Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cultivate your relationship with God

 22-23Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.
(Romans 14:22-23)

Paul spends almost two chapters in his letter to the Roman church to describe the conduct becoming of a child of God.  In summary, he spent a full chapter on the futility of trying to impose your way of believing on another individual.  This summary was in response to the issues at hand in the church whereby the members were at odds about whether you were free to worship this way or another in Christ.  They were trying to impose "rules" into the relationship they had come to experience in Christ - bringing freedom of heart and soul into the bondage of rules and rituals again.

In summary, he tells us that we have a responsibility to cultivate our own relationship with God - not imposing it on others.  This may seem contrary to the idea that we are called to share the gospel message with those who have not heard it.  In actuality, what Paul was driving at was the idea that we cannot share the message of freedom in Christ if we are still living in bondage in our lives - there is an inconsistency in what we are saying and doing.

For most believers, we start our Christian walk with a whole lot of inconsistencies in our pursuit of holiness.  We believe with all our heart that we are free from our past, but we hold onto something we "just cannot let go of".  Past hurt becomes an influencing factor by which we interpret present day events.  Jesus proclaims we are free from that past hurt - we "say" we believe that we are free - but our behavior reveals that we are still responding to that past hurt (either in our expression of bitterness or in our inability to step out in newness of faith in that area). 

Mind, will and emotions all play a part in what we "hold onto" from our life prior to Christ.  It is only to the degree we submit the mind, will and emotions to the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that we will be transformed.  Congruent behavior is based on consistency - all the pieces aligned.  When there is a lack of agreement in what we say compared to what we do, we struggle with feeling like we are making any progress in our Christian walk.

The fact of the matter is that there ARE inconsistencies in our character - mind not agreeing with emotions (we think one way, but respond another); spirit not agreeing with will (we are prompted to do one thing, yet act totally contrary to what we are prompted to do).  This is the truth for ALL of God's children - there is a continual struggle with having our actions align with our beliefs.  No one is exempt from this challenge.

Paul simply reminds us of the need to bring those inconsistencies frequently before God - asking him to align the parts of our character that are not in agreement.  Through his Holy Spirit and his Word, he gives us the tools to begin to affect our mind (helping us adopt the right way of interpreting life); align our will with his (giving us stability in our motivations); and to dissuade us from relying on our emotions to interpret life (providing us congruence between what we believe and how we respond to it).

Since the struggle of living "aligned" or "consistent" lives is common to all mankind, we must bring our struggle to the ONLY source for congruency - Christ Jesus.  As I indicated above, mind and will come into alignment, followed by our emotions.  We often get this backward - wanting to "feel" changed before the work is really "final" within us. The mind must be assured, the will must be submitted, and the emotions will follow.

Ask God today where there are inconsistencies in your character - what is it that you are "saying" (believing), but are not "doing" (acting)?  When he exposes those areas in your life, trust him to align those areas with his Word, even when you may not "feel" fully "aligned" yet.  Congruent behavior is a matter of a yielded heart - mind, will and emotions fully surrendered to his control.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Love from the center

9-10Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
(Romans 12:9-10)

It is so easy sometimes to just "fake it" when it comes to loving other people.  We make everything "look good" on the outside, but on the inside we are really just not all that into it!  Loving others is a LOT of work!  I don't think God challenges us to do anything more difficult than to love unconditionally, just as he loves us.  We almost always have "strings attached" when it comes to demonstrating our love to another human being.

If you don't believe that, then let me ask you if you have ever felt a little bit slighted when a courtesy you have extended to another has been overlooked when you have needed that same courtesy extended in your life?  Maybe someone overlooked an important date in your life, or perhaps they did not pick up on a hint that you'd really like to have them take a small burden off of your pile of things to do.  When that was overlooked, how did it make you feel?  Most of us would honestly admit that we felt like we were "let down".  

Paul's words are more than challenging - they are downright impossible in the natural sense.  As much as we try, we cannot love unconditionally - it is not humanly possible.  It takes a transformation of heart - that which is only available in Christ Jesus - to actually "remove the strings" that are attached to our actions of love.  It also takes an exchange of our will - we may not "feel" like another is deserving of our love because of their actions (or lack of actions), but Christ commands us to love them anyway!

What Paul describes here is the willingness to "play second fiddle".  In a large orchestra, the man or woman assigned to the position of "first fiddle" has a huge role as the lead violinist.  There are perhaps 10-50 other violinists in the orchestra, but not more than one "lead".  "Second fiddle" violinists have the unique role of supporting the lead - they "back up" the lead with all the other parts that need to be played in the piece being performed.

So it is with us when we are being asked to be content playing "second fiddle".  We are to perfectly complement the talents, abilities, and inadequacies of others without envy, malice, or indifference.  In this way, we are displaying the love of Christ to them.  Love from the core of who we are - at the point of new birth (when we ask Christ to be the center of all we are) - there is an exchange of heart.  The "core of all we are" is now Christ.  When we are asked to love from the core - we are asked to love from the life of Christ that dwells within us.  We may not feel like it (because our emotions have not caught up with our "exchanged heart" yet), but we are to do it anyway.

In such a display of love, we are being good friends to those in our circle of influence.  Later in this same chapter, Paul reminds us to discover beauty in everyone.  We may have to look deep to see beauty in some individuals - just because they are always rubbing us the wrong way, but it is there if we look deep enough.  When we begin to ask God to train our eyes to take in the beauty INSTEAD of the things that are offensive in the other person, we often can begin to see small character traits in another that we missed before.  It changes our perspective of how we see another.

Love is a thing of discovery - first we have to discover how God loves us - then we have to discover how to display that love to others God brings across our path.  Whose life have you been asked to "discover" love in today?  To discover is to notice - ask God to give you eyes to notice the beauty in another over the offensive behavior or words they may display on the surface.  In this way, you are beginning to love as Christ loves us.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Embracing Arms

32-36 "So, my dear friends, listen carefully;
   those who embrace these my ways are most blessed.
Mark a life of discipline and live wisely;
   don't squander your precious life.
Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me,
   awake and ready for me each morning,
   alert and responsive as I start my day's work.
When you find me, you find life, real life,
   to say nothing of God's good pleasure.
But if you wrong me, you damage your very soul;
   when you reject me, you're flirting with death."
(Proverbs 8:32-36)

Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, represents not only a characteristic we develop, but a person - the person of Jesus Christ.  The very life of Christ was a display of wisdom by which we can pattern our daily walk.  Our writer spent the first eight chapters of this book reminding us of the importance of choosing wisdom over any other action.  If something is repeated that many times in Scripture, it is pretty important that we put on our spiritual "ears" to hear what is being said.

When you find me, you find life, real life - these words point us directly to Jesus.  In him, we find all the things in life we label as "good" and "real".  There is nothing as fulfilling as coming into relationship with Jesus.  Yet, so many of us live far below what we would call a "fulfilled" life - we just don't "feel" fulfilled.  Why is that?  Well, we can turn to the passage today to find some advice with this question.  Those who embrace my ways - this is key to experiencing God's fullness every day of our lives.  

The concept of embracing is involves the idea that we take something with eagerness, excitement, and anticipation.  There is a gladness in accepting what is offered and a willingness to allow ourselves to come close to what we are embracing - almost like taking it to ourselves in such a way that we become one with it.  God's promise to us is that if we embrace him, he embraces us back - and his embrace carries with it more than just physical comfort.  God's embrace carries with it "blessing" - the sense of knowing that we are safe, secure, and sheltered.

When we understand that God values a daily "embrace" as much as we do, we find ourselves eager to run to him.  Our writer indicates that when we come to him with listening ears, awake and ready for him each morning, we find real life and his good pleasure.  There is nothing more that God desires of us than to be alert and responsive.  

Alertness involves being ready and prepared for action.  Responsiveness involves responding readily to what God shows us.  Think about an embrace.  When we reach out to another human being in embrace, aren't we hoping to find that person as responsive to our embrace - ready, prepared for the embrace?  God is no different - he is waiting each morning - arms outstretched.  His hope:  That we will respond readily to him - prepared for the action he will call us to be involved in that day.

Today, the willingness to embrace God in a responsive and alert way may not come as easily as it will two or three week's down the road - but do it anyway.  Yield some of yourself to him today and ask him to show you how to live a life of discipline and learning.  Then faithfully return each day - reaching out with an "embracing" heart - open to what God has for you each new day.  In turn, God's embrace begins to become a thing we cannot live without.  It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but a thing of blessing as we practice his embrace more and more.

We can squander away our time on all the "agenda items" we have lined up for our day - things we have labeled as "important", "urgent", or "requires attention".  God is not an agenda item - he is a relationship.  At first, you may have to "pencil him in" - but, in time, he will become your first priority even before you step out to "check off" the things of your day.  

I have a friend who reminded me this week of how much God loves her.  You see, she loves to cuddle - as a single woman, she doesn't have the privilege of another human being to share that with at this time.  So, God in his faithfulness, gave her a pet that enjoys "cuddling" each morning.  She gets to enjoy a few minutes just "cuddling" with her furry friend, enjoying the display of pleasure that her pet experiences in the tender pats, the scratch behind the ear, or the stroking of its fur.  God knows that we have a need to experience affection - even when we find it in a furry friend, it is a very good thing!

Think of how much more God wants to fill us up with the good things we can enjoy as a matter of being embraced by him!  His arms are waiting - are you ready to be embraced today?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Never sorry you knocked!

 9-10 God's a safe-house for the battered,
      a sanctuary during bad times.
   The moment you arrive, you relax;
      you're never sorry you knocked. 
(Psalm 9:9-10)

There are many walking this earth today that feel that they are persistently beaten down - worn out by hard or unnecessary abuse.  They have suffered repeated blows to their ego, emotions, or physical well-being.  The repeated blows have made damage that seems to do nothing more than place on display the defects of our lives.  David probably was feeling a little of this with all the things he was dealing with as King of Israel, the anointed of God.  

What?  The anointed of God, the one hand-chosen by God, felt beaten down, abused, emotionally spent, like his life mattered for little in the scheme of things?  Yep!  Nowhere in scripture is it recorded that David was any less of a "human being" than the rest of us!  He experienced emotional disappointment at the hand of friends.  His life was in turmoil at times because enemies were in constant pursuit.  He had problems with his own lusts and pride, bringing shame, immense feelings of guilt and anguish.  He was just like the rest of us!

In today's society, there are "shelters" that one can run to when you are dealing with extreme mental or physical abuse - we call these "safe-houses".  David reminds us that God specializes in being our "safe-house" in times of trial.  Think of all that the safe-houses of today provide for those that find shelter there:
  • Security - it is a place of safety, free from the pressures, anguish, or torment of what we have been dealing with
  • Strength - it is a place of recovery, allowing us time and resources to heal from our "battering"
  • Substance - it is place of provision, affording us the tools we need to get back on our feet again - strong, empowered, and healed
God is just such a safe-house.  David is so faithful to show us that it is at the very moment we arrive in his care, we are able to relax.  The effort we have had to exert to "hold up" under the tension and stress of the "battering" we have been under (whether that battering is the doing of another against us, or the result of what we have done to ourselves) suddenly begins to ease.  

As soon as we knock!  We don't even need to wait until the door is opened, we are fully inside the safety of his sanctuary - he begins the work of bringing us into that state of "peace" when we first knock!  Yes, we are invited into his safe-house, into the very presence of the holy God of this universe.  His door is open to us - a place to run to, not just when we are in trouble, but on a frequent and consistent basis.  There we find our security, our strength, and our substance.

You'll never regret knocking.  You'll never be disappointed in taking refuge in God.  Battering will come - but the provision for everything we need for our health and well-being is found in his presence.  Knock and it will be opened to you!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Straight Paths - Part II

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

In examining this passage, I am challenged by the meaning of the word “follow”.  To follow implies many things that I have come to appreciate:
  • To accept the authority of the one we make a matter of our focus or attention – it implies a condition of obedience to the authority and counsel of our righteous God.
  • To come to a specified place in a specified time, sequence, or order – we are brought into a place well-planned for us in the exact timing, by the exact method, and in the specific purposes of our unchanging God.
  • To imitate – it is our greatest glory to imitate, or take on the image, of our God.
  • To watch steadily, observe keenly, or to keep the mind on – it is not an inattentive, haphazard pursuit that the writer is focusing on here, but one of purposeful, directed steps with a fixed focus and an enlarged perspective.
  • To chase or pursue – passionately engaged in truly catching or laying hold of the one we pursue – overcoming him with our passionate pursuit.

We don’t go off on our own – we remain consistent in the path he designs, even in the midst of our own battle of will that pulls us to take an easier path or one promising us more tantalizing reward.  We walk straight – not veering in our course.  It is a blessed thing to remain – to not be used up by the path we pursue, to not be destroyed along the way.  This ability to “remain” is provided by the God of divine compassion – the one who makes our ways straight and gives us the endurance to stand strong.

He prescribes the way – outlines the plan.  Our part is to walk in what he prescribes.  In the end, the promise is a life free of regrets.  Oh, I am sure that sounds like “pie in the sky” for many of us – we’ve already endured more regrets that we care to admit.  It is never too late to “begin again” in the course God has prepared for us – to lay aside past regrets and to pursue the path he outlines in the pursuit of all he plans for us.  

Regret is an outcome of disappointment – hopes dashed, dreams unfulfilled, and losses deeply felt.  This is not the outcome of pursuing the one that is unchangeable in all his ways – it more definitely the result of our pursuit of our own selfish desires, focusing our attention on imperfect people, or embracing empty relationships.   We protect ourselves from regret by embracing his wise counsel – by comparing our every movement with what he has outlined in his Word.  In it, God outlines “safe paths” and speaks to us “straight from the heart” so that we can avoid the pitfalls of disappointment that await us down the paths he has not designed.

We learn to walk in his paths one step at a time – it is not a dash, nor is it a relay.  It is a consistent, forward movement toward a goal.  It is a patterned pursuit – marked out by the Master of our souls.  As we daily seek his paths, we learn to step out in a growing assurance that the way is ordered, well-marked, and free of all that brings harm.  At first, we may step out in the path God outlines, then quickly veer to the direction that appeals more to our natural reasoning, only to find ourselves knee deep in hazards we did not anticipate.  At these times, we even are so vain as to blame God for the hazards – we question why we face the things that seem to have brought harm into our lives.  Thank God, he is a merciful guide – he points out the hazards, heals our wounds, righting our stand – then he places us on course once again.

Even in the midst of our accusing and questioning ways, he tenderly guides. 
It is a good thing to walk in such a way that we never veer off course, but is an even more comforting thing to know that when we do wander or drift, he is there to restore and renew.  He has even planned for our “changeableness” – knowing full well that we may purpose to do what he has revealed for us to do, but that our self-man is weak in its commitment to that path.  We are like David – we yearn for the path he prepares – yet we struggle to resist the appeal of the path that offers the immediate reward, the passing enjoyment.  David purposed to walk straight – let that be our purpose, as well.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Straight Paths - Part I

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

It is a comforting thing to understand the direction we are headed – to clearly know the paths we are to follow, the things to avoid.  We often head off in directions unplanned for us, venturing out on our own completely unaware of what lays in wait along the path we choose.  It is a God-honoring thing to await his course direction – it is even more honoring to choose that course above any other.

The promise to us in this text is a sense of deep satisfaction when we stay on course – a deep sense of pleasure and contentment awaits us as we walk “steadily” on the road revealed by God.    Happiness is a very elusive thing – it is conditioned on so many things such as circumstance, the people in our lives, timing, and even the attitude of our heart at the moment.  We seek it in the most amazing ways – through the pursuit of fame or position; in some type of meaningful relationship; and even in giving away all we possess.  All the while, true happiness appears to evade us and we are left empty, frustrated, and filled with disappointment. 

So, the advice set before us is one of “walking steadily” on the course outlined by our God.  The title of God used in this text is that of Jehovah – the God of divine compassion, who stands unchangeable in his promises, permanent in his tender care, and righteous.  The course we choose in life is overlooked and guarded by this very God.  We can walk steadily when we understand the care that has gone into preparing the course before us and the caring oversight that is ours as we traverse its path.

To “stay” on course implies that we are continuing on, standing firm, and remaining in consistent pursuit of the course outlined by God.  I think there is an even deeper meaning that we need to consider – that of enduring.  Happy is the man or woman that “stays the course” or “endures” in the way.  There is a great sense of inner satisfaction to have remained consistent under suffering without yielding to its pressures – to not give in to the hardships along the way.  Our consistency comes only through the power of our unchanging God.  He is the one that gives us the ability to be firmly fixed in place, to be unfaltering in our movement.  David is speaking of a resolute assurance that the course we walk is designed at the hand of our God.  It is our fortune to stand with him along this course constant in our emotion, principled in our actions, and stable in our thoughts. 

Along the path, we are commissioned to “do our best to find him”.  What is our “best” – what does that look like?  Some would describe “doing our best” as giving our maximum effort – I’ve even heard some describe it as giving 110%!   Now, I am not inclined to believe that I actually have more than 100% to give – so I am not going to stress that we somehow find an additional 10% to reach some “stretch goal” in our pursuit of God.  

I am challenged daily to be productive, to excel in some way, but rarely am I able to say that I have given “my all” in the pursuit of God.  I daresay that most of us would find ourselves in that same condition if we were to truly analyze our walk with God.  It is encouraging to realize that God only requires our attention to his direction – that is how we “do our best” in serving him.  We “pay attention” when he speaks, we “focus our will” on his.  In so doing, we are placing ourselves on a steady path.

Tomorrow, we will consider what it really means to follow God down this path of life laid out before us.  Until then, what is God really asking you to "pay attention" to along this path you are on presently?  What is he asking for you to focus your will on?  See you tomorrow!

Monday, October 25, 2010

God's Dependable Love

16-17 And me? I'm singing your prowess, shouting at cockcrow your largesse,
   For you've been a safe place for me, a good place to hide.  Strong God, I'm watching you do it, I can always count on you—God, my dependable love.
(Psalm 59:16-17)

Understanding the background of this Psalm might help us understand these words even more clearly.  David, as King of Israel, was in heated battle with the Edomites in the Valley of Salt.  The Edomites were descendants of Esau, one of the sons of Jacob.  Esau is probably best known as the son who sold his birthright for a pot of stew (Genesis 25).  As the firstborn of Jacob, he had the full right to the inheritance of his father (a double portion).  In a time of weakness, hungry and weary, he "sold out" to his twin brother.  

Esau's family became a band of nomadic raiders settling in the region just south of the Dead Sea - the land that Israel would realistically pass through on their way to Canaan as they existed Egypt.  Edom is recorded in Scripture as the people that would not allow the passage of Israel through their land, causing them to detour around Edom on their journey.  King Saul mounted a huge attack against Edom during his reign and 40 years later, King David, along with Joab, his General of the Armies, destroys 10,000 of the military men of Edom.  

This huge battle is what is celebrated in this Psalm.  David cries out:  I am singing of your prowess, shouting of your largesse!  He is overcome with the protection of his God and the safety he has enjoyed in the battle - a battle that could have easily overrun his troops and caused huge casualties to his kingdom.  

To David, God has been a safe place to hide - a good place for him to find refuge.  Some might think that David is a little cowardly by these words, but in fact, these are words that describe the condition of his heart.  He faced his fears in the midst of battles that seemed insurmountable by placing them in the hands of his great God.  When David brings his fears to God, he stands back and watches as God repeatedly intervenes in ways that would have been impossible through natural skill or military might.

I know that we probably don't face huge armies today, wielding all kinds of weaponry, preparing to charge at us with all their military might (although some reading this might be in service to our country, facing just this type of an enemy).  We DO face "armies" of forces just waiting to see our destruction.  Those forces are the armies doubt, bitterness, deception, lust, pride, etc.  Enemies that stand against us, filling us with fear and unbelief.  To us, they seem insurmountable.  To God, they are grains of sand - irritating, but totally removable!

Maybe you find yourself in the place today where you could say, "I have been trying to do this all on my own, God!  I have been trying to figure a way out of this bondage, but am just not getting it!"  If that is the case, you have an opportunity today to take your inabilities to God - then stand back and watch what he does with the heart that yields to his plans.  Most of the battle is not in the "sin", but in the laying down of our will.  When we finally lay down our will, step back and begin to watch, God begins to move.

I am praying for you today - to be able to lay down what you have been holding onto so tightly; to be able to take a step back; and to have your eyes opened to how God will move once you do.  As your eyes are opened to God's graces refilling you with his peace, setting you free from your resentments, taking you to new heights in his love, I am confident you will sing out with David:  I am singing of your prowess; I can always count on you, my God!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unfinished Products

29-30God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.
(Romans 8:29-30)

It is very freeing to recognize that we have an example to pattern our lives after.  When we no longer have to "figure out" what it is that we are expected to be, how we are to live our lives, it is quite liberating.  Paul reminds us that we have a pattern for our lives established well in advance of each new breath we breathe.  God decided long before you or I breathed our first breath on this earth what our lives should be like - he shaped the very fibers of our being with the purpose of living according to his purpose.

When I really begin to grasp the reality of that statement, I can begin to live a transformed life.  You see, when I am no longer needing to decide the direction my life should take, I am free to pursue the purpose of one who already knows!  It is also very satisfying to know that what God begins, he takes to full / total completion!  God isn't into making junk - something that serves a purpose for a time and then is discarded somewhere down the road.

He is all about making works of art - things of beauty to be treasured for eternity.  Look at the progression here:
  • God planned for us to be his kids - it was his ultimate goal that he should have us in his family.
  • After making this plan, he sent out the invitation - our part is to accept the invitation.
  • Once we have taken on the new "family name" (a child of God), he sets us up for all we need to walk according to his purposes
  • Now established on that strong foundation, we can be assured that he will complete the work of growing us up in his family
I don't see any deviation in the plan, do you?  He does the work, we respond to the calling, he completes that which we were called to be - children of the living God.  I may fail to acknowledge his grace on occasion, even stumble and fall a little, but I am still part of his family, under his care, soon to be moving according to his plan and purpose again!

Woohoo!  We serve a good God!  Awesome in every way!  We need to celebrate the grace of God in our lives.  We need to enjoy (truly embrace) the plan of God - making us into works of art!  An artist has an end in mind when he begins his work - it may not be evident when the first brush-stroke hits the canvas, or the first clump of clay is placed on the wheel, but he has a "vision" for the "finished-product".  

We sometimes get so "wigged-out" by the fact that we don't look like or act like a "finished-product" of God.  Don't lose hope!  God is still making brush strokes and tenderly shaping the clay.  Keep this one thing in mind:  He who begun a good work in you will be SURE to complete it!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

King's Kids

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 asks a simple question of God - one that is quite often a consideration of humankind.  He wants to know who it is that God shows favor to - who is it that is welcomed into his presence, made to feel at home, enjoying the very fruits of his rule.  Then, as he heard his answer from God, he recorded those traits that we see in a man or woman of God that make him/her free to move about in the presence of a holy God.

It begins with learning to walk straight, act right, and tell the truth.  We don't do this on our own - it is impossible to do this without the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  At the moment we cry out to God to cleanse us of our sinfulness, opening the door for the cleansing that comes by the blood of Jesus, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our lives.  It is his purpose to assist us in the revelation of truth - the enabling to behave in a different manner than we had previously responded in life's moments of decision.

Acting right is one of the most difficult challenges we experience in life - it is the very thing that good parents strive to influence their children to do from the moment they are able to first understand the consequence of their actions.   Yet, we must keep in mind that action alone is not what God desires - we can do all the "good deeds" we want to, but apart from a heart yielded to his desires, open to his leading, and abandoned in worship to him, we are only "being good".  

Not one human being could hit a home run out of the park on each and every one of these character traits listed in this passage.  We may attempt to live according to these standards, but we will find moments of compromise in our lives where we stray from the standards we set, no matter how hard we try to live by them in our own power.  It is impossible to be righteous in our own power!  Righteousness comes by one source - the blood of Jesus.  His sacrifice on the cross those many years ago is the only means by which we are viewed by God as righteous.

The "good deeds" that listed above are behaviors that are exemplary of the work of the transformational power of God - they are not of our own doing.  Try  as you might, you will find all these particular behaviors rather unrewarding without the empowering of the Holy Spirit within.  

So, if we are desirous of experiencing God's presence, being welcomed into his throne-room, not as guests, but as members of the Royal Family, we must be "in Christ".  As we come to Jesus, hearts open to his redeeming work, asking him to be Lord of our lives, he brings us into the family.  The outflow of that life leadership change is the exhibiting of the behavior listed in this passage.  We begin to look out from ourselves, seeing others in a new light.  We look beyond how the events of life affect just us, to seeing how there is an impact of each of our behaviors on another.

If we turn to another translation of this passage, you find the closing words:  He who does these things will never be shaken.  Want to live a life that isn't always on the verge of collapse?  Reach out to Jesus, welcome him as your Savior, and watch the life transformation of being welcomed into the family of a holy God.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Forgiveness is a habit

3-4 If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance?
   As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that's why you're worshiped. 
(Psalm 130:3-4)

We humans are "record keepers".  We manage to stuff all kinds of information into our brains - dates, times, events, memories, agendas, wishes, dreams - to name only a few.  We organize that information based on importance to us - prioritizing it and "packaging" it into "parcels" of thought.  If we cannot manage to store anymore, or feel that the information is SO important that we cannot risk losing it, we write it down, recording it for future reference.

This process works well for us if what we are "storing away" in the recesses of our brain, or recording on paper, has a significant meaning that will lend itself to our growth or development.  When we begin storing away the thoughts or memories that actually serve to tear us down, keeping us in a place of bondage to a past hurt or failure, we are opening ourselves to more hurt.  When these thoughts are about another's actions in our life, God refers to this process as "harboring unforgiveness" or resentment.  When these memories are about some failure on our part, God refers to this as "bondage".

Look at the example God sets for us:  He keeps NO record on our wrongdoing.  In fact, he practices forgiveness out of a well-established habit of repeatedly forgiving his children.  If this is the case, why do we find ourselves so engulfed in keeping record of wrongs committed?  Why do we hold those memories so close to our heart, investing more and more emotional energy in the maintaining of those memories over the course of time?

There are some principles we need to embrace in order to be free of our past failures and our present resentments:
  1. Embrace God's forgiveness.  We cannot be free until we are convinced of God's ability and willingness to forgive us.  Don't gloss over this!  God is both willing and able to forgive.  He is able to forgive based on the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.  That sacrifice paid any penalty that is "due" as a result of our sinful wrongdoing.  He is willing to forgive because he is a loving God - his grace is his response of love.
  2. Embrace God's ability and renewal.  God can bring good of even the worst situation we manage to get ourselves into - there may have been unwanted consequences, but he is there to pick up the pieces.  We made the choices that led to the outcome, but he stands at the ready to restore what we have allowed to fall into ruin in our lives.  We don't see much value in forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply - we may know that we are commanded to do so, but we just cannot connect the dots of how this will set us free.  All I can say is that as soon as we begin to let go of that other person in our thoughts, refusing to invest our emotional energy in holding on to the hurts of our past, we can begin to be free in our present.  
  3. Embrace God's plan for wholeness.  We often stop short of being completely free of our past by not following the pattern laid out for us in Scripture.  God has given us repeated examples in the Word of how a man is to live once he has been forgiven (redeemed).  First, there is a "turning away" from that which was once a strong pursuit of our heart (that which we were making that huge emotional investment in).  Then, if we are to live free of that past hurt, we need to "replace" it with something else.  This is where God comes in - we turn away - he helps us with the renewal.  We have to put something into the place of those past responses to our hurt or disappointment.  They leave a void that must be filled.  God asks us to fill that void with more of him - investing our emotional energy in the things he delights in.  This may be Christian service, or it may be as simple as time spent with him in worship and study until what was significant to us about a past hurt or failure fades from our memory completely.
We stop short of allowing God to completely set us free by not being willing to let go.  Letting go is the hardest part of emotional healing and the new life he purposes for us.  Yet, we cannot move on until we are truly willing to move out of that focused investment of our time, energies, and repeated rehearsal of our past.  It begins with just one step - often, this step will NOT be coupled with an immediate "feeling" that something has changed.  We call this obedience.  We step out in what God is asking us to do, whether we "feel" like it or not.  If we continue to do this long enough, the emotions associated with the actions of obedience will begin to follow.  When we release ourselves from our past enough times, filling up that "gap" a little bit more each time with what God wants us to have in our lives, the emotions will follow.

Today is a day to "let go".  I don't know what you need to let go of - that is between you and God.  I am praying for your journey.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Architect and Builder

1-2 If God doesn't build the house, the builders only build shacks.
God doesn't guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.
   It's useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone.  Don't you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves? 
(Psalm 127:1-2)

It is a beautiful morning - rain gently falling outside, temperature a delightful 64 degrees, and coffee brewing in the pot!  When the weather turns like this in Arizona, we celebrate!  The break in the heat is cherished and the gentle rains are definitely a thing we are grateful for.

I am also so very grateful for the Word of God - it is also a gentle rain that faithfully brings refreshment to the dry and weary soul.  It is an instrument of celebration.  That is what the Psalms really are - tools of celebration, songs of praise, and words of worship.  Our writer today encourages us to keep in mind the extreme importance of allowing God to be the "builder" of our homes and "guard" of our cities.  

As builder of our homes, he is both the architect and the framer.  He gives us the structure and the guidance to build strong homes.  I am not speaking of the physical walls, floors, and windows here - but the relationships that exist within the walls of our physical dwellings.  As the architect over our relationships, he is involved in the design of each relationship we encounter.  He has in mind the very "design" of each relationship even before they begin.

Our "homes" extend beyond our walls at times.  We have "extended" families over which God is also the architect.  Those extended families consist of our relationships within our churches, our community, our work environments, etc.  Within these relationships, God opens us to learn from each other, to encourage, to put on display his grace to those who need to know the power of his love.

The writer tells that UNLESS God is the builder of those relationships, they fail - they are nothing more than "shacks" when he envisions them as "mansions" of his glory.  Whenever I am in a relationship that seems a little strained, going nowhere, I almost always find that it is either not God's will for me to be in that relationship, or that I am not bringing God's will into that relationship.

When I am in a relationship that is not God's will, it is usually because I have chosen to be involved out of my own desires - there is a motivation that is rooted in something self-driven, self-directed.  Within that relationship, I am miserable - at odds - and cannot find the peace I so desperately desire.  When I am in a relationship that God clearly has placed me in, there is an evidence of that in the way that individual helps me to grow, challenges me to evaluate my priorities, and stands as an encouragement when I am doing well in my daily walk.

As the architect of our relationships, God has a specific purpose for each relationship he allows to be formed - some are for our encouragement, some for our exhortation, still others for our enjoyment.  Some serve all these purposes.  When we allow God the privilege of directing our relationships - establishing them according to his design - we are surrounded by individuals that create a foundation for our development and we do the same in their lives.

What relationships has God placed you in?  What is your role within those relationships?  Are you there as one who brings exhortation - encouraging the other person toward growth?  Are you there to bring encouragement by the sharing of your knowledge, experience, or wisdom?  Whatever the reason for your placement within that relationship, be faithful to what God has placed you there to accomplish.  You are an instrument in his hands to "build" the house!  Let the architect use you as he envisions - the reward is a strong house, well-founded, and a place of shelter in times of storm.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grow on!

 5-9So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
(1 Peter 1:5-9)

Warm friendliness and generous love are the last two character traits that Peter is telling us need to be a part of our daily walk in Christ.  In another translation, these are referred to as brotherly love and kindness.  We think of friendliness of the characteristics that mark a good friend - no hostility, inclined to be amicable.  Why is this an important thing to add to our character traits?  It is simply because we cannot add all this other Christian character without adding the traits that make us a good friend to be around!

Generous love speaks of a lack of selfishness.  There is a joy that comes from being around an individual that is not self-centered, is willing to reach out to others, and who is just plain abundant in their expression of love.  It draws others to us and it keeps them coming back.  

In examining these character traits this week, we now are told that they are to be fit together - each one developing the next.  Not one of these character traits exists in a vacuum - they are like puzzle pieces that carefully fit together.  When line the pieces up, the make a lovely sight to behold!

These character traits are not a "once gained, always maintained" type of trait.  Peter reminds us that they must be active and growing in our lives.  There is a process of "working them into" the very fibers of our being until they become who we are.  In the course of time, the way I express love begins to develop into greater, deeper expressions of love.  This is not just because love was built into my character at one point in time - it is because as God points out areas where his love is not coming through very well, I address what he asks me to that keeps that love from coming through in its full glory.

There is a "maintenance" of these character traits that is required.  Care or upkeep is implied.  Attention must be turned to areas in which we are revealing a lack of stability in our walk - wavering in our choices, not as committed in our obedience as we should be.  When this care is taken, Peter tells us that we will be maturing in the things God wants us to develop.  

Fully developed Christian character is the goal of each believer - no one wants to be truly mediocre in their walk.  The "rub" comes in the amount of "maintenance" this requires!  It is WORK - a four-letter word none of us wants to embrace.  BUT...if we don't take the effort to learn where we need to grow, allowing the Holy Spirit to focus our attention on those areas of our life, then we will be as Peter describes - oblivious!

Oblivious people are lacking in focus, distracted, or even unconscious of that which requires attention.  God's children have a "focusing" agent in their lives - he is called the Holy Spirit.  His work is to allow us to be exposed to the areas of sinful character that need the application of the Word of God, the tending of the Holy Spirit as our tutor and guide.  In turn, there is an expectation that we will develop consistent obedience to the principles he teaches, embracing the newness of character that God so wants to see in our lives.

So, we don't let grass gather under our feet!  We keep pressing in until we see the manifestation of what God desires in our lives.  Then, we press a little more - because we are never finished growing!  Grow on!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Practiced Obedience

 5-9So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
(2 Peter 1:5-8)

To our good character (moral choices), spiritual understanding (discernment), alert discipline (spiritual development), and passionate patience (endurance and stability), we are to add reverent wonder.  Reverent wonder really comes down to one key word: Obedience.  We are to incorporate into our live the moment-by-moment "habit" of obedience.  Obedience brings honor to God and acknowledges his presence in our lives.

In other translations, you may observe that this is translated as "godliness".  Godliness is the evidence that one is conforming to God's laws and wishes.  It is a sense of devotion to the control and direction of another - God.  Obedience is more than just conforming - it incorporates the idea of being "willing" to do what one is asked.  

Willingness is probably one of the biggest struggles we have as Christians.  We may even adhere to the idea that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak".  In other words, we WANT to do what is right, but we DON'T do it.  The struggle between "US" and "GOD" is too great - we "give in" to the "US" because it is immediately satisfying, easier, or just plain selfish.  

One thing that surprised me when I explored the meaning of "obedience" is that is something that is PRACTICED.  It does not come easily!  We must do it over and over again.  A lifestyle of reverent wonder (godliness) is LEARNED.  We don't start out one day saying, "Today and forevermore I will be obedient to all God desires of me."  We may intend to live this way, but reality hits us about two choices into the day and we crash and burn!

The idea Peter is presenting is that of consistent and progressive obedience.  Obedience is practiced - therefore, it is progressive.  What we practice soon becomes easier and is something we embrace without much resistance.  Obedience is also consistent - we learn that a course of action yields a result that is rewarding, enjoyable, or simply put, good for us.  

With a strong foundation laid, we have an opportunity to begin to build upon that foundation.  Peter is directing us toward daily activity that produces this type of "learning" in our lives.  He is provoking us toward consistently embracing the thoughts, attitudes, and actions that will bring more of God's grace and wisdom into our lives.  Obedience is not immediate - it is a process. Remember, practice makes perfect - not the other way around!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Passionate Patience

 5-9So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
(2 Peter 1:5-9)

Passionate patience - seems like an oxymoron, right?  Patience suggests the ability to wait - how many of us actually wait with any kind of passion?  In fact, if we were to be totally honest, we'd probably say that we dislike waiting because it seems like such a waste of time!

The very first definition of patience has nothing to do with waiting.  In fact, it has to do with bearing up under annoyance, persecution, misfortune, pain - all without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or emotional outburst!  It is the next definition of patience that most of us associate with - that of a willingness to suppress our endless restlessness when there is a delay in our gratification. If we go so far as to examine the very first "synonym" of patience, you will find the word "stability" describing it!

Peter even goes so far as to imply that our patience (stability, lack of restlessness, diligence) needs to be passionate!  What is being described is an intensity that surpasses the normal patience we exhibit in daily dealings.  When the need arises for our persistence, we are intent on persisting.  Fervent, enthusiastic, consistent submission to the alert discipline, spiritual understanding, and good character that God is building in our lives.

Things in life will come our way that will require us to make the right amount of emotional investment - neither too much, nor too little.  Peter is describing the type of life that is in balance - emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  There is an intensity, but it is not marked with restlessness.  We have observed people going through things that we could label as "intense" in their lives, each taking hold of that "intensity" in a different way.  Some dig in deeper, almost looking for cover in whatever can distract them away from that severe intensity.  Others turn tail and run, attempting to escape the intensity because it is too unpleasant, requires too much investment, or presents uncomfortable options for them.

Peter is describing the kind of response to intensity that does not move quickly to complaint about the circumstance, does not easily become irritated with the amount of investment being required (emotionally, physically, spiritually).  In fact, there is a response that shows that the desire for immediate gratification is no longer the motivating influence in our lives.  For many of us, we have a long way to go on this one.  Honest evaluation of our lives would confirm that we struggle with submission when the issues are intense, the pressures are mounting and the promise of any kind of gratification is waning!

How do we get to this point of passionate patience?  Remembering what Peter has already told us, it is through allowing the Holy Spirit to work into the very fibers of our being the stability that needs to be there.  Today will present us with one or more opportunities to choose wisely - when we do (we call that obedience), a new fiber is woven into us.  The more we make those choices, the more the fibers are interwoven, until we have a strong cord that bears up under pressure.  It is not instantaneous!  In fact, it takes time.

My mother-in-law learned how to weave.  She had a small loom in her house where she learned the skill.  I remember her passing the small wooden piece called the shuttle through the fibers of yarn stretched on those wooden bars of that loom.  At first, she was clumsy, slow, and not very sure of herself.  As she practiced, the passing of that shuttle became more like an art than an effort.  Today, she creates pieces that are on display around the world.  Each piece is a work of art!

That is what God is after in us - a work of art.  His goal is that we will allow the "passing of the shuttle" to become a thing we are comfortable with - allowing him to "weave us" into a work of art.  At first, we feel like it is a clumsy, slow, and arduous process.  After some time, the "passing" of the shuttle becomes easier - in other words, we don't resist the work of the Holy Spirit in directing our choices any longer.  We enjoy the touch of the Holy Spirit's hand, gently directing us, keeping us steady, allowing just enough tension in our lives to "weave together" that which produces the beauty of his holiness within.  Passionate patience - it is the work of the "Skilled Artisan" in our lives.