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Friday, January 31, 2014

True Freedom

If you have ever just gone about doing whatever it was you felt like doing without any real concern for how it would end, or what it may bring for the long run, you probably have come to the conclusion this way of "living free" isn't really "freedom" at all.  In fact, the more you do whatever it is you want to do without regard to the consequences, the more difficult it is to work your way back from where those indiscretions let you end up.  If you don't believe me, remember the last time you worked hard at changing the way you ate, losing a few pounds in the process.  Then remember the day you chose to eat just a little treat or two, then the next, and then the larger portions, etc.  In the end, you probably not only put on the weight you lost, but gained a few more pounds in the process.  It wasn't "that big of a deal" when you were indulging, but now that the jeans no longer fit and the buttons are not quite meeting in the middle, you might just realize it has become a "big deal".  In truth, every compromise is a big deal, even the small ones.  

As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.  (Romans 6:20-23 MSG)

Right thinking and right living are linked to abiding freedom.  If we see the link between how we think and what we do, that is half the battle in changing what it is we are trying to see made different in our lives.  When we only attempt to change what it is we are doing without going after the root of our thinking, we will get a little bit down the road to change, but we will never quite arrive at the point of breaking free of what it is we want to leave behind.  Most of our thinking is directly related to who it is we are listening to in the first place.  Listen to a catchy tune just once and see if it doesn't turn over and over in your head a while.  You may not remember all the words in the right order, but you remember something from the tune and you find it just bouncing around in your mind repeatedly.  This is the power of advertising. They use tunes, jingles, catch-phrases, etc., designed to get us thinking about their product enough that we will buy it.  They want what we think to affect our actions at the store!

Freedom is more than an outcome of one particular action - it is a lifestyle. As we engage in actions frequently enough, they either reinforce our freedom or they clearly reveal our "servitude" toward something.  Don't believe me?  Why do you think huge elephants can be made to stay in a small radius under the circus tents?  It isn't because they don't know there are wide open spaces - they can see those.  It isn't because they lack the energy to break free - they are huge and powerful creatures.  It is because they have lived with the short leash for so long they don't believe anything else is possible any longer.  They don't go beyond their leash limits simply because they "feel" bound.  They begin to act as bound the first time they acknowledge the limits of the leash and then they reinforce this impression over and over each time they tug a little against the leash.  It presents a little pressure in resistance, so they stay put.  We are kind of like that sometimes - we get "bound" by some emotional, spiritual, or physical "leash" and then we give in each and every time we feel the resistance when we try to break free of its hold.

As our writer points out, the "leash" which binds us to some particular course of action doesn't seem all that hard to handle until you look at where it will lead you down the road - the "pension" of sin is death.  God doesn't ask us to change our actions - he asks us to change our thought.  He directs us to change our focus - from doing whatever seems good at the moment to listening to his still, small voice directing us to what will actually produce good down the road.  When the elephant has pulled against the leash long enough, he gives up.  In fact, the trainer may actually be able to remove the leash and just leave the "bracelet" around the elephant's leg.  The elephant will stay in the same area just because he "believes" he is bound to the leash. Some of us are a little like the elephant - we have been set free, but we still feel bound - because of how we see ourselves.  The elephant sees himself as bound to stay in the same area because he doesn't realize the removal of the chain which acted as his leash actually set him free to move outside of what had become his limited area.  The reminders of his being bound remained because the bracelet remained.  For many of us, we still see ourselves as bound to the old way of living life and making decisions because we see the "impression" of the old still hanging on.

The good news is that the bracelet is not what bound us to the past way of living - it was the chain!  As long as we just focus on the "impression" of the old still being a part of us, we will never move outside of the place in our lives where we have been bound for so many years.  The "bond" we have with the old has been removed - we are free to move toward the new.  The way we think determines a lot about how we move.  Focus on the weight of the past long enough (the bracelet) and you will only feel the weight each time you go to move. Focus on the fact the chain is no longer there, and you might just begin to take a few steps forward.  When you do, you will no longer feel the resistance.  Yes, the reminders of the past are still there (the bracelet) - they give you the impression you cannot really break free.  But...the chain to what held us so bound to our past has been removed in Christ.  In time, the bracelet will no longer give us any concern, simply because we are brought into the wide open spaces of true freedom.  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

QUIT is not in HIS vocabulary

You have probably heard me say that messages repeated in the Bible are really an attempt for God to get through to us on a particular matter simply because it is an important thing for us to learn.  If in twenty-six short verses God repeats something twenty-six separate times, I think he may just have a message for us!  The message?  HIS LOVE NEVER QUITS!  If you begin to take apart this psalm, you will discover some pretty significant "issues" in which Israel found themselves - "issues" which put to test exactly how secure they were trusting in and stand firm on God's love.  We move from the majesty of having created the oceans and cosmos, to protecting Israel when the death angel passed over Egypt, taking the firstborn, to the splitting of the Red Sea when Egypt was coming up fast with all the might of their military forces.  Not enough to prove his love is enduring?  Then add those the fact that God "smashed down" huge kingdoms right and left as Israel was ushered into their promised inheritance and then handed over the "booty" of the land and kingdoms right into the hands of Israel and you have some pretty intense stuff which proves his love indeed doesn't quit.  What accounts do we have to add to this "story" of God's intense love?  I bet if we stop just long enough, we might just be surprised by the accounts we could add!


God remembered us when we were down, His love never quits.

Rescued us from the trampling boot, His love never quits.
Takes care of everyone in time of need.  His love never quits.
Thank God, who did it all!  His love never quits!

(Psalm 136:23-26 MSG)

It is HIS love - If it was the love a human being, I may not want to count on it quite as much as I do knowing it is the love of the one who created all things and then holds them in order.  Human love is kind of fickle - flitting here and there in search of the next best thing which stimulates the senses and provides some form of "perceived" satisfaction.  God's love - it is HIS - so it is consistent with his character - no "flitting about" when it comes to his love!

His love NEVER quits - In the face of doubt, it stands strong.  In the midst of despair, it provides hope.  In the presence of pressure, it holds up better than the strongest metal known to man.  It endures - remains consistent - and at no time is without focus.  The focus of his love?  You, me, the guy or gal right next to you, and the next one you see, and all those you don't see!  WE are the focus of his love - and WE can count on it being the kind of love which lasts, and lasts, and lasts, into infinity.

Quitting is NOT optional with him - In the face of all life brings, God stands at the ready to intervene.  This watchful love is something which can give us anchor in the storm and peace in the presence of some pretty terrifying things.  For us, quitting is the norm.  For him, it isn't even in his vocabulary! If it were up to us, love would fizzle out at the first appearance of the tough stuff, but his love "fizzle-proof".  Don't believe me?  Then just consider the extent of his love in just a few of the illustrations we have in the Bible:

- Adam and Eve were given the prime place of residence, with all the accouterments of their dreams.  Water flowed without priming a pump - so sweet and refreshing.  Food was at their disposal without having to till the earth.  They didn't even need to concern themselves with the latest fads or wardrobes because clothing wasn't even a concern!  Yet, even "having it all" didn't keep them from wanting more!  Aren't we just like that?  We have been given so much, but we yearn for what is just outside of our reach.  Even when they failed to recognize the significance of their blessings, God loved them (and us!).

- Moses ought not to have had life if Pharaoh had his way.  The infant males of the Israelites were to be killed at birth - yet his life was spared in a moment of trusting faith.  We know so little about the mother of Moses - but we do know she had the ability to believe - to hope, to trust, and to act upon her belief.  As she set his tiny infant body afloat in the wee pitch-covered basked on the river that day, do you think she may have just been a little more than hopeful of God's love never quitting?  I think so!  Do you think she believed God had great things for this tiny life?  I think she knew for sure there was a calling upon his life.  She acted on what she knew - God hadn't failed her yet, wasn't going to fail her now, and would not fail her or her son in the future!

- Peter messed up repeatedly, yet he experienced some of the most profound expressions of God's love possible.  He couldn't quite figure out when it was the right time to speak and the best time to keep quiet - yet God's love tenderly embraced him, correcting his perceptions, and helping him to see things through God's eyes.  When his temper got the best of him, causing harm to another's life, God's love restored not only the damage he'd done to the other guy, but it embraced him and settled upon him with the peace of knowing God was in control.  Even when he couldn't stand for the one he professed his love and allegiance to, God's love sought him out and ensured his restoration into close, intimate fellowship.  Peter knew the love of God never quit - simply because he needed the "consistency" of its restorative power so very often!

We can learn from these examples, and all the others we are given deep within the accounts of the Bible.  We need to learn from them and we need to learn from each other - God's love never quits.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

High speed or dial up?

I'd like to quote something my pastor has frequently said, but which I think bears repeating:  "Religion is US working OUR way to God.  Christianity is GOD working HIS way to us."  (Pastor Chad Moore)  There is really no more eloquent way to put it!  Our old way of doing business centered entirely around US keeping the rules and getting things straight.  Our new way of living is to allow God to make his way into our lives and to go about setting things right on our behalf.  Lest we think this involves absolutely nothing from us, let me set the record straight on that one.  As long as we are connected with Christ, sin speaks a "dead language" to us - it is like we hear it, but we don't respond to it because we don't understand it any longer.  The part we play is in maintaining the connection.  I use a wireless router when I am on my laptop.  This allows me the freedom to be on it in my kitchen, the front room, or even in the bedroom.  There have been times when I have fired up the laptop to work on my blog or to play a game only to find there is no connection to the internet.  The rest of the laptop works - it looks like it is working just fine.  It isn't until I go to access the internet that I experience the "no connection" screen.  Sometimes I think we look like we are all "fired up", running along at lightning speed, but on the inside, we are making no connection to what really helps us accomplish life at its fullest.  It is this connection which helps us fulfill our purpose, not just that we are breathing and our heart is beating!

Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.  (Romans 6:6-11 MSG)

Breath and a heartbeat is as fruitless as a laptop without internet connection! Sure, we can accomplish some things - like writing a draft of the blog - but we cannot finish it because the connection isn't there.  Maybe this is why we "start" so much in our walk only to find we fizzle out after a couple of weeks! We aren't making the right connection.  When the wireless router isn't quite sending the signal, I have to get up, go to the den, disconnect it from the power source, and then watch as it comes to life again.  What I have done is re-establish the connection.  It was there all along, but somehow it got scrambled, cut off a little, or just plain wasn't recognized as it needed to be. Therefore, it appeared to be "offline" when in fact the connectivity was three all along - just not "active".  Truth be told, we have connectivity "to" God, but sometimes we just lack the connectivity "with" God.  Signals are firing, but they aren't making the connection!

Two "connections" are referred to in our passage today - one is the connection with the "old life" and the other the "new life".  To understand which connection is occurring, you look at the fruit of what is produced.  When we are connecting to the "old life", we are at sin's beck and call.  Been there, done that, bought the shirt, and wore it out!  Then this "new life" connection began to take place.  It was like changing from dial up internet to super-fast high-speed!  The old "dial up" me had to sputter around, wasting time on this and that in hopes somehow I'd hit it lucky and connect with something which actually came close to the change I hoped for in life.  That is what a whole bunch of rule keeping is really like - just sputtering around hoping for something good to come out of what it is we are doing.  This "new life" connection affords me not just instant access to God, but also with his power to accomplish the things I only dreamed of accomplishing when I was trying to connect TO him using the old "dial up" me!

I like what Paul says about the old life being like a dead language.  There are quite a few of those nowadays.  For most, Latin is a dead language - we just don't go around speaking it as a primary language anymore.  Sure, a lot of medical terminology finds its roots in the Latin, but trust me, my patients would rather I tell them they have a cold and sore throat rather than hearing they have nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, or a case of acute coryza! Heavens, those all make us sound like we are going to die any day now!  Yes, Latin is still used in some circles (like science and the medical profession), but we don't go around spouting it to order a Big Mac and Fries at our local McDonald's!  For those who have accepted Christ as their personal Savior, sin's language is also a dead language - we might still hear it spoken, but we don't use it in our everyday activity any longer!  The less we connect to the old and the more we connect to the new, the more we see our life changing.  Sin's language is a pretty complex language.  Salvation's language is just the opposite - easy to grasp, quick to be spoken, and easy to share!

Connection to or connection with - which is it you find most appealing?  When I connect TO something or someone, I find an attachment formed.  When I connect WITH something or someone, I find a union formed.  There is a difference, isn't there?  If we find we are going through the motions of life, but lack the real power to live as we should, we probably are just opting for the first.  When we transition to connecting WITH God, we find the deeply rewarding "disconnect" from the old and the "fresh connection" to the new. Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Beware of the Dog!

If you have ever found yourself getting into the middle of someone else's argument, then you know how messed up things can become for YOU in just a short period of time!  What started out as an innocent concern for someone else's well-being ended up becoming quite a mess for you to mop up in your own life!  How do we get wrapped up in these things?  Well, if we were to be totally honest, most of us haven't really gotten past our tendency to want to "be in the know" about stuff, so we meddle!  Meddlers pay the price - often with a little skin off their own backsides!  Meddling is just a polite word for saying we like to get the scoop, or have something to gossip about.  In fact, this burning desire to either be in the middle of the situation, or to have the hair-brained idea that we know how to solve the issue we don't even own is what propels us forward even when common sense is telling us to stay away! Perhaps it is time to consider just how much extra strife we bring into our lives by thinking we can solve the problems of another when we clearly don't even know what the problem is in the first place.  If we did this "up front", we might just make a few less missteps into places we don't belong.

You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that’s none of your business.  (Proverbs 26:17 MSG)

Our writer puts it so aptly - getting involved in stuff which doesn't concern us in the first place is like grabbing a mad dog by the ears.  I have seen some mad dogs in my days and I am pretty sure I didn't want to be on the receiving end of what they were dishing out!  Mad dogs are kind of unpredictable - they may be focused on another dog until you put a hand out to separate them - then in an instant your hand can become the object of his focus!  My son was attacked by a pit bull mix stray when he was about a freshman in high school. A friend had taken this stray into his backyard one day as he didn't want him to be hit by a car.  The animal appeared quite docile and friendly.  He would play fetch with my friend and seemed quite interested in getting a few scratches behind the ears.  Until my son stepped into the yard, that is.  We don't know if it was perhaps the fact he was wearing a baseball cap, or my son's voice, but whatever it was, the dog attacked.  In an instant, the dog turned from nice to nasty and we were grabbing at both my son and the dog to try to separate the two.

In this case, only one was intent on remaining firm - the dog.  For some strange reason, he laid into my son and began biting at his arm, then his face.  It took much strength, but my friend and several others who were visiting that night separated the dog from my son, allowing us to usher him into the house where we could begin to assess his wounds.  The dog settled eventually, but no one felt safe again in his presence.  Whatever changed for the dog was a mystery to us - all we saw was the immediate attack and the aftermath of the injuries.  I think getting involved in issues we have no business being involved in is kind of like that dog attack - you don't see it coming, but the moment of transition will come, and when it does, it takes a whole lot of strength to separate from the fray!  The "assessed wounds" may even take a while to recognize.  In fact, it wasn't until much later down the road that I realized how much that one event changed my son's ability to interact with dogs later on.  The scars on his body had healed, but there were emotional ones not as easily recognized!

Maybe this is why we are cautioned against being an "interloper" in areas we don't belong.  The immediate threat may pass, but the scars left behind give evidence for a long, long time of having been involved in something we would have been better leaving alone.  For those of us who have grabbed a few "mad dogs" by the ears, let me just give a word of two of encouragement. First, we CAN heal, but healing takes time.  Those wounds don't take long to be created, but they take a little bit longer to heal.  It is only as we allow God to bring restoration and healing within the relationship that we can begin to see the scars fade and function return.  Second, if we are wise, we will evaluate where it was we took the first misstep into areas we didn't belong. It is this one simple process of looking back over our steps where we identify the place where we stepped into something we did not really have a part to play.  When we begin to uncover this misstep with the Lord's help, we can begin to prepare for how it is we will respond the next time we feel the urge to "jump in" where we are wiser to stay out.  Last, but not least, we need to realize some "dogs" just like to mix it up.  When we discover who these dogs are, we are less likely to frequent their kennels!  Just sayin!

Monday, January 27, 2014

You hear me now?

Wisdom dictates we listen more than we speak - but I have to honestly ask how well we are doing on that one?  Listening is an art - learned not because we really want to learn it, but because if we don't learn how to listen, we will eventually get life pretty much as we like it, but we might just be the only ones left in the picture once we do!  I suspect there is much to this listening "art" which many of us have yet to perfect.  In fact, learning this "art" of listening requires we not only learn how to "tune into" the voice we hear, but we learn to "recognize" the voice.  I think many of us hear those "voices" in our heads - hopefully not too many of them - but we don't always know which one is the one we should be listening to.  If you have ever seen the commercial where there is a little guy in white on one shoulder and a little guy in black on the other and the lady is trying to figure out if she can give her kid chocolate milk or some other treat, you probably understand what I mean.  We hear "sides" to the stories in our head, and then we find we must determine which "side" we will respond to.  Were that life was so simple as to only present us with the lily white side and the ugly dark side, but alas, it is not!  In fact, there are probably "shades" of white and grey on both sides - not just the lily white and the deep, dark black.  It is the "shades" of white and grey which present us with the difficult challenge of sorting out the voices inside our head.  

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!”  Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”  (I Samuel 3:10 MSG)

Samuel was a young boy, probably in his early teens, or just about to enter his teens.  He has been dedicated to the work of the Lord in the Temple, doing daily tasks within the Temple right alongside the priests.  One day, he hears a voice call out to him.  Thinking it was the head priest, he hustles off to see what Eli wants.  He is surprised to find the "voice" was not Eli's, but did you ever stop to consider why even the head priest didn't recognize the voice Samuel was actually hearing until the same thing occurred the third time?  The first and second time, Eli just sends him away, telling him it was not him who called.  The third time, it "dawns on" Eli that this might just be God trying to get through to Samuel - to have a personal conversation with him or give him direction for his life!  I wonder how many of us are kind of like Eli - just drifting along, getting all kinds of reminders of God desiring to speak with us, and then one day it finally dawns on us that he has been the one speaking all along - we just didn't recognize the voice!

Samuel, on the other hand, knew he was hearing something - yet he didn't have clarity about what it was he was hearing.  This was explained to us in the account as being the case since God had not yet revealed himself to Samuel.  In the Old Testament times, the revelation of God's voice came to very few - those anointed to be his spokesperson were often the ones to receive the revelation.  Now the voice of God is really something we can ALL hear - since Jesus opened the way for ALL of us to hear God's voice plainly and on an ongoing basis.  The purpose of God's voice is to bring revelation - to disclose or uncover something not previously known.  It might come in the form of direction, or perhaps as words of encouragement.  There are times when God speaks directly to us to keep us safe - as when he gives us a quick warning which alerts us to pay attention to the traffic when we are drifting a little into daydreaming.  It that split second of moving from daydreaming into attentive awareness, we narrowly avoid the collision which could have cost us dearly.  Other times, he speaks to build us up or to encourage us to move ahead despite what we see on the outside - as he does when it seems we aren't getting through to our kids, but he knows we are touching something deep within which will carry them through life many years down the road.

I am encouraged as I read this account of Samuel trying to respond to the voice he hears.  Why?  I guess it is because I see a little of each of us in him. Simple folks, trying to fulfill our everyday tasks, ready to learn what we can as we move through this life - yet sometimes just a little confused as to what we are to do with what it is we are hearing.  There are probably many times we hear God's voice, but because we aren't sure of the source, we go to what is familiar to us - as Samuel did when going to Eli.  His was the voice he was most familiar with - to go to Eli was a natural response.  Some of us get the impression someone is speaking to us - but we don't know it is God himself pulling us toward himself in order to reveal himself in or through us.  So, we go where we are most familiar - friends, family, small group members, etc. Not an unrealistic response, when you really think about it.  We use them as the sounding boards - bouncing what it is we are "hearing" in our heads until we get to a place of clarity.

I don't necessarily think this is wrong, but sometimes God just wants us to respond directly to him - to answer him with, "Speak, Lord.  I am ready to listen."  The idea of speaking directly "with" God is frightening to some, but it is the plan God has for each of us.  Notice I did not say it was us speaking directly "to" God, but "with" God.  Sometimes we initiate the conversation - at others God does.  Either way, it is a conversation.  If one party speaks and the other just listens - it is a lecture!  If both engage, it is conversation - sometimes filled with good cheer and warm feelings, other times with hurt, sorrow, and the words which express how deeply we need each other.  God desires direct and frequent conversation with us and I am grateful he doesn't stop with the first call!  Some of us take a little longer to figure out it is his voice calling us - others will get it on the first try.  The good news is that God calls!

At first, God may initiate the conversation a little more than we do - until we become more comfortable with this idea of listening to his voice and hearing his revelation.  Then, little by little, we grow "comfortable" with picking up the conversation right where we left off, anytime and anywhere.  I have a good friend who comments often about a relationship she formed when she was younger.  She sees this friend only on occasion now, but as she describes it, they always just pick up where they left off, like no time had passed at all. God wants this closeness with us - entering into relationship with him isn't for the lazy or half-hearted.  In fact, if we look at Samuel again, we see he arose from sleep to respond - not once, but three times!  I don't know about you, but when I finally get asleep - something escaping me in a little as I age - I really like it when I can stay asleep until my rest has been reached.  When I awaken in the night, one of the first thoughts I have is to turn my attention to listening.  Sometimes I only hear the faint snoring of my mother in the next room, giving me assurance all is well in her direction, but at others, I hear words of a psalm beginning to fill my heart, or the needs of a dear friend beginning to bring me to the place of prayer.  Either way, it is in listening that we discover the moment of revelation.  

Maybe God has been calling to you a little more frequently these days and you may not have been as "aware" of the voice you were hearing.  Next time you hear it, try doing as Samuel and saying, "Speak God.  I am listening."  You might just be surprised what conversation might just ensue.  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A strangle-hold

Somewhere in time, the expression "end of my rope" came into use.  In a general sense, it means someone can't take anymore.  The origin of the saying might just shed a little bit of a different light on it, though.  It comes from the practice of hanging a condemned man.  The noose is placed around the neck, cinched a little to make sure it is snug, and then he falls through a trap door underneath his feet.  As he drops, he comes to an "abrupt end" to the rope!  In essence, he is jerked short - he doesn't have any more "give" in the rope to allow him to stand against the growing pressure of the rope around his neck.  Now, this indeed paints a picture of something not quite as casual as being at the point of just throwing up one's arms and walking away - it suggests the "pull" that makes one feel like they have run hard, but come up short of realizing the hoped for end.  There is just nowhere to go when you are at the end of the rope - you are left "hanging".  Sound familiar?  I think we all find ourselves at this point on occasion, but what we do when we "come up short" makes all the difference between the rope having a "strangle hold" and it being the point of realizing we need someone to set us free!

When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.  (2 Corinthians 11:29 MSG)

There is indeed a certain sense of desperation when someone comes to the place of being at the end of one's rope - the strangle hold is somewhat of a threat, is it not?  Desperation carries a hint of recklessness in its definition - for despair leads you to doing all kinds of things you wouldn't otherwise do. Desperate people need immediate intervention.  There isn't a whole lot of time to piddle around with this or that - the answer needs to come "NOW". If you have been around someone desperate - at the end of their rope - you know what I am describing here.  Their every movement is designed to "break free" from the strangle hold of what has brought them to this moment in time. To continue in their present state is just not acceptable - they need a way out and they need it now.  Conditions have become so intolerable, they just cannot go on as they are - something has to change.

I wonder if we are the kind of individuals who can experience the desperation of someone else's rope?  This is really what I think our writer was referring to in this passage - for it was not his rope he was speaking of, but that of another.  It causes HIM to feel the desperation in HIS bones - so identifying with the pain of another that it causes HIM to take action on behalf of the other person!  This is what Jesus wants of us - to care for those whose life has come to the point of a "strangle hold" - where there is no more "give" in the rope.  It is more than a passing awareness of their need, but a "co-mingling" of what you have at your disposal with what their present circumstances require.  Some need only some words of advice in order to see they have become bound by the rope and then they turn around, take a few steps back to give them the ability to slip away from that which binds them! Others need someone to help them break free of the rope because they don't even possess the ability to get loose even if they had some "slack".

To this, our writer adds this idea of being duped.  There are a whole lot of people who find themselves at the end of their rope simply because they have become deceived by something which appeared to be one way, but turned out to be something quite different than expected.  Either a lack of up-front questioning of intentions, or the unwitting carelessness of accepting something at face value has led them down a path they really wish they hadn't ever explored.  Now they stand at the end of the road, feeling totally duped and experiencing the shame of their sin.  Truth be told, I can honestly say, "Been there, done that" - even got the shirt and wore it out!  It doesn't take much to buy into some of the lies which lead us astray - a moment of weakness, a season of frustration, or even an ill-placed hope - all can open doors we would not have opened if we'd have known the end from the beginning.

Does the unwitting deception another has bought into cause a fire to burn in your gut?  It should!  That is YOUR brother or sister who has fallen, not just someone you have no connection to!  Those who have been brought into the family of God are ALL our brothers and sisters - therefore, their fall is something which should affect us deeply.  In essence, our writer is saying we should be so connected to each other that we are affected deeply whenever there is one who has fallen prey to sin's luring deception.  We should be affected enough to take action.  I don't know about you, but when there is a fire burning in my gut, I don't just sit by and take it silently!  I get us and try to do something about it! 

We all have potential to do a little "rope hanging" on occasion - what we do when another is at the end of their rope may just determine what happens to us when we are at the end of ours!  Just sayin!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

You a "winter visitor"?

I live in an area of the country where we get this influx of what are called "winter visitors" - those who flee the cold and brutal storms of the winter season in pursuit of the sunshine and leisure of life in sunny Arizona.  Along about October, recreational vehicles begin to be spotted with license plates announcing the arrival of our "snow bird" friends.  Slowly, but surely, the campsites and RV parks begin to fill, until a large community of these "birds" take up "semi-permanent" residence in our region.  Some of the folks who make Arizona their home year round don't exactly anticipate the arrival of these "birds" in warm fashion because they know the streets and restaurants will be busier, causing things to move at a slower pace, and it just gets a little more difficult to "live life" at our normally suicidal pace!  I just simply remind those who don't look upon their arrival as "terrific" about the fact they are only "semi-permanent" residences - come spring, they will begin to head back the way they came and alas, life at our normally suicidal pace will return! Isn't it just like us to complain about something "not permanent" just because it gives us a little extra pressure or work of existence?  I think we forget where OUR permanent residence is - IN God and therefore, IN a life of LOVE.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.  (I John 4:17-18 MSG)

Truth is, we all have a tendency to be "semi-permanent" residents in this Christian walk simply because we cannot seem to settle into what God has declared to be our place of "permanent residence".  Since God lives IN us and we live IN him, we don't "pick up roots" every so often and just wander off into some region of life where the grass looks a little greener!  We settle in and honker down in this life.  That may mean some winter storms, but it also means some pretty beautiful springtime growth and summer maturing!  If we are constantly picking up roots and moving to where the "weather" always seems to be a little easier to endure, we miss the "tension" of winter in our lives.  This "tension" almost forces growth - so we don't get to the point of desire without a little "tension" being created.

Semi-permanent doesn't really produce the same things being permanent does. I could get a semi-permanent hair color added to my hair to cover over some of my grey strands, but the fact is, the more I wash my hair, the less "permanent" that "added color" really looks!  Why?  It doesn't change what is at the root.  It is only when something is "permanent" that it changes what is at the root - you cannot really change grey hair - it will always be gray right down to the root!  So, for us to really see love become the way we live and breathe, we need to take up "permanent residence" in Christ's love - in relationship with him - deep, intimate connection.  In other words, we let the roots sink in and we see what "permanent roots" will produce.  

When we begin to settle into our relationship with Christ, it soon becomes evident that he puts "in order" the things otherwise "out of order" in our lives. The idea of someone or something "having the run of the house" suggests there is a comfortableness in their presence.  When I go into a friend's house, I ask before I look in cabinets to find the water glasses.  The second or third time, I may just let them know I am thirsty and they will direct me to "help myself" since I know where the glasses are stored.  In time, the more I visit my friend's house, the more comfortable I get finding things, but this is still not my "permanent residence", so I am still not given the "run of the house" like I am in my own home.  The more comfortable w make Jesus in "our home", as when he actually takes up residence within us, he actually begins to "have the run of the house", so to speak.  "Run of the house" means a freedom to go where he wants, do what needs to be done, and then enjoy time with the one who is with him "in residence" - us!

Once we allow God to take up residence on a permanent basis in our lives, his love begins to affect us deeper than if we only casually "visit with" him on occasion.  Love is free to have its way IN us so it is free to flow OUT of us, as well.  If we find it difficult to "put down roots" in Christ, we probably just haven't experienced his love as deeply as he desires.  When we begin to first experience his love, especially if we haven't known much love in our lives, we might just find it a little difficult to allow anyone to be this "close" to the "real" us.  This type of intimacy is a little intimidating at first, but trust me, it is worth the exploration!  In determining where, and with whom it is we will commit to "permanent residence", we are actually allowing our roots to be affected by the place where they are sunk deep!  As long as we are just "winter visitors", our roots will never have a chance to be challenged by the tension of life.  No tension - no growth.  You want to see change in your life, set down roots deep into his love.  Then allow his love to begin to affect you at the deepest points.  Nothing will ever be the same once we determine to "root deeply" in his love.  Just sayin!

Friday, January 24, 2014

God, I'm making a fly-by!

When we are presented with alternatives to things the purpose is to give us a choice.  We can have peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and honey, or just peanut butter - based on our "mood" of the day, we choose what comes closest to our desired sandwich.  Alternatives are just a lot of choices.  If you have ever gone into a restaurant with pages and pages of menu items, bound together in a spiral bound book of sorts, you probably have been so frustrated by all the choices you just chose your old "stand by" because you couldn't decide fast enough!  When in doubt, it's a hamburger for me!  The problem with "too many" choices is the increased anxiety a multitude of choices actually affords.  

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.  (Philippians 4:6-7 MSG)

When the choices are many, the anxiety associated with making the "right" choice is also significantly higher than when the choices are simply this or that.  At least we stand a 50/50 chance of getting our choice right with the latter example, but with the spiral-bound menu of choices, who knows what the odds might be?  There is something to be said about "limiting the choices", isn't there?  With small children, I don't give them a litany of choices - I present one or the other.  Why?  When presented with two items, they want the both - when presented with fifty items, they want them all - but they can only have one!  It is much easier to teach right choices when the options are fewer!  God knows this, too!  So does the enemy of our souls!  He knows presenting us with so many choices which baffle our minds is a good place to get us in the middle of a muddle.  He likes it when we are in a muddle!

Recently, as with each and every winter season which comes, our hospital "business" has increased.  Sickness abounds, people are under the weather, and sick people need the care of seasoned professionals - so they head to the emergency room and soon find their way to our waiting beds.  As the capacity to accept more and more patients begins to lessen due to more demand than beds, we find the stress levels beginning to increase for those of us taking care of those in need of our services.  Why?  Increased demands are just as befuddling to us as are too many choices!  When the demands on our schedules, skills, or services are many, the anxiety associated with these many demands increases, as well.  

If choices and demands can increase our anxiety to fever-pitch, maybe it is time we learn how to collaborate with the only one who can really direct us to the right choice and settle us into a place of inner peace in the midst of the chaos.  Learning to shape our choices and stressors into prayers is fundamental to keeping ourselves out of the middle of the muddle.  So many think prayers have to be these elaborate, well-orchestrated, divine-sounding, stop all activity, get on your knees words lifted to the heavens.  The Lord has heard more "fly-by" prayers from me in my times of increased demand and uncertain choices than I can shake a stick at!  If I waited to get down onto my knees, I'd never get things sorted out!  

All God desires is for us to make our concerns known to him - he doesn't care if it is on the "fly" or on our knees!  He just wants the opportunity to connect. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in the middle of a mess of stress and just asked him to give me guidance - short and sweet.  In a matter of just a short time, he begins to settle in around me with his peace and I can focus on what matters, getting direction on how to proceed and then it seems like the stressors get put into the right perspective.  When things are in the right perspective - or at least I can see them from that perspective - they look a lot less "anxiety-laden" than they did before!  I echo Paul's comments:  "It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."

Life happens at a pace we can barely manage sometimes.  In those moments of "over-activity", it is good to re-center, re-connect, and re-commit.  Re-centering means we change our focus from the increasing demand and innumerable choices toward Christ and his leading in those moments.  Re-connecting means we just take a moment or two to just offer up those prayers and then just listen.  We may think we don't have the time to listen, but remember this - the amount of time you invest in listening equates to less time in the midst of the muddle.  Re-committing is really the outcome of the first two - when we get our focus right and allow our hearts to be connected to the one who knows the answers, the ability to make the choice in front of us or deal with the demand which is the most urgent becomes apparent.

It doesn't take much to settle into God's peace - sometimes it only takes a moment to allow the sense of God's wholeness to permeate our inner core and settle us right down.  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You "underway"?

If you have a tendency to think you need to "have it all together" in order to "do life", you probably have been pretty disappointed with just how much you find yourself struggling to even get it together in the first place - let alone keeping it together!  We limit our potential whenever we think "perfection" is the goal and WE are the ones to actually accomplish this goal!  My friends, perfection IS the goal (Christ), but WE are not the ones going to accomplish the goal (salvation and all the "clean up" which comes with it). All we can do is head toward it - Christ is actually the one beckoning us on and he will be the one who gets us over the finish line!  

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.  (Philippians 3:12-14 MSG)

All Christ expects of us is to get "well underway".  In nautical terms, when the ship is said t the "under way", it carries the idea of having begun to move - not necessarily the idea of traveling under its own power or at lightning speed!  In fact, in the old days, before we saw the advent of diesel turbines, ships were powered by the elements of nature such as the wind and the flow of the current.  It was an external power which they had to tap into in order to "get under way".  It really isn't much different for us - we need an external power to affect us in order to get us "underway".  Once that "external" power becomes something we allow to move us, we find we begin to embrace this power as the means by which we make progress in our lives. 

It is not the power of suggestion, or even the independence of will-power, which gets us across the finish line.  It is the external power of Christ brought inward within our lives until it affects us, moving us little by little in the right direction.  If you have ever seen an baby learning to walk, you know how important it is for them to have things they can reach out to as they take the next step.  In fact, if there isn't anything near enough, they won't venture away from what they have in their reach.  They toddle back and forth on the object they hold so dearly to, but as soon as they reach the end, they just don't go further.  They need the stability of whatever gives the sense of "standing strong".  

I don't think we are very dissimilar.  We need the stability of whatever we think will give us strength and help us to stand strong.  As soon as we reach the end of whatever it is we are holding onto, we just freeze.  What we often fail to see is the hand reaching out to us to beckon us forward - to take the step of faith we need to take in order to reach the next phase in our lives. As long as we hold tightly to what gives us "anchor" we won't ever be able to "get underway".  This is why it is important to look at what might be anchoring us in the present position we occupy.  It could be fear - or even pride.  Either way, neither of these will help us reach our destination.

In this passage, Paul has just stated a long laundry list of things which he had previously believed lent important to his life and credibility to his relationship with God.  In the end, he found these religious pursuits only anchored him into a life of futility - walking back and forth across the same path, unwilling to let go of what gave him anchor.  Religion is like that - it gives us anchor, but to the wrong stuff!  It anchors us to what we can do ourselves and doesn't stretch us beyond our capacity, nor does it build our faith.  It wasn't until Paul was willing to let go of his hold on religion and enter into the freedom of relationship that he recognized his life as being finally "underway".

The same is true with us - we have to let go of this "religious" stuff we get so anchored to and begin to reach out to the hand beckoning us onward.  Nothing puts more "wind in our sail" than relationship - nothing anchors us right where we are more than religion.  All religion can do is keep us focused on the rules and develop more frustration inwardly each time we don't adhere to those rules the way we believe we should.  What relationship can do is to begin to lighten the load - so we can finally get underway!  

I like what my pastor says: "Religion is us working our way TO God; relationship is God working his way TO us."  If we are to make any positive movement, we have to let go of the things we have held so tightly to and stretch for the hand just in front of us. It isn't the lack of movement on our part which gets us bogged down - it is the lack of movement in the right direction!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Put right is not us getting it right all the time!

So many times we want to assume that there is no way we can be "put right" in life because we can only see the "wrong" we have done.  We see how frequently we fall and struggle to get up - God sees how many times he has the opportunity to help us to our feet again.  God doesn't see the wrong as much as he sees how he has already put things right for us in the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus.  Isn't it about time we change our perspective of the "wrong" we think is unforgivable in our lives and begin to see what God sees when he looks at us - lives "put right" with him?

God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.  (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG)  

We evaluate people by what they have and how they look - God sees them by a totally different standard.  He sees them not as wealthy, or well-dressed, but as "needy" individuals - needy of a Savior - needy of being "put right". This is indeed a different perspective of how we should begin to view others, is it not?  When we finally begin to transition to this "view" of another, we begin to see them as Christ sees them.  As scripture so aptly points out, anyone who has accepted the work of Christ in their lives gets a new start - they get things "put right".

Think about this for just a moment - it isn't that we "work our way" to being "right" again.  It is that we are "PUT" right.  This is really more of a passive action than "working" our way toward anything - it is the action of another on our behalf.  Isn't it just like us to think we have to get all our "fallen leaves" in a pile before we can even begin to think our "yard" has been cleaned up? It is indeed good news to me to know God "puts" things in my life "in order" through his Son, not by what I am able to do in my own effort.  It isn't as though I need to just "sit back" and do nothing once I ask Jesus to be my Savior - but obedience to what he asks is not really me doing the "work" of salvation.  I am "put right" by his work - anything he asks of me from that point forward is just a way of revealing my commitment to his work within me. 

It may seem a little hard for some to believe - someone who never did anything wrong to assume the total wrong of another.  It is contrary to how we act and how we view life - for this type of sacrifice is indeed not "normal". It is "super" normal!  It took God about one nano-second to put my life in order again - it has taken me a lifetime to realize I don't have to work at being "put right" anymore!  Why is it so hard for us to accept this work of God on our behalf?  Probably because it is harder to accept a gift we don't deserve than one we feel we have earned!

Forgiveness is really a fresh start - you don't have to focus on the fact you have fallen because you are / have been "put right" on your feet again!  When we find it hard to "get beyond" our failures, we sometimes need a good "setting right" in our focus again - because somehow we forgot God has "put us right", will continue to "put us right", and is all about the business of "putting us right" for as many times as we need it until we get "put right" for good! Maybe this isn't rocket science here, but I genuinely think there are more people who struggle with this than are willing to admit they do - for those individuals who are constantly "working" toward "being right", please just listen.  God has put you right ALREADY - so why are you trying to do all the work over again?

When God declares something to be a certain way, it is.  When he declares us as "put right", we are.  All God ever asks of us is to accept his gift - all we need is this close intimate connection with him.  We cannot add anything to what he does for us - for what he does is a completed work.  Think about it - when something is "completed", it is finished.  All parts needed are already there - we are lacking nothing.  Perhaps today is a good day to begin to accept God "putting us right" and stop all this fruitless "work" of trying to put ourselves right.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Re-engaging the mind

Unprincipled really just says someone is lacking moral scruples.  Scruples are standards we live by - agreed upon as the "minimum set" of actions on one person's part which result in some type of restraint or inhibits some other form of action.  Is it safe to say that the "scruples" of our society have changed over the past twenty years?  I don't think anyone would disagree with this observation.  It would only take about one-half hour channel-surfing to get a flavor for how "low" the minimum set of actions has become.  We have housewives from somewhere out there acting like absolute terrors toward each other, their husbands, and their kids.  There are wives and husbands battling it out over how many photos she takes in a given day. Survivalists pit one against the other to get some coveted trophy and a little prize money, all the while changing up who they will "side" with based on who seems to be doing the best.  Divas galore flaunt their stuff and act like "unholy"-terrors on the big screen.  Sheesh - I wouldn't say these folks even have scruples anymore - I'd say it seems they live pretty "unprincipled" lives!

The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.  (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 MSG)

Our writer puts it pretty well - it is indeed a dog-eat-dog world out there and that "world" is trying to make an inroad into our hearts and minds each and every day!  If we are to guard against this type of "principle-shift" or exchange of morals, we really need to understand how the enemy of our souls fights! To wage war without a game plan is to walk into the enemy's camp without armor, fully exposed, and as a sitting duck!  Let's examine exactly what we can see about our enemy's attacks and how we can combat them:

- First and foremost, the enemy of our souls doesn't "fight fair".  If any parent has ever had their child run home to them to report one of their friends for not being fair, you probably had to take a few moments to explain what "fair" really looks like, right?  In the eyes of the child who feels their friend is being "unfair", "fair" usually looks like getting their way, having the last cookie, or being the one to pick the games they play.  When these things don't happen, the child proclaims life as "unfair".  Oh that our battles were this easy to handle in our adult life!  The enemy of our souls has more than the last cookie on his mind - he has our soul on his mind!  He wants company in hell, and he isn't going to be content until he gets it!  "Fair" isn't one of his tactics - in fact, he uses "fair" as a means of getting some form of discontent stirred up in our minds and hearts so we will focus on how mistreated we are, or how "unfair" life has treated us.  "Fair" is the enemy to contentment - learn this and you might just get the upper hand on some of his greatest weapons of warfare!

- He uses warped philosophies to get at our minds.  Philosophies are really just a set of principles set forth which explain something.  There are moral philosophies which set forth standards of conduct.  Then there are natural philosophies which spend a lot of time showing the relationship between things in nature, such as gravity's force and the way it affects those under its influence.  Add to this the metaphysical philosophies out there and you get all manner of beliefs about human knowledge.  No wonder we get confused with some of the stuff going around!  The enemy of our souls takes all of these and meshes them together in order to muddle our thoughts, affect our actions, or lead us into inactivity simply because we are so confused.  The truth about warped philosophies is the fact there is always some "truth" in them!  When we add or take away anything from what is "true", we get a warped philosophy.  For example, if we know it is the colors of red and yellow mixed together which produce orange, to present anything other than this would be an outright misstatement of truth.  But...if we want to subtly change the "hue" of orange produced, we add in other colors such as brown and a little more yellow to produce the color we call gold.  It is still an orange base, but now it is called "gold".  Truth still exists, it is just "changed" to a different "hue" by the enemy of our souls.

- The enemy is a master at erecting barriers.  Nothing speaks more clearly of his involvement in our lives than to be moving in the right direction, evidenced by God's peace within, and then coming smack-dab into a mess of barriers which just seem to block us as we attempt to move forward.  His goal is to obstruct our progress, or keep us from accessing what it is which is just beyond the barrier.  They put guard-rails up on the sides of roads to keep the cars from careening off into the canyon below - so not every barrier is necessarily from him!  We have to become proficient at recognizing the ones God places for our safety and the ones he erects in an attempt to keep us from making progress - they are totally different!

- Lose thoughts, emotions, and impulsive behavior are his final set of tactics with which he seeks to add mayhem into our lives.  Let it be known, we all have the capacity to act a little impulsively at times.  One of the things which we often see when the brain has been impacted by a blood clot or an event which limited the blood-flow long enough is this lowering of "inhibitory" ability, causing the person to act quite "impulsively" at times.  Don't gloss over that one, friends - it is when the brain is NOT engaged as it should be that our inhibitions are lowered leading to the greatest opportunity for impulsive behavior!  Learning to re-engage the brain is the primary defense against this attack!

We don't fight "fair" in this battle because our enemy doesn't fight fair!  We fight from the vantage point of "victors" - we already know his game plan and we are miles ahead of him in countering his strategies, friends!  We don't need to fear his attacks - we just need to stand up to his unscrupulous dealings and put him in his place!  Just sayin!

Monday, January 20, 2014

You...God....You

There are very few things in this life we can actually be sure of - most of which are totally out of our control as Benjamin Franklin once said in the old adage:  "Nothing is certain but death and taxes."  If we were to be totally honest, I think we might just be able to add a third one to this list:  Mistakes. It is totally human to make mistakes, so it stands to reason we can count on it as a "given" in life - something we can count on happening.  If there are things we can know for sure will happen, we have a different mental focus about them, don't we?  For example, I don't even think about the taxes coming out of my paycheck until someone asks me about them, or I go to prepare my income tax statement every year.  Why?  They are a "constant" I can count on, so no amount of worry will ever change the fact they are coming out of my paycheck.  It is as though they just "happen" - they are out of my control.  I can try to manage them by taking the legal amount of deductions to minimize what comes out of my paycheck, but if I don't do this well, I may actually owe more at the end of the year.  I may have "manipulated" the situation, but I don't change the fact I still owe the taxes.  In reality, there is something much more important we can count as "certain" in our lives, but which we frequently need a lot of reminders to actually believe:  God will take care of everything you need!  Yep, everything!

You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity.   (Philippians 4:19-20 MSG)

This passage is not written as a "maybe" God will kind of proposal, but as a statement of fact - "God will take care of everything you need" - period! Here's the kicker - we try to manipulate things so we figure out a way to take care of what we need or what we actually don't need, but maybe just want pretty badly.  We are master "schemers" - manipulating things so we can either accomplish them outside of God's timing, or get what we want regardless of what it will do to us once we have it.  It is kind of like cheating on your taxes, though - you still owe the taxes, you just found a way "around" paying them. When we don't rely upon the certainties God tells us we can count on, it is like we are "cheating" on God!

Our writer points out several things we need to stand on in order to not operate outside of God's timing, or "cheat" on him by manipulating things to go the way we want them to go.

- YOU can be sure...  This passage begins with us - you and I - it is about what we think, say, and do.  
  • YOU - the person being addressed in this passage is not someone else, it is us - the readers
  • CAN - you have the ability and the power to do this; you know how to; you have the means to; but most importantly - you have the right and qualifications to
  • BE SURE - you have the right and qualifications to confident, fully assured, certain beyond question, and free from doubt as to the qualifications and reliability of God's desire and reliability in providing for your needs
- GOD will take care of everything you need...  Although the passage begins with US, it quickly directs US to GOD.  
  • GOD - really this is God - Elohim - the creative one, the governing and sovereign one, in possession of absolute power and authority, and the one who enters into "covenant-relationship" with is creation.  At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but it is - because "covenant" is unbreakable in God's eyes.
  • WILL - not maybe, but is totally disposed toward, without any hint of regret or unwillingness on his part
  • TAKE CARE - he will pay serious attention to that which he promised, simply because he doesn't take his promises lightly
  • OF EVERYTHING - easily said this literally translates as "every thing" - the total amount, all things wrapped up into one
  • YOU NEED - he brings it back to us - starts with us, turns it to him, and then refocuses on us.  It is about our NEEDS, not someone else's - it is what he finds to be necessary in our lives - but may not be "every thing" we want in our lives.  Here's where we need to learn to trust God, because he knows whether our wants will present things which will only add worries and trouble to our lives.  We don't know this - maybe that is why I added "mistakes" to our list of things we can count on!
It is good to recognize God's generosity.  It begins with grace - for none of our actions warranted his mercy, but in his generosity, he reached for us with the gift of grace.  It continues with growth - for none of us is able to grow without oversight and protection.  It blossoms with gratitude - for God examines the intentions of the heart and the responsiveness of our spirit. We can count on him to be there - no matter what the circumstance.  We cannot always see his hand in action, but we can know for sure it is IN ACTION.  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Come on, breathe!

Many of us have a tendency to listen, but be less than attentive to what we are hearing - something which quite honestly results in a little less than "perfect obedience" when it comes to us listening to God.  It should not surprise us God puts these concepts of "listening" with "obedience" and "learning" with "living".  What we hear, we are to respond to in a prompt manner.  What we come to know, we are to live out.  It is repeated over and over in scripture.  In fact, James warns against being a "hearer" and not a "doer" of the Word - Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (James 1:22-23 MSG)  This "in one ear, out the other" thing runs deeper than most of us would like to admit.  If we were all to stop long enough to really consider this, we might just realize we are "filtering out" a whole lot of stuff we should have been holding onto or paying attention to a little closer.  We do it unconsciously most of the time - not with purposeful intent.  We don't "shut off" our listening, we just drift into not paying close attention.

Attention, Israel. Listen obediently to the rules and regulations I am delivering to your listening ears today.  Learn them.  Live them.  (Exodus 5:1 MSG)

Let's look at these concepts of LISTENING and OBEDIENCE - LEARNING and LIVING:

- Listening is the first step in learning anything new.  To stay on the "cutting edge", companies everywhere hold "focus groups" aimed at discovering what their potential customers have to think about their current product, or perhaps some new line they would like to introduce.  Their sole intent is to "hear" from the customer - to get their impressions so they can learn from them. Wisdom tells us we actually begin to move from merely "hearing" to "listening" when we begin to "incorporate" what we are hearing into our practice.  The company holding a focus group would take the ideas shared and either determine to "scrap" their idea or put it forward as planned.  They use what they hear to determine future action.  In a practical sense, this is what God asks of us - hear what he is saying by "incorporating" it into our actions.  In this way, we move from just "hearing" his Word, and we begin to be "doers" of his Word.

- Obedience is an outcome of listening - we take action by "incorporating" the things asked or taught.  Going back to our illustration of the focus group, if the company simply paid all this money to hold the focus group, then never really did anything with what they learned, of what value was the information? None, right?  If we are going to take the time to hold the focus group, then we need to take the interest in using the information they provide to assist us with the direction our company should take in the future.  God doesn't hold focus groups to get common consensus of how we are feeling about things, but you get my point.  He invests an awful lot in our lives - not because he has to, but because he wants to.  In turn, he asks us to take a little time to focus our attention on him, his teachings, and then to incorporate them into our present and future actions.

Living is a process of putting into practice or use that which you have at your disposal.  Yesterday, my Kindle froze - oh my!  As I told this story to my dear friend, she laughed hilariously at my humor in this moment, so I thought I'd share it with you.  I love to play word games on it and read as I have time, but as I was counting on about a half hour of word challenges, my screen froze - no sign of life could be seen.  No response to hard reboots - just plain screen.  After about twenty attempts to revive it, I placed it aside on the charger and prayed I'd have some revelation of what to do in the morning.  In the morning, I brought it to the computer, thinking maybe it just needed a software upgrade and I could "hard-wire" it to the computer.  I logged into the website and began to "diagnose" my "patient".  After all, my Kindle had "flat-lined" and maybe if I could "jump-start" its heart again, it would return to life! I followed the instructions with tender-loving care, hoping for any sign of life. Even a little flutter would have bolstered my faith, but alas, nothing.

I sat the thing down, ready to pronounce it "dead" - no signs of life.  I turned away for just a second, believing I would need to go online to purchase the next generation of reader, then turned back to see a little glimmer of hope! The Kindle screen was beginning to flash to life - and the little grey bar which showed it was "rebooting" told me it was trying to breathe again!  I sat there cheering it on with words like, "Breathe, you can do it!"  As I began to see the signs of life, my heart began to soar again!  My Kindle was coming back to life!  Woohoo!  Now, lest you think there is nothing to learn from this little incident, let me tell you, even a dead Kindle can give this writer lessons for life!  You see, God gets each of us in a place of "no signs of life" - there just isn't much happening which gives much hope we will ever "breathe again".  In "reconnecting" with us, we begin to "flutter" to life once again.  He connects to us through his Word - breathing life into a once pretty lifeless existence. If we refuse his "breath", we refuse that which will restore us to "full capacity". I can hear God sometimes just saying, "Breathe, come on, breathe!"  He has given me his Word, helped me to hear it with my ears, then he stands tenderly by, waiting for signs of life!  

When God brings his truth, we have the ability to allow the "connection" - opening the door for us to incorporate what that connection will provide - signs of new life!  We learn and live only to the degree we listen and obey - just sayin!