Sunday, October 17, 2004

Becoming a Championship Christian

Becoming a fruitful Christian is a lot like being part of a championship team.

The Resources at Our Disposal
We have the ultimate coach; He set the rules of the game and has been through, and won, the toughest possible competitions (Jesus). We have been a playbook that covers, at one level of specificity or another, everything we’ll face on the field (the Bible).

There is no better program. Effective use of those resources assures us a championship, but only if we use them well.

Developing Skills
How do we do that?

We begin by learning the basic plays—the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teachings. We master them through regular study of those portions of the playbook, study that continues through our entire career as we become better and better able to understand their nuances.

But understanding plays isn’t enough; they must actually be run and run well. Indeed, they can't really be understood until they've actually been attempted. That requires constant practice and regular consultation with our Coach. The more we do this the better we get. Sure, there’ll be times when we don’t execute well, but our Coach is always willing to help us deal with, and learn from, those mistakes. They will become less frequent the more we study, practice, and work with Him.

As we become more experienced we realize that that there is more to the game than the basic plays. As essential as those fundamentals are, we must also learn the other, more subtle, points of the playbook to really be effective. We learn them the same way we learn the basics: continual study, continual practice, and continual consultation with the Coach. Again, we will never be perfect, but we will get better if we keep at it.

Playing Tough
It’s also crucial to remember that we have an opponent who does whatever it takes to win. That means that the games will be tough and that we’ll probably lose a few here and there.

But we shouldn’t despair over our losses. A game is not a season. Moreover, our Coach, who knows us intimately and has already beaten our opponent innumerable times, knows what it takes to win the championship and will give us everything we need to do so if we follow him through those tough times. Remembering our Coach’s many past victories, and drawing near to our team mates, will help us through these rough spots.

If we do these things the championship is ours, or more accurately, His.



(Images about God’s providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a and 18c, October 3, November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images about diligence/perseverance in doing God’s will were posted on October 1, 3a, 8, and 17 and November 7, 2004 and January 10c, June 11, 13, and 18; July 15 and August 27, 2005.
Images about the process of growing/maturing in our walk with God were posted October 3a and 17, 2004; May 11, June 11 and 18; July 20, 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.)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Grabbing God’s Helping Hand

God offers a powerful helping hand to each and every Christian seeking to do His will, but we must act to receive that help. That requires three things.

First, we must empty our hands of anything else. We can’t can’t grab hold of Him if they are filled with other things. We must give those things up, but it’s more than worth it.

Second, we have to reach out and grab His hand. Although he is bold to first extend it, we cannot receive its full benefit if we do not take hold of it. However difficult that may be at first, we must swallow our pride, overcome our awkwardness, and grab it to reach our full potential in Christ. The good news is that He is eager to reciprocate, regardless of how dirty our hands may be or how weak our grip. He wants the relationship that comes with it.

Third, we must not let go. That deprives us and others of the full measure of the goodness He offers. It also allows us to wander off the course He would lead us on. God is faithful to take our hand again and lead us back if we do that, but the time off course is wasted and can never be fully recovered.



(Images dealing with similar themes were posted on September 12, 12 (a separate post), 18, October 1, 3, 8, 17, November 6, 2004 and January 10 and February 28, 2005.
Other images about the benefits of eliminating things that distract us from God and His purposes for us were posted on September 18, October 3 and 14, November 21 and December 8, 2004 and February 28 and August 3, 2005.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

Christians as God's Employees: A Loose Paraphrase of 2 Peter 1:3-11

Christians are like employees who have been offered an awesome computer, all the training, and every other resource we need by an Employer who wants us to be wildly successful, both for His and our benefit. We can be amazingly effective for Him, and wonderfully fulfilled, if we learn to use those things to their fullest and enthusiastically put them to use. That will not only give us the joy that comes from effectiveness, but also prevent us from wanting to waste our time on less worthy things.

But will only happen if we do our part. We must to do several things to achieve those results.

First, we must have the right attitude. We must want to accomplish good things for our Employer and His present and potential customers. In other words, we must be committed to His business.

Second, we must take the effort, and submit to the discipline, necessary to learn how to take full advantage all He gives us. Even the best tools do little good if we don’t know how to utilize their many features. That requires serious time in the employees’ manual and eager attention at the trainings our co-workers put on, at His direction, every week. Those steps are absolutely essential to success and half hearted efforts will definitely impair our effectiveness—and job satisfaction.

Third, we must put in the time and effort necessary to complete the projects our Employer has given us. For example, He did not give us the computer to play games, instant message our friends, or surf the net when we should be doing His work. Although He wants us to have joy in our lives, and those activities are OK on our own time, He expects us to put His work first.

Fourth, we must stick with it even when the job becomes difficult or tedious. Those things happen in every job, no matter how great it is, so we shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged when we encounter them here. After all, no one has ever had the success our Employer has achieved, so there is no reason to doubt our ultimate success if we stay at it.

Fifth, we must internalize our Employers’ nature and seek to emulate Him. That is difficult because it goes against our nature, but it can be done and is well worth the effort. The best way to do that is to observe how He has conducted business in the past (described in detail in the employee’s manual) and to keep in close, continual, communication with Him. Fortunately, He encourages that and makes Himself available to us 24/7. But we must remember that communication goes two ways and must listen to, and act on, what He says. All of this takes time and effort, but it’s well worth it because He is the ultimate mentor. And because He is such a good mentor, He will make sure we succeed—if we keep at it.

Sixth, we must approach our work with consideration for, and genuine collegiality with, our fellow workers, even the difficult and odd ones. Nobody, us or them, gets much fulfillment out of a work place where noone interacts with their coworkers or, worse yet, undercuts or gossips about them. Instead, we find joy and productivity when we work together, not only to further our Employer’s business, but also to help each other in our personal lives.

Seventh, we must subordinate our individual interests and desires to those of our coworkers and our Employer’s customers, even when it’s difficult. That has been the key to His unparalleled success and He expects us to follow His example. Sure, that’s not easy, but it's essential to continuing success. Once again, our Employer has ways to help us with this. They're in the employees’ manual and He’s more than happy to explain them, and to help us put them to work, if we spend time with Him.

These actions will, together with the wonderful tools our Employer gives us, dramatically enhance our productivity, our job satisfaction, and our relationship with Him.

Conversely, the failure to do so will make us ineffective and deprive us of the great rewards He would otherwise provide. We will be problem employees, just “putting in our time” and missing all the good things our job has to offer.



(Images about the process of growing/maturing in our walk with God were posted October 3a and 17, 2004; June 11 and 18, July 20, August 21 and 27, 2005.
Images about diligence/perseverance in doing God’s will were posted on October 1, 3a, 8, and 17 and November 7, 2004 and January 10c, June 11, 13, and 18; July 15 and August 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.
Images about the need for connecting/working with other believers were posted September 18c, 18d , October 3a and 8, 2004.)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Luke 8:4-8, 11-15: A Prayer for Good Soil

Lord, make me into good soil. Break the compacted soil of my soul; transform its hardened clumps into pliable loam. Remove the rocks that hinder your word from taking root in me—the areas of hardness in my heart—and replace them with the compost of your Holy Spirit. And add plenty of it because I can’t bear fruit worthy of you without that rich, sweet, humus.

Give me a good basic dressing from your scripture. Moisten me with your living water, warm me to just the right temperature, and adjust my spiritual Ph to strike the perfect balance between discipline and grace so I can best germinate the seeds you plant in me.

Once those seeds are planted don’t let me get dry, depleted, too hot, or too cold. Irrigate me daily with prayer and time in your word. Side dress me at least weekly with the gathering of your saints and continually cover me with the mulch of your presence.

Lord, keep me weeded, no matter what it takes. Pull those wasteful things out of my life so your good blessings—your humus, nutrients, and moisture—are used for your purposes. Do it quickly before their roots get deep and keep me weeded so I can yield the best possible crop.

Most of all, help me to use these things to bear fruit that pleases you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.



(Images about gardening or soil related themes were posted October 3c, November 21, December 8, 2004 and February 28, June 11, 13 and 24, 2005.
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 God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a and 3b, November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images dealing with the importance of exercising the spiritual disciplines were posted September 12, 18, and 18.1, and October 3, 2004 and January 10 and August 27, 2005.)

A String on God's Guitar: What It Takes to Make The Pleasing Music God Wants From Each of Us.

A guitar string is attached to bridge of the guitar, stretched over the body, up the neck, and wrapped around a tuning peg. It’s then tightened it to the right tension to produce a particular tone when pressure is applied. It can either produce a series of solo notes or can combine with other strings to produce chords, either of which can be incredibly pleasing. On the other hand, it can fall out of tune, pleasing know one.

People are a lot like guitar strings and God is the virtuoso who plays them. Let’s see what we can learn from that.

Getting Attached
A guitar string does not come stretched out and attached to the guitar. Instead, it is an individual item, curled up in a shape that makes it useless for its intended purpose. Although it has the innate potential to fulfill that purpose, it’s simply incapable of doing so in its original state.

We are like that before we give our lives to Jesus. We have potential, but are unusable because, in our natural state, we are twisted around ourselves and detached from the things necessary to realize that promise. God must pick us up, straighten us out, and align us with Himself before we can even begin to receive, and give others, the good things He offers. Absent that, we remain twisted, separated, and wasted. The good news—the gospel—is that God is eager to lovingly straighten us out and put us to work by attaching us to his Church. But that’s just the start.

Getting Tuned: Being Attached and Stretched
Merely attaching a string to a guitar does not make it capable of producing pleasing music; it must be tuned. So how does that happen? By being both attached and stretched.

Although being attached is not enough by itself to make us ready to produce engaging sounds, it is essential. Just as a string can’t be stretched into tune unless it is firmly attached to the guitar, we can’t be prepared for what God intends unless we are firmly connected to His body, the Church, and biblical truth, the Church’s foundation.

And we must stay firmly in touch with God as he works in our day-to-day lives. It’s just like a string being fixed to the base of the guitar and wrapped around its tuning peg, following the peg's twists as they are made. Being connected is the only way we can get in tune; there's just no other way.

That results in our being stretched. A guitar string sounds terrible if it is not tightened beyond its natural state; we are inherently off key if we don’t let God tune us. It isn’t natural or easy, but it beats the alternative (wallowing in ineffectiveness) and the results are definitely worth it. It’s painful at times but, to mix metaphors, “no pain, no gain.”

Being Played
That’s not the end of the process because we’re not tuned just for tuning’s sake; we’re tuned so we can yield something beautiful. That only happens if we are played.

Being played requires us to yield to outside pressure. Whether it’s being gently strummed along with others, individually plucked, or really bent to reach a high note, strings only make music when they are struck by the musician. No pressure, no playing and, ultimately, no pleasure. Indeed, some of the most compelling notes are the result of the most extreme pressure.

There's no set pattern to how we are played so we have to be ready for whatever the Musician has in mind. He does not always play the same song so the notes, and hence the pressure, changes over time. And even if a song is reprised, it's rarely played the same way twice. But regardless of the song, God, the Master Musician, knows how much pressure we can take and does not press us beyond that limit; He never breaks a string. And no song goes on forever, giving us breaks between performances.

Playing With Others
We are also like guitar strings in that we have more value with others than by ourselves. A single string can produce a lot of music, but it has a relatively narrow range. But combined with others, it can form an almost infinite variety of chords, each of which can convey uniquely subtle shades of meaning. That only happens when strings are combined. To be sure, there are times when individual notes are best, but most music is based on chords, not single notes.

Chords only happens when multiple strings are combined; they are formed by collections of different notes, made by strings of different thicknesses, tuned to different degrees of tension. In other words, chords can only come out of the harmonious combination of different elements.

It’s the same with us. We can only yield the richness and variety God intends if we work together with others who are different from us.

Getting Out of Tune
Individual strings do get out of tune. That not only makes their solo notes off key, but also degrades any chords they contribute to. That can happen because their connections to their tuning pegs loosen, because they are subjected to vibrations from other noises, or because they have been played to long without a tuning.

Similar things happen to us. We go flat when we aren’t tightly connected to the God’s tuning key and start to revert to our old, discordant, nature. We can also get out of synch if we let other influences (media, unhealthy relationships, and habits, etc.) set us vibrating to their frequencies instead of the pure tone God designed us for. And we can innocently, but undeniably, fall out of tune if we spend so much time doing the work God calls us to that we are unable to spend time with Him in prayer, meditation on scripture, worship, and fellowship with other believers.

But the good news is that we can always be retuned. God is eager to tune us up if we will recognize our need for it by retightening our connection to His tuning peg and letting Him stretch us back into harmony with Him.



(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 process of growing/maturing in our walk with God were posted October 3a and 17, 2004; May 11, June 11 and 18; July 20, August 21 and 27; and October 3 2005.
Images about diligence/perseverance in doing God’s will were posted on October 1, 3a, 8, and 17 and November 7, 2004 and January 10c, June 11, 13, and 18; July 15 and August 27, 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 God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a and 3b, November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images dealing with the need for connecting/working with other believers were posted September 18, 18.1 , October 3 and 8, 2004.)

Friday, October 01, 2004

What We Can Learn About a Fruitful Christian Life From “a tree planted near streams”: Psalm 1:3

Such a one is like a tree planted near streams; it bears fruit in season…”Psalm 1:3 (New Jerusalem Bible)

We can learn a lot about leading a fruitful Christian life by thinking about the circumstances of the “tree planted near streams” that “bears fruit in season” described in Psalm 1. Three things come to the fore: humility, patience, and the fact that fruitfulness takes real effort.
Humility
First, consider where the tree is—down in the bottoms. That is a low spot, not an exalted place. The sustaining elements God provides through “streams,” water and rich alluvial soil, are only found in abundance in valleys.

So it is with us. God provides his richest blessings to those who do not elevate themselves, but instead humbly go where He is, even if, by worldly standards, that is beneath them. See Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 12:2, Proverbs 15:33 and 18:12.
Patience
Consider also that a tree does not bear fruit overnight or all the time. It takes years to grow from a seedling, to a sapling, to a mature fruit bearing tree. And once it reaches maturity, it will not bear fruit all the time, but will instead have times of fruitfulness interspersed with periods of recovery and regeneration.

The same is true of us. We too must mature, both in our natural development and in our relationship with Christ, before we can bear fruit. There’s no rushing it, we just have to wait upon the Lord for Him to get the most out of us. And we have to be patient during the times between crops, recognizing that what we do then prepares us for future fruitfulness. See Psalm 37:9, Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) 3:1-8Sirach 6:19-20.
Effort
But that doesn’t mean that we are only passive observers. Instead, fruitfulness requires real effort on our part. That is true in two respects.

First, fruitfulness doesn’t just happen because the tree is provided with water and nutrients. It must absorb those essential ingredients and convert them to leaves, flowers, and fruit. Once fruit forms, the tree must continue to nurture and support it as it grows and ripens until harvesting.


And that’s not the half of it. A tree must go through a lot that’s not directly related, but essential, to producing a crop. It must weather cold winters and hot summers, wind storms and, since it’s planted by a river, the pressure of flood waters once or twice a year.


Christians must likewise put real effort into producing the fruit that God expects from us. We must take what God gives us for His purposes and be sure to do all it takes to turn it into the harvest He seeks. We too must persevere through the difficulties that are an unavoidable part of this life. Although we can’t bear fruit without God’s gracious provision, that provision will go for naught if we don’t do our part. See Matthew 10:22, 24:13; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 10:36; James 1:3; II Peter 1:6.




(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 humility were posted October 1 and November 10, 2004.
Images about patience/waiting on God were posted October 1, November 21, December 8, 2004 and June 11, 18, and 24, 2005.
Images about diligence/perseverance in doing God’s will were posted on October 1, 3a, 8, and 17 and November 7, 2004 and January 10c, June 11, 13, and 18; July 15 and August 27, 2005.)