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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Process Improvement = Problem Solved

Problems:  A matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty; a question proposed for solution or discussion; an obstacle.  For most of us, life is riddled with all kinds of problems.  Some are easier than others, but they come and go as surely as the wind will come and go.  The issues this week will not likely be the same issues we face next week or the one after that.  They are new, but really most of the problems we face have similar roots - they just put on different appearances.  It is probably pretty hard for us to imagine a problem as an opportunity for growth.  In my line of work, I have a particular role of identifying the problems, assisting the teams to analyze those problems and then attempt to come up with a solution so the problem doesn't arise again.  One thing I have found is the truth of "recurring problems" - some of these issues we "think" we fix today really just come back again and again - the "fix" was just not long-lasting.  It doesn't mean the "fix" wasn't a good one - it just means it may not have been more than a "patch" for the present problem.  Truth be told, "patches" don't work long-term.  We need to grow if we are to get beyond our problems.

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.  I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order.  Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word.  Festoon me with your finest sayings, God; teach me your holy rules.  My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed.  The wicked do their best to throw me off track, but I don’t swerve an inch from your course.  I inherited your book on living; it’s mine forever—  what a gift! And how happy it makes me!  I concentrate on doing exactly what you say—I always have and always will.  (Psalm 119:105-112 MSG)

It may not come as a surprise to you, but bad comes with good.  I would love it if you could just march up to the grocer's aisle and get yourself a whole case or two of "good" each day, totally bypassing the aisle where the "bad" is stocked!  Most of the time, a little "bad" gets into the case of "good" when no one is looking!  So, when you think you are getting "good" in life, you likely get a little thing called a "problem" somewhere along the way.  Problems surface anytime there is an opportunity for growth.  If we begin to see them this way, we might just embrace our problems a little differently.  In fact, we might just begin to see the solution as something quite unique to the "last time" we attempted to solve the problem!  

There is something else I have come to realize in my line of work - people are quite willing to give us their problems!  They don't want them - so they try to pawn them off on someone else!  Have you ever stopped to consider what you have taken on just because someone else did not - or because someone convinced you it belonged with you?  More than likely you have problems you don't even know when or where you got them - they just came to be yours! The fact is - problems require owners.  Ownership of the problem may not always be yours - but others will often convince you you at least play a part in them!  We need to beware of taking on problems which do not rightly belong to us - those things in which we play no part.

There are many responses to problems.  Probably one of the most common is to shift the blame for the problem (and the "fix") to another.  If we can successfully do this, we escape the work!  Issues keep creeping up, though, because the problem never really gets "fixed" until the owner of the problem steps up to take ownership!  Another response is to just pull your head in and hope it goes away.  This is especially true when the problems we face seem to be the recurring type.  We just don't want to "deal" with the issue again, so we bury it.  The ugly truth - buried problems don't go away - they just take root!

For many of us, we focus on the problem and not the process.  In my line of work, we examine process.  It is usually the best means of dealing with the problem.  Process is really a systematic series of actions which lead to some outcome.  When faced with life's problems, we really need some systematic series of actions to "fix" the problems, don't we?  Maybe this is why it is so important to consider the problem in light of what God thinks about it - because our "thinking" is kind of wrapped up in the problem and not the solution.  He sees the solution - and even provides the means by which the solution becomes possible - we just need to take the systematic series of actions he asks in order to see the problem in its true light.

When I come to the table to design processes which address our problems at work, I am looking for the long-range solutions to the problems.  Sure, we want immediate "fixes" and we celebrate these.  Yet, we want the longer, lasting process improvements so the problem stands less of a chance of recurring in the future.  The same is true in our lives - go for the quick fixes and celebrate them, but don't stop there.  Processes have to be set in place to ensure the consistency of the outcome.  When we finally get to the point of doing the same thing and getting the same results, we know the process worked.  Until we reach that point, we "tweak" the process as we need to - all in order to produce the series of actions which will continuously produce the results which reflect the outcome we desired.  

Growth is inherent in each problem.  Instead of burying them and allowing them to take root, maybe it is time we begin to bring them to the table of God's grace and direction.  His "process redesign" may just be the ticket for what will finally deliver the right solution to the problems we face!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What do your actions really say?

Have you ever stopped to consider the purpose of your life?  According to scripture, our lives are supposed to bear fruit - there is something to be "reproduced" through our lives.  From the moment God told Adam and Eve to be "fruitful and multiply" mankind has been about the work of "bearing fruit" - more than just physical offspring, but fruit of all kinds.  With the labor of his hands, mankind brought forth crops and harvests beyond measure.  With the investment of his time and talent, mankind has ensured the mentoring of the next generation.  Mankind is continually bearing fruit of one kind or another. It probably goes without saying some fruit is not exactly good fruit.  I live in Arizona, so I am used to seeing these "ornamental orange trees" all over the place.  People plant them because they grow well here, produce healthy green leaves and eventually produce the beautiful oranges.  The only problem - their fruit is worthless!  It is so tart you cannot eat it!  It is for looks and not for intake.  It has the appearance of the real, but lacks the quality!

A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.  (Matthew 7:17-20 NLT)

In order to be able to evaluate the type of fruit we are producing, we must be able to see the good and bad of "self".  Let this one mull around in your mind a little.  The "good" and "bad" of self is really not something we "judge" very well on our own.  In fact, we need the clarity of the scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit to actually "get" this at times.  If we are "getting" something pretty well, it is probably something where we are bearing good fruit.  When we are not so "good" at some things, this is where we need the help of others to actually see what it is we are struggling with.  When I was learning to knit, my grandma actually watched me make my stitches.  When she saw me miss a stitch, she was quick to point it out.  It wasn't because she wanted to find me doing something wrong, but because she wanted me to be producing my best work.  I got distracted easily, so she often had to call my attention back to the work at hand.  All was done in love - but the end product was made more beautiful because she helped me where I had "blind spots" in my work.  We need others who will help us see our "blind spots", don't we?  If we don't have those faithful friends, now is the time to find them!

One thing I have observed about myself is the tendency to not even try something if I feel I won't be good at it.  Sometimes it is my pride which holds me back, at others it is my fear.  Truth be told, I just don't like to fail. One thing is for sure - nothing ventured is nothing gained!  If I want to see fruit in my life, I have to take the first step toward whatever will produce the fruit.  The dropped stitches in my knitting were not all that significant until you saw a few rows of stitching come together - then the dropped stitch stuck out like a sore thumb.  I may not have realized just how much it mattered at the time, but when you step back and take a good look, it really showed up then!  The same is true of the individual failures in our lives - you know, those tiny compromises we make along the way.  At first, you don't see the real issue with the first time, nor the second, but somewhere along the way, you will look back and see a whole lot of "dropped stitches" which really do impact the "whole".  

Each dropped stitch was really a lost opportunity for me.  I lost concentration. At times, I lost interest.  At others, I just lost my way.  In life, we have lots of times when we lose interest - lose focus - or just plain lose our way.  God's hope is that we will learn from our losses!  Here is something I have figured out - so if it speaks to you - learn from my missed opportunities:  WE always play some part in each loss!  We might want to point the finger at someone else, but truth be told, we play some part (big or small) in each loss!  We will continue to repeat our losses unless we examine them, find their causes, understand our part in them, and then do things differently the next time.

Fruitful people are concerned with the fruit produced.  They are directed toward something more than "ornamental" fruit - they want fruit which provides deep satisfaction.  The way to production of this type of fruit is riddled with all kinds of failure - but it is what we do with the failure which matters.  We have limited fruit-bearing capacity outside of the grace of God in our lives.  It was the tender hands of my grandma redirecting my attention, helping me hold the needles just so, and then helping me actually count out loud the stitches we formed which guided me along in my knitting.  It is the tender graces of God in our lives which redirect our attention, helping us to hold onto the things which produce the loveliest of fruit in our lives, and learn the lessons from those "dropped stitches" along the way.  Just sayin!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Trust revisited

Trust - As I said yesterday, it is built on truth.  Without truth, it is almost impossible to trust.  They go hand-in-hand.  This said, what we hold as the "factual truth" becomes the foundation for the trust we place in an object or a person.  I believe King David once penned the words, "Some trust in chariots, but we will trust in the Lord our God."  (Psalm 20:7)  In other words, some kings chose to trust in the size and might of their armies - the technical expertise, training, and weaponry they had at their disposal.  The only thing David wanted for his troops to trust in was the assurance of their Lord leading their way into battle, providing all the strength, resources, and "might" they'd need!  The object of each king's trust was a little different - but the things unseen often foiled even the best of plans of those who opposed God's army!

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

An important part of trust is the issue of time.  Trust is not simply given based on a one time revelation of some truth.  The truth is put to the test to see if it can be proven as "trust-worthy".  If so, we will often test it again, just to ensure our "trust" is correctly placed.  In the passage of enough time, we come to find the revelation of the truth as something we accept and finally "trust".  God builds upon the smallest infusion of truth until we finally begin to trust it fully.  In time, he gives us more truth, until we come to a full assurance of faith.  Trust comes over time - with "deposits" of truth all along the way.

The same is true in many of our relationships here on this earth.  "Deposits" of truth, tested and proven as trust-worthy become a basis of trust in the relationship.  Take away too many of those deposits and trust is broken quickly.  When the trust is broken, it takes a long time to rebuild the "deposits" to the level of assurance again.  It is kind of like when we have to pay "penalties" on an overdraft at the bank.  It takes more than our original debit to "rebuild" the bank's trust in us!  In relationship, trust is built through something we might just refer to as "heart connections".  These "connections" are significantly more important than most of us realize - for the breaking of any one of these connections actually begins to break down the integrity of trust which is built with the strength of each "attachment" formed by the connections.  It is like a multi-stranded cord - one strand dis-attached may not seem significant at first, but it weakens the hold of the other strands over the course of time!

In counseling, one of the techniques used quite frequently is a process referred to as validation.  It is a process of letting the other person know you have "heard" what they have said, acknowledged their opinions as mattering, and respect the expression of feelings as they have been given.  It does not mean we always agree with what we hear, the opinions expressed, or the feelings expressed - it simply means we acknowledge them as true in the eyes of the one expressing them!  Now, how does this apply in relationship and as it concerns trust?  I think Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head when he said, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  Building trust in relationship comes as we "validate" the other person.  It doesn't mean we never encounter opinions which differ from our own, or need a little redirecting.  It means we acknowledge the opinions of another as mattering. The key comes in learning how to actually continue to build trust by bringing truth into the relationship - not in a way which tears down, but in a way which brings clarity, hope, and depth.

Most important of all aspects in this thing we call trust is the ability to give grace when trust may not be what it should be.  I have to call our attention to God's example here - he gave us a whole lot of grace (in the form of his Son's atoning sacrifice on our behalf) even when he saw no evidence he could trust us with that grace!  The example he set gives us some cause to think outside of our normal "opinion" of what trust is - it is our willingness to give what it takes to see another become what they are supposed to be!  Without God's infusion of grace, we had no hope of change.  Sometimes in relationship, it takes a whole lot of grace to get the other person to the place they need to be in order to finally see the growth within the relationship.  What grace does is provide a means for trust to continue until their is evidence of change.  This is tough - probably one of the toughest parts of relationship we will ever tackle.  Without it, no relationship will ever work!  Grace actually is God's way of using us to make a way for the other person to change.  

It goes without saying, but trust requires vulnerability.  Maybe this is why trust is so hard - we don't like being vulnerable!  One thing I have learned is the value of being exactly who I am - nothing does more to build trust than genuineness.  Being real with another may be hard, but it is the basis (foundation) of trust.  Until we are, all trust is really nothing more than superficial.  People will struggle - it is inevitable - they will fail.  Learning to fill the "gaps" in trust with grace will go a long way in re-attaching the connections which get broken when they do!  Just sayin!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Conflict - the antidote

Conflict comes from a bunch of differing sources, right?  Some are external, while others are from within - our own minds and bodies presenting us with challenges beyond number.  Learning how to deal with conflict is not that easy, though.  In fact, most of us feel a little challenged by the continuation of some of these conflicts - either in relationships, in terms of what we desire, or just in what it is we are surrounded with every day.  Today, I'd like us consider the things which lead to conflict and their "antidote".  Maybe it will just give us enough food for thought to helps out in even one of these areas where we struggle a little.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.  (James 4:1-2 MSG)

In order to make this a little more "organized" and understandable, I am going to follow the outline of using CONFLICT as our starting spot.

C = Usually we have some sort of conflict whenever we sense we are losing an element of control we'd rather not give up.  Face it, control is a big deal to most of us.  All the way to the grave we will struggle with wanting some little thing we can control!  Whenever anyone asks for us to relinquish our control, it usually gets our juices flowing!  The opposite of control is helplessness or powerlessness.  No one wants to feel either of these emotions.  In fact, we do everything we can to not find ourselves in these circumstances.  What is the antidote?  Cooperation.  Whenever we find ourselves taking the thing we believe we must control and then entering into a cooperative relationship with the one we believe is taking away our control, we often find we aren't really being asked to give up something which we cannot live without!  Another word we often find in scripture is "submission" - we willingly let go of some things in order to embrace something better.  We place ourselves under the authority of another - Jesus.  There we find it less concerning to always be in control, for his plan usually is a whole lot better than ours.

O = Another area of conflict is opened up whenever we become too obsessive about any one thing and neglect something else in return.  Obsession actually puts "blinders" on us - causing us to have tunnel vision - only seeing one solution, one opinion which matters, one opportunity worth taking, etc.  The issue comes when our obsession begins to affect others in our lives.  We may think our obsession is only affecting us, but trust me, nothing you obsess about will ever affect only you - others will always be affected by your obsession.  We become preoccupied with anything we obsess over.  What is the antidote to this "tunnel vision" obsession?  Occupation.  We have to determine what will occupy the space in our minds, the attention of our hearts, and the energies of our bodies.  God calls for us to be occupied with him - when this occurs, the attitude of our thoughts changes.  The way our thoughts go determines the actions of both our bodies and emotions!

N = Neediness is a definite source of conflict.  If you have ever encountered an individual who seems to always be "needy", you know what I mean on this one.  They seem to suck the very life from you, much like a leach!  Needy people actually drive people away.  Sure, they draw near for a while, but after a period of time, the neediness of another will wear the other down.  Now, don't get me wrong - we all have moments of neediness.  It is the lifestyle of neediness I am speaking of here.  When an individual determines to have the world rotate around them and their needs, others will eventually find some source of irrigation and conflict with this.  The antidote?  Noticing others.  A needy person doesn't really take notice of those outside of their own little world.  Their focus is internal - not external.  Learning to notice others - their needs, hopes, and feelings - will go a long way in diminishing your focus on your own need.  

T = Trust is probably one of the biggest sources of conflict we struggle with, because it is something given by us, but broken by another.  We don't have control over what another does with our trust - we just give it and hope they won't trample all over it.  Whenever trust is broken, it takes a long time to get back to the place of building trust in relationship again.  This is true in our spiritual lives, physical relationships, and just about every relationship we have.  The antidote?  Truth.  We have to learn to live truthfully - truth begets trust.  We aren't always perfect - but when truth becomes the "norm" in our relationships, we don't always lose the trust we have in another.  

R = Responsibility is probably the next source of conflict we can associate with.  Conflict comes when someone doesn't take responsibility or they act "irresponsibly" with something you have entrusted to them.  Responsibility and trust really go hand-in-hand.  When another refuses to "own up to" and take responsibility for their actions, we get a little irritated, don't we?  The antidote?  Respect.  When we respect God, we will "own up" to our failures. When we respect others, we will be more inclined to take responsibility for "our part" in a particular action.  When we respect ourselves, we will be less likely to act irresponsibly with what God has provided in our lives.

O = Missed opportunities are another source of conflict in relationship.  In life, some opportunities come once in a lifetime, others come back to us at a later point.  We never really know when one missed opportunity will open the door for conflict.  More importantly, we never really know when the missed opportunity will be the last.  In relationship, opportunities to do good in the life of another, to speak truth into the relationship, and to encounter the tough things which almost lurk like the elephant in the room all present themselves.  What we choose to do with those opportunities often makes the difference between the building up of relationships or the entry of conflict into them.  The antidote?  Openness.  We have to be focused on the opportunities and remain open to the "work" it takes to sometimes see these opportunities come to a place of fullness in our relationships.

L = Limits is the last conflict source I will consider today.  We all have limits. Cross them and conflict is inevitable.  I have a limit on how much "noise" and "hubbub" I can handle in a day.  Cross that limit and I become what others label as "moody" and pull inward.  It is my way of dealing with the source of what could easily become conflict if I allowed it to.  Instead of entering into conflict when my limits are met, I retreat!  Others just let it all out!  The antidote?  Listening.  Most of the time, others give us a clear cut clue we are encroaching upon their limits.  If we will just learn to listen, we can often avoid "crossing the line" into what others have declared to be the "outer limits" of their patience, efforts, etc.

So, not rocket science here, but just a few thoughts to consider our sources of conflict and what it is we might be able to do a little differently when faced with the inevitability of conflict.  We can all learn to be better at avoiding conflict.  Just sayin!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I need a new "normal"

Repentance is often a misunderstood concept.  So many people equate repentance to some moment in humble contrition where you kneel down, cry your eyes out and then get up a changed person.  Now, don't get me wrong, God can and does deal with man in this way on occasion, but most of the time repentance is just a changing of our choices.  In other words, we realize we are doing the wrong thing, so we confess our failure to follow the right path, turning toward a lifestyle of making the right choices in the area where we had the conflict.  
In those days there appeared John the Baptist, preaching in the Wilderness (Desert) of Judea, and saying, Repent (think differently; change your mind, regretting your sins and changing your conduct), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  (Matthew 3:1-2 AMP)
Something I don't think we consider is the "lifestyle" of repentance - it is more than a moment in time - it is a continual process of choosing to make right choices in place of the wrong ones we had been making.  The main thing about living a lifestyle of repentance is the opportunities repentance brings into our lives.  John said, "Repent - for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  He said this as Jesus stood nearby, awaiting his turn at being baptized by John. Here is something we often don't consider when we think of repentance - the kingdom of heaven being at hand as we make those changes in our choices. In reality, John was reminding us of the presence of God with us as we make these life-altering changes.  The kingdom of heaven was not a place - it was a person - Christ.  So, when he tells us to repent (think differently, have a change of mind, come to a place of real regret for our sins which leads to a change in our actions), he is telling us we don't have to go it alone!
Repentance gets us out of the place of doing "what we know" and moves into a new plane of things we may not be as "sure" about.  We make a change in our "altitude" through a change in our "attitude".  In other words, repentance is a doorway to opportunity - the opportunity to make different choices.  This may come as a surprise to some, but conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit, while repentance is our business!  We take the steps toward right behavior through making better choices.  Sure, we have the Lord standing right beside us as we do, but we are the one taking the steps!  Teachable people realize the value of repentance - the value of new opportunities.  Without these new opportunities, we'd live as we always have. Most of us would live in regret the rest of our lives if we didn't seize the new opportunities that come by the "kingdom of heaven" being "at hand"!  
In another passage, Jesus is being surrounded by little children.  The disciples are concerned the little ones are keeping Jesus from the "important" ministry he is supposed to be performing.  Jesus chides the disciples for attempting to "shoo" the children away.  In fact, he tells them the little children are an illustration of how it is we are suppose to approach and fellowship with God. He is not giving us license to be "childish", just "child-like".  Childish kids (and adults) are really quite self-centered and selfish.  Christ was more concerned with the simplicity of heart a child has - the willingness to try new things even when you don't understand all the ins and outs of the matter.  Tell a child they can fly and they will actually try!  They simply believe - and set out to make it so.  Maybe there is something to this idea as it comes to repentance. We perhaps need to learn to simply believe we can make the right choices and see a change in the results produced in our lives!  Then we just need to make them!
I don't know about you, but recognizing repentance is really just making an honest assessment of the situation, then choosing to make better choices as we move forward seems a little impossible at times.  We struggle with the "monumental" task of making those better choices, don't we?  Truth be told, we all do!  The good news is the closeness of Christ as we walk into those moments of realizing the choices we have been making are not the best AND his nearness as we draw next to him to walk our way out of them!  Truly, the kingdom of heaven IS at hand - ours!  We just need to reach out, take hold and then walk away from what has been our stumbling spot for so long. It is important to remember no new opportunity will seem entirely easy at first.  In fact, it may be a little scary to begin with.  In time, and in trust, the newness of the opportunity at hand as we repent is going to become the new "normal" for our lives!  Just you wait and see!  Just sayin!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Peanut Lessons

Have you ever considered how peanuts grow?  We get these nicely washed, lightly roasted, sometimes salted peanuts in a bag from our grocer, but I wonder if we realize just how and where these little treasures grow.  Most of us think of fruit as something produced above the surface of the dirt, but peanuts are actually produced "underground".  They turn from flowering plants into underground seed pods without us even noticing the growth going on beneath the surface.  I think this may be similar to the growth we often experience in our own lives.  Stuff springs up on the surface - but the completion of the growth is really accomplished "underground" in our lives. Another thing to consider is the place of fruit is sometimes the darkest place!

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. (Galations 6:7--8 MSG)

Okay, so here's how a peanut grows.  First, the seed pod is planted.  If peanuts are not boiled or roasted, they actually produce a rather green plant within about 30 days of planting.  The peanut is planted in its entirety - pod and all.  So, as the pod breaks down, the seed sends out a taproot.  This taproot in turn sends out other roots which seek certain nutrients from the soil in which they are planted - the main nutrient they seek is nitrogen.  These roots don't look all long and spindly like some do, but are nodular and gnarly. To the untrained eye, you might think these are the start of the fruit, but it is not.  It is just the way the roots growth is produced - it is this "rough" texture of the root which makes it so effective for taking in the nutrients it needs. Roots anchor, but their most important function is in the "feeding" process. Since these roots are "nodular", they have a little more "surface" than other spindly roots.  Maybe this is because the growth which will eventually occur more "underground" really requires the roots to give the pods a place to grow and "implant".

Once the seed breaks the surface with a sign of green growth, the shoot which emerges is kind of a long, stem with leaves, almost floppy in appearance. The long stems soon begin to produce a flower from the base of the leaves.  One thing is important at this stage of growth - pollination.  Many peanut farmers also have relationships with bee keepers - or are bee keepers themselves. The bees assist with the pollination of the flowers.  An flower remaining untouched by the bees or other insects will likely not develop any seed pod. For growth to continue, pollination in necessary.  Some pollination occurs just because of the wind which blows across the pollen producing flower, but others is more purposeful as when the bee moves from one flower to the next, carrying the pollen along with it.  Either method is effective - one puts a little strain on the flower, the other just leaves the flower knowing it has been touched.  Some of God's work in our lives is like the wind - we strain a little at his passing.  Other times, his work is quite gentle, almost "tickling" our senses.  Both are effective!

After pollination occurs, the plant does something unexpected.  The upward growth actually begins to turn back toward the surface of the ground.  The plant drives this pollinated "seed pod" into the ground!  Over these 10 days of growth, the flowering pod will be driven into the soil about a couple inches deep.  There, the pod takes growth.  Two things are necessary for its development - the right temperature for the soil and the right amount of moisture.  Too cold, and the seed pod will not develop.  The importance of planting the seed at the right time to allow the 30 day "above ground" and the 10 day "below ground" growth preparation to occur cannot be overlooked in this discussion.  It takes 40 days to get the flower "peg" into the soil and oriented horizontally.  These 40 days result in the plant being able to produce the growth at the optimal time!  What takes place above the surface, and in the first few days below the surface determine the growth which will ultimately culminate "under the surface".  We often balk at God taking much time to "prepare" us for things we want to see brought to fruition in our lives, but remember this - the peanut only grows when the timing is right!

Somewhere between another 80 to 150 days, the peanuts come to full maturity.  The peanut farmer cannot be assured of his harvest beginning on the 120th day after planting or the 190th day!  That is quite a span of time for the farmer, isn't it?  I think this speaks to us not rushing what God may be doing just beneath the surface in our lives.  The timing will vary, but the harvest cannot be rushed.  Somewhere in the correct span of time, the "crop" will be just right.  Do you know how the farmer knows when to harvest?  He watches the growth above the surface!  When he sees it beginning to yellow and dry up, he knows the pods are ready for harvest.  Why do the plants yellow?  They are no longer needed - the growth is complete!  Sometimes we have a lot of "surface growth" in our lives which we have come to count on as the promise of growth within.  When the growth is ready, the importance of the surface growth doesn't matter so much anymore - it just indicates the "readiness" of the internal growth to be harvested!

So, here is our lesson from the peanut.  Don't discount the growth which is being accomplished below the surface!  Don't rush the growth!  Don't look for fruit where it will never come!  Don't count that all growth produces immediately evident fruit!  Don't forget the need for pollination!  Most importantly - look for the signs of harvest - what is on the surface may only be an indication of what is about to be revealed just below the surface!  Just sayin!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Remembering ALL the roads

Remember:  To think of again and again; to remain aware of; bringing what exists in the unconscious mind back into the conscious mind.  All of us remember things - some a little differently than others.  I remember my first "solo" bike ride - but mostly because I have scars to show for it!  I remember the birth of my two children, but not every excruciating moment!  I remember the meal we had for dinner last night - but it carries no significance to me. There are times when we remember stuff in a manner which really is a little "off" in the perspective of aligning with the actual way things "went down". We have "fabricated" our own "truth" in the memory.  If you have ever been on a mountain-top experience for a while, you likely have some pretty fond memories of those moments in time.  On the other hand, if you have also endured the dryness of the desert times, you might just have some pretty significant memories of those experiences which almost did you in.

Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.  (Deuteronomy 8: 2-5 MSG)

Every road is the opportunity for a memory.  Every desert experience is a moment in time when God directed his attention toward something in us which needed to get exposed - some good, some not so much.  The mountain top experience doesn't quite have the same impact of "exposing" our hearts as the desert does.  In the dryness and barrenness of the desert, what we really have deep in our hearts just seems to get revealed.  Amazing how a little "frustration" in a good moment can turn into outright "anger" in the desert, huh?  The desert has a way of magnifying what is really buried deep within.  Maybe this is the purpose of the desert - so our hearts get some time to reveal their true selves!

Probably the most significant part of our memories is "what" we hold onto from these experiences.  The tidbits of truth, moments of hope, revealed truths - we don't hold onto the "entirety" of the desert experience in our memory, just the memorable moments.  Some in Christianity refer to these as those "teachable" moments.  Others call them their "AHA" moments. Whatever you may call them, they are the times when something of significant revelation occurred.  A part of you was revealed - God enlightened you to not only yourself, but to his grace to change that part into what he actually envisioned for us.  These are the moments we create "memory" about because they speak to us of the growth produced even in the barrenest places of our lives.

Most don't recall the tests of obedience - yet the desert is full of them.  In the midst of the desert, God is calling for some element of obedient response from us.  We usually hold onto the "results" of the steps of obedience, but forget the actual moments of distress which brought the revelation of where our obedience was being called for.  We don't think about "how" we got from step A to step B - we just know we got there!  I think God instructed Israel to remember ALL the roads they traveled in the desert because each had a significance in their overall growth.  I think this is why I enjoy keeping a journal of those important moments - capturing in word what God is speaking deep into my heart.  It gives me a way to recall his dealings.  It also gives me a way to gauge my reactions and actions to his call for obedience in my life!

In the midst of the a test, there is a whole lot of silence.  Why?  To give you time to process your thought - to bring into you conscious mind what has been stored away in your unconscious mind.  The desert provides silence.  You don't see or hear much, but you become very conscious of what is working in your mind!  I think this is important for us to recognize because we sometimes think God deserts us in the desert, but in truth, he just gives us time to realize what we already know!  The desert just brings it to the surface a little clearer!  

If you walk in the desert long enough, you begin to realize the fruitfulness you possess already!  The desert has a way of bringing out the fruit.  You might not think this possible because you only see the barrenness, sense the quietness, and resist the "heat" of the desert experience.  In the midst of the desert, God is showing us what matters - what we can hold onto.  So, rather than resist the "dryness", maybe it is time to allow it to bring out what we already know, but maybe haven't brought into the forefront of our memory in a while!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another wilderness journey?

Have you ever really considered the lessons you have learned because of the experience of another?  You know, the stuff you just never really explore because you see how the exploration of another left them kind of unfulfilled, reasonably sane, but just so not excited about their experience?  Well, I think this is all part of God's plan for us in life - to learn from the experiences of those who go before us.  The first astronaut into space paved the way for all the others who came behind.  The first one to fly above the earth had a whole lot of failures before there was truly lift-off.  The experiences of the first made an example of both what not to do and what to do in the midst of the experiences of the many who followed.  I think the same is true in our spiritual lives - we learn a great deal about what not to do and what really is the best path for us simply by looking at those who've gone before us.

When God, your God, ushers you into the land he promised through your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you, you’re going to walk into large, bustling cities you didn’t build, well-furnished houses you didn’t buy, come upon wells you didn’t dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn’t plant. When you take it all in and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don’t forget how you got there—God brought you out of slavery in Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 6:10-12 MSG)

Egypt was a place of barrenness for Israel.  When they came out of Egypt, they were "high" on the promises of great provision and purpose.  I imagine they never expected to face the barrenness of the wilderness in between their deliverance from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land!  Most of us never really expect any barrenness - any wilderness experiences - along the way in our spiritual lives.  I think we hope for life to let us get a "buy" on some of the challenges others have faced.  I think we do get a "buy" on occasion - simply because we learn from those who go before us.  Yet, there are times when we just find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, wondering why we are experiencing such barrenness in our lives. In those moments, remember this - to move from promise to provision we will likely face a few problems along the way - the biggest of which is our unbelief.

Think about this - would you ever begin a journey if there was no promise of something at the end of that journey?  Not likely!  You'd probably just remain in your contented little world, as bad as it may be, without ever moving forward.  It is the disturbance of our peacefulness in our present circumstances which actually makes us hope for the promise of something different on the "other side".  Between the promise and the realization of the provision we face problems.  Problems are a way of life - they are God's opportunities to reveal himself strong in our lives, but they are also his opportunities to reveal where it is we are leaning on our own strength to just "get by".  In between the place of our bondage and our provision we will encounter a whole lot of testing.  Testing is really what occurs in the wilderness experience.  In the wilderness, God has the chance to show us who and what it is we really rely upon for the provision which is promised!

One thing I don't think we realize is the leading which brings us into the wilderness.  You know, Israel did not end up in the wilderness because they took a wrong turn!  God brought them there!  They left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, came across and found themselves smack dab in the midst of the wilderness.  Between their deliverance and their provision, God led them into the wilderness.  Now, they chose how long they'd stay in the wilderness, but God was the one leading them into it.  This should give us some hope because I think most of us think we are in the wilderness by our own doing. It is quite the opposite - God brought us into it, he goes with us through it, and he will lead us out of it.  The only thing we have control over is how long we need to stay in it!

Most of us fail to recognize the wilderness is not about our comfort - if we wanted to be comfortable we would have never left what was familiar to us. The wilderness is about our character - for it is in the midst of moments of decision that our choices are refined.  You know, an oak tree grows over the course of a man's lifetime.  A weed only takes a matter of a few days to reach its maturity!  I don't know about you, but an oak tree appeals to me a whole lot more than a huge weed!  Maybe we'd resist the wilderness a little less if we realized the Lord is just after the oak he sees in us!  We want the fast fix. God wants the permanent fix!  We want the quick provision.  God wants to prepare us for the provision.  Guess what?  We never get to the provision until we have learned the lessons of the wilderness.  Think of the wilderness as God's refining ground - his proving ground.  It is there where our motives are uncovered and our true identity is discovered.  

If we begin to see the wilderness as a time of taking us from promise to provision - we might just begin to understand the middle part - process. Nothing good in life ever comes without the evidence of some type of process. Cookies in the jar are a result of someone following a process to actually bake those cookies.  They follow a recipe - what someone who has gone before them has learned.  In following the recipe, they prepare the batch of cookies and take them through the process of baking.  The right ingredients are a result of someone making a whole lot of trial and error decisions.  The right baking time is a result of someone determining how "done" cookies look and feel.  The enjoyment of the cookie is a result of the process.  We have a whole lot of examples of those who have experimented with the right ingredients and the proper amount of "cooking" time, don't we?  

We often want to experiment with our own "recipes" and wonder why we don't get the results another has experienced.  Guess what?  A good recipe is worth following!  The wilderness experience is pretty well "charted" by those who have gone before us.  We see the process of the wilderness if we look closely. There is the response to the promise - we get out of our place of contentment.  Then there is the walk toward provision - we take some first steps.  In the next how ever many moments, there is a whole lot of clarifying of our purpose.  The wilderness is the time of "clarifying" - getting things in right order in our lives.  Good news - we don't go into the wilderness alone, we don't walk through it alone, and we won't come out of it alone!  God goes with us!  So, instead of cursing the wilderness, you might just begin to realize between every promise and its provision comes a time of purposeful growth. God is after the oak in us - the wilderness really helps bring out the strength of the oak!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What is set in motion?

Did you ever stop to consider what worship is?  In the simplest of terms, most of us would think of worship as something we do, rather than as something we set into action or motion in our lives.  Let me explain – when we truly live a lifestyle of “worship”, we are setting things in motion in our lives - our lives take on the meaning for which they were designed.  Most would agree, the best purpose for a created object is to be used as it was designed!  For many, worship is associated with song and quiet moments.  For me, worship is a lifestyle - for every word, action, and thought has the potential of being worship!  Worship involves the heart, mind, and soul - it is all-encompassing. In fact, scripture compares worship to love.

Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!  (Deuteronomy 6:5 MSG)

In the truest sense, worship defines who is in control - it answers the question about "ownership".  For example, when I actually own something as my own, there is a certain amount of attention I give to it.  If it is my car, I fill the tank with gas regularly, add washer fluid to the reservoir, and ensure the oil is regularly changed.  Why?  I own it and therefore, I maintain it.  Now, if God owns our hearts, who do you think should maintain our hearts?  Trust me, it is is not us!  We don't do a very good job with that whole deal!  In fact, we often neglect some of the most important "maintenance" opportunities where it comes to our heart (mind/will/emotions).

In our passage, Moses acts as the scribe for these words - God having spoken to him and now he speaks to the people of Israel.  Love God - love not just God as the creator of the universe, the all-powerful one, but YOUR God.  He is a God of relationship - we only maintain relationship through contact.  When Moses shares these instructions, he is reminding us of the importance of maintaining all elements of relationship with God.  That means we need to be consistent in it - not just on Sundays, but as a lifestyle.  If I only focused on the maintenance of my car whenever its warning lights signaled the need, I'd end up abusing my car!  If we only spend time "in worship" on a day of the week, we are abusing our relationship with God!

Worship actually helps us sort out the stuff which matters most.  When we direct our attention toward the one who created us, we are allowing him to help us "sort" the many priorities in life which we assign "value" to.  For example, I may think my day should be ordered a certain way, with a full laundry list of tasks to complete, places to go, etc.  When I begin my day "in relationship" with the one who actually helps me see the value-added in the things I prioritize, my list may actually get a little smaller!  God has a way of clarifying the stuff we should place value in - rather than the fickleness of our hearts determining that for us!

The most important truth Moses was teaching:  Worship requires sacrifice.  All that's in you requires a certain element of sacrifice.  To lay down my priorities in order to have God "re-order" them is a sacrifice - I am admitting I don't want (or need) to be in total control.  Laying my priorities on the altar is only one way I worship God - how about you?  In terms of sacrifice, we often think it has to "cost" us something - like when Israel would bring the best of their crops or herds to be offered up on the altar.  Probably the toughest part of worship is the surrendering of our priorities to God.  He asks to be first, then he sets everything else into right order.  It is not rocket science - when our relationship with him matters the most, every other relationship will benefit from this "correct prioritization".

Most of the time, we get worship confused with getting something FROM God rather than yielding something TO God.  As we yield to God, we set things in motion within our mind, will and emotions which otherwise would not be in motion.  It is this motion which moves us out of complacency, toward right action, and into places of order and rest.  Worship is a choice - it is a lifestyle.  Today's right choices determines tomorrow's direction.  Tomorrow's direction defines the character we will develop in the journey.  Just sayin!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Whatcha hiding from?

Humility is often thought of as being modest or a little bit inferior to another. In reality, humility is really a spirit of deference.  It is the respectful and courteous regard of others in our lives - the willingness to take back seat or to play second fiddle, so to speak.  In another essence, it is the condition of no longer pretending - being real.  A truly humble person is not afraid to be themselves.  Our writer doesn't say "humility" - he says "true humility".  This suggests to me there is a form of humility which is not genuine.  It is the type of humility that "pretends" to be submissive to the will of another, but really there is a little resistance going on.  It is like the age-old adage of sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside!

True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life. (Proverbs 22:4 NLT)

I think there are a lot of ways we "don't" show our humility.  Probably one of the most evident is when we say we know everything there is to know about a certain circumstance in our lives.  We actually shut the door on growth whenever we are so determined to maintain the "pretense" of knowing it all. There is a danger in being a know-it-all kind of person - it is in never learning from our mistakes!  We allow history to continue repeat itself whenever we are unwilling or unable to accept direction in the failure.  The only thing which keeps us from accepting it - thinking we can handle it ourselves or that we know exactly how to "fix" the problem.  Correction requires more than common sense sometimes!  Not everything we learn comes through common sense - sometimes it comes because we get still long enough to realize we don't actually know it all!

In truth, humility identifies with someone other than yourself.  As long as my viewpoint is turned inwardly, I cannot see what others see, nor can I learn from what they have learned.  Learning to identify with other people - truly connecting with them at the heart, mind and spirit levels - opens the door for us to learn their lessons.  I don't know about you, but if I can save a little hardship in my own life by learning from it in yours, I am all for that!  Some of us are always looking for others who are exactly at our same level of maturity, spiritually / emotionally / or intellectually.  You know, I learned the most from those who had already mastered the skills!  I also learned quicker when I had the opportunity to help another walk through where I had already walked!  We need to connect with each other in order to grow.

The opposite of humility is a condition we could label as arrogance.  It is the condition of feeling and acting superior to another.  It may be because we dress better, drive a better car, don't have the same issues in life, etc. Regardless of the reason for the sense of "superiority", the arrogant man or woman actually alienates others rather than drawing them closer.  Our writer reminds us it is the humble who receive honor - not the arrogant.  The arrogant may "feel special", but the true honor goes to the humble.  If everything in life is done as a matter of "showing" oneself as superior to another, it will be a miserable existence.  Humble people are not afraid to help another get the honor!  When humility is the course of your life, you actually look for opportunities for another to be successful!

One of the hardest things to do is admit your inability.  Humble people don't fret it!  They are honest to the core - knowing the only way to find help is to admit you actually need it!  Arrogant people won't share these inabilities because there is a pretense which must be maintained.  When we are willing to let go of the pretense, we actually open the door for the help we so desperately need.  Failure is a part of life - get over it!  You cannot go through life masking your failure - in time, it will become evident - you can only bury it for so long.  

Scripture reminds us God actually "opposes" the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  I don't know about you, but I don't want to be on the side of the field where I look across and see God as my opposition!  It is hard to let go of needing to "be right" all the time, but it is when we do that we finally realize we begin to gain the wisdom we so desperately require in order to move beyond our failures.  Just sayin!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Turn the other cheek! What?

If you have ever felt like retaliation was the best means of attack in a particular situation, you are probably not alone.  Many of us struggle with responding as Jesus instructed - turning the other cheek.  What does that actually mean anyway?  How on earth does turning around so another blow can come your way seem fair anyway?  Ahhh...there's the ultimate question - why should we do it - it isn't FAIR?  Guess what?  Not everything in life is FAIR!  I figured that out by my fifth birthday and it is a lesson I have had to keep reminding myself of ever since!  The truth is - God doesn't look at how "fair" the circumstances are, he looks at how we treat another when the circumstances aren't going our way!

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.  (I Peter 3:9 NLT)

Fairness deals with sets of judgments - on our part and the part of everyone else involved in the situation.  We each have our own "perception" or "perspective" on what we see as "fair".  For some, fairness is when everything seems to be equitable - a WIN-WIN situation.  For others, fairness seems to be determined by them getting the biggest piece of the pie because somehow they see themselves as "deserving" it.  It is a reward for something they have done!  All of these views of "fairness" are just a little off the mark, though.

In God's economy, we are told not to judge.  Fairness is based on "judgments" we make all the time.  You get the bigger piece of pie - that isn't fair.  You get the raise when we have all worked on the project - that isn't fair.  You get the last word in - that isn't fair.  We go along making all kinds of "judgments" about what is fair without really having the right perspective to make these judgments.  Truth be told - only God knows the whole story, so we should let him figure it out!

In all of life, God calls for us to not live by the rule of "fairness", but by the rule of "grace".  We are to live grace-based lives - giving others better than what they deserve - better than we may have received ourselves.  This is tough work!  We are constantly having to battle against allowing someone else's behavior to dictate how we are going to act or respond!  Whenever we allow another's behavior to dictate our response - we are no longer operating in "grace".  

Are you someone who "keeps score"?  You know, you get the smaller piece of pie two nights in a row, and you keep score of just how often it happens.  In time, you form some type of little root of bitterness based on the fact you always seem to get the smaller piece!  In time, the little root gets to be a big problem!  If we were to be honest, we keep score because we don't want anyone else getting away with things!  Thank goodness God doesn't keep score!  I'd never make it if he did!

If I can say anything which may set us free from this whole issue of keeping score, always trying to figure out whether life is fair - it would be this:  Jesus is after our OWN issues and attitudes - not the other person's!  That may hit us smack between the eyes, but it is the truth.  We have a lot to learn about this "grace-based" living, but we have a great model to follow - Jesus. Relationships are at their best when we put something into them, not when we are always trying to get something out of them!  Jesus always focused on those around him, not himself.  

I am grateful for the grace of God in my life.  In fact, I hope to replicate that grace in others.  The one thing we can do to accomplish this "grace replication" is to allow God to dictate our attitudes and actions in the face of what seems "unfair" or "unjust" to us.  Instead of constantly keeping score, we let it go.  Instead of responding in like kind as we have been treated, we love and respond in kindness.  It will confuse the other guy entirely when you respond in this way, but it will delight Jesus immensely!  Just sayin!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What you tolerate becomes truth

Did you ever stop to consider what it is you truly love?  It is probably easier for you to make a list of what it is you truly hate!  I don't like brussel sprouts, but I wouldn't say I "hate" them.  I don't like liver - I think I could say I definitely don't like lamb - and I think I could even say I don't like lightening storms - but I cannot truly say I "hate" any of these.  Hate is a strong word - one which I discouraged my kids from using as they were growing up.  In reality, when we are saying we "hate" something, we are stating we almost have a hostility toward it.  In describing the food items and types of storms I don't really like, I am really saying I have a little aversion to their taste or their effect.  I am not saying I have such a strong repulsion to them that I loathe them.  I suppose I could eat brussel sprouts - but honestly, you'd have to give me a really good reason to eat liver!  I wonder how many times we really look at how we use this word "hate" in our vocabulary and if we really have the true "feelings" of hatred toward whatever it is we have labeled as "hated" in our lives?

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to love and a time to hate.   A time for war and a time for peace.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8 MSG)

God wants us to hate evil - to have such a strong aversion to evil so as to avoid it at all cost.  Now, this is something we can get our minds around, right?  We understand why God wants us to detest evil - it destroys us and others, so he wants us to develop an aversion to all types of evil in our lives. Okay...so how does this happen?   How do we know what it is God actually calls "evil"?  These are good questions, right?  First of all, here's what we need to realize - God did a pretty good job of outlining the things we should avoid like the plague in his scriptures.  If we still have questions after we search it out within the pages of these sixty-six books we call the Bible, then we still have prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  If all else seems to leave us devoid of a clear answer, we have discovered we also have this little thing called conscience.  So, we have a whole lot of ways to identify the stuff God "hates" - but no tool is of value unless it is used!  The right tool makes all the difference in accomplishing the task!

We are people defined by what it is we love, as well as what it is we hate.  To truly love something means we are drawn toward it.  To truly hate something means we are repulsed and repelled away from it.  I can honestly say I hate what I see illegal substances do to destroy the lives of those who get hooked on them.  I can just as honestly say I love it when a man or woman finds their way to freedom from their addiction.  We move toward what we love and move away from what we hate.  We invest in what we love and starve whatever it is we hate.  This makes it a little easier to maybe understand what it is God loves and hates.  He is drawn toward spending time with us - so he must love us.  He was willing to invest his greatest joy - his Son Jesus - so he must love us.  He was repulsed by anything which took our eyes off of him - so maybe we should think of these things as those which he "hates".

Something I have learned - you can "tolerate" a whole lot of stuff in this life.  To tolerate something means we kind of allow it to exist - without really doing much with it or to get rid of it.  I tolerate a few weeds in my grass, simply because I don't want to spend hours and hours on my hands and knees weeding them all out.  There aren't many, so the few which are there, I don't hassle with.  But...the things I choose to tolerate in my life often determine what we will get in this life or get out of this life.  Think on that one for a moment.  If we tolerate even the slightest bit of hatred toward another, what is the "return" on what it is we have tolerated.  Hatred breeds more hatred.  Unfortunately, when we tolerate the wrong stuff - the stuff God tells us he is repulsed by - we allow it to take root in our lives.  This is why it is important to not just "tolerate" a little compromise.   A little compromise can become a huge issue somewhere down the road.

In nursing school, they taught us to consider both the subjective and objective information we would obtain from our patient's in assessing them.  Here is what this means:  Subjective information is what you tell me.  Objective information is what I see, feel, hear, etc.  I hear you tell me you are run down, feeling a little moody, and generally not feeling yourself.  I then look for the objective findings such as swollen glands, out of whack lab values and the like.  In life, we need both the subjective and objective "assessments".  We need the balance of what it is we know to be the set of "values" we can use to evaluate things against (God's Word) and then the evaluation of our subjective "feelings" and "actions" against what it is God declares.  To simply rely upon our subjective feelings will lead to subjective actions - both of which are dependent entirely upon the situation.  Objective evaluation looks beyond the situation and gives us a "constant" by which it is we can evaluate our actions.

One thing I know for sure - God cares about us enough to give us a set of "constants" by which we may evaluate life.  If we want an accurate assessment of what it is we are to love and hate in life - we must consider the "constants" in his Word.  If we realize some things are just not in alignment with what he says to love or hate, we can make adjustments - often determining we have "tolerated" some of the wrong stuff.  Just sayin!

Friday, July 19, 2013

You experiencing the flood waters?

I don't live in a region where we get a whole lot of flooding - we get monsoons and the dry riverbeds flood for a period of time, but it resolves quickly because of the dryness of the parched deserts.  When I see the devastation of flooding on some TV newscast - homes under water, people left with only the few items they salvaged before the waters came - it seems so devastating.  Yet, I see people rebuild all the time after these natural disasters.  They shovel out the mud, push back the debris, re-plaster the walls, and plant their crops once again.  I kind of liken these "natural disaster" floods to the similar type of destruction which comes in the spiritual sense whenever we allow sin to get an inroad into our lives.  It starts as a few sprinkles or a little trickle, but soon ends up being a whole lot of trouble!  Some of the time, digging out of our mess is monumentally difficult and rebuilding what has been damaged is even more daunting!

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.  These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.  (Psalm 32:5-6 MSG)

One thing I see with those who rebuild after these natural disasters is their reliance upon their neighbors and those in their community who come to their aid.  For a while, they pool their resources, helping to re-establish their lives as a "team" rather than as a lonely survivor trying to do it all alone.  Those who rebuild well are those who have the support of others.  I don't think this is dissimilar to the process God wants his kids to use in "rebuilding" after sin has left its destructive "debris" behind in our lives.  In fact, he places us in "community" because we need each other's strengths and talents.  Each plays a part in helping us to let go of our past and to establish ourselves well in a fresh start.

I speak often of letting go of the past.  Why?  If we don't, we will always be experiencing the effects of it.  It is like the person who just moves back into the flooded house, never pulling out the drywall and plaster in order to allow the "inside" of the house to dry out.  In time, the mold will appear.  Those tiny spores will replicate and replicate until one day, the house will be uninhabitable.  The stuff we "cycle through" over and over in our lives is actually kind of like these "spores" - we cannot get rid of them until we uncover their hiding places!  

Uncovering is hard - for it exposes us.  What do walls provide?  They offer "division", so one room is separated from another.  They allow for partitioning off of one area from the other because - that way you can keep certain "stuff" in one area (such as a bed in a bedroom) and other "stuff" in another (such as the pots and pans in the kitchen).  Guess what - we use "walls" in our inner man in much the same manner.  We "partition off" stuff we don't want to deal with right now, placing that memory, guilt, or problematic behavior over their behind the wall.  We might be reminded of it periodically, but generally it is hidden from our immediate focus, so we think it is dealt with.

If you are like me, you have a garage with cabinets.  Whenever something breaks and I don't have the time to deal with it right now, I place it in the garage.  Usually it is on the workbench.  It remains in plain view - because I need to get it fixed.  Over a couple week's time, the bench can fill up - some of the stuff is new stuff I have to use around the house and yard on a regular basis, but the broken item is also still there.  When I need more room, I usually don't put the new stuff away, I just move the broken item to the cabinet, vowing to fix it later.  I wonder how many of us treat our problem areas in life in much the same manner?  For a while - they are out in the open.  Then one day, we move them behind some barrier.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Or at least we think it will be!  

One day, just like the hidden mold in behind the plaster of the flooded house, we begin to experience the effects of the thing we refused to deal with when it first happened.  In time, we begin to realize the partitions are no longer going to be allowed to stand any longer.  Tearing those down presents some pretty challenging moments in our lives.  When the walls come down, the spores are exposed.  They have the potential to "reseed" our lives with all kinds of stuff we'd rather not have "growing" inside us!  So, we need the protective barrier of the Holy Spirit's guidance and the wisdom of the Word to help us "uncover" the hidden stuff in a way which will not cause us to "recontaminate" our lives.

Two lessons we learn from the flood waters:  1)  You can deal with it when the issues are fresh, or 2)  You can deal with its effects for a long time even after it appears to be all gone!  To deal with it when the issues are fresh may mean a whole lot more work at the time, but remember this - when it is fresh, the stuff which has a tendency to get hidden is just not going to have a place to hide!  Just sayin!