Saturday, February 28, 2015

Not gonna focus on that one....

Ever been accused of being stupid?  I usually tried to have my children avoid the use of this term because of the negative connotation it carries and the way it makes a person feel when they are described as stupid.  In the most literal sense of the word, it indicates someone lacks the intelligence to do something. In terms of this new math they are teaching my grandchildren in school, I would have to say I am a little "stupid" when it comes to understanding it!  I thought I learned "new math" when I came through school and I have done pretty well keeping my checkbook in order, bills paid on time, and have even managed to know what a 25% savings on an item on sale will cost me!  So how come we need "newer math" than the old "new math"?  I don't see the sense in it, and it is a constant "Google search" item for me whenever my daughter calls and asks me to explain it over the phone to my grandson!  I have to read the instructions, then try to figure out why they do the problem that way and then maybe, just maybe I can help him out.  I am quick to admit to him I must look it up - I don't want him to get the sense of me being "in the know" about this anymore than he or his mother are.  As we all have experienced at times, we have moments where our actions lack any evidence of "intelligent thought", or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they lack "intelligent forethought".  In those moments, we feel pretty doggone "stupid" for having responded as we did, right?  The difference (and I really mean the subtle difference) between right responses or actions in our lives and the "stupid" ones are not because we are unwilling to be obedient in our lives, but rather we failed to recognize all the "nuances" of possible responses in the situation.  It doesn't make us "stupid" - it makes us unprepared.  I am not stupid when it comes to the "newer math", I am just unprepared!

It’s better to be poor and live right than to be a stupid liar. Willingness and stupidity don’t go well together. If you are too eager, you will miss the road. We are ruined by our own stupidity, though we blame the Lord.  (Proverbs 19:1-3 CEV)

If we are honest about what stupidity really refers to we will find the very first definition of stupid describes as a mental dullness - the lack of ordinary quickness or keenness of mind.  That suggests we probably do fairly well with out "quickness or keenness of mind" on most of the occasions we get to actually use it.  There are just other times when we don't do so well!  Let that one sink in for a moment, will you?  You and I do a pretty good job most of the time living this life of obedience.  There are twenty-four hours in each of our days. There are sixty minutes in each of our hours.  There are also sixty seconds in each of our minutes.  Now, we take one minute to respond in a way which is pretty "stupid" (lacking the normal quickness or keenness of thought we usually exhibit) and we think our entire twenty four hours has been a failure!  Nope - that moment was, but not the entirety of the day.  Sometimes I think we try to live the entirety of our day without giving ourselves any mercy or grace!  We expect we will somehow be totally keenly aware of each word, thought, action, etc.  When we slip up in one form or another, we beat ourselves up for it - calling the entire day a bust!  

We are "willing" to live right - aren't we?  We are "willing" to make correct choices, respond in the right manner, and even take steps in the right direction even though it is a little hard. slip up and we head into a tailspin, believing the entire day was a wash and we are back again on an upward climb. Here's the truth - we had a MOMENT of stupidity!  We didn't make a lifestyle change which said, "From now on I am only going to do stupid stuff"!  We got a little too distracted, were overwhelmed with fatigue, or some other factor entered in and we had a moment we now regret.  Regret is the enemy of our ability to let go of the past.  It rages in our minds - because our minds are like steal traps - holding all those "moments" in there and recalling them at will. The thing to focus on is not the moment of failure, but the other 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds of obedience!

If you have ever brought something BACK to God which you had confessed before, but you just cannot seem to break free of your remembrance of that "moment of stupidity", let me assure you that you don't do this alone.  There are a whole lot of the rest of us who do exactly the same thing - we bring up those past failures time and time again.  We are justifying our "dullness" of forethought by showing God how many "past seconds" we spent in failure.  God isn't aware of those past seconds anymore.  He has already covered those with the blood of Jesus - they are washed away.  It is as thought he gave us back that lost second each and every time we asked for his forgiveness in the past. We just hold onto those seconds until the mount into minutes and then hours and then days of regret and remorse.  We are good at flogging ourselves over and over again for our past "stupidity", aren't we?  We need to stop this, though. It is contrary to all we know about God and how he deals with our moments of failure.  Those seconds are actually not "lost" - God restores them so our day starts all over again as though the moment of stupidity didn't even exist!

We might lack mental keenness at times - but God helps us move past those "lost seconds".  We might not always exhibit the soundness of judgment we hoped to exhibit in the moment - but God brings us back on course and helps us put the past behind us.  We need to stop looking so much to the moments of failure to judge how well we are doing, but begin to focus on the moments of pretty solid walking we do in between!  Just sayin!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ever want to throttle someone?

We all have desires - some good, some bad.  Most of the things we desire are probably in the "good" category - like a loving relationship, job which satisfies, and for our kids to grow up to be solid citizens.  Some of the things we might just desire give us more headache and heartache than all the other desires combined, right?  Our desires are sometimes not as "righteous" as they should be.  There are times when I am with someone who is just going off at the handle and I just want to tell them to shut their mouths, grow a pair, and move on!  Am I the only one?  I doubt it!  In fact, if we were painfully honest with each other here, there are times when we struggle to just barely keep those feelings below the surface!  The longer the moaning and groaning goes on by the other guy, the harder and harder it gets to just keep quiet.  Yet, no matter how much I "want" to tell them these things, I know if I do I will either alienate them or create more issues than I really wanted to deal with in the first place. This may just be why we are warned to not live to satisfy our desires - they aren't always that righteous!  The end result of many of these desires we might just have is going to be one we wouldn't have wanted if we could just have stopped to consider the end result from the beginning.  Therein is the rub...we don't stop long enough to consider our thoughts or actions.  

My dear friends, we must not live to satisfy our desires. If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit you say “No” to your desires. Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him. (Romans 8:12-17 CEV)

Most of our struggle with sin is simply a struggle with our desires.  We don't have a clear-cut understanding of where it is we are to "draw the line" in our lives when it comes to the things we want to do and what we should actually pursue.  Desires impel us to fulfill them.  Plain and simple - unchecked desire of any kind will continue to haunt us with the demand to fulfill it unless we replace that desire with something else!  When I want to bust open the bag of potato chips while watching TV, perhaps I need to pursue a different course of action rather than just trying to overcome those thoughts about the bag of chips in the cupboard.  I have learned if I will just get up and do something else, the desire often subsides.  I substituted the desire with a new action - I took action "against" the desire.

I don't take this action "against" the desire alone, though.  In the daily struggles I don't find myself alone - I have the Spirit of God to lean into and rely upon to assist me in this "replacing" of desires.  The truth - I am not hungry.  The lie - I need those chips.  How do I replace truth for the lie?  Only as I ask the Spirit of God to help me with the thought pattern which leads to the wrong actions.  Now this is an over-simplified illustration of how God's Spirit comes alongside each of us to help us replace sinful thought patterns which lead to sinful actions.  In essence, it is like we have a personal coach.  We don't have to face the struggles alone - we have someone resident within us to help us not only sort out those desires, but to help us replace them with the right ones.  I find the more I try to avoid the individual who moans and groans about life the more I seem to encounter them.  If am not going to avoid them, then I need a plan on how it is I am going to interact with them when they are around.

This is where the Spirit comes in.  He is there to help me (and you) to actually hear the "undertone" of the moaning and groaning so we can actually step in and help the other person "get over" whatever it is they are so worked up about.  Some of you are saying, "Why does it have to be me to help them get over it?"  Fair enough question, my friends.  The reality each of us faces is the desire to have someone else take care of the issue - we'd like to just walk away. It is easy to walk away - quite another thing to stand in the face of what is uncomfortable and problematic.  I don't know why we may find ourselves dealing with the desire to walk away from life's annoyances, but I do know we don't always get rid of them if we are always just walking away!  There are times we might just do well to walk away - you cannot reason with hatred, argue with stubbornness, or as the comics say, "help stupid".  But...we can speak truth in love, hold onto the hope God's truth will sink in, and avoid further conflict by leaning deeply into his grace to get us past the desire to strike out, walk away, or just plain do something we might otherwise regret.

I don't ever recommend we stand there and just take a ration of unrighteous anger or personal abuse.  I do think there are times we just might do well to walk away when these types of offensive behaviors are manifest.  We control our emotions, have the opportunity to change our thought process, and make choices about what desires it is we will respond to.  We don't have control over these things in others.  This is sometimes where we get ourselves too far out onto the limb - we try to change them rather than allow the Spirit of God to control us!  Desires have a way of misleading us - so when we submit them to the leadership of someone who already has mastery over these desires (the Spirit of God), we stand a better chance of not allowing those desires to lead us into areas of sinful actions in our lives.  We begin to respond differently to our desires when we allow them to be filtered through the one who gives and brings grace.  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where I am weak...

Weakness is viewed in a different ways by different people.  Some will criticize the weakness of another, seeing it as a way of "copping-out" in life - not really doing what one needs to do, but succumbing to the pressure to quit.  Others might see weakness as a sign of not caring - as though the weakness kept the individual from extending themselves.  Many will see weakness as a kind of feebleness or the type of trait exhibited when one is just plain not strong enough for the task at hand.  I know there have been many a jar of pickles which challenged my "strength" in my days, but even though I might have been too "weak" to open them on my own, enough force from a solid rap on the edges of the lid and I accomplished the task!  So, weakness doesn't always have to mean we don't have the "strength" to do something - it might mean we get creative about how we accomplish it!  This might be where we get into trouble in our lives, because when we try to get "creative" about things in our lives we sometimes create a different problem than the one we initially started with (such as a cracked pickle jar).  The good news is that we don't have to deal with our areas of weakness alone - we are given the Spirit of God that we might have a way to not only "deal" with them, but overcome in those areas!

In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. (Romans 8:26-28 CEV)

We are given the example of prayer - that area in our life where we sometimes set out to pray for the needs of another, but actually have no idea what the true need might be in their lives.  We have been given the Spirit of God to guide our thoughts - because our thoughts are known to God.  Before anyone gets all wigged out about God knowing their thoughts, let me just remind each of us he is the one who made our brain in the first place!  To think we can hide things away in there without him knowing is kind of silly.  Let me also assure you of something else - Satan cannot read our thoughts!  If we look carefully at scripture, we find Lucifer, (an archangel of God charged with the task of worship in heaven), actually "trying" to get to be like God.  He wanted to know what God knows, do what God does, and the like.  He didn't "get" there - God shut him down instead!  Now, he exists as a fallen angel - Satan.  In his wake he took a bunch of other angels with him - those we commonly refer to as demonic spirits today.  So, since Satan is a created being like the rest of us (as all angels are), he cannot read our minds - his mind was created by God just like the rest of ours!  He CAN read our words - as they are spoken.  He CAN observe our actions - as they are brought to fruition.  But...he cannot read our minds.

The only "spirit" who can read our minds is the Spirit of God - the member of the triune godhead who was engaged in this creation process all along.  He is the one "spirit" whose actions are actually "on our behalf" and not set against us in any fashion.  He is the one promised by Jesus to come alongside us and to guide us into all manner of action which is honoring to God and to bring conviction into our spirit when we act in ways which are the opposite.  If you think guilt is a thing from the devil, think again!  Guilt is a result of us being given a conscience - we know certain sets of values we are to adhere to and when we don't, our conscience "pricks" us a little.  This is a "God thing" in us, not a mechanism by which Satan gets us down.  But...Satan does use shame as a way of keeping us in a place of overwhelming guilt - thinking there is no way to be free of our sinful deeds.  Shame is his tool - working with our thoughts to keep us in bondage.  God does not use shame - he uses guilt to bring us to repentance.  Satan uses shame to bring us into bondage.

I think this passage deals with more than just having a "guide" for our prayer life.  Although we can count on the Spirit of God to guide us in our prayers for one another, and even ourselves, we can see a much bigger picture of his action in our lives.  He is there to "always be at work for those who love God".  That means we can count on the Spirit of God to come alongside us whenever we are in a place where we might slip up, go a wrong direction, or when we just are unclear about something.  He is there continually to guide us - we just don't always recognize his nearness.  We find ourselves listening to the loudest voice or thought.  I have said this many times - if we'd learn to listen to the still voice of God, we might just avoid the hazards of the loudest.  God rarely shouts - he exists in the realm of peace, so his voice doesn't need to be all that loud!  He wants us to enjoy that realm of peace, settled into his presence and listening intently to hear whatever it is he might speak.  

God's Spirit is in tune with where it is we are weak - even when we are not. I know I often find myself believing myself stronger in certain areas in my life, then coming to the realization of how futile my own strength was in the end. In truth, if I would learn to rely upon the Spirit of God a little more to guide my actions and reveal my weaknesses a little clearer, I might struggle a whole lot less in this walk!  How about you?  Got any areas where you are weak, but too stubborn to admit it?  Rather than hitting that pickle jar lid repeatedly, maybe we'd do well to admit we are a little too weak to wrench it free!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stress or Calm - It is all in the "now" we choose

I often see things on my social media feed which catch my attention. Some make me laugh, like the cats cavorting with each other, or the dog chasing his tail incessantly. Others make me cry, like the stories of hurting women sold into sex trafficking, or those of families losing everything to an overnight fire which ravaged their home. Every now and again, someone posts something which gives me seconds to pause and then to explore the scripture - simply because the words speak deeply to my spirit. One such post happened this morning. It read: Stress makes you believe that everything has to happen right now, faith reassures you that everything will happen in God's timing! (posted from  Read that again, will you - you might just discover something of truth in that so rich it leaves you pondering, as well.  Stress is that force exerted in your life which either pulls you or pushes you with such strength it is almost impossible to resist.  It works against rational thought and creates chaos in normally reasonably balanced emotions.  Yep, it indeed says everything must happen right now - if not, all will be lost.  It isn't rational, remember?  It isn't patient, remember?  It is urgent, demanding, nagging, and insistent!  It drives us to choose the timetable it places in our lives, not the one God has designed!

Sensible thoughts lead you to do right; foolish thoughts lead you to do wrong. (Ecclesiastes 10:2 CEV)

Stress has the greatest inroad into our lives through our thought life.  If we were to be honest here, we'd have to admit to the many times stress has played the main part in getting us off-track and down many a road we might best have left untraveled!  We get all wrapped up in the "what if" of every frenzied thought stress places in our minds and we run with the loudest thought - a trait I don't recommend to anyone!  The quietest thoughts are often the most rational ones, in case you haven't noticed that since you have been listening to those who scream the loudest!  Sensibility is not the foremost thought of a stressed life. In fact, you might just wonder if there is an sensibility in your life when stress is high and demands are mounting.  Sensibility is really an mental acuity which apprehends quickly.  Stress is often the force which keeps us tied up with thoughts which "dull" our ability to apprehend truth quickly - instead directing us to apprehend whatever it is pawning as the truth!

The difference between sensible thought and irrational thought is sometimes a matter of just a few seconds, but when stress is the "manipulating" factor in our lives, we often opt out of taking those extra few seconds to allow the sensible to come to the forefront.  Herein lies our greatest opportunity - to wait long enough for the dust created by the whirlwind of stress to settle.  In so doing, we often see something of truth which evaded our attention when the storm was raging.  One thing I have discovered - you cannot patch a leaky roof in the midst of the rainstorm.  You ride out the storm the best you can, then you set out to repair the leak.  Why?  The "adherence" of the shingle or the roofing tar is best when conditions are at the optimum, not at the worst!

Stress demands our attention, sends our emotions into overdrive, and clamors for immediate responses.  Learn this now and you may save yourself a great deal of trouble down the road.  The "immediacy" of the need presented by the thought we are entertaining might just be the "clue" we need to breaking free of the responses we have to the pull stress puts in our lives.  Rarely does God work this way - in fact, he tells us to wait upon him - to take time to discover his riches and find rest in his presence.  This is not the demands of "immediacy" which stress places in our minds - but the small voice that signals we need to step back and create a little "breathing room" in our lives.  

Over the last half year or so, I have observed something in my aging mother which comes as a little bit of a surprise to me considering her "slowness" in all she does.  When she wants something it is "now".  Let's go to the store "now". Write that down for me "now".  Maybe this is the result of being 96 and thinking life is short so she must take advantage of every moment.  I won't fault her for it.  She doesn't have a whole lot of "now" left, so I want her to take full advantage of it while she does!  But...I am not at the same place in my life and I cannot respond to everything in my life with such "immediacy".  In fact, I will probably make a whole lot of blundering moves if I do!  If I were to be honest, I have a whole journal of those already!  "Now" is the moment I step back and listen harder.  "Now" is the time it takes to settle my thoughts and listen intently for the still small voice of God.  "Now" is the time it takes between the whirlwind and the calm after the storm.

Stress demands we trudge through the storm blindly.  God's plan is for us to know peace.  Stress calls out for us to listen to the saga of frenzied thought it poses.  God's voice beckons us into a calm sanity.  I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of being calmly sane!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

To make harmony, one must hear the melody

To know God results in us knowing and experiencing love.  To be identified as one who actually knows God, not just knows about God, we look for the evidence of God's love in the individual's life.  What we sometimes get a little mixed up is how this love comes about in our lives.  To us, we think we "fall into love" or "cultivate" this love.  In actuality, God's love is a gift, pure and simple. One which is undeserved, unsolicited, and undeniably all his doing.  We learn to love because of the example set for us in his actions toward us - such as his action of providing Christ as a sacrifice for our sins.  As with most other learning in life, we learn to love because of what we see "modeled" toward us in terms of God loving us.  For us to actually become "like" what we see modeled around us, we have to be in the presence of the one doing the "modeling" of the behavior for a while.  We don't just model behavior we see once or twice in passing - it becomes behavior we latch onto because we are exposed to in on repeated occasions.  This is why it is important to spend time with our Lord - so we will take on the characteristics he models for us.

My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life. Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we must love each other. (I John 4:7-11 CEV)

You and I receive love in the person of Christ - it is a gift available to us right from the start of this relationship we enter into with him.  Yet, it takes time for us to actually "assimilate" this love into our daily practice, doesn't it?  The more closely we observe his actions on our behalf, the more we become affected by those actions.  The deeper their impact in our lives, the stronger our love will be for him and in turn, for others around us.  This is the reality of something theologians refer to as the process of "sanctification".  We get transformed into new creatures at the point of saying "yes" to Jesus, but the actual impact on all of our emotions, our behaviors, and our thought patterns comes over time. As we spend time observing God's love toward us, we are impacted by this love. In turn, we will realize a change in thought pattern, or a new behavior emerging. It is the process of "modeled behavior" - we see and experience it, then we begin to replicate what it is we have experienced.

Let me give you an example.  When I first entered into church choir some years back, I did so because I love to praise Jesus.  I loved the songs which moved me into times of worship and praise, so I wanted to be part of the group which sang these songs.  I didn't read music, had no idea what it meant to "find the harmony", and couldn't tell you what an upbeat was for the life of me.  The more I hung around with other choir members who had mastered some of these skills, the more I learned about how to find the harmony in the song, where I supposed to come in, and the like.  In time, I developed the skills I needed to be a pretty good member of the choir.  I couldn't sing solos, but I did okay in a quartet!  

What does this have to do with our passage?  The first time we come into Christ's love (at the point of saying "yes" to Jesus) we know very little about what his love is really like.  It just draws us in - captivating us much like the songs of the choir captivated me.  Then it begins to take root - changing our appreciation for his gift a little bit each time we think about it.  In much the same way as I was developing an appreciation for hearing the harmonies in the music, God's love is captivating our hearts and beginning to strike chords of well-blended "music" within.  In short order, we find ourselves hearing things differently - responding to things in a new way - and bringing forth newly appreciated truth in our lives by the example of our transformed actions.

Love impacts us - then it impacts another.  This is simple truth, but worthwhile for us to learn over and over again.  I think we have a tendency to expect others to change in the circumstance, when God points us clearly to the actions WE exhibit, the response WE give, and the love WE reveal.  This is how God's love works - it changes US, then it touches others.  We have to learn the "melody" before we can sing the "harmony".  This was something I recognized when I first went into the choir - the importance of the melody.  Once I realized what the melody was like, it was easier to identify the harmony.  In life's tough moments, the melody is often hard to hear.  It is only when we silence ourselves long enough to "pick up on the notes" God is clearly placing in our hearts that we can begin to exemplify his love to those around us.  Just sayin!

Monday, February 23, 2015

More than a subtitle

In most Bibles today, there are little sub-section titles which give you some idea what the chapter or section you are reading will be about.  These section or chapter titles help to focus us and get us "set" for the passage we are about to take in.  There are time when I just ignore them entirely because I find they might "sway" my opinion of what I will find in that section, though.  For example, if I think the section deals with the feeding of the five thousand, I just see this as a miracle of the fish and loaves being multiplied and a bunch of hungry people being fed.  I miss some of the detail within - like the fact that the only one in the group of five thousand who had any food being a little boy! The five thousand were just the men - you mean all the women in the group left home without packing even "snacks" for the day?  Or how about the fact that the disciples have all these empty baskets to put the food in - what does this say about empty "vessels"?  The empty basket only serves the purpose for which it was created when it is filled and used in service to those it was designed to serve!  You see, as we just focus on what we "think" might be there in the section, we could easily miss some of the delightful truths! So, as we read, we need to remain open to the little "finds" deep within the passage. In the passage which I have taken our reading for today from, the subtitle reads: "What it means to be acceptable to God".  I think this is a good place to start, but let me assure you, there are a whole lot more truths within this passage than "what it means to be acceptable to God".  Yep, the passage speaks of being "made acceptable" and then we "live at peace with God".  What about the truth of being really and genuinely "happy" because of this transition?  What about the benefit of "suffering" being part of this "acceptance"?  Huh?  We come to Christ and we get the "benefit" of suffering?  Yep, it is a "benefit" - probably not one "advertises" in the "portfolio" of reasons someone wants to become a Christian, right?  Yet, it is a "perk" of the "position"!

By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:1-5 CEV)

Let's unpack this passage a little.  We are "made acceptable" - it is not something we accomplish in our own power.  This is the beginning point of our journey into "acceptance" - something which begins "outside" of our own ability and often even outside of our own desire!  Even the desire to pursue Christ's offered gift of salvation is something which is fanned to life within us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, even the desire to believe is a gift.  We are indeed "made" acceptable - nothing we do or believe is what causes us to be acceptable.  

As we begin this journey with Christ, we learn what it is to live at peace with God.  Our condition prior to being made acceptable was one of continually trying to "make peace" with a variety of things, most of which were not God!  For example, we try to make peace with past decisions (good or bad) which now placed new demands upon us as we realized the outcome of those decisions. Some of those demands were easier than others to live up to - such as when we decide to be five minutes later to work because we stopped for gas when the tank was low.  If we got a speeding ticket because we decided to ignore the speed limit on the way to work rather than being late, we might be kicking ourselves now for not leaving five minutes earlier or buying gas on the way home last night!  We have to make peace with the decisions we make all the time.  The decision to follow Christ is kind of different, though.  We are "brought into peace" - we don't have to make our own peace!

It is by Christ we come to know the "undeserved" kindness of God.  We all kind of get what it is to experience grace - undeserved kindness.  Yet, do we miss the next part of the passage?  The part where it says this is what we actually "stand upon" in our relationship with Christ and with God the Father?  Read it again - we "take our stand" or "stand upon" grace!  Grace is our "footing", so to speak.  It isn't just a gift to us - it is something upon which we actually find "foundation".  Foundation is literally defined as the basis or groundwork of anything.  So, grace is the "basis" or "groundwork" of even greater things in our lives.  It is the starting point by which all other good things can be "built into" our lives in Christ Jesus!

What comes next is something of a conundrum for us because none of us enter into this relationship with Jesus saying we hope he takes us down the path of suffering!  Many of us even came to Christ in a period of time in our lives when we were suffering a great deal because of the decisions we made in our lives! We actually hoped he'd help us actually rise above those not so pleasant experiences!  Now we find out we can not only expect suffering, but it is something "built into" this relationship we have with Christ because it helps us develop this thing called endurance.  

Hmmm....not sure I'd have signed up for the experience if I had known that one up front!  But...don't lose sight of how this all develops in this passage.  We are "made acceptable" by receiving something which gives us all the "groundwork" we need in order to become strong and worthy participants in the family of God. It is this groundwork which gives us the ability to endure the "building process". No foundation is ever laid which is not meant for something to be built upon it! If you have ever watched a building go up, you will notice there are phases in the building.  Each phase "connects" the building to the foundation upon which it is built.  So, all we endure in this life actually connects us more and more with this "groundwork" which was originally laid in our lives by the Spirit of God at the point of our salvation!

The purpose of any building is not to just look pretty.  People don't build buildings to just stand there and be uninhabited.  In fact, they are built to be filled!  Even a shed is built to house some tools, store supplies, or the like!  The building is created to be filled.  The same is true of us - we are built upon the groundwork of grace so that we might be filled with the love of God!  The things we endure connect us to the foundation which was laid.  Those things create a framework into which God can place his love in ever increasing proportions. This is indeed the meaning of what it is to stand acceptable to God - a dwelling for his love to inhabit.  Just sayin!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I don't need new glasses!

Mind, will, and emotions - a man's heart - all three engage in a kind of "war" at times - confusing us beyond measure so often.  We work with our minds to figure out solutions to problems, creating complex schemes about how this catastrophe or that crisis might be averted.  Our will challenges us with desires that captivate our attention and focus our drive.  Then we get all muddled up in the plethora of emotions we can muster depending on the situation, our general sense of "threat" or "enjoyment", or the amount of sleep we had the night before!  No wonder we get all messed up!  With these three powerful things working against each other at times, it is easy to see how we can get our wires crossed and find ourselves being charged up and going in the totally wrong direction.

With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let him lead you, and he will clear the road for you to follow. (Proverbs 3:5-6 CEV)

After re-reading that passage again, it becomes pretty apparent where it is we are to focus our heart.  The majority of the confusion we find in our lives is really a matter of focus - not that we don't love Jesus enough, or that we don't know the right "rules" to follow.  The place we fix our attention becomes the very thing which will guide our thoughts, direct our will, and "even out" our emotions.  If I read this correctly, even one part of our heart "mis-focused" will result in us trusting our own judgment!  It is our "whole" heart which needs to be focused - not reliant upon our own means to the end - and therein is the rub!

I have worn glasses since fifth grade.  For a period of time, I was able to wear contacts, making life a little easier without glasses slipping down my nose.  As I aged, I had to return to the glasses.  One thing I notice is the different ways I get things in "focus" with glasses.  If I don't quite see them as clearly a I like, I can lift them up or pull them down a little.  This sometimes changes the field of vision produced through the lens just enough to bring clarity to the image I am viewing.  Now, there are times I have to take my glasses totally off to see something very small like the eye of the needle!  Surprisingly, I see the tiniest things better when I have nothing in between me and the eye of the needle!

No, I don't need bifocals - I wear trifocals!  Yet the lens doesn't always help me focus any clearer, especially when it comes to the small stuff.  Something becomes evident to me in this example, though.  The more I struggle to see through my lens, the blurrier the image becomes.  The quicker I remove all obstacles between me and the object of my focus, the image becomes clearer. Maybe this is exactly what Solomon hand in mind when he reminds us we need to trust God with all our heart and not rely upon our own judgment to get us through. I can keep trying to get the thread through the head of the needle all day with my glasses on - or I can immediately lay them aside and "woosh", the needle is threaded!  I can keep trying to run life's issues through my mind, bring my will into submission in one direction or the other, and get my emotions on board with all this, or I can simply turn to God and let him handle it!

To me, the choice seems simple - so why do I (and probably you) complicate life so much?  It is probably because we haven't learned to "let go" of the things which get in between us and God - letting them "interfere" with our focus.  In my case, it has been thought patterns which I needed to "unlearn" - like the ones I used to think about over and over again which said I was a "loser" and a "reject".  Those were the lies I heard when I was an awkward preteen girl - words spoken to me by other preteen girls and boys, but hidden deep within my memory.  Why did they take root?  Because I let them!  I rehearsed them until it got to the point I believed them!  I didn't have the truth in my life at that time, so there was nothing to contradict what I was being told.  When I got deeper and deeper into the truth about what God says about me, I found a totally different story!  Getting those thoughts out of the way took some doing, but now they don't stand in between God and me any longer.  Those things which interfered with my seeing myself the way God sees me had to be laid down in order to let me see myself as God sees me.  How about you?  You got any thoughts which need to be laid down in order to see the truth as God sees it?

We might have emotions which we need to let God deal with in order to bring balance into our lives, or strong attitudes which direct our actions repeatedly. Regardless of what is "in between" you and God right now, you will only "clarify" your focus when you put those things down long enough to behold his face.  Trust me on this - when you do, the "eye of the needle" becomes much clearer!  Just sayin!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On the same level time and time again?

Okay, so we made it past Valentine's Day - that "Hallmark" day when "lovers" everywhere exchange flowers, candy, cards, dinner dates, and jewelry.  If you were alone on Valentine's Day, you were among a vast many who just didn't get into the hype of the day, either feeling very relieved you weren't or very depressed you were alone yet again.  I am not very moved by this "holiday" anyway, so it really doesn't bother me - I don't get into all the hype. What I will focus on at this time of the year is how well I am personally doing revealing God's love to those I live with and serve on a daily basis.  After all, there is no "holiday" to focus on these character traits - it is just expected every single day of our lives!  For most of us, this thing called "love" is like one of those "match games" you see online these days where you have to align the right sequence of candies or jewels.  There are little hidden bears or objects behind those colorful squares - waiting to be uncovered - reliant upon your skill and reasoning.  If the hidden is to be uncovered, you must be very, very "calculated" in your moves.  Sometimes I think we approach love in this same way - we take "calculated moves" hoping we will reveal what we are looking for, but making many a move which doesn't prove to uncover what it is we were imagining was underneath.  Yep, love requires some "skill", but it isn't as "calculated" as some may think!

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails! (I Corinthians 13:4-8 CEV)

To truly understand the "skill" of love, we have to turn to the one who exemplified love in the first place - Christ Jesus himself.  To fully comprehend the "skill" we will come to rely upon to "uncover" the hidden in those we associate with, we need to study the "master" of love!  My son observed me trying to complete a particularly "pesky" level in one of these games the other day - a level I had been on for a very long time!  At times, it had been frustrating me.  I just couldn't figure out how to get the last bear freed up.  I would get all but one tiny piece of it exposed - then I'd run out of moves.  Isn't this just how life goes at times?  We think we have everything going so smoothly, all the pieces aligning, then all of a sudden, we realize we used up our last move!  

Love isn't so much about the "calculated risks" we take, but about the person we allow to shine through us as we respond to the moves around us.  I can move all those colorful objects in the game just so, but when other objects fall from above those, I cannot control what will come down the path!  Life is kind of like that - we move one way, but when we don't always control what comes back our way when we do!  This is where we need the "skill" of loving that we see repeatedly in examining the life of Christ.  He was consistently kind and patient - even when ridiculed, spat upon, and nailed to the cross.  He was not jealous of those who had more than he did, lived in better houses than his, or even had a bigger "church" than his!  He didn't get all uppity when he knew the answers to the problems at hand.  He also didn't push his way through or over others to get noticed.  

I don't want us to think love is just something which we just "happen" to get right on occasion - like the falling colorful cubes in our game.  Yep - there are some calculated risks we take - when we go out on the line for something we believe in or someone we care very much about.  Yep - there are some hidden things in relationship which give us challenge after challenge to attempt to uncover.  Yep - there are times when we will get to the point of thinking we will never get past the place where we find ourselves today.  But...we can take a lesson from the one who has taken the risks, is able to uncover the hidden, and who knows the way out of the difficult places.  Just as my son sits beside me on the couch, glancing over my shoulder as I plan my moves in the game with the colorful blocks, Christ comes alongside to show us the way to love each other. How is it my son knows what moves to make?  He has already completed all those levels!  How is it Christ can help us with this thing called "love" - he has already lived it out for us!  Just sayin!

Friday, February 20, 2015

His mercies are all I need

Do you ever engage in "self-talk"?  You know what I mean - those moments when you just have to look yourself in the mirror and give yourself a stern talking to in order to bring correction to your attitude, behavior, or direction you are taking in life.  I think we all must do this from time to time, but we may be shy about admitting we actually talk to ourselves!  Especially if we could be labeled as a little "touched in the head" for that type of activity! Nonetheless, the things we tell ourselves in those moments of self-talk can be very "corrective" to our behavior.  I think God often lets us talk things out so we can become aware of the answer he wants to bring forth from us.  In a matter of minutes, we find ourselves coming to conclusions which bring clarity, give us hope, and move us in a new direction.  Why?  God helped us remember we might be "finished" with something which frustrates us or gives us too much worry, but he isn't!  He has something special planned if we will just accept the mercies he has prepared for us in those moments.

I tell myself, “I am finished! I can’t count on the Lord to do anything for me.” Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable. That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed. Then I remember something that fills me with hope. The Lord’s kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed. The Lord can always be trusted to show mercy each morning. Deep in my heart I say, “The Lord is all I need; I can depend on him!” (Lamentations 3:18-24 CEV)

As I was listening to a newer song which came on the radio yesterday, I was reminded of this passage.  The theme of the song was the fresh start God gives us no matter how many times we have to make that same start!  As I listened to an interview with the artist who performs the song, I was touched by something he said.  He recounted how he used to think he had to count the days he remained "sin-free".  You know what he means don't you - the belief that we aren't really growing or changing in the right direction unless we actually make it a full day without engaging in that particular sin we are seeking to overcome.  His revelation was a blessing to me, though, as he recounted that God doesn't ask us to count the days, but to know we always have a fresh start even when we slip up.  God's mercies are truly new each and every morning - or as many times in the day as we need to ask for them!  This is indeed the good news of God's grace!

His mercies never fail - his kindness never dries up or withers away.  His grace is there time and time again - even when we think there could not possibly be anymore of it left for our particular shortcoming!  We find ourselves at the point the prophet Jeremiah pens the words above the nation of Israel has realized the destruction of Jerusalem.  The five chapters contain a kind of "funeral dirge" lamenting the destruction of the great city by the Babylonian armies in the face of Israel's repeated sins against their God.  The chapters give us an insight into something we often do when we realize our rebellion and sinful actions have taken us into a place of great despair.  At first, we complain - not really willing ourselves to take responsibility for our actions, but "lamenting" or "complaining" about the circumstances we find ourselves in.  Then as we continue with our lament, we find ourselves converting at some point to the place of recognition - the place where we recognize we have a part to play in the place we find ourselves standing and circumstances with which we are faced.

Herein is the moment of transition - for the lamenting leads to the place of repentance.  At first, we think the walls are caving in around us (just as Israel lamented the walls of Jerusalem being torn down).  Then as we talk a little longer, we realize our despair over "our" loss is really based in some way we might have been acting or responding which was less than desirable (just as Israel did when they realized they had turned to the traditions of the nations around them, intermarried, and done exactly what God had told them not to do as they entered into the land of Canaan).  In those moments between our whining and complaining about where we are - those moments we might call our "funeral dirge" - and the light bulb coming on at that moment of recognition, we can take heart in one thing - God doesn't stop listening just because we start lamenting!

He brings us through our lament into the place where we find we are ready to repent!  As we recognize our involvement in the present mess we are in, we come to the place of asking for God's forgiveness - reaching out for the one thing we know we can count on again and again - his mercies!  Many of us have to do this more than once before we will ever overcome the pull toward what gives us so much grief in our lives - so don't be discouraged when you find yourself having that "talk" with yourself a few more times than you'd like to.  If we are honest, the "talk" changes a little each time - even though it may only be a subtle difference between this time and the last!  The point is - when we allow God to take our lamenting and turn it into a place where we admit our need for his mercy, we come to a new place in our lives each and every time. His mercies make all things new - each and every time!

At the moment of confession we find his mercy.  At the point of mercy, we find a way "out" of what got us deep into the lamenting in the first place.  We might not get it right the next time or even the next twenty times we try, but each time we come to him his mercies are consistent and their "process" is the same. The "process" I am referring to is that of renewal.  His mercies make all things new - it is as though we never slipped in the first place!  WE don't understand this - so we have this thing called shame attached to our repeated failures. God does understand his mercy and he has this thing called forgiveness which he attaches to each failure.  The thing is - when God attaches forgiveness to the failure, it is like the failure is gone.  All he sees is his Son in us - nothing else! This is what mercy does - it exchanges the lament we bring with the glory he provides.  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Empty space demands to be filled

I don't know about you, but we are ready to begin our planting season here in Arizona.  If we don't get the seeds in soon, the weather will turn so hot so quick that any new growth will just be scorched under the hot sun.  So, this weekend I began cleaning up the garden, trimming away any frosted leaves and turning the soil.  All the raised beds are ready to receive the early summer crops and some fresh plantings of budding flowers.  I still have one or two beds out front to finish, but in general, I am ready for the "growing season".  True to form, I made my little venture to the local nursery and found some flowering plants I wanted, a few packets of seeds to get me started and a little extra soil for another project I am working on.  The place was packed!  Others had the same idea obviously - it was the beginning of planting season.  One thing I noted though was how the sales clerk announced they had nearly sold out of weed killer.  What?  It is just the beginning of the season and we are already emptying the shelves of weed killer?  Why?  Well, we enjoyed a very wet winter, so in response, the desert floor is alive with growth!  All manner of weeds, wild flower and the like is coming into growth - some seeds having laid dormant for who knows how long just waiting this day.  This is how it is with seed - they may lay dormant for a while, but when the conditions are right for their growth, it happens!

Plant your seeds early in the morning and keep working in the field until dark. Who knows? Your work might pay off, and your seeds might produce. (Ecclesiastes 11:6 CEV)

Some seeds are very purposefully planted in our lives, right?  Seeds of learning, seeds of wisdom, and the like are some we might just say are "purposefully planted", while seeds of silliness and selfishness we might just say are "accidentally" there!  I daresay unless we keep a close watch over what we allow to grow within our lives, we will soon have a mix of both!  The problem is that we sometimes cannot differentiate between the two until we see the specific fruit it produces!  While I was working in the garden, a little nine year old head popped over the fence, just high enough for me to recognize it was my little neighbor.  She was all excited to see me out in the yard and struck up a conversation, nearly bending my ear for close to two hours while I put things in order.  As we talked, I explained a little about the plants I had in the garden, why I had planted them, how to trim them back so as not to hurt them, why I fertilized them, and the like.  In return, she brought me some "flowers" from her yard which she wanted me to have.  Then one by one I began to explain to her that what she was bringing to me was actually weed!

She thought they were flowers purposefully planted by her father - because he had planted seeds there a short time before.  What she didn't realize was that weed seeds are opportunistic!  They take advantage of "empty space" and "ripe conditions".  So, instead of the seeds her father had planted growing in the space he had created for his garden, he had some pretty flowering weeds! There is a lesson here for us.  We can "prepare" a place for growth to occur, but if we aren't vigilant about what springs up there, we might just be surprised to find out what begins to fill the space!  Empty space just demands being filled. If you don't believe me think about when you first moved into your home.  You had empty cupboards and closets just demanding to be filled up.  At first, you thought you had enough closet space and cabinets/cupboards galore!  You did not imagine you could use all the space!  How's that working for you today? Anybody besides me have to build extra cabinets in the garage or get a shed for the yard?  We have a tendency to accumulate stuff in our lives - physically and spiritually!

Whatever we accumulate needs a place or space.  This is true of all our growth - good or not so good!  What we fail to recognize is how opportunistic some "growth" in our lives actually is.  For example, if we think we will never reap a harvest of selfishness, think again.  Selfish seeds are opportunistic - given the space to grow, they will!  If we think we will never reap a harvest of fear, think again.  Fear springs up anytime we get our focus on the problem and off of God's face - we give room for the seeds to spring up and take root because we take our eye off what we should be focusing on in the first place!  Cultivate the space - but don't forget to keep an eye on what you allow to fill that void!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beware of the "in between"

As Israel is delivered from slavery in Egypt, realizing a dramatic release from their captivity through the display of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, they stand in the place between deliverance and the realization of the full promise of their goal - the Promised Land (Canaan).  They have witnessed great plagues from which they were left unaffected.  Their journey out of Egypt left them with great wealth - slaves set free, given crops, herds, and jewelry galore by their masters of so many years.  The impossible has happened - the Sea parted and they passed on dry ground - while it swallowed up the pursuing armies of Pharaoh.  Then they find themselves in the place "between" here and there.  Isn't this the place we often "forget our heads" and just find ourselves pursuing our "hearts" at times?  You know what I mean - the place where we just forget all God has already been faithful to perform in our lives and focus on the delay as meaning he must have some other intention for us instead.  We forget for a while that he had a master plan for us and drift into our own planning because we just don't like that delay.  I guess this is the danger of the "in between" place in life - it gives US opportunity to take the lead!

Don’t make treaties with any of those people. If you do, it will be like falling into a trap. Instead, you must destroy their altars and tear down the sacred poles they use in the worship of the goddess Asherah. I demand your complete loyalty—you must not worship any other god! (Exodus 34:12-14 CEV)

Between any of our "here" and "there" destinations we find ourselves in the space we call the "in between".  Most of us would agree - we get ourselves in more trouble "in between" than we do in any other place!  Why?  We want things figured out quickly, solved without delay, and come to fruition long before it actually takes the time to "develop" whatever needs to be developed. This is why nurseries sell thousands and thousands of seedlings - people don't want to wait for the seeds to germinate, take root, and sprout.  They want to "see" the potential of the tomatoes actually growing - they don't want to trust the growth to occur just because there was a seed!  We are so impatient, aren't we?  We want the immediate - God wants the "intermediate" to create in us a position of trust, patient endurance, and growing faith. 

As Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were in this place of "in between".  They had about 40 days to just 'lull' around in the wilderness at the foot of the mountain waiting for their leader to come back down.  Yep, they saw the cloud of God's glory surround the mountain. Yep, they knew he went up their to commune with God and even to get God's plan for the next steps they were to take.  Yep, they had the past miracles of God to base their hope for the future upon.  Yep, they were truly blessed people, with great potential, but...they were in the "in between" of realizing what the next steps held for them.  The greatest place of discontent can be when we come off of a "high spot" in our walk with Jesus.  You know what I mean - that place when we slowly realize we cannot ride the wave forever.  

In that place of being "in between", Israel begins to look to what they knew from their past and what they see all around them - idol worship.  The past often plays an important part in how we respond in the moment between deliverance and the full realization of God's best for our lives, doesn't it?  We "revert" to what we know best in those moments when it just doesn't seem like things are "happening" at the pace, or in the way we think they should be happening.  The issues we face in the "in between" are mostly because we aren't willing to wait - we crave the immediate action of our God to do whatever it is he has promised.  Yet, when we compromise with the "in between" we lose out on what God wants to create in us in that place.  I cannot go from being over-weight and feeling snug in a size 14 dress to a size 6 dress overnight. There are a whole lot of "in between" sizes along the way!  I wouldn't wear the size 14 all the way until I realized the size 6 goal.  Why?  It just wouldn't "fit" me any longer.  The place "in between" requires I make some adjustments, doesn't it?  

This is the meat of what I want us to see today - the adjustment period is really just that - adjustment.  We have to get our mind right for the next phase in our lives.  We need to allow our commitment to be tested and tried so we know we are going to be good for the long haul.  We must get to the place where we trust what we cannot see happening in the here and now.  "In between" is the place all this happens.  Jumping ahead of God in this place is definitely dangerous ground to be walking, my friends.  It is a place of where we are indeed tested to see where our loyalty dwells.  In this place of the "in between", we can turn to what we trusted in our past, or what we think will make us happy for the immediate moment, or we can trust the seed planted is taking root deep beneath the surface.  In time, the "fit" of our present will no longer be the "fit" of our future - so we will realize the change and move into the next phase of what God has for us.  As we go from this place of "in between" into the next, we find gradual and consistent growth.  Don't get ahead of God - don't get too far behind him, either!  Keep your focus.  If you do, the "in between" will bring out what God intends.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Just two commands - that's all we really need

When I was going to Bible College in the early 80's no one really wanted to enter into a "debate" with me about my beliefs.  I was a stalwart when it came to some of my "views" on what Christ allowed, didn't allow, loved, hated, etc. I actually did pretty good in apologetics - that class where we have to be able to "argue" our point based on scripture.  What I probably did a little poorly in was the "non-classroom" work of actually being loving in my responses to others as I shared this truth.  I guess the hardest lesson for me to learn came long after I actually finished school - when I actually saw life through the eyes of the one I serve.  You see, I "judged" when all I did was preach my point - I didn't begin to actually live out Christ's teaching until I put down my preaching!  As I have grown up in Christ, one of the things I have appreciated about his truth is that it doesn't change - it remains the same.  MY understanding of truth may have changed - but his truth stays the same!  The same is true in all of our lives if we are vibrant and growing in our relationship with Christ - we will recognize not a change in "theology", but a change in our "stance" as it comes to using that "theology" to argue about truth.

Don’t keep changing what you were taught about Christ, or else God will no longer be with you. But if you hold firmly to what you were taught, both the Father and the Son will be with you. (2 John 1:9 CEV)

It isn't that we change the basis of the truth we stand upon - but sometimes we receive deeper revelation into the truth and we see it through eyes which have been touched by God's grace more times than we'd often like to admit.  One thing is for sure - the more of God's grace I have had to ask for, the less I tend to judge another for the exact same struggle!  So, the truth has not been compromised - my vantage point has changed!  I see things through the eyes of grace, not the eyes of "being right"!

Here are some general rules to live by as it applies to our beliefs:

1. The primary command we are given is to have no other god.  This means we keep Christ foremost in all we say and do.  If we want to be on track with God, we keep other things in "check" in our lives which could interfere with this relationship we need to develop with him.  In other words, we manage the distractions caused by material things, relationships, and career.  We stop focusing on the "stuff" and focus on him instead - the stuff is supplemental to what we receive from cultivating this relationship with him.

2. The secondary command we must adhere to is that of loving each other. As a matter of fact, we were told to love each other in ways we might see as a little crazy.  For example, we are love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. (Matthew 5:44)  Well, if you have ever tried that one, you might just be looking back at me right now with eyes of unbelief!  It is hard!  You have been wronged and Christ tells you to actually pray for the one who wronged you - showing them kindness and love.  I guess I don't really "get" that one until I look at the example Christ gave us by going to the cross.  He was definitely "hated" all the way to the cross - spat upon, beaten, crowned with thorns, stripped of his clothing, and shamed in public.  Then without a single consideration for his own welfare, he forgave those who did this to him.  Okay, I get it!  It is hard, but it draws us closer to Christ because there isn't this "grudge thing" which comes when we hold onto anger against those who "use" or "hurt" us hanging between Christ and us. 

3. All the other commands are summed up in these two because they overshadow all we do and say.  Herein comes the balance we need when it comes to "doctrine" and "beliefs".  We "hang our hats" on our beliefs, so we better be allowing Christ to show us how those "beliefs" actually align with the two commands we just considered above.  If our beliefs allow absolutely no room for failure or sin, then they don't allow for grace.  If our beliefs allow no chance for a "redo" in life, then they don't allow for mercy and forgiveness.  All I can say is that our beliefs fall short if this is how we expect things to be - and we haven't held those beliefs up to our own life!  If we did, we'd find we don't live according to those beliefs very well apart from God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness - for we cannot simply "live by the rules" and see real change in our lives.  We need God's love healing us and setting us on the right path.

Yep, we hold to truth, but we don't let truth exclude God's grace, mercy, or forgiveness.  We hold to doctrine, but we don't use it as a tool to point out fault. We adhere to sound beliefs, but we need to expect God to allow us to see those beliefs through "fresh eyes" as each moment of extended grace, merciful pardon, and extension of forgiveness is sent our way.  When we ask God to help us see as he sees, he takes it down to the two commands - keep him central, and let him guide your relationships.  Just sayin!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Love the Lord and hate evil

Love the Lord and hate evil.  Seems like a pretty easy command - straightforward and easy to grasp.  Yet, in all our struggling to do as this says, we find ourselves challenged with prejudices galore, fears of things which don't exactly "fit" our definition of "normal", and just plain silly misconceptions. There was a day not so long ago when healthcare workers wouldn't even touch the things which a patient with AIDS had touched, let alone be in their presence without a full garb of protective gown, mask, gloves, and the like.  I remember it well, as I was in nursing school in the 80's when the AIDS epidemic hit our nation.  I recall taking care of my first patient with AIDS - complying with the rules and regulations of the hospital and donning all that "protective garb" to keep not only me safe in my contact with this patient, but to keep others safe who might be contaminated if I brought something out of the room!  Man, did I ever feel like a dork!  I was dressed like this man was going to give me "coodies" if he even touched me!  I saw something that day which I really have tried to keep with me in my career - fear makes us do really weird things and isolates those who are struggling.  Don't shoot me now, but I took off my mask and goggles and just sat across from him for about 30 minutes each time I came in to do care.  Why?  He needed to see my face and understand I didn't fear his disease (nor him).  Did I take some chances in a time when this disease was basically the "unknown" - yes, I guess I did.  Yet, something happened when I did - we connected.  I wanted him to have some hope in the face of a devastatingly awful diagnosis.  If nothing else, I wanted him to have some dignity - to be treated as I would want to have been treated.  Lest you think I am cavalier in my respect for communicable diseases, I am not.  I just knew there was nothing going to happen to me if I just took off my mask (because I wasn't going to "breathe in AIDS").  I moved past the fear and let God guide my actions.  In that same moment, I had to move past some of my prejudged ideas of this disease, as well.  It may not be the things we know which hurt us and others, but the things we don't know but have come to accept as "truth"!

Love the Lord and hate evil! God protects his loyal people and rescues them from violence. If you obey and do right, a light will show you the way and fill you with happiness. You are the Lord’s people! So celebrate and praise the only God. (Psalm 97:10-12 CEV)

Prejudged ideas said this was a disease affecting only the gay community - yet this man was straight.  Prejudged ideas said I couldn't even touch him because he could infect me and others if I did - yet he feared giving this disease to anyone else more than any of us could have feared contracting it!  These were the little discoveries I began to make as I took the time to get to know the man. Sometimes we allow the "hype" about the issue to cloud our own judgment and an even more dangerous thing happens - we shut out God's concern for the one who has been caught in the tragedy of the issue.  I don't know about you, but I have seen a whole lot of things I definitely classify as "evil" in my short lifespan. Tragedies which leave families broken apart, children without parents, and lives in shambles.  Losses so great a person doesn't think there is anyway back from the depths of despair they have left in their wake.  Hearts so ruined by botched relationships, wrong life choices, and crazily conceived plans.  These are the evils I have seen and nothing can put a label on any of them as "unrecoverable" or "unworthy" of God's intervention and his love!  Yet, if we allow our "preconceived" ideas of "how" or "why" these things have happened in the lives of these individuals, we will clearly miss out on being the channel of God's love and maybe even becoming the channel of his intervention by which these lives are changed!

I guess I insulate myself from some of the hateful things people say and do these days - just because I don't want to be caught up in their messed up way of believing.  I didn't believe it possible for one church who calls themselves "Christian" to protest against another church who is also "Christian", but it happens all the time.  I didn't believe it possible for people who say they love Christ to exclude others who have yet to come into relationship with Christ because they don't "fit" into the lifestyle or belief system they claim to, but it happens all the time.  Yes, I clearly realize there are "churches" out there which preach a message contrary to the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Yes, I realize there are groups of individuals so consumed with their own ideas of right and wrong who "cherry-pick" what they will believe in the scriptures.  Yes, I believe there are people who don't welcome sinners because their "sin" is one they believe is "unpardonable".  

Here's what I have come to accept as truth from my discovery in God's Word: God is the ONLY judge of what is unpardonable!  I cannot make that determination.  I CAN see clearly when someone is living contrary to the message of the Gospel of Christ.  This I can see and I can honestly say that I believe God still reaches out for even these! After all, isn't that the message Christ preached:  For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his Son, that WHOSOEVER believes in him might have eternal life. The message doesn't stop there, though.  Maybe we'd do well to consider the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would have said.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people.  He sent him to SAVE them!  (John 3:17 CEV)  Rather than condemning each other, maybe we'd be better served allowing God's love to show us the good in others - where it is they might help us to learn something new about this God we serve.  Maybe then we'd be less likely to "prejudge" anyone and be open to loving as God loves.  Just sayin!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What is in your storehouse?

One wise person can defeat a city full of soldiers - one kind person can realize the blessing of being kind.  Some of us will immediately see all the possibilities in this passage - while others will gravitate toward just one set of "do" or "don't" points.  Why is that?  I think it is because scripture hits us where we are at the moment.  If we are struggling with how we use our resources such as our time and energy, we probably feel like we are constantly out of reserves - we don't have enough when it comes to "crunch time". We focus on the part about not wasting our resources like a fool.  Some of us will focus on the advice to be careful with our words because a failure to do so can open up many an issue we would probably rather not have to deal with in the first place - the reminder to "watch what we say" places a muzzle over our lips.  Many will focus on the part about one wise person - up against a city of trained soldiers - capture made possibility because of the wisdom of the "one wise person" who knows exactly how to find their "weak spot".  Most of us gravitate toward the "command" or "advice" which seems to reflect what is closest to the issue we are dealing with at the present moment. If we have conflict in relationships, we might want to watch what we say to avoid further conflict - having learned one misspoken word actually leads to a whole lot of other words we will be sorry we said later down the road!  The truth we need is based on what it is which captivates our time and attention at this moment.  Yet, if we reduce scripture to what we need for the moment, we miss the "stash" we need to lay up for the moments to come!

Be sensible and store up precious treasures—don’t waste them like a fool. If you try to be kind and good, you will be blessed with life and goodness and honor. One wise person can defeat a city full of soldiers and capture their fortress. Watching what you say can save you a lot of trouble. (Proverbs 21:20-23 CEV)

I think this may be what Solomon had in mind when he tells us to be sensible about the treasures we store up - knowing there are all kinds of treasures, he wants us to be sensible and store up those which will be of value to us down the road.  Today's resources are sufficient for today, but we will need different resources tomorrow.  Case in point - today you may not have to purchase gas for your automobile because there is sufficient "stored up" in the tank for the driving you must do today, but will there be enough for tomorrow!  We all have continual needs - things we must replenish on an ongoing basis.  We also have "occasional" needs - those things which we will be called upon to use on occasion, but not everyday or in every encounter.  These need to be stored up - so we have them when we need them.  They become as precious treasures to us - we don't want to waste them on just anybody or at times when they are really not going to be appreciated.  For example, when we have stored up wisdom about how to handle some situation, knowing full well we have a much better answer than the one someone is trying to implement right now, we ache to get this out in the open - so they will stop what they are doing and do it the way you know will work!  

I have learned that people don't always embrace our wisdom - especially if they have it in their mind their way is the best way to accomplish something.  They need to try it there way, then they "might" consider another solution.  Until they fail, they are not open to any sharing of whatever wisdom we might have. Why? There is just no need for our wisdom until their "wisdom" has been exhausted. They have their own "stores" of wisdom and they have come to rely upon these. Good or bad - they have created these "storehouses" of wisdom - things they trust to be helpful or true - and they are going to count on those to get them through whatever it is they are facing.  It is like us with the car with enough gas to get us through our errands today.  It works for today, but tomorrow's errands may not be accomplished quite as well if we exhaust all our gas "stores" today! Wisdom is stored up - it is not to be spent unnecessarily - and it is to be refreshed frequently.  This helps us get the "mileage" we need for the long haul.

Some things we are to "store up" which actually bring us a little replenishing of our "reserves" in this life:

- Goodness and kindness.  Do you realize that kindness and goodness are intentional acts?  They don't manifest without forethought and some preparation on our parts.  Goodness and kindness are learned attributes.  Don't believe me? Think back to the tiny toddler sitting with his pile of blocks.  Now remember the entrance of toddler number two - eyeing those colorful blocks and imagining them as his own.  What comes next?  It isn't toddler number one kindly scooting all those colorful blocks into the waiting hands of toddler number two!  In fact, it probably sounds more like a moment of sheer panic as the toddler announces in no uncertain terms, "MINE!!!!" - huddling those toys safe within his grasp. Kindness must be learned - by mom intervening repeatedly to remind the toddler to share what he has.  It takes time for the toddler to learn this lesson, though.  His repeated terror over having his toys end up in the hands of another will be repeated until he sees his "kindness" in sharing them isn't returned by a loss of his toys permanently!  He realizes they get back to him when the playtime is over!  Mom intervenes to help the toddler learn the intentional lesson of sharing - the toddler comes to realize sharing is not a bad thing - in the end both toddlers benefit from the intentional learning. 

- Sensibility and planning.  Storing up and knowing what is good to place in reserve for future days is something some just don't understand.  I have friends who cannot rub two nickles together any day of the week - they just spend all they have and bemoan the fact they have nothing in reserve.  I have others who you'd see moths emanate from their wallets if they ever cracked it open in your presence!  One has not learned the sensibility of planning ahead - the other has not learned the wisdom of giving out of one's careful planning. Planning requires sensibility and sensibility is needed to show us when it is the right time and place to bring forth what it is we have spent all the time in planning.  

- Watchful silence is as important as purposeful speech.  We can think much, and speak even less.  Sometimes this is the greatest wisdom we can exhibit. Not everything we think needs to be spoken.  Not everything we have in reserve is to be given out at this moment in time. Sometimes what is kept in reserve is what will be most needed later down the road.  Learning the wisdom of when to speak, where to remain silent, and when both can speak forth wise counsel is something we all need.  Just sayin!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

We don't exclude anyone....

Here in the states, we just finished up the football season with the two "greatest" games of the year for these teams - the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. Even the names of these two games suggest they are something to be considered an honor - only for the "pros" and those with "super" skill.  People paid thousands and thousands of dollars for tickets to the game, even more for room and board while they were here for upwards of a week or more, and still more for the fun and games they participated in while awaiting the games. According to an article I read on Forbes, a ticket was running over $11,000 just six hours prior to the Super Bowl!  One ticket!  That is enough for a down payment on a home!  That same ticket ran around $2,500 if it had been purchased earlier in January, but at that point prior to the game it had skyrocketed to this astronomical "value".  They even had a partitioned off section outside of the stadium in Glendale where people could go to purchase tickets from "scalpers" - those who buy them low and sell them high!  How industrious of them!  It was like creating a savings plan without having to really work for the money!  As the "big day" approached, I heard countless stories on the news about how many had actually been "ripped off" by purchasing their tickets from those selling them this way, though.  They lost thousands and were denied access to the "big game".  Now, I like football and enjoy watching a good game now and then, but I wouldn't dream of this extravagance!  Why? Hopefully it is because I use the common sense God gave me, but if that isn't the reason, perhaps it is that I feel I work too hard for my money to let it go that fast! At the beginning of the season, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks were both picked as possible winners of the Super Bowl - but so were several other teams who never made it that far.  Based on "skill" or "talent" - having the fastest runners, the best passers, the strongest tackles - they were "favored" to win.  Yet, only one wins in this game - one team stands above the rest - yet not always for their skill.  Sometimes it is just being in the right place at the right time - such as when a player from the opposite team intercepts a pass meant for the other team's player!  One step in the right direction is all it takes to be in the right place at the right time - one needs only put out their arms to grab hold of the ball!  All the season could be summed up in one thing - luck!

The fastest runners and the greatest heroes don’t always win races and battles. Wisdom, intelligence, and skill don’t always make you healthy, rich, or popular. (Ecclesiastes 9:11 CEV)

So, before I get tons of comments about the "superiority" of skill of one team over the other, let me assure you I fully appreciate the long hours of dedication these players put forward in learning their "skill" of football.  They practice long and hard - tire and get injured.  They make sacrifices of family time and fun time in order to focus on their skill.  Their game even comes at a cost to them when they find themselves no longer able to pursue their interest after career altering injuries.  I am not "dissing" any team, but simply pointing out the "win" doesn't always go to the one with the "greatest heroes" or the "fastest runners". It can go to the one in the right place at the right time!  Maybe this is what is so frustrating about some of the other things we observe in life - like the one who gets noticed at work for their particular project, or the child in the family who just seems to "shine" above the rest.  Lots of people give it their all, but not everyone gets the "win" in life.  Sometimes we just have to settle for knowing we gave it our all!

That was a touch lesson for mom and dad to teach us kids.  Why?  I think it is because as kids (and as adults, if we are honest), we want the affirmation of a job well done, to be noticed by our parents and teachers, or to be given the blue ribbon at the event.  We crave the attention or recognition - it is part of human nature.  A certain degree of this is okay - not really presenting much of a challenge for us because we can keep this desire for attention in balance with our willingness to let others receive credit.  Then there are times when pride really give some a little more of a challenge than others.  Either way, it is important to realize - if we don't already - sometimes the one who will come to the forefront is the one in the right place at the right time!  

In a spiritual sense, God doesn't have "favorites", nor does he show "favoritism". It is also good to realize that God doesn't "exclude" anyone from his love, grace, or salvation!  In fact, he made a way for "all who would come" to come!  What way?  Christ Jesus.  It isn't God's "way" to restrict "access" to his good blessings from anyone - all who will come to him by the means he provides (through Christ Jesus) can and will enjoy the blessings he provides. This becomes especially important for us to recognize when we consider some of the hateful things we hear today in some of our churches. Yep, I said "hateful" things are spoken of in church!  How so?  Well, when a church says "you don't belong here" because of your sin, they are speaking hateful things and excluding some from coming to the place of meeting, knowing, and following Jesus.  We don't have to "condone" the sin, but we certainly shouldn't exclude the sinner!  To "condone" means someone overlooks the sin - we don't overlook the sin - sin is just sin!  But...we don't "overlook" the sinner just because they sin!  If we do this for one group of "sinners", then there is absolutely no hope for ANY group of sinners - including us!  

The race doesn't always go to the fastest, nor the battle to the most calculating and strategic.  Sometimes it is us being in the right place at the right time.  I daresay the right place for a sinner is in church!  The right time for the sinner to be in the presence of God is now!  You never know when the "pass" will hit the mark!  Just sayin!