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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Desert of Grief

When I was a kid, I loved reading the Reader's Digest.  I had two favorite sections - "Laughter is the Best Medicine" and "Humor in Uniform".  Both are lighthearted short stories intended to bring a smile to your face and a little cheer to your day.  I guess I was attracted to these sections in the magazine because they made me laugh.  In fact, I gravitate toward laughter!  I find it is like a magnet to my soul.  Whenever I hear a group of folks laughing, it lifts my spirits - almost releasing some type of hidden "energy" within.  Much happens with laughter - medically speaking.  Yet, laughter can conceal a great deal of hurt behind it!


Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.  (Proverbs 14:13 NLT)


Did you know the average person laughs somewhere around 15-20 times a day?  If you are considering a face-lift due to a few sagging facial muscles, you might consider getting a steady dose of laughter each day!  In laughter, we contract not less than 15 facial muscles!  Do it often enough and you'd save a bunch on botox!  Did you also know laughter makes our brains work a little harder?  In fact, there is so much "brain activity" involved in laughter, we almost are "exercising" our brains to laugh!  We use our frontal lobe to make an emotional response to the joke, our right half of the brain to actually break the joke down well enough to "get" it, the left side to analyze the words as they are spoken, and sensory and motor sections of the brain are also involved as we throw ourselves into a good bought of laughter!  That's a workout!


The average person laughs because they find something funny.  Yet, there are times when we laugh because we are tense and feeling very nervous.  It is kind of a weird response of our body, is it not?  The majority of our laughter is probably invoked because we find some "relief" in it.  It is similar to a "pressure valve" - allowing us to "let off" some of the heaviness and seriousness of our day.


Now, back to our scripture.  Laughter can conceal a heavy heart - yet, in the end there is grief which remains as a heavy cloud.  As I am aging, I see many friends faced with physical challenges in their own lives and those of their loved ones.  It just seems as we get over 50, many of our friends (and maybe even ourselves) begin to experience changes in our physical bodies - whether it be disease, deterioration, or a tragic event.  In the end, the results are probably pretty similar - we mourn our losses.  We don't have to be aging to experience grief, though.  There is the grief which comes because of wrong activity choices, or the grief accompanying wrong relationship decisions.  Regardless of the specific cause, we often find ourselves dealing with grief in our own unique manner - sometimes using laughter as a means of concealing it.


In considering some of the experiences of my own life, I look back at the times I "hid behind" way too much laughter - all the while doing little more than concealing my own grief and hurt.  Lots of bad decisions as a youth led me to some not very honest or honorable activities.  In the end, I left a whole lot of lives hurt in my wake.  After getting really serious with God about my desire for a life change, I often found myself looking back at those I'd hurt - some still very much present in my life (like my mom and dad).  In fact, I'd drift into times of remorse over my selfish, self-directed decisions and would deal with a whole lot of "grief" - some of it grief because of the pain I saw I caused them, but also the "grief" I gave myself (we call this shame).


I used laughter as a means of concealing the grief I felt so deeply over my failures - both those in my past and those in my present (because we don't change instantly - growth is a process and failure is part of growth).  Grief is really another "emotion" of the brain - coming from our frontal lobe region (right there behind the forehead).  Someone once said, "There is no way out of the desert except through it."  Ugh!  So, in order to get "out" of the desert of grief, I must cross "through" it!  In order to be at a place where my laughter actually no longer is a cover-up for my grief, I must acknowledge I am actually in the desert!  And...we rarely find much funny IN the desert!


The desert is a barren place - dry, crusty, and without much relief from the "heat" of the day.  In order to escape the dryness, to avoid the "crustiness" of the desert, I need to cross over some pretty "hot" places!  This is how it is with our grief - we move from one really emotionally "charged" place to another - until we come out on the other side.  When we become a little more honest about the place we "are" (in the desert of emotional grief) instead of hiding behind our laughter, we sometimes find we make it to the other side just a little quicker!  Why?  Perhaps it is because change begins at the point of acknowledgement.  We begin something knew only when we realize the "old" wasn't working!


I am not sure if I am touching anyone today with these words, but just know this - you don't walk this desert alone.  You are in the midst of a really dry patch right now.  You feel like everywhere you turn, things are just crusty as all get-out!  You cannot see any end to the "desert" of your grief.  My challenge to you - acknowledge it!  I found something this morning which sums it up well:  "There can be no knowledge without emotion.  We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.  To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul."  (Arnold Bennett)   Your soul is experiencing much - not just your brain.  In the end, you will come across your "desert".  In the end, your laughter will no longer conceal, but will be a means of relief!  Hallelujah!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The straight message

Sometimes we just need to hear stuff straight.  We get so many "white-washed" messages throughout life, don't we?  In the end, we sometimes don't really know who to trust, or when to count on something as truth.  I think the gospel message is one of those things we should not "white-wash", or attempt to "pretty up" in any way.  It is best when it is straight-forward and to the point!


My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you've been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You're deeply rooted in him. You're well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you've been taught. School's out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.  (Colossians 2:6-7 The Message)


Paul does just the opposite of so many of the teachers of his day.  They were story-tellers.  They brought much "color" into the stories they set forth - sometimes because it gave a lasting impression; other times it was for effect.  Paul won't get caught in this trap - he comes with a straight-forward message and he will not compromise it.


1.  Go ahead and live Christ.  Simple, huh?  Yet it carries much more meaning.  First, he tells us to go ahead.  In other words, stop looking back - we really aren't missing out on anything in our past!  We "miss out" when we don't live in the present!  Live Christ - not some religion - but the person of Christ.  Let him be real in you - working in you the graces of his salvation.  


2.  Draw from Christ.  Deep roots serve the purpose of not only anchoring the tree, but they serve as instruments whereby what the tree needs for life is taken in.  Have you ever stopped to consider how the tree has anything to "give out"?  It is only as it takes in that it can give out!  Paul's advice to us is to draw from Christ whatever we need to move beyond our past and to begin living in our present.


3.  We've got a good foundation.  The purpose of a foundation is to provide the support for the structure to be built upon it.  I have passed construction lots at various stages of development, but nothing is more disappointing to me than to see a foundation sitting abandoned - nothing built on it.  The construction never proceeds and there sits this perfect foundation - abandoned.  What a shame!  Wouldn't it be a shame to allow a perfectly good foundation within our lives to go to such a waste?  Allow him to build upon your foundation of faith - strong, mighty, and majestic structures of his grace.


4.  Knowing your way and actually finding your way are two entirely different things.  We can know the way to do something - to actually do it is another.  We have been given all we need for living godly lives - learning to live "IN" what we are given is another thing entirely.  Paul's point - live obediently.  Don't just give lip-service to the truths you have been taught - actually allow them to begin to affect how you live your life.


5.  Living has an outcome - thanksgiving.  When we are truly living in the grace of God - the outcome is naturally thanksgiving.  There is a sense of gratitude which envelopes us when grace covers over us!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Have you truly walked?

As many of you know, I write this blog about a week in advance.  On Monday of this week, I underwent the fourth surgery on my knee.  As a result, I am a little sore, a little "lame", and a lot bored!  I really depend on my "walking" to keep me as active as possible - getting hither and yon is a big deal to me as I don't do "sedentary" very well!  I could not imagine being crippled to the point of being unable to walk at all, especially if this had been from birth.


There was a man in Lystra who couldn't walk. He sat there, crippled since the day of his birth. He heard Paul talking, and Paul, looking him in the eye, saw that he was ripe for God's work, ready to believe. So he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Up on your feet!" The man was up in a flash—jumped up and walked around as if he'd been walking all his life.  (Acts 14:8-10 The Message)


Paul is on one of his missionary journeys and stops in a region known as Lystra.  One man caught his eye - a man crippled since birth.  Paul recognizes something in this man - a desire, a hope, some element of faith.  In this moment of eye-to-eye exchange, Paul saw the man as "ripe for God's work".  He was ready to make a change in his life.  The man sat there day after day, crippled and unable to walk.  


Imagine our own lives before Christ as just this - crippled.  In the most literal sense, the word crippled means anything within our lives which interferes with normal activities.  Now, in order to understand just how "crippled" we were before Christ, we need to recognize how we were created.  


In the beginning, God created man and woman - perfect, holy, and whole.  After the fall, man choosing to live by his own standards and not God's - things changed.  No longer were we perfect - as we had been flawed by willful disobedience.  No longer were we holy - as we were choosing to believe a lie instead of trusting in the truth.  No longer were we whole - as we now had a void where God's presence once dwelt.


Now, imagine trying to "walk" without perfect balance.  When you look at a person who struggles with "balance", what do you observe?  They stumble a lot, don't they?  This is what sin did to us - it affected our spiritual "balance" - leaving us to stumble terribly!  How does a "non-animated" paralyzed extremity affect our ability to walk?  It affects our balance, doesn't it?  Why?  God made us to walk on two legs, with ten toes, two arms to assist with balance, and a straight spine to bear us up.


Sin is like a paralyzed extremity - it affects our balance - leaving us "lame" or "crippled" - unable to be involved in the "normal activities" God desires for his children.  This is why God focuses so much on our obedience of will - he knows if he wins our heart, he will be able to affect our balance in a positive way.  In turn, we "return" to the type of "normal activity" God desires of his creation - intimate, close, and lasting relationship with him.  


Now, getting back to our "crippled" man in our passage - Paul saw he was ready for a change.  There is nothing more exciting to see than a person ready to change!  We often are content to live in our "crippled" state - but when we become discontent with our condition, God is able to begin his work!  The words of Paul are direct - "Up on your feet"!  God's words are just as direct to us - "When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world.  The old things are gone; suddenly, everything is new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 ERV)  A whole new world opens up to us when we are ready to forsake our "crippled" condition.  Until we make this connection - looking eye-to-eye with Jesus - we live crippled.  As quickly as we "connect" - the change is made!  


Now, don't you imagine this man had some "rubbery" legs after all these years living crippled?  Probably - but in Christ - all things are made new!  At first, we stumble a little, but in time, the affects of living crippled begin to show less and less until we are one day no longer bearing any evidence of our crippled state.  This is good news, indeed!  Look at how God's Word affected this man's life - it powerfully changed his condition.  He walked as though he had been walking all his life.  


This is how Jesus works - he touches our lives with his power and creates us anew.  What we could not even imagine as possible in our past condition becomes reality in our present - and then some!  He makes us walk as we never imagined possible - strong, secure, and balanced!  Now, that is GOOD NEWS!  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pushmi-Pullyu

When I was a child, the original "Doctor Doolittle" movie was released.  I was caught up in the mystery of how this amazing doctor could actually communicate with the animals.  One animal fascinated me, though.  It was the "Pushmi-Pullyu" (Push-me-Pull-you).  This "creature" had two heads - one at each end of the body - with really no tail at all.  It was kind of a llama of sorts, but with two head portions sharing one body.  Every single time it tried to move, it tried to go ahead in two opposite directions!  Now, does anyone else see the dilemma here?  When we are being pulled in one direction, it makes it almost impossible to move forward in the other!


Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!  You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other.  (Matthew 6:22-24a The Message)


I think we might live a little like the "Pushmi-Pullyu" as it comes to serving God.  In fact, there are times when we wish to draw near to him, only to find ourselves in a struggle with out "other end" trying to pull us the opposite direction!  One thing I have learned over the years is God's faithfulness to "pull" - he doesn't push.  He "draws" us, but he doesn't compel us forward.  If we take the first step, he is there to draw us on a little further.  The struggle we endure in our "walk" is really a struggle between desire of heart and a battle of the will.


As our passage suggests, our eyes are a window into our bodies.  As such, they betray whether we are being "pulled" or "pushed"!  When we are being "pulled" toward God, almost like a magnet gathers the iron from the sand, we are gently being tugged to "touch" him.  When we are being "pushed", it is like the magnet is turned to the opposite poles and we are being repelled by what is pulling!  The will wants one thing - the heart another.  


Jesus was quite clear - pull the blinds on the window and you will live a dark and dank life!  What our eyes behold long enough will begin to affect our will. If we are constantly shutting off God's light, we will eventually be pushed deeper into the darkness of a life of self-will.  The key part of our passage is the last statement:  Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other!  


So, Jesus was opening our understanding to the pursuit of the right "pull".  Adoration is a fervent and devoted love.  It is not a casual thing - it has intent, purpose, and commitment.  There is action behind the activity which emanates from a desire.  If we have the right desire - we engage in the right activity.  Wrong desire - ummm....not so good activity.  Jesus tells us when we adore something - we honor it - will all we are.  When we hold something in contempt - we think of it as worthless and of little value.


Opening to the "right stuff" allows our lives to be filled with light.  Shutting off the light leads to only more darkness.  Whatever we determine to be of "value" or "worth" in our lives will be what "pulls" us the most.  Since God is not in the business of "arguing" with our will, there must be some intention on our part to lay down our "will" to be pulled in the wrong direction.  In turn, his "pull" becomes stronger, compelling us forward.  Don't get me wrong - the "other head" will still try to move us in the wrong direction!  Whenever we focus on Jesus, we move toward him.  When we focus on self, we move inward and into the "darkness and dankness" of a life of self-will.


When we have made Jesus the focus long enough and frequently enough, the "pushing and pulling" begins to become less.  Instead of battling for who will "win", we begin to live intentionally - realizing that only one focus really affords a "win"!  In turn, adoration for Jesus fills our heart (brings light).  As a result, we develop a contempt for the things which exert an opposite pull in our lives - toward self.  Nothing honors God more than to be drawn by him.  Don't get me wrong - we still have the "two heads" - pulling in opposite directions.  One "pull" just gets stronger!  Now, that is GOOD news!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are you handicapped?

Do you have a "handicap"?  In the most technical sense, a handicap is any disadvantage which makes it harder to be successful.  In this sense, I think we ALL have some handicap or another!  In another sense, a handicap is some form of weight, time, or distance placed on someone in order to "equalize" the advantages / disadvantages of all who run in a race.  For example, if you bowl really well and are being placed in a league with others who don't bowl as well, they might get a few points "handicap" to even things out from the get-go.  This gives everyone a "fair chance" of winning.  Sometimes, our "handicap" is given for quite another reason.


Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, 'My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.'  Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 The Message)


Paul's specific handicap is not known, but many believe it was his "disability" of poor vision.  In the time of his ministry, he had to rely upon "scribes" to take down the details of his messages to the churches simply because he could not see well enough to do it himself.  Regardless of his specific handicap, we see some interesting things in this passage:


1.  His handicap was "given" to him.  In fact, the purpose of it was to keep him in "constant touch" with his limitations.  Now, I ask you, is this really necessary?  Most of us know our limitations - we don't want anything "magnifying" them!  If we look back at our definition of a "handicap", we might see this as the "disadvantage" which made it harder for Paul to be successful with his undertakings.  The truth is, what others see as my "handicap" is really something which God uses to keep me in constant touch with him.  Paul says Satan tried to get him down - but he used the "limitations" of his handicap as the motivation to go to his knees more frequently - relying upon God to do through him what he could not do himself.  


2.  We don't think of our handicap as much of a gift.  In the most technical sense, a gift is something given which was not earned by the one receiving it.  So, Paul is saying he did not "earn" this handicap, but it was given freely to him.  Do I hear someone saying, "Well, no thank you, God"?  Perhaps this was not your "out-loud" voice saying this, but it was definitely your "in-side" voice!  In fact, most of us would resist anything which made it more difficult to be successful - not viewing it as a gift, but as a curse!  Step back a minute.  Is it possible we ask God to remove the very thing which he intends for our greatness? 


3. Paul gives us the key to understanding our "handicap" - prayer.  In conversations with God, he is given revelation into the purpose of his "handicap".  It is not to crush him, but to cause God to be glorified more in his life than he would have been if it was not there!  Think of a runner who gets a 20 pound pack added to his back for the 20 kilometer marathon.  Now, 20 pounds doesn't seem like much, does it?  In fact, it puts pressure on your entire skeletal system - far in excess of 20 pounds of force.  Some have said one pound of weight equates to about 5-10 pounds of force on the skeletal system.  As a runner, I'd want as little on my body as possible.  But...if given the pack, I'd find I might need help a few times along the way to bear up under its weight!  Perhaps this is what Paul is saying - what "seemed" manageable when he was not running the race set out before him became something he had to continually go to God about when he was running!


4.  It is when we change our focus that we realize the depth of God's grace to deal with our handicap.  Instead of seeing it as a handicap, we begin to see it as a gift.  A gift which drives us closer to Jesus and keeps us there!  Now, all things considered, that is quite some gift!  The most awesome part of the transformation which occurred is God coming into Paul's weakness and in so doing, he changed the way he "walked".  In our handicap, we falter a lot.  When our weakness is in the hands of God, we focus less on the weakness and more on the capabilities possible when he is in control.  He learned to take limitations in stride.  I wonder if we do the same?  Or do we complain bitterly about our limitations?  My "stride" in the physical sense is limited due to my arthritis.  In the spiritual sense, my "stride" is at a full gallop!  The "weaker" I get, the stronger Christ gets in me!  I wonder what possibilities God has in store for you today if you'd find yourself welcoming him into your weakness instead of challenging him because you have been given it?


Paul sums it all up in the words, "I just let Christ take over"!  There is nothing more liberating than when Christ enters the scene of our misery.  Perhaps it is time for us to have a change of focus as it applies to what we have labeled as a "handicap" in our lives.  In examining it a little closer, we might just come to realize what a blessing our "handicap" has been!  Instead of seeing it as something which makes it difficult to succeed, we might such see it as something which gives us an advantage we did not realize!  The advantage - getting closer to Christ than we would be without it!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Avoiding Course Corrections

Have you ever had a bad motive?  Maybe there was a time when you simply felt you had "cause" to act a certain way - so you did.  Or perhaps you just felt moved to some sort of action, not really realizing where the "motive" to act came from.  Either way, I think we struggle with our "motives" more often than we'd like to think.  


A bad motive can't achieve a good end; double-talk brings you double trouble.  (Proverbs 17:20 The Message)  


Solomon gives us some wise advice here.  A bad motive will never achieve a good end.  Start out poorly and we usually finish poorly.  It is always more difficult to change directions than it is to continue on the course we are on.  If you have a GPS, you know what I mean.  Whenever you have experienced the little voice telling you she is "recalculating", you know what is coming, don't you?  Yep, it is the "command" to "turn right" or "turn left" at the next exit!  The GPS is redirecting you because if you stayed on the same course you were on, you'd be in a totally different "destination" than you expected!


Our motives often need a little "redirection".  Motives are kind of like the "accelerator" on a car.  Once you push down on the accelerator, the car is set in motion!  If there is no one "steering" the car, it can lunge forward through garage doors, plow over paths not intended to be traveled by cars, or run people right down.  There is way more to driving a car than pushing down on the accelerator!  Similarly, there is WAY more to living right than just getting a "few" of our motives under control!


In fact, we might just take an inventory over the course of one day.  I had a teacher in Bible school who asked us to do this once.  He challenged us to take a small tape recorder everywhere we went, as a means of keeping track of the words we speak, examining the impact of our words.  At the end, we were to "inventory" our words.  The inventory was difficult, to say the least!  In reviewing those tapes, I found out how many times I actually returned harsh comments with my own harshness, used words which did nothing to build up another, or simply avoided saying something when I probably should have!  


Now, I am not suggesting we all need to tape-record our communication for a day, but this was an eye-opener for me!  When I actually put two-and-two together, I saw how my own words were actually hurting some of my already struggling relationships!  Uh oh!  It was time for a motive change!  Nothing "good" was coming out of my "input" into the relationships!  I needed a "course correction".  


Sometimes our "course corrections" are not all that easy, though.  Getting off-course can cost us valuable time - especially as it applies to relationships!  Whenever we "stumble about" in relationships with others, we may find our time being eaten up by a whole lot of "course-changes".  Remember what I said about driving a car - it takes someone "driving" the car to actually keep it from doing harm!  The same is true in relationship - it takes someone "driving" the relationship to keep it on course.  Now, don't get me wrong - I am not suggesting it be us!  In fact, if Christ is not doing the driving, we will need a whole lot of "God Positioning Service" (GPS) to get us back on track!!!


Motives set things in motion.  Therefore, if we submit our motives to God first, we might just avoid the unnecessary and costly "course corrections" we have had to endure in the past!  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A patchwork quilt

I have admired some of the most beautiful quilts over the years.  Depending on the occasion, there have been the traditional patchwork types with pieces of varying colors and fabrics stitched close together in no particular order.  Then there are the others which show a pattern, with great care taken in placing each piece so as to continue the pattern with each new row of material pieces added.  The traditional wedding ring quilts show the concentric rings intertwined, symbolizing the joining to two into one.  Regardless of the "pattern", they are a thing of beauty.  Today, we will look at something of a "patchwork" quilt of another kind.


In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Master sitting on a throne—high, exalted!—and the train of his robes filled the Temple.   (Isaiah 6:1 The Message)


In the times King Uzziah reigned, Isaiah is given a vision of the heavenly realm.  He is escorted into the "throne room" of the Most High.  There, he encounters the "robe" of the King of Kings.  This robe is so long, it fills the Temple!  Now, that is quite some robe!  Even the longest wedding veil I have ever seen did not fill more than the aisle of the church!


Here are some interesting facts about a kings robe:


1)  Each king had a robe.  Often, these robes would be very unique.  They were made of only the best of materials, such as twisted linen.  This is a quite dense and enduring material.  In turn, they were dyed with the dyes of the region - deep blues, purples, crimsons, etc.  They were decorated in all types of fashion - embroidered, or possibly emblazoned with emblems of gold and silver.  


2)  The robes "defined" the King.  In other words, he could be recognized by the robe he wore.  This is much like the current military uniforms we see today.  The highest ranking officer has the greatest amount of braiding, color, adornment, etc.  It is easier to recognize the "rank" by the "markings" on the uniform.


3)  Each robe had an "original" form which was "transformed" after each battle.  The robe started out as one form, but after each victorious battle, a new piece was added.  In keeping with the customs of the day, the victorious king would go over to the defeated king, remove a section of his robe, and in turn, this section would be sewn onto the train of the victorious king's robe.  In time, the more victories a king won, the longer (and more colorful) his robe became!


Now, let's go back to our passage.  Isaiah sees the Most High God seated in the throne room.  He is adorned in a great robe - so great that its train fills the Temple.  I think Isaiah was being given the opportunity to see just how many "battles" our God has been victorious in!  Did you ever stop to think of each new battle you face as being an opportunity for another "patch" to be sewn onto the Most High's robe?  He marches right up to each of our "enemies", places his foot squarely on their necks, declares us victorious, then carefully takes a piece of each "victory" and weaves it into the train of his heavenly robe!


When I think of the "beauty" of the patchwork he has added just by the battles which have been fought in my own life, I know there are MANY patches which have been added on my behalf!  The same is true of your life - each victory is an "adorning" addition to his robe!  As he admires each of these "patches", he can recount each "battle".  I find pleasure in imagining him running his fingers over each "patch" - taking in the "feel" of each victory.  I see his face, as his fingers pass over the patchwork, eyes filled with excitement, heartbeat picking up with each remembered victory. 


Imagine the patches added with each new victory in your life.  It should give your heart a thrill!  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Spontaneous living

I have made some acquaintances over my lifetime who seem to take life like a grain of salt.  Their "tactic" seems to be to live for today and forget about tomorrow.  Then I have others who seem to focus so much on tomorrow, they even forget live today.  In looking at these two perspectives on life, I wondered which was really the best.  You see, when we have a tendency to just focus on today, with no perception of the future, we often live without limits.  When we get so focused on tomorrow, we miss opportunities right in front of us today.  Both seem to have their drawbacks, don't they?


The empty-headed treat life as a plaything; the perceptive grasp its meaning and make a go of it. (Proverbs 15:21 The Message)


Don't get me wrong, I am not quoting this passage because I am calling my acquaintances "empty-headed", but I see how they choose to live as just a little "empty".  In choosing to live for today, the focus may be on satisfying every whim they have - not "pacing" themselves for the road which still may be ahead of them.  Whenever we choose to live for the future, the focus is on the "what ifs" more than on the reality of what is.  Earlier, in this same chapter, we find this reminder:  An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies. (vs. 14)  Why do we take in "fast food"?  Isn't it because we either don't have the time or desire to fix the meal, or maybe we are even too busy to shop?  What does this have to do with how we treat life?  Simply put - when we are too focused on the wrong stuff, we only have time and energy for the "fast-fix" to life!


Our writer tells us the "perceptive" grasp life's meaning and make a go of it.  Empty-headed people don't lack intelligence - they just don't use it to its advantage.  They are frivolous in their "take" on life.  The "perceptive" seem to have a better hold on life's meaning (at least our writer thinks so).  What the perceptive has which the empty-headed may not possess is something called "insight".  There is an ability to comprehend the true meaning of something - a discerning power.  I think he is aiming at the idea of being able to understand how yesterday provided a pathway into today and how today builds upon yesterday.  In turn, they see how today presents us with doors which must be opened or remain closed in our tomorrow.  The focus is not on the past, nor is it on the future, but there is an awareness of more than the present.


I wonder how we treat life sometimes.  Are we guilty of treating it as a plaything - giving into every whim and fancy, feeding on the fads?  Or, do we take life way too seriously - so rigid and tight in our "living" - planning out every step, organizing every detail?  Somewhere in between these two extremes is a "happy-medium", don't you think?  God doesn't expect us to live so haphazardly, without a care in the world, that we just live as we want.  Nor does he expect us to be so "tightly planned" in our days.  In the first instance, we will likely miss him because we are so focused on our desires to stop long enough to hear from him about what his desires for us might be.  In the second, we are so "rigid" in our plan we see his requests as having to be "worked into" our plan!


In the middle, we find ourselves enjoying what we have been given - job, family, friends, and relationship with God.  We know not everything is rotating around us.  We take in what we spend some time preparing - not just the fast fix!  Things go better when there is some planning, but there must also be the flexibility to allow for the unexpected.  We call this being "spontaneous".  Did you know the major portion of the definitions related to "spontaneous" do NOT refer to the sudden impulse to do something?  In fact, they refer to the inward tendencies to allow something to come to fruition without effort or a whole lot of cultivation.  I think this is the life God wants from us - to be open to being "spontaneous".  Maybe what we need "more" of in life is "spontaneous" obedience!  Just sayin!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Buried, but not hidden!

As a kid, I always tried to cover up something I did wrong - I think it was more out of "instinct" than anything else.  You don't find too many kids who just come right out and say - "Sure, Mom and Dad, I broke the vase!"  Most try to hide the broken pieces by stacking them back together with Elmer's glue!  Now, don't look at me that way!  You had your share of "cover-ups" in your time!  


The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don't show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.  (I Timothy 5:24-25 The Message)


Sometimes our sins are absolutely blatant.  Like the time Mom came home from shopping and immediately announced to me that I had been in my Grandmother's licorice!  Now, how in the world did she know that???  I was immediately shifting into the "cover-up" mode before I could think about it!  Denials be what they were, no amount of denying could cover-up the fact my tongue was a rich color of black and my breath betrayed the distinctive smell of licorice!  Some "sins" are just more "out there", aren't they?  Try as we might, we just cannot hide behind any "excuse" we could honestly defend!


Then there are those sins which just don't seem to be all that noticeable.  We find ways to hide these rather successfully from most of the people we know. Someone who is really close to us may know, but most just have no idea.  Scripture points to time after time when the sins were "buried", but eventually became evident.  I think about Achan in the Old Testament.  He was guilty of hiding some of the "loot" which was supposed to be completely destroyed in their raids upon the inhabitants of Canaan.  He hid it under his bedroll.  When Israel's army was defeated in their attempt to take Ai, Joshua pulls away to inquire of God as to why the defeat occurred.  Clearly, he hears there is "sin" in the camp.


In making a long story short, it is discovered Achan has hidden this loot of silver under his bedroll.  Do you know what they call the place Achan was buried?  Trouble Valley!  How appropriate!  In the place he brings so much trouble to the nation of Israel, he is stoned for his sin.  In the same place, he is buried, with a huge pile of stones placed on his corpse.  A "memorial" of sorts - of the consequences of trying to hide what God has declared "off-limits" for his children!


The entire camp suffered because of one man's sin!  Do you remember any other stories which exemplify the "amplification" of one man's sin?  Think about it and you will likely come up with the story of Adam and Eve.  Scripture tells us it was by the action of "one man" sin entered in (Adam), and by the action of "one Man" sin was dealt with forever (Jesus).  Eli was a priest back in the day.  A priest with many sons - sons he failed to lead well.  As a result, they allowed untold sinful practices to enter into the courts of God's tabernacle.  In turn, the sin of one man allowed the course of a nation to drift into the captivity of many years.  


The truth is, we don't realize the impact of our sin - it may be neatly packed away, out of view to most, but it has an impact which is far-reaching!  Even the sin of "not doing something" has an impact.  Eli knew his responsibility as a father - he had been trained to instruct his sons in the way they should go.  In "abdicating" his role as their father, he actually "endorsed" their sin.  His "not doing" led to them "doing much".  


This passage doesn't stop there though.  In reading it in its entirety, we discover just as our "sin" might not remain covered-up for long, so our good deeds will surface!  I am not a person who likes much in the way of "public recognition".  In fact, just let me blend into the woodwork, give me a private pat on the back, and I am quite honored to have served.  As difficult as it is to "hide" our wrong-doings, it is equally as hard to "just blend into the woodwork"!  People recognize a job well-done - even Jesus notices!  


Here are some take-aways today:


1.  Bury something long enough and it will surely get exposed - in some place we might name as "Trouble Valley"!  Trouble has a way of bringing to the surface what we try to hard to hide, does it not?


2.  We never "sin" alone - it impacts those around us, even when they are not "involved".  Our "cover-up" does not ensure others will remain free of the "defilement" which the sin brings to the entire camp.


3.  Just as sin cannot remain under cover, so your good deeds will get recognized.  Here's hoping your "account" is filled with "good deeds" and very few "sins"!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Coming through? Or brought through?

As we consider our passage today, I wanted to share a couple of verses which came just ahead of our passage.  First, David reminds us no king succeeds by his own doing.  Big armies and lots of loyal servants does not make one successful - indeed, it gives an "appearance" of success, but it is nothing compared to the glory of being anointed by the Most High God.  Second, he points out the futility of thinking a warrior's strength is his own.  This is often a struggle for us because we see out "strength" as something we possess - instead, it is something we are "granted".  Last, he lays out the silliness of thinking having more "horsepower" or "brute strength" will win battles.  When we "count on" the wrong stuff, we often don't really "win" the battles!


Watch this: God's eye is on those who respect him, the ones who are looking for his love. He's ready to come to their rescue in bad times; in lean times he keeps body and soul together. We're depending on Godhe's everything we need. What's more, our hearts brim with joy since we've taken for our own his holy name. Love us, God, with all you've got—that's what we're depending on. (Psalm 33:18-22 The Message)


As I speak with many of my friends these days, I hear one common theme - the battle is tough!  The struggles with life-debilitating disease processes almost overwhelms.  The constant changing environments within work, home, and community seem to be pulling them in all directions - stretched beyond capacity.  Grief doesn't seem to pass, despite the passage of time.  In short, the outlook just doesn't seem to "clear up" - it continues to be a little more than challenging!


Looking at how our passage is structured, we see some interesting ideas:


1.  Watch this!  This is a call to pay attention to what David is going to lay out.  He has a hold on something which has been able to take him through some of these tough times and he is calling us to attention.  Wouldn't it be a shame to have the answer to our "need" right there in front of us and miss it totally?


2.  God's eye is on us!  The condition for being under his watchful care is twofold - respect him and look for his love.  Now, don't get this wrong - respect is more than just holding God in "high regard".  It is giving him the foremost part of our being - our attention focused on him above all else.  Too many times, we think we can be "casual" with God - just holding him in "high esteem", but his instruction is clear - have no other god before him.  When he has the right focus in our lives, it is natural for us to look for his love.  We begin to "count on" his love.  What excites me most about this passage is the "face-to-face" contact we have with the one we honor!  His back is not to us - it is his face!  You cannot "eyeball" someone with your back toward them!  When seeking God, holding him in the focus, we are in his!  Woohoo!


3.  He is ready!  God doesn't delay - although we may think the answer is slow coming!  Bad times and lean times come - there is never any assurance in scripture of these being totally avoided by service to the King of Kings.  Too many times I think we have a little bit of warped belief here.  I think we believe God should "keep us from" these bad and lean times.  I challenge this.  In the lean times, I have come to appreciate how little I have and how much I need what he has!  In bad times, I have drawn closer to his heart - just to hear it beat a little faster when I draw near!  Going back to what David said about God's eye being on us - his hands are also ready to intervene for us.  Look at the outcome - body and soul are kept together.  In the bad times, doesn't it feel like we are being "ripped apart" by the struggles we are in?  This is another word picture to show us how much God is the "cement" which holds us together even in the midst of forces who'd like nothing more than to see us "undone"!


4.  We can depend on him!  The instruction here is not one of living "independent" of God - it is one of relinquishing our control and giving it to him.  In the times of challenge - don't we always want to "fix" whatever we can first, then ask God to help us with the rest?  Or is this just my struggle?  I think I am in good company here - we try the best we can to "fix" the leanness or change the outcomes of the bad stuff.  When we just can't get it done - then we turn to God.  Oh, what a warped sense of importance we give ourselves!  We try to live independent of God - all the while he is saying he is the one we can depend upon!  


I associate with David - he wanted nothing more than to serve his God well.  He struggled with the "real stuff" and each time, he found God faithful in his life.  He leaves us with this thought - "God, love us with all you've got!"  Now, isn't it interesting - he doesn't close with, "So, God I am going to love you with all I've got!"  Instead, he brings us back to what brings us through the challenges unscathed - God loving us with all he's got!  It is good to keep the right perspective!  We "make it through" or we are "brought through" - which would you prefer?  Quite honestly, I'd prefer the latter!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Airheads beware!

Have you ever had those little candies called "Slammin' Sour Airheads"?  They are little strips of candy, but they pack a huge punch!  The "sourness" of the candy is enough to set everyone of your taste buds into full alert!  I think this might be what Solomon had in mind when he penned these words:


A person who talks sense is honored; airheads are held in contempt.  (Proverbs 12:8 The Message)


Airheads often speak without thinking - just blurting out whatever will "stimulate" the senses of the ones in hearing distance.  They don't care about the "shock-factor" of their words - indeed, they probably strive for it!  In the good old days, the term "airhead" used to refer to the "airspace" the enemy occupied in order to do air drops of more troops or supplies into the midst of the fight.  Hmmm...now doesn't this give us an interesting perspective on our "airhead" in the passage?  They are actually putting more "resource" into the fight!


Don't get me wrong, sometimes we need to hear something which will stir us up from our place of slumber.  Airheads may begin this process, but if all we listen to is their rantings, we will soon be drifting into the negativity of the masses.  Look at what Solomon describes as their fate - they are held in contempt.  In other words, there words soon come to be worthless.  They speak, but nobody really pays them any mind.  The sad part of this is we don't realize the "airspace" they are given in the first place is what opens the doors for them to gain a stronghold!


On the other hand, we are reminded about the person who "talks sense".  There is something about trying to talk to an "airhead" - someone who packs a huge punch, setting everyone on full alert - we must learn from this passage.  First, we control their "airspace" - we don't give them an inch!  If we control what we allow to be spoken in our "airspace", we control what can gain "influence" in our minds.


Second, we don't give credence to what is spoken - unless we check it out first! The words were spoken to make an "impact" - pure and simple.  The "impact" may leave a crater the size of the Grand Canyon if we give too much credence!


Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.  We often think cannot "counter" the words of the "airhead" with anything that will impact the situation.  Their words just hang there like stale air.  I have a can of this wonderful stuff called "Neutra Air" - a Lysol product which eliminates the "bad air".  It doesn't just put out a pretty smell, it actually eliminates it!  Sometimes what we need to do is "eliminate" the "bad air" with some "good air" of our own!  


The best defense is a good offense - the best offense is the Word of God.  Nothing shuts down the "sourness" of the airhead any quicker than the gentle reply of one "tempered" by the Word of God.  I am not saying you quote a scripture, but you let the scripture "temper" your response - so it is in gentleness, love, kindness, and with boldness.  In turn, you almost "close off" the airhead's "airspace".  


Just some thoughts on dealing with an airhead!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I need pictures!

We humans have a variety of "learning" styles.  Some of us need visual input in order to grasp something, while others can simply read the instructions and get it perfectly.  Maybe this is why some of those "some assembly required" items we purchase come with both written and pictorial instruction sheets!  Whenever I get one which is just written, with no pictures at all, I sigh and dig into the "reading".  I "can" learn how to put the thing together from the "reading", but the "picture" would have made it a whole lot faster!  


Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.  (I Timothy 4:12 The Message)


Paul is instructing Timothy, a relatively young believer, how to "teach" with his life.  In essence, he is telling him to make accommodations for the various "learning" styles of individuals!  Some will learn about Christ in what you say, others in how you live.  One is the word alone - the other is the illustration (the pictures to follow!).


Teach with your life.  Did you ever stop to consider the "lesson" being taught by your life?  In my own experience, I am often amazed at just how many people are watching my steps.  As a mother, I expected my children would watch the steps, but did I expect younger mothers to be watching?  Not really.  Yet, this is a principle taught in scripture - the more "experienced" helping the "inexperienced" to gain the knowledge they need.  Paul outlines several components of "teaching" which we need to be familiar with:


1.  We teach with our words.  Uh oh!  Now I have gone to meddling, right?  What we speak carries meaning - even carelessly spoken words.  Whenever we respond "flippantly" or without much thought, we are never fully appreciating the "lesson" being learned by another.  I was taught "children are to be seen and not heard" - how about you?  What a tragedy!  Some of the most awesome lessons I learned came when my own kids spoke truth which opened my eyes to my own short-comings.  When they were open enough with me to share how disappointed they were with my critical or impatient response to them, I learned to alter my response!  Words indeed speak volumes - the message we convey must be trustworthy and aligned with the Word of God.


2.  Instruct with your demeanor.  In simplest terms, demeanor is your conduct.  How you "behave" is similar to the illustrations in the instruction booklet you utilize in assembling something.  What Paul is referring to here is the actual "doing" of the Word - living out your faith.  Much more is spoken in an action than in a word.  Our pastor says love is a verb - it is an action.  No amount of "I love you" responses speak louder than one selfless action!  Think about it - God could have stayed in heaven, telling us over and over he loved us - but in the spreading of his arms out on the cross, the action spoke intense love!


3.  Learning comes when actions stimulate the heart.  Since love is an action, the emotion is stimulated by the actions of love.  We often think of the mind as being stimulated to learn - I think the greatest learning comes when the heart finally makes a connection with the mind!  Love is "learned" when the heart is touched through the actions of the mind, will, and emotions!  


4.  How does one teach with his/her faith?  Paul instructs Timothy to teach others through his faith - so understanding this seems critical to us learning how to be good "teachers", as well.  Let me say this - the connection made between what is "believed" and what is "practiced" is probably what is referred to here.  It is never enough to say we "believe".  In fact, we go through times when our "belief" is put to the test!  Sometimes more is spoken in our ability to look beyond the immediate display of "circumstantial evidence".  "Circumstantial evidence" is what we see on the surface of the challenge - "faith" is what we believe in and who we believe will bring us clarity in the midst of the challenge.


5.  Lest Paul overlook the "consistency" thing - he adds to let a life of integrity be a tool to instruct others.  Nothing does more to discredit an individual than to live a life of inconsistency.  What we say should match what we do, what we believe should guide us in how to behave, and how we are loved should influence how others experience love through us.  More is learned in the transparency of consistent living than in all the words we can speak or pen.


Just some lessons on the importance of "teaching" with our lives.  Never can tell when you will be the focus of someone's "learning opportunity" this week! So, live well!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Living in the presence

We often turn to scripture to give us some insight into the "next step" we should take - especially when we just don't feel like we can "muddle through" on our own.  What we often forget is God never expected us to muddle through - much less on our own!  I know the passage I have chosen for today is directed to Israel, but it has much in the way of instruction for us, as well.


So now Israel, what do you think God expects from you? Just this: Live in his presence in holy reverence, follow the road he sets out for you, love him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, obey the commandments and regulations of God that I'm commanding you today—live a good life.  (Deuteronomy 10:12-13 The Message)


Israel is called to "attention" - it is time to move into the land of promise, but before they do, they need to clearly understand what is ahead and who will be responsible for their success.  To this end, Moses "recaps" the last um-teen years when Israel has been wandering around in the wilderness - on their way OUT of Egypt (the land of bondage), on their way INTO Canaan (the hope of deliverance).  Before they possess, they must see the land "dis-possessed" by all who currently inhabit it.  Moses is giving the instructions - his concern being the rebellious attitude of the people he has been leading all these years.  He knows their "tendency" or "bent" toward whining, complaining, pridefulness, and a whole gamut of other deeds which are not very God-honoring.  


Now, in clear fashion, he lays out the plan God has for them - to give them clarity in their expectations as they face the enemies of the land.  Sometimes, we trudge ahead without clearly understanding what we will face - he gives them insight - based on the sightings of the spies sent in many years earlier.  They have knowledge - but he wants it to sink into their hearts - because when knowledge crosses the "brain - heart" barrier, it becomes something we can hold onto.  


First things first - he instructs them to keep God exactly where he needs to be. He directs them in keeping him central - you just cannot live in someone's presence and not have them in the middle of your life!  Think about it - when two people live together, you get in each other's space, do you not?  Moses is clear - we need to be in "God's space" and he needs to be in ours!  This is the starting point for any who will walk with him - access is a must.  When two live this closely, there is no room for the battle of the wills - leading to declaring this or that off-limits.  The two must have access - full and complete.  Moses' intent here is for us to realize nothing is "off-limits" in God's presence.


Next, he outlines the importance of trusting God to set out the path to be followed.  This may seem a little elementary to some, but consider who he is speaking with - rebellious, self-willed, and hard-headed individuals - an entire nation of them!  The fact is, they would rather lead than to be led!  The idea of following is a struggle to them.  Sound like anyone you might know?  He is pointing toward the idea of moving in unison - not only as a nation - but as people "in step" with God.  When he moves, they move.  When he stops, they stop.  Remember the cloud of smoke and pillar of fire thing over the tabernacle?  The nation of Israel actually had a "visual" of God moving / stopping!  


Last, but definitely not least, he instructs them to love and serve God.  Now, this is the kicker - it is to be done with everything they have.  Okay - so how much does this play into their success as they "venture INTO" what God has for their future?  Everything!  Whatever we choose to love will get out service.  Whatever we focus on long enough will grab the affection of our heart.  So, he is telling them to focus on God, allowing him to grab the heart, not the riches of the land they are entering, or the "bigness" of the enemies they will face.  We could take a lesson here.  When we focus on the "bigness" of the enemy, we are actually minimizing the "greatness" of our God!  We begin to allow the influence of what we "see" to affect what we "believe".  


Moses knew the heart of rebellion began when "sight" began to affect "thinking".  When he was "away on the mountain" speaking with God on their behalf, they began to "imagine" all kinds of stuff - drifting into all kinds of mischief in his absence.  It was at one of these times they created the golden calf!  Worshiping an image instead of their God.  Exactly what they had been told NOT to do!  Out of sight, out of mind!  God needs to be kept in the middle of our "sight" if he is to affect our "mind"!  This goes back to his first point - keep in God's presence.  Remember, two cannot dwell together without the one affecting the other - being in the other's "space"!


So, lest we think it ends there, he adds the caveat to "obey all the commandments" God would instruct.  Look at the progression:  1) Keep in God's presence; 2)  Learn to trust him to unfold the path to be taken; and 3) Serve him with all you've got.  Service is an outflow of obedience.  Obedience produces a sense of satisfaction like none other.  When two live together in harmony, service is a "natural" thing.  Serving God is not a "conjured" thing - it is an outflow of obedience.  Service begins in the presence of the one we serve.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shy or Bold?

Shyness is often thought of as "cute" when you see a small child burying themselves in the shoulder of their daddy, or hiding behind the skirt of their mommy.  They pull away, thinking hiding their faces will keep them from having to interact with the stranger making a big fuss over them at the moment.  In reality, they are quite visible!  They may have "postured away" from the "thing" they see as a threat, but they are really still present!  There are times I imagine we take this same "stance" with God - such as when he asks us to do something we may not feel entirely comfortable doing.  


God doesn't want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible. (2 Timothy 1:7 The Message)  


Shyness is really us being timid, or easily frightened away by whatever it is we are being asked to do.  If we were the small child in the arms of our parent, we may be frightened by having to interact with someone we do not know.  In the case of being asked to do something by God, we often turn away because it frightens us - we just get petrified in taking the first step!  


Shyness also carries the idea of being a little suspicious and distrustful.  For example, if the last "stranger" the child interacted with took their pudgy little cheeks in hand and gave them a good squeeze, causing a little discomfort, they may distrust all "strangers" as being of the same motivation!  The next time God asks us to do something, we may pull away in a little bit of distrust - because things did not go as well as we hoped the last time.  


These are two very real circumstances of faith - being frightened by what comes next and being repelled because the last experience did not work out as well as we'd imagined.  God's instructions through Paul to Timothy are quite clear - don't be shy with the gifts God gives us!  Instead, be bold, loving and sensible.  Now, how do we move from being leery of the "strangeness" of the circumstance we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of, or overly cautious because of the "uncertainty" of the success of our next steps?


What is boldness?  When we think of coffee, we proclaim the coffee has a rich and bold flavor when it is strong enough to stimulate us.  Now, think about God's movement in your life.  When he is strong enough to stimulate us, he is also strong enough to overcome our fears of the unknown!  The Bible is riddled with all kinds of stories ranging from one individual up against insurmountable odds (David and Goliath) to an army realizing the insufficiency of their resources considered against the resources of their attackers (Israel and any nation they faced).  Why do you think we have all these stories recorded for us?  I believe it is so we see the struggle of others as they take huge steps of faith.  God wants us to know this is "natural" - there is nothing wrong with admitting we struggle with the unknown.  When the "unknown" causes us to "bury ourselves", we need to listen to the "coaxing" of our heavenly Father as he gently "turns us" to face the thing we fear so much!


Why does Paul remind Timothy of being loving in his gifts?  This one is easy.  We often "bumble" the first time we leave the gate!  We step out in faith, encounter a hurdle we did not imagine, and then we recoil in the face of resistance.  As I used to run track, my coach used to remind me the hurdles were only "big" in my mind.  When I became "one with the track", I fell in love with the hurdles, sailing over them with ease.  As long as I feared them, I drug my feet, catching the hurdle each time.  When I learned to see them as one with the track, they were less in my focus as something I feared.  I learned to love the "leap" it took to scale their height.  He started me at hurdles all the same height, but in time, they took on differing heights.  In learning to love the "rush" of sailing high over the short ones, I faced less of a challenge in facing the higher ones!  I already knew I could scale them, too!  Love is the exact opposite of fear - overcoming fear begins in learning to love what it is we fear.


Paul adds one other piece of advice - be sensible in the use of your gifts.  I guess the most important aspect of sensibility is in learning who and what to trust.  God is reliable - people are not.  His Spirit is ever-present.  Part of being sensible is learning to "read" the situation through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  As I ran the track, I learned to "read" the track.  I knew the pace I'd have to set in order to run well against my opponent.  I had to "pace well" if I was ever to "out-pace" them in the end.  It was in listening to the advice from my coach on the sidelines where I learned the "skill" of "pacing well".