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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One sentence is all you've got!

If you had just one sentence to describe the instructions you'd leave in someone's life which would rock their world, what would it be?  Some might offer "Trust God and take him as your Savior", while others might offer "Be open to change and live like every day matters".  You probably could offer a couple other examples here, but regardless of the example you offer, I don't think you could do as good of a job as Paul did in writing to the Corinthians.  He gave five key actions in the course of one sentence which will either make us or break us.  Let's examine them this morning:

Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.  (I Corinthians 16:13-14 MSG)

1. Keep your eyes open.  I have spoken many times about the eyes as the window to the soul - they give insight into the condition of the man in what they reveal.  Today's advice from Paul is to keep them open.  Now, this may not seem like much - but it is his starting point.  Having our eyes opened is the beginning of seeing.  Try to see with your eyes closed!  You probably do a poor job of actually avoiding the hazards in your path when you do!  Eyes have the purpose of allowing input - taking in what they behold, interpreting that input as either pleasant or not, beneficial or not, or even beautiful or not.  The eyes are the gateway into a man's heart - the input we receive moves us in some respect.  It is almost impossible to take input without some form of output!  So, as Paul speaks of keeping our eyes open, he is asking us to remain in a position of taking in what God puts in our path.  In the simplest sense, we think of keeping our eyes open as being vigilant and aware.  I don't think this is far from what Paul was aiming at here - for in being alert, we can respond to what we receive as input.  The action word here is "keep" - maintain, cause to continue, so as to set the course.  Our eyes have a lot to do with the course we keep.  Whatever we choose to focus on will go a long way in affecting how we take all the other steps Paul outlines!

2. Hold tight to your convictions.  A conviction is more than just some clever theory or persuasive fact.  A conviction is a fixed or firm belief - it has some basis - roots which give it soundness.  When a conviction is shared, the person sharing it is determined to move another by the evidence presented - so as to bring the other person to a place of agreement about the evidence.  When the right stuff is entering through our vision, we begin to form sound convictions - we have all the right evidence to present.  Paul points out the action associated with convictions is that of "holding tight" to these convictions.  In order to understand this, I think we need to examine the courtroom to see the importance of convictions.  Since convictions are the position one assumes based on the evidence, in a court of law an attorney will attempt to present the evidence which will make his case.  In other words, he is presenting that which gives foundational truth to his case.  We need to know what gives our "case" foundational truth.  Some evidence is weak at best.  Other evidence is so strong, it cannot be denied.  Paul tells us to hold onto the truth we have been given so as to have an undeniable foundation upon which we base our lives.

3. Give it all you've got.  Back a few years ago, there was a slogan coined by the US Army - "Be all you can be".  Maybe it wasn't quite biblical, but it spoke volumes.  In this simple statement, the idea of being something of worth, value, and importance was presented.  It gives us the idea of coming to the place of realizing our fullest potential.  Now, I don't believe fro a moment one has to join the Army to reach one's fullest potential, but their recruiting slogan does hit the nail on the head!  All we've got - not part - is what Paul says is called for in this life of serving Jesus.  Ever serve someone half-heartedly?  How'd that make you feel?  Do you think the one being served knew you were only half-interested in serving them at that moment?  Probably!  I think there is something revealing in this instruction from Paul - give it all you've got.  The action required is that of "giving" - present willingly and without expectation of compensation.  Hmmmm....I wonder what this world would be like if we began to equate being all we could be with what it is we could willingly give without the expectation of some form of compensation as a result of our service?

4. Be resolute.  To be set in purpose - not easily swayed - this is the idea presented next.  Now, taken in order, if we have our focus correct, allowing the right stuff to be taken in, we will form the right basis of evidence in our lives which will cause us to begin to act differently toward others (and even ourselves).  To this, Paul adds we are to be set in our purpose - fixed, determined, unwavering, undaunted by what life throws at us.  When the preponderance of evidence is significant, the ability to "stand behind" the evidence is easier than when their is very little evidence, right?  What gets us to the position of being able to be resolute?  I think it is in the building up of the evidence in our lives of being new creations in Christ - realizing the actions of grace within our lives.  Each action of grace gives us some additional evidence upon which we ground our convictions - we stand stronger by the revelation of grace.  Some will say grace is that which was undeserved.  You would be correct, but even the best of attorneys will tell you evidence discovered in the most unlikely places or by the most unlikely means is still evidence!  We can stand undaunted by life - by grace.

5. Love without stopping.  Can anyone actually do anything without stopping? I tire easily, how about you?  Yet, there are some involuntary things which occur within my body which continue to occur without thought or action on my part - like my heartbeat or my breathing.  I can hold my breath, but there is some overriding impulse center in my brain which tells my body to begin to take a breath before it is too late.  Why?  Simply because life is sustained by these actions.  Paul tells us to love without stopping.  Now, don't believe for a moment that I am presenting the idea of love being an "unthinking" action.  It is quite the opposite - it requires we be "invested" in its actions in order to reveal any sincerity in those actions.  Yet, when something becomes a way of life for us, the "thought" we put into those actions is almost automatic.  We just do it because it is what we do. Paul might just be telling us to make love such a way of life that we love without really having to work ourselves up in order to love.  It becomes "natural", free-flowing from a heart which has been convinced by the love and grace of God.  

Now, these aren't rocket science here, but if we actually take all these five principles together and begin to focus our lives on each action, we might just learn to walk a little differently.  Just sayin!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pushed or pulled?

Hold the high ground - it is the best and most successful position!  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "If you would lift me up, you must be on higher ground."  He had something there, don't ya think?  For someone to lift another, they have to have a position which allows them to pull, not push another!  Think about it - you can only push or boost another up when you are at a point lower than they are.  If you are at a point higher, you can pull.  To push really means you are putting pressure against - so as to move what seems to be immovable.  To pull means you draw toward - so as to bring closer to where you are.  I think there is something to be said for being pulled, rather than always having to be pushed!

All of you, slave and free both, were once held hostage in a sinful society. Then a huge sum was paid out for your ransom. So please don’t, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you. Friends, stay where you were called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side.  (I Corinthians 7:23-24 MSG)

Old habits die hard, don't they?  In fact, we might find they never really "die".  There is some niggling memory of every old habit we might have had - it may no longer have any appeal to us, even seeming a little repulsive to us now, but there is a hint of memory which reminds us of its existence.  Since we have memory of the old, it might just be easier to "slip back" into the old than we realize.  Usually this "slippage" is not on purpose, but rather is because we weren't paying close enough attention to what was going on around us.  This is probably why God cautions us to "consider" our ways.  To consider means we contemplate, meditate upon - in other words, think things through over and over again.  Once he helps us break our ties with the past, he doesn't want us to remunerate the past memories, but to think on the new over and over.  In replacing the old with the new, we break the ties with the old.

There is a danger in receiving counsel without comparing it to the source of all counsel - God himself.  God gives us counsel in his Word on almost every topic you can imagine - those he doesn't speak to plainly, we can usually simply use the principles taught in scripture to know whether the counsel is good or not so worthy of our attention.  There will always be those who give counsel freely - not really considering what their "opinions" will add to the confusion some may experience in their own minds already.  These "opinionated" counselors are doing nothing more than lending confusion to the mix.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was giving them wisdom - to keep them on the higher ground.  Why?  Slippage is easy - staying in a position where you can lift another is harder, but it is the place of advantage!

Look at his counsel - it is out of old habit we slip back into being what we don't want to be, or doing what all the others are doing.  We stop considering the best and just go with the easiest.  Habit is almost involuntary - it doesn't take much thought.  I think Paul is challenging believers to put thought into their actions - to determine to live on purpose, not by some involuntary motions.  Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do."  So, true!  What is almost more important, and I think what Paul may actually be driving at here, is that what we repeat gets repeated by others.  I affect more than me, you affect more than you.  

I don't often quote Warren Buffett, but he did say something I found quite profound:  "Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken."  Think on this one - too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.  Since Paul is dealing with our ties to the past, he is reminding us of how easy it is to become enslaved again to the things we have been freed from, simply because we don't realize the binding force until it is often too late.  As I opened today, I considered two positions - being pulled and being pushed.  Going back to those two, I want to focus a moment on being pushed.  You see, there was something in the definition which I don't want to gloss over.  The idea of being pushed is related to being immovable.  We have dug in and are content to be where we are.  Sometimes we need a little push, especially when we have become immovable - stalled in some rut.  The tendency to remain in a rut is too great, so we need some pushing at times.  

I think Paul may have been dealing with both those of us who need a little push at times, and those of us with the capacity to do a little pulling, by our example, words, and faith.  If you have found "higher ground" than some, you are in a position to pull - to elevate, to draw toward.  If you are struggling in some rut, you have the capacity to be pushed, but guess what?  Someone has to be behind you to push!  So, even being in a position of being pushed is really being on a little higher ground than another!  Just sayin!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Playing through!

I don't golf and you would not want to attempt to instruct me in this "fine art" of swing, stance, and aim!  I tried - once!  After about 4 holes and a hundred or so strokes, I decided there were other "relaxing activities" I might better pursue!  Don't get me wrong, I think it is great for those who actually manage to direct that tiny ball toward that tiny cup with great accuracy and untiring enthusiasm.  It is just not my "calling".  But...out of every experience comes some opportunity to learn a lesson or two.  So, although the course "challenged" me, there were lessons which came from the experience.  Once I actually decided to just stop "trying", I actually found the time out on the course quite enjoyable.  Peaceful, beautiful to the eye, and in a way, restful.  As I listened to the various other members in our foursome talk their way through the 18-holes, I heard some terms which actually began to speak to me of something quite unrelated to golf!  I kind of think Paul may have been a golfer - he actually describes Jesus making a "hole-in-one"!  Who, but a golfer, would actually speak that way???

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!  (I Corinthians 15:57 MSG)

So, I told you I learned some terms on the course which spoke of something of something quite different than the golf "language" they were intended to bespeak.  I actually did not learn what these terms meant until I looked them up later, but my curiosity was piqued on the course, so you know I'd head to the trusty "Webster's" with each term I just did not "get".  Here's some things I learned:

- Bunker:  I had always thought of a bunker in terms of what it meant to the military - a place of refuge, where you'd "dig in" and be able to be protected in the fight while being able to launch an attack of your own.  In golf language, a bunker is a hollow obstruction or hazard which contains sand.  Land your ball in there and it could take you a couple of strokes to actually get it back on course again.  The bunker in golf is purposefully placed in your path, not to protect you, but to present you with obstacles to getting your ball into the cup!  I kind of think the enemy of our souls has purposefully created bunkers in our lives - not as places of refuge - but as places of hazard.  Their design is to keep us away from being able to finish the course.  As I managed to find bunker after bunker (hazard after hazard), I was defeated in my quest to learn the sport of golf.  This may not seem like much to you, but when I took this to heart in a spiritual sense, it made sense to see those hollow places, innocent looking like a sandy little beach in the middle of beautiful green - but they contain challenge after challenge to overcome!

- Dog Leg:  Okay, this one kind of stumped me, but I got it when I thought it through.  The dog leg on the course is the fairway (long, grassy expanse) which turns to the right or the left.  The hole is somewhere at the end of the dog leg - but is not clearly in view.  The builders of golf courses purposefully place a few of these "dog legs" into the course to challenge the golfer.  The golfer really has no clear view of the hole, but they "drive" in faith.  I wonder how many "dog legs" have been purposefully placed in our lives just to get us "driving" in faith?

- Par:  To me, being at "par" was an impossibility.  It was a nice aim, but unrealistic for me.  Par is the "expected" number of strokes (times you hit that tiny white ball) to finish the course.  In my experience, the more I stayed on the course, the more the strokes added up!  I was nowhere close to par.  The thing I recognized - this was not the course I was supposed to be on!  It is more the course we are supposed to be playing "IN" or "ON" than the number of strokes it takes to get us through it!  I was defeated by the course - not by a lack of enthusiasm.  I took lots and lots of swings, but landed very few balls into the cup!  To me, par was impossible.  I came to see the "course" often stumps the player.  This is so true in our spiritual lives, as well.  When we are on a new course, every "swing" is like a total "faith thing".  We don't know exactly where the ball will land, but we take our best swings and hope to be reasonably close to "par" in the end.  

- Rough:  This is the place on the course with longest and thickest grass.  You don't really want your ball to land in the rough because hitting it out of the longer grass is much more difficult than hitting it off a tee!  You might not have as much control over the ball.  I learned the course is not made up of one type of grass, but many types.  The most common grass for the fairway is a longer grass.  Yet, this grass is not well-suited for the green (the place where the cup is).  Why?  It doesn't do well once it is cut short.  It is designed to be left a little longer.  On the green, they cut the grass very short because they are "carving" the grass to allow smooth passage to the hole.  I think God places us right where we need to be along our "course" in life.  Sometimes we find ourselves in the "rough" - in a little bit "deeper" than we might want to be.  Nothing on the course is there by mistake - even the "roughs" are there on purpose.  They are designed to help us direct our path a little differently the next time we take a swing!  

So, not exactly the most spiritual lesson on our passage today, but I think you might be able to glean a thing or two from my very limited understanding of golf terms!  Here's the truth - Jesus landed a "hole-in-one" - totally giving us the ability to live life "on par" with him!  Nothing put in his path caused him to give up - he finished the course.  His reward wasn't a greed jacket (like the kind a player wins at the Master's), but an inheritance - you and I!  Through his perfect completion of the course, he dealt with sin, guilt and death.  All for us - his inheritance!  Kind of glad he didn't give up on the course!  Just sayin!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Skip the bells and whistles on this one!

Ears that hear and eyes that see—we get our basic equipment from God!  (Proverbs 20:12 MSG)

If you have ever looked into buying some new appliance, a new car, or even a new home built to your specifications, you probably have had to consider just how many "bells and whistles" you wanted (or could afford).  The basic model comes with just the minimums - the more you add, the more the costs add up.  Soon, the $299 "deal" you saw advertised becomes $599 because you just could not imagine life without the extra spin cycles, and the automatic sensor for this or that!  Sometimes we find the "extra" stuff we just "had to have" gives us more headaches than they are worth in the end!  

Our passage today speaks to us of the "basic equipment" given to us by God. Ears that hear and eyes that see - basic equipment.  I wonder just how many times we take the "basics" for granted, focusing more on the "bells and whistles" we'd want to have?  Whenever I hear someone say they are "not equipped" for whatever it is God is putting in their path, I just have to remind myself they have probably bought into the lie they need more than the "basic equipment" to begin their travel down the path.  In fact, in the spirit of being totally transparent, I have done exactly the same thing - believing what I "possessed" was not good enough for what it was I was facing.

The opposite is actually true - we possess all we need to begin the journey.  Anything else we might need, God will provide!  Our basic equipment is what actually helps us navigate the journey - ears that hear, eyes that see - these are both "navigational" tools!  If you have ever played one of those games where someone places a blindfold over your eyes, plunging you into absolute darkness and leaving you at the mercy of what you could hear, feel, etc., you probably came to understand how important it was to have both of these pieces of "basic equipment" operating!  Try as you might, the hands might help us sense the objects in our path, but you travel at quite a different speed when you don't have the faculty of sight, right?

Basic really means that which is fundamental - it is an essential ingredient - something needed.  So, when God reminds us he gives us the "fundamental" equipment, he is calling our attention to the importance of the two things which actually will give us exactly what we need to take the first steps toward anything he asks us to pursue.  Ears to hear - the attentiveness to his voice and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Eyes to see - the ability to look beyond the obvious and see the obscure.  We often find the basic equipment we have been given might just get a little complicated by the "other equipment" we have "added" to our list of "qualifications".  For example, when we count on our emotions as part of our "fundamental" or "basic equipment", we get a little different perception of what we are seeing or hearing, huh?  God never said we should add this "equipment" to our "basic equipment" - he just tells us to count on what we have been given.

Fundamental parts - the basis upon which all else gets "filtered".  Here's the rub, isn't it?  The way we "filter" what we hear and see is often "clouded" by the "bells and whistles" we have insisted on adding into the equation!  Whenever we add in the emotions, we start saying things like, "I think God might be telling me this, but I just don't feel like I can."  The basic equipment we have been given is what God needs us to use - plain and simple!  To rely upon anything else is to begin to operate outside of the "plan" God has.  In fact, all learning from scripture is based on us seeing and hearing.  I think God may just be reminding us this morning of the need to keep life simple.  We complicate it with the perceived need to align what we are seeing and hearing with what it is we are feeling.  Truth be told, if we see as God sees and listen only to his voice, we have all we need for ANYTHING our day holds.  Just sayin!

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Ebenezer

To get a handle on our passage today, let me give you just a little background.  Israel had allowed the unthinkable to happen - they had compromised their stand with God by taking on the worship of idols and the practices of the lands around them.  This was something God had warned them not to do.  As a result, they lost something of great value to them - the help of God in the midst of their battles - to them this was the Ark of the Covenant.  Now, they are surrounded by some pretty fierce attackers - the Philistines.  The armies of the Philistines were known for their superior weaponry, often causing great fear or panic in all those they faced in battle.  The Israelites are facing this huge army of Philistines - not having done so well without God's presence, they hope the return of the ark might have "changed their fortunes".  Samuel is addressing them in this chapter - seeking to see if the Israelite's jubilation over the return of the ark was just surface deep, or if there was some root of repentance which went deeper.  He hears the solemn plea of the leaders - we want to return to our first love - God!  Nothing rings clearer in the ears of God's ears than a plea to return!  So, Samuel instructs them to "clean house" - to get rid of all their foreign gods, their false idols, and to ground themselves firmly in God.  

While Samuel was offering the sacrifice, the Philistines came within range to fight Israel. Just then God thundered, a huge thunderclap exploding among the Philistines. They panicked—mass confusion!—and ran helter-skelter from Israel. Israel poured out of Mizpah and gave chase, killing Philistines right and left, to a point just beyond Beth Car. Samuel took a single rock and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it “Ebenezer” (Rock of Help), saying, “This marks the place where God helped us.”  (I Samuel 7:10-12 MSG)

I think most of us can associate with the people of Israel at one point or another.  We also have our own "false gods" which attract so much of our attention and seem to make oblivious to the fact God is no longer central in our lives.  We may not be worshiping some carved pole with images of the false gods on them, but we do worship something other than God.  Hear the cry of God's heart, dear ones - he is calling us to get rid of whatever takes our attention away from God and to ground ourselves firmly in him!  Do you know the rest of the story here?  It goes on to tell us of Israel's commitment to get rid of their idols - to "clean house" and the resulting fear this determination put into the hearts of the Philistines.  Imagine that!  The centering of the hearts of God's people on him and him alone put more fear into the hearts of the Philistines than the mighty weapons of Israel's greatest enemy put in theirs!

I don't know about you, but whenever I have my focus on the enemy and not squarely on God, I have a tendency to fear whatever it is the enemy is wielding in my path!  When I squarely center my focus on God and God alone, my perception changes!  The enemy is still there - the Philistines didn't go away.  In fact, they watched from the periphery as Israel went through the process of "cleaning house"!  Don't ever think for one moment that your enemy doesn't see your change in focus - he knows when your eyes are firmly fixed on the one true God.  Silly thing is - he doesn't know when he should turn tail and run.  The next thing we realize in our passage is the turning of the tide - Israel begins to pursue the Philistines instead of them pursuing Israel!

What our enemy fails to recognize is the potential and power of a people who have God central in their lives.  It might enrage him a little to see us make a move toward "cleaning house" and getting our lives "centered" again, so be on the lookout for the attack.  Israel may not have seen it coming - but God did! When the Philistines see the change in Israel, they get enraged and go on the offensive.  They are ready to come down hard on Israel - but... - God is prepared to come down harder on the Philistines!  Guess what invoked fear into the Philistines?  It wasn't mighty weaponry wielded by the Israelites, or massive forces beyond number.  It was thunder!  Thunder-claps from heaven sent them running!

Here's something I want us to see - when God sets the enemy in motion running AWAY from us, it is time to give chase!  We may want to just stand there and relish the moment of relief having the enemy finally out of our face for a while, but God's plan is quite different - he expects us to give chase!  To pursue so as to overcome and "take no prisoners"!  This is exactly the opposite of what most of us do - we choose rather to accept the thunder-claps of God as our "intervention" and our "deliverance", but we fail to make an end to the enemy's attack by pursuing him when he is on the run.  Silly us!  What better time to overcome him than when he is confused by the power of our God?

Now, before we close today, I want to give us a little challenge here.  As Israel pursued the Philistines, striking them down in massive numbers, Samuel does something interesting.  He took one single rock and set it up.  Not a pile of rocks, not a pillar of massive proportion, but one single rock.  One rock - maybe it speaks of what Israel was called to remember - there is but one rock upon which we stand - Christ and Christ alone!  Maybe it was a symbol of what Israel had done - getting grounded in God again.  I am not quite sure what symbolism it has for you, but these two thoughts come to mind for me this morning.  I don't know what your "Ebenezer" stone will be, but I do know this:  God's not content to have us stand on anything other than his grace.  It is the firmest foundation upon which we can face our enemy.  Just sayin!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

No room for if

We have probably heard the saying, "No ifs, ands, or doubts..."  In most cases, it means we need to finish a task and make absolutely no excuses for not having it done when the time comes for it to be complete.  Our teachers in school set deadlines for reports which were due - meet it or the report would be reduced a full letter grade for each day it was late!  Our parents left us with lists of chores, expecting full-well each one to be marked off as complete before we ever turned on the TV.  Even our employers give us tasks and expect them to be complete - tying each completed item to the potential to remain gainfully employed!  It is not uncommon for us to be expected to start and see something through to completion.  Yet, there is one "thing" we might just struggle with getting to the place of completion alone - our faith!  Martin Luther King once said, "Faith is taking the first step when you don't see the whole staircase."

He asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been going on?”  “Ever since he was a little boy. Many times it pitches him into fire or the river to do away with him. If you can do anything, do it. Have a heart and help us!”  Jesus said, “If? There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen.”  No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”  (Mark 9:21-24 MSG)

Blaise Pascal was a mathematician and a Christian theologian.  These two just don't seem to go together, do they?  One "solves" the equation himself - the other waits on a "higher power" to solve the equation!  Yet, he wrote some pretty amazing stuff!  One of the quotes I most like which he penned back in the 1600's is:  "Belief is a wise wager.  Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false?  If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.  Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists."  Now, at first this might seem a little bit like he is saying nothing ventured, nothing gained.  He is also saying if nothing ventured, you cannot know if the venture will prove / disprove your beliefs.  I think this father might just have been in one of those situations where he did not really know if going to Jesus would help his son, but if he didn't take the step, he'd never know if the impossible was actually possible in God's hands.

The son had suffered for years - obviously tearing this father's heart to pieces each time he saw him seized by his disease.  His last hope may very well have been the "rabbi" (great teacher) passing through town that day.  His "knowledge" of his son's disease is great - his faith in the ability of the healer is not so great!  In fact, he almost puts himself out there with the statement, "IF you CAN do anything, do it."  Two words which really don't suggest much confidence, but which have a little seed of hope - the beginning of all steps of faith.  As King said, it is the first step which gets us on the staircase - you don't know the full extent of the climb until you actually reach the top!  

"IF" is almost like saying, "I am bringing my son to you today, just in case there might be a possibility somewhere in you to heal my son."  He is not saying he is there with all confidence his son will be made well - he is actually admitting he doesn't know for sure, but he is willing to take the chance - to have wagered Jesus would have "something" to help his son.  Now, this may not seem like much to you, but don't miss the truth being taught - even the tiniest step TOWARD faith is all Jesus needs to begin the biggest climb of your life!

"CAN" is really asking if Jesus has the ability or power to heal his son - then he appeals to Christ's heart with the words, "Have a heart and help us!"  Sometimes the best place we can be is the one which expresses the honesty of a heart not fully certain, but willing to be shown.  God doesn't need our "fully developed faith" in order to bring about his purposes in our lives - he just needs our willingness to take the first step toward his "CAN" (his ability, his power, his means).  

We almost might be tempted to think Jesus was chastising the father for not having "full faith" as he brings his son to him.  Read it again.  Jesus actually turns the man's statement around and makes it clear to him - this dad's "first step" made all the difference for this boy!  Jesus turns and speaks clearly to the man's heart - connecting what the dad knew with what he felt.  This is the mind - heart connection.  It is one thing to know something - another to actually walk it.  Jesus' words were really saying to the father, "There are no ifs, ands, or doubts about it - ANYTHING and EVERYTHING CAN happen now that you are here with me."  It was the father's willingness to bring even his "ifs" to Jesus and admit he might just not be making a full connection between what he knows ABOUT Jesus and what he believes is possible IN Jesus which moved the heart of Jesus to build this man's faith.  The seed was there - there was some element of hope - he was willing to wager it all.  The rest was up to Jesus.

This is the way of faith - we have but a small seed hope - Jesus encounters the seed of hope with the magnitude of his power.  The first step doesn't reveal the entire climb, but each step brings us nearer the top.  There are no greater words which move the heart of God than the words of this father, "Then help me with me with my doubts."  We often don't want to admit our doubts to Jesus - sometimes even avoiding him all together in areas where we just haven't made the connection between what we "know" ABOUT him and what IS possible IN him.  Yet, it is the willingness to admit we need help with our doubts which opens the door for Jesus to take us higher in our climb than we ever imagined possible.  Doubts can either keep us at the bottom of the staircase, only imagining what might be at the top, or they can bring us into his presence in humility and openness to the possibilities we might find there.

I don't know what doubts you struggle with today, but I do know when you admit them to Jesus, he is able to turn our "ifs" into "cans".  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Living creatively?

Ever been misled - you know, you believe something only to find out in the end it may not be exactly as you believed it to be?  We probably are more sensitive to this type of "deception" today because of all the avenues for reproducing the deception.  There is an overwhelming amount of social media where we can see all kinds of reports, only to find out some of them are phishing scams, viruses, or just plain false posts designed to lure us in.  There is the entire web to "research" this cure or that experience - and we all know everything on the web is true!  Our passage today deals with having a trustworthy interpretation or impression of ourselves and others - something we often don't do a very good job with, as well.

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.  (Galations 6:1-3 MSG)

Many of us see the words "Live creatively..." and think about "creativity" in terms of the things we can imagine in our minds.  I don't think this is what Paul has in mind here when he challenges us to live "creatively".  I think he is asking us to rise above our "traditional" responses to the actions of another, not depending on how we might have "interpreted" them, but seeing them through God's eyes instead.  We all have some "traditional" responses to another's actions - they disappoint us and we pout; their actions seem a little too self-absorbed and we get miffed with their selfishness; or the offense came without warning, leaving us unguarded and hurting deeply.  In Paul's mind, God calls us to "transcend" our traditional patterns of responding to these "relationship issues" - in order to create meaningful and productive relationships.

At first, this may not seem like much, but when you combine it with what he goes on to instruct, you begin to feel your undies in a bundle!  He presents the idea of someone falling into sin - just getting himself messed up in what he doesn't realize is going to be his undoing.  Our "creative" response is to forgive and restore.  In fact, we are to go one step further and curb our desire to tell him, "I told you so!"  Now, if you don't see the "creativity" needed in this moment, you have never really forgiven!  It is hard work to not criticize another who has fallen into sin!  It requires some effort to not follow the well-formed pattern of criticizing or pointing out the failures of the one who has fallen, doesn't it?  

There are a whole lot of ways we can be deceived, but here are only a few we might just want to chew on the next time we want to criticize another's actions:

* None of us is above deception.  If we ever get to the place we think we are good enough to not need the hand of another to reach out to us as we are falling or to pick us up when they discover we have already fallen, we are deceiving ourselves into believing we are "better" or somehow "cut of a different fabric" than the other person.  Our "traditional" reaction is to jump right into judgment - placing ourselves "above" the other person simply because they fell and we didn't.  Let me just tell you, this is the most dangerous place to be - for at the top of the pedestal you may feel pretty good until the winds come and blow you off!

* None of us is capable of doing it all "right" all the time.  We fail - we compromise.  This is part and parcel with being human - possessing a sinful human nature.  More importantly - none of us is capable of saving himself.  Flounder around in waters too deep for you to touch bottom and you will soon tire of the constant effort it takes to tread water.  In time, you will find yourself sinking!  What we need is something to hold onto - until we can reach shore again and get our feet under us.  I think Paul may have had this in mind when he asks us to "live creatively" with each other - finding ways to throw a sinking man a life-preserver and not an anchor!  Forgiveness does just that!  It gives us something to hold onto when we just got in too deep to have any "footing" underneath us!

* None of us possesses all the right answers, but together we might just be able to see a new perspective on an awful experience.  It is our response to the experience which often determines the path the experience will take us.  When we begin to move from our "traditional" response to both our own sin and that of another, we might begin to see there is more to be seen "outside" of our own interpretation of the events.  Living creatively requires us to begin to challenge the "traditional" responses to both our sin and that of another.  We begin to think outside of the box - maybe even getting the perspective we actually need to see God's way out of the muddle!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You looking for love?

Much earlier in this psalm, we find the words, "For God’s Word is solid to the core; everything he makes is sound inside and out."  Those words may not seem like much at first, but when you re-read them a few times, maybe they will begin to sink in.  God's Word is solid!  Nothing can rock its truth.  Most importantly, when his Word is embraced - spoken, heard and acted upon - it has an effect beyond our imagining.  Not to be missed - EVERYTHING God makes is SOUND - inside and out!  Now, if that doesn't rock your world - I don't know what will.  Most of the struggle we face in life is the struggle between knowing right and doing it - we get defeated with the "disconnect" between knowing and doing.  Look at the passage - EVERYTHING (and that also means EVERYONE) is sound - because God's Word brings order, peace and hope! 

Watch this: God’s eye is on those who respect him, the ones who are looking for his love.  He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times; in lean times he keeps body and soul together.  We’re depending on God; he’s everything we need.  What’s more, our hearts brim with joy since we’ve taken for our own his holy name.  Love us, God, with all you’ve got—that’s what we’re depending on.  (Psalm 33:18-22 MSG)

When something is "sound", it is declared to have a solid foundation.  Nothing gives quite the same foundation to our lives than the Word of God.  It is by the Word that all things are held together - making us "solid" to the core.  Now, if we tried to build upon a foundation which was lacking in structure or soundness, what would be the final result?  A not very sturdy structure, right? What lends to the strength of the structure?  Isn't it that which it is anchored upon?  Even a tree-house needs some kind of anchor!  If the limbs upon which it is suspended are not sound, the thing will not support the weight of the structure for very long!  

As we examine our passage in this light, we must keep in mind what has been presupposed earlier in this chapter - God's Word provides a foundation for our lives - it makes us sound inside and out.  Not just some of us, but all of us!  As a result, we can stand assured of God's watchfulness over our lives.  I don't know about you, but knowing someone much more powerful than I am has my back really does give me a sense of peace!  

Now, let's take apart our passage, shall we?  God's eye is on those who respect him - revere him, worship him, hold him in honor in their lives.  When we focus our eyes on him, his eyes are on us.  There is something exchanged in the face-to-face encounter with God - something which gives permanence or foundation to our lives.  It has been said the eyes are windows to the soul - they allow us to see deeply into the thinking of a man, the emotional make-up he has, and the determination of spirit which drives him.  In turning our eyes to God - to behold his face - we also see something quite similar.  We see the determination of his spirit to put things right within us - making us sound inside and out.  We see the intensity of his love toward us - moving upon the hardness of our heart to make it pliable in his hand.  We see the truth he reveals in the Word he speaks - setting the things in motion which we could not do ourselves.

There is something powerful in looking for another's love - it has a driving force, doesn't it?  Whenever we seek to be loved, the entire make-up of our being is behind that endeavor.  What our psalmist reveals is the "position" of standing in the need of love.  We ALL stand in this position - no one is exempt from needing love.  Now, if we'd pursue HIS love with even a tenth of the determination his love has pursued us, imagine how much we'd find ourselves transformed by that love!  Those who are looking for his love find it.  It is not an elusive thing - it is right in the midst of us - we often just need to reach out and embrace it.

I cannot help but imagine the scene at the altar - bride and groom standing face-to-face - expectancy written deeply on each other's face.  In those brief moments of intense connection, the very longing of the heart is revealed in two tiny words:  "I DO".  What do these words imply?  Don't they imply intent?  The minister may be giving a long list of "will you" questions - the answer from the bride and groom reveals the "intent" of their heart to DO exactly as they are committing to at that very moment - not just today, but into the "tomorrows" which will come.  

Throughout scripture, we see a parallel between the church and Jesus - the church being the bride and he being the bridegroom.  At the point of our "conversion" into Christianity, we are saying "I DO".  We look into the bridegroom's face, expectancy evident in our longing for his love, and utter these tiny words which reveal so much about "commitment" and "intent".  "I DO" - nothing speaks louder to God's heart than these two words!  In "looking" for his love, we are sure to find it - his heart is moved by the need of ours!  There is something of "foundation" built in the exchange of "vows" between a man and a woman - a commitment to be there for each other.  We have somehow lost that in today's world, but remember this about God - his commitments are impossible for him to break!  When he commits to love us, he will.  When he commits to making us sound inside and out, he will not stop short of this promise.

I don't know about you, but what I lack in "commitment", God is faithful to provide in his love.  All he asks of me is to LOOK to him.  Plain and simple - get our focus right and nothing will be able to deter us from seeing the evidence of his strong foundation in our lives!  Remember this - focus determines outcome - keeping the focus right assures the right outcomes.  Make your "I DO" count!  Keep your focus right!  Just sayin!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Remembering?

Remember:  Keep in mind; remain aware of; recall.  For most of us, memory is a terrific thing - as long as what is remembered brings some kind of enjoyment.  When a memory is sad, or almost frightful, it terrorizes the soul and muddles the mind with its effect.  We all have different faculties for remembering things - for some, the mind is like a steal trap - nothing gets out.  For others, it is like a sieve, with many tiny holes which allow things to just plain leak out!  Is a memory ever totally erased?  I don't think so - it is there somewhere - we just may not recall it as easily or feel the same association with the memory as we once did.  It is possible to remember the details of some things and then totally forget those of another, isn't it?  If you don't believe me, try to tell me the definition of a an isosceles trapezoid! I knew that definition backward and forward while I was actually taking and practicing geometric equations, but today?  Nope!  I can tell you it has something to do with being able to divide the object in two and both sides have equal pieces - but my definition does not do justice to the real description of this trapezoid!  Memory - it can be both good and bad; here and gone; limited and expansive; or even fragile and strong.

Remember what you said to me, your servant— I hang on to these words for dear life! These words hold me up in bad times; yes, your promises rejuvenate me. The insolent ridicule me without mercy, but I don’t budge from your revelation. I watch for your ancient landmark words, and know I’m on the right track. But when I see the wicked ignore your directions, I’m beside myself with anger. I set your instructions to music and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way. I meditate on your name all night, God, treasuring your revelation, O God. Still, I walk through a rain of derision because I live by your Word and counsel.  (Psalm 119:49-56 MSG)

There are tons of scriptures which actually ask us to remember - to recount, remain aware of, keep constantly in mind.  This morning, I'd like us to consider just a couple of things about our minds and our memories:

1. It is a blessing to have our memory functioning.  As mom ages, I watch as she sometimes struggles with remembering even the simplest things such as what you call an object she has been familiar with all her years on this earth. I frequently hear her say she is really not of much "use" with her memory failing.  It almost terrorizes her to be losing the small portion of her faculties she has lost.  For a woman of 94 years of age, she is doing marvelously well, but even the smallest portion of memory lost is a huge "deficit" to her.  Why? Probably because she equates her usefulness with her ability to recall and recount.  She can no longer cook because she cannot remember the steps she used to take in preparing those awesome dishes we kids grew up enjoying.  We should never once ever discount the blessing of memory - never take it for granted - for once it is gone, no amount of "straining" helps to bring it back!

2. The brain has much capacity - the ability to both receive and retain.  These two functions of the brain make it both a blessing and a curse!  What we allow in (receive) has the potential of being retained (kept around for a really long time).  Therefore, what we "allow in" should be what we want to "keep around".  As a child, I saw some "horror" flicks in good old black and white cinema-vision.  Those "horror" flicks involved things like some genetically mutated spiders growing to massive proportions, then spinning webs the size of a football field, and roaming through towns to find food into the wee hours of the night!  Now, my brother wasn't supposed to let me watch these, but when we were left alone, him "supervising" me, no telling what could happen! Those images terrorized me many a night!  You know, I can still recall some of the details of those movies to this day!  Why?  Simply because our mind has capacity - to retain and recall!  We need to be vigilant in "supervising" what we allow in - it affects us a long, long time!

3. You have probably heard me say that memory and heart are connected in some respect - what enters into our mind somehow affects our heart.  Why?  It is important to remember the biblical reference to "heart" is not to the beating organ in our chest.  It is a reference to the center of our emotions, buried deep within the brain.  So memory has the ability to affect the heart because they are part of the same brain!  Our "heart" is the seat of our emotions - as such, we find ourselves "setting" our hearts on certain things which are able to "feed" or "deny" certain emotions.  As we learn what "feeds" an emotion, we are actually putting it into memory.  The memory then goes to that particular "remembered" thing as the basis of producing the same emotion again in the future.  Perhaps you don't see much of an issue with this, but if the "emotion" sparked a memory which feeds some habit which is harmful to us or another, then the memory is really working against us.  Therefore, we are urged to "guard our heart" - keeping careful watch over our emotions and the memories we form!

4. Last, but definitely not least, the mind has a tremendous faculty for creating - almost creating something out of nothing at times.  We are given the ability to imagine - using our "mind's eye" to see beyond the evident or apparent.  I think this might be our mind's part in the development of faith.  We "see" what is unseen - "perceive" what seems to be imperceptible.  As such, the mind has some kind of "productive" purpose - it helps us to "develop" thought - making "sense" out of things.  When something seems to be a challenge to us - we exercise some mental faculty to "perceive" - but when something escapes our understanding, we need some "help" outside of our memory - we need the Creator himself!  Just sayin!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Genetics?

There are two word which are similar, but have a totally different meaning when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it.  The two words:  Reformation and Transformation.  Reformation is the action of improving, but it involves altering or amending something to make it more presentable or suitable.  Transformation involves change, but it is at the core - it is the change in the very nature of the object.  Reformation involves "cleaning up" something - superficial at best.  Transformation included the exchange of on thing for another.  Any time we focus on "cleaning up our act", we are engaging in "reformational" action - any time we allow God to focus on "changing our nature" we are giving him access to do his tranformational work within us.

For though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, yet your iniquity and guilt are still [upon you; you are] spotted, dirty,and stained before Me, says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 2:22 AMP)

In medical terms, when one "gene" is affected by another, it goes through a transformation process - changing its very nature.  This is the basis of the research behind genetics - science working to impact how one "out of control" cell might be affected by another "in control" cell.  When we pour chemo chemicals into the body, we are hoping to "reform" the action of the cells - stopping the growth, or at least slowing them down.  The fact is - the cell doesn't change with chemo, it just stops being fed.  The cell has the potential to regrow because the very "genetics" of the cell still exist.  When we introduce the "genetic" component, we see the potential to change the very actions and the very nature of the cell!

Let that one sink in a little this morning.  One only "cleans us up" - the other makes us new!  When a good friend of mine was asked to give a bone marrow transplant to a relative, she was being asked to provide the "genetic" materials to transform the way the recipient's cells were acting.  His cells were out of control - consuming the health of his body.  Her cells would provide the basis for the transformational work to occur - giving enough of the "seed" of life to do more than just "reform" his blood.  I think this is what the blood of Jesus does for us - it transforms our blood!  It has been said that life is in the blood (that is biblical, you know).  Therefore, the way to affect our nature is through a blood exchange!

Christ's death on the cross - the shedding of his blood - procured the means by which our very nature could be transformed.  There is no amount of "reform" work we can do which will help us stand in the same way before God as does the blood of Christ.  As Jeremiah said those may years ago, we can scrub until our skin is raw, but all we do is scratch the surface of what really makes us "unclean"!  The only way to get at the stain is to get at it from the inside!

There are six basic principles of genetics - I think they provide us with some interesting things to consider:

1.  Each trait, or characteristic, is "passed on" from one generation to the next.  I think this is what God was referring to when he spoke to Israel saying the sins of the father are often passed onto the son.  We have the "genetic" make up which "introduces" the desire to sin - to demand our own way over the obedience to God.  We all have the same nature - because we are all cut from the same cloth.  We also all have the same "void" within designed to be filled by God's spirit.

2.  The trait exhibited are controlled by the genes we possess.  This is the basis for studying how diseases can be controlled or eradicated by the use of genetics.  Whenever we think of a "trait", we are really saying that which gives the uniqueness to the object.  We seek to change the "uniqueness" by introducing the new gene.  I don't know about you, but the "gene" of Christ in me is the entire basis for change in my life - no other thing ever got at the "traits" which declared me a sinner!

3.  Genes are inherited - one from each of the parents.  This means I have "genes" from both my natural parents and from Christ - for when I come into his family, I now have is "genetics" introduced.  Just like my friend giving her blood to her brother to see his blood transformed, the "gene" of Christ's righteousness is introduced into our lives - moving quickly to transform our unrighteousness into righteousness.

4.  There are both dominant and recessive genes.  This one might stump us a little, but we probably think of dominant as the one which is exhibited and recessive as the one which does nothing.  Quite the opposite is true.  To understand this, we might need an entire paper, but here it is in a simplified nutshell.  Genes really "have stuff" (genotype) and they "exhibit stuff" (phenotype).  It is the relationship between the two which really determines what will be "exhibited".  Now, if we want to change the way we act - we need God's "phenotype" to impact our "genotype" so our actions change!

5.  The two genes still exist - one just "hides" or "covers over" the other.  This might just explain why we still sin!  We have all we need for transformation to occur, but there are still some of those "recessive" genes exhibiting themselves once in a while, huh?

6.  There are some genes which really are what science calls "co-dominant" - both revealing themselves at the same time.  Maybe this explains why we see Christians as still imperfect humans - they still display their human nature, even though they have the "spiritual" genetics at work within them right now! Until we are fully "transformed", I think this may just be the case for a while. Just sayin!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Impatience is the enemy of growth

There are times in life when I get impatient with myself.  It is one thing to be impatient with another person who may be causing us to wait, or just not answering us when we are talking right to them.  Yet, it is quite another thing to look at ourselves in the mirror and get impatient with what it is we "see" there, isn't it?  I don't know about the rest of you, but there are times when I look in the mirror and absolutely nothing looks like I had hoped it would look! The hair just didn't work, the clothes were too tight/baggy, the skin showed a few blemishes, or the eyebrows were a little uneven - nothing like a "bad hair day", huh?  Now, I wonder just how many of us have these kind of days in the spiritual sense - you know, when you look into the mirror of the Word and find out the "image" you see staring back at you is not quite what you'd hoped for!  

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.  If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting,so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met."  (Matthew 6:27-33 MSG)

I like how this passage begins - "Has anyone...."  Think on that one a bit - has anyone - meaning it is not likely even one person has been successful in "making" growth happen in their life!  Growth is something which is kind of an "applied" thing.  You can do nothing to "make" growth occur - you can cultivate the soil, but the growth is totally outside of your control.  There is a "force" outside of your control which actually produces the growth!  

Here are a couple of points I'd like us to remember the next time we get impatient with ourselves when we don't think the growth is as evident in our lives as we'd like it to be:

1.  Growth is really an indication of life - yet even growing things have "seasonal" periods of time when it does not appear there is any "activity" occurring beneath the surface.  Take a seed for example.  You plant it into the soil, water it a bit, and then what do you do?  You wait, right?  You don't sit there and expect to see the thing sprout up before your eyes into this gorgeous flowering display of beauty.  In fact, you keep returning to the place you last remembered seeing the seed and you watch intently for the growth, but until you see the tiniest of hint of something breaking through the soil, you really don't know what is happening beneath the surface, do you?  Growth activity is often not recognizable until the surface has been broken - the whole time you were watering, allowing the sun to shine upon the soil, and giving the little seed time to grow, it was not just sitting dormant - there was growth happening.  Life is comprised of both the "above ground" activities we see and the "under-ground" activities we don't.  Both are necessary - but what is displayed is really only a sign of the life which is beneath the surface!

2.  Growth occurs when the conditions for growth are right both above and beneath the surface.  The "favorability" of the conditions determines the growth which will occur.  When the conditions of our souls are unfavorable for growth, try as you might and you still won't coax any growth from the "unfavorable" soil!  There is a direct correlation between growth and what conditions exist which will support the growth.  A seed planted in darkness likely will just rot in the soil - it needs the sunlight to grow properly.  The same seed planted in hard, clay-like soil may grow a little, but sustaining the growth will almost be impossible because the "continued" nourishment of the seed is not available.  So, as important as it is to not just expect instant growth, it is also quite important to remember the favorability of the conditions of the soil into which we expect to see the seed take root and grow.

3.  Growth is gradual, at best.  This is the sticking point for most of us - we want it now, not later.  This is the point of our impatience - we don't see growth fast enough.  If you want a lawn, it starts with the first blade of grass!  We cannot forget number 2 above - the conditions must be favorable for growth.  We cannot forget number 1 above - there is stuff happening beneath the surface where we may not always see the immediate evidence of growth.  Just like you cannot "coax" growth to occur at a pace faster than God intends, you cannot improve the conditions of the soil without a little effort on your part.  Time in the Word, moments alone with God in prayer, and more than the occasional season of worship will help to improve the conditions of our "soul's soil".  Yet, soil is not "favorable" just because it is soil - it has to be prepared a little in order to "accept" the seed, providing both the "space" for the seed to grow and the necessary "tools" for the seed to produce what it is intended to produce.

4.  Growth is more than our own effort applied to seeing the growth.  The seed is planted - maybe not even by us!  Many a bird carries a seed hither and yon in the natural sense - causing things to sprout forth which we never knew were "planted" in our gardens.  God has many ways of sowing his seeds - just as there are many ways the soil is prepared to receive the seed, maintain the conditions for the seed's growth, and ensure the ongoing nurturing of the seed's growth in seasons when growth may be threatened by "forces" beyond your control.  Yet, even the best of farmers will tell you they are powerless to control the growth of the seed - their efforts only do so much - then God takes over!  We have to be willing to let God take over when our part is done - making growth not just a result of our own effort.

5.  Growth implies something about the "health" of the plant and its root system.  If you have ever had a "root-bound" plant, you know what happens when you transplant it.  At first, it gets a little "shocked" by the transplanting process, but in time, with the proper attention, it takes hold in its new environment.  The growth possible in the new environment "out-performs" the growth produced in the previous smaller pot.  Why?  The roots can expand.  There is a new source of nourishment for the plant.  The conditions are favorable to the new growth opportunities.  Sometimes we are impatient with our growth - expecting to see new growth when we are a little "pot bound". It may be time for us to ask God about "transplanting" us into a bigger pot - just so we can begin the "expansion" of our roots.  Just sayin!

Friday, April 19, 2013

We SHALL - not we MIGHT

Wouldn't we all like to know what our future state will be?  We have this gnawing desire to know the future.  As parents, we want to see what our kids will turn out to be like, dream about what accomplishments they undertake, and imagine them doing certain things or marrying certain individuals.  As children, we imagine taking flight into the great unknown, discovering parts unknown to common man, or discovering some new invention which will set the world on fire with excitement.  As believers, what do we imagine about our future state?  Our imaginations often stop at what we can see in our mind's eye about what it is we can comprehend or believe about our children or ourselves.  We often don't look beyond what we can "see" into the unknown realm of what is "promised" to those of us who have put our faith in Christ Jesus.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  (I John 3:2 NIV)

First of all, John points out our future state includes seeing Christ.  Today, I can only imagine what it would be like to actually be "face-to-face" with him.  I can picture it, but even what I imagine is probably just a "made up" image of what it will be like to actually "see" him.  When we begin to consider this, it probably doesn't seem too exciting, but in reality, what we "see" of Christ around us today is what we see of him in other "imperfect" people.  We see the example of his love and grace, as it is revealed in their lives.  Yet, we don't actually see him - we see the evidence of him in them!  Now, this isn't a bad thing because this is what Christ had in mind as he told us to live as examples - letting his light shine through us to a dark world.  I don't know about you, but if I really want to see the true color of something, I go outside into the sunlight - because there is nothing quite as revealing as the light of the sun.  The same thing is true about the "son-light" - we may see all kinds of "hues" of light in each other, but there is nothing quite as awesome and revealing as the light of the Son.

Don't miss the point John wants us to see in this passage - this promise is not for those in the future, or those in the past.  It is for us.  We are the ones who shall see Christ - we are "counted" in the number of those who will become acquainted with his "face-to-face" appearance.  Sometimes we want to undermine our own "standing" with Christ by discounting the work he has done in us which assures us of this ability to enjoy his presence in our lives.  We want to imagine ourselves as not all that worthy of coming face-to-face with him, but the opposite is actually true.  It is because Christ came face-to-face with us that we can enjoy and count on the privilege of being face-to-face with him!

The most amazing thing here is that we don't see Jesus today as we will see him tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that.  Into eternity, our revelation of Christ becomes greater and greater until we come into a full revelation of his love, greatness, power, strength, grace, etc.  Today, we only know each of these in part - tomorrow we will know a little more - into the future, we will still know each of these a little better - but into eternity, we shall have the full revelation.

What does this continual "revealing" of Christ do in us today?  When we behold Christ long enough, we begin to see ourselves in a different light.  There is something transformational in seeing Christ.  The small revelation we have of him today added to the revelation we have of him from yesterday begins to provide some "transition" points in our lives.  You see, we cannot see Christ as he is and not be transformed in the process.  When we see the sacrificial and costly love of Christ, we cannot help but in awe that one would love us so much to pay such a terrific cost just to have us close to him.  In a word, we begin to see him as he is and we begin to see ourselves as he sees us - as like him.

In examining this passage, there is something which we almost could gloss over - the word "shall".  It is used twice.  We shall see him as he is and we shall be like him.  Now, before you already want to tell yourself a different story in your mind about why you will never be quite like him, let me tell you another story which you need to hold onto.  When God says something SHALL be a certain way, it SHALL be that way!  It is a "given" - it is "determined" - it is not "maybe" or you "may" finally be closer to being like him.  It is you SHALL be like him!  Plain and simple - stop telling yourself anything less than the truth - for the truth SHALL set you free from the lies of your past!

Just some thoughts today on what it is we might begin to imagine if we'd just change the focus of our imagination to align with what Christ says about us!  There is nothing quite as liberating as knowing and believing the truth.  Just sayin!