Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Good Look Behind

A while back I was driving on the freeway when my rear view mirror decided to commit suicide. In an instant, it leaped away from its secure and beneficial position, crashed on the dash and rolled onto the floor, there to lie in state. I couldn’t believe it.

Grief over the untimely and unnatural death of the mirror swept over me, and I became vividly aware of how instantly insecure I felt.

I couldn’t see behind.

Until replacing it about a week later, each time I drove somewhere I felt little security about what was before me because I had become insecure about what was behind. I drove around always on edge and with virtually no confidence. For a while I forced myself to drive without a look behind, but until I replaced the mirror, I never felt right.

I do that sometimes in life, as well, and it’s terribly dangerous because I don’t do good without a good look behind. My going forward first requires a look back at what has been done for me by Jesus. If I forget to take a look, or if I can’t see behind, I’ll be out of sorts wherever I go.

I must know and have settled in my heart the momentous occasion of my past crucifixion and resurrection with Christ Jesus. If I don’t, I’ll bash around in my day like a bumper car at Disneyland; fun for a while, but getting nowhere. When Jesus died, in Him the guy I used to be died, too. When Jesus rose from the dead, the new me did, too.

My look behind at what Jesus did for me and to me means I can go forward, knowing the truth about how to live and look at what’s ahead. And everything’s different. From then on I regard nothing and no one from a worldly viewpoint (2 Corinthians 5:16). Instead, I listen and look for the Spirit’s involvement with me and figure He knows about everything and everyone else. It’s then I’m led by the Spirit, which has become my new normal way to live. Knowing what’s gone on behind me allows me to look forward with confidence because I know that I’m really living. I need that! And it’s then I live for what’s eternally true, not for what’s temporarily before me.

In view of the past, I can see ahead—and it doesn’t look so bad from there.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How Does God Treat You?

Some of us think of ourselves as though we are a stubborn and resistant piece of cement that God can hardly wait to break. “Jesus! Do whatever it takes to break Ralph Harris; he’s just so hard hearted. I can’t use Him until he’s broken!”

“Yes, Father, I see what you mean. I’ll work up a plan and get the angels on it right away. He’s a tough one, but we’ll get it done.”

Those who think this way often explain the circumstances of their days along these lines, as though the One who had rescued them was now the One resisting them. Rubbish. Everyone born again by the Spirit has been born of a new nature, God’s nature, and has everything in keeping with the terrific new creation they have become. At the core of their being they will never again be unyielding pavement, nor will they have a rebellious spirit, nor will they need to be broken. If believers believe that they have a rock for a heart, then they will interpret most every hardship or difficulty in their day as God working to bust them a good one, getting their attention and securing their allegiance—finally. “Knock that off, son! Or I’ll really give it to you next time!”

Sometimes I give my dog a boot to her backside, sending her a message, but she’s a dog and we do not speak the same language, nor do we have the same nature, nor do I live in her! I may get the behavior I want (and the lowered head and tail between the legs, as well), but so what? Do I get any glory for what I’ve done? Any worship or praise? Any true love? Is she glad and thankful for the boot? No! She just wants to do whatever it takes to avoid it in the future. Is that how God treats us, like His special pack of dogs?

That’s a dog’s life, but it’s not mine and it’s not yours. God has made you compatible with Himself—He’s got far better ways of motivating you from inside of you. . .because, as Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) He’s pretty good at that. He’s been God for a long time now and had a lot of practice—you’ve got no worries.

(This is a transcript of yesterday’s video, “How Does God Treat You?”)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Speaking In Georgia!

For my friends in the south, I will be speaking at Grace Life Church, in Woodstock, Georgia, on Sunday, February 3—yes, Super Bowl Sunday! These are some of my favorite people in the world, and I often fairly fall apart when with them because they are so genuine and loving. I’m really looking forward to it.

For more information, go to http://www.gracelifeonline.org/.

Compassion In The Mess

(For those who don't have time to watch, this is a transcript of yesterday’s video, “Compassion In The Mess”.)

Fly fishing in a nearby stream, an odd question popped into my brain that I’d never heard before: “Son, if in the next moment you were to join me in heaven, what would you expect?”

I quickly shuffled the thought to a far off place, and got back to the more important focus of fooling trout.  However, the same question returned two more times before I finally dignified it.

Thinking about what I would truly expect upon my arrival in heaven, a curious realization crept across my mind.  On the faces of those gathered in welcome, I would expect to see a hint of disappointment.

Yes, I know about the rich welcome awaiting the faithful upon arrival home—“Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness.”  But I was startled to realize that I didn’t think I’d be getting that rousing reception—or at least not THAT rousing. 

I don’t always do so well in this life.  I regularly get stuff wrong, needlessly offend people, or fail to act in keeping with the man I am in Christ.  Whether I know it immediately or find out about it later, failure weighs me down.  It bothers me.  (You too?)  And then I begin thinking about all the work I have to do to make things better or to make myself better.  I’ve proven, however, that I’m not very good at saving myself.

Anyway, in my mind I heard something like this: “I know how difficult it is in the world.  I know how very awful it can be.  Do you think I have no compassion for you, my righteous son?  Do you think I don’t know of your anguish and valiant struggle in the fight between flesh and spirit?  I am so pleased in your triumphs and rejoice in your success!  I love how you are and how you do.  Fear not your homecoming—it will be triumphant.”

There on the stream I choked up and laughed a laugh of relief and renewed hope.  “He is really compassionate!” I thought.  “He really understands and delights in the smallest success, valuing it far more than the ugliest defeat, which He wipes clean as He looks upon me with joy and delight.  He really loves me in the mess.”

I had a great afternoon.  I was overwhelmed by the compassion He has for me (and for you) right now in this life, in every trial, in every struggle, in every messy mess.  And  I caught a bunch of trout.  You can ask my wife and daughters if you don’t believe me.  Really.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,…” (2 Corinthians 1:3)

“In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.”  (1 John 4:17-19)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Compassion In The Mess

Here's a little something from my video file. It's from my life with God.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Transforming Act

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Have you ever thought that meant we’re just supposed to read our Bibles?  Read ‘em more, read ‘em better, because then we’ll know what to do?  I think it’s a mistake if we believe and approach this transforming act as one that will result primarily in a smart mind and a head crammed full of wisdom and what to do.

In his outstanding book, “Birthright,” David Needham writes, “…the renewal of our minds is far more than simply exercising brain power. A crucial ‘how’ of holiness is inseparable from knowing the truth of God’s Word, but it must be more than simply quantitative information. It must involve a participant, relational type of knowledge, which in the Bible is inseparable from the power of its Author. Instead of simply telling us to ‘memorize the Bible,’ Paul prayed,

‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…’” (Ephesians 1:17-19 NIV, italics mine.)

Knowing God and the riches He has given us, is the point!

What do I do? Well, no longer is it my goal to commit scripture to memory so that I might not offend God, or so that I might not make Him mad or disappointed in me because of my actions resulting from not knowing enough Bible.  I heard that angle suggested about Bible reading for many years, which led more than a few people into disappointment when they hadn’t read enough or good enough.  Frankly, they had done nothing wrong!  But because they’d been taught to read their Bibles so as to not disappoint God, they assumed they were guilty.  They didn’t hear that from God, but it didn’t seem to matter because they had figured it out on their own, without Him.  Or so they thought.

Many of us have been taught that the Word of God is text on a page, something to be memorized, and not God Himself, someone to be known.  When Amy Grant sang Psalm 119:105—“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”—we figured that meant the Bible.  It would have been a better song if Amy had included the New Covenant fact of what God did concerning the Word:

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

The Word is Jesus!  And where is the Word now?  Where is the “lamp unto my feet”?  In us, the receivers of Christ Jesus!  Considering the path you’re walking, aren’t you glad that the “light unto your feet” is in you?

Sometimes I do memorize a verse or two, but I don’t read the Bible so I can be a “good Christian,” with lots of spiritual brownie points accumulating in my heavenly file. I memorize and think about certain passages and verses so that in my day, whether beginning, middle or end, I’m thinking about Him. Reflecting upon what He has done for me and what He has made of me, does something miraculous:  the real me, the newly created son of God, me, stands up and is noticeable. I can tell!  My thinking is clear, my heart is open and on display, and I love without fear.

I’m transformed—I’m brought out!—and I know it. The lie of my earthly citizenship and belonging is removed, and there I am, a heavenly creature. The decoy attractions of this world appear as the ludicrous seductions they are, and true hunger and thirst and freedom invigorate me.  Hooray!  And things are as they should be, including me.

I don’t mean to imply that the scriptures are not sacred and “God-breathed”, because they surely are!  It’s just that we get deceived into thinking more highly of the text and our knowledge of it than of knowing God and the “God-breathed” part.
Needham writes, “Remember, God did not save us simply to use us. He did not save us to get such and such quantity of holiness produced. He saved us for love…”

He loves you wildly, and that’s transforming.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Life In The Storm

As long as I believe that I’m doing well when I’m tranquil, fulfilled and happy, but not well when I’m experiencing fear, frustration and sorrow, I’ll search and struggle for my identity in “how life is going” and in “how I’m doing,” rather than in who lives in me and how He enjoys riding and working in a good storm now and then—particularly mine.

But when I realize that I’ve been born spirit and am secure in Jesus, who lives in me, with all of His ability and grace and love, then storms may rage but my attention and source are elsewhere.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Calculated Lavishing?

When writing something down that’s in your heart and head, do you ever try to shout with your words because you’re excited?  I do.  I think the apostle Paul did, too.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."  (Ephesians 1:3)

Think what that must have meant to Paul, let alone to you and me. Everything he had been working for and sweating over and fretting about concerning his life with God, Paul had been given.  Everything!  All of it!  There wasn’t a moment of work left, not a second of fear remaining over whether or not God was pleased with him enough.  God's entire blessing had been dumped on Paul for an entirely unrelated reason.

God wanted to.  So He did.  That’s worth shouting about, don’t you think?  I’ll bet the believers at Ephesus thought so, because the same “entire blessing” applied to them.

The love of God compelled God, and it still does. I'm so glad! Oh, I've heard the love of God described as a love that simply decides for the benefit of another, and I know we're all supposed to love like that. I wonder how many times I have heard someone say, "Love is a decision!" The implication is always, "So get busy making decisions!" The goal is about improving our relationships, and that's not something I want to downplay. That’s important. After all, it's just sensible. . .and calculated.

But is that really what motivated God? Is that why God ". . .blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ"? I know that sometime long ago God planned to send Jesus to the cross and to raise Him again, lavishing us with benefits. But was it only a calculated lavishing?

No way! That's not the love of God. He wanted to! It pleased him. (See Ephesians 1:1-14) And it was the want that motivated the plan. His love is ever flowing toward us, ever convincing us, ever rescuing us from doubt and fear and covetousness and lust and unbelief, and convincing us that He is as good as He says He is.  I’ll bet you’re getting to know that love, too.  It’s the big attraction!  The main event!  (See?  I’m shouting. ☺)

I'll tell you, that is one of the highest desires of my life—to believe God about himself. I want always to live believing that God is who he says he is, that he does what he says he does out of love, and that he did what he says he did—blessed ME in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

“Really, Father? You really did? You're not kidding? I don't have to earn anything?  I have it already in Christ?”

"Yes, son, it is true.  It’s all yours. What do you think of that?"

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Earning Is Over

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.

The gospel loses its majesty when Christians believe they must work or serve or tithe in order to earn blessings from God.  We become like elder brothers of the prodigal, working in the fields to earn what we have already been given. 

However, we live best when we live by faith in the complete sufficiency of what Christ did for us.  The earning is all done, and we can rest.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Perfectly Gifted

Christians have received the life of Jesus Christ and been put into him.  Naturally, they will never be viewed or treated by God as separate from him—he did the putting!  In him, we have all things, and God provides the grace and power to his body (that's us) for his purpose and glory.  That’s why we look and act so differently—we’re gifted and motivated by God according to his perfect design of his perfect body.  Doesn’t that just make sense?  It’s almost like God has a plan and the ability to pull it off.  :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Your Struggle Counts

Have you ever gone on a diet and lost a good bunch of weight, only to gain it back again?  And did you then get back on the diet and do it all over again, making yourself a repeat offender?

Congratulations.  I mean it.  What a great effort you’ve made.

We’re quick to congratulate people who have made a mistake, blown it, sinned, or fallen, but who have then straightened up and gotten going again.  “Hooray for you!” we might say.  But for those who have committed the seemingly unpardonable—re-gaining pounds previously lost—well, we’re not so supportive.  “You did it AGAIN?”  It’s almost like they’ve sinned and should go into seclusion.  We only let them give their testimony if they’re succeeding right now, not if they’re failing.  Not if they’re struggling.  We’ve been induced to want heroes, not fellow strugglers.  We’re interested if God has gotten you OVER IT, but not so much if God is with you IN IT.  And in the case of excess poundage, we know if you’re over it or not.

Look, we all know we’re supposed to be in good shape.  We all know we’re supposed to eat smart, avoid fatty and sugary foods, drink lots of water (NO DIET DRINKS!) and get 30 minutes of exercise every day.  EVERY DAY.  But just because we major on this doesn’t mean we’re fit for the major.  Lots of us don’t do well with commitments.  When failure comes, so does judgment, which is often silent, but painful, nevertheless.

And then there’s the well-meaning bunch who say, “To hell with diets!  Just eat what you want and be who you are!”  Well, that’s nice for some people.  But when being who you are winds up recognizably too big (and that bothers you), well, the pressure to slim down is pretty intense.  And who gets more advice, sought or not, than people who are overweight?  My goodness, it’s like they’ve got invisible signs on their heads reading, “I’m out of control. Tell me what to do!”

So I say “Congratulations!” to those who, while feeling the suggested shame of ill-fitting clothing (Horrors!), take a deep breath and return to this world’s crowned effort to look good.  You endure a torture that isn’t often recognized.  I’m not offering any advice today, either; I’m simply applauding your effort.  You must know that, according to God, you’re way better than how you do with diets, so working on one is going to be a challenge to that truth.  Your struggle counts.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Things I Forget

File this under, “Things I forget about God.”

Too often I find myself fighting with myself. Do you know what I mean? I should be less engrossed in the things of this world, more involved with my girls, work harder, pray more with my wife, be nicer, more loving, less critical, and so on. Do you have one of those lists too? I went to bed with mine last night.

Early this morning I heard the Spirit say, “Stop wrestling with yourself, and live by faith.”


God is not focused on how I’m struggling with the me that needs to be struggled with—He’s looking at the me that lives by faith in Him. He knows that’s how I live and live best. Does that make sense? I don't think I'm saying it very well. I love knowing God in me. And what a laugh that is! What a place to build a house, God! And I love knowing that He has given me perfect righteousness and holiness, and made me blameless with Him, even seating me in heavenly places already. Me! Heavenly Ralph.

Whenever I am reminded of the truth that my life is lived by faith in the gift that Jesus is to me, He drives out the Ralph who needs a good wrestling by bringing forth the Ralph for whom wrestling is at an end. Peace, joy and rest are then obvious in me, and all I want to do is praise God. . .and run through the day enjoying Him in front of others. Whatever comes of that run through the day in the midst of work and errands and more is how the day goes. I am so pleased with God that what usually comes from me is a delight to Him. I just know it.

And that’s how it goes. God has vested His own reputation by giving us everything with Him. When we find our joy and hope in Him, in how crazy-good He is, we prove His grace to us is as good as He says it is. Everybody gets a good “Hooray!” out of that.

He is amazing, and I like discovering how amazing He is with me and with you. That always works out in me praising “…his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One He loves.” (Ephesians 1:6)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"You Are A Piece of Work"

“You Are A Piece of Work” – If you were resting confidently in Jesus’ grace and ability when, one day, he said this to you while looking into your eyes, chances are good that you’d smile and nod your head because you’d know he meant it as a positive fact and not a negative assessment.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Your Natural Habitat

(Here's something I think you'll like.  It's from my friend and hero, Steve McVey.)

For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'  Acts 17:28

Refuse to think of yourself as separate from God. Your relationship to Him is equivalent to the relationship of marine life to the ocean. He isn’t simply involved with your life. Your Father isn’t even in your life. He is your very life. It is your union to Him that defines you. Independence is an illusion that will keep you from experiencing life as He intends for you to know it. God isn’t outside you but lives in you and you in Him in this present moment.

You are His child and have His DNA coursing through your being. He isn’t a spectator who watches you and stands by to offer His help when you need it. His life is the sustaining force and source of your being. He longs for you to experience the flow of daily living coming from His life within. Learn to see yourself living in union with your Father and believe that He will animate your thoughts, words and deeds as you go through your day.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Craving Authenticity

Because we don’t yet recognize and prefer in others or ourselves the miracle of what we have become through Christ, we cover up or put on a particular appearance in order to navigate our relationships. We think we’re safe and getting the job done pretty well, but if it isn’t real, then it’s going to frustrate us. It won’t work. It won’t satisfy.

Yet what if we believed Him? What if we believed that we are no longer flesh, but spirit, now sharing in His very nature? He has made us holy, righteous and blameless new creatures—we’re dazzling—yet we’ve been induced to prefer another image against the truth, one we manufacture on our face and by our demeanor. It all adds up to a false nobility, because it falls terribly short of who we actually are.

Fortunately, the Spirit is patiently and calmly working with us so that we prefer the truth, even when we’re around people. We’re walking in the truth and in the light, which ends up producing a beautiful life. It’s dangerous, but it’s real and worth it. We’ve come to crave authenticity. And that’s pretty good.

“…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth),…” Ephesians 5:8-9

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Avert Your Eyes

My mother, ever crusading to make me a gentleman after her own criteria, used to tell me that, in deference to the fairer sex, a gentleman would “avert his eyes” should anything “unbecoming of a lady” be made visible. I also used flash cards a lot from my early school days through grad school, so this comic really does it for me. Yes, you may call me “Your majesty,” if you desire. Right?

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Immanuel Agenda

Unless I see myself as truly united with God—He is in me and I am in Him—then whenever inexplicably difficult and odd things happen I will wonder what's gone wrong and what I have to do to make things right. That means a lot of pressure on me.  I'll see myself as separate from God, perhaps needing my inner battery charged up and my brain re-stocked so I can then run off on my own to make things work right.  I might cross my fingers and pray a prayer I don’t really expect to be answered because I’m busy making something else happen.

But I'm His vessel, and whatever happens around me is for the two of us—how can it be otherwise?  We are united, and His life and ability is at the ready in me.  Believing that He and I are united, that He is actually in me, is how Christ is formed in me—the miracle!  This is The Immanuel Agenda.  And I pray, “Thank you, Jesus, that we’re together and I will never lack anything.”

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Dump It!

“Dump The Whacker-Doodle Juice” – What I hope people will do with the stuff being served that keeps us from finding our life in Jesus by saying that there was never a sin problem, God never had any anger about it, we didn’t need a new covenant, there was never any problem with our relationship because we were only in trouble with God in our minds, not in actuality, His cross and resurrection were only for show, and there is nothing and no One we need to receive because we are already divine.

(To be helpful, read the above run-on sentence(!) by reversing the descriptives and you’ll see what I mean: There WAS a sin problem, God DID have anger about sin, we DID need a new covenant, there WAS a problem with our relationship in actuality, His cross and resurrection were THE MEANS by which He dealt with our problem of sin, completing the old covenant and bringing in the new covenant and the provision of new life, and we may freely RECEIVE grace and Jesus for life, then to be brought into union with Him.)

Here's one of my favorite, sheer-delight passages:

Colossians 2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the flesh, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

"Life of Pi"

My family and I saw yet another movie yesterday, “Life of Pi.”  We saw it in 3D (unusual for us), and we think it’s well worth the extra cost and head gear in order to see the stunning cinematography and many dramatic scenes.  It’s truly amazing! 

The first third of the film concerns the main characters’ curiosity about God, and while the subject continues to the remainder of the movie, it becomes much more generic—God exists—than in the beginning.  Pi “cherry picked” presumed benefits of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, without distinguishing serious differences.  This always means that the “cherry picker” is then cheated out of actually receiving and knowing Jesus, the greatest gift of all. 

In sum, I liked much of the story and especially the visual aspects of “Life of Pi,” but was let down by an ending that suggested that God is what you make of Him. Really? Not even close. He is far better than that.