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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pathway Choices

Psalm 119:1-8 (The Message) "You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You're blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That's right - you don't go off on your own, you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I'd never have regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I'm going to do what you tell me to do; don't ever walk off and leave me."

Yesterday, we looked at the importance of paying attention to the little details, the subtle instructions, the "fine print" of God's wisdom. The benefits of staying on course, having a guide to take us through life, and being assured of arriving at our spiritual destination are assured to us when we do.

Paths come in all shapes and sizes. Some are quite narrow, barely big enough for us to pass through, while others are quite wide, easily traversed and seemingly quite welcoming. Many paths seem quite well-worn, while others may only be freshly blazon. Still others are like clearly charted courses with a clear end in sight. Then there are those paths we venture onto in life that unfold before us like a carefully folded map revealing our next turn or intersection one move at a time - no end in sight, just plodding step by step until we realize we have arrived, sometimes quite oblivious to how we got there.

Regardless of the pathway quality, they are open to us if we are attentive to finding or making them. Speak with someone who has experienced the sheer panic of being lost in a wooden thicket and they will share the intense sense of doom that comes in not knowing which way to turn. They look, but every turn looks like the last; every path seems to lead right back to where they started or somewhere quite far from where they hoped to end up. Paths can challenge us, or offer us smooth passage. Those that challenge us because of their many twists or turns, and those that merely welcome us into smooth passage afford viable opportunities for us to move from one location in life to another, yet the "getting there" can be quite different with each path.

We would be insincere if we said we don't gravitate naturally to the smoother paths in life - they are more welcoming, often offering us easier access, and quite frequently, they have more travelers to offer us companionship as we venture down that path. The harder, less worn, more challenging paths in life are not as welcoming. They promise us the reward of more obstacles than we often want to encounter or deal with, throwing us twists and turns, rocks and crags, thorns and thistles - all serving to discourage us along the way. These "harder" paths seem to be "less traveled" - not much companionship along the way to build us up, encourage us to finish the course. Seriously, do we really want to walk down the path "less chosen"? Most of the time, the answer is a clearly resounding "NO!" - we want comfort, assurance of our end results, clearly defined steps to take along the way, and even companions to walk alongside us as we make the journey.

Which path do you choose most often? I daresay that for most of us, we go the way that others seem to have gone. We take the path of least resistance because it appears to offer us the smoothest sailing. The writer of this Psalm points out some important "pathway lessons" that I don't want us to miss.

First, a good path is a path that is revealed by God. Nowhere does God promise us a path that is consistently smooth sailing. Job was a great man of Old Testament times, yet he faced tremendous "twists and turns" in the path he chose to follow. His path of choice was to follow the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind. When disappointments came his way, (like losing his entire herd of sheep in one fell swoop or losing his family in some freak accident) he faced each with unwavering commitment to the path he had chosen. Yes, he was disappointed and expressed that disappointment on more than one occasion. Yes, he suffered the hardships and endured tremendous emotional upset. But he endured! In the end, he enjoyed the blessings of the pathway - restoration of all that was lost, even more than what he had lost.

This God-revealed pathway requires some commitment from us. God does the revealing, but the Psalmist points out that we must stay on course, follow his directions, doing our best to find God along the way. It has become clear to me in my 38 years of following Christ that God can be found in every turn of the path - we just need to be looking! David goes on in this Psalm to outline the choices we make on the path. God reveals the right way to live - we make the choice to live by the standards he reveals. God expects us to remain steadfast in keeping to the course he has set for us - we choose steadfastness with each opportunity for compromise in our lives. He opens the path before us, sometimes one step at a time. We step out cautiously because the way seems uncertain. David wants us to grasp the reality that even the most "uncertain" way that God reveals is infinitely more "certain" than any path we could blaze on our own! (And boy, have I blazed a few paths that I'd recommend others not follow!)

Look at David's reminder - no regrets in choosing God's path! No regrets in "checking out" our every move against his wise counsel in the Word. No regrets in leaning on his arm as we traverse the uncertainties of life's paths. God "speaks straight from the heart" when he speaks with us. He is not some unreachable, untouchable deity. He wants us to know him - really know him. He wants us to see the "patterns" he outlines in his Word - so we can learn from them, embracing those truths that cause us to walk steady, stay on course, and enjoy the blessings of the pathway just as much as we enjoy the destination.

David made a steadfast determination in his heart to "do what you tell me to do" - he was choosing to listen intently with the hope of hearing; looking with the expectation of seeing. Today, as you consider the path you are traversing presently, consider these four characteristics of steadfastness:
  • Persistance - perhaps the path is a little challenging for you right now, but stay the course - the promise of God is that we will be blessed in choosing the path he reveals
  • Anticipation - our every emotion determines how we "interpret" the path we are on, either resisting every twist and turn, or embracing them one by one in anticipation of what the next step will bring - learn to rely on the promises and provisions of God more than you rely on the unreliability of your emotions
  • Trust - the promises of God are trustworthy - his promise is that he will never leave or forsake you; he speaks straight from his heart to ours; and in being kept by his hand and trusting in what he reveals from his heart, we can remain steadfast
  • Humility - be open to admit your wrong turns along the way - right yourself, brush yourself off, and make the necessary corrections in course when you get a little off-course

Today, choose with me to be persistent in your walk with Christ, anticipatory of his every move, trusting in his keeping power, and humble enough to admit we don't know all the "ins and outs" of this path we are walking on. As we do, God will undertake to bring us safely through to the destination he has in mind. Remember, the path he chooses for us may not be our first choice - but it is the best choice! Walk steady, follow whole-heartedly, be blessed in your journey.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Staying the Course

Psalm 119:1-2 "You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You're blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him."

Yesterday, we began a look into the longest Psalm in the Bible - Psalm 119. This Psalm was written by King David, the anointed of God called to serve in the capacity of the King of Israel. Within the verses of this Psalm we find life-altering, life-challenging "keys" to developing in our walk with Christ. Each concept taught builds upon the other. If we had no other chapter from the entire Bible except this one, we could learn the importance of following Christ in passionate pursuit, how to avoid the pitfalls of sinful shortcomings, and what a life of worship entails. As we begin today, we will explore the first of these "life concepts" that David so aptly shares under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

David opens by sharing a blessing with his readers - "You're blessed when you stay on course..." Have you ever been "off-course" on a journey? I took a road trip to California recently with a friend. We shared the driving, each taking turn as navigator while the other maneuvered the busy highways of Southern California. We had made great efforts to Mapquest and AAA Trip Ticket the entire journey so that we were sure to arrive at the ship terminal in time for the departure of our long-awaited cruise to the Mexican Riviera. Spirits were high, chatter abounded, and life was good. That is, until we realized that all the signs were pointing to some very unfamiliar towns that didn't seem to be on the carefully printed maps we had in front of us!

There we were, traversing the "uncharted" territories of Southern California with no "real" map of the area (just the carefully outlined Mapquest / Trip Ticket instructions directing our every turn) and not recognizing any highway markers, town names, or points of interest. You got it...we were lost! Being the seasoned traveler that I am, we veered off the highway, finding the nearest service station - you know, the type with rows and rows of gas pumps, isles of chips, coolers of assorted beverages, and the attendant (better known as the sales clerk who had never traveled much beyond the little valley he lived in!). Try asking directions when people are clammering for their Fritos, plopping down their gas loot, or buying up their latest gossip rag!

I still remember the look on his face when we asked if we were anywhere close to Long Beach. It was priceless! He spoke as much as any words could have said, but without speaking as much as one word, his scornful chuckle and click of his tongue let us know without reasonable doubt that we were helplessly off-course! Within minutes, he has successfully made a whopping $5 off us for a map I was sure we could have procurred for free from the local Chamber of Commerce, indicated our present location on it with one finger and pointed pathetically at the little dot emblazened with the words "Long Beach". Just then, my friend and I enjoyed the immediate panic of imagining ourselves arriving just as the giant white ship glided past the now closed doors of the boarding terminal!

The "trip South" had cost us valuable time - time not easily "made up" in traversing those busy highways of Southern California in the rush-hour of commuter traffic. We scurried to fill the tank (obligatory when someone has just shown you how helplessly lost you are!), turn ourselves around, head down paths unknown in search of some highway that was "sure to take us back on course" and then "make up for lost time" (that means going just a wee bit faster than the posted speed limit for those of you that may not have read between the lines there).

After what seemed like endless, wasted hours later (really less than an hour), we came across that much pursued highway of our dreams. We were back on course! Sometimes life is just like this journey to our destination. We set out with well-intentioned plans, carefully laid out, researched beyond measure, only to find that some uncharted, unknown detour will take us miles off course, leaving us searching for answers as to our whereabouts.

The Psalmist gives us insight into staying our course - it comes from steadily following the road or path revealed by God. My friend and I got off course by not reading all the posted signs as carefully as we should have. As we came into an area with heavy traffic, torn up by the endless construction of urban life, we veered South when we should have gone the other way. We still saw the highway signs, they still read the right "number" we were looking for, but the simple truth is that we failed to read the "small print" of the actual direction we were traveling!

In life, we often "miss the fine print" of God's directions. We are moving so hastily, caught up in the "traffic" of everyday life, and focused more on our destination than on the specific leg of our journey that we are in right now, that we miss the subtle leadings of our God that he has carefully laid out along the way. David reminds us that we are "blessed" (happy, content) when we follow his directions. Follow carries many meanings, but I think David had in mind the idea of watching steadily, keeping our minds on, so that we don't miss the turns! The one who follows Christ down the path he has laid out is assured of one awesome fact - he has gone before us, he leads us where we are going, and he gets us there safely. The path may not be easy, but it is assured of getting us there! Don't be afraid to "read the fine print" of God's directions - there you will find all you need to traverse safely to your destination.

Tomorrow, we will look a little deeper at the pathways we follow in life. Until then, stay the course!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blessed by staying on course

Psalm 119:1-8 (The Message) "You're blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You're blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That's right - you don't go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I'd never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I'm going to do what you tell me to do; don't ever walk off and leave me."

Ever want to live a "blessed" life? A truly blessed life? Probably more than we admit, we have this yearning deep within to really enjoy our days, feel that something valuable came out of the decisions we made today, know that someone or something was made better by our involvement. It is not an uncommon thing to want to "succeed" in life. Success is an elusive goal for us - when we get to the point of "success" we seldom are "happy" with what we have accomplished - at least not lasting happiness. We set out on another venture, hoping that we will be "more fulfilled" with the next success, only to find that the latest pursuit leaves us feeling just as empty, just as unfulfilled, just as challenged for "more" as we were before.

There is really only one pursuit that bears a reward that we can term as "success" in our lives and that is the passionate pursuit of Christ as our Lord and Savior. Anyone who really knows me understands that I am a little quirky when it comes to words and their meaning - not really a fetish, but I like to know what a word means, how it has come to be used through the ages, and what the root(s) of the word stem from. With that in mind, I looked up success (and its sister, succeed) in my good old, well-worn and tattered Webster's dictionary and this is what I found:
  • The outcome or result of something (success)
  • A favorable termination of a venture - attainment of favor (success)
  • To turn out well (succeed)
  • To prosper, thrive or flourish (succeed)

The Psalmist wrote of being "blessed" when we stay on course with God, walking steadily on the road that he reveals for our lives. Blessed is not a common term you hear interwoven in our communication each day. We likely use another word to describe what the Psalmist was describing here: "happy". The term "blessed" just doesn't carry enough sense of emotional description that we connect with, so we use the term "happy" to represent our disposition, sense of well-being, and attitude when the results of our pursuits have been successful. "Happy" comes closer to what we really feel when we meet life head-on and come out unscathed on the other side. Blessed really has that meaning - enjoying true happiness (not the elusive kind that is based on the situation of the moment) that brings us pleasure or contentment in life.

As King David pens these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he is bringing us head-on into the reality of our destiny in Christ. A man or woman that follows hard after God is one who will enjoy the blessings of God's care - new mercies in times of ill-planning; new grace in times of bad performance; new protections in times of hostile attack. Sounds like corporate life, doesn't it - but this is not what I am describing here, nor was it what the Psalmist had in mind, either.

We set out each day with an end in mind. Rarely do we get up, say to ourselves, "I think I will just drift along today and see where I end up". Even if we have very few plans for the day, we usually have some end in mind - even if it is as basic as relaxing, reading a good book, sipping iced tea, and getting some much needed rest for my body. David wants us to recognize the importance of starting each and every day with a "course adjustment" - walking steadily on the road revealed by God. We make this "adjustment" at the feet of Jesus - taking time each day to "check in" with him, read a little from his instruction book (The Bible), and then listening intently for his direction.

For many of us, we make this passionate pursuit of Christ way more difficult than it has to be. We have these pre-conceived notions that walking with Christ means hours of study in the Word, endless hours on our knees until callouses develop, and becoming so out of touch with the reality of day-to-day living that we are more "heavenly minded" than we are of any earthly good (I call this being "weird"). In reality, a passionate pursuit means a heart investment in the one we are pursuing. Sometimes I don't really have to say much - God just breaks through in my thoughts and shows me something little, gives me a little hint of his love or grace, and then we move on. I send up hundreds of "arrow prayers" - those short ones that come as you think of something or someone that needs just a little thought brought before God at that particular moment. You see a car wreck and pray instantly for those involved, knowing that their day has been royally messed up, their "ride" crumpled, leaving them stranded for a way to get to/from work, etc. Not lengthy, meaty prayers that would make it to the "annals of prayer", but simple words that let God know that a need exists and we recognized it. When we begin to recognize the needs around us, God is pleased. He is always delighted when his kids begin to see something or someone other than themselves. Amazing, isn't it, that our heavenly Father is so delighted in just the small stuff? When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees (those religious leaders of his time), he never commended their "long words" of prayer. As a matter of fact, he chastised them for being too lengthy with words that really did mean anything. Simplicity with God is foremost - be who you are, share from your heart, open up to him - you won't be disappointed.

Time in the Word is another challenge for us - it is hard to understand, seems to contradict itself at times, and is just plain confusing at others. Get yourself a good translation that makes it easier to understand what is recorded in these 66 books we call the Bible. Don't start out with huge expectations that you will become a bible scholar in a week - be realistic. Take a verse at a time. Get a dictionary and look up some of the words to see what they mean (the roots of the word). Spend a little time mulling it over. Then move on. You may read 10 verses before you come across something that says, "this one's for you", but don't give up. Even in the dry spells, when reading seems laborsome, I have been rewarded to find excellent truths buried deep within some of the "dry stuff" in the Word.

We begin a study of Psalm 119 today. The first concept I wish to convey is that God wants our course to be "blessed" - truly happy, giving us true contentment. He wants our walk with him to be steady - not wishy-washy or wavering to and fro. He wants us to enjoy the blessings of his care and protection - comes from following his directions. My family gives me the directions for everything. Why? Because they know I will read them! We benefit from reading the directions - we don't have to do a job twice, we don't put things out of order, creating chaos in the end. So, I challenge you to re-read the passage above. See what God gives you today and ask him to "stay your course" with him. Pray that prayer with sincerity and see what God will do! Have a truly blessed day in the Lord.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Disciplined Instruction

The writer of Proverbs penned the words, "Give yourselves to disciplined instruction, open your ears to tested knowledge." (Proverbs 23:12)
One of the easiest things for many of us to do is to believe what we are told or taught without ever seeking to validate the knowledge shared. As a believer in Christ, we have an obligation to avoid blind belief in everything we are taught or are exposed to over the course of our lives. There is an expectation that we will apply ourselves to learning - active, involved, frequent and committed study of the Scriptures. It is the goal of this blog to offer words of wisdom, thoughts that challenge, and even subtle humor that draws us closer together in the Lord.

Disciplined instruction is characterized by that which produces development of self-control (something I lack more than I'd like to admit), obedient actions (now I've gone and meddled), and orderly conduct. We often "bristle against" anything that smacks of discipline or obedience - or am I alone in this? It challenges us and often requires that dreaded thing: "change". For many of us, nothing challenges us more than being called upon to actually change - after all, aren't we pretty good just the way we are?

God expects that we will be open to the correction that he identifies as necessary in our lives as we apply ourselves to gaining that deep, intense spiritual knowledge he desires to share with us. Study of the Bible can be a difficult pursuit for even the best scholar, but nothing ventured is nothing gained. I am always looking for an easy way to understand what seems difficult. But, take heart, I have not invested in the yellow paperbound book, "The Bible for Dummies". We are each given a tutor to take us verse by verse through these 66 books known as the Holy Bible. He is the Holy Spirit and he is an awesome teacher - all he needs is attentive students.

As truth is revealed in the Word of God by the Holy Spirit, correction will inevitably be called for in our lives. Oh, don't get your undies in a bundle! The simple truth is that none of us "lines up" to the characteristics of a righteous, obedient servant of Christ 100% of the time. We struggle with ALWAYS being honest, ALWAYS being kind, ALWAYS being loving ... get the point? The writer of Romans even went so far to point out this fact when he recorded, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

God not only asks that we are disciplined in exploring what he has for us in his Word, the Bible, but that we examine the knowledge we receive, putting it to use in our lives on a daily basis. Knowledge applied is powerful - bringing change, release, and uplift to our inner character. All action begins in thought - applying the Word to our thoughts gives us a basis for actions that are sound, on target, and productive of good things in our lives.

So, the challenge of this blog will be to present the Word, simple truths contained within, in such a manner that challenges us, encourages us to make adjustments where necessary and keeps us moving in the right direction. I do not presuppose to be a subject-matter-expert as it comes to the Word of God. Rather, I am a faithful follower of Christ, called to share his Word in a simple way. Nothing more, nothing less.

Looking forward to sharing from the Word as God gives revelation of the truths contained within.