A Lesson from the Eclipse

Well it came and then it was gone. Eclipse 2017 is history.

I must admit I wasn’t as into it as much as some. But I’m old enough to have seen a few eclipses in the past.

Here in North Idaho we had a 90 % coverage of the sun. Strange how things seemed to quiet as the light subsided.

But, as the eclipse passed, a thought came to mind relating this event to our relationship with God.

This thought was generated by the fact that there were so many warnings about people not staring into the sun lest they damage their retinas.

It made me think about the fact that God is completely holy, and thus is unable to look on sin. It also made me think what a powerful thing it is to gaze upon the holiness of God.

In one instance described in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah caught a glimpse of God’s glory.

Here’s how it was described in Isaiah 6:

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

Now we might think that such of vision would have made Isaiah say, “Wow!” But instead he said something more akin to “Whoa!”

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

When Isaiah saw God’s glory and holiness, it caused him to recognize his sinfulness.

Essentially, Isaiah thought he was toast!

Just like staring into the sun can damage a person’s eyes, staring into the holiness of God can blow out anyone’s feelings of self-sufficiency and superiority. We can go from feeling smug to feeling small in a flash.

And yet, because of Jesus, we don’t have do go around skulking around due to our sinful state.

In fact, through Christ our relationship with God changes. The Bible tells us that we can approach God with confidence because of Christ.

One of my favorite passages of the Bible is found in Romans 5. Here, Paul writes about the benefits that come from being in relationship with God through Jesus:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. ~ Romans 5:1-2 (NLT)

Knowing Christ brings peace.

Knowing Christ brings privilege.

And knowing Christ brings joy.

Today, millions of people stated into the sun. But hopefully none of them experienced any damage to their precious eyes. Why? Because they were likely wearing special sunglasses that allowed them to start into the eclipse without fear of harm.

In a way, that’s what Jesus does for us. He is the only reason we can ever approach God without fear.

 

 

 

 

Embrace the Change

“Change always starts in your mind. The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act.” – Rick Warren

wolf lodge creekA few days ago I went fishing on a creek that I hadn’t visited since last summer.

This creek is close to home, so it’s super easy to get to. Yet it is rarely fished.

Over the years I’ve been able to figure out many of the spots where the bigger fish like to hang out.

In fact, a couple of years ago I found a deep, rocky spot where I caught a two-pound brook trout. Which for a stream of such small stature was pretty surprising.

Even if the fish weren’t biting elsewhere on the creek, I could always return to this favored spot and expect to catch at least one sizable fish.

But last winter provided our area with record snow. And the early spring was marked by record rains. Which meant that a lot of water flowed through this drainage during the months of April and May.

So, when I recently arrived to fish my favorite spots, I discovered that the creek had completely changed.

Its banks had been rearranged.

Fallen trees were commonplace, making the trek more challenging.

And my favorite fishing hole had been filled in with a ton of loose rock. 

As I trudged upstream, I found the places where I typically stopped to fish were no longer worth the time.

At first this bummed me out, because I enjoyed a high level of familiarity with this stream. Before, I could quickly move from spot to spot without having to think a whole lot. Now I had a new challenge of figuring out how to fish a creek I once knew so well.

But then another thought struck me. Even though most of my old fishing spots had been decimated, perhaps some new spots had been created.

So I began to walk the creek with new eyes, searching for newly formed pools, troughs and riffles created by the rushing waters of the spring runoff.

And sure enough, there were plenty of brand new spots for the fish to find cover.

Rather than mourn the loss of the familiar, I embraced the idea that change could create some new opportunities and possibilities.

brookieSo I fished on.

And I caught fish.

Six of them in about an hour’s time.

Nothing huge, mind you. Just an assortment of 8-9 inch cutthroats and brookies.

So now I have a new challenge of figuring out where the larger fish are lurking.

About the inevitability of change, John Henry Newman wrote:

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

Yet for many of us, change is something we try to avoid at all costs. And when change does come (you can count on it) we spend more of our time complaining about the need to change rather than adapting to it.

The late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar offered this opinion:

“Little men with little minds and little imaginations go through life in little ruts, smugly resisting all changes which would jar their little worlds.”

I have to admit that sometimes I’m one of those little men. I see change and wonder what it will cost me, rather than consider what it might afford me.

Can you relate?

Our Model for Serving: Jesus

The measure of a man’s greatness is not the number of servants he has, but the number of people he serves.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus declared that He did not come to earth to be served, but to serve.

Not long after, Jesus came through on that promise.

Jesus Himself would soon serve as the ultimate example of service and sacrifice.

Jesus didn’t just talk about serving others, He exemplified it!

And we are called to follow Jesus example as well.

Take a look at what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Note the challenge at the very beginning of verse 5:

“Have this mind among yourselves…”

This is our calling!

This is to be our identity!

But is this our mindset? Do we really picture and position ourselves for service to the Lord?

In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, there is a description of God’s calling of Samuel to serve Him as a minister and a prophet.

This calling happened in the middle of night, and at first Samuel the temple priest Eli was calling out his name.

So Samuel kept waking Eli up, who kept telling Samuel it wasn’t him.

Finally, Eli wised up and realized what was going on…that the Lord was reaching out for Samuel.

Here’s how the interchange played out according to 1 Samuel 3:9-10

And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

Allow me to ask a question that may help us evaluate our posture toward God when it comes to serving Him:

Are we like Samuel, ready to hear the Lord’s instruction and obey Him?

The reason I ask is because our service for God will always begin in our mind.

An attitude of service will usually work its way out through actions of service.

Do we think like a servant?

Do we see ourselves as a servant?

If not, we should…because servanthood is inseparable from the Christian life.

And if Jesus chose to serve, how can we choose anything less?

See, after the choice to follow Jesus, the choice to serve Him is the most important choice you will make.

So let me get painfully practical when it comes to thinking service by asking a few key questions:

  • In what ways do you find yourself expending yourself in service to Jesus by serving others?
  • In what ways are you helping carry the load by shouldering some type of kingdom responsibility?
  • When was the last time you offered yourself to others, intentionally deciding not to be served, but to serve?

 

A Sure Fire Path to Christian Growth

treeMany followers of Jesus say they want to grow.

In reality, some of them aren’t really that interested in spiritual maturity.

But there are others who sincerely want to grow. The problem for them is they aren’t quite sure how to go about it.

When it comes growing a garden, it really comes down to three basic components:

  • Adequate sunlight
  • Fertile soil
  • Lots of water

Take one of these out of the equation and we will soon find ourselves with dead or dying plants.

When it comes to experiencing true spiritual growth, I believe there are three things that will accelerate our development:

SPEND TIME IN THE WORD

Simply put, it’s really hard to know how to please and obey God when we don’t know his instructions. And his instructions are found in the Bible.

If you ever want to get a sense of the value and usefulness of the Bible, just read through Psalm 119. Here’s an example of what it says in verses 9-11:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (NIV)

We not only digest the Bible by reading, but also by hearing. That’s why I recommend that a person find a church where the Bible is taught fully, simply and clearly.

Here’s the second thing to add to your spiritual growth regimen:

SPEND TIME WITH GOD’S PEOPLE

In other words, get involved in the life of a local church.

Attend services. Check out Bible studies. Find ways to serve. Engage in worship.

It’s God’s plan to use other people to help shape and form your spiritual development.

Proverbs 27:17 says:

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (NIV)

Here’s the truth: it’s really hard to grow alone.

We need others to challenge us, encourage us, counsel us and guide us.

The writer of Hebrews seemed to have it in his mind that solitude is not beneficial for the believer when he wrote these words:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)

Bottom line, being part of a church provides us with much-needed accountability.

Last (but certainly not least), we must include the following:

SPEND TIME LISTENING AND LEARNING FROM THE SPIRIT

This may be the most mysterious and misunderstood aspect of the growing Christian life.

But the Bible makes it clear that when a person puts their trust in Jesus. Jesus puts the Holy Spirit in them.

The Holy Spirit is God living inside of us. We can’t see Him, but we can certainly experience His presence.

One of the Spirit’s primary tasks is to guide us toward holiness.

Often times the Spirit will convict our hearts when we disobey God’s will. Attitudes and actions that never bothered us before are brought to mind as unhelpful for the follower of Jesus.

And there is so much more the Spirit does on our behalf, such as:

  • Help bolster our prayer life
  • Gifts us to serve others, and in turn build up the church
  • Opens our eyes to truth
  • Gives us comfort in difficult times
  • Provides us with wisdom and power to live as God prescribes

The Word, the church and the Spirit.

When we wholeheartedly and consistently apply ourselves to these three things, we can anticipate measurable spiritual growth.

Quite often I come across people who talk about wanting to grow as a Christian, but when presented with God’s primary tools for growth, they move on, never experiencing the maturity God intends for them.

At these times, the words of G.K. Chesterton come to mind:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. it has been found difficult, and left untried.”

 

Life Skill: Giving an Appropriate Apology

FCASome of you might remember 70’s musician/guitarist Peter Frampton.

At one time he held the record for the best-selling live album with Frampton Come Alive!

After the high-flying 70’s, Frampton quickly lost momentum and came crashing down to earth. But he persevered and continued making records and performing concerts. (He even went on to win a Grammy for a an instrumental album.) He still writes, records and tours. And it seems he’s having a good time.

At least most of the time.

A week or so ago, Peter Frampton performed a concert in Minnesota, playing before an adoring crowd filled with nostalgia for days gone by.

All was fine and dandy…until Frampton became aware the images being shown on the video screen were not of him and his band, but of the audience.

Which caused him to become a bit undone.

Here’s how one news story reported the incident:

Peter-Frampton-in-concertAccording to reports and social media, Frampton was in the middle of an extended guitar solo when the video screen cut to a fan holding up a copy of the Frampton Comes Alive album, drawing applause from the audience.

Apparently Frampton would have preferred the cameraman did not cut away from the stage because he got upset when a second fan, holding up a copy of I’m With You, was displayed on the screen.

After the song ended, he reportedly tried to wrestle the camera from its operator before marching off the stage. After a brief break the guitarist returned to the stage and finished his set with the video screens turned off.

Obviously, things went a bit awry in Minnesota.

Hey, I am the first to say that everyone is going to have a bad day now and then.

Sometimes in the course of the daily grind. we can become too focused…or too tired…or we try to do too many things. The result? The wheels begin to come off. And sometimes we crash and burn. Right in front of everybody.

For most of us, we usually make our mistakes before one or two people.

When a celebrity blunders, its often before a crowd of hundreds or thousands. So, the embarrassment is greatly compounded.

But hey, no worries. A couple of days later Frampton apologized. Which should have put the whole issue to bed.

I must say, though, (in my humble opinion) the apology Mr. Frampton sought to extend left a bit to be desired.

In a Facebook post, Frampton wrote multiple paragraphs explaining why he acted the way he did.

In a nutshell, he expressed his passionate desire to present really good shows, and when things disrupt his performance, he gets thrown off and upset.

After a whole lot of explaining, he finally chose the last sentence of his lengthy post to offer a word of apology. Which I’m glad he did.

But to be honest, it felt to me that Frampton had front loaded his apology with words of justification for his bad behavior. It seemed to me like he was trying to express he had some good reasons to behave so badly.

Now, I imagine if asked about it, he would say otherwise. His heart may have been in the right place.

And in the interest of full disclosure, how many times have I done something similar? I know there are plenty of times when my apology proved to be weak and self-serving. For some reason, giving a straight and sincere apology can be quite difficult.

A few years ago I led a DVD-driven class called Resolving Everyday Conflict. One lesson was called “Accepting Responsibility: Making an Effective Apology.”

Here, in bullet point form, are the seven key principles we learned:

  • Address everyone involved
  • Avoid “ifs” and “buts”
  • Admit specifically, not generally
  • Acknowledge any hurt
  • Accept consequence for your actions
  • Alter your behavior
  • Ask for forgiveness

Included in the DVD lesson was a clip of Olympic athlete Marion Jones giving an apology after it was revealed she had made false statements to federal agents. It’s amazing how many of the above bullet points she hits as she offers a worthy apology:

Here’s the deal. A bad apology only makes things worse – sometimes worse than the offending action.

An apology is not about escaping consequences or moving on. Instead, an apology is all about taking responsibility, while at the same time, seeking to heal any hurts.

The ultimate goal is to restore any relationship that has been broken.

And once last thought: its never to late to make a good apology. Even after you’ve made a poor one.

As a fan of Peter Frampton’s music, I’m glad to give him some grace; the same grace I’d hope you would extend to me.