Friday, January 30, 2009

The Incredibles










One of my family’s favorite films is “The Incredibles.” We love the characters (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible, Helen Parr/Elastigirl, Violet and Dash) with their unique powers and personalities, as well as how each one grows in his or her respective gifts. Each was born incredible and each has to grow into it.

If you’ve seen it, you recall that early on in the movie the Incredibles were really struggling because, under pressure, they had chosen to live unlike they actually were. No lifting cars, no running through walls, no stretching an arm twenty feet to catch a cat falling out of a tree, and no rescuing people in distress. They were so different than everyone else, but, feeling the pressure of that uniqueness, they attempted to fit in and blend in and to find happiness and fulfillment in the act. They believed they could do it.

No chance.

They grew terribly bored and frustrated since they were stifling themselves, choosing to live a lie. Mom and dad, brother and sister fought among themselves at home, yet kept up their false appearance (“We’re doing fine!”) before everyone else. They could make that choice only so long.

Strong and persistent inner urgings in keeping with their supernatural identity urged them to live in the truth of who they were, no matter the consequences. When they finally threw off the lie of pretending, they grew and started doing incredible things…and they grew happy through the consequences.

I suppose I am not the first to liken you to one of The Incredibles. But perhaps it’s time to take another look at who you are so you can live as you are.

Right now God thinks pretty highly of you. Because you believed in Jesus, and because He included you in His crucifixion and resurrection (Romans 6), God dealt with the former you (crucified) and birthed the new you, a true son of His, righteous and holy, blameless and anointed, gifted and graced, as alien in this world as Jesus Himself, recognized throughout the heavens. (John 17:16) As Jesus lived in this world, so do you, in close relationship with God with whom you’ve become intimately compatible. You’re the best. You’re incredible.

But what if being incredible is a hassle? Or what if for some reason you become disillusioned regarding your incredibleness, and sort of let it go by the way side? What if most everyone around you isn’t like you, so you start becoming like them? Wouldn’t it be tempting to just do as well as you can amongst everyone else, and kind of leave all that super-human stuff at home? Let it out on the weekend? You could be okay, couldn’t you?

No chance. Bored, frustrated and stifled, you’d wear out trying to resist those strong and persistent inner urgings.

If, like everyone at one time or another in the family of Incredibles, you’ve become bored and frustrated, having allowed yourself to be cloaked in the mediocrity of this world in order to fit in, it’s time to grow. And happiness comes through growing in who you are – your birth cannot be ignored!

As it was in the film, I suspect it will be with you. Events will conspire to bring out the real, incredible you; God will see to it. You will be needed, someone will cry out, a situation will demand the real you, and you won’t be able to act in keeping with this world any longer.

Those around you will see an Incredible, and the glory of God will be evident in you.

More and more you’ll begin to feel and satisfy those true inner urgings, and, in keeping with who you are, you’ll do incredible things. You’ll know God, you’ll believe God and you’ll follow Him into His glory. After all, it’s not your fault that God has made you what you are – an Incredible.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Manly Men & The Super Bowl (A difference between men & women.)

I live in a home where most things are female. Even our Vizsla, Molly, is a girlie dog. Other than me, the only thing male around here is our pet rabbit, and he's kept in a cage in the garage during the winter.

So every now and then I'll do something male-ish to sort of re-gather my bearings, which might include renting a guy flick ("Appaloosa" did the trick last week), letting go an otherwise forbidden belch(!), or playing music louder than anyone else likes. "Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaddd!! Turn it dowwwwwwwwwnnn!!" But I know that turning it down means sacrificing my hairy male moment, so I wait for, oh, at least ten seconds before doing it.

I win.

Christmas was pretty rough because my daughters, looking to buy a Christmas present for my wife, made me visit that den of femininity, the Bath & Body Works store. It's awful. They should post warning signs: "Real Men Keep Out," or "Keep Your Male To Yourself & Stay Away." Anyway, I inquired if they didn't have something more masculine scented, something, you know, manly. Innocently, I asked, "Look, I love to fly fish, so how about 'River Bottom Rot,' which would make me think of all the joyful times spent engaging my hobby? The aroma of dirt and vegetation and rotting stuff would be great for sporting men. It would be our kind of aromatherapy." The sales woman snickered and said, "How about a bottle of our luscious Sea Island Cotton soap?"

I got out of there.

Well, today I came across something that's perfect for me and for the guys who will be filling my house this Super Bowl Sunday. Just watching the advertisement made me feel, well, whole; you know, good about my manliness and all. I think I grunted several times as I watched. I opened the door to the garage and shouted to our rabbit, "Yeah, man! You're awesome! Pee wherever you want, dude! Aint nobody gonna tell you otherwise!" Picking up a rough and heavy hammer, I went back inside and felt good about life.

See if this doesn't do it for you, too. That is, if you're a manly man.

(Click on the video below.)

video

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jesus Took Your Place So That You Can Take His

(I occasionally post something here from another web site or blog I like. The following is from Joseph Prince and his daily devotional. I like it and I like him. Click here to visit to his web site.)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Do you know that it was at the cross that Jesus addressed His Father as “God” for the first time? He had always addressed His Father as “Father”. But at Calvary’s tree, He addressed His Father as “God”.

Jesus lost that Father-Son relationship when He was representing you and carrying your sins at the cross so that today, you can call God “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) and have a loving father-son relationship with God forever. Jesus was forsaken by God and His world became very dark on that lonely hill so that in your darkest hour, God will always say to you, “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” (Hebrews 13:5)

At the time when Jesus needed God most, God turned His back on Him. God had to turn His back on His Son because His eyes are too holy to behold all the sin that was in His Son’s body. And because God turned His back on Jesus, He will never turn His back on you. Instead, you will see God’s face of favor shining on you all the time!

Jesus also took your place of no protection at the cross. For the first time, He gave up divine protection so that you can have it every day of your life! And because He became sin, He took your curse at the cross so that today, as you take His gift of righteousness, you receive only blessings from God.

Jesus received the full brunt of God’s wrath in His body once and for all when He carried your sins. All of God’s anger and condemnation fell on Him, consuming all your sins until God’s wrath was exhausted.

Today, God is not angry with you. The body of Jesus absorbed everything — your sins, curses, and God’s anger and condemnation. So live life expecting to see not the judgment, but the goodness and blessings of God!

Monday, January 19, 2009

At Your Expense


Not long ago we were on a short family vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Because I have been going there since 1965, it holds tons of great memories for me and is my favorite place in the world. I love the mountains and virtually everything one can do in them, like ride horses, hike, camp, canoe, and, with thanks to my father, fly fish. It was his happiest hobby, and it’s mine too.

God often speaks profoundly to me when I’m fishing. (Which is not to say that whatever He speaks to me at other times is not all that deep!) If you were to ask my wife, Sarah, about it, she would say, “Ohhhhhh, yes! God talks to Ralph and does amazing things when he goes fishing. It sounds like an excuse to get out of the house, doesn’t it? But it isn’t…”

While what He speaks to me is always wonderfully meaningful and eternally relevant, it has also meant fantastic fishing. You can imagine how open and excited I am to go. “Well, honey, I need to spend some focused time with God – think I’d better go fishing.”

Geared up and ready to go, I was standing on the banks of the Buffalo River when I said, “Jesus, I again ask for you to give Brent (my twin brother) the best fishing day ever. That it would be completely fantastic and beyond his expectations, and that he would be utterly delighted with you.” And this is what I heard:

“What if it is at your expense?”

I didn’t move. Buying some time and hoping I might hear something else, something more exciting, I said (profoundly), “What?” And I heard the same question. “What if it is at your expense?” Pausing to think clearly, I said aloud, “Well, Lord, that would be okay with me…that would be fine …yes, Lord…alright then…his best day.”

I took a deep breath and waded into the stream, my stream, my river, my memory-packed, whopper-filled, river of joy…and proceeded to catch maybe five trout where I would have caught five times that. As a matter of fact, that’s about what Brent caught. Maybe a few more. As we walked the many miles of the river together, all day long my pools were vacant, his were full, my fish were smart, his were stupid, my fish were average, his were outstanding, my attitude ebbed and flowed from content to frustrated, and his hit 10 on the happy scale and never moved.

There was even a time when, because I was walking on the opposite side of the river, I couldn’t fish what should have been my pool. Instead, I sat high up on a bluff overlooking the stretch (of my pool) and, spotting several large and stupid trout, directed him where to cast. “Oh, yeah!” he shouted. “Got him! Ooooooh, it’s a big one!”

For eight hours I was supremely aware of God’s work and pleasure in my life and Brent’s. And I’m still thinking about it.

There’s a lot for me to learn about God’s will and purpose and pleasure, and where I fit with Him in that. I had been looking forward to that day on the river with Brent for months, and my picture of God’s blessing for us meant that nothing much was required of me. Walk along, cast a fly, hook and land a whopper, hold it up for admiration and glory, and release it while praising God. Simple. Hallelujah - what a day.

But in my ongoing desire to know God, there are many things He wants to share with me, not just so I will know what life is like, but so I can know Him in the midst of life. He wanted to bless Brent and He wanted to bless me. That meant fish and joy for Brent and that meant knowing God in a new way for me. And I forget that He has made me a lot like Himself, so it’s no wonder He includes me in what He is doing, even at my expense. He has some history with that sort of thing.

One more thing. As darkness fell upon us that day on the river, Brent announced, “You know, this has been the best day of fishing I have ever had.”

Friday, January 09, 2009

Stay Home

Col. 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

How incredibly well-off we are with God! How wonderfully practical it is when we think of each other in keeping with how God thinks of us. He's right about us: He has made us holy, without fault and free from accusation--don't be moved away from that. It's when we're lured away from the awesome truth of how God has made us (holy and faultless) that demonic and fleshly accusations begin to find their mark in our minds. Nothing has changed concerning our condition, but everything begins to change in our believing.

The point? Don't be moved away from the gospel of God's grace to us in Christ. Stay at home! For you and me, it's reality.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

#1 - Switch

Well, this is it! #1!

I wrote this in September, not long after my mother passed on, and just before my father was to follow. I had been a bit down, a little dark about life. Do you ever go through a time when you're just not lit up? Where the brightness of your inner life has gone dim? It may be that you're due for a switch, an illuminating, life-giving change of perspective. I sure was.

At #1 in our Top 5 Under-Appreciated Lifenotes of 2008 is. . .(insert wimpy drum roll). . ."Switch." I think it'll help you.

I hope you've enjoyed our scintillating 2008 count downs. Maybe we'll do it all over again toward the end of 2009.

With love and thankfulness,

-Ralph


I've been staying with my dad in southern California for a few days, helping him to figure out what he might want to do in the future. And that could be anything. Well, almost anything.

Anyway, when I was praying for him and about my situation in staying with him, I kept thinking the word, "switch." I don't know about you, but I hear God in my thoughts. His thoughts are different than mine; His are clear, get right at the truth in a way that's revealing, invigorating and encouraging, and are fewer than mine. While I never sense impatience or hurry with Him, His words arrive without conversational helpers, if you know what I mean. There aren't any um's or ah's or uh's with Him, and I've never yet heard "Well, I'm not sure" when hearing His words.

So when I heard the single word "switch," I waited around for more. Rather than convey anything else with words, He simply gave me the meaning in an instant. You know, one of those, "Oh, thaaat's it." kind of things. What I suddenly understood was that I needed to remember to switch my thinking from navigating the systems and concerns of this world, and change my viewpoint to a heavenly one, a Spirit-led one. That's the one most natural for me now.

It's no sin to spend time and effort figuring out what to do about one's job and how to get better at it. God isn't angry or frustrated with us when we're looking into how to earn more money, what car we might like to buy, what career move we might want to make, what new toothpaste might make our teeth brighter, or where to buy gasoline. What bugs Him is when we forget to live as the Spirit-born sons and daughters we are because we're mostly or only wrapped-up in an earthly view of things. And it doesn't bug Him in the way we get bugged--"I'm so frustrated with you that I'm going to whop you a good one!"--it bugs Him because he knows we'll be frustrated.

The Spirit told me to "switch" because He knew the way I was viewing my day was hindering me, even injuring me, and He was working to restore me to His grace. "Have a look over here," He might have said, "Move your eyes aside and look with your heart, look by the Spirit. Then you can see what I want you to see. The switch will show you what's really real."

It's not that the Spirit wants me to not care--Don't worry! Be happy!--but that He wants me to see how things actually are from His perspective. After all, it's fairly certain He's right! He brings me back to where I am again, in Christ, so I remember that I have been crucified with Him, raised with Him, seated with Him, and have all things in Him, even if I don't now see it that way. Isn't that what worldly pressure does to you? Doesn't it make you see yourself outside of Christ, apart from Him, and with a lot of work to do to make things happen? You and I do, indeed, have a lot of work to do, but if we are duped into seeing ourselves outside of Christ, then the torture is working. If our vision is out of whack, then we'll agree with our captor and do whatever offers the promise of stopping the torture. That's how slaves are made.

But that's not you.

If the daily torture has captured your attention and labor, switch. And help someone else make the switch because every Christian has two ways of looking at things. You'll know if their switch is up--by the Spirit--or down by listening to them. Be gentle and assist them.

Come out from under that foreign and merciless master, and instead talk to Jesus, ask Him what He thinks, sow to the Spirit, bring to mind who you are in relation to God, and watch what happens. He will refresh you--the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace--He will free you from the dominance of earthly cares with the truth--you've been raised with Christ--and He will empower you to live by the Spirit--I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

That's the switch that will help you see and live by God's grace and for His amazing glory in and through you.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Resting At The Throne

How are you?

Is there any chance that you ever forget how well off you are with God? I mean, is it possible that the stuff and junk of this world might ever wash what God has done for you from your mind?

That's what number #2 in our count down of the Top 5 Under-Appreciated LifeNotes of 2008 is about. Published in the month of August, "Resting At The Throne" should help clear your mind and restore your confidence in how you'll be receiving the grace of God in the coming year. . .and every year after this.

I hope it helps you.

-Ralph



“So what do you suppose the ‘throne of grace’ looks like?” I asked. (We’re reading through Hebrews together after dinner. Rather than get up and move elsewhere, we stay at the table, and any one of us might do the reading.)

Emma, ever the imaginative one, offered, “I picture a big, beautiful, golden throne with God on it, and this long, long line of people snaking along toward it. That’s what I imagine. Just because I imagine it, doesn’t mean that will make it happen, you know. It’s just the way I see it.” She was sure we needed to be clear on this whole imagination thing.

“Alright—I like that, Emma. So, how are people talking to God, what are they saying to Him who is seated on the throne of grace?” I asked. Sarah gave me an “I know what you’re getting at” kind of look. Ellen and Emma happily defaulted to the television portrayal of Pharoah-on-the-throne, and said, “Oh, please, God! Give me what I need! Answer ‘Yes!’ to my requests…please, God!”

I loved their dramatics but not their picture. And I wondered how many of us default to that picture, too. Beggars at the throne.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pretend that it’s me on the throne—your daddy. How would you approach me?” Emma got out of her chair, cut to the front of the imaginary line, crawled up on my lap and said, “I love you, daddy! Can I have a gerbil? Can I have my own computer? Can I? Can I?” Sarah and Ellen laughed, and Ellen said, “We don’t have to beg with you…and we don’t have to beg with God, either. That would be silly!” Sarah asked, “And why don’t we have to beg God? Why don’t we have to plead with Him who sits on the throne of grace?”

And together Ellen and Emma said something like, “Because it’s the throne of grace, not the throne of begging! We already have everything with God because of Jesus. We’re in Him, so God gives us everything because of that. Did you forget, daddy?”

Sarah and I love this.

I asked, “So what do you suppose is most important and most honoring to God as we approach Him, seated on the throne of grace?” And Ellen laughed, “That we believe we’re always welcome and always wanted and will always get what’s right from God because of His grace to us. Not because we beg just right, but because we believe and ask Him. That’s how it works.”

And we were done. If I had had a football, I would have spiked it and done one of those little swivel-butt dances--probably good I didn’t have a ball. But I loved what my daughters were getting and that they we’re having fun with it.

That’s what I think the fourth chapter of Hebrews is about. Believe God is who He says He is, believe we are who He says we are, believe our relationship is as excellent as He says it is because of Jesus, and, hanging onto that, hang out at the throne! Put your confidence in Him and in what He says is true of you. It often takes some work to hang onto your faith in Him, but you really will find rest.

That's how it works. Did you forget?

Ralph

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dracula Days


Do you ever run out of gas in your inner tank and wonder why?

I think #3 on our list of Top 5 Under-Appreciated LifeNotes of 2008 will help you understand what might be going on--and to end it. "Dracula Days" was published in August, and maybe that's a busy enough time of year that this went comparatively unnoticed. And maybe it's because it was first published in May of 2007. Do-overs don't do well.

Anyway, here's a chance to see if it's something that you're glad to see again.

I hope you're helped.

-Ralph



What does a good day look like to you? How does it feel? I love it when in my day I am filled with the Spirit, who sort of activates me when I'm around people. His zeal and love and hope for people become obvious to me, and it's a delight to see how He will get that across to them through me. I love days like that.

But sometimes after a bunch of good days in row it can seem like someone snuck behind me, pulled my plug and drained the life all away. The zeal, fun and anticipation slip out of the day, and are replaced by those rousing visitors, dreariness, tedium and dread. That's a lousy day, a day of going through the motions while adding the proper amounts of pretended zeal. I don't like those days.

I call them Dracula Days.

If you’re under thirty years old, you may not be real familiar with him, but you’ve probably heard of the famous bloodsucker. In the films of many years ago, Count Dracula would seem to be a fine, up-standing citizen, someone you’d like knowing. Coming from the fictitious Transylvania, he had a magnificent accent, and I nearly always think well of those who do, even if it isn’t warranted. “Vonderful to meet choo—I am Coun Drah-koo-lah.”

Unfortunately, he could turn into a nasty, hairy bat, and swoop in through the always-open window of the unsuspecting beautiful woman. And then he’d suck the life out of her.

Not nice.

For the longest time, Dracula would escape suspicion because he was so, well, nice. Only after he had punctured and drained almost every vivacious and gorgeous girl would anyone finally figure it out. And when he was dragged, hissing and growling, into the sunlight, his life of taking life came to an end.

I’ve got lots of hidden Dracula’s in my days, sneaky ways by which the life I’ve been given in Christ is drained away. Do you? They’re not always easy to identify, either, because I may have grown used to them. Maybe I’ve even accepted them.

I like to watch movies at home with my daughters. But while we enjoy watching, what actually happens between us? What heart value is exchanged? We may laugh or make comments together, but what did it actually draw out of us? What did I really give my girls from me? How did we share in the hope and love and grace of God, or in the things that build us up in Christ, or how did we grow in life by the Spirit? I’m not saying that movie watching together as a family is bad or to be avoided if you’re really a Christian. I am saying that it isn’t life giving or life stimulating. Not really. In fact, it sometimes becomes a default way of entertainment, which distracts me from what really satisfies.

Or maybe it’s reading the newspaper, or going through the mail while someone is with me, or watching the news while one of my daughters sits in the chair next to me. Why not drag her onto my lap and talk or pray with her? That’s sure to stimulate life. Or maybe it’s letting Sarah do the kitchen stuff while I’m parked in front of the computer screen. Why not go out there and empty the dishwasher together? Why not ask a life-provoking question (“What does God think of you, Sarah?”), or offer something that caught my attention today about a lie of the devil I’ve been deceived into believing?

Any of these things (and simpler ones, too) are about sewing to the Spirit with other people. And what happens when you sew to the Spirit, giving Him your attention?

“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8 NASB)

Sowing to the flesh essentially means living through your days without the life of God—the life Jesus gave you and which the Holy Spirit now produces. I think it’s the familiar things that drain the life out of us, the mundane stuff we have to do, so we do it without thinking through it. We don’t recognize that those are puncture points.

Slurp.

The next time you realize you're in a Dracula Day, resist the familiar impulse to plop down in front of the T.V., or pick up a newspaper or surf the web, and go for life--real life. And there are lots of ways to do that. Turn your thoughts toward the Spirit (and nearly any kind of thought will do), bring to mind something you love about the New Covenant, or think about some incredible truth in the Bible and watch what happens. You will reap what God is all about for you--life.

"For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,. . ." (Rom 8:6, italics mine.)

It may feel awkward at first, but you'll soon notice you've got more vitality, you're more alert and with it. Not only will that Dracula Day be at an end, but you'll also be dragging his sorry carcass into the light, there to sizzle and fry.

And that's nice.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Welcome Mr. Trashman


#4 on our count down of the Top 5 Under-Appreciated LifeNotes of 2008 was a fun one for me. My brothers and I were at one time fascinated with the trash trucks and trash collectors that visited our neighborhood once a week. There was something powerful and inspiring about the whole thing. And, yeah, a little bit gross, too. Many years later and my daughters have taken a liking to the whole scene as well.

Anyway, I got to thinking about how really amazing God is concerning the trash that clutters-up my life, particularly the trash that messes me up on the inside. He's incredible with all that! And that brings us to the #4 Under-Appreciated LifeNote of 2008: "Welcome Mr. Trash Man."

If you missed it the first time when it was published last March, here's another opportunity I think you'll like.

Ralph



Does a big behemoth of a trash truck thrill you? Around my house, we think they’re wonderful.

For several years whenever any of us, Ellen, Emma, Sarah or I, heard the low rumble of the approaching beast, we would shriek in various keys and styles, and run to the window to glimpse the city’s lumbering removal system. What a spectacle. The big-as-a-house creature would sort of squat down and unfurl one of its’ alien-like arms. This appendage of deliverance would deftly reach out and grasp our cowering container of garbage, hoist it skyward, and forcefully shake it until it expended every last vestige of foulness.

We cheered.

Our comparatively diminutive container, which, resting in the street had previously looked happy enough, immediately appeared somehow grateful—like it had suddenly realized it was never supposed to be happy when stuffed—and that it’s friend was the trash truck. As it rumbled away, we often waved goodbye. “Thank you, Mr. Trash Truck and Mr. Trash Man! Thank you for taking our trash! We love you! See you next week!”

Truth is, we still cheer Mr. Trash Man. Just last night I encouraged my youngest daughter to welcome His work.

For some time now we have likened the Holy Spirit’s effort within us to that of the trash man. Pardon us if you’re offended by our comparison, but consider God’s directive: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) We know by experience what I’ll bet you do, too. God isn’t particularly thrilled just because we set out our trashy anxieties, whether by the confession of sin or by the expression of our fears; He’s interested in caring for us.

God’s care for me doesn’t come only when I’m doing well and loving life, but when I’m doing poorly and full of garbage. Sin, failures and fears often whisper to us that we’ve got to stop them—stop them right now!—but they never suggest we immediately offer ourselves to God who can do something about them. And sin, failures and fears never bring up Jesus’ ability concerning struggles and temptations, either. He faced every struggle and temptation we’ve had or will ever face, and disposed of them. All of them.

And where is this Jesus today? In you. In me. And in my wife and daughters. You’re not full of garbage—God lives in you! But sometimes you’ll feel like you are. Don’t believe it; it’s a lie directed at the glory of God.

That’s why one of our pet names for God is The Trash Man. When we know that one of us is beleaguered we might say something like, “Wonder what the Trash Man might do for you?” or, “The Trash Man is really good at taking the trash out of you. Have you given Him a call?” Immediately we know what’s meant: God is good and amazing in the middle of sin, failures and fears, struggle and temptation. He’s good with us, and He’s always about freedom and purity—He’s a sanitation expert. He knows how to make and keep the majesty of His Bride.

You’ll never ever be an offense to Him. He cares for you, in anything and everything. Talk with Him and call upon Him when the trash is threatening. His care for you will be evident, and you’ll learn to more quickly welcome Mr. Trash Man.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Tornado Trust


Are you glad the holidays are done? Ready to re-enter a normal routine? Or like so many, are you experiencing the post-party blues?

Well, perhaps we can help each other.

Today we begin a shorter count down of the Top 5 Under-Appreciated LifeNotes of 2008. And if you'll actually read them, you'll make me ever-so happy. Think of it: Ralph's happiness in your power. Perhaps that will make you feel better and help you get going into 2009. See how we can work together?

So, from the month of July, I give you the #5 Under-Appreciated LifeNote of 2008, "Tornado Trust." It's about how to get your bearings when life spins-up a nasty storm. I hope it helps you.

Ralph



One of my favorite films has to be The Wizard of Oz. It seemed like every character one could ever meet was found in the movie. When I was about, oh, six or eight years old, I saw it for the first time and began to receive training for the relationships I was to encounter for years to come.

The hallways of my elementary school teamed with Munchkins, and there were always groups of us boys who, because we liked similar things, would gang up together forming our own version of the Lollipop Guild. Glinda, the Good Witch, was my Kindergarten teacher, and I didn’t want to do anything wrong around her. For years to come, any woman who treated me like Glinda owned me. I’m certain the Cowardly Lion taught High School Spanish class, the Wicked Witch of the West threatened us in English class, and the Tin Man led us courageously through economics and typing. And all the while we were harassed and harangued by those terrible flying monkeys, the egomaniacal power brokers of the schoolyard.

Mom and dad were, well, mom and dad. Solid and stable as the earth in Kansas.

Such was the education of my life.

But what I’ve never known is the spin Dorothy took in the tornado. Remember the scene? Not only was her home drawn up into the whirling danger, but, after catching a two by four with her head, she dreamed about it, too. Double whammy. Not fair.

That part of the movie is really relevant to me now. It’s pretty close to how I would describe my days in the last month or so—tornado alert. I don’t mean to say that things are awful and so am I—it’s really not that way. It’s just that life was pretty much a familiar Kansas afternoon easy, when all of sudden the wind came up. With nowhere to escape, up I flew into the spin. How do you get your bearings when you’re inside a cyclone? With lots and lots of both good things and junk flying past, how do you know when to open your arms and receive, and when to throw up your arms and shield your face?

And what’s it like to trust God when you’re spinning about?

While, like Dorothy, I’m still the same, there’s a lot that’s different after the tornado of my mom’s passing. The Spirit has led me to be very involved in how my dad’s life will look and be from this point on. So, while I’m speaking at a camp, at churches and to groups this summer, knowing God and trusting God after the storm feels new, different.

Most likely, that’s the point.

It’s comparatively easy to trust God when life is relatively simple and well laid out. When I can grab a calm and restful moment here and a confidence inspiring time with God there, trust comes naturally—easily. I expect Him to meet me with peace and assurance. But when days are dizzy and all that’s in the spin has my attention, what then? Just this: trust is a white-knuckler. Trust seems like a crazy hot air balloon ride with The Wizard, while the Wicked Witch of the West is shrieking and streaking across the sky on her broom. And I’m not as good at trusting God as I once thought I was.

Maybe it’s that my stable life in Colorado hasn’t required of me nor provided what the days ahead will, and God, who considers me His workmanship, is bringing me back to essentials as the landscape changes. Trusting Him has always been the fruit of knowing Him, and I suspect that God is assisting me toward more of the deepest joy and delight of my life.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

In any case, writing this has helped me remember that my Father is faithful—faithful to me. And that I’m better off than I think.

-Ralph

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Christmas Gripes


Welcome to 2009!

Is it still a thrill to turn the page on a new year? Have you resolved to get in shape, eat better, act more responsibly and to save money? Have you resolved to enjoy God more in 2009? I think that's the very best resolution one could make heading into the new year, and I believe it's one that's most honoring to God.

But it's not easy having that as your highest goal, and God knows it isn't, too. So, He's worked a little life conspiracy into our days to see that we have what we really want most--God Himself.

That brings us to what we've been waiting for, the #1 LifeNote of 2008! It was the most read, most commented upon and most forwarded. At the top of our list is: "The Christmas Gripes."

Maybe you're one of those savvy types who remembers it from late 2007, and you'd be correct. It was published in late December of '07. But it was so popular that the effects of it spread well into 2008, making it necessary to include it on our Top 10 list. It's all about what God does for His sons and daughters, and I believe that's why so many liked it so much.

I hope you enjoy it all over again.

Finally, tomorrow we'll begin a shorter version count down, the Top 5 Under-Appreciated LifeNotes of 2008. Yes, this is my way of giving air to a few LifeNotes that I thought were relatively overlooked. And if they're again overlooked, I'll pout and throw a tantrum for at least, oh, an hour. I hope you cannot live with that on your conscience.

And I promise: after this, no more 2008 count-downs!

Happy New Year!

Ralph



After secretly purchasing a carpet shampooer, I did the living room before Sarah returned from a short trip to California. She was thrilled—the carpet dazzled.

Within a week one particular stain decided to return. By the way, how can that be? It was gone, removed, eradicated and conquered, but it comes back?! Anyone know? Well, I was not happy with Mr. Stain. And somehow Mr. Stain spread to me.

I got the gripes. Suddenly lots of things bothered me, like that my old car needs new tires—all four—and how the wiper blades on Sarah’s car don’t work right, and how there are more leaves I’ve got to deal with in the backyard, and how my dog doesn’t pick up after herself, and how my girls don’t either, and how all those toll-free people call my house all day long with really stupid offers, and how no one has commented on my blog lately, and how no one has cleaned and organized my study for me, and how blankets and clothing tumble out of the closet because they weren’t hung up properly, and how the basement is a cluttered wreck once again, matching the cardboard-strewn garage, which is party to some shipping peanuts running helter-skelter, and how I have to put up all the Christmas lights, including Mr. Gargantuan Christmas Tree, and how. . .

See? I got the gripes.

As I grumbled and muttered while making a manual attempt to clean Mr. Stinking Stain, I somehow remembered that God is fairly capable at cleaning me up in times like this. With an extra and angry squirt of carpet cleaner at Mr. Stain, I offered myself to the Holy Spirit—“Well, God, I’m mad. . .with good reason, too. Nothing’s right. Nothing’s going as it should, you know? What do you think about all this nonsense and crap, anyway?” Into my mind popped these words: “Do all things as unto the Lord. . .”

Well, I melted. I forget that God is incredibly capable from where He now lives.

While Jesus didn’t have to deal with what I do (He didn’t have a blog), I don’t have to deal with what He did—thank God for that! (Can I get an ‘Amen!’?) Anyway, Jesus didn’t live in order to get the wood carvings and sawdust swept up, He didn’t live to reach the woman at the well, and he didn’t measure His days by how much and how well He got things done. Or by how things seemed to turn out. His days were spent being involved with God the Father. I do so well when I remember that that’s the deal for me, too!

Does that make sense? When I regularly pause to ask Him something, to look for His leading, to listen for His words, or to feel-out what He might be feeling, He does stuff in me! It’s as simple as that. Any little or brief opportunity I give Him by turning my thoughts toward Him is like gold with Him! “Ah, ha!” He might say. “I’ll take that junk out of your mind, that covetousness out of your guts, and that yearning for the stuff of this world out of you. That stuff is easy for me. Remember where I am and what I can do? How about involving me then.” Gee. Now there’s a thought.

You know, we’re heading into a major season for the flesh. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t have some rum-laced eggnog, or go shopping for three days straight at that den of worldliness, the mall, or that you shouldn’t get caught up with all the fun and finery of Christmas. Have fun! However, you and I can do all of that without involving God and without really knowing Him. That’s abnormal for us, and we’ll likely have a lousy time.

So, practice involving God. That will make the most boring or “Do we always have to do this?” tradition take on new meaning and new life. In the middle of decorating, ask, “Any ideas, Lord?” Pay attention to the thoughts and ideas you get—they could be His. Before donning your shopping helmet for this weekend’s blitzkrieg at the mall, invite Him to lead you to a store or to a particular gift for so-and-so. And then watch and feel for His leading. When writing a greeting on a Christmas card, pause and say, “What do you think about so-and-so, Holy Spirit? Anything I should say?” What comes next might make the task better—even after the thirty-second card you’ve made out.

Doing things to involve God are indeed gold to Him. And it will keep Mr. Stain from spreading in your direction.