Re-imaging

It was Monday morning.

I pop into my cube after a crazy drive into work, traffic was just nuts. I park my brown leather satchel next to my desk and walk over to the coffee machine for my morning coffee boost. I hear it churning away, brewing a fresh pot.

I love those guys that get in early and start the coffee. It’s just so hard to face the day otherwise.

I brought with me my favorite coffee mug, but one look at it told me it hadn’t quite made it to the sink before I left the previous Friday. After a quick wash it was ready to go. Moments later, a steaming hot stream of liquid brain booster poured from the urn, the smell of fresh brewed coffee already hitting my brain.

Ahhhh…that first sip…okay…I can face the day now.

After plopping down in my office chair, setting the coffee on my desk and then pulling the laptop from my satchel, I plug it in and power up.

Nothing.

A blue screen.

It’s the blue screen of death! Nooooo!!!

Not on a Monday! Not anytime!!

I quickly call IT and request assistance. After some moments, I hear the dreaded phrase…the one no one wants to hear.

“Sorry, but the operating system on your computer has become corrupted, the only way we can restore it to its original condition, is to re-image your computer. That means we will restore your computer’s operating system from one of our original master copies.  Once completed, your computer will be restored to its original condition and will function properly.”

“Ohhhh man…are you sure this is the only way?” I replied.

“Yes. I’m afraid so. I know it’s drastic, but the existing operating system has become corrupted and short of a complete reimage, there are no other solutions to fix this problem.”

Moments later, I walked my laptop to the helpdesk center, where a somber looking tech received it. She took it, and told me it would be ready in one to two days.

In the world of technology I’ve had to come to the realization that some problems cannot be solved by small fixes or creative workarounds. They can only be solved using drastic measures.

In many ways the incarnation of Christ was one of those drastic measures for humanity. As we approach Christmas, a season where we celebrate the arrival of Christ, I am reminded that there was a time God had created humanity and the cosmos and all was well. He intended for us to live in a world He created for His most prized of all creations, people. In His world we would live life to the full, we would never suffer, we would never worry about being overtaken by death, and we would walk and live in perfect communion with our Creator.

To have all this, we had only one rule to follow. And all of Creation and it’s perfect state would hang on our following one simple rule. God told us not to consume anything from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:17)

That’s it.

Easy.

In return we would have a life of immortality and have a perfect relationship with God, the creator and sustainer of all life.

What a sweet deal!

We only had one job, and yet we still managed to mess it all up. (Gen 3)

You see, our Creator endowed us with free will, because it’s only through free will that we might express our true love towards God. God could have pre programmed us to “love” Him, but then it wouldn’t be true love from the heart. The trade-off of course is that we could also choose to disobey Him.

Which of course we did.

Thanks guys.

The effect of our choice corrupted all of Creation. It even corrupted our souls. Our basic operating system that had been installed by God as a perfect image (Gen 1:27) was now corrupted. We were no longer in communion with God, we were no longer immortal as God had intended for us all along.

What could we do to fix it?

In our case, there was nothing we could do. Humanity could not fix the problem it had created. According to Athanasius, “no other could restore to man the lost Image but the express Image of the Father…1

In effect,we needed to be remimaged by the Master Himself!

And that’s what God did. He came to us, born in a humble manger, lived among us perfectly. And then  a corrupt humanity ultimately killed him by crucifixion.

But not for long.

Three days later, as He promised, He rose from the dead! He overcame death! He provided us with a path to eternity through faith in His work on the cross! (Romans 3:24)

For this reason we have the incarnation of Christ. We celebrate His coming to us at Christmas time, His birth as the God man, the one true image to reset our corrupt image that happened so long ago when humanity chose poorly.

This Christmas we have every reason to celebrate! We have been made new in Christ, we have been reborn…or if you prefer, reimaged by the Master Himself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Notes:

  1. Athanasius of Alexandria, Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. T. Herbert Bindley, Second Edition Revised (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1903), 29.

”We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”

Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, was the most decorated Marine in American history. He was one of two United States servicemen to be awarded five Navy Crosses and one Army Distinguished Service Cross.

Puller retired from the Marine Corps in 1955 after 37 years of service. He lived in Virginia until his death in 1971 at age 73. In was during WW II and the Korean War that that he was decorated for his leadership and for numerous acts of bravery.

During the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea, Puller’s forces became encircled by over a 120,000 enemy troops. The enemy were under orders from their leader, Mao Zedong, to destroy the UN forces.

His succinct and transparent assessment of the Chosin Reservoir situation was one for the history books. Upon the realization that they were completely surrounded, Puller declared; “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” Clearly his problem statement, coupled with the realization that his options were rather simplified, could not have been more understated. In the end, Puller was credited for his part in leading his troops to breakout and subsequently escape the entrapment.1

Unlike Puller’s assessment of his limited options, our modern lives seem to present us with an endless series of digital options for which we may choose. These options are found in our social media, video content, gaming, etc., are so numerous that they seem only to function as a fragile shield from reality.  Yet they offer little in the way of lasting value, instead they’ve become a facade of life, bringing only the allure of escape from our difficulties without actually contributing to anything of lasting value.

In some ways these digital options have led us to live out a life of dissatisfaction. They genuinely keep us from welcoming that deep contentment our souls really long for. Product advertisers work hard to continue our slide into dissatisfaction with waves of sound bites, ads, video clips and the alike, all aimed at one message: “The solution to your dissatisfaction in life lies in the purchase of our product or service. Buy it and you’ll have the contentment you’ve been seeking.”

Have you ever seen yourself in this situation? I know I have at times. It’s easy to drift into this labyrinth of distraction because we are surrounded by the constant message that we should be discontent with life.  But I want you to know that there is another path to choose that will lead to real, deep, and true contentment in this life. It’s a path found in a single choice, yet it offers us an eternal peace and contentment that reaches deep into our souls.

The scriptures speak about this deep contentment. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Paul was a man faimular with living life in times of good and in times of bad. He also suffered a medical condition that he asked to God to resolve, but the Lord didn’t heal him. Instead the Lord told Paul; “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness’ “(2 Cor. 12:9–10). You see, in this one act, the Lord revealed to Paul the frame of mind that he needed to carry with him in life. He was to find his contentment, not in his being perfectly healthy or in the many things of this life, but singularly in his dependency upon God’s grace for living out each day.

Long before Paul’s time, King David penned the first sentence in one of the most recognized Psalms ever to be recorded in all literary history. He wrote: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want (Ps. 23:1, emphasis mine)

For King David, all he needed was one thing, and he found that in God. Here was a King who could ask for anything, and I’m sure he had many options to choose from. But he saw only one option, and that was the option to love the Lord, and only the Lord with all his being. God was central to his life. He realized that true contentment could only be born out of a genuine relationship with God. With God at his side, he could live his life fully content, without want, because he knew God would provide for him.

Let’s face it, contentment is learned from experiences in life, and when we’ve found the true source of contentment, it will lead us to the ability to conquer circumstances and situations, rather than be conquered by them. The critical factor is in understanding where we get our contentment from. With real contentment we’ll be able to live out our lives with attitude that is the exact opposite of living with worry and anxiety.

Paul also wrote:

Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13, NRSV)

Outside of God, many fall into the trap of believing our contentment will come when we have more power, money, perfect health, the model family, the latest fashions, a new car etc. The desire to seek all these things overwhelms our senses with endless options that we must process each day. Living our lives this way simply ramps up our personal stress and anxiety. Mostly because our point of comparison (Other people, fashions etc.) are in continuous flux, which invariably leaves us in a disjointed state of contentment. Yet, if we were to practice contentment and rest in the Lord, the way he would desire us to, then the things we would focus on would be simplified considerably and we would experience true inner contentment, independent of life circumstances.

Does seeking our contentment in the Lord mean we isolate ourselves from the world around us, that we are not allowed to enjoy the pleasures of life that God has given us?

“No!”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the blessings of God. Thomas Kempis said it well:

“Use temporal things but desire eternal things. You cannot be satisfied with any temporal goods because you were not created to enjoy them. Even if you possessed all created things you could not be happy and blessed; for in God, Who created all these things, your whole blessedness and happiness consists.”-(Thomas à Kempis 1380-1471) 2

What are the important and eternal things?

How about relationships? The very first one of which is our personal relationship with Jesus, without which we are unable to achieve lasting contentment. When our relationship is right with God, then every other options becomes clearer and their relative importance becomes easier to discern.

The bible encourages us to invest in the lives of those around us, whether they be our family, co-workers, neighbors, the recently arrived immigrant, or simply a person we bump into during our day to day activities. (Matthew 19:19)

When our relationship is right with God we can be at peace with all other relationships, even if the recipient is not receptive to us. The point is, we can live contently, because all of that extraneous stuff now falls within the purview of God, it’s really beyond our control. We cannot control how others respond to us, we can only control how we respond the them.

The same principle applies to life. I cannot always control my health situation, I may be able to influence it, but in the end I must remain content, knowing, that from an eternal perspective, my health is covered by God already.

Choosing to be content in the Lord is to simplify our options to the things that really matter in the grand scale of eternity. With God, we have contentment despite our life circumstances, and with that contentment comes a degree of peace for which nothing else compares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesty_Puller

(2) Elliot Ritzema and Rebecca Brant, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Medieval Church, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

 

Sourdough Patience

Some years ago I took an active interest in baking bread. After having to eat a few failures, I started to get the hang of the whole process and found myself enjoying the making of homemade bread on a regular basis.

One day, I came across some sourdough starter in a specialty baking store and thought I would give it a try. I like sourdough, and I’d always heard that making sourdough bread was a bit more challenging than baking regular bread. But I felt like I was up to the task after mastering the baking of regular bread. But it didn’t take me long to realize how different and challenging it really was.

In my early experience with sourdough bread, I chose to draw upon my traditional bread making experiences, but I failed miserably in the making a decent sourdough round. I sought out different approaches and read up on how to make such breads (This was in the days before Google) and could not seem to find anything written for the total novice. Most recipes used terminology that I was not familiar with and referenced techniques that I had no experience with.

After numerous failures, I set it aside and decided I would come back to it later, as I was just getting frustrated and not making any real progress. Over the years, I would occasionally think about taking up the effort again, but the many past failures and my busy life precluded me from going after the challenge.

Last Christmas, my wife purchased some sourdough starter for me, along with a number of cool things, a special jar to keep my starter in, some willow baskets to form the bread, a scraper tool to help handle the dough, a book, and most importantly, her encouragement and belief that I could master the necessary skills to be successful.

In the intervening years in my professional life, I had also learned a great deal about business process controls, and how to diagnose and fix process failures. This combination of skills played a part in my ultimate success in learning to make a proper round of sourdough bread.

First, I cracked open the book my wife gave me. The book was supposed to be for beginners, and the author made an effort in that direction, but he still wasn’t writing at a basic enough level for me. But what he did do well was talk about the science and history behind sourdough yeast. His deep understanding of the biology of yeast, and how yeast functioned, and the different types of yeast were a game changer for me. Once I realized how different sourdough yeast was from commercial yeast, I felt more confident.

My wife had ordered live starter for me, basically some raw sourdough with active yeast in it. There were instructions on how to get my starter going and how to care for it. I followed these to the letter, and within  a couple of weeks I had before me some healthy starter. While the starter was doing it’s thing, I did some more research (By this time Google was invented) and found another book written by this lady that really spoke to me as beginner. I ordered her book and using her approach plus my newfound understanding of the science behind sourdough, I attempted my first round of bread. It was closer than anything I had ever baked in the past, which was a huge win, but it was still a far cry from what I considered to be a decent sourdough. The bread was a bit flat, the crust was overdone. So I went back to her book and did some more reading and learned more.

I documented my recipe and the process I was using to make my bread step by step. Using my understanding of solving business process failures, I took an objective look at what I was doing and documented the factors that were potentially causing my bread to turn out poorly. With each successive try, I learned more and more, and after nearly a dozen attempts, I finally produced an amazing round of sourdough bread!

Now the real test was around repeatably. Could I use my cleaned up list and my newfound experience to repeat the same process and reliably get good results? I made several more rounds, and each came out perfect, confirming that I had finally mastered the basics of making sourdough.

There will be new things to learn, as I now shift from making basic sourdough to making different kinds of sourdough breads. After all, learning never stops and that’s half the fun.

But why did success ultimately happen?

There were several universal keys that are applicable to all things in life, not just mastering the art of making sourdough bread:

  1. Patience and persistence: All of life skills take patience and persistence in the face of failure. Even if it means we stand back for awhile and then re-engage to get better. One of the things I learned is that sourdough yeast is much less concentrated than commercial yeast, therefore, one must patiently wait much longer for the yeast to do it’s job of making the dough rise. There was no rushing this.
  2. Encouragement from others: Being encouraged by my wife and family really helped me be more persistent during those many failures that I experienced. Of course they were happily eating my mistakes as well.
  3. Knowledge: Without study, without a deeper understanding of the science behind sourdough, and the processes suggested in the baking steps, I would not have been successful in my later efforts.
  4. Application of knowledge: Of course, knowledge is pretty much useless unless I can apply what I learned in real life. Experience and  application of what we learn brings the entire subject to life, giving it purpose and significance.
  5. Consistency of process: I had to work very hard on this one. Consistency in the manner in which I prepared the bread dough, the steps in rising, controlling the temperature during the rise itself, and finally managing the bake times and temperatures to the exact minute, all were all critical to success.

The result of all of this was personal satisfaction and growth in my skills as a better baker.

These universal keys apply to many areas of life. When I think about my spiritual journey as a follower of Christ, there have been times along that journey where I  felt like I’d hit a patch, a place where I was kinda stuck. God seemed kind of quiet at times. But then I would be encouraged by others and realize that this was really a normal thing:

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:25–28, NIV)

In fact, I’ve had to learn that the grand meta-narrative that exists is really not about me at all, it’s really about God’s Kingdom and what it is that He has set out to accomplish. My part in all of this is to live out my life with Jesus, learn and apply his teachings, and allow my life to be used by God as a testimony of the Gospel itself.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV)

I know that along that journey, it’s absolutely critical that I must take the time to pray, to read the scriptures, and to seek to apply the principles that God teaches me to live out in my life. It’s only through this careful and consistent approach that one gradually builds a sense of who God is, which increases our sensitivity to His voice in our lives, this in turn allows me to make better choices that are more consistent with his will and direction. To be sure, when I say hearing “God’s voice,” I don’t mean in literal audible sense,(Although scriptures record instances where God has spoken audibly) rather, I sense that normally God speaks to me through impressions that touch my heart, or in an idea that comes to mind. (Particularly one for which I would not have considered as my own.) Of course, because we are fallible human beings, it’s always good practice to validate God’s direction through prayer, the reading of scripture, and to take inputs from fellow believers whom you know and trust to have God’s heart first. This way I can better limit my personal self-serving agendas and allow God to set His course for my life.

Life is a grand journey, and I hope that each person reading this will be encouraged wherever you are. Be confident that God does have a plan for how you will engage in his Kingdom. If you don’t know what that direction is at the moment, be at peace, God will communicate direction in His own time. But in the meantime, study His word, pray, and where appropriate, seek out the council of fellow believers.

In the end, your life will be ultimately be in alignment with Jesus, who himself is the bread of life.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35, NIV)

 

Our Time Opportunity

God gives each of us something I would characterize as “time opportunity.” It’s a window of time from the moment we are born until we die.

Time is one of the few things in life that cannot be restored or replenished. Once a minute passes by, it’s gone forever. We can never get it back. No amount of effort on our part can restore time that has been consumed.

In 1932, Robert H. Smith, penned the following poem entitled “Clock Of Life.” (1)

The clock of life is wound but once,

And no man has the power.

To say just when the hands will stop;

At late, or early hour.

Now is the only time we own to do His precious will,

Do not wait until tomorrow;

For the clock may then be still.

The time set for each of us is known only by the Master Time Keeper. In all cases, God gives us a pre-ordained and finite gift of time; from conception until we pass from this life into eternity.

The Psalmist captured this concept beautifully when he wrote:

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16, NIV)

This much we also know; life is uncertain, and we don’t know at which hour we will breath our last.

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:12, NIV)

As the author of Ecclesiastes observed, we experience death because of evil. And we know from the balance of the scriptures, that we experience evil because of humanity’s choice to have rejected God’s original plan for us.

It is the wise person who values and cherishes the time they have now. This same person understands that none of us can afford to waste our gift of time frivolously, rather they should invest their gift of time in the things of life that count.

Moses wrote:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV)

It’s important that we should take a moment now and again and assess how we are using our time. Are we using it wisely or foolishly? Are we using our God given gift of time in ways that please our Lord?

These are important questions. In the end, when our time has run out, each of us will be individually accountable for how we used the time opportunity God gave us.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12, NIV)

In life, how we use our limited and non-renewable time reflects our priorities. When we use our time in ways that bring honor to God, we store up treasures in Heaven. Our rewards and treasures that God will shower us with in Heaven will be waiting for us when our time comes.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20, NIV)

“Herman Wouk, in his novel, “The Caine Mutiny”, (2) told about Willie Keigh, a character who was aboard a minesweeper in World War II, when he received word from his father that he had an incurable disease that would soon claim his life. In this letter, the father offered his son the following advice:

“There is nothing, nothing more precious than time.… Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end.…”

When we’re young, we often foolishly think we have all the time in the world…but that’s pride speaking. In reality, we don’t know how much time God has gifted us in this life. I’m sure many of you reading this, have experienced the death of someone for which it seemed unfair, that their life was taken all too early. I suppose all of us are at risk in this regard, as we simply don’t know when our time will be.

I recently attended the memorial service of a friend that died seemingly too early. He was a soft-spoken man of few words, and yet he had a profound impact on the lives of many people. At his memorial service, the church that we were in was packed. The main floor and the balcony were full, and people were standing in the aisles to honor him.

Person after person shared how this man always made himself available to help others, he served in quiet ways, seemingly in the background. Young and old alike were served by him.

As my family and I left the memorial service that day, I thought about this person, I thought about how wisely he had used his time. I thought of the huge impact he had on so many lives. While his death was unexpected for us, it was not for God. Like most of us, my friend had plans for the years ahead, yet he lived in the moment, in the now, to honor the Lord he served and loved. God has no doubt richly rewarded him for the manner and in the priorities in which he chose to live out his life.

The apostle Paul shared insights on how we as God’s people should live out our lives. He spoke of a framework of virtues from which we might bring to life by our actions.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”(Colossians 3:12, NIV)

Notice that Paul tells us to “clothe” ourselves in the virtues that God cherishes. These virtues speak of an expectation of actions on our part. They are to become the very fabric of who we are as Christ followers. Think of some of the actions that might come about from these virtues that Paul shared:
Compassion: Seeing a need and taking time to perhaps fill that need, or perhaps to talk to a person that is struggling with the weight of something significant in their heart.
Kindness: Offering your time to provide a meal, do a chore, or help a person in some other way.
Humility: Lending an ear to listen and while not offering unsolicited advice.
Gentleness: Visiting someone in the hospital and praying for them.
Patience: Investing time in a young person or family member, mentoring them and understanding that life is challenging, and that we need to be patient as we help them to uncover God’s plan for their lives.

Before we engage in our day, we should take a moment at it’s start to pause and consider how we are planning on using the time God has given us. As you look ahead, what are the actions that you plan to put in place to connect to the virtues that Paul spoke of?

Will you use your gift of time to honor God; to improve yourself so that you may serve Him more wisely, or will you consume your time to primarily serve self and passion?

In His wisdom, God has given each of us the time opportunity needed to fulfill His purposes, however long or short it might be. In the end, the question is not; do I need more time? Rather, it’s how will I use the time opportunity I’ve already been given?

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(1) Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 1481.

(2) G. Curtis Jones, 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1986), 350.