Sunday, August 31, 2014

Take a lesson here....

When I first lived on my own, I really wasn't "on my own" because I lived in a barracks filled with other men and women!  Yet, it was my first time away from "home" and it was my responsibility to make a way for myself - no one was going to be my "parents" in the Army!  In fact, they gave me a room, the clothes I was supposed to wear, and the job I was supposed to work.  So, maybe they were a little like my "parents' after all!  When I finally got married, the first thing we did was move out of the barracks and into our "own" apartment.  We had very little in the way of furnishings, so we had to rent a furnished one bedroom apartment, but it was "our place".  At that point, I began to feel like I had come into the place of "establishing our home".  We put together some of this and that, re-commissioning wooden boxes into storage units for our clothes and the like.  We visited the local thrift shops to stock our kitchen with pots and pans.  In time, the place came to feel like a "real home".  One of the things we did not do in establishing our "home" was to allow God's wisdom and understanding to help us establish a good foundation within our relationship!  This would be something we'd come to struggle with over the ten years of our marriage - something which ultimately would become our undoing!

Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home; let good sense fill the rooms with priceless treasures. Wisdom brings strength, and knowledge gives power.  (Proverbs 24:3-5 CEV)

It probably only took about three months to realize the honeymoon was over! In fact, it was then that I began to realize my relationship with Jesus really wasn't all it was cracked up to be and I sought to rededicate my life to serving him.  Shortly thereafter, I was baptized in water.  My life began to take on a change which became a turning point for me, but which also began to reveal how "unequally yoked" my husband and I really were.  If there is anything those of you who are reading this can take away from this life-lesson it should be this:  A home is made up of more than two people "madly in love".  It is made strong by the foundation the two share - if that isn't an equally founded relationship with Jesus, you will inevitably struggle with "building your home".

Our writer reminds us of two important means of establishing our homes - the use of wisdom to bring strength into the relationship, and the use of understanding to give you the power to stick it out even in the tough times. Most of the time, we think of this verse as a nice little "ditty" we can put on a wall plaque and hang somewhere in our homes, sort of like the one which reads, "Unless the Lord build the house, the laborers labor in vain."  If we really read this again, we might just see how accurately it applies to us becoming a cohesive unit, growing together, and establishing God's truths as the means by which we will "do business" in our homes.  When this is the case, the foundation will be solid and the ability to endure even the toughest of conflicts will be better indeed.

The third thing which crops up in this passage is that of good sense.  Too many times, young lovers simply rely upon this "feeling" called "falling in love". In turn, they wonder why they find they no longer "in love" a little ways down the road.  Maybe it is simply because love is not something you "fall into" but rather something you "grow into".  There is a vast difference - for one suggests it is a cataclysmic "thing" which just happens, while the other acknowledges it takes mutual effort and an increasing awareness of one's own selfishness to really grow strong in relationship.  What was that I just said? Yep, you read it right - a growing awareness of the "selfishness" we each possess is key to really growing in relationship.  It is in learning how we demand things for our "self interest" where we learn to lay down "self interest" in the pursuit of the interest of another.

Jesus gave us this example in this concept - the laying down of one's own interest for the well-being of another.  Good sense tells us if we learn to do the same in our own relationships, we will be on the road to establishing a solid foundation upon which mutual respect and trust can be established. Where mutual respect and trust become the foundation of relationship, we begin to see life "outside of ourselves" and look at life through the eyes of another.  We may not be establishing a home today, but we are continually establishing relationships which can benefit from good sense, wisdom, and understanding.  Good sense helps us recognize when it is in the best interest of the relationship to lay down one's own interests for another.  Wisdom gives us the ability to apply what we have learned in our practice of loving another. Understanding gives us the delight of knowing the truth we rely upon is solid and unmovable.  In turn, the relationship becomes strong because when all three are in operation, the focus in not what is in it for "me", but where we might go together in united intent.  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I can vs. I choose

I have lived in climates where ice can form overnight, leaving sidewalks and roadways rather treacherous to pass.  The small steps you have to take to avoid your feet from going out from under you, or the slower speeds you must drive in order to avoid a spin-out are "precautionary measures" you PERSONALLY take to keep yourself from loss or injury.  There are clearly times when all you can do personally is just not enough to keep you upright and on course!  Your reliance upon another to be there to catch you when you begin to slip, or the street sanding trucks to be ever-vigilant is something outside of yourself you are also hoping will keep you in a position of safety.  We use both internal and external sources to aid in keeping us safe.  What we may fail to recognize is this "internal and external" source of safety we have at our disposal each and every day - the presence and power of God.  God expects us to have a certain amount of "precautionary measures" in place in our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual lives, but when our defenses are less than ideal in any of these areas, he is at the ready to keep us from harm.

When I felt my feet slipping, you came with your love and kept me steady. And when I was burdened with worries, you comforted me and made me feel secure. (Psalm 94:18-19 CEV)

Have you ever noticed that you don't just "slip" - you somehow "know" you are slipping - you just may not be cognizant of the fact you need to catch yourself before you do!  I think this is why our psalmist makes mention of God's ability to keep us steady when we begin to feel our "standing" slipping away.  What is it God uses to "steady us" in our walk?  Nothing less than his love!  If we can just get a picture of this, we may face our "slips" a little differently - perhaps not as though they were the biggest blunderings we could have done and now we have to find some way to "get back up" all on our own.  It is his love which comes to our rescue - his unconditional, "I will ALWAYS love you", never late love.  God comes with his love - it is this love which keeps us steady.  Most of us long for love of this kind while we are here on this earth, but forget how much we already have this love!  We just need to be embraced fully by it and then rest secure in it.

Probably one of the easiest and more common reasons for us slipping is this idea of being burdened with something we weren't meant to carry on our own. The issue is not that we "can" carry these things, but that we weren't designed to carry them "alone".  I "can" carry heavy bags of cement - with some difficulty - but I am no longer going to do it.  Why?  I value my knees and my back!  So, I will ask for help if there is a project involving me needing cement to be mixed around my home.  I "can" carry lots and lots of stress at work, with multiple looming deadlines, and challenging issues pressing in around me - but I choose to share the load with others.  Why?  I value my sanity!  What we value will begin to get our attention.  If we come to value the "load bearing shift" God asks of us, we will begin to give this some attention in our lives.  

God helps us deal with the difference between "I can" and "I choose" when it comes to the burdens of worries in our lives.  We "can" determine to bear up under their load.  We "choose" to allow him to carry them on our behalf.  We might not want to let go at first, but he helps us recognize the "efficiency" of allowing the one who knows the end from the beginning to bear the load which will ultimately trip us up if we choose to say, "I can do this on my own". You are not in this alone, my friends, for all of us have to come to the place of laying down our "I can" and picking up our "I choose" moments.  Look again at our passage.  Even those "I choose" moments are made possible because God comes to us with his comfort and his ability to soothe our feelings of guilt which we might encounter by not carrying these burdens all by ourselves. Everything we need to let go is at our disposal - all it takes is us opening up our hands and releasing what we have been holding onto in our frustration, pride, and fear!

Most of us need more of God's comfort and care than we openly choose to admit, but when we finally take the first step of admitting this to ourselves, heaven's gates are opened on our behalf.  This is where God can connect his resources with our need - his love with our slips, his comfort with our burdens, and his treasured peace with our "feelings" of guilt, anxiety, and fear.  Just sayin!

Friday, August 29, 2014

I hold these truths to be self-evident....

There are times when we just need a reminder of certain things.  I know I experience times when I need someone to remind me I can do whatever lays before me because I have done it before and this time won't be any different. I also think we need the encouragement of those who act as our "reminding" friends to never forget God's presence with me when we go through the stuff we go through.  There are moments when we might just lose sight of the purpose of our lives, or the "perspective" becomes a little "collapsed" because of all the other "cluttered thoughts" coming in around us.  These are the times when we need to stop for just a moment and consider the truths about God's consistent, compassionate, and caring character.  What can we say about God's character?  To be honest - we cannot say enough!

What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?  If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them?  Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.  Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death?  It is exactly as the Scriptures say,  “For you we face death all day long.  We are like sheep on their way to be butchered.” In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.  I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future,  and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!  (Romans 8:31-39 CEV)

Here's what we CAN say with assurance:

- If God is on our one, no thing can stand against us.  Back in the day when I played sports, one of the things we'd do is "choose sides".  We'd divide into teams because sports are competitive - one side is pitted against the other.  I don't think this walk with Christ is much different for us today. We have "chosen sides" when we put in our lot with Jesus.  We entered into a "contest" of sorts where one "side" is pitted against the other.  The hope and assurance we have is the fact we have already been declared to be the "winners" in this walk!  No thing and no one can change that declaration of fact, for that "fact" is established by the death of God's own Son!

- If God gave his own Son to us, why would he withhold other things we have need of in our lives?  This would be inconsistent with his nature, so it is impossible for him to withhold whatever it is we need today.  I didn't say he'd give us all our "wants", but those things we have "need of" in our lives are as certain as his provision for our salvation (Christ Jesus).  So, why do we resist or delay in asking God for what it is we have need of?  Maybe it is this thing we call "pride" - the desire to "save face" and not admit we stand in need.  If there is one thing I have learned as I have grown a little older in this life, it is this fact of laying down my pride to ask for help.  I don't always get it right, but I have learned a great deal of what stands between me and the place I need to be is nothing more than dealing with my reluctance to ask!

- God has declared you and I "acceptable" in his presence.  No one can declare us otherwise.  "We" are among the "no one" in that statement - for even our declaration of our "worth" or "acceptability" in God's eyes is not to be contrary to what God has already declared to be true of each of us.  When I was younger, I had a bumper sticker I plastered onto my guitar case.  It read, "God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it."  Now, at first that may seem a little "elementary", but try living that out in how it is you "view" yourself in terms of "acceptability" before God and it becomes a little more than "elementary", doesn't it?  The truth is - if God says something is one way, no matter how hard we try to argue it is another, we will still be wrong!

- We know these facts to be evident simply because of where Christ is today - seated at the right hand of God the Father.  His purpose there - to talk to the Father about and on behalf of each of us.  To bring our needs before him - in order for them to be met as only he can meet them.  To bring our frustrations into God's presence - so he can settle our hearts and bring assurance of his watchfulness over our lives.  Get this inside your hearts, friends - Jesus and God the Father are having regular and consistent conversation about each of us!  No wonder "no thing" and "no one" can separate us from his love, grace, and provision!

Much will come our way to attempt to separate us from the "assurance" of God's love and protection of our lives.  Much will attempt to dissuade our peace and commitment to his purposes.  Much will stand against - but the evident truth God wants us to understand above all this resistance is:  No one and no thing is bigger, greater, stronger, more powerful, or more important than God in our lives!  Get this straight in your minds - have your heart follow suite - and before long, you will begin to perceive the truth that no thing and no one will be able to stand against you!  The waters may be a little murky at times, but only one thing purifies and settles the heart - God himself.  The thoughts may get a little mixed up at times when stressors are high, but only one thing brings peace and orders chaos - God's presence.  Stand upon this truth and no amount of taunting from your enemy will ever get you down again!  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"At", "to" or "beyond"?

The moments come into our days when we might just doubt God's presence with us - those moments of stress so great we think our heart is about to explode within.  Stress is an actual "physical force" exerted on one thing by another.  I'd like us to consider it also as a "spiritual force", "emotional force", and "mental force" which exerts some type of pressure or "forceful action" which brings about this impression of being "strained" to almost the point of breaking.  As these conditions exist, we are often faced with the tremendous challenge of keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and what he is doing in that moment within our "exertion".  A rubber band is a good thing to have in our junk drawers.  When we need to bind one thing to another, we want one of those around.  Yet, we have all experienced the truth of a rubber band stretched beyond the point of "no return" - that moment in time when it just breaks away and leaves us with a whole lot of sting!  What happened?  It met the point of maximum stretch - as much force as could be exerted and still have it maintain its usefulness or purpose.  At that "added" little stress, the band broke.  It no longer was able to endure the stress of the stretch because it was not made to go beyond that particular stretch.  It is just like when we have pressure exerted upon us and we are certain the next little stretch is going to the one which is our breaking point.  The moments in time when we are "stretched" to what we believe to be our capacity are often not truly times of being stretched beyond our capacity.  Instead, they are times when God is taking us to our next level of capacity!

Why am I so sad? Why am I so upset? I tell myself, “Wait for God’s help! You will again be able to praise him, your God, the one who will save you.” (Psalm 42:11 ERV)

"To" and "beyond" are two entirely different concepts.  "To" capacity means we come to the point we cannot possibly "contain" anything else.  It is kind of like the glass being full to the brim.  The thing within is just not going to take much more in the way of input before it begins to seep out of the glass.  If you have ever poured a soda into a glass of ice, you know the "bubbling up" effect of those gaseous bubbles within the soda.  The foaming effect may even come up beyond the edges of the glass.  What happens when we see this effect?  We slow down the pouring, don't we?  Why?  We know the soda needs time to allow those bubbles to "settle".  In just a few seconds we can begin to pour again at a slower pace, eventually bringing the cup to capacity with soda.  If we stopped when we saw the bubbles rising over the surface of the cup, we'd only get a partial cup of soda, right?  We want our cup brought "to" capacity so we get a full drink!  We all understand the "to" capacity concepts, but have you ever opened a box of crackers or cereal which stood say 10 inches high and found content inside which was merely 8 inches high? Manufacturers would call this "settling" - the box was once filled to capacity, but as movement occurs, the content settles down into the nooks and crannies which were not entirely filled, leaving the impression of a less than full box.  Yet, this box is still filled "to" capacity - at the time of "stress" when the box was initially under "pressure" to be filled and sealed, it was "at" or "to" capacity.  In a short period of time, it becomes quite evident that there was an ability for the box to go "beyond" capacity!

God is in the "business" of bringing us "to" capacity, but also in helping us recognize we can go "beyond" our perception of capacity when we allow him to take over the process of being "filled" or "stretched".  Any good athlete will tell you of the importance of getting a good "stretch" before beginning their particular sport.  Why?  Those initial stretches not only "warm up" the muscles, giving them a little more "elasticity", but they actually serve to "make room" for the added stress those muscles will be under during the activity to come.  Much as muscles only grow when put under stress, our mind only embraces new truth when we apply it toward learning the truth (we allow it to be stretched to a new capacity).  "Capacity" is almost always a matter of perception.  I saw an illustration of this once which really made this clear to me.  A large jar was filled with marbles.  Not only did the jar look like it could not contain anything else, but it was just about to overflow.  Then something revealed how much "capacity" was really left.  Slowly and with calculated accuracy, sand was added to the jar.  That sand settled into the places "in between" the marbles until the jar again looked like it was filled "to" capacity. My perception of "capacity" changed - the jar was not "to" capacity with just the marbles in it.  But...when I saw water beginning to slowly be added to the jar after the sand, I saw something quite amazing - the jar was indeed not anywhere close to capacity!  In fact, even when the water was almost to the top, something happened - settling of the sand and marbles, revealing "more capacity" than originally believed possible!

What happened in this illustration is what often happens to us when we are feeling like ware "stretched" and "stressed" to capacity.  We are like the jar of marbles - filled to the top with what we "feel" we can handle.  In those times, we wax and wane in our perceptions of the circumstances we find ourselves in with attitudes ranging from "Don't give me any more!" to "I'm done!"  What happens next is what continues to amaze me - God shows us just how much more "capacity" we have when we allow him to be the one to fill us a little fuller!  When the water was added to the jar, not only did "settling" occur, revealing additional "space" or "capacity", but small air pockets were eventually revealed - those pesky things which once they come to the surface are soon dissipated and leaving us with capacity for more!  This is often the case in our times of greatest "stress" or "stretch" - we have "pesky" things which need to get to the surface and it isn't until we are placed in this point of being "stretched to capacity" that we realize they have been taking up "valuable space" in our lives!  As they rise to the surface, God can help us to quickly "dissipate" them so we have even more capacity for what he desires to bring into our lives.  Yep, we all have "full jars of marbles", and some even have lots of sand added.  Most of us never get to the point of letting God fill us to the greatest capacity we have simply because we insist we are already "at" capacity - trusting our perceptions of our "capacity" over his!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Recounting his mercy, love and grace

What we choose to remember often makes the difference when our journey gets a little bumpy along the way.  Memory is a powerful tool in either our arsenal of defense, or our battery of offense.  Memory is the process of being able to "recall" or "rethink" again.  When our memory begins to go with the advancing of age or because of some trauma to the brain, it is indeed a troubling affair for us.  Last night, mom sat musing over why she still remains on this earth - since she cannot any longer enjoy the sense of sight, has impaired hearing, and often cannot even remember the simple things like calling to make a hair appointment.  Her question:  "What did I do to 'deserve' all this in my old age?"  I just sit and listen, because I really don't know why her course has been directed as such, and I know the answer that she is nearly 96 doesn't really make all she is dealing with seem "fair" by any means. One thing I do tell her frequently is how much the past six years have mattered to me - for she has been my constant companion through these years - something I know she has enjoyed and in which I have taken much pleasure, as well.  Memories have been formed - they will be remembered long after she is gone.  The power of memory can be directed toward what we choose to "rethink" - either good or bad.  The choice of how we "rethink" a matter is what often makes the difference between the memory being "pleasant" or "painful".

I always remember that the Lord is with me.  He is here, close by my side, so nothing can defeat me.  So my heart and soul will be very happy.  Even my body will live in safety, because you will not leave me in the place of death. You will not let your faithful one rot in the grave.  You will teach me the right way to live.  Just being with you will bring complete happiness. Being at your right side will make me happy forever.  (Psalm 16:8-11 ERV)

Our psalmist finds solace in remembering who is with him as he walks through the various things he must face in this thing we call "life".  It is God he chooses to remember - his companionship, closeness, and comfort.  There is something powerful in "rethinking" his companionship, in "refreshing" our impression of his closeness, and in "regenerating" the comfort he brings by the closeness of his breath.  The process he describes is that of bringing back into the "conscious mind" the things he has "stored up" in his unconscious mind.  This is the process of remembering - this "bringing forward" what has been stored up for future reference.  It is like when I go to the shelves in my pantry and move a few cans around to find that one can of that one ingredient I need to complete the meal for the night.  It was "stored up" for that particular meal - it takes on purpose when it is taken from the recesses of the shelf and put into service for the meal at hand.  

In remembering God's constancy of companionship, we come to the conclusion we NEVER walk alone.  In recounting his closeness, we draw upon the strength of his presence being there right alongside in the midst of what may not be the "friendliest" of trials.  In returning into our thoughts his constancy of companionship and closeness of presence, we are able to find comfort in the midst of even the toughest of circumstances.  This idea of "returning into thought" is what David often referred to in the psalms he penned.  They actually are sung today in thousands of churches as a means of "returning into thought" the many blessings of his goodness, love, and grace.  This is indeed the power of memory - the ability to "return into thought" those things which we may have forgotten because of the complexity of issues invading the space of our brains at that moment.  In settling his mind long enough to "recount" the blessings of God in his life, he finds peace again and presence of purpose in the midst of the battle.

In recall, we are bringing into our present thoughts "matters" which were previously considered.  In other words, we are "mulling over" the former things which were "put in" our minds which may not have served their purpose until this very moment when they are remembered.  This is the power of allowing scripture to "get into" our minds - we may not gather all the "meat" from it the first time around, but what gets into our minds has the ability to be "recalled" when the need exists for that direction.  We often choose to "mull over" some things which only make the matter at hand worse - like the impossibilities of whatever it is we are going through at the moment.  I am a list maker - not our of necessity, but it helps me remember what it is which needs to be accomplished, and then I can go back over how much I have accomplished already.  This "going over" the accomplished tasks is often the reminder to me that what still lies ahead is "small change" considered to the things already completed!  I don't get as defeated by what still lies ahead because I can recount what has already been undertaken successfully.

The power of memory is also this concept of "figuring out" a matter at hand. In the ability to remember or recall, mull over, and come to conclusions, we enter into this place of "figuring out" what it is we are needing to know for the moment at hand.  Memory "stored up" what we needed for the moment at hand.  This is how God's mercy, love and grace so often work in our lives.  We store up bits and pieces of each of these along the way in our lives.  When we most need mercy, we "recount" the many ways mercy has been there for us in the past.  We take heart in remembering God is consistent in his character, so his mercy will never end.  We find comfort in considering again his mercy - unmerited favor shown on our behalf.  The same is true of his love and grace. They are considered time and time again - bringing new insight into our present "moments" - forming again and again new thoughts which will be placed within our memories.  In time, we will not only have the old memories of his love and grace, but these new ones, as well.  This is probably what David meant when he referred to God "teaching him the right way to live".  In the recounting of God's mercy, love and grace, we are allowing God to teach us the right way to live.

We find true life because of his mercy.  We continue in this walk through the constancy of his love.  We stand assured of making it through to the end simply because God's grace is making the way for us to finish well.  There is much power in "recall" - choose well what you think upon today, for in the moments of memory we will find the "fuel" to propel us forward!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Episcopal, Lutheran, or What?

There are three possibilities when someone speaks:  1) It is a total lie; 2) It is a half-truth; or 3) It is the truth.  Even a half-truth is really a lie - but it is cleverly presented so that we might not discover the untruth in it.  So, the only reliable communication is the truth.  There are times we just take things at what we refer to as "face-value".  We believe what we see is what we get. How many times have you been disappointed by what you thought you were receiving?  Probably more than you can count!  What you saw was indeed not what you got - the "image" presented was really a half-truth.  I have bought into the advertising of clever marketers on occasion only to find the new and amazing "stain buster" doesn't remove the particular stains my family tends to spill down the front of their clothes!  In reality, a simple bar of lye soap works far better than this fancy chemical in the spray bottle that I paid four times more for!  Yes, it removed 'some' stains without any effort on my part other than to spray it on, but if I want all the stains removed - I rely upon my bar of Naptha soap!  Sometimes the most "basic" is really the truth, while the "fancier version" is really not!

We believe people when they say something is true. But what God says is more important. And this is what God told us: He told us the truth about his own Son.  Whoever believes in the Son of God has the truth that God told us. But people who do not believe God make God a liar, because they do not believe what God told us about his Son.  This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (I John 5:9-12 ERV)

People tell us all kinds of things - we believe them or take them at face value. In essence, we don't "test" their claims for the truth in them.  It is either because we "blindly trust" or perhaps it is too much effort to find out if their claims are true.  One good thing about God's truth - it is provided with tons and tons of evidence!  We don't have to dig too hard to know truth - he even gives us the ability to apprehend, comprehend, and trust in the truth he brings!  We can trust God to tell us the truth - even when it is something we might not first consider as truth.

In Old Testament times, the truth God taught was to look "forward" to the Son coming - the Messiah would deliver more than just a "hope" of deliverance from sin, but a "means" for deliverance.  The sacrifices in the Tabernacle pointed toward him and his shedding of blood for our sins.  The words of the prophets gave testimony to the impact of his life, death, burial, and resurrection.  In Christ's coming, the evidence of the truth spoken so long ago became real right in front of our eyes.  We can trust God's word to us - it comes with convincing evidence!

So, what "truth" has God been speaking since the beginning of time?  It is quite simple - we have sinned (all of us) and stand in need of one who can act as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Christ Jesus).  In a nutshell, we stand in need - God provides THE way for our need to be met!  Apart from our need being met by God's means, no means exists.  In truth, man tries to "add to" the message of salvation all the time - but whenever we do this, we are creating "half-truths" or total "untruths".  Nothing needs to be added - God has provided all which is needed to transition from death into life!

If we cannot see truth, God even provides the means by which we can "see". There is no other "truth" in this world which also provides the means by which we can apprehend and comprehend it.  If we doubt God's word to us, we only need to ask God to reveal the truth in such a way our doubt is removed.  I cannot say the same is true of other "truth" presented to us in this life. Recently, my daughter called with extreme frustration over my grandson's math homework.  It was never her strongest subject in school and now she is called upon to help him grasp the "truth" she barely grasped herself!  In essence, she was reaching out to me (via the phone) to help her grasp it so she could help him grasp it, as well.

If I were to be honest, I didn't "get" what he was being asked to do with this "newer" math they were teaching.  It is something called "fraction bars" and it is totally foreign to the "old math" of finding the lowest common denominator to find out which fraction was bigger.  So, in my head, I calculated the lowest common denominator, attempted to tell her how I did it, and then dealt with the frustration of neither of us "getting" how to use the "fraction bar" to teach this truth!  It was just one of the means his teacher was using to teach this concept of fractions - but it wasn't the only means he expected them to use. This is good - because if I had to go through life making "fraction bars" to figure out which piece of the pie was bigger, I'd certainly never eat any pie!

We all have "concepts" we use to teach certain things, don't we? God isn't much different - because none of us "grasps" truth quite the same way.  We need "options" for grasping the truth - some will get it right away, others need a word picture, still others need to hear and see it over and over again. It isn't "truth" which is different - it is the means by which we learn truth which is.  The reality is the same - we just arrive at the point of reality by a different means.  God knows what will "connect" for us - because he made us uniquely who we are.  Therefore, it stands to reason he will provide the exact means by which each of us can grasp the truth about his Son and our need for a Redeemer in our lives!

The truth remains:  We ALL sinned.  We ALL need a Savior.  We ALL are incapable of being "good enough" to enter into the holiness of God's presence. We ALL will live eternally.  We ALL enter into eternal life WITHIN God's presence through the means God provides and no other means - Jesus Christ. This is the truth - any other truth is really not truth at all.  It matters not which congregation you gather in as long as this is the truth they believe!  No other "truth" is truly truth!  Just sayin!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Encourage, comfort, and unite!

Accolade - an honor, usually conferred in words, which brings notice to some hard work, or accomplishment of the one receiving the praise.  Most of us love to receive notice for the hard work we are doing - even if it is not "out loud", we want someone to actually recognize our accomplishments.  I know I enjoy when I see someone take the work I have done and put it into use - such as when they use the data I have been working on to show a trend or propose a new process.  It gives me pleasure to see the work utilized.  I don't think it is so much different in our Christian walk - we want to be recognized, have our work serve some purpose, and know what we have done really makes a difference.  We don't "do good deeds" simply because we desire the accolades, but we are "serving God" in our deeds, knowing he will receive the ultimate praise in the end.

Christ encourages you, and his love comforts you. God’s Spirit unites you, and you are concerned for others. (Philippians 2:1 CEV)

In our daily walk, we receive some accolades from Jesus and we give them right back.  It is like he encourages us by giving us a high five or patting us on the shoulder, as though we have done our job well.  It may not be a "physical" thing, but when we have connected well with the purposes of God for our lives that day, we know at the end of the day the deep satisfaction of having "served well".  This gives us encouragement for the new day, doesn't it?  I think God's kids thrive in a world of encouragement - if not outwardly, at least internally!  We need to know what we are doing matters - truly eternally.  

Three things are pictured here as giving us the basis by which we will "serve well" - in a manner which expresses genuine concern for others.  You see, until these three things are in alignment within our lives, we will not be serving as we should.  Our service will be a little too self-centered, or lacking in the sincerity required.  These three things act as a balancing effect on the actions of our service.  They are Christ's encouragement, his love, and the presence of his Spirit within.  

- Christ encourages you.  Encouragement is really this thing most of us associate with courage - the confidence to do something because we know the help of another who comes alongside.  Confidence is "bolstered" when the words and actions of encouragement are spoken deep within the places of our spirit where we commune with God.  Encouragement stimulates us within - it allows us to know our actions are approved - they are "on track" with what God wants for his kids.

- His love comforts you.  We won't always do things "right" every time, will we?  Sometimes we miss the mark no matter how hard we were trying.  When those moments occur, we need more than encouraging words - we need comfort from knowing his grace transcends our "misses".  Comfort is another word for reassurance.  Each and every time I miss the mark, I will need reassurance I can get up, take the steps forward I need to take, and find the right way in it all.  His love does this not only for me, but for you, as well.

- His Spirit unites us.  All manner of service is really just a conglomeration of various individuals putting their skills and talents into use - but when they are done "individually" without an over-arching purpose, they are merely nice talents on display.  Put them together under the direction of the Spirit of God, innervating us within to all move in the same direction (toward the same mark), and we have a symphony of talents.  Unity is the force by which God's church becomes a beacon of hope to the lost and dying.

In our service, where there is encouragement and love, there will be unity. They go hand-in-hand.  We cannot serve without encouragement.  We will not continue to serve if there is no comfort when it seems like our service has not gone well.  We will live lonely lives until we are united in one purpose.  Over and above all our service is this one thought of serving not only God, but others in the grace and love of Christ - so they may be encouraged, comforted, and drawn into the unity Christ desires of his kids.  Just sayin!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What goes in must come out

Do you consider yourself sensible?  I wear sensible shoes most of the time - does this make me sensible?  If you think I am using my intelligence to make a decision on which shoe to wear for the day, you would then be right in calling me sensible.  Sensible people make rational decisions.  I have to do a great deal of walking and often standing in one place for a long period of time, so the shoes I wear do matter a great deal.  When I choose the shoe for the day, I think about the things I will be doing that day.  If the day is mostly made up of meetings, desk work, and the like, I am not as concerned with the shoe.  If they involve standing for long periods while accompanying a survey team around the building, I need not only sensible shoes, but light-weight ones!  I gave up high heels a long time ago as they just don't "fit" with my work routine anymore.  We reveal our sensibility in what we do, don't we? The type of shoes we wear is not really all that significant, but you can appreciate the illustration.  Sensibility is sound judgment - the ability to be cognizant of your circumstances, adaptable, and able to transition quickly.  When God asks for us to consider our "sensibility", he is not concerned with our choice of shoes as much as our choice of actions!

Are any of you wise or sensible? Then show it by living right and by being humble and wise in everything you do. But if your heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfishness, don’t brag or lie to cover up the truth. That kind of wisdom doesn’t come from above. It is earthly and selfish and comes from the devil himself. Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things. But the wisdom that comes from above leads us to be pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere. When peacemakers plant seeds of peace, they will harvest justice. (James 3:13-18 CEV)

We show our wisdom by living right and by being humble and wise in all we do. That is a monumental mouthful, huh?  Wisdom - the knowledge of what is true and right, coupled with the discernment to act upon what we know to be true and right.  I don't know about you, but I can speak for myself - I don't always act upon what I know to be true and right!  In fact, I often make decisions and act upon thoughts or intuition, only to find I wasn't really very "wise" in those actions!  I recently was engaged in a conversation with a group of my work colleagues.  We were discussing our strengths after having done a "strengths inventory" by one of the companies who do these types of testing.  One of my strengths is "strategy" - I was the only one in the group with this strength.  When asked if how I saw this played out in my life, I guess I began to think about how I "think".  I "see things" in buckets - they begin to fit into "order" as I create "pictures" in my brain of how they work.  I used to take apart stuff (including things I could dissect in the classroom), with the intent of figuring out how they work.  It came naturally to me to put things in "order".

If you have ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, then you know that an INTJ is.  It stands for an "Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging" personality.  This is me - the scientist.  Primarily, I focus inwardly - operating a lot by my intuition.  I can see things rationally and logically - my mind is always working.  I am an "observer of the world" - I like to take in information, seeing the possibilities which may emerge.  I constantly gather information, making "associations" with what it is I take in.  One of the ways the INTJ expresses themselves is in bringing for the "images" created within our brains with the information we have assimilated through out intake.  Now, does it make sense why I like to write, enjoy doing this Bible Study, and don't mind the extra effort a little study requires?

I take in knowledge all around me - what I choose to do with the knowledge I take in is my choice.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  I must decide to reject some of it which might not produce the end result I desire, and to embrace the other stuff which may not make me the most comfortable, but which WILL produce the results desired!  No matter what your personality type, or "strengths" might be, the same is true for all of us.  We "take in" a great deal, but we have to be able to "think on our feet" to determine if what we are taking in "fits into the buckets" which will produce loving and kind actions.  If not, the actions will not be wholesome and these thoughts are to be rejected.  Such are the thoughts associated with jealousy, envy, bitterness, and the list goes on.  

When we take in the things into our minds and hearts which only produce negative outcomes, we exercise wisdom when we reject those as "unwise" and "not sensible".  But...this takes some practice on our part, but we won't always "bucket" those things correctly.  Sometimes they wear a different "face" than they did the last time we encountered them.  Whenever Dad caught the first fish of the day, he'd hand it off to me and I would set about to open up the stomach to see what they had been biting on.  I didn't look at the stuff up toward the front of the stomach (the most recent intake), but at what seemed to be the majority of the intake.  Why?  It gave me insight into their most common interest.  The same is true when we examine our thoughts and the actions they have been producing.  The most common intake will produce the most common actions!  So, our "output" is a matter of our "input". Nothing in - nothing out.  Good stuff in - good stuff out.  Better stuff in - even better stuff out!  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shifting the weight

Trust is something we all struggle with on occasion - if not in our closest relationships, perhaps in trusting God in our moments of confusion, chaos, and calamity.  The biggest calamity, mounting chaos, and chasm of confusion make it harder and harder to trust God if we haven't learn to trust him in the times when things are going rather "well" in our lives.  Trust is reliance - it stands to reason that reliance is learned when you most need to "lean" or "place your weight upon" something or someone, right?  Why is it then that we find it so hard to learn trust in the times of calamity, chaos, and confusion?  These should be times we actually take steps of faith - leaning into God a little more, allowing him to prove himself "trust-worthy".  Trust in God means we have come to count upon the strength of another - something outside of ourselves and our own ability.  It means we lean into and upon the integrity of God - that he will do as he says.  Maybe the really hard thing about trust is this "shift of weight" which is implied - the movement of our center of "grounding" to a different location than us!  We are placing our "weight" upon him - allowing him to bear the load we are under.

My help and glory are in God—granite-strength and safe-harbor-God—so trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him.  God is a safe place to be.  Man as such is smoke, woman as such, a mirage. Put them together, they’re nothing; two times nothing is nothing.  And a windfall, if it comes—don’t make too much of it.  God said this once and for all; how many times have I heard it repeated?  “Strength comes straight from God.”  (Psalm 62:7-11 MSG)

The promise of help comes not in reliance upon our own ability to bear up under the weight, but in our willingness to shift the weight to another (God). Our help and glory are in God - in other words, God saves and he brings honor. It isn't "upon us" to save ourselves or bring honor to our lives!  The plea to us is to trust him "absolutely" - laying our lives on the line for him.  The real crux of this is in our willingness to share our needs with God - to not feel like we have to hold onto them until we reach the place we don't think there is any hope in us finding a way to solve the issues on our own!  We are kind of fickle that way, aren't we?  We hold onto stuff which weighs us down until we are almost consumed by the weight of whatever it is - all the while trying to find a way to deal with whatever it is in our own strength and ability.  What God expects is a "shifting of the weight" onto him - we are never asked to "bear up" under the load of "demands" life puts upon us!  When we make this "shift of weight", we aren't admitting we are "weak" or "incapable" - we are simply being obedient!  We are actually revealing that we know how to handle life's challenges in the best way possible!  

Another word for trust is reliance - we come to rely upon certain way of doing things, don't we?  In fact, if someone were to observe us for a few days, they would probably be able to point out to us some "routines" we observe without even knowing we do it.  Such things as brushing our teeth before we enter the shower, or putting on our make-up before we do the final touches on our hair. Shoes go on just prior to leaving for the day and may come off as the first thing we do when we come back into the house.  These are our ways of doing things which have become habit, or routines upon which we rely upon to get us from one point to another.  This morning I turned on the computer as usual, expecting the modem/router to make the connection to the internet automatically.  Imagine my moment of "sheesh!" when it didn't!  I rely upon it to work as it should!  It is a new one, after all!  I had to go through the "reset" process simply because what I relied upon didn't work out the way I expected it to in the end!

We go through a whole lot of "resets" in this life simply because we have come to rely upon "unreliable" things.  They may be things we do out of habit, simply because we have come to "trust" them as a means to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.  I have to ask - does it work each and every time and is it the best means of accomplishing it?  Maybe not!  Yet, we have this philosophy of operation in life which goes something like, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".  It may be that we don't realize it is really a "broken" process, though!  It gives us the illusion of working out, but is it the best outcome? It may not be!  When we bear any weight which we are asked to clearly place on the shoulders of Jesus - we are bearing up under, but we are not being obedient!  This will mean there will be other weights which will come and eventually we will have to go through a form of "reset" in order to get out from under the mounting pressures!

If we take anything away from our passage today, it should be this:  God wants to take the weight of our lives squarely upon his shoulders.  Nothing short of this is what he intends for our lives.  Just sayin!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Running in the middle

Are you at the starting block for something new in your life?  Just about to launch ahead into the "unknown" and at the ready?  If so, you are probably wondering about what lies ahead - this is only natural.  Whenever we begin something new, we have a lot of questions about what is going to happen, when it will happen, how it will unfold, and where we will be in the end.  We plan it all out one way, but we all know the best laid plans can be waylaid along the path at anytime!   Do you know what the most important part of the race is?  Some will say it is the start - because if you start well, on solid footing and with great gusto, you are establishing the direction you will take with each new step.  Others will say it is the finish - simply because everyone has the potential to start, but not everyone has the tenacity to finish.  I am thinking the most important part of the race is often the most overlooked - the middle!  Why?  Think about the Preakness, the third leg of the triple crown in horse racing, for just a moment.  I am not an avid fan of horse racing, but I usually like to catch this one each year.  Why?  I think it is all about the "middle" of the race!  There is so much hype at the beginning, lots of hoopla at the end, but it is those tenuous moments in between which really catch my attention.  In those moments, with each furlong those horses take, the "stakes" become higher and higher for both horse and jockey.  Why? Those furlongs represent the breaking point for many a good horse and expert jockey!  It takes one set of skills to run the short race - but quite a different set to go the distance!

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

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.  I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.  (I Corinthians 9:24-27 MSG)

The middle is what makes or breaks the runner - it is the countless "furlongs" of the race where we either burn out, suffer injury, or just slow down.  Going the distance is a term used to describe someone "doing the whole thing" - to continue to do something until it successfully completed.  Henry Ward Beecher is quoted as saying, "We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started." Although his statement is true, getting one or two furlongs away from the finish is not the end we were striving for!  We indeed ran, but did we run well? The "middle" of the race determines the answer to this question - for in "running well" we are paced and focused.  At first, this may not seem very significant, but these two factors make the difference between crossing the finish line and falling short of it!

To be "paced" suggests there is a method to our running.  Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest in the Dutch church.  He once said, "Intimacy is not a happy medium.  It is a way of being in which the tension between distance and closeness is dissolved and a new horizon appears.  Intimacy is beyond fear." What I think he may have been describing is this idea of being well-paced in our walk with Jesus.  Intimacy is not just "being in the race" - it is this "closing of the distance".  At the beginning of any long race, the runner wonders if he will endure till the end.  The middle is concerning to him because he knows the distance is great and he considers the "work of running" which will take a toll on his body.  I don't think we stop very often to consider the "work of running" in this "race" with Jesus.  As we move from distance to closeness, we are encouraged, re-energized, and renewed in our passion to see the distance between where we are today and where we can finally say we ran well become less and less.  Paced runners run well because they have the endurance to "remain" in the race when others will falter and stop short.

To be "focused" suggests there is a commitment in our running.  I think the runner who establishes a goal for each furlong of the race begins to see the possibilities of finishing the race.  Too many times, we focus on the "big goal" of crossing the finish line.  We forget about the smaller accomplishments along the way - making our focus very far-sighted.  Many times a runner who must go the distance will focus on shorter goals - one furlong at a time.  Each furlong has different demands of his body, spirit, and emotion.  At some point, his body tires - demanding energy to continue in the race.  With each change in the course, the runner's spirit can be challenged to make it beyond the more demanding parts of the run.  Each furlong brings conflicting "signals" he must quickly interpret and act upon or reject.  Why?  Endurance for the long haul requires maintaining his focus - not succumbing to the pull of his emotions which will signal he is too tired to continue, or that it is taking him too long to finish this leg of the race.  Our emotions will break us in the "midst" of the race if we focus on them rather than the "furlong goal".  

Yes, we need to keep the end in sight and mind - but the "furlong goals" along the way are what help us to know what pace we are to be setting in order to finish the race!  It isn't how fast we run, but how well we run the "middle"!  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Help me get this right

Get, do, settle down, stick with it, keep, open up, hold nothing back, and quiet down.  A list of actions we must exhibit if we are to really grow in relationship with Jesus.  A list which may seem insurmountable to some, but when we really stop to think on these actions a little, we begin to see they are not really all that difficult.  God's plan for his kids is to grow closer to him - in order to do this, there are just some things which come naturally in relationship which we must respond to.  These are things like wanting to talk to each other and spending time with the other person.  I think this is why some of our social media options today are kind of awesome - especially things like "Face Time" and video messaging.  They allow those separated by the miles to be able to connect with each other despite the "physical distance" in their relationship.  Maybe what is being explained to us is the importance of taking a closer look at how we are interacting in our relationship with Jesus, not just that we are "in" relationship with Jesus.

Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last.  Keep company with God, get in on the best.  Open up before God, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.  Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.  (Psalm 37:3-7 MSG)

Get:  Cause it to be in your possession.  When something is in our possession it is usually there to be used.  If we simply possess things to say we possess them, then those possessions don't serve the purpose for which they were created.  The first action word we see presented to us doesn't suggestion we come into possession of something which becomes a nick-nack in our lives! When we are told to "get insurance", we are really being told to enter into a place where we trust God.  To gain possession of that which builds trust, there must be connection and "use" of that which we are trusting in.  For example, we might possess a flashlight and batteries.  We place it on the shelf to be prepared for the time when the electricity may go out.  If this is all we use the flashlight for, we will probably be a little disappointed when we go to use it that one time we need it.  Why?  Just sitting dormant on a shelf causes the batteries to weaken.  The light just isn't the same when it isn't used right away!  When we move into a place of trusting relationship with Jesus, we come into a place of receiving light - not to be stored on a shelf - but to be put into use in our lives all the time!

Do:  Doing good is more than helping the old lady across the busy street or volunteering at the soup kitchen on holidays.  It is a lifestyle which comes out of the trusting relationship we are allowing to be developed with Jesus.  The more we come to trust him, the more pleasure we find in doing "good" things which matter so much to him.  Doing good is not just a matter of "serving" others, it is also a matter of taking care to do the things in our lives which allow us to be built up and mature in his grace.

Settle down:  I have taught groups of rowdy preteens, toddlers, and the like. I love kids, so it comes to reason I would like to spend time with them.  There are times when I have had to say to them, "Settle down!", simply because they are just getting out of hand.  God isn't so different with us - sometimes we just need to "settle down" - come to a place of resting in him.  When I told those kids to settle down, I wasn't asking them to just be quiet.  I was asking them to refocus their attention, be aware of those around them, look beyond their immediate pleasure or need.  God asks the same of us.  

Stick with it:  Nothing gets us more discouraged than to see something begun and then it stalls out.  I deal with this all the time in my job.  We seem to make great progress toward a process change and then all of a sudden it is like we hit a brick wall.  Nothing seems to move forward!  Why?  Somehow we aren't "sticking with" what we said we were going to do.  There was a "drift" in our practice.  God doesn't expect perfection from us, but he does as for us to be committed.  There is a difference!

Keep:  This one kind of goes with "get".  We can "possess" a lot of things - but that which is not used somehow becomes harder and harder to keep.  We find we cannot trust it to be "good" or "reliable" to the same degree as when it was fresh and new.  We "keep" based on the frequency of "company" we keep with the one who has the power to continually renew!  

Open up:  At this point, God asks for our vulnerability.  To really grow in relationship with him, we have to let down our defenses and open up to him in ways we may not always be comfortable with.  To be truthful, we all face these moments of "uncomfortable obedience" in our walk with Jesus.  Let me just assure you - God doesn't treat our vulnerability disrespectfully.  As we open up to him, he is always sensitive to the exact vulnerability we are experiencing.  In opening up, we become available to his touch.  

Hold nothing back:  If we are to be truly vulnerable and open with Jesus, we will not be cautious in our "abandon" to him.  When we trust someone fully, we hold nothing back.  I have a really close friend and find it so awesome that we can just be together without any pretense or facade needed.  This gives us a certain "liberty" together which we may not have in other relationships.  We are free to speak what needs to be spoken - even when it may not be easy to hear.  We are free to express our concerns - even when they may be blown a little out of proportion.  We are free to be ourselves - and this is all God asks of us.

Quiet down:  This is probably the hardest of them all.  It is more than the call to "settle down" - but they do go together.  As we settle down, we often need to "quiet" our emotions which are running rampant within.  We can look pretty "settled down" on the outside, but if the inside is all running a muck, then we are really probably not able to enjoy our time with Jesus all that well.  To be quiet within we need something we don't possess on our own - the peace of God.  But...when we bring our "noisy emotions" and "loud thoughts" to Jesus, he is able to take those into his care and put them in right order for us.  In turn, we are both settled down and quieted within.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Long enough

What is your "long enough"?  Most of us have some capacity for endurance, whether it be with the distance we walk, the amount of waiting we can tolerate, or the pain we are willing to experience before we resort to a means of relief.  "Long enough" is not a measure which is the same for each of us, but rather is a unique measure based on where we are emotionally, physically, spiritually, and even "relationally".  Sometimes our "long enough" is shortened because of emotions being on edge - too much coming at us at one time and stress building up within.  At other times, the same things could roll off our back without an issue, just because we were more "in balance" with our emotional stressors.  There is nothing more disheartening, though, than to come to the place of "long enough" when you are waiting on God to answer some need in your life.  In those times of "long enough", we want immediate relief, so any amount of waiting seems like an eternity and carries with it a huge "weight" of pressure.

Long enough, God—you’ve ignored me long enough.  I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain.  Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me.  Take a good look at me, God, my God; I want to look life in the eye, so no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face.  I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—I’m celebrating your rescue.  I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers. (Psalm 13 MSG)

It should not surprise any of us that one of the first places our minds go when we are at this place of "long enough" is this idea of God ignoring us. Somehow we equate waiting, or even what we think is the slightest delay in relief, as his "ignoring of us".  The furthest thing is the case, though, for it is totally inconsistent with God's character to "ignore" his children.  He cannot "ignore" issues we create, nor those we face because others have created them for us. He can be silent for a period, and this is probably where we get the impression he is "ignoring us".  Silence is not ignorance - it is simply God waiting to speak!

How do you know if you have reached your "long enough" point?  Since this is not the same for each of us and is as varied as the issues we face, there is not a cut and dry answer to this question.  There are "hints" we might be at that point, though.  One such hint is the tendency to "feel" like we are "talking to the hand" when it comes to our times of conversation with God.  If you are not familiar with that saying it means we think God has erected some barrier to our being heard - we are talking to his hand - totally missing his ear and definitely not affecting his heart!  Again, this is the furthest thing from his character, because God's intensity of love for his creation could never allow him to turn a deaf ear or be unmoved in his heart by their need.

Another hint of reaching our "long enough" is the tendency to have "frazzled" emotions.  When we are at the end of our rope, emotions are kind of like live wires.  We just don't know what will set us off the next time, and we cannot seem to move beyond those raw emotions.  Emotions are definitely "real" and cannot be denied.  We may find ourselves at our "long enough" point with emotions ranging from rage to depression, fear to apathy, or even sorrow to the depths of unyielding grief.  The further we go "into" our emotions, the worse the "long enough" appears to us.  There is a sensitivity to our situation which almost gets "blown out of proportion" simply because of the magnitude of our emotions.  This doesn't mean the circumstances aren't real, important, or specific to us.  It just means we may be unable to move out of them because our emotions are too frazzled to "deal" with them any longer.

Perhaps one of the most "telling" hints we have come to this place of "long enough" is feeling like the circumstances will never change - this is the way it is always going to be.  Some might call this losing hope.  In essence, all expectation is gone - there is no reasonable solution to the issues at hand, so we interpret this as being "hopeless".  This may be the easiest place to begin to bring change into the circumstances, though.  For every moment of "hopelessness" is a moment whereby we can begin to change our focus.  A lack of hope is oftentimes based on the reality of our focus - focus on the issue(s) long enough and they become insurmountable (a mountain in our path incapable of being scaled).  Focus on the next step in front of us one by one and the mountain becomes nothing more than a path we travel to get to the other side!

Regardless of why we might be at our "long enough" point today, we have the opportunity to express ourselves to the one who actually cares about our "long enough" moments.  God is not put off by our admittance of this feeling it has been "long enough" for us to be dealing with whatever it is.  In fact, he is probably just waiting for us to bring him our "long enough" and let him become our "more than enough".  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The tipping point

After hearing that yet another movie actor may have taken his life, my mom and I were discussing just how many film stars brought an end to their own life "down through the ages".  In considering those who have known fame, we also considered just how fame and fortune had left them wanting so much more than it ever promised or provided.  This is a sad truth, but truth nonetheless.  Fame and fortune are elusive - they keep those who pursue either of them running toward them as if under their spell.  They are also disappointing - leaving those who finally "achieve" their end wanting more, but not really satisfied with what they have!  Sound familiar to anyone other than me?  Wanting more that what we have, chasing what seems to have us under some "spell" or external "control"?  We may not be pursuing fame in the sense of the movie stars, but we may be pursuing something with as much tenacity - something which will not truly bring us any satisfaction once attained.  

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

The reality we can all count on:  Life WILL fall apart at some point.  Whatever we place our trust in today will become the force we reckon with then.  We may not realize when or where our "tipping point" may come, but there is a tipping point.  I like to play this online game called "Angry Birds" - it tests my skill at figuring out the right point at which to hit this stack of objects to see them tumble so that I pop all the little green objects on the screen.  It is like when I was a little child and I used to line up all the dominoes in the house on the floor.  As I would align them one by one, presenting some obstacles for them to hurdle over, I would work tirelessly to get them to all fall down with the impact of the first domino falling.  Life is kind of like that - if all the dominoes are aligned, they all fall!  There is a "right combination" of "tipping points" in our lives which will get us every time if we are not careful!

I worked for hours on those little domino experiments.  Sometimes I would encounter a particular point at which I just could not get anymore of the dominoes to fall.  Most would have fallen, but at this one point (either a turn or because the height was different), no more would fall.  What made the difference was either the variation in the height or the distance between the last domino to fall and the one which remained upright.  Sometimes it was the slight variation in angle at which the domino was erected.  Regardless, they wouldn't fall beyond that certain point.  I think our lives might be a little like this when we get our focus off where it really should be.  We go along "erecting the dominoes" in a good path for a while, then we get a little variation in where we are headed, causing us to be at risk for "falling down" in rather short order.  It is good to know that the slightest "variation" is all it takes to set us in a course which can come tumbling down in a moment's time, though.  I think it keeps us humble!

We all have "tipping points" in life when we are at our greatest risk for life crumbling or tumbling down.  The "trick" is to allow the space between what could take us down and what has become our foundation to be great enough to keep us from being knocked down when those things we have been focusing on might just come tumbling down!  If our foundation is laid correctly, we are not going to be totally wiped out by a wrong pursuit!  We may suffer some loss, but we won't be totally taken out by it!  Now, at first this may not seem like a very "spiritual" thing to say, but it is truth.  We are the kind of creatures who will (on occasion) pursue a path which is not really the best for us to pursue.  Those paths are what place us at risk of succumbing to the "tipping point".  At that moment, what might just be the slightest difference in distance between our "firm foundation" and that wrong path makes all the difference in keeping us on our feet!

Think of the dominoes as "principles" upon which we build our lives.  Domino number one:  Serve no other God but the One True God.  Domino number two: Love him with all your heart, soul, and mind.  Domino number three:  Love others as he has loved you.  Domino number four....  You get the idea.  As we surrender to the one who wants to set the "dominoes in order" in our lives, we are assured a good foundation.  It is when we begin to take on the work of building that we get a little off-course.  The dominoes we erect will eventually produce a tipping point which can set us at risk of loss - but hear this clearly - only to a certain point!  That which was erected by the Master's skillful hand will remain standing - that which was erected by our own lusts, greed, demands, and warped perceptions will eventually be knocked down by whatever it was we were pursuing in the first place.  Just sayin!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fairing well because of the rules

Can you really say you always play by the rules?  Or that you actually "enjoy" the rules established by which you are asked to live your life?  Truth be told, most of us resist the rules on occasion, or think they are not really pertinent to our lives, so we don't embrace them as we should.  I don't own a handgun, so all laws (rules) applying to firearms don't really apply to me, do they? Yet, I could go out today and acquire one - making those rules ever so important for me to understand.  I don't have to become acquainted with the rules until I need to use them within my life - convenient, huh?  Most of us deal with the rules in life in this manner - if there is not a clear-cut reason for them right now in the "here and now", then they are good to have, but we don't go out of our way to learn them.  Now, in the sense of handgun laws, this may not make much difference today, but if someone were to change the rules, making it possible for anyone to own a handgun without any type of registration of that weapon, would that make a difference to us?  Probably - because now there would be no "regulation" over the weapons sold.  The rules somehow make a difference - even when we are not fully aware of them, don't they? Even when these rules are God's rules, we don't need to know them fully to understand they still apply to us!

I enjoy following your rules as much as others enjoy great riches. (Psalm 119:14 MSG)

Simply put, a rule is something which is in place to govern our actions - it is to be the observed practice in the lives of those under that rule.  Here in my area, the speed limit on the freeways is predominantly 65 miles per hour. There are a few stretches more toward the inner sector of the city which are 55 miles per hour, but for the most part they remain at 65.  Now, how many folks actually slow down when they hit those slower sectors?  Not many!  It is as though the "rule" is a suggestion, not a requirement - UNTIL you see the speed trap with the radar gun ahead!  Then watch the brake lights come on! What is the difference?  As long as no one enforces the rules, we don't think they really matter to us!  Do you know why speed limits are set the way they are?  It is usually because of the flow of traffic in and out of the lanes of that busy part of the freeway - slowing down traffic makes it easier for merging traffic to enter the freeway, but also it makes it safer!

So, we have ascertained that rules are to govern our actions, keep us safe, and may not immediately appear to affect us on the surface, but if not observed, can place both us and those around us in danger.  Perhaps this will give us a different outlook on the rules God establishes for our lives and records for us in scripture.  Maybe we don't know all the reasoning behind those rules, but we can be sure they are there for the reasons we have stated above!  We don't need to know the reason behind each and every "rule", but we should embrace them all with equal enthusiasm because they are both for our protection and our well-being.

Protection is one thing - well-being is another.  Protection is the preservation from harm or injury.  Well-being is what we might call our "state of affairs". As long as we can say our "well-being" is good, we are describing a state of life in which there is perhaps health, good fortune, prosperity, or what some might call "fairing well".  God's "rules" or "commands" are there for both! There is nothing onerous about his "rules" when we begin to think of them this way.  They are there to protect us from harm or injury - this is indeed a desirable state, is it not?  They are there to bring us into places of "fairing well", no matter what the challenges are we might face.  This is indeed a much better state than we could produce on our own, isn't it?

No wonder our psalmist says he follows God's rules like some others might pursue the riches of this world!  He has come to realize there is much more value in living according to the standards God lays out for his life than there is in pursuing the things which don't last.  If we embrace ALL the rules, even those we don't know or think apply to us at this moment, we will indeed "fair well" in this life.  Just sayin!F

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stop to consider

Selah - a Hebrew word rich with meaning.  It carries the idea in the Psalms of being an instruction to pause calmly to think about what has just been said. It is a time to pause and carefully consider the meaning of what has been said, while at the same time lifting up our hearts in praise to God.  So, it carries this dual meaning of both taking pause and responding to what we are "mulling over" in our minds, hearts, and spirits.  The response of praise is perhaps the easiest.  The response of "pausing to consider" is not - for we are not accustomed to "ruminating" over scripture.  We read it, probably "lightly" considering what we just read, but not really allowing it to lead us into praise and worship.  Since the Book of Psalms was actually much like the "hymn book" out of which the Israelites sang their songs of worship, I wonder if this word "selah" might be a place where the musicians just played on while the worshipers took a moment to consider the words they have just sung?  Either way, the idea is that of thinking carefully about, especially in order to make a decision - something we call "contemplation".  Therefore, selah was a call to take some action after considering the instruction which was presented.

God is our protection and source of strength.  He is always ready to help us in times of trouble.  So we are not afraid when the earth quakes and the mountains fall into the sea.  We are not afraid when the seas become rough and dark and the mountains tremble. Selah (Psalm 46:1-3 ERV)

Don't lose sight of this idea of "taking action", for it is what is missing in most of our churches today.  Hundreds will gather in congregations across the world, hear great teaching, and walk away unaffected by what they have heard.  Why?  No one really took the moment to "selah"!  I like the idea of ruminating over scripture because it means we "chew on it" over and over again until we get everything out of it!  When we start to approach our study of the Word of God in this way, we might be less concerned with the "accomplished task" of reading through the Bible in a year and more intent on just "digesting" the tidbits we stop along the way to consider!

With this idea of stopping to consider in order to respond, we want to break apart our verses today:

- God is our protection and source of strength.  God - not just any god, but Elohim - the one who has created all things who also governs and controls all things.  This name of God refers to the attributes of God which suggest he is the owner (possessor) of all things and the one with the power and authority to do all things with what it is he possesses.  We see this term used for God whenever it is referring to the part of his character which "covenants" with his people - for he is both the one who covenants and the one who provides the means by which the covenant may be ratified.  This is the plural name of God, what some will think of as signifying the Trinity.  At first, the "name" used to describe God may not seem significant, but when we "ruminate" on it a little, we see the one who both creates and owns all things is both the protector of all things and the source of strength for all things.  He doesn't just "create" and then leave us to do our own thing - figure out life on our own.  He creates us for relationship - to be intimately connected to him as our source of protection and strength - not dependent upon our own self-effort to get us through.

- He is always ready to help us in times of trouble.  Elohim is still being spoken of here - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The "triune" God stands "on the ready" to help us.  In field and track, one of the "postures" they taught us was to be "on the ready" to leave the starting block, or to take over the carrying of the baton.  This signified a sense of alertness and readiness to respond.  The idea is of watchfulness and awareness.  Our God both watches over us and is continually aware of the happenings in our lives.  Nothing escapes his notice, nor his care.  Times of trouble are those things which arise and bring a disturbance in our "mental calm" and / or contentment.  God is ever-aware of what brings us worry - he stands on the ready to take the load from us, carrying it on our behalf.  He stands alert to those things which remove us from a place of balance in our lives - knowing the damage "being out of balance" can cause.  The challenge comes in letting him carry the load!

- So...we are not afraid when the earth quakes and the mountains fall into the sea.  Most of us don't live on earthquake faults, nor do we see "mountains" crumbling into the sea most days, but this is an apt description for us of what life can "appear" to be like when our peace has been disturbed and our contentment affected deeply.  We "feel" like the world is caving in around us and we are going to be "buried alive" by the pressures of these things. Earthquakes don't "just happen" - there has been this "shifting" of something deep within the earth which no longer allows for the "elasticity" of movement to occur unnoticed.  The earth is always shifting below the surface, but we seldom notice because there is no "tremor".  When the shift occurs long enough and with great enough force, the "tremor" occurs - the "elastic strain" is at its max.  Doesn't this describe how pressures mount within us at times? We are going along with the subtle "shifts" here and there, able to move with the shifts which occur until one day when the pressure is just too much and the strain is unbearable.  At that point - we give way to the "tremors".  When we are faced with the "tremors" of life, he is there - not to just observe them, but to hold us close as we go through them - fearlessly, faithfully, and with tremendous grace.

- We are not afraid when the seas become rough and dark and the mountains tremble.  It doesn't say we should not be afraid - it says we are not afraid. Should implies there is a choice - we plan on not being afraid, but maybe we won't act upon those plans.  This is not what is presented - we ARE NOT afraid.  Period!  This is because we consider our source of strength in times of trouble - our source of help.  It is not in the best laid plans, but in the closeness of relationship we maintain with the source of all strength and peace!

To this I can only add, "Selah".  Just sayin!