Friday, May 31, 2013

Joyfulness and Justice - Journeying On

We are well underway with our exploration of the character traits of a child of God - those traits which actually "reflect" better than any "image" we see of ourselves in the mirror on our wall.  Today, we consider our "J" list - Justice and Joyfulness.  I have chosen a rather long passage, but I think it is rich with blessing.  Justice is really another way of saying we live in such a manner so as to display right conduct.  In dealing with others, and often ourselves, we are equitable in treating others as God has treated us.  Now, at first, this seems a little too easy for us to simply respond, "Check", and move on.  Let me assure you, living "just" lives is a lot harder than some of the other traits we have explored to date!  In fact, because it deals with the behaviors of others, often in reflection of the way they have treated us, it is one of the hardest ones to master!  

Train me, God, to walk straight; then I’ll follow your true path. Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear. From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord; I’ve never kept secret what you’re up to. You’ve always been great toward me—what love! You snatched me from the brink of disaster! God, these bullies have reared their heads! A gang of thugs is after me— and they don’t care a thing about you. But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit. So look me in the eye and show kindness, give your servant the strength to go on, save your dear, dear child! Make a show of how much you love me so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed, As you, God, gently and powerfully put me back on my feet.  (Psalm 86:11-17 MSG)

Here we find David faced by some folks in his life who we might say didn't welcome him with open arms - in fact, they were out to get him!  Life just isn't going David's way at the moment!  The "bullies" are abounding.  Do you know what a bully is?  It is someone who "badgers" another person because they think the other person is actually WEAKER than they are!  They see the other person as "smaller" or "less significant".  Imagine that!  They saw David, the man with a heart after God's own heart, as "smaller" or "weaker" than them!  Isn't this just the way people who don't serve the Lord see Christians? They almost shake their head in disbelief that we'd need some kind of "crutch" like Jesus to get through life!  Let me assure those of you who might have been told Jesus was some "crutch" you needed in life - he is life itself, not just some "support" we lean upon!  

The times when "justice" becomes evident in our lives are those when our fellow men see an area of "weakness" in our lives as an opportunity to focus their attack.  Let me give you a little secret - most of us already know where our areas of weakness are and we have something our enemy doesn't know about - God's strength manifest in the very spot our weakness shines through!  Look at our passage again - David is not bemoaning the bullying of his attackers - for he sees this as the very moment God will be totally on display in his life.  Justice will prevail - first in his own life, and then in his dealings with those who seek to intimidate, demean, tear down, cause havoc to abound, and just simply make his life miserable!  Why?  He has learned to rely upon the one thing which always remains consistent - even in his inconsistency.  That one thing is God's character - his grace, kindness, gentleness and even his power.  

Let's not forget the progression we see in this passage.  David begins with his own attitude and purpose in the interactions with these "bullies".  He asks God to set HIS path straight - to have HIS mind and heart put together, undivided and determined.  This is where justice begins - with the setting straight of US!  When our hearts and minds are blameless, we stand strong in the midst of whatever the "bullies" throw our way.  What does this "putting together" process assure David of in his life?  Simply put, he will not be dependent upon the circumstances of life in determining what gives him happiness in life - he will be joyful in the justice of God, first toward him, then toward his enemies.  Look at what he asks God - make a how much you love me, God!  Have you ever prayed that prayer?  Have you ever faced some of the toughest enemies of your life and prayed that God would just put himself on display in your life in all his fullness and glory?  When you do, he is honored to answer that prayer!

So, justice and joyfulness really are inter-related, just as so many of our other "traits" have been.  Whenever we begin to see our weakness as God's opportunity, we also might just count on our "bullying" friends to see it as their opportunity to attack where we are the weakest.  Yet, in those moments of attack, God's putting us together, giving us the integrity to stand strong, and letting his justice to shine through.  In these times, we stand in joyful awe of what God does, how he uses us to shut down the bullies, and just how much power he puts on display where we only saw the extremes of weakness.

On a final note, let me just say David got pushed around a little by life's bullies.  In fact, he notes it is God who will "put him back on his feet".  This might just indicate every "pushing around" we get from the "bullying enemies" in our lives won't leave us standing quite as strong as we hoped.  In those times, take heart - God is there to help you back onto your feet.  Relationship "bullies" abound - some push us down a little more than we'd like.  God stands at the ready to help us back up on our feet again.  We only need to rely upon his outstretched hand to pull us up.  Financial "bullies" taunt and toy with us - his providing hand is at the ready.  Health "bullies" plague us with worries galore - his carefully tender hand is at the ready to soothe our pain and ease our worries.  We do "get down" in life, but remembering there is a difference between happiness and joyfulness may just be the key to where we look when we are "down".  We may be down, but not for the count!  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Integrity and intensity - the "I" list

Two words come to mind when I think of our "I" List of character traits God would like for us to possess:  Integrity and Intensity.  At first, these two seem to stand alone, but I think you will come to see how they are uniquely interwoven traits which actually compliment each other.  As you can see from our passage below, Paul begins with "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it."  Now, consider our two traits - he asks for us to have some intensity (fervor) in how we love (from the center of who we are), but he also expects us to have integrity in our love as he asks us to be real in our love (don't fake it).  They are indeed integral to each other.  
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.   Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.  (Romans 12:9-12 MSG)
At first, we may only think of integrity as honesty - some adherence to a moral code within.  I believe there is a little more to integrity than meets the eye.  In the most literal sense, integrity is a state of wholeness - speaking to the "entirety" of something.  When Paul asks us to love this way, he is asking us to make our expression (action) of love complete - thorough, lacking nothing, completely undiminished in any way.  It also carries the idea of being unimpaired - nothing stands in its way of expression.  
We may think of intensity as something which burns hot - has some gusto to it.  You wouldn't be far off if you went with this definition, but there is just a little more I think we need to see.  It is a focusing of energies - so what is produced is more powerful than when energies are unfocused.  It includes the idea of height and depth - for something with intensity is sharpest when it is focused.  For example, take a regular light bulb and put it in a lamp.  The light gives a glow to the room.  Now, put a spotlight bulb in the same socket and what happens?  There is light for the whole room, but the intensity of light is in the direct line of the "focused" light of the bulb.  What makes the bulbs different?  They add a "mirror" effect to the spotlight bulb to get the light to focus in a direct path.  So, for our purposes today, begin to think of intensity as being focused, intent, and directed.
As we glimpse the instructions Paul lays out for us, we can begin to see how each of these must have both character traits in order to be fully met. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.  He reminds us of the importance of focus - running from evil, turning toward what is good.  He also reminds of the integrity we must maintain in doing this - it is as though our entire life depended upon this action.  Indeed it does - for what we run toward determines the outcome of our pursuit; how we run toward it determines how quickly we will attain our pursuit.  Are you getting how these two traits are related?  
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.  This is probably the hardest part of this passage.  We all burn out at some time or another, in one pursuit or another.  Why?  Well, maybe the pursuit was not right for us at the time - we were simply running after, focusing our energies toward, without thought of whether it was the right thing for us, the right timing, or with the right intent.  When we do this, we find ourselves kind of running on a hamster wheel - just spinning and spinning, but not really getting anywhere.  There is nothing more exhausting than just spinning your wheels.  So, how do we avoid burn-out?  In the first place, burn-out is never God's fault - it is ours.  We didn't keep the right focus.  So, being vigilant to consistently evaluate our focus is paramount to avoiding burn-out.  When a pilot is going from point A to point B, his eyes are on the gauges - not just the wings of the plane.  He could focus intently on the wings, but it he never notices he is nearly out of fuel, he will find those wings do him little good as he is plummeting toward earth!  The gauges show him his air speed, the fuel remaining, the altitude he maintains, etc.  We have some similar "gauges" in our lives we'd do well to watch with diligence!
What gauges do we have?  There are all kinds, but here are just a few.  We have the gauge of our time - what are we giving our time toward?  Most of us "spend" our time - God's method of operating is to "give" our time.  We have the gauge of our emotions - when we find ourselves getting a little frazzled or fraying around the edges, it may just be time to pull back a little.  We have the gauge of our inner spirit - giving us a little "check" here and there to remind us our "prayer" gauge is a little low.  We need to make connection with the one who refuels us - so when our prayer gauge sends off a warning light, we likely need to get connected again!  These are just some examples of what we have been given as gauges.  You will likely think of others.  Let God show you those which often "scream" their warnings in your life the loudest.  When you identify them, begin to see how they relate to your focus and your intent.  Remember the light bulb?  They both serve the purpose of casting light into the room.  Each has an effect - but only one does it with intensity.  The gauges can help us to focus so our intensity allows for a brilliant display of God's light from within.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hunger gets you to the table

There are a whole lot of character traits I could choose for my "H" List - things like humility, honor, honesty, hopefulness, and holiness.  Yet, I choose to focus on one character trait today:  Hunger.  You see, if hunger is one of your character traits, humility will follow, honor will be your adornment, honesty will be your way of doing business, hopefulness will spring from your heart, and holiness will be evident in your words and actions.  So, hunger really is an all-encompassing character trait for our "H" List today!

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.  (Matthew 5:6 MSG)

This passage is taken from the Sermon on the Mount.  I'd like to back up a little to get some perspective though.  First, we find Jesus climbing a small mountain or up onto a hillside.  Why?  The crowds were gathering and this gave him position to speak to the vast crowd - his voice would carry since what he did was actually create something of an outside amphitheater.  Next, we see he did not climb alone - those who were "apprenticed" to him, the committed, climbed with him.  In other words, those who were in service with him.  These were his disciples - those who would be in for the long haul.  Not to be missed is the "posture" of Jesus as he began to teach - he sat down.  Now, at first this may not say much, but think about it - he sat down.  This suggests a place of comfort and a time of personal sharing.  Last, but not least, catch who it was he began to teach - his "climbing companions".  It was those who were committed to the long haul he sat with that day - opening up his heart and sharing his treasured teachings.

This brings us to the posture of his "climbing companions" - they sat down, too.  They were ready to receive from him - expectant for what he might share.  This is probably the most important part of "hunger" - there is a desire to receive because their is an intensity of need.  If you have ever been hungry, stomach rumbling a little, you have an urgency of need which compels you to find something to satisfy the hunger, right?  You either prepare it yourself, or you go some place where you can find it prepared already.  For these disciples, the latter is true - they come expectant to find that which will satisfy their hunger for truth.  We cannot miss their posture - they sat down.  This is more than a casual pursuit for them - it is not fast food!  They are assuming a position which suggests they are there to receive - not just get a "quickie" infusion of spiritual advice!

Then Jesus begins to "deliver" their "meal":

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." - This may not seem like the way to open up a good "meal", but think about what he is saying here - when you are hungry enough, you are empty!  Emptiness is the opportunity for filling.  

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you." - Loss leaves us empty, but through loss, we are free to embrace things new to us.  Hunger is built in the times of loss - for we move from being comfortable, to beginning to seek something to satisfy the longing of our hearts.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought." - Hunger moves us because we are no longer content with the quick fixes or the tidbits of stuff we take in to fill the space inside.  Yet, it is not until we realize what really satisfies our hunger that we are content in "being filled". 

And this brings us to our passage today:  “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat."  Hunger is a compelling need - it drives you.  It is often associated with a feeling of weakness.  The body is uniquely designed to "crave" that which it needs most.  For example, when you need minerals, your body actually "craves" things which provide you with those minerals - such as salt!  The spirit of man is similarly created to "crave" that which satisfies the inner longings of a searching heart.  

Looking at how he leads up to this passage about hungering for that which really satisfies the inner man, he reminds the disciples about weakness.  I think this is because weakness is an innate part of hunger - it is the evidence of need.  Until we recognize our need, we don't stop to be fed.  Until the disciples sat down, they weren't in a position to really feast upon what Jesus would provide.  I think the same is true for us - hunger drives us to his feet, but intensity of need (weakness) compels us to actually sit down long enough to take in what we have need of.  Did you ever stop to consider the root word of hunger?  It carries the meaning of being "dry" or "burning" with need.  Hunger is a place of dryness.  There is a burning for something more.  In this respect, it brings us to the place of filling.  Maybe this is why Jesus sandwiched this right between being empty, at a sense of loss, and ready to be filled with what really matters and the next truths:

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for." - When we are filled, we have something to give out - fullness actually produces something for others.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world." - In being filled "inside", there is something evident "outside".

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family." - There is just something about gathering around the place of nourishment, sharing a good meal with others, isn't there?  In those moments, something happens - the doors open to communication, intimate exchanges occur.  The place of filling actually becomes a place of exchange.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom." - You may not want what you are fed, but in learning to appreciate the provision you receive, you learn to see it as the bounty which will sustain you.

Hunger is a powerful thing - being in a position to be filled with what really satisfies is a matter of settling in for the feast.  Hunger gets you to the table, but emptiness and weakness gets you to sit down long enough to be filled.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Getting other than what we deserved!

There is something unique about a thankful heart.  If you have ever been around someone who really practices a lifestyle of gratitude, you know what I mean.  Another word for gratitude is gratefulness.  I sometimes think this character trait is linked to a similar trait - being graceful.  Grateful people have a way of exuding grace in some of the most unlikely ways, don't they? Our "G" list of character traits - grace and gratitude.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.  (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG)

As Paul writes to the Colossian church, he focuses on something which keeps people together - focusing on "staying in tune with each other".  In other words, we don't always choose our own path and just plunge down it without regard to the feelings of another.  We call this being "graceful" - there is a "beauty" inherent in the movements of people of grace.  Why?  They look beyond themselves and see those God has placed in their path.  They "give the Word of God room in their lives".  What happens when God's Word actually gets into the nooks and crevices of our lives - it challenges us, convinces us, and eventually changes us.  We become people of grace!

A natural outflow of truly experiencing grace in your own life is to develop the complimentary trait of being grateful.  This is because we are deeply affected by the grace of God - it touches us deeply and we have to give expression to things which touch us this deeply.  If we are in the habit of burying our emotions, this expression of gratitude might be just a little muted, but it is there, nonetheless.  The thing about gratitude is it is really an attitude - it is not something conjured up - it stems from within.  

Grace moves upon us - gratitude comes from within us.  It is the outflow of grace.  I think of this as grace priming the pump for a tremendous outflow of amazement, awe, and adoration.  Gratitude is the basis of worship - for we truly don't worship what we are not thankful for in our lives.  Don't believe me?  Let someone take away that ONE thing in your physical environment which you take such delight in.  It might be the best mattress you have ever slept on, the nicest car you have driven, or perhaps the biggest TV you have ever watched.  Now, it is gone.  How'd ya sleep?  Did you enjoy getting to work quite as much on the bike as you did in the car?  Did the game seem as exciting when you had to listen to it on a radio?  Gratitude is the basis of worship - not that I am saying we should worship ANYTHING in our physical environment, but it helps to make my point.  We appreciate what we have, so when it is gone, we mourn its loss (we don't have an attitude of gratitude).

Gratitude is the basis of worship in our spiritual lives - based on the actions of grace in our lives.  They go hand-in-hand.  God moves upon us, we experience his movement - the "outflow" should be gratitude.  Yet some of us have a tough time with this trait - our attitude kind of stinks.  We get into this issue of "comparing" ourselves with others and when we see they "get" something better than we do, or seem to be "getting along" better, we get a little down in the dumps.  This is the sad thing about comparing - it changes our attitude toward what it is we DO have!  Maybe this is why Paul tells us we have to "cultivate" this attitude of gratitude - it takes effort to maintain our focus on what God is doing in US and not looking to what he is doing in OTHERS!  Just as important as it is for us to not just go our own way and do our own thing, it is equally important for us to not be looking with envy upon what another person has, is experiencing, or has come through.

It is a narrow line between envy and encouragement.  I can be encouraged by your blessing, but the very moment I begin to cross-over into the space where I start to wonder "why not me", I move into envy.  Envy destroys gratitude, and it limits the actions of grace in our lives.  It is to be guarded against - this is why Paul tells the Galatian church to "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life."  (Galations 6:4-5 MSG)  This is the crux of the matter - gratitude focuses on the grace we have been given, sinking deeply into the place of appreciating even the smallest hint of its work, and then enjoying it with all the gusto we have.  Yep, we can be excited about what God is doing in the lives of others - in fact, we are told to celebrate with them.  We just need to guard carefully our tendency to then drift into comparing what God is doing there with what he is doing in us!

Grace is undeserved - gratitude is an expression of awe at receiving something other than what we deserved!  Just sayin!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The bridge between faithfulness and fullness

How many of us can truly say we are true to our word?  Not just some of the time, but each and every time?  I don't imagine it is many of us - for we all struggle with this at times - no matter how much we live in a manner which consistently follows through on what we say we will do.  In fact, most of the time, we struggle with the "promises" we make God more than we do the ones we make to our fellow man.  Today, we look at two inter-related character traits:  Faithfulness and Fullness.  I think we will begin to see how much these two are really intertwined - for learning to be faithful leads to quite a full life!

You are right and you do right, God; your decisions are right on target. You rightly instruct us in how to live ever faithful to you. My rivals nearly did me in, they persistently ignored your commandments. Your promise has been tested through and through, and I, your servant, love it dearly. I’m too young to be important, but I don’t forget what you tell me. Your righteousness is eternally right, your revelation is the only truth. Even though troubles came down on me hard, your commands always gave me delight. The way you tell me to live is always right; help me understand it so I can live to the fullest.  (Psalm 119:137-144 MSG)

I think we follow through on what is important to us.  If we hear our doctor tell us we will be dead in a year unless we make some dramatic changes in the way we eat and exercise, I daresay most of us would be on Weight Watchers and the treadmill by the end of the day!  Why?  We "value" our time on this earth, so we will make the necessary adjustments to our way of living because we want more than a year!  If the "thing" motivates us enough, we take whatever steps are required in order to realize the goal, don't we?  This is exactly where the "rub" comes at times in our lives.  We find certain "value" in some things because they have an immediate evidence of "return" - such as when we get our haircut in order to deal with our "dowdiness".  The haircut lifts our spirits and makes us feel better about our appearance.  It is immediate - at least within an hour!  When the "value" of something isn't immediate, we sometimes wane in our commitment to it because we don't see the "return" for quite some time.

Faithfulness is something God honors - as David put it, God is right and always does right - his decisions for our lives are right on target.  Then why do we struggle with his decisions so much?  I think it may be the "immediacy" of the "return" we are struggling with more than the decision!  Faithfulness is based on a certain steadiness of allegiance - commitment to a purpose, the ability to remain even when the going gets tough (or the results just don't seem to surface).  Faithfulness begins in listening.  What we are "willing" to hear often makes the determination of heart much easier.  When we "hear" the doctor with both our mind and heart, we are moved to action.  If we just hear it as a "suggestion" of change, we might just linger in our unhealthy lifestyle a little longer.  David says God rightly instructs us on HOW to live faithful lives.  Any good teacher will confirm that a student only learns when he takes what he hears and puts it into action.  This is the "bridge" between knowledge and learning.  We can possess knowledge, but be devoid of learning.  God's desire is for the "bridge" to be made.

Why is it we can stand on God's promises?  Isn't it because they have been tested and they stand true?  Then why do we struggle with them so much?  For example, Matthew 6:33 tells us one of God's promises to us is to be anxious for nothing - to seek first his purposes - and then we will have all our needs met (maybe not all our "wants", but definitely all our "needs").  Yet how many times do we worry over where we will find the money to pay the next bill, what we will do when we lose our jobs, or the like?  There are even "smaller" worries we take into our lives each and every day - not because we have no resource to find them met, but because we aren't making this knowledge - learning bridge.  We have the knowledge of the promise - we just don't have the "connecting" bridge which makes it a fact in our hearts!

Faithfulness if directly linked to fullness.  When we have this "connection" between "hearing" and "doing", there is a certain "fullness" which is created in the deep places of our lives.  Fullness is defined as containing all that can be held.  The amazing thing about God is his ability to expand our capacity!  When we think we have come to the place of holding all which can be held, he gives us more capacity!  Not capacity for "stuff", but capacity for him!  Maybe this is where we find our struggle with faithfulness - in seeking "stuff" instead of him.  We "want", but our "want" is sometimes for stuff which limits our capacity for being filled!  I think it can be said - capacity is directly linked to our willingness to be emptied.  David puts it well:  "The way you tell me to live is always right."  Look at what he says next:  "Help me understand it..."

There is nothing God loves more than to hear us ask for his help with understanding his ways in our lives.  I don't think he ever leaves us hanging when we do.  In fact, he often begins to "piece together" the knowledge we possess until they begin to become "learned".  In so doing, he is "piecing together" the very bridge which will become our lifeline in times of need.  The "piecing together" process may seem a little tedious at times in our lives - seeming to not show immediate evidence of the "bridge", but be assured of this - no bridge is built without a good master plan.  Every piece fits because their is a plan for it.  We want a bridge - no matter how well constructed.  God wants it to endure!  So, in order to endure, sometimes there is a "clearing process" in order to lay the foundations of endurance.  Empty vessels are God's choicest vessels, for it is the empty ones he can fill!  Just sayin!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Energy and Enthusiasm - got any?

Enthusiasm and Energy - two character traits which often define the progress we make in life.  Lack enthusiasm or energy and any task you take on will seem like a drudgery, weighing you down with its burden.  Sometimes we possess energy, but lack enthusiasm.  When we do, we have all the "burn" we need for the long-haul, but we just don't have the "umph" behind it to make the "haul" enjoyable.  We can also have all the enthusiasm in the world, but lack the energy because it has been sucked out of us by all the other stuff we also have "enthusiasm" for in life!  These two work hand-in-hand, as do many of our other "character traits" we have explored over the past several days.  Today's list is our "E" List - Enthusiasm and Energy.

I readily admit that the Jews are impressively energetic regarding God—but they are doing everything exactly backward. They don’t seem to realize that this comprehensive setting-things-right that is salvation is God’s business, and a most flourishing business it is. Right across the street they set up their own salvation shops and noisily hawk their wares. After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.  (Romans 10:2-3 MSG)

Paul writes to the Roman church, Jewish believers struggling with their faith.  Why?  They have all kinds of enthusiasm and energy - he said they are "impressively energetic" regarding God.  They are also commended for their "flourishing business" of trying to live as they should.  So, why is it he zeros in on their enthusiasm?  It is misdirected!  They have come to count on the energies they exert and their enthusiastic following of the rules as their means of "getting things done" with God!  

Enthusiasm is a "controlling" or "consuming" possession of our minds by any interest - and where the mind goes, there goes the heart!  So, enthusiasm is not always a good thing when it is misdirected!  We can be enthusiastic (consumed and controlled) by the "stuff" which will really get us nowhere in life!  To help us understand enthusiasm, we might want to know what the exact opposite is - indifference.  So, enthusiasm is a very good thing - but we need to make sure it is based in something of value - making the expenditure of our energies worthwhile.

Energy is really the capacity for activity.  As I have said, we can be very enthusiastic, but have absolutely no remaining capacity for activity!  Why?  Perhaps it is because we have allowed to many "leeches" in life to drain us of our energies!  What "leeches" energy from your life?  It could be those "tasks" you have taken on which others asked you to perform, but which make absolutely no sense for you to be doing.  It could be those relationships which seem to do nothing more than drain you of all things good (we call them "high maintenance" relationships).  Sometimes we have to "empty" ourselves in order to have more "capacity".

Back in the day when nickle-cadmium batteries first came out on the market, many of us made the mistake of keeping those devices plugged into the charger almost all the time when the device was not in use.  At that time, we probably thought we were actually doing the right thing - so we'd have the device "at the ready" when we needed it.  What we learned over time was in order for the device to function as it should, it had to be pretty well drained of capacity in order to "take a full charge".  I wonder if this might just be true in our spiritual lives?  Do we need to "learn" how to take a full-charge in the correct manner?  Do we need to "drain" ourselves of all which "takes up room" and makes us "appear" to "carry a charge", then be refilled to capacity with what really "gives us a charge"?  

Control determines what consumes - give a video game to the child and see how long the batteries last!  They "get into" the game and before long, the device is drained of energy.  Now, if you hook that same game up to an AC adapter, what happens?  They can play on and on!  Hmmm...perhaps we need to figure out where our "source" of charge comes in life!  If we are always needing a "recharge" because we run down quickly, it may because something "consumes" our capacity way too quickly.  Or perhaps we are only carrying half a charge in the first place because we have never fully "drained ourselves" of the things which get in the way of us having "full capacity"!  Just sayin!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Devotion, Determination and Delight

Devotion is one character trait which really cannot be "seen" in the way we dress, what we drive, or the things we amass.  In fact, it is "seen" more in the people we hang around with, the way we spend our time, and the attitude of heart which is exhibited in the actions we take toward others.  If you really stop to consider it, devotion is just a synonym of love.  Devotion is evident in where we find our foundation for life, who it is we emulate in our actions, and what it is we commit to without wavering.  Devotion also determines our delight - there is very little in which we take delight that does not first begin with an appeal to our hearts.  Devotion then is linked with determination - for what we come to value we develop a strong determination to obtain and make out own.

But he knows where I am and what I’ve done.  He can cross-examine me all he wants, and I’ll pass the test with honors.  I’ve followed him closely, my feet in his footprints, not once swerving from his way.  I’ve obeyed every word he’s spoken, and not just obeyed his advice—I’ve treasured it.  (Job 23:10-12 MSG)

So, our "D" List of character traits are really threefold:  Devotion, Delight, and Determination.  For some, the word devotion conjures up the idea of profound dedication.  This is not far off the mark of what I think God has in mind when he looks for this trait in us - he searches for even a small hint of us being willing to align with his heart.  When he sees this tiny bud of devotion, he begins to nurture it until it becomes a fully adorned "tree" of dedication - anchored with three strongly attached roots of commitment, allegiance, and loyalty.  

When our roots are solid, the growth produced and the ability to withstand the various influences which seek to uproot us are evident.  If we "align" ourselves within "good soil", the chances of giving into every wind of change which comes across our lives is a little less likely.  Instead, we will remain securely rooted in that which gives us "grounding".  Yet, even a tree firmly rooted will begin to grow "toward" the most influential "winds" in their life.  This is where we need the "winds of devotion" to blow stronger than any other wind which might seek to change the course of our growth.  

As I travel, I have the delight of taking in much scenery.  One thing which consistently catches my attention is the way trees grow in various regions.  As I traveled near the beaches of Torrey Pines near San Diego, California, I noticed these "spindly" looking pines, almost "lopsided" in their growth.  You see, they were affected by the strong winds which came off the ocean, directing their growth inward toward the land and almost making them devoid of growth on the side which faced the ocean.  I have also observed this in some regions where strong winds have blown the birch trees, such as in Birch Bay, Washington.  The birch are tall and straight, but devoid of limbs on one side of the tree.  Why is it these two different trees grew this way?  They gave into the "prevailing" winds in their lives.  

Devotion occurs when we determine which "wind" we will accept as "prevailing" in our lives.  We can give into the winds of the times, or even the winds of circumstance.  Yet, nothing makes us grow as strong, tall, and "equally balanced" as the gentle breezes of the Holy Spirit in our lives!  When we are determined to grow, not toward the "loudest" winds, but toward the gentle breath of God, we have a much more balanced growth!

As a tree takes root, the promised growth is dependent upon what care it receives in its "growth cycle".  This is where delight comes into view - for it is the heart of God that each of us "delight" in the tender care of his watchful "gardening" of our lives.  We need those withered "branches" lopped off - for they only take up space, hindering other growth from appearing.  We need the soil "turned over" on occasion, because we only get new growth when the soil of our hearts find new "oxygenation" on occasion!  Delight is an off-shoot of our determination and our devotion.  I guess you sum all three of these into one word - desire!  

Job said it well, "I have not just obeyed his advice - I've enjoyed it!"  Why?  Simply put - he has made a determination to make God his primary desire!  He delights in the counsel of God - determined to have it affect his course.  He has devoted himself to God's plans - no matter how difficult they may seem at the moment (and heaven knows Job faced many a tough blow in life).  He makes no attempt to remove himself from being aligned with God's best - no matter how much it appears on the outside as though "all hell is breaking loose".  He is devoted, determined, and he takes great delight in the things and choices which please the one he has the greatest desire to please - not himself, not his peers, but God!  Now, that is something which "tickles" the heart of God!  Just sayin!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Contrite Heart

We are well underway with our discovery of some of the character traits which may not be very evident in our physical appearance, but which make us quite "attractive" from the inside out.  As we begin today on our "C" List of character traits, there is really only one trait today where I'd like to focus - that of a CONTRITE heart.  For some, their first impression of "contrite" is that of being repentant, and therefore, remorseful because their is some sense of guilt one is feeling.  I don't think of a contrite heart in quite this same sense. Yep, I think a contrite heart is one with a "healthy" perspective on the value and practice of repentance.  Yep, I believe the contrite heart experiences some sort of "pain" whenever there is sinful behavior being acted out in their lives.  Yet, I don't believe for a moment God ever looks for us to be laden with guilt - remorseful in the sense of the shame or regret caused by the sin coming back to bite at us again and again.  If you did not realize this, the root of the word remorse comes from the old Latin word "remord" which means to bite again, nag, vex.  God's plan is for us to bring our sin to him, leave it there and never be "nagged" or "vexed" by it again!

For the high and honored One Who lives forever, Whose name is Holy, says, “I live in the high and holy place. And I also live with those who are sorry for their sins and have turned from them and are not proud. I give new strength to the spirit of those without pride, and also to those whose hearts are sorry for their sins.  (Isaiah 57:15 NLV)

“Heaven’s my throne, earth is my footstool.  What sort of house could you build for me?  What holiday spot reserve for me?  I made all this! I own all this!”  God’s Decree.  But there is something I’m looking for:  a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say."  (Isaiah 66:1-2 MSG)

Two passages were chosen for today's study, but I could have chosen many more.  The scriptures have a lot to say about the heart and its condition.  The book of Isaiah is written to a nation definitely determined to follow their own way, to pursue their own path in life.  This has not worked out so well for them.  They have encountered all kinds of not so "exciting" ramifications for their "independent" living - ranging from disease to captivity.  Their worship has become rote, their homes filled with all kinds of things God warned them would only take their eyes off of him, and their daily struggles to avoid the ever encroaching reign of the Assyrians in their midst.  Sadly, the same can be said of us whenever we choose our own path - determined to live independent of God's counsel, content to "find our own way" in life.  To this God says, "There is something I am looking for...a person simple and plain...reverently responsive to me!"  

A contrite heart is really a responsive heart - one which turns from the path it is on which may not be wholesome; one which looks to God to "author" the plan for each new day.  As we look at our first passage, we find several key elements of a "contrite" heart - sincere sorrow for sin, the willingness to turn away from sin (repentance), and a lack of pride.  Wow!  A pretty big list of "characteristics", huh?  This is probably why I decided to only put one on my "C" List for today - it is a pretty sizable character trait all by itself!  I think these traits need a little deeper exploring, so here goes:

- Repentance:  First of all, the translations I chose are probably not the best to describe the true "action" of repentance.  In society today, we often hear others say "I am sorry" without really seeing any "back up" to the words.  In other words, they are just words!  Repentance involves action - turning AWAY from what it is you have been pursuing and TOWARD a different path.  It has been likened to making a 180-degree turn.  You do an "about-face".  It is more than a little "sorrow" for your sin.  Too many times, we find ourselves "sorry" for our sin simply because we got caught in our sin!  If we look at our passages again, we find God looks for the heart "willing" to make a turn-around.  If you were driving a car today on a busy street, needing to get out of the flow of traffic moving in this direction on this side of the street to the flow of traffic moving in the opposite direction on the other side of the street, you'd likely call this a U-Turn.  To do this, you have to "commit" to make the turn and it is kind of scary when you have to change directions in the midst of going the other way.  Once you start into the U-Turn, you cannot look back!  You have to complete the turn!  God looks for the heart willing to commit to the turn!  He doesn't present "round-abouts" to us - he presents "U-Turn" opportunities.  "Round-about" turns just put us back where we started!  

- Humility:  Next, we see God comments about the "attitude" of heart he finds great delight in - humble, lacking pride.  There is nothing more pleasing to God than to find one who is willing to commit - but the desire to commit really comes when we are willing to admit the path we have chosen is not getting us to where we really want to be!  There is something about being honest about where we are at and where our present course will keep us headed.  An honest heart is an authentic heart (back to our A-List).  We don't really move into repentance without humbly admitting our choices have been wrong.  Even if the actions of our lives aren't producing "bad stuff" like anger, deceit, resentment, and the like, if the heart is devoid of God's Spirit, it isn't really producing all the "good stuff" it was designed to produce!  So, even "good people" need to develop an appreciation for their need for a change of heart.  God honors anyone who humbly admits their need for his presence in them.  In fact, he is delighted to hear this admission!

So, a contrite heart is really one which is responsive to him.  It might just involve repentance - sometimes more than we'd like to freely admit.  It definitely requires action on our part - and a willingness to be shown our choices may not have produced the best results.  The contrite heart is one which God can move into fully.  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not just the "B" list

Yesterday we began a discussion about some character traits which we seldom focus on when really examining ourselves in the mirror, but which are really what makes us very appealing to God, and honestly, they make us pretty "appealing" in all other respects, as well.   As I mentioned, these traits are interwoven, almost dependent and coexistent with each other.  One trait just doesn't stand alone.  It would be like having one hair on the top of your head, one on your chin and an errant hair growing from your big toe.  It just makes no sense for hair to be on your big toe!  It makes perfect sense for it to be on your head, and only makes sense for it to be on your chin if you are a man!  Yet even one hair on the top of the head is kind of out of place, isn't it?  It needs its "sibling" hairs in order to really make a "display" of the beauty of our hair.  So it is with these character traits - they need each other in order to put on "perfect display" the work of Christ in our lives.

Today we explore our "B" list of traits, not because they didn't rank high enough to be on our "A" list, but because I am doing this discovery alphabetically!  We will consider two traits today:  Blamelessness and Boldness.

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. (Philippians 3:14-15 MSG)

Blameless:  Most of us have a little bit of trouble with this one - at least this is my impression from talking with people.  You see, the scripture lays out some "traits" which are inherent in all of us - bickering and second-guessing.  If you have a little bit of a bent in life toward the occasional bickering, you know how difficult this can be at times to actually NOT get involved in the little spats which are based on nothing more than wanting to be right, or have your say in a matter.  It is like trying to control the flow of water by putting a cork in a dam.  It just doesn't hold back too very long!  

Second-guessing is another thing I think more of us struggle with than we sometimes admit.  We go through life looking back - "second-guessing" our decisions.  We wonder "what if" a lot - but this doesn't help us move on, it anchors us to the past.  Another form of second-guessing is when we are almost paralyzed by the decision we have to make, always "weighing our options", but never really taking a step forward because we just keep "running the options" over and over.  Look at what Paul says to the Philippian believers - when there has been a change in focus from needing to be right and constantly "running our options", we actually stand out to the world as "blameless" or "uncorrupted".  Another word for blameless is guiltless.  Now, think about it for a moment - when we are always trying to prove our point by bickering about the smallest thing, or get so hung up in the "what ifs" of life, don't we also deal with a little bit of guilt when all is said and done?

Blameless people hold themselves accountable for their actions - allowing them to be dealt with immediately, so as not to allow any wrong actions to become the way others see God in them.  Blameless people aren't hung up in the what ifs of life - they embrace the present, making the most of it with God's help, and move on.  We all make decisions on occasion which are not the best for us, nor the testimony of God in our lives, but when grace is embraced, even the wrong decisions show the beauty of God through us to a world who so desperately needs to see how failures can be handled in a positive manner.

The wicked are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one’s after them; honest people are relaxed and confident, bold as lions.  (Proverbs 28:1 MSG)

Boldness:  If you have ever lived a little close to the edge of guilt, you know what this passage means.  Guilt has a way of holding you back, making you feel like you cannot do things, or even just keeping you from ever dreaming in the first place.  Bold people don't get hung up by past issues.  They allow them to be dealt with, left in the past, and move on.  Look at how they face life - relaxed and confident.  Where does this relaxed and confident attitude of heart and mind come from?  No place other than at the throne of grace.  There is no place other than at the throne of grace to take guilt and have it completely and thoroughly removed.  Why do we live with anything less than valiant boldness in the presence of God and our fellow man?  Isn't it because we fear exposure?  When we finally realize God already knows, we might just realize how silly our fear really is!  If we'd learn to take our failure to God first, what our fellow man would see was the power of grace to restore, renew, and regenerate the fallen. 

Blamelessness and Boldness go together - they are both based on grace, deal with similar "hang ups" in our lives, and are two traits which actually provide a means for us to move forward in life.  Alertness, attentiveness, and authenticity pave the way for us to stand blameless and bold.  Indeed, when we begin to become alert to our environment, attentive to the voice of our Shepherd, authenticity begins to become the reality of  how we live life.  Authentic people deal with real stuff - like the tendency to bicker too much, wanting to be right or heard, and then they deal with the guilt associated with wrong decisions.  Yet...authentic people also know the authenticity of God's grace and how it becomes the basis for us to deal with our guilt.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My "A" List

Character traits of individuals are as varied as are the number of people in this world.  Some of us have tiny button noses, others are larger and have even made people famous, like Jimmy Durante who is most well known for his "schnozzola".  There are those who possess the evenest white teeth, never needing braces to correct overbite, under bite, or even teeth seemingly too tightly crammed into the space they occupy.  Yet, there are character traits we often don't focus on as much as the outward - those which make us up on the "inside".  I would like to call attention to those character traits which God sees - the "inside stuff".  This journey will begin today and may take us several days, but I hope it will unfold some things for us which we might just be overlooking when we are focusing intently on the "image" we portray.  You see, character traits are more than skin deep and those which matter the most are those which are often barely visible, but most often have to be "felt" in order to be appreciated fully.

Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.  (John 10:1-5 MSG)

As we begin today, I'd like to start with the character traits which make up our "A" list of traits.  No, these are not the "super-important" ones, but simply begin with the letter "a".  All the character traits we will explore over the next several days are important - none of them should be overlooked.  So, what are our "A" list of traits?  Attentiveness, Authenticity, and Alertness.  

- Alertness:  Many of us go through life barely "alert" to our surroundings - seemingly taking up space and passing time in space.  It is kind of like we are asleep on our feet, numb to the world around us, and just "dulled" in some sense or another.  There is more to alertness than being aware of what occupies our space, though.  One who is fully alert is also very agile - able to move quickly.  If you have ever been hit in the side of the head by a frisbie hurled into space by another, what one thing could you have controlled in that moment?  Isn't it your alertness to the surroundings?  You only got hit because you did not duck fast enough!  In our passage above, Jesus presents the illustration of someone climbing over the fence to gain access to the sheep pen compared to another who enters through the gate.  The question posed - how do we recognize who really belongs?  If we never were alert to "how" it is someone entered the pen, we likely have no clue if they truly belong!  Alertness is key to "keeping guard over" our lives.  When we aren't agile, able to make course changes quickly, we get stuck in the muck and mire of life.  We also don't recognize who or what comes to occupy the space in our lives - creating chaos and clutter.  So, our first character trait is alertness - the sense of being fully aware and able to make swift judgment calls in order to avoid danger, stay free of clutter, and avoid the hazards in life.

- Attentiveness:  This trait pretty closely resembles alertness, but with one key difference - you are "present" in the moment.  There is focus - on purpose.  It might be easier for us to understand attentiveness by examining its antonyms - the exact "opposite" traits.  For example, if you are "inattentive", you are likely a little indifferent or apathetic to the circumstances.  You can be alert to the situation without being attentive.  Attentiveness involves being concerned about the circumstances - enough for you to focus yourself and stay on task with what is happening.  Inattentive people don't actually feel the need to stay involved - they lose focus and drift.  One thing presented in our passage which reveals attentiveness is the willingness to listen carefully to the voices we heed.  Jesus said his sheep (you and I) know his voice - but we also are attentive (focused on) distinguishing his voice in the midst of all the other voices we hear!

- Authenticity:  It is not by accident Jesus uses this illustration of sheep and the shepherd.  Sheep are followers - they seem to attach to the "actions" of whatever catches their eye and then follow it, almost without thinking.  This is why Jesus calls attention to the two other traits of the sheep - alertness and attentiveness will keep the sheep safe.  So, what does authenticity have to do with sheep?  Simply put, sheep are true to themselves - they aren't trying to be goats, cows, or chickens.  They are always going to be sheep - in need of a shepherd.  So, learning to not just be a "copy" of the sheep next door, but to be genuine and real in who you were created to be is important.  Our Shepherd wants a flock of sheep which are not just carbon copies of the others in the "flock".  He wants us to be uniquely who we were created to be. This is probably one of the hardest character traits for us to grab hold of because we are always comparing ourselves with the other "sheep" in the flock.  The danger comes in not being true to ourselves - it opens the door to us never really fulfilling the purpose for which we were uniquely created.  How does the shepherd know his sheep?  By name!  Not just by size, fluffiness of fleece, or the bleating of one's voice.  He knows them by name!  This suggests to me that the Shepherd cares enough to have a genuine relationship with us - to reciprocate with anything less would just not be right!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shine on

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?  Most of us would say we see a reflection of ourselves.  Looking back at us is the man or woman we have become, complete with all the wrinkles, gray hairs, blemishes, cellulite, and the like.  Rarely does anyone answer, "I see Christ".  Why?  I am not sure we actually see Christ because we only see the "dullness" of this earthen vessel and his brightness is just beneath the surface, struggling to get out!  Paul puts it this way:

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

We are "unadorned clay pots" - we live ordinary lives, nothing too spectacular to talk about, and really don't display all the glory which dwells within us all too well until...

- We are surrounded and battered by trials, for it is then we perfectly see Christ in us when we are not "demoralized" by those trials.  In other words, the very fact we are not thrown into a tailspin of confusion and chaotic disorder in our lives when these trials come our way is a reflection of the light of Christ's presence within us.  

- We are unsure of how to proceed, for it is then we have perfect knowledge of how God would have us step forward.  For those who take the first step forward with a little trepidation, take heart.  Until you gain the trust of God being with you with each step, the first one will always be the hardest!  Yet, in the stepping forward, we reveal much about Christ within us - making each step secure and firm.

- We are under the remarkably difficult pressures of spiritual battle, for it is there Christ's strength is revealed.  In the midst of battle, it may appear we are being "terrorized" - intimidated, overcome with overmastering fear - but Christ's presence becomes so evident when what "should" produce debilitating fear only spurs us on and helps us dig in a little deeper.

- We find ourselves at our lowest point, for is then Christ is able to pull us up, dust us off, and reveal to the world our "unbroken" state of being whole in him.  Sure, he looks for us to have a "broken and contrite heart", but when the weight of this world would seek to shove us down, he shines through in how quickly we actually get back up!

So, as you can see, there is much evidence of Christ's presence within us - maybe not so evident when we look in the mirror - but perfectly evident in the way we deal with life.  I love what Paul says next, "...what Jesus did among them, he does in us - he lives!"  Chew on that one a bit.  Jesus walked the face of this earth and was faced with all kinds of not so good pressures - rejected by many, reputation drug through the mud, accused falsely, measured by unrealistic standards, doubted even when telling the truth.  Yet, in those times, he shined!  What he did among them, he now does in us!  His "life" gives us "light".  

Most importantly, as Paul puts it, while we are going through the worst, we are getting in on the best!  The image in the mirror is actually changing for the better!  The pressures actually produce something of beauty and clarity in us - much like a diamond is made "under pressure".  If you think life is tough right now, it probably is!  If you think nothing of value will come of it, you are definitely wrong - for it is right where you find yourself today that Christ is free to bring forth more light in your life!

We probably don't shine as brightly as some, nor as bright as we'd like, but Christ in us assures us we shine on!  Just sayin!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Truth anyone?

Do you like being on the "inside track" - knowing what is going on?  I know I'd rather know some things than not, but sometimes being on the "inside" looking "out" is a little bit frightening!  To know what is about to happen and not be able to say anything about it is stressful, right?  To know something and then be able to share it is quite another!  There is something I learned quite some time ago - to the degree you know truth in your life, you will have assurance to the same degree.  In other words, if your "truth gauge" is on full, you stand fully-assured.  If it is half-empty, your assurance in the midst of trial or test may waiver a little!  So, being on the "inside track" with God is essential if we are to stand strong in the midst of this present trial and all future ones to come!

Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 MSG)

Look at what Paul says in the passage - God has "generously" let us in on what he is doing.  The word "generously" indicates a certain liberality on God's part to share his truth with his children - the very truth which will help us stand strong in the midst of trial.  Quite some time ago I also realized the purpose of the scripture is to change ME - I am not supposed to be changing scripture to FIT me.  So many times this is exactly what we do - we twist scripture or take it out of context so it will FIT our present beliefs and help us to justify our behavior at a particular time.  The problem with this is apparent in what it does to skew the testimony of God's grace in our lives.  Scripture is truth - truth sets the soul free - and anytime we twist it to FIT us instead of FREEING us, we are choosing to remain bound.

One of the truths I have seen evident not only in my own life, but in the lives of others around me, is that "experience" doesn't make a man or woman free from the past.  We can "experience" a whole lot of good things in life - but "experience" alone doesn't have the power to set a bound soul free.  For example, have you ever gone to some spiritual retreat of sorts, been so overwhelmed with a sense of well-being and "warm fuzzies" throughout the entire retreat experience, then returned home to find life is exactly the same? Nothing changed - you just "experienced" something, but experience alone didn't change you!  Truth is the only thing with the capacity of change - pure and simple.  

God asks one thing of us - put truth on display in your life.  We often don't believe we are capable of displaying the truth, but truth brings grace and grace is meant to be on display in our lives - because grace speaks volumes to the hurting and bound souls around us!  I haven't arrived at the place of perfection yet, but what grace God has worked into the pain-filled, sin-scarred areas of my life, I want to display, not out of pride, but because when others see what God can do, they will desire the same evidence in their life!  Your life isn't all "worked out" yet, but what grace has "worked out" in your life is worthy of being on display, so don't hide it behind masks!

You know, when I see grace on display in your life, it may be the very thing I need to bring me through my present "hard place" I am standing in and vice-versa.  You may never really know when truth on display becomes the mechanism for change in the life of another, but if you never stand boldly in the truth you have been given, the truth which has changed your life, others will miss out on what God intended to share through you.  Your life displays grace in a way uniquely your own - no one can quite display the truth quite like you can.  Sometimes we focus on what is not fully freed by truth yet in our lives, believing no one could be helped by what grace has already done in us.  The truth is quite the opposite (and remember truth sets us free) - the truth you have embraced may be the very truth another needs in order to be free, as well.

We get discouraged by what still needs to change in our lives instead of being grateful and grace-filled by what has already changed.  Always looking inward is not a good idea, for we miss the beauty around us when we do.  On our recent vacation, my traveling companion saw much more of the hillsides, lush green forest lands, and even the wee critters skittering hither and yon.  Why? She could look outward at those things - taking them in fully.  I was focused on the driving, the twists and turns, and the avoidance of those skittering critters!  Some of us need to change our perspective - seeing what is on display right in front of us.  The truth on display in another is an open door for truth to take root in us.  Just sayin!