Friday, August 31, 2012

Taken in by his embrace

We all run - either toward something or away from it.  In every decision of life, we make a choice to draw near, or to cautiously pull away.  Throughout our daily lives, we resist some things and gladly partake of others.  The pear is eaten - the candy bar avoided.  The tough conversation is had - the relationship rift is avoided.  We all have a response to Jesus, as well - either to be embraced by him or to rely upon our own strength.  

Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don't really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don't let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.  This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time."  (John 6:35-40 The Message)  

Look again at the passage and you will see something quite revealing.  Jesus tells us we may do the running (into his arms), but he does the embracing.  I think we sometimes get this wrong - we somehow believe we are exerting the effort to be "held" in his arms.  By our efforts of prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance, we somehow think we are "holding onto" Jesus.  The exact opposite is true!  Jesus tells us prayer is a two-way communication - it is the opportunity to align our lives with his.  He also reminds us that getting to know his Word really matters very little - if all we do is learn it without the corresponding understanding which he gives.  As a matter of fact, he had just chastised the religious leaders for spending too much time in their Bibles, and not enough time in the presence of God!

Some things we should not miss in our passage:

- Alignment is necessary.  If you have ever driven a car with an "alignment" problem, you know it "pulls" to one side or the other.  The "ride" is not the easiest.  You have to constantly fight to keep the vehicle centered on the road.  This mis-alignment actually wreaks havoc on the car - wearing out tires, putting undue stress on all the working parts of the steering system, and making the driver a little irritated in the process.  The same can be said of our "alignment" with Jesus.  When we are not in correct "alignment", we have a tendency to "pull" in a direction which gets us into oncoming traffic!  We have the danger of veering off-course and into danger zones we'd rather avoid.  Therefore, getting aligned is the first step - staying aligned is a life-long process!

- We are a gift from the Father.  Jesus was explicit in the words he chose to use here:  "Every person the Father gives me..."  There have been times in my life when I have just gone to the store to buy a gift for someone - kind of aimlessly wandering the aisles until something caught my eye.  Then there have been others when I know exactly what I want to give to them.  I have found the gift I knew I wanted to give had much more impact in the life of the one I gifted it to than the one I merely picked up without any thought.  The important fact in this passage is we are each hand-selected, with a special thought in mind, by God!  He gifts us to his Son!  With intent!

- We run to Jesus.  We may try a whole lot of other things in life before we ever turn to him, but when we realize our need is never met in any other thing or person, we find ourselves running - straight into his arms!  I read a post by a friend this morning.  The words were simple:  Being a Christian doesn't mean I won't fall . . . it just means Jesus will catch me when I do.  It seems to me this hits the nail on the head.  Jesus "catches" every runner - not because he snags them as they are running by - but because he is kind of like their safety net.  When all else has failed, his arms are still wide open!  When we are embraced, we are received gladly - there is no regret on Jesus' part - he receives us gladly and with eagerness.  

- We are secure in his embrace.  Jesus was quite explicit - he holds onto us and he never lets go.  We are used to temporary embraces - those given by others.  They don't last - although the memory of their embrace may linger, the true embrace ends at some point.  Jesus was emphatic - he never lets go.  His embrace is lasting, sure, and tight!  We have no idea what his embrace will do in our lives until we "settle into it".  Think of the last time you were embraced by someone here on this earth.  When you "settled into it" what did it do for your emotions?  Now, this was just a small glimpse of the reality of what it is liked to be embraced by Jesus - a very small glimpse!  It is only when we learn to "settle into" the embrace of Jesus that he is free to begin to soothe the fragile emotions, open our eyes to new experiences, and melt away the tension of the frazzled busy-ness of our day.

- We can count on Jesus completing what he began in us.  In closing this morning, I don't want us to miss this important fact.  We "begin" a whole lot of things in life which we often never intend to finish.  The Father gifted each of us to Jesus - it is his intention to see each of us "finished" by the hand of a loving Savior.  We all need "work" - it is his joy to complete this work in us!  None of us is without exception - we all need his "putting together".  Nothing in us will be left incomplete.  This should give us a sense of hope - especially when we have struggled with the same old stuff over and over again in our lives.  The promise is sure:  Not a single detail will be missed!  Everything will be put together and whole!  Everything!

Just sayin....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

All together? NOT!

There used to be a time when people had to perceive me as having life all together.  It was far from the truth, but the mask I cleverly wore was one of being "all together" in a tremendously broken life.  Emotions were haywire, desires often overruling any sense of conscience, and mouth engaged when it ought to be otherwise!  Sound like anyone you might know?  If I am to be honest about how Christ has changed my life, I have to be honest about what needed changing!

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.  (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message)

Just like Paul, I can now freely admit - I don't have it all together.  I don't have to hide behind a mask anymore.  I found out the "value" of the mask was only "skin-deep" anyway!  What was deep inside really had a way of working its way past the mask - I just did not realize it at the time!

Probably one of my biggest struggles in life was coming to a place of accepting just who I was - exactly the way God made me.  This may seem trivial to some, but it you struggle with "liking" yourself or feeling like anyone else in this world could possibly find anything of value in you, then you understand what I am saying.  God's image of me mattered more than my image of myself, but I had a hard time ever grasping this truth.  I kept taking my "clues" about what made me acceptable from the people around me.  As long as I did this, I never measured up!

I did not dress like the crowd - so I struggled with my image of myself.  Today, I still don't dress like the crowd - but I am comfortable in how I dress. You may find my closet filled with more polo shirts and jeans than others, but what you find there is the "real" me.  I am a down-to-earth kinda gal.  I like casual - not that I cannot dress to the nines, but high heels and short skirts are just not me.  I had to get comfortable being me before I could ever stop comparing myself to the crowd.  You know, the way we dress matters, but not in making us righteous or more acceptable to God.  When I finally realized this fact, I was able to break the mold of the world and be who I am totally comfortable being - ME.

I did not do some of the stuff the crowd did - so I struggled feeling accepted and like I was "part of the crowd".  From the time we are little human beings until we go to our grave, we will struggle with trying to "fit in" with some group of people!  As children, we wanted to be liked by the most popular girls or boys in our schools.  If they seemed to take a shine to us, we were delighted with our new-found status.  If we were shunned or ridiculed, we just acted silly to attempt to make them think their opinion of us did not matter.  All the while, we struggled inwardly with the sense of rejection which did nothing more than fuel our sense of insecurity and value.  It wasn't until I began to reap the consequences of "fitting in" that I realized the real lack of support this "in crowd" gave me!  When I began to get "labeled" as "one of them" - the label hurt.  What I thought would be the height of my life actually stung!

So, here's the hard reality of it all - no one can bring me value.  My value (worth) is correctly identified in my connection with Jesus - plain and simple.  Nothing, and no one else, can possibly make it possible for me to no longer hide behind a mask.  Today - what you see is what I am - at home, or in public.  I like to go barefoot.  A good book or a challenging word puzzle can keep me entertained for a while, but I have a hard time sitting still, so I tend to do more than one thing at a time!  I do my puzzle while cooking a meal.  It is who I am and I make no excuses for it!  

Most importantly, I am an emotionally broken girl redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  My inward desire to measure up to someone else's standards left me crushed, rejected, and feeling like a total failure more than I can count.  I sought attention in all the wrong ways - thinking no one could ever love me as I was.  In reality, the more I "tried" to fit some mold others demanded of me, the more miserable I became on the inside.  The good news here is in the thing I could not do for myself - the removal of the masks behind which I hid. 

It took the love of Jesus to begin to peel the layers of masks away.  He had to help me be honest about how my past had left scars beyond my ability to heal.  It was his "estimation" of my worth which mattered the most - it just took me a long time to see this!   Once I began to lay hold of the truth about how much Jesus loved me (the real me), I began to sense how much I mattered.  I have a purpose, as do you!  We are at our best when we are fulfilling the purpose for which HE created us!  We can look for all kinds of other things to give us purpose in life - but they will only leave us carrying a lot of tightly-packed baggage and a whole lot of layers of masked failure!

Paul's statement rings true - we have only begun!  The starting point is the hardest - the first time we give someone a peak behind the mask is the hardest!  We have to be wise in just who we allow our masks to be "off" with.  At first, we may find it hard to trust anyone, but hear this clearly - God is never more real with us than when we are real with him!  We can trust him to see behind the mask.  In time, the mask will no longer be what defines us - his grace evident in us will be the defining glory of our lives.  In the determination to "fit", we find our best fit is always when we are free to be just who he created us to be - free of any masks!  Just sayin....

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hey! Do I add up?

I love it when I can ask a question and get a straight answer.  Sometimes I get frustrated with people who just want to beat around the bush and never answer the question head-on.  They see their avoidance of the "direct" route as a cunning tactic to keep me from ever discovering the truth.  Thank goodness we serve a God who is delighted to allow us to get directly to the truth!  He knows if we don't discover truth in our quest, we will never be able to fully trust him in (or with) our lives.

My question:  What are God-worshipers like?  Your answer:  Arrows aimed at God's bull's-eye.  They settle down in a promising place; their kids inherit a prosperous farm.  God-friendship is for God-worshipers; they are the ones he confides in.   If I keep my eyes on GodI won't trip over my own feet. (Psalm 25:12-15 The Message)

One day, David poses this question to God.  He probably just wants to see how well he is doing in this thing called "walking with God".  He sees a lot of examples around him - some doing pretty well, others not so much.  He has a lot of options open to him - stick tight to what he has come to know as truth, or explore the "options" of the other types of "worship" he sees around him.  He may not fully know all he desires to know about God, but what he does know compared to what he sees in those around him causes him to evaluate his progress in his own walk.  He wants God's answer to a tough question - "Just what is it like God to be a TRUE God-worshiper?"

In response to David's question, God outlines a few things which act as "measuring sticks" by which David may accurately consider his progress in his own walk with God.

- Aimed at the bull's-eye, not some random target.  A true follower of Christ has his focus directed toward the "center" of God's best in his life.  Look again at our passage and you will see key points.  First, we are arrows.  Arrows have no purpose without the corresponding bow.  They merely fill a quiver and look pretty.  They are only "of use" when they are connected to the bow and poised for action.  The same is true of each of us - we are at our best when we are connected closely to God's heart and are put to use for his purposes.  Second, they are aimed.  The arrow connected to the string of the bow has but one purpose - to hit the target.  No one puts an arrow into the bow and pulls back without the intention of sending the arrow into action.  The arrow is directed toward something, is it not?  The same is true of us - we are connected to be put into action.  This Christian walk is not some leisurely stroll - it is a rigorous, sometimes up and sometimes down, kind of walk.  Yet, we have aim.  A goal - a bull's-eye - which serves as an indication of our progress.

- Settled down with something to pass on to others.  To some, "settling down" suggests a place of comfort, but back in the day, when "settlers" came into a new region, they had much work ahead of them.  I don't think this is far from what God has in store for us in our Christian walk.  We "come into" a new place in our lives, not to just take in the scenery, but to "settle down" in it,  bringing something of fruitfulness from the place.  The settlers of old cleared the land, built a habitat for themselves, and then began to work the land in order for it to yield its fruit.  Nothing delights God more than for us to come into fresh places in our lives and then begin to "work the land" for the fruit to be produced.  What the settlers did allowed for the others to be blessed in future generations.  What we allow to be born from our lives is indeed a blessing to others - a thing to be passed on.

- Close enough to be confided in.  Each of these illustrations gives us some point of "connection" - the arrow with the bow, the settler with the land, and the closeness of a companion with another.  By definition, one who is a companion of another has a frequency of contact with the other.  They are "matched" with each other - accompanying and assisting each other all along the way.  A natural outcome of this type of companionship is the ability to share one's heart with the other - and almost an intuitive awareness of the needs and desires of another.  In one look or gesture, more can be communicated than in a plethora of words!  As we draw nearer and nearer to God, his delight is to confide in us (and we in him).  One who confides has full trust in the other.  There is no trust where there is not first the connection which builds this trust.

- Eyes directed, feet on a firm foundation.  Have you ever been looking down at the ground so much, you missed the thing right in front of you, colliding head first into the object?  I have!  When our focus is on our walk more than on the object of our walk, we find more obstacles which only serve to trip us up.  If I set out to go to the mailbox a few hundred feet from the front door, but am gazing at the sky, I might trip off the sidewalk, stumble over the neighborhood cat, or walk dangerously out into the street.  If I keep my eyes fixed on the corner where I turn, then on the mailbox, and vice-versa on my return trip, I get there unscathed!  The focus we keep determines the "footing" of our journey!

Now, can you say these things about your own life?  Are they the characteristics God and others see in you?  If so, you are likely doing fairly well in your walk.  If not, today is your opportunity to connect, draw close, and see what God will bring forth from the things he is working into your heart today.  Just sayin...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Love in action

Our pastor spent a great deal of time unpacking I Corinthians 13 this weekend.  His purpose - to help us connect the dots between what we call love and what we really are experiencing - an emotion.  In fact, his main purpose was to help us see the difference between the use of love as an adjective (we fall into love) and as a noun (an action word).  You have probably struggled with the difference between the two, as well.  We have a tendency to describe love - the feeling - instead of living the actions associated with true love.

We pondered your love-in-action, God, waiting in your temple: Your name, God, evokes a train of Hallelujahs wherever it is spoken, near and far; your arms are heaped with goodness-in-action.  (Psalm 48:9-10 The Message)

Our psalmist has got it down - God is pondered best when our focus is on his actions!  We see much revealed to us in terms of his love for us, simply by considering the magnitude of his actions on our behalf.  For example, Israel looked back after crossing the Red Sea and erected a memorial as a "trigger" to be able to recall the amazing display of God's love in protecting them from the pursuing enemy.  Generations would be able to see the memorial and be taught the greatness of God's love - holding back waters, preparing dry ground, and swallowing up the pursuing armies - evidence of his protection.  

Do you know what the scripture is full of ... stories of God's love in action!  In fact, you cannot enter any book of the 66 contained within the covers of the Bible without encountering his love!  God never intended for us to connect his love with an emotional experience alone - he wanted the emotion of love to be connected directly to the action of love!  Look at the prophet Hosea.  Asked to take a woman of ill-repute (a prostitute) as his wife.  For a Jew, this was the "clean" embracing the "unclean" - the righteous encountering the unrighteous.  Imagine getting this message one day from God:  "Find a whore and marry her.  Make her the mother of your children."  Can you say, "Scary"?

Yet, it was a tremendous example for all to see of the grace and mercy of our God toward the sinner.  He was teaching Israel through Hosea's actions how he embraces the sinner, starts all over again with them - even if it takes "re-courting" us to win our hearts - he does it.  Love in action!  Even as they flirted with every other god - embracing sin repeatedly - he loved them again! If you aren't touched by this example of God's love, then I don't know what will touch your heart!  God's love is overwhelmingly generous - way beyond our natural tendency to give grace and embrace those who turn their backs on us.  His love "re-courts" us time and time again - until we are content to love only him!

Another story comes to mind - the story of a man who struggled with pride, wanting to be in the middle of everything, and too impulsive to control at times.  Sound like anyone you might know?  I know it sounds a lot like me!  Peter was a fisherman.  Plain and simple - he worked the seas each day, bringing in the "fruit" of his labor - in order to fill the bellies of the hungry in the village.  In short order, his world changes - he is embraced by Jesus.  He is asked to become the fisher of men.  He muddles through all kinds of things in his journey with Jesus - at times displaying the greatest of faith, the next sinking deep into the depths of doubt and depression.  Doubts because he acted often before he thought it through.  Depression because it is not uncommon to feel low when you have failed.

Yet, in God's mercy, Peter was always embraced.  Even when he displayed qualities which would have made most of us embarrassed - like when he cut off the ear of the high priest's servant when they came to take Jesus away.  The Lord simply looked at Peter and healed the man's ear.  Or maybe when he was waited in the courtyard of the high priest, looking to receive word of Jesus' fate - denying him three times.  Jesus had warned him of this - yet he plunged full-speed ahead into his denials anyway.  God's love in action - even the warning that we WILL sin!  God's love in action - seeking out Peter to let him know how much he still loved him - enough to ask him once again to follow him and to lead others in following him.

I could recount example after example, but none is greater than the example of the one reading these words right now.  You!  God has sought you out - singled you out to be the object of his love.  He has "acted" on your behalf over and over again.  It is his love in action which is displayed in your life today.  Let us learn from the example of his love - it is an action (a verb) - something we engage in, not something we merely feel!  Just sayin....

Monday, August 27, 2012

It is what it is....

I just came across a friend's post on Facebook in which she displayed a plaque which reads:  "It is what it is....but it will become what you make it."  You know, what we make of circumstances often reveals much more about the foundation in our lives than we realize.  What we do with a failure of another, emphasizing it or letting it go, reveals more about our heart than we often realize.  It is what it is...true enough words.  We cannot stop a runaway train, but we don't have to in its path, do we?

A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.  (Proverbs 22:3 The Message)
One of the things my pastor said this past weekend stuck with me.  He simply stated we are exercising "wisdom" when we avoid the "hot buttons" in relationships.  Now, that may not seem like rocket science for some, but how many times have we just plunged straight ahead, knowing some manner of conversation or action would "trigger" that very hot button in someone's life?  Probably more than we realize!  It is what it is!  But....what we make of it is what it will become!

In looking at our passage today, we find two parallels.  The prudent and the simpleton.  Now, we don't use these words too often in our vocabulary today, so let me give you the "today's version" of these.  The prudent are the savvy - those who have understanding and actually use it!  The simpleton are just the opposite - they are ignorant!  It is easy to see how this scripture, and my friend's quote, make sense when you understand these two contrasts.  The savvy individual actually sees the speeding train and ducks out of the way!  The ignoramus simply walks down the middle of the tracks!

I just want to take a moment to tell explore this idea displayed on my friend's recent post.  Yep, life happens - but the savvy have learned to take what it sends their way and make it into the best thing possible.  This could be put another way:  Life comes at you fast - learn to look at each challenge as an opportunity for growth, blessing, and foundation building!  My interpretation is a whole lot longer than my friend's, but I think it is what Solomon had in mind when he was attempting to guide his sons into the truths he had learned in his life.  We can see trouble coming a mile off sometimes.  If this is true, then why do we stand there, clearly in its path, and get all worked up about it coming?  

I have had relationships over the years in which it seemed NOTHING good ever came from them!  There were more "hot buttons" triggered than words of kindness or appreciation.  So, why did I keep those relationships?  Well, I actually thought they were teaching me something!  In response to their hurled accusations, I learned the difficult lesson of turning the other cheek.  Now, don't get me wrong - this was a hugely hard lesson to learn and I don't think I am finished by any means!  In response to their curtness, I had the opportunity to respond in kindness.  Yep, you guessed it - sometimes I responded more like the simpleton than the prudent!  I allowed their curt response to become something which "ruffled my feathers" instead of learning to not respond in like manner.  

I honestly believe we "get" some of these moments of life being "what it is" so we can develop some of the things God wants us to "become".  We don't see the threat of the speeding train until we are clearly in its path!  We don't see the volatility of an unkind word until we have spoken it!  I took some time this week to explore some of the "hot buttons" in the relationships I have.  For some, it is easy to see, but in others, I had to look a little harder.  Some of us "bury" those hot buttons so deep, it almost eludes us seeing them - but, boy, can we hit 'em!  

We all make something different out of what life sends our way, don't we?  Some see the speeding train as an opportunity to learn to run - others see it as an opportunity to solve the equation which will slow its progress.  What "becomes" is based on how we "see" the train - as an opportunity or as a threat!  Too many times, we "interpret" the threat - causing us to fear it rather than overcome it!  God's plan is for us to allow our "what it is" to "become something more".  I think this is probably the lesson he taught the day he asked the disciples how much food the crowd had.  In their "interpretation" they had little (5 loaves and 2 fish for a crowd of over 5,000). In his perspective, they had enough to allow it to "become" all they needed - with leftovers!

Our "what is" is just an opportunity for us to "become" something more!  It is the broken relationship which teaches us the lessons of forgiveness and the destruction of bitterness.  It is the failing health which opens our eyes to enjoying moments which previously escaped our attention.  It is the hunger of our souls which causes us to pick up our dusty Bibles and search out the hidden treasures within.  It is what it is - but it has the power to become so much more when the "it" is squarely placed in God's hands!  Just sayin....

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Scorekeepers Beware!

There are a whole lot of people who "keep count" in life, huh?  They seem to have the imaginary scoreboard illuminated all the time - tracking each failure and success like it was some way of telling who was "winning" in life.  Keeping score seems to be something we "just do", huh?  We tend to keep score in our own lives - but also in the lives of others.  For some, they cannot bear the thought of someone "one-upping" them.  For others, they just want to see someone worse off then them - so they keep score just to see if there is anyone!  Regardless of the reasons we keep score, it isn't a healthy thing to do.

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.  (John 4:1-3 The Message)

The religious leaders could not bear to think of Jesus and John "getting more converts" than they could amass in their roles.  They were keeping count of the baptisms because this was considered the "mark" of conversion in those days (much like circumcision was the mark of conversion to Judaism).  The silliness of the thing is the outcome!  I am always amazed at how God turns what others might think as "their win" into a tremendous "win" for the Kingdom of God!

This attitude of the religious leaders actually caused Jesus to pick up and move on.  He found himself on the road to Galilee - hungry and thirsty.  His disciples often went ahead to the next village to secure some food for this company of travelers.  This was the case on the day Jesus encounters one very hurting and rejected woman at a well.  He is alone - his disciples having gone on ahead.  They leave him to rest a while - he takes the opportunity to "change the score" for this hurting woman!  Can you say, "Go, God!!!!"

The "score" was pretty dismal for this woman.  Her choices in life had left her pretty destitute.  Jesus asks for a drink - she cannot believe her ears.  First of all, she is a Samaritan - a tribe of Jews disliked by the religious leaders of the day.  Why?  It dates way back to the exile of the Jews prior to the Babylonian rule.  The Samaritans maintained they held to the specifics of the Jewish law as passed down from Moses.  The "other Jews" deviated from this "pure" religion by adopting other practices and customs which "merged" into their religious practice of the Law.  Since that time, there was intense dislike between the Samaritans and other Jews.  Sheesh!  Can you see the danger of "keeping score" here?

Anyway, this woman is one of the Samaritans - a woman to boot!  She should have been shunned by a "pure Jew" just because of her ethnic origin.  If for no other reason, she was a woman and as such, she should not have been worthy of the attention of a "great teacher".  So, on both accounts, Jesus is having another "score" settled.  He is showing ethnic background matters little in the Kingdom of God.  He is embracing, if not elevating, the importance of women. It would be this woman who would lead many to find the reality of faith!

He asks for water - she is stunned.  She knows she is not to even talk with the Jewish man, but for some reason, she engages in a discussion with him.  The end of the discussion leads to a revelation which will be her "changing of the score" in her life!  He asks for water - she tells him she should not even speak to him - he pursues deeper.  I am always amazed at the persistence of God in my own life - how about you?  What we see as "off limits" he is never afraid to "push to new limits"!  In the unfolding dialogue, Jesus offers her "living water" - something not found in the well, nor understood in the pursuit of any religious exercise (Jewish, Samaritan, or otherwise).

In turn, she begins to try to understand why this Jewish teacher would speak with her.  He offers her something - but at a slight cost.  He asks for her to go get her husband.  Uh oh!  Now she is undone - one point for the failure column.  What her tells her is that she has had 5 husbands and the current guy in her life she is not even married to!  Ooops!  In her eyes, she sees a big "negative one" for the scoreboard.  In revealing this to her, he never seeks to point out her failure, just to reveal something about himself!  He is not ashamed to associate with those who have huge "negative scores" on their scoreboard of life!  Awesome!

What started out as a pretty happy day for the religious leaders - having run Jesus out of town by their "keeping score" - will end in just a whole lot more "positive points" on Jesus' side!  It never amazes me - what Satan intends for evil in our lives, God works for good!  This woman is so touched by Jesus, so encouraged by his unmerited favor, she cannot help but invite others to him.  She tells the town!  Don't miss that - she tells the TOWN about the one who knows all and still wants to have something to do with her (a woman with a big negative score).  Two days pass while the "town" gets to know this Jesus for themselves.  As a matter of fact, there are converts innumerable - so much so it takes Jesus two days to accomplish all the "score changing" God sent him there to accomplish!

Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman's witness: "He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!" They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, "We're no longer taking this on your say-so. We've heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He's the Savior of the world!"  (vs. 39-42)  It was the witness of one whose "score" was changed that led to the changing of a whole lot of other "scores" that day!  I wonder what would happen if we actually stopped focusing so much on the "scoreboard" of our failures and successes and more on the eyes of the one who actually "changes the score" forever?  Just sayin....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A huge load of regrets

I was listening to a song the other day - I mean really listening.  In the lyrics of the song, it became quite plain - we live with regrets.  We go through life "looking back" - thinking things through from a different perspective - wondering if we could do it all over again how things might have turned out differently.  The lyrics really challenged us to look to the opportunities of today, instead of the missed ones of the past.  

The very steps we take come from God; otherwise how would we know where we're going?   An impulsive vow is a trap; later you'll wish you could get out of it. (Proverbs 20:24-25 The Message)

In the truest sense, regrets are feelings of disappointment - we experience a sense of loss.  In turn, we become dissatisfied with the direction we are heading.  In one sense, it is like finding out you have been drifting without specific purpose.  Back in the day, my family used to take Sunday drives.  We'd pile into the Oldsmobile, then head off to enjoy the scenery of the blooming orange groves, or take in the majesty of the towering saguaros in the desert.  We really did not have an "aim" in mind - we just got in and enjoyed the ride!

We sometimes want to go through life this way - just getting in and hoping we will enjoy the ride!  What I failed to understand as a child was the "purpose" of the Sunday drives.  It was family time - we were expected to share a part of our lives with each other.  We'd chat about this and that, finding out all kinds of good stuff about what was happening in each other's lives.  Dad would share what he'd like to do in the garden, mom might come up with an idea for how we could make some new decorations for the Christmas season as a craft, and I'd just share the stuff kids share!

We were really "purposeful" in our venture - but to the "untrained" eye, our journeys seemed a little aimless!  You know what?  As I look back at those moments today, I don't have any regrets about missing an afternoon of play with the neighbors.  Yep...while I was GOING THROUGH them, I was totally dissatisfied!  I wanted to be with the girls - engaged in playing some game or dressing and redressing the Barbie dolls.  Isn't it amazing how many times we are "going through" things with a totally different perspective than we look back on those same times?  With Dad gone, mom failing in her health, and me all grown up, there are days I just wish for the simplicity of the Sunday drive!

Let me be totally transparent here - as I believe transparency helps us grow.  I do indeed have regrets!  As I walked through one "botched" period of my life after another, I formed some big regrets.  I spent a great deal of time living in a fantasy life in my teenage years - I wonder now what life would have been like if I would have really had a sense of purpose in those years.  I spent ten years in a marriage, only to see it end in divorce.  Do I have regrets for missed opportunities there - you bet.  I raised two kids, from the ages of 7 & 9, on my own after the divorce.  I worked a little more than I really had to, missed a whole lot of parent/teacher conferences, and don't really know if my kids did their homework!  Yep, a few regrets there. looking back...through the eyes of redeeming's what I see:

- Lots of lessons of grace!  Those teenage years, when I was frustrating my parents to no end - lots and lots of lessons of grace!  

- Lots of lessons of forgiveness!  The marriage ended, but life went on.  I could hold closely to the sense of betrayal - a vow broken - or I could release and let go.  I chose the latter.  Not once, but over and over again - until I really meant it!

- Lots of lessons of gratitude!  My kids didn't become astronauts or take on world hunger, but they did turn out pretty doggone special!  We enjoyed the moments we made for each other - maybe not at first, but when I hear them talking about those moments today, I know they mattered to them!  This gives me hope and a whole lot of gratitude to a great God who watched over the three of us during those years.

So, I don't know what "regrets" you may be looking at life through - but I do know this:

- If we go through life seeing it through the "lenses" of regret, we will never change from always wishing for something better!  We will always see the lost opportunities and we will continue to miss the ones right in front of us.

Just sayin....

Friday, August 24, 2012

Perspectives on Praise

Have you ever stopped to consider your words of praise?  Sometimes I think we become so familiar with saying something like "Bless God!" or "Thank You Jesus!" that we almost speak them without any really thought behind them!  Well, consider how we might feel when all we hear from someone is, "I love you" or "You are so special to me", but then never really see the love or "special" connection displayed.  The words become hollow when spoken so frequently without any really action behind them, don't they?  The same could be true of our worship!

Blessed are you, God of Israel, our father from of old and forever. To you, O God, belong the greatness and the might, the glory, the victory, the majesty, the splendor; Yes! Everything in heaven, everything on earth; the kingdom all yours! You've raised yourself high over all.  Riches and glory come from you,       you're ruler over all; You hold strength and power in the palm of your hand       to build up and strengthen all.  And here we are, O God, our God, giving thanks to you, praising your splendid Name.  (I Chronicles 29:10-13 The Message)

Our passage today is taken from the end of David's life.  He is turning over the reins, so to speak.  His son Solomon will assume the throne of Israel.  His task of building the Temple of God will become Solomon's to fulfill.  He has paved the way through his military might for Israel to live in peace in the land and to be about the task of settling in.  Now, as he is about to exit this world, he speaks publicly of his God's greatness.  He calls to attention the characteristics of God for which he has seen much evidence in his time as leader in the land:

- God's greatness and might.  David does not want Israel (or us) to lose sight of the fact God's works are indeed noteworthy, but his presence is more noteworthy than all his works!  We can see the display of his might, but we sense the awesomeness of his greatness!  Look around and see the hills, trees, birds, and even the caterpillar.  All created by his hand - all display his greatness.  His might is what makes him stand above all others.  His ability to accomplish what he says is David's focus.  He promised Israel a land flowing with milk and honey - he accomplished this.  He promised a nation as vast as the grains of sand on the seashore - he accomplished this in the action of his Son on the cross.  Truly God's greatness AND his might go hand in hand.  One is the display of his creativity and the other is the display of his ability!

- God is worthy of glory.  What David wants us to see is the very fact of God's greatness and might set him apart from any other god on this earth.  Nothing and no one can fulfill what he has done.  David wants us to proclaim the renown of God!  To be able to do this, we have to see him as he is - we cannot have a second hand knowledge of him.  When we have first hand knowledge of his greatness and might, it is a natural response to observe God is indeed "set apart" from other gods!

- Victory, majesty and splendor are his.  No opponent stands a chance in his path.  This should cause us to shout!  What opponent stands in your way?  It could be a habit, a person, or a circumstance beyond your control.  David's reminder to us - God is bigger, more powerful, and all-consuming.  Nothing stands in his way.  When we think of majesty, we think of the distinction which comes with a person in a place of authority.  David reminds us of the importance of God being in his right place in our lives - the place of authority.  As long as he is, we know with assurance no opponent will stand in our way.

- God builds up and strengthens.  Some think this "Christian" experience is some kind of "crutch" for a bunch of weakling individuals.  I am not so sure they have ever walked in my shoes!  In fact, I am far from weak!  The greatest struggles I have is to NOT rely upon my own strength and allow his strength to come through in my life!  The problem with my own strength is observed in its destructive power, not in its creative power.  As a matter of fact, as long as I use my own strength, I only seem to run others down, run myself down, and basically steamroll my way through life.  In Christ's power, my "self" takes on the right perspective.  

I wonder if we really think about the words of honor and respect we "hurl" God's way on occasion?  Are they intentional?  Or are they spoken by 'rote' and merely words to "fill space".  My thoughts over the past many weeks have been on the idea of being intentional in my speech.  Words are indeed "cheap" when they are spoken to only fill space - when them come from a deep well within, they just might carry a bit more refreshing and enjoyment!  Just sayin...   

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Harvest Time!

This is the best time of year to enjoy some of the fruits of the season.  The melons are juicy and sweet.  The grapes are colorful and tasty.  The strawberries boast luscious enjoyment and a sweet scent.  Fruit has a way of satisfying our senses - both internally (our taste buds) and externally (sight and smell).  There is another kind of fruit we might enjoy a little better if we realized we might just "eat it" at a later time!

Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.  Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit—you choose.  (Proverbs 18:20-21 The Message)

Good talk - fruit for our souls, nourishment for our minds, and health for our bodies.  Now, there is a harvest we could ALL get into!  We all have experienced the times when we say something without thinking, or get caught up in responding before we really take time to listen.  The end result is usually words which seem a little "bitter" and with a tendency to "repeat" on themselves!

Solomon puts it out there - they are either poison or fruit - the choice is ours! We have a choice about the words we speak as much as the words we DON'T speak.  Words have much more power than we give them credit for - like fruit fuels our bodies - words fuel our worries and ignite our frustrations!  

Solomon has just told his readers a few other things about words in this chapter which really reflect on the type of "harvest" they will produce:

- Those which are spoken without thought are equated to those spoken from the mouth of a fool.  "Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth." (vs. 2 The Message)  Words often show just how much judgment a person exercises!  A fool is one who lacks judgment - therefore, when words are spoken without prior thought, they are equated to be "foolish".  

- Those which come from an inner place are often equated to being as refreshing as an artesian well in the middle of a hot desert.  "Many words rush along like rivers in flood, but deep wisdom flows up from artesian springs." (vs. 4 The Message)  I had to look up what an artesian well really was and here is what I found.  An artesian well is first of all covered by impermeable rock.  The water which rises from this well is that which is coming forth "under pressure" - it rises to the surface because their is pressure exerted which lifts it to the surface.  The water finds a path of release.  It seems to defy gravity.  There is no need to manually bring it to the surface, as with a traditional well.  In fact, in its path from within, it passes through so many filters, it is sweet when it comes forth! that is certainly some food for thought!  When we allow time for the "pressures" to give rise to the words through a path which seems impenetrable, there is an opportunity for them to pass through the filters which might just purify them a little more!

- Those which speak first and think later often would do better with a gag in their mouth!  "The words of a fool start fights; do him a favor and gag him."  (vs.6 The Message)  Wouldn't it be nice to have an invisible hand placed over our mouths whenever we would begin to speak something unwholesome, or cutting?  Well, guess what?  We have such a "gag" at our disposal - he is called the Holy Spirit!

- Those which speak before listening produce "sourness" much like we experience when we bite into fruit which has not ripened.  "Answering before listening is both stupid and rude."  (vs. 13 The Message)  We have a tendency to jump to conclusions - don't we?  We want to jump in with both feet - sometimes into issues which are not our responsibility, or which will not be benefited by our involvement.  Solomon was pretty blunt - it is both stupid and rude.  Okay...I used the "s" word!  We don't allow the grandkids to use this word, but it really speaks volumes here.  It means to be mentally dull, foolish, and senseless!  Words which don't have prior thought often reflect just how "dull" we can be in our thinking.  Words which are spoken in haste are indeed foolish - they bring out our worst, not our best.  Words which are without some kind of "covering" are indeed senseless!  

So, Solomon hits it on the head - we choose the harvest which is produced.  We can allow pressures to create some supernatural filters in our lives, so words take some time to get to the surface, or we can give full vent to them with the dullness and senselessness of a fool.  The choice of our words determines the enjoyment (or misery) of the harvest!  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's in your backyard?

I have seen lovely homes with a nicely landscaped front yard, beautifully framing the home with color and style.  Then, to my dismay, observed the backyard to be a mess of dirt, weeds, and nothing too impressive at all.  Why is it we "put our best foot forward" with what people see first, but neglect to ever do anything with the thing we see the most?  The front yard is for the public - the backyard is for our use, is it not?  

The perceptive find wisdom in their own front yard; fools look for it everywhere but right here.  (Proverbs 17:24 The Message)

I know our passage only speaks to the "front yard" of the perceptive (the wise), but I think there is much to be said about what is the "back yard" of a person's life!  What we allow, or choose to ignore, in our "back yard" is often more important than what we have created for the public view in our "front yard".  For some of us, the things we allow into our lives create a mass of clutter which litters our backyard.  For others, what we ignore in our backyard takes on a life of its own!

Yet, we spend the most time IN or observing our own backyard, don't we?  I don't spend a whole lot of time in the front yard - although I keep it groomed, fertilized, and watered.  I like seeing the green grass, blooming bushes, and huge boughs of the pine trees as I drive into my garage.  But...once the garage door is down, I see the backyard much more than I do the front!  I see the things which blow into it with the storms, observe the wild animals and birds which seem to frequent its space, and even notice the things which seem to need my attention, but just don't get it!

Why is it I notice the dead plant in the corner bed, but do nothing about it for weeks on end?  No one else sees it!  It is easy to neglect what we think no one else will ever know about!  The sad truth is we seldom know when our "back yard" may just be observed - in its full state of disrepair!  So, knowing this "inevitability" of "discovery", maybe we'd do well to consider just what is in our backyard and how it got to be there!  

As I have already indicated, some things are there because we just allowed them to be.  For example, maybe we have developed a little bit of a tendency to engage in "coarse" conversation - you know, the type which is just a little bit "shady", but not really filled with all manner of cussing and the like.  Nonetheless, it "colors" who we are.  We allow this long enough and it becomes a way of life for us.  We don't think twice about engaging in the conversation which is a little jaded.  The problem - it doesn't build us up, nor does it build up another - so it is really not productive.  God asks us to measure our words - so they are productive and capable of building up, not tearing us or another down.

Other things are in our backyards because we have ignored them for so long, we just figure they belong there!  This might be the bad habit we have formed which really is adding nothing of value to our life, and may even be displaying something similar to the dead bush in the corner of my yard!  Instead of plucking it up and planting something which is alive and capable of growth, we ignore the barrenness.  The barrenness becomes something we tolerate until it no longer bothers us.  One day, Jesus told a story about the branches which bore no fruit - they were good for nothing, but firewood!  Some of the stuff we ignore in our lives is really just "kindling" capable of igniting a real fire of sin in our lives!  Better to rid ourselves of the kindling than allow it to be the fuel which destroys our lives.

If you want to do a little experiment, download the application for your computer called "Google Earth".  It is a nifty thing!  You can put in any address, then in a moment of time, zoom into ground level views of that location.  I did it with my own home address and saw for myself - the front yard looked great!  But...the backyard was visible, as well.  What I thought no one else could see because it is surrounded by a six foot high block wall is not so hidden after all!  In fact, I saw the broken down car in my neighbor's backyard, the barren dirt backyard of the neighbor six houses away, and the condition of everyone's pools!  What we may think is hidden is indeed not!  

Just sayin....

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I've been thinking...

Have you ever considered just how hard it is to get the knowledge we form in our heads to begin to affect our hearts?  It seems like we can almost be beaten over the head with the same lessons (knowledge) until we are almost numb, yet totally miss the formation of any wisdom  which keeps us from doing the same silly thing over and over again!  Then we find ourselves getting all down on ourselves, God and others just because we failed!  What's that all about?

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)

First of all, let me say something which may open your eyes a little.  You and I are not in this alone!  There are others just like us, seemingly being hit over the head with the same lessons time and time again.  We have similar natures - therefore, we have similar responses!  So, lest you think you are the only one struggling with your present battle, look around.  You will begin to see others who struggle similarly (maybe not exactly like you, but close enough).  Maybe it is time we "team up" to overcome some of the stuff which has been leaving us in such a quandary!

Solomon points us to the first truth:  Wisdom is not learned, it is grown!  Here is where we often go wrong.  We think just because we are exposed to a truth or two, we will change our pattern of behavior.  Wrong!  Patterns take time to learn, therefore, they take time to un-learn.  When something is grown, it is developed over time.  It comes as a "course" of learning.  We learned to write our names long before we learned to write our first essay.  So, why do we have an attitude about learning God's truth in our lives in anything other than a systematic and "patterned developmental" way?

We GROW a wise heart - we don't just get one off the shelf somewhere.  Growth literally refers to a gradual increase.  As we embrace a little of the truth we are exposed to, allowing it to even affect one area of our lives, it begins to allow for the next phase of our growth.  At church this week, the pastor was speaking about the importance of building trust in relationships.  He commented trust is built on truth.  The same is true in our spiritual lives.  Learning to trust God is built on embracing his truths revealed in his Word.  As we even embrace one truth, such as "keep a clear head", we begin to develop trust in the principles taught throughout scripture.

Solomon indicated the wise heart is linked directly to the clarity of our head.  Most of the muddle we find ourselves in is in the thinking we engage in!  I had a friend instant message me this week with the opening statement, "I've been thinking..."  Now, don't get me wrong, I am an advocate of thinking!  Yet, I believe we might just spend a little too much time "muddling over" stuff in our brains and not enough time getting any clarity of thought!

Do you know what clarity of the mind is really like?  Think of a glass of water. When you hold the glass up to the light, what does it do?  It reflects the light, does it not?  It is transparent and therefore, it is able to reflect the light which is passing through it!  A clear mind is one which is transparent - it is not in a muddle of a mess of thought.  I have learned the secret of "un-muddling" my thoughts.  It comes in a couple of different ways.  First, I take them to God.  I speak openly with him about the stuff I am worrying over.  Then, I have good friends who act as great sounding-boards.  They have learned a skill called "listening" - reflecting back to me my own thoughts in such a way so as to bring clarity.  I also use a technique known as journaling. I actually like to write, so this is easier for me than some.  Yet, you could be doing it without even really trying that hard.  For example, have you ever made a "pro" and "con" list when considering a particular course of action?  You are journaling.

Now, if you haven't picked this up so far, the truth we focus on today is clarity of mind and its impact on developing wisdom which is reflected in our behavior.  Behavior change without clarity of mind is pretty much like shooting an arrow in the dark.  You may hit something, but it may not be anywhere close to the target!  We have to "un-muddle" our minds - get them to a place of transparency - in order to make progress.  You know what my friend was doing when she said, "I've been thinking..."?  She was working on "un-muddling" her thoughts.  We can "mull" stuff over so many times, it becomes a mish-mosh of thoughts - lacking any semblance of order or clarity.

Seeking clarity is the first step in growing a wise heart.  When we begin to get our thoughts in order, we begin to see the actions we need to take.  Just sayin....

Monday, August 20, 2012

A yoke of another kind

We have a lot of ways to describe "worn out".  We can think of something as so worn it is beyond repair - so it becomes something we'd be better off discarding.  It can also mean we have so depleted our energies with the pursuit of something that we just cannot seem to find enough rest.  When this happens, we describe ourselves as exhausted or no longer enthusiastic to take on the task at hand any longer.  When we reach this point of waning enthusiasm and fatigue beyond our capacity to recover from - we need to do just what Jesus instructed - get away with him!  The promise - we will recover our life!

"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)

Now, I know this is a call to salvation, but hear me out.  We often get ourselves to the point of needing "real rest", but just never take the time or exert the effort to get ourselves to the point of "rest".  Instead, we kind of "catch 40 winks" and hope all will be well.  I call these "mini-infusions" of God's grace and then we think our tanks are full again.  Sadly, we wear out, running on nothing more than fumes.

If you read this passage closely, Jesus couples "real rest" with two things which seem like "expending effort" rather than idleness or repose.  He says to "walk with him" and "work with him" will produce real rest.  Hmmmm....mull this one over for a moment.  Walking and working actually produce "real rest".  How can this be?  For starters, when we are fulfilling the purpose for which we were created, running the course set our for us, we find much more energy for the journey than when we are constantly trying to paddle upstream against the current!

The real rest comes in realizing the unforced rhythms of grace in our lives.  The most amazing part of grace is its unmerited dispensation in our lives.  We do NOTHING to earn it - we don't deserve it - but we are extended it freely.  It is a rhythmic thing according to Christ - almost as rhythmic as our own heartbeat.  If we were to begin to really "get into the rhythm" of grace, we might just find the things which had us so focused and intensely drained of all our energies begin to look a little foolish!  

Have you ever stopped to consider what a "rhythm" is?  In the most literal sense, it is any movement with repeated and patterned occurrence - just like your heartbeat.  What does the heartbeat produce?  A pulse, right?  You can "feel" the evidence of the rhythmic beating of your heart.  We can actually feel the rhythmic beating of God's heart - by the evidence of his grace in our lives!  

What does grace produce?  According to Jesus, it produces a life which is "fit" for us - perfectly created for each of us.  He says it is neither heavy or ill-fitting.  He is contrasting living outside of his "rhythmic grace" with that which produces a heaviness within us - just like the feelings of being burned out and worn beyond usefulness.  In the most literal sense, grace is really a pardon.  It is the release from the penalty which could easily be held against us for the many offenses of our lives.  It is the "unburdening" of our lives from the weight of living aimlessly - without purpose.

You know, an ox is just another farm animal until you actually place the yoke upon its neck.  At the point of placing the yoke, the ox begins to fulfill its purpose.  It knows to pull with all its strength.  It moves in rhythm with those yoked together in its efforts.  I wonder if this is maybe what Jesus was referring to - us fulfilling our purpose by bearing the "right" yoke!  In the yoke of his grace, we find a rhythm to be more than just another in a crowd - we find the rhythm to be on mission with him!

Just sayin...