Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pass it on

The Law of Moses existed in times past - the gospel of Christ is the "marching orders" for the church of today.  Yet we don't discount the many lessons taught in the Law of Moses, nor do we tout as superior the gospel of Christ.  One points to the other - the Law pointing the way to the coming of Christ and the accomplished work of his cross.  One thing remains true through the ages - God loves his kids enough to give them direction on how it is they are to live their lives.  He loves them enough to guide their steps and prepare their hearts for great and majestic things.  The gospel message is plain - all who will believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord will be saved.  The Law pointed to the one who would fulfill every manner of sacrifice needed in order to make the gospel message of salvation a reality.  In the giving of the Law to the people of Israel, there was one instruction which rang true over and over again - pass it on!  Pass it on to the next generation - for they will not know if we don't pass it on.

God gave his Law to Jacob’s descendants, the people of Israel. And he told our ancestors to teach their children, so that each new generation would know his Law and tell it to the next. Then they would trust God and obey his teachings, without forgetting anything God had done. They would be different from their ancestors, who were stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful to God. (Psalm 78:5-8 CEV)

Today is no different for those of us who have believed the gospel message - the good news of Christ's salvation gift to those who would place their faith and trust in his finished work on the cross.  Yet, there are generations coming up behind us who will never know this gospel message unless we pass it on.  In the "telling" of the truths contained in God's Word, there is something powerful which happens.  The one taught becomes the teacher - in teaching, you learn greater truths.  If you don't believe this to be true, try teaching today's math to one of your grandchildren!  Today's math is totally different from the "new math" I learned when I came through school.  Now, you might think there is but one way to arrive at the sum of two numbers, but I am hear to tell you they are teaching like seven different ways to get at that sum!  In teaching my grandson so he can complete his homework assignment, I am having to learn new principles myself!

The same is true when we are trusting and obeying Christ - the truths will remain consistently the same (as when two plus two consistently equals four). They don't change - but the depth of those truths and the impact they make in our lives and in the lives of those around us expand as we re-tell those truths over and over again.  It is like exploring afresh an area you thought you knew everything about already.  On a recent trip to California, we traveled the same roads back and forth to make several daily jaunts to the place my mother was visiting with a friend she has known for years.  As we passed this one particular spot in the road, we had missed the fact of this huge white chicken mounted high on a roof peak at a nursery.  All of a sudden, I looked up ahead and saw the gigantic chicken and was shocked to realize I had missed it all those times going back and forth.  The chicken had consistently been there - I had just missed it!

This can be the case with truths we think we have learned well.  We "pass over" them time and time again, almost without thinking or stopping to take notice of what is really contained within those pages.  When we have the opportunity to "pass along" the truths we have learned, we might just realize there is a huge white chicken perched in plain view that we have missed!  I think the instruction given to Israel to pass on to the next generation the truths they had received was twofold.  First, they didn't have printing presses like we do today, so the passage of truth was reliant upon one individual sharing the wealth of knowledge they had with the next.  Second, there is power in sharing truth - it brings not only enlightenment to the next generation, but it brings depth of wisdom to the present.

Another important outcome of "re-telling" the truths of God and the life lessons we have learned while sitting at his feet is this idea of "reproducing" the principles of obedience and trust in the next generation.  What is recounted will eventually produce results in those who hear the recounting.  Scripture reminds us - faith comes by hearing - and hearing comes by the Word of God.  As we get into the Word ourselves, we develop hearing ears and responsive hearts.  In time, we develop depth of faith manifest in obedience in our own lives.  In sharing the truths which take root in us, we are ensuring the next generation has a chance to have the Word take root in them, as well.  Truth must not only be read - it must be heard.  There is a "double-whammy" effect when it is not only taken in through the "eye-gate" (written word), but also the "ear-gate" (hearing).  

If we see rebellion all around us, perhaps what we can infuse into those lives is simply the truth - passing on to a generation who is on overload with input the things which really matter in the end.  Just sayin!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Run, hide - change is coming!

Every point of transition in our lives is an opportunity to leave a legacy of some kind.  It can be positive or negative, uplifting or kind of a bummer.  Either way, we leave some kind of legacy as we move from one point in our lives to another. When transitions occur, we have an opportunity to take them in stride, or we can go through them kicking and screaming all the way.  Transition is just a big word for change - moving from one position to another, passage from one state into another, etc.  The old adage certainly holds true - there is one constant in life and that is change.  Sometimes change doesn't come in easy, lulling waves, but in ominous, crashing ones.  When we face those times of transition which are a little frightening and overwhelming to us, we need to know we have an opportunity to not take them alone - Christ walks at our side, even leading the way so we have a clear pathway through even the most difficult of change.

A good reputation and respect are worth much more than silver and gold. The rich and the poor are all created by the Lord. When you see trouble coming, don’t be stupid and walk right into it—be smart and hide. (Proverbs 22:1-3 CEV)

A good reputation and respect go hand in hand, do they not?  Very seldom do we find anyone with a poor reputation that we can actually respect.  We might hear someone say they "respect" someone for being bold enough to stand up against the system, but in the end, the "repute" they have will be based on their rebellion, not their obedience!  How another "estimates" our worth or value is based on what they observe in our practice - good or bad, this is often the truth. We might think this is kind of sad since what someone may see might not fully represent who and what an individual is on the "inside".  I daresay this is often the case with my own actions - for sometimes they align well with what is at the core of my being, and at others they just go all askew and are totally out of character to the truth Christ dwells in me!

All of life is a journey from one point to another - enough of these smaller journeys and we form larger points of "transition" in our lives (such as when we move out of the house after graduation, or when we get married).  There are also points of transition which are almost thrust upon us and we have little to no control over their influence in our lives (such as the death of a spouse).  Either way, there is a plea given to us today in our passage to be "smart" about how we face these transition points.  We could go gang-busters on now being independent and make all kinds of wacky and not so reliable decisions which we would pay for later in life.  We could go deeply into despair and depression, finding it harder and harder to face each new day.  The range of possibilities are limitless - but the one constant we have in the midst of transition if Christ!

Change equals growth.  I have come to consider all of change as a matter of moving from one point of growth in my life to the next.  I could bemoan the next set of circumstances which will attempt to knock me on my hind end, or I could face them head-on with the power and grace only God can give.  The end result will be influenced by how we face the points of change.  It almost seems like our writer tells us to go somewhere and hide while transition is coming our way, but I want us to consider something a little closer to the point.  To ensure we face transition well, he is likely telling us to avoid the unwise choices, running instead into the place of safety we have in Christ Jesus.  After all, God is our hiding place, is he not?

In these Arizona storm seasons, we get high winds upwards to about 50 miles per hour or a little higher.  As you can well imagine, the Arizona desert is a little dry, so winds like this have a damage potential a little greater than in areas lush in green growth.  Trees are toppled by the handfuls, uprooted totally from their place of growth.  Why?  They don't have a deep root system - our soil is too hard and the evaporation factor when we do water doesn't allow for much more than what most would refer to as "surface watering".  So, when the strong winds blow, they topple easily.  We have to stake our trees, even when they appear to be strong enough to handle the winds, because their root system isn't strong enough to endure the force.

I wonder how we'd face the winds of change in our lives - are our roots deep enough to help us stand strong in the midst of their force?  If we want to know how deep our roots are we need only look as far as the soil in which they are planted.  Hardened hearts don't allow for deep roots.  Occasional watering (only going surface deep) of our hearts with a little of the Word of God once in a while is not enough to give us depth in our lives.  In fact, we will be deceiving ourselves if we think a little "taste" of God's Word is enough to help us endure the force of change in our lives!  We need good soil - in order to be made good, it has to be worked.  We need depth of watering - in order to get to the depths of our soul, we need to allow the time to be soaked in his presence and his Word.  Just sayin!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Choosing the right focus

Only - a small word, but rich in meaning.  It carries the idea that there will be no other worthy of out attention, or that something is exclusively for our use and enjoyment.  I like to think of it as single in distinction or superiority with nothing else being able to compare to it.  When I get the "only" great buy at the store, I feel like I have scored big time.  It is like I have won the jackpot!  When I gain the attention of one who I desire to spend time with, I feel like I also have scored big time!  I wonder if God feels that way about us?  When he gets our attention and holds it just long enough for us to connect with him, he is probably saying something like, "I only have you in my thoughts right now".  In essence, when we make God our only focus in life, we are saying we only have room for him in our lives.  The moment we make this our claim in life - living it out in our daily actions - we cross over from living vague and meaningless lives into the vastness of his goodness and grace.

Only God can save me, and I calmly wait for him. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe and the fortress where I am secure. (Psalm 62:1-2 CEV)

The psalmist David often took time to let God know exactly where he was "at" in his life experiences.  He wanted God to understand his heart and I think he probably desired to understand God's as much.  I think we all want God to understand our hearts, because our actions often speak of other intentions than what is deep within our hearts, right?  It is like we set out minds toward one goal, then realize we have pursued another.  David finds himself hotly pursued by the armies of Saul - out to destroy his life and ensure David is not alive to assume the throne after Saul's death.  Saul knows David has been chosen by God, but this does not stop his pursuit of David.  If you don't know the story of David's early life, let me give you a little background.  

He was a teenager, out in the fields taking care of his father's sheep.  He lived with the sheep most of the time, because that is what shepherds do.  They have to keep constant watch over them so no wild critter sneaks in and nabs them in the night.  In essence, he was involved in a pretty "lowly" occupation.  He wasn't learned in the schools of theology, or from a particularly wealthy family who may have gained societies attention when looking for their next king.  In fact, Israel had asked for Saul as their king and it wasn't working out as well as they'd hoped.  As David is about his business of tending sheep, God sends a prophet to anoint the next King of Israel - David himself.  A long line of brothers older and more experienced than David were looked over by the prophet when at last he asks if there are any other sons.  Jesse, David's dad, says there is but one more, but he is in the fields tending the sheep.

David is anointed king that day, but he will not assume the throne for quite some time, as Saul is still enthroned.  Unless the king was killed in battle, or died of natural causes, he would wait until Saul was no longer on the throne. In the meantime, David ministers for a while in the courts of Saul - playing his musical instruments.  David was actually anointed three times - initially by the prophet, once when he assumed the throne at around age 33 when he became King of Judah and again at about age 40 when he became King of Israel.  In between the time of his first anointing and his actually ascension to the throne, he is hotly pursued by Saul's armies - in an attempt to kill him.  So, from shepherding sheep to the throne of Israel, he spends a lot of time on the run and learning military wisdom.  

I don't believe anything happens by accident - God has a purpose in all we go through in life.  I wonder if David would have been as prepared to take over as King of Israel if he hadn't had all those years learning military tactics?  Perhaps not.  In those "in between" moments, David has one consistent "tactic" for his own life - God is his one and only.  He makes God the center of his attention and he keeps him there.  In doing so, he trusts in God's plan even though he doesn't see the evidence of it immediately unfolding in his life.  This is often the breaking point for us, isn't it?  The time "in between" the promise and the evidence of that promise worked out in our lives.  What happens in those periods of time makes all the difference, though.  For it is in these moments we find exactly where our attention is focused.

David's attention - clearly and definitely on God alone.  He awaits God's intervention time and time again - despite the frequency of attacks, the ease at which he could escape it all, or the desire to assume his right of passage unto the throne.  He will wait - and in so doing, he makes sure God remains the ONLY focus in his waiting.  There is a lesson there for all of us - in the choice of focus.  Choosing the right focus will help us await the right timing, endure the multiple trials which might come along the way, and be content with the present blessings we enjoy.  Just sayin!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Whatcha thinking?

Thoughts are something people may not know unless you are willing to share them, right?  Not necessarily - if you have ever had someone say something and you find yourself saying "I was just thinking that!" then you know what I mean.  It was as though that person was "inside your brain" at that moment in time and just figured out what you were saying.  Most of the time, you do keep your thoughts "inside your brain" without anyone figuring them out, though - they are only known if you desire to share them.  There are a variety of thoughts - as vast as the stars in the heavens.  Some are deeper thoughts, pertaining to tough decisions, life-critical moments, etc.  Others are kind of "fleeting" - here today and gone tomorrow.  Learning to discover your OWN thoughts can be enough of a challenge, right?  Learning the thoughts of another is astronomically harder, but given enough time and commitment toward each other, that discovery may yield tremendous insight!

Someone’s thoughts may be as deep as the ocean, but if you are smart, you will discover them. (Proverbs 20:5 CEV)

Thought implies mental activity - you may think you are just having "idle" thoughts, but trust me, no thought is without some mental activity on your part. Stimuli come in from without and mix with that which we have going on already in our brains and we have new thought.  Thought takes into account about three different types of activity:  Meditation, Contemplation, or Recollection.

Meditation is the process of having continued or extended thought on a particular matter.  It involves a certain amount of "crunching" of the input we have received, kind of like mulling things over and over again until we really get it or come to a new revelation as a result.  In meditation, we consider how some action will produce another action.  It is as thought we are looking at the intended purpose of something and seeing how it all fits together with the sum of all thoughts relating to the same subject.

Contemplation is more of the giving continued and very focused attention toward the object of your thought.  It is kind of like when you find yourself really intently focusing on how to make a budget for a huge department you might manage.  You have to over and over the details, bringing them all into alignment, making conscious choices of where to move this item or that in order to gain the balance you need to see.  There is a certain amount of "study" in contemplation - you have to discover, crunch, and come to conclusions.

Recollection is really this process we refer to as memory - the things remembered as a result of some "marker" we create in our brain which is like adding a "file" to a hard drive (better known as our brain).  When we have the process of memory, we can both retain and "revive" facts - maybe not in exact order or with the greatest of detail - but we can do it nonetheless.  In the aging process it is natural to hold old memories as pretty accurate, but many of the newer ones of today (like what you ate for breakfast) may not be as easily recollected.

Now, we marry all three of these together and we see just how complex our brains have to be to allow all three of these actions to take place at the same time!  No wonder we are drained at the end of the day!  We have been crunching, considering, fitting things together, mulling over, and calling up again and again stuff all day long!  Periods of meditation (especially when they are upon the good stuff like the Word of God) actually build us up and bring clarity into our decision making process.  Periods of contemplation help us to apply the things we have been meditating upon into real practice in our lives. When we combine these with memory or recall, you can see how memory just serves to assist us with the two processes.

To learn the thoughts of another we must take into consideration these three methods of thinking in order to understand if their thought is from meditation, contemplation, memory, or a combination of any of these three.  When someone shares with us of the things they have been meditating upon, we find out some unique things God may have been speaking deep into their heart.  If they have the opportunity to share the things they have been contemplating, we often get insight into the tough decisions they have to make or steps they are taking along the way.  When the interweave memories into the mix, we get the added bonus of learning just a little bit of what lends "history" to their character.  

It is a good thing to discover the thoughts of another - especially when they are deeper and genuine in their sharing.  It helps us grow as individuals and we often learn from another - acting as catalysts for the other to finally realize potential and move into new capacity in their lives.  So, discover on, my friends! You may just be the one blessed by the discovery!  Just sayin!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Words which bring blessing and grace...

As a kid, mom occasionally retrieved the bar of soap, directing us to stick out our tongues while she proceeded to wash our mouths out with it.  It was usually the result of some form of backtalk or just totally "naughty" words we were not supposed to be saying.  Lest you think it is time to call the authorities on my mom, let me assure you a little Ivory soap in the mouth doesn't kill the child!  I made it all these years and never suffered anything but a little bitter taste to remind me the words I choose to use actually do matter.  Definitely, without a doubt, curse words were forbidden.  We just didn't say them.  Yet there were other types of words just as damaging - like disrespectful words said in anger against an authority in our lives.  I daresay there are times when our words are less than desirable - kind of like greasy dishwater in the kitchen sink.  You could get by with them, but they don't leave you feeling very clean - they leave a "film" of some sorts you just cannot get past!  

Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say. (Ephesians 4:29 CEV)

Paul instructs the Ephesian church to "stop all their dirty talk".  I don't think these believers were going around cursing and using obscenities as freely as they were using "praise God" and "Hallelujah", but who knows.  Really, what he was saying can be better understood if we look at this verse in the Amplified Bible:   Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.  Our list of the kind of words we speak begins to be a little clearer, doesn't it?  Let's break it down a little:

- No foul or polluting language.  I think this may actually encompass those curse words and obscenities we can hear bantered around by most sailors.  It also encompasses those times when our speech is just grossly offensive.  In fact, these types of words might be what actually is pictured when we say something is fouled up within a circumstance.  The words actually create a "dam" effect and keep welled up the negative stuff within.  So, in time these words actually cause this decaying process which leads to further words becoming even more polluting in nature.  I can definitely see why he starts with these!

- No evil word, unwholesome or worthless talk.  If I were to say the meal was not "fit" to eat because it was spoiled or just a whole lot of bad choices, this is probably what is being referred to here.  These words are actually unhealthy for us - they get us going in the wrong direction.  They are "good for nothing" kind of words.  Now, how might this manifest in our daily conversation?  It could be we just speak a whole lot of words which actually "clog the arteries" of our relationships, or that we just spend time saying a whole lot of stuff with little to no value, wasting both our own time and that of those who have to listen to us!

- Speech which is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others.  Now we are at the kind of speech we should be endeavoring to embrace.  Good and beneficial - this is definitely not the case with the types of words referred to above.  Beneficial words have at their basis the idea of being "helpful" - there is some advantage to them being spoken or written.  So, this type of speech is actually helping another to grow in grace, and moving them toward a deeper relationship with Christ and others.  We might think of these words as encouragement, exhortation, and maybe even a little counsel.

- Words fitting to the need and the occasion.  These are words spoken "in season" and with the right perspective.  There are definitely times when it is better to remain silent than to bring up something, right?  The timing is wrong.  When we consider these types of words, we are really saying we will bring our speech into alignment with the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives and allow our speech to be directed by him.  When we do this, we find our timing is spot on and our perspective is clearer in the matter.

- Words which are are a blessing and bring grace.  The final reminder is to allow our speech to be a comfort or encouragement to another.  It is the type of speech which considers the needs of another over their own and allows their words to be continuously be bathed in grace.  In this type of exchange, we find "favor" being brought into the relationship.  These types of words actually help to grow us together.

So, in considering our words today, let us keep in mind the overarching idea of saying the right thing at the right time in the right manner.  If we do this, we will avoid many a calamity within relationship we would have done well to avoid!  Just sayin!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cart before the horse?

Have you ever answered before you totally listened?  I think this is a plight common to mankind - we get ahead of ourselves and others on occasion.  Whenever we do, the natural outcome is to either to jump to conclusions before we have all the facts we need, or to think we know the solution when we have no idea we are really aiming at.  To this end, I find myself often "backing the boat up" to start over again when I find I have jumped ahead!  I need to regroup - something which can be costly, to say the least, because we expend our energies and often harm relationships when we have put the cart before the horse.  The core reason we suffer from this common ailment of "acting before listening" is this idea of pride.  This "superior" impression we have of ourselves, our abilities, and our stance in life often gets in the way of us really hearing!  When it does, we find the issues multiply - they don't seem to decrease!

Pride leads to destruction; humility leads to honor. It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen. (Proverbs 18:12-13 CEV)

Pride leads to destruction.  It is like a detour sign - you can be traveling along pretty well when all of a sudden you encounter this orange sign indicating your course is going to be changed.  You might find yourself in some of the most unfamiliar territory whenever you have to follow a detour!  So avoiding detours is probably a good thing!  Pride always leads somewhere - but the destination and the journey it takes us is not always that desirable.

Humility leads to honor.  A different path indeed - for in humility, we find we are no longer guided by our need to be in control, but can willingly submit to the will of another. In pride, we simply plunge ahead despite hearing the will of another, or without waiting to discover it!  The bulk of our relationship issues really stem from the times we allow pride to dictate our actions.  

If you have ever found yourself "backing the boat up", you know how this simple action makes you feel - humiliated!  Now, humiliation is when we "lose face", so to speak.  We take a blow to our self-respect.  Essentially, not listening is really a sign we don't respect ourselves in the first place!  If we did, we'd save ourselves the "rework" in life!  

So, how do we learn to listen THEN answer rather than answer THEN listen?  If we really want to avoid the rework,we have to get a handle on our feelings of "self-importance" and see how it is we move into a greater place of "self-respect".  These are different - one elevates one's worth to unreal heights; the other gives us a true sense of exactly where we stand.

It has been hard to learn not to "talk over" others - this is a constant life-lesson for me.  I think my ideas and stories matter, I guess, so I just start blurting them our on occasion when they neither matter, nor is the timing right for their sharing.  The times when I have deferred to another to just listen, I learn so much.  I learn about them as a person and I am able to hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit bringing clarity into my mind and heart.

This one action of listening FIRST has been the hardest lesson for me to learn, but it probably has been one of the most valuable.  Yet, there are times when others expect me to have more to say, or to jump to immediate action.  They don't understand this period of just "listening".  In fact, they misinterpret it as me being timid at times.  In fact, I am not timid - I am just trying to avoid the "rework"!  If I were totally honest, I have been embarrassed by my quick conclusions in the past and don't want to repeat that same action in the present!

A couple of things to remember:
- Rework happens anytime we don't take the time to listen up front.  Pride keeps us from listening - because we think we have it all figured out, know best, have been this way before, etc.  We have to move from being "self-important" to being able to respect the decisions we make - this only comes when we take time consistently to listen.
- Humility is not being abased.  It is being aware of one's value and then allowing that value to lend to the moment.  We don't flaunt our value - we lend it.  The difference is that of being available to do as God says, when he says.  Pride gets us acting out of our own impressions - humility helps us to act on the impression God plants within.
- Relationships are made better in the listening.  We discover so much about ourselves when we take time to be quiet!  You may think the opposite would be true, but when I don't immediately launch into action, I find my thoughts allow me to digest the truths I am hearing and weed out the untruths just as well.

We may not get this down the first time we try it, but if we consistently ask God to assist us in being more in tune with where and when we might just be displaying a little too much self-importance, he will reveal not only those places and times, but a consistent theme of where we have been less than respectful of others and ourselves.  We don't avoid detours by ignoring the signs - we manage to avoid them by never traveling down the road in the first place!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What "nest" do you find yourself in today?

If you are like me, your conversation sometimes doesn't match your actions! You say something, but you do another.  It is a common problem we all face - getting this "doing" to match our "saying".  As I get a little bit older, wiser, and just closer to Jesus, I find the distance between the two narrows.  This is good news!  Yet, there still come times when there is a lack of congruence between the two.  Ephesians 5:1 says we are to "do as God does" - because we are his kids.  Kids emulate the actions they see in their parents.  This is why the saying, "Don't do as I do, but do as I say" doesn't make any sense to kids.  We follow examples, don't we?  We see something modeled and that is what we think we should do.  Even little goslings may be hatched into a nest of a mother chicken and before long, the goslings "emulate" the chicken - they don't know they are geese because they have only been around chickens!  Sometimes I think we don't know we are God's kids because we are always hanging around with a crowd who just doesn't know him.  This is why it is important to have these relationships where we challenge each other to grow more like Jesus - because we will become what we follow - do what we see - and grow closest to what we make our main focus in life!

Act like people with good sense and not like fools.  These are evil times, so make every minute count.  Don’t be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17 CEV)

Hang with the fools and you begin to act like a fool.  As you probably have heard me say before, a fool is just someone who doesn't even use the common sense God gave them!  They just march to the beat of a different drum - one which has them marching to the tune of "What is in this for me" or some such song.  Hang with the kids in love with Jesus and you find you begin to act like Jesus!  Imagine that!  To learn to "do as God does", we need to be cognizant of the company we keep!  We can act like real turkeys if we somehow end up in their nest!

As I have mentioned before, common sense is indeed a gift from God.  He knows there will be times when we just need to act - not having the time to kneel before him in prayer and spend a great deal of time "consulting" him on the matter.  We need to act spontaneously and within a short period of time. To this end, he gives us conscience and good sense to help guide us into the right course to take.  Now, these two things become more and more reliable when we spend regular time in the Word, taking in more and more of God's principles, and when we also have regular time just listening for what God has to say to us. In time, our minds reflect frequently upon the principles of "right living" God teaches and we find those principles are reflected in our conscious decision making.

We "do" what comes naturally to us.  When our nature is a little bit messed up from the get-go, we need a remake on our nature in order to have it be more reliably acting upon what is right and good.  This is the business of God in our lives - the remaking of our nature so we get these principles deep into our spirit, mind, conscience, and decision-making center of our lives.  We can make decisions based on emotion, mindful thought, calculated risk, or any number of ways.  When we make decisions upon what God bases all "good" and "right" actions, we are bound to see outcomes which support solid growth in our lives.

There are times when we will be at crossroads in our lives - those moments of indecision sometimes growing into days of indecision.  Where we get hung up sometimes is in the "following" what we know to be true.  One course will present some truth which beckons us onward, but then we almost talk ourselves out of pursuing it because of fear, insecurity, or the like.  It can be like this when we need to clear the air with someone - things having been said or done which just set two people at odds.  It may also be like this when we are faced with the next phase of what it is we are to do with our lives.  Decisions range from obedience to what we know to be true within relationship principles as God teaches them (don't harbor bitterness against another) to what we know to be true about what God wants for our lives (grace, peace, and blessings).

In those moments of indecision, we "follow" what has become the most familiar to us.  If our example has been anything less than God himself, we may find our actions will align with something very unreliable and untrustworthy.  This is why God wants us to get to know him deeply - to relate to and with him.  This is why he gives us solid example to follow - "nests" in which we can grow up to be just like him.  Be cognizant of the "nest" you honker down in - it can become the source of many a worry and trouble later on.  The gosling may not learn to fly if he hangs around with a chicken too long - for the chicken is content to scurry around the coop chasing bugs on the ground.  The gosling has mighty wings made for soaring long distance in flight - if he never gets to use his wings, what a pity that would be!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Clams have hard shells

The opportunities to be beaten down by this world and the stuff we have to face in it are innumerable.  We find ourselves constantly on the alert for the next "attack" - hoping it will not catch us unaware or gawking at something meaningless.  When the attacks come from someone we are in relationship with, and they will come, our attitude toward those who are attacking us makes a huge difference in the outcome!  All we see is the attack - what we need to see is the one behind the attack.  All we deal with is the attack - we forget about the force behind it - whether it be jealousy, bitterness, or fear (to name only a few). All attacks within relationship stem from some form of emotion - the one attacking is experiencing something which they respond to in a way which is less than honoring or holy.  In turn, your response is a little bit outside of the perspective you should be maintaining in the moment.  This is natural - we respond in a defensive manner because we are being attacked.  Perhaps one of the greatest struggles we will face in this life is to respond with wisdom and sensibility when others attack us.

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 3:14-18 CEV)

Get in a position of not seeing eye-to-eye with another in relationship and you will soon note that sensibility is something which flies out the window.  Both parties somehow forget how to act toward the other - they are responding to the emotion of the moment.  In turn, things get said, attitudes get displayed, and memories are planted which just don't belong within the relationship.  This is how bitterness and resentment get started.  Sensibility is just the capacity to experience senses - we need wisdom to keep those senses in check!

We need an acuteness of apprehension when it comes to relationship issues. The things which are said don't actually reflect reality - but they do reflect reality to the other person.  We know there must be something behind those words which come as an attack - but we aren't seeing the relationship moment the same way they are - so we need this wisdom from above to weed our way through the messiness of relationship.  One response to being threatened, or feeling like you have not been understood in relationship is to become a clam. The individual pulls tightly into their shell and closes down.  If you have ever tried to get a live clam open, you know you are struggling against their desire to stay "shut up".  The same is true in relationship - when someone pulls in and shuts down, the damage done trying to get them to open up before they want to can actually be quite devastating!

The clam can stay in their shell for a long period of time, but eventually it has to open the shell and take in freshness.  If it doesn't, it putrefies in the byproduct of what it has taken in before it shut down!  At first, this may not seem like a really big revelation to anyone, but even clams will die in their "bitter juices" if they don't expel the "waste" of what they have taken in!  In relationship, we take in a whole lot of stuff - wisdom dictates we take in the best and leave the rest.  Yet, we don't always use wisdom, do we?  In fact, we sometimes take in stuff, clamp down on it and allow ourselves to fester in the juices of the garbage we took in!  In time, our whole life turns bitter because of what we have been marinating in and on!

Did you know clams are one of the longest living creatures on this earth?  There have been some found who probably are well over 200 years old.  Why does this matter to us?  If we are "clam-like" in our response to attacks within relationship, we may live a long, long time, but we become pretty hardened by what we have marinated in all those years!  Bitterness has no part in our lives, yet it takes root quicker than weeds!  When words are spoken, our minds latch onto them, form memories around them, and file them away.  We rehearse them when we cannot figure out why the other person said them, what was behind them, or when we just want a good pity party.  In time, what is rehearsed forms a new reality for us - it clouds how we see the relationship. The root is set and we are going to harvest a huge crop of resentment if we don't get a handle on it early on!

Every opportunity for the relationship to fail is at our disposal.  Equally so, every opportunity for it to grow in Christ is at our access.  It takes opening up to get in freshness - it takes letting go of the gunk we have clamped down on for so long in order to bring in newness.  All of us has the potential to be the clam.  All of us have the potential to be the one who brings freshness into the relationship.  It may not be the easiest thing to be a peacemaker, but if you find yourself being impressed to be one today, step out and see the potential in the newness you can bring into someone's life today. It may be the only "fresh water" they have taken in for a long, long time!  Just sayin!

Monday, September 22, 2014

How do we love God?

Have you made confession with your mouth of one thing only to act an entirely different way when push came to shove?  I guess we all have at one time or another - pledging to do one thing, but when the rubber meets the road, we do another.  It is just like us to act a little "fickle" once in a while!  It is just human nature to "preserve" our self when the times get a little tougher to deal with than we first imagined them to be.  When it comes to loving another individual, we want to save face, come out on top, and not be "found out" for the cowards we really are.  Yep, I used a pretty strong word there - coward.  When it comes to loving another individual, we are pretty cowardly at times - not willing to face danger, difficulty, opposition, or pain within the relationship.  Face it - relationships can get pretty messy!  When it comes to facing them without fear, we don't do a very good job with this unless we rely upon Jesus within us to actually help us love with the intensity of love he shows us.  We become pretty timid and often are intimidated by the "confines" of love.  Yep, confines - the boundaries we sometimes feel which can even be a little "restraining" at times. Love is truly "messy" business, but it is the "business" we are to excel at!

God stays one with everyone who openly says that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s how we stay one with God and are sure that God loves us. God is love. If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us. If we truly love others and live as Christ did in this world, we won’t be worried about the day of judgment. A real love for others will chase those worries away. The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid. It shows that we have not really learned to love. We love because God loved us first. But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see? The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!”  (I John 4:15-21 CEV)

If we break this "love" thing down a little, we can plainly see it begins with God and it ends where it started - with God!  As we ask Jesus to come into our lives, filling us with his intense and unconditional love, we received "true" love for the very first time into our lives.  In serving Christ each day, we are allowing this love to bring us closer to God - experiencing afresh each day the intensity and depth of Christ's love for us.  None is as close to God's heart as those who serve one another in the love Christ brings to bloom within their heart!  As a matter of fact, it is this service of love which keeps us close to God's heart - keeps our relationship vital, builds strength within it, and draws us closer into intimate fellowship with him.

If we have ever experienced this "messy" job of loving another individual, we know just how hard it can be to serve when your service seems to be one-sided, or to forgive when your forgiveness seems to be demanded over and over again.  Yes, love is not for cowards!  Falling in love with Jesus is not for cowards!  Serving others in the love of Christ is indeed not for cowards!  In fact, there isn't a kind of love worth pursuing which is for cowards - other than this thing we call "eros" love.  That is a Greek term used to describe the self-gratifying love we all possess an affinity toward just because we are human. Eros love is focused on what is in something for "me".  We don't do it, dream it, or move toward it if there isn't anything in it for "me".  Indeed, this type of love doesn't require a whole lot of courage, just the natural instinct to satisfy every craving our minds might conceive!

Two other types of love are spoken of in scripture:  Phileo and Agape, but there is a third type we experience - Storge.  Phileo love is commonly referred to as brotherly love - the type of love we enter into because we are drawn toward someone with common interests.  With Phileo love, we focus on what we have in common and share in personality traits - as when two people are best friends. Storge love is what we might call "family love" - it is based on sharing the same "genes" with another.  Somehow, just because we are "in family" with others, this type of love happens.  Moms take care of babies, babies bond with moms, siblings bond with siblings, etc.  It is just part of human nature to bond in some type of relationship - especially when it is with those we have so much in common with.

Agape love is the one love used to describe God's intensity of love.  It is more than a "natural draw" to another - it is based upon the grace of God and his intense desire to commune with his kids.  Of all the types of love, this is the one which is not natural.  It is something which comes only as Christ inhabits our hearts - it is only possible when one is in relationship with him.  It is this type of love spoken of in our passage - the type of love which chases all worries away. It is the love which binds us together with those outside of our "natural family" and allows us to serve those who may be a little less than lovable themselves! This is the type of love we are to desire above all - and the type of love we are to have govern our thoughts, intentions, and actions.

God places us within love relationships here on this earth, not so much because we need them, but because we cannot learn to love God as he loves us until we are serving another out of the love he places within our hearts.  We need another to reveal the intensity of love God has for us, just as much as they need to see and experience this same love from us.  My pastor puts it this way:  We need a "God with a bod" in order to understand fully what his love is like.  It is only as we serve one another that we finally connect with the heart of God. I don't know where you will serve today, or who you will touch, but every action today is a means of serving a heaping helping of God's love upon someone's life!  Just sayin!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Crops which require deeper watering

In the face of troubling circumstances which seem to be going from bad to worse, I have frequently heard people say something like, "I thought I did everything right".  They equate where they are at with something they did or did not do.  In time they may come to realize they did everything "right", but still faced some troubling or uncontrollable circumstances.  Man thinks he can control what he faces - but indeed he cannot.  We live in a world which comes at us in unparalleled force and speed these days - to think we can control it is absolutely silly.  When these things come which set us on our fannies and leave us a little stunned, God isn't caught by surprise.  In fact, he knows they are coming and has often prepared our hearts for them long before they do.  What we can do is ride them out - not in our own strength - but in the power and strength God places deep within.  He knows what is in our hearts - we just have to trust him to bring in out when we need it most.

We may think we are doing the right thing, but the Lord always knows what is in our hearts. Doing what is right and fair pleases the Lord more than an offering. Evil people are proud and arrogant, but sin is the only crop they produce. If you plan and work hard, you will have plenty; if you get in a hurry, you will end up poor. (Proverbs 21:2-5 CEV)

God also knows when the things in our hearts are less than desirable - sometimes bringing just the right set of circumstances to bear which will expose it for what it is.  In those times, we can just flatly deny the presence of stuff which is less than desirable, or we can settle into whatever God is desiring to teach us in those moments.  When we try to "hurry our way through" life's challenges, they just get more difficult, not easier.  The time we take to get things "right" in the season we are in, the better we will "fair" when the next season is upon us.

The heart is capable of wearing a mask of sorts - kind of keeping things "under wraps" and out of sight.  We think we have stuff dealt with - but all we did is bury it a little deeper or hide it become some clever mask.  The times of trial go a long way to expose what is really there, though.  If we were to begin to be honest with each other a little, we might just find we are working very hard to hide the same stuff because nothing is really unique to one individual - there are pretty common "roots" to our worries, hurts, and the like.

Yesterday, I spoke about the three forms of thought - meditation, contemplation, and recollection.  Recollection plays an important part in how much of our heart we are willing to share.  If the recollections are painful, we often don't want to reflect upon them again, so we bury them deeply.  If they are warm and fuzzy, we call them up time and time again.  The troubles of today might just be what is going to call to the surface something of the past we have buried deeply in our hearts.  If that is the case, we better be prepared to trust God to handle what is brought to the surface - since no one is better able to handle it than he is!

Sometimes we just want to bring God some form of "offering" - like we can pick and choose what it is God puts his finger on at some particular moment.  The truth is quite different, though, for God is capable of putting his finger on just the right thing he wants offered.  Oftentimes, the thing he chooses is something we think is not worthy to be given to him as an offering - those things we have buried quite deeply.  Now, you may say that God doesn't want an "offering" of the garbage hidden deeply below the surface of our heart, but I will disagree. There is something quite satisfying to him to see those things finally placed upon the altar.  He is finally able to touch them and consume them, transforming them into something new.  This is the idea of beauty for ashes - his consuming power turning to ash the things we have buried deeply, hidden away from the "inspecting eye".  In turn, he takes the ashen remains and replaces them with beautiful grace, love, and peace.

You see God at work in the lives of those around you and in time you want to see this seem manifestation of his work within you.  This is why we need each other and why God has given us community in which to grow and develop.  He wants us to be stirred by the transformation we see in others.  If we were totally honest, we want the freedom release brings, we just don't want the vulnerability it requires.  God asks for us to simply trust him - not because we have to, but because we want to.  Obedience is not a "have to" kind of thing - it is a "want to" thing.  Plenty comes in trusting, not in trying.  We get this wrong most of the time - for we think in the trying we will get to the place of plenty in our lives.  In the trusting we come into this place!  

We cannot control the circumstances, but we can control the steps we take to walk obediently and trustingly through them.  We cannot control the outcome, but we can trust that the one who does is going to bring the best outcome possible.  We CAN control how we respond in the trial - either by giving freely of ourselves, or by turning tail and running away.  We CAN control how we face steps which are harder than we'd like them to be - for obedience is a choice - not an easy one, but a necessary one.  We CAN control our response, but we cannot control the season.  Time may be necessary to yield the crop we need to see most in our lives.  We just simply have to trust God to control the yield! Usually the best crops require the deeper watering. Just sayin!

Laugh a little - it is okay

The times we make fun of or joke about the things which are probably more important than we might first think often end up being the times we do more harm than good. If we go through life making light of everything we encounter - as though life had to be filled with jokes and humor at all times - we will miss out on so much of what may have come if we avoided the sarcasm.  Sarcasm actually "demotes" or causes something to have a lesser "degree" of importance.  It is good to laugh and make light when times are stressful and you just need to unwind.  It is another to make light of what another may be feeling very deeply.  It is still another to cover over the depth of your anxiety, guilt, or regrets with sarcasm directed toward yourself.  Wisdom calls for us to be men and women of integrity - having fun with life - but not making light of what life entails. 

Make fun of wisdom, and you will never find it.  But if you have understanding, knowledge comes easily.  Stay away from fools, or you won’t learn a thing. Wise people have enough sense to find their way, but stupid fools get lost.  Fools don’t care if they are wrong, but God is pleased when people do right.  (Proverbs 14:5-9 CEV)

The difference between "unwinding" over a matter which may have caused you anxiety, guilt, or even regrets and burying it under sarcasm is this idea of understanding.  Understanding denotes some type of personal connection with truth.  It also denotes some type of personal "interpretation" of the issue at hand.  Since this is the case, understanding is closely related to one's perspective at the moment.  If one's perspective is different from another's, as in the case of one being in the thick of the matter and the other being only an onlooker, it is easy to make "slight" of what the one in the middle of it is seeing, feeling, and experiencing.  It is often much better to allow an individual the "space" or "comfort zone" to unwind about what it is they are experiencing than it is to jump right in with some "light humor" which we hope will diffuse some of their anxiety or grief.  In so doing, we are acknowledging the other person's "perspective" as important and worthy of being understood.

Wisdom warrants our attention to the details - reading where another is "at". The moments when stress is high, issues are mounting, and internal pressures are at their most volatile is not usually the best time to make light of the issues at hand.  Instead, wisdom warrants us allowing another to share their perspective openly and honestly, then coming alongside to help them navigate the difficulties of the situation.  The closer you are to another individual, the easier it is to "read" them.  You begin to pick up on the subtle signs of the stress which is mounting internally and you know when something is "not right". These are the times when wisdom warrants "understanding" the other person's perspective and then finding the resources to help the other make it through.  At the other end of the problem, we can often look back and bring a little levity into the situation.  In the heat of the moment, the levity may elude us. Sarcasm only adds fuel to the already hot embers burning inside the one who is the middle of their muddle!  Maybe this is why scripture points to us being sensitive to the words we speak, when we speak, and to whom it is we speak.  

We have often studied about the "quickness" of a fool - he acts impetuously, responds without thinking, and really is oblivious to the needs or "sensitivities" of another.  Wisdom is learned when we come into greater places of understanding, both personally and in relationship with others.  The fool cannot be patient enough to stand by while understanding is being "unfolded" - he needs to jump in and this is where he gets into more hot water than he might actually have wanted to be in!  Someone once told me there is almost always an element of truth in sarcasm.  It is a taunt, cutting remark, or a little bit of irony which tends to mask some underlying message.  Wisdom dictates us "checking our words" for the underlying message before we speak them, if we speak them at all.  I know this because I struggle with keeping sarcasm in check in my own life!  It is easy to make light, thinking I am adding a little bit of humor to the moment, but it can be taken totally the wrong way by those who don't know I intended to just relieve the "pressure" of the moment instead of making light of it!

So, in general, sarcasm tends to either put another or yourself in a bad light. Therefore, it is important to weigh how and where we allow humor into our challenging moments.  I know I have good friends who laugh along with me when times get a little hairy and deadlines are crushing us by their weight.  We take time to laugh a little, because it diffuses the tension and helps us to get back at the tasks at hand.  What those good friends DON'T do is make light of the actual pressure I am feeling.  They know it is real to me and they come alongside to support me in those times of pressure.  This is what wisdom dictates - this is what comes of understanding another's viewpoint or perspective.  Just sayin!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Teeny-tiny seeds

I am not much of a gardener myself, but I try. I had to chuckle when my daughter shared a story about how my youngest grandson and his daddy planted some seeds in their garden the other day.  In examining the packages of seeds, there were some with larger seeds in them, taking up much space in the package.  These impressed him because he could see and touch each one. Then there were the radishes.  The wee seeds in the bottom of the package just did not impress him as much.  In fact, he told her to look at the meagerness of the contents and announced that this was a waste of her money! All he could see was the seeming emptiness of the package, not the volume of tiny seeds he was planting.  If he had taken the time to spread them out one by one on the table, he'd have seen there were probably a hundred or more seeds in there - they were just tiny!  It made me chuckle because he saw it as a waste of his momma's money - like she had been ripped off by receiving a tiny bit of seed way in the bottom of this package.  If he could only recognize each of those tiny seeds as having the potential to make as many of those seeds again, he might change his mind!  Never underestimate the potential of a tiny seed!

Remember this saying, “A few seeds make a small harvest, but a lot of seeds make a big harvest.”  Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give.  God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.  The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.”  God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.  You will be blessed in every way, and you will be able to keep on being generous.  (2 Corinthians 9:6-11 CEV)

Both of my grandsons have been taught the value of giving to others - sharing what they have and being thoughtful to those around them.  I know this is a direct reflection of the way their parents have taught them to treat others, but it is also a direct reflection of their hearts being filled with the love of Jesus.  It is not uncommon for one of them to rush to the side of their great-grandmother's side, bringing her cane from where it rests, and helping her to navigate from one point to another.  They take extra time to help her see what they are trying to show her, even though she may never see it clearly.  Their notes of love come often and are always handwritten and done with such care.  They have learned to give their love - not just expect it in return.  They don't give their love away without a return, though - for their "GG's" heart is filled with much love for these two boys!  Love freely and it comes back to you multiplied, my friends!  

Seeds have a way of providing a harvest.  Plant a few and you will reap a harvest - plant all you have and you will fill the barns!  One of the principles we live by in our family is this concept of giving first, saving for future needs, and then learning to live off the rest.  Dave Ramsey actually teaches this principle. If we see how God prioritizes our "use" of what we have at our disposal, we often find he puts it exactly in this order.  Learning to give out of our "first-fruits" is a principle taught since the beginning of time.  God doesn't need the "first-fruits", but he knows we need to give them.  They are the first of much more to come - they are the promise of a greater harvest.  When we learn to give BEFORE we see the abundance of the harvest, we are giving out of a heart of love.  When we wait for the harvest to all be in before we give any out, we are just giving out of our abundance - there is really no sacrifice there!

This idea of being a "cheerful giver" is more than just being glad we gave.  It carries this idea of being so in tune with the heart of God that we just cannot help but allow this love we have experienced to spill over in our giving.  My grandson planted those tiny black seeds, even though he concluded his mom got ripped off by the meager contents of the package.  When he begins to see the fruitfulness of his planting, he may just draw the conclusion that it wasn't so much a waste of money!  He didn't see the potential in the seed, but he put it in the ground anyway.  Sometimes, we give in this manner.  We don't see the potential in our giving, but we do it anyway.  We don't see the love we give as mattering to another - but we give it anyway.  We don't see the forgiveness we extend as making any difference to the other person - but we give it anyway. We are giving "first-fruit" gifts because we delight in sharing the love and grace we have been given.  It may not seem to matter at first, but give freely and the harvest will come.

I know this passage deals with our financial gifts, but remember this principle applies to all we possess.  Grace and love are two divinely provided gifts in our lives - therefore, we possess them and can freely give both.  First-fruit giving suggests we give even when we don't see the potential in the harvest as of yet. If we started giving away God's love and grace in this way, I wonder what kind of harvest we might just yield?  Just askin!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Follow the Leader

In my youth, I tended to be a follower.  Everything I did was based on some insecurity I had formed within which almost demanded that I do things to please others.  In order to "feel" accepted, I did what they asked - even when what they asked would be contrary to what common sense, learned values, and/or sound advice would have warned against.  My choices landed me in many a predicament which required either my attempts at covering it up (when what I did was clearly wrong and would land me in trouble), or resulted in me being "accepted" but all for the wrong reasons entirely.  Being a follower is not always the best thing - unless the one you are following is Christ!  Yet even as we follow Christ, he doesn't want us to do so blindly or without purposeful intention.  To this end, he gives each of us a mind and expects we will use it!

The Lord gave us each a mind, and nothing we do can be hidden from him.   (Psalm 33:15 CEV)

As I was listening to the radio on the way to work yesterday, a gentleman called into the morning show and shared a story of the change which occurred in his life after experiencing a near-death episode a few years back.  In essence, he died three times on the operating table as a result of crushing injuries he suffered when pinned between two semi trucks.  His organs were all seriously injured, the bleeding was astronomically out of control, and his prognosis was something close to a 1% chance of surviving.  He recounted how he felt like he was given a second chance - having been a believer in Christ when this occurred, but now he was a follower of Christ after this event.  At first this may not seem very significant, but it is - for what we believe doesn't always affect how we act.  Case in point, I did a whole lot of stuff in my youth which was contrary to my beliefs!

A follower actually comes along behind another and follows in the same direction.  As kids, we'd play this game of "follow the leader" - one would be the leader, taking us through various obstacles hither and yon, and we'd line up behind the individual doing exactly what he/she did.  If we wouldn't do it, we were out of the line.  Some of the choices of the leader were easy to follow - like when they turned three times in place, or jumped up and down on one foot, then sprinted across the lawn.  When they climbed out on a tree limb and jumped to the ground, some just wouldn't take the risk of breaking a bone in the fall!  Too often, those who wouldn't go to the extremes were labeled as "chicken" or "cowards".  Way too many times, I did things I wasn't comfortable with just because I did not want to wear either one of those labels!

I wonder what life would be like if we learned to follow with intention - rather than because we feel pressured to follow or too insecure not to be in the group of others who are following?  When we equate this to our spiritual lives, I think we might just find we wouldn't follow so closely to some of the practices which are "required" of us in Christian circles today.  We might just choose to read our Bibles at our own pace rather than having to follow some reading plan or reading through it in a year.  We might just go to church somewhere which embraces us just as we are rather than having to get all "prettied-up" in order to be accepted.  We might even find we make some decisions based on our own convictions rather than always having to do things based on the convictions of another!

If God gave us our mind, don't you think he intends for us to actually use it?  I'd suspect he every one of us has at one time or another chosen to be a follower of another's advice, urging, or guilt - even when it contradicted what we wanted or knew better than to do.  Any time we choose to blindly follow, we are in danger of following the wrong leader.  Any time we choose to purposefully follow - making choices based on what we know to be true - we are actually lining up behind a leader we can count on to lead us well.  God knows the intentions of our heart - the purpose of our mind.  He also knows how to lead us into things which are going to stretch our understanding and give deeper root to the matters of heart which will make us richer and stronger.  

If we are going to follow - it better be with the right intent.  If we are going to choose a leader to line up behind - it better be one who will not lead us astray. If we are going to lead - we better be following the right leader ourselves!  Just sayin!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

No bit needed

If you have ever been loaded up with so much guilt because you didn't do something you were supposed to do, or you did something totally wrong, you probably know what it is to feel weighted down, filled with conflict, and just totally down on yourself.  This load of guilt will do more to keep us "anchored" to our past than anything else.  Yet, the moment you share your guilt by making an acknowledgement of your misguided actions or overlooked intentions, you find something amazing happening - the load seems to lift.  At least this is the case when your confession of guilt is made to the right person - God himself.  When we attempt to simply confess our sins to another, we may find we don't get quite the same reception as we do with God - for we humans have a lot to learn about "wiping the slate clean" when another asks for their "misses" to be no longer counted against them!  Scripture supports us sharing the burden of our sin with another and asking for forgiveness - not because we need to confess to a human being, but because we see that brother or sister come alongside to support us in prayer.  James tells us:  "If you have sinned, you should tell each other what you have done. Then you can pray for one another and be healed. The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot."  The biggest step we take is any step toward forgiveness - maybe this is why this step is the hardest for some of us to take!

Our God, you bless everyone whose sins you forgive and wipe away.  You bless them by saying, “You told me your sins, without trying to hide them, and now I forgive you.” You said to me, “I will point out the road that you should follow.  I will be your teacher and watch over you.  Don’t be stupid like horses and mules that must be led with ropes to make them obey.”  All kinds of troubles will strike the wicked, but your kindness shields those who trust you, Lord.  And so your good people should celebrate and shout.  (Psalm 32:1-2; 8-11 CEV)

Forgiveness begins by asking.  As we seek forgiveness, we find we are not always met with the same level enthusiasm we might have thought we'd received from the other person, though.  Why?  They are human - so if they haven't worked things through themselves, they might not be in the place of even wanting to forgive us!  They have their own load they are dealing with and until they deal with it, they cannot let go of the hurt they feel toward us.  Maybe this is why James encouraged us to prayer for one another - for in lifting each other up, we find the bonds which bind us to our hurt beginning to loosen and the bonds which will ties us together tighten.

God is our starting point whenever we need to seek forgiveness.  We bring our load to him first, then we go to another in the spirit of repentance to seek their forgiveness for any wrong-doing on our part.  Even when we find we don't recognize any wrong-doing on OUR part, if someone else has been "slighted" by our actions (or lack of action), we still need to go to the other person.  A clean slate with God gets us to the place we can ask another to help us wipe the slate clean in relationship with them, as well.  When we don't try to hide behind our excuses for our failures, we find we are more apt to confess them to the one we have offended.  Hiding only causes the rift to grow deeper.  

There is something else which happens when we make confession of our sins - this idea of having a new path laid out before us.  When this occurs in relationship with another, we find we begin to travel, not so much back to where we were before the rift occurred, but to a new destination hand-in-hand.  We go places we haven't been before in the relationship - usually deeper and more committed to each other.  Maybe this is also why God wants us to come to him with our sins - so we can confess them, have the slate wiped clean, and then travel to new places with him we haven't been before - deeper, more committed, and with a greater degree of integrity in the relationship.

The warning given to us is to be less stubborn and more teachable.  Mules and horses need a lot of encouragement to go where they should go.  After all, this is the purpose of the bit in their mouth!  Until they break their desire to constantly go their own direction, they need the bit!  When one rides a mule or horse, the rider is usually in control - but it can be a pretty uncomfortable ride until the horse or mule trusts the rider.  When the relationship is finally cemented and they begin to trust each other, it is a wonderful thing.  When we are faithful to confess our sins to God, he removes the guilt we bear.  When we begin to trust him to lead us on the path we should go without always pulling against him, it is a beautiful thing.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God's got your back!

Today's entertainment line-ups often leave much to be desired.  With everything from the zombie apocalypse to the walking dead among us, those seeking nightly entertainment can have their filled with all kinds of questionable stuff. Don't get me wrong - I like a good movie for a day of relaxing or just to pass a little time.  The stuff we have to choose from these days leaves much to be desired, though.  I find myself gravitating back to the oldies - for though they may lack the same "pizzazz" of the present dramas, they at least don't leave me with this sick feeling someone is going to suck my blood or brains out of me in my sleep!  Our "appetites" have changed over the years, haven't they?  The fun-loving movies made by such stars as Doris Day, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball just seem to be gone.  In fact, if a few churches across America and Canada weren't making some movies, there wouldn't be much wholesome to go to! This change in appetite goes way beyond the movie and TV screen, though.  We have experienced an "appetite-shift" in many of our values ranging from how we make our money to what we think is acceptable behavior in our classrooms and workplaces.  Back in the day, parents worked hard to teach something we refer to as "values" to their kids - something society looked up to and rewarded. Today, rather than reinforcing and encouraging these values, much of society is out there "undoing" them.  In turn, we have people trying to pursue immortality with little to no foundation upon which to build!

Ill-gotten gain gets you nowhere; an honest life is immortal.  God won’t starve an honest soul, but he frustrates the appetites of the wicked. (Proverbs 10:3)

Proverbs is rich with all manner of advice on relationship, right conduct, values, and the like.  We only need to bite off small chunks of a chapter to find life-lessons relating to the values God wants "taught into" the lives of his kids.  He is a faithful parent - desiring to create a solid foundation in our lives through the lessons he teaches - even when society might work overtime to tear those same values down.  Our part is to embrace the teaching, allow these values to guide our actions, and then see how God "backs us up" when we live out those values. If society works to tear us down, and we are living out the values God teaches, he will be there to back us up!

Our passage today deals with things we gain in any "unjust" manner.  Whether it be wealth or fame, if we gain it in an unjust manner, God will oppose it. Maybe I better define "unjust" a little because it could mean different things to each of us.  First, it is anything which is unfair - like when a merchant uses a little inaccuracy on the scales to give him more profit.  That 1/10th of a pound will eventually add up down the road and he will end up collecting more than his fair share of "ill-gotten gain".  Second, it is any action which is dishonest - if the truth is not being sought or "sold", it is considered unjust.  

No amount of "ill-gotten" gain will benefit one whose heart is wicked.  This is the purpose of this passage - we cannot expect to get good things when the heart pursuing those things is desperately wicked to the core.  Maybe this is why I find it so hard to think we can put such wickedness in our hearts by what it is entertainment offers us today and then expect to see beauty and holiness coming out of our lives!   Even when "good" seems to come to those whose main purpose is to gain for themselves at the expense of another, it won't last long because this "goodness" is deteriorating wealth!

On the other hand, we see what the one who deals "justly" gains will be further blessed by God - maybe not in ways others see or appreciate in a physical or immediately apparent sense - but at least in a spiritual and eternal sense.  To this end, God directs his kids to pay attention to the values he teaches and then to let those values "craft" the actions they pursue.  Their actions may not yield them the same "benefits" of the unjust, but they will have benefits far exceeding (way into eternity) those of their counter-parts who pursue a life less wholesome.  The promise:  God won't starve an honest soul.  There is nothing we can ever experience where God will not be enough!  When we pursue life from the perspective of embracing "justice" and "goodness" over anything "unjust" and "unwholesome", we can count on God to have our backs!  Just sayin!