Sunday, December 17, 2006

Responding to darkness--Part II

Christians should be like the radium on a watch. We should absorb God’s light and make it available to others so they can organize their lives by it in a dark world.

Responding to Darkness--Part I

God, please dilate our spiritual eyes so we are more sensitive to Your light in seemingly dark places.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Relating to God's Light

The Bible consistently, through different books written in different times and in different cultures, describes God as light. (See the appendix that follows this post) It’s an unavoidable, unmistakable, frequently repeated, theme, so God apparently thinks it’s very important for us to know that about Him.

So how do we respond? What practical, behavior altering, guidance can we draw from it? Two things come to mind.

The first is that we have to be careful about letting the world get between us and God. That can happen lots of ways, though over commitment, too much media, and materialism, to name a few. If we get into the world’s shadow we don’t receive the full measure of His light. We end up like a less than full moon—at least partially in the dark and reflecting far less of God’s light than we otherwise could. That hurts us and others.

The second is that we can’t let ourselves get between God’s light and those around us. We can do so in multiple ways: by pride, anger, lust, greed, impatience, laziness (among other things). They effectively put God in (at least) second place to our desires. That obscures His goodness in us, and effectively casts our shadows on the parts of the world He wants illuminated, like the moon during a solar eclipse.

The following verses describe God or Jesus as light or as providing light to guide us. The hyperlinks go to the chapter containing the verse or verses, presented in the King James Version. Other translations can be seen by scrolling down the page brought up by the hyperlink.

If the citation is to multiple verses, the alternate translations are provided for what seems to be the key verse. Alternate translations for other verses can be found by clicking on the “v” box to the left of the verse you are interested in.

God/Jesus as Light

God, Jesus, or God’s truth as providing light for our guidance

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sailing before God's Wind

"Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." Ezekiel 37:9 (King James Version)

Fruitful Christians are like sails. They catch the Holy Spirit’s energy—the equivalent of the wind—and contribute their own strength, albeit the strength God gives them, to convey that energy to the benefit of others.

God asks them to do so in different ways. Some are called to move heavy loads, like the sails on an old time sailing ship. Others are tasked to power smaller crafts. But regardless of the size of the load their mission is the same: to use God’s power to move things in the direction He desires.

God also calls us to perform that task in different circumstances. Some of us are called to operate on relatively smooth waters, while others must do their work on rough seas.

Finally, the intensity of that work varies over time. Sometimes God really pushes us, asking us to deal with heavy winds. Other times it he only sends light wind, probably because He knows that we need the respite.

(Another sailing image can be found at: Sailing Before God's Wind: John 3:8 )

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Extravagant Grace

Several weeks ago I was swimming laps late in a sunny afternoon and noticed the beautiful lines the sun made on the pool’s bottom. It struck me that they are a manifestation of God’s extravagant grace: He set up a natural system that resulted in wonderful beauty, apparently just on the off chance that someone would see and appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


“Shoulder my yoke and learn from me….”
Matthew 11:29 (New Jerusalem Bible)

A yoke directs an ox’s energy towards an externally identified task, joining its effort to its driver’s direction. The ox contributes the strength; the driver directs that strength to a particular purpose and together they accomplish more than either could on their own.

By asking us to shoulder His yoke, Jesus is asking us to contribute our energy to His purposes. We aren’t simply being asked just to submit to God’s control (although that is an essential part of it), but also to actively work towards, expend our effort on, whatever tasks God has for us. Jesus teaches more than passive submission; He exhorts us to affirmative effort directed at the specific tasks He chooses for each of us.

That has wonderful results. By actively combining our effort with God’s control we achieve much more than we ever could on our own. And although the Kingdom will go forward with or without our effort, it is further ahead because of our own contributions.

Jesus not only taught that dynamic, he modeled it. His total submission to the Father’s will involved strenuous effort on his part. Rather than being a passive expositor, waiting for people to come to Him, He walked miles and miles to spread the gospel, and endured the press of many crowds. And that effort was all expended in accordance with God’s direction; Jesus actively diverted from His immediate plans went to meet folks where they were, and ultimately had to make that hard climb to Jerusalem and Golgotha, all in accordance with the Father’s plan. The result was far more than one man could accomplish on his own, but it could not have occurred without that man’s active contribution.

If we “learn from [Him],” we’ll contribute our effort to what He’s called us to, whatever that may be, and if we are faithful to His direction, we'll see results far beyond our own capabilities.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Night Vision Goggles

We’ve all seem images captured through night vision goggles. They magnify ordinarily unperceivable light to show the wearer things that exist in the darkness. Christians are like persons given night vision goggles.

Like people walking at night, Christians must make their way through a world that appears dark, but that actually has some of God’s light present at all times and in all places. We can’t always see that light on our own and if we try to deal with things purely in our own strength, we sometimes stumble, disoriented and discouraged. But like night vision goggles, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to perceive God’s light in a situation, allowing us to better deal with it.

There is another other parallel. Night vision goggles only help if they are put on, requiring the wearer to make the effort to avail himself of their benefits. Likewise, we only benefit from the Spirit’s guidance if we seek His help. He doesn’t impose His self on us; we have to be open to/seek out His help. Like someone who won't use the goggles offered him, we stay in the dark if we try to make it through on our own.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Gardening for God: Pornography is Like an Invasive Plant

Most experienced gardeners have had to deal with invasive plants at one time or another. They're not usually recognized as a problem at first; to the contrary, they may initially appear to be beneficial. But soon they start to spread, crowding out other, indisputably fruitful, plants. And not only do they cause the loss of the good plants’ productivity, they also deplete the nutrients of the underlying soil.

Many Christian men have had similar experiences with pornography. It too looks good at first, seeming to add a little spice to life. But it rarely stays under control. Instead, it consumes energy and attention that should be used for productive purposes and depletes our spiritual strength.

That is not a recent phenomenon; scripture confirms that lust—the power behind pornography—has always had those effects. The book of Proverbs, written thousands of years ago, attests that illicit sexual matters initially appear attractive, Proverbs 5:3, 7:16-18, but eventually get beyond our control. Proverbs 6:27-29. It also describes how, left unchecked, they consume us, Proverbs 5:9-11, with tragic results. Proverbs 5:4-5; 7:21-23. Jesus confirmed those dynamics, Matthew 5:28-30. The delivery system has changed, but the stuff being delivered is still the same.

So what do we do about it?

Experienced gardeners know that there are two primary countermeasures to invasive plants. The first is to seal their gardens off; they are careful to prevent those plants from getting into their gardens in the first place, and failing that, to completely weed them out as soon as they appear. Half way measures don’t work; if the plants are present in any quantity the gardener must spend time and effort on containment that is needed to nurture other plants and will likely fail no matter how hard he tries. The second is to make the legitimate crops as strong as possible so they are more resistant to those invasive plants that appear in spite of his best efforts to keep them out.

Scripture and experience confirm that the same is true with regard to pornography. The best approach is to avoid it altogether, to stay away from areas, virtual or otherwise, where tempting materials are likely to be found, Proverbs 5:8, 7:24-25, c.f. Proverbs 7:7-8, and to completely eliminate them if they are present. Matthew 5:29-30. And like a gardener tending to his bona fide crops, scripture instructs us to strengthen legitimate outlets for our energies so we can better deal with those instances where sexual temptation enters our lives, as it inevitably will in spite of our best efforts. Proverbs 5:18-23, 7:1-5. See also Matthew 5:31-32.

(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.
Other images based on gardening themes are collected at Gardening For God.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Savoring God's Grace In The Midst Of The Mundane

The other morning I was waiting for the bus and, between passing cars, heard birds singing. There was nothing unique about their songs, but they provided a taste of nature in a quasi-urban environment and considerably improved my mood. That was something hadn’t happened before, even though I’ve waited at that stop hundreds of times and birds had doubtless been singing during some of those waits.

But I did hear it then and the more I focused on them the more interesting they became, converting the otherwise empty wait into a pleasant experience. Perhaps more importantly, it put me in a good mood that lasted throughout the morning. You might call it a “two for.”

That taught me something about God’s grace. It’s present in the midst of the mundane, but most of the time we’re oblivious to it and hence miss its full benefits. However, if we make an effort to savor those aspects we do notice, however small they are, we are blessed not only by those particular things, but in other ways as well.

(Other images about savoring God’s blessings were posted May 16 and 20, July 7, and 15, 2005.)

Gardening For God: Cutting Back the Grasses

This is the time of year when ornamental grasses have be cut back; last year’s foliage must make way for this year’s growth. That requires removal of the fruits of a year’s efforts, as satisfying as they may be, and that the plants be reduced to stubs. Things look a bare, but there’s no other way; it has to happen if the grasses are to provide the shade and privacy expected during the coming seasons.

Jesus addressed that dynamic—that we must give up what we have to get the best God has to offer—several times during his earthly ministry. In the course of commissioning the apostles, effectively calling them to abandon their prior lives, He told them that “those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39. He later taught the same truth, when, shortly after He first revealed His coming passion, He said that “those who want to save their life will lose it.” Luke 9:24, Mark 8:35. John’s gospel also records Jesus, in describing His own death, saying that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24. Bringing the matter into sharper focus for purposes of this post, Jesus’ taught in the parable of the vine that deadwood must be trimmed from fruitful plants if they are to “bear more fruit.” John 15:2.

We see the same thing in our lives. We spend a lot of time and effort on something, and it’s pretty good, but we have to let it go to produce other things God wants from us. It usually doesn’t seem like a good trade at first, but it always ends up being worthwhile if we submit to God’s will. We simply have to make that change if we are to be as fruitful as God wants us to be.

Let me give you an example. My wife and I had been married for 15 years and had a very comfortable life; we both had good jobs and, with no kids, time to enjoy the income that came with them. But God had different plans: He wanted us to adopt a child.

I was resistant, to say the least. Why should I give up my “good life” for one that would require us to, by the world’s standard, reduce our standard of living and give up any semblence of free time? It seemed like the epitome of a bad deal.

You can’t win an argument with God, so I gave in and am I ever glad I did. Our daughter brings joy—both to us and others—that we could never have imagined. Our marriage is more rewarding than it ever was before and we have experienced blessings that we could not have conceived of. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it took some time to see those rewards, but they came and have exponentially exceeded that difficulty.

But none if that would have happened if I hadn’t been willing to let go of my old life. Just like the my grasses, it had to be cut back to make room for new growth. Looking back, I now realize that if I hadn’t given it up, my old life life would have ended up like grasses that aren’t cut back: with no potential for growth and with what was already there becoming increasingly tatered and decreasingly satisfying. God had a much better idea for my life and I’m glad He cut me back so I could receive it.

(Other images about conforming/yielding to God were posted at on 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.
Other images about the process of growing/maturing in our walk with God were posted on October 3a and 17, 2004; May 11, June 11 and 18; July 20, August 21 and 27; and October 3 2005.
Other images about trusting God amidst the unexpected/difficult/incomprehensible were posted on November 7, and 15, 2004, and April 25, July 11b, and August 9, 2005.

Other images about the lessons we can learn from parenthood are posted at What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents.
Other images based on gardening themes are collected at Gardening For God.)

Gardening For God: Planning the Garden

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly…”Romans 12:6a

We can learn a lot about our spiritual gifts from our vegetable gardens: how to maximize our individual fruitfulness and how to best coordinate our gifts with others.’

Maximizing Individual Fruitfulness
Experienced gardeners know that particular plants are more fruitful in some circumstances than others. Cool season crops thrive at the beginning and end of the growing season, while warm season crops grow best during the hot months in between; you get a disappointing crop if you plant either at the wrong time. Similar results follow placing a full sun plant in a shaded spot.

We see the same dynamics in our Christian walk. Scripture confirms what we sense, that God gives different Christians different gifts. Each of us is better at some things and in some circumstances than others and that mix varies from person to person. See Romans 12:6a; I Corinthians 12:8-10, 30. Although we can do some good in our own strength, it is far less than we produce when we operate in the gifts God gives us. The difference is similar to what you’d see when a cool season crop is planted too late or a full sun plant is grown in the shade: some fruit is produced, but both the quality and quantity are noticeably less than they could be.

Coordinating Our Gifts
A successful gardener takes the differing nature of individual crops into account when planning his garden, coordinating them to maximize the garden’s overall productivity. He considers which types of cool season crops to plant, picking those that’ll mature before it’s too late to successfully plant follow on warm season crops. He considers the height and relative location of crops planted at the same time so they don’t block each other’s sun. He takes the dynamic of companion planting—the effect that causes some plants to thrive when placed close by certain other types of plants but causes yet others to be stunted if grown in the same place—into account by placing complementary plants beside each other and separating antagonistic crops.
Scripture tells us that we should similarly analyze each others’ gifts to maximize our common effectiveness. Paul taught that we should look beyond our individual gifts to see how their interaction with others’ hurts or helps our collective fruitfulness. He explained that certain combinations are either ineffective or downright counter productive, I Corinthians 14:1-17, 23, while others dramatically enhance our overall fruitfulness. I Corinthians 14:24-33.


Just as each plant and garden is different, no array of spiritual gifts, either individual or collective, are the same. Nonetheless, they all have one thing in common—their fruitfulness is dramatically increased if we take the time to analyze how to best match what God has given us to the situation at hand.

(Other images about conforming/yielding to God were posted on 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.

Other images about the need for connecting/working with other believers were posted on September 18c, 18d , October 3a and 8, 2004.

Other images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted on 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.
Other images based on gardening themes are collected at Gardening For God.)

Gardening for God: Weeds

“Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.”Luke 8:7

Gardeners are familiar with the dynamic described in Luke 8:7, part of Jesus’ parable of the sower. They plant seeds hoping for a crop, those seeds sprout and grow, but so do the weeds. If they’re not pulled they overtake the crop, block out the sun, and so stunt the good plants that there’s no crop.

But gardeners also know there are ways to prevent that. Sheet mulch not only makes it harder for weeds to sprout, but also provides extra nutrients that speeds the crop’s growth, making it less likely that whatever weeds do sprout can overtake them. They also make a conscious, and continuing, effort to look for and pull any weeds that come up.

That same dynamic is present in our lives. We lose our fruitfulness if we let ourselves be surrounded by distractions from God and the things He’d have us do. Those “weeds” take different forms—excessive emphasis on career, status, or material things; too much time spent on hobbies; too much media—but they have a common effect: they divert energy God intends for fruitfulness to other purposes. Instead of producing fruit they produce thorns.

Fortunately, the same measures that work in the garden work in our lives. We can put down the spiritual equivalent of sheet mulch by building time with God—prayer and time in the Word—into our daily routine; they both make it harder for the weeds just described to take root and nourish us for greater fruitfulness. And like a gardener regularly checks for weeds, we can engage in regular self examination to find weeds that need pulled from our lives.

(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 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.
Other images based on gardening themes are collected at Gardening For God.)

What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents: Climbing onto the Father’s Lap

I’m usually up when my three year old daughter wakes up in the morning. She sometimes says little then, but instead just climbs onto my lap to be held. That sends an unspoken message of love far stronger than anything she could express verbally. And because of how well I know her, I understand what she needs then without her saying anything.

I wonder if the same thing isn’t true between us and God, if our coming to Him and quietly abiding in His presence—the spiritual equivalent of silently climbing onto His lap—doesn’t trigger the same feelings toward us that I feel toward my daughter. And just as I know my daughter’s needs without her explaining them, God knows what we need without our having to describe them in great detail.

Scripture supports that parallel. Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 and Matthew 6:7-8 explicitly tell us that we shouldn’t go on and on in our prayers, but instead should just come to God and trust that he knows our needs without our spelling them out in detail. The same concept is inherent in Matthew 6:31-33 and 7:9-11, which both tell us we can trust God to know, and meet, our needs if we simply seek him out. Indeed, Romans 8:26-27 makes it clear that God will understand and respond to our prayers even when we “do not know how to pray as we should,” making it clear that effective prayer is more a matter of relationship than rhetoric.

That’s not to say that we should hesitate to tell God our concerns; the Psalms and other portions of scripture encourage us to cast our burdens on God, Psalm 55:22, to “pour out” our hearts before Him, Psalm 68:2, and to bring “everything” to God in prayer, Philippians 4:6. See also Luke 11:5-8 and 18: 1-8, I Peter 5:6-7, Hebrews 4:16, James 1:5. God is able to "get it" whether we spell it out in detail or simply climb onto His lap.

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

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cleaning the Kick Plate

“And all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 (New Jerusalem Bible)

Several years ago I decided to clean the tarnished brass kick plate on the front door of my house. I applied some brass polish, and that took some of the tarnish off without any real effort, but most of it only went away through the application of steel wool and elbow grease over what seemed to be an inordinate period of time. The more I rubbed, the more reflective the kick plate became. It ended up much better than it started, but never became perfectly reflective.

It strikes me that God works the same way in getting us to better reflect His image. We are each tarnished by the junk in the world and need cleaning in order to reflect His nature. Through His grace, some of the tarnish comes off easily, like the initial layer of crud that came off my kick plate simply as a result initially applying the polish. But most of it only goes away as the result of His persistent scrubbing. The more time we spend in his presence, and the more we let Him work on us, the more reflective we become. And although we’ll never become perfectly reflective of His perfect nature, we’ll become more and more reflective over time, even though it sometimes seems to be taking much longer than we’d like.

(Other 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.

Other images about patience/waiting on God were posted on October 1, November 21, December 8, 2004 and June 11, 18, and 24, 2005.

Other 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.

Other images about the benefits of eliminating things that get between us from and 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.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gardening for God—there’s usually more there than meets the eye

“Accumulation little by little is the way to riches.”
Proverbs 13:11b (New Jerusalem Bible)

A few years ago I decided to maximize my garden’s pepper production and did all I knew to achieve that goal. I amended and tilled the soil in the fall so it would be fertile and loose in the spring. I covered it with black plastic so I wouldn’t be held up by wet, cold, soil or low ambient air temperatures. I was ready to plant as early as possible and did so.

But then it was hurry up and wait. Although I did everything right and had good weather, it seemed for weeks like nothing was happening. The plants didn’t appear to grow, and I had no choice but to wait for things to develop at their own pace.

It turns out that I had no reason for concern. Although they were mostly unobservable, things were happening. Most of my plants’ growth during those early weeks was underground, and hence invisible, because they were developing the root systems necessary to produce peppers later on. At the same time, the organic material added to the soil the previous fall was breaking down into useable nutrients, something that couldn’t happen over the winter. Further, because I was checking my plants so often, I didn’t notice the above ground growth that was occurring, growth that would have been apparent if measured less frequently. There was literally more going on than met the eye, and I ended up with a bumper crop.

Serious disciples usually experience the same dynamic. We want to bear maximum fruit for God, and we try to do what we can to bring it forth. We do what we can to prepare ourselves and optimize our circumstances and continually check for growth, yet things seem to poke along with no, or at least not enough (from our perspective), progress.

But although we don’t see it, God is getting preparing for a good crop. He’s helping us grow the spiritual and practical equivalents of roots and arranging things so we’ll have the resources we’ll need for maximum productivity once those roots are grown. Those things usually can’t be seen and we miss the perceptible growth that is occurring because, although it’s significant, it’s mostly too gradual to notice from day to day.

The point is that God moves in His own time and in His own ways, even if we can’t see it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do all we can to increase our productivity because, although we can’t get ahead of God’s timing, we can impair His plans (for example, my pepper crop would have been smaller without my extra efforts.). But the ultimate truth is that we can never reach our maximum productivity ahead of God’s schedule and without His help.

(Other gardening or soil related images can be found at Gardening For God.
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 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.)