Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Silence speaks volumes

1-2 Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God, and also obedience.
      You hear the prayer in it all. 
(Psalm 65:1-2)

The "prayer in it all" is the key to this verse - God hears both our silence and our spoken word - but don't forget the third thing he "hears" - our obedience.  Silence is the absence of sound or noise - when there is a "perfect stillness" we call that an absence of motion.  We often don't think we have made a connection with God unless we are able to experience the noise or movement of that connection (like when we cry out loud or lift our hearts in worship).

Our psalmist reminds us that silence is praise!  Even in the quietness of waiting in his presence, we praise our God.  It is a difficult thing to do sometimes, but when we actually do stop long enough to simply admire him, we connect with him in new ways!  

He also reminds us that our obedience is also praise to God.  We rarely equate obedience to praise - but God does!  Obedience is submission to the control of another - who better to have in control of our lives than Jesus?  God's control is sometimes more rewarding when we just "hush" long enough to enjoy it!

God hears the "prayer" in it all - even in silence, prayers are lifted.  It is important to remember that prayers are more than words that are spoken.  God knows us intimately and he connects with us in the silence.  Maybe this is because this is where he is best able to see the submissiveness of our hearts!

The next verses give us a little insight into how we actually approach God:

2-3 We all arrive at your doorstep sooner or later, loaded with guilt, 
   Our sins too much for us— but you get rid of them once and for all. 
(Psalm 65:2-3)

We all "arrive" at his doorstep - no one is exempt.  Some of us come to his doorstep willingly - others kicking and screaming.  Still others come before him with the awfulness of not knowing him!  The fact is that no one is exempt!  We are drawn to his doorstep - through his love.  That "doorstep" is a destination with a purpose - but the journey is unique to each individual that comes.

Our psalmist tells us that it is "sooner or later" that we all arrive - I think we'd do much better if we'd listen to his invitation SOONER!  We'd save ourselves a tons of issues, loads of guilt, and a boat-load of disappointments if we'd come to him sooner!  We arrive "loaded" down - carrying more than any one person was ever meant to carry.  We are loaded down, burdened under the weight of our guilt, sins too much for us to handle.

We don't even "arrive" in good shape!  How would you feel if every time the Fed Ex driver came to your door the package was dented, dinged, and damaged?  You'd probably dread opening the door!  Not Jesus!  We come to him with our full load of blame and condemnation, probably not fully aware of the violations in our conduct, but sensing the associated guilt all the while.  We were never meant to bear the guilt of our sin - the cross did that.  We are just meant to lay that guilt down, walking away free in his presence.

The awesome part is that Jesus answers the door!  Completely, thoroughly, and without a trace of evidence that our sin ever existed, he embraces us!  Too bad that we struggle with "memory disease" - remembering all that he has already forgotten in his love and grace toward us!  We arrive in pretty miserable shape - he "re-shapes" us by his touch!  

If you think your silence is not praise - think again.  If you think your obedience doesn't matter - rethink that one.  If you think you are "too far gone" for anyone to love and accept you - think again!  Jesus envelopes our silence, relishes in our obedience, and welcomes us into his graces.  We are truly a blessed people!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Defense Let Down

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

Indifference is really a condition of the heart and mind in which a person has determined that they have little interest or concern.  Another term we use that is quite similar to indifference is the term "mediocrity".  There are some telltale signs that someone is pretty much indifferent, or that they have "settled" for a position of mediocrity in their lives.  An indifferent individual might look like this:

- Apathetic to the needs of their life or those of another
- Calm, cool indifference in the face of what would cause uneasiness or apprehension in others
- A seeming absence of emotional connection with others or circumstances around them

When you hear indifference described that way, you might think of an individual who struggles with frequent periods of depression, but they are not the only ones that experience this kind of apathy or distanced-connection with the world around them.  In fact, any of us can be indifferent in much the same way simply as a matter of our choosing.

Rigidity is something a little different.  This condition suggests an unwillingness to bend, no concern for yielding the stand one has taken.  We might label this person as "hard" or "callous".  It comes from a Latin word from which we get another term - rigor.  When we think of rigor, we might also think of rigor-mortis - the stiffness of death!

Solomon was giving us instruction that we can both use in our own lives and in our interactions with others.  Neither condition of heart, mind, or soul is desirable.  An apathetic mind leads to very little positive action.  A rigid heart, hardened by life's hurts will do little to reach out to another for help.  An unyielding soul is in danger of hell.

Two things are presented by Solomon as the antidote to indifference and rigidity.  The patient persistence of a loving God is what breaks through our indifference - he challenges us to take up this same patient persistence in dealing with the indifference of others.  The gentle words of a merciful God breaks through the areas of hardness in our lives - he challenges us to exercise the same gracefulness in our conversation with each other.

It seems like we have the greatest difficulty allowing God to "get into our business" where we have the greatest amount of indifference or where we have erected the walls of rigid unyieldness toward him.  We need to remember that he "counters" our apathy and hardness in much the same way he asks us to "counter" those same traits in others.  A wise friend used to tell me, "We are quick to see in others the things we don't want to see in ourselves."  She was so true in her assessment of my actions and attitude!  What I was unwilling to allow God to deal with in me became the thing I "criticized" most in others.

We would do well to ask God to target areas of apathy and hardness in our lives.  In turn, we need to ask him for the patience to persist and the gentleness of speech that will allow us to be instruments of grace in the lives of those we have been the hardest on.  When we really begin to ask why we are being so hard on them, we might be surprised to know that it is because the area we find fault with is really so close to what God wants to deal with in us!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Prepared, Ready, and Fit

13-18Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
(Ephesians 6:13-18)

Be prepared - isn't this one of the mottoes of the Scouts?  Preparation is really a a state of being properly expectant - the idea being that we are equipped and ready for whatever comes.  How many times do we hear people tell us, "That caught me off-guard!" and wonder just how something that seems so "simple" to us was almost "overwhelming" to another?  It is not uncommon for us to say that we feel "ill-equipped" or not quite comfortable with the events of the moment.

The key to this passage is the next statement - you are up against far more than you can handle on your own!  The fact is that we are up against stuff that we haven't faced before and may never have to face again.  In those situations, we don't have the "natural" ability to face them - we need the "divine" ability to do so.  Paul tells us that there are actually "issued" weapons for the one who follows Christ - those things that are both defensive and offensive in our armor.

When we realize that we cannot walk alone - we begin to look for assistance.  Think of the baby that reaches out to mom or dad in confidence that their hands will hold them upright, allowing them to toddle along in supreme confidence each step of the way.  That is exactly what our Lord does for us when we reach out to him in our "unsteadiness" of daily choices.  We are asking for his "steadying" influence over our walk.

One that is "prepared" is ready for the challenge - there is a sense of being in a "fit" condition and able to take immediate action.  Preparation is a daily thing - it doesn't just come "magically" when the moment of challenge arises.  In fact, that is when we get caught off-guard and find ourselves calling out for mercy!  Preparation is described as using the tools we have been given by God on a consistent basis so that we develop a familiarity with their use.

Consider just two of these "tools" - prayer and the Word.  We are to pray hard and long - speaks to our tenacity with the prayer.  We are to pray for each other - lifting up the other because no one can go it alone.  The Word is a defensive weapon - likened to a sword.  It is indispensable - we cannot make headway without it.  Think of a warrior without any defensive weapons - they may be able to avoid being "beat up" by the armor they wear, but will they drive the enemy back by just standing there in their shiny armor?  Not likely.

Prayer is as much a defensive weapon as it is an offensive one.  It builds us up and keeps us connected to the source of all hope.  It also drives the enemy back and puts him in his place.  The Word used in prayer is like a double-whammy!  Try it sometime - pray the Word.  Stand upon it and see what God can do in sending the enemy to flight in the power of his spoken Word!

Armor is of no use in the closet - we have to put it on.  True, it is a process and takes us some getting used to, but without it, we are sitting ducks for every wacky idea or scheme of the devil.  Truth applied to our minds acts as a filter for the messages we are hearing.  Righteousness applied is a covering over our hearts to keep us focused on the fact that we are not made right in any action we take, but in the completed action of Christ on the cross.  Peace and faith go hand-in-hand.  Peace permeates our emotions, gives us balance, and keeps us calm enough to hear the Lord's instructions.  Faith gives us the "umph" to make the next move as he directs.

Salvation is more than words - it is a lifestyle.  Worked out every single day in every aspect of our lives.  We put on our armor, take up our weapons, and walk strong into the battle.  Be prepared!  Be ready!  You haven't done this before!  When we think we have done it all, we are in a dangerous place.  God makes every day new for a reason - new challenges, new victories!  Without challenge, we don't grow.  We grow through resistance, not through comfort.

So, put on what you have been given.  Begin to live as PREPARED citizens of heaven.  In doing so, you will be less likely to be caught off-guard by what comes your way today.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Labels Aren't Reliable

Don't judge wine by its label,
   or its bouquet, or its full-bodied flavor.
Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with—
   the splitting headache, the queasy stomach.
(Proverbs 23:31-32)

I am not a connoisseur of wine, so I know very little about what makes a good bottle of wine.  You could show me one bottle right after another, and I would probably do what anyone who knows wine would cringe at - I'd pick it by the pretty label or the nice bottle!  The one who consumes the product in the bottle is the one who knows it best!  

This passage speaks a lot more to me, though.  I think we do a whole lot of "label" reading, even a little look inside, then come to the conclusion that whatever we are examining looks good.  It isn't until we have consumed it fully (or it has consumed us) that we understand just how lousy the thing was!  We are left with a really bad taste from the experience of "consuming" what it was we were judging by nothing more than a label or pretty facade!

I am a "label reader" - I confess it!  I look at the outside of the box of cereal, the outside of the can of tomatoes, the outside of the non-dairy creamer.  Sometimes, okay, quite often, I have been very disappointed by what "appeared" to look good on the outside, but once I got into it, I was faced with something entirely different from what it appeared to be on the label.

I think that is the meaning of our passage today - we often think it is okay to entertain certain ideas, simply because they were labeled "Christian".  For example, we might believe that old adage, "God only helps those who help themselves."  In truth, if you were to look at the origin of that saying, you would find it comes from one of Aesop's Fables!  It actually reads, "The gods help them that help themselves."  Did you catch that?  The "gods" - not God!  The phrase was coined by Benjamin Franklin later in his writings "Poor Richards Almanac".  What most don't know about Mr. Franklin was that he was a firm believer in the idea that if man could not help himself, then man was hopeless.

Here's what the Bible says about helping ourselves:

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh
   and whose heart turns away from the LORD.  That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
(Jeremiah 17:5-6)

So, the adage doesn't hold up under investigation!  Those that actually find that they spend their efforts on what they can accomplish find themselves labeled a completely different way than they might have imagined - fools!  To draw our strength from what we can accomplish is a foolish thing.  We are not able to do all things!  Only God is able to do that!

We need to be wise about the "labels" we believe.  We cannot simply accept them as "fact" because someone we admire wears the label.  We must become wise to the "influence" that the "label" makes in our lives.  Just as wine may produce a "buzz" and leave us feeling pretty poorly the next day, believing a wrong belief can mess us up!  Don't become consumers until you become wise to what the Word of God teaches about what the "label" really affords!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Leave the driving to him

24-26"Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
(Matthew 16:24-26)

I remember driving with a friend of the family when I was about twelve.  The gentleman drove like none other that I have driven with since!  I was in the backseat, hanging on for dear life, and just hoping that we made it to his home sooner than later!  Not only did he drive a little faster than I'd been accustomed to, but he was kind of a "hopper" in his driving.  I don't really know how to describe it, but what he was doing was pushing down on the gas, lurching forward, then pulling back on the gas just as quickly.  It was like we were zooming, slowing, zooming, slowing, repeatedly!  If I had of known about whiplash at that age, I think I was a good candidate it for it!

Sometimes that is how we are in our walk - we mash down on the gas, zooming full-speed ahead, then almost without warning, pull back, cutting off all source of "energy" for the road ahead.  We make lunges forward, then almost stop on a dime without any warning.  Can you imagine how that must frustrate those that are along on this ride with us?  Not to mention, how much it must drive Jesus nuts to see us make a start, halt, make a start, halt, over and over again!

Jesus gives his disciples some advice here:  He is in the driver's seat - let him drive!  We try to do all the driving and wonder why we end up injured, off course, and in a mess of "traffic" in our lives.  Jesus makes it quite clear - he's not driving!  The driver controls the speed at which one travels, the course one takes, and the safety of all those in his vehicle.  When Jesus is in the driver's seat, there is not a whole lot of room for error!

Think about it - we go through all kinds of "self-help" adventures in our lifetime.  We commit to a diet, then blow it.  We join a gym, then "forget" to go.  We promise ourselves we won't get angry the next time somebody "does us wrong", then we fly off the handle at the slightest infraction.  We are just not good at helping ourselves!  We need a "driver" to get us to our destination.  

Jesus points out that it is in embracing where he is leading us that we realize the beauty of the journey.  When we embrace something, we are taking it gladly - there is an eagerness to our taking.  Willingness is all Jesus is asking for - the ability to avail ourselves of his leading is something that we struggle with because we struggle with willingly allowing anyone else to "lead" in our lives.  What God works with the most is a cheerful readiness for whatever he asks and wherever he takes us.  What we struggle with the most is the framework of our minds (the cheerfulness) and the fear of the unknown (being taken where we have not gone before)!

Here's what Jesus promises:
If he leads, we get there in one piece.
If he leads, we get to enjoy the journey along the way.
If he leads, we get to our destination not one minute too early or too late.
If he leads, we avoid the "traffic" jams of worry.
If he leads, we might even have the enjoyment of other traveling companions along the way to keep us company in our journey.

So, who is in the driver's seat?  You might be able to determine that by how many starts and stops you've been making along the way!  Running out of gas is a sure sign we are not being "driven", but are attempting to "drive"!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Tangled Mess

8 Mixed motives twist life into tangles; pure motives take you straight down the road.
(Proverbs 21:8)

"Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that's not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything."
(Colossians 2:8)

Big words and intellectual double-talk are merely a smoke-screen for people to attempt to dazzle us with their intelligence.  I have learned that "intelligence" really is not all that it is cracked up to be!  Sometimes, the big word and double-talk is just to give the "appearance" that the person actually knows the answer to something!  God doesn't need big words to speak to the hearts of mankind - in fact, he tells us that he uses the simple to confound the one who appears so wise.

A motive is really the goal or reason for a particular action.  We all have "motives".  In a cop show, they have to prove that the criminal had "means" and "motive" to commit the crime.  Without both, there is no conviction - they cannot convict because the evidence doesn't speak to either the motive or the means.  God doesn't look for us to have the means - he simply looks at the motives of our heart.  He wants us to recognize what it is that "puts us into action" in a certain direction.

Mixed motive twist life into tangles - can it be put any simpler?  When we have differing reasons for our actions - like when the mood strikes us one day, but it doesn't the next - we live a pretty complicated life.  Now you may say that you don't struggle with mixed motives, but let me challenge that theory!  Have you ever done something for someone in order to get them to do something for you?  If so, you have experienced mixed motives because you are "doing" the action with strings attached!

A tangle is a mass of confused pieces all meshed together without any real sense of order - it is a mess!  The biggest thing we need to realize about the power of our motives is the mess they can make of our lives when they are not correct.  They actually become something that hampers or obstructs growth.  Dad used to cut the bottom off the roots of a root-bound plant because they were so tangled.  When I asked why he did this, he reminded me that when they are so tangled, they cannot grow anymore.  The same is true in our lives - when our motives are mixed, we have difficulty with growth.

The writer of Colossians is believed to be the Apostle Paul.  Paul brings it all together for us in the passage above.  When we get caught up in the "empty" stuff, we just don't grow up as we should.  How do we know if our lives are being complicated (tangled) by the "empty stuff"?  Well, it is pretty apparent from the passage that if our attention is on making ourselves look good through empty traditions or big talk that is meant to impress, we are giving room to the "empty stuff" in our lives.  This might look like when we are attending church with nothing more than the attitude that we can check that "task" off the list for the week, or when we give a person on the street a five dollar bill without the benefit of really connecting with their need.

Paul tells us plain and simple - don't confuse all the religious hype and the big talk with being connected closely with your Lord.  This just makes a tangle of our lives!  Jesus is not understood through scholarly pursuits (although I do not discount formal learning about the scriptures), nor is he understood through the debate of his methods.  We often think that someone with all the book learning is someone to emulate - in contrast, we discount the wisdom of the one who has learned to live a truly "untangled" life!

There is much wisdom in getting to know Jesus - without all the hype, tradition, or double-talk.  When we connect with him, we understand the things that we could not see plainly before.  We call this revelation.  Jesus brings clarity to our motives - he exposes that we have the means to access him -  and he makes it clear who he really wants to be in our lives.  This type of revelation is like "cutting off the roots" of our tangled, "pot-bound" lives.  It actually serves to create growth, causing us to flourish.  

We are incapable of untangling our own lives.  We need the Lord to do that.  We need him to help us see the vanity and emptiness of all our double-talk.  We count on him to show us where our talk is masking over some action that is neither right, not good for our lives.  That is when we begin to experience growth.  That is when others begin to see the impact of living an untangled life.  Give him your tangled mess of a life and he will certainly do some "cutting" away of the tangle.  It may hurt now, but in just a short while, the growth will outweigh the temporary hurt of that "untangling" process.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Identity Theft

"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."
(Matthew 5:48)

I received a new credit card this week that I will use when traveling.  I specifically requested this card because of the "benefits" that come with it.  One of the many benefits is the coverage for purchases that are made by someone "pretending" to be me.  Today, we call that "identity theft" and there is a great deal of security built into our banking systems in order to keep someone from stealing our identity.

There were groups of people in Jesus' time known as the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Each were a "sect" of the Jewish culture known for their religious duties.  The Sadducees were the "upper class" of the social structure.  They held roles in politics, religious matters, and even some very honored social roles.  During Persian rule, the temple priests began to take on important political roles outside of the temple - the Sadducees were those folks.

The Pharisees were always in conflict with their Sadducean brothers.  The Pharisees associated with the common people - unlike the Sadducees that were of the upper class.  As you can imagine, there was constant "struggle" between the beliefs of the Sadduccees and the Pharisees - upper class vs. commoner, so to speak.  The "big deal" with the Pharisee sect was they tried hard to interpret the Law of Moses, breaking it down piece by piece into "rules and regulations" that they said must be followed in order to abide by the Law.

The Sadduccees had some basic beliefs that really began to show that they were not quite following their original Jewish belief system.  One of the main beliefs they held was that there were no rewards or penalties after death.  In other words, they held to the belief that what we get in the hear and now is all there is - if it is rewards or penalty, we will receive it on this earth.  The belief they held dearest was there was no after-life.  Now, that is kind of a form of "identity theft" in that they believed they could perform the works of the ministry without their foundational beliefs being correct.

The Pharisees were committing their own kind of "identity theft" in that they were trying to find their way into the graces of God by the rules they kept.  They were "working" their way to heaven, so to speak.  When Jesus brought the idea of salvation without works to them, they freaked out!  They could not possibly consider that God would not require tons of good works in order to win his favor, or grace.  They wanted to have the identity of God, but they wanted it on their terms.  When we look at these two groups, we wonder how they got so far off course in their "identity".  

Jesus was all about challenging the "identity" of the ones he came into contact with as he walked this earth and he is still doing that today.  He is not looking for us to create our own identity, based on what we interpret from the Word.  He is looking for us to allow him to create his identity in us.  This is not "identity theft" - it is assuming the identity we have been freely given.  It is kind of like the "witness protection program" - we leave the old and totally assume the new!

Whose identity are you displaying today?  Is it one that "morphs" what you believe into what God teaches?  If it is, it might be a form of "identity theft" because our identity is displayed best when we embrace the one we are freely given in Christ.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Never been this way before!

1-4 Joshua was up early and on his way from Shittim with all the People of Israel with him. He arrived at the Jordan and camped before crossing over. After three days, leaders went through the camp and gave out orders to the people: "When you see the Covenant-Chest of God, your God, carried by the Levitical priests, start moving. Follow it. Make sure you keep a proper distance between you and it, about half a mile—be sure now to keep your distance!—and you'll see clearly the route to take. You've never been on this road before."
(Joshua 3:1-4)

You've never been on this road before - I think this is the hallmark statement of Joshua's life.  He was assuming leadership of Israel just after the death of Moses.  The people are ready to move into the Promised Land of Canaan.  He has been commissioned to be the leader who will bring them in and help them settle into the land.  He had a lot to live up to and I am certain he was a little concerned that he might fail along the way.  This was a huge task!

His statement tells us much about his perspective in leading the people.  First, he rises early.  A good leader is not afraid to be up before the chickens!  He is willing to "put in the time" in order to be the kind of leader God wants him to be.  There is much to be said about spending time with God first, then going about what it is he calls you to do.  

Second, he reminds the people of the importance of keeping God in right perspective in their lives.  God goes before them - not behind, not alongside - before.  There is nothing more telling about the quality of a leader than to see where God is given priority in their lives.  When God has the first priority, the leadership is made easier.  

The placement of God in our walk is the most telling part of our success in the journey - simply because we have not been on the present path we are traversing before.  We need God's perspective to help us navigate the unknown and to avoid the pitfalls.  He challenges the people to keep an eye on the Ark of the Covenant - the presence of God - to take their "lead" from the presence of God in their lives.

Third, he was obedient to what God asked him to do - not compromising one instruction God gave him in the work that laid ahead.  As they cross over the Jordan River into Canaan, they do so on dry land.  This was a clear display of the power of God in the midst of a people who had given God the right perspective in their lives.  God is amazing - he held back the waters, but he also made the ground dry beneath their feet.  People, carts, animals, and all their belongings - pass over on dry ground.  When we are reliant on the direction God gives, he makes the way clear, the path is prepared, and his power is displayed.

Fourth, as they crossed over the river, the people are moved into worship.  It took the leadership of one who was willing to step into the river the first time to bring the souls of many into the presence of their God.  There is a general sense of awe as the people stand on the opposite side of the Jordan, now flowing in its full current.  They were out of the wilderness and into the promised land.  They were awe-struck with the majesty of their God.  There is a sense of the grace of God in recounting his delivering power and his keeping strength.

God made Joshua great that day in the eyes of the people.  That is what God does when a man or woman gives him the right place in their lives.  He lifts them up, encourages them, and delights in them.  If we learn to rely upon God, are obedient to his direction, and keep him in proper perspective, he will bring confirmation into our lives that he is our God and that we are his people. God is all about making his identity in us as evident as it possibly can be!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

All Things to All Men

19-23Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(I Corinthians 9:21-23)

This past week has been a week filled with what some may call "selfish" prayers.  You know the kind of prayers I mean - the ones that start with, "Lord, it is me again..."  Those prayers we all pray are the very ones that God enjoys so much hearing!  We sometimes don't want to lift our needs before God because we fear that he will "label" us as "needy" or "selfish" in our requests.  The prayers I prayed this week may seem a little "selfish" when you hear them, but I don't think God saw them that way at all.  

First, there was the "haboob" that rolled through Phoenix again this week.  The wall of dust just invaded the Valley of the Sun with ominous furry.  The prayers God heard that night were for my grandsons.  You see, the last dust storm (we've had three of these in that past month) sent the youngest one straight to the hospital, struggling for every breath.  Those watchful hours of him experiencing air hunger about broke my daughter's heart.  Those prayers were for God's protection and his keeping power.

Second, there was the surgery my brother underwent this week.  I know, you may not think it much, but it was the extension of a gift of life to another.  You see, he gave a kidney to a life-long friend.  Both men would go through the ups and downs of adjustment - one adjusting to one kidney doing the work of two, the other learning what it would be like again to see his body do the work of filtering his blood instead of some machine.  There were wives at bedside that also needed God's intervention.  Those prayers were for God's miracle of life to be given to one and protection to the other.

Third, there were the prayers for safe passage and gentle graces for my Uncle who is ravaged by the final stages of the cancer that has all but consumed his body.  Maybe these prayers were just a little selfish - knowing how much he means to his family and how much joy he spreads wherever he goes.  The prayer to be free of pain and the fretful tossing of sleepless nights may seem a little selfish, but means the world to those who will share in his last moments of life.

Last, but definitely not least, the prayers for a home suddenly in mourning over the loss of their four year old daughter.  Those moments when Mom and Dad stand in the quietness of a home devoid of her laughter and childlike innocence will have to be met by God's tremendous graces and comfort.  No one will fill that void like he can.

Yeah, we may think our God doesn't want to hear all these "needs" we seem to  be in mind of right now, but I honestly think that is what Paul had in mind when he said that he became all things to all men.  He associated with their need and brought those needs to Christ.  He wanted nothing more than for Christ to intervene in the midst of their need.

God is never tired of hearing from us - even when it seems like all we are bringing him is our NEED.  We have an opportunity to "do the work of Christ" when we are willing to become whatever kind of servant is needed.  This week, your "service" may be in prayer.  You may not be able to hold the family who needs comfort, or spend the night at the bed of the sick.  You may not be able to nurse one back to health, and watch the other burst with the joy of new life. can be a servant of prayer.  Pray on!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Well Within

5 Knowing what is right is like deep water in the heart;
   a wise person draws from the well within. 
(Proverbs 20:5)

Knowing what is right and actually doing it are two entirely different things.  I know that it is right to drive the speed limit, but when I see all the other cars going 5-10 mph over the speed limit, it is much easier to "go with the flow" than to be dragging behind with cars swerving all around me.  When faced with a choice between what is right and what is clearly wrong, I should not be amazed at how freely we embrace the latter!  It is a common occurrence for us - it is part of our nature to choose the "wrong stuff", even when the "right stuff" is right there for the choosing.

How do we know what is right?  Too many times, we rely upon our experience to help us determine what is "right" in a circumstance.  For instance, if we have experienced the pain of a throbbing thumb after crushing it under the blow of a hammer, we can certainly associate with the fact that we now know that there is a "right" and a "wrong" way to hammer in a nail!  Don't get me wrong - there is no real substitute for human experience, but I don't need to experience "getting drunk" to see that it doesn't look all that fun!

Experience cannot be our only guide.  We can often miss stuff because we simply have not experienced it.  We each have limited experiences in some realms of life.  Some of us are single - we may not have experienced the tough days of marriage, the joys of deep companionship, or the drama of being so close to someone so totally your opposite.  But...we can learn much from the experiences of others who have walked that path!  The sharing of experience is one way we learn!

We want to have "experiences" that are right and true each and every time.  That is what Solomon is alluding to in this passage.  This type of 'consistent' experience is not just opinion or judgment - it is something that is a well-worn path in our life.  He likens it to a well, running deep, that just doesn't fail us.  The well within is only as deep as it has been "dug"!  Well-diggers usually stop when they find the flow of water.  God wants us to not stop at the development of a "trickle", but to dig a little deeper until we find the "gusher" of his supply!

The deeper the well, the more refreshing it is.  Why is that?  It is simply because what has been "stored up" in that well has been through a whole lot of "filtration" to get there!  Rains come, the water sinks deeper and deeper, through layers and layers of "filtering" soil/rock.  As it does, the "impurities" are "filtered out".  What we are left with is a pretty refreshing supply of water.  

The well has no outsource unless it is tapped.  If we just "take in" and never really "drill down" to see what is being stored up, we will never realize the awesomeness of the "well within".  Solomon wants us to learn to regularly "take in" so that we might have a "well within" that will sustain us in life's driest times.  We take much in - are we "tapping into" what we have stored within?  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's under the hood?

14 A healthy spirit conquers adversity,
   but what can you do when the spirit is crushed?
(Proverbs 18:14)

A healthy spirit has conquering power!  There is a soundness and vigor that is evident when the spirit is in a place of "health".  Our writer asks a tough question:  What can you do when the spirit is crushed?  That's a tough one - even though your first answer might be to turn to Jesus to have him heal it!  That is kind of like a "pat answer" for all of our life's problems.  Yet, we often turn to him for health without even realizing what it was that brought us to the point of being crushed!

We rarely get into a place where we have "crushed" spirits because we were blind-sided by some event, course of discussion, or infirmity of mind.  The emotional investment we make into our daily walk with Christ is a pretty good indicator of how "healthy" our spirit is.  When we are emotionally "invested", we might find ourselves looking forward to times in the Word, moments to sneak away to share a few words with our Savior, or just some downtime to take in the things of beauty he has provided in our lives.

I know we are not supposed to be emotionally driven - but hear me out on this one.  Our emotions are "indicators" much like those on the dashboard of our automobiles.  We get "warning lights" emotionally much like we get them when a tire is low, the oil pressure is askew, or the radiator is about to blow a gasket!  When we learn to pay attention to those emotional "warning lights", we are more likely to get our spiritual condition back to a place of "health" quicker.

Think of the emotion of fear - it causes us to have rapid heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and we might even feel like the pit of our stomach is churning a little.  Even if it is a mild form of fear, like apprehension, there is an emotional-physical connection that occurs.  What we "feel" is translated into certain responses of our body.  The same is true spiritually - what we "feel" is often impacting our spiritual health.

For example, think of the emotion of anxiety or fear again, but from the impact this has on our spirit.  Why is it that we are feeling such anxiety in the first place?  It is usually because of a "trust" issue that we have embraced in our emotions.  We don't "feel" like God is trustworthy, maybe because we have experienced some set-back or loss.  We don't "feel" like he has been faithful, perhaps because somebody we loved hasn't kept up their "end of the bargain" in relationship - so we think God allowed this to happen.

When we form "emotional attachments" around false impressions or beliefs, we are allowing them to impact our spirit.  It compromises the integrity of our health spiritually much like one microscopic virus invades our body.  When false beliefs are allowed to take hold, just like the virus that multiplies willy-nilly in our bodies, it will soon impact the "defense system" of a healthy spirit.

The antidote to a crushed spirit begins with a healthy assessment of our emotional condition.  We look for the warning signs, address the issues that are "under the hood" and then work out a plan for maintaining the "health" of our spirit.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People

25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
   yet they store up their food in the summer...
(Proverbs 30:25)

There was a leadership book published years ago by self-help guru Steven Covey entitled "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People".  For a while, that was all we heard about in leadership training seminars.  People jumped on the bandwagon touting the wisdom of the teachings of this book.  The idea seemed to be that if leaders everywhere would just embrace these teachings, all would be well with the world! has been on the market since 1989 and I am not seeing much difference!

As I was waking this morning, an idea came to mind.  It was simply, what would you classify as the seven habits of highly ineffective people?  So, in keeping with my usual method of working this thought out in my mind, I am sharing my answers with you!  If you feel so move, please add to my list via comment.  There may be some I just did not consider and you're always welcome to expand!

1)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people have a tendency to be selfish.  Covey taught that we need to think "win-win" (in other words, what can each of us get from the circumstance that makes us feel that we have won).  Truly ineffective thinking begins with "me" and ends with "me".  If my motivation is to figure out how to get my way, find something in the circumstance that will dazzle my fancy, etc., I am probably not going to be a very loving individual!  Effective people really learn to look beyond self.

2)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people gravitate toward slothfulness.  Covey taught that we need to be proactive - anticipating the next step.  Ineffective people don't think ahead, don't find any pleasure in plans for the future, and barely exist in today!  Slothfulness is really a condition of inactivity - either because we don't want to, there is no immediate benefit to that action, or we just like the place of "comfort" we are in at this moment.  The tell-tale sign of being slothful is a sense of apathy toward something or someone.  Whenever we find ourselves lacking interest in things that others find move them or bring excitement, we might just be on the border of being a sloth!

3)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people tend to spend a lot of time in gossip.  Covey taught that we need to seek first to understand others - in time we can seek to be understood.  Ineffective people find gossip so appealing because it takes the eyes off of them, it gives them a feeling that they have "one-up" on you since they have the "inside" information, or that they can create a little "stirring of the waters" by what they share in "confidence".  Boy, I could spend a whole day on this one, but I think you get my point!

4)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people don't have an active and growing spiritual life.  Covey taught that you need to put first things first.  Scripture is consistent in this one message - God must be first!  It began with the garden and it ends in heaven - he must be first.  Ineffective people really have not developed the consistency of relationship with the Lord that brings about growth of character.  As a result, they tend to be pretty stagnant - almost religious in their actions.

5)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people have a tendency to isolate.  Covey taught that we need to "synergize" - put the strengths of one person together with the strengths of another and see what comes of bringing that strength together.  Ineffective people see themselves as either not of much value in relationship, or they see themselves as able to live independent of others.  Either outlook is completely wrong.  God gives us extreme value - we just need to learn to trust him that when he declares us valuable, he will be faithful to bring that "value" to the surface!  Community is God's idea - isolation is ours!  Consider the source - God has proven to be, not so much!

6)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people live very anxious lives.  Covey taught that people need to begin with the end in mind.  He was really teaching that we need to go through this phase of continually self-discovery.  Now hear this....we don't need to spend a whole lot of time on "self-discovery"!!!  We already know ourselves pretty well!  What we do need to do is spend some time in God-discovery - allowing him to point out where we are not trusting him fully with our lives and then commit those areas to his keeping!

7)  Highly INEFFECTIVE people tend to start well, but end poorly.  Covey taught that there needs to be continual renewal, or a person will burn out.  Ineffective people make great strides for a while - all committed at first, but then that commitment begins to be a burden, so they stop the forward progress.  In contrast, effective people learn to consider the cost before making the investment - there is a time of assessment, consideration, and then comes the commitment.  Once they are committed, it takes an army to attempt to stop them!

Well, just my ideas this morning!  We could probably get by with being ineffective for a while, but eventually that area that makes us ineffective will catch up with us.  Relationships will fade, we will be stuck in a rut of inactivity, and our lives will just lack the enjoyment that God intends for us.  Maybe we should do a little "God-help" assessment today!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Peacocks Beware

18 First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

12 Pride first, then the crash, but humility is precursor to honor.
(Proverbs 18:12)

16 Going through the motions doesn't please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don't for a moment escape God's notice.
(Psalm 51:16)

Ever notice just how many times the Bible speaks about pride?  I put only three passages here, but you get the gist.  God takes our attitude about our self and others quite seriously.  He knows the danger of being too big for our own good!

Pride is pretty much having an opinion of your importance, merit, or superiority that is not always in proportion to our true importance, merit, or superiority!  We think more of ourselves than we do others.  The fact is, we all struggle with pride in one way or another.  It may not be as evident in some circumstances, but it is pretty blatant in others.

When pride is at the center of our decisions, we want things done a certain way because of what we feel is "due".  When someone does not "do" what we expected we were "due", we get our undies in a wad!  So, now to our issue of "pride" we have added the issues of anger, bitterness, selfishness, and the list goes on.  No wonder God wants us to pay attention to our attitude - taking frequent inventory of what we are thinking, feeling, and expecting!

The pastor said something this weekend that stuck with me - people who struggle with pride cannot really love another person.  I had not really thought about pride that way before.  He contrasted love with pride.  He is right!  These two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  One looks out for self - the other looks out for the needs of the other person.

When I think of pride, I envision the peacock - tail feathers spread in full display.  Why?  Pride likes to "put out" what it thinks should be displayed as signs that you have something no one else does, or should be treated differently because of who you are.  The peacock spreads his back or tail feathers because he wants to put himself out there - hoping to attract the mate of his choosing.  The spreading of feathers comes complete with a strutting dance that is meant to attract the ladies!

Amazingly, the peacock actually molts his feathers every season.  Now, imagine the look of that same male peafowl without any glamorous display of feathers!  Not so appealing, right?  Yet, he only does it AFTER he has used them for his own gain!  That is kind of like what it is to use any attitude of pride in our lives - we put it on display, hoping to get things for our own gain.  So, why are we surprised when we begin to "molt" and have nothing to display in the end???

All the while, the female peafowl remains consistent - she displays what she is in a genuine manner - no show, no strut, no special attention getters.  I am not implying that women have it all together when it comes to pride!  Women have just as much issue with pride as men do.  I am using the two birds as illustrations of genuine character vs. prideful character.  One attracts attention immediately - the other might take a while to realize the beauty of being genuine!

We used to hear a saying a whole lot more in the past - "He/She's the genuine article."  We don't hear that so much anymore.  I wonder if it is because we have lost sight of the fact that authenticity is not a thing that "repels" people, but a thing that actually draws them in.  Think of the female peafowl for a moment.  She is who she is - no fluff, no special features.  The peacock has no problem being attracted to her "genuineness" - it is the genuine article that he is putting himself out there to get!   

So, why not let genuineness be our hallmark today?  Stop "strutting your stuff" and see how attractive God finds the "real thing"!  With our genuineness, he can do so much.  After all, it was our genuine need for a Savior that brought him to us in the first place!