Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All the world's a stage...

11The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. 
(Galations 3:11 The Message)

It is not what we do FOR God that matters - - it is what we do WITH God!  Shakespeare wrote:  "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts."  I believe there is great wisdom in the choice of "stage"  upon which we "act out" life - - and the choice of Director makes the difference in the impact of the play!

Nobody can be "on top of their game" 100% of the time.  It is physically and emotionally impossible to be attentive to every thought which leads to action - except by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He acts as a "gate-keeper" over our thoughts - when we give him the freedom to be directing our course.  

Paul wrote to the Roman church, "1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."  (Romans 12:1-2 The Message)

If we "unpack" these verses a little, we see the consistency between what he wrote to the Galation believers and the Roman church.  His intention is merely to show the futility of living life by the "letter of the law".  A system of rules will never be enough to bring about living, intimate fellowship with a holy God.  Take particular notice of the items I highlighted in bold, italics, or underlining.  These are key points!

- It is our EVERYDAY, ORDINARY life God wants.  This is the meat of the matter.  He wants more than our Sunday mornings - he wants our Monday, going back to work, mornings!  He looks forward to walking alongside us into the uncertainty of tomorrow.  

- He looks for us to PLACE IT before him without regret, resentment, or fear of what he might do with this day we have been given.  Sometimes we regret giving him our "everyday" life because we don't see much value in what we do.  He does!  At other times, we resent "handing over" control of our lives because we cannot be in control.  The most successful place to be is in his hands - not ours.

- We EMBRACE what he does.  This is what we do FOR him.  In the yielded spirit, God is honored above all else.

- It is in the FIXING OF OUR ATTENTION on God that our focus becomes clear and without uncertainty.  When we are correctly focused, the image produced will be clear, crisp, and a perfect replica of the original!

- God wants something FROM us - it is our RESPONSE to him!  It should be immediate - this is the meaning of "readily recognize".  His leading is quick and it is sure.  In the moments between a good choice and a poor one, his leading is quickly given.  It is our response to the leading which determines the course.

So, in looking at the correlation of these two passages, we see Paul's consistent message.  It is not the things we do FOR God which matter the most - it is indeed what we do WITH God!  Do we bring him along for the ride, or does he direct the course?  Do we engage him in our decisions, or do we just invite him to rescue us whenever they don't prove as "sound" as we'd hoped?  There are lots of rules we could keep in life - none produces the same result as walking in grace!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Does God help those who help themselves?

5-6Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don't these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.
(Galations 3:5-6 The Message)

This is indeed a good question for each of us to consider in our daily walk!  Does God do the "stuff" in our lives he does out of obligation to us because we have somehow "earned" it?  Do we obtain the blessings of God, including his attention and his directing influence, simply because we "did enough" to warrant it?  The Book of Galations is a letter to a church with a mixed up set of ideas.  They believe in the work of Christ - salvation through his shed blood (faith).  Yet, they cannot fully detach from the influence of the common beliefs of the day - you get good stuff when you do good deeds (works).

The writer has taken three chapters to explain the futility of thinking anything we do, say, or imagine in our minds will bring us into a "better place" with God. All the "moral striving" we go through - and for some of us, this may be quite a bit - is really just "good deeds", but it is NOT what brings us into God's presence, gives us the leading of his Holy Spirit, or provides us with some good outcome.  It is Christ alone who accomplishes this within us - no amount of our own striving produces positive effect!

You have probably heard it said, "God helps those who help themselves."  Ummm....although you may think it is biblical - the answer is "NO".  Really, when we say this, we are declaring our intention to take the initiative.  This phrase actually originated in Greek mythology!  Aeschylus wrote, "Whenever a man makes haste, God too hastens with him."  This comes from the Greek tragedy, The Persians, written in 427 BC.  Sophocles wrote, "No good e'er comes of leisure purposelessness; and heaven ne'er helps the men who will not act."  He was another writer of Greek tragedies during the same time period.  The concept of acting FIRST, then asking God for help AFTER you act is a concept taught throughout Greek mythology.  

Although there have been various "iterations" of this concept over the ages, the most notable to us is the present day rendering of "God helps those who help themselves."  This variation was penned by an Englishman (Algernon Sidney), intent on editorializing the governmental stands of the day, in 1698. We probably remember it best as being part of the writing of Benjamin Franklin - a quote in his Almanac in 1736.  

Regardless of how we have come to learn this "concept" - we have learned a concept which is foreign to the scriptural teaching of dependence upon God for direction!  Yes, God expects us to work - laboring well at our calling in life.  Yes, he expects us to engage in life - open to the leading he gives.  In fact, he invites us to act WITH him!  Solomon penned the words, "I have seen all the works done under the sun; indeed all is vanity and grasping at the wind." (Ecclesiastes 1:14)  At best, our works are "grasping at the wind" - an attempt to grasp the wind will show us each the futility of even trying!

We have an opportunity to change our mindset.  We can either believe we must do "things" in order for God to intervene in our lives, or like we are taught in scripture, we can accept God has already intervened despite our "doing"!  At best, our "doing" falls short of perfect faith!  This is the idea Paul is teaching.  No amount of "doing good" gains us any closeness of walk with Christ.  "Doing good" is an outcome of "being made" good!  The "being made" part is God's part - not ours!

So, if we have a tendency to be "self-initiators" in this walk with God, we might want to step back a little to see where it is God is leading!  He may have an entirely different course for our lives - one which is not focused on all the "works" we have been pursuing.  In fact, he may lead us away from some of those "works" into a place of grace we have never experienced before when we finally stop "doing" and just learn to "trust" in his completed work for our lives - the work of the Cross provided ALL we need for salvation!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

But...I AM trying!!!

15-16We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over "non-Jewish sinners." We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.
(Galations 2:15-16 The Message)

A long time ago, a friend gave me an illustration which has stuck with me through the years.  He held out a beautiful Montblanc pen, (since I am a writer, pens are kind of a passion of mine), and asked me to "try" to take the pen away from him.  Seeing this as an easy thing, I reached out to his outstretched hand to take the pen.  Now the pen was in my possession, or so I thought.  He then corrected me with the following:  He told me to only "try" to take the pen!  When I responded with a quizzical look on my face, he used this illustration to speak a life-lesson.

Knowing my passion for words, he was showing me the very first definition of the word "try" is really something quite different than we might suppose.  In fact, it means to "attempt" to accomplish something.  The definition does not imply actually "doing" it - - just attempting it!  Uh oh!  Now I was confused.  We talked for a while about "trying" versus "doing".  See, we go through life doing a whole lot of "trying" - attempting to accomplish what we set our minds toward.  Yet, in the end, when we look back at the "attempts" we may find most of them are actually only marginally successful, if not unsuccessful!

There is a definite difference between "doing" and "trying".  What I did when he offered his pen is an action which accomplished the intended result.  If I was just trying, I might only have looked at the pen, imagining in my mind how I could swoop in, grasp the object and be off with it.  One produced a result, the other produced a whole lot of "mind effort", but no real change in the pen's location.

There are many times we look back over our decisions only to find our "efforts" of "trying" to change a particular habit, or break free of a particularly annoying sin, never really accomplished the change we desired.  When we examine this further, we might just find we actually are doing what the dictionary offers as the second definition of "try" - - we have "experimented" with various "options" to see which one might work.  Unfortunately, in our walk with Christ, no amount of "experimenting" with things we could "try" on our own will ever work to bring lasting change!

Lasting change comes not in merely the changing of the rules we keep.  It comes in the changing of the company we keep!  The company we keep in our thought life influences the decisions we make.  If the company we are keeping in our minds is a confluence of all kinds of input - some spiritual, some worldly, some our own imaginations - we are often confused as to the actions we should take to accomplish change.  This is why we are warned to not focus so much on the input, but the source of the input!

Grace is the method of change God uses.  It is by grace our thoughts are changed.  It is through grace our choices are refined.  In the movement of grace in our lives, we see what we imagine IN CHRIST accomplished in our lives.  When we finally admit the "trying" efforts of our own "experiments" at change as riddled with self-failure, we begin to invite the influence of the Spirit of God into the midst of our desired change.  We move from a position of "trying" into a place of "doing" by embracing the method of change - - Christ IN us, the hope of glory!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Which "face" are you showing?

 14But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: "If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you're not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?"
(Galations 2:14 The Message)

Paul has spent a significant amount of time giving the run-down of his credentials for preaching the Word of God, his calling being direct and affirmed by those who had walked with Christ during his earthly ministry.  He had submitted to the leadership of the New Testament church in order to have his teachings "validated" or "affirmed".  This was not so much because of any "need" to get his ministry "blessed" by the other leaders, but because he wanted to be sure he was aligned in his teaching - accountable and committed to sharing the whole revelation of Christ.

In the process, he began to observe an "inconsistency" in the walk on Peter.  You see, Peter had engaged in behavior we all have probably been involved in at some time in our life - acting one way with a certain group, and another with the other group.  When he was not being "scrutinized" by those of the Jewish "conservatives", he did not find it offensive to eat with non-Jews.  But...when the "conservative" Jewish brothers were in town, he refused to associate with the non-Jewish believers.  Paul confronts him for being a little "two-sided" in his behavior.

We cannot ignore the fact - we are probably as concerned with making a "favorable" impression in some "circle"!  We act one way when not being "watched" by one set of eyes, but a completely different performance is observed when oversight is likely to occur.  I wonder if we treat God this way?  I am thinking we just might!

There are times when we think God is not really watching us too closely - those are the times we allow ourselves to "indulge" in the things God has declared to be unwise, harmful, or mal-aligned with his will for our lives.  You have heard the example of the couple who argues all the way to church in the car, but once they hit the parking lot of the church, smiles appear, arms are around each other, and kindness abounds!  It is as though God wasn't there with them in the car!

For some of us, we'd call this being "two-faced".  What we are / do in private differs from the image we put forth to the public.  This is a very dangerous place to live!  Whenever we allow "inconsistencies" between what is done in private and what we are in public, we are trying to straddle the fence of dual allegiance.  When it suits us, we align with Christ - when it doesn't, we make an excuse for our behavior.  If we have to make an excuse for our behavior, we probably feel we have to defend it!  I'd rather have God be my defense - he does a much better job!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Am I popular yet?

10-12Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or curry favor with God? Or get popular applause? If my goal was popularity, I wouldn't bother being Christ's slave. Know this—I am most emphatic here, friends—this great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn't receive it through the traditions, and I wasn't taught it in some school. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.
(Galations 1:10-12 The Message)

I imagine we have all struggled with the idea of being "popular" - being part of the "in" crowd.  In school, we'd look at certain groups of girls or boys, see how they dressed, looked at the way they did their hair, listened to what the talked about, and then what did we try to do?  For some of us, we tried to "fit in"!  If we have a tendency to be "followers" by nature, we want to "bend" to the whim of the crowd we are with.  If we are "leaders", we expect everyone else to fall in line behind us!

I was a follower - - getting caught up in the whims of the crowd.  Now, don't go bonkers when you hear this, but I did some pretty "not so nice" things!  I engaged in some mischief for which I have long repented and asked God's forgiveness.  I also got into my fair share of trouble - spending quite a bit of time "explaining" my behaviors to my parents and others!  Needless to say, Christ changed a lot for me!  

Our passage considers the goal of being "popular".  The "favor" a particular group might show you is sometimes not always what it is cracked up to be.  In fact, the very direction the group may be headed will only place you in a position of "unpopularity" with many others!  Paul is quite open - he is not a Christian because it makes him "popular".  Can you agree with this statement?  In most cases, being a Christian these days is not the most popular stand we can take.  

Knowing me by now, you know I had to look up the word "popular" in my trusty dictionary.  Here's what I found:

- Something or someone declared to be "popular" is really an object or individual who represents the "masses".  In today's society, Christianity is proclaimed, but it is not consistently "lived".  We cannot say Christian virtues are the popular (prevailing) virtues.  In fact, the trend is the tolerance of all virtues - regardless of the religion.

- Something which can be "adapted" to fit the ordinary intelligence or taste of an individual.  Regardless of how we might feel about this, God's Word is NOT something we can "adapt" to fit our circumstances.  It is meant to be interpreted by certain principled methods and cannot be "twisted" to "fit" our particular stance.  Whenever we do this, we are attempting to make the Word of God "popular" - to bend it to the "trend" of society rather than allowing it to affect the "bend" of society!

- Something we would classify as inexpensive.  If you live in a "free" society, Bible bookstores and online retailers of the Word may abound.  If you live in a society where freedom of religion is not a "right", your impression of the "value" of the Word may differ!  In truth, nothing about the Word of God is "inexpensive" - there is / was a tremendous "cost" in fulfilling each and every promise contained within those pages - - his name is CHRIST.

So, we may not always want to be "popular" in our walk.  Why would we want to be considered "ordinary" when God declares us to be "extraordinary"?  We might not always want to "adapt" things to fit our intentions or plans - - when life is all about us, we miss the enjoyment and fulfillment of including those uniquely designed to provide some blessing in our life.  We may not realize the "cost" of what we have been given, but hang around long enough and it will eventually become apparent!  Nope!  We are not in this for the "popularity" it produces!  Be willing to be "unpopular" to the masses - God has declared you so already!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not everything is black & white!

6-9I can't believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I'll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.
(Galations 1:6-9 The Message)

Wow!  Paul gets right up into the grills of these Galation believers!  He opens with is authority for writing to them, then launches into the very convicting announcement of the "fickleness" he is going to set straight!  His concern is the intentional "twisting" of the truth about Christ, his sacrificial death, the "adding to" what God has already declared to be the perfection of his complete work on the cross.  

Fickleness is the likelihood of change.  In other words, if the chance presents itself, we will change!  This is dangerous when it comes to our beliefs.  We need to be assured of what we believe and then stand on it!  No one should come along with a "new revelation" and then sway us into changing our beliefs. As a baby Christian, I read a book, "Know Why You Believe", by Paul E. Little.  The book is small, but packed with the simple truths I needed to get a foundational knowledge of as a new Christian.  He covers topics which answer questions about who Jesus is, was his resurrection real, is the Word of God a true authority we can rely upon, and how Christianity differs from a bunch of the other world religions.  What I hoped to accomplish by studying the topics outlined in this book was establishing a "foundation" upon which I could allow the Holy Spirit to build.  I wanted to be assured of my beliefs - - so I would not go through life "changing" at the drop of a hat.

If "variant messages" existed just after Christ walked this earth, how many different variations to the true message of God's love do we have today?  Lots and lots!  As time goes on, new "twists" come - - bending the Word of God to please the intentions of man's heart, instead of allowing the Word of God to bend our hearts toward the intentions of God's heart!

This is why we need to be on-guard when considering new truth.  We need to learn to be students of the Word - - taking what we learn, comparing it to the Word (not just one passage!), and then allowing God's Spirit to affirm or deny the teaching.  It is how we protect ourselves from teachings that will ultimately eat away at our foundation and cause a lack of stability in our lives.  

Paul is quite straight-forward in his impression of these other teachings - - they are to be cursed.  Those are strong words - - and he did not just say it once!  Fickleness is the state of being so casual in our beliefs that we actually are totally changeable without even really realizing it.  Paul's call is for us to not be so impressionable - - to have our allegiance well-established and then stick with it.  Does that mean we never consider a new way of seeing a passage?  Absolutely not, but we learn to "test" it against what we already know, what the other portions of scripture teach, and the confirmation of the Spirit of God in our lives. 

Did you realize the underlying cause of fickleness is perversity?  According to Webster's, this is the underlying root of this word.  Simply put, because the heart is not pure, we struggle with remaining steadfast!   I do believe scripture teaches the heart is deceitful, so it makes it really difficult for us to really know it (Jeremiah 17:8-10)!  We can count on this:  God knows our heart and it is HIS business to help keep our heart on track!  

I have a friend who recently asked a question about Israel's laws to offer the firstborn of the flock.  Her concern was the next statement to offer the firstborn male.  Here's the rub:  Did this mean we were to sacrifice our sons (like on an altar)?  We need to consider all scripture in light of its context (what is the rest of the story) and then consider what God is aiming at with what is being said.  His "aim" is in giving the best to God - - the "first" of our harvest, the "first" of our finances, the "first" of time, etc.  Give him the best - - the Law of Moses reiterated this over and over.  

Sometimes we need to do a "reality check" with the teachings we have come to embrace.  It will do us well to consider them in light of the intention of scripture.  Considering the tendency of our heart to follow after stuff that is deceitful, we need God's help to help us understand things like "types" used in scripture.  "Types" point us to something - - the firstborn male was Christ - - he would become the ultimate "perfect" sacrifice.  When we engage in this purposeful exploration of the teachings we come across, we begin to formulate a solid foundation upon which we can build.  So, explore, but be careful what you embrace!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Special Ops God!

1-5 I, Paul, and my companions in faith here, send greetings to the Galatian churches. My authority for writing to you does not come from any popular vote of the people, nor does it come through the appointment of some human higher-up. It comes directly from Jesus the Messiah and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. I'm God-commissioned. So I greet you with the great words, grace and peace! We know the meaning of those words because Jesus Christ rescued us from this evil world we're in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God's plan is that we all experience that rescue. Glory to God forever! Oh, yes!
(Galations 1:1-5 The Message)

We begin a new series this morning in the book of Galations.  The author is Paul, a disciple of Christ, born out of the ranks of the Jews - - a former persecutor of the believers in Jesus.  He begins with his credentials.  Whenever we are establishing new "relationship" with people, isn't this similar to what we do?  We discuss what we do for a living, if we are married or single, how many kids we have, where we went to school, etc.  Each of these "facts" somehow give us some "credibility" in the group we are associating with. 

Paul begins with his appointment - - his authority to be writing this message.  In some respects, I guess this is important to get out there right up front so there are no questions about why he should be trusted to direct the actions of the church.  He is not "people-appointed" - - there was no board of elders "voting" him into his role as apostle.  He was God-sent - - therefore, his message would be God-approved.

Two words will play an important part in our study of this book:  Grace and Peace.  Grace because it describes the process by which we are brought into the Kingdom of God and the very thing that holds us in that position.  Peace because it becomes the outflow of our position in Christ.  Paul will deal with tough topics in this book - - things like how a Christian can live an imperfect life and still experience the grace and peace of God!  He sets the stage for us to understand God's love expressed through his immense grace.

Paul begins with Christ's rescue - - freeing us from our confinement to live sinful lives, bound by the very thing we so desperately desire to be free of.  He accomplished our rescue by the Cross.  Offered as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  This is a tough thing to grasp if you have no knowledge of the Old Testament Law of Moses.  The Law was a system of rules and regulations God established with Israel in order to point them to the plan of redemption in Christ.  The Law contained multiple "sacrificial" offerings - - everything from the choicest grain of your harvest to the pure and spotless lamb offered as an atonement sacrifice.  Each carried a meaning unique in describing provision and grace.  Each pointed to Christ - - to the hope of deliverance.

Rescue is often a misunderstood process.  The term means to bring into liberty.  It is the setting free of our mind, will and emotions from all which seeks to control, or interfere, with our living according to the will of God.  It involves removing us from the obligation to continually "pay for" our sins - - because Christ's sacrifice was once and for all - - setting us right with God regardless of our sin.  It is both the power and the authority to bring change beyond our capability.  

Think about it.  Does a prisoner of war play any part in his rescue?  No!  It is the work of the Special Ops personnel sent on the mission to free the one who has been bound.  Those Special Ops troops plan, prepare, and then execute the plan.  In turn, the one bound is set free.  Think of Christ as the ultimate Special Ops soldier!  He and his Father planned, prepared, and he executed the plan perfectly.  Nothing we do adds to the plan!  His rescue is perfect because the plan was perfect!

God's plan:  For us all to experience this rescue!  Paul could not say it any better!  If you are struggling to be rescued - - it is time to step back and allow the one who has the plan for your rescue to step in.  If you have been rescued, but still struggle with the feelings of bondage, it is your divine rescuer who wants to help you enjoy total and complete liberty in him.  Hope you will follow along with me as we dig deep into this letter to the Galation church.  May we all come to appreciate the complete rescue of Christ!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Iron in my soul!

I'm homesick, God, for your salvation; I love it when you show yourself! 
   Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. And should I wander off like a lost sheep—seek me! 
      I'll recognize the sound of your voice.
(Psalm 119:174-176 The Message)

This is our last passage from this great study into the depths of a man with "a heart after God".  We began our study 59 days ago!  Does it seem that long to you?  (Hopefully, you said "no"!)  We are at the final three verses of our psalm and find David crying out, "I'm homesick!"  We have seen his heart throughout this psalm - - both the ups and downs of it.  The Word of God has become an intensive training tool in his life - - he has come to rely upon hearing it, using it in practical ways to assist with the day-to-day decisions of life, and leaning on it when no answer seems apparent.  It has become his source because he has come to know the one who stands behind it!

Two things caught my eye from this final passage.  First, he asks God to "put iron" in his soul.  When we think of the soul, we are reminded it encompasses our mind, will and emotions.  He is asking God to give a certain steadiness, a strength to his thoughts, his choices, and his emotions.  Whenever iron is used as a symbol in scripture, it pictures unyielding determination.  Here we see the heart of David - - determined to allow God to impact his inner man so his outer man always gives a solid testimony of God's grace in his life!

Did you ever consider the make-up of iron?  It is not a pure metal - - but the very fact it is impure makes it malleable.  The metal we call iron is really a very strong metal - - rigid almost.  David has gone through rough spells in which we see his "metal".  His rigidity toward sin became apparent in taking Bathsheba in a moment of lustful pleasure.  His rigidity toward grace became equally apparent when he cried out, "Create in me a clean heart, O God!  And renew a right spirit in me!"  It is the impurity of our heart which brings us repeatedly back to the throne of grace!  

The second passage comes right after David makes the resolve to allow God to affect his thoughts, so his actions will be pure, and his emotions so his response to life would become more directed and focused.  He petitions God to "seek him" - - not because he planned to wander off, but because he knew he had a tendency to do so!  We should all be this honest in our appraisal of commitment to living obedient lives!  We all have the tendency to have a little "iron" in our character - - rigid toward one form of sin or another!

Here's the awesome part of this - - God seeks us!  We wander - - he seeks us until we realize we have been found!  Sometimes, I think we come to a place where we feel "found out" - - not just found!  Either way, he did the seeking!  The encouragement found in this passage is the very last truth - - we WILL recognize his voice!  It is distinctive and clear!  There is no wavering or inconsistency in his voice!  Perhaps this makes it so very recognizable to the wayward one!

Jesus used a similar illustration when he taught his disciples one day, telling them his sheep knew his voice!  He illustrated another parable of one wandering sheep, alone from the flock, and a shepherd focused on finding one lonely sheep.  Here's something I recently saw in this story - - the sheep who wandered was once part of the flock!  It says the shepherd had 100 sheep, 99 stayed right with him, one wandered away.  This speaks to me of the ease of making one small decision after another which takes us out of the safety of living close to him!

David knew the heart of God.  In turn, God had given him insight into his own heart.  We can count on this being true in our lives, as well.  God delights in us knowing the "rigidity" of our heart - - it is only in recognizing our lack of yieldedness that we come to the place of acknowledging our need.  

Thank you for studying along with me through this tremendous psalm.  May your heart always be yielded, your soul made strong with the Lord's protection, and your mind filled with the peace which comes from knowing God is in control!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Silence speaks volumes

Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, you've taught me the truth about life! 
   And let your promises ring from my tongue; every order you've given is right.  Put your hand out and steady me since I've chosen to live by your counsel. 
(Psalm 119:171-173 The Message)

Have you heard the term, "Talk is cheap"?  It means it is easier to talk ABOUT something than to do it!  Another meaning would be it is easier to talk ABOUT someone than to do something for them.  We could say talk is "cheap" in many respects - - if our words aren't a sincere revelation of our motives (inner heart), they are simply have no real "force" behind them.

I have friends who speak continuously when we are together.  Other simply are happy to sit and enjoy times of quiet with me, occasionally bringing some discussion into the quiet, but it is not the main "theme" of our time together.  I was once told we could "gauge" the "comfort" of an individual in our relationship by their need to continually make "small talk" in our time together.  As my relationships have matured, the need to always be engaged in conversation has decreased.  So, I think this observation may be true.

How do you find your time with the Lord?  Is it a continual conversation, barely pausing for a breath?  Is there a sense of "filling" space with conversation?  If so, you might find you are a little concerned about the "silence"!  Why?  It may be the silence frightens you because you have never learned the value of just spending "time" with each other.  Whenever I have paused my talking TO God long enough, I begin to "take in" things around me purposefully revealed by his hand.  

For example, when sitting quietly on a recent trip, enjoying the mild weather and gentle breezes of Virginia, I began to just "take in" what was around me.  In just a short time, I began to look at the "floor" of the small creek bed and forest just behind the timeshare.  The fallen branches created little havens for the creatures scurrying around.  Squirrels perches atop them, birds pecked underneath them, and if I had looked a little further, I bet I would have found that insects mad a home there, too.

In short order, God began to show me the purpose God has for the "broken".  The trees were filled with turning leaves, gently whispering the ebbs and flow of the breezes.  The floor of the forest was lined with colorful fallen leaves, broken branches, and fallen acorns.  In terms of looking at the trees or the forest floor, one might quickly say the trees still served a purpose - - they were full of the evidence of life!  Yet, when we really consider the floor, guess what we see?  You got it!  Life!

Even in what appeared to have been 'discarded' by the trees (those fallen leaves, the broken branches, and the drying acorns), there was an immense purpose!  The leaves provide protection to the roots during the coming winter chill.  The fallen branches acted as resting spots for the creatures scurrying about.  The drying acorns would be laid up for the leaner times little forest critters would face later in the year.  Each held a purpose far greater than evident by just a cursory glance.

The same is true of each of us - - we serve a purpose not always evident on the surface.  In the quiet of discovery, our purpose becomes apparent.  What impressed me most in my time of listening to God, being open to his teaching, was the truth that in death God produces the basis for life!  It was in death his Son provided the basis for eternal life with God.  It is in death our hope begins!  

Praise cascades from the lips of one who realizes this truth to be true in their lives!  In the quietness of praise, the truths of God become true in our lives.  Did you ever think there was a purpose in "quiet" praise?  Yep!  Not every moment with God needs to be filled with words!  Sometimes the greatest message is in the quiet we enjoy together!  So, speak on God!  We are quiet now.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

God's Personal Attention

Let my cry come right into your presence, God; provide me with the insight that comes only from your Word.  Give my request your personal attention, 
      rescue me on the terms of your promise.
(Psalm 119:169-170 The Message)

God's personal attention in our lives - - now, isn't that an awesome thought?  I have never had a "personal trainer" at a gym, or a personal financial adviser, but I imagine those who enjoy the influence of these individuals in their lives see real "benefit" to their advice.  I cannot imagine a better "personal trainer" than the Holy Spirit!  I cannot fathom better advice than what we find in the Word of God!  I doubt there is anyone's attention more devoted than God's!

Whenever I have moments of distress, I want to stand assured my cries go "directly" to the source of all help: God himself!  No middle man involved - just direct access, front and center with God.  It took me a long time to realize the intention of God's heart is this kind of "free access" to him at any moment, regardless of how big or small our "distress"!  In fact, I lived like most of us do, believing something was just too trivial to "bother" God with - so, in my misguided belief, I'd "work it out" myself.  Ummm...am I the only one who has done this?  I don't think so!

Who is your source of light in your darkness?  Who is the provider of peace in the midst of chaos?  If you cannot answer with ALL assurance that it is God and God ALONE, it is time to take a step back.  In stepping back, we often see best where we have been heading!  In the pursuit of light or peace, we often get caught up in the void of darkness and the pointlessness of our lack of peace.  In taking even one moment to pause, we change our perspective.

You probably think this is a little silly, but humor me.  Go to the mirror.  Look long and hard at the reflection you see - - not at the grey hairs, the wrinkles, or even the little hairs needing to be tweezed!  Just look at YOU.  Are you the same person today as you were a year ago?  In a physical sense, the answer is definitely "no"!  None of us lives from one day to the next without some change in our physical bodies.  Cells alive yesterday are sloughed today; those here today may be gone tomorrow.  It is the course of life.

Now, take a piece of paper.  Draw a line down the middle.  Put a small title at the top of each column - the one on the left should read 2011, the one on the right 2012.  On the left side, begin to write down some of the blessings of God in your life you can remember from 2011.  Maybe you were in financial need and you got an unexpected rebate check.  Perhaps you were experiencing the loneliness of loss and you received a note which built up your inner man at a low point in your day.  The blessings don't have to be "big", just whatever comes to mind.

How hard was it to remember the blessings God brought?  For some, if I had asked you to make a list of your failures, frustrations, "unanswered" prayers of 2011, you'd have penciled a list in about three minutes flat!  Why is this easier than recounting God's blessings?  It is a matter of perspective - - our focus.  We "trouble" our worries, and our worries "trouble" us!  Liberty comes in learning to change perspective.  When we transition from believing God is only there for the "big" stuff to trusting him for even the "wee" stuff of life, we begin to treasure the blessings of having the "personal attention" of God!

Oh, did you think I forgot the other side of the paper?  Nope!  Here's your challenge:  On the right side of the paper, begin to list the things you are trying to manage on your own today.  Maybe you are dealing with a negative co-worker and have been continually frustrated with the interactions.  Write the name of the individual there.  Perhaps it is that "small matter" of being faithful with daily Bible study.  Write it down!  With each item you add, write a short descriptor of what you have been "trying".  

For example, if you have been "trying" to be faithful to daily study, you might write down "Daily study - reading plan, devotional book, and journal".  You have "tried" a reading plan (a set list of what to read each day), going through devotionals written by others, and keeping a journal of what you are reading.  None of these has made you any more "faithful".  

Now, tear or cut your list into two pieces - the 2011 side and the 2012 side.  Go to the mirror again.  Tape up the 2011 side.  Now, each time you return to the mirror, reflect on what God accomplished in your life in 2011.  You may very well become overwhelmed by the fact of God's personal attention on your behalf!  When we actually give him the chance to "personally affect" our lives, he proves himself faithful over and over again!

The 2012 list - - put it in an envelope.  Tuck it away some place where you will know where it is.  Pick one day from your week (perhaps Sunday) and pull the envelope out.  Sit some place quiet long enough to read through the list prayerfully each week.  In other words, as you read "struggle with negative co-worker", give God some time to speak to you about the person, the circumstances, your response, etc.  As you do this throughout the weeks ahead, when the things you have been "troubling" over, or that have been "troubling" you may very well change.  As they do, add a date, and a short description of what God has done.

You may be very surprised to realize the answer to the troubling matters of 2012 turn into blessings as we get God's perspective on even the "small stuff"!  He is the God of "personal attention" on our behalf.  But...we have to be willing to bring it to him!  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Burning the candle at both ends?

I've been slandered unmercifully by the politicians, but my awe at your words keeps me stable.  I'm ecstatic over what you say, like one who strikes it rich. 
   I hate lies—can't stand them!—but I love what you have revealed.  Seven times each day I stop and shout praises for the way you keep everything running right.  For those who love what you reveal, everything fits—no stumbling around in the dark for them.  I wait expectantly for your salvation;       God, I do what you tell me.  My soul guards and keeps all your instructions— 
      oh, how much I love them!  I follow your directions, abide by your counsel; my life's an open book before you.
(Psalm 119:161-168 The Message)

I think there are times we think proudly to ourselves, "Whew!  Now, did you see how well I kept everything together today?"  We look back over our day, see the chaos of events we tackled and proudly assess the accomplishment as "ours".  In fact, we couldn't be farther from the truth!  The accomplishment of "stability" in our lives is really the result of the influence of the Word WITHIN!

We will endure slander - it is part of human nature.  We will be faced with lies - even if they are "half-truths", they are still lies!  The darkness will sometimes creep in like the setting of the sun is preceded by the dusky sky; at others, it will come with haste, making all seem rather bleak.  These are part of living - no one escapes these (even on a island by themselves!).

There are several points made in our passage - we'd call them Key Points - when we pay attention to them, we stand strong in the midst of slander, ferret out the truth in the lies, and see a spark of light in each moment of darkness.  

- Love what God reveals.  Don't take a casual approach to the revealing of God's will.  When God takes all the necessary time to get our attention, truly focusing us on what he is saying, we have an obligation to pay attention!  To our listening ear we need to add an obedient heart.  Often the biggest struggle of the will is in the emotional energy obedience requires!  Love begins with the struggle of the will - - we are choosing to let someone or something else influence our lives.  In this case, we are giving God this access!

- Stop and praise God.  In the busy days we sometimes don't take the time to maintain balance.  Balance is tough.  I was surprised when I looked into the dictionary to see the word "balance" with over 25 different definitions.  No wonder we get confused by "words" sometimes!  Here's just a couple you might want to consider when you are considering if you have "balance" in your life:

* Mental steadiness or emotional stability (no one really enjoys chaos, but even in the midst of it, we can enjoy mental steadiness)

* The power or ability to decide an outcome by throwing one's strength, influence, or support to one side or the other (the one we "side" with throughout the day really goes a long way determining our "balance"

* An adjustment of accounts (moving time, talent, treasure in order to keep them divided into equal "buckets" - not allowing one thing to over-consume any of these)

* To weigh in a balance (just remember the counter-weights we utilize to determine "balance" are not always "true" - we need to test the weight)

- In the waiting, don't forget to DO what God tells you.  We sometimes think waiting is a place of inactivity.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  In long lines at the store, I often turn my attention to people-watching.  A little amusement comes in the observations of those who are "jockeying" for the shortest line.  Just remember - the shortest line doesn't always produce the greatest experience!  

- Guard, keep, and follow.  Guard what you allow to influence your life.  Keep your attention focused on truth.  Follow truth's direction.

We are almost at the end of our study of this lengthy psalm.  In keeping with any good "message", David is summarizing the hope he has in living a life directed by God, obedient to his will.  Let us live in such a way so we will be able to do the same as we "summarize" our day!

Friday, January 20, 2012


 Take note of how I love what you tell me; out of your life of love, prolong my life.  Your words all add up to the sum total: Truth. 
Your righteous decisions are eternal.
(Psalm 119:159-160 The Message)

Back in the day, a high-powered executive would speak authoritatively into the office intercom sitting on his desk, summoning a secretary to the office.  Within seconds, the secretary would be "front and center", ready to do the bidding of the executive.  It was not an uncommon thing to hear the words, "Take a note", implying that the secretary was to listen carefully, capturing the thoughts of the executive, then preparing a finished document with the dictated words.  

To "take note" is really saying "observe with care" or "pay special attention to".  In other words, when summoned, the secretary had to put out of her mind all other thought in order to focus on the current needs of the executive.  Here, our psalmist is asking God to "take note" - - now this is an interesting turn of events!  He is asking God to "pay special attention to" his determined efforts to live in obedience to the revelation God gives!  In turn, he asks God to prolong his life!

As we have studied the various portions of this lengthy psalm, one theme consistently comes through.  I wonder if you have been "taking note" of this theme as you have studied along with me?  Have you seen it?  The theme?  Here it is:  The Word of God is true!  Since it is true, we can rely upon it!  

Since it is true, a reliable source for our every need, we can not only "hang our hat" on the truth revealed within the Word, but we can allow it to affect our lives.  Did you catch that?  We can ALLOW it to affect our lives!  Changed life is a matter of giving access to the Word!  Here's the sad truth - - we often take the Word "IN" without allowing it to affect what is "IN" us!

There are both active and passive definitions of this word "allow".  In an active sense, it means we actually "give permission" or "grant access to" the Word.  This implies an active participation in not only taking it in, but in applying it to the various areas of our life until our emotional well-being, our spiritual health, and our physical strength is impacted.  In a passive sense, it means we "concede" to the action of the Word.  Now, in a sense, this is not always bad, but when we concede, we are giving up a fight!  This means we were resisting to begin with!

I wonder how long a secretary would have kept her job back in the day if her response to the executive was, "I am pretty busy right now" or "The task you require of me is just not in keeping with what I want to do at the moment"?  I'm thinking not too long!  Yet, God is faced with these types of answers from us each and every day.  We give one excuse after another - - avoiding the action(s) he requests of us.  In turn, we wonder why we live weak, impotent Christian lives.  

The "connection" made throughout this entire psalm is the relationship between what is taken IN and how it is allowed to affect what is on the "inside"!  We might resist change - - but even resistance training brings great benefit to the muscles of our physical body!  We might embrace change with open arms - - but it is likely we might not fully appreciate the "cost" of change until we are deeply entrenched in the "process" of change!  

I cannot report that I have consistently embraced the Word without any lack of resistance - - my own final attitude of "conceding" to the affect of the Word in my life is probably more evident to those looking upon my life as observers of the change more than it is to me!  The important thing is the moment of "concession" - - the turning of our heart from resistance toward obedience.  This is the hope we have when this occurs:  God takes note!  He is paying close attention to the very moment of our shift in mindset - - our heart response!  

Today may be your day - - the moment you "shift" from resistance toward obedience.  It may be the day the Word you have taken IN begins to affect what is on the INSIDE.  If so, know this:  God is taking note!  It blesses him greatly when one of his kids takes even the smallest step toward obedience!  He stands right there beside you today.  Know what he is saying?  I do!  His response to our obedience is the title of today's blog!!!