Friday, October 30, 2009

The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the constantly threatened in Ephesus, he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dirty Diapers & Divine Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bulldozing Mt. Sinai

Just this morning I had a strong reminder that Jesus Himself is my hope and life. Sometimes I forget that.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should/could/might do in order to live the Christian life. I think about renewing my mind, praying, sowing to the Spirit, reading, calling someone to share our faith in Christ, and lots of other ways by which to live in Christ, reaping what He has earned and secured for me. These are all excellent for me.

But sometimes I get jumped by a particular fleshly or spiritual thing, like covetousness (I want a new car/laptop/piano right now), fear (I have no money for a new car/laptop/piano), lust (I’ll get satisfaction some other way, then), or selfish ambition (I don’t have to wait on the Lord because there are lots of things I can do and really excel at, and get my car/laptop/piano). And I don’t mean a little covetousness or fear or lust or selfish ambition, I mean a mountain load—like all of Mt. Sinai is migrating on top of me, and I am unable to breathe.

After feeling the crushing weight of the assault, somehow I remember or am reminded to look to Jesus as the deliverer and antidote for all that stuff. He is the cure! I speak His name, I call for Him, I think about what He is like and that He lives right now in me, and things begin to change.

He’s working—in me.

Jesus is my prized possession who relieves me of covetousness, He is my confidence and my love who drives away fear, my satisfaction who releases me from fleshly lust, my reward who delivers me from selfish ambition, and my bulldozer to push away my personal Mt. Sinai. He really is all that.

I don’t know about you, but I’m simply not able to remember enough about how to live the Christian life, what I should/could/might do, and need Him to do it for me. He’s really good at living in me and likes it when I give Him something to do.

It’s my best way to live—Christ in me.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekend Photo Op

Yes, it's the weekend--time for a bit of fun and frivolity.

Here's a great little video of people going into a free, automated photo booth . . . or so they think.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ah, Individuality

Here's a little something for the metal wearing crowd. Of course, that would include more than half the population.

Have a great weekend! (Go, USC!)

Ensuring The Opposite

Don't you think this would induce the opposite of what they, Prohibitionist women, wanted? I would have done something dramatic, like pour a beer over myself, ensuring that they wouldn't be coming after my lips any time soon. . .or ever.

Thanks for telling me how to avoid you, ladies! Nothing personal. . .well, maybe.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Taking Chances

Here's a great article by friend and author, Steve McVey.

If you've ever been restricted by fear of the future, you'll enjoy "Taking Chances In Life." For that matter, you'll enjoy EVERYTHING Steve writes. He's a prolific blogger (including excellent video posts) and author, and one of my favorite resources for hope and love and plain 'ol refreshing.

To read it, click here, and visit for more by Steve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Trouble With Marriage

Oh, the trouble with marriage.

While I love being married to Sarah, marriage is fundamentally a big problem—it’s a devotion divider. The apostle Paul wants us to be free from concerning ourselves with it. In fact, he counsels married people to live as if they were not.

Impossible? Paul writes,

"What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; . . . For this world in its present form is passing away. 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband." (1 Cor 7:29,31-34, NIV; italics mine.)

Keep in mind that this living as if you had no spouse is not a grueling sacrifice, nor is it a cold, logical point of self-denial. Instead, it is a command to our own fulfillment, especially in marriage, and the highest development of our life in Christ. It is the way to a happy marriage.

Paul continues, "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor 7:35, NIV; italics mine.)

Paul isn’t on a marriage-ending crusade; that would be unbiblical and ridiculous. Obviously, he doesn't mean we should dump our spouses or mistreat them in any way, but that we should continue to keep our devotion to Jesus genuinely primary—no, our devotion to Jesus must be undivided. Why? Because our devotion to Jesus is the only relationship that will produce love.

God is love—He doesn't have love, His love doesn't ebb and flow, rise and fall. He is love, and intimacy with Him will produce it in you and me. No other relationship can do that. At best, all that other relationships can do is elicit love or provide a place for it to go, but they cannot produce love. Undivided devotion to Jesus means love with a capital L.

So when we book and sermon and seminar ourselves nearly to death out of concern for marriage and how to have a good one, take loads of notes and make plenty of pledges and commitments about how we'll behave from now on, we're likely dividing our devotion, the very thing Paul warned against. We’ve got only so much devotion to go around. Five techniques to have a happy wife (make sure you've got them all!), six tips for a happy husband (don’t forget any!), plus assorted marital pitfalls to avoid, and our devotional pie is getting eaten up. How much is left for Jesus? No wonder we’re too tired to pray or read or worship or spend enjoyable time with God—we’re not devotionally single, we’re devotionally used up.

By focusing our concern and devotion upon marriage (or any worldly relationship, for that matter), we're unintentionally saying, "Here's how to mess up your marriage—be really concerned about it. Focus on it, work tirelessly on it, and pray about it unceasingly. Give it everything you’ve got." But Christian marriage is not about out-committing or out-performing non-Christian marriages. Yippee! Our divorce rate is lower than yours! Marriage for the Christian has a radically different starting point—union with God and union with each other—and it has a radically different way forward.

Again, no one is suggesting you abandon your marriage! If you’re a klutz at loving your spouse, if you ignore him, if you demean her, if you have no idea that your wife likes flowers and chocolate, and that your husband likes gadgets, then take a class on marital manners—you need them! But if you want to truly love, then no amount of marital techniques will bring it about. The fount of love is God—growing devotion to knowing and loving Him will baptize you and everyone around you in love.

My wife knows that when I'm overwhelmingly devoted to Jesus, she is going to get love, love which is way better than anything I might cook up on my own. In fact, she and I believe that marriage provides a unique opportunity to grow in devotion to Jesus by being weaned away from the many lesser devotions of this life. That's not easy—it’s takes time to grow in faith. When everything says, "Think of the benefits of being deeply devoted to your spouse, and here’s how!" we're learning to put it under our devotion to Jesus. It's not difficult to imagine what a great step of faith that is.

But, oh, the benefits.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Got My Back?

Just now I am leaving for an isolated mountain cabin, there to spend a week alone with God. I did this five years ago and got the beginnings of a book out of it (Better Off Than You Think), so I am humbled and excited to be doing it again.

I am grateful to my wife and daughters for their enthusiastic approval of my trip, and ask that you would pray for them. It's not uncommon that when I am away, the adversary increases his attempts on each of us.

Finally, tomorrow's post is notably challenging and controversial. Moments ago someone commented after reading it on my Facebook page: "Interesting . . . but this sounds contradictory." For many readers, it will. Another friend wrote, "I like this. This is something that not only couples that are already married need to consider, but couples who are in a long-term relationship or couples that are engaged should really focus on before entering into marriage!"

It may not be what you're used to, but it is Biblical. It has long been a concern of mine that, in the honorable desire to have a good marriage, we have not given Christ in us an opportunity, but have looked to something else. That something else has transfixed us and drawn us away from Him who is our love and life. And made a mess of things.

I think you'll benefit, and I welcome your comments.

And thanks for your love and care,

- Ralph

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Love Navigator

There are good reasons why I’m a love navigator.

As far back as I can remember, I recall what it felt like to be loved—to be desired and liked, spoken well of, highly regarded, treated well and sought out. For the most part, I learned the necessary moves to get more of it. Who wouldn’t? Besides, I figured out that being around love was invigorating for everyone. So why not do my part and provide the necessary reason for love to be given? I will be lovable—everybody benefits.

But I also remember that being lovable had its’ downside.

Sometimes my lovable crusade induced a response I didn’t want. Early on it meant a sticky kiss from my lipstick encrusted grandma, or from some of my parent’s admiring friends. Since I’m an identical twin, sometimes people were just overwhelmed by our double lovableness and had to give us big smooches on our cheeks—double yuck. That kind of love always left a mark.

Later on, sometimes my lovableness wasn’t rewarded, or maybe it was rejected by someone I thought should have appreciated my lovable moves. Didn’t they want to love? What was wrong? Still other times my projected lovableness induced reactions I didn’t want. By openly broadcasting, “Love me” throughout the day, anybody, I mean anybody, might well respond, “Okay!” And that’s trouble. To make matters worse, most everybody else was doing their own version of The Love Crusade. What a loving mess.

(If Cupid exists, then my view of him in relation to his efforts is far from a lovely fairy tale . . . more like a dark comedy.)

Anyway, that’s when I discovered the need to navigate love. I’ll bet you have, too. I want this love, but not that. I want love here, but not there. I want love like this, but not like that.

Unfortunately, that has caused an awful, unintended result—I play navigator with God’s love, as well.

When He revealed His love for me in 1982, I became a love lunatic—and that was a good thing. Any verse that mentioned the love of God became poster material, and all I wanted was to remain in the knowledge of His love. In fact, the desire for His love and the enjoyment of it was the greatest obedience motivator I have ever found. It was why I read my Bible, talked to my neighbor, stopped sinning, went into the ministry, why I prayed, and why I gave money. I did it for love. God’s love was my strength.

But over the years I haven’t always had time for God’s love. I was busy, I was bothered, I was building something, I was serving. No time for love just now—I’ll get to that when time permits. I navigated away from love, and the evidence was obvious. When sin or frustration or anger or failure popped up in my life, I tried stomping them out. Quit it! I command you! Of course, stomping didn’t work; it never does. I simply didn’t recognize that it was all a result of a failure with love.

God’s love crusade is not out of need, as it was with mine. He means to display how incredible He is by lavishing love all over the place. And it's most obvious where it is least deserved, but most appreciated—and effective. Fortunately, He has made us to need His love beyond the need for anything else. Pretty smart of Him, don't you think?

I recognize that I have a learned problem with love—my history shows it. The navigational skills I once sought and used, I must drop before God. That’s the best daily exercise I get, and it makes every other relationship an avenue for the glory of God’s love.

Besides, when I first stand before Jesus on that day, I fully expect a smooch on the kisser. I can’t wait.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The End Of Pretending

We’re prone to pretending, you and I, acting as though we’re capable when the truth is that’s not the issue. God has not invested Himself in our capability but in His own. And He wants you and me to have that. God is not willing that we should be kept from the authentic life and grace of Christ in us, so He allows—even causes—awful frustration to visit with us.

This isn’t about learning and growing either. Once you’ve found Christ’s power at work within you through frustration, it doesn’t mean you’ve passed the class and there will be no more tests. What a crazy thought that is; we expect that growing in Christ means life gets better with time, passing one class and grade after another, and one day we’ll graduate. That’s not what this is. This is where belief and experience meet, where life is less and less about pretending and posturing and more and more about the reality of Christ in us. Paul’s life experiences didn’t get better and nicer or become mellow with age. He didn’t proclaim that he wanted to be done with this life and get on to the next because he was bored but because he ached. (See 2 Corinthians 5.)

Prolonged frustration and bother don’t happen simply to goad us into good behavior or to “teach us a lesson”—it keeps us from pretending we can do anything apart from Christ. And it happens so we’ll find Him. The inability to keep yourself together or to keep producing the look of love for someone for whom you feel none is not a sign that you need to recommit and do the right thing. It’s the death of thinking you can and are supposed to do anything apart from Jesus. Frustration is the beginning of the end of pretending.

Too often we fail to think of ourselves as in Christ, living in Him at every moment. Instead we think of ourselves as outside of Christ with a whole lot to do for Him. We may think of quiet times and moments of solitude with Jesus as charging up our depleted batteries; better not let yours run down too far or your whole system will crash. Plug in, charge up, and off you go, hoping you’re charged-up enough to face the unknown of the day. And when it appears you’re not, keep smiling, hold it together, and pretend anyway. Wouldn’t Jesus want it that way?

No, He wouldn’t. In light of your inability, instead He would beckon you to live by faith that He is within and that He is capable. That’s why frustration is so important! It keeps us bothered with this world and the stuff we go through every day so we’ll not live by it or for it. When you’ve grown discontented with the world, a look within will save you from a needless burnout.

(Excerpted from my book, "Better Off Than You Think," Ch. 13)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gotta Get People Involved

Have you ever flown on Southwest Airlines?

Every time I have there was something unusual about how the flight attendants assisted us. It helped make the flight fun. Always an attendant re-worked the pre-flight instructions. " . . . In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the compartment above you. After you have stopped screaming, pull the mask to your face, . . ." Most times when offering snacks and beverages they were playfully rude. "No, I don't think a diet coke will do it. You look like you need a stiff drink . . . or maybe a slap across your face. How many of our passengers think this man needs a slap? Raise your hand if you agree with me."

Always they run the risk of getting passengers too involved, like the time my seat mate rolled a tangerine all the way down the aisle to the cockpit door, where a flight attendant was making coffee. FYI, the attendant was shocked, but then gave a thumbs up because of the skill of the feat.

But passenger involvement is usually a great thing--like in this video. Have a look.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How To Look Terrible During Worship – A Video

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

When I was a spanking new Christian, I immediately frequented charismatic churches and Bible study groups. It wasn't easy to remain quiet or hidden from view in those arenas because there was often a suggested course for how to be involved with God. Freedom, in the Biblical sense, usually had requirements: verbal agreement (sometimes with increased volume--"AMEN!!!"), standing, clapping, raising and waving of arms and hands, and hugs all over the place.

While it took some time to become accustomed to it all, I pretty much liked it. And until I really got the hang of it, I watched and mimicked others. Can you picture it? Fortunately, they didn't mind being roll models for me.

But because I want to help you grow in your knowledge and experience of God--and to help that happen as quickly and easily as possible--I offer this extremely helpful video.

Pay close attention. There will be a test.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Laughter & Perspective - Maybe A Little Of Both

I love the church.

And sometimes we've got to go to great lengths in order to reach people with the incredible gospel of God's grace to us in Christ. We just do.

However, sometimes those "great lengths" go way too far, and the church ends up trapped in a game it not only can't win but shouldn't be playing.

This funny video hits the mark between humor and candor. (Normally I would wait until the weekend before posting this, but it's simply too good to delay. At least I think it is.)

The Most Ridiculous Item Of The Day

This is ridiculous.

Here’s the title of an article I read this morning: “Hospice Helps Dying Man Lose His Virginity.”

The staff at a church-run facility helped a young man with muscular dystrophy commit fornication with a prostitute—they set it up for him. The founder of the hospice, Sister Frances, said, “I know that some people will say ‘You are a Christian foundation. What are you thinking about?’ But we are here for all faiths and none,” she said. Further, “It is not our job to make moral decisions for our guests. We came to the conclusion that it was our duty of care to support Nick emotionally and to help ensure his physical safety.”

Perhaps that means they gave him a condom.

Similarly, when discussing the ugly behavior of someone in the public eye, a guest on The Bill O’Reilly Show said essentially, “Well, she isn’t doing at all what she says she believes. Her morals don’t match what she says is her Christian faith…” And before she could finish, the host strongly cut her off by saying, “I’m going to stop you right there! That’s not our job—to judge someone else is not ours to do! That’s for the Deity! When you sit there and judge, you’re getting awfully close to Deity! That’s between her and God, and I won’t let you do that on this show!”

Here’s a man who says his show is a “No Spin Zone,” and who claims he is all about holding people’s feet to the fire, and he pops off with that?!

I think we don’t know what the New Testament says about judgment, so we’re throwing it all out the window, even making it a higher level of spirituality if we tell others to throw it out the window, too—“That’s for the Deity!”

But we’re supposed to judge. In fact, it’s a vital part of life in the body of Christ.

There are essentially two kinds of judgment: one condemns to hell, and the other discerns. One is eternal, and the other is temporal. We don’t bother with the first, but we must be concerned with the second. Otherwise, Christian strippers for Jesus (saw them on the news some months ago), drunkards for God, tax evaders for Jesus, and Saturday night playboys for God get no criticism?! No judgment from us?!

That’s ridiculous. And we ought to be more comfortable in saying it is.

Concerning an unrepentant Christian brother, one fornicating like nobody’s business, Paul writes, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." (1Cor 5:12,13, italics mine.)

If Paul were to speak that, I would expect him to pause and follow it with, “Duh!”

Look, I’m all about knowing God and knowing what He thinks of me and of others so I may live by His grace at work in me. That’s my passion. But behavior has to get our attention, if only to redirect us to Him. Letting Fornicator Frank run loose in the church because “It’s not mine to judge” is ludicrous—judge him, and then go get him! Tell him that his faith and fornication don’t go together. Duh! Treat him as a new creation in Christ by working to awaken him through the gospel and by the Spirit. And if he refuses to wake up and knock it off, heave ho!

Sister Frances, if Nick isn’t a Christian, be a real care-giver and give Him the gospel. But don’t assist him toward hell! He’s already dying—are you nuts?! And if he is a Christian, then make a judgment and help him to know Jesus. Knowing Jesus will satisfy him, unlike hooking-up with Patty Prostitute.

By the grace of God, Paul woke up the Corinthian Christians with chapter one. There he addressed them as the “sanctified” and “holy” sons of God they had become, who were on the way to being kept “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul knew they were acting way out of line, so, judging their behavior, he built them up in Christ. When once they repented and came to their senses, they were ready to hear how to live.

Make a judgment, and throw unrepentant Fornicator Frank out!

Paul writes, “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Cor 5:12-6:6 NIV)

So, let’s be clear about judgment. If you're working to restore Christians to the grace of God, it's a much-needed kindness. Even if they're unrepentant and a heave ho! is necessary, you're not forsaking them, but trusting God with them.

And I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Needle To My Heart

I’ve been fasting this week. It’s not because God likes it when I fast, it’s because I do. Yeah, you read that right. For me, fasting is choosing a weakness through which I will know and savor God more. It’s all about satisfaction—mine.

In this case, I’m fasting from food, but in the past I’ve fasted from television, music (rather than listen to the stereo in my car on morning drives to work, I preferred thinking and listening for Him in quiet), news media, alcohol (I like an ale or a glass of wine now and then), and more.

It’s amazing how much I get used to turning to the things of this world for satisfaction, rather than to God, who satisfies me most and best. Like many, I suppose, seeking God or reading the Bible or praying can become all about obedience and willpower (“I’ve got to do it!”) when I’m getting more satisfaction and better pleasure elsewhere. Does that make sense? When my eagerness is most evident because I’m really, really looking forward to a barbecued steak and a glass of syrah tonight, or when I’m really eager to see by how much USC beats Notre Dame this coming Saturday(!), or when I am passionately curious to figure out and/or debate exactly why the Nobel committee saddled our President with the Peace Prize, then it's likely that my wants and desires and satisfaction have been captured by the stuff of this world, and not by God.

In effect, I’ve been taken hostage.

And then my thoughts go something like this: “I really should read the Bible.” “I really ought to pray more.” Or, “I’m really weak on the spiritual disciplines of study and meditation. I’ve got to be more committed.” That’s a good one.

I start to approach God and the things He likes as important things to do, rather than ways to know Him and like Him. And what about letting Him show me why He likes me? Reading the Bible and praying becomes a daily duration of time when I get my study and devotional time card punched. Thunk-thunk! Going to church becomes all about following through on commitment. Tithing or giving is about the pledge I made. Yuck. Round about then a college football game is much more exciting, or a bowl of ice cream, a shopping spree, a good movie, or a whining session with some whiny friends. What delight, right?

Read the Bible? I’ll do that later or on Sunday. Yeah, that’ll be good then.

God no longer brings about the wedding between desire and satisfaction—fulfillment—because it has been joined together elsewhere. What does God get? Commitment and Study and Pledges of Obedience—and frustration. A lot of frustration.

But because He has crucified me to this world and this world to me (we’re incompatible), I can tolerate this hostage situation for only so long. (Gal. 6:14) I’ve got to break out.

That’s where a fast comes in. Through it I am needling myself—my true self—and saying, “Alert! Wake up and be satisfied! I can no longer stand surface satisfaction when I’ve been made for far deeper.” To be sure, I still have strong longings for satisfaction—in fact they get stronger—but the Spirit brings out desires now natural for me. I actually want God. I truly want Dad. And any way to get Him and to know Him is where I start going. I begin talking to Him more, even as I read my Bible. I start wanting to take a walk just so I can get out and look around and express my thoughts and questions to Him. I wake up in the morning and I think, “God, I want to be satisfied by you.” That’s a pretty welcome thought compared to what can otherwise go on in my noggin.

This morning I made breakfast for my family: French toast, strawberries, bananas and real maple syrup. And I didn’t eat any of it. My youngest daughter is staying home today because she’s sick, and she just asked me to make her a piece of toast, with lots of cream cheese and lots of boysenberry jam on top. Lots.

And I’m loving it. The Holy Spirit—my friend and fascination and satisfaction—is carrying me along. The hunger I feel for a nibble is less powerful than the satisfaction I’m getting from Him.

And that’s what a fast is for.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Enjoy The Rescue

Many of us first think of God as all-powerful and capable, but not first as Love. So when He doesn't change a situation we think is first in order, we drift in anger or disappointment. Fortunately, He rescues the drifters, revealing Himself to them, and love becomes first for the rescued.

I, for one, enjoy the rescue.

There's Love Goin' On

My family and I have a fun and loving dog. My family and I love being loved by God. Is there a link? Sort of. Sort of not. But there's love goin' on.

I bet you'll like this little film, especially if you like dogs.

Now, don't go gettin' upset with me over this video. I like it. If you're one who gets all uptight over every little perceived theological quirk or misrepresentation, this might help you relax and lighten up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Prodigals Are Temporarily Prodigal

A friend of mine has lost his noodles. Gone a little nuts. When I look at his myspace web site, I’m deeply saddened.

Yet, as I look over the pictures of carousing and cruising and of near-naked women, the Holy Spirit quickly reminds me that He lives in my friend. He made my friend a son of God. Since I know I’m hearing from Him, I have to ask, “And what are you doing with my friend?” His reply is reassuring: “I’m ushering him to burnout. He’s having a Prodigal Walk . . . but He will return.”

You know, I’m coming to rely upon what God can do with people more and more, and my confidence and rest increase as I do.

There was a time when, after looking at my friend’s web site, I would have immediately tracked him down, sat him down, and given him a good “What do you think you’re doing, you numbskull?!” talk. I would have done everything within reason to wake him up and shake him loose from his lunacy, including the use of a defibrillator. “STAND BACK, EVERYONE—CLEAR!” That ought to do it. And I think I might have liked watching his body jump from the table, his chest surging skyward. At least I would know that I was having an effect.

But, in this case at least, after I’ve checked with the Spirit about my friend, all I have for him is love. If I were to see my friend face to face, I would love him and hug him and say something brilliant (“I love you”), and then probably do it again. Nothing more? Nope. Why not? Because I’m simply full of trust that God is well aware and perfectly capable with His son, my friend, a temporary prodigal. There is nothing I need to do.

Reminds me of a situation from centuries ago.

Nobody ran after Prodigal Pablo in Luke 15 in order to talk him out of his course of action. Daddy didn’t write a letter to alert a cousin in “a distant country” as to his son’s arrival—please knock some sense into him. And God didn’t send a talking donkey or an angel or a plague of locusts after his boy, either.

It’s almost like God knows what’s going on. Hmm . . . Could it be?

I think the picture is that God knew Prodigal Pablo could be prodigal only so long. Eventually, he would “come to his senses” and high-tail it back home where he belonged and where he fit in (Lk 15:17). By nature a prodigal doesn’t stay prodigal. He can’t. He won’t.

Writing this, my hope is that when my prodigal comes to his senses and begins his return he won’t be greeted by shame-sayers and puffed-up know-it-alls. “I warned you, didn’t I?! Man! You were so stupid! What an idiot!” I hope he will be greeted the way Prodigal Pablo’s dad welcomed him home: You were a royal son when you left, a royal son in that distant country, and you’re a royal son today. I mean to convince you of it, too, so let’s get that crap off you and get you back in clothes that reveal who you really are . . . I see who you are, even if you don’t.

It will be good to have him back. Maybe we’ll throw him a party and celebrate.

Rom 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?” (NIV)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Do We Really Have Two Natures?

I have written extensively in my book, Better Off Than You Think, about the subject of two natures, and my friend and author, Steve McVey, has an excellent and visual take on it.

Don't miss this. Click here to see it, or go to:

Hu's On First

Here's one of those semi-political things that balance out the other semi-political things I've posted. This, like those others, is funny. At least I think it is.

Ah, the weekend--no offense intended. (But a little bit of room for it.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

A Prodigal Echo

Have you seen them? There are lots of ways by which you can find out who you are by taking a quiz. You can find out which member of the cast of Friends or MASH or Eight Is Enough you’re most like, or what fish in Finding Nemo has your identity within its’ slimy scales. So here’s my quiz: If you had to choose, would you say that you’re more like the Prodigal son or the elder brother?

Hmm . . .

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my sudden attraction to Jesus’ story concerning the two brother’s approach to the greatest dad on earth. (To read it, click here, or simply dig down a bit.) At the risk of giving you understanding which you could use to needle me, I think I am more like the elder brother in my approach to God than the younger prodigal. I’m afraid big brother has been something of a mentor to me. You know, relationship on my terms, not on dad’s.

But today I write for all the Prodigals in the world. Let’s hear it for them.

I know it’s enticing, but let’s skip over the binge living and mud-mucking part of Prodigal's story, and get to where the repentant lad came up with a plan for the next part of his life. “I’ll sneak back into town and live and hang out where the day laborers gather,” he might have surmised. “Maybe my dad will take pity on me and hire me a time or two. God knows, I’ve been worse than a thief to him, let alone an awful son. But maybe he would let me work around the farm now and then. That’s the best I can hope for.”

Imagine the reunion. The greatest dad on earth is dazzled with the delight of his returning son. Without the slightest concern about his son’s sloppy looks or strong odor, dad launches into a kissing marathon. My goodness.

I wonder how long it was before Prodigal noticed that his father was ignoring his speech. While Prodigal is progressing with his planned lament—I’m not worthy—dad gets busy with what’s really important. “Okay, son. You go right ahead and say what you’ve got to say. . .get it all out. Oh, ah, excuse me for a moment—Hey, servant Sam and servant Sue! Get the royal robe and the family ring and shoes and put ‘em on my son—I’m right here, son, you’re doing just fine—and get that fat pig of a calf ready for dinner. We’re gonna party until my son gets it through his beautiful, thick skull that He’s my son! Ooh! I just love my boy. Ain’t he something?!—Okay, son. You all done yet? Come here, you wonderful boy, and let me kiss you! Didn’t I tell you that you’d always be my perfect son?! Have I got plans for you!”

I wonder if Prodigal resisted the father's hugs and kisses. But I’m dirty—can’t you see?! I wonder if the Prodigal resisted the royal robe, ring and shoes as much as today’s church does? And I wonder how long it was until he believed they were truly his and they felt comfortable? How long did it take for the Father’s soothing treatment and words to take the sting out of Prodigals’ pigpen memories?

See anything relevant to today’s church? I think so.

On the other hand, maybe Prodigal blinked, wiped his eyes and gulped a few times at his father’s grace, and shut up and received it. Maybe Prodigal quickly traded his plan for dad's. And was really happy.

Could’ve happened. Might have been. End of story—happily ever after.

I see the Prodigals’ approach today in those of us who voluntarily and regularly assign ourselves to an ugly place with God. We might say, “Father, you know how I am—no good, through and through. I’m such a lousy sinner! I don’t even know why you put up with me. I’m a loser Christian—always a failure. But I re-dedicate myself to you for whatever you want, even if it’s nothing.”

Have you heard that before? I think it’s a Prodigal echo.

For those of us with a Prodigal approach to God, I think the Holy Spirit is forever working to convince us that we have already been made royal. What a task! (I’ll bet He has a lot of overtime hours.) Imagine: we whip up a brilliant, lamentations-style prayer approach to God—I’m such a sinner, why do you put up with me, make me a slave—and then wonder why we never hear the Spirit ‘Amen’ our prayers. We don’t hear much of anything because, like the father in Jesus’ story, God is ignoring our lament and carrying on with what He thinks of us.

“Glad you’re here. Let me put this on you. Royalty needs a robe.”

Maybe we’ll become more accepting of the Father’s opinion of us—what a compliment that would be—and start regularly approaching the Father not to apologize, but to receive. “Here I am, Father. What are your thoughts toward me? I’m here to learn.” I know we would hear and feel a lot more in prayer if we did.

Could happen. Might be. End of story—happily ever after.

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:17; italics mine.)

I’ll bet the servants of the father continually reminded Prodigal about who he was, too. Don’t you think he would have needed all of the reminding he could get? It’s what I mean to do for all the royals of the Kingdom. Join me?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Caught-In-Between Day

Do you ever feel like you’re caught between what you want to do and what you have to do instead? Do you ever struggle between some kinds of business principles and those of the Kingdom? And does it ever get so frustrating that you have a blow up or a break down? You know—really lose it? I don’t mean the kind that requires hospitalization. Or maybe I do.

I simply felt from the Lord that He knows we’re prone to frustration and anxiety and even outbursts of temper. And He has not one iota of condemnation for us—not one. I think He wants us to know that.

You and I are living life caught between two worlds—the temporal and the eternal. The one we can see, and the one we can’t. The one that passes away, and the one that lasts. Just as one of those worlds seems to get into focus, the other comes barging in. I can be enjoying the day, knowing the Lord and trusting in Him, when suddenly something worldly knocks me senseless. I remember a bill I forgot to pay (like the tow truck driver), I forget to pick up my daughter(!), I discover that I didn’t record the USC game properly (heavens!), and I told someone I would call her back but forgot. (Sorry, Pam!)

It’s like I’m happily flirting with spiritual maturity, and then it rudely breaks up with me. I don’t like it at all.

Sometimes, however, I get into the rut of not living by the Spirit, and of not truly enjoying Him in any way. In fact, being a Christian momentarily seems a bother, a hindrance to the life I could have. Have you ever felt like that? I can have times when my thoughts go something like, "Ah, just think of all things I could do and have if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a believer." Fortunately, it's not long before I have one of those BAM! moments, when somehow the Holy Spirit knocks me back into my senses. "Oh, yeah. I love being a Christian—wouldn’t trade it for anything."

I like that.

So, if you’re feeling stressed, bent out of shape, pushed or hurried, and are having one of those sloppy, caught-in-between days, take a moment to breathe. There is such purpose to this life, and through it all, God holds us in Christ, holy and righteous. Don’t worry about that. While this life is a mess, in the next one there won’t be any chance to live by faith in heaven, no opportunity to grow and succeed in the battle against temptation, no one to lead to Jesus, no friend to pray for, no groceries to buy for a down-and-outer. Nothing will be in-between anymore.

That will be such a good day! But not today.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Have A Drink On Me

If I asked a room full of people what they would rather talk about, prayer or tooth decay, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the winning majority chose to talk about the benefits of regular flossing.

For many, prayer was something we were taught to do in order to get something else. Right? That something else might have included a better day, a better job, a better outcome, a better future, or a better wife, but in any case, praying wasn’t the thing, getting something because of it was the thing. Prayer was a little like calling room service. Cool.

However, lots of us have virtually stopped praying because we’ve found prayer doesn’t often give us the something else we wanted. Prayer has become more about disappointment than fulfillment, so how many of us who have been around awhile really want to do it anymore? I mean, c’mon—if a strategy doesn’t work, why would you keep doing it?

But before I was taught how to strategize my life by praying the "right way", I accidentally got to know God in prayer. I found that God was like my own personal fountain of youth—Ponce de Leon was on the right track, he just looked in the wrong place. God showed Himself to be like a spring of water that I could visit anytime simply by taking a few steps away from the dry flatlands of the visible and temporary world, toward the rich and satisfying peaks of the invisible and eternal. My best expression before prayer was, “I simply want to be with you!” In other words, “I thirst.”

If God is, in fact, like a spring of life, a fountain of revival—and He says He is—then all I have to offer Him is my thirst. I can do that. The best way to glorify my Mountain Spring is to get to it as often as possible and to drink to the full, to drink to satisfaction. It would be foolish to drag water from the flatlands up to the spring, there to pour it in, hoping to make something more of it, hoping to make it go somewhere else or look different. Or maybe we could get a bucket brigade going to make a really impressive watering hole, set up some floodlights to illuminate it, and add-on some related attractions to get people up the hill.

Prayer is bringing to God my thirst for Him. The way to please the Mountain Spring, the way to please God is to come to Him to get and not to give, to drink and not to water. Every time I approach the Spring it is because I have found its’ water to be everything I need—that’s how God is glorified by me. I believe He is who He says He is, and my efforts related to wanting Him and finding Him is how the spring of living water now in me issues forth as His display through me. He has planned for that.

So, whatever it is that makes me thirsty—frustration, chaos, futility, lust, covetousness, hopelessness, envy, weakness, arrogance, pride, anger, unbelief, or gas prices—I want to be quicker and quicker to head for water. And since He now lives in me, since the Spring is so close, I can silently turn my thoughts toward Him in the confident hope that satisfaction and water await. Anything(!) that surfaces my need is the avenue toward the Spring. My satisfaction and His glory through meeting the need are the result. You and I are set up for this.

So if prayer is about drinking, have one on me.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Squirrel Deliverance

(It's the weekend, so I apologize for what you might find around here. You have been warned.)

There weren't a lot of squirrels around when I was growing up, so we were pretty delighted when we got to see them on trips to the mountains. We were those crazy tourists you might have seen feeding the squirrels and squealing with glee.

But not anymore.

Where I now live, squirrels don't just carry plague, they are the plague. They're marauding gangs of disease carrying criminals that steal our blackberries and strawberries, and the seed we've put out to attract more desirable fawna, like yellow gold finches, bluebirds and nuthatches. We want those around--but not squirrels. Running out the door, yelling and waving our hands doesn't do much either, except entertain our neighbors.

But this does. I NEED one of these. Have a look.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Single Christian Women - My Heroes

If I had the chance to stand up and praise the heroes in my life, I suppose it would take a while. And if I stood up today, perhaps I’d give the most time to a specific group of heroes—single Christian women. From Zagreb to Georgia, and Barbados to California, I admire and respect them deeply. They’re incredible.

While they have become the righteous and holy, new creation daughters of God, they nevertheless endure the faulty, measuring scrutiny of the world. Even from the church.

Even though the apostle Paul suggested we would all be better off single, rather than married, in our service to God (1 Cor 7), nowadays we don’t actually believe it’s true. Think of the single Christian women in your church and tell me they don’t endure endless prescriptions from well meaning, but Bible disbelieving people as to how they can “be healed” of their infirmity—singleness. Spoken or implied, we mostly think of them as incomplete or crippled, and shuttle them off to Children’s Ministry where they can at least partially fulfill their presumed destiny.

Single Christian women live with the not-so-subtle prejudice that there is something wrong with them, something that can only be cured by a ring on their finger and a man in their bed. Do you think my words are too strong? Then accept my challenge: ask them. Ask them if they believe they are seen and valued for who they are, according to God, or if they are seen as something less, something different. Ask them if they feel revered because they remain single. And not just the nineteen year olds; ask the thirty-eight year old single Christian women. Ask them.

While I don’t recommend a contrary and curative prescription of giving single Christian women new places of prominence and authority as a way of proving our repentance, I do believe that we need to look anew at our saintly sisters. Do you see what God says is true of them? Do you believe that each is His chosen dwelling place, made pure and faultless, the perfect, New Testament, Holy of Holies? They don’t need to be fixed-up in order to be useful and whole, they’ve been separated unto God, at least for a season. How fantastic! For some, it will be a life-long marriage to the One we cannot see.

But can you see them anyway? Can you, by the eyes of faith, see them for who they are—the chosen, twice born, holy and blameless, radiant daughters of God? If you can, I’m certain you will see similar “invisible traits” emerging from the rest of the church, too. The temporal shadows of this world—clothing, physical looks and abilities, status, etc.—hide the sons of God already, even from themselves. But you and I see according to The Truth, even when the suggested truth of this world says otherwise. The Truth directs our thoughts about God, and it directs our thoughts about each other. It must.

If we would approach each other according to the truth—let it begin with our single Christian women—then the revival many of us hope for would begin with us. We would thank them for the great example they are to us in their single-hearted, undivided devotion to the Lord, we would encourage the single Christian women to “go for it” with God, to run off at His leading, to be daring and adventurous in their godly situation, unencumbered by the challenges Paul says marriage brings. We’ll think of them as the royalty they are, instead of the royalty they could become . . . if only.

Knowing something of the struggle they face, we would be their cheerleaders—our team is on the field! Hooray for single Christian women.

You’re my heroes.

An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:34b-35)