Autofocus Blues

Auto Focus

As a birder, one of my favorite tools is my camera. As a photographer one of my favorite subjects is birds. Now for my aging eyes and reflexes, this presents a basic problem. Birds move. This means that if I am going to get good pictures I have to see them very clearly in order to get a good focus, and I need to do so very quickly.

This is a formula for failure. Although I improve with time at getting the aim and focus correct, it also results in an awful lot of useless snaps.

The shortcut for this problem is called autofocus. The computer in the camera will focus for me. Autofocus is so much better than me that I can zoom in with native resolution and see every single vein on every single feather of a bird. I am not that good without autofocus. Autofocus is great sometimes.

But then again there are other times, like the picture above. This bird is an immature hummingbird, hovering above the water outlet of a desert spring. It is not the kind of setting I get to visit very often. Even if I went a hundred more times, I am not sure I could find another hummingbird behaving this way. So autofocus and I took a picture. I was attempting to photograph the bird, but autofocus chose the two thick blades of reed between me and the subject.

Shortcuts can be convenient, but they can also rob us of the ability to do things for ourselves. When we take the time to practice and discipline ourselves to master difficult tasks, it also means that we have allowed ourselves to become more than we would have been without the experience. The shortcut robs us of the new abilities and often hides from us the potential we are missing.

This is probably truer in spiritual matters than most of us want to admit. We learn our theology from unchallenged sermons, which are sparsely digested. We know the same Scripture verses we knew when we graduated high school, but no more. Our daily Bible study is reduced to devotionals that have one or two verses at most, and prebaked ideas drawn from them for our controlled consumption. (Yes, I know, this piece is exactly that kind of thing.)

None of these issues I describe are problems if they are handled correctly. Sermons should be fact checked and the portions worth keeping should be fully digested. Memorizing Scripture should be a lifelong process. In every way, if we want to take our lives out of spiritual autofocus, then you have to stay connected to God through His Word.

The shortcut of letting someone or something else form the connection for you will leave you spiritually vulnerable. Only when you carefully develop your own disciplines will you be sure you are on the right track.

2 Timothy 2:15 (HCSB) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

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Doctrine of Commitment

Commitment is a sleeper. It’s a central part of our lives, and should also be a central part of our theology. Yet I call it a sleeper because it is seldom considered with the full depth it deserves.

Commitment is the central component of love. Many people will argue in favor of the emotional components of love, but emotions waver and it’s our commitment that carries us through those times.

Commitment is the heart of our salvation, first and foremost, God’s commitment to us. Chesed, is a Hebrew word expressing God’s love for us based on His commitment. Xaris, is a Greek word for grace expressing God’s commitment to us despite the fact we could never earn it or deserve it. (Studying individual words for commitment could go much, much further.)

We make a commitment back to God in the moment of salvation. We make a commitment to God to turn our lives around both in terms of repenting, turning away from sin, and discipleship, following the ways of Christ.

Living the Christian life also includes making commitments.

Christians commit themselves to a church family, in order to find a place to grow and opportunities to serve. This commitment to the local church is the subject of a great deal of spiritual warfare. People are easily driven away because they fail to see the church experience as an expression of their commitment to God, and instead get distracted by their relationships with one another. These believers always become spiritually stunted and useless to God’s kingdom work.

The fact that Satan chooses to focus his attack on our commitment to the local church is evidence of how important this commitment is.

So commitment is a sleeper. It is both the heart of our relationship with God, the focus point of satanic attack in our walk with God, and the point where the most failures occur in Christian growth.

Missions

“Then He (Jesus) said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”

Matthew 9:37-38 (HCSB)

Millet

As a pastor I keep my eyes open for mission opportunities. I do this because I believe being involved in missions will encourage the members of our church, bless them in their service and allow them the privilege of participating in God’s work in new ways. Even though I recognize mission trips will always invoke a large amount of spiritual warfare, and it will always present more challenge than we expected or are ready for, I want us to continue to be involved in missions.

I hold a high view of missions.

Recent circumstances allowed us to go on two mission events this year. The tricky part is the second even occurred only a short time, about three weeks, after the first. In both events a little over a dozen of our people were able to go and help other churches in Arizona. The first was in doing a block party for a new church start and the second was to assist an existing church in doing framing in a new building project.

These events were challenging for us since we are in an economically depressed area. These trips were hampered by the fact that a lot of our people are seniors. But despite these hindrances we went to do what we could to help.

Now that the second trip is done, I am finding myself evaluating the two trips. As it happens the first trip was to help a new church start in an affluent community. The fact we were going to an area with a much higher cost of living, and generally more affluent families didn’t seem to hinder us in any way during the trip. As it happens the second trip was to a church which is at probably more than twice the size of our church.

Both of these mission trips were therefore a bit beyond what people expect in missions. We can fall into a mindset that missions are all about reaching out to the poor, struggling churches or reaching out to unreached peoples. But missions also includes anything that allows us to expand the kingdom. The questions of income, age, church size and so on, are merely false values compared winning souls for Christ.

I am excited to see what God leads us to do next.

Screech-Owl

Today I found out that my brother’s family has an owl living around their house. This is the sort of news that gets a birder’s attention.

I saw a picture posted online. It was obviously a small owl, but the picture did not provide for accurate scale. It had bright yellow eyes and small ear tufts. They live slightly northwest of Phoenix, Arizona.

Given only this amount of information can the bird be positively identified?

There are eight large owls, and eleven small owls. This was obviously one of the small ones.

Of the small owls there are four which have ear tufts.

Of the small owls with ear tufts there are two that would regularly occur in that range.

Of the small owls, with ear tufts, in that range, only the western screech-owl has the yellow eyes. So it seems likely the bird is a western screech-owl—likely but not absolutely certain.

The detail that is most likely to confuse the results is range. It is common for birds to be seen outside of their normal range. Birders frequently remind each other that the birds don’t read the field guides or honor their defined ranges.

As it happens there is another owl, the whiskered screech-owl, that looks extremely similar to the western screech-owl. The whiskered is usually further south, but it is entirely possible for a bird to have wandered outside of the normal range.

Christians could benefit from a discussion of range as well. One of the identifying marks of a believer is their moral stand. This pattern of living means there are certain places a believer is unlikely to go.

Many years ago I was in a church that had a church covenant pasted in the front of their hymnals. It said, among other things, that the members of the church would not consume alcohol, and would not go into businesses that offer alcohol. I liked it. But I didn’t find it easy to follow back then.

Furthermore in today’s world it would be impractical to follow such a guideline. Very few restaurants do not serve alcohol. Of course it would be possible to simply stop eating out at the places that do. However, every grocery store sells alcohol and therefore it would be impossible to buy food to prepare at home. So a strict adherence to the guideline would mean eating out at every meal, and predominantly from fast food places.

This point serves to illustrate how hard it is to stay within your range. But I also know that many, if not most, Christians today do not agree with the guideline and therefore will not attempt to follow it. While we could have a lengthy discussion of whether it is right or wrong, what is and is not lawful or allowable for believers, that is not my point at the moment.

What I want you to see for now is a simpler point. Christians are less identifiable in today’s world because they have taken away one of the field marks. Many people bemoan the loss of witness in today’s world, but they don’t seem to make the connection to our behavior. In years gone by believers were better at being different than the world around them, and this inherently attracted people who wanted to improve their life. Today Christians seem more interested in standing up for their rights than growing the kingdom, and the resulting patterns of behavior are not as attractive to the lost as past patterns were.

Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. 2 Corinthians 6:17 (HCSB)

Mystery and Revelation

There is a place for mystery in theology. God is bigger than us by such a magnitude that we cannot expect to understand everything about Him. He is beyond our comprehension.

But information does not have to come from reason, it can also come from education. Much of what you know was taught to you, in addition to what you figured out. When it comes to God, He wants us to know Him, and therefore He reveals Himself to us.

When it comes to understanding God, we can be too intrigued by mystery. It becomes a romantic concept. It also makes a great excuse for not studying deeper or working harder to understand God. But I think this love affair with mystery is a mistake. God delights in revealing Himself to us, and a wisdom is found by the one who delights in studying to know more.

Furthermore, being intrigued by mystery can be dangerous. From Gnosticism forward to the latest person claiming to be the second coming of Christ, the devil has used the idea of mysteries known only to a select few, to seduce humanity away from the true knowledge of God. Anytime you hear someone speaking of a secret of the ages that God has revealed only to them, beware.

So while mysteries do exist, our love affair with mysteries should be made to submit to a love for the things of God. Study God’s word and find the answers to His mysteries there.

 

God’s Will

If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ then one of your goals should be to find and to do God’s will in your life. So an important question is, how do you find God’s will? This question probably seems pretty obvious, and it is on certain levels.

For example, if you are deciding what to do about a struggling business, your list of possibilities might include murdering your competitors, or stealing their merchandise. By being familiar with the Ten Commandments you can eliminate these two options and therefore you have come closer to finding God’s will by eliminating some possibilities. Other possibilities on the list might be eliminated because they don’t pass the test of basic morality.

In other words the simplest way to seek God’s will is to eliminate those things that are immoral or opposed to Scripture. But then how do you go further; how do you discern the issues about your personal life that are not scripturally grounded or morally based? For example, who to marry, where to live, what job to take in the church and in life—these decisions also need to be under God’s direction.

So in the details of life, how do you find God’s will? I am going to suggest three ways people approach these decisions. These are ranked from the worst to the best, in my opinion. If you disagree, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

  1. Don’t bother seeking God’s will on the ordinary matters of daily life. Instead assume God does not care about these things, and therefore those are the decisions that are up to you.
  2. Put the matter before the Lord in a prayer by giving Him a choice of a sign to speak through. A Biblical example of this is Gideon putting down the fleece. For you it might be anything from what the weather will be like on a certain day to whether a light stays green as you approach it.
  3. Allow God to speak to you in relationship. This means being active in prayer but instead of seeking God’s answer in an external sign, listen for an internal, still, small voice.

I believe the Christian life is a relationship and it’s in that relationship you will find God’s will. The first possibility above is not accurate because it assumes a disinterest on God’s part, or partial lordship. The second can have some application, but is so easily abused I would prefer people shy away from it. It quickly becomes the equivalent of putting God in a box, making Him do what we want instead of vice versa.

God is Big

CoverOn Wednesdays I promote my book, The Storeroom of the Heart. You can get it anywhere books are sold, regular bookstores will special order it, Amazon or Nook can give it to you as an E-book, or you can contact me and arrange for me to mail you a signed copy.  Here is a link to the publisher site if you want to buy it from them.

http://bookstore.crossbooks.com/Products/SKU-000556067/The-Storeroom-of-the-Heart.aspx

Here is a short excerpt for you to consider.

If we are willing to be used by God, there is no telling what He might accomplish through us. Perhaps what God would accomplish through us would be the next great accomplishment of humankind – finding a cure for some disease, inventing a life-changing device, unlocking a better source of energy, or awakening revival in our times. Maybe what God would accomplish through us would be the redirecting of public attitudes, which are currently shifting hard and fast toward hating God and everything He stands for. I can only imagine and dream about the great things God might do in us. I can’t help but dream big, because I know God. God is big. God does big things in people who are committed to Him. God knows how to use a person whose heart is undivided.