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Friday, February 28, 2014

You get the part?

I spent a few years in the theater in high school and then into the military as part of my career there.  I was not a "performer" in the theater, although I did have a small part in a production once, but it was really not my forte.  I was a "behind the scenes" kind of person - building sets, finding just the right props, etc.  I liked the challenge of taking a totally flat surface of canvas stretched taught over a frame and turning it into the backdrop resembling old structures, hillsides, or the inside of a 1930's parlor.  It intrigued me to see the sets come together and then stand back to see the "effect" they created.  Two dimensional flats gave the appearance of three dimension and took you into worlds you might not have traveled otherwise.  What made theater so interesting for others was the ability to "perform" the parts of the characters in the production.  They enjoyed the challenge of getting the role down, including the accent, appearing like an aged woman or man, and the like. They would study their parts, memorizing lines, rehearsing ad nauseum and spend endless hours cultivating their role.  As much effort as I put into the sets to get them to look "real", the performers were putting into their development of their part in the play.  I think there are times in our lives when we spend a great deal of time creating an "image" and cultivating our "performance" in the "religious" realm only to come to the place of recognizing our "performance" is a bit of a "flop"!

Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors mean far more to God than religious performance.  (Proverbs 21:3 MSG)

Anytime we focus more on our "performance" and on our "appearance", we are wasting valuable time we could have spent allowing God to actually change us into the appearance only he can give and the performance which comes because we are learning to live as he desires us to live.  Religious performance is not relationship-based.  It is the glory of Christ revealed in us which comes only to the degree we are willing to spend time getting close to him which gives us the appearance which is envied by all.  It is the grace of Christ cultivated in our lives which gives us the performance which touches the lives of others and helps them to desire to be filled with the grace as much as we are.  It is one thing to have "religious performance", but something quite different to engage in deep, intimate fellowship with Jesus.  One produces a "performance" of sorts, something quite rehearsed and not natural or real; the other produces a change of character entirely, moving us from one way of living into another.  The latter is real and is what God desires more than anything else.

Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors.  Sound familiar?  It should - since through all of history God has been emphasizing these same two things.  Have one God, pay attention to this relationship like it matters the most, and allow him to pay attention to you because YOU do matter the most to him.  In turn, you will love each other as he loves you.  Same truth, just a different way of saying it.  How it is accomplished is by being willing to shift from "playing a part" to allowing the character change to actually occur. It is more than "bit acting" - it is life transformation God is after - allowing all of our lives to become models of his.  He makes a beautiful "set" out of our lives - not just one which gives the appearance of being one way - but a multi-dimensional work of beauty which is a genuine reflection of the original (Christ).  

Now, don't you think it is about time we stop "playing the part" of "Christian" and actually draw close enough to him to recognize when we are simply "play-acting" and when we are being "transformed" into his image?  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tapped in

I have never really lived in an area where we have "well-water" to draw from, but my sister did in Napa Valley.  I remember the "sweetness" of the water, how cool it was when it came out of the faucet, and the just "freshness" it had.  Being a city girl, this was quite an experience for me because I was used to the fluoride, strong taste of chemicals like chlorine, and the like.  To take "pure" water was almost a shock to my body!  If you are also a city gal, you know what I mean!  Now, think about the well within each of us - that well of refreshing, purity, and sweetness which is cultivated there by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  No well is ever benefit until it drawn from - wells serve their purpose only when something comes forth.  What comes forth in your life is based on who "taps" the well and how frequently the well is "stirred" within!

Knowing what is right is like deep water in the heart; a wise person draws from the well within.  (Proverbs 20:5)

We come into a place of knowing what is right by being exposed to it more and more.  One of our best defenses against untruth which leads to deception is to become so familiar with what is true we can just "smell" the untruth even before it has a chance to get "into" us.  It is like the difference between the water coming from my sister's well and that coming from my city tap - I don't even need to ingest mine to know it filled with chemicals - I can smell them!  If I don't want to take in this city water, I pay a good deal for "filters" to remove the smell and many of those chemicals.  Yet, the well-water at my sister's house was already pure when it came from the tap - no filters necessary.  So, where we draw from really does matter - we can clean it up no matter where we get it, but do we really want to?

The depth of our well is determined by how far we are willing to be "tapped". We cannot always tolerate the drilling and will resist its abrasiveness, but the tapping of the well is not always designed to be a comfortable process.  Some of us stop short of going to the next level, where the waters will be cleaner, purer, and sweeter simply because we don't want to endure the "drilling" by the Holy Spirit and God's Word.  Yet, if we want the sweetness and limitless flow from within, we must.  

My lessons have grown a little shorter this week as I am on the mend from my knee replacement and the fact I am a little worn out has made it almost a little bit of a chore to put words to print, but I want to remain faithful to share just even the little truths God gives.  It is not the volume of words, but the truth contained which will do its work.  Hoping God will dig you a little deeper today.  Embrace the "tapping" - it is meant for your glory!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Say what????

Do you ever complain to God?  I do!  In fact, I find myself ranging from complaint to praise, from disappointment to celebration.  The good news is that God doesn't judge me for this honest exchange of my emotions - in fact, he encourages me!  David was another one who made this frequent honest exchange of emotions ranging from up to down, "all in" to "holding back a little".  Many of the psalms within the Book of Psalms actually are a record of David's "honest exchanges" between God and David.  In turn, these exchanges are placed in the middle of our Bible as a means of helping us connect with God on some level of "honest" exchange.  If we see and hear others engaging in this honest exchange of emotion, we are more likely to "try our hand" at being just as forthright with God, as well.  

The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in him.  And those who do what is right will praise him.  (Psalm 64:10 NLT)

In the midst of his enemy's threats, he turns to God and he does it in pretty significant openness.  He paints the picture of how he sees his enemies working - things like hurtful words; finding innocence and pointing it out in almost mocking fashion; and hours of secret planning with plots designed to trip him up.  Trust me, God already knows all these details, but there is something cathartic in his open exchange with God.  

Here's where I find God being most gracious in my own life - in my exchange of the "obvious", he patiently awaits my discourse to come to an end.  In "getting it out before God", I find he then can take care of whatever it is I really need done in my life.  Yet, in this exchange, God gently brings me to the place of realizing the "mission" of open exchange - the place where he takes control when I let go of the things I have been holding onto.

In six short verses, David gets to the point.  In just three short verses, God makes his!  Amazing - God gets to the point in half the time we get to ours! Now, doesn't that beat all!  God is infinitely patient with us - allowing us all the time we need to get things out before him - and infinitely gracious to help us see things from his perspective, but not making it so difficult for us to grasp that we don't sit and listen.  

When God gives us his perspective, it comes across in quite the contrast to our own. The enemy which seems to plot evil with his words - undone in an instant with the powerful word of God - allowing their own malicious words to turn against them, bringing THEM harm instead of us.  The word he uses not only becomes their undoing, but it becomes the evidence of his watchful care.

Then in summary of his graciousness toward us, we find ourselves turning from words of complaint to words of praise - finding shelter in his words and in his revelation of the true perspective of the situation.  This is where God excels - in giving us as long as we need to "get it all out before him" and then in allowing us to gain his perspective of the circumstances - culminating in us having a fresh revelation of his grace.  All this matter of complaint actually becomes a place where we meet with God to gain his perspective and see even more of his grace bestowed on our behalf.  Now, that is truly awesome! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Putting the "past" into perspective

Remembering our history might just give us a moment to pause.  Some of what may be there might just not be something we are very delighted to remember.  I think there is much to memory - most of it is pretty "okay" - but there is some of our "history" we'd all like to forget.  When it comes to our "family tree", there are probably some "Charlie Brown Christmas Trees" in the mix - you know - the ones kind of scraggly and just kind of like the ones we'd probably rather reject than own up to!  Yet, even though they don't "fit" like the rest of us, we cannot discount their importance in our family tree.  The most unlikely candidates have a place in our history - no particular action or characteristic we can deny or discount.  For all we know, they hold a place in our history just so we can look back and be warned about what could so easily entrap us in the same behavior.  In this respect, we'd do well to consider even their "negative influence" as part of a "positive influence" on us today!
Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God’s fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.  The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did.  (I Corinthians 10:1-6 MSG)
Heaven knows, I was not the perfect spouse.  I certainly wasn't the "ideal" mother and my children are not the perfect offspring of a "June Clever" mom. In fact, I wasn't a perfect child myself - causing many to probably have labeled me as the "black sheep" of the family on more than one occasion.  In fact, despite my love for this country, I have not been entirely the best citizen, probably breaking a few laws here and there as it applies to speed limits, recycling rules, and the like.  To be truthful, I am not the "perfect" anything apart from Christ.  If you look back over my "history", some "chapters" don't paint the prettiest picture - but the ending is sure to delight!
Whenever I have the chance, I use the past lessons of my life to illustrate not only the protection of Christ (for he certainly kept me from some horribly messy circumstances I was pretty heck-bent on pursuing), but his tremendous grace in restoring me in those areas where hurt and harm left me a little bit like a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree".  It was that tendency within me to want my own way which gave me most of my "failure points", for any time "self" demands its own way, harm and hurt are sure to follow.  Why?  Simply because temptation plays upon the heart committed to fulfilling its own way! Learning to see the choices we make as inherent to the demands of our heart can help us avoid being defeated by temptation in our lives.
The "guard" we must maintain in our lives is more than just a watchfulness. Being watchful is good - don't get me wrong - but I have "watched" myself into some pretty tough corners at times!  It wasn't that I didn't recognize the choices I was making, but because I was only "watching" what I wanted to see, I allowed myself to block out the "other side" of the picture - the side where Christ stood clearly pointing the direction I should take.  Sometimes we call this "justifying our behavior" with our own "made-up" set of rules.  It is like saying, "This isn't totally bad", then pursuing it because it really doesn't "totally" go against what we know to be right.  The problem is the "mix" in the message - we see only what we want to see - negating the real truth of what we need to see.
History is bound to repeat itself until we learn from it.  Maybe this is why we are given the chance to "look back" on occasion.  We don't wallow in the "mully-grubs" over the past missed opportunities, but we become aware of the ways we missed the opportunities, learning to avoid those same pitfalls in the future.  Too many times we use these opportunities to look back on our past as times to drift into self-pity, self-torture, and self-condemnation.  This is not the pattern God has for considering our past.  In fact, if we "look back", it is to be through his eyes.  We are to see the past in the perspective he views it - behind us, but as a stepping stone for his grace to grow us.  I cannot emphasize this enough - we need God's perspective on our past if we are to view it as he does!
If we "look back", it is with the intention of learning.  All growth comes from grace - all grace comes as a gift of God - all God's gifts are meant for our good - all our past then is meant to help us grow into our present and prepare us for our future, but only as we perceive it through the eyes of Christ.  I don't know how you have been considering your past temptations and where they allowed you to end up, but if you want to learn from them, you must learn to see them clearly through the eyes of the one who has the "full perspective" - Christ himself.  Just sayin!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lessons we probably all need to learn

The end of the day has come, labors have all just about ended, and you are envisioning a nice bit of sea bass cooked over the fire with a side of some freshly harvested vegetable from your garden.  Then all of a sudden, you vision is broken in upon by an "outsider" almost putting himself upon you to get you to back at work.  At first, it doesn't seem like much - he only wants to use your boat - not too far from shore - so dinner will be a little delayed, but you can soak up a few rays and enjoy the gentle rocking of the boat as it drifts on the still waters.  So, why not?  After all, he is quite popular and he tells stories people really like to hear.  As you lay there gently lulled by the slight lapping of the waters against the side of your boat, your ease is interrupted by another request - this time a little harder to take than his first. At first, you complain a little - something we all are given to at times.  Then you go about explaining how this request is a little unreasonable - something we also engage in whenever we think the request is just a little bit beyond what we'd really like to be doing.  What we do in response to the hard requests makes all the difference, though!  We can reject the request as unreasonable and a little too much for us, or we can make excuses for why it won't work for us to do what is asked, but either way, we miss out on some pretty significant blessings when we do!

Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.  When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch. Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.  Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.  (Luke 5:1-11 MSG)

A couple of thoughts from our passage this morning:

- The crowds push in to better hear what he is saying.  I don't know about you, but I think nothing is worse than to be at the back of the crowd, wanting to hear what is being said, but despite all your straining to hear, you still cannot make it out clearly.  When someone finally picks up the microphone and asks if we can hear them now, I am relieved to not have to "press" so hard to hear what is being said.  Yet, in the pressing in there is something which I want each of not to miss - the urgency to hear, to make out what is being said, to make that connection with the one speaking.  Sometimes I think "taking up the microphone" is okay - because it makes it a little easier to hear, but it also lessens the intensity I must exert in order to hear!  Maybe pressing in is not so bad of an idea.

- Jesus always used what he had at his access.  We don't find stories of Jesus supernaturally creating a pulpit so he could preach, or having manna rain down from heaven so the crowds could eat.  In fact, we repeatedly observe him using what was made available to him - what others placed at his disposal. He used the water in the jugs which someone already drew from the well to make the wine.  He makes a little mud out of dirt and spit to anoint the eyes of the blind man.  He gathers the few fish and loaves to feed the multitudes. He uses the fisherman's boat and the gentle waters of the lake to provide a pulpit and amplify his voice for the crowds.  What is put at his disposal will be put to gracious use by this one we know as Jesus - Savior, Creator, and Lord.

- Even when we think he is finished teaching, there is always another lesson just waiting to be learned.  This might be the hardest thing for us to grasp, but the lessons he teaches are everywhere - we just need to be open to the opportunities.  There is "formal" teaching - more like what we get from the pulpit on Sundays.  Then there is this "informal" teaching - much like the lessons we learn when we are "at work" doing what it is we normally do. Yesterday, my older brother was kind enough to give up his morning to help me assemble a shed.  I had many of the pieces already put together, but just needed his extra set of hands.  As we struggled getting some of the pieces to interlock as they should, we tried numerous things to try to get the connection to occur as the manufacturer had designed.  Yet, in all our struggling, filing, drilling, shaving away, and pounding, nothing seemed to work.  In a moment of almost giving up, I looked at him and suggested we undo the screws holding the floor together.  He doubted it would work, but low and behold, as soon as four tiny screws were let loose, the structure could shift that 1/8" to allow the piece to glide into place.  He looked at me in amazement and asked how I figured that one out.  I told him I just saw it didn't look "plumb" on the edges, so I thought maybe the little shift could make the difference.  It did! Sometimes the lessons come in the "regular" stuff of our lives - like putting together a shed.  It doesn't take much for us to be "out of plumb" - but it also doesn't take much for us to "re-align" to plumb!  When we do, the plan God designed "fits" perfectly!

- We don't expect much, but are frequently dazzled by the greatness of our God.  It shouldn't surprise any of us that we set our eyes and hearts far below the greatness God designs for us.  He sees the harvest before us, even when we think nothing exists.  When we take even the first step toward responding to what he asks, the "haul" begins!  We cannot always see what is just beneath the surface in our lives, but he can.  When he asks for us to "cast our nets", the excuses have to go!  We need to remember he is the Lord of the Harvest and he knows what he has in store for us.  Cast those nets and see his goodness!  I don't honestly believe any of us will be disappointed!

- His greatness and goodness often humble us.  There is a difference though between being humbled and feeling shame.  Shame is not from God - it puts us down and keeps us bound by the past.  Humility recognizes the need for God to touch what we are powerless to fix.  Humility allows the past to be put in the past and opens us to receive the direction for our future.  Peter didn't know what was in store for him that day, but humbled by Jesus and opened to receiving something new, he took the bold steps into his future.  We might just need to do the same.  Just sayin!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"BE"

If you have ever had one of those days where being agreeable and loving just seem to be the most difficult response to muster, then you are not alone. Every now and then, these days seem to creep up and the testing of our patience almost overwhelms us - sometimes it even does!  When we have these days back-to-back, there seems to be no helping us - for every response we have is less than kind!  Learning to bless when we just don't feel like it is a difficult thing to do - especially when we are relying upon our own self effort to accomplish it!  Truth is - we are all pretty disagreeable at times - some of us more than others.  When I run into someone who just seems to be disagreeable every time I see them, I have to wonder what made them so "sour" on life.  Maybe they just haven't recovered from some hurt in their past, or someone keeps opening up their "healing wounds" and now all they can do is "fester" in their misery.  Regardless, the very best response to their miserableness is a blessing - a genuine, heartfelt, grace filled blessing straight from the heart of God.

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

We can learn to bless, even when we don't exactly feel like it.  We can learn to be gracious, even when our first reaction would be ask what makes the other guy think they are so much more entitled than us.  We can learn to be courteous and respectful, even in the face of someone being less than understanding.  How?  I think our answer comes in understanding the difference between trying and doing.  To try suggests we put for the effort - being a certain way suggests we rely upon the effort of another to help us respond as we should.  The "other" is Christ - IN him we can be ALL things to ALL men - regardless of how they are responding!

In looking at our passage, the words are not passive - they are a command requiring action on our part.  The word "be" is not passive.  It simply means to "make it happen".  It is not an option - God requires action on our part and this action is to align with how he would respond.  Some time back, the little acronym "WWJD" became the fad.  It stood for "What would Jesus do?"  In short, whenever we were faced with a decision on how to act or respond in life, we were reminded to ask this short, but to the point question.  If we stopped long enough to consider how Jesus would respond, we would hopefully adjust our response accordingly.

Seems kind of simplistic, right?  Just asking this question cannot change behavior - behavior is changed in the moments "in between" the actions which demand our gracious and agreeable responses!  It is when we don't need to respond that we develop the ability to respond with agreeable behavior, not when we are faced with the "full moon, head on disagreeable spirit" of another.  This is why you will see me reminding each of us to draw near to Jesus as frequently as we possibly can - even if it is a 30-second escape into his presence!  Nothing quite "fills our tank" for the issues we face like being in his presence and soaking up his grace.  If we want to know what Jesus would do, we have to first get to know Jesus!

If you go back to our passage, it doesn't say "work at being" agreeable, sympathetic, loving and compassionate.  It says "be".  We develop this ability to "be" based on who it is we choose to "be" with!  When we choose to "be" with Jesus enough, his character begins to "rub off" on us.  If we choose to "be" with others who only see things as we see them, we rarely rise above the misery of our own perspective!  Just sayin!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

About or From - You Choose

There is a vast difference between learning "about" something or someone and learning "from" that object or person.  When we learn "about" someone, we are learning things that are closely associated with that individual, but we are not necessarily learning what makes that person "tick".  When we get to learn "from" them, we get to know the "original" and nothing is quite the same as getting to know the "original".  Anything less just doesn't quite reach the same level of experience.  The thing which makes "about" and "from" very distinct as it comes to our relationship with Christ is the danger of never drawing close enough to recognize the real thing when we see it.  As long as we are just learning "about" Christ, we get familiar with some of the nuances of his character, but we don't sense the action of that character within us. When we are learning "from" Christ, it is because we have leaned into him, heard the beat of his heart, and drawn strength from that nearness.  "About" doesn't help us spot the imitation when it might come - "from" helps us differentiate more accurately between what is "genuine" and what is the cleverly designed "imitation".

Don’t be lured away from him by the latest speculations about him. The grace of Christ is the only good ground for life. Products named after Christ don’t seem to do much for those who buy them.  (Hebrews 13:9 MSG)

I think we need to recognize the potential of merely knowing "about" him - it opens us up to being lured away by the latest speculation about him.  We have to live "in" grace - not just appreciate that grace "exists".  We have to live "in" Christ - not just appreciate him as a good man, a great teacher, or as a means for us to get into heaven.  We need a close, intimate relationship "with" Jesus in order to learn "from" Jesus.  I have good friends and then I have my best friend.  What she knows about me that some of the others don't might not seem significant at first, but the closeness we have developed allows her to "tune into" my moods, know when I need to talk, and then know when we just need to be quiet together while we enjoy just being with each other.  We have learned "from" each other - not just "about" each other.  We have developed a level of relational "intimacy" which allows us to understand more than the superficial stuff about each other.

I like the imagery of this passage - "Products named after Christ don't seem to do much for those who by them."  Chew on that one a little - I think it might just speak to each of us about some of the "products named after Christ" we might have bought into over the years.  For example, have any of us been duped into believing something from scripture just because someone else told us it was in scripture?  Perhaps we think the adage "God helps those who help themselves" is from scripture - a direct quote of sorts.  Have you ever been told this by a well-meaning brother or sister in the Lord?  Well, the adage is attributable to Ben Franklin, or even apparent in Aesop's Fables - not God!  Does that one shock you?  Then look it up!  We find ourselves buying into many "products named after Christ" without really testing them to see if they are indeed the "real deal".  In fact, the Bereans were given kudos for taking what they were taught, then going home, studying them over and over again against scripture to see if indeed the teachings were in alignment with scripture - something which might just helps us not buy-into products "about" Christ and draw us nearer to learning "from" him!

If we can begin to see the value of daily drawing close to Jesus, allowing his Word to penetrate our lives, even if we don't "get" all we read each time we read it, we will begin to develop the protections we need which will keep us from buying into "products named after Christ".  In time, the more we expose ourselves to truth, the more truth begins to penetrate the recesses of our minds and thoughts.  When we hear or see something which might seem to appeal to our senses, we often will also be met with the "contrary" warning of that thing just not being exactly right.  Remember, all falsehood bears some semblance of truth, or we'd never be drawn into believing the falsehood.  We learn fully of God's grace in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.  We learn of the actions of grace in his life actions - those things he modeled on our behalf.  We learn the generosity of grace when we begin to see the sacrifice grace made on our behalf in the person of Christ.  We learn "from" Christ - not just about him - building "safety" into our lives as a result.

In short - to keep from being lured into stuff which merely proclaims to be a product which carries the name of Christianity, we have to learn from the one who Christianity is all about!  Jesus!  Just sayin!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Products of Grace

When a company is just about ready to introduce a new product, the term "going public" might be used to suggest the steps they take in revealing their new concept.  Much effort is put into putting forth the right message so that the public at large will be aware of the new product, beginning to form the impression of "need" which will cause them to desire the product.  As the new product is finally readied for market, the public will have a curiosity as a result of "having gone public" some time prior - a technique we call marketing. There are times when the best "marketing" we can actually experience is the "marketing" of a life transformed because of something.  When we see the advertisements for the surgery which lifts the wrinkles away and draws the loose skin tight again on our faces, making us look 20 years younger, there is an appeal because the "transformation" was so totally apparent.  Before and after pictures speak very clearly of the possibilities of the procedure - making us want it more than ever.  I think God doesn't necessarily "market" a "product" so to speak, but he does "model" his work in each of us.  It is this "modeled" work which speaks very clearly of the hope of transformation we can all have as we embrace Christ and he embraces us.

God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.  (Titus 2:11-14 MSG)

God stands ready to GIVE and FORGIVE.  This is the message he wants to "go public" with through our transformed lives.  Each of us is a billboard of God's grace - revealing the depth of his love and the generosity of his "giving" through his Son's completed work on our behalf.  Each of us is the best form of "advertisement" God could employ to show the graciousness of his forgiveness.  Nothing speaks louder than transformed lives.  Nothing quite expresses his love more than lives touched deeply by it.  The message we proclaim - "Salvation's available for everyone!"

Looking at what God does within us to make this change possible on the outside of us is quite revealing.  First, he gives the ability to turn our backs on the old way of living.  This may not seem very significant at first, but if you have ever tried to break a bad habit such as nail biting, smoking, or drinking you know how difficult it can be to do this in your own effort.  It is like we need a supernatural ability to break free from the hold of the old way of living. This is what Christ provides - freedom from the bonds we have to the past way of making decisions, choosing what will exercise control in our lives, and where our focus will be directed.  We don't "work up" to the place of being free - the gives us this freedom and the ability to turn our backs squarely on the old way of living.

If this isn't enough to cause us great delight, he also gives us the ability to take on this new way of living.  It is this constant renewal of his grace within which helps us up each time we fall, sets us straight each time we wander, and encourages us each time we feel defeated.  Some of us expect the "instant overnight fix" of our life problems.  In case it didn't dawn on you yet, it took you your lifetime to this point in life to create those problems, so getting out of the routine of living "within" those problems may take us a little longer than we hoped for.  It doesn't mean we aren't made new in Christ just because we have some of the old stuff hanging around giving us a little bit of a problem today.  It means we have an opportunity to rely upon Jesus to help us realize our freedom from those old ways of living - we are declared and made free instantly, but we need to have our minds and hearts (emotions) transformed so we can actually live free of those old ways.

I like the illustration my pastor frequently uses to show this example.  He turns to his left and describes what he sees as his old way of living.  Then he turns clearly and fully to the right, changing not only the position of his body, but the focus of his eyes.  Turned to the left, he saw the old way of living. Turned to the right, he sees the new.  This is repentance - a change in focus. This is salvation - a change in focus.  The old lays behind, the new is right in front of us.  If we maintain an "attitude" of focus on the old, it is quite hard to rise above it.  When we determine to see only what God provides through the new, we tend to move toward what we see in our focus.  This is God's work of giving and forgiving - of taking on a God-filled, God-honoring life.

Most companies don't market their product by "giving it away", but God reveals the "products of his grace" by giving grace to those who put it on display for others to see.  Why?  To whet the appetites of many to receive this gift of grace.  What God gives and forgives become "products of his grace" and are "billboards" showing the possibilities of what he can do in the lives of all who will embrace his gift.  We are "products of grace" - on display for a world to behold - revealing the ever-increasing possibilities of grace and forgiveness when it is embraced fully.  When we turn our backs to the old way of living and face squarely the revelation of grace and forgiveness, the possibilities are endless.  We can focus on not being able to break free of sin's pull, or we can focus on the gift of grace which has already done the work of setting us free.  I don't know about you, but I think I will choose to focus on grace!  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A shiny new appliance

All scripture is given for our benefit - all truth given for our use.  Yet, something given is not of value until it is put into use, is it?  When you receive a gift of a new blender for the kitchen, or perhaps a new toaster, the small appliance looks pretty in the box.  You can even open the box and place the new appliance on the kitchen counter, but if this is as far as you ever get to using the new appliance, it really doesn't serve you any purpose.  You could even plug it into the outlet to be "hooked up" to electrical power, but if the appliance is never turned to the "on" position, all the electrical power could do is of no benefit.  Even if you put a couple pieces of bread into the toaster, or some berries into the blender, until you engage the "on" switch, the appliance still doesn't do all it could do.  Once the toast is popped up, nicely golden, or the berries are swirled into a smoothie, even those promising things contained within the appliance are of no value until they are "taken into" your body. What gives the life is the ingesting of the toast or smoothie.  Up until that point, the purpose of the appliance is just not fully recognized.  We sometimes treat the truth contained in God's Word much like the shiny new appliance on the counter.  We get to the point of being connected and even seeing the potential of good stuff in there, but fall short of "ingesting" it so it can bring benefit to our lives.  

Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more.  To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”  (Mark 4:24-25 NLT)

All scripture is meant to be taken in context - in other words, you have to look at what else is being said "around" what you are reading so you get to know to whom the passage applies, what was happening at the time it was written, etc.  Then you get the gist of the entirety of the passage.  Jesus had many an encounter with the religious leaders of his day - men opposed to the "shiny new religion" Jesus spoke about so freely.  You see, they concentrated so much on all the rules to be kept that any "new religion" which merely proclaimed relationship as the means for salvation had to be some kind of "wrong religion".  In truth, what Jesus offered was no religion at all - it was the opposite of religion - deep, intimate, personal relationship with God without all the "doing" of rule-keeping.  The religious leaders saw the "shiny new religion" much as the one who merely receives the gift, but only gets as far as unpacking it from the box.  It didn't serve a purpose for them because it didn't "fit" their present needs.

As he taught among them, his teaching was constantly met with both silent and vocal resistance.  Why?  Their way of living was being "unraveled" by the simplicity of the message of faith Christ proclaimed.  His message of personal relationship with God through the Son was foreign to their way of living - so it was threatening their "well-established" religious pursuits.  It required a mindset change, coupled with a change of heart - something most of the religious leaders just weren't willing to do.  When the Word of God gets into you, it affects you - so if they could keep it on the "outside" of their lives, they had half a chance of remaining unaffected by it.  Some of us know the truth - it is right there in front of us like the shiny new appliance on the counter - but we refuse to ingest the nourishment the truth provides.  Why? It could be we are just content with the complexity of our present lives - because we at least have that all figure out.  It could be we don't like change and we resist anything which requires us to embrace something outside of our realm of comfort.  Regardless of the reason for our resistance - truth exists to be embraced.

Eventually, even the shiny new appliance on the counter just "blends in" with all the other stuff gathering there.  What was once "new" becomes "familiar" and we often take for granted it will continue to work as promised when we go to use it somewhere down the road.  I don't know about you, but what I have learned over the years is that something provided at one point in my life is often best "used" at that point in my life - because I needed it then!  It doesn't mean I won't need it again later, but I miss out on so much if I don't use what I am given.  When I use what I am given today, it carries me into my tomorrow and will help me go the distance.  The shiny new "religion" Jesus offered had all the potential of setting the religious leaders free from a bunch of meaningless rules and bringing them closer to God than they had ever experienced before.  Yet, they resisted - they put the gift where they could see it, but at every hint of its majestic possibilities, they resisted making it their way of living.  

I have a little food processor about the size of a two cup measuring cup. I bought it to chop up things like onions and the like for dishes I would prepare. I don't think I have used it more than a couple of times - not because it doesn't perform as it promised, but because I forget it is there.  I resort to the old way of doing things and start chopping away with the knife and cutting board.  Truth is only as good as when it is applied - we have to take it out, put it into use frequently, and allow it to make an impact on our lives. Nothing about truth serves its purpose until it is embraced.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Getting it all out on the table

None of us relishes the idea of being disciplined, do we?  In fact, we'd probably rather avoid it at all cost, especially when we are feeling a little guilt load because of what we have done which really deserves the discipline. When it is hardest is when we don't feel we need the discipline - those are the times we probably resist it the most.  It is during these moments that we begin to feel sorry for ourselves - thinking we don't deserve what we are experiencing - all the while forgetting that discipline is not judgment. Discipline is training which is aimed at improving us - not judging us.  Too many of us equate discipline with judgment - like when we stole cookies from the cookie jar, got caught, and then ended up paying the price by being restricted from watching TV or the like.  We got caught - a price had to be paid for our disobedience - and we get to feeling sorry for ourselves, not because we disobeyed, but more likely because we got caught!  Maybe it is time we change our perspective on discipline away from being a form of judgment for disobedience to being a form of training us in the things which produce stability, grace, and joy within in our lives.

In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?  My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either.  It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.  God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.  (Hebrews 12:4-11 MSG)

We are in a "death-match" of sorts on this earth - spirit waging war with flesh until one is declared the victor.  Too many of us struggle with one winning more than the other - most of the time it is the flesh.  Until this battle is declared "over" for good, we continue to "work out" the details of our being made right with God on a daily basis.  In this "work out" period, flesh rises up time and time again to put pressure on us to conform to its demands, trying desperately to squash the influence of the Spirit within.  It isn't that we don't desire to grow in Christ - we just continue to get as close to pleasing our sin nature as we possibly can!  When we begin to see discipline as more than judgment, we begin to realize it is the effective "working out" of our change in position from being subservient to the flesh's demands and listening closer to the still small voice of the Spirit instructing us toward godliness.

In the day-to-day decisions we make, this battle becomes very apparent.  It also becomes very apparent that we need someone who sees a bigger picture than we do to bring oversight into our lives.  In the military, we had various individuals who "out-ranked" others, but it also meant they had a larger influence of authority over our lives.  Sometimes we declare our sin nature as "outranking" God's nature within.  When we do this, we yield authority over to the sin nature time and time again.  One of the important features of "holding rank" in the military was this degree of authority.  Ultimately, there is a Commander in Chief (the US President) - outranking all other authority in the "ranks".  Generals outranked Colonels, who outranked Captains - with the lowest rank being Private.  You didn't get any lower than Private!  Some of us walk around like we are "Privates" in this walk of righteousness - taking orders from anyone who declares they out-rank us.  Truth is - we outrank all other authorities in our lives who proclaim to outrank Christ!

There is but one authority we should submit to - one authority worthy of us listening intently to for instruction in living - Christ.  When we focus on him, we find ourselves embracing his discipline, because we find it not so much a punishment for wrong-doing, but a training in how to focus.  Focus determines direction in our lives - it is quite difficult to look one way and accurately hit the target in the opposite direction.  When we focus on what holds the authority in our lives, we often begin to get the picture of why we are struggling with things we ought to have "outgrown" by now.  Things like doubt, fear, shame, and pride.  When anyone or anything holds more authority in our lives than Christ, we will struggle with these things.  His authority will train us in all manner of godly behavior - overcoming fear, dealing a blow to doubt, putting aside shame, and triumphing over prideful actions and thoughts.

Authority is really the power to settle disputes - to determine direction. When two "factions" don't agree on a matter, someone with "authority" needs to be called to the table.  When our sin nature doesn't agree with our new nature (what we all receive at the point of salvation), we really need the "ultimate authority" to be called to the table - Christ.  He settles the disputes - one at a time, until we get it all out and every detail is under his control.  Discipline which trains us toward godliness does just this - it gets all the disputes between what we ought to do and what we find ourselves repeatedly doing out on the table.  Then he is free to deal with them!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

You have family?

There are times when the time it takes to engage in what you might see as "necessary" confrontation is sometimes just not worth it, or it seems to come back to reflect badly on you somehow.  These are usually the times when you are attempting to say something to someone just not willing to hear anything which might be shared - especially if it is against whatever they are thinking at the moment.  In those times, it is almost better to hold your peace than to attempt to engage in any kind of "confrontation" with them.  Why?  They aren't going to hear you!  Their mind is set - their attitude is determined - their choices have been made.  No amount of "help" from us is going to change the one who just cannot accept they need "help" in the first place! The cynic sees all "outside" help as really being offered from some kind of selfish motivation - believing no one could be interested in the outcome of another's life unless there was something the "helper" could benefit from as a result.  It can be tremendously frustrating to know you have insight which will change something for someone if they will just embrace it, but they are just too set in their ways to see things any differently than the plan they have set into motion in their minds.  In those moments, we just need to step back, continue to hold the individual up in prayer before God, but save our words - they won't be heard anyway.

If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face; confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins.  So don’t waste your time on a scoffer; all you’ll get for your pains is abuse.  But if you correct those who care about life, that’s different—they’ll love you for it! Save your breath for the wise—they’ll be wiser for it; tell good people what you know—they’ll profit from it.  Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God.  It’s through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen.  Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life; mock life and life will mock you. (Proverbs 9:7-12 MSG)

We need to become "skilled" at living - something we gain through developing a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus.  The wise seem to delight in what it is you can offer into their lives - so your "breath" is better served assisting them grow closer in their relationship with Jesus than it would be in trying to talk sense into a fool.  The difference between the fool and the wise is their willingness to embrace the truth when it is shared.  The fool has a hard time seeing any truth outside of their own mindset - as good or as flawed as that mindset may be - they are sticking to it because they know it and are comfortable with it.  Don't try to figure out the foolish - they will repeat the same mistakes, engage in the same destructive behaviors, and never once think there is any link between the way they have set their minds and the outcome of their actions.  The only one to "connect the dots" for the fool is God himself - he has to change their heart in order to begin to affect their minds.  Heart change is a matter best left up to God himself - we just live as positive examples and then pray like crazy for their heart change.

So, where is it we should invest our wisdom?  Isn't it clear that our wisdom is best shared with those who will embrace it?  Those desiring to see their life deepen are open to embracing the wisdom of truth applied in the life of another.  They see the hope of a changed life as something to be embraced, not shunned because they believe there is an ulterior motive behind it.  God doesn't give us wisdom to hold up just for ourselves - in fact, he intends for us to share it with those who will benefit from it right along with us!  To learn a truth is one thing - to put it into application in our lives and see our lives changed as a result is another.  To share both the truth and the potential of change it affords is the call upon each of our lives.  God doesn't ask for us to be stingy with the grace we have been given, but to give it away over and over again until all who can benefit from it have had a chance to grab hold and make it their own.  Unfortunately, the foolish don't always see the potential in truth embraced, so don't spend all your time trying to "convince" them of the truth.  The Holy Spirit has that job - yours is just to live as an example and then to uphold the foolish before God in prayer.

Instruct the wise and they will grow wiser.  Teach the righteous and they will learn even more.  Maybe this is the power of small groups - the wise and the righteous coming together to receive instruction and teaching.  We cannot underestimate the wisdom in what we have learned by practical application of the truth of God in our lives.  Each revelation and subsequent victory in our lives is not just a potential place of rejoicing - it is a potential opportunity for another to latch onto something they have been searching for in their own lives.  For a long time, I didn't see the importance of small groups, but I do now.  I understand the accountability factor, but I also understand the potential growth afforded when real people come together in real settings and just remain "real".  At church, we tend to put on our "pretty church faces" and make it look like we have life by the tail.  In our homes, it may be quite a different face we display and if we were truthful, we feel like life is biting at our tail!  The small group experience is a place where we can let our guard down and get real with others.

Another alternative to the small group experience is the development of a couple of close relationships where you can hold each other accountable.  It has to be the kind of relationship where you can be yourself, complete with your fears and failures, without fear.  Either small group relationships, or these close friendships can function as accountability relationships.  Some may be more comfortable at first with getting truthfully honest with one before they launch into the group experience.  Both help us to grow when we make a point of committing to each other, praying for each other, sharing the Word, and then living as examples of grace in the other person's life.  We have to find what works for us - they commit to it.  The wise find great value in this type of accountability - knowing having this kind of "sounding board" and "feedback loop" is important.  Small groups and accountability relationships do more than merely share the Word of God over coffee and snacks - they build family relationships!  In a world where family is sometimes not very well valued, or very well "constructed", maybe we underestimate the potential of these relationships.  Nothing helps us grow more than to be true to who we are, allowing the life of another touch ours deeply, and then grow in the truth together.  Just sayin!

Monday, February 17, 2014

You one of the herd?

When I was a young girl in grade school you would have probably called me a "follower" - I went along with the crowd, but was too shy to actually take the lead myself.  Anyone who knows me now would say just the opposite.  In looking back at the difference which Christ made in my life, I would have to say one of the clearest things is this transition from being a "follower" of others.  In fact, if you were to look back, "going along" with the crowd got me into more pickles than I really want to give an accounting of right now!  Trying to win the attention and approval of others, striving to have some degree of "popularity", etc. all ended up in some pretty bad decisions in my life.  You may have been one of the "crowd followers", as well, so you know what I am saying here.  It doesn't pay to follow the crowd - we need good role models to follow, not just popular ones!  

Friend, don’t go along with evil. Model the good. The person who does good does God’s work. The person who does evil falsifies God, doesn’t know the first thing about God. (3 John 1:11 MSG)

Caution is necessary in determining who we will "get behind" in this life - the wrong leader makes for some pretty rocky journeys indeed.  Alexander Pope was a poet of days gone by, but I like one of the things he penned: "A person who is too nice an observer of the business of the crowd, like one who is too curious in observing the labor of bees, will often be stung by his curiosity." Let that one sink in a bit and it will hit home for those of us who have been "crowd observers" at some point in our lives.  We get "stung" by our curiosity and our pursuits for their approval, don't we?  Clearly, we need to become savvy in following the "right crowd" - not just in following!

Unfortunately, too many times the crowd really has not idea where they are going!  They just have this "herd mentality" - kind of just all mulling together and following whoever seems to be in front of them.  Put your head down long enough and you lose sight of who is actually leading.  Maybe this is why we are frequently warned about being "oblivious" to our surroundings, "unaware" of the leaders we align with, and "impressed" with all the charisma of some while discounting the silent example of others.  If the truth were known, most of us would admit to being a little caught up in the "herd mentality" more than we'd truly like to admit.  Why?  We don't consider our steps - we just "go along" because we are pushed, or feel pulled.

This is why it is so important to consider the behavior modeled - does it line up with the values proclaimed?  So many agree with the adage of actions speaking louder than words - I think this may even be biblical!  When we have good models, it is easy to get behind their actions.  When we hear one thing, and then see something quite different modeled, it may leave us wondering who we can trust.  This is probably why so many "big names" in TV evangelism, big church movements, etc. find themselves totally undone when a scandal of sorts reaches the media.  Their lives are scrutinized by many and the behavior they model has to match up with the words they preach - otherwise their lack of congruent behavior/words will become fodder for the masses.

We all model behavior - some to huge crowds, some to smaller ones - but all model some type of behavior which is under the scrutiny of someone who is looking to them to be a leader in their lives.  Even when you don't think this to be the case, you might be surprise who is "on the outside looking in".  As we walk through this life, we need not only to be aware of who it is we are following, but what impact we may be making on those who are somehow following us.  Truly, we must guard against the "herd mentality" as it comes to our spiritual lives - we cannot believe just because someone else believes that way.  We have to be students of the Word - testing and trying every teaching to ensure it is aligned with the "whole" of scripture.  By this I mean we cannot take one passage, hanging our hats on it in "exclusion" of all other scripture.  We have to see ALL God says - then formulate the practices which align with the "whole" of what is taught.

We also have to guard against this "herd mentality" when it comes to our norms or values.  Crowds are not the best at "defining" what should be the "norm" for our lives.  We need to allow the wisdom of scripture, the safety of the Holy Spirit's internal "monitoring system", and the integrity of Christ's example to help us formulate the set of "norms" or values we will adhere to in our lives.  These will hold up to the scrutiny of onlookers and the passage of time.  These will assist us in developing a keen awareness of the "imposters" in our midst - those things and individuals who appear one way, but really act another.  We need a vantage point from which to view the direction of the crowd's wandering - the one in the herd only sees the "rear" in front of them!  

As we begin to model good in our own lives, others will notice.  This is what God has in mind - for us to become excellent examples of behaviors consistent with his teachings, modeled after the example we see in Christ, and aligned with the values he concentrated so much time and effort in getting us to learn.  This "modeled" life is truly one we can "get behind" - but never take your eyes off the true "leader" - for our focus really needs to remain on Christ.  The model we see in those who have chosen to live above the crowd is really just a means of us getting to see "God with a bod".  Just sayin!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Paint anyone?

It is an act of seeing which allows us to perceive many times.  We could become alert to something happening through our other senses of hearing, touch, or smell, but seeing is what often "connects the dots" for us.  Some call this being a "visual learner" - we can read all about it, but once we see it done a couple of times, we've got it!  Without seeing, we just don't have the same perception, do we?  Yet, it is possible to "bypass" this element of perception - functioning pretty well, as a matter of fact - but...we miss out on the splendor of color, the mystery of the twinkle in someone's eye, and the awing wonder of following the trail of a jet high up in the sky.  We function, but we don't "get the full picture" when our seeing is not connected to our perceiving.

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. (Proverbs 29:18 MSG)

Seeing what God is doing is sometimes one of the hardest things to really comprehend.  We often miss his subtle moves simply because we aren't tuned into him as well as we should be.  I used to watch this guy on TV when I was a kid - his name was Bob Ross.  His show was called The Joy of Painting. He could take a pile of oil or acrylic paints and turn them into landscapes in something like 20-30 minutes.  He'd use knives, detail brushes, but what amazed me most was his use of the traditional "house painting" size brushes! He'd just barely touch the large brush to the paint, then he'd stipple it onto the landscape, giving the sense of tree leaves, wildflowers, or some other detail within the work of art.  Some might think his "art" was a little too "easy" because he learned these short-cuts to creating a really unique work of art, but in actuality, he learned them because his time to paint was limited at first - he had to take advantage of the time he had and get the work finished so he could sell it.

I never actually learned to paint like Mr. Ross, though.  I watched him over and over again, fascinated by how his mind could take a blank canvas and create a finished piece of artwork which resembled the mountains of Alaska, the fields filled with wildflowers, or densely wooded forested adorned with a fresh coat of fallen snow.  Although I was exposed to his work, understood his techniques, and had many of the same "tools" to use as he did, I never put paint to canvas.  Why?  I didn't "attend to" the secrets he revealed.  In other words, I didn't put them into practice.  This is often how we miss out on so much God would like to involve us in - we simply don't put into practice what it is he provides in the way of instruction or insight for our lives.

So, although seeing is part of perception, it is not the end-all.  We have to see and then "attend to" what he reveals.  When we "attend to" something, we are taking it to heart.  We keep it in the forefront of our minds, allowing the very thought of what has been revealed to permeate our every thought. In a simpler sense, it means we give service to - we invest in, spend time with. So many times we miss the fullness of perception because we "see", but we neglect the importance of "giving service to" what it is we perceive.  I know a lot of things about various people in my life - their likes, dislikes, what makes them laugh, what could make them cry, what words shut them down, what words build them up.  How did I learn these things?  By paying attention to them.  Now, how foolish would it be to know all these things and then ignore each and every one of them?  

God's place of impacting our lives is at the point of our attentiveness to the details he reveals.  Plain and simple - revelation is one thing - action taken upon what is revealed is quite another.  If we find ourselves "stumbling around" a little in this daily walk, it might just be related to not having "put into practice" what it is we already have been taught.  We are all blank canvases - God knowing exactly what he desires to bring forth on the canvas of our lives.  He gives us various tools, shows us the steps to follow to allow the creation of his "artwork" in our lives, but if we never pick up the brush and apply a little paint, we will still be blank canvases when it is all said and done!  Just sayin!