A Builder’s Parable -Messy Foundations

12250927_mIt was one of those nights you never forget.

Lightning streaked across the sky, first wordlessly and then booming with bolts of thunder which rocked me to the core of my foundations. The rain was driving harder now, the wind whipping it into a sideways frenzy which whirled the torrent of droplets around me like a dizzy merry-go-round. Faster, faster, faster…

The pounding was unrelenting. Wind, rain, lighting, thunder…all seemingly at war with each other whirling around in a mad cosmic chase which ripped at my very core. It was all I could do to stay anchored to my footings.

I remembered when the builder had laid them down. He was an honest man who took real pride in the five homes that he built every year.

Not one to cut corners, he had personally inspected every step of the job, forcing workman to complete the job to his high standards even when they complained that the delays would cost him dearly. It was his reputation on the line and he cut off their protestations with a fierce look.

The foundations for the house across the street had been dug shortly after my builder got started. Yet amazingly, it had been completed ahead of mine. Causing just a little grumpiness for my homeowners. I couldn’t see everything the crew was doing, but they worked fast…mighty fast to get that house ready. Perhaps too fast.

It was hard to see clearly through the inky darkness, but several shingles whipping by my roof line indicated that all was not well. I heard several large crashes and then there was silence. It was as though the wind and rain had simply spent themselves into a muted, angry truce a they ran out of steam.

I couldn’t examine the damage until the sun came up the next morning. I’d lost a few shingles, but overall I was fine albeit a little creaky. A few large branches littered the otherwise pristine lawn which now gleamed with the brilliant green that accompanies a thunderstorm.

Across the street however, a scene of intense devastation was unfolding. Large portions of the roof had been whipped off and an entire corner of the home had simply crumpled into the ground. The foundation wall had shifted and the home looked as though it might topple over at any time. A crowd of concerned onlookers was gathering to survey the damage.

My thoughts drifted back to the wise builder who had had taken such detailed care in laying my foundations. I used to hear him telling his workers that they needed to build as though they were building their own home. In fact, he often refused to build on certain lots when he felt the underlying terra ferma would not be rock solid. Unstable, shifting soil was a guaranteed non starter when it came to undertaking a building job.

I was thankful for the attention had had paid to making sure I had a stable foundation today. I had survived the storm because of it. I had been buffetted by wind, trounced by the rain and beaten silly by the storm, but I had not failed because of a formidable foundation.

Foundations are what anchor us to the earth in a solid fashion. They’re not glamorous. It’s about the basic building blocks of life..and business. The follow-up and follow-through. The simple doing of what you say and delivering beyond expectations. It’s about the phone call, note and thank you card.

Foundations are what ensure that you don’t forget who you work for. They remind you that every part of the process in life, relationships and business is another nail which holds together the priceless treasure of a good reputation.

Yes, this story can be found in a truncated fashion in Matthew 7:24-28. It’s actually commonly refered to as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builder. Because you see, we’re all architects of our own lives. What we build reveals who we really are. It’s a matter of choice…

 

Trapdoor Grace: Overcoming A Spiritual Siege

One of the most heart breaking news stories this year has been the on-going siege of the city of Aleppo in Syria.  Watching the daily distress of people trapped within the ruins of war without access to basic and vital necessities is a reminder of how despicable war is.

64481341_sTrapdoor grace is the kind of grace that happens when all avenues of relief are blocked.  The support systems which we have carefully cultivated spring leaks, the bank account is drained, the Doctor’s and experts don’t have solutions, the job has left the country.  When we are under siege literally or spiritually, it is important to know that God has avenues of rescue which open when windows and doors of escape are unavailable.

The weapon of a siege mounted against a community or city is an ancient one.  A siege can be mounted in a variety of ways, but always has one common characteristic – the enemy surrounds you. When a place is under a siege, every means of escape appears to be blocked in some fashion.  A siege not only blocks the path of escape, but also prevents anything from entering.  So, essentially, the community slowly starves to death without food, water, medical supplies and sometimes even means of communication with the external world.

A siege is effective because it eventually causes such despair, that in their desperation, people will even cannibalize themselves. We read about a situation like this in 2 Kings 7.  The siege against the King of Israel was ironically mounted by the King of Syria (some translations refer to him as the King of Aram).

As the two sides eyed each other, 2 Kings 6:24-33 tells the story of the King of Israel walking on top of the city wall and a woman calling out to him to tell him the dreadful tale of how she and another woman had agreed to eat their infant sons.  Her heart wrenching complaint is that the other woman reneged on her word and hid her son.  The King was overcome with horror. He vows to hunt down the Prophet Elisha who somehow becomes the scapegoat for the King’s frustration.

The meeting between the two nemesis is rife with mutual dislike and name calling.  But, the Prophet Elisha prophecies to the King that the impossible is about to take place.

Within 24 hours, there will be a turn-around that is so extraordinary that basic foodstuffs will sell at bargain prices!

The prediction is so bizarre that an officer who supports the King physically scoffs and in effect says, ‘that’s madness!’

And it did appear that there was no way out of this certain destruction.  But, that night God does something incredible.  Because mad situations need to be handled with equivalent or greater levels of mad power.

The Bible indicates that the well equipped Syrian army heard a sound and became convinced that the bankrupt Kingdom of Israel had somehow managed to hire an army and the tables were turned.  In their fear, the entire Syrian army fled at night to escape what they were convinced was certain annihilation.  The discovery of the situation was discovered by a most improbable lot – some Lepers who were considered untouchable and thereby consigned to the outskirts of the city.

The Lepers had decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian King and approached the camp, only to find the entire encampment vacated of people!  But thoroughly stocked with provisions, clothes and unimaginable wealth in silver and gold.  Wow!  Of course the good news is shared and the entire city rushed the city gates, trampling on the officer who scoffed at the idea that this kind of deliverance was even possible.

Trapdoor Blessings:

A trapdoor blessing reveals the God who makes impossible situations possible.  It also reveals a mercy which is super abundant and awe inspiring.  And often utilizes the most improbable persons or situations.  It’s never an avenue that you would previously seriously consider.  A trapdoor blessing has the ability to turn what appears to be a curse into an uncommon blessing.

Here are some elements of encouragement hidden within trapdoor blessings:

  1. God can handle our sorrow, despair and anger.  Be real.  Desperate situations call for a desperate response.  Pray and don’t stop. Seek counsel.  The Bible says that when waging war, we should have many counselors
  2. Be open to unexpected solutions.  Hidden within those who have been written off and marginalized may be some of the best talent available and hitherto unused due to our prejudices and preconceived ideas.
  3. Know this – God may not come within our time frame, but He is never late.  Examples of deliverance at the mid-night hour abound in the Bible.  Think – Daniel in the lions den, Moses saved from the water and certain death by an Egyptian princess, Paul and Silas escaping from prison while singing praises at mid-night, Peter being rescued from prison by an angel…
  4. Trapdoor blessings are generous!  And perhaps we appreciate them more because the contrast is starkly evident when you’ve experienced deep bondage.  This type of blessing can be so overwhelming that in receiving it, you must find a way to share it and give it away.  Similar to how the Lepers had to let the city know that deliverance was just a few steps outside the gates.

As we leave 2016 and approach 2017, there is a palatable sense of apprehension for many in our world.  It has been a strange year in many ways.  One filled with loss, unpredictability and dis-ease in various ways.  But it is in this type of darkness that light shines most brilliantly.  And it is here that Trapdoor grace reveals itself most readily.

 

 

 

Strong Food – Super Nutrition

“Because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a Father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12:6

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Not all foods are equal.  In fact, today many of the processed foods we eat are not really food at all.  Some are solely the creation of scientists in chemical laboratories mixing together flavor profiles and artificial ingredients to create concoctions that incite the senses through the wizardry of mimicking real food.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of mimicry in the practice of the Christian faith today. I was stunned to hear a statistic that indicates that the average Evangelical Christian who indicates they attend church regularly, visits a house of worship about once a month.  If we were having ‘church’ in our homes, that might not be so problematic.  But, many do not read the Bible on a regular basis and prayer is a real struggle.

I don’t think this is coincidental.  God’s word is spiritual sustenance.  Prayer is like the fuel which charges our souls through connection with God.  Going without both for sustained periods of time is akin to spiritual starvation.  When the assault against vital health has severely weakened the health into bare life support, only watered down nutrition will even be tolerated. So while milk is a complete food and OK for babies who need to be carefully weaned to solids, it was never intended to be the sole or main support of adult nutrition.

A lack of interest in spiritual things – reading the Bible, prayer- often operates in tandem with lots of time for trivial pursuits and mindsets that are at cross purposes with what God desires to grow us into with Strong Nutrition.

Discipline for me is God’s way of bringing me back to my right mind.  We will all go through periods of trials and testing.  That’s just part of life.  However, a test is meant to be passed and the transforming power of God is able to transform the victim into the victor.

This summer has been rough with the passing of my beloved mother and the emotional trauma for our family.  It has been a strong primer from our Heavenly Father to learn about areas which needed attention and reassessment. However, I can also see that God has been disciplining me and my family through this process and I am a different person as a result.  For this I remain humbled and grateful.

Strong food, like strong discipline is not given to the immature.  If God chooses to discipline, it is a sign of His deep love.  He alone knows who you are and who you can become.  Just as a muscle requires exercise and training to strengthen to it’s fullest capacity, so too do Children of God require tuning and pruning to show up and shine right in an increasingly dark world.

Soul Care and Sources ~

Mathew 13: 6b- “They withered because they had no root.”

One of the most daunting aspects of the Christian journey is the ability to discern correctly between the soul and the spirit.  Perhaps, more succinctly stated, the work of the human soul versus the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There is a type of good work that seems pious and godly.  To all outward appearance, the exterior trappings speak of exceptional outcomes and right intentions.  Our human tendency is to assume that all things which appear to give glory to God and call on his name also originate from him.

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However, the soul is highly versed in the ability to mimic and imitate.  It is afterall where personality is formed and groomed.  The soul is also the place in which the will exerts preeminence.  Thus, acts of the soul, even religious activities that are intended to ‘impress’ God may have nothing whatsoever to do with what God initiates, wants or directs.  These works will have no lasting impact or spiritual results and as a consequence must eventually wither.

What originates from the realm of the soul cannot by its nature (which is soulish) ever produce spiritual fruit. The origins (the seeds) are so different, it is like asking a banana seed to make itself into an orange.  They are both plants best grown in the tropics, but that is where the similarity ends.

When the assaults of life threaten, only what is born of the spirit has the power to prevail. While the works of the soul and spirit can appear to come from the same source (which is especially difficult to discern in religious work), the work of the spirit is refined by fire while the work of the soul disintegrates when severely tested.

So, we must learn to avert our gaze from what a thing seems to be and instead ask for the gift of discernment.  It is not what something looks like which is important.  Rather, the question to be asked is what does a thing originate from?  What is the source of this desire, action, reaction, intention?  Does it originate from the soul or from the spirit?

 

The Solace of Solitude…

Modern life grates.

Constant commotion

 Noise.

The scraping motions of connection.

The soul seeks relief.

A moment of peace & quiet.

The Solace of Solitude.

In the midst of Frenzy,

Quietness

Within

Stillness

Clear enough to hear…

A still small voice.

On Simplicity…

We’ve all had the experience of over-eating and suffering a tummy ache as a result.   When the feast before our eyes overwhelms our better judgement, it’s easy to turn off the natural sensors which tell us that we’ve had enough.

But we pay for it long after the tickling sensations which enticed our taste buds have been satiated.  It is during these moments of miserable regret that we ache for simple things.   The simplicity of being able to eat without pangs of pain and digest without regurgitation.

Excess is not limited to the arena of food, it’s become a large staple of modern western life.   Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been studying the discipline of Spiritual Simplicity.   The movement towards a life grounded in integrity and truthfulness…

The challenge of Simplicity is simply this…we love our excess; even when we know it is not good for us.  The mega movement in Christianity today has produced the fastest growing, largest  churches in the history of America.

But what is the result of the excess?  How has excessive growth in the physical dimension impacted the transformation of our culture?  And to what degree is simplicity merely another form of outward process which creates a false legalism that shields our conscience from the areas that really matter?

In some ways, I think simplicity is complex…it’s far more nuanced than the wider path which seems so tempting in an arena of abundance. I think that  Simplicity is calling to an inner state of being…not merely a thing to do.

It’s a shedding, stripping and pruning which opens up the cluttered regions of a stuffed up existence so we can breathe and enjoy life fully and abundantly once again.  But it will not necessarily come easily…something as solid as simplicity requires a dedication of commitment and focus.  In other words a singleness of mind & body which we instinctively crave but often ignore.

Picture is courtesy of madelinetosh on flickr.com

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The Art of Meditation…

12171_RAIN DROPSWhat do you know about meditation?  The response to my question was largely blank stares from the folks in the class this Sunday.  This was not really surprising as to most modern day Christians, the practice of meditation is a lost discipline or worse…one associated with traditions which are not aligned with the Christian faith.

But, the truth is that the Bible speaks about mediation; there are over 20 specific references.   One of the first references is about Isaac meditating just prior to his first encounter with his future wife Rebecca.  In the book of Joshua 1:8, God tells the Israelites to meditate on on His Word during the day and night so they will be careful to obey it.   David starts the book of Psalms and in verse 2 refers to the blessings of meditating on the law of God.  In fact, David speaks about mediation several times.

We all meditate.  Meditation is simply the process of contemplation and deep reflection.  The question is WHAT are we meditating on…what’s the focus of our meditation.  For many of us, the focus of our deep and on-going reflection is the stuff we worry about.  We fret about the issues of our lives…what we will eat, what we will wear, what will happen tomorrow.  Jesus had something to say about this type of meditation…Don’t do it!

Instead, the Bible instructs us to mediate on the Word of God and to reflect on His goodness.  There are many ways in which we can incorporate the practice of meditation into our daily devotional life.  Meditation as a discipline can supercharge your prayer life by helping you to still your mind so that you can focus more completely on God and attach yourself to His truth and the guidance of His Word.

For the modern day Christian, one of the most attractive benefits of mediation is the guidance that seems to bubble up within us when our minds are stilled from the ceaseless, abstract relentless stream of thought that consumes our lives.  Through meditation we learn the true meaning of ‘being still and knowing God’.  In the stillness there comes guidance for the issues which affect our lives.  In this sense, Christian meditation is a way for us to download divine instructions for the everyday challenges we face and to gain insights which are not readily discernible in the hectic pace of everyday life.

Wikepedia reference on Christian Meditation

Christian Meditation…is it really Christian?