The Parable Of The Artist’s Portrait

I came across this parable today that really speaks to me at so many levels. When I first read it, it seemed to challenge the followers of Christ to authentically represent the Lord and to show him to the world; that’s what we should be known for, not for all the other stuff. What do you think?

Here’s the parable…

A beloved artist put the final brushstroke on his masterpiece, a self-portrait, and then fell to the floor. His twelve sons mourned his death, celebrated his life and love and artistic contributions, but were divided over the quality of his final work.

The oldest liked the depiction of his father’s eyes, blue like his own. Another brother admired the seriousness etched into his father’s furrowed brow. The youngest, always feeling that his dad was harder on him than the others, stared wistfully at the edges of his father’s mouth where he was sure he detected the beginning of an approving smile. Each of the master’s twelve sons loved a section of the canvas but was indifferent to or even troubled by the rest.

So it was decided that the boys would cut their father’s image into smaller works. The oldest hung the eyes, sparkling like his own, beside the vanity in his bathroom. Another framed his father’s serious brow and nailed it to the wall of his study. The youngest folded up his father’s wry smile and kept it in his back pocket, pulling it out on especially hard days if his therapist was out of town or simply not returning his calls.

As each boy grew into a man so did each one’s love for his piece of the painting – as did each one’s dislike for the rest of it.

Each man built a museum for his slice of the face, commissioning the design skills of renowned artists and architects who greatly admired their father. The museums were so magnificent that visitors came from far and wide to ooh and ahh. The brothers, each afraid that his bit of the masterpiece would be destroyed by the crowds, locked the doors of their museums. And afraid that their museums might be destroyed as well, each brother circled his museum with fences topped by razor wire.

The crowds stood at the fences of the twelve museums day after day snapping photographs of the magnificent structures, unaware of the greater masterpiece divided among them; each fragment of face hidden away behind armed guards, stone and steal, and bullet proof glass.

The sons eventually had sons of their own. None of the grandsons were all that into art. One owned a security business. Another installed fences. Yet another trained attack dogs. A couple were brick layers. A few more were architects.

And not one of the grandsons knew he bore a striking resemblance to a great artist who died giving himself to his children.

Four Keys to Avoid Burnout

Mars Hill’s Resurgence had a great post on tips to avoid burnout; great advice for a pastor or anyone in leadership.

4 Ways to Keep From Burning Out

What is the solution to exhausted and burned-out pastors as well as other leaders giving lots of time to ministry?

  1. Confess making an idol of work and find your identity and worth in Jesus and him alone
  2. Practice Sabbath on a daily basis, taking short breaks as needed. Don’t kill yourself at work day after day and then pray for a vacation to save you
  3. Learn how to say no to some of the needs, demands, and people that come to your attention. You can be concerned without being responsible. Say no to a lot of things so you can say yes to a few things. Say yes to less!
  4. Develop other leaders to carry the burden with you (Numbers 11:17).

Most people in ministry try to do too much and travel too fast. Believe it or not, you are dispensable. Only Jesus is indispensable.

That Is Amazing

Last week Kelley, Carla and I watched “The Bachelorette.” During the show, I realized Carla and I had completely different motivations for watching. I loved to employ satire and simply make fun of the show, while Carla was interested in the relationships between the bachelorette and the bachelors. During the show, Kelley and I noticed that the word “amazing” seemed to be the adjective of choice for the bachelorette and her male suitors. In fact, it was amazing how many times the cast used the word “amazing”. “My date with Frank was amazing.” “We had an amazing time.” “Chicago was amazing.” “My parents thought she was amazing.” “She is an amazing girl.” “These pretzels are amazing.” Every time the contestants would say the word “amazing” Kelley and I would howl laughing; and by the end of the show, we laughed a lot.

The dictionary defines “amazing” as “causing amazement, great wonder, or surprise.” Most things that are described as “amazing” truly aren’t. In 1779, John Newton a former slave ship captain believed that God’s grace was amazing when he penned the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.” As a young man, Newton went through cyclical pattern of finding himself close to death, crying out to God only to fall away from his faith. As a sailor, he was known as being foul-mouthed and disobedient. He would make fun of the captain and get the entire crew to join in his mockery. While aboard the ship Greyhound, Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. In a culture where sailors commonly used oaths and swore, Newton was admonished several times for not only using the worst words the captain had ever heard, he also created new ones that exceeded the limits of even the most profane sailors. In a particularly violent storm at sea, a sailor standing next to Newton was swept overboard to his death. Convinced the ship was in danger of capsizing, Newton made a desperate suggestion to the captain to save the ship. He followed his suggestion by saying, “[Captain] If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!” The ship weathered the storm and Newton’s words “Lord have mercy upon us!” haunted him and finally led him to surrender his life to Jesus Christ. Newton went from rebellious sailor and slave ship captain to being an influential clergyman in the Anglican Church and a person William Wilberforce sought for counsel in his struggle to end slavery in Great Britain.

How did such a transformation take place? Only by God’s amazing grace. Newton’s words ring as true today as they did in 1779:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Now that is amazing!

Do lost iPods matter to God?

Yesterday I pulled into the gym parking lot ready to hammer the Stairmaster, I reached into my pocket to get my iPod Shuffle and it was gone. For the next five minutes everything in my life came to a stop as checked my pockets over and over, checked the floor of my car as best I could in a parking lot on a rainy day. I really love my iPod Shuffle and when I realized it was lost, I didn’t want to work out; I wanted to head home and continue the search. How could something I put in my pocket less than fifteen minutes ago disappear? Where was it? I drove home, got a flashlight and looked in every nook and cranny in my car. Nothing. I retraced my steps at home, no sign of the iPod. Was I crazy? Granted an iPod Shuffle is pretty small, slightly larger than a stick of Trident gum; but even then how could it just vanish?

When I lose something that matters to me, I’m reminded that God knows exactly where it is. Why not ask Him? So while I continued my search, I talked to God and asked him to reveal the location of the iPod. Within minutes I felt impressed to look at the chair I sat in prior to leaving the house; the chair I sat in to put on my gym shoes. I looked at the chair and saw nothing. Then it occurred to me to put my hands between the cushion and the sides of the chair; and it was there I found my iPod Shuffle. Thank you God! Without that bit of revelation, my iPod would have been lost for many more days.

Luke 15 is devoted to lost things. Jesus uses three parables to show that lost people matter to God: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In the first two parables, everything else stops when something precious is lost. When something valuable is lost, everything changes. Priorities change. Schedules change. When something valuable is lost, all of life stops and there is an all out effort to recover what was lost. In the parable of the lost son, the dynamics are a bit different. The father respects the son’s free agency and allows the son to choose. In that respect, the lost condition of the son is even more tragic because the one who is lost is choosing estrangement and peril. At his home, life has changed. The father will never be at rest, he will never be whole until his son returns.

I can tell you story after story of God leading me to discover the location of lost things. Lost people matter to God, they are His number one priority. I also take comfort in the fact that what matters to me, matters to God. In the grand scheme of things, with wars, crime, the BP oil spill, marriages on the rocks, and disease, one would think that a lost iPod wouldn’t merit the attention of God. Why would He care? He would have every right to tell me to grow up and stop asking Him to help me in something so trivial compared to the other needs of my community and the world. Yet somehow, God hears every prayer and gives it His full attention.

What is lost in your life? Is it hope? A sense of worth that you matter? Is it purpose? Have you lost the future you dreamed about? Have you lost a family to belong to? Have you lost a son or daughter that has gone their own way and they have made decisions that have hurt them and those who love them? Have you lost keys, a wallet, or even an iPod? I want you to know that God hears you when you cry out to him. Your prayers matter to Him. God is in the business of restoring what was lost.

Can God Restore A Broken Masterpiece?

By the time David Garrett was eight years old he was studying violin with the world’s finest teachers, practicing seven hours a day, and making solo appearances with legendary orchestras, including the London Philharmonic. As an adolescent, he studied at the Juilliard School in New York City.

In 2003, for the price of one million dollars, Garrett purchased a Guadagnini, a rare 236-year-old violin made by a student of Stradivarius. But on December 27, 2007, after a brilliant performance at the Barbican in London, David Garrett tripped, fell down a flight of stairs, and landed on the valuable instrument. Though still in its case, the violin was smashed, sustaining damage to the body, neck, and soundpost. Restoration was predicted to take eight months and cost more than $120,000. Experts doubted the finely crafted instrument would ever sound the same.

Because of Garrett’s fall, something precious, valuable and in many ways irreplaceable was broken and damaged. Because of one fateful slip, an incredible instrument—even when restored—would never sound the same as its creator intended.

The story reminds me of the Fall of Man. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation. We are uniquely imprinted with the image of God. We have unrivaled powers of reason. We have soul that is eternal. We were created to use our design to honor God and to fulfill his purpose on earth. When we are in the hands of the Master, we were to create beautiful music. Yet because of one slip of Adam and his fall, we are damaged. As a result, our lives produce notes that are a bit out of tune. We are broken and damaged.

Garrett’s violin can be restored, but it will never recapture its original sound. It will never be as it once was. It will never be what it was created to be. That begs the question: Can we be fully restored? Scripture teaches that restoration is not only possible, it is a certain reality, secured by God himself through the redeeming death and resurrection of his Son and realized in our lives by the power of his Spirit. The gospel is about nothing less than the redemption of fallen human beings and the perfect, complete restoration of our broken world. As Christ himself says in the closing pages of Scripture, “Behold I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

Restoration through the gospel is the hope of all Christians. But the practicality of the good news for personal transformation here and now sometimes escapes us. Someday, everything that is wrong with the world will be made right forever. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes; mourning, crying, pain, and death will be no more (Rev. 21:4). But is genuine change in my life possible now?

The answer is yes! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17 ESV).

Life in Death

There is a Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s boyfriend du jour is so enamored with the song “Desperado” by the Eagles that whenever he hears it, everything in his world stops. It’s his song. No song puts my world on hold, but anytime I hear Howard Hendricks speak, I will usually stop what I’m doing to listen. Howard Hendricks is best known as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and as a speaker for Promise Keepers when PK was in its heyday. Driving to the office this morning, I happened to turn on Moody radio and Howard Hendricks was speaking. I savored every minute of his teaching, so much so that I sat in the parking lot for ten minutes while he wrapped up his sermon.

Dr. Hendricks was teaching the Christian viewpoint on death; and as with any teaching that is grounded in Scripture what he was saying sounded very radical but rang true in the hearts of the listener. He talked about Psalm 90, one of the earliest Psalms written…a psalm written by Moses on the fleeting nature of life. When he writes this psalm, Moses is in the last years of his life. He has spent that time burying a generation of people who died in the wilderness. If there is anything that will give an accurate perspective on life, it’s burying an entire generation. Moses describes how quickly life passes, it’s like a vapor, here one moment and gone the next. He challenges us to number our days, to remember that we should make each day count for God. The great sin of our day is when God’s people treat their days as common, as if they will always have more days ahead.

Historically Christians have viewed death radically different than those around them. The Bible uses three metaphors to describe death. First, death is like going to sleep; we fall asleep only to wake up in paradise. Second, death is like going on a journey; we pick up stakes and set sail for that “distant shore.” And third—this is my favorite—death is like going home.

Dr. Hendricks said that too often we look at this life as the land of the living and fear the coming land of the dead; in reality, we are in the land of the dying and should look forward to the land of the living. The catacombs in Rome speak to that truth. In the days of the early church, Christians were not allowed to bury their dead in the cemeteries of Rome, so they buried them underneath the city in the catacombs beneath Rome. As you tour the catacombs, one thing you’ll notice is that unlike the inscription on our tombs which lists the day you were born and the day you died, the tombs of Christians buried in the catacombs only have one date: the day they died. For them it was the most important day of life. It was the day when Christ the Lord said; “It’s time to take you from this broken world so that you can be with me in paradise.” To early Christians that one date represented their entry into life itself, to them it was the only date to remember.

It is true, only when we’re ready to die are we truly ready to live.

Lessons from John Wooden

This week, John Wooden passed away at age 99. Through his death, the world is learning there was so much more to John Wooden than being arguably the best coach the world has even seen. He was a man who never forgot his Hoosier heritage and values; and most importantly, he was a man of faith.

Here was some of my favorite quotes from John Wooden:

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

“There is nothing stronger than gentleness.”

“Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.”

“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you”

“If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.”

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.”[

John Wooden’s Seven Point Creed, given to him by his father Joshua upon his graduation from grammar school:

• Be true to yourself.
• Make each day your masterpiece.
• Help others.
• Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
• Make friendship a fine art.
• Build a shelter against a rainy day.
• Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

This nerd’s recent discovery…

If you are looking for one place to keep all of your logon ids, passwords, credit card information, look no further than 1Password. In the old days, I’d keep logon ids and passwords in my contacts…not a good idea. I learned about a product called CallPod Keeper that encrypts and stores that kind of stuff and I have used that for about a year. All CallPod Keeper does is store the information; you have to manually type it in; and when retrieving logon ids and passwords, you have to pop back and forth from the website you are logging onto and CallPod Keeper to visually look at each piece of information and then type it in to complete your logon.

Then came 1Password, which is the best utility for personal data that I’ve seen. It not only stores your data, it records the data when you first create access to secure websites AND it remembers the website address. For secure websites you already access, you simply add the site and information by cutting and pasting from your old secure information utility/system. You can also copy and paste the website address from your browser bar into 1Password.

When you have your information in 1Password, just double click on a credit card entry (for example) in the utility and you’ll find your browser pulling up the secure website, automatically filling in the logon id and password. Without doing anything else, your browser working with 1Password will bring you to your secure account homepage and your can pay bills and manage your account.

1Password can record security questions. I have used it to pay bills, to logon to Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my auto registration. It keeps email logon information, Hulu logons, Amazon.com logons, etc. It stores your driver’s license information. It will also store your credit card information (numbers, expiration dates, three-digit security codes) and your bank’s phone number…all of which comes in handy when making a purchase online or in an emergency if you lose your wallet and need to notify banks to cancel your cards.

1 Password also has an iPhone/iPod app that allows you to sync all this information with your Mac.

I am one happy nerd.

The Prodigal: New Thoughts On An Old Story

I was reading the story of the prodigal in Luke 15 (NLT) today and had to stop to think anew about one of the most familiar parables in the Bible. The overriding theme of Luke 15 is that lost people matter to God; they are precious and valuable to Him and should be to us as well.

The story of the prodigal is more about the love of God as seen through the father in the parable. The father’s love is boundless (out of bounds by any measure of human reason) and it is outrageous (in the eyes of the “loyal” son).

A few new thoughts that came to mind on this old story:

If the Father’s love was outrageous and out of bounds, so was the rebelliousness and sin of the prodigal son.

The younger son tells his father, “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” In other words, “Dad I don’t want to wait around to bury you, I want what’s mine now.” The son is presumptuous, arrogant, greedy, and disrespectful. The father had sacrificed and worked for years to build up his family business. Maybe the father had been entrusted with the business from his father. He cherished it and had been faithful in what had been entrusted to him. Now his son comes to him and says, “Hey pops, I want what’s mine now. I don’t want to wait for you to die. I want it now.”

The younger son didn’t want the money to start off on his own and make his way in business; he wanted to party. He wanted to go to the big city and experience a life of excess: love for hire, thrills that come from substance abuse, and relationships based solely on a good time. The father knows what will happen to his son and his money, yet remarkably he gives the son what he wants and lets him go. The father’s response of giving his son what he wanted is the response of a loving father; deep stuff, but there are times when the most loving thing a parent can do is to let their child go even though they know how it will turn out.

“When he finally came to his senses…”

This single phrase is the heart cry of every parent of a prodigal and it’s the heart cry of God for lost people. Only when we come to the end of ourselves will we find God. Only when we finally see our hopelessness will be find hope. Only when we give up trying to be good enough will we see the goodness of Christ and the cross. No new thoughts here, but of all the lines in this story, this single phrase—to me—stands alone.

The marks of genuine repentance

There is a difference between being sorry you are reaping what you’ve sown and repenting. Here the son, in the pigs sty, truly surrenders and admits he has made a mess of his life. He makes the decision to go home with this confession to his father, “I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” The arrogance and entitlement are gone. He finally realizes the depth of his sin even to the extent that he is “not worthy” to come back as part of the family. Grace to him would be simply coming back as a hired hand and living with the servants.

The father’s reaction to his son’s return is very familiar to most of us; yet as much as I read it, the father’s reaction in word and deed captivates me.

Before the repentant son says a word, the father embraces him and weeps for joy. The father embraces his son in the fullness of his mess; the son is filthy; he stinks; he has nothing good to show for his wayward absence (except a broken heart). Yet the father reacts in a way that challenges me as a father. He doesn’t pile on the son with words of condemnation (Where’s the money? Did you get her pregnant? Now you come crawling back?) The father’s punishment was wrapped in his love when he gave the son what he wanted and let him go with the hope that maybe his son would come to his senses and he would come home and be the better for it.

The father’s words are just as striking as his actions, twice he says that his son “was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.” The father views the trial of his son as “life and death.” We would do well to have such a radical loving view of those around us who are lost.

Just some simple thoughts on an old story.

Six Misconceptions of Forgiveness

  1. Forgiveness isn’t condoning the behavior. To forgive isn’t saying, ‘What you did is okay.’ It’s saying, ‘The consequences of your behavior belong to God, not to me.’ When you forgive, you transfer the person from your own system of justice to God’s. To forgive is to recognize that the wrong done against you is a debt of sin, and all sin is against God. Therefore, in forgiving, you transfer the debt from your ledger of accounts to God’s, leaving all recompense in his hands.
  2. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting what happened. It would be foolish to erase from mind some of the wrongs done to you. If you did, you’d never learn from your experiences and would relive the same situations, and consequently, disappointments. What can eventually be forgotten are the raw emotions associated with the event. When you forgive, the terrible memories and feelings gradually diminish.
  3. Forgiveness isn’t restoring trust. Trust is earned. To blindly trust someone who’s hurt you is naive and irresponsible. If a person’s a thief, it’s foolish to give him a key to your house. If he’s a pedophile, you’d be derelict to hire him as a baby-sitter. As such, forgiving a wrong does not mean extending the person an invitation to sin again.
  4. Forgiveness isn’t synonymous with reconciliation. It’s a necessary step toward reconciliation, yet reconciliation isn’t necessarily the goal of forgiveness. In fact, there are situations where reconciliation is not a good idea. If the other person’s unwilling to reconcile due to bitterness or denial, you can still forgive. But it’s silly, if not dangerous, to seek reconciliation when the other person is unrepentant, unchanging, or unwilling.
  5. Forgiveness doesn’t mean doing the other person a favor. In Judaism, forgiveness isn’t required unless repentance is demonstrated and pardon is sought. But Jesus raised the standard, commanding that you forgive even those who remain unrepentant.
  6. Forgiveness isn’t easy. But if you desire to be faithful, you must follow in the footsteps of God, who has forgiven your great offenses. Hopefully by understanding what forgiveness is not, you’ll be better able to honor this great command.

Excerpted from “Seven Keys to Spiritual Renewal” by Steve Arterburn

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