Thursday, October 31, 2013

Who's on your work site today?

So much contrast exists within the scripture between the person of wisdom and the one who chooses to pursue the life of folly.  We might be thinking we are so wise, but we have a way of building some pretty flimsy homes, don't we?  We can be building, but at the same time tearing down what has been built by wrong words.  Criticism, anger, and even a lack of encouragement can tear down a home.  Wrong attitudes such as pride, fear, or selfishness can destroy a home.  Wrong actions like outbursts and laziness can equally shut off the "construction" of what matters in a home.  Even wrong thoughts like suspicion or a lack of trust come across as wrecking balls in relationships. Contrasts in behavior and attitude often illuminate the things which build up or tear down, don't they?  Lady Wisdom builds her home, but Sir Fool comes along and tears it down - brick by brick - not all of a sudden, but slowly. Building occurs over a matter of time - so does "deconstruction".  No relationship ever falls apart all of a sudden - there are probably long periods of "wreaking ball" and "pry bar" moments which all contributed to the "deconstruction" of what you might have thought was going to turn out to be a great relationship.  We need to recognize the things which construct, but also be on guard about the things which also deconstruct what we are intent on building!

Lady Wisdom builds a lovely home; Sir Fool comes along and tears it down brick by brick.  An honest life shows respect for God; a degenerate life is a slap in his face.  Frivolous talk provokes a derisive smile; wise speech evokes nothing but respect.  A true witness never lies; a false witness makes a business of it.  Cynics look high and low for wisdom—and never find it; the open-minded find it right on their doorstep!  Escape quickly from the company of fools; they’re a waste of your time, a waste of your words.  The wisdom of the wise keeps life on track; the foolishness of fools lands them in the ditch. The stupid ridicule right and wrong, but a moral life is a favored life. (Proverbs 14:1-3, 5-9 MSG)

Building requires great oversight.  You hire a foreman to manage the building simply because you need someone to be in charge.  The wrong person in charge makes for a pretty unproductive work site!  When God is in charge of the building of our relationships, the "fool" doesn't have much of a chance to join our "workforce".  We can choose to live with him in charge, or despise his leadership.  To despise it is to reject the one who has the ability to guide the building, but also to keep the "workers" in line!  

We all know one of the most powerful tools we can use is the tool of our words.  They have the power to nail things together so tightly they just cannot be separated, or to pry things apart so quickly they support which may have been there comes crumbling down.  Fools on the work site leave their "tools" just laying around all over the place allowing them to become tripping hazards to those who are caught unaware.  The words of a fool become tripping hazards - not only taking others down, but presenting some pretty bad hazards for themselves, as well.  

If you stop to look long enough at some relationships, you will begin to see the work site of many a relationship riddled with all kinds of mockers.  The idea of a mocker is one who constantly challenges and defies the one who is directing the actions at hand.  The mocker thrives in the midst of creating calamity with their defiance.  Their main goal is to be an antagonist - resisting every idea which is not their own.  Imagine building with nothing but antagonists - you'd have a mess of building, wouldn't you?  This room would be completely detached from the next one; the wiring would be all askew; and the dwelling would just plain be unlivable.  The same is true when we go about being antagonists in relationship - we make those relationships pretty unlivable.

The work site is always made up of those who possess certain skills.  You need the manual laborers who can be the 'generalists' on the site, but you also need the skilled craftsmen to prepare the things which will ensure the safety and suitability of the building.  Having men and women of understanding on the work site brings a dimension of reasonableness and protection.  Relationships need the 'generalists' kind of builders, but they also need the skill of the craftsmen - understanding beyond that of the generalist. Isn't it amazing how God provides for the "regular" building within the relationship, but also for the "special" parts, as well?  

Even the best of builders need a plan - blueprints of sorts.  They are used to help the builders look ahead and see what comes next.  You just cannot deliver a load of cement, lumber, nails, and shingles at a work site and expect to get it all together without some type of plan.  The wise builder looks ahead, while the foolish will just plan as they go.  The latter ends up with a whole lot of unplanned expense and often a whole lot of "rework".  The wise builder sees the path ahead for what it "really is" - he knows how to interpret the blueprint.  The fool trudges on without concern, never taking the time to explore the insight contained in the blueprint.  It is kind of like trying to live moral lives without ever consulting the "blueprint" for morality we find in the Word of God.

If you have ever been on a work site where something goes wrong, you might have observed the set of "finger-pointers" who come quickly to the scene. Their main goal is to shift the guilt to another.  No one wants to assume the guilt for a poor outcome, but the wise builder will see the value even in assuming the responsibility for the events which didn't produce the best outcome.  The wise will acknowledge there is something wrong and then seek to reconcile the issue.  There is nothing more important than this in relationship - being willing to change the outcome by owning up to what went wrong and then focusing on the work it will take to set things right again.

I don't know where you are on your "work site" today, but I know there may be some foolish and some wise builders on your site.  All relationships have the potential for a little of both.  Some of the best advice we can take today is to ensure the right foreman is in charge - Christ himself.  If he is at the lead, you can be sure he will turn the work site around for you.  Just keep an eye on the building, be willing to embrace the need to follow the blueprint and then don't be unwilling to own up to what went wrong.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stressed to the max?

The way we think is often the determining factor in how we perceive a circumstance.  In changing the way we think, we can be transformed.  If you haven't realized it yet, God tends to give us a different perspective than we'd see on our own.  There are some of us who go through life just feeling like come what may, we are stuck with it - there just isn't anything else we could have done about it.  This could not be farther from the truth!  We don't live by some "chance" encounter or outcome.  We live by faith - but faith is based is based on a firmer foundation than kismet.  Sometimes we live with a whole lot more stress in our lives than we really need to - simply because we think stress comes from outside of us.  The truth is, stress is something INSIDE of us - it comes from the way we think and the choices we make as a result of our thinking.  One of the easiest ways to get out from under the pressure of stress is to "reframe" your thinking.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)

Many times we want to discount the actual "benefit" of stress - seeing it as a bad thing and something to be avoided at all cost.  In actuality, stress is really God's way of speaking to us - it is a means of getting our attention.  It is a signal of sorts - to get us to see things from his perspective.  We are not going to see things differently until something gets our attention which will cause us to question the way we are seeing them.  This is how God uses stress in our lives - it begins to get us asking questions - and God can use those questions!  If we understand what causes stress, we might hear the questions a little clearer and a little faster!

- Stress come whenever we find ourselves making compromises.  Anytime there is a struggle between what is "right" or "wrong" in our lives, we find ourselves encountering some of the feelings we associate with stress.  Even when we choose to take the path of "right", we often feel like we aren't stress-free.  Why?  There is a good kind of stress!  Stress actually pushes us beyond the last place we were.  If you think of muscles, they only develop strength when we push them beyond what they are "used to" doing - they need a little stress to get them "toned".  Even with the path of "right" there will be stressful challenges designed to help us develop.  Two things come out of this "good stress" - a building of integrity (foundation) and a letting go of control (trust).  

- Stress is present anytime there is conflict within relationships.  It doesn't matter what the relationship, stress comes when conflict arises.  If you don't have a clue yet about how conflict actually comes into relationship, let me give you one word of advice - it is usually related to someone's selfish choices.  When the other person can see things only their way (or perhaps it is you who sees things this way) - it is that way which makes sense to them and they don't quite understand why you cannot see things the same way they do.  Conflict has started!  The thing which usually comes next is the belief no one understands where you are coming from - unreasonable as though it may be, not everyone will be able to think exactly like you think! Conflict takes root!  What we do with how we are willing to see things and what we will believe about others is often the basis of conflict.  Changing our perspective can help us see our selfishness and open us up to the possibility of another's viewpoint.

- Stress increases as we feel the sense of any form of "competition" within either the relationship or the circumstances.  If you don't believe me, watch a family play a rousing game of Monopoly sometime.  Someone wants Park Place or Boardwalk - when they get it, they manage to buy all those houses and hotels, causing the rent on that tiny square to skyrocket to astronomical values.  Landing on that space almost bankrupts you.  What does the other guy do to offset his losses?  He buys up lots and lots of other property, getting monopolies on those properties until he can garner some monies of his own from others landing on his investments.  The one property has some value, but when you "own it all", the value multiplies!  Competition at its finest!  At the core of all this competition is something we might not recognize - comparison.  You own this, I don't.  You own that, I don't.  You have a monopoly, I don't.  Competition also involves making value judgments about what the other guy is doing and why.  We see things as "against" us - every move is designed in some way to "take us down".  If you don't think this increases stress, just drag out the Monopoly game!  When competition enters the picture, what we forget is the truth of God's grace and favor - they aren't given because we compete to get them.  They are given because he loves us first!  Competition always puts grace out of the picture - compassion brings grace to life!

So, not sure what is "internally" getting at you today, but I do know a change of perspective might be in order.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

You a dreamer?

Good words and good works are both a source of wonderful blessing in our lives.  The godly have learned something about plodding ahead without clear direction - aimless wandering usually producing nothing but heartache and unwanted challenge.  They have also learned a great deal about relationship exchanges where words fly and consequences of "unchecked" words makes for many a sleepless night.  It probably goes without saying, but we learn more by our mistakes than we do by avoiding them - simply because the mistakes seem to be more common than the ability to side-step them in time to avoid them!  As we have observed in our study, the life of wisdom is one marked with light and joy.  Light which provides illumination before we actually take the misstep; joy because we have learned to step into the tracks left by the one who walks before us (Jesus)!  Too many times, our focus remains inward, not outward.  As this is the tendency of our hearts, we experience a great deal of "heart-sickness" we might otherwise avoid if we just got our focus corrected.  Inward focus leads to alienation - first from God and then from others.  It is a hindrance to every "good step" we might just want to take, so learning to redirect focus is paramount to avoiding all manner of heart-sickness.

Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.  (Proverbs 13:12 MSG)

This morning, I'd like us to consider the idea of "deferred hope".  As scripture aptly puts it, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick..."  Hope is more than just expectation - it is the honest belief that what we desire can come to fruition. If I hoped to be a millionaire, but only played the lottery or signed up for every sweepstakes that came along, I'd say I was living with a whole lot of deferred hope!  On the other hand, if I actually took the monies I earned from my job, invested it wisely and consistently, I might just grow a little closer to the reality of being that millionaire.  The difference between the two is the focus - one is counting on the easy way out - the other is determining the course may be a little rugged, but worth the ride.  

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is great joy and a sense of life.  A hope is a longing - something we desire and have a dream of fulfillment.  There is an expectation of fulfillment - attainment being the ultimate end.  The thing longed for may not be the best for us, though.  So, sometimes deferred hope is really an wake-up call to get us to see the thing longed for so desperately is really not what will provide the best of outcomes for our lives.  We see delay in fulfillment as God saying he doesn't want us to have something (or someone).  In truth, God may indeed be saying just that!  Yet, there are times when God says it is not the right time - the dream still lives on, but the timing of the fulfillment dwells at a point yet to be determined.  Either way, hope can be crushed.  When we hear a clear "no", it can be very hard to accept.  When we hear a "wait a while", it can rob us of our joy.  We have to learn to accept the "no" as an attempt on God's part to protect us from damage down the road and the "wait a while" as a way of God getting us fully ready to receive the blessing.

Both of these are struggles for us, right?  Both can lead to "heart-sickness". One thing is apparent in scripture - dreams and aspirations are a part of our make-up.  God actually created our brains, emotions, and hearts to dream big and aspire to great things.  All God asks is for us to allow those dreams and aspirations to be realistically founded in God's will - to live without these dreams or aspirations is to live devoid of emotion and faith.  If you pair this idea of having dreams and aspirations realistically founded in God's will with the reminder to actually ask for what it is we desire, then you might just be coming a little closer to understanding how God intended for things to work! James tells us:  You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires. (James 4:2-3 JBP)  It is in the "listening for the leading" that we understand the doors which are open to us and those which remain firmly shut.

A person of good sense is respected - not because they have some status which makes them receive elevated attention, but because they have learned to choose wisely and to walk uprightly.  They have learned to avoid the dreams and aspirations which do nothing more than act as snares in their lives.  The wise (godly) have learned to "listen for the leading".  They dream big, but don't allow those dreams to define them.  They are defined by one greater than their dreams - the creator of those dreams.  Jesus did great works on this earth - but before leaving here, he reminded his disciples they would do even greater works!  It became his joy and delight to illustrate for us the possibilities of big dreams and gigantic aspirations - as long as those align with God's will for our lives!  The willingness to allow God access to our dreams is sometimes a little frightening to us - because we somehow think he will squelch them.  Yet, if we read what scripture says, he delights in giving to his children.  As long as what we dream won't hinder our walk with him, he probably won't find fault with our dream!  When we align our dreams with his purposes - we can dream bigger than we might imagine!  Just sayin!

Monday, October 28, 2013

You using the good sense the Lord gave you?

Good sense or sound judgment seems to fly out the window on occasion, right?  You seem to be sailing right along and then all of a sudden, wham! You just come smack dab up against a moment of decision, let good sense fly right out the window, and wham - you are smack-dab in the middle of a muddle.  When this happens in your life "on occasion", most don't think too much about it because we all fall prey to getting a little distracted, or just not thinking before we act on occasion.  If this becomes the way you live life - we begin to think your "sensibility" is a little warped - you might even say we begin to wonder if you don't even put to use the good sense your God gave you!  Everyone admires someone who seems to operate in the realm of using their "good sense" - but when we encounter someone who cannot even use the good sense they were given, we might actually begin to see their actions as repulsive, or worse, we see the person as repulsive.

A sensible person wins admiration, but a warped mind is despised.  Better to be an ordinary person with a servant than to be self-important but have no food.  The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.  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 12:8-12 NLT)

When admiration is the attitude we exhibit toward another, we probably are holding the other person in high regard.  Their decisiveness and wise actions just lead us to "marvel" at their obedience and quick judgment.  On the other hand, when we despise or are repulsed by the individual who seems to not even use the good sense God gave them, we almost look down on them with contempt.  When this is the case, we are almost saying we see their "value" as decreased by the decisions they are making.  This is a very dangerous road to trod, my friends.  Nothing is further from the truth - our "value" is not determined by our choices - it might look a little tarnished by the wrong ones we have made, but it doesn't decrease the value of an individual.  

Senses are really tool of awareness.  When we use our senses, we have a discerning awareness and appreciation of the situation.  What makes this so important is the ability of our minds to make effective application of truths we know in response to what it is we are becoming aware of as it unfolds before us.  For example, you don't really think about putting the brake on when you see a car begin to fishtail in front of you - you just do it because you begin to "sense" there will be danger if you don't.  The adrenaline begins to pump throughout your body and you go into this immediate response mode because you sense the danger ahead BEFORE you experience it fully.  Senses give us the ability to grasp or comprehend the moment.  They become motivating because they enhance our awareness of either danger or good.

When our senses get a little dulled, or even a little "warped" by what is we have ignored, we might just feel like we now see things a little distorted. Since senses are closely related to perception, when they get a little out of touch with reality or "warped" by our "ignorance", we are in dangerous territory.  Senses can be "twisted" out of shape, so to speak, both by inaction and by wrong action.  When we don't respond to the "sense" of danger, we might just head into dangerous circumstances totally oblivious to what is coming our way as a result.  

Probably one of the easiest ways for our senses to get "twisted" or "dulled" is when there is distraction.  Yet, there are times when we get a pretty "warped" view of life, allowing what we once believed to be true to be "twisted out of shape" because of the influences of others, the supposed lack of consequences when we did not get "caught" by our misdeeds, or the like.  The Lord gave us our senses - he expects us to use them.  One thing which might just interfere with us using our "good senses" as we should is our pride. 

Pride keeps us from making rational decisions on occasion.  More importantly, when pride keeps us from making the right decisions, we fall into temptation easier, sometimes even more frequently, and eventually the irrational, or wrong decisions become the "norm" rather than the occasional happening. Pride also has a way of driving away the people who can help us make rational decisions and draws those closer to us who are going to operate in the realm of irrational decisions.  It is though the company we keep actually might even play into how much of our "good sense" we use, right?  Surround yourself with good company and you probably tend to lean toward using better judgment - the opposite is true, as well.

Fruit might actually be influenced by the amount and frequency of good sense you exercise in life.  Think of good sense as the absence of pride - good fruit can be more easily grown when there is a teachable spirit.  Pride definitely hinders having a teachable spirit.  Think of good sense as the ability and willingness to make better choices - inattentiveness and / or distraction might actually hinder our ability to comprehend the choices which are just in front of us.  Just sayin!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Take aim - plan well

To love learning is to embrace discipline - for apart from living a disciplined life, learning can never occur.  To "learn" means we will gain knowledge, understanding of something, or to gain a skill.   It comes by study, instruction, and experience.  Some might call this "coming to realize" - to hear and then come to really know.  Either way you look at it, it comes by discipline.  No lesson is easily embraced if there is a fear or hatred of discipline.  If we recognize our heavenly Father's discipline is ALWAYS done in love, we will no longer fear it, but embrace it as a way of being embraced by love.

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction!  A good person basks in the delight of God, and he wants nothing to do with devious schemers.  You can’t find firm footing in a swamp, but life rooted in God stands firm...  The thinking of principled people makes for justice; the plots of degenerates corrupt. The words of the wicked kill; the speech of the upright saves. Wicked people fall to pieces—there’s nothing to them; the homes of good people hold together.  (Proverbs 12:1-3, 5-7 MSG)

A good person basks in the delight of the Lord - in other words, God approves of the good, but he withdraws from the wicked.  The word approve really carries the meaning of "proving", "attesting to", and "accepting as satisfactory".  So, when God approves and takes delight in us, he is really saying we have stood the test and been "proven" to have the right stuff!  In fact, he "attests to" our standing with him - through the evidence of his Son's light shining through us.  Wickedness never brings stability into our lives - so this is why God requires us to learn through discipline.  He wants us to be stable people - deeply rooted.  Stability is the strength to stand or endure.  It comes from being firmly established - fixed and steadfast in our convictions, with actions which align with those convictions.  When there is a steadiness in our purpose, there is a strength displayed even in the face of trial.  What God is doing through his discipline in our lives is making us able to resist the forces of evil around us - those things which pull at our heart and seek to sway us in our convictions.

The just have a way of thinking which differs from the world's way of thinking. It is the "plans" which differ between the just and the wicked.  The just have learned through disciplined application of truth - this embraced knowledge goes into the plans of the just.  The details which are formulated in the minds and hearts of the just are tempered by the embraced grace of God in their lives.  They have faced tough circumstances, made wrong choices, but have been extended grace to learn from those choices.  In turn, they have embraced grace and and it affects the plans they formulate for future actions. A "just" person is really one who has learned "reasonableness" in their lives. There is a commitment to live uprightly - in turn, it affects every action.

As has been the case all through this book of Proverbs, we are set up to see comparisons:  Good vs. Bad, Just vs. Unjust, Learned vs. Fool, etc.  This chapter is no different.  The first section of this chapter deals with the differences between those who will commit to live "principled" lives against those who will live life constantly moving the target.  Principled people have but one target in mind - they remain focused and the target doesn't move.  It doesn't move because it is a "fixed" target - the character of Christ.  The ungodly or "unprincipled" have multiple targets, making it difficult to aim at anything.  Plans are goals - it is to "aim" at something.  Remember my illustration of the target with its concentric circles culminating in a totally filled in circle in the middle.  Just (principled) lives want to live "filled in" lives.  We want to hit "dead center" every time.

The short-sighted don't see the target - their minds and hearts are focused on something entirely "short" of the target.  This makes them "fools" in God's eyes, because only the fool will aim at nothing!  I like the verse in this passage about finding firm footing - it isn't available in the swamp!  The fool has a way of finding themselves "swamped" because of their poor planning. The wise have learned the incredibly liberating joy of planning well - taking lessons from their experience, incorporating them into the pre-planning for their next opportunities, and then waiting until they have "aligned" their target in their "sights" before they actually launch toward the target!  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

You ARE different - and I love it!

We have been studying about how much work relationships really take.  In fact, we have probably all come to the same conclusion - it is just plain hard work to really get into any relationship - from our relationship with Christ to the one with our cubicle mate at work.  If you haven't figured it out yet, Christianity is not something you "live out" alone - you actually do much better in your growth when it is shared in relationship with another.  We "sharpen" each other by the various things we each lend to the relationship. It is the very "differences" which actually make each relationship so important - for it is in the "differences" where we learn to "walk out" our Christian faith. Immaturity demands everybody be just like who you are - maturity recognizes the differences actually allow people to grow.  The sooner we learn to appreciate the differences in each other, the sooner we are open to learning FROM each other.

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (I John 4:20-21 MSG)

It is not just "what" another person is which makes them different, it is "where" they are in their life experiences, too.  The "what" is the make-up of their personality or temperance - the "where" is the relationship characteristics they bring into the mix because of their own personal struggles and strengths.  God accepts us just as we are (what) and we begin to acknowledge his work in our lives at exactly the right moment (where).  We should be exhibiting just as much acceptance of the what and where of the other person - because we are examples of his love.  When we get hold of this truth, we begin to interact with others on a different level - not from a self-absorbed, self-focused level, but one which is much deeper because it looks beyond the stuff people so often focus on in relationships which is nothing more than surface deep.  

Most of the time, we will come to a place when the "what" of another person's make-up will kind of get on our nerves.  If they are in a place where they are struggling, we might just get impatient with them.  If they fail us because of where they are at in their own growth experience, we get disappointed.  There is nothing which squelches relationships quicker than failing to deal with these disappointments, or holding onto them until they mount into one mighty big deal.  The other person is probably not equipped to take care of our disappointment - if they were, they wouldn't have disappointed us in the first place!  The only one really in a place to deal with our disappointments is God himself.  He knows the bigger picture and can help us "re-frame" our own "picture" of the situation so it comes into better focus.  When he does this, we often see our disappointment in a new light and this helps us let go of it, or know exactly how to help the other person.  

Since this idea of relationships is so important throughout all of scripture, we might do well to take a few lessons to heart which are taught over and over from front to back of this 66-book textbook!  Yep, the Bible is a textbook for living - complete with all kinds of instruction and insight into the "stuff" which makes us tick, helps us when we need help the most, and just plain gets us moving when we don't feel like we can take another step.  Here are only a few of the principles taught about relationships:

- People will disappoint, so we have to learn to forgive them and do it quickly. No offense is meant to be held onto.  The condition taught in scripture is the "obligation" to forgive, not the "option" to forgive.  Forgive as God forgave you - you don't see any option presented there.  If you remember and offense, stop what you are doing, go and forgive your brother, then bring your prayers before God - no option there.  If we'd learn to forgive a little sooner, we might just save ourselves a whole lot of additional frustration and disappointment!

- We cannot expect others to do for us what only God can do in our lives. Whenever we elevate someone else to a place of significance in our lives which only belongs to God, we are in danger of having some pretty unrealistic expectations in the relationship.  Your fellowman is human - don't expect them to be divine!  Don't expect them to fill your emptiness - only God can truly do that.  

- Feelings have to be worked through.  The best one to help us with this is God himself - he is able to sort through them and bring us to the crux of the issue in a shorter period of time than we could ourselves.  It is in the process of allowing him to walk us through our feelings until we reach a place of being less reliant on them that we come to a place of being able to stop relying on those feelings as a measure of whether things are "okay" or "working" in a relationship.  We get focus - feelings muddle our focus - God sorts things out and brings the "innumerable pixels" of relationship issues into focus.

- Nothing is more important than knowing we can take things to God.  No relationship issue is too small, or too great, for his help.  He is concerned with what concerns us.  He uses his word and his "children" to speak to us when we most need to sort things out.  Don't just rely upon his "children" (fellow believers) to help you sort it out - be intent on learning what the Word has to say about the issues, as well.  Jesus is our example of how to work through many relationship issues.  He was pretty much treated with every form of contempt; loved by some, hated by others; had an inner circle of close friends, and knew many others as acquaintances; and dealt with the worst of sinners as though they were the most valuable of people in this entire world.  Since he already figured this out for us, we might just save ourselves a lot of headache if we'd just learn to take things to him a little sooner!  Just sayin!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dead center - you hitting it?

Our desires go a long way in determining our end results in life.  We have been studying about how much God loves and blesses people of integrity - lives lived out according to his plan and purpose, with honesty and humility. Anytime we have "twisted desires", it leads to "twisted hearts" and the outcome will be less than good.  In fact, I think twisted ambition is what gets us so frustrated most of the time.  We get out undies in a wad - either at another, over something we cannot control, or totally because we are mad at ourselves - all because of some "twisted" desire or ambition.  When we learn to "untangle" our lives a little bit, it is amazing how much different things actually appear!

The desires of good people lead straight to the best, but wicked ambition ends in angry frustration.  (Proverbs 11:23 MSG)

Life is filled with all kinds of choices we might make.  There are "good" and then there are "best" choices, aren't there?  Sometimes the difference between the two is a very fine line.  I have been guilty of making a whole lot of "good" choices in life, but I really have to wonder if I have always made the "best" choices.  If I were to perfectly honest, as you would probably imagine, not every "good" choice has been the "best" - but the outcomes were pretty amazing anyway.  I can honestly even say some of my "worst" choices yielded some pretty awesome things in my life - not because bad choices produce good results, but because God is able to redeem even the worst to create something good out of it.  

Ambition is kind of a fickle thing - it is okay to have desires, but when they drive us without thinking into actions we might not really want to take, they become detrimental to our well-being.  Think of ambition as a "driving" force. Then imagine desire as the feeling behind ambition - it creates the sense of "need", while ambition sets our feet into motion to see the need fulfilled. This is probably why our studies have focused so much on controlling our feelings! The way we "feel" about a certain thing makes all the difference in determining if we will pursue it or not.  Sometimes I don't "feel good" about some particular option available to me - if I ignore those "intuitions" I might just come to an end result which I would have liked to have avoided.  You may have realized this in your own experience, as well.  God's plan is for us to learn to align our desires with his purposes - this is what truly brings safety into our lives.  

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.  (Proverbs 11:25 MSG)

As our writer lays out various principles in this chapter, he reminds us repeatedly of the contrast between what is "good" and what definitely is "best".  Work hard - get a paycheck.  Have a paycheck - pay your bills.  Help others - you are helped yourself.  You see, hard work is a good thing - having money in your account is awesome!  Getting a paycheck is tremendously satisfying - living debt-free is overwhelmingly liberating.  Reaching out to others in need is rewarding - seeing a return on your investment in the blessing another receives is priceless.  Basically, what he lays out for us is a twofold concept:

     - Search for good - find favor
     - Search for evil - you will find it

Desire for what is right and good leads to finding favor with God and our fellowman.  Ambition misdirected toward evil just ends in evil.  Let me put it another way - the one who yields their desires to the leading of God in their lives will enjoy a tremendous reward.  The reward is something we experience here and now on this earth - contentment.  Favor is experienced in both the mind and in our actions - we get our minds set straight and our steps ordered. When these two things occur, contentment is certain to not be far behind.  All forms of discontent are really linked to either not having our minds at peace, or in engaging in some missteps along the way.  

Sometimes we fail to recognize the value of what we have been given.  We have been given all kinds of "good" in life - but what awaits us is really something pretty "great" - the "best" is our target.  If you look at a target, there are concentric rings which come to focus on some really small circle in the middle.  All the outer rings have "hallow space" in between them, don't they.  Getting anything inside one of those spaces is good, is it not?  Yet, the "solid" circle in the middle of the target - the small circle - is the best, isn't it? The "best" is not the biggest, nor the easiest to hit - the smallest is. But...did you ever stop to ask why it is a solid circle in the middle?  I think it might just be to help us focus on it!  All the other "hallow space" just leads us to looking directly at "dead center" on the target!  

Best is always "dead center" in our lives.  Whatever, or whoever, controls "dead center" determines the "score" in our lives.  Just sayin!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fired any canon balls lately?

The words we use in a relationship can build up or tear down the relationship, for words affect people much more than what we might originally imagine. Scripture reminds us, "The loose tongue of the godless spreads destruction; the common sense of the godly preserves them." (Proverbs 11:9 MSG)  A "loose tongue" is like a loaded canon - it fires loudly, aims blindly, and leaves a gaping hole when it lands.  There are a lot of ways to classify the words we speak, but none does more damage than those which arise out of either bad character or bad conduct.  These words tend to lean toward the side of being a little less than refreshing and restoring.  Just like the canon ball, they cause a lot of discomfort and leave an offensive "after-taste".  If you have ever smelled spent gunpowder, you know the offensive "after-taste" I am referring to.  It kind of stings your nose and sours your taste.  A loose tongue has a pretty similar action in the lives of those on the receiving AND sending end of it!

When you’re kind to others, you help yourself; when you’re cruel to others, you hurt yourself.  (Proverbs 11:17 MSG)

Loose tongued folks seem to be oblivious to the sorrow they bring, don't they? They just open up and let it go - not really concerned with the destructiveness which will tear huge holes into the relationship.  The first "hole" left by their "canon ball" will likely heal in time, but if there are repeated "holes" created by their words, the relationship begins to crumble.  People eventually turn away from what brings them pain - only sadistic people seek out pain!  "Mean-spirited slander is heartless; quiet discretion accompanies good sense."  (vs. 12 MSG)  Wise discernment rescues the godly - because they sense when it is the right time to speak and the best time to remain silent.  Just as importantly, they know what the right words are in the right season.  

The way we live affects other people - we cannot escape this truth.  No man or woman lives only to themselves.  Try as we might, we can only isolate ourselves so much - eventually we will affect others, even if it is by our isolation!  Both action and inaction have an affect on those around us.  When the godly are in the midst of our "community", there is something of a blessing upon the community just by their presence.  The upright become a blessing to those they share community among - because their influence is unmatched by anything this world has to offer.  

If you haven't stopped to think about this in a while, it is important to remember your "neighbor" is more than a nearby person who shares a cubicle in your workplace, pulls into the garage next door to you, or enjoys a cup of coffee at your local coffee house each morning at the table next to yours. Your neighbor is your "fellowman" - someone with a kindred spirit - sometimes hurting more than you know.  They may have been subject to the canon balls of others who forgot about how we each share this kindred spirit.  They might just be looking for someone to help them patch the holes left by the loose tongued attacks of another.  Who we become to our neighbor often speaks much about who we have become as a person in Christ Jesus.

Just as important as recognizing we share space with men and women of kindred spirit is this idea of being led by great leaders.  We all know sometimes our leaders fail us.  As I write these words today, our government leaders in the United States are failing us with their inability to work toward compromise over the budget.  Essentially, the government officials have "locked heads" and refuse to budge.  Maybe this is because there are so many "leaders" attempting to create the agenda.  Truth is, we can only be led by one leader at a time!  Good leaders do a great deal to determine our "wealth". Not just the wealth of the country, but the wealth of the soul.  The most influential leaders I know are those who lead with passion - but misdirected passion of any sort will lead to bad decisions.  In relationships of all kinds, one leads and another follows.  Even if it is just something as simple as deciding where to eat tonight - one leads, the other follows.  This is why it is always so essential to remember the "kindred" nature of the other - not demanding our own way, ruthlessly declaring the way it will be, or creating discomfort for the other by the way we lead when it is our "turn" to lead.

As we wrap this up today, let me end with the idea of "nourishing" with your words.  We need to become excellent at nourishing the soul of our fellowman. We do this through deeds which build up.  God expects us to be sensitive to the condition of another's soul and spirit.  In doing so, we exhibit the nature of God to those who "neighbor" in our communities.  How agreeable are your words?  If you find your words have pushed your neighbor a little further away than you might have liked, today is your opportunity to become a little more "tight lipped" with your words!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Honesty and Humility - hand in hand

Blessing in life is a matter of choice.  Choice is a matter of considering our options and then selecting the one which comes the closest to what we hoped to accomplish or obtain.  Sometimes the thing we "settle on" as a matter of choice is not the "exact" thing we hoped for, but it is close enough to meet our expectations.  Our action or behavior determines the course of our lives - this course goes a long way in determining the blessing or curse we experience in the journey.  It is important to remember that every wrong choice comes with a way of escape - either before we make the choice, or once we realize we are traveling down the wrong path, we turn around.  The point at which we experience the "escape" is important - most of us would rather not make the wrong choices and suffer even one-tenth of the consequences of those choices.  We'd like to consistently make the best choices - experiencing the full one-hundred percent blessing!

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin...  Moral character makes for smooth traveling; an evil life is a hard life.  Good character is the best insurance; crooks get trapped in their sinful lust...  A good person is saved from much trouble; a bad person runs straight into it.  
(Proverbs 11:3, 5-6, 8 MSG)

Honesty and humility are two choices we shall consider this morning.  Both are very specific choices, for neither allows for much "liberality" in our definition.  We either are honest or we are not.  We either exhibit true humility or we do not.  There isn't much middle ground with these two choices, for anything less than 100% honesty is a lie and something less than pure humility is a farce.

- Honesty in relationships seems to be one of the things God puts a lot of emphasis on in scripture.  It begins with honesty with him, but it carries into all the other relationships we experience in life.  Honesty is not only a choice in relationship with others, but it is also a choice in evaluating ourselves. God's character demands honesty because it is how he operates - openly, above board, and with integrity.  Two things God expects of us in relationship: be straight-forward with each other, and be truthfully fair.  God leads by example here - telling us like it is, and not showing partiality to any man.  

Let me speak about dishonesty a little for a moment.  Dishonesty in relationship actually is a breeding ground for all kinds of issues, but probably one of the most damaging is this idea of creating "false hopes".  When we are dishonest with others, we actually build upon a basis of "false hopes" - almost creating an atmosphere where one or the other will someday find their hopes totally unfounded.  Whenever we cannot be "above board" in our relationships, we find the things which don't get shared are probably a little more important the things which do get shared.  Dishonesty is often revealed in NOT being truthful - not so much in what is said, but in what is left unsaid.  

God is looking for us to be "real" people.  He wants our lives to be based in "reality" - not in some trumped up hope in the by-and-by which never comes to fruition.  "Reality" involves being "reputable" - able to be counted on, always consistent in our dealings.  Honesty breeds assurances - because we know where we stand and what we struggle with.  This makes a man or woman credible - trustworthy.  In turn, this makes a person respectable - there is something within their character which points to these attributes we find give a solid foundation within relationship.  

- Humility is a life choice in all relationships and is essential in evaluating direction and outcome in life.  First, God expects for us to defer to his plans for our lives and not be so doggone independent in our choices.  He asks this for a reason - because we don't do such a good job staying within the boundaries of safety within our lives.  Boundaries kind of threaten an "independent" spirit.  For the one who has placed their trust in the faithfulness of God, boundaries are less of a threat because we trust in the one who sets them for us.  Humble individuals realize the "independence" of free choice is not always the safest way to make choices!

As we look at humility, we must examine the opposite - arrogance.  There is just no room for arrogance in our relationships - it damages them, pushes others away, and it keeps us from being totally honest with others and our selves.  If you have ever struggled with even a smidgen of pride in your life, you know how much this pushes a wedge between you and others.  Pride is more than feeling good about an accomplishment - it is the demand of our inner nature to get noticed for the accomplishment, thought about a little more highly than others, etc.  Arrogance always puts the focus on how the situation impacts self, not the other guy.

Maybe this is why God warns us so frequently about the dangers of pride.  In the most literal sense, arrogance puts us at a disadvantage for maintaining relationship because it is rather over-bearing.  Pride has a way of catching people up in its path - but sometimes it always has a way of dashing them as quickly to the ground.  Why?  Pride goes before a fall - isn't this what scripture teaches.  Get all caught up in arrogant behavior in any relationship and that relationship is headed for a little turbulence.  

Honest dealings, consistently deferring to God's plans, and openly displaying the grace and love of Jesus in your lives is a much safer foundation upon which we build, is it not?  At best, all other choices only yield temporary gains.  The "permanent" gains in life are because we have dealt honestly and we live humbly.  Trust in any other plan than God's will result in a rocky path, easy stumbling, and a lot of bunged up knees!  The righteous can escape the falls because God is there not just to remove the obstacles from the path, but to catch us when we begin to stumble.  As I mentioned earlier, escape comes at various points in our walk - sometimes at the very beginning before we make the first misstep, other times just short of a full fall.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Are you aspiring or ambitious?

Have you ever experienced one of those "empty-head" moments when you just do something and then look back and say to yourself, "Now why'd I do THAT"? I think we probably all have at some point.  We just plunge right in and then in retrospect, we kind of wonder how we ever got as "messed up" as we did. It was probably because we had one of those times when we just didn't stop long enough to consider the consequences of what we were doing - the scripture calls this being "empty-headed".  These empty-headed decisions are really not built on a solid foundation, therefore they will not turn out well. Our conduct may be fun for a while, but eventually empty-headed decisions catch up with us.  Mindful decisions are marked by attentiveness, awareness, and great care.  These types of decisions make for a much better outcome - their foundation is a lot stronger and more enduring.

An empty-head thinks mischief is fun, but a mindful person relishes wisdom. The aspirations of good people end in celebration; the ambitions of bad people crash.  The speech of a good person clears the air; the words of the wicked pollute it.  (Proverbs 10:23, 28, 32 MSG)

I have to ask - are you a planner?  If so, would you say you lean more to the side of being a "schemer" or a "developer"?  A schemer leans to the side of embracing the impractical - they have a plan, but it may not be well thought out.  The developer leans to the side of development - allowing one piece to build upon another until they see the result of the finished work.  Scripture promises the planner a much better outcome than the schemer.  Why?  There is a tendency for the planner to stop long enough to get God's perspective on the matter, while the schemer just takes off, hoping God will back them in their plan.  I have to admit, I have been on both sides of the fence on this one!  I can be the best of planners and the worst of schemers!  So, I speak from experience on this one.  I have had some of those empty-headed moments - but I'd like to think I have come full circle to becoming more mindful.  A mindful person really has their "mind full", but with the right stuff!

The godly rest secure - because they can do so when their plans are made and acted upon in God's sight.  The fool might just make a few of their decision under the cover of "darkness" - kind of like they hope to "fly under the radar" on some of them!  It took me a long while to realize God doesn't need the radar!  His powers of observations far outdo the radar - so there is really no "flying under the radar" with him!  Mischief - ever stop to consider this word? It dawned on me it could be written as "MIS-Chief".  In other words, the control (chief) in our lives is "misplaced".  We determine to be "chief" instead of keeping God at the center.  Anytime we do this, we are open to some pretty empty-headed decisions and actions!  Mischief is really anything which will bring hurt or damage - getting anything but God at the center of our decisions is sure to produce both.

Aspirations - the goal or objective of your focus.  The goals or objectives of a godly man or woman end in celebration - because the desire, longing, or aim of their hearts is to please only one.  The godly are contrasted to the foolish who don't have aspirations, but ambitions.  Ambitions are some pursuit which will result in a distinguished honor, power, fame, or even wealth.  Some might think aspirations and ambitions are closely related - they wouldn't be wrong, but it is the "intent" behind each which determines if they are right for a child of God.  The focus of our minds, hearts, and spirit is what is brought into question here.  If it is God and no other (including ourselves), then we are likely pursuing aspirations born in our heart by God himself.  If we really have no idea where God fits into the picture of whatever we are pursuing, it is likely an ambition and might just be one of those "empty headed" moments!

Aspirations and ambitions come across in our speech.  What we are entertaining in our minds eventually comes across in what we are saying.  The godly lean toward speech which is helpful and productive - the fool tends toward the speech which really sounds good, but isn't backed by anything of real value.  The wise offer words of good advice - the fool cannot help but deceive others because he is deceiving himself by his own empty-headed decisions.  The wise will speak what ends in blessing to the hearer, and ultimately even brings blessing into their own lives.  The fool will speak what tends to corrupt, ending in destruction to those who hear and embrace the fool-hardy advice of the empty-headed.  Our words are good indicators of the condition of our soul and emotional well-being.  If pure, then our words are usually reflective of a heart right with God.  

I want to end with another verse from the same portion of scripture this morning:  When the storm is over, there’s nothing left of the wicked; good people, firm on their rock foundation, aren’t even fazed.  (vs. 25 MSG)  Putting this all together, here's what we can observe:

- When we allow our minds to be governed by the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we make better decisions.  The "quality" of our decisions to act are based on a solid foundation.  The result of the "well-planned" actions which are the result of having the right focus will end in better outcomes.

- We can have a lot of ambition and still totally miss the mark in the end. Ambition alone will not stand the test of time, or the challenge of testing. We need the desires of our heart to be filtered through the mind and heart of Christ. Until this occurs, we are just seeking ambitions - we never really move into aspirations.

- What stands the test of time is not the empty-headed decisions, but the well-rounded decisions of a heart willing to wait on God for his direction. Getting his perspective makes all the difference when the storms challenge our decisions.  Just sayin!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Honesty opens doors to healing

Wise words come from people of understanding.  People of understanding are able to speak of a situation in a completely different manner because they grasp the meaning of the situation.  The fool just cannot get the same grasp on the circumstances of life - they might babble on a lot, but the things they speak really don't bring clarity, or shed much light on the matter.  A fool cannot size up the situation because a fool seldom learns from his past experiences.  As if to point out the difference between the fool and the wise, the writer of Proverbs pens these words:  The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you’re lost for good. (10:17 MSG)  In order to walk in the pathway of life, we must accept discipline (correction).  The fool has a hard time with this - so they repeat the mistakes they've made over and over again.  If we want to live "rich" lives, we need to embrace discipline - for discipline is the road to true "richness".

God's blessing makes life rich; nothing we do can improve on God. (Proverbs 10:22 MSG)

If you haven't guessed it by now, I think God really looks for people to be honest, not necessarily perfect.  I think we get this a little messed up on occasion - thinking God expects our perfection.  The fool has a hard time being honest - making an honest appraisal of his actions, openly admitting his failures, being transparent about where he struggles the most.  The wise find the means to growth to be this life of transparency.  Honest appraisal of where you are, what keeps you struggling, and what you find you have the least control over in your own life is the beginning of learning.  We cannot learn when we don't recognize our "ignorance".  Honesty is the doorway to wisdom.

I think there are some things God expects in his relationship with is kids - these aren't optional - they are the basis of good relationships.  These principles certainly apply to our relationship with Christ, but they also apply in each and every relationship we have in life.

- There is no room for hidden hatred.  When we bury our disdain, trying desperately to hide our loathing of a person or thing, we just bury it - it never really gets dealt with.  When we bury stuff, it leads to anger, bitterness, and division in relationships.  God knows we struggle with certain things - liking some things we would do well to turn our backs on and turning away from other things because they are just too hard to deal with or we just feel so repulsed by them.  When we refuse to bury the stuff which is too hard to deal with, we open ourselves up for the opportunity to learn what it will take to get past it.  When we will not accept constantly embracing the wrong stuff, we get to a place where we begin to desire different outcomes in our lives.  This is the value of honesty in relationship - it keeps the stuff above the surface, until it is dealt with in the manner which will resolve the conflict we feel in the first place.  When the conflict is settled - through honest and open discussion with the one who can resolve it - we all maintain health in our relationships.

- There is no room for slander.   Slander fosters further sin because loose lips really do sink ships (relation-ships).  Slander is any untruth which misrepresents the facts.  I think we have lots of this in relationships - even our relationship with God.  We don't want to be honest - because honest words can sometimes bite a little - so we tell the white lies.  Trust me, there are no white lies - a lie is a lie.  Anytime we settle for an untruth, we allow the facts to be distorted.  God is a God of the facts - he tells us like it is and he expects the same from us.  Since he knows the truth, we'd do well to just own up to the truth in the first place.  There is no need to cover up - slander just damages the reputation of the one who is being lied about.  When we lie about ourselves as we speak to God, we are only hurting ourselves.  If we make it a point to be open, above board with him, we will not engage in this dangerous habit of "masking" our reputation with lies.

- There is room for words which refresh and are reflective.  Sometimes we have no problem pointing out our faults to God, but we don't always allow him to speak back into our lives the words of refreshing he so eagerly desires to speak.  We can become too negative in our focus on occasion.  If we tend to go this route often enough, our tendency is to see our relationship with God as "never stacking up".  It is tough to have real freedom of sharing in a relationship where we always feel we have nothing to offer.  Words of reflection are like sweet honey - they pour over us, sticking to us, almost leaving a "residue" of having been touched by them.  This is how God works - he likes to leave little bits of himself in our lives after each encounter with is presence.  Words which refresh and are reflective are often his means of doing just this - so don't cut him off when he speaks - those words matter!

The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich and adds richness to the relationship - there is no room for sorrow or shame where there is a blessing. We need to remember the awesome potential we have in relationship with the one who loves us so deeply so as to bless us with each encounter.  Just sayin!