Thursday, January 31, 2013

Opposing Strength - You Got It?

Pressure:  The exertion of force upon a surface by something in contact with it.  

I had never really stopped to consider this definition, but I saw something this morning which I really did not realize.  Look at the definition again - pressure is the exertion of a "force" upon nothing more than the "surface".  When we use the term, "I am under a lot of pressure right now", we are simply saying, "There are a whole lot of EXTERNAL influences in CONTACT with my life right now".  Something, or someone, comes into CONTACT with our lives - but they are not "invading" our inner life - their contact is on the surface!   This may not earth-shattering to some, but I think if we really begin to latch onto this, we may just see how much control we have over what actually can affect us on the "inside".

If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small.  (Proverbs 24:10 NLT)

First of all, what we allow into "contact" with our lives will exert some kind of force.  Even air exerts some kind of "force" upon that which it surrounds!  So, we cannot escape the fact that things bring "pressure" of some kind - we just don't escape pressure!  Try as we might, there is no way to live "pressure-free".  The important thing to keep in focus is not that we will experience pressure, but how this "force" will impact that which it comes into contact with.

Second, the "force" something exerts is only on the surface - making what we have on the interior most important.  If the right stuff is on the inside, the surface may take a little beating, but the force will not be able to breakdown the stuff on the inside.  The "force" may put something "under pressure" beyond what the surface normally withstands, but if the interior is filled with the right stuff, the "resistance" to the pressure is great.

Third, we sometimes see pressure bringing out the best.  A candy with an outer candy coating like an M&M is designed for the pressure on the outside to breakdown the surface - allowing what is on the inside to be enjoyed.  The candy coating is colorful, it makes it easier to keep our hands clean while enjoying a chocolate delight, and it makes the chocolate a little more portable.  The surface has a purpose, but it is not to "resist" force!  In the same way, we might find pressure exposing the best in us - simply because the best stuff is really exposed by the force.  If the right stuff is on the inside, even force won't be able to change that!

Going back to our passage, Solomon aptly reminds us that our "strength" is revealed under pressure.  Remember that strength is not just the ability to resist something on the surface, but to expose what is on the inside - it becomes evident that what God plans for us to reveal is his strength, not our own.  Whenever we think external forces have to be dealt with in our own strength, we are facing "pressure" with a resistance which in incapable of enduring the force.  

A "force" is any strength, power, or energy which is exerted upon the surface of something.  I can "force" you to sit down, but if your spirit is really seeing yourself as standing up, have you really been seated?  Not really - you have just given into the force, but everything in you remains rigidly resistive to the "force".  Resistance is really application of an opposite strength.  When life comes at us, demanding us to "sit down", God's strength gives us the strength to oppose the demand.  The force exerted met an opposite strength it could not match!

I wonder how much we might view pressure differently if we saw it as a means of exposing the opposite strength?  Not the opposite strength we can muster from our own reasoning or tactical expertise, but the inner strength of being in the hands of God.  When the opposite strength meets the external force, the source of the strength becomes evident.  If it is our own "mustered" strength, it will soon yield to the force!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Radical Root Excavation

I like the straight-forward way Paul teaches.  In his letter to the Roman church, he really gets down-and-dirty with the believers, dealing with their misunderstanding of God's grace.  As he opens the letter, he lays out the plain truth - you cannot somehow deny God exists just by giving another explanation for how things came to be.  In fact, he points out the silliness of trying to make God anything less than God.  In response to mankind refusing to acknowledge God, Paul tells us God sets man free to follow their own devices.  Oh, what a dangerous place to be!  Mankind usually messes things up pretty well when they are left to their own ways of doing things.  Then, he turns our attention to the idea of comparing ourselves with others.  When he opens the second chapter, he tells us we cannot have the warped thinking that we are "better" than another just because we don't do some of the things they do.  The telling words, "Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself," is simply the old adage, "It takes one to know one".  If we really begin to pay attention to what he says in this second chapter, we might just have our eyes opened a little to some behavior on our part which really only serves to deny our need for a Savior.

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)

As he opens this chapter, he reminds us:  Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done. (vs. 2 MSG)  When we want to "escape detection" for our own wrong-doing, don't we try to turn the attention to another's short-comings?  It is an age-old "trick" to attempt to avoid discovery on our part.  The truth - God is not "tricked" by our "diversionary" actions!  Smoke screens don't limit his ability to see - they just make us feel better because we think we have things concealed!

Why do we "point fingers" or "come down hard" on the behavior of others which we see in ourselves?  Probably one of the most common reasons is it takes the attention away from us, but I also think it is because we really know the behavior we see in them doesn't "belong" in either of us!  Paul's purpose in writing to the Roman church is to point them toward the grace of God - taking the focus off of what we do or don't do, turning it squarely on what God does when we give him free access to our hearts, minds, and spirits.  The truth is, we can go about "covering up" by all kinds of means, but nothing will "deal" with the problem like grace.

The point I want to focus on this morning is the final words of the passage above:  In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.  Let's break this down a little:

* It is God's kindness which motivates him to act on our behalf.  His compassion moves his heart.  There is nothing "good" in us which plays upon his heart -- he is moved because he knows the condition of our heart without him!

* He has to take us firmly by the hand.  Now, if you have ever had children just chatting at the bit to go one way when you wanted them to go the opposite direction, you probably have a pretty good handle on what this means.  You have to be quite firm with them, don't you?  As a parent, you don't get down on your knees and beg the child to go the direction you want them to go.  You take them by the hand and you "usher" them, don't you?  You "lead" them - not by pushing, but by being "directive" in your touch.  Most of us need a "firm grip" to get us moving in the right direction, don't we?  We'd be content to just muddle in our mess a little longer, but God knows when it is time to move out of the mire and into the freshness of his care.  We often need a little "firm" directive in order to get us going - but it is his touch, so it will not hurt us!

* He is the one doing the leading.  Ever try to dance with someone and not understand the principle of what it means to lead?  I am not a stellar dancer, but I understand the idea of being with someone who can "lead" in the dance.  There is a fluidity which is produced when one leads and the other follows.  Even the fastest, most complex dance becomes a thing of beauty when there is one leading and the other gracefully following!

* His leading is designed to bring about change.  This is the sticking point for most of us.  We declare we want change, but when it comes down the the "radical" action of change, we often resist a little.  Paul nails it - change is not worth anything unless it is "radical".  When a surgeon cuts out a cancerous growth, he takes it back to "healthy" margins.  Why?  If he leaves some of the cancerous tissue, it will regrow.  To some, the amount of tissue removed seems like it is too "radical", but it is this very "radical" cutting which ensures our best chance of survival.  So it is with God's work in our lives - it is radical. We want change, we just don't want it to be "radical".  In the simplest terms, radical simply implies God goes for the root!  Why?  Fruit comes from the root.  We cannot change what our life "yields" without getting at the root!

We cannot mask our sin by criticizing another's sin.  We cannot paint a rosy picture of ourselves by pointing out the failures of others.  What we need is radical life change -- the only way to realize this is by the "firm" touch of the Master's hand.  Know this - his touch is ALWAYS filled with grace.  His touch may seem a little "radical" to us at first, but if we allow this "radical" touch to do its work of being "directive" over our life, we will find we might just finally overcome the very things we criticize in others so much!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Taking sides?

Blatant:  brazenly obvious; overt; undeniable; obtrusive.  Ever wonder why we can do some things which are definitely wrong and never appear to have anyone notice, then we do one thing "small" and we get noticed right off?  It is like we can do the same thing over and over again, seemingly unnoticed - then one day, the "thing" is out in the open.  Paul puts this in perspective for Timothy when he says some sins are just blatant (obvious), others don't show up until some time passes.  I think this is what Mom always meant when she said not to tell lies because they had a way of catching up with you.

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

Paul has spent a great deal of time giving Timothy, a new church leader, great instruction in the "care and maintenance" of his church members.  If we see these in progression, maybe what he tells us in these verses will become a little clearer, because scripture is always meant to be taken in context.  So, just what did Paul instruct Timothy about the church?

* Be kind to your elders.  Elderly men and women have a great deal to offer to the younger.  Show them the respect they deserve.  Being harsh or impatient may be our natural response to them, but when we respond this way, we cut ourselves off from the vast wisdom they have to offer.  It is easy to get impatient with the elderly - they move slow, their thoughts come to them slower, and they even have trouble finding the right words on occasion.  Yet, if we slow down enough to show them the respect they deserve, we might actually learn from them.  

* Take care of the widows.  Remember, the times in which Paul wrote to Timothy there was no "welfare" system outside of the church.  The church was to take care of those who had no means of taking care of themselves.  The widowed were to be given not only a means of "continued" care, but they were to be honored in doing so.  For the most part, the family was to come alongside the widow - assisting in meeting their needs.  If no family existed, the church had the duty.  Family is to help out family.  I had never really seen the specific instruction in this passage before about taking care of the widows as it related to a Christian woman who has widows in her family (vs. 16).  It actually says if a Christian woman has any widows in her family, she is to take them in and care for their needs.  Interestingly, the widows with family are not to be taken care of by the church.  This limits the need for the church to support those who have other means of support with the family.  

* Take care of your spiritual leaders and those who serve well in the church.  The idea of working hard and being deserving of your pay is laid out here.  So, church leaders are to take good care of the flock and in return, the flock is to take good care of them.  Those who teach and preach are called out here.  Remember this - the one who lays their life out there in teaching and preaching in a genuine manner is worth being paid well.  So, we honor our elders, because they have much to teach us.  We take care of those unable to take care of themselves because life has left them without.  Then, we remember to take care of those who lead us, giving us instruction for life.

* Be careful about gossip and backbiting.  Taken in context, this passage deals with not listening to the complaints about those who lead the church unless there is a group of witnesses to the fault in question.  I think this complaining really begins with the little "tidbits" of gossip and the malicious "seeds" of backbiting.  The idea is to be very guarded about finding fault with those who lead.  Those in the position of leadership are under the most critical of scrutiny sometimes, are they not?  When we hold this in check by requiring our "scrutiny" to be tempered by the mouths of two or three witnesses, sometimes we squelch the desire to find fault.  Here's the key, though - we need to surround ourselves with "reliable" witnesses.  We cannot just find others who will "agree" with us.  We need to rely upon the sage counsel of those who know a little more than us!  Maybe this is why he tells us to pay attention to the elders we have around us!

* Call sin into question.  Now, unless we have done the other stuff well, just hanging our hat on this point will be kind of harsh.  Paul tells us:   "If anyone falls into sin, call that person on the carpet. Those who are inclined that way will know right off they can’t get by with it." (vs. 20)  He is still speaking of the church leaders here.  If they fall into sin, call them on the carpet.  What Paul is saying is that we have a responsibility to not dismiss their sin, sweeping it under the carpet, but helping our leaders to be above board, even as it comes to admitting their sin.  We do very great harm when we support sweeping things under the carpet because much is learned in the humility of admitting a sin and then seeing how God works out the restoration in the life of the sinner.

* Don't take sides.  Isn't this the easiest thing to do when we are finding fault with someone?  We choose which "side" we will stand on - either "for" or "against".  There really is no "neutral" ground when it comes to sin.  Paul reminds us to avoid the tendency to either be too harsh or too weak on sin.  Instead, encounter it, help the one engaged in it to be restored, and then all will learn from it!

This is where we come to our passage above - some sins are obvious (blatant), while others are less so.  We aren't supposed to be constantly "ferreting" out sins in the lives of others, but when they are evident, we have a responsibility to encounter these.  Be sure of this - sin will one day be exposed - it cannot stay hidden forever.  Looking again at what we see in this chapter, Paul tells us to rely upon the wisdom of our elders - they bring great balance when the zeal of youth may want to charge in without thinking.  Take care of your own family first - implying we need to be aware of our own sin before we take care of the sin of another.  Sin needs to be exposed, but we don't do it harshly - take care not to wound or destroy the character of another.  Just some thoughts on how we deal with God's kids!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Is your "feed" working?

Pursue:  to follow in order to overtake, capture; to proceed in accordance with the plan or purpose.   The most important part of this definition is the word "follow".  Did you ever stop to consider all the things in life you "follow".  In Facebook "speak", we "follow" our friends - keeping up with their lives through the social networking feed we obtain from their posts.  In terms of a military command, when we "follow" an order, we are doing exactly as we have been instructed - not veering from the original intent of the order.  We "follow" certain news events because they catch our eye and stimulate some form of curiosity within.  In all these examples, we "follow" or "pursue" because there is something we count on as a "benefit" to us.  If we "follow", maybe we will learn something, be kept safe, or have the inside info on what is going on.  

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.  (Proverbs 21:21 NLT)

I daresay the "following" God honors is the type encompassed in this verse.  In the Message Bible, the passage reads similarly, but has a little bit of a different twist:  Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself—glorious life!  The idea of "pursuing" is presented as "hunting" - carrying the idea of chasing after, or searching for something we wish to obtain.  Whether we use the word "pursue" or "hunt", the idea is one of searching thoroughly, seeking intently.  

If you and I were to refine our "following" or "pursuing" a little, I wonder just how much that change the pursuit?  In Facebook land, we have an opportunity to scroll over a person's name, then choose how much of the individual's posts we want to be seeing in our news feed.  In other words, we get to determine how much we want to "follow" of their life story!  Have you ever excluded some part of a friend's feed only to be asked by them if you saw their post?  When you proclaim you did not, the "hiding" of them from your feed is very apparent!  

I wonder if we have done the same with God's "feed" in our lives?  Perhaps we have been "selective" about how much of God's feed we want.  We exclude certain books of the Bible because we have labeled them too hard to understand, not pertinent to our present day experiences, or the like.  We dismiss certain commands because they seem archaic and out of touch with what life is like today.  We even deny hearing his promptings in our lives, choosing instead to follow our own.  If God were to ask us if we got his latest "update", I wonder how we'd all answer this question?

Our writer reminds us of pursuing righteousness and unfailing love.  Pursuing so as to overtake it - making it our way of life rather than a thing we view as pie in the sky.  Isn't this what the hunter does?  He tracks the object of his hunt and then he takes it as his own - allowing it to become whatever it is he needs.  If he takes in the meat from it, he finds nourishment for his body.  If he uses the hide to make clothing, he finds covering for his nakedness.  If he puts the remainder in the ground, he allows the remainder to feed the earth from which he will bring forth crops in season.

Pursuing righteousness and unfailing love is a lot like hunting for game.  We find nourishment for our spirit, covering for our shame, and the hope for a harvest to come.  God assures us of three things as a result of us pursuing righteousness and unfailing love - the two things we can find in the person of Christ.  First, we find life.  Isn't this what the game gives the hunter when he takes the meat into his body?  In the shedding of blood, he obtains that which gives him life.  In the shedding of Christ's blood, we obtained life.  In taking in his life, we obtain eternal life! 

Second, we find righteousness.  Nothing covers over our shame - the influence of things we have done and/or have had done to us in our past - like the righteousness of God.  It "covers" us.  When we feel "shame" isn't it because we somehow equate the thing we have done or which has been done to us as something as significant as parading around naked?  In obtaining God's righteousness, we are "dressed" with the very thing which removes the shame.

Last, but definitely not least, we find honor.  There is an old Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day - teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  I'd like us to consider why the hunter "turns" the remains he cannot use into the soil.  Isn't it to nourish the soil so it will be readied to bring forth a crop later?  In fact, he uses it to change the consistency of the soil - making it full of nutrients which will "feed" the growth to come later on. God's righteousness and unfailing love does just this in us - it prepares us for the harvest to come.  Satisfying the hunger of today is one thing, preparing for the needs of our future is quite another.  As we look at our Chinese proverb, I think what is being said is that when we teach a man to plant a seed, we bring honor to his life.  God is all about planting seeds - prepared soil does much more to bring forth a good harvest - honoring the one who gives the seed and the one who will benefit from its growth.

Just as we "follow" some things with definite passion and purpose, it would be good for us to determine if we have the "feed" of God's righteousness and unfailing love "wide open" in our lives.  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Having some "birth pains"?

Have you ever stopped to consider the miracle of birth?  Having birthed two children, I remember the first twitches of the "real" birth pains and all those times of "false labor" when we'd feel those false contractions.  The difference between the two is that one of them did not "advance" the birth process, but rather just made us aware it was nearing.  Those "false contractions" may not have seemed like much, but they indeed did more to alert us to the pending delivery than we might have imagined.  With God, he does not just allow us to enter "into" times of pain without also "birthing" something from those times.  Those painful "contractions" are designed to bring forth something new!

In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,” says the Lord.  (Isaiah 66:9 NCV)

In the weeks preceding the birth of my children, I experienced many of those "false contractions".  In fact, when going to the hospital to report to the doctor that I was "in labor" with my first child, they sent me home saying I was just experiencing "false labor".  Being the obedient first-time mom, I did as they said, only to turn around a few hours later in the middle of the night with "real labor"!  The "earlier" contractions may not have been "hard enough" to push my daughter through the birth canal, but they were definitely pointing to the ones which would!  

Have you ever stopped to consider the "contractions" of growth?  There are times when we experience some "twinges" of growth - like those false contractions - which really cause us to sit up and take notice.  They alert us to something which is just around the corner, but they don't really produce the result of the "full-birth" of the "thing" of growth being produced within.  Instead, there will be further development taking place in the "secret places" of our lives.  In due time, the "real labor" begins to happen and we begin to experience both the extreme pain of birthing the growth and the awesome splendor of seeing that growth being born out of our lives.  

God's promise to us:  I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born!  Hear that loud and clear - someone needs this right now!  Nothing should frighten us about the pain we are enduring for the moment, because in the end, something of awe-inspiring growth will emerge!  The birthing of spiritual, emotional, relational, and/or intellectual growth is almost always preceded by some form of "pain".  Either we embrace the pain as part of the process or we will constantly be frustrated by it!  When we finally are willing to embrace the pain as the "predecessor" to our growth, we might just begin to prepare for the birth a little more!

When a woman goes into those early signs of labor (the false contractions), she does something to get ready.  The nursery begins to be put in order, diapers are bought, pacifiers are sterilized, bottles are washed and prepared for midnight feeding readiness.  The bag is packed, complete with little munchies for the father to make it through the experience!  The house is cleaned, the fridge is stocked, and the pantry has never been more organized!  She readies the nest, doesn't she?  I think this may be why God allows us to begin to experience the "false labor" of our growth experiences - to help us to ready ourselves to receive the true delivery of the "real deal"!  In the readying process, something happens.  We begin to focus all our attention on the delivery!  Maybe this is the goal of the process - to get us focused.

I don't know what "pains" you are experiencing right now.  They may be the "false labor" type of pains - growth is on its way, but it still has a little preparation time required.  Growth may be finally about to be birth, and the pains are intensifying.  Take heart - in the pain, God promises something new!  The newness of what God brings forth is ALWAYS good!  Just sayin!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Antagonize them!

Enemy:  a person who engages in antagonistic activity against another.

Antagonist:  something which counteracts the effect of something else; one who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another.

There are a whole lot of antagonists in our lives, aren't there?  There is tons of stuff which vies for our time and attention, often acting as an antagonist against something else which really would be well-served with both our attention and time.  The antagonist "competes" for something - time, attention, finances, emotional investment, etc.  The key to managing the antagonists is to recognize their effect.  In other words, when the antagonist is "engaged", the result of the antagonist is to take our attention AWAY - to get us focused in the opposite direction.  We have various medications in healthcare which act to "potentiate" the effect of another medication.  We also have medications which will act as an "antagonist" - counteracting the effects of the one medication such as when we bind potassium by giving insulin, or stop the ability of narcotics to bind to your cell's receptors in order to regain your ability to be conscious and breathing on your own.  We also have a whole lot of antagonists and potentiating "actions" in our daily lives, don't we?   One thing helps another to have a greater "effect", while another takes away from the "effect" all together.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.  Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”  Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.  (Romans 12:14-21 MSG)

Truthfully, if we bless our enemies, we are not acting as an "enemy", but as an antagonist.  We are counteracting the effect of the evil they intend in our lives with the goodness of God which we give back.  It may not totally stop them in their tracks and cause them to no longer do evil, but let me tell you, it does give them cause to pause!  Paul is giving us a whole "laundry list" of items which all impact relationship here.  

* Bless your enemies - don't curse them under your breath.  Okay, ever try this?  My immediate response to someone who acts in "opposition" to me is to want to strike out, not give them back a blessing!  Instead of striking out, Paul says bless them - bestow good of some kind on them.  If you are like me, you might have to think really hard on this one - because bestowing good when you are only receiving bad is hard stuff.  Yet, there is a greater blessing in this for us than there is for them!  In us bestowing good when we are given only evil, we are "rewarded" with benefits which are physical (such as not expending tremendous emotional energy being angry), spiritual (such as learning what pleases God's heart most), and mental (such as not having to muddle through the mess of rehashed failures).

* Get along with each other - make friends with nobodies - get along with everybody.  Tough words, huh?  Ever TRY to get along with your enemy?  It is not so easy, is it?  Why?  It is simply because they have set themselves to be our antagonist - they are designing their actions to oppose ours.  Look at the key words Paul puts with these three commands.  Don't be stuck up.  Don't be the great somebody.  Don't insist on getting even.  So, Paul says if we focus on our action, we will be acting as "antagonists" to our enemy!  Keeping a right perspective of our own importance helps us not to judge ourselves as better than our enemy.  Remembering we don't need to be the center of attention allows others to rise to the occasion.  Being willing to let an offense go instead of seeking retaliation really just pours water on the fire of our enemy.  We are indeed being the antagonist when we begin to respond this way.

* Surprise your enemy with goodness.  This is really what an antagonist does, isn't it?  The antagonist "surprises" the one intent on destruction by putting something in the way of the influence of the destructive intent.  In my example of medications, the narcotic's intent is to shut down acute mental function, dull pain receptors, and lower the threshold of the body to respond.  The antagonistic effect of the medication which "binds" the narcotic and keeps it from having its intended effect renders the narcotic "ineffective" - it cannot do what it was "designed" to do.  It still exists in the system of the one who took it, but its effect is limited by the work of the antagonist.  Now, bring this back to our passage.  When we "surprise our enemy with goodness", it is like we "render ineffective" the intentions of the enemy.  We limit their influence on us and others by the "antagonistic" work of goodness!

Just some thoughts today on not letting evil get the best of us.  As we learn how to counteract the effect of evil - not allowing it to have its destructive influence - we will develop some pretty awesome "relationship skills" which will help us be the "antagonist" of evil in this world.  Just sayin!

Friday, January 25, 2013

What is your "status"?

Status:  The social or professional position, condition, or standing to which varying degrees of responsibility, privilege, and esteem are attached.  

Esteem:  Regard highly or favorably, with respect or admiration; to consider as of a certain value.

Value:  Worth, merit, or importance; to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance.

We place "value" on certain things, don't we?  In considering someone, or something, we determine some "importance" or "degree of excellence" which we will "assign" to the individual or object.  Sometimes the individual or object then is held in a higher, or lower, esteem based on the value we "assign".  In turn, we often equate "position" or "standing" based on our determination of "assigned value".  It is not unlikely that we have even assigned "value" to certain actions of others, and even ourselves.  We often do this without much thought - giving, or attaching, some sense of "worth" to various actions and their resulting outcomes without much conscious thought. The danger - we often assign value based on our "interpretation" of the importance or excellence of the action to us at that moment in time.  The "value" we assign today may not be the importance we hold with regard to the same action in the future.  Our "determining" of merit can fluctuate depending upon mood, circumstance, and even the individual we are considering.  When it comes to considering our OWN value, we often are the most "fickle" or "fluctuating" in "assigning" value!

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.  (Philippians 2:5-8 MSG)

Jesus took a different "tact" to determining value.  He had "equal" status with God the Father.  No amount of "doing" or "manipulating" would make that status any better.  He already had pretty "awesome" status!  Yet, he did not "cling to" the status he had - he did not let it define his actions.  Now, before you consider me a hypocrite or some heretic, let me explain what I mean.  Jesus, equal with God himself, did not think so highly of himself that he was unwilling or unable to see the need of humanity and then take on the form of humanity in order to accomplish the remedy to that need.  He could have said, "Hey, I am holy!  I cannot rub elbows with those sinners!  You just don't understand how important my position is in the scheme of things in this world!"

Paul gives us some insight into how we really should view the "worth" or "value" of the actions of both ourselves and others.  First, we glean from the example of Christ a certain ability to be selfless - willing to consider others ahead of what he already had himself.  In thinking about this, Paul reminds us Jesus was able to separate his "status" from his "actions".  He laid aside "status" in order to "act" in a way totally contrary to his status - laying down his deity to take on the position of a slave.  If you are the owner of the manor, to take on the position of a slave suggests a huge transition in "status" or "worth" in the eyes of those who behold this action.  I wonder what we could accomplish if we took our eyes off of "status" and began to see the "worth" of another as more valuable than our own personal "status"?

Second, he set aside privileges.  With "status" comes privilege - there is some resulting "benefit" to status, is there not?  For example, you can buy tickets to a concert, but when you get the "all-access" tickets, you get to meet the artists, rub elbows with the band, and the like.  There is a benefit to the "status" of having the "all-access" tickets.  Paul tells us Jesus was able to separate the "privileges" of his position - taking on the form of humankind.  This probably meant he had to deal with the stuff humans deal with - like hunger, emotions, being tired, and aching feet from long hours standing on them.  He could have continued to luxuriate in the "status" of being "equal to God", but he laid that down those privileges in order to experience humanity.  I don't know about you, but this suggests a whole lot to me about the "value" Jesus gives to each of us!  He was willing to "associate" with our pain and need in order to meet it!

Last, Jesus shows us the real "worth" of individual is not in "claiming" his own rights, but in laying them down.  This is the meaning of him living a "selfless and obedient" life.  If you really think on this one, you realize to live "selflessly", one must begin to think more of another than they do of themselves.  Whenever we claim our rights, are we really living selflessly?  Not hardly!  We are thinking of self first - something entirely different than what Jesus exemplified.  To live obediently suggests a willingness to submit to an authority higher than yourself.  So, what Paul tells us is that Jesus not only laid down his "claims" for his "rights" as "equal to God", but he also was willing to submit to the authority of his Father God.  If you have a hard time figuring out how one who is "equal to God" actually "submits to God", you are probably not alone.  I think it centers on this whole "value", "worth" and "esteem" issue.  He was willing to take on whatever needed to be done in order to connect with and meet the needs of humanity - selflessly, without falling back on his "rights" or "status".  Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

I don't know about you, but I think I attach "value" or "worth" to other people's actions all the time.  I even find myself "comparing" their actions to my own - seeing if they measure up or are actually "better" than mine!  Do you ever do that?  If so, I think you and I might just need to take a lesson or two from Jesus - remembering it is not in the "status" we obtain where we are "defined", but in the selfless obedience of considering our "status" less important than the needs of another!  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Not another question!

Have you ever used the "skill" of answering a question with another question?  In some circles, such as counseling, this is a common occurrence - the questions asked are designed to get the person to consider the answer themselves and to begin to problem solve through the situation.  There are times when the most appropriate answer is another question.  For example, when a child asks you why they have to eat their vegetables, do you think answering, "Because I told you to", is the best answer?  Answer in this way, and the child will allow those veggies to just grow cold on the plate.  Yet, if the parent tried a different tact, such as saying, "Johnnie, what do you think is the reason you should eat your vegetables?", I wonder what they might receive.  Perhaps you'd hear the response, "Because if I don't, I will never get to watch TV this evening."  If the parent hears this, what is it Johnnie is saying?  He is equating doing something very unpleasant for him to some form of pleasant pursuit in return.  In asking the right question, you see the underlying focus.  Johnnie is not concerned with the great nutritional intake, but that he misses out on the next episode of his favorite TV series!

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”  He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  (Luke 10:25-28 MSG)

Jesus often took the tact of answering a question with another question, not because he was avoiding an answer, but because he was interested in having the one asking the question finally see the true motivation of their heart in asking in the first place.  The passage we consider today begins with the "motivation" of heart laid out for us - the scholar stood up with a question to TEST Jesus.  His intent was not in really discovering the way to get eternal life - it was to attempt to expose something in Jesus which was contrary to the Law of Moses.  What a disappointment he must have experienced when Jesus turned back to him with another question and he basically hung himself out to dry with the answer he was forced to give.  Jesus was not going to say to the scholar, "Let me interpret the scripture for you, since you are only mortal."  He "honored" this man's studies in the scripture and asks how "HE" interprets what the Law requires.  I think the scholar must have been a little taken aback by Jesus "honoring" him with the opportunity to answer the question.

Jesus' reply, "You have answered this very well, Mr. Scholar - now, get busy doing it and you will have this eternal life," really did not sit well with the scholar.  You see, the scholar felt "boxed in" a little by his own answer - so he looks for a "loophole" to give himself an "out".  His next question to Jesus is really designed to find the loophole - "Hey, Jesus, who is my neighbor?"  Isn't it just like us to want a loophole?  We clearly show we understand the requirements, but then we want a way out!  We just don't want to eat our vegetables because we don't like lima beans!  We know they are good for us, containing the "right stuff" to help us stay strong, but those pesky lima beans just give us cause to pause.  Maybe it is a texture thing, or just maybe we cannot stand the smell.  Regardless, we want a "loophole" that will not "bind" us to our "understanding" of the value of their intake.  

By definition, a loophole is a means of escape or evasion.  Sometimes we use a question to attempt to evade the true disclosure of our heart.  At others, we use it to cover up our lack of understanding.  Regardless, we are attempting to find the way of escape.  We want to evade the "rule" or create enough "ambiguity" with the rule so as to "water it down" enough to avoid the consequences of the rule.  It is like when the child asks, "If I eat five lima beans, may I watch TV?"  The intent is to "bargain" his way out of eating the entire serving - so he can move on with what he finds more enjoyable.  We often use questions to "bargain" our way out of some understanding we have, don't we?  

The man's answer reveals much to Jesus.  The first thing is this man's understanding of the Law goes beyond the surface of just being a good person.  The scholar answers he would love God with all his passion and prayer.  When passion gets behind our action, we find ourselves just a little more "vested" in the action, don't we?  In answering this way, the scholar was pointing out he "knew" the principles of serving God - with depth of heart and honesty.  When we love God with all our passion this is depth of heart - when we love him with all our prayer, we are opening up to him in honesty.  When the scholar says you put a little "muscle" into your love, he is probably saying that man needs to put feet to their words.  In other words, you don't just say you love God and want to serve him - you show it in your choices.  As if this were not enough, the scholar points out that the mind plays an important part in serving God - bringing what we "know" about God into practice in our own lives.

The scholar really boxed himself in when he added the last statement about loving his neighbor as himself.  Now he had no real way of escape because Jesus was prepared for the next question - "So, how would you define neighbor, Jesus?"  His reply, "Let me tell you a story and then you decide who PERFORMED the acts of heart, mind, and service which exemplify a neighbor." Jesus used the man's own answer to present the answer the scholar thought would trip Jesus up somehow.  In telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus then turns to the scholar and asks the scholar to point out who was the "neighbor" in the story.  The scholar's answer?  "The one who treated him kindly."  Uh oh!  Exposed by your own question!

He came to Jesus, not in kindness, but in an attempt to TEST Jesus.  In turn, Jesus uses the "testing" questions of the scholar to "test" the scholar's own heart!  This is so like Jesus!  He uses the "testing" questions of our own heart and mind to "test" the real intention of our hearts and the wisdom of our minds.  Amazing!  The next time you ask Jesus a question and hear a question in reply, just know he is asking because he knows we already know the answer - we just need to recognize that we do!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Am I good enough yet?

There is a story in the New Testament about children.  Jesus is surrounded by these curious little ones, pushing at him, wanting to be with him, some there because their parents brought them, but some likely there because they beheld him with curiosity and wonder.  Some of his disciples just did not understand the press of the children - nor the desire of their parents for Jesus' blessing of their lives.  So, they want to send the kids away.  Isn't that so like us adults?   We see the "business" of the hour as more pressing than the needs of a young one's heart.  Then along comes a man who wants to pose a question to Jesus.  His question:  “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  I don't think this is an unusual question to ask, but notice it was not the kids who asked this question, but the adult.  Jesus' response to the man reveals much about how it is we interpret our standing with Jesus.  Kids come in awe and wonder - adults come with plans and lists. 

As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”  The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?”
Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”  (Matthew 19:23-26 MSG)

You see, the parents brought the children because they hoped for a blessing from Jesus.  They wanted something from the great healer and teacher.  The kids just wanted to be with Jesus.  There is a tremendous difference in the approach of the child vs. the adult, isn't there?  The man who poses the question to Jesus is almost bursting with joy when Jesus responds back to his question with:  "Just do what God tells you."  Why?  Simply because he has been keeping all the rules for a while and he figures he is in the right place to get into the Kingdom of God by his "being good".  He equates "goodness" with his "right" actions instead of with the "grace" of God.  Kids somehow understand grace - if you don't believe me, catch a kid stealing cookies from the cookie jar and allow them to eat the cookies.  The child will see this as deserving whatever punishment you would dish out, but you giving a little grace to them instead!  They will merrily eat the cookies and enjoy your grace-filled presence all the while!  They equate grace with love.

For the young man who thinks he enters God's presence with good deeds, his bubble is about to be burst.  Jesus' response really was not what he anticipated.  Jesus told him to do something he just could not do - sell all, give it to the poor, and then follow Jesus.  Jesus is not against wealth or us having nice things.  Indeed, if you have these, they are ALL a blessing from the Lord.  Yet, he zeros in on this one thing for this young man.  Why?  It is likely because Jesus wants to show him his "good works" are really only superficial.  Jesus gets at the core of the matter when he asks the man to begin to give away what it is he relies upon.  This is how it is with God - he gets at the core of things.  If we have something other than him (his grace) that we are relying upon, he will focus on it.  He does so, not because he wants us to be defeated by it, but because he knows our reliance on whatever it is will defeat us in the end.

As was often the case, the disciples have to ask Jesus why it is he chose to focus on this man's wealth as a way of entering into service with Jesus.  It is likely they saw this man's "deeds" as pretty doggone good themselves, so they don't really "get" why Jesus would tell this man he is not ready to enter the kingdom.  In his faithfulness, Jesus takes the disciples aside and explains to them why it is the man's good deeds don't ensure entrance into God's kingdom.  I wonder if Jesus ever gets tired with all our "why" questions - if he does, he doesn't show it!  Thank goodness!  

The most amazing thing about Jesus is his simplicity.  You may think the opposite is true - that his complexity is most amazing, but I think it is his simplicity.  He is so straight-forward with these guys - wanting them to really understand what he has been saying.  You see, it is not the wise who enter the kingdom, but the simple.  Those who are willing to lay down all their preconceived ideas of how God's kingdom works and are willing to latch onto something as "non-complex" as grace - they "get" it.  To many, grace seems so complex - like it cannot be enough to get God's blessing - there must be something more required of US.  Nope!  Grace is a free gift of God understood best through the heart of a child.  A child seeks grace.  They understand the standing they have with their father is not so much in what it is they do, but in the way the father responds to them when they mess up.  Grace extended becomes the very binding force of love in the relationship.  So it is with our heavenly Father.  He wants us to realize our standing with him is not based on what we do, but on how he responds when we mess up in our "doing".

I don't know about you, but I mess up a lot.  In all my mess ups, God remains faithfully gracious.  Why?  Simply because he knows my heart is that of a child.  I am more in awe with who he is than in what it is I can do to impress him.  I just want to be with him and to enjoy his presence.  So, when I mess up, his response is grace.  I don't understand grace fully, but I know I am drawn in by those arms of love and I like it!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hey neighbor!

At jury duty this week, I got to see a whole lot of people I'd not encounter normally, yet all of them were in one form or another my "neighbors".  They did not live in the exact same community as me.  Yet, we had some things in common - we all lived in the areas where jurors were chosen!  One of the prospective jurors shared how a rental home in her neighborhood was discovered to be robbed that morning.  They actually noticed the garage door standing open on a totally vacant rental.  What made this catch my interest more than anything was that this woman knew who to call to inform about the possible burglary!  Admit it - most of us would be hard pressed to actually give the first and last names of our neighbors, much less knowing how to reach them in an emergency!

When I use the term "neighbor", what comes to mind is probably the person who lives next door, or at least in your immediate neighborhood.  I have lots of "neighbors" - those who live in my immediate neighborhood - but I have very few "friends" in my neighborhood.  They are more of acquaintances rather than friends.  The difference is in the "closeness" we form in our hearts.  When I call someone "friend", I am doing so because I associate with them frequently and their is an alliance formed which cannot be easily broken.  Did you know there were a whole bunch of commands in the Bible which even deals with the way we treat our neighbors?  Some tell us not to take their stuff, others warn us against becoming attached to those who will take us down wrong paths.  One tells us something "about" our neighbors which I'd like to focus on this morning.  

Don’t plot harm against your neighbor, for those who live nearby trust you.  (Proverbs 3:29 NLT)

In the most literal sense, Solomon uses the term "neighbor" as those who live in our "neighborhood".  These are not the close friends who we form alliances with, but those who we probably see as more of our acquaintances.  The word to us is to take action on our part to avoid "plotting" against them because even our acquaintances "trust" us.  Did you ever stop to consider this?  Our "neighborhood" is filled with people who "trust" us.  Now, I don't know about you, but "trust" is a strong word for me.  It implies there is a reliance upon us.  I don't have a homeowner's association in my neighborhood, but I imagine this is the basis of the founding of such a group - reliance upon each other to adhere to the agreed upon terms of the "neighborhood".  I am sure many of us have heard stories of how these "associations" take on a life of their own, policing the neighborhood for the slightest infraction to the rules established.  This is not likely what Solomon had in mind here.

The command is for you and I to not plot harm against our neighbor.  To plot means to have some secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose (often evil) against someone.  Most of us will immediately reply with a defensive, "I would NEVER do that..."  Yet, if we were honest, we'd probably reconsider just how much "plotting" we actually do!  Let me challenge you to think about this a little differently.  Instead of just considering our neighbor as the guy next door, or down the street, let's begin to consider the various "neighborhoods" where we have "neighbors".  Isn't our work environment a kind of "neighborhood"?  We spend something like 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week with these people - I think this brings us in close proximity with them frequently enough to consider these individuals our "neighbors".  What about our other "frequented" places - like church, community agencies where we volunteer, or even our local pet shelter?  Are these our neighbors?  You bet!

So, we have more than ample opportunity to do a little "plotting" in these various neighbor encounters, don't we?  I have to ask - have you ever been so annoyed by something someone was doing so as to form some kind of anger (regardless of how small that anger was) toward that individual?  Perhaps they constantly fill their trash barrel to overflowing, causing parts and pieces to fly off and onto the roadway as the trash truck comes to pick it up.  By the time you get home, the neighbor's "overflowing" trash is now blown into your yard.  The first time you pick it up.  By the thirteenth time, are you as willing to pick it up as you were the first?  Probably not - because it begins to grate on you a little.  Why?  You see your neighbor's behavior as inconsiderate, lackadaisical  or just plain rude.  So, you begin to "plot" - not so much to do "evil" against them, but to point out their "fault" of being too over-zealous in filling their trash barrel!  I have heard stories of people receiving letters from their associations about the door color not being "true" to the agreed upon color palette, or being "fined" for having the springtime weeds popping through their gravel in the front yard.  Folks...I think we have missed the point! 

The fact is, people trust us.  We are living and breathing testimonies of God's grace, but we don't always display this grace, do we?  We become so consumed with finding fault with our neighbor, we miss the point they are actually our "neighbors"!  I wonder what a different place it would be if we actually began to consider how our neighbor's trust is impacted by our behavior.  It is likely we might actually ask our neighbor with the overflowing trash barrel if they'd like to use the spare space in ours since their family seems to produce more trash than they can easily fit in their own.  Or perhaps we might stop to find out if our neighbor has been away, feeling ill, or with some other demands which have kept them from being able to keep the weeds down in the front.  

I wonder what our world would be like if we actually got to know our neighbors a little.  Maybe we'd be less likely to "plot against" and more apt to "form alliances" if we took a little time to do so.  Just sayin!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fit as a fiddle?

A twinkle in the eye:  To be bright, sparkly - with merriment or delight.  Now, just how often do you experience a twinkle in your eye?  If you can answer this as "very often", then you might just be the kind of person I'd like to hang around with!  This little "twinkle in your eye" is really and indication of how much you connect with the things and ones in life which actually bring you delight!  I find the eyes are a definite window to the soul - revealing what it is we "connect" with the most frequently.  If there is much connection with negativity, the "twinkle" is just not there.  If there is frequent connection with uplifting people and "content", I see much to take delight in!

A twinkle in the eye means joy in the heart, and good news makes you feel fit as a fiddle.  (Proverbs 15:30 MSG)

The meaning of "fit as a fiddle" kind of brings some mystery into this passage, as I don't know many "fiddles" who actually are "fit"!  So, I had to look up the origin of this saying.  In the times this phrase was coined, to describe something as "fit" was to describe it as "seemly" or "suitable".  In other words, you were saying it was fit for a purpose.  Maybe this is why our writer links God's Word with how we actually become "fit for a purpose".  His word inhabits us, making us stronger for the battle, lighter in heart and mind for the journey ahead, and even joyful in the darker times we might encounter.

So, two kind of "cutesy" sayings to describe the condition of heart and mind.  Joy in the heart is evident in the display of the eye.  Fitness for the purpose you are being directed into is felt first in the mind and makes it way to the heart.  Did you know a "fiddle" must be cleaned - inside and out?  I guess this kind of escaped me, but as I explored the meaning of this saying, I came across some interesting stuff which sparked a little thought for me.  

The "fiddle" is really a violin, and the violin is an instrument with some hidden "places" where dust gathers.  Within the "walls" of the violin, the dust which gathers actually changes the "tone" of the violin.  Enough build up of the stuff which does not belong and the violin really doesn't sound as well as it should.  In terms of the strings, they can get build up on them, making them less maneuverable.  When this occurs, the one playing the violin has to take greater effort to traverse the strings up and down the neck of the violin.  If oils from the hands build up on the neck or fingerboard of the violin will also "slow" the movement of the violinist's hands as they move to form the notes to be played.

If something gets lodged under the end of the fingerboard, the sound of the resonating strings will be affected.  The fingerboard must be able to resonate along with the strings.  Even the "f-hole" in the instrument has a purpose.  Those "holes" in the violin body allow for the passage of the sound - resonating with just the right "pitch" or "frequency" of the tones emitted.  The bridge actually helps to hold the strings at the right place and at the right height.  When they are properly attached "into" the bridge, the sound produced is much sweet.  So many parts, and each with their purpose.  

Now, what does this have to do with our disposition of heart and mind?  Thinking about all the "parts" which need care within us, I think we can see how much we also need the proper "maintenance" in order to bring forth the most melodious and beautiful "sound".  It is more than just maintaining the outward, but also being open to some internal cleaning, as well.  The depth of the cleaning insures the beauty of what is produced.  In other words, we will be fit as a fiddle!

The "intake" of Good News - God's Word - makes us feel fit.  Not so much in the physical sense, but definitely in the spiritual, emotional, and even in the sense of the ordering of our thoughts.  The intake gives us right perspective and helps us "clean out" or "rid ourselves" of the stuff which gunks up our lives.  In turn, we produce a much better "tone" from our lives - even displaying something of "light" from within.  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What's in a name?

What's in a name?  Have you ever heard someone's name and wondered if the person's parents really had it in for the kid when they chose the name? Something like "Lilly Cropp" or "Frank Lee".  There are names which depict something of the "era" into which they were born, such as when you hear a person born into the sixties being called "Star", "Sunshine", or "Rainbow".  Those given these name bear them a long, long time!  Still, others are named "after" someone - such as when they are given the name of the father down to the second, third or fourth generations.  Yet, others are given names which parents do a great deal of deliberation about - looking for "just the right" name which will speak of the character or blessing of the child.  Regardless of the name given, it is what is behind the name which really matters, is it not?  Being called "Star" doesn't make you outstandingly bright - but you could be.  Having the honor of being named after your forefathers doesn't guarantee your integrity as a man - some will just abuse the name they were given.  Names are labels of some sort - a way of identifying us to others.  Yet, if we really begin to consider a name, there is much behind it - especially when it is the name of GOD.

“I am God. I will bring you out from under the cruel hard labor of Egypt. I will rescue you from slavery. I will redeem you, intervening with great acts of judgment. I’ll take you as my own people and I’ll be God to you. You’ll know that I am Godyour God who brings you out from under the cruel hard labor of Egypt. I’ll bring you into the land that I promised to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and give it to you as your own country. I AM God.”  (Exodus 6:6-8 MSG)

What we don't see in this passage is the preceding paragraph where God begins to speak with Moses about how he will be "known" to Moses and the people of Israel.  He tells Moses that previous to this time, he had been known as The Strong God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the forefathers of the Israelite nation).  He was known as "I AM".  Now, God was revealing himself in a fresh way - not only through the name "I AM", but also as "GOD".  He tells Moses he is the one who can be known as "I AM Present".  In other words, he is going to reveal himself to Israel as the ever-present God.  

Let's consider this for a moment.  Israel needed a deliverer as they had been under the cruel hand of the Egyptians for years.  They worked as slave labor in the fields and factories of the land.  Their daily needs were provided at the hand of the Egyptian people who would "allot" their provisions.  Now, the I AM speaks to Moses the message of hope - I AM is with you, yes, but the one who will be ever-present is also with you!  I guess there is no greater hope that can be given than the knowledge that even in our struggles, we are not alone!

God is known my many names, but few speak as much as the combination of these two names of God - "I AM" and "GOD".  The first carries the idea of being the one who existed and will always exist.  He is the one who is our becoming one - nothing is out of his realm.  The second hints about the relationship he desires with his creation.  Here he brings us to the awareness of being "ever-present" with us - as not only the one who will always exist, but as the one who will never leave us, nor forsake us.

Imagine having to go up against a huge world power, complete with armies so vast they were almost unable to be counted.  You are charged to go before this leader and to proclaim that he needed to set these people free - to go to another land, no longer being of service to the world power again.  Can you say, "Scary"?  I am thinking this is were Moses found himself at this moment. A little intimidated by the power of Pharaoh, but also a little frustrated because he knew his own natural limitations.  

Moses was 80 years old when God asked him to tell Pharaoh he wanted these people to be freed from their servitude in Egypt!  How many 80 year olds feel really "strong"?  Probably not too many.  In fact, as age comes, physical strength often diminishes.  Mental strength is even affected.  So, I think God was giving Moses a little insight into how he was to proceed - not independent, in his own strength, or with his own understanding, but with the ever-present GOD going before him.

If you are feeling like you have some insurmountable task ahead of you today, take heart.  Not only does the "I AM" (the one who was, who is, and who will ever be) stand with you, but so does "GOD" (the one who is ever-present).  You don't stand alone.  You have at your access all the power of GOD - the becoming one.  What do you need GOD to become in your life today?  Call on his name - he goes before, stands alongside, and will even bring up the rear, if need be!  Just sayin!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Becoming what we believe

Become:  Arrive at; grow into; develop into.   If someone were to walk up to you and tell you to "Become what you believe", what would you become?  In other words, I am asking what would you "grow into" or where would you "arrive at" in your life?  This might be a very telling question for some of us.  In fact, most of us don't really have a plan for where we'd like to "arrive at" or what we truly would like to "grow into".   We simply live day by day, making the best of each moment, and wonder what the next will hold.  I don't think God expects us to "plan out" every moment of our lives, but I do think he has a unique place in our lives for the faith to believe for great things in him.

As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, “Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!” When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, “Do you really believe I can do this?” They said, “Why, yes, Master!”  He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw.  (Matthew 9:27-29 MSG)

Two men followed Jesus.  Imagine being blind in a crowd.  It is one thing to be blind when you can pick your way along a street you may know like the back of your hand.  There will still be untold unanticipated obstacles in your way, but at least you know the path you are traveling.  These men were blazing new territory on this day - the crowds pressing hard toward Jesus.  Maybe these men were just being "ushered" along by the crowd, but they know where they wanted to be and they were headed in that direction!  Jesus was their aim!  Healing was their hope!

They cry for mercy.  Unmerited favor - they ask the great Healer for his favor.  Not for their healing, but for his favor.  I wonder if they secretly really believed for their healing - asking for his "favor" to accomplish this?  If we really understand this word "favor", then we know it is something we cannot "justify" - we have no reason to expect it based on anything we deserve, but we are counting on the goodwill of another to grant what it is we wish for.  
Look at the passage again - they pressed along with the crowd and right into the living room of Jesus' house!  Yep, it says that when Jesus arrived at home, they went right inside with him!  Now, I don't know about you, but this speaks volumes to me.  They weren't willing to remain on the outside, listening for some "beckoning call" from the Healer that might suggest to them they could enter.  Instead, they just press right into his presence.  I think God honors this kind of faith - the faith which presses beyond what someone might say was the "acceptable boundaries".  Going into someone's home uninvited was just not acceptable.  

Don't lose sight of the fact that Jesus did not have them thrown out!  He simply took notice of them there.  I wonder what difference we might accomplish in life if we put ourselves in a similar place with Jesus - in the place where he cannot help but take notice of us.  This "place" was in the very home of Jesus - in the place where he was the most "intimate" with others.  Think about it - isn't your home the place where you associate with others in closeness.  This is what intimacy really is - close personal relationships with others.  These men put themselves in a place of "close personal relationship" with Jesus.  In so doing, they find themselves up close and personal with Jesus!  The Healer's home became their place of greatest hope!

In response to their faith - their confidence and trust in their Healer - he asks a very pointed question:  Do you really believe I can do this?  I wonder how many times we actually take our "faith" to Jesus and he looks back at us with this question?  I think it may be more than we imagine.  The question is pointed - do YOU believe I can do this?  Not that YOU can do it if you just believe hard enough, but that the Master can do it.  Here he found these two men, pressing through and then into his very personal space.  I guess I would have seen these men's faith as already answering the question.  Yet, Jesus asks.  Why?  Perhaps it was a confirmation of their desire.  
I think there are times Jesus is asking us to clarify and confirm our desire - what it is we envision we will "become" - arrive at, grow or develop into. There is nothing wrong with Jesus asking this question.  It clarifies the purpose of us drawing near.  It is one thing to arrive in the presence of God, it is quite another to be sure what it is we need once we are there!  They had a "vision" of seeing!  Their desire was to arrive at sight!   Jesus usually goes one better than what it is we desire - have you ever noticed that?  They want physical vision - I think he probably was bringing some clarity to their spiritual vision first!

In response to their faith, he tells them to "become what they believe".  If Jesus were to say this to us, I wonder what we'd become right here and now?  What is it you believe about yourself?  Often, what we believe is what either holds us back or propels us forward.  For these guys, their belief drove them further into the presence of Christ.  I wonder where our belief will drive us today?  Will it find us pressing through the crowd and right into the very "personal" space of Jesus?  If it does, what is it we will seek there?  Knowing what it is we really desire is often the first step in receiving what it is we will receive.  Just sayin!