Reminder of God
March 31, 2005We planted our vegetable and herb garden this past weekend. You know, the hardest part of it is always just preparing the soil. You have to till a lot of, um, manure into the bed in order for it to be good fertile soil. Manure smells. It sticks to your shoes. The dogs like to roll in it and then go upstairs and jump up on the bed. Over 400 pounds of manure went into preparing the soil this year. Kinda made me think a bit about life. Each of us face those times in life that seem a lot like manure. They stink, seem to stick to you, and seem even to get tracked into those parts of your life you'd rather just be left alone. Why does God allow that?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
In other words, the, um, manure that comes our way, well that helps us grow. In fact we need it to grow. Think to on this: The manure in my garden is needed for the plants to grow with vigor. Yet not only do they grow with vigor, they also produce fruit--peppers, tomatoes, you name it. So that manure in the garden is not just good for the plant, but also of benefit to me, as the plants bear their fruit. That fruit we will use to make salsa, and share the salsa and the fruit with friends. Hard times got you down? Tired of manure? Take courage; not only will you grow, but you, too, will bear fruit that will benefit not only you, but all those around you--and those around them. God's purpose is not only to bless you, but to use you to bless others as well. Ripples in a pond.
March 30, 2005Blossom, our Golden Retriever, Loves peanuts. Today though, something really blew my mind. After work Glenda and I were enjoying some time together on the deck out back, eating...peanuts. Millie and Osa, our other dogs, were up on the deck with us, snuffling for peanuts, which we'd occasionally toss their direction. Blossom, sitting out by the pond, looked up at us indignantly. And so, I threw a peanut from the deck, about sixty feet. It hit the ground a good fifteen to twenty feet away from Blossom (Ok, so I'm a bad throw). Now here's the thing--Blossom put her nose to the ground, and bee-lined straight to the peanut. Of course, we threw her several more.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Blossom could find the peanut, discern the peanut, for this reason--she had tasted one before...and loved it. She knew from experience what it should taste like, smell like, even feel like. Have you tasted personally from the Word of God, or are you content to let someone else digest it for you? Milk or solid food? Babe or mature? There are those who are happy to let you partake only what they choose to regurgitate. When you think of it that way, not that appetizing, is it?
March 29, 2005How do we make our choices? Consider some basic, fundamentally important questions: where would you live if you were planning a family and wanted to be assured of the lowest infant mortality rate? If your desire was for longevity, where would you live? How about the basic of quality of life? Scroll down for some answers.
Infant mortality: Singapore has the lowest infant mortality rate, with only 2.3 infant deaths per thousand births. Over 1 dozen countries have a significantly lower infant mortality rate than the United States, including such surprises as Portugal and Iceland.
Longevity: Again, move to Singapore, where the average life expectancy is 81.5 years. Don't want to learn another language? Try Canada, with an average life expectancy of 80 years. Rather have a European setting? Italy, France, Norway all have life expectancies over 79 years. The United States average is 77.4.
Quality of Life: Here the United States moves up a bit, to come in eight. Norway, Sweden, even Iceland and Australia are ahead of us. Factors included in the quality of life index include life expectancy, education levels, income, and health care availability.
The point of this trivia exercise? Simply this: Poor assumptions lead to poor decisions, and a big factor in the assumptions that we make is an issue of pride...often times even in issues dealing with God and worship. Seriously, why do we go to Church? If we are honest, is it to be challenged with new perspectives, to grow in our relationship with God and to worship Him then in a new way, having seen a new facet of God? Or is it to have what we have already chosen to believe affirmed, so that we can be comforted that we are right, and that the world, not us, needs to change? Think on this:
And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.
We can seek those who will only affirm us, or we can do what is honorable, and study the scriptures ourselves, to see what is true, and then adjust our lives to fit the truth, instead of trying to adjust our perceptions of truth to fit our lives. One is noble and brings growth. The other...
March 28, 2005What a beautiful day Saturday was; sunny, warm, the perfect day to be out in the garden. While working out in the garden, I caught something out of the corner of my eye over by our pond. I walked slowly, quietly over...Splash! sure enough, it had been a bullfrog that I kid you not was the size of a dinner plate! I made over to the edge of the pond and there was an interesting juxtaposition--Sure enough, that old frog was underwater, thinking himself invisible, when a large tadpole swam right by him. It made me wonder: does the tadpole have any way of knowing what freedom is going to come his way? Can he fathom that he will be able one day to climb out of the water and breath on land? Like the caterpillar: Is there anyway the slow moving worm can grasp the grandeur that awaits him? Can they comprehend the metamorphosis to come? Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines metamorphoses thus: "A profound changed in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly." Friends, that is the degree of change the Christ wants to bring to our lives. So often we fear change, wanting only to have our assumptions affirmed. Metamorphosis though, that is change, from worm to winged glory, eating leaves to sipping nectar. And the wonderful thing about it, is He begins that metamorphosis in our lives not in some ethereal time in the future, but now, in our day to day lives, so why fight it? Consider this:
2nd Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Strange journey for humankind: created in glory as the image bearer of God. Fallen. Redeemed, and being transformed back to glory. On this Monday, be encouraged. Freedom and glory await you, and the process, well my friends, that process has already begun! Have a great day!
March 24, 2005I went to the grocery today with Glenda during a short study break. Piled up in a massive display in the entrance to the store was a huge wall of "Kraft Easy Mac and Cheese". "Wow!" I thought to myself, "Good thing they finally made it easy--the original version you actually had to stir!". Really though, isn't it amazing how we so often make things much harder on ourselves than we need to? Christendom is no exception--some people make it so hard on themselves...and others. Did you know that Even Martin Luther used to torture himself--literally (He would whip himself). You know, a lot of us do the same. No, not physically, but mentally, emotionally. Every now and then, we need a reminder that it does not depend on us, but on God.
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? ...did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
What God started, He will finish. We need not make things harder than they really are! We all need to be reminded of the basics from time to time. What starts by faith ends in faith. Doesn't that just take a load off? Oh, when Martin Luther finally understood the concepts of Grace and faith, he through his whip away. Are you still hanging on to yours?
March 22, 2005Thinking more today on time. Time can in part be defined as opportunity. What do we do with the opportunities presented to us? Too often they are spent licking wounds from long ago, or seeking anesthesia for hurts, real or imagined. Edwin Robinson captured this sense of desperation thus:
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons,
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing,
The vision of the warrior bold
Would set him dancing.
Miniver Cheevy, born to late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.
Time...it is opportunity. Yet not all seize on the opportunities, which is sad, for with each new day, there are endless possibilities.
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving...Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.
With every new day there will come into your life opportunity. Push it aside, or embrace it, it is your choice. One will change the world, and change you. The other will simply decay. Friends, let us make the most of today's opportunities!
March 21, 2005There was a time not so long ago when it was common for individuals to write their prayers; these days few avail themselves of the opportunity, yet some still do. My wife and one of her very good friends e-mail each other their prayers for each other each day. It is a discipline that both of them have drawn much from. Jane Austin was one of those who used to write out her prayers as well. From her prayer journal, dated 1811 comes this snippet: "Teach us...that we may feel the importance of every day, of every hour, as it passes." Simple, but oh so wise. To understand the importance of every day, of every hour...that is indeed a gift. In my life I have wasted so much time, and time is such a strange commodity: It can be wasted, it can be killed, but it can never be re-purchased. Time gone, is indeed gone. The question really is if it was time used well.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
How are you using your time? Napping? I've spent too much time doing so. May God grant us that we might know the importance of each day, each hour. The night is almost gone. Let us spend our time, no invest our time, in those things that have meaning. Love, now there's a good start...
March 17, 2005Love. What a funny thing. In Junior High, I believed that the greatest thing in life was to be in love....a few broken hearts later, well... In High School, I believed that the greatest thing in life was to have a girl fall in love with me, to appreciate my physique, my sense of humor...and it happened, until that ass with the better physique came along. I have been married now for twenty two years to a woman who is more beautiful now than the day I married her--and she was quite the hottie then! And she loves me. She loves me. Not because of physique--I've become quite flabby. Not because of my sense of humor, I've had many tell me it needs a good bit of sharpenining. She loves me, in spite of. In spite of what? You fill in the blanks! And you know what? Her love has changed, and continues to change, me. I no longer want to be appreciated for my grand characteristics--I want to have better characteristics to be the man she deserves. I no longer want to jealously guard her faithfulness, I want to be faithful out of my love for her. Love. When one finally encounters the real thing, it can do nothing but transform--not the object of our love, but love, the real thing, it transforms us, makes me a different person. Do you know you are loved?
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
To know--not head knowledge, but experiential knowledge--that you are loved by God, rooted and grounded, that my friends transforms you to being filled to the fulness of God. Is that where you are today? Few Churches teach that anymore. Most give a series of "to do's". Know the Love of God, Know that you are loved...that will transform you, fill you. Emptiness will be but a memory.
March 16, 2005Thinking back on a part of this past Sunday's message that needs reinforcing...at least in my life. We've been studying the tabernacle, specifically the building instructions of the tabernacle: that place where God had chosen to manifest His presence among the Israelites. The Israelites, when they heard the voice of God at Mount Sinai, in fear asked that Moses be mediator between them and God, so that they would be protected from hearing His voice. As a result, Moses was at the top of the mountain, seeing the glory of God while receiving the plans for the tabernacle: the Israelites were beyond the mountains base, where all they could see was a cloud. It's interesting to note that in the tabernacle plans, God requires the use of three different metals: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. What is interesting about this is that there is a clear decrease in the value of the metals used the further from the center, the Ark of the covenant with it's Mercy Seat, as one radiates out. The closer to the presence of God, the more precious the metal. The further away, the less valuable. And often I choose to live in the land of aluminum foil. Correlate that with the choice of the Israelites, then, to have Moses meet with God on their behalf. Moses, in God's presence, saw God's glory. The Israelites simply saw a cloud. What do you see?
For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God,
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in Thee!
The Israelites made their choice--to distance themselves from God. I, too have too often chosen that which distances me from God, and found myself living not in His glorious presence, but in the land of aluminum foil. Make the decision with me--We won't be foiled again! In acknowledging, choosing to value God, we will ourselves be surrounded with His valuable presence. Foiled no more!
March 15, 2005There is an interesting juxtaposition in the lives of most people I know. Virtually every man, woman, and child I know wants to grow...and yet the same individuals almost to a person, will tend to resist, sometimes even fight, change. Yet there cannot be any growth without change! This is true within the Church as well. It is very PC in Churches to pray long winded prayers asking God to make us grow in Christ. However, with the next breath, ideas of change can be so quickly squelched, new vision can be blinded. Can anyone grow without change? Yet so very often after praying for growth in Christ, those very change agents sent in answer to that prayer are punished. Inquisitions are no longer state sanctioned, yet they still exist in very subtle, and some not too subtle ways. No, if we are to truly grow in Christ, we must be willing to admit the most frightening of notions, namely, that in some aspects in our lives, in our thinking, we are wrong, and need to change. As the Claude Bernard remarked "Our ideas are only intellectual instruments which we use to break into phenomena; we must change them when they have served their purpose, as we change a blunt lancet we have used long enough." Consider this:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
To grow in all aspects of Christ, that is to subject all aspects of our lives to the filter of Christ, instead of filtering Christ through the screen of our lives. To truly be willing to grow in Christ means a willingness to change, even to change one's long held opinions. Really, is Christ ruler over your politics, or do you filter Christ through your political views? Is Christ ruler over your business practices, or do you instead act out of common sense, then ask God to bless what you have done? If we resist change in some areas, and want growth only in certain others, do we not become then a lopsided laity? But that is not our call. This is:..."but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ." All aspects... how beautiful would my life look with that kind of symmetry?
March 14, 2005Faith. Sometimes I think we have a very mistaken view of what it is, or more precisely, what the proper object of our faith should be. To often we have our faith in a certain result--in other words, we place our faith in the belief of receipt of a certain gift, while we ignore the gift giver. Pleading for a change in circumstance we ignore the God who stands outside of circumstance. Consider a familiar example of faith properly placed. The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. King Nebuchadnezzar had built a golden idol, and declared that all in his kingdom must kneel in worship of it, or be thrown into a furnace alive. Shadrach, Meshach, & Abad-Nego refused. In his rage, the king ordered the furnace be stoked to seven times greater than normal. The heat was so intense that it killed the men who opened the furnace door. Now, I don't know about you, but if I'd been one of those three guys, my focus would have definitely been on my circumstances! Their response? "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Notice that their faith was not in a desired result, but in God. They knew that God was able, but they did not claim to know if being saved from the fire was His will. Brave statement, and being a man of common sense, in their shoes I would be expecting that if God was going to rescue me, it would be by saving me from being thrown into the fire. But that was not God's plan! No, in the furnace they went, Yet in that furnace they met God, and were protected. God did not save the from the furnace, He choose to save them through the furnace. What a lesson. Yes, sometimes it does seem that our circumstances will consume us, as our hearts burn so hot that we feel there must be blisters on our soul. Yet God meets us in the flames, and protects us, so long as our focus remain on the Gift Giver, instead of the desired gift.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
Is your faith in a result, or in the God who is more than able to bring the result, if that is for our best good. I've said it before, and will say it again--What is the locus of your focus? Oh, by the way, the only thing burned on old Shadrach. Meshach, and Abed-Nego? The ropes that bound them. Not even an eyelash was singed. Sometimes God chooses to use the fire to set us free.
March 3, 2005You know, Christianity gets a lot of inaccurate press these days...and unfortunately a good bit comes from within the Church. Too often we present Christianity as the end of problems in life, singing songs with chorus sections that state "And now I am happy all the day!". Are you? Really? Sometimes it seems as if we employ "bait and switch" tactics in our outreach efforts, promising one thing, but delivering a very different reality. No, Christianity does not promise easy days--it promises the strength to get through the tough ones. It does not promise "happiness", it does deliver joy. The fact is that for most of us, our days are just as hard, sometimes even harder, once one has placed ones faith in Christ. Yet with that comes increased strength, which yields courage to continue on. As Thucydides stated so long ago, "But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and notwithstanding go out to meet it." Wise words. Yes the days have great, even grave challenges, but God is greater...the very God who indwells you.
2nd Corinthians 3:4-6
And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
A day without challenges? No, I don't think so. But a day that you can face bravely, with your confidence in Christ? Yes, again yes. And so remember that abiding in you is One greater than that which abides in the challenges of this world. Go on then, and meet your day; danger does await, yet so does glory. And remember, you are not alone.
March 2, 2005Take some time to read one of the Gospels, without sanitizing as we so easily do the various characters, and ask yourself this question "with whom do I most closely relate to?" Today I did that. And in so doing I found that I did not see myself, nor did I want to see myself, with the "religious" of Jesus' day. In fact, Jesus did not rise up through those ranks at all. No, to translate into today's terms, I saw myself as the whore, who sold the only thing she had to make a living, as the traitor/crook, who betrayed and took unfair advantage, as the slut, who did whatever she needed to in order to feel loved, and (yes, and, not or) as the rebel, who sought to overthrow the "system". Frankly, I relate with these people, because I am one of them. I choose to admit that. I am no better than any other man. And in realizing that, I felt peace. Peace, because of who I also saw in that great story, that great Truth. I saw Christ. Christ who choose to associate not with the "religious" of His day, the Pharisee. He associated with the whore, the collaborator, the slut, the cheat, and the rebel--those who realized their need. In other words, He has chosen to associate with me, who has not, does not, deserve what Christ has to give.
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Yes, I have a sense of peace, because I know that I have a Good Friend. A Friend who accepts me as I am, a fallen man, and in accepting that Friendship, I am a Christian, not a "religious" man--I've seen the "religious" of this day--not much different from those of Christ's time. Who out there agrees with me today? If so, type "Aye" and hit "reply". If feeling brave, hit "reply all"! I am a Christian, fallen, and forgiven. I stand solely by virtue of my Friend. Think on this: The Good News of God reaching out to a fallen world, as sole chance to save it, was entrusted to a revolutionary, a Roman collaborator, a couple of prostitutes, some fishermen, and a murdering lawyer. Now, let this sink in: the reigns have been passed on to us. What will you do with those reigns?
March 1, 2005In act II of Shakespeare's The Tempest, we find the brilliant line "What's past is prologue"--a line which adorns a plaque outside of the National Archives in our nations capital, and how very true. The past is immensely valuable in that it is meant to be built upon. It gives us a sense of foundation. However the past is never meant to be lived in. A remembrance of the past should always point us forward. How easy that is to forget, when the wounds of the past parade through our minds. There is a very interesting juxtaposition in scripture. It is at the end of Paul's beautiful treatise on Love in 1st Corinthians 13. After extolling the virtues of love, Paul writes:
1st Corinthians 13:11-12
When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.
Now what does that have to do with love? Simply this: the word Paul uses to state "I did away with" means literally "Rendered inoperative, inactive, to free from that which has been keeping one bound". In other words, Paul is saying that he has chosen to put behind, to be freed from, to render inoperative that from his childhood which has kept him bound. He is choosing to look forward, abandoning past injury, because that is what love does. What from your past has kept you bound? Release it. The past is simply prologue. Live life forward.