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Archive for the ‘Word Pictures’ Category

I heard a couple of sermons on Sunday, one of which spoke of “The King”, and the other that addressed holiness. They put me in mind of something I wrote many years ago.  I guess I never published it, because I had to dig it out of an old notebook.

 

Church Government

 

I saw a picture in my mind of the British Parliament, and I sensed the question, “Is England a Monarchy or a Democracy?”  Now this seemed to be a fairly unspiritual question, but I began to ponder my answer.  My immediate impulse was to say it was a monarchy, but the picture of the parliament reminded me that it was in fact a democracy.   While England does have a “Royal Family”, they actually have no real function within the day-to-day running of the country.  While some might claim that they still have a “monarchy”, it is not their way of government.

 

As I continued to meditate in this vein another question came; “Why are the people of England willing to pay the expense of this royal family, when they serve no real purpose in the governing of their country?”  I sensed that the answer lies in the people’s desire to be associated with the monarchy. That all of the pomp and trappings of royalty make the people feel royal about themselves, as though this distinguishes them from other countries.  It occurred to me that if the people of England really believed in the concept of a monarchy (i.e. that the royal family was God ordained and bred for leadership) that there wouldn’t be anyone else they would want to run their country; but instead they have chosen democracy as their form of government.

 

Certainly as an American I can appreciate democracy, because as a citizen I want my beliefs and desires to be reflected in the leadership of my community, my state and this nation.  There is nothing wrong with the British choosing democracy over a monarchy, but their desire to maintain the trappings of royalty creates an interesting illusion; it helps them to view themselves as one thing when they’re really something else.

 

As I continued to pray, I sensed the Lord say that this is a picture of His church.  He said that though we claim Him as “King”, He is rarely allowed to be involved in the decision making process, or the day to day affairs of the church; that decisions are primarily made by the people and for the people; that though we desire to be associated with His majesty, we do not necessarily desire to submit to His authority, and that though His name appears on the letterhead, the words of the message do not necessarily come from Him.

 

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warned of the body becoming disconnected from the Head; he said, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.  It seems that much of popular Christian culture has based itself on “the basic principles of this world”, and that in attempt to become relevant to the world, we’ve conformed ourselves to what we think will be found appealing in the marketplace.  Much of the “Christian” guidance (i.e. books, tapes, seminars…) on subjects like marriage, child rearing, inner healing… are more rooted in psychology than in God’s word, and we’ve even begun to study the corporate world for marketing strategies to be deployed within the church.  Based on these strategies, which put “what the people want” at the forefront, we are now seeing new interpretations (read; not necessarily translations) of scripture, which subtly distort anything which might offend someone who has adapted to the current cultural view.

 

In the book of Revelation there are messages to seven churches, which seem to be representative of the end time churches.  Within those the Lord points out some positive things, but He also gives stern warnings about the things He has against them.  He warns about forsaking our first love (i.e. allowing something other than Christ to be at the forefront of the church); that we must being willing to endure hardship and suffering (i.e. be willing to forsake our comfort); against adhering to false doctrines, which allow us to indulge our flesh and still believe that we are righteous before a Holy God; against tolerating sexual immorality within the church; against falling asleep, and not fulfilling His role for the church and against being lukewarm in our relationship with Him.  It is hard to deny that all of these things are prominently featured within modern Christianity.

 

At the end of each message there is a promise, but those promises are reserved for those who overcome these things.  Despite warnings throughout the New Testament, the Western church seems to be falling into many of these deadly patterns.  Our only hope is to re-connect to the Head, to tune our ears to His Holy Spirit; to renew our relationship with our “First Love”, to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to be like Jesus (e.g. to only do what we see the Father doing first).

 

Within this portion of Revelation, the one group the Lord doesn’t seem to have an issue with is the church of Philadelphia, which He says kept His word and did not deny His name.  This seems to be such a basic principle and yet this is the only church of which He could say this.  If we would choose to be that church, the promises of God are waiting for us there.  “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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It’s not a bowl’s destiny to remain clean and stored in the cupboard. It was made to be a vessel, poured out for the nourishment of others. Washing it simply prepares it to serve it’s purpose.

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Trying to convince someone of something they refuse to believe is akin to throwing rocks at a closed door.  All it does is damage the doorway.

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There was once a generous father, who yearned to create a wonderful life for his son.  So when the boy came of age, the father gave him a beautiful house to live in, which sat on many acres of prime land.  He told his son that he could live there all the days of his life and that the only cost would be that of caring for the place.  Though the son was excited, he reminded his father that he knew nothing of caring for land, or a house, or even for himself.  His father let him know that he could call on him at any time, and that he would always make himself available.  But he also assured the son that he would not intrude on his new life, and that he would only come when he was invited.  To help him, he gave his son a large book that contained guidance on many of the questions that he anticipated he might have.  The son was greatly encouraged by these things and was quick to embrace his new life.

 

In those first days, the son called on his father frequently, sometimes on multiple occasions within the same day.  But as time passed the increment between those calls grew longer.  Soon after moving into the house, the son took a wife, and they started a family.  But within a short time weeds began sprouting in the fields, and the house began to fall into disrepair.  Whenever the son called, his father would come quickly; but the younger man’s wife was not comfortable having her father-in-law around.  Though he’d never said anything disparaging, she felt sure that he was judging her and them.  She shared this suspicion with her husband, and he soon felt the same.  On occasion the son would refer to the book his father had left for him, and though it was sometimes helpful, he soon decided that it was too big and cumbersome to deal with.

 

As more time passed, the land was overrun with brush, and there was no lush grass for the animals to eat.  Parts of the once beautiful house were collapsing and no longer inhabitable.  The children were sick from the unsanitary conditions, and his wife complained bitterly about the low quality of their lives.  Most days, the man sat idly on the porch, wondering how things had turned out this way.

 

One day, a traveler came down the road and approached the son.  He said that he’d heard a grand tale about a generous father, who had bestowed a great and extravagant gift upon his son.  He said that he wanted to see these things for himself.  But the son said, that he didn’t know such a man, and that all his father had given him was this rundown shack, which sits on this unfruitful soil.  When the traveler suggested that at least his father had given him something of an inheritance, the son harshly replied that if his father was indeed the kind and generous man that he sought, he would have never allowed his son’s life to deteriorate to this point.  At that, the traveler bid the son good day and moved on.

 

I would like to suggest that this is a metaphor for the Creator, and His creation.  He created the earth, and gave it to mankind to do with it as they pleased.  He made a covenant with them, and promised that He would make Himself available to anyone who called.  He even authored a book to help us.  But as time has passed, this beautiful gift has deteriorated significantly and for the most part we stubbornly refuse to call on Him.  Within the story, the wife represents the earthly things which hold our affection, and the children symbolize the natural outcome of those affinities.  While we can generally accept the notion of a God who will provide for us, we struggle to receive One who might also judge us.  As a result, we’ve tossed out His book, or at least stuck it on a shelf, and we blame Him for the poor condition of our world.  We say things like, “If He’s really such a loving God, why is there so much evil, and sickness, and death in the world?”  I would suggest that it is simply the result of reaping what we as the human race have sown.  Like the son in the story, we have not because we ask not.  In the book of Proverbs it says that there is a way that seems right to a man, but that it ultimately leads to death.

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Our culture has an endless fascination with the rich and famous, which becomes especially acute when an iconic star passes away (e.g. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston…).  Last week’s untimely death of pop music star, “Prince” is a case in point.  For days, or sometimes weeks, the media is saturated with images of the star, clips of weeping fans, tributes from other celebrities, intrigue about the facts surrounding their death, a sudden burst of interest in their catalog from decades ago, often times revisionist retrospectives of their body of work, a slow parade of alleged insiders who claim to have some new tidbit of information, and sometimes even a star-studded funeral to send them off.  We tend to view their life through the lens of their glorious accomplishments and their vast renown; but I would suggest that more often than not they pass from this life broken and alone.  The myth of fame and fortune is stripped bare by death.  I doubt seriously that anyone has ever asked that their gold records, or Grammy award, or Oscar, or Olympic Medal be brought to their bedside as they face their final minutes.  Ultimately, the quality of a life isn’t defined by its shiniest moments, but by those day to day instances when no one is looking.  In the end, it will be about who we have loved, and who has loved us.  The piece that follows is something I wrote years ago to portray the emptiness of such an existence.  For me, fame and fortune is like this hollow mansion.

*

Hollow Mansion

*

My eyes flick open to the dim light of the pre-dawn morning

and my head throbs with the dull ache of the night before

There is a beautiful woman lying beside me

but I find myself straining to remember her name

When she wakes, I’ll have to pretend that last night meant something to me

but for now, I couldn’t be more alone

*

As I stare at the ornate ceiling of this massive room

I can see all the cracks along its edges

They not only speak of the sandy soil on which this estate was built

they testify to the weak foundation of this new life that I have established

While everyone else’s eyes are naturally drawn to the beautiful gold trim

all I can see is the fractured façade

While they all seem to notice the extravagant furnishings in each room

I find myself focusing on the vast empty space created by every high ceiling

*

These thoughts take me back to the water stained ceiling of my childhood bedroom

and I find myself wondering whatever became of that little boy

I also remember lying awake in a little trailer, many years ago

wondering how I was going to support my young bride & our new baby

Back then, paying the bills was my greatest struggle

but now that those debts are more than covered, I’m struggling with the price that was paid

*

I’d trade everything I’ve gained to erase the hurt and confusion in my children’s faces

as I pulled our family apart on the way to making my own dreams come true

I’d give it all back for the woman who loved me

when I had nothing to offer other than a desire to share her life

I’d gladly forfeit the drafty halls of this hollow mansion

for the warmth of the place that I used to call home

I’ve finally figured out that it’s better to have one person who loves you for who you really are

than to have ten thousand who love the person they imagine you to be

*

Unfortunately, by the time I came to understand this, it was too late

As the raging waters of my desire had already swept away any moorings for a bridge back

So as the first rays of the sun begin to creep across the windows

I swallow a couple of painkillers to prepare for the day that lies ahead

And as the beautiful stranger lying next to me stirs from her sleep

I push my face into a smile and utter, “Good morning darling”

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With our two youngest (Andrew and Bekah) playing for their respective high school basketball teams, we spend a lot of time courtside.  As a matter of fact, we’re in the midst of a five day stretch where either the boy’s team, or the girl’s team, has a night-time away game.  And when you frequently hang around such venues it’s not uncommon to encounter people who think that “basketball is life”.  But from where I sit, it is life that is a lot like basketball.

 

Like basketball, life requires preparation.  You may get by for a while on natural ability, but at some point you have to invest yourself in it, if you hope to have sustained success.  Just like traversing the length of the floor, and getting to the rim, there will always be situations, scenarios, and obstacles, that stand in your way.  It requires patience, perseverance, and some amount of skill, to negotiate those hurdles.  It is only on rare occasions that you find yourself completely on the other side of these things, with a clear path to the goal.  When those openings come, you must be ready; because such windows of opportunity close quickly.  There are times when you need to press, and other times when you need to let the game come to you.  Sometimes you can simply cover a zone, but other times demand one-on-one attention.  Discerning those times is a significant key to victory.  Likewise, you will find that there are often fouls in life that never get called, times when your teammates won’t pass the ball, and moments when you inexplicably dribble the ball off your own foot, or shoot it over the backboard.  How you handle these moments of disappointment, frustration, and failure, will drastically impact your potential for future achievement.  Finally, there is the noise that surrounds the game.  The instructions of a coach, the cheers and jeers of the crowd, the call of a ref, the encouragement or chastening of a teammate, the trash talk of an opponent, and the little voice inside your head that responds to all of them.  Knowing which voices to listen to, and which ones to tune out, is a crucial skill that every player needs to develop.

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We live in an interesting era, where most people don’t struggle with the idea of a spiritual realm, or even the existence of spirits; but where many (including a significant number of professing “Christians”) struggle to accept the notion of a literal devil, or the existence of hell.  For the first 30+ years of my life I was essentially blind and numb to spiritual things, but all of that changed when I had a very real encounter with the Holy Spirit of God.  That singular moment changed the trajectory of my life by making God real to me in a way that He hadn’t been before; but it also opened my eyes to the invisible realm, which includes demons, and demonic activity.  I’ve had curious people ask me about such things, and I like to use the “Lion King” as an example of how it works.

 

Simba represents each of us, while Mufasa represents all three persons of God.  He is Simba’s father, who gives his life to save him, and whose spirit guides him.  His rules were meant to protect his children, but Simba chooses to go his own way.  Scar represents the enemy of our souls, whose real intention is to steal, kill, and destroy.  In the presence of the genuine King, Scar is powerless, but after Mufasa’s death, his accusations drive Simba from his father’s kingdom (the Pride Lands), and cause him to forfeit his rights as an heir to the throne.  Just as Satan has demons to do his work, Scar has his pack of Hyenas to do his bidding. 

 

As long as Simba was willing to live the “hakuna matata” (no worries in Swahili) lifestyle with Timon and Pumbaa, he posed little threat to Scar, and was largely left alone.  Of course, he had to live in a very demeaning way for a lion; eating bugs and the like; but his friends made it bearable.  That was until Nala shows up, and reminds him of where he came from, and that his family is suffering at the hands (or paws) of Scar and his sidekicks.  But even though Simba wants to help, the voice of the accuser again causes him to doubt himself.  Though Rafiki plays the role of a prophet, it is eventually the voice of his father that is able to remind Simba of who he is, and of what his destiny was meant to be.  With the word of his father burning within his heart, Scar becomes powerless to stop Simba from taking his rightful place as the heir to the throne.

 

Like Simba, we have all gone on own way, and the accuser of the brethren has a lot to say about it.  If we believe in what he is saying, we will forfeit our rightful place in our Father’s kingdom.  If we choose to take the “hakuna matata” approach to the problem, we will live well beneath the level we were created for, and never find our way back to our homeland.  We all desperately need to have the same revelation that Simba had, which is that we are loved, forgiven, meant to dwell in our Father’s kingdom, and created to be an heir to His throne.  Our identities need to become rooted in that revelation, and it needs to propel us into the battle against the illegitimate authority of our enemy.  The scripture tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12)”.  If we are really worried about the direction our country is headed, I would suggest that this is the battle we need to be engaging in.

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