Lost

I’ve had a GPS for the happier years of my driving life.  When I first started driving,  couldn’t read maps and hadn’t heard of the “map reader”, my friend the GPS.  So I had to rely on other people for directions everywhere.  The problem was, sometimes I couldn’t understand their directions, sometimes they were too lengthy, and sometimes people didn’t know the way.  Worse even than this was getting lost and having no idea where I was or how I could get back to territory I recognized.

I remember one day being lost on my way to an important meeting for college.  I was trying to get to a college I had gone to for two years, and I could not find my way.  I felt beyond stupid, beyond stressed, and, frankly, beyond hope that I would ever find my way.

I didn’t have my cell phone on me, and I couldn’t think of what to do.  At last I decided I would try to get directions.  At a stoplight, I rolled down my window to yell over to a man in a painting business truck if he knew how to get to the college.

I remember him putting his car in park, hopping out, and coming over to explain.  He must have seen the distress on my face, because he pointed me in the right direction and continued talking through the green light until he was sure I understood.  He didn’t berate me for not carrying a map with me.  He didn’t judge me for not knowing my way around town.  He simply told me how to get to the right place.

I was able to get to that college because of his accurate directions, which came from his knowledge of the map of our town, and because of his deep compassion, which came from his empathy for my lostness.

Many, many times, Christians—and those who call themselves Christians but are not, though here I want to focus on actual Christians—have not behaved like the man in the paint truck, myself included.  Instead, we have had an attitude of, “Don’t you know what it’s the Bible?” or even self-righteous scorn that the lost person doesn’t know how to get to the right path.  Or we have a flippancy of, “Read your Bible.” instead of a willingness to explain the Bible to those who may never have read it or don’t yet understand it.  Or, we ourselves have drifted so far away from God’s Word that we don’t even know where we are, much less are we able to give directions to others.

As a Christian, I have to ask myself two things when I encounter anyone who might be lost:

Do I have accurate directions?  Have I been reading the Bible, reflecting on what I’ve learned, and talking to God about it?  Have I been practicing what I have learned?  Have I been praying for wisdom?

Do I have deep compassion?  Am I willing to devote my life to helping the lost?  Can I hurt for even the people who are most undesirable to me, the people who believe exactly opposite to me, who behave in ways that openly offend me, who seem to make worse and worse mistakes all the time?  Am I willing to be inconvenienced at my busiest times, at my inopportune times, to share directions with someone who doesn’t have any or has been given faulty ones?

. . . Wouldn’t it be sad, wouldn’t it be incredibly sad, if I died with my map clenched in my fist, excited to reach Heaven, while all around me people who have crossed my path at one time or another died and discovered themselves at Hell’s gates while I never once shared my directions for eternal life?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All power in heaven and on earth is given to me.  So go and make followers of all people in the world.  Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NCV)

Clip art © Microsoft Office

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Published in: on June 29, 2011 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Genesis 1:10

God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10, ESV)

Earth—good.  I don’t know what earth was like when it was good, but I see traces of that goodness . . . my toes in the dirt as a kid . . . feeling blades of grass bend effortlessly under my feet . . . rolling down a sunny hill . . . sitting on a picnic blanket listening to my mother read stories.

Seas—good.  I don’t know what seas were like before the fall, either, but I see speckles of that goodness even now . . . snorkeling among rainbow fish . . . sliding in tennis shoes across a frozen pond . . . watching little tadpoles flit around a tiny creek . . . daring to swim in the chill-gasping water of a cold spring.

The earth isn’t good anymore.  Earthquakes, wildfires, sharp rocks, deep pits, avalanches, volcanoes, and hostile cliffs make the earth dangerous, frightening.  So much blood has been spilled into the earth, so many bones have been buried under its skin.

The sea isn’t good anymore, either.  Tsunamis, hurricanes, rip tides, rapids, deceptively shallow water, and the vast watery wilderness itself make the sea ominous, fearful.  So many fights for survival have been waged, so many bones lie in a watery grave.

Our world isn’t good anymore.  No matter how many pictures people print of a smiling earth, we are on a planet that has been responsible for killing off the most important inhabitant on this earth:

Us.

And yet we know, in our heart, that all this around us was once the playground for people.

What went wrong?

Like a parent explaining to a small child why the magnificent Twin Towers are gone in New York City, Genesis 1-3 is God explaining to humanity why we live in a very sad world.

God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10, ESV)

Photo by Bruce Irving, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/flyingsinger/

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Genesis 1:9

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:9, ESV)

God has already gifted His creatures with light—creatures He has not yet created!  Now He gifts them with an extraordinary privilege: land to stand upon.  Land is a stable force, contrasted against the flowing water, and God fully intends to create some creatures who enjoy firm ground under their feet rather than shifting liquid.

God gives a depth to His earth, too, once again using opposites to contrast beauty.  Darkness showcases light in the same way that a black velvet box showcases a piece of extravagant jewelry.  But water and land are different.  Both have their own lovely beauty and so, rather than create one as the backdrop for the other, God uses them, maybe a little like a horse and a seahorse, each heightening the other’s beauty.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:9, ESV)

Photo by Stephen-Edgar, Netweb, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/netweb/

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Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obstacle Course

My all-time favorite game show is Double-Dare.  I grew up in the 80’s, and the idea that you could have green slime fall on your head, pick through a giant nose filled with whipped cream, climb up a sundae slide, and stand inside a gumball machine . . . that was really novel.

Double-Dare appealed to me for a deeper reason, too: every obstacle had a prize if you got the orange flag hidden or hard-to-reach within it, and if contestants raced through all 8 obstacles in 60 seconds, they won all the kid-centered prizes, including the grand prize.

I think most of my life I wished my life was an obstacle course with 8 orange flags.  It would be hard, maybe even almost impossible, to get all the flags and win everything, but you could.  But in life . . . well, there is only the vague time limit of knowing you will die one day.  And there is no guarantee—or any likelihood at all—that you will encounter only 8 obstacles.  Instead, the field of life is littered with challenges, challenges that aren’t fun at all.

Some seem impossible to get through, and you spend years inside them, wondering how you will ever get out.  Others are quick to get through, but they damage us so deeply we never forget them.  They leave scars or maybe even open wounds on our soul.  What’s even worse is that some of these obstacles are completely avoidable, but we are tricked into going into them, and when we look back we see how easily we could have dodged them.  Other obstacles are filled so full of our past we are sure we will be stuck forever, halfway between regret and terror, not sure which way to turn to find our present.

For thousands of years, many people have tried to make it through the obstacles of life to reach the prize of Heaven.  Some brag they have succeeded; others give up and sit down inside an obstacle to die there.  But most, most will work their whole lives at finding ways through obstacle after obstacle, determined to make it to the finish . . . only to die somewhere in the middle of the mess, a total and abject failure.

There is no way for us to finish the obstacle course of this life.  Even if we had all eternity, we could not do it.  Because no matter how hard we try, how diligent we are, or how brave, or how smart, we can’t find the “orange flag”.  We can run from obstacle to obstacle, getting all the while messier and more confused, but we can never pull a single flag out, earn a single prize.  Our sin, you see, has already stolen away all the flags; we frantically search in vain.

If among this disaster, trapped in an obstacle, worn out by the strain, struggling to find what is not there, we would only stop for a moment . . and listen to the Word of God . . . we would see that we are making a mess of ourselves for nothing.

Jesus has already won the prize for us.  We need to get off the obstacle course and go to Him, because He will freely place Heaven in our empty hands, and lift us up to be applauded by the angels.

I think most of my life I wished my life was an obstacle course with 8 orange flags.  But now, now I’m glad to be off the obstacle course altogether.

Remind me I’m off the obstacle course, Lord.  Every day.  Remind me I don’t have to get back on.

Jesus, our Lord, was handed over to death because of our failures and was brought back to life so that we could receive God’s approval. (Romans 4:25, GWT)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6, ESV)

But He took our suffering on Him
and felt our pain for us.
We saw His suffering
and thought God was punishing  Him.
But He was wounded for the wrong we did;
He was crushed for the evil we did.
The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him,
and we are healed because of His wounds.
(Isaiah 53:4-5, NCV)

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Out of Service

Our dishwasher has been broken off and on for several days now.  The first time we had a repairman out, the something-or-other was broken.  Now it is the control board.  At least the dishwasher company is covering this for free, so I can by no means complain.

I have noticed a big difference between dishwasher and no dishwasher.  Now, if I used plastic silverware and dishes, it wouldn’t be any problem at all.  But I don’t.  I don’t want to throw my money in a trashcan and, besides, it’s pretty much impossible to use plastic dishes for baking.  Since I’ve been baking lately, there are a lot of dishes to wash by hand.  I really miss that dishwasher.  The broken dishwasher bothers me every single time I bake and it won’t stop bothering me until either I stop baking or the dishwasher is repaired.

But what if it wasn’t my dishwasher that was out of order . . . but my fellowship with God?  What if my sin caused a breakdown in our communication?  How quickly would I notice?  If I’ve been reading and reflecting on God’s Word, filling my mind with prayer, and devoting myself to God’s service, I would notice a breakdown in a New York minute.  But if I’ve been abandoning God’s Word for other pursuits, filling my mind with selfish desires, and gratifying myself as the center of my universe . . . I might not notice for days . . . weeks . . . years.

I have learned the hard way that I don’t miss what I don’t rely on.  If I rely on plastic silverware and paper plates instead of the real deal, I’m not going to miss my dishwasher a bit.  And if I rely on the phony glitter of this world instead of God’s true glory . . . I probably won’t miss my fellowship with God.

Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers.  Rather, he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on His teachings day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 GOD’S WORD Translation)

Photo by Billaday, profile is http://www.flickr.com/people/billselak/

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God’s Will . . . Follow

These cows know the path they are following home. But do I know my path?

 

There’s real danger in trying to discover God’s will for my life.  I might misunderstand.  I might mess up.  And—oh, this is very scary for me!!!—I might find out His will is for me to do something that isn’t an accomplishment by the world’s standards, isn’t well received by the majority, isn’t complimented, or, worst of all, is tossed aside with contempt or openly jeered at.

Jesus warned His disciples about this:

Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master.  Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master.  And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names! (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 10:24-25, NLT)

Jesus calls me to follow, not to lead.  And in that following, I might get hurt or confused or scared.  I might make mistakes, but then . . . aren’t I making mistakes when I refuse to follow, too?  I might find the path leads to humility rather than pride, danger rather than safety, even sadness rather than instant gratification.  But how can I complain, how can I hesitate, when I remember who I am following?  King of kings and Lord of lords!  The very God who became man, who witnessed even to people who hated Him, made fun of Him, slandered against Him, and handed Him over to be tortured and killed.

I would rather fail abysmally doing God’s work than succeed at not doing it.

In the words of Oswald Chambers, God is worthy “my utmost for His Highest”.

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. (John 12:26, NLT)

Photo is (c) Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

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Genesis 1:8

And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:8, ESV)

The huge expanse God effortlessly made?  That is Heaven or, as other versions say “sky” (NLT, NIV, WEB) or “Heavens” (YLT, DBT).

There is far more of a mystery to this expanse than we can even wrap our minds around.  This expanse will soon hold all the known galaxies, and, further out then that . . . we cannot even imagine.

Is the Heaven created here God’s Heaven or is it the heavens above us?  Or could it be both?  What if the Heaven God creates a new ‘home’ for Himself where He stays when He is not walking in the garden with Adam?

Has He strategically placed His Heaven far enough away that we cannot see Him (lest, in the fallen state He knew we would soon be in, we die), but close enough to always be near us?

I don’t know whether the heavens above us is part of God’s Heavens or a separate heaven that perhaps reflects on the glory of His own dwelling place.

It’s hard to believe that from God’s dwelling place, far beyond the farthest galaxies wee see, He chooses to watch over us.

Even after Adam’s fall, God stayed with us, watching mankind’s disastrous messes, time and time again stepping into human history . . . and always waiting for the perfect time to fully reveal His perfect plan (see Romans 5:6), a plan far more glorious than even the Heavens themselves.

And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:8, ESV)

First cloud photo, on left, by Jeff Attaway, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/attawayjl/

Second cloud photo, on right, by Turtlemom4bacon, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/turtlemom_nancy/

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Genesis 1:7

And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.  And it was so.  (Genesis 1:7, ESV)

God didn’t just create the stuff to fill the space, He created the space itself!

It’s hard to imagine an existence without time and space because we were created in time and space, maybe something like how it would be hard for an unhatched duckling to visualize a pond!

And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.  And it was so.  (Genesis 1:7, ESV)

Photo by Brendan Landis, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/qf8/

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Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Genesis 1:6

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (Genesis 1:6, ESV)

God separates water from water something like the way a baker separates one pie crust from another to create two distinct pies.  By distinguishing between the waters, God reveals a sky and a pooled planet that we now call earth.  There is no land yet, only water above and water below.  Yet in this brilliant separation, they two waters are now different from each other, like the cell of life split apart to create identical twins in the womb.  They develop different personalities, sky and sea.  The sky, perhaps the more dependent twin, will become friends with air, inseparably mixed to reflect the glorious blues of the ocean below.  The sea will become friends with fish of all kinds, a place teeming with happy and hidden life.

And all this sets the stage—literally—for God’s next gift.

God is now going to create the stage.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” (Genesis 1:6, ESV)

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Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Genesis 1:5

God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:5, ESV)

The pattern of day and night are established before the sun or stars even have their beginning.  Isn’t it amazing to think God can light the Heavens without any of our known sources?  I wonder, what is light?  Where does light come from when there are no sun or stars?  God’s mysterious order eludes our explanation, even so far as technology has advanced.  There is no scientist who can explain God.

Before God has created any creatures for His new earth, He gives them His first gift: light.  Light coupled with darkness brings an extraordinary change.  Darkness alone signifies death and blindness.  But when light is paired with darkness, darkness becomes a time of rest, privacy, and peace.  There was nothing to be upset about in the darkness of this new earth.  All the creatures God created were plant-eaters.  And there were only going to be two humans to start their life in the garden.  Night carried with it no fear.

God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:5, ESV)

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