Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ten Commandments & The Gospel

(A friend of mine asks the following question, which led to this post: "I have a question for you. There is an evangelistic ministry in our area which uses the 10 Commandments exclusively to show people their sin and the need for them to repent and come to Christ. Their method has become very popular in our Christian community. My question is: in light of the New Covenant are the 10 Commandments necessary in bringing a lost person to salvation? Please explain why." My response follows.)

Yeah, this has been bothering me for years. It has long felt like we bash people over the head and make them feel horrible, and then ask them to trust us to make them feel better. And some people are very skilled at that.

I don’t know, Barry.

In the book of Acts, Peter really turned the screws on people before telling them the gospel. However, it seems clear that he was always talking to Jews—“Men of Israel,. . .” (Acts 3:12) His approach or leading of the Spirit is different when speaking to Gentiles.

In chapter 10, God gives Peter the vision concerning the cleansing of the Gentiles. After that, a formerly reluctant Peter gives the gospel to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. There is no salvation appeal, no threat of hell, and no “repent and be saved” admonition. Yet, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:44,45)

Several points: I think that because many Christians do not believe that God actually chose us in Christ before the foundation of the earth, that we have to get them to do the choosing. And here comes the scolding and haranguing and beatings to induce the choice from the otherwise reluctant people. Even though we believe the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, we think a good beating will give them sight.

In my terminology, these people have “Prosecuter flesh”—in other words, they believe an airtight argument will force a guilty plea and a gospel ear.

Second, many of us do not discern the difference in our listeners that Peter did. Maybe we should pray for these people to have a holy “Sheet Dream.” Oh, I have a warped sense of humor! That sounds so close to something else, doesn't it?

The Spirit gave Peter that bothersome vision in Acts 10, where Peter’s failure to understand the magnitude of the new covenant was exposed. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” In other words, God has taken upon Himself everything and anything that once separated Him and frustrated His love. It’s all gone! Go and tell them! Peter did, and the result startled everyone—the Holy Spirit entered them all.

Remember what the church leaders did to Peter?
Acts 11:1 The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." 4 Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened. . .

So, if I were to speak with Jews, perhaps I would don my become all things to all men garments, and “use” the law as Peter did in chapter 3 in order to lead them to the fulfillment of the age, the gospel of the new covenant. However, I would not use the same technique with Gentiles, who were never under the law to begin with. The distinction must be made.

Third, many of us have failed to grasp the end of one covenant and the dawn of another. We’re seduced into believing that a good mix of the two is the just-right elixir for our hearers to drink. So, some of us introduce listeners to the God Who Is Pissed-Off, the God who has yet to take out His wrath on sinful man, and who is about to do it on those listening—better repent before He smashes you in the way you deserve.

In other words, we don’t believe “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19, italics mine.) We don’t get that at all, I’m afraid. While there will be an accounting one day (for those who do not believe and receive Jesus), that day is not this day, not this time. In our day, God is not counting—God is calling.

And I must wrap this up.

To conclude, Barry, the apostles were led by the Spirit, not by a technique they thought would work what they wanted. That’s very difficult for us to grasp, but it is, nevertheless, the way for Christians. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25) I am helped immeasurably by knowing the gospel of God's grace to us in Christ. Everything I do and the way I see people is framed by it. But God knows who people are, He knows their design and destiny, and He knows what He’s doing. That’s why I make it my highest goal to know Him, especially when I’m with people—those He loves.

I know there are good and smart people who disagree with me, but this is what I think. Tell me what you think of all this, will you?

Ralph
(If you would like to ask me a question, fire away. Click on Comments just below, or email me at Ralph@LifeCourse.org.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oh, No--Prodigal Brother Breath


I've got prodigal brother breath. Pray for me?

I sometimes find myself skipping over certain passages in the Bible, such as Jesus' tale of the prodigal son. Are you familiar with the story of the masculine mess? I am, too. Because I’ve read it so many times, I’ve obeyed a pompous voice of presumed Christian maturity in my head that says I should skip over it nowadays. But because recently I wasn't entirely certain it was, in fact, the voice of maturity, I decided to slow down and pay attention. After all, the letters are in red.

In Jesus' story both brothers are a mess. But if I had to wear the shoes of one or the other for a week, frankly, my choice would be the elder brother's Nikes. To me, it’s an easy call. It's not difficult to imagine the ungodly and bad-boy scenes of carousing and raucous laughter embraced by the wandering younger brother. Not good. And as far as messing with the pigs, my sense of decency would be putting on rubber boots and gloves long before I even got near the pen. Count me out. Besides, I'm already acquainted with the first part of his trip—my days at college attest to it—so my personal body guards of been there, done that are working overtime to warn me against the choice.

Duh.

Working in the field seems the right choice, doesn't it? Almost holy in comparison. Lots of friendly sayings come to mind in support of my decision: Work hard and keep my nose clean. Provide for my family. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Yeah. That's the stuff.

Trouble is, the Prodigal's end was better than the elder brothers'. Way better. The awful younger brother knew he was a derelict in the truest sense; no home, no job, and a resume full of proven greed, disloyalty and desertion. And what does he get from the father? Congratulations! You're the Grand Prize winner! Let's have a party to celebrate YOU!

Oh, come on. I, the elder brother, would grab a slab of filet mignon and a bottle of cabernet from the buffet (I deserve it more than he does!), and ditch that scene for the fields. At least out there I know how to get stuff done and don't have to go along with this pathetic bunch of free-loaders, living off the gravy of dad's idiotic grace. You can have your party—I've got work to do.

All too often, that's how I live. I don't want to need grace, and work hard to avoid it. Over the last few weeks I have worked slavishly in the field to raise a crop of an efficient and inviting web site, a well-positioned book, and a sparkling speaking tour, all the while ignoring the plea of my Father to come in and party a while. Oh, I've flirted at the edges, well aware of the feast and festivities inside, but there's so much work to do—the delights and pleasures provided by Dad will have to wait.

And shouldn't they? Parties are for when I've succeeded, not for when the work is yet to be finished, or for when I've failed, as the case might be. I'll party when I deserve it—I want to earn my party. I'll stay at arms length from dad until I'm proud of my report card. No party for now.

Isn't that crazy? But that's the elder brother's approach—a quiet pledge of perfection. He assumes that he has dad’s approval and that dad is happy enough with him out in the field, working within earshot of the party.

As far as I know, the prodigal son never said a word in protest, but likely soaked-up and marveled at the largesse of his father, who so enjoyed making a scene of his love. Really, what else would that boy ever be but a spectacle of his father, a walking billboard of dad's staggering grace? What a freeloader.

But not me! No way. I want to satisfy my fleshly cravings to make something of myself. As if there's something better than what Dad makes of me.

In the fourth chapter of my book, Better Off Than You Think, I wrote: the flesh is that part of us which suggests a course for living which results in living without the life of God. Oh, how that haunts me today. Is it normal to be haunted by one's own book? Shouldn't I have learned and gotten a good grasp on what I've written by now? I should be something of a master, shouldn't I?

Maybe you hear the elder brother in me. Make something of yourself. Don't take time to enjoy what God has lavished upon you, there's work to be done! Get after it, and when you've finished it perfectly, you can take time to enjoy God—you know, a little luxury and leisure time, quaffing a few bottles of cool grace. When you've got the servants in line, the fields plowed, and everything in its place, then you can hang out with dad. That's the honorable approach.

The Prodigal brother approached dad like he was going to make a deal with him. "If I confess my sins and promise to be good, if I re-commit and re-dedicate myself, can I have a bit of grace?" The father virtually ignored him! "Oh," he might have thought, "my son is going to do that ridiculous 'I'm really bad, but I promise to be good' thing. What a needless and laughable bother. Let me see if I can overwhelm him with my goodness, and once and for all get rid of his let's-make-a-deal-for-grace syndrome."

It must have worked.

Today, the elder brother writing this is going for some of that. I'm reminded of what Paul wrote: "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 suspect my Father will love helping me get used to being a receiver.

Because it's difficult for many of us to lay down our tools of self-righteousness, I think we should come up with an elder brother injection. Call it, OhGetOverIt, or LearningToReceive booster shot. Perhaps we’ll include something powerful and chemical in it—way beyond herbal—that will induce us to quickly believe that not only can we not live without the grace of Dad, we’re set-up to live off it! Maybe we could invent pocket breathalyzers for when, having halted an elder brother suspect, we could have him breathe deeply into the mouthpiece to see how long he's been out of Dad’s party. Can you see it?

"Ah-ha! Let’s have a double dose for this prodigal brother breath."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Clever Home Remedies

(It's the weekend! You probably know that means we get a little loony around here and have some fun. Maybe even poke some fun. Beware. . .)

AMAZINGLY SIMPLE HOME REMEDIES: THEY ALL WORK.

1. If you are choking on an ice cube simply pour a cup of boiling water down your throat. Presto! The blockage will instantly remove itself.

2. Avoid cutting yourself slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold while you chop.

3. Avoid arguments with the Mrs. about lifting the toilet seat by using the shower.

4. For high blood pressure sufferers: simply cut yourself and bleed for a few minutes, thus reducing the pressure in your veins. Remember to use a timer.

5. A mouse trap, placed on top of your alarm clock, will prevent you from rolling over and going back to sleep after you hit the snooze button.

6. If you have a bad cough, take a large dose of laxatives. After that you will be afraid to cough.

7. You only need two tools in life - WD-40 and Duct Tape. If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape.

Daily Thought: Some people are like Slinkies--not really good for anything, but they bring a smile to your face when pushed down the stairs

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"No!" To The Pervert


“Whether yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight.”

Whenever ugly prejudice strikes at a particular group, whether it’s a group of color or gender or nationality, etc., we don’t want to be a part of that. Some of us will come to the defense of those persecuted, others will not. If, in fact, we now live by the Spirit, then His leading is what determines our involvement. Right?

“If we live by the Spirit, let us stay in step with the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25) Rather important advice, don’t you think?

Our need to see clearly—by the Spirit—is vital. Otherwise, when the flesh contributes its’ worldly suggestions, we’ll take the bait and go forward without the grace of God. My experience shows that if I start off by the flesh, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

And really, that’s the point of all this. Having been made the magnificent new creations of God, we no longer live as we once did. We no longer battle or argue or strategize as we once did. To do so would be perverted.

To be certain, the god of this world thoroughly enjoys twisting and perverting the sons and daughters of God. While he cannot change them from what they have become, he can hide what they are by perverting how they live. I think that’s his goal, don’t you?

When you remember the long-planned death of our Savior, remember also that you were included in His crucifixion. That means you’ll never suffer the recompense of your sins because, in Christ, you already did. Further, you were included in His resurrection, which means that you came forth holy, blameless and righteous—all new! Hooray! With that in view, your approach to people will be entirely new, as well.

Live by faith in what God has done in and through Jesus—and say “No” to the pervert.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Antidote For Racism


People are racist because they're blinded by what they see. I'll explain.

Over the years I have spent time in such places as Saudi Arabia, England, Barbados, Holland, Bahrain, Tokyo, Scotland, Croatia, France, Mexico, Canada, Italy and India, and have traveled all the way from Hawaii to New York. Before my arrival, I have gotten as much information as I could about those places and especially about the people who lived there. If I could talk with someone who had experience in those areas, I might ask, “Tell me about Mexico and Mexicans,” or “Tell me about Croatia and Croats.” I wanted to know as much as I could before arriving to maximize my time there.

Usually I read or was told not only what I should expect to enjoy about those places and people, but what to watch out for: “Saudis are amazingly hospitable, but you can trust them only so far.” “Italians are fun loving and gregarious, but watch out because their anger can flare up in an instant.” Have you ever heard those kinds of generalizations? Have you found them useful?

Most of these generalizations were useful because they were meant to help me navigate in places and cultures that were foreign to me—to decrease my learning curve. Indeed, I think lots of generalizations about people and places are helpful.

But it can start to get a little racist, don’t you think? Maybe we could call it quasi racism, or gentle racism. Maybe not.

But the cure for true racism, the antidote for terrible and injurious generalizations—we've all heard them—can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ. Only when a man believes that Jesus Christ has been making a new race of people since His resurrection, a holy, blameless and righteous people, a majestic and noble race born of Himself, can anyone be truly free from the visual bondage of what is less. When once a man is gripped by something superior and true, he will let go—even throw away—what he once thought worthy of his grip. This amazing new race has to believed before it can be seen.

Paul wrote about the view for you and me:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:16,17)

Christians don’t view or think of people only according to how they behave or how they look; we view people by their birth! Anything else and our approach to people will be twisted and inaccurate, and we won’t be living by faith. If people have yet to have a second birth, we know how lost they are. If they’ve had a second birth—they’ve received Jesus—then they’re actually a new kind of people, a chosen people, a royal band of priests, a people belonging to God. Not only are they better off, they’re new.

Peter writes: Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)

The great mercy Christians have received is not only forgiveness and righteousness, but newness—we’ve been made regal sons and daughters of God. Remember?

So the question is, what do you believe today? What has your view? Is it what you see—skin color and hair and facial features—or is what you see determined by what you believe about Jesus? That’s the way to live by faith. If, perhaps, you’ve fallen under the influence of the flesh and this world, if you cannot now see this new race of the sons of God, then ask the Spirit to show you what He sees.

That’s the antidote for racism.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Goodbye, Charlie

(It's the weekend--time for some fun. Have a great one!)

GOODBYE, CHARLIE
In honor of the late Charles Schultz

Most cartoon characters remain frozen in time. Though they've been around almost 50 years the members of the Peanuts gang are in some unspecified elementary school holding pattern. But what if they had been allowed to age like the rest of us?

CHARLIE BROWN:
Operates Good Grief Counseling Inc., which specializes in manic-depressives and people who are just having a bad day. Moonlights as a pitching coach at high school and college levels. Married to Marcie. They have a roundheaded son who wears glasses.

LINUS:
Developer of Security Blanket Software, which is a hot item on the New York Stock Exchange. Worth millions but is actively involved in charitable causes, including the Great Pumpkin 5K Fun Run every Halloween. Only man who makes Bill Gates nervous.

LUCY:
Serving her seventh term in Congress. Never married. Claims she hasn't thought about Schroeder in years, but her ringtone is Beethoven.

SCHROEDER:
After years on the classical performing circuit, he runs a piano bar in Carmel, Calif. Won't let anybody lean on his piano.

SALLY:
Never quite got over being spurned by Linus. Has a cat named Sweet Baboo. Sells Mary Kay.

PEPPERMINT PATTY:
Women's athletic director at a midwestern university. Her fashion credo: "Sandals go with everything."

SNOOPY:
In dog years, he'll be 350. What do you think would've happened to him? Linus has created an endowment at Daisy Hill Puppy farm in Snoopy's memory.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Life Isn't Only What You See

It's the weekend, so you know what that means--we get a little crazy around here.

This video is an example (albeit a gross one) of what focusing upon the visible, temporal arena can do to us--it will make you judge too soon and in error. If, in fact, you've been born from above, then the invisible, spirit realm is what's most real for you. The apostle Paul literally commands us to set our focus there (Colossians 3:1-4) because that's what's true and that's where we're found. And that's how we live by faith in what God says He has done to us and for us in Christ.

It's amazing and reviving! Have a look.

Focused anywhere else, you'll soon weary and begin to grow weak in faith. Your judgment will be impaired. That's not normal for you! So get back to looking at where life is found. You'll feel better.

video

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Terrorist Wake-Up Call


Ever have one of those mornings when it seems like you’re greeted by this kind of guy?

Muqtada al-Sadr is a real peach of a guy, an Iraqi Muslim cleric who never says anything that isn’t laced with poison. You know—kill everyone who might be happy and free because, well, it is the will of Allah. And if his lunatic followers can’t get their hands on you right now, it’s because they’re making bombs with your name on them. Be just a few minutes.

And why do people surround him with microphones and cameras, giving him a stage he wouldn’t ordinarily have? How crazy is that?!

But he does remind me of something I regularly face—the accusations of the devil. He’s an invisible terrorist.

While usually more subtle and skilled than his loyal subject, al-Sadr, the devil is never satisfied with me being satisfied. He is a continual thorn in my side, a relentless bother. And I hate that he has such a microphone in my life.

Listening to his rants against me (“You failure!” “You loser!” “You lust bag!” “You covetous clown!”), either I get bogged down and wearied, thinking he may have a point, or I wake up and slap him down without mercy.

The fact of the matter is I’m no longer a rookie in this world. While my enemy is relentless in his attempts to derail and sidetrack me, God is even more tireless in treating me as a son. He knows who I am and He knows how I work. I am made to live by the Spirit, not by the flesh, and I am understanding that more and more these days.

The Muqtada al-Sadrs of this world (as well as those of the invisible world) strangely assist me in knowing that I cannot live as though I were of this world—there’s just not enough to it. If I believe what God says is true of me, then that means every day is a day of choosing to live as I am in this world: alien, foreigner, missionary, a righteous son of God. The invisible world—angelic and demonic—always recognize who I am. Trouble is, I sometimes forget. When I grow foggy about that, the harsh voices of invisible al-Sadrs actually wake me up. I wonder, “Why am I hearing so much junk in my head?” Or something like that.

Right about then I begin to turn from the microphones and cameras of this world to the truth and grace of the invisible, eternal world. That’s where I’m found and that’s where I live! I usually have one of those “Eureka!” moments, only I say something less sanctified like, “Oh, crap! I’ve been getting trashed!” My enemy loves to give me big doses of the visible and passing away world because he seeks to inoculate me against the real world, the invisible and eternal one.

But he has overdone it. I’m awake now. You?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Burrito In Jesus' Name


Not long ago I had one of those odd kind of nights that I’d just as soon avoid.

I teach a group of 15-25 year olds on Thursday nights at our local Christian bookstore, Lords’ Walk. I really like them (it borders on love), but last night felt like we hardly got anything done together. They were either up and down almost constantly to help customers (there is usually someone who takes care of that who couldn’t be there last night), or they were eating burritos—big burritos. Gargantuan burritos, with loads of goop and glop. You know the kind.

Anyway, I suspect they got at least something helpful, though I don’t know if it was much. But since that’s not the first time in my life when things didn’t go as planned, I rolled with it.

Rolled on home, right into a storm.

I walked in the door with a beckoning and beautiful fajita burrito of my own (guacamole on the side), and instantly knew, “Ugh, oh.” No one greeted me, no one looked up, no one even threw a casual wave at me, which meant they were deeply into something deep. Within moments there were tears, frustrated murmurings, and a stomp-off into the bathroom. “Ahh,” I thought, “peace and joy in my castle.” Wisely, I zipped my lip.

What did I do? Well, I ate my burrito in Jesus’ name.

I know that sounds funny, but I really did. Romans 6:13-14 plays a big roll in my life, no less so than last night: Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Since the Holy Spirit first brought life to me, I have been looking for ways to enjoy it ever since. Why? Because I like it! I love God (who is life), and I love finding Him within me, which is where I looked to find Him last night. As a slightly ordered chaos paraded around me, I consciously offered myself to God, expecting to hear something from Him—Don’t do anything just now—or feel something from Him, such as peace in the storm. I became more aware of God in me than I was of the raw emotions and feelings on parade in front of me. Does that make sense?

I could have jumped into the storm and snuffed it out. “I want your attention! I want silence, and I want you to fix yourselves so that I like you and you all get along. There now—isn’t that better?!” But I didn’t. I had a Corinthian moment instead.

I'll explain.

When Paul and company were visiting towns while holding out the offering bag, Paul noted a peculiar thing about the Macedonians. They didn’t just do what was logical, and they didn’t succumb to the pressure an offering bag can bring; before anything else they offered themselves to God. That surprised the offering bag people:

And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. (2 Cor 8:5)

That’s what I did, and since He didn’t lead me to do or say anything, I didn’t. And my fajita burrito was great. Just enough guac.

Ah, but later that night. . .When each of my girls had collapsed or dived into bed, I visited them. Offering myself to God, I felt compassion and patience, and had wisdom for daughter # 1, comfort and wisdom for daughter #2, and comfort and peace for my wife, girl #3. I just rubbed her back and shoulders, which drew quiet and approving murmurings.

Good move? Don’t copy me. I did what I did because I first did something in faith. I believe Romans 6:13-14, so that’s what I did. Avoiding some fleshly appeal to fix the situation, I offered myself to God instead and found life. That’s what life for Christians is—life by the Spirit. Life by grace, not by law, not by rules to make life work. Life by God.

The next time there’s a storm in your house, or when you’ve got a burrito to eat, or when the offering bag comes around, surprise someone—offer yourself to the Spirit. He might have something He’d like to do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Repenting Of Ace Ventura


Have you ever wanted to beat someone up for their own good? Give ‘em a good whop! across the kisser to wake them up to something great? I have.

Maybe you’ve shown someone a painting or poem you loved, played for them a song that moved you, or told someone of an enchanting discovery only to have them respond with a disinterested, “Um, that’s nice.” How did you feel in that moment? Bothered? “Hmm…a good whop! might be just the thing…”

Have you ever wanted to beat someone up for Jesus? I have.

There have been times when I have presented the incredible truth of the gospel to someone and have them look as dull when I was done as they did when I began. And I don’t mean only the get-‘em-in-the-door, turn-or-burn gospel, I mean the stunning good news about who they will become in Christ gospel, and the how well related to God they will become gospel. And when I arrive at a good place to stop, either they look like it’s nap time, or like it’s all unimportant. “Well, I’m glad that works for you,” they say.

And what fills my imagination is from one of those silly Pet Detective movies. Suddenly, I’m Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey), and with an exaggerated nod and toothy grin, I hear myself say, “R-e-a-l-l-y...R-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-a-l-l-y…”

Whop! They had it comin’. And then I do that silly, jerky walk-away, grinning big as ever. “Turn me down, will you? Ha! Loo-hoo-hoo-ser!”

It’s about then that I come to my senses and repent of Ace Ventura.

Sometimes my flesh gets way too involved in the mystery of closing the gospel deal, or of changing someone else. I didn’t convince myself about the gospel, nor am I particularly skilled at changing myself, so when I begin practicing on others (Dr. Ralph) I ought to be alarmed.

What’s happened is that I have lost the thrill and confidence of God-in-charge, God-at-work, and God-never-failing. Awe of Him has been superseded by frustration with this world, and sometimes that’s all too easy. Joy in God’s ability has been hijacked by a fleshly desire to make life work, mine and yours, and the soon-coming end of that is exhaustion and disappointment. Either I get all worked up—We have to DO something!—or I get all depressed and give up.

It’s right around then that the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am an ambassador of God, not a general. I’m a vessel and messenger for God, not a detective bent on exposing the bad things of this world so I can change them. He reminds me because He is looking to revive and refresh me so I can live and work in the power of God, not in the power of the flesh.

And I can’t imagine Ace Ventura leading anyone to Jesus anyway.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So You Want To Know Your Genealogy?


(Here's a "funny" I think you will enjoy. Remember: things get a little sloppy around here on the weekend. It takes a lot of work for me to keep "sloppy" only to the weekend, so your understanding is appreciated. I receive daily funnies from MikeysFunnies.com, and I include one of his here. Click on the link to check it out.)

THOUGHTS ON GENEALOGY

~ Genealogy: Tracing yourself back to better people.

~ I trace my family history so I will know who to blame.

~ Can a first cousin, once removed, return?

~ Are you searching for lost relatives? Win the lottery--you'll find 'em!

~ Do I even WANT ancestors?

~ Genealogy: Where you confuse the dead and irritate the living.

~ Every family tree has some sap in it.

~ Friends come and go, but relatives tend to accumulate.

~ Genealogists never die, they just lose their roots.

~ Genealogy: A haystack full of needles. It's the threads I need.

~ Heredity: Everyone believes in it until their children act like fools.

~ I think my family tree is a few branches short of full bloom.

~ Theory of relativity: If you go back far enough, we're all related

today'sTHOT============================

Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are going dead?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Keep Your Focus

Many of us these days are politically rabid. We get upset easily and quickly. In fact, jumping to conclusions has become the number one exercise amongst adults.

Keep your heads, sons and daughters of God. While important, the political wrestling of this world is not the primary struggle for you. You and I don't focus upon the visible and temporal, but upon the invisible and eternal.

We live to know God and to be led by the Spirit.

There is so much that targets how we live and what gets our focus, so resist becoming overly heated by the passions of the day. Sow to the Spirit, and you'll avoid judging too soon.

video

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sergeant Schultz, Professor


I think Sergeant Schultz’ approach to a sticky situation was often the best one—ignorance. While it’s not always easy for me, it is the best.

Have you ever seen the T.V. show, “Hogan’s Heroes”? Sergeant Schultz (John Banner) was the bumbling, yet funny soldier who could have made life miserable for the prisoners of war at Stalag 13. Instead, he would regularly turn his face away from some obvious violation, and, with a German-tinged accent, proclaim, “Nothing! I know NOTHING!”

Lately I’m reminded that taking that position is sometimes the best move for me to make. I don’t mean that I turn away from egregious sins or errors, whether mine or someone else’s. I mean that what my eyes tell me is often way less than is actually true, and that can easily lead me to the wrong course of action.

Sergeant Schultz’ manner was the one the apostle Paul seemed to take when told about the behavior of the Christians in the town of Corinth. They were plenty guilty of plenty of things, including drunkenness (1 Cor 11:21), sexual immorality and fornication (1 Cor 5:1f), of taking each other to court (1 Cor 1:10f), of cheating (1 Cor 6:8), of divorce (1 Cor 7), of being a divided church (1 Cor 1:10f), of stubbornly remaining infantile in their faith (1 Cor 3:1f) and worldly in their living (1 Cor 3:3), of arrogance (1 Cor 4:18) and more. To be faithful to God, you might think Paul’s approach to these pagan-acting Christians would be to lower the heavenly boom on them, and give them a good and righteous whack across their unrepentant backsides.

His first words to them?

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:3-8 NAS)

Why did Paul turn away from what he knew was true? He didn’t. He turned to what he knew was absolutely true, not just temporarily true. When Paul thought of the Corinthians he thought of them as they had become, not as they behaved. He lived by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), and that framed every view for Paul.

He knew that if the Corinthians were acting in ways contrary to who they had become it was because they had forgotten who they had become. Paul’s first duty was not to the correction of their behavior (“Stop that, you cruddy Corinthians!”), but to the awakening of their faith in God, who had made them sons. Knowing full-well their behavior, Paul looked away from it (“Nothing! I know NOTHING!”), and put what he knew was true of them into his mind. God chose them. God changed them. His approach came from there, and so did the correction that followed. But instead of first giving them restrictions, he gave them revival. Instead of conforming them to a proper look, he built them up in Christ.

The devil and his demons strategize that believers should identify themselves and others according to what they see—nothing more—while God and the angels work for them to believe they and others are what God says they are—nothing less. The battle for the Christian is over whether life is defined by what they see or by what they know. Battle lines drawn and faith hanging in the balance, are people defined by how they look, behave and perform, or are people what God says they are, even if they don’t look like it?

How we approach people will reveal where we’ve placed our faith, and it will determine our success. I’m not saying behavior is unimportant: I am saying that our way to behavior is vital.

I want to learn from Sergeant Schultz, an esteemed professor in the skill of turning away from what he saw, and I want to cling to what I know. That means I live by faith in God’s ability and plan. And for me, that’s the way to live.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Quick Trip


I am spending a few days in my favorite place in the world--Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I'm helping a longtime friend, and I might get in a little fly fishing. Evidence is strongly to the positive . . . See pic.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Remaining Dazzled

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. (Romans 5:17)

Oh, Lord, make me to see and believe more that the way for me to reign in life is not by my performance, but my receiving your grace and righteousness . . . over and over and over again. I know there was an initial time of receiving, but I also know life is true and best when I am focused upon your grace and your righteousness for me.

For me, life is all about being dazzled by God.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

An Eventual Adding Up

Aren't you glad that God works with a new mathematical system, one based entirely upon what He adds to us?

What seems useless or bothersome today may be of the greatest value tomorrow. So many of the little things we work our way through, perhaps barely hanging on to what we've come to know about God, are adding up. You know, a sort of "light and momentary affliction that's achieving for us an eternal weight of glory" kind of thing. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

I bet you're glad.

Since it's the weekend, I offer an odd take on that whole concept.


(This comic is from a blog I enjoy, Shoeboxblog.com. Lots of good stuff for laughs . . . unless you don't need to laugh today. Sure, a little bit here and there is a little bit off color, but you can handle that, right?)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I'm Just Sayin'


There's a fight comin'. Can you feel it? A couple of big American gangs seem they are always gettin' ready to rumble.

I know, I know. This has nothing to do with the stated purpose of this blog. But in a hyper-drive time of economic and political debate and savagery, you'll want to keep your head about you. If you're in Christ, then not only are you not of this world, you must be careful to avoid becoming entangled in it. This little tidbit (below) may help keep you calm and grounded in all the angry mud-flinging going on around you.

Beware of gang style platitudes—Evil corporations!—Cut 'n run Democrats!—because they stimulate an angry and aggressive response. I find that if I keep a few specifics in my head, I'll be less likely to join the fight or to throw a punch. Instead, I'll be able to remain friendly and engaged with anybody in either gang.


I'm just sayin'.

Economics professor, Mark J. Perry, points out that, “While we obsess over corporate profits, no one gives them credit for the massive taxes they pay to keep this country afloat. Exxon paid 30 billion dollars last year in taxes, which is as much, annually, as the bottom 50% of individual taxpayers. We’re talking 65,000,000 people. . .and did you know that the tax rate for the bottom 50% is only 3%? Meanwhile, for Exxon it’s 41%.”

Friday, September 04, 2009

Terrible Teletubbies


Get your “They let their kids watch what?!" attitude ready—we watched Rush Hour 3 with our daughters last night. Yep. We did.

Ooh! Ahh! Gasp!

I have been in the ministry for more than twenty-five years, much of it as a SINK—a single income, no kids guy. Over those many years I have watched countless families deal with what seemed to be the most important, life-dependent and life-changing decision in the modern world—what movies to let their kids watch. The family that watched The Wizard of Oz together was blessed with the scorn of the family that didn’t. “There are witches in that film, you know.” The clan that watched Star Wars reaped the shame on you of the clan that did not. “If you feel the force, you may be going to Hell.” And watch John Wayne in True Grit? “He says ‘Damn’ and ‘Hell,’ doesn’t he? You want your kids exposed to that?!”

On and on it went. The purple Teletubby, Tinkywinky, wanted to make your kids gay, Barney made it acceptable to be androgynous, and Looney Tunes cartoon characters advocated violence. I don’t know though. As many times as Daffy Duck got shot by Elmer Fudd without any real harm made me think shooting someone was useless . . . okay, and maybe a little funny. I know—I’m deth-pickable.

Everyone was so nervous and scared of damaging the innocence of their little darlings. Lots of arguments over which films were acceptable and which were not ended in split decisions; the ‘we would never’ group went one direction, while the ‘we certainly will’ went another. Newly acquainted families examined each other by asking coded questions like, “What do you think of Saturday morning cartoons?” or “How’s that purple thingy on that purple Teletubby grab you?” Answers determined friendships.

Look, I think film-going and film-watching is a worthy arena for discussion and debate. And I don’t advocate sitting your five year old alone in front of the God Father trilogy (I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.), neither do I recommend having your seven year old take in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by himself. You might find him whacking his cowering brother with a stick-sword afterwards. You shall not pass, demon of Mordor!

What I recommend (and what Sarah and I do) is that you go through life together with your children, talking and teaching and commenting as you go. Our girls, now eleven and thirteen, know who they are in Christ—the holy, blameless, radiant, not-of-this-world daughters of God walking the earth. My girls are aliens. They also know that they walk with those who are of this world, who do not have God living within them, and who cannot sow toward Him and expect to reap as they do. That’s a huge difference! It’s very defining. Because Sarah and I want them to know God and to find Him where He is (in them), we’re not too quick to establish standards of right and wrong. We don’t want them living by standards—we want them living by Christ!

So, when Chris Tucker (Jackie Chan’s oft-profane side kick) yells, “Damn! She’s so fine!” we’re likely to pause the video and ask questions like, “What do you think?” “Knowing what you know about the invisible, eternal world, and the visible, temporal world, how is he making that assessment?” “If this film were real and you were there, what would you do?” “If he’s a Christian, what’s going on with him that he talks like that?”

It’s so easy to say, “Oh, that’s wrong! God says that’s bad!” But I don’t think that’s nearly enough. That teaches our kids to live by standards of measurement, which means they’re set up to live as judges, condemning this, but condoning that. What pressure. Sarah and I want our daughters to know God, not try to be God. Besides, the God they know is not now counting men’s sins against them, but calling them to reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18,19).

So, when Chris Tucker yells, “Shoot his ass!” or when a scantily clad woman slinks her way on screen, it’s common to hear comments from our girls. “Why does he talk like that?” “What is she trying to do by wearing that?” “If she’s a Christian, she’s not knowing God very well right now. She must need help with that.”

We think that’s great. You may be certain that we closely shepherd our girls concerning the films and T.V. and internet they watch. But we’re not living in order to preserve the innocence of our daughters; we’re living in order to assist them in their life with God, to know Him and His opinion and feelings and thoughts for them and for others. And we think that kind of movie-born interaction and talk makes dirty-mouthed Chris Tucker and terrible teletubbies worthwhile.

What do you think?

(Written a couple of years ago, I post this again ahead of an update coming soon.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Commander In Chief—Yes. Chief Principal—No

It is an extreme rarity that I include something on my blog with even a whiff of politics. God won my heart and soul years ago, so I am given to sharing the gospel of God's grace to us in Christ in as many ways as I can. Because of His grace to me, I cannot help it.

And while I am a patriot and a conservative, all too often the discussion of those personal attributes proves incendiary and counter-productive to the message of my life. I am fantastically opinionated and overwhelmingly passionate about God, which sometimes brews conflict and fiery debate amongst others. Although conflict is certainly not my goal, I don't shy away from it because I believe God and the gospel are worth a good discussion, even a fight.

Not surprisingly, I have lesser beliefs and lesser passions. I think college athletics are better than professional, and that USC is the best college. I think ale is better than lager or pilsner, red wine is better than white, mountains are slightly better than beaches (I sometimes waffle on that one), steak is better than chicken, rock ‘n roll is better than rap, blue is better than yellow, automobiles are meant to be fun and pleasurable, not appliances to get us from A to B, fly fishing develops character, ice cream and brownies should have nuts or something crunchy in them, and conservatism and capitalism give a people the best chance at freedom, progress and prosperity.

Oh. And I’m correct concerning all of the above. Right?

There are those who would argue with me about sports and beer and mountains vs. beaches, but the heat of those arguments would hardly be felt in comparison to the heat generated by political debate. I have discussed which college football team is better (USC vs. Ohio State = USC) while listening to pop music and enjoying a beer without much fire. But throw politics into the mix, and we’re soon experiencing our own version of climate change. Icy or hot, take your pick.

So it is with caution that I offer my opinion concerning President Obama’s address to the schools of America this coming Tuesday, September 8. I much prefer that my Ellen and Emma be learning about mathematics and Spanish and world history than listening to a political figure, no matter his message. Repeat: no matter his message.

There’s a reason beyond technological ability that no President has ever directly addressed our nations’ school population during class time: he was not elected to do it. While he is the Commander In Chief, he is not the Chief Principal, and has no business instructing or inspiring a captive child audience. To see that this is out-of-bounds one has only to wonder what would have happened if President George Bush had sought to instruct our nations’ school children in a similar manner eight years ago.

FYI, I would have been opposed to it. Next Tuesday, I will protest this President’s desire to access and instruct my children in an arena he should not be in.

I suspect there will be a loud outcry against the President’s plan to speak—it’s understandable. I, for one, will keep it as simple as I can so as to not add fuel to the fire. In my postings I won’t be addressing his plans for our country, I won’t be posting about those he is appointing as czars and officials, I won’t be writing about his politics. I have opinions—to be sure—but I’m keeping them subject to my greatest and most important opinion—Jesus Christ. Who He was, what He did, and what He is doing today. It’s incredibly fantastic news, and I get fired-up about it.

And that’s a fire I want to burn bright and hot.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Just Burns Me Up


I admit it; I am tremendously bothered when leaders or spokespersons for the church attempt to motivate the sons and daughters of God by fear or guilt or anger. It's as if they've not considered how capable God is at motivating us, all by Himself, so they push and prod and manipulate their way to the desired outcome—money out of our pockets, time out of our day, behavior better than before.

Does it bother you too? I'll bet it does, and it should.

That's what today’s post is all about—the motivation God intends for you and me. You'll find it just below. I think you'll benefit, and I hope you enjoy it.

-Ralph

Love Works


Does it seem to you that the primary motivators in life today are fear, guilt and anger? I think that motivational trinity has crowded out what God intended—the motivation of love.

It’s happened to the church, too.

We seem ever to want to be motivated by crisis, by calamity, by a good cause and a good appeal, by a big need, or by a needed kick to our backside. I know the church doesn’t really want that, but it seems like it does. And I sure don’t like it. It’s not that we shouldn’t be motivated by a sudden event, it’s just that we can become addicted to the energy and appeal of the moment. And there is something much better, something more true and constant, something given by God Himself. The church was made for it. You were too.

God’s love produces confidence and daring and assurance and peace and rest and hope and, well, everything we need. God’s very being is love—He does nothing apart from what He is—so if we, His sons and daughters, attempt to do much of anything apart from love, we fumble and act unnatural. We feel it, too. Like something’s seriously out of whack in us. And it is. When the behavior of the Corinthian Christians went seriously crazy, the apostle Paul pointed them back to the love of God because it is the prime motivator—it rescues and refreshes and compels the people of God (2 Cor 5:14).

God’s love works.

I’m reminded of what love did to the Macedonians. God gave an amazing grace to these people who lived in “extreme poverty” such that in their joy they gave what little they had so others could hear the gospel. The Macedonians were in love with God, having been won-over by His love for them. And that love “welled up in rich generosity.” (2 Cor 8:2)

Paul then wrote to the Corinthians that they, too, should “excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (2 Cor 8:8, italics mine.)

That’s why the Macedonians gave – they were in love! They didn’t give motivated by an appeal to sacrifice, they didn’t give to make sure their tithe was on time, they didn’t give because others were in need, and they didn’t give because it was the right thing to do. They gave because they were in love, and that made their giving “acceptable” (2 Cor 8:12). Their gift wasn’t acceptable for any other reason but love.

And that’s what drives me nuts for the church. I want believers to know and be motivated out of a burgeoning love affair with God. I don't mean we should never give unless we're right then invigorated by love, but I fear we've gotten used to giving without it. We've learned to motivate and to be motivated by something else. That's what makes pushy pastors and manipulative motivators out of our leadership. And they don't like it any more than we do.

If we're not looking and doing good, it's because we're missing love.

If your motivation is low right now, go get some love—you need it and can’t live without it. If your giving lacks, if your service is stunted or reluctant, if there is gossip in the church and “sin in the camp,” go get some love—you cannot live without it.

“How can I get some of His love?” you ask. You might read Ephesians 1, or think about the gospel, which says you have been given everything for nothing, or ask Jesus what He thinks of you right now (you know it will be good!), or take a walk and start thanking God for what He has done for you in Christ, or pick up a favorite book and turn to that great passage about God’s love for you, or email or call someone and ask them to remind you who God has made you to be and what His thoughts are toward you. Or email me – I’ll help you. It’s an assist and pleasure for me to think on and talk about God’s grace and love.

Because for me too, love works.