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Archive for September, 2013

The human imagination is a fascinating, powerful, creative place. For example, think of any event from your childhood – a specific interaction with a brother or sister, a summer vacation with your family at the beach, etc. Now think of someplace you would like to go – and imagine yourself already there. Then imagine yourself standing on the moon, looking back at the earth – a big blue marble in the blackness of space.

This is fantastic imaginary theater, isn’t it? It is the power of imagination: you can return to the past, rehearse the future, and zoom off on flights of fancy – all within seconds, and it doesn’t cost you a single cent. Imagination can become the seedbed for creative and beneficial actions. As Emerson once said, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.”

The beautiful thing about your imagination is that it belongs to you. It is yours. You can remember the good things from your past, and as you do so you can build an image of yourself as a doer and achiever – capable, kind, and creative. This can become the springboard to future things. A positive image of the future not only shows you how to get there, it draws you to it, attracting you toward your dreams like a magnet.

When you hear some good news, read an inspirational story or see an uplifting movie, you can use your imagination to put yourself in the center of the action. This allows you to dream dreams that would not be possible if God had not given you the gift of imagination.

The positive use of imagination is often called visualization. The word visual can mean something more than just “to see” – as in “See what I mean!” Imagination with its capacity to visualize and to dream is one of God’s greatest gifts. Think of it as a sanctuary, an inner retreat, a kind of workshop or inner classroom where dreams are fashioned and plans are made to pursue those dreams.  In this sanctuary you can choose to let God shape your dreams. It is in letting Him shape your dreams that He can transform them into actions and use you in His service as a blessing to others.

Dr. James Dobson, in his book entitled God’s Will, tells a penetrating story of Rev. Everett Howard, a veteran missionary to the Cape Verde Islands for twenty-six years. His call to the mission field has implications for all of us.

After finishing college and dental school, Howard was still uncertain about God’s will for his life. One night he went into the sanctuary of the church where his father was serving as pastor. He knelt down at the altar and took a piece of paper on which he wrote all the things he was ready to do for God. He signed his name at the bottom and waited for some sign of God’s affirmation and presence, but nothing happened. He waited and waited, and waited still longer – and then it happened.

In his heart he heard the Lord speaking, and this is what the Lord said, “You are going about it all wrong.  I want you to take a blank piece of paper, sign it at the bottom, and let Me fill in the details.” Howard did that, and God guided him from that day forward and gave him a spectacular missionary career.

God is not as interested in your commitment to what you decide to do for Him as He is in what you will allow Him to do through you. It is only then that He invades, fills, blesses, and empowers your imagination in a way that thoughts are translated into the kind of actions that glorify His name.

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Imagine yourself sitting in the football stadium of a major university on an autumn Saturday afternoon. Depending on where you are, there could be up to 100,000 people sitting all around you. Both you and they bought tickets and are in the stadium for one reason only – to watch the game.

Many of them wear their team’s colors, cheer, and second-guess the coaches, referees and players. If they were down on the field wearing full football gear, they would view everything that is happening from a different perspective. But they didn’t come to play. They came for one purpose only – to be spectators.

They would not dare go down from the stands and out onto the playing field. First of all, they are a long way from being in the kind of physical condition required to play a rough contact sport. If they ran out on the field while the game was going on, they would be promptly ushered out of the stadium by policemen. They are in the stands where they are supposed to be because they are spectators, not players.

Spectators are important to a football team. Their enthusiastic cheering encourages the players. The money they spend buying tickets pays the bills for the team. Following the game they may take pictures of individual players who were involved in the game, but that is all that they can do. They are spectators.

Having said that, let me draw your attention to another place where you will find lots of spectators – at church! But now it is Sunday morning, not Saturday afternoon. People file in and take their places in the pews, sing rather than cheer, pray rather than stomp their feet, and sit to listen quietly to a sermon that hopefully is strongly based on a passage from God’s Word. Then one hour later, they get up and go home.

But wait. Where is the team, the players? The players who participate in the work of God’s kingdom are supposed to be in the pews. Guess what? They are – every Lord’s Day. To be in church on Sunday morning could be compared to a football team in the training room.

The training room is where plans are made for the game which can only take place out on the playing field. Just as football players leave the training room and go out where the game is played, it is God’s will that Christians following the hour of worship go out into the community to share the good news of God’s love and minister to human need in His name. We cannot do those two things effectively if we are spectators only.

Spectators at a football game are not allowed to go out on the field of play. However, Christians are both allowed and encouraged to leave the pews and go out on the playing field – which is the community around the church. In fact, it is expected by the Savior Himself. Christianity is not a spectator sport.

God has a game plan for every church and for every individual Christian. It is not His will that his followers settle for being mere spectators. You can find God’s game plan in the New Testament in Matthew 28:18-20. Those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are commissioned to go into the entire world to spread the good news of God’s love. And the stakes are high – eternal life. There is no way others could possibly know about God’s love if those of us who call ourselves Christians settle for being spectators only.

If you claim to be a Christian, here is the one question above all others you should ask yourself: “Am I in the game, or am I just a spectator?”

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The ability to see things in proper perspective is a gift that multitudes of people in today’s world do not have. Those who lack a proper sense of proportion will likely be unable to distinguish between that which is important and that which is unimportant, and between that which is real and that which is unreal.

How often friendships are ended, marriages are shattered, and churches are divided by insignificant trifles! Chaos is created in relationships primarily because those involved are either unwilling or unable to entertain any point of view other than their own.

There is only one way we will ever be able to live life with fullness and joy – we must learn to see everything from God’s perspective and in the light of eternity. It is only through the study of God’s Word and genuine worship that we can learn to do that.

Alan Walker, in Everybody’s Calvary, tells of a young minister in a small English village church. He had invited his congregation to wait after the service for a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Only two people waited. He thought of cancelling the service, but decided reluctantly to continue with it.

As he read the words based on Scripture found in the liturgy of many churches when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, he came to this passage: “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” he suddenly stopped. The wonder of what he had read grabbed hold of his imagination.

“Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven . . .” he said over again in his mind. “God forgive me,” he said in silent prayer, “I had never realized before that I was in such great company every time I share the bread and cup as a way of remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.”

Christian bodies around the world celebrate in different ways the meal that Christ instituted with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. Some celebrate it every Sunday, while others celebrate it every three months plus on special occasions.

Christians even debate the importance of the way they celebrate it as over against the way other Christian bodies celebrate it. To some it is a sacrament; to others the bread and cup are symbolic, but no less spiritually meaningful. By arguing over the different ways the Lord’s Supper is celebrated it is easy to miss the meaning of Christ’s words, “As you take this cup and this bread, remember me.”

One of the most meaningful observances of the Lord’s Supper in which I have participated was in a nursing home here in Wilmington during the 1970’s. Residents of the facility sat in their wheelchairs in rows, waiting for me to complete my devotional comments so that the bread and cup could be distributed among them. As the cup was being passed among the wheelchairs I observed two ladies sitting next to each other who had tears running down their cheeks. One was a Caucasian Episcopalian; the other was an African American member of an evangelical church in the city.

Confined in a nursing home that provided excellent medical care, it had possibly been a few years since either of them had had the opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There were many differences between these two ladies – educational, economic, cultural, the color of their skin, and perhaps many others. But as they took the bread and cup they were “one in Christ.” I still get choked up thinking about that day.

The next time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, ask God to help you see it in the light of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. Be aware of the fact that you are not just among fellow Christians, but that you are also in the presence of “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”. Experience the thrill that comes from realizing that fact – even though there may be only two other people present.

What a tremendous difference it makes when you have a proper perspective!

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When our daughter, Gail, was around seven or eight she asked if she could have a kitten. Being doting parents, Jessie and I honored her wish and found a beautiful Maltese kitten. Appropriately, since her color was dark gray, we named her “Smoky.” Smoky grew up to become a prolific producer of kittens – too many kittens, in fact. So, we arranged with a veterinarian to have her kitten factory dismantled. Smoky, like all the cats I’ve ever seen, did things her own way.

Have you ever tried to control a cat? If so, it didn’t take long for you to learn there was simply no way to accomplish that feat. Cats love to be in control. They aren’t the least bit hesitant about letting you know, “I’m the boss around here. Your job is to feed me regularly and keep my litter box clean. The sooner you learn that, the better our relationship is going to be.” As you can see, cats have an incorrigible character disorder!

Mentioning Smoky provides a way for me to segue into mentioning that some people I know were apparently born with cat DNA in their makeup – they have a desperate need to be in control. They can’t control everything, but it doesn’t keep them from trying. Why? Because they think the world would come to an end if they weren’t in control of their environment. They push, pull, persuade, finagle, manipulate, and withdraw. They have learned that silence and withdrawal (pouting) are great ways to control other people.

What prompts this lifestyle? First, control is a camouflage for fear. Nobody wants to admit that they are afraid. Not me. Not you. Not anybody. Fear makes you feel vulnerable. People take advantage of you when they know you have fear living on the inside of you. So, you hide your fear by going on the offensive.

Second, control is a cover-up for insecurity. Those who are secure have no need to psychologically be always in control. They can defer to others, ask their advice, and be totally comfortable when someone else is leading. But people who are dominated by insecurities go overboard by trying to be in control of everything and everyone. They are empty on the inside because they are like a bucket that has a hole in the bottom. They can never get filled up enough, but they keep trying through using control tactics.

Third, control is a cover-up for low self-esteem. It is when people feel down on themselves – worthless, good-for-nothing – that they try to hide from others how they feel. They may even believe that they are guilty of creating the problems causing their low self-esteem. What better way to compensate for this than by trying to dominate and control others? But, in reality, trying to control everything and everyone never fulfills. Rather than solving their basic problem, it only accentuates and perpetuates it. It never pulls other people closer. It only succeeds in pushing them further away.

If you happen to have some cat DNA in your psychological makeup, there is a way to surrender your insatiable need to be in control. You can learn to deal constructively with inner fears, insecurity, and low self-esteem. Why not give God the reins in your life? Why not choose to give Him total control? When you choose for God to sit in the driver’s seat rather than in the back seat, you are in the hands of the One who created you, loves you, is infinitely able to provide for every need you have, and will always look out for your best interests. You will be amazed at how much better your relationships with others will be.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:18-19).

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