Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keep On Moving On

There is a conflict between the need to look back and the urging to only look forward. On one side Paul says “I forget what is behind and press on toward the goal.” On the other side he says we need to remember who we used to be and how we used to live so we can avoid falling back into past actions and attitudes. Jesus said you can’t plow a straight line looking backward. We also are told to look back so we might learn to make better choices.

Okay, which is it? Forget the past or remember the past? Look forward or look back?

How about both? We are to give primary concentration and effort into looking forward with an occasional glance in the rearview mirror. It’s like driving. You don’t drive without looking through the windshield. But an occasional glance behind let’s you know what’s coming up from the back.

Life needs to be lived the same way. We have to keep our focus forward, where we’re going, but we need to remember where we’ve been and the traps we’ve fallen into in the past, things that tripped us up, patterns that distracted us, failures from which we were supposed to learn life lessons.

It’s called perspective. Knowing where I’ve been helps me know where I’m going. Knowing where I’m going keeps me from getting detoured into unproductive side-journeys and unexpected potholes.

If I do look back it needs to be in quick glances, not intense, lingering looks. Like texting while driving—which of course no one does. If I look back too much, I can almost guarantee a crash. That stuff’s over, it’s had its day, we’ve moved on. God has no grace for yesterday (or tomorrow, actually), only grace for today and the promise of grace tomorrow. It’s like manna—you only get today’s supply.

If I go back, I’m on my own. If I go forward, God is with me. He is a present tense God not a past tense God.

So we live today leaning toward tomorrow, all the while believing the promise He’ll be with us.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We Aren't There Yet

Ever felt yourself melt down to a puddle on the floor? It happens when we get so disappointed we don’t see much future in going on. It happens when we set our expectations too soon.

I’m as prone as anyone to want instant gratification, instant success, instant pudding. I’m a great sprinter, not so great in marathons.

As a result I tend to evaluate things before their time. Our lives can be chopped up into segments, some of those segments are better than others. If I evaluate my life at the wrong segment I can come up with the wrong opinion as to how things are going.

If I make a road trip out West and have a flat in one of those segments and then evaluate the trip based upon that segment, the whole trip is a bummer. But if I look at the trip as a total experience, that flat becomes insignificant. It’s just a blip.

I could just be having a bad day. Those happen, you know. If I evaluate my life based upon that day, my whole existence is in the toilet. That’s why I can’t expect every moment to be the single criteria by which I judge the worth of what I’m doing. I need more data.

Raising kids, taking a job, beginning a project, living a life all have great and not so great moments. But taken as a whole, they are amazing adventures.

The bad times of our lives are relatively brief when we consider the over-all. The problem comes when we get hung up on one segment and can’t move past it. We’re letting one flat tire ruin a very good life.

The best approach is to pace ourselves, live each segment fully and keep an eye on the goal.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hey! Where's the Filling?

A few years ago there was a series of commercials for Twinkies® that ended with the character asking, “Hey, where’s the creamy filling?”  The cake part, it seemed, was just the container. What you really wanted was the goop on the inside.  In their opinion, what made their product worth buying was the creamy filling.

Millions of marketing dollars are spent each year on package design. Products may do everything they are supposed to do, but unless they are packaged in a way that entices you to buy it, all their usefulness will remain on the shelf. Apparently people do indeed judge the book by the cover. So does that mean the cover is more important to the sale of the book as the contents?

Most ads in magazines seem to agree. They sell the idea that how you look on the outside is really all that matters. Problem is: a mule in a tux is still a mule.

The Bible describes us as the containers: “earthen vessels” designed to hold inside an understanding of who God really is—like a substance through which others can taste His goodness.

Earthen vessels were not the beautiful, intricately designed china you might use on special occasions to delight and impress your guests. They weren’t the stuff you’d grab in an earthquake or save from a fire.  They were actually just plain old everyday pottery. Sort of the Tupperware® of the ancient world.  Use gave them their value.

Jesus’ first miracle was in a town called Cana in Galilee.  He was at a wedding and the host ran out of wine.  Jesus told the servants to fill the water pots with water.  When that was done He told them to ladle out some of the water and take it to the head waiter.  The head waiter's response (loosely paraphrased) was, “Mighty fine wine.”

Now no one in that story rushed to the pots and exclaimed, “What exquisite vessels!  What superb craftsmanship!  What dazzling designs!  How fortunate Jesus was to find such containers!”  They didn't say anything about the pots.  Their interest lay in what the pots contained.

Same for us. We generally focus more on ourselves as pots rather than on what we contain. “How am I being treated as a pot?  How am I looking as a pot?  How am I feeling as a pot?  How well am I being taken care of as a pot?  Why doesn’t somebody ever polish me?”

Did you know that you can take an old piece of pottery, grind it up into a powder, add water and mix it with more clay and start all over again? Kind of puts the value of the pot in perspective.  That's why the pot itself is always secondary to the greater responsibility of being a container.

Back to the water pots at the wedding feast…during the miracle, they never changed from being water pots.  But as water pots, when Jesus transformed their content, they became vessels through which He could then distribute out the blessing of what they contained–the wine.

God has fashioned our lives to be containers, vessels out of which He wishes to ladle the blessing of what we contain–the substance that magnifies His very reputation as God.

If all you ever get from me is me, you will be short-changed.  But if you get something that shows you the goodness of God, you will have gotten the treasure of all treasures. Not bad from an old pot.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Emptiness is a Choice

Reading Ecclesiastes isn’t easy. Solomon says things that make a righteous man cringe, then turns completely around and blows away what he just said. He seems schizophrenic. It’s not a book you might choose to quote from.

Taken as a whole, Solomon is looking at the choices he’s made in trying to find the balance between the holy and the unholy, the wise and the foolish, the honorable and dishonorable. He claims to have intentionally bounced between each extreme only to find vanity—emptiness.

That is not unlike how I live. Not that I want to see how close to evil I can get without becoming evil, but I seem to bounce around a lot.

It’s important to read Ecclesiastes all the way through without judgment, realizing he isn’t laying out a life-plan but revealing his own struggles to have life make sense. After all, it is a common struggle.

He could not have written this while he was experimenting. Both sides provided delight and attraction. Honestly, he seems to have enjoyed the process. It was not until he came to the end and looked back that he could see both the destruction of self-interest and the glory of God’s intentions.

Ecclesiastes suggests that at any moment we have two choices. We can seek that which satisfies our desires or that which fulfills God’s purposes. Occasionally they are one in the same, but even so, how we approach them has great bearing upon the joy connected with the choice.

God did not create life to be a waste of time and effort. Life is not vain or in vain, unless I follow empty pursuits. Jesus provides abundant life—life with more built into it than we can get out of it by ourselves. Committing ourselves to live within that abundance begins when we, by faith, acknowledge that that abundance actually exists. It is realized when we embrace the One who is already embracing us.

Solomon had to wait until it was all over to realize what was true all along. How much life did he miss trying to find the boundaries rather than God?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's Down the Road?

There’s a gravel road that takes off into the woods from the main road I travel daily. Every time I see it I wonder where it’s going? We’re in the Big Thicket down here which is a heavily wooded forest of pines, hardwoods and brush. You can’t see the trees for the forest. The only way through it is to cut a passage. When you do you usually end up with a wall of trees on each side. Most country roads look like that down here.

But, beyond the beauty of the road is the question: where’s it going? Roads do that to me. They don’t usually make roads that go nowhere, so I wonder what I’d find if I went down it. What adventure lays waiting around the bend?

Often one road leads to another road. Each road we find forces a decision. Do I go? Do I stay where I am?  Y’s, Crossroads, T’s each challenge us to choose the way we should go.

Alice asked the Cheshire cat which way she should go. He asked back, “Where do you want to get to.” She said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter where I get to, just tell me which way I should go.” His answer was insightful. “If it doesn’t matter where you get to, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

If I’m just wandering aimlessly, I’m in sync with Alice. Any road will do. Going nowhere requires no specific directions. If I actually anticipate arriving someplace, I go with the Cat. If there is a place I’m heading, a destination, a location, not every road will get me there. I want to know I’m on the right road, going the right direction. The right direction may mean I take the country road instead of the highway.

Through Isaiah, the Lord said, “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” If God cares enough about the direction of my life to guide me, then my journey suddenly takes on purpose. If He has intentions for my path, He must have a destination in mind.  

The second challenge comes by staying on the road to which He has directed me. That’s not always easy. Some roads make you think you’ll never get where you’re going. He said, “You were tired out by the length of your road, yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewed strength, therefore you did not faint.” Not only does He guide us but He provides strength for the journey.

So, with direction and support—what’s not to like about a road we’ve never traveled before.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Grady, Goober and the Chahooahooah

“Jack, stop scratching!” Goober shouted. The old hound tried but the invasion of fleas had overwhelmed him. No will power or the commands of his master could stop them from biting and him from scratching.
Grady came into the living room. “What are you yelling about?” he asked.
“It’s Jack. If he don’t stop scratching in here, I’m gonna get rid of him and get me one of them Chahooahooahs.”
“It’s Chihuahua,” Grady corrected. “Ain’t no such thing as a Chahooahooah.”
“Tomater, tomahter.”
“You can’t just change how you’re supposed to pronounce a word.”
“Ever hear of phonetics?”
“Of course.”
“You pronounce it like you spell it.”
“So, how do you spell Chihuahua?”
“That ain’t spelling that’s pronouncing.”
“No, that’s phonetics. But anyway, I don’t care, I’m still gonna get me one if Jack don’t quit scratching.”
“You even know what a Chihuahua looks like.”
“Yeah, I saw one in a magazine.”
“Well, I’m not sure that’s the best dog for living out here. They’re little bitty critters.”
“That’s why I want one,” Goober said. “A little dog won’t have as many fleas as a big dog.”
“But a Chihuahua’s a Mexican dog.”
“So? I ain’t prejudishatul.”
“The word’s prejudicial, but that don’t matter, you don’t speak Mexican.”
“Well I don’t speak dog and Jack understands me.”
“Oh, yeah? Who’s still scratching?”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Darkness of the Unknown

Job was not a patient man. He endured but not without complaint. What we have recorded of his story—the trials placed upon him, his unsupportive wife, his unsympathetic friends, his misery and his lack of understanding as to what was going on and why—left him in darkness for an extended period of time. The darkness of the unknown.

We’ve all been there, are there, or will be there. It is a necessary detour on the road of life. During the darkness of the unknown we fight battles for which we seem unprepared. Our struggles are met with silence or, worse, inappropriate suggestions or distorted insight. We want to know what’s going on, why it’s going on and how much longer it will go on. Questions which usually go unanswered.

Job felt his suffering unjust. His friends blamed him. Obviously there was no consensus, only words expressing and defending each opinion. It felt to him as though God was wounding him without cause, without reason. It seemed as though God had indiscriminately selected him for misery. He felt more abandoned than accompanied.

Then, when all human explanations had run their course, and the vitreous complaints of less than virtuous men were expressed, God spoke. God proved to be the patient one. For Him who dwells in complete understanding, perfect perspective, unceasing light, having to endure the faithlessness of those who claim to trust Him, waiting for the moment to turn the darkness of the unknown into the light of wisdom, He demonstrated amazing self-control.

Only God knows what’s really going on in the darkness. And just as clearly He knows what’s waiting in the light. On the other side of the darkness of the unknown is the brilliance of God’s plan, the goodness of His intentions, the completion of His purposes.

Regardless of how long it takes, we have to trust that the dawn is coming. Believing that everything we face, in one way or another, is temporary. Whether it lasts a day or a lifetime it’s still temporary and in the meantime God’s grace is sufficient.

It was not until God spoke that Job discovered the grace that had been there all along. Hearing God’s voice brought the perspective no amount of human insight and complaining could find. It will be the same for us. But to our advantage, we have His voice recorded on the pages of the Bible and have His Spirit resident within us to point out what we need to hear. Even in the silence God is speaking.

So, to get through the darkness of the unknown, follow the voice of the One who loves you most and is actually working all of this toward your ultimate good.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Playing Politics in a Spiritual Crisis

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Not sure who said that originally, but the point remains. Having limited resources to deal with issues often forces you to use inappropriate means to address those issues.

In the push to make America a secular community devoid of our Christian heritage, leaders have taken the position that politics is the answer to all the problems we face. To their credit, many times they are right. A fallen society needs rules and regulations. The abused and forgotten need help. The protection of our nation requires a well-financed infrastructure. Interaction with other godless and secular nations is often best carried out politically.

But when it comes to dealing with a religious-based country, movement or threat, politics is a weak and ineffective approach. Islam is a religion. The followers of Islam have a higher sense of obligation to their system than politics can achieve. When dealing with Muslim countries, unless one grasps the spiritual significance of what has, is and will be going on, attempting political solutions is a joke.

Why do Muslims want Israel to die? Why are we called the Great Satan? Why do they believe in the promise of a leader coming in to take over the world who looks a whole lot like the antichrist or Beast described in The Revelation of John? Why do they want to bring the world under Shariah Law? They are following a spiritual mandate. To wade into these waters with only a political opinion is not only dangerous, but its effect would be like trying to hold up the Titanic with a pair of waterwings.

Muslims and Muslim nations are all driven by the same forces. For some those forces take them to extremes as we would define it, but still appropriate to their teaching. Others are more reserved yet fully engaged. That is not political, it is a measure of their faith.

Funny to think that Washington and the rest of the governments of the world, who are afraid of Christianity, Judaism and now Islam, would expect their earthly devices to solve these spiritual crises. I only hope that before they bury us, someone wakes up to the reality that what’s going on cannot be solved by playing politically correct games but rather by becoming biblically astute.