Saturday, May 31, 2014

I didn't recognize that one!

The Book of Leviticus is the record of the Old Testament Law - commandments and rules for living, sacrificial worship expectations, and the foundation by which we were to come to understand that a penalty for sin was to be paid.  In other words, the Law acts as a means to help us understand why the sacrificial death of Christ was necessary - it points us toward his work of what we call "atonement".  To understand atonement, we must understand why it is necessary.  As pointed out numerous times throughout scripture, man has a difficult time living his life "without sin" because he has a sin nature.  He has free choice, and as a matter of choice, he sometimes chooses things which are a violation of the way God would want him to live. When this is the case, this is referred to as "sin" - better known as "missing the mark". In other words, try as we might, we don't always hit the target!  

If anyone sins by breaking any of the commandments of God which must not be broken, but without being aware of it at the time, the moment he does realize his guilt he is held responsible.  (Leviticus 5:17-18 MSG)

I don't want us to focus on the Old Testament Law as a means of righteousness, but hope we can see God's intent in giving it.  He was laying out the foundation for us to recognize the need of a "sinless" or "spotless" offering on our behalf.  Plain and simple, he was pointing us toward Christ. The little lamb, turtle doves, and rams used in the sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament temple worship, atonement sacrifices, and the like, were simply "fore-shadowing" the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf.  That said, then we are free to see what God says about our sin.

As we examine what God has to say about sin in scripture, we find there are not so much "degrees" of sin (as ALL sin is sin), but that sometimes we are totally aware of our sin and other times we almost sin without really realizing we have.  I grew up in a church environment which promoted the "degrees" of sin - some were "menial" and others were quite "grievous".  If we go back to scripture as our source of truth on this matter, we will see ALL have sinned, ALL sin matters, and ALL sin requires an "atoning sacrifice".  This idea of "degrees" of sin just doesn't hold up under our examination of what scripture outlines.

Since there is validity to this idea of us "knowingly" and "unknowingly" engaging in sin, maybe this is where we start.  Those things we know better than to do, but do them anyway - these are a big deal.  God doesn't ask for our obedience to be at our convenience, but rather for it to become a spontaneous response of our heart.  When we struggle with obedience in a particular area of our lives, he doesn't expect us to resist the temptation to sin in that area all on our own.  He gives us the support of his Holy Spirit, others which whom we can enter into accountability relationships with, and the wisdom of the Word to guide our actions.  Those areas were we struggle without even really recognizing our struggle are sometimes not evident to us unless someone else points them out, or perhaps we get that "twinge" of conviction when we hear a good teacher, or read something we may have overlooked in scripture.  

What God wants us to see is that both require our attention - when we "become aware" of our sin, we have a means by which we can deal with our sin - Christ's sacrificial death on our behalf.  ALL sin required his death.  ALL sin is subject to the same "scrutiny" by God.  ALL sin leaves us "at odds" with God - we aren't right until that sin is "under" or "covered" by the blood Christ shed on our behalf.  What is most important when studying the Law in the Old Testament is not the rigidity of the sacrificial means for atonement, but that atonement is provided by means of God's grace.  The sacrifice was just a means of us connecting our actions with the penalty needing to be paid.  It is not much different than us connecting our actions with the penalty which was paid on our behalf - Christ Jesus.  He is our "means" of connection between the "wrongdoing" of our sin and the "right-setting" of our lives through the perfect action of his sacrifice.

Although "degrees" of sin don't really exist, the means by which sin is dealt the final blow in our lives is already accomplished - even though it may not be fully revealed by our actions today.  Christ's sacrificial death on our behalf was "complete" on our behalf - past sin, present sin, and all future sin.  His actions were complete - meeting ALL our needs for atonement - the known sin and the unknown; the "biggees" and the "wee ones".  Just sayin!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Are your words "care-filled"?

Scripture has much to say about what is we say - our words matter more than we might just think.  The problem for so many of us is that we speak before we think!  Scripture points toward "helpful conversation", "careful words", and "truth talk".  Now, at first these three may not seem very significant, but when we put them all together, it could just impact how it is we speak to each other and what it is we put into words.

The good acquire a taste for helpful conversation; bullies push and shove their way through life.  Careful words make for a careful life; careless talk may ruin everything.  A good person hates false talk; a bad person wallows in gibberish.  (Proverbs 13:2-3, 5 MSG)

Looking at this carefully, we see "who" this passage applies to: "the good", those who "live a careful life", and "a good person".  Most of us want to be counted among the "good" and the "careful", don't we?  So, if this applies to us, then we had better sit up and take notice of what it has to say about what we say!

- Helpful conversation is an acquired taste.  This points to the fact that helpful conversation is not always the natural thing for us.  In fact, most of us would agree that our conversation can gravitate into the realms of frivolous, coarse, or even downright mean on occasion, all because it is a more "natural" response for us.  If you were to look up "acquired taste", you would find that it refers to something which is "unfamiliar" to us at first, but which becomes gradually more liked or accepted as time passes.  This suggest to us that our communication will actually change over time the more we focus on seeing positive change in the words we speak.

- Care-filled lives are marked by "care-full" words.  To be careful implies we are somewhat cautious - there is a caution in what we express, not because we are afraid or intimidated to express what needs to be said, but because we value the relationships in which these words are spoken.  When you are "care-full", you are concerned with the outcomes - so you place a watchman over your mouth (the best one I know of is the Holy Spirit).  You don't allow the words to just "bubble out", but rather you become a little introspective and "care-filled" in your choice of words.  You don't mince your words, but you don't always say everything you immediately think - for those may not be the most "care-filled" words you could imagine!

- There is a vast difference between helpful words and just plain gibberish.  If we think of gibberish as that which an infant speaks as they are learning to form their words, we might just understand this idea a little closer to the point.  The infant "thinks" they are communicating what their parent or other child will understand - all because they don't know any better.  Yet the parent or other child in play with them has absolutely no clue what they are babbling on about.  They may think it is "cute" at first, but in time if this is all the child ever says, the parent will begin to worry about the "arrested development" of their child.  Why?  As we grow up we are supposed to learn how to actually speak intelligibly.  I don't think this is too far from the truth about what God expects for us as his children either.  He expects us to move from words of "gibberish" to words which are actually helpful in communicating need, helpfulness, etc.  I will be the first to admit that moving from words which don't really make a whole lot of sense into a place where the words we speak "connect the dots" and actually express meaning into one's life is a learned art.

- Truth matters when we are speaking with each other, but the "tone" or "tenor" of our words matter just as much.  The "tenor" of our words is what many refer to as getting someone's drift in conversation.  Maybe everything doesn't need to be spelled out in as much detail as we may want to bring forth at first.  Others who are connected to us in relationship have a way of catching the drift of our conversation much easier when our words are consistently spoken with honesty and integrity.  This is the danger with coarseness of speech as is the case when sarcasm is the tendency within our discussions.  A little sarcasm is always going to be there, but when we use sarcasm without caution, we sometimes change the tenor of our speech without even realizing what we are doing within the relationship.

Careful people speak "care-filled" words - words which connect them in relationship, build up each other, and envelop others in the grace of God.  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Deadbolts won't do

God wants to do so much for us - our part is just to enter into what it is he is doing in and through our lives.  There are many kinds of doors in this world - some quite elaborate, others simple, but effective.  Back in the day, we didn't lock them when we left our homes - now we secure them with two or more locks.  There are also doors of a different kind - not physical in nature - but kind of "immaterial" doors.  These are the doors we keeps securely "latched" in our lives so as to keep others out, limiting our "exposure" to the general public.  In essence, these doors act to keep others out and to keep our "mess" under wraps!  God's plan is to have those doors opened to him - not so he can criticize our "mess" of a life, but so he can help us clear out the space and allow it to be put in right order.

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.   (Romans 5:1-2 MSG)

We enter into God's door by faith - his door is open wide to those who will take the first step toward him, admit their need for his grace in their lives, and then allow him to gain access to the doors of our heart and mind.  In time, he will set in order what we have been straining hard to keep under wraps!  He does this by setting us right with him - we get put into a position of being on "right-standing" with him - not through our own efforts, but through the efforts of one - his Son, Jesus Christ.  This right-standing is what helps us to "fit" for his purposes.  All of us were created with a "space" into which God's Spirit "fits" - fill it with anything else and it just will never be the "right fit".  It is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole - it could be done, but it sure doesn't fit right and takes a whole lot of altering to get it to fit!

Part of the reason we have all these "secured doors" in our lives is the belief that these areas of our lives are beyond fixing.  God wants to assure us today that if we open wide these doors, we will discover he has already opened wide the exact doors we need in his kingdom which will help us to set right what is behind those sealed doors of our lives.  This should be good news for those of us with "secured doors" - or let me put it another way - those of us with a whole lot of junk in our trunk!  It isn't until we open the door that we discover what Christ has available to us to help us with what is contained within those sealed places.  We know he has "good stuff" for his kids, but we don't come to appreciate what that "good stuff" is until we see how it begins to help us with the "cleaning up" of our messes in life.

Open doors not only allow access, but they allow egress.  That is a fancy term which really means a way of escape.  Those things we have bottled up so tightly in those sealed places of our hearts and minds are finally free to find a way of escape once we open the door to Jesus' grace.  The truth is that we must open up if we are to recognize the path to escape.  It isn't that we escape the hurt that has been bottled up behind those closed doors, but we finally realize a means by which the hurt may be removed so it no longer causes us hurt and it cannot be used to hurt others.

Sealing away life's hurts and disappointments may be a means by which we deal with stuff we find too difficult to handle, but it is not God's plan for us. He wants us to open wide the doors of our hearts and minds so his Spirit may find his place of "fit" in our lives.  This is the means by which grace enters and hurt leaves.  Where grace abides anger and bitterness cannot.  Opening the door actually creates the egress for the anger and bitterness of past hurt to escape.  Once the places of concealment are emptied, they are open to be filled again - only this time, they are filled with grace, love, compassion, forgiveness, and peace.  

So, we all have doors.  Some are sealed with lots and lots of locks and bolts. The only one with access to open those locks and bolts is the one who secured them in the first place - and that would be us.  All Jesus asks is for us to open the door.  He does the rest.  In opening the door, we might feel a little vulnerable, but trust me on this - grace doesn't mistreat our vulnerability. Instead, it embraces it and loves us through the discomfort of being open and real with him.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

And where does this piece go?

It is the time of year when students everywhere are graduating from their classes in high schools and universities - intent on making their way in this world.  Speeches will be read, mortar boards will be thrown, and parties will be had.  When it is all said and done, the let down as they enter into this "real world" can be tremendous.  Some will branch out in directions only their minds-eye can fathom, while others will follow the more traditional paths set by those who have gone before them.  The choice about which road to take is established in their hearts as independence begins to bring new opportunities into their path.  In time, they settle into the course they believe is the best for their lives.  I think we ALL have those moments of "graduation" in our lives, when we stand at a crossroads of sorts, choices laid out before us, and then having to choose which one we think will serve us the best.  If we choose well, the road ahead will be navigated with ease.  Choose unwisely and the incessant twists and turns can make a sane person mad!

This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.  (I Peter 2:21 MSG)

We are invited into life with Christ - a road many determine to be too narrow, too focused, and way to intense for their liking.  For those who choose this road, the journey proves to be quite awesome.  Sure, there is intensity at times, but the intensity only builds character.  We are invited into the kind of life Christ lived.  Do we really know what that entails?  I think we have glimpses of it in scripture, but when we take the first step down this path, do we really comprehend the way Christ lived as a means of how we will begin to live our lives today?  Not really.  We often just take the first step in faith and then wait to see what doors will open to us along the way.

The important part of the journey is the one who has already "made the way" for us to walk.  It was his intentional embracing of all the suffering he was faced with that actually provided the framework by which we learn to walk in this life today.  Here is the crux of the matter - we need to learn to follow the example which has been set for us!  When we have an example to follow, but choose to ignore it completely, seeing it as a "nice thing", but not "for us", we open ourselves up to all kinds of issues.  If you tried to sew a wedding dress from a bolt of fabric, just looking at a design you saw in a magazine, you would likely struggle a little with it turning out well.  What you need is the "pattern" to follow.  Try as you might, you can come "close" to recreating the image of what you see when you just "eyeball it", but when you have the pattern and follow it, you come a lot closer!

Jesus' example does two things for us - it shows us how to live, but it also shows us it CAN be done.  We often focus so much on the "I can't" of the circumstance - God's plan is for us to consider Christ first, and then focus on more of the "I CAN through Christ Jesus who lives in me".  It is like we follow the pattern - seeing the creation of something beautiful as a result.  There have been times when I have tried to sew a garment and the pattern comes with all these small pieces here and there.  They don't resemble much, but omit even one of them and the garment just doesn't look or hang as well on your frame.  Why?  All the pieces played a part - none was expendable.

In following Christ's example, we need to recognize that nothing he modeled was "expendable".  He took time to pray - because communication with his Father was important and provided a means of receiving not only help, but connection and peace.  He took time to fellowship - because he needed the strength of relationship and the companionship of those along for the journey. He took time to rest - because the journey is long and we are never at our best when we are spent.  He took time to notice the small stuff - because he knew if he let the small stuff pass him by, the big stuff would swallow up the enjoyment the small stuff provides.  We cannot discount anything he did as he walked this earth - because it all has meaning - nothing he portrayed is expendable!

When the journey is hard and the way seems unclear, we need to do what Jesus did - come away, take time to refocus, and then embrace the challenge. It isn't a magic formula we follow, but when we see the pattern unfolded before us, we need to recognize no part of what is displayed and provided is without a specific purpose in our lives.  Follow the pattern and you are more likely to produce a thing of beauty in the end.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Middle moments

To be strong implies we are robust, able to stand up to the test.  Strength can be viewed as mental power, physical ability, and even moral firmness.  It is something developed over time - not something which comes as a matter of inheritance.  In other words, you can desire to be strong, but what brings strength is the exercise of the strength you possess until you begin to reveal you possess an even greater strength.  Strength is sometimes not used the way God would intend for it to be used.  If you have ever been hit by another car, you know the reality of the collision.  The power behind the car which struck yours does damage to yours because of that "strength" behind the force of impact.  The weight of the car, the speed at which it is traveling, and the location at which it strikes your car all determine the "strength" by which your car (and your body) will receive the impact.  The collision's force leaves you stranded - if not because your car is now damaged, at least in emotional upset over the loss created by such a force.  When we possess mental, physical, and even spiritual strength, God wants us to use it as he would intend for us to use it - not in any manner which causes harm, destroys others, or leaves emotional scarring.

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”  That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  (Romans 15:1-6 MSG)

Strength is for service, not for status - true enough statement, but how do we put this into practice in our lives?  All we need in order to answer this question is to look at the very next statement.  We are to look after the good of the people around us - asking ourselves how it is we may help them in their time of both need and plenty.  We find it easy to help when someone is at their strongest, but how about when they are at their weakest?  Do we see them as a "drain" on us?  Do their problems seem like too much of a bother for us to get involved in?  Do we see their struggle as something they just need to "get over"?  If we are to use our strength for service (as Jesus did), then we need to be operating as Christ did - not in avoidance mode, but in embrace mode!  Jesus didn't avoid your troubles anymore than he avoided mine.  In fact, he embraced our troubles, taking them to the cross with him and dealing with them there.  

You may never know when the strength you possess is the strength which has been prepared in you to be used in meeting the needs of another.  We don't possess this strength just for our own use, you know.  We possess it to use it to help one another out wherever the need presents itself.  Sometimes it will be in overtly evident ways such as giving someone broken down on the side of the road a ride to the nearest service station, or loaning them your cell phone to place a call to towing company.  At other times, it may be your simple and frequent prayers on their behalf, at times and in ways they don't even recognize, but definitely feel because they are being made strong themselves to endure their present hardship.  Regardless of how it is we use our strength, it is to be used in service for others - not hoarded for our self.

There is a characteristic "trait" of those who are strong in the Lord - they are involved in the lives of others.  They don't pull back, isolate, and run from those times when things might get a little messier than they'd like.  In fact, if Jesus had of avoided the many "messy times" while he walked this earth, we wouldn't have the accounts of the woman with an issue of blood miraculously healed, the demon possessed set free, nor the centurion's ear reattached after being severed with the sword.  Jesus got right in the middle of the messes of our lives - from the moments of adulterous discovery, to the hours of agony over the loss of a loved one - he was right there in the middle of it all.  It is "in the middle" that we are most effective - for strength is meant for the "middle" moments!

My pastor aptly puts it this way:  The Bible is a "beginning, middle, new beginning" book.  I will go one step further with this idea.  I think Jesus is all about "beginnings, middles, and new beginnings" in our lives and he wants us to be involved in the middle of people's lives so they have the hope and potential of new beginnings!  This is our calling - to use the strength he gives to intervene in the middle of messes - in hopes of seeing the creation of a new beginning from the midst of the mess.  I had a friend when I was young who hated to clean her room.  She could never play until her room was cleaned up on Saturdays.  So, in order to have time to play with her, guess what I did?  Yep, you guessed it - I got right in the middle of her mess and started cleaning it up.  I suppose you might think she took advantage of my desire to spend time with her, leaving all that mess for me to clean up, but I saw it differently.  In doing this small task for her, we could spend time together.  What mattered most to me was the time we were together - not that it cost me twenty minutes of putting away clothes, toys, and books! 

What matters most to Jesus is that his children are drawn closer to him, deeper into relationship with each other, and away from the mess of their past.  What our part is in this is quite simple - to be in the middle of the mess, offering our strength in their weakness, and affording the help needed to see their "middle" become the launching pad for a new beginning in life. You up for a few "middle moments" today?  Just askin!

Monday, May 26, 2014

What does your book say?

I think God fully understands how we interpret the trials and long periods of seemingly receiving no answer from him - those times when we just want to pull our hair out, scream little, stomp our feet, and generally tell the world that God isn't listening or that he doesn't care about us at this very moment! We all have those times - admit it.  We chafed against the agony of the waiting, expected a different outcome and was disappointed by the present one, and whined when things just didn't go as we expected.  All the while, we have one thing we do with some consistency - complain.  Even the most consistent Christian has moments when the agony just gets to us and we find ourselves complaining a little, or perhaps a little too much!  The most amazing part of this is that God doesn't turn his back on us, even when we are heavily engaged in the complaint process.

Job answered:  I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.  I should never have opened my mouth!  I’ve talked too much, way too much.  I’m ready to shut up and listen.”  (Job 40:3-5 MSG)

Job was declared to be a righteous man - one whose life lined up with the Word of God and whose testimony was nothing but exemplary.  Yet, in the midst of trials too innumerable to recount right now, he finds himself at the end of his rope.  Even those who come to provide some form of counsel or comfort in his life have the misconception that the evil which has become him must be as a result of some injustice on his part, or sin he has not confessed. Family has been lost, the flocks and herds have been devastated, crops have failed, storehouses are empty, and even his body is consumed with some form of disease.  How on earth can he live after so much has happened in his life?  How can he "regroup" and make a go of it again?  

Does it surprise you that the Book of Job is 42 chapters in length with the majority of those chapters being dialogue about how Job feels - the emotional upheaval he is experiencing and the surrounding misunderstanding that occurs when emotions are able to get us in a fray?  Two chapters describe his state as a righteous man, with blessings of family, financial well-being, and good standing in his community.  Then we have this "filler" of about 38 chapters of complaint, advice from friends, expressions of grief, and the musings of a man who cannot comprehend fully the tragedy he finds himself within.  Following this excessive account of Job's woeful state, we have 4 chapters which sum up God's reply to Job's musings and the state of heart change which God will bring when Job is ready to hear what he has to say.  I wonder if God were to put all the musings of our heart into a book how many chapters would be related to our complaints and heart agonies?  There might just be more than we realize!

At some point, we all come to the place we are ready to close our mouths and really listen to God.  At that moment, God steps in and sets things straight for us.  It isn't always the best perspective we have been maintaining when we have been in this emotional state of complaint and agonizing - so his word come to set us straight again when we most need his intervention.  There have been times in my own life where I have said words pretty similar to Job's "I am ready to shut up and listen, God" - but those words were preceded by a whole lot of chapters filled with complaint, misunderstanding, agony, and even a little mistrust.  If those chapters were to be read back to me, I probably would be ashamed to find how much my complaint revealed about the selfishness of my heart, and the lack of trust I have in the one who watches over my life.

The most amazing part of this accounting is the freedom Job exercises in communicating with God.  His heart has betrayed his lack of trust in God - his mouth being the vessel which uncovered his betrayal.  In those words of agony recorded for all of history to read, we see the heart of a man who desperately loves God.  It is not the heart of a man turning his back on God, but one seeking to understand God more.  I wonder how much of our own "musings" and "complaints" are merely times when we are coming to know God a little better?  Maybe this is part of how it is we sort out the thoughts and intents of our heart - opening us up to the possibilities of grace and blessing God desires for us.  Job was restored all he lost - even more.  The "in between" is what brought him to the place of readiness to accept what God had in store for him.  Maybe this is what your "in between" place is all about today.  Perhaps God is preparing you for "more" - something you won't be ready for until the musing and agony of your heart is fully expressed.

God doesn't shun those whose heart pours out the agony within - he embraces them.  He doesn't turn his back on their difficulties - he uses them to uncover the blessings he has in store on the other side of those difficult days.  He opens us up to possibilities - not through field after field of wildflowers and green meadows, but through deserts and prickly fields.  When we feel the heat and feel the pricks of the desert thorns, maybe we cry out a little louder than we ought, or more in a form of complaint than praise.  God isn't surprised by our cries - he knows our heart!  Just sayin!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Got any "cooked books"?

Since my knee surgery, sleep has frequently eluded me.  I lie awake a lot at night, just not totally comfortable, so I toss and turn until I find a comfortable position which allows me to finally drift off for a few more minutes sleep.  I guess I do this to myself, because I cannot seem to find the slowness of pace that keeps me from overdoing it sometimes.  I forget that my body is healing and launch into projects and tasks way beyond my level of rehabilitation at this point. Then I wonder why I am achy in the night hours!  Sometimes we lie awake because we do something, or are involved in something, which plays on our minds or bodies into the wee hours of the night.  At other times, it is what is done to us which gives us the unease and keeps us from finding the slumber we so desperately desire.  Either way, the end result is a restless night in bed, rumpled sheets, and a crazy hairdo!  Did you know that not one "toss" or "turn" escapes God's notice?  Not one tear escapes our eye which does not get captured in his record book - not one!

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.  (Psalm 56:8 MSG)

Our aches are God's concern.  They could be purely physical simply because we have overdone it doing something we are ill-equipped to do, leaving our bodies feeling sore and fatigued.  They could be emotional, creating havoc for our physical bodies in response to the emotional upheaval we are experiencing.  Or they could be the response to holding onto stuff we were supposed to let go of long ago, but just could not see our way to actually release!  Either way, the tossing and turning comes - the aching of body, mind, soul, and spirit is there.  Not one of these moments escapes his watchful eye.  Not one of them is spared from recollection in his book of accounts over our lives.  

That may seem a little odd at first - God keeping a "ledger" book of sorts all about our lives.  In businesses everywhere, people keep sets of "books" which are ledgers of the assets owned, debt owed, and the like.  A ledger is simply a way of keeping record.  God frequently reminds us he cares so deeply for us that he keeps record of the stuff we would think was way too insignificant for him to even notice.  From keeping the count on the hair on our head, to the tears we shed in this lifetime, God has a record of all!  He doesn't "doctor the books" to make things look a little "too good" or "in his favor".  In fact, he records it like it is - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

In time, as we see his action in our lives, the books aren't "doctored", but they do change.  In fact, we might start out with a whole lot of "debit" entries, making us appear to be continually in the "red" in our set of ledgers. Over the course of his tender care and watchfulness over our lives, we can begin to see these "debits" turn into "credits" on the opposite side of the ledger.  In time, he transforms what we thought was nothing more than a set of really lousy choices resulting in really lousy outcomes!  God is truthful in his accounting of our lives, but he is also faithful in his "management" of the end results of each lousy decision we have made!

There are things in our "books" which we are not proud of - wrong choices resulting in even worse actions, grudges held onto for years, bitterness which has rooted way too well to be easily uprooted, and the like.  Each of these "debit" entries are beyond our ability to "fix" on our own.  We try to "doctor" them up a little, making sure no one actually knows how much in "debt" we really are, but in truth, we cannot doctor the books of our lives forever! Eventually the truth will be known.  If we are in debt, regardless of the reason for that debt, wouldn't you think if a solution to our debt was offered to us we'd take it?  

In reality, we are offered a way out of the debt we have accrued - the only thing is that we need to transition the "book-keeping" responsibility for our lives over to God!  If we hold onto those "cooked books" forever, he cannot do the work of transformation we so desperately need and yearn for.  Isn't it about time we changed the "record-keeping" of our lives over to him and allow him to track what really matters, transform what we cannot, and get us finally "in the green"?  Just sayin!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Treat me with some dignity, please.

Most of the time we treat our bodies pretty well, but there are those times when we just don't consider the impact certain behaviors or actions will have on our bodies.  This may be especially true in the realm of what we respond to emotionally which does much more than just impact our heads or hearts - it impacts the very fibers of our being.  Nothing we think or "feel" is ever without influence in our bodies.  Therefore, learning to treat our bodies with dignity requires us learning to rein in our thoughts and to rule over our emotions.

Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.  (I Thessalonians 4:4-5 MSG)

Although our writer may have been referring to the dignity with which we are treat our bodies in a "sexual" sense, there is much to be said about maintaining this same vigilance over our bodies in EVERY sense.  When the term "dignity" is used, it generally refers to the sense of "self-respect" with which we treat something.  This definitely applies to how it is we treat our bodies - for many an action on our part betrays how little we actually "respect" our bodies.

Abuse of one's body begins in many ways, but if we begin from the top down, it may look a little like this:

- The mind.  Whenever we take in thoughts which are irrational and then begin to mull them over and over again, we are disrespecting our minds.  God created the mind with many faculties, but one of the most important of these is the ability to reason through issues.  By the power of deduction (coming to the conclusion because we add this to that and come up with the solution), we make many a decision.  Not all decisions are tempered with wisdom, though.  If we are to learn to respect our bodies, we must first learn to respect our minds.  This is territory we need to declare off-limits to irrational thoughts which seek to invade our minds, but also those thoughts which seem rational at first, but which don't hold up to the test of scripture.  An example of this type of thought is the belief we hold of being "unworthy" and therefore undeserving of the love of God.  Truth is - he loved us despite our unworthiness, enough to send his Son when we were still totally unworthy, and through his sacrificial death, we are declared worthy.  What God declares to be one way we cannot declare to be another - this is just irrational.

- The mouth.  Although closely connected to the mind, the mouth often betrays what is much deeper in the heart.  If we are to treat our bodies with dignity, we need to guard what both goes in our mouths, and then rule over what comes out.  Scripture points to the truth of "garbage in, garbage out".  If we think we can have good come forth when all we put in is pretty much junk, we have been deceived.  The mouth works closely with the mind and the emotions (heart).  What is manifest through our mouth often betrays how it is we actually "respect" or "disrespect" what God has and is doing in our lives. We betray our lack of thankfulness, or perhaps our lack of trust, by the words we speak.  The mouth is a portal of entry - so guarding what "goes in" by this portal is also important to the health and welfare of our bodies.  Easier said than done - I totally admit that!  

- The heart.  As I indicated, the emotions are often what plays havoc on the rest of the parts of our bodies.  Emotions stir things up, getting the "juices" flowing, so to speak.  The volume of hormones released when the emotions get involved would probably blow our minds if we fully understood the response of our bodies to what we allow to affect us through our emotions.  If you have ever watched a scary movie and experienced that "edge of your seat" kind of reaction, complete with heart racing a little, then jumped when something scary happened on the screen, you have experienced the influence of emotions.  As irrational as it is for us to react to what is on the TV screen, we do - because our emotions have "interacted" with the plot played out in the show we are taking in.  Guarding our heart is how we show respect for it. The emotions are not to be feared, but they are to be guarded and not to be allowed to rule over us.  They are to be ruled over by the Spirit.  

- The hands, the feet, and all in between.  After some time ruminating on the same thoughts (rational or irrational), the body will begin to respond to those thoughts.  It is natural to begin to "do" what we think.  Engage the senses and you will soon find the other "body parts" responding.  What gets thought gets acted out.  Learning to respect our bodies involves learning what the right response of ALL our body parts should be - internally and externally. We are given the Holy Spirit to help us with this task.  As a matter of fact, scripture reminds us that our bodies are the "temple of the Holy Spirit".  In other words, our bodies are a dwelling place for God's Spirit - as such, their actions ought to reflect both the respect for his presences and the gratitude for his grace.  We won't get this "right" every time, but as we grow in Christ, we will see our bodies responding more and more in alignment with what the Spirit desires.  We have to keep moving TOWARD respect of our bodies and in time, we will begin treating them with the dignity they deserve.  Just sayin!

Friday, May 23, 2014

You a loner?

Let me ask you a tough question this morning.  Do you consider yourself a "loner"?  Most of us would jump to our own defense to immediately deny being a loner, but I really want us to consider this one a little more carefully than a casual answer.  Most of the time, we consider someone a "loner" when we see them isolate or insulate themselves from relationship with others, but scripture might just shed a little light on some other characteristics of these individuals.  The primary characteristic is that of "doing our own thing".  This might just describe us a little more than we'd like to admit at first, but if we were honest, we all have times when we are more concerned with "our own thing" than the good of the "group"!

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17 MSG)

We think of a loner as someone who avoids the company of another, or prefers to be alone.  There are always going to be times when we prefer to be alone, simply because we need to regenerate our emotional or physical strength.  To live this way all the time is just not practical, though.  We need each other to "sharpen" our character.  When we isolate, we avoid conflict.  To avoid conflict short term may keep us out of the "emotional soup" we seek to avoid, but it is creating an emotional hole from which we may not fully dig out if we allow this isolation to continue too long.

Why do we go off to do our own thing?  Usually it is because we have the belief our way is the best way - our solution to the issue is the best solution. This is not always the case, though.  When we settle in on just our own solution to an issue, we often miss out on the synergy that is created when a problem is open for the "group" to address.  This is the power of small groups (also known as cell groups).  They provide an atmosphere where it is okay to begin to examine the issues we face and then get the "read" of the group on how it is we can best handle what life is sending our way.

When we are involved in the lives of others, we are doing exactly as God intended - we are being the iron which sharpens the iron of another's character.  Now, a word of caution here - we are not to be their conscience, nor their "leader" to whom they submit all their life decisions to in order to garner support.  We ARE to be engaged with each other, though, so that we hold each other accountable, not allowing the other to slip into patterns of behavior which are destructive or contrary to what the Word defines as "safe" for us.

In small group relationships, it is easiest to allow every detail of our lives - words, actions, and the "whatever" - to be looked at through the eyes of those who care about our success in this walk with Jesus.  When we isolate, we avoid the "care" another may provide in the "tending" of the fruit of our actions.  To walk alone is to truly allow oneself to be without restraint - for our own actions will almost always seem okay to us, but could be clearly in defiance to what God outlines as specifically "wrong" for his kids.

If we find we have been a little too guilty of just going off to do our own thing, maybe it is time we re-establish our relationships with one another.  In those moments of accountability, we are subject to change which could make all the difference in helping us realize the potential God has for our lives vs. ending up falling way short of full potential.  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

You faking it?

Have you ever wondered why it is that some people just get "found out" when they do something wrong and others seem to be very clever at concealing their mistakes, often avoiding any type of discovery?  I think we all have at one time or another simply because we wonder how we cannot get away with the same stuff!  We may not come out and admit it, but we definitely are thinking it!  Get caught holding a smoking gun and it is hard to deny you fired the shot.  When it all comes to said and done, all sin is sin and will eventually be "uncovered" - the timing may be different for some, but it all comes out in the wash.  

The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. The same with good deeds. Some you see right off, but none are hidden forever.  (I Timothy 5:24-25 MSG)

We hear the argument all the time about individuals thinking they are not "evil" or "sinners" - as a matter of fact, they see themselves as "good" because they don't do "bad" stuff.  They pay their taxes, look out for the poor, and even take care of widows.  They don't drink, chew, or run with those who do.  They have never murdered anyone, nor have they been unfaithful to their spouse.  So, how could they be considered "sinners"?  They equate the "good" they do with the absence of a sin nature.  That which is part of our nature cannot be "undone" just by doing "good stuff".  Jesus elevated this idea to the forefront of thought when he shared stuff like:

If someone slaps you on one cheekturn to thethe other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  (Luke 6:29 NIV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)

In essence, what he was saying was that our good or bad deeds go beyond the actual deed - they stem from a source much deeper - the heart.  Man has been born with a heart easily deceived - if not by external forces, at least by his own imagination!  The truth is what sets us free; imaginations hold us captive until they are finally submitted to the inspection and authority of Christ.

To really get at the heart of the matter, we have to allow the "heart" to become what matters.  Mind, will, and emotions - rational thought, perceptions, reasoning - all must be inspected, aligned, and submitted.  Until this occurs, we will continue to be deceived into thinking some of the stuff we don't "think" is really based upon a sin nature is just part of being human and not able to be controlled.  We "excuse" our nature - in turn, we excuse our sin.  Jesus had a challenge for the Pharisees one day - it was that of having the first one who had no sin of his own throw the first stone at the woman caught in adultery.  If you recall the story, none were left to cast a single stone!

Some sins are more blatant - that is what Jesus was showing us.  Some are "easily surfaced" and get us noticed for our short-comings almost immediately.  These are probably easier for us to deal with because they are "open" for others to see.  Those which are buried a little deeper are often the ones we struggle with for what seems like a lifetime.  In some religious circles, they refer to these as our "secret sins" - those we hope we are keeping under raps pretty well.  Eventually they will be revealed, so even the most cleverly disguised sin is never going to remain secret.  We don't take our secrets to the grave, because even the grave has a way of revealing them at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

No one is without sin (Romans 3:23).  Likewise, no one is without a means of having their sinful nature replaced with a new one in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).  There is an "exchange" which must occur - our "best goodness" must be exchanged for the "true goodness" which only comes when there has been an exchange of our "goodness" for the "grace" of God.  One means of redemption exists - the blood of Jesus.  One "exchange" is required - our nature for his.  Only then will the heart be affected.  Sin has a deeper root than what we see on the surface in our lives.  To trust in what we allow to come to the surface as the means by which we believe we will be declared "worthy" or "good enough" is simply risking exposure as a fake!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Uncovering the hidden

There are tons of crime shows on TV these days, each with some "souped up" form of forensics lab, cops with super-human deduction powers, and even those who read your mind in order to solve the crimes.  When you visit the local police station, you see a different picture - one not so glamorous and intriguing as that portrayed on those shot in Miami, Vegas, or LA.  What you observe is the true "investigative" tasks of the police detectives - crunching data they have in the case, bouncing ideas off each other, and painstakingly following up on leads.  You see the systematic approach they take to solving the crimes before them.  This is what investigative work is all about anyway - the systematic inquiry or study which brings the details into clear focus.  One of the purposes of this investigative work is to uncover what seems to be hidden so well that someone would not discover the truth.  This is what the criminal is hoping for, isn't it?  They want the hidden to stay that way.  We aren't so dissimilar to the criminals, are we?  We oftentimes want the hidden to stay hidden - hoping God's investigative work into our lives will somehow miss the tell-tale signs of that sin or short-coming!  Well, if that were possible on his part, we probably would be pretty disappointed in him!

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; see for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life.  (Psalm 139:23-24 MSG)

Although the discovery of truth which has been buried under the surface of our tough shell would be somewhat of our "undoing", we often feel so much better when we are finally "undone".  What is buried just putrefies in the course of time, so bringing it to the surface where it can finally be revealed is often the most "relieving" experience we can have.  If you don't believe me, ask someone who has had a boil or a particularly large pimple on their body.  That thing just aggravates them, causing them pain and irritation, but until it comes to a head and finally is ready to be "uncovered", it is just a pain they have to deal with.  Once the head is formed, it takes a little doing, but squeeze hard enough and often enough and the core of the thing will be exposed.  What comes out is not too pleasant!  If you have ever seen a boil drained you might just not want to eat lunch afterward!  You would never imagine so much "diseased" part was just under the surface of that angry looking bump.

Sin has a way of festering in our lives, under the surface and sometimes in places we think are cleverly concealed.  Let me be the first to tell you - no place is outside of the investigative jurisdiction of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  Try as we might to conceal it, he knows our hiding places!  Why?  It is simply because he put all our parts together in the first place, so trying to hide anything from him is silliness!  Sin has a core which goes deeper than what we see on the surface - oftentimes hidden in "gaps" we aren't even cognizant exist.  These "gaps" are areas we needed to have guarded, but which were left unattended and as easy "settling ground" for the sin to find a place to fester.  They might be "gaps" like not dealing with our lust before it gets out of hand, or allowing ourselves to just do something "in moderation" without recognizing where moderation crosses the line into excess.  These gaps become excellent "breeding grounds" for the disease of sin to take root and set in a huge core of "festering mess".

One of the most merciful things God can do in our lives is to examine us.  We may think this to be a little bit like asking someone to take sandpaper to our skin when we have a sunburn, but it isn't.  God has a way of investigating the hidden areas of our lives in such a manner as to "sort out" the details in a systematic manner so the pathway for the "messiness" of our sin has a clear shot of being revealed and removed.  When the boil comes to a head, a pathway has been cleared for it to begin to be drained.  Surgeons sometimes "rush" this process by taking a knife to the wound and opening it before the head is fully formed.  They want "at" the diseased part quicker - often causing much more pain and leaving the patient a little more "at risk" because of the larger area of exposed tissue.  God has a way of making a "pathway" for our sin to be removed from our lives - sometimes he just lets us fester a little in our "covered up" state so we will be ready to be rid of the messiness of our sin once he makes this pathway known.

We may think God has a lot on his plate when we think about the hidden stuff in our lives.  After all, we all have "hidden stuff" which eventually needs to come to the surface in order to be removed.  The good news is that the one who formed us also can transform us exactly where we need his transformation!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Which way do I go?

An intersection is the place where two paths meet - the place where one path merges with another, or you must choose one way or the other.  We face many of these in life, oftentimes just navigating them without much effort or forethought.  At other times, we almost stall out just trying to make a decision about which way to go.  There are times when we come to intersections and find the way is not clear - the road "signs" just are not clear enough to really guide us into the next path we should take.  This is frustrating, to say the least, but more importantly it gives us concern because the wrong path can cause us countless hours of back-tracking and reworking our path.  Learning how to choose the right intersections is important if we are avoid this continual "rework" in our lives.

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. (James 1:19-21 MSG)

Some instruction designed to help us make the right choices at the various intersections in our lives are:

- Lead with your ears.  At first the may not seem like very profound instruction, but most of us go by what we see, not by what we hear.  If we were to close our eyes for about five minutes, I wonder if we'd interpret things the same way as we do when we can only hear what is occurring around us. It amazes me when I see people with the loss of vision compensate with their sense of hearing.  My mother visited our doctor a couple months back, but as soon as he began to speak, she knew something was wrong.  How?  By the tone of his voice.  You see, he had begun a battle with cancer and it was weighing on him.  She heard that when he began to speak with her.  We can sometimes miss the things God wants to speak into our lives because we expect to "see" something rather than just hear it.  Oftentimes the instruction of God is simply a still small voice - if we aren't listening, we will miss it.

- Follow up with your tongue.  Some of us are too quick to answer and too slow to listen.  I think the intersection choices might be made a little clearer if we were to shut our mouths and open our ears.  Over the course of time, we have come to answer what we don't know because we don't want to appear ignorant.  I have learned that admitting I don't know is sometimes the best answer to the question.  At least I avoid looking like a fool when I give that answer!  The tongue gives us more problems and leads us down more paths we'd probably like to have avoided in our travels simply because we have not learned to "lead" with it.  

- Let anger straggle along in the rear.  I think this is really odd to put anger in the midst of listening and being a little more thoughtful in our responses, but it is here, so we have to seek to understand how it applies to the intersections of our lives.  Most likely it is because what we "think" we heard and what we eventually speak will sometimes get us into the mess of anger. Anger has a way of ushering us further down a wrong path than it does in helping us to avoid one.  Anger is really a form of retaliation - or just plain pride rearing its ugly head.  When we learn to listen intently, we can avoid some of the pitfalls which lead us into angry responses.  When we spare our words by thinking before we speak, we also narrowly avoid wrong turns and potholes.

- Get rid of the garbage and baggage.  No journey is ever undertaken in the best manner when we are toting all kinds of garbage and baggage along with us.  When we are loaded down with the stuff which is really just making our lives putrid, we have no enjoyment in the journey.  We cannot get beyond the "stench" of our lives, so we don't even try.  Garbage is meant to be discarded, not stored up.  If we get rid of the stuff we shouldn't be keeping around in the first place (like the stuff we hold onto while a grudge begins to take hold), we might just find the journey is made a little more enjoyable.

- Embrace the tending of the Gardener.  None of us is where we have the potential of being - so we need a little "tending" to get us to that point.  It goes without saying that "tending" is not always pleasant.  There is a whole lot of hand holding, but also a tremendous amount of just plain redirection needed when we are being "tended".  Learning to see the guiding hand of our Lord as keeping us FROM the road we should not be traveling rather than questioning why he is interfering in our choices is a big time advantage in avoiding many a troubled journey.

- Be landscaped with the Word.  No journey is more enjoyable than those which allow us to gaze upon the beauty of the countryside, or take in the majesty of the rolling waves clapping against the rocks of the shoreline. When we take time to listen first, speak second, let go of anger, and unburden ourselves from all the garbage in our lives, we are in a place of being tenderly guided into the places of the greatest beauty.  God's Word shapes us, but it also paints a majestic landscape over our lives.  Isn't it time we began enjoying what he has provided?  Just sayin!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Learning to Lean

I have two grandsons, about five years apart in age.  I have two children, about two years apart in age.  One lives in Chandler, the other in Mesa. My brother is eleven years older, my sister ten years older than I am.  One lives in Phoenix, the other in Sedona.  We each have "distance" between us, if not because of physical location, at least in age, gender, and levels of maturity, don't we?  In the family of God, the "distance" we maintain from each other is also quite "palpable", is it not?  Some enter into this family relationship with great eagerness, just because they want to belong, finally feeling part of something worthwhile.  Others barely edge in, afraid to get too close for fear they might be "found out" for their short-comings.  Still others "enter in", but never really get beyond sharing "surface stuff" about themselves.  Depending upon the "distance" we maintain between God and others, our growth is affected.  If the distance is short, we tend to either "feel the heat" a little too much, sometimes pulling back or shrinking away.  If the distance is too great, we never really feel connected.  Either way, we are impacted by the distance we maintain.  Getting connected into God's family is his plan for our lives - staying connected is tough work, but a necessary part of growing close to Jesus.

Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.  
(I Thessalonians 5:13-15 MSG)

What happens when we finally make this "connection" within the family of God?  We have to learn to relate to each other - not because we were "born into" this family the "traditional" way, but because we are placed into this family by being "born again" when we asked Jesus to rescue us from our sinful nature.  We are placed into the family of God - much like a child who is adopted is placed into his/her new family.  Within this family, there will be different personalities with which we must interact, learning how it is we relate to each other and hold each other accountable.  Most importantly, we have to learn what it takes to really "lean upon" one another - where we need a helping hand, when we need to realize our potential, and where it is we need the focus of the Holy Spirit to help us put down roots so we will grow.

To this end, I think Paul was writing to the Thessalonian church.  He and his two companions in ministry, Timothy and Silas, are concerned for the church at Thessalonica because they are new believers.  As such, they were "fair game" for opposing belief systems.  The new way of believing - that of faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice - was a threat to the way of Judaism which had a foothold in the regions into which Paul established the first New Testament churches.  He is concerned because he knew of the possibilities of such opposition, remaining hopeful they would be established together as a "solid" group of believers, able to withstand the persecution they were sure to face.

So, he writes with "advice" on how to stand strong - with the underlying theme of being "joined together" as a united body of believers.  This uniting together was what would give them the stability to stand strong, facing the toughest threats to their beliefs, and then to learn of the ways in which their new found faith would make them strong in character, deep in love, and firm in their convictions.

- Each must do their part.  We all have a part to play in the family of God - to neglect our "part" is to leave a hole into which the enemy of our souls may enter in.  This is most important because we often don't recognize where we have "gaps" in our lives - but if each one does their part, the gaps will be filled.  I

- Those with the tendency to just "hang out" are to be challenged to step up their game.  It cannot be emphasized enough that we EACH have a part to play in making the Body of Christ strong.  Each believer is an agonist or antagonist role at one time or another in the church.  Sometimes we act as the agonist, helping to create the right movements so the work of the whole accomplishes the purpose for which it was created.  At others, we are kind of like the antagonist, almost resisting or pulling in a different direction. Sometimes it is not bad to be the antagonist, especially when the direction needs to be changed.  We all play a part, but when we don't do our part because we find it comfortable to just "hang out", we are endangering each other, not just ourselves.

- Some will lag behind, others will get discouraged - both need what it is we bring to the table.  I don't know how many times I have been personally challenged by what I see in the lives of others around me, especially at times when I have drifted into complacency or simply been resistive to the work God is doing within me.  If someone had not challenged me, I would have lagged behind, totally missing what God was doing.  I would have possibly fallen prey to the discouragement of missed opportunities.  We need to encourage each other - almost prodding each other onto maturity.  In so doing, we are fulfilling our "role" within the Body - to engage each other in the work of meeting, knowing, and growing together in Christ.

- Each have needs which differ, so we need to be sensitive to those needs. We are not all the same - this is a good thing!  We would not want a whole church filled with look-alike, sound-alike, act-alike believers.  Those are called "cults"!  We want the uniqueness God has created in each of us to be utilized for the benefit of the whole.  As different as our personalities are, we also differ in our needs.  Being sensitive to the needs of those we are "partnered" with in this ministry is essential to maintaining unity and optimizing growth.

- Finally, we must recognize that each individual has the potential to be their "best" when they are related within the Body.  We have the responsibility to bring the "best" out of each individual.  This is an "art", to say the least.  In learning to bring the best out of our fellow believers, we also will be challenged to allow our best to show.  In turn, God's best is on display for the world to see.  This is his plan - to use us to reveal the truth of his love, grace, and restoration to a hurting and lost world who thinks "good enough" is really "good enough".  Just sayin!