Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Blacklisted - NOT!

1 God, who gets invited to dinner at your place?  How do we get on your guest list?  2 "Walk straight, act right, tell the truth.  3-4 "Don't hurt your friend, don't blame your neighbor; despise the despicable.  5 "Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe.  "You'll never get blacklisted if you live like this."  (Psalm 15)

David is an amazing guy - totally open with God in his communication of things he wants to really understand well.  As he takes pen to paper to record what God has showed him about always being welcomed into the presence of a holy God, I find it amazing how "free" he is in his communication with God.  He doesn't have a lot of preconceived pretense in his "discussions" with God - he is conversant with God in a casual, relaxed manner - allowing God to reveal things to him as he would see fit.

David asks a question that had probably been niggling in the back of his mind - how does someone get welcomed into your presence?  In turn, God gives him a list of fourteen characteristics that "stand out" in a man's character that makes that man "stand out" in God's eyes.  Let's briefly look at each:

  1. Walk straight - suggests that there is movement in your life - you are not stagnant in your walk.  The walk is characterized by straightness - it has directed purpose, an aim in mind.  That aim is God's best.
  2. Act right - when our walk is directed purposefully toward the things God desires of each of us, it becomes easier to have our action be affected by the very goal we are directed toward.  Action is always affected by the aim of our heart and mind - if it is rightly focused on God, we tend to act in accordance with his love and grace.
  3. Tell the truth - look at the progression here:  First, your aim in life needs to be Christ-centered.  Then, your choice of action is affected by the fact that Christ is at the center and self is no longer the main object of our satisfaction.  In turn, we see our speech affected.  The words we speak take on meaning and become life-giving.  That is what truth is - it is a well-spring of life to those that hear it.
  4. Don't hurt your friends - did you know that one of the easiest ways we hurt each other is in the carelessness of our words?  Our actions and our words can both hurt, but most people will be quick to tell you that words cut deeply.  Actions may be more easily forgiven, while words are not quickly forgotten.
  5. Don't blame your neighbor - in other words, own up to your behavior and don't shift blame to others.  It is easy to blame-shift, but takes a strength of character to say, "It was me; I had a part in that outcome."
  6. Despise the despicable - mean, vile things are to be despised.  It is easier to despise a "scumbag", but a little more challenging to despise the sin that motivates the man to act as he does.  It is never God's intent that we throw the sinner out with the sin - we are to embrace the sinner, and despise the sin.
  7. Keep your word even when it costs you - and it WILL cost you!  We use our words sometimes a little too freely and promise what we really did not intend to provide.  God asks us to only promise what we can provide.  Words like, "I will NEVER...." are rarely achievable.  We need to learn to be realistic in our commitments - both to God and to others.  In so doing, it is easier to keep our words.
  8. Make an honest living - not to imply that everyone needs to have a job out in the community, but we all have a contribution that is to be made to society, family, and local community.  Whatever that is, we need to engage in it with a focus on contributing what we are capable of contributing.
  9. Don't take a bribe - this really goes hand in hand with making an honest living.  Honesty and upright conduct should be the hallmarks of all we engage in.
You will never get "blacklisted" by God if your conduct is reflective of his action within your life.  Don't get me wrong - you don't need to be perfect - just moving in that direction!  God welcomes those with a right focus - the rest is an outcome of focus.  So, come right on into God's presence - he welcomes those who welcome his presence into their lives!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It so happened....NOT!

17 It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn't lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, "If the people encounter war, they'll change their minds and go back to Egypt." 18 So God led the people on the wilderness road, looping around to the Red Sea. The Israelites left Egypt in military formation.  (Ex. 13:17-18)

Should it amaze anyone that God knows exactly what we can handle?  Yet, it does!  Moses and the people if Israel are being led out of captivity to a wicked Pharoah in Egypt.  They are enjoying the leading of their Mighty God - going before them, preparing each step along the way.  We pick them up on the other side of the land of Pharoah's rule, beginning a journey of a lifetime.  That is what our walk with God is - a journey of a lifetime.

It so happened...not by accident, but exactly by God's purposes.  We often attribute things to fate that we rightly should be attributing to the hand of God and his divine plans in our lives.  I want you to see the tender care of our Mighty God.  He led them, not directly into the battle of their lifetime, but into a region that would allow them to become strong as a people and able to do battle.  God knew that if they faced the "enemy of their lifetime" right out of the gate, so to speak, they'd be crushed emotionally, damaged by their losses.

God does this with us, too.  He calls us out of bondage, places us exactly where we can grow strong for a while, building us up until we are prepared for the battle.  Then, and only then, do we face the enemy in conflict that would previously left us as "damaged goods".  We can rest assured that God brings us exactly the way we need to go - the way that will allow us to grow the strongest and become the people he desires us to be.

I am amazed that God prepares the various "battles" in our lives - allowing us to move out to "tackle" those enemies one by one in the perfect order of his divine timing.  When I attempt to tackle them ahead of his timing, I experience losses that are unnecessary!  When I tackle them in his order, according to his timing, and with his preparation, I enjoy innumerable blessings!  What a lesson to learn, huh?!?

So, the next time you wonder why you are heading the direction God seems to be leading you, you might do well to ask:  What do you want me to learn here, God?  He is likely preparing you for the journey ahead and the enemies you face along the way.  Settle in, learn from his guidance, and be prepared in the waiting! 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Me, God?

1 God said to Moses, "Now you'll see what I'll do to Pharaoh: With a strong hand he'll send them out free; with a strong hand he'll drive them out of his land." (Ex. 6:1)

You cannot resist the powerful hand of God on your life.  It is impossible to escape his plans.  Even the hardest of hearts can be tamed and softened under his mighty hand and by his awesome plans.  Moses was coming to realize that the God he served was the "El Shaddai" - the Lord Almighty.  Not just "one" of the gods of the land, but the mighty God of all - creator of all that exists. 

When you begin to come to a revelation of the one true God in your life, there is no denying his power or his ability.  God never forgetshis covenant with his people - there is a deep sense of his peace that should accompany that revelation in our lives.  Even slavery is not a thing God will leave us in for long - because he is a God of deliverance - he delights in bringing freedom from bondage in our personal walk.

God yearns to make us his own special people.  There is nothing selfish in this plan - because it is done solely from a heart of deep, passionate, adoring love. When God redeems, it is with his mighty acts and a great show of his power.  He WILL be known as the God of Redemption to all who have eyes to see and hearts to respond.

Bondage becomes an entrenching thing that robs us of our joy and our hope.  A hopeless peoople are a helpless people.  Where there is no hope, there is little chance that faith will be built because faith is built upon hope.  Hope that there is something more, something better, something 'real'. 

We can argue with God's plans all we want - but he only needs a yielded vessel to accomplish more than we could ever imagine possible.  Moses struggled with God's call on his life because he felt unworthy and incapable of accomplishing what God was asking him to accomplish.  That said, God is not looking for the most "competent" vessel for his purposes - he is looking for the most "yielded" vessel.  God knew that a "strong orator" (one who could make a good speech or win a debate hands down) would rely on his or her own strength and ability when facing the challenge of a wicked Pharoah.  Moses was in absolutely NO position to demand the release of every Israelite from the rule and reign of Pharoah - he was a servant himself, under the bondage of an ungodly dictator.  Yet God calls him to do just that - demand their release and then lead them out of their bondage into a land flowing with milk and honey (the land of promise).

What looked impossible in the hand of Moses was entirely plausable and possible in the hand of God.  When God gave Moses the plan to lead the people out of captivity, he did it with a specific directive - lead them out division by division.  I don't want us to miss that God does things orderly - there is a "master plan" that he follows.  God does not operate in a fit of chaos, but in an orderly manner. 

Moses asks one important question - "Why will Pharoah listen to me?"  The answer is simple - a child of God carries a mighty strong message!  We should never be intimidated to bring the message God has placed in our lives - it is always backed by the mighty hand of a MIGHTY God.  God blesses the obedient with his presence and power.  We can resist his call because of pride, fear or unbelief. 

When we learn to discount these negative influences, we learn to listen as we should.  No one man could lead Israel out of Egypt - BUT God could with the yielded vessel he would use to accomplish his purposes.  Let's learn to be yielded vessels in his hand!  It may amaze you what God will do through you!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Leadership Essentials

10 A good leader motivates,
   doesn't mislead, doesn't exploit. 
(Proverbs 16:10)

This proverb contains a wealth of advice for those who are fulfilling some role as a leader.  Now, before you stop reading, think about this - you are a leader in some capacity in your life.  You may not be the "boss" at work, or the "pastor" of the local church, but you do lead by the example you set, the vision you create, etc.  So, let's look at what the writer has to say about some characteristics of leadership that will make us better "leaders" in the world where we have influence.

The first aspect of leadership brought into focus is the ability to motivate others.  When we imply that someone is able to 'motivate' others, we are indicating that that individual possesses the traits that bring out the desired actions in those they are leading without coercing them and in a non-threatening manner.  There is an ability to provide some kind of incentive so that the outcome or action is desirable.

The writer also focuses on two characteristics that are NOT a part of a leader's traits - being misleading or exploiting others.  To mislead someone is to deliberately give some direction that will lead to ruinous results.  When we are exploiting someone, we are taking advantage of them, perhaps by requiring an action that will benefit US more than it will the other person.  

11 God cares about honesty in the workplace;
   your business is his business. 
(Proverbs 16:11)

The second trait of an excellent leader leads us into an examination of how we act in the workplace.  One thing I learned early in my career is that there are appointed leaders and then there are informal leaders.  Some get paid to lead, while others just possess significant influence over others, leading without the title.  A good leader exhibits honesty in their dealings - motivating others through that openness and transparency.  

We cannot skip over this reminder that our business is God's business - whether it is in the workplace, the home, etc.  Whatever we do or exemplify is what others will equate to God's reputation.  It is important to present God well through out actions and our speech.  

12 Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds;
   sound leadership has a moral foundation. 
(Proverbs 16:12)

A moral foundation gives us a good footing for the business of life that we conduct on a daily basis.  Even if we find ourselves as homemakers, not in pursuit of a career outside of the walls of our homes, we are still leaders who need a strong moral foundation.  A moral foundation in our lives encourages and supports right behavior and ethical choices in others.

The standard is set high and the leader is the one who sets that standard!  In what is modeled, we find that others will reproduce those qualities.  Verse 13 reminds us that a good leaders is able to cultivate others - through honest speech and advice that is solid.  Honesty is cultivated - even when failure is the topic of conversation - honesty must be cultivated.  A good leader makes it safe to share, even when the failure must be addressed.

Two other verses provide us with some significant character traits that we may want to consider (Proverbs 16:14-15).  We find that an intemperate leader has no moderation in satisfying his or her own appetites or passions - there is a habitual pursuit of things which fulfill selfish appetites.  Yet, a good-tempered leader invigorates lives like a spring of fresh water and sunshine on a warm day.  

The benefit of spring rain is its ability to refresh and nourish for growth.  A leader nourishes the growth of others by both the example they set and the advice they offer.  The advantage of sunshine after the tender rain is that of allowing seeds to grow to their full maturity.  As a leader, we either encourage growth or squelch it before it even has a solid root.

There you have it...leadership 101 in just a couple of short verses.  Amazing how God is able to cram so much into such a short passage.  People have written books on the principles of leadership - it took God just a couple of simple verses to say it all!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2 Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good;
   God probes for what is good. 
(Proverbs 16:2)

I find it amusing just how often we humans "settle" for the first thing that comes along - something or someone appears to be whatever we think will fulfill our immediate need or emptiness of spirit.  God's hope is that we will learn to be a little more discriminating in our choices.  His desire is that we would come to use the wisdom and direction of the Holy Spirit to move us toward what truly matters and away from what only holds value for the immediate moment.

Look closer at what our writer says:  We settle - God probes.  God searches deep into a matter, investigating all the possibilities prior to taking action.  Look at how many examples we are given in scripture of God's examining hearts, looking deep for ones who are committed to following hip.  He could "settle" for a run-of-the-mill half-hearted belief, but he probes deeper to find the commitment of heart that reveals a passion to be embraced by his love.

3 Put God in charge of your work,
   then what you've planned will take place. 

The writer goes on to remind us that God is not a forceful God when it comes to his leadership in our lives.  He asks us to put him in charge of our lives - even though he could quite easily take charge of us, manipulating us like puppets on a string.  God is looking for open access to our lives - a backstage pass, as it were.  When this type of access occurs, he is free to direct the situations and opportunities of our lives toward what will truly fulfill and truly bless.

It scares me to see how frequently we leave God out of our plans - trusting our own abilities or thinking rather than trusting in our Lord's oversight and protection.  It is a foolish and dangerous predicament to find ourselves in - we are almost assured failure when we take steps God has not directed for our lives.

In the ninth verse, the writer calls to mind that we may plan the way we want to live, but the very ability to live that life comes from one source alone - God.  Our plans, in the hands of God, can be ignited into purposeful and fulfilling work.  Apart from his Spirit's guiding force in our lives, plans fail.  

God is always giving us new ability beyond what we imagine possible.  He gives us the wherewithal to 'live out' what we imagine.  He also protects us from stepping out into things that are sure to bring us defeat.  Don't you think it is time to let God do some 'probing' in our lives, uncovering what he sees as impeding our progress?  When he does, we will be free to allow him to energize us with the plans he has for us.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ego-centric or God-centric

 32 An undisciplined, self-willed life is puny;
   an obedient, God-willed life is spacious. 
(Proverbs 15:32)

A disciplined life is characterized by self-control, orderly and prescribed conduct and exercise in things that produce solid moral character.  Most of us would associate ourselves with some other 'title' than 'disciplined'.  If we have mastered the art of living disciplined lives, it is usually in some area such as our finances, health, exercise, etc.  The type of discipline that is required to produce a 'spacious life' encompasses these types of 'disciplined living' and much more.

The self-willed man is one who directs attention to his own needs without considering the outcome as it relates to his overall character.  In other words, if it feels good, gets me what I think I want, or makes me feel better about the situation, I direct my attention toward those things.  The will is that which we exercise that reveals choice, appetite and passion.  A self-willed person has appetite and passion focused on what brings gratification to the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, or the pride of life.

The God-willed man focuses on what choices God would have him make as it relates to his eternal well-being.  God is not as focused on our immediate pleasure as he is on our eternal well-being and reward.  The writer makes it clear that the God-willed man is living in obedience to the direction of his will by his heavenly Father, forsaking the desires of his own will when they do not match the will of God.

A puny life is the reward of the self-willed because self can only think of self.  Choices, desires and intentions are all directed at building up, protecting, or driving forward the agenda that creates the sense of internal and external gratification of selfish desires.  A puny life is characterized by weakness.  In other words, the self-centered, self-willed man is given to those things that don't really allow strength to be established in the inner fiber of moral character.

The reward of a self-willed man is also puny.  All his striving and conniving really does not pay off in the end with the reward he was hoping for.  A spacious life is the reward of the godly.  Spaciousness can be thought of as that which produces ample, or larger than is ordinary, results.  It is a comfortable life - magnificent in every way.

We will do well to examine our choices.  They reflect our heart.  If we find they are a little too focused on self, we need to make some course adjustments.  If they are correctly focused on the only thing that can really 'center' us in life (God), then we will find ourselves moving from ego-centric choices to God-centric choices on a pretty consistent basis.  

Remember:  God's economy makes us extra-ordinary.  If we find our focus is consistently on the ordinary, we may want to ask God to increase our vision.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crazy Cracked Pots - Part III

The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.
(Galations 3:11-12)

Embracing requires that we take something up readily or gladly. Embracing is an active process – it is more than dispassionate rule-keeping. It is a process of participating in what God has arranged for us – not trying to do it our own way all the time.

Paul sees it as an arranged life. It is not what we arrange – it is what we have presented before us by an all-knowing God and our willingness to participate in it. Participating without having to know all the details before we begin down the path – simply trusting in the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. (Galations 3:11-12)

Paul is using the covenant name of God – Elohim. He is describing the creative, governing, sovereign God (he’s in control). The one absolute in power and authority is calling us to make no place for our own plan or efforts. It is not us “doing” that gains his approval – it is his “doing in us” that transforms us and renews our inner man.

The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came, inheriting the promises and distributing them to us. Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. (Galations 3:19)

The heir or descendant is the only one that can inherit the provision of the will. Christ is the heir of promise – the promise was that of close, passionate relationship with a living God. He distributes what he inherited by his death / burial / resurrection to his children. We cannot get what was left to him in the will apart from being “in” him. It comes back to looking at how God makes provision – it is by trusting, not by doing.

Paul goes on to tell his readers that the purpose of the law given to Moses was to make obvious to everyone that we are (IN OURSELVES) out of right relationship with God. Therefore it is futile to devise some form of religious system for getting by our own efforts what comes only by faith. IN OURSELVES, we are nothing more than "cracked pots" incapable of being filled with the glory of our God.

It is only through the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that the "cracks" in our character are filled - making us able to house the glory of our Holy God.  Isn't it good to know that God has a purpose of our "cracked pots"?  In his hands, they are a thing of glory.  In ours, they are nothing more than vessels that leak!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Crazy Cracked Pots - Part II

Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?
(Galations 3:5-6)

Paul knows for sure that God lavishly provides for his children. He is not a selfish, scrimpy provider – his provision is not “measured out” in limited, small, or short quantities. His provision is full, complete, and capable of meeting every present need, not to mention every future need.

Paul knew in his own life that provision comes by trusting, not by striving. God’s method of provision is exactly opposite of the world’s. The world would tell us that if we want something, we have to pull out all the stops to pursue it, even at the sacrifice of other things that require our attention.

God’s method is to ask us to submit to his leading and see what he will do – plain and simple. As we obediently lay down our willful pursuit of things that are fruitless in pursuit of his purposes, he provides abundant fruitful outcome. His provision is prepared before we ever need it and is revealed in the times of obedient pursuit.

So those now who live by faith are blessed along with Abraham, who lived by faith – this is no new doctrine! And that means that anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God is doomed to failure.
(Galations 3:9-10)

We can never do enough to earn our salvation, a better standing with God, or a change in our character. We cannot do it fast enough - though we may try to speed up what God has begun in us, we cannot rush his perfect timing. We cannot do often enough those things that would gain us anything in the kingdom of God.

No amount of service is “just the right amount” to earn us anything in God’s economy. We cannot do “life” well enough to gain us any increase in stature. So why do we keep trying to do it alone? Paul poses the question to his readers because he knows the futility of religious pursuit.

He had obeyed the rules to the “T” – a Jew of the Jews, Pharisee of the Pharisees, circumcised on the eighth day. Yet none of his efforts in the natural sense gained him any assurance, peace, or privileged standing with God.  In God's eyes, Paul, like you and I, was nothing more than a "cracked pot" - moral character full of small cracks that made walking uprightly next to impossible.  It was only because of God in Paul's life that the "cracked pot" of his life had value. 

Tomorrow, we will explore the futility of trying to fill in the "cracks" of our pot by ourselves. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crazy Cracked Pots - Part I

Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. (Galations 3:1)

Clear focus is a challenge for even the most dedicated believer. Paul is calling the Galation church to evaluate their focus because he sees that they no longer have Jesus set before them clear enough to remain on track. They have allowed something else to fill the center of their focus that only Christ should be filling.

Focus is the position in which something must be placed in order for clarity of perception to occur. If we change that position even minutely, the clarity of our perception is directly impacted. Spiritual focus is impacted by:

  • Changing the distance at which we hold Christ in our daily lives - we distance him anytime we neglect daily times of praise, prayer or worship. A simple change of distance, although quite small in our minds, makes a huge difference in the clarity of our purpose and direction in our daily walk. It allows for compromise to begin to be made.
  • Allowing things to cloud our focus - by placing something in our field of clear vision, we allow for a “film” of sorts to develop over our spiritual eyesight. We do not perceive the things or events around us in the same manner as we once did.
    For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? (Galations 3:3)

    I examined the meaning of “crazy” in my Webster’s dictionary to find a most interesting meaning of the word that I would have otherwise defined as simply making poor choices or being unsound in mental capacity. It seems that the word “crazy” also carries a meaning of being full of cracks or flaws.

    No wonder that we refer rather flippantly to someone as “crazy” who is unsound in their capacity to make decisions in a competent manner. Paul refers to the Galations as crazy people because he sees them as full of cracks or flaws – unsound in their walk because they have let themselves be impacted by the opinions of others, the misguided teachings of those who do not have a direct relationship with a living God, and the “wacky” perception that rule-keeping can assist a man to live in a manner that is deserving of God’s approval.

    For these believers, the cracks are so small that they are almost imperceptible. They have developed a “mesh” of fine cracks in their character – allowing for things to penetrate that should have stayed on the outside of their minds, never getting their attention or changing their focus. Crazy people are impractical, or erratic in their behavior. They are distracted with desire or excitement – they are passionately preoccupied with what leads them askew in their lives. To those of us who get so easily led astray by those things that distract because they are allowed to take the focus off of Christ in our lives, Paul addresses the comment that we are not smart or strong enough to complete the work Christ began in us.

    Our intentions are good, but our follow-through is poor. We don’t possess the knowledge to grow as we should. We don’t possess the where-withal to resist the things we should and embrace those things that will encourage us in faith. So…why do we try to do it on our own? Rule-keeping or religious pursuit of things we do to gain God’s approval is simply trying to do by our own power what only God can accomplish in his power. Paul describes this as a “crazy” pursuit (full of cracks).  If you are numbered among the "cracked pots" of this world, then take heart.  Tomorrow, we will explore the plan God has for even us "cracked pots"!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Take and listen

21 We humans keep brainstorming options and plans,
   but God's purpose prevails. 
(Proverbs 19:21)

How silly it is to think we have the solutions to the things we face on a daily basis, all tucked away in our arsenal of thinking and reasoning.  It is a pretty common fact that many of us spend more time focusing on the potential solution to a problem than we do in seeking God for direction.  

At best, we may have a couple of ideas, options that we consider viable solutions to the problem, but our insight into the true nature of the problem is limited by our knowledge, position, experience, and influence.  When we 'opt' for a solution, we are choosing to take a path that we see as only one alternative - we choose it as what we believe to be the "best" alternative.

Options are the various 'scenarios' of the solution - the 'what if'.  A plan is a method for achieving a particular end.  It is perhaps more deeply thought out than an option.  A plan may take into consideration the customary or usual method of achieving the end result.  A plan is limited, though, by experience or understanding.  If we have never experienced something, we may consider that solution to a problem as only one of the 'options'.  

It is important to submit to wise counsel and to take everything before God because of our limitations and the very feebleness of our plans.  Our writer of this Proverb offers an additional insight into not considering the problem at the feet of Jesus:

27 If you quit listening, dear child, and strike off on your own,
   you'll soon be out of your depth. 

There is no safety in being 'out on your own' - we may not realize when we move in the direction of independent action, but we will certainly realize it in the end product that is produced by that action.  We get in "too deep" for our understanding or ability - then, like impassioned children, we cry for help!

It is easy to get into things that are both beyond our ability to endure and to overcome.  Getting in too deep is both a conscious choice and an unconscious drift.  Whenever we consciously choose a certain course of action in a vacuum of what we see or perceive alone, we really never consider the consequences prior to setting out in our independent action.  Whenever we make an unconscious choice toward a certain course of action, we can be caught up into that course without any real thinking or control over the outcomes.

So, if we are finding that the actions we are taking are getting us 'out of our depth' more often than not, it is time to pull back and consider how we are handling issues.  It is likely that we find that we are given toward impulsive, independent actions quite frequently - never taking into consideration that God has a plan for us that may be quite different than the actions we are contemplating.

They key is to first 'take' the issues to God and then to 'listen' to what he advises on them.  When we 'take' them to God, we stop all the 'mulling over' of the issue in our own thought processes and allow God to direct us to a new thought process that helps us see things from his perspective.  When we 'listen' to his purposes, we reap the reward of stepping out in faith upon what he reveals.

Friday, August 20, 2010

No longer frittering away life

6 The lives of God-loyal people flourish;
   a misspent life is soon bankrupt. 
9 A life frittered away disgusts God;
   he loves those who run straight for the finish line.
(Proverbs 15:6, 9)

Three concepts are presented in our passage today:  1)  God-loyal people find themselves flourishing; 2)  A life frittered away is not pleasing to God; and 3)  God's kids will do well to run toward the finish line without veering off-course.  

God-loyal people thrive because they are 'planted' well - they are in a place of balance that affords them the ability to withstand rough times when they come.  A tree that is planted well can flourish because it has all that it needs in its planting that will both sustain life and encourage growth.  As a result, the tree is able to be in a state of constant production.  God-loyal people are in a state of constant production, as well.  Their lives are filled with meaningful activities, not just the pursuit of active movement.  They are able to enjoy the fruits of their activity because it is productive and meaningful.

A life 'frittered away' is indeed a wasteful thing.  A fool spends what he has been entrusted with bit by bit, never aware of how much he has spent or where he has spent what he has been entrusted with.  I wonder how many untold minutes or presented opportunities we have 'frittered away' in our lives with meaningless activities.  A fool has not sense of the benefits of engaging in meaningful / purposeful pursuits, let alone a sense of the urgency of the hour in which they live.  Don't get me wrong here - I am not against leisure pursuits.  We need balance in our lives.  That is the key - balancing our leisure and our purposeful pursuits so that we are not 'frittering away' things, time, or talents that God desires to use.

That which dwindles away is most often unnoticed as it dwindles - until it is gone, it is never missed.  Loss can be a long time in the making - we may not realize that we are in a state of 'decay' until there is an 'odor' that emanates from the decay!

We have previously explored what it means to 'run straight' - a course that is both rewarding and challenging at the same time.  Productive, active, unhesitating movement with God is desirable, but is often more difficult than it appears.  Try drawing a straight line without a straight edge to guide you and you will find it difficult.  You can get VERY close, but it still will not be a "crisp" and "exact" as when the straight edge was used.  The Holy Spirit is our "straight edge" as we walk with God.  He assists us in 'running straight'.  

God loves the loyal and rewards those that walk straight!  Our ability to remain loyal and to walk straight both come from God - they are provided in the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He is our guide, our teacher, our companion, and our corrector of course, when needed.  It is with his help that we learn to be productive in God's kingdom, tending less and less to fritter away what God has blessed us with.  It is because we are planted and tended by him that we flourish.  

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Patient persistence - gentle words

15 Patient persistence pierces through indifference; 
   gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses.
(Proverbs 25:15)

Patient persistence - almost an oxymoron for American society - takes on very different meanings for each of us.  Persistence is the ability to continue in the face of opposition in a way that shows your commitment to whatever you are involved in.  Considering the attitude of society toward most ventures, including relationships, I think we have lost the "art of persistence" in our culture today.

Within relationship, both the character trait of patience and that of persistence play a very important part.  When we are both patient and persistent, we display an attitude that elevates the value of the other person.  It is this very characteristic of relating that makes the other person keenly aware of the investment we are making within that relationship.

The perception of our "investment" in the relationship is one of the key factors cited in divorce courts across America.  We have "irreconcilable differences" and are deemed no longer "able" to remain in relationship.  Companies and churches alike experience "division" over things that an outsider may view as the "splitting of hairs".  Individuals move from one pursuit to another because there is no sense of satisfaction - because we are looking for it to be immediate.

When we begin to experience patient persistence for the first time, we often don't know what to do in those relationships.  We wonder if there is an ulterior motive.  Why?  Because patient persistence affects what a person says, does, and brings into a relationship - whether it is a relationship at home, work, or in the community at large.  

Gentle speech is a hallmark of one who is committed to patient persistence.  Our words carry more influence that we really know.  The tone in which they are delivered makes all the difference as to their affect on the hearer.  Gentle words are refined and courteous.  They do not tear down because there is a tender quality to them.  That is how they begin to break down rigid defenses.  

I am always amazed when I come across someone who actually has learned to use gentle speech in their life.  Sometimes the message they must bring is hard.  I have observed that an individual who has learned patient persistence knows that words can "unfold" gradually - not everything needing to be said all at once.  As the words unfold, their are influential in their impact because they are coupled with the patient persistence that is behind them.

Our writer is "spot on" in his advice - patient persistence pierces through indifference.  It is the very thing that can break down denominational walls, open wide the doors for relationship, and incorporate hurting people into the very thing that will change their lives.  Gentle words are the most difficult to speak, yet the most effectively embraced words we can offer.  Their impact is not always immediate, but they are heard.  As we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the ability to patiently persist and to become quite skilled in our communication of truth, hope, and love to a hurting world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crops first - then the barn

27 First plant your fields;
   then build your barn.
(Proverbs 24:27)

Okay...seems simple enough, doesn't it?  But how many times do we get caught up in just the opposite?  We start "counting our chickens" even before the eggs hatch!  What amazes me about our heavenly Father is that he has an ORDER to all he does!

Even nature has an order about it that was perfectly thought out when he created the world in which we live, the universe surrounding us, and all that we have come to take so much for granted.  Without that "order" being maintained, the world in which we live would be absolute chaos!  Think of a world without the wind to circulate the seeds, gentle rains to moisten the soil, and exactly the right balance of sun and shade to allow the gentle shoots of life to spring forth!  

As often as we have probably heard the old adage of "putting the cart before the horse", I wonder if we have ever used it as a means of evaluating what we are doing, how we are making choices in life, and how we expect God to respond to our prayers.  

The writer of the proverb reminds us that the crops need to be in the ground before we begin the tedious work of building the barn.  A barn is a nice structure, but is pretty much useless if there is nothing to put in it!  It would be like having a really cool pair of shoes that are in the totally wrong size for us - we'd be able to look at them, admiring the handiwork, but never wear and enjoy them as they were intended to be worn!

Planting crops takes a while to see a "yield on your investment".  Not all fruit in our lives is immediately apparent - if we are expecting fruit without the tree being developed enough to support the weight of the fruit, or the nutritional needs of the fruit, we are "building our barns" before we "plant the crops".  

Whether it is fruit in relationship, or that which comes through emotional and spiritual connection with our heavenly Father - it takes time!  We must guard against "jumping ahead" of God's timing - his work within our lives is ORDERLY.  Priorities matter to God.  

Growth requires work!  Ugly truth that this is, it is the truth!  Why do we "build barns" before the crops are in the ground?  Because we can "see" the barn!  The crops within the ground can take months to develop - giving us little evidence of their promised reward!

So, the moral of the story - focus on the crops!  Get things in right order and see what God will do with a life that is focused on him first!  The barn will get built - just in the right time!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nothing clever here

2 We justify our actions by appearances;
   God examines our motives. (Pr. 21:2)

We spend a lot of time working to show ourselves as good, or as justified in what we do.  We want to be free from blame or guilt that might be associated with our actions and our thoughts.  The problem with us justifying, or declaring a person's actions as "right" is that we do it by nothing more than what we see on the outside.  We evaluate the activities of man, thinking we know the motives based on the actions that we see revealed.  

The problem with this type of a judgment on our part is that actions do not always align with motives.  God looks closely at the motives of our heart.  Our motives are those inner drives, or impulses, that lead to all action on our part.  God knows the specific reason for our actions - man does not.  So, the lesson for us:  Don't rely on appearances!  We may find ourselves in a position of mis-judging someone and then be guilty of forming very incorrect opinions about their actions.

The writer of this proverb went on to say that "mixed motives twist life into tangles; pure motives take you straight down the road."  Since God pays such close attention to our motives, it would be wise to ask him to keep us on track with those motives.  When our motives are selfish, we make choices that are self-serving and "anti-Christ" like in appearance.

Pure, pollution-free, motives get at the heart of right choices - when we are influenced by motives that are tainted by any form of self, we make wrong choices.  Those wrong choices lead to wrong paths in our walk.  It is when we are on those wrong paths that we appear to "walk alone".  God wants us on paths that don't lead to our destruction - involved in things that just end up tying us up in "knots" on the inside!

Another verse caught my attention in this passage:  Nothing clever, nothing conceived, nothing contrived, can ever get the better of God.  Clever stuff is the kind of stuff that is "thought to be smart", but often proved to be far from intelligent when put to the test.  We will do well to remember that our own intelligence pales when compared to the omniscience of our God.  We may think our clever plans are "all that", but God knows that the skills we possess are made by him alone and are only worth their full value when used for his purposes!

Conceived things are those things that we allow to form in our minds, or imagine in our hearts, that may not even be true or accurate.  They can be tainted by the view of life we have at the moment.  We don't know the motives of our own heart, let alone the motives of another.  When we put "faith" in the conceptions of our own thoughts, we may be selling ourselves, or another, short.  Contrived thoughts are unreliable - they are devised without much attention to outcome.  Our thoughts, at best, are "one-sided" - they need the filtering of the Holy Spirit so they become balanced, reliable, and trustworthy.  

Our thoughts, as flawed as they are, can be instruments God uses to bless others, but we have to allow them to be energized by God.  No matter how creative we are in our own self-thought / self-taught manner, we can never be as clearly thinking as we'd like to be - we need God's help to keep clarity in our thoughts and mixed motives out of our actions.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I call nobodies!

 I'll call nobodies and make them somebodies; 
      I'll call the unloved and make them beloved. 
   In the place where they yelled out, "You're nobody!" 
      they're calling you "God's living children."
(Rom. 9:25-26)

Paul is quoting from the book of Hosea as he recounts God's miracle in making a wayward people his own.  If you were to read this entire chapter, you'd catch the idea that God's promises and purposes of salvation take priority over any genetics or family origin.  The Book of Romans is clear about one thing - salvation is not a thing of the flesh, but of the spirit.

God's plan is not a hit or miss thing - it is not dependent on what we do or don't do.  In fact, it is a sure (certain) thing determined by his decision.  Adoption is God's choice and a settled thing.  God calls nobodies.  He calls the unloved and he calls them by name.  

It is as we embrace God that he embraces us - in the embrace, he goes about the miraculous work of straightening out our lives.  We can go wrong by focusing more on what we are "doing" to straighten up, fly right.  When our focus is on what we are doing and not on what God is doing, we miss him.  We don't see or appreciate the transformational work he is doing.

What I find amazing about God is that he is found "on the way", not "in the way".  It is not some hokey-pokey kind of religious exercise that brings us into his family, sharing of his marvelous graces. We sometimes are looking for God to be recognized somewhere "on the way" to where WE are going.  He tells us that is in the way we are looking for him that he is found - with our whole hearts, minds, bodies and souls.  

The purpose of God reaching out to us is restoration.  Yet, we insist on doing the restorative work ourselves - believing if we just try harder, all will be well within.  We do have a part in our restoration - it is in trusting God to shape the right living within us that we are "participants" in the process.  He expects that we will be honest about our need - he does the rest.  

Not all of us are ready to see, hear and act - before we come to a place of trusting God, we need to be in a place of listening to God.  Sometimes we get the cart before the horse - we attempt to trust, but have no basis for the trust because we have done little to develop the relationship.  Listening is key.  It is in the intimate moments of relationship that trust is built - in those times, we are also "opened" to listening and hearing like never before.

Remember this:  we cannot simply focus on action!  We must have our focus changed, our ears tuned in, and our heart opened to receive.  When we get still long enough, God speaks.  When he speaks, things happen.  If things don't appear to be "happening" in your life today, maybe it is time to get quiet again with God.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Secret Gardens and Open Highways

7-9 The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.  The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes.   God's reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee. The decisions of God are accurate down to the nth degree. (Psalm 19:7-9)

There are times in our lives when we just don't feel like God is getting through to us or we are getting through to him.  Some of us may even feel that the attempts we make to draw closer through his Word are so unrewarding that we have grown weary in trying.  As we examine this passage from the Psalms this morning, I want you to catch what our Psalmist is saying:  The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes!

I often think that we make God's Word harder to understand than it really needs to be.  We buy the translation that another believer uses and expect that it will "translate" into our lives in the same measure that it has in another's.  When it seems to be just as unclear as ever, we are defeated by our "seeming" lack of understanding.  I have one recommendation here - go back to the Bible Book Store!  Sit for an hour or two - open every jacket of every translation and read a section of scripture in each one (the same section) until you find one that puts things like you understand them!  We have so many interesting translations and paraphrases published now - one has to connect with the way you process the words you take in!

I daresay that I have more Bibles than I use!  I have translations galore - each speaking to me in a different way and in different seasons of my life.  I switch them up in my study, but really have come to enjoy the everyday reading of The Message Bible.  Yep, I know it is a paraphrase, but it touches my heart with how plainly it is written - so God's words "get into" my spirit and can have a chance to affect my conduct.

God's intention for our times of personal study is to make the revelation of who he is, how he acts, and what he desires of us to be so apparent that there is no second-guessing on our part.  God does not want us to settle for less than a complete revelation of him - he wants us to press in fully to him and he will reveal himself fully within us.  David is extolling God in this Psalm - he is praising God, declaring his wonders, and enjoying his presence revealed in his life.  His heart is responding to the revelation of God in the most natural manner of exaltation that comes from a grace-filled heart.

Why is David so assured of his God?  Because he has come to know his God better and better each passing day.  He has a growing appreciation of God because he has learned God's promises, heeded God's warnings, embraced God's goodness, and watched God's interventions in his life.  In turn, he is assured that God makes accurate decisions down to the "nth" degree.  

This type of revelry in our God awaits anyone brave enough to get into God's Word.  I say "brave enough" because it takes commitment, stepping out into territory that is sometimes scary, a little revealing, and sometimes downright challenging to our character.  As we do, God meets us there and opens his "life map", showing us not only the highways of life, but the hidden paths of the secret gardens of his love.  Get into his Word today and let his Word get into you!  Enjoy the "gardens" that await only you!