Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Signs of life

Advice:  Something offered as a guide for action or conduct; an official notification.  There are times when I have received advice which has really benefited me in a positive manner.  I think of a previous leader I served with who guided me into investing my retirement funds in a way which was not only diversified, but helped me grow my funds a little quicker since I had some catching up to do.  This was advice which actually assisted me in a very positive manner.  I have also followed some not so great advice, purchasing some things I wish I had not simply because it was the latest trend and someone "swore" it would make all the difference to own it!  Now, let me just assure you, there are some things which have benefited my life, while there are others which were just pure flops.  Everyone talked about the battery driven can opener you place on the top of the can and turn on - but did anyone consider how long the batteries would last and how frequently it would run down?  I don't think so!  I have two of these devices since mom had one when she moved in with me. Guess what I use to open cans...a good old-fashioned crank can opener!  I got on the bandwagon with everyone else and asked for one of those really expensive coffee brewers which makes only one cup at a time - you know which one I mean.  Then I realized the cost of coffee packaged this way and had to find a suitable "refillable" device to house my own coffee grinds to keep the cost of coffee down to a manageable sum!  Now that it has given up the ghost, I am not looking to replace it with another of this type - I am going back to my simple four-cup brewer.  It might not be as "trendy", but it certainly gets the job done in a pretty efficient manner!   Sometimes we don't always heed the "best" advice, but hop quickly to embrace advice which is more or less "trendy". We can see it is not always the best advice!

We are rewarded or punished for what we say and do. Fools think they know what is best, but a sensible person listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:14-15 CEV)

We are rewarded or punished for what we say and do - if we heed bad advice, what is our reward?  I don't think of it as punishment, but as the consequences of not taking time to really consider our steps.  Reward is not always positive! It can carry a little bit of a consequence to it, making it more like a punishment than a reward.  Yesterday I pulled up my first carrot from the garden.  It was about 3 inches long.  I washed it complete with the carrot leaves still on it and presented it to mom.  She said it was sweet and quite excellent in taste.  It took a pretty long while for them to go from carrot tops to something growing beneath the surface!  I have been plucking up a little carrot green about once a month for a couple of months to keep tabs on how they are growing.  I didn't expect anything quite as lovely when I plucked this one, but was rewarded with a nice wee carrot!  Sometimes our actions are just like that - we look for growth but don't always see it.  We don't pluck up all the promising signs of growth to discover this - we just pluck one single carrot!  In our lives, we may not see immediate reward for each and every promising sign of growth in our lives, but we can "track" the growth if we consider where we are over the course of time. We might not be fully developed in a particular area, but if we continue to cultivate and nourish that area of our life, we will eventually be rewarded with the growth beneath the surface.

A sensible person listens to advice - this is having the keen awareness and judgment which actually keeps us from making totally wrong decisions all the time. It doesn't mean we "never" operate in the realm of silliness and take an occasional unwise step, but it refers to more of the idea of leaving some things alone once we get any idea they are not really the right thing for us to be pursuing.  Advice may come in the form of a warning - if heeded, we can turn away before we launch fully into something.  It may come in the form of plain old common sense - like when I didn't pluck up all the carrot tops when I didn't see growth under the first one!  I know it takes time for these things to mature. Now imagine what life would be like if we examined our own lives in this way. We look to see what is beneath the surface, but if we don't see growth immediately and then just start all over again we might be labeled as being a little "flighty".  Last year I planted some sweet potato vine and elephant ear vine in the same bed.  We had a really bad frost which took rather hearty growth and destroyed it overnight.  I left it there, though, knowing when the frosts passed, I would re-cultivate the bed and try again.  As I pulled back those dead vines, I discovered some small sweet potatoes beneath the surface!  Who knew those were there?  Not me!  So, I left them there and have waited to see what would happen.  I am pleased to say there is life emerging! 

What we might think we need is continual "advice" on how to live or make the decisions we have to make.  What we fail to recognize is the wisdom and sense God has built into our lives to know "growth" comes where we see any and all potential for growth!  Those carrot tops promise carrots beneath the surface. The wee sweet potatoes promise the evidence of another round of vining plants this season.  That spark of hope promises a developing sense of peace and freedom in your life where only darkness and frustration has been evident before.  We might not always receive "advice" - sometimes we just need to lay hold of the truth we already possess and act upon it.  That can be the difference between the fool and the wise!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Not just a barrier

Security companies call me all the time asking if they can come install their devices to make my home more secure against break-ins, home invasions, and even to just have "monitoring" to see what people are doing in my house when I am not there!  Now, I don't live in a totally naive state, but I trust God to keep me secure, so I don't find myself succumbing to their pressure no matter how "bad" they tell me it is to live in this world right now.  I have traveled into areas where people have bars on their windows and so many locks on their doors there is just about no door jam left!  There is no sense of "security" without these devices - the neighborhoods are "rough" to say the least.  Security is really feeling like you are in a place where the "risks" are minimized - steps have been taken to reduce the possibility of something happening.  This is why those folks install the locks and put the bars on the windows - to minimize the risks.  In a different sense, I want to challenge us to begin to think of security as not just minimization of risk, but the deep sense of confidence which comes from knowing we have a good foundation to whatever it is we are trusting in. If the foundation is faulty, then everything else is just not going to cut it when it comes to keeping us safe.  I watched a video the other day where the police department encouraged folks to change out the length of screws attaching the plate for the door lock with three inch screws rather than using the smaller one which come with the lock.  Why?  It provided a greater "hold" for the plate and less chance someone would be able to kick in the door.  Well, in "testing" their theory, they actually proved their theory right, but it didn't keep the door or the jam from being destroyed!  In one demonstration, they even kicked the entire door jam apart from the wall and the door was completely in tact - but they were still able to get in the house!  The screws held, but the ultimate "mission" was NOT accomplished!  Too many times we find ourselves setting out to accomplish one thing and our "foundation" is just plain not secure!

Sin cannot offer security! But if you live right, you will be as secure as a tree with deep roots. (Proverbs 12:3 CEV)

Sin is kind of like those door jams - it doesn't offer us much security in life, even though it appears to be something which would stand up to the pressure.  Sin has a way of convincing us we are on "solid footing".  I am not quite sure how that happens, but somehow we get to the place of thinking we are going to be "okay" even if we pursue some pretty "shady" stuff in life.  In fact, sometimes we think we are minimizing the risk we will give into temptation by "installing a couple extra locks", but we forget the locks are only good as the foundation into which they are attached!  God's plan includes us getting rooted into a solid foundation by digging deeply into his word and then allowing it to get deeply into us.  As a tree sets down roots, it "takes into it" the things in which those roots are situated.  If the roots are deeply rooted, it also has a more solid hold against the things which would seek to uproot it.

To live right includes this idea of taking root and then continuing to "take root". If you look at the trees in my backyard, you will see they are kind of "limited" to the backyard.  Or at least you might think!  I have had to dig up sprinkler lines or dig holes for new trees I planted in my yard over the years.  In doing this digging, I came to discover roots from trees behind my property are invading the space known as "my yard"!  From all directions, roots are found coming into and going out of my yard.  Some belong to those trees I planted, while others belong to trees clearly outside the boundaries of my property!  I thought those "native" trees planted along the street which runs behind my fence line were on "that side of the fence".  After a little digging, it was clear they were seeking out the water I provided!  No wonder they grow so well!  They are thieving the water I put down for my one developed tree and the two I have grown from seed!  

Sin is kind of like that - it invades territory we "think" is clearly delineated as "ours" and we even take every effort to mark out as ours (like I thought the fence did in my yard).  What we don't realize is how much what we believe to be security is really just a "partial barrier" of sorts and not really security.  Only God can give us the security against sin we so desperately need.  Unless we "tap into" his foundation, we have nothing more than "partial barriers" with which to resist temptation.  Just sayin!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Do, Live, Act

To many of us, friendships outside of the relationship we call "marriage" come in dribs and drabs - we have perhaps one or two truly close friendships in the course of our lifetime, those marked by true intimate knowledge of each other and a depth of commitment which spans all the hurdles of how silly we can act on occasion.  These relationships matter so much to us - we work to preserve them, defend them, and even bolster them whenever things are little shaky. We also have lots and lots of acquaintance type friendships - those we have fun with, enjoy good times among, and even share in their hardships and worries on occasion.  Yet, these are just not at the same level of those we call "best friends".  Try hard to do right and you will win friends - scriptural instruction - not scriptural "advice".  The difference between the two - one is just an opinion which we can take or leave; the other is a promise based on truth.  Some of us don't always "do right", though.  In the realm of our "best friends", there is some amount of grace which just keeps us together and might even bind us closer together when we don't always "hit the mark" where is comes to "trying to do right".  There is much truth in the wisdom we are exploring today - Do right; Live right; and Act wisely - three truths we need to explore if we are to maintain those very special relationships God has given us on this earth.

Try hard to do right, and you will win friends; go looking for trouble, and you will find it. Live right, and you will eat from the life-giving tree. And if you act wisely, others will follow. (Proverbs 11:27, 30 CEV)

Do right:
One thing is for sure - we don't need instruction or reminding to "do wrong"! We find our way into the territory of "wrong" much easier than we find our way into the territory of "right"!  Why on earth is that?  I think it is because we were born pretty egocentric and in being so egocentric from birth, we find the world rotating around us for a good period of time.  What parents have a hard time with as we are getting a little older is this idea of helping us to see there are others in our world impacted by our actions!  When we won't share, someone is without a toy or piece of the cake.  When we refuse to let someone go, they cannot get on with their other tasks which need to be completed.  We maintain the "hold" on being the center of our world as long as others will allow it.  When someone begins to "push that envelope" and they show us we are definitely NOT the center of attention we think we should be, we get our feelings all in a wad.  From early childhood, we have to break the mold of being at the center of life - the world around us needs to be acknowledged, the feelings of others require respect, and the moments of their lives matter as much as ours.  So, from an early age, moms and dads everywhere are teaching us to "do right". In essence, they are reminding us to let go of "self" and seek out the opportunities to "make another feel special".  I certainly don't think we can learn this lesson too often in life.  We all can benefit from a little reminding to "do right" now and again.  Doing is the first step toward developing a pattern some call "living".

Live right:
Unlike "doing" right, living right means we actually find a path which is consistently focused on the right things.  We begin to develop patterns of behavior which are marked with less and less self-centered actions.  The "doing" becomes a habit - we find ourselves consistently "doing" - not having to "think it through" all the time because it comes more naturally to us now.  At first, in every "new habit" we learn in life, there is this starting point we might label as "doing" right.  Add up all the "doing" and eventually you find yourself forming the new habit.  In time, you don't even think about what it is you are doing because it comes as "second-nature" to you.  We don't want to lose sight of the fact it is "second-nature" to us, though!  Our "primary-nature" is egocentric. It takes practiced effort to break that mold!  This effort will eventually help us develop the habits which become "second-nature" to us and produce a consistency of behaviors which support "other-focused" activities.  We find we want to include others in our lives - not because of what we "get out of it", but equally as much by what we can "give back" into those relationships.  Live right implies we make consistent choices which benefit not only self, but others, as well.

Act wisely:
Most of the Proverbs are dedicated to understanding the differences between unwise and wise actions.  The choices we make behind the scenes matter because eventually they reveal themselves for all to see, no matter how well we think we have them covered up!  Action comes from thought - we actually have some basis to all we do and how we live because we have been thinking about it for some time!  If our actions are a little foolish, they lean toward us not having learned the lesson of "doing" right - we still are a little too egocentric in our focus.  We don't see others, nor do we see Christ right there in front of us as we make those unwise choices.  If our actions are gravitating toward wiser ones, we might just not fully understand how much those matter, but each wise action leads to the possibility we will act that way again - leading to us letting go of some of our egocentric "doing".  Fools are marked by being all over the board in their commitments and even by being a little too egocentric (despite warnings to be otherwise).  The wise are marked by the stability and sensibility of their actions - those which are "other-focused", not "self-focused".  Wise people see themselves through the mirror of the truth and what is reflected back to them is used to help them lay down the actions which really are not reflecting back Christ in them!  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mirror, mirror...

As kids, we had all these little rhymes we'd say on occasion, like the one we used when we caught someone fibbing:  "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire".  Or maybe the one when the batter was up to the plate and we wanted to distract the pitcher from being able to concentrate on throwing the ball:  "We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher".  Or the one we used when we wanted the batter to have a less chance of hitting the ball:  "Hey, Batter, Batter, SWING".  Pointing out that we knew someone was trying to pull one over on us by the "Liar, Liar" one was just kind of our way of letting them know we found them out and we weren't falling for their mischief or prank.  Rattling the pitcher or hitter was just a way of trying to stack the cards in our favor when we had a batter up to bat who needed a few "balls" to come there way, or we wanted a hitter to miss the ball!  If they didn't get a few balls and an occasional walk, they almost didn't ever get a chance to get on base at all! If the hitters always got a hit, we'd never stand a chance of winning! We didn't have any that I can remember about cheating on a test, looking onto someone else's paper for the answers, or taking credit for someone else's work on a project. Yet, the idea of someone cheating on a test, or taking credit for another's work was just not acceptable in my social circles. It was kind of like an understood "no-no".  We didn't poke fun at it because it didn't carry any "fun" in it.  Some things we'd overlook because there was "fun" in it - like when someone was trying to pull a fast one on us and see if we'd be gullible enough to believe them.  It was childish fun and games, not really intentional deception.  If someone made it a pattern to lie about everything, inflating their stories and telling untruths all the time, this was a different matter.  We didn't even use our childish rhyme - we avoided them like the plague because they were untrustworthy and unbelievable!  The same is often true in life now that we are adults.  We avoid those who just don't play fair. We find ourselves avoiding those who are puffed up and kind of into themselves way too much.  We find ourselves shying away from relationship with those who just cannot walk a straight path.  Why?  I think it might be this idea of knowing when it is more than a "childish prank" or "game" being played - it is the real deal and it hurts others.  We might "blur the lines" a little when we poke fun at some things which are plainly wrong and then "call out" others which are simply "child's play".  We have to clearly distinguish between the two.

The Lord hates anyone who cheats, but he likes everyone who is honest. Too much pride can put you to shame. It’s wiser to be humble. If you do the right thing, honesty will be your guide. But if you are crooked, you will be trapped by your own dishonesty. (Proverbs 11:1-3 CEV)

I am up for a good prank now and again.  I like to laugh and find fun in life. I think life is way too short to just live life on the "serious" plane all the time. Anyone who knows me well will also recount a few times here and there when I convinced someone something was a certain way, but in truth it wasn't!  It wasn't really me attempting to manipulate the truth so they believed a lie, it was was a little bit of "fun and games" with the other person, meant to make them laugh and take life a little less intensely.  The problem with living a little too close to that line between truth and untruth is that sometimes we get these a little blurred, or we soon lose credibility in the eyes of those we have in our circles.  I used to play pranks way more frequently than I ever do now. What changed?  I saw the potential of what this did in relationships - destroying the core of trust.  It got to the point people were always asking me if I was serious or not.  At that point, I had to pull back and really take a close look at how I used "humor" and had "fun" with these things.  I really didn't want others to have to consider the seriousness (or reality) of my words or actions ALL the time!  I am not entirely serious all the time now, but I did find myself pulling away from living life as a "joke-ster" all the time!

I think there are groups of people who will continually live on the plane of untruth and deception.  It has become a way of life for them.  They almost lack the capacity for honesty any longer because they have become so familiar with the deception they cannot break out of that mode of operation.  To get real with these individuals is almost impossible.  They are trapped in their deception and need to be broken free of that deception by nothing less than truth.  The opposite of deception is truth - the only way to unmask deception is by holding the mask up to the mirror of truth!  I don't argue with deception - I just merely hold up the mirror of truth.  Nothing reflects back the shallowness of deception more than the truth.  The beginning of a cheater's life is merely a choice to be dishonest.  The one choice leads to another and then another until a way of life becomes evident.  Dishonest actions multiply until there is a lack of control over the times one will choose the deception over the truth.  This is the danger in even stepping over the line to begin the action of cheating.  Whether it be looking over the shoulder of another to get the answer off their paper, or the look sideways to take in the "splendor" of another's spouse, it is opening the door to greater and greater compromise in one's life.

Perhaps this is why God spends time pointing out the dangers in cheating and making life choices which are based on dishonest means.  There is a cyclic trend which leads to the next wrong action.  The kids who frequently cheated on tests in my classes might have received passing grades in class, but in life, they lacked the skills those of us who studied actually possess today!  We miss out on something when we choose the dishonest way over the truth.  We don't have foundation in life.  I think this is why God calls this to our attention - because he wants nothing more than to ensure we are on a solid and reliable foundation as we go through life here on earth!  This is why God holds up the mirror of truth in our direction all the time - it isn't to make us uncomfortable - it is to redeem us from our folly!  Just sayin!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fling them words - go ahead!

I don't think anything destroys a relationship quicker than our words!  Yep, as simple as that may sound, I believe it to be true simply because scripture tells us our words are like little sparks that have the capacity to set an entire forest on fire!  Living in the arid deserts of Arizona, I see the devastation one tiny spark can bring - changing the landscape for years and years to come in just that tiny ember.  Words change the landscape of our relationships - they either sculpt them into things of majesty and beauty, or they whittle away at the life within the relationship until it is found to be diseased and damaged by all the constant whittling!  One of the most common things spoken of in the Book of Solomon is the choice of our words - what we do with our words matters. Sure, there are a lot of other "popular" topics covered in the book, but a great many of the principles taught deal with relationships - those we cultivate with God and those which we deal with day by day on this earth.  I don't know if Solomon was the best resource on relationship "ins and outs", but he certainly had a lot of opportunity in his position of king of a nation to evaluate what he records for us in these passages!  His rise to the throne was in his youth - something which could have been either his undoing, or short-lived.  Yet, he went to God in those first moments when he realized his rise to power and asked specifically for a double-portion of wisdom.  As I have pointed out before, I think he knew he'd need this in order to rule well and to become a leader, not just king.  I doubt he knew his words would become the truths people would turn to time after time again in order to find wisdom about choices, relationships, or even money.  He simply needed guidance to become a great leader and he relied upon God to show him the way.  In relationships of all types, we need to rely upon God to show us the way - to keep us from stumbling over our own inadequacies - especially when it comes to how it is we use our words!

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. Hatred stirs up trouble; love overlooks the wrongs that others do.  If you have good sense, it will show when you speak.  But if you are stupid, you will be beaten with a stick.  If you have good sense, you will learn all you can, but foolish talk will soon destroy you.  (Proverbs 10:10-14 CEV)

Deceit causes trouble - foolish talk brings to ruin.  To conceal the truth is to deceive.  The one who sets out to deceive is actually distorting the truth so as to mislead the one receiving the information - there is a purposeful manipulation of the truth in order to either conceal some fact, or to make something look better than it really is.  I think of it kind of like this when we tell someone everything is okay with us, but deep down inside we felt slighted by their behavior toward us. We don't want to admit to the truth for whatever reason, but instead, we choose to cover up or mask our true feelings.  We are deceiving both the other person and sometimes even ourselves!  What this does is set us up for further deception within the relationship and we soon find the well of deception gets pretty deep and very turbid!

Some of us have a tendency to hide behind our words - we use them as secret weapons we launch out there and then "hide behind" so no one gets wind of what is really going on inside of us.  I think this is what Solomon might have had in mind when he says evil hides behind the words of the wicked.  It isn't exactly deception here - it is just not being kind with our words.  Evil or words of malice or ill-intent are often "masking words" people use to really keep others away from getting too close to them.  Why?  When others get close enough to discover the depth of their despair, or perhaps the "grossness" of their wounds from the past, there is a sense of discomfort and unease created which causes them to want to pull in or run away.  So, they use words to repel people before they have a chance to get too close.  If they are successful, they believe no one will ever discover what is hidden within.

Neither type of communication is good.  No one benefits from either of these types of "sharing", do they?  Either one or the other of the parties will be hurt by the words which get put out there - if not both.  What I think Solomon had in mind when he reminds us of these two truths is the idea of keeping it real.  He didn't want us to develop these tendencies to manipulate others, or to cover up the depth of our "ugliness".  Although it may be uncomfortable to constantly live life on the "plane" of "reality", it has so many benefits which outweigh those complications which arise by living behind the masks of our words.  Yeah, as a nurse I think of words as being those things which bring "complicating factors" into play within the relationship.  What is a complication?  It is anything which introduces (often quickly and unexpectedly) some difficulty, problem, or change we weren't expecting.  Words have a tendency to do this within relationship, don't they?  We often don't appreciate the difficulty they might bring once spoken.  Whether they be words of manipulation and deceit, or harsh words behind which we think we are hiding, they create complications galore in relationship.

This can occur in our relationship with God, as well.  Whenever we set out to deceive God - like telling him what he wants to hear - we are really only deceiving ourselves.  God knows when our heart is ready to make the change he desires - whenever we tell him we are ready and we really are not, we are only putting words of deceit out there to be heard, but not believed!  God doesn't want us to complicate our relationship with him by using either deceit, or masking words - he wants us to keep it real.  If we cannot be real with him, we will never be real with others.  He doesn't send lightning bolts to strike us dead because we honestly admit we kind of like our sinful ways!  What he does is help us to understand how those sinful patterns within our lives really are taking us down paths which will eventually wear away at the core of our peace and will never bring true satisfaction into our hearts.  He isn't going to be deceived by our words - but he isn't going to allow complications to arise within our relationship with him which go "unchecked" either!  He wants us to get close to him and to do so requires this sense of "keeping it real".  I guess this is why I shy away from the "canned prayers" of my youth and have gravitated toward just laying it out before him.  I tell him of my struggles to even "want" to do right - because there are honestly times when I enjoy my sin more than I want to walk away from it!  Truth be told, we all have those moments.  When I admit to it, he is able to begin the work in my heart which actually brings me to a place of no longer desiring those sinful habits or desires.  The same can be true for you, as well.  

We may not hide behind our words, but I wonder if we are truly honest in the ones we share.  We may not fling them out there as though they were weapons to ward off intrusion into the depths of our hearts, but we sometimes use them to at least "hold at arm's length" those who want to get close to us.  Either way, we need to develop better communication "style"!  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wrong way drivers

If you have ever gone the wrong way, missed the turn-off on the highway, or found yourself turned around in some situation, you know that moment of "how'd I do that" which occurs.  You know what I mean - that moment of sheer panic or rise of stress level within which signals you have just done something you are so sorry you did!  Over recent weeks, there have been various accidents reported on local TV about several "wrong-way drivers" on the freeways around town.  In most cases, lives have been lost because of the "wayward" driving of some motorist heading the wrong direction, often for miles and miles.  What happened to get them on the freeway going in the completely wrong direction, and at what point did they recognize they were maybe headed against traffic? In most cases, there might not have been any warning to the drivers who were so impaired they chose the off-ramp instead of the on-ramp to enter the freeway. It wasn't for the lack of signage announcing they were going the "wrong way" clearly emblazoned on glow in the dark signs with bold white letters against a red background.  It wasn't for the lack of opposing traffic trying to get their attention with horns and lights flashing.  It wasn't for the lack of police officers trying to "catch" the driver to get them to stop.  All these warning signs and alerts, but none of them stopped without either doing serious damage to themselves, physical property, or even the taking of a life.  Some may ask what went wrong, while others might just simply jump to the conclusion they were all impaired drivers.  I cannot comment on either of these conclusions, but I can say this - something very wrong happened regardless of all the warning signs and attempted "advice" to turn back or just plain stop.  Life is kind of like that for us once things get "rolling along", isn't it?  We get so far down the road in some of our moments of wrong decision and find we are just "too far gone" to turn back!

He who is right in his walk is sure in his steps, but he who takes the wrong way will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9 NLV)

We thought we were "sure" in our steps, regardless of what they might have been, only to find we were facing "opposing" traffic in our lives!  We might not have even recognized we were going the "wrong way" until we came up to the place where we recognized we were actually "injured" in the process.  Wrong way decisions are eventually going to leave a mark in our lives - if not physically, there is the emotional and spiritual toll to be considered.  Most of these are compounded because we also hurt relationships we once valued and held so close to our heart.  Then in a moment's "wrong way" pathway we find ourselves bringing what appears to be irreparable harm.  The good news is that no pathway takes us to a place of total "non-repair" in God's hands.  What man may not be able to put together again, his hands have the power to restore and heal.  It would just have been easier to not have taken the path in the first place!

The same things hold true in our lives when we find ourselves walking paths which lead the wrong way.  It isn't because we don't get some kind of warning signs to avoid the "merging" into traffic which is totally opposed to the direction God wants us to take in life.  There are probably more warning signs than we might want to admit - we just block them out of our view or find we are distracted by other things and don't recognize them as they pass us by.  The same is true of all the warnings others attempt to give us.  We hear them talking to us much like the wrong way motorists hear the horns honking, but we just don't "connect" those "sharp blasts" of warning words as meaningful for our lives.  We may even hit a few hazards along the way, slowing us down a little like when a motorist careens into the center divider, but then just keeps on driving.  The vehicle is a little worse for the wear, but they limp along with the damage.  We aren't much different once we get going down the wrong way.  We somehow justify if we got this far there is no turning back.  Oh, we could not be more wrong!  If we'd just stop right there, we might find ourselves a little disoriented and surely in the middle of a muddle, but we often gain perspective if we just stop long enough to notice our dilemma!

Wrong way drivers eventually get "found out".  It is almost impossible to drive the wrong way and not encounter some form of "oncoming resistance" in our path.  Even when we try to row a boat upstream, we find the resistance makes the course we want to take a little more challenging, right?  Going with the flow is easiest most of the time, but trust me, we don't always find ourselves with the "bow of our boat" facing the right direction either!  What we cannot delude ourselves into believing is this idea that our course is too "determined" or "settled" to turn around.  We possess what we need to get back on course, we just have to give up on struggling to stay on course going the totally wrong way!  Often the thing which keeps us on the wrong course is our stubborn pride. We don't want to admit we have noticed we are going the wrong way!  We think this will make us look foolish.  Well, let me just assure you - it looks more foolish to be the only set of headlights headed south when all the other sets are headed north on that road!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More than endless prattle

If you have ever been around someone who just "talks to hear themselves talk", you know how foolish they can sound on occasion.  They just ramble on and on as though all the world was listening.  At times, they might actually have something to say, but the "world" is so tired of listening to their pointless talk that even if they have some nugget of purposeful information in there somewhere, no one is really paying that close attention!  This might be why scripture reminds us of the way we use our words - not in excess, not hastily, not in idle talk.  When we have a tendency to just make "conversation" for the sake of "passing the time", we don't really have much to share which will really lend to the building of relationship or receiving of instruction.  When I want to build relationship, I usually am very focused on learning certain things about the other individual.  I may be drawn to them because I see they possess a skill set I don't - such as when I might want to learn to use a particular software on the computer.  This might start a rather "instructional" or "professional" relationship, but it will lack depth if that is all we ever talk about.  In time, I may ask about their children, what they have planned for vacation this year, and the like.  This will take me a step closer to really getting to know a little about the individual.  Yet, deep down, I still don't know much about them.  It isn't until I spend time with them, really getting to know their movements, understanding their expressions, grasping the meaning of their sighs, and seeing clearly the pain or joy in their eyes that I come to know them well. Notice I didn't really focus on hearing the stories they tell.  These are important, but we really get to know another by studying them a little - not just listening to words they share. We need both in order to really come into a place of intimate relationship with each other, but to simply put words out there and then expect people will get to know us might just be a little too presumptuous of us.  In time, our words might actually drive us away from relationship - not toward it!

The wise in heart will receive commandments, but a prating fool will fall. (Proverbs 10:8 MEV)

The wise in heart will receive commandments - they receive his teaching. The words God speaks are not those of a prating fool.  They aren't spoken to fill pages in a book, or to fill the air with sound.  They are directive, instructional, and purposeful.  They are faith-filled, challenging, and sometimes even exasperating.  Yep, sometimes his words are kind of "rough".  I am using this term in the sense of how a botanist might use it - to describe the roughness of the surface of the leaf.  Sometimes God's words are a little "rough" to take - they seem to almost "prick us" with their sharpness.  Well, I cannot think of a more faithful companion to speak those type of words into our lives, can you? The most "telling" truths he can speak are those which make us sit up and take notice of how it is we are living!

A prating fool will fall - become nothing because he is too busy talking to take time to listen!  This is the danger of using words as though they were a "cheap commodity" - we lessen the value of the words we hear because we are so busy talking over them that we cannot hear them at all!  To receive, we need to listen. To listen, we need to be quiet.  To be quiet, we need to be comfortable enough to not need to be the center of attention!  God challenges those who are constantly chattering on and on with this word of warning - there is a fall in your path if you continue on in the senseless chattering of empty words.  Why is that? We don't have the depth of relationship with him or others to sustain us in the difficult times of life!

Herein is the balance we must find in life.  We have to be open enough to develop solid relationships, but also to have balance in what it is we share.  I received a call the other night from an old acquaintance.  The call was longer than most, but what was shared just kind of made me a little uncomfortable. You see, I listened a lot, but the caller just kept rambling on and on about this or that.  What the caller failed to recognize was this idea of "knowing" who they were actually talking to.  In fact, the caller called back shortly after we disconnected when they made a sudden realization of exactly "who" they were talking to!  It dawned on the caller who it was they had called and then it sort of made them a little embarrassed about what they had gone on and on about. I am not calling this individual a fool, but here me out - when we begin talking before we consider the audience, understand the relationship we have with them, and realize the value in what it is we are sharing, there is quite a different conversation which occurs.

This is most true in our relationship with God himself.  We need to know our audience.  He isn't "unsettled" by our endless chatting with him, but he does look for us to get to purposeful conversation with him at some point.  Then we need to understand the relationship we have with him.  He isn't there to be our "go to" when times are bad and then ignored when all is going well.  He wants to be part of our ups AND downs.  Nothing is more disheartening to him than to be taken for granted when the things in life seem to be going our way and then to be the center of our attention when we find ourselves in need.  He wants us to share things of our heart with him - not just the superficial stuff.  There is a depth he wants us to cultivate in relationship with him, but without honest sharing, we will never get to this point.  We need to trust him to take what we share and then use it to "better" us in every sense of the word.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Working toward retirement?

I had a conversation with a person the other day who has retired and finds himself just a little "cooped up" in the house these days.  He isn't really that unique to some who have no specific "function" to perform once they retire. Many will recount how much they looked forward to retirement - hoping for lazy days, leisurely coffee in the mornings, and an occasional trip abroad to explore places on their "bucket list".  Then in almost the next breath, you will begin to hear this "hint" of remorse because retirement isn't working out as they planned.  Either they lost the one they hoped to spend all that time with, or they seem a little bit "lost" because they have more time on their hands than they counted on.  The truth is God made us to "work", not retire.  The first definition for "retire" in the dictionary usually refers to this process of "going away or apart", as in to withdraw.  It takes a couple more definitions to find the one which refers to "ceasing employment".  Just because we cease our "employment" doesn't mean we cease work!  We just change "professions"! We might take on new tasks, but we don't stop entirely.  When we choose to stop entirely, we often find ourselves feeling a little unfulfilled because God made us to pursue purposeful endeavors, my friends.  Now, don't get me wrong - I am working toward retirement just like others are.  All this means is that I am trying to ensure I have enough saved so I don't have to rely upon the day-to-day grind of continuing employment through the final days of my life.  I don't plan to stop "working" entirely.  If you have ever talked with me at any length about what I want to do "into my retirement" you will soon have discovered I want to volunteer at church, spend time in disaster or relief efforts through an organization who supports these efforts, and also enjoy travels, family, and lots of friendship moments!  I don't want to withdraw into some hobbit existence - I have purpose left to fulfill, so I want to continue doing that until the day I breathe my last!

If you obey the Lord, you won’t go hungry; if you are wicked, God won’t let you have what you want. Laziness leads to poverty; hard work makes you rich.  At harvest season it’s smart to work hard, but stupid to sleep. (Proverbs 10:3-5 CEV)

Right now, those of us who still "go off to work", or engage in some "work" experience at home (even those of you who are "stay at home" moms and dads) find ourselves perhaps day-dreaming about what it will be like to not have to "work so hard" all the time.  I guess this is human nature - we long for the weekends.  Lately, my weekends have been just as full as my weeks!  The weather is changing and my weekend "yard" improvements are under full construction (literally).  First came the deck extension - a project my son did most of the work on during his vacation, but one which required a great deal of work on my part, as well.  We put up the canopy beams together, made the supports and installed them, then hung the overhead shade screen.  After he made his way home, I still had to stain all the raw wood.  That was one weekend.  By the next weekend, I still had a mission in mind.  I wanted to block off the unsightly appearance of the sheds in the background of this area.  So, that meant some type of lattice work, or a shade screen installed between two of the larger support posts to assist in "blocking the view".  Guess what I did yesterday!  Yep, I got out the miter saw and went to work on that one!  Now it is up, stained, and looking sharp!  The BBQ grill has a new home.  The patio is cleaned off a little and the raised veggie gardens are looking good.  Yet, I am not done!  I still need to borrow the belt sander from my son, take down the deck surface we stained last year and re-stain/water seal it for this year!  

Most of life is like this - we do one thing which leads to another and then another. Most of life's "work" is never done!  We continue to evolve from one project to another until we find ourselves glad to celebrate the ones behind us, but then looking ahead to the ones yet incomplete before us.  Whether it be the practical stuff of life like the deck which needs a little attention, or the "softer" stuff in life like the relationship which needs a little cultivating, we all have "projects" in life which never really "finish".  There are times we just want to "retire", but if we were to do so, we'd miss out on all God has planned for us in the "difficulty of the work" which still remains to be done.  It is hard not to want to just be "lazy" and walk away from the harder stuff!  For example, I put another coat of stain over the old deck, just as an interim measure of protecting it and the raised beds.  I won't be able to ignore the older section of the deck forever, though.  The "new coat" of stain won't change the fact I have some areas which are cracked and need a good water seal on them!  I will need to invest the time to do the job well if I want the long term benefits of enjoying this deck!

The same is true in our everyday lives - those things we want to have the privilege of enjoying long-term will take effort way beyond what we put into it today!  We must continue to cultivate relationships, or they dry up and we find ourselves drifting apart.  We must nurture our commitment to truth, or we will find ourselves adopting all kind of "mindless philosophy" which seems reasonable, but really has no solid basis.  We must invest our time in worthwhile efforts which produce good results, but don't take away from those things which are really a priority in our lives.  In the days when Solomon penned these words, the man's "work" was part and parcel with his family life.  If he was a carpenter, his whole family life surrounded his chosen career.  He would work in a "shop" which was usually attached to his home.  He'd craft his wares right where his sons and daughters would watch him do it.  He'd take teachable moments to instruct his wee ones on the finer points of choosing the right woods, fitting the pieces together in such a way as to give them both form and solid structure, and the like.  When he would see the children squabble over a cast off piece of scrap wood, he'd take the time to teach them the importance of sharing, combining resources to get the desired result they wanted, and then he might even cast off another piece just so they could expand their dreams. 

God doesn't expect us to "retire" into a hermit's existence.  He expects us to refocus our "work" into new pursuits which only transition our talents into new opportunities.  We don't work our way into laziness - we work our way into new heights waiting to be explored with a fresh set of eyes!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Grey hair cover-up

I will admit to foolish mistakes I have made, because if I do, just maybe someone else will avoid those pitfalls.  When someone is willing to share how they got to where they are today, we call that mentoring.  When someone shares the wisdom they have accumulated through many hardships, tough times, and emotional roller-coasters, we should revel in their willingness to share the path they took and learn about the various twist and turns life put in their way.  When Solomon put pen to paper, recording those various twists and turns he had learned from by observing his father's life, the pitfalls of some of the ways his brothers handled situations in life, and then his own pathway to "the top", we should glean as much from them as we can.  It amazes me how much is packed into thirty-one chapters.  If I had to choose which books of the Bible are my favorite, the Proverbs would be right up there.  Why?  There is much to the sensibility of what is shared therein.  I am not a really fancy or "uppity" individual.  I don't like a lot of pomp and circumstance.  I really don't like the lime-light.  What I do like is the practicality of living genuinely.  I have lived behind some pretty "made up" masks - thinking I could hide my real struggles and find some solace in "looking okay" on the outside.  Truth is - I couldn't hide the reality of the struggles - they were ingrained into every step I took!  What broke me out of this place of feeling I had to "cover up" my difficult moments in life?  Realizing no one walks a truly "unique" life!  Solomon was the one who spoke about "nothing new under the sun".  It wasn't some great philosopher, but someone who came to the place of ruling an entire kingdom while he was yet a child!  When he entered this role, he didn't ask for more wealth, or even the ability to win every battle in his territory.  He asked for a double-portion of wisdom.  Maybe it was because he had seen what a lack of wisdom had done to his family members, or perhaps he remembered the stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, worshiping the golden calf, and hiding forbidden things within their tents.  Regardless of the reason, I think we have much to glean from the reminder:  To be wise, you must FIRST have reverence for the Lord - if you know him - you have understanding!

To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding. Wisdom will add years to your life. You are the one who will profit if you have wisdom, and if you reject it, you are the one who will suffer. (Proverbs 9:10-12 GNT)

Men in those days looked to all manner of "wise" men - such as astronomers, philosophers, and even those of advancing years because of all they had been through in life.  The philosophers could offer opinions - beliefs held, but sometimes not always well-founded.  The astronomers could comment about what they interpreted from the ebb and flow of waters based on phases of the moon, but not really the reality or truth of how the sun, moon, and stars they studied came into being.  The sage old men who sat at the city gates could give advice on how they had navigated through life, but most of what they shared was really based on common sense.  Solomon recognized something which was preeminent to all these things - the relationship he had with his Savior and the wisdom which came from "tapping into" the mind of Christ.  To have wisdom, one needs to come into deeply personal relationship with the one who is actually wisdom's foundation!  Wisdom isn't so much a "thing" we acquire as much as it is a relationship we cultivate with the one who is all-knowing, ever-present, and all-powerful!

We actually "profit" from the "right" relationships we cultivate!  If the first relationship we focus on is that which we have with Christ himself, we are almost made wise just by association!  It is impossible to be around people who are truly in deeply personal relationship with Jesus and not notice how much they rely not upon philosophy, popular opinion, or even book-learning.  Their dependence is upon the wisdom which supersedes all other "wisdom" out there today.  It is found in the scripture, by listening intently for the still small voice of God, and through leaning into those quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit within who gently nudges us in the right direction.  Sometimes this type of wisdom is hard to put into words - but we can see it in operation in their lives.  What they have learned is to keep this relationship with Christ FIRST in their lives.  All the other stuff they will need to know in life comes as a result of having this right!

Some of the greatest wisdom I have learned from others is when they share openly about those times when they failed to keep this relationship as a priority! They got off-course, were kind of adrift in their focus, and found themselves making decision based on principles they might not otherwise even consider. There is much to be said for learning from the example of others - for in reality, if we can avoid the missteps another has taken, we are the wiser for recognizing the futility of those steps.  Some of us think wisdom is something for the old - like it was guaranteed just because someone sports a few grey hairs.  I have seen some pretty foolish "grey tops" in my day!  Age alone doesn't guarantee we will learn our life lessons!  What does?  The right relationship focus!  Just 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mentoring relationships

Mom used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do," on occasion.  Did you ever hear that adage growing up?  It kind of confused me, because I always wondered why I had to do something differently than what I saw being done.  What I didn't understand was the differences between age and privilege.  For example, when mom said it was bedtime, I balked.  Why?  Dad and mom were staying up late and got to watch more TV than I did!  So, of course, I questioned it!  I wanted the privilege which came from being an adult, but I was only a child. We are kind of like that at times, wanting more privileges, but not recognizing either the danger associated with them, or the responsibility which comes with those privileges.  Mom and Dad were adults - they chose their own bedtime. They had the responsibility to rise as the alarm sounded - ready to start their day.  They also had the responsibility of ensuring I got enough sleep to be at my best for my studies the next day at school.  I am not a proponent of the "do as I say, not as I do" kind of philosophy in life, but on occasion this instruction makes sense as it did when mom and dad ushered me off to bed.  The truth of the matter is we all need to listen to what we are told on occasion - even when we see exactly the opposite happening around us.  We don't know the ultimate reasons for what is going on, but when we are told to do something, we are wise to observe the instruction.  Mom and dad took that time after I went to bed to work on a very solid relationship together - this was evident in the 29 years they enjoyed with each other.  Their time together was cut short by dad's untimely heart attack, but what they put into their relationship as they talked into the late hours of the night, planned their future together, and even just enjoyed "hanging out time" together really showed in their relationship.  I didn't get that back then, but I do now.  I had to trust their instruction to me was for a good reason.  Guess what?  When God tells us to do something, it is usually for just as good, if not better reason!  Maybe it is about time we stop bucking the requests he makes of us like little children resisting bedtime and just do what it is he asks!

Now, young people, listen to me. Do as I say, and you will be happy. Listen to what you are taught. Be wise; do not neglect it. Those who listen to me will be happy—those who stay at my door every day, waiting at the entrance to my home. Those who find me find life, and the Lord will be pleased with them. (Psalm 8:32-35 GNT)

A friend asked me the other day how I know "so much" about some things. Most of what I have learned over the years has come because I have been in the right place at the right time.  Some things didn't come to me so easily, though. I had to really work at them and look for opportunities to learn whatever it was I was desiring to wrap my hands around.  There were those things I had learned because I was able to surround myself with knowledgeable people who could instruct me in those matters.  Then there were those things I had to learn on my own - through concerted study.  When I first went into nursing leadership back in 1990, I had to really pour over the regulations under which skilled nursing facilities operate.  There were Federal guidelines, State statutes, and County rules, plus those "rules" by which a nurse was expected to operate within known as "practice guidelines".  Now, to say these were complex would be an understatement.  One set of expectations could be stricter than another, so the strictest had to "win out".  Putting these all together took quite a bit of study - with long nights just reading and assimilating the content.  This wasn't the end because I had to figure out how this was operationalized in the the care of the patients who filled the 180-bed facility in which I was responsible to provide care.  This is where I needed the knowledge of those who had "gone before me" in this leadership role.  I needed mentors.  I needed their skill set to help me develop my own.  I was privileged to have good mentors as I "grew up" in this career - so much of what I learned was because of the path they had walked before me.

It is often being in the right place at the right time which opens the doors of understanding in our lives.  Our passage refers to this idea of staying at God's door every day, waiting at the entrance to his home.  If we want to learn more than the Bible stories, we need to sit at the feet of the one who can mentor us! If all we do is read the words from the pages of the Bible, we are like I was when I read all those regulations - I got the content, but I didn't know how to put it into practice.  We need to be at the feet of Jesus - at the feet of our mentor!  Much of what I learned over the years wasn't because I had "scheduled time" with my mentors.  It was because I frequented their presence, learning from them even when it wasn't the "official time" to learn from them.  Every opportunity to observe their skill was one more chance to learn something new. When we put ourselves in a place of being with our mentor more frequently, we find we observe opportunities for learning we might not have recognized otherwise!  This is why we are kind of directed to be in the right place at the right time!  Be in a position where you stand the best chance of learning what God is capable of teaching to those who are hungry to learn!  

We might not always understand the purpose of the place or the "restriction" of privilege we are being asked to adhere to on occasion.  What we can understand is the value of the mentoring which is occurring when we do more than just learn all the rules.  I knew bedtime was 8 p.m.  I still wanted to push the envelope on occasion.  I knew the rule - but I didn't understand the purpose of the rule.  I am older now, having observed much, much more from the mentoring of my parents.  I don't resist bedtime anymore.  Why?  I understand the purpose and I have seen the value behind it.  We learn much by being mentored - maybe even more than when we just "study" on our own.  For mentoring to really work - we need the frequent exposure to our mentor.  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A shepherd's hook and a nomadic tent

When you have an older adult living with you, such as one of your parents, it is not uncommon that the conversations will gravitate to what they want done after they are gone.  They want to know the few treasures they possess will end up in the hands of those they most want to have them - because they know they will enjoy them greatly.  Last night was one of those conversations with mom - turning not so much to the "bigger" material things she has, but the simple ones, like the china tea cups and the tea service she received from my grandmother at her death.  Yet, we didn't stop there - because the topic of her hearing aides came up, as well.  She didn't want them to go to just anyone - so she asked what I would do with them.  I told her my heart's inclination was to find some agency with children or older adults needing hearing aides who could not afford to purchase these expensive devices themselves and then to bless them with them being "refitted" for their ears.  The inside technology could be reused because they still have great life in them.  She seemed pleased with that answer and then began a time of silence in which I could tell she was pondering something else.  When I asked her what it was, she told me it would wonderful if I could find some way to help people get their eyesight back.  Even more than the loss of her hearing, she misses her vision the most!  If I could find a way to help even one person to keep their eyesight instead of succumbing to this awful darkness of macular degeneration, she would want me to do that one thing.  All I could do was remind her we have made arrangements for her body to be donated to science and perhaps in the examination of the end results of the disease, she might benefit others through that research.  She seemed happy to know this simple act on her part may help many others in the future.  Mom often tells me to protect my eyes - avoiding unnecessary strain by putting a light on when I read, to not rub them when they itch, and the like.  Why?  She has come to value them in ways most of us take for granted.  I think God reminds us to protect his teachings in our heart in much the same way mom wants me to protect my eyes - because we don't know fully what we possess!

My child, remember what I say and never forget what I tell you to do. Do what I say, and you will live. Be as careful to follow my teaching as you are to protect your eyes. Keep my teaching with you all the time; write it on your heart. Treat wisdom as your sister, and insight as your closest friend.  (Proverbs 7:1-4 GNT)

Be as careful to follow God's teaching as we are to protect our eyes - this is the crux of the message.  Don't be frivolous with God's Word.  Don't neglect either the attention we give to it, nor the obedience we pursue in response to it.  We don't really understand this concept of "writing something on our heart" until we see it through the eyes of the time in which it was written.  The Hebrew language uses "heart" to describe the seat of the emotions and the center of thought.  In Hebrew terms, the "heart" wasn't this beating organ at the center of our circulatory system, but the brain and all the components of thought and/or memory which goes along with it.  In Deuteronomy 6:5 we are told to love God with all our heart - something Jesus re-emphasized during his walk on this earth (Matthew 22:37).  In the understanding of the original language of this command, this refers to you and I keeping our emotions and thoughts all focused on working for God - not on ourselves.  We are to focus on what pleases him and brings pleasure to him.  The Hebrew word for heart is actually made up of two Hebrew letters - one is the symbol of the shepherd's hook, while the other is the symbol for the Hebrew tent which a "nomadic" individual would know to be his home.  These two combined symbolized both the idea of authority over a flock and the place of being within the tent or in the family - belonging inside or within the family.  In essence, the idea is that of "the authority within".  So, when we are reminded to write God's teachings on our heart, we are being told to give them a prominence which has both the authority to govern our actions and to guide the emotions we place behind those actions.

Turning our attention again to this passage, it is pretty clearly taught that we must actually do something with God's Word.  It doesn't get inside us through osmosis, or some mystical measures.  It gets there because we are careful to take it in and then to give it a place of prominence or attention in our lives.  This idea of being careful to do something with what we possess is kind of like when I tell mom to not put her hearing aides just anywhere when she takes them out. She must put them in a designated location, awaiting their return to the charger. She cannot manage this on her own, so I place them inside the charger. She does put them on the small mat beside the bed on occasion because she knows I will look there to make them "useful" for her once again on the next day.  God is kind of doing the same thing with us - he asks us to pay close attention to what we do with the Word we possess.  Then he comes along and takes what we couldn't figure out on our own and makes it "useful" for us!

Our part is to be aware of the importance of God's teaching.  His part is to help us get the most out of it.  Our part is to be attentive to his teaching and guard it with all the tenacity we can muster.  His part is to take what resides within and to make it the authority by which we live our lives.  We willingly submit to this authority - because we are guarding it as the ultimate authority by which we will take our steps.  Just sayin.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Arms, feet, and warm hugs galore

Unless you were living under a rock back in 2001 when the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon were made the targets of terrorist attacks, you know how this attack on U.S. soil brought a nation together unlike anything else we had seen in days preceding the events and/or what we have seen afterward.  Those affected by the terrorist attacks lost countless lives - moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles - all in a moment's time, all without warning.  The senselessness of the attacks sent many wondering if the beginning of something as catastrophic as World War III was about to begin.  One of the trends which was observed in the after-math of these attacks was the sudden "up-surge" in church attendance.  Across America, in large cities and small townships, people flocked to churches - people who hadn't been to church in years, or ever at all. The events caused some to examine their personal commitment to values they had been raised with, while others were seeking some sort of "community" with which to grieve and heal.  Then, almost without anyone noticing, the trend "downward" in church attendance began again.  We have to wonder if this simply represents a nation becoming more comfortable again, kind of drifting into a sense of apathy, or is this part of another shift in our values which has come like many other shifts in the past.  Church attendance is not the sole indicator of a person's "value system", but it does represent a sense of community which is like no other.  There is much we cannot receive alone in our exploration of scripture - it was meant to be shared, chewed on together, and then given out so others can also benefit from it.  Maybe this is what we will miss more in our drift away from church attendance more than anything else we might recognize in this trend.

Choose my instruction instead of silver; choose knowledge rather than the finest gold. (Proverbs 8:10 GNT)

In 2015 it is predicted among those who analyze church attendance and statistics related to what individuals report to hold as "beliefs" that one of the most noticeable "trends" we shall see in this generation is the "pulling away" from church attendance. The ever-increasing options to "attend" church online will present a "different" way to "go to church".  What once was reserved for those who were "shut in" may just become the increasing trend among those who want to "do church" on their schedule rather than the traditional schedule of "Sunday church services" at the local church.  I don't think we fully appreciate what missing out on the "gathering together" may do to us as a nation (and as individuals).  We need something called "fellowship" - the companionship of those who are working through life's challenges just like you are and the learning which comes from walking these paths together.

We are encouraged to choose instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than gold.  Why?  There is more benefit in the purposeful application of truth than in any other pursuit we undertake in life.  Where does this purposeful pursuit begin?  Most of the time it begins when someone else begins to unlock the door to truth we might not have unlocked on our own!  Think about the times when you have heard even one or two lines in a sermon and then had those few thoughts begin to spark new insight in your own life.  The thing happening there was this "unlocking" of the door.  The truth was always there - it just wasn't connected with your lock!  Sometimes we need one another to help us "get the key in the lock", so to speak!

When we begin to drift from our commitment to each other in fellowship, we also begin to drift in our commitment to exploration of the truth.  Don't believe me?  Think about it - do you actually get as much from reading the book as you do when you actually get to sit down with the author face-to-face?  I remember the day when I got to spend an entire evening with Corrie Ten Boom.  I was an impressionable teenager, just beginning to find my way in life, forming my own set of values.  Her books were great.  Her stories of surviving the horrific times of Hitler's attack on Jews were riveting.  But...when I got to meet her, touch her hands, see the love deeply ingrained into the lines of her face, and hear the kindness of her words which spoke of God's love and protection, something "clicked" inside me about "who" she loved and "who" loved her.

We don't have times when we get to sit "face-to-face" with God the Father. Sure, we enjoy his presence with us and even get to talk straight with him about matters of our heart.  Yet, he isn't like the guy next to us, with flesh and blood, arms and feet, and the like.  Maybe this is why he gave us each other - so we could relate to him in the small ways each of us reflect him.  When we are with each other, we are really with little bits and pieces of God!  We are seeing, hearing, and feeling him through others.  We cannot neglect the instruction to gather together - it isn't optional!  We need the connection - just sayin!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not the brightest, but the one which gets the job done

You don't truly value light until it is gone.  I guess I didn't fully appreciate it until my mother began to lose her eyesight.  Macular degeneration is a process of damage to the eye which gradually takes small portions of the eye's line of vision, increasing little by little until most of the line of vision is gone.  If you liken the story of Jesus healing the blind man in scripture to what my mother now sees, you will recount the man said he could see man as trees walking around.  Mom no longer sees our faces, doesn't appreciate the detail in a photo, and cannot see the home run her grandson hits in.  One of the things she most needs is "brightness" in her world because most of what she sees is shaded with much "darkness" due to the loss of light perception which comes with the disease.  Lamps of all sizes and shapes have been purchased to assist her in remaining as independent as possible.  Brightness of bulbs have been experimented with.  You would think the "brighter the better" - right?  Yet, sometimes the "clearest" light is not always the brightest - it is just the clearest. The same is true in our own lives - we often seek the brightest light, but what we need is the light which makes everything the clearest for us!

The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teachings shine brightly. Correction and self-control will lead you through life. (Proverbs 6:23 CEV)

We turn to the Word of God to gain light in our lives - for the things contained within the pages of our Bible are there to give not only light, but "path illumination".  One of the "clearest" lights mom can follow is the path laid out by the flashlight app on my smartphone!  It isn't a particularly bright light - for we have floodlight flashlights with brighter light!  It is the clearest, though.  It illuminates the path she should follow to take to the bedroom as we go through the house shutting off the lights behind us on our way to bed at night.  A tiny light can give so much illumination, while the halogen bulbs in the lamps around the house just don't cut it!  It is all about laying out the path she should follow - the smallest of light can do this quite well.  The same is true in our walk with Jesus - it doesn't take us knowing the entire Bible to know how to walk with Jesus.  It takes us using the smallest of lights to help guide our path!

Truth be told, we all possess a different "degree" of light in our lives - we have full access to the brightest and most brilliant of light, but we only use a portion of what we have access to.  Why?  Those small "particles" of light are sufficient to guide our path.  They provide enough "illumination" to help us correct our course as necessary.  They also "cement" our ability to exercise self-control in times when restraint might just not be the first reaction to whatever is presenting itself in our path.  God's wisdom contained in the pages of our Bible is a pretty big "meal".  Just like when we go to the restaurant with the buffet style line up of salads, appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts, we want to partake of all of it!  We just cannot do so all at one time or we'd bust!  The Word of God isn't much different - it is best "consumed" in small bites, well digested, and allowed to bring enjoyment to our lives in even the smallest of ways.

Sometimes we get down on ourselves because we seem to only possess a small particle of light in comparison to another person.  Don't ever forget the warning to avoid comparison to anyone else.  It leads to such things as envy, disgrace, and even a little intimidation.  Neither of these is God-honoring.  We get green with envy because someone else possesses the knowledge we want to have - but do they put it into application in their lives - has it impacted their actions, influenced their decisions, and really changed how they live moment by moment.  We get down on ourselves because we sometimes don't get every step we take perfectly right - stumbling a little in the light we have.  Yet, if we are truthful about our walks - regardless of how much light we possess, we ALL stumble now and again.  We all stub our toes on occasion.  We just cannot let our stumbling cause us to "feel we lose grace" - they should drive us toward grace even more.  

Learn to walk in the light you have today.  It may not be the brightest or the most brilliant of light - but it is sufficient to begin to illuminate your path.  When you are walking along the path laid out by the light you possess, trust God to allow that tiniest of light to be both the light which will correct your course and give you the self-control to resist the temptations to give up or give in along the way.  In using the smallest of light you have, the path it illuminates will take you into brighter and more vibrant light in the end.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Maybe not the lifestyle you planned

When I was a young adult, one of the shows gaining popularity was this show which featured lots and lots of well-to-do people and how they lived.  It was called "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", featuring Robin Leach "showing off" the homes of those who enjoyed what some considered an "elite" lifestyle. Ball players from major leagues, actors and actresses, and a myriad of other rather insanely rich people had opulent homes and properties which made eyes pop and people dream about what it would be like to live with such luxury.  It must have hit the mark for many a TV viewer as the series ran for 11 years!  One home caught my attention more than any of the others.  It was the one Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz lived in located in Beverly Hills, California.  Why?  I think it was the simplicity of their lifestyle in a region where "magnitude", "frills", and "effect" were all the rage.  Their home looked like a "regular" home from the outside - just another home out of an era gone by.  Sure, they had a pool and a nice lounging area in the backyard, but the home looked "lived in" and kind of like what "regular" people would be able to inhabit.  All the other homes we saw were massive in comparison, with all kinds of "bells and whistles".  I think this is why this one stuck with me - complete with card table, clean kitchen and piano. Nothing screams for attention more than the "gaudiness" of trying to "put on the Ritz" like so many of those portrayed did in their homes.  Nothing shows the shallowness of life quite like the need to "show" what one has.  Lest anyone think I am equating Lucille Ball's lifestyle to the one we all need to adopt, I am merely comparing two obviously differing "philosophies" on how one will handle their wealth or good fortune in life.  What we have is one thing, who we are at the core of our being is quite another!  What we have may be on "display" in life for others to admire and drool over; what we display from the recesses of our heart is what really speaks the loudest though!

The lifestyle of good people is like sunlight at dawn that keeps getting brighter until broad daylight. The lifestyle of the wicked is like total darkness, and they will never know what makes them stumble. (Proverbs 4:18-19 CEV)

The closer we draw to Christ, the brighter our lifestyle becomes.  The evidence of his presence begins to "ooze" out of the recesses of our heart - we cannot contain what he creates within us - it is meant to be shared.  It may not be the same "opulence" displayed in those "Lifestyle" homes, but let me assure you, it rises above even the most elaborate and fancy of those!  Our lives are mirror images of what we spend time facing long enough.  For example, turn toward sports frequently enough as something which consumes your attention and you will find your home begins to reflect this "affection".  You will decorate in the team colors, display a few team memorabilia, and even begin to talk stats about team performance.  This is just part-and-parcel with being a "fan" or "devotee" to the sport!  Now, think about considering Christ in just the same manner. If we are dedicating just as much time to him, we might just see a little bit of him reflected back to us in all we say and do!

We sometimes think the more we focus on something the closer we will be to obtaining it in our own lives.  Yet, so much of what we spend time focusing on is just an elusive object, position, or scheme.  The truth of the matter is pretty plain - we focus on the wrong stuff and then wonder why we don't see more of Christ manifest in our lives.  Unless we spend time looking into the mirror of his face, we won't see what he sees!  Even when we spend just a little time with him each and everyday, we become more and more like him just because we begin to see reflected back some of his glory and "brightness" in our lives. It is impossible to behold the presence of God and not be affected by it!  In much the same way as "big dreamers" were affected by seeing the show I referenced above, we can be affected by time with Jesus.  Many think it has to be dedicated time on our knees, long hours in church, and the like.  I am here to challenge that a little bit today.

It isn't the "quantity" of time - it is the quality.  Do we spend enough time in the Word?  To answer that I would have to ask you if the Word is having an affect on you, regardless of whether you read a verse or two, or an entire chapter. The quantity isn't the issue - it is the quality.  Do we spend time in prayer in the "right" way?  I am not a "kneeler", so I pray on my feet, sitting in the car on the way to work, when someone comes into my office, and while just sitting reflecting on the beauty of the garden.  Prayer is just talking to God about the regular stuff of life.  It isn't always this structured, totally organized methodology.  I won't win any points on "organization" as it comes to my prayers.  I just let them flow and let God take care of putting "organization" to them.  Do we spend enough time with his people?  I guess this is up for interpretation for most.  I have been a three service a week church-goer, to a one service a week church-goer.  I have attended small groups and gone periods without one.  There is a balance which must be maintained between it all.  This is all I am saying.

The most telling part of walking with Jesus is the evidence of us having walked with him.  This is the focus of my life and the hope I have for each of you. When others look upon your "lifestyle", my prayer is that they don't see the "opulence" of the world, but that which comes from having beheld the face of Jesus!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

God, I give you the fool...

A long time ago, I thought the only way to deal with foolish individuals was to talk them out of their foolishness.  Let me be the first to confess - the only thing this did was make a fool of me!  Why?  Fools cannot be talked out of their foolishness - they need an up-front and personal encounter with Jesus - not with my reasoning, rationalization, or even arguments which point out all the ways contrary to the ways they have chosen to act. This is why you won't find me debating with those who show up on my doorstep to "win me over" to their faith. I will simply state that I am a follower of Christ, very pleased with this deeply personal relationship I share with him, and have my hope of salvation pretty well "nailed down".  If this peaks their interest, I certainly will go on to share why it is I have this hope, but I don't spend hours debating with them why their "religion" is flawed.  I need to simply state the truth for the hope which I have within me and then leave God to do the rest.  There are also times I will not engage someone who is being totally unrealistic, confrontational, or even "mightier than thou" in their approach to life.  They aren't going to listen at that very moment, so I just do what scripture says - I turn aside and keep on going.  Before anyone accuses me of not caring, or of being a coward, let me just assure you the most caring and even the bravest thing I can do is to leave them in the hands of God!  He is ultimately in charge and I can simply state truth - allowing him to do the rest of the work which needs to be done.

My child, if you listen and obey my teachings, you will live a long time. I have shown you the way that makes sense; I have guided you along the right path. Your road won’t be blocked, and you won’t stumble when you run. Hold firmly to my teaching and never let go. It will mean life for you. Don’t follow the bad example of cruel and evil people. Turn aside and keep going. Stay away from them. They can’t sleep or rest until they do wrong or harm some innocent victim.  (Proverbs 4:11-16 CEV)

I guess I didn't fully appreciate this truth in my younger days because I would "engage" them in their arguments and then when we just got deeper and deeper into their unrealistic beliefs, I'd be dumbfounded about how to respond. I could see it as wrong - but they just couldn't - and that was pretty frustrating to me.  There are some things God expects of his kids - then there are things he expects us to leave in his hands!  Don't get those two mixed up!  First, we are to be attentive to his teachings and then act according to what we know to be right.  So, in the end, our lives become a display of the grace and truth of God's love - something our words might just not be able to accomplish in the same manner.  Next, we are to stay within the paths which make sense for our lives. I have actually done some testing to see how it is I personally deal with confrontation.  I am a confrontation "avoider" - I don't like to just jump in there and take up the fight.  Is this wrong?  No, it isn't.  When you understand that "confrontation style", you will soon recognize my "holding back" or "becoming quite" in the presence of confrontation is really me just stepping back to gain perspective.  I am not fully disengaging, I am simply restructuring my thoughts so I don't respond without wisdom.

I think this is what God has in mind when he says we have been show the way that makes sense - the right way to respond even in the midst of confrontation. There are times when engaging too soon, or with little to no forethought is just plain unwise.  It will only end up damaging one or both of the parties engaged in the confrontation.  Road blocks seem to be something we all understand. We might just think someone is a "road block" in our life - like everything they say and do is really just holding us back or keeping us from getting any further along. I have had discussions like that with individuals on occasion - no matter which "tact" I took, the outcome was about the same.  Now, I have to ask - was all my effort futile?  To answer that I need only look at the outcome of the encounter.  I must admit, in most cases, it was!  Why?  Foolishness cannot be "talked out" of an individual's mind or heart.  It must be "washed out" by the blood of the Lamb!  There is much to be said about "turning away from the foolish" because engaging in their folly will only take us down roads we don't want to travel.  I like how scripture tells us to turn aside and just keep on going. I like that we are given "permission" to not turn our backs on them, but to turn aside.  This implies we don't engage with their folly.  

God starts by reminding us of our priorities - him first, his teachings next, and then taking steps in the right direction to the best of the ability he gives us. If we encounter some fools along the way, we don't engage with them in their folly and we don't get stymied by their folly (road blocks).  Maybe this is why we don't argue with the fool - because all these arguments do is add "weight" like a burden a burro might carry upon its back.  We take on the fools misgivings, their protests, and even their arguments as though they were something we were to bear ourselves.  God's intent is not for us to bear their burdens of unbelief, argumentativeness, or even frustration - he will do that.  We just need to lead lives which present positive examples of his love and grace - let him deal with the fools.  Just sayin!