Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Absolutely Nothing to Bring

What can a poor beggar contribute to the banquet of the King? A few crumbs, some stolen bread, a patched up jacket? Nothing worth anything in the eyes of royalty. Nothing of any eternal value to offer, just filty rags at best. Yet his place is set and the invitation given. Anything good will have to be supplied by the King Himself.

Too proud to accept only hand-outs, the beggar gathers items seeming good in his eyes. "I'll come", he assures, "yet you must accept tokens of my righteousness. Other bums ignore, but I will accept your call." The beggar arrives at the gate with bags of goods to present the King. "These should validate my invitation", the beggar sings, as he rings the bell of the King of Kings.

The door opens wide as the Master welcomes the lowly one. But with one glimpse of the Holy One and the splendor of his wealth, the beggar drops to his knees in shame. "What are these that you have brought?" says the King. "These cannot come inside. All you need must be supplied."

There is none that doeth good, no, not one, he says. But I have called you, redeemed you and given you life. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. All that the Father has have I given you. You were dead in trespasses and sin, but now you are alive because of the cross of Christ.

Anything "good" we see is not of ourselves, but the gift of God. He gives his righteousness while we have none. What about all the good things we've done? If they are good, then we have received them from the hand of God Himself. We can do nothing or bring anything good of ourselves. Anything good has had to be supplied!

This brings new meaning to Thanksgiving. We have nothing to be grateful for which we have done! All that we have has been supplied!

"To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect." John Owens

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Ephesians 1:3

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Prize Inside

It's the 50's, and my brother and I were off to the news stand to buy some packs of baseball cards! We always hoped to find a superstar to add to our enormous collection of gum-scented players. One day I hit the jackpot! Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were there in the same pack! Hard to believe, but true. What a find! Life was very good that day! But eventually and sadly the Mickey and Yogi cards were, like the gum, tossed out, and so there went what would have become a fortune in collectibles! In time, all of the cards, the gum and even the players were seen as perishable as well as the joy attached to them.

Yet there is a prize with an eternal shelf life and whose joy never fades. Shelf is the wrong word, for nothing of eternal value belongs on any shelf. Biblical examples abound that illustrate contained treasure: the man who bought property knowing that treasure lay buried somewhere on the premises; the woman who thoroughly cleaned the house to recover a valuable lost coin; the value of leaven as it raises the bread; the buried corn of wheat bringing forth a harvest; or the tiny mustard seed yielding a thousand fold.

More valuable than crops, money and abundance is the prized treasure God gives. And it is contained within believers. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (II Cor. 4:6,7)

The valued treasure is the implanted nature of God, purchased and secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are decaying vessels containing invaluable treasure, the very nature and mind of Christ empowering the believer and awakening him to the work of God. What a discovery awaits us! We go about our days not as card-holding Christians who show up at meetings, but as those experiencing the ongoing work of our sovereign God, His daily conforming us to Christ. All events of our day are designed to bring to the surface that treasure within, the very person of Jesus Christ himself.

What a find! What a friend, and what a gift!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Faith, the Crown Jewel

"Don't forget to remember" goes the lyrics of some country song. Jesus reminded Peter that although Satan desired to sift him as wheat, he had prayed that his faith would not fail.

Sifting comes in its many forms, some subtle and almost unnoticed, while other enormous pressures and distractions barge in and would seem to overwhelm us. Evidently the most important thing about those storms is not the storm, but faith. The Lord himself prayed on our behalf not that we could side-step the storms, but that the centerpiece of our new nature, our faith, would not be forgotten, but stand strong in the face of adversities.

Our faith is not exactly ours however. It is a gift produced by God's grace. "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." His grace awakened us from our deadened state of trespasses and sins, and produced within us our desire for Christ.

It was the quickening of his Spirit that then jolted us out of darkness into his marvelous light. The prayer of faith was the result of God's working in us. So faith is that crown jewel planted within us by God himself, the trying of which becomes more precious than gold. Peter warns us not to be upset at firey trials, but to expect them. God gives faith, allows it to be tested, often by fire, and then strengthens it! Faith sees the Saviour inspite of the storm, and even instead of the storm!

Imagine, our very Creator looking directly into our eyes and earnestly encouraging us by name. "I have prayed for you that your faith fail not." Faith isn't just for ourselves, for next he says, "when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."

That still small voice in the midst of the storm reminds us: Don't forget to remember your faith.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

When the flowers fade

Scrambling to collect the treasures of manna on the ground, the children competed to gather all they could before running back for more. God's daily early morning shower of food was fresh, plentiful and timely. All that was needed was freely provided. The only curse was in ignoring the warning: the shelf life was only 24 hours, and there was to be no gathering on the seventh day.

No problem, they said. Life is good. Let us rejoice and be glad at our generous supply! Eat, drink and be merry. Thirsty travelers then rushed to the cool waters released for them from the rock. Gluttonous complainers almost stampeded to devour quail which deluged the dry land like a flood. Then with the food still in their teeth, God's stinging rebuke reminds us of our pitiful selfish focus. We likewise demand fullfulment of our every need, and we have seldom seriously remembered the One who daily provides for us.

We are blown away by the beauty of awesome natural surroundings. We are dazzled by things rather than by God himself. In the midst of our own pursuits, we forget the One who got us there. We worship the victory, the achievement, the great moments, the prize, all the while refusing to turn our gaze upon the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The breath-taking flowers of the Israeli desert remind us of the glory of Solomon's reign. But the flowers like the grass will shortly fade away as will all the temporary glories of this world.

Where is genuine gratefulness, or the humble thank you to the God of Heaven? Our table grace is no more than lip-service, merely going through the motions to the One who knows even our innermost thoughts!

When the flowers fade, we are reminded of the temporary. Glory is short-lived. Our attachment to the flowers therefore also becomes our reproof. Our treasure is not in flowers, and when they fade, we should not be surprised. If we lament their fading, we have forgotten something. Our attention and affection is in Heaven. We honor Him, provisions or no provisions.

"For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land . . . . When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. . . Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God . . . then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God. . . and thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth . . . for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth." (Deuteronomy 8)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Claiming our reality

Lottery winners were just announced. I'm told that I am a winner. No way! Too good to be true. Can't actually be me. I might call to verify that they chose my number, but surely there must be some mix-up. It's all a gimmick anyway. Why bother to pursue it. My life probably won't change.

How absurd a response! Why not claim the prize? It might be a bit strange to compare the fortunes of the lottery with the implanted work of God in a believer. The thought is that just as a winning ticket may go unclaimed, so too the eternal gifts of God to his children often go unnoticed or unappreciated and unused. How tragic that the value of His work ignored is far worse than a fortune unclaimed.

We should be startled (and jump-started) by the promises in Scripture that we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing that we need! Maturity is promised, being thoroughly equipped by our Creator for every good work, every opportunity, in season and out. Starting with the faith that He gives, we see Him adding layers of virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. Hard to believe, but joy is a part of the package as well, a peaceful contentment even in the face of adversity.

And the promise, the lottery prize: if these qualities are in us and abound, they guarantee that we shall never fall! Likewise His control of our thinking produces controlled speech which promises total control of the whole body. We also have the confidence that nothing we encounter has not first been allowed by Christ and has therefore been given purpose. It is all prescribed for our good, and He has thoroughly equipped us for all occasions. We are soldiers armed with hi-tech gear that makes us more than conquerors. We are programmed for success and whatsoever we do shall prosper!

It is vital to recognize that our equipment is designed to be used, not talked about. Trials are not designed to defeat us, but to show us the strength we have been given. Adversity provides opportunity for the exercising of our gifts. In fact, the more armed we are, the more it is that pressures can prove our mettle. Our weaknesses are the starting point for His strength. The problem is that when confronted with adversity, we faint, give up and fail to utilize our heavenly technology, the invincible spirit-filled new nature!

We ourselves are not strong. We are easily defeated without the gifts and armor of Christ. There is therefore no room for pride in our position, only confidence in His provision. Our winning fortunes are given by Christ. He has called us to believe Him and trust his empowerment in our daily living. Daily doses of the Word connect our thinking to this reality. Without the Word we forget who we are and become blinded to the purposes of our struggles.

Humbling it is to remember that the generous benefits God offers are not free. They were purchased by Him at great cost, the death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Now they can be freely offered to all takers who will believe.

Have you claimed your winning lottery ticket, and are you using its benefits?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Doing more than monkey business

Remember the three monkeys? Monkey #1 defiantly refused to see anything. Monkey #2 is determined not to listen to anything. And #3 will say nothing, not even a comment, yea or nay. Each has noble motives, or so it appears, purposing no contact with any evil whatsoever! Inspite of their stubborness, you have to admire their intentions. If only more of us monkeys would be as resolved, we would avoid foot-in-mouth embarrassments as well as many other contaminations! These three teach us among other things, that good intentions alone are not enough.

Consider another set of three types of people mentioned in Scripture. Two exhibit admirable qualities although severely handicapped, and the third is our example to follow. Whereas the monkeys were in denial, these three seem to be just the opposite, eager to see, hear, and receive instruction!

The first is the hearer. He is present every time instructions are given. He is all ears, he nods with approval and says "amen to that!" Unfortunately that is as far as he goes, ready to hear, but slow to move, and missing in action. Initially he is on fire, but nowhere to be found at the end of the day. By failing to act upon that which he hears, he deceives others as well as himself. Something is wrong with this picture. He is not as committed as he appears.

The second is very wise, or so it seems. This is the knower, the "wise" man. He assures all that he's been there and done that, offering advice and counsel for all situations. Given all his wisdom however, his track record is strangely disappointing, for he is content only with compiling information for show, and not with being an example. Worse is the fact that without first-hand experience, his counsel can be unreliable. The danger looming for him is that his life is in conflict with his knowledge. Something troubling is also very wrong in this picture. He knows the truth but chooses to live otherwise. Eventually his life style will override his knowledge, and his beliefs will soon conform to the way he lives. This person cannot be trusted and is already in motion on a slippery slope.

Although both the hearer and the knower are flawed, they should not be thrown out with the bath water. The challenge is to show them the danger they are in, and then to motivate them to experience the truth to which they have been exposed.

Our example is the doer. He hears and understands, but he also is able to apply what has been learned. He speaks from experience and the consistency of his life is his most impressive credential. Of what value is the intent listener, or the man with knowledge, if few if any are ultimately benefitted by their lives? Doers succeed, improve the lives of others, and make excellent leaders. Surely the tongue must be bridled, the eye guarded, and the life kept unspotted from the world, but he that does the will of God abides forever.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The direction of ordinary days

There seem to be very few special days in life. It is easy to think they are all ordinary, even sub-ordinary. We view most days as normal, uneventful or boring in the grand scheme. The few days that distinguish themselves as special are going to happen: Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, birthdays, beginning a new year of classes, a new school, graduation, marriage, babies, etc. The special days however don't happen without the preparation and experience of everyday routines. The key is learning to accept each day, each activity, even each person encountered, as planned and organized by God himself. Each growing season will eventually yield its desired fruit.

For the Christian, reality is that no day should be boring, uneventful or without purpose. Unfortunately, we have often failed to experience this reality. The new nature given at salvation is a forever possession. It is given by God, grown by God, and perfected by Him. Nothing is ordinary about what He implants into believers. The difficulty comes in our learning to recognize His nurturing of that new nature. We need a response of faith that He is active in our day, rather than our usual negative response to only what we see. Regular exposure to His Word will remove the blinders and stimulate growth.

The very thought that another bad day is happening is the proof of God's purpose for us! His strength is perfected in us on our weak days! Every ordinary day is full of opportunities for His greatness to be evidenced. But having forgotten that we were purged from our old sins, we blindly plow through our days unaware of what He is doing for us. All that He has prepared is good. If only we would remember that good qualities are usually grown and strengthened by pressure. Unfortunately there seem to be no shortcuts. So pressure it is, and by His pressure we will grow.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Our forgotten value

If we only really understood our true value! Because we often have a wrong perspective of ourselves, we also see others in the same negative light. The key is how God sees us? How should we then see ourselves, and how should that affect our treatment of others?

We easily underestimate our worth as individuals and try to compensate for our deficiencies by pouring ourselves into our work, hoping to find approval and acceptance. We fear that people will appreciate us only if we excel. Our value becomes connected only to externals, those visible deeds expected of us and for which we become known. Self-esteem rises or falls based on our own perception of our performance or by how we imagine others are viewing us. In short, we are self-focused and wholly dependent upon ourselves for stability. This is a recipe for pride, inferiority and endless disappointments.

An inaccurate look at who we are as individuals produces in us a critical spirit towards others. Focusing on their flaws and problems, we can conclude that everyone else sees us with the same disapproval. This judgmental attitude drains energy, and we find ourselves with little patience for others, especially those with the greatest needs. We learn to expect as inevitable life as it has always been, looking at events and people through the prism of past failures. Eventually we conclude that God must certainly think of us in the same way. Hating ourselves and distrusting everyone, we are most miserable.

How amazing that God does not think or act like us! Our Maker has a different view of his children. We are not judged by the work we do. We are loved for who we are, or rather who He has made us to become. "You are fearfully and wonderfully made. . . I have loved you with an everlasting love. . . Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more. . . Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!"

Our acceptance is not based on our performance but on the righteousness given by Jesus Christ. We are of great value to God, so much so that we were purchased with the blood of His own Son. Let us not be be discontent with the Master's working on us. His love for us will then be reflected in our understanding of and compassion for those around us. When MY WORLD and BLURRY WORLD overtakes us with frustrations, let us remember that we are part of HIS WORLD and that we are still of GREAT VALUE.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Your greatest impact

What an amazing recovery! A total transformation had been accomplished! A completely new man had just emerged from years of homelessness, violence, bondage and virtual insanity! Living under torment of the devil in graveyards and often driven into the wilderness, this captive was frequently bound with chains and fetters, and possessed with many demons. Sound familiar? His situation couldn't have been any worse! (Our problems are no match for this man's troubles!) His whole life changed however, when Jesus confronted him, and he found himself sitting in Jesus' presence, clothed and in his right mind.

The first thought is very encouraging. The solution to even the most defiant problems in this world is found in the person of Jesus Christ. In what may have been only a few minutes, that maniac found peace and purpose in his life. The answer is simply a Person, not a philosophy, or a system of gradual improvement. That man of Gadara certainly could not help himself, and so our need can similarly only be met by Christ himself.

Second is the reality of our greatest effectiveness, our central purpose. I notice more than the new purpose is the location of that purpose. This man wanted to continue to stay in Jesus' presence, a natural desire seeing all that had just happened to him. But he was told, "return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee." Wouldn't he have preferred to see thousands fed, multitudes healed, and witness first hand the converting of hundreds of his fellow countrymen in great need? But the Lord knew that he would be more effective going home. Indeed, it says that "he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him."

As easy as it is to envy another setting, a different set of circumstances, a completely new set of people, we are told that as with the candle, we are to let the light shine to all that are in the house. Those in our family who know us best will recognize the genuineness of a life transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is usually there that the greatest challenges can be found. Genuine Christianity is first evidenced by Christ's wonderful work done within our own family! We have been placed exactly where all circumstances are right for our growth and our most effective impact. (Luke chapter 8 and Matthew chapter 5)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How could we have been so blind?

My son-in-law playfully warns his young boys, "there's danger, danger all around!" My grandchildren alertly respond to their dad and continue playing, but with a renewed awareness of dad's presence and protection. Dad provides security and carefully safe-guards his own with a gentle but strong arm. The boys are learning obedience out of great love and respect, and learning it impressively. It will serve them well all of their days.

Life is simple for them now, or so it seems from an adult perspective. At some point however, sooner and later, there will be storms, high waters, heated situations, fearful times, even seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The boys would argue that they are there now! But just wait, and they will only intensify.

Many years pass, each not without their necessary storms. Yet they have all been weathered, and somehow they passed. Walks through turbulance, trips across unknown territories, and trials by fire have come and gone. (A colleague of mine jokingly says, "there, there, that wasn't so good!") Hard as it gets, we survive.

True, but is there something or someone we have missed along the way? Someone we fail to respond to? A Dad who watches us very attentively, and who lovingly protects us? Someone whose voice we choose to ignore? Someone who could spare us enormous stress and anxiety? But for some unknown reason we would not see Him or be comforted by Him? Our loss.

"Thus saith the Lord that created thee, and formed thee, Fear not: for I have called thee by name: thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee: and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee. Fear not: for I am with thee. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters." This is from Isaiah chapter 43.

The waters and the fires are prescribed and to be expected, but not to be endured alone. Our Maker, Protector, and Guide calls to us, "danger, danger all around", but "fear not, I will be with thee."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Previously unnoticed

Hundreds, maybe thousands of commutes, travels and urgent errands fill the days. Weeks become a pile of years in little time. All the while the view at 65 mile speeds is very limited, making details virtually impossible to discover, or at least easy to ignore. The disabling snowstorm or the traffic-stopping accident however, immediately alters our perspective and forces us to observe life in slower motion. The newness of the slow-moving scenery now makes us wonder if this is actually the same familiar route we have traveled day after day!

Is fast always better than slow? Does too busy have to crowd out everything else? Just because household activities are not visible at high speeds, doesn't mean that they don't exist, or that they are irrelevant. I wonder if in fact, the more important events are taking place just off the thruway, obscured from the view of driven drivers.

Life starts in slow motion, and it appears to end in slow motion. How tragic that it is usually only at these extremes that the beauty of life and its importance are seen and appreciated.

I marvel at the connection that takes place between a grandfather and his grandchild. What do they possibly have in common? Perhaps one answer is their pace. Their speeds and needs, for a small moment in time, are designed to intersect. One slows, while the other grows. For a time they walk in the same lane at the same speed and value the same scenery. But soon their paths will take a new direction. One will pull off at the exit, while the other eagerly joins the highway of life at 65 miles per every hour.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What did you expect?

"And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all." (Luke 6:19)

One of my colleagues replied to the praise of an enthusiastic student after the concert, "Well, what did you expect?" The audience comes to be entertained. They pay for greatness and have come to expect it.

The crowd goes to a sporting event hoping to watch a dramatic win. Hopefully they leave satisfied. The sick patient enters the ER desiring to be treated immediately. In every area of life we have come to expect certain things, behavior, services. What is expected of a Christian? And how are we recognized?

Have Christians become known for being too critical, intolerant, narrow-minded, and countless other negatives? Or are believers identified by their love? Jesus was known on that day by the virtue that went out of his very being. Multitudes sought to touch him. All were affected by his presence. Granted many had selfish motives for seeking him, but he healed them all.

This is not to suggest that we ought to embrace anything and everything in the name of love. The focus is on that which emanates from Christ. Virtue comes from him, life, wisdom, kindness, compassion, and strength. He did not try to be all of these. He is all of these. They are traits which characterize him.

Since Christ resides in the believer, his nature is in us and has the capability of expressing itself quite visibly to others. We can wear the negatives of our own self-absorption, or we can demonstrate the virtue of Christ that we have been given. When others see us, do they see negatives, our trying to be good, or do they witness the powerful virtue of Christ himself?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Amazing Escape

The evacuation was a success! Mission completed! You have now entered the life zone, and you are about to embark on a brand new adventure. The scenery may look the same, but the rules have changed. You no longer are connected to the old support system. A new life line far superior has replaced your old responses. You are now free to access the new system. You are no longer living in the domain of darkness. Welcome to the Kingdom of God!

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." Col.1:13

Fact: Your wiring for self-serving disobedience has been disconnected, and a new computerized response system has been installed during your flight. The old behavior patterns may signal you that it is still intact, but those responses are only "ghost" nerve endings that have been permanently severed. Your memory will remind you of what once was, but there is no more power there to control you. Heavenly technology has been implanted within your chest and new celestial mechanics are securely in place. Your new system works perfectly! In short, the old is gone, destroyed, rendered forever ineffective. Your new behavior is now driven by a highly sophisticated system which is empowered from beyond this known world. You should like the results.

Usage: You need to know how this new behavioral system operates. It is not driven by your five senses. It is fully dependent upon your being convinced that it indeed controls you, which it does. Your senses may tell you that it doesn't work, and your mind will try to explain away its reality. But it has the power to alter your thinking, your desires, your speech and your whole course of life!

It will thrive as it is routinely accessed by your belief in its effectiveness. Your manual is the Word of God which will create favorable conditions for your belief (or faith) to grow. Your faith will grow not by faith in the new system, but by faith in the One who gave you the system. Neglect the user's manual, and you will find this new technology strangely inefficient. Devour the manual, and you will know well its very Author!

This new life has been provided for you at enormous cost. Do not take it lightly. Become quite familiar with it. You may use it as much as you wish, for it will never fail you or need repair. You will even find that it will thoroughly acquaint you with its Maker and the One who purchased it for you!

Can you go back to the old system? You can pretend, but why would you want to?! You have been successfully delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Do not pass GO . . . Do not collect $200

The road is never smooth for long. It has its bumps, straight-aways, turns, climbs and downhills, but it always keeps going somehow. There are tedious treks, many short hauls, and even occasional smooth sailing, but the road continues for hundreds of miles, and the journey for all its obstacles is all still good.

Mile after mile the pavement stretches out meeting the horizon. Gas is cheap, the radio is loud, the car will drive forever, and we are all bullet-proof. But at some point up ahead the road is suddenly closed, apparently without warning with not even a detour in sight. The bridge is out until further notice and the journey comes to a hault.

In retrospect it was a good ride, driving full speed ahead with plenty of great times and rewards. Perspective changes quickly however. All of yesterday's storms, traffic and rough travel so sadly and effectively clouded a clear view at the time. Why is the pavement far behind and miles ahead always more attractive? A mirage of deception. The trip of the present causes whining and stress, while the look forwards and back is always seen through carefree glasses.

Somehow GO was always passed by, even if it said not to. $200 was always collected, it was automatic! It was owed us! We always got out of jail free, and eventually even landed on FREE PARKING. But fat city doesn't last forever and the game eventually ends.

One can take heart nonetheless that there was a warning before the road ended! Barriers and signs were there to prevent dissaster, dangers that we did not or would not foresee. Directions must be changed for the benefit of the drivers. A better way must often confront us without our appoval. Left to ourselves we would choose poorly more often than not. He who watches and guides our path always directs wisely. Another road, another destination, another kind of trip. Maybe this time the splendor of the journey will not be missed, and the precious few days of the rerouting might be enjoyed.

The trees or the forest?

Back in my tennis obsessive-compulsive days I tended to avoid back hand shots, preferring to smash as best as I could only with my mighty forehand strokes. My forte was the devastating forehand, while my backhands turned out to be slices and finesse deals at best. The slowness of those shots usually marked the end of the rally, giving my opponent plenty of time to rush the net and clobber his return mercilessly.

After observing some Wimbleton matches, I saw the powerful no-fear attitude, even in the backhands. In fact the players seemed to welcome them. Back on the court myself, I noticed an immediate improvement in my confidence having a fresh memory of my tennis heroes' approach to every shot. Hesitating and doubt spelled a weak question mark, whereas a well-rehearsed bold and aggressive stroke more often than not ended with an exclamation mark.

Attention to the details of technique is vital, but it should be secondary to the goal of winning and winning with style in the process. Worrying about the backhand should be followed with smart backhand practice. But when the game begins, all fear and hesitancy should be gone. What carries one through the rigors of set and match is that relentless pursuit of excellence, not obsessing on details of technique, at least not by that point. Style and drive, like a dog with a bone, usually win more points than boring perfection. Winners keep the forest in focus inspite of the trees.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tombs are for the dead

Zak, our youngest son, comes up more and more these days with profound observations which he interjects at just the right moment. It is as if he were waiting for the perfect opportunity to insert truth when it is most needed. I am learning to consult him for problems and questions. How he will be missed next year when college calls!

Following a great message from his brother Tim yesterday on Lazarus being raised by Jesus, Zak casually commented to me today that "the old nature has been crucified. It is not just alive and sitting there waiting to be summoned. It is dead." It was put to death at the cross. It no longer dominates. All of it that remains are only tendencies and deceptions which try to make us believe that the dead still live.

Romans chapter six spells this out. How familiar the text, but how slow I am to grasp it! Residual effects of the old nature are like the grave clothes of Lazarus which are to be torn away and discarded. They no longer serve any purpose. Grave clothes are not me anymore! We are alive with Christ. Why continue hanging around the tombs of sin any more? Why even visit? Why think about that from which we have been delivered? Paul said, God forbid, or why would we even want to?

I like a fresh, simple declaration of what is absolutely true. The old nature has been crucified and replaced with His divine nature, permanently. Thanks, Zak, for the reminder! We needed that!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thought filter for today

Reading assignment is Philippians chapter 4. What good is there in it?

Bulls eye: (v.7) the peace of God provides a safe-keeping for our hearts and minds. (I need help for inner stability and a mind that can keep a focus on what's important, as well as the ability to filter out thoughts that are counterproductive and even destructive.)

Thought filter: (v.8) The thought filter enables us to hit the bulls eye. The new nature wants to think on things listed here. The old nature resists this list and insists on doing the opposite! Since Christ's new nature has defeated the power of sin and all its thought patterns, it leaves the obvious result that this list is entirely do-able! I cannot decide to just think these things, but He does, and therefore, so I can. I suppose that it is like a skill that needs to be practiced. But if He wants it for us and has told us to do it, then it must be possible! Here they are:

Choose to concentrate on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, things of virtue, things that are praise-worthy. A quick inventory today showed me how skilled I am at doing the very opposite of each of these! Grateful for the Good News. . . .

These 8 "tools" provide the protective grid for our conversations and thoughts, and also guard our hearts so that we can successfully bring under control all of our responses. This is impossible unless He controls the heart and the tongue. Thankfully, that is exactly what He and only He can do, and He has invited us to see Him do this filtering in us. And He is able to show us that it works. I hate to say bring it on, but our peace and security depend on this filter. So, the negative attacks so that the filter of the positive can deflect it. We shall see how this works!

Perspective for today's activities!

Off to work as usual, headed for stresses, people, challenges, complainers (usually me), pressures, obstacles to peace and sense of fulfillment, unpleasant surprises, etc. etc. What an attitude! What have I come to expect from life? And what good do I expect if this is what I have come to anticipate each day! Wrong.

The pressures are quite real in all their forms, but a change in my perspective is beginning to show me a different attitude towards them. There is a purpose attached to each of these "unpleasantries". These difficulties can become the good works we were created for in Ephesians 2:10 because they are designed to show me the powerful work of Christ in me. The works are not thank you notes or cookies and flowers, but the ability to respond to the trials knowing that they were planned for my benefit and for the reflecting of Christ to others. The many good works He has planned are just beginning once we can appreciate purpose in trials.

Nothing can reach me unless the Lord says "yes, send it to him now, it is what he needs. It will cause him to turn to me and recognize the strength I have given him for just the time as this. He needs to see this and so do those around him. And he needs to see the person of Christ in his daily pressures."

Learning to welcome the stresses of life as expressly sent to be beautifully met by the strength of God within me is the discovery of these days! They are not intruders to be avoided at all cost. They are agents to show me the sufficiency of Christ. Christ in me, the hope of glory. The reality of the present world is met by the even more powerful reality of Christ in me, his mind, his wisdom, his skill, his kindness, his patience, his love, etc. Nothing the job can throw at us can separate us from Him, his plan, his conforming, his love.

Today was full of opportunities for me to lay aside my life-long reflexs of anger, frustration, discouragment, fear, etc. and begin to see the Lord's strong and loving hand walking me through each moment. His grace is way more potent than we think, and at the end of the day always accomplishes his ultimate plan of conforming and transforming us to the likeness of his Son.

This good news however has been slow to sink in. Too many years of neglect, blindness and hardness. But the word of God is powerful and effective in penetrating even the most stubborn of hearts such as mine. A change in my response to very irritating people, obstacle courses, etc. have been the amazing proof that He is real and that his busy work in us is full-speed-ahead as long as life shall last.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Discovering how to discover

"Where sin abounds, there does grace much more abound."

Facts: grace trumps sin, light overcomes darkness, christians' sins were crucified with Christ, we have been raised in the likeness of his resurrection, we are dead to sin and alive to Christ, sin shall not have dominion over us, etc. So then there remains the realizing of these truths in daily experience. The evidence of the impotence of sin and the reality of the new agenda, the new purpose, the new life, the new pursuit are there for the taking. Faith declares this so, but sight needs to be convinced. Or does it?

Faith believes without having to see, or else faith would not be necessary. Perhaps seeing is required only of the weak. (They required of Jesus a sign, one more proof, yet another miracle.) Faith comprehends what is stated by God to be true without need of evidence. Sin has been conquered. The old nature put to death. All that remains of sin is our memory bank, deception that it is still powerful, and the lure of the flesh from which we have been delivered.

The pull of sin is real, yet the control of it has been broken. The lies of its enslaving power are still well advertized. But the truth is that it is of no effect any more. It has been replaced by the indwelling new nature which far surpasses it.

All right then, the edifice of sin is encountered. It looks formidable, yet we are reminded that it is but an illusion, smoke and mirrors, a lie. Are we then to proceed in denial? Are we schizophrenic, constantly seeing sin but trying to live in the spiritual realm? Not really. God forbid. Where sin appears invincible, grace far exceeds it. The grasping of the truth of this new power source enables the enslaving by the sin nature to be history. Sin is a flimsy bunt, while grace hits it out of the ballpark every time! Sin is a flickering flash light, grace a lightening storm of God's power!

Discovering this truth as the countless scenarios of life play out day by day, hour by hour, is the question, or the issue, or the bottom line. The discovery of how to access the truth when confronted by the 3-D awesomeness of the sin monster, becomes the challenge of the day. This perhaps is the threshhold of entering into real Christian living. This is not for the feeble or half-hearted. But alas, that is me. I am not super-christian. I'll never achieve the ability, the skill, the maturity.

Well, then who is able to stand and pass the test? Who is sufficient for these things? The race is not for the swift or the strongest, but victory was purchased for us by The Lord Jesus Christ. It is in our weakness that his strength is made perfect. If I were smart enough or skilled enough or mature enough, then I would not need a Savior. So the accessing of the grace line to victory must certainly be there and ripe for the picking! I have a few ideas on the connecting of these dots, but will continue another time. Thoughts anyone?