Thursday, August 29, 2013

Looking for Mud



PRINCIPLE: “When you're all muddy, look for the mud.”

While I often ignore television ads, one repeatedly grabs my attention. A man is test driving a pick-up truck. While doing so he drives it over rough roads and through muddy terrain. So when he pulls back into the dealership the truck is thoroughly covered with mud. He meets the salesman in front of the truck. First the salesman casts a wary and surprised eye on the filthy, mud-covered truck; then he looks at the man with wondering eyes. After a brief pause, the man rubs his hand across the muddy hood and reaches out his now muddied hand to to shake with the salesman. The stunned salesman hesitates – but realizing he's about to make a sale, rubs his hand across the muddy hood and with his newly muddied hand shakes to seal the deal. He sealed the deal by taking the mud on himself.

What a picture of Jesus! He sealed the deal for our salvation by taking all our mud upon Himself. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us...” (2Cor. 5:21) It's not just that He bore and carried our sinsHe became sin for us.  He was thoroughly covered with the mud of our sin; He became mud. Why? “...so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As The Message puts it, “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”

“When you're all muddy, look for the mud.” When overwhelmed with guilt, when muddied by our sins, we look to Jesus. We offer him our mud – Jesus doesn't share the mud with us, He graciously removes it from us and takes it onto Himself. And we are clean! The deal was sealed on the cross! “When you're all muddy, look for the mud.”

Recently I received some junk email – I didn't open it but the heading caught my attention: “Your neighbor, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband - find out all the dirt on them” It's not our task to discover and find the dirt on others; we have enough dirt of our own. But it is our task to make sure others know that however thick the mud on them, there is One who is ready to wash it all away. We do not look for mud on others, but we look to the mud on Jesus. “When you're all muddy, look for the mud.” As John the Baptist said when Jesus was approaching him for baptism, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The Apostle John later wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive  us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9) It's the message for us, and for all dirtied with the mud of sin.

Is your life muddied by sin?  How long has it been since you've let Jesus wash you? Do you have acquaintances who lives are covered with mud? How long has it been since you invited them to look to Jesus? “When you're all muddy, look for the mud.” Take comfort in, and receive strength from the Apostle Paul (Eph. 2:4-9): “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (covered with mud)it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ...”

Don't let sin overtake you – let Jesus take over your sin. “When you're all muddy, look for the mud.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Bends



Principle: “When it's time to grow, change your bends.”

We were cleaning up our family room and study – all part of rearranging the rooms of our house to make room for some of our family to live with us for a while. One of my projects was to gather up all the old cables, cords, and wires and either dispose of them or organize them for storage in one relatively small place. Sounded simple enough – until I realized how many such cables, cords, and wires there were!

Not to be deterred, I diligently gathered them all together, sorted them out, dumped some, and contemplated what to do with the ones remaining. I found a suitable box so decided to wind up or fold each cable, cord, and wire and bind it with a twisty. In doing so it quickly became obvious that some of the thicker, heavier cables had a mind of their own. They still bent in the same places as they did when I bought them – and they weren't about to bend in any other place. Thick and tough, once bent in a certain place, they have always bent there. They seemed to holler out, “Bent this way when I was born, be bent this way until I die!” “Stubborn cables,” I thought. “What good is a cable with no flexibility? To be more useful they should bend in different places!”

Then it hit me – I wonder how many of my bends and folds are still the same as they were years ago? Do I still bend and resist at all the same places or or have I become flexible enough to grow and be more useful? What good is a person with no flexibility? I was learning the lesson: “When it's time to grow, change your bends.” I think that's what Jesus was teaching when He said (Matthew 9:16-17) “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” “When it's time to grow, change your bends.” Goatskins were used for holding wine, and as fresh grape juice fermented the wine would expand and stretch the skin. Old skins, no longer able to stretch and expand, would break; only new skins could hold the new wine. Jesus was saying that He brings new life that cannot be contained in the old skins; unless a person is willing to change and grow – to bend and fold in new places and ways – he or she will miss out on the full, abundant life Jesus offers. In fact, this full, abundant life may even break us if we're unwilling to change and grow. “When it's time to grow, change your bends.”

We all tend to resist change and growth to a certain degree – and usually to out peril. But if we want to experience more of Jesus' life and power within us,  we must change our bends.  “I've worshiped this way since I was born, and will worship this way until I die!” “Always sung only hymns and will sing only hymns until I die.” “Always given this much and will give this much until they carry me out the church door.” “Always prayed this way and always will.” “Never raised my hands in church and never will.” “We've never done it this way before, and we never will.” “Never _________ and never ________.”

You can fill in the blanks.  The point is, what bends and folds do you need to release? Where do you resist the prompting and power of the Spirit? Where are you missing out on the abundant life Jesus is offering you? Where do you need to bend and fold, to be more flexible? Where do you need to be open to change?  Jesus is waiting to pour His new wine into you – lack of wine is not the issue. The issue is, can you hold it? What kind of skin are you  - and what kind do you want to be? “When it's time to grow, change your bends.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pampered



PRINCIPLE: “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

It was a difficult, uncomfortable, even humiliating, few days. And I  loved it!

Barb and I were guests at a pastor's retreat at the lovely WinShape Retreat Center at the Normandy Inn in Rome, Georgia. Upon our arrival we were met with  a warm smile, our bags were taken into our room, and we were told relax – really relax – that we would be totally cared for. The only requirement was to show up for the three meals each day. We had no idea what that would come to mean.

To put it succinctly, we were pampered. Room serviced every day; all meals – prepared by professional chefs – luxurious and plentiful and served by WinShape staff. They poured the coffee, cleared the tables, even refolded napkins when we went to get something more at the buffet. They made sure our every need was met so we could just relax, walk, sleep, read – or do nothing.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But I discovered it wasn't quite so easy to allow myself to be pampered. I'm so used to serving and meeting needs that it didn't seem right that I wasn't allowed to assist, to do something, to do anything to help serve. After all, I'm called to serve. So initially it was tough – even humiliating. I had trouble humbling myself;  I discovered that humility doesn't come easily, that it is difficult to let go and let myself be loved. But until I let go, I couldn't really experience the love. I finally realized that  “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

I found myself identifying with Peter when Jesus started washing Peter's feet. (John 13:7-9)  “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Rough, tough, gruff Peter – with his need to be in control – initially couldn't stand the thought of Jesus, his Master, fulfilling the role of the menial slave. It was simply too humiliating. But when he gave up his control and let himself be served, he experienced Jesus' love in a deeper way then ever before. “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

Just imagine how difficult it must have been for Jesus to let go of his power, to give up  control, and totally submit to His Father. (Phil, 2:5-11 MSG) “...He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” He was humiliated. But... “Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.” He was able to relish the love. “When you're humiliated, relish the love.”

Consider where you need to give up control. What do you need to let go of in order to receive?
Where do you need to humble yourself in order to gain a deeper experience of God's love? Sure, it might be humiliating.  So remember, “When you're humiliated, relish the love.” Let go – let God pamper you.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Value of Playing Cards

PRINCIPLE: “When you're dealt a bad hand, play the deal.”

I love playing a good card game. I always have. From childhood and games of Old Maid, War, Go Fish, and Solitaire to adulthood and the more 'sophisticated' games of Rummy, Canasta, Cribbage, Hearts, and Advanced Solitaire – and whether playing them with real cards or on computers or tablets – I love them all. I love them not only because they can be fun and promote the building of relationships, but also because most of them combine the dynamics of both luck and skill. Luck determines what cards I receive and skill determines what I do with them. Some games, my luck is bad and I cannot seem to get a good hand – then I must do my best by relying on my skill. Some games, my luck is good and I get nothing but good hands – I must still use my skill or the good hand will be wasted and I will lose my advantage. In either case, the only thing I can control is how I play the hand I'm dealt; that is totally up to me.

Just maybe that's why I like card games – they remind me of life. Sometimes life hands me bad hands and sometimes good hands; I cannot control the hand I'm dealt. In either case, the only thing I can control is how I play the hand I'm dealt; that is totally up to me. I especially need to remember this when the hand I'm dealt is bad. “When you're dealt a bad hand, play the deal.” I began to think of this many years ago when I read that as a youth Dwight Eisenhower was playing cards with his family. After being dealt a particularly bad hand he was busy complaining – so His mother told him that life was full of bad hands and that the task always was to play well the hand dealt. “When you're dealt a bad hand, play the deal.” I thought of it again today when I read: “Nothing surpasses the holiness of those who have learned perfect acceptance of everything that is. In the game of cards called life one plays the hand one is dealt to the best of one's ability. Those who insist on playing, not the hand they were given, but the one they insist they should have been dealt – these are life's failures. We are not asked if we will play. That is not an option. Play we must. The option is how.” (1)

Acceptance of everything that is – it does not mean to adopt a defeatist attitude. Rather it means to recognize that while we cannot control the circumstances of life we can control how we respond to them. We always choose whether our circumstances are on top of us or if we are on top of our circumstances. “When you're dealt a bad hand, play the deal.” The apostle Paul understood the principle well. From the depths of his prison cell he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever 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) “When you're dealt a bad hand, play the deal.”

Paul, in fact, encouraged this attitude because he knew it could be life-changing: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son...” (Rom. 8:28-29) God can use our circumstances to transform us. So play the hand dealt and become more like Jesus – who, by the way, didn't try to change His circumstances but played the hand He was dealt. And His life turned out pretty well! “When you're dealt a bad hand, play the deal.”

(1) A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, p. 200 (from Taking Flight, by Anthony deMello)