Archive for October, 2007

After visiting a client on Friday, Phil & I spent the weekend in Niagara Falls, Canada. We love looking at the Falls. After being there a day or so, both Phil & I look out at the Falls and think “they haven’t turned them off yet!” Now I know that’s pretty stupid, but it’s the reaction we both have…the Falls are ALWAYS tumbling over the edge with unbelievable force! When you go down and see them at street level the power (and sound) is amazing. I’m mesmerized by it. And every five feet or so, the view is different.

As we stared at the falls on Saturday afternoon, Phil said “I wonder how many times that water has flowed over the Falls. That made no sense to me, having the non-scientific mind that I have. How could the water back up and go over the edge again? He then explained that the water at the bottom of the Falls is picked up as condensation, winds can carry it back to the top side of the Falls where it can then rain into the Niagara river and go over the falls again. (Yes, I knew about this process, it just never occurred to me.) What a wonderfully self-replenishing world God has made for us!

God Holds Creation Together
Sunday morning I went up to the observation area of the hotel and watched the sun rise over the Falls. I was thinking about how Phil & I both have this “they haven’t turned the Falls off yet!” reaction. And then it occurred to me that God could turn them off in an instant if He wanted to. It’d be nothing for Him to stop the tremendous force of the rushing, falling water. In fact, it’d be nothing for Him to REVERSE the flow.

It then occurred to me that the only reason they continue to flow is because God holds the world He has created together. Colossians 1 tells us:

15Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. 16Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. 17He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.

Christ holds all creation together. That means that if he didn’t hold the Falls together, they wouldn’t continue to fall. I don’t know what they’d do, but I think it’d have something to do with no gravity and things tearing apart.

God Speaks
As I watched the sunrise, the sun was hidden behind the huge mist that rises from the falls. It is so dense and large sometimes that it obscures the Falls altogether. It even blocked out the sun…but it couldn’t obscure the beautiful colors created by the light and the mist. I was able to see the outer rings of a horseshoe-shaped rainbow that encircled the mist in front of the Falls. Imagine it…white, smoky mist rising from the surface and puffing out from its center with a brilliant red, orange and yellow “crown” around it.

You know, I can’t always see the Son, but I am so very thankful that when He is hidden, there are brilliant “crowns” that display His glory.

Psalm 19 says it best:
1 The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies;
4 yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world. The sun lives in the heavenswhere God placed it.
5 It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroomafter his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.

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Back in February, I read the following on a website for a hip fast food restaurant chain. As most hip places do, they’ve totally changed their site since I copied the text so I can’t send you there to read it for yourself. It’s a great place, but I thought I should conceal their identity to protect the innocent! Take a minute to read what they’ve written.

[XXX is] a company out to create a new kind of business: a business about great people, breakthrough brands and passion for what we do. We’re not talking about your everyday, run of the mill type of passion, either. This is a passion verging on insanity. Our goal is simple, to create a world of [XXX] Fans, one mouth at a time. We’re always on the lookout for partners who can help us make this a reality.

What sets us apart is originality and vision. Our “why not?” attitude challenges us to take risks others in the industry won’t take. The result? Groundbreaking concepts consumers love and opportunities franchisees can’t wait to be part of.

Each of our breakthrough concepts is unique in its own right. We combine braggable food with a healthy twist to create fresh, innovative concepts in environments that resonate with consumers.

Does this describe how Christians should be or what? How the church should be or what? I was so struck by this description when I read it that I had to copy it into my journal. Lord, make us more like the world in ways that we should be like the world! Give us more passion for you than the world shows in their business. I want to be a part of a group of Christians who are as passionate about Christ and the Gospel as these people are about their business!

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Last Wednesday evening we studied Paul’s pastoral epistles — his letters to Timothy and Titus. As the pastor was giving an overview of the three letters, I found myself distracted by the content of the letters! (Being distracted by the Word of God — what a great thing!)

What caught my attention is that the Apostle Paul presented the Gospel in nine of the thirteen chapters of these three books. I was amazed by this. Remember the setting. Paul is writing to leaders of churches, men he had discipled and set in place as pastors. Paul calls both Timothy and Titus “my true son” in the faith (1 Tim 1:2, Titus 1:4). Undoubtedly these men know the Gospel message. Undoubtedly Paul knows that these men know it. Yet Paul repeats it ten times in thirteen chapters.

The question I have to ask is “Why?”

  • To encourage himself? (Remember, he was in prison and soon to be executed)
  • To encourage Timothy and Titus? (They were young and had their share of struggles)
  • To reinforce the many facets of the Gospel? (watch for a future post on this)
  • Because he was consumed by it — it was what he lived and breathed?

It was probably a combination of all of these, but as we discussed this discovery at the end of the study, we concluded that the most prominent reason was probably because he was consumed by it. Paul lived and breathed the Gospel.

I love to watch interviews between secular media and Billy Graham. He very naturally includes the Gospel message in almost every answer. I watch amazed that he can do it so frequently without coming across as preachy or avoiding the questions. Politicians put forth the same message but it’s often at the expense of answering the question. Billy Graham was able to answer questions while including the Gospel.

The same was true of the Apostle Paul. I want to say “it’s their gift.” But I think that’s a copout. I think it’s much more like that they were/are more consumed with the Gospel than I am. I want my passion to be as Paul’s:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11, NIV

Paul says he considers everything in this life that he might otherwise have considered of value rubbish! And that what he wants is only to know Christ. I’m not there. I am not consumed with Christ as I’d like to be. There’s still way too much rubbish in my life!

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OK, so I’m stealing the title from my pastor’s sermon yesterday. But he stole it from Scripture, so I think that’s OK!

I’m not a big fan of the Message Bible. It’s usually a little too hokey for me. But read this passage:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30 (emphasis mine)

Tonight on “Dancing with the Stars,” several couples will dance the Viennese Waltz. It’s a beautiful dance with graceful swirls amidst the rise and fall of the dance. It appears effortless. It flows with the rhythm of the music.

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” Jesus tells us. Here’s the Sandy Hovatter amplified version: “Learn to dance with me to the music I’m playing as the backdrop for your life. The music will have it’s own tune, unique to your life, created especially for you with crescendos and decrescendos, measures to be lived quite softly and others to be lived with great gusto. I’m writing it uniquely for you, note by note, to lead you into and through the purposes I have for your life.”

Wow!

Lessons from Ballroom Dancing
Phil and I have taken ballroom dance lessons periodically over the past ten years. We love it, but we’re really not very good at it. In all these years, we’ve barely progressed beyond beginner. But even a beginner learns a few things:

1) Only one person can lead! When two people lead you are constantly fighting one another and you’re likely to end up on the floor as you lead each other in opposite directions.

2) If the wrong person leads, the dance doesn’t flow properly. It just looks (and feels) wrong.

3) Find someone who knows more than you do and follow them.

4) Finding and following the flow and rhythm of the music covers a multitude of wrong steps.

5) Quit stressing about getting it perfect — you’ll get better each time, so enjoy the process and laugh at your mistakes. (Every teacher we’ve had has told us that we have to do every step a thousand times to really learn it — and they all suggest practicing the steps as we walk down the street! People who love to dance don’t seem to care if others laugh at them.)

I doubt that you need me to make the spiritual applications here, but how can I resist?

• When following Jesus, only one person can lead — the Lord! When I take the lead, falling is never far behind. At the very least, the flow of my dance (i.e., my life) disintegrates rapidly.

• I’ve always found that being around people who love God more than I do greatly enhances my love for God. I try to find these people and hang around with them.

• Walking in grace covers a multitude of mis-steps. Keeping my connection with the Lord strong allows me to flow in His rhythm, so even when I miss His lead, I don’t get far before sensing that He’s changed directions.

• A question I try to ask often is “In the light of eternity, how important is it?” Almost all the time, the answer is “not very.” So let it go. Don’t get angry because your husband is doing that thing that annoys you…again. Don’t be discouraged because you’re not the person you want to be yet. Keep practicing. You’ll get the steps down. Don’t give up. Laugh at your mistakes (not at your sin, at your mistakes, there’s a difference) and try it again.

I’m ready to treat life as a wonderful dance between my Savior and me. Who knows, it might end up looking a whole lot like a Viennese waltz.

An afterthought: When Phil and I are dancing, I am most likely to “steal” the lead when I become bored — when we’re not doing anything interesting. If I were to examine my life, I bet I’d find the same to be true of the times I’ve “stolen” the lead from Christ. As if I know what’s best for me, right? Wrong!

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The father of a friend died last week and we went to the funeral service yesterday. It’s my third funeral in six months. But it was the first of the three in which I didn’t have a role and I wasn’t overwhelmed with grief. I was able to participate in the service without being consumed by the content of it. It gave me an opportunity to hear some “new” things from God. (Granted, these may not be new to you, but they are new for me.)

On Heaven
The service began with worship because the man had loved God and loved to worship. The church was arranged with two sections of pews and a center aisle. As the crowd began to clap, I had a vision of those clapping around the finish line of a marathon, cheering the runner on to victory and to completion. What a different way to view our entrance into heaven! I had always thought of it as being met by Jesus or an angel or perhaps one or two family members who have gone before me. It was a “slow, gentle” welcome. But this “new” pattern is more exciting to me. Not because I’m looking for adulation, but because of the joy that it holds — the “welcome home, hero!” kind of feel it has to it. It’s a celebration at the finish line with friends and family who have gathered to share my joy and cheer me on as you make my final steps. And everyone in heaven is my family and friend, even those I don’t know yet. We are kin in the Spirit.

Of course, the difference between this finish line and the finish line of the marathon is that as you approach the finish line of this life, you are restored with each step. No longer pulled down by the things of earth, you are stronger, lighter, healthier, happier. You are whole in every sense of the word. Can you see the scene in your mind’s eye?

I want to hold this new perspective on entering heaven in my mind. It is much more encouraging to me than the quiet, gentle leading by a loved one talking softly to me as we enter the Gates of Heaven. You may prefer the soft, gentle entry into heaven and that’s fine. But I’m looking forward to the celebration! Fortunately, Our God is not a one-size-fits-all kind of God. He is unique and creative in every way. I’m sure He’s arranging the entrance into heaven that is beyond best for each of us, just as He is creating mansions unique to each of us, and just as He creates a life — and purpose in life — that is unique to each of us.

On Hell
As the funeral service progressed and the father of the deceased spoke, I remembered the very difficult days after my dad died. What struck me the hardest at that time was the absolute separation. How very strange it seemed to me that the separation should be so painful when in a way separation from my dad was normal — we lived 50 miles apart, so we were only “together” about once a week. But it “felt” different. This was an “absolute separation.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is some kind of spiritual connection among the living and when someone dies that connection is broken. When Phil’s mom died, he came up with this analogy: when a computer network is turned on, the system is always sending out impulses to other computers, checking to see if they are still connected. This is called “pinging” and it’s a continuous process. Without us being aware of it, it seems that our spirits “ping” for the spirits of those we love constantly and we receive an unconscious knowing that they are there. When someone dies, that ping goes out from us but is not returned. At an unconsious level there is a brokenness, a void, a missing connection that pushes itself into our consciousness and alerts our brain that “something is very wrong here.” Our brain then transmits that information to our emotions.

That missing connection creates a kind of darkness (a void, a black hole), of internal pain that doesn’t go away quickly or easily. It’s a very strange pain because it really hurts, but there is no physical attribute to it. In other words, you can’t say “my arm hurts” or “my head hurts.” I guess saying “my heart hurts” would be the closest, but even that misses the mark because I’m sure it’s not like the physical pain of a heart attack.

As I thought about this during the funeral, I had a greater insight into hell than I’ve ever had. Hell is eternal separation from God. I’ve known that for years. But now I have a greater understanding of the pain of it. Hell is that absolute separation from the Giver of Life for all of eternity. It is the constant pinging that is never responded to. It is the darkest of darkness, the largest of black holes. And as time passes, it doesn’t lighten or soften as the pain of separation from a loved one who has died. Instead, it deepens, it grows because there is never hope of escaping it. There is never a lessening of it.

On Hope
I’m reminded of two passages of Scripture:

Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)
“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15:51-58 (NLT)
51But let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will all be transformed…. 53For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die.
54When this happens—when our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die—then at last the Scriptures will come true:
“Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory?O death, where is your sting?”
56For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!
58So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

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I have this recurring theme in my mind…simplify, uncomplicate, rest…

Yet the world is screaming “more, more, more.”

I’ve begun a new venture…we’re adding a book publishing capability to Data Designs, in part because writing books is something I’ve always wanted to do and my dad’s death kind of pushed it to the forefront (but that’s a long story that would lead to complicating this blog!).

One of the books I want to write is about honoring the Sabbath and as I meditate on the subject, I think it has a whole “uncomplicating life” component to it…hence, the recurring mantra in my head.

It’s just that I can’t quite get there…

Anyway, today I’m researching some topics that it feels like the rest of the world knows about and I’m stupid about. RSS Feeds and Feed Readers is one of those topics. The problem is that everywhere I end up I find nothing but overwhelming details about way too many options describing features that I’m not knowledgeable enough to compare. (How important is that feature compared to this other feature?)

My point…admittedly made in quite a round-about, complicated way…is that life offers so many options these days that we are constantly being barraged with “opportunities” to enhance our lives. And for each opportunity, as I see it we’re faced with three options: Ignore all of them, evaluate each one of them, or evaluate only those that have been created by someone who knows how to write a great grab-your-attention headline. I hate those choices! I guess what I want is a great personal assistant who will evaluate all of them and only forward the great ones to me! 🙂

But life doesn’t work that way for most of us. Most of us have to make our own choices.
It occurs to me, though, that the Holy Spirit really is (or can be) our personal assistant. Now don’t get upset at that sentence…I mean no disrespect whatsoever. But Scripture says that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us. And while He will clearly lead and guide us into spiritual Truths, He can also help us “number our days aright,” (Psalm 90:12, NIV). Isn’t that what I’m really looking for? Someone to help me make right decisions about even the most mundane (or technical) of issues.

The problem (or at least ONE of the problems) is that I often forget to ask for help. I often get bogged down in the details and begin to feel like I have to make a decision. And if ever there was wrong thinking, that’s it. Thinking that I’m responsible for everything in my life. God never intended it that way. Yes, I’m to be responsible for my actions, but He never intended me to go it alone. He truly wants to be a part of all the decisions, whether they seem to have “spiritual” implications or not…because when all is said and done, everything has spiritual implications.

I’d like to make a renewed commitment to asking the Holy Spirit to help me “number my days aright” — beginning with time with God and continuing all the way through to the decisions about which DSL speed to upgrade to. Care to join me?

Comment from dansdesk
Great thoughts! I have two comments: one spiritual and the other not so much. I, too struggle with asking for the Spirit’s help in the simplest to the most complex of decisions. Several recent studies reinforce the need to do that. In Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels emphasizes that we need need to begin conversations, take an interest in people, and then let the Spirit guide us. That assumes that our relationship with God is good enough to hear the Spirit.My more practical comment is that I’ve developed a system in how to decide what new things things I need to research or do. I never go cutting edge on anything — technology, ministry, theology, fads, etc. I let the dust settle, the bugs to be worked out, the systems in place, and the prices to go down. RSS is actually rather simple now at least compared to what it used to be. Those are my two cents. Have a great day. Keep writing and I’ll buy a book of yours but I would expect it to be autographed! Dan
Tuesday October 9, 2007 – 09:28am (EDT)

Response from Sandy
Great advice. We agree…never buy totally cutting edge. Version 1.0 never works well. :-)And your spiritual advice is right on…but how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of forgetting to have the conversation with God on the mundane stuff. Lord, lead me out of my self-sufficiency, even in (or especially in) areas where I could be self-sufficient.Be blessed! And thanks for your comments and I’ll hold you to your promise to buy the book! 🙂
Saturday October 13, 2007 – 03:24pm (EDT)

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