Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Warehouse Blues

Imagine if you were set loose in a huge warehouse where wonderful riches and treasures were said to be hidden among the other goods stored there and you could keep any treasures you found. The only problem is that the huge warehouse is completely dark; pitch black.

You might begin your treasure hunt with enthusiasm; groping clumsily around for a while and maybe even come up with a planned systematic approach and have a little success. But you eventually become frustrated, especially when you realize that the really valuable treasures are very well hidden and the warehouse is very large and filled with many distracting contents and obstacles.

Finally, after getting sufficiently banged up from falling from high places and bumping into sharp objects, discouragement sets in. You eventually find one or two of the most common treasures, enough to get by, but you will not keep looking hard forever. Your heart grows tired and angry over time and you become resolved that you have done the best you can and quit. You hear stories about other people who have found treasure but secretly it is a mystery to you.

This is how most people approach life; by trying to get life’s treasures by groping in the dark. They eventually find a little something to keep them going but it never completely satisfies their heart. It always feels like there must be more to life but most people cannot really seem to find it.

The secret to the warehouse is to first seek the light switch. This is a completely different kind of hunt than going directly for the treasure but when you find the light switch you also find the treasure. The light switch is harder to find because you have to take your heart off of the treasure and put it on the light. In addition, you know that when you find the switch, the light will illuminate not only the treasures but everything else as well. The light creates responsibility.

When the light comes on you see yourself and the rest of the world, not the way you thought you looked but how you really look, dirty and needy. You now become responsible to keep the light on and you cannot pretend to be in the secretive darkness anymore. Yes, you do get access to the treasures you desired but they do not hold the same fascination anymore because the warehouse is such a mess and you are now in the light. Some people turn the light back off because they do not want the responsibility, others pretend to still be in the darkness and a few use the light to help others find the light switch.

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew5:14-16

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." John 1:4-5

"That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world." John 1:9

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."John 3:19-21

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." John 8:10-12

"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of theworld." John 9:5

"I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness." John 12:46

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Costly Mistakes

Twenty year old Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis reached down and grabbed her snowboard to add a little hot dog move as she flew off the final jump on the way to the finish line and a gold medal. Add a little showmanship for the people who had been sitting there in the cold. As it turned out, although she was far ahead of everyone, her simple hot dog move was just enough to throw her off balance and she fell upon landing. Before she could get back on track she was passed by another racer and finished in second instead of first place. "I was really, really excited," Jacobellis would say later. "I had fought so hard. I was definitely caught up in the moment. I forgot to race. I was having fun, and that's what snowboarding is. I made a mistake," she said. "Everyone knows that's not normally me."

Not only did Lindsay lose the gold medal but the news reporters seemed fixated on the mistake like piranhas after bloody meat. They didn’t care about the brilliant race she had conducted, the silver medal she had won or the series of victories she’d had before the final race—only the mistake. It seems cruel that such a little mistake could cost so much. But Lindsay has lost that moment in time forever. There are no ‘do-overs’ in the Olympics.

The same goes for life, there are no do-overs. The Bible teaches, “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” Ephesians 5:15-16. We all get to live this life once and three things are important to remember: 1. Life is very serious business, 2. Foolish mistakes can bring about terrible consequences, and 3. Big opportunities do not come along every day.

Lindsay will undoubtedly replay that moment a thousand times in her life and hopefully learn from it. In the Bible, Peter learned from his mistake of denying Jesus and became a great apostle. It is far worse, though, when we refuse the lessons to be learned through failures and mistakes and continue to repeat them over and over. This leads to bitterness and a defeated attitude. Judas made a terrible mistake and then regretted it, but it was too late, the mistake was done and he hated himself for it. Mistakes can really hurt.

The good news for us is that Jesus knows our hearts and desires us to repent and confess our sins when we fail. He is always willing to forgive and teach the one whose heart is correctable. God says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

But even better than learning from our mistakes is learning to obey God’s word so we do not have to make many really painful mistakes in the first place. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25

Sometimes life is like a snowboard race. It comes at us so fast that we just react and do not think about what we are doing. It is in these moments when our inner discipline in and commitment to God’s word must be the strongest. Consider these words from Proverbs:

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

17 The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; He who keeps his way preserves his soul.

18 Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.

19 Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud.

20 He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he.

21 The wise in heart will be called prudent, And sweetness of the lips increases learning.

22 Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it. But the correction of fools is folly.

23 The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds learning to his lips.

24 Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

25 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

Proverbs 16:16-25 (NKJV)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Coloring Inside the Lines

“Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalms 19:7-10

Suppose I were to give an unsupervised toddler a box of crayons and a blank sheet of paper. He/she will scribble pointlessly. On the other hand, if I give that same child a coloring book and offer some guidance on how to color inside the lines, coordination begins to develop and a sense of satisfaction is experienced. In time, the child learns how to create variations of beauty within the preset boundaries. In fact we learn as children that the prettiest pictures are the ones colored perfectly within the lines.

That is how God’s commandments work. God has established preset laws or boundaries for us to live within. We create beauty within those boundaries and thus color our lives many different ways. When we break God’s commandments, the result is ugly, like scribbling outside the lines. When our lives take on the form and function of God’s commandments, they become beautiful diverse expressions of love and life!

Sometimes a child will draw a wild scribble, one at a time, on an entire stack of blank papers, frequently with the same crayon. You can see that there is no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction other than to put a mark on as many papers as possible. Our lives are like that when we do not live within the righteous boundaries of God’s coloring book, the Bible. In fact, outside of God's Word, life is uncoordinated and ugly. We just mark each day with the same mark as the day before; no real lines to guide us, only what is right in our own eyes. Just a scribble. No unifying form, function, purpose or identity. We are all hoping to color a beautiful picture but really do not know how.

CMCC member Chris DiBenedetto made a good point. He said that before knowing Jesus, he used to feel confused about life. He described himself as a person going into a movie theater halfway through the show. He did not really get the ‘plot’ of life because there were some very essential details of the story missing.

This nicely illustrates a main benefit of us worshiping God together and committing ourselves to Jesus Christ. The Word of God clearly shows us the lines; our identity, purpose, responsibility and future. In God’s Word, we learn the ‘plot.’ We also discover that our family unit is a very important part of God’s team and we have been called by God to fulfill His plans and color a unique and wonderful picture. This is an incredible privilege!

Consider these coloring book lines from the book of Galatians:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit's leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or irritate one another, or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:16-26 (NLT)