Monday, June 30, 2014

He is not a "come and go" kind of God

What is a natural response to feeling like we are abandoned and out on our own?  Isn't it to kind of drift into this "complaint" mode?  Why is it we do this?  Isn't it perhaps just because we feel a little "entitled" or like the world should just anticipate our needs and see to it that they are met?  I think we drift into this "whining" mode quicker than we might realize mostly because we feel a little "entitled" as God's kids to not have to face the reality of bad stuff which is just part of living here on planet earth.  We forget that we are still physically present in the midst of evil and there is no way to escape some of the stuff which is just part of still living "in the world".  Instead of whining, we should be praising; instead of thinking God has rejected us or forgotten we exist, we should be celebrating his presence even when it isn't quite clear to us.  Why?  Simply put - God NEVER abandons his kids - no way, no how!  His presence is not dependent upon our "feeling" it; his care is not dependent upon us seeing it; his attention is not dependent upon us - it is based upon who he is and what he does!

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

God doesn't lose track of his kids - although we may not sense his presence quite as vividly as we might like at times - his presence still indwells those who have made him Lord over their lives.  Whenever we get into this place of feeling so low about our circumstances that we begin to whine and complain about the "misery of the moment", we probably have just lost this sense of "connection" with him.  We live so much by our "senses" - what it is we feel, see, hear, can touch, etc.  Whenever one of these senses is interrupted - such as not hearing his voice very clearly - we kind of freak out.  Instead of realizing that God just doesn't "come and go", we think he has abandoned us in the midst of the present circumstances - and our immediate response is to whine or complain.  

I like how the prophet Isaiah talks to the people of Israel who are experiencing this lack of connection with God.  He is pretty straight forward with them, and this is often what we need - someone to just lay it out for us and show us how silly we are acting!  As creator of all we can see or imagine in our finite minds, he is incapable of abandoning his creation.  He is untiring in the attention he gives to every iota of detail which holds all of creation together, causing it to work in harmony, and this includes each of us.  We might get tired out - weary in our journey - but he is incapable of tiring.  He might get a little wearing of hearing us complain when we don't sense his presence as nearly as we'd like, but he isn't going to turn a deaf ear to us, or take his hand off of us.  

The good news - God knows each of us inside and out.  Nothing we do or say catches God off-guard.  He understands our character and is not threatened, or put off by our complaints - he knows these are our natural responses to the things we are experiencing.  In time, I know he desires us to turn our whining into praise, and our fear into trust.  Right now, when we are experiencing this "vacant" feeling within, he knows we will respond in ways which reveal a lack of trust - his goal is to show us we can trust him to never leave or forsake us, even when we don't "feel" him there!  We don't develop trust unless our faith is put to the test.  When mom left the room when we were infants, we cried. We didn't need to learn this sense of "abandonment" thing - it came naturally to us.  In time, we came to realize mom leaving us in the crib didn't mean she wouldn't return to remove us from its constraints.  Guess what?  God doesn't allow us to feel the constraints of the present problems to abandon us there! He never takes his eyes off of us - but he might just be stretching our faith a little so we come to a higher degree of trust in him.

If we are tired - we can reach out to him for strength.  If we feel like throwing in the towel and just calling it quits - we can call out to him for new energies to go on in the midst of what seems like overwhelming odds against us. How? It comes in the waiting.  You probably didn't want to hear that one, but it is scriptural!  Waiting produces something within which would not be there otherwise.  In waiting upon God - listening for his voice, trusting he will bring us through the circumstances - we are developing a sense of "confidence", not in our own strength or ability, but in that which he gives in the waiting.  God isn't a "come and go" God - he is there even when we don't sense him.  If we can come to realize this one character trait about God, we will go a long way in learning to trust even when we don't "feel" like it!  Just sayin!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Place that guard!

Guard: To keep safe from harm or danger; protect; watch over.  In most cases, when scripture refers to God placing a "guard" over our lives, he is saying he is giving us protection, keeping watch, over our lives.  When he asks us to "guard" something, he is asking us to keep a particular thing under close watch in order to prevent some kind of misconduct.  The protection over our lives comes from God - the prevention of things which might put us in harms way is partly our responsibility - for obedience is paramount to our safety. 

GOD guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always. (Psalm 121:7-8 MSG)

GOD - Jehovah - the unchangeable one - places a guard over your lives.  The one who is unchangeable in all his promises - incapable of misrepresenting the truth - watches over our every step.  The one who is capable of becoming all we need is there with a watchful eye, anticipating our next steps and providing all we will need in the next moments.  The God of divine compassion and all holiness is watching over, keeping us safe from harm, in order to keep us whole and holy in him.  What we are incapable of doing, he does on our behalf.

Every evil is against us in this world - regardless of whether we are quick to realize the presence of evil or not.  The moment we choose to follow Christ, all of Satan's efforts are directed at keeping us from making any progress in our relationship with Jesus.  The moment we take even one step closer to intimate relationship with him, the war begins to wage against us.  Why? Satan is threatened by us!  The righteousness of God within us, the hope of eternity lived out in the presence of a holy God, this threatens him.  He doesn't want to live in hell alone, my friends!  He hopes for a vast multitude to join him.

Our very life is guarded - not because we might not see the threats and be able to respond to them, but because we might be deceived into believing that evil is good.  Remember, all evil is masked with just a little bit of truth in order to get people to buy into it in the first place.  If you look at marketing campaigns worldwide, you will realize the power of putting just a little truth up front in swaying people to want your "product".  Don't be deceived - Satan is no different in his "sell" tactics in your life!  We need this guard, for we may be deceived by the element of truth and miss the all-out lie right under the surface.

Leaving and returning - no movement is outside of God's view - he sees it all and his watchfulness over our lives goes from one movement to the next.  He even anticipates our movements, because he knows what we will choose even before we choose.  Yet he allows our freewill - the right to choose in spite of the danger in the choice we may make.  Why?  He doesn't want robots, he wants submitted children.  Submission is not a choice to be "lorded over", but a choice to be under the leadership of our Lord.  Leaving and returning under the leadership of one so all-knowing and all-powerful certainly places us in a better place of safety than taking steps based on our own wisdom and abilities.

There is no end to his watchfulness.  This should give us cause to celebrate, my friends.  The moment we say "yes" to Jesus, we say "yes" to his watchfulness over our lives.  Here we find rest - in the knowledge that the one who knows us best is in the driver's seat of our lives - protecting, guiding, and providing.  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A congregation of ghosts

What are you addicted to in life?  An addiction is described as the state of being "enslaved" to a habit, practice, or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.  To cease from the addicting substance or activity would be to cause great pain to the one who is addicted.  Now, answer that question again - what are you addicted to in life?  If we purely examine this from a material or physical perspective, we may miss some of the stuff we sometimes are "enslaved" by which are not physical or material in nature. For example, if we are people-pleasers, we are addicted to the desire to make everyone happy regardless of the cost to us or others closest to us.  This would not be a good addiction, right?  If we are addicted to the praise we obtain from others in order to affirm our self-worth, then we also are not really free from being enslaved to something which has a "rule" over us. There are lots of addictive things in life - to live free of them is quite a challenge. To never recognize their control over our lives is another!

Whoever wanders off the straight and narrow ends up in a congregation of ghosts. You’re addicted to thrills? What an empty life! The pursuit of pleasure is never satisfied. (Proverbs 21:16-17 MSG)

The issue with addictive behaviors or tendencies is the issue of who or what is in control in our lives.  Pure and simple - what has our attention the most has our heart.  Whatever has our heart has our entire being at its disposal.  This is the issue underneath physical substance addiction - the substance has control over our lives and all our attention is focused on the substance and its effect it has as far as how it makes us "feel".  Most addictive behaviors are emotionally based - in other words, there is always an element of the way they make us "feel".  Even if the addiction is not physical (such as pornography) or substance invoked (such as with alcohol or narcotics), the power an addiction has over our lives is astronomical.  Psychological addiction is also controlling in that what has in inroad into our emotions has an inroad into our actions - what we feel drives how we respond to the thing which enslaves us.  If we feel unworthy until someone praises us, we are addicted to the praise for our sense of worth rather than reliant upon the truth that God gives us ultimate worth in Christ Jesus.

How do we know when we are "enslaved" to something, someone's approval, or the like?  First, we have to look to the direction we receive from the Word of God.  The "handbook" on living we are given is both a set of positive and negative examples by which we may gauge our actions and thoughts.  If we consider the instructions laid out in Proverbs as illustrations of what to move toward and also what to avoid, we can use these instructions to evaluate how much we might be "entrapped" by certain actions or behaviors in our lives. This gives us a basis to then explore what else God says to us about embracing right actions and avoiding those which will only bring harm into our lives.  We use the Word of God to bring light into our lives - truth reveals where we are not in alignment.

Next, we find our actions often reveal a lot about where it is we have directed our focus.  For example, whenever our focus is directed toward what brings immediate pleasure or satisfaction, such as a shopping addiction, we may find out a little about where it is we are finding our sense of self-worth.  We often substitute material things for things spiritually or emotionally which are missing from our lives.  A woman feeling unloved by her spouse due to his frequent absence from her and extreme amount of time he spends pursuing his career may gravitate toward filling up her free time with the shopping habit.  It isn't because she needs what she buys, but it substitutes for the attention she doesn't feel she is getting.  Seems simplistic I know, but trust me, most addictive behaviors have at their basis some relationship issue - whether it is our relationship with another, God, or even the comfort we have with being who we truly are!

A congregation of ghosts is an apt description of what addictive behavior produces in our lives.  Anytime we substitute something which is not what God intended for our lives with another pursuit or person, we are substituting something of inferior purpose.  The problem with substituting anything else for what God intends is that we always need MORE of whatever it is we are substituting than we would if we just followed God's plan.  God knows very well what we need to make us "feel" good about ourselves, or to "feel" loved, yet we pursue this love in many other forms - quite incessantly at times. This constant pursuit of what will never fulfill is what leads to this addictive behavior.  We want and want and want - until all we are left with is more want.  Indeed, a congregation of ghosts abides in the shadows of the one who pursues life on the terms of what he or she thinks they need instead of allowing God to really reveal what needs he has already met for you in his son, Jesus Christ.

I don't proclaim to say an addictive lifestyle is easy to break.  By no means is it - but it is POSSIBLE in Christ Jesus.  In the changing of focus from what it is we "believe" will bring us pleasure, release, fulfillment, or the like, we begin to see something other than our "enslaving habit" as possibly being able to produce something of lasting value in our lives.  Focus is what determines whether we see ghosts in our past, or if we finally put those ghosts to rest. Just sayin!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Your True Self

If I were to ask you to describe your "true self", how would you describe yourself?  Some might start with physical descriptors such as height, weight, hair color, or general build.  Others might immediately gravitate toward words like introvert, bookworm, or organized.  Still others might freak out that I am even asking!  Why?  Truthfully describing your "true self" is a little unnerving for some because it means being painfully transparent.  The truth is, most of us would have a tough time really describing our "true self" because we have worked so hard for so long to keep it under wraps that we almost forget who we are at the center of it all!  The masks we have chosen define us rather than the true creature who resides within.  None of us is without a mask or two of some kind - it may not seem like much to us, but even discounting one or two of our "real" traits is kind of like denying they exist.  God's plan from the start was always for open and honest transparency.  Sin was the reason for the cover-up!

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Mark 8:36 MSG)

As Jesus spoke to the crowd, he said some things which may have had some in the crowd feeling just a little uncomfortable.  For example, when he turned to them and said, "Anyone who intends to come with me...", he may have had a few feeling a little pressure because their intentions were good, but their "heart action" behind the intentions was about to be challenged.  That is the way it is with God sometimes - he challenges us with our own heart intentions because in exposing those, he exposes the real us.  So, as Jesus opens this conversation with the "crowd", he wants to make is perfectly clear what following him means:

1. No one can sit in the driver's seat of their own lives and follow Jesus.  It is either him at the wheel, or nothing.  At first, this may not seem like much, but if you have ever been in a vehicle and done a little "backseat driving" you know how difficult it is to have someone else at the wheel when you think you can get to your destination quicker or by some easier path.  You want to direct the course you are taking, but you are not in control.  You cannot adjust the speed at which you are traveling, nor can you put on the brakes when it seems like you are about to go out of control.  You are a passenger and there is someone else driving the vehicle.  I think Jesus was pointing out to the crowd (and to us) that this "following him" thing wasn't going to be all that easy - it requires faith, trust, and commitment to not "take over".

2.  Suffering is not to be avoided, but embraced.  This might have been an even tougher concept to accept than the "driver's seat" issue.  Many of us have this warped belief that following Jesus makes life all peaches and cream. Truth is, cream only makes us fat!  Jesus didn't want a bunch of lazy believers content to sit around and soak in the good stuff - he looked for workers in the fields, those willing to lay it all down in order to take up what he asks for us to bear.  I don't think Jesus was telling them there wouldn't be good times, but he wanted them to know there is a cost associated with following - more than just "relinquishing control", but more like embracing chaos as it comes. I have adopted a saying, "Suffering is not optional", not because I am some kind of martyr, but because I believe we each grow tremendously when we are faced with pressures which drive us closer to Jesus.  Nothing drives us closer than suffering!

3.  This is not a self-help kind of walk.  In fact, all manner of self-help is really just another "mask" to cover up some weakness or flaw we see in ourselves.  You know - - - the very things I see as flaws in my character, Jesus sees as opportunities for his grace to shine through.  The tendency to want to "fix up" what we see as broken down in our lives is natural.  Jesus was pointing out that this walk with him is not "natural" in nature - but is supernatural (by his nature re-created in us).

We can be all "gung ho" about following Jesus, but until we actually stop long enough to see what it is he wants from us and for us in this walk, we won't really understand the true cost - that of being our "true self" with him.  Just sayin! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The small stuff matters

I want to embrace life - living it to the fullest and enjoying every moment. In order to do so, there are some things I should not do - things which would serve to shorten my days and / or fill them with things which are not pleasant, enjoyable, or "embraceable".  If you drive an automobile, you know you need to fill up the tank every so often in order to have the fuel to continue to see the car's engine work as it should.  In fact, you also need to do oil changes at regular intervals, get tune-ups, and even rotate the tires.  If you have driven your vehicle for any length of time, you can even sense when there is an unusual sound or vibration you might hear.  You can either respond to that quickly and get it put back in right order, or you can ignore it and see the further damage this "little thing" will cause.  I don't think life is much different than caring for our automobiles - on a very literal sense, if we ignore the little stuff, it brings bigger issues; if we tend to the stuff when it is just "routine", we don't have as many opportunities to deal with it as a crisis.

Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he’s asked; but he turns his back on those who do evil things. (I Peter 3:10-13 MSG)

According to our passage today, if we want to embrace life and see the day filled up with all kinds of good, there are some specific steps we need to take to ensure this happens - much like we need to regular and consistent maintenance of our vehicles.  There are just some things in life we cannot ignore and think things will go well for us.  They are:

1. We cannot just speak our words and not be cognizant of how they will impact the lives of those around us.  Evil and hurtful words come out of our mouths more often than we might imagine - not so much because we make a practice of saying them, but because we ignore the little warning signs that they are just under the surface waiting to break forth!  Evil words may be likened to those spoken with any hint of anger or irritability - they aren't spoken on purpose, but they sneak out whenever we don't have a tight reign over our emotions.  Words spoken in haste often have the tendency to do damage just like ignoring the red warning light advising you your car needs its regular maintenance visit.  They may not be immediately noticed as causing harm, but ignored long enough and they will become the wedge which separates good friends.

2.  We cannot ignore bad stuff and think it will just go away or magically be replaced with something more pleasant and enjoyable.  Bad stuff needs to be dealt with.  It is like the smelly garbage can - taking out the trash may help, but until you actually wash out the can, you are only masking the stink.  We have to cultivate good in our lives and the lives of others.  Whenever something needs to be cultivated, this implies there is work involved and this is often where we have the "rub".  There is nothing within my relationships which has come easy - everything good has taken some work, even to the point of working through those things which weren't so good to begin with. In other words, we had to work to get the "stink out" in order to appreciate the full value of these relationships.  

3.  We cannot expect solid relationships without a little bit of effort on our behalf, anymore than we can expect the auto to run each time we jump in it if we fail to fill it up at the gas station, or ignore its regular maintenance.  Our relationships run dry if there is not a consistent "infilling" of them with the "good stuff" which makes us strong.  Peace within relationships is not just a "state" we enjoy, but a sense of sturdiness and consistency we experience. There is much to be said about taking time away to build up these relationships - first starting with your relationship with your Lord, Jesus Christ, then branching out to those God has placed in your life as partners in marriage, friends who help to hold you accountable, and those who just share so much in common with you that you are more like sisters / brothers than friends.

God asks us to pay attention to these three things because they matter in the end.  They are what give us the stability and consistency to finish well.  They are what keep us centered and help us to get the most out of each interaction with others.  It begins within our relationship with Jesus, filtering down into every relationship and acquaintance we enjoy in this earthly life.  God takes notice of how well we move toward "maintaining" what he gives us - avoiding the tendency to ignore the little stuff.  The adage to "not sweat the small stuff" doesn't apply in relationship with others - the small stuff needs our attention so as not to allow it to become big stuff.  Sometimes I think we think it is okay to gloss over the little harmful things, almost thinking they will resolve in time.  I don't think this is the case, though, for even though they appear to be resolved, there are memories created which we hold onto - this is part of human nature.  If we want to be consistent, we have to respond well to what God asks of us - even if what he asks seems to only be the small stuff.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A living testimony

As we have studied scripture before, I have often reminded of the importance of the simple words such as "and" or "but".  Today's passage has one of those "buts" in it - the thing which has been proposed or said ahead of this simple little word makes a huge difference.  So, we cannot skip over the simple words if we are to get the entirety of the meat from the passage.  To set the stage, we see Peter writing this letter to believers - it wasn't written to those who had no faith in Christ, but rather those who had embraced the finished work of Christ on their behalf.  As he begins the letter, he challenges believers to begin to live a life of holiness - set apart from their former ways of doing things (especially as it applies to their past religious performance).  There will be tough times - of this he assures us - BUT these tough times don't need to destroy or defeat us - we should allow them to define us.  As the chosen ones of God, we are designed for a specific work - to be his instruments and his voice to a hurting people.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. (I Peter 2:9-10)

The former way of living is behind - the new is set before us.  As such, Peter calls our attention to several important facts we need to keep in mind as we make choices about how it is we live each day.  First, we need to recognize our high calling.  Now, if you were in school and the teacher called on you to come to the front of the class to share your "show and tell" item - something special you brought to school that day to share with the class - you would feel pretty special.  You might feel like at that very moment you were the center of attention - all eyes directed toward you and interest high in anticipation of what you might share.  Our high calling in Christ is not really that we are the center of attention, but this calling draws attention to Christ as the author and finisher of a great work - a work he has begun in each of us and chooses to highlight in each of our lives.  This work is evidence of his grace, love, and intense desire to see each of us drawn into the nearness of relationship he desires with each of his children.

We are chosen to be a holy people.  As such, we exemplify the finished work of Christ in our lives.  What does being "holy" entail?  Simply put, it means that we are "set apart" from the old way of doing business in our lives. Choices are made differently, actions reflect a new "person" in charge of our lives.  We make out "holiness" to be something like unto the life of being a priest - being pulled away into the monastery, living without some of the earthly pleasures others enjoy, taking a vow of poverty, etc.  Now don't get me wrong - if Jesus has asked this of you, then follow that path - but few are called to live this type of life.  In fact, most of us are asked to live right where we are as "holy" people - serving God in the midst of the regular stuff of life.

This high calling is simply put as "telling others" - being an example of the life change Christ brings into our lives.  There is an old adage which states "more is caught than taught".  In other words, our lives are to "tell the story" of God's ability to take a life of religious performance and transition it into a life of grace-filled holiness.  As more and more of our life becomes filled with God's grace, it bubbles forth into a lively testimony of what God does in the lives of those who serve him.  I know my old way of living had a "testimony" which did not honor God - but I was quite "religious".  I attended church weekly, sometimes more frequently.  I spoke the language of "religion", but my words did very little to describe the real condition of my heart.  Trust me -my actions often betrayed my words!

God's action in our lives brings a transformation - all Peter is reminding us to do is allow this transformation to be so evident that it sparks the interest of others to want what we have in our lives.  It is by a living testimony that many will follow Jesus - may ours be that testimony!  Just hoping!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The future is now

A brand new life and everything to live for - this is what we have in Christ Jesus.  What that involves is not only a brand new start on life, but the joy of living life as we were created to live it - in close, personal relationship with God our Father.  Too many of us think of the "future" as way off in the "then", but in actuality, the "now" is the present of our future.  We start living our future today - in Christ Jesus.  We finish living our future some day - in Christ Jesus.  Yet, our future is without end - so is there really a finish?  Not according to what I see in scripture.  For eternity begins now and lasts a whole lot longer than my limited mind can imagine.  In the meantime, as we are living in our future today, God is keeping careful watch over us.  This should give us the hope that nothing happens today which is not going to bring something pretty doggone awesome in our future - for our future is today.

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory. (I Peter 1:3-7 MSG)

Probably one of the most awe inspiring parts of the "future" is this concept of being healed and whole.  Too many of us deal with things today in our physical bodies and even in the turmoil of our minds which indicates we are far from "whole" and definitely not "healed".  I recognize wholeness and healing is finalized in our future state before the throne of God as we fall before him in perpetual worship.  Yet, today's promise is the beginning of this healing and wholeness.  In the time between today and total healing / wholeness, we have a whole lot of what appears to be "aggravation" we have to deal with.  It is this "aggravation" God wants to help us with in our daily walk.

Aggravation is simply an increase in intensity, seriousness, or severity of whatever it is we are dealing with.  In other words, as the intensity increases, we experience an increase in anxiety, emotional response, experiences we had not endured before.  There is a "turning up of the heat" and we begin to sense the seriousness of the circumstances.  According to our passage - all we have been provided in Christ Jesus for today and what we have promised in him for our future state makes all this intensity and seriousness worth it!  It also means we don't walk through this intensity or seriousness of issues without him.  We have him alongside and inside.

Some of us think today's issues are really little annoyances we can somehow get beyond if we just try hard enough.  I don't know about you, but the harder I "try", the harder it gets to get beyond those things which cause me the intensity of aggravation I am experiencing.  "Trying" is not "doing" - it is the state of venturing out, but it is in my own effort.  The reason we have so much issue with getting beyond the intensity of the circumstances is that we cannot get beyond it by our own effort.

Our faith is what brings us out on the other side - not our efforts.  This is almost contrary to human nature - because human nature wants to "do" in order to "get".  In Christ's economy, our future state is today - we just have to "be" in that state in order to begin to realize the victory which overcomes today's aggravations and builds our faith as pure and holy.  I don't know about you, but I am determined to live in the "future" now, not in the "then". Just sayin!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Walk with, not on

Yesterday we explored a little about being egocentric and how Christ changes our focus from "self-centered" to "other-centered" as he begins to become the object of our affection and attention.  As we begin today, we will consider how this change in "center" really is manifest in our lives.  Anytime we make a change in our position, we also change our focus.  Try it - turn around right where you are right now and try to see the screen of your computer from that position.  It is most difficult to see the screen with our head turned toward it, right?  It is also most difficult for us to see ourselves as the center of attention when we turn our eyes toward the face of Jesus.  Instead of beholding ourselves, we begin to behold the creator of all things.  This simple realization of position determining our focus helps us make great strides as it comes to laying down the stuff which really only matters to us and taking up the stuff which begins to reach others, ministering to the depth of their needs.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4 MSG)

Our "list" starts with learning to be agreeable.  I emphasize this as a teachable quality as not all of us are very skilled at being agreeable - especially when we have the focus on ourselves instead of the other person. When we make this shift in focus from self to others, we also are challenged with putting the "agendas" we hold behind us in respect for the needs of others.  Really the focus here is living without discord - to not find the stuff you could "nit-pick" about the other guy or gal.  This is probably one of the most difficult things for us since we almost always can find fault with the "other guy".  Truth be told, they can find fault with us, too!  Learning to get along with each other - to live above discord - is almost an art.  It is possible, but it begins with the change in focus - moving from seeing self first to seeing the needs, opinions, and beliefs of others before you jump to conclusions as to what they intend and believe.

As much as being agreeable will go a long way to changing how it is we interact in our community of relationships, learning to be truly loving is something which escapes a great many.  We have this warped idea of love having strings attached - of us doing things to get things.  Don't get me wrong, because we come into this world demanding our own way - cry and you get fed, cry and your diaper is changed, cry and you get held.  We kind of learn this "doing something gets us something" attitude.  So, later in life when we come to Christ, it is kind of like "undoing" some bad habits.  We need to keep in mind that our needs are met in Christ and no one meets them more perfectly than he does.  They are not met by our doing, but by his.  They are not met because we demand of him, but because he loved us enough to prepare for our every need.  Learning to see love as given without strings is part and parcel with what God expects of his kids.

When we are challenged to be "deep-spirited friends", we might be a little curious how this actually happens.  God isn't after us just flitting around from relationship to relationship, but rather "locking into" some relationships which matter and within which we can build a sense of accountability.  Not only do we benefit from this, but each one involved in these deeper relationships benefits from the inter-connection, as well.  Deep-spirited friends challenge others to grow, not because they wield some sense of power over them, but because iron sharpens iron.  We benefit from having to work on tough issues together, being open and transparent with each other about struggles, and then holding each up when times are rough.

Two very important reminders are provided next which speak about genuineness within relationship and the view we have of others.  Those who use "sweet talk" or flattery are insincere.  Their aim is still themselves - they want to make themselves look good, or to endear themselves to someone without the genuine concern for the relationship.  Those who push their way to the top are not concerned about those they walk over on their way up. Both traits are damaging to community relationship.  These traits are common in those whose focus in internal, but when our focus turns toward the eyes of Jesus, we begin to see how damaging continuing in these practices can be. We begin to see others as Jesus sees them and he didn't walk on others, nor did he push his way to the top.

The long and short of the message is to take a look outside of yourself and consider the needs of others first.  This doesn't mean we neglect the things which give us anchor in life - like personal time in the Word, prayer, etc.  It does mean we don't consider our needs as more important than those of others and that we don't take advantage of others.  Most importantly, it means we begin to take the focus off ourselves and see how we "fit" in the big picture of this community God has placed us within.  Just sayin!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You using your God-sense?

There are people in this world who believe that selfishness motivates people to do things - that it is because of their own self-interest ALONE that people seek to do good deeds.  Let me assure you, there are probably more than a few individuals like this, but once someone invites Christ into their lives, it is almost impossible to live that way any longer.  A cynic is usually someone we might refer to as pessimistic or skeptical.  They just have to believe every action has some underlying "ulterior motive".  As we come INTO Christ, the "motivations" of our life begin to change - moving from being a little too self-centered to being "other-centered".  The result of becoming more Christ-centered is that we also become more and more "other-centered".  This is a good thing since our ego gets us into more scrapes than we might like to deal with in this life!  While we are egocentric, we also have a pretty immature grasp on what others may see as wisdom.  Wisdom is only truly found when we are able to embrace it and as long as we are embracing everything which pleases self, we will not be able to open our arms to embrace wisdom.

Cynics look high and low for wisdom—and never find it; the open-minded find it right on their doorstep! (Proverbs 14:6 MSG)

Egocentric individuals have little regard for the beliefs or interests of others. They often appear quite self-absorbed.  As long as we are so "self-absorbed", we have little to no room to absorb anything else!  It is like being a saturated sponge - you can try to make the sponge hold more water, but it just has no more capacity!  Perhaps this is why when they seek wisdom they have such a hard time holding onto it!  It may not be that they don't encounter wise principles and practices in this lifetime, but they just don't 'absorb' them. 

We are all created equally, so this means all of us have a tendency to be a little too self-absorbed on occasion.  As Christ begins to take our eyes off of ourselves, turning them fully toward him, we begin to see there is a world outside of ourselves.  At first, I think Christ needs to help us maintain our focus because we don't realize how much our focus determines the direction we will take in this life.  As we grow in our relationship with him, it becomes easier for us to recognize when that focus is turned a little off of "center".

Wisdom comes as we begin to maintain our focus on Christ.  It is as we turn our eyes away from self that we behold Christ.  No man or woman who fully beholds the magnificence of his majesty can ever walk away unchanged. Wisdom comes in the form of exchanged priorities, deeper expressions of love and caring toward others, and a little less need to have the world rotate around us.

Remember - wisdom is not only the knowledge of what is true and right, but judgment to act upon it.  This is also what makes it so hard for the cynic - their judgment is self-based.  They have no "center" outside of themselves, so every action they take is based on how they will appear, what will benefit them from the experience, etc.  The wise embrace the fact that God's work is best revealed when the transformation which has occurred within is expressed outwardly in the way we treat others, the opportunities we find to elevate another over ourselves, etc.

The cynic may act upon "common sense" in much of what he or she does. The wise act upon "God sense".  It is the enlightenment God brings which helps us to make solid decisions and to take steps forward when it seems like we don't have all the answers up front.  This said, the cynic will weigh things out to see if the cost is too great for them.  The wise will realize that all "God things" come with a cost - a little less of our self in the mix means we get the best out of the circumstance!  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It is finished - cross over!

If you were raised Catholic, you probably have a "view" of the priesthood a little different from someone raised in a non-denominational background.  For example, the Catholic church has a set of rituals the priest must perform on a regular basis - everything from blessing ordinary water to turn it into holy water to saying the mass each day.  In the Old Testament (OT), there was this idea of the religious leaders being called "priests" - not exactly in the sense of what the Catholic church may require, but similar.  The most important thing about the OT priest was that he was "set aside" from the rest of the community in which he dwelt for the specific purpose of all the duties associated with worship and sacrifice.  Their duties included such things as preparing the offerings each day which were to be burnt on the altar, intervening for the people of Israel before God in prayer, and the like.  There was also this office of "High Priest".  Basically, he was over all the other priests and saw to it they all knew their duties, but he had some duties of his own that the other priests could not perform.  For example, he had the role of wearing the "Urim and Thummim" - something ancient Israelites used to cast lots to determine God's perspective on a matter.  He also had the important duty of being the one to offer the sin offering for the people - on the Day of Atonement.  It is this role as High Priest that "foreshadowed" the work of Christ on our behalf as our one true High Priest.

So now we have a high priest who perfectly fits our needs: completely holy, uncompromised by sin, with authority extending as high as God’s presence in heaven itself. Unlike the other high priests, he doesn’t have to offer sacrifices for his own sins every day before he can get around to us and our sins. He’s done it, once and for all: offered up himself as the sacrifice. The law appoints as high priests men who are never able to get the job done right. But this intervening command of God, which came later, appoints the Son, who is absolutely, eternally perfect.  (Hebrews 7:26-28 MSG)

As High Priest, Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the duties and requirements of the High Priest, but as our perfect sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish, he also performed the role of the perfect sacrifice.  Once and for all, the sacrifice was offered - leaving no need for further sacrifice.  His role in dying for mankind's sin made all the OT required sacrifices null and void - no longer necessary.  In fact, his role as High Priest also did away with the need for the priest as the one to be the "intercessor" between God and man.  Two "systems" of known religious occurrences were done away with in his life, death, burial and resurrection - the role of the priesthood on earth as a kind of "mediator", and the need for sacrificial offerings to continue.

As the perfect offering, his blood was shed - in so doing, his blood made full and complete atonement for our sins (covered over, never to be remembered again, removed as far as the east is from the west).  As the High Priest, he is the only one now who stands making intercession for us before the heavenly Father, having opened the door of full access to God by those who will believe in him as their Savior.  No longer needing a mediator - we enter into God's presence with boldness and confidence.  Even the High Priest of the OT times did have a boldness or confidence, for if there was any impurity in his life, he could be struck dead in the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.  

No other confidence is as great as that which we know because of our position IN Christ Jesus.  No other position gives us such boldness.  In ourselves, we could never get the "job done right" as it applied to making a permanent sacrifice for our sins - that is why the OT Law of Moses included the provision for the yearly sin offering during the feast known as the Day of Atonement. It was offered over and over again each year - because the sacrifice of the young bull could never accomplish the forgiveness of our sin.  It was a "type" of what Christ would accomplish as he was lifted up on that cross so many years ago. It "foreshadowed" his shedding of blood on our behalf.  The perfect given for the imperfect.

Two things our High Priest does for us - makes a way for us to enter into God's holy presence, and ends all need for "works" on our part as a means of making us righteous.  Instead, we enter into the finished work he provides and in so doing, we stand righteous before God.  Here is the challenge for many of us - we don't fully comprehend the magnitude of Christ's finished work on our behalf, nor do we trust it as enough to give us such boldness and free access to the Holy God.  It is tough to give up on a "system" which seemed to be so ingrained for so many years, so maybe that is one of the reasons Israel had a tough time embracing Jesus as Messiah when he came. They became very anchored to the way things had been done for all those years and forgot that the "type" could be set aside once the "real deal" was in their midst.

I think God wants us to remember that we "set aside" anything we might have counted on in the way of religious performance in our past and to enter into fully the place of right-living God provides in his Son Jesus.  In so doing, we are free to enter into what he has prepared for us - including free access to his presence, with boldness and confidence, and the ability to stop "trying" to be righteous.  Instead, he declares and makes us "fully righteous" in Christ Jesus - what we do now is walk in the position we are placed into.  If we want to continue in the old way of "trying" to live righteous when we are given freely "full righteousness", we probably don't fully understand the completed work of our High Priest.  Just sayin!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rich or poor?

There are just some things in life we should never ignore.  If we have a toothache and attempt to ignore the fact this aching pain has significance, we may be subject to root canal and a crown at a later date.  If our right lower abdomen aches and aches to the point of becoming quite tender, we might just be late to catch a very inflamed appendix before it ruptures bringing all kinds of other issues we'd rather not have to deal with.  Ignoring the red warning light on the dashboard of your car could result in you being stranded far away from help when you most need it.  It just isn't wise to ignore things that are right there in front of us.  So, I have to ask this:  Why is it that we can ignore the Word of God for so long and think we will be able to make a go of things without issue in our lives?  There is just something "foolish" in ignoring what is right in front of us - especially when what is there has the capacity to bring life, avoid harm, and build trust!

Ignore the Word and suffer; honor God’s commands and grow rich. (Proverbs 13:13 MSG)

Ignoring something means we actively refrain from noticing or paying attention to it.  It isn't passive - it requires our active participation to ignore something.  Get a paper cut on your finger and try ignoring it!  That tiny cut, seemingly insignificant in comparison to the entire rest of your body's skin which is full intact will nag at you each time you touch it, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer, or just plain split it open again before it has a chance to heal.  It seemed insignificant, but just because it wasn't right in your field of sight all of the time doesn't make it any less "there"!

The Word of God is not something given for our occasional intake.  Without a regular intake of the Word, we have more than a "subtle" chance of developing severe "spiritual anemia" and "malnutrition".  Since the Word was designed for "regular" and "consistent" intake, anything less will just cause us to be spiritually depleted.  Yet, it is not enough to just "take it in".  We probably "take in" a whole lot of food items which have little to no nutritional value for our bodies, but we like the taste of them.  The value of taking in the right stuff, at the right time, in the right frame of mind and heart cannot be denied.  

The Word is given for whatever "frame of mind" or status of heart we might be in, and for the specific timing of our need.  To ignore help when it is right in front of us would be considered "unwise" by most.  It would be like being offered life-blood when we are on the verge of dying without it!  The advantages to getting into the Word and allowing it to get into us - we learn what it is we are to be doing in this life and in turn, we become rich.  Not a physical wealth of sorts, but a mental, spiritual, and emotional richness.  The Word is able to impact our minds when there is uncertainty, settling us down, and helping us to focus.  It is able to strengthen us beyond our "capacity" to deal with life's challenges.  It is equally as efficient at bringing order to our out of control emotions.  But...we must take it in, pay attention to what is being said to us, and then act upon it!

Most people who acquire physical wealth in their lifetime don't do so because they ignore opportunities to invest wisely.  In fact, they take advantage of those opportunities even when they may seem like a little bit of a "long shot". There is some risk in their investment, but it is a "calculated risk".  I want us to begin to consider the "risk" we take by ignoring God's Word.  Is it truthfully a "calculated" risk?  Not likely!  We just get so busy, too intent on doing things independently, or just plain don't see the value in it, so we ignore it and miss out on the opportunity to have it guide us through life.

Richness is described as the state of abounding.  In other words, there is just plain "NO LACK" of anything we need.  If we are experiencing "lack" in any way today, it might just be that we need a little more of God's Word to assist us in moving from "lack" into "richness".  Just sayin!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Does pedigree really matter?

Jesus taught a lot in crowds, simply because there were a lot of curiosity seekers that flocked to him, but also because he found himself in the right place at the right time to use those opportunities as "teachable moments". One such moment was on the day known as the Feast of Tabernacles - a time when Jews solemnly gathered to celebrate one of the required "feast days" outlined in the Law of Moses.  There is controversy in the crowd, simply because people are all hung up about his upbringing, lack of education, and the place where he was born (and even perhaps the family into which he was born into).  This isn't a new problem for men and women, is it?  We tend to judge based on some "criteria" we hold for the "value or worth" of another because they went to school somewhere other than the local junior college, or have a familial line linked to some aristocracy.  Truth is, nothing of a "pedigree" in human terms really defines us as who we are - it is the character of a man which defines him.  To that end, Jesus doesn't want the crowd to be hung upon his "pedigree", but rather to see deep into this character - his mission was always to reveal the character of the One who sent him (his heavenly Father).  He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.”  No one could offer such a gift as he did, yet some struggle with the "gift" because the "giver" doesn't "match" their impression or image of "pedigree".  Isn't this just like us to be so hung up on the "person's background" that we miss what is right in front of us!

The Pharisees said, “Are you carried away like the rest of the rabble? You don’t see any of the leaders believing in him, do you? Or any from the Pharisees? It’s only this crowd, ignorant of God’s Law, that is taken in by him—and damned.” Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus earlier and was both a ruler and a Pharisee, spoke up. “Does our Law decide about a man’s guilt without first listening to him and finding out what he is doing?”  But they cut him off. “Are you also campaigning for the Galilean? Examine the evidence. See if any prophet ever comes from Galilee.”  Then they all went home.  (John 7:47-53 MSG)

To top things off, the religious leaders get word of his actions of teaching in the Temple - about half way through the feast.  Now, so as not to make a move too hastily, they observe what he does, listen to what he says, quietly noticing how some in the crowd will embrace him readily and others will reject him, getting all hung up on this "pedigree" thing!  To the religious leaders, they didn't have "enough evidence" to shut him down yet and not suffer the retaliation of the crowds who were drawn to him.  So, they wait and plot.  In their waiting, they have employed those who will act as their "plants" in the crowds to report back what he is doing and saying.  Maybe this was because all the religious leaders could not be seen as totally "getting into" his teachings because this would show they supported his ministry.  Regardless of their tactics and reasons, they still will not embrace the possibilities of him being Messiah.  All, that is, but one!  Nicodemus - the one who had come to Jesus under the secrecy of darkness - to find out for himself, first hand evidence to either convince him of the reality of his purpose and plan in teaching as the possible Messiah, or to discount those teachings and the man alike.

I really want us to see the attitude of the Pharisees - the religious leaders in this passage who obviously hold themselves as superior to the crowds gathered together at the Temple for the feast.  It is clear from the passage that these religious leaders see the crowds as "simpletons" and "uneducated". They focus on their own "superior" understanding of scripture - because they had the "privilege" of being brought up in all the right schools, with the right opportunities.  If there is one thing I have learned in this lifetime, it is that when we "elevate" ourselves in our minds and hearts, our attitude of pride dictating how we respond to people in this life, we are in for a sad awakening to the reality of our humanness!  Nothing can bring us down from our pedestal faster than having one indiscretion revealed, or finding out our "masks" we thought we wore so well did not conceal the insecurities we actually still possess!

To the religious leaders, the crowds were "rabble" - common people.  To Jesus, they were individuals created in the image of God, designed for the purpose of worshiping the Holy God.  To the religious leaders, the crowds were "unable" to ferret out the truth about Jesus' teachings simply because they didn't have the right education.  To Jesus, their degree of education was "evaluated" more by their responsiveness of heart to the message taught, not the place they attended school!  We see sharp contrasts between how Jesus and the religious leaders treated the crowds.  To one, they were not significant enough to bother with - to the other, they meant everything and were the very purpose for which he existed!

Nicodemus dares to speak up - to challenge the religious leaders - not as an outsider to the group, but as one of them!  Imagine the looks which might have come his way as he dares to challenge them about this "great teacher". He probably drew more than one disapproving glare, and maybe even a few clicks of the tongue in disgust over his "naivete".  Perhaps some were holding their heads low as they might have been some who taught Nicodemus in the schools of the Law these Pharisees attended - almost shamed by his challenge to consider Jesus as a prophet or even as the Messiah.  Ask yourself this - if you were in the same position as Nicodemus, would you speak up? Would you be afraid of the "pedigreed" mass, or willing to stand up for what you believe to be true?  

Nothing determines our destiny except our position in Christ Jesus - it isn't our position ON Christ that matters as much as our position IN Christ!  When we cross-over from arguing about the reality of what he is and accept him as who he is, we move INTO him.  This move is what determines our destiny. Stay firmly planted in our focus on "pedigree" and we will likely miss the most amazing gift of our lifetime!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You in his "circle of friends"?

If you have ever been accused of being a "looky loo" then you know what this term means.  In essence, a "looky loo" is one who is hanging around just because of the curiosity a particular event or happening sparks.  They are casual "browsers" in stores, and those who strain to gawk at the accident on the freeway.  I think there might even be a type of looky loo in Christian circles, as well!  Like those who come to church for the excitement of the moment, but who have very little to do with Jesus any other day of the week. In essence, their curiosity drives them, but their curiosity doesn't commit them!  This is the case one day when a huge crowd had gathered to hear Jesus speak - listening late into the day to his teachings.  At the dinner hour, there is but a meager helping of bread and fish to feed the vast crowd and no monies to buy more.  Here we find the miracle of the loaves and fishes - enough to feed the crowds from the meager offering of a young boy's few loaves and fishes.  Enough to provide left-overs for any sojourners who may happen by later that night.  Not many in the crowd were "committed" to Jesus as the Son of God, but they sure liked what he preached, wondered at his miraculous signs, and yearned to be part of the happening crowd.  In other words, there were a whole lot of looky loos in the crowd!

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.  (John 6:35-38 MSG)

How do we know there were those just there for the "show" or out of curiosity? Our answer is found in their "paparazzi like" actions.  Jesus senses their "curious interest" in his actions, but knows they are not really connecting his actions with the work of the heavenly Father on their behalf.  Their belief is that he is just another prophet - one they might want to raise up to the level of their next king!  To make matters worse, Jesus knows their "good intentions", but he also knows they aren't seeing the "picture" of who and what Jesus is in totality.  He needs them to make that connection, just like he needs for us to make that connection for ourselves.

The crowds compare his actions to those of Moses - bread from heaven in the form of manna was the "norm" where Moses was involved.  So this action on Jesus' part to feed the physical hunger of the crowds draws them to the conclusion that Jesus can call upon heaven and see these same magnitude of miracles performed in their midst.  They want more of what he can "do" - not him, per se.  This fact became very apparent when they answered him:  “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. He knows this and he needs to connect-the-dots for these looky loos.  In fact, he points out they seek food for their bellies - perishable food - but they need the food which will last for all time - he is the "Bread of Life".

"Just a hint" - isn't this something we find ourselves asking Jesus for more times than we'd probably like to publicly admit?  We want more to "go on" before we take the plunge!  We will eventually commit (at least that is what we tell ourselves) - but could we just have a little more of a hint of what you are doing, Jesus, so we can wrap our heads and hearts around it?  This shouldn't be news to any of us - we all probably act as looky loos once in a while - especially spiritually.  We want "in on the action", but we have to figure out if it is "worth it" before we jump in with both feet.  Someone can tell me something is a good investment, but until I see $100 actually become $1,000 I probably won't put my money there!

We constantly "see Jesus in action" in our lives, but we don't connect his action with whatever it takes to convince us to commit to him - we want just a little more of the "action" in order to "be sure" we can count on him to be consistent, to always be there, to follow-through, to be all he promises to be. Look at what the looky loo is really doing - they are looking upon, but not really taking it in.  These people in the crowd took in the bread and fish, but these weren't what would make they whole and never searching for fulfillment again - only Jesus could fill them to that degree.  Here's what we need to see in this entire account - Jesus is after our heart, not our curiosity.

He uses our curiosity to draw us near, but he doesn't intend for us to continue to stick with him just out of curiosity - he wants to make this heart connection which will anchor us securely to him and all he envisions for our lives.  This is what the crowds missed - they were "close by" but they weren't in his "circle of friends".  I don't know about you, but the "circle of friends" Jesus has sure outshines mine!  I know I want to be in that "circle" and the only way "in" is through him!  Look at what he says to the curious:  I don't discount your curiosity, but I long for your commitment.  It is that desire which I will embrace and once I embrace you, I never let you out of my circle!

Now, that should excite us!  When we come to the place of not just being spiritual "paparazzi" - curiosity seekers, thrill seekers - we will be in the place of true blessing.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What is your polarity?

There are times we question authority in our lives - this is just part and parcel with who we are as human beings.  I don't think we come out of the womb determined to questions authority, but I do believe we have all the "necessary" characteristics that lend to this state.  For example, we have free will, so the matter of choice is ours.  We have independent thought, so the ability to think and reason often presents the challenge to authority we may be engaged in.  Regardless of the "means" by which we challenge it, our desires are pretty much the same - we want to "stand alone", having no one tell us what to do, and to be "free" of the "rules" of another.  I am so grateful Jesus was not this way!  If had come to earth with this "independent" spirit, can you even imagine what a mess we'd be in today?  If he decided to act upon his own will, thinking things through as he sees them without listening to what his Father had to say, I wonder how different things would have been for us today.  

It’s urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living. (John 5:24 MSG)

From very early in his ministry, Jesus sought to establish the truth of his "leadership".  He was a man "under authority" - not because he felt pigeon-holed into being in that position - but because he chose to live under the authority of his Father.  He chose not his own will, but the will of his Father. It stands to reason that to be "under authority" one also understands what authority entails.  Jesus was engaged in the creation of all that exists - bringing beauty out of void, simply by the sound of his voice.  Needless to say, he understood authority - for his word commands ultimate authority when spoken.  Yet, he came to this earth, taking on the form of mankind, in order to become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind - leaving his position of authority to be totally under the authority of his heavenly Father.  As he puts it - he did what he was told, not making one move without hearing clearly from his Father.

We all could take an example or two from Jesus on this issue of submission to authority.  No matter who we are, we all have someone "over us" who is in a position of authority in our lives.  We could say we live 'above' the law, doing whatever we want - not paying taxes, driving at whatever speed limit we see fit, or taking what is not ours to take - but we are never really 'above' the law. We are just living outside of "alignment" to the law.  We choose to "align" ourselves with whatever voice it is we are listening to today!

So, the matter of submission is really a matter of "alignment" - who and what it is we will align our thoughts, intentions, will, and ultimately, our actions under.  Today it may be our self - better known as the flesh in scripture.  We do this whenever we choose to do what pleases us - in spite of knowing these choices may not be good for our health, emotional stability, etc.  Whenever we choose to go after what pleases self, we usually do so at the exclusion of whatever will please another.  This means we often even exclude Jesus from that picture!

Jesus wants it to be clear - when we choose to align ourselves with the one who has ultimate authority in the first place - we choose wisely!  Anything less than this will end up in something far short of what God intends for our lives.  Jesus' illustration is that of stepping from the world of the dead (the world of an outsider) into the place of the living.  Think about that for a moment. In this day and age of dramatic and often quite revolting images on our TV or movie screens, we have been given a kind of "sicko" glance into the realm of the dead.  We have the attacks of the zombies, the walking of the dead and decaying, and the return of blood-thirsty vampires.  Now, I  don't think for a moment these are worthy examples of what Jesus was saying, but they give us some glimpse into the sickness and depravity of what exists when our lives are not aligned with his.

We see the despair of living outside the boundaries established to keep us safe.  We can extrapolate from these examples the sadness, wickedness, and total disconnection experienced when we are not in alignment with him.  I will use another illustration - magnets.  When I was a kid, I possessed a couple pretty strong magnets.  I was always playing with these things - because they fascinated me.  I could pull iron shavings from the soil, or connect objects to the side of the metal shed siding without any effort at all.  Yet this was not what fascinated me the most.  It was the "polarity" of the magnets.  I would turn one end toward the other, only to watch them "right themselves" again. They somehow knew when they were misaligned - and they took the action themselves to "right themselves" into the direction which aligned their polarity.

I wonder if we are a little like these magnets - sensing our "misalignment" and desiring to right ourselves to correct alignment?  I think we were created to be appropriately aligned - so when we aren't, we struggle to find that correct alignment.  It may not be as easy for us because of this tendency we have to want to be in control instead of assuming the "polarity" which brings us into alignment, but we were created to "align"!  Just sayin!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Victim be healed

A victim is someone who is actually cheated or deceived by their own emotions because of the actions of another.  It is quite easy to slip into the role of "victim" whenever we feel like we have been wronged - someone has done or said something which makes us feel threatened, misunderstood, "used" in some way, etc.  There are people who really are victims, though. They have been truthfully harmed by another and it is more than emotional scars they may be dealing with.  They could have injuries to their body, or perhaps have suffered an assault on their finances.  Either way, they all have something in common - they have had the actions of another negatively affect their lives.  There is something God wants us to see, though - our current circumstances are not permanent - he has the ability to make those areas damaged by another into something honoring and glorifying for his use.  This should give even those who have suffered the most destructive of actions some sense of hope and encouragement today.

God makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet. He showed Moses how he went about his work, opened up his plans to all Israel. God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him. And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins. As parents feel for their children, God feels for those who fear him. He knows us inside and out, keeps in mind that we’re made of mud. Men and women don’t live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here. God’s love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him, Making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways and remember to do whatever he said. (Psalm 103:6-13 MSG)

How does God make bad stuff in our lives "come out right"?  For anyone who has suffered the terrible destructiveness of rape, or perhaps the awfulness of physical abuse, there may not seem like a way out of the pain and memories associated with such violent and violating attacks.  Yet, I have met countless women who share their testimonies of God's grace and mercy showing them a way out of the pain and a release from the continual torture of negative memories.  Do I fully understand how God does that - no.  Do I trust he can and does do it - yes.  Why?  I see evidence in the lives of those around me and because I trust what scripture tells me about the character of God.  His entire make-up is to extend grace where it is undeserved and to heal what cannot be healed by human touch.  

As much as we can count on God separating us from our own personal sins, we can count on him separating us from the sins done against us by others not aware of how their sins affect us.  Violating sins such as rape and physical abuse don't just go away - they leave scars.  God has a way of separating the pain associated with those scars away from us, though.  It may be keenly linked to his ability to help us release when no release is deserved - by giving us grace to extend grace to the one who harmed us.  As I said, I don't fully understand how God does this, but I know he does because I have seen it in the lives of those around me.  What one thing I did see in the lives of those who rose above their pain is that they walked steadily in the things God showed them.  In their consistency, God turned ashes into a thing of beauty.

This may be paramount to the very healing we need today in our own lives. Maybe it isn't that we have been raped or physically violated by someone's anger and hurtful blows, but our pain is no less significant to our heavenly Father.  He "feels" the pain of his kids and his heart is turned toward those who will cry out to him for their pain to be removed.  Too many times we play the part of "victim" so well - holding onto the pain - not because we really want to, but because we don't think it matters to him.  This is sad, but true. 

We somehow discount his love for us and his care over our lives just because someone was "able" to hurt us in some way.  Truth be told - no harm befalls us that is not seen by him and deeply experienced by him.  We often associate harm coming to us as God "allowing" for bad things to happen to us, or because he doesn't care about us. The exact opposite is true - God never desires for the bad to come.  We live in a fallen world - bad is part of mankind's fall.  It doesn't mean God doesn't love us or care deeply for us, but because of man's freewill and the fact he possesses a sin nature, evil is in this world.  When we deal with evil against our own lives, God's heart reaches out to us to quickly heal and restore.  We just have to reach back.

I don't proclaim to have all the answers here, but I do know this - God has all victims in his hands.  His desire is to embrace their pain - to ease their suffering and to restore their heats/minds to wholeness.  If you find yourself holding onto your pain, God's cry to you today is to let him take it.  He knows how to restore what damage is there.  He knows how to extend grace and mercy so as to bind up the wounds.  All we need to do is remain consistent in allowing him to take that pain - just sayin!

Add a few more earthworms!

As a kid, I always looked for the shortcuts in life.  Why?  Arriving just a fraction of a second before my friends or being the first one at the head of the line on the way to the cafeteria made all the difference in my mind.  How come?  First choice of the food, perhaps gaining the respect of those who see me as the winner, or just maybe because "first" is touted as always better than "second" in this society we live in.  It wasn't until recent days that team sports started to celebrate each and every player, giving trophies or ribbons to all the team players instead of the "most improved", "team captain", or "star hitter".  The kids just need to show up these days - performance really isn't the focus.  Back in the day, that was not the case.  Either you performed well, or you never were selected to be on the "winning" team!  You remember, the kids who lined up and the two team captains got to select each member of their team, each in turn.  What was left at the end were the players who could not hit the softball, those who could field the ball, or those too slow to run the bases with any gusto.  I could "talk the talk" when it came to many sports, but in reality, I had a harder time "walking the talk" when it came to performing on the field!  I was a good runner, hit decently, and could field pretty well, but there were others who did it much, much better.  I was indeed "average" because I didn't have the desire to put forth the effort to be anything but average.  I wonder if many of us settle for "average" in our walk with Jesus simply because we don't put for the "effort" it requires to really be our best for him?

Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. (Matthew 7:13-14 MSG)

Notice I asked if we were putting for the effort on our part to BE our best for him, not to DO our best for him.  There is a vast difference between the two. Being implies we are remaining in something we have already attained and in that position we are consistent.  Doing implies we perform in order to accomplish something.  In Jesus, the best we put forth is often interpreted by some as needing to perform rather than needing to persist.  Many pursue shortcuts in their relationship with Jesus simply because they see the "effort" put forth in "persisting" as something a little too costly.  The truth is, if we aren't willing to BE in God's presence, we will never feel like we are "doing" anything which really measures up.

The warning to us is to not look for shortcuts to God - it isn't an "easy-peasy" formula to just somehow "blossom" into all the beautiful aspects of character God wants his kids to possess.  In fact, it is downright hard at times to lay down the habits and short-comings of our "old nature" in order to take up the new ones.  There aren't any "formulas" to make us righteous - it is the work of Christ in our lives - his grace upon grace which transitions us from one place to the next.  If we think we can commit our "spare time" to following Jesus, we have another thing coming - for "spare time" Christianity is just like "average" in team sports.  We may still be part of the "team", but we aren't really "on par" with our capabilities in Christ Jesus!

A vigorous life is one which is active - there is something more than the occasional "stirring" of our emotions and a little time spent in the Word.  It is consistent - as such, it is robust - strong, healthy, and hearty.  I recently asked my sons to build me a raised garden area since I cannot get down to the ground as easily anymore.  They did a magnificent job and now I have a great gardening space which I plan for both herbs and veggies.  I have been actively preparing that space with compost, soil, and mulch.  This weekend, I went to the store to purchase earthworms to assist in creating an environment within the soil for continually "replenishment" of the soil with nutrients. Those nutrients will come in the "castings" of those worms.  Each week, I will purchase another couple tubs of those squirmy worms, letting them take up residence in my raised gardens.  Why?  They will stir up the soil, digest the composting materials I am adding regularly and will ensure a better environment for my plantings to grow.

I think God asks for us to have a vigorous walk with him much like I want a vigorous and robust bed for my veggies.  He wants to "add things" into our lives which will ensure we are constantly "replenished" with all we need. How? Through time with him, in his presence, experiencing his peace and understanding his tremendous love which extends grace upon grace.  Plus time in the Word, where we come into a place of seeing how he works, what he values, and who he has created us to be.  In fact, he also wants us to succeed in this venture so much that he gives us his Holy Spirit to be "resident" within us 24/7 so that we can constantly be "digesting" what he provides to nourish us and then stir up the "soil" of our hearts to bring more and more growth in turn.

I have not been quick to run to the nursery to purchase my lavender, lemon grass, herbs, and veggies.  Why?  The soil is not ready!  It needs a little more tending and turning.  It requires my attention.  If I just plop plants in there now in the heat of summer, they will wilt and fade away.  Good money will be going down the drain.  I need to ensure the soil is ready to receive what I plant and that it will sustain it over the long haul.  In much the same way, we cannot take short-cuts in our walk with Jesus.  We need prepared "soil" in order to see growth.  Just sayin!