Friday, January 15, 2010

Where The Power Is Makes All The Difference This Year

I recently read an article about a father who, along with his children, built a fortress made of snow at his home in Canada. He and the children would gather snow from their neighbors' yards in an apartment complex. This snow fortress took five days to construct. Laboring to pack snow in plastic containers, they transported these heavy blocks and used ladders to build this structure higher and higher. As they carefully stacked the molded blocks of frozen snow and ice, it was no small feat and it attracted all kinds of attention. The pictures of it were quite impressive. Neighborhood children toured inside and marveled at how high it was. But some of the attention it attracted resulted in the father being ordered to dismantle the ice castle, to demolish the fortress. It seems that the owners of the condo complex were compelled to take action, seeing the potential peril of people inside the structure in danger of being injured. The beautiful fortress was in effect a deceptively deadly prison if the snow ever collapsed. Someone could even die there.
The father originally rebelled against the idea that others could step in and order it demolished. He questioned whether they had the authority to pull it off. But once it was explained to him and he could see the potential dangers of the situation he gladly demolished it. What took days to build up only took hours to tear down.
I see a spiritual picture here of what the Spirit of God can tell us through the word of God. We spend lifetimes habitually building fortresses that we live in. Spiritual places of worship. These fortresses are called strongholds. Castles around our hearts. These heart habitations, these strongholds, can be holy ones or unholy ones. When we worship God in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we actively build holy fortresses. Holy fortresses are like living in the castle of a strong king. It is the safest place to live. But when we worship anything or anyone other than God (and we will because we are built to worship) we habitually build wicked strongholds. Block by block, thought by thought, word by word, action by action builds the structure of our lives until our fortress becomes a prison. And we are bound in our own sinful structure, waiting to die like a prisoner awaits execution on death row. The wages of sin is death. Payday is coming. We may find ourselves at times waking up to the fact that we are bound in our sin, lost and separated from holy living and sometimes wonder how to break out of this frozen fortress. But we know we can't get out on our own. We don't seem to have the power. Who can set us free from these strongholds?
Good news. God has a plan. And He has the power. Consider the following words:

"...for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

The father who built the snow fortress came into the knowledge that what he thought was a harmless endeavor was actually a deadly deception. He surrendered to the authority that had the power to order it dismantled. And he gladly participated in its destruction. We can do the same today. Acknowledge our helplessness to escape from these unholy strongholds and surrender them to a superior power today and be set free to live as you were originally created. God will give us the truth about how we are living. Ask yourself, does what I am thinking, saying, and doing glorify God as a worship experience? If not, surrender that act, word, or thought to the power that can tear your fortress prison down. Submit to the power of Christ and the word of God and live life in the power of the Holy Spirit and worship Him in spirit and truth.
It does make a difference where the power is this year. Is God's power in you?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What You're Looking For Makes All The Difference In Life

Have you been watching the reaction to the aborted airline bombing that happened on Christmas Day? There's been one government official after another commenting on the event, often giving conflicting messages to the increasingly anxious public. First, the system worked...then it was called a systemic failure. Then, there was no smoking gun evidence of an imminent terrorist act (although there was a smoldering fuse within the airplane fuselage as the passengers subdued the subject, or suspect, or whatever he is called on this morning's news programs). Then the declaration was made that there was more than enough intelligence information for someone to reasonably interpret and predict what was going to take place. If only they had connected the dots, so the expression goes.
Connecting the dots is easier if you know what you're looking for. At least it was for me when I was a kid. I needed to see the picture before the dots were connected. I wanted to know what I was looking for so I would know what it looked like when I saw it completed. It seems to me that the confusing and chaotic responses to this particular terrorist threat indicate that we are often too concerned with looking for a what instead of a who. So it appears that the security people are going to be even more focused on looking for bombs instead of bombers. It makes a huge difference whether you're looking for a who instead of a what!
What do you seek? It's the first question that Jesus asks in the gospel of John. He asks this of people who are searching for something...or someone. The question reveals that God knows our hearts. He knows the object of our search in life. We are looking for something to worship. Sometimes we are searching for the fruits of our material world. The things we think we have security in possessing always wind up possessing us. Sometimes that something is someone. We often worship our loved ones, our American Idols, sports heroes (or zeroes), or even ourselves. Rarely do we worship God as a person. But the good news is that we can. And when we do, life begins to seem a little more focused and a lot more clearer. It's like connecting the dots. The personal relationship that God calls us into is often a transformation that takes awhile. Although we can say we follow Jesus, we often do not know Him. We know a lot about Him. God's question simplifies the search: What do you seek? Maybe you're worried about terrorist attacks or financial disasters. Maybe you don't know exactly what it is you're looking for this year. But the restlessness and anxieties and worries of this world let's you know you haven't found it yet. So what do you do? Keep looking and worrying? Not according to Jesus. He knows we are frustrated in our search for the what. So He tells us about the Who.
"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33)
When we find the King...the Kingdom comes with Him. The what, or things, we are chasing and desperately seeking have no value unless we find the King. Our life will be as big a dud as a bomb that doesn't go off...a huge dud...but a dud just the same. We'll find that our life has fizzled out after being focused on the wrong things. We will have been futile in living out our worship God and God alone. Only when we find Jesus, the God-man, can we begin to have our dots connected. Only then can be begin to have our picture completed, rightly reflecting the restored image of the Living God.
What you're looking for makes all the difference in life when you're looking for Life!

Friday, January 1, 2010

What You're Full Of Makes All The Difference This Year

Not too far from my home there is a strange sight to see. It looks a lot different in early daylight than it did in the darkness a few hours ago. Last night, there were several images in the yard that were all lit up and standing up. The inflatable figures of Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, a few reindeer, and some elves seemed so self supporting on the lawn of this house. But this morning, on New Year's Day, they all lay strewn about, deflated and empty, like they are sleeping...or worse! I wonder today how many people were up late last night, all lit up, looking alive and well, ringing in the New Year, revved up in the revelry, but this morning are feeling all wrung out, hung out, and hung over. Many people are as empty as a plastic Frosty, all out of air, with their lights out as well.
Reflecting upon these lawn decorations, it's interesting to note that the reason they stood up and shone out last night was because something was being pumped into them. A supply of air was generated and a source of light was sent into them by a power cord plugged into an electric outlet, enabling the pump to generate and the light to illuminate. Once these man-made inventions are interrupted by someone disconnecting the power source, the festive scene on the front yard is changed. The party's over. The time for pretending is over. Reality is here. Once the cord is disconnected, then darkness and emptiness is the normative condition of these outdoor decorations. So what's all this got to do with looking backward on life during last year and looking ahead into living in the new?
What you're full of makes all the difference this year. We can be full of ourselves and our own machinations that give us a sense that all is well and the future is bright. But unless someone is full of something outside of themselves, that can sustain us with light in the darkness and give us the power to stand in this world, we will wind up empty. Man has no solution for this condition of ultimate emptiness. Our self generated power is insufficient. There will come a day when we are empty and cannot stand on our own. But there is a solution. This something outside of ourselves solution is actually Someone. God Himself has made a way to continually breathe His Spirit into us, illuminating us and sustaining us with His power to stand in the darkest of nights, and in times when our strength is gone. Last year was one of those years that I was as empty as an unplugged Frosty on more than one occasion. In those times I came to the place to know that I am nothing without the Spirit of God continually filling me. Here's my New Year's thought today. Let's help one another remember it.

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21, NASU)

God wants to fill our emptiness with Himself. That's Good News for a Happy New Year.