Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Break out the Windex and Magnify the Lord!

If you've ever been on a trip to a scenic spot with children, you know that they will beg and plead to have a few coins to drop into the panoramic telescope that allows them to see the view close up. They love to press their faces against the hot metal and peer into the distance, usually reaching a hand around as if they will now be able to touch the mountain that is miles away. The viewer magnifies the distant scene making it appear as close as their fingertips.

We often use the expression, "magnify the Lord." We may hear it in church or read it in Scripture, but have you ever stopped to consider the meaning?

According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, magnify means the following:
  • 1 a : extol, laud b : to cause to be held in greater esteem or respect
  • 2 a : to increase in significance : intensify b : exaggerate
  • 3 : to enlarge in fact or in appearance
  • intransitive verb: to have the power of causing objects to appear larger than they are
The first definition, to extol or laud, is certainly our intent in the phrase, "magnify the Lord," but can we 'increase in significance" or "enlarge in fact or in appearance" when it comes to the Lord? Clearly there is nothing we can contribute that will increase who God is, nothing we can add to His divinity, power, or authority.

However, we can use these definitions to think about our worship and our lives in a new way. Consider how telescopes magnify our view of the stars. The stars are much bigger than the telescope, or even our planet - some are much larger than our sun! However, we can use a tiny telescope to see the immense star more clearly.

If we apply this definition to our efforts to magnify the Lord, we can be the tool through which others may see God more clearly. Through which they might sense His nearness and learn about His attributes.

Lenses like those in a telescope only work properly when they are clean. I've tried in vain to teach this concept to my nine-year-old who wears glasses. Inevitably, the lenses are covered with grimy fingerprints through which he struggles to see. No matter how many times I show him how to carefully clean the glasses so that he can see more clearly, they always seem to get dirty again.

We can't 'magnify the Lord' to those around us unless our lives are clean. I'm not talking perfection - because none of us are there! But just as Matthew needs to regularly examine his glasses for smudges and then take the necessary steps to clean them, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to take a good look at our lives, show us the smudges and then get to work on cleaning them up! Let's face it, if our lives tell a story that is contrary to our words, then no one is going to be able to see Jesus for all the grime.

When we moved into our current home, we had a sliding glass door for the first time. Our little dog, Zero, had never seen one before. The first several times I let him out for a walk, he came running back and slammed into the glass. I have to admit, we all enjoyed a good laugh and the little guy eventually learned his lesson. He still hesitates a moment and gives me an accusing glance before stepping through the open door.

It's a curious feature of glass - the cleaner it is, the harder it is to see the glass itself.

If we want to magnify the Lord, we need for the attention to be on Him and not on us. We should be transparent - simply a glass through which others can see Jesus. Being transparent means that life is not about me. It's not about my wants, my opinion or my plans. It is all about Jesus. When we make our lives all about Jesus, and allow others to see that in our lives, we bring Jesus within arms reach of them.

And like a little child on the mountaintop, they will want to reach out and take hold of the beauty before them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dancing with the...King?

I'll admit it. I'm hooked on all these dancing shows on TV these days. I love watching people dance well. Perhaps it's because I'm not a dancer, but I sit in awe at the moves that they are able to make their body perform and their ability to keep in perfect step with one another and in synch with the music.

It brings to mind our relationship with Christ. There are moments when we seem to be in perfect step with Him, and then there are times when we spin away from Him and have to make our way back across the stage to His waiting arms. Times when we are so close to Him and times when we turn our back on Him. Times when we try to lead and end up getting our toes stepped on.

As in dancing, only one partner can lead (and have you noticed that it is always the man? I won't even go there today). If we try to take the lead in this dance, it's going to result in three big X's and a loud buzzer - metaphorically speaking. Excellent dancers, the ones that win it all, are ones able to follow their partner's lead. The lead partner doesn't have to do anything that is visible to the audience to guide the other; the slightest touch guides their partner effortlessly around the floor. There is an invisible, but powerfully evident, connection that remains even when they are on opposite sides of the stage. That's how our relationship with Christ should be - it should be evident at all times who is guiding us, even when others cannot see His gentle hand.

Following the lead in dancing requires trust. I caught a few scenes from Dirty Dancing the other night and as they are practicing lifts, Johnny says to Baby, "Now, you'll hurt me if you don't trust me, all right?" They practice and practice, but she just can't get it - until the final scene of the movie. The essence of following Christ is trust. Do we trust Him when He says, "All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose?" Do we trust Him when He says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you"? Do we trust Him when it feels like we are all alone and our life seems to be falling apart?

If we want to dance with the King, we have to follow His lead and allow Him to guide us through life. We have to be willing to run to Him with reckless abandon and throw ourselves into His arms with complete trust, knowing that He will be there to catch us and lift us up.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lesson # 4 from BRMCWC - PCD

Have you ever gone on a mission trip or retreat and had an incredible mountaintop experience only to crash and burn as soon as you arrive at home? There are lots of reasons why this happens - maybe it is exhaustion from the adrenaline-fueled experience or perhaps it is the mountain of work and laundry that greets you at home. Maybe it is the transition from something new and different and exciting to our normal routine. Maybe it is a spiritual attack because the enemy recognizes the threat that one on-fire, sold out, serious-about-their-walk-with-the-Lord Christian poses to his plans.

Whatever the cause, I was warned at BRMCWC and experienced it firsthand when I returned - Post Conference Depression (PCD). Maybe it's not quite as severe as PTSD, but it can definitely leave you sitting on the sofa with a remote in one hand and a bag of chocolate in the other instead of sitting at your desk typing away on the next great American novel!

Here are a few ideas I've heard and tried for getting over, around and through PCD (and they might just help with other acronyms ending with 'D').
  • Spend time with God! This may sound like a no-brainer - I mean if you're on a mission trip or a retreat, you're obviously spending time with God, right? Not necessarily. I'm talking about your own quiet time alone with the Lord in prayer and in His Word. Don't let 'Christian activities' take the place of time alone with God, both while you are away and especially when you get home and face off with that mountain of laundry.
  • Exercise! Even if you really don't want to, and believe me, you won't; keep up your exercise routine in some form while on the trip and when you return. I'm convinced that the sudden deprivation of endorphins caused by taking a break from my exercise routine fueled my case of the blues.
  • Eat healthy! It's easy on trips like these to think of it as a time to indulge in all the yummy desserts that are offered, but coming home 5 pounds heavier will definitely leave you feeling bad about everything from your writing to the way your blue jeans fit.
  • Press on! If you're a writer, make yourself sit down and write for a certain period each day, or a certain number of words each day, even if you don't really feel like it. What you write may not be good, it may stink, but you are maintaining the self-discipline of spending that time doing what you are called to do. If you paint, make yourself sit down and spend some time painting. If you garden, spend some time weeding and planting. The point is, don't let yourself get away with taking a long break because you're so busy. It makes it much harder to get started again and you'll feel miserable.

Whether you are going on vacation or to camp or on a mission trip, these tips will help you fight the post-mountaintop-experience blues when you get home. And they just might help you bring the mountaintop home with you!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lesson #3 from BRMCWC: To be a Christian Writer, you have to keep the CHRISTIAN in front of the writer

So maybe this seems obvious. If you want to be a Christian writer, you have to be a Christian first. But it goes beyond that - if you want to successfully write with a Christ-centered focus, you have to keep Christ as your focus.

I heard this over and over at BRMCWC - from Jerry B. Jenkins' keynote speech to the notes on my critique - the advice from all was to always be sure that your personal relationship with Christ comes before your writing. Your personal relationship with Christ comes before trying to get published. Your personal relationship with Christ comes before everything.

As so often happens, this advice has been put to the test immediately in my life.

Returning from the conference, I've been engulfed in an avalanche of work crises, family needs, and writing goals that have buried my good intentions to keep my priorities in order. So it's high time that I put this little nugget into practice!

Some specific applications for me personally - it's funny how when I start the day with my exercise program (Jillian's 30 Day Shred - day 14), by the time I've had my shower I have to leave for work. But if I start with my quiet time and THEN's still time to leave for work by the time I've had my shower. Where does that time I spend with God go when I exercise first? Somehow it seems to evaporate. So from now on - God first, exercise second.

And in the evening, a lesson from Jerry B. Jenkins - time with family first, writing second. Mr. Jenkins relates in "Writing for the Soul" that by committing before his children were born that he would write only after the kids were in bed, he was actually far more productive during those few hours each evening. He writes that once he devoted his entire day to writing, he actually found that he wrote less.

Isn't God's economy amazing? 26"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

If we put God first, then whatever the outcome, we can trust that it is exactly what He has planned for us. With our writing, or with our life, God must be pre-eminent. Our relationship with Christ must come first. Some make the distinction between a Christian writer and a writer who is a Christian - but in reality there is no such thing as a writer who is a Christian. Nor is there any such thing as a lawyer who is a Christian. Or a doctor who is a Christian. With Jesus, it is an all or nothing proposition. If He isn't first - if he isn't Lord of all of our life - then He isn't our Lord at all.