Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why We Are Where We Are

Our lives are filled with different seasons, and over the course of our lives we will find ourselves in many different places. This keeps life interesting, but it can also be very frustrating, particularly when find ourselves in a season that we don't really enjoy. Whether or not we are in such a season now, surely we have been at some point in the past, and we will be again before it's all been said and done.

When we are in a season that is not going the way we would like, we are often tempted to jump ship and and find greener pastures for ourselves. There are times when that might be the best thing to do, but in many cases the Lord has a purpose for us in the tough season. If we choose to end the season too soon, we will short change ourselves of experiencing all that He has in store for us.

Sadly, if we decide to abandon our present season prematurely, we are only setting ourselves up to have to experience the same thing again. It may be in a different place with different players in the game, but essentially, we will encounter the same difficulties that we had previously tried to escape. Most of us understand this principle, but why is it so important that we go through this season, anyway? Why does the Lord keep giving us the opportunity to pass through it?

My personal pattern seems to be to become ungrateful and complain when things stop going my way. Maybe this just happens to me, but I do find myself in that place ever so often. I was in such a place recently and I began to complain (I mean pray) about it, and the Lord just whispered that this whole thing is about more than just me. Imagine that! It was as if I realized for the first time that there is more going on than just me in the seasons in which I find myself.

Now that we're back to earth, what else is going on here? What is the Lord trying to accomplish? The most obvious answer might be that the Lord has things He wants to teach us through these tough seasons. That is certainly the case, but beyond that, He also wants us to bear fruit in these seasons. Every season where we find ourselves, especially the hard ones, is an opportunity for us to manifest His Kingdom. His objective for us is more than that we learn a lesson - He wants us to take ground. When the Lord led His people out of Egypt, they had a difficult journey through the wilderness. However, the real battle began when they arrived at the Promised Land - that's where the giants were. These giants don't give up their ground easily - we have to fight for it.

Where are we right now? Who are the people the Lord has brought into our lives? Where do we work, or go to school? Who are our neighbors? Who are our enemies? If where we are currently isn't easy, that's most likely a good thing. We need to fight and take the ground that is around us. Too often we miss valuable opportunities by taking the path of least resistance. We need to break these patterns and start taking the ground where we are for the Kingdom!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Cardinal in the Wood

If you are at all like me, you are probably eagerly awaiting the start of spring. Many of us are looking forward to the snow melting, the leaves starting to reappear and the the thermometer making its climb back up to more pleasant temperatures. Personally, I am not going to miss scraping the windows on my car in the mornings or shoveling the driveway. However, winter isn't all bad. I do enjoy the snow while it lasts, and recently I was privelaged to witness a beautiful scene one morning before work.

From my chair at our dining room table, I have a direct view of the woods off the side of our yard. Since it is the middle of winter, most of the leaves are off the trees and everything in the woods is kind of the same dull gray color. One morning I was sitting at the table looking out into the woods. Everything kind of looked the same, except for a little bright red dot in the middle of some of the thicket. I looked closer and realized that a male cardinal was sitting on one of the gray branches. The next morning he was there again, and after a few days, I realized that his nest must be close by because he was sitting amidst the dull colored twigs nearly every morning. His brilliant red color against the drab color of the surrounding branches was one of the most beautiful contrasts I have ever seen. It was also very thought provoking.

Over the course of the next few days after seeing the cardinal, my mind wandered back to the beautiful scene more than once. The boring lack of color in the branches wasn't able to squelch the cardinal's brilliant feathers. The lifeless depression of the surrounding trees couldn't overcome the beauty and life emanating from the glorious bird waking to face his day. As I thought more about my red friend, I began to wonder how much do I stand out from my surroundings. Sometimes the world around me feels like the gray branches of the winter woods. Life can be tough, and like some winters, sometimes there seems to be no end in sight. It is easy in some of life's seasons to blend in with our surroundings, but the Lord has created us to to shine as cities on a hill. As a matter of fact, in Matthew 5 Jesus referred to us using those words. In the same text, He called us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To put it in more modern terms, the Lord intends for us to stick out like a sore thumb.

Just like the red cardinal sitting among gray limbs, a city on a hill can be seen from all around. Just a pinch of salt can be the difference between a tasteless dish and a gourmet meal, and the smallest flicker of light will penetrate even the deepest darkness. As the Lord's followers, that's how we are supposed to be. Let me point out that standing out doesn't mean that we have to promote ourselves. It also doesn't mean that we have to be weird. That beautiful cardinal stood out by being himself. It would have taken effort to camoflauge himself, but by just being what he was created to be, he was shining forth a brilliance that separated him from what was going on around him. Some of us need to stop working to fit in and start allowing ourselves to stand out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Waking the Dead

When the Lord created the world and all of us, there were certain things He had in mind for us to do and experience, and there were things that He did not intend for us. For example, He never intended for us to experience death. He never intended for us to experience sickness, and believe it or not, He never intended for us to experience religion.

Yes, you read that correctly. Religion was never His idea - religion is man made. It may seem strange that I would group religion in the same thought as sickness and death, but they are actually closely related. Sickness that goes untreated will lead to death. Religion that is allowed to persist will also lead to death.

During Jesus' earthly ministry, as when He speaks to us today, He often used very descriptive terminology. He explained His Father's kingdom by comparing it to seeds, dragnets, pearls and coins. As He taught He referenced fields of flowers, sparrows, building towers and growing grapes. His choice of words was anything but boring, but perhaps one of His most vivid comparisons was reserved for the most religious people in the world. Referring to the Pharisees, He said " . . . you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones . . ."

That is the result of religion. It has the ability to clean up the exterior, but it only produces death. It can change the way we look, the way we act and even the way we talk, but it cannot produce life. As hard as we might try, we will never be able to experience life through religion. Life is only produced through intimacy. Religion is a one way street that leads us in the opposite direction of intimacy. You might even say that the two are opposites.

Religion is based on what we do, intimacy is based on who we are. Galatians 5 contrasts the "deeds of the flesh" and the "fruit of the spirit." Deeds are based on what we do, just like religion. Bearing fruit is a result of being connected to a life-giving source, just like intimacy. The life that we were created to experience can only be produced by an intimate relationship with the Lord. This relationship is based on who we are, not what we do. Apart from intimacy with Him, the best of what we do will only turn us into an attractive grave. Our relationship with the Lord will lead us into a life producing intimacy that can wake the dead.