April, 2011

Apr 11

The House in the Land of Night

There was a man who lived in the Land of Night.

It was a depressing place to live. The sun never shone, and the moon was quite dim in those brief moments it did appear. The darkness was filled with strange noises. Though the ears could hear, the eyes could not see, and it was up to the mind to paint the pictures of that which lurked in the darkness.

It was a quite dismal world, except for one man.

He lived in a House of Light.

It was a comfortable home, quite spacious and well furnished. His family lived with him in the house, and he loved them very, very much. He had heard stories of the perils that lay in the darkness around them, and he forbade his children to venture into the darkness. In fact, he himself never dared to leave his doorstep. Rather than risk the perils of the unknown darkness beyond his door, he hired servants to do those few tasks that required a trip beyond the well-lit environment of their home into the darkness that surrounded them.

Within the House of Light, the Man was happy. Though he had feelings of restlessness, he was generally content to live in the safety of his house. And when those feelings of restlessness would arise, he would walk to the window, pull aside the curtains, press his face against the glass, and see what he could discern. But then, being able to see nothing, he would quietly close the curtain, heave a sigh of relief, and return to his quiet contentedness.

There he lived. There he died. There the story should end.

But it doesn’t.

The Man made a tragic mistake, one that has cost many people’s lives. The light that allowed him to enjoy his home was the very light that blinded him to the things in the darkness.

Thousands of people died in the darkness because of hunger and cold. Some of them lived and even died right under his window. But the Man never knew because he never left the brightly lit environment of his home.

I could be that man.

Apr 11

The Ball of Yarn

Some of you who hang around me have heard me compare problems and goals to a ball of yarn.

I used to view problems and goals as puzzles in which you had to solve each part in a certain order, and if you missed a step, you’d miss the solution. This means that you need to know the whole problem so you know when to do which part. The truth is many solutions are far less sequential and far more messy.

The concept I’m talking about is very simple: solving certain problems and reaching certain goals are like untangling a ball of yarn. It doesn’t really matter where you start. You just have to pull on a string and see where it takes you. Once you’ve untangled that part or you run into a snag, you pull on another string and see where that one takes you.

Looking back, I now see this theme running through a lot of my life. For example:

  • When I was 21, I became incredibly restless with my job as a software developer. Unsure of where to go or what to do, I ended up living internationally for a while, even took linguistic classes, then eventually left my job to pursue other options. This was a journey filled with only one certainty: that each place I was leaving was not the place I felt I should be.
  • When I was 22, a friend of mine encouraged me to pursue writing. Once again, unsure of what that meant, I decided to submit one of my stories to a publisher. More recently, I also started blogging. I couldn’t exactly tell what the end result should be, so I took a few steps that I knew took me farther on that journey.
  • My time in a foreign country raised my awareness of the issue of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Perhaps more than any other pursuit, this has been a “ball of yarn”. It’s meant visiting web sites, reading books, watching movies, and making phone calls. Even all this seems to have accomplished little. Nonetheless, each piece of information I garner takes me closer to my goal, which is making a positive difference in the lives of these women and children.

You see, the magic behind the ball of yarn is that it doesn’t matter so much what step I take but that I keep taking steps.

Here are two examples:

Discovering who God created you to be is a lot like untangling a ball of yarn.

God has specially created each of us, and I think each one of us should have a good idea of what makes us unique. However, not everyone knows what makes them unique, and many people don’t even know how to find out!

Maybe you like music. Maybe you like selling things. Maybe you like being creative, and maybe you’re one of those artsy, poetic types. Maybe you like leading, or maybe you enjoy business. Maybe you need intense physical activity. Maybe you crave quietness and alone-time. Maybe you prefer being directed by someone else.

The picture doesn’t always become immediately clear. Sometimes we’re not sure what we like, and so we first try this, then we try something else. The more uncertain we are of ourselves, the more we tug on strings. However, before long, we can see a theme emerging. And then sometimes crazy things happen when we try something new and discover that we not only love it, but we’re good at it!

Discovering the will of God is often like untangling a ball of yarn.

We ask. We seek. We knock.

We pull a string. It gets snagged. We try another string.

Maybe I’m one in a million, but many times it feels an awful lot like I “stumble” across the will of God in different areas of my life.

Your problem and your goal is just like a tangled ball of yarn.

You can’t solve it all at once. Just take steps in the right direction, and keep taking those kinds of steps.

Don’t let fear or uncertainty paralyze you. Pull that string and see where it takes you!

Apr 11

Overeducated and Underacheiving

In our western world, we have become champions of ideas. However, somewhere in our journey, we have drifted away from reality.

Let me give you an example.

This past week I asked several high school students, “If you could get paid to do anything you wanted, what would it be?” I got two answers: to play video games and to smoke pot. Admittedly, it’s not surprising that I would get a carefree answer like that. However, it is disturbing to me that they might have lived all of their 15 or 16 years without giving serious thought to their aspirations. Instead, they plan to wander through life, hoping that things will work out and that someone more responsible will care for them.

These are the kinds of kids who will likely end up in trouble with the law. Some of them will end up costing society far more than they will ever contribute. We recognize the problem, and we immediately think, “They need more education.” We try to teach them:

  • “If you want to buy something, you need money.”
  • “If you want money, you need to get yourself a job or start a business.”
  • “If you want a job or business, you need to show up on time and do your work well.”
  • “If you get in trouble with the law, you’ll go to jail or prison, which is a generally bad course for your lives.”

But no matter how much truth we send their way, we have not managed to get them to change their lives. I dare say this generation has a greater opportunity for success than any generation in history. We are affluent and have much information at our fingertips. However, many of us are wasting away our lives. Overwhelmed with opportunity, we scarcely know where to start.

And it’s hit the church.

We have no lack of education on Jesus’ teaching about the poor. Jesus simply said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” It’s easy to agree intellectually, but if you stare this verse in the face, what do you really believe? We claim the prior verse for ourselves: “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” And we claim the following verse: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” But sell my possessions? Are you kidding?

Once you’ve mulled over that for a while, read Isaiah 58.

There’s a huge frustration welling up within me, because I recognize that the farther I drift from obeying what He’s taught, the less He cares about my worship.

I am loaded with excuses:

  • I need to understand the Biblical definition of the word “sell”.
  • I need someone to teach me how to preach the Gospel.
  • I need someone to show me how to make disciples.
  • I need to understanding the meaning of the word “love” before I can start loving my neighbor.
  • I also need to understand the definition of the word “neighbor.”

I can meditate on these ideas, hoping that they will compel me to action rather than make me believe that I’m doing something I’m not. Or I can step out and actually do something.

Today I make a choice.

I will choose the “do something”.

I’m listing my action points.

I’m taking action.

Apr 11

Me the Hypocrite?

I’ve been thinking about hypocrisy the last several days. Specifically, I was asking myself the question, “How many things do I teach and say that I don’t live out?”

If you ask me what the right balance is between work and recreation, do I just give you a logical answer? Or can I tell you, “Look at my life. I think it’s a pretty good example.”

If you ask me how much you should pour yourself into your work or your church (or wherever), do I merely give you a “right” answer? Or can I tell you, “Look at me. Give as much as I’m giving.”

If you ask me whether it’s worth spending $1000 for a specific purpose, would I actually live by the same answer if I had to decide for myself?

Our words can so easily become separated from our actions, and when that happens, we begin deceiving ourselves.

Last night, I was at the park, and a number of youth were hanging out by my car. I had to walk right past them to leave. Our church is currently looking for ways to interact more with the youth in town to reach out to them. I confess I’ve been somewhat vocal about this vision. But when I was given this very clear opportunity to interact with these very youth we want to reach, I passed it by. It was a huge reality check for me–do I really believe the things I say, especially if I don’t live them out even when opportunities are handed to me?

Here’s my goal, which honestly freaks me out a little because I don’t know if I will live by it, but:

  • To be someone who teaches nothing that I haven’t experienced or lived out
  • To be someone who casts vision first by action, then by an invitation to follow

In Isaiah 29:19, the Lord said, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

I don’t want that to be me.

Apr 11

Buzz-Free Ministry

I was talking with a friend of mine recently, describing something I had recently observed in my life. When I shared it with him, he told me, “That’s exactly what I’ve been experiencing the past several weeks.” Our conversation prompted me to share some of those thoughts.

In the past, when I saw God working through my life to touch someone else, I often left with a feeling of excitement for what God had done. However, I recently went through a season where that excitement was noticeably absent. I couldn’t really tell that there was anything wrong in my relationship with God, and it was very clear that God was still working through me. However, I wasn’t getting the same “buzz” out of ministry.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure that the “buzz” is back, nor am I completely sure that I want it back. I’m finding that something else is creeping back in it’s place, which is a deeper rest, fulfillment, and contentment in simple obedience.

While I don’t understand everything that’s going on, there are a few things I’ve observed:

  • The works of God are normal to life in the spirit. While we should never lose the wonder of the God we serve, I do believe our flesh is sometimes over-enamored by the works of God. (And little wonder, because no matter how much the flesh tries to imitate life in the spirit, it always comes up short!) My hope is that my flesh is a little less alive, and that I’m settling deeper into a God-centered lifestyle where God defines what is normal.
  • I am a recovering adrenaline addict, and it’s easy for me to let excitement drive me. My hope is that this season is part of God’s answer to my desire to break out of my drivenness and adrenaline-based lifestyle into a lifestyle that is no less dynamic but that is ruled by contentment, faithfulness, and obedience.
  • The more we glamorize the vessel, the less we value what’s within. My hope is that this is part of God’s way of allowing me to be merely a vessel and to allow Him to thoroughly connect with the people with whom I interact.
  • More than anything else, this has reminded me that though ministry is great, an intimate relationship with God is where it’s at. Many will tell Jesus that they prophesied in His name and cast out demons in His name, but He will have to turn them away because He never knew them. His name is powerful, and we can do many things in His name, but only those who know Him will be saved.

This thought seems somewhat raw and unprocessed, and I feel like I have only taken a few baby steps in a journey that God wants to take me on. However, I wanted to leave it with you, first of all as a testimony of God’s work in my own life, and second of all as a challenge and blessing to you all, that you might find place of deep rest in serving our great God!

Apr 11

Robbed of Intimacy

Several years ago, I wrote a quote in my journal that read something like this, “Your greatest challenge will be to maintain intimacy with Christ.”

You see, as soon as you are recognized as someone who walks with God, desires to advance the kingdom, and seeks to serve the people around you, your time and energy will be in demand. You need to fight to protect your relationship with God, because most likely, nobody else will.

The easy thing is to start believing that life is about ministry.

  • “God, speak to me, because I need something for my next sermon.”
  • “God, give me strength to do reach out to this person, because I am weary.”
  • “God, give me clear direction on which road to take, because I’m busy doing your work, and I don’t have time to listen to your heart.”

If you follow this road, you will find yourself sucked into relationships that are draining, and you’ll find yourself doing things you were never called to do. Over the past several months, God has kept haunting me with this thought, “No matter how busy you are doing my work, if you don’t have time for me, you’re not serving me.”

It can look good on the outside, but if we don’t maintain that relationship with God, it is nothing but hay and stubble.

The greater the work, the greater the demand on our relationship with Christ, and the more we need to feed on His Word to sustain us.

Don’t let ministry rob you of intimacy.

Apr 11

The Prophet: Unpolluted Springs

Jesus said, “‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38). Our life is like a spring. Whenever we share something God has laid on our hearts, we are giving people a drink from the river of life.

However, we need to be aware that the issues in our lives can dirty the water that we share. Many people see the prophet as a somewhat perturbed, pessimistic man who speaks all manner of negativity over the church. This is a false picture of the prophet of God. This is a picture of someone who might be hearing from God but whose flesh is very much alive. He must learn to find his security in Christ and trust the spirit of God within him. Otherwise, he will fight to prove himself right, and he will either tear himself or others down in order to protect himself. Further, if he holds unrighteous judgment and criticism in his heart, his words will carry condemnation. He must drop his judgmental stance. This does not mean he avoids the truth, but it means he speaks it with honor and love.

The beauty of the Christian walk is that we don’t have to live in fear. The spirit of God who lives within every believer will teach you how to discern what is good and what is evil, and He will continue to reveal areas in your life that are in disagreement with Him.

We can easily get so focused on ministering to the needs around us that we forget to take the quiet time before God and ask Him to continue revealing Himself in new ways. It is as we gaze upon His glory that we are changed into His likeness, and as we grow in the glory, it will be reflected in the crystal clarity of the water that we share with the world around us.