Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pack your bags - - - here comes the guilt trip!

Guilt:  The feeling of responsibility or remorse for an offense, wrong, or violation of rule - whether real or imagined.  This definition certainly hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?  Some of our guilt is quite real - we did something wrong and now we feel the "remorse" and "responsibility" which are an outcome of the wrongdoing.  At other times, our guilt is really not "real" - it is a thing of "memory" - almost like it is imprinted into the fibers of our brain and we cannot get free from it.  Genuine or real guilt is a normal response to wrong behavior.  On the other hand, imagined guilt (false guilt) is sometimes "put upon" us by another - we really aren't responsible for the outcome, but another person is making us feel like we are.  What do we do with this kind of guilt?

Count yourself lucky—God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him.  When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder,    my words became daylong groans.  The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.  Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”  Suddenly the pressure was gone—my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. (Psalm 32:2-5)

Disobedience is not a "learned" thing - trust me, we are ALL born with the capability and tendency to live disobediently!  If you don't believe me, just remember the last time someone told you NOT to do something and you did it anyway!  Like when you see the wet paint sign and just have to touch the wall because you don't believe it!  We test our limits, don't we?  We have from the beginning of time!  It is "natural" to us.  We act in a way contrary to what we know to be right, then we feel the guilt associated with the wrong decision.   We can get out from under this weight of guilt - by confession, repentance, and choosing to act in a right manner.  On the other hand, when someone else is placing guilt upon us for something we did not do, we cannot associate the guilt with any wrong-doing on our part, so it is difficult to ever free ourselves from that guilt feeling.  We cannot quite find the "right" action to free us from the guilt another places upon us.

The key to determining when guilt is really "ours" is found in the idea of responsibility.  When something is out of our control, are we responsible for it?  No, absolutely not because we could neither do anything to prevent the action, nor could we alter the course of the action.  If a plane falls from the sky because the pilot suffered a sudden death, he is not responsible for the plane falling.  If the pilot fell asleep at the controls because he stayed out all night partying, he has some responsibility in the plane's plummeting to earth! 

I bring up these two ideas of guilt - real and imagined - because most of us struggle with the type of guilt which is outside of our realm of responsibility.  We allow others to place the guilt on us because somehow we "believe" it is the right thing to do.  God holds you responsible for your actions, but only because they are YOUR actions!  He doesn't hold you responsible for the actions of another against you, nor the actions another wants to make you to feel guilty for!  The key comes in examining our hearts.  David was a good "heart examiner" - he frequently called for God to do just that!  He allowed himself to be opened up for examination - allowing God to point out where he needed change, then moving out in obedience to what God asked.  He didn't ask others how to be free from the guilt they piled on him - he asked God if the guilt was real, what he should do to be free from it, and then allowed God to wash away his guilt.

Truth be told, we get freedom from guilt when we take it to God.  He points out our responsibility in the wrongdoing and then he points out the actions of the cross to have already dealt with those feelings of guilt.  Guilt stays at the foot of the cross because the actions are dealt with there!  God doesn't send us away from the cross - he draws us nearer to it - so we see our actions already written there in the blood of Jesus.  It was that blood which provided the covering over of our sinfulness and freed us from the guilt associated with the wrongdoing.  Yep, we need to change our ways so we don't do the same things again, but we don't have to walk away with the load of guilt associated with doing wrong.  We leave the load there and pick up the lifting peace of God in the process.

Remember this - no one can lay a load of guilt on you and make it stick if you are not responsible for the actions which produced the guilt.  It is a "guilt trip" you need not take!  In allowing God to examine our hearts each and every time someone wants us to take this "trip", we might just find ourselves taking the "trip" a little less often!  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

My mind keeps messing with my faith!

Hesitation:  A delay due to the uncertainty of mind or fear; a state of doubt.  We all struggle with uncertainty, don't we?  Some of us more than others.  At times, fear has a paralyzing effect - keeping us from moving in one direction or another just because we cannot break the grip of uncertainty.  Truth be told, we struggle with this more than we think - battling in our minds the desire to just stay put and the knowledge we need to move on.  There is often more danger in staying put than in moving on, but because of our "blindness" caused by our fear, we cannot see it.

He said, “Come ahead.”  Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”  Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” (Matthew 14:29-31 MSG)

Okay, now tell the truth - how many of us would have jumped out of a perfectly good boat and into the water actually believing we'd be able to skim the surface and walk across?  Not many!  Most of the time, we fail to take the first step because of this little thing called human reasoning.  Our minds get in the way of what our heart and spirit is telling us to do!  We hear God's voice, see him right in front of us, but our minds tell us of the impossibility and impracticality of what it is we are trying to do.  Peter was kind of an impetuous guy - he acted on his feelings a lot of the time.  I guess I relate to him pretty well because I do the same!  If you are like me, you put your foot forward without really thinking things through.  I want to challenge you a little on this one because I don't always think this is a bad idea!  If we struggle to take the first step, sometimes a little implusive action is not always a bad thing!  Maybe if we let our minds get in the way a little less and aligned our hearts with our spirits a little more, we might take a whole lot more "first steps"!

If you have mastered the "first step" phase of this spiritual walk, then you probably get a little hesitation somewhere else down the road - coming to a spot when you really get to the point where you look around at what you are deeply into.  This is the moment when your mind begins to spin again - telling you all kinds of stories in a rather quick fashion about "why" you cannot possibly take the next steps.  Peter made it out of the boat, even taking a few steps toward Jesus.  He mustered the faith for the first steps, but his faith began to waver when he considered the waves!  This is where we also begin to waver - our faith becomes unsteady, we "flutter" a little, until we finally feel our "footing" giving way.  

Getting up on our feet "inside" the boat is one thing - taking the first step over the railing is another!  Once over the railing, there is nothing to hold onto but our faith in Jesus.  Look at what happened to Peter - as long as his focus was Jesus, he was upright; when he looked at the water, he began to sink.  Our focus is important when we are battling the messages of contrary argument our mind wants to speak into our tiny seed of faith.  If our focus is steadfast, our footing will follow suit.  

Fear comes like the waves - it swells until it overcomes us or disturbs our footing.  If you have ever stood on the seashore just a little ways out in the water, you know the power of the waves.  They disturb the sand under your feet, making your footing ever changing.  Waves come in swells - they don't just pop up, overtake you and then are gone.  They build!  The things which battle against our faith use the same tactic - they build and build until they present such an image of "overcoming" force that we are knocked off our footing of faith.  The mind is a powerful tool - it works both for and against us.  If we learn to master its influence, we will do much to define the "waves" as nothing more than nuisances to our progress!

Peter called out to Jesus - he was being overwhelmed by the battle of his faith.  I guess it goes without saying - storms are overwhelming at times.  They are almost impossible at others.  Save me - two words Jesus relishes hearing!  Not because it reveals our lack of faith - but because it reinforces our faith!  The world may see someone asking for God's help as weak and insecure - Jesus sees that same individual as strong beyond their worries and disbelief.  

As we conclude today, just remember this - Peter walked back to the boat with Jesus.  He did not get sent back there alone - they went together.  There is a point where our fear in the moment meets up with Jesus in the moment - that uniting effect gives us footing beyond our capability!  Just sayin!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Useful or Useless?

Useless:  Not serving the purpose; of no practical good.  I think there is nothing else more frustrating than to feel "useless" as we go through life.  I think this is the struggle of the elderly - they feel their past accomplishments and abilities beginning to no longer count or be called upon.  They feel of "no practical good".  They no longer see themselves as serving any purpose, so they often feel lonely, like their remaining days don't matter, and unproductive.  I daresay, the elderly are not the only ones who struggle with feeling a little useless at times.  How is it we can come to recognize a sense of usefulness in our lives?  I think the answer lies in what it is we are doing and not how much of it we do!

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.  (I Corinthians 15:58 NLT)

Paul wraps up his first letter to the Corinthian church with the idea of being strong and immovable.  Isn't that what we often struggle with when we feel so useless in life?  We don't see ourselves as "strong enough" for the challenge at hand.  We don't see our faith deep enough, our talent developed enough, or our resources significant enough to make any difference, so we just don't even try.  The truth be told, we struggle with these feelings of not being "useful" more than we like to admit.

Paul's remedy to this is in the one we chose to be useful for, not so much the magnitude of the task we set our hands toward completing.  As long as our hearts and hands are pursuing what God purposes, we are being as useful as we possibly can be.  I have friends who occasionally confide in me about their sense of "not being ready" for service in God's kingdom.  Sure, they see themselves as good nursery workers, but teaching children's Sunday School would be another matter.  It is not so much their lack of ability as it is their feeling of being inadequate for the task.

So, whether our sense of "uselessness" is because we have advanced in age, or we just haven't taken the step in faith God might be asking for us to take, we need to tap into this truth - as long as we are working enthusiastically FOR the Lord, our endeavors will never be useless!  My mother is 94 and most days she tires so easily anymore that even the simple tasks of days gone by are almost impossible for her.  What she can do is the little stuff!  She sets the table, gets me a tall glass of ice water when I come home, holds my hand on the sofa while we watch a movie together.  This may not seem like much, but we are still making memories, and that will serve a purpose long after she is no longer here to hold my hand!

If you struggle with feelings of uselessness, here are some things to remember:

* God doesn't call without also enabling.  This truth seems hard to grasp when you are struggling with seeing your "ability" in the face of the task at hand.  I think there is more to be said about our "availability" than their is our ability.  God can make us "able" - he cannot make us "available".  We do that!

* The focus of our lives determines the sense of "purpose" we will "feel".  Usefulness is really an expression of our emotional "reward" we get out of doing something.  We "feel" like our investment of time, talent, resources, etc. mattered.  So, we get a sense of "reward" from the pursuit.  Paul's advice to the believer - roll up your sleeves, do what it is you can do, and do it enthusiastically as though you were working for none other than Jesus!

* No one determines our purpose - only God does that!  Whenever we feel we are of no practical purpose, we are really doubting we still have a purpose in God's eyes.  Nothing is farther from the truth - for in God's eyes our purpose is eternal.  We may be limited in our natural ability, but by remaining available to him, he can take even limited ability and turn it into blessing beyond measure.

Useful vs. Useless.  Really the defining factor between these two is in what occupies the "space" in our lives.  People "full" of Jesus often feel very "useful"!  Just sayin!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Moved to give

Give:  to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; to place in someone's care; provide or contribute.  There are various ways we are called to "give" of ourselves everyday - from out time to our talent, from our money to our mentoring, from our treasure to our trust.  The scripture is plain about the attitude which should be behind our giving.  The attitude we exhibit may not be the genuine one we feel, though.  If you don't believe me, remember when you put the last "gift" in the offering plate at church or wrote out the last donation check to the local charity you supported.  Now, honestly, was your heart "moved" in that moment of giving, or was it kind of just because you felt a little tug on the emotions?  Most of the time, we give because we are "moved upon" by our emotions - so we need to make sure our emotions are in line with what God has in mind, right?  Why do you think there are so many commercials with sad looking dogs, cats, seals, polar bears, and the like?  The picture paints the story better than words - so the charities tell you how bad things are for stray animals, but they also show you those sad eyes on that hound dog!  Why?  To play on your emotions!  God doesn't play on our emotions - he asks us to put our emotions under his control and then allow him to direct how it is we will express them in our giving.

Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.  (Deuteronomy 15:10-11 MSG)

There is another passage which almost mirrors the intent of this one:

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.  God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.  (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 MSG)

Looking at our two passages, there are some key elements which are instructions on how it is we are to give - whether it is of our time, talent, or treasure.

* There is to be no stinginess in our giving.  The root of stinginess is either in greed or a lack of trust. Greed shows a heart which is moved to think of self first.  A lack of trust is simply a sign we have not entered fully into committing our plans and purposes to God's care.  Either way, we fall short of what God desires of us as it comes to giving.  We are to allow God to change our hearts so we see the needs of others, not just our own.  We are to draw near enough to Jesus so as to take him at his Word - he says he will provide for all our needs, so when we begin to anchor our faith in his Word as truth for our lives, we begin to enter into trusting him for our needs to be met, even if we give what we have to those in need.

* Giving is to be intentional.  Our passages both refer to putting your mind into the mix.  Giving is to be done with forethought, intent, and a known purpose.  In other words, you don't give out of an emotional tug on your heart, but out of an intentional preparation to meet the needs of others.  For example, if you travel a path which takes you past many homeless people on your way to work every day, you might want to invest in a few meal coupons from a local fast food restaurant.  As you stop at those lights where you'd see them you could give them a hot meal by giving them the coupon.  Now, this may not seem like much, but it is intentional - it meets the most important need in the life of the one standing there at the moment.  The same is true when we are thinking about meeting the needs of our co-workers, family, and other relations.  Good relationships come together because there is intentional thought into what will "add to" the cohesiveness and growth of the relationship.  It is with intention we are to "give into" those relationships.

Both passages deal with the outcome of our giving - it moves God's heart!  Now, it doesn't escape my attention that some may think we should give in order to get.  I don't think for a moment that this is what God had in mind in these two passages!  In fact, he simply reminds us of the intention of his heart - for he is the ultimate "giver"!  He gives with intent.  From creation to salvation - all is with intent.  He gives without holding back.  It costs him much to give his Son for our sins, but he did not hold back the only sacrifice capable of bringing our restoration.  He gives in such a way it counts.  In other words, his gifts aren't just nice trinkets - they are the real-deal, meeting the most important needs we have at the moment.

We are asked to give all the time - how we choose to give is another story.  It isn't the volume of what you give which matters - it is the intent behind the gift!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sing, shout, get connected!

Rarely do we find ourselves telling everyone we meet the good things God has done.  In fact, we are sometimes more than a little "reserved" in our praises to God.  We think others will "judge" us as odd, a little out there, or just too much of a "holy roller" for them to hang out with.  So, we rein it in on occasion.  I wonder just what might happen if people actually began to express their appreciation for God's graces in their lives just a little more and enjoy his presence just a little longer?  Maybe this world would begin to see a little more of Christ's action and a little less of ours!

Thank God! Pray to him by name!  Tell everyone you meet what he has done!  Sing him songs, belt out hymns, translate his wonders into music!  Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life!  Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence.  Remember the world of wonders he has made, his miracles, and the verdicts he’s rendered...  (Psalm 105:1-6 MSG)

Our psalmist gives us some cause to pause this morning.  He indicates some lifestyle "actions" which really reveal the intensity of connection we are experiencing with God himself.  

* Thank God!  This is not just a simple reminder of our need to be grateful to God for his actions in our lives.  This is a command.  It is instruction to keep an attitude of gratitude in all our dealings.  When we keep gratitude foremost in our thoughts, we don't focus on the things we 'don't' have as much as the things we 'do' have.

* Pray to him by name!  In case you miss it, you don't actually converse with him as a stranger!  You know him by name!  So, there is a suggestion of more than a passing or casual relationship with him - it is dynamic and intimate.  In order for it to be intimate, there must be a frequency to the exchange.  If we want a dynamic walk with Jesus, there must be some quality time spent in exchange with him.

* Tell everyone you meet what he has done!  Now, this is where we feel the "rub", right?  We aren't about to just blurt out, "Hey, you wanna hear what God has been doing in my life?"  Most of the time, the other person would just about turn tail and run if we started the conversation out this way!  The idea here is of a lifestyle which conveys more in action than in words the very actions of grace in us.  In fact, when a life has been changed, the words which are shared are not the focus - the life which is lived outwardly is because it is a reflection of what has been taking place inwardly.  It is not hard to spot someone affected by grace - they kind of "ooze" it from their pores!  

* Sing songs, belt out hymns, translate his wonders into music!  If you had trouble with the last one, this one will likely send you over the edge!  Most of the time we don't just go around singing little melodies and putting into music the good things which have happened in our lives.  In fact, we are often a little reserved in our expression of song because we don't think we have a good voice!  The important thing to remember here is the idea of song being an expression of the heart.  God is simply looking for us to express what is trapped in our hearts!  If you don't think this possible, just think about the last time you sang in the shower and actually thought it sounded good!  God has a way of allowing our heart to know the privilege of escape - we just have to yield to the escape of what is contained deep within.

* Honor his name with Hallelujahs!  To some, this is an expression of relief.  We use the word as though it were a "pressure relief valve".  God is looking for expressions of gratitude and praise - for the root of this word is actually simple praise with a heart of gratitude.  

* Live a happy life!  Many times we equate "happiness" to some "thing" which happens or some "event" which transpires.  God's command - live a happy life.  Take it apart and you see God telling us to actually live in blessed pleasure and contentment - not so much because all the circumstances are good and enjoyable, but because we have him with us in the midst of them.  Happiness is really a state of contentment - it is realizing and walking in the place of joy even when the times are rougher than we might like.

* Keep your eyes open for God!  Now, in all this, our psalmist brings us back to anticipation.  He opens with us being aware - now he brings us to a place of anticipation.  Giving praise, singing hallelujahs, living out the grace we have been given - these are done because we are aware of the presence of God in our lives.  Being attentive opens us to anticipation - to being on our toes - for God's move may be subtle and we don't want to miss it!

* Remember...  This is probably the most powerful of all these characteristics, for it is in the recollection of what he is, how he moves, what he has done, etc. that we come to the place of anticipating what he is doing today.  We celebrate the past being "put right", we realize the joy of today being "made right", and we anticipate the ecstasy of tomorrow being "eternally right".  As we remember the past grace of God, it causes us to hope for the present grace, and we look forward to even more grace tomorrow.

So, don't be afraid to "express" God in your life.  It is not just the words we speak, it is the lifestyle we model.  It speaks volumes.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Leaking Dams

Ever start something you wish you didn't have to finish?  I have - lots of times.  The truth is, we all do.  If you don't believe me think about the last time you opened your mouth, allowing words to escape which would have been better off not said at all!  What happened with just that tiny escape of words?  It opened up the floodgates, didn't it?  Yep, our words have a way of creating more than just a little "flux" in our lives!  

The start of a quarrel is like a leak in a dam, so stop it before it bursts. (Proverbs 17:14 MSG)

Solomon was known as the wisest man in his time.  I daresay, even with all the technological advances of this day and age, he probably still would bear that title today.  How do you suppose he "learned" all this stuff?  Do you think he was "born smart"?  If you think that, you are probably a little deluded, because if you study his life, you will see he was pretty much learning this stuff as he went!  It is exactly how most of us really gain wisdom.  Sure, we ask for it, but we learn it in the trenches.

This little passage really speaks volumes - a quarrel doesn't begin by the volume of words we speak - it begins with the words we allow to be spoken!  You have probably heard me say we need to think all we say, but not say all we think.  I guess this should go without saying, but trust me, we all need to hear this!  We often speak without thinking about the impact of our words.  Whenever we do, the small "fissure" we make with those words becomes the very thing which will weaken the "dam" holding back lots more!

If you look up quarrel in the dictionary, you find words like "dispute", "disagreement", and even "hostility".  The most telling part about the definition is what happens to the relationship - there is a break!  The break may be temporary, but it could be life-long.  The root of the word is to complain.  I wonder how many times we air our complaints without giving any thought to the possible "fissures" those very complaints are making in the relationship?  Quarreling may refer to a "slight" shared because of words which are spoken, but enough "slights" and you pretty much weaken the relationship's integrity.

The words of Solomon - stop it before it bursts!  In the Amplified Bible, this verse speaks of stopping contention before it becomes a quarrel.  I think this is probably a little closer to the original language - because contention is the controversy we establish with our words - quarreling is the result of enough contention!  So, contention is like the small leak - quarreling is the dam bursting.  The implication is to watch what it is we set our minds and attitude toward - for what we take pleasure into entering into debate over may actually be our undoing!

To go back to my earlier point, Solomon didn't learn this as he slept.  He learned it because his family was filled with all kinds of strife, contention, and rivalry!  His brother wanted the throne - his mother wanted Solomon to have it.  The contention which ensued made for a lot of rocky years for Solomon.  He came from a pretty dysfunctional home.  Dad committed adultery, littlest brother died shortly after childbirth, brothers fought against brothers, lust became a problem in his own life, and the list goes on.  He learned this stuff in the trenches!  If we think we will be any different, think again!

When we speak words which bring strife into the relationship, perhaps we'd do well to consider the value of the words we speak.  We may want to express our "feelings", but we all know how untrustworthy our own "feelings" can be.  They will lead us down paths we'd rather not travel almost every time we rely upon them!  So, why do we allow our "feelings" to influence the words we speak?  Maybe we would do well to ask God to "ride shotgun" over our feelings so we don't use them as the basis of the words we speak!  Just sayin!

Monday, June 24, 2013

You reading my mind?

If you have ever used the term, "You must have read my mind", then you probably had someone show up with just the right thing you needed at that moment, coming through for you without you even having to ask for their assist, etc.  Truth be told, they didn't read your mind - they anticipated your needs, did the neighborly thing, or just listened to the voice of God!  Man does not read man's thought - God does!  Wouldn't it be great if we could read God's mind?  To truly figure out this whole mess we call life and know the end from the beginning?  Well, according to what he told Jeremiah, we can!
For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.  Then you will call upon Me, and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear and heed you.  Then you will seek Me, inquire for, and require Me [as a vital necessity] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 AMP)
Thoughts and plans for welfare and peace, not for evil, and to give us hope in our final outcome!  Welfare is really our "well-being" - the condition of being and doing well.  Peace is something which eludes us at times because we live in the opposite of peace, being affected by our circumstances so much our emotions are in a frenzy most of the time!  God's plans are for us to know AND live in peace - not frenzy, worry, or fear.  God doesn't plan or have thoughts of evil for our lives - but of good.  He doesn't want us to lose hope, though the journey will be long and the road ahead pocked with potential pitfalls.  His plans and his thoughts are for our good!  
So how is it we don't understand the mind of God?  He puts it quite plainly in this passage.  It might just be because we don't finish the passage!  The rest of the passage gives us hints on how it is we learn to tap into the thoughts and plans of God for our lives:
* We have to ask.  He says we need to "call upon him".  Too many times, we get in the midst of our mess and we forget who holds the mess in the palm of his hands!  We don't ask, so we don't receive the understanding we need.  James reminds us, "If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves."  (James 1:5-6 MSG)  If we don't know, we are to ask.  We only get to know another's thoughts when we take time to explore them.  Isn't it silly how much time we actually take "worrying" our way through life and the answer is really right at our fingertips?
* We have to seek.  If you really take this in context, you will see there is a sense of urgency or earnest which is described in this passage.  We are to require God as a vital necessity for life itself.  It is a seeking which is directed from the heart.  Since the heart is made up of our emotions, this is suggestive of some form of passionate and intense seeking.  Earnest is an intense and serious state of mind, with a sense of importance planed on that which is sought after.  In other words, we place an "importance" on finding what it is we seek.  When we do so, there is a drive from within which is deeply felt.  It is not casual, or cursory.  When we get serious about finding God's plan, we realize seeking takes some effort on our part.  If you have ever sat down to truly get to know another you have an interest in, you know only a fraction of the "investment" it takes to develop that relationship.  God asks nothing less of us - in fact, he asks more.  Seeking involves not only our minds, but our hearts.  In turn, it involves our obedience.  
What is the outcome of this asking and seeking?  I think it is found later in the 29th chapter, verse 27, when Jeremiah hears from God, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for Me?"  We learn God has it all in his hands.  Nothing is out of his control or exceeds his abilities / capabilities.  What escapes our minds-eye never escapes his.  What befuddles our thinking is clear as crystal to him.  If we want to know God's thoughts and his plans for our lives, we need to follow the pattern he lays out for actually finding them.  Just sayin!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hammer or Fire?

What do fire and a hammer have in common?  First, both have an effect of changing what they touch, don't they?  Nothing touched by fire is quite the same - so it is with the hammer - they both can reduce to pieces that which are touched by their influence.  Second, there is a "heating" effect of both.  The hammer begins to "heat up" the nail as it drives it through the wood - repeated blows from the hammer actually change the temperature of the nail!  So, there are some commonalities between the hammer and fire. Why on earth does God compare his Word to fire or a hammer?  Perhaps it is for the reasons we have just stated - it changes what it comes into contact with and it has a way of changing the "temperature" of whatever it touches.

Is not My word like fire [that consumes all that cannot endure the test]? says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks in pieces the rock [of most stubborn resistance]?  (Jeremiah 23:29 AMP)

It is important to see God does not say the purpose of the fire is to consume us and get us all ashy - it is just to consume whatever cannot hold up to the test of the heat!  So, in other words, whenever we feel like the Word of God is a little "consuming" in its focus, it is like a farmer doing a controlled burn around his place.  The purpose of the controlled burn is to remove the weeds and brush which threaten the potential for his harvest!  The Word of God is really not after the good stuff - it is after the "chaff" - the unfruitful, unproductive, and choking influences of our life.  Have you noticed how well some of the wood burns in a fire, while the other wood seems to be harder to "catch" and it burns a lot longer before it is reduced to ash.  The "hardness" of the wood is often the determining factor of how long the fire has to "work" upon the wood to achieve the optimal effect of reducing the wood.  Sometimes our heart is responsive to the fire of God's Word, allowing the Word to take hold quite quickly.  Other times, it is a little harder, isn't it?  

The likeness of the Word of God to a hammer is pictured here not so much as the hammer driving home the nail, but of pounding upon rock.  I think this is an appropriate picture of our hearts sometimes - rocky, hard, and just needing a little "pounding".  My dad used to have a couple of sledge hammers - some smaller like hammer size, others bigger like the size of an ax.  It took quite a bit of effort to wield the sledge hammer, regardless of the size.  Why?  They carried some "weight" to them - because what they would come into contact with was often unyielding and requires a little more force to affect the desired change.  If we had an unyielding stone in the garden, dad could take a couple of cracks of the sledge hammer against the stone, effectively breaking it apart into "manageable" sizes.  Then he could remove them one by one.  I think God's Word is sometimes like this in our lives - it encounters some pretty unyielding stones and must break those stones up into smaller pieces, allowing for those pieces to be removed and discarded in order to begin to prepare the place it occupied for fresh growth.

The hammer on the stone produces some "heat" with each blow.  It is perhaps the influence of this "heat" which gets the stone to the point of beginning to yield to the blows.  A sledge hammer applies force - it is the force which begins the process of changing the consistency of what it touches.  If you know anything about using a sledge hammer, you know it is the weight of the hammer which is used to produce the force.  God's Word is a "weighty" thing in his hand!  It is by the strength of his hand and the force of his Word we are changed - our places of our most stubborn resistance are broken into manageable pieces until they no longer find a suitable place of dwelling in us any longer.  

Fire or hammer - either way, the effects are similar.  The Word embraced becomes the basis of change.  Embrace it quickly and we see the effect of its influence almost immediately in our lives.  Exert a little stubborn resistance to its influence and we might just need a little more heat or a few more blows.  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tumbleweed or Tree?

Depend:  To rely, place trust; to be sure of.  We depend upon a lot of things, don't we?  We depend on getting to work on time just because we were on the road by our "usual" time today.  The hazards along the way may provide a later arrival than anticipated, but we still depended upon getting there on time because we did our part.  We depend upon our laundry detergent to remove the stains in our clothing, despite the fact the stains are set in and rather stubborn ones at that.  When the detergent doesn't "perform" as anticipated, we buy a different type the next time because we have to "depend" upon the detergent to do its job.  We get into trouble when our dependence upon something or someone is stronger than our dependence upon God.  I am not saying we should depend on God to get the stains out of our jeans, but he is pretty awesome at getting stains out of our "genes"!

Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans, who thinks he can make it on muscle alone and sets God aside as dead weight.  He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie, out of touch with the good earth.  He lives rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows.  But blessed is the man who trusts me, Godthe woman who sticks with God.  They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers—never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.  (Jeremiah 17:5-8 MSG)

I live in the middle of the desert, so I understand the 'stunted' growth of desert shrubs.  They just don't grow big and hearty like the elms, oaks, and cedars in the more "well-watered" regions of our country.  They are brittle and dry - even their coloring is kind of "anemic".  The leaves are not the lush deep greens of the trees of the well-watered regions, but rather a light grey green. They just don't look 'healthy'.  There is something about being planted where you have opportunity for the greatest growth, isn't there?  As long as we are depending upon our own efforts to change our character, we are like the tumbleweed in the desert - out of touch with life!  I don't cater to the self-help gurus or their books which are hocked at our local book establishments.  Why?  Self cannot help self!  Only God can help self!  Depend long enough upon your "self" and you will become selfish, self-deceived, and self-absorbed.  Not the best list of qualities, right?

So, growth is dependent upon whom we depend upon.  If our dependence is on self, our growth will be disconnected from the sources of life which we need for balanced and vigorous growth.  At best, we may have leaves, but they are 'anemic' leaves!  Trees replanted in Eden really gives us a picture of flourishing growth - development beyond human capacity.  Eden was planted and tended by God's hand.  He put Adam in charge of the garden, but he was the one who ensured it was watered and receiving the nutrients it needed for robust growth.  We may "tend to" what God puts in our hands, but he is the one who plants the seed, nourishes it to full growth, and then enjoys the fruits from its growth!

A couple of things about depending upon God:

* Wherever we take root determines our potential for growth.  If our dependence is upon God, our roots go down deep into the soil of his Word.  We take frequent nourishment from it.  Superficial roots don't protect us in times of drought or the storms which come.  They are quickly affected by both.  To experience deep growth, we need deep roots.  Dependence upon God is often seen in examining where it is we have taken root, and how deeply those roots are set!

* Dependence upon God doesn't mean no drought will come.  It simply means we are in a position to weather the drought!  Sure our leaves wilt a little under the extreme intensity of the "season" of drought in our lives, but drought really only drives the roots deeper!  Think about it - you don't need deep roots if you can continue to find the source of what you need on the surface.  If the surface is dry, you go deeper!  God allows the seasons of drought in our lives not to scorch us and leave us detached from growth like the tumbleweed.  He allows them because he is counting on us taking deeper root during those seasons!

* Dependence means we place both our hope and confidence in the one upon whom we depend.  Hope reflects some future state - confidence reflects the presence determination of heart.  Confidence knows we are rooted exactly where we will find our source in the times of testing and trial.  Hope recognizes the times of testing and trial are only for a season.  

Tumbleweed or Tree?  Your roots reveal the truth.  Just sayin!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Need a good mechanic?

Correction:  a substitute for what is wrong or inaccurate.  Sometimes we find ourselves in a little need of correction, huh?  Maybe it is not so much being completely wrong, but it is a sense of "inaccuracy" in our lives which gets us going in the wrong direction.  It is kind of like only seeing half of a room and then thinking the other half is a mirror image of the half we can see.  Wouldn't we be surprised to turn around and see the room we thought was filled with beautiful artwork also contained a few corpses?  Correction puts things in the right framework - gives us the right perspective when what we have been pursuing is just a little inaccurate.  It also gives us a swift kick in the seat when what we have been pursuing is totally and completely wrong!

I know, God, that mere mortals can’t run their own lives, that men and women    don’t have what it takes to take charge of life.  So correct us, God, as you see best.  (Jeremiah 10:23-24 MSG)

Jeremiah is pretty straight with God.  They have been having this dialogue about the condition of Judah - some are in outright rebellion against what God had instructed while others are merely a little off-course and could be set back on course with only the slightest correction.  If you have ever taken your hands of the wheel in your car to see if your car will "drift" a little to the right or left, you probably did it to see if your wheels were aligned.  Why?  Aligned wheels get better wear, don't cause as much effort in the driving, and just keep us on course better.  If you have ever been distracted by something flying around in the car, swatting furiously at the thing trying to shoo it out the window, you might just have experienced the sudden need to "jerk" your car back into your own lane!  Both of these require correction - one is immediate and the action required is well within your ability, the other requires expertise outside of your skill set.

There is a point in our lives when we must realize some of this stuff which needs correction in us is outside of our skill set!  We need to go to the one who knows best how to get it done!  Adjustment in course is part of life - sometimes we can do it because we just took our attention off the course a little.  At other times, we just need to admit to God the need for his help to sort out what the thing is which keeps us from being on course!  I can see the uneven wear on my tires.  I don't know whether it is too much tilt this way or than - they call these caster, camber, toe, and thrust angle.  Now, I could find that information on any search of the good old internet highway, but can I go out today and fix the alignment on my car?  Nope - I don't have the tools, know how about the right measurement to choose, or even the desire to get that dirty!  I take my car to the mechanic I trust because he can set these things all in right order and in less time than I could ever do it.

There are times when we don't have the tools spiritually.  We need something outside of our "regular" tool set we have come to rely upon.  These are times when we might just need to go to someone of greater spiritual maturity than ourselves.  They might just possess the tool God designed to be used to correct whatever is out of alignment in our lives.  There are other times when we need some alone time with the Great Mechanic, God himself.  In those moments, he sets about to correct what causes us great "drift", excessive "wear and tear", and even a little "discomfort" in our travels.

Have you ever let a gentle correction go unheeded?  I have!  I have come out in the morning to a small indicator light on showing my tire pressure low.  Well, I thought it meant it was low, not flat as a pancake!  I drove a couple of miles to the nearest gas station, not realizing the tire had about zero air in it.  Guess what?  I not only could not maintain the air pressure in this tire, I needed a totally new one because I damaged the sidewall by driving on it!  Some of us don't heed the gentle corrections.  When we don't, the more "robust" correction may be needed.  I could have called AAA before I left the house to change the tire and put on my spare - if I had looked at what the warning light was trying to say to me.  I could have saved myself about a hundred bucks if I had.  The tire swap with the spare would have been relatively cheap compared to the ultimate problem of having to replace the entire tire, especially since my AAA was paid up and the tire change would have only cost me a little time!

As much as we don't like correction, if we ignore the warnings long enough, the damage caused by our unwillingness to accept the correction will far outweigh the small investment of our time, energies, and focus to pay attention in the first place!  Just sayin!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What's your trademark?

Have you ever stopped to consider what a trademark is?  It distinguishes something from all the other "somethings" which are in our midst, right?  You think of the red soda can with the white little swirl and what immediately comes to mind?  Coca-Cola, right?  If I were to have you picture a red sign with a huge yellow "M" on it, you'd immediately recognize it as McDonald's restaurant.  We distinguish something by its trademark - it sets it apart from the rest.  What happens when someone changes their packaging of their product?  People go nuts trying to find it!  They don't recognize it even though it is right on the shelf in front of them because the "remembered" symbol is no longer there!  This is why most manufacturers don't mess with a good thing!  Have you ever stopped to consider what God's trademarks are?  What is it which sets him out from the rest of the "gods" we could serve in life?  What is it which makes him "distinguishable" in our lives?

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

According to what God told Jeremiah, loyal love, doing what's right and fair, setting things right - these are his trademarks.  Now, it may not seem like much, but if you want to really get to "recognize" God from all the rest of the voices you hear in your head, you might just want to get to know his trademarks!  The little voice which tells you to respond with unkind words is not his - it is yours!  That little voice which tells you to pick a fight is not his, its yours!  The little voice which encourages you to compromise just a little is not his, it is yours!  What God says will always be consistent with his character (his trademarks).  

We "brag" on a lot of things, don't we?  We get a new car and for about the first month or so not one piece of bird poop can be found on it, the inside is immaculate, and the wheels shine with the high gloss of new rubber.  We take everyone out to the garage to show it off - pointing out all the bells and whistles.  We "brag" on it a little.  When our child brings home a 4.0 grade average, perfect attendance, and exemplary comments about his/her behavior toward others, something happens inside us, does it not.  Those mom and dad chests just push out a little further and we get all kinds of giddy over having such a wonderful child.  We even proudly display the bumper sticker on our new cars which lets he world know we have a "champ" of a kid!

I wonder how many of us actually brag about knowing God and what it is he has done in our lives?  We brag (boast) about the stuff which has no real permanence in our lives, but often neglect to even speak of the things which will never leave us wanting.  Look again at the list of what makes God "boast-worthy".  First, he has this tremendously loyal love.  If you have ever loved someone, you know it has some ups and downs, right?  Most of the time when the things are going "good" in the relationship, we'd say we'd never change things in a million years.  Let some rough times and difficulty come in the relationship and our love is put to the test.  Sometimes it doesn't fair too well.  Why?  Because we haven't learned the loyalty of love - it goes beyond the usual and normal into the realm of the consistency of commitment.  Commitment has a sticking power.  God's love is committed love - it goes through the rough places with us, knowing full-well the good places will come again.

Second, he has this way of setting things right.  Not just right, but fair.  Do you think that is an unusual combination of words to describe how God deals with his kids?  I don't because God knows what we see as "right" we may not always see as "fair".  We are always making judgments about what is "right" and when we see something as "right" we usually say it is fair.  Truth be told, sometimes what is right may seem a little "unfair" to us!  But...God is all about both - fairness and setting things right.  When we don't get what we deserve (grace and mercy), he is setting things right, and he is being "fair".  In other words, he won't let an injustice be done when it comes to his kids.  We are placed in the position of being made right, and in turn, he also puts us in a position of favor.  That is what fairness has to do with God's grace - it puts us back into a place of favor.

It may not seem like much, but getting to know the trademarks of our God's love is pretty important.  It helps us filter out the voices which are not really pointing us toward loyalty in our love, fairness in our dealings, or excellence in our standing.  Wouldn't it be nice to reflect his trademarks in our lives?  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Even slag has a purpose

Yesterday I shared the truth about warnings - they are meant for our safety, but we need to have hearing ears and attentive eyes.  Today, we will look at the third characteristic related to heeding warnings - a responsive heart.  Remembering the heart is really the seat of our emotions, we can just imagine why God wraps the heart up into this picture of avoiding hazards by heeding warnings.  Our emotions can sometimes play tricks on us - making us see something totally different from what is really ahead of us.  Mom asked my sister last night why women choose losers.  I am not sure where this conversation came from, but I guess it was part of a story they were reading, so I just listened.  My sister's response was some women just do because they feel "needed" for the first time, or they feel "special" to someone and this is what they have wanted for so long.  I guess this kind of lends some credence to our discussion this morning - we cannot just listen to our hearts.  We need seeing eyes and hearing ears in the mix, as well.
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  But this thing I did command them: Listen to and obey My voice, and I will be your God and you will be My people; and walk in the whole way that I command you, that it may be well with you.  (Jeremiah 7:22-23 AMP)
In the sixth chapter of Jeremiah, toward the end of the chapter, God describes to Jeremiah the commission upon his life - to be the refiner of ore.  Now, at first this may not seem significant, but when you read on, it becomes apparent God's commission will not be an easy one.  You see, God tells Jeremiah he is about to engage in the task of refining ore - not gold or silver ore, but bronze and iron.  If you know anything about these two, you know they are not pure metals.  The idea conveyed is that of dealing with "slag" - the part of the ore which gets thrown out because it refuses to yield to the fire.  I imagine Jeremiah got a little concerned about this one - for no one wants to boil rocks!  If they are going to spend all that time in the heat of the furnace, they want something of beauty to show for their hard work.  Something caught my eye in this passage, though.  We ALL have the potential of being slag.  Slag is just the waste left over after the refining process is finished.  When we fail to heed warnings, we run the risk of just becoming a bunch of rocks who never yield to the "boiling" process.
This might just speak to you, as well.  We all start out this journey as rocks - hard, unyielding, but filled with lots of potential.  The only way to determine if the rock will realize its full potential is in the fire.  Nothing extracts the pure metal except fire.  If you have ever wondered why you seem to be experiencing so much "fire" in your life, it might just be God's plan to bring more of the beauty inherent in your "core" to the surface!  
As Jeremiah and God converse on, we come to the passage above.  God makes the circumstances of Jeremiah's calling quite plain - he is to guide a people who hear, but don't obey; see, but don't choose the right path; knowing in their minds what is right, but they don't obey.  Put me on that list!  Jeremiah must have been about as excited as wet kindling when he heard that commission!  You are about to embark on the mission of boiling rocks and you will find some of those rocks just don't change much - they will just be rocks!  This is the lot of the refiner - it takes a lot of rocks being boiled to find the true ore in the mix!
The difference between a rock and ore is in their reaction to the fire.  Rocks just stay rocks, but ore begins to break apart until the purity of the "good stuff" interwoven in its recesses begins to be exposed.  We all have rocks and ore in our inner core.  Rocks will just boil, never yielding to the fire.  The only thing to do with the rocks is to throw them out - to cast them on the slag pile.  As the rocks are boiled, the slag begins to come to the surface - allowing the refiner to skim it off.  When he pours out the good metals extracted from the ore, the remaining slag may not seem valuable for any purpose.  Compared to the good metals extracted, the slag just looks like junk.
The opposite is actually true - slag may not have yielded the good metals of highest value, but it provides things of value we might just overlook.  Did you realize slag is used to make roads and foundations for buildings?  The fundamental ingredient in concrete is actually found in the slag pile!  The slag also is used as ballast - the stuff under the railroad ties which gives stability to the ties and beams.  It distributes the load of the train as it passes by, providing stability to those tracks.  Slag is even used in fertilizers - known as phosphate fertilizer.  Now, does that help to shed new light on the "slag" in your life?  Some of us get discouraged because we just see rocks.  God sees the tiny flecks of "good metal" in each of us.  He also sees the purpose for the slag - to give us ballast, help us develop a strong foundation, and to give us the substance for growth.
What God asks:  Listen with hearing ears; respond with obedient hearts; see with eyes which go beyond the seeing only the evident.  We may think we are just boiling rocks - he sees us as metal in the making!  But...he never discards anything he can use in our lives to give us foundation, helps us bear up under the weight and pressures of life, or give us just a little extra "umph" in our growth cycle!  So, what does this have to do with heeding warnings?  When we realize action is what brings us to a place of obedience, not just listening and seeing, we begin to desire the activity of the refiner's fire rather than resist it. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Flashing red lights and clanging bells

A warning is designed to give us caution - we are to proceed very slowly, if at all.  When we come across the flashing railroad lights, does the conductor of the train expect to see us stop, or barrel on through?  He expects us the heed the warning lights, slow our car, and await the trains passing.  When do those lights begin to flash?  Is it right when the train is about to cross our path?  Nope, they flash early enough for us to avoid the train's impact!  Warnings help us avoid impact with things which have the capacity of doing irreparable harm in our lives.  The Book of Jeremiah is filled with all kinds of warnings.  Warnings to not pursue “satisfaction” for the sake of satisfaction because it really doesn’t lead to the outcomes we desired.  Warnings about rejecting God for anything else because whenever we give anything (or anyone else) the place in our lives he deserves, we end up serving that thing (or person).  Warnings of sin's effect such as being deprived of the blessings we have in life.  Whenever we see a warning in scripture, it is put there on purpose.  It is designed to "stop" us before we move into a place of irreparable harm in our lives.

“Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, the tried-and-true road. Then take it.  Discover the right route for your souls."  (Jeremiah 6:16 MSG)

Some of the warnings in scripture are really in the form of instruction - to do something specific because our previous actions have placed us in a position of being in a "head-on collision" with the things which will do harm in our lives.  In this sixth chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet is in conversation with God.  As the chapter unfolds, we find God warning the people of Judah to run for their lives - terror is upon them from the forces of the North.  They are about to be taken into captivity by the Babylonian forces.  Here's why God is so concerned:  "My people are broken—shattered!—and they put on Band-Aids, Saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’  But things are not ‘just fine’!"  There has been a superficial treatment of sin in their lives - Band-aids of sorts.  This is a warning to take sin seriously - to not cover over it with anything which will hide its seriousness!

When my kids were younger, my son was playing with an sharp box-cutter while I was at work.  He cut his hand quite deeply.  My first clue to the injury was a blood trail into the house as I came home that afternoon.  No children in sight, but blood on the bathroom counter (although they attempted to wipe it up), blood on the carport floor, and a plethora of empty Band-aid wrappers in the trash!  When I finally found them at the neighbor's, not one word was spoken about the injury!  In fact, he did a clever job of hiding it for about another hour.  Hands were in pockets, covered with books and schoolwork, and the occasional one behind the back.  I allowed the charade to continue because they were both still breathing!  When I finally encountered my son about his seeming "lack of use" of his hand, he copped to the plea!  He had been using the knife I had warned him to avoid, cutting himself deeply between two fingers in the fleshy part of his hand.  It was deep!  It needed closure, because the fissure would not heal unless it was brought back together.  Sin is kind of like that cut in my son's hand - it is a fissure of sorts, not able to heal until there is openness about the wound, tender care to avoid its infecting power, and the application of the ointment of the Word to speed its healing.  The plea of God - stop dealing with sin as though it were a superficial thing!  It goes deeper than you might first realize and it needs special care - not just a Band-aid!

God then tells Judah to "look for the old ways".  Why?  They had left the path and he wanted them to know the pathway they needed to return to was never that far out of sight!  We probably only need a little direction to get us back on track!  This is the good news - the bad news is when we don't heed the warnings we are off the path in the first place!  The longer we stay on the wrong path, the farther we will get from recognizing the old path any longer!  The cry of God's heart is for us to recognize when we are going adrift.  Why do we heed the flashing red lights?  Isn't it because we see them?  Blind people don't drive cars - sighted people do!  But just in case you don't see them very well, there are clanging bells, as well.  Even the blind can hear the bells!  So, warnings are really multi-faceted.  They carry a component of seeing and hearing. 

Eyes to see, ears to hear - sound familiar?  Eyes to see the path we have left.  Ears to hear the call of God's voice beckoning us back onto course.  The warnings of God are a call - call's need to be heeded or they are nothing more than noise on the wind.  There is a call to meet with him (returning brings us face to face again).  There is a call to move with him (being on the right path puts us in the flow of what  he is doing).  There is also the call to do warfare with him (because staying the course means we will encounter some forces we might not want to deal with).  As we consider the warnings God gives in our lives, the main thing is to "pay attention" - for no warning is ever intended to be ignored!  It is there for our safety.  Just sayin!