Saturday, August 31, 2013

Time to be free for good!

How many of us can really say we have excellent "stick-to-it" determination at the beginning of a project or task?  Most of us, right?  We don't usually start out a task with "I don't think this is worth finishing, but I'll start it".  In fact, we usually will say something like, "This is a big task, it may take me more than one day to accomplish, but nothing ventured, nothing gained."  Freedom is often the result of determination.  If you have spoken with a former of prisoner of war, they will share the things they held onto in their minds, hearts, and spirits which helped them make it through till their release.  If you have ever spoken to someone who has escaped in these circumstances, you will hear of the tremendous determination and doggedness required to carve out the tunnel, find the break in the wall, or similar.  You know, I think true freedom is based on how determined we are to get and keep the truth inside us.  

“If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” (John 8:31-32 MSG)

The truth sets free those who hold to the teachings of truth.  Get truth inside you and focus on it long enough - you will begin to see freedom breaking upon you like the new dawn!  What are the conditions of freedom?  First, we have to be in the right place to find truth.  No one finds truth with the heart and mind determination to pursue deception.  When we want truth, we seek truth, but finding it down Deception's Alley will not be likely.  We turn from deception to find the pathway to truth.  Second, once we find the pathway to truth, we have to continue on the path.  In the most literal sense, this is obedience.  So, the conditions of freedom are seeking and obedience.

Truth has a purpose - to impact our lives.  The way we are living, the things we are doing, the words we are speaking.  Truth comes in a couple of different "types".  There is this idea of "propositional" truth - the formal statement of a truth to be demonstrated or an operation to be performed.  In this regard, we have things like doctrine, theology, instruction.  The problem with living by "propositional" truth is the lack of impact it makes on our lives.  For example, we can believe their is a God, that he is pleased with good actions, and displeased with wrong actions.  Now, what is missing?  The power and ability to live this way!  Propositional truth needs to be combined with personal truth in order for it to impact our lives - it has to become part of who and what we are, impacting what we are doing.

Truth is a living thing - not a studied topic.  Truth is not just a list of facts - it is a playbook of well-orchestrated plans which will drive the enemy back and ensure we continuously hit the goal line.  It is entirely possible to be "smart", but dumb at the same time!  We can have all kinds of "topical" knowledge, but lack the wherewithal to actually use any of the truth!  For example, I studied geometry and trigonometry AND calculus in school.  Now, ask me how much of these fields of study I actually use today, much less remember! What happened to the "knowledge" I had?  It followed the "use it or lose it" theory. I did not use it, therefore, I lost it!  Truth is only as good as when it is used.

Time in the Word of God is great.  We should get into it regularly.  Yet, time in the Word is really not fruitful if we don't bring it before Jesus and ask him how to use it in our lives.  What can we learn from the passage we take in? It is often determined in those moments of contact we make with Jesus when he begins to show us how the principle taught can become a way of life for us. To the observer, this is what makes the difference between being genuine or phony.  Phony people profess (they have propositional truth) - genuine people practice (they have truth which sets them free).

The group of individual in scripture who probably came as close to "illustrating" propositional truth were the Pharisees.  They gave all kinds of "show" of truth, but did truth really change their lives.  Not really.  They had knowledge, but lacked wisdom.  Wisdom is the outcome of applying what you have been taught.  Knowledge does not ensure right living - only the application of knowledge combined with the presence of the "Teacher" in our lives will ensure right living.

The crux of the matter is this:  Truth only finds anchor in our hearts when we act upon it.  Truth moves us to the degree we embrace it and put it into practice in our lives.  We can believe right and still act very wrong!  The missing ingredient is obedience!  Obedience is only possible when we are willing to be challenged by the truth.  We can make truth a way of life, or we can add truth to our life.  These are quite different concepts.  Only one will impact the course of our actions - when we make truth our way of life.  Truth really is a person - Christ.  We pursue a person - embrace him - then we live out truth.  Just sayin!

Friday, August 30, 2013

What's eating at you?

Too many times we allow anxiety and worry to be the "governing" factors in our lives.  My mom is a good "worrier".  We always used to say if she had nothing to worry about she'd worry about not worrying about something. Truth be told, many of us worry about stuff God already has dealt with, is taking care of behind the scenes, or just doesn't really want us focusing on in the first place.  Essentially, when we worry, we are putting our trust in something very untrustworthy, or have already done so.  Now, I am going to say something a little weird here, so pay attention - worry has a "spiritual" root to it.  Most of us would think of it having a "natural" root, but essentially, when we engage in the practice of worry, we are really admitting our resource is in something or someone other than Jesus.  Therefore, worry has a "spiritual" root - one which we need to get hold of!  Anytime there is misplaced trust, we will have worry.  

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, God, the 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 17:5-9 MSG)

Overcoming anxiety and worry requires us to rely upon God - pretty simple, huh?  So why is it so hard to actually do?  I think it might be because we don't understand the "purpose" for the emotion of anxiety.  God actually created this emotion, so it must be for a purpose, right?  So, in order to understand the correct way to "deal with it", we have to understand its purpose.  Short and sweet, anxiety is an emotion created to alert us to when we are getting off course with God and into something which will cause us some type of harm.  Let that one sink in a bit.  Anxiety is like an early-warning system - designed to alert us to our "drift".  Anxiety is designed to get us asking questions - to seek his wisdom about the cause.  Anxiety is then designed to open pathways of communication - to get us face-to-face with our Creator.

Our passage points us to a couple of salient points.  If we put our faith in the wrong things, we will sense anxiety way more than we may have a desire to. If we place our trust (faith) in the better things, anxiety seems to no longer be a plaguing force in our lives.  So, focus determines the level of anxiety we might be exposing ourselves to.  When we learn to trust in reliable things - we sense a whole lot less anxiety.  When we have misplaced trust - anxiety is on the rise.  Perception is based on what we have placed our trust in.  We "see" things based on what it is we trust in.  If we have misplaced trust, our perception is going to be a little fuzzy!

Therefore, it is the foundation we should focus on, not the problem.  When we focus on the problem, we see only what is above the surface.  The real issues in our lives are based on foundation, not really on what is "above the surface". A right foundation actually reduces anxiety.  The first step to establishing a firm foundation is being truthful.  First, we have to be truthful with ourselves, for no real growth comes until we are.  We can deny all kinds of evident reality, but it doesn't make it less of a reality!  Second, we have to be truthful with God.  He already knows where we don't have the best foundation in our lives, but he also already has prepared to lay a new one in its place! 

What affects our foundation more than anything else is an over-reliance upon feelings.  We get all twitter-pated about the silliest things - giving our heart, mind and attention to these things.  Then we wonder why we get so deep into anxiety and worry!  Our "feelings" got us off-course.  Our feelings produced cracks or fissures in the foundation we were counting on as being real and reliable in our lives.  When we begin to see the cracks, we panic!  When wrong foundations become the basis of our lives, we are afraid to look at them anymore.  We don't want to look inwardly because what is on the inside scares us!  God's greatest hope for us is to have us live IN the circumstances, not UNDER them.  If the foundation is right (trusting in the right stuff), we live IN them.  If the foundation is wrong, we often get buried UNDER the rubble, because the foundation cannot support the structure!

To some, anxiety has become a way of life, simply dismissing it as something which will always be part of their lives.  Truth is, it isn't in your genes, so you can be free of it!  Anxiety will not just go away - you have to take care of what is causing the anxiety.  In order to do that, you might need a change in perspective.  In order to do that, you have to evaluate what has become the foundation in your lives.  Discover that and you likely will discover why the anxiety exists in the first place!  Some things I think we can all learn:

- Getting into the Word and spending time with God on a daily basis is a "stress reducer" and therefore, reduces anxiety.  More importantly, it gives us a good foundation.  Centers us.  Strengthens us.

- We have to learn to rely upon what God as already provided.  Much anxiety in life is a matter of not using what we already have - we simply ignore the resources God has put at our disposal.  We need to learn to use what God gives us and stop trying to figure it all out on our own.

- Things like exercise (taking care of the physical man), fun times (laughter truly is a good medicine), and recreation (taking time "out") are important in reducing stress.  Reducing stress actually begins to help us see clearer - for stress just clouds our perspective.

- Most importantly - we need to "limit" our worry.  Only allow worry for the things which really matter.  Remember, it is an early warning sign for us, so use it to your advantage.  Live one day at a time, stop focusing so far into the future, or so deep into the past.  Live today.  When we get this perspective, much of what we borrow from tomorrow and bring into today will no longer be able to cause us concerns in the moment we are living right now.  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ugh! Another redo!

My daughter writes a blog about crafting.  As part of her blog, she takes numerous photos, posting the "how-to" images for those who might like to make something she has created.  It is a tremendous blog.  A few years ago when she undertook this endeavor, she began the process of posting these photos without realizing how much "space" they would occupy in her storage, the advantages to various forms of "naming" the photos, etc.  She didn't know what she didn't know.  Ever been there?  I think we all have.  Yesterday, she posted something about the hours and hours of work it was taking to "archive" her posts / photos and the necessary work of renaming some of them in order to aid in those interested in "searching" for various projects.  Obviously, she was frustrated with the "re-investment" of time this was taking - time which could have been spent engaging in other creative work.  I quickly messaged her back a short answer to her frustration:  "You learn from mistakes, not because you never make them."  Maybe this is a lesson we can all take to heart today.

If you think you know it all, you’re a fool for sure; real survivors learn wisdom from others.  (Proverbs 28:26 MSG)

Simply defined, a mistake is an error in calculation, action, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, and sometimes insufficient knowledge.  We all make them!  No one is immune.  It is what we do with our mistakes which really matter, isn't it?  Looking at the reasons for "making" mistakes as poor reasoning, carelessness, and/or insufficient knowledge, we can actually begin to see how we make them.  For example, if I choose the shiniest toy on the shelf without considering the quality with which it is constructed, I may have a shiny new toy, but it may not last for very long.  If I choose to express my opinion without thinking through the ramifications of where I share it, with whom it is shared, and what I am saying, the consequences can be devastating, right?  So, poor reasoning leads to errors in judgment, a lack of forethought leads to costly investments, and just plain not knowing accounts for a whole lot of headaches, doesn't it?

Our writer reminds us of the danger of thinking we are above making mistakes.  A word to the wise - no one is above making mistakes, BUT we can get to the point where we are no longer learning from them!  Sometimes we make mistakes by pure oversight - we just didn't "tune in" well enough to really consider our actions, words, thoughts, etc.  The "mistake" happened almost because we didn't tune in, not because we intended to engage in risky behavior.  Truth be told, most of us make mistakes because we have such an oversight - we don't deliberately set out to make them.  Some of the time, we do engage in risky behavior - for the thrill of it, because it brings us prestige of some kind, or just because there is something appealing to us.  When we pursue "risky" behavior or courses of action just because we want a thrill, hope to gain some attention, or the blatant disregard for well-defined rules, we are truly just magnifying the risky behavior to a place of even greater risk for us in the end.

Men and women of wisdom learn both from their own mistakes and those of others.  We do very little learning in life by avoiding our own errors.  If you have ever learned math, you know this to be true!  No one just magically taught you to reason through those word problems, sail through the division of fractions, or calculate the angle of the triangle.  In fact, you probably got back some papers with red marks on them, pointing out your "mistakes"!  You made the mistake, corrected it, and learned to solve the "problem" a different way.  Isn't this what life is really like - we make the mistakes, realize they need correction, and then learn to "solve the problem" a completely different way than we ever knew possible?  Fortunately, my daughter's "mistake" with her photos is a minor problem - costing her a little investment of time which she would rather have avoided - but a simple "fix".  There are all kinds of mistakes we make in life with a "higher price" affixed to them, aren't there? These are the ones involving miscalculations, really poor reasoning leading to really poor choices, and sometimes just not being any the wiser about the path we were taking.  These "cost" us in the end.

If we understand the "root" of the problem (miscalculation, poor reasoning, or insufficient knowledge), we might just be able to avoid the costly mistakes in life.  If we have already made them, there is something we need to avail ourselves of more than anything else - grace.  Grace wipes the slate clean. Grace gives us the ability to move beyond our mistakes and to "start again". It is a good thing to learn to avoid mistakes in the first place, but it is equally grand to know when we make them, grace abounds!  I didn't say "if" we make them, I said "when" we make them.  As long as we take breath on this earth, I think we bear the potential for making mistakes.  Just good to know God's grace is there when we need it!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A culture of love

We encounter Jesus in all different ways, but the "easiest" way to encounter him is through the life of another.  Whenever we see and feel Jesus "lived out" through the life of a human being, we connect to him in a manner which we can really wrap our heads around.  One of the hopes Jesus had when he left his disciples on this earth to go back to living with his Father in heaven was the idea of close, intimate fellowship with other believers.  He knew the power of this closeness - the strength in the "numbers", so to speak.  For this fellowship to be really, really good, we need to remember it involves a couple of things like unity, partnership, and participation.  Try to get anything done where there is a lack of unity, a working in silos, or a simple lack of disregard for another and you don't get very far.  In the most literal sense, Jesus showed his disciples the cycle of believing and belonging.  There is something which stems from our beliefs - it is the ability and willingness to belong. 
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do.  (Romans 12:9-18 MSG)
In order for us to get the most out of our times of fellowship with each other, it is essential to create a culture where love is free to grow and have its deepest influence in our lives.  This is the type of culture Jesus tried to create for those who moved into fellowship with him.  It was a culture where people, good and bad alike, were welcomed and felt both comfort and challenge. What are some of the characteristics of this culture of love Jesus created?
- It is a place where people are really loved.  There are a lot of excuses for "love" these days, but when you find a place where love is genuine, from the core of another's being, you know you are loved.  Jesus had a way of making people aware of his love, not by the words he spoke, but by the actions he exhibited.  As it has been said millions of times - words speak, but actions speak louder.
- It is a place where what is truly wrong is really not something we will embrace.  I don't use the "hate" word very often, but in truth, a culture of love hates evil.  There is not desire to embrace even one iota of evil - wrong.  It is not a place of intolerance, but of desire to live untainted by that which takes away from the beauty and wholeness of God's unconditional love.
- It is also a place where we both embrace good and stand up for it.  We all have the ability to embrace good - having the ability and willingness to stand up for it is quite a different matter.  To embrace something requires empty arms - maybe this is the way we really begin to mesh in fellowship with another.  We empty ourselves of all which weighs us down, in order to embrace that which sets us free.  Then we go about sharing what has become the basis of our joy.
- It is a culture of honor.  If you have ever observed a military graduation, with the parading troops, turned out in their adorned uniforms, all spit-shine and glowing, you have seen an element of "honor".  For those who choose the way of military life, there is honor in wearing the uniform of the country they so proudly stand up for.  Honor is both standing up for another and standing in for another.  It is the willingness to lay down your own agenda in respect for the needs of another.
- It is a place were laziness is not a trend, but a rarity.  A culture of love is an active culture - there is continual service toward each other.  There is no shortage of the giving of oneself to meet the needs of another - spoken and unspoken.
- It is a place where blessing, not cursing, becomes the way of communicating.  Most will agree, more is shared in the unspoken communication of love than in the spoken.  Blessing another with your time, talent, and treasure are all ways of where love becomes a means of communicating the grace of God in another's life.
- It is also a place where your life experiences matter.  If you have ever shared your tears with another, you know how much that exchange mattered. There is something powerful in sharing both the joys and sorrows of another. Today, I received news the father of a friend we have been praying for received the news of no active disease (NAD) on his most recent PET scan. The cancer is gone!  This life experience has been something very tough for this family, but when life experiences have been walked together, the journey is made a little lighter.
- It is a culture where diversity is appreciated, not condemned.  We all contribute uniquely in community.  Fellowship with others is a way of learning from the diversity, not setting the diverse apart.  There is so much to be learned when brothers and sisters learn to dwell together in unity, isn't there?
So, how do we get to this place of fellowship?  First, you and I need to individually experience the love of God in our own lives.  It is this love which draws us together and holds us in bonds which are not easily broken.  One thing we learn from God's example of love through is Son is the idea of being loved as we are, not as we could or should be.  Jesus never looked for us to clean up our act so he could love us.  He loved us first, knowing that very love would be what would lead to our desire to be cleaned inside and out.  I think this is why it is so important we experience God's love ourselves - we need to get our priorities straight.  His love is "reaching" - it reaches even the worst of sinners right where they are - not where they should be!
Second, we have to practice God's love.  Nothing good comes naturally in life, have you ever noticed that?  The really good stuff you have to work a little harder to obtain.  You want a nice waistline, you work at it.  You want a better career, you work at it.  In God's family, the same is true.  You want a family where love is modeled and unloving behavior is not the "norm" - you have to work at it.  Practice makes perfect is the old adage - so want to begin to love perfectly?  Then you have to practice love a lot!
Last, but not least, we have to allow God to love others through us.  This may seem like it should go without saying, but in actuality, we sometimes don't want to share ourselves with another.  There is something which transpires within us when we are willing to share in the lives of others - community. God is always more evident in the love which is shared than in the love which is spoken.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Another call into the "yet unknown"?

How many of us can say we are "goal-directed" individuals?  If you have any bent toward being a Type-A personality, then you might just engage in this goal-setting more than you realize.  Too many of us rely upon the "checklists" we create as a means of keeping us "on task".  Why?  Mostly because our minds are too filled with "stuff" to keep on task without them!  Sometimes the hardest goals we have are the one God is after in our lives.  Why?  Simply because they are often revealed in the test or the trial (the challenges), not in the "lists".  In Genesis 12, Abraham is asked by God to pick up and leave his entire "known world" - his country, his home, and his family - in search of a country God would show him.  Most of us have lost the "pioneer" spirit quite some time ago, but whenever you set out in a direction which points to the "not known" or "not yet known", you are a course often established as a way of God getting us out of our "comfortable" and "familiar".  It is okay for God to help us experience him from our "known world", but why on earth does he have to take us out of the "known" into the "not known"?  I think the answer is found in the purpose of the "disturbance" - it is to experience Christ in a way we cannot until we take the first steps of "detaching" and "reattaching".

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.  (James 1:2-4 MSG)

Too many times, this journey is made up of a whole lot of unknown details. There aren't sufficient "lists" to guide us through - such as when you prepare for a trip, marking out the journey on a map, reserving hotel rooms along the way, and noting the items of interest you'd like to explore in getting there.  In fact, you seldom know the "items of interest" along the journey God calls you into - this is why it is called the "unknown"!  In the absence of "details", God asks for the presence of "faith".  Faith is not enough - it must be coupled with obedience if the journey is ever to become a reality.  We can have all the good intentions and "faith", but if we never take the first steps of leaving, we will never experience the "unknown".  We want the "specifics" up front - God reveals the specifics "on the way".  It is often the "way" which brings the revelation, not the "revelation" which brings us the way!

Even when Jesus called his disciples, he didn't stop, give them a 10-point "Team Charter", laying out the goals of the "team", establishing the objectives of the journey!  He simply walked right up to them and said, "Follow me."  Hmmm...not exactly crystal-clear objectives, but the instruction is pretty clear, huh?  We focus on the "objectives" - God is focusing on our obedience.  A long time ago, my pastor told me, "God never disturbs your present unless it is to improve your future."  I have held onto that one for years now.  Every time my "present" begins to feel a little disturbed, I am confident in the outcome!

One thing I know for sure - we are not in charge of the journey!  We might like to remain in control, but the responsibility belongs to God, not us.  We want to focus on the "where" - God is focusing on the "what".  Where we are going is really not all that important - what will be revealed and accomplished in the journey is all that matters.  Guess what?  If we follow Jesus, there is only one place we will end up - where he is!  Let that one percolate a little! The journey "on the way" to where he directs is just as important as the destination - both play a part in bringing us closer to Jesus.

The journey may be riddled with difficulties galore.  God never promises smooth sailing and no bumps in the road.  What he promises is a destination! What he provides along the way is encouragement, instruction, and often course correction.  The thing God asks is for us to be willing to trust him with what is the dearest and closest thing to our hearts.  In laying these down, he becomes the central focus of our journey.  Just like Abraham, country, home and family no longer become the focus.  The focus was the destination - yet unknown - the journey was the difficult part - because it tested obedience, disturbed comfort, and challenged what has become familiar.  Truth be told on all of us, when God asks for us to take the journey, we try to figure out what he has in store for us right from the beginning!  We want to "figure it out" because we know if we do, we still remain a little in control.  Guess what? The journey can seldom be "known" or "figured out".  

God defines things differently than we do, huh?  He defines the journey, not as a plan we can prepare for, but as a series of "faith-steps" we must take one right after the other until the destination becomes very apparent.  Three things are learned in the journey:  Trust, Obedience, and Hope.  Trust because when we don't know it all up front, there is a whole lot resting on the abilities and power of another (God).  Obedience because no journey into the "unknown" will ever be labeled as a "no-brainer" - it requires us calculating the risks, stepping out even though we don't know them all, and then seeing what unfolds along the way.  Hope because "along the way" is the best place to encounter God's best for your life - not in the place of your comfort and familiarity!  Just sayin!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Dwelling or Indwelt?

Two things identified in scripture really have more to do with the recipient than the giver - love and forgiveness.  You might even add a third - grace. These three things are actually given away - they require a giver and a receiver.  For anything given to have value, the receiver must view it in the light it is given.  For example, you may give me a few pennies.  Now, to me, pennies may not seem like a big deal, but if they were your last few pennies in this world, the significance of the gift is much different, isn't it?  From the vantage of the one giving them, they were giving their all.  From the vantage of the one receiving them, until they recognize the value from the giver's perspective they really don't value the gift as much as they should.

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.  (Matthew 7:1-5 MSG)

Most people fail to recognize just how much they "create" the environment they are in - the environment they create is not always the result of another's actions, not the events of the day.  I think we believe love will change another person.  Sometimes it does, but what we can control is the environment, not the other person.  Truth be told, we find a whole lot of limitations in our ability to love another, don't we?  If only they did this or that.  If only the circumstances had been different.  If only we'd had a little time to prepare.  Life is a series of "if only" type thinking for many of us.  The problem with living in the "if only" is we get into the belief our environment is created by something or someone else, not us!  Truth be understood, we bring love into any environment we are in - we cannot wait for another to change the environment, we need to begin changing it with the love we give away.

It is so easy to put another down because of where they are at any particular moment in their lives.  They don't live up to our expectations, so we put them down.  They don't fulfill their own hopes, so we put the down.  They have some misguided beliefs, so we put them down.  Guess what?  As long as we "reserve" love for the times when someone actually lives up to our expectations, we will have very little love in our lives.  As long as we hold back on grace, another's beliefs may never grow and change.  As long as we limit the relationship because there is no forgiveness for past failures, we limit their ability to see the love of Christ modeled.

We all have different experiences - no matter how much alike we are.  Even identical twins experience life somewhat differently.  They may share the same DNA, but their emotions and spirit develop uniquely, if even only with subtle differences.  It is because we have had these different experiences that we often "clash" at times.  Our perspective is different, so trying to always see through the eyes of another is difficult.  One thing is for certain - we can live a long time and learn a lot of stuff, but we are never through learning. We need each other because we learn "through" the eyes of others.  If you haven't really stopped to consider this, then I challenge you to do so today. You don't develop understanding and wisdom in a box - it is because you can begin to see life through the experiences and learning of another.

When I have a big problem to solve at work, I like to form groups with a whole lot of "subject-matter-experts", not just one.  One "expert" still sees life from their vantage point - although their "point" may be well-developed, to only see the issue through their eyes is also limiting the creation of an environment where we actually can solve the problem of the "whole".  I think this is why God establishes us in families, work groups, close friendships, and even church families.  We learn to process stuff together - love being shared, grace being extended, forgiveness given away even when it is not sought. The 13th chapter of Corinthians ends with three thoughts:  Faith, Hope, and Love. Faith is future - something we just don't see, but we know is there.  Hope is the planning which helps to motivate us to take the steps toward what faith cannot see.  Love is what gives us the ability to stick with it and move beyond each and every hurdle which stands in our way.

Getting back to the point of our "environment", it is important to remember how much we contribute to it.  Our love is displayed in our attitude.  Our willingness to look beyond a fault is displayed in our extension of grace.  Our tie to the past is broken by the extension of forgiveness.  WE create the environment we live in by the choices we make.  Yep, circumstances come at us fast and furious, but it is what we choose to do with and in them which determines the environment in which we will "dwell".  We can choose to "dwell upon" those things, or we can we can choose to be "indwelt" by the grace, love, and forgiveness of God, allowing it to change the place where we "dwell".  Just sayin! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bearing or casting?

Look up the word "worry" and you will find the first definition is the condition of tormenting YOURSELF.  In other words, worry is not something another "inflicts" on you, it is something your own mind brings you!  It may come as no surprise to you the twenty plus words which carry some similar meaning to "worry": anguish, apprehension, concern, doubt, fear, headache, misery, misgiving, pain, problem, uncertainty, uneasiness, woe, annoyance, care, disquiet, distress, disturbance, heartache, irritation, nagging, perplexity, pester, plague, torment, torture, vexation, and trial.  Wow!  Just look at all these words and then begin to evaluate just how many of these describe a condition of heart or mind which WE bring on ourselves and maintain by our own rehearsal of the thoughts!

Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.   (Proverbs 12:25 NLT)

No wonder we end up feeling totally and completely "weighed down"!  It is quite a load we are carrying, indeed!  If you have ever stopped to consider the physical symptoms of worry, it might do you good to recognize just a few of them:

- Heart palpitations / heart beating hard and fast.  At first, this may not seem like much, but experience this frequently enough and you will eventually "stress" your heart!  These can even sometimes lead to sharp pains in the chest, often confused with having a heart attack.  In reality, you are having a "heart attack" - your mind is in overdrive and it is attacking the "peace" of your body!
- Sweating or perspiring to some degree which is not related to a workout or increased exercise.  Moist palms are sometimes a clear indication of feeling a little worried about the moment.  What I don't get is how sweaty your body gets and your mouth gets so dry!  It seems like you could spit cotton!  What's up with that?
- Trembling or shaking of the hands may be one of the most visible outward signs of worry or anxiety.  People who are fearful of something will often develop an outward "show" of their anxiety.  
- Shortness of breath not associated with exercise.  It isn't because you are "working out" per se, but you sure are "working out" your body to continue to deal with all this "weight" caused by the worry!
- Abdominal pain, stomach pain, and even the dreaded diarrhea all present their own challenges during times of extreme worry.  I've even known people to get so "worked up" with their worry they find themselves tossing their cookies!
- Probably the worst thing to deal with is the intensity of fear and the sensation of being out of control.  It can manifest in things like the inability to sleep (insomnia), severe muscle tension, and even something as personal as problems in bed.

Okay, so realizing how worry "acts" or causes us to act is helpful, but how do we get out from under this "load" we are carrying?  Well, according to our passage, it sometimes is "offloaded" when we can actually talk about it!  I think one of the worst things we can do is just shovel it all in and then try to hold onto it.  Our bodies are obviously not made to handle this kind of burden for long - it will stress them to the point of breaking!  

When we begin to recognize worry is something we do to ourselves, this is the first step in learning to deal with the "load" we are heaping upon ourselves.  Worry can come when we take things into our lives which really belong to another - such as when you step in to rescue somebody from something they were meant to take care of themselves.  We all do this from time to time, but making a steady habit of always taking on somebody else's issues will only created unbearable issues for us!

The very next verse from this proverb tells us:  The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray. (NLT)   There is something helpful in taking the time to share with another our worries - not because we want them to carry them for us, but because of what happens when we get them out in the open.  A word of caution here - not everyone will understand your worries!  Find a close friend, one who will not judge you.  Then open up.  

The most important person to share our worries with is Jesus.  He is the one who actually welcomes us to "cast our burdens" upon him.  Our other friends make good "sounding blocks", but they are not meant to carry our burden for us!  He is!  Our friends might actually help us sort through things, bring them into perspective, etc.  Jesus actually takes them so they don't warp our perspective!  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Modeled Behavior vs. Displayed Power

Some of us think issues which come up in life are really ours to deal with.  We set off in pursuit of the solution, almost without thinking - simply because we have "handled" it before, or we think we can handle it now.  We have the "power", but we lack something more important - the "love" behind the action. The trouble with this kind of "do it and get it done" mentality is our lack of enthusiasm for the task - and the lack of sensitivity to those who are affected in our "handling" the task! 

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.  (I Corinthians 13:2 MSG)

There are many great points within this thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, but one of the most salient is the idea of doing things, being in relationships, or giving ourselves to things without the love behind it.  We reveal the "power", but lack the "heart".  When we keep God at the center of all our "issues", it is amazing how much the problem begins to take on a different "feel".  For love doesn't focus on the "brawn" to get the job done, it focuses on the individuals affected by the process.  If you have ever thought about how much "knowledge" you possess to be able to "do stuff" and then compared it to the "sensitivity" you have in doing the stuff, you might just find you come up with a whole lot of smarts, but a little lean on the sensitivity part.

In life, we acquire all kinds of abilities.  We learn how to tie our shoes, drive a car, run a particular machine, diagnose a disease, etc.  These are acquired abilities.  We saw it done, experimented with it ourselves, and in time, became proficient at the task.  True, these tasks are important and God wants us to use our "skills" or "abilities" to further his kingdom, but when we do it without love, we really aren't doing it as God would like.  You see, there is one thing which makes us different from other creatures - love.  It is the one thing which connects us to God's heart - "For God so loved...."  It is the one thing which connects us to the heart of another.  It isn't the task, the accumulation of ability or power - it is the permeation of love through the task which speaks the loudest.

Love is learned best through modeled behavior.  I bring you back to what I just quoted from John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world (that is us), that he gave (unconditionally, no strings attached) his one and only Son (Jesus), that whosoever believes in him (it doesn't say does good works for him or earns his affections), will have everlasting life (not just life in the here and now, but life beyond anyone's taking)."  Modeled behavior - Love gave.  Love held nothing back.  Love made a way when no other way existed.  Love creates a newness which could not exist otherwise.

As we look through this chapter, we see a whole lot of "modeled" behavior:
- Patience - something we learn best by looking at life through God's eyes, and not our own.  Our perspective brings a whole lot of impatience because we don't understand the delays, we chafe against the process, and we argue about the intention of the times when we see nothing coming out of the waiting.  The change of perspective helps us see the issue from the inside out.  We begin to realize the "remodeling" going on within which will eventually make its way out.  
- Contentment - follows closely on the heels of patience, for learning to be pleased with the here and now helps us to maintain perspective.  We "don't" have a lot of things.  Some of them are left in our past, others lay ahead in our future.  What we do have is today.  When we begin to take the opportunities of today in stride, we begin to chafe a little less against not being where we'd hoped to be by now!
- Humility - Christ certainly exhibited this, did he not?  What is modeled in humility is the desire to put others first.  Christ did just that - he put us first. His needs were nothing compared to ours.  Sometimes, when we learn to look outside of ourselves, we see the needs of others as much greater than our own.  This helps us not just focus on running ahead of the crowd, but acting as pace-setters to help our peers run well themselves.
- Attitude - I guess we'd have to say it is the opposite of rudeness or irritability.  A whole lot of time we have the "power" to do something, take off in the direction of doing it, but leave a whole lot of hurt people in our wake. Truth be told, I have done that!  It is hard to not be affected by the attitude of others, but maintaining the right attitude in the midst of stressful circumstances often is the difference between success and failure.
- Forgiveness - more is accomplished in forgiveness than in all the power and might we can muster to solve the problem.  Sometimes all we need is a new perspective on the relationship to bring the problems we face back into perspective.  
- Tenacity - the ability to stick to it even when the results are slow coming.  I think this is one of the toughest "behaviors" to really get hold of.  When the problem just seems to loom and the solution is slow coming, we go back to the top of our list and work our way down again!  We embrace patience, live in contentment, humble ourselves to admit we don't always know the best way to do something (even when we know the right way), adjust our attitude and then get back into right relationship.  In the end, we get a lot of "sticking power" which takes us the distance!  Just sayin!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Meet my other brother Larry....

Have you ever read a portion of scripture so many times, you just gloss over it because you think you are already "familiar" with it?  What happens is we tell our brains we already know the "story".  It is like when we asked mom or dad to read us the bedtime story for the 2,000th time!  We didn't need them to read it out loud because we could have just looked at the pictures and told THEM the story!  It wasn't that we memorized it - we remembered enough of the details to "tell the story".  I like to go back to some of my favorite portions of scripture frequently because they have challenged me, given me hope, set my thinking straight, etc.  I count on what happened before to give me something "new" this time around.  The most amazing thing about scripture - it almost always does this when we come with an open mind and a seeking heart!

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.   (Romans 8:29-30 MSG)

This passage is one of those places where you can find richness each time you look into it again.  Here are just a couple of things which came alive to me today:

- God knows what he is doing, even before he sets out to do it.  This should give us hope we don't just live by "fate" or "happenstance".  There is a plan in every experience - because God designed us!  Too many times, I hear people saying they will just play the cards they are dealt, as though there is no one in control of what "hand" they receive.  It is like saying the thing was just unavoidable - it is just chance or luck.  Let me tell you - we don't live by chance if we are God's kids.  We don't rely upon luck to get us through.  What we rely upon and live by is the truth and reality of being created by God, to be his kids, and to enjoy the privileges of this relationship.  It isn't kismet.  It isn't good fortune coming your way.  It is predetermined planning on the part of our Creator!

- God shapes our lives, not into some whimsical fancy of his on a particular day, but by the "standard" of his Son.  In other words, he created us and formed us in the image of who he is!  Our lives follow a pretty unique "standard" - that of the life of Jesus Christ.  The word "shape" here should give us a moment to pause.  Shape is used as a verb here, not a noun.  As such, it is a word which describes an action, not on our part, but on God's.  He shapes us (from the outset) to conform to the image of his Son.  In the most literal sense, this means he gives us a definite "form" by which we should live.  Yet, it also means he adjust, adapts, and directs our lives so we will come into and maintain the perfect form he envisions for our lives.  He makes the necessary adjustments, brings us to the place we "adapt" our behavior, aligning character, and directing our path. 

- God gives us the "finished product" as an example because he knows we do better when we "see" what it is we are moving toward.  It is like when we get a jigsaw puzzle in a bag.  If all we have is the pieces, we struggle for a while bringing order and form to the pieces.  We don't "see" how they fit.  Now, give us the box it came in and we now have a perspective by which to evaluate each piece in comparison to the original.  Jesus stands as our example of how to live in relationship with others - sometimes they are easier than others. He stands as our example of how to deal with temptation - using the Word to drive a wedge between the tempting thought and the right action.  Having the right example helps us know how the pieces fit together in our lives.

- God is not content to just create - he also names his creation.  There have been goofy comic routines throughout history where someone will introduce themselves as Larry, then introduce their brother as Larry and their other brother Larry.  In essence, they are designed to poke a little fun at some corner of society, but I think we might just occasionally believe God doesn't know us any better than the guy next door.  We have a hard time with this idea of believing he could know us each by name, paying close attention to each detail of our lives, simply because there are so many of us!  We think it must be like him calling us Larry, our other brother Larry and his brother Larry! Truth is - we are each unique in his eyes and perfectly attended by his care.

- God is concerned with our footing.  It is one thing to stand us up straight; it is quite another to give us solid footing upon which to walk through this life. The wobbliest of objects can be made to stand up with enough ingenuity.  Try taking it out of its "environment" and it may not do as well!  It is great to know God goes with us into our new "environment", preparing the footing we need to be able to navigate through it safely.

What God envisions, he completes.  This probably baffles some of us because we struggle so much with completing the stuff we set out to do.  It is indeed good news to know the Creator sticks with his Creation all along the way, so as to get us more than "established", but also totally "in line" with what he envisioned in his creative work!  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Past invading your Present?

Someone once told me the enemy of the present is our past.  In other words, we fight battles with our past more frequently than we fight battles with our present - but we do it in the "space" our present is suppose to occupy!  Chew on this one a little.  Our "present" has a purpose, but we occupy it with the things from our "past" which still gnaw at us.  I wonder just how much of the present we miss because we are so focused on the past?  The only thing changeable is the present - the past is forever just that - past.  Why then do we spend so much time focusing on it?  

Now God, don’t hold out on me, don’t hold back your passion.  Your love and truth are all that keeps me together.  When troubles ganged up on me, a mob of sins past counting, I was so swamped by guilt I couldn’t see my way clear. More guilt in my heart than hair on my head, so heavy the guilt that my heart gave out.  (Psalm 40:11-12 MSG)

There are many reasons we are drawn into focusing on the past so frequently.  Probably the most common is the familiarity we have with our past – it is an easy place to drift into because it had been a former “routine” for us.  We hope by focusing on the past, we might just find something worthwhile there which can "benefit" our present.  The only issue with this is the fact most of what is in our past really brings us to the point of being overwhelmed in our present - because the past worries and sins coupled with the present worries and sins will give us way too much to deal with!  Don't get me wrong - there are indeed benefits to dealing with some of the stuff in our past - like letting go of addictions.  Yet, most of what is in our past only produces greater amounts of guilt when we bring those things into our present.

Here's something we need to get our hands around - the problems of yesterday were "created" on a different "level" from where we are today. Trying to relate to them today will likely bring them into focus in a different light.  This is how we deal with the past - we bring the things which trouble us from our past into a different light - a different "level" of maturity.  We don't try to deal with those things with the same "level" of maturity - we'd be frustrated if we did.  This might just be why we continue to deal with the same old stuff over and over again - we never grow, never reach a new "level".

So, how do we get past this level of immaturity which keeps us focused on the past, but without the "resources" to deal successfully with the stuff which needs to be finally and firmly put into the past and left there?  There are probably a couple of things we have to realize:

1.  God is the best one to help us identify what belongs truly in our past and what has a value or lesson for our present.  When we don't take those things from our past to him to see if there is any relationship to our present, we miss out on this important piece.  There are things from our past which God uses to improve our present and set us up for success in our future.  Breaking bondage to a certain habit is a good example of this.  The habit began in the past, built in the past, and is ever-present in the here and now.  When God begins to help us identify what lead us into the place of bondage to that life-controlling habit, we begin to let go of those things in our past, focusing on the possibilities in our present, and setting our focus right.

2.  God has given us the resources TODAY to deal with what we did not deal with well in the PAST.  Today's resources are based on things like our attentiveness to learning from the Word.  As we live in the present, taking the Word we receive today, applying it to today's challenges, yesterday's worries and challenges may actually take on a different light.  We are beginning to see them from a different "level".  Our perspective changes when we focus on today and allow yesterday to no longer define us.  When we allow God to take what he gives us today to the point of changing who we are today, we cannot help but see how he puts the stuff of our past into a "right perspective", as well.

3.  God wants to be our focus.  Whenever we focus on the impossibilities of our past, we exclude him from our focus.  We almost make our past our master instead of God.  As long as we keep God in the center of our present, he will put our past into perspective.  When we allow our past to master us, it makes it almost impossible for us to connect to the grace of God he extends to us.  Grace is unmerited favor - we get what we don't deserve.  Oftentimes, we let go of the past by embracing the grace we didn't deserve, but which was extended to us in his love.  We have a great deal of difficulty with this one as long as we want to bring the past into our present - because God puts the past into the past - his focus is not on what we've done, but on what we are doing.  He gives us grace sufficient to "deal" with our past - but it is silly for us to keep seeking grace for what he has already declared to be "erased".  

One word before we close today - changing our today doesn't always mean we have to change our yesterday.  We allow yesterday to be put into right perspective - grace erasing what we could not.  We are limited by what we focus on in our past - it affects who we are.  God's hope for us is to live in the present, disallowing the "limitations" of our past to affect our present.  We will always be limited by our past - but we can live in limitless grace and hope as long as we keep our focus clearly in the present.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You don't deserve it, but...

Have you ever been faced with unwanted reactions from another - you present something and then you almost immediately get a reaction back which is out of proportion to what you requested?  How about saying or asking something and then finding out someone is talking behind your back about what you said?  If you are living and breathing on planet earth, you probably have experienced some kind of reaction from another, good or bad, which you somehow felt was just not what you'd thought you'd receive.  It is part of human nature to somehow be a little less agreeable at times.  We aren't always as sympathetic to another's position as we probably should be.  We sometimes exhibit behavior far from compassionate - almost bordering on disinterested and/or totally judgmental.  What we do with these reactions when we receive them often determines what the course of the relationship will become.  Reject them.  Form walls which separate and drive away intimacy.  Give into their negativity.  OR...embrace them in love.  Smother them in kindness.  Break down the barriers which they put up, but which do nothing to build the relationship.  The choice is ours - not theirs.  What? They strike out and hurt with their words, actions, or inactivity and the choice is ours, not theirs?  What?  Glad you asked!

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.  (I Peter 3:8-9 MSG)

Scripture points us to something quite the opposite of our natural reaction to another's rejection or disinterest.  Peter put out some pretty pointed expectations related to dealing with the negativity and hurtfulness of others.  Be agreeable.  Another word for this is harmonious.  In other words, be willing to get along with another you may not see eye-to-eye with.  Discord enters when two refuse to agree - to live in harmony.  To that end, Peter is simply telling us there is no place for disharmony in God's family.  How do we live without disharmony?  How do we handle relationships where there seems to be an inability to reconcile our differences?  The other instructions which Peter gives actually help us to do this:

- Be sympathetic.  Affectionate, caring, compassionate, interested, sensitive, and supportive of another.  For this to work, WE have the responsibility to oftentimes respond with the exact opposite of what it is we are receiving. We want the response of another to be the way we imagine it to be, don't we? This is the danger of setting expectations of another - we sometimes set the bar a little higher than they can jump!  To be sympathetic, we simply are putting ourselves in the shoes of another - we begin to understand how it is they see life.  This is not always the easiest thing to do - putting ourselves in their position.  Somehow, when we are able to do this, we often begin to change our attitude toward the other person just because we get a different vantage point.  Remember - no one truly knows the heart of another - the best we can do is attempt to connect to it as closely as possible.

- Be loving.  Most of us would think this refers to the affection in a relationship, but it is more - it is the ability to be attentive and caring even when they are not.  Society teaches love is something which is either "earned" (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours), or it is something which is given, but with strings attached (as long as you do this, I will do that).  If you have ever taken steps to love another when they seem disinterested, you know the frustration this can produce.  Peter goes so far as to tell us to "be loving" - BE is an action word.  It is not an emotion - it suggests we are to "do" something - to make some investment.  Another word for "loving" is "faithful".  In telling us to be loving, Peter is reminding us of the power of faithfulness.  Nothing speaks clearer about our intention and our heart than this.

- Be compassionate.  Aren't these all synonyms - sympathetic, loving, compassionate?  Not really - they actually build upon one another.  What Peter is referring to with this next instruction is to be merciful.  In other words, allow grace to prevail.  Grace, by definition, is neither earned, nor is it deserved.  Peter is telling us to give what is not deserved - be merciful in the face of unwarranted and unwanted disinterest, hostility, rejection, etc.  Isn't this the behavior of Christ?  Did he not exhibit intense compassion in the midst of disinterest, hostility and rejection?  What else would you call the cross than the ultimate display of compassion?  Compassion is really the willingness to "forbear" - to give mercy.

- Be humble.  This one doesn't seem to "fit", does it?  The other actions are really clearly important in relationship, but "humility", why does this one make it to the list?  I think it may come in realizing humility is what actually serves to un-complicate a relationship.  Humility puts us in the place of being "unassuming" in the relationship.  We develop a respect for the other - revealing it in our actions.  This willingness to be "real" - to stop pretending in relationship - is the result of our willingness to embrace the other behaviors outlined in this passage.

To these, he adds to not retaliate or use sharp-tongued sarcasm.  Both destroy relationship.  Retaliation is based on the perception our "rights" have been violated somehow - someone did not live up to their end of the bargain. The sarcasm is really a masking of our hurt, and a subtle way to build up a little more of a wall in the relationship.  If we are willing to start with what we haven't received and give back what we thought we'd receive, we are acting in the exact opposite of retaliation.  In other words, respond in mercy when another's actions really "deserve" anything but mercy and you will be removing the brick before it has a chance to harden in the mortar!  

These are not easy principles to learn, but so advantageous in relationship. Most important of all is the willingness to allow God to make you a blessing in the lives of those who don't realize they are being blessed!  Before long, when you bless long enough, they will notice your blessing.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Junk drawers beware!

I remember hearing my pastor teach about what we model vs. what we say. It goes without saying, we often model something different from what we say. The "modeling" we "do" is sometimes louder than the "modeling" we give in the form of advice, shared knowledge, etc.  Wisdom is the application of knowledge - wisdom is "modeled" knowledge.  If you have ever begun a project like spring cleaning your junk cabinet or drawer, you will appreciate this illustration. When you clean the first cabinet, rearranging all the stuff which haphazardly finds its way into the shelves over the course of the year, changing the shelf paper to freshen up the look, and close the first cabinet door, you soon remember there are twenty or so other cabinets which need to receive all the stuff you took out of the first which did not belong!  You go onto the second one, not just content to put the stuff in there in no particular order, but you undertake the same venture with this one.  Before long, your cupboard cleaning becomes an all-day affair!  What you didn't plan becomes an all-consuming cleaning marathon!  The issue - you didn't plan this - it just crept up on you and overtook you!

A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense.  Thieves are jealous of each other’s loot, but the godly are well rooted and bear their own fruit.  (Proverbs 12:11-12 NLT)

Fools chase this whim and that fancy.  Wise people have a plan to their attack.  What I described above was probably kind of silly, but you get the idea of just setting out aimlessly only to find yourself consumed by whatever has your focus at the moment.  I have done this type of "spring cleaning" marathon.  It started with one drawer - but after a short period of time, I got distracted from the drawer by the more urgent need to straighten the cabinet. The cabinet lead me into a completely different room for the demands of yet another drawer or cabinet.  Before long, the first project stood incomplete and I had several new ones to boot!  

Divided priorities will get you in this kind of a muddle.  It is best to have a plan - but no plan is good unless it aligns with God's priorities for your life.  I think we could carry this drawer/cabinet cleaning thing into our spiritual lives, as well.  We often think we will spend some time focusing on the "junk drawer" in one part of our lives, only to find it has stuff in it which takes us to the next place and then the next.  Before long, we become so scattered in our focus, we lose focus.  With God's help, we need to keep our priorities straight - fixed on what matters to him at this moment.

One word of caution - no "priority" is worth sacrificing a relationship over!  We sometimes get so caught up in the task at hand, the thing which promises such delight once we have attained it, but neglect the relationships we needed to cultivate all along the way.  The thing became our priority.  Having a clean house and no one to share it with is quite a drag!  

For most of us, we focus so intently on what we cannot possibly accomplish - making the pursuit of priorities kind of monumental.  For others, the focus is on what they can do - making the pursuit of priorities more realistic, but to others it seems like there will not be a positive outcome when "so little" is available to expend on the pursuit.  There needs to be a healthy balance between what we "can" and "cannot" do when establishing priorities in our lives.  God may ask us to do something which seems like it is weighted heavily on the "cannot" side of the list.  I cannot teach because I don't have formal training.  I cannot possibly reach that group of people because I have never lived like they have.  You get the idea.  

The "cannots" can actually play upon our emotions and keep us from pursuing the priorities God has for us.  All God ever asks of a man or woman is to entrust their lives to him - not to be perfect at doing everything, but to believe him to do what we cannot.  He loved.  He gave.  We believe.  We live. (John 3:16).  God's desire is for us to focus on the "cans" in our lives.  The priorities which will come out of the pursuit of what we "can" do will be taken care of by him as we step out in commitment to what he asks.  We focus on the doing - he focuses on us being.  Being in him, being with him, being all in for him!  Just sayin!