Thursday, April 30, 2015

Maintain the distance

Have you ever been roped into an argument just by being in the wrong place at the right time?  It is like some current pulled you into the raging waters and you found yourself just barely able to hold on for the ride!  It isn't enough you were there, the other person wants to make sure you don't escape without "weighing in" on the argument - giving your opinion only opens the door to a more "heated" discussion!  Sheesh!  How did that happen?  Well, it isn't always about whether we "wanted" to argue, it is about how well we "refused" to argue.  Most of the time we don't "want" to argue - we don't get out of bed in the morning with the determination to pick a fight with someone today.  Yet, we might just struggle a little with this ability to refuse to argue - especially when the subject begins to turn toward something we are passionate about, or even us!  Learning to refuse to argue is indeed a skill we each will be well served to acquire!

People who refuse to argue deserve respect. Any fool can start an argument. (Proverbs 20:3 ERV)

I like the plain truth - ANY fool can start an argument.  Back in the day, this rather burly, gold chain laden guy on TV used the expression, "I pity the fool" to describe anyone who got in his way.  I think the expression is apropos!  ANY fool can start an argument - it takes a pretty wise man or woman to actually avoid stepping into the trap in the first place.  Margaret Thatcher actually used to comment about how much she liked someone to argue or debate with her. She was once quoted as saying she actually didn't think it was their "job" to agree with her - it was more or less their job to challenge her.  This is an interesting way to look at a life in the political arena, but I don't know if I'd want to live life like that each and every day!  In truth, I don't think I could be President of the United States just because I don't like conflict!  

Colin Powell said, "Great leaders are almost great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand."  There is a lot of truth in those words.  The wise will be able to "simplify" the arguments of another - to actually get at the core of the argument without ever having to "enter into it" in the first place.  There is this skill of being able to "cut through" to the core of the matter and expose it for what it is. This brings insight - insight brings light - and where light is, darkness has to flee!

In a sense, we all get roped into arguments we didn't really want to get into in the first place.  It wasn't the right moment when someone approached us and we responded in a little bit of a hasty manner, or with a curtness to our response which led the other guy or gal to just plain "take offense".  In an instant, we see the flare of tension and the beginning spark of an argument. What one small spark has the potential to create is a huge forest fire!  There is something about refusing to even give the first spark which bears us considering today.  To avoid being the type of person who "sparks" the argument, we also need to be the kind of person who recognizes the flint set at the perfect angle to actually make a spark when brought into contact with any opposing force!

To do this, we need to remain ever vigilant over our own "position" in the situation.  The flint is nothing until it is struck - no threat of a spark until something of opposing force strikes it.  Herein is the wisdom Solomon refers to - the ability to step away from the argument - to not be the opposing force which will send the spark into full igniting force.  A wise person will recognize the wisdom of keeping distance from those "poised" for the argument.  They will not be treading "unaware" of the hazards before them.  In fact, they are attentive to the tenor of the group, the stage which has been set.  Why?  It is impossible to be trapped when one is attentive to their surroundings!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Not just a reflection

If you are not a friend to yourself, it shows in the little things you neglect and are quite critical of in yourself.  When you are not a "fan" of who or what you are, you have a tendency to be quite "down" on whatever character flaw it is that has caught your attention at that moment.  In fact, you see that flaw in yourself, and then the contradictory "perfection" in someone else.  You might even see that same "flaw" in another, but you are more likely to just look at how someone else "has it all together" in that area and then be even more "down" on yourself because of your perceived "flaw".  According to scripture, you can tell when you are a "friend to yourself" by how well you are pursuing the things in life which make you wise.  When you apply yourself to wisdom, there is little time to be "down" on the stuff which you get hung up on when all you are doing is looking at your reflection in a mirror!

Be a friend to yourself; do all you can to be wise. Try hard to understand, and you will be rewarded. (Proverbs 19:8 ERV)

Mirrors produce a "reflected" image which is bounced back to whoever is looking at the image.  The closer you get to the mirror, the closer the image appears and the more the "inspection" can get into the not otherwise noticeable nooks and crannies.  The mirror we choose to use to reflect back an image to us is important, though.  Try using one of those high-powered mirrors to get a perspective of how an outfit looks on you and you will get a pretty distorted image.  Try using a full-length mirror to determine which eyebrow needs to be plucked and you are just not going to narrow in on the culprit you can feel, but not see!  We need the right mirror for the job at hand, don't we?  So, why is it we use the "wrong mirror" to look at ourselves when it comes to considering the work of grace within us?  We choose to look at ourselves through a mirror of judgment and disgust - God is looking at us through a mirror of grace and acceptance.

When we are looking in the right mirror, what we see reflected back at us is a more accurate representation of the true character of what is beheld.  This is why it so important to pursue wisdom - to pursue the things which are truth rather than fiction in our lives.  Sometimes the greatest understanding comes in the times we are reflective - when we are "at the right mirror", looking intently into the right image of how God sees us.  In science, we have microscopes. They often have a couple of high powered lenses.  If you have ever used one, you know you spin the right lens into place and "poof" - what was hidden is revealed!  Things appearing one way on the surface come to light in a totally different way under the magnification of that lens.  Why?  The "power" of sight is increased because we are seeing the object through a very focused lens.  

When we allow God's Spirit to be the lens by which we focus on ourselves (and others for that matter), we often begin to see things which were once hidden from our view - things which appear one way on the surface, but which have a totally different view when scrutinized through the right lens.  Notice I used this word "scrutinized".  I think we need to do a little scrutinizing in our lives from time to time, but when we do, we need to be conscientious about using the right lens by which the hidden is revealed!  We can use the lens of popular opinion, but trust me on this one - it is flawed!  We can use the lens of misguided beliefs, but we will just see what we want to see when we do.  We need the lens of truth if we are to ever uncover the hidden.

We do well to learn - but we do best when we apprehend our learning and use it in everyday life.  We do well to look at our reflection - but we see most accurately when we use the scripture, God's Word, to allow the most accurate reflection of how God sees us to come back at us.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It isn't HIS fault!

When I buy something new, especially some kind of electronic device, or little gadget designed to make my life easier, I usually am pretty excited by it.  I think it will meet whatever need I have and am eager to put it into use in my home, work life, etc.  Have you ever stopped to consider just how short of a time span it really takes for the excitement to wear off?  In my youth, I would have just rushed into decisions, not really considering what I was doing, much less the "why" behind those actions.  As I have grown up a little (and heaven knows I am still "growing up"), I have come to the conclusion rapid decisions and impulsive actions actually have a cost to them I may not want to actually pay.  Excitement fades - reality sets in and it around for a long, long time!

Being excited about something is not enough. You must also know what you are doing. Don’t rush into something, or you might do it wrong. People ruin their lives with the foolish things they do, and then they blame the Lord for it. (Proverbs 19:2-3 ERV)

There is much truth in the scriptural reminder to us that being excited about something (or someone) is not enough - we must also know what we are doing! This is where we get the phrase, "fools rush in".  We indeed do stand a pretty reasonable chance of bringing ruin into our lives, if not ruining our lives, when we choose to be foolish in our timing, intent, or planning.  We need all three to be under the guidance and leadership of the Lord in our lives - timing is best when it is on his schedule; intent is better refined when it is filtered through his mind; and planning is best when it is under his watchful eye.

We always want what someone else has, wish we could have gone where someone else has gone, or yearn for the accomplishments another has achieved.  We can live our whole life wanting, wishing, and yearning, but when we do, we miss out on all the living God intends for us in the "right now"!  We can live too impetuously and make foolish decisions, or live too cautiously and miss out on all God intends for us.  Either way, we are not living as full of a life as God would desire for us - we need the balance of both.

Excitement without knowledge is just not productive, is it?  I have been excited about a lot of things which have come down the road in my lifetime, but I can also assure you the excitement did not produce any real commitment from me to actually take what was coming and put it into good use in my life.  Why? Enthusiasm is easily deterred by difficulty, laziness, and just plain dawning of common sense!  Sometimes I didn't even need God to tell me I bit off more than I could chew - my own common sense began to kick in and I realized I was into something I should have avoided in the first place!

I don't mean to knock my employer, but I have seen a lot of things come and go over the years - returning again in a different format, called a different thing, spruced up a different way.  It wasn't entirely productive the first time around, but the concepts were good.  They just didn't produce the desired results - the culture didn't change as they hoped.  All the planning didn't produce the results. Why?  People need more than good theory to produce something - they need the desire, passion, and commitment of heart, as well.  We can offer all kinds of good theory, but it remains theory until the resources are put into it which actually turn it into reality.

In our walks with Christ, we can put all kind of thought into things we'd like to see differently, but until we take what is merely "theory" to us and begin to put it into action in our lives, it will remain an untapped resource!  We can rush in without enough forethought to actually "cement" the theory into something we can put into practice within our lives, then wonder why it didn't "take". We can also reject stuff which could save us a lot of lost time and unnecessary worry - just because we don't want to make the effort.  Either way, we end up almost accusing God for our lack of growth.  How foolish is that?  Just sayin!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Leadership matters....pray for them

There are simply times when I shake my head at the opposition I see to so many of the rulers we have in place around our nation.  People gather on the squares outside legislative halls to protest the rules made, the positions of these rulers on matters they are asked to pass legislation on, and to just plain express their opposition to the rules in general.  It is kind of like a "sport" to them - some being at every protest they can possibly attend - even if it means missing work or leaving some other commitment undone.  I don't even know if they fully understand the "reason" behind their protest as much as they enjoy the "sport" of the protest.  The truth is pretty evident - we will not always share the same opinions as others - especially those in political positions of power and decision making.  To ridicule them or point fingers at them in protest is not an effective means of helping them do their job, though.  In fact, scripture points to quite another answer to the lack of congruence between our opinions and theirs - we are to pray for them. 

Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power. People who oppose the authorities are opposing what God has done, and they will be punished. Rulers are a threat to evil people, not to good people. There is no need to be afraid of the authorities. Just do right, and they will praise you for it. After all, they are God’s servants, and it is their duty to help you. (Romans 13:1-4 CEV)

Above all things, we are to obey those who have been set in places of authority in our lives.  It may be they are our "bosses" in the work environment, or perhaps an elected official occupying an office in our local or national government.  It doesn't matter their "position", we owe this obligation of obedience to them as long as what they ask of us doesn't violate any principle taught to us in scripture.  If they ask for us to engage in actions which violate how it is God asks for us to behave, then we may respectfully "not do" what it is they ask.  For example, if the official asked us to embezzle monies on their behalf, we would know this is in violation of what scripture declares when it tells us to not lie, cheat, and the like.  So, we wouldn't engage in this activity.  We know they are the "boss" or the "ruler", but the action is wrong and we are to respectfully stand up for the principles of righteousness we adhere to.

It should give us cause to pause when we read the reminder God puts these individuals in places of authority.  Even if they aren't the best rulers, God allows them to enter those positions - mostly because people everywhere were demanding their rise to that position.  You see, God often gives us what we ask for and then when things don't go our way, we want to blame God.  The truth be told, we asked for it!  Maybe not us personally, but as a nation, a city, or even a workplace - there was enough support to allow that individual to rise to the position of leadership they occupy.  Therefore, when we oppose their leadership, we are opposing God.  This is not the ground we want to walk upon, is it?

Rulers are a threat to evil people - not good people.  Why?  Good people know there is someone in control of the situation, even when the one in a position of power is not doing exactly what they would want them to do.  They know God is still in charge - he isn't going to leave his people without any help.  Even when Daniel was thrown into the lion's den, he knew God would be there to help him out.  It may have ended in his death, but even in his death, there would have been a tremendous deliverance.  God wasn't going to abandon him, though, and he knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt.  This is what we stand upon when faced with rulers and leaders who just aren't measuring up to the standards we'd hoped they would.  I know that I have been disappointed at times when someone campaigns on one platform, then begins to exhibit quite a different stance once they are in office.  Yet, we elected him/her to the office - so the people now have an obligation to pray for that individual and trust God to give them wisdom, direction, etc.

The main thing is we live right - we don't veer from our convictions and don't throw up our hands in disgust simply because things aren't exactly going the way we'd want them to go.  I think this may also go for how it is we speak of them in our social media feeds, circles of influence, and in the public eye.  We don't tread where they tread everyday, nor do we understand the pressures they face, but we do know the one who can guide their steps and assure we are protected under their care.  Just sayin!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rules of Christian Living - Part Seven

Our last "to do" in our list of "Rules for Christian Living" is this idea of not letting evil get us down, but rather turning evil around in our world by us doing good. This one seems awful simplistic, especially in light of some of the evil we see around us these days, doesn't it?  It is hard to "undo" rape, terrorism, or even the plaguing thoughts of bullying.  It is harder still to "undo" the destruction of diseases such as MS, Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's.  We might be able to slow the progression of the "evil", but "undoing" the effect it has on people - that is really a thing we just haven't been able to accomplish yet.  Look again at our passage. It doesn't say we defeat the evil in this world.  It reminds us we can live in such a way that we don't get defeated by the evil around us by living in such a way that goodness if the hallmark of our lives.  The idea is that of not being "conquered" by evil.  There is but one way to not be "conquered" - it is found in living so close to the one who conquers all things by his power!

Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good. (Romans 12:21 CEV)

I think Martin Luther King, Jr. may have hit this idea on the head:  "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."  If we take our passage in context, we begin to understand the truth being taught is that of maintaining a right perspective in relationship - first with God and then with those who are walking right next to us.  We started our study by discovering what it means to be "sincere" in our love for each other. Then we moved into this idea of being committed to the relationship - giving it our all and never giving up.  In turn, we learn to reach out to others who have definite need in their lives, serving them in whatever capacity the opportunity may afford.  Adding the committed concern we exhibit when we are willing to take our friend (and enemy) before the Lord in prayerful thought is definitely a sign we are on the right track when it comes to "acting" within relationship how it is God expects us to act (and react).

We can be defeated by a great many things, but in truth, defeat is really a seed for something to grow if we let it.  If you have ever been truly disappointed by something which really didn't work out as well as you wanted it to, you may have found yourself realizing there were other ways to "use" the moment to actually defeat that disappointment.  I remember making a new type of fudge one year, only to find out the fudge never would set up.  It just was as runny as could be.  It may have been a failure on my part which led to the "flop", but when it came to redeeming the moment, we decided to bottle it, then serve it up as an ice cream topping!  Now, this may not be ingenious, but it was one way to turn a defeat into a victory!  We used the "flop" to create a different kind of "success" in life!  This is often what we find ourselves doing in relationship because all of our relationship "moments" will not "perfectly set".  Sometimes we need to take those which don't "set well" and use them as seeds to create something even more interesting and beautiful within the relationship!

This is the principle of defeating evil with good.  It is the ability to look beyond the bad stuff and see the potential for good to come out of it - even though it means a little more work and a little more time.  The fudge required we buy some canning jars (as we made a big, big batch)!  We then had to wash them, fill them, label them, and determine where to "store" all this new-found ice cream topping!  We wanted to share the fudge as Christmas treats with friends and family - so guess what they got for Christmas - yep, a bottle or two of this exquisite fudge topping for their ice cream!  White chocolate, bing cherry, and walnut topping for their evening ice cream splurge!  To our delight, they were delighted with our "flop"!  This is sometimes how it is in life - when we least expect something good to come from what seems to be a total disaster in life, the best kind of thing can happen.  We had friends and neighbors asking for the recipe and even asking for a second jar!  

We may not always be able to "ward off" evil, but we can respond to it by a certain strength within which counters the effect it has.  We can learn to forgive, but we have to allow the seeds of disappointment to actually come if we are ever to be challenged to forgive!  Just sayin!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Rules for Christian Living - Part Six

We have all probably heard a version of this quip:  "Payback is a bummer".  You may have heard it just a little differently, but you get the idea!  The "payback" for some of our misdeeds or meddling may be something we are not really counting on, but we can almost stand assured it is coming!  When I was younger, I was much more of a practical joker and liked to pull little pranks on people.  I learned that payback was really not something I liked!  There were times some of my friends and I would try to "one up" each other in the prank, having to be very creative about how it was we'd get the other one back for the last prank they pulled.  The problem with this kind of "one-upmanship" is that eventually the pranks had to get pretty elaborate and almost a little cruel or unsafe.  There was almost no end to the places we'd invade, the things we'd use, and the mischievous ways we'd prank one another.  It had to stop somewhere, though.  So, eventually I found myself a little convicted for some of the stuff I was doing and in time I cam to recognize these pranks as really not creating more of a cohesive relationship, but driving a bit of a wedge in between us.  I stopped - and guess what - they stopped, too!  Why did they stop?  They no longer had to "pay back" the mischief - we were just free to be going about our normal business of life without trying to create the way we'd "get even" with the other guy!  I think God has a similar plan in mind when it comes to our relationships with each other - we need to guard against the "one-upmanship" practices, engage in active forgiveness, and allow him to be in control when things are spinning way out of our own sphere of influence.

Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 CEB)

The principles we will consider today are really hard for some of us to grasp because we have not learned to let go of stuff, doing what I refer to as "gunny-sacking" the hurts and misdeeds of others until we "need" them someday in the future to really "stick it to them".  It is like we have this "sack" we might label our "revenge rucksack".  We pack it so full of the things people say, do, and even don't have a clue they have said or done which hurt us, leave us disappointed, or just plain were unthinking acts.  Then one day that "perfect" moment comes when we will "unload" this stuff - putrid from sometimes years and years of decay within our "rucksack"!  Eeesh!  What a mess this creates in relationships.  It is God's intent for us to not just empty the rucksack, but to completely remove it from our shoulders, hands, and possession!

We will always be in contact with others within our circles who just don't see things as we do.  This is life.  You might expect me to say we need to learn to "deal with it" to the best of our abilities, but herein is where we find ourselves pulling out the rucksack and "packing for the trip".  We need to learn to not so much "deal with it" ourselves, but allow God to deal with it!  If we do this, we find ourselves not needing the rucksack in the first place!  If you think of the purpose of a rucksack, it is designed for the shoulders, to be slung across the back of the one bearing the load within.  Rucksack is a German term meaning bag for the back.  So, in essence, when we put things another does or says which disappoint us into our "rucksack", we are bearing the burden of the hurt they are causing on our own shoulders.  It becomes the load which often breaks our backs because we weren't meant to actually bear up under that load in the first place!

The idea of "remaining current" within relationships is probably one of the ways we eliminate the tendency to put things in the rucksack.  When we deal with the hurts of today, they don't become the disappointments we nurse well into the future.  Sometimes we can easily accomplish this by taking just a few moments to step back, considering the perspective of the other person, and realize they just didn't intend to come across the way they did, or didn't even realize they did what they did.  At other times, we need to talk things out and get things in the open so they can be dealt with.  Either way, we eliminate the tendency to store up stuff in our rucksack when we do!  

Revenge is really not sweet - although it may seem that way to one who has been "housing" a lot of stuff in their rucksack.  The issue is really that the bitterness created by "housing" all those memories and hurts inside the sack just allows them to get all jumbled together and messed up.  Eventually we won't be able to distinguish one "issue" from another because they are all "tainted" by the other!  What comes out is a mess of bitter and disgusting thoughts, words, and deeds.  To avoid this happening, we need to rid ourselves of the sack!  What we are asked to do is trust God to "deal with" the other individual in the way he sees fit.  God may convict them with his kindness, or he may bring a little displeasure their way - that is his business and totally his "purview".  We need to just leave this in his hands.  When we do, we walk away without a burden on our shoulders we weren't meant to bear up under in the first place.

So, our lesson today - ditch the rucksack!  Just sayin!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Rules for Christian Living - Part Five

It is said when an individual is able to empathize with another they are able to associate with the feelings, attitudes, and sometimes even the pain of another. It is as though they have walked through, or are currently walking through the same stuff the other person is at that moment in time.  There is an "association" with the other person's plight, joy, freedom, etc.  To suffer "with" another is different from entering into the suffering with the individual.  Sympathy is something which occurs because two people are so similar in tastes, opinions, etc., that they often see things the same way.  When God asks us to be happy when others are happy, sad when they are sad, he is asking us to use a little of both.  He desires nothing more than we become like minded - developing the same tastes and opinions.  He also wants each of us to learn to walk with one another in the challenges of life we have also walked through - not alone, but with each other.  Sympathy suggests the general idea of kinship - empathy reveals the willingness to go the extra mile with the one next to you - whether the journey be the best or the worst!

When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. Be friendly with everyone. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. (Romans 12:15-16 CEV)

Many years ago, the light little tune came out, "Don't worry, be happy!"  The jingle caught the attention of many and became a light-hearted tune to lift the spirits.  The problem with the tune - it lacks depth despite the "lightness" of its message.  We cannot make light of another's misery, nor can we discount or dismiss their happiness.  This is what Paul has in mind when he reminds us to live in such a way so as to enter into the happiness of another, as well as share in their difficult places.  "Kin" does that!  When there is a blood-connection as there is with those who are children of God's Kingdom, there is this connection with the ups and downs of each other.  Why does this idea of being friendly with each other come into the instruction at this point?  The idea conveyed is that we are to "show" our friendship - in action, not just words.  

To this, Paul adds the reminder to be aware of the times when we might want to consider ourselves as a little "better" than others - either because we haven't experienced what they are experiencing, or just because we see our own struggles or victories as more "significant" than the other guy's.  It is not infrequent that we do this little "comparison" thing, evaluating what another is going through in perspective to what we have gone through, or are presently facing.  We almost put their sorrow or happiness on a scale, with the counter-balance on that scale being our own issues or enjoyments.  If another's outweigh ours, they might get our attention - if not, we might turn up our noses and walk away.  This is what we are to guard against - this "counter-balance" issue.  No one walks through things exactly the same - but we do face them with the same types of emotions - fear, sadness, worry, joy, peace, or elation. There are degrees to all our emotions and we tend toward "unique" sets of these emotions in our personal make-up, but we all have the same emotions.

There is something to be said about identifying with the sorrow or happiness of another from both the perspective of sympathy and empathy.  We each experience different struggles and enjoyments in life, but we can experience them together as "kin".  We also can be "paired up" with another that is able to share in our sorrow or joy at a deeper level because they have similar experiences.  I think we need both.  It should come as no surprise that there is nothing new under the sun - it might change faces, places, and time frames, but there is truthfully nothing new under the sun.  What another is walking through has been walked through by many others down through the ages - we need to learn to be open with each other, sharing in our joys and fears, frustrations and hopes, successes and failures - because there is value in this exchange of support, celebration, and compassionate display of love.  The value?  We learn to look outside ourselves and see the other guy.  We learn to see that life exists beyond our own sorrows, challenges, joys and celebrations.  We enter into community - God's intent in all of this.

We may not do this naturally at first, but in time, as we consistently allow God to bring us together with others of like-minded companionship, we find we begin to experience more than the sympathy component, but we enter into seasons and experiences where we enter into the suffering and pain of another (empathy).  It may come as no surprise to some that this is where growth actually occurs - both in our own lives and in the life of the other guy.  Why? As iron sharpens iron, we sharpen each other.  Just sayin!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rules for Christian Living - Part Four

If you have ever stood in the midst of accusers or those who just don't make life very pleasant for you, you know what it is like to feel a little mistreated. Mistreated people actually feel like they are being "abused" a little - the things being done to them are just plain wrong. The one being mistreated feels like they are standing alone - no help in sight, no end either!  To be the receiving end of abuse is just not pleasant, but to actually turn "toward" your abuser and then bless them is quite another thing altogether!  To return good when all you are receiving is bad or harmful is almost like asking for the impossible, but we need to keep in mind God's plan is to always do the impossible through us. 

Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them. (Romans 12:14 CEV)

It doesn't say we are to be the ones giving the blessing to another - it says we are to take that individual to God and ask God to bless him or her.  I think this is where we get it wrong in our lives - we think we are being asked to actually be the ones to have to bless the other person's life, but we are only being asked to bring that individual before God and ask God to "favor" them in a way HE sees fit.  This may differ entirely from how we see "fit" for that individual.  You might be surprised how God knows exactly how to bless another's life. Sometimes the very things which seem to be mounting good in the other person's life can be interpreted as God not caring for the hurt or pain we are in because of the other person's actions.  In truth, God may be using the good he bestows to actually bring the other person to a place of recognizing him.

Did you ever stop to consider what it is to actually bear up under the burden of too much blessing?  Before you send me off to be stoned, hear me out.  When God chooses to bless and bless someone's life with what we see as good, contrary to how they have been acting toward you, it may be the "good" is mounting up to the place they will actually stumble under the weight of all that good!  Before you get your hopes up that God makes someone stumble and fall who has done you wrong, let me assure you he only uses their own desires to reveal their true colors.  It may be he is bringing them to the place they hit rock bottom and recognize they have a tremendous need despite their tremendous blessing in life!

Ask God to bless and not to curse - something so totally opposed to our natural inclination, huh?  When hurt by another, we want to lash out, not have blessing bestowed in their lives.  We want to see wrong done to them like they have done to us - it is this retaliatory response God is after here.  He wants us to recognize we want to get even and this is not his way of ever doing business! If it were, then grace would be null and void in his economy!  God's move toward the one who stands in need of his mercy is always something we just don't understand very well, but we sure enjoy being on the receiving end of that mercy!  Asking God to bless another may not be our first response to their negative behavior, but it is the right one - because we ALL stand in need of his mercy.  

The idea here is asking God to "harass" them in a way so totally in opposition to the way they have been harassing you that they cannot help but be convicted by their actions.  Grace extended brings conviction sometimes sooner than any other thing in someone's life.  Repeated attacks returned with repeated blessing will make the one doing the attacking a little uncomfortable after a while. When they see we don't get riled, refuse to return their negative and hurtful actions with similar ones, and remind God to "handle" them in the way which best reflects him, they will eventually stop.  Why?  It is hard to face grace's open arms repeatedly without falling into them at some point.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rules of Christian Living - Part Three

Impoverished people understand their need, don't they?  The one living on the street longs for a roof over their head and warmth in the cool of winter.  The one eating from the trash receptacles nightly longs for the privilege of purchasing a hot meal or buying a basket of groceries fresh from the market. The one clothed in the same garb from day-to-day longs for the ability to launder their things and to enjoy the luxury of having choices about what to wear.  We might not understand poverty if we have never really experienced it. Mother Teresa once said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."  I guess there are more forms of poverty than just being without food, clothing, or shelter, huh?  If what she said is true, then many of us have known a form of poverty at one time or another, right?  Lonely, feeling unwanted in a world crazy enough to make a sane person spin, we wander almost in a daze - hungering for someone to care, somebody to embrace our pain.  Then as though the heavens opened up, we run smack-dab into the open and waiting arms of Jesus!  In an instant, our loneliness is no longer beckoning to be fulfilled; our feelings of being unwanted and of little value begin to melt away.  Why?  In the arms of Jesus, grace heals wounds, mends broken hearts, and weaves love into the core of our being.

Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home. (Romans 12:13 CEV)

Yes, our passage deals with the "physical" form of poverty, but it also deals with the "spiritual", "emotional", and "relational" forms of poverty, as well.  Mother Teresa went on to say, "We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless.  The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.  We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty."  Great wisdom indeed!  I think we need to be challenged a little to look within our own walls on occasion to find the real "poverty" which has the potential to lie within those walls.  The truth is that there might just be emotional poverty right there in the next chair, watching the same re-runs of that sitcom night after night that you are!  There might be spiritually needy individuals just longing for someone to show them the way of escape from the place of poverty they have stumbled into.  When we begin to look for need, we might just be surprised how "evident" it is all around us!  Lest we think it is impossible for the "stranger" to actually dwell within our inner circle, think again. I daresay there is a little bit of a "stranger" in all of us just waiting to be welcomed in!

I once learned that you can tell how ripe a banana is by how many ways the peel actually "splits" when peeled from the top down.  Most of us peel the banana from the end which attached it to the tree, but it is meant to be peeled from the "bud" end.  When peeled in this direction, the ripest banana will peel away into five parts.  Ever try to peel an unripe banana?  When you try to remove the peel, it is almost like you need a jack-hammer to break the seal! Bitter parts are left behind from the peel.  The struggle to remove the peel is almost too difficult to actually make the discovery of what is underneath the peel worth it.  I wonder if we realize when a relationship is ready to "peel back" and reveal what is hidden in the core of it?  Do we have a tendency to rush things a little, leaving nothing but bitterness behind?  Or are we trying to get into the relationship the wrong way?  Maybe we are not really concerned about having invested enough time into allowing it to ripen to actually see the pleasure and joy a "fully ripened" relationship can bring to our souls!  

We may not be ready to open our doors to the homeless and "street dwellers" in our neighborhoods, but we can open our hearts to the one sitting right next to us!  I think this is where carrying for the needy begins - in the couches and easy chairs in our homes, the cubicles of our workplaces, and the pews of our churches.  There is no greater need than the one which is simply unspoken, but nonetheless niggling at the core of the heart and soul of the one in need.  If you have ever been in a crowd and felt alone, you may have just witnessed a sense of deep poverty within your own soul.  If you have ever experienced darkness in the midst of great light, you might have experienced the solitude and loneliness of depression.  There is much to be said about the need around us, my friends, but the greatest thing we can say is, "God show me where it exists in me, and let me begin to see it in others who surround me."  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rules for Christian Living - Part Two

Yesterday we began a study into some "Rules for Christian Living" as outlined in the twelfth chapter of the Romans.  We began with the importance of loving others, honoring them, and to actively engage in practices within relationship which build up the relationship rather than tearing it down.  The focus was on the vigilance required to maintain solid relationships - beginning with the one we have with God and then spreading out to those we enjoy with each other. Today, we will move into the ideas of tenacity, endurance, and patience - three things which just about every one of us has a little struggle with at one time or another.  We begin with the reminder to never give up.  In the realm of relationship, this is probably one of the most important things we can learn. The desire to give up is there more than we probably want to admit.  It doesn't matter if we focus on our relationship with Christ, or those we call our "everyday" relationships right here on earth, we struggle with this idea of never giving up on them (or in them).  Why?  Obtaining or attaining something is often seen as the end result rather than the beginning of a long commitment. We "obtain" relationships - seeking to make a new friend, find a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.  We might even want to take the relationship to a new level, such as being best friends, going steady, or even marriage.  Without even realizing it, we sometimes have made the "attaining" of that status the focus rather than the relationship growth which will actually help us through the tough times.

Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. (Romans 12:11-12 CEV)

As we examine this "set" of inter-related "rules", let's not lose sight of the idea of building relationship - the framework being that of love, honor, and active engagement within the relationship.  We begin with never giving up on each other.  To give up means we concede, or simply relinquish the "ground" of the relationship to another, to something which gains focus instead of the relationship, etc.  Both of these things don't really require much effort from us, but suggest a lack of effort - just simply taking our eye off the ball, so to speak. The only way a pitch gets past the batter is because he lost focus on the ball somewhere between it leaving the pitcher's hand and it crossing home plate. The difference between a home run and a strike out might just be related to the attentiveness one has toward the ball which is in play in the game.  The same is true in relationship - we have to know what "balls" are "in play" and where they are at all times.

Whatever the relationship, the "rule of thumb" is the same - we must eagerly follow the Holy Spirit's leading within it!  He is the one who will help us to learn to serve, not just take from the relationship.  This will bring a depth which cannot be attained any other way - service being the catalyst which takes us to new levels within the relationship.  How can service do this, you might wonder? Well, glad you asked!  Serving one another compliments what we learned in our first lesson - love's "staying power" is determined by the focus we maintain within the relationship.  If our focus is "gimme", "gimme", "gimme", the relationship will have a shallowness to it because we are revealing we are only "in" the relationship for what we can get out of it.  If our focus within relationship is on "attaining" it rather than laying the foundation which will help us to "maintain" it, we will have one which really fizzles out quite quickly - leaving us disillusioned and without hope.  

Going back to the idea of conceding or relinquishing - relationship needs to be a little bit of give and take, but when it is all about taking, one of the parties within the relationship will be quite unfulfilled.  Whether it is our relationship with Christ, or that with someone God has placed in our path in the here and now, we need to be cognizant of the "ease" at which we can drift into expecting another to fulfill our every "need".  This is something it has taken me a great deal of time to realize - no one can fulfill my needs!  There is no individual on this earth capable of getting it "all right" when it comes to meeting my needs, and I am not capable of getting it "all right" when it comes to meeting theirs! We are imperfect human beings - expecting someone else will meet our needs is kind of unrealistic.  Imperfection cannot "do" perfection very well!  The only "perfect" one in relationship with us is Christ.  He is the one we look to for our needs to be clarified and ultimately met fully.  

Now, as it applies to serving one another, we look to each other and find ways to "serve" one another.  Why?  Serving one another is a means of "giving into" the relationship - keeping it active, engaged, and fulfilling.  When we stop serving one another, we become "weak" in our commitment to the relationship. Some of the greatest times of "service" in relationship come out of times of praying for one another.  In prayer, God reveals ways we can build each other up, bolster the hopes of another, and bring advice to bear on problems the other may be facing.  There is something else I have learned about times of praying for those I am in relationship with - those prayers often reveal things about "ME" which need a little adjustment in order to make the relationship even better!  As I set out to pray for them, God helps me to see where the attention needs to be turned toward me and where I need a little bit of his "fine tuning" in order to strengthen and build up the relationship.  It shouldn't catch us off-guard when God shows us these things - but we should embrace them as the very thing which will give us "staying power" and "bind us" together in true commitment.  Just sayin!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rules of Christian Living - Part One

There is this list of things called "Rules for Christian Living" which appears in the twelfth chapter of Romans.  Almost all of them are "relational" in one form or another, but as we look into those over the next couple of days, let's seek to really avoid using them as a "checklist" of Christian behavior and more of a little bit of insight into how God created us to interact with him and each other.  The ideas conveyed in this chapter are not just "rules" we check-off each day and then go around thinking "I already did that today".  They are ways of living "outside" of our selfishness - the tendency we had before we said "yes" to Christ which kept us totally self-directed in our focus.  We are going to look at these in segments, not as a long "laundry list", but as building upon each other.  The first is pretty straight-forward:  Be sincere in your love for others.  Sincerity is this idea of being free of hypocrisy.  If you have ever caught yourself saying one thing, but thinking another, you might be dealing with this thing called hypocrisy - the tendency to be in-genuine or unreal.  Neither of these traits are what God wants for us in relationships - first with him, then with others.  He strives for this idea of being genuine - a good place for us to start in our examination of the "Rules for Christian Living".

Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good.  Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. (Romans 12:9-10 CEV)

The first desire expressed is for us to be genuine in our love for each other. How we reveal this is through the next couple of examples: hating evil, holding tight to what is good, treating one another as brothers and sisters, and giving honor to each other more than we focus on seeking honor for ourselves.  As we look at these, we find a "protectiveness" of the relationship and guarding against those things which hinder the depth and closeness of relationship.  Nothing will shut a relationship down quicker than for anger, malice, or wickedness to gain an inroad into the midst of it.  We are to do more than just be "intolerant" of these things - we are to be so vigilant to guard against them that we just WON'T allow them to have an inroad.  When anger enters, we are to immediately stop, take notice of what is being said or demonstrated in each other's actions, and then bring reconciliation immediately.  This is the principle of not letting the sun go down on our anger.  Just think of how much different our relationships would be if we were to begin to operate in this framework!  When ill-intent is evident, conflict will arise.  As with anger, there is to be an increasing "vigilance" to avoid all manner of ill-intent.

The opposite is true in the relationship - we are to really run after the things which produce good outcomes in the relationship.  Those things which increase our moral foundation are probably what our writer has in mind here.  Whenever we build one another up in the faith, we are fulfilling this "rule" of living.  This leads to us loving each other as we'd love a brother or sister.  If you don't particularly enjoy being around your siblings, this one might be hard to grasp! The idea is one of "blood relation" - learning to see each other as belonging to the same "bloodline".  Those who are part of the family of God share a similar "heritage" as we do.  As such, we are to enter into companionable relationship with those in this journey of faith.  It means we need each other!  We cannot walk it alone.  We actually benefit from the closeness of seeing another walk out their faith - in the daily, rubber meets the road kind of way.  If we were to really look at what our writer is saying here, we find he is reminding us of being cognizant of those who are "partners" with us in this walk.  We don't always "get along" well, but we do grow from the interactions and see love become the driving force which binds us together.

The last reminder is to honor one another more than we do ourselves.  This is a tough one, as you might imagine, because each of us tends to focus on self quicker than we focus on others.  Honor might mean a few things here, such as giving distinction to another which is unique and calls out how it is we appreciate the other individual.  If we see something in them which is a complimentary skill or trait to what we possess, this might be something we "honor" in them.  It might also mean we give some merit to another individual which they wouldn't receive otherwise.  I think there are a whole lot of people today just walking around looking for someone to give them some merit - because their lives have been filled with all kinds of things labeled as "demerits"!  I don't know where the "demerits" came from, or even if they were deserved, but I do know many individuals focus on those "negative" things they have been told or come to believe about themselves.  When we are in relationship with each other, we have this unique ability to focus on either side of the column, so to speak.  The choice to focus on those things which are of "merit" in a person's life is something we need to learn to do more often!  Just sayin!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Not just your body

If you have ever been asked to make a "sensible" decision, you probably knew that meant you were to give it a little extra thought, not just acting upon a whim or fancy.  You are "aware" of what is happening and then you are making actively engaged decisions based on this awareness.  There is something about serving God which is kind of sensible - because we actively engage in this relationship with him.  Yet, there are parts of serving God we cannot "over-think" - because then the relationship becomes kind of just a "religious pursuit" and not a relationship.  The idea of presenting our bodies to Christ as a living sacrifice is kind of something we cannot pour a whole lot of thought into or we will get kind of "weird" in our beliefs!  First of all, God doesn't actually want any of us "burning our bodies" on an altar in a literal sense.  What he does want is this idea of yielding something which we treat with so much attentive focus to him so he can occupy it and bring about great things in it!  Our bodies are pretty much top priority for us.  If you don't believe me, think about the last time you were hungry and what you did about that.  You probably marched off to the pantry, kitchen, or took a trip to the local eatery to get that hunger under control.  You respond to your body's demands, don't you?  You might not treat it "well", but you respond to it and give into it so many times.  God wants us to take this thing which receives all this attentive focus from us and present it to him - to be of service to him.  In other words, we enter into this relationship asking God not what he will do to please us, but what it is we can do to bring honor and glory to him.

Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That’s the most sensible way to serve God. Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him. (Romans 12:1-2 CEV)

Changing the way we think is probably harder than yielding our bodies to him, though.  At first, our way of thinking is kind of warped - focused pretty intently on what it is in this life we can get out of it to please ourselves, fulfill our desires, etc.  When we come to Christ, this focus begins to change a little and we find ourselves gradually focusing less and less on what "we" want and more and more on what it is God wants to do through us.  This is when we truly know we have presented our "bodies" as a living sacrifice - when we begin to take backseat and Christ becomes preeminent in our lives.  

Too many times we think our thoughts are our responsibility.  If we examine our passage again, we find it is God who sets about to change the way we think - because our patterns of thinking are contrary to his.  We actually need to be "schooled" in a new way of thinking about ourselves, our abilities, and about others around us.  Before Christ changes how it is we process our thought, we probably are a little too self-absorbed and self-focused, even for our own good! When he begins to restructure our thought processes, we begin to observe the things which were pretty much consuming our thoughts are gradually changed to seeing others through a different "set" of values.  We actually begin to truthfully value another when Christ becomes central in our lives.  Before he does this, each person in our lives is merely a means by which something in "us" is met.

When God restructures our thought life, we find the things in others we appreciate so much - not because of how much they will meet one of our needs, but because we see how unique their gift is in our lives.  Some will speak "into" us and keep us moving in the right direction - something we didn't fully appreciate before because we might have seen it as "meddling".  Others will lead by example - something we didn't fully embrace before because we were too consumed with being right ourselves we couldn't believe anybody else could live as well as we were living.  

If we are really careful about examining scripture right from the beginning of the book, we will certainly see this whole concept of "relationship" woven into each and every account, prophesy, and purposefully written page.  Why is  this important to us?  If we are to truthfully "offer" anything to another it is because we appreciate the value of this thing called relationship.  If we are to earnestly and sincerely give to another, it is only because there is some measure of relationship established.  Sure, we can "give" to strangers, but where there is relationship established, the "giving" takes on new meaning.  There is a value built in the relationship when one yields to another.  God doesn't ask anything of us he has not already done himself!  He has given much for the benefit of those who he calls into relationship with him.  In turn, he asks only that we give of ourselves - not our efforts - but our lives.  

In giving our bodies as living sacrifices, we are not giving our efforts, but we are yielding our thoughts, attitudes, and intent to him.  In so doing, he is free to begin to create within us the things which will truly bring us deep satisfaction and great peace.  Just sayin!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

God will...

We all have a tendency to complicate the gospel message a little, making a few extra hoops to jump through, or explaining it in terms so hard to understand. We don't mean to, but we just do because we cannot fully comprehend the simplicity of faith.  I used to think of faith as some really big deal - something we had to attain, grow into, etc.  In actuality, when we truly grasp the idea of faith being something as close as the words of our mouth or the niggling in our heart, we begin to understand the meaning of faith.  Faith isn't a set of actions on our part, but a word spoken in earnest, or a turning of our heart toward the one who created the very rhythm of its beat.  The Old Testament is full of individuals who complicated faith into some system of works and rules to be followed.  Moses said to Israel, "If you want to live, you must do all the Law commands."  Now, I don't know about you, but I have never been all that good at keep all of the rules all of the time.  I find myself "trying" to live by the "rules" in life, never really purposefully "coloring outside the lines", but in reality I live outside the lines a lot!  One of the quickest ways to get a child to do something is to tell them you don't want them to do it!  It is called reverse psychology!  I know God never gave the Law to Israel as a way of using reverse psychology on them, but trust me on this one - give any of us a set of rules to follow and we will get "creative" about how well we follow them!  We just over-complicate life.  Faith isn't complicated - it is simple trust in the one who gives us the faith to believe he "is" and always will "be".

All who are acceptable because of their faith simply say, “The message is as near as your mouth or your heart.” And this is the same message we preach about faith. So you will be saved, if you honestly say, “Jesus is Lord,” and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death. God will accept you and save you, if you truly believe this and tell it to others. The Scriptures say that no one who has faith will be disappointed, no matter if that person is a Jew or a Gentile. There is only one Lord, and he is generous to everyone who asks for his help. All who call out to the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:8-13 CEV)

If we live with disappointment in life it is probably because of something we have done, or another human being has done which affected our lives in some way or other.  Most of us fail to recognize our disappointments aren't God's fault!  We get all worked up about keeping the rules - never crossing the line - then when we clearly cross the line, we get all twitter-pated over our lack of integrity to actually stay within the lines!  Do you know what disappointment really is?  It is the state of being thwarted in our efforts - that point in time when we become frustrated because things aren't going as we thought they should be.  This is why we get so down on ourselves - we have a wrong perception of who does this work within us.  We think it is US, when in truth it is God.

He accepts us.  He saves us.  He is generous toward us.  He answers when we call upon his name.  He won't disappoint us.  I like to watch this game show where people are asked tough questions, given four answers, then have to select the right one.  Some of those questions are pretty simple - kind of like a riddle you must figure out.  Others are quite hard - calling upon one's experiences, knowledge, and sheer intelligence.  In the game, the individual may call upon the audience, or a friend, to assist them to answer two of the questions - they may "jump over" a really tough one if they like.  I have observed many a contestant call upon a friend, or ask the audience to assist them in answering the tough question, only to see them become very disappointed by the outcome.  My friends, no one is going to come through for us 100% of the time!  No one, that is, except God himself!

The tough questions in life are best answered by the one with the answers.  The hardest challenges are best faced with the one in charge who actually knows the end from the beginning.  When we try to do things in our own effort, we get "close", but we don't get "spot on" very many times.  Faith was never intended to be a set of works, or "stuff" we do, but where we put our trust, focus our attention, and submit our will.  Looking again at our passage, I want us to see two very important words, "God will".  God will provide ALL that we need for life and godliness.  God will be the one who is our guide in tough circumstances. God will provide a way of escape where we only see walls around us.  God will envelope us in his arms when fears close in tightly, cutting off every source of hope we can muster.  God will!  We need to latch onto those words tightly, for in those words there is truth beyond our measuring!  Just sayin!

Friday, April 17, 2015

More than a little water, please

I have watched my grandsons grow older, smarter, and bigger.  They are now 6 and 11, great students in school, engaged in creative activities which occupy their minds and time, and loving as all get out when it comes to caring for others.  I have seen them wrestle with each other, kind of taunting one another one minute to see if they could get under each other's skin, while they are embracing and telling each other how much they love the other one the next. One thing I have noted is just how much they are like fresh sponges - absorbing not only what they hear, but what they see modeled.  It is not uncommon to see one or both of the boys jump up to help their great-grandmother locate her walking stick she has absently left somewhere, or to open a door for her on her journey out to the car.  It is also not uncommon for them to bring handwritten notes and handcrafted cards to each of us just telling us how much they love and appreciate us in their lives.  Early in their wee lives, they became insanely interested in what we were doing and then they paid close attention to it.  Some of the habits they now reveal are simply that - habit.  Some of the actions they reveal are more than habit - they are purposeful expressions of how God has created them to respond to the love of another and to show their love to another.  We all have a certain amount of "sponge capacity" in each of us - able to take in things around us and then hold onto them.  If you have ever been around a saturated sponge that never gets used you will know it soon develops a pretty sour smell.  Why?  The sponge was meant to not only soak in the water it was put into, but to disperse that water elsewhere as it moves across the surfaces it touches.  The same is true in our lives - it isn't all about us being absorbed in what we are doing - but us being instruments of God doing with us what we were created to do!

All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:  Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can’t get around.  But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.  (Romans 9:30-33 MSG)

It is important to note this concept of being interested in what God is doing - for this is the beginning point at which we actually embrace what he is doing and allow his actions within us to straighten out our lives.  We might soak up all kinds of truth in our years on this earth, but truth soaked in will stagnate and leave nothing but a sour smell to all who are around us if it is not used to actually change us and the environment we create around us!  We can read about God and all his actions, then spend time pontificating and talking it through with others, but until the truth begins to be "used up" within us, we don't have capacity for any additional truth.  This is the purpose of truth - to be taken in, but used in ways which actually begin to affect not only us, but those around us.

We will miss what God is doing if all we do is sit as passive sponges and never put to use what God puts into us.  We will miss out on what he is doing, as well. How many times have we put the cart ahead of the horse in our lives, thinking we "had this one" and then plunging ahead without really being fully equipped to handle whatever it was that was ahead of us?  Why does that happen?  I think it may be associated with our tendency to soak in what God gives us, thinking we are ready for what lays ahead, then us thinking all we needed was a little water in our sponge!  If you have ever tried to clean up a greasy stove top with nothing more than a sponge and water, you know the futility of that effort. All you do is spread around the grease!  What you needed was a little bit of some enzymatic cleaner added to the water in order to cut the grease.  By jumping ahead, you missed this important "additive"!

Most of us need some form of "enzyme" in our lives - not just the truth.  We need the truth to begin to become something which "works up" and "works out". This is the purpose of the chemical added to the water put into the sponge - to work up a lather and work out the stain!  The truth is good, but the powerful punch the Spirit of God gives when he brings truth to life within us, this is more than good - it is great!  We stumble around, just making a bigger mess of life when we try to do things on our own - going off half-ready for what life sends our way.  No wonder we stumble and fall so often!  We don't have all the "ingredients" for living as we should.  We have been "sponges" of God's grace and goodness, but missed out on the "powerful enzyme" afforded when his Spirit begins to bring conviction which leads to confession and consecration.

Truth isn't found in our lives when we trip over it.  It is found when we pay close attention to finding AND embracing it.  The sponge with water is good, but when the enzymatic cleaner is added, it accomplishes great things in his hands!  Just sayin!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Promise, Purpose, & Intiative

Three important truths became apparent to me in listening to the Easter sermon this year.  I didn’t really expect to hear much of a different “story” of Easter, but I really “got” something different out of the story I did hear!  Isn’t that just like God?  He brings about something new even when we think there could not be anything new possible!  It had to do with promise, purpose, and initiative.  God’s promises overriding our “try harder” kind of mental belief we will be able to do enough to save ourselves from our own sin.  God’s purpose determining our course right into the very presence of God and into the waiting arms of his embrace.  Lastly, God’s initiative to make a way for each of us where absolutely no other way existed.  All be it we try to live right, we don’t really “do” the work of salvation – the basis of our salvation is all in the promise, purpose, and initiative of another – Christ Jesus himself.  Although this wasn’t the passage my pastor spoke from, it caught my eye as I was making my way through the Book of Romans again in my morning study.  What became quite clear is this idea of promise.  A promise in our sense of the word indicates the intent to actually do something – to act upon what we commit to in some sense.  Intent differs from actually doing something, doesn’t it?  Intent is good, but it lacks carry-through many times!  God’s promise is different – it carries his “oath” of covenant – something unable to be broken.  It is more than “intent” – it is genuine commitment which will see the fulfillment of the purpose and be born out of his initiative!

Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other.  The problem goes back a long way.  From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise.  Remember how it was put:  “Your family will be defined by Isaac”?  That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God determined by promise.  To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics.  What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don’t do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing from his initiative.  (Romans 9:6-8; 10-12 MSG)

Many times we attempt to “redeem” our bad circumstances in life by our own power.  Think about being barren – desiring a child to carry on the family bloodline, but incapable of bearing such a child. Then the day comes when you are no longer “of age” to bear children – the “factory” has closed, so to speak.  The hope begins to dim, doesn’t it?  Why?  We thought we could accomplish something in our own plans and purposes, but all life comes from God – not just the union of man and woman!  He is the creator of life – whether it be natural (as in the sense of having a baby), or spiritual (as in the sense of something being birthed within us that wasn’t there before).  It shouldn’t surprise us that the moment we are “beyond” our natural ability to actually try any longer to get ourselves to the place we hoped to be that God comes along with a promise, purpose, and the specific initiative to actually bring us to the place we needed to be in the first place!  Until our striving ceases, God cannot begin to work.  All our initiative is not going to fulfill his purpose. His purpose is only realized when we let down our guard – opening ourselves up to the possibilities of his promise being fulfilled in his special way. 

God’s promise is the birthing place in our lives.  There is much spoken in a promise – the first sign of life is the hope which begins to well up within as a result of having received and believed the promise.   If we think back to this story of Sarah and Abraham, Sarah isn’t too sure about God’s promise, though. She actually laughs when she hears that a woman her age, well passed the time of bearing children, could actually be “with child” at all.  It isn’t that she really had no faith, she just did what most of us do a great deal of the time – she counted on what she could see, feel, and understand with her own mind.  We often try to figure out how God will move in our lives to fulfill his promise without really understanding his purpose or counting on his initiative.  God doesn’t need our capability – he needs our capacity!  He wants us to empty ourselves of all our self-effort and to count on the promise to create or fill us with what is needed to see his purpose fulfilled.  In deferring to his initiative, relying upon his promise as true and worthy of trusting in, we come to the place of seeing his purpose fulfilled.  It isn’t in our doing, but in our trusting that his promise begins to be revealed!

We don’t often “laugh at God’s promises” because they are kind of ridiculous in our minds, but I know we have discounted them on occasion.  We don’t grow to capacity until we have capacity – which comes from emptying ourselves of our own initiative and effort!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

No one and Nothing

The question is posed:  "If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?"  I'd have to answer, "Sure, just because we have God on our side doesn't mean we will never be opposed by anyone or anything else for the rest of our lives!"  It DOES mean that nothing which opposes us will ever win the upper hand! Whether it is an enemy of our own "doing" such as addiction to some substance or habit, or some enemy we have absolutely no control over such as the senseless tragedy of someone taking the life of another just because they are in school or the theater that day - we have enemies around us.  They work to create as much "mess" in our lives as possible - sometimes because the mess of their own lives just is too much for them to handle themselves!

In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. (Romans 8:37 CEV)

I have often pondered this idea of why bad things happen to good people.  In the recent weeks we have learned of 147 kids attending school in Kenya, simply going about their business of learning their "reading, writing, and arithmetic", then suddenly losing their lives.  Senseless tragedy, unknown to them or their families when they headed to school that day - even more tragic because of the senselessness of one militant group rising up against another.  Christian students were separated from Muslims, then shot dead on the spot.  The age-old question emerges - why must good people suffer bad stuff.  Some would argue, "Where was their God when this was going on?"  Others would merely hang their heads and say, "He must have a plan in all this."  I don't know the plan in the taking of these lives, but I do know my God (and the God these students served) will be with the families of those who lost their lives that day!

As long as there is evil on this earth, opposition to any way of life in contrast to its own will be targeted.  As long as sin has any inroad into the hearts of man, man will follow the pull of such evil and will succumb to the temptation to believe in "their causes" which set at opposition "good" and "evil", "right" and "wrong", "Christian" and any "other religion".  There have always been zealots of causes throughout all of time - some even more violently based than those we see today, but zealots nonetheless.  We ask again, "If God be for us, who can stand against us?"  I'd have to answer that the same way - MANY and MUCH will attempt to stand AGAINST us, but nothing can rob us of our peace, our hope, and our security in Christ Jesus!

For the purpose of our study today, let us return to this idea of things, ideas, and enticing habits being the object of what "stands against us" in this walk with Jesus.  When we consider these things - complete with all their interesting bells and whistles - I wonder how they pale in comparison to the majesty of the one who created the very ground from which the minerals, ores, and timbers were mined or cut?  When we consider those ideas which lurk in our minds, or promote themselves as the most important for us to adopt - I wonder how they fall before the thoughts of the all-knowing God of the universe, present everywhere at all times?  When we consider the things which pull at our heart strings, engaging all our senses in the pursuit of some passion - I wonder how they just crumble at the mention of the name of the one who showed his love by giving his life for those who had no way of repaying a debt so big they could never accomplish the "repayment" of such a debt?

Nothing stands against the power, majesty, and love of God.  NOTHING!  That also translates to NO ONE.  All pale, crumble, and just plain fall.  How is this possible?  For the answer, we have to look back a few verses:  "Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God's right side, speaking to him FOR US." We stand in the face of opposition because he died, rose again, and now stands at the right hand of God, making continual mention of our names and our needs to the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE.  We may face oppositions great and many, but none can ever take us away from the presence of God - because Jesus makes us known in the presence of the Almighty!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What you "toying with"?

Desire:  Those things we long for or crave; the hope for satisfaction of some sort.  I think we would all admit to the fact of having desires - some are quite innocent, while others give us a little bit of a challenge in life.  Some desires are easily fulfilled, while others will be the things we chase after repeatedly and find no satisfaction in ever obtaining.  What we forget is the "hold" desires place on us as we pursue whatever it is which becomes the object of our attention (focus).  It is almost impossible to have a desire and then not to want to "go after it" with some form of passionate pursuit.  In the evenings, I will look over at mom and see her pondering something.  I know this usually means she is thinking about what might be in the house which she can "nibble on" for a wee snack to tide her over till bedtime.  She isn't really all that hungry because we had a good dinner - she just wants something crunchy, chewy, or sweet to satisfy a little desire she has within.  I usually suggest the couple of things we have - one from each of these groups - and she chooses the one which tickles her fancy.  We often find ourselves "pondering" the thing we desire.  It becomes the consuming focus of our mind - thought being the thing which gets us to move toward the desire.  I think this is why there is so much emphasis put on being aware of what we are thinking "upon" - because we don't want to dwell on the stuff which will take us down paths better left unexplored!

People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace. Our desires fight against God, because they do not and cannot obey God’s laws. If we follow our desires, we cannot please God. You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God’s Spirit, who lives in you. People who don’t have the Spirit of Christ in them don’t belong to him. But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. Yet God raised Jesus to life! God’s Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit. (Romans 8:5-11 CEV)

Probably one of the most apparent issues in this walk we enjoy with Jesus is this constant struggle between what we desire and what we know God wants for us. The main thing God wants us to consider is the type of desire it is we are responding to at any given moment.  We have this "mixture" of desires - some very good or honorable; others kind of self-centered and just plain out of the "list" of desires he'd want us to actually pursue.  To pursue only what we desire is to be thinking of only ourselves - a dangerous focus indeed.  Yet, I have run across people who seem to have their head in the clouds - too spiritual for their own good and certainly for the good of others!  Lest you think I am saying we don't need to ponder the good things God has prepared for us each and everyday, I am not.  I am simply saying we need balance between the spiritual and the practical.  We actually drive people away when all we can ponder and discuss is the spiritual.  I have a tendency to look for people who can maintain this balance - knowing "living out" faith is more important than merely engaging in conversation about it all the time!

Here is the thing we need to take away from our lesson this morning:  If we are ruled by our minds, we will pursue desires which are self-centered and likely to be a little far from what God has planned for our pursuit.  If we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, we are more likely to pursue those things God has prepared in advance for us!  Our own desires don't always align with God's. Apparently Satan understands this fact and monopolizes on it!  When we have this "war" of sorts going on in our minds, pondering this desire against that one, we cannot rest assured that as long as that battle is taking place, Satan is intrigued!  He wants to see which one will win out and he isn't pulling for God's!

Christ lives in us - this is the hope of our "winning" over those wrong desires. It isn't rocket science, my friends.  In living an "exchanged life" we find our own desires beginning to take backseat to the desires of the one we serve (Christ Jesus).  It is God's Spirit living within us which makes all the difference in determining which of these desires will become the preeminent one which gets and holds our attention.  If you haven't figured that out already, the thing which gets our attention will play upon our attention until we begin to toy with the idea of actually surrendering to that object.  Now, if this is a God-thing we are "toying with" in our thoughts - the thing which gets our attention - the surrender will be godly and good!  

With God's Spirit within, the desires we once were consumed by will begin to drop away.  This is a gradual process for most of us - for others, it may come in a matter-of-fact way once and for all.  The truth of the matter is that no matter "how" we see this exchange of desires occurring within us, we all have exactly the same "resources" at our disposal to overcome those desires which are too self-absorbed and which are going to take us down the wrong path.  No one is without these resources if you have said "yes" to Jesus.  The Spirit of God brings all we need to not only change our focus, but to help us differentiate between what is worthy of our continued attention and what is not.  Just sayin!