Saturday, January 31, 2015

Good manners?

I always like it when scripture makes things very, very plain - so I don't have to struggle with the meaning - don't you?  The parables are nice, but there is hidden meaning which must be ferreted out.  The truth is truth, but sometimes truth is a little harder to "get" than we might first think.  When God lays out things so plainly in scripture, we rejoice in laying hold of the meaning the first time we read it.  When he lays out things like "don't do this..." or "do this..." without giving us the "why" behind the restraint we are to exercise or the action we are to engage in, we just plain want more of an explanation - right?  It is only part of our nature to question "why" these actions make a difference, or the restraint from some particular action would keep us "inside" of God's plan for our lives.  Since the beginning of time we have "pushed against" any boundary set for us!  Why should today be any different?  In teaching the disciples how it is they were to not only "follow", but to encourage others to become "followers" as well, Jesus often spoke very plainly to his disciples. Why? He wanted them to understand fully what his intentions were.  In terms of how his Father looked upon his followers, Jesus wanted us to know one very important thing:  Our heavenly Father stands at the ready to give good things to those who ask!  First in terms of our salvation through Christ Jesus, then in multiplied fashion over and over again in terms of his grace, love, peace, and power.  All this begins with asking...

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. (Matthew 7:7-8 CEV)

Ask - you will receive.  Search or seek - you will find.  Knock - the door will be opened.  Pretty plain, right?  Yet, in each of these, there is something of a hidden truth, as well.  Let's explore:

Ask - receive.  As a child, I was taught something at the dinner table we have come to refer to as "good manners".  We didn't just use a "boarding house reach" to get at whatever we wanted on our plates.  We were taught to respectfully ask for someone to pass the potatoes or green beans.  Then we'd place the serving upon our plate.  Yet, even in asking, there was something of "restraint" we were being taught by using these "manners" at the table.  I am not advocating for a free-for-all at the dinner table here, but I wanted to use this as an illustration of how we often "restrain" ourselves from asking God for the good things he has in store for us.  Mom prepared the meal, not so it would look good on the table in the serving dishes, but so we'd all eat to our fill!  She wanted us to be satisfied and no longer hunger!  God isn't any different - he doesn't want us to come demanding, but he also doesn't want us to "restrain" ourselves when it come to expressing our needs to him.  He wants us to be "out with it" and let him "pass on" to us those things he so desires for us to fully enjoy!  It is as though Jesus is telling his disciples to "come and eat" - the meal has been prepared!

Search - find.  Asking is definitely an action, just as much as receiving is.  When I asked for the potatoes to be passed, mom or dad took the action of passing them and I took the action of receiving what was passed.  Searching and finding are equally actions we take on our part.  If you remember a parable Jesus taught about a woman who lost a tiny coin in her dark house, you will recall she moved furnishings, then swept the floor clean until she discovered the lost coin. What she did was active - she didn't just look for the coin, she also did all she could to uncover it from the hiding place it was in.  If you are like me, you probably put things away "so carefully" so as to be able to find them again when you need them.  The problem is...I forget where I put them!  All the care up front didn't equal the urgency of discovery at the end!  In times when I need whatever it is I have put away so carefully, there is usually this mad frenzy to find it!  Then frustration sets in if I cannot!  The good part of seeking in God's house is that we find things which were previously hidden to us - but it does take a little effort on our part.  I think it is the effort we put into the search that makes the reward of what we find even greater!

Knock - open.  As a child, I knew the closed bedroom door of my parent's room meant I needed to knock.  I just couldn't barge in unannounced.  The knock was both an alerting of my parents to my desire to enter, and the response to enter was an acknowledgement of my need or desire.  Much is the same with our heavenly Father. I am not unlike most Americans who have this tiny hole in the door with which I may "screen" those who come knocking. When we come "knocking" on his door, so to speak, we are not "put off" as unimportant or as someone not worth answering the door to acknowledge.  God doesn't have a "peep hole" he looks through to see if it is worth him opening the door!  In fact, he recognizes our knock.  As a little child, I knocked softly, but my parents always heard.  Even in the night hours when all were sleeping, my gentle knocks were acknowledged.  We don't need to beat God's door down - he knows our knock and he stands alert to acknowledge our knock.  When I "screen" those who come to my door it is more than that I don't want to hear the stories about how these kids are selling this candy bar or that candle to raise money for this project or team sport, or the latest sales at the local mechanic's establishment.  What I really don't want to do is tell the kids or man standing there is that I am not interested!  Why?  Some of them make it very, very hard to say "no"!  Even when we "knock" on God's door, we might not receive a "yes" answer to our seeking - but we WILL receive an answer.  This is something we can stand upon as certainty - God opens the doors for us - it may just not be the door we expected to open!

So, ask, seek, and knock away!  God isn't put off by our asking.  He isn't interested in our apathy.  He isn't disturbed by our knocking.  He is at the ready to listen and respond.  He is open to helping us find what is hidden.  He is continually listening for our timid knocks.  Just sayin!

Friday, January 30, 2015

I am "better off" - how about you?

"Better off" - in better circumstances than another.  For many of us, we could look around us and see we are "better off" than someone else around us.  We might have a loving family still around us to care for us and us them - "better off" than the one who has lost their loved one. We might be enjoying the privilege of a hard day's work - "better off" than the one who stands in the unemployment line.  We could be eating our favorite meal at a nice clean restaurant - "better off" than the one who will dig through the dumpsters behind it tonight to find their meal.  The list could go on and on - but in so many ways we can say we are "better off" in this circumstance, with this relationship, in this job, etc.  Despite being "better off" than in another circumstance, relationship, job, etc., we find ways of complaining about where it is we find ourselves - especially when it comes to our relationships!  What we tend to do is compare where we are in terms of relationship with where someone else is in terms of their relationship.  For example, when a recently divorced woman looks around at other in her circle who have found dating relationships while she has not, she can either determine she is "better off" because she doesn't "need a man" or she can bemoan her position in life saying they are "better off" because they have someone new in theirs.  Either way, the turmoil seeing someone else as "better off" than you causes you great concern.  It is at the heart of many of our struggles financially, within relationship, in our jobs, and in our country's governing affairs.  We truly need a better appreciation of the things in life which really give us stability, a sense of peace, and a sense of being part of a bigger purpose - these are things which will actually help us in the long run.

You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble. If you sleep alone, you won’t have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night. Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, “A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 CEV)

I saw a post today on a friend's Facebook page which really made me think about my friends a little.  Here is what it said:

"One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all his friends.  And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change."

Now, I know this is not necessarily a passage you could quote out of scripture, but I think it comes pretty close to expressing what I think Solomon may have been trying to say in the passage above.  We need each other - regardless of our emotional ups or downs, in the good times and the difficult ones, and when we are in trouble or sailing through life without a care in the world.  We cannot live "exclusively" and we cannot "exclude" from our life those who need us so much to "include" them in ours!  WE are the ones "better off" by their presence! 

As I was cooking dinner last night, I chose to do it all on the BBQ outside.  After doing a little prep in the kitchen of the veggies and chicken, I headed outdoors to get the grill ready. Almost immediately my mom came to the door asking what she could do.  Now, for those of you who BBQ, you know this is pretty much a one person job.  I told her she could just keep me company if she wanted a little fresh air and she was pretty much content to just enjoy the time with me.  My sister, on the other hand, soon quipped, "You don't get a chance for any privacy, do you?"  Now, considering she lives alone in her home, this may seem like a really big thing, but I have chosen to have mom with me, so "privacy" is not a big deal.  In fact, I enjoy the company, even when it is just "hanging out" quietly while the meat sizzles on the grill and the veggies sear into perfect tenderness.  WE are better off because we have each other!  I don't "make" mom's life "better off" - WE make each other's life "better off"!

If you are not familiar with the story of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, you won't understand the Eeyore illustration above.  The story is about a bear in the woods who has various friends ranging from a bouncy tiger who has trouble sitting still, a kangaroo mother and her child who enjoys every new experience through the eyes of a child, a cute little piglet everyone could love, and a particularly "down on life" little donkey friend named Eeyore. Eeyore is always misplacing his tail.  He mopes around a lot.  He kind of moves slow and everything seems like a big "bother" to him. He isn't the bouncy tiger who has boundless energies and is always enthusiastic to begin some new adventure.  He isn't the stable mother kangaroo who always cares so well for her little child Roo.  He is a donkey with a tail he cannot manage to keep track of!  In fact, even his diet is a little odd - he makes a diet of thistles - thorny little thistles!  He is grey and slow and old.  He even lives in a place on the map labeled as "Eeyore's Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad".  Now, how many of you would want an "Eeyore" in your "circle" of friends?

To me, Eeyore represents many things, but in essence I think what Milne was helping kids to understand in the story (and we adults can take a lesson or two here ourselves) is this ability to accept each other.  In so doing, we actually make each other "better off".  In truth, we need each other - even when we don't see the immediate value in the relationship or appreciate why it has to be so hard to be in relationship with some people.  The one who stands alone in life doesn't get this.  They don't understand how it is even people so different from us can be of such great value in our lives.  I don't know where you are today, but if you want strength in your walk, you need other people.  You need the "link" they provide to a vantage point beyond your own.  Eeyore and Tigger were so much at opposite ends of the pole when it came to their personality.  Tigger was always upbeat and optimistic - Eeyore negative and kind the naysayer.  Tigger trusted everyone - Eeyore saw them as having heads stuffed with grey fluff!  Yet, in the tremendous differences between the two, they were lost without each other.  They were a perfect compliment to each other - giving a little of their unique view on life to the other.  In turn, they learned from one another.

We are truly "better off" when we have each other.  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I am flapping hard here!

Back in the day, before I knew any better, I had this ill-conceived idea that I could do anything, anywhere, at any time in my life.  I kind of thought of myself as "all powerful" - even believing if I flapped my arms hard enough, I could actually fly.  There was a time when I was around 4 or 5 that I actually did believe I could fly - turning over trash cans, climbing up on top of them and flapping into the wind!  Now, lest you think I am a little touched in the head, I really could not fly, but my imagination got the best of me for a short period of time.  It wasn't long before I was the best "cop" riding a Schwinn two-wheeler in pursuit of those "bad guys" who just robbed the bank, or a mom taking care of her little baby while making dinner out of mud-pies in the backyard.  As kids we often think pretty grandiose thoughts about ourselves - our capabilities and our dreams being so BIG we think the world cannot stand in our way.  Then we grow up!  Before long, we find all kinds of obstacles in our way and wonder where all that enthusiasm for life and "I am all powerful" belief went!  Let me tell you, if I had of known how hard life was going to be as an adult, I would have opted to be a kid just a little while longer instead of being so all-fired in a hurry to grow up!  What about you?  Yet, life comes at us, and time passes - making it impossible for us to remain as "children" in this world - we need to step into the next place prepared for us.  Adulthood in the natural sense is kind of like it is in the spiritual sense - it comes upon us in the course of time, but some of us embrace it whole-heartedly, while others of us look back wishing for the simplicity of the past.

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

James has a unique way of looking at life.  His attitude is one of embracing whatever comes his way.  This is indeed a commendable "habit", but how many of us actually live this way? In truth, we flap our wings, believing we can "fly", but in reality - we stumble a lot!  We see ourselves one way - strong, mighty, and courageous; or maybe weak, ill-fit, and kind of wimpy.  The way we see ourselves often determines how likely it is we will face the troubles in our midst in a positive, or sometimes kind of not so "enthusiastic" of a manner. We don't "fly" just because we flap our wings, do we?  We don't catch the "bad guys" in life just because we can ride fast!  We need more than "imaginative curiosity" to keep us going, right?  We need something on the inside which helps us take steps when everything else inside of us is saying "I can't" or "I don't think so".  

James reminds us of the certainty of troubles - those things which come our way and make it almost impossible for us to get around them.  Those things might be ruffled relationships, or a bad situation in a job environment.  They could be not feeling good about what we have become over the course of time, because we don't "fit the mold" of what others thought we'd amount to in life.  Whatever the reason for the present "obstacles" we face in life, be certain of this - they aren't there to impede our progress, but to cause us to dig deeper and move beyond them.  To many who face these obstacles today, I want to say this - they ARE big; they ARE hard; and they ARE going to tax everything inside of you.  There - now that we both realize the reality of the difficulty of what lies ahead, let's get on with it!

Sometimes we want to succumb to their "hugeness" in our midst - kind of like a fallen tree in the road, blocking traffic from passing on the right or the left.  Let me just tell you this - you may not be able to get around it, over it, or under it - but you can get through it!  You don't have to let the obstacle in your midst hold you fast where you are - you have a power within to get beyond it, regardless of how big it might be.  I didn't learn to fly by jumping off of trash cans in the front yard.  I learned to "fly" by jumping hurdles in my path with the encouragement and power Christ spoke into my life when I needed it the most.  I don't have to flap my arms to fly, I just need to pull our my faith a little bit further!  Once I realized the obstacles were just a way of revealing the faith Christ had already placed deep within me, I saw the obstacles differently.  They became a way to reveal more of Christ's power in me, more of his grace through me, and more of his solid foundation anchoring me.

We all "grow up" - be we don't always grow wiser, more understanding, or more convinced of the extent of the completeness of God's work within us.  This is where the obstacles come into play in our lives.  They are there to reveal these things in us.  If we begin to see them as revealers of truth rather than claimers of our victory, we might just face them differently! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's get to work!

We are always looking to "gain" something in this life, aren't we?  We may not want to gain a few extra pounds, but we want to gain interest on our savings, or gain the advantage over someone else in a game of tennis.  We look for the "ins" and "outs" of each encounter, knowing full-well the position of power we have when we know how it is we will gain the advantage.  Our minds just calculate things that way - what is it I will gain by being involved in this, giving this to that, or bringing what I have into the mix.  Pretty seldom do we just get up in the morning and say with determined confidence that we will just go about the day "doing" whatever God wants, "giving" wherever he asks us to give, and "moving mountains" for someone else.  We get up, prepare to go off to work, and then plunge headlong into whatever it is we call our "work".  What we fail to recognize is the significance of our work - we see our work as what earns our paycheck, puts food on our table, or keeps our kids clothed in cold winters.  Work is a blessing from God - it is his way of bringing into our lives the special blessing of "doing" what he wants, "giving" ourselves in way he desires, and using us to "move mountains" in his power.  Instead of cursing the work, we should count it as a blessing with many hidden blessings underneath!

What do we gain by all of our hard work? I have seen what difficult things God demands of us. God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life, because God’s gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do. Everything God has done will last forever; nothing he does can ever be changed. God has done all this, so that we will worship him. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 CEV)

All our hard work - how many times have we bemoaned the end of "all our hard work"? Probably more than one might imagine.  Would we bemoan it if we saw it as a purposeful investment on behalf of the kingdom of God?  Probably not.  Would we bemoan it if we saw it as being fruitful in some way?  Probably not.  Then why do we bemoan it at all?  Simply put, we want life to be easy and when the demands of life present what we call "work", we just don't understand why it has to be so hard.  One thing I have come to appreciate - the days which end well are those where I look back and see the investment of my time was "worth" it.  When I just laze around day after day without any real purpose, I don't feel very fulfilled or satisfied.  When I have accomplished something like the construction of a complicated workbook of data spreadsheets, or come away from a surveyor's review of our facility without any deficiencies, I feel pretty good.  The difference is in the investment I made into the day.  I "worked" my best and I feel good about it!  Why?  If we look at what scripture says, we feel good about ourselves when we are doing what it is we might just think of as a four-letter word: work!

God's gift to us is our work - regardless of what it is.  We might be moms who stay home tending the house, raising the children, and engaging in simple projects which help our families save a little money.  A noble profession!  We could be called to work each morning on a new industrial site, putting our skills and knowledge of building codes into practice, so as to produce a building which is safe, sturdy, and built to standard.  An honorable profession!  We might find ourselves out in the fields, testing soil, irrigating, and tending crops with great care.  A fruitful profession!  We might realize ourselves in the midst of a great storm, waters coming in with such force many will lose all they have gained in this life, but in a moment are rescued from those waters by the skill of our rescue.  A noteworthy profession!  It doesn't matter what we go about doing each day, as long as we find our purpose in the work to be to fulfill what God has directed for our day!  It is his gift to us.  As much as the clothes on our back, the food in our pantry, or the car we drive to and from each destination, our work is his way of blessing us.

We may not fully understand everything which comes across our path in this life, but one thing is for sure - God directs the path of those whose mind is steadfastly considering his purpose and plan.  When our hearts are directed toward him, we find our face is also turned toward him.  When we are face-to-face with him, we also realize the tremendous blessing of being fully in the light of his countenance.  This light guides our actions each day.  In being guided by him, we find even the work of our hands and the strategies of our minds are a blessing magnified in his presence.  Yes, there is much more to life than eating, drinking, and work.  Yet, the significance of these is not lost when we consider the joy of fulfilling what God has called us to engage in each day.  As we find purpose in what he has called us to do, we enjoy the blessings of those tasks - food and drink.  Think about Israel in the wilderness. They were hungry - wandering that desert land and not really able to put down roots long enough to grow their own crops.  So, what did God do?  He sent manna from heaven.  Yet, they were not "off the hook" in this provision - for they had to gather it!  Even in the most divine of provision, there is a little bit of work on our behalf!   

In our work, God often brings us to places of questioning the past and exploring the future. Why?  We learn from the past - we engage in the plan for the future.  The process of "learning" is based upon knowledge we add along the way.  The process of "planning" is both a mixture of preparation and hope.  We take what we come to know from the past, interject what we can into the plan for the future, and place our hope in the outcome being in God's hands.  Yet, we engage in the process - through whatever he calls us to do in what we have come to call "work".  Rather than cursing your work today - why not begin to see it is a place of learning from the past, preparing for the future, and enjoying the present?  Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Head down, feet in gear, here he comes!

You know that I find object lessons in a great many things - sometimes even in other individuals.  Today's lesson comes from someone I don't even know, but who "crosses my path" on a pretty frequent basis.  I have to pass through a few "senior" or "retirement" communities on my way to the hospital each morning, as the hospital is smack dab in the middle of retirement communities galore.  As I do so, I see various sights which thrill my heart, such as an elderly man or woman out walking their pet, someone riding along in a motorized cart getting a little fresh air, and even an occasional golf cart transporting someone who has probably lost their ability to drive much in an automobile to and from the grocery store.  One such "passerby" catches my attention more than others simply because he is quite "dangerous" in his behavior.  It is this elderly man, up in years I am sure, who is always wearing a pair of khaki pants, a shirt, and a hat.  His mission:  To walk till he drops! I see this guy barreling along at paces which would put most 50-somethings to shame!  He just tears up the pathway and leaves dust in his wake.  The issue with this guy is his lack of fear, though.  He just doesn't stop for anything - including oncoming traffic!  Nothing disturbs the pace he has set for himself - and I mean nothing!  I wonder just how many of us are like this little guy - barreling along at a reckless pace we have set for ourselves, all the while oblivious or unconcerned for the many things which could end up "doing us in"?

Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won’t let go. And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. (Hebrews 12:1-2 CEV)

Now this guy is simply out for a little exercise, so I cannot fault him for that, but I can fault him for putting his head down, never really stopping for any of the signs which say to "not cross" the street, and his seeming "trust" in others to stop for him despite their right of way. I am not sure how far he walks, but I think it must be a couple of miles.  I have seen him at various spots in my drive, so I know he can "do the distance".  He puts his head down, goes off the sidewalk to walk on the grass, gravel, or through flowerbeds to the side of the road. He cuts his own path - something I have seen back-fire for a good many of us!  This might just be one the thing which caught my attention first - his desire to go it his own way.  Now, we all know this can give us more than one headache!  Every time I have chosen to blaze my own path, I have either offended others by doing so, or managed to get myself all mired up in stuff I just shouldn't have been in at all.  You know what I mean?  We get all muddled up in some mess and then we wonder why!

The second thing is his pace - it is insanely fast.  It is like he picks up speed and just barrels through obstacles in his way.  I have seen him go through bushes instead of around them! This insanely fast pace is one thing you would think could fatigue him and bring him to a place of slowing down, but I see no signs of him slowing down.  In fact, he seems to be in great physical shape!  There are times when we set paces for ourselves which are kind of insane, though.  Paces which almost set us into a frenzy of activity, without regard for the environment we are in, or the obstacles in our path, can prove to be a little wearing on us. We might think we are doing well, but trust me on this, the pace cannot continue - eventually we will come up against something which is there to slow us down.  When this guy comes to that "something" which is designed to slow him down, he doesn't stop!  He barrels through - regardless of the danger.  This is the third thing which caught my attention.

This lack of fear as it relates to oncoming traffic is kind of weird.  He doesn't stop for the "Do Not Walk" sign, nor does he care if he is crossing against traffic!  He just steps out into the street and cuts a path, zig-zagging across the street in avoidance of the fast moving vehicles! Now, I don't think this is all that good of an idea!  In deference to the drivers who also must navigate around this guy, I'd like to say we delight in his enthusiasm, but come on!  Here is a perfect example of someone so bent on his own devices that even the best of safety measures designed specifically to protect him are ignored!  We drivers all know we are to yield to pedestrians, but this guy gives us no warning he is about to cross into our paths - he just lurches out there and keeps up his rat-race pace!  It is a miracle he hasn't been plowed down already!  We swerve into other lanes to avoid him, hoping for the best that there is no car in that lane!  

Herein lies the fourth and last lesson I see in this guy's behavior - his lack of concern for the safety of others.  I commend him for his desire to exercise.  I even commend him for his commitment to the goals he has set.  What I cannot commend him for is the position he places others in to ensure HIS path is maintained.  He seems to expect others to respect his right to pass, taking responsibility to maintain his safety, without doing much himself to ensure he passes safely!  I wonder how many times we are on a path somewhere in our lives without any real regard for what that path is doing to the others around us?  Maybe we are so "charged" up by the path we don't see the dangers in our way.  Maybe we just figure everybody knows we are on a mission and will get out of our way.  I don't know - but when we get so focused on "us" and "our way", we place others in danger!

So, there's my object lesson from the little walker dude.  Next time you see someone on their own path, maybe you might just want to slow down a little - they are probably about to cross into yours without much regard for how this will impact you!  Just sayin!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Valuable vs. Worthless - you decide

Valued vs. worthless - there are many factors which determine each.  One of the things you may not know is the origin of the word "value".  In terms of accounting, a coin was minted with a certain weight - this weight giving it the "value".  For example, if it was a brass coin weighing one-half ounce, it had a value, but not as significant as a coin minted from gold weighing the same.  Since coins were kept in pouches and circulated in payment for goods purchased, they would lose a little of their original weight because in the process of being circulated, they "wore down".  In time, the original value of the coin was not the present value.  You know, there are a lot of things in life I have considered to be of such high value at one time or another, only to find out as I look back on them now they just don't hold the same value to me anymore.  Whether it was the job I worked, the position I held, or the things I "owned", they just don't have that same value as time has allowed them to "circulate" through my life!  Rarely do the things we hold so dear at one time continue to hold their value, let alone increase in value.  Things are subject to wear and tear, supply and demand, etc.  Each plays a factor in determining the present "worth" of the object of our affection.  I collect older coins, not as a serious coin collector, but just because they are old. I don't even know what they are valued at today - but I know to some collector they might just be worth more than the nickle or penny value they were given when minted.  To me, they are just neat and I throw a few here and there in a drawer.  I don't live for the "value" they have, I just enjoy finding a rare treasure among the common!  I kind of think this is how it is when we serve Jesus - we get to the place of enjoying finding those rare treasures among the common!

But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.  (Philippians 3:7-11 CEV)

We often come to a place in life where value is not determined by some external force in our lives, but by what we come to treasure in our hearts.  Maybe this is why scripture so often asks us to consider what it is our hearts are "in tune" to at the moment.  What our heart comes to treasure will soon become a driving force within our lives.  Given enough time, the process of allowing the process of "circulation", the things we considered so important of a focus often don't hold the same value in the end.  There is only one thing which "holds value" and in fact, you might just say it increases in value over the course of time - when our focus is held fast on Christ Jesus and his grace within our lives.  Grace is actually a "multiplying" thing.  In time, the value of grace is realized for the extent it is "added to" over and over again.  It doesn't decrease with time, but increases!  In fact, grace increases anyone it touches - for it is impossible for grace to decrease the value of anyone or anything!

As we examine what Paul was saying as he penned these words to the Philippian church, we find several key things he says about what adds value to one's life:

- Knowing Christ:  Value is added by the relationships we keep (as well as those we shun). The determined heart will make room for the very best of relationships - not being greater than the one we maintain with Christ Jesus himself.  When he is our "center", no other relationship quite measures up, but all receive increasing value because he is the center. It is kind of like he "adds to" every other relationship.

- Knowing we belong to him:  Something is often determined as "valuable" because it is appreciated by the one who has it.  I have those coins stashed away here and there - they have a "finders" value to me - I found the rare among the common and this was a treasure I claimed in the "find".  The true collector of coins might actually give a different value to the coin - such as telling me the penny was worth four dollars in trade because of the collector's value in adding it to his collection.   In considering our value in terms of belonging to Christ, I think our value is kind of like the value of my little coins - Christ finds value in "finding our hearts" among the "common" and making our hearts something of great "value" to him. We may not be "collected" by him, but we are treasured by him!

- Realizing there is nothing we do to "add value" to our lives:  Christ does it all.  When we realize this, we cease all the "worthless" effort of trying to "be" right and allow Jesus to actually "make us right".  The very presence of Christ adds value.  The grace he gives adds value.  The change he makes in our self-directed, hardened hearts adds value.  The closeness he provides in bringing us near to his Father in heaven adds value.  All Christ does within us adds value.  We are like a minted coin when we live our lives apart from Christ - one value at minting, but deteriorating in value the more life "circulates" us.  But...when we are the "treasure" he takes hold of, our value changes entirely!  All the "devaluing" of our lives through the things which have "worn us down" doesn't matter to him - he sees the original value in our creation - the value of being his child!

We don't determine our value - God does.  We don't "live up to" our value - Christ within is what gives us increasing worth.  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Attitude adjustment required

I remember how I always found it easier to obey mom when she was watching me than it was when she was away for hours and I was "without supervision".  The TV would go on before homework was done; chores would be deferred in hopes of playing a little with my favorite toys or reading a good book.  In essence, I was being a little two-faced - behaving one way when I was under scrutiny and quite another when I was thinking no one would know.  The long and short of it was the outcome - the chores were done halfway and the homework just didn't measure up to the level it could have because I rushed through both! What I think would have been more "honoring" to my mother was if I had of worked even harder to obey the rules of doing homework and chores first!  I was being a kid - totally consumed with whatever distracted my attention the quickest!  This is kind of how we fall into temptation in our lives - we get distracted by what grabs our attention the quickest.  I wonder just how many stumbles we might just avoid if we didn't get so caught up in the distractions of life and followed a little closer to the idea of obeying even when not being watched?

My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. Do everything without grumbling or arguing. Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world, as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. (Philippians 2:12-16 CEV)

Paul wants the followers of Christ to work to discover what it really means to be saved - to be redeemed from a former way of living and to really begin to live by the new life we have been given.  The truth is evident - we wage war with all manner of distracting desires while God is at work helping us to get to the place of being willing and able to obey him.  This is kind of good news if we really think about it because we aren't having to get to this place of continual obedience on our own.  Eventually, as I grew up a little, I did my chores before I went out to play.  It may have taken a while to learn the lesson, but today when I get up, I make my bed.  Not because I "have to" because no one really cares if I do or not.  I do it because I was "trained" to do so.  Mom expected this and in the course of time it became a priority for me.  I do it out of habit now - not so much to be obedient to mom, but because it is a pretty good thing to do!  Mom worked to get me to the place of being consistent in accomplishing this task - gently reminding me, even nudging me a little when I slacked off. In time, I developed the habit of obedience.  God isn't much different - he gently reminds us at first, nudges us when we need a little "push" in the right direction, and in time, we form the "habit of obedience".

How many times do we grumble or complain when we are asked to do something a little more difficult than we hoped for, or on a different time-scale from what we imagined for ourselves?  I find this is kind of frequent on occasion in my life - depending on how harried my life gets.  When demands are made of me which I just cannot seem to appreciate the urgency of, I kind of balk at them.  I even find myself complaining because the weight of these demand kind of "chafe" me a bit.  Obedience is made up of a couple of things - first it is the attitude which must be changed, then the behavior follows.  When attitude is reversed from seeing things as difficult and unattainable, it is amazing how much we can find the effort to take the necessary steps a little less burdensome!

I don't know about you, but I can speak for myself - I see a lot of grumbling and complaining in my daily experiences.  People don't like how things are working out.  Change comes and people resist it with deep conviction.  Effort has to be put into doing things we don't wan to do in the first place and this gets us flustered on a number of different levels.  Flustered people often complain about what it is they are going through - it is just a fact of life. I have come to accept the complaining as a sign they just aren't "there" yet.  They haven't made the attitude adjustment which will help them commit to the behaviors which will help them move on with the new "habit" they need to form.  I've been there and I know you have, too. 

What we do in those moments makes all the difference.  We can continue to wallow in our misery, interpreting life as unfair and just too challenging; or we can sit up and take notice of where it is we need a little "refocus" in life.  The challenges have become distractions which take us away from allowing God to make the attitude adjustments in us which will help us move on or into what God desires for us.  The quicker we allow God access to our attitudes, the quicker we adjust our focus.  The sooner our focus is adjusted, the easier it will be to take the first steps toward obedience in our lives.  When obedience becomes a habit, it doesn't matter if we are being watched or not - we will act the same because the attitude is not affected by who is "watching" us!  Just sayin!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

We love us

There are times when it helps us to have a list of "do" and "don't" actions and attitudes. Lists help us to organize thought and see things which "fit together" in a certain way.  Yet if we just have "lists" of the "do this" and "don't do this" actions and attitudes in life, we sometimes miss the reason behind those things - they become nothing more than rote to us and we just act one way or refrain from acting another because it is "on the list".  If we approach God's practical instructions about how we are to live our lives in this same manner, we will find the scriptures impractical, hard to understand, and even harder to "live out".  One of the most practical things I find outlined in scripture is how much this "list making" and "rule keeping" can steer us wrong.  You see, we love ourselves way too much to actually enjoy being told to deny ourselves.  We honor ourselves way too much to put another's needs before our own.  It isn't until Jesus takes over the control of our lives that we begin to see ourselves as a little less "lovely" and the needs of another as a little more "important" than our own!  We need Jesus - not lists!

Sinners don’t respect God; sin is all they think about. They like themselves too much to hate their own sins or even to see them. They tell deceitful lies, and they don’t have the sense to live right. Those people stay awake, thinking up mischief, and they follow the wrong road, refusing to turn from sin. (Psalm 36:1-4 CEV)

The scripture is quite plain:  Sin is all a sinner thinks about.  Why?  Sinners are protective of themselves - they think of themselves first, their needs as priority, and their sin as justifiable.  So, no matter what the list might be, there will always be a rational reason to deny the validity of the list!  Sinners (such as you and I) really don't live by the list - because if there is something on the list which we are to refrain from and we really, really want to do it, we usually find a way of justifying why we can do it just this one time.  Problem is, this one time opens the door for the next time!  Maybe this is why just living by the "list" is not the best way to live our lives!

Yes, the "list" is important - scripture can be thought of as a list of practical instruction to show us certain actions and attitudes which are to avoided or embraced.  Living by the list is "good medicine", so to speak, but the list alone is nothing apart from something which changes the heart behind the actions and attitudes.  The only means of a changed heart it to have it changed - our hardened and calloused heart made new by the touch of God.  As long as we don't make a place for God in our lives, all we think about is the various ways we can protect ourselves - our needs, our wishes, our freedoms.  We have the "me", "me", "me" syndrome.  If it pleases "me" - it is on the good side of the list.  If it doesn't bring "me" pleasure - it is on the bad side of the list.

The issue with living by the list is the simple truth - we cannot see our own sin!  If you have ever tried to talk with someone else about their issues - you know, the ones you plainly see but they just don't - then you know the tables can turn on you in just a matter of minutes! When we point out the faults of others, not even aware these same faults (and worse) are part of our own lives, we kind of tick people off.  Why?  They see us as hypocritical.  It is like saying we don't appreciate how much someone else gossips about this or that, all while we are gossiping to someone else about them!

There is much to be gleaned from our passage today.  First, we cannot see our own sin as long as we focus on ourselves.  We don't have an accurate image or standard to judge ourselves against.  As long as the only comparison we make of ourselves is against ourselves or perhaps even another sinner, we don't make accurate comparisons!  We need an image or standard "higher" or "better" than us.  This is why we need Jesus in the middle!  When we see ourselves in light of Jesus, we seldom look beyond Jesus to criticize another!  If we get in the habit of running our actions and attitudes through the "filter" of what it is we see when we look upon Jesus, we just don't have much cause to look at another with any kind of critical spirit at all!

Second, we often cannot see our own sin because we are so "in tune" with our sin as the "norm" of our lives.  We need an accurate reflection - something which will help us to recognize our sinfulness.  To this end, God has provided several things to help us:  Scripture, the Holy Spirit, Jesus resident within, and of course, our own conscience.  Notice I placed our own conscience at the end.  We need to allow all the other "filters" to guide us OVER and ABOVE our own conscience.  If we are so inclined to sin, we will justify our sin even in our own conscience!  So, relying upon this alone is not enough - we need the other "filters" to assist us to make life change.

Last, as long as we deny sin, we cannot move beyond it.  When we deny anything, we say it doesn't exist - it doesn't give any problems, it does not impair us in any way.  The truth is, our sin does give us problems, we just blame them on other factors or people.  Our sin does impair us, we just don't see our impairment as significant.  We justify our sin.  So, we need help moving beyond justifying sin in our lives.  To this end, we are encouraged to have a regular intake of the scriptures - for truth sets us free.  We are admonished to turn from what gives us problems and turn toward a new way of living - for without an about-face, we remain steadily focused on what gives us the greatest issues in life!  Just sayin!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Love is more than a four letter word

Quite some time ago, one of the national marketing campaigns for a well-known cellular carrier asked the question, "Can you hear me now?"  In time, this became a hallmark question associated with a little humor in circles all around the globe - people asking each other if they "could hear them now" when they needed to repeat something, or if they were just making a point about needing someone to listen.  Today, I think the question we might consider is can you see my love now?  People have an excellent opportunity to put into action the words they speak - by modeling the love of Christ to others.  This might look like us stopping by the side of the road to help a woman with small children bouncing in the backseat change that flat tire.  It might resemble us helping an elderly man or woman put those groceries carefully into their trunk so as not to break the eggs.  It could also look like us sitting at the bedside of a friend who has just received bad news from the doctor, holding their hand and crying a little with them as they process the news.  Whatever it looks like for you, today will present itself with opportunities galore to "love each other" through what another can see - not just what they hear us say.

But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see? The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!” (I John 4:20-21 CEV)

If we consider this passage carefully, we find the measure of how much we are truly loving God is found in the evidence of how well we are doing with loving each other.  If we can "see" and "feel" each other - then how we love the ones we "can" see is a reflection of how well we are "in love with" and "loving" as God loves us.  Mom and Dad exemplified love in our family in a variety of ways.  We had warm food on the table, three squares a day, and a nice place to lay our heads at night.  We had clothes appropriate for the season and the occasion.  We may not have had the latest of fashion trends, but we were neat, clean, and always well-polished.  We also had moments of solitude with which we were to consider how we could have done something differently - usually whenever we crossed the line into disrespect or not so desirable behavior.  We had some discipline which made us sit up and take notice, while other discipline simply redirected our behavior in subtle ways so as to "form" us into responsible citizens.  Love in my home had both sides of the coin - good, caring, and easily embraced measures which revealed a tender side combined with a tougher side of love which was designed to correct wrong behavior.  God's love isn't much different, so when we love in a similar manner to his love revealed to us, we are exemplifying Christ to the world around us.

We cannot disrespect others and say we love God.  God shows creation respect - choosing to allow us to use our free-will to make choices instead of lording it over us, demanding his way or the highway.  Yep, there are expectations established, but the choice is still ours.  So, God does respect his creation and we should exemplify this respect in our relationships with each other.  This might mean we give a little when someone isn't right on the mark, so to speak. It might also mean we challenge them a little to get closer to the mark.  We don't criticize their "miss", but rather we lovingly assist them realize the correction needed in order to at least come closer to the mark.  This might look like helping someone who is trying to quit smoking with some practical steps like developing a "smoke plan" which slowly reduces the number of cigarettes they smoke each day.  If they are trying to avoid a certain tempting food in order to reduce the amount of calories they take in, you might agree to go with them to the cafeteria to help them stay on track with their diet.  When they are working on developing solid habits of exercise, you might suggest you each go on a walk following lunch each day.  You don't criticize them when they don't follow the plan, indulge a little, or miss a few days walking.  Instead, you respond as God responds to you - in mercy, love, and forgiveness - with the end result of helping one make the course correction necessary.

Our passage suggests another truth:  Love God first and love him "well".  When you do this, you are able to love others equally as well.  We may not "see" God - nor are we able to wrap our arms around him in a palpable embrace - but we do "sense" him and "know" his presence.  We know his truths upon which we stand - we also know his commands are there for our protection and safety, not to discourage us or keep us from enjoying life.  We see his love modeled in sacrifice and can experience the intensity or depth of that love in the magnificence of what God was willing to sacrifice to bring us close to him in restored relationship.  When we begin to see God's love and appreciate how much he loves us, we begin to find ways to exemplify this love to others around us.  It isn't usually that we need to love God more - we just need to appreciate the fullness of his love toward us a little more. You know, God might just show you and I how to love even the most unlovely among us if we'd stop long enough to embrace his love a little better.  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What must I do to be really, really rich?

The scriptures are full of conundrums - those "life riddles" which get us to thinking a little bit, but almost seem "counter-intuitive".  It is this idea of "getting us to thinking" which I believe God might just have in mind, for all action begins in thought and all thought has one of two outcomes - good or bad.  When the thing presented is "counter-intuitive" it can be a little hard to understand.  If you have studied the New Testament, you will likely remember a wealthy Jewish man coming to Jesus one day and asking Jesus what he must do have eternal life.  Jesus responds with somewhat of a conundrum to this young ruler.  He references the goodness of God and tells the young man he must keep God's commandments.  That is all well and good, but the rich young ruler wants to know "which ones" he must obey.  Isn't that just like us?  We hear "keep his commandments" and we want to know where there is "wiggle room"!  So, Jesus lists a few of the "biggies" and the rich young ruler is bolstered in his confidence of entering into eternal life as he proudly announces, "I have kept all of those!"  Then he asks the further question, "What ELSE must I do?"  Uh he has gone meddling!  To this Jesus replies, "If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own.  Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower." (Matthew 19:16-21)  As you may well expect, the young ruler was a little disheartened by this answer.  If he had just left "well enough" alone, he might have stood a chance!  Yet, in the answer Jesus gave there was a hidden meaning having nothing to do with the wealth we amass, but what the wealth does with our heart. Never forget God's purpose is to redeem our hearts!

Sometimes you can become rich by being generous or poor by being greedy.  Generosity will be rewarded: Give a cup of water, and you will receive a cup of water in return. Charge too much for grain, and you will be cursed; sell it at a fair price, and you will be praised. Try hard to do right, and you will win friends; go looking for trouble, and you will find it. Trust in your wealth, and you will be a failure, but God’s people will prosper like healthy plants. (Proverbs 11:24-28 CEV)

Richness or a state of poverty are really based not on what is in our bank account or what we wear on our backs.  It is based on what is in our hearts.  This is what Jesus wanted the man to really know - the freedom of heart which follows with full abandon.  Too often we have become "followers" of Jesus, only to find we are trying to do so with hearts so full of other stuff we cannot really allow him much room there!  Yes, God is after a generous heart, but generosity is a state of being which stems from a heart that realizes the intensity of God's love first!  I think this is what Jesus had in mind as he revealed this man's heart - he was holding onto what he had amassed (his accomplishments, his position, his power) while Jesus was asking him to accept what all true believers trust in - Jesus' accomplishments, his power, and his position at the right hand of God the Father.

I am not into prosperity teaching, so if you are I might just step on your toes for a moment here.  God never declared we could "name it and claim it" - I don't really see that in scripture.  In the same way, he never really declared we have to be penniless and barren of any "substance" in the realm of material things.  He DID remind us several times about how these things can give us a false sense of security and can become the primary focus in our lives, making very little room for Jesus!  To this end, he reminds us repeatedly these things are not eternal - they don't last past the grave!  They don't pave our way into eternity.  They may make life enjoyable while we are here, but they don't make life any different for us at the foot of the cross!

The scripture is quite clear - you overcome poverty by your generosity; you get consumed into poverty when you hold onto "stuff" too tightly.  Nothing enriches us more than laying down what we have for another - nothing robs us more than to hold on so tightly to what we have that others are denied a blessing.  It is more than our riches in a material sense that God is after here - he is after our very lives.  Richness comes in laying down our own self-directed intention to live by our own measures of goodness and to take up the goodness which only grace can produce.  Poverty comes in denying we need God's "grace riches" to make us truly "wealthy".  

The conundrum is - give to get; lay down to receive; deny to be blessed; leave to follow.  All are polar opposites and all produce the same result - poverty when we hold on or stay behind; riches when we let go and move forward with Jesus.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An early morning lesson or two

I like watching those shows on TV that show you how things are made.  I think the process of manufacturing items we use everyday is kind of fascinating - seeing how you go from raw product to packaged, or watching a craftsman take a piece of raw material and turn it into a beautifully designed object.  I caught an episode yesterday which captured my attention, but really didn't speak to me until the wee hours of this morning.  I had a hard time sleeping last night, but when I was awakened by a very clear, and very loud man's voice simply calling my name, I listened!  You see, I don't have a man in the house, so hearing the voice kind of rattled me a little!  I thought maybe my mom had passed and I was being awakened to find she had gone on to be with Dad, or perhaps she just needed me and it was God's way of waking me up.  It might sound a little weird to you, but whenever this happens, I usually just cannot go back to sleep.  It is often with good reason, because God begins to speak to me in those wee hours!  True to form, he did so last night, taking this one segment out of the TV show and giving me little tidbits of teaching I might just "chew on".  The show was about honey bees and how they are raised to be harvested for the commercial market of honey distribution.  Yet, when God spoke to me about it, I saw many an object lesson which describes how it is God designed each of us - as members of a colony of workers, each with a task our own, but with the undivided purpose of laying up stores and stores of sweet stuff for those who would come behind.

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 119:102-104 CEV)

Here are but a few of the object lessons I saw in this story of the  honeybees:

1. The bees each have a function - whether they be the "queen bee" who lays nearly 2,000 eggs a day, the "gathering bees" who go out day after day to the fields to gather in the pollen, or the "worker bees" who work endlessly creating the hive and storing up the honey - they all have a function.  Those who don't do their part are pushed out of the hive - there is no place for "dead weight" in the thriving hive.  Lesson one:  We all serve a purpose and it is important for us to fulfill that purpose.

2. The bees build their hives upon a framework which is provided for them.  The bee keepers provide a framework upon which the bees can build their hive.  It is a simple wood frame, mounted inside those upright boxes of wood or plastic.  The bees start at the edge and work inward until the hive is formed in each section of the hive box.  This framework produces an safe place for them to be about their "bee business".  Lesson two:  God provides a framework upon which we build our lives - staying within this framework provides a place of safety and protection.

3. The bees all work together - in their particular function and in unison.  To look upon the clustering of bees and frenzy of activity might just give one the impression there is no real organization to what they are doing, but in truth it is quite the opposite.  Even with one bee crawling over the next, they are all working together, one providing what the next requires to do their part.  Lesson three:  Life gets messy and a little chaotic at times, but when we are all working together, fulfilling our purpose, we "add" to each other's lives in a very special and unique way.

4. The "gathering bees" don't actually get to partake of the finished product - they simply bring in the pollen which is taken from them by the worker bees.  The hive would be devoid of food for the next generation if these "gathering bees" didn't bring in the nectar and pollen. They may not get to enjoy the end product of their labor, but they sense the importance of it and are about their task with consistency from day to day.  Lesson four:  We don't have to do it all, we just have to do our part.

5. The worker bees "chew up" the pollen brought back by the gathering bees - they actually "digest" the pollen into this nectar in order to put in the tiny cells of the hive.  Then they all fan their wings to help evaporate the water which remains in the nectar, reducing it to the richest of honey we find deep within the hive.  Without this process, the pollen would be useless - it has to be broken down into the nectar in order to be useful to the young bees hatching deep within the hive.  Lesson five:  There are those who depend upon us doing our part to ensure they have what they need to develop.

6. The purpose of the hive is for replication and feeding - as a safe place for the queen to lay her eggs and the young to mature, the hive provides much more than a place of making honey.  Lesson six:  We all need a place to develop and God has provided this for us in our local church family and small groups.

7. There is nothing wasted from the hive - even the beeswax is useful in the making of candles, balms, and the like.  The intended purpose of the wax was for the housing of the nectar and the nurturing of the young.  The end purpose of the wax is to give light and bring soothing to those in need of healing.  Lesson seven:  The people of God are to be light-givers and provide places of healing for those who need it.

8. The bees can be frightened and tricked - so the beekeeper warns them he is entering the hive and keeps them from being hurt.  The smoke he uses is a warning he is entering and there is even this "cap" they put over the top of the hive which smells of apples, a scent that drives the bees deeply into the hive.  Why?  To protect them as he enters.  Lesson eight: God's presence can alarm the unaware, so he comes in gentle and palpable ways.  It is as though his very presence produces a scent of grace and peace!

Now, you take what I "chewed on" this morning and see what God gives you from the hive today.  Just chewin!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Good sense dictates it!

Have you ever been accused of being a little too "chatty" - always talking away, not really intent on any particular subject, just talking non-stop?  I have one child who is quiet, content to sit for long periods without so much as a word, while another is just the opposite. This isn't unusual, as most of us have differences in how it is we "interact" with others.  In fact, if you consider your immediate family, you will find there are those who are reserved, others outgoing.  It is kind of a dangerous position to find oneself in, though, when we are a little "too chatty".  Why?  There are times when we don't always consider the words we use - because we aren't quiet long enough to consider the way we say them, the content we use in saying them, and how it is another may receive them.  The "chatty" run into problems because they are too chatty - the "quiet" run into their share of problems because no one really knows what they are thinking or what their true feelings are about a situation.  The use of "good sense" in communicating with one another is important - because it keeps us from running over the feelings of another, and it also brings us to a place of consideration of the uniqueness of each individual.  I have said it before, but it bears saying again:  Words matter just as much as the ones which remain unspoken!

If you have good sense, you will listen and obey; if all you do is talk, you will destroy yourself. You will be safe, if you always do right, but you will get caught, if you are dishonest. Deceit causes trouble, and foolish talk will bring you to ruin. The words of good people are a source of life, but evil hides behind the words of the wicked.  (Proverbs 10:8-11 CEV)

The dangerous part about being "too chatty" is our tendency to even "talk over" God when he is trying to speak to us!  If we cannot get quiet long enough to hear from him, we stand the chance of charging ahead full-speed into things God doesn't desire for us.  We get into the middle of muddles and find ourselves struggling with things we shouldn't have had to struggle with in the first place.  The warning is quite clear:  If all you do is talk, you will destroy yourself.  Talk not only impedes listening - it is "cheap".  It doesn't cost us anything until someone "calls us" on what it is we have said.  I have found myself in many a "prove it to me" situation simply because I said something without thinking and then have to prove I meant it!  Awkward!  We need a balance between what we say and how well we are listening to what else is being said, or not said, around us.

If we have good sense, we will listen and obey.  This gives us a hint into a truth we might just want to consider - obedience isn't found in our activity, but in our attentiveness!  We often find ourselves in places of compromise because we were too busy with something else to actually pay attention to what we were doing.  We often think victory over sin in our lives is in doing the right things - "doing" is best when it is preceded by "listening"!  Listening doesn't happen by accident - it is purposeful and it takes a lot of focus.  Focus is intentional and it is also "directional".  You much choose your focus carefully - otherwise you find yourself listening to the wrong stuff!  Even worse, the one you may be listening to could just be yourself!  If you haven't figured it out by now - your "self" is kind if fickle!

Ernest Hemingway once said, "When people talks, listen completely."  There is something to this idea of "listening completely".  "Complete" suggests being undivided in your attention. If you have a tendency to divide your attention once in a while, you know how easily you can actually miss "content" in a discussion!  You come "back into the conversation" with a little bit of this and that, but you will have missed a good deal of the "context" of the conversation. If you have ever been caught "distracted" in conversation, you know how embarrassing that can be!  You actually look a little dumbfounded when you are expected to give an answer! Others might call this "having egg on one's face".  Either way, not where we want to find ourselves - especially when it is God who has been speaking and we have only been half-heartedly paying attention!

Proverbs is rich in advice about our ears and our tongue.  Listening and speaking go hand-in-hand.  They both get us into so much trouble - but equally as important - they both have the potential to give us the wisdom to act appropriately!  You have probably heard the expression:  God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak.  This is based on something Zino of Citium, a Greek philosopher, once said.  There is much truth in this wisdom, though. It may not be biblically based, but I think God may just approve the wisdom in these words!  So, today as we set out to explore our world, let us keep in mind the wisdom of "listening" first, speaking second, and maybe we just might learn something new from each other today!  Just listening!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The beginning is really only a beginning

Respect and obedience - two things we struggle with so much.  Why?  Maybe it is because we haven't learned to respect ourselves well enough because we struggle so much with obedience!  We think about obedience and we get all "down" on ourselves because we just don't "measure up" a great deal of the time.  We set out to do one thing, but eventually we drift into doing something else totally different.  This is the course of life - we make plans one way - but we drift from the plan, realizing differing results because of the "drift".  I think if we maybe looked again at the instructions we are given in scripture, we might just realize where our "drift" has come from.  Scripture tells us to respect and obey God - I don't see anything there about dealing with our guilt over our lack of perfect obedience.  In fact, if we look elsewhere in scripture, God tells us he takes our "guilt" upon him - we don't have to bear it any longer.  Seems to me the starting place for obedience in our lives is to rightly respect God in our lives - as the one who directs our course, having made a way for our failures to get fixed through grace.  According to what scripture tells us, if we want to begin to live wisely, we start at the place of giving God the proper respect he deserves!

Respect and obey the Lord! This is the beginning of wisdom. To have understanding, you must know the Holy God. I am Wisdom. If you follow me, you will live a long time. (Proverbs 9:10-11 CEV)

Lest you think I am not into "respecting" oneself, let me assure you I am not advocating we don't respect our bodies, minds, or intelligence.  Indeed, God created all of these, so we need to regard them with the respect he has for them - the amount of respect that sent his Son to the cross to die to redeem them!  Most of our struggles with obedience begin in the understanding of the "how", "where", "when", "what", and "why" of our sin.  We need understanding of "how" it is we are pulled off course, coupled with a knowledge of "what" it is which entices us to compromise.  We also need to know the "when" of our compromise - for it might just be the moment of our weakest times that gives us the hardest struggles.  We also need to know "where" we begin to turn away from the course we were on - because the subtlest of deviations will significantly alter the destination we achieve.  Add these together and we usually get into the "why" of our sin or compromise.  Usually we start with the "why" because guilt asks "why" first!  We often cannot get at the "why" until we have understanding of the rest!  To have understanding, we must know the Holy God - this is what we are told.  "Knowing" is more than a casual acquaintance with him - it is a growing relationship!

This might just explain why we don't get to the bottom of our compromises in life - we don't really get to "know" God.  If we were growing in our relationship with him, our understanding of the areas of struggle in our lives would become more evident to us - because he is wisdom and if we draw near to him, we get to know what he knows!  The "drawing near" is really what it means to follow.  We don't just "happen along" in this relationship with Jesus.  We enter in, dig in, and we "get to know" him.  To do so, we might have to discover what it is scripture declares about how he operates, what he values, where he works, what means he uses to accomplish his purposes, etc.  The more we discover "about" him, the more we get to know how to related "to" him.

As I have grown in my own relationship with Jesus, I have come to some conclusions.   God loves me just as I am.  This was probably the hardest thing for me to actually take beyond "lip-service" and really accept as truth in my life.  I was pretty much without any respect for myself because I was living under a pretty big load of guilt in my early years with Jesus.  Although I believed he loved me intensely, I just didn't think he loved me "as is". That "as is" condition includes my present struggles with compromise and past sinful deeds. To love me enough to embrace me with all this baggage was just something I didn't think God really did.  I am being honest here, my friends.  Good girls go to heaven - bad girls have another destination.  This is what my mind believed.  My heart didn't believe I could ever be "good enough".  Truth be told - I could never be "good enough" to get into heaven on my own. I needed to be embraced by God's love and the only way I was going to do that was to let go of what "goodness" I thought I could muster up on my own!  God accepts each of us in our "as is" condition.  He goes to great extremes to show us how much he respects each of us "as is" by giving his Son as the means by which we can exchange our "as is" for his!

The same is true for each of us.  None of us is outside of God's love.  We enter into obedience, not by our good deeds, but by bringing our "baggage" to God and then putting him in a right place in our lives.  That place?  The very center of our being.  This means we go to him regardless of how "worthy" we feel - even with our imperfections and baggage.  In giving him the center of our being, he enters in and brings wisdom and understanding beyond our capacity to comprehend without his help.  In turn, we begin to see the "why" behind our sin and compromise.  In time, we begin to learn "where" we can break the cycle and we find our compromises become less and less.  We don't need to fully understand grace to appreciate it!  We just need to be embraced by it and then allow it to do the work it is capable of doing!  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Not a grade, but grace!

Correction is not something we enjoy, but we definitely benefit from it when it is embraced and does the work it was intended to do.  When some of my teachers used to hand back papers with red marks on them indicating a wrong answer or improper spelling of a word, the expectation was for me to "correct" the error and return the paper for reconsideration. The teachers who actually allowed me to make the corrections on my work, returning it for reconsideration of the understanding I now possessed related to what I had previously done incorrectly held a certain place of respect in my mind.  Why?  They allowed me to correct what I did wrong - in essence, they gave me a chance to prove I could actually learn from my mistake!  I like to view correction as a means of learning from mistakes - not as a punishment or some form of "penalty" for what it is I have done.  The truth is I make a sufficient number of mistakes each day - if it were not for the ability to "correct" those mistakes along the way, I don't think many relationships would have lasted, nor would progress have been made in the projects I undertook!  Correction is simply a chance to set right what was once wrong.  When we begin to see it this way, we might just embrace it a little easier.

Correct a worthless bragger, and all you will get are insults and injuries. Any bragger you correct will only hate you. But if you correct someone who has common sense, you will be loved. If you have good sense, instruction will help you to have even better sense. And if you live right, education will help you to know even more. (Proverbs 9:7-9 CEV)

Why is it we see correction as "difficult" or "unpleasant"?  It may be because of those other teachers we had in life who never gave us the chance to "correct" our work.  Once the paper was turned in, it stayed as it was.  In essence, those teachers gave us the chance to prove ourselves in the initial work we did - not in the ability of our mind to comprehend the correction which was necessary to ensure we understood how to produce the right answers with each subsequent attempt in life.  Now, lest I get all the teachers in an uproar here, let me just say this - learning is compromised of both trial and error.  We try and sometimes we err.  We try again and sometimes we get it correct, but not always because we understand how we actually got it correct.  When we try again and again, consistently getting it correct in all subsequent attempts, the teachers will indeed say we have "learned well".  Why? The ability to correct what it was we did not fully comprehend in the first place led to us fully incorporating the principles which would produce the "right results" consistently.

God isn't much different - he gives us the chance to correct our choices until we come to a place of consistency in our lives.  We call this chance for correction "grace".  We call this repetition of testing "growth".  Grace and growth go hand-in-hand.  Without one, the other would simply not occur!  There are different places in life where we come to the place of growth - sometimes certain places afford better learning opportunities, while others simply make it a little more uncomfortable or difficult.  For example, when we are publicly reprimanded for a specific behavior, it is a little more difficult to embrace the growth opportunity.  When we are taken aside, given a little redirection, and encouraged to try it again, the results are different, aren't they?  Why?  We thrive best in an environment of correction which respects that we didn't purposefully set out to do something poorly in the first place!  Most of us would readily agree - we didn't just wake up today determined to do things "wrong" - we just found ourselves presented with opportunities to make wise choices and we made something other than wise ones.  

God uses our good sense - he gives us the chance to see for ourselves the error, developing in us the desire to correct the error so we don't fall into it again.  Those teachers I had who let me correct my work were really more focused on me learning to pay attention to the work I did in the first place.  You may think I would have counted on the ability to correct the work since they actually gave me this latitude.  Yet, in time I became more focused on doing the work well the first time so I didn't need to make the corrections.  God kind of does the same thing with us - he counts on us using our common sense to guide our actions the next time.  What does common sense have to do with us growing?  It helps us incorporate the learning we had from the failure.  If we hit our thumb with the hammer the first time we try to drive a nail into a piece of wood, we may fear it will happen again.  We could stop using nails and hammers, instead converting over to using a screw and screwdriver.  The job could probably get done, but a whole lot more effort is put into screwing the screw into the wood!  Our common sense would tell us to try the nail again, just being a little more cautious about the location of our thumb in reference to the head of the hammer!

Don't view God's correction as punitive - but as purposeful.  His correction is designed for our growth.  He doesn't just make a bunch of "red marks" on our life and hand it back to us. He points out areas where we have opportunities to think through our actions so we produce the right responses time and time again.  When God "grades" our life's experiences, he does so in the spirit of correction - affording us the "grace" to try again.  No lesson is ever learned by giving "red marks" alone - it is when we correct those "red marks" that we learn from them!  Just sayin!