Blue Morph

Shedding the Camouflage

imagesThe Butterfly Garden is one of the feature attractions at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. The glass enclosed exhibit is home to scores of exotic species of these beautiful, free-flying insects. This time of the year one of the showcased creatures is the Latin American Blue Morpho butterfly. This particular flittering beauty sports iridescent blue wings that can stretch up to seven inches across. When the sunlight bounces off their out-stretched wings, it’s almost as if they glow!

However, when we visited recently, we found it very difficult to take a picture of them. They would only light for brief moments, and when they did, the wings would quickly snap shut, hiding their glorious color. At rest the appearance of the Blue Morpho was plain and uninteresting and which obviously helped them blend into their background.

Blue Morph closedAs I skulked around in the shadows of this artificial tropical menagerie in a largely fruitless effort to snap an elusive shot, it occurred to me that these simple creatures bear some striking similarities to many believers in the world today.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

When we’re saved by Christ, we leave our cocoon of death and are instantly transformed into new creations. Scripture declares emphatically that believers are alive in Jesus, given a restored spirit, a new hope and a brand new life. But too many of God’s people don’t have an accurate understanding of what happened to them and consequently, allow the shroud of their old lives to cloak their new beauty. Old attitudes and ingrained ways of thinking and behaving shade our inner radiance, and the memory of those things that scripture describes as “passed away” holds us back from the experiencing the reality of what is “new”.

But God calls us to shed our disguise, open our wings and show others and the world the difference that Christ has made in us.

If you’re thinking that you’ve tried to change the way you’re living only to end up in frustration and defeat, this isn’t a post about trying harder, or being more committed. Most of us know that true spiritual reformation doesn’t stick through shear willpower alone. Real change in living begins with a change of thinking that is centered on truth. It’s a life-long pursuit aided by the Holy Spirit that draws us nearer to God as we daily walk with Him.  Colossians 3:1-8  gives us an outline of how we can cooperate in the process.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, (vs 1) -Transformation is a work of the Spirit that begins with an encounter with Jesus. Without a changed heart as the starting point, our best efforts become only a flawed self-improvement plan that will never result in a real and lasting inner change.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (vs 2)Since we have the “mind of Christ,” we no longer have to be slaves to random feelings and ideas. We need to realize that allowing our thoughts to dwell on anything that’s prohibited by scripture is dangerous. However, most of us have to admit that in this area we are prone to indulging in. Too often we invite and even enjoy evil or unrestrained thoughts rather than exercising the power given to us through the Holy Spirit to take “every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (vs 3)This is a very theological concept here that could take volumes to explain, but as simply as possible this means that when you became a Christian, you died to sin. Because of your relationship to and with Jesus, your life is now intertwined with Him! And since sin has no power over Him, it, likewise, has no power over you!

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (vs 5-9)Paul goes on to challenge us to very practically begin to avail ourselves of the power that we have through our relationship with Christ. That is, we need to draw on the His Spirit that now dwells within us and begin to say “no” to sins such as “immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (vs 7) also, “anger, rage, malice, filthy language, and lies” (vs 8), and then replace them with the righteous behavior that’s consistent with the alteration that He’s done in us.

…Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. “ – vs 10 Finally, Paul reminds us that our new lives are continually being altered through our understanding of who our God truly is. In Romans 8:29, the apostle referred to this as “conformed to the image of Christ.” This should be our ultimate goal… to become more and more like His Son until the day that we can finally and completely shed the world’s camouflage and let others see the glory of the Lord in us!

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Zipping Through The Obstacles

10547569_366695836814508_7588900637524921429_nLast week our family wrapped up our summer vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though we rented a very nice mountain cabin, most of our time was divided between the Tennessee Aquarium (definitely worth the visit if you’ve never been),

IMG_2032white water rafting on the Ocoee River, and ziplining through the trees. The entire get-away was fantastic and though we love our normal trips to the beach, we learned that a family vacation doesn’t have to always involve the ocean!

Leia (left) watching apprehensively as Jason straps in.
Leia (left) watching apprehensively as Jason straps in.

The only real bump during our outdoor adventures happened when we were getting outfitted to go on the zip lines. Leia was a little apprehensive about the whole idea, but really got stressed when she got an good look at the height of the first platform (30+ feet). The closer we got to it, the more fearful she became.

Seeing her nervousness, the guide took her aside in a largely fruitless attempt to reassure her. She explained that the cables were capable of supporting the weight of a school bus, and then helped her see how securely they were anchored. She demonstrated how the harness she was wearing was triple-secured to the trolley that would carry her down the line. Lastly, she recounted the number of people who do the same course every week without a single incident. However, no quantity of facts counteracted the reality of what Leia could see with her own eyes… and that was that she just a little girl who was very far off the ground!

“I don’t think I can do this…”, she whimpered. “It’s too far up!”

With my best “mom” voice, I calmly told her that she could make it, and to simply trust what the guide had told her.

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Leia’s First Run

So with much fear and trepidation, she let the guide hook her up, and she sat down on the first platform. Though nearly panic-stricken, she grabbed hold of the ropes and with a little help from me, she finally pushed herself off. Of course, after zipping down the first line, she landed safely and smoothly at the next platform. As I arrived just behind her and she exclaimed loudly, “Hey, that was more fun than I thought!”

By the time we got to the highest lines that were over 75 feet off the ground, Leia was a pro, and had no trouble sailing down the cables with no anxiety at all!

When our adventure was over and we were walking back to the club house, she chattered on and on about how much fun she had, and even wanted to know when we could come back to do it again. As we were taking off our gear, I told her how proud of her and asked her to reflect on what she’d learn from the trip.

With only a little help from me, she came up with four takeaways that I think can help any believer face the inevitable challenges in life.

DON’T’ GIVE UP – “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) You know, the first response that many people have to a difficult situation is to quit. They consider their own strength, take inventory of their own abilities, and then weigh them against whatever task looms ahead. If it seems too big, well, why even try? But in this verse from Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that it isn’t always the strongest, or the fastest, or even the smartest people who come out on top. Sometimes it’s the person who is willing to keep at it the longest, and persevere through the most who takes home the prize.

Leia - last run of the day
Leia – last run of the day

DON’T BE AFRAIDFor God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7) What’s the last thing that really scared you? What was your response? If you think about it, you might have acted like you had it all together, but inwardly you could have felt much like Leia. That is, you let your feelings about the situation trump the actual facts. While emotions are God-given blessings that help us interact with and respond to other people, events and our environment, if not properly governed by God’s truth, they can also lead us astray. When we allow our emotions to become the barometer of what’s right and true, we’ll often find ourselves constantly held back and impeded by anxiety, stress, and fear.

DON’T PLAY TO YOUR WEAKNESSES …whose weakness was turned to strength…” (Heb. 11:34) When I was standing on the first platform with Leia, she insisted that she didn’t want to push off, and even began to cry a little. I knew that it was keenly important that she not be allowed to climb back down, because there was something more important going on than ziplines! If you always back away from a challenge, when you really need strength to overcome, it won’t be there!

IMG_3677-1TRUST YOUR GUIDE“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own…”  (John 16:13) – Now, the most important thing to remember from our trip through the trees is a lesson that will help you face all kinds of challenges that loom before you. Leia’s struggle was whether to trust in her own evaluation of her situation, based on her own limited experience, or to trust in the leadership of a guide who had been through the course countless times and was able and prepared to lead, guide, counsel, and if necessary, RESCUE her!

DSC07128Believers have a ready and true guide living within us to us every day in the person of the Holy Spirit. His assurance and counsel is always faithful and is rooted in and will always be consistent with what we find in God’s Word! It has successfully lead countless saints across the ages through the fearful (and joyful) stages of life and is always available to you as well!  It’s us to us to step off the platform and trust what He says!

 

 

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Confronting D’spayre

Iron Man © Marvel Comics
Iron Man
© Marvel Comics

Over the last several years, blockbuster movies like Iron Man, The Avengers &Captain America have brought once barely known comic book figures into the cultural mainstream, so that now heroes like Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers are household names. And so too, are their arch-enemies, Victor Von Doom, Loki, and the Red Skull. With the recent success of the comic story lines on the big screen showing no sign of letting up, we’ll no doubt see more and more of these once unknown characters step into the lime-light in the near future.

D'spayre © Marvel Comics
D’spayre
© Marvel Comics

One of the more obscure villains in the Marvel Universe is a character known as D’spayre. (pronounced Despair) Though he does possess some of the more common super abilities, this demonic figure does his worst damage to his victims using his psychic power to invade their minds to create terror, great sadness, despondency, and suicidal urges.

This week, it’s as if this work of fiction became real, stepped off of the pages of a comic book, and claimed the life of one of the most brilliant entertainers of our generation.

Robin Williams 1951-2014
Robin Williams
1951-2014

By now, most everyone has heard of the suicide of the award-winning comedian and actor, Robin Williams. It’s difficult to understand how a man who spent his life bringing joy and laughter to so many millions of people could sink to such levels of depression that he felt that he had no choice other than to take his own life.

While depression is often a deeply complicated and interconnected condition involving the mind, body and emotions, many popular remedies and treatments today ignore the spiritual component of our psyche and the power that a right relationship with God has to bring inner peace and lasting contentment.

Too often, people today look to external things (success, power, approval, money, etc) to fill the inner longing for purpose and meaning that we all have. And when those things don’t satisfy (as they fail to do), some can wrongly conclude that life is not worth living. Still others live constantly bent over and weighed down by past failures and problems that hinder them from engaging in life the way they desire. The source, cause, or beginning of either of these scenarios isn’t as important as the solution to both. Jesus gave that to us in one sentence. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Please understand that I’m not offering an over-simplified, fix-all to often complex and truly painful issues. Some very real problems take years to understand, unravel and repair. But I do know that no problem is too big for God to handle, and often there are some complexities that are beyond anyone but God to set right.

When you forge a relationship with your Creator (that goes far deeper than ‘religious’ activities), you will come to know that hope lies in more than life turning out the way you think it should.  Hope lies in a Person (Jesus Christ) and in Him, there is never a hopeless situation! (Ps 33:16-22)

So, if you find yourself tormented by the demon of despair, know for certain that Christ waits for you to reach for Him and to invite Him to begin the healing process in your life. No matter where you are or how long you’ve been there, He has heard your silent cries for help and will comfort, unbind, and free! This was the whole purpose of His coming. First, He frees from sin and gives new life through salvation. (Lk. 19:9-10) He then continues the process of restoration, desiring to give us His liberty to our minds, bodies, hearts and spirits.  (Is. 61:1-7)

His sacrifice to make you free has already been made. Embracing the first step toward wholeness begins with making a decision to trust that what He said in His Word is true.

Remember, no matter what happened yesterday or what will happen in the days to come, through faith in Jesus Christ, those things don’t have the power to steal your hope! God is perfectly in control and if you will turn toward Him, even difficulties that seem to have no solution can be used for your good and His glory!

In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
and He answered by setting me free.
Psalm 118:5

Bound to a Bad Decision

OB-DC854_crossr_D_20090211154203Years ago, a family member of mine had a friend who was selling gold coins as investments. Being a only a casual collector, he negotiated what he thought to be a fair price and exchanged money for a single coin. Wanting to be sure that he’d gotten what he paid for, he took his new purchase to a coin expert who, after a thorough inspection under magnification, determined that the coin had been “sliced.” That is, it had been cut in half, hollowed out, and the gold replaced with worthless metal of equal weight. Only a shell of  gold remained.

You know, sometimes, you just can’t get an accurate appraisal of things by looking at the surface.

imagesThat’s a lesson Joshua learned the hard way. By the time we get to chapter nine of the book that bears his name, he and the Israelites had seen their God deliver mighty Jericho into their hands. Then after an initial setback, the smaller city of Ai was reduced to smoldering ruins. As God’s army pushed forward in conquest, the news of these victories spread quickly. So it was with good reason that many of the kings of other nearby cities decided to form an alliance and go on the offensive. (Joshua 9:1-2) However, the people of Gibeon opted for another, more cunning tactic. They dressed a group of their men in shabby clothing and patched sandals, then loaded donkeys with worn-out sacks, old wineskins and dry and moldy bread, and sent them off to meet the Israelites. (vs 3-6)

joshua_deceived-by-the-gibeonitesIn these disguises, the Gibeonites approached the Hebrew camp with the intent to deceive Joshua into believing that they had traveled a long distance. Appearing to be from a remote location, they hoped to coax Joshua into signing a peace treaty, assuring that their lives and city would be spared. (vs 8-13)

With the omniscient God on their side, you’d have thought this ruse would have been discovered quickly, but verse 14 reveals Joshua’s critical mistake. He and the Israelites “sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.” In short, they trusted what they could see and feel rather than trusting God to guide them.

Sadly, most of us can relate all too easily. How many times have we assessed a critical situation based solely on the word of someone else or our own limited perspective only to find ourselves hurt and disappointed? How much of that pain could we have avoided by simply reading the clear instructions written in God’s Word, and then asking for guidance before we choose to act? Unfortunately that often means unlearning one of the world’s most insidious and spiritually crippling lies… that we can trust ourselves and our feelings to know what’s best.

So what happened with the Gibeonites when their deception was discovered? We might expect that Joshua ignored the treaty and slaughtered the deceivers, but not so! Joshua and the Israelites had sworn an oath by the name of the Lord and entered into a covenant with these people (vs 15). In a time when honor mattered, and peace treaties were not entered into lightly, this was a serious and binding contract in the eyes of God and men! In fact, it was so serious that 400 years later when Israel tried to destroy the Gibeonites, God judged and punished His people for breaking the covenant that Joshua established. (2 Sam 21:1-6)

We’re human and thus not always going to make the best decisions, so when we do mess up…

LET YOUR FAILURE REMIND YOU TO PRAY – In Psalm 32:8 God promises His guidance and constant involvement in our lives. He says “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” But that doesn’t mean that He will force His opinion on us. As in Joshua’s case, He often allows us to trust ourselves and make predictably bad decisions. We have to learn to honestly ask ourselves if we truly want to know God’s mind… and then the hard part… we have to commit to do what He says even when it conflicts with our own desires.

right-way-wrong-wayBE A PERSON OF INTEGRITY – If you can undo a bad decision, by all means, undo it! Correct the wrong! Go the other way! Walk in godliness from the start. Give a gentle answer. Be a peacemaker. (Rom. 12:18However, if you make a binding agreement or have given your word on something, honor your commitments. Remember that unbelieving people judge God by the way they see those who claim to follow him live their lives. And it’s always better to suffer a wrong than to bring dishonor to our God.

TRUST GOD WITH THE OUTCOME – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” That verse from Romans 8:28 is a powerful promise that our mistakes and failures are not beyond the ability of God to redeem and make a part of the tapestry of our lives. (See the story of Rahab) So when you do make a blunder or deliberately ungodly choice, remember that God is still with you and at work in you and through you. Sometimes He gives you the opportunity and the power to change your decision; other times He gives you the strength to live with the consequences of your actions and watch Him make out of it something far more valuable than gold.

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