Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Higher Altitude

PRINCIPLE: “When the turbulence is choppy, change your altitude.”
I don’t fly on airplanes all that often, but I’ve flown enough to become familiar with the voice of the Pilot: “It’s going to be a bit choppy on our climb-out today, but we’re expecting it to be somewhat smoother when we reach our assigned altitude at 31,000 feet.” I hear this almost every flight. It’s a good principle for airplanes and pilots: “When the turbulence is choppy, change your altitude.”

But not until I read a devotional by Norman Shawchuck did a spiritual parallel come to mind. Norman points out that we were never promised a smooth flight through life but always have the option of moving up to our ‘assigned altitude.’ And what is our assigned altitude? Consider Ezekiel’s experience with the valley of dry bones (37:1-14). Here’s how it ends:

9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "

Our higher altitude is life in the Spirit. Paul later wrote (Rom. 8:4-9 NLT):

“5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. 9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.”

Life in the Spirit lifts us to a higher altitude. It usually takes some mental effort, but this higher altitude is only a few thoughts away.

“4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

The next time you hit the turbulence of life, don’t feel you have to sit through it and endure it. Rather, “When the turbulence is choppy, change your altitude.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Neighbor

Barb and I have a new neighbor who has been visiting us very regularly – multiple times a day, in fact. He watches us and even sings to us. But it’s not been all that nice. He is a red-winged blackbird. Now before you start thinking I’m a bird-hater, I assure you I love watching birds – Just not this guy any longer.

Here’s the scoop. For some reason, out of all the houses around, he decided to stop by our back porch for a rest. The problem is he spotted our patio door – and in the patio door he saw a reflection of himself. But he doesn’t know it’s just his reflection. He thinks it’s a rival male blackbird invading his new territory. So he sits on the railing, spreads his wings, and squawks in an effort to scare this ‘other bird’ away. (It appears like he’s watching our every move! Kind of creepy!))But when this ‘other bird’ doesn’t fly away, he makes a beeline for our patio door. Of course he crashes – but he bounces off and then goes back to sitting on the railing only to repeat the scenario over and over again. I played a blackbird squawk on my computer, hoping he’d be frightened by an invading sound. It didn’t work. We put chairs up against the window hoping to break the view. He began flying to the patio screen door and hanging on to the screen. So we hung paper bags on the outside of the patio doors to deter him. It didn’t work. “Get a life!” I screamed. It didn’t work. So we hung bigger bags on the inside to wipe out his image (and our view of the outdoors!). I think he’s finally gotten the message, but I know he’s still hanging around – I keep hearing his familiar squawk. Why is he so persistent? Because he’s selfish and wants his own territory – he wants what he wants and no one else can have it.

As I’ve thought about this, I realize there are people just like this blackbird. They see someone they believe is a threat to them, or who opposes them, or who stands in the way of getting what they want and they become obsessed with them. They will try to attack and scare off the enemy at every opportunity. And why? Because they’re selfish and want their own territory – they want what they want and no one else can have it. It’s their way or the highway. It doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong or in the minority – just get out of their way; only then will they leave you alone.

I believe this is called selfishness. The Bible has something to say about this. Proverbs 18:1-2 – “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Ever met anyone like that? In contrast, the Psalmist wrote, (Ps. 119:36), “Turn my heart towards your statues and not toward selfish gain.” Jesus told us to lose our lives for His sake (which includes stopping being selfish and self-centered and seeking to live Christ’s way) so we can find our lives. Apparently there were those who caught the vision. The apostle Paul wrote (Phil 2:3-4), “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Are you more like a blackbird or like Jesus?