Thursday, October 17, 2013

Puzzled Again



PRINCIPLE: “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”

I like doing puzzles. Granted, it can eat up large chunks of time; but I easily justify it by claiming it serves as a good diversion from the normal, daily routines and stresses, and it works to sharpen my mind (which some days needs a lot of sharpening!)

In doing puzzles I've learned that at least one thing is inevitable – there will comes points where I'm stuck and can't find any pieces that fit anywhere. I've learned that, rather than stressing and quitting, it's best to switch positions, to go to the other side of the table, to get a different perspective. “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”  It's amazing how many pieces I then find that fit. And it's all because I put myself in a position to get a new perspective.

I've also learned that the same is true when it comes to viewing and understanding life. The Bible is filled with admonitions that say, in essence, “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Consider Joseph's words to his brothers about understanding the circumstances of life: “Now do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here. It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people's lives. This is only the second year of famine in the land; there will be five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor reaping. God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way and to make sure that you and your descendants survive. So it was not really you who sent me here, but God...But Joseph said to them, “Don't be afraid; I can't put myself in the place of God. You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened.” (Gen. 45:5-8 & 50:19-20 GNT) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Reflect on Paul's words about viewing other people: “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Cor. 5:16 NLT) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”Think about Jesus' words to Martha about her dead brother Lazarus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Viewing life's circumstances, other people, and the issues of life and death from Jesus' perspective rather than our own provides new, significant sight.

Jesus explains it this way: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Once we believe in God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, we live in the environment of life rather than of death. We see circumstances, people, and all of life differently; we see it from God's  perspective. And to be sure we understand how to cross over, Jesus told us “If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17) We change sides, we cross over, we move into the environment of life by  obeying – by doing what Jesus says to do. Perhaps it's time to quit trying to understand and figure out everything that happens to us in life, to stop evaluating and judging people from our own prejudices, to cease from focusing on death and darkness and to cross over to Jesus' sight. We do it anytime, every time, we obey. Just do what He says, think likes He thinks, serve like He serves, love like he loves. It will be amazing how many pieces will fit. “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Humiliation



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 than 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, October 3, 2013

Tunnels 2



Principle: “Before entering the tunnel, check your load.”

Driving through the tunnels sends my mind into thinking overtime! The tunnels speak not only of passage into the presence of our Savior, but also about preparation for it. Often, when approaching a major tunnel, there will be signs stating what items are prohibited  – items that are not safe to have in the tunnel. Most such items are potentially explosive. Usually these signs are posted miles in advance of the approaching tunnel so there is plenty of time to check your load. In fact, that's what the signs are meant to do:  “Before entering the tunnel, check your load.”

Isn't that a message for our journey through life as well? Once in the tunnel it's too late to check the load, so “Before entering the tunnel, check your load.” There are simply some things – many things, in fact – that we cannot take with us. Hebrews states it clearly (12:1): “Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up...” (CEB). The NLT puts it this way: “...let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.”  “Before entering the tunnel, check your load.” There is baggage that not only slows us down and trips us up as we head for the tunnel, but which is also dangerous as we enter the tunnel. There is a lot of baggage we can't take with us – which is potentially explosive and will disqualify us.

Certainly there are sinful things we do or think that are not allowable in the presence of God. That's obvious. But note that Hebrews doesn't limit the baggage only to sin – it's anything that weighs us down. That implies we lug around some good baggage – but good as it may be in and of itself, it slows us down.  When I was entering my final year of seminary education and training, I decided to give up doing radio play-by-play of a local high school's football and basketball games. Oh, I loved doing it – and I was told was good at it (truth be told, if God hadn't called me into ministry, I'd probably have spent my life doing sports broadcasting). It also provided a means for witnessing. But it was taking away time I could spend studying and preparing for a life of ministry – and from my young family. There was nothing wrong with broadcasting itself – but it slowed me down and was tripping me up. It was standing in the way of a deeper relationship with Jesus.

What is that baggage for you? Service in the church? Charitable volunteer work? Always being available to others to help them in their need? Pursuing your hobby or special interest with all your spare time? Spending time with family and friends? What are the activities, interests, or pursuits in your life that are good, but not essential – and perhaps distracting – to your relationship with Jesus?

Excess baggage is prohibited in the tunnel. And once we're in the tunnel, it's too late; the baggage must be shed before entering. Perhaps the issue  to consider is how do we want to enter the tunnel? Knowing that Jesus is coming to greet us and carry us through, to take us to be with Him, do we want to crawl, walk, or run to Him? I want to run! How about you? “Before entering the tunnel, check your load.”  The apostle Paul had this idea firmly implanted in his mind and heart: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27) Eugene Peterson captures the point well in The Message: “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” “Before entering the tunnel, check your load.”