July 2012

Winning the battle against the clock

This past Sunday, as part of my message on Living Like You Are Dying, I polled the congregation with regard to their battle with the clock. What I found, although not surprising considering the world in which we live, was a cause for concern. Nearly two thirds (60%) of all those in attendance acknowledged that they frequently or very frequently wish they could “slow the pace of my life and reorder some of my priorities.” And an additional 28% said they think about that occasionally. When given a list of things to choose from that they often regret, related to use of time, the top regret chosen by 73% of the people in attendance was “Not making the most of each moment.”

Bottom line, the poll confirmed that most people are too busy. As a result many are battling to slow their pace in life and would love to reorder their priorities. Does that describe you?

What would it be like to live in a world where we had all the time we needed to do the things that were really important. What if we never had to rush or never felt hurried? What if we were so in the present we could make the most of and savor each moment? That would genuinely be paradise would it not?

Living that way is possible and you don’t have to die and go to heaven to experience it.

To fully grasp that possibility we need to consider the life of Jesus.

You can’t take that away from me.

There is a lyric from the old George Gershwin love song, “You Can’t Take That Away From Me” (circa 1937) that says “the way your change my life, no, no they can’t take that away from me.” The title of the song, coupled with that phrase, convey an encouraging spiritual truth. Love relationships are packed with power to change our lives. Just ask anyone who has walked down the aisle. And love, truly unconditional love, is transformative at a level that goes deeper than simply changing externals. That kind of love has the potential to establish our very identity and define who we are at the core of our being.

God’s love, expressed through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, is the quintessential, gold standard of transforming love. He chose us while we were yet sinners and separated from Him and wooed us as a spiritual bride for His Son that we might become members of His eternal family. His love gives us a new identity as His sons and daughters, something no one or no thing can ever take away from us. That is the truth in which Paul is reveling in the verses of Romans 8:38-39. No matter what fortune, fate or foe may confront us, it will not “be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When we realize that our identity is based on the high value God places upon us, independent from our accomplishments or lack thereof, and anyone else’s view of us, it is a game changer. God’s love literally changes the DNA of our lives. We take our place in a royal genealogy and thereby become heirs of an incorruptible inheritance. That gives us confidence in the face of fear and becomes an anchor for our soul in times of trouble.

Country Music, Theology and Life

Some day, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dyin’ – like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about what you’d do with it. Live Like You Were Dying (by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman)

As a late blooming convert to American Country Music I have come to appreciate the occasional undercurrents of theology woven into the fabric of its lyrics. One of the credos I have noticed that often surfaces is the belief in the value of slowing down and enjoying the simpler things of life.

In contrast to that, I don’t know if I ever recall hearing so many people comment on how fast the summer is racing by. Having already crossed the midpoint of July and now finding ourselves striding into the second half of summer has a way of awakening our sensibilities to the fleeting nature of life.

I was driving in the car several days ago thinking about this very thing and happened to have my radio dial tuned to a country station. Two songs came on in quick succession that really caught my attention. The central theme of each song’s lyrics was about the virtue of trying to slow down the pace of life.

First I heard Toby Keith singing a song entitled “My List.” In the song we learn he’s put his “to do list” for the day “under an old brass paperweight” because it’s time to “start livin’ – that’s the next thing on my list.” He explains “Cuttin’ the grass just had to wait, ‘cause I’ve got more important things, like pushin’ my kid on the backyard swing.” You get the gist of the song. “Go for a walk, say a little prayer, take a deep breath of the mountain air. Put on my glove, play some catch, it’s time I make time for that.” Amen, preach it brother! It’s a new millennium version of the 1970’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” song except this time the old man gets it right before it’s too late.

Next I heard Trace Atkins come on singing the ballad “You’re Gonna Miss This.” The song’s point of view is that of an older parent trying to give the same “slow down and enjoy life” advice to a grown daughter. Her problem, like so many of us, is that she is so busy planning and living for the future that she is not enjoying the present. First she’s a teenager wanting to get out on her own. Then she’s a bride living in a small apartment and wanting children and a house. Then five years later she’s a mother with two crying, screaming kids, a broken water heater, barking dog and the phones ringing. At each juncture Trace croons “Baby, just slow down. Cuz you’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast.”

And then, as a final theological caveat, Trace leaves her with a Romans 8:28 perspective. “These are the good times, so take a good look around, you may not know it now, but you’re gonna miss this.” Yes, Virginia, there is a God! And He causes “all things do work together for good” so enjoy the season you are in now!

That’s good preachin’ if I ever heard it, Country Gospel if you will, delivered with both love and truth. It touches the heart and puts just enough of a sappy smile on your face that when the truth socks you in the mouth it doesn’t cut your lip.

No Strings Attached Faith

One of the marks of the Christian life is a no strings attached faith! I am using the phrase “no strings attached” to describe an attitude of faith in which we yield full control to God in matters that concern us. Ultimately every transaction with God must always be based on our trusting Him to be who He says He is and to do what He promises He will do. Faith therefore should enable us to release our control of things in order to let Him have control. If we are going to live by faith, then as the old saying goes, we must “let go and let God!”

Interestingly the etymology of the “no strings attached” idiom has its root in Jewish culture. In ancient times legal documents were written on parchment with strings attached that were used to tie them shut when they were rolled up. When a document was delivered the transaction was not completed until the delivering party had released it and the strings binding it. For instance, according to the Babylonian Talmud, if a man delivered a bill of divorce but held on to the document’s string the transaction was invalid because at any moment he might snatch it back.

Jesus is our model of living a life of no strings attached faith. The culmination of His yielded life to the control of His Father was in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed “not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) And He encouraged all His followers to do the same when He taught us to pray “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

Being a person of faith requires continually choosing to commit things to the will of God – to release things to His control with no strings attached. Unfortunately that is not always easy to do. Although we want to trust God and commit to the Lord Jesus full control of our lives, there are some strings we tend to grip very tightly. They are usually attached to things we love, hate to give up or still feel we need to have some say and control over. Those things to which we want to hold strings of control tend to be many and varied. They can range from material possessions, people and relationships to preferences, worries and dreams.

Putting Life in Perspective

I don’t know how many times I have heard people marvel at how they got to where they are, relating how one thing led to another and they “just ended up” in a given life’s work, irrespective of some intentional concerted effort on their part. As a result it can be difficult, even in looking back, to connect the dots and discover some over arching theme that ties everything together.

This verse offers a hopeful perspective in terms of ascribing meaning and purpose to the seemingly haphazard unfolding of our lives. It conveys that there is a creator God, personally interested and actively engaged in arranging the pieces of our lives into a masterful work of art. The Greek word translated as masterpiece here is poiema (poy’-ay-mah) from which we get our English word poem.

What this verse says in effect is that God takes everyone who has entered into a faith relationship with Him through His Son Christ Jesus and crafts an artistic composition from the experiences of their lives. Because of each person’s uniqueness that poiema composition and its resultant message can be as diverse as any creative form, be it poetry, prose, music or the visual arts.

What then is the poiema of your life? What sense have you made of your meaning and purpose? Ironically our own poiemas are not always readily discernible because we are too close to them. It is like trying to see the forest for the trees. Usually it requires an outside perspective and help from God to fully comprehend, accept and appreciate our poiema.

Sometimes we want to make something of our life that is different from what God is intending to make of it. When our poiema is different than Gods we can become frustrated and discouraged because things are not turning out the way we planned. That is why we need a revelation of God’s poiema. Poiemas are more caught than taught. When we finally see it, sometimes we need to wrestle with it for a while to come to a point of yielding our poiema to His and finding a place of acceptance, appreciation and full cooperation with His poiema.

I can fully identify with the poiema struggles of which I write. Although many unregenerate dreams and plans I had as a young man went by the wayside when God intervened in my life, the ensuing years left me at times wondering what if. What if I had pursued such and such a job or moved to such and such a place? You know how that scenario goes, it leads to a poiema crisis and prescription for internal strife and confusion.

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