Monthly Archives: January 2012

Impressive…

“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.  From each of them goes out its own voice… and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” –Gilbert Highet

I find nineteenth century impressionism utterly fascinating. Perhaps it’s the life of the artists, the subjects or even the stirring up of the traditional art world during its heyday. Mostly, though, I believe it’s the composition that moves me.

Think about it.

Look closely at a Monet, a Cezanne or a Van Gogh. All you can see, for the most part, are individual brush strokes, appearing as if paint has been haphazardly splattered across the canvas with all caution thrown to the wind. “What is this garbage!?” you’d be justified in asking. “A kindergartner with finger-paints could do better than this!” Then, you take a few steps back. With each step, you begin to notice an odd pattern emerging, and by the time the whole canvas is in focus, you realize that each individual brush stroke has come together to create something truly beautiful and moving.

However, though you can see the entire canvas, you can never truly unsee the individual brush strokes. Most likely, you’ve gained an appreciation for the artist’s labor and realize the effort it takes to make a recent creation seem as if it’s been here for eternity.

I, for instance, applied it to my own craft of writing.

“What do you find most important when you read a book?” someone once asked me. “Do you look at the plot first, or the story, figuring out how everything lines up, or do you come up with a setting and populate it with characters?” There are so many opening moves in a written composition, that beginners (myself included) often find it daunting and challenging just to stare at an empty page. However, I surprised the inquisitive person by offering my own method.

“I look for unity of design, first of all,” I replied. “You must begin by having something to say. This is your theme. Your thesis. Then, you must create characters to support or argue your thesis. After that, your story writes itself. The challenge is to follow through and never lose focus.”

“But where must the focus be?” that someone asked.

“Characters.” I replied. “It’s all about the characters.”

Characters are to a writer like brush strokes are to a painter. These streaks on the canvas are the result of different brushes dipped in different hues of different consistencies. Though it is perfectly acceptible to blend them seamlessly into a clockwork world, they are far more fascinating when they are constantly juxtaposed and arguing, much like painter’s strokes are more fascinating when they’re bold and fearless. Must they always argue against each other? No, but they must always argue with or against the theme. Who do they represent? Where is their position? For what do they stand? This must be made apparent from the outset to see the brush stroke for what it is.

The reader begins the book at an inch’s distance from the “canvas”. All he sees is a group of people haphazardly grouped together with no common purpose in mind. The further he digs into the book, however, the further away he stands from the canvas and the brush strokes begin to merge into something tangible. Toward the end, the entire canvas is in focus and the reader can see each characterization, each brush stroke, for what it is: one vital part of a beautiful word image. What is that image? Ultimately, it is up to the writer, and if you are a writer, it is up to you.

(No pressure, no pressure.)

Often, I wonder if that’s what God means for us. Often, we only see chaos and bold, fearless, haphazard brush strokes because we are only an inch away from the canvas. “I can live my life better than God can,” we boldly claim, not seeing the whole canvas. The more we learn, though, and the more we strive to become closer to Him, the further back he pulls us, and we see that everything, even the ruddy, mud-colored splatters, work together to create a beautiful work of art. What does it mean? We must pursue the Master Artist to find out.

Perhaps this is why I feel most worshipful and at peace when I put a pen to paper and glide the ink across the page. The more I hear the familiar scratch of pen on paper, the closer I feel to Jesus, because I know that slowly but surely, I am becoming more like Him every day.

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Trees, Tumbleweeds and Swamps

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” –Ecclesiastes 3:1

Can someone be a Christian and also set in their ways and unwilling to change? In all honesty, yes, I believe it’s very possible. In fact, people do just that every day. However, the question is: should they? The question of its sinfulness is endlessly debated, but no Christian can contest that it’s very counter-productive.

God is all about change.

The Bible is filled with examples of people being uprooted from their homes and thrown into unfamiliar scenarios. Various references are made to changing seasons and time periods. Matthew 24:35 says “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

One of the worst things a Christian can do is become comfortable. Once this happens, he begins to believe that all things depend on his own intuition, senses and abilities. He develops a bloated sense of entitlement and an artificial series of needs he did not previously have. God is slowly removed from the picture and thus so is his spiritual calling.

This is when the proverbial snow globe is turned upside-down and given a good shake.

When all a Christian has to grasp is his own ways, habits and routines, what happens when they are all suddenly gone or they can no longer be something on which to depend? This is a true test of character and faith.

In writing, this is why we put our characters through situations of sudden change. The easiest way to tell the most about a character in the shortest amount of time is to put him through great adversity, and the greatest adversity a character can endure is that of questioning everything he knows and believes. Even Joseph in the book of Genesis was put through such a test, and it spoke volumes of his character and reliance on God. Why is that? Ask the builders of the Tower of Babel.

After the Great Flood, the people were told to scatter, but instead, they built a rallying point in direct defiance of God’s commandment. Even now, it is hardwired in our nature to settle in, get comfortable, and serve ourselves, and as humans who have no natural predators, we can do it with relative ease Just look around you. We’re making it easier all the time. Why? Because this is how the natural man defines peace.

Joyce Meyer once provided an interesting example. Two painters were asked to paint a picture of peace. One painter produced the image of a sunset on a calm seashore, while the other produced a picture of a bird’s nest on a tree set against a raging, noisy waterfall in the background. “Which one was correct?” she asked.

The first painting depicts peace as presented by the natural man, whereas the second painting depicts God’s peace. Peace is not the lack of adversity, but the steadfastness amidst it.

Can someone be a Christian and consider themselves set in their ways and unwilling to change? I don’t understand why anyone would want to. I used to be very risk-averse in my youth until I drew closer to God and realized that to fully reap His blessings, I had to follow Him wherever He would lead. This meant that if I had to uproot all my habits and comforts of home to perform His will, then so be it. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we become as reckless and wandering as tumbleweeds. It just means that though we enjoy things, we must not become so attached to them that we can’t move when God gives us the command. This doesn’t just apply to the rapture and material treasures. It applies to everyday living and our habits and attitudes.

“No, God. I don’t want the deed to a gold mine. I’m too busy clinging to my lump of coal!” Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Listen to yourself speak. Whenever we refuse to change when the time comes, we are saying just that.

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Prisons of the Past

“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Men and women, when they are born again, are given something special. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are no longer under the laws of the world’s system or those of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) They are made new in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are capable of far greater things than they were by themselves (Matthew 19:26).

However, though people accept that they are heaven-bound when they die, many people rob themselves of God’s other countless gifts and choose to replace them with man-made rules, rules that suspiciously resemble the laws from which Jesus had just previously delivered them.

“Why?” I’ve asked myself repeatedly. “Why would anybody want to do that? People don’t want to be prisoners, do they? People want to be free!” After a rigorous study on 1 Corinthians during a mid-week Bible study, I believe I have been given the answer to my burning question.

It has been said that though a state prison may set an inmate free, it cannot truly MAKE him free. A prison is a completely different world than that of free men. The people within have their own social norms, their own laws, and their own culture. After so many years, inmates become institutionalized. They can barely sit at a restaurant table for lunch unless someone gives them the command to eat. They stand at their apartment door for a minute until they realize that they don’t need the warden to open it. Suddenly, being alone scares them. They realize that once they’ve been set free, they cannot cope with the free world because it’s alien to them. Their only solution is to bring old baggage into the new world, and obviously, this is where trouble brews.

So, what does this have to do with accepting Jesus? Everything.

Though a man may spend his lifetime in a brick-and-mortar prison, mankind itself has been imprisoned for hundreds upon thousands of years longer. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) We have lived in a bubble. We have lived under our own set of rules, our own set of laws, and our own culture for so long, that it has become normal. As one television commercial suggests, we are an island of flightless birds who have never realized that we have been given the wings to simply fly away and explore. We have essentially become just as institutionalized as any state prison inmate, and we would never realize it, because we cannot remember a time when it hasn’t been considered “normal”.

But what IS normal?

Read chapter two of the Book of Genesis. Complete fellowship with God through Jesus. Blessings beyond measure. Life intended for ministry unto Him and for Him. No shame. No condemnation. No fear. No anxiety. This is the normal that Jesus gave His life to give us, but we’ve spent all our lives institutionalized in a spiritual prison that we don’t know a good thing when we see it any more. Even when God delivers us from our sins, our anxieties and our condemnations, we still hold onto them. Suddenly we’re set free, we find ourselves alone, and we don’t know how to cope with such an alien concept.

You can take the man out of prison, but you can’t always take the prison out of man.

This is why God tells us that we need our eyes opened (Ephesians 1:18). It’s not good enough to be set free. We have to be MADE free. Then, and only then, can we begin to claim our inheritance and our true calling.

After realizing this, things that people do that used to irritate me to no end don’t bother me as much any more. When I see miserable people that seem to want nothing but to make everyone else miserable, I see poor people in cold, drafty prisons. They’ve been there for so long that they don’t know what freedom is, anymore. They’ve become like animals because that’s the only way they know to cope. They’re sickly and starving, and they’re crying out for help the only way they can. Do I still want to kick them back as hard as I can for all the hurt they’ve caused?

I can’t. Can you?

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Mankind in Beta Testing

“There really ought to be a sign upon my heart, ‘Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part.’“ –Joel Hemphill (He’s Still Working On Me)

I was listening to a song once about the love of God and how, despite our iniquities, He still loves us. A line from the song was the writer lamenting that he didn’t know why He loves us, but was so glad He does, anyway. For a moment, this particular line struck me, and I thought about it. What does He see in us, anyway?

According to the Bible, He sees, “… no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) because “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, … the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) So, whenever God sees us, He sees Jesus, and we are made righteous in Him. However, this has led to a big question outside of the Christian community. Why would such a big, omnipotent God invest so much time and energy into such lowly, hopeless worms as us?

Then, it hit me..

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me and I will hearken unto you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12) Apparently, He sees us as something greater.

Allow me to provide an illustration. An odd illustration, but… stay with me for a moment.

Right now, I am typing this article on a rebuilt thirteen-year-old Compaq Presario. The processor is a single-core 1Ghz Intel Celeron, and it runs on only 172MB of RAM. “Don’t expect miracles from this old thing.” people said as I set out to build a working computer for my dad. “It’s old and it’s run its course. Not much more can be done with it, and you’d be better off spending a few hundred dollars for a brand-new state-of-the-art computer that actually works.”

However, I was tired of watching everyone struggle with it, so I took it upon myself to begin work. From the outset, I could see a vision of a perfect, dependable computer. Everyone else looked at the old box and saw a piece of junk, but I looked at it and saw nothing but raw potential.

The road was difficult. I hand-picked parts from various machines that best suited its needs and ran test after test to make sure everything was performing well. I gave it more memory and extra storage capacity. As for the programming, I wiped the hard drive clean of its original operating system and installed a brand-new one. It ran okay for a couple of months, but soon returned to its original sluggishness. I was discouraged, but I went back to work anyway.

“What happened?” everyone said. “I thought you said this new Linux system was supposed to be the best! Why do you have to go changing things around all the time? You’re such a computer nerd! Why can’t you just settle for good enough? Why can’t you just accept that it’s junk and there’s nothing more you can do with it?” Regardless, I kept at it. I could see a great computer underneath the old exterior, and I wanted others to see it, too.

After a few nights of fruitless searching, I finally found a solution. I started with a pure, stripped-down Debian/GNU Linux image for server admins and completely built the operating system from the ground up. All the automatic “push-button” mechanics that modern users take for granted, I had to learn how to manually create on my own, but the proverbial fingerprints were mine instead of the manufacturer’s. When it was finished, no one could believe that this was the same old clunker I had started with.

But it was far from over.

I continued to research, build and test. I watched others as they used it and tweaked the interface accordingly. I didn’t want it to merely suit my tastes, but others’ tastes as well. worked out the kinks, and the more I learned, the better it became. Currently, every other computer in the house has quit on us, but the old machine that everyone counted out is now singlehandedly bearing the weight of the family’s computing needs and can perform everything expected of a modern computer.

So, where am I going with this, exactly?

I was personally invested in this project, not just as an amateur computer tech, but as a man searching desperately for spiritual truth. When things started pulling together, I drew parallels between my work and the Potter’s hands. (Jeremiah 18:1-10)

When we first accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we’re nothing much to look at. In fact, the world has counted us out as worthless. However, God doesn’t see our worthless flesh when He looks at us. What He sees, instead, is the finished product. He sees who we will become when we allow Him to work on us from the inside out.

First, He gives us brand new parts, a RAM and Hard Drive expansion called the Holy Spirit. As we crave His word and instruction, He then proceeds to remove all of our old, bogged-down, operating system that condemns and replaces it with a new system that glorifies. At first, we’re difficult for people to accept. We constantly hear from our friends, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve changed too much. Why can’t you be the same old person and be miserable with me?”, but God’s not finished with you, yet. He builds your programming from the ground up to run leaner and more efficient than ever. He tweaks the interface of your new nature until you are an acceptable servant to minister unto Him, spreading the good news that Jesus is Lord and God is good.

This, in my humble opinion, is a key to understanding how to walk in love. Author and Bible teacher Joe McGee once said that if a woman had a husband who loves her like Jesus loves her, divorce would be out of the question. This is a tremendous statement, but how do we see in others the things Jesus sees? Simple. We must be willing to be reshaped and reprogrammed.

We must be willing to read the Bible, seek the truth, and find out what Jesus first saw in us.

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Professional Christians

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” –Matthew 6:32-34

Nothing says you are getting closer to God like episodes without precedent and your first taste of spiritual ambiguity.

When we first seek the meat of the Word of God, it dawns on us. There is no difference between “our time” and “God’s time,” because it’s ALL God’s time. Everything we do should be an act of Worship and ministry unto Him no matter what. Once we get to that point, we nod our collective heads in agreement. Okay. That’s true. We’ll concede to that. However, there is one more portion of our life that, for one reason or another, remains elusive from our box of “things to give to God”.

Our professional life.

I could kick myself over the years I’ve wasted believing that I had to slave away to appease the world’s system and its leaders so I could live the quiet life described in Timothy 2:2, but God tells us not to do that, either (don’t you just love that?). I don’t work for employers. I work for God. Now, don’t get me wrong. Those that don’t work and provide for their families might as well be unbelievers, (1 Timothy 5:8) but we as Christians should have a different sort of mindset driving us.

You see, God has a plan for us. Not just to accomplish His will, but to give us our heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4). No, not everyone is cut from the pastoring fabric, and landing a nuclear physicist job on the first try is nigh impossible, but every job, no matter how small, is not a rung on the ladder of success. It’s a stepping stone on the stream of life toward the place where God wants you to be.

But over the years, we have believed so many lies (I know I have) that may sound noble, but keep us spiritually grounded. Maybe these sound familiar.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Money is the root of all evil.”

“Finances are too tight to pay tithes this month. God understands.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Knowing Jesus in the professional world doesn’t simply mean that we take a beating at work, then come home and get patched up to get beat up again. It means that we are given a mission from God, and that mission is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His second coming. There are many ways to do this, and each man and woman on earth has his and her own gifts to accomplish the mission.

Every step we take in the professional world, just like the spiritual and personal world, must ALWAYS line up with the Word of God. One job may offer us a more appealing package, but our spirits are being pulled toward another job. We have to believe that God will provide for us if we chase after Him with our spirits instead of reasoning things out with our flesh. When our steps align with God’s and His nature becomes ours, THAT’S when miracles happen in our lives, the windows of heaven are opened and blessings are poured out.

Do we covet our earthly jobs more than we do our spiritual mission? I believe it’s VERY possible. Just as with all other material things, a job is little more than a seed. A means to accomplish an end. It is not a treasure to be coveted, but a tool to accomplish His will. When we do well with small tools, we are given bigger tools to accomplish bigger things, but ONLY if we can be trusted with them. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

The world believes that finances slip so easily through our fingers that we must hold on to every penny we can. The world believes we’re crazy for wanting to make money and have material goods just so we can give it all away. The world believes that financial stability depends on whether a democrat or republican is holding presidential office. The world believes that the workforce is nothing more than a drudgery. And for the world, perhaps it is.

But God tells us to “[b]ehold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26) and “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19) Christians should work just as hard as the world, not to attain happiness and joy, but because of happiness and joy.

Personally, I have dreams and aspirations, and I want them ALL to line up perfectly with the word of God, but a wise person once told me, “God can’t guide you if you’re not moving.” With that, I resolve every day to focus on His footsteps instead of worrying about my wants and needs. The economy is in a stalled tailspin, jobs are scarce and inflation threatens to make all of our efforts useless. Does any of it bother me at all? Sometimes, but why should it? No, beggars can’t be choosers, but thank the LORD I’m a child of God through Jesus Christ, and I am no beggar.

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