Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It’s All In Your Head…Really

“Repent and turn to God…that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”
Acts 3:19
Despite the negative image evoked, repent simply means to change your way of thinking. It really is all in our heads, and that’s biblical. “As a man thinks in his heart, so it he” (Proverbs 23:7).  According to Acts 3:19 refreshing from God requires a new mindset. Our thinking blocks God’s goodness; our beliefs override reality. We access a fraction of all our lives can be because of wrong thinking.
A New York Times article, Surprise Bounty For Clean-up Artist demonstrates this clearly. This is the story of Harry and Darryl, two men from opposite ends of the spectrum whose lives intersect under the worst of circumstances.
Harry Shunk, along with his partner Janos Kender were photographers. Their work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Centre Pompidou, in Paris. They were involved with the avant-garde New Realist art movement in the 1950’s.
In the 1970’s Shunk and Kender’s relationship soured and the pair parted ways. Harry took this hard and became a hoarding recluse. He refused work and prohibited his images from being published. He cut off former friends believing they could’ve prevented the break up but did not. He entertained no visitors and chose to keep to himself. In 2006 a strong odor coming from Harry’s apartment prompted building maintenance to forcibly enter his unit. They found Harry’s decomposing body buried under a mound of his possessions.
Harry left no will so his estate passed to the state of New York. Digging though the piles of Harry’s belongings, stacked at times as high as twelve inches from the ceiling, the state hit pay dirt. A man who didn’t leave sufficient funds for a decent burial had among other things a photo archive valued at $2 million dollars.
            Enter Darryl Kelly, an artist in his own right - a cleanup specialist. Contracted to clear out Harry’s apartment, Darryl and his crew filled seven dumpsters before the job was completed. Spurred by the passers by who trove for treasures amid the discarded items, Darryl filled his truck bed with random pieces and stored them in a closet at his home. Two insignificant events then changed Darryl’s life forever. Darryl began to watch Antiques Road Show. He saw people learning items they inherited, found or bought at sales were actually valuable. Next, Darryl’ wife issued an ultimatium, “get that stuff out of my house.”
            During the clean up process of Harry’s apartment, Darryl became acquainted with Matthew Russas, the curator of an art gallery located in the building. Darryl approached Mr. Russas with some of his pieces and asked his opinion. The more Mr. Russas saw the bigger his eyes got. His assessment – “Are you ready to retire?” The messy job of cleaning out Harry’s home provided Darryl Kelly with a windfall.
            Harry and Darryl’s story is a tale of two mindsets. Harry’s life and talent remained captive to thoughts of loss and abandonment. With the means and the abilities available for a full, rich life, the possessions Harry clung to for protection and isolation literally killed him. Darryl changed his mind about the items in the closet. He stepped out, took a chance and reaped a small fortune. Harry thought he’d lost it all and he did. Darryl decided he had nothing to lose and struck gold. Each man’s thoughts effected their outcome.
            What occurs in the natural realm mimics the spiritual side of life. Acts 3:19 tells us a change of mind is necessary in order to receive God’s refreshing. We all need a headset adjustment; situation in life skew our view of who God really is. Those raised by abusive, cruel or absent parents have difficulty viewing God as a good father. Some religious traditions portray God as angry, waiting to use any small mistake for a reason to lash out. Approaching God is like an audience with Oz in the movie The Wizard of Oz - terrifying. We may consciously agree that God is good, loving and kind, but unconsciously the old thought patterns and strongholds block God’s ability to move in our lives.
            It really is all in our heads and being willing to admit this is a big first step. The bible calls Holy Spirit our counselor. He will reveal truth to us, not just about God and His Word but about who we really are and where we’re at. God is not looking for us to perform great feats in order to earn or deserve His love, favor and help. He does need us to change the way we think, separate the trash from the treasures, freeing Him to refresh and renew us. Uh oh, what was that? Beep, beep, beep! I think there is a dumpster in my future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I’m not Lost, I’m Just Directionally Challenged

“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How can anyone know his own way.” Proverbs 20:2
Great news for the directionally challenged, it’s OK to not know where you’re going! I recently read this verse in my quiet time and immediately related to it. For sometime I’ve been bugging God to tell me straight up what He wants me to do. Our move to Georgia several years ago has been great from a spiritual perspective, but otherwise a series of never ending challenges. I wonder did we make the right move, where am I supposed to be and what should I be doing? This verse brought some clarity to my thoughts.
In Joshua 3:3-4 the Israelites under the direction of Joshua prepared to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. Instructed to keep their eyes on the priests bearing the Ark, they followed wherever the priests led. Doing this they could, “know which way to go, since you have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:4).
Our sojourn here in northwest Georgia continues to be an educational experience for two Yankees transplanted into the Deep South. Besides cultural shock (Coke Cola, as opposed to Coca-Cola, “Darlin”, “Bless Your Heart”, "fixin to" and the War of Northern Aggression) our spiritual adventure is taking us places we’ve never been before, which is good. God said in Isaiah 55:8 that “your ways are not my ways”, and He wasn’t kidding. If someone had told me a few short years ago that I would reside in the South and do what I do, I would have asked what they were smoking. And yet, here I am in a place I never dreamed of living and working a business never on my life’s radar and somewhat uncomfortable with the mix.
I read so much I often forget authors and sources of information I find. The author (unknown to me now) of an article (title…who knows) I recently saw suggested God continually works differently in our lives on purpose. He knows that change keeps our sensitivity to the unusual sharp. Repetition dulls awareness because routine is commonplace, predictable. I believe God enjoys messing with us, not in a mean or malicious way. He constantly challenges our logical approach with His out of the box thinking. Who else coats a blind man’s eyes with mud, making him double blind and sends him off to wash up? This man hadn’t asked to be healed. Minding his own business, his condition piqued the disciples’ curiosity as they passed by. Whose fault was this they asked Jesus, the man or his parents? “Neither” was His response. Jesus could have kept on walking ignoring the man’s condition. He could have spoken one word and the man’s sight would be restored, the logical solution. Slapping mud on his eyes and sending him to “blindly” walk to the Pool of Siloam, forced a decision of faith. Did the man wish to stay blind or look foolish for a chance to be healed?
Almost thirty years ago as we prepared to leave Haiti, I asked the Lord for faith like Abraham. Abram packed up his family and left his hometown, following wherever God led. The “Cecil B. DeMille” version of my faith journey would include open doors, smooth sailing, level paths and bright neon signs pointing the way….not! I think God still chuckles remembering my prayer He answered when I didn’t know what I was asking for. I gave Him the open door and He’s been honoring my request ever since.
            Some of you like me grapple with a life not going according to plan. Things fall out of and not into place. Circumstances stink sometimes. Can this be Proverbs 20:2 actualizing in our lives? God takes us through unfamiliar territory whether it’s part of His original plan or an effort to get us back on track. Either way being “lost” is by His design. Giving us all the details up front requires no faith on our part and faith is what pleases Him. We probably wouldn’t believer Him if He told us. Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father received good news via an angelic messenger that fatherhood was in his future. He responded, “No way, Jose!” OK, those weren’t his exact words, but the sentiment is the same. Zacharias spent the next nine months dumbstruck, unable to utter any words of doubt and unbelief that could hinder God’s plans.
            For me it boils down to this. Do I want to enjoy the journey, see new sights and experience new things? Or, do I wish to spend time in a blindness created by my desire to see and understand everything upfront? It’s a daily decision, some days easier than others. If I’m wise, I’ll trust any unfamiliar terrain is God’s course to get me where I need to be. In that case, I’m not lost, I’m just directionally challenged.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Better or Best?

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” Proverbs 16:32.
Proverbs contains several scriptures stating one thing or situation is better than another. As I searched these out, the thought occurred to me. If there is a better, can there be a best? I think so.
Proverbs 16:32 reminds us patience is important. A patient warrior, unlike a fool, doesn’t rush in where angels fear to tread. Keeping emotions and temper in check, he or she doesn’t act without a plan.
Proverbs 24:6 advises us, “for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisors.” The patient warrior recognizes the benefit of outside help. Armies create war councils to plan strategic maneuvers. High ranking officials meet and formulate a course of action. Jesus addressed this in Luke 14. He said smart kings count the cost before launching into battle. If the odds against victory are too high or the price too great, negotiating a peaceful settlement may be the best choice. Working through the process takes time and cool heads. It can be more advantageous to wait than react, rushing into a retaliatory strike. This is part of being a patient warrior. Know your enemy, pick your battles, some are not worth fighting.
If you think, “This is fine for soldiers and kings, but me, I’m just an ordinary person”, have another thought. If you’ve made Jesus your Lord and Savior, welcome to the army! Your rank is warrior/king. Paul mentioned our roles as soldiers to his young protégée Timothy. “Endure hardships with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 2:3. Paul also exhorted believers to “put on the armor of light” Romans 13:2. This armor is described in Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. Unconventional weaponry used in unconventional warfare; the armor provides protection during battles with demonic forces who are the instigators behind every conflict.
The patient warrior/king understands that supernatural entities are responsible for every attack. “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood” Ephesians 6:12. Really Paul, you don’t know so and so. No he doesn’t, but Paul faced enough opposition to know the key to victory is always fighting in the spirit realm and not necessarily on the natural level. The armor of God equips the warrior/king to hold ground in an assault. As believers we recognize both aspects of every battle. Here is where being a king comes in handy.
Revelation 5:10 states, “hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and, we shall reign in the earth.” Our lordship is in effect now. The dominion originally given to and lost by Adam is now in the hands of its rightful owners, believers. It is our responsibility as kings to rule with this God given authority and as warriors to enforce it. The king as opposed to the warrior is a key element of the war council. Aided by honest, objective advisors, especially God Himself, kings weigh the options. While we never back down from satan, God may show us the battle is His not ours. When assessing the natural side of conflict, taking on a fight may or may not be prudent. Advisors see the situation with greater clarity, unhindered by emotions or pressures. With God, wise counselors and patience, warrior/kings avoid needless battles and casualties. When a response is required, unlike the soldier who knows only the commands, not the thought process behind them, the warrior/king understands the “method behind the madness”, so to speak. They’ve prayerfully examined every angle and confidently engage the enemy.
            The patient warrior/king lives to fight and reign another day, avoiding unnecessary skirmishes. Equipped with a plan, approved by the King of Kings, he or she effectively advances and maintains the kingdom of God’s progression thought out the earth. This kingdom’s reign ushers in real peace individually and corporately; establishes justice for all; removes sickness, disease, lack and poverty; and even brings nature back into balance. Does that last statement sound preposterous?  The bible states, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” Romans 8:21-22.  Now you know where weeds and stinging insects originated. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth (emphasis mine) as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10. Our assignment is to bring the kingdom of God back to earth.
With love as its foundation, the kingdom provides everyone all they need. God’s original charge to Adam to “replenish the earth” spreads out recreating the Garden of Eden as it moves forward. The end result, a transformed world, is a goal worth patiently fighting for. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Moon Burn? Moon Stroke?

“The Lord watches over you – The Lord is your shade at your right hand, the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night.” Psalm 121:6
The phrase, “nor the moon by night”, caught my attention when I read this verse. I think of the moon as the gentle light in the dark night sky, not as something threatening or capable of harm. Theories abound concerning the moon’s effects on the earth and individuals. Some law enforcement and medical personnel swear that a full moon unleashes the lunatics. Tackling the science behind these theories is beyond my scope of expertise. I leave that to the more qualified. I see in this verse an analogy to the different phases or conditions of life. The good times (sun) and the bad or difficult times (moon). With God as our shade, we pass through both unharmed.
First, sometimes life appears to deal us a “bad hand.” Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs. The normal pregnancy left his father Pastor Boris and mother Dushkia, a nurse, unprepared for seeing their child born limbless. How would their son overcome such severe disabilities? His parent’s desire to mainstream Nick’s education was initially denied but they prevailed. Nick endured not only bullying and harassment, but also loneliness and depression, even attempting suicide. In addition he grappled with the nagging questions, “Why me?” and “What is the purpose of this?”
Slowly, through his faith in God and with the help of family and friends, Nick turned his life around. As a young teen, Nick read an article about a disabled man who achieved success and went on to help others. Inspired by this man’s accomplishments, Nick decided to use his experience as a means to assist others.
At nineteen, Nick started fulfilling his dream of sharing his testimony and inspiring others through motivational speaking. “I found the purpose of my existence, and also the purpose of my circumstances. There is a purpose for when you’re in the fire.” Nick travels the world spreading the good news of the Gospel and his personal message of hope. He is an author, musician, actor and speaker who enjoys fishing, painting and swimming. He has already accomplished more than many able bodied individuals do in their entire life span. The early years of Nick’s life (moon) brought challenges, difficulties and hardships but not defeat. Now in the “sunshine” stage of life those lesson learned help Nick stay true to his faith and values as more doors of opportunity open to him.
Second, living in and outside of the limelight; the journey of the pursuit of a dream. I’ll touch on this briefly here; for a more in depth study refer to my previous post, “Obscurity, Breakfast of Champions.”  I believe God implants in each of us the desire to succeed and excel. Some are raised in supportive atmospheres, encouraged to reach for the stars. Others less fortunate are discouraged or even forbidden from stepping out and up and moving forward.
In either case, the path to success usually involves a protracted period of laboring in obscurity. Jesus and John the Baptist spent the better part of their lives unknown, all the while aware of their destinies. How they handled these “moon phases” prepared them for stepping into the spot light. Neither were moved off course or dissuaded by the pressure of popularity and what it could afford them. Their years in obscurity prepared them, developing into men who remained true to the mission through thick or thin.
            Finally, aging; something that strongly resonates with me. Personally, as I enter what some consider the latter years of life, I’m categorized by those younger than I as an “old person.” Western culture admires and applauds youth, viewing those in advancing years as out dated and passé.  The tendency is to either dismiss the aging population or outright ignore them, hoping they just go away. Ironically, old people don’t necessarily feel old or useless. They desire to take their knowledge and experience and contribute, but may find themselves rejected and unappreciated. Transitioning out of the “sunlight” of careers and productivity, they are shuffled to the sidelines. Without a plan for this phase of life, some find themselves adrift without purpose. Lacking an outlet for meaningful involvement, it is easy to fall into depression and feelings of despair. A time to pursue new options turns into a futile existence. Psalm 121:6 reminds us this need not be the case. No matter what stage of life we’re at, God watches over and protects us. As we trust Him we will thrive not just survive.
            When basking in the light of the sun or the moon, neither will harm us (thank God, I burn easily). With God’s help, protection and direction each phase provides the tools and resources necessary to successfully navigate whatever we encounter, wherever we are. For me, I remind myself that if people perceive me as being in the “moon phase” of life that is their opinion not mine. Personally, these “golden years” present a great opportunity to find new outlets of productivity, avoid moon burn and moon stroke and work on my moon tan.

For more information about Nick Vujicic check his website

For Obscurity, Breakfast of Champions go to