Friday, December 31, 2010
Here's a pic of my family from yesterday. We were on the beach in San Diego (55 degrees), but are now home in Colorado where it's 6 degrees, on the way to -12 later tonight.
My family and I have so much to look forward to, not the least of which is all and whatever Jesus has in store for us and His glory through us in the coming year. It will be a wonder.
Happy New Year!
Christ in you, the hope of glory! In 2011 and always.
To that end I also labor with Him. I'm a fortunate man.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Do you think God loves it when we discover Him to be as good as He says He is? I do too. So take a look at the following:
"He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will--to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
I used to picture the sins of the world, the sins done long ago, sins now being done, and those that will be done by everyone everywhere, as sort of heaped on Jesus nailed to the cross. There's the scene--Jesus bloodied and battered, with sins piled atop Him reaching skyward. What a terrible burden. What a sight.
However, a while back it dawned on me that all those sins, yours and mine, weren't just stacked up on Jesus, they became His. No, He didn't commit them, but He took ownership of them. And as was just, God punished Jesus with the punishment due each and every one of those sins--the punishment we would have borne had they still been our sins.
Think of them all! Or, just think of yours. Every single failure became His failure, every nasty deed you've done, every ugly thought you've had, every act born of jealousy or vengeance, each impure act or prideful thought, every deception you've ever offered became His. As though He had done it.
Immediately following Paul's description of our being made new creations through Christ, he writes a single sentence describing how that happened: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21, italics mine.) Not only have we had our sins forgiven, we've had them removed, as though we had never done them. And, we've been given the righteousness of Christ as our own. What a trade.
We have been entirely redeemed, made completely right with God! In Him (which is where you and I are), we are perfect sons and daughters, without stain or blemish, or any question as to our belonging in the family. C'mon, that's amazing!
It's God's amazing grace that He knowingly and delightedly lavished on us, "according to His good pleasure." What does God like? What gives Him pleasure? Lavishing His sons and daughters.
We're better off than we think. . .and it's sure good to think about it. I think He likes it when we do.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
I can't help imagining David Letterman reading these. . .
TOP TEN POLITICALLY CORRECT CHRISTMAS - EXCUSE ME, HOLIDAY - SONGS
By James Watkins
10. Chestnuts Roasting on an Environmentally-friendly Fuel Source
9. Rudolph, the Endangered and Exploited Specie
8. We Three Politically Oppressive Patriarchs
7. Rocking Around the Recycled, Flame-retardant, Artificial Christmas Tree
6. All I Want For Christmas is a Dental Plan
5. Frosty the Snowperson
4. I Saw Mommy Suing Santa Claus for Sexual Harassment
3. I'm Dreaming of a Racially Diverse Christmas
2. I'll Be Home For Ramadan (or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice or . . .)
1. We Wish You a Non-sectarian Holiday
Friday, December 17, 2010
You cannot know how you work if you do not know who you are. Like an airplane coughing and struggling for fuel because it’s doing a maneuver for which it’s not made, you’ll stall out.
If God has made you a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—not an upgrade, but a new original—then what have you become? After new birth, who are you?
You're an actual son or an authentic daughter of God. You didn't just get the title, "Christian," you received a new DNA—you got the guts. Never again will you be only human. Yes, you've got humanity, but in a similar way that Jesus had humanity; something else most-truly defines who you are and where you're from.
Every son and daughter of God receives the genetic of their Father, becoming an actual son of His, with desires and attitudes in keeping with their new nature. Knowing Him and living with Him is now the way to life—real life.
Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter1:3-4, italics mine).
That beautiful italicized phrase means that you and I have become actual partakers or sharers of the divine genetic. After your new birth in Christ, what delighted you was different, and what grieved you was unlike what saddened you before. You discovered new desires (I want to read the Bible!), new delights (I enjoy worshiping God!), and new sorrows (I so dislike sin!) because you had received a new nature with desires, delights, and sorrows to match.
You’ve been re-germinated! Participating with Him is the way to live—it’s the new normal.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
If you're looking for something else to read besides my book(!), get this one. And here's a quote from this terrific author, which I completely affirm.
"When God’s love touches you, you will discover there is nothing more powerful in the entire universe. It is more powerful than your failures, your sins, your disappointments, your dreams, and even your fears. God knows that when you tap the depths of his love, your life will forever be changed. Nothing can prevail over it; and nothing else will lead you to taste of his kind of holiness."
- Wayne Jacobsen
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Have you ever wondered why you took a particular route when it seemed so serpentine, so needlessly indirect? Have you ever wondered who would take a crazy route because it was so clear, and who would make their own because it was a more direct?
That's this video.
Have a great weekend!
Friday, December 10, 2010
(Here's something I wrote about a year ago. I simply thought it was a good idea to re-post it today.)
"We’re on approach. Flight attendants prepare for landing."
As the aircraft pitched slightly from left to right and back again, I was relieved to hear the captain’s voice over the loudspeakers. There were a few more horizontal adjustments, a wah-whump, whump, and we were rolling safely on the runway in Vancouver, British Columbia. At last.
I was there to assist men in their journey with God in the hope that, in addition to growing more confident in Christ, they would discover what it’s like to live by the Spirit. By Sunday afternoon, they had.
A particular passage became beautifully clear:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,. . .(Romans 8:5,6 NAS)
To demonstrate this passage, I asked a young man (Zach) to join me up front, and then asked the men at the retreat to tell me about Zach—as though I had never met him. “He’s fun!” “He’s smart!” “He’s a good friend!” “His wife needs prayer!” And on it went. Then I asked, “Now that I know what Zach is like, tell Zach who God says He is. Tell it directly to Zach. And don’t rush this; there’s no hurry.”
And then this: “Zach, you’re a holy man.” “Zach, you’re righteous.” “You’re perfect.” “You’re blameless.” “You’re forgiven.” “You’ve got God living in you.” “All of heaven recognizes you as a son of God.”
And that included us. We saw Zach.
No one moved. It was amazing. No, it was more than that. It was sacred. When I asked what the men were feeling, somewhat breathlessly they said, “I feel like I’m looking into heaven.” “I feel hope.” “I feel life.” “I feel great.” “I feel peace.” “I feel like I’m really seeing Zach.” “When we changed our minds from looking at the visible to looking at the invisible, everything changed from shallow and fleshly to deep and true.”
They felt God.
Romans 8:5-6 came alive in that moment as we turned our minds away from what was visible to what was invisible. We thought of Zach and addressed him according to what the Bible says God has made of him, and Zach was illuminated to us and to himself. And we felt it. We felt “life and peace,” the kind of life and peace produced by the Holy Spirit whenever we turn our minds toward Him.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal 6:8)
It was tremendous and Zach was a little overwhelmed. He felt the conflict between the flesh and Spirit, but he, too, chose to sow to the Spirit, reaping what God has promised. “I feel holy. I feel clean.” Indeed, he was—indeed, he is.
Approaching or addressing someone as they have become in Christ causes us to change our minds. We go away from the mind of the flesh and begin thinking according to the mind of the Spirit. You can feel the change! This isn’t a game you play or a way of pretending your way through life. A worldly curtain is drawn back to reveal the true image behind—and that’s more than a bit dazzling! I don’t recommend that you immediately begin addressing all the Christians you know as Holy Hannah, Righteous Rudy, or Forgiven Frank, because that makes a methodical mess out of the holy and sacred. You might silently think of them as the holy, blameless and forgiven sons or daughters they have become, and then see what the Spirit gives you or where He leads you. You won’t have to be creative when God is at work. He’s pretty creative already.
An added benefit of setting our mind upon the Spirit in addressing a brother (as we did with Zach) is that we experienced a sort of mini revival. In looking at Zach, we found ourselves too. (Surprise! The Super Heroes of God.) We reaped life, the Spirit invigorated us, and we were deeply encouraged by God. The men knew that they could do this at home with their families, at work, at church, by phone or email, even while driving on the freeway. With all that goes on around us, we’re always on approach. Take advantage.
Setting our minds upon the Spirit is our new normal way of living in this world. We’re not of it—we’re a heavenly colony on earth. But since we’re in it, we do well to see it as He sees it, and to approach it from there. We’ll be looking into heaven.
We’re better off than we think.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
My Lord, I’m amazed again that you, by conquering sin once and for all at the cross, have removed from us every bit of condemnation. Would you give us faith to believe that we have received a grace as great as the gospel reveals? Would you thrill us with the splendor of it?
Wouldn't that be fun, Lord?
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Speaking of lunacy, here's a short video I think you'll like. If you think you've got a great smart phone, yours has been one-upped by the following.
Friday, December 03, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
"Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep. I must sleeeeeeeeeeeeep. . ."
The effect of eating turkey reminds me of the film classic, "The Wizard of Oz," and the Wicked Witch of the West. Determined to thwart the plans of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, the Witch leads them through a field of sleep-inducing poppies. Have you seen it? "Pahhhhhh-peaz. Pahhhhhhhh-peaz. To make them sleeeeep. . .sleeeeep." As she waved her crooked wand, our heroes nodded off to sleep at the most inopportune time in their journey. Sort of like what happens in this video.
Have a look. You'll like it. (Happy Thanksgiving!)
Since Jesus made me His home in 1980, love—the receiving of it as well as the giving—has become the best and most valuable quality of my life. God seems utterly convinced that love—His, mine and yours—is the vital ingredient of a fruitful and happy life. I am deeply thankful for all of you who help me grow in receiving and giving.
Here’s to fruitfulness.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
If I had the chance to stand up and praise the heroes in my life, I suppose it would take a while. And if I stood up today, perhaps I’d give the most time to a specific group of heroes—single Christian women. From Zagreb to Georgia, and Barbados to California, I admire and respect them deeply. They’re incredible.
While they have become the righteous and holy, new creation daughters of God, they nevertheless endure the faulty, measuring scrutiny of the world. Even from the church.
Even though the apostle Paul suggested we would all be better off single rather than married in our service to God (1 Cor 7), nowadays we don’t actually believe it’s true. Think of the single Christian women in your church and tell me they don’t endure endless prescriptions from well meaning, but Bible disbelieving people as to how they can “be healed” of their infirmity—singleness. Spoken or implied, we mostly think of them as incomplete or crippled, and shuttle them off to Children’s Ministry where they can at least partially fulfill their presumed destiny.
Single Christian women live with the not-so-subtle prejudice that there is something wrong with them, something that can only be cured by a ring on their finger and a man in their bed. Do you think my words are too strong? Then accept my challenge: ask them. Ask them if they believe they are seen and valued for who they are according to God, or if they are seen as something less, something different. Ask them if they feel revered because they remain single. And not just the nineteen year olds; ask the thirty-eight year old single Christian women. Ask them.
While I don’t recommend a curative prescription of giving single Christian women new places of prominence and authority as a way of proving our repentance, I do believe that we need to look anew at our saintly sisters. Do you see what God says is true of them? Do you believe that each is His chosen dwelling place, the modern-day Holy of Holies, made pure and faultless? They don’t need to be fixed-up in order to be useful and whole, they’ve been separated single unto God, at least for a season. How fantastic! For some, it will be a life-long marriage to the One we cannot see.
But can you see them anyway? Can you, by the eyes of faith, see them for who they are—the chosen, twice born, holy and blameless, radiant daughters of God? If you can, I’m certain you will see similar “invisible traits” emerging from the rest of the church too. The temporal shadows of this world—clothing, physical looks and abilities, status, etc.—hide the sons of God already, even from themselves. But you and I see according to The Truth, even when the suggested truth of this world says otherwise. The Truth directs our thoughts about God, and it directs our thoughts about each other. It must.
If we would approach each other according to the truth—let it begin with our single Christian women—then the revival many of us hope for would begin with us. We would thank them for the great example they are to us in their single-hearted, undivided devotion to the Lord. We would encourage the single Christian women to “go for it” with God, to run off at His leading, to be daring and adventurous in their godly situation, unencumbered by the challenges Paul says marriage brings. We would think of them as the royalty they are, instead of the royalty they could become . . . if only.
Knowing something of the struggle they face, we would be their cheerleaders—our team is on the field! Hooray! for single Christian women.
You’re my heroes.
(An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:34b-35)
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Knowing God—really—is the only thing that keeps me from blockading my heart (where people can hurt me) and projecting a persona that seems to keep me from pain of some sort. Correct theology, which assists me to God, won’t keep me from blockading and projecting. God alone makes and keeps me free, and that’s what makes me happiest—Him!
He is the key to my heart—and I look to Him to unlock it. He is very good at it, being God and all.
Monday, November 15, 2010
While works for God are important, the work of God in His people should so thrill us as to make us crazy about Him and gladly dependent. And that’s what life is like when you find Him in you as well as around you. The great joy you find will certainly produce sincere works for God, but that’s not God’s first goal—it’s the result.
Works for God are a by-product of grace-filled believers who cannot contain the wonderful, deep urgings and desires of the Spirit living within. This is the inheritance of those purchased by Jesus Christ, and it’s what He’s working toward today.
(Excerpted from the Introduction of my book, "Better Off Than you Think." To learn more about it and/or to order, click http://lifecourse.org/Ralphs_Book.html.)
Friday, November 12, 2010
I have 100 copies of my book (“Better Off Than You Think”) left before it goes out of print. You may get more information and order it at a low price at http://lifecourse.org/Ralphs_Book.html.
It will be released again in February by Harvest House in a slightly different form and name: “God’s Astounding Opinion Of You.” In addition to a name change, it will have an added chapter and end of chapter discussion questions.
My first publisher (Evangel Publishing) basically went belly-up as far as publishing goes, and became a printing business. Fortunately, author and friend, Steve McVey, sent a copy of my book to his publisher, (Harvest House Publishing), and they loved it enough to re-do it and re-launch it early next year. How cool is that?
Anyway, if you want to get it for yourself, a book study, or as a gift, don't wait long. 100 copies will be gone quickly.
Have a great weekend!
Saturday, November 06, 2010
Friday, November 05, 2010
God will so orchestrate things in our lives that we cannot cope, the energy drinks and alcohol and pornography and drugs and recreation and therapies we use to medicate ourselves, notwithstanding. He is not punishing us! Nor has the devil broken through God’s protective boundary unauthorized, now to ravage our lives and plans.
This is not a call to “suck it up” and to muster proper strength so God can do something, but an invitation to proper weakness, “so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
Only then is God’s grace discovered to be entirely sufficient. And, dear God, it is!
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Just this morning I had a strong reminder that Jesus Himself is my hope and life. Sometimes I forget that.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should/could/might do in order to live the Christian life. I think about renewing my mind, praying, sowing to the Spirit, reading, calling someone to share our faith in Christ, and lots of other ways by which to live in Christ, reaping what He has earned and secured for me. These are all excellent for me.
But sometimes I get jumped by a particular fleshly or spiritual thing, like covetousness (I want a new car/laptop/piano right now), fear (I have no money for a new car/laptop/piano), lust (I’ll get satisfaction some other way, then), or selfish ambition (I don’t have to wait on the Lord because there are lots of things I can do and really excel at, and get my car/laptop/piano). And I don’t mean a little covetousness or fear or lust or selfish ambition, I mean a mountain load—like all of Mt. Sinai is migrating on top of me, and I am unable to breathe.
After feeling the crushing weight of the assault, somehow I remember or am reminded to look to Jesus as the deliverer and antidote for all that stuff. He is the cure! I speak His name, I call for Him, I think about what He is like and that He lives right now in me, and things begin to change.
He’s working—in me.
Jesus is my prized possession who relieves me of covetousness, He is my confidence and my love who drives away fear, my satisfaction who releases me from fleshly lust, my reward who delivers me from selfish ambition, and my bulldozer to push away my personal Mt. Sinai. He really is all that.
I don’t know about you, but I’m simply not able to remember enough about how to live the Christian life, what I should/could/might do, and need Him to do it for me. He’s really good at living in me and likes it when I give Him something to do.
It’s my best way to live—Christ in me.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
Concerning yesterday's post and the responses to it (thank you, by the way), here are a couple from readers I think you'll find interesting.
Someone wrote that the “old self is dead but we keep dragging it around with us, pretending it is not dead.” And another person asked, “Does dying to self and sanctification mean the same thing?”
There is no more “it” to drag around. The old self is gone, having been replaced by the new. Christians do not have two selves, each competing with the other, one that needs to be beaten and killed, while the other needs to be nurtured and grown. The “bad self” that some refer to is the flesh, which is in conflict with the Spirit (Gal 5:16,17), and which still produces behavior through us (Galatians 5:19,20). Life for the Christian is found in sowing to the Spirit, who then produces eternal life. And that looks and feels great (Gal 5:22-25).
Sanctification, then, is not about killing “self” or even a former self; that has already happened in and through Christ. Sanctification is about believing and trusting God concerning your new self, putting that on and growing in what that means. Sanctification isn’t so much about change as it is about growth.
I've got a couple of funnies I will post over the weekend that I think you'll like. I hope you have a great one--
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
If we were crucified and have become literal new creations, then the ONLY self we have now is the new one. The flesh and all of its activity is not us, and it must not be confused as though it is. The former self has been removed and replaced. We may now trust ourselves.
We've got to! It's a high act of faith when we trust that God did what He says He did. Learning who we have become and living in faith that God is right about us is the most exhilarating way of life there is.
We're not bad anymore! We have a bad thing, the flesh, but we're not the flesh.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
When someone discovers the love God has for them, and when that same person makes remaining in the knowledge of His love the goal of his days, he will be more enamored with Jesus, experience greater freedom from sin, and be more passionate about reaching and loving people than anyone clinging to life based upon rules and strategies and obedience, no matter how Christian he may look. The “look” will fail because it is inauthentic, but life from God never will.
Remain in His love.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
Do you recall seeing the commercials that frequently asked, “Where You At?” Sponsored by a clever mobile phone company that offers GPS (Global Positioning System) as a benefit with its phones, I have found several of their ads more than funny—they’ve struck a chord with me.
One of the most significant aspects of life in Christ is that that’s where we’re at—in Christ. (I know it’s bad grammar because the "at" isn’t necessary, but just go with it.) Ever since God put us in Christ through the new birth, that’s where we’re found at every moment—in Him.
It doesn’t look like it, I know. Come by my house and you’ll see me in jeans and a long sleeved shirt, drawn up to my desk and laptop. That’s what your eyes see. And if during our visit I told you to close your eyes so you could see more clearly, maybe you’d think I was nuts. But I’d be trying to help you to live according to what’s really real.
You and I are learning more and more to live by faith—in what God says is true of Himself, and in what He says is true of us. If we only look with the eyes in our head, we’ll frustrate our growth and twist our experience. It can’t be otherwise. We’ve got to see with the eyes of our heart, the ones Paul asked God to open for the Ephesians so they would know the great hope to which He had called them, the wealth of His incredible inheritance now in the saints, and so they would know His “incomparably great power” for them (Ephesians 1:18-21).
I think that because we rarely use the eyes of our heart, the ones that believe and see people the way they have become in Christ, we miss hope, we forsake our inheritance and poorly experience the power of God.
If you’re a Christian, then right now you’re in Christ. Yes, He is in you, and that’s fantastic to know and discover—God in you! But according to God, you’re also in Him. What does that mean? That’s what Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was about.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7,8)
Being in Christ means God has made us exactly as He wants us—that’s what redemption means. Think of it. Picture yourself in Christ. Can there be anything sinful in Christ? Can there be anything flawed in Christ? Can there be anything faulty in Christ? Can there be anything that needs a beating in Christ? No, no, no, and no! Your change of location has changed everything—that’s the gospel.
This is how it is in Christ, and I contend that believing the gospel which says it is so will change your life. It will certainly improve your view on things.
If your wife is a Christian, then right now, “Where’s she at?”
If your husband has received Christ, then “Where’s he at?”
If God is right now in your children, then “Where they at?”
If you’ve got friends who are Christians, then right now, “Where they at?”
Do you see what happens to you when you see where they are? You feel better and invigorated because you’ve shifted your eyes and view of life to the unseen facts that stimulate true life—life by the Spirit. You’ve chosen His view, and you’re reaping from Him. The Bible says a lot about those who will live that way.
When you know you’re in Christ, your worries tend to dissipate, your hope increases, and your confidence in God and in yourself leap up. Everything changes when you know where you are.
So right now, “Where you at?”
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
If you haven't seen this short video yet, here's your chance. I have no better way of describing it than to say it's Irish Hand Dancers! If you like River Dance or Lord of the Dance, you'll love this.
Have a great weekend!
Friday, October 15, 2010
The way to invigorate your life, including your home life, is not to have better strategies for getting more stuff done, to be more organized or to have less clutter, as tempting as those things are. The way to life for Christians is Jesus and life by the Spirit. "Life" is what He is, so it's always what He has for you.
Life for the Christian is all about receiving.
The intention of our lives is not to live well, to work hard and to be nice—let’s teach each other how. Our goal is to grow in the grace and life of Christ. If, in fact we’ve been crucified and no longer live, but Christ lives in us, and the life we live is by faith in Him (Galatians 2:20), then that’s what will work, that’s what is normal for us now, and that’s what will work in our homes. Particularly with our kids.
The primary struggle my kids have is the same as mine—to believe what God thinks about them and to live from it.
As I have written in my book (“Better Off Than You Think”), our Christian children are as foreign to this world as Jesus was (John 17:14-16). They are new creations (2 Cor 5:17), they are in union with God (John 14:20), the very dwelling places of God Himself (Colossians 1:27), and no one—not anyone—can take that away from them (John 10:29). As challenging as that is for you to believe, think how difficult it is for them.
Our Christian children are aliens. If they don’t know it, or if we teach them only techniques to be successful in this life, as though that were Christian, we’ve set them up for frustration. Let me put it this way: when I see a trained monkey wearing children’s clothing and playing with children’s toys, I think it’s cute but I’m not confused. It’s not natural. I don’t leap and exclaim, “Wow! The monkey has become a kid! What shall we name him?” In the same way, as I train my children to function in this world, what must remain clear to them and to me, is that they are not of this world. They’re from another. If they don’t know it, their deluded attempt to fit with this world will make monkeys out of them.
Our Christian children are lights in this world, holy and blameless sons of God in whom lives the Holy Spirit Himself. They’re not on a long and winding path at the end of which (if successfully negotiated) they will arrive—they’ve arrived already.
Do you see them? Not if you’re looking at them only with the eyes in your head and not the eyes in your heart. Oswald Chambers wrote, “It is the unseen and the spiritual in people that determines the outward and the actual.”
What do I do? First, my wife, Sarah, and I believe that Ellen and Emma were chosen by God, and that makes all the difference. Because we believe it, we work with the Holy Spirit to help us maintain that belief, concerning ourselves and concerning our daughters. In our conversations and in prayer (together and apart), we regularly bring up the fact of our security because God chose us before He made anything or set any of it in motion (see Ephesians 1). We were His idea and we frequently return to awe, thankfulness and rest because of that. It sets us right.
Often we work so hard to get our children to make good choices that I don’t think we’re much impressed by God’s choice of them. So we don’t marvel. We don’t wonder at our kids because we’re not convinced that He is convinced they’re so wonderful. We need to be.
Second, surface activity gets our attention, but it doesn’t always reveal what’s below.
Our Christian children are not what they do, they’re not how they behave, and they’re not what they say—they’re who God says they are. Without excusing poor, fleshly behavior, we must not allow it to sell the lie that our kids are how they look. When our kids’ surface looks particularly stormy, we know that under the waves there is something amiss, something out of line, and we go there. If our children’s flesh is on display, in all of its ugly glory, we rescue them! We revive them! If their behavior is stinky, it’s usually because their thinking is too. Building them up in Christ, reminding them of how Christ has made them and that He is in them and has not one moment of condemnation for them is really fun. Really.
Third, Sarah and I work to believe Ellen and Emma are in Christ, no matter what happens. That keeps us sane!
Every difficulty Ellen and Emma go through (or put us through), each triumph they achieve or failure they endure, they are still at all times in Christ and have everything because of it. Jesus is their strength. Jesus is their righteousness. Jesus is their life. Jesus is their hope. Sarah and I work to keep that foremost in our thinking and approach. We work to keep that secure foundation in Ellen’s and Emma’s thinking as well. And we’re careful to not send them a confusing, false message that they don’t already have everything in Christ—they do! We want to be so positive about God’s grace to us, that earning God’s favor and blessing remain something Jesus already did for them and not something they have to do for themselves.
It’s the good news about God’s grace to my girls that teaches and enables them to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live as the godly young women they are in this world (Titus 2:11-14). It makes them eager to do well.
Fourth, Sarah and I regularly talk with God about our girls, asking what He thinks of them. He shows us that Ellen and Emma are godly already—right on course and right on time. When their behavior or experiences or thoughts expressed to us say something to the contrary, we believe nothing has changed. You may assume correctly that we talk with Him a lot!
Ellen and Emma aren’t just on their way to heaven, they’re already from it (see Ephesians 2:6). God is far more active with His children than we are! Because we don’t always see it, we ask.
Further, we ask ourselves questions such as whether or not our girls are learning and getting Jesus from us, or if, because we just want them to be good and to get things done, they’re getting a heavy dose of the Ten Commandments. Are they getting shepherds who enjoy walking with them or Pharisees who walk with them only to keep them in line? One enjoys intimacy while the other sacrifices it for a proper performance. Are we truly enjoying our girls and are they truly enjoying us? If we get stung by these and other questions, we head into some focused time with God, who has the grace and love to set us aright.
But what if it doesn’t work? What if our little aliens don’t live by faith? What if they don’t make the right choices and follow God—what then? Then we’ll be living by faith in God—we’ve no other plan.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Friday, October 08, 2010
After posting “Remember To Breathe” on Wednesday, I received the following question:
Hey Ralph, I am loving this note. I have read it three times just so I can try and soak it all in. I was wondering if you could rephrase the following paragraph so I might understand better? And thanks for writing this stuff down so I can come back to it. - Jeremy
And here’s the cited paragraph:
“In truth, new Christians aren’t first trying to change and behave better because they’ve got a lot to do, they’re getting their bearings because they’ve got a lot to believe. Get that order wrong, and, well, it’s going to be a mess.”
So here’s a re-write, and then I’ll write more to clarify further: “The first need of a new Christian is to believe he has become a new creation, an actual alien in this world because he belongs and fits with the heavenly one more than he does with the earthly one. That’s a lot to believe, and it will likely take a while for him to grasp the magnitude of the change made to him. As he grows in faith, his behavior will begin to change in keeping with who he has become. If he tries to change his behavior before believing that he has been changed already, he will make a mess of things and grow tired of the attempt.”
And now to clarify.
Many new Christians are not adequately taught about what happened to them when they received Christ. They don’t know that the life they had before being born again was not life; it was something else. The Bible identifies it (and them) as “dead.” (Ephesians 2:1-6) Picture for them something like zombie life, and you’ve helped them get a glimpse of how bad off they were, especially in comparison with now.
Now they have life because they “have” God! He lives in Christians and has made them a perfect place for Himself. Unlike during the former covenant, when God did not dwell in man but only amongst man in a tabernacle meticulously and perfectly made, God changed the very nature of believing man to His own, and made them holy, blameless, and forgiven new creations—a perfect place in which to live and influence the world.
If new believers do not know this, if they’re not taught the truth of what happened and who they are now, then often they’ll think of themselves as something just a little better than zombies. . .and set about to change themselves—as if God had not yet. Am I being clear? They won’t believe they’ve been changed already, and if the Christian life is all about faith in God and in what He says is true, then they will be frustrated because they won’t believe Him about themselves. Further, they won’t really believe that God lives in them—in all of His glory and ability—so they won’t look for Him to produce the fruit of His presence; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Question: Do you know more Christians who obviously believe that God lives in them and has made them actual sons of His, or more who believe they’ve got a lot of changing and work to do? Do you see more Christians who actually believe the gospel is fantastic news—Oh, what God will do for you!—or more who evidently believe the gospel means you have to change and get to work?
Do you see what’s happened?
We’ve been induced to skip over growing in our faith in God (who He is and what He has done and what He will do), for growing in a style of behavior we think He will like. If you were a car(!), this is like trying to also be the fuel. Behavior is important, but how we get to it is more so.
Really, what I do is produce materials and books and sermons and posts that are remedial in nature. I offer the grades or courses many Christians missed in their formative years. I’m thrilled when I get to talk with new believers too, but it seems I mostly work with the church.
I hope this helps, Jeremy. Thanks for your question.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Truth. What do you do with it?
There’s a lot of stuff that’s true: it gets light in the morning and dark at night; when it rains, stuff gets wet; if you don’t eat, you’ll get hungry; politicians want more money. Right?
But what about eternal truth—what do you do with that?
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, . . .” (Colossians 3:1a)
Well? That phrase is worth at least a pause.
When you received Jesus and became a Christian, you were raised. The facts are that you won’t one day punch your ticket and finally be raised to heaven because you already have been. When you and I one day leave our bodies behind, we’ll go to where we already are.
While that might sound odd, suffice to say that we are no longer people of the earth since our second birth was not only a new beginning, it made us new creations with a new point of origin—heaven. We’ve been born of the Spirit, and now have the nature of our Father. Jesus said that in the same way He was not of this world, neither are those chosen and changed by God (John 17:14-16). Not only are we new, we’re from heaven. We’re very much like the beings in heaven, where things invisible to our eyes are visible to theirs—they can see the facts, but we’re learning to live by faith in the facts. We’re learning to live by the truth.
In truth, new Christians aren’t first trying to change and behave better because they’ve got a lot to do, they’re getting their bearings because they’ve got a lot to believe. Get that order wrong, and, well, it’s going to be a mess.
You were raised with Christ. I don’t know why we pray, “Oh, Lord, be with me now,” since not only is He with us, we’re with Him—forever and always. We’re in Him, united with Him, and everyone in heaven knows it. This is one reason why you and I need regular revivals, great awakenings to who we are and where we’re from. Think of it as getting desperately needed oxygen, not because you’re so high up and there is no air, but because your earthly experience is so low down and the air is awful—and foreign. Our interaction with Christians often has a lot to do with giving them the air from home, the oxygen of heaven. Picture a scuba diver many feet deep in the ocean of this world, and you’ve pretty much got the idea of a Christian’s experience in this lifetime.
There have been many occasions where, burdened by the things and situations of this world, I began feeling like I couldn’t breathe. With the pressure getting to me, never have I felt better by simply working harder. What always saved me and what saves me today is the air of my homeland—the gospel, the truth of God, which the Holy Spirit uses to oxygenate my blood. I’m revived because I’m breathing fresh air again, the air of heaven.
That’s why I love the Bible—It’s pure oxygen, baby!—and why I’m always on the lookout for great Christian books and music that fill me with the pure air of heaven. Get all you can—you can’t live without breathing. (See my recommended book list at www.lifecourse.org.)
These days are a foreign missionary experience in the depths of this world, where dangers abound and breathing is at times difficult. But I look forward to the day when I’ll pop up on the surface of heaven, mask, tanks and burdensome wetsuit removed, and take my first breath. I know I’ll recognize the air.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Have you ever Googled yourself? Using only my name for a search parameter, a couple of years ago I combed through twenty five pages of Ralph-the-comedian, Ralph-the-barrister, and Ralph-the-recently-deceased before giving up on myself. But this year, there I am—top of page one, number 4 out of a possible 221,000. Could #1 be far off? Ooooh. Like a rocket, I'm on my way to the top of the Ralph Harris heap!
This morning I felt like God drew me out of all the chaos and confusion of this world—like He personally Googled me. It felt like Google Earth, where the view on your monitor can take you from England to Colorado in about a second. Whoosh! Out of the teeming masses I was drawn to be alone with God, and immediately I felt my fit with Him. I knew I belonged.
I don’t know how He does that, but I’m delightfully glad He does.
I was newly reminded that in the midst of a ruined world filled with tragedy and turmoil, God is making for Himself a perfect bride—you and me. And I suppose that from His perspective (and that would be the right one), the church of the redeemed must look astonishing against the backdrop of madness and imperfection.
But I often get lost and caught up in the smallness of my view. That seems particularly easy right now when the usual noisy stuff of this world has been joined by all the political noisiness and nonsense. There is so much clamoring for my attention! So my need of God, who carries on with the sovereign plan for His glory, increases. When He Googles me, I can see what He sees, and I am stunned all over again.
When one day God Googles us for real, we will exchange perishable for imperishable, mortal for immortal, and we will be like Him. Raised in glory, when we cross over we will be like Him—and not a single angel will be surprised, having been looking at us for a long, long time already. (1 Cor 15:42-56; Eph 1:3-10)
Father, way to go! Glory to you! Google me again tomorrow?
“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 24-25 NIV)
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, September 03, 2010
I'm off to Calgary, Canada.
I will be speaking six times at Alberta Foster Parents Campground, where a Calgary-based church (Parkdale Grace Fellowship) holds its' annual retreat. I will be speaking about our identity in Christ, how to view and interact with people based upon what Christ did at the cross and resurrection, and how to be led by the Spirit concerning our day-to-day lives.
Sarah and I will also grab a few days together near where we honeymooned nineteen years ago--Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Banf. We're pretty excited.
Would you pray for us and for our daughters? And would you pray for the great people of Parkdale Grace Fellowship?
We would deeply appreciate your help.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
(To be as clear as possible, and in response to some comments and questions raised, I am posting a Part 2 to yesterday’s note about giving. You might check that one before reading this. . .but it’s not a command.)
Every Biblical command or principle must be taken in the context of the New Covenant.
Christians have been placed into Jesus Christ, and will never be viewed or treated by God as separate from Him. In Him, we all have all things, and God provides the grace and power to His body (us) for His purpose and glory. That’s why we all look and act so differently—we’re gifted and motivated by God according to His design of His body.
2 Cor 9:6 (“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”) must be viewed in the context of chapters 8 and 9, because Paul is describing what God did to the Macedonian Christians as a way of setting up the Corinthians for the same thing—the working of God’s grace in them. That’s the point.
2 Cor 8:1 “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.”
The rest of the two chapters are filled and shaped by this same truth, that God inspires and works His people to do what pleases Him, and they respond to the desire He puts in them. That’s why they’re genuinely cheerful. God’s “act of grace” was brought to completion by the Macedonians when they “followed through” and gave, not because of a command, but because of God’s grace alive in them—in union with Him and His will.
Giving is the result of our love affair with God, and Paul was provoking or testing the authenticity of the Corinthian Christian’s love (2 Cor 8:8). “Are you knowing God’s love for you?” Paul might have asked. “Because if you are, then I’ll bet an evidence of that will be the desire to give. God will see to and cause the desire within you because that’s what makes the giving authentic. If He hasn’t yet given you the desire, don’t act like He has. That’s hypocritical.”
2 Cor 8: For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
That’s New Testament giving. And you find God moving the hearts of His people from 2 Cor 8:1 to 2 Cor 8:16 (“I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus. . .”) to 2 Cor 9:7,8 (“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work .”) to 2 Cor 9:14,15—“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
The indescribable gift is God’s grace in Christians.
Christians should not give a lot so they can get a lot—that’s likely not God working in them. Besides, who doesn’t know Christian people who have given a lot, even sacrificially, but didn’t get anything back, not ever? On the other hand, who doesn’t know Christian people who have given a tiny bit, and who then got a lot? Where’s the sense in it all?
It’s God who motivates the heart of the Christian, it’s God who then works with the Christian to carry out the desire, and it’s God who leads the Christian to the act of obedience, which consummates the whole thing. Hooray for God in Christians! And He does it from within each one for the benefit of all. Each individual gives whatever God inspires, and the reaping (sparingly or generously) is what God planned for His body—for all of us.
It’s almost like God has a plan. Almost.
Another important fact in 2 Cor 9 is the pronoun, “you.” It is not singular, as in, “You, Bob Smith, will get a lot if you give a lot.” It is plural—“You, all of you Christians at Corinth, God will inspire each person individually to give so that you all will have an abundance in every good work. God gave you all the righteousness of Christ, and now, living from within you all, He is working with each of you to produce a harvest of what He has made of you all.” Because God “graced” the Macedonians to give, whatever it was for each person, all of the Macedonians, while looking and acting differently, together looked great—and so did God.
That was His plan. It’s New Covenant, Spirit-led living.
Luke 6:38 (“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”) must also be understood in the context of Old and New Covenant, as must a lot of things in the gospels. The N.C. had not yet been brought about, and Jesus was speaking as one “born under the law” (Gal 4:4) to those also born under the law. For example, Matthew 5:20 Jesus says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Is that still true? Is our entrance into heaven secured by our achieving righteousness that exceeds even the Pharisees and law teachers? No, it isn’t. It was then, but it isn’t now. After Jesus brought the New Covenant with God, He gave us His perfect righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), which obviously exceeds anyone else’s!
Looking at the verses that precede Luke 6:38, is it still true for Christians that if we judge, we will be judged, if we condemn, we will be condemned, unless we forgive, we won’t be forgiven? No. It’s not true anymore. How could it be? While we don’t want to fail at any of those points, in Christ and through the cross we have already passed through judgment and condemnation, and have been entirely forgiven. We’re in Him. That’s the gospel.
Secondly, Jesus is again speaking to “you all,” plural, not singular. And that’s a big deal.
And that’s enough.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
What bothers me when tithing is taught as a New Covenant necessity is that it puts people in the deceived position of believing they control their own blessing. This, and other teaching that tells the sons of God that if they don’t do the right thing, God won’t either, makes the complete sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection of little benefit (“in vain”; 2 Cor 6:1), other than a one-day home going to heaven.
The gospel loses its majesty, and the sons and daughters of God become like elder brothers of the prodigal, working in the fields to earn what they have already been given.
Jesus earned entirely everything for us for entirely nothing from us. In Him we have been given every blessing already. Believing that fact is the challenge; earning it is not.
Anything that teaches less than that makes us crazy.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
I don’t like walking into a room without any light—pitch black. I’ll fully and carefully caress the walls around my entry point searching for the light switch that makes navigating the perils of the room possible. And if children have been in there before me, I know there are toys and kid structures lurking that either I will hurt or which will hurt me.
If I have to go forward without illumination, then I take on the “I am a shuffling ninja!” posture. I slide my feet as if ice skating, wary of damaging plastic figures and cars, yet extend my arms as if Kato from the Pink Panther films was about to attack.
Yes, I am Peter Sellers when the lights are out. Frankly, even when they’re on.
The truth is that everyday is like walking into a dark room of unknown danger, and there’s never enough light, never enough understanding or ninja skill to avoid pain. However, there is one thing, one amazing, better-than-anything-ever-invented piece of reality that you and I do get: God’s love. That keeps and enables us through it all.
In the last 24 hours here’s what I have encountered: a woman who is enduring the pain of having recently lost a twin in childbirth. She will always wonder “Why me?” On the way home from a church gathering I passed by a five car accident, and saw the pain of a woman holding her face with blood-stained hands. And she wonders, “Why me?” And just now I saw on the news that an amazing, one of a kind, rookie pitcher for the Washington Nationals, who came to the team right out of high school, has just torn his shoulder and will require immediate surgery, keeping him out of baseball for 12-18 months, perhaps ending his flash-in-the-pan career. You know he has to wonder, “Why me?”
We know that we will all meet with pain and stunned questioning throughout our days—there is no escaping it. Work as hard as we can, pray as hard as we might, and “Why me?” events will break through anyway. What will get you and me through is God’s love. While a good attitude, a solid support group, and decent health care help in times of trouble, it has been and always will beknowing God’s love that makes noble conquerers out of victims.
Love is famously described in 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient and kind, it doesn’t envy or boast, it isn’t proud or rude, it isn’t self-seeking or easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, and it always protects, trusts, hopes and perserveres—it never fails. But that’s not what we’re supposed to do—here’s how Christians should behave—it’s what love is. And love, God’s love, is best seen and known in Romans 8. That’s the passage which describes what keeps us and makes us spectacular in the “Why me?” events of our days.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
Look, there’s a lot about sorrow and suffering in the New Testament, some of which comes with the specific purpose that Jesus’ life—His loves and desires and feelings and abilities—may be revealed in us and through us. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12) That’s an amazing and incredibly honorable fact of our days in this age. Really! But what keeps us secure and noble as we face death and are considered by some as “sheep to be slaughtered,” is knowing and trusting God’s love for us—and knowing it for yourself.
Wanting to know His love is the best desire and prize of my life. It shapes my days, channels my efforts and focuses my hopes in the midst of uncertain and dangerous times. God’s love—for me and for you—is my favorite effect of having Him living in me. Frankly, I wish that after God made His home in me in 1980, His entrance meant I could figure out and avoid all of the ugly and painful pitfalls of life. I often attempted to employ angels and God Himself toward making my days worthy of a video memorial—“Ralph Harris: A Man Admired By God.”
That’s not happening.
What is happening is that I am growing in the joy and grace and purpose of God’s love for me. And God’s love always affects the people who know it best. It won’t be hidden, it won’t be denied, it won’t fail.
And for this shuffling ninja, God’s love is the way forward.