Saturday, March 31, 2012

Armloads of Nothing!

We all love a bargain!  Whenever we come across the item marked down to 90% of its original price - don't we squeal with delight?  Oh come on...if you don't do it outwardly, you are dancing on the inside!!!  Bargains are awesome.  The problem is - some "bargains" are merely "made up" to appear as bargains!

17-18 Don't for a minute envy careless rebels; soak yourself in the Fear-of-God — that's where your future lies. Then you won't be left with an armload of nothing. (Proverbs 23:17-18 The Message)

A "bargain" which is really not a "bargain" is like loading ourselves up with "armloads of nothing". We find we have been "sucked into" the frenzy of believing the "false claims" of the things we loaded ourselves down with.  Don't miss it - we load ourselves up with all kinds of supposedly "good things" in our lives - but we do it without truly thinking (in a frenzy).

We have a natural "bent" of comparing ourselves to others.  We see another walk past us and in an instant, our minds go into the "processing mode" of analyzing how they are dressed, how their hair style fits their "look", and maybe even evaluating their other physical attributes (such as fat/skinny, tall/short, blemishes/perfect skin).  In one quick glance, we form all kinds of opinions.  It is like we have one of those infrared scanner devices in our mind's eye, passing each "subject" of our view over it, registering the "coded" information we store in our brains, and then coming to a conclusion just as quickly.

The danger lies in the immediacy of how quickly we jump from our own place of contentment to envying others who "pass our scanners" with the "appearance" of having it all together!  You know, if you have ever seen me on a Sunday morning, you might even have come to this very conclusion about me!  The conclusion which says, "There goes someone who has it all together." Ummm...I hate to burst your impression of me, but I do NOT have it all together.  I struggle with judging others, involving myself in conversations which would be better off not said, and being careless in so many choices, just to name a few!  

None of us is above envying the carelessness of those who seem to have life by the horns - living by their own might.  We just naturally jump to the conclusion they must "have it all together".  The cold reality is those very individuals we envy are probably struggling terribly just beneath the surface!   One who is without Christ is without hope.  Although they may possess every physical attribute man considers worth having, they lack the one which assures them lasting peace, unending joy, and constantly renewed faith in hard times.  

Soak yourself in God - wise words indeed.  Why?  Simply stated - one without Christ has no real hope for the future.  Theirs is a life of "today" without any real sense of what tomorrow will bring.  One who rightly pursues Christ as the center of their life will not always what circumstances tomorrow will bring, but they will know who holds them close as they venture into each new day.

I wonder how many times we senselessly pursue armloads of nothing.  If our arms are so packed with "nothing", when Jesus offers us "something", we have little room to accept his greater gift.  It is only as we lay down the armloads of nothing that we are able to embrace the things of greatest worth which Christ desires to bestow upon us.  It is not in how "full" our arms are that we "judge" the greatness of an individual - it is the "load" those arms carry!  Christ told us his "load" was light, unlike the armloads we amass in our frenzy of envy!  

One more thought - the armloads the careless rebels amass are acquired in haste.  The armloads of blessing God gives are acquired in moments of stillness.  Sometimes the greatest "load" we carry is the peace of having "offloaded" a burden we were never meant to carry in the first place!

Friday, March 30, 2012


Do you ever feel like the enemy of your soul is just strutting his stuff?  It seems like he has repeatedly dealt blow after blow until you are low and beaten down.  I wonder how many times we find ourselves experiencing this "beaten down" state simply because of the subtle, but consistent, compromises we have made.  

9She played fast and loose with life, she never considered tomorrow, and now she's crashed royally, with no one to hold her hand: "Look at my pain, O God! And how the enemy cruelly struts."  (Lamentations 1:9 The Message)

I know this passage speaks of the condition of heart and soul Judah experienced when taken into exile.  Yet, I also believe all scripture is given "by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16 The Message).  So, if God took the time to leave us these words, we should take the time to consider how they might apply to our lives.  I would like to consider four things:

The condition of soul:  She played fast and loose with life.  All of us are subject to this same condition of "soulish" enjoyment of life.  We give into our whims and fancies, only to find ourselves totally unfulfilled and the cost of our fast living too much for us to keep up with.  Don't miss it - she played FAST.  The old idiom, "Haste makes waste," comes to mind here.  Whenever we don't take time to really consider our choices, we often regret the outcome!

The condition of mind:  She never considered tomorrow.  When one is living fast and loose, there is nothing more alluring than the pleasure of today - completely missing tomorrow's demands.  Take for example the choices we make to ignore the few extra pounds we see on the scale today.  Eat as we like and those few will soon amount to many in the tomorrows which come!  It is often our lack of "forethought" which gets us into much trouble.  Our mind plays a tremendous part in the activities of today - for all action is based on thought!

The condition of spirit:  She now has crashed royally.  There is a tremendous cost to inattentive living which we rarely consider in the moment.  If you have ever experienced the "crash" of your hard drive, you know the sudden panic at having "lost everything"!  The spirit of man is what gives us the unique animation and capability of deep, interpersonal relationship with others (especially God).  When the spirit crashes, it is like our "hard drive" has crashed!  The very thing which animates us, drawing richness from the throne of God, is interrupted in its ability to "make the connection".  

The condition of heart:  She has no one to hold her hand.  When we have no "connection", we lack the very thing we need to help in life's darkest moments!  Compromise has a cost far greater than the moment of soulish enjoyment we experience.  Mind, spirit and heart all bear the effect.  A disconnected spirit leads to an empty heart.

Don't despair!  God's able to "reboot" us even when we "crash"!  We just need to submit to the touch of his hands upon the keyboard of our lives!  As he "strokes" the keys, respond with new animation of spirit, submission of your mind, and determination to consider carefully the steps you take.  In turn, his hands remain close, bearing us up until we are "fully rebooted" into purposeful and restored condition!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A tangled mess

At times, we are presented with individuals who seem to have an "ulterior motive" in their actions.  In other words, what is presented is really a "mask" for something being done to deceive the individual on the receiving end of the action.  One thing is said, another is meant.  One thing is done, but the intention behind it is completely contrary to the "appearance".  This is dangerous ground for us - simply because we really don't know what to expect, or when to trust. 

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

We would probably call an "ulterior" motive a "second motive" - one which is usually a little selfish in nature.  The end result is a life in tangles!  Not my idea of where I want to be living!  In fact, when I am faced with these kind of individuals, I tend to pull back from relationship with them - simply because I cannot trust their intentions and they have a tendency to "complicate" my life!

Don't get me wrong - I don't always have the purest motives!  I just try my best not to purposely work in the realm of "secret" or "hidden" agendas!  God is perfectly aware of our "hidden" motives - those we'd call "selfish" in nature.  Like the times we ask God to bless us with a new car and what we are really saying is, "God, I don't like the one you have already blessed me with!"  

People who purposefully set out to deceive by their actions leave the lives of those they touch in a mess of tangles.  In fact, they are never free from the tangles themselves - because any life of deception requires a whole lot of effort to keep up the facade of untruths used to mask the reality of what lies just beneath the surface!  I think these are the individuals Solomon was "aiming at" in the verse above - those who hide their guilt behind a facade.  

Pure motives keep you on a straight path.  God understands our "bent" toward selfish motives, but he expects as we become aware of them, we will hurriedly lay them at the foot of the altar and have them changed by the touch of his grace.  If we are finding our life caught up in a jumble of tangles as a result of the deceptiveness of our actions and thoughts, we might need some altar time to untangle the mess we've created!  

In examining the word "tangle", I found it not only relates to the mess of inter-twisted parts, but also to be caught or held in a trap or snare.  Mixed motives actually entrap us - snaring us in their grip.  There is a hampering effect which occurs anytime the motives we choose to obey are those which are not pure in nature.  They hamper our growth, relationships, and even our access to God.  Perhaps this is why God places such emphasis on purity of heart!  His goal is to never have anything keeping us from straight-forward, immediate, and unhindered access to him!  

Mixed motives deceive - pure motives open the doors of trust.  Mixed motives ensnare - pure motives allow freedom in relationship.  Mixed motives will overgrow if never checked!  We need to be constantly examining our motives - not in light of our own perceptions - but in the light of the Cross.  The Cross exposes what is just beneath the surface - hidden though it might have been - revealing exactly what it is we are "covering over".  Never the altar - we are altered.  Never "under-value" the time you spend at the altar of God's grace!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Glossed over truths

Sometimes we miss the "little things" in life.  I guess I am as guilty of "glossing over" stuff as the next person.  I wonder how much I really miss out on because I never stop long enough, listen close enough, or draw close enough to really "catch" what is happening?  I was re-reading a passage from John 17 this morning, and the words of Jesus (which I have read many times) just seemed to come alive.  Isn't it awesome how God does that?!?  

6-11 I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me.    They were yours in the first place; then you gave them to me, and they have now done what you said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the message you gave me, I gave them; and they took it, and were convinced that I came from you.  They believed that you sent me.  I pray for them.  I'm not praying for the God-rejecting world but for those you gave me, for they are yours by right.  Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them.   For I'm no longer going to be visible in the world; they'll continue in the world while I return to you.  Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.  (John 17:6-11 The Message)

The first thing which attacked my conscious mind this morning was the awesomeness of being "given" to Christ.  So many times we think we "came" to Christ - like it was some doing of our own.  Yet, the most amazing fact to me is our utter inability to find our way to Christ!  Without his being "given" us as his own, we'd never have "found" him!  We belonged to God the Father, given as a gift to his Son, Jesus - an inheritance shared with the heir-apparent of sorts!  Have you ever thought of yourself as an "inheritance"?  By the very definition, we are more than "junk" cast aside, but a personal possession of the God of the Universe - made to give him glory and honor - given in care as a matter of "birthright" to the Son!  It should give us immense joy to know God considers us of the highest worth - for only things of worth are given as an inheritance!

The second truth which jumped off the page at me was it took a while for those given as an inheritance to actually do as they were told!  See it?  "They have NOW done what you said..."  The very use of the word "now" suggests some point in time of NOT doing what God instructed.  This certainly pictures my life!  I know I have those moments of absolute surrender - I think a there is a Christian worship song which calls refers to these as "second chances".  We serve a God of huge second chances!  Awesome!

Next, nothing we get from Christ is "stale" knowledge.  He gives us what he receives directly from his Father.  It is alive, life-giving knowledge.  What else could the Creator of all things do but share knowledge which is capable of producing life for those who will embrace it?  Here's the rub - we have to embrace it!  We settle for something "stale" so many times - when the freshness of the Creator's touch is right there for the taking!  God's greatest joy is in sharing and producing life!

Last, but definitely not least, Christ's life is on display in us.  This is no after-thought on Christ's part - he is purposeful in his prayer to his Father about each of us.  He knows we are the display of his grace - to a world who will have no knowledge of the Creator without the evidence of his Son displayed through us!  We are trophies of his grace - displayed for the world to see.  Our every action, reaction, and even our lack of action displays the character of God.  Yet, his prayer is for us to be guarded - with a "watch" set over our lives.  Not just a "watch" to ensure no one destroys us - but a watchfulness to ensure the display of his grace is not tainted by our tendency to divide over simple truths.

Jesus knew we'd struggle with the simple stuff in life - almost dividing over things like what to eat or drink, whether hymns or praise songs are the best for worship services, or if pants were forbidden for women!  Jesus' prayer is for us to be of one heart and mind.  We can allow the simple things to divide us, or we can focus on the truths which are foundational and build upon them in unity.  I think this is what Jesus had in mind as he prayed for us. 

The next time you are tempted to "gloss over" some of the "familiar" stuff in the Word - don't!  The truths we skip may be the very blessing we need!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Apply another layer of truth!

There are times we "blame" God for the ignorant stuff we do.  We venture into stuff without clearly thinking - just plunge right ahead and never consider the end before we begin.  In the end, we look back, wondering where God let us down!  The writer of Proverbs reminds us people ruin their own lives by their own foolishness (Proverbs 19:3).  Ouch!  As we examine our passage today, let us keep in mind God is seldom to "blame" for our mis-steps.  In fact, when we come right down to it, the steps were miscalculated on our part.

8 Grow a wise heart—you'll do yourself a favor; keep a clear head—you'll find a good life.  (Proverbs 19:8  The Message)

Grow a wise heart - look closely - there is no implication of a wise heart being given to us on a silver platter!  Wisdom is something which comes over time - with consistent application of truth as it is revealed to us.  It is like icing a cake.  You begin with a full bowl of icing - perfectly prepared for the cake.  Until you take the spatula and begin to "apply" it to the cake, the cake is unaffected by the icing in the bowl.  Now, cake without icing is okay - but cake with a rich layer of icing wedged between the layers and slathered all over the surface is much more luscious!

The Word of God is "prepared" for us - just like the icing in the bowl.  God took special time to pour out each and every word contained within scripture.  He prepared it in advance of us needing to "apply" it to our lives.  In the application, we experience the rich lusciousness of the Word.  It satiates us with its richness!  

The NIV translation presents it as follows:  "The one who gets wisdom loves life..."  Do you love life?  If you are not pursuing the Word in such a manner so as to apply it actively to your life, you may not!  Wisdom is "grown", not just "known".  

Keep a clear head - look again - there is no implication of a clear head being the result of some mystical process.  The very simple truth is we must "keep" our heads in "right" condition.  Whenever we "keep" something, it implies we have brought it into right order to begin with!  When you "keep up", you are saying you are maintaining possession of something placed within your control.  These are "our" minds - they don't belong to anyone else.  Therefore, the keeping of a clear head is really an active process on our part.

The NIV translation puts it this way:  "The one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper."  We have a tendency to "keep up" something we cherish.  Look at a man with his polished and preciously restored vintage automobile.  Hours of hard work, tender care, and skilled application on display for all to behold.  A clear head is something like this automobile - it needs our hard work, tender care, and skillful application of truth in order to set it in right order and to keep it in this condition of order!

We are not left on our own to do the "ordering" of our minds.  This is a good thing!  We have been given the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to assist in the process - kind of like having the technical manual at our fingertips, along with a skilled instructor to guide us through.  

Today, I want to challenge you to examine your application of knowledge - to move beyond the attainment of knowledge.  Mere knowledge is nothing without application - in applying what we learn, we soon become wise beyond our age!  It is in the application of truth and the "keeping up" with the applying of it until it produces the desired result that clarity becomes reality in our lives!  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Curlers and All!

Mom and I went to the local Sam's Club yesterday.  It was an unplanned trip, but we needed things for the house, so we took advantage of the time.  The only drawback - we had put mom's hair up in rollers earlier and they were not ready to come out!  So, as creatively as possible, we tied a silk scarf around those prickly things and off we went!  We chuckled all the way to the store!  Mom commented about not running into anyone she knew and I just laughed!  Ninety-three years young and she still worries about her appearance!  You go girl!  Mom had always taught me to leave the house "presentable".  This does not mean I always dress up, but I don't go out in my PJs or with hair askew!  Silly, isn't it, how much we focus on the external as our "view" of being presentable?

19-21So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into "the Holy Place." Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The "curtain" into God's presence is his body.   22-25So let's do it—full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10:19-25 The Message)

Presentable INSIDE and OUT!  This should be our goal!  Jesus knows exactly what we are like - it doesn't matter how we "dress up" ourselves - he knows us inside and out!  Amazingly, he loves us exactly as he knows us!  

Just a couple of truths from this passage for us to consider today:

-  There is no hesitation in approaching God when we do it through relationship with Jesus.  Just as every home needs a doorway by which we enter, so freedom of access to God is through the blood sacrifice of Jesus.  There is no other way to God EXCEPT through Christ.  It is this relationship which gives us the boldness to enter into God's presence - no longer fearful of what he sees when he looks upon us.  Why?  Simply because he sees Jesus when he looks upon us!  

We often hesitate to enter God's presence because of some guilt over past or recent sin (kind of like when we have curlers in our hair and don't want to be seen in public!).  The truth of the matter is God already knows about our sin and he has provided a way of "covering" for our sin - the blood of Jesus.  We need not avoid contact with God simply because we have sinned - we need to confess our sin and move right up close to God for his healing touch!

- The confidence of being fully presentable (inside and out) is something we need to appropriate in our lives.  We live far below our potential when we listen to our own mind's arguments of our "worth" or "value".  The very thing which gives us supreme value is Christ in us!  There is no other action which makes us "more presentable".  

The good news is the "clean-up" has begun!  We come to Christ with all our "baggage" of past hurts, wrong actions, and selfish deeds.  He takes them, one-by-one, and replaces them with the touch of his grace.  

- We need a firm grip on what keeps us "centered".  Plainly put, this is the Word of God.  The more we allow the Word to get INTO us, the more it will affect what comes OUT of us (inside and out affected).  No amount of effort is more rewarded than the time we take getting the Word into our lives.  

The good news is we don't walk alone - we have been given each other to spur one another on.  No race is easy to run!  In fact, whenever we "ramp up" our momentum, there are usually multiple obstacles to overcome.  This makes it all the more important to not run alone!  We need each other!  A spur "digs in" and causes the one being spurred to become acutely aware of the action required.  It is good to have others who will alert us to action and to assist us in "ramping up" when we need to!

So, curlers and all, don't be afraid to enter his presence!  Who knows - maybe his touch will leave you with so much inward beauty you won't care about those curlers any longer!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A tear or two

There is a saying which goes something like, "If I didn't laugh, I'd cry!"  Golda Meir said, "Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either."  One of the most popular columns in the Reader's Digest is the "Laughter is the Best Medicine" feature.  Why is it we enjoy laughter more than tears?  Maybe our answer is found in our passage today.

22 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.  (Proverbs 17:22 The Message)

A cheerful disposition is good for our health!  Sadness leaves us feeling like we have been wrung out and left to dry out like a washrag.  Ever see a dried washrag?  It is brittle, stinky, and pretty inflexible!  No wonder we enjoy the laughter so much!

There is an old Jewish proverb which goes, "What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul."  Think on this one for a moment.  Tears have a real "cathartic" effect, don't they?  We may feel a little "wrung out" for a while, but there is definitely something "cleansing" in having shed those tears.  William Shakespeare reminds us, "To weep is to make less the depth of grief."  So, tears are really not a bad thing.

So, why is it we prefer laughter to tears?  Go again to our passage - the clue lies in the word "disposition".  You see, it is not the tears which do us in, it is the disposition!  The prevailing "tendency" of our spirit is what determines either the sense of release, or the turmoil of remaining under an overwhelming burden.  When the "tendency" of our spirit is consistently submitted to God's will and his love, even the tears of sorrow can leave us liberated!

Laughter is a good thing indeed.  I enjoy a good belly-splitting laugh now and again.  The kind which leaves you with tears leaking from your eyes and your side hurting.  There is nothing as enjoyable as sharing some laughter with a friend.  In fact, to make light of a "faux-pas" is often the most delightful release!  

Disposition is everything.  How we approach life's challenges is based on our disposition - the "set of our spirit".  It is truly a sad thing to be so weighed down by life's griefs until it affects the very bones of our frame!  Yet, there are many who carry loads beyond their bearing - all because they choose a disposition which holds onto their grief instead of letting it go!

Why do you think the scriptures warn against holding onto unforgiveness?  Easy!  It affects our disposition of spirit!  We call its effect "bitterness" - it makes us "sour" on people, life, and sometimes God.  Why does scripture advise not to turn our backs on wise counsel?  Simple!  Unwise counsel trips us up and gets us down on ourselves.  Gloom and doom leave you "bone-tired".  As a nurse, I know this to be a fact.  I see many a "worn-out" soul carrying many a burden beyond their capacity - all because they cannot let it go!

As some food for thought today, here's one final quote:  "Time engraves our faces with all the tears we have not shed."  (Natalie Clifford Barney)  What is your face telling you about your disposition?  Maybe it is time for a little release of what we have kept so deeply pent up for some time!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stay on your toes!

Staying on your toes is a term used to describe being prepared for whatever could happen.  In simplest terms, it means to be ready for action - ready to jump in and to take action.  In another sense, we can describe this as alertness or awareness of what is going on around you.  Either way, there is attentiveness, preparedness, and an investment which is spoken of when this term is used to describe someone.

So watch your step, friends. Make sure there's no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it's still God's Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn't slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we're in this with Christ for the long haul.  (Hebrews 3:12-14 The Message)

As this chapter opens, we are called to take a good, hard look at Jesus.  This is suggestive of more than just merely "entertaining" a fleeting acquaintance with who he is or what he has done.  It is suggestive of being really deeply engaged in finding out who this Jesus is.  In taking this "good, hard look" at Jesus, we are to come to recognize he is the center of all we believe - not just part of our belief.  As the center, it is important to realize everything else we believe must begin and end with him.

We are then reminded to consider the failure of our forefathers in the faith - the Israelites - who failed miserably in trusting God over and over again.  For a while, they'd surge ahead in faith, aligned with God's plans, but when they got "comfortable" with God's grace in their lives, they began to take God's grace for granted.  In the end, they'd fall into all kinds of sinful misdeeds which God warned them to avoid.  The writer refers to there actions as "trying God's patience".  Uh oh!  I see myself here!  I wonder just how many times I have taken God for granted, settled into my comfortable place, and drifted into complacency?

Guess what?  I am not in this "comfort zone" alone!  I think I have other companions in this journey who have done the same!  In fact, this is why our writer reminds us to "keep each other on our toes"!  He knew comfort's "drift".  He also knew the best way to avoid the "drift" is to have a companion in the journey - one who helps us to remain on our toes.  

In counseling terms we'd call this an "accountability partner".  Now, don't freak out here.  I honestly believe having someone in our lives who keeps us on our toes is more than having someone we confess our struggles to and ask for prayer.  As a matter of fact, one of my most important "accountability" partners doesn't even know she is holding me accountable!  In the simple ways she challenges me to consider my actions, to temper my words, etc., I am kept on "my toes".  Yep, she is helping me to draw nearer to Christ just by being in my life.  

Did you ever stop to consider the actions of a fighter in the ring?  He needs to be "on his toes" when he is faced by an opponent.  It is the presence of an opponent which brings him to attention.  I wonder how many times we have discounted the activity of being faced with an opponent in life?  Perhaps the presence of an opponent is really helping to keep us on our toes!

We are in this for the long haul - through comfort and unease.  We have to be ready for anything - good or bad.  We will face much in the journey - some more enjoyable than others.  In the midst of it all, we need each other's "coaching" to remain on our toes - so we don't give into the "drift" and lure of our place of comfort.  Who's in your life, keeping you on your toes today?  It could be a friend - and it could be the one in the ring with you!  Either way - keep Christ at the center, stay on your toes, and don't get too comfortable!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gaining Focus

Have you ever just chased your tail?  The harder you seem to work at something, the more difficult it seems to become.  You never seem to "catch up", never seem to fully "grasp" the goal.  In the end, you just stand there in total frustration, more in a muddle than you were when you first began.  Just as quickly as we started, we find ourselves out of energy to continue to journey!  We stop short of the goal - never really crossing the finish line.  What a waste.

Paul writes to the Philippian church, reminding them of the importance of staying focused.  His honesty in the first part of this chapter just thrills my heart.  He recounts the various degrees he has obtained, lists the various "things" the world looks upon as measures of success, and reminds us of the senselessness of relying on any of these to give us prominence or importance in the Kingdom of God.  

His honesty is recounted in these words:  "I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back."  (vs. 12-14)  He hasn't "arrived" - and neither have we!  

He is open about the struggle (the strain) it takes to reach the goal set out before us.  He isn't the "expert", but he knows the voice of his God beckoning him onward.  Here we find the point of most of our failure - in the hearing of God's voice beckoning us onward.  We all struggle with the "stretch" once in a while, but sometimes we struggle more than others - either because we hear and don't respond, or because we just refuse to hear.  

So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it.  (Philippians 3:15-16 The Message)

Anything less than total commitment really is not commitment!  Commitment suggests engagement - active participation.  Therefore, anything less is really "dis-engagement".  Paul's reminder to us is of the need for total engagement.  Throughout scripture, we see accounts of many who start well, then get off-course along the way.  Why?  It usually begins in the "listening".  We "hear" a lot of stuff - what we "listen to" is what affects us the deepest.  I have shared many times - listening is an action, not a passive process.  Listening is indeed engagement.

It makes no sense to hear clear direction and then ignore it, right?  Yet, we do!  We read God's Word, become acquainted with is will for us, then just go on without ever "conforming" to his will.  Paul reminds us it is all a matter of focus - the clearer our focus, the easier it is to stay on track.  It is God who gives us clarity - it is up to us what we do with the clarity we receive!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Are you listening to me?

One day, Paul was writing a letter to the Roman church.   He is quite clear about his intention in writing – he wants only the best for the nation of Israel.   He goes one step further in explaining his intention – he wants their salvation.  His real “heart feelings” are summed up in the words of Romans 10:3 when he says, “After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.” (The Message)  He goes on to outline the receiving of grace by faith - not a system of "works" - in the believing we are saved, not in the doing.  Then he asks a question he says has been asked for years by almost every prophet or preacher along the way, "Is what I am saying really making any difference?"  I think there are times we all ask this question - especially when it comes to sharing our faith.  They very next thing he said caught my attention this morning:

Before you trust, you have to listen.  But unless Christ's Word is preached, there's nothing to listen to.  (Romans 10:17 The Message)

The words which caught my focus today - BEFORE you trust, YOU have to listen.  There are various stages we all go through prior to trusting someone, aren't there?  For example, the first time someone told me dirt did not taste bad, you can imagine I was quite skeptical!  It took some convincing on their part to actually get me to take the leap of faith to actually consume it!  Yep, you heard me right - I ate the dirt!  Now, this was probably not my wisest moment in life, but I have made it past the mid-century mark, so it probably did not do me any serious harm!

Before I trusted what my friends were telling me, I had to listen to a whole lot of arguments about how it could not hurt me.  Guess what?  Most of what we do in life is done in faith.  When you put yourself behind the wheel each morning to head off to work, you have faith the engine will turn over as you press the ignition button or turn the key.  When you turn on the faucet to take your shower, you expect hot water to pummel down.  You are doing all kinds of things "by faith".  How did you develop this faith?  You listened!

As God moves in our lives, we are exposed to a whole lot of opportunities - what we do with what we are exposed to determines the outcome!  As we listen to what he tells us, we might actually be moved to "apply" what it is we are hearing!  Notice, I did not say we would AUTOMATICALLY apply what we heard.  Obedience is seldom AUTOMATIC.  In fact, it is a step of trust and trust is based on how well we are listening.  

When I refer to our "listening" ability here, I am assuming we are doing the kind of listening which is "on purpose", with "sincere attention", and truly "in the moment".  We actually probably do a whole lot of "second-hand" listening in our Christian walk - just like when we overhear bits and pieces of conversations and think we really know what others are talking about.  We are probably actually surprised to find what we thought they were discussing is really not what we heard!  We often aren't "intentional" in our listening - especially when it comes to opportunities God presents to us which are for the increasing of our faith!

Trust is based on listening.  Listening is based on attentive focus.  Therefore, if we are to build our faith, it is the intentional application of what we are listening to which produces the building of our faith!  BEFORE we trust - we have to listen.  Not sure what God may be speaking into your lives this morning, but it is definitely worth the "listen"!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crammed packed full!

I enjoy watching the re-runs of the TV series, "The Waltons".  The simpler times have their intrigue.  The struggles to remain true to their convictions when times are quickly changing around them is a reminder to me of the speed of change demanding our attention today.  What touches me the most is their simple trust - in their neighbors, in their family, and in their God.  One of the characters on the show, Ike Godsey, is the store owner and local postmaster.  His store is never really what we'd call "impressive" by today's standards, but it always seemed he could get his hands on whatever anyone was looking to obtain - even if he had to special order it.  Today's passage reminds us of the "general store" available to all of us.

52  He said, "Then you see how every student well-trained in God's kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it."  (Matthew 13:52 The Message)

The student well-trained in God's Word is the like the owner of a general store - able to put their hands on anything we need - exactly when we need it!  Wow!  I never really thought of it this way, but it is true.  Depending on the translation we read, we get a little different interpretation of this passage, but all ring true to the idea of a vast storehouse which is at our disposal.  The one important fact which is apparent in each translation is the "access".

We often have "access" to many things.  I have access to a copy machine right across from my office.  In fact, I have access to a laser printer, copier, and fax machine without having to walk more than 10 feet.  Yet, none of these office machines are mine.  I can "use" them in the day-to-day operation of my work, but I don't get to take them home at the end of the day.  They are not owned my me.  Access is the ability to "use" these items only.  I have been granted "permission" to utilize them, and I can grant permission to others to utilize them as they have need, as well.

As Jesus is speaking with his disciples, he refers to being "students" - well-trained in God's kingdom - and equates them to being like store "owners".  The one who owns the store is able to access anything within the store whenever the need arises.  The one who merely "purchases" from the store is one who must seek permission to purchase what is needed.  Being a disciple of the Word is like being the keeper of a vast storeroom of "good stuff" you may "access" at any time.

New or old - exactly when you need it.  Here's the joy of becoming a student of the Word - the vastness of the resources available to you!  Some truths will be like the pillars of a building - holding us strong through thick and thin.  Other truths will be used less frequently, but like the fine china which comes out on special occasions, they grace our lives with beauty.  Then there is the cumulative effect of one portion of the Word adding to another - providing wisdom for our journey and sustenance to our soul.

I recently moved the pantry to make access to the items contained within it more easily accessible to my sight-challenged mother.  She needed narrower shelves, more lighting, and less clutter in order to make her "access" to the items contained within more practical for her.  What she discovered was how much stuff we actually had!  She had forgotten about some of the items (so had I!).  As we spread them out, we saw how blessed we really are!  It is often in the "de-cluttering" of our lives we find out just how blessed we are!  

Sometimes we "clutter up" our storeroom of faith with all kinds of things which only serve to push the good stuff to the back, making "access" a little difficult.  Maybe we need to "de-clutter" our spiritual storerooms a little, too.  In so doing, we may find treasures we'd long forgotten!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hard evidence

We have begun a new series of sermons at our church entitled "Life Apps".  The gist of the entire series is the concept of taking what we know and applying it to our lives.  Application being the basis of all change - without application, there is no advantage to knowledge.  It is only when knowledge is applied that we can say we are truly developing "wisdom".  As we explore our verses today, I think this may be what Jesus was trying to tell these religious leaders.

38Later a few religion scholars and Pharisees got on him. "Teacher, we want to see your credentials. Give us some hard evidence that God is in this. How about a miracle?"  39-40Jesus said, "You're looking for proof, but you're looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles.  (Matthew 12:38-40 The Message)

Here, day after day, Jesus has been healing the sick, setting the demon-possessed free from their torturous existence, and teaching the truths of the Word.  Still, after all these "signs and wonders", the religion scholars "get on" Jesus - looking for his "credentials"!  If I had been there, my response would have been something like, "Wake up dudes!"

They came with the demand for "hard evidence".  If opening the eyes of the blind from birth, or unraveling the shriveled hand of a man born with a birth defect is not "hard evidence", I am not exactly sure what they were looking for!  They ask for a miracle!  What on earth had they been seeing over these past several weeks?  In fact, they had seen more miracles in one day than most of us see in a lifetime and they are still looking for "hard evidence"!

Jesus hits it on the head - all they wanted was something to "titillate" their curiosity.  It is amazing to me how many times we fall into this same trap.  We wander off to church each Sunday, go to our small groups one night a week, attend a revival meeting, or go off to a retreat center, all in search of something to "titillate" our senses. What we miss in our "wandering" is the touch God designed for our spirit, not our senses!  

Did you know the root of the word "titillate" is "tickle"?  We are often looking for God to "tickle" our fancy - give us just a little sense of his presence, assurance, or direction.  We aren't really looking for life change - we want "sensation".  God gave us the functional capacity to be curious - he also gave us the spiritual capacity to be in sync with his movement.  When our focus is only on the "feeling" of being "tickled" by God's grace, we often miss the evidence of his grace right in the midst of our most desperate need for it!

Jesus encountered this face-on.  He did not back down.  He called it what it was - sensational seeking!  Whenever we want the "sensation" of God's presence apart from the change his presence desires to bring, we miss it!  Those who received their miracles came expectantly - not looking for the sensation of healing, but for the ACTUAL healing!  This is what God honors - expectant faith, hungering hope.  

I wonder how many times we have missed what we so desperately needed for our deliverance from some life struggle simply because we came to Jesus hoping he'd tickle our fancies with some "feelings" of deliverance?  Over the years, I have come to realize Jesus does more in one moment of yielded obedience than he ever does in the hours I have spent in church!  Yep, church attendance is important, but if we were honest, it is in the quiet of alone time with him where we are most frequently touched by his grace!  Maybe we need to open our eyes afresh to the "hard evidence" of obedience in our lives - this seems to be the "evidence" which produces change!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Noticed by a lack of commotion

Do we expect God to "appear" one way (the way we imagine in our minds)?  Do we expect him to "perform" in a certain manner (the plans we have so carefully calculated)?  When he doesn't "appear" or "perform" as we imagined, how do we handle it?  For some of us, we get mad at God for a while - because he did not "fit" our "mold" of how he should act.  The Jewish Pharisees probably had this same kind of "mental argument" with Jesus as he walked this earth - simply because he didn't "fit the mold" of how they envisioned the arrival of their Messiah!  They missed out on so much of what Jesus wanted to do in and through them simply because they refused to believe Jesus could "operate" outside of their mind's conceived "box".

15-21 A lot of people followed him, and he healed them all. He also cautioned them to keep it quiet, following guidelines set down by Isaiah:  Look well at my handpicked servant; I love him so much, take such delight in him.  I've placed my Spirit on him; he'll decree justice to the nations.  But he won't yell, won't raise his voice; there'll be no commotion in the streets.  He won't walk over anyone's feelings, won't push you into a corner.  Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.  
(Matthew 12:15-21 The Message)

Yep, Jesus had accumulated quite a group of followers - some more curious than dedicated to his service - but all following with the hope of his touch.  He never asked them to get "rowdy" or have a revolution against the leaders of the time. Instead, he went about his work, healing those who came to him, teaching those with open hearts, and spreading hope to the hopeless.

Why did Jesus caution the crowds to keep quiet?  He knew the cross would come, but he knew the time was NOT NOW.  He had much to do before that day - and each thing he did fulfilled scripture's recorded prophesies of him.  

Look at how Jesus worked:

- He was led by the Spirit of God.  Even Jesus took his lead from the Holy Spirit as he walked this earth!  Is it any wonder God asks the same of us?  Certainly not!  There is not only guidance in taking our lead from the Holy Spirit, but their is protection and great wisdom!

- He was not boisterous or loud in his action.  Jesus does more in the quietness of a single touch than we could ever hope to accomplish in the many activities of our own effort!  He doesn't need to yell to get noticed - he is all around us - we simply need to look hard enough to see him!

- He respected the feelings of others.  Jesus never needed to back a soul into the corner to touch his life!  We may feel a little "backed into the corner" sometimes - but it usually our doing which gets us into the corner!  Jesus simply waits for us to discover the limits of our own attempts at "saving ourselves", respectfully waiting for our surrender.

- He knew the power and hope in his name.  He was never afraid to have his name spoken.  Have you ever overheard someone speaking your name in a conversation and wondered just what they were saying about you?  In a moment, you may run several scenarios through your head - considering if you said, did, or overlooked something for which you were now the topic of discussion.  We call this "paranoia"!  Jesus never worried about his name being spoken - simply because it was backed up with his power and his hope (grace).

The various ways we "imagine" God may not always align with the image we should have of him!  He is a quiet God - yet his name carries such "weight" (power).  He is a caring God - yet his "delay" may give us the fear he is not aware of our need.  He is a compassionate God - respecting us enough to give us time to yield to his touch.  Maybe today is your day to meet God in the stillness of this moment!  He won't yell to be noticed.  In fact...we may just have to get a little quieter to actually hear him speak!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

R.S.V.P. required!

There are many forms of invitations - both spoken and written.  There are even "unspoken" invitations - simply expressed by a simple gesture, a simple look, or a nod of the head.  My daughter usually plans for the annual birthday bash for my grandson about six or eight months in advance of his birthday!  She picks a theme, begins to pick up things throughout the year, all the while working out a "theme" for the party.  She is much more creative than I am - making absolutely beautiful decorations, cleverly displayed snack items, and treasures for each child in attendance.  It amazes me.  One of the "tasks" is the custom invitations she prepares.  Yep, you read it right - custom!  She designs, prints, cuts, scraps, and the like - until she has the "look" she wants which matches the theme of the party.  There is a very important invitation we each receive - customized especially for us, as well.

28-30 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."  (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

Tired?  Worn out?  Burned out?  Sound like any of us?  My work weeks have been long, the tasks mounting as members of the team are transitioned to new roles outside of the department, leaving fewer of us to do the work.  My home life is simple compared to some, but even the task of cooking dinner after a long work day can seem like a chore on occasion.  There are days I just plain don't feel like doing another thing!  

The invitation set before us today is directly from Christ - customized for all who will hear and respond.  I don't know about you, but I think almost all of us could "cop" to the plea of being tired or worn out on occasion - some of us almost to a point of perpetual tiredness.  It may be related to our tendency to take on more than we should, never really being conscious of just how much the "busy-ness" of our days are mounting.  Being over-extended leads to us being tired and worn out quicker than any other factor!

The invitation is also to those "burned out" on religion.  This seems odd, right?  Why would somebody be "burned out" on religion?  Well, when Jesus gives this invitation, he is really calling to those who have tried all the "steps" of religious activity - going to church, being in the choir, volunteering to teach Sunday School, etc.  These "activities" don't fulfill the soul and spirit - HE does.  "Religion" is the attempt to "work our way" into God's good graces - an impossibility!  God's "good graces" are given freely and are available to all who will ask.  Plain and simple.

The invitation - get away with me!  Jesus is asking for "personal time".  I like to call this "me time".  The time we take to just "get together" with Jesus is the time he uses to help us recover from all life has beaten us down with!  He provides the "real rest" we are so desperately in need of.  Here, he teaches us by his example - balance is important.  

Look at the promise - I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you!  Awesome!  God cares so much about us he even wants to lift our burdens - those things we were never meant to carry alone anyway!  His goal is to "fit us well" with the things we need for life and health.  We will learn to live freely and lightly!  I think most of us need to learn to live a little freer and with a whole lot less weight on our shoulders!

So, here's your personal invitation today - personalized just for you!  You decide how you will respond - R.S.V.P. today!  You won't be sorry!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On mission with Jesus

Ever wonder if there is a particular way we should be acting in the face of those with the many needs we see around you?  Jesus chose twelve - sent them out - not to be observers, but to participate in the mission he was on.  We often find ourselves in the position of observer when we are called to act.  Often it is because we really don't know "how" to be on mission with Jesus - we complicate it so much!

He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.  (Matthew 10:1 The Message)

Jesus chose twelve - none of them were the most stellar of citizens, the most educated, or the most "qualified" for their "calling".  Yet, each of them possessed something Jesus was looking for - obedience!  Willingness to do as instructed - even when they did not fully understand all which was involved in their calling.

Why did Jesus choose these twelve?  It was in response to the needs around him!  Look at what Matthew records for us in the ninth chapter:  36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.37 He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (New Living Translation)  He SAW, was MOVED to compassion, and PETITIONED his Father to send workers into the fields. 

He "noticed" the need.  This is the first step toward being on mission with Jesus - we have to notice the need around us.  It may be as simple as a kid who needs a ride to basketball practice after school because his single mom works full-time and cannot be there to get him safely to and from the practices.  It may be as complex as starting a foundation to help those plagued with life-debilitating diseases such as HIV.  Regardless, in the "noticing" there is a "calling" which God beckons us to respond to with our hearts and hands!

He was "moved" by the need.  Noticing is only one part of being on mission with Jesus.  We "see" much - we are "moved" to very little!  Jesus saw their confusion, helplessness, and their need for a Savior.  He knew where they were walking - connected with their need.  This is all he asks of us - connect with the need.  

He "petitioned" because he knew the greatness of the need.  In calling others to work alongside, he is asking us to be on mission with him, but to also make disciples of all men.  When we are doing this, we are helping them to also be on mission with Jesus!

So, we are each called to "tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives" around us.  The harvest is ready - how about you?  Ready to be "on mission" with Jesus in the practicality of meeting the needs of those around you?  Step up - then step out!  Be on mission!

Friday, March 16, 2012

IN the fight of your life!

I have been asked many times why God allows a believer to die from their disease.  Just what was the purpose in his taking the person from those who cared so deeply for them?  In moments of silence and deep thought, I really could not come up with a good answer.  I just don't always understand how God moves, what he plans within the long fights with debilitating disease, or how the loss will affect the lives of those who have trusted him for the healing of a loved one.  One thing I can hold onto - God is NEVER untrue to his word!  His purposes may be far beyond my limited ability understand them, but he never "backs down" on his word!

 16-17That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon: He took our illnesses, He carried our diseases.  (Matthew 8:16-17 The Message)

After a long day of healing the sick, Jesus is faced with even more who petition for their release from infirmity.  He has healed the leper, cured the servant of the Captain of the Roman Guard, and raised Peter's mother-in-law from her sickbed.  Now, with dusk upon him, the demon-afflicted come to him - seeking release, hoping for peace at last - and he is moved once again into the service of healing and delivering.

He relieved the inwardly tormented.  He cured the bodily ill.  He took their illnesses and carried their diseases.  Look at all the action words here:

Relieved - he eased their burden and released them from their oppression.  
Cured - he restored to health what once was plagued with disease and death.
Took - he brought into his own hands, his own possession their illnesses.
Carried - he became the bearer of their torment.

The inwardly tormented (those with oppressed and depressed thoughts) were given a new outlook on life - released to begin to live without the burden which had tormented them for so long.  The bodily ill restored to health - certainly the great hope of all with debilitating disease.

I shared a short time back about a young gentleman - a father of two - who fought valiantly with colon cancer and lost the battle this past year.  As you will recall, his own personal testimony was the closeness he learned with Jesus in the midst of the fight.  We may never understand the totality of what is accomplished in the point between the "God heal me" pleas until the last breath is breathed.  I don't know why some are healed and others continue in their struggle with ravaging disease - but God knows what is transpiring in between the two points between "God heal me" and the very last breath we each shall breathe on this earth.

This is what we hold onto in the midst of disease.  This is what we count on when tides just don't seem to turn.  God is in control - every step of the way.  I cannot know fully the depths of all he accomplishes - but I can trust fully in the promises of deliverance.  So, regardless of the immediacy of the outcome, I encourage those who need his healing to come, just as these did those many years ago.  Bringing inward torment, bodily disease, illnesses without name - looking into his eyes, beholding his grace, and living in his peace.   In the midst of the "fight" perhaps our greatest "deliverance" comes in the "yielding" of our spirits to his control.

In the midst of your fight today, just know I am praying for you!  I may not know you all by name, but God does!  As I write today, I hold you each before him - may he bless you IN the fight!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let's get personal!

Alertness is the ability to be keenly aware of your circumstances - so in tune with what is going on around you nothing misses your focus.  Rarely, if ever, do we enter into this realm of "alertness" - we almost always miss something despite our efforts to do otherwise!  In fact, we most often think of alertness as being awake!  God expects more, though.  He expects us to be aware!

God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.  
(Romans 15:4 The Message)

Paul is describing a condition of heart and mind which is fully aware and attentive to the move of God.  In the stillness of the moment, there is in awareness of his voice.  In the hubbub of a busy day, there is the attentiveness to his Spirit's nudges.  

Two "tools" are utilized to give us this ability to be both aware and attentive - the steadiness of God's calling and the totally personal counsel of the Word.  The first describes the continually steadying effect of his voice in our lives.  There is nothing more uplifting than the sweet sound of his whispers of delight over our lives.  The second describes the Word of God as our personal place of counsel.  In the Word, we find encouragement for living, warnings against unwise choices, and examples of both.

His calling is both constant and steady.  His Word is both warming to our spirits and personal in its touch.  Both are to be the hallmarks of God's action in our lives.  They are to "characterize" us. They come to represent God's activity within us, moving us to behave in ways which are not usually customary for us.  Both are intended to keep us alert for what God will do next.

Most of us would love to know what the future holds.  We can!  If we come to embrace his steady, constant calling (listen well to his voice), and embrace his warm, personal counsel in Scripture (do more with the Word than read it).  We need to see the leading of a dependably steady God and a warmly personal God.  Most of us lack this kind of dependability in our lives.  We struggle to find footing most of the time.  God gives us this kind of "footing" through the counsel of his Word and the direction of his still small voice.

God's desire is to get "personal" with us.  We often resist this kind of "closeness" in relationship with him because we might be afraid of what he will find out about us!  Ummmm....don't you realize he already knows it all?  There is nothing hidden from him - even what we do in secret is an open book to him.  Now I have gone to meddling!  

When someone whispers we have to be close enough to them to hear the stillness of their voice.  If we never let ourselves get close enough to God to actually hear the steadying effect of his call in our lives, how will we ever develop the alertness and attentiveness he desires?  We can have bookshelves filled with all kinds of books written to help us through life's darkest challenges.  If we never open the cover of the most important one (The Bible), how will we ever discern the wisdom contained in the many other books on the shelves?

Isn't it time to get personal with God?  Don't fear his closeness - embrace it!  It is a closeness like no other you've experienced.  You can trust him with anything - even your short-comings!