Thursday, September 23, 2004

Romans 12:2: Wrinkles & Creases

Lord, I am wrinkled like a garment that has been worn all day. Please gently steam those wrinkles from me with your Holy Spirit. Penetrate each fiber of my being, moisten them with your warm, living water, and loosen the individual kinks and twists that make up those wrinkles. Straighten them out, remove them. Unwrinkled me.

But don’t stop there. Please put your sharp creases into me. Use the starch of your Spirit and the iron of your Word to make them last, so that they are not replaced by new wrinkles.

In Jesus' name, amen.

(Images about conforming/yielding to God were posted September 12a, 18a, 18b, 18d, and 23; October 3 and 3a, November 6; and 21, December 8, 12, and 15, 2004 and January 10d, February 18, May 11, June 18 and 27; August 21 and 27; and October 3, 2005.
Images about prayer were posted September 17, 17a, and 17b; October 8 and 17, November 13 and 19, 2004 and May 27, 2005.)

Saturday, September 18, 2004

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Serving Our True Purpose (part 1 of 6)

What can Christians learn from a garden hose? Quite a bit.

As we’ll see in this and five following posts, we can learn about the importance of serving our true purpose, the importance of staying connected to God, some of the problems that can limit our effectiveness for God, some solutions to those problems, the necessity of adapting to humble circumstances, and about the seasonal nature of productivity.

First of all, a hose shows us how important it is to use our lives for the purpose God intended. A hose can be used for other things besides moving water, but the results will be substandard. For example, a hose can be used like a rope to bind something, but the knot won’t last and the hose will likely be damaged in the process. Used for its intended purpose, that same hose can successfully accomplish many things, from watering a garden to washing a car—and do so far more effectively than it could tie something together. It is a simply a waste to use a hose for any other purpose.

The same is true of people. God has specific a purpose for each of us and we are each specially designed for our particular purpose. Both the ultimate value and immediate quality of our lives are directly related to how closely we follow His plan. We can accomplish wonderful things if we direct our energies to what He intends, but will be next to worthless, and unhappy, if we do not. The lesson is clear—we and others are blessed if we follow God’s call and hurt if we don’t.



(A series of four images dealing with this theme were posted on September 18, 2004 here, here, here and here. Images based on other water related themes were posted on September 12b, October 1, November 6, 7, and 10, 2004.
Images about conforming/yielding to God were posted September 12a, 18a, 18b, 18d, and 23; October 3 and 3a, November 6; and 21, December 8, 12, and 15, 2004 and January 10d, February 18, May 11, June 18 and 27; August 21 and 27; and October 3, 2005.)

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Connection to The Source (part 2 of 6)

Another thing we can learn we can learn from a garden hose is that we can’t accomplish what God calls us to do apart from Him, no matter how hard we try.

Just as it is impossible for a hose to perform its function if it's not hooked up to a spigot, no one can fulfill God’s plan without being connected to God and His living water. We can try with all our might, but our efforts will have no lasting value if we don’t access that source. We’ll just be like a hose apart from a spigot—hollow, dry, and useless.



(A series of four images dealing with this theme were posted on September 18, 2004 here, here, here and here. Images based on other water related themes were posted on September 12, October 1, November 6, November 7, and November 10, 2004.
Images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.)

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Problems That Limit Our Effectiveness (part 3 of 6)

Any one who’s ever used a garden hose knows it can be less than effective, even if it’s hooked up to the spigot and pointed where water is needed. It can clog with dirt, reducing and polluting the water that flows through it. Segments can out of alingment with the spigot and kink, drastically diminishing the amount of water going beyond the kink. It can be too short to reach where the water is needed. It can lack the force needed to accomplish the intended task without a nozzle. Or it can rot if water is allowed to sit in the hose, rather than pass through it.

Similar problems can beset us. Sin can clog us if we lack spiritual water pressure and let our selves get into the dirt. We develop kinks when parts of our lives are out of alignment with God. We can come up short, failing to reach the areas God wants watered, if we try to do His work on our own because we are too proud, or shy, to ask others for help. We can have only a portion of the force God intends if we lack a focused flow. Or we can simply decay by keeping the things God intends to flow through us, in us, rather than allowing them to pass onto others.



(A series of four images dealing with this theme were posted on September 17, 2004 here, here, here and here. Images based on other water related themes were posted on September 12, October 1, November 6, November 7, and November 10, 2004.
Images about conforming/yielding to God were posted September 12a, 18a, 18b, 18d, and 23; October 3 and 3a, November 6; and 21, December 8, 12, and 15, 2004 and January 10d, February 18, May 11, June 18 and 27; August 21 and 27; and October 3, 2005.
Images about the fact that God blesses us in order for us to bless others were posted September 12b, 18c, and 18d, 2004 and August 27, 2005.
Images about the need for connecting/working with other believers were posted September 18c, 18d , October 3a and 8, 2004.
Images about the importance of exercising the spiritual disciplines were posted September 17a, 18a, and 18d, and October 3a, and 8, 2004 and January 10d and August 27, 2005.)

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Solutions to Those Problems (part 4 of 4)

Fortunately, there are remedies, and better yet preventives, for all the problems discussed in the previous post.

Clogs can be unplugged, and avoided, through regular prayer and time in God’s Word. Those disciplines improve our connection to God, the essential spigot, which in turn increases our spiritual water pressure. And regular time with God tends to keep us out of the dirt that might otherwise clog us. See Proverbs 2:1-5, 9-12.

Those same fundamentals—prayer and scripture—also undo kinks. They show us where we should be and inspire us to get there, helping realign us with God so He flows through all parts of our lives. Indeed, that increased spiritual water pressure actually helps push into proper alignment with Him.

We can dramatically increase our usefulness by connecting with other believers. Our overall capacity is exponentially increased and areas we could not reach on our own can be quite easily covered if we hook up with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We can also significantly boost our effectiveness by focusing what God gives us (time, energy, skills, and talents) on the tasks He’s given us. Just as the same amount of water has much greater impact when forced through a nozzle, we are much more powerful when we allow God to channel us into a particular task. We do that by getting rid of the extraneous. For example, cutting back on media alone can have amazing impact, removing distractions and outright corruption.

Finally, we have to let God’s living water flow through us. Hoses are meant to pass water onto where it is needed, not to store it. Let water sit in a hose without release and the hose will rot.

We are the same way. God blesses us so we can bless others. Holding onto things God gives us to give to others will not only deprive the intended recipients, but will rot us as well. We must instead pass God’s blessings on through sharing his Gospel and giving to others.



(A series of four images dealing with this theme were posted on September 18, 2004 here, here, here and here. Images based on other water related themes were posted on September 12, October 1, November 6, November 7, and November 10, 2004.
Images about conforming/yielding to God were posted September 12a, 18a, 18b, 18d, and 23; October 3 and 3a, November 6; and 21, December 8, 12, and 15, 2004 and January 10d, February 18, May 11, June 18 and 27; August 21 and 27; and October 3, 2005.
Images about the benefits of eliminating things that distract us from God/His purposes for us were posted September 18d, October 3a and 14, November 21, December 8, 2004 and February 28 and August 3, 2005.
Images about the fact that God blesses us in order for us to bless others were posted September 12b, 18c, and 18d, 2004 and August 27, 2005.
Images about the need for connecting/working with other believers were posted September 18c, 18d , October 3a and 8, 2004.
Images about the importance of exercising the spiritual disciplines were posted September 17a, 18a, and 18d, and October 3a, and 8, 2004 and January 10d and August 27, 2005.)

Friday, September 17, 2004

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: Why God Sometimes Says "No"

Just as I must sometimes respond to my daughter’s requests with a “no” in order to get something done for her or others, God sometimes says "no" to our prayers for the same reason.



(Other images comparing our relationship with God with our relationship to our children can be found at What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents.
Images about prayer were posted September 17, 17a, and 17b; October 8 and 17, November 13 and 19, 2004 and May 27, 2005.)

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: God Looking In On Us

Every night I look in on my two-year-old daughter (sometimes several times) before I go to bed, and often again when I wake up. I make sure she’s all right, pray over her, and adjust her blankets.

That’s motivated by love; she gives me such joy that I get a little boost just seeing her there. She usually doesn’t know it, but that doesn’t mean that her father isn't taking action to help—and love—her.

It’s probably the same way with God. He’s no doubt checking in on each of us, taking care of little things we never notice, just because He loves us. Most of the time we're never aware of it, but that doesn't mean He's not doing it or that we don’t benefit from it.

Sometimes my daughter wakes up briefly, smiles a contented smile, and then goes back to sleep. That makes me very happy. God must feel the same way when we wake up, realize He's there, and let Him know how happy we are that He is.



(Other images comparing our relationship with God with our relationship to our children can be found at What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents.
Images about prayer were posted September 17, 17a, and 17b; October 8 and 17, November 13 and 19, 2004 and May 27, 2005.)

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: A Child's Cries and Our Prayers

It struck me early one morning as my two year old daughter was calling for me that there are parallels between her sometimes urgent cries, our prayers, and God’s response to those prayers.

My daughter sometimes cries with great fervor when she wakes up in the morning, perhaps because of strongly perceived distress on her part, or perhaps because she is uncertain she’ll receive a response. In reality, things are rarely as serious as her cries would indicate and never any doubt that I’ll come quickly.

The same is true of our prayers. We often feel much more distressed than circumstances warrant and sometimes doubt that God will respond. As is the case with my daughter’s cries, neither is usually true. In fact, just as I am already on my way to respond to my daughter’s cries before she knows it, God is preparing answers to our prayers before we know that He’s at work.



(Other images comparing our relationship with God with our relationship to our children can be found at What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents.
Images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images about prayer were posted September 17, 17a, and 17b; October 8 and 17, November 13 and 19, 2004 and May 27, 2005. )

Two Brothers and a Grocery Store: A Seemingly Implausible, But Very Common, Story About Finding Time for God

Two brothers inherited a grocery, but it wasn't just any store. It had an unmatched selection of produce, the very best meats and seafood, a world-class bakery, and the freshest dairy products this side of the farm. Not surprisingly, people came from all over to shop there.

One of the brothers, we'll call him the first brother, was always on the go. He had a family, a large circle of friends, was very involved in the community, and was an avid golfer, all on top of his responsibilities at the store. He was always pressed for time and one way he coped was to spend very little time eating; he ate just enough to keep body and soul together.

That worked for a while, but over time his health faded; he found it harder and harder to meet his many obligations. He became an increasingly stressed, and therefore bitter, man. In spite of his efforts to get more out of life by not eating, he actually received far less.

The other brother led a different kind of life. Although he had the same responsibilities and hobbies, and hence very little free time, he always found time for food. He would personally study new recipes, select the best ingredients from the store's wide inventory, and cook them himself. It wasn't easy to fit that into his stretched schedule, and he wasn't able to give as much of himself to his leisure activities as he would have liked, but it was worth it. It was pleasurable in its own right and, more importantly, it gave him the strength to meet the demands of his busy life. He lived a rich and happy life, even after his brother's decline and the increased burdens that placed on him.

It's not hard to recognize which brother was wiser; who would starve himself if he had access to such wonderful food? It seems preposterous, who would do that to themselves?

We do. All the time.

Far too many American Christians fall into the same trap. No, we don't starve ourselves physically (far from it), but we are spiritual anorexics. We get "just enough Jesus" for salvation but very little more. After all, we rationalize, "who has time for regular prayer and Bible study? There just aren't enough hours in the day."

Is it any wonder that life's demands continue to wear us down when we won't do what gives us spiritual strength? The result is just a predictable, and avoidable, as that which befell the first brother.

The "starving saved" aren't the only ones hurt. Just as the first brother's family had to put up with his bitterness, and his brother had to carry the load he couldn't bear in his depleted state, both our natural families and brothers and sisters in Christ are burdened by our spiritual anemia. We are less loving to each other, and no one can deny that the body of Christ is weakened by the fact that many of its members are biblically malnourished.

It doesn't have to be that way. We have ready access to an unprecedented supply of spiritual food. We have more Bibles, study aids, and other Bible based resources than any one at any time in history. They can connect us to the ultimate source spiritual strength—Jesus, the Christ. Just as the two bothers had ready access to all they needed for physical vitality, we have been given all we need for spiritual strength.

But we must "take and eat." And we have to do more than just graze—we must really dig into what's offered us. Sure it takes time, and sure something else will have to give, but anyone who has done it can attest that it's well worth the price. The resulting strength will make us better able to meet the demands that will come, whether we are starving or full, weak or strong.

So the choice is ours. We can starve ourselves or we can be fully nourished. Is it really any choice at all?

(Images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images about the importance of exercising the spiritual disciplines were posted September 17a, 18a, and 18d, and October 3a, and 8, 2004 and January 10d and August 27, 2005.)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Wetting a Dried Up Sponge: John 4:1-42

A dried up sponge isn’t worth much. At best it’s a minimally effective scouring pad, as likely to crumble as to clean. It's just an annoyingly ineffective abrasive, too rigid to do much good.

But that changes with water. The sponge becomes flexible and, rather than taking on the dirt with its own abrasive force (however little it has), it dissolves the grime, cleaning much more effectively. And if the sponge is fully saturated it goes further, replacing the dirt with a coating of clean water.


We are like sponges
We too have a similar purpose, to clean up those parts of this fallen world under our influence. But on our own, our effectiveness is quite limited. Sure, we can try to remove the dirt around us with the force of our own “dry” determination, and we probably will make some limited progress, but we are more likely to wear down than ultimately succeed. We certainly will not replace dirt with cleansing water. Instead, it is very likely that some of that dirt will end up in our dry, empty, spaces.

So where do we get the water we need?

God takes away dryness
From God.

His eagerness to give it is demonstrated by the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman described in John 4:1-42. Jesus had been doing some hard traveling and stopped, tired in the mid-day heat, for a break in a traditionally hostile area. Despite the fact that he was “worn out by the trip," John 4:6, he reached out to a woman who needed help.

Her life was more than dry; she had a long string of failed relationships and apparently couldn’t relate well to others. That’s probably why she went to the well at noon, when there was usually no one else there.

Jesus went out of his way to give her what she needed, in spite of cultural barriers, John 4:9, 22, social conventions, John 4:9, 27, her skepticism, John 4:11-12, and her incomplete understanding of what she was being offered. John 4:25. The living water Jesus gave her had a wonderful effect on her and those around her. She overcame her social isolation, and without prompting, reached out to her neighbors. John 4:28-29. She went from being an outcast to a person with a tremendous—and very positive—impact upon her community. John 4:30, 39-42.

Nothing had changed in the woman’s situation from the time she came to the well except her meeting Jesus, but that changed everything. He, God in flesh, was what transformed her from the equivalent of a dry sponge to a wonderfully effective cleansing tool, replacing the dirt of the disbelief around her with a sheen of living water that blessed others.

That’s not to say that it was easy or that nothing was expected of her. She had to drop her defense mechanisms, her cultural prejudices, and skepticism, John 4:9, 11-12, and confront her own brokenness. John 4:16-19. Moreover, she had to overcome the downright rude reactions of other, more “mature,” believers, who hardly welcomed her with open arms. John 4:27. But Jesus’ gracious persistence met her more than halfway, and her bold use of the gift He gave her—the real reason God gives such gifts—transformed her and her neighborhood and likely laid the ground work for future blessings. John 4:30, 39-42; Acts 8:5-8.

So what does that mean to us?
So what does that have to do with us? After all, we’re 21st century American Christians, not first century Samaritans.

A lot.


“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” Hebrews 13:8, and his transforming power transcends ethnic differences, Colossians 3:11, so the chronological and cultural differences between us and her are irrelevant. So is the fact that we already know Jesus as God of the universe, while she was just meeting him. God gives the same living water to people long in relationship with Him that He offered to that then unsaved woman. Psalm 1:2 tells us how God quenches those who already “delight in doing everything [he] wants.” That living water is just as available to us as it was to that broken woman 2,000 years ago.

But first we must admit that we need it. Maybe you’re not rebounding from your fifth divorce like she was, but we are all broken in some respects. Each of us falls short of the really good things God wants from us and none of us can get them without his help. That’s why almost every one of the New Testament writers tells us that we just can’t get it done on our own, Matthew 18:3, 19:23-26; Mark 10:15, 23-27; Luke 18:17,24-27; 24:29; John 3:3, 12:24, 15:4-6; Acts 5:38-39; 2 Corinthians 4:7; James 1:5, 1 Peter 5:6-7, Revelation 3:17-18. The Old Testament also recognizes that dynamic. Deuteronomy 8:17-18; Psalms 33:16-19, 127:1-2; Proverbs 10:22; Isaiah 10:15, 31:1-3. Indeed, Peter, the epitome of perceived self sufficiency earlier in his life, grew to recognize that all who seek to live in God’s power must humble themselves and recognize their own inadequacy before He can lift them up. 1 Peter 5:6. So we have to recognize that, in one way or another, we need God’s grace just as much as the woman at the well.

And we shouldn’t be afraid, or ashamed, to approach God in our dryness. Jesus, as tired as he was, initiated the contact with the Samaritan woman, as estranged as she was. He is even less likely to be put off when we come to him since we already family. John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7. In fact, Jesus explicitly instructed us that His, and our, Heavenly Father is eager to give us what we need if we ask for it. Matthew 7:7-11. Jesus’ apostles, his hand picked messengers, expressly tell us to bring our needs to God without hesitation. Hebrews 4:16, 1 John 3:19-22. There is no simply no need to stay dry.

Last, but very emphatically not least, we must put that water to use for God’s purposes. God blesses us so that we can bless others. We only receive His best if we use what He has already given us according to His purposes. Matthew 25:14-23. That living water may well dry up if we don't. Matt 25:24-29.

So the choice is ours. We can live dry, unproductive, and ultimately crumbling lives in our own power, or we can let God fill us with his living water. It really isn’t much of a choice at all.




(Images based on water related themes were posted on September 12b, October 1, November 6, 7, and 10, 2004. A series of four images dealing with a somewhat related theme (a garden hose) were posted September 18, 2004 here, here, here and here.
Images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images about the fact that God blesses us in order for us to bless others were posted September 12b, 18c, and 18d, 2004 and August 27, 2005.)