Tuesday, February 24, 2009

His Space, Not My Space

Because I’m always trying to find even more ways in which to display my ineptitude, I recently joined Facebook. In case you don’t know about Facebook, it’s one of those internet social networking sites where people go to . . . umm . . . well - I’m new at this and still trying to figure out that part.
For those of us who became familiar with computers in order to accomplish word processing tasks, build spreadsheets, manage databases, or build fancy slide show presentations, this ‘internet networking thing’ is just a whole new world. In addition to Facebook, there are networking sites like MySpace, Xanga, LinkedIn, Blogger, YouTube, Classmates Online, and MSN Groups, just to name a few.
And this whole new ‘cyber world’ is not really a difficult place in which to maneuver, it’s just kind of intimidating. Most internet sites are getting easier and easier to manipulate, but the ‘newness’ and lack of instructions often make them seem ominous. (It’s kind of like my kids getting a new video game – they open it up and put it in and start playing. Meanwhile, I’m looking for instructions, rules, objectives, etc. They tell me, “Just play!”)
I’m not opposed to change. I’m not wanting to stand in the way of progress. In fact, because we are called to be in the world even though not of the world, I believe we should be well-acquainted with the ways and methods the world uses to communicate. If the internet gives us the opportunity to spread the Good News, we should embrace it and use it for that.
Buuuuuuut – I’m not seeing much of that.
In fact, on the same Facebook page where someone mentions their church membership and their favorite Christian music, they will spell out their own personal recipe for a hangover cure. What is that communicating?
The vast majority of what I see people communicating out there relates to: Who I am; Where I’m from; What I’m doing; Where I’ve been; Who I listen to; What I like; How I look; My favorite this; My worst that; etc.
Do you see a common thread running through that list? That’s right – it’s all about ME!
But, as Rick Warren so keenly pointed out in the first line of the Purpose Driven Life – “It’s not about you” (emphasis added).
No, ‘it’ – creation, life, eternity – ‘it’ is all about Him. And we should be living our lives all about Him.
That means when we are walking down the street, driving our car, mowing the grass, or surfing the internet. His purposes, His Name, His glory – that’s what we should be all about.
Now I’m not saying that your Facebook page should be a ‘fire and brimstone’ or ‘turn or burn’ evangelistic tirade against the pagan world. I’m just suggesting that if you participate in those internet networking sites, you can use them as a tool for His sake. Sure - tell people about your favorite movies, show them pictures of your vacation, give them links to websites you like. But the overall purpose and tone should point toward Him, not toward you.
The internet is just another tool. Lets use the world’s tools to accomplish His goals. After all, Who is it all about?

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. (Philippians 1:27, NLT)

In it not of it,
Craig Hollingsworth

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Abide in Me

Almost half of my last year in law school was dedicated to a class called “Practice Court.” In that class, the professor (who could have been known as “Hannibal Lecture”) combined elements of courses in Evidence, Procedure, Torts, Contracts, and Medieval Torture Techniques to reduce cocky law students to blubbering idiots crying on the courtroom floor.
To avoid such a fate, I agonized for hours and hours preparing a particular “case” assigned to me. In my closing argument before the “jury,” I sought to paint the perfect picture of why my side should win using a detailed analogy to a baseball game.
Returning to my chair after flawless execution, I swelled in proud anticipation as the professor strolled to the front of the courtroom to praise my presentation. Instead, Professor Hannibal torched me into a heap of ashes as he pointed out all of the flaws in my analogy and actually turned my carefully orchestrated analogy around to benefit the other side.
As my ashes scattered to the winds, the professor warned those who had witnessed my incineration to use extreme caution with analogies because an adversary can almost always find ways to turn it around or punch holes in it.

Jesus regularly used analogies, parables, and metaphors to make his point. And they all worked perfectly, no holes, no flaws.
So, it’s been a huge help to me, when trying to get my head around a particular command - “Abide in Me” - to look at and study an analogy Jesus used to tell us what He meant.
You see, I’ve always just looked at “abiding” as some variation of finding an earthly version of that utopian peace I anticipate when I get to heaven. To focus on Christ’s command to “abide in Me,” would bring forth passages or thoughts such as “be still and know that I am God,” “He is my strong tower,” “The Lord is my shepherd . . .,” “lying in green pastures beside quiet waters,” etc.
It has just always seemed to me that to “abide in Him” meant fully trusting Him, having complete faith in His provision, “letting go and letting God.” But that’s not what John 15 teaches us about “abiding.”
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself
unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him,
he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up;
and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you,
ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:4-7
That is not talking about resting and relaxing in the bosom of Christ. It describes “abide” in terms of “action,” empowerment, discipleship – bearing fruit.
It’s a great analogy. A perfect analogy.
In John 15, it’s so easy to see how we have to stay connected to, and draw life from, the Vine. We can’t live the life He intends for us unless we are attached to and getting our nourishment from Him. And it’s not us accomplishing anything – it’s His power flowing through us!
When we are attached to and drawing from Him, His words, His power, His glory – they flow through us for His purposes. Notice, however, that they don’t flow to us, but through us.
The productive branch abides in the Vine. It is a conduit through which He accomplishes His work. It stays attached. It constantly and aggressively draws from the Vine. When it isn’t drawing from the Vine, it’s useless - it dies.
I can understand “abiding” from that analogy. No holes. No flaws. Perfectly clear.
As far as I’m concerned, the case is closed and the verdict must be: “Abide in Christ!”

Just another branch,
Craig Hollingsworth

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do you know what YOUR problem is?

Don’t you think that phrase is a loving, gracious way to start a conversation? You should try it next time you meet someone new at a social gathering. Of course, depending on the crowd with which you run, you could end up with caviar in your cummerbund, or barbeque-wiener-encrusted toothpicks stuck in your forehead.
Why is that? Well - for starters, we don’t like to think about or concentrate much on our own shortcomings or “problems.” And secondly, we certainly don’t like to have them pointed out by someone else.
We like to think that we can keep our “problems” hidden and that if we do enough ‘other stuff,’ no one will notice those “problems” or call attention to them. And that’s nothing new - we’ve been doing that for centuries.
In Luke 18:20-23, we see a story where a man asked Jesus what he needed to do to make it into heaven. Jesus told him:
“[Y]ou know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”
The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.
Jesus didn’t tell this man that he couldn’t go to heaven because he was rich. No – Jesus observed a man who looked “good” on the outside, and then He pointed out to him: “Do you know what your problem is?”
And yes, the man knew what his problem was. He knew that he placed his wealth above his devotion to his God. And he wasn’t willing to change. Now that’s a problem.
What about you – do you know what your problem is? What are you letting come between you and total devotion to Jesus?
He will certainly point it out to you if you ask Him. But don’t ask if you don’t want to know and don’t ask if you don’t plan to change. Otherwise, you too may become “very sad.”
Being a Christ follower is an ‘all-or-nothing’ proposition. There is no middle ground. Is there ‘something’ that is keeping you from being totally committed?
Because you look ‘good’ on the outside, other people may not know. But He does.
Do you know what your problem is?

Craig Hollingsworth

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eyes to See

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”
Just thinking of the opening words of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities harkens me back to the days of repetitive dreams about forgetting my locker combination, standing in front of the class without clothes on, or finding out I had an exam in a class I never even attended. I do not miss those days nor do I consider them the ‘good ol’ days.’
However, some recent events have started me thinking of that phrase again: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” The events in question relate to a life just ended and to a life just beginning.
A friend I’ve known for over twenty years recently reached the absolute end of himself. We weren’t close and I’m sure that I’ll never really understand all of the issues he was dealing with and trying to handle. But as his struggles got the best of him and he felt there was no further hope of managing them - he took his own life.
Definitely ‘the worst of times.’
Another friend has been on a roller-coaster of highs and lows in his life like I can’t even imagine. He has defeated and been defeated by the same old ‘demons’ in a pattern that drove him to try to end the cycle in the most permanent of ways. But he failed. And now he has emerged from the ‘valley of darkness’ into a new life.
He is walking into ‘the best of times.’
What makes the situations different? Why has one life ended and another gotten a brand new start? Why the “best” for one and the “worst” for another?
I don’t know the answers and I wouldn’t even presume to speculate.
But I do know that the same “best of times, worst of times” scenario is being played out all around us every single day. But we are often oblivious to it.
It’s not that we wouldn’t care if we knew what someone was going through. The problem is that we usually just don’t care enough to find out - to see into their lives.
Do we really know why an employee’s performance has slipped, why that guy seems so irritable lately, why someone has stopped sharing in small group, or why some guy never came back to the Bible study? Surely we would care if we knew (wouldn’t we?) – but do we care enough to find out why?
Do we really?
A contemporary Christian recording artist, Brandon Heath, has put it this way:
Step out on a busy street,
See a girl and our eyes meet;
[She] does her best to smile at me
To hide what's underneath.
There's a man just to her right -
Black suit and a bright red tie.
[He’s] too ashamed to tell his wife
He's out of work - He's buying time.
All those people going somewhere.
Why have I never cared?

Give me Your eyes for just one second -

Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity.
Give me Your arms for the broken hearted,
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten,
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

But could we even handle that? Could we bear to see the world through God’s eyes for even one second?
Well - That’s what He wants us to do.
How can we possibly care, how can we hope to show compassion, how can we love like Jesus if we can’t see our brothers through His eyes?
All around us - everywhere we look - it is “the best of times,” and it is “the worst of times.” And He has called us to action. To put our love into action.
So -
“Lord – give me Your eyes for just one second. And then for another . . .”

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
John 13:35

Wanting to see,
Craig Hollingsworth