Saturday, December 31, 2011

What limits are we living by?

If your revelation hadn't delighted me so, I would have given up when the hard times came.  But I'll never forget the advice you gave me; you saved my life with those wise words.  Save me! I'm all yours. I look high and low for your words of wisdom. The wicked lie in ambush to destroy me, but I'm only concerned with your plans for me. I see the limits to everything human, 
      but the horizons can't contain your commands!
(Psalm 119:92-96 The Message)

As we have studied this psalm, we have seen David repeatedly turn our attention to the "keeping" power of God's Word.  It is a stalwart in hard times.  It stands the test and keeps on ticking!  He starts with the statement, "If your teachings had not delighted me..."  Here is the crux of the "keeping" power of God's Word - - it is in the "delight" we take in it.  How we treat God's Word determines how much it will impact our lives.  

Does it delight us like nothing else?  When we delight in something, it gives us intense joy and almost brings us to a place of satisfaction like nothing else can.  For some of us, chocolate is our favorite candy.  That endorphin rush that is released when we consume that milky rich sweetness just lulls us into a place of "endorphin rapture".  Now, here's the question:  What "rush" does God's Word give us?  The intensity of our pleasure in his Word is often a direct result of the calamity of our circumstances without his speaking into them!  

Does God's Word come to us as the "advice" we hold onto when hard times come?  We have many avenues of advice in our lives, but none should be "louder" than the Word of God.  Advice is something taken that guides our actions.  What has been guiding your actions lately?  You probably will be able to answer that by the outcome of your actions!

Is the Word of God something we see "worthy" of our attention?  David says he looks high and low for God's wisdom.  He has done "his best" to know God's instructions - - now he counts on God to do the rest.  This is all we can hope for in times of need.  When we do our part - - obedient to what God reveals - - he is right alongside doing his part!

Are the plans of God our only concern?  Some of us have plans of our own that we attempt to "weave" God's plans into.  We want to make God "fit" our purposes instead of the other way around.  It is curious to see how many times we "plan" life only to see how miserably we fail to end as we hoped when this is the method we utilize in our planning.  You'd think we'd learn our lesson the first time!  Alas, many of us don't!  Here's David's determination:  God's words make us wise!  If we want well-directed plans, perhaps we should consider God's words a little closer in our planning.

Do we know our limits?  This is the question David really is setting out for us in this passage.  He reminds us that EVERYTHING has its limits - - except God's Word!  No words are as powerful.  No words are as illuminating.  No words are as convicting.  When we do our best to know his Word, we are allowing him to do his best in establishing HIS limits in our lives.  Oftentimes, those "limits" are really farther than we'd believe possible on our own!

May your 2012 be filled with a new appreciation for the limitlessness of God's Word!  Blessings!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tomorrow: God's Plan

What you say goes, Godand stays, as permanent as the heavens. 
   Your truth never goes out of fashion; it's as up-to-date as the earth when the sun comes up.  Your Word and truth are dependable as ever; that's what you ordered—you set the earth going. 
(Psalm 119:89-91 The Message)

 89 Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. 90 Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. 91 Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans.
(Psalm 119:89-91 New Living Translation)

We are about to embark on a new year - 2011 is coming to a close and 2012 is just ebbing its way into our view.  As I have grown older, time seems to pass faster.  The "ebbing" of a new day seems to be upon me before I even realize that the old one has passed me by!  There is one truth that endures through the passage of time - - God's Word is dependable!  For some, this goes without saying because they have adopted the Word of God as a standard by which they live their lives.  They have tested it and found it to be "a sure thing".  There is another truth that I think we might miss in this passage, but it is equally as important - - Everything serves God's plans!

As much as we can count on the "permanence" of God and what he says, we can count that nothing (absolutely nothing) escapes his purposes and plans for our lives.  This should give us hope that the events of yesterday prepared us for something we face today and the occurrences of today will prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow.  Sometimes we think events are "random", or that they could not serve any real purpose in our lives.  If we read what God says here, EVERYTHING serves his plans!

The most amazing thing to me is that we find the reliability of God's Word is often easier for us to trust than the assurance that God is at work in the midst of the present events of our day!  We doubt his "awareness" of our circumstances - - thinking that maybe these "events" have "popped up" without him really being "in the know" about them.  We can never forget the fact that God is divine - - he has no limitations when it comes to being all places at all times, knowing all things that are known, etc.  We have a hard time with these concepts because we are trying to grasp them from a purely "human" perspective.  

At best, we can catch a glimpse of the divine - - God giving us insight in a moment in time into the events, serving to bring us peace or assurance that all is in his hands.  We don't really "live in" the divine, so we have to learn to "trust in" the divine!  Trusting that he does have an awareness of everything that happens - - nothing escaping his plans.  

We don't know what a new year holds for us, but we do know this - - God has been in control all along, he remains in control today, and he has full control of tomorrow.  There are plans bigger than our understanding at work in our future - - all we can do is trust them to be "worked out" according to his "master plan".  We don't see the purpose in many things such as loss of loved ones, reduction in income, changes in friendships, or an unexpected illness.  In our "finite" minds we cannot conceive the plans God has in each of these events - - we can only trust the "infinite" perspective of his "BIG PICTURE" view of it all.

Here are some closing thoughts for our year:

- God has placed you in this season for a reason.  Each season serves a purpose.  Some are times of preparation, others are times of growth.  Still others seem like times of coldness and dormancy.  Even in those "dormant" seasons, there is work being done.  The ground of our hearts may seem cool and blanketed in darkness - - just beneath the surface, seeds have been planted and are just waiting to take root in just the right season.

- God has designed the friendships you have within this season.  They serve the purpose of helping you with the "labor" and the "rest" of the season you are experiencing.  You are not designed to face the seasons of life alone - - he has purposefully placed individuals in your life as companions in this walk.  

- God has provided for your future.  It may not be evident as you look through the "vision" of today, but he sees that "big picture" of what tomorrow will bring.  His "vision" is far better than Superman's - - he sees right through the present and into the future.  We need to trust the Lord to lead us by his hand.  He's marked out the path - - we simply need to follow it forward.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Your number please....

I'm homesick—longing for your salvation; I'm waiting for your word of hope.  My eyes grow heavy watching for some sign of your promise; how long must I wait for your comfort? There's smoke in my eyes—they burn and water, but I keep a steady gaze on the instructions you post.  How long do I have to put up with all this? How long till you haul my tormentors into court?  The arrogant godless try to throw me off track, ignorant as they are of God and his ways. Everything you command is a sure thing, but they harass me with lies. Help!  They've pushed and pushed—they never let up—but I haven't relaxed my grip on your counsel.  In your great love revive me so I can alertly obey your every word.
(Psalm 119:81-88 The Message)

I don't think I have ever experienced homesickness like I did that first week of Basic Training when I went into the US Army.  Those first seven days away from home were torture to my psyche!  I had been to Girl Scout Camp for two weeks, but somehow it just did not affect me quite like being at Boot Camp!  Maybe it was because I knew there was an end to camp, but there was no hope of going home from Boot Camp!  Those feelings we have with homesickness are almost hard to explain, but there is an intense longing to just be safe again.  To be home includes that idea of safety (at least for me) and security - - there is just something about being surrounded by what is familiar that gives us that sense of peace.  

Our psalmist is obviously going through a struggle or two as he pens these words.  He is "homesick" - he wants the safety and security of being comforted by his Lord and Savior!  He is in an intense period of waiting - - the most difficult place to be for most of us!  It is just a word that David seeks - - one word - - giving him hope and the ability to hold on a little longer until his full deliverance can be realized.  It was kind of like when I was waiting for that first letter from home.  Just one letter!  Mom couldn't write until I wrote to her - - she had no idea how to contact me, that I'd made it safe, or that her "wee lassie" was taken care of.  She must have been experiencing some of the intensity of being apart.  I think we often feel the intensity of our own loss without regard for the intensity of loss God must feel when we are "apart" from him for a while.

I am not sure what was going on with David when he penned these words, but his spirit is pretty low.  He has a longing to be near God, but he seems to be experiencing some type of "absence" in the sense of knowing God's comfort.  He is "crying out", "waiting intently", and "longing".  These are words of pretty significant "need".  Here is the real the kicker - - he is "holding on for dear life"!  I think that must be what it means to "not relax his grip on God's counsel".  The idea of "holding on" is requiring a whole lot of effort on David's part and he is feeling the "strain" of the effort.

This is the condition many of us might find ourselves in as we end this year.  We might have been thrust into circumstances throughout the year that we did not choose.  The challenges have mounted and the walls seem to be closing in.  The feelings of "alone-ness" are so intense that we don't seem to see any hope.  We have been waiting so long for God to intervene that we just have grown weary in the waiting.  We cry out, but the answer just seems to be so far away.  In a word, we are "homesick" for God.  We haven't experienced the intensity of his love and presence as much as we would like - - we are bleary-eyed and feeling alone in the attacks of our enemy.

Why do we experience homesickness in the first place?  Isn't it because we have experienced the warmth and love of "being at home"?  We long for what we know to be possible!  Here's the short answer:  God never left!  He is still right there!  We just need to re-establish the contact!  It wasn't until I wrote to Mom that she could write to me - - the feelings of intense "alone-ness" were really resolved when I established the "connection".  I used to have a sticker of a telephone on my guitar case with the words "God never forgets our number" just underneath it.  This is so true!  We forget to "dial into" him, not realizing how much we "grow apart" in the process.  Yet, he never forgets to "dial into us"!

So, as this year draws to a close, let's examine where we are with establishing and maintaining "contact" with the one who cares so deeply for us.  In those "contacts" we are renewed, re-energized, and re-vitalized for the challenges that lay ahead.  "Dial in"!  You won't be sorry you did!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

One, two, three...poof!

Let the fast-talking tricksters be exposed as frauds; they tried to sell me a bill of goods, but I kept my mind fixed on your counsel. 
   Let those who fear you turn to me for evidence of your wise guidance. 
   And let me live whole and holy, soul and body, so I can always walk with my head held high.
(Psalm 119:78-80 The Message)

David is setting out a prayer to God in our passage this morning.  It is composed of three parts:  1) How he wants God to deal with those who stand against him; 2) How he hopes God will use him in the lives of others; and 3) How he expects to live with God's help.  

First, let's look at David's prayer about his enemies - - fast-talking tricksters who tried to sell him a bill of goods.  When we are encountered by someone "selling a bill of goods" we usually see that we have two choices: accept what they say at face-value, or reject it at face-value.  We really have a third choice: investigate it for truth rather than trusting the face-value.  When someone is trying to sell you a bill of goods, they are attempting to have you accept something that is untrue or is of little value to you.  David says his life has been exposed to this kind of "trickery" and he now wants God to expose the lack of truth in the bill of goods these enemies have been trying to pass of as true.

We often are exposed to these kinds of "schemes".  Just think back to the last set of TV commercials or printed advertisements you encountered.  The wallet that you can drive over with a car and it opens gracefully without a scratch or dent in its frame.  The immediate release of stains with a generous application of this magic cleaner.  A promise of teeth bright enough to signal men in outer space with the simple application of a tiny strip.  The list could go on and on.  You get my point.  I have tried to open the wallet straight out of its packaging and found it more than difficult even BEFORE you run over it with a truck!  The stains just don't come out in one easy swish of the shirt in the magic cleaner!  The white teeth don't even seem to turn the head of the puppy in the window, let alone the men in my life!

The fast-talking tricksters WILL be exposed - - their trickery is God's business to expose, not ours.  We "deal" with their trickery by having an accurate "test" whereby to "filter" their claims - - the counsel of God.

Second, David has a deep hope that God will use his life to touch the lives of others.  He has a desire to be a living "testimony" of what God does when he has complete access to a life.  David starts with a prayer for God to deal with those who have no evidence of truth in their lives, then he turns to himself.  He knows that God has been working to create evidence of truth deep within his frame.  In turn, he asks God to use that evidence to give both assurance and hope to those who will turn to him in search of the reality they cannot find elsewhere.  He is asking God to make his life an open declaration of all that God has been doing within.  

This is a pretty brave request on his part - - expose the work you are doing in me.  I don't know about you, but anytime I get to the part where I think God might just expose what has been going on in my life, I get a little nervous!  Why is that?  I think it might be the fact we are not always comfortable with others knowing our struggles.  If others see that we struggle, they see us as human - - this is the basis of David's prayer.  He wants others to see the reality of what God can do when a heart is yielded to his care.  There is nothing shameful in exposure - - when God does the work of exposing!

Last, David prays for himself.  This is not a selfish prayer in any respect.  He is asking God to "cement" the work he has been doing so that he need not be ashamed of his behavior.  When David asks God to let him live whole and holy, soul and body, so he can always walk with his head held high, he is beginning the process of yielding.  He is willing to submit mind, will, emotions, and spirit to the care of God - - giving up the need to be in control of self.  This is a prayer God delights in answering.  In fact, when we see this prayer coupled with the other two, we understand the importance.  In asking God to make his testimony strong and his ability to stand as evidence of truth in the midst of much untruth.

I don't know if you are dealing with fast-talking tricksters today, but if you find that your path is riddled with their schemes, take them to God.  He has both the "filter" by which you can evaluate their claims and the ability to silence them with evidence beyond argument!  If you have been struggling with something you just don't think God will ever use, don't be surprised when God urges you to allow him to make it a testimony of his power and grace.  When he urges, he also empowers.  Walking with head held high is God's greatest honor - - when he sees us yielded, engaged in this walk we call Christianity, he is honored greatly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20

I can see now, God, that your decisions are right; your testing has taught me what's true and right.  Oh, love me—and right now—hold me tight, just the way you promised.  Now comfort me so I can live, really live; your revelation is the tune I dance to. 
(Psalm 119:75-77 The Message)

It goes without saying that "hindsight" is often much better than "foresight".  If we could see how everything would turn out in the end, we might not take some of the steps we take.  If we had insight into the outcomes of some of our words and actions, we might speak up or volunteer more often.  The simple truth is that we don't know how things will end - - and this often keeps us from acting in the first place, or acting in "blindness".

Hindsight is the recognition of the realities, possibilities, or requirements of a situation / decision AFTER it occurs.  It is this idea of hindsight that caused us to coin the phrase, "Monday Morning Quarterbacking".  We can call all the right moves NOW, knowing when to run the ball or when to pass it, simply because we know the OUTCOME of the passes or runs we already chose!  In the field I am in, I spend time investigating outcomes of care - - was it successful, did we follow our protocols, did the treatment planned result in the best outcomes for the patient?  I am doing a whole lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking!

Foresight is knowledge or insight gained by looking forward into the future.  Most of us don't have crystal balls (at least I don't think we do - - after all, God doesn't really cater to the use of them!).  In its simplest form, foresight is the act of looking FORWARD.  We may not fully grasp the things we behold, but in the FORWARD look, we get some insight that causes us to move forward.  Some believe that foresight involves a whole lot of faith - - stepping out into the unknown.  

This morning, I would like us to consider this term in the sense of being a surveyor.  The term "foresight" is used to describe a reading taken on a point of unknown elevation.  There are two types of readings that are taken - - intermediate and true.  The intermediate reading focuses on a point that will NOT be used as a turning point or benchmark in the process.  The true reading focuses on an UNKNOWN point that WILL be used for a turning point or a benchmark.  The turning point is a point along the way that is established as a benchmark.  Its purpose is to provide a new reference point - - like a stake in the ground.  

Now, don't get lost on this point.  Here's the good stuff!  In the use of both the BACK-SIGHT (hindsight) and the FORE-SIGHT, the surveyor is able to determine the elevation.  That small point in the scope marked as a turning point (benchmark) is simply a temporary focus point.  This benchmark is used to focus on the next point, and that one on the next, and so on.  If there are any surveyors reading this, I may not have done this concept justice, but I tried!

The two "sights" have to be used together in order to get a true measure of the elevation!  The same is true in our daily walk.  We can determine our "elevation" by the "hindsight" and the "foresight" readings!  We may determine that we are making progress toward higher "elevations", or we might just find that we have come to a valley of some sort.  Either way, those "points" are analyzed with the use of both "sights".

David reminds us that in "looking back" and considering what "lays ahead", he sees the wisdom of God's ways.  He has learned to use both "sights" to guide his walk.  Here is the challenge for us - - learning to not rely on one without the other!  Both serve a purpose and keep us on target.  One without the other gives us a false sense of "reality".  So, don't be afraid of "looking back" on occasion to get your "reference point".  Those benchmarks along the way are not put there to point out where we have been, but to ensure us that we have an accurate view of the heights that lay ahead!

Monday, December 26, 2011

What pattern are you following?

With your very own hands you formed me; now breathe your wisdom over me so I can understand you.  When they see me waiting, expecting your Word, 
      those who fear you will take heart and be glad. 
(Psalm 119:73-74 The Message)

The term "take heart" means to gain strength and courage in a difficult situation.  David reminds us that the example we exhibit in the times of waiting on God to act has the potential of causing others to take heart - - to gain strength and courage for their own difficult circumstances.  In the midst of difficulty, what makes you stand strong?

According to our author, it is the confidence he has in the one who has created him.  It goes without saying that the one doing the "assembling" of the pieces of our lives is the best to address the pressures that come against those "pieces".  I have sewn a few things in my days.  By the time I finished with the assembly of those pieces, I knew everything about that garment.  I had touched the material so many times, turning it this way and then that way, until it was "formed" into what the pattern promised.  The key to the "forming" was in the "pattern" that I followed!

The same is true in life - - the key to us being "formed" well is in the "pattern" we are being formed to fit!  We are reminded repeatedly that we have but one pattern worth following - - Jesus Christ.  The one doing the "forming" is God himself - - the pattern he follows is his one and only Son, Jesus.  It stands to reason that God would know us "inside and out" just as I got to know the ins and outs of the garments I put together.  As his hands pass over the pieces of our lives, he is forming them into something that no longer resembles what they were before - - disconnected pieces without any recognizable form.

I marvel at the skill of God in taking those things within our lives that seem to have no recognizable purpose and then using them to become the very things that give stability and testimony within our lives.  The hands of God sometimes have to "pass over" the pieces of our lives many times before the "forming" work is complete.  There is a technique of making a french seam in sewing that allows the frayed edges to no longer be visible - - they are sewn within the framework of the seam in such a way that they stop their raveling!

God is all over that work of keeping us from "unraveling"!  His hands skillfully guide the parts that are given to "unraveling" into a protective "meshing" of the parts so that the unraveling no longer is a threat!  In his skillful way, he guides us through the "forming" process, stitching together the pieces we don't see value in.  It should never surprise us that God sees value in every stitch he places!  Nothing escapes his perfect touch.

In making those garments, I often wanted to leave out some of the pieces.  I just did not see the importance of that small piece of facing, or the hidden pieces of materials that would give "firmness" to the finished product.  The facing served to "tuck out of view" the edges - - in so doing, not only was a "prettier" image presented, but the edges that were raw were protected from further fraying!  The "interfacing" was placed within the structure of the garment because it added firmness and support.  In much the same way, God's Word provides firmness and support when it is allowed to be "sewn into" the structure of our lives.

We may not see what is taking form within our lives - - but when we trust the skill of the one doing the forming, we can stand strong.  In the forming process, others look on and take courage - - seeing that reliance on the skill of the Great Craftsman yields a finished product that mirrors the "pattern"!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friend or Foe?

My troubles turned out all for the best—they forced me to learn from your textbook.  Truth from your mouth means more to me than striking it rich in a gold mine.
(Psalm 119:71-72 The Message)

We've all probably heard it said that we learned a particular lesson in the "school of hard knocks".  This seems to be the way many of us learn!  We struggle, muddling through the bad stuff, until we can ultimately say that we "made it through".  We don't get a diploma to show we made it through, but we have learned a lesson or two that we probably were desperate to learn in our lives!  

Where we turn to in the "school of hard knocks" is what determines how well we learn the "lessons" of those times!  David says that the hard times forced him to learn from God's textbook - the Word.  Amazing how that works, huh?  We find ourselves in the midst of a moment of indecision and THEN we look for the answers!  I think many of us head down a path without any clear indication as to where it will lead us!

I visited Virginia this Fall with a friend.  We "explored" parts unknown to us at our leisure.  One day in particular, we found ourselves on the way from one destination to another and stopped at a park.  There were multiple trails visible from the roadway indicating trail numbers.  When we reached the end of the rather long roadway into the part, we thought we'd explore a little.  In doing so, we took the first path we saw.

What we did not realize that all the paths had a particular purpose to them - some were for birders who could take in the beauty of water fowl, still others would provide ample opportunity to catch the scenes of other birds higher up in the tree limbs.  Neither of us were "birders", so this all seemed rather foreign to us.  We enjoyed the walk anyway!  What we didn't expect was the huge, rather ominous looking black snake pictured above!  

The path was marked as a "birder's" path - yet it held some pretty unfriendly things!  Life is kind of like that at times - "labeled" one thing, but presenting us with other things that just don't make the journey all that exciting!  In those moments, what we do with the "snakes" on the trail is what often determines the outcome!

My traveling companion chose to throw acorns at it, arousing it from its slumber.  I chose to walk on down the path, determined to ask the next "local" I ran into just what species of snake we had encountered!  See, I'd rather know what I am "waking up" than have it awaken and me not be ready to deal with it!

I think that is what David pictures for us in this passage.  He had developed an appreciation for the Word as his guidebook for living.  He knew the road would be riddled with "snakes" of all kinds.  He developed a trust in the "guidebook" to point out those that were to be encountered with extreme caution and those that could be ignored as harmless.  

At the moment we encountered the black snake, notice if you will, I did stop long enough to shoot three or four shots with my camera!  So, as you can see, I have a curiosity for the things that may harm me!  This is human nature - pure and simple!  We know things may hurt us, but we stop long enough to admire them and consider them.  David certainly had learned this lesson the hard way when he was involved in admiring what God clearly said he should not admire.  His "romp" with Bathsheba left him with a sticky situation to deal with - he'd taken another man's wife, finds out she is with child, and now he must cover up what he clearly should not have embraced!

Sin is like that - it presents itself, affording the opportunity to admire what we should clearly leave alone.  We make the decision "in the moment" as to how we will deal with what it is we are admiring.  Either we walk away, or we stand around long enough to get taken in!  The more we turn to the "textbook" BEFORE we encounter the "snakes" along the path, the more we will be ready to avoid them on the path!

The "school of hard knocks" is certainly not the best school to learn our lessons of life.  It is much better to learn them at the feet of Jesus so that we avoid as many of those "hard knocks" as possible.  Soak it in, my friends!  You will need the knowledge you gain today for the lessons you will encounter tomorrow!  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A lesson from Alice

 The godless spread lies about me, but I focus my attention on what you are saying; they're bland as a bucket of lard, while I dance to the tune of your revelation. 
(Psalm 119:69-70 The Message)

I read a post from one of my Facebook friends this week.  It seemed like she was facing some challenges with a fellow believer speaking unkindly about her in the circle of friends they kept together.  Here's her post:  "Remember, if they talk about someone else they are going to do the same about you...we all have quirks, sins and what have you..."  Right in the middle of the post, she states a pretty awesome truth:  "I am learning to work around those things in people."  The post ends with some simple words:  "Faced with a Christian friend that has the gift of gab when it comes to people." She could not have put it better - - we need to learn to work around the things in people that give us cause to pause!  Thanks Alice!  Your words are sound advice!

David was faced with the same challenge - - friends were spreading gossip and lies about him.  His response was much the same of my friends - - he turned to God, listening intently to what God had to say about him and the situation - - not to the hurtful words of those who were speaking these unkind words.  He was learning to work AROUND the things in people that just made his life a little less than enjoyable.  Sometimes one of the hardest things we face is the seeming betrayal of a friend.  Confidences don't remain that way; words are spoken that may bring a little hurt within our emotions; and we find ourselves in a situation of wanting to say, "Get 'em, God!"  Instead, we are smack-dab in those circumstances because God is teaching us to work AROUND those things in others!

The Amplified Bible says this about those who act like this:  "Their minds are dull and brutal."  Now, if that doesn't describe those individuals to a tee, I don't know what does!  They have a certain "dullness" of mind that just becomes apparent in the words they speak.  Dullness is really a condition of being without  spirit.  In this case, I would have to say that the individuals doing the talking are without the "Spirit" in that area of their life.  They are not being "governed" by the Spirit of God - - they are allowing unwholesome gossip, backbiting, and the like to be part of their communication because they have not given that area over to the control of the Holy Spirit.  In another sense, their dullness is evident in the lack of "richness" within their conversation.  God reminds us often to speak words that "edify", or build up, each other.  Those closed-door conversations, secret words in the corners of the office, and the passing comments hidden from public hearing are simply not "building" blocks - they are more like "wrecking balls".

Not only are the words of a gossip dull, but they are brutal.  There is a sense of "cruelness" in what is spoken.  In a sense, they are "animal-like", tearing apart another just like a ravenous animal would attack its prey.  These type of words do noting but create hurt, deep wounds, and ongoing "soreness" in a relationship.  That is why they are so dangerous!

David (and Alice) give us a little insight into "handling" these dull and brutal words - - focus our attention elsewhere.  Learn to "work around" those things in others - - not by focusing on them, but by focusing on God in them.  All of us have the ability to be just as dull and brutal - - we would want others to extend the same grace in our lives as we are being asked to extend to them.  Forgiveness is indeed hard - - but it is oh SO rewarding.  There is nothing that confounds someone more than being "deserving" of our anger, but receiving our grace!  

I like David's explanation of those that tend toward gossip - - they are like tubs of lard!  Ever see a tub of lard?  Not so pretty, but also not very easy to get a handle on its contents!  Try holding onto lard - - it takes the shape of what it is in contact with because it is really not capable of holding its own when it is being "pressed upon" or exposed to the "heat" of an outside force.  I am not saying the "gossiper" cannot help but conform to the gossip around them, but they just tend to go with the flow more than they know!

So, take a lesson from Alice today - - learn to work AROUND the one that speaks those words of unkindness.  They probably deserve your anger - - but they will be shut down by your grace!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Playing it God's Way!

Be good to your servant, Godbe as good as your Word. Train me in good common sense; I'm thoroughly committed to living your way. Before I learned to answer you, I wandered all over the place, but now I'm in step with your Word.    You are good, and the source of good; train me in your goodness. 
(Psalm 119:65-68 The Message)

Have you ever known someone with all the book learning in the world, but they simply lacked good common sense?  Doesn't it amaze you sometimes how much we can amass in "knowledge" and still lack the "skill" to do some of the stuff we need to do?  Simply put, common sense is the "sound" practical judgment that is independent of any of the specialized knowledge we might amass through training.  In some fields of human psychology, they might say this is the "native" intelligence that someone possesses.

Our psalmist reminds us that getting the Word "into" us is great!  We cannot live without it.  Yet, it is not in the "amount" of intake that we are made wise!  It is in the "asking" for the intake to be made "good common sense" that wisdom begins to take form.  What we need is for "soundness" in our judgment - to see things from a practical, day-to-day perspective, in such a way that we are making wise choices.  We try to make this Christian walk kind of "ethereal" instead of very "practical".  The fact is that God deals in the "practical", not in the ethereal!

Ethereal things are really kind of "airy", "fluffy", and hard to nail down.  God wants us to fully grasp his truths, learn to walk with them as guidance for our daily decisions, and to make better decisions because we understand what it is we are doing with what it is that God has given us.  You might have heard the saying, "That person is so heavenly-minded they are absolutely no earthly good!"  This points out that we can get so "deep" that we lose the ability to make God's Word practical in our lives.

Practical truth is learned from experience - we put into practice what we are learning.  We actually USE what we are taking in.  Ethereal truth is good - practical truth is applicable!  We allow God to help us understand how it is put into practice - impacting our decisions / choices.  When we say we have "learned" truth through experience, we are probably referring to the idea of having put good judgment into action in some life circumstance.  For example, we might be feeling a little "goaded" into speaking some unkind words in the midst of a little heated discussion - when we are reminded of the idea of returning good for evil as is outlined in many passages in scripture, we might stop short of speaking those words.  We are making "learning" practical.

God's goal in us studying the Word is that it might be made "practical" to us.  If you hadn't guessed, practical is from the root from which we derive our word "practice".  Therefore, practical truth is practiced truth!  If you have ever been in a sport, or played an instrument, you know one of the most important parts of becoming "proficient" in your sport or instrument is in the "practice".  It takes hours of practice to throw a good pitch, or to play a chorus without flaw. It takes just as long for us to become "practiced" in God's Word.  We want "instant" - but God says it comes in the consistency, not in the "instant-cy"!  (I know that is not a word - I made it up!)

Not sure what you might be "practicing" today, but if you are consistently allowing God's Word to impact your experience, you are practicing the right stuff!  The sweetness of the Word comes in the practicality of it when it is applied!  Gotta love it!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Who's your match?

I'm a friend and companion of all who fear you, of those committed to living by your rules.  Your love, God, fills the earth!  Train me to live by your counsel.
(Psalm 119:63-64 The Message)

It is good to have friends.  As we begin today, just take a moment to make a list of friends.  Now, divide that list into those who you could say were more than just your acquaintances - the list probably got a little shorter.  To further refine this list, let's divide out those who we really know have our back - they are more of a confidante to us, they are a compatriot in our mission in life.  The list probably got downright tiny with that one!  We can have lots of friends, but few will go the extra mile of walking with us through our mission in life - partnering with us in our walk with Christ.

David says he was a friend and companion of ALL who feared God.  Then he broke that down a little further - of those that were committed to living by the rules God establishes.  He made his lists, too!  He knew there were a lot who would make good friends because of their similar interests, but there were some who'd make the best "traveling companions" because of their commitment of heart!

A companion is someone who is a "match" for you.  It is like having two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together.  The term "companion" is also a nautical term and carries the meaning of the frame on the upper deck of the ship that may be raised in order to allow light to flow into the recesses of the ship.  The "companion" brings light into dark spaces!  Isn't that a neat way to think of those on the "smaller" list we just made?  They serve to "bring light" into what would be an otherwise dark existence!

Maybe we need the companion because of the light they bring that assists God in training us to live by his counsel!  When we think of those on our "short list" of friends, we are probably able to see how the individual(s) possess certain levels of maturity, talents, and insights that we have not completely developed in our own lives yet.  This is probably why they make such a perfect "match" for us - - they bring into the relationship what it is that we lack!  

In the process of being "trained" to live by the counsel of God, the companions we choose in this journey make all the difference in the outcome of the journey.  I have traveled to various parts of the world - - the companions in those travels have made all the difference in how it was that I "experienced" the places I visited.  For example, when I traveled to the Philippines, I was with others that knew the customs, foods, and things to avoid.  I trusted them to help me experience those things that would not bring misery to my digestive system, keep me out of situations where I'd commit a slight in customary courtesy, etc.  They knew the region, the people, and kept me safe.

There have been times when I have traveled to brand new places - - with no one on the trip knowing the region any better than the other.  It is less reassuring, and I daresay we took less adventures, trusted ourselves less to make the right choices, etc.  We simply did not know what to expect, so we were a little wary!  The same is true when we only align ourselves with those that are "weaker" than ourselves in this journey we call the Christian walk of faith.  We need companions along the way who have "gone before" us - - those with experiences we can learn from.

The lists we made at the beginning were important.  If you did not make them, take some time over the next couple of days to really think about your lists of friends, companions, and true "matches" for this journey.  If you find you are lacking that true "match" for the journey, it may be a perfect opportunity to begin to ask God to reveal such a person in your life.  I have enjoyed these "matches" along the journey - - there have been few, but they have been perfect for the season I was walking in.  I pray the same for each of you this holiday season.  May God "gift" you with the perfect "match" for this journey you are on!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Insulated and Isolated

I beg you from the bottom of my heart: smile, be gracious to me just as you promised.  When I took a long, careful look at your ways, I got my feet back on the trail you blazed. I was up at once, didn't drag my feet, was quick to follow your orders.  The wicked hemmed me in—there was no way out—but not for a minute did I forget your plan for me.  I get up in the middle of the night to thank you; your decisions are so right, so true—I can't wait till morning! 
(Psalm 119:58-62 The Message)

It is not an uncommon thing to tell God that we want ALL his blessings - each and every good thing that he has promised to us.  I wonder how many of us really know how to receive what has been given!  Most of us do a good job with the "asking" part -- but when it comes to "receiving" we stink!  We simply don't believe the provision is true, or we just don't reach out and make the blessing fully ours.  

David reminds us that it is in the times of taking those "long and hard looks" into our lives - truly seeing the way are headed by the choices we are making - that we come face to face with the provisions of God.  In the "pondering of our ways" we often realize that course corrections are in order.  We have a tendency to drift without even knowing we are drifting - yet our choices are clear cut indications of the direction we are traveling!

When we are "adrift" in life choices, we often find ourselves at a point where our "feet are swept out from under us".  Many times we don't even know what happened to get us "down" -- we just know we are no longer standing strong.  Yesterday I told a co-worker that I sometimes feel alone in a whole crowd of people.  I can be surrounded with people enjoying life and having a great time celebrating each other -- yet in the midst of all that revelry, I feel isolated.

Why is it that I get to this place?  Why is it that you may find yourself alongside me in that same place of "isolation" in the midst of so much activity?  There are probably a couple of reasons:

- I think it might be because we have "insulated" ourselves so that we cannot really be approached by others and affected by their lives.  There are times in life that we just don't want any influence from "without" to impact what it is that we are experiencing "within".  So, we insulate ourselves, keeping what we are experiencing to ourselves.  This can be a very dangerous spot to find ourselves in -- isolated people who insulate themselves from the influence of others often drift deeper into the "stories" they are telling themselves!  For instance, if we honestly believe that we have not one talent that the group may benefit from, we isolate and insulate, so that we won't be hurt when we experience their PERCEIVED "rejection".  In actuality, if we never venture out of our protection, we will never know if there will be rejection!

- Perhaps it might be a result of some failure that we are brooding over.  We find ourselves bemoaning some aspect of character flaw that we continue to struggle with and "pull inside" so as not to allow others to see that "flaw" any clearer than it is already apparent.  Guess what?  No matter how much "cover-up stick" we apply to a blemish, there is still a blemish underneath all that make-up!  It may not be glowing bright red on the end of our nose, but it is still there!  It is amazing to me that we think that our character flaws will simply not be apparent if we skillfully cover over them with some type of "mask" we apply.  The truth is -- God is in the business of uncovering us so that we can be comfortable being just as we are -- no masks needed.

David reminds us that he gets down sometimes.  He gets off course at others. Maybe the two go hand-in-hand.  Yet, when he does, he recalls God's promise to be gracious to him -- a sinful man, prone to act in wrong ways on occasion, given to thinking wrongly about himself and others.  The grace of God is the basis of all of God's promises toward us.  Look at just a few of God's promises that David often recounted:

 8 Real help comes from God Your blessing clothes your people! (Psalm 3:8 The Message)

3-4 The day my enemies turned tail and ran, they stumbled on you and fell on their faces.   You took over and set everything right; when I needed you, you were there, taking charge.  (Psalm 9:3-4 The Message)

8 And I'm an olive tree, growing green in God's house. I trusted in the generous mercy of God then and now.  (Psalm 52:8 The Message)

David knew his help was found in God and no other.  He recognized that the blessings of God are an encompassing thing - clothing his people in grace and mercy.  His protector and deliverer was none other than God - he kept that squarely before him even in the times when enemy influences seemed to be closing in around him, making him feel isolated and insulated.  He counted on the fact that God would regain control - even when he had taken the control out of God's hands for a while.  He owned up to the fact that growth was simply impossible unless God did the planting.  Look at the theme of what he repeatedly recounts -- I trusted God THEN and NOW.  

Getting back up on one's feet is not an easy matter -- it is made much easier when we trust God to do the lifting!  Trust him when you see no way out.  Recount his mercies when you feel no hope in your failure.  Open up to him when you begin to feel isolated and insulated from the very blessings he has placed in your life.  Then, and only then, will you be able to say, "I am walking in every promise you have given!"