What Is Your Precious?

 

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J.R.R. Tolkien’s powerfully trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, as well as The Hobbit, looks at more than one theme as darkness and evil battle against light and life. Much of the story revolves around rings of power and one ring to rule all the others. That one ring that holds power over all the others is called “the Precious” and many seek it for the power it holds, but they miss that the power also destroys any who seek to possess it.

 

Many of you know this story well and have not only read the books but also enjoyed the movies that were made in recent years that depict the story on the big screen.

 

As we recently watched both trilogies of these two series, I wondered what I or any one of us might fall prey to in our own lives. Our “precious” is not that ring of power but are there other things that we hold tightly to that can control us more than we might realize?

 

Our “precious” would be something we hold so dear to us that we would refuse to give it up even if it were doing us harm. As you consider that I wonder what might come to mind.

 

One of the books I recently added to our bookshelf was the latest one by John Eldredge entitled Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad. It’s somewhat ironic that it was released when we just entered this new crisis of disease and economic uncertainty and were asked to stay at home versus zipping around from one thing to another in our busy lifestyles.

 

Some of us are handling the new directives to stay at home and shelter in place better than others. The best of us might be a bit more upended as this goes on for days and weeks ahead.

 

As I was reading and considering this question of what my “precious” might be, I came across a major clue in John’s book.

 

“Over time, throughout our lives, the Self stakes out its own territory within us to try to assure getting its own way, ordering our world to its likings. It has imbedded assumptions and privileges in our psyche; there is a momentum to its desires, motives, and presence in us. I call this the Self Life.”

 

Bingo!

 

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This could be the key to identifying the “precious” as we each grapple with not being able to order our world according to our likes. We can’t meet our friend for coffee at our favorite coffee bar. That trip to the beach that was planned for spring break can’t happen either. Graduation ceremonies are canceled, and wedding receptions are postponed. The latest movie isn’t available to see in the neighborhood theater either.

 

Things like church services and activities are canceled as well – just one more thing we could never have guessed might happen just a short time ago.

 

We can err on two sides of the Self Life. We can ignore the need for nourishment, rest, and quiet intimate times with the beauty that surrounds us, or we can be driven by it.

 

To be clear about how Eldredge defines Self Life in his book, let me add a few more details he notes:

 

‘It’s the Self Life in us that so easily takes offense, enjoys taking offense.

It wants things done our way, so it’s continually making demands, because, of course, our demands are perfectly reasonable, justified. The Self Life doesn’t like being interrupted, cut off on the freeway, and told what to do or how to do things; it hates it when someone corrects our driving, typing, cooking, performance (or writing). It’s the Self Life that keeps a record of wrongs, holds those imaginary conversations with people we’d love to set straight, crafts those devastating emails we only wish we could send.”

Ouch!

 

That hits pretty close to home in one way or another and we don’t get off the hook as believers either according to John:

 

“This matter isn’t a matter of Christian and non-Christian; the Self Life has a religious version. It gets irritated when a prayer time goes longer than we think it should, it feels wronged when church services run late, and it doesn’t particularly enjoy worship. The Self waits to be asked during small group how we are doing, and it feels righteously irritated when someone else takes too long talking about their life.”

 

Reading through these challenges can expose how often demandingness creeps into us despite our attempts to surrender and submit it to the Lord’s hands.

 

The problem about these things is that when the Self rules (sometimes without our awareness of how much), it gets in the way of our awareness of the Lord and how well we hear or receive Him as He seeks to guide us through ordinary and not-so-ordinary days.

 

So perhaps this time where our usual daily activities have ceased gives each of us time and opportunity to consider this part of us we often miss. Maybe each of us can make our own trip to “Mt. Doom” to destroy the power it can still exert in our lives.

 

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The Value of An Ark

 

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There are very few of us who do not know the story of Noah’s ark from Genesis 6-9 in the Bible. Some of you have gotten a more realistic experience of the story by visiting the increasingly famous replica of The Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky (a trip we hope to make).

 

This new experience in Kentucky allows any and all who visit to gain images for the story as they begin to learn more about what it might feel like to be shut up in an ark in the middle of a storm (with all the animals no less).

 

Even without going to this experience our minds can explore what it must have felt like to never have experienced anything like the rains and flood that were about to come, nor the ark built by a man not known to be a boat builder. Yes, God had directed, and Noah had obeyed, but these were humans facing the unknown for an unknown length of time.

 

What must it have been like for Noah’s family to follow Noah’s lead? Did they question or wonder at his choice to obey in faith for something no one had seen before?

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What was Noah’s wife trying to determine about how she would feed and care for her family for an uncertain length of time (not even thinking about the animals)? Did the Lord give her a meal plan to cover weeks at a time and show her where to find the provisions within it for what He guided her husband to bring onboard the ark?

 

Those might sound like silly questions, but perhaps they come a little closer to home as around many parts of the world we are being asked or told to “shut ourselves up” in our homes for an uncertain length of time despite a certain tentative number of days or weeks given at the outset.

 

Noah’s ark provided a safe place God used to shelter and preserve this righteous man and his family and all the animals that would be needed to repopulate the earth. It was a shelter to take them all through perilous storms that they might well have feared would undo them in time.

 

I do not believe God has sent the virus that has rapidly spread across the world with its destruction of life and financial security, but is He not using this time to shut us up with Him in our homes to quiet ourselves with Him? Is this a way for Him to get our attention that has been drawn askew by our fast-paced living with little thought that it could all change in a moment?

 

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Would it mean we might finally connect more with our family or those with whom we reside than we do with our devices and endless activities? Would it mean we would begin to deepen our gratitude for so many things, small and large, that we took for granted more than we noticed?

 

How little we paid attention to toilet paper in those days before now! For many of us we could stop by any number of stores on our way home from work or church or an activity and pick up an assortment of almost anything we wanted or desired.

 

A recent grocery trip brought all this into focus when we were thankful and surprised to find a package of toilet paper, we weren’t hoarding but would need in a short time. That gratitude welled up again to find a wonderful bag of red seedless grapes from Chili that we savored in all their juicy deliciousness at lunch later that day.

 

And what about our gratitude for freedom to go and do as we wish?

 

We have been reigned in and shut up within our homes if we are submitting to our leaders to save lives and prevent the virus from destroying more than it has.

 

We no longer enjoy the freedom of going to a movie, a favorite restaurant, or a leisurely trip to the local shopping mall, but we also do not have the freedom to go to our place of worship together and enjoy the fellowship and connectedness that brings to so many of us.

 

The internet has provided us with many options for virtual worship and teaching, but they cannot compare with the multi-dimensional experience of sitting among others singing together and listening to a message that points the way, grants us encouragement, and gives the opportunity for a hug or a pat on the shoulder to remind us we are not alone in whatever we are facing.

 

No, I don’t believe God sent this virus, but He is assuredly using it to remind us of so many things we have forgotten to be grateful for. He is using it to quiet our frantic pace. He is using it to teach us to rely on Him and his provision.

 

God is shutting us up with Himself to hear Him, to rest in Him, and to bring us through the storm of this current crisis as it destroys things that were our moorings before it came.

 

This storm will pass, but will we remember what it has taught us when it is over?

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Aslan Is on The Move

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Are you watching a lot of movies these days while you are asked to stay home?  Many (if not most) likely said, “Yes.”  My husband and I love movies as well and have been looking through our own collection as well as what we have available online. The choices are many, but we are discovering that the movies we are looking for are those that encourage our hearts with great stories of courage. That includes the three Narnia movies made some years ago that played well to children of all ages as well as The Lord of the Rings series.

 

Who better to encourage our hearts than J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis whose words were penned during another hard time in this world? Both men served in WW I and their stories were born out of how they grappled with the evil and challenges they lived through on the battlefield and beyond.

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Why do they attract us and what can they say to us now?

 

Joseph Loconte wrote an excellent book entitled A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War that opens a great deal of insight into the answers to those very questions.

 

“The characters in their imaginative works are continually tested by the choices set before them. Each is involved in a great moral contest, a struggle against forces that would devour their souls.”

 

We too are being tested as everything about our way of life just a few weeks ago has been altered. It may seem like choices have been taken away from us whether we are ill or healthy, but on either side, there are choices.

 

We have a choice of whether we are consumed by the noise of the media of all types giving us information that is often tainted by the need for a headline. If we are, then we can find fear and concern being fueled and we can begin to believe we have no choice at all because we do not hear hope or how long our current state will last, how long we must endure.

 

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We long for rescue and a quick end to all this. So did the characters in these stories, but their rescue did not always come or come when and how they hoped. Aslan appeared to rescue Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in one way as they were untested and had never known him before. It was only the beavers that told them about him or that he was on the move before they even met him.

 

The second story, Prince Caspian, results in these same characters plus a few new ones caught up in another battle because Narnia had been lost to those who did not follow Aslan. They wanted Aslan to move because now they knew he could, but Aslan did not move in the same way. And he was waiting on them to use what they already knew to show the character he had developed in them.

 

That truth reminds me of Paul writing in Romans:

 

“1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”

Romans 5: 1-5 (MSG)

 

So, we have a choice in what we allow to guide us, be our focus, and sustain us through a crisis of an undetermined length. Tokien and Lewis had no idea how long the ravages of war would last when they fought in the midst of the Battle of the Somme.

 

The works of Tolkien and Lewis both depict wars and epic battles with seen and unseen forces of evil. Their stories remind us of a war we often miss when our calendars are filled, and we are busy going to and fro.

 

“The most influential Christian writers of the twentieth century believed that every human soul was caught up in a very great story: a fearsome war against a Shadow of Evil that has invaded the world to enslave the sons and daughters of Adam. Yet those who resist the Shadow are assured they will not be left alone; they will be given the gift of friendship amid their struggle and grief. Even more, they will find grace and strength to persevere, to play their part in the story, however long it endures and wherever it may lead them.”

Joseph Loconte

 

These two men had a choice to make not only on the battlefield, but when they came home. Look at the example they offer each of us now:

 

“After returning to England from the front, Tolkien and Lewis might easily have joined the ranks of the rootless and disbelieving. Instead, they became convinced there was only one truth, one singular event, that could help the weary and brokenhearted find their way home: the Return of the King.”

Joseph Loconte.

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Are You Following the Breadcrumbs?

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Some of you may recall the well-known German children’s fairytale about two children named Hansel and Gretel who went walking in the deep woods leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back home. Sadly, it didn’t work out very well for them because the breadcrumbs are eaten by various animals and they are lured into a trap by a wicked witch in a house made of gingerbread and candy.

 

Most of us would never trust a trail made of breadcrumbs and in the modern era we would be pulling out our phones to GPS our way into the woods and back home again.

 

The image of a breadcrumb trail also can be a metaphor of how we follow a path little-by-little without being clear of the direction it will sometimes take us to lead us to the place we are to go.

 

Eric and Kristen Hill use that metaphor in their powerful book, The First Breakfast, to describe how Jesus, the Bread of Life, led his disciples little by little along a path to deepen their understanding of who He really was as well as show them who they really were.

 

In this Lenten season when our attention it being pulled to stories of pandemic and economic collapse, is it possible that we have forgotten He is leading us through this time as He led them through those last days and hours to show us more of who He is as well as who we are?

 

It was a time of testing for the disciples of Jesus during those last precious days and hours as He talked intimately with them, shared a meal with them, prayed with them, and gently told them who they would show themselves to be in the terrible hours of his arrest and crucifixion.

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This is a time of testing for us even as it was for the disciples then that will reveal who He is and how we relate to Him, if we not only know about Him but enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. Some of us might already be discovering our words spoken so assuredly just weeks ago when life was easier fall silent now. Deep inside we may wonder if we will pass this test or like Peter, proclaim without question that we will do so.

 

So much is written about Peter during those last hours before the cross. Much of what is said is negative because it appears, he failed the test. But when you think of those passages, take another look. In the midst of a large group of soldiers armed to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where the odds were not in Peter’s favor, he was willing to take up a sword against all caution to try to defend Jesus. You might say he was impulsive and perhaps he was, but he also displayed courage.

 

It was also Peter of all the disciples who followed after Jesus to where He would be questioned and beaten. Peter came as close as he could be to be near Jesus. I have no doubt the words Jesus had spoken to him about denying him were long forgotten until after the rooster crowed.

 

It is at that moment that Peter can also look across the courtyard as Jesus is being led away and for this last time Jesus looks directly into Peter’s eyes according to Luke 22:60-62.

 

What must that have been like for him?

 

In The First Breakfast Eric and Kristen Hill write that the Greek word used to describe the look between them is one that means an “earnest look that penetrates the heart.”  “It is to look in a sustained, concentrated way, with special ‘interest, love, or concern’.” It is also the same word used in John 1:42 when Jesus first called Peter and Andrew to follow Him.

 

So how could Peter deny Him?

 

Was he simply a coward when he had not given that impression as he traveled for three years with Jesus?

 

Eric and Kristen Hill posit a different perspective to consider:

 

“…underneath his denial is a current of pain and confusion, and a deep desire for the script to be different. Maybe his mind was filled with thoughts like, “No! This isn’t how It is supposed to be! He’s God! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! And he’s just giving up? I guess He isn’t who I thought He was at all. He winningly gave Himself over to be arrested, beaten, and spit on – I don’t know that man at all.”

 

We cannot say what the truth is, but when I consider the words of these writers it is not hard to imagine given my own life experience of how I respond to someone doing something so different than what I believe they would ever do.

 

This part of the gospel story is poignant for so many reasons, but during this troubling time in our own world we may yet be surprised at our own response to and about the Lord. If we do not respond as we think we might or hope we would, there is also another image in this story we must not miss.

 

Both times Jesus looked at Peter, there was only love in his eyes

 

How can that be? Wouldn’t He have been disappointed even though Jesus knew what Peter would say and do?

 

That’s where the stunning truth shines clearly:

 

“But in the eyes of Jesus, there is only love. The gaze of Jesus holds forgiveness for sin. He sees us not as we are, but as we are in Him.”

Eric and Kristen Hill

 

“38 So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. 39 There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!”

Romans 8:38-39 (TPT)

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Are You A Game Changer?

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I can almost hear you saying, “Who me?” as you read this title. Then after the question comes those other things so many of us say – “I am just a …” or “I am not…” But if we say that (I can be tempted too.), we are missing the big picture truth.

 

Today as I was reading a note in my study Bible, I read this fabulous sentence:

 

“…everyday faithfulness by ordinary people can, by God’s grace, change history forever.”

 

The note was connected to 1 Samuel 1 and the example was Hannah (future mother of Samuel, the prophet) who was just a wife and a woman dealing with the agony of barrenness crying out to God in the midst of her situation not once or twice but repeatedly.

 

If you know the story at all you know that God answered and gave her a baby boy, Samuel, who would be a major prophet in Israel and anoint its first two kings, Saul and David. Can you imagine waiting for a child and then dedicating that child back to the Lord after he was weaned? I am sad to say I cannot. Her faithfulness and God’s response results in her taking Samuel to minister in the Lord’s Temple for the rest of his life.

 

That faithfulness is then rewarded with more children – three sons and two daughters.

 

Hannah is not the first person you might think of when you reflect on stories in the Bible, but she was a game changer for sure. Her faithfulness changed the course of history. So did the choices of Rahab despite not being a member of the tribe of Israel. She too became a game changer and her life was spared as a result.

 

It doesn’t take a long time in reading the Bible to discover a lot of the game changers that altered history are not all the big-name folks that immediately come to mind.

 

Why is that important?

 

As the world around us is reeling and fear seeks to overwhelm us, sending us shrinking into a corner until this crisis passes, the Lord is looking for ordinary people whose “everyday faithfulness” change history right now. That may not be on the world stage and may receive no accolades, but it matters to the Lord and also to what He may lead you to be during this time.

 

I know you are hearing many ideas being offered about this very thing and they are good. Even so, that place of “everyday faithfulness” you may be called to might look quite different. Right now, we are scattered rather than together in one place or another and that opens endless possibilities to the Lord and can help us keep our perspective in alignment.

 

One small light in a dark place can create an incredible amount of light.

 

“Everyday faithfulness by ordinary people can, by God’s grace, change history forever.”

 

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