Archive for the ‘Metaphorically Speaking…’ Category

the_secret_place5Forty-sixth in the series Get Close to God

Back when I worked on multifunctional office machines, I learned the value of preventive maintenance.  Those workhorses could copy, print, scan, and fax all day long, week after week.  But if they were not allowed to go off-line long enough for a good cleaning, calibration, and replacement of worn out parts, pretty soon their performance would suffer and they eventually broke down before their time.

We are also multifunctional in our roles as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and employees, aren’t we?  We are constantly pushed and pulled in many directions and after a while we begin to wear down.  Some of us are driven by the almighty dollar and some of us try to please everyone but up end not pleasing anyone well. Doing our best is admirable, but if we don’t take scheduled maintenance breaks to let our heavenly Technician clean, adjust our focus and energize us, we will break down before our time.

Serving God and trying to live right is very important, but how many of us prepare properly before we go out?  How many of us just wing it without first putting on the armor of God?  But how can we take up the shield of faith or swing the sword of the Word if we’re not prayed up or filled up with scripture?  Reading your Bible and praying may seem like a counterproductive use of your time at first.  But if you stick with it, you’ll soon acquire a taste for your “daily bread” and your soul will begin to crave for spiritual food.

He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

I think one of the reasons it’s called the secret place is because so many of us never find it.  Our restlessness keeps us so busy we don’t slow down enough to become restful.  We need to go off-line and get alone with God, rest for awhile and quit trying to figure everything out on our own.  We don’t have to pray long, elaborate prayers.  Sometimes I don’t know how to pray or even have the energy.  That’s when I just sit down with my hands open and relax in his presence. I usually don’t hear or sense anything from the Lord, but that’s OK.  He knows I’m surrendering some time to be with him and I usually come away refreshed and confident to tackle whatever the day will bring because I know he’ll be with me.

We’ve got to dwell in the secret place before we enter the public place.

My quest to know Christ on a personal level is accomplishing at least two things for me.  First, it lifts me out of dependence on apologetics to try and convince me of the reality of God.  The closer I get to him, the more affirmations I receive of his existence, which removes my doubts.  Second, I have found no greater satisfaction in life than seeing God do something through me that I could not do on my own.  My pride wants to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but the only way to real and lasting change is walking with the Spirit.  It is not simply letting go and letting God.  It is shifting my focus and energy from trying to do it all by myself, to seeking God with all my heart before and while I work.  I have found this to be more of a challenge, actually, than just staying busy “doing things for Him.”  Yes, I have to fight my urge to go it alone, but his joy is stronger than pride, trust is stronger than fear, and peace is the glorious result.  This is heaven on earth, a preview of the eternal bliss that awaits us.  Don’t leave home without Him!


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Forty-first in the series Get close to God

My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.  Psalm 63:8

I like to watch my cats, Raya and Sunny, climb trees.  Sometimes they run up trying to get away from something but I also think they do it just because they can, because it’s fun.

It’s amazing how their limber bodies and claws enable them to scale and cling to the limbs so high off the ground.  It makes me nervous when they venture out on skinny branches which give and sway under their weight.  They almost lose their balance as they precariously turn around and walk the tight rope back to the safety of the trunk.

This makes me think of how much farther I can get in my life when I cling to my Creator instead of venturing out on my own.  When I’m afraid, I can climb up into the safety of my Heavenly Father’s lap and find refuge under His wings, high above the problems I left below.  But it’s also fun to see where He takes me when I give Him my hand and He pulls me up to see and experience things I would never have known had I stayed down in my own little world.  It’s amazing how our perspective is lifted when we keep looking up!

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  (Psalm 61:2)

 

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 Thirty-eighth in the series Get close to God

In my younger years I went canoeing quite often, usually on the Fox River in Northern Illinois where I grew up.  These pictures are from one of those trips from the early seventies, the one on the right highlighting my sister, Karen, and my dad.  The Fox usually had just enough current flowing to make it an easy ride downstream.  If you wanted to go upstream you had to work at it, but progress could be made if you stuck with it.

Our faith is like that.  It is not static, it’s dynamic, and is directly proportional to our thoughts, actions, and environment.  If we neglect our faith, our environment will take over and we’ll float downstream, blending in with the world.  If we want to make a difference, however, we need to paddle!

Our faith must be nurtured, just like any living thing, and will thrive or die depending on the care it receives.  Our relationship with Christ is only as close as our efforts to stay connected with him.

We should always be asking ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now glorifying God or dishonoring him?”  The answer sometimes may be “Neither.”  Maybe I’m just ignoring him which is also a bad choice.  I may not be doing it intentionally, but it’s very easy to get so wrapped up in my thoughts and pursuits that I completely crowd out God.  Many of my thoughts and pursuits are perfectly fine to think and do; I just need to learn how to take the Lord along for the ride and to include him in everything I do.  He’s already with me, so it’s about time I acknowledge that!

We  spend a lot of  time taking care of our bodies and outward appearance with proper nutrition, grooming, and what we wear, but God is more concerned with the condition of the inner man, and that’s the one we’re taking to eternity with us.  If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, like I do, then we need to make it a part of our daily diet and commit as much of it as possible to memory.  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matthew 4:4)  This is food for the soul!

If you want to be good at anything, it takes:

desire, determination, and discipline.

How desperate are you for God?  How badly do you want to know him, to please him?  How passionate is your worship for him? Our walk with Christ is just that-a walk.  We reap what we sow.  I’m not talking about legalism here.  I think those of us in the “grace” camp are so afraid of  “earning our salvation” that we’ve become lazy and not willing to give up much of our time, talent, or treasure.  I don’t work so God will love me, I work because he loves me.  I know I can’t live the Christian life on my own without his help, but that doesn’t mean I should do just enough or give just enough to get by.  When I work with my heavenly Father I grow closer to him, which returns more joy and satisfaction, even while immersed in difficulties and sadness.  In fact, its more often in the hard times that I see him work most for me and for others.  As the hymn says,

“The things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
(Turn your eyes upon Jesus
, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922)

My sister, Deborah, is enjoying the ride in the photo above!

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Thirty-fourth in the series Get close to God

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way; though he stumble, he will not fall, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.  (Psalm 37:24)

 

Ever notice how trusting small children are? You can swing and throw them (carefully!) up in the air, and when they fall back into your arms, what do they say? “AGAIN-HIGHER!”  They don’t doubt your ability or resolve to catch them.  OK, go ahead and laugh at my short shorts.  Just remember, it was the 80’s! 

 

Who do our kids run to when they are hurt or afraid of something?  To the ones who have always been there for them-their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older siblings and friends.  That is where they find safety, protection, and comfort.  They know they can trust us and that calms their fears.  How was your first ride in a sky rail?  Stephanie wasn’t too thrilled.  Ah, the good old days at Opryland!  Sharon didn’t want me to use this picture.  Maybe it was her glasses.  🙂

 

Time goes by, we grow up, get betrayed and let down, and each abuse erodes a little more of our ability to rely on anyone or anything.  For many, hope gets lost, fear takes over, and depression sets in.  The writer of Lamentations was an eye-witness to the fall of Jerusalem:  “My spirit is greatly troubled; my heart is overturned within me…my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness…my strength has perished.”  Recently, however, my friend Roger pointed out to me that some of the most encouraging and cherished promises in the Bible were just a few verses later in the same chapter: 

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  (3:21-23)

Yes, people have dropped us and disappointed us, but the Lord NEVER ceases to show his love to us because his compassion NEVER fails and his faithfulness is GREAT!  Think of one person right now you know you can always count on.  Now multiply that loyalty a hundred times and you still won’t come close to your Heavenly Father’s track record.  That’s because he loves you more than anyone else, and has the ability to care for you like nobody else can.  When he says he will be with you and not fail you or forsake you (like he does many times in the Bible) you can take that to the bank!

So then, why do so many of us Christians still worry and lose sleep over stuff even after praying?  Perhaps it’s because we have a false image of a busy and powerful boss in heaven that doesn’t want to be bothered and puts our requests at the bottom of more important matters.  We just can’t grasp the reality of unlimited omnipresence and omnipotence combined with a love that’s as wide and long and high and deep as the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18.)  We need to understand answering our prayers is not an option for God.  He already promised to do so and he never goes back on his promises.  He may not always do it the way I want him to, but I’m slowly learning he knows best.  I feel I have an edge, so to speak, that not everyone has, to personally know such a powerful and important person!  I need to approach prayer with more respect and responsibility.   An amazing potential is waiting to be unleashed; Almighty God is actually waiting and holding it back, granting us the privilege of interceding for others.  I believe the very instant a petition is transferred from our thoughts or lips, heavenly forces are set in motion to change the laws of nature, if necessary, to achieve glorious results.  My eighty-year-old mother may not be as strong as she used to be, but demons shutter when that prayer warrior gets down on her knees!  You never know, you may be the only one praying for somebody on a particular day. 

Then again, maybe we just need to somehow re-capture the spirit of our youth and trust God with abandon, knowing he won’t let us fall.  Maybe that’s why Jesus said “‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’  And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”  (Mark 10:15-16)  If they had pictures or videos back then, I’m willing to bet we would see Jesus enjoying holding them as much, if not more, than the children liked being held.  I know I did with mine…

 

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Get swept away!

Posted: December 12, 2010 in Metaphorically Speaking...

This morning as I was returning from my walk in the woods behind our home, I paused on the bridge to watch the snow flakes gently descend to earth.  The ones that hit the water disappeared instantly as they joined the current flowing slowly but surely downstream.

This image came to my mind later this morning as I heard my pastor reflect on how difficult it is to fit the real meaning of Christmas into our busy schedule.  Better yet, he offered, why not get caught up in what God is doing, and rearrange our lives around that?

The snow flakes that lost their identity as they were swept away actually conformed into a bigger, more powerful force that had a purpose and destiny.  I find it a lot easier to be like the flakes that find a safe place to land on the ground and to keep my identity as I do my own thing.  But I would be missing out on what my Creator has in store for me as we encounter adventures together on the rivers of living water!

 

Twenty-second in the series Get close to God

 

Everyone will get fed no matter what religious entrée you choose.  And heaven is the dessert at the end of the line, right?

Welcome to America, where we practice tolerance and freedom of religion.  Here you can sample and choose whatever brand or style of God that appeals to you.  But are they all nutritious soul food or will the wrong choice give you heartburn or even food poisoning?

Jonathan Morrow brought some alarming statistics to my attention in one of his recent posts on his blog, ThinkChristianly.org.  According to USA today, surveys over the last two years have shown that 47-59% of Americans have changed religions at least once and 70% said that many religions can lead to eternal life.  Since most Americans claim to be Christians, this means one of two things: they don’t know what their Bible teaches or they don’t believe it. 

The most important decision in your life is the one you make about Jesus.  Just who was he, anyway?  Islam, along with some other religions, acknowledges that he was a great prophet and teacher.  They just don’t believe in the Incarnation, that he was God in the flesh, the only begotten Son of God.  Did Jesus himself make such claims?  Let’s hear from him:

“Before Abraham was born, I am!…I and the Father are one… Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father….”  (John 8:58, 10:30, 14:9)

Words like that are what almost got him stoned, and did eventually get him killed, although that was God’s plan all along for the redemption of mankind.  “We are not stoning you for any of these (miracles),” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”  (John 10:36) 

I heard it said that if you don’t believe Jesus is who he said he was, then he must have been a great liar or a raving maniac, but certainly not a great teacher!

Another thing we need to understand is why Jesus came.  It wasn’t just to help people and tell us how to live: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45)  “he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  (Hebrews 10:9b)  The only way we can have right standing before a holy God who cannot tolerate sin is to accept the sacrifice Christ made for us when he took on our punishment so we wouldn’t have to.  In fact, that’s the only way we can spend eternity with God, because we will never be good enough on our own strength.  I don’t understand why God set it up this way, but “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”  (Hebrews 9:22b.)  Mohammed can’t do this for you, neither can Buddha.

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9)
“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)  “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  (1 Timothy 2:5)
“There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven
that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
  (Acts 4:12)

I’ve been using scripture to support my case for Jesus, and if you don’t accept the Bible as truth, this post is probably not helping you much.  I don’t have time in this post to defend the Bible but if you have any doubts about it, please wrestle with it until you find your answers.  Start with Jonathan’s web site; it’s filled with resources.  Don’t dismiss the Bible as an old-fashioned book full of myths that don’t relate to us today.  Values like honor, justice, love, and integrity, just to name a few, are timeless and there’s no better place to learn about them than in the Holy Scriptures. 

Apologetics alone will not convince you to trust Christ, however.  There comes a time when you must let go of your common sense and give the Lord a chance to break through and connect with you.  It’s like how a pilot needs to fly by his instruments when everything within him wants to go the other way.  Faith is the ticket your spirit needs to enter the spiritual realm.  Intelligence is not enough, if anything it can make you overconfident and close-minded to new ideas.   When you are born again and become a new creation, it isn’t your body that goes through a change, it’s your heart, soul, mind and spirit.

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  (1 Corinthians 3:9)  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  (Proverbs 14:12)

Once upon a time, everyone thought the world was flat.  When anyone suggested that it might be round, and that the sun is not really rising and setting everyday, that it’s the earth that’s moving, they got laughed-out-of town.  The same thing applies with the Intelligent Designer of the universe.  We can’t begin to understand his ways until we become his child.

OK, maybe you believe the Bible has a lot of wisdom but you just can’t accept it’s “narrow” plan of salvation, warnings against homosexuality, or descriptions of Hell.  I would strongly caution you not to pick and choose what appeals to you and throw out what you don’t like.  If you don’t believe all of the Bible, how do you decide what’s true or not true?  I’m afraid more and more people are trying to do that anyway, just doing what’s right in their own eyes.  That’s what the Israelites did when they turned from God to idolatry and it resulted in moral and cultural depravity.

The Christian way of salvation may appear to be exclusive, even though God “is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9b)  I hope people don’t think I believe I’m in some kind of elite club, that somehow I think I’m better than anyone.  On the contrary, believing what I do about the road to salvation makes me want to warn others not to try certain “entrees.”    There is more at stake here than what church you’ll end up attending on Sunday morning- it’s where you’ll spend eternity! 

My fellow Christians, it’s time we took Jesus out of the closet and start introducing people to him and quit worrying about appearing intolerant.  I know I can’t stop Titanic America from sinking down into the depths of the politically correct sea, but I’ll launch as many life rafts as I can to rescue as many as possible.

Will you join me?

 

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soap1

 Twentieth in the series Get close to God

 

“We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To one we are the smell of death; to the other an aroma of life.”  II Corinthians 2:14

 

Our sense of smell is very powerful.  It can lead us to food, let us know when something’s burning, and what (or who!) to stay away from.  It can also trigger memories, both good and bad.  Cologne or perfume can remind us of those we know, or knew.  Almost everything we encounter has a particular odor attached to it, from a rose to a rainstorm.

When we allow the Lord to scrub our lives clean of all our sins and garbage, people can’t help but pick up the refreshing scent of love, grace and peace that spontaneously exudes from us.  At least they should, if we take the next step.  Did you notice there are two bars of soap in the picture above?  If not, take a look at this picture of the same bar from another angle.

soap2a

The little bar was almost used up when I grabbed a new one, but instead of throwing it away I left it in the tray with the new one.  The two stuck together and after a few showers, the small bar conformed to the curved shape of the new one, even though it was flat at first.

 “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Corinthians 3:18

The more I devote myself to God, the more I will be like him.  As the small soap bar gave in to the mold of the larger one, I have to let go of my own ways and submit my life into the hands of the Potter to shape me into his image. 

Different people affect us in different ways, altering our moods and even our behavior.   Let me ask you: What do people notice and feel when they are with you?  What persona or aura do you give off?  Are they refreshed and encouraged by your presence or are you a drain and a downer to be around?  Do they hear hope and cheer or complaining and sarcasm?  Who does most of the talking, the listening?

I can hear some of you saying,  “That’s just the way I am.  I’m not outgoing or friendly.  I’m basically shy and keep to myself.”  Well, so am I, but we need to change.  I don’t think the Lord wants us to stay in our comfort zones.  It’s a stretch for me, but I want to be more inviting and approachable, even to strangers.  I challenge you to smile at everyone you pass tomorrow and see how many people return your smile.  That’s more fun than looking past them, as if they don’t exist.

I haven’t met many men that I can say remind me of Christ, but Phil was one of them.  He was an elder of a church we went to years ago.  Whenever he saw me he would light up and seemed genuinely glad to be with me.  He treated everyone like they mattered to him, that they were special.  He was a big man and had strong convictions, but came across in a humble way.  He was a living example of how to do 1 Corinthians 16:13-14:

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”

I had a dream recently where I was with my dad.  I felt his warmth and acceptance and humor as strong and real as I remember it from years ago.  I enjoyed hanging out with him for awhile, even if it was only in a dream.  Just thinking about certain people can bring me to tears or make me smile.

What a wonderful day that would be, if, when people cross my path, they would see Jesus more than they see me.  This goes beyond asking “What would Jesus do?”  It’s being in Jesus and him in me, so others see the real thing.  Am I there yet?  Nope.  It’s going to take a lot more showers from the living water to conform me.  But one day we will all be like him:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”  Philippians 3:20-21

Do you smell like Christ?

 

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