Wednesday, February 29, 2012

But...they don't deserve it!

It seems parents are just not held in the same "honor" as they were in times past.  Look at an old episode of the Waltons, Leave it to Beaver, or Little House on the Prairie and compare the "honor" a parent received in the past with how a parent is treated today!  You may be saying, "Yeah, but come on, those shows depicted the ways families should be!"  Exactly!  the fact remains, we have been instructed to "honor" our parents.

12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you."  (Exodus 20:12 New Living Translation)

It is a command with a promise - one of those "meet this" and "get this" kind of deals!  This is our fifth in a series of "rules" given to us - designed to keep us safe from pitfalls.  In this "rule" of living, God reminds us of the importance of honoring our parents - giving them respect, esteeming their "skill" as a parent, and even overlooking their "lack of skill"!

The crux of the word "honor" really comes in the interpretation of this word as "revere".  We are to revere our parents - not the same awe we give to God, idolizing them in some manner - but simply deeply being in respect of their position as the authority over our lives for our "growing up" days.

Some are probably thinking, "Yeah, but you have never met MY parents!"  They may not be ideal, but they are our parents!  Their "skill" as parents may not be great, but the fact remains, they ARE our parents!  We are asked to honor them in recognition of their position, not always their "qualities" as our parents.  

We may have a parent who struggles with life's dominating sins such as alcoholism, drug abuse, or simply any other form of self-defeating behavior we could imagine - even being an "absent" parent.  Their "example" may not be one of holiness, but their position as our parent does not change.  In fact, God still asks for us to honor them.  He is not asking us to hold them up as perfect examples we should "model".  He may only be asking us to not "turn on them" with unkind words, disrespectful attitudes, and anger.

In fact, the "job" of parenting in the natural sense does not come to those who are the best qualified!  There is no "pre-test" to ensure only the best and most qualified get the position of "parent"!  This being the case, we sometimes don't see the best examples of parents - folks who probably should never have brought a child into this world are doing it all the time!  Does God expect their children to honor them?  Yes!  Not for their sinfulness, but for their "position" as parent.  

We don't hold them up on a pedestal.  We don't follow in their footsteps of sinfulness.  We simply remember their position as "coverings" over our lives for a period of time.  In some cases, the "covering" is a little flawed - filled with all kinds of holes!  For those of you with this example of parent - pray for them!  Don't become bitter toward them!  Learn to turn their self-absorbed behaviors into a matter of prayer, not bitter rehearsal of their faults.

In honoring them, we are actually honoring God.  In refusing to become bitter toward them, we are modeling the grace of God.  In lifting them up before God we are actually respecting them as God asks.  We refuse to give into our desire to abandon them to their own sin - instead, we take them repeatedly before the throne of grace, petitioning God to touch their hearts in some manner.  

This is not the easiest of commandments - in fact, it may be the most difficult of them!  Especially for those with parents who are abusive, anger-filled, manipulative, or given to some life-dominating sin.  Yet, it comes with the blessing of God's protection over our lives!  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You are driving yourself crazy!

We rush and rush through life - wondering all the while if we will ever get caught up with all the commitments we have made, the deadlines imposed upon us by others, and the silly pursuits we carelessly call our "leisure time".  Sure enough, the demands of life are many!  Yet, in it all, we are reminded of the importance of keeping our perspective in the chaos!

8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."  
(Exodus 20:8 New Living Translation)

For most, we "celebrate" the Sabbath day each weekend.  I used quotations marks around the word CELEBRATE simply because most of us don't really treat the Sabbath day as anything all that special.  We call it our "Sabbath" day, but we don't treat it any differently than the day before or the day after - other than gathering at church for a short period of time.

God's reminder to us to keep a day as "holy" was for one reason - rest.  He knows very well our tendency to cram as much of life into each and every day, leaving very little time for renewal of our peace, regeneration of our energies, and replenishing of our spiritual focus.  This is leap year.  We actually "get" one more day in this year to cram even more stuff into!  Woohoo!

There are three things I think God planned in asking us to keep the Sabbath - one day a week out of seven - as holy.  First, it takes the Creator of our bodies to understand the "stress points" of the body.  He knows full well our "breaking points", as well.  In asking us to keep one day as a day of rest, he is warning us of the risks of driving at full speed without any real "down-time".  It wears on us and will not end well!

Second, whenever we are driving hard, it is easy to get caught up in the muddle of life - affecting our ability to make decisions, feeling the lack of peace muddle creates.  There is much to be said about not moving on in a direction we may be pursuing until we have a confirmation of peace in our decisions.  In fact, we are often "checked" in our spirit simply because we don't have peace.  When God asks us to keep a day set aside for rest, he is "re-centering" us.  Getting us to slow down long enough to actually hear from him is a challenge in this day and time, but it has not outlived its usefulness, my friends!

Last, but definitely not least, God asks for a day of rest to refocus on him.  This is definitely more than just attending a church service somewhere, and then proudly "checking it off our list"!  In fact, God's purpose in establishing the day of rest deals with holiness!  He tells us to keep the day of rest because he is a holy God and in turn, he desires holy people.  

How do we incorporate God's holiness into our lives?  I think it is in times of rest where God can refocus us on him, revealing pieces of himself to us in the moments of grace which occur when we stop long enough to actually behold him!  So, in looking at our fourth in a series of "commands" or "rules" for living, God asks for us to keep the day of rest - not for ourselves, but because of him!  It is in the quieting of our busy days God speaks!  Be quiet long enough, refocus a little, and you might be surprised by what you hear!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Never devoid of substance!

We have much emphasis today on "name recognition".  In fact, there is a process in business referred to as "branding" in which an organization seeks to get its product or service identified with a particular name.  In contrast, the organization never wants its name to be associated with a BAD product or LOUSY service. 

7 “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name."  (Exodus 20:7)

The most familiar passage for this verse is probably the King James:  "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."  Important to see within the structure of this verse is the fact God says it is "OUR" God whose name we are to uphold - to not use his name in vain.

Simply put, God is reminding us of the power in his name.  In other words, whenever we speak his name it is to be with purpose.  His name is to be spoken to offer him praise, to give him thanks, and to seek him for help in our lives.  It is never to be an "idle" word spoken without conscious awareness of its use.

Vain really means something which is void of substance - empty.  It is something with no affect - when spoken it accomplishes nothing.  As you can see, God's name is really not this!  It is powerful - accomplishing far more than humanly imagined.  God is really reminding his people of the importance of his name - it is never fruitless.  

Whenever we trivialize the name of God, we do him a great injustice.  If his name just drips from our lips in every conversation as haphazardly as we'd use the words "the" and "it", we are doing him an injustice!  His name is to be honored, lifted up, and spoken in reverence of all it can and has accomplished.

When something is "misused", it is used wrongly or misapplied.  God's greatest hope is for us to share the "fruitfulness" of his name in the display of the change within our lives.  In this way, his name is associated with the power, majesty, and honor it is entirely due!

This is the third of the "rules" we have explored known as the Ten Commandments found in the book of Exodus.  Look at the progression:  1) No other gods but God himself; 2) Do not attempt to pigeon-hole God into some image of him which limits him to our understanding; and 3) Learn to give his name the honor it is due.  When we get these in order, we see a natural progression.  

First, we come to God and are made a dynamic part of his family.  Next, he opens our eyes to the possibilities of serving him - revealing himself in ways far outside our limited conception of who he is.  In the tendency to exclaim all we can about what has "ignited" us from the inside, we have an obligation to never trivialize who he is to us or what he has done within us.

So, there is your third "rule" to consider.  Remember, as we started this little series, I laid out the purpose of a rule as something to keep us safe - to avoid the hairpin turns of life which would send us askew and in some pit of misery.  Learning to proclaim God's name, value it, and to show the fruitfulness of our God in all we exclaim about him is an outcome of drawing near to him and experiencing his protection and keeping power in our lives.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pigeon-hole gods

Most of us live by some unwritten code which implies rules are for breaking, not for keeping.  There is just some inward "pull" to break a few rules once in a while.  Yesterday we began to look at the sensibility of "following the rules" God sets out for us.  His first "rule" was very clearly stated:  No other god but me.  His second is almost along the same line, but with a little different "twist":

4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea."  
(Exodus 20:4 New Living Translation)

No other god but me focused on any affection or attention we directed toward another person or pursuit which clearly took our affection and attention off God himself.  Today's "rule" deals with trying to pigeon-hole God into a box which fits our "image" of what he should be like.

Let me elaborate a little.  God warned against creating some "graven image" - carved sculpture or the like - which we'd look upon and form some attachment with.  Why?  Simply because God does not "fit" man's limited (finite) image!  He is all things to all people, all knowing, all places at all times, unlimited in power, and totally holy.  Try "fitting" these characteristics into some "image" and you will find yourself frustrated by the limitations of your own mind to actually accomplish it!

In a deeper sense, God really does not want us to "limit" him by what we envision him to be like.  God's abilities are beyond our "reasoning" powers.  His love is beyond our ability comprehend the unfathomable depths of its grace.  His desires toward us are outside of our limited emotionally-based affections.  In other words, when we try to "understand" God by having him "fit" a particular image, we limit him in our lives.  God knows the dangers of limiting him - so he directs us to avoid the creation of an image which pigeon-holes him.  

In times past, pigeons were kept in these little cabinets, stored away until they would be served up as delicacies.  The purpose of keeping them in the "hole" was to fatten them up for the meal at hand.  As cabinet making became an art, pigeon-holes were built into cabinetry and furnishings in order to neatly store away items.  As we use the term today, we simply refer to the process of "putting away" something for a later use, or classifying it according to some function.

I think this is what God may have in mind when he asks us not to "pigeon-hole" him!  He is not some "delicacy" just to be fattened up and enjoyed only on certain occasions!  He is not stored away until there is some later need for him.  In fact, whenever we try to "classify" him in any particular manner, we are setting "boundaries" in our minds which only serve to create a limited perspective of his authority, power, and purpose in our lives.

Most of us understand "graven images" of God are not something which honor God.  Yet, I wonder if we really understand the "images" of God we have set up in our own minds?  I believe we may have more "limiting images" of God than we first imagine.  We might do very well to see just where we have been "pigeon-holing" God in our minds - limiting him in some way because we hold him up to the "candle" of some merely human characteristic or attribute.  God is not limited - we'd do well to let him live "unlimited" in our lives!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Who's first?

There have been times in life when "rules" just seemed to aggravate me.  I wanted so desperately to just ignore them all and have a little "fun"!  I imagine I am not alone in this frustration - if you were totally honest, you sometimes wonder what value the rules played!  Well, even when we don't fully understand the rules, they play an important part in our safety.  For example, driving down an open highway at a straight stretch allows speeds of 75 miles per hour.  Why?  The road is straight, you can see oncoming traffic, and you have less chances of losing control of your vehicle when you are going in a straight line!

Now, get on a winding road, tall trees all around, with the road barely built into the side of the mountain.  You may WANT to drive at 75 miles per hour so you'd get to your destination faster, but there are all kinds of barriers in your way.  There is the line of cars in front of you, "crawling" at a mere 50 miles per hour (the posted speed limit for this stretch of road).  Then there are the hairpin turns which serve to not only present some pretty significant "maneuvering" obstacles, but also block clearly what lies beyond.  In these instances, we may not want to obey the rules, but we are certainly safer when we do!

I think of the Ten Commandments as a set of rules, laid all out nice and neat, in one "tight package".  Are they the only "rules" God sets out for his people - no, but they really encompass a great deal of expectations for our safety.  Rather than looking upon the "rules" God establishes as burdensome and restrictive, we might do well to consider them in the light of how they are intended to keep us safe.  Here's a quick look at the first of the Ten:

3 “You must not have any other god but me."  
(Exodus 20:3 New Living Translation)

You may be more familiar with this in the traditional King James, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."  As we break this one down a little, let's first look at the imperative here:

- You MUST not have any other god BUT me.  Two words stick out: MUST and BUT.  Both are quite strong words.  No other option exists - no other person, object, or "great man or woman" must have the place we give to God in our lives.  The place within us designed to house God's Spirit is not to be filled with any other.  

Next, we must look at what it means to not have any other god.  See the little "g" there?  The instruction is NOT to have any other God (as there is only one God).  The instruction is to not have any other god.  What is the difference?  Plainly put, any other "god" would be anything within our attention or affections which occupies the place designed for God.  Let's break this down a little further:

- Anything which captures our attention has the ability to move upon our affections.  It has the ability to draw us in.  Therefore, focusing on what captures our attention the most is a starting place in evaluating if anything or anyone else has moved upon our affections!  

- When we hold anyone or anything else in this important place of affection in our lives, we become consumed by the time and energy it takes to maintain this affection.  Affection is built when it is cultivated - therefore, if we invest in the right things, we build the right affections.  The instruction to us is to have but one object of our affection - God himself.  Why?  When he has this focus in our lives, he is free to direct our course, keeping us safe in the "hairpin turns" of life!

We may resist the "rule" of having but one object of both attention and affection, but when we get this right, all other relationships we have fall into line.  They actually get a little easier!  The problems we seem to focus on the most seem to be a little less significant, almost with new energies to work them out.  This is why God tells us of the importance of keeping him first.  If we get this right - the rest will work itself out!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dead idols - junk 'em!

What "dead idols" from our past do we need to finally let go of?  I think if we look hard enough, we will probably find a few lurking in the back of the recesses of our minds!  

7-10  Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master's Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don't even have to say anything anymore—you're the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom. (I Thessalonians 1:7-10)

A couple of things come to mind as I posted this passage today.  First, word gets around!  No matter how hard we try - people talk!  We can be doing exemplary work - people talk about how we must be "brown-nosing".  We can care less about the task at hand - people talk about how we never seem to invest ourselves.  We can plug away with consistent effort - people talk about how we just never go above and beyond.  No matter what we do, people talk!  

If this is the case, wouldn't it be wise to give them something worth talking about?  Just saying!  Lives echoing the Word of God are certainly something worth talking about!  It makes people uncomfortable sometimes, but this is because there is conviction in observing a man or woman of God living by what they preach!  It is far better the get the reputation of living by the Word than any other reputation we could obtain!  The "news of our faith" should attract the attention of those who are looking for a good story!

Second, when our lives are aligned with the Word, they do the preaching!  There is more said in one action than in a thousand words!  Look how quickly someone will "pick holes" in our "stated" faith when there is little to no action which aligns with the statements.  I think God calls us to be living examples of the Word - simply because people associate with people.  They need to see the Word "acted out" in order to see its impact in a life.

Last, "dead idols" abound.  We have things from our pasts - dead idols - taking up valuable room in our memories, tugging at our hearts, and finagling their way into our present day actions.  Isn't it time to let go of them once and for all?  What is a dead idol?  It is something which anchors us to the past, takes our attention away from the one true God, or inhabits our minds with taunting or tempting thoughts of the enjoyment of past sins.  

Dead idols need to be deserted - like old cars in a junkyard.  The only good purpose they have is in their being destroyed once and for all!  They no longer serve us - we no longer serve them!  It is time to let them go.  Look up "junk" and you will find it is something regarded as worthless, meaningless, or contemptible.  Guess what?  The "dead idols" of our past are just worthless junk cluttering up our minds, messing with our emotions, and putting unnecessary temptation in our way today.  Junk 'em!

In contrast, we are asked to hold one thing before us - God himself.  No more "dead idols" which only serve to rob our energies.  So, what is it you need to leave in the "junkyard" of the past?  It is time!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Original or Knock-Off?

Whoever said we could walk through this life without worries, difficulties, or unresolved issues was probably not a well person!  Choosing to serve Christ does not elevate an individual above the ebbs and flows of life.  In fact, it almost guarantees a few more hurdles!  If we really are living for Christ, we will face challenging people, circumstances, and moments of potential compromise which we may not have encountered otherwise.

5-6You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.  (I Thessalonians 1:5-6)

As Paul commends the Thessalonian church, he points out the fact of their increased troubles since entering into relationship with Christ.  The reader may balk a little at this revelation, but the important thing to see is their great trouble was accompanied by the one who would walk them through it unscathed!  

Look at the progression - they paid careful attention to their examples in the faith.  They kept their eye on the actions and attitudes of those who had been walking with Christ longer than they had.  In so doing, they became imitators of what they saw.  Let me caution us here - not every example is worth imitating. Just because something bears the label doesn't ensure it as the true product!

Whenever we are imitating what we see, we are "molding" to a "model" we have before us.  This makes it doubly important for us to have accurate "models" so what is "molded" within is solid!  I have followed some pretty bad "models" in my years on this earth - both before and after choosing to follow Christ.  The things produced were definitely different depending on the "model" being followed.  If you have ever followed "bad directions", you know what I am referring to here.

There are all kinds of "knock-off" jeans, but only one Levis brand!  There all kinds of Coach purse knock-offs, but a genuine Coach purse bears the evidence of genuineness in many ways.  Noticeably enough, the thing which sets both of these "real things" off as originals is their cost!  The "knock-off" brands gains its popularity simply because it LOOKS LIKE the original without the COST!  

Indeed, the reason we have "knock-offs" is simply because somebody sees something worth imitating!  Yet, the knock-off will never measure up to the quality of the original!  This is why it is so important we have good examples!  We don't want to imitate a "knock-off" - we want to imitate the original!  This is why it is important to evaluate the ones we hold up an examples, or models, in our lives once in a while - comparing them to the Word of God and the telling truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.  

Paul says the believers learned to take the troubles with joy, and the joys with the trouble.  How?  Simply by having an example to keep their eyes on through the troubles - the Holy Spirit guiding them step-by-step.  They became imitators of Christ - allowing the Holy Spirit to create within them the "staying power" and the appreciation of the blessing of even the trouble!  They learned each ebb had a purpose to expose something otherwise hidden from their view - each flow had a driving force to propel them forward.  In each, they found joy - not because of the circumstance, but IN it.

My hope is for us to become imitators of the original - solidly molding our lives to the pattern laid out for us in Christ Jesus.  My goal is for us to never become cheap "knock-offs" - wanting the original, but not being willing to pay the price!  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Steel in your convictions

Steel in your convictions - what does this mean?  Winston Churchill once said, "Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning."  C.S. Lewis echoed his words when he penned, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn't just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.  (I Thessalonians 1:3-5 The Message)

God's hand is on us for something special.  We serve a God who is not only supernatural, he actually influences us to move beyond the natural into the abundance of all he is!  It is this very encouragement which gives us transforming power to live with courage in times of uncertainty.

When God begins to pour into our lives, he is "pouring" the right stuff.  This is what Paul was referring to when he said, "When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn't just words."  The Word of God NEVER returns to him void!  When it is spoken, believed, and stood upon, it carries such a degree of transforming power that one cannot resist the transformation occurring.  

C.S. Lewis hit the nail on the head - God gives us courage - not the regular stuff, but the ability to stand even when every one of our other virtues is being put to the test.  Something happens when our virtues are put to the test - we come away stronger!  This is not in our natural ability, but in the supernatural strength and grace of our holy God.  

Since the 1600's, the meaning of "convictions" has come to stand for any belief we stand convinced of in our lives.  It is something we "hang our hat on" when the tough stuff begins to happen.  I don't know about you, but there are times when my convictions don't actually match my behavior.  Congruence (agreement) between my convictions and my behaviors is something which comes when I submit my convictions to God, allowing him to mold them to be conformed to the basis of truth.

Hardly a day passes which does not present us with some opportunity to have our convictions put to the test.  We face uncertainties galore - putting to test our trust in the one who makes all things good.  We come close to losing our hold on reality - almost choosing to believe the taunting lies of our enemy instead of the wholly proven Word of God.  We refuse to "chance" love again - because someone who is hurt finds it almost impossible to reach out again in transparent abandon to another.  

In these moments, God stands at the ready to put "steel in our convictions".  When these convictions are solidly based on the Word of God - the truth - we can stand strong, head held high, and heart open to those who walk this pathway with us.  God's hand is indeed upon us for something special - in his touch comes the "steel" to make it through - not just by the skin of our teeth, but with deep-seated assurance in the one we put our trust in.  The next time you feel your "courage" waning - look up!  It is in choosing to see God in the moment that we feel the infilling of his strength to face the unknown.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preparing for Tomorrow Today

The preparation of today makes us ready for tomorrow. Without the work of today, the events of today won't matter when tomorrow comes.   

2-3 Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you're in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. 
(I Thessalonians 1:2-3 The Message)

When others look at your life, do they see evidence of your faith?  Do they see us laboring in love, or resisting every move we make?  Do they see us patient in our waiting, or chafing in anticipation?

Paul calls to mind three things about the believers at Thessalonica for which he thanks God.  These things are not arbitrary.  In fact, they speak volumes about the work which has begun in their lives.

First, their have evidence of their faith.  In James 2, Paul reminds us of the important fact of faith and actions working together - our actions making our faith complete.  In other words, we are expected to reveal Christ in our actions. He calls to mind the actions of Abraham, taking Isaac to the altar in response to God's request to offer him as a sacrifice.  

I don't believe for a moment God actually expected to see Isaac be burned alive on the altar!  He wanted to see if Abraham loved God for the gifts, or because he was God!  Sometimes our lives do very little to reveal our intense love and trust in God.  They are shallow because we don't really learn to rely upon God for the evidence of faith his transforming power will produce when we allow it to consume us.  As Abraham took the step toward the altar, son in hand, he was showing God just how much serving him mattered - it was all or nothing.  My pastor uses the saying "all in".  I have to ask - do our actions reveal we are "all in" with God?

Second, he points to their labor of love.  I wonder what our daily work would look like if we were actually laboring for Christ?  What difference would it make if we taught those students as though it were for Christ and not for a pay check; drove those big rigs as ambassadors of Christ and not as long-distance drivers; or if we washed those dishes as evidence of our love for Christ's blessing of a family instead as a means to an end of our day?  

Last, he focuses on their patience in waiting.  We often fall down here, don't we?  Waiting is tough work.  Exhibiting patience when we don't see the immediate evidence of what we are hoping for - even tougher!  Yet, in the waiting, much is being accomplished.  Just consider what it would be like if we received newborns in a pod instead of experiencing the long nine months of forming and transforming which occurs within the womb.  In the waiting, we move from our focus on self to the focus on another.  There is something accomplished in the waiting - but the difference is made in what we do with the wait!

Just some thoughts to ponder today.  Evidence of faith - is it the first thing someone sees when they look at us?  Labors of love - is the love of Christ foremost in our actions?  Patience in waiting - today is the preparation for tomorrow - what are we doing with today?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Amazing Grace! Robust Peace!

God's amazing grace and his robust peace go hand-in-hand.  The peace of God is really not totally understood, or experienced, until one has an encounter with the amazing grace of God.  

1I, Paul, together here with Silas and Timothy, send greetings to the church at Thessalonica, Christians assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ. God's amazing grace be with you! God's robust peace!  (I Thessalonians 1:1)

Paul opens his writings to the church at Thessalonica with these two awesome reminders - God's amazing grace WITH us and his robust peace IN us.  He writes this letter to both encourage the believers there and to expound upon some doctrine in order for them to grow strong in their beliefs.

The make-up of the church was mainly Gentiles - those who were worshiping other gods prior to their turning to the one true God.  Paul had only spent a short time with them on his way to Athens.  He basically gave the church a start, but did not have much time to really get the church established - so he writes to them now to cover some of the doctrinal truths which would present difficulty for some leaving the worship of other gods.  His hope is for them to live pure lives.

His salutation - God's amazing grace be with you!  The opening words of this book do not come as a surprise to me - salvation begins with grace, so he reminds them of the starting point!  God's amazing grace - it is capable of doing within man what nothing else can do - setting straight what sin corrupts.  For this reason, it "amazes" those who receive it - inspiring awe, surprising us with the thoroughness of its touch, and overwhelming us with its drawing power.

His proclamation of assurance - God's robust peace in us!  As I have already indicated, peace is an outcome of grace.  Try to experience peace when you stand in need of grace and you will find it impossible to truly know peace.  Sin sets us at odds with a holy God - grace brings us close to him again.  Sin produces chaos - grace restores peace.  Peace is the outcome of being free - grace gives us our freedom.

Sometimes we try to get peace in a circumstance.  Look at the verse again - peace is something which comes "IN" us as a result of what has been done FOR us in the work of grace.  We'd do much better asking for grace - being set free from the binding effects of the circumstance.  When we ask for grace first, we are asking God's guidance to see the circumstance for exactly what it is.  He will either help us walk through it with peace which passes all understanding, or he will deliver us totally from it!  Either way, we have peace because of his grace!

We often skip the opening words of a letter such as this, thinking they really don't say much.  If we ponder each of Paul's greetings to the various churches he writes to on his missionary journeys, we find some interesting things:

- To the Corinthians he writes:  I send this letter to you in God's church at Corinth, believers cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God-filled life. I include in my greeting all who call out to Jesus, wherever they live. He's their Master as well as ours!  He celebrates their salvation (being cleaned up by Jesus) and reminds them of their calling (set apart to live a God-filled life).  He points them toward living full lives - absent of the vacancy sin produces.

- To the Galations he writes:  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.  A reminder of grace and peace again - but also the emphasis being on the tremendous "rescuing" power of grace and the invitation of grace being experienced by all.

- To the Ephesians he writes:  I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.  His purpose is to remind them of the bountifulness of God's grace - it is poured into our lives.  Grace is not something we experience in dribbles - it is a gushing, overflowing infilling!

The openings are similar, yet they each have a different revelation of God's grace and peace.  We'd do well to never discount these words - they are seed thoughts which contain great hope!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Who done it?

I love to read - my favorite venue being mystery.  I like the suspense of seeing the plot unfold until you discover the "who done it" at the end!  By definition, a mystery is anything (or anyone) which presents features or qualities so obscure as to arouse our curiosity.  The "fun" comes in unraveling the obscure features.  I think God likes mysteries, too!

5 Just as you'll never understand the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman, so you'll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does. (Ecclesiastes 11:5 The Message)

God is at work all around us - in today's moments - unveiling little by little the elements of his "mystery" in us and through us.  

Did you ever wonder why God sometimes takes a great deal of time unveiling his mystery in us?  For one thing, we probably could not handle the whole thing if it was revealed in one great "dump of data" into our finite brains!  More importantly, I think God may just be developing our "curiosity" for more of his mystery to be revealed in us - getting our brains in line with our heart, our emotions in line with his Word, and our spirit in tune with his!  He is almost moving us step-by-step so we come to a place of heightened anticipation until we finally "get it"!

Some think of a mystery as a "puzzle" of sorts - something to be "figured out".  Let me caution you here - God's unveiling of himself in us - the re-creating of our character from one of sinful hardness into one of yielded gentleness is not something we will ever "figure out"!  I have walked a good many years with Christ and I still don't know how he orchestrates some of the change in my life, but he does!

The fact remains - God IS at work in us!  In his mysterious ways, he is bringing us into a place of understanding him more.  He reveals elements of his character, in turn this revelation begins to impact ours.  To understand something (or someone) begins with becoming thoroughly familiar with the person or object.  

Guess what?  The more we get to know God, the more familiar we become with the ways he moves, the things he takes delight in, etc.  This is my scripture tells us those who want to learn God's will for their lives must turn from following after the pursuits of the world.  "2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2 New Living Translation)   

The process of a mystery being revealed requires "learning" - we take in information, processing it until it becomes evident we possess a "piece of the puzzle".  Sometimes God's dealings are just like this - we feel like one piece is being revealed at a time - but we want the bigger picture right now!  

Here's something to consider:  If I gave you a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle today - no box for it - just the pieces - would you be able to "handle" it?  Not likely!  You'd demand the box!  You would want to see the "pattern" in order to know where you were "headed" in placing the pieces together.  God gives us the "box" in Christ - he is the image of what we will all become when God is finished putting the pieces together in us!  Pretty awesome, huh?

So, don't worry about not having all the "knowledge" to figure out the mystery at work in you right now.  Just trust the one doing the work!  He gives us something to look toward - Christ.  He reminds us what he is accomplishing in us - making us into the image of Christ.  He will reveal the "finished product" at some point down the line - we just need to trust in the one who is "revealing the mystery" one step at a time

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Ton of Trouble

We all have times in life when we just feel like the harder we try, the farther behind we manage to get.  In looking forward, we see only those out ahead.  It comes as no surprise when someone even begins to describe their impression of God being somewhere, anywhere, but not in the moment of their need.  The trial gets hard and we often think we have lost touch with the very one who has the ability to help us get through it all.  Listen to these words:

1-2 Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough. I've looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough I've carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain. Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me. 3-4 Take a good look at me, God, my God; I want to look life in the eye, so no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face. 5-6 I've thrown myself headlong into your arms—I'm celebrating your rescue. I'm singing at the top of my lungs, I'm so full of answered prayers.
(Psalm 13 The Message)

I daresay we could be the ones penning these words!  We have the same impressions - God is ignoring our need; he is so far out in front of us we can only see the back of his head; he is no longer aware of the enemy's attack.  

Here's the hard truth in this passage - the movement away from God's care was not on his part - it was on our part!  David says it well, "Long enough I've carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain."  Yep, we hold onto what God asks for us to place in his hands, foolheartedly attempting to do things on our own.  In the end, we complain bitterly under the load we have never been asked to carry!  

The way out from under the ton of trouble is most frequently in transferring the load to one who can actually carry the load with ease!  In the moment of the recognition of our inadequacy to "deal with" the ton of trouble on our shoulders, God steps in as our rescuer.  In the way only God can manage, the load is lifted, we no longer spin our wheels "dealing with" the very things he never intended for us to "deal with".

David reminds of one important truth:  Our perspective of God needs to change!  When we are carrying the burdens ourselves, we see the back of his head - simply because we fall behind, we get entangled in the emotional energies of worry, and we lose sight of his carefulness over our lives.  When we change our focus - looking him in the face, the nearness of his care is evidenced in the burdens being lifted.

You may feel like the "view" you have had of God these past days, weeks, or months has been the "back of his head".  I challenge you today to change your perspective!  In dropping the burden you are under into his hands, you actually HAVE TO come face-to-face with him!  The "hand-off" of the ton of trouble on your shoulders only is accomplished in the "face-to-face" exchange!  Celebrate your rescue!  Enjoy your "unburdening".  He delights in taking what you have been holding onto!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Playing the hand we are dealt

There are times when we feel like no one is "in charge" - the moments just seem to tick on and all the chaos of the moment keeps us bumping into all kinds of obstacles.  We all face these times - the times when life deals us a hand we just would rather not play!  When "dealt our hand", we can either throw it in, ante up and play, or bluff our way through.  Which way are you facing what life deals you today?

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)

If we throw in our hand right now, we may miss out on the reward which awaits us!  If we are bluffing our way through - faking it until we make it - we may not always be able to keep up the facade!  But...if we ante up, pick up our cards, and play like there is no tomorrow, no telling what we may end up with!  Take heart, my friends!  The very obstacles others want to place in your way are exactly what they will stumble upon in the end! 

Look at our passage today.  The day our enemies turn tail and run, what happens?  They stumble upon God!  They stumble upon the very one who takes over when we turn over our "hands" to him.  The come face-to-face with the one who has the power to set all things right.  No need to bluff your way through life - when you hand is being overseen by the God of the Universe, you have all the right cards!

David knew one fact in life - when he most needed God, he knew God was there.  Not just as an observer, but as the one in charge.  Many times we see God as an outsider in life's challenges - just an observer, keeping an eye over us, but not really involved.  The exact opposite is true!  God is there!  He is taking charge!  We may not know how, when, or where, but he is orchestrating our "hand" according to his divine plan.

I often wonder if those who set up such opposition within my life will ever get their "just rewards".  I imagine I am not alone in this pondering.  The answer is right there in our passage - they cannot run, they cannot hide, their course of action is in the hands of the Almighty.  Not ours!  He will be who they stumble upon, not us!  We try to present the best defense in the time of trial, but God is our defense in time of trial and blessing!

They stumble upon him - and they fall on their faces.  I can only imagine their posture is something both orchestrated to humble them and to bring honor to our great God!  Upon their faces, the only direction of hope they have is in looking up!  It is the same direction we all have to look in order to find our deliverance - UP! 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wrapped in Knots?

As pressures mount in life, we have two choices - either we embrace them head-on, or we run in fear as far away from them as possible.  I suppose there may be a third choice - we could just be paralyzed in our fear, neither moving nor being moved.  Many will venture into the "thick" of the unknown - facing the mounting pressures without timidity - sometimes merely looking for an adrenal rush of sorts.  Others will venture in, but with a much more timid, almost respectful apprehension of the unknown - movements calculated and determined, but based in fear nonetheless.  

11-13 God spoke strongly to me, grabbed me with both hands and warned me not to go along with this people. He said:  "Don't be like this people, always afraid somebody is plotting against them.  Don't fear what they fear.  Don't take on their worries.  If you're going to worry, worry about The Holy. Fear God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
(Isaiah 8:11-13 The Message)

Ever been "grabbed by God" in such a strong manner you could not deny it was his hand holding you back or pulling you forward?  Isaiah speaks of an encounter he had with God - being spoken to with all the strength of the God of the Angel Armies.  The warning is strong - it is directional.  God's intention is not to frighten Isaiah, but to preserve him from a course which would prove to be his undoing if he followed along with the "trend" of the crowd.

From the passage above, it appears there is a group of individuals living with a little bit of paranoia - fearing the plotting of the other guy.  In a purely psychiatric sense, paranoia is any set of "delusions" or "projections" we conjure up within which imagines the hostility of others.  These "imagined" beliefs can cause us a great deal of personal conflict - paralyzing some, driving others into the confines of solitude and withdrawal.

In a more practical sense, paranoia is simply anything we believe about the motives of another person which are basically without any reality.  In other words, they are simply suspicions - baseless imaginations.  If we look at our lives, we probably have experienced a few of these moments - believing something or someone was "out to get us", but having no real basis for our imagined threatened posture.

The God of the universe is totally aware of these moments of perceived threat and he takes great care to keep us grounded in reality!  Here we see God pointing out to Isaiah the futility of fearing what the others fear - the basis of their fears having no real power backing them.  God reminds him of the futility of taking on the worries of another - it is even more silly than taking on our own set of worries!

Sometimes we need the "grab" of our God to get us in touch with our worries - seeing them for what they really are - baseless imaginings, without power to overtake us until we give into them!  God is very clear - if you are going to worry, find the right thing to worry about!  To Isaiah, he says, "Worry about me!"  To us, I think he is saying the same - "Focus on me!"  After all, he is the one with the power to turn the tide!

Not sure if you find yourself in a moment of "paranoid" thought today, but you may find yourself there soon.  Remember, there is but one basis for perceiving reality - it is through the eyes of Jesus.  Take those things which challenge you, keep you tied in knots, awaken you from sleep, or drive you into hiding to the source of all peace.  His warning to us - control what you allow to affect your life!  How?  By placing these "perceived threats" into his hands.  He holds the key to unraveling the mess of worries we have wrapped our brains around!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One Thing - The Real Thing

Sometimes we have a tendency to want to just give up.  We start out well, but then we "peter out" somewhere down the road.  There are times in life when we need a "pace setter" to keep us on track.  In moments of frustration, disillusionment, or anxiety, we need the steadiness and vision of one who sees more of the picture than we do.  It is refreshing to know we have such a "pace setter" in our lives - God himself!

7-9Just think—you don't need a thing, you've got it all! All God's gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.  
(I Corinthians 1:7-9 The Message)

Years ago, the Coca-Cola bottling company came out with a slogan - "Coke, the real thing".  In the years since, Coke has come to be known as the "real thing" whenever one considers a "cola" beverage.  The 1991 release of the movie "City Slickers" had a a character known as Curly Washburn who directed the city dudes to look for the "one thing" in life with the greatest importance.  By the end of the movie, Billy Crystal had decided his family was the "one thing".  

We all have the desire to find the "one thing" in life which lends credibility to our life - giving us the sense of life being worth the living.  Paul refers us to remember we have everything we need to live life - given to us freely in the sacrificial death of Christ.  We have the "real thing"!  He also reminds us we have "one thing" in life which gives us purpose - being on mission with Jesus!

Look at these verses again - there are some pretty rich nougats of truth!

-  We don't need A THING!  We already possess all we need!  Why?  Simply put, we have everything in front of us (not behind us).  We have infinitely more at our disposal than most of us ever utilize!  Power, peace, fullness of joy, freedom from despair, awesome authority, just to name a few.  

- We are not traveling this journey alone!  God himself is right alongside!  His purpose in walking "through" this life with us - to keep us steady and on track with the mission he has called us to!  He is a pace-setter!  He keeps us focused on the journey, even when we would want to be overwhelmed by the circumstances of life!

- We did not start this journey ourselves - God started us out on this journey.  It is an adventure.  In most cases, we think of an adventure as risky business.  With God along on the journey, the risk is his, not ours!

- We live a "shared" life - Jesus lives in us, we live in him.  Therefore, the journey is never our own - we are never on our own in it.

- We can stand assured we will make it - because we serve a God who will never give up on us!  If he won't give up on us, why would we doubt the completion of what he has begun within?

Have you found your "one thing" - the "real thing" in life?  If not, HE stands at the ready to enter into your life, changing it forever by his power, love, and grace!  Open up to Jesus and get on mission with him!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Undeniable Evidence

I wonder what evidence Christ has verified in each of our lives - is it really apparent, so all can see?  If not, perhaps we might want to consider how evidence is actually revealed and what purpose evidence fulfills!  

4-6Every time I think of you—and I think of you often!—I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There's no end to what has happened in you—it's beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives.
(I Corinthians 1:4-6 The Message)

Paul speaks to the Corinthian believers of their free and open access to God - a gift provided through the sacrificial work of Christ.  In looking into their lives, he proclaims there is no limit to what Christ produces when a man or woman fully yields their lives to his control!  In fact, he says it goes beyond what words could describe and what the mind could comprehend!  Now, think on that one!

Evidence either proves or disproves something.  If there is enough evidence, we say the fact is proved.  If the evidence is lacking, we say the trust we place in the facts we can see is more trustworthy.  Evidence can either convey a reason to increase our belief, or if lacking, it can further eliminate our basis for believing.  

Evidence makes a clear showing of the truth.  Paul uses this word to describe exactly what Christ does through the activity of the Holy Spirit within us.  He makes a clear showing of the redemptive work of Christ IN US.  In a court of law, evidence plays an important part in proving the case being presented.  Not all forms of evidence carry as much "weight" in proving the case - some evidence is merely anecdotal to the case being presented, while other evidence is so important it cannot be discounted or denied.

For evidence to be admissible in a court of law, it must have been maintained through a "chain of custody".  In other words, it must have clearly been identified as evidence, carefully "preserved", transferred with great care, and analyzed with the toughest of inspection.  When the chain is followed, the evidence bears the greatest significance.  

There is a spiritual chain of custody, too.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has the job of identifying the things within our lives which serve as evidence of Christ's work.  He then sets out to preserve the evidence - keeping us from discounting it, losing sight of it, or seeing it as too insignificant to matter.  He also makes sure the evidence of Christ's work in us is analyzed with the toughest of inspection - ensuring the evidence is "verified".  

Verification is just the confirmation of the authenticity of something.  When others look at us, the Holy Spirit has the mission of ensuring the authenticity of Christ's work is displayed with such accuracy so as to allow the toughest of inspection without being able to find fault with the evidence!  I don't know what evidence of Christ's activity in your life the Holy Spirit may be focusing on right now, but I do know he is at work!  He wants to display the evidence in order to "convince" others of the authenticity of a life change - the very purpose of evidence is to convince others!

Think about what God is focusing on in your life today.  It is not by accident his attention is focused on the particular area - it is designed to bring forth the evidence!  Some evidence is right out there in plain view - easily identified.  Other evidence is a little deeper - needing to be uncovered by the action of one who knows where to look!  The Holy Spirit is the best "detective" we could want on our case when it comes to uncovering the evidence of Christ IN US!  So, "inspect on"!  The evidence bears uncovering!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Make vs. Give

Have you ever considered the difference between "giving" and "making"?  We can say, "I give you this item", or we can say, "I will make you take this item".  Each carries a totally different meaning.  One implies an extension of one's self, the other the imposing of one's self on another.  Yet, when we look at this in the terms of a great Creator "making" his people strong and "giving" his people peace, both words take on different meaning!

 11 God makes his people strong. God gives his people peace.
(Psalm 29:11 The Message)

God "makes" his people strong - he brings about strength.  It is in the arranging of the various elements of our lives that strength is understood.  In the times of the most significant weakness on our part, he comes through with the arranging of all things in such a manner so as to produce the ability to stand in his strength.  I was surprised to find the 45 definition outlined in Webster's dictionary when I explored this word.  Yep, you saw it correctly - 45! Of all those definitions, a couple stuck out as describing how our God moves in our lives to produce strength:

- He causes himself to be understood - showing us he is as he claims!   God's goal is for us to understand him - to trust his ability, listen to his authority, and to take comfort in his attention.

- He causes us to be "made" as he has specified - not how others would specify for us to act or behave in life.  He has a purpose for each one of his creation, and he works overtime to bring us to the place of truly fulfilling our purpose.

- He causes us to move (to truly proceed) in the direction he has outlined for our lives.  Try as we might, we can resist his direction, but we will never be happy outside of his defined leading.  

God "gives" his people peace.  Equally as surprising was the 41 definitions for the word "give"!  Look at the differences in this passage.  God "makes" us strong - because on our own, in our own capacity, strength is dependent on the circumstances, the limits of our own physical condition or mental ability.  In his "making" us strong, he causes us to transcend our limitations!  When God "gives" us peace, it is because peace is something we struggle with accomplishing simply because of our own inadequacies!

He makes us strong - in turn, he gives us peace.  In the strength of our God, we experience the gift on his peace!  He places in our lives peace which passes understanding - not so we will move without fear - but so we will rely on his leading.  He "furnishes" us with peace - he "moves" us into his strength.  

You may be in a spot today of needing strength - you will find it in allowing God to make himself understood in your life.  You may long for peace - it is furnished at the hand of the one who holds both the present and the future in his hands.  Stand strong and enjoy the peace!