Friday, October 31, 2014

Pluck that grey hair!

As kids, didn't we do a much better job "obeying" our parents when they were right there with us than when no one was looking?  The only probable exception was when we were with one of our friends' parents.  We acted like total angels around them, making our parents nearly nuts when they saw how perfectly we could act with them and how insanely disobedient we could be when we were at home!  The cookie jar was never a temptation when mom was  home - she'd have whipped me but good if I stole into that between meals. Yet, if she happened to be at work when I got home and the house was "free of parental supervision", I'd scour the pantry for chocolate chips, the candy jar for one or two hard candies, or the like.  Why?  No one was watching!  When someone was home, I was "monitored" for my obedience.  When no one was there, the "monitor" was gone.  At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but it was probably more important for me to be obedient when I wasn't being "watched"!  Why?  I was in the greatest place of temptation at those moments!

My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. (Philippians 2:12-13 CEV)

The greatest place of temptation for us is as vast and varied as where we come from, how we were raised, what circumstances we have faced, and just how weak or strong we are at this very moment.  In fact, we go through "seasons" in our lives where one particular "tempting thought" may not even phase us, but in another time or place, it can almost be overwhelming.  Something happens when we lived "un-monitored" lives.  We move out from under a place of safety into some pretty grey areas - even into some pretty damaging ones at times.  So, the purpose of my bringing this up is pretty clear - we just cannot afford to step away from the "monitors" God has placed in our lives, because they are there to provide us with a safe "umbrella" under which we can avoid some pretty damaging stuff.

As children, our "monitors" were probably parents, teachers, older siblings, and even the neighbors' parents.  We grew up and a new set of "monitors" came into play - the boss, our local police authority, and even our government officials.  As we move into relationship with Christ, there are a different set of "monitors" introduced into our lives such as pastor, counselors, and small cell group friends.  Either way, the effect is similar - the "monitoring" modulates our behavior somewhat.  When the monitoring is cut off, the behavior may no longer have the same "modulation" - and this is the dangerous ground upon which we trod straight into temptation!

Yet, we cannot live "under monitoring" all our lives - at some point, we move into places where we are not under our parents' control, or even find ourselves faced with no one in which to confide our struggles.  When this occurs, we need some "inner modulation" in order to stand against the struggles and conflicts which temptation surely bring.  We actually need both the outward "modulation" and the inner.  Outwardly, we need each other - assisting each other to see things from the perspective of the outside looking in.  Inwardly, we need the Holy Spirit - assisting us with the inward perspective we so frequently cannot get a handle on all by ourselves.

In time, when we learn the value of both "monitors" in our lives - outward and inward - we come to understand the importance of relationships with one another and the cultivation of the relationship we have with Jesus.  We spur one another on when the going gets rough and through the faithfulness of coming alongside in times of difficulty, we actually help one another to navigate "hairy" territory in our lives with a greater sense of ease.  In getting a little "deeper" in our relationship with Jesus, through time spent in his Word, in worship, and in prayer, we find ourselves drawing closer to the anchoring force of his Spirit within. Maybe this is what Paul meant when he wrote we were supposed to "work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved".  It is this learning to "modulate" behaviors with the assistance of the various "tools" God places in our lives to help provide "monitoring" of our actions!

Through the faithfulness of friends helping me see the things I cannot see, I have learned to let go of things which are just damaging to my character.  In time, through the work of the Holy Spirit within and the faithfulness of friends standing with me in the battle, the subtle changes in character become more "ingrained" and I am able to consistently "behave" in a manner which helps me avoid the pitfalls of temptation.  This is accomplished because God is at work within - giving us the desire to actually change what we cannot see without his help!  The other day, a friend plucked a grey hair from my head.  Now, I have way to many for her to do it to all of them, but this one particular one was just totally being unruly and was sticking straight out!  I couldn't see it because it was at the back of my head.  As far as I knew, my hair was in position and I was ready for my day.  She helped me "see" what I could not!  

As silly as a grey hair standing on end may actually sound, it is an example of seeing what we may have missed for a long, long time.  That grey hair didn't get there overnight and it did not become "unruly" overnight either!  The same thing is true about temptation and sin in our lives - it doesn't get their overnight and it doesn't gain a foothold in our lives overnight either!  We need the help of others, and the Holy Spirit, to "monitor" where there are signs of compromise (unruliness in the making).  Just sayin!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Take a lesson from war

Have you ever been in a situation where you just knew no matter how hard you tried to make your opinion count, no matter how hard you fought for a particular matter, the verdict or outcome was already decided, despite your best efforts to direct the course otherwise?  What was your emotional outcome in those circumstances?  Wasn't it a deep sense of defeat and discouragement?  You tried so hard, but the outcome could not be changed despite all the efforts on your part.  There are just times in life when it is wiser to walk away than to continue to engage in the battle, my friends.  Now, this may seem a little "defeatist" at first, but not really.  Consider the energies directed at the "fight" you stand no chance of winning and then how much more those same energies could do in the matters you do have an influence in.  When those energies are redirected toward the stuff you can actually affect, you at least feel a sense of reward and hope in the outcome. To continue where we have no chance of making forward progress is futile.  Sometimes the very best course of action is to retreat!

Wisdom brings strength, and knowledge gives power.  Battles are won by listening to advice and making a lot of plans.  (Proverbs 24:5-6 CEV)

World War II was probably one of the most studied wars of all times.  Why?  There was much to be learned by the study of the movements of the troops engaged in the various battles (including the retreats and regrouping maneuvers).  In one such battle known as the Battle of Stalingrad, the "undoing" of Hitler's advances to attempt to establish what he envisioned as "the global empire" was actually the longest and bloodiest of battles. The loss of lives was over one million troops, not to mention innocent lives lost in the course of invasions, bombings, and senseless torture or imprisonment.  What ended the advancement of Hitler's armies?  The cutting off of all supplies to his troops.  It was the dead of winter, resources were scarce, and the Russian army was able to effectively "stall" the advancement of the Nazi regime by "interrupting" the flow of supplies to replenish the resources the German army would need to continue the fight.  Sometimes the battles in our lives are won not by the might we exhibit, but by the effective placement of our defenses!

It wasn't how many troops they had in the battle, but where they placed those troops, when they withdrew to avoid any further loss, and how they structured every counter-attack that won the battle.  In addition, it was "who" they were able to engage in the battle.  Probably one of the main reasons the Russian army was so successful was their ability to constantly replenish their numbers.  Even women joined in the battle - something not quite recognized as a possibility with the German forces. The same is true in our own lives - sometimes the wisest decision is to pull back, regroup, and refocus our energies on a different aspect of the battle where we can make an impact.  Sometimes we need to recognize the resources we have been "throwing into the battle" are dwindling and we need to think outside of the box, so to speak, when it comes to replenishing our resources.  We may not have thought of a particular means of moving forward in the fight until someone with eyes "outside" of the battle gives us insight into how it is we might "counter" the advances coming against us!

I guess one of the hardest things to do when we are in the midst of the moments of battle is this idea of actually stopping what we are doing when it seems to be futile.  We just keep battling on - not because we see any hope in the outcome - but because we don't know what else to do.  This is where wise counsel (sage advice) comes into play.  We need to take into account we cannot see the way "out" because we don't even remember anymore the way "in" to the battle.  In many skirmishes within this great battle, the loss of life was great because the way "in" effectively was cut off, providing no way "out".  A skilled army will see the advantages of cutting off the supply of resources to those they oppose.  This cutting off of resources is often the very thing needed to shut down the battle!  If you don't believe me, recall the last time you were engaged in an argument of sorts, then suddenly realized how saying anything more was just going to add fuel to the fire.  When you stopped, what happened to the argument?  Didn't it take a turn?  Why? You cut off the resources necessary for the battle to continue!

When it comes to battling sin's influence in our lives, we often need the vantage point of another "outside" of the battle to help us sort through how we cut off the resources which continue to fan the flames of temptation, fuel the fires raging within, and frustrate even the best of intentions on our part.  The "plan" we form when we consider the wisdom of those who see the battle from a different perspective may actually be what we need to recognize the resource "pathway" which must be cut off in order to stall the enemy's advances in our lives!  We also may see there are different "resources" available to us which we have not considered before (just like Russia realized when they considered the advantages of the women entering into the fight, effectually doubling their resources at times).  We need more than our own vantage point to see the larger picture.  When we limit our focus, we only see the surrounding forces and we don't consider the possibilities of cutting off their resources by one slight movement of defenses in one direction or another!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Avoid the "head-on" collision if you can!

We have all probably heard the saying, "Hindsight is 20/20".  It is this idea of being able to look "back" on something and give all kinds of advice to either ourselves or others on how the circumstances could have turned out differently "if..."  The issue is in the "if" - "if" we had done this differently, "that" should have been the outcome.  Note, I said "should have been" the outcome - there is no guarantee that in "looking back" we can actually make an outcome different. What we can do is ensure we are ready for the same challenge in the future with a "different" plan of how we will encounter it.  At best, we can hope the outcome will be different because we have a different plan.  Hindsight is a useful tool for us because "after the fact" we can recognize new possibilities with a different response, or even understand the requirements of the circumstances we just did not recognize while we were in the midst of them.  So, we need both wisdom when we "walk into" something, but we also need the benefits of "hindsight" to help us refine how we will face similar challenges in the future.

When you see trouble coming, don’t be stupid and walk right into it—be smart and hide. (Proverbs 22:3 CEV)

It is kind of a different matter when we see something coming our way and we recognize it for what it is, but do nothing to avoid a "head-on collision" with it! This is probably someone's definition of insanity, but it is what we all do on occasion, right?  We see clearly that something is not going to be "good" for us, or that it will create a whole lot of emotional upheaval in our lives and those around us, but we ignore the "check" we feel deep within, plunging head-on into the midst of the very thing we should have "swerved" to miss!  Whether it be avoiding sin, or staying clear of relationship issues which will give us a whole lot of heartache, we can only "avoid" it if we recognize it, right?  So, part of steering clear of a head-on collision with something we don't really want to deal with is to learn to recognize it (no matter how it is "dressed up").

The idea of hindsight is actually a tool which helps us recognize similar "trouble" in our lives the next time it comes.  We all know "trouble" wears many disguises, but learning how that "trouble" acts or presents itself will go a long way toward helping us to recognize it when it comes our way down the road again.  Recognition is made up of a couple of parts:  1) the identification of something we have previous dealings with simply by the characteristics it manifests; and 2) the "realization" of something because you are keenly aware or paying attention.  One without the other is kind of like having a nail and no hammer.  The nail is okay, but when coupled with the hammer, the nail can actually serve us well!  The hammer without the nail is useful, but if we need to put two things together, the hammer will never accomplish what having the nail can do!

The first part of recognition deals with us becoming so familiar with the characteristics of something we can almost identify it simply by the "adding up" of the characteristics we observe.  A perfect example of this is how many of us in healthcare identify certain diseases.  We rely upon what we hear, see, feel, and smell.  Yes, smell!  There is a big difference between the smell of various diseases - some manifest a sweeter, fruity odor, while others give off a pungent, almost putrid one.  We use these characteristics of what we observe to assist us in determining which tests to perform to confirm our suspicion of a disease process.  When it comes to relationship issues, we have a chance to "look back" on the things which did not work well in a relationship - like the time we criticized someone's attempt at doing something new, or the moment we took someone "down a notch" by our anger.  These are characteristics of "bad relationship" moments we can learn from, but only if we look back and begin to recognize the moment things began to turn from good to bad.  We then "bank" these recognized "relationship breakers" in our memory and work on a way to avoid doing them again when similar relationship moments come up.

The second part of recognition is probably the hardest.  It is easy to look back, but it is quite different to be so keenly aware of the moment passing right now that we avoid the head-on collision with what is probably heading our way at this very moment.  It is the idea of being "present on purpose" which we have the hardest time actually "living out" in our lives each day.  We get distracted by other demands and miss the thing hurtling out of control in our direction.  When we begin to be "present in the moment", we are often more engaged in relationship, whether it be our relationship with Jesus, or our relationship with one another.  Either way, we begin to pick up on the subtle changes which are occurring which demand our immediate attention - and we take action upon them.  We draw closer to Jesus, listen more intently to what he is teaching.  We see the intent of a heart determined to try something new and encourage them even when they don't get it perfect the first time.  We can do these things because we are present in the moment - our attention is focused.  Just know this - whatever holds our focus will determine our outcome.  Ignore something long enough and it will soon be out of our control!

So, it isn't that we don't see trouble coming our way - we just don't learn from the past, or we don't take time to experience the present.  Either way, we are hit "head-on" with a whole lot of stuff we probably would have wanted to avoid if we could.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trusting grace

In the Old Testament way of worship, sacrifices and offerings were expected. Lambs, goats, bulls, and even birds or grains were brought by the one who desired to worship.  These would be prepared in a particular manner and either consumed whole on the altar, or portions would be consumed and others would be enjoyed by the priests.  We have lost touch with this type of "worship" these days as Jesus declared this "form" of worship no longer necessary when he offered himself as the "perfect sacrifice" for our sins.  Yet, in our worship today, we often find we are still all actively trying to bring some "gift or payment" for sin which we think God "demands" of us.  We have this illusion that our sins can be somehow "covered over" by something we do or bring to God.  It is kind of like the bargaining chip where we say "I'll do this" and expect it to somehow meet God's demands for a "way into heaven".  Nothing could be further from the intent of God's heart, nor the plan for our salvation.

Sacrifices and offerings are not what please you; gifts and payment for sin are not what you demand. But you made me willing to listen and obey. And so, I said, “I am here to do what is written about me in the book, where it says, ’I enjoy pleasing you. Your Law is in my heart.’” (Psalm 40:6-8 CEV)

Nothing we bring to God in the way of "good works" could ever encompass the demands of the cross.  We can do our best and still fall short of being able to live a sinless life.  Therefore, our "best" is still not "good enough".  This is exactly what has become the stumbling block upon which so many who call themselves "Christian" today find themselves tripped up.  As long as we are relying upon what we can "bring" or "do", we will always be "bringing" or "doing" something far less than what is needed to find ourselves "forgiven", "grace-filled", and "restored".  These are three "tasks" clearly outside of our ability to "do" or "bring" into our own lives!

We think God "demands" something of us in order to be his kids.  Indeed, he has "demanded" something of us in order to be his kids - but it is simply that we trust in the finished work of Christ on our behalf.  The "perfect" cannot be added to - we are simply asked to move from the system of belief where we are always trying to "out-perform" what God has already done into the place where we accept his provision and walk in liberty because of it!  God doesn't expect us to "do" this "salvation thing" on our own.  He stepped in, provided the best and most perfect sacrifice, all so we could enjoy the beauty and majesty of celebration in his presence.  To this end, he made a way for our permanent experience of his presence - all through the work of grace.

Now, that doesn't mean any of us is off the hook when it comes to the way we choose to live our lives after we say "yes" to Jesus.  That moment in time is just a turning point for us.  We turn away from living in a way which in unpleasing to God and we turn into his open arms.  Now, it is impossible for us to live on our own in this thing we call grace.  Most of us will constantly try to add to grace in some manner.  This is how silly we are - for grace is perfect all by itself - nothing can be added to grace!  What God does for us is help us to turn our ears toward his voice - to learn to listen for his direction in our lives.  Then he even gives us the "want to" and the ability to do as he requests or requires. Obedience is our response to his grace, but even obedience is mostly his "doing" in our lives!

A transition of heart is all God is really after - he will work on the rest in the course of time.  As we make this transition of heart, something awesome starts to happen.  Wherever it is we direct our heart (mind, will, and emotions), we begin to spend time.  Time yields a greater understanding of the one we spend time with.  In turn, this deeper understanding begins to bring a closeness which is hard to break.  If we look a little closer at what is happening as we enter into this transition of heart, we will see God is helping us lay down our desire to be "doing" and we just settle into what he has "done" in our lives.  Before long, we find ourselves responding as we should - obedience is the outcome of being in his presence and his presence being in us!

So, instead of trying to bring "just the right" sacrifice to God, why not start trusting him to bring the right amount of grace into our hearts which will help us connect with him on a deeper level than ever before?  Just askin!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sin have you tripped up again?

Obedience is kind of a two-sided coin.  One side demands we participate in some course of action, while the other requires something we simply don't possess in order to be successful at it.  We are asked to participate - yielding our will (want to) in order to move into the "position" of obedience.  It is like when a runner puts his feet squarely in the block at the starting line and is ready in anticipation of the starter's gun.  The runner is all ready to respond - he is just waiting for the signal to move.  Sometimes we face obedience in quite this manner - waiting to move - but "at the ready".  The runner has some decisions to make in making the run, though.  He must decide if he will run as he wills, or if he will listen to the coaching of one who can observe the entire pack of runners.  When he relies upon the coaching of the one who sees the entire pack of runner, he is more able to adjust his pace so he won't burn out in the run.  Obedience is kind of like that - we might just burn out on the run if we don't have an accurate pace-setter in our lives!

Turn your eyes from my sin and cover my guilt.  Create pure thoughts in me and make me faithful again.  Don’t chase me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.  Make me as happy as you did when you saved me; make me want to obey!  (Psalm 51:9-12 CEV)

Sin has been with us since birth, so none of us escapes the tugs and pulls of a nature which demands its own way.  We are succumb to the nature within at some point or another, despite our upbringing to the contrary.  Even with good parenting, kids choose to do things which are clearly "not right".  They sneak a cookie from the cookie jar, watch shows when their parents aren't home that they would never watch when they were, and associate with kids outside of the "comfort zone" their parents would want them to remain in.  Why?  We have our own will and it often wants to go its own way!  

Since sin has been with us a long, long time, we might as well admit we don't have much success in managing it!  The tugs and pulls are something we ALL struggle with at one time or another.  We find ourselves just floundering in the midst of indecision at times, while at others we plunge headlong into stuff we know better than to do.  The loudest voice, or the most frequent focus gets our attention - despite our "intent" to do otherwise.  This is the struggle Paul wrote about in his letter to the Roman church (Romans 7).  There is this 'conflict' of sorts within that just keeps us in a "muddle".

So, how we strive toward obedience does matter, but "getting to" obedience is something most of us struggle with for the remainder of our lives.  If we conclude obedience is a two-sided coin, one side fully under our control and the other requiring another to assist, then we might actually come a little closer to "lasting" obedience in our lives.  When we realize our desire to be obedient is nothing apart from God's help to actually give us the "drive" toward obedience, then we come to the place where obedience can begin to be the norm and not the occasional success!

Knowing that we ALL sin, we need to deal with this overwhelming sense of failure whenever we don't do so well at avoiding it.  Whatever your sin, most of us struggle with pretty similar things, just manifesting a little differently in our lives.  For example, if we struggle with a root of bitterness, some may manifest this in withdrawing from relationships, while others want to retaliate at every turn of the corner.  The root is consistent - the outward show is different.  Sin is sin - no "degree" of sin exists.  When we fail to do as we know we should do, we need forgiveness.  One thing is also true about forgiveness - it is available to all who would ask.

No sin is without guilt.  When we don't "do" right, we "feel" wrong.  When we feel wrong, we think the only way to "feel right" again is to do something differently the next time.  Being the creative beings we are, we set out to form some elaborate scheme which might keeps us from doing the same thing the next time.  What we neglect to recognize is that until our "wiring" is changed, we will always revert to what we have done in the past, despite our best of intentions.  Rewiring is what the Holy Spirit does within us.  He redirects the "current" of our minds and hearts, so that there is a little "oomph" behind out intent the next time.

We may not get it right the first through tenth times, but in leaning into the one who will help to put a little "drive" behind our good intent, we are setting ourselves up to be more successful the eleventh!  Just sayin!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Our heart's desire...

There have certainly been times when I have questioned God about why it is I don't have my "heart's desire" - how about you?  Try as we might, we just cannot figure out why there is a delay in seeing the desire of our hearts come to fulfillment.  We question the delay, doubt our faithfulness, and begin to worry they might never be fulfilled.  If we just hold onto the one passage of scripture which says all we need to do is to do what the Lord wants and he will give us the desires of our heart, then we wonder if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.  Before long, we begin to wonder if we have some kind of "barrier" to seeing our heart's desire fulfilled - like sin hidden deep within our hearts, wrong motives, or the like.  If we really want to discover the truth about the "long wait", we have to take it to God and trust him to reveal the purpose.

Trust the Lord and live right!  The land will be yours, and you will be safe. Do what the Lord wants, and he will give you your heart’s desire.  Let the Lord lead you and trust him to help.  Then it will be as clear as the noonday sun that you were right.  (Psalm 37:3-6 CEV)

Some of us want to "cherry pick" the portions of scripture we will "hold onto" and then forget all was written in some type of "context".  Looking again at our psalm, it starts with the idea of not being annoyed with those who do wrong, but seem to prosper.  Admit it, we have all been there at one time or another, wondering why the guy or gal who seems to live so far from what is right actually is enjoying blessings beyond measure.  It is easy to drift into the dangerous ground of envy - the very thing this psalm warns against!  The rest of the psalm reminds us of the "fleeting nature" of the blessings of those who don't have their hearts and minds "fixed" on doing the things God would desire. They might have "temporary blessing" beyond our understanding, but they won't retain those blessings - nor will their hearts and spirits be as full as those who have their focus fully fixed on Jesus!

The "rest of the story" as Paul Harvey used to say becomes quite plain as we read on in our psalm.  Those who live by the sword will be destroyed by the sword.  Those who rise to power outside of the security of being part of God's family will soon lose their power - and living powerless is no living at all.  As it is aptly put, "Their time is coming..."  But...see the flip-side of the coin, my friends.  Those who put their trust in the Lord, living by the plans he ordains, shall enjoy living daily in his care.  What God gives each of us is ours forever - no one can take away grace, or his love, or even his presence!  It is ours forever.  Additionally, when the lean times come, we have "reserves" upon which we shall draw which the wicked have no access to.

The crux of the psalm is found in verses 23-24, where our psalmist outlines our assurance pretty succinctly:  "If you do what the Lord wants, he will make certain each step you take is sure.  The Lord will hold your hand, and if you stumble, you still won't fall."   Our focus is not on what we don't have, but on what we already enjoy.  The condition of our enjoyment - "doing" what the Lord wants.  In other words, set about to live obediently and let the rest fall into place in your life.  Stop worrying about what it is you "don't have" and focus instead on what you do possess.  What we are doing then is allowing God to be the center of our choices and decisions will be made in a much better manner than if we are always bemoaning what we "don't have" yet.

The Lord protects and provides for his people - this is something we can stand on when times of doubt or frustration with God's timing come into play.  We can "talk back" to our doubts and "put away" our frustrations when we remember God is there for us whenever we need him.  Those we envy because they seem to "have it all" are not so privileged, my friends.  They have no "recourse" in their time of need.  They have no protection when times are hard, or doubt is creeping in.  Our mission is to live as the Lord wants.  Our practice is to be engaged in doing what he directs us to do.  This is the crux of obedience.  Then, in the course of doing as we should, we realize the blessings God intends for our lives.  Our heart's desire may actually change in the course of time, but if not, the time it takes to see the fulfillment of that desire will be time well spent in the presence of a caring and loving God who is readying us to receive that blessing!  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What view are you seeing today?

In finding the right candidate for a position, an employer considers the skills the individual requires for the performance of their duties.  These skills can be defined as both "hard" skills (the ability to type 90 words a minute) and "soft" skills (the ability to be courteous when answering the phones).  The "soft" skills are a little harder to find - often not really observed until you get the person in the specific situation where they will need to display these "soft" skills.  The skilled employer will use specifically crafted interview questions and examples to attempt to discover if the individual has those "soft" skills, but believe me, people can "tell" you they possess them, but until you see them in action, you really don't know if they do or not.  One such skill is the ability to listen before one formulates or gives an answer.  This is a "soft" skill, to be sure, but it is often coupled with some of the "hard" skills one uses in life.  As one goes about their performance of duties (whether at home or in the office), the "meshing" of these "skill sets" becomes quite obvious.  When one is lacking in the "soft" skills, relationships of any sort are made all the harder.

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)

Throughout the Book of Proverbs, we observe many "soft" skills referenced such as listening, using the right words, showing concern for another, etc.  In relation to the "hard" skills such as being a good carpenter, profitable farmer, or skilled fisherman, the "softer" skills are certainly pointed out in this collection of wisdom words.  You might observe how a man is to learn how to care for his wife, finding great contentment in the relationship he has with her.  Still another writing may include advice on how a king is manage the dealings of those within his rule.  Then we see the ways a wife is to attend to the physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational needs of the family.  From cover to cover, the Book of Proverbs points out the "softer" skills.  If a whole book is dedicated to this, maybe we'd do well to actually use it to guide us in "forming" those skills!

Today's skill is that of learning to accept the value of another.  When we are exposed to the teaching, "Pride leads to destruction; humility leads to honor", we are asked to consider how it is we "deal" with the other person by how it is we "view" ourselves in the relationship.  When we begin to consider the value of another, we take ourselves out of the "windshield" of our focus, so to speak.  We begin to see the entire "view" from the windshield, side windows, and back.  In essence, we are asked to not think so highly of our own opinion, learning, abilities, etc., that we neglect to give another the opportunity to be highlighted for theirs.  We each lend value to the relationship, but if one is constantly demanding the lion's share of the attention, the relationship becomes one-sided and very limited by that individual's "skill set".

Humility is not abasing oneself, but rather having a "fair estimate" of one's abilities - and the same "fair estimate" of the value of the abilities of another which you may or may not possess yourself.  For example, I might be able to draft an email explaining a new process with great detail.  Does it make me the best person to do it?  Not necessarily, because I may not be the one to actually "engage in" the process I am defining in the email.  I have the skill to write the email, but I lack the "direct skills" of having learned the process by making it a part of my workflow every day.  I need to interact with those who actually engage in the workflow each day to understand their perspective on the workflow - incorporating their understanding and skilled use of the workflow to help me describe the process detail.  I need the value they lend to make the discussion of the process even more valuable to those who will learn of the process from the email.

Giving an answer before you know what is being talked about is actually quite dangerous. In game shows such as Jeopardy, where one knowledgeable individual is racing against the clock to "ring in" before the other individual who wants to answer the question, some of the dangers of "ringing in" too early come in not fully hearing the entire "clue" given by the host of the show.  The game show environment is not where we each exist from day to day, though.  We don't "race to ring in" so we can be the first to answer the question. In fact, whenever we do this, we usually end up not anticipating the "rest of the clue" someone may actually be giving us!  We "guess" we know the answer, but do we really? Most of the time, it might come "close" to working out for us in relationship, but if continued long-term, this urge to "jump in" before the other person actually has a chance to finish what they are saying will actually put up road-blocks to continued conversation.

It stands to reason the "soft skills" in relationship matter - actually stepping back long enough to learn them is where we have the greatest difficulty.  Until we step back, we don't see the full picture.  We get the "windshield" view of life - what is in our immediate focus.  We don't get the full picture view - the "panorama" of sorts.  Truth is, we need the panorama in order to get the most from relationship.  So, instead of being so quick to answer the next time, maybe taking a step back to really listen could open up a new view for us in relationship!  Just sayin!

Friday, October 24, 2014

A trust relationship

How freely do you offer your heart?  For some, the answer would be "way too freely", while others would admit to a reluctance to "let anyone come close". We all could answer this a little bit differently - depending on the "who", "where", "when", and "why" of this "offering", right?  When the "who" is right, we offer it with a little more exuberance.  If the right timing is there, we just might find ourselves drawn a little closer and opening up a little quicker.  When life's circumstances are just right, we are at the place we might just be a little "weaker" than others.  So, our hearts can be offered freely, or with great hesitation and "hold back" on our parts.  When we offer our heart to the right person, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, what a difference that makes!

I offer you my heart, Lord God, and I trust you. Don’t make me ashamed or let enemies defeat me. Don’t disappoint any of your worshipers, but disappoint all deceitful liars. Show me your paths and teach me to follow; guide me by your truth and instruct me. You keep me safe, and I always trust you. Please, Lord, remember, you have always been patient and kind. Forget each wrong I did when I was young. Show how truly kind you are and remember me. You are honest and merciful, and you teach sinners how to follow your path.  (Psalm 25:1-8 CEV)

When we offer our hearts, we are stating we trust the individual to whom it is offered.  We rely upon them to not trample on it, nor leave us high and dry somewhere down the road, right?  Now, when we offer our hearts to God, we can pretty much stand assured, without any reasonable doubt, that he will not do this.  When we offer our hearts to another, we might not have this same "full assurance" - so I can understand why we might approach God is a kind of "wary" manner when it comes to "fully trusting" him with our hearts!  We have been "burned" by someone else's actions against us and this makes it difficult for us to trust again - even when it comes to trusting God.  

Look again at what David is saying in this prayer to God.  He is kind of sharing some of his concerns - as though in taking the first step to trust God with his heart, he is sharing with God where it is he has concerns in this "trust relationship".  The very statement, "Don't make me ashamed...", is an indication he is fearful God might let him down or that his enemies might get the upper hand, showing his trust in God to be less than reliable.  He even goes so far as to ask God not to disappoint any of the worshipers who place their trust in him.  Another word for this "disappointment" is frustration or disillusionment.  He is simply stating that he might have a niggling of a concern God will disappoint - frustrate or fail to fulfill the expectations of those who place their trust in him fully.  But...David is "working through" his underlying concerns by "laying them on the table" before God.  He doesn't want his "offering" of heart commitment to be overshadowed by any fear or underlying doubt.

When he asks God to show him his paths and instruct him how to follow, he is simply stating he is placing his full trust in God to not lead him astray.  He is indicating he is reliant upon God to even direct the very steps he takes.  If you have ever trusted so fully as to close your eyes, fall backwards into someone's waiting arms, then you kind of get what David is saying here.  He is saying he is taking the "full plunge" into God's hands - not holding back, but reaching beyond his fears and just allowing God to take him fully into his control. Trusting begins with the first step (sometimes the biggest step of all), but I also believe it takes some pretty savvy understanding on our parts not to pull back once we have placed ourselves into his hands.  We need to recognize how "guarded" our hearts can be about opening up to another - and how protective it can be to keep us from experiencing "hurt" or "loss".  We have to take the next step, as David instructs, in order to get beyond this "protectiveness" of our hearts - that of being taught in God's truths.

This is why David asks for God's instruction - to help him realize where he has misplaced fears, misguided trust, and misinterpreted beliefs.  There is one final part of this trust relationship I don't want us to miss because it is pretty much what all of us "fear" the most in relating to Jesus.  It is that of having our wrongs remembered.  David asks God to "forget" - put far from his memory so as to never remember or recount again - those failures of our past, present, and even those we will have in the future.  Many times, if we can get beyond taking the first step with trusting God, and even allow him to envelop us in his grace and love, we "hold out" a little because we live with a "fear" God just might not forgive or forget some of our "wrongs" in life.  I am glad David prays this because it shows us we are not all that different - we sometimes hold onto what God says he has already put behind us - fearing that "thing" in our past will be able to crop up down the road and interfere with this "trust relationship".

Truth is - God wipes the slate clean.  A clean slate is only good for one thing - to have new words written on it!  This is how God sees our lives - as clean slates, just waiting to be written anew.  In turn, he asks only one thing of us - put our trust in him.  It may seem elemental, I know, but trust me on this - all things with God are not complex and beyond our comprehension.  When it comes to his love and grace - even when we don't understand them completely - we can count on them!  Just sayin!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Popping the balloons

Endurance is often defined by one's ability to hold out without giving into some impairment or difficulty.  In "undergoing" some stress, you are able to come out the other side still standing.  Over the course of my life, I have learned not everything we "undergo" is designed to leave us "standing" - sometimes we need to be in a place which displays a different type of "strength" than being able to "stand".  In other words, sometimes the "strongest" place we find ourselves is in admitting our weakest place within!  There is something which comes in the times of "trouble" in our lives which has a way of revealing these "weak" spots - and I think God may have just designed the thing we "undergo" to reveal that "spot" so he might help us with that weakness.

My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.  You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested.  But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything. (James 1:2-4 CEV)

Since most think of endurance as the ability to push beyond the "weak spots" in life, it stands to reason we will attempt to "get beyond" whatever it is we are "undergoing" by whatever inner strength we can muster on our own.  We think we can somehow avoid coming face-to-face with the weakness we are trying so hard to ignore.  Guess what - no matter how hard we try to ignore a weak area, eventually the stress put against that weak area will cause that area to be exposed!  Don't believe me - try blowing up a balloon until you think it is at capacity.  Then put a little more air, then a little more, until you begin to see the latex in that balloon stretch to reveal those tiny areas, now stretched to capacity, where you can almost see yourself through them.  While the balloon was only half-inflated those weak areas were not all that visible.  With a little more "air" in the balloon, stretching it to a new capacity, those areas of weakness become more and more apparent.  Deny they are there all you want, but those tiny areas now become quite translucent and imminently ready to pop!

You see, our weaknesses have a way of being discovered - not so much in the times when all is going so perfect for us, but in the times we are "stretched" to what we may feel is "beyond" our capacity to endure any more.  Just as the balloon began to reveal those weak spots, we will begin to reveal ours because the trial brings a "translucency" to those areas. What was once unrecognized because it was only a "tiny weakness" now can be revealed for just how big of a portal of "exposure" that weakness creates in our lives.  I watched a show the other night on how balloons were made.  Of every twenty balloons, they blow up one or two from the batch to ensure they will hold air - no flaws "too big" to cause them to not be stretched to what is the "desired capacity".  Now, at first, this seemed like adequate "quality assurance", but that left 18-19 other balloons in the package which were never tested!  Sure, one or two were proven strong enough to stretch to capacity - but what about the others?  You know how they get tested?  When you and I actually need to use them in our lives!

Most of the testing we undergo is not "in the factory time" - those moments when we are alone with God and he kind of has us under the "microscope" in the quietness of our personal time with him.  Nope - the majority of the testing we undergo is in right smack in the middle of living life.  Yep, one or two of our "balloons" were tested in the "alone time" with Jesus, but the other eighteen will be tested when the demands are placed upon us in the regular living of life.  Keeping in mind what I have already said, those times of "stretching" soon reveal the areas not previously recognized where we need God's help to replace our weakness with his strength.  What the stretching does for us is bring evidence we are not as strong as we might have suggested we were!  In fact, we begin to realize we not only have one weak area, but multiple!  This is were the opportunity comes for most of us to attempt to conceal the weak area(s).  We somehow think if we just "turn the balloon" around so no one sees the "stretched" area, no one will know it is there and we will escape the scrutiny of having that area "exposed".

Think again!  Before long, a little more air will fill the "balloon" we know is at the "riskiest" place in terms of capacity to take anymore of the stretching.  Even if no more air is pumped in - no more "capacity" is demanded - those weak areas make it even harder for the "balloon" to "remain filled"!  Knock the balloon around a couple of times and those weak areas begin to feel a new type of stress - although their "internal capacity" was managed, their external pressures are not!  This is how it is in life - we might get a handle on the internal pressures, effectively "shutting off" anything else trying to come "in" - but we cannot control all the things coming at us which knock us around a little on the outside!  Either way, we soon realize if we don't ask God's help to deal with those weak areas, we are about to "pop"!  Knowing what we know about balloons, what happens when they "pop"?  Do they have "capacity" any longer to function as they were designed?  Nope!  In fact, their "pieces" are scattered, they're left stretched out, and all that remains is "remnants" of the former. This is kind of like what happens to us when we don't recognize our areas of weakness, or do our best to simply ignore them - we are left with remnants!

I don't know about you, but instead of "proving" I can endure, successfully cut of the flow of what gets inside, and then cleverly manipulating to "cover up" the weaknesses inherent in my character, I am choosing to have God test all the "balloons" in my package!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Knowing "about" differs from knowing

There are always going to be things in life we have "heard about", but have never seen.  If we are to be perfectly honest here, we have heard about a whole lot that we don't understand, but we just accept it as fact.  I was scrolling the posts of friends this morning just out of curiosity to see what was going on in the lives of those I follow online.  There were things from cute pictures of babies being stunned by a toy chicken laying colored eggs to celebrations of family event.  Then one thing caught my eye - but I simply did not read any further - not because I could not consider the possibility of it being true, but because at some point I have to censor what it is I allow into my brain!  It was a post about our President requiring some type of a radio ID implantable tag to be placed in all Americans by 2017.  Now, I know this is not beyond the realm of possibility as we have been doing this with animals for ages now.  Yet, if I take everything at face value which I see or hear, I will sometimes form some pretty wrong opinions of others, jump to conclusions about the issues, etc.  We often jump to conclusions based on what we hear, but never take the thing we hear about and put it to the test.  In turn, we just "react" to the thing we hear and then we might find we are off-base in our understanding.  We need both - hearing and listening; discovery and understanding.

No one can oppose you, because you have the power to do what you want. You asked why I talk so much when I know so little. I have talked about things that are far beyond my understanding. You told me to listen and answer your questions. I heard about you from others; now I have seen you with my own eyes. (Job 42:1-5 CEV)

When I checked this out to actually see if it was part of the "Final Rule" passed which enacted what Americans refer to as "Obamacare", I found it was not even part of the Final Rule (HR 3590 and HR 4872).  It WAS proposed in the initial writing, but the final version passed WITHOUT this wording.  The whole purpose was to establish a "registry" of those individuals with implants already - such as pacemakers or even my artificial knee.  Recall notices often don't reach the right people simply because we are a very "portable" society. Since these devices can be recalled at any time due to defects not immediately recognized, a registry creates a way of tracking these devices.  Each company has these, but when company after company is bought up by bigger companies, it becomes harder and harder to track these patients.  I believe the purpose of the "registry" was proposed in order to help simplify this process.  Now that we know that, it sheds a different light on what was proposed, but what never became final, doesn't it?

Some people "talk a great deal" about what they know very "little" about.  Just spend about 20 minutes one day scrolling through the posts online and you will find a great deal which may have your head spinning.  It is a truly "prolific" period in terms of our "media" opportunities, is it not?  We can post almost anything and in short order, it can go what is commonly referred to as "viral".  Why?  People are hungry for the "scoop" - they just don't take time to investigate the facts behind the latest "rant", "fad", or "hype".  Ebola is not exactly beyond my understanding, as I have some basic microbiology classes and understand the basics of how viruses and bacteria find hosts,  replicate, and soon cause devastating disease of mass proportion.  I cannot say I understand "Ebola", though.  I have a "working knowledge" of it, but truthfully, this whole "mutating" of a bacteria or virus is beyond what I have studied - so I cannot say I understand more resistant strains of these "bugs" any better than I understand the basics of the original disease.  I "do" understand the principles of disease, how to protect myself and others from "contact" with potential disease, and the best infection control practices I have learned over the years.  This is what I can speak to - but maybe not all the details of the actual disease I am protecting myself and others against.

Job is in conversation with God and at this very moment recorded for us for all time, he admits to what we all have a tendency to do on occasion - we talk about things which are beyond our present understanding.  In time, we may come into fuller understanding, but if we just hold onto what we believe to be true and never expand our knowledge of the subject at hand, we may have either a "flawed" impression of the truth, or we may never get to the "full" truth.  It is indeed God's intent for each of us to become students of the truth - to accept small bits of truth, but to go on to discover the fuller and deeper meaning of truth in our lives.  Without this growth, we are always living with something less than the "bigger picture".  God's view is infinite - ours is finite.  Yet, even in our "finite" view of life, God gives us glimpses into truth beyond our means of discovery - asking us to embrace it and put it to the test.  God never accuses us of wrongdoing when we put truth to the test.  

Dear friends, don’t believe everyone who claims to have the Spirit of God. Test them all to find out if they really do come from God. Many false prophets have already gone out into the world, and you can know which ones come from God. His Spirit says that Jesus Christ had a truly human body. But when someone doesn’t say this about Jesus, you know that person has a spirit that doesn’t come from God and is the enemy of Christ. You knew that this enemy was coming into the world and now is already here.   (I John 4:1-3 CEV)  Learning to speak about what we have clear and certain knowledge of is important because then we can identify when it is we are being "fed" something which is untrue or not quite on the mark.  We can "judge" the spirit of a man by the spirit which indwells him, so we are told to test those who "proport" truth - not just accept it at face value. We can hear a great deal "about" God from others - coming into a revelation of what is true of God for ourselves is quite different.  We can hear about - or we can discover for ourselves. The choice is ours.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Being like Jesus

Have you ever tried to be so much like somebody else it was almost kind of comical to watch this transformation?  During the era of Jimmy Dean's fame, boys were dressing with white t-shirts and blue jeans, trying to look like the "tough guy".  Women were trying to dress and act like Marilyn Monroe.  Later on, rock stars like Michael Jackson were on the scene, sporting a new kind of "hip" or "cool" - while young and impressionable kids attempted to master his "moon walk" and got the cool glove!  Now, no one wants to see me moon walk, so I won't even try!  I didn't then and I won't now.  Yet, down through the ages, regardless of the generation in which we lived, people found "models" of behavior or style they wanted to emulate.  To be honest with you, I tried to preach like one of my Bible College professors!  You might ask how that worked out for me and I'd have to be honest - I was a flop!  Why?  I was not made to teach in quite the same way he was - although we teach the truth, we have a different style all our own.  Nothing was more liberating that to learn I did not need to follow his "pattern", but could allow God to pattern his in me!

Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him. (Romans 12:2 CEV)

Now, if we are patterning our lives after another brother or sister in Christ, the end result is probably not as bad as when we attempt to pattern our behavior after some of the more "secular" examples we have in society today.  Yet, even the best "Christian" example is still flawed - so to really understand how we are to act / behave, we need to go to the true source - Christ himself.  I think this is why God the Father allowed Jesus to take on human form - so we'd have a way to "pattern" our lives.  We see and do much better than we hear and do, don't we?  So, by giving us an example (a God with a Bod, to quote my pastor), we can associate with what our behavior should look like in our everyday dealings.

Clearly, our passage warns us strongly against emulating the examples we set before us in this world today.  Considering these words were written over 2000 years ago, I think it is kind of mind boggling to know they were concerned with examples back then, especially since those examples had just seen Jesus walking on this earth in person!  In every generation, we have chosen wrong examples by which we pattern our lives.  In every circumstance, we have more than one choice of how to respond.  In choosing wisely, we come closer to the example Christ emulated for us while here on this earth.

So, in order to understand "how" we are to avoid being like an example which is not a good one for us to follow, we need to understand the "right example" a little better.  If we behold the right stuff, we eventually reveal the right stuff.  What we focus on determines our course of action - the direction we take when we finally do step out. According to our passage, our actions are determined by our mind - thought patterns put together until they produce some sort of action.  Thinking on this a little, you might just conclude if you could just think on the "right stuff", you'd consistently "act" the right way. I think this is over-simplifying it a little.  

The mind is a complex thing - not fully understood by us and definitely not even used to the capacity or potential it has.  In fact, if you study humans long enough, you will find the theory put forth stating man uses only 10% of his brain.  Albert Einstein and psychologist William James were both cited as starting this myth about human brain use. Most of the scientific community will tell you that although we may not fully use every brain cell we have, the brain is complex and even the slightest "infarct" or "break" in conduction of nerve activity can cripple a person's intellect, speech, vision, etc.  The truth remains evident, though, in the activities of human beings - we don't use our brains quite to the capacity God intended for their use!  Sometimes we get pretty far off from what he intended for us!

The key to living right is the right use of our minds - in maintaining the right focus, taking in the right input, and processing the right matter.  In other words, what goes in will eventually come out, so put the good stuff in!  We have to let God change any way we think which is imperfect, self-determined, or just downright foolish.  If we are committed to having his mind become ours, we will be more successful in consistently revealing a positive example of his love and grace in our own lives.  This is the purpose of our passage today - not to tell us to "NOT" conform, but to conform to the "right stuff".  When we begin to adapt our thinking to his, by changing our focus, we soon begin to see our behavior adapt to the way he desires for his kids to behave.  Just sayin!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tin cans, drainpipes, and a melody to be played

Gladness comes when we take pleasure in something.  I like to find the perfect photo - the bee on the flower, leaf caught in the sun-blazoned cobweb, or maybe even the look of discovery on the face of a young child.  It brings me pleasure to catch "just the right" moment.  Gladness is a sense of heart where one experiences joy or pleasure - a sense of heart which evades a good many these days.  Gladness and happiness are very similar emotions - both based on finding pleasure in something or someone.  Pleasure is really the capacity to enjoy what it is you have found.  I read of children in Paraguay, in the city of Cateura, who take great pleasure in playing music out of instruments "recycled" from cans, drain pipes, and what others in society would call their "trash".  The craftsmen of the town fashion these "cast off items" into violins, cellos, guitars, and other stringed instruments. They are far from "Stradivarius" worthy instruments, but the beautiful music they produce is a joy to behold.  What some might consider to be "cast off" others consider to be a "find" worthy of being remade and re-purposed - kind of like what Jesus does in our lives when he picks us up in our wasteland of sin! 

Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad. Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here. Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. (Philippians 4:5-7 CEV)

Our passage suggests a reason for gladness - because of the Lord!  Simply put - we are possessed by him and he is re-purposing our lives.  This should bring us great pleasure, for it brings him ultimate pleasure.  His whole life has been dedicated to the purpose of finding lost lives, those cast off into the landfill of sin, and plucking that life from the place of rubble and rubbish.  In taking up that life, he begins the work of re-crafting it from one image to another.  Just as the Paraguayan craftsmen re-craft the tin cans into beautiful instruments, Jesus takes our lives and refashions them to resemble something other than what they once were.  In so doing, music is produced - music which fills his ears and heart with praise!

In this re-purposing of our lives, Jesus reminds us of a couple of things to help us realize our new purpose:

- We are designed to be gentle giants.  In essence, we know greatness (the giant idea) simply because greatness dwells within us in the presence of Jesus.  Although his presence brings access to great "power" within, he reminds us to be gentle with each other.  Why? Love is his mode of operation - not the sword!  This was the message we heard this past week at our church - disciples are known by their love, not by the sword they carry!

- We are to become stewards of prayer.  A steward manages another person's property, acting as the "agent" of the other person.  In reality, we are stewards of all Jesus gives us in his re-purposing of our lives.  In turn, he calls us to lift both our own needs, and those of others in prayer - in reverent trust of the one who has re-created us for his purposes.  We "steward" a life given back to us at the point of salvation - no longer demanding control, but realizing the one who owns our lives now has the right to ask us to live it for his glory and honor.  In turn, he reminds us to stop worrying about things and people - instead, we are to bring them before him in prayer - as stewards of his grace, love, and mercy.

- We are called to give thanks.  When rubbish is refashioned into something of usefulness, what is produced is a thing of purpose and beauty.  We may not realize the original any longer because the "re-purposed" has more beauty than the original!  Those cans and drain pipes salvaged from the dumping grounds in Paraguay no longer resemble their former state.  The "beauty" they produce is much different than their former purpose.  At one time they held something within their confines - now music emanates from them.  Jesus does that for us - makes it so our life which was once so confined can produce something of beautiful melody for him in the form of thanksgiving, praise, and worship.

- We are called to think and feel differently.  "Re-purposed" lives don't think the same way they once did.  In fact, there is an exchange of thinking which occurs when we give our lives over to Jesus.  Our thoughts begin to center on him, and in so doing, our emotions begin to be ordered into a new way of responding.  Inner peace is a result of the melody of his grace and love played sweetly from the inner core of our being.

We may not see much we are glad for today simply because all we can see is the rubbish pile.  Herein is the beginning of our life's story - the damaged becomes new again - not in its former state, but in a new and glorious re-created, re-purposed life.  A life fashioned by the hands of Jesus - to be used for his glory and honor.  Nothing quite brings gladness in the same degree.  Just sayin!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sharp or curative words?

Our words - some short and sweet, others longer and rich with meaning - all are still words until they are spoken or heard.  In the speaking, meaning can be conveyed - simply by inflection, the combination of words spoken together, or the circumstances in which they are voiced.  In hearing, a totally different meaning can be interpreted - based upon the hearer's frame of mind, how emotional charged the moment is, or the complexity of demands being placed on the hearer at that moment.  Since there are all these "interference" points where words can become something totally different than what we intended to convey, it is even more important to learn how it is we use our words!

Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal. (Proverbs 12:18 CEV)

Words bring death at one time, but almost similarly spoken, they bring life at another. What has occurred is the mixing of the speaking and hearing components - and whatever life has placed between the two.  In the midst of stressful circumstances, they could be taken as a poisonous gas - bringing devastation in their midst.  In the midst of a more relaxing moment of reflection and sharing, they might be similarly spoken, but they can be heard quite differently - as healing balm.  Simply put, sharp word terminate in a "point", just as a knife does.  What is the purpose of the knife's point?  Is it not to puncture or pierce?  Words which merely "make a point" may have this damaging effect. They may not be "bad" words to speak, but just as one does not walk around the kitchen with a knife pointed outward when others are around, so we should not be "careless" with the words we speak.

Sharp words often are like "switchbacks" on a mountain slope.  Unexpectedly, you find yourself changing course, and quite quickly, sometimes without warning.  There is a "cut-back" effect with these words.  They turn around on the speaker as quickly as they were spoken.  In effect, this is how arguments ensue.  We turn the words around to return them to the speaker, just as we heard them - switching them back in a sharp twist of meaning.  In short order, we are engaged in hostile strikes against each other - all without intent or planned purpose.  In music, a sharp is a "sound above the true pitch".  The true meaning of the words is lost because they are interpreted as a sound above the true pitch of the conversation!

Community is made all the harder because communication must happen if there is to be real communion.  All these have a similar root - common.  We cannot dwell in community if we are not concerned with the common good.  We cannot engage in meaningful and purposeful communication without learning the value of communicating in a way which is valuable to what we share in common at that moment.  We interfere with real and lasting communion whenever we don't respect the common values, needs, and "space" of others. In essence, we really need to count on being wise in our choice of words - because words can destroy community, shut down communication, and permanently disrupt communion.

Curing or healing words actually bring back health into community, restore communication pathways, and encourage a place for mutual communion.  Wisdom seeks peace - not because we "control" the peace - but because peace dwells within us first and is exuded through us in the very words we choose to speak (and in those we choose to withhold).  A cure is only needed because there has been a "disease" at work.  Sharp words actually damage healthy relationship - a "disease" of sorts is allowed to permeate our sense of common good and we are left with putrefying inner conflict.  Remembering sharp words are not always spoken as "sharp", but can be interpreted as such, we must also be quite sensitive to all the other factors which "shape" our words.  A wise person learns to read the circumstances, listen to the emotion, feel the "charge" in the air.  

Curative words are soothing to the damaged relationship - bringing insight which uncovers true intent (true pitch).  Since this is such a complex process, we need insight into our words which we don't often possess on our own.  Perhaps this is why Jesus sends his disciples out with the instruction to "not take thought about what they are to speak" when times of conflict come, accusations are flying, and "charges" are made about them. Instead, they are to rely upon the Holy Spirit to give them wisdom into the words to speak.  We don't always know the right timing - so we need the wisdom of one who does. We don't always know the right words which will bring impact, but not pierce and destroy, but HE does.  Christ in us - our hope for curative words.  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A little lesson from the ants

Okay, today's lesson may seem a little bit like a biology lesson, or a study into insects, but bear with me as we take this journey.  Ants are social creatures - living in colonies and not out there all alone.  In this respect, they are kind of like us humans - doing much better in a "colony" of sorts than trying to make it through this life all alone.  I marvel at how these tiny creatures figured this out when they only have about 250,000 brain cells and we humans cannot figure this out with our greater than 10,000,000 brain cells!  Deep within the colonies of ants, the worker ants spend all day moving the unborn larvae closer to the surface so they can get the heat of the day, but then faithfully move those same larvae deeper into the nest so they can be warmer.  It is a repeated process until the tiny larvae hatch.  Other ants will work all day gathering food for the colony - carrying weights twenty times their own body weight back to the colony to ensure the colony thrives.  Still others will carry in tiny bits of leaves, providing small pieces of "barricade" material to ensure the tunnels of the nests can be protected against water in times of rain. Another group of ants work for move the chunks of soil to the surface, creating new tunnels in which food may be stored, larvae laid, and the like.  There is this sense of duty to look out for the colony - to do their part to create the right environment to ensure the colony survives.

You lazy people can learn by watching an anthill. Ants don’t have leaders, but they store up food during harvest season. How long will you lie there doing nothing at all? When are you going to get up and stop sleeping? Sleep a little. Doze a little. Fold your hands and twiddle your thumbs. Suddenly, everything is gone, as though it had been taken by an armed robber. (Proverbs 6:6-11 CEV)

We often know we have a "part" to play in the bigger "picture" of life, but we are often quite confused as to what that part may be.  If we were honest about this, we probably know, but we just don't fully embrace it.  Most of the time, the "part" we are called to play is not outside of what we are most comfortable doing.  In other words, we "fall into" our "duties" in life because of a certain comfort level, or "aptitude".  

Did you know that ants have five eyes? Yet, in spite of their "capacity" for vision, they see very poorly!  Two big eyes, known as compound eyes, help them see motion around them. Three smaller eyes, known as ocelli, actually help the tiny ant sense light intensity.  They detect motion and "feel" or "sense" light.  Five eyes - the capacity for vision - but the vast majority of ants are either using them for "motion sensors", "heat detectors", or they are totally blind!  

We humans have been the capacity for "sight" in many different ways, haven't we?  We can take in information, form a "picture" of it in our brains and then interpret we are looking at a red rose.  We can see light, apprehend darkness, and points in between.  Yet, I have to ask - is our vision any better than the ants?  Do we use what we can appreciate through out "sight"?  Even these tiny ants know their part to play in the colony - despite their limited vision.  They use what they know and rely on it being the right thing for them to be doing.  Sometimes I think we just need to use what we know to be true about our "aptitude" in life, not being so confused by all we "see"!

The ants are probably one of the oldest living creatures - making scientists think they are pretty well "adapted" for their environment.  I wonder how well adapted some of us are? Do we fulfill our calling where we find ourselves today?  Or are we always looking for another colony in which we may realize our "true calling" in life?  If we were to be truthful with each other, we "know" our calling, but we just don't think we are in the right place to actually do what it is we are called to do, or we are too intimidated by others doing the same task!  We need to be about the work we are created to do - not always looking for another place to do it!

Ants have two stomachs - one for the food they will ingest for themselves, and one for the feeding of other ants.  They even have a smaller pocket in their mouth where they can store additional food for other ants.  If we stop for a moment to consider this phenomena, we might just see how it can apply to how we fulfill our mission in our "colony" of sorts.  The food stored in the tiny pocket in the mouth is immediately available to provide for the one who is hungry and in need of nourishment to keep going.  The food in the second stomach is there to bring out at a later time.  Kind of like when we store up truths we are taught, keeping God's Word at the ready in times of immediate need and then having it hidden deeper within, to be called upon whenever and wherever it is needed!

Consider the ants and you might find a lesson or two you can take to heart.  One more before I go today - the worker ant and the trail he leaves for those who will come behind. The worker ant sets out in search of food - leaving a trail of scent others may follow.  If he finds a good source for their food, he follows the trail back to the colony and sets other worker ants on the course of following the same trail back to the food source.  This becomes the "highway" by which they will travel over and over again, until all the colony benefits from the discovery of one ant's hard work.  I think our "colonies" may be made the richer if we were to lead others to the "food" of our hard study and lessons learned.  What do you think? Just askin!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Okay, so I stand corrected!

Correction:  Something that is substituted or proposed for what is wrong or inaccurate; an adjustment made in order to increase accuracy; the reversal of a trend.  Most of us think of correction as the punishment we receive which is intended to put us back on the right course.  In essence, this is only one definition of the term - but the idea is that of "substituting" one behavior for another in order to get a different outcome.  In other words, if we continue doing the same thing, we will always get what we have always gotten!  So, correction is designed to help us do something "differently" in order to change the outcome. 

Accept correction, and you will find life; reject correction, and you will miss the road. You can hide your hatred by telling lies, but you are a fool to spread lies. You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much—so be sensible and watch what you say. The words of a good person are like pure silver, but the thoughts of an evil person are almost worthless. Many are helped by useful instruction,
but fools are killed by their own stupidity. (Proverbs 10:17-21 CEV)
"Accepting" correction is the biggee, right?  We think we can fix ourselves, but let me just pose this question to you:  "If you got yourself into the mess, what makes you think you are going to be any good at getting yourself out of it?"  The truth is, we got into the mess because we had blinders on, causing us to only see what we wanted to see; or we were so "open minded" we forgot to really think through what we were doing in the first place.  The way "in" is not always the way "out", and we don't always realize just how we got to where we are at today!  We need to have blinders removed - so we sometimes need someone on the "outside" of the mess we are in to actually help us see where the blinders have limited our focus.  We also need someone to clearly delineate the path for us to follow, because the ones we have been choosing are just riddled with messiness!

Fools are killed by THEIR OWN stupidity - not the stupidity of others!  We sometimes think we can put the blame for our missteps on others, but truth be told, we took those steps on our own!  When "useful instruction" comes our way, it takes quite a brave man or woman to actually embrace it and turn away from the folly of our ways.  Bravery?  Do I really mean bravery?  Yep, because bravery is the willingness to challenge the norm - to dare to be different from what we have always been.  Bravery stands up to the wrong we have created in our minds and dares to think differently.  Most of our missteps in life are simply because we have embraced some type of "errant' belief.  In turn, we act upon that errant though pattern and we find ourselves "missing the road" we should actually have traveled!

A couple of things our passage points out about when or where we need "correction" most in our lives:

- When we are clearly on a path which will do us harm in anyway. Sometimes we just choose the wrong way - either because of our own lack of investigation into the pathway we are traveling, or because we have given into some form of peer pressure and just idly go that way.  Either way, we need someone's help and truth to get us back on course.  When I am lost on the roadways on some journey I am on, I don't just drive round and round.  I pull over, look again at the map, and then ask directions.  What I am doing is referencing "truth" (the map) and getting counsel (asking for directions).  We all need to stop on occasion to be sure our actions are in alignment with the Word of God and to check our steps with others who are in intimate relationship with Jesus.  In turn, we often will save ourselves many a misstep!

- When we are not speaking the truth (even those half-truths).  If we are allowed to continue in our untruths, we will see what my mom always referred to as the "snowball" effect.  One lie leads to another and then another.  In time, this "little white lie" which seemed kind of harmless when we told it becomes this huge mountain of a lie because we have to keep telling one lie after another to back up the first lie we told!  We often need someone to "call us out" on the truth - it could save us a whole lot of misery in the end.

- When we are using words without thinking them through before we speak them.  None of us speaks without thinking, right?  We always "filter" our words before we speak them, right?  Ummm....unless I am speaking to the angels of heaven right now, I think not!  Most of the time, we are more prone to babbling on without really considering the weight or impact of our words - even idle words spoken in banter or chit-chat.  Fools babble on - wisdom determines the value of the words before they are spoken!

- When we are giving into our idle thoughts.  Idle thoughts get us on wrong paths.  Fools just give into passive thought - feelings dictating what they do rather than rational thought. To rely upon our feelings will always get us into the messy places in life.  So, learning to "tune in" a little more to our thoughts, allowing the Holy Spirit to "right" them when they are getting a little too "free-form" will save us a whole lot of idle wandering down roads best left untraveled in the first place!  Just sayin!