Saturday, April 30, 2011

Point of no return

I'll run the course you lay out for me
      if you'll just show me how.
I long to obey your commandments!
      Renew my life with your goodness.
(Psalm 119:32, 40)

Renewal or revival is really a process of bringing something back to life again - it has been withered under the weight of time, pressures of experience, or dismay of disappointment.  With revival comes a "re-infusion" of freshness and the possibilities of something new coming forth.  I have been guilty of neglecting my houseplants for a period of time, only to realize it once I see the leaves limply hanging in protest to my neglect!  In the only way they know how to communicate with me, they are drawing attention to show me their need - for that which will bring them revival - water!  God expects us to be as transparent with him - calling out to him with our need for revival.

Revival involves us sharing our plans with God and allowing him access to the things we think we have "lined up" as the next steps with our life.  Through his Word, he exposes direction to us - we are free to accept or reject it.  Through his Word, he also exposes where we have accepted / adopted mis-direction in our lives and what it is that we can do to correct that course.  

When I have learned things through the years in my various educational pursuits, I have appreciated that there are certain principles that apply when a certain outcome is desired.  For example, you must heat a substance to a certain point and have just the right mixture of "fuel" in order to have combustion.  There is a certain sense of safety in knowing what "principles" apply in a situation.  Knowledge of those "principles" help me to avoid disastrous missteps.  

The principles we learn in our educational opportunities assist us with life's daily challenges.  Each principle carries at least one condition that must be met in order for the outcome to be positive, or disaster to be averted.  The principles outlined in the Word of God are not any different.  Each principle carries a condition - meeting that condition produces the outcome (either good or bad).  The Word of God can bring revival - it comes when we understand the force of the principles outlined.

There are times when revival (renewal) involves a process of dealing with grief - because some event or circumstance left us with pain.  Each of life's decisions creates a moment of transition - we pass from this state to the next.  For example, we pass from grade school to junior high. This transition may produce a sense of grief - old friends may not be going to the same school next term, teachers we have known for several years are no longer going to be around next year, etc.  The sense of "transitional loss" can be experienced in our emotions, thoughts, and physically.

Yet, each of these transitional moments are an opportunity for growth - the opportunity to develop new strengths, to embrace new ways of thinking, etc.  This is no different in the spiritual sense.  The opportunities of "transition" in our spiritual life are riddled with grief, as well.  We look back at what we had once experienced, sometimes grieving that we are moving on, and then come head-on with what it is that we are being transitioned into.  In those moments of time, we can either panic, looking back, holding onto the past, or plunge ahead.

The plant can suck up the water and be renewed, or it can choose to say it is beyond revival, wither and die.  We can do the same at our points of transition - "suck up" the refreshment of that which is being offered to us, or wallow in the dryness of our past experiences.  What we choose to do with the moments of transition determines our future growth!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Learning to reflect

 How can a young person stay pure?
      By obeying your word.
(Psalm 119:9)

When we are seeking answers, God is the one who keeps watch over what we are searching for - he guides us to the answers.  Our passage today may be familiar to some, yet new to others.  The neat thing about God's word is that no matter how many times you read it, you can find new encouragement for today.  If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we really don't know how to keep our lives on track 100% of the time - we have a tendency to "drift" into stuff that is convenient, easiest, etc.  These things that are most convenient are seldom the best for us - what comes too easily is often something that will have the least benefit for our lives.

That is exactly why some struggle with the study of God's word - it is not always easy to find the meaning in the message!  It seems "veiled" or kind of difficult to  fully grasp.  Yet, David writes that a person desiring to have a pure heart will hide that word deep in the heart - deep enough to have it impact our emotions, thoughts, and actions.  We may not fully understand what it is that we read, but when we are doing it from a heart that desires to be made pure, God will take what we read and help us use it as we need it.

The simple truth is that a man or woman of purity will delight in the principles God teaches.  When we delight in the intake of God's word, it brings us close to the heart of God.  When we go one step further, by delighting in the embracing of that word, learning to follow it, we excite God's heart.  The word of God is not a magical book of "spells" that one can quote and see things happen in a "poof".  It is a record of God's extreme love, his unending grace, and his uncompromising values.  From the pages of the word, we find evidence of grace, causing us to trust in the unmerited favor of a holy God in welcoming us into his presence.

Purity is the result of embracing the direction (instruction) of the Lord found within the word of God.  Principles can be taught by anyone - but they are of no value if they are not embraced.  David's advice to us is that we embrace God's principles by "rehearsing" them frequently.  He tells us to hide them in our heart - bringing them up over and over again until they become foundational in our lives.  What may not make sense to us at one point in our lives may be just what we need at a later time.  When it is hidden in the recesses of our hearts, it is there when the time arises.

Study is the application of information - the intense searching until we become satisfied with what is learned.  Reflection is the ability to bring to memory (over and over again) what it is that we have put within through the process of study.  We may not fully understand, but our intensity in searching helps us come to the place of learning.  In times of reflection, the "learning" is cemented.  It is in the reflection that what is "put in" during times of study becomes rich and meaningful - simply because of the frequency of exposure to the truth we are considering.

So, don't grow weary in learning to reflect upon what is not immediately apparent in God's word - it may take a little reflection to bring out the richness of the truths contained.  In the reflecting times, we are delighting God's heart.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Joy in the following

1 Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.
 2 Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.
 3 They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths.
 4 You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.
 5 Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!
 6 Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.
 7 As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!
 8 I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!
(Psalm 119:1-8)

A man or woman of integrity follows hard after the commands of God - searches with all their heart and obeys with a willing submission.  To follow implies that we look toward a leader.  One who follows has the vantage point of seeing the one who has set the course before them.  The follower falls into step with the leader and anticipates every movement of that leader.  For this reason, it is important to have the correct leader before us.  

Searching really describes the anticipation of satisfaction - we move toward something because we believe the attainment of that goal will meet a need or satisfy a craving.  A man or woman of integrity follows with an intensity in their search - there is no half-hearted pursuit here, but a full-on eagerness that is spurred on by renewed expectation.  In the pursuit of God, there is a laying down of what we feel is our right in order to fall into step with God.

Look at the list of character traits that David describes about the man or woman of integrity - no compromise with evil, stays on course, carefully obeys God's commands.  There is no settling for the first thing that presents itself - instead, there is a desire to wait for God's timing and his purpose.  In fact, there is also a desire to live by the standards outlined by God as our leader - not desiring to change the standards to fit the moment.  When we have a reliable guide (leader), it is easier to stay on course.

In turn, the man or woman of integrity reflects the one they are following.  This is a principle of leadership - those that follow somehow reflect the character of the one they are following.  This is because the follower is continually comparing his/her life with the standard of the leader and then adjusting to meet that standard.  We reflect what we most often behold.  The outcome is that we become examples of Christ on this earth.  When there is obedience to principles that are "sure", peace is produced.  Principles that are consistent and trustworthy are easy to follow - there is a certainty in them that makes the next step we take reliable.

Three things I leave you with today:
  1. Integrity is to be desired - comes by following hard.  We have to stay on course and keep the right standard before us.  If we live with a sense of careful focus in our lives, we are able to avoid compromise and will reap the fruit of thankfulness and peace.
  2. Intensity is suggested as the means of attaining this peace.  It is hard work to follow Jesus.  We have to pay attention - and that is hard.  We will never be aware of evil, of opportunity to compromise the standard held out before us, if we are not attentive to the one leading.
  3. Intimacy is promised to those who walk in integrity.  When we are aware of the one leading, open to his leading, the outcome should be that we live right.  In turn, we learn to "relate" to those around us in a manner that always honors.  Our heart needs will be met, as well as those we relate to.
Happy is the man...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

As common as the person beside you

13No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.
(I Corinthians 10:13)

Temptation is not a word commonly used in our communications today.  We might say we are tempted to eat something we should not, or to make a purchase that is probably not the wisest.  Temptation is really to be lured into something.  It might begin with a little bit of what we call "fascination" with something we really should not indulge in, but then it becomes something that we have a great deal of resisting.  Why is it that the simplest "fascination" can have such a big "pull" on us?  Simply put, it is because we don't learn to manage the invitation.

I get tons of advertisement each week in the mail.  In fact, if it was not for the advertisement, I think my mailman would be out of work!  The idea behind the ads is to entice us into the various eating establishments, shops, and businesses around the valley.  Once they get us there, they hope to "hook us" into buying their product - by the offer they promise in their advertisement.  Mom used to say that nothing is as good as it looks.  As I have grown older, I believe what she says!  Why?  Because I have been "hooked" a few times too many into believing the "lure" of the ads!

In our daily walk, we have opportunities to both embrace or resist temptation. It could be as simple as saying we won't eat that extra serving of carbs at lunch, or it might be as complicated as resisting the urge to be involved in gossip in the workplace.  Regardless of the temptation (the lure), there is a corresponding struggle of the mind and will that ensures.  Over the past couple of days, we have talked about discipline and the need for taking accountability for our actions.  Well, dealing with temptation requires accountability - the purposeful behavior that says we take responsibility for our actions.

Instead of blaming those advertisers for misleading me, I need to own up to the fact that I did not do my research well on the product being offered.  Instead of blaming another for my behavior, I need to own up to the fact that I am entirely responsible for my response, my investment of energies, and my heart motivation in doing whatever it was that I did!  Whenever I blame another for my action, I am denying that a need exists in my life - that need is to be free of the enticement!  I am actually making another responsible for my behavior - and we know very well that the other person really does not make us behave a certain way.  They may elicit a certain response - but WE have the ability to either respond or walk away!

It is always amazing to me whenever I hear someone telling me that I don't know what they are going through.  I may not have walked EXACTLY the same steps that other person is walking, but if the truth be known, the steps we all walk are pretty similar.  It is an age-old argument that we want to have a unique set of reasons for why we pursue what it is we pursue - like no one else could possibly be dealing with the same stuff we are.  If we isolate our temptation as unique to us - we don't reach out to others for aid in resisting it!

So, whatever it is that is enticing you to compromise your stand today, just know are not alone!  Your enticement is not unique to just you.  If you were honest with that one that God has placed in your life to walk alongside you, you might just find out how "common" your temptation is!  No temptation is greater than God's ability to overcome!  In fact, it is already a done deal!  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I am a character! (cont)

So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you!
   Mind you, don't despise the discipline of Almighty God!
True, he wounds, but he also dresses the wound;
   the same hand that hurts you, heals you.
From one disaster after another he delivers you;
   no matter what the calamity, the evil can't touch you...
(Job 5:17-19)

Sometimes I think we hope that God will be swayed, that he will change his mind, about the need for discipline in our lives.  He is not swayed by our resistance to change.  Obviously, the response he expects is submission - that we will yield to the discipline and then grow strong in our walk.  In reality, most of us simply don't embrace discipline with open arms - we revert back to the argumentative state of the "why me" mentality.

It is one thing to see God "lop off" some branch in our life that really wasn't bearing any fruit, or was like a "sucker" on a tree, taking valuable time and energy from us that would have been better spent elsewhere.  It is quite another thing to see God "pruning" branches that are actually bearing fruit!  We wonder if he has his eyes open!  What is that all about?

His love for us is not only focused on the stuff that ISN'T bearing fruit, but it is focused on bringing bigger and better fruit into our lives.  Sometimes, you sacrifice a little fruit today to have a bigger harvest tomorrow.  When we actually look deep inside and begin to see our lives the way God sees them - comparing them to the Word and what we know about his dear Son, Jesus - we can see why he is pruning us.

Sin doesn't "fit" who we are any longer once we come to Christ - so those branches have got to go!  As soon as that "branch" of sin is exposed in our lives, it is open to the pruning work of the Holy Spirit.  If we begin the work of looking for areas that don't align with the Word, we are actually participating in the pruning process - making the pruning process just a little easier.

Part of discipline is the action it takes to change the growth patterns - that is the process of pruning.  Whenever pruning takes place, the tree is shaped for its future growth.  We may not realize the growth that is intended when the pruning takes place, but all spiritual pruning is formative - it is designed to produce positive and growing character. 

Some questions to consider:  What is it that we are focusing on so intently right now in our lives?  Is that focus bringing the fruit in the proportion that God designed, or is it necessary for the pruning action to come in order to produce better fruit?  What do we see first - the branch or the fruit?  If it is just the branch, perhaps it is time to embrace a little pruning so that the formation of fruit might come next!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am a character!

Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
   so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
(Job 5:17)

Character is the ultimate goal of God's "formative" work within us.  All that gives us our "make up" and distinguishes us from the next person is what God is at work doing within us in our daily walk.  Character is sometimes described at the sum of our mental and ethical traits - that which we think and that which we come believe as our basis for our choices.  At other times, we sometimes refer to character as our reputation - that which we see as moral excellence, or the lack thereof.

It is sometimes kind of hard to "persevere" in the times of discipline.  We want to throw in the towel because the "going gets tough".  Character is what we are - what we are made of. Perseverance is what we do with the character we have allowed to be formed within us.  When our character has built upon Christ, we will have the power to endure even in the midst of things that others might see as overwhelming or threatening.

I have heard it said that character is really learning to do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do.  I guess this is true.  In fact, when we allow Christ's character to be "worked out" in us, we are going to see evidence of the standards by which we live changed.  We don't have the same "values" any longer.  There is a tendency to make up our own rules in life - this is natural.  When we allow Christ to determine the "rules" for our lives, we are saying that we desire a change of character.  We want God's limits to define our behavior.

Obedience must become a priority for us - making a personal choice to NOT compromise whenever the whim hits us.  When we are asking for God to affect our character, we are essentially saying that we want him to affect our willingness to be obedient.  We are asking that he also give us the ability to obey the limits (standards of behavior) he sets for us.

In recent years, there is a word that I have heard repeatedly - accountability.  Sometimes, we tend to use words without really knowing what they mean.  We simply throw them out there and then expect that those around us will understand the meaning behind them.  Accountability is really an attitude of heart that says, "I am willing to share my activities - my conduct of behavior - with others."  In turn, when we say that we are willing to be accountable, we are asking for others to be encouragement to us when we are moving in the right direction, and exhort us when we are not.

At times, accountability comes with discipline.  Behavior must be corrected when it does not align with what it is that we committed to do.  In Christ, we are asking for our behavior to conform to the "rules" established by him for our lives.  In our workplace, we may be saying that we are willing to conform to the "rules" established that will enable us to accomplish a specific goal.  It is in discipline that we see our hearts and minds "bent" toward that goal.  God's purpose is always our holiness.  His method for accomplishing holiness is always training or discipline.

Several responses we should have to God's discipline:  1) We can take it seriously - seeing the action within our lives that cause the correction to be necessary.  2) Take it courageously - instead of running from it.  It is in the accepting of discipline that we have an opportunity to learn from it.  3) Know that God knows best - he sees the end from the beginning, so he is fully aware of what will happen if we don't face the music.  4) Respond with the attitude that it is for our own good - in Christ, all things work for our good.  

Tomorrow, we will continue to look at the need for discipline in our lives.  See you then.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I am God!

Be still, and know that I am God...
(Psalm 46:10)

Those three words, "I am God", carry so much meaning.  In those words, God declares that he is our refuge, strength, conqueror, and redeemer.  This is an expression of his love, his might, and his grace.

As our refuge, he is our shelter, or our place of escape.  There are always going to be times when we just need a "safe" place of repose and renewal.  When under attack, we have hopes for a place of covering - that is what God is for us.  When we are without resources of our own, we hope to find a place that will provide what it is that we need - that is the place God prepares for us.

As our strength, he is all that we need in order to endure.  In his wings, we find the provision to endure.  He is the one who gives us the ability to resist the forces that are against us.  As our strength, he is also the one who gives us both our potency and our intensity for life.

As our conqueror, he is the one who removes obstacles that stand in our way.  He has proven by his death, burial and resurrection from the dead that he is indeed the one who is able to master any, and all, opposition.  Whatever it is that is against us - it shall not stand.  He is the ultimate possessor of power, authority and influence over the situations we face.  

I AM GOD is an exhortation to know him and to know him well.  We first come into a place of "knowing" God by believing in him.  When we are fully persuaded of his ability, power and might, we are open to accepting his willingness to do what he says he will do in our lives.  Belief is a place of accepting trustfully that he is who he say he is and being firmly convinced of his goodness.

We come to a place of "knowing" God by yielding to him and learning to serve him.  Surrendering the control of our lives to his able care brings us to a place of understanding his strength, his refuge, and his power.  Service is nothing more than being of use to him - waiting on him to give us the direction about how to live our lives.

The call is to be "still" and know that he is God.  The place of "stillness" is a place of no longer being in motion, being free of the turbulence that rages in our lives.  In the stillness of his presence, we discover that he wants us to be free of the turbulence of our past, the rigors of our present, and the uncertainties of our future.

In the present, he wants us to know he is sufficient.  In our future, he wants us to know that he is working all things together for our good.  As we celebrate his resurrection today, let us remember that his call is to be "still" and know that he is God in our lives.  

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The best meal ever

6"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat."
(Matthew 5:6)

There are various types of hunger and desire.  We have "appetites" for different things at different times in our day.  We don't necessarily want a bag of M&Ms for breakfast, but by our two-o'clock slump we might fancy them.  There are times we eat just because the clock says it is time to eat, or the opportunity is before us.  There are other times when we work so intently, caught up in the task at hand, only breaking to find nourishment when we finally realize an intense sense of hunger and fatigue in our bodies.

APPETITE:  An inherent craving.  A preference.  A taste for something.  That which we strive after.

HUNGER:  A craving, or urgent need, for that which satisfies.  A longing.

THIRST:  An ardent desire.  To crave urgently.

CRAVING:  Something that you earnestly desire.  That which you yearn for.  A strong inward desire.

DESIRE:  A longing or hope.  A conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction once attained.

All these words have something in common - the urgency of attaining that which will satisfy.  They focus on what it is that we desire - what we believe will provide us with a sense of reward.  We all know that we can be "hungry" for all the wrong things.  We also know that changing our mindset (and out "heart-set") to desire things that are good for us is a little more difficult at times.

There are several things that we need to ask God to give us a true "desire" for in our lives:
  1. Discipline - we need to begin to ask for the desire to have our lives trained in such a way that we see correction of negative behavior and attitudes.  We need the "mold" to be changed - only comes through discipline.
  2. Equipping - we need to learn how to find our own nourishment from God's Word instead of always having to be fed from the hand of another.  This is really the desire to be pursue both God's provisions and his promises - in order that we would be "fit" for service and action.
  3. Satisfaction - we all want to realize a place of satisfaction in our lives, but we seldom realize that the greatest satisfaction is found in the place of our lives being sanctified (made holy) by our God.  As we desire to grow in the grace of God, truly being set apart as an example of his grace, we develop an intense longing to be free of the sin that clutters our lives.
  4. Intimacy - we want a sense of closeness with our Savior.  This desire is for "contact" with our Lord - there is a need to know him, but also to be known by him.
  5. Renewal - we all need times of inner renewal or a refreshing of our spirit man.  The desire is to be vitally connected with God - so that we are renewed (made fresh) each day.
  6. Enlightenment - we all want to "be in the know" as it comes to the things God is doing and showing us.  With illumination comes exposure - this is the rub.  We want to know much more than we are willing to expose ourselves - we need to have this desire expanded in our lives.
We may not know the true value of our hunger until we experience the results of having that hunger truly satisfied.  I know from personal experience, I can eat and eat in the physical sense, all the while just not having whatever it was that I was craving satisfied.  The problem is that I have failed to recognize the specific craving - it was probably not really for chocolate, but for an apple!  We need God to begin to show us what it is that we really are craving in our lives and then begin to trust him to meet those cravings out of the storehouse of his love and goodness.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The trumpet call

1-3 God spoke to Moses: "Make two bugles of hammered silver. Use them to call the congregation together and give marching orders to the camps. When you blow them, the whole community will meet you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting..."
(Numbers 10:1-3)

The instructions to Moses were to make two bugles (or horns) of hammered silver.  These were to be used to communicate with God's people that it was either a time for worship, warfare, or to move on to their next place of occupation.  Whenever the horns were sounded, Israel was to hear clearly the instruction God was giving.  Depending on the sounding of the horns, the people would be "clued into" God's will for their lives at that moment.

Today, we don't have such a "clear" example of "hearing" God's will for our lives, but the three "calls" of the horns still apply to us.  The first "sounding" of the horn was a call to worship - a call to assemble together as a people.  The first thing we need to recognize is that God wanted them to hear and to respond to the horn.  His greatest desire for his kids is that we learn to hear his voice and then respond to it with a submissive and committed heart.

The call to assemble brought God's people together - into proximity with each other.  They were together for a specific purpose - to worship God.  God's hope was that they would come with a kind of expectation in their heart that would serve as his opportunity to meet with them in that time of their assembly - a time when he'd reveal some of who he was to them.  That is still the call to worship today - come with an expectant heart and you will not be disappointed.

The second call was to warfare - to come together for battle against a perceived threat.  Effective warfare is a result of two things - hearing the call to mobilize and listening to the directive of the one giving the orders to.  It is pretty apparent that the use of the trumpet could be one way of God getting the attention of a large group of people, all spread out in various directions.  Today, think of his "trumpet" as being the spiritual leaders he places before us.  They issue clear cries for warfare - attempting to gain the attention of God's people and to get their hearts into a position of alertness.  It is that alertness of heart that makes us ready and responsive for the battle ahead.

Whenever this sounding of the trumpet was heard, the people knew two things:  
  1. They were to be "on alert".  This was a time to tune into the battle plan, to understand the enemy and to be aware of the dangers around them.  
  2. The time of conflict was upon them.  There is strength in numbers.  When the call went out, the people gathered.  Imagine the strength that came to them when facing the conflict when they realized that they were not in the battle alone.
The last call was that of movement - getting up from where they were camped and marching on to the next place God would have them partake of.  This is certainly an unusual call of the trumpet, but necessary nonetheless.  It is often with great fear, and many times, with great resistance that we finally get up and move on to the next phase of development God has for us.  When we are "camped" in one spot, we are often comfortable with what we have come to accept as our "surroundings".  Spiritually, this type of "comfort zone" is dangerous - because it keeps us from growing.

So, regardless of the "call" we hear today, we need to be ready for the sounding of God's trumpet calls in our lives.  Hearing ears, readied hearts, and willing spirits are needed in order to respond.  One last thing....Israel relied upon the sound of the trumpet to know what came next for them.  We'd do very well to listen intently for the sound of God's voice before we make any move in our lives!  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The power of a memory

7For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he...
(Proverbs 23:7)

There are all kinds of things that "vie" for attention in our mind.  The "loudest" voice is often the one heard the best.  Just as much as there are things that demand our attention in our thought life, our emotions are constantly being "played" by the events of our days.  Depending on what it is that is running through our thoughts at the moment, the emotions can be manageable or completely out of control.  Therefore, learning to "manage" our minds goes a significantly long way in learning to live with an emotional "balance" in our lives.

Our mind really has two "sides" to it: the conscious and the unconscious.  The conscious side of our mind is pretty evident to us - when we are actively thinking on something, it is easy to see that our actions follow that thought pattern.  The unconscious side of our mind is not as easy to see, so we often don't equate our present action with what we are unconsciously thinking (or have entertained in the past).  It is often the "unconscious thought" that gets us into the greatest emotional upheaval in our lives.  

What am I saying here?  It is simply that there is unrecognized power in our memories.  Whatever we "store away" in the recesses of our minds has the potential to either ignite our actions in either a positive or negative way.  Periodically, I need to clean out my file cabinet, the top of my desk, and the other "clutter" areas of my home.  Whenever I do this, I find that I was keeping all kinds of stuff that I really did not need to keep.  After all, how many paid utility bills is a person required to keep?  When the next advertised specials come out from the Penney's store, why is the old ad still lingering at the bottom of the pile?  You get the point!

Just as we must "un-clutter" our physical space, we must focus on the "de-cluttering" of our minds, as well.  There are things that we hold onto in our thoughts that should have been discarded long ago.  There are some things that we should have "tossed" long ago in our lives.  

The first thing would be what I will call "falsehoods" - those things that we embraced as reality that really aren't.  These could be things we have been taught that really have no basis of proof like the idea that sunscreen "keeps" you from getting a sunburn.  This is not entirely true - it just "lessens" the burn.  You still need to limit your time in the sun to avoid the burn.  There are a lot of "false" beliefs that we have formed about ourselves and others that really have no foundation in reality.  Yet, we hold onto them like they were true and these wrong thought-patterns influence how we see ourselves and others.

The next thing we probably need to focus on discarding is "memory of wrongs".  In simple terms, we call this forgiveness.  There are past hurts that we hold onto for one reason or another - these come back to haunt us as the weirdest times.  The emotional baggage of unforgiveness is tremendously weighty, so it is one of the most significant things we need to focus on when we seek to "de-clutter" our minds.

The list could go on, but you are probably getting the idea that not everything we have put into our minds is worth hanging onto.  Sometimes we just need a little time and space to begin that decluttering process.  The investment of time in evaluating what we have "tucked away" into the recesses of our unconscious mind is really worth the investment.  It is not until we discover what it is that we unconsciously accept as truth that we can counteract it with the reality of truth!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The search is on

The one who seeks good finds delight...
(Proverbs 11:27)

I read a book once called "The Search for Significance".  The basis of the book was in finding out what it is that we really have "need" of in our lives.  We have lots and lots of "wants" that we often confuse as "needs" in our life.  Sometimes it may be something like desiring a better job instead of being grateful for the one we have.  The desire is a "want", while the actual job we have meets the "need".

The title of the book grabbed my attention.  I guess that is what the author intended - because we often are drawn to a book by its title or cover.  This morning, I'd like to focus on two words from that title:  Search and Significance.

Search basically has three definitions:
  1. To look into or over carefully or thoroughly in an effort to find or discover something.  The idea is this "thoroughness" of examination that we put something (or someone) through before we embrace it (or reject it).  There is a desire to know the "ins and outs" of what it is we are examining - nothing being left that we don't discover in our examination.
  2. To look through or to explore by inspecting possible places of concealment.  Usually, when we are seeking in this manner it is because we "really" want to find something that we consider important to us.  It is like when we put something away "so carefully", only to discover that we don't remember where we put it when we need it!  The hunt is on!
  3. To look at as if to discover or penetrate intention or nature.  This is probably the most significant definition of this word because it moves us from "head knowledge" (knowing something) into a place of "heart knowledge" (knowing why something is the way it is).  This type of searching gets at the root.
Significance has four definitions that I'd like us to explore:
  1. Something that is conveyed obscurely or indirectly.  In other words, the importance of what it is we are seeking is not always obviously displayed (it may be found only when we "peel back the layers").
  2. Something conveyed or implied as important.  We often refer to something as "significant" whenever we have elevated that thing or person to a place of importance in our lives.  Yet, what is important to you may not be as important to me, so this means that significance is determined by how an individual "relates" to something or someone.
  3. Something that reveals meaning.  We sometimes refer to something, an event, or an individual as significant because there is meaning conveyed in the contact with that thing, person or event.  
  4. That which is caused by something other than chance.  This is the definition that I want to emphasize the most (it is the most "significant" definition).  There are things that happen that are purposeful - not just a cosmic event of "chance".  There are people in our lives placed there for a season - not just by "chance", but to fulfill a purpose.  When we begin to realize that the event or the person is not just there "by chance", we begin to explore so as to discover the purpose (the significance).
There is one thing I've discovered in my walk on this earth - if I don't know what it is that I am going after, I will never know if I am successful in my search.  If I am aimless, I seldom hit the target!  In order to know what it is I am aiming for, I must answer four questions:  1)  What am I searching for?; 2) Why is this thing / person / event important to me at this point in my life?; 3) What is it that I see as fundamental to getting at the root of the issue?; and 4) Who is it that I am willing to share this search with?  

I am never expected to "seek" alone.  We are given each other for the purpose of walking this journey together.  The "search" is on - who is it that you will partner with in this search?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The true you

3-4You didn't think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
(Romans 2:3-4)

An amazing truth about God is how immensely patient he is with his children.  He gives us space - to make our own choices.  He gives us time - to come to our own conclusions.  He gives us these things because he knows that in order to have our heart, he must have it yielded willingly.  God is infinitely patient in his waiting for us to turn from our sin - but he will not wait forever.  Sometimes, he gives us gentle nudges to cause us to see our sin.  When he does, remember that it is out of his immense love for us that he has done so.

We often want to take the "focus" off of us by putting it on someone else - pointing out their faults.  It is like we believe that by pointing out the other person's faults, no one will ever see ours, including God!  Silly us!  In fact, look at what another criticizes in another on a frequent basis and you will usually have a good idea of what the one doing the criticizing is struggling with, too!

Look at this passage again - it is not a subtle walk with God that we are called to live out.  It is a "radical" life-change.  These three words say it all!
  • Radical - getting at the root of things.  This word carries the idea of getting at the fundamental stuff - what's really at the core of our being.  When God goes for the "root", he is expecting something to be extremely different in the end.  The "root" of something gives it both its stability and its system for being nurtured.  If the "root" is wrong - the fruit will be, as well.
  • Life - looking at what is produced.  This word carries the idea of growth - th ability to adapt when moved upon by a force greater than ourselves.  God focuses on the root because he hopes to affect the fruit.  He is concerned with our growth.  His desire is that we no longer "adapt" to the world around us, but that we "adapt" to his will, his direction, and his love for us.  In so doing, he really is "transplanting" us from infertile, diseased soil into the nutrient rich soil of his grace.  There is no better place to take root.
  • Change - moving from what we were to what we would become if we were left to our own devices.  God is not as concerned about what we have the "ability" to do as in helping us realize that ability in him.  His greatest goal is to make our "form" or "nature" just like his son's.  To do this, he removes the covering we place over our sin in an attempt to hide it from him and others.  In so doing, the exposure allows him to transform what has been hidden into something that can actually be a display of his grace.
So, it is to this radical life-change that God calls us today.  It is easier to cover up our sin than it is to face it - but no amount of cover-up will change what is produced.  The "cover-up" is over!  It is time to allow the Lord to see the "true" you!  He has something divine he desires to produce...let him at it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Right standing

16-17It's news I'm most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God's powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God's way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: "The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives."
(Romans 1:16-17)

Paul starts his letter to the Romans with the idea of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.  Why does he start there?  Simply to start at a place of "proof" - proof of the authority of Christ as the Son of God.  He was emphasizing that this one that the Jews had come to know as the Son of Man was more - he was the one and only begotten Son of God.  

Paul also emphasizes the calling, or mission, we each have in Christ.  It is simply the privilege to proclaim the truth about Christ.  We do this "proclamation" from a position of authority - because of the resurrection of Christ.  When we proclaim Christ with this type of authority, God received glory and praise.

Sharing what God has done in our lives is one way of blessing each other.  As we share the power of Christ to transform a life, we are blessing each other with new hope, challenging the faith of the other, and opening up the truth of God's authority to that individual.  The gospel message is powerful - it saves all those that believe it.  The most awesome part of the gospel message is the constant message of God making us "right" in his sight.  His power to transform is evident in every message contained within scripture.

The truth about God is known to us instinctively - we are created with a certain innate ability to "know" God.  When we reject this knowledge, we are placing ourselves under judgment - in a place where we are without hope and living far below the potential God has for us.  We can see God in all that is made (creation) and we have absolutely no excuse for our rejection of him, his authority, or his power.  

Paul opens this letter to the Roman church with a reminder that God is not going to somehow interject himself into our lives.  His power and authority are available to all who will receive it - but it must be received.  We can continue in our shameful deeds and determine to do them regardless of what God says or reveals about his love for us.  When we do this, we are deliberately choosing to reject him.  Rejection or acceptance of the authority of God in our lives is a simple matter of choice.

Deception is not accidental - it stems from our choices.  When we refuse to acknowledge the authority and power of God in our lives, we are choosing to live in deception.  God will not supersede our choices - he will abandon us to our shameful choices.  It would be outside of God's intense love for us for him to violate our free will.  It grieves him that we choose to live apart from him, but he will not cross that boundary of free will.

So, right standing with God is a matter of choice.  Choice is a matter of our free will.  Although God possesses all authority to "make us" act anyway he would life, he will not violate our free will.  If we make the choice to embrace the love of God, we are also embracing his authority.  With his authority come his power - the ability to live above wrong choices.  So, the starting point is in making the first choice - choosing to accept the power, authority, and love of Christ.  If you have not reached that starting point in your life, it is available to you by simply asking God to reveal his Son in you. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Inflow determines outflow

14-15"Listen now, all of you— take this to heart. It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it's what you vomit—that's the real pollution."  
20-23"It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution."
(Mark 7:14-15; 20-23)

With today's incessant emphasis on diets, new and improved probiotic-infused foods, and custom-designed daily vitamins, it is a wonder that we know what matters anymore.  So many times we focus more on what "goes into" the body and completely miss the importance of what it is that "comes out" of that same man or woman in the form of action, attitude, and exemplified values.  Jesus is speaking to that very thing in this passage.  He and his disciples have just been criticized for not "washing" prior to partaking of their meal.  Trust me, there was no real concern on their part that the disciples practiced good hand-hygiene to reduce the spread of micro-organisms!  It was a "custom", plain and simple, that they were bypassing - and that drew the attention of the Pharisees.

In one sense, we can be too overly focused on what it is that we "allow" into our physical bodies (not to say that we shouldn't be conscientious to eat well).  On the other hand, we can be too nonchalant about our physical intake, bringing unwanted things like obesity, clogged arteries, and diabetes into our lives.  So, focusing on what "goes into" our physical bodies is not exactly a bad thing - but it is not the primary focus Jesus is concerned with here.

His concern is in what we allow into our lives that will ultimately "pollute" everything that comes out of our lives.  The list of "outward" manifestations of things that are hidden in the recesses of a man's mind, or heart, is what he is concerned with.  These are directly impacted by what we allow to be the repeated focus of our thoughts, or the continual intake of damaging things through our physical senses like sight or sound.  

As we examine the list of "outward" manifestations of what is "inwardly" embraced, it easy to see why he is so concerned with our "intake".  Obscenities - morally offensive, disgusting, and repulsive communication.  Lusts - intense and uncontrolled desires of all types that demand fulfillment and suck up our focus in life.  Thefts - the taking of what we have no right to on our own.  Murders - the "ending of life" may not be literal, but even the desire to "do away" with another is a crime in Jesus' book.  Adulteries - the uncontrolled urge to take what belongs to another.  Greed - the continual desire for more and the competition to always outdo the other guy.  Depravity - evil, corrupt, totally consumed by what pleases self and demeans another.  Deceptive dealings - fraudulent, misleading, misguided actions.  Carousing - loose living.  Mean looks and slander - wrong conduct toward another that damages or demeans another's reputation or self-image.  Arrogance - the incessant desire to be the best and to be noticed for it.  Foolishness - you could name any number of things here!  

The question we need to ask is simple:  What is "going into" our lives that may "come out" in a manner that is not honoring of others, or that will damage the image of what others might believe about God as a result of our behavior or actions?  We need to be cognizant of the "outflow" of our lives.  We can only do that by being conscious of the "inflow".  What goes in is what comes out!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Who's playing you?

 8-9"Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment...  12-13Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
(Mark 6:8-9; 12-13)

The disciples are being sent out in pairs to begin to reach out to those in need.  Their goal is to preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand and to heal the sick - setting the captive free.  Before they go, Jesus takes a moment to give them their "marching orders".  The first thing he focuses on is the human tendency to tell God we don't have what we need to accomplish what it is that he is asking us to do.  Jesus tells them not to be concerned about the "equipment" to perform the tasks ahead - letting them know in no uncertain terms that THEY are the equipment God needs and plans to use.

This is an important message for us to receive - WE are the equipment God intends to use.  It is not the fancy church buildings, the elaborately designed outreaches to the community, or the mega-bucks sound system.  It is HUMAN BEINGS that God uses as instruments to touch other HUMAN BEINGS.  God knows our tendency to make excuses for what we view as a "lack" of ability on our parts - citing reason after reason for us not being able to reach out with the message of hope to those in need.

God has no other plan.  We are his only plan.  If we don't step up to the plan, the message is not going out as he intended - each of us with our unique ability to touch our own unique peer group.  You know what it sound like when an orchestra of instruments like the oboe, violin, cymbals, french horns, flutes, etc., all play in unison.  It is a thing of beauty - the unity of sound (each unique in its own way) bring forth a beautiful result.  That is what God has in mind for us - each "playing his/her own part".

Look at their response to Jesus.  They went as he commanded.  No arguments.  They did what he commanded.  Amazingly, his Spirit was right there, backing up everything they were doing.  The simple fact of truth here is that we step out in obedience, God is right alongside to back up each one of us.  We never stand alone - never need to worry about the message we preach.  

Look at their attitude.  They preached with joyful urgency.  Why?  Simply because they knew they had a message of hope.  They had experienced first-hand that God's presence in their lives made life radically different.  That is what we have the ability to share - the radical life change of a life touched by the grace of God.  There ought to be an urgency burning within each of us to share what it is that God has done in us.  The grace of God is best embraced when its results can be demonstrated!

Look at the results of their obedience.  The Spirit of God intervened.  The communities they touched were changed for the glory of God.  Lives were impacted with the grace of God - healing and transforming lives.  There is always an impact when God's kids step out in obedience.  It is impossible for things to remain the same.  Lives will be changed.

YOU are his instrument.  There are a lot of saxophones in this world, but each of them sounds so much better when someone like Kenny G takes hold of it and begins to bring forth music from it!  Each of us begins to realize our true calling when we yield to the skilled direction of our Lord and Master.