Monday, December 26, 2011

God In A Mess

Yesterday was a pretty lousy day. It wasn’t because lousy things happened or because good things failed to come to pass. It was because I was lousy in it. If I could have taken me out of it, everything would have been fine. No, that’s not actually in keeping with my theology, but it’s how I felt.

Grumpy. Sullen. Prickly. A don’t bug me kind of day because I was already really bugged.

Now I know all about what I could have and should have done, like sow to the Spirit (and reap eternal life), take a walk (and get refreshed), call a friend (who could tell me the gospel and build me up), turn on some good music and pray. There are surely dozens of ways by which I could have altered me in my day, but I didn’t do any of them. My didn’t want to overwhelmed my ought to. Does that ever happen to you?

Fortunately for me, Jesus has not stopped being my Shepherd. He didn’t lead me out of bondage and sin and a faulty nature only to leave me alone in freedom, righteousness and holiness. “Sorry, Ralph. It’s all up to you now.” That’s not how He works. He’s made me His house, and I’m really glad He gets to moving the furniture around and banging the cabinets a bit in order to get my attention and do something for me.

Somewhere last night around 8:15, my thoughts locked-on to Romans 8:1-2:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Okay, so those are two of the greatest verses in the Bible. Still, my thinking didn’t linger for long on the there is now no condemnation part of those verses. Instead, my thinker began to reflect on what Paul wrote before those two verses. If I had been writing the book of Romans, I would have preceded Romans 8:1-2 with a brilliant treatise on Jesus’ substitutionary death, inclusive resurrection and His stunning gift of righteousness. And then I’d deliver a new chapter beginning with that incredible word, “Therefore.”

But Paul doesn’t even come close to doing that. Romans 7 is mostly a load of lament about what a loser he is and how he is assured of failing in his own fleshly strength. The things he wanted to do because he believed God, he couldn’t. The things he didn’t want to do because he believed God, he did! And Paul concludes chapter seven and sets the table for “there is now no condemnation” by a faith-building summary, I’m a wretch and a slave. How does all that go together?!

If yesterday was any indicator, it’s brilliant. I didn’t do anything right! In fact I did everything wrong. I was living out the wretch and slave thing. Yet the Spirit attracted my thoughts and set me free from an otherwise day of death. It’s who He is, it’s what He does, and I was delighted at how much better I felt. “I’m a lot like Paul,” I thought, “trying to make myself happen and work well apart from the Spirit.” I laughed, and the wretch and slave vanished. I didn’t like him anyway.

Although I’ve been made a son of God, I’ve still got a lot going on that’s not in line with that. Looking over the years of my life, I’m a mess of contradictions.

Thank God, He isn’t.

(I wrote this a while ago, and thought I'd re-post it today. I hope you benefit.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gift Wrapping Tips For Men

(If you're gift wrapping impaired—truly a crippling ailment—then here's a little something to make your Christmas Eve a little bit brighter. And if anyone knows how to get insurance to cover this disease, please tell me.)

This is the time of year we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "... presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: "And lo, the gifts were insideth 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him... she saideth, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.

2. They were men.

Men are not big gift wrappers. Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off. This is not just my opinion. This is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know. One is Rob, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is "if it's such a poor gift that I don't want to be there when the person opens it." The other is Gene, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift. "No one ever had to wonder which presents daddy wrapped at Christmas," Gene said. "They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs."

I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.)

If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh's body would be covered only by Scotch tape. On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why today I am presenting...

Gift-Wrapping Tip For Men:

* Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither one of you recognizes it, you can claim that it's myrrh.

* The editors of Woman's Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch. They must be smoking crack.

* If you're giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper! Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it. This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning.

YOUR WIFE MAY ASK: "Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?"

YOU: "It's a gift! See? It has a bow!"

YOUR WIFE (peering into the trash bag): "It's a leaf blower."

YOU: "Gas-powered! Five horsepower!"

YOUR WIFE: "I'm leaving you."

YOU: "I also got you some myrrh."

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

A Politically Correct "T'was The Night Before Christmas"

For your weekend viewing delight, here's a Larry, The Cable Guy Christmas story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Post-Christmas Group Therapy

Yes, I have a twisted sense of humor. Is that wrong? (I like this a lot!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When Life Is A Tornado Ride

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

The hallways of my elementary school teamed with Munchkins, and there were always groups of us boys who, because we liked similar things, would gang up together forming our own version of the Lollipop Guild. Glinda, the Good Witch, was my Kindergarten teacher, and I didn’t want to do anything wrong around her. For years to come, any woman who treated me like Glinda owned me. At recess we were harassed and harangued by those terrible flying monkeys, the egomaniacal power brokers of the schoolyard. I’m certain the Cowardly Lion taught High School Spanish class, the Wicked Witch of the West threatened us in English class, and the Tin Man led us courageously through economics and typing. I was friendly with my brothers, partly so we could compare experiences and increase our chances of relational survival. Fortunately, my mother and father were solid and stable as the earth in Kansas.

This was the relational education of my life.

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

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

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

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

Most likely, that’s the point.

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

Maybe it’s that my stable life in Colorado hasn’t required of me what the days ahead will, and God, who considers me His workmanship, is bringing me back to essentials as the landscape changes. Trusting Him has always been the fruit of knowing Him, and I suspect that God is assisting me toward more of each. Only this time it means tornado trust.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

In any case, writing this has helped me remember that my Father is faithful—faithful to me. His opinion of me and what He plans to do is truly astounding.

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

(I wrote this three years ago after my mother passed on, which was only three months before my father would follow. Life was a tornado ride. At the passing of a very close friend, I was reminded of this note and thought I'd post it again.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Unusual Sugar Plum

The Sugar Plum Fairy like you have never heard it before. I enjoy this kind of creativity!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mr. Bean's Department Store Nativity

I don't know about you, but I liked playing with action figures when I was a boy. That Mr. Bean still likes playing, is no surprise to me. And I like this timely department store scene.

Have a great weekend!

Mr Bean - Nativity Scene by mrbean

Friday, December 16, 2011

Into Grace

It is unbiblical for us to believe that after we fail we have “fallen away from grace.” In fact, it is accurate to believe that we have fallen INTO grace—even super-abundant grace. That’s when the reign of grace is most evident in life. (Romans 5:20-21)


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hitchin' A Ride

You might think this guy is expressing his opinion to heaven—maybe of heaven. But I don’t think so. Not today.

I think he’s attempting to hitch a ride to heaven. Get on outta here. Go somewhere he belongs and fits in.

Ever have a longing like that? Absolutely. Of course.

Over one hundred times the Bible speaks of a person or of a group as “aliens” in the land, strangers from another place. Always they had been born somewhere else, and had migrated to a place where they stood out. Life was usually not easy for the foreigner.

However, the New Testament uses the word “alien” in a new way—in a more extreme manner. All those who, by faith, have shared in the cross and resurrection of Jesus have become as foreign to this world as Jesus Himself. Think of that.

Speaking of those given to Him by the Father, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:16) Paul writes that because we have been made sons of God, we are no longer foreigners to Him, but “members of His household.” (Ephesians 2:18-20) How cool is that? However, that little switch means we’ve left our membership with the natural human race and become part of the supernatural race of the Spirit-born. With God and the angels, we’re family.

But on this earth, Aliens R Us.

That means you and I are going to feel like it. No matter how much we attempt to fit in and live well with the locals and their customs, by nature we no longer do. So, we’ll have days where we just don’t do well, where everything we do seems to fail, no matter our motivation, no matter our skills. And those are the days when who we have become isn’t any fun because it doesn’t work in this world. Those are the days when we’ll feel every bit the misfit—the alien.

But not with heaven.

If you’ve been feeling frustrated with yourself and your day to day life, consider that you’re being identified—rejected by the world, welcomed by the heavens. Look to your birthplace; your newest, most recent birthplace. God is weaning you off what no longer is like you, and the world is confirming His opinion of you.

While it’s not yet time to hitch a ride into heaven, you do fit in with the family found there. Might as well start living like one now.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 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. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Announcing Good News

Here are my thoughts this morning on a most-debated, good news passage.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10 (NAS)

My take on this passage is that John is juxtaposing Christians and non-Christians. In verse 8, he writes of a person in whom there is no truth. That cannot be a Christian, especially since Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He, THE TRUTH, is in Christians. In verse 9, he writes of all Christians who have been forgiven and cleansed from everything contrary to God, in whom we now live and who now lives in us. That has all happened already for always, and all of our sins He “remembers no more” (See Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17). In verse 10, John writes again about the non-Christian, in whom THE WORD, who is Jesus (See John 1:1 and 14,) does not live.

These are my thoughts, and I hope this helps.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Our Days In Life

Perhaps the biggest frustration for a legalistic or laboring Christian is that while he is wired and designed to be the ongoing receiver of the grace and righteousness of God, his promise and dedication to moral excellence forces him into failure. The only time he actually enjoys Jesus is after an assumed and confessed falling-out with Him, after which he is “magically” restored to his design (receiver) and he reigns in life. All is well. Trouble resumes when, newly filled by the Spirit of life, he re-dedicates himself to moral excellence.

Romans 5:17 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.

To “reign in life” means, “to have a time in power,” or “to have a period of influence.” It means that, having been made new creations for our days in this world, we assume our role as receivers of grace—God’s life. We offer ourselves to God not to demonstrate our faithfulness or to pledge our obedience. We look to Him however and whenever we like to receive what He is and has for anything and everything He likes. The result is that He enjoys a person through which to demonstrate Himself—His power and influence—and we know and enjoy God as we fit into Him, reigning in life.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another Gift Idea

Ladies? Are you looking for that manly, just-right Christmas gift? This gift idea should be perfect.

Friday, December 09, 2011

New Or Not?

If Christian speakers actually believe that those in Christ have been made new creations with new hearts, they will not be inclined to teach Old Covenant-based methods of life in the attempt to please God and earn His approval, but will instead speak about the wonder of life in Christ and by the Spirit, having all things.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Amazing Compatibility

It's a crisp and beautiful, Colorado morning, and I have a thought.

If through the cross and resurrection Jesus has removed my former self and nature, and given me a new self and His nature, if He has united me with Himself (He lives in me and I live in Him), if He has made me a truly holy and righteous son (we’re compatible!), then is it my “role” to now deny myself, to step aside, get out of His way and become less so He can become more? Doesn’t that seem like a contradictory waste? Doesn’t that seem like a whole lot of self-effort when He has already done everything to me that’s necessary?

I think a misunderstanding of this is one reason why some of us are weary and disillusioned in our walk with God. We believe that we still have to do something harsh to ourselves in order for God to “use” us. Through the cross and resurrection, that's all over with!

When there is something going on that’s outside of my new character, self is not the problem, flesh is the problem, and my deceived attempt to live under its influence. If I believe that “self” is still my problem, I will be induced to do something about myself that, in fact, Christ has already done, and I’m heading into frustration.

But when I am renewed in my thinking, I live by faith in all that He has done with me through the cross and resurrection. My faith is in Him, and I rest in Him and gladly offer myself to Him. We get along perfectly! And that’s amazing.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Before You Shop

It's that time of year for many of us--Christmas Shopping.

Now, I know some people will take offense that I, a Christian author, speaker and sometimes pastor, willingly engage in the worldly ways of this world's ways. (Wait. I think that's double speak. Oh, well.) But anyway, I think this video will help you to better organize yourself and your shopping list before embarking on the season's quest.

I laughed a lot.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What A Deal

How great is God, who works for you to discover Him to be perfect toward you. He delights to earn your love and trust—it’s His work. What a deal.