Sunday, November 30, 2014

Need to "re-connect" for the holidays?

I watched a cute little movie last night which wasn't probably in keeping with everyone's themed "Christmas Feel Good Movies", but it had a pretty good message despite some of the wacky stuff in it.  The movie?  "3-Day Test", a film by Corbin Bernsen.  The plot goes something like many of the other Christmas-themed movies, but it has a little twist.  The man of the house (Tom) has lost track of his family - simply because he is too busy being a "bean counter" (accountant) and is always working to pay the bills.  His teenage daughter gets arrested because of the kids she is hanging around with, while his other two kids (a son who will only communicate with him via a digital sign and a daughter who makes him talk to her doll instead of directly to her) are all pretty disappointed with their good old dad.  So, maybe dad is a little too wacky, but he finally gets the point the family is a mess and he conducts what becomes known as the 3-day test.  He disconnects them from outside life by means of blacking out the windows and cutting off all the utilities (water, gas, electricity). They must now "survive" the next three days without the benefit of their electronics, or the ability to run to the corner store for whatever they need.  Needless to say, the moments of "family time" get a little quirky when they are forced to "survive" without all the "necessities" of life, but the message is clear - you cannot spend your whole life getting rich - you'll lose what matters most!

Give up trying so hard to get rich. Your money flies away before you know it, just like an eagle suddenly taking off. (Proverbs 23:4-5 CEV)

The moral of this Christmas tale is not much different than some of the others on TV or in theaters these days - we have somehow lost connection with what truly matters.  Whether it be the connection we have with our families or loved ones, or the connection we have with Jesus himself, we suffer from this lack of connection more than we might first realize.  We are headed into the "rush" of the season, when Black Friday Deals, Christmas tree lots, and the hurried frenzy of last minute shopping will fill the minds and schedules of a great many. There is the constant pull to do a little more, go a little further, etc.  In essence, after the first really "cool" gift the kids get, do they act as excited anymore?  Probably not!  So, why kill yourself chasing after everything?

The passage today is not about Christmas, but the celebration of relationship each and every day of our lives.  The challenge is to learn contentment.  The "lie" we have believed is that the pursuit of just a little more will somehow bring us into the place of contentment in our lives.  In reality, it brings us to what appears to be the threshold of contentment and then someone moves the door!  Try as we might, the harder we try to amass what we believe will bring contentment (everything from finance to the perfect relationship), we somehow cannot pull it off.  Why?  There is nothing which can fill the place designed for Jesus!  A time back, I received a small ceramic pin from a friend.  It simply reads, "Jesus is the reason for the season".  You probably have seen something similar.  The question I have for us is simply why is it we need to be reminded of this?

I think it might just be the tendency we have to "disconnect" from what is truthfully valuable in pursuit of what promises value!  If you find yourself there today, don't despair - turn to prayer!  God's answer may be to put us through a "3-day test" of sorts, though!  He might just want to prove we have what it takes to really "reconnect" on the level which really matters.  In other words, he might put us through a process of disconnecting in order to find the re-connection.  All of life's pursuits pale in comparison to the one pursuit which really matters - Jesus and him alone.  When we can truthfully say we have found our way out of the mire of what leads to our disconnection into the open place where we find the solitude of "re-connection", we can then exalt in the bounty of grace we find in that open place!

My challenge this year was to finish up Christmas about one month early.  Partly because I will be incapacitated during the holidays this year, and partly because I wanted to settle into really enjoying them with my family.  The family asked if I'd be putting up all the lights, tree, manger scene, and all the typical decor of the holidays.  I said, "Nope".  They must have thought I'd been abducted by aliens or something!  Well, I caved a little last night.  I put up one strand of colored lights around the fake ficus tree in the living room.  Then I layered the brightly wrapped packages at the foot of our "tree".  Somehow, in the simplicity of this modest "decoration" for the holiday, I found myself reflecting on how simple the first Christmas must have been.  Mary, Joseph and a few animals, all gathered together in a cave of sorts, watching as Mary worked to bring forth the tiny life within.  Then, in the quiet of the night, the infant's cries could be heard.  Those tiny cries were for us, my friends!  From the moment he took his first breath as a child born of a virgin to the day he took his last upon the cross for our sins, it was ALL about the connection he was preparing for you and me!  Just sayin!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reputation and Respect

Reputation and respect - two sometimes very contradictory states in life, right?  We can have anywhere from a disreputable to "holier-than-thou" reputation, but neither is really a well respected reputation.  We can have a pretty disreputable reputation in some individual's eyes and still be very well respected in our circle of influence, such as when a gang member is respected by those in his/her gang.  Reputation isn't always based on the "good" we do, but on the way and varied reasons people want to pay us honor.  We can gain respect by various means - not all of them honorable and upright.  Reputation can be good or bad, and sometimes at a point right in between.  Respect can be earned, but it can be lost quicker than it can be earned.  Maybe this is why scripture reminds us that reputation and respect are worth MUCH MORE than silver or gold - neither can really be bought, nor can either be maintained through our wealth or "status" in life!

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)

It is a sobering reminder to us of our dependence upon God when our writer says both the rich and poor are created by God.  Neither is "self-made"!  Our circumstances in life may be a little "self-made", but trust me - none of us really controls our reputation, nor the amount of respect we get from others.  Respect is given - because someone sees us through their eyes and set of values as worthy of our respect.  Someone else may not give us much respect simply because their set of values determines us to "rank" a little lower than what another may see us as.  In general, I think reputation and respect are kind of "transitional" characteristics in our lives simply because both can be changed in an instant!

Reputation is an "estimation" given by another - as their eyes take us in and experience what it is we say and do, they form an opinion of us.  Dangerous as this may be, it is how we have done "business" since the beginning of time.  An individual "sizes up" another and makes determinations ranging from how "beautiful" or "handsome" we are, to whether they want to be our friends or not.  As employers interview prospective employees, all kinds of opinions are being formed - not just those made because of what our resume reports, but because of how we interact, present ourselves, and whether we answer their questions in a satisfactory manner.  Estimation is sometimes situation - most of the time, in fact.  It is based on the need of the other individual at the time!

Did you find it odd that our passage would be including this issue of "seeing trouble" and then either responding in a moment of stupidity by walking right into it versus being "smart" and running away from it as fast as we can?  I think we often don't see the passage in context, so this is why I wanted us to see how the thoughts are laid out in our passage today.  Reputation and respect are often determined by how we handle the "trouble" life sends our way.  Some of the trouble we face is self-made, is it not?  When we are silly enough to cause our own trouble, it is kind of hard to walk away from it!  Yet other trouble is not within our control - when we get right up close and personal with trouble, what we determine to do with it in that moment is what will either maintain our "positive" reputation and build "respect" in the eyes of both others and ourselves!

Yep, we even form an opinion of ourselves and then we base how much we will respect ourselves according to that formed opinion!  Don't believe me?  Look in the mirror some morning, totally naked, and then say out loud the first thing which comes into your mind.  If we were to be honest here, how we see ourselves is based on the opinion we have formed in our minds.  This opinion can be based on fact, such as I have too much fat content in my body's make up, to fiction, such as believing we are not valued because we are "fluffier" than others with more toned bodies!  Where did these opinions come from?  Both from within ourselves and from what we believe others think about us!  Sometimes it is also what others have said about us!  In turn, we form a "reputation" in our minds - one which may not be very realistic and definitely "defines" the amount of respect we give ourselves in turn.

So, before we get all wigged out about the reputation of another, let's examine what it is we believe about ourselves.  What does God say about us?  First, he says we are created in his image!  Second, he says we matter enough to him to give up his one and only Son to redeem us from this life of mixed up mess we have created of it!  Third, he says we find our hope in him and him alone!  Fourth, he says nothing can separate us from his love!  Fifth, he says nothing can stand against us (not even us)!  Now, when we begin to get an accurate picture of our "reputation" in God's eyes, maybe we will begin to let go of the reputation we have formed of ourselves which really doesn't align with his!  Just sayin!

Friday, November 28, 2014

You "on plumb"?

Stranger:  A newcomer in a place or locality; an outsider; a person who is unacquainted with or unaccustomed to something.  Foreigner:  A person not "native" to or in a position of being "external" to something.  Scripture declares we are no longer either a stranger, nor a foreigner, once we say "yes" to Jesus.  In fact, we are adopted into the family of God - made citizens in his Kingdom.  As a result, we are no longer on the outside looking in, but are growing more and more accustomed to the ways God moves, how he responds, and what it is he finds pleasure in.  I live in a family of "naturalized" citizens.  Mom came over from England at a very young age with her parents, naturalizing in her young adult years.  Dad came down from Canada in search of a dryer climate to help with his young son's lung health, naturalizing shortly thereafter.  My brother received his naturalization after serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era.  My sister studied to receive her naturalization after she came of age.  I am born and raised in the United States, so I am the only one "native" to this country.   I may not know what it is to be an "outsider" in the sense of the place I call home, but I do understand what it is to be an outsider in terms of going it alone in life, feeling like I could manage this life of my own without any assistance from God's oversight!  Let me just assure you - being on the outside looking in on my life was no more pleasant than looking "out" from the mess I made of my life under my own authority and leadership!

You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live. (Ephesians 2:19-22 CEV)

To no longer be on the outside looking in makes for a world of difference in perspective.  In terms of become accustomed to a "new way of business" in our lives, saying "yes" to Jesus means we lay down the control and allow him the freedom to guide us through life.  Easier said than done, I know.  Yet, it is in even the subtlest movement toward obedience where God meets us and edges us that much closer toward full submission to his leadership in our lives.  It doesn't take giant steps - it takes just the smallest of "baby steps" to show our intent of heart.  I like the illustration Paul uses of a building.  A foundation is laid because without a foundation, anything erected will eventually crumble.  The foundation is what gives the building "anchor".  The cornerstone holds significance because it it the piece which ties together all the other pieces.  I always used to ask my dad why he started at the corner of the brick or block laying.  I didn't know why this was so important, but he would consistently share the same message until it finally connected with me.  As dad used to say, "It is the stone by which all the other stones receive their reference".  Now, as a younger child, I didn't get this whole "reference" thing, but as I grew up, I did!  

What he was trying to tell me was that every other stone or block or brick laid into the wall would find its plumb based on the cornerstone.  All other stones were set in reference to this stone.  In turn, the wall took form continually referring back to the "plumb" of the cornerstone.  Now, do you see it?  The cornerstone is Christ.  He is what gives our lives "plumb" - the reference to which all of life is laid in "plumb".  In addition, the cornerstone was the position which "united" the stones running in opposite directions.  Most of us are running in different directions to what Christ intends for our lives.  As Paul penned these words, Jews and Gentiles (those who were on the outside of faith) were being united to the one "reference" stone (Christ).  Running in opposite directions to each other, Paul was reminding them of the uniting influence of Christ in their lives.

Get the reference stone right and all the building will go well.  If the reference stone is not in plumb, the rest of the building will be out of plumb, as well.  I have a small flower bed which was built before I bought the house.  As time has gone on, the bed has been influenced by the tree roots of the huge pine tree planted in my front yard.  Those roots have pushed the bed out of plumb and made the wall crack in spots.  I have been challenged to figure out ways of rebuilding it on occasion, salvaging the brick and redoing the mortar connections. It takes some doing, but I always refer back to the corner which remains plumb.  As long as I do this, the wall look pretty good when I get it reconstructed.  Now, on the opposite side of the house, there is a two layer small retaining structure created to separate the grass from some gravel running alongside the house.  Some old trees used to be in the gravel, which I have since had removed.  The influence of those roots lifted the small retaining wall in the middle, so the wall is no longer plumb.  To get it plumb, I'd have to rip out the whole thing and start over again.  Why?  No cornerstone by which I have a reference!  It is a straight line which is no longer straight!

Nothing orders our life, keeps us "on plumb", or binds us together in unity with each other quite like having the right "cornerstone" in our lives.  Jesus gives our lives reference - the ability to have an accurate determination of "plumb".  When we get the foundation right, all the other pieces will fall into place!  Just sayin!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Let there be peace on earth...and let it begin with me

In 1955, a song hit the airwaves sung by Vince Gill and which is often associated with the Christmas season.  For most of us younger than our 50's, this song may not have much meaning, but when we take a step back in time, we might be surprised at the history of the song, "Let There Be Peace On Earth".  Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller actually penned the lyrics to this song, but you may be surprised as to the "why" behind the lyrics.  Jill was suicidal after a failed marriage (something quite scandalous and still not "socially acceptable" in the mid-fifties).  Yet, in the midst of her sorrow and agony over her loss, she found hope.  In her account of how she came to write these lyrics, she said it was as a result of finding "the life-saving joy of God's peace and unconditional love".  This song has been sung in times when war was ravaging countries, pleading for those warring factions to lay down their weapons and take up the call to peace.  It has been sung at rallies to encourage the integration of all walks of life, not excluding one race over another, but calling for each individual to be respected and honored.  I doubt she knew the impact of her words as she penned them that day more than half a century ago, but these words continue to be sung by choral groups everywhere - most unknowingly sharing the story of God's peace and unconditional love! 

Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14-18 CEV)

In 1955, Rosa Parks set the wheels in motion to begin what most have come to know as the "Civil Rights Movement", as she refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white person in Montgomery, Alabama.  In Britain, the newspapers were actually halted for about one month as strikers took to the streets in Fleet Street.  Great Britain was plagued by a rail strike, causing huge disturbances in the travel throughout the country.  The U.S. was engaged in military action from 1950-1954 in the Korean War.  In 1955, the first military advisers were sent into Vietnam.  The world was in chaos in the 50's.  With events ranging from natural disasters like Hurricane Diane hitting the East Coast and killing nearly 200 people with over one billion dollars in damage, or the unrest caused by poor pay or a lack of respect of human rights, and young men being sent into combat zones and police action across the world, the climate was "ripe" for the call to peace.  

One thing, and one thing alone, truly brings peace.  Jill Jackson Miller could not have said it better than she did when she penned the words of the song!  The first verse goes like this: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God as our father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.  I would interject this interpretation:  With God as our father...brothers all are we.  With God as our father...sisters all are we.  With God as our father...let there be peace.  With God as our father...let that peace be seen in me.  With God as our father...let peace flow from me.

Back in the times of Jesus' walking upon this earth, he began a "movement" to set people at "peace with God".  In turn, his desire was that "movement" which began in our hearts would become a means of uniting us together in peace with one another.  It is God's intent that our hearts find peace with him.  It is his joy when that peace begins to flood out from us and affect the world around us!  Thinking back to the circumstances which plagued the heart of Jill Jackson Miller prior to writing this song, we might see how much she was in chaos.  A heart contemplating suicide, despondent over life's challenges and disappointments, crying out for something or someone to take it all away.  This is where God works best, my friends! In the midst of our messy lives, he comes to bring peace.  Nothing quite measures up to his peace, for his peace is eternal (everlasting and unconditional).  

Tapping into the peace of God is what helps us go through the weighty times of despair others often crumble under.  There is nothing more liberating than peace, for the heart is able to soar where peace is the banner flying high.  What is it which brings peace?  It is love. Jill said it best when she shared the "why" behind her song of praise to God.  His love, unconditional and all-encompassing, enveloped her in a blanket of peace.  It can do the same for each of us, if we are willing to allow him the access to our messy lives.  We don't know the joy of peace until we experience the delight of his unconditional love.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Beyond and above

There are lots of metaphors in scripture, oftentimes not appreciated because we don't stop long enough to take time to actually let them sink in.  A metaphor is something used to describe something else.  When we say God is our fortress, we aren't saying he is a stone building erected with stone, mortar, and protective walls.  We are simply giving a word picture of his strength, security, and place of safe-keeping.  Whenever we refer to God as our shield, we are giving a word picture of one who wards off the blows from our enemies and protects our most vulnerable parts.  To many, word pictures speak much - to others, they are simply glossed over as some nice, frilly way to describe something, but they need something much more "concrete" because their brains don't stop to delight in word pictures.  Perhaps this is why God uses both in scripture - the word picture and the direct, to point out the truth. As we explore scripture, getting to know our God as the main point - how this is accomplished is as varied as the various "pictures" we see of him in these pages!

Your love reaches higher than the heavens; your loyalty extends beyond the clouds. May you, my God, be honored above the heavens; may your glory be seen everywhere on earth. (Psalm 57:10-11 CEV)

David is in a cave, surrounded by mighty men of military might.  They had hotly pursued him day and night, in hopes of trapping him so they could end his life.  All this because of the orders of their superior, King Saul.  They were to seek and destroy - because David was a threat to King Saul's continued rule on the throne in Israel.  Interesting how our pride motivates us to some pretty ridiculous actions, isn't it?  We find ourselves acting in ways quite contrary to the way we should and whenever we do, the truth about who and what we really serve is revealed!  The coolness, hardness, and darkness of Saul's heart was being revealed.

Yet in the midst of the coolness and darkness of the cave into which David clamored for protection from the pursuit, David find a song bubbling up from his heart.  Interesting how one person's coldness, hardness, and darkness gives birth to all kinds of evil imaginings and another's gives birth to a greater trust in God and an expression of simple hope.  I wonder what is revealed about our hearts in the midst of the cool and dark places?  Maybe this is another metaphor given to us to reveal just how much God is with us even when the "place" we are in seems to be "hallow", "without escape", and "uncertain".  I don't know about you, but most of the caves I have explored are dark, cold, and a little more confining than I would be comfortable in for a long, long time!

David's heart turns to his Lord.  In response to his depth of trust in the delivering grace of God, he begins to allow his heart to well-up with words of praise and honor to the one he loves so greatly.  He begins with the testimony of God's "bigger than life" love and his faith in God's grace being what will reveal to the world around him the reality of God's goodness and glory.  Higher than the heavens.  I don't have the knowledge to fully grasp that one, but I do know the heavens go on and on and on, kind of without end!  So David's reference to the love of God being higher than the heavens, he is simply saying it is so vastly different from human love that it almost is immeasurable.  Human love is conditional - based on something we do for another.  God's love is unconditional - and as such it is almost immeasurable.

God's loyalty extends beyond the clouds.  The introduction of air travel wasn't even a concept when David penned these words, so perhaps we over-simplify this when we think about it, because we can rise above the clouds in our planes of today.  Yet, as David considered the heavens and the things contained in them, he references God's love and loyalty.  Clouds were a sign of what?  Impending weather change?  Incoming storms?  In those days, I'd have to say it was.  When he says God's loyalty (his intense commitment to keep each and every one of his promises) reached beyond the clouds.  In other words, come what might, God's commitment to keep David secure reached beyond the impending storms of life, and that commitment was not altered by the storm!

We might not sit to ponder the heights of heaven or the extent of God's loyalty toward us very often, but when we do, we might just draw the same conclusions!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't be afraid of the muddle

So many times we want total deliverance from what we are going through, all the while forgetting we grow in the midst of the trial, not by a rescue from it.  We often want the easy way out, not the way which means we have to get real, go deep, and struggle a bit to get past our resistance.  No good athlete will ever tell you they arrived at their current stage in life by sitting on the sidelines.  In fact, they will tell you "practice makes perfect" and the place of "practice" is in the middle of the field, running on the track, or fighting in the ring.  It is smack dab in the middle of the muddle where we learn what we are made of.  Maybe this is one reason we don't just say "yes" to Jesus, then magically find ourselves transported off to some nether region to live on a cloud for all of eternity.  God wants us in the midst of the muddle because the muddle needs us as much as we need them!

Father, I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, and neither do I. Your word is the truth. So let this truth make them completely yours. I am sending them into the world, just as you sent me. I have given myself completely for their sake, so that they may belong completely to the truth. (John 17:15-19 CEV)

There are times we forget we all had our beginning in the midst of this muddle we call the world.  None of us were born on a cloud, dropped on this earth by aliens, or appeared in a "poof" from some magician's wand.  We all originate from the same source - other humans! That being said, we dwell among this same group of humans, more or less, all our lives on this earth.  In time, we may put a little distance between ourselves and those we grew up among, but we still exist among other humans.  That can only mean one thing - we are in the midst of a whole bunch of muddlers!  No one has this thing called "life" all figured out - no one has "mastered" the universe, so to speak.  We all muddle through at one level or another, until at last we breathe our last.  Some "muddle" better than others, but we ALL muddle!

Jesus gave his disciples (his followers) some insight into how it is we "make it through the muddle" of our everyday lives.  They might have hoped for a more ethereal solution to their muddling - like being transported into the heavenlies so they no longer had to deal with this meddle on the earth - but the plan was for them to make an impact through their lives in the midst of the muddle.  Jesus didn't ask for them to be removed, but to remain.  Wherever we find ourselves is where God has a desire for us to make an impact - not to get caught up again in the midst of the muddle, but to impact those lives around us.  How we deal with the muddle AFTER we say "yes" to Jesus is different than how we were dealing with it before we did, though.  Jesus tells us we no longer belong to this world - we aren't sin-filled muddlers, but we are in the midst of the muddle.  In the midst of it, we are now light and life to those muddling through without Jesus.

How we get our own lives through the muddle of life is something we need to figure out first, then we take these same truths to those in the muddle around us. Jesus said it is by the Word dwelling within us.  We are kept safe by the Word of truth which resides in us, making us completely and totally whole wherever we need the healing it brings.  In turn, that living word within becomes the light which touches those who continue to muddle in this world. This is why we are to take in the word and to allow it to impact our lives.  Do you know what a muddler is?  It is someone caught in the midst of confusion, living life in a jumbled and mixed up way.  No wonder Jesus prays to his Father, asking he keep us safe through the Word which indwells us.  The Living Word indwells us - Christ himself.  As he indwells, the confusion (muddle of mind) begins to settle.  Nothing brings peace quite in the same way as when the Word of God settles the mind and soul.  Anguish begins to melt away and confused thought begins to sort itself out.  This is truly the power of the Living Word within.

A muddle is also something which has been mixed or stirred - making those of us within the muddle no longer individual parts, but part of the whole.  Nothing will allow for the blending of parts quite in the same way as the Word of God does.  Where the Word is revered, mixed up lives begin to be transformed into something quite different than the original.  Just as flour, eggs, oil, and sugar are mixed into a bowl to form a batter, the transformation of each of us is accomplished, not by the subtle stirring, but by the "aggressive mixing"!  We want the subtle stirring - God knows the parts don't blend together as well with a subtle stirring!  He brings us into unity often in some of the most traumatic ways!  Don't believe me?  Think of the last devastating hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, raging wildfire.  What happens in the midst of this type of muddle?  Don't people come together to make it through?  Yep, they do.  Why?  In the midst of the muddle, the pieces alone don't matter anymore - the pieces together are what matters!

We can argue we don't belong in this world, but I will dare to counter that argument with the truth that we were assigned a role in the midst of this muddle.  We are to help those muddling through to do come into the place of peace, security, and trust.  How?  We share the Word of God - truth brings light, light brings hope, and hope is the birthplace for faith! Just sayin!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Understanding Love

Love - in a scriptural sense, this term means any purposeful commitment to sacrificial action for another.  Now, we take a lot of actions in this life, neither purposeful, nor sacrificial - let alone on behalf of another!  So, how is it we best learn to display love in our lives?  I think the more of Jesus we allow to "get inside" our lives, the more love begins to be reflected "outside" our lives in the actions we exhibit.  How love takes root is pretty similar to how most seeds take root.  There is a germination process whereby the "seed of love" is planted and begins to send off the tiniest bit of hope there will be new growth there any day.  In a short span of time, those tiny roots will produce a little stalk of growth, giving evidence of something happening just beneath the surface.  Until the tiny growth appears "above" the surface, all we know is the seed has been planted.  We don't know if it is receiving enough water, sunlight, or nutrients from the soil.  The little stalk of life above ground gives us hope there will be a harvest of the seed which was planted.  In quite the same way, God's Word is a seed, deeply planted "inside" each of us, which one day begins to bring forth evidence of a little bit of growth indicative of a harvest yet to come.

I deeply love your Law! I think about it all day. Your laws never leave my mind, and they make me much wiser than my enemies. Thinking about your teachings gives me better understanding than my teachers, and obeying your laws makes me wiser than those who have lived a long time. I obey your word instead of following a way that leads to trouble. You have been my teacher, and I won’t reject your instructions. Your teachings are sweeter than honey. They give me understanding and make me hate all lies. (Psalm 119:97-104 CEV)

The Word of God is to be cherished - never taken for granted - consistently obeyed.  This is what love really is - obedience to the revealed will of the one we choose to willingly serve. Notice I used the words "choose" and "willingly".  Choice is a matter of selecting one thing over another.  In the case of serving Jesus, it is the choice of accepting him as the focus of our life rather than any other distraction presented in our path (and there are many distractions, just in case you have not noticed).  This is the crux of the first of the Ten Commandments given to Moses - have no other god.  Anything which demands our focus is our god.  Even if the "demanding one" is us!  Willingly suggests there is a purposeful commitment on our part to serve Jesus - it isn't just mindless adherence to some code or plan.  This is what biblical love is - a purposeful commitment to sacrificial action for another.  God demonstrated this love in his action on our behalf (the death of his Son, Jesus).  We demonstrate this love back to him in our purposeful denial of any distraction which takes us away from the center of his love.

David was known as a man after God's own heart.  I believe this may be because of his willingness to always keep God at "center" in his life.  This doesn't mean he never strayed from "center", though.  We only need to read the account his life in scripture to see he had some pretty awkward moments in his relationship with God.  There was a pretty dysfunctional period of time when he just spent month after month on the run from a madman set on destroying him.  Then there was the whole issue of sex outside of marriage (with another man's wife).  He experienced early grief in his married life with the lost of his infant son.  His kids didn't get along at times and even revolted against his leadership.  So, lest we think he enjoyed some privileged status of an "elite" believer, he did not.  He was a regular guy with pretty "normal" issues in his life - all those distractions we have to deal with in our own!  So, if he could get past these distractions, I honestly think we need to "tap into" how it was he did so.

First, he exemplifies for us the true heart of a worshiper.  He was never willing to let a distance grow between him and the one he loved.  He kept his relationship with God fresh and alive.  So many times we don't get much out of our time with Jesus simply because we have become too cavalier in approach to God.  We don't take time to reflect upon the condition of our heart, laying before him the things which really need to be dealt with that interfere with our closeness to his heart.  We somehow discount their importance and miss out on the fact they need to be dealt with at his feet.  If we want to develop the kind of heart which purposefully commits to actions on behalf of another, we have to purposefully deal with the things which keep us in a place of complacency, compromise, and "coolness" in our walk.

Second, he always turned to the Word of God as his source of both "help" when he needed to know if he was doing the right thing, going the right direction, or making the right choices. He knew the value of the Word - even those parts which he might not have known well, found a little hard to grasp, and got a little "weirded out" about.  God knew the passing down of the truths which reveal the depth of his love on our behalf would become "skewed" if left to humans to do the "telling" of the truths down through the ages.  So, he gave us this reference in writing - because we can always go back to the source to check out what anyone says!  If we don't take time to discover what is contained in those pages, it is like we are driving a new automobile without ever discovering what all the "buttons, lights, gauges, and levers" accomplish.  We settle for far less than what we were designed to enjoy!

Last, but not least, he used the Word of God as a guide by which he evaluated not only his actions, but those of others around him.  This helped him to keep from stumbling down paths which were neither designed for him, nor were they beneficial for him to travel in the first place.  A healthy relationship with God demands learning his heart's desire and there is no better way to do this than to discover that desire as revealed in his Word.  David understood this - so he pursued a knowledge of the Word of God, not just the words of the great philosophers or teachers of his time.  We can take a lesson here.  To get to know someone's heart, we have to go to that person.  We cannot learn of another's heart through another!  We experience it in the closeness of our own personal connection with that individual.  Just sayin!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Giving it all away

The blessings of God - some would say they come unannounced, and often unrealized. Others might say they don't come often enough, as though there were some delay in receiving his blessing which is unexplained and undeserved.  Realized or not, his blessings surround us.  Delayed or quick to appear, his blessings are sure.  In good times and bad, his blessings come - though some may think they are undeserved.  Who can really say there has ever been a blessing of God "deserved" by anyone?  Even when we are obedient and following closely to what God wants for our lives, can we claim his blessings as "deserved"? Not really - for ALL God's blessings are simply because of his grace and grace is totally undeserved!

Shout praises to the Lord!  The Lord blesses everyone who worships him and gladly obeys his teachings.  Their descendants will have great power in the land, because the Lord blesses all who do right.  They will get rich and prosper and will always be remembered for their fairness.  They will be so kind and merciful and good, that they will be a light in the dark for others who do the right thing.  Life will go well for those who freely lend and are honest in business.  They won’t ever be troubled, and the kind things they do will never be forgotten.  Bad news won’t bother them; they have decided to trust the Lord.   They are dependable and not afraid, and they will live to see their enemies defeated.  They will always be remembered and greatly praised, because they were kind and freely gave to the poor.  When evil people see this, they angrily bite their tongues and disappear.  They will never get what they really want.  (Psalm 112)

Although we might never "deserve" his blessings, this one thing is for sure - God blesses those who choose to put their trust in him.  Those who understand blessing also understand the joy of finding ways to bless others in some way, as well.  They want to share the blessing of grace, but also the various other blessing God showers upon their lives.  Out of their hearts come blessings of good deeds, kindness in the face of unkindness, and provision in the midst of despair.  Why?  There is something about being blessed which makes a child of God desire to see that blessing multiplied as it touches others around them.  I think God might have had that idea in mind when the scriptures declare that we can cast our bread upon the waters and someday you will find it again (Ecclesiastes 11:1).  

There are several other characteristics of a child of God I'd like us to see from our passage today:

- Blessing is conditioned upon where it is we direct our attention and heart.  Worship is a means of surrendering time, talent, and attention to the one being worshiped.  When our heart is surrendered to Christ in reverent obedience, we are in a position of receiving blessing from his hand.  There is something about having our focus firmly directed toward Christ that "positions" us to receive - we may not fully understand how or why this is, but we can determine this to be true from what scripture declares.

- God's blessing bring benefits, but these benefits are not just for us.  Even though we might realize great power, or increase in some financial manner, these blessings are not for US. They are designed as a means to bless others!  When we understand worship, we understand what is given is meant to be shared.  When we receive much, God asks for us to develop a heart willing to give as freely as one has received.

- Kindness, mercy, and goodness are hallmarks of a life which has been blessed.  Want to know if someone is receiving God's blessings in their lives - look for these hallmarks.  Those who understand blessing also understand there are times when blessing will be the least deserved, but the most needed! Blessed individuals develop a reputation for their expression of blessing others who may or may not deserve that blessing!

- Blessed individual are not fazed by the rumors of wars, or the dips in the stock markets. They know their source and they are secure in his care.  Their ability to rise above what others might consider "crushing forces" will often be evidence of their depth of faith and intense trust in the one who has always stood by them regardless of the circumstances.  

This kind of blessed living confounds those who are out for all they can get and never concerned for anyone other than themselves.  They don't "get" how someone can be so grace-filled in the midst of what others would consider to be hostile, bitter, or tumultuous times.  I guess this might be why believers "stand out" in the crowd - they bear the hallmarks of being blessed!  The very next time you have the opportunity to share the blessings of God, do it.  You might just be surprised at how significant a little bit of God's grace might be in the life of another who has no concept of this grace!  Just sayin!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Do your research

I don't know what you "respect" in this life, but I have a healthy respect for various things. I don't put my hand on hot burners on the stove because I know heat burns.  I don't drive the wrong way down the road, even when the way looks clear, because I have a healthy respect for the planned flow of traffic.  I don't pick up snakes because I know many have bites which can do more damage to me than I'd like to endure.  I willingly pay my taxes to my government bodies because I really don't look good in horizontal stripes!  I respect these things because I either know the consequences of NOT respecting them through some personal experience (burning myself on a hot burner), or because I have seen what the outcome has been in someone else's life (head-on collisions).  One is me learning the hard way; the other is me benefiting from someone else's failure.  Now, if we apply this truth to God's Word we might just be surprised to see the same thing holds true there, as well.  Some of what we know to be true and trustworthy in the Word is because we have discovered it in our own time of need; other truths become apparent to us when we have seen someone else discover those truths in their own time of need or failure.  

Your teachings are wonderful, and I respect them all.  Understanding your word brings light to the minds of ordinary people.  I honestly want to know everything you teach. Think about me and be kind, just as you are to everyone who loves your name.  Keep your promise and don’t let me stumble or let sin control my life.  Protect me from abuse, so I can obey your laws.  Smile on me, your servant, and teach me your laws.  When anyone disobeys you, my eyes overflow with tears.  (Psalm 119:129-136 CEV)

There is something powerful that happens when the Word of God begins to impact our lives. It is as though things we did not "respect" before begin to take on a new light - but before this "respect" begins to dawn on us, we have to develop a healthy respect for the truths contained in this book we call the Bible!  Words on a page are simply that until we begin to respect the impact of those words - often using those words to begin to change the way we think or act.  Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."  Let that one sink in for a moment.  Human writers sit at their pages, pen posed, fingers on the keyboard, and the words begin to flow - not out of "true creative energy", but more or less out of life experience.  Their hearts and minds "bleed" - and we become recipients of their sacrifice.  God's heart "bleeds" words of hope, promise, security, and ultimately what we come to label as "love" through the words contained within the pages of our scriptures.  His words DO flow out of a true "creative energy" because he is the Creator of all things and by his WORD all things are maintained!

Therefore, his words are to be respected, not debated.  They are to be obeyed, not challenged.  They are to be delighted in, not seen as onerous.  The "respect" we show toward his words actually determines if we will allow his words to take hold in our hearts, bringing forth his "creative energies" within each of us.  David said it well, "I honestly want to know EVERYTHING you teach."  It wasn't just the delightful tidbits that made him feel good, but also the hard words which made him look inside and see the truth about himself.  When we begin to trust the Word of God as the Truth of God, the "bleeding" of his heart in sacrificial love for his children, we begin to see the Word as it should be seen.

We read all kinds of "good books" and are inspired, challenged, and even transformed by the words within.  Companies embraced the "Good to Great" principles taught in the writings by James C. Collins in an effort to change the culture of their businesses and become world class organizations.  Leaders found insight into helping others accept the inevitability of change and manage through it when they got on the whole "Who Moved my Cheese" bandwagon taught by Spencer Johnson.  Millions gained a little insight into the issues of the Great Tribulation, Rapture, and life without Christ as they read through Tim LaHaye's Left Behind Series.  Yet, even the most well-written books don't compare to the power of God's Word.  By  his Word, "ordinary man" receives light and wisdom.  By his Word, "ordinary man" gains insight into truths not easily understood and/or explained.  The power of his words are not for scholars, or those with superior intelligence.  They are for "ordinary man" - that should give us great hope!

I read good books - but I always return to the one source by which I can evaluate the teachings within those books.  When I do this, I am allowing myself to discover any principles taught within those "good books" which are maybe not "spot on" with what God's Word says.  It is always wise to check your "most reliable source" whenever you are about to use anything which you have just learned in your "discovery of truth".  That way you will never find yourself following after a half-truth, or "untruth" of any kind.  Just sayin!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Who says stones can't "talk"?

I am always amused by the "posturing" of some when they think they are pretty "hot stuff" and there is no one who can challenge them or give them a run for their money.  It is like they just stand there self-assured, thinking their good looks, money, or massive "status" will somehow make everyone around them just cower and run.  In ancient times, when kingdoms were all the "rage", men rose to places of great prominence and were crowned "king" over regions of lands.  Most of the time, these lands were taken lock, stock, and barrel from those who inhabited them previously.  If anyone survived (or was allowed to survive) in the "taking" of the land, they were usually forced into indentured service to the king.  They provided for his coffers as they lived out their lives under his reign.  Until a stronger "challenger" arose, with bigger or more skilled armies, that king would hold the rule of the land, and his offspring would take over at his death.  Not having lived under this type of monarchy, I don't know all the ins and outs of what it means to those under the king's rule, but one thing is for sure - no one crossed his path without bowing to his "authority".  If anyone challenged it, they could find themselves on the inside of a grave in short order! Even the most "well-established" kingdom doesn't stand a chance when God's armies (and even one of his faithful servants) come on the scene, though!

The Amorite kings west of the Jordan River and the Canaanite kings along the Mediterranean Sea lost their courage and their will to fight, when they heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River to let Israel go across. (Joshua 5:1 CEV)

The Amorites were descendants of Canaan, son of Ham (better known as the son of Noah). The Canaanite kings were other descendants viewed as "pagan nations" living in the region of what God had declared to be the "Promised Land" for this newer Israelite nation. The Canaanite and Amorite nations were viewed as the most powerful of rulers in all of Palestine.  The peoples occupying the territory west of the Jordan River were getting a little concerned with the news of Israel's advancement into their region.  This is often the case when the news of God's presence begins to spread.  Babylon was one of the primary "regions" of their rule. These band of kings who inhabited the various territories west of Jordan had resided in their regions for quite a while, yet the arrival of ONE band of warriors from a tribe with NO established territory made them sit up and take notice.  Isn't it amazing how God works?  He takes a people known to be wanderers in the desert, appoints men to service in warfare, and then proceeds to challenge those more "established" and "strong" armies with their very presence!  God certainly does have a different way of doing things, doesn't he?

It is quite possible they had heard the previous stories of how God had dried up the waters of the Red Sea so Israel could pass over on dry ground while the huge Egyptian armies had hotly pursued them.  The reputation of these people may have been well-known in the Canaanite regions.  Yet, their wandering around the desert for nearly forty years after such a "formidable" exit from Egypt might have "dulled" the "image" other nations held of them!  It isn't always the case?  Our times of "wandering in the desert", struggling with obedience to even the smallest things, can do a lot to "lower our image" in the eyes of those who might have heard of God's mighty works on our behalf!  Yet, God is faithful - even when we lose our perspective and take a little longer than we should to get from point "A" to point "B" in our lives!

As if to establish the "reputation" of Joshua in the eyes of the nation of Israel, and to ensure the Canaanite nations also knew of God's "reputation", God provides another miracle of "epic proportions" in holding back the Jordan so they could pass over on dry ground.  If the past "reputation" of God's power was diminished in anyone's eyes, it was fresh on their minds now!  I think God uses some pretty awesome displays of his power and grace to "wow" the nations, even if it may not be the "holding back of waters" these days.  If Joshua had any niggling of doubt in his mind of God being "with him" as he led this people into the Canaanite territories, he would have had a huge "infilling" of faith at Jordan.  If the people of Israel doubted their ability to overtake the largely feared tribes in the region, they might just have felt a little less doubt and a whole lot of assurance of God's presence being the "force" which could accomplish huge miracles on their behalf!

As if to reassure Israel of God's presence with them and his care over their lives, he does this miracle on their behalf.  The ways God reminds us of his presence may not always be "epic", but they are there nonetheless.  We just need to acknowledge them!  Maybe this is why Joshua commanded one man from each tribe to pick up a large stone from the middle of the Jordan and create a memorial (a pile of 12 stones) on the Canaanite side of Jordan.  Perhaps he was as much reminding Israel of his power and presence with them as he was establishing a symbol of his presence and power for all those who were looking on. What we should see in this "reminder" is the truth of how God moves on behalf of those willing to take the first steps of obedience toward what he desires in our lives.  Plain and simple, when we finally step out into what he has provided for our lives, we realize the greatness of his power and the provision of his grace on our behalf.  Just sayin!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We aren't responsible for the outcome

"You have never been here before..."  Seasons come and go in our lives - some quite pleasant, others bringing more than their share of heartache and trial.  Life cannot be manipulated to just have one or the other of these seasons - we "get" what comes our way, much like we "get" the weather destined to cross our home town at one point or another. We can "make snow" these days to keep ski resorts running at peak performance, but those who ski will tell you man-made snow is a little different than what actually originates from the skies above.  The only reason for the man-made snow is the lack of the "real deal".  So, did we change the season, or manipulate the outcome?  It was the outcome we changed, not the season!  Seasons have a way of changing us - not the other way around.  

The next morning Joshua and all the people of Israel got up early, left the camp at Acacia, and went to the Jordan, where they camped while waiting to cross it. Three days later the leaders went through the camp and told the people, “When you see the priests carrying the Covenant Box of the Lord your God, break camp and follow them. You have never been here before, so they will show you the way to go. (Joshua 3:1-4 GNT)

Israel had been in a season of "watching and waiting" simply because there was "frustration and fear" for quite a while in their camp.  Nearly 40 years passed between the time Joshua was sent into Canaan to spy out the land with 11 other spies.  They returned with "mixed" news - two reporting huge bounty and the ability to take the land; ten reporting huge enemies and no way of success.  It often amazes me how quickly the nay-sayers can change the heart of the crowd.  It doesn't take much to cause us to succumb to the fears of failure, does it?  When new seasons are just upon us, we often catch a glimpse of those seasons and in those moments, we form an opinion on what we will believe about the season.  We can choose to believe it will be harsh and way beyond what we want to endure - or we can embrace the possibility within it.  If the skiers just waited for "natural snow" to fall upon the hillside, they might be disappointed here in Arizona!  Their ski season would be very limited most years!  The season with the artificially produce white stuff may not give them the same "ski" as the other years when we have great amounts of snowfall, but it satisfies their longing to just "ski".

I know life doesn't offer us easy seasons or slightly harder ones (okay snow, or really "fine" snow).  In fact, life usually offers us a little bit of this and that - bringing us right up to the edge of some breakthrough, all the while painting two scenarios for us - one of us making it through to the other side unscathed and stronger, or another of being totally overcome by what is just ahead.  The Jordan River stood between Israel and the "other side".  It was rainy season - the river being at a "high bank" level at the point they are being asked to take the next step in their journey.  It shouldn't catch us off-guard when our next step will be the one which tests our willingness to trust something bigger than ourselves!  Israel was being asked to once again "cross over on dry ground" - something most of these people only heard about from their ancestors because they had spent so much time wandering around in the wilderness that many who actually saw what God did at their deliverance from Egypt's pursuing armies was only a "story" of epic proportions for them.

The moment of change in our "season" is at the point of our greatest test of faith.  For Israel, the "probability" of them crossing over Jordan on dry ground was not really what they could control.  The river was flowing, banks expanded, and there was no bridge!  We stand at the edge of change in our lives, beckoned toward obedience, and at those moments what do we do?  Don't we look for the bridge?  You and I look for the "easy way" to get from here to there - from this season to the next.  Why?  We "want" obedience, but we have a hard time actually "walking" in obedience.  We want to "cross over" from where we have been for way too long, but we know the first steps toward where we need to be are going to be the hardest for us to take.  Just imagine the things which must have been running through the twelve men selected to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan!  The moment they picked up the Ark, they were committed to see it through.  Truth is - the moment we set into action what God asks of us in our lives, there is no turning back - and all steps forward will be the greatest test of our faith!

Twelve men led the way - not by their power - but by their faith.  Thousands would move into obedient pursuit simply because of their obedience and trust.  This is probably why they were "hand-selected" as men of faith - those who would stay the course, so to speak.  This was the moment of truth for Israel - the moment of no turning back.  Most of the time, we get right up to the edge of "crossing over" into what God has next for us (the season which is just ahead), and we see the impossibility of the moment.  The swelling waters seem to catch our attention more than the promise of a new season just on the other side.  Maybe it is because we don't know the certainty of the new season - will it be good, hard, or somewhere in between?  Maybe it is because we cannot imagine the possibilities of God's interventions to get us from where we are to where we need to be.  Perhaps it is the belief the waters will somehow collapse in around us, taking us further and further away from where we need to be!  We have all kinds of doubts - but we only need the tiniest bit of faith!  We forget faith begins in the smallest of steps - not in the magnitude of the leaps!   

Seasons come and go - but those who trust in the midst of the most uncertain of seasons learn that God can be counted on.  We don't need to "produce" the outcome - we just need to take action in the season we are experiencing right now.  The outcome is his part - ours is to trust, obediently step out, and then allow him to do what we cannot.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More than be strong and take courage

If you have ever "inherited" a monumental task because someone left the company, was promoted, or you just were "tagged" as "it", you know the overwhelming sense of terror which grips you, if even for a moment, as you consider the magnitude of what you are going to have to do.  For just a moment, you are overcome by the responsibility and you might even falter a little in your acceptance of the task at hand.  This is probably a reaction quite common to man - one which is based in fear as much as it is in pride.  We might fear failure because it will impact our "impression" in the eyes of others.  We could think no task is beyond our means of completion, but silently be worrying we might not have the wherewithal to pull this one off.  What usually happens in these moments is someone bolsters our "faith" a little by reassuring us that we "can do it".  This might do more than bolster our faith - it could even make our head swell a little in this thing we call pride.  Either way, we often have the same result - inside we are a mess, but on the outside, we display this calm, cool confidence that says "you picked the right guy for this one" to all those who are looking on.  Truth be told, we'd do better to let a little of the mess ooze out so others could actually see us as "human" and dealing with the same issues they deal with than to exude all this self-confidence!

Long ago I promised the ancestors of Israel that I would give this land to their descendants. So be strong and brave! Be careful to do everything my servant Moses taught you. Never stop reading The Book of the Law he gave you. Day and night you must think about what it says. If you obey it completely, you and Israel will be able to take this land. I’ve commanded you to be strong and brave. Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the Lord your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.  (Joshua 1:6-9 CEV)

Joshua probably had a little more than "subtle misgivings" about assuming the role of leader of Israel after the death of Moses.  Moses had been both a great leader and someone who had actually seen the face of God and lived!  He received the Law from God directly and spent a great deal of time getting to know him personally.  In this respect alone, Joshua could have felt a little "insecure" in taking the role.  To make matters even worse, Joshua had seen the resistance of the people to actually "follow the rules" God established and to frequently drift into "complaint" and "stubborn self-focus" on occasion!  Now, that wouldn't make me want to step right up to the position!  In fact, I might actually turn someone down if it was offered to me! 

In those moments of what were probably a little more than "mild fear" and "trepidation" over assuming the leadership role for Israel, Joshua is likely wrestling with the idea that he "can" do this job, but also with the concerns of "do I really want to do it".  This is only natural and God knows this inner anguish exists in each of us.  It should come as no surprise that God comes to Joshua with reassuring words and direction for "how" to accomplish the task ahead.  See what God says:

1. I made a promise a long time ago.  We can count on God's promises - not one has been uttered which did not come to pass.  Just go with it!  It is something to be relied upon.

2. Based on this promise, be strong and brave.  God isn't point Joshua to his natural talents of leadership - charisma, business sense, the power to persuade the masses, etc.  He is pointing him back to himself - because all successful leadership is based upon the relationship we maintain with God, not the talents we naturally fall into. 

3. Pay attention to God's teachings.  It is only natural for us to want to take our own ideas and infuse them into the situation at hand.  After all, isn't that why someone appointed us to the position of leader?  They saw some raw talent and creativity in us that caused us to rise to the top - right?  Not!  God's way is to follow his plan - using the talents he gives us, not putting our own "spin" on it, but taking those talents to use as we obediently align them with God's Word.

4. Don't pick and choose what you will follow - follow God's plan in it's entirety!  I have often taught we cannot be "pickers and choosers" when it comes to what part of scripture we will obey and what other part we might dismiss as "irrelevant" to today's circumstances.  God's Word is long-standing, entirely true and relevant.  Period!

5. You aren't doing this alone.  I think this is the crux of where our pride is broken down. When we finally realize ALL our success - even our appointment to take on the task at hand - is simply because God is IN us and is going BEFORE us - we come face-to-face with the fact our own efforts shall not be enough for the journey ahead.  God's plan demands his hand!

We often take this passage and quote it at ceremonies "commissioning" someone for the mission field, or some new role in ministry.  I suppose it is a good one to quote, but we'd do well to teach it, model it, and pass it on through our modeling.  God's commission comes with several reminders of us not being commissioned to go it alone.  God made the promise, he stands behind it, we stand on it and pay attention to all he has said, making his plan our plan.  This is how we fulfill the commission!  Just sayin.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


We certainly find ways to be very narrow minded when it comes to what we believe, don't we?  Don't get me wrong - there are definitely times when we need to be rather "narrow" in our focus, but it is never to be to the exclusion of truth or the denial of another's faith in Christ.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the differences in HOW we worship as congregations that we miss the fact we are worshiping the same GOD!  It isn't HOW - it is WHO!  Three simple letters make all the difference - but only in the arrangement of those letters!  What matters is the doctrine we adhere to as we walk this earth.  If a person claims to be Christian, but then denies the work of the cross, making Jesus nothing more than a great teacher or another of the prophets, then the doctrine is wrong - therefore, the worship is not correct.  If a person fully appreciates the aspects of grace, knowing full-well that the cross of Christ, his life, death, burial and resurrection make it possible for a man to enter into eternal life with God, then their doctrine aligns with scripture.  That same individual might not "worship" in the same way we do, but it doesn't make their "style" of worship wrong.  In fact, there is as much diversity in "style" as there are people on this earth!  What makes worship "right" or "wrong" is WHO we worship - what we do with Jesus!

It doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not. All that matters is that you are a new person.  If you follow this rule, you will belong to God’s true people. God will treat you with undeserved kindness and will bless you with peace. (Galations 6:15-16 CEV)

It is this matter of being "new" in Christ Jesus which unites all believers - regardless of our "style".  I probably tend to "lean" to the style of worship where I sing out loudly, enjoy the band playing robustly, and even raise my hands to heaven in honor of the one I am singing these worship songs to in the first place.  But...that doesn't make my "style" of worship the "right" one for everyone.  I was raised Catholic, seeing the many changes in the "style" of worship over the years.  We went from the old school Latin masses where no one knew what was being said and everyone was as somber as funeral attendees to the folk mass in which lay leaders strummed guitars and we sang rounds of Kumbaya.  Now, the latter "style" fit my fancy a little closer than the former, but it still pales compared to where I find myself today in worship.  Why?  In those days, I still hadn't connect the "WHO" of worship to the "HOW" of worship. I just liked the beat and tempo of the guitar music and "hip" songs!

I think Paul wants us to remember this important fact - WHO matters more than HOW.  It matters not whether we are "circumcised" - relating to the very traditional and more "staunch" types of worship - or "uncircumcised" - relating to the more non-traditional styles of worship.  What matters is how we are embracing Christ - what we do with his grace! Grace is not to be trivialized, but to be appreciated, celebrated, and given away time and time again.  In turn, we are worshiping God in an attitude of gratitude!  The connection we make with God's grace and how we connect others to his grace is where the true heart of worship is found.  If we don't handle God's grace well, we really aren't connecting others to Christ and this is what God's intent was in extending grace.

There is nothing more "peace-producing" than to have grace be the middle ground for our living.  It is grace which gets us beyond the differences in style - to the point of not being critical of another's principles of worship.  Relationship is challenging enough without muddying the waters with being critical of another's style of worship.  Remember the key here is what another does with Jesus and his grace - if they have a correct biblical perspective of these key factors, then their worship is between them and God - they have nothing to "prove" to us.  

So, our focus is on being new creatures in Christ Jesus. This newness of life (a life based upon grace) is the true measure of worship. Scripture accurately and simply declares, "For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9 GNT) The gospel message is sure and to be trusted. The good news which gives us a foundation of mutual worship is simply: "God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free." (Romans 3:22-24 GNT)  

So, as we begin to focus more on WHO we worship than on HOW we worship we will be asking this question - what are we revealing in our worship about the grace and gift of Jesus?  If we can honestly say our worship aligns with what scripture says about this, then our worship is fine!  Just sayin!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Help! I didn't see that trap!

I am not a hunter, nor do I live off the land, but I understand the purpose of traps.  They are set because you hope to snare, catch, or snag something in the process of them being "caught off-guard" by the thing you have set.  Even when you throw a baited hook into the lake you are setting a trap, hoping to snag a fish in the process.  The whole idea is to catch something totally unaware of the trap being set.  Most of the time, we can stumble into a trap simply because we aren't paying close attention.  If you have ever served in the military, one of the things they teach you is to have a "trained eye" to observe for things being a little out of place in your environment.  The power of "observation" is a sense which must be practiced until it becomes keenly aware of what "IS" to be so that you can recognize when something "ISN"T supposed to be.  Maybe we could take a lesson here - learning to know what is supposed to be in our path so we recognize the trap which clearly lies in wait to trip us up and lure us in!

My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you should gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don’t be tempted yourself. You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand. If you think you are better than others, when you really aren’t, you are wrong. Do your own work well, and then you will have something to be proud of. But don’t compare yourself with others.  (Galations 6:1-4 CEV)

It should not surprise us that Paul refers to we human beings as being "trapped in sin".  The truth is, there are a whole lot of ways traps are set and we need to learn to recognize more than the trap.  I think we'd be able to avoid the traps better if we were to learn what is supposed to "be" instead of focusing so much on looking for the trap!  When we see , hear, or even sense something which clearly deviates from what we know to be true, we can avoid the trap.  Let me put it another way.  If we learn the truth, a lie becomes quite apparent.  If we learn the ways God acts, we recognize when it is something other than God who is luring us in.  

I don't think the word "if" adequately expresses the reality of life, though.  For most of us will at one time or another be trapped by sin.  The term "when" is probably a more accurate reflection of the reality of living and breathing on this earth.  "When" some is trapped in sin, we are galled upon to gently lead them back to the right path.  Why?  I guess we need to understand the purpose of the trap.  No trap is ever set to just stun the thing being caught. It is designed to "take the fight out of" the thing!  Whether it is a snare, trapping someone unawares, keeping them firmly fixed in place so they struggle repeatedly to pull free of the snare, or a more elaborate trap such as a cleverly concealed deep hole from which you cannot possible climb out under your own power, they all exhaust the ones caught in them!

This is why we need each other - to recognize not only the traps set for each other - but to be there "when" we might just be lured into their "snag".  We cannot always recognize the traps, but with the assistance of another who walks with us, we can stand a better chance of being alerted to what is "not right", successfully navigating "away from" those very things which are designed to catch us unawares.  Returning to our passage, you will recognize there is an inherent danger in "protecting another" from the traps in their midst - it is that of possibly being tripped up by the same trap!  

How does that happen?  Well, I think one of the easiest ways this happens is being so concerned about "their" trap that we fail to recognize the trap clearly in our own path!  It is the story of being concerned about the speck in your friend's eye, while all the while you have this huge log in your own!  This is why we should not travel alone - we need each other to help us remain humble, teachable, and aware.  Let me put it this way - we often fail to see what is right in front of us because we are too busy looking so far down the other guy's path we don't see the "trip line" in front of us.  

This is where comparison comes into play - that dangerous little trap which trips up a great many of us.  We somehow look at another and see ourselves as "doing better" than them, so we think we are out of the woods.  All the while, just up ahead, there is this cleverly disguised trap just waiting to trip us up.  Comparison takes our eyes off of the course ahead and puts it on another.  Keep your eyes firmly fixed on Christ, looking intently into the truth of his Word, and you will be less likely to focus on the other guy's issues and it will be easier to recognize your own!  What my friends do for me as I walk this path is alert me to truth - they help me to recognize when I am not focused as I should be.  This is what Paul has in mind here - to be there for each other, spurring one another on toward the goal, but not forgetting the dangers in our midst.

To be attentive to danger - learn the truth.  To learn the truth - get into the Word.  To get anything out of the Word - get into relationship with each other.  We spur one another on, giving each other the vantage point of another pair of eyes!  Just sayin!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Madam Stupidity and Sir Wisdom

Stupid is as stupid does - ever heard that one?  If you look it up in the Urban Dictionary, you will find it means an intelligent person who does stupid things is still stupid.  In other words, it means "you are what you do".  Chew on that one a bit and you might get a little depressed since much of our actions are contrary to what we might actually know better than to do! Back in the day, an individual labeled as "stupid" was usually considered to be kind of dull in his or her senses - they lacked the keenness or quickness of mental thought processing.  I have to say, there are times in my own life where I could have been labeled as such!  My slowness of mental processing, combined with the disconnect between my heart and my mind led me down some pretty mucky paths.  Been there?  Bought the shirt?  Wore it out yet?  Probably!  Whenever we "know better", then pursue the path anyway, we are acting a little like we are "slow on the uptake"!  We need the guide of Wisdom to help us overcome those moments of being too slow on the uptake, my friends.

Stupidity is reckless, senseless, and foolish. She sits in front of her house and on the highest hills in the town. She shouts to everyone who passes by, “If you are stupid, come on inside!” And to every fool she says, “Stolen water tastes best, and the food you eat in secret tastes best of all.” None who listen to Stupidity understand that her guests are as good as dead. (Proverbs 9:13-18 CEV)

Sometimes we just don't recognize when we are being duped by Madam Stupidity (the exact opposite of Sir Wisdom).  It might help to understand her "wiles" a little to realize how it is we are "duped" and find ourselves ambling without thought or pretense into her traps.

- She is reckless.  The first thing we see is this utter lack of concern with the consequences of any particular action.  If we find ourselves ambling down any path without any type of fear of the consequences, we are probably following Madam Stupidity right down the path into compromise.  She paves a path of "carelessness" - not a care in the world for the outcome.

- She is senseless.  The very next thing we might realize is how dulled her senses are and how much she wants our own senses to become as dull as hers.  Maybe this is why she bears the title "Madam Stupidity" - as her senses or conscience is dulled and she just ambles into things without forethought or concern.  Synonyms for senseless are such words as unperceiving, undiscerning, idiotic, or witless.  Ever heard someone say they wished they would have had their "wits" about them in a particular situation, but they seemed to have walked in "witless"?  They probably were following Madam Stupidity down her path!

- She is foolish.  The idea here is of lacking any forethought combined with a lack of caution. It is as though she throws caution to the wind - not willing to heed any sense of niggling within of a particular path being wrong or riddled with hidden dangers.  Fools rush in - ever hear that one?  I think it is because there is truth to it - fools don't stop long enough to give their actions any thought whatsoever - they just march along behind Madam Stupidity.

- She doesn't like to party alone.  This is why she shouts at everyone to come on inside - join the party, so to speak.  She looks for companions because senseless people don't like to journey alone - they do better in crowds.  This is probably why it so dangerous to be a follower in a crowd.  Jesus never asked for thoughtless "followers", he asked for disciples - those willing to be instructed, live under the instruction of the Teacher, and then replicate that instruction in others.  We simplify this into the term "follower", but when we lose site of the implication of what it means to follow obediently (with foresight and purpose), we are not really following as he requires.

- She encourages our misdeeds.  Stolen water and food eaten in secret may only be illustrations of how she encourages our misdeeds.  Take a hint here - she is not encouraging us toward right-living (righteousness), but toward doing what pleases our own lusts, intent of heart, and emotional whims.  Dangerous ground indeed.

The warning to us:  None of who listen to her actually realize anything good out of their folly!  She isn't in this for our good - remember - she doesn't like to party alone.  Madam Stupidity likes to sin - she wants others to follow along in her compromise - it makes her sin seem a little less ominous and a whole lot more "common".  She is a master at making sin seem common - perhaps this is what makes her appeals so dangerous for us.  Sin is common to mankind - but in Christ Jesus, we can walk as "uncommon" - rising above the appeal to sin regardless of how "grave" or "benign" the compromise might seem.  Just sayin!