Thursday, February 28, 2013

Throw me another bone, please!

I haven't had a dog in years now, but I remember the extreme joy and passion my pooch would exhibit whenever I brought home a bone for her.  She'd waggle every part of her hind quarters and tail, almost trembling in delight over the promised ecstasy of the treat.  For hours, she'd gnaw away at that treat, savoring each and every morsel.  In short order, the bone would be picked clean of any sign of grizzle, remaining meat, and even sometimes much of the bone itself would be chewed down.  I'd hear her working on that thing for hours - sometimes having to take it away from her at night just so we'd be able to get to sleep!  She'd always see where I'd put it up out of her reach, knowing full-well where to find it the next day.  There she'd be sitting as soon as I woke up - ready to take on the task of chewing on it again.  Such persistence and perseverance.  I wonder if we have this same kind of reaction to God's Word?

Righteous chews on wisdom like a dog on a bone, rolls virtue around on his tongue.  His heart pumps God’s Word like blood through his veins; his feet are as sure as a cat’s.  (Psalm 37:30-31 MSG)

Our psalmist points out this type of "tenacity" as being evident in a believer's consideration of the wisdom God provides and the integrity which is revealed in our speech.  We are to "chew on" wisdom like a dog takes on the bone.  What are some of the things I pointed out about my dog's encounter with the bone?  First - there was excitement which could barely be contained.  I wonder if we exhibit much excitement over the wisdom God brings into our lives?  Second - there was the "show" of interest in what was provided.  As she'd waggle her entire rear end, I knew she was going to take great delight in this treat.  I wonder if God sees any "show" of interest in what he provides on a daily basis in our lives.  The "treat" for my dog was occasional - God's "treats" are continual.  Third - her constant effort to "pick apart" the morsels of meat and grizzle left on that bone were evident in watching her turn it over and over, holding it close to her, sometimes changing positions so she'd get the right "grip" on it.  I wonder if we ever do that with God's truth in our lives - "repositioning" ourselves so we get a "better grip" on it.

We are also to "roll" virtue around on our tongue.  In other words, our speech is to reflect the integrity (uprightness) of the wisdom we have been taking in. I notices something after my dog had spent a few hours with her bone - her breath usually smelled better.  Why?  The turning over of the bone time and time again, and the constant chewing of the bone provided a cleansing effect for her teeth.  I think God's Word "rolled over our tongues" time and time again has a way of "cleaning up" what comes out of our mouths!  

Being a nurse, I really get the idea of blood coursing through the veins - steadily moving because of the "pumping power" of the heart itself.  Without the heart moving it, the blood becomes stagnant - it cannot come back to the place where it is "restored" and "revitalized".  You see, blood enters the heart and lungs to become re-oxygenated.  If it remained away from the heart and lungs, it would not carry much life.  As it passes through the liver and kidneys, it is "cleaned up" so it can go back to finding impurities, bringing them again to the "filtering stations" in the body, all the while assisting the body in keeping impurities from adversely building up.  Veins are like highways - they sometimes get "blockages".  If the veins are not well-maintained, these blockages can actually stop the flow of blood.  So, if we want to have a health "flow" of blood, we take care of the "highways".  I think we must pay as much attention to what "pumps" through our minds - the "spiritual and emotional" heart, so to speak.  If we don't allow God's word to permeate our minds, the "filters" we need to remove the impurities in our thoughts, words, and actions will not be there.  If we don't have a regular intake of his Word, the "highways" of our mind and spirit will soon become clogged with stuff just giving us "blockages" we cannot ignore forever.

I have also had cats.  Those amazing critters seem to be able to climb the walls and walk across some of the thinnest objects with the greatest of ease. Their tiny paws curving to grip the surface upon which they traverse.  Two things strike me about the cat - their ability to "bound" and their "balance".  They can be seen "bounding" straight up into the air, overcoming the space between them and their desired object.  The purpose of their "bound" is both to pursue and to attain.  They are eagerly "after" an object of their interest, or they are seeking a new vantage point.  Both are lessons we'd do well to learn.  Their ability to balance is also almost beyond our understanding - but if you know anything about cats, you know they have this amazing ability to "right" themselves even when they are falling.  There is a "tuning in" to where their head is in respect to their feet.  If their head is facing up, their feet will always be securely facing down!  

So, just some little trinkets to ponder today.  Let them muddle in your mind a while today and see if God can use any of them to speak to you.  In essence, as we study together, we are chewing on the Word like a dog chews on a bone!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Taffy anyone?

Did you ever get hold of an idea that just kept spinning around in your head - no matter how much you tried to put it out of your mind, you just kept gravitating back to it?  Isn't that so annoying?  You just think on it over and over again - sometimes even waking in the wee hours of the night with the same thoughts going through your mind you tried so hard hours before to shut off!  Some call this preoccupation - others might call it obsession.  Either way, they both sound a little ominous!  One of the things I have come to realize is the power of holding ideas in our heads which may not be totally "sound" or "trustworthy".  In fact, when we do, we sort of "hang our hat" on these ideas and find our "hat rack" a little wobbly!

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.  (Galatians 5:25-26 MSG)

Paul's message rings clear today - we cannot just hold the "idea" of Christianity in our heads - it must be manifest in our actions.  It is more than a sentiment.  Sentiment is really just another word for some deeply held or experienced emotion.  In other words, we are relying upon the feeling produced by the thing we hold in our minds.  This frequently proves to be quite unreliable in my experience!  The life of the Spirit is more than a deeply held emotion - some feeling we experience.  It is a way of life manifest in the reality of our actions.

Sentiment, or ideas, are really a little like marshmallows.  At first, they may be all soft and pliable, exuding all kinds of hope for something sweet to the one who experiences them.  In time, if that same marshmallow is left sitting around for a while, it gets all hard, taking away some of the enjoyment of the experience of chewing on it.  Even the taste changes over the course of time. Some of our thoughts are much like that - sweet at first, giving the hope of something quite enjoyable, but if they hang around too long, they develop a staleness and hardness to them which even changes their "taste".  

When I was a young girl, someone told me I could make something similar to taffy out of marshmallows.  She called it "poor girl's taffy".  We'd take two large marshmallows, squish them in-between our fingers over and over again until they would stretch and stretch into gooey strings of taffy-like sweetness.  We'd just repeat this process until the substance was transformed into something resembling taffy.  Then we'd take it in, savoring the rich flavor.  You know what I discovered?  The "poor girl's taffy" no longer tasted like a marshmallow.  Somehow, the richness of what was contained in the marshmallow was brought out more significantly by the "working" process of the stretching, kneading, and pressure of our fingers.

I wonder if this is something similar to what Paul has in mind when he tells us to work out the implications of what it means to live in the Spirit into every aspect of our lives?  Perhaps he is telling us we have been given a lot of good stuff - ingredients of sorts - which only reveal their true "flavor" in our lives when we allow the working process to be accomplished.  I think Paul realizes we can have a life filled with marshmallows - the right ingredients for something quite awesome, but really nothing more than marshmallows until the pressure is applied.  

Two things affect the marshmallow - pressure and heat.  Both change the consistency of the marshmallow - both bring out the awesomeness of the flavor contained within its soft shell.  I think there are two things which reveal the integrity of our beliefs more than anything else - pressure and heat.  Put on the pressure - the evidence of what we believe is squeezed out.  Apply the heat and even the fragrance of what our life exudes is revealed!  I don't know about you, but I want the stuff which is revealed under pressure and even the fragrance of my life to be something which reveals more than some "stale" ideas or mere emotions I am trying to hang my hat on.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Safe Harbor Anyone?

Safe Harbor:  Any place that offers protection in a storm or wartime.  I read that sailors are to be prepared for the storm - knowing in advance what the weather will bring.  They are to read the signs - being ever vigilant to the changes in the winds, skies, and the like.  In so doing, they are instructed to head immediately to safe harbor when they see the rapidly rising storm.  It is one thing to sail into a safe harbor - knowing you will shelter or refuge there. It is quite another to sail away or out of it.  One thing I see when sailing away from safe harbor is the "risk" associated in that movement.  We set sail into uncharted territory - uncertain about that which lies ahead.  The only thing we know is that we are leaving the place of safety.

My help and glory are in God—granite-strength and safe-harbor-God—so trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him.  God is a safe place to be.  (Psalm 62:7-8 MSG)

One thing I know for sure - God is the one who provides the safety we need in the storm, but he is also the one who will guide us with security out of the place of safe harbor.  The key to leaving the place of safety and security, setting sail into uncharted territory is who pilots the ship we set sail in!  If God is the pilot (not the copilot), we know he has the expertise to sail us right past all the hazards that lie just beneath the surface of the waters we sail.  

Most of us want a place of safety and security.  We look for the "comfort zone" only because it is there we are kept from the ups and downs of actually being tossed about in the storms of life.  It is not a wrong thing to want a place of safe harbor - in fact, God wants to be that place.  Yet, if we always remain in that harbor, never sailing out of the place of comfort, we will never discover what God plans for our lives.

There are various kinds of safe harbors in our lives.  Some of us have the need for a safe harbor for our minds.  We get so muddled up in the storms of thoughts we cannot keep one from getting all mixed up with the other.  We are tossed to and fro by the storms of thought.  In finding a safe harbor for our minds, we are coming to a place where the frenzy is allowed to stop long enough to sort out the actions that match up with the thoughts.  In other words, we get a chance to settle down, think things through and really make choices based on facts, not emotions.  God provides these places of safe harbor for our mind - we just need to pull into them now and again to really get out of the storm that rages.  If we don't we get so tossed by the storms, we actually begin to take on water and drown in the mess of our own thoughts.  

Some of us need a safe harbor for our bodies.  We get physically beat up by the storms of life - physically exhausted by the demands placed upon us.  We run hither and yon, never really taking time to rest.  The problem with this type of constant activity is in the damages of the fatigue which we may not immediately see, but which are occurring nonetheless.  A sailor knows he can only stay in the intensity of the rough seas for so long - to stay longer will have an untold effect on his sails, his masts, and his ship's hull.  The constant beating of the waves and the ripping effect of the winds will leave his ship battered.  Safe harbor allows rest for his vessel.  He can weather the storm much better in a strong vessel.  

Others of us need a safe harbor for our spirit.  We are so inundated by the constant onslaught of the enemies attacks - we just need a place to "lay up" for a while.  We aren't taking ourselves out of the battle, but we are being wise in regrouping, getting the handle on what the enemy's doing, and then prepare our defenses against the attack.  In wartime, the ship pulls into safe harbor, not to "hide" from the enemy, but to "out maneuver" the enemy.  In that one move, the enemy is rendered a huge blow.  Some of us would do well to learn the safety of the harbor in out maneuvering our enemy.

Yes, we need safe harbors.  We also find ourselves called out into the seas once again - leaving the security and safety of the quiet harbor.  In actually leaving safe harbor, you face the uncertainty of the deep waters again.  But...don't lose sight of who sails the ship.  Safe harbor is often the very place where the "captaining" of our ship is handed over to the one who actually knows the uncharted waters of our voyage and can navigate them with both expertise and safety.  Just sayin!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bountiful beauty beheld

Crush:  To press or squeeze with a force that destroys or deforms; to force out by pressing; to break.  Sometimes people don't see my fascination in the study of words, but when we take a little time to explore the various meanings of a word, we often begin to ponder things we might have missed before.  This is especially true when it comes to understanding the Word of God.  The "words" God chose to share with us in the pages of our Bible are not by chance - they are selected for their meaning.  Therefore, getting the most out of the Word of God often requires us to be open to considering the meaning of the words chosen to express a certain matter of thought or instruction.

A healthy spirit conquers adversity, but what can you do when the spirit is crushed? (Proverbs 18:14 MSG)

I have some friends who have been through tremendous pressures this past year, and others who are beginning this year with some of the most terrifying decisions they will have to make in their lifetime.  Some have known the birth of a child diagnosed with the growth of tumors in their tiny bodies even before they were birthed from the womb.  Others have faced the all to fatiguing venture into chemo and radiation treatments.  Still others are facing the life-altering decision of changing a child's entire life with one surgery - the surgery changing not only the crippling debility of life-threatening conditions, but presenting the probability of permanent disability as a result.  Catastrophic events - painful decisions - still more painful courses ahead.  Yet, in it all, one of the things I have seen in each of these individuals is the "extracting" of something from deep within.  They have been transformed by the events - not just in a physical sense, but in a deeply spiritual sense, as well.

Some of us think of a crushed spirit as that which cannot bear up under the weight of the pressures exerted upon it.  I beg to differ - for in the crushing process something is extracted.  I know the passage really speaks to the idea of keeping your spirit healthy - so you stand strong and face adversity well.  Yet, in the moments of crushing, there is something which was once hidden from view which comes out into the open.  Some call this hope or even faith.  Regardless of what you call it, the crushing process is what caused it to rise to the surface.  I don't think God gives us a load which will completely crush us - pulverizing us, destroying us completely.  I do believe he allows some times of "crushing" in order to extract from us what he knows is deep within.

The spirit of man is a resilient thing - made to connect directly to the Spirit of God.  There is a dynamic effect of connecting man's spirit with that of the divine Creator God's.  In fact, when the connection is made, the pressures we are faced with have a way of strengthening this connection.  Don't get me wrong - the tremendous physical adversities, emotional turmoil, and intensity of making the right decisions these individual have faced and are continuing to face is real.  We cannot trivialize the crushing weight of the disease which impacts their bodies.  Yet, in the midst of the crushing weight of their disease, there remains one thing the enemy of their soul did not count on - faith!  He banked on the weight to crush even the most fragile faith - but God counted on the crushing to extract that faith - bringing it to the surface for all to behold!  When something is extracted, it is pulled or drawn out to the surface.  There is an effort required - but in the pressure exerted - the bounty is beheld.

I do not know the battles you face today, but I do know with a certainty - God's in the midst of the battle and he is allowing just enough pressure to be exerted which will manifest what is hidden deep within.  The pressure is real - it shall not utterly crush you - but it shall reveal the depth of your faith, the intensity of your love, and the intimacy of your connection with the Creator of all things.  My heart is with you today, dear friends.  As you "bear up" under the crushing forces you walk under today, I am praying for the beauty of his grace to be so evident in your lives.  Just prayin!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Which side of the fence are you on?

In conversation today, you might hear words such as accountability and responsibility.  Newscasters speculate about who will be held accountable for certain actions.  Others postulate about what responsibility some aspect of society had for the actions of another.  Yet so many times, there is very little reference to the actions of one being called into account simply on their own merit.  We see shooters destroy innocent lives - then blame the lack of gun control as the "responsible" party.  When "breaking down" the influencing factors in the shooter's life, we gravitate toward what the parents did or didn't do, who should have recognized the mental health issues apparent in the shooter's life, etc.  We rarely gravitate to the place of saying this man or woman was totally accountable for their own actions.  Why?  Society today seems to want to "share" accountability and responsibility for the actions of individuals - not because they want to "own up" to the ugliness of the actions, but because there is some sense society "failed" the individual.  This may be true in a sense, but ultimately we are all held accountable for our own actions.  We don't stand on the merits of another - unless those merits are those of Christ in us.

The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!  (Revelation 3:19 MSG)

The Church of Laodicea is being "called into account" in this passage, but the message rings true to the individual believer, as well.  The issue as Jesus puts it is the believer is neither hot nor cold.  They are lukewarm - tepid at best.  In other words, they have not decided which side of the fence they want to stand on.  They have a foot on each side, so to speak.  On one side is the independent way of life - managing one's own life, choosing one's own destiny, living pretty foot-loose and fancy-free.  On the other side, in direct contrast, is the dependent life - not on society, but on Christ.  The situation as Jesus sees it is the issue of "staleness" or "stagnancy".  The one who is neither hot nor cold is really at a place of "staleness" in their lives.  

The ones who "ride the fence" really don't want accountability in their lives - they want to be able to choose the "side" based on the circumstances they are presented with.  If the offer on one side seems beneficial, they choose it over the other.  Then, as quickly as they might have chosen one action, they might determine the action did not produce the results they hoped for, so they "swing" to the other side.  It is both difficult to see oneself as responsible for the choices we make, nor accountable for the outcomes of those choices, when we are "swinging" back and forth all the time.  We have very little stability.

Don't lose sight of what Jesus says about these "fence-sitters".  He calls them the people he loves.  I don't think we realize how much Jesus loves those who have allowed stagnancy, or provided a way for the heart to grow stale, almost cold.  He loves them so much that he calls them to an "accounting" of their actions.  If you struggle over that one, let it sink in a while.  God loves the cold heart enough to prod it, correct it, and guide it back into warm and passionate pursuit again.  He brings the one who has drifted into lazy repose, resting on the ease of complacency, into lively pursuit.  He gets them back on their feet - turns them squarely around - then calls them to him.  

In order to pursue, there has to be an accounting of the present condition.  The one standing squarely on the "wrong side" of the fence must take responsibility for where they stand.  The one riding the fence, neither in nor out, is called to account - it is in making a choice to be "answerable" for the place we find ourselves that we take the first step in the right direction.  It is in choosing to stand not in our own merit, but in and upon the merit of another, Jesus Christ, that we find our life doing an "about-face".  It is in turning, we come face-to-face with the one who will turn up the heat in our lives - bringing us to a place of "full-boil" - disturbing both our stagnancy and staleness.

Jesus uses three terms:  Prod - Correct - Guide.  First, he prods - in order to stir us from our complacency.  Then, he corrects - not to point out the "wrong", but to "make true" what he sees in each of us.  He sees what he is in us, not what we are in ourselves.  In other words, in the removing of the errors and faults of our sin, he places himself squarely into those gaping holes in our character.  When he sees us, he sees himself - not the errors of our ways.  Last, he guides - taking us through what is unfamiliar and sometimes a little uncomfortable to us.  These three actions belong to him.  Yet, before all of these actions, there stands one action which belongs to us.  We become accountable for where we stand.  We take responsibility.  In this moment, we no longer stand on our own merit, but fully walk into the merit of the one who calls us into this place of accounting.  

Where there is complacency, there is opportunity for staleness and stagnancy to overtake every aspect of our lives.  The call is to take account of what we are producing - if it lacks life and vitality, we may just be on the wrong side of the fence!  Just sayin!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Symbiosis is a beautiful thing!

Watchfulness:  Vigilance; the condition of being alert, attentive, and careful; being cautious or wary.  One of the things nurses assess with their patients on an ongoing basis is the level of "alertness" they exhibit - especially when they suspect medications, disease process, or factors unknown are impacting their patient's overall status.  We assess the level of alertness by a number of factors, but if we say your name, you immediately respond, we'd say you were alert.  If we have to rub out knuckles over your breastbone to elicit any type of response from you, we'd indicate your level of alertness as sedated or unresponsive.  One level of "alertness" suggests readiness to interact - the other indicates you are far from being able to do things or even participate.

Good people stay away from evil.  By watching what they do, they protect their lives.   (Proverbs 16:17 NCV)

Our passage today deals with "watching what we do" in order to be in a position of living "protected lives".  What does our level of "alertness" have to do with living "protected lives"?  I think it has to do with our ability to interact.  If we are watchful, we have an alertness which suggests we are both attentive and careful with our interactions with others and things around us.  For example - if we are fully alert, we are less likely to stub our toes on the end table as we journey to the bathroom in the middle of the night than if we stumble there in a stupor.  We interact differently depending on our level of alertness.  I think we interact differently with God depending on our level of alertness, as well.

When we are alert to God's movement in our lives, we often find ourselves making course adjustments as necessary in order to avoid "interactions" which will give us grief, pain, or regret.  When we are not paying close attention (have an altered level of alertness), we find ourselves involved in things which bring regret, shame, unnecessary grief, and a whole lot of turmoil into our lives.  

Why do anesthesiologists put us to sleep for surgery?  Isn't it because they want to affect our ability to "interact" with the surgeon's scalpel?  As the surgeon is cutting away on whatever needs the work, the purpose of the anesthesia is to alter our level of "alertness" (consciousness) so that we don't squirm, jerk, pull away, etc.  If we were awake and alert for the surgery, how many of us would actually sit still long enough to have the surgery completed?  In fact, we'd be more likely to cause further injury because by jerking or pulling away, the surgeon would nick things which weren't even need of repair before he began the surgery!  By keeping us "still", the anesthesiologist is assisting the surgeon to complete the task at hand and minimizing the risks to us.

The anesthesiologist and surgeon have a symbiotic relationship - one assists the other to complete the necessary work.  They are interdependent.  The anesthesiologist really has no purpose without the surgeon.  I think the same might be true in our spiritual lives.  Christ's words are recorded for us in this book we refer to as the Bible.  Without the symbiotic relationship of the Holy Spirit bringing us into a place of grasping the context of the words shared there, we'd just be reading words.  They work together to bring revelation and to accomplish the work of "spiritual surgery" in our lives - the Word is the surgeon's scalpel, the Holy Spirit is like the anesthesiologist - getting us to a place of where the surgeon can do his work.

Our writer reminds us that the way to avoid evil is by being watchful.  It is like "preventative medicine".  When we do whatever we can to be in a place of health physically, we are more likely to catch things when they are "small" than when we neglect our health.  We might notice a change in our skin, alerting us to the need to have it checked out for the possibility of skin cancer.  We might see a change in our visual acuity, alerting us to the need for corrective lenses.  Our watchfulness "alerts" us to the need for intervention.  God places the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us keep watch over our spirit.  Our part is to be "alert" - watchful.  His part is to keep us safe.  As the "little stuff" creeps in, "alert" individuals will respond by having it "checked out" because they don't want to let it "grow" in their lives if it will bring them harm in the end.  Together, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will do the work of helping us to avoid those things which will only bring us harm in the end.  They are symbiotic - one interdependent on the other.  In reality, we rely upon the interdependence of the Word and the Holy Spirit to keep us safe.  What God asks from us is to stay alert to the interaction of these two in our lives - so we avoid harm.  Just sayin!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Journal of Love

We just celebrated Valentine's Day here in the United States.  I don't know how many of my readers in other countries actually celebrate this day, but it is definitely a huge money-maker here.  Flowers are sent, candies are gifted, dinners are prepared, and little notes of love are passed between people.  I wonder how many times we forget about the greatest love note we have ever received?  I began to think on this as I considered something I heard someone share about how they kept the love alive in their marriage of over thirty years together.  She spoke of how several years prior, they had begun the process of writing journal notes to each other.  Some very short - others with more content.  They have two journals - one for him to write in and the other for her.  Hers is really for him to read - his for her.  They don't write in it everyday, but there are some weeks when a note is left daily, others when maybe one a week says it all.  They leave the journal out where the other will see it - hers is usually found next to his favorite chair, hers in the kitchen.  As each discovers the latest note, there is something more - a legacy of notes.  In the toughest times in their marriage, they have often returned to the journal of notes, recounting all the tremendous memories of these moments.  It made me think about the "journal" of love notes we have been given by the lover of our soul - God.  Any time we need to recount his love for us - we can just go there.  Today, I'd like to just share some "love notes" from God.  I pray you will just allow them to speak to your heart as they have mine.

If God hadn’t been there for me, I never would have made it.  The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,” your loveGod, took hold and held me fast.  (Psalm 94:17-18 MSG)  I wonder how many times God is right beside us and we don't even recognize him there?  Yet, when we begin to stumble, we become so totally aware of his presence - by the strength of the arm which catches hold of us and pulls us to safety once again.

love you,God— you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout.  (Psalm 18:1-2 MSG)  Bedrock under our feet - suggests we have reliable ground upon which we stand.  A castle to live in - this speaks to me of the vastness of his love for us.  The crag in the rocks - not only a place of hiding, but of secret growth - for the crag often has a growth all its own.

But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!  (Psalm 18:16-19 MSG)  One of the most awesome parts of being loved is the ability of the other to keep the element of surprise in the relationship.  This goes for God, too.  He delights in surprising those he loves and calls his own.

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.  (Psalm 23:6 MSG)  Have you ever been pursued?  If you have, you know the delight of the "chase".  There is something else here, though.   His "chasing" is continual - every day of our lives - he pursues us.  Not just on some special holiday - but each and every day!

For God’s Word is solid to the core; everything he makes is sound inside and out. He loves it when everything fits, when his world is in plumb-line true. Earth is drenched in God’s affectionate satisfaction.  (Psalm 33:4-5 MSG)  Solid to the core - nothing about God's love is "out of place" or "misaligned".  It is true "plumb"!  

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.  (Psalm 51:16-17 MSG)  All we have to offer in this relationship is heart-shattered lives which are so earnestly seeking to know love and to be loved.  It is this very heart condition which moves God's heart - capturing his attention, consuming his heart, and moving him to embrace us.

Your loveGod, is my song, and I’ll sing it! I’m forever telling everyone how faithful you are. I’ll never quit telling the story of your love— how you built the cosmos and guaranteed everything in it. Your love has always been our lives’ foundation, your fidelity has been the roof over our world.   (Psalm 89:1-2 MSG)  There is no greater love song than the song sung in heaven when a shattered heart is restored.  There is no greater song heard in our own hearts than when God's fingers strum a melody of worship from within our lives.  Love embraced soon becomes love expressed - never stop telling the story of his love.  This is what this couple was doing - retelling each other the story of their deep and growing love for each other.  The moments will quickly pass us by - in taking just the short moments to get into God's journal of love, we can be reminded of his deep and ever growing love for us!  We have many love notes from God - I wonder just how many love notes we have taken time to write back to him?  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I know "of", but do I "know"?

Preconceived:  To form a perception of beforehand as a result of previously held or known information.  Some of us have a tendency to gravitate toward what we "know" about a person, forming an opinion of that person based on the small amount of facts we have.  The problem with this is the limitation in what it is we know about that individual.  We likely have some facts, but we really don't get beyond those "facts" to consider the "rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say.  

He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?”  But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.  (Mark 6:1-6 MSG)

Jesus found himself in that predicament on this day.  He returns to his hometown - the folks who should know him best.  He spends time teaching on the Sabbath - probably preaching a good sermon.  We even hear that he "made a real hit" with his friends and associates in town - impressing everyone.  Just as quickly as they were "impressed" by what they heard, they become just as "unimpressed" with him because they recount what it is they "know" about him.  The truth be told, we do the same.  We have limited knowledge of someone's past behavior, responses, or the like.  They could be changed people today, but we continue to base our "impression" of them on what it is we "know" about their past.

What does this do?  It cause us to "trip over what LITTLE we know" about the individual - never getting any further in the relationship.  The issue is not the other person - it is us.  We are the ones tripping and it is over what "little" we actually know.  We base our judgments on a fraction of the evidence.  The term "preconceive" is really made up of two roots. "Pre" speaks to us of something occurring "before" or "prior to".  "Conceive" speaks to us of "forming".  So, in essence we are "forming" opinions prior to getting the whole truth.

We sometimes do this with ourselves!  We look in the mirror, remember the old self, and forget about the many new "facets" of beauty God has already worked out in our lives.  We see what our mind tells us to see.  This is often true in our relationships with others - we see what our mind tells us we are seeing.  If we have been hurt in the past, we find it difficult to not recall the hurt today.  The part of this passage I want us to see this morning is the "little" they knew about Jesus and how this "little" caused them to not be able to get beyond that point.  They knew "of" his family.  They knew "of" his past job - a carpenter.  They knew "of" his upbringing - under Mary's watchful eye.  Yet, they really did not know Jesus - the Son of God.  

What we find when we look deeper than what we know "of" somebody's background, reputation, or past performance, might actually surprise us.  If we get beyond the "of", we might actually find ourselves face-to-face with someone who really blesses our lives.  When we focus on what know "of", we are linking what we perceive with the actual identity of the individual.  Identity is an evolving thing - we come from certain backgrounds, but we are always evolving as we are exposed to new things.  

Sure, we have the background of those things we are known for - our reputation does indeed precede us.  Yet, if we begin to allow Jesus to be our mirror instead of that shiny piece of glass in our bathroom, I wonder how differently we might just see ourselves and others.  When we allow Jesus to reflect back what he sees in us and those around us, we might just find the "little" we know "of" another is really not how that individual is today.  It would be a shame to stop at what we know "of" an individual and ourselves when what we are today is not the same as what we were then!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sandpaper anyone?

Probe:  To search into; examine thoroughly; to place under scrutiny.  Some call this being "under the microscope".  As long as someone is only viewing with the "naked eye", what is seen is not always what it appears to be.  But...put the same object under the microscope and you see things hidden from view!  It is like when you thought you dusted well, then the sun comes shining through the window, or you turn on that bright light in the room, and poof - all the dust on the shelves you "missed" is quite apparent!  You just didn't "probe" far enough with the duster!  Yet, you thought you had "cleaned house".

Close the book on Evil, Godbut publish your mandate for us.  You get us ready for life: you probe for our soft spots, you knock off our rough edges.  And I’m feeling so fit, so safe: made right, kept right. God in solemn honor does things right, but his nerves are sandpapered raw.  (Psalm 7:9-11 MSG)

God has a way of "probing" which goes after areas we thought we could ignore without anyone discovering them, doesn't he?  He goes after the soft spots.  Why do we "feel our fruit" at the grocer?  Isn't it because we are probing for soft spots?  If we find those soft spots, we may put it back, thinking it is too ripe, bruised, or just not of the texture we'd like to consume.  If it is an avocado, we might actually like it to have a little "give" to it, but if it is too soft, it will not hold up well in our guacamole!  The purpose of the "probing" is  to discover what we cannot always see with the naked eye.  The process of "probing" is part of "selection", is it not?  We "select" based on what it is we discover in the probing.  I don't think God selects based on the same criteria!

Now, if God goes after the "soft spots" in our character, do you think it is to put us back on the shelf, rejected because we have a few "soft spots"?  Certainly not!  He only probes for the "soft spots" because he knows they impact the health of the rest of the "spots".  If we were to purchase the apple with a soft spot, bring it home, then carefully "excise" the soft spot, we'd still be left with a lot of good apple, right?  God's plan in discovering the "soft spots" in our character is quite similar - he wants to remove the damaged parts so the good parts are all that remains.  Some of us think there are too many "damaged" parts in us for God to find anything good - but I beg to differ!  Even the apple with "soft spots" has seeds!  What are seeds?  They are the potential for infinite growth!

We don't always appreciate the probing.  It seems invasive and kind of painful at times.  The process of probing is connected to the purpose of probing - without the probing there would be no discovery.  I had a father who loved to work out in the shop.  He had all kinds of power and hand tools.  He could craft things with his hands.  He showed me the value of "taking off the rough edges".  If we simply left a piece of wood with all its rough edges, it might actually cause us more problems in the long run - giving us deeply-seated splinters which would be hard to remove and set in as a festering, painful sore.  So, we "worked the wood".  We took the sandpaper, planes, and the like to the wood.  How were the rough edges removed?  Under pressure!  As we exerted pressure of the rough sandpaper against the rough edges of the wood, those rough places began to smooth out.  We'd change "grit" of sandpaper from very course and rough to smoother and fine.  Why?  If we continued with the course grit, we'd damage the wood.  If we further smoothed it with the finer grit, we'd soon have it smooth as silk.  

The smoother the wood, the easier it was to take on the stain.  The purpose of the stain - to enhance (bring out) the beauty of the grain.  The purpose of stain was not to "mask" the beauty, but to highlight it!  The stain came after the sanding - not before it.  Sometimes I think we get things mixed up in our minds when it comes to beauty in our lives.  We think beauty is something we can "put on" - but truthfully, it is only something we can "bring out".  The sanding "brought out" the beauty of the wood.  The actions of God's probing in our lives does exactly the same - it brings forth the beauty of the "grain" in us.  The grain in wood is indicative of something - growth.  

Dad always looked for wood that did not have a whole lot of "knots" in it - a few were good, but many were not.  Sure, a knot was a sign of growth, but it presented an area of "weakness" to the wood.  If there were too many knots, the wood would be less likely to hold up under pressure.  Why does the knot exist?  It was a place of growth - connection to a portion of the wood that is no longer there.  A branching off, of sorts.  Those reminders of the past "branches" exist in the finished board, but the branches aren't part of the finished product!  We have lots of "knots" in our lives - places where we "branch off" a little here and there.  God knows that in order to give our live integrity and strength, they need to be removed.  As he removes them, we grow taller, stronger, and in a more "upright" manner.  Yet, the "knot" will remain as a reminder of the branch.  

We cannot escape our past - it is like the knot in the tree - a reminder.  God highlights the "knots" which lend to the beauty of the finished product.  He eliminates those which don't.  In the end, the thing produced is a display of his probing and "sanding".  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fix my fix, will ya?

Are you a "figurer"?  You know - the one who is always musing over this plan or the next, not really able to let go of the reins - is that you?  I think there are more of us out there than we'd like to admit!  We spend our energies ruminating on the stuff we'd do well to let go of while we don't spend enough time or energies on getting the clarity of heart, emotions, and mind we so desperately need.  When we are constantly trying to "work the plan", we seldom take time to actually find out of the plan needs any "alteration" as God sees it!

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.  Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  (Proverbs 2:5-6 MSG)

As we examine scripture, we find all kinds of people who have tried to figure out the plan for their "fix" all on their own.  The same result is apparent - they fail miserably!  Look at Adam and Eve.  Plan A was to listen to God's plan - stay away from three of Good & Evil.  Plan B was to just have a bite of the fruit of that tree.  Plan C was to deal with the shame and guilt of having veered from Plan A!  Job is another example of man trying to "fix his fix" by whatever means he could.  He finds himself right smack-dab in the midst of the worse "fix" of his life - losing lands, livestock, and family.  Then, as though it would "fix" his "fix", his choice of a "fix" was a dung pile!  Now, don't get me wrong, but sitting in a pile of poop and listening to the not so wise counsel of some "caring friends" only added insult to injury - it did not "fix his fix".  Judas Iscariot found himself in quite a fix when he decided money and popularity was more important than loyalty and love.  To his dismay, what he found was neither money nor popularity soothed the heart, nor did it set the mind at rest.  His fix for his fix?  A tree and a rope!  Not the best fix, if you ask me.

The command to us is to trust God - stop trying to fix your fix on our own.  You have probably heard the old quote from John Steinbeck, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."  This is so true!  If you were ever assigned this book in school, you will recall the story of two migrant workers, constantly on the move during the Great Depression - constantly on the move, always just marginally escaping the next great fate, until one day, the "plan" just doesn't work anymore.  Steinbeck tells it well - we can fix our fix only so well, then one day we find our fix is no longer fixable!  Our plans might promote the idea of planning for the unknown, but do we really "know" what cannot be known?

The key to our learning to rely upon the "right" fix for our fix is in learning which voices we will listen to.  Adam and Eve chose to listen to the intriguing voice of desire and want.  Job chose to listen to the consoling and corroborating voices of his companions.  Judas Iscariot chose to listen to the voice of deception.  Most of the "fixes" we find ourselves trying to fix are just because we listen to the wrong "voices".  Listen to God's voice - the still small voice of God.  No other "voice" will ring as true, give as much clarity, or unfold the course before us as will his.  How do we become proficient in listening to his voice?

First, I think we have to read what our writer has just said - stop all the "figuring" on your own - learn to trust God with the details.  These two verses actually work together.  As we come to a place of being open to God, we find it also includes us shutting down the planning we constantly do in our minds.  I am not suggesting we become empty-headed, unthinking creatures.  Far from it - but we don't have to work out all the details on our own.  God's desire is for us to bring the plan to him, lay it all out before him, then listen carefully to the many ways in which he speaks to us about those plans.

Second, in laying out our plan before the one who directs our steps and keeps us on track, we are actually allowing the alterations in the plans, but only if we are open to hearing about those "alterations".  These "alterations" often are pointed out as we read God's Word, hear a few lines from a song, listen to the wisdom of a good biblical teacher, etc.  In hearing, we open up to the "change in plans" which will keep us on course.  Adam and Eve "heard" God's voice in the garden - not seeking to punish them, but seeking to bring them into a place of restoration.  Job "heard" God's voice, not in the counsel of these friends, but in the talking out of his circumstances with none other than God himself.  Judas Iscariot probably never did get to the place of listening to God's voice - for the voice of deception took him all the way to the end of his life.  Sad thing indeed.

Last, but not least, we often have to lay down our "fix" in order to really embrace the "fix for our fix".  When I have broken a piece of ceramic, I can try to put all the pieces back together, seeing how they all "fit", but until I put them down, seeking the "glue" which will bind them together again, I cannot ever hope the pieces will come together.  It is in putting down the pieces that I find the "fix" which will bring the pieces into right alignment again.  God's plan is for us to lay down our lives - all the best laid plans - in order to see how he designed the pieces to fit.  In laying them down, we are free to embrace how he desires to connect them together.  Just sayin!

Monday, February 18, 2013

God's got lots to say - you listening?

Make your case:  Explain why something is the way it is, or should be done the way it is done; convincing evidence presented to show the "rightness" of your position.  

The passage below is taken from the book of Isaiah - a profit to the nations of Judah and Israel - the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  The first half of the book deals with the words of prophesy to the nation of Judah - the last speaks of the restoration coming to Israel.  This passage is taken from the latter portion, therefore, it deals more with God's mercy and restoration than it does his judgment.  In these words, God opens dialogue with the people - he begins this section with these words:  God, Creator of the heavens—he is, remember, God.  Maker of earth—he put it on its foundations, built it from scratch.  He didn’t go to all that trouble to just leave it empty, nothing in it.    He made it to be lived in.  Why do I call reference to these opening words?  I do so because they speak of the "creative" potential in the Word of God.  As we "remember" he is God, we are to not forget he has a purpose in all he creates - all he brings together is for his specific purpose.  Nothing stands void or desolate before him - for he creates NOTHING for the purpose of leaving it empty and desolate - and that includes each of us!

I am God, the one and only.  I don’t just talk to myself or mumble under my breath.  I never told Jacob, ‘Seek me in emptiness, in dark nothingness.’  I am God. I work out in the open, saying what’s right, setting things right.  So gather around, come on in, all you refugees and castoffs.  They don’t seem to know much, do they—those who carry around their no-god blocks of wood, praying for help to a dead stick?  So tell me what you think. Look at the evidence.  Put your heads together. Make your case.  Who told you, and a long time ago, what’s going on here?  Who made sense of things for you?  Wasn’t I the one? God?  It had to be me. I’m the only God there is—the only God who does things right and knows how to help.  So turn to me and be helped—saved!—everyone, whoever and wherever you are.  (Isaiah 45:18-22 MSG)

If we are to understand the potential in God's Word, we have to allow it to have its way within us - to actually take it in so as to allow it to affect us deeply.  Hear what God says next:  I don't talk to myself or mumble under my breath!  Now, this may not seem like much to you at first, but read it again.  God doesn't speak to himself, but to us.  He doesn't mince his words, or conceal them so only a few will be able to hear - he speaks plainly and in directness to our hearts.  His words are powerful - filled with meaning and creative power.  Therefore, it behooves us to take time to listen when he speaks.  I have heard it said, "God gets right to he point."  It is so true!  He doesn't need a whole lot of "fluff" in order to lure us in so we might actually come to a place of listening to him - he gets at it directly!  We would do well to listen as "directly" as he speaks!

* He never asks us to seek in emptiness or stumble around in dark nothingness.  Instead, he invites us into the richness of his presence - through the revelation of his word.  There, we find the light which brings into openness - nothing hidden from the penetration of his light.  

* God works out in the open, but he is always seeking the hidden places.  The "operation" of God in our lives is definitely not COVERT.  They are not disguised as one thing in order to accomplish something else - he is direct. Perhaps this is why we struggle so much with his work in our lives.  No place the Word is allowed to touch ever remains the same - it is like a key unlocking the toughest locked places. 

* His Word sets things right.  Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.  (Genesis 1:1 MSG)  Out of what others see as "nothingness" - he sees vast possibility.  Out of what some have marked out as bottomless emptiness - God sees the potential of his power filling to overflowing.  Out of what has been cast into the utter darkness of despair and hopelessness - he breaks through with light.  Yep, his Word sets things right!

* God has a special affinity for the refugee and cast off.  The one fleeing from dangers real or perceived finds no better resting place than in his arms.  The one who has been rejected by all others finds no other place of acceptance more perfect than in his arms.  His Word is filled with stories of refugee and cast off being embraced.  His Word is the starting point for all who would see a place of asylum - an inviolable refuge.

* He challenges us to consider ALL the evidence.  God never asks us to make decisions based on only scraps of evidence - he gives us the whole deal in his Word.  In examining the entirety of its contents, the revelation we receive becomes convincing evidence of the "rightness" of our God and the "soundness" of his purposes in our lives.

* God's purpose in giving us his Word is not to confuse us more, or keep us from enjoying him fully.  If we stumble upon some portion we cannot comprehend fully, there is only one way to come into understanding - ask him to open it to you.  He is the one to make sense of even the hardest stuff we are challenged with in our understanding - both in his Word, and in life.

It is in turning to him we are helped.  It is in admitting to the vastness of nothingness we have been consumed by that we begin to see the possibility of God creating newness and purpose.  It is in expressing just how empty our heart and mind is without him that we come into a place of being filled.  It is in welcoming light that darkness is dispelled.  All this is possible, not in seeking any amount of self-help or religious pursuit - for all of these are nothing more than "wooden-gods" we might seek.  All this is possible only when the Word gets into us and we into it.  Just sayin!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Do a little bragging!

Trademark:  A distinctive feature or characteristic usually associated with a person or thing.  What are some of the "trademarks" you have come to know over the course of your life?  If I ask you to tell me about a cookie with a creamy white center, you'd likely be able to come up with the name "Oreo".  If you were asked to provide the name of a potato chip in a red can, you'd likely think of "Pringles".  In fact, almost all of the purchasing we do is because we have come to associate something with the image on the can or box - it helps us identify the object more readily.  Perhaps this is why so many companies don't change their packaging willy-nilly.  They know they must do some "up-front" work if they were to change it because we associate their line of product with that particular trademark.  

“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.  Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.  Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.  If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me.  I’m God, and I act in loyal love.  I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things.  These are my trademarks.”  God’s Decree.  (Jeremiah 9:23-24 MSG)

Our passage deals with a trademark of a different sort - the way in which we "know" God is in action in our lives.  Here we find both a warning and an outline of the character traits of our faithful God.  The warning:  Don't get too big for your britches!  It is not your own efforts that have brought you to a place of victory in life - it is the constant oversight and care of God.  Every good thing is a blessing directly from God's hands - we simply opened our hands and hearts to receive it!

The next portion of this passage is where I'd like us to focus our attention today.  In looking into Jeremiah this morning, it became quite clear to me that God disapproved of where Israel had drifted as a nation.  They found themselves in many compromising situations, including absolutely bondage to capturing nations, simply because they did not heed the warnings God provided.  This is a common theme with mankind since the beginning of time. We are given warnings, not because God wants to keep "good things" from us, but because he knows the danger associated with them.  In fact, it is the way they will consume us he is most concerned with - even good stuff can overwhelm and destroy us if it is "consumed" in excess!

So, in evaluating where God wants us to focus our lives, here's what he says:

* It is okay to "brag", but boast of the right stuff in your life.  We often boast of the stuff "we" attain - like the bargain we find at the local grocer, the latest score we achieve in some game, or the like.  God's reminder is that apart from him giving us breath, we'd never enjoy the find or relax with the game!  Two things we can "brag" about - that we understand him and know him.  How do these differ?  To understand him, we have come to a place of becoming familiar with the way he moves, responds, etc.  It is something which comes by spending time with him.  We only become familiar with that which we are exposed to most frequently.  To know him implies we do more than just observe how he moves in our lives, but we have come into a place of fully experiencing his movement.  We are not only familiar with him, but we know his movements.  My sister is amazed by how easily I awaken to movement in my home.  My mother only needs to begin to shuffle her way to this destination or that and I can tell she is about the house.  Why?  I am both familiar with the sound of her movement, and I know the spots she frequents.  The same is true of the movement of God in my life - I am both familiar with his movement and I also know the spots he frequents!

* He is the God of "loyal love".  In other words, when he commits to something, there is no going back!  He follows through on his promises and purposes in our lives.  Now, this is definitely something to "brag" about in this day and age of constantly changing things, is it not?  The thing God wants us to see here is simply this - we may change, but he never does.  We wax and wane in our commitment - his never changes.  We sometimes get diverted - he brings us back on course.  Why?  His love is "loyal" - in other words, it is faithful - it can be trusted.  We don't understand trust until we have tested it, do we?  We "trust" based on having "tested" something.  If we want to cross a foot-bridge, we likely put our weight on it a tiny bit - if it holds up, we might increase the weight until we know it will hold our full weight.  We are like this with God, too.  We put just a little trust in him - then when we see he can be trusted with a whole lot more, we give him more.  I think God would like it if we'd trust him fully to begin with, but he can deal with our limited trust until we come to the place of full trust!  The idea is - he wants us to come to that place eventually!

* His mission in our lives is to set things right.  This implies that things without God are a little messed up!  May I just go out on the limb here and say that things without God are more than a "LITTLE" messed up - they are majorly messed up!  It is like trying to understand the inner workings of an automobile without ever having been to mechanic's school!  You may see things moving, but you have no idea what impact that one movement has on the whole of the automobile!  Stop just that one "movement" and you may reap untold consequences.  The mission of God is to set things right in our lives - to bring things into correct order and function.  It is his touch, and his continued presence, which accomplishes this.  No amount of Bible reading will ever accomplish what just a few moments in his presence can - it may give us the basis for "understanding" things ABOUT God, but when we experience his presence coupled with his Word, we come to KNOW God.

I don't know what you boast about most in your life, but I think it is time we begin to boast about what it is we have come to learn about God - and that which we have come to experience first-hand OF God in in our lives.  Just sayin!