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Sunday, March 31, 2013

What do you see from down there?

Calamity:  a great misfortune or disaster; adversity; misery.  There was a 20th century American Baptist pastor, Harry Emerson Fosdick, who penned these words:  "He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood.  He who faces no calamity will need no courage.  Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in a soil with a strong mixture of troubles."  The idea of the "best" in human character being produced in the times (or fields) of calamity or trouble might just catch your attention here.  In fact, it speaks very loudly to me - for the character which speaks the "loudest" is that which had endured the disaster, held strong through the misfortune and loss, dug in during times of adversity, and withheld the desire to give up in the midst of misery.

For a righteous man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.  (Proverbs 24:16 AMP)

He also penned these words:  "Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us, but in what we make out of what they do to us."  We often declare we CANNOT because we claim some "flaw" in heredity or some "misfortune" of environment.  It is quite a different matter to declare we CAN because we recognize there is no "flaw" in God's heredity (which we partake of in Christ Jesus), nor is there anything of "misfortune" in his careful plans for our lives.  It is not in WHAT comes our way which our course is established - it is in realizing WHO we are as we walk through those events - a child of God, embraced by grace, overcoming by his power.

Look at our passage this morning.  The writer never says a righteous man will always be standing strong.  It indicates a righteous man may actually fall - not once, but several times!  Take heart, dear one, you may have fallen, but you don't remain down!  Why?  It is because you never face the misfortune, disaster, adversity, or misery alone!  You always have a hand outstretched to bring you through - the hand of Christ.  I think this passage speaks of not just enduring change, but making change happen.  When we fall, we have an opportunity to change what made us fall, don't we?  Trip over our shoelaces and we either learn to tie them or get shoes with velcro!  Drink sour milk and we either learn to do a sniff test each time we open the carton or we convert to a milk substitute!  You don't just accept the "bad stuff" because you find yourself with it or enduring it.  You look for a better solution, don't you?

Solomon presents us with the idea of not just falling, but rising again.  The "calamity" which seeks to get us down cannot keep us down when we have the understanding of the richest of our character being developed not in the good times, but in the depths of such calamity!  Another poet penned these words:  "We are more disturbed by a calamity which threatens us than by one which had befallen us."  (John Lancaster Spalding)  Sobering thought, but so true.  We focus on the thing which seems to be threatening us - nipping at our heels, so to speak - while we neglect the one which had already landed us smack-dab on our rears!  I think we spend a whole lot of time in the "what if" rather than the "hear and now", often not realizing the present place we find ourselves is THE place of our greatest growth.

I spent some time this weekend in the yard - weeding, trimming, and then renewing the gardens with some new topsoil, nutrients, and a few new plants.  I was surprised to find I had a huge leak in my sprinkler system - totally hidden away from my view by the vastness of the bush which covered it.  You know, it wasn't until I took the time to focus on the "cleaning out" of the bed, planting of something new, and the trimming back of the unruly growth that I found the evidence of the leak!  It probably had been there a while, by the looks of things.  A small "elbow" in the plastic piping had cracked, taking the pipe apart, allowing large amounts of water to just escape to the sidewalk.  I wonder how long it would have gone on if I had not chosen to deal with what was right in front of me?  You see, I did not set out to trim the bushes - I just wanted to refresh the back yard.  The break in the pipe was in the front yard!

I discovered the leak which was likely costing me extra money each month in my water bill just because I planted three tiny flower seedlings in the front bed.  An unintentional finding as a result of an intentional action.  I wonder how many times we discover something totally unintentional in our calamity?  We might never have realized the thing which was consuming so much of our resources without that specific moment occurring.  Solomon doesn't say a righteous man NEVER falls - he just discovers something totally unintentional in the moment of his falling!  The thing we discover in our calamity may be the thing which results in the richest growth in our lives - the deepest development in our character.  I know my plants will be hardier with the leak fixed, as the water can now travel to each sprinkler along its designed course.  I think we may just discover in our falling that "unintended blessing" of realizing something capable of producing vast growth because of the  perspective we gain in our falling!  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reacting or Acting?

Ever fail a test?  You know, you think you have "studied" hard enough to make your brain actually leak forth the right stuff in just the right moment - then almost without recognizing the turning point, you "slip" in what you "leaked" and down you go!  Yep, been there, done that, bought the shirt, and wore it out!  The truth is, we all fail - sometimes more miserably than others, but we fail nonetheless.  It may be in some commitment we have made such as determining to eat right, or some "trigger" we just didn't want to respond to in quite the same way the next time we were faced with it.  This week was one of those weeks for me.  The "trigger" came and there came my response - not the grace-filled one I would have like to respond with, but the adrenaline kicked into full gear and there I was facing the same old stuff.  The truth be told - I didn't go as far in my negative response to the trigger - for I held back the words I would have liked to have said at that moment, but I faced the "triggering point" with a response I immediately regretted.  It was a test - and I studied well - but all the studying in the world didn't help me "pass the test"!

I can see now, God, that your decisions are right; your testing has taught me what’s true and right.  Oh, love me—and right now!—hold me tight, just the way you promised.  Now comfort me so I can live, really live; your revelation is the tune I dance to.  (Psalm 119:75-77 MSG)

At that moment in time, I chose to dance to my own tune.  In retrospect, I can see this clearly now.  The triggering point was the beginning of the test.  The apology I extended afterward was the recognition I did not allow the studying to be converted into actual "learning".  So, now you have heard my true confessions - but I don't think I am sailing these seas alone!  We often face "triggers" we think we have under control only to find at the right moment, the very thing we thought we "learned" in our studies was not "fully learned" yet.

David says something in this portion of scripture which caught my eye this morning.  Maybe it was because my heart was a little sensitized by the failure of the test - or maybe it was just God's timing of the test!  This particular passage is "sandwiched" between two very important ideas - the first being the idea of waiting in expectation for God's wisdom to be "delivered" in the moment of our testing and the commitment to keep our minds "fixed" on God's counsel especially in the midst of the test.  To this, David adds:  "And let me live whole and holy, soul and body, so I can always walk with my head held high."  (vs. 80)  

Triggers are anything which serve as stimuli or initiators of a REACTION or series of REACTIONS.  Notice, I did not say a trigger was a stimulator of an action - it is a stimulator of a REACTION.  Most of the time, the triggers we face in life cause a reaction - they may follow-through with actions, but it is the reaction which really ignites the beginning of any action!  As a kid, we did the experiment of adding vinegar to backing soda into a bottle, observing that the reaction produced a powerful "propellant" which caused the bottle to almost act as a rocket.  The bottle was never created to be a rocket, but the combining of the substances in the bottle caused the rocket to act in a way it was never designed to act!  

The reaction of the combined substances became the stimulus which changed the intended purpose of the bottle into the "undesigned purposed"!  Does this speak anything to you about your tendency to REACT to the combining of substances (the wrong word at the wrong time in the wrong place, for example)?  You were designed by God to ACT one way, but the REACTION of the combined substances resulted in a totally contrary action!  Maybe this is why David asked God to help him learn this process of "waiting in expectation" for God's wisdom.  It would only take the substitution of one ingredient to change the combined substances!  Substitute water for the vinegar and you don't get the explosive potential of the acid and base mixture!  

Now, think about this - when you mix two acidic items together, do you get anything good?  Not really!  Try mixing bleach and vinegar together and you inadvertently end up making chlorine gas!  Not only are you affected by the mixture, but you inadvertently can affect others, too!  There are some "triggers" which end up only affecting you, but more often than not, the triggers we face end up affecting others around us!  

So, having said all that, here's what I want you to see.  The REACTION is only changed when the "substance" I offer into the mixture is exactly the opposite of what will result in the REACTION!  Yep, the test is passed when I recognize (with God's help - that is the waiting on him part) the exact "opposite" of what I am faced with in the test as what needs to be "added" to the mixture! Whatever triggers will then be rendered harmless - the stimulus will have no effect - like launching forth a dud missile!   The missile had potential beyond its knowing, but without the reaction of the "electrical impulse" which acts as the detonator, the missile is a dud!  Just sayin!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beware of the potholes!

Many of my friends from back east and in the northern parts are still experiencing winter weather - snow flies, drifts build, and roads become hazards rather than passageways.  I have a family member in Canada who drives plows - he stays VERY busy trying to keep a semblance of passable roadway for those who must venture out.  To him, the work must seem endless, but it has a purpose - to make for a safe passage.  If you have ever tried to travel a roadway covered with slick ice, drifts of snow, and sometimes unrecognizable "boundary markers", you might understand the dangers associated with this type of travel.  When you cannot see the boundary markers of the roadway, it is easy to drift into spaces your car was not intended to travel!

The perverse travel a dangerous road, potholed and mud-slick; if you know what’s good for you, stay clear of it.  (Proverbs 22:5 MSG)

I spend three years in Alaska as part of my tour in the military. I absolutely enjoyed the opportunities and experiences I had there, but one experience will always stick in my mind.  You see, I was raised in the heat of the Arizona desert - snow was just not a thing I ever really learned to deal with.  I did not realize the significance of the damage which can be done by the beautiful white stuff!  As I ventured out my first weekend pass away from base, I was excited to be exploring the areas outside of my military post.  The local bus service was my means of transportation - the first time I'd ridden public transportation, I might add.  It was January - cold, snow every day, and dark most of the time.  I wanted to make the best of the few hours of daylight we had, so I timed my venture just right.  As I stepped off the bus at the bus stop, I was so excited to be exploring the local shops, eateries, and just plain enjoying a little R&R.  Until I had to cross the street, that is!

You see, I really had no concept of what a pothole was until I moved to Alaska!  As I stepped off the curb and began to make my way across the busy four lane roadway, I took a couple of steps and then sunk thigh high into this brown-black, cold mess!  Yep, a pothole!  Disguised as a "puddle" in the middle of the road!  Who'd have known?  There I was, wet, cold, snowy water seeping into my boots, and traffic was coming from everywhere.  As you can well imagine, my heart skipped a couple of beats while I scurried as quickly as I could out of the mess, then skedaddled my way across the street to the safety of the sidewalk (or at least where I thought the sidewalk should be) as quickly as my feet could carry me.  It was the start of a beautiful excursion, turned bitterly miserable with one tiny misstep - one tiny unrecognized hazard in my path!

You never know the dangers hidden just beneath the surface, do you?  The pothole was "concealed" beneath what looked like nothing more than an inch of mushy snow blackened by the combined travels of many drivers and the sands of the snow plow crews.  Yet, just beneath the "pretense" of a puddle was the "reality" of a cavernous expanse just waiting to engulf the unsuspecting!  Life is filled with potholes, isn't it?  Maybe not literal ones, but the "figurative" potholes of life lay in wait for us!  They usually are directly in the path of where we are right now and where we want to be shortly.  In fact, they are often unnoticed by us because we aren't looking for the obstacles in our passage, just the end of our journey!

It is the unrecognized obstacles which give us the most problems, isn't it?  The stuff we see readily, we avoid like the plague!  It is the subtle compromises we don't see which get us every time!  The pothole on that Anchorage street did not start out as a cavernous "trap" just waiting for its next "victim".  It started as a tiny fissure in the surface of the roadway - a tiny compromise (no biggie).  As the snows fell, the ice formed, and the trucks worked that roadway, the tiny fissure grew bigger.  Little pieces of protective roadway lifted, pulling away from the others, until the fissure became a large gap.  Compromise has a way of pulling us away from the connections which lend integrity to our lives.  The gap soon becomes an unprotected opening, allowing the "softness" of what is underneath to be exposed to the elements, eroding away piece by piece until the "hole" grows deep.  The first compromise created the fissure - the repeated ones allowed for the disconnection - the continual passage afforded the erosion.

Before long, what appeared to be nothing more than a "no biggie" becomes a "big deal" for us!  Potholes in our character don't just happen - they "develop" - because of frequent passage in the same direction, inattentiveness to the small breaks in integrity, and consistent outside influences acting against the strength and integrity of the protective barriers in our lives.  Our scripture today reminds us focus on the path we travel, not just the destination we have in mind.  If I had watched for the evidence of potholes, I'd have had a lot "dryer" of a day!  If we observe for the small "breaks" in the integrity of our character, allowing God to repair those small fissures before they grow too big, we are less likely to travel a roadway riddled with potholes.  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

You want me to cross where?

It is one thing to stand still - quite another to be at peace, remaining at rest, while the world whirls past you at speeds capable of making your head spin!  Moses is leading the people of Israel away from the slavery of Egypt - Pharaoh's army close on their heels.  Imagine being an unorganized, start-up nation, no armies of your own, and only a "dream" of freedom.  Here you are, faced with the armies behind, and a body of water before - one direction ensures bondage, the other promises hope - but something stands between their past and their future.  The water - their dividing line between the past and the promise of hope.  As the "past" closes in, they press closer to their future state - but there is a "hurdle" of sorts - the Red Sea.  In the presence of their "past" and the hope of their "future" stands the ominous "present". 
13 Moses told the people, Fear not; stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians you have seen today you shall never see again.  14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest.  (Exodus 14:13-14 AMP)

Ever find yourself at the intersection of past and future?  If you have, you probably understand the magnitude of the "present".  Too many of us want to deal with our "past".  Just like Israel, we see it as the armies which pursue us.  Too big for us to escape - encroaching upon the "space" we have put between us and it.  We also see the "future" - but it is obscured by the impossibilities of what appears to be in our "present".

If you are like me, you probably see your "Red Sea" before you, then turn to the right or left, hoping to find some other "passage" into the future.  You hope for a "shallow" spot, not so ominous and seemingly impossible.  We hope for the "easy way out", but the truth is, there is no better "crossing point" than the one God brings us to the first time!

Here they stood - right where God had brought them.  The passage seemed impossible - as though what laid between their past and their future would engulf them and take them under.  It is not uncommon for us to feel this way when we are making a clean break from our past.  We will ALWAYS face barriers between where we were and where we need to be - it is in the presence of these barriers where our faith is grown.

See what Moses instructed Israel that day - Fear NOT.  Stand STILL.  SEE the salvation God will work for you today.  Three important things, are they not?  In the presence of the barriers to our break from the past and our walking into our future state, we most often find moments of fear - paralyzing, crippling, emotionally charged fear.  We find it hard to stand still, wanting to find another way - because our escaping what is in our past is just that important to us!  The promise of what God has provided for our future is never really ours until we SEE the salvation God will work for us TODAY!  It is in TODAY he breaks the bonds of the past, opening up the passage into our future.

Don't lose sight of what Moses says next - the past you see today, you shall NEVER see again!  The pursuing force of the past you shall NEVER see again - when you choose to cross exactly where God brings you today.  The problem we continually face is choosing to look for the shallow crossing - leaving an opportunity for our past to pursue.  It is in the "depths" of God's designed crossing point that our past is overwhelmed with his power!

The next statement is not without its instructions, as well.  It is the Lord who fights for us in our present when the crossing point between our past and our future is exactly where he brings us.  We don't realize he already has prepared the very thing which will break the connection with the past.  Two things he asks of us as we face the crossing point - remain at rest and hold our peace.  That means no "worry words" and no "restless roving".

Restless roving - the movement we feel compelled to do whenever we are faced with something we don't understand - something which seems to overwhelm us.  Worry words - those expressions of doubt which surface in the very presence of the challenge of "passing through" what God brings us to.  Don't ever forget this instruction - when we are willing to stand still and watch in expectation for what God will do, the "passage" which seemed impossible will open up before us.  It is in the stillness and submission of our spirit that God is free to act.

We each have a past to escape and a future to embrace.  In between the escape and the embrace comes what seems beyond the realms of possibility.  It is the presence of these three forces we must choose to stand still and remain at peace.  Ominous task, huh?  Yet, in crossing exactly where God places us, we shall realize the escape and be right where we need to be to embrace the possibilities of our future.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What's in your pages?

Example:  a part to show the character of the whole; a pattern to be imitated; an illustration.  Have you ever stopped to consider the various examples you have observed in life?  We have numerous more these days than ever before, simply because of the intensity of social media.  Not every one of these examples are the best, though.  Some stand as reminders of the "character" we don't want to become!  The tougher question to answer is really if we have ever stopped to examine the character we display which someone else may actually be using as what they will "imitate" in their lives.
14 And the grace (unmerited favor and blessing) of our Lord [actually] flowed out superabundantly and beyond measure for me, accompanied by faith and love that are [to be realized] in Christ Jesus.  15 The saying is sure and true and worthy of full and universal acceptance, that Christ Jesus (the Messiah) came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.  16 But I obtained mercy for the reason that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might show forth and display all His perfect long-suffering and patience for an example to [encourage] those who would thereafter believe on Him for [the gaining of] eternal life.  (1 Timothy 1:14-16 AMP)
Our passage this morning begins with the place of transition in our lives - the connection of grace with the sinfulness of our past.  Paul points out that grace has two "traveling companions" - faith and love.  Now, take a few moments to ponder that one.  Grace (unmerited favor and blessing) are accompanied by faith and love.  This suggests if love is present, grace and faith are there, as well; if faith is present, grace and love are also working in your midst - neither operates alone.  Grace has a basis in love - God so LOVED the world he GAVE his only begotten son.  His overwhelming love for his creation resulted in the ultimate sacrifice - not because we deserved it, but because his love required his unmerited favor and superabundant blessing!
Perhaps we think of grace as some "stand-alone" character trait of God.  It is impossible for grace to stand alone - his love moves his heart, his faithfulness extends his hand - no love, no grace!  If you don't think this to be true, look at the examples you have been given in your own life.  I know my parents extended much grace to me (unmerited favor and blessing) - not because I did anything to deserve it, but because their love for me was intense!  If this is possible in the natural sense, what ever makes us think God's love would move in any other way in our lives?  Why is it we doubt the work of grace in our lives?  Why do we struggle to realize the intensity of his love toward us?  I think it may because we have had some imperfect examples by which we now judge how we think love "acts".
Looking again at our passage, we find some hidden treasure - but we have to look a little deeper than just skimming the verses.  Paul gives us some insight into why we should not doubt the intensity of God's love toward us - the same love which extends grace beyond measure.  It is his love which allows us to receive grace (affording the way for us to receive it) - so we can stand as an example of his awesome long-suffering and patience!  Not just to be "okay" in ourselves, but to extend hope to those who yet need to experience this grace.  If you doubt God could ever do anything to redeem your life out of the mess of your failures, think again.  It is his extreme delight to take the most messed up of us and make us the "loudest" and most "vibrant" of examples for others to see the meaning and result of grace!
Our lives stand as an example - to encourage another.  If your example encourages just one person to find grace, you have lived well.  If your example encourages one person to see the connection between grace, love and faith - you have fulfilled the purpose God intends.  The ability of your example to connect with the life of another is powerful - because where grace, love, and faith make connection, life-change is sure to happen.  We sometimes under-appreciate the power of what we have been connected to in Christ Jesus, imagining we can make little impact on the life of another.  Think again - because your life has three powerful storehouses of power:  God's grace, God's love, and God's faithfulness - all making a statement of "faith" in our lives.  Don't sell God short by selling yourself short.  You are a book read by many - just sayin!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Autopia Trivia

Oh, that my ways were directed and established to observe Your statutes [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying them]!  Then shall I not be put to shame [by failing to inherit Your promises] when I have respect to all Your commandments.  I will praise and give thanks to You with uprightness of heart when I learn [by sanctified experiences] Your righteous judgments [Your decisions against and punishments for particular lines of thought and conduct].  (Psalm 119:5-7 AMP)
How many times do we pray something like this to God?  We cry out to him, asking him to set our ways straight again because somehow we have managed to stray from the path we should be on.  David's plea - direct and establish my ways - not to live as I want, but to observe your Word in its entirety.  A "directed" life is one which both guided and regulated, so the course is certain.  It is like when I used to ride the "Autopia" ride at Disneyland as a child - I had no idea the metal bar which ran between the two tires actually was keeping me on my course!  It was there for my safety - but I just rode along like I was mastering the road and watching the world pass me by as I maneuvered the twists and turns.  I thought I was driving - directing the course of the vehicle.  In fact, someone with a whole lot more common sense than to give control of a vehicle to a child had my safety in mind!  The same is true of our lives in Christ - sure we don't have a metal bar between our "tires", but we full the pull and tug of veering from course, don't we?  
The metal bar on the car ride was there to act as a mediator - it pushed me back on course when I turned to sharply to the right or left.  It "established" the course of the vehicle in which I was riding.  I wonder if we actually realize how much God is "establishing" the course of our lives, not with a metal bar, but with his Word?  As we hear the Word, taking in its richness and promise, it forms the basis for our travels in life.  As I drove that tiny car along a designated track, unlimited power existed - but only as long as I stayed on the track!  I could not operate those little cars off the track - there was something about the track which gave them the "structure" in which they were designed to be operated.  Disney envisioned the ride as the freeway of the future - but kids just saw it as plain fun!  God envisions the "track" he provides through the intake of his Word as providing the "freeway" for each of our future endeavors - wouldn't it be great if we saw his Word as just plain fun for our lives!  
The little cars on that track also had one other feature designed for safety - they were "one-wheel" drive.  In other words, one wheel actually moved the vehicle forward.  Interestingly, God has the same vision in mind for us - that we be "one-wheel" driven!  He is the one who is designed to turn our wheel - not just the one who designs the course upon which our lives will travel.  The "drive" of our lives would be ugly if there were two wheels each pulling in opposite directions.  Imagine the wear and tear on the other wheels!  Not to mention the other working parts of the vehicle!  No wonder God requires there be just one wheel driving!  I don't know about you, but when he drives, I get to my destination the first time!
There was one other little feature in these cars which says something to me about how God's Word, taken in regularly, applied consistently to our lives, affects how we arrive at our destination.  The feature - the pedal.  To someone unknowing, this pedal resembles the gas pedal of the sports car.  To the designer, it is both the accelerator AND the brake.  The Word of God is kind of like both in our lives - accelerating us into times of growth, holding us back when the next movement would cause us harm.  As you pushed on the pedal of these little cars, they moved forward, under the drive of one wheel.  As you took your foot off the pedal, they stopped - not gradually, but immediately - because the "drive" was disengaged.  God's Word gives us this kind of protection - something we lack on our own.
So, not a real "spiritual" lesson today, but thought maybe you could see the importance of the regular and consistent intake of the Word as it applies to keeping us on track in life.  What we take in becomes important in determining the path it will lead us.  Just sayin!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Boldly, Confidently, and Fearlessly

Three words are used in this morning's passage to describe our approach to God - fearless, confident, and bold.  These three words could all be interchangeably  could they not?  If we are confident, we are likely fearless and a little bold.  If we are fearless, it is probably because we have confidence which results in boldness.  Why are all three words used to describe our approach to God?  What was it the writer had in mind by emphasizing these three characteristics of approaching God - the AND emphasizes they do not stand alone, but ALL make up our approach.  It doesn't say, "If you are bold, approach God" or "If you possess the confidence, come before his throne".  All three play an important part in our coming before God.  Let's see why.

Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it].  (Hebrews 4:16 AMP)

Fearlessly - no feeling of distress, apprehension, or alarm because you don't sense any sense of impending doom or judgment.  In the use of this term, the writer is focusing us on the "possibilities" found in approaching God - we don't see the impossibilities when our approach is focused on the possibilities in God's grace and love.

Confidently - we have to go to the root of this term to understand the meaning here.  The idea captured is that of firmly trusting and total reliance.  It is not trusting or relying upon our own merit, but the merit of Christ (our High Priest) on our behalf to make the way of approach certain and secure for those who follow in his footsteps.

Boldly - the idea conveyed here is one of no hesitation, or sense of hesitation in breaking some rule of propriety.  In the times the passage was penned, people knew the rules of propriety as it applied to "royalty" - you just did not approach unless you were invited.  The idea here is the extended invitation - we don't have to wait for the nod of the head - the way of approach has already been opened for us.

So, this is how we approach - but why we approach is equally important.  Perhaps where it is we are coming also plays an important part, as well.  You see, our writer indicates we aren't just coming into God's courts - we are approaching his throne of GRACE - the throne of his unmerited (undeserved, unearned) favor.  It is a throne specifically designed for our need - he sits not upon the throne of judgment, but upon the throne of GRACE - the place of need comes face-to-face with is provision.  The purpose in our coming - to find mercy for our failures.  Heaven knows - we have many of these!  

I don't know if you realize the irony in this verse, but I don't want you to miss it.  In the times of its writing, the one who approached the throne of royalty would not come empty handed.  They approached with gifts of some kind, even if they were meager.  Here is the irony - we approach the throne of God's grace not with our gifts, but with our failures.  He is "honored" to take these failures as we approach - giving us the very thing we need to overcome these failures.  Now, if this doesn't cause you take a moment of pause, it should!  God's throne is not of judgment, but of favor.  Our means of approach is through Christ, not in our own merit.  Our offering as we approach is our failure - his favor returns help for our failure.  Awesome!

Having approached, we find help - the specific help we need.  His help is well-timed, specific to our need, and given in the appropriate measure which will make a failure a thing of blessing and beauty in our lives, rather than a thing of shame and guilt.  Perhaps this is the intent behind the scripture which says God gives us beauty for our ashes (Is. 61:3).  Ashes were used to declare one in mourning over some loss.  Failure brings loss, does it not?  It is like failure leaves us wearing ashes of some sort - declaring the ugliness of our failing.  In the presence of God, we bring our ashes - he takes those ashes, cleans us thoroughly, and "anoints" us with freshness.  There is an exchange - the thing I notice though is that we seem to come out ahead!  Awesome!

In examining our passage today, I hope you will have taken one step closer to the throne room of God's grace - not fearing or dreading his judgment, but relying fully upon the way made in Christ to receive his grace as we do.  If approach only in boldness, we miss the importance of the one who makes us confident in our approach (Christ) and the one who changes our focus from the impossibility of our failures into the possibilities of the freshness of God's anointing.  Just sayin!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Honest prayer yields God's bounty

Bountiful:  liberally, generously, or abundantly; providing or having ample supply.  When I look at my bank account, I hope to see "ample" supply for every purchase I need to make - don't you?  When I examine the contents of the pantry, I want to see an abundance of the "good stuff" which seems to satisfy both my cravings and my hunger.  When I am down in the dumps, I call upon God's generous grace because I know it will be what pulls me to my feet again.  When God "deals" with me, I want him to do it with liberal grace, generous love, and abundant power.  How about you?

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live; and I will observe Your word [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it].  (Psalm 119:17 AMP)

Here our psalmist begins this section of our psalm with the intention of God's "dealing" with him - so he may observe God's word.  In other words, he doesn't expect God to deal with him so he can continue to live in his own way, but so his way will align with God's.  It is interesting to me to see David asking God to "deal" with him "bountifully".  I don't know about you, but I think David is just praying honestly here.  He doesn't want God's second-best, or a meager supply of God's grace, love, or power.  He wants it all and he wants it in abundance!  All I can say is we ALL probably want God to "deal" with us in this exact same manner - but most of the time we don't even ask for God's "bounty", do we?  

Why do you think this is?  It might be because we don't think our "great big God" would hear such a prayer, or maybe it is that we don't feel "worthy" of asking for God's bounty because we don't see our extreme worth in his eyes.  The truth is God loves to hear us ask for his bounty - especially when it comes to "dealing" with us.  When action needs to be taken in our lives, God's bounty is at our disposal, we just don't think to ask for it.  I want to challenge us today to begin to pray as David did - for God to "deal" bountifully with us as his servants.  It is a step of faith for some of us, but if we actually begin to ask for God to deal with our lives out of his bounty, I wonder what the outcome might be?  Do you know what it means to "deal with"?  It means to handle competently or successfully.  David's prayer was simply to ask God to handle what he was not so good at handling himself.  Maybe this is the crux of the prayer - coming to the place where we admit God can do a much better job than we could ever do!

David's prayer is purposeful - that he may live!  Not just breathing in and out, but enjoying every breath because it is orchestrated by one who competently and purposefully arranges each step.  In asking God to deal with his live out of his abundance, David says his part in the process will be the ability to observe God's Word.  Now, this is probably a major part of this prayer - don't ya think?  He is really saying, "God, I haven't done a great job with things on my own.  I keep getting things messed up.  I speak when I should be silent.  I jump when I should stand still.  I need you to show me how to conduct myself here and now.  I know the way to change is contained in your Word.  I don't always get what is contained in its pages, but I know if I ask you, it will be opened to me.  In turn, I will be able to actually hear it in the recesses of my heart - the place of my greatest struggles.  When my heart becomes affected by your Word, I know my actions will be changed.  So, deal with me out of your abundance, in a generous manner, and with all liberality, God."

I am not trying to rewrite scripture here, but I think if you read Psalm 119 and take this one verse in context, you will see I am not far off in this interpretation.  David is determined to live right - to make right choices, to see right actions produced.  He says it comes in God intervening in his life - in a bountiful manner - so he will not only hear, but receive; in receiving, he will begin to love what is given; and in turn, he chooses to walk in this newness of life.  See the progression?  We first hear - we are informed - given the steps.  Then we begin to receive - it becomes more than just instruction - it becomes that which will sustain us each step we take.  As we begin to step out in what God provides, we begin to sense something of his presence which surrounds us - his love in action.  In the end, we realize we have received abundant grace - the basis of change in our lives - the foundation of the steps we take toward obedience each day.

As we walk this earth, we will struggle with things way beyond our ability to deal with in a competent manner.  We may try, but we will ultimately fall short of "dealing with" these things as God would have us.  So, wouldn't it make sense to begin to pray as David did so many years ago?  To ask God to deal with us bountifully - not just to point us in the direction we should go, but to prepare all we need to get us to the place of obedient surrender.  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Full silos don't equal a good harvest

Harvest:  A supply of anything gathered at maturity and stored; the result or consequences of any act, process, or event.

I wonder if we have given much thought to the various "harvests" we have in our lives.  In most cases, we are not farmers - so this idea of "harvesting" is not fully understood.  The great work of producing the end result of a tremendous "intake" of grain is almost missed by us because we simply go to the local grocer and purchase the bagged flour, loaf of bread, or cake mix right off the shelf.  If there was a greater appreciation for the "work" which makes the harvest possible, I wonder if we'd have any greater appreciation for the "filled shelves" at the grocer?  Our definition above is really interesting, simply because it doesn't start with the definition of a farmer's work, but of the general work of seeing something to the point of maturity - then storing up the thing which has been brought to this point.  It also focuses on the idea of a process producing a certain outcome - the benefits of which provide for the basis of what will be "stored up" for the future.  Truly, these are the two most foremost definitions of the word "harvest". 

When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work. When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare—what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21 MSG)

In looking at our definition again, we see there is an inability to "store up" if there first has not been a "supply of".  So, the beginning point of the harvest is in the supplying of what will produce the harvest.  In the simplest terms - no seed, no harvest.  Think on that one a little - let it roll around in your brain.  No seed - no harvest.  The type of seed always determines the harvest, right?  So, in the most literal sense, we could turn this to the things we DON'T sow as providing the results we will reap.  No unkind words - no strife in a relationship.  No impulsive choices - no regrets or shame.  

What "supply" we tap into most is what we will see as the resulting harvest we will "store up" for days to come.  If the "supply chain" is directly from the hands of God, the stored product will be that which produces further fruitfulness in our lives.  If the "supply chain" is something other than God's best, the harvest may not be as beneficial for our storehouses!  The connection I want us to see this morning is in the supply of what will be planted and the harvest which will be available for storage during "leaner" times in our lives.  

There is also another portion of this definition which beckons for our consideration this morning.  The idea of something coming to a place of maturity before it is harvested almost escapes us today as many farmers "reap" the crops long before they ripen - so they have a longer "shelf life".  Here's the rub - they just don't taste the same!  When ripening occurs exactly where the seed was planted, the "taste" produced is richer or flavorful.  Why?  The product was meant to "mature" where it was planted!  It was not meant to "mature" in a fruit bowl on your kitchen table, or in the brown bag on your shelf!  It might allow the fruit to ripen, but it still doesn't taste the same as a vine ripened tomato, or the tree ripened avocado.  The outward appearance may be the same, but it is in the experience of the "taste" where we really note the differences.

You can "force" ripening - but the result is a pitiful excuse for the intended taste!  The same is true in our spiritual lives.  We can remove ourselves from the place where we have been planted way too soon.  Sure, we see evidence of fruit - something worth harvesting.  Yet, if we are removed too soon from the place where we are planted - the harvest will only yield tasteless seed!  The richness and robustness of the produced fruit is really only evidenced when the fruit is allowed to ripen right where it was planted.  If you haven't noticed, the seed wasn't planted in the dark!  It was planted in the light, watered regularly, and the soil around it was worked regularly to keep it weed free.  So, before the harvest comes a whole lot of purposeful planning and consistent work.  In the season of harvest, we are tempted to "store up" when we see the beginning evidence of fruit - but waiting just a little longer often brings just the right amount of added "son-shine" we need to experience the richest of harvests.

In our passage above, the idea of harvest also carries the intentional leaving of something behind.  Now, for those who work the land, this may seem like a senseless waste - leaving some of the harvest behind.  But...in what is left, there is even greater provision!  You see, there are those who cannot produce the fruit without a seed - the seed you provide by the intentional leaving of something of the harvest available for the taking.  I don't know about you, but some of the best "seeds" in my life have been left by those who have allowed the seed they were "supplied" to come to maturity in their lives - allowing me to glean a little of their harvest so those "seeds" supplied by their harvest to become the basis of growth for the similar harvest in my life.

I don't know the harvest you will bear today - or even if the harvest will be today.  The season of harvest may be in seed-form in your lives right now.  It could be just about to begin the "reaping" phase.  Regardless of where you are in the process - you needed the first "seed" to be supplied.  You and I are called upon to intentionally provide for those who have no way of producing the harvest in their own lives without the seed you have already seen come to the place of maturity in yours.  We become instruments of God's "supply chain" in the process.  If you are anxious to call it a "harvest" and be done with the entire maturing process, remember this - the harvest is best when the maturing is allowed to occur right where the seed was planted.  Don't rush God's handiwork.  You might get fruit, but the richness of it may not be as enjoyable as it would have been if you'd have stayed a little longer where you were planted.  Just sayin!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Listening?

There are definitely times when we listen, but we just don’t “heed” what we are hearing, right?  We know we are hearing a clear cut warning to avoid some “event” or happening, but we go into it anyway – almost as a challenge to our common sense!  Listening and heeding are two entirely different things – one is a process, the other is an action.  We get pretty good at the process, but neglect the action.  Or the other way around – we forget about the process, launching into action.  The problem – process helps to define action, actions speak to the soundness of the process.

Now listen and give heed, O Israel, to the statutes and ordinances which I teach you, and do them, that you may live and go in and possess the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, gives you. (Deuteronomy 4:1 Amplified Bible)

As part of my job, one of the things I do is analyze processes to ensure they are working well.  When they don’t get followed, we usually have error.  When the process is outdated, because industry standards have changed, we fall behind.  When the processes are too difficult to follow, we frustrate those who have to act according to their definitions.  So, there is a fine line between a well built process and the actions you hope to produce.  The same is true in our daily lives – believe it or not, we all have “processes” we follow.  Most of us call them habits!  Think about your morning routine – rising, fixing coffee, showering, dressing – all are processes which have become “habit” to us.  We don’t think through the process anymore – it is routine.  What happens if someone or something throws a wrench in the process – such as the utilities being off due to a power outage, or water main break?  I know for me – the hair would still have to be washed, the teeth brushed, and the body cleansed.  My “process” may be interrupted, but the outcomes still need to occur.

Here is where we often run into troubles with process and action.  We want the actions to occur, but we don’t know how to resolve the issues with the process.  Relationships fall apart when processes no longer apply – processes have to evolve as the relationship evolves, right?  It is as I indicated above – if I rely upon old processes to get the new results I desire to see, it won’t happen!  We need new processes designed to “fit” where we are “at” today.  In relationships, whether they are with our Lord or someone here on this earth, must be evaluated for the efficacy of what we are doing within those relationships.  Sometimes we go through the motions, without ever thinking about the “what” behind those actions.  In turn, you probably hear someone say, “We aren’t connecting the way we used to.”  In the natural sense, this is a wake up call.  In a spiritual sense, this is a loving prompting by our Lord to look at the “process” for purpose, potential, and passion.

One thing I have noticed about God – he is concerned about “how” we get to where we are going just as much as “where” it is we are heading.  For him, there has to be a distinct purpose in our actions – scripture defines this as keeping him central, doing his will, being obedient, etc.  It also means recognizing the potential in the activity we are engaging in – simply because not all activity is wise, profitable, or in keeping with his plans for our lives.  In turn, he examines the passion by which we follow any process in our lives – if there is the lack of a heart response, we miss the intention of the process of following him.

So, as our passage suggests, there is a process – listening.  There is also an action required – heeding.  Heeding involves paying close attention to the details.  If we truly are listening, we begin to piece together the various “process” components.  For example:  God says he wants us to give time each day to him.  We hear, “God wants us to SPEND time with him each day.”  What is the difference?  One process suggests we are “spending” some of our precious time – almost like making a withdrawal from the checking account to “plunk down” on the one we love.  The other suggests we are “giving” time – sacrificially, lovingly, and willingly.  I don’t know about you, but I have a whole lot of “expenditures” in life which are just because I have to – like auto insurance, a nursing license, etc.  Then there are others which I do because there is something rewarding in my “exchange” of a little part of what I have – like when I see a need and move to meet it.  We see the “process” differently when we rightly “hear” what God is saying – “Give me your time – don’t just spend it on me.”

So, are you doing any process examination today?  If you are like the rest of us, you probably are, or will be very soon.  As you do, remember the process is what helps to define action, actions reveal the “influence” and “soundness” of the process.  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shades of Grey

History:  the aggregate of past events; all that is preserved or remembered about the past.  We ALL have a history, do we not?  For some of us, the "story" is quite involved, colorful, and a little seedy at times.  For others, the "story" may be a little less complicated, kind of mundane, without too many shades of grey.  Regardless of the "shades" painted by our past, there are still things from our past which act upon us today, influencing how we interact with the present.

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. (Romans 14:1 MSG)

It is sometimes quite difficult to welcome into our fellowship those with "histories" which vary completely from our own - especially when their history is filled with all kinds of shades of grey.  For those who see things as black or white, dealing with anything marginally outside of "white" or "black" is almost unnerving.  As you get further from white or black, it is easier to "judge" the individual as "too far out" of the acceptable "range" - in turn, we almost cannot accept them into our fellowship.  Here's something I have had to learn in my own life - even I have shades of grey, if I am honest with myself, which probably give someone else just a little bit of difficulty dealing with!

Jesus was not the kind of guy to exclude those with a past.  In fact, he took in the Roman employed Jewish tax collector.  Now, if you don't see the contradiction in terms there, you need to understand Roman had taken Jerusalem - they were the ruling party - taxing the Jews was part and parcel with a ruling party's agenda.  To employ a Roman soldier or citizen to do the task of taxing the citizens of their new territory would not be a big deal, but to employ a Jew - blasphemous!  Jesus also took in the ones in the community who had been labeled as having just too many shades of grey for them to "fit" into the normal church-going crowd - such as the prostitutes, lepers, and ceremonially unclean.  

Everywhere we observe Jesus, we seeing him dealing with those who caused the "self-righteous" a whole lot of concern - simply because they only saw the "shades of grey" in the lives of these outcasts of society.  Jesus saw way beyond the shades of grey, into the heart and spirit of these men and women.  In contrast to the self-righteous, he embraced them - not afraid their many shades of grey would rub off on him.  In fact, he embraced them openly because he was giving us an example of what it is to extend grace - favor where it is not deserved.

From our passage above, Paul issues a challenge to believers everywhere.  We all come to Christ with our "histories" - no one is without one.  As we do, we all have one thing in common - grace.  It is upon this foundation of grace we are to invite into fellowship those who have embraced the work of grace in their lives.  They will not "perform" as we might expect them to for quite some time - still dealing with the various "shades of grey" which have been part of their lives for a long time.  Yet, in time, if they are welcomed with open arms and gentle spirits, grace will have its effect.  Instead of judging these individuals, we should be welcoming them - as did Jesus.  The telling words in our passage, "Remember, they have their own history to deal with," is really what Jesus was saying all along as he taught, healed, enjoyed a meal with, and just plain hung out with those with "histories".  

The sad thing we forget is our own history and the fact someone else is having to deal with OUR history, as well.  It is easy to see the "shades of grey" in another, all the while forgetting the shades of grey in ourselves.  We would do well to consider the common ground we each have if we are believers - grace!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ummm...what tomb?

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead has been told time and time again, but as I was reading it again this morning, some things came to mind. First, Jesus told his disciples he was glad he was not there when Lazarus died.  Now, at first this may have seemed a little uncaring, but if you read a little further, you see he tells them since he wasn't there, this would be an opportunity for THEIR faith to grow.  He said to them, "And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing."  (vs. 15)  I wonder how many times we complain about Jesus "not" being where we thought he should have been at some moment in time, not realizing his "absence" was really the specific opportunity for us to receive "new grounds for believing"?  Probably more than we'd like to admit!  Second, he was not exactly going into friendly territory.  Many in the city had already been active in plotting ways to shut Jesus up -  permanently.  They saw him as a threat to their way of life - afraid his "interference" would just mess things up for them.  Isn't it sad to think Jesus would "meddle" in the comfort of our lives?  If he comes to disturb it, he just wants to make sure we don't turn into fossils!

Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.  Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”  (John 11:43-44 MSG)

Third, he has to deal with a whole lot of "wrong motives" along the way.  The disciples don't want to go back to the city - probably because they fear they will be caught up in the anger of the leaders who want to shut Jesus up.  Imagine what Jesus must have thought when he heard Thomas speak these words:  “Come along. We might as well die with him.”  (vs. 16)  We may as well die with him?  Sounds a little defeatist, does it not?  And this was on the heals of Jesus just telling them he was about to give them new ground for their faith!  I wonder how many times we just go along for the ride, not really all that excited to be part of the venture, but kind of there by some sense of obligation?  Jesus had immense patience, though.  He could have turned right there and encountered their lackadaisical approach to this whole "following" thing, but he didn't.  He simply walks on, confident they will follow.  They may not follow passionately at first, but they do follow.  I think Jesus knows we start out a little "cool" at times, but eventually we find the "warmth" he so eagerly desires!

Fourth, Jesus wasn't that far away - probably somewhere between a day or two's journey.  Yet, he "sticks around" where he is with his disciples for another two days after he hears Lazarus is sick "unto death".  Some see this as a little uncaring, but I see this as a little sacrificial on his part.  You see, Jesus loved Lazarus - scripture states he had a great relationship with him and his sisters.  They were close friends.  So, his delay actually probably hurt his heart a little - because he would not want his friends to suffer.  Yet, this delay was going to serve the purpose to further emphasize what he had been teaching in Jerusalem about him giving his life, having power over death, no man being able to take what he would sacrificially give.  His delay may have appeared senseless, but in actuality, it was another object lesson in his power.

Fifth, Jesus experienced anger. We are told a couple of times in this unfolding story of the anger of Jesus beginning the well up inside.  Isn't it wonderful to know Jesus experienced even the emotions which seem to give us so much problem?  He was moved by the mocking of the crowd, the constant questioning of his delay, and the senseless mourning of the "customary mourners" in attendance at the tomb.  At first, they mourned because Jesus was not there - he had not come in their timing, allowing Lazarus to die.  They thought they had a justifiable cause the mourn.  They didn't know Jesus intended something "faith altering" in this whole process.  I wonder how many times we mourn because we don't see the potential in the loss?  It may not be an enjoyable process to walk through, but God's timing is always perfect.  His anger is not so much over their mourning, but their continued mourning when he is present - maybe because they did not recognize his timing was perfect - he is never late.  I don't know the exact source or reason for his anger, only what scripture tells us - he was indeed experiencing this powerful emotion.  Look what he does with it though - he doesn't explode or implode.  Instead, he brings life from what was once dead.  Instead of allowing his anger to bring further "death", he turns it into something which produces life.  Amazing!

Last, but not least, the bindings of what has been declared dead in our lives don't have to limit our ability to walk.  Lazarus is bound in grave clothes - as a "cadaver" according to our passage.  Wrapped from head to toe - pretty limiting if you ask me.  Yet, Jesus knows as long as we remain IN the grips of our past - bound by the encompassing "grave clothes" - we cannot walk as freely as he intends.  He gives life, but he also removes the things which would only slow us down and keep us from freely embracing the grace we have been called to walk in.  Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb - an act of grace.  In order to Lazarus to embrace life again, the grave clothes has to be removed.  He could walk, but just barely.  I wonder how many times we have our "tomb opening" experience when grace is extended in our lives, but then don't stand still long enough to allow others to help with the removing of the grave clothes?  Lazarus did not unwrap himself - it was those Jesus instructed who did the work of helping to loose him completely.  We need the faithfulness of those God places in our path at those "grace moments" - to help us "unwrap" the tightly wound grave clothes of our past!  

Thank you Jesus for the faithfulness of providing not only our deliverance from the tomb, but also the ones who will help us "unwrap" the past!  Awesome God!  Just sayin!


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What do you see reflected?

Have you ever told yourself something only to find out in the end you were really just fooling yourself?  Until we actually look in the mirror, we don't see what is likely right in front of us all the time.  Even when we look into the mirror, we may not see exactly what we thought was there - because the mirror is clouded over with some film.  If you have ever taken a hot shower in a closed room, you find the mirror becomes all coated with the steam.  The coating on the mirror actually keeps you from seeing an accurate appearance of who you are.  Even if you try to wipe the steam away a little, the image you may see is still a little distorted by the remaining particles of water gathered on the mirror.  In actuality, the "image" never changes, just the reflection does!

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.  (1 John 1:8-10 MSG)

John calls attention to this "reflection" process.  Here he presents a unique situation - if we claim to be free of sin, we are actually not seeing an accurate reflection of our true self.  As he states very certainly - we are just fooling ourselves (in fact, no one else is fooled - just us).  He calls this claim errant nonsense.  Errant - deviating from the regular course.  We usually call this deviation "straying".  Nonsense - conduct or action that is senseless or absurd.  In other words, John likens denying we are "sinless" as straying from what makes sense and can be considered a little absurd.  

On the other hand, if we admit our sin - we have an advocate to help us see our sin in the right perspective, but more importantly, we have the advocate to BRING us into right perspective.  There is no one more capable of bringing things into right perspective than Christ himself.  He does more than wipe the steam from the mirror, he also removes the sleep from our eyes.  He awakens us from our slumber - our inattentiveness.  By so doing, he brings us face to face with the "true us" - but as he sees us, not as we see ourselves.  

It is one thing to finally see ourselves - it is quite another to be brought into the right light.  As I have been teaching over the past couple of weeks, what seems obvious actually helps build an awareness of the obscure - but only if we are willing to see as we are seen.  Too many times, people tell me they are good and don't need a Savior.  The truth is no one is good enough to not need a Savior.  Those who admit they need a Savior often don't accept the finished work of the cross as the true "reflection" of who and what they are today.  They tell themselves the reflection they see is something other than what Christ sees.  

Here's the cold, hard truth - Christ sees us differently that we most often see ourselves.  Sure, he sees our sinfulness.  Yes, he sees our short-comings.  Definitely, he sees the moments of straying.  Yet...in all this, he sees something we often don't - himself!  Looking again at what John presents here, he says when we ask Jesus to "clean our mirrors", he does a thorough job so the reflection seen is one which bears only his image - no the image of our former life.  He sees the new - we focus on the old.  He clears away the gathered "steam" - we strain to see past it.  

What happens when we don't see an accurate reflection of ourselves?  We second-guess our ability and this affects our availability.  When we don't see ourselves as "matching" the image Christ sees, we don't feel worthy to be used by him.  We don't feel the purpose we fulfill is really all that worthwhile.  We even begin to question if we really will ever change.  Reality check here, folks!  You are a new creation in Christ Jesus - as such, you have already been transformed and as you continue to go through the process of seeing your actions align with your new image, he is right there alongside, still seeing you exactly as he has made you - perfect in every way.  God will be true to himself by making perfect what he declares to be perfect.  He keeps the image of our perfection before him - maybe we'd do well to begin to focus on this reflection instead of the one we've been considering for so long!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Direction AND Counsel - We Need Both

Ever feel like you have been following the directions you have received only to find you are lost?  It takes only one subtle turn in the wrong direction, one overlooked sign, or one moment of inattentiveness to find yourself totally out of the path you are supposed to be following to reach your destination doesn't it?  In retrospect, you can probably look back and recognize the point you should have turned, should have heeded the sign, or been paying closer attention to the journey than something else which captivated your attention at the moment.  What happens next?  You spend a whole lot of time getting back on course.  Sometimes the best laid plans are not always going to work out as you planned simply because the one doing the "following" of the plan is a little inattentive, huh?

Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.  (Proverbs 11:14 MSG)

Our proverb this morning deals with good direction - wise counsel.  Direction points us in some particular path, right?  Thinking of a compass, you look at the little arrow on the dial to know which "direction" you are headed.  Hopefully, you know the direction you are headed - or the arrow just points you in a direction without any particular aim.  Direction suggests action.  No one consults a compass just to get a general idea of where the arrows are pointing.  You use a compass because you are about to make a move and you want to ensure you are on the right course.  I am blessed to have one of these built right into my rear view mirror on my car.  I can consult the mirror, seeing clearly I am headed south, southeast, or whatever direction the nose of my car is headed.  Until the nose is completely aligned in a particular direction, causing the wheels to align the car along that course, the direction is not consistent, is it?  Once I have "turned into" the direction, I am heading as the compass shows.  As long as I am turning, the compass is adjusting to the direction I am turning.  

Now, what does this have to do with our spiritual lives?  Direction is determined by the compass we follow and the direction we point our hearts, minds, and eventually the activity of our bodies.  Thinking of my car again, the engine is like the brain - it feeds the car with the energy to move forward.  The heart of the car is really whoever is at the steering wheel - for the one doing the steering determines the ultimate direction of the car.  No amount of energy exerted by the engine will get the "nose" of the car facing the right direction - it takes someone steering it to accomplish this.  In turn, the wheels respond to both the one steering and the energies exerted by the engine - moving the car forward on the path or direction chosen.  If God is the one determining the direction of our lives, he is at the steering wheel.  He is the one determining what energies our mind should focus on and he is also the one determining the path our wheels should traverse.

Counsel is instruction given which actually helps to direct the judgment of another.  Going back to my car again, I have a little device I plug into the dashboard called GPS.  This handy little device can be programmed to get me to the destination in mind, guiding each and every turn I make.  I can also do such things as tell it I need to find the nearest gas station, restaurant, etc.  It gives me more than advice.  It gives me specific suggestions to ensure I arrive at the destination I had in mind when I started the venture.  Counsel is kind of like the GPS in your car. It helps you make wise judgment calls.  Some GPS systems will even divert you around traffic congestion, accidents, etc.  I think every car should be equipped with one of these devices - how about you?  

In considering our spiritual life, our GPS is really the Holy Spirit.  He gives us the counsel - things which lend good judgment to our turns and destination choices.  God is at the steering wheel, driving the car - the Holy Spirit is acting as the compass.  He helps to ensure the direction we are headed is actually made with the best judgment as possible.  Now, I don't know about you, but I want to know I am both headed in the "right" direction and the most "beneficial" course.  Getting to my destination spiritually can go through many twists and turns, but not all those twists and turns are going to be beneficial to my journey.  The Holy Spirit guides me around those areas in my journey where I will encounter the "congestion" of unwanted "traffic" and the annoyances of "accidents" which do nothing more than cause unwanted delays.

Have you ever stopped to consider how much gas is wasted when you don't divert around an accident or traffic delay in your car?  We think the highway will be the fastest course, most direct, etc.  In actuality, the delays of taking this path may not make as much sense as having taken the surface streets.  In contrast, we might actually save both time and energies (fuel) in getting to the destination.  The Holy Spirit (acting as our GPS), helps to do both for us spiritually - getting us to our destination in the perfect timing and ensuring we are not totally "spent" in the journey.  Trying to do it without GPS may be possible, but it is not very wise!  Just sayin!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New Wine Skins

EXPAND:  To increase in extent, size, volume, or scope; to unfold; to express in fuller form or detail; to enlarge.  PUNY:  Of less than normal strength or size; weak; unimportant; insignificant.  

Not sure which side of the fence you are on today, but I know I would prefer the "expanded" version of life vs. the "puny" version.  In fact, in examining the steps I have taken over the last year (something I do in the first part of each new year), I can see some steps I have taken to "position" myself for growth in a number of ways in my life.  First and foremost, I find myself enjoying the times I have with my Lord - long or short.  There are times in my day when I just get quiet for a few brief moments - settling my spirit and emotions into the presence of God.  Others don't know about this, but it is what keeps me centered and on task in my life.  If someone comes across me at that moment, they might think I am deep in thought, but in actuality I am just deep into his presence!  An awesome place to be, huh?  "Where" we find ourselves often determines "what" we find developing or withering in our lives.

The Fear-of-God expands your life; a wicked life is a puny life. (Proverbs 10:27 MSG)


Our writer points out the differences between a God-centered life and that of a man/woman choosing to make their own decisions in life.  The differences become the plainest when we look at the "outflow" of each.  You see, it is almost impossible to "expand" without also "overflowing" - there has to be an outlet or outflow for the "expansion" going on inside.  Isn't this the parable Jesus taught one day about old wine skins and the new?  You don't put new wine in the old because they incapable of expanding any further - you put them new into the new.  I think there are times when Jesus is ready to pour into us something quite new, but if we don't take time to prepare the new "skins" to accommodate the "in-pouring", we will miss out on so much of what he desires to give.

In looking back at our two definitions, there are a couple of points I'd like us to consider:

* There is an increase of some kind God wants to give into each of our lives.  If you have ever had the experience of having a bumper crop from your garden of some type of fruit or vegetable, you probably understand how hard it is to find spaces to store all you see being produced.  One of the things you often do when you experience this type of increase is reach out to others to share what you have been blessed with.  Perhaps this is he basis of God increasing us - to cause us to be in a position to have something to give out to others who will be equally blessed by the "bumper crop" of his goodness.

* As God expands us, there is a process of unfolding which occurs.  I remember the nurse bringing my daughter and son into me for the first time after delivery.  They had been cleaned up, wrapped securely in a little blanket, snug as a bug in a rug.  I couldn't see their toes, their fingers were secured in the confines of those folds.  So, the natural thing each mother does is to "unfold" the "package".  The blankets are slowly unfolded, revealing first one little hand, then the other, until you find yourself down to the tiny toes.  In the process, what are you doing?  You are discovering the intricacies of this tiny life before you - things hidden from view, but now plainly revealed because of the "unfolding" process.  The same is true in our spiritual lives - sometimes things come to us in neatly prepared packages - promise of great things just below the surface.  The thing we need to do is engage in the unfolding process in order to discover what those things are.  God's gifts come in many forms - each requiring some unfolding in our lives.  The degree of eagerness we express in seeing revealed what is contained in the "package" of God's new graces in our lives is often an estimate of how much expansion we are ready for!

* God's intent is to see the expression of him in us in some greater detail.  No good thing comes our way without an express purpose.  The same is true of those things which don't immediately seem to reveal a blessing.  Our writer points to the idea of God "giving into" our lives something which would be missing otherwise.  The thing he gives is really a person - Christ.  The thing he accomplishes in the gift is an exchange of character - from the puniness of life on our own terms to the expansiveness of life filled with his graces, promises, and power.  There is no limit to the discovery of God in us - we just have to allow the unfolding and expansion process to occur.

By contrast, the life which limits the "inflow" of God's graces is marked by minimal strength and a "bare bones" existence.  Now, this doesn't just capture my interest that well, how about you?  No one steps up one day and says, "I wanna live a life marked by weakness, insignificance, and meaninglessness."  In fact, it something which comes upon us because we don't go about the process of "changing the skins" in our lives.  I am not suggesting we need a literal change of skin, but more of a spiritual change of skin.  We need the laying aside of old habits - things we have come to rely upon as "steady" and "certain" in our lives.  When the wine-maker poured off the new wine, he had been through a process of preparing the vessels which would hold the new long before he had the harvest of the new ready for pouring.  We sometimes don't think there is much benefit in the preparations God puts us through - not understanding why we go through the same lessons time and again.  What we probably don't see is that each time we go through that lesson, we are making new skins.  There is something "fresh" which comes - making us capable of the expansion which occurs a little later when God is ready to fill us with his new wine.

The space between puny and expansive is really one tiny step.  It is a matter of choice to be involved in the process of preparing the skins - obedience is the first step toward new skins.  In time, the new wine will be ready - once poured in, we need to be ready for the expansion which will occur.  God's delay today may just be his willingness to wait for us to get our "skins" ready for his infilling!  Just sayin!