The Lazy River

Lazy River

 

Recently I was at a hotel whose grounds included a lazy river. This is one of the water features where you sit on a tube and float along an artificial river. It’s soothing and relaxing. I actually had some pretty good prayer time drifting along in the afternoon sun, but ultimately I ended up right back where I started. For all the motion and distance there was no progress.

Driving through a national park, it’s OK to pull over to the side and take in the view, but we can’t live there. There is a time to put it in gear and move on. If I am living in a ho-hum zone, I need to get ahold of God’s vision. While the lazy river was a nice break, I don’t want to live there. Too often we drift through life going nowhere. Ephesians 5:14 promises, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Without passion life becomes routine, monotonous, boring. Why bother? Why get out of bed? We drift toward apathy and lethargy. God doesn’t want me to love Him half-heartedly. In Revelations 3:15-17, Jesus warns that if we are luke-warm, he will spit us out. I need to put some muscle into it.

Passion is not automatic. It’s a choice. Everything in life tries to keep me from being passionate about God. We get distracted by work and play, shopping and sports. Conflicts and disappointments drain away our passion.

In the world it’s OK to be passionate about anything except God. I can shout and scream for a rock band and the world says, “Yea, rock on, baby!” I can paint myself blue and sit bare-chested in sub-zero temperatures to yell myself hoarse for a football team and the world says, “You da man! Yea, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.” I say grace over my meal in a restaurant and the world says, “What a fool! He’s just a fanatic, he’ll get over it.” I can be passionate about movies or politics or food or partying and the world is right there with me. I’m passionate about God and the world calls me weird. Matthew 6:24 warns, “No man can serve two masters.” Where does God fit in?

I have gone to church pretty much all my life. I even remember a period in around 4th grade when my mother regularly took me to services in two different denominations. But it wasn’t until age 32 that I discovered passion. Before then I was going to church just because that is what people do. My level of passion has taken a step up at various times: attending Bible school, starting our Bible publishing business, preaching in our county jail, preparing for publication of what you read now. There have also been those periods when the passion waned, when I lost sight of my purpose. Have you noticed how passion jumps quickly but then fades slowly sometimes so slowly that you don’t even notice that it’s leaving?

I’m sure you’ve seen the helium filled latex balloon that is tugging against the string when you first get it but tomorrow it’s lying limply on the floor. Our passion is like that unless we decide to keep the fire. In 2Timothy 1:6, Paul admonished Timothy to “stir up the gift of God which is in you.” Timothy didn’t need a new gift; he needed to reignite the gift he had.

Or maybe you relate better to a hot air balloon. Without the flame it’s just a lifeless sack lying on the ground, but turn on the burner and it takes on a new life, able to soar to great heights. Luke 3:16 says Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It’s the fire of the Holy Spirit that ignites our passion, that empowers us to reach new heights.

I see three reasons why we lose passion:

  1. Hurt repeatedly. Dr. James Dobson on Focus on the Family describes an experiment that was conducted where a fish tank was built with a clear glass panel in the middle. A large fish was placed on one side and his favorite food, several smaller fish, on the other. Unable to see the glass panel, he went for the other fish. Bam! He backed up and tried again. Same result. Again and again, but finally he quit trying. At that point, the experimenters removed the glass separator and the smaller fish swam around the bigger fish, but he didn’t try to eat them. In his mind they just weren’t available. He could die of starvation surrounded by his favorite dinner because past failures told him no. Sometimes obstacles seem just too big. We have failed too many times. But God says don’t give up.
  2. Lulled by success. Sometimes we will reach a goal and don’t look beyond it. We find ourselves living off old victories and old successes with no current purpose for our lives. “Oh, for the good ol’ days.” Let me tell you something, the “good ol’ days” weren’t that great. I know, I was there. When the Israelites came up to the Red Sea, Moses said, “Stand and see the salvation of your God. (Exodus 14:13)” Stand, don’t sit down, don’t get comfortable. This is not the time for the La-Z-Boy. God is about to act and I must be ready to follow Him. Get a new vision that will stretch you, challenge you, excite you.
  3. Lack of self-discipline and focus. Another word for this is lazy. We have a traffic circle near our home. Turn right and it takes us to the main shopping area. Go straight through and we are on the highway to church. So often when I am going shopping I find myself on “auto pilot” going straight because I’m not focused. Our late pastor would say, “Any dead thing can float downstream.” 2Corinthians 1:10 Paul says that it is on God he has set his hope. When we are discouraged or defeated, where are our eyes? Downcast. Psalm 121:1 tells us to lift up our eyes. Remember where to set your hope.

Passion requires:

  1. Vision. Why does someone find themselves on the lazy river? Because they have lost vision and in losing vision they lose hope. In Acts 20:24 Paul, in the face of persecution and suffering, declared, “None of these things move me.” He had a vision that sustained him.
  2. Commitment. In Luke 10:27a (Msg) Jesus commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion.”  Exodus 34:14 says God is passionate about His relationship with us. Let’s have the same attitude in response.
  3. Endurance. We become stronger because of struggles. When we lean on Him, God will sustain us through the struggles. I can complain about those around me or I can take responsibility. What happened to me may not be my responsibility but what I do about it is.
  4. Testing. There are times when we make the right choices and from those choices we learn and grow. There are times when we make the wrong choices and from those choices we learn and grow.

God knows my name, He knows my past and He has still called me. Paul, in the name of God, went around persecuting and killing Christians. Yet God redeemed his past. I read a quote recently, “People may write you off because of your past, trying to limit your future. Jesus wrote off your past with His blood to create an unlimited future!” Can there be anything in your past that is too big for God to redeem? Let me give you a hint: NO!

I’ve never been good at foreign languages. I took German in school. I failed the first test. I failed the second test. At that point I had the choice to quit or to dig deeper. So I quit. No, no, I dug down, focused on what needed to be done. I squeaked by with a D but I made it through. It is time to dig deeper. Like a football team down by 2 in the fourth quarter, dig deeper. Get vision. Get hope. Get passion.

What Time Is It?

What time is itThump.Thump. Thump.Thump. Do you recognize what that is? It’s my heartbeat. I think there may be an angel somewhere counting my heartbeats. (He must be pretty low on the celestial pecking order to get that assignment.) The thing is, he’s not counting them up, he is counting down. Thump.Thump. Thum.Thump. When he gets to zero, it’s over. The fat lady has sung, turn out the lights, it’s over. There is no appeal, no 11th hour reprieve, it’s over. Each beat brings me closer to the Judgment Seat. I’ll never get that heartbeat back. Have I put that thump.thump to good use?

Several years ago I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital with chest pains. As I lay in that hospital bed dealing with a possible heart attack and realizing I might not see my loved ones again, that heart beat took on a new meaning where before I had taken it for granted. Today I often evaluate am I just being busy or am I truly effective and fruitful?

Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill  and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,” We talk about dinner time, bed time and nap time. We spend time with friends and have a good time or a miserable time. Our job provides break time, sick time, vacation time. We take time for prayer. We allow time for chores. We lose time waiting in traffic. We do time in jail. We waste time with computer games. We save time taking a shortcut. We kill time waiting for someone who is late. I read in a leadership book several years ago, “Be careful of your time because your time is your life.” Am I living wisely? Am I using time as God wants me to?

I saw a poster once that said, “God has given me a certain number of things to do before I die. At the rate I’m going I’ll live forever.” Romans 13:11 (NIV) warns, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Time is running out like sand through an hourglass. We imagine we have a full lifetime to define and redefine who we are. We have room to better ourselves, to change direction, to recover from mistakes. But what if my story ends mid-sentence? Our 22 year old son had dreams of graduation, dreams of marriage, dreams of career. He did not have dreams of a drunk driver on the wrong side of the freeway. Romans 13:14 (NIV) tells us what God expects of us, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Luke 21:34 (NLT) warns, “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware.”

The fertilized human egg is no bigger than the width of a hair, yet think about what it contains. Your sex, the color of your hair, how tall you will be. “Yea, yea. (ho hum)” But wait, if we stop there we have missed the power and majesty of God’s creation. The human body is made up of over 90 trillion cells, that’s 9 with 13 zeros. Inside that single, tiny egg are the instructions for every one of those 90 trillion cells with regards to location, function, interaction, healing and life cycle.

When a heart surgeon goes in, he doesn’t have to rummage around: “It must be in here somewhere!” No, he is going to find the heart right where it is supposed to be because it was programmed by that single cell. The devil wants you to believe that you are an accident, a mistake, worthless, without meaning or purpose. That life comes forth only by the sovereign hand of God as one cell becomes 90 trillion.

In Matthew 22:11-14 the king, symbolizing God the Father, comes into the wedding feast he is hosting and finds one attendee has refused to put on the wedding garment he has been provided. This man came in appearance but not in heart. He was seeking the blessings but was not willing to be obedient. Jesus’s death provided for each of us a robe of righteousness. Whether my clothes are from Gucci or from Goodwill, I have been given the robe of righteousness.

Nothing can separate me from the love of God, but I want to be pleasing to Him. To please Him I must live life on purpose. But how do I know my purpose? Why am I here? That is a question as old as mankind. Paul knew his purpose: “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (Acts 20:24 NLT)

Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV) says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” “Hey, I went to church every Sunday (well almost).” “I never knew you.” “I had a cross tattooed on my arm.” “I never knew you.” “I preached in the jail.” “I never knew you.”

I can know about someone but not know them. LeBron James plays professional basketball for the Miami Heat. He is 6’ 8”, 250 pounds, He was born on Dec. 30, 1984. He has averaged 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.73 steals and 39.9 minutes playing time per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the floor, 33.1 percent from three-point range and 74.6 percent from the foul line. And on and on. I may know a lot about LeBron, but do I know him? I may be able to quote a lot a Bible verses, I may bring powerful teachings before thousands but that doesn’t show I have an intimate relationship with God. That takes time and a willingness to listen.

I propose that knowing God takes four things:

  1. Salvation: Our starting point must be accepting by faith the grace of God that brings us right standing. I don’t deserve it. I can’t earn it. I can only receive the gift by faith. I am transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. (Colossians 1:13)
  2. Mind renewal: After our spirit is born again, we still have the same old way of thinking. The process of mind renewal, allowing the Word of God to change us from the inside, changes our perspective from worldly thinking into kingdom thinking. (Romans 12:2)
  3. Seek God: What is my priority? Am I seeking the things of the world or am I focused on God? What I value I will pursue. (Colossians 3:2)
  4. Obedience: John 15:14 says, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” The inevitable product of authentic salvation, mind renewal and seeking God will be obedience. Rebellion or apathy are signs of a defect somewhere in that process.

Someday I will step through the curtain into eternity. I expect to spend the first two million years with my jaw hanging open going, “Wow.” Then God is going to nudge me and say, “Come over here. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” 1Corinthians 2:9 promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Every generation since the Ascension has said, “Surely this is the time of Jesus’s return.” Will He come back today, tomorrow, next week, next year, 100 years from now? It doesn’t matter. I am called to live today the very best I can. Ephesians 5:15 (NASV) warns, “Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The great equalizers are death and time. That goes for you or me, Barack Obama or the guy at the mission, Donald Trump or someone flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Each one of us has 24 hours today, no more, no less. Am I going to live in a way that I hope to squeeze into heaven before the pearly gates swing shut or am I going to live in victory as a light of His grace, His peace, His love in a dark world? Think about it while there is still time.

Thump.Thump.   Thump.Thump.          Thump.Thump.               Thump.Thump.                  beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep

Miserable Christianity

You have heard of oxymorons, two words that just don’t go together. Some of my favorites are: boneless ribs, awfully good, pretty ugly, and my all time favorite Jumbo shrimp. Here’s an oxymoron for you: miserable Christian. Those are two words that should never go together. I can have salvation, be on my way to heaven but if I have no peace or joy, I will not be an influence on others for God. Sinners are talking loud, telling everyone about their sin. Let’s talk louder about what God is doing.

In Genesis 11:31 Terah, the father of Abraham, left Ur of Chaldees to go to Canaan, but when they reached Haran, they settled there instead. But – that was where he gave up, that was the place of defeat, that was where he missed his destiny. Some will press through regardless, others will be wimpy and whiney. What will make you give up? What are the “potholes” that have caught you in the past and gotten you off track? Recognize them, plan for them or they will take you out again.

Romans 8:29 says we are destined to be molded into the image of Jesus. Everyday I am changing, looking more and more like Jesus. Isaiah 64:8 tells us God is the Potter and we are the clay. When that clay is put on the potter’s wheel and spun, pressed, squeezed, and reshaped, it is not pleasant for the clay, but it is necessary if the clay is to become what the potter wants. It may not be comfortable to change but it is necessary. I will never be happy outside of God’s will. What attitudes or behaviors have to go in my life? Unforgiveness, selfishness, pride? Change will cost me something. Am I willing to pay the price? Luke 14:28 warns us to count the cost. What will it cost to keep that behavior? What will it cost to let it go?

1John 3:8 says, “To this end the Son of God was revealed, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” I can choose the pain of change or the pain of regret. I can go through the struggle of change today or I can look back a year from now and experience the regret of missing what God has for me. I must be mentally prepared for the struggle. If I expect life to be smooth and easy because I follow God, I will be sorely disappointed.

Colossians 3:1-4 commands, “If then, Gill was raised together with Christ, he should seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Gill is to set his mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For Gill died, and his life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Gill’s life, is revealed, then Gill will also be revealed with Him in glory.” I must keep the right perspective, the right focus.

The Israelite nation was stuck in the wilderness, doing the same thing over and over. Finally in Deuteronomy 2:3 God tells them, “You’ve gone around this mountain long enough.” Israel was stopped not by their enemies but by their attitude. My complaining just opens the door to the enemy.

Ever feel stuck in the middle: don’t want to go back but not sure you can make it to the finish line? Walking with God is OK until it costs something. It makes us uncomfortable because it calls for sacrifice and rejection. Holy Spirit came so I would have the power to go all the way.

2Corinthians 5:20 tells me I am a representative of God’s kingdom, an ambassador. When people look at me they should see Christ. In 1Cor 11:1 Paul makes a remarkable statement: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” In other words, “Do you want to know what it is to be Christ-like? Look at me.” I’m not sure I’m ready to make that claim, but I want to be headed there.

When we go through a time of trial, our emotions can tend to pull us down. In those times, what I speak will lift me up or pull me further down. Deut. 30:19 says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against Gill this day, that I have set before him life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore Gill should choose life, that he may live, he and his seed.” Every day I face a choice between life and death, particularly in my words. I need to speak truth even in difficult times. Truth is that wrong words bring destruction.

Do I sound saved?

  • “My back is killing me.” When did back pain become a fatal disease?
  • “I love you to death.” I would much rather you love me to life.
  • “You drive me crazy.” I may be crazy but I didn’t need your help to get there, thank you very much.

And we wonder why we have problems! Proverbs 18:21 warns, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” I can hurt or help my future through my words.

I don’t do the right thing in order to get something from God but because it is the right thing. Then I can trust God that He will bring the right result at the right time. I was thinking about the story of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. They had been witnessing for the Lord when they were arrested, beaten and thrown into the darkest, dirtiest, smelliest part of the prison. The Bible tells us at midnight they were singing and praising God when an earthquake hit, opening the doors and loosing the chains. Do you really think Paul had leaned over to Silas and said, “Come on. If we sing loud enough, God will get us out of here!” Paul didn’t have the New Testament to read; he didn’t know how that night would turn out. All he knew was it was the right thing.

1Thes 5:18 says, “In all things give thanks, this is God’s will for those who are in Christ.” That doesn’t say when I feel like it or when life is going good. No, in all things! 2Chronicles 20:22 is a remarkable story. King Jehoshaphat and the city of Jerusalem were in a hopeless situation: the city was surrounded by three massive armies. But God gave Jehoshaphat a plan, he opened the city gates and sent out singers ahead of the army. The result: the enemy was thrown into confusion, they began killing each other and Jerusalem won the victory. When David faced Goliath, he used his words before he used his sling. Goliath said, “What am I, a dog that you send a boy with a stick against me?” But David was not moved. He said, “This day I will feed your carcass to the birds of the air.”

Godly character is built in hard times. Philippians 2:14 commands, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” How do I live that out? Pay bills without grumbling or arguing. Take out the garbage without grumbling or arguing. Show up for work on Monday without grumbling or arguing.

God will work something good if I keep a good attitude. Look at Joseph in the Old Testament: sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape by his owner, thrown into prison to rot. His situation was hopeless but he kept his hope in God and He lifted him up.

Christians were not meant to live small, miserable lives. We are to shine in a dark world. We can be different. We must be different.