Monday, March 31, 2014

Principle 3: The Pot of Gold

All over the world people are hoping to hit the big winnings of the lottery or some contest.  They faithfully march to the local establishments selling the tickets in order to make their "weekly investment" into the "big ticket".  Some play the same numbers week after week, determined it will be THEIR week this week.  Forbes magazine published an article November 28, 2012 entitled "Why Winning Powerball Won't Make You Happy" written by Susan Adams.  In the article, she cites multiple studies which point out the IMMEDIATE high or exuberance of winning, but the quick return to a low point within just a short point in time.  Why?  She concluded that "while winning the lottery can make a difference, it won't affect the other conditions of your life".  This is so true! We can "bet" on the windfall, or we can count on the certainty of what God provides.  The choice seems pretty simple to me, but obviously there are a whole lot of others who actually don't believe this!

Don’t gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hocking your house against a lucky chance.  The time will come when you have to pay up; you’ll be left with nothing but the shirt on your back.  (Proverbs 22:26-27 MSG)

Our third principle for ensuring our foundation is based on trust in God deals with where it is we determine our "windfall" or "riches" to rest.  It isn't in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or by amassing gambling debt up the kazoo.  The "lucky chance" many take will do little more than make them broke in the end.  We have all heard the stories of gamblers "gone bad" - losing it all - home, job, family, and self-esteem.  To me, it seems like pretty risky business to me.

My mother is from Scottish/English heritage, so one of her familiar sayings when something isn't quite right with me is, "My poor wee lassie".  My response to mom each and every time she says this to me:  "I no so poor". Yep, the grammar is wrong, I know, but you get the point.  I am not poor in any respect - in fact, I am as rich as I can be, blessed beyond measure in Christ Jesus - even when things may not be "quite right" in my life.  A lot of us determine our disposition in life based on the circumstances we are dealt. I think Solomon may have been trying to get us to look at the one who carries us through those circumstances, not at the circumstances themselves!

Where it is we look for our "worth" in life gives evidence of what it is we have come to value the most.  For example, if we look at wealth to give us a sense of "worth" in life, we will always be chasing an elusive dream, for today's "wealth" will not keep up with tomorrow's demands.  If we look at "image" to give us a sense of worth in life, we will also be chasing a pretty unmanageable dream, for our "image" will fade in time, no matter how much plastic surgery we have done!

God's direction to us is to look to him to give us our sense of worth - for this is truthfully the only thing which "imputes" value into our lives.  We could hold out for the windfall at the end of the rainbow such as winning big in the lottery, but honestly, I would rather have my value determined today, not some day down the road when I "hit it big".  In fact, I don't think there is anything "bigger" to "hit" than being redeemed by the grace of God from a life bound to live without him for all of eternity!

Keeping our focus on the "what if" of tomorrow will not benefit us any today. In fact, it serves to do nothing more than make us yearn for what we don't have and what we will be unlikely to ever achieve.  Rather than focus on the "what if" of tomorrow, we would be well served to focus on the "what is" of today.  We have been granted so much in Christ Jesus - it will take us a lifetime to actually realize the significance of our "windfall" we have in HIM! Just sayin!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Principle 2: Hanging With Hotheads

Yesterday we began our study into the thirty principles Solomon laid out which he indicated as an indicator of our trust in God - if we live by these principles, then our foundation will be one of trust.  They also act as principles which will help to hold us accountable for our actions and attitudes.  Today, we explore the second in these principles - the company we keep.  As you may recall, we explored our attitude toward those who have "need" or "weakness" in their lives yesterday.  This attitude determines a great deal as it comes to how we interact within the "boundaries" of Christian love or not.  Today, it is the company we keep - those who we associate with the most - which we will explore.  Why is this important?  Wrong relationships are as dangerous as wind is to fire.  Pick the wrong ones to engage with and you will find your world set on fire, but not a fire you can control!

Don’t hang out with angry people; don’t keep company with hotheads.

Bad temper is contagious—don’t get infected.  (Proverbs 22:24-25 MSG)

Angry people make life miserable for others, don't they?  Did you ever stop to consider just how miserable they must be?  Anger is an emotion with overwhelming potential to destroy both in word and deed.  Words spoken in haste, without forethought, aimed at hurting another will leave lasting scars many times.  Words just spoken in a rage of anger, not really aimed at anyone, but spoken nonetheless have just as much potential to leave scars because we never know who will latch onto them and take them as a "truth" they will hold onto about themselves, their work, or their abilities.  The emotion of anger is more than a simple "feeling" - it usually comes with some type of outburst, or vindictive twist.  As such, it is not always measurable, nor is it quickly identified before it has a chance to affect those in its path.

Bad temper is contagious.  If you have ever been around testy people, you might have recognized how easily you were caught up into the "testy" attitude.  At first, it was probably just because it made you a little uneasy to be around them, but in time, it is likely to be as a result of you agreeing more and more with the things which make them "testy" in the first place.  Bad attitudes have a tendency to rub off onto others - infecting them with their poison.  This is the reason Solomon warns us to avoid hanging out (keeping regular company) with those who have this issue with anger and the resulting outbursts.  

Anger turns us inward, but it directs its "flow" outward.  Anger is often a result of perceiving your rights have been violated - someone has not respected your space, they've invaded your "territory", so to speak.  It might be in the realm of not respecting your need for privacy, personal time, or even something as simple as eating the last brownie you were counting on for a midnight snack.  In turn, you begin to feel like people take you for granted - not appreciating you.  You have turned inward - it is all about you.  In time, you might even begin to express this feeling of being taken for granted in short jabs toward another, rehearsing the times they have done you wrong, and even taking shots with sarcasm.  Little by little, you begin to nurse your feelings of being wronged.  In time, these feelings (validated by your own rehearsal of events) take on a life of their own - expressed often in outbursts (turning outward).

God never instructs us to turn inward, does he?  In fact, if we explore scripture, we find repeated instructions to consider the other person first, to serve without ceasing, and to lay our lives down for another.  These are not actions of "inward" people.  These are actions of those who live by the strength of Christ who lives within them.  The company we keep matters - mothers everywhere for generations untold have been trying to convey this message to their children.  Don't hang out with the wrong crowd - they will corrupt good morals!  Remember mom or dad saying anything even remotely close to that?  They were preaching scripture!  You just didn't know it.  Anger has so much volatility associated with it, so it becomes a destructive emotion almost without warning.  Associating with those who are given to such volatility is dangerous ground to trod.  If you don't end up injured yourself, you will eventually become what you associate with!  Then you will be the one so inwardly focused that all your outward actions are harsh, brutally unkind, and just plain miserable to be around.

Emotions are real - we cannot deny them.  We do need to "hang with" those who will help us to reveal our emotions in reasonable, upright, and consistent ways.  Who we choose as our closest relationships - those we "frequent" most often will go a long way in helping us develop reasonableness in our emotions.  Hotheads beware!  Your end will be to drive those away who may have the greatest potential to change your life.  Just sayin! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Principle 1: The Poor and Weak Cannot Be Ignored

Wouldn't it be nice if someone gave us a list of principles to incorporate into our lives which would help us to walk uprightly and consistently find favor in the eyes of God?  Well, guess what - Solomon did that for us!  He gave us a list of 30 principles to guide us along the way.  Here is what he had to say as he introduced them:   Listen carefully to my wisdom; take to heart what I can teach you.  You’ll treasure its sweetness deep within; you’ll give it bold expression in your speech.  To make sure your foundation is trust in GodI’m laying it all out right now just for you.  I’m giving you thirty sterling principles—tested guidelines to live by.  Believe me—these are truths that work, and will keep you accountable to those who sent you.  (Proverbs 22:17-21 MSG) Now, if someone is willing to take the time to outline these principles for us with the intention of making sure our foundation is trust in God, doesn't it seem like we should probably explore these principles and see how we can incorporate them into our lives?  In fact, when we begin to outline these for ourselves, we find they will provide a foundation by which we will be held accountable for our actions.  Now, that is something we all need!

Don’t walk on the poor just because they’re poor, and don’t use your position to crush the weak, because God will come to their defense; the life you took, he’ll take from you and give back to them.  (Proverbs 22:22-23 MSG)

Principle number one deals with the "poor" and the "weak" and our attitude toward them.  It seems odd that Solomon would start with how we deal with the poor and the attitude of heart we truthfully have toward their need, but if we examine this one closely, we might just see this as an appropriate place to begin.  He is pointing us toward our heart attitude - how we see ourselves in comparison to others and how we use that perception to either meet or ignore the needs of those around us.  God's command to us is to love him first, then to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  How we view another in "comparison" to how we view ourselves can tell us a lot about our attitude of heart.  If we see ourselves as more fortunate, better positioned, or even "above" another, we have some work which needs to be done in our hearts. No man or woman created by our heavenly Father has any better or worse "position" in God's eyes.  We are all his creation - we all have needs - our needs just differ.  To judge another by their "position" or their intensity of "need" is just not what God wanted any of us to do.  Rather, he wants us to be sensitive to the needs of others - regardless of their "status" in this life.

When we see another's need as something we have an opportunity to meet, we are serving that individual as Christ would expect us to.  When that need is outside of our ability to meet in the material, physical, or emotional sense, then we still have an opportunity and obligation to bring that need before the throne of God on behalf of that individual.  There are varying degrees of being "poor" and / or "weak".  Being "poor" simply means we are lacking in something we have need of - it could be material (such as finances), physical (such as a place to live), emotional (such as a friend to walk alongside us), or even spiritual (such as when we just need someone to help us connect with God on a matter).  To ignore the needs of anyone who has a "lack of what is needed" is to "walk on them" as scripture puts it.  When we walk on another, we are treating them as though their need is beneath us - not important to us or to the Christian community at large.

We all have varying degrees of weakness, as well.  To ignore another's weakness is to open many a door to issues within our community.  For example, if I know your weakness to be a struggle with alcohol and I continually offer you a glass of wine when we dine together, I am being insensitive to your area of weakness in your life.  You may be in the process of being redeemed from your struggle with alcohol, but my insensitivity to your "former" area of weakness is really showing an attitude of being uncaring.  We have an obligation to understand the areas of weakness another may struggle with in life - for only then may we step up to be an encouragement and a life-line for their healing and recovery.

Yes, we have "poor" and "weak" all around us and at times, the finger points at us, as well.  Our attitude of heart is manifest in how well we interpret their need and our responsiveness to meet that need if it is within our ability.  If not, then we are at least under an obligation to bring their need before God for his intervention.  What Solomon starts with is the sense of "community" we all need to build - not ignoring anyone within our influence.  If we maintain a heart ready to reach out to those in need or just simply weak in some respect, we are standing ready to serve as Christ's ambassadors.  This indeed is what will thrill the heart of God.  Just sayin!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Are you compulsive?

A compulsion is a strong, oftentimes irresistible impulse to perform some particular action often contrary to what you know to be right or justified.  If you don't struggle with any compulsive behaviors EVER in your life, you probably are not normal.  Compulsive behaviors are part of all of humanity - some to higher degrees than others.  There are those who go to the excess - known as obsessive compulsive.  Then there are just those of us who know things are not right for us to be doing, but we just go ahead and do them anyway, despite the inward struggle occurring which is attempting to warn us not to pursue that particular course of action.  Compulsions are "fed" or "denied" - by our response to their "pulling" effect.  When we deny them, we are starving them and hoping they will fade away, giving us no more problems later on.  When we feed them, we often don't know how hard it will be to resist the urge the next time.  Learning how to control our compulsions is important if we are to live freely, animated, and motivated by God's Spirit.

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?  (Galations 5:16-18 MSG)

Over the past week, I have been spending some time helping us get to know the way our body, soul, and spirit interact together.  It is my hope that we begin to see not everything the body senses is worthy of us acting upon, and that not every emotion can be trusted to steer us straight.  We need the balancing influence of the spirit connected to God's Spirit.  The compulsions of selfishness we all deal with are part of our human nature - our body and soul being the driving forces behind these compulsions.  When we correctly identify the driving force behind our compulsions, we might just find the key to overcoming their "pull".

To live freely requires us being animated by God's Spirit - motivated by something other than our own compulsions.  Truthfully, a compulsion is a motivator - it drives us forward and leads us into action.  We want our actions to be God-directed, not self-directed.  We accomplish this by tuning into the Spirit of God in the realm of our spirit - allowing the decision to act to be filtered through our spirit prior to acting.  Since God's Spirit communes with ours, we have an excellent means of "filtering out" the compulsive actions if we remember to use this filter!

Since we all struggle with compulsions - irrational and irresistible desires - we can also learn from how others have faced those same tendencies and overcome the need to pursue them.  This is the importance of "community" or "family" which scripture speaks so much about.  It is not a formula which works, it is learning how others have found strength in the Word, learned how to apply that Word to their circumstances, etc.  As we share with each other, we learn from the experiences of others.  My daughter loves to shop - finding bargains here and there.  She also loves to give and bless others through her giving.  She had to learn that not every "bargain" is a necessary purchase. When she partnered with her husband, a more "balanced" shopper and a "saver", she learned there were priorities to how their monies were spent. They struck a balance because one was learning from the other - one learned to save, the other learned the beauty of giving.  A perfect balance.

God desires us to live within the freedom we have been given - we just need to learn to use the "tools" we are given which help us to remain free and living totally animated by his Spirit.  We need communion with him, good relationships with others who will hold us accountable, and the time to really get to know the Word.  When we have these tools in hand, we are ready to filter things our body and soul has to deal with through our spirit - allowing the Spirit of God to give us the thumbs up or down as to the action we should take.  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

You decide

We all have desired or intended results to every action we take in life.  Even setting the alarm before bed is an action intended to awaken us at a particular time to afford us the opportunity to be up, dressed, and engaged in some activity.  Some of our "aims" in life are little rote - like setting the alarm to awaken in the morning.  Others are a little spontaneous - such as when someone calls and asks if you want to hang out a while.  You manage to drop a few things you have going and make plans with the individual because you enjoy the relationship and want to get together.  Still other "plans" or "aims" in life are a little more formalized, take a little longer to accomplish, and serve a specific purpose - as when we make a savings plan or choose to live by a budget.  I don't consult anyone when I set the alarm - because I "own" that activity for my life.  I do consult someone when I want to change my investments to have them perform a little better - because their expertise is appreciated as beyond the knowledge I possess alone.  When the friend calls, I may consult my mother to see if she minds me going out, but it isn't for permission as much as it is to inform her I plan on being gone for a while. Some plans require a lot of pre-planning, while others merely come together. Those which require expertise outside of our own might not always be recognized though - because we perceive we are able to handle much more than we actually are!  Learning when counsel is necessary in forming our "purpose" is important if we are to understand the difference between choosing our own way and learning from the wisdom of others.

Form your purpose by asking for counsel, then carry it out using all the help you can get. (Proverbs 20:18 MSG)

Not all counsel is wise, though.  Some counsel is based on a totally different set of values than our own - making the counsel a little less than desirable for our lives.  In seeking counsel, we need to be sure we are aligned with others who have similar values, but also that we run all counsel through the Word of God for validation or verification.  If counsel doesn't "add up" to the principles taught in the Word, it is likely not the best for us to follow.  I think this is why it is so important for us to have a "base" upon which we make our judgments or decisions.  This "base" is the minimum set of values taught in scripture - such as those found in the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Christ.  God also gives us insight into life decisions through the recorded actions of the people captured in scripture.  The narratives don't just make good reading, they are meant to help us form a basis of understanding about good and unwise decisions.

Now, I began with stating there were various types of decisions we make each day in planning our day - some very basic and elementary, others more complex and requiring more thought.  Those basic things don't need a whole lot of counsel.  I think God gives us something called common sense to handle some of those things - such as knowing it takes us one hour to get ready for work, so setting the alarm at anything less than one hour prior to our time to leave is not going to get us out the door on time.  We don't need to spend a great deal of time asking God what time to set the alarm for - he gives us the latitude to decide.  If we are struggling with finding time in our day to read the Word, pray, and learn from him in our quiet time, this might be something he wants us to get some counsel about - figuring out how to order our day so we can carve out that time.  Even this counsel will be basic and not overly difficult - so just realizing we may need to arise a half hour earlier and go to bed a half hour earlier doesn't even take a trained counselor to advise us!

Those decisions which require counsel outside of our own wisdom may be those which involve changes in career, moves we may want to make with our finances, or even relationship issues we just cannot see our way out of because we are too closely involved.  When these issues arise, we seek biblical counsel - because the values incorporated into our counsel matter! We need to keep in mind the principles of counsel.  Rarely should counsel violate what we likely already know to be true in a circumstance.  For example, if it is a relationship issue which causes you to seek counsel, you likely know a little bit about why you are where you are in the relationship.  Talking it out with someone isn't meant to give you clarity because they know all the right answers, but just that they can help you bring out the pieces you already know and put them together into an ordered fashion.  Going to someone for counsel, receiving advice or plans beyond what we can see in scripture may not be biblical counsel - so we also need to follow the principles outlined in scripture.

There is safety in receiving counsel when big decisions may loom and cause us a little concern.  Military leaders of old would do this prior to engaging in any military action - and they still do down through the ages.  Why?  We learn from the wisdom of others who have had similar experiences.  A word of caution - counsel is not based on experience alone - it must align with scripture, find agreement in our spirit, and be consistent with the character of God.  We can receive some pretty good advice - but advice which does not find agreement in our spirit (the place where we commune with God's Spirit), is not worth our following.  Remember, common sense helps us with many decisions.  When they get a little tougher, God expects us to go to him with those - in turn, he may help us out a little by bringing someone into our lives with the biblical counsel to assist us in sorting things out.  Never let counsel steer you away from these safety measures.  If it does, you will find yourself in a worse place.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You riding a bicycle or tricycle?

Ruined lives surround us no matter where we live.  People start out well, but somehow through a series of misadventures and wrong turns, their lives end up in a state of shambles, almost like falling down shacks.  Along the way, they may have heard advice to not take a certain path, or to turn away from what they were pursuing with such earnest.  In ignoring the warnings, they compounded their misfortune and increased their speed of decline.  Now, at the bottom of the pit, they live with nothing more than regrets and the constant wondering of the "what if".  The worrisome part of their decline into the pit is the possibility of them having blamed God for the decline - for putting them in the pit.  In reality, it was their failure to heed warnings, to turn away from their self-directed pursuits.  Why is it we blame God when things end in ruins?  He isn't a God of "ruin", but of "hope", "possibilities", and even "impossibilities".  

People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed?  (Proverbs 19:3 MSG)

Scripture is quite plain, no matter which interpretation or version you consult - people ruin their lives by their own decisions, actions, and self-directed paths. On the other hand, people do not really "improve" their lives - at best, we can do a little self-help regimen which might create a different set of circumstances for ourselves for a while, but true life change only is accomplished by the indwelling of God's Spirit in our lives.  Try as we might, we cannot change ourselves.  Scripture calls following our own path "foolishness" or "folly".  It ends in disaster, defeat, and decline - in other words, the bottom of the pit!  What seems good at the moment results in a "pay-out" much worse than we counted on.

Self-directed lives have a natural "flaw" - they are directed by emotion and reason (two quite unreliable sources of direction for our lives).  Yesterday, we spoke about the importance of man's three parts - body, soul, and spirit.  As we explored those three aspects of our being, we discovered man needs the spirit to bring balance to the things "sensed" in the body and "experienced" in the emotions, rational intelligence, etc.  Relying upon one or the other exclusively (body or soul) is definitely leaving us at risk.  If man relies upon how he interprets life simply by what he "senses" with his body - sight, smell, touch, hearing, etc. - he will lack the help of the intellect and emotion to "interpret" what he is sensing.  On the other hand, if he relies solely upon emotions to give him insight into right choices, he may miss the importance of how emotions are affected by our senses.  Body and soul walk side-by-side - but they still need a "third wheel" to give them balance much in the same way we need a third wheel on a tricycle!

A bicycle is like relying upon the body and soul - we can go places, but we may lack the stability of balance.  Adding the third wheel to the bicycle makes it a tricycle. If you learned to ride one of these, you know you didn't have to work hard to keep yourself upright - the third wheel assisted us in balancing without much effort on our part.  In the same manner, the spirit is the place of balance in our lives - the place of connection with God.  I realize this is an over-simplified illustration, but when we begin to recognize how the Spirit of God influences our spirit and brings us to a place of "reliable balance" in our decisions, we become less reliant upon our own abilities to remain upright and moving forward (like we have to when riding a two-wheel bicycle).  The "third wheel" is not added to the back, but to the front.  Think of the body and soul as being those two back wheels on the tricycle - the spirit is the front wheel. As the wheel out front, when it is connected with God's Spirit, it is free to help direct our path, steering us around obstacles, and keeping us from ending up in the pit!

We may not always make the best decisions in life, but it is good to know that we have been given every resource to change those decisions and to see new outcomes.  As we connect with God's Spirit, our spirit is energized, made alive, and we can begin to see the influence of his "balance" in our daily decisions.  We may curse the place where our body and soul allowed us to end up, but we cannot accept that God put us there.  No pit is so deep he cannot rescue us from it - no despair so dark he cannot bring light into those dark spaces.  How?  Connection with his Spirit in our spirit.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Got spirit?

After watching various individuals go through turmoil and trial in their lives, I have observed the tendency for some to rise high, soaring above that turmoil, while others sink lower into the pit of despair.  It made me wonder why some flourish so well, while others just barely eek by and often have a hard time even holding up under the pressures of life.  Most of us would think it is because some are anchored well in their faith, while others have little to no faith at all, so if faith plays a part in "holding up" and "conquering", then what part does it play?  I have observed Christians and non-Christians alike in both circumstances.  Why do some flourish and others not - maybe it is because of the condition of their spirits.  Scripture points us in that direction, does it not? A man or woman with a "healthy spirit" conquers adversity - a crushed spirit will get us down quicker than anything else!

A healthy spirit conquers adversity, but what can you do when the spirit is crushed?  (Proverbs 18:14 MSG)

The spirit of man is what animates him - it gives us the connection we need for life itself - the connection with the source of all life - God himself.  When the spirit is well, the entire man is well - regardless of the circumstances coming their way.  I'd like us to consider the three parts of man - body, soul, and spirit.  The body is made up of all we consider as being in contact with the environment around us - it is what we use to experience the sensations of sight, touch, sound, etc.  We interact with our environment in and through our body.  For example, your body crawls in between freshly laundered sheets and feels the coolness of those sheets against it, taking in the fresh smell of the laundry soap and softener.  You are interacting with your body - not your soul or spirit.  

The soul is made up of our mind, will, emotions - the things which help us to interact with reason, rational thought, choice, and responsiveness. It is also the place of our remembrances - the place where we lay up memories and recall them from time to time.  The spirit actually "plays off of" these other two parts of our being.  In other words, what we take in by our interactions through our senses, we form some kind of thought around, and this may trigger some sense of thankfulness, praise, worship, or connection with our Creator - God.  If you have ever sat in the midst of the forest, listening to the sounds of the wind in the trees, observing the scurrying critters, and taking in the majesty of it all, you might have been elevated to a place of worship in your spirit.  

Spirit elevates us - it brings us to new heights, taking us to new depths, and helps us to hold on when the climb seems too hard or the plunge seems too deep.  The spirit is what helps us to "stabilize" in times of trial and keeps us on course in times of temptation.  In the simplest sense, the spirit is a "rudder" directing us toward the good things God has for us to experience in life - even if they are buried deep within times of trial!  A ship's rudder is small, but it directs the big ship with the greatest of ease - simply because it operates to do only one thing - to point or position the ship in the direction the ship is to be headed.  Our spirit helps to point us in the direction we are to be headed, as well.  As we commune with God in spirit, we get direction which our emotions, reason, rational thought, etc., cannot provide.  Sure, they can suggest certain responses, but our spirit is where we find the assurance of faith and hope - something which keeps us going even when it gets tough.

So, a crushed spirit is something we cannot endure very long - for it robs us of hope, diminishes all steps we might normally take in faith, and in short, steers us in directions we'd normally not travel.  This is why it is so important to continually allow our spirit to be renewed - in times of prayer, praise, worship, thanksgiving, etc.  As we commune with God, we renew our spirit.  It is raised again into places of hope and faith - re-energized for the journey ahead.  Maybe it is time we move from periodic renewal to a constant "recharge" of our spirit!  Then we might avoid the crash and burn of a crushed spirit!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Modeled grace

Forgiveness is not one of those things we fall into naturally - it is definitely a "learned art" because it takes a whole lot of practice to really get it right!  At first, we think we forgive just by telling someone it is okay, but still expecting them to somehow "repay" the debt caused by their misdeed.  After a while, we learn we are not supposed to hold the debt against them, which raises the bar for us a whole lot because we have to let the debtor off the hook!  It is one thing to let go of the hurt caused by the infraction, but quite another to actually let go of whatever we feel we are "owed" because of it!  Two common things we struggle with as it applies to forgiveness is the debt owed and the sense that the circumstances cannot be forgotten.  As long as we hold the debt in our heart and/or the memory in our minds, we still have some strings attached - the person is not totally released as far as we are concerned. As you can see, this is definitely an "art" which must be practiced over and over again until we get it right!

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.  (Proverbs 17:9 NLT)

Dwelling on faults is something I believe we come by "naturally" - we just have a hard time letting go of the "stuff" we perceive has been done "against" us at one time or another.  Some of us have a tendency to do something I call "gunny sacking" - the process of saving up offenses and then letting it rip on the poor unsuspecting soul when the sack gets full!  Others of us let it out right away, making sure the other soul knows we perceive their actions as something which violated one of our rights or fell below our expectations. Either way, it is dangerous business because faults held onto, or aired in a manner which only thinks about how "we" were affected stands the chance of hurting not only the other guy, but us in turn.

Let's talk about the quick response first.  It is a good thing to "remain current" with all offenses - but it is quite another thing to "air your grievance" without consideration of the other individual involved.  Too many times we air our grievances simply from our own perspective of the infraction - how we see it, how it affected us, how it brought this or that into our lives, etc.  We fail to see the other side of the coin - the perspective from which the other individual may have been viewing the circumstance.  For example, someone does something we take as a "slight" on their part - overlooking some need we had which we perceived as quite obvious.  The other individual may have had no idea of our "need" because it was neither spoken, nor understood.  So, are they really at fault for not meeting that need - creating the "slight"?  Not really!  We have the perception it was obvious - but trust me, what we feel may be completely obvious may be hidden well from the view of others!

We also cannot "gunny sack" all of the infractions or slights of another which we perceive to be "against us" - for this creates a huge number of issues outside of the smaller issues which were all stored up in the first place. Remaining "current" with offenses is not only practical, it is common sense. When we deal with something now, we often deal with it more practically - in the present we see the details, can bring into light what may not have been understood, etc.  In the future, we have had a great deal of time to "retell" the story of how we "perceive" the infraction took place.  Trust me - our story usually "morphs" into something quite different than the offense!  The more we retell the story (something gunny-sackers do quite frequently), the worse the offense becomes.  Why?  Rehearsed stuff becomes fuel for the fire - it builds in intensity until we take the tiniest infraction and blow it out of proportion.

Love must be practiced in relationship.  This is not a suggested practice, but a required one.  Since love must be practiced (modeled), it is important to understand how forgiveness plays into this idea of love.  First of all, love isn't always looking for its own way - something we'd do well to learn if we are to be overlooking offenses in this lifetime.  Many an offense would not even be perceived if we'd stop interpreting life through the eyes of "ME" all the time! Secondly, love doesn't hold onto wrongs, but lets them go.  When we release someone the first time, we might feel like we didn't "get anything" out of the action, but trust me, we do!  The other person may not understand how we can "let them off the hook" without some kind of debt for their offense, but in time they will see Christ's character in your actions - something you cannot fake, but which is a result of appreciating the grace extended without measure in your own life.  The more we practice this idea of "releasing" the other person from the "debt" they owed us by their infraction, the more we come to appreciate the magnitude of God's grace.

There is no debt owed which is greater than our own.  This is a tough thing to fully appreciate, but it is truth nonetheless.  When we can appreciate the magnitude of our own debt, it becomes a little easier to let go of another's! Just sayin!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Got any enemies?

Ever wonder how to get your enemies to settle down and live at peace with you?  I have and in fact, I have jumped through many a hoop I thought would "settle the pack", but in fact did nothing more than just entertain them - giving them more to poke fun at.  During a particularly challenging season in my life in my career, I learned something though.  In the darkness of that season, lasting about half a year, I was daily challenged as a leader, criticized for decisions made, and even received threatening and demeaning letters of accusation, some bordering on threats.  The times were challenging and I came close to throwing in the towel several times, almost thinking walking away was the best means to an end.  Yet, in the darkness of the hour, I learned something which I have held onto - my reputation may be criticized, torn apart, and even drug through the mud, but my "life" could not be challenged. Why?  Simply put - I chose to live my life in a manner pleasing to God - trusting my life would speak louder than any words in my defense.  The most profound defense I could muster would not compare with a life lived in alignment with God's Word, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, and continually worshipful in his presence.  

When people’s lives please the Lordeven their enemies are at peace with them.  (Proverbs 16:7 NLT)

What had I learned in that season of testing?  

First, and probably foremost, I learned to not "manage" my own reputation, but allow God to manage it for me.  A life lived in alignment with his principles and committed to modeling the behaviors of a child of God was all I could muster some days - it was challenging enough in the face of such opposition, but absolutely necessary in order to not give up.  As long as my life was managed by him, my reputation was also in his control - regardless of what others might be saying or how they might be trying to mar it. Remember this - live for ONE and all the other voices you hear will not really matter in the long run.  ONE voice is strongest - ONE hand holds you the closest.  You don't "manage" your life - HE does.  You don't "manage" your reputation - it is made when you allow HIS life to be lived through you.

Second, the toughest battle was with my mind.  What I chose to focus on the most became key to how I handled the hurled accusations and demeaning criticisms.  It wasn't that "I" was strong, it was that "HE" was strong through me - to filter out those things which were untrue and to embrace those which were.  Even our worst enemies speak words of truth sometimes in their accusations and criticisms - so when I focused on Christ first, those words filtered through him - pointing out the truths right along with the untruths. Those things I could "own up to" and allow God to correct, I did.  Those things which I could not, I let go.  In choosing to focus on God's Spirit within to filter through those thoughts before they took root in my mind, I was ensuring an accurate "picture" of how things really were.

Third, peace is a matter of perspective, not a result of the circumstances you are in at the moment.  Although the circumstances create havoc and seem to disturb what some may view as "peace", peace is a determination of heart, mind, will, and emotions - get those in right alignment and others have less opportunity to disturb your peace.  Outwardly all kinds of unkind things were happening.  Inwardly all kinds of peaceful things were occurring.  Why? The determination of heart, mind, will and emotions to allow God to maintain my perspective - not me!  We get things all "balled up" whenever we try to maintain perspective alone - because emotions get involved, playing on our mind, impacting our will, and driving our heart.

Last, enemies are not always "made" - sometimes they just "are".  That might sound a little silly to begin with, but hear me out.  We cannot "make" anyone act a certain way - they choose to on their own.  Our actions may influence their decisions to act a certain way, but it is entirely their choice to act!  All we control is our actions - theirs are simply not under our control.  When we keep our focus right, we are not responsible for the actions of another - our lives are not to be fluctuating to match the perspective of our enemies.  We are to remain consistent and allow God to deal with their perspective.  Only he can turn their heads and hearts - not us!  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Are you a fritterer?

Fritter:  To squander or disperse piecemeal; waste little by little; break or tear into small pieces or shreds; dwindle or shrink away.  Are you a "fritterer"?  If you have a tendency to just put off until tomorrow what could be done today, you might be one who fritters away time.  If you lean toward just letting things go until they cannot be ignored any longer, you might be one who fritters away opportunities.  If you believe relationships just happen and there isn't much to their upkeep, you might be one who is frittering away the very best in your life.  Things or opportunities we waste little by little are seldom "taken back" or "reclaimed" at a later time - once wasted, it is as though we never had them in the first place.  Therefore, it is important to examine how we fritter away our time, energies, resources, and opportunities - especially as it applies to being in relationship with God and those he has placed in our lives.

A life frittered away disgusts God; he loves those who run straight for the finish line.  (Proverbs 15:9 MSG)

Scripture is pretty plain on the subject - frittering away what God gives us is just not good - nothing good comes from letting things slip through our fingers.  I have had opportunities in this life to experience things you might not have, and vice-versa.  Our lives are filled with experiences and opportunities uniquely designed for who we are, where we find ourselves at this moment, and the level of growth we might be at when these opportunities come our way.  If we start looking at them from the perspective of what God may have planned for us "in" those opportunities, we might be less willing to allow them to be frittered away.

I haven't had many dating relationships since my divorce over 26 years ago, but of the couple I have had there are some things I learned in those relationships.  First, I learned the value of communication - something lacking in my marriage and something I found absolutely necessary for the health of any relationship.  When those dating relationships just didn't lend themselves to open and honest communication (what I also call being transparent), I knew they weren't going to work out in the long run.  Second, I experienced the importance of being equally yoked - something I also did not have in my marriage.  When two seek to be more than just "two", there is this need to be on the same "playing field" as it applies to several important aspects of our lives - such as spiritual growth, emotional well-being, and a simple comfort with being single.  You see, it isn't that we "need" another to fulfill our needs because we have Jesus to do that - it is that we have a "need" to be at a fairly "equal" level of growth / maturity, stability in life, and contentment in our walk with Jesus.

To have spent significant time in relationships which didn't "match up" with these expectations would to have been unwise - it would have meant I was frittering away my time, energies, and emotions on relationships which weren't meant to go the "long haul".  So, they became casual friendships - those which provided some opportunities to "hang out" and do fun stuff like bowl together, but which I knew would not amount to more than that.  Each of us has our opportunities for relationships - some more "serious" than others. In embracing those which will help us to grow deeper in our walk with Jesus, investing ourselves whole-heartedly in those, we are less likely to be frittering away our time, talent, energies, or emotions on those which will not.  

We fritter our time away on things which have no lasting value - while overlooking those things and people in front of us that do.  For example, we might work late several nights a week, arriving home in a cranky or disagreeable mood.  When we do, we rob ourselves of the emotional energies to pour into the relationships at home which will yield much more than the "office energies" ever will.  This was a hard lesson for me to learn early on in my career because I wanted to do well at work, please those I served, and bring value to the organization.  All the while, as a single mother, my kids were suffering.  It took me about a couple years to figure this one out, so don't be hard on yourself if you haven't yet!  When I finally realized arriving home "spent", with nothing left to give into their lives, was just not honoring of the "gift" God had given me in both of them, I began to re-prioritize my values.  This might be where you are right now - not wanting to fritter away those God has placed in your life - so take the time to "re-prioritize" before you let them slip right on through your fingers!

Even the most dedicated and sincere will "fritter" at times.  Learning to step back, do a periodic re-evaluation of where you are right now and what you may be "missing out on" by allowing things to just slip by you, and then re-positioning your actions and focus on those things which really matter in the long run may serve you well.  Just sayin!

Friday, March 21, 2014

And the winner is....

Years ago, my mother was one of those "faithful" Publisher's Clearing House devotees.  Every week, she'd receive mailings touting the possibilities of her numbers being the winning numbers which could yield her a landfall of millions of dollars.  Her response is what makes the Publisher's Clearing House so successful - she bought and bought stuff just because she felt it increased her chances of winning!  Stuff we didn't even need - poor quality, cheaply made.  I will admit, there were a few "trinkets" she'd get which actually made a good gadget around the house, but in general, it was stuff we could have purchased for much less at the local dollar store!  After several years of this, we received a mailing indicating she would no longer be receiving these notices.  Why?  It seems the State Attorney Generals of multiple states had taken action against the Clearing House to stop their "marketing" to the elderly as they were "preying" on them.  You would have thought my mother would have been relieved to know someone was looking out for her - trying to protect her from schemes designed to get her to spend her money on stuff she didn't really need.  Nope!  You guessed it - she was devastated.  Her chances of winning big were now out the window!  We are all a little "optimistic" of winning big in life, aren't we?  There is a saying in some of the states where the lottery is big news - it goes something like you have to play to win.  In order to play, you have to pay, though!  Since I don't play, I won't win!  I guess I just realize that if God wants me to have a sudden "win fall" of sorts, he will find a way to do it!  I think what I have realized is the importance of living the life I have right now - not the life I could have down the road!

A thick bankroll is no help when life falls apart, but a principled life can stand up to the worst.  (Proverbs 11:4 MSG)

Scripture shows us a man who lived a principled life, facing difficulties beyond what most could imagine, but coming back to center again - finding anchor in his faith.  His name?  Job.  Amassing flocks and herds galore, having homes which some would state showed his affluence, and enjoying the pleasures of money in the bank, most would have said he "had arrived" and could live without a worry in the world.  It is a sad thing to "arrive" at that point, though, because nothing is secure in any of these things!  Flocks and herds can be wiped out with one major illness or a catastrophic weather event. Homes can crumble in around you with one solid shake of the earth's core, or torrential winds and rains.  Monies can dwindle away quicker than you can think possible.  Friends and family can begin to draw away because they see a "change" in the circumstances of one's life - leaving you feeling alone and deserted.  What then?

If you are like Job, you fall back onto the principles by which you have lived your life all along.  Sure, the events may throw you a curve ball, making you almost strain under their weight - but even the weight of the events can be "shifted" to the one most capable of bearing that weight!  Sitting on a pile of poop, scraping his boil covered body with shards of broken pots, and listening to the speculations of his "friends" as to why these events have come makes life even more crazy - but he has lived principled and he will ultimately not depart from the principles he has learned.  Why?  These principles go deeply into the very fabric of his inner man - something which occurs when there is consistency in learning, understanding, and application.

Principled people can withstand terrible things, not because the "principles" are what makes them strong, but because those principles point them to the one who upholds those principles in the first place - God himself.  A principle is more than just a "professed" rule or action - it is a believed rule which results in a trusted action.  In other words, there is consistency and integrity is the result of the consistency.  When we learn the principles of a godly life such as time in the Word as a basis of learning the character of God, then apply those principles to our lives by allowing that character to be worked into our lives, we are taking steps to incorporate "rules of living" into our practice of life.  It isn't the "rules" so much, but the evidence of life change which occurs because the "rules" of God's character are established in our lives. Rules such as love without ceasing, judge not, do justly to all without measure, and forgive without strings attached.  These are principles by which we live with "greatness" in a world where "greatness" is measured by bank account balances instead of the integrity of a life put together by God!  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Aching to pray

We often discount the influence of God's Spirit within us, but also how much he does on our behalf as we walk through the daily grind.  If you have ever been at the point of just not knowing what to do next because the situation just seems to be overwhelming you, you probably have been at the point you just want to give up instead of plunging ahead.  In those moments of frustration, the Spirit of God is within us encouraging, exhorting, and elevating us from the position of frustration to the place of possibility.  If we were to be entirely honest here, we'd admit that even our prayers get a little scattered in these times and we might not even want or know how to pray.  Thank goodness we have the Spirit of God to keep those prayers rising to the throne of God even when we cannot figure out how to pray or what to pray!

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  (Romans 8:26-28 MSG)

I run across so many Christians who just simply tell me they don't pray because they don't know how to pray, what to pray, or when to pray.  This may seem a little too much to believe for some, but trust me, this prayer thing has Christians a little mystified - like it was something we have to get absolutely "right" or it won't "count".  Scripture bears out the truth, though - prayer is not something we have to "get right" in order to make it "count" - it is just our best faith attempt at communicating our heart with Jesus. Sometimes we will do this better than others - words coming easily, thoughts well-ordered, and we aptly express what needs to be expressed.  At other times, words escape us, we don't feel "worthy" to pray, or something as simple as just not feeling like God is going to listen anyway keeps us from even trying.

Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing and to let our needs be known to God as he delights in meeting those needs.  Yet there are times when those "needs" don't seem to be very apparent to us - we know we need God's intervention, but the specifics of that intervention just absolutely escape us. In those moments, we need God's Spirit to intercede through us - he needs to give us the words to speak and make our needs known in the heavenly realms.  Why?  Simply because we are incapable of knowing all we need, or maybe it is because we get a little stymied by the details.  Either way, we need someone else to intervene on our behalf because without this intervention, we continue to walk in circles around the same problems which have been haunting us all along!

Isn't it good to know that God's Spirit knows us better than we know ourselves?  To me, that takes the pressure off!  I don't have to figure this all out on my own - because my life is pretty doggone complicated with me in charge!  Our wordless sighs and aching groans are enough to give him insight into our deepest needs and then he goes to work to express those in only the way he can.  If I interpret this correctly, it isn't the words I speak as much as the heart behind what is spoken - for even my groans and sighs have heavenly meaning!  That is indeed good news to those who believe prayer has to be some "polished" thing - because it isn't!  It is the thoughts and intentions of my heart, mind, will, and emotions - expressed in ways God understands because his Spirit interprets them for us.

Every detail is brought before the throne of God - none escapes him when the Spirit is free to express those details on our behalf.  How then do we enter into this place of allowing the Spirit of God to become our "guide" in prayer? It is quite simple - just ask the Holy Spirit to take what you cannot express and make it plain in the heavenlies.  He will!  It is his delight to do this on our behalf.  We are all inhabited by the Spirit of God when we invite Christ into our lives to be Lord and Savior.  All we need to do then is to rely upon the Spirit to do what he lives in us to do - act as a guide, teacher, intercessor, and companion in the journey.  It isn't rocket science, friends.  Even our need to pray is a concern to God - so much so he provided a means by which the aches of our heart, the groans of our spirit, and the rawness of our emotions may be perfectly formed into prayers which reach the heavenly realms on our behalf!  That's awesome!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pardon my soap box

There is always a danger of taking a portion of scripture, then choosing it to hang onto as meaning something, but not considering the context in which it is written.  This is why Jesus commended those who would study the scriptures, learning to rightly divide them, and then to proclaim them with the boldness he provides.  In order to get at the context of our study today, we must understand that God is doing a new thing in the New Testament church - he is establishing a group of believers (some converted Jews, others converted Gentiles) into a cohesive group.  In turn, he wants to direct how it is the church is to grow.  It is with the use of all the tools he provides - including the various leaders of the church, the scriptures, and the proper alignment of Old Testament teaching with the New Testament fulfillment.  He doesn't discount the Old Testament, but helps the believers to understand how the prophesies of the Old have been fulfilled in the New.  As the believers come together, there are rough areas which must be worked out - for the Jewish believer does not support the lifestyle and choices of the Gentile believer and the Gentile believer does not have the background of the old covenant to refer to in understanding what is being taught.  Old meets new - the two present some issues - unity must be established and common ground must be reached.  To this end, we find the letter to the Ephesian church being written.  It was Paul's hope to bring this sense of unity, centered squarely on the finished work of Christ and the fact of Christ being the fulfillment of all that remained a "mystery" in the Old Testament Law.  Thinking about how hard it is to mesh two dissimilar groups of people together and getting them to play well in the sandbox together, we have an impression of why Paul is writing.  To this end he pens the words calling them to really get into and discover the depths of God's love, experiencing the breadth and width of it, until it dramatically affects our lives.  Not a bad thing to consider as we look around ourselves today at the vast "meshing" of beliefs and practices in our cultures.  It is an excellent time to consider the power of the Spirit to "pull together" dissimilar groups and to make them one.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3:20 MSG)

Our prayer for society today should be for Christ to live in their lives - as they would open the door and invite him in.  Too often we ignore the knocking - our earnestness in praying for those who are struggling to "open the door" is important because it may be the very tool which "loosens" the hinge!  The first step into fullness is the opening of our heart's door - without opening up, we cannot step out.  To this thought, we add Paul's words - God can do anything - far more than we could ever imagine or guess or request in our wildest dreams.  One prayer can ignite an entire church, or an entire revival. In the words of a prayer, God finds the access to the heart - the openness to receive he so earnestly seeks.

Rather than live with the dissimilarities, would it not make sense to ask God to begin to mesh together what belongs, weed out what doesn't, and bring afresh what is missing or has been abandoned along the way?  To my dismay, I see society pushing against and pointing out the dissimilarities in society rather than focusing on what has the possibility to unite us - Christ and none other.  I don't agree with embracing every lifestyle, accepting every behavior, etc. - for some are clearly against what scripture teaches.  I do believe we should pray for the uniting of believers everywhere - pulling us together into an entity of believers, not a gathering of individual believers.  How does this occur - by God's Spirit working deeply and gently within us.  God's Spirit - not our efforts - pulls us together in unity.

I live in a state plagued by legislation which has gone from bad to worse as time has evolved.  I don't want to point out the issues but you will understand that statement when I tell you I live in Arizona.  Between border wars and who can deny service to whom, this state has made the news big time over the past several years.  Protests galore almost any day of the week can be observed at our capital building and other prominent locations.  People are angered by the dissimilar treatment of others - and it is becoming a matter of public notice.  All I can say is that we need to pray for our legislators and those who elect them into office.  The job has to be tough and it has to consider all sides of the issues at hand.  No one knows how to handle the issues in their own minds - they need the mind of Christ.  The issues aren't whether a person is legal or not; straight or gay - the issue is whether Christ is in their hearts - for nothing will settle the "dissimilarities" until he is!  This should be our concern - to preach the gospel, to see it take root, and to then allow the uniting only the Holy Spirit of God can bring.

The church should be a uniting force in this society today - bringing first the prayers before the throne of God and then following that up with the actions of love which will bind us together.  Just sayin!