Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bags packed, GPS guidance ahead

1-3In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.  (Eph. 4:1-3)

Paul is imprisoned for preaching the gospel message, but he takes his call to preach the gospel, plant and establish churches, and encourage believers in Christ seriously.  He writes to the Ephesian church, even when he cannot be at their homes and in their synagogue preaching the message, in order to encourage them to keep growing in the faith.  His words are clear - get out there and walk!  Okay, before you jump off the deep end and tune me out, I am not heading down the path of needing to adopt a physical exercise program!  Paul wanted us to know that we need to be active in our spiritual walk - avoiding the urge to settle in and rest comfortable in the realm of our spiritual growth.  It would make Satan very happy to know that we have decided "we've arrived" and then just settle in and relax in what we have received in Christ without growing any further!

It is a road that God has called us to travel - to make strides, some quicker than others, but consistent progress toward a goal.  I am planning a trip in just 29 days and am eagerly awaiting our departure.  As I do so, there is a great deal of planning that is underway - what will I pack for the journey, what will nourish us along the 300 mile drive to our destination, what pathway must we follow to get there, and the list goes on.  In our spiritual walk, we are always preparing for a journey!  We no sooner get to one destination in Christ that we are preparing for our next!  Behind the scenes of our life, there are "planners" just preparing the course and readying the experiences we will take in along the way.  Our part is to be ready, packed and anticipatory of the hour we are to begin the next journey.

We ready ourselves (packing, as it were, in a spiritual sense) by exposing ourselves to the Word, allowing it to take root in our lives.  As we do, we are laying up "provisions" for our journey - we are prepared in advance for what it is we will experience.  The path is revealed for us by "God's Positioning System" (spiritual GPS) - his Word, his Spirit, and his urging in our spirit.  We can count on his leading to be just the course we need to travel in order to accomplish maximum benefit for our journey.

Paul knows us all too well - even though he never met those of us reading this message today!  Those "fits and starts" he warns us against are all too common of an occurrence in our lives!  We mean well, then "peter" out.  He reminds us that the enjoyment of the journey is in running it, not in observing it from a position of idleness.  So, today is a new day for each of us.  Are your bags packed?  The journey awaits!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dream and Imagine - God is waiting

20-21God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  (Eph. 3:20-21)

As we consider this passage today, it would be appropriate to ask, "What are you imagining God will do for you today?"  So many times we face each day with all the agenda items that we have laid out for ourselves and others, all the while being pretty oblivious to what it is that God is imagining for our day.  Just as frequently, we go to God with huge desire, but somehow we think God's plan to meet that desire is to do it in a small way.  Both ways of facing life are equally riddled with issues.  When we exclude God from our plans, we open ourselves up to failure that need not be there.  When we limit God by our lack of faith, we do not fully appreciate the magnificence of his love for us.

Paul reminds us that God CAN do anything - it is not that he has limitations that we don't see answers to our prayers - it may be that WE are limiting him in one form or another.  Wildest dreams - that is faith on overdrive!  There have been times when all other reports I have received on the outside tell me something is just not possible.  When I have had the faith to take that need to God, openly admitting that I am not sure how he will do it or that I completely believe it is possible, he has been free to act FULLY on my behalf.  

God works WITHIN us to accomplish the thing we desire.  He doesn't work WITHOUT us!  First, we have to be on the same page with him.  If we are ahead or behind, it makes it difficult for him to fulfill our "wildest dreams".  If we are not willing to acknowledge him IN the midst of our need, how will we be able to acknowledge him as the one who one who is at work meeting that need?  

Paul points out so aptly that God does his work within us, but not by pushing his way into our busy lives or by demanding his way.  He moves into where he is welcomed and he is free to act beyond our limited understanding or comprehension when he is welcomed with an open heart and yielded spirit.  

Anything - that is what Paul describes as God's capabilities on your behalf.  Absolutely anything you could imagine or ever dream possible.  What are you believing God for today?  Healing of your weary emotions?  Deliverance from some lingering habit?  Restoration of a relationship?  NOTHING is impossible with God - ANYTHING is possible when he is given the opportunity to move on our behalf.  Begin to trust him with your wildest imaginations - then stand back and see how he begins to move in your life.  It will amaze you what God can do in and through a yielded life!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Equipped beyond natural abilities

7-8This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.  (Eph. 3:7-8)

Paul seemed like quite a well-educated, very capable guy when you looked him at from the outside.  Yet, he takes moments like this in the letter to the church at Ephesus to explain his own personal struggle with feeling "ill-prepared" for what God is calling him to do.  He transitions in this chapter to telling us what he recognizes as his calling on his life - to help people understand and respond to the message of salvation.  It was this message that he spent the remainder of his years attempting to get out to as many people as possible, establishing them in the truth that God has made a way for all people to have access to the atoning sacrifice of his dear Son, Jesus.

Paul's calling was illustrated in scripture as what I'd label "pretty doggone dramatic".  He was encountered along the Damascus road by a light so bright that he falls to the ground.  He had been about the work of killing off and torturing men and women who professed belief in Jesus.  Now, he was encountered by the very light he was attempting to extinguish.  The voice of God actually spoke to him from within the light - I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.  Hmmm....okay, I'd probably think this was pretty clear proof that the one I thought was some guy just calling himself the Son of God was perhaps who he said he was!  Then he is told to go off into Damascus, where he has the opportunity to meet with a disciple named Ananias, all the while left blinded by the brightness of the light he had seen.  It is so amazing to me that the traveling companions of Saul of Tarsus (Paul) saw the same light, but they did not hear the voice.  They were left with their sight unimpaired, while Paul lost his for a period of time.  God is truly amazing!

So...when Paul says that this gift came to him as a "sheer surprise", he is not kidding!  There was absolutely nothing within him that even wanted to explore the possibility that Jesus was the true Messiah.  He was content to go along in his condition of heart that had him persecuting Christians.  But God had a different plan - an encounter of the "spiritual kind" from which he'd never be the same again.  Our conversion to Christ may not be as dramatic, as memorable, or with audible voice from within a bright light - but it was just as real, just as transforming, and just as much of a surprise as was his.  When we least expected God to reach down into our lives with his grace and his forgiveness, he did.  Just that simple!  Along with that grace came his provision.  A provision for all we'd need to both walk out our own salvation day by day in the grace he provides, but also the provision to share the gospel message, making it plain to those who need to hear it.

You may say that you are not called to be a "Paul" to the world.  That is probably quite true - but you are called to be faithful to bring the message of hope to those you encounter in your walk of life.  Paul says he was not equipped - it was God that did the equipping for him - the same God that equips us with all we need to be messengers of his grace to a lost world.  The very next time you feel "ill-equipped" for the work you are called to do - don't sweat it, but look up.  God is already at work equipping you in just the way he plans to use you!  We tend to focus on the natural abilities - as did Paul - but God focuses on the willingness of heart that allows him to pour in all that we need (words, abilities, talents).  In his hands, a yielded messenger is more valuable than gold.  Don't focus on what you don't have - focus on what God can and will provide when your heart is yielded to his equipping.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cistern or well?

 5-7The whole point of what we're urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven't the remotest idea of what they're holding forth with such imposing eloquence.   8-11It's true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It's obvious, isn't it, that the law code isn't primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I've been put in charge of by this great God.  (I Tim. 1:5-11)

In our passage this morning, you will see that Paul opens his letter to Timothy, a young man of God, called to work with the church at Ephesus, with a reminder that love is to be at the core of the work he is doing.  He describes this love as uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith - open to God.  It is quite plain to us that love that is guided by self-interest is really not love at all - it is lust.  Lust does not always have to have a sexual connotation - it is that drive or desire within us that "makes" us pursue a certain course of action or behavior.  Lust is at the center of self-directed pursuits and Paul reminds Timothy that a body of believers cannot grow well if the only focus that its members have is what pleases them, what satisfies their hunger, etc.  We must be "other minded" in our focus.  

Paul warns Timothy that a life that maintains a focus on what benefits "self" soon drifts off into activities that are neither Christ-like nor exemplary of the love God has bestowed on each of us.  He reminds us that it is easy to drift into the pattern of gossiping about others, holding ourselves up as self-proclaimed religious experts and imposing our own expectations for performance on those around us when we have not placed Christ at the center of our lives.  Eventually, if we pursue this self-centered pattern of life long enough, we will begin to "run roughshod" over God and all those in our path.

No wonder Paul opens his letter to Timothy, a young and impressionable believer called to help a new church grow in the grace of God, with such a heart-searching warning to consistently examine our heart-focus.  If heart-focus is off, the entire course of action we take is headed in that direction.  Ever attend a church where a bunch of people are "in attendance" but there just seems to be a lack of clarity about what God is doing in the midst of that congregation?  The parking lot may be filled, giving the outward appearance that it is a vibrant and growing body of believers, but the pews are filled with individuals who are not on the same page!  When that occurs, the church fails to reach its community as it should.  

The responsibility for heart-focus is not the pastor of the church - yes, he guides or leads by example, but he has no control over our individual hearts.  Only the individual believer has that control - if we neglect to examine our own heart-focus on a consistent basis, we may be contributing to the lack of effectiveness of our own local body of believers.  If we really begin to examine our heart-motivations in the actions we take, the words we speak, and even the thoughts that demand our attention, we may just find that we are living with some "contamination" in our love-life with Jesus.  His desire is that we allow him to free us of that contamination and to purify our heart motives.  In so doing, we become wells of life instead of cisterns of disease.  Let God examine your heart today for any sign of contamination - his love is just dying to show through to a hurting world all around you!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peel back the wrapper

13 Ignore the Word and suffer; honor God's commands and grow rich. (Proverbs 13:13)

Our text this morning offers a pretty somber warning - ignore the Word and you will certainly suffer!  It also offers a pretty awesome reminder - honor God's commands and you will grow rich!  Okay, don't get me wrong, study of God's Word is not a "get rich quick" scheme!  It is actually a pretty orderly, sequential growth process that has many rewards for the one who takes the time to make the investment into taking it in.

Later in this same chapter, the writer tells us that an appetite for good brings much satisfaction.  We have many ways of satisfying the appetite we have.  If we want chocolate, we purchase a chocolate bar, peel back the wrapper and dig in.  If we want a salty snack, we may rip open a bag of peanuts and chow down. The Word of God is often referred to as that which satisfies the cravings, or longings, of our soul.  If we want some good "soul food", we need to just open the cover and dig in!

When we neglect, or disregard, what is given to us for our spiritual health and well-being, we soon become "starved" for that which our spirit literally craves.  There is a "death" or spiritual "anemia" that occurs when we neglect to have a regular and consistent "intake" of the Word.  That is why the writer of Proverbs tells us we will suffer if we ignore it!  What is fed grows - what is neglected dies.  We sometimes find ourselves complaining, "I am just not growing."  Well, are we "feeding" on the right stuff?

A short verse within this same Proverb tells us that the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life with a warning to stop drinking from "tainted" wells.  What we allow into our minds affects our spirit.  When we are filling our minds with a consistent intake of the Word, we are building our spirits and allowing the Word to reshape us.  When we are negligent in regular intake of the Word, we are "shaped" by whatever we are allowing as intake in its place.

We need to learn to be as wise in our spiritual "food" intake as we are in our natural intake.  We cannot consistently eat "junk" food and expect to look like beauty queens!  We need a balance - not huge portions, just consistent intake.  Let's learn to take God's Word in on a regular basis, shall we?  It is time to "peel back the wrapper" on what will really satisfy our hungry souls.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A plain and simple life

 7 A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life. (Proverbs 13:7)

The writer of Proverbs take some time throughout the book to remind us of the importance of living genuinely - showing our "real colors" vs. living with a "facade" in place.  This is another of those verses that reminds us of the importance of not living a life that others would look upon and see only a pretense of happiness.  Too many times, it is easy to hide behind what we want to portray to the world vs. being our real selves.  This is because we interpret ourselves as unworthy of public display, not of value - so we create a facade to hide behind.  This is a very dangerous place to be - live there long enough and you will forget what exists behind the facade!

We are reminded that a life that is pretentious (pretend, false, make-believe) is really an empty life.  Empty lives do not contain what one would expect to find when examining those lives closely.  Look upon an individual that has become skilled at the use of their "facade" of being spiritually and emotionally "all together" and you will usually find somebody as messed up as the rest of us!  They have just become quite skilled of hiding behind the facade - all the while enduring their emptiness hidden deep within.  God has placed us in the Body of Christ - the local church - to protect us from living empty, hidden lives.  It is there that we are to be open, vulnerable, and real.  Yet, so many Christians today find themselves unable to truly be who they are, even in church.  Why?

Perhaps it is because society teaches us that it is best to "create an image", placing that on display for all to see.  Or maybe we just don't feel comfortable being "real" with anyone because any time we have tried to be real in the past, we have been hurt or rejected.  Regardless of the reasons for the pretense we display, it keeps us from growing as we really need to mature.  It is not until the facade is removed - the pretenses are destroyed - that we are free to emerge as the person God created us to be.

The writer reminds us that a plain and simple life is a full life.  If you are feeling like your life is pretty empty most of the time, you might ask yourself if you have been living behind some pretenses - displaying what is really keeping you in your place of emptiness.  I am always impressed with an honest person - one who is willing to be who they really are - despite the flaws and imperfections of their character.  When I see this kind of genuineness, I know that individual is well on the road to developing some tremendous spiritual character traits!  

A plain life is marked by several things:

  • No pretense - not needing to embellish the reality of what is hidden just beneath the surface.  We all have pasts - each of us has been affected by them in different ways.  We all have formed opinions of how that past makes us "appear" and have become skilled at covering up what we don't appreciate or fear exposing.  God is asking us to expose it to him first, allowing him to gently turn the negative effect of our past into something in which he can display his glory and grace.  In turn, he asks us to willingly display our "true self" to others - revealing his glory and grace for others who so desperately need to see how much he is capable of doing when given the access.
  • Humble appreciation of God's grace - not an elaborate display of what we think that grace should look like in our lives - but the simple, unpretentious display of his love through us.  When we are free to be who he has created us to be, his love becomes so evident in us that others are drawn to that love like bugs to a light!  It has an "attracting" force that no spiritual facade could ever produce.
The next time you think your life is too plain or too simple - finding yourself tempted to mount some facade of pretense - STOP!  The "real you" is the one God wants on display - it is the one that brings honor to his name and draws the weary outcast to his feet.  It is not a "make over" we need - it is just a simple display of his grace that "makes over" what we spend so much time "concealing over".  Be real!  Really!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Beach Front Property For Sale

3 You can't find firm footing in a swamp, but life rooted in God stands firm. (Proverbs 12:3)

In the swamp are many obstacles that impact our ability to be on the footing that allows for solid growth.  This morning, I'd like to look at just a couple of common obstacles found in a swamp and link them to some possible "spiritual" applications to our daily walk.

A swamp is made up of water, reeds, muddy bogs, and lots of pesky critters.  The water of the swamp is not known for its clarity or purity.  In fact, it is known for the murkiness.  Within the murky waters are all kinds of "critters" that science has come to term as "leeches".  These little wiggly creatures serve a purpose - to suck the very life out of that which they attach to!  The swamp is full of those things that exist to suck life from those who wander into the murky waters - all too often unaware of what is just below the surface.  Those leeching critters are upon us faster than we know and are already hard at work long before we realize their attachment.  It is important to note that we cannot be continuously immersed in the murky waters and not be affected by what is contained in their murkiness.  We cannot expect to live pure lives (righteous lives) if we continually surround ourselves with the murkiness of sinful relationships, sinful practices, etc.

Within the waters of the swamp are all kinds of outgrowths - reeds that sway gently in the winds and provide shelter for birds looking to nest their young.  Although they form a welcoming shelter to some - providing a temporary place of refuge - they also have an ominous side to their existence.  The reeds of a swamp can make progress difficult, preventing one traveling the swamp from getting through their masses, or hiding terrorizing swamp creatures within their gently moving leaves.  They look good, but hold some pretty terrible consequences.  They can have an entangling effect for some who enter, making them easy prey.  They blow in the wind, but they are sharp on the edges - one wrong move and you can realize a sharp gash that produces much pain.  If we get entangled in them, movement may be limited, responses dulled and the opportunity for our endangerment increased.  

The muddy bottom of the swamp is the most telling feature of the swamp.  It is filled with all manner of silt, fallen trees, rocks, uncertain drop offs, and bottom-crawling beasts that are just waiting for their prey.  Muddy footing provides no soundness for your movement - it is easy to get "stuck" in place where the footing is not sure.  Silt gets easily stirred up with any kind of movement, making the already murky waters of the swamp even murkier.  Vision becomes impossible.  Tree limbs that have fallen into the recesses of the swamp act as hidden obstacles, just waiting to trip up the one who is unaware of their presence.  Uncertain depths and unexplored recesses make and movement risky at best.  

The writer of Proverbs reminds us that we cannot find firm footing in a swamp - in other words, we cannot expect to live in the midst of compromising stuff and not be affected by it.  David wrote in one of the first Psalms that God leads us by still waters - refreshing us there.  Waters that are not murky, not riddled with things that entangle and trip us up.  Waters that refresh us instead of sucking the life from us.  What waters do you find yourself navigating today?  If they are a little murky, you might ask if you have drifted into some swamp land!  Remember, Satan is a great con artist.  He is like the one who promises to sell us beach front property in the Everglades!  

Saturday, July 24, 2010

God's a great teacher

 1 If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it— how shortsighted to refuse correction!  (Proverbs 12:1)

I sometimes take a little heat from my friends because I like to learn new things.  I have a curious mind that is only satisfied when I have discovered a new fact - like taking something apart to see how it works, or discovering the name of a bug that crawls out of a hole in my back yard.  The writer of Proverbs says that if we are the kind of people that love learning, then we will also love the discipline that goes with it.  Most of us could say that we are open to learning new things, but does discipline REALLY have to be part of it?!?

The process of learning requires that we take in knowledge or a new skill through the process of being instructed or in self-study.  We go through a process of learning - it is systematic.  Learning is seldom "instantaneous", although it can be.  I remember being rear-ended when I was quite young.  Since that time, I can honestly say that I don't get behind the wheel without buckling up.  That was one of those "instantaneous" learning moments!  The injuries of the accident "convinced" me to use my seat belt.  This learning opportunity would probably equate to a lot of reminders about how to protect yourself in an accident from serious injury - like those bells that ding when you get in, turn on the ignition, and the flashing light that attempt to make you compliant with wearing your seat belt.  So, could we say it was "instantaneous" - not really.  I had been exposed to the knowledge part a lot earlier, but chose to not apply what I knew to be true until I was injured.

It amazes me to know that this is also how we sometimes approach the learning we experience in our spiritual walk.  We get repeated exposure to the opportunity to learn - but somehow, we don't take it seriously until we are in the midst of a really painful situation!  We call this type of learning "behavior modification" - we engage in a behavior, it produces an "ill effect", and we recoil when we experience the effect.  Do this long enough and you will eventually recoil from the very thought of even engaging in that behavior - your behavior becomes modified!  

God doesn't want us to have to experience "bad stuff" in order to "modify" our behavior, though.  He wants us to embrace the process of learning - willingly, enthusiastically, and with a trust in the one who is doing the teaching.  Learning is a process of first being able to take in the knowledge - having an open heart.  Then we must have open minds - being able to discover what truth he is revealing.  To this, he ads that we need to have "hearing" - this is a combination of both an open heart and an open mind.  It is this "hearing" that brings us to the place where we finally "know" the truth that is being revealed (like when I realized that my injuries could have been minimized had I been properly restrained).

Discipline is the type of training that corrects - it molds us or perfects our mental faculties enough that our moral character is affected by it.  The writer implies that we need to couple learning with discipline.  We could take that to mean that we need to be "disciplined" in our learning - and this would be one truth that we could adopt from this verse.  Yet, the meaning he has in mind is that learning becomes the most effective when it includes elements of disciplined correction, or the perfecting of those things that need to be changed in our character.  

The end of all teaching (as God sees it) is a greater awareness of just how much our "self" interferes with our character growth and our embracing of that which will finally deal with "self".  That means that if I truly love learning, I will whole-heartedly embrace the discipline or correction that comes along with it!  I was always disappointed when my teachers would return a paper to me with a grade that suggested I had not "learned" the materials.  Some students in the class would just accept that grade and go on getting that same grade throughout the entire semester.  That "grade" made me try harder - study more, get another viewpoint on the material presented, etc.  I guess that is why they gave the grade in the first place - to show us where we needed improvement.  

God doesn't use a "grading" system to show us where we need to embrace learning in our lives - but he does use the promptings of the Holy Spirit to show us where we are responding inappropriately, believing stuff that is dangerous to our moral development, or surrounding ourselves with things that will distract us from what is important.  We would do well to learn to appreciate the "discipline" of learning!  It provides an opportunity for our development that we'd never experience otherwise.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Receive and Experience

23Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves. (Phil. 4:23)

This verse is the salutation of Paul to the Philippian church.  He has instructed them in attitude of being content in all circumstances - good or bad, prosperous or in need.  The church had made a gift to him to support him in his ministry and he is gracious to thank them for their continuous support in the spread of the gospel.  He leaves them with these parting words - received and experience the amazing grace of Jesus.  It is more than just saying "Love, Paul" at the end of a letter.  It is a specific instruction of his hope for the people who love God.

Grace is often described as the unmerited favor of God.  Most of us can even quote that definition when asked what the grace of God is.  I think it carries a deeper meaning, though.  To understand God's grace, we must first know that it is freely given, even when we don't know we need it.  Yes, it is unmerited - but it is also often "unrealized" because we take such a long time coming around to the place that we recognize our need for the love of God to be expressed in our circumstance.  

Favor is an expression of love - the intense love of a father's heart for his dear children - even when their actions or attitudes don't express any sign of "deserving" that love.  We have a hard time understanding that concept because we link love to an action - if you do something "deserving" of the expression of my love, I reciprocate.  If your actions are "pushing away" my love, such as an action that reflects your anger toward me or your mistrust of me, I withhold my love.  God is exactly the opposite of that - he reaches out even more when we are pushing him away or withholding ourselves from him!

Grace carries with it the idea of the influence of God in our lives - operating through his Spirit to regenerate and strengthen us in our daily walk.  Without God's grace being renewed in our lives on a daily, moment-by-moment basis, none of us would be able to live this Christian life.  That is the idea of grace being given even when we don't realize we need it.  We act, think, respond - sometimes almost by rote or without real intention on our parts - all the while with God's grace in the background just waiting to "cover" our action, "change" our thinking, or "regenerate" our response.  

Paul reminds us that we are to both receive and experience God's grace.  To receive it means that we acknowledge our need for it.  To experience it means that in those times when it has been extended without us even asking, we embrace the results of that regenerating and strengthening he has provided. For grace to be fully apprehended, we must welcome it.  We need to have open hearts to respond to God's grace - sure, it is extended even before we realize our need for it - but God wants us to open up to a full experience of what he provides with each new expression of his grace.  

If you find yourself saying that you need some strength to make it through, or some regeneration of your passion, purpose, or pursuit in life - you are saying you are open to the grace of God being poured into your life afresh today.  You can equate God's grace to his love.  They are one and the same - his love reaches out before we realize our need.  His grace is renewed fresh every day. Our strength is as solid as the God of the universe.  Our hope is as deep as the endlessness of his grace!  Receive and experience the grace of God afresh today - deep within your heart.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chew on this

8-9Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.  (Phil. 4:8-9)

Yesterday, we looked a little at the corrosive power of fretful thinking - how it wears us down and brings us into a place of paralysis in our faith.  Paul goes on in this same chapter to explain the things we are supposed to be thinking on.  In the realm of helping people make change a reality in their lives, there is a concept of the "put off - put on" dynamic.  You have to put off a bad or less desirable habit, and in turn, you put on a better one.  You can pretty well follow this concept throughout Scripture.  When God tells us to have no other gods before him, he also says to honor him with our entire hearts, minds and souls.  When we are told to stop stealing, there is the follow-up command to get a job. The idea is that we MUST replace one behavior with another or there will be a "gap" that is open to being filled - if not purposefully, then by whatever comes along that we embrace with any actual thinking!

Paul tells us to do two things here - fill our minds and then meditate on what we put in there.  Our minds are amazing "tools" - they can be used to do such tremendous things.  With the mind, we can begin the visionary work of creating or inventing.  With the mind, we can think through a scenario, step-by-step, until we see what we envisioned take hold.  It can be like a "steal trap" or a "leaky sieve".  When someone has an uncanny ability to remember all kinds of facts or details, we say they have a mind like a steal trap.  If the opposite occurs, and the individual cannot seem to recall facts, we say they have a mind like a leaky sieve.  It always amazes me to see the sports enthusiast that can recount the entire career of some ball player, complete with every stat of their season right on the tip of their tongue.  That same individual could be challenged to "hide the Word" in his heart and find it nearly impossible to recount chapter and verse!  What's up with that?

The mind is certainly an amazing component of who we are as human beings.  It controls every function in our body, every action of day, and every inaction, as well.  With it, we make choice, interpret input, and "feel" with what we call emotion.  It is our mind that gives us the ability to resist temptation, or plunge full force ahead into disaster.  That is why Paul spent the time telling us what to put into our mind.  In two short verses, he asks us to center our thought life on things that will build up, give a foundation, and provide a safe course for our Christian walk.  Let's briefly see what he poses as the type of thought we are to fill our minds with:

  • Things that are true - that which conforms to reality or fact.  He reminds us that our minds can indeed come up with any conclusion they want - we need to remember to center on what is fact.
  • Things that are noble - that which is of the highest quality.  The idea is that we should not accept mediocrity in our thought life - strive for the best.
  • Things that reputable - thinking on that which is worthy of honorable or is respectable is sometimes one of the most difficult parts of our thought.  We do a lot of damage in our thought life with both the reputation of others and of ourselves.  Paul reminds us that reputation, even God's, can be broken or built up in our minds.
  • Things that are authentic - genuine and supported by indisputable evidence.  Surprising, isn't it, just how much of our thought life could be discounted when put to the test!  We need to be cautious here - we can find almost any evidence to support our belief - therefore, we need to go the evidence that has "born up" throughout the ages (The Word of God).
  • Things that are compelling - this is the type of thought that drives an individual into action.  It has a powerful and irresistible effect on us.  It is important to see what is compelling us to move - does it line up with what God outlines in his Word?
  • Things that are gracious - the thought that immediately moves to compassion and mercy - not judgment and guilt.
  • The best, not the worst - how many times am I guilty of "jumping to conclusions" - immediately drifting into negative thought about a person, situation, or perceived threat?  I almost never go to the "best" first, but find myself having to "reign in" my thoughts, taking control of them through active choice, and "shifting" to the best way to see that person, situation, or threat.
  • The beautiful, not the ugly - okay, don't get me wrong here, but there is some pretty ugly stuff out there just waiting to get into our brains!  Whatever we allow in will have an affect.
  • Things to praise, not to curse - if we keep all the rest in perspective, it easy to allow things in that we want to speak well of vs. those things that we can only formulate negative talk about.
In concluding this instruction, Paul says we are not just to fill our minds with the right thoughts, but we are to meditate upon them.  Think of this as "chewing on them" - sometimes we'd do well to take a little more time in thought before we actually speak or act upon the thought we are entertaining! There is a place of safety in learning to meditate on the right stuff.  What are you "chewing on" today?  If it something that is really "chewing on you", then maybe it is time for some fresh thought about the situation.  Gotta love it!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tormenting thoughts

6-7Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.  (Phil. 4:6-7)

Paul experienced some unique trials in his time in service to the Lord.  He was jailed, brought before magistrates to give an account for his actions, engaged with others in ministry that struggled with each other, and he faced physical ailment in his body...just to name a few.  In the concluding chapter of Philippians, Paul directs his readers (and that includes us) to live a life that is free of fretting and worrying.  Instead of worrying - we are to pray.  Okay, you are already saying, "Easier said than done."  I am right there with you!  I have often struggled with the worrying long before I remember to turn it over to the Lord for his answer!

Paul directs us to not fret.  Fretting is a corrosive process - it affects us by gnawing away at the peace and faith we have.  The corroding effect of fretting on life's problems eventually eats a hole through our faith, exposing us to doubt, frustration, fear, etc.  Fretting behavior is quite easy to recognize - it is agitated.  I know when I am in a fretting state when I look at the inability to "settle down" and focus as I should.  

He also directs us not to worry.  Why does he use both terms here?  Don't they have a similar meaning?  Well, they are close, but worry carries with it the idea of causing yourself torment!  In other words, you are doing yourself in by the behavior you are engaging in!  Every move you make is like you are dragging yourself along, no energy or passion in the movement.  Your steps are tentative and guarded.  

Paul describes the "antidote" to corrosive thoughts/actions and self-tormenting activities as prayer.  Not just the "Dear God, please intervene..." kind of prayers, but a pouring out of your heart before God with the nitty-gritty stuff that has you "wigged out" in the first place.  It is an intense opening up of yourself to God in honest exposure of the things that acting as a corrosive influence in your thought life.  In so doing, Paul describes an eventual "washing away" of the corrosiveness and a refreshing peace settling down in place of that corrosive thought pattern or activity we had previously been involved in.

Christ displacing worry at the center of our lives - amazing thought!  Don't lose sight of what Paul is saying here.  He says when worry or fretting get a foothold, Christ is displaced from the center of our lives - he becomes a second thought, not our first.  When we are honest about our struggles, we are asking Christ to come back to "center" in our lives - refocusing us on the one who IS peace.  

So, the next time you find yourself a little agitated on the inside or in a place of self-torment, turn your focus toward "center" again.  As long as we keep Christ there, the corrosiveness of whatever life is dishing out will be lessened and the abundance of his grace will deliver us from the self-torment of our own fickle thoughts.  Gotta love it!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Contagious love

The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love – love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.  Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip.  They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence.  It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say.  It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever!  They are contemptuous of this great message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God. (I Tim. 1:5-11)

Paul earnestly desires that Timothy develop into a strong leader in the church, but he also knows the tendency that we have in the natural sense to want to “rise to the top” and become the center of attention.  It is a natural outcome of fame or success to feel a little bit puffed up – feeling good about the accomplishments you see around you.  Paul’s main emphasis to Timothy is to live in such a way that self is not allowed to contaminate the message that is spoken in both the word we use and the actions that we display.  This is a sign of a good leader – one who is able to bring forth the vision / message and then not get puffed up in pride when the message begins to take its course.  Paul knows that the message of hope that is found in Christ will only be effective when the seeker sees true love that is free of contamination (no self interest; no secret agenda; no self-serving motive). 

We have a difficult time understanding what uncontaminated love really looks like because we have so frequently seen just the opposite – those seeking their own way, directing the outcome of a relationship so they have their needs met.  Paul knows that the hungry need to find food.  Religious leaders need to be equipped to feed those they have been given access to in their sphere of influence.  

It is a dangerous thing to offer the hope of the message of Christ without fully recognizing its value in your own life.  Living in such a way so that the freedom we have in Christ is always visible is important for pointing hungry souls to Christ.  The leader will do well to keep in mind that the message they are commissioned to carry forward is spoken best in the daily actions of life.  

You may say, "Hey, I am not a this is not applicable for me."  I want to assure you that in some capacity in your life, you lead others.  It may not be a "formal station" in life, but you do have influence over others regardless of your station.  As leaders, both in and out of the church, we need not only be cognizant of the message we bring forth, but how we say it, who we say it to, and the timing in which the message is brought forth.  It is more than an eloquent presentation or perfect dissection of a passage of scripture we may have come across in our daily study.  It is the reality of message lived out in selfless love toward those who are hurting, in need of deliverance and hope for their lives.

Remember, we point more people to Christ by our example than by our words.  A "life open to God" is a contagious life - if nothing else, people get curious to know what it is that makes us tick!  So, "tick" loudly for Jesus!  Live out "contagious love" that is uncontaminated.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A word about words

12And since you know that he cares, let your language show it. Don't add words like "I swear to God" to your own words. Don't show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can't be used against you.  (James 5:12)

I can honestly say that I have read this verse many times and simply glossed over some of the meaning contained within.  In this chapter, James concludes that we stop complaining about the things we are going through.  He reminds us of the Prophets of old who put up with all kinds of abuse from the people they were called to serve.  Even Job is brought into the picture as one who "stayed the course" and how God "brought it all together for him in the end".  All this summed up with "God cares, really cares" about what happens in our life.  To that, he adds the verse we see above.  

Since we know God cares, we are to let our very words reveal that caring.  If we do so, we don't need to add to our words - like when we say, "I swear to God".  Our "yes" means yes and our "no" means no - plain and simple.  Okay, I got that a long time ago, but it was the next section that I missed.  We are showing impatience with God's timing when we are making "oaths" to hurry God along.  In other words, when we are bargaining with God.  I have made some of these "promises" with God, hoping to see him change the circumstances in just some outstanding way or in a timing completely outside of his plan.  "If you will just do this God, then I will..."  Aha!  I guess you've done it, too!

James simply says - don't do it!  You cannot rush God and you show your impatience when you do.  James goes on in this chapter to describe what we need to do in tough situations.  The first thing is to pray!  Yep, plain and simple - pray.  If we hurt, if we feel sick - pray.  When do we get ourselves into the type of situations that we actually say words like, "If you will just do this God, then I will..."?  It is usually when we are hurting or are ill.  We bargain with God in these times with the "I will..." and "I will never..." because we want God to get us out of what we are in - and pronto.  

In fact, we'd do well in the circumstance to ask God what it is we can learn right where we find ourselves.  We could be in the circumstance by our own doing, or perhaps with a little help from others - regardless of "how" we got there - there is a lesson hidden for our uncovering and a blessing there for our taking.  So, the next time I go asking God to move ahead of his timing or to get me out of something I have managed to get myself into, I need to remember this verse.  He's there already - I just need to discover him.  I can ask him to intervene, but I don't bargain with him.  He knows perfectly well that I will never be able to keep my word anyway!  I mean well when I promise things to God, but I am fallible.  I plan to do one thing - but I soon wander off course when given the chance.  

James says that we are to take a lesson from those who've gone before - the Prophets and Job are presented as the examples here.  The Prophets stood in the face of much rejection - what lesson can I learn from them about how to deal with rejection, how to stand strong in the midst of hard hearts?  Job lost it all -  right down to the last bit of dignity he had while sitting on a pile of rubbish and covered in huge, weeping sores.  What lesson can I learn about suffering from Job - how do I learn to deal with loss of family, position, or even the loyalty of friends?  

One thing I need to learn is that my words reflect the depth and stability of my faith.  If I say one thing and do another - my words are not backed up in my actions.  If I say I trust God and then concoct a plan to outwit his timing or cover up my failure - do I really trust him as I should?  Definitely not.  It is time that the words we speak reflect that absolute trust we have in our heavenly Father.  Let our "yes" be yes and our "no" be no - plain and simple.  God is not to be bargained with - his timing is perfect - even when we don't see the tree for the forest!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

No more sentimental dribble

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.  Learn to love appropriately.  You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.  Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:9-11)

Paul explains the purpose of his prayers – that our love may flourish – not just be evident, but be overwhelmingly, undeniably present in all our actions, speech, and emotion.  Flourishing love is contagious love.  Flourishing love is an active love – producing byproducts of its action in the lives of those it touches.  This type of love is not in word only, but is a daily lived, sacrificial, unconditional reaching out of our lives for the benefit and well-being of others.  Paul encourages the believer to not only love, but to do it well.  How many of us can truly say that we have learned to love well?  We may be able to say that we have loved much, but loving well is a different story. 

The guidance of Paul, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, is to learn to love appropriately – using specific “tests” of our motives, actions, and thought-life to guard us against loving in any other manner.  It is remarkable to note that Paul does not describe the love of a believer coming from our emotions – he directs us to use our “head” or minds to test this love.  A person given to simple reliance on the feelings of the heart (emotions) is easily swayed, often discouraged, and frequently misdirected in motive.  

Paul emphasizes the importance of running our emotions through a “filter” – our minds.  As we grow in Christ, our minds become daily storehouses of new thought, changed attitudes, and exchanged values.  It is that renewed mind that Paul recommends we use as a “filter” to guide our emotions.  He is not saying that we can understand all that love is, but that we can exercise maturity in the display of our love when we are conscious of our actions, sensitive to the instability of our emotions, and conscientious to guard both.  It is this type of life that becomes an attractive “billboard” of God’s grace – standing as examples of the impact of God on a sensitive heart. 

Paul’s aim in praying for the believers is to see them grow in Christ in such a way that there is no denying the work of grace in their lives.  There is no better way to evidence God’s grace than to display it in unconditional, sacrificial love for others.  This type of love is not sentimental dribble, nor is it calculated, manipulative action aimed at a certain effect.  It is an outpouring of the Spirit in our daily choices, guiding our daily actions, and creating the image of Christ deep in our core.  This image is reproduced in our action – action that exemplifies the sacrificial love of our Savior.  

Yes, love has an emotional aspect, but the impact of love is felt in its action, not in its emotion.  Paul invites each of us to focus more on the actions of love and less on the sentiment of love that we might be instruments of God’s grace reaching out to those he has placed in our paths.  Let us love well – displaying the attractiveness of God to all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Right there beside you

6 "Be strong. Take courage. Don't be intimidated. Don't give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He's right there with you. He won't let you down; he won't leave you."  (Deut. 31:6)

Moses is now 120 years old as he gives this message from the Lord to the nation of Israel.  He has a clear understanding that the nation stands at the very threshold of what God has planned for them - the Promised Land.  It is now very clear to him that he will not cross over Jordan into the Promised Land with them - Joshua will lead them into the promise.  Joshua's name even carries significant meaning as we look at him as the leader of the Israelites as they enter the land.  His name means, "Jehovah is salvation."  What better guide could they have?

As Moses speaks with Israel, and to Joshua as the next leader of the nation's progress into Canaan, he speaks this message from God.  Be strong - take courage - don't be intimidated - don't give your enemies a second thought.  Wow!  If I was stepping up into a position of leadership, facing obstacles the size of giants, I'd want someone speaking these words over my life, wouldn't you?

Be strong - strength comes in many forms.  I don't think God's words to Joshua, and the nation of Israel, were simply focused on physical strength.  I think God knew that Israel would need the mental strength to face their enemies, as well.  More than anything, they were to be a nation that possessed great moral power. They were to be an example of the God they served to a world that had no understanding of who God really is.  They were to be effective in their entry and their possession of the land not because they were a great force of armed men, but because their God went before them as the might and power they'd need regardless the battle they faced.  That is how our God imparts strength in our lives - exactly what we need, when we need it.

Take courage - because they knew in whom their strength was found, they could stand in face of difficulty, danger, or pain without fear.  It is not by accident that he first charge given to Israel was to be strong.  When we know where our strength is rooted, we can easily stand fearless in the midst of the battle.  We can possess a boldness that otherwise would not be available within our own strength.  Look at the action word here - take.  Take courage - don't wait for it to somehow bubble up within, but step out in the boldness of faith that is offered to you.

Don't be intimidated - in other words, don't be stopped in your forward action by the things you see, hear, or experience.  They are not the things you need to fear - your God goes before you.  Timidity is not to be a pattern in our lives.  We are to be a bold people - God even tells us to come boldly into his presence, laying all our burdens at his feet.  Israel was being reminded that they were to be a bold display of the power of a righteous God to the nations before them.  Too many times as we face an obstacle, we timidly approach it.  God says to Joshua - don't be intimidated by what you see - it is NOT reality.  We see things through the eyes of "impossibility" - God sees only the possibility of his power.

When we know in whom we find our strength, relying on his power to make us to stand strong, we place fear in its right place.  Today, we need to remember that the enemy of our soul wants us to be intimidated by his puny attempts to put us down, disable our power, and to focus our thoughts on what seems impossible.  Let's show him who's really boss, shall we?  Be strong.  Take courage.  Side-step all those intimidating tactics of the enemy of your soul.  Don't give your enemy a second thought!  He's already been defeated.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What tools are in your box?

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God.  Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer.  I find myself praying for you with a glad heart.  I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present.  There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.  (Philippians 1:3-6)

It is an exciting thing to know that God has placed leaders, mentors, and caring relationships in our lives that are moved to prayerful consideration of us as we cross their minds.  God can do much with a soul that is yielded to his purposes – especially in the support of his children.  The “trigger” to pray is born out of the newness of heart that God places within us at the time of our salvation.  A trigger is something that initiates a process or response.  God places a desire for his people deep into our hearts as we begin to grow in his graces – this desire moves upon us to uphold those that he has surrounded us with. 

Paul’s joyous prayer for the Philippians was based on both their continued steadfastness in the faith, and the fact that they stood alongside Paul in his support.  Such is the support of the believer – God placing individuals in our lives that will boldly take us before the throne of God.  Our daily walk is affected by the many prayers of those who stand as a supporting structure in our lives – oftentimes unnoticed, perhaps even unknown to us. 

God wants to complete the work that he began in each of us at the time we welcomed Christ into our hearts.  This work is a two-fold work, with the first being fully accomplished by the work of the cross, and the second being a process of life-altering, character-transforming work that is walked out in our lives daily.  No other thing is more important to God than our growth and maturity.  His focus is one of producing the fruit of our new relationship with him – fruit that evidences his grace, love, and compassion for a lost generation.  Sometimes, fruit seems to evade us – change is not as quickly evident in our lives as we would desire. 

It is important to keep perspective as we walk daily in our newness of life.  We are changed incrementally – changed by the blood of Christ, God’s grace, and his daily mercies in our lives.  The believers God surrounds us with in our local church family, those we encounter in mentoring relationships, as well as those who speak into our lives at those critical moments are strategically placed in our lives to assist in the process of completing the work within us that God began at our point of welcoming him into our lives.  There should be no doubt in our minds that the very thing God begins, he also provides a means for the successful and undeniable completion of that work.  

Whenever we are tempted to get down on ourselves because our progress is slow, or the "same old" sins just seem to be coming around again and again - it is time to reach out to our "family" in Christ.  Their support is often the deciding factor in the success of our ability to overcome those all too familiar sinful patterns.  The family of God is like a tool in a well-equipped tool box.  If we never pull the tool out to use it, it nothing more to us than a something we look fondly at and are proud to have in our box.  If we lay hold of it and use it as it is fashioned to be used, the results can be astronomical!  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

God will outdo himself

6-7 God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children's hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live. God, your God, will put all these curses on your enemies who hated you and were out to get you.  8-9 And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I'm commanding you today. God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you: you'll have babies, get calves, grow crops, and enjoy an all-around good life. Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors.  10 But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.  11-14 This commandment that I'm commanding you today isn't too much for you, it's not out of your reach. It's not on a high mountain—you don't have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it's not across the ocean—you don't have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now—as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! (Deut. 30:6-14)

In my morning devotions today, I felt moved to return to the Book of Deuteronomy.  I wanted to bring the entire chapter before you this morning, but I will summarize some of it for you instead.  The opening verses indicate the conditions God sets before Israel related to their wandering and wayward hearts.  He has set them up to enter the promised land of Canaan, establish them as a strong nation, but more importantly, he has established them as HIS possession (a holy nation).  Yet, he tells them that he knows they will wander away in their heart-devotion to him AND that he has already made a way back for them!  He lays out the conditions for restoration - something we can all relate to in some form or another.  We have ALL wandered in our heart-devotion at one time or another and can benefit from understanding how God defines the "way back". 

The opening verses indicate that our return is conditioned on heeding, or paying attention, to the things that become evidenced in our lives.  For Israel, it was the blessings and curses that God proclaimed in his Word - if they did right, they'd enjoy blessing; if they pursued wrong purposes, they'd experience curses upon their nation.  Really, in the simplest terms, God is saying that we need to "tune into" our lives a little better, allowing the Holy Spirit to expose our motivations, our heart attitudes, and then weigh them against what God defines for us in his Word as "righteousness".  If we find ourselves falling away from the "standards" he defines there, then it is time to make an about-face and come back to center again.  The most amazing part of the first 5 verses of this chapter is the statement, "No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there..."  That should squelch all doubt we have in our minds that we could ever drift away from God unnoticed by his watchful eye, or unreachable by his caring hand.

Now, consider the above passage in context of what I have just shared with you - WHEN we drift (and not IF we drift), God is a restoring God.  When we recognize our condition, respond to the grace God is extending, and take the action to return, look at the actions God takes on our behalf:
  • He brings us back - it is not OUR efforts that get us "back on track" in our walk, but his!
  • He removes the calloused parts of our heart - freeing us again to love God with our entire heart.  Think about a callous for just a moment - it is hard, unsightly, and abrasive to everything it touches.  It is also pretty impenetrable.  If a "physical" callous was around our heart muscle, the heart would be so restricted that the normal and regular beating of that heart would be impossible.  God is the one to remove those callouses of our heart - removing our "restriction" in worship of him.
  • He places us in the very circumstances where we can make a new start - dealing on our behalf with our enemy (our own lust, our immense pride, the devil himself).  Our part is to listen obediently - callouses removed giving us freedom to "beat again" in unison with is heart.
  • He will outdo himself - in making things go well with us!  He blesses us over and over again - outdoing all we could ever imagine about his grace, his love or his ability on our behalf.  
  • He will ENJOY us - it absolutely amazes me that God could ENJOY me!  Sometimes, I don't bring much joy to myself - how could I ever bring joy to him.  Yet, he says we will become a thing of enjoyment to him.  
Our part is to hold nothing back - no half-hearted attempts at obedience.  Oh, don't get me wrong here - God knows we will slip up from time to time.  He also knows he will give us grace to get up again and move on.  It is the heart attitude he is focused on here - one of commitment, dedication, and entirety in our responsiveness.  If you have ever found yourself moving at a speed of 45 mph down a busy surface street, approaching the intersection, and suddenly the light turns from green to amber, you make a split-second decision to screech to a stop and possibly have a multi-car pile-up, or plunge on through the intersection in spite of that amber light.  If you decide to do the latter, we say that you are "committed" due to the speed of your vehicle, the traffic coming at a face pace behind you, etc.  Commitment describes a determination that drives us forward, calculating the risks, and then acting.  That is what God expects of us - make a commitment - allow it to drive us forward despite what we see may be the risks.  When we do, he stands ready to restore us.

His word to us is to "come back".  His action on our behalf is to "welcome us back".  His blessing to us is in coming back is to "take back" what we have lost and restore it to us completely.  Don't get bogged down in the fact that you may have wandered - listen obediently to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, respond with an open heart, and come on back!