struck by the groupie mentality. A friend who was with me observed, "You know, I like what Jensen says, but God save us from the Jensenites."

Sadly, I've seen that "Jensenites" are becoming the rule rather than the exception. I've heard dozens of pastors speak breathlessly and reverently about their ministerial and spiritual heroes, reading their books and their blogs, listening to their podcasts, following them at conferences, hoping just to get a glimpse of them or to touch their robe so they can receive some magical leadership or teaching power that will result in overwhelming ministry success and their own fame.

It's like comedian Steve Martin said long ago in a standup routine: "Repeat after me: 'I will be different. I will be unique.'"

It's no different today than it was in the first century, when Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that the Christ-followers there were dividing themselves over who they followed. "I follow Paul," said some, while others countered, "I follow Apollos."

Today it's the same story, just a different millennium: "I am of Hybels." "I am of Warren." "I am of Maxwell." "I am of Stanley." "I am of Moore." "I am of Groeschel." "I am of McLaren." "I am of Driscoll."

Others play the same game, but go back a few centuries, as if attaching yourself to an older (or dead) personality is somehow more spiritual: "I am of Calvin." "I am of Arminius." "I am of Augustine." Or impress others with their intellect: "I am of Irenaeus." "I am of Tertullian." "I am of Clement of Rome."

"Stop it!" Paul says, in essence, in 1 Corinthians 3:5. "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task."

I have nothing against any of the leaders I mentioned above. They are doing what God has called and gifted and assigned them to do, and they have all made a significant impact for the Kingdom. Many of them are worthy mentors and models. But they are also just servants, just like each of us who follows Christ. My problem is not with the celebrities, but with the groupies who have made them such.

These groupies try to become clones of their heroes, instead of becoming who God has made them and ministering in a uniquely personal way that no celebrity could ever attain. Instead of claiming their standing in Christ and asking what He wants of their leadership in their unique situation, they settle for a trinkety-bracelet approach to ministry: "What Would Hybels Do?"

I have a friend who goes to an Anglican church because, as she put it, "I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience." What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.

Believe it or not, ministry celebrities do not hold mystical powers or keys to success. All of them stumbled repeatedly in their journeys, and continue to struggle with the temptations common to every man and woman, except that now, they also have to deal with the trappings of celebrity and cult followings. Each was assigned by God to till the soil in one corner of the Kingdom and faithfully invest the talents entrusted to him or her. Are we doing the same? Or are we so busy mining tips for success in the latest book by our favorite author that we ignore our own calling?

Who do you follow? Is it Paul, or Apollos, or some other megachurch pastor or missional prophet? This may come as a surprise, but I believe that it is actually much easier to imitate your hero than to be yourself: to claim your own identity and calling; to wrestle with your own brokenness; and to struggle minute-by-minute with God to figure out what is the best way to lead in your context.

For just one season, forget the celebrities. Get in touch with God's unique design for your life and ministry. In the words of Fernando Ortega and Anne Graham Lotz: "Just give me Jesus."

(Angie Ward is a church leader, ministry coach, forward thinker, ministry spouse, and follower of Jesus living and serving in Durham, North Carolina.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hero Boycott, Part 2

What a lively discussion! Hooray! (See comments below yesterday's blog.)

I think we come at this from our longings for the sons of God. And shouldn’t it be that way? From my earliest days in ministry I have noticed and been grieved that much of the church has accepted and adopted a style of ministry that is more about appearance and accomplishment than it is about Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life and the results that come from Him. The former is a Simon the Sorcerer sort of approach to ministry.

While Paul’s ministry was enabled after, as he put it, God “. . .was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the gentiles,. . .” (Gal 1:15,16; italics mine), Simon the Sorcerer wanted the authority and effect of the Spirit apart from an enabling and transforming work of God. There is so much that is missed without that work of God—and that’s what bothers me. I want the sons and daughters of God to have what Paul had—a revelation or working of God in them that becomes the “so that” of their life. I believe He wants this working for them, too.

If “copying” another persons’ ministry means becoming a sort of knockoff—having the appearance but lacking the power thereof—then I am opposed to it. If, however, “copying” is about watching and listening to someone filled by the Spirit and in His authority, so as to yearn to know God who enables the outworking of the vessel, then I’m all for it.

I remember listening to Dick Eastman talk about the love of God he so enjoyed through prayer that I teared-up and said aloud, “Oh, Lord; I want to know you and love you like that man does.” That “I want what he has” served me well as I described to God the yearning He had revealed in my heart. I fed it back to Him, and He worked it out. In this way, “imitation” or “copy” is an excellent word. To have pretended that I actually knew all about it before He had worked it, would have been, well, unfortunate. While the apostle Paul had no one to imitate on his road to transformation, most of us benefit greatly by the likes of Eastman and many others.

I don’t want the copy, I don’t want the appearance, I want Him who lives and works in me. And that’s what motivates and frames my ministry. I regularly describe (as vividly as I can) how God works with me and in me in light of the many biblical passages that bring this to light. I’ve written extensively about it in my book, and I know there are many who use me and my writings as a sort of guide to knowing God, and how to cooperate with Him through their days. They’re not trying to be me, but they like how I set them up to grow and be themselves.

However, too often Christians have been commanded to an appearance that goes along with a prescribed style of ministry without the heart for it. While Simon the Sorcerer’s offering was monetary, today ours is slavish obedience to whoever the commanding pattern-setter is. When we attempt the form without the life, frustration and failure is imminent. It must be. And that’s where I meet many people today. They’ve had little in the way of Paul—Christ in them revealed so that—and have failed in the way of Simon the Sorcerer.

I certainly agree with Mike that what we have is a failure of godly leadership; the many burned-out and frustrated believers attest to this. Perhaps we can re-define and reclaim the word “copy” so it has the original biblical intent. That will take some doing, however, because in my estimation, the “knockoff” or “pretend to be” definition is so dominant. Maybe that’s Mike’s job. God-speed.

Until then—May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Hero Boycott

I don't like copy-cats. "Get a life," I might think, "and call me when you've got one."

A few years ago I was at a leadership seminar near Denver, Colorado. One of the leaders of the leaders was leading one of the sessions, when he said, "If you're going to lead your people, you've got to model for them. Modeling is so important! They've got to see you doing it before they will do it themselves. They need to copy you, and that's how leaders lead."

Did you follow all that?

Raising my hand during Q&A, I asked, "If what you, the leader, is most concerned about is that people are watching your leadership style, so you'd better do it right so they can copy you, doesn't that make you very self-centered? And doesn't that teach people to copy you, rather than assist them toward transformation, one of the high goals of Christian life? Doesn't that make ministry about copying, rather than about the Holy Spirit's ability to live in us and through us, making of us what He wants? The way I see it, that kind of leadership sets people up to be your groupies, not the people you serve so that they may grow in Christ. It seems to make the whole thing, well, fake; a put-on, rather than who we really are."

If one were to gauge the acceptance of my remarks by the look on the leader's face and the discussion that followed, I failed utterly. Except with one youth leader, who shot me a look of, "Oh Lord! I agree!" Thinking back on it, I'm not certain my line of reasoning was appropriate for the occasion. I might have been wrong to have brought it up. . .maybe. However, I was becoming weary of hearing how ministry is about copying the most successful, 'duplicatable', user-friendly method available, and about modeling and teaching others to do the same. After all, I reasoned, why would you need to know God for that? Further, wouldn't that cheat those around you from knowing Him, too?

Yes, it would. And it does.

Look, I don't mean to say that we shouldn't have mentors and heroes and leaders we admire and such. But if those leaders teach us to copy their style of ministry or their style of leadership, and that's the sum and substance of what we get from them—choose another. Leaders who tell you and show you how to know God and how to let Him do what He wants with you are the ones we must choose. That's what makes life genuine, and not an external put-on or a show-off.

It's all about transformation, not imitation. The former is what God is now doing with you and me. It's what's now most natural and invigorating because it has to do with life—His life, real life for which you were designed.

Anything less is a distraction.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Like Bad Headlines, Part 2

Yeah--it's the weekend. See yesterday's heading for more information.

Double Meanings From Around The World

~ Farmer Bill Dies in House
~ Nation's Head Seeks Arms
~ Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
~ Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
~ Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
~ Stud Tires Out
~ Eye Drops off Shelf
~ Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
~ Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66
~ Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
~ Two Ships Collide, One Dies
~ Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
~ Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
~ Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
~ Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
~ New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
~ Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
~ Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
~ Ban On Soliciting Dead in Trotwood
~ Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
~ Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing
~ Air Head Fired
~ Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board
~ Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
~ Include your Children when Baking Cookies

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I Like Bad Headlines, Part 1

It's the weekend--time for a little fun and general nuttiness. The following is from Mikey's Funnies. If you'd like to subscribe to free, daily funnies or get more information, click here.

Double Meanings From Around The World

~ L.A. Voters Approve Urban Renewal By Landslide
~ Patient At Death's Door--Doctors Pull Him Through
~ Diaper Market Bottoms Out
~ Antique Stripper to Display Wares at Store
~ Lawyers Give Poor Free Legal Advice
~ Lingerie Shipment Hijacked--Thief Gives Police The Slip
~ Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
~ Fund Set Up for Beating Victim's Kin
~ Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years
~ Nicaragua Sets Goal to Wipe Out Literacy
~ Autos Killing 110 a Day--Let's Resolve to Do Better
~ 20-Year Friendship Ends at Altar
~ War Dims Hope For Peace
~ If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last A While
~ Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
~ Man is Fatally Slain
~ Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
~ Death Causes Loneliness, Feelings of Isolation
~ Flaming Toilet Seat Causes Evacuation at High School
~ Defendants Speech Ends in Long Sentence
~ Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
~ House Passes Gas Tax Onto Senate
~ Police Discover Crack in Australia
~ William Kelly, 87, was Fed Secretary
~ Collegians are Turning to Vegetables
~ Caribbean Islands Drift to Left

Friday, June 12, 2009

Searching For Treasure

A friend, referring to the sermons she liked at her church, said, “They are so practical; he just tells us what to do. They’re not about all that mystical stuff…”

And I instantly wanted so much more for her that it nearly hurt. She wasn’t becoming more and more fascinated with Jesus, finding her greatest delight in Him, she was fixated upon herself—and that’s simply not nearly enough.

Brennan Manning writes, “The paltriness of our lives is largely due to our fascination with the trinkets and trophies of the unreal world that is passing away…When we are not profoundly affected by the treasure in our grasp, apathy and mediocrity are inevitable. If passion is not to degenerate into nostalgia or sentimentality, it must renew itself at its source. The treasure is Jesus Christ. He is the Kingdom within.”

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias comments, “When that great joy surpassing all measure seizes a man, it carries him away, penetrates his inmost being, subjugates his mind. All else seems valueless compared to that surpassing worth. No price is too great to pay. The unreserved surrender of what is most valuable becomes a matter of course. The decisive thing in the parable is not what the man gives up, but his reason for doing so – the overwhelming experience of their discovery. Thus it is with the kingdom of God. The effect of the joyful news is overpowering; it fills the heart with gladness; it changes the whole direction of one’s life and produces the most wholehearted self-sacrifice.”

We're all looking for treasure. It's just that only One actually satisfies and keeps on satisfying.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Dung Days

If your days are a sort of endless dance past happy meadows and blissful mountaintops, then you may not appreciate this LifeNote. Don’t bother reading any further unless you’re looking for reasons to pray. But if you’re acquainted with turmoil, if a frequent dance partner through your days is frustration, then you’ll get it.

I’m writing about dung. That’s right—dung—and days that are full of it. The apostle Paul knew all about those kinds of days, and I do too.

What do I mean? Well, let me give you some examples. When you look back on all the plans you had for life and you think sadly, “What the heck happened?” that’s a dung day. Or, if you have a day or two when your educational path seems wasted or useless, especially if you went past high school and into college, then that’s a dung day. Or maybe you consider the long ago favor of your childhood or the standing you once enjoyed in your community, and, in light of present difficulties, you wonder, “Where did I go wrong?” then that’s a dung day. Or perhaps your memory loads up a bygone time when you really had it goin’ on, you were a mover and a shaker, a power-broker, but now you feel like you’ve been shoved off the radar screen of life. As you think about your comparatively meaningless existence, well, that’s a dung day.

Or, as a friend likes to say in her best Scottish brogue, a day when “It’s all crrrrrrap.”

Are you with me? Now let’s put it into a biblical perspective.

If you’ve received Jesus, if you’re a Christian, then God thinks He has made you a new person—crucified you to this world, made you an alien-new-creation in it, and given you a whole new set of likes and dislikes. And He didn’t call you on the phone and ask for your permission, or write you an email explaining it all and ask you to respond favorably before He went and did what He did. He simply did it; one of those omnipotent power plays He’s famous for.

Mostly we’re thankful He did what He did, saving us and all. But on days when things don’t add up, when our career path looks like a Dow Jones Industrials graph summarizing the last year, or when we don’t like our present situation in the least, then that’s the dung that proves we’re made for something else—knowing Jesus. I’m not kidding.

Here. Have a look at what Paul wrote:

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish (literally “dung”), that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, italics mine.)

Chances are good that you’re already having days of deep longing or turmoil. The god-given purpose—the target—of those longings is not so that things finally go the way “they should” and your life works the way you thought it would. No. God has set you up and is using the dung of your days to give you something way better. You’re longing for Him now. Feel it?

What you want is Him. Have you figured it out and told Him? Wanting Him is the highest and best wanting because there is nothing higher or better—and wanting and knowing Him will make you free from the far lower wantings and knowings that strangle the sons of God. Like wanting better stuff and knowing who’ll win the NBA finals.

Maybe right now you’re entirely lost in the dung—you can’t see anything else and you’re sick of it. I know what that’s like. But it’s a sort of blindness and sickness that serves the purpose of making your inner eyes, what Paul called the eyes of your heart, open up and become the useful and reliable things they’re intended to be.

And then you’ll be getting well. The sickness of this world—the lusts and longings that make feeble men and women—will not find you quite so easy to visit. And the dung days will have been turned to gold.

You’re better off than you think.

P.S. What are some of the ways by which you better-know Jesus? Praying and talking with Him? Reading the Bible or a good Christian oriented book? Listening to music? Taking a walk? Would you share some of those? I’ll add them to next week’s LifeNote. And how does doing things in order to know Jesus rank on your list of priorities? Time to make it match what God has made it to be for you? Is that what the dung days are telling you? Well, then. . .

Monday, June 08, 2009

God, The Middle Man

Crowding the top of my most-favorite verses in the Bible is Galatians 5:16—

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

When once we know that the flesh is not us but something in us, something against us, then what we want is to live free from its’ grip and influence. This verse carries that promise. Do this and you won’t do that.

A key couple of verses showing how to walk by the Spirit are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:13,14)

Perhaps the most practical, even useful aspect of God’s grace to us in Christ is that He lives in those who have received Him. He’s not just around us, He’s in us, and would love to be found. For sin to not be my master, for me to not “carry out the desire of the flesh,” I offer myself to the Holy Spirit who now lives in me. Surprisingly(!), I have found Him entirely capable! He does not ever succumb to the desires of the flesh, but always produces what He is like in me. That’s how the fruit of the Spirit is found in and through me to the glory of God.

And this is the most exhilarating way of living for us! I cannot think of anything better than knowing God and actually finding Him within. What an adventurous thrill it is. It's life outside the box, for sure.

Do I always offer myself to the Spirit perfectly? No. I am regularly duped into living by doing what’s right, or by avoiding what’s wrong, or by making good decisions and being a responsible individual, none of which is life by the Spirit, all of which cut out the Middle Man—God within me. I have a long history of life by the flesh, so even though I’ve found life by the Spirit the awesome wonder it is, I still fall back upon old patterns. . .but not as much as I used to. The sequence of Romans 6:13,14 is effectively, Don’t offer yourself to sin, don’t offer yourself to life without God. Rather offer yourself to the Holy Spirit who lives in you. And then, offer the parts of your body to Him as His to use.

God in you and in me is the Holy Spirit. He is The Middle man, who gets us out of the box and makes life happen in you and me.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Don't Judge Too Soon

Judging a situation too quickly can really make a mess of things--for you and for those you judge. It's best to move slowly and carefully, and to ask the Spirit what He thinks is going on. He usually has a pretty good idea, don't you think?

But He's not consulted in this brief video, as you will see.

Friday, June 05, 2009

It's Gotta Be Real

Well, it's the weekend--or close enough.

This clip brilliantly(!) underscores that one must marry by faith and for love--by faith that God is directing and will celebrate His achievement of bringing a man and a woman together as one, and for love--you gotta be bonkers for your spouse.


Have a wonderful, restful and invigorating weekend.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Redemption's Poster Boy

Growing up I learned that there were very desirable groups and clubs to which I could belong: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, and baseball teams. Join those and fun was on the way. Good to go.

In college (Go USC!) I took the necessary steps to join another kind of group with benefits galore—a fraternity. Say what you will about “frats,” but I liked the idea and wanted in. Near the end of our probationary period, those already “in” began to make those of us not yet in feel like we would never make it. In fact, after putting us through incredibly rigorous tests, they kicked us all out in a single night, one by one. Many of us felt like we deserved it, having failed the tests, but others were incensed at the seeming injustice.

Anyway, with great fanfare, they then welcomed all of us into the fraternity, telling us that the whole rejection had been an elaborate ruse. Ha! Just kidding. We had been redeemed and were now bona fide members, all rights and privileges given. Hooray.

That was probably my first biggish lesson in redemption—I needed to be rescued, and I was. But that first exercise was nothing compared to the one I was to receive from God. That first fraternity lesson was a fake-out. They attempted to get me to believe that I deserved rejection when, in fact, I really didn’t—just kidding. You’re not bad enough for us to kick you out! Come on in!

That’s nothing like biblical redemption. What God gives us is much better and far more serious.

To the Ephesians, Paul writes, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7,8; italics mine.)

To put it another way, He knowingly and gladly lavished upon us the grace of redemption. He had it all figured out and He loved doing it. Typical God! That’s how He is. And, unlike the situation in my fraternity days, we really were in bad, rejection-worthy shape. But God, Mr. Grace Himself, determined to show off through the incredible gift of redemption.

What does it mean?

Redemption means not only to be brought out of a terrible condition and fate, but also to be brought into an incredible condition and future. It’s similar to the word, “Justification.” This often used Biblical word means that not only has God made you so that you have never sinned (having put all of your failures upon Jesus, and treating Him as though He were guilty of them all), but God has made you as though you have always done everything just right--perfectly. He has given you the perfect righteousness of Jesus as your own. Like you have loved God and your neighbor as yourself all your life.

It’s staggering.

Redemption means that never again will I be a sin-natured flesh bag on my way to hell, sins paving the way. Never again. Jesus has made me (and you) a son, a Spirit-born, Spirit-filled son of God on my way to heaven. No matter how it looks, no matter how I look, Jesus redeemed me because He took me into Himself. And in Him, I have redemption, the absolute and eternal forgiveness of sins. And I don’t minimize how great and terrible my condition and sins were—no! In fact, His lavished grace is all the more glorious in light of my previous terrible condition.

Look, I don’t particularly want to be the poster boy for Romans 5:20—“…where sin increased, grace increased all the more;”—but, frankly, I already am! I know pretty much what I was before redemption, a pagan-natured flesh bag on the road to hell, and I rejoice over what I have been made now.

Forever and always have I been redeemed. Hebrews 9:12 says that Jesus obtained eternal redemption. To believe that is not only pleasing to God (“Hey! Ralph’s getting it—he believes!”), it’s a great exercise in my daily life.

Just call me Redemption’s Poster Boy.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Heaven Doesn't Fit

Ever feel like you’re just not hitting the target? Like you’re not in the right groove? Like you don't fit, no matter how hard you try?

I’m noodling around this morning and it occurs to me that I cannot make my homeland fit where I am now. I try so hard, but I never succeed in making my earthly existence match my heavenly birthplace. The two simply don’t get along. They are not at all simpatico.

God has often convinced me that I am no longer of this world. And He should know, since He’s the one who changed me. He’s the one who included me in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (Romans 6), making me a new creation with an entirely new way to live. There are actually days on end when I am convinced it’s all true.


And then there are days when either I forget, or I succumb to the conspiracy. You know the one. Daily living can be such a circus of stress and longing and fun and sadness and hope and disappointment and opportunity and rejection and indigestion that my new identity—citizen of heaven—seems a platitude at best.

Here are some of your new titles, Ralph: New creation. Son of God. Alien. Co-laborer.


That and $4 will get me a triple grande latte. At least that’s how it seems.

Anyway, this morning I am once again convinced about what Paul knew: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20,21)

I’m not sure how it happened, I’m not certain how the veil over my eyes was lifted to reveal the real me, but I’m glad it did. I suspect the Spirit has been snooping around, doing that revelation/transformation thing again. He’s pretty good at that.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Where You At? Part 2

Many years ago my mother pulled a trick on my brothers and me. While telling us that she would have homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting when we returned from school, she neglected to tell us that they wouldn’t be the usual deal.

Now, it’s a verified fact that, until her passing about a year ago, my mother made the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. (Those who protest obviously failed to have one, and are not part of the verification process—ignorance makes a mess of surveys. We’re dealing with facts here.) My mother didn’t overload her delicacies with too much chocolate either, making you wonder if you’re eating a chocolate bar rather than a cookie. Hers were balanced just right, and had nuts in them. Why some people insist on having nut-less chocolate chip cookies is beyond me. It’s wrong. I'm right about that. My mother would back me up, so don't argue with me.

Anyway, in my rush to cram the delicacy into my mouth, I failed to recognize a foreign scent in the kitchen. “Ooh! These are goooood!” I mumbled. Pointing to the cookie in my mouth, I asked, “But what’s that other thing in there? What is that?” With a smirk on her face, she said, “Do you like the cookies?” “Yes!” I replied. “Well,” she said, “that’s orange rind. I shaved several oranges into the mix. How do you like it?” Shocked, I said, “Orange rind?! What?! You put that in these?!” But I had to admit the cookies were better than ever. Orange rind.

Guess what I often think of when I have an orange in my hand? That’s right. Orange rind belongs in chocolate chip cookies—that’s where it’s perfect. Anywhere else, and orange rind is just decoration. But in the right place it’s brilliant.

In my previous LifeNote, I wrote about where each Christian is located right now—in Christ. Apart from Him, there isn’t much to brag about. Yet, as the book of Ephesians so often reads, in Him we’re incredibly fortunate—we’re prefect. I want to encourage you to accept God’s view of you and “where you’re at.” The adversary, Satan, virtually everything in the world, and the flesh all work in harmony to see that you don’t believe Him. When that happens it’s disastrous.

We’re most at risk when we see ourselves outside of Christ, detached from Him and living on our own. It’s during those times when I’ve been listening to the wrong source of my identity that I begin to worry about “my walk”, worry about “my righteousness”, worry about “my holiness,” and begin fearing for “my life.” Practically speaking, I think of life as “Jesus over there,” and “me over here.” And I’m not enough—I’m orange rind! “What have I done that’s worth anything?” I might think, or, “I have made so many bad decisions—what hope do I have now?” Or perhaps, “I’m such an undeserving idiot! Why would God do anything for me?!”

See what’s happening? A foreign voice is attempting to seduce me away from the truth to a lie. It’s telling me that I'm not in Christ. It suggests that I see myself and think of myself as outside of Him.

If I listen and believe that foreign voice, then my hope is no longer with God—it’s all up to me. So I have to secure myself, I have to be my own hope for the future, and much more. There’s no way I’ll be able to live well or with any kind of deep confidence, since I’m all fouled up. When I’m deceived from the truth (“I’m in Christ, and in Him I have everything!”) by a lie (“Well, you’re such a mess that you’re on your own—Good luck, orange breath!”), I can’t help but feel miserable.

And I almost always act just like I feel.

But what’s the truth? You are forever secure with God. Why? Because Jesus secured you by bringing you into Himself. Why are you holy and blameless with God? Because Jesus brought you into Himself, and gave you His righteousness and holiness, making you that way. Nothing in Him could be anything but perfect. Why is every promise God has ever made “Yes” to you? Because, taking you into Himself, He has hidden your life in His, making what He deserves yours. Think of that. Not only have you been changed from what you were before you were saved, you’ve been put somewhere different—into Christ. You’ve been utterly redeemed from your previous condition as well as your previous location—on your own. Now and forever, you’re in Him.

That’s how God sees it, and that’s how it is. Maybe it’s time to look again at where you’re at.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Eph 1:7,8)

(To help you remember “Where you at?” today, and because I like these ads, here’s another good one.)