Thursday, July 30, 2009

Turning Off Magellan


How do you navigate your days? And do you struggle to pre-navigate?

One of the most popular gifts this past Christmas was navigation devices. You know—those little things that sit in your car and tell you how to drive. I already have one, but I’m thinking of getting another one for the times when Sarah isn’t with me. (Drum roll and cymbal, please.) Actually, my new cell phone comes with navigation. And it has an English accent, too, making it sound exotic. “In three kee-lom-mittuhs, tun-roight.”

It’s all the rage to get a Tom Tom, a Garmin, a Mio, or a Magellan—my favorite because the name makes me feel good. “No worries. Magellan is with me.” But I’ve noticed a hazard with all the navigational assistance we’re offered to get us where we’re going—the desire to pre-navigate. Do you know what I mean?

If you’re thinking of talking to someone with whom you’re a bit nervous, what do you do before the moment? Pre-navigate. A supposed road map is loaded up in your mind with all the possibilities you can foresee, and you imagine yourself responding to them. “Hello, Bob/Mary/Bill/Sue. I’m convinced that you should choose my product/agree to my terms/see that I’m right/go out to dinner with me for all the reasons I’ve given. Are we agreed?”

Does that make sense? You pre-navigate a situation in the hope that situation will go well, whatever “well” is. We all do it. But has pre-navigating kept you awake through the night? Has it dogged you through the day? Have you tried to turn off your personal pre-navigation device in the middle of the night, only to have it re-boot on its’ own? “Shut up, Magellan!” “Negative, Sir Ralph. I won’t be silenced. You must be prepared for every imaginable situation, and I’m here to conjure them up for you. Ponder, fret and mull over the following scenario . . . We've got all night together.”

Magellan navigated the oceans of the world. However, Magellan was killed by spear-wielding natives when he was 41!

Someone I know very, very well, recently received a gift from a law enforcement officer, following his insistence that she pull over to the side of the rode. Not only is she now visited with fear during the driving moments of her day, but her inner Magellan now constantly offers imagined encounters which might happen in the future. “If a cop pulls you over because you didn’t signal/were going ten miles over the limit/made an unsafe lane change, here’s how to verbally navigate your way out of another ticket. . .”

This person I know very, very well, told me that just this morning while in the car, she yelled, “Shut up!” at her pre-navigator, henceforth dubbed Amelia. (Her navigational skills fell short, too. Amelia Earhart didn’t even make it to her forty-first birthday.)

Pre-navigating, we believe, is a way to avoid failure—and sometimes it is. However, it can also thrust God out of the picture by focusing upon you and what skills you have. And that’s not normal! It doesn’t work for us to have God anywhere but the center of the picture. When He’s not there, fully willing and fully capable, you’ll feel all alone in the ocean, subject to changing winds and tides.

Better get it together because the pressure’s on, navigator breath!

Sometimes we just have to pre-navigate, but always the best first choice is to know God. Since He’s living inside of you right now, there’s every likelihood that He wants to do something with you. You are His workmanship, so it’s a good bet He’d like something to work with!

Here’s what I do: I tell God that my navigational device is insufficient, and that I want to know what He thinks and feels about the situation up ahead. “Holy Spirit,” I might say, “What do you think about Bob/Mary/Bill/Sue? Do I have reason to worry? What do want me to know or feel about him/her/them?” And then I feel around a bit, listen or look into what I hear or feel next. I usually tell Him what my soul senses, my perceiver-expressor doing its’ thing.

Sometimes I feel caution. Sometimes I feel relief and peace. Sometimes I feel invigorated. Sometimes I see a picture or a scene in my mind that reveals something He wants me to know and is sure to comment on. Sometimes I get a scripture. Sometimes I hear something specific—“Go.” “Don’t go.” “Tell her this. . .” “Tell him that.” “Don’t say anything.” “This is what is really going on, Ralph.” “You are ready, for I have planned that you should talk with these people—fear not.”

In any case, I believe that God is in me. Because I am right now His vessel, He’s got a great place from which to impact a needy world, and to impart His grace and mercy and counsel and direction and love. If God is the Alpha and Omega, if He knows the very beginning to the very end before it happens, then He’s the perfect navigator.

I am confident that there will be plenty of adventures and mishaps and storms on our voyage, but I’ll be knowing and trusting the One who has no fear of the future. He’s with me and I’m with Him. He knows where we’re going.

I'm counting on that, and that’s how I'm turning off Magellan.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Freedom From Being Impacted

Impacted. Impactful. Impacting.

This word speaks of a medical condition that all of us want to avoid. And it speaks of something that has wearied me for many years now--the belief that Christians have to figure out ways to make large IMPACTS upon their world. Ministries to children, youth, singles, marrieds and to the mature labor and strategize about how to have a big impact for Jesus. Nothing just a little bit impactful, but really impacting. Big time, big deal impact.

But, come on. Doesn't the weariness following point out that the beginning was flawed? I think we need to pause and consider our motive and method. The article below helps me do that--maybe it will for you, too. It's from a blog I have begun reading, thedirtyshame.blogspot.com, by John Blase. Have a look. It will likely impact you. Oops.


Lately, there seem to be a lot of people wanting to make an impact on this world for Jesus. Leadership gurus are wanting to impact the church. Student leaders, who evidently live 24/7, are mobilizing to impact the next generation. I've even heard certain artists who are writing or singing or something to impact the culture.

Now I'm a word guy; in other words, I believe words mean things. So I looked up this six-letter arrangement to clarify the definition: to collide forcibly with; to strike. I then checked some related words: concussion, hammering, onslaught, ramming, sideswipe, tremor, wallop, and who could resist whomp. Now, in the interest of fairness, there are related words that ring all nice and smart like etch or imprint, but great horny toads - they don't stand much of a chance next to mauling.

Go ahead. Take some of those related words and put them in the place of "impact" - Leadership gurus really want to ram the church...Student leaders are mobilizing to maul the next generation...you see where this is going.

I don't believe Jesus wants us to do this. I really don't.

Do you know the words trace or whiff or hint or brush? For example - "Jimmy slumped in right field, one cleat on top of the other, close to the fence. Not a single ball came his direction all evening. But the fence was lined with honeysuckle, the whiff of which reminded him of the girl who now sat in front of him in homeroom. She had just moved to town from Magnolia and smiled at Jimmy in the hallway. Jimmy liked playing right field."

Now, I'm gonna bet my boots you've got a story or two or three where the slightest trace or hint of someone or something left you undone; could be it haunts your memory even today. Maybe it's coming across the hint of your father's aftershave in a department store. He ran off five years ago but that hint causes you to break down in Macy's like a baby. Or possibly it was when the dog brushed against your legs and your wife said "It's a boy." You'll forever associate that beagle's tail with the best day of your life. Or how about a trace, just a trace of half-n-half that causes ordinary scrambled eggs to be the envy of Cracker Barrel.

I believe that's what Jesus wants us to do. Leave hints or traces or whiffs of grace and mercy and forgiveness, words that mean something, in the lives of those both near and far.

But John, you say, what about the incident when Jesus wove a rope and got busy turning over the tables of the money changers? That was quite impactful, wasn't it? Yeah, I know; it's in there, so it counts. But I wonder sometimes if after the onslaught, Jesus sighed and chuckled to himself, "I'm not so sure what good that did." And maybe that chuckle came to mind when Peter drew his sword in the garden and whomped off that fella's ear and Jesus said, "Easy there, Pete" and then he put that ear right back where it came from, just like that...a little hint of miracle before the mob made their impact.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Legalistic Leeches


Have you ever seen the film, The African Queen? Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, it’s a film classic, one I’ve seen lots of times if you count seeing it in bits and pieces.

A part I’ll never forget (probably because it’s so gross) is when Charlie (Bogart) pulls the boat through acrid swamp water, clogged with muck and reeds and algae and bugs and crocodiles. The worst part of it? Leeches. I hate ‘em. But because Charlie and Rose (Hepburn) have their minds riveted upon their destination, the slimy, blood sucking critters latch on to him without his knowing. When Charlie climbs back into the boat for a break, there they are, in all their awful sycophant glory.

Horrors. I hate leeches.

Ever ready, Rose applies salt to the bloodsuckers, which don’t take kindly to it at all, and regretfully drop off. (Side note: the film could have been better if, like snails, the leeches had gone all bubbly from the salt. Opportunity missed? I think so.) Rose and Charlie knew that if they were to proceed toward their goal of freedom, they had to momentarily break their focus and deal with the life-sapping leeches.

Yesterday I noticed there were some leeches hanging on me.

Simply, what was leading me through my day was not Jesus, but a crude, almost unrecognizable form of legalism. This time of year produces a bumper crop of standards and behaviors by which to measure oneself—and I was. I wasn’t entirely into summer fun and all that, so my family couldn’t be, either. I wasn’t properly shepherding my girls, reading to them and praying with them enough. I wasn’t encouraging my wife enough—and she’s got a fractured shoulder, for goodness sake. I hadn’t written or called or emailed people enough, and God knows how wrong that is. My goodness.

Do you see it? In each case there was a perfect thing in my mind that I should have done, an “A” grade I could have gotten on the report card of my day, but I fell short. And I felt lousy about it. Like a big fat failure.

Foolishly, I didn’t bother to check with God to see if He agreed with my assessment. Why bother? After all, wasn’t it obvious?! I mean, look at the evidence! So why check with Him? The thing to do was to keep going, keep pushing toward the goal of doing better and getting it right. Don’t stop now—keep moving forward.

But the legalistic leeches—I had ‘em all over me. After ignoring them for a long enough time, they had drawn-off enough blood that I was feeling the weakness.

So last night, almost in a ritualistic way, I climbed out of the routine boat of my day, and said a few fairly meaningless words to God. “Hey, Lord. How’s your day? Enjoying summer time?” or something like that. I didn’t talk to Him about my deserved condemnation, but simply offered my weary carcass . . . and He began to lift and free me of worldly estimations. For the 7,431 time I remembered—God is my life and peace and freedom and rest and joy and love. I do not live well by estimating only what I do and how I perform (which is not to say it’s unimportant); I live by who I know. He makes all the difference with me.

I was missing Him. In my weakness I was trying to pull through my days without the life to do it.

Damn the leeches.

You and I have been made free in Christ—stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . .you, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;. . .(Gal 5:1, 13) The “yoke of slavery” or the indulgence of the flesh threatening the Galatians wasn’t drunkenness or cheating or lust, it was life by faulty and insufficient measurements, life by standards on the way to getting the “A” on life’s report card. The amazing thing was, they already had it! In Christ, they had already made the grade.

But Satan had induced them to believe that life by checklist was better than life by knowing and trusting Christ—God for us and God with us and God in us. As long as they believed they weren’t yet free, weren’t yet good enough, hadn’t yet done enough, or hadn’t received absolutely everything from God for entirely nothing, living was a pull through mucky, leech filled swamps. After all, you have to arrive if you haven’t yet. No choice but to keep pushing through.

If that’s where you are, get some salt—you’ve got leeches.

To get rid of them, do almost anything toward God, do almost anything with Him in mind. Cook a meal and talk to him while working over the stove, sing a song, read a verse, tie your laces and ask if He likes your shoes, pull some weeds and complain to Him about them, and see what He does for you—the inside you. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He loves being that for you, since He made you a perfect place for Himself. Because of Him, you have already arrived—seated in heavenly places, holy and blameless—and that’s the truth that influences of your life.

Take a moment and stop pulling so hard. You are His boat—He’ll do the pulling.

And He’ll mix salt with your leeches.

(To subscribe and receive these once a week in your email, go to my ministry web site at http://lifecourse.org and click on LifeNotes.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Woman Tells It Like It Is!

(Here's a little "something" to brighten your weekend, when things get a little crazy or silly around here. If you're a woman, then I bet you like this letter even more than I do.)

*This is an actual letter from an Austin, Texas, woman sent to an American company, 
Proctor and Gamble, regarding their feminine products. She really gets 
rolling after the first paragraph. It's PC Magazine's 2007 Editors' Choice
 for best webmail, award winning letter.*

Dear Mr. Thatcher,

 I have been a loyal user of your 'Always' maxi pads for over 20 years and I
 appreciate many of their features. Why, without the Leak Guard Core or
 Dri-Weave absorbency, I'd probably never go horseback riding or salsa
 dancing, and I'd certainly steer clear of running up and down the beach in
 tight, white shorts. But my favorite feature has to be your revolutionary
 Flexi-Wings. Kudos on being the only company smart enough to realize how
 crucial it is that maxi pads be aerodynamic. I can't tell you how safe and
 secure I feel each month knowing there's a little F-16 in my pants.



Have you ever had a menstrual period, Mr. Thatcher? Ever suffered from the
 curse'? I'm guessing you haven't. Well, my time of the month is starting
 right now. As I type, I can already feel hormonal forces violently surging 
through my body. Just a few minutes from now, my body will adjust and I'll
 be transformed into what my husband likes to call 'an inbred hillbilly with
 knife skills.' Isn't the human body amazing?



As Brand Manager in the Feminine-Hygiene Division, you've no doubt seen
 quite a bit of research on what exactly happens during your customer's
 monthly visits from 'Aunt Flo'. Therefore, you must know about the bloating,
 puffiness, and cramping we endure, and about our intense mood swings, 
crying jags, 
and out-of-control behavior. You surely realize it's a tough time for most 
women. In fact, only last week, my friend Jennifer fought the violent urge
 to shove her husband's testicles into a George Foreman Grill just because
 he told her he thought Grey's Anatomy was written by drunken chimps. Crazy!



The point is, sir, you of all people must realize that America is just 
crawling with homicidal maniacs in Capri pants... Which brings me to the
 reason for my letter. Last month, while in the throes of cramping so painful
 I wanted to reach inside my body and yank out my uterus, I opened an Always 
maxi-pad, and there, printed on the adhesive backing, were these words:
 'Have a Happy Period.'



Are you freaking kidding me? What I mean is, does any part of your tiny 
middle-manager brain really think happiness - actual smiling, laughing
 happiness, is possible during a menstrual period? Did anything mentioned
 above sound the least bit pleasurable? Well, did it, James? FYI, unless
 you're some kind of sick S&M freak, there will never be anything 'happy'
 about a day in which you have to jack yourself up on Motrin and Kahlua and
 lock yourself in your house just so you don't march down to the local
 Walgreen's armed with a hunting rifle and a sketchy plan to end your life in
 a blaze of glory.



For the love of God, pull your head out, man! If you have to slap a moronic
 message on a maxi pad, wouldn't it make more sense to say something that's
 actually pertinent, like 'Put down the Hammer' or 'Vehicular Manslaughter Is 
Wrong', or are you just picking on us?



Sir, please inform your Accounting Department that, effective immediately, 
there will be an $8 drop in monthly profits, for I have chosen to take my
 maxi-pad business elsewhere. And though I will certainly miss your
 Flex-Wings, I will not for one minute miss your brand of condescending 
BS. And that's a promise I will keep.
 *Always. . .*



Best,


Wendi Aarons

Austin , TX

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stupid Trout


I was struck this morning with how vital it is that I see what God sees, and live from His vantage point. I love it!

But if I don’t, I am soon caught and fouled up.

The facts are vital: I am not of this world—neither are you. The world I can see out my window is not the most real one—the invisible world is. And the world I see out the window, the passing away one, is shaped by the one I cannot see. I, too, am best seen in the invisible world. Looking there, looking at what God says is true in the unseen realm, I am revived. It’s no wonder—that’s where I’m from.

But I find weariness and confusion blanket me when I am not living by faith. I suppose weariness and confusion are faithful alarms. “Wake up, Ralph. You’re not doing very well. You live by faith—remember? You’ll be revived when you look again at what God says is true.”

I live by faith, not by sight.

But, man! The temporary stuff of this world sure lures my attention sometimes. I must look like a stupid trout, mouth agape, fining my way after the lure. “It’s so shiny, so desirable. I must have it.”

Knowing my lunatic pursuit, the Holy Spirit interrupts the danger. “You’re not feeling quite right, you’re not seeing things as they really are. C’mon—put your eyes on the truth and you’ll recover.” He’s good at interrupting.

And He reminded me this morning that there is no condemnation for the trout of this world.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Need One Of These

(It’s the weekend—time for some silliness.)

Here in Colorado it’s mosquito season. An added bonus this year—our city council got all green on us and decided to spray for them in only the most extreme circumstances. . .like children being carried off by the hordes now lurking in the shadows.

So when I came across this unique product, I placed my order right away.

Check it out.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Have You Seen This?


You’ve got to see this movie, To End All Wars. Why it slipped past me in 2002 is a mystery, but I’m so thankful I’ve got it now.

If you would like to read a real review from a qualified film aficionado, go here. Otherwise, you can settle for mine.

I need to mention that this is a prisoner of war movie, and has all the graphically abhorrent scenes you would expect from a film dealing with such a traumatic theme. Because the Japanese viewed other nationalities as terribly inferior, and because these British and American prisoners had not killed themselves rather than accept capture, the Japanese soldiers treated them brutally. And you will see that, but it’s very germane to the film.

That’s that.

I have never seen a film anything like this that depicts the growing faith in Christ of many of the prisoners. It’s stunning. And what these captives do in relation to their captors would make the apostle Paul stand up and shout. It’s stunning. There were many times when my wife and I stopped the film because we wanted to talk and marvel over what we had just seen.

To End All Wars has joined the ranks of my Top Films.

Go get it. It’s stunning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking Good Fleshly Habits


“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6 NIV)

It should be evident that those of us under the influence of the flesh may look particularly bad, or we may look particularly good. And that’s a more difficult thing to see and a more difficult thing from which to turn. But it’s just as fleshly, just as foreign, and just as dangerous. I might appear to be the most faithful church attender in the world, but I might be doing it because I fear God will bless me only if I do, and not at all if I don’t. So, I go…under the influence.

I don’t mean to imply that regular church attendance is a bad thing; it isn’t! It’s just that under the influence of the flesh, it becomes THE THING. Going to church gets the greater influence—not knowing God. The evidence might include condemning thoughts and feelings toward those who fail to attend as regularly as I, or I might frequently and strongly encourage others to attend as the solution to their lack of blessing. Or, perhaps I take a leadership position on the “Let’s-get-the-church-to-church-on-time-every-Sunday” committee. I’m active, but I’m nevertheless fleshly.

Under the influence, I’m not free to ask and trace out the godly and good reasons for going to church, sowing to the Spirit, who might lead me here or there, finding His gifts in me to do this or that, and helping me to live by faith. Instead, I’m captive to what looks right and to what ought to be—and that’s where the flesh is found.

Fleshly activity is not you, but something which influences and drives you—it will become much more evident having read this chapter. Should we now run off and point out each other’s flesh types? Be very careful because the flesh may be motivating you to do that and not the Spirit. It’s not hard to imagine the fun you could have with this new knowledge. That could become as fleshly a lure as anything else—resist the nibble by pausing to offer yourself to the Holy Spirit.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Gal 5:25-26 NIV)

The flesh is not you, but it would like to provide a way for you to look. If you follow its tin lure of promised control, it will behave through you. You know how that will look and feel, and you want to be done with it. Now that you know better, now that you believe life “by the Spirit” is both possible and desirable, chances are good you’ll refuse the bait and go for the Spirit.

(Excerpted from my book, "Better Off Than You Think—God's Astounding Opinion of You"; chapter 7, Hitting My Pause Button.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Time To Breathe


See this picture? That's where I am.

I am taking my family and a couple of nearly-family girls camping in the Rockies for a few days. It's not far. Just a few minutes from here. (Yes, I am rubbing it in.) Hiking, fishing, tons of photography, and BREATHING. I need that.

So, I'll be outta here until I'm back. Wow. That's deep.

I'll post a few pics.

Bye!

Note on No More Christian Butt Kicking


(Here's my response to someone's thoughtful note about yesterday's post, "No More Christian Butt Kicking." My response is first, followed by his comment from yesterday.)

Thanks for your note.

The controversial part is not IF we start behaving well, THEN we will no longer need a butt kicking—the problem is that a good verbal assault will never produce true Christian change. It might induce some temporary behavioral alteration (reading the Bible, being nicer, saying “Please” and “Thank you,” etc.), but God will not be involved; flesh (some call it “self effort”) will be at work.

Those who receive and believe “Christian tongue lashings” will not know and love God more—not actually, not really. They may look better, but their hearts will likely be far from God—no intimacy will be had. They often become terribly self-focused, because they’re usually afraid of stepping out of line. And they often become the behavior monitors of the church, modern-day Pharisees. They are usually negative and pessimistic. Few will actually want to cozy up to them because they know that a painful examination is imminent.

I suggest that those who are misbehaving in your church and who “need to be taken over the proverbial Knee of God and given a real good butt whoopin.” have already been kicked enough by those who misrepresent Him. The eyes of their hearts are likely droopy or closed altogether. Church for them—Christianity for them—is most often now a sad, frustrating, boring and empty experience that requires a decent performance now and then. Like on Sunday.

What they need is the Spirit-given truth about what God has done for them (made them holy, blameless, righteous and perfect sons), who they have become as a result (the dwelling place of God—the modern day Holy of Holies, the ambassadors of Christ, ministers of His incredible gospel), and how now to live by faith that He is correct about them (life by the Spirit, and not life by the flesh). This is what's lacking—the truth, which, when the Holy Spirit reveals it to them, makes all the change necessary. They become genuine lovers of God, truly hungry and obviously thirsty for Him. Obedience and behavioral change will be the evidence of reciprocal love.

Butt kicking is counterproductive. Worse—it might change their behavior while leaving them practically empty.

I suggest a couple of books for you. Virtually anything by Steve McVey (Grace Walk is an excellent place to start), my own book (Better Off Than You Think), or The Rest of the Gospel, by Dan Stone and Greg Smith.

I would be happy to send you a copy of mine—just ask.

-Ralph


(His note)
The controversial point is that IF we (collective we) start doing and behaving as we have been told to do, then we will no longer need the "butt kicking" that you so eloquently suggest preachers stop giving us. A good many of the professing Christians that I am surrounded by behave both in public as well as inside the church like they need to be taken over the proverbial Knee of God and given a real good butt whoopin. As Joanne said above, If ... you put to death the deeds of the flesh... . The problem is that too many Christians do not do that. You seem to be ranting about a sermon that you do not feel you need to hear. This is more than likely correct. What about the rest of that congregation? Is there no one listening to that sermon that is in dire need of a Butt Kicking? You're rant has a lot of IF's. My point is that most do not do the IF's you mention. I hear your rant about the sermon. What then is personal Bible study for? What then is Small Group Bible study for?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Note on No More Christian Butt Kicking


In summary, I think I reached my limit last Sunday on sermons that tell Christians they are bad and off and slow and sinful, and to stop it right now! Oh, and then tell them to act differently and that will take care of the whole thing. Ta-da! Change your behavior and you’ve changed yourself. God will finally be satisfied, right?

Wrong. That’s just not it at all.

We live by faith, not by a butt whoopin'.

If there's something amiss in our behavior, it's because of something we do not yet believe, and has become a way in which we do not offer ourselves to God--who now lives in us.

Unfortunately, we often make the futile attempt to live by the flesh, which always proves frustrating and impossible for the Christian. If, however, we offer ourselves to the Spirit because we actually believe He lives in us, He will produce what Christ is like--the fruit of the Spirit.

Angry butt whoopin's do not form Christ in us, nor do they produce the fruit of the Spirit. I'm not saying we shouldn't ever get mad; I'm saying that without the truth and the assistance of the Spirit, anger will not produce the Christian life.

No More Christian Butt Kicking


Well, I’ve just heard another sermon lacking anything very glorious about God (which might induce faith and worship and passion in the church), but which was full of deft and agile butt kicking. Rather than teach the church the incredible gospel, rather than offer the listeners anything that might open their eyes and warm and fill their hearts with reviving and motivating wonder and awe, the sermon offered instruction on how to make something of their sorry selves by self-condemnation and harsh self-treatment.

I was disappointed . . .and a bit mad.

If we are the perfect, new creation sons and daughters of God, who live by the Spirit now in us, and if we are God’s workmanship, then, God, redeem us from the belief that we are our own worst enemies! We’re Spirit-born sons, recognized throughout the heavens! The flesh is indeed donkey-like, but we’re not flesh. Not anymore, not ever again.

And while you’re at it, God, redeem us from believing we have to kick our own butts to get our selves going or to make ourselves arrive somewhere—like we’re little better than religious donkeys. How can that work? Start with the biggest problem (our presumed bad self), and motivate our bad self with the same bad self. Not only is it inaccurate, it cannot possibly work. What Godly thing could one hope to produce?

It’s asinine.

If, however, we believe the truth and offer our redeemed selves to Him, He will gladly produce the life of Christ now in us. “Oh, Father! We believe you! You’ve made us right with you—not just legally but actually. It’s incredible! With minds renewed by the truth, we offer ourselves—your holy vessels—to you. In awe, we believe and worship you, and expect you will be glorified.”

That’s how Christ is formed in us. He won’t be formed in us by a serious and skillful butt kicking!

So knock that stuff off—or I’ll come over there and kick your butt.

There. Rant over.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One For Cat Lovers

Since I recently posted a cartoon that poked fun at cats and those who love them, I thought it fair to post a video that provides oft-demanded balance. We must be balanced, mustn't we?

Well, no.

But anyway, here's one for those who think dog-lovers are a little bit more than a little bit whacked. (Secretly, I think the dogs in this video are really cats in disguise--don't you?)

Have a great weekend.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cleverly Copped Clappers

It's the weekend—time for a little fun around here.

My dad, who was never much for computers, nevertheless sent this to me not long before he passed away last fall. It was a near miracle that he sent it successfully, and I was glad he did.

I always enjoyed Johnny Carson's attempts to keep a straight face, and this is one of my favorites of him. It's an oldie and a goodie. I think you'll like it.

video

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pleasing Judge Daddy


I caught my daughter trying too hard to please me. I didn’t like it.

Over the course of a few days last week I noticed that every approach she made to me had a sort of I’m-trying-to-get-something-from-you feel about it. Somehow she had come to doubt that I was pleased with her simply because she was actually pleasing to me—I really like her. So she began the ugly attempt to earn it.

She cleaned up her breakfast stuff and, looking over her shoulder, announced loudly, “Well, that’s done.” She told me she was mad at one of her classmates who doesn’t believe in Jesus, but who instead believes in the elephant God. “He’s such an idiot! I mean, c’mon—the elephant god?! That’s ridiculous. Right, dad?” She offered to get me a glass of water and to bring the morning paper to me. And she chattered incessantly about topics and viewpoints she thought I’d like. “How ‘bout those Dodgers?!”

It was like she was building a really strong case that she was, in fact, pleasing, by creating the evidence—clean dishes—and announcing it verbally so I wouldn’t miss it. “Look what I’ve done. I’ve cleaned my dishes!” Several times a day, this is how it went:

“Here’s the evidence before you, Judge Daddy, and here’s why it’s proof that I am pleasing.”

Now, I absolutely love my daughter—I know it, and so does virtually anyone and everyone who gets around the two of us. It’s obvious. My judgment of her is great. But what I didn’t like was what was happening to my girl because she wasn’t sure. She was working to change my mind.

Maybe she had been listening to the mind of the flesh, or to the whisperings of the enemy. “Daddy’s not pleased with you.” Her approach and involvement with me was no longer because she just had to be with me because it meant fun and goodness and delight and laughter and unity. Believing a lie, she came to me to prove something—“See, daddy? I’m good. I’m faithful. You like me, right?"—as if I might not agree with her.

So I spent what seemed like all day with her on my lap. We watched movies and silly kids shows, ate breakfast and lunch together, talked about her friends and not-so-much friends, and more.

And you know what happened? She figured it out. Now she seeks me when we’re home together (she was just in my lap five minutes ago) because she likes being with me, and she knows I like being with her. I’m really good toward her, and she’s convinced again.

Moral of the story? I think we sometimes get used to approaching God motivated by the same fear. “See, Father? I’m good. I’m faithful. You like me now, right? Sure hope so.” Ever feel that way? It means that we’ve forgotten or had stolen from us the confidence that, because of God’s own doing, He is perfect toward us and He has made us perfect with Him. He’s gotten rid of all that stood between us—every condition, every rule and every failure to keep them—and He has brought us near in joyful delight. It’s now His favorite thing to convince us of how right we are with Him, which strips away fear by overwhelming it with love. It’s all true.

I suggest you forego the effort to prove to God that you’re good or lovable or faithful—“See, Daddy?”—and that, instead, you ask God or read about what He thinks of you. He’s really good at loving us without our having done anything to deserve it. That’s the gospel. Remember? Didn’t He love you like crazy before you had done anything good anyway? I’ll bet the same thing goes for right now, too. You've got nothing to prove and nothing to earn.

Believing that we need to prove ourselves to God sets us up for a lifetime of fear and distance from Him. We may come to believe the lie that He only likes us after we’ve done something heroic or Biblical, but not until, not unless. That’s crazy-hard. And it induces us to ignore all that He has done. That’s Satan’s game.

So, how about approaching God as though He loves you at least as much as He did before you were His, before He made you holy and blameless, as well as the home in which He now dwells.

Have a go at it, and see what Daddy does. I bet you'll be pleased by His judgment.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:13-15

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Trouble With Educated Daughters


Do you believe in signs?

While sitting at my desk in the study recently, my daughter, Ellen, walked in and showed me her Spanish test. She had aced it, and was the only one in the class to do so.

Cranking up my vast expertise of the Spanish language (I took two years of it in High School, AND grew up in Southern California), I began looking it over. When I came upon the following phrase—"Es muy desordenado"—I asked what it meant.

Without a word, she pointed to my desk.

Frankly, nine weeks out of ten shows that chaos reigns on my desk. The fact that I have been traveling a lot and that the desk I have now is a lot smaller than the one I had a couple of months ago carried no importance with her. She was merciless.

I pursed my lips to hide a grin and said, "Are you trying to tell me that my desk is disorganized?" "No," she said, "It's very disorganized. Es muy desordenado."

"Gracias," I replied. "De nada," she said. (For those who are Spanish language impaired, our three word verbal exchange meant something like, "Ouch. You got me." and "Yeah, well, it wasn't much of a challenge, you big slob.")

Nodding my head toward the door, I said with as much fatherly authority as I could muster, "Adios, muchacha!" (Translation: "Maybe the door will whack your backside as you get out of my study!")

Why do I send my girls to school, anyway?!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Best Counseling Technique Ever(!)

Bob Newhart ranks in the top five of my favorite comedians. His stoic, blinking and halting style of interaction has long been a delight to watch—I crack up before he says anything particularly funny.

Since it's the weekend (time for a bit of fun!), I offer this short video of Bob Newhart "counseling" a needy Mo Collins, a long-time cast member on MadTV. While I have never seen even one episode of MadTV, it would seem that I have missed some great humor. Drat.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Gimme More Of That


I have wrestled and struggled with obedience all my life. Well, perhaps not when I was one year old, but let’s ignore that. Besides, everyone obeyed me during that first year or two. Too bad I can’t remember it.

Obey. How does that word make you feel? OBEY! Does it stir warm feelings and happy thoughts? Not for me, it doesn’t.

The command to obedience has provided me with lots of opportunities to navigate or negotiate. I could obey the command on the outside, while screaming with resentment on the inside. I could obey if I thought there was an immediate benefit secured by the act—I win. Or I could obey part-way—make it look as though I were carrying out the command when really I was obeying by a percentage less than 100%.

Is there such a thing as partial obedience?

So when as a new Christian I read how important obedience is to God—it’s a pretty big deal with Him—I set to work on it. I had help. Loads of sermons and books and articles focused me on the need for obedience. Some of my Christian friends and I even pledged that we would live “a life of obedience.” What an intense phrase that is. “A life of obedience.”

Say that three times aloud and I’ll bet you feel guilty.

Here’s what I’ve found: God made me a new creation—an actual son of His. Obedience to Him is now perfectly in keeping with who I have become. It’s natural now. However, my flesh (that part of me that offers a course for living which results in living without the life of God) is anything but new. In continued rebellion against God, it pressures me to keep on negotiating with obedience. In other words, the mind of the flesh suggests I obey God only when I can predetermine a desirable outcome. “That would make sense,” I might think. Obey if it will make my life work better. Obey if I will feel better. Obey if it means more fun. Obey if people will see it and respect me.

But obey if I have no idea what the result will be? Hmm. May I have another choice, please?

Here’s what I’m learning: obedience is best and most true when it is to God Himself, and not to an acceptable or good plan, or an outcome I can imagine. To be clear, I like it when I can expect or imagine a good outcome; pray, and I’ll feel better; read the Bible and I’ll gain knowledge and wisdom, etc. But offering obedience to God when I have no idea if the result will be what I like is quite the adventure. Isn’t it?

So I’m talking and thinking through obedience like this: “Well, Holy Spirit, I am going to obey You. As I go forward into this moment, I am focusing on You, and obedience to You is perfect for me—it’s how I fit with You and in this world. I am resisting the urge to focus on how my obedience to You will work out. That’s a fear I don’t need, and by focusing on You, I am kept free of it. I know that I want You more than anything, and I believe obedience to You will give me more of that. So here we go.”

Does that make sense? There is nothing, nothing better than actually knowing God, and obedience to Him—directly at Him—gives me more of that. That’s the point, and I can do it all through the day. I feel like a happy kid when I’m knowing and resting in Him. He is glorified and I’m delighted with Him.

I love obedience because it gives me more of that.

We’re better off than we think.

Ralph

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Viva La Revolucion - Or, A Chair Too Small


I’ve talked with several people lately who said something like this: “My faith is very important to me. I don’t know what I would do without it.” In the midst of their statement, they either got a sort of faraway look in their eyes, as if their faith takes in all of life and every horizon, or they suddenly looked intense, like they were about to skewer me with the precision of their statement. I half-expected them to suddenly have a German accent:

Faith is zee essence of all zat matters in za vorld. If you don’t agree vid me, I may have to kill you. Vee have vays of dealing vid you.

While I was happy to hear that their faith was important to them, still it had no definition to it. I was curious, so I asked a simple question: “I’m glad to hear you have faith. What’s one thing that you love about God?”

The number one answer: “What do you mean?”

Surprised, I stammered, “Well, your faith is in God, so I simply wonder what it is you like about Him, what you’ve found amazing about Him.”

Repeat the number one answer.

Fortunately, we lingered along the line of discussion for quite some time, which gave me the chance to describe the God who loves to be known. I got to tell them that, at the cross and through the resurrection, Jesus did away with every reason for separation between Him and us, and that it is now His delight to reveal Himself to us—perfect love, perfect mercy, perfect vision, perfect comfort and perfect ability.

That they could know Him was a revolution in their thinking. And they needed it! Their confidence was a scam—what they were resting upon could not hold them.

If faith in God doesn’t give you that, if faith in God doesn’t give you Him in a truly knowable way, revolutionizing all of your life—your wants and hopes and dreams— then something’s wrong.

And viva la revolucion.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Very Close Saboteur


There’s a saboteur living in your midst, closer than you might think. And I don’t mean the devil. Usually this saboteur is a sniper, choosing a perfect hiding place from which to shoot at you while remaining safely hidden. Snipers can have an incredible affect.

When the battle for Stalingrad was almost lost during W.W.II, a few Russian soldiers concocted a plan to get so close to the enemy that while killing them, they would go undetected. Carrying a high-powered rifle and their daily ration of half a chocolate bar, the starving and desperate soldiers set out from their last remaining stronghold and crawled through the sewer system until they were well behind enemy lines. The Germans had not prepared for such an attack, so they hardly batted an eye when men they didn’t know walked past, even joining them in their own food lines. "Must be one of ours," they thought.

Two Russian snipers, Nikolay Yakovlevich and Ilyin Vasili Zaitsev (made famous by the movie, “Enemy At The Gates”), killed 896 men, many of them high-ranking officers. There were two other effects: 1) the Germans were demoralized, and began to distrust themselves since they didn’t know from where the attacks came; 2) the success of the Russian snipers invigorated the Russian army, which not long after mounted a successful counter-offensive and won the war.

Employing the same tactic, a five-foot Finnish man, Simo Häyhä (pictured at left), crept in amongst the unsuspecting and unprepared Germans and killed on average five men per day. He is credited by the Finnish government with almost one kill per hour of the short winter day, for a total of 542.

For a while the Germans didn’t know anything about this enemy that came from amongst them. It was months before they used the same strategy, and sent snipers after the snipers. For a while now, we haven’t known anything much about the enemy that comes from amongst us either.

You must know that the enemy that hinders you is not you—but it does hunt from within. Unless you know that you are not the flesh and take precautions against the flesh, you’ll be demoralized by your losses, you won’t trust yourself, and the enemy will be invigorated.

When God dropped the new-creation-you into your vessel, for the first time you were no longer found in the flesh—you’re outta there! You are now in the Spirit because you are now spirit! For you to live now means knowing God, and staying in step with the Spirit. It’s the new normal way for every born from above Christian.

If lately you’ve been thinking that you are your own worst enemy, or as though God’s biggest trial today is you, think again—and let the truth guide your thoughts. Up from the sewers, there’s an enemy in your midst—it’s the threat, it’s the problem—you’re not. Go for a revival this next long weekend. Get back to knowing and enjoying Him. Do some of the things you know will invigorate that. You’ll be living by the Spirit, and that will expose and disarm the sniper.

You’re not the problem and you’re not the flesh—you’re better off than you think.

Romans 8:9-14
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.