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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Creativity at its best

Creative lives are productive lives.  When we stop to think about this, we find there is something quite powerful in creativity - we bring into existence something which would otherwise not really be there.  My daughter is exceptionally creative and has her own blog which is gaining more and more popularity all the time.  At her website, TheCraftedSparrow.com, her creativity is on display.  What amazes me most is when she is given opportunities to bless others with her creativity.  She is sponsored by many large businesses now, including The World Market.  She has done a couple of feature presentations for them, being asked to take some of their products and create a "blessing" for another person or family, the latest being their "Share The Joy" campaign.  As I read about their wonderful challenges to "gift" your creativity to another, I find it heartwarming to see we haven't lost this idea of using what we have to bless others.  This is what life is supposed to be about - creative lives being productive lives - both in our own lives and then in reaching out to touch others through your creativity.

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.  Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galations 6:1-5 MSG)

Part of living creatively is learning how to overlook an offense.  If you have ever tried to overlook an offense, you know how extremely difficult this can be at time.  Forgiveness often requires some "original thought" - the very definition of creativity.  We have to learn to think differently about the offense and the offender.  It is more than just "writing it off" - it is purposefully choosing to not think of the behavior as something you will keep an account of AND learning to think "outside the box" as it applies to the other person's behavior.  Creativity is a form of productivity - the "original thought" begins to produce something within the relationship which becomes stronger and stronger each time we choose to overlook the offense.  It keeps the relationship as the focus and doesn't let the trivial slights interlope.  To pardon another and then to give up our claim to requital is tough work - it requires "original thought".  The "norm" would be to just feel slighted and to hold onto the slight until it forms a little root of resentment within.  The creative and productive thing to do is to renew, restore, and rebuild.  All three are words requiring creativity and involving productive action.

Creative living implies that something would not be in existence if you did not take some action to ensure it was.  It would not naturally evolve - it requires your intervention.  Crushed and burdened people need creative people in their lives, for it is often your God-given creativity which actually helps to unpack the burden for another.  In essence, you are bringing into existence what would not naturally evolve if that individual were to just deal with their burden themselves.  One thing I have come to appreciate about creative individuals - they work at a pace much different that most others.  In fact, my daughter will have more than one project going at one time, often leaving a little of this or that until she is "inspired" once again to pick it up and do something with it again.  The thing is, she is willing to stop long enough to put thought into what she wants to see as an outcome.  Often, she just has the raw materials and then takes quite a bit of time arranging the idea of what she shall create in her mind.  Then she acts on what she envisions.  God put you into the lives of others because you might just be able to see the raw materials of their circumstances in a way they would never be able to if they were to consider it on their own.  They need your willingness to stop long enough to consider the possibilities and then your help in arranging all the pieces so the burden they carry is finally unloaded in such a way that something creative comes out of the burden.

I think it is about time we all begin to make a careful exploration of who we are and the work we have been given.  It is a creative work and we have much "creativity" energy to lend in this hurting world.  Careful exploration requires more than a casual glance in the direction of others - and it also requires more than a casual glance in God's direction, as well.  We need to invest time and talent if we are to see creativity take hold in our lives.  Most of the time, we experience the creative surges within, but don't share what we have the power to bring into existence with others.  God never intended for us to just keep our creative energies all bottled up - he gave us those energies so we might position ourselves to share the creative work he has done within us.  In so doing, we give hope to those who see only the "pieces" they have been given, but don't quite see how they might every fit together to make a finished work of art.  God often uses us to help with the "arranging of pieces" so the one who is unable to see their significance can begin to appreciate these pieces of their lives as tremendously valuable "ingredients".

Most of us just need to learn to work with what we have been given.  We need to stop allowing the talents and abilities we have been given to lay dormant in our lives.  Their purpose from the beginning was to be creatively expressed.  They have a purpose far outside your own appreciation - but once you begin to use what you have been given to bless the lives of another, you begin to see the creative purpose of God in blessing you with those gifts and talents.  Sink yourself into what God blessed you to do - jump in with both feet.  Don't be timid in your creativity - for God gave you these talents not for your own use, but to be passionately expressed for his honor.  Just sayin!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Since is a powerful word

Some of us have a tendency to deal too much in the "past tense" of our lives. There is this intense focus on the "what ifs" and the "should haves" instead of the stuff which makes up our current picture.  Maybe it is because our minds have this way of capturing those moments in living memory - "scrapbooking" the sadness of our past and continually dragging it out to dredge up these old memories in our present.  There is one part of "past tense" we don't realize - what has been done doesn't need to be done again!  Perhaps this is why God thought it so important for us to recognize the futility of continually living in sin when we have ALREADY died to it!

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?  Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?  Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?  For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.  For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.  (Romans 6:1-7 NLT)

Breaking it down for you, here is exactly what God said:

- Since we died to sin...this is not present tense, it is past tense.  When death ensues, what we once were is no longer what we are now.  As death occurs, the very life-giving source is cut off.  When we died to sin, the life-giving source was cut off - we stopped feeding what only could produce decay and destruction in our lives.  Since really means "in view of the fact that" - it is an established fact, already having been established, and inarguable.  Once you spread butter on a piece of toast, it is on there.  SINCE you spread butter on there, you cannot now "go back" on the decision to have butter on the toast - it is an established fact that butter is now in union with the bread!  SINCE we died to sin, it is an established fact that this is no longer the present condition of our heart or mind!

- How can we continue to live in it...this is not a casual question, but rather a restatement of the SINCE statement.  Our condition has changed.  When a mother gives birth to her newborn, she is no longer pregnant, but she remains a mother.  She is known as a mother, but she no longer carries around this growing, breathing life within.  In terms of our own sin nature, we no longer carry around this sin within as a growing thing, but we do still have the "nature" which we are known by.  It is this "nature" which seems to give us our mental and heart "tie" with the past way of living.  We have to recognize that sin is no longer being "fed" from within - it may still beckon to us from without, but it is no longer connected to a life source within!

- We died with him...our "past" is no longer in existence.  Our old man and those ways of doing business have ceased to exist as they once were.  As a result of death we are no longer subject to those things which held us captive all those years.  I have said it before, but it bears repeating - what is dead is dead - it develops a certain characteristic which makes it quite plain it is dead!  Today, with modern science being what it is, we often make what is dead look very much alive!  The entire embalming process even was designed to slow the process of decay so families could have a few extra days to dress up the dead corpse and say their good-byes.  Don't think me crass here, but I think we might just try to dress up our dead corpses of sin so that we can stay connected with them just a little longer!

- We also may live new lives...note it is not OLD lives we are to live, but the new.  There is no need to return to that which is dead - we don't dig up, wallow around in, and become familiar with that which is physically dead, so why do we do it with the stuff we had a connection with in our past?  Why is it so hard to cut ourselves off from the past?  Living is a choice.  We must determine to take on our new identity and not continue to connect with the old.  For those of you who don't know, I have been "single-again" for over 25 years now.  If I continued to hold onto my old identity as married to my ex, I'd be trying to live in something which is now totally off-limits to me.  There is no bond there, no tie which holds us together any longer.  So, if I held onto it when it was declared to be "dead", wouldn't you declare me foolish?  The "old" is dead and the "new" is what I have to live in today.

- Since we have been united with him...united with means we are made one with him.  In other words, we are now living in agreement with him - adhered so as to be only ONE unit.  We no longer function independently from Christ - therefore, he is there to walk us through the choices to sin or live rightly. 
What we determined to connect to becomes that which is our source for every movement or continued action in our lives.

- Sin has lost its power...at the Cross nothing remains the same.  We are no longer subject to it.  When something exerts power over something else, there is a dominating influence which must constantly be countered. Since this dominating influence has been broken by the work of the cross, it has been rendered powerless over us.  It is what we submit to which determines what we will produce.  When power is cut off from one source and connected to another, the potential to live differently occurs.  It is a matter of where we stay connected!  Just sayin!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I don't get into the Facebook fads like sharing ten things about yourself no one else knows, or the one which surfaces each year around Thanksgiving season when everyone tries to focus on what they are thankful for everyday. It isn't that there aren't things you don't know about me, or that I am not a thankful individual.  In fact, as today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., I just wanted to take a moment or two to just focus our attention on what it is we are truly grateful for.  The most profound post I saw this month about thanksgiving read:  "If material things are what you are talking about when you say 'I am blessed', you have no idea about blessings."  If we stop long enough to chew on this one, we might just have to agree with the person writing this post.  What we choose to focus on, make the object of our affection and attention, will often become the thing or individual we learn to count among our greatest treasures.

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.  (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 MSG)

Four things are outlined in this passage:  Rejoicing at all times; Being joyful in all things; Praying without ceasing; and Giving thanks regardless of the "things".  We have a tendency to complain when "things" don't fulfill our wants or wishes, prayer seems to be taking too long to see any answers we might expect, sadness seems to invade space where we'd rather have joy reside, or when it is almost impossible to be thankful for what we see as not so wonderful of a "blessing" in our lives.  If you stop long enough to consider this, you might just realize "Promised Land" possibilities are not a result of "Present Circumstance" complaining!  If we are given toward complaining when the slightest thing doesn't go our way, or our expectations are not completely met, we will be miserable - because it just doesn't ALWAYS go our way!

Complaining actually keeps us from realizing the possibilities God has for us in the moment.  Complaining is usually because we have formed some unrealistic expectations anyway - just getting our priorities a little mixed up. If we'd just stop to consider the power of our words, and the revelation our words provide us to actually explore the intention of our hearts, we might just pay a little closer attention to them!  Our words reveal the direction our hearts have taken - they are like the rudder on a boat, directed by the course of our heart.  The scriptures clearly point out the words of our mouth as a source of many of our worries and conflicts - but those words come from a deeper source - the heart.  This is why God reflects on the four principles we outlined from our passage - for each of these is what he is wants to see realized in our hearts rather than all the complaining.

Rejoicing is a choice - we determine the level of satisfaction or gratitude we will attach to or associate with events and individuals in our lives.  Once we make this determination, we can either choose to rejoice or bemoan our fate. The choice to rejoice is much more rewarding, for it is then we learn to regard even the tiniest of blessings as worth a price far greater than gold!  When we learn to rejoice from a heart focused not on the 'size' of the blessing, but rather on the fact we are truly blessed, it is a whole lot easier to be joyful, prayer comes a little more freely, and we just don't forget the small stuff when we consider what it is we are grateful for.

There is something powerful in thanksgiving - it creates a connection between the potential for and the provision of.  We all have potential, but provision is a result of our focus.  Focus on the correct connection and potential becomes provision.  Thanksgiving trains the mind's eye to look beyond what isn't there to seeing what is.  "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (Hebrews 11:1 NLT)  Faith, trust, and thanksgiving all go hand-in-hand.  Most of us don't have a problem RECEIVING the good things in life, but do we stop long enough to consider the PERSON behind those good things?  Even the very faith to believe for the possibilities is a result of the provision of our God.  We don't possess faith on our own, we don't see the possibilities because of our own inner conviction, and we don't act on our faith because we have the inner strength to see things through to completion.  We get all these at the feet of Jesus.

If you haven't stopped to consider the connection between relationship and thanksgiving, it is time to do so.  All thanksgiving is best understood and appreciated because we stopped long enough to consider the giver of all good things in our lives.  We acknowledge each other often, but do we stop to acknowledge the one who actually provided that other person?  Thanksgiving provides foundation for praise and promise - you enter with a grateful heart and upon that gratefulness, foundational truths are built into your spirit. Those truths guide your heart and in turn focus your attention on the one who blesses instead of all the blessings.  As we stop today to "consider", maybe it is time we turn our attention away from the blessings and toward the one who blessed us with all things - God himself.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Unless....

Have you ever had one of those nights when you just couldn't sleep?  You tossed and turned, just barely getting in some "naps" along the way.  I usually sleep the first four hours pretty soundly and get a great deal of my rest within those four hours.  Then I find myself sleeping "lightly" for the remainder of my night - usually another three hours.  God gives rest to his kids - the secret is to stop long enough to understand and enjoy the rest.  I actually do very well on seven hours of "physical" rest, but there are times when it seems like I don't take the time to get the "spiritual" rest I need.  I am setting myself up for a huge crash whenever this occurs.  You might just say I experience one of those "unless" moments - unless I stop, I will run headlong into something I'd probably not want to face!  How about you? Experienced any of those "unless" moments in your life lately?

If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.  
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone.  Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves? (Psalm 127:1-2 MSG)

The idea of "unless" is the presentation of an "exception".  When I have had computer crashes, I get this screen which gives me one of those "exception" messages - if you want to start "normally", hit this key, or you can start in "safe mode".  It is an "unless" moment - you can start "normally" UNLESS you think something more major is going on and you need to take time to fix it before you do!  Today, we are faced with two "unless" moments:  Unless the Lord builds a house and Unless the Lord protects the city.

Unless the Lord builds the house....we get shacks!  In order to understand this, we need to stop long enough to consider what goes into building.  

First, there are plans and designs.  Without these, no amount of building actually will produce anything of significant and lasting quality.  God actually has plans for our lives, but I wonder how long we stop to consider allowing him to unfold those plans for us.  The other day I was on my way to work and saw a workman's drafted plans had fallen out of his truck - they were in the middle of the street.  I thought for a moment how bad his day was going to go without those plans.  If we stop to consider it, UNLESS we know and follow the plans God has for us, we will only be building shacks!  

Second, the building needs an allocation of resources.  No building actually occurs with only the plans - the builder needs the resources to build with. God provides the resources we need in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Yet, so many times we choose to "allocate" resources within our lives ourselves.  The rub...these resources are far inferior to those provided by the master craftsman.  

Third, there must be a provision of a building crew - no building actually occurs with just two hands.  Some of the tasks might be manageable with only two hands, but try holding up a wall on your own, nailing it down, and starting on the trusses of the roof all without any assistance.  God's building crew consists of his Holy Spirit as foreman and his ministering angels (his other kids) in our lives. We need the entire crew to get the job done.

Fourth, there will be times of periodic inspection - this is just part of building. The purpose of the inspection is not to shut us down, but to verify the progress of the work according to the plans.  The inspector actually examines the plans, compares the work done "to date" and validates the building is true to the plans, or needs some subtle adjustments to ensure completion in a correct manner.

Fifth, the building is fitted with decoration - a form of adornment.  God doesn't just put up a shell of a building - he outfits it with the finest of interior and exterior design.  You might say he adorns us - with garments of praise and robes of righteousness.

Sixth, the builder focuses on the landscaping.  Once the majority of the building is completed, he turns his attention to sculpting the perfect "landscape" which not only provides protection, but gives us a little sense of his watchfulness over our lives.  A well-planned garden will provide much enjoyment.

Last, the final building is inhabited by its new owners.  The splendor is greater than ever before when the "purpose" of the building actually begins to accommodate the one for whom it was built in the first place.  

Unless the Lord protects a city...the night watchman might as well nap. Having pulled guard duty in the military, I know how shameful it is to fall asleep while on duty.  Letting your guard down for even a short period of time can open up the "guarded place" to all kinds of riff-raff.  We can station all kinds sentries in our lives:

- Those that act as dividing walls protecting us from outside influence - but we never grow in God's wisdom and the choices of our will are not challenged when we put up these walls.

- The sentry of self-will, keeping all others and all manner of health from the benefits of the protection within.  As long as we determine to be the sentry over our own lives, we limit the potential of the grandeur of the city itself.

- The sentry of pride which will never stand the test of hard winds and stampeding armies.  Pride is merely a display - take away all the fancy facades and you are left with nothing. 

God's protection over our lives cannot be short-circuited.  We need his skill to bring us outside of the walls we erect, so we can experience the challenges he has designed to help us grow.  We need his gentle graces to break down the self-determination of "personal control" - for no amount of "personal control" ever produces the products of grace in our lives.  We need his strong arm to hold at bay the desires of our flesh to present only the superficial facades of change - he looks much deeper and wants what he has created within to be on display, not our pretend images of his life-transformation.

Unless...a powerful word of contrast.  Unless...anything less than is just not good enough for one of his kids.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting worship into perspective

Maybe you have never really stopped to consider why it is you rejoice over certain things in your life, or perhaps you haven't really stopped to rejoice in a long while.  Either way, you are missing the point of praise - it is an expression of your heart, and it is in response to something or someone. Therefore, it has to be intentional and purposeful in order to really be called praise - anything else is really just flattery!

Rejoice out loud to God, our strength!  (Psalm 81:1 CEB)

Strength comes from God and is found in him.  It is a two-way gift.  It comes FROM him - a provision in a time of need.  It is also found IN him - a provision which keeps us when we are just plain unaware a need even exists.  As we place ourselves at his disposal, in purposeful and intentional worship, we exchange our strength for his.  We are moving from a place of weakness to a place of victory - for nothing can stand against what is provided by him!

For this is required by the decrees of Israel; it is a regulation of the God of Jacob.  (Psalm 81:4 NLT)

We may not blow the ram's horn anymore in our worship times, but in the time of King David, the ram's horn was not only used to call men to war, alert to danger, but to call attention to the time and place of worship.  It was used to announce a festival - or feast - in which time was taken away from the regularly scheduled events of the day and spent focusing on the one who made all things possible for his people.  Worship and celebration of God's grace is not optional for a child of God - it is a thing which is to be a regular and consistent part of our walk.  We are to have daily times and special times when we set aside ourselves, center our focus, and get purposeful in celebrating God.

“Now I will take the load from your shoulders; I will free your hands from their heavy tasks."  (Psalm 81:6 NLT)

If you don't engage in praise and worship for any other reason, this should catch your attention.  In response to men and women "centering" themselves on purpose in order to really celebrate God, his response is to remove the load which we carried into that place of worship!  Worship actually lifts the burdens of our hearts that would otherwise become unbearable for each of us.  The weights of daily life lift as we bow before him in adoration.  It never ceases to amaze me how God does this, but if you haven't taken time in a while to "center" on Jesus, you might just be bearing more pressure in your life than you actually need to!

You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you...  (Psalm 81:7 NLT)

It never surprises me when I realize some of my "worshipful" moments begin with crying out to God because something is just wrong in my life.  The immediate need for his intervention outweighs my desire to worship - I need to unburden and get his perspective - that "brings" me - but his presence "keeps" me!  God has an attentive ear and a caring heart.  He is moved by whatever "brings" us, but his focus is on "keeping" us there just long enough to actually begin to affect us deep enough so we know we have spent time in his presence.  He is tuned into whatever our need is - but he is also tuned into whatever is testing our faith - because he wants to prove the reality and the basis of that faith.  One brings us, the other keeps us.

Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings.  (Psalm 81:8 NLT)

The need we have is nothing compared to the solution he has for meeting that need.  Yet, we can often avoid having need at all if we would just heed the warnings he gives a little closer.  In times of intimate worship, we actually come closer to the heart of Jesus.  In those moments, there is a teach-ability he is looking for in each of us.  It is his desire for us to be spared the agony of defeat and the damage of the circumstances which would create havoc in our lives.  Our obligation is to listen - to heed the signs he has so tenderly placed in our path.

You must never have a foreign god; you must not bow down before a false god.  (Psalm 81:9 NLT)

God will have no other God before him - he has pretty well established this fact since the beginning of time.  No other focus of our attention is worthy of our attention - yet we struggle so much with all manner of distractions which do little more than direct our attention to anything other than Jesus himself. NEVER is a pretty stern warning - in centering ourselves afresh on a regular and consistent basis, we actually do a much better job coming closer to this "never" reality!

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.  (Psalm 81:10 NLT)

A child waits to be fed from the parent's hand.  Open mouthed, open spirited, and open-hearted - the three conditions of being fed.  God expects nothing less of us - he will never disappoint a waiting heart and open spirit.

I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas.  (Psalm 81:11 NLT)

Don't be deceived - living according to our own desires instead of what he plans for our lives is dangerous and barren ground.  This is never his ideal - but he will not contradict our will and our internal desires.  This is why it is so important to bring those desires to him and to center our will into his care. He desires obedience and a willing service from his kids - we settle for slavery and servitude any time we choose to focus on our own ideas and plans instead of making his central in our focus.

Oh, that my people would listen to me!  But I would feed you with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock.  (Psalm 81:13, 16 NLT)

We might think worship and praise is all about us doing the talking and proclaiming - it INVOLVES this, but it is not all about this.  It is a place and time of feeding - of filling.  There is no need for us to linger in hunger - for his graces are at the ready to fill beyond our capacity.  It is the hungry and seeking he stands at the ready to fill.  Our part is to come, to abide, and to stay.  His part is to exchange, fill, and uplift.  Just sayin!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Aligning purpose and timing

Some of the actions we take in life just don't come out right, do they?  We might plan one thing, but in the course of living out the details of the plan, something quite different actually begins to blossom.  We have a pretty good idea we are headed in a direction we will actually benefit from, but in the end, we almost lose something in the venture.  What's going on here?  In the simplest terms, we can plan all we want, but unless we submit those plans to God's purpose and his timing, we can have all the right plans but miss the timing or purpose he has for us.  Therefore, we need to have some pretty well understood "tests" which will help us to determine of the action we are planning will actually fit into both God's purpose and his timing for our lives.

Honesty lives confident and carefree, but Shifty is sure to be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9 MSG)

These aren't rocket science by any means, but if we will keep them in mind, they should answer the "purpose" or "timing" question for us pretty well:

1. Is the decision we are making right now going to pass the integrity test? Another way of saying this is:  Will the decision I am making right now actually reveal that what I say matches up with what I do?  If we are to think about this carefully, we will realize quite readily God's desire is for our actions to match our testimony.  What we say we are to do - there isn't supposed to be a disconnect.  Sometimes we do things which just don't match our basic belief system.  At other times, we don't explore to see if our decision will actually pass the "Word" test (what does God's Word say about it).  Grey areas certainly exist, but if we cannot do something with a totally clear conscience, knowing it will align with what God says is right for us, we probably shouldn't go there at all.  God knows how each of us functions - so if he restricts us from something, but may not seem to restrict another from the same action, we shouldn't resist this restriction.  For us, the action is wrong. 

2. If we take this action, will it actually do anything to improve who we are? If not, will it do anything to damage who we are?  It goes without saying that there are actions we can take which will have absolutely no harm for us.  We might not get "brought down" by the activity, but does it do anything to build us up?  We cannot simply engage in activities which just leave us in "neutral" all the time as it applies to our growth.  We need activities which will challenge us to grow.  We certainly should not pursue the ones which will hurt us or others.  These are clearly wrong for us.  Those actions which are not "clearly wrong" may not be "clearly right" either.  If they damage our reputation or testimony in the eyes of God or another who is trying to see God through us, those actions may not be "clearly right" for us!

3. Does the action we plan on taking actually help others draw nearer to Christ or understand his influence in our lives any clearer?  This is a tough one because we really cannot always see and understand how another will see our actions, so we need the Holy Spirit to assist us with this one.  It should be clear to us that we always, and I mean always, have someone watching us. The things we say and do show how much our words and actions align.  We proclaim to be Christian, but are we always acting in a Christ-like manner.  If I were to be painfully truthful with you, I could admit freely there is often a disconnect between what I say and what I do.  This is the toughest part of my walk - ensuring my actions and words match.  There are times when my actions might just present a "stumbling block" for my brother or sister who are looking on.  I think the Apostle Paul dealt with this well in First Corinthians 8 when he dealt with meat offered to idols and whether it was okay to eat it. The meat isn't "tainted" by being offered - it is still good for eating . . . BUT a weaker brother or sister may get a little "hung up" on what the meat has been used for and see our eating it as an issue they just cannot resolve in their conscience.  We need to be sensitive to the weaknesses, and even the questions, of others.

4. Does the choice have the benefit of producing a good outcome, a better outcome, or the best outcome for our lives?  All choice can really be viewed as an investment of sorts.  We can make "good" investments which return decent returns.  We can make really "smart" investments which actually produce a little "healthier" return.  Then we can make really "wise" investments which actually position us to have the best outcome or return on our investment. There is clearly a difference - each has a "yield" but it differs.  This is where God's timing comes in to play - we need to understand his timing in our choices as much as we do the timing in how we invest our monies! Sometimes the timing can be off with our choices and we might get a "decent" return on the investment, but it is not fully what he would have planned for us if we had of waited on him for the timing!

Since all choice actually bears some type of outcome, it is important to ask if the outcome will hold up under the test of time.  Nothing is more disappointing than to find we ahead or behind his timing, except to find what we hoped would hold up over the course of time actually does not.  If we have to violate any principles in order to "open a door" for the opportunity, it is also probably going to be pretty disappointing for us in the end.  If we will keep these principles in mind, asking the "right" questions of ourselves when we are faced with choices, we will likely not be outside of his purpose or his timing for our lives.  In turn, the results will come a whole lot closer to the "best" for us.  Just sayin!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Default or Design - which are you living by?


If you have ever stopped to consider how your life is going, you might just come to the conclusion of having been living by default rather than by any particular design.  When you buy a new electronic device, there is a "factory preset" for how the system should work.  It is called the "default" operating system.  As time goes on and you become more familiar with what the device can actually do when it gets off the "default" mode, you might actually find you can do some pretty handy things with the device.  "Default" is only a beginning spot - it isn't where we are designed to live.  When we settle for "default", we negate the purpose of being created with the various abilities God has worked into our temperament and character.  In truth, whenever we settle for living in the "default" mode, we are simply saying we are content with someone other than us designing how we should live and respond - kind of like following a script.  From the beginning of time, God's intent has been for us to live by "design" rather than "default" - this is why he gave us the right to make choices.  We have a free-will - how much we choose to use our free-will to move closer to him, or further away from him is all up to us.

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.  I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order.  Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word.  Festoon me with your finest sayings, God; teach me your holy rules.  (Psalm 119:105-108 MSG)

To define this a little better, allow me a little creative latitude here, please. Each of us is created with a "default" operating system - body, soul, and spirit.  The body is animated by the spirit, the soul is what gives us the uniqueness of connection with one another.  The body gives a framework - the soul is what allows us to rationalize, make choices, and respond with any range of emotions.  The spirit is the place where we either embrace a closeness with God as our Lord and Savior, or we live with a void here.  By default, we have this void - the place of connection.  We either "fill the slot" with him, or we fill it with whatever seems to matter MORE than him.  By default, we are empty in this space - by choice the space is filled. Oftentimes, the choices we make kind of "override" the intentions of our heart.  We might think we will get to the place we desire in our heart, but the choices we make don't actually make it possible for us to actually see those desires met in the manner God intended for us.

God grants good sense to all of us - it is a choice to use it!  So many times, I hear people tell me they don't know what God's will is for their lives.  I have to go back to the "owner's manual" to help them frame their understanding of what God's will actually is.  God's will is becomes clear when we understand the three parts of our "default operating system" and see how they are interrelated.  When we do something which will not benefit our body, it is not going to provide a good framework for our soul or spirit any longer - so it is likely not God's will.  When we want to embrace things which will fill our minds with confusion, challenge the things we know to be true, or allow idleness in our thought processes, this is definitely not going to benefit either our body or soul.  If we choose to fill the place where God's Spirit desires to be "plugged in" within us with anything other than his Spirit, we will fall short of being animated as he would desire.

Something I learned much earlier in my life is the power of asking the right questions.  You can go through life asking questions, but if they aren't the right ones, you tend to lean toward the "default" answers.  When we begin to ask the right questions, such as "How will this impact my relationship with ..." or perhaps "What will this decision cost me in time which I should be directing into my relationship with Jesus", then we are going to find a different set of answers to help us live by design, not default.  It is amazing to see how the right questions produce different outcomes than questions which are superficial or just don't really require any effort to answer.  When I was taking algebra in junior high school, I would always hear my teacher ask, "Yes, you have the right answer, but how did you get to that answer?"  This may not seem significant on the surface, but what he was repeatedly asking us was to form the right sequence of thought which consistently produced the right answer.  Often, we "got to" the right answer, but in the next set of problems we would be given, using that same "train of thought" would not produce the same results.  Why?  We weren't asking the right questions to help us consistently solve for "x".

One good question to keep in mind as we go through life is whether this current decision you are faced with is congruent with God's "design" for your life.  If you have never asked God to reveal his "design" and have always just been content to live by "default", you might be surprised what you will learn if you actually stop long enough to consider his design.  Living by default allows us to have moments of indiscretion - times when we choose to go one way, because we think we will get the same results with our choice as we got the last time.  When we are not clear as to what God's plan is for our lives, we tend to make a lot of attempts at "solving for x" in our lives, but never quite doing it with any consistency.  We end up living by "trial and error".  I don't know about you, but "trial" and "error" are two "defaults" I am trying to avoid! We have been given the "owner's manual" (the Bible) to help guide our choices.  As long as we follow the principles displayed there, solving for "x" in life is much more consistent!  

Remember this - you don't need to understand how the whole "system" works to understand there is opportunity to live a "customized" life.  "Customized" doesn't mean we do the choosing and hope for the best.  In fact, the best customization comes when we have a skilled craftsman actually helping us to understand the best use of what it is we have at our disposal.  Just sayin!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

May I have a word with you?

Monty Python once said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours."  Sure, he wasn't a great theologian or deep-thinking philosopher of our time, but these words are profound nonetheless.  The old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" really is not true, is it?  Sticks and stones may do physical harm - injuries which are apparent on the "outside" of a man. Words have a way of doing emotional and spiritual damage - injuries which are not as apparent because they occur "within" the man.  Maybe this is why there is repeated reminders about the importance of our words - for what gets spoken has a potential of leaving us broken.  You can quote me on that!

Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.  Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.  (Proverbs 18:20-21 MSG)

You have all probably heard the term "constructive criticism", right?  Now, just how many of you have any idea what that term means?  If you break it down, criticism is really the act of passing judgment as to the "merits" of anything - whether it is a particular action, inaction, or way a person is made up.  So, tell me, how do we do this without being "destructive"?  Look it up - criticism is any action of fault-finding.  There isn't much "constructive" in criticism!  There is a fine line between sharing "good talk" which will yield a "good harvest" and being "critical" in our words.  We need to learn the difference if we are to guard our relationships and continue to grow within them.

Words must be tempered in love - they are to be spoken only if they can build another up in the process.  Not every thought is meant to be spoken - because our "heart" can be a little fickle at times and what comes out may not be a "tempered" as it should be.  The word "tempered" carries the idea of something being brought to a proper or suitable state by "blending" in that which will give strength and stability.  If our words are "tempered" with love, they are less likely to bring devastation - they will lend strength to the relationship and stability.  To do this, we have to accurately interpret the needs of the other person - something we don't do if we speak before we think, or don't truly listen before we speak.

The words we actually speak will become the words we live with.  Chew on that one just a bit and you might just begin to recognize some the "harvest" you have been reaping is a direct result of the words you have been speaking. Can anyone else besides me say, "Ouch"?  Yep, we often do a lot more than we think in "creating the environment we live in" through the words we speak. This "environment" is a product of our lips - what gets spoken has no way of ever being truly "taken back".  Three questions we can quickly as ourselves before speaking which may go a long way in ensuring the words we speak will be more "constructive" and less "destructive":  Is it true?  Is it necessary?  Is it kind?

In relationships, problems have a way of arising, don't they?  When they do, how we "speak into" the relationship matters.  Honesty is a good policy, but it needs to be tempered with love.  We have to be kind in the relationship, but truthful at the same time.  Flattery doesn't get us anywhere - it only masks the issues at hand.  Yet we gravitate toward flattery rather than being honest in love.  A spoken reprimand is an act of love and a sign of true friendship. Some of us just need to hear how our actions have been affecting the other person in the relationship - but do this in love.  Don't accuse.  Don't use the "you always" statement.  Don't blame.  Share honestly, keeping a watchful eye on the words which are not being spoken, and then work together to communicate what is deeper than surface level.  

We have to learn to "process" the conflict in relationships or we will get nowhere.  Actually, where conflict exists, this is the place love really exists - because the absence of conflict really is not love.  Now, I probably just got a few of you upset with that statement, but if you really think about it, when there is no conflict, someone is not being honest in the relationship.  No relationship is SO good it will be totally conflict free.  Conflict actually is this process of iron sharpening iron scripture speaks about.  As we share what is bothering us within relationship, we have an opportunity to grow together into a stronger bond.  This takes commitment - conflict is not entered into lightly and it is never truly "over" until each party feels it is.  This is why it is so important to be sure we are truthfully "processing" conflict as it occurs - until both parties can say with an assurance they are "over" what caused the conflict in the first place.

Here are some rules I think might just help us in choosing our words wisely:

- Compliment in public; correct in private.  If we'd live by this rule, we might just save ourselves a lot of heartache.
- Pick your timing carefully.  Nothing is worse than being "out of sync" when you need to have that "crucial conversation".  
- You may only give correction to the same degree you have a depth of connection in the relationship.  In other words, if there is no depth of connection, the correction is not likely going to be received well.
- It is important to remain teachable.  Teachable moments only occur when someone is willing to teach and the other is willing to accept the teaching. Mom used to say, "If you are going to give it out, you have to be willing to receive it in return."  She is indeed a wise woman!  Sometimes we need a little correction, as well.  The teacher has to be willing to be the student, as well.  Just sayin!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wedges and Walls

There is much power which comes as we learn to walk together in unity.  I think we all know how truly difficult it is to actually be and stay in unity, though.  Deep, intimate relationships require a different commitment than mere acquaintances.  Friendships help to sustain us and keep us on track. How we view each relationship kind of tells us a little bit about what we may actually invest into and take away from them.  We may find some actually are an ordeal for us because they demand more than we want to really put into them, but does that make them unnecessary relationships?  Some may seem like a big deal to us, but does that make them worthy of special attention while neglecting others?  Other relationships seem like they are kind of ideal, almost making us want to be exclusionary within those relationships, but doesn't that isolate us from the other types of relationships which might actually help us chip away some of the rough edges in our character?  I think we might just need all three!

You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 MSG)

While connection is important, reconnection is sometimes more important!  I don't believe God wants us to isolate ourselves from those relationships which are kind of an ordeal for us - because they have something within them we need to learn.  Relationships which we might classify as an "ordeal" are those which seem to always be extremely severe in their ability to "test" us in some fashion.  We actually need this "testing" in order to develop some character trait we might not have developed any other way.  To neglect these "severe" relationships is to cut ourselves us from the very thing we need for our growth.  So, how do we "reconnect" with someone whose relationship with us has become a big ordeal and with whom we may have chosen to just pull away rather than make the effort to stay connected?

First, I think it takes some real courage to even admit you have pulled away. When two people deal with the "hard" parts of relationship by saying it is too big of an ordeal to actually work on the things pulling them apart, there is an opportunity to allow those "hard parts" to actually smooth off some rough edges in our character.  One of the things which drives a wedge between two people quicker than you might imagine is when either of us become defensive in the relationship.  When stuff is too hard to deal with at the moment, it is very easy to get a little defensive about our behavior, choices, etc.  We might imagine another's focus on something in our lives as a little too intrusive and even a little "nit-picky".  Regardless, defenses go us and we get nowhere when these walls just remain in place.  

If you don't recognize the "walls" quickly, you will allow them to be reinforced by future actions and responses to behaviors within the relationship.  Fear causes us to become defensive - we don't like being exposed, so we build up what we believe will "cover over" the area we feel the most exposed within. Walls might be manifest by being overtly sarcastic with another - allowing the sarcasm to take the focus off the area for just a little bit.  Another method of wall-erecting is when we push others away with our anger.  Any wall only drives people away - most will not choose to "scale the wall", but will be turned away by it!  It is the rare friend who will actually make the effort to scale the wall and a real friend who will help you dismantle it once they get on the other side of that huge wall!

Second, I think dealing with others in relationship requires the ability to see things as the other person sees them.  This is why I like the idea of using a friend as a "sounding board" of sorts.  I bounce ideas off a friend because the friend actually might just not be seeing things quite the way I do at the moment.  Some of us need someone outside of our "box" to help us see there are choices outside of the box we have confined ourselves within.  As long as all we can see is the inside of the box, we will never know what the outside holds for us.  A friend can help us see things from the outside of the box - giving us perspective we do not possess on our own.  Some of the toughest relationships require us to see things outside of our box.  If you stop to think about it, a box is really just another set of walls we have established.  The walls of a box only serve to confine us - the ability to break free from the confines of seeing things only from your limited perspective is not just healthy, it is wise!

You may not realize this, but when you actually can see things another sees and the way they see them, you are breaking down walls which would have otherwise torn you apart.  Part of seeing things the way another sees them is the ability to allow the things which have become "wedge drivers" within the relationship to be removed.  Where there is no wedge, the distance between two objects is free to return to being joined again.  Just sayin!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Waiting vs. waiting upon

Do you ever find yourself complaining that God seems to be looking the other way when you need his attention right now?  Or perhaps you think he has abandoned you to some state of misery?  I think we all have pretty much been there at least once, and if we were honest, we'd admit we come to this place a little too often before we realize God never abandons us.  We may not hear him as clearly, see how he is moving in the muddle we are in, or be strong in our faith that he is right there beside us, but he never lets us walk through stuff alone.  There were times when my kids were little that I'd suddenly realize I couldn't hear them anymore, knowing this sudden silence meant they were likely into some type of mischief!  In my losing track of what they were doing, they took full advantage of getting into something they knew they weren't supposed to be into - like pulling the toilet paper all off the roll in a huge pile around them on the floor, or dumping out all the baby powder and then proceeding to paint themselves with it!  Good news - God doesn't "lose track" of his kids!  If we wander into places of "mischief" in our lives, he is right there ready to correct us, redirect us, or recommission us.

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, God has lost track of me.  He doesn’t care what happens to me”?  Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?  God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.  He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.  He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.  And he knows everything, inside and out.  He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.  For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall.  But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.  (Isaiah 40:27-31 MSG)

There is power in waiting on the Lord to renew our souls, yet so many of us just wander around without the power we could tap into if we'd just take a few moments to wait upon him.  It is in "waiting upon" that we find the "energizing" for the task which is just ahead.  Maybe if we learned how to "wait upon" a little better, we might not feel like we are "out on our own" in so many of life's circumstances.  To wait means to exchange - we exchange our strength for his, our wisdom for his, our energy for his.  His knowledge to do it his way rather than our own is only found in the waiting.  The strength to do what is just ahead is only found in the moment of exchange.  So, if this is where the "exchange" happens, we need to learn how to "wait upon" as our "first option" rather than our "bail out" option!

Survivalist shows are abounding on TV these days.  These "reality shows" pair the most unlikely together to see if they will be able to make it through to the end of the torturous course ahead.  One thing becomes quite apparent as we watch these episodes - the survivors are the ones who "size up" the situation before they leap into it.  There is wisdom in waiting just a little bit before you take your first step, isn't there?  What probably comes across in these shows even clearer than this "sizing up" concept is the relationships which are formed - you don't survive alone!  Like it or not, we are not designed to live alone - we are designed for relationship.  We are "relational" creatures.  So many of us try to walk out this daily existence of our Christian faith alone and wonder why we find ourselves feeling lonely, abandoned, and without a shred of hope to hang onto.  We might just be at that point because we haven't engaged in the relationships we so desperately need in order to "survive" the harshness of the road upon which we travel!

Another reason we get ourselves into the place of feeling kind of abandoned is because we veer away from the principles we know to be true.  We try something completely different from what we know for sure is reliable, trustworthy, and upright.  Trust me - whenever I have veered from the principles I have learned through scripture, I've been burned!  We can live by all kinds of "good philosophy", but philosophy is just not going to cut it because the basic premise of any philosophy is to improve upon it.  In truth, God's Word cannot be improved upon!  It is more than philosophy - it is tried and true - nothing can be added, nothing taken away.  When we gravitate toward living by some type of "philosophy" in our lives, we are more susceptible to living by the culture of the day in which we live - if it feels good, doesn't appear to hurt anyone, and seems to carry some sense of reward for the one doing it, then it is okay to pursue.  Think again!  Just because it feels good to eat a chocolate bar each day doesn't make it good for a person who is struggling with their weight!  Just because my actions don't seem to outwardly hurt another, someone is watching who may be affected by those actions without my even knowing it!  Just because there is some reward for me in the actions I am taking doesn't mean it is the right thing for me!

When we allow God's words to get "worked into" the fibers of our lives, we have something upon which we might rely upon when we are faced with those moments of decision in life.  Waiting upon God allows for the "working in" to occur.  We are only able to stand - or withstand - when we have the right foundation.  The right foundation is never based upon something which needs improvement!  It is based upon that which cannot be improved upon!  This is why we need to get the Word of God into us - it gives us the stability of standing upon what cannot be improved upon!  Too many times we "improvise" in this life.  We step out, not sure where we are going, then improvise to get from point A to B.  There is a certain stability which comes into our lives when we learn to live by design and not by default.  To really learn what it is we are designed to live by, we need time to wait upon God.  

This "waiting upon" thing is really not all that complicated.  In seeking God, you find yourself - for he designed you!  In seeking him, you are free to be who he made you to be.  Discovery comes in waiting upon - not just in waiting, but in waiting upon.  In the most literal sense, the difference is in the activity level of each.  Waiting bespeaks inactivity - waiting upon refers a certain level of activity or involvement.  When we wait upon God, we aren't just passively standing by until he says move.  We are engaging in what we know to do - like prayer, time in the Word, taking the steps of faith we know to take, then patiently listening for the wisdom about the steps we don't know how to take yet.  When we engage with him, he engages with us.  It is active waiting God is directing us toward, not passivity.  Passive "service" is really not service at all.  Just sayin!