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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resolution Number One...

It is that time of year again when people break out their journals, begin to capture their list of New Year's resolutions, fully intent on carry out each and every one of them. Oh, don't get me wrong, I have done it, but trust me on this one - it has been a futile effort, so I just don't do it anymore! Probably one of the best I have come across in recent years is this one:  "Resolution One: I will live for God.  Resolution Two:  If no one else does, I still will." (Johnathan Edwards found on www.brainyquotes.com)  You might think it a current quote of this English clergyman, but he died in 1758! I might suggest it is a great couple of resolutions to begin our year! 

People do their best making plans for their lives, but the Eternal guides each step. (Proverbs 16:9 VOICE)

We have all kinds of plans, but we often lack the clarity of mind or heart to actually fulfill those plans.  Why?  We "plan big", not knowing the details required to accomplish our plans, then find ourselves in over our heads when we come to seeing the fulfillment of those plans.   Our plans require our actions, so this is probably the biggest reason they don't quite get to the place of completion some of the time!  I find it is much easier to let God help me with the plans - they usually tend to be much more attainable in the long run!

The idea of "resolutions" is okay, but the "excitement" of making them doesn't always match with equal excitement when it comes to actually living out those resolutions.  As with anything we undertake in life, these resolutions have the potential to give us more anxiety and stress because they are planned by us, not the Eternal!  If we are going to make resolutions this year, we should first consult the one who already knows what the year will hold for us!  Although we may not see each step clearly at the beginning of the year, he can guide us into making realistic and attainable goals for our year.

A lot of people set out to read the entire Bible through in a year, purchasing one of those "read these chapters this day" kind of Bibles.  It is a worthwhile "reading plan" as God's Word is a great thing to actually "take into" our lives.  The problem is that when we get to the "dry stuff" of Leviticus, Numbers, and even some of the minor prophets with all the recorded history of Israel and Judah, we get a little less enthused about the reading plan!  It might even become the place we abandon the resolution - making it another year with an unattained goal.  It wasn't unattainable - it was just not attained.

It would be much better to share with God our intention to study his Word - to actually share with him our desire to get a little bit of it into us each and every day.  Then we need to ask him for the ability to do it, but ask him to help us get excited about what it is we are taking in - not just taking it in for the sake of putting a check mark on the page-a-day calendar!  I find the best way to get into the Word is just to let God direct me to the place he wants me for the day - it may be a place I "visit" quite often, such as the Book of Romans or Proverbs, but it is "our" place, so it is a "good place".  Don't miss that my friend - when God helps me with the plan, takes me to the place where I "belong" that day, it becomes "our place" - a time of communion.

My prayer for you this year is that you find your place of communion with God each day - not in the rigid, determined study of the Word, but in the place of enjoyable discovery of what he unfolds to you.  I have found God doesn't meet me in the "much", but in the "wee bit" he brings alive in me.  I pray you will discover the excitement of this experience, as well. Just prayin!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Don't go it alone...

Do you ever stop to think about the battle the "other guy" may be facing?  Or are you so consumed with what you are going through you cannot see beyond the "immediacy" of your own need?  When the world spins out of control, is your first response to hold on and ride it out?  Or is it to let go and see where the "spin" takes you?  Most of the time, we have little to no idea what the other guy is going through, nor do we know how dearly they are holding on for their very life in the midst of catastrophic "storm" spinning out of control in their lives.  It is probably because we don't have that many people in our "inner circle" we can be truly "real" with - leaving us kind of feeling alone in the battle, overcome by the stress, and just maybe lost to the storm!


So own up to your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed. Your prayers are powerful when they are rooted in a righteous life. (James 5:16 VOICE)

Before I go any further, let me just remind each of us of this one thing - we are not created to walk alone.  Don't believe me?  Look at Adam in the Garden of Eden.  He was surrounded by all things beautiful and "hand kept" by God himself.  Yet, he didn't have something he longed for so very much - another human like him with which he could spend time, relating to at the level of his humanity.  He had God right there walking in the Garden beside him, but he was still lonely!  This only shows me we need each other - God didn't create us to be "solo" in our walk - he created us to "relate". The "relating" is first with him, then with those he places in our lives.  

Solo simply means to stand or do something without any partner.  I have done some building projects in the backyard by myself.  Nothing says "you need some help" more than trying to hold up one end of the wood with another piece of wood while you screw in the other end of the wood, all the while desperately trying to hold it steady and level! Inevitably that piece of wood I used as a "holder" to keep the wood in place while I attempted to screw it into place will become the thing I want to throw across the yard!  It isn't all that trustworthy - nor is it able to sense when my subtle movements will put the wood I am attaching out of alignment.

In life, I think we try to "get away with" those casual relationships, thinking they will suffice for the very things we need in order to maintain (or attain) alignment in our lives. We "make do" because we don't want to take the effort to call upon someone to help us in our time of need.  Maybe it is because we don't want to admit we have a need.  Adam was miserable before Eve - he had no "suitable partner" with which to live life.  We often don't realize our need for a "suitable partner" in life - especially when we are in the midst of the battle of our life!  I am not speaking about a spouse here, although they can fulfill that role quite well.  I am speaking about someone who will come alongside, walk right there with you, engage in the battle with you, and see that you come out okay.

Getting back to our passage, one of the most "telling" parts of living life alone is this lack of a "partnering force" to resist temptation in our lives.  I don't expect that person you partner with in life to be the thing which ultimately keeps you from being tempted - but they are a "go to" when you are! They can be the force who helps you to maintain perspective, and also the force who helps drive back the enemy's advances in your life!  I wonder how much victory we forsake simply because we don't want to admit to anyone that we are tempted to give into something which has been a battle for some time in our lives?  When we insist on "walking alone" by this attitude of never really being ourselves in front of anyone, never really getting truly close to each other by allowing the "genuine us" come through, we won't be able to "tap into" that help which can only come from holding onto the hand of that person as you walk through the battle side-by-side.

Being able to pick up the phone, send a text, or even shoot a glance to someone across the room - that someone who stands in the gap for you, helps give you right perspective, and simply knows how it is you think - that is how God intended life to be lived.  You don't find those people everyday, but when you do - hold onto them!  Be real with them!  Don't succumb to the temptation to pull away when things get tough!  Pray for each other!  Encourage one another!  Challenge the other one!  Be the iron which sharpens the other person's iron!  In the end, you will both come away stronger, more solidly grounded in your faith, and looking victoriously at the remnants of the battle behind you! Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Walk, fall, walk again...just move the rock!

Toby Mac is a Christian artist, but he also has some pretty profound posts which appear periodically on my Facebook feed. This weekend one came across I'd like to share: "Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent." I once heard it said a stepping stone is a great thing until it becomes the thing we stumble over. Someone once told me it is pretty doggone hard to actually fall down until you are willing to get up. In other words, you cannot just sit there and actually get anywhere - sometimes it takes a few stumbles, downright falls, and a hand to help you up to get you to the next destination in life!


Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together.  If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone?  In the same way, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm. But how will the one who sleeps alone stay warm against the night?  And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 VOICE)

Falling alone is not an option!  Not even walking at all is also not an option!  We have been given all things in this life which will help us "walk well", we just have a few stumbling blocks to get past on occasion - sometimes we do this pretty well, other times we need a helping hand to pick us up when we fall.  If there is one thing I know for sure it is the fact NONE of us is without stumbling in our lives!  What?  You say you don't stumble?  Well, let me just point out some of us may have learned to do it a little more "gracefully" than others, but we still stumble!

You've probably heard that quip, "what doesn't kill us will make us strong", but I think sometimes the things we stumble over which leave us "wounded" or "hurt" are more damaging than the things which come against us to all out kill us!  We get battered and bruised with each stumble - emotionally, spiritually, in relationships.  These hurts just get bandaged up, or even ignored.  There are even times when we just leave them "open to air", allowing those wounds to fester and get their "nastiness" onto others around us.  Either way, they don't get the attention they need and the hurt just keeps on hurting.

Have you ever smacked your shin bone a good one on something just the right height to collide with it?  Yep, you read that one right - I said the object was the one who collided with you, not the other way around.  I think this is how we view stumbling blocks sometimes - as rising up in our path, just to give us grief and misery in our lives.  The issue isn't their presence, it is our inattention to avoiding them! The object we smack our shin upon didn't just rise up from the earth one day as we were walking past.  It was the coffee table in the middle of the room for the past ten years!

There are things we stumble over in life which have been in the center of our lives for so long, we just grow accustomed to them until one day they become the thing we stumble over. We are left with hurt after colliding with what had for so long been ignored!  Then we wonder why it hurt us!  Truth is, if we hadn't of ignored the presence of the thing we stumbled on for so long, it may not have been there for us to stumble on it in the first place.  This may be just the reason we need others in our lives - to help us recognize the things which can make us stumble in life - the things we have grown so comfortable with just "tolerating" in our path.

As I assess the safety of a person's home after they may have taken a fall and hurt themselves, I look for objects upon which they might stumble and fall.  Throw rugs are removed, coffee tables are out of the question, and poorly fitting shoes are simply not tolerated.  Why?  They are all obvious reasons for someone to stumble or get hurt. Removing obstacles is only one way of avoiding hurt, but it isn't the only way.  I also remind the person to use good judgment - put on the lights, use their cane, get a portable phone which can stay with them when they move around the house, etc.  What am I doing?  I am preparing them for success - not by telling them to stay confined to their bed so they don't fall again, but by helping them learn to walk within the boundaries of safety!

Many of us lack the closeness of anyone who can speak into our lives so we stop stumbling over the same obstacles in our path time and time again.  We haven't been close enough to anyone, or genuine enough with them to actually allow them to help us when we stumble.  We are missing out when we live in such a way.  To stumble is one thing - to stay down is another.  To walk alone is quite another.  Just sayin!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Don't place me on hold again!

Okay, going to meddle a little bit today - just warning you! How many of us are "quiet waiters"?  There are a few of us who will answer that one positively, but many of us will admit to being anything less than quiet.  In fact, we have been known to complain because the wait is too long; or give up to do something totally different just because we weren't about to wait for however long was "too long".  Admit it - - - you might just be one of those "not so quiet waiters" in life!  Now, what does that have to do with how we deal with life?  It is what we do with those "wait times" which often make the biggest difference in our lives - we just may not realize it at the time!

My soul quietly waits for the True God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my deliverance, my citadel high on the hill; I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2 VOICE)

You realize that nothing is beyond God's ability to do, right? That means every time there is a waiting period of any sort, there is something to be learned or appreciated in the wait. Think for a moment about the process of a life entering into this world.  At the moment of conception, God could have made it so that baby magically appeared 3 weeks later, but instead, he created life to come forth 40 weeks after conception.  What happens in the time between conception and that infant's delivery into this world is amazing, and really, not to be replicated by any human hand.  As a baby develops, the processes which will help to support life outside the womb are developing, as well.  A baby born too soon will face many a struggle to survive.  In fact, if the baby is born before the mid-point of development, we say it is "non-viable" (it doesn't have what it takes to survive).

If an infant comes into this world after the 20 week mark, a great deal of effort will have to be put into having that infant survive outside of the womb.  It has developed to the point it "might" survive with all the right care and intense treatments from medical personnel dedicated to creating an environment where it can continue to develop, but nothing compares to the womb.  The parents go through extreme agony watching, waiting, and often wondering about their baby's chances to survive.  The doctors and nurses work furiously to give the tiny infant a "fighting chance".  The siblings may go months without ever meeting their new brother or sister - because exposure to their germs may be too great a risk for the premature infant.  Even the time between delivery and the day they finally take the baby home is a period of waiting.

Why does God create so many things in our lives through the process of waiting?  I think it might be something we observe in the process of a baby being brought into this world.  In the time between conception and birth, a great deal is happening, but the most "telling" thing which happens in the waiting time is that of development.  Waiting is often the process God uses to develop something in us which is not quite to the point of "full-development", isn't it?  Sure, we might do okay with the "arrested-development" of "pre-term" delivery of whatever it is was he might have been working on, but will we thrive?  Or will it take a whole lot of work and agony to get us past that "early delivery"?  I wonder how many times I have "arrested" the development process in my own life because I have been too stubborn, or too disinterested in the waiting process?

If you examine the thesaurus to find the synonyms for the word "wait", you will find terms such as "downtime", "interval", "hold", and even "halt".  One term which surprised me a little was when I saw the meaning of "wait" equals "wasted time".  I think we may view waiting as just that on occasion --- time spent, but "wasted" because we don't see the value in the wait.  Waiting isn't downtime - not really.  Even when you are waiting from the beginning of something to the point you might take the next step forward with the project, there could be this little space of time.  It is there for a reason. Maybe it is to give the "time" for the next step to be exactly right, such as when we give glue time to dry before we move on with the next step of a project.  So, downtime in this instance is necessary in order to take the next step.  It is quite possible some of the perceived "downtime" in our lives is simply God getting us ready for the next step!

When things seem to be "on hold" in our lives, we don't usually resist too much, until that "hold time" seems to exceed what we are willing to wait.  My office phone has one of those timers on it, letting you know at a glance just how much time you have "wasted" waiting "on hold" to be the next caller in the long line of callers!  I am not sure who invented that little timer on the phone, but it can be quite disconcerting to watch - knowing the minutes are ticking by and no one seems to care about the person who has been "on hold" for all those minutes!  To focus on the clock when the "hold time" seems to be taking forever is to just add frustration to the mix!  Instead of watching the timer, maybe we need to focus on whatever it is we can do in the interval! I try to use my "on hold" time to do something I may not have taken time to do in a while.  It may be something practical, such as filing papers, sorting messages, or just cleaning out my inbox.  Instead of focusing on the time I am "on hold", I redeem it!

Waiting is best appreciated when we don't do it alone!  If we look carefully at what our writer says to us  today, we will see this advice woven into those words!  He runs to God - so he won't face the wait alone.  Maybe we might just take a lesson here.  The wait time may not change significantly, but the things we learn to appreciate in the time between here and there may be made all the richer because of who it is we are spending the wait time with!  Just sayin!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Small with consistency is worth more than you know

Mother Teresa once said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." I think we may just wait around, hoping that someday we will be able to make a "big impact" in this world, like some super-star we might idolize or regard with esteem. What a shame to waste all the little things we can offer to this world - which when wrapped all together probably matter as much (if not more) than the big thing that super-star is known for accomplishing! Sure, we might need a "qualifying period" in which we actually develop whatever it is God has in mind for us to do, but we don't have to spin our wheels while we are reaching that point! We can be of service today - in even the smallest of ways - just by being obedient to the urges God places in your heart.

Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others. (Romans 12:10-13 VOICE)

When our spirit is on fire, there is sure to be more than just smoke!  Smoke is evidence of fire - but get closer to the fire and you will feel the heat!  Fire is to burn within each of us, as something which affects the lives of those around us.  If we don't tend a fire, what happens to it?  It eventually dwindles, becoming less and less warm, until it is just nothing more than tell-tale ashes of what was once there.  Goodness, I hope none of us will ever end up that way!  What God has ignited within each of us is meant to become a blazing fire, affecting those around us with the "heat" of his love, the "comfort" of his grace, and the "rest" of his peace.  

If you have spent time in front of the fireplace, you will likely have experienced the peacefulness of just being by that fire. There is something about the richness of its warmth, the glow of the licking flames, and the twinkling of embers drifting up into the air in their wistful way that just mesmerizes you until you become "at peace" just sitting there.  God's presence in the lives of those in service to him become sources of his peace - as though the fire which burns within just beckons those in need of its soothing to sit for a while and just "take in" the peacefulness of Christ.  Peace isn't meant to be enjoyed alone - it is meant to be shared with those who lack the ability to find it on their own!  In days gone by, one home would share the embers from their own burning fire to ignite the fire in their neighbor's home.  Fire was kindled by one - but never hoarded!

We may not be prepared for the "big thing" we think God wants us to do, but "right now" we CAN be of service to him through the "little things" we can be faithful in today.  Service isn't the "big things" - it is the consistency of the little things done with obedience, love, generosity, and faithfulness.  It is the "making of one's self available" - even when we may not "feel" fully ready for the thing he asks us to do.  If we waited until we felt "ready", most of us would never move! Readiness is an attitude of heart and spirit - not necessarily talent, skill, or training.  I wanted to be a nurse since I was twelve years old.  Yes, I needed the training to be a nurse - but I could be of service to those with physical need long before I actually received my diploma and license declaring me to be a "nurse"!  Service doesn't always require a "degree" - it simply requires our availability.

Small things with great love equate to more than some of the biggest things ever will!  Just be faithful to do what God prompts in your life and you might find yourself realizing great things have been done when you look back over your years on this earth!  Maybe not "billboard worthy", but God took notice of each deed and he recorded each one in the story of our lives!  Just sayin!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Not just a cracked pot

As I photograph things, I don't look for the "perfect", but am willing to accept the "imperfect", for there is something of great beauty in the tree set askew by the wind, the broken branch protruding from the gentle waters, or the windblown dunes of the ever-changing landscape.  Some of us think of "being perfect" as what we are attempting to attain - as though it is a destination at which we arrive at some point in time because of some effort we take in life.  The truth is - we will live in imperfect bodies, in an imperfect world, with other imperfect people all our lives!  The pursuit of perfection is kind of over-rated!  What we fail to see is how God sees each of us - as made perfect through the blood of his Son! God looked at the "imperfect" in each of us and saw something of beauty he just didn't want to discount, or turn away from.  Just as I capture those photos of the broken, ever-changing, and kind of askew in nature, God reaches out to capture the lives of those who are "cracked pots" - imperfect, broken people!

But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us.  We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair.  We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well.  (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 VOICE)

God doesn't look for "perfect pots" to house the beautiful treasure of his presence and peace.  He looks for "cracked pots" - imperfect people with needs often as apparent at the cracks in the pot!  I am so grateful he doesn't just pass over the "cracked pots" in this world - because if he did, I'd be at the top of the heap of discarded "pots"!  The treasure of his presence is placed into "cracked pots" so all will see the beauty of the pot as he fills it with all he is - not the imperfect places and deep fissures in the character of the pot.  

What leaves all those cracks and chips?  Clearly it is all the many things in life which come to afflict, bewilder, beat us down, and bring suffering to us.  Some of the cracks and chips are just because we didn't care for the "pot" as we should, kind of oblivious to how our mistreatment of the pot created the perfect environment for it to become marred and chipped by life.  Other cracks and dings are there because someone else didn't exactly treat the "pot" as well as they should, bringing painful fissures difficult to repair.

At best, we can "glue" the pieces of our lives together in some way which makes the "pot" we call "us" a little more appealing, or closer to "normal" than it was before we applied whatever that "glue" may be.  The truth is, we cannot hold water!  The "glue" isn't going to show the cracks anymore, but it won't hold up to the test of hot water!  Why?  The cracks aren't gone - they are just "masked" by the glue.

My neighbors had a large cracked urn in their yard for the longest time.  As I'd make my way to the mailbox, I was continuously reminded that even cracked pots have a purpose - it may not be what was originally planned for the pot, but never discard the cracked pot, for you never know what thing of beauty may emerge from those cracks!  You see, I saw this cracked pot, not as cracked and unworthy of use, but as that which could bring forth the most beautiful of budding plants, tiny blossoms all intertwined and displayed in the brightest of color. 

Their pot sat in the midst of gravel and dried leaves.  In my mind, I saw the possibilities in the pot, not the lack of them! I think God may just see each of us this same way - not for the lack of possibilities we have, but the vastness of beauty he can produce in and through those "cracks" in our character!  If you have a few cracks in your pot, don't mask over them - and certainly don't view the pot as worth nothing more than to be discarded!  God doesn't see us as needing the mask, nor does he want us to be left barren and useless buried under some dead leaves somewhere.

God wants to bring glory and beauty into the cracks and fissures of our broken lives.  Those cracks and fissures are just a means by which he may bring forth the most beautiful display of his glory!  Don't curse your cracks, but allow God to begin to bring forth beauty from deep within those broken places!  Just sayin!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Love on!

Love comes naturally - hate is learned.  We have probably seen this posted a few times in our Facebook feed, or on the local church sign in our neighborhoods.  It comes from the words of Nelson Mandela.  Here it is in context:  "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."  Some take issue with the idea of "learning" to love, because they think hatred is what comes naturally to a man or woman.  I think just the opposite is true - as we are all born in the image of our God and hatred is not the "natural" thing within his heart (unless it is hatred of sin)!

For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life. Here’s the point. God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge it; instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction. (John 3:16-17 VOICE)

God's heart is one of love toward the world he created - and we are part of that world!  In turn, he gave his only son so that whoever (that means you and me) believes in him (not in their own goodness or ability to live right) will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life.  It seems to me the idea of destruction awaiting each of us pretty much declares the "reason" we cannot count on our own ability to live as we should 100% of the time.  We just don't overcome the draw toward things which are not always the kindest, most uplifting, or considerate of others all in our own ability.  Yes, we were given both the ability to love and hate - but we all know we are given abilities in a number of ways which we may not use to the fullest!  I took guitar lessons as a kid, but I don't play guitar today - proof that ability doesn't mean we will pursue a lifestyle!

It is important to not exclude the rest of the passage when we stop to consider God's love - his mission in life is not to "judge us", but to rescue us from the "mission" we have in life to live by our own agenda, giving into the desire to focus on self and less on others.  Some may think they need no rescue from the lifestyle they have chosen, but God declares otherwise, not only in word, but in the very action he took on our behalf - that of sending his son to be the one to restore love, peace, and hope to the center of our lives!  When we live with self at the center, we become a little too egocentric.  In other words, we think about what makes us happy, gives us enjoyment, puts us before others, and sets us apart from others as a little more important.  Maybe this is how hatred begins to take root, my friends.  When we think someone will affect our happiness, interfere with our enjoyment of life, or just ask something of us we are not too delighted to give, we might just begin to set up thoughts of hatred toward that other person.

We don't flourish in a place of hostility toward one another - we tear that place down and leave damage beyond belief. Hatred causes us to alienate others - because we see ourselves as different, maybe "more special" than another. Love helps us to embrace others and bring them close to our hearts - because we focus more on the similarities within each of us than we do the differences. I can think of no other blessing we could receive this Christmas day than that of God's love.  I can think of no other blessing we could "give" today than that of his love expressed through us to those he has placed in our lives today!  

God's heart is one of love - given freely, without remorse or regret.  His love is received by a heart opened to him; it is equally given by a heart yielded to him.  Maybe it is past time we lay down our weapons of hatred by making Christ the center of our lives and see how much his love begins to replace the hatred we have allowed to grow.  Just sayin! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My favorite day!

Sometimes we can find the most profound things in the simplest of things, can't we? Ever read Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne?  In the book, there is an illustration of Pooh's best friend Piglet walking alongside him.  Pooh asks Piglet what day it is - to which Piglet responds it is "today".  The next part is my most favorite part, for Pooh, in a matter-of-fact voice announces, "My favorite day!"  Sometimes Pooh just hits it on the head, doesn't he?  In essence, he is saying any day spent with his best buddy is a great day in his book! I'd have to agree!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!  (Psalm 118:24 KJV)

We can all benefit from just taking a little down-time to just simply "hang with Jesus" a little longer, or sing his praises a little louder.  What is that I hear?  I think I might just hear Jesus saying, "My favorite day!"   We might spend an inordinate amount of time with ourselves, others, and even strangers, all the while forgetting about the one most important relationship.  When we stop long enough to just luxuriate in his presence, we might just hear those words from the lips of the one who yearns for time with us!

THIS is the day.  There is no other day - today is the day.  It is pretty emphatically stated in this passage - pay attention to the day at hand, not so much the one which is coming somewhere into the future, or those which have already passed us by.  THIS is the day.  There is a quote which goes something like a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.  I don't know the source of that statement, but the idea conveyed is that of keeping what you have instead of risking the loss of it for something you "might" be able to attain down the road.

When it comes to maintaining relationship with Jesus, there is nothing more important!  A day with him is worth more than a thousand more to follow!  Now, if we'd learn to actually live that way, really enjoying our day with him as our "most favorite day", we might just get more out of our day! We might find the frustrations melt away, problems seem to sort themselves out, and perspective beginning to change which helps us see things in a different light.

This is the day the LORD HAS MADE.  It isn't a day of our own making - but one he has particularly prepared just for us. Considering the vastness of the population of this earth, the idea of God making any day just for me seems overwhelming.  The fact remains - this is the day he has made. It is made by his hand, energized with his breath, and comes alive with the sound of his voice.  If we just get close enough to him to experience that day WITH him, we might just get way more out of the day than we ever thought possible.

Let us REJOICE and BE GLAD in it.  Not because of it, but in it.  Rejoicing is an attitude of finding joy in what we behold. It is this idea of reveling in it and taking extreme delight in it. When we recognize this is the day he has made, we cannot help but revel in the awe of what he has prepared for us.  I drive to work each morning with the Eastern sky in view through my windshield.  As the winter sky is unfolded before me in those early morning hours, it is not uncommon for me to behold the beauty of dawn and the majesty of a glorious sunrise.  I just revel in the beauty of those moments when God "paints the sky" with all that color, just for me!

It isn't the miraculous he calls us to revel in, but the simplicity of his presence and the enjoyment of just "hanging with him" a little longer, just a little closer, and maybe even with a little more expectation and delight in what that time means to him.  We come with all our "agenda items" - he just comes to be with us!  Today is his "favorite day" because it is the day he is with you!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Psalm 23: A Christmas Psalm?

As we take a rest from our busy holiday season mad rush to get all the presents purchased, brightly colored boxes placed under the trees, and ugly sweaters ready for all the parties, it is good to just focus again on the true meaning of the season. It isn't often considered a "holiday season" Psalm, but I think the Twenty-Third Psalm really tells us a story of God's grace and goodness - something we need to recognize in this time of holiday "prep".  The Eternal is my shepherd - you probably know it as "The Lord is my shepherd".  Probably one of the most clearly taught parts of Christmas is this eternal desire of God to have those who will enter into relationship with him down through the ages.  His whole work of creation was centered on preparing a place for us to dwell and a people with which he might have deep, personal, and ongoing relationship with down through the ages.  The first part of the Christmas message is that of relationship - God so loved the world.  The second part is that of provision - that he gave his only begotten Son!  It seems only right then that the next words of our psalm are "He cares for me always".  First, he calls us into relationship, making the way for us to actually enter - then he tends to our every need in the way the one who knows us best can only do.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.  He provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water. He soothes my fears; He makes me whole again, steering me off worn, hard paths to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name. Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness, I am not overcome by fear. Because You are with me in those dark moments, near with our protection and guidance, I am comforted. You spread out a table before me, provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies; You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil, filling my cup again and again with Your grace. Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me where I go, always, everywhere.  I will always be with the Eternal, in Your house forever. (Psalm 23 VOICE)

He provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water.  One of the seldom recognized gifts of the Christmas season is that of rest.  We are so busy with all the "stuff" we have on our list to accomplish, from baking to buying, decorating to displaying, preparing to participating - we get caught up in the frenzy of the season.  In this moment of time, God hopes for nothing more than we take time to just rest in his presence and enjoy his presence with glee!  He soothes my fears and makes us whole again - something we don't really recognize until we take time to slow down, enter into his rest, and just breathe a little.  Why do fears come? Isn't it because of the unknown being just a little more "in our face" than we'd like it to be?  When we begin to snuggle in close to the presence of Jesus, the fears kind of melt away because the "unknown" cannot remain hidden in the glorious majesty of the light he brings into our lives.  The place of rest doesn't have to be the place of darkness, for some of the greatest rest I have ever known is when I fully enter into his light!

He steers me off worn, hard paths to roads where truth and righteousness echo his name.  The hardness of the path is caused by how frequently we (and others with us) travel it. Often the path we take the most frequently to get to what we believe to be the destination we will want to reach is not always the most rewarding or refreshing of destinations!  The hard path is made hard by the frequency it is traveled.  Some of the most awe-inspiring, breath-taking moments in my life have been because I allowed him to steer me down paths freshly trod by his feet and his alone!  The ones I travel the most frequently "get the job done" in life, but this Christmas season, maybe it is about time we do more than "accomplish the work" of Christmas, but follow a path which will allow us to really enter into the awe of the season!

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness, I am not overcome by fear. Because You are with me in those dark moments, near with our protection and guidance, I am comforted.  Christmas doesn't seem like it could be overshadowed with "dark moments", but for some, it will be one of the hardest of seasons to endure - for the grip of lost relationships, loneliness, and even longing of heart will take them down paths where they just don't enter into the joy of the season.  It is to these our psalmist speaks these words - because He is with us, even in those dark moments of loss and grief, we will have his protection, guidance, and comfort. 

In the midst of holiday celebrations, spread will all manner of carefully prepared dishes and delightful desserts galore, we find a reminder of the goodness of God.  It is God who spreads out a table before us, making provisions in the midst of attack from our enemies.  He is the one who cares for all our daily needs, anointing our heads with soothing, fragrant oil, filling our cup again and again with his grace.  Christmas is about God making provision in a way we were incapable of ever making it.  It is about his anointing of our lives with the richness of his ever-flowing grace, sweeping down over our lives in streams of mercy and deep rivers of love.  Christmas is the time when we can sit back, taking those moments just to recall the goodness of God - caring for each daily need, filling our lives over and over again with the greatness of his grace.  We would be remiss not to recognize his grace and the continual provision he makes!

Christmas songs abound, but one of the most recognized is that of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  As some would celebrate the season, there is a time of preparation before the actually "day of Christmas", in which they exchange meaningful gifts. It is those times of recognizing others outside of ourselves which make the season most enjoyable and rewarding. I wonder if God would be honored if we just stopped for a while to consider his faithful protection and loving provision that pursues us wherever we go, always, everywhere?  God does more than provide a gift twelve days a year - he provides the gift which keeps on giving - all our lifetime through!  I will always be with the Eternal, in Your house forever.  No gift could provide more!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Warning: I've been known to affect your "balance"!

Have you ever noticed how being in some crowds and doing what is right makes everyone in the crowd a little "off balance"?  It isn't that they cannot appreciate doing what is right, they just don't have the same enjoyment of doing what "isn't" right when someone is around who is consistent in doing what is right!  Equally so, doing what is wrong keeps everyone off balance, but lends an element of insecurity to the mix.  Why?  This thing we might term as "self-doubt" begins to enter into the mix when we see everyone doing one thing and we are doing something so totally different.  We begin to question the "validity" or "importance" of what we are doing - even when we know it to be the right thing to do! It is all because a little self-doubt enters into the mix - planted there by the actions of those around us who are pretty excited about doing something totally different than what we know to be right.  It is often the moment of truth which defines who we are at the core of our being - will we give into the self-doubt, or keep on "keeping on" in spite of it?

The Eternal prefers those who do good, but He condemns those who plot evil.  Doing what is wrong keeps everyone off balance and insecure, but those who do right will never be uprooted.  (Proverbs 12:2-3 VOICE)

Mother Teresa is quoted as saying:  "If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.  If you are honest, people may cheat you.  Be honest anyway.  If you find happiness, people may be jealous.  Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.  Do good anyway.  Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.  Give your best anyway.  For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."  She hits the nail squarely on the head, doesn't she?  It isn't about if we are right and they are wrong; or if we are wrong and they just might be right.  It is about how our Lord views each of our actions in the light of his purpose for our lives.  He is the one who defines our actions - not the good or bad of another's actions which we often use as a measuring stick by which we will "judge" our own.

Self-doubt is a powerful weapon.  It can be used to keep us all muddled up in confusion so we never take any action.  It can be used to stop us in our tracks, so we don't go any further. It has both a bad and good side, doesn't it?  When it is based on what our conscience knows to be true and we are clearly moving toward what our conscience senses to be wrong, it acts as a little bit of a "braking system" to help us from heading into the wrong action.  When it is based on what we might hear from others, in spite of what we know to be true, and that information paints a little picture of doubt with which we begin to question truth, it can become the thing which plays with our sense of right and wrong enough that we walk squarely into compromise.  Unfortunately, the benefits of self-doubt are often overshadowed by the dangers of self-doubt.

Remember how Christ came into a world where there was a mixture of people "ready" to receive him, watching and waiting for the appointed day of his coming?  There were also those who knew very little of his coming, simply because they had never heard of it in their homes, nor learned of it in their schools.  It isn't much different now, is it?  In the scheme of things, the "coming of Christ" into the lives of individuals is a thing not spoken of too much in our schools, and definitely not "studied" with intensity by many.  Some will see those who do good in the midst of all the evil of the day and will be drawn to the evidence of good they see within that individual. In turn, they begin to hear of the "coming of Christ" in that individual's life, and they are drawn into the place of desiring that experience themselves.  Some will see those who do good even in the midst of tremendous evil, and they will pull away, criticize, and look down upon that individual, simply because they are confounded by the goodness which lives deep inside that individual.

What makes the difference in these circumstances?  Many might think it is that the "good" wasn't good enough, or the evil was just too evil.  The truth of the matter is that hearts must be prepared to see the good in such a way that a spark of desire is created.  Sometimes evil just needs to be encountered by good so frequently that there begins to be a little "self-doubt" created by the frequency of the good they are seeing!  Rather than shying away from being the "good" in the midst of repeated evil, maybe we need to become the one who "sets off-balance" those who pursue evil by being the evidence of good so frequently that we create a little "lack of balance" in the evil surrounding us.  Just sayin!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Connect wire A to wire B

As with each "campaign season", the airways begin to fill up with men and women spouting all manner of campaign promises, hoping those hearing their words will somehow "trust them" to bring about whatever it is they are promising should they win the election.  It is hard to nail jello to a wall, though.  Some of the stuff I hear asked and the way they answer the questions is kind of like nailing jello to a wall. They indicate they have a brilliant idea about how to fix this problem or that, but in very general terms - there isn't a whole lot of substance to what they share.  I have found the best way to pick a candidate for office isn't so much in how educated they are, or even how sophisticated their answers might be, but to listen between the words to see if I can actually hear their heart.  It is often revealed in what they say, as much as in what they don't say!  The same is true in our own lives - sometimes what we say is not as important as what we don't say. 

The words of the godless ruin those close to them, but through insight the right-living are spared. When prosperity comes to those who do right, the whole city celebrates; but when the wicked get their just punishment, there is joyous cheering. A city thrives through the blessing of those living right, but the words of a wrongdoer will bring it to ruin. (Proverbs 11:9-11 VOICE)

This idea of "right-living" conveyed in these verses is one which comes through in what may be left unsaid, but also in the blessing words can bring when used to comfort, cheer, or bring solution into another's life.  Words have powerful capacity to either bring to ruin, or build up in ways nothing else can quite "outdo".  I recently saw a media feed about a special education teacher who starts each day of class by calling each of his students to the front of the class where he is sitting.  In just a few sentences, he speaks positive things into their lives, then moves on to the next student.  He may tell them he can always find delight in their smile, or he loves how they laugh in delight when they have created something in class.  Each student does "better" in their day all because of the words of encouragement he gives.  Why is that?  I think it is because he has learned it is in what often goes "unsaid" in the lives of these special needs kids that they need to hear the most.  You see, they probably hear enough of the "don't do that", "sit still in your chair", and "you are getting yourself dirty by doing that" each day.  What he has identified is the need every person has to hear the blessing that often remains unspoken!

We can all be guilty of giving a "campaign speech" on occasion - those times when we say what we think someone wants to hear even if we don't have much heart behind the message.  The issue is one of being genuine in our responses. We don't convey meaning until their is a genuineness of heart in the message shared.  I recently saw some photo posts of a couple of friends with some of family members at a family gathering.  They smiled in each photo, but I observed something - in some photos, it looked much closer to genuine than in others.  It wasn't the lighting, nor was it the photographer's perspective in taking the photo.  Photos often capture the sentiment of the heart, don't they?  I wonder if our words capture the sentiment of our heart equally as well?

I have learned to look deeper than the words, or beyond the smiles.  Why?  The heart isn't always captured in the words, nor is it evident in the smiles we hide behind so often.  To really begin to connect with those around you, you have to become "skilled" in uncovering the heart of the individuals you are with.  It isn't easy at first, but as you begin to "not judge a book by its cover", you become more and more adept at "reading" another's heart - maybe in what is left unsaid, or in the emotion missing in the moment.  The reason we may not always want to trust what is being said is that we ALL have become quite skilled at saying what others want to hear, and hiding behind our masks of "happiness" when deep down we are thinking something quite different or feeling quite detached from the emotional connection of the moment at hand.

The heart is buried deep - we have to uncover it if we are to become a blessing in the lives of those we care so much about. It may not be the quickest thing to learn, but that heart connection is what will fuse a relationship together in ways which makes bonds unbreakable, even in the toughest of times.  If we are content to trust what is on the surface, we will never speak life into the core of another's being - the very thing they are longing so much the hear.  I think the special education teacher may have hit the nail on the head in his approach to his students.  His connection with the kids wasn't going to come by pointing out where they didn't measure up, but in showing them ways they were a blessing in his life.  We may not always connect with the other person at first blush, but when we begin to find ways to uncover their heart, while being transparent with ours along the way, we will grow deeply connected in the course of time.  

Connection is made - not delivered.  It takes connecting two wires together to allow energy to flow through the outlet in our homes.  It isn't just any two wires which can be connected to give this infusion of energy, though.  One must be connected to the source of power - the other draws that power from the source through the connection which is made.  We can become a conduit of "infused energy" within relationships - but to do so, we must make the connection. Just sayin!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It is raining!

"Sometimes when you're in a dark place, you think you have been buried, but actually you've been planted."  (Positive Hits PER on Facebook)  I saw this on the Facebook feed this past week and just wanted to take a moment to give that one a little thought.  My BFF said something similar the other day when she said, "Sometimes we pray for the rain to come, then we complain bitterly when it starts to storm."  She definitely nailed that one on the head, didn't she?  There are times we want so badly for things to change because it seems like the worst possible place we could be in, but then all of a sudden something comes a long to show us we weren't in all that bad of a place to begin with!  The darkest places in our lives are not to be dreaded or overlooked for their significance - for they may just be the place transition and growth occurs!

Those planted in the house of the Eternal will thrive in the courts of our God.  (Psalm 92:13 VOICE)

The rains come, not in the absence of the storm, but in the midst of it.  The seed produces the plant, not in the absence of darkness, but in the presence of the careful planting of the one who knows how to nurture growth from the soil in which it is planted.  We may not agree with God's methodologies some times, but they are quite effective, aren't they?  I often stop to consider the darkest places, not focusing on how dark they seem, but to look for the evidence of light breaking through!  

Some things I'd like us to keep in mind as we go through our day today:

1. We have a caring God watching over our lives - nothing will escape his watchful eye.  We may want to stop cursing the place we are in right now and consider if it is perhaps by God's design we have been placed there!  His movement in our lives is with intent and determined purpose.  His actions on our behalf are never without love - even if they seem to place us in the darkest place for a short while.

2. Our perspective is often keeping us focused on the darkness around us - feeling like the walls have closed in around us.  What we often need the most is just to close our eyes to the darkness and see the face of God - for he resides in us and when we stop for a moment to consider his peace deep within, we will see his face and revel in his presence with us.

3. To be planted is one thing - to thrive is quite another. The one who tends our lives is the one who determines the growth which will come forth.  If we want to be the ones tending to the planting, we will likely be disappointed by what is produced.  If we allow him to tend what has been carefully planted within our lives, he will bring forth growth way beyond what we could ever imagine possible.

4. The presence of darkness doesn't mean there is an absence of light.  Light resides within - we are never without light - even in the darkness of storm, or the closeness of the walls which would seek to confine us.

5. Darkness need not stunt our growth.  A seed has to die before it can bring forth the evidence of life.  We often need to surrender our "willfulness" in order to realize the evidence of his character becoming our own.  

Just consider the storm and the darkness another source of his carefulness over your lives!  Just sayin!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Well done!

There are just times when you stand back, examine the fruits of your hard labor, and declare, "Man, that is good"!  Okay, now honestly, am I the only one that has ever looked at a finished project and thought how wonderful it turned out, just admiring all the beauty in the project?  I think this is natural - to see the fruits of your labor begin to produce something kind of excites some sort of pride within you that just tickles you.  It isn't as though we want everyone under the sun to notice what we did - we just find some sense of inner delight in seeing the end result.  When does this become an issue for us?  It becomes an issue when we "thrive" on the compliments for our labors - when we "need" the attention we get from having done the job.  It is as though we aren't just saying, "Man, THAT is good," but we are saying, "Man, I AM GOOD."  Our satisfaction moves from having done the job to having been "noticed" for doing the job.  This is when pride enters the picture in a way which focuses on the one completing the job as deserving of some merit.  In this type of situation, it as though someone thrives on the attention they receive, getting some sort of "credit" they kind of add to the account which they feel gives them some sort of self-worth.  The long and short of it is that we don't find our self-worth in what we do for ourselves, but in what has been done for us because we were incapable of doing it ourselves! 

When pride comes, shame is not far behind, but wisdom accompanies those who are humble. The right-living are guided by integrity, but the crooked ways of the faithless will lead to ruin. (Proverbs 11:2-3 VOICE)

Look at the connection our writer places between pride and shame - one follows closely behind the other.  Why?  Pride is literally a struggle with OUR opinion of our own dignity, importance, merit, and even our sense of superiority in a circumstance.  No wonder shame follows closely behind!  It isn't wrong to admire a job you have completed and find some deep sense of satisfaction in how well it turned out.  I decorate the Christmas tree each year, then stand back and admire the beauty of all those ornaments, twinkling lights, and knowing it will soon be filled with packages for my loved ones all around its base.  Many of those ornaments are handmade over the course of my kids' or grandkids' lives, given to me with love, and serve to remind me of their love for me and my love for them.  Those which mom handcrafted, fired in the kiln, and painted with such care speak of a time in her life when she still had her eyesight and her ability for fine motor coordination was totally intact.  The ones which come from co-workers remind me of the laughs we have shared, and the struggles we have navigated through over the years. The tree's beauty is not in how well I did in placing those ornaments upon those branches, but in the meaning of each piece which adorns it!  Oftentimes, the beauty we see in the lives of another is not so much in their ability to have done something so well we rave about the job they have done, but in seeing their commitment to the job, the joy they took in doing it, and in the love expressed in having been engaged in the work at hand, somehow blessing another with the fruits of their labor.

Pride is a constant battle for each of us - not because it is some monster hot on our trail all the time - but because it is a natural part of who we are to look for some confirmation we have done well in this life.  I think this is only natural.  We need praise and even to be recognized when we have put ourselves into a project, heart and soul.  What we don't want to do is cross over that line where we begin to expect or live for the praise we receive.  After all, our self-worth isn't found in that praise or recognition - but in the actions of Christ's life given for ours.  When we said "yes" to Jesus, asking him to become the center of our lives, we were actually saying our own "merit" isn't what is important, but the merit of Christ within us, moving us to live and love as he would have us to live.  There is no greater "compliment" we can receive but to have someone recognize Jesus is alive and well within each of us!

Now, lest we think this thing called "pride" is always a bad thing, it is not.  Pride can be the delight we take in seeing another blessed by some action we took, or observing the happiness which seems to invade the lives of one we have spent time with.  There is a deep sense of "well-being" which invades our hearts when we see another blessed, knowing the "job" we have done is a blessing to them.  We don't look for the "honor" in the recognition of the job, but it is okay to accept the thanks and praise of those who have been blessed by the "job done well" on their behalf!  God doesn't want us to refuse the compliments - he just doesn't want our whole worth to center around them!  He wants us to recognize our worth has a much deeper center - his Son!

Keep in mind that the "unhealthy" form of pride is when the focus is on self.  Self-satisfaction, self-worth, self-regard, self-love, self-admiration, self-glorification - all of these often lead to something we term as self-sufficiency.  This is when we drift into dangerous territory - for any time we think of self as sufficient for anything, we are sure to realize shame following closely behind whatever it is we are finding so much pride in ourselves about!  Trust me on this one - self is not sufficient to redeem our lives.  Self is not sufficient to restore our fellowship with God the Father.  Self is not sufficient to really love another - we need to be embraced by the love of God in order to really understand how it is we are to love another. It is this issue of "self" which gets us into the place where pride crosses the line.  As long as we are focusing on allowing Christ to be the center of our lives, whatever actions come from that "centered place" will be a blessing to those around us, and even to our own lives.  In the end, we will receive the "job well-done" our hearts desire so much, but it will come from his lips!  Just sayin!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Not another bite!

I imagine there are a whole lot of things in this life I just take for granted - let's be honest here - not all of the things which others see as "privilege" in my life are continuously appreciated by me!  We all have a tendency to take some things for granted - maybe more than we know it.  We don't appreciate our good health until we are fully consumed by that winter cold.  We don't realize the benefit of having a car at our disposal until it breaks down and the repairs will tax our budget to the max to get it fixed.  We sometimes don't even appreciate each other until one of us too busy, or even gone for a while from the "mix" of the relationship. Why is it we "take for granted" things and people in life?  I think it has something to do with us becoming very comfortable with life and forgetting our comfort could one day be challenged a little!  To take for granted simply means we "assume" something will always be as it has been - and we end up treating whatever that is in a careless or indifferent manner.  When it comes to God's grace, may we never reach the place of indifference!

Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a push-over when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path? (Romans 2:4 VOICE)

I don't think I have ever purposefully thought of God as a "push-over" when it comes to sin. I know he takes a firm stand when he draws the line in the sand and says this side is right, that side is wrong.  Yet, if you examine my actions, you might think there have been times when I have "pushed the envelope" a little on that "taking for granted" thing!  Maybe we all have on occasion.  God is patient and sometimes we see his patience as him not really "paying attention" to how close we are to the line, or being all that concerned with where that "line-walking" may land us in the end.  His patience should never be confused with his tolerance of sinful deeds, though.  He doesn't EVER tolerate sin - plain and simple. Compromise is compromise - there are no "degrees" of sin.  Maybe this comes as a surprise to some of us because we might have been raised to allow little white lies as "not so bad" because we only tell them to "preserve the feelings" of another.  A lie is a lie - there are no "degrees" to lying.  Any time we get to the place of "grading" our sin or compromise, we are in danger of beginning to accept what he clearly says to stay away from.

God's grace - and his patience with our frequent return to this line in the sand to see just how close we can get without being too far from that line - is not something we want to take for granted (become so careless with it that we treat it with indifference).  When there is indifference in our lives, carelessness is sure to follow.  Why?  We stop paying attention. That lack of attentiveness actually leads us to places where we disregard the warnings we receive, or the truth we know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true in our lives.  Eventually, we detach from whatever it is we once had as a determined focus in life and pursue other things which have become the distractions gaining our attention at the moment.  This is how compromise happens - not as a big-bang kind of moment, but as subtle little steps of indifferent and distracted moments.  Now, we are ripe to give into sin - simply because we have become indifferent to God's grace.

Think about the last time you had an insect bite of some sort.  That bite just kept itching, swelling to bright red each time you gave into the desire to scratch it, until you ended up with this huge welt of sorts bulging from your leg or arm.  It started out small - almost unnoticeable, didn't it?  Under the surface of the skin, this response started to this bite - and before long, what was once unnoticed becomes the thing you just cannot seem to forget about!  You try everything known to mankind to just get the itching to go away - painting it with this ointment or that cream, and even trying "unconventional remedies" you heard might just work.  Sin isn't much different in our lives - it sometimes comes quite unnoticed. Sure, we know it is there as much as we know the mosquitoes are out in full force in the evening hours.  Yet, we just don't pay attention to taking "precautions" to avoid the "sting" of sin!  What may have crept up on us unnoticed, even managed to get hold of us unnoticed, will not stay unnoticed for very long!  Eventually what "bites us" will leave an impression!

God's patience with us is not indifference toward our sin or compromise.  His hope is that we will turn our heart toward him because we desire his grace more than we desire anything else in life.  His mission is to gain our entire heart, not just the infrequent moments we take with him on Sundays.  If he gives us "space" to figure that out, it isn't because he wants us to suffer the "bite" of sin - but because he knows we will never fully lean into him until we realize how "defenseless" we are against sin without his grace to move away from its sting! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sing a new song...

A little inspirational quote I saw somewhere this week - sorry, I cannot remember the source, so I will just quote it as I remember it: "No matter what yesterday was like, a bird always starts the new day with a new song."  I guess I had never really stopped to consider that one, but it is so true! The birds don't stop singing one day just because yesterday was full of storms.  They don't stop singing just because they don't "feel like it".  Birds sing!  It is part of being a bird and I think it also because they are praising the one who continuously provides for their needs and well-being!  Maybe we'd do well to take a lesson from the birds - being a little less caught up in the effects of the storms and our feelings, and just praising him because it is part of who we are and because he never leaves us to make it on our own!

Sing to Him a new song; play each the best way you can, and don’t be afraid to be bold with your joyful feelings.  For the word of the Eternal is perfect and true;  His actions are always faithful and right.  (Psalm 33:3-4 VOICE)

There have been more than a few days I have awakened just not feeling like I wanted to lift my head from the pillow, much less deal with whatever storminess was about to break upon my life.  I know we all have those days and we probably all deal with them a little differently depending upon a variety of factors.  When storms have been day-after-day, without any let up to speak of, we may not want to deal with another one - this is only natural.  When the best we can do doesn't seem to be enough to really solve the problem we are facing and we just don't want to face the challenge any longer - this is only natural.  If we stop to consider God's instructions to us, we might just come to the conclusion God has something "super-natural" in mind for us as we praise him and allow a new song to emerge from the ashes of our lives.  Maybe he has to have those ashes "stirred up" a little in order for us to see him in the midst of those ashes!

The song doesn't need to be lovely, it just needs to be sung!  I have these brownish-black birds which invade my yard during the daytime hours.  I think they are grackles.  If you have ever had a small flock of those things in your yard, you know how awful the "song" they sing can be!  It is kind of this high-pitched whistle which is kind of annoying after a while.  It isn't the beautiful song of the finch, or even the sweet sounds of the hummingbird.  It is this annoying squeal that just sets your nerves on edge after a while.  They seldom come one at a time - but travel in bunches.  In winter in Arizona, we plant winter grass (rye), and it is like we have laid out a Thanksgiving feast for them!  They flock in, picking up their song, and luxuriating in the sun while they pluck the seeds from the shortly cropped summer grass remnants.  They probably serve a purpose in life, like spreading seed hither and yon, but they can be a little annoying.

I wonder how many times the song we sing may be a little "annoying" to others, but still a lovely melody in the ears of the one who created us?  I think we have a tendency to judge our "song" by how it makes US feel.  God never tells us to sing our songs of praise so that WE will feel better.  In fact, he clearly reminds us that praising him in those new songs our heart brings forth is entirely for HIM!  Even in the "wailing song", he receives your "melody".  Yet, in the turning of our eyes toward him, lifting whatever song we have in our hearts, we begin to sense something happening - there is some kind of liberating release which comes in just lifting our voices to him.  The "sweetness" of the melody is not always there - but the response of his heart is always consistent in hearing our heart's song!

We might just do well to remember the birds - their song is new every morning - something God has encouraged us to embrace, as well.  The Book of Lamentations isn't usually considered the "praise and worship" book of the Old Testament, yet we find these words:

How enduring is God’s loyal love; the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion.  Here they are, every morning, new!  Your faithfulness, God, is as broad as the day.  Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need.  My soul boasts, “Hope in God; just wait.” (Lamentations 3:23-24 VOICE)

In essence, our writer was reminding us that God's love and his mercies are new every morning.  Now, that might just be the best reason of all to sing a new song each day!  We cannot outlive, outgrow, or outdo God's love or his mercies.  We cannot exhaust them, either. What we can do is fail to acknowledge they are consistent and trustworthy. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be caught without a song in my heart!  Just singin!