Saturday, November 27, 2004

Christians as Strings of Christmas Lights

Christians are like strings of Christmas lights. God wants to string us in a dark world so His light will shine out in attractive ways.

But we inevitably get tangled and our bulbs burn out, diminishing, if not eliminating, our effectiveness. There is no avoiding those frustrating realities; they are inevitable and we remain darkened unless they are addressed.

But God can fix us if we acknowledge them. He will gladly straighten us out, replace our bulbs and put us to His use. It may not be easy, but it can be done and God is eager to do it.

(Images dealing with winter related themes were posted September 12a, November 27 and December 12, 2004.
Images of God’s grace in correcting us were posted on September 12, 23, October 14, 17, 2004.
Images about forgiveness were posted on November 27 and December 2, 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.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: Knowing that We Don’t Know

A toddler can only understand a small part of her father’s life. She knows he loves her, enjoys being with her, and provides for her, but can’t fully understand the depth of those emotions or what is involved in making sure she has what she needs. Moreover, she has little understanding of what he does outside the home or of his life before she arrived. She catches glimpses of these things now and then, but they are mostly beyond her understanding. Sure, she’ll grasp more as she matures, but she’ll never fully comprehend them. But that doesn’t stop her from loving him or him from loving her.

The same is true of our understanding of God. We sense that He loves us, enjoys fellowship with us, and provides for us, but we only perceive a small, small part of those realities. We have only a vague awareness of what He’s doing in other parts of His creation and only a limited conception of what He was up to before that creation came into being. Although we will learn more the longer we walk with Him, we are inherently incapable of fully understanding Him. But as is the case with us and our children, our inability to fully comprehend God doesn’t limit His love for us.



(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.)

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Becoming Good Soil in God's Garden: The Process of Becoming Fruitful

The process God uses to make a fruitful Christian is a lot like the process for making a fruitful garden. Both involve significant change and both take time.

Making a fruitful garden
There are a number of separate steps involved in creating a fruitful garden.

First, the gardener dedicates the space to that purpose, moving what is there to make room. This can be big project it its own right, depending on how the space was used, but it must be done because crops can’t grow with something else in the way.

Then the gardener must work the soil, turning it over and breaking it down to a workable texture. This can be a very difficult process, depending on how thick the existing vegetation was and how compacted the soil had become, but there is no getting around this step either.

After that, he must remove things in the soil that will hinder the crop’s ability to put down roots, things like rocks and other junk buried over the years. They’re invisible until the soil has been turned and tilled, but they must be removed if the garden is to reach full potential.

Once that’s done, the gardener must add things for the soil to produce at the desired level. This can be all manner of things, from compost, to various kinds of fertilizers, to manure, depending on the state of the soil and what the gardener wants to grow. Soil rarely can produce as expected without these amendments.

Then time must pass. An experienced gardener prepares his ground in the fall, allowing time for the amendments to add their benefits into the soil as the long winter months creep by. Once spring arrives, soil and air temperatures must reach the right levels before seeds can be planted with any prospect for success. And after that, it takes time for the seeds to germinate, and even more time for the plants to mature to fruit bearing.

Making a fruitful Christian
God usually puts us through the same steps.

First, He takes action to dedicate us to the tasks He has in mind, which almost always requires that other things be cleared away. Those things may be relatively minor, or they may take a lot of time and effort to get rid of, but either way they have to go make room for God’s purposes.

Then He starts to dig into our lives, breaking up our thought and behavior patterns, tilling us into the right texture to receive the things necessary for a good crop, and removing the subtle, but harmful, things that hinder growth. This definitely isn’t easy, but we can’t produce to God’s level if we remain compacted or have rocks where roots must grow.

God also adds the things we need, but lack, to produce what He’s looking for. Sometimes that’s pleasant, like the rich humus of His word, good teaching, and Christian fellowship. But sometimes—in fact most times—we also need the spiritual equivalent of manure. What ever they are, we can be sure we’re better off with than without them, no matter how unpleasant they might seem at first.

And as with a garden, it takes time for things develop into fruitfulness. That can’t be rushed, but can only happen when conditions are right. Fortunately, He always knows when that is, and it’s always worth the wait.



(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 patience/waiting on God were posted October 1, November 21, December 8, 2004 and June 11, 18, and 24, 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, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Drinking a Milkshake Through a Straw: A Loose Paraphrase of James 1:16-17, 19-21

Absorbing God’s word is like drinking a perfect milkshake. It’s the richest, most flavorful, and most nutritious drink you will ever consume, and it will never go bad. It'll always be like that.

But, because of our humanness, we are limited in how much we can absorb, like someone drinking a milkshake through a straw. Just as one can’t drink if he's blowing into his straw, we can’t receive that rich goodness when we are talking instead of listening. And just as junk in a straw will clog it, reducing or even stopping the flow, anger and other impurities in our lives limit how much of that wonderful milkshake we can take in.

(Images about prayer were posted September 17, 17a, and 17b; October 8 and 17, November 13 and 19, 2004 and May 27, 2005.)

Monday, November 15, 2004

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: Dealing with "Meltdowns"

Those who have parented a toddler have experienced “meltdowns”: tantrums where even a wonderfully mannered, well behaved, child becomes inconsolable and almost uncontrollable. The cause is usually trivial by objective standards, but terribly upsetting to the child.

The effect is similarly upsetting; the parent can forget about whatever was planned because the normal dynamics of the parent-child relationship are temporarily suspended. Instead, the focus shifts to “damage control,” limiting the disruption and making sure that the toddler doesn’t hurt herself. It’s very frustrating because even if there is a real problem, the child’s reaction only hinders the parent’s ability to address it.

I wonder if our there isn't a similar dynamic between adults and our heavenly Father. Things come into our lives that are inconsequential from an eternal perspective, but we react terribly because they are terribly disturbing from our limited point of view. That at least temporarily interferes with whatever plans God has for us, and I bet that God, in his perfect love, shifts into the damage control mode to get us through it. And just as a child’s meltdown complicates the task of dealing with the underlying problem, our frenzy adds to the mess God must clean up.

So how do we prevent, or at least limit, meltdowns?

We should do what we would like our kids to do: tell our Father what’s bothering us and trust Him will deal with it. That’s not easy, but just as we are eager to soothe our kids’ agitated emotions in the midst of their meltdowns, God is eager to calm us in ours. And just as the parent is better able to deal with the underlying problem than the child, God can solve our problems far better than we can—if we will just get out of the way and let him.

(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.
Images about trusting God amidst the unexpected/difficult/incomprehensible were posted November 7, and 15, 2004, and April 25, July 11b, and August 9, 2005.)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: Effective Prayer

“In your prayers do not babble…”
Matthew 6:7 (New Jerusalem Bible)

Anyone who has spent time with a toddler has experienced “babbling,” the repetition of the same phrase or request over and over again just for the sake of saying it. It’s not meant to annoy, and usually doesn’t; it just becomes background noise. We hear it, but that’s about it. It’s not effective communication, even though it feels good to the child.

But then there are the times when the toddler focuses and tries to convey a specific message. It may not be perfectly stated, but it stands in noticeable contrast to the chattering, or anything else going on right then, and gets your attention. And that’s true even if it’s something she’s said in the same words many times, like “I love you,” “daddy help me” or “me want milk.” Those focused communications stand out and get a response, even if they’re in garbled form, precisely becuase of their focused nature.

Our prayers fall into the same pattern. Some are mindlessly repeated without any real attention to what we’re saying. They can take the form of liturgy, song, or even private prayers. On the other hand, there are focused prayers intended to convey specific, individualized, thoughts that are real communication, even if we’ve said the same thing, in the same way, many times before (as in liturgy, song, or our private prayers) or if they're akwardly stated. It’s the focused, intentional, thought behind the words that makes all the difference.

(Images addressing what we can learn about God from being parents were posted September 17b, 17b, and 17c; November 13, 15, and 24; December 2, 2004 and January 2, February 18, April 25, August 9 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.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

God's Grace as Water: It's Everywhere

Although it’s not obvious, water is everywhere we are, all the time. We ourselves are mostly water, all living plants contain a high percentage of water, and the very air we breathe always contains some water, even when humidity is at its lowest. Water is contained in many of the foods we depend on to stay healthy, from vegetables, to dairy products, to meats, and if its not there in the form in which we eat them, it was there in their earlier forms. We are dependent on water, whether we know it or not.

God’s grace is like that. It too is everywhere we are, whether we recognize it or not. It's what keeps us alive and makes life worth living. It’s provided to all, in one form or another, whether or not they appreciate its presence, nature, or source, and none of us can live without it.

(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, November 6 and 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.)

Sunday, November 07, 2004

God's Grace as Water: Jumping, and Staying, In

Almost everyone has had the experience of jumping into water that is cooler than expected and immediately having regrets. Sometimes we jump right back out and that’s the end of our swimming. But if we stay in through the initial adjustment, the discomfort goes away and the experience becomes very pleasurable.

God’s grace is often like that. He leads us into things that look good but are initially very discomforting because they are a dramatic change from what we’re used to. That forces us to make a choice. We can (sometimes) jump right back to where we were, but all that results in is our suffering the initial shock without receiving the benefits He intends. Or, we can stick it out through the uncomfortable transition and receive those benefits, which always far outweigh the initial discomfort. 

The choice is ours.

(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 trusting God amidst the unexpected/difficult/incomprehensible were posted November 7, and 15, 2004, and April 25, July 11b, and August 9, 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.)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Responding to God's Grace: What We Can Learn From Water

Scripture frequently uses water to represent God's grace. See Psalm 1:3; Isaiah 12:3; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Ezekiel 17:5-6 and 47:1-12; Zechariah 13:1 and 14:8; John 4:13-14 and 7:37-38; Revelation 22:1-2 and the notes thereto. That analogy is no accident because it illustrates at least two important things about grace.

First, although grace is available to all, we must position ourselves to receive its full benefit. Grace, like water, flows down hill and is most abundant in low spots. Although some rain falls on mountain tops, the most powerful collections of water—rivers, lakes and oceans—are found in lower spots. The same is true of God’s grace; some is available to persons in every station of life, but it is more abundant for those who do not exalt themselves, but instead live humbly before Him. See Proverbs 22:4, 29:23; Isaiah 57:15; Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; 9:48, 14:11, 18:9-14; John 13:12-16; I Peter 5:5-6.

Second, we can be waterproof or we can be absorbent. God makes his grace available to all, but not all accept it. Some, the waterproof, prefer to operate in their own strength. They will be like plants that “live[] in the parched places of the desert.” Jer.17: 6 (New Jerusalem Bible). But if we are porous, trusting in Him, God will be faithful to provide what we need, Jeremiah 17:7-8. Accord Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31. Moreover, if we let it in, God’s grace, like water absorbed by a plant, will permeate all aspects of our being. Jeremiah17:8. Accord Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21.

(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, November 6 and 10, 2004.
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 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.)