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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Confined?

Small spaces can be quite confining.  I have learned much about caves, caverns, and the formation of stalagmites and stalactites over the past few years as I have explored several unique and totally amazing caverns and cave systems on recent vacations.  The magnificence and beauty of these spaces buried way underground is truly awe-inspiring.  In those moments of taking in those beautiful displays of crystalline-like beauty, I just wanted to break out in hymns of praise like "How Great Thou Art"!  My "tours" of these caves has been guided because I am not an experiences spelunker, so I restrained myself.  Yet, I did breathe in deeply and just sigh loudly at the amazing beauty of our heavenly Father's creative power - even when it is buried deep within the hidden spaces of this earth.  Being some 200-250 feet below ground didn't even concern me, but there are others who would absolutely freak out if I told them we'd be "going underground" today.  Why? They cannot stand the thought of being in confined spaces.  In those confined spaces of those caves, there was something I realized - we often feel very "confined" in our lives, but it is not the way God wants us to live.  As we returned to ground level again, the openness of what we experience when life is lived "above ground" is absolutely necessary!

I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!  (2 Corinthians 6:11-13 MSG)


"Below ground" we find confined spaces, often providing pressure we don't necessarily see, but it is there nonetheless.  Confined spaces are limited - there is a restriction in what "fits".  There is also a limit on what goes in and what comes out.  When we are feeling "confined", we feel as though we are unable to leave the place we are in - it is as though it has a hold on us.  Truth be told, we live much more "confined" lives than God would want us to live. We just don't bring into the "open" what he declares to be free!  "Above ground" we enjoy the freedom of open spaces and fresh air.  The pressure is different above ground, isn't it?  There is still pressure, but it is not as "confining" because the walls don't seem to hold it in.  Walls confine - remove the walls and what seems so limiting takes on a different light!


What do the caves all have in common?  A lack of light.  Until light is "brought into" the confining spaces of those caves, there is no light - the spaces are dark, dank, and overwhelmingly confining.  As soon as light begins to be brought into those spaces, some of the most confining "feeling" spaces begin to open up into the widest expanses you might discover - but they are still "below ground".  When the light is spent, the spaces return to darkness once again and the impression of impending confinement can return.  Maybe this is why it is so important to God that we allow his light to bring into the open what has been confined "under pressure" deep within each of us.


Wide-open, spacious life - what does that signify to you?  I have been in the city and the country, in the primitive lands and the developed, in the third-world and the modern world.  Having lived in Alaska, I have experienced the "wide-open" and seen the majesty of God's handiwork in the night storms. The landscape seemingly changing overnight.  I think God may just work this way in our lives once in a while - bringing a change of "landscape" into our lives in ways our minds cannot understand or fully take in at the speed it is happening.  We'd go to bed at night, awake seven hours later, and the entire land would just be glistening with the newness of freshly fallen snow. As dawn would break upon the new snow, the tiny crystals would begin to sparkle and gleam under the warmth of the breaking light.


Maybe this is what God does for us in bringing what is "under ground" in our lives out into the openness of his light.  In those caves, I appreciated the glimmer of sparkling crystalline-like formations, but when they were brought to the surface, exposed to the light of day - WOW!  The many facets of their beauty were able to be admired in a new way.  Confined, they had beauty - but exposed in the "above ground" view, they took on majesty and splendor not previously recognized!  Some of us have a tendency to life life in a "small way" - not really aware of God's intention for us to live in a "grand way" as he sets us free from all which confines us.  We need to allow lasting light to bring out the beauty of what he has been creating "under pressure" in the confines of our inner life.


It is only when what has been created "under pressure" is allowed to surface and be exposed to the brilliance of his light that it shines as it should!  Just sayin!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Living as an example

When you are making your way through a field of landmines, you definitely want to listen for the faint "click" of the detonating trigger if you misstep. You then hope to have the wisdom of another who knows the inner workings of the device to show you how to keep the detonator from engaging when you remove your foot from the device.  There are definitely times when there is a specific need to pay attention - to listen like your life depended on it.  Did you know God gives us a certain amount of common sense to handle some of life's challenging moments, while he expects us to listen intently to his voice as though our live's depended upon it?  Truth is, he doesn't really care too much which can of tomato soup we purchase, but he does care about who we might just run into in the aisle as we are shopping.  Common sense allows us to purchase the can of soup which tastes good, is a reasonable price, and meets our nutritional needs.  His still small voice might just prompt us to recognize a need in someone in the aisle, or point out to us an individual we haven't seen in a while, but who desperately needs our interaction.  I have to confess I don't pray over the can of soup - but if I see someone in need, I do shoot up a quick prayer to get God's perspective on how the need might be met.  There are times in our lives when it is our time to be helped - there are others when it is our time to help another.  There are moments when God speaks into our lives - there are others when he is using our lives to speak to others.

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, "I heard your call in the nick of time; the day you needed me, I was there to help."  Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.  (2 Corinthians 6:1-10 MSG)

I think we might just all be guilty once in a while of squandering opportunities God puts right in front of us.  Opportunities to meet a need, or just be an example another might just use to catch a glimpse of God's love, his grace, or his hope for a lost world.  God asks us to be purposeful in our walk - not squandering (wasting) the opportunities he provides.  This applies to both our need to be helped (his actions on our behalf) and our need to help others (his actions through us on behalf of another).  If there is one thing we need to hear it is the important truth of TODAY being the RIGHT time to listen - listen to his voice, like listening never counted as much before!  If you have ever been guilty of sitting in a meeting, or perhaps a classroom or group of people, with someone talking and your mind wandering a little too much, you might just have been caught a little off-guard when someone actually "called on you" to interject an answer, give a word of advice, or express your opinion. What you discover quickly is how awkward you feel being "exposed" for NOT listening!

Did you ever stop to think of not listening as something which might actually frustrate God?  I guess we think of God sometimes as this infinitely forgiving guy in heaven just waiting for the next opportunity for grace to be extended. Well, in the most literal sense, he is this infinitely forgiving God in heaven, but he also gets frustrated by our disobedience and even our laziness, especially when he senses we are taking his grace for granted in our lives. The grace given us is to be used to reach others in need of the same grace - something we just cannot do if we aren't paying attention.  The simple fact that God's grace is "validated" in the details of our lives is something we should never lose sight of.  The very details of our lives, the things we say or don't say, the actions we take or don't take - these all add up to either substantiate (confirm) the work of God's presence in our lives or not.  For some whose walk with Jesus has grown a little "cool" of late, many of the actions they take and the words they speak are reflective of this coolness. For those whose walk is fresh and alive, their actions and words corroborate God's activity and ongoing presence in their lives!

If I were to ask you when the last time it was where God asked you to do something and you felt a little awkward about it, so you just moved along as though you didn't hear him, when would that be?  For some of us, it was the homeless woman with a sign in the Walmart parking lot we ignored because she looked clean and her clothes looked in good repair, so we immediately said she must be working a scam.  Perhaps it was the lady with a flat tire on the side of the road, dressed to the nines, and looking like she was rich enough to actually have a membership which offered roadside service.  Or maybe it was the man in the grocery store who mops up the spills, responding with rapid speed to those "clean up on aisle nine" calls, knowing it was all a part of his day's work.  Have you ever stopped to talk with the woman begging in the parking lot to hear what her story might really be?  What about calling your own roadside service to assist the woman with the flat tire?  Or how about just stopping the man who mops the floors to just tell him you appreciate how clean he keeps your local grocer aisles?  I wonder how many opportunities we might have missed to just extend a little of God's grace in the lives of those we see almost every day in our "normal everyday living"?

As the gentleman bagged my groceries yesterday, I noticed he kept his eyes down, consumed with the task of moving from this register to the next, bagging up all those purchases in preparation for some meal, or just because some were stocking up on the big sale.  He lives just down the street from me, rides his bike to work everyday - rain or shine.  In just one moment of noticing him and his hard work, his head went from down to held high.  His tired face turned from concentration into a huge smile.  What made the difference?  I called him by his name and asked how HE was today?  They always ask how I am doing and if I found everything all right - but how many times do we ever stop to ask how THEIR day is going and if they are holding up with all those hours on their feet?  And he has to ride his bike home after it is all over!  I don't think he misses a day at work - he seems to be there almost all the time when I go in.  He has even stopped on occasion when I am out in the yard working asking me how MY day was going.  Something I genuinely think he cares about in the lives of those he meets, not just because it has been ingrained into him by the management of our local grocer chain!

What may make the biggest difference in the lives of those who cross your path today may not be a huge investment of your finances, or a tremendous amount of your time, but simply a smile, a hug, or even noticing how well they have done the task at hand.  There are times God has stopped me from just passing someone by, not because I purposefully ignored them, but because God wanted me to purposefully notice them!  Who is God asking you to purposefully notice today?  Who is he asking for you to reveal him to by the graciousness of your life?  It may be the only view of Jesus someone beholds today!  Just sayin!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Window gazing

If you have ever made a conscious decision to look beyond the surface in someone's life, you know just how conscientious you have to be to not just stop at the "surface stuff" you observe with the eye, but to look deeper.  It is easy to think you might get to know the "real" someone just because you see them act a certain way or say certain things.  Truth is, we aren't really getting to know the "inner struggles" of a man or woman until we get beneath the surface.  For some, the holidays were a tremendous time of reconnecting with family and making new memories.  The homes were filled with laughter and lots of stories which added to the good times.  For others, the holidays were kind of melancholy and lonely.  The memories of yester-year were just not enough to bolster their enthusiasm for the holiday.  Relationships had been lost, hearts were left open and hurting, and things just didn't ring with the same cheer as in years gone by.  Still others seemed to enjoy it, but deep inside, something was missing, leaving a hole not really filled, needs not really met, and moments not fully realized.  Surface-reads only tell us so much, don't they?  Sometimes we just need to stop long enough to really recognize the heartache, reach out to the emptiness, and re-energize the weak.  To do this, we have to look beyond the surface.

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  (2 Corinthians 5:16-20 MSG)

Looking inside gives us a different perspective, doesn't it?  Look out from any window in your home and what might you see?  Other homes, some landscaping, a fence or two, some cars, a bird, a neighbor's cat - infinite possibilities because even what seems "normal and customary" changes on the "outside" doesn't it?  Now, go outside your home and look inside through the same window.  What do you observe from this side?  If you stand back a ways, you might just see a reflection of some of those things you saw when looking out, right?  Get closer and you begin to see rooms, hallways, furnishings, and even maybe a few people.  Why are those people there? Isn't it because someone let them in?  Why are those furnishings arranged as they are?  Isn't it because it meets some need of those who have to make use of them?  Truth is, we don't really know what is on the inside until we begin to get close enough to see more than a reflection of what is on the outside!

Try as I might, I cannot "convince" someone to change the way they are feeling, to fill the emptiness of their lives with something which really makes a difference, etc.  I can set an example, but I cannot do the "convincing".  You don't convince someone TO enter or change, but you do convince them that what awaits them presents a pretty convincing argument that they SHOULD enter or embrace change.  

Too many times we look "inside" past the reflections we see on the outside and what we observe indicates to us someone needs something specific in their lives.  We might even point it out. Like if we were to observe through the window of the house that the couch facing a direction which did not give a view of the TV without craning one's neck in an awkward position.  We might try to convince them to move the couch, or to get rid of the couch and opt for two armchairs instead.  Either way, it is not our part to convince them TO change, but we can show them the possibilities of what change might look like by presenting an example for them to see in the way we "arrange" and "live out" our own lives!

I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I got this wrong in my own life.  I'd be looking INTO someone's life and then go about trying to rearrange their "furnishings" and fill their "space".  Only God really has the right to do this in another's life.  Admit it, we don't like it when someone actually does this to us, so why do we go about doing it in anyone else's life?  Am I the only one who has ever interjected myself INTO someone else's "space" without specifically being "invited in"?   

The purpose of anyone looking "inside" is to really begin to see another for who they are, as life has made them through the series of events and choices they have made over time.  When we look "inside", we might just begin to see Christ at work within - rearranging what needs movement and has become stagnant or stale in their lives.  Me might see him cleaning away years and years of "built up" dirt, giving a sense of freshness and purity.  Maybe we observe him at work making places for others to enter in and to find a place of special purpose where other relationships left gaps or holes never refilled again.  It is his work - we are only observers of his "life change".

I don't have many who I have really "let in" to see me as I am, but those who have done more than really only see a reflection of what is really on the outside have come to recognize it is Christ in me setting things right - convincing me of the need for life change.  Others have been content to see the reflection of what is on the outside, never getting close enough to really look inside.  I am okay with that, as long as they don't judge me by what they see on the surface, because sometimes I can present a pretty picture "out there", but I am pretty much a mess on the inside!  To really get to know each other, we need both vantage points, but most importantly to see each other for what God is doing on the inside!  Just sayin!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Whet Stone and Some Fire - Bring it on!

We have all probably heard the saying, "This is a little bit of heaven..."  What someone is really trying to convey when they use this expression is that at this very moment, the thing they are experiencing or enjoying is giving them just a little glimpse of awesomeness!  It might be because the chocolate is soft, sweet, and just the right little "pick me up" for a late afternoon snack. It could be when a long awaited vacation away from the hubbub of daily life finds you with toes buried deep in warm sand.  Or maybe it is because you are held close in the arms of someone you love very dearly, just enjoying the moment at hand.  A little taste of heaven....indeed.  I wonder how many of us realize how much God wants to whet our appetite for what he has in store for us?  I think he may be constantly giving us "little tastes of heaven" just so we "stay hungry" for more and more of him!

The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.  (2 Corinthians 5:5 MSG)

Did you realize the very first definition for the word "whet" is really a "sharpening process" whereby grinding or friction produces a sharp edge? Does that give you just a little bit of perspective of what it might just mean to have your appetite whet for just a little bit more of God?  We automatically go to the idea of having our senses made a little keener, more aware, or even eager for something God has for us, but when we consider it in light of being "sharpened", we can begin to see how God begins to prepare us for even greater things he has in store.  He uses the present stuff to "sharpen" us - making us ready for the next opportunities he will unveil.

Sharpening is a process - you have to run the object repeatedly over a surface with just enough abrasiveness to present a little friction with each pass of the object.  In enough time, the shape, feel, and even the look of the object passed repeatedly over the abrasive object begins to change, doesn't it?  It is the repetitiveness of the passage which actually begins the work of changing the object being passed.  There are times I think we might just complain a little about seemingly having to "pass this way again".  If we begin to put this "passage" into perspective, it could just be each time we "pass this way again", there is a certain "sharpness" being developed in us which only comes by the friction we are experiencing.

I don't think God wants us to feel like we are under pressure all the time.  In my knife drawer, I have two knives I go to ALL the time.  One is my old standby, good for almost everything knife.  The other is a little nicer knife, so it is goof for carving when I need to cut into a turkey, roast, or the like.  There are probably a good 8-10 other knives in the drawer, each "okay", but not my favorites!  Why?  They don't hold an edge very well.  They get dull quickly.  I have to repeatedly sharpen them using my whet stone.  They require me to sharpen them way too often, and they don't hold their "sharpness" very well.

The two I use the most hold their edge, requiring less and less passage over the rough stone. Yet, they occasionally get a little duller than I'd like them to be - making me work a little harder to slice through meats, dice fresh veggies, etc.  When this occurs, I break out the sharpener and give them one or two swipes.  That little passage against the rough stone is enough to return their edge.  They perform at their best (and I do too) when they are the sharpest! What makes those two knives different?  I think it is the grade of their steel! They are a little more "tempered" than the other knives - so they hold their edge better.

"Tempering" is a process which gives strength - but it comes as heat is applied, followed by a little pounding, shaping, and repeated return to the heat.  There is a strength produced in the work of tempering the metal of the blade and a stability given when the blade is sunk deeply into the handle. The stronger the blade, the nicer the edge.  Maybe God doesn't want to crush us with the repeated opportunities to shape our character, but instead, he wants to give us the ability to "hold a sharp edge" a little longer!

Most would not associate either the tempering or the whetting process as "a little taste of heaven", but when you consider what is produced by both, you might just reconsider!  Just sayin!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Among or In?

I am sometimes guilty of judging a book by its cover - like when I pass a quick judgment on someone or something because I see something on the "surface" which kind of gets my dander up, but really don't understand the reality just beneath the surface.  We never really know what another will bring into our lives until we get beneath the surface - look beneath the "cover". Lest you think you are beyond concealing things beneath a "cover" in your lives, ask yourself this question:  When was the last time I was truthful about the toughest struggle in my life today?  That question can be very telling - for we often don't have anyone with whom we can share these struggles; or we don't really want to be honest about the struggle because it is kind of humbling to admit we struggle in that area of our lives.  In reality, we have no struggles which are not "common" among all men and women - things like fear, anxiety, mistrust, pride, addictions, lust, etc.  We ALL are "earthen vessels" - plain folk with down-to-earth problems and desires.  

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!  (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 MSG)

It should not catch you by surprise that God uses "earthen vessels" to display his greatness.  Plain folks with plain old real life problems putting him on display before a hurting and hungry world.  God doesn't go for the most glamorous, or the most charismatic - he uses us!  As with all truth, we have to believe it to make it worthwhile in our lives.  I can "know about" gravity, but until I fall a few times, I don't really believe it exerts a forceful pull in my life!  You come to appreciate the truth once you realize it has validity - having "validated" it by exposing yourself to its reality.

I had knee surgery when I was 19 and they did a little nerve damage in the process.  For days, I tried to tell the therapists I couldn't make my leg do what they wanted me to do with it.  For days, they ignored me thinking I was just trying to not face the pain.  So, day after day, they'd lift my leg, in the bulky dressing and partial cast, dropping it to the table and having to catch it just before my leg smacked the table with full force.  After about a week of this, they began to unwrap the leg and do some "deeper" investigation.  Do you know what they realized?  I really wasn't kidding!  I couldn't feel portions of my leg!  

What made the difference in their realization of my true problem was not my "confession" of the issue, but the "unwrapping" of the leg.  As soon as they got beyond what they could "see" with their eyes, they could begin to understand what I was trying to tell them.  The same holds true if we are to finally get beneath the "cover" in our lives and the lives of those we have relationship with in this world.  We ALL are "earthen vessels", holding onto some things we would do well to get out in the open, and containing light which needs to be shared with those around us.  

Look just at the "earthen vessel" and you can make pretty inaccurate judgments, huh?  Pour out the contents and you will often see a different side of a person.  Most of us are concerned others won't "like" us if they see the "real" us, so we only allow "surface" looks.  It isn't until we begin to be "poured out" that we can actually see what it is that God has been doing "inside" us all that time.  He contains himself in "ordinary lives" - using "ordinary lives" to touch "ordinary lives".  Here we find the "connection" we so desperately need - one "ordinary" life pouring out into the "ordinary life" of another.

As with my knee, there may be "severed" parts of our lives which really need the skill of one more knowledgeable of the issue, and the time to allow the healing to occur.  This is the value of connecting with another, allowing them beneath the surface, and into the "severed" parts of your life.  There is this opportunity to allow another to share the path to healing.  Most of the progress I made with therapy and the return of this lost function was not because the doctor told me to give it "time" to heal.  It was because I went twice a day right alongside others with different types of injuries and we worked together to get each other back on the mend!

God knows exactly what we need in order to break free of our struggles - and it is often best accomplished when we aren't trying to walk alone!  It took me a while to get off the crutches, but when I graduated to the cane and then to halting independent steps, my companions in therapy cheered me on.  The same was true in their progress - one step forward, two back, but eventually, we made it.  Each supporting the other - each not afraid to encounter the other when one of us was being a sissy!  Some of us need that - someone telling us we are being a little bit of a sissy when it comes to our issues.  We need a "goading" once in a while.  God places "ordinary lives" together to do just that!  

The good news - what Jesus did AMONG us, he does IN us - he lives!  We cannot settle for just having life "among" us, we need it "IN" us.  We don't get life IN until we are willing to go beneath the surface stuff.  A book has to be cracked to be read.  A light needs to be switched on before it illuminates what is hidden.  A buried treasure cannot be found until someone starts to do a little digging.  Just sayin!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Radical Life Change

Radical - of or going to the root or origin of something.  If you haven't really thought about what "radical change" is, you might be a little surprised to find out it is change which goes after the "root" or "origin" of something in order to so totally change what has become "traditional".  If a business wants to "re-invent" themselves because they have been losing customers to some other big name chain with a newer look, what do they do?  They go through some "radical change" to make us believe this is the store we want to be shopping at instead of the other guy's.  J.C. Penney did just that - they changed up the lines they carried, took out a whole bunch of their stock, remodeled the interiors of the stores to be more "hip", and then they lost business!  Most of us who shopped at Penney's did so for a reason - the consistency of finding the lines we liked, which fit us well, at a reasonable price range.  In over a year, I haven't been able to find anything there I could really use - and it used to be the one place I could find all my career wear! What happened?  They thought they had to "change" their "core" in order to draw business back into their store.  In reality, their "core" was pretty good, they probably just needed to make some subtle changes to attract the crowd of shoppers they were aiming at drawing in, but without sacrificing the loyalty of those who looked to them for their "core" purchases.  Sometimes I think we do the same thing when God asks us to begin to change in a particular area. We think he wants some big "revamp" of everything, so we set about to go through a major "redo", all the while forgetting about the "core values" he has already worked out in our lives.  

You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.  (Romans 2:3-4 MSG)

When God goes after the "root" of our lives, it isn't always to "pluck it up"!  In fact, sometimes he just needs to "stimulate" it a little in order to get it on track with growth as it should be.  We cannot sacrifice the "core values" - in other words, we don't throw the baby out with the bath water!  Sure, God wants us to be affected deeply, changing where change is needed, and developing a keener awareness of what it is he desires of us, but he doesn't want us to neglect or forget the values he has already worked into our lives.  I think this is a common issue for many of us - we see there is a new focus and we forget about the "old" in order to pay attention to the "new".  What happens to the old?  It gets neglected.  What happens when something is neglected?  It begins to no longer be the "practiced" behavior.

Some roots need a little "plucking".  It is like when Penney's might realize a particular line of clothing or household goods is no longer selling.  They might want to either consider "restyling" those clothes to stay in fashion, or just drop the line totally.  Sometimes, a simple "restyle" is all that is needed - because the "basics" are there - they just need a little attention.  At other times, the styles have moved on and it is time to retire the line - like polyester jumpsuits!  The basic black dress or skirt will never go out of style, but they may "restyle" it with a different hem line, or perhaps a new cut to the neckline in order to keep it "new".  One gets at the root in order to eliminate the line, while the other simply allows the root to be stimulated to produce a new line.  

Lest we think God is interested in "restyling" our lives, let me explain.  God wants radical life change - plain and simple.  As he makes change in our lives, he doesn't go about plucking up that change and then growing another.  He keeps the changes we have made and then "adds" changes by stimulating us at the "root" of our being (the core) in order to bring about even more growth. We have to be aware of which one of these God is doing - plucking up or stimulating the roots.  When we know clearly he is after the removal of something from the "roots up", then we let go of it.  When we see he is just "digging around those roots" a little, we can be assured what he sees is good at the core, we just need a little help to bring the best growth forth.

Paul is presenting this idea of radical life change - core change.  Core change often requires the expertise we don't possess on our own.  We need God taking us by the hand and "leading" us into this change, otherwise our "best" change may just be a flop (kind of like the changes Penney's made to their stores).  The ideas we have for change aren't "bad", they just aren't God's ideal for our lives - we need his "ideal", not just our "best".  It is heartwarming to me to realize God is leading us through this change.  He doesn't expect us to dig around those roots on our own - nor does he expect us to know which ones need to be totally plucked up.  He takes us by the hand.  This suggest a certain degree of intimacy and caring, doesn't it.  He is going to get "deep into" our core and he wants us to know how much he cares about what it is he is doing.

When we take the hand of another, we are usually doing it because we want to express something in that connection, isn't it?  We don't do it with everyone.  If we just walked up to every stranger in the mall and reached out to take their hand, we'd soon see some pretty radical behavior from them, wouldn't we?  They'd pull back, even scream in surprise.  Why?  We don't have relationship with them and we have no right to hold their hands!  Now, if they were drowning in the lake, they might just crave that connection, but not when they are minding their own business window shopping at the mall!  God doesn't just march right up to us and take us by the hand, telling us he is taking us to the place of change.  First he establishes relationship with us, then he begins to connect with us frequently enough to allow us to develop a trust relationship with him.

Taking the hand of one we trust is much easier, isn't it?  We might just crave these times of "hand leading", because the show how much we are really loved.  You see, when God takes us by the hand, it isn't because he is angry with us, it is because he cares so much for us that he doesn't want to see us continue to embrace stuff in our lives which is doing us harm.  His hand-holding is not just casual - it is purposeful.  He leads, we follow.  He squeezes tight, we know he is at work.  He pulls back, we know it is time to stop.  His touch is our means for radical life change.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Giving it all away

Merry Christmas to all!  Hope this is a blessed day for each of you and your extended families.  As we look at the blessings of Christmas, my hope is that we will consider first the blessing of our Savior's finished work on the cross. It was one gift you couldn't wrap, but it is always available even after the Christmas tree is put away!  God is in the business of taking what is withered and worn, then returning them to places of robust growth IN HIM.  This is the message of Christmas - the changed life made possible only as a result of accepting the gift given in his Son.  As our life is made robust in his goodness, we are commissioned to share this life with others - allowing the many graces we have been freely given to be poured out in service to others. This is the expression of love God desires from us today - the pouring out of our lives, without strings attached, for those in need right there around us today.

Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!  The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble.  The Lord protects them and keeps them alive.  He gives them prosperity in the land and rescues them from their enemies. The Lord nurses them when they are sick and restores them to health.  (Psalm 41:1-3 NLT)

When most of us think about the "poor", we usually associate with an image of a man or woman on the street corner, cardboard sign in hand, rolled up sleeping bag at their feet.  Their immediate request is for a few dollars - their most telling need is for a changed life so they no longer have to be beggars on the corner.  To be truthful, all of us approach God as "poor" beggars.  We may not come complete with the cardboard sign and bedroll, but we definitely have no means of supplying our own needs!  I think this may be why God points us to reach out the poor - so we connect his actions of grace and love as a means of providing the "pathway" to change in our lives.  

The poor are really anyone lacking something specific in their lives.  The beggar on the street corner isn't there looking for a new car, or a pair of sunglasses.  He is looking for his next meal, a little money to buy some used clothes at a local thrift store, or a something as simple as a roll of toilet paper.  The "beggar" in your front room may really be someone lacking something VERY specific in their lives - the joy of Christmas!  The joy of Christmas is found in only one thing - the person of Christ!  Maybe this is why we refer to his "gift" as the greatest gift of all.

Look at what God says about us giving the "gift" which really matters - the gift of meeting the needs of the 'poor' all around us.  Now, I am not saying we just begin to take notice of the needs around us because there is some "return" on our investment we can count on, but isn't it good to know that God looks favorably on us anytime we do what it is he has called us to do in the first place?  First of all, he rescues them when they are in trouble.  Do you see the connection between your "rescue" of the one who is lacking in something he specifically needs in his life and the "rescue" you might just need down the road in your own?  As we reach out to touch others, God is attentive to reach into those areas of our own lives where we need his specific help, as well.

Second, there is a sense of "prosperity" which is only best understood when you give what you have away.  It is kind of counter-intuitive, isn't it?  Giving what you have away almost implies being without something when you do, but in actuality, what you give away is returned to you in ways you might not ever imagine possible.  We cannot give away what we don't have, just like we cannot hold onto what we have been freely given!  In the receiving comes the idea of also giving away what has blessed us beyond measure.

Third, there is protection against our enemies.  Who would ever think reaching out to the poor (those with specific need) would come back to us in the form of protection against our enemies?  Yet, this is one of the rewards of learning to give away grace in unmeasured amounts.  Grace can turn an enemy away quicker than any form of rebuttal or retaliation.  Extend a little grace where it has not been deserved and see how much it sends your enemy into a tailspin!

Last, in giving away what brings "health" into the souls and spirits of those with "specific" needs, we find we enjoy the rewards of "health" ourselves.  I have often found when I am meeting the "specific" needs of another, God reaches into my life to touch something deep within me that needed his touch.  It is like in giving "health" to another, he gives "health" to me!  We have the means to turn the tides for many people in our path today - what we choose to do with what we have been given is truly what will measure the blessing of this day!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Deliverance

In the midst of some of the toughest places we could be in, there are moments when we just need to stop to take time to refocus.  In this moment of refocus, we are really re-centering our eyes of Jesus - his greatness, his graciousness, and his gentleness.  In the midst of chaos and terror, he becomes our settling peace.  In the moments of uncertainty and wavering, he becomes our strong foundation.  In the mountains of hardship and despair, he becomes our strong deliverer.  Some of us need to refocus more than we recognize.  On the surface, we might appear calm, cool and collected.  On the inside, we are falling apart, failing to pass the tests, and frantically trying to avoid the mess we are in.  As we face these tough places in life, we aren't alone.  Not only does the guy or gal next to you feel the pressures of life, but so do you - if you were honest enough to admit it.  

But let me run loose and free, celebrating God’s great work, every bone in my body laughing, singing, “Godthere’s no one like you.  You put the down-and-out on their feet and protect the unprotected from bullies!” (Psalm 35:9-10 MSG)

David always has been my favorite Old Testament writer because of how honest he was in his psalms. He wasn't afraid to admit his struggles and he was quick to look to the one he knew could deliver him from those struggles - but he didn't learn this overnight.  His lessons came in times of testing - some embraced well, others requiring grace because he failed miserably - yet he always (and I mean always) came back to the place of trusting God.

David has many recorded adventures of being in tough places, surrounded by insurmountable odds, and just not in a good place emotionally.  When the struggles of life come in against us, we have the same response (or similar) - we get a little withdrawn, thinking a little bit too much about the "bad" stuff which is haunting us, and just bordering on the edge of being a little "whiny" about it.  Don't get me wrong - I don't think these emotions catch God off-guard one bit.  He created these emotions, so he knows we will "use" them on occasion!  His hope is that we will bring those emotions to him and allow him to set us in right order again.  When we don't, we oftentimes just bemoan our circumstances and get deeper into the mully-grubs.  Not a good place to be!

As David pens these words, they are sandwiched between a whole lot of other words describing just how much pressure he is under.  The pressure is from without, but it is beginning to affect him on the inside, too.  This is often the case with us - the stuff begins on the outside - exerting pressure of one sort or another.  This pressure has a way of "bullying" us until we either succumb to it, or we get lifted above it.  The time between being "bullied" by the pressures outside of us and the moment we begin to rise above it is what gives us the biggest hassle!  

God wants us to get honest with him about he pressure we are facing - while it is on the outside!  He doesn't want us to internalize that pressure and begin to wallow in our self-pity, fret over our inadequacies, or ridiculously believe we could ever get ourselves out from under the pressures on our own. In fact, he wants us to be open to allowing him to sort out the pressures in his way.  Some of it he may take away, because it only serves the purpose of tearing us apart.  Other pressure, he may actually use as a means of driving us closer to him - causing us to reach a little harder, study a little deeper, until we are changed by the pressure (much like a diamond emerges from the coal).  

As with David, God's hope is for us to admit to the struggle, turning our eyes fully toward him as the hope of our deliverance and the means of our salvation.  Isn't that the real Christmas story anyway?  God coming to earth to provide a means of deliverance and salvation to a world pressured from without and struggling with those pressures within?  As with David, God's hope is that we will realize his intent is to set us on our feet, squarely planted, no wavering to be found in us.  Crying out is the first step to deliverance - it begins the work of salvation in our lives.  I don't know about you, but when I finally get honest enough with myself about my need to be honest with God, I find the pressures within beginning to drain away.  It is the outcome of releasing things which we don't need to carry around any longer to the one capable of dealing with them better than we could ever hope to on our own.

My prayer for you this Christmas - deliverance.  Deliverance from all which burdens your soul and keeps your spirit weighed down.  Deliverance from the pressures within which only tear you apart day after day.  Deliverance from the pull toward that which only promises more misery in your life.  The means to this deliverance - cry out!  God stands ready - you just have to welcome him to do his work in your life.  Just sayin!

Monday, December 23, 2013

A new lamp

Have you ever had one of those moments when you know something and no one else in the group does?  You are almost chatting at the bit to get an opportunity to share it with someone, or perhaps you have been sworn to secrecy and cannot.  Either way, it is almost impossible to contain yourself. The information you possess is almost too big to be contained.  I think this is the way it is with what God gives us - it is almost too big for us to contain it! It leaves us feeling like we'd have to share it or we'd burst.  I like the analogy of heading off to the market one day in search of a new oil burning lamp for the homestead.  You have the anticipation of the journey - for you have a mission in mind.  You have the moment of exploration - for there are many lamps from which to choose.  You have the moment of choice - for just the right one has been selected.  You have the moment of expectation - for you can imagine the light it will bring to your home.  Then at last, you have the joy of experience - for the light shed illuminates like nothing else.  So it is in discovery of the truths God has for our lives.  His question is sincere - if we have such an experience in seeking, obtaining, and experiencing this light, why would we ever tuck it away for no one else to experience?

Jesus went on: “Does anyone bring a lamp home and put it under a washtub or beneath the bed? Don’t you put it up on a table or on the mantel? We’re not keeping secrets, we’re telling them; we’re not hiding things, we’re bringing them out into the open. “Are you listening to this? Really listening? “Listen carefully to what I am saying—and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.” (Mark 4:21-25 MSG)

Looking at this analogy of obtaining the lamp, let's break it down a little more:

- You have the anticipation of the journey - for you have a mission in mind. Anticipation is best understood as a type of "foretaste".  There is some kind of hope which actually sets things in motion in your lives.  We often don't know what it is we will discover as we spend time with Jesus, but we know from previous "tastes" of time in his presence, it is a good thing.  What you may not realize is that the word "anticipation" is a noun of ACTION.  To anticipate something doesn't mean we wait in inactivity for whatever it is we hope to received from our time with God - it means we enter into his presence with ACTION (not activity).  There is a purpose - an intent - and it moves us.

- You have the moment of exploration - for there are many lamps from which to choose.  This is a moment of examination - for some things worth having require a little determined examination to uncover.  I have learned this as I have been exposed to a few antique shops in my recent travels.  Not all shops put the "good finds" right out there in the open.  You almost always have to dig through shelf after shelf, box after box, or hidden crannies to find it.  I think God may give us these times of examining what he has for us because he wants to us to come to a place of determined commitment to "find".  

-  You have the moment of choice - for just the right one has been selected. The anticipation and exploration should lead us into a point of choice.  Once we are intent in our search and purposeful in our exploration, we are at the point of often having to choose the truth we will hold onto.  We are faced with many choices of "truth" in our lives - only one choice holds up to the test of time - the truth of God's word.  Choosing involves consideration of the alternatives.  God gives us each free will - the ability to choose.  Whenever we are faced with choices, we consider the alternatives.  Using our illustration of the lamp, we can choose one which is square and squat, or one which is tall and slender.  One might fit the space better - while the other might just provide more light in the room.  The choice is ours - choosing the one which "fits" our needs the best is oftentimes aided by the "nudges" of the one presenting us the options.  God presents the options - we make the choice.

-  You have the moment of expectation - for you can imagine the light it will bring to your home.  As you begin to embrace truth, it begins to build an anticipated excitement within which we sometimes refer to as expectation. It is just a few days before Christmas and my grandsons have already been under my tree with a flashlight exploring the colorfully wrapped parcels in hopes of finding how many have their names on them.  At about two weeks before Christmas, my youngest came over to me and asked, "Grandma, did Santa come to your house?"  What I think he was really after was if Santa already hit my house, then he missed theirs - and that would be sorely disappointing for a five year old boy!  I assured him his tree would soon be filled with all assortments of colorfully and expertly wrapped parcels, as well - Santa had not come to Grandma and GG's house.  We had just done a little shopping on our own.  He seemed happy with this explanation and hopeful of the promise of Christmas morning around his own tree.  Anticipation builds around Christmas for the wee ones, doesn't it?  Truth be told, it kind of does for us "older" ones, as well!  As parcels will be unwrapped, realization of what you hoped for becomes real - the gift becomes yours.  My grandsons have come to look forward to good gifts under Grandma's tree.  Yep, there will be the "obligatory" socks and underwear, but they also know they will receive some special treats like their favorite toys, a shopping trip at Home Depot, and other items they much anticipate.  It is good to know our heavenly Father is overjoyed with us anticipating his good gifts in just this same way - with eager anticipation and excited expectation.

-  You have the joy of experience - for the light shed illuminates like nothing else.  It all culminates in experience, doesn't it.  When the light finally fills the room, darkness is dispelled.  When darkness no longer taunts us, we are free to move like never before.  My mom is legally blind - she knows what it is like to experience darkness in a different sense.  One of her most frequent requests is for more light to dispel just a little of that darkness she sees.  As much as possible, we try to keep the home light-filled and hazard-free.  It is more than for her safety - it is for her enjoyment.  God's hope for us is that we will come into both a place of being "light-filled" and living "hazard free", as a result.  Just sayin!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Not another plate of brussel sprouts!

Hate is a strong word, is it not?  Many parents actually try to get their kids to not use this word, but choose to say something like "I dislike brussel sprouts" instead of "I hate brussel sprouts".  Why?  Perhaps it is the intensity of the word - hate.  It carries the idea of some extreme aversion - almost a totally passionate dislike or repulsion for that which is being described.  In the English language, we have a lot of synonyms for the word hate: loathe, despise, abhor, and even detest.  To the child who doesn't want to eat his brussel sprouts, he is probably just trying to convey the idea of the taste being a little too bitter and displeasing to his palate.  When that pungent odor of brussel sprouts gets into his tiny nose, he just cringes because it doesn't smell so very sweet or as familiar as his macaroni and cheese favorite!  When God uses the word hate, he doesn't just imply a "dislike" for something - he is indicating a much stronger sense of repulsion, almost to the point of the object of such repulsion being rejected.  Whenever he tells us he hates something - it is as a warning to stay away from it because it has a harmful effect on us.  When he warns us against having such a strong repulsion to the things we NEED in our lives, it is a chance to sit up and take notice before it is too late!

For people who hate discipline and only get more stubborn, there’ll come a day when life tumbles in and they break, but by then it’ll be too late to help them. (Proverbs 29:1 MSG)

People who "HATE" discipline are actually those who turn away from it as though it were something repulsive - they reject it.  To reject something which is to our benefit is foolishness, yet how often do we approach the discipline of God's hand in this manner?  Perhaps too often!  The outcome of rejecting God's discipline as repulsive and not beneficial to our lives is to embrace even greater stubbornness - the very thing which gets us into trouble in the first place!  Now, how silly is that?  The child rejecting those brussel sprouts has no idea they provide him with 125% of his nutritional need for vitamin C in just one serving, or give him some elemental iron, or even a pretty sizable portion of vitamin A.  He only sees the green substance as "repulsive" and "smelly", so he rejects it.  Why?  He has no idea of how much BENEFIT the tiny round spheres will provide.  I think we might just approach God's discipline this way - not really recognizing the tremendous "hidden" benefit in it!

Discipline is one of those words we'd like to eliminate from out vocabulary almost as much as the child would want those brussel sprouts to magically disappear from his plate!  I think every child would be happier if the world had as many "brussel sprout eating fairies" as it does "tooth fairies" - swooping in unnoticed, cleaning the plate free of those tiny round repulsive substances, and then leaving a quarter in their place!  I almost think every child of God would be happier if there was some "discipline fairy" who'd swoop in and do the stuff they don't wanna do, leaving them with some special "gift" when it was all over - making life painless.  The rub...painless also means purposeless.  There was no true benefit from the "pain-free" discipline avoidance.  There might have been an immediate benefit of avoidance, but in the long run, whatever we avoid today will come back sometime in the future.

The concern with rejecting discipline is not that there won't be another opportunity.  The child who doesn't eat those brussel sprouts tonight may very well see them on their plate tomorrow!  The first concern we might have is that the thing we reject will be showing up over and over again until we actually deal with it!  God's ultimate concern is that we will become so hardened in our rebellion that we won't accept his discipline and our lives will just crumble in around us as a result.  Since God is respectful of our own free will, he will not impose upon us, strong-arming us into whatever he is after in our lives.  He gives us the time and space to either come to the place of accepting what we have been rejecting, or getting downright SET in our rejection of what he knows will help us.  God's grace may be new every morning, but there comes a time when we have rejected it so frequently that we just don't see it anymore.

So, what do we do to keep ourselves from rejecting God's discipline and becoming so rebellious that our eyes are turned away from the goodness God wants for our lives?  I think it comes first in taking periodic "pulse checks" to see how we are responding to the opportunities for discipline in our lives.  If we begin to think about it, we will see times when God was speaking to us and we just ignored it, or maybe only took it half-heartedly.  It may be a special message we read which pricked our hearts, or a sermon which prompted a few "amens" from the soul, but was quickly forgotten when on the way to the local restaurant after church.  It could be the last time you met up with a good friend and they just listened to you go on and on for a while, then made just a slight observation about how much differently you could have handled the situation you were rambling on about.  Or perhaps it was the last time you just got silent long enough to actually hear how empty your heart really is and how so very much God wants to fill it with the good stuff of his provision. 

It doesn't matter how often we do these "pulse checks" - it matters how well we respond to them.  When we get serious about what God is serious about, we find ourselves learning the "benefit" of the discipline!  Just sayin!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Need a new roof?

If you have ever hired a workman to come into your home or yard to fix up something, remodel, or landscape, you probably had some idea of what you wanted the finished project to resemble.  You had a plan and you asked the workman to follow the plan.  Even when I had new shingles put on the roof a few years back, I expected it to look a certain way when it was finished and it was expected to perform without leaking, holding up to the tough summer winds in Arizona, and providing my home with protection from the hot sun. I had windows replaced on this old home during the summer (don't ask me why I chose the hottest day of the year to do it).  I had seen the "demo" version of the windows, and could only imagine how they would appear once they were installed.  Since all of them were custom sizes (don't ask me why home builders do that to us unsuspecting buyers), they had to be carefully fitted to each opening.  Some fit like a jewel, others required a little "nudging" to get into place.  Yet, when it was finished, it looked wonderful!  I even caught my neighbor early one morning looking over the fence to consider the work which was done.  What was in common with both rather large projects was the reality that I could have done them both myself - but I chose to allow another to do the work.  Why?  They were the experts - I was the novice.  I could have taken a stab at it, but even my best would not have turned out as wonderfully as their work did!  So, why is it we try to assume the role of "fixing up" our lives as "novices" and don't rely upon the skilled "workman" to actually do the work we can only imagine?

The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest.  It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”  (Romans 10:8-10 MSG)

First and foremost, we have to know who to call when we really are serious about getting things in order in our lives.  It isn't some self-help guru - it is God himself.  No better person to go to for the "how to" on getting things in order than the one who made the original in the first place!  More importantly, we have to recognize there is a need to actually admit we need the help!  We almost don't want to admit we could use a little help with this "fixer-upper" project of our lives.  We try to put together the scattered pieces, all the while thinking we are doing a great job, but anything less than the "expert" actually figuring out what pieces need a little "nudging" into place and which ones need to be no longer attached to us, we just make the appearance change, but we cannot necessarily "guarantee" the work!

Nothing tickles God more than to hear us admit we need his help to set things right in our lives.  It isn't that he just sits around waiting on us to realize we cannot make it on our own - he is at work even behind the scenes.  It is that he cannot "take over" what we aren't willing to let go of.  It would be like the skilled workmen waiting for me to pull the shingles off the roof one-by-one. They might be patient with me, but at some point, when I am tired out and aching from the exertion of doing this on my own, they will step in with their neat scraper things and lift those old shingles in no time.  We might actually be amazed at how quickly the right tools actually accomplish the task at hand. I don't know about you, but if there is a way to accomplish the task without all the "ache" and "bungs" of trying to do it all on my own, I'd choose that route any day!

Now, a word of caution - lest you think all you do is call out and then all will be "fixed" without a care in the world from you.  God "partners" with his kids in the finished work of salvation in our lives.  Salvation is the means by which we are made "new" again - sanctification is the process in which we play a part.  It is kind of like when the guys left after installing the windows - there was some cleaning to be done and some touch-up painting required.  They ensured the windows were installed, air-tight and shined up the glass.  The dust left in the house and the tiny pieces of debris - that stayed around after they were gone.  This was my part in the work of getting new windows. Furnishings which had been moved had to be put back into place.  Window dressings had to be rehung. The windows were PERFECT, but there was some "putting into order" the rest of the house which needed to be done.  This is kind of like the process of sanctification in our lives.  We get the bright, shiny new windows, but the little areas of "clean up" which might just be required involve us participating in the process.  It isn't us working for our salvation - it is us working out our salvation.

After the roof was replaced, I would drive up to the house for the next couple of weeks and just admire how good it made the house look to have this fresh shingle in place.  All the torn shingle, weathered after years and years of tough Arizona heat and wind, was gone.  The shingles seemed to be a little "loose" to me, though.  It didn't seem as though the "edges" were sealed together well.  As the weeks began to pass, I observed something every roofer already knows - the heat "formed" those shingles to each other, giving a lasting seal and an impermeable barrier against the elements.  It is often this way in our lives, as well.  We get the "new roof" - all the right stuff is in place - but in the course of living out life, the permanence of the change begins to occur.  The "loosely fit" pieces begin to come together in a way which gives us an impermeable barrier against those things which come against us.  It wasn't until I received my first utility bill after the new windows that I realized the change they would make.  It wasn't until I stood next to them on a hot summer day and felt absolutely no heat exchange that I recognized their extreme value.  

Sometimes this is what God's changes in our lives are like.  It isn't until we see those changes a little later on that we come to fully recognize the magnificence of what he has done within.  Just sayin!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Got some rotting fruit?

Quite some time ago, as I was considering a big move with my career, I faced the fear of not being ready for the next step, but also the overwhelming excitement about the possibilities that come with change.  I was a fairly new nurse at the time, not really sure of myself on so many accounts.  To take a huge step toward a position of leadership was almost one of the scariest things I did.  That day, a good friend gave me some advice which has stuck with me on so very many future decisions.  I'd like to share that advice with you today. She said, "Green is growing, ripe is rotting."  Now, at first, this may not seem like a very "profound" truth, but I have often thought on this, mulling over decisions I have made throughout my career, in my home, with my family, and in all kinds of relationships using this simple "rule of thumb". Keep yourself in a place of being just a little greener than you may like and you won't risk the potential of losing contact with that which will continue to produce life within!  I live in a region where citrus grows better than most other fruit.  That green orange is on the tree a long, long time before it ever sets its color to resemble an orange.  All through that long season of growth, the orange is actually quite green.  It isn't that it isn't growing, it is just not "ripening".  As soon as it begins to turn its full color, it actually is beginning to "separate" from that which has been giving it the potential for growth - the branch.

It’s certainly possible to say, “Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!” Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you’re on the tree is because your graft “took” when you believed, and because you’re connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don’t get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green.  (Romans 11:19-20 MSG)

The orange tree has the ability to produce life in the form of fruit over and over again, not because of its branches, but because of its root.  Some of us view fruit as the "end all" - but hear the wisdom of my friend - fruit eventually rots if it is your main focus!  The process of seeing fruit grow is a good thing, but just admiring the fruit is not the purpose of the fruit - it is used to further other growth.  It isn't until the fruit is actually plucked and eaten that it serves its purpose.  Staying on the branch will eventually stunt the growth of any other fruit just beckoning to get out!  The fruit God brings in our lives is a matter of growth - sometimes deeper down than we might see on the surface. The growth isn't the end result - it is the use of that growth - putting it into practical use - that is the purpose of the fruit.  

Notice what my friend said, "Green is growing."  Green signifies a connection with that which produces growth.  "Ripe is rotting."  Ripe fruit actually begins the process of "separation" - for it is only in separating from the tree that the orange serves to bring its juices and richness of healing power into the lives of the one who will partake of it.  Because I live in this citrus region, I also see a whole lot of citrus just laying around on the ground - rotting.  You see, it hung around on the tree way too long, eventually falling to the ground. What is the shame is that it stayed on the tree so long - eventually beginning the process of "rotting" right where it hung.  Some of us are guilty of allowing the fruit which is born in our lives to just "hang around", almost content just to note we have fruit, but not really recognizing the potential that fruit has if it is actually put to into use in our own lives and those we touch.  

Green is growing - maybe not outwardly showing the evidence of fruit at first, but the place where fruit was once attached becomes the place where the next fruit has the potential of growing from, as well.  So, "spent" fruit - that which actually gets put into use in our lives - is really making more room for new growth to begin.  As the new growth begins to bud in the place of connection, it doesn't seem like much at first.  It is small, hard, and kind of bitter at first.  Most new growth is just like the tiny "citrus" on the tree - small at first, even bitter to the taste.  But...as long as the connection to the tree's life-giving root continues, the potential for the bitterness to develop the sweet juices of mature growth is there.  

The tiny green citrus is pretty well-attached to the tree at first.  Try to pluck it from its connection and you will have to tug pretty hard to get it loose.  Why? It knows it must maintain that connection in order to realize its growth.  As the fruit begins to "set" on the tree, the "connection" is not as "tight".  Sure, it is connected, but it easier for the fruit to begin to be plucked from the tree, so it might be given in service to the needs of those for which the fruit was produced in the first place!  The tree doesn't suffer from the fruit being plucked when it is ripe - it actually begins to "ramp up" to bring forth new fruit in its place!

We might not think much about the fruit God produces in our lives, but when we begin to recognize it is not just so we can have it on "display" in our lives, but so it can begin to "serve" the needs of others, we don't hesitate to put our fruit to use!  Anything not put to use is just going to rot!  Just sayin!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A tender green shoot

This time of year, we often go back to the portions of scripture proclaiming the arrival of the Son of God - Jesus.  We read the story of his birth, the journey of the magi, and even some of the various prophesies of his promised coming.  In most churches, we focus on the nativity scene kind of stories, but not so much the purpose of his coming kind of stories.  Today, I'd like us to consider the attributes of the Messiah - his most significant "traits" which made him the perfect sacrifice for our salvation.  Our beginning spot is how he is described as a "green shoot".  If you have ever seen a plant withered beyond what you thought could ever return any signs of life again, you will get a picture of how scripture describes the circumstances of his birth.  His "beginning" was from a "shoot" so dried up, so destitute of any signs of life that most would say there was no hope for "life" to ever be part of it again. The place from which he "sprung" - Israel.  The issues with Israel have been pretty well documented in the Old Testament.  They have embraced the cultures of the land, taken on the forms of worship which God told them to avoid like the plague, intermarried with those of unlike beliefs and dissimilar values, sold into slavery and passed around to the most powerful armies of the days to be in nothing more than indentured slavery.  Kind of a little like their beginning as a nation, huh?  Egypt had been their beginning - indentured slavery to the strongest ruler of the time.  The Roman Empire had become their present identity as Jesus is about to arrive - indentured once again to the strongest ruler of the region.  Pretty "dry" and "withered" roots, indeed.

A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.  Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.  He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.  He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.  His words will bring everyone to awed attention.  A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.  Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land. (Isaiah 11:1-5 MSG)


A green shoot is the promise of new life, is it not?  When we first see the tender green signs of life, we begin to celebrate the potential of new possibilities.  This is probably the most overlooked promise of the stories we tell of his birth during this season - the potential of new possibilities!  Not only was he described as a budding shoot, but with deep enough roots for a branch to be produced.  The shoot gives indication of the root, and the root describes the potential of the future growth to come.  As is so often the case, we look only at what we can immediately see on the surface, forgetting all too easily that nothing on the surface is without some kind of "root" underneath. Whether it is in our own lives, or the life of another, all signs of "surface growth" indicate some type of "root growth" underneath.  The possibilities are endless when the roots are solidly planted.  The branches produced can be strong and capable of much fruit production.  It is the root which determines the strength of the tree, not the branches themselves!  So it is as we consider Christ's arrival.  

Now, no "green shoot" is ever going to do well without some tending, right? The possibilities proclaimed by the first signs of new life are nothing until there is some nurturing of the growth.  I imagine Mary and Joseph felt a little in awe of the new life before them - wiggling fingers, tender toes, gazing eyes, and gurgling little mouth.  A babe - yet with so much more potential than they may have thought about at that very moment of his birth.  In those seasons of his growth from infantile innocence into the strength of manhood, there "hovered" an ever-vigilant "Spirit".  The potential within was being nurtured by the Spirit of God, bringing wisdom and understanding, direction and strength, readiness for the potential to spring into full provision.  Even in Jesus' birth and subsequent growth as a child, we see the evidence of how God works with his children - not as a strong-armed disciplinarian, but as a nurturing presence.  

As with all signs of new growth, there is a new joy which his arrival seems to produce.  After a cold, long winter with barrenness abounding, isn't the first sign of new growth the neatest kind of assurance that the season of barrenness has not become a permanent way of living?  I imagine this is the case for a good many of us when we first enter into relationship with Christ - there is just a tremendous amount of joy which wells up within because although there has been such barrenness, signs of new growth are beginning to show through.  Where there is hope of change, joy is produced.  I wonder if Mary and Joseph knew of the joy this tiny life would produce in the lives of hungry, downcast souls?

Some of the most "under-taught" parts of the "Christmas story" are the attributes of this Savior born a man.  The tiny green shoot promised a way of life unlike any other before known.  As Jesus would grow up, I wonder how many times Mary and Joseph sat back and marveled at the ways he dealt with his friends in their play and work.  When Jesus would reach out to include the outcast child - the one with poor upbringing, simple ways, or withered limbs - were they meditating on his actions and remembering what had been spoken all those years before about their son?  You see, the promise was that he would not judge by outward appearances, but would focus on the inner needs of a person.  He wouldn't allow the taunting words of those who would speak maliciously behind another's back to be the way he formed opinions of others. He wouldn't see the needy as down on their luck, but would reach out to give them what they were desperate to receive.  

As Jesus sat around the dinner table with his siblings and parents, I wonder how many times his words caught them by surprise, almost more because of their caring and compassion than because of their depth or spirituality.  Jesus didn't need to impress - he just spoke what was in his heart and that left an impression all its own.  As he labored in the garden with his mother, or tinkered in the workshop with is father, I wonder how his hands caressed the tender vegetables and the freshly sawed wood.  I cannot help but imagine that the fingers of the Creator of all things even stroked new life into those tender shoots and planks - much like he does as his fingers gently stroke the hurting areas of our lives.  He wasn't afraid to pull on his work clothes, roll up his sleeves and get to work - nothing hindered him from being about his heavenly Father's business anymore than things hindered him from being about his earthly family's business. 

Maybe we can discover a little more about this Savior as we consider his arrival on this earth during this holiday season.  There are many promises of his birth - many discoveries yet to be uncovered by your watchful eyes and open hearts.  What you discover may be the beginning of a new shoot within you!  Just sayin!