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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Plan the outcome and work the plan

Outcome:  End result, consequence, or final product; a conclusion reached through a process.  There are days when we aim at something, but what we end up with at the end of the day is completely different from what we set out to accomplish.  Yesterday was one of those days for me.  What I had hoped to accomplish - all those meetings on my calendar, the brief spaces in between which I could dedicate to work I needed to get done - all went out the window by 8 a.m. when "visitors" showed up to survey our building.  To make matters worse, I made it to only one of the three meetings which were scheduled, did absolutely NOTHING toward the tasks I was hoping to accomplish, and actually have to entertain these "visitors" yet another day.  Yet, even in this interruption of sorts, an outcome will be reached because these individuals have a process to follow and a conclusion about the care we render to our patients will be rendered at the end of their review.  Outcomes are often altered by the input - if it is the input we designed, the outcome takes on one appearance; if that input is altered or interrupted in some manner, the outcome will be something quite unplanned.  To make matters even more confusing for us, I believe we need to "plan for" the alterations in our plans!  When we do, we can often take quick control of the "altering" circumstances and help to drive toward a positive outcome.

You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart. Do this because God has given you new birth by his message that lives on forever. (I Peter 1:22-23 CEV)

In our study today, we can see some actions set out which definitively impact the outcome. I would suggest obedience is a process which produces a conclusion much closer to the desired outcome than we will ever get when we choose another path.  Most of us don't think of obedience as a process, but I think this may be why we don't see the outcomes we desire. When we recognize obedience as something "established" by a process of "becoming" what we are already declared to be, then we might just determine we have a need to put in some "hard stops" to ensure our process doesn't allow for a veering to one side or another.  The moment we come into relationship with Christ through accepting and trusting in his finished work on the cross, we begin a "process" of change within our lives - even though we are declared to be holy IN Christ Jesus.  Our day-to-day choices often reveal the reality of us not "living up to" the potential of holiness within.  This is where this "process" of "becoming" holy comes into play - it isn't what we DO to accomplish holiness within (because that is already accomplished in Christ), but how we make daily choices which reveal this holiness which defines our new nature in Christ Jesus.

Obedience (strict adherence to the truth) is the desired action - being made pure in the inner aspects of our mind, will, and emotions is the ultimate outcome.  Heaven knows we all want this type of purity in our lives, but "getting there" is a matter of much debate, unrealized goals, and loads of frustration on our parts.  Why?  Our "pure lives" get "interrupted" by the things seeking to "alter the process" of holiness within.  The interruptions in life are seldom one at a time - most interruptions come in waves.  Those interruptions, regardless of who or what they are, are simply designed to change our focus.  If our focus can be altered, then the outcome has a potential to be altered, as well.  Thinking back to what I said about my "visitors" to the building this week, you will recognize I also indicated we can "manage" our interruptions to get the outcome we need, but it takes a whole lot of focus to do this.

The daily struggles with temptation put us into a tailspin sometimes - simply because we have not planned for the process!  Temptation will come - ensuring we have a well-defined "process" to follow will go a long way toward determining a positive outcome of the process. This is why I have often reminded each of us of the importance of "planning for" temptation. Rather than being caught off-guard for it, we have a set of responses "rehearsed".  When it comes (and it surely will), we have thought out our actions ahead of time.  I think this is what Paul was saying to Timothy when he outlined a "laundry list" of temptations and sins which Timothy was to avoid (I Timothy 6).  After outlining those things he was to avoid, Paul clearly tells Timothy to "flee" them - in other words, have a plan to put as much space between you and the temptation as possible!  

Now, you may think this is a little "whack" and I am kind of trying to be a little "anal retentive" when I suggest we need a "plan toward obedient actions", but hear me out.  If we don't plan "for" the outcome we desire, we will never realize when we are having our outcome altered by the circumstances in front of us.  When we take time to allow God to illuminate for us the "steps toward sin" which might bring us painful outcomes, we are giving ourselves insight into where we might plan to break the cycle of sin in our lives.  For example, if we were to recognize a point at which we always find ourselves responding in an argumentative way when we are tired, we might "plan for" tough conversations which need to occur in a time which is placing both of the communicators at their best, not their worst. Recognizing our fatigue as a factor which consistently brings "issues" into our relationships because we consistently end up bickering about these things when we are tired, we can begin to set up a new plan for how, where, and when we will communicate these "tough issues" with each other.  

The cycle of sin is best interrupted when we begin to plan for ways to change the outcome. At work, we live by a philosophy of being "survey ready" everyday.  To this end, we regularly survey ourselves, finding opportunities for improvement, working out the issues ahead of time, so we don't get caught off-guard when the "real test" comes a little later.  May I be so bold as to say we need to live "survey ready" in our own lives?  If we began to plan for obedience, but also have a purposeful "plan for disobedience", we might just break the cycle of sin.  Somehow we affect the outcome by managing the attempt to alter our course - we place "guard-rails" in our lives which are "hard stops" which keep us from going down the wrong path.  These "hard stops" or "guard-rails" will be different for each of us, but sharing what those are with another can help not only to refine them and make them stronger for us, but they can give others insight into how they may build similar ones into their lives, as well. Just sayin!