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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The purpose of the hammer - Part V

29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
(Jeremiah 23:29)

The last two purposes of a hammer are not the traditional uses of a hammer as we might think of when we consider what a hammer might do.  Indeed, a small "hammer" is used to produce music when it either strikes a bell, or a piano string.  Those little hammers inside your old traditional alarm clocks would cause a clang loud enough to raise us from slumber.  The many hammers within the hidden parts of the piano would magically produce melodies that soothed our souls, or set our feet to tapping!

The tiny hammers within the alarm clock produce a sound strong enough to get us to a place that we are aware of our environment once again.  The Word of God is continually in the process of bringing a clear and resonant "sound" that helps to awaken us from our slumber and apathy.  As it produces the "sound" that awakens us, there is a "tuning in" of our senses to be responsive to our environment (much like what occurs when we are awakened by our alarm clock or the clanging of the fire alarm in an emergency).  Our senses are "set on alert" and we begin to process the environment in a fresh way.

The softer, fabric covered hammers within the piano may not look as though they can produce much, but their continual movement on the strings of the piano in response to the one tapping on the various keys of the keyboard produces a melody that warms the heart.  As much as a pianist might hope for a resonant and melodious "tone" to produced in the striking of the key and the resulting strike of the hammer, the "tone" is dependent on the tuning of the string it strikes.  Too tight, or too loose, and the music that is produced is neither melodious or harmonious.  In fact, we'd say it was "out of tune".

Those "out of tune" strings need to be brought into "tune" - the fine tuning of our character is often accomplished by the repeated striking of the hammer against the strings of our heart while the Lord is adjusting those "strings" until just the right tone is produced.  The repeated striking may "drive us nuts" while we have to see just how and where we are out of tune with God's best for our lives, but once the process is done, the sounding of those little hammers produces a much different result!

So, we have looked at how the hammer strikes repeated blows so as to pound and to reduce.  We have explored how it shapes what it hits - causing it to take on form and purpose beyond what it fulfilled previously.  The ability of the hammer to construct or build by fastening what it hits gives us hope that the constructing of our lives is in capable hands.  The igniting power of the hammer of God's Word is what propels us forward.  Last, but certainly not least, the "hammer" of God's Word is that which awakens us and produces sweetness in our inner man.  Hammer on, God!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The purpose of the hammer - Part IV

29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
(Jeremiah 23:29)

Our fourth purpose of a hammer has a little different meaning.  The use of a weapon, such as a pistol, requires the "hammer" to connect with the firing pin, thus igniting the cartridge that will force the projectile from the barrel of the weapon.  As the hammer is "cocked" back, it is poised for release.  Once released, the series of actions produced has astronomical results!

The same is true of the Word of God.  The fact is, the Word is "poised" to bring about a series of responses within us that ignite us and propel us into action.  There is always something within us that has the potential of "explosion" if it is ignited by the right connections.  The Word has a way of making that connection that aligns all the parts so as to bring about an "ignition" within.

When something is ignited, it is brought to the place of "excitement" - there is action in the connection.  The Word cannot help but produce a little "heat" within us.  The Word is often likened to a fire - that which has the potential of producing intense heat!  That which is ignited by the "hammer" of the Word is moved to respond to the "heat" that is produced.

That which is ignited requires kindling to continue its work.  It is not sufficient that the firing pin hits the head of the bullet - there must be a propellant source within that bullet in order to force the bullet from the barrel of the weapon.  That is the purpose of the "gun powder" within the bullet - it acts as that which puts into motion the lead projectile we have come to know as the bullet!  The Word of God, combined with the kindling power of the Holy Spirit, does just that - it creates a powerful force that causes us to not be contained within the confines of our former condition any longer.

The Word, and the Holy Spirit, send us into action - but the action began with the hammer.  The bullet is in a "dormant" state until the series of connections begins to take place.   Each and every "change" within our lives is a series of connections perfectly orchestrated.  One connection produces the next, and so on, until the desired action begins to occur.  God rarely allows us to have unrealized potential for very long - he moves us into action - sometimes in "rapid fire" succession!

The purpose of the hammer is to make "connection" - the purpose of the connection is to produce action.  The purpose of the action is to connect with the target.  The target is always before us - the actions required to hit that target are dormant within us.   If you have never heard it said, the real meaning for "sin" in the Bible is "missing the mark" or "missing the target".  It is the Word of God that begins the process of us "hitting the target".  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The purpose of the hammer - Part III

29My words are a powerful fire; they are a hammer that shatters rocks.
(Jeremiah 23:29)

Our third example of the use of a hammer is in the construction process - it is used to build something - to fasten that which it hits.  It is the combining of the various parts, (nail, wood, or another object), that the position of strength and usefulness takes form.  For example, wood in a pile has not much use until it is combined with a few nails.  The work of the hammer is to drive the nail into the wood, joining it and giving it form.  Soon, that wood takes on a sense of usefulness to the one who is doing the building.

There is a strength that comes in joining the wood.  When God brings pieces of our lives into alignment and then firmly "fixes" them to his foundation of love and grace, our lives take on a strength that they were missing before.  Without that "ordering" of the parts (body, soul, spirit, emotions, mind, etc), we are nothing more than a whole lot of parts!  Once we are firmly "fixed" to a foundation, we take on our true "form" and we have a new-found strength.

One piece of wood on a foundation is just that - it might be standing strong and be nice to look at, but it does not have the same usefulness or strength as when it is combined with a whole lot of other pieces of wood.  When that combining of parts occurs, we see a wall take form, and then another, until the "project" becomes "consistent" with the image the builder has in mind.  The "finished product" is recognizable as a house!  The first piece of wood fixed firmly to the foundation was not.

We often want to rush the "building" process in our lives, but when we do this, we sometimes lack the "integrity" that God is working to build into us.  The work of "constructing" our character comes as a direct result of the hammer of his Word being in continual contact with the various parts of our lives, firmly "fixing" us to his foundation.  His Word is the base upon which we are built and it is that which provides the "securing" of our parts together.  It is through the skilled use of the Word that we are made into the ever enlarging "recognizable" product that reflects his image.

The hammer fastens what it hits - the Word is the only thing that can make us fast and secure.  It gives us a firm "grip" or "hold".  Stand a piece of wood up next to another and they may stand there for a while.  When the elements begin to affect them, they may dry out and begin to warp.  If the wood is joined to another piece, the elements have less chance of affecting them - because they are firmly fastened.  God is always working to fasten our various elements of body, soul, emotions, etc., to that which gives us strength to withstand the pressures of life.

As we are enlarged, we take on the image of usefulness.  When a house is finally built, it is intended to be inhabited fully.  That is God's ultimate goal - to inhabit us fully. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

The purpose of the hammer - Part II

29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?"
(Jeremiah 23:29)

Today, we will explore the second purpose for the hammer.  According to Webster, a hammer strikes blows so as to pound.  It also shapes that which it hits.  It is that shaping process that we will explore today.  God's word is a tool used to "shape" us - it is designed to "adapt" us to the character traits that most closely resemble those of Christ's.


The shaping process of the hammer often brings that which is being shaped into close contact with that object that is creating the shape.  As the object being shaped is placed on top of that which acts as a backdrop to all the shaping process, the hammer comes down on the on the object, conforming it to the image of that which it rests upon.  We might say that the process is one of modifying the object to take on the form of that which it is being molded against.


If we are close enough to Jesus in the shaping process, the image of Jesus will begin to take form within us!  When God uses his Word to shape us, it is always aimed at us taking on a mature form - a character that is "modified" so that it displays that which it has been in contact with!  The sculptor works with metal, shaping it until it takes on the form he desires to see.  The same is true with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.


We are in the process of transitioning from one shape into another - until the finished work of art is ready (the object reflects that which it has been in contact with!).  At first, the sculptor sees only metal that is gouged and pocked with evidence of the hammer having repeatedly striking it.  As time passes, the appearance of the metal changes - as it is being stretched by the hammer and that which it rests upon, it takes on a "shine" and is stretched to a new capacity.


We want to resist both the hammer and the continued contact with the "anvil" of his Word.  Why?  Simply because the Word of God is stretching us in ways we did not know we needed to be stretched.  It is molding our character - and that process is sometimes painful.  The process is repeated until that which is absolutely perfect is produced.  As a metal worker pounds the metal, shaping it gradually by the continued pounding, then plunges it into water to cool it down a little - it is hardened to a new strength it did not possess before.


We may resist the pounding of the hammer of his Word - but when we are plunged into the refreshing of is Word - we become stronger!  We take on a new strength.  That strength would not be possible without the strike of the hammer!  The resilience of character produced by the striking of the Word over and over again is a direct result of the image Christ has of us in his mind - he is the sculptor, forming that which will bring him enjoyment and glory.  Don't resist the strike of the hammer - the closeness of the Word.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The purpose of the hammer - Part I

29 Does not my word burn like fire?” says the Lord.
   “Is it not like a mighty hammer that smashes a rock to pieces?"
(Jeremiah 23:29)

You know me well enough to realize that I would look up "hammer" in the dictionary.  In doing so, I discovered some meaningful uses (purposes) for the hammer.  Over the next couple of days, I will explore those with you and see just how they might impact our lives (no pun intended!).

The first use of a hammer is to strike a blow, or repeated blows, so as to pound an object.  As a young girl, Dad would give me some nails and a hammer with a piece of scrap wood.  I'd "pound" them for a while, but soon would have the hammer over in the dirt, pounding down dirt-clods, breaking up little stones, or just plane mashing stuff that was in sight.

When something is "pounded" it is reduced to powder - it no longer bears the image of what it had formerly been.  Being "reduced" seldom occurs on the first blow of the hammer - it requires repeated blows.  There are lots of forms of hammers, but one that I always liked the best was the sledge hammer.  It was about five pounds and took both hands for me to wield the thing...but the pounding yielded quicker results!

If I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a piece of scrap metal, I'd work on that for a while.  I was always intrigued by how a round piece of copper wire could be "mashed" into a long thread of thin, shiny copper.  The wire was malleable, but the pounded wire was moldable - it could take on a new form!

Sometimes God's Word is like a hammer in our souls - coming in repeated measures until what it was after no longer bears the image of what was formerly there!  God is persistent - he doesn't just use his Word once and then move on.  He uses it long enough, and frequently enough, that it begins to affect us deeply.  The goal is that we'd no longer bear the image of sin and compromise in our lives, but would be re-formed into the image of his son.

God's use of his Word is to make us into a "new form" - he is all about turning what has had one purpose in our lives into something with a fresh and vital purpose.  We'd do well to consider the frequency of the "blows" we receive from the Word and ask God what it is that he might be changing by those blows!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ears, Hands & Feet

Moses then presented the second ram, the ram for the Ordination-Offering. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the ram's head. Moses slaughtered it and smeared some of its blood on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. Then Aaron's sons were brought forward and Moses smeared some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. 
(Leviticus 8:22-24)

This ordination-offering and the anointing of Aaron and his sons seems a little extreme in light of our present day worship experiences.  We don't bring live animals to church with us to present on the altar, nor do we anoint individuals called into service as ministers with blood from a slain animal.  So, what does this passage have to do with us today?  I think we can take a lesson from the anointing that might help us in our own undivided worship of the King of Kings - Jesus.

We don't speak much about "anointing" today - it kind of a lost concept in our present day worship.  Yet, the importance of the anointing of the Old Testament carries a lesson for us today - there was nothing more important than the anointing for evidence that a person was set apart for God's service.  The anointing ceremony was a time when the individual was acknowledging that they were not going to pursue life by their own efforts any longer, but were looking to God to use them - they were making themselves available.  

The anointing involved touching the ear.  The ear is the instrument of hearing. The anointing of the ear was intended to mark the ear as an instrument that was yielded to listening to the voice of God.  Hearing is often the beginning of action because what we hear is passed onto the mind (we think about it) and then it begins to affect our heart (we formulate actions).  So, having an anointed ear helps us "filter" what comes in.  Some of what we "hear" paralyzes us - keeping us from action.  Either because of fear, unbelief, or mistrust.  Sometimes, we just don't listen!

The anointing involved the hand.  The hand is the instrument by which we touch the lives of others.  No other touch may be as significant as that which carries the healing of Christ's love.  We are called upon to reach out to our world - we want to be doing that with the anointing!

The anointing involved the feet.  The feet are instruments of movement - they take us places, or keep us firmly planted where we stand.  Leaders must know when to move, and when to remain firmly fixed in place.  The anointing of the feet is a symbol of obedience.  The child of God will do well to learn to combine the anointing of the ear (the beginning of obedience) with the anointing of the hands and feet (the instruments that carry us into obedient actions).

So, although we don't use blood for anointing today, it is legitimate that we can ask the Holy Spirit to anoint our ears (that we might hear), our hands (that we might learn to touch the world), and our feet (that we might learn complete obedience in our actions).  Anointing of this nature will take us a long way in our walk with Christ.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dropped on Purpose - Part II

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”
(Ruth 2:15-16)

Yesterday we began to explore the intentional work of God to provide more than we have need of - allowing us to experience what he has provided ON PURPOSE in our lives.  Ruth was in a rare situation when she was gathering the leftover grains from the fields of Boaz.  She recognized that what was left was more than what most harvesters would leave.  When she came into the realization that there was grain being left ON PURPOSE, she was humbled and felt terribly unworthy of this man's favor.

We often feel the same way about God's favor in our lives - we see ourselves as unworthy and therefore, we resist the favor he extends.  The fact is that God has placed answers in our path ON PURPOSE.  He has provided undeserved favor in our lives ON PURPOSE.  Our worthiness is not the deal-breaker here!  God doesn't wait for us to be "worthy" of his answers or his favor!  He places all that we need right where we need it ON PURPOSE even before we recognize that we need it!

Ruth was in a rare place of being able to gather among the harvesters.  She recognized that she was acquiring much more in her gleaning than she would be able to use in just one or two meals.  When she "beat out" that grain, she saw just how much she had gathered.  Naomi recognized this, as well, and is amazed at the good fortune of Ruth to have undertaken her gleaning in the field of Boaz.  If the truth be known, there are those in our lives that God has placed there by "divine appointment".  We may not fully recognize the significance of their involvement in our lives until the end of venture.  In the end, we look back and see the even their involvement was ON PURPOSE.

Here's what I hope we get from this passage:  1) God places us where we can come into direct contact with what he has provided for us ON PURPOSE.  Both our placement and the benefits of that placement have a unique purpose in our lives.  When we resist that placement - we limit the blessings of God.  2) God is purposeful in the display of his grace when we least expect it.  Ruth did not expect to find more grain in this field - yet she did.  It was purposefully placed there for her benefit.  God's graces are most often something we discover when we least expect them.  3) We can never underestimate the purpose of the ones God puts in our path.  The ON PURPOSE alignment of one with another is often not fully understood until the evidence of the journey is realized.

Not sure whose fields you might be "gleaning" from today - but I am confident that God has placed blessings in your path ON PURPOSE.  Handfuls of blessing have been dropped in your path ON PURPOSE.  Don't be in too much of a hurry to pass by what has been purposefully placed there for your enjoyment.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dropped on Purpose - Part I

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”
(Ruth 2:15-16)

In the book of Ruth, we find a story of Naomi (a Jewish woman of the tribe of Judah) left all alone in a foreign country during a time of drought in Israel.  The misfortune of losing her sons and husband had fallen to her in their sojourn to find a place to wait out the great drought.  She has two daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth.  When Naomi heard that the drought had ended in Judah, she yearned to return to her homeland.  Orpah did not want to leave her family, nor her home of her youth, so she stayed behind.  Ruth declared boldly, "Where you go, I will go!"  So, off they went to Naomi's home town.

The story continues with Ruth doing what most widows of the day did - looking for a little leftovers in the fields so that she might obtain a few meals for both her and her mother-in-law.  A woman without a husband to care for her usually was taken in by a brother, or returned to the household of her father.  Ruth had neither of these advantages in a foreign land, so she did what she knew to do - glean what was leftover in the fields after the harvesters picked the grain.

Ruth was hungry - she had two choices - go home where she could find food in the care of one of her kinsmen, or glean from the fields in the land of Judah.  She had made a determination of heart that kept her in the fields of Judah.  Many of us may not have been that committed to our vow to remain loyal to another, but Ruth made a choice that superseded her desire for comfort and ease.  Ruth was what we'd call a "beggar" today.  She was essentially without a "home".  She set out each morning into the fields, apron affixed, not ashamed of her poverty.

There is something very easy to miss in this story - Ruth knew exactly what to do and where to look to have her needs met.  She knew that the best place to glean leftovers was right there among the reapers in the fields.  She followed behind those that knew how to harvest the fields.  She is seeking grain - so she goes exactly where she can expect to find it.  We'd do well to learn this lesson - going to the right source for the provision of what we need is the first step in having our need met!

Boaz is a kinsman of Naomi's - not an immediate one - but a member of the family nonetheless.  He did something that most kinsmen that far removed would not have done - he makes provision for Naomi and Ruth.  He instructs his harvesters to leave Ruth alone.  This was probably more than a subtle warning to just allow her to glean from the fields - it was also probably a stern warning to now abuse her in anyway.  He goes one step further - much like God does with the display of his grace to us - and instructs them to leave grain on the stems ON PURPOSE.  

The purpose was to meet the needs of Ruth and Naomi.  She gleans more than she can eat - she has an abundance that is greater than her need.  That is the way it is with God's graces - they are always more than we need at this very moment.  God provides so much for us that is right there when we have need of it - all of it put there ON PURPOSE in our lives.  Sometimes it is a wise word spoken in a season of need - at others it is the extra finances to cover an unexpected expense.  Whatever the need, God's provision is put there ON PURPOSE and it is more than we need!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Everything comes out right

43-44 And so God gave Israel the entire land that he had solemnly vowed to give to their ancestors. They took possession of it and made themselves at home in it. And God gave them rest on all sides, as he had also solemnly vowed to their ancestors. Not a single one of their enemies was able to stand up to them—God handed over all their enemies to them.  45 Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke to the house of Israel. Everything came out right.
(Joshua 21:43-45)

Israel is coming into possession of their land - after about 40 years of wandering in the wilderness because of their rebellion and unbelief - after they had dispossessed the strong armies that inhabited the region.  They are about to take possession - but the one who gave them the land was God himself.  There are times in our lives when we think that the actions of our own hands and the schemes of our own brains have been exactly what brought about the success we are enjoying.  This seldom is the case - in fact, if we listen closely to what scripture tells us, all we possess and enjoy is a result of God's ordering our steps to obtain it.

Several key concepts are laid out for us in this passage:
  • God is to be trusted - he does not make promises he will not keep.  We often find this hard to believe because we are used to human efforts to keep promises.  We must never lose sight of the fact that God is not limited by human ability or intent.  He is divine - and he will do what he says he will do.
  • God gives us rest on all sides.  The place of rest is conditioned on obedience.  It is very difficult for us to find rest in our rebellion.  In fact, the place of rebellion is a rut, well-worn by continued re-walking of the same paths.  Rebellion keeps us in the rut - repentance breaks us free of the rut and brings us into new places.  
  • God plans on us enjoying what it is that he provides for us.  There is much joy in giving a gift that will be enjoyed.  As a grandparent, one of the biggest things I have learned about giving gifts to the boys is that I need to make sure they have at least one really fun gift that they will enjoy.  I have learned to put all the socks, underwear, and clothing in one big bag - or simply give a gift card to meet those needs.  Then I put that toy, game, or special thing in another bag - the one they will open and enjoy!  God is the giver of both the practical and the "fun" gifts in our lives - he plans on us enjoying them both.  He might "package" them differently, but the outcome is the same - they are for our enjoyment.
  • God's plan includes the protection of his family.  Israel stood in a place of peace - not one enemy left to taunt or terrorize them.  God had seen to that by giving careful counsel to the leaders in their taking of this land.  God's protection of his family is ultimately his doing - we may participate in times of obedient movement, but he is the one in constant vigil over those he loves.
The closing words - not one word failed - speak volumes about the character of God.  He does not idly speak.  His words are active and alive - they carry a punch.  There is assurance that comes when the words of God are spoken.  This passage ends kind of like the stories we read when we were children - you know the words, don't you?  The end of the story was, "And everyone lived happily ever after."  Well, this passage ends with similar words, but with a deeper meaning - "Everything came out right."  

For everything to come our right, God must be in charge.  Nothing left to the doing of man can be guaranteed to come our well.  God is the one who orders the steps - he is the one who assures the ending will be as it should.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The voice of "me"

 19 Let angry people endure the backlash of their own anger;
   if you try to make it better, you'll only make it worse. 
(Proverbs 19:19)

There is a message in this passage that has two-sides to it.  The first is the fact that short-fused individuals reap a return on their lack of self-control quicker than they'd like.  The end-result of their outbursts is that a "wake" is left.  That wake leaves damages that are often unable to be repaired.  Trust is lost, respect is disintegrated, and relationships are brought to ruin.

Yet, the most dangerous place to be is in the middle trying to either "reign in" or "mitigate the fall-out" of the outbursts of an individual that has no real sense of what their outbursts are doing.  At some point, we may need to step back.  When we are in the middle, the backlash affects us often more than it does the individual with the lack of self-control.  How many times do we get "involved" in something that was the direct result of somebody else's lack of "self-control"?  

Self-control is just that - it is the ability to respond with internal measures of control that allow us to "reign ourselves in"!  To attempt to mitigate the lack of self-control of another is like trying to hold back the waters of a mighty swelling floodwater!

27 If you quit listening, dear child, and strike off on your own,
   you'll soon be out of your depth. 
(Proverbs 19:27)

This second passage from the nineteenth Proverb struck me this morning because it presents the reality of not heeding direction - we get into deep waters.  Don't miss the fact that the writer implies that at some point we STOP listening.  That implies that at some point, we were.  Either by conscious decision, or unconscious lack of self-control, we stopped.

When we stop listening to the wise counsel of those that God has placed in our lives, we open ourselves up to listening to loudest voice.  That could be our own voice, crying out "I don't get it!", "What is up with this?", or "This is so wrong!"  It could be the voice of others who also have stopped listening to wise counsel, crying out "We were wronged!", "This is unfair!", or "No one ever listens to us!"  

It really doesn't matter what the message is - the center of that message is almost always directed the perception that "me" did not get heard, their wish granted, or their plans heeded.  "Me" gets in the way of a whole lot of wise choices!  The most dangerous part of listening to the voice of "me" is that "me" soon finds itself out in the deep waters of adversity and realizes that "me" is all alone in that place of uncertainty.

The sooner that we recognize that the voice of "me" is not always the most reliable voice to respond to, the better our chances are of remaining on stable footing!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cross-Examination

 17 The first speech in a court case is always convincing—
   until the cross-examination starts! 
(Proverbs 18:17)

I like shows or movies that give you a riveting courtroom trial in which there is little to no hope of the defending attorney ever proving the person on trial really did not do the crime.  In these courtroom depictions, the prosecuting attorney must "make the case" against the "defendant".  The case begins with what they term "opening arguments" - the laying out of the case from each person's perspective in such a way that the jury is given a hint about what will be presented.

The passage today is quite revealing - the opening speeches may all be nicely worded and organized into a nice synopsis of the beliefs of both the prosecutor and the defender, but they don't contain all the "evidence".  That is the purpose of the trial - it "opens up" the intricate pieces of evidence for the jury to examine and use in coming to a conclusion about the outcome of the trial.  Many times, these courtroom scenes depict a pretty certain prosecutor who believes his/her case is rock-solid.  All the witnesses for the prosecution are believed to be exactly what will bring the "conviction" against the defendant.

The next part of our passage presents the real crux of the truth - the "case" against the defendant is really made in the cross-examination of the witnesses.  If the witnesses can have their testimony discredited in some manner, the "case" the attorney might have thought he had can go down the drain pretty quickly.  That is so true about our daily testimony about our profession of faith, as well.  The "making" or "breaking" of that "testimony" is determined in the closeness of "cross-examination".

We stand "on trial" each and every day for evidence that our testimony is "rock solid".  The way we respond when we are wronged to the response we give when we are called on the carpet for less than stellar behavior - all lead to a conclusion about the "solidness" of our testimony.  If our first response is to excuse our behavior (even though it has not been stellar), the testimony we give about Jesus is that our behavior really doesn't matter to him.  If our response when wronged is that we will turn to retaliation (rather than to forgive the offense), we damage the testimony of grace in our own lives.

What does the cross-examination of your life reveal about the "rock-solid" testimony of your life?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Air Hunger

Then the Lord God formed a man. He made him out of the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into him. And the man became a living person.
(Genesis 2:7)

I am blessed with two grandsons with lots of energy and a tremendous amount of zeal for life.  Both suffer from asthma, but none had been as severe as the youngest was this week.  I watched as the youngest suffered through his "air hunger" in our pediatric emergency room.  As I sat those long hours seeing his little body work so hard to take in breath, my heart ached for his struggle.  His condition deteriorated, requiring oxygen and strong medications to assist in reducing the inflammation.  It took hours, but eventually this little life began to respond to the treatments rendered.  

In those hours of waiting, I could not help but think about the joy it gives God to breathe life into his creation - you and me!  He gives us our first breath and he continues to allow us the ability to take in breath each and every day.  The idea that God gives breath is amazing - but, that he is affected by how that "breath" is consumed is more amazing!

Air hunger is a condition described as deep, rapid, and labored breathing caused by an increased respiratory drive due to abnormally low blood oxygen levels.  For those of you that I just lost, let me break this down.  The body is deprived of oxygen for a period of time due to some force (like constricted airways) and the brain kicks in to "force" the body to take in as much oxygen as it can as quickly as it can.  The muscles of your chest, your diaphragm, and sometimes almost all the muscles of your torso go into an mode of "assisting" your lungs to get air in and old air out.

This sometimes results in relief if the issue was that you were just "air hungry" because you were a little over-exerted as in doing something that drives your respiratory rate up - like running, climbing lots of stairs, etc.  This type of "hunger" is quickly remedied through rest.  In a spiritual sense, we have times of "air hunger" when we are running hard, facing huge challenges.  We usually find we "catch our breath" in a spiritual sense by taking time to rest in God - like a retreat.

There are times when our "air hunger" is more severe - like with asthma.  The body actually shuts down the very passages that allow air to pass through, making it almost impossible for air to get in or out of the lungs.  The same can be true for us in a spiritual sense - we get so "clogged up" - working against God instead of with him.  The only way to reverse this is to deal with what is causing the "shut down" of the passages!  God often has to bring us to a place of spiritual "air hunger" in order to get our attention!  We struggle to hold on long enough, we fight to do things on our own long enough, and eventually we realize that we need more than we are able to do on our own.  We need the one who gives breath to breathe new life into us again.

I was touched by the fact that God watches his creation go through repeated periods of "air hunger" in a spiritual sense and that it affects him deeply to see us that way.  He watches us suffer long periods of time sometimes - because we don't seek him for the resolution of the issues leading to our spiritual "air hunger".  My little grandson did NOT want that oxygen in his nose, he resisted the breathing treatment, and he hated all the extra attention from all those nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists.  But...it was what he needed!

God does not want us struggling in our spiritual "air hunger" - he wants us to have a free exchange of the breath of life!  Struggle not, dear ones!  Breathe deeply of his graces!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Outed by Insight

21 A wise person gets known for insight;
   gracious words add to one's reputation.
(Proverbs 16:21)

It is no secret to some that I frequent the social networking crowd better known as Facebook.  I like to play the games, find joy in reading about what is going on in the lives of my friends, and laugh occasionally at a well-posted joke.  I also find that there are nougats of truth that people sometimes share that make me pause for a moment to consider those words that have been posted.  They evoke thought, but sometimes they also evoke emotion.  We would call this "insight" - the ability to connect with a truth in such a way that in sharing it, that insight impacts the lives of others.

Insight is really the ability to apprehend the TRUE nature of a matter and it is almost always because the individual has what we'd term an "intuitive understanding" of the subject.  They may not have even had to "study hard" to really "get" what it is that they are sharing - there just seems to be a "connection" with the object of their understanding.  I know that I often prayed for ANY form of insight in my calculus class!  That was just one of those math classes where you had to either "get it" or you just simply did not!

Life is kind of like that sometimes.  In some moments you simply "get it", while at other times there is almost a constant struggle to find any meaning, making the idea of "connecting the dots" just plain incomprehensible.  Insight is the ability to "penetrate the surface" - being able to see the true character or the hidden truth.  People who have insight sometimes make others uncomfortable - because they think that individual is able to "read them like a book"!   

The ability to discern truth - ferreting out the insignificant from the facts - is sometimes frightening for someone who is constantly trying to hide behind the falsehood of a well-kept facade!  Yet, in moments of despair, where does that one who is hiding behind that well-kept facade often turn?  You got it!  To the one who has insight.  Why is that?  It stems from understanding the second part of the verse - because they are known for their gracious words.  The person of insight can bring "truth" to the surface, but does it in such a way that there is "grace" in the truth.

That is probably why we are drawn to these individuals and to their words so often - because they are filled with grace!  Grace is simply unmerited favor - being able to connect truth in such a way that even when "blame" might be called for, grace is extended.  Surround yourself with these type of individuals and you will learn much.   

Friday, June 17, 2011

Family Trouble

2 Don't call attention to yourself;
   let others do that for you. 
(Proverbs 27:2)

The New Living Translation puts this same passage this way:  "Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth—a stranger, not your own lips."  There are many things that are outlined within the Proverbs that deal with the use of our "tongue" (speech), relationship issues (and how not to have them!), and keeping a right perspective on just who / what we are (humility).  The lessons are numerous, but the rewards of having learned those lessons well are even greater!

Humility is something we don't easily learn!  In fact, everything within us wanted to be noticed from the first time we took a breath!  Why else do you suppose we cried every time we thought it was time to eat, have a diaper changed, or just be bounced on a knee as the center of attention?  The hard truth is that we learn humility in times of haughtiness!  Whenever we elevate ourselves to a place of importance in our own eyes, we are on a dangerous course of having someone point out just how insignificant we are in the scheme of eternity!

The fact of the matter is that we are repeatedly advised to keep a humble opinion of ourselves and an openness to the talents/contributions to those around us.  Why do you think God designed us to exist within community?  One reason is so we learn that we don't have it all together!  If we only had ourselves as an example of the image of Christ, we'd have a totally flawed image!

Each of us reflects Christ in a unique way.  One may reflect his outgoing, people-focused side.  Another may display his prayerful, intercessory characteristic.  Still another may give us an awareness of his unmerited favor - by displaying grace repeatedly when it is least deserved.  Community provides that "display" of God's character in each member - each uniquely connecting with God and bringing forth the dynamics of that "connection" to those they share with in community.

Instead of poking fun, finding fault, or belittling those within our community of influence, we need to look for the ways they reflect Christ - or turn us toward Christ for more of his grace in our own lives.  By definition, community is a group sharing common characteristics.  That means we are placed within, or choose to place ourselves within, a group of individuals with somewhat similar character traits to what we possess.  If we too closely "mesh" in those characteristics, we sometimes "clash".  

Put two head-strong individuals together and you get friction.  Put two timid individuals together and you rarely get any decisions made.  Put two givers together and they will constantly be trying to out-give the other.  You see what I am getting at, don't you?  We need people with other talents, other gifts, in order for us to realize growth in our lives.  Look around you today - who have you been placed with in community?  What strengths do they display that you would possibly benefit from if they could mentor you in those strengths?  What passions do others share that you need to embrace in order to display the character of God in a more distinct way in your life?

When we are open to possibility that we don't have it all figured out, we are open to growth.  We are placed within community for both of those purposes - to help us realize that we don't have it all together, and that we have opportunities for growth.  Welcome to he family!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Parched ground

Parched ground that soaks up the rain and then produces an abundance of carrots and corn for its gardener gets God's "Well done!" But if it produces weeds and thistles, it's more likely to get cussed out. Fields like that are burned, not harvested.
(Hebrews 6:7-8)

Dry ground has many disadvantages - one of which is the extreme danger of fire.  For those following the news, the stories about how Arizona forests are being ravaged by wildfires has become a common theme for over a month now.  According to the reports, over 120 miles of state highways are closed due to smoke and ash.  People have endured the evacuation of their homes and continue to wait for the word that they can return.  The fires found a "fertile" ground for their destruction simply because of the lack of rain this year.  They were fueled by the dryness of the forest floor and the winds of the season.

The condition of the "ground" impacts us in varying degrees.  Our perspective and our purpose for that "ground" determines how we will treat that dry ground.  If you are a farmer, dry ground is non-productive. and therefore, it affects his ability to yield a crop.  If you are a builder, dry ground is actually an advantage because every "dry day" allows for uninterrupted building.  One relishes the "dryness", the other curses it.

Parched ground is dry - it is thirsty.  As a little girl, I loved going into the desert with my father.  We'd explore for hours and nothing pleased me more than to come to one of those areas where water had sat for a while on the dry desert floor before it was soaked in.  Those upturned pieces of dried earth, all cracked and ready to be lifted up were so intriguing to me.  I loved to turn them over to see if there was anything underneath.  Every once in a while, I'd be rewarded with a desert-dweller like a beetle, a small earthworm, etc.  Most of the time, there was nothing more than more "dryness" under the surface.

The surface reflected the reality of the barrenness underneath.  In fact, you might say, "What you see is what you get!"  The desert did little to cover-up the fact that there was a barrenness that was more than "surface-deep".  Don't you wish that the same could be said about us?  We are just the opposite - we attempt to "pretty-up" the surface so no one realizes the barrenness that lays just beneath the surface!  We hope that by presenting the "image" of "fertile ground" we will avoid the scrutiny of "inspecting eyes".

The truth is that we are known by what we produce.  If the soil of our hearts, minds, and spirits are nothing more than barren and dry places, we produce nothing.  The dryness leaves us at the mercies of the "elements" around us - fires can rage, storms can blow up a flurry of activity that leaves us in a mess. If the soil of our hearts, minds, and spirits is regularly watered and tended, the chances of it producing something of great value is far greater than that of untended "ground". 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Celebration of Grace

10 He continued, "Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don't have anything: This day is holy to God. Don't feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!"   11 The Levites calmed the people, "Quiet now. This is a holy day. Don't be upset."  12 So the people went off to feast, eating and drinking and including the poor in a great celebration. Now they got it; they understood the reading that had been given to them.
(Nehemiah 8:10-12)

Revival brings a response of heart that cannot but help bring praise to God.  The people of Israel had been listening intently to the Word of God as Ezra, the priest, brought it forward.  They were moved by the Word - brought to a place of awareness about just how far they had drifted from what God had intended for their lives.  That is what a fresh look into the Word can do for us - it can bring us to a place of recognition and repentance.

Ezra is a wise leader - he knows the passion of their hearts, but he also recognizes the struggles they are having.  He sees the older members of the congregation and understands their deep sorrow over the loss of the former ways of worship.  The "old ways" of worship were destroyed when they were taken into exile.  The temple was destroyed, the walls of the city brought down, and even the "instruments" of worship were carried off into foreign lands.  The old was gone - that brought deep sorrow to those that remembered the "former glory" of the old ways.

Yet, he connected with the freshness of worship that God was preparing for his people in this season of their growth.  They were allowed to "return" from exile in a foreign land, now they were returning their hearts to their God.  The people had a renewed awareness that God was with them - that is the beginning of revival in the spirit of man.  When this awareness begins to dawn, there is a corresponding awareness that the worship God desires stems from a heart that is free of compromise.

There was weeping that day in Israel - some out of sorrow because of all that had been lost, some out of joy for what lay ahead.  Perspective often determines our response.  When we hold fast to what is lost, we are rarely able to grasp what lays ahead.  Ezra reminds the elders in the crowd of that very fact - let go of the past and embrace the freshness of the present.  

The Word of God had impacted their hearts - it rang true in their minds, affecting them in the depths of their souls.  The hunger of their souls brought them to the place of exploration of the Word.  As is true with all times of revival, God honors the hunger of souls willing to be "real" with him.  The dryness of our spirits is refreshed in the newness of his grace - whenever we are willing to truly be "naked" before God.

The true, unencumbered celebration of God is the outcome of a seeking and transparent heart.  We often worship out of a sense of obligation - God desires worship that is given out of a sense of awareness and hope.  The beginning of revival is hunger.  The means to revival is repentance.  The response of revival is worship from a pure, unmasked heart.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No more "holier-than-thou"

1 By the time the seventh month arrived, the People of Israel were settled in their towns. Then all the people gathered as one person in the town square in front of the Water Gate and asked the scholar Ezra to bring the Book of The Revelation of Moses that God had commanded for Israel.
 2-3 So Ezra the priest brought The Revelation to the congregation, which was made up of both men and women—everyone capable of understanding. It was the first day of the seventh month. He read it facing the town square at the Water Gate from early dawn until noon in the hearing of the men and women, all who could understand it. And all the people listened—they were all ears—to the Book of The Revelation.
(Nehemiah 8:1-3)

We hear much talk about revival in America.  These concerns about revival have churches preaching that we need to bring back prayer in our schools - in the face of severe opposition to keep it out.  There are movements to reach out to the "un-churched" - connecting with them in a "seeker-friendly" manner.  All this is well and good, but it misses the mark of how and where revival starts.  Revival starts with the cries of hungry hearts that desire obedience over comfort and the desire of a leader to bring forth the word in a manner that does not compromise its integrity.

Ezra was such a leader to Israel - he had received grace to return to their home land and he had the familiarity with the Word of God as a "scribe" of that word.  His position as leader was appointed by a worldly king, but anointed by a divine God!  As such, he was in the unique position to bring the people to a place of revival.  

The leader plays a great part in the times of revival - but it is the individual hearts of the people that must be in alignment with that move of the Spirit that brings people to the next level with God.  These believers stood before Ezra that day many years ago with several earmark characteristics of the heart of one who desires revival - not just in the church - but in their individual lives.  Those characteristics can apply to each of us today:
  • They were hungry - there was a great number of them who were hungry for something more in God.  Whenever a group of passionate people begin to gather together, there is a tendency for the passion of the individual members to "build" or "ignite" the passion of the others in the group even more.  Where there is a similar longing of the heart, there is a tendency for that longing to build.
  • Their hunger caused them to want to understand the Word of God like they never had before.  It is one thing to hear - it is quite another thing to hear and come into understanding.  The hunger of a passionate, seeking heart will move the Spirit of God.  There are times in our lives when the Word of God is spoken, but it falls on deaf ears and a hard heart.  The hunger of revival breaks through the resistance of heart - opening us to new understanding.
  • There was an attentiveness to the things that they had learned of God.  Revival begins with hunger - but hunger is only sated when there is an intake of what is provided.  Their desire for more of God was affecting their mind - they were no longer content with double-standards.  They desired to "attend to" one thing - God's will.  We come to that place of choosing to embrace God's will by the revival of our mind, will, and emotions.  
  • There was a unity in the group - no one displayed any level of arrogance or "holier-than-thou" persona.  In other words, they were "real" with each other and they were "real" in their display of love for God.  There is nothing more liberating than to make the choice to get truly transparent with God and with each other.  In turn, there is a sense of worship that builds until the heart cannot contain it any longer.  That kind of worship is what God desires.  When he sees that embracing of him, he cannot but help reach out in embracing his people.
Tomorrow we will look at the response of revival.  For today, consider your level of hunger.  Is your hunger for God's best in your life enough to bring you to a place where you finally "get real" with him and with those in community with you?  If not, then you know where to begin!

Monday, June 13, 2011

God of all comfort

 3-5All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

It is easy for us to believe that God is not with us in our times of suffering.  Paul makes some very interesting comments about God's comfort for us in this passage.  First, he refers to God as "Father of all mercy" or "Father of Compassion/Comfort" (depending on the translation you might be reading from). A father is one who has begotten a child - as such, he has a certain sense of responsibility for that child.  We have lost sight of this sense of responsibility in our culture today with the rampant abandonment of families by fathers, but the fact is that God does not abandon those he calls his children.

As a father, he has a consciousness of the distress of his children - that brings about a desire to alleviate that distress.  As a parent, one of the toughest struggles I encounter is knowing when to allow my children to experience the discomfort, and when to intervene to alleviate it.  There is often a lesson is allowing the child to "find their way out" of the discomfort, so intervening too soon lessens the opportunity to learn from choosing a wrong path.  God is sensitive to the emotions of his children - he is moved by them.

Second, as the God of all Comfort, or God of all Healing Counsel, Paul is presenting the side of God's character that is yearning to offer strengthening aid.  He comes alongside, as a support, to bring consolation in time of trouble, and to remove worries.  God's intention is to bring relief - encouragement, hope, and to ease the grief or trouble we are experiencing.  

Hurts are a part of life - we cannot escape them.  It has been a tough lesson to learn that comfort is found in NOT in the absence of pain, but in the midst of it.  Think about it - do you really appreciate your comfort until you are experiencing pain that you cannot relieve?  When that throbbing ache in your back, or the pounding in your head, is finally ended - isn't that when you realize the beauty of comfort?  Being comforted is not equivalent to being comfortable, though.  The term being comfortable carries the idea of being content or secure, free from doubt, stress, and tension.  The idea of being comforted carries the idea of being strengthened greatly, or being made strong - in the hope the is given, in the word of encouragement received, etc.

Comfort that comes from God is not based on our circumstances.  In the midst of the moment of our affliction, we cry out for comfort.  We think that if the circumstances change, then our comfort will return.  God is compassionate - yet some of his greatest comfort comes in giving us the strength to go on in!  We often equate comfort to deliverance - God often equates it with the strength to "bear up" under the pressures of the circumstances and to remain encouraged. 

It is in moments of deep sorrow that God brings deep peace - he is close enough to meet our deepest needs.  There are a lot of "avenues" that God travels in our lives - each one involves him coming alongside - whether it be the "avenue" of grief, anxiety, regret, or personal pain.