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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mentor me

If you have ever been guilty of making a not so wise decision, you are among the masses!  We all make unwise decisions now and again - it just shouldn't be the regular pattern of our lives!  A decision is a moment or period of time in which we make a determination about one of our doubts or questions we have encountered.  If we think about this a little, every moment of decision is peppered with a little bit of doubt or a question we have to answer.  Go this way or that.  If we go this way, what will be the outcome?  Go that way and will the outcome be vastly or only vaguely different?  A parent's role in life (even those we might call our "spiritual parents") is to guide us into making wise decisions. In essence, they create a culture in which we determine if we will be overcome by our doubts, or tackle the questions which come our way with a great deal of fortitude and determination.

My son, it makes me happy when you make a wise decision. It makes me feel good inside when you say the right things. (Proverbs 23:15-16 ERV)

Some of us may not have grown up with the most attentive of parents.  Perhaps they were the "absentee" type, or even the "disengaged".  Maybe they did their best, but somehow just kept missing the mark.  Regardless of the type of parents we had "naturally", God provides a way of parenting us "spiritually" by those who mentor us in life.  If we link ourselves with a solidly-based, biblical mentor in this life, we can find ourselves being "parented" in the right direction in our lives, even when it means there may be a little "un-parenting" which needs to be done!

I want to take a moment to explain a little about finding a good mentor.  We have all kinds of choices as to who will mentor us.  When I wanted to learn how to be savvy with budgets, I didn't go to a peer who knew even less than I did as evidenced by them consistently being "off-budget" when the monthly financials were posted.  I went to someone who could create a realistic budget for the department and be almost spot-on each month when the financials posted.  Why? They demonstrated how it was done by their actions.  In finding a good mentor one of the first things we can do is observe their life.  We want to see if their actions are consistent with what they proclaim to believe.

When I found my "budgeting mentor", I didn't look for someone who knew all the "loopholes" by "burying" a bunch of money into nooks and crannies in the budget.  Although you might think this is a good tactic, it doesn't bide well with the rest of the managers who have to create lean budgets.  I wanted someone who knew what was ethically correct, provided the right margins of cost to income ratios, and who could help me deliver on my budget consistently.  When we seek mentors, we don't want those who will be "loosy-goosy" in their approach to decision-making, nor do we want those who will be so "hard-nosed" and inflexible that we feel like we have no freedom.  We want balance.

Mentors need to be biblically solid in their beliefs, first and foremost.  If their words say one thing and their lifestyle says another, maybe they aren't the right mentors to be aligning with.  We all have something to contribute to the group of people we align ourselves with - but some will have a better "grip" on living pretty close to the beliefs upon which their life is founded.  A mentor is not a "guide" for our lives - someone who directs our every step.  They are wise, trusted, and able to give counsel when needed.  They aren't our "everyday counsel" by which every decision must be "cleared".  They are there to help us by living as positive examples, creating a culture in which we can grow into fullness in Christ, and to be there when we just need that sounding board.

We may not always make good decisions - acting upon wise principles - but we can go a long way toward learning how to do this a little more consistently when we have positive examples from which we can learn how it is done.  Just sayin!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

All things for all men

Okay, admit it - you indulge yourself once in a while, don't you?  While on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I found my muscles achy and tired.  Our timeshare had a huge whirlpool tub big enough for two people and guess what I did?  Yep, I indulged myself in almost an hour's soak in the bubbling warmth of those powerful jets!  I think my BFF came looking for me after about an hour just to be sure I had not slipped under the water and drowned!  When I stepped out of those waters, my aches were gone and I felt like a new woman.  That short period of "indulgence" made all the world of difference in the aches and pains of the day.  It may not take much indulgence to actually meet our needs, but when we do indulge we need to make sure it is for the right reasons. 

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galations 5:13 ERV)

By definition, to indulge is to allow yourself to follow your own will.  Herein is the problem - most of the time our "will" isn't very reliable!  We give into our own will and find we are traveling down a path we'd just have soon avoided. That hour in the whirlpool was a great indulgence because my body needed to work out the kinks.  The candy bar I ate at lunch yesterday -  not so much! When we "indulge", we yield to something which demands to be satisfied.  In the end, we may be satisfying a much needed thing, but we must weigh our "urges" up front to ensure we are yielding to the RIGHT things.

We are called to live "free" lives - not governed any longer by each and every urge of our old nature.  You know the nature I mean - that one which caused you to always demand your own way, doing things which fulfilled all your own desires, but often neglected to see the desires of any higher authority in your life or counted the cost of those desires up front.  Maybe this is why we need this frequent reminder to live free, but to not use that freedom to indulge our fleshly desires.  There is more to the desires of the "flesh" than to eat candy bars at lunch!  In essence any time we respond to the desire to do things independent of Christ's counsel in our lives, we are taking our freedom to an extreme that he never intended.

The rest of the passage goes on to say if we bite and devour each other, we are not using our freedom in the correct manner.  I think this may be the one way we use our "freedom" to the extreme - we think we can look down on the actions of another (almost in judgment) because we think we have a better vantage point or something they don't quite have to the same degree.  Freedom in Christ is never intended to divide, but unite.  Whenever we use our freedom in a manner which sets us out as "elite" or "better than" we are operating in the realm of the flesh and have reverted to acting in a way which is unbecoming a follower of Christ.  We don't need to condone sin in our midst, but we also don't need to nit-pick the beliefs of another which may not be as well developed or slightly different from our own.

We must maintain biblical truth - this is paramount to being a follower in Christ. Yet, when we become so focused on the "letter of the law" that we don't see the person struggling to make sense of the law for themselves, we miss the intent of grace in the first place.  Maybe this is why churches seek to set out a "seeker friendly" framework by which they operate these days.  We have moved away from suit and tie, panty hose and dresses, choir robes and pulpits.  It is not such a bad thing!  What we have done is opened the doors to those who don't feel comfortable in suits, panty hose, or with pulpit pounding!  Not a bad thing, in my book.  As long as we never compromise the elemental truths of scripture to become "seeker friendly", we are not violating any principles as Christ would have taught them.  In fact, he commends us being able to become all things for all men.  Just sayin!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Thick lead walls

We can all share experiences when we were feeling the walls closing in and then we began to finally feel things lighten up a bit and we had this sense of renewed "breathing room".  We didn't perhaps doing anything all that different, but there was just this release which came - even in our consistent plodding.  Sometimes we think it takes some tremendous change on our part for those "walls" to stop closing in, but I want to assure you it is just possible God is not really concerned with us doing anything different, but that we just continue to trust him in the midst of the pressures.
Lord, you are faithful to those who are faithful. You are good to those who are good. You never do wrong to those who have done no wrong. But you outsmart the wicked, no matter how clever they are. You help those who are humble, but you humiliate the proud. Lord, you provide the flame for my lamp. You, God, turn the darkness around me into light. With your help I can defeat an army. If my God is with me, I can climb over enemy walls. (Psalm 18:25-29 ERV)
Faithfulness involves all our faculties - mind, will, and emotions all forging forward despite the obstacles.  We might think we need great faith to endure, but the truth is we only need consistent faith of ANY amount to endure!  We don't have to be overcome or defeated by walls, we just have to know walls are temporary barriers and are never permanent with God's vantage point.  He sees just beyond their boundaries and we can rest assured they don't stand a chance in keeping him from remaining consistent in his oversight of our lives.
Some might take this passage to mean we need to be doing stuff which proves our faithfulness, but God isn't concerned with the degree of performance we can manifest in the midst of the pressure.  He is concerned with the degree of trust and reliance we exhibit, though.  He isn't as concerned with our planned "next steps" as much as he is concerned with the condition of our heart.  In other words, God is concerned that we understand where it is we get the "flame for our lamps".  If we think we can only endure the pressure of the walls through some effort of our own, we might just find the walls which are paper thin to God are like solid lead to us!
Lead is heavy, but it is malleable - perhaps one of the most malleable of metals.  It might be one of the heaviest of metals, but it weighs nothing in comparison to the mountains God tells us we can move with the speck of faith we have!  Did you know that lead taken into the body actually causes brain damage and affects the nervous system in a negative way?  Maybe this is why our enemy wants us to think of the walls as lead - so he can mess with our minds and get us all caught up in the anxiety of the pressures around us.  The method to affecting our faithfulness is through affecting our perception of the issue at hand - getting our eyes off the one we trust and onto the heaviness of the walls around us.
One thing we can do when we feel like the walls are thick lead around us is to look up.  The issue we are facing pales in comparison to the light we receive when we change our focus from the immovable pressure of those walls to the light which comes from above.  The reason we put lights on the ceiling isn't because it is convenient to change those light bulbs!  It is because light positioned above us tends to spread out over us, illuminating the space around us better.  The reason we need to appreciate God's light in our lives is quite similar - his light brings evidence to the way of escape from those walls, but it also shows us just how "penetrable" those walls are to his presence!  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

When will that day come?

In days gone by we probably heard a whole lot more "preaching" about the Second Coming of Christ.  The reminders to "be ready" for his Second Coming were pretty much common place.  Now, we seldom hear those words echoed from the pulpits.  Do you ever stop to wonder why?  I think it is because we are trying to create "seeker friendly" places where people can come into church assemblies and not be frightened by the "churchy" things we might say and do as Christians.  Don't get me wrong on this matter, though, for I totally support creating an environment that is welcoming to the sinner and open to the seeker. I also strongly support an environment which preaches the entirety of the gospel message and the truth of the Word.  Put both of those together and you have the "best" combination!  If we are to consider the entirety of scripture, we must keep in mind there is this promise of Christ's return - the Second Coming as some might refer to it.  The issue is not "when" this return might occur, but simply that we live well in anticipation of our deliverance from the limitations of this earthly body!

But don’t forget this one thing, dear friends: To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not being slow in doing what he promised—the way some people understand slowness. But God is being patient with you. He doesn’t want anyone to be lost. He wants everyone to change their ways and stop sinning. (2 Peter 3:8-9 ERV)

This is the message we shall consider this morning - not so much getting it settled in our minds that there is a Second Coming of Christ, but that if his "first coming" has been effective in our lives we will be ready regardless of when his Second Coming occurs!  You see, it doesn't matter when Christ comes to establish the New Heavens and the New Earth - it matters that we are found ready to live on for eternity giving God the glory he rightfully deserves!  When grace has had time to change our hearts, minds, and ultimately our soul, we begin to live for the glory of God - we live "ready" lives.  So, why the delay in his Second Coming?  If we look at what scripture provides, it is clearly that his grace may have the chance to touch the lives of many who obviously take their "dear sweet time" allowing that grace to impact their lives! 

Don't get me wrong - I am not complaining about the delay.  God's timing is perfect and I will not become frustrated in the waiting.  In fact, I am ever so grateful he waited for me!  I want us to see this delay as an actual means by which his grace may touch the lives of those we have been praying for over the years.  The wait may seem long in our eyes, but in his timing it is like a split second has passed.  To us the years of praying and agonizing over the loved ones who haven't experienced this grace yet seems almost unbearably long.  To God, it is undeniably short!  To him, that delay is the opportunity many require in order to experience this grace.  

One other important aspect we see in God's delay in the Second Coming of Christ is this idea of us getting to the place of real "change" in our lives.  At the moment we accept his grace, we are forever changed, but in our daily lives this change may not be totally evident.  In fact, this delay actually grows our faith and the opportunity to "work out" change is what makes us lean into him a little more each day.  I know I am powerless to change on my own - because change is hard work and I tire under the burden of change.  The last time we went through a reorganization of duties at work, I almost wanted to throw in the towel and find something else to do.  Why?  Change is hard work!  It takes a toll on us mentally, physically, and especially emotionally.  God's delays in our lives may just be so we will realize the need for mental clarity, physical renewal, and emotional balance - something only his grace fully operationalized in our lives can produce.

You have probably heard the little acronym for GRACE:  God's Riches At Christ's Expense.  I can honestly say we don't understand the riches of God's grace until we experience the change grace brings into our mental, physical and emotional lives.  We immediately experience the spiritual aspects of grace.  We need the time to fully experience how his grace will transform, or re-create the way we think and process information, the stamina and fortitude to perform our daily work, and the life-altering freedom of being controlled by the unreasonableness of our wayward emotions.  To this end, he gives us time with him - learning of him, learning from him, and learning to live in him.  When this has been fully accomplished, grace has done its work!  To this end, we experience a delay in our deliverance from this world.  To this end, we enjoy the freedom to grow in Christ.  To this end, we live out grace in the hopes another will see and experience the grace of God in theirs.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Make peace, not war

I suppose one of the most difficult things in this life is the exercise of wisdom in our daily lives.  Wisdom often flies right out the window whenever we are faced with the "fun" thing to do, or that which appeals more to our emotions than the other that offers itself as an alternative.  Why is that?  I think it is twofold - we want to be "happy", so we just do whatever we think will make us "happy"; and we want the easiest way, because the way of wisdom may just be a little more demanding than the easiest!  We are so caught up in what we think will make us "happy" and this pursuit often gives us the greatest challenge in life.  If you don't believe me, when was the last time you could actually say something you did, bought, or found made you truly "happy"?  How long did that emotional "high" last?  My sister asked me last night where I'd live if I didn't live in Arizona.  I had to ponder that one because there has never been any real desire for me to leave Arizona.  I am quite settled here and I guess I just didn't ever think about where'd I would live if this was not an alternative.  I have seen some beautiful country in my life from the frozen landscape of the Alaskan frontier, to the lush green of the Tennessee foothills.  I have even explored the beauty of the Caribbean islands.  Nothing really enticed me to move!  Why? I don't seek happiness in a location, but in a relationship.  The relationships I have right here are the best ones for me - my kids, grandkids, mom, and of course, my BFF!  So many times we get the cart before the horse - looking for "happiness" (that elusive emotional high) instead of looking for "contentment" (the lasting peace of a deep relationship).  

But the wisdom that comes from God is like this: First, it is pure. It is also peaceful, gentle, and easy to please. This wisdom is always ready to help people who have trouble and to do good for others. This wisdom is always fair and honest. People who work for peace in a peaceful way get the blessings that come from right living. (James 3:17-18 ERV)

I think this is why we struggle so much with embracing wisdom into our lives and allowing it to affect our daily decisions.  We get into the realm of thinking wisdom is a "thing" and we forget it is a person (Christ Jesus).  When we think of it that way, we are challenged to enter into "relationship" with wisdom, not just make it a casual "fling".  God wants us to be in deep, personal relationship with him - period!  Nothing else will satisfy quite like this depth of relationship - all other pursuits and attainments are fleeting.  Wisdom is entered into as we enter into relationship with Jesus - his life meshing with ours until we become one with him.  When this happens, we begin to take on the characteristics of the one we are in relationship with.  It never ceases to amaze me when my BFF and I will come to work dressed in the same colors, finish each other's sentences with "I was just going to say that", and anticipate each other's needs.  We are close enough that this comes rather "naturally" to us - like water running downhill, we have found our course together, and we just go with the flow!

Wisdom comes in much the same way for those who enter into close relationship with Jesus - they just find themselves doing what comes by the "new nature" within them.  Instead of pursuing all those things which come in fleeting moments of "happiness", we settle into what gives us deep and true contentment.  God's peace settles into our soul - making us alive and vibrant in the beauty of his grace.  His grace brings a "washing" of our soul - a cleansing of our mind, will, and emotions until we find ourselves made "pure" and whole. That which is pure is without any admixture - there doesn't need to be anything "added" because what exists is perfect!  This is the beauty of God's grace - it makes our soul "perfect" - maybe not without struggles and challenges, but restful and at peace.  This goes a long way in helping us see struggles and challenges in their true light - rather than being all wigged-out by them!

Then we begin to operate on a whole different "plane" than ever before - for purity has a different form of expression in our lives than the impurity of sin was capable of producing.  Our emotions stabilize, bringing more predictable and better "managed" responses to situations we may have seen as "issues" before. We begin to understand the joy of peace and the beauty of gentleness.  God's grace doesn't come in like a bull in a china shop - but as a peaceful, settling, and life-giving flow of mercy.  We learn to settle into peace - allowing peace to settle us first, then to become the mode by which life's relationships are operating within.  This is one reason we must have the right focus on wisdom - as a person we enter into relationship with, not as a thing we might attain through some series of steps.  Wisdom embraces us - mind, body, and spirit. In so doing, we begin to operate in a peaceful way of living.  If we want peace in this world, it begins not with the cessation of war, but the embracing of Christ! Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Not another bad dream!

Have you ever been unsettled by a dream?  You know the kind I mean - those which either awaken you in a start as though you were falling some great distance, or in which you find your heart beating as though it were going to burst from your chest at any moment!  I think we may have all had these on occasion, but if they are a steady thing for us, it may be time to consider the cause of those dreams.  I have been around people who believe it is possible to attach meaning to each and every dream.  I guess I am not that superstitious or "believing" in the "reading" of dreams, but I do know this for sure - when I watch some thriller movie which leaves me on the edge of my seat throughout, I look for "bad men" under the bed!  It is only natural!  What goes into the mind has a way of playing tricks on the mind.  Be without something long enough and you might just crave it a little - to think upon it is not some supernatural occurrence, but rather a normal thought!  Bad dreams come from too many worries - now this is a true thing.  Spend hour after hour pondering the hard things in this life and you will find it almost impossible to drift into the quiet repose of a restful night's sleep!

Bad dreams come from too many worries, and too many words come from the mouth of a fool. (Ecclesiastes 5:3 ERV)

If we were to examine what scripture has to say about worry, we'd find reminders such as: 
  • Matthew 6:25-34 "Don't worry about the things you need to live - what you will eat, drink, or wear....you cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it..."
  • Proverbs 12:25 "Worry takes away your joy, but a kind word makes you happy."
  • Ecclesiastes 5:12 "Those who work hard all day come home and sleep in peace. It is not important if they have little or much to eat. But the rich worry about their wealth and are not able to sleep."
  • Philippians 4:6 "Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have."
These are but a few of the scriptures which point out the futility in our worries. They are concerns placed on the wrong shoulders - ours!  When we worry, we are imagining all the possibilities about how "we" will handle the problem at hand.  We are attempting to shoulder the weight of the issue at hand rather than leaving that issue on the shoulders of the one who has not only the strength to bear it, but the wherewithal to handle it once and for all!  

Imagine a life without bad dreams - wouldn't that be a good thing?  Imagine a life without worries - wouldn't that make your heart skip a beat for a totally different reason than those bad dreams do?  Just as too many words come from the mouth of a fool (and we have all experienced that one), too many worries result in restless nights of sleep.  If we don't put those anxieties where they belong (on the shoulders of Jesus), we will continue to shoulders burden too big for us to handle, too hard for us to solve, and too great for us to bear up under.

The things we need to live - clothing, food, shelter, etc. - all things which are best left in the hands of the one who actually provides them!  It is true - worry takes away our joy - consuming us with the weight of the issue.  We don't have time to enjoy life if all we do is stumble through it with the weight of our worries clearly upon our own shoulders.  Maybe this is the revelation we need - we are stumbling (at best) through life as long as we try to handle our life's issues. Who knew the issue even before it came?  God.  Who has all the resources to address that issue (no matter how big or small)?  God.  Whose words are powerful, consistently trustworthy, and never spoken in vain?  God's.  Now, that we have settled those few facts, isn't it senseless to carry these things into our slumber?  Just sayin!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bitter sets the teeth on edge

Have you ever bitten into a piece of fruit which had all the right coloring, smelled wonderful, but somehow was just too tart or bitter on the inside?  It is like the development arrested and the fruit never came to the place it was fully ripe.  Remember what that did to your teeth, tongue, and taste buds?  It was like an assault to them, right?  The bitterness lasted, even when you spit out the nastiness of the bite you took.  I have heard people describe the sensation as "having their teeth set on edge" by the bitterness of the fruit.  Some of us think the bitter taste will go away, but did you know that some people actually don't taste "bitter" as you or I do?  In fact, depending upon the level of dietary iodine we may ingest, we might all sense "bitterness" a little differently.  I wonder if this difference with how we "taste" the bitter we ingest in life is similar to how some may be deeply affected by the hurtful and bitter things another does, while others seemingly walk away pretty well unaffected by it?

Your words can be as satisfying as fruit, as pleasing as the food that fills your stomach. The tongue can speak words that bring life or death. Those who love to talk must be ready to accept what it brings. (Proverbs 18:20-21 ERV)

I think there are individuals who will take in a steady diet for a while, developing a "taste" for whatever it is they are given to ingest.  It may not have been pleasant at first, but the more they ingest it, the more immune they become to the unpleasant taste.  It is kind of like when you first tried the veggies on your infant child - they didn't like their taste as well as the fruits, so they squirmed away when you tried to coax them to take a little.  This is the principle behind the pediatrician telling you to start with veggies and leave the fruits till last. You are convincing them to "take in" what is the least pleasant for them, but which will give them the necessary stuff to help them grow up strong.  They might not enjoy the experience, but it is not going to kill them!

I wonder how many of us go through life "not enjoying the experience", but going through it anyway simply because someone has convinced us it won't "kill us".  The reality is that we are affected by all which comes into our lives - good, bad, sweet, or bitter.  We cannot deny the influence of each of these - some will be quite enjoyable and easily appreciated; others will be very difficult and quite difficult to see as valuable.  The times when bitterness is all around us, I don't think our reaction is much different - we just want to spit it out!  We don't crave the bitter taste - at least not at first.  In time, the more we taste the bitter, the more our taste buds will become desensitized to the bitter and will actually allow us to take it in without having that same "teeth set on edge" reaction.

What has happened?  We have been "desensitized" due to the frequency of the exposure to the bitter thing.  That which once caused us so much discomfort becomes something we are almost immune to now.  This is not always good, though, because those initial reactions of "rejecting" the bitter are there for a reason.  The bitterness of the unripened fruit is what should keep us from ingesting it and becoming ill from taking it into our bodies.  When we develop a tolerance to the bitter, we often go way beyond a place of safety when it comes to what we will allow into our lives!  Spiritually and emotionally speaking, the bitterness of life is going to challenge us a bit at first, but when we are continually bombarded by it, we cannot help but develop a "tolerance" to it.

Words might be bitter when first spoken, producing an immediate "ill-effect". In time, when we are constantly bombarded by these sheer volume of bitter and harmful words, or words which ought to produce a bitter taste within us, we might just begin to develop a tolerance to what we continue to allow to be taken in!  This is perhaps why God asks us to pay so close attention to the words we speak and those which we allow to penetrate our minds and hearts.  These very words can be the starting point for a tolerance to the bitterness of life - rather than us rejecting that which produces bitterness within, we actually find ourselves running toward it!  We need to weigh our words carefully and those which we will allow to "penetrate" our minds and hearts.  

We need to take a lesson from our initial reaction to the unripened fruit.  That bitter taste immediately makes us want to reject it and be rid of it as quickly as possible.  When we hear those bitter words of another, we also need to be as quick to reject those as something which is just not "fitting" for our lives.  Just sayin!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

No longer blind

Our story begins today with a man, blind since birth, happening across the path of Jesus one day.  I don't believe in "accidents" or "coincidences" because I think every moment in our lives is measured out and watched over by our Lord in heaven.  I don't think one thing escapes his attention, so to say this was a coincidental meeting, or happen-chance, is just not possible.  The disciples begin to wonder why this man was blind.  They engage in conversation about it, since much of the belief of the day was any type of infirmity of body was a result of either the sins of the parents, or that of the individual themselves. This begins the conversation about this man - who's at fault for his blindness?  Isn't that just like us - we are so near the one who can cure the actual blindness and all we can do is focus on the "reason" for the blindness!  We want to place blame; Jesus wants to bring light!

The man answered, “This is really strange! You don’t know where he comes from, but he healed my eyes. We all know that God does not listen to sinners, but he will listen to anyone who worships and obeys him. This is the first time we have ever heard of anyone healing the eyes of someone born blind. This man must be from God. If he were not from God, he could not do anything like this.” (John 9:30-33 ERV)

As you may be aware, the disciples engage in this back and forth discussion about "who" is to blame for the man's blindness - but Jesus is quick to tell them the man is here in their path right now so that God may be glorified by what is about to happen.  We often find ourselves focusing on the "blame game", often also called the "shame game" since we want to point the finger at someone and make them bear the "weight" or the "guilt" of the issue at hand.  I like what my pastor frequently says - whenever we take "guilt" for something and make it part of our identity (who we are), we are moving into the realm of shame - assuming the "label" or "identity" of the sin.  This seemed to be the major factor within their concern - as was often the case in the religious system of the Pharisees and religious teachers of the day - not that this man could actual be freed from his blindness and become a sighted member of his community!

Much to the man's delight, Jesus won't let the disciples and onlookers take satisfaction in this game of assigning blame - he turns them toward giving the one who sent him the glory for a great miracle on this man's behalf.  God doesn't do things halfway - he is all about completing what he starts.  The man is given a task - go and wash your eyes in the local pool.  In an unconventional method of healing, Jesus has made a "mud poultice" of sorts and wipes it over this man's blind eyes.  Now, he sends him to wash away the mud.  What I love most about the story is the man's return - having left without sight, he returns seeing.  Now, if I hadn't seen anything in my entire life, I am not sure I wouldn't get caught up in all the many splendid things to behold - like the trees, beautiful waters, colorful landscape, various people in my life, etc.  I think I might get a little distracted, but not this man - he returns to the one who healed him.

The conversation which ensues is one which always amazes me a little each time I read this account.  The observers of this miracle are more concerned with trying to figure out by "which power" Jesus performed this miracle of sight rather than celebrating the man's ability to see!  It just goes to prove that we can certainly get our focus on the wrong stuff in this life, can't we?  This man had never seen his mother's face, nor had he been able to work for himself, all because he was blind from birth.  Instead of reveling in his sight, they pick apart his healing!  Man, oh man!  Can we just stop for a moment to look inward a little on this one, my friends?  Do we ever find ourselves wrapped up in the "how could this happen" of the moment, picking apart the beauty of God's grace, more than reveling in the blessing of his grace?  If so, we are probably no better than these religious leaders and onlookers!  

God's grace isn't always the easiest thing to understand and I certainly don't plan to ever get to the place I fully comprehend how he works, but I know this - his grace has never failed me, nor has his work in my life ever left me disappointed.  Our challenge isn't in that we believe in the miracle, but that we come to the place of trusting the one behind the miracle!  They knew this was the beggar man, blind since birth, but this label no longer "fit" who he was as he stood before them now.  This is often the case with the labels we wear.  They no longer "fit" after God's grace has been in operation in our lives.  We can no longer wear that label - and some have a hard time laying it aside.  Not this guy! He is pretty blunt about it.  He doesn't need to know how or why God healed him - he just revels in his healing.  He doesn't need to understand why he was blind from birth; he just needs to move forward "in his sight".  

We don't need to understand how God delivers us from our past - we just need to walk in our present.  We don't need to identify with the past any longer - we just need to appreciate we are given a new "present" and "future" through God's grace!  Just sayin!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A seed not sown

You have probably heard the little quip, "If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it", but I have to ask the more important question - who actually knows why it falls where it does, when it exactly fell, and what good it will do in the place it has fallen?  Even a fallen tree has a benefit - maybe not the same benefit it had as a growing tree, but it "gives back" something it could not while it was upright.  I think we often don't think of our decline in years as being "fruitful" years, equating our youthful years as those which were the most fruitful.  Yet, if we consider the vast wealth of knowledge we have accumulated, the wisdom we have amassed by seeing and doing what we have done over the years, it becomes quite clear our fruitful years don't have to end just because we are no longer this big, thriving tree standing upright in the forest!  My mom is 96.5 years old and you sometimes can hear her say, "I don't know why the good Lord doesn't take me."  I guess this is natural when the senses begin to fail such as eyesight, hearing, and even touch.  Yet, when you see my grandboys nestle into her hug, run to show her something, or just go over to open the door for her to go outside with them, it is easy to recognize she has much left to give!  One thing I have observed over the years growing up with this great lady is how much "good" she always tried to do for others - sacrificially giving of herself for others in ways you might not have recognized until you sat back to see just how much her life impacted others.  She isn't a great author, for writing never came easy for her.  She isn't a whiz with numbers and able to give in-depth counsel as to how to invest your monies, but she invested what she had in consistent ways and has enough to see her through her "old age".  She didn't make it to America's Top Chef designation, but I still can remember the taste of the yummy pot roast, boiled potatoes and gravy, with the freshest of vegetables!  We ALL have a contribution to make in life, regardless of our "age", or our "designation" in life - we just need to remember to do what we can where we are, touch those lives which are around us, and "function" as we still have the ability to at this point in our lives.

Do good wherever you go. After a while, the good you do will come back to you. Invest what you have in several different things. You don’t know what bad things might happen on earth. There are some things you can be sure of. If clouds are full of rain, they will pour water on the earth. If a tree falls—to the south or to the north—then it will stay where it falls. But there are some things that you cannot be sure of. You must take a chance. If you wait for perfect weather, you will never plant your seeds. If you are afraid that every cloud will bring rain, you will never harvest your crops. You don’t know where the wind blows. And you don’t know how a baby grows in its mother’s womb. In the same way, you don’t know what God will do—and he makes everything happen. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-5 ERV)

One very important lesson mom taught over the years was this idea of "taking a chance" on occasion.  It was usually a very precarious moment in time, when uncertainty was all around, and fear was rising within - this is when we'd have heard the reminder that we need to be willing to take a chance now and again in our lives.  Mom and Dad lost all their savings long before the FDIC (the insurance agency which insures banking investments) came into being.  Their local bank was robbed and all their assets were lost to them.  They had to recuperate from that loss, making their way back into financial solvency through hard work and much effort.  Later in life, they were swindled by a not so great investment firm, taking away much of their retirement savings.  Yet, one thing I always saw in their lives was this willingness to take a chance.  They didn't just pull out all their monies and tuck it into the seam of the mattress!  Yep, they took what they learned from each experience and then they took another chance down the road.  Most chances served them well, but even those which the outsider may have thought did not serve them at all had a benefit we might not have realized on the surface.  My parents became wiser, worked even that much harder, and more importantly, became "closer" in relationship because of the hardships they endured.  They allowed the "pressure" to bring them closer, instead of driving them apart.  

Most of the lessons my parents taught over the years have been because they were willing to take chances.  Those are the similar lessons I passed onto my own children - those moments when I took chances myself and either prospered, or learned great lessons in the end.  Some of those chances were "relational", others were quite "practical".  It doesn't matter where the chances are "taken" - it matters that we "took" them!  I like what Solomon says here: "If you wait for perfect weather, you will never plant your seeds."  Chew on that one a while if you are one of those individuals who think the "stars must align" or the conditions must be "perfect" in order for you to move on a matter.  You just don't know what blessings and actual growth you may have missed in the waiting!  The truth is - nobody enjoys "perfect conditions" in their lives 100% of the time!  Not every seed will sprout, but a seed not planted is nothing more than a seed!  We don't know what God will do with whatever it is we "sow" in life, but we can count on the reality than a seed not sown is not going to be able to do as much as the seed which is!

There are some people who just cannot take the first step in the direction they know they are being asked to travel - almost frozen in place by their fear of the unknown.  I once was like that - kind of "unbelieving".  It wasn't easy to break past my fears and take the first step.  It almost creates this "tension" between the anxiety you feel about the "unknown" and the hope you have that things can be "different" if you just get up enough courage to take that first step.  It may be difficult to take the first step, but remember this - even the tree falling in the forest isn't doing it outside of God's attentive eye.  He purposes where that tree will land, how it will become "one" with the environment in which it falls, and the purpose it has in where it has fallen.  The hand of God is with us in each step we take, even when we don't see or feel him with us.  We just need to trust he will be there to help us when we do "take our chances" with whatever it is we are feeling impressed to do.  We may not get it "right" the first time we try it, but when we at least take the first step, he is able to help us along to the next!  Just sayin!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Suppose....

"Suppose" can be used as the setting up of an argument, or a belief or theory, as though you were prepared to defend it to the hilt.  Have you ever had one of those moments in time where you want to disprove someone and set up the arguments for your position with the statement, "Suppose that..."?  I think we all have at one time or another, because it is human nature to present what we believe or have perceived to see if it is really trustworthy.  In doing this, we present our side of the argument, then we await the rebuttal.  For example, we start our study of the earth with the statement, "Suppose that the earth is round, how do we keep from falling off as it rotates?"  The statement set forth is the perceived or believed fact, followed by the supposition or question.  We already are holding the truth to be true that the earth is round - now we just want to understand why we don't go flying off into space when it rotates on its axis!  Oftentimes, we find ourselves setting up various beliefs or perceptions in our conversations with God and find ourselves stuck with only half of the truth - the part we put out there as "believed fact" - then we have a whole bunch of questions or misconceptions we pose immediately after those "believed facts" because we want God to either dispel our "myths" or settle the truths we "think we believe" as fact.

Suppose I wanted to hide from you and said, “Surely the darkness will hide me. The day will change to night and cover me.” Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same. You formed the way I think and feel. You put me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because you made me in such a wonderful way. I know how amazing that was! (Psalm 139:11-14 ERV)

Here is where we find David this morning - setting up what he knows to be fact and then setting the remaining "beliefs" or "ideas" out there on the table so God can either cement them as truth to be held onto or myths he must let go of. He begins with the statement, "Suppose I wanted to hide from you..."  Now, you might think this is a fact, since I said you could begin an argument with a set of facts and follow with the questions.  In this case, he begins with the questions and ends with the facts!  In so doing, he is actually talking to himself and reminding himself of what he already knows and believes - thereby settling his questions quickly.  The question of whether he can hide from God is set forth.  I think we may have all "tried" this at one time or another, but we probably have been less than successful, as David is soon to point out.  It is impossible to hide anything from him, so I think it is laughable that we would even want to try!

Many times we try to hide what we are a little uncomfortable with, or feeling some shame over.  It is not uncommon for us to do this, because we rarely want to put our failures "on display" in life.  I recently had a friend ask me why my marriage ended.  It is not one of those things I want out there on display in my life, so unless someone asks me directly, I don't usually speak about it. Why?  It causes me a little discomfort and I find myself reliving past hurts I may have wanted to really put behind me.  It isn't that I am hiding anything in this case, but I don't put these past hurts on display because they are now totally under the blood of Jesus - they are fading scars no longer to be remembered. I kind of liken them to the scar I can barely see from when I had surgery as an infant.  There is a tell-tale sign I went through something, but it no longer is a remembered thing!

There are things we attempt to hide which are not "healed" or even "healing" things, though.  This is where I feel David is connecting with us this morning - we cannot put into the darkness anything which God has not dealt with fully yet. It is impossible for us to hide these things from his probing finger, or discovering eye.  No darkness exists with him, so he is not going to allow us to attempt to squirrel away our hurts.  Herein is love in action - not letting us "fester" on our past hurts and failures.  It may seem like the "discovery" of our past hurts and failures is a little "probing" and kind of uncomfortable, but trust me on this - any "infected" part of our lives is worse when left to "fester" in the dark!  God knows this clearly because he put all our parts, including our emotions, into place in our lives - he created us.  The idea of thinking he wouldn't understand, or that he just couldn't make anything good out of the mess we have created somehow just flies in the face of the truth of his grace and love "out-doing" anything we have done ourselves.

Most of our past hurts and failures are linked very closely to the way we think and feel.  Understanding God is the one who "put together" the very actions of thinking and the plethora of emotions we experience is liberating, because we come to recognize none of these thoughts or emotions are "foreign" to God. They are all understood by him and he knows perfectly well how they interact with each other - one feeding off the other.  Truth is, we can trust him with the stuff we want to squirrel away into the dark places in our lives - because he is already intimately familiar with them - even the bad parts we don't want to admit to or remember!  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

More than just another beauty in an evening gown

Every now and again I catch one of those shows on TV which feature women all decked to the nines, competing against each other for some Miss USA, Ms. Universe, or the like.  It isn't often that I see those with the "truest" of beauty actually win in these events, though.  The outward is dazzling, but I don't know that the inward "character" and "beauty" of the individuals who actually win these contests consistently measure up to the standard of "beauty" God has for his kids.  These women can move across the stage in glamorous sashays and then dazzle us with their comments about world peace, dreams of saving the starving children in some third world country, or the like.  Deep down inside, they are not "bad" people, but all the outward grace and beauty can actually fool us to what is really at the core of what it is which "drives" them.  God is more concerned the with the "beauty" and "grace" which comes from a "right internal drive" than he is with the outward beauty and grace we can put on display for others to see.
Grace and beauty can fool you, but a woman who respects the Lord should be praised. (Proverbs 31:30 ERV)
 
Truthfully, if we were all to admit it, we somehow strive to have some form of outward grace and beauty - this is just part of human nature.  We don't strive to be "ordinary" or "run-of-the-mill" - we actually comb our hair, put on a little make-up, select the best fitting outfit, and make our way out into the world hoping we have put our best "appearance" out there.  Mom frequently asks me why I won't go out to get the newspaper on a Sunday morning before I take my shower.  If you have ever seen my "bedhead" you will know the answer to that question!  I am a little too vain to let my neighbors see me with my hair going this way and that!  Now, my BFF on vacation, over a cup of coffee on a leisurely start to our morning - that is a different matter.  We don't have to "dazzle" each other with our outer beauty, because we understand the "inner beauty" of each other already!  A woman who respects the Lord is much to be desired.  This is something I tried hard to impart into the lives of my own daughter and all of the teens I have worked with over the years.  It isn't the outward fineries which make a woman, but the inward peace, joy, and rightness which comes from being in right-standing with God that comes through the loudest.  

What are some of the most beautiful things we can display "in" our lives which come through the clearest on the "outside" of our lives?  I think they may be:

- Gracefulness.  This is not the gracefulness of being able to sashay across the dance floor in flawless motion, but rather the gentleness of kindness and depth of love which embraces the unlovely, forgives the unkind, and reaches out in compassion to the disloyal.  We might equate gracefulness to the elegance of the beauties we see on the stage, but God equates it to the "beauties" he sees reaching for the lost, helping the infirm, and compassionately restoring the fallen.

- Truthfulness.  We can put many an idea or philosophy on display in our lives, but all will come across as shallow and lacking in deeper meaning unless they are founded in the rock of Christ's love and truth.  Philosophy is based on thought and investigation - regardless of whether it is thought into the truth or not.  We can have many a life "philosophy" which is misdirected or awry, depending upon where it is we choose to investigate.  When we are spending time in the Word of God, our basis of action and belief becomes solid because truth begets truth.  Within those moments of introspective investigation into the truth of God's Word we find life-transforming truths which begin to "right" our thoughts and transition our focus from self to others and self to God himself.

- Gratefulness.  Most of the world's gratitude is based upon the actions of another, not a condition of heart.  In other words, when someone does something for us, we are grateful.  When they neglect some action toward us, we are less than grateful - maybe even a little angered or hurt by their inaction. A heart of gratefulness is one which finds joy in the simple things, looks for the best in each circumstance and individual, and appreciates the many blessings one already has rather than constantly searching for those yet to be realized.

These aren't rocket science, my friends, but they are significant enough to God that he enjoys seeing these "beauties" on display in our lives over and over again.  These are just three of the "adornments" he provides in our lives which give us rich character, deeply rooted in his love, grace, and peace.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Refuge is more than a hiding place

We run into people on occasion who make out God to be some big, bad "guy in the sky", who sits upon a throne, passing judgment on earth below.  They simply don't understand the mercy of God - seeing "justice" as only the "bad stuff" which happens to people.  If we look at justice in the most literal sense, we find it means to give both reward and punishment - based on a set of moral principles.  Therefore, to think of God as simply the "big bad guy in the sky" is a wrong perception of his "role".  First and foremost, he is the one who cannot vacillate from a standard which is morally correct.  He sets this high standard of righteousness and then he sticks with it because he cannot cross that line.  It would be a violation of his holiness and "rightness" if he did. We find there are times we want to blame the "big bad guy in the sky" for every bad thing which happens on this earth.  In truth, the bad stuff which happens is because we live in a fallen world, not because God wants this stuff for us. Tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, devastating fires, and the like are deemed to be "natural disasters" - they are the earth reacting to the fallen state it presently occupies.  Until God makes the earth new again upon his Son's return to set up his reign forever and ever, this world will continue to experience this "bad stuff" in its fallen state.  The truth we need to remember is that God is "fair" - equitable, right in his judgments, and very protective of his kids!


The Lord set up his throne to bring justice, and he will rule forever. He judges everyone on earth fairly.  He judges all nations honestly.  Many people are suffering—crushed by the weight of their troubles.  But the Lord is a refuge for them, a safe place they can run to.  Lord, those who know your name come to you for protection.  And when they come, you do not leave them without help. (Psalm 9:7-10 ERV)

Many will attempt to justify the bad stuff by saying it is because God has turned his back on them.  It is impossible for you or I to be out of God's sight, for he sees all things, knows all things, and is everywhere at all times.  Our wee brains have a hard time with that one, but it doesn't make it any less true.  If we think God has deserted us, or let us be overcome with the "bad stuff" in this life because he doesn't care about us, we are entirely misguided in our beliefs.  In response to this I only have to point out the myriad of times God has been merciful in our lives.  Times when we deserved "way different" than what it was we received.  These are the moments we conveniently forget whenever we rant against "the big bad guy in the sky" - those moments of self-pity we experience whenever things just didn't go the way we thought they should.  The reality is that if things went the way we thought they should, we'd probably be more disappointed down the road than we are right now!

In order to really stay on right footing as it applies to "justice" we must remember a couple of things:

- God judges fairly.  He is the ONLY one capable of doing this because he cannot possibly violate the moral standards by which his justice is carried out.  We are all fallible creatures, changing in our "opinions" or "stands" as quickly as the urge takes us down a different path.  Therefore, whatever justice we think we might be able to carry out is far different than "true justice" - simply because we do vary in our "interpretation" of the circumstances and the "truth" we adhere to at the moment.  God cannot cross that line - he remains the constant "steady" in an ever-changing world.

- Troubles come because we live in a fallen world, not because our God rejects us or has it in for us.  These weights we face may be quite "crushing" in their effect on our lives, but when we unburden ourselves by turning to the one who loves us too much to vary from his righteousness, we find those burdens lifted and our weights begin to shift from us carrying them to him carrying them. It isn't something we totally understand, but we know it works.  We cry out to him in the the moments we feel those weights taking us down under them, and he moves in to lift those burdens.  It isn't that they "bad stuff" doesn't exist anymore, but we have a different strength by which we "bear up" under their influence or attack.

- Those who know his name and call upon it are assured of refuge.  It isn't the "magic" in his name - it is the relationship of having taken his name as our own. When we enter into his family, saying "yes" to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we find a new refuge within this "family".  Those who have never known the "refuge" of family on this earth have a hard time understanding this one because the earthly has betrayed the meaning of true family.  There are times when we need to "relearn" our position and privilege - for we don't take on a "title" by entering into this family (Christian), but we take on a new way of living and making choices when we enter into this family.  We choose to lean in and lean on, rather than doing stuff all on our own.  Justice comes only when we learn to rely and lean upon the one who sees things exactly as they are and not as we imagine they might be.

- Refuge is a place of protection; help is a means of escape.  We can find refuge and still not escape the thing pursuing us - such as when we were little and played hide and seek.  We found refuge behind the couch, but eventually someone found out hiding spot and we could no longer escape.  God's refuge comes with a way of escape - not just a place to hide.  We don't just get a reprieve from the "bad stuff" in life.  We get the privilege of walking hand-in-hand with the one who can navigate us through and bring us safely out on the other side, stronger and more secure than when the "bad stuff" began to give us the trouble in the first place.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Force fed and loving it!

I had the pleasure of enjoying my two daughters and grandsons on Mother's Day, along with my Mom.  The boys had to work, but they sent their greetings and were missed terribly.  As we were enjoying a leisurely BBQ lunch, Corbyn asked if I had seen the hummingbird video on Facebook.  We had been observing the hummingbirds come and go from the feeder just behind us on the patio, so the subject seemed to center around birds.  I had observed many beautiful birds on vacation, but the boys wanted me to see this particular video because it had caught their attention.  Becca was quick to find it in the news feed and shared it with me.  It spoke volumes to me.  As I watched, a mother hummingbird fed two small chick birds in the nest.  First one, then the other. What was amazing was the way she almost had to "force feed" them.  At first, they started out "ravenous" - wanting what she had to offer, beaks open and beckoning to her to give them her stores of food.  As their tummies began to fill, the nestled down deeper into the next and began to almost resist her tender advances to provide them with nourishment.  I mentioned to the kids how much it looked like she was "force feeding" them toward the end.  One gave into this "forced feeding", while the other burrowed deeper into the nest and firmly kept the tiny mouth closed against her probing beak.  I wondered if this isn't how we sometimes treat God - beckoning him to provide nourishment at first, but then pulling away, nestling down into our secure place, and resisting what he has to offer.

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. Lord All-Powerful, great blessings belong to those who trust in you! (Psalm 84:11-12 ERV)

Just like the mother hummingbird, God beckons us to open up and then to take what he has to offer.  What I didn't tell you was how "deep" into the open mouths of these tiny chicks she had to put her beak to actually impart what it was she had to offer.  It seemed as though she stuck that long, slender beak nearly all the way down their throats, right into their stomachs.  It was as though she probed along the roof of their mouths, then right down into the stomach - imparting the rich nectar she had for them.  When they began to resist a little, she pried their mouths open and continued to give of the nectar, but not before she got it deep enough into them for them to get 100% of what she was offering.

I think God may have to be this way with us when he brings good things into our lives which will actually help us grow.  He has done all the work to provide what we need, but we cannot overlook how much he sometimes has to "pry us open" to get us to receive the goodness he has prepared for us!  Amazingly, we cry out for so much, then when God comes along with it all prepared in the special way only he can provide, we resist it!  In his loving care, he won't let us stay in our place of resistance, though.  He is much like this mother bird, tenderly probing us until we will open up and begin to accept the entrance of what he has into the depths of our lives.

Another thing I noted as I watched this video was the security of the nest.  It was small by comparison to some nests, but quite soft and flexible.  As those tiny chicks burrowed deep into the safety of the nest, it "gave" with them.  The nest seemed to flex and then securely embrace them in the downy feathers and soft security of the walls provided for their safety.  Much to our surprise, we often find our greatest "peace" comes in nestling down in the place God has prepared for us well in advance of us even needing it.  This mother bird spent hour upon hour tenderly crafting that nest.  She made a place of safety long before she even knew she'd mother her two chicks there.

God is much the same - tenderly preparing the place for our protection and security.  It becomes the place of our deepest feedings and the rest we so much need.  Just as those birds began to settle in with full stomachs, the mother bird watched and ensured they were nestled deep into the nest.  After seeing them peaceful and "filled to the max" with the goodness she had provided, what do you suppose she did?  You might imagine she nestled in on top of them for a well deserved rest herself, but she didn't.  In fact, she was off again, preparing for their next meal!  She was already looking out for what they needed next. Isn't this so like our God?  Always looking out for what we will need next in this life.  

We may not be "chicks in a nest", but I think we can all receive a lesson or two from the mother hummingbird and her two chicks.  Just sayin!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Give a little grace - they don't deserve it!

If you ever struggle with the tendency to look at another person and just begin to pick apart whatever they are saying or doing, as though it were the furthest thing from what they "should" be doing, then you are probably right there with the rest of us who have a little problem now and again with judging others. You see, it is human nature to judge others by some standard we hold up as the "yard stick" by which we will measure their actions.  Since the beginning of time we have record of how people make all kinds of misjudgments based on what they "believe" at a given moment.  Thinking back to two brothers who faced this struggle, and which ended poorly by the way, I would have to say whenever we choose to compare our actions with those of another, how another responds to our actions versus the actions of the other, or what we imagine to be the better response to a circumstance than how the other person is responding, we are kind of moving into dangerous territory.  The story of Cain and Abel weren't just put into the Bible to teach us a blood sacrifice would be required for the forgiveness of sins.  I think it is placed there as a way of helping us to understand just how "wrong" judgment can go when we get all wigged-out by our own "measures of success".  One son had his gift offering accepted, the other's gift not so much.  One was a farmer, the other a keeper of flocks.  Cain brought some of the food he had grown, while Abel brought the best part of his flock for an offering.  In a moment of "judgment", Cain never connected the value of his gift with the value of Abel's - he just saw the "favor" given to Abel and he began to rage with jealous anger.  That moment of judgment led to one of the worst actions anyone can take against another - the taking of a life. The moment is recorded for us, not so we know jealousy and anger are wrong, but so we understand the actions behind our judgments.  They may not be very "accurate" or "honorable" simply because we use a wrong measuring stick by which to measure the actions or responses of another!

So do you think that you can judge those other people? You are wrong. You too are guilty of sin. You judge them, but you do the same things they do. So when you judge them, you are really condemning yourself. God judges all who do such things, and we know his judgment is right. And since you do the same things as those people you judge, surely you understand that God will punish you too. How could you think you would be able to escape his judgment? God has been kind to you. He has been very patient, waiting for you to change. But you think nothing of his kindness. Maybe you don’t understand that God is kind to you so that you will decide to change your lives. (Romans 2:1-4 ERV)

We may not be "guilty" of exactly the same sin as another, but trust me on this one, we are "guilty" of some sin of our own - likely in the same "venue" or "bent" of the sin of another.  We don't like to admit this because it makes us fallible and it takes the eyes off the "other guy".  No one wants to admit we do the same "dumb" things the other guy does - especially when they are "marginally outside the expected actions" of a child of God.  We don't want to admit we gossip about others, so we call it "being concerned" about another. We don't want to admit to having a problem with anger, so we label it "righteous indignation".  We don't want to cop to the plea of "guilty" on any account, so we just hide behind our masks and try to fly under the radar.  God is the only one capable of "right judgment", so whenever we engage in judging another by some standard we have set within ourselves, we are going to judge by a wrong standard.  Even when we claim to use the Word of God as our standard, then launch into actions or activities which are then contrary to the standard laid out there, we are kind of acting a little hypocritical, don't you think?

The sad thing is that we are simply passing judgment on ourselves whenever we do this.  Mom always used to quote the adage, "It takes one to know one" - a simple reminder that we recognize the faults of another because those same faults rise up to give us a problem or two in our own lives.  The standard we would do well to consider in evaluating our actions and those of another is the one God uses toward us - that of GRACE.  Looking at our passage again, we can give a simple definition to God's grace:  Maybe you don't understand that God is kind to you so that you will decide to change your lives.  Grace is akin to giving someone a long enough rope to decide they don't want to hang themselves!  It is like God gives us enough "play", but never lets us go so far as to actually break that tie with him.  Grace brings us back close and even breaks the bonds of that tie to whatever sin we were pursuing so we don't want to go back to it. But...it doesn't happen because he "judges" us, but because he loves us enough to provide a way for us to no longer fall under the judgment we deserve!

Jesus made a way for us to step out from under the judgment and penalty we deserve by our actions.  I think God might just have this same mission in mind for each of us on behalf of the other guy in our lives who has been under the "judgment" of whatever standard we might have placed them under.  We need to make a way for them to step out from under our judgment and whatever penalty we want to hold over their heads.  Their actions may very well deserve some kind of judgment, but trust me on this one - God's actions on their part are always based in grace - so ours should also be based in similar grace!  Just sayin!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

One tiny Douglas Fir

As we took the Durango-Silverton Steam Train ride through the wooded passages carved deep with rapidly running rivers and lush green meadows, it was a joyous moment when I observed this Douglas Fir, about one foot tall right smack-dab in the middle of the rapidly running Animas River.  Now, at first you might not think much about this "find" of mine, but let me assure you of a couple of things.  First, the tree was growing - not just laying there or lodged into a rock.  It was actually growing right in the middle of the rapids! Second, it was growing straight up toward the open sky - no bend, no lean.  Lastly, it was lush in growth and green.  If you find this a little odd, so did I because we don't usually see trees growing in rapid waters - maybe along the banks of the river, but not right in the middle of the rapidly flowing cold waters of high country run-off.  It brought to mind the passage about growing strong, like a tree planted by a stream - a tree sure to produce fruit, whose leaves will never wither.  The passage took on new light as I considered the possibilities of not only being able to grow "by" the waters, but right smack-dab in the middle of them!

Great blessings belong to those who don’t listen to evil advice, who don’t live like sinners, and who don’t join those who make fun of God. Instead, they love the Lord’s teachings and think about them day and night. So they grow strong, like a tree planted by a stream—a tree that produces fruit when it should and has leaves that never fall. Everything they do is successful. (Psalm 1:1-3 ERV)

You might think that this tiny tree would not be able to send down roots deep enough to keep in long-term.  I don't know if it will last to grow as tall as those surrounding it in the nearby forests, but I do know that for now, it is planted well and growing strong.  I marvel though at the tiny tree's "will" to take root, for it faces many forces which act as "stress" against which it must grow.  

- The raging waters.  Now, if you have traveled through these deeply carved gorges in this area, you will know the power of these waters.  These were white water rapids!  Not just a lazy flowing stream, but muddy, raging waters.  I cannot imagine the continual buffeting this tiny tree is taking by the flow of these waters, but it doesn't seem to be adversely affected.  Why?  That "stress" from the waters flowing "against" it actually gave it deep enough roots to resist the urge to be uprooted, carried away, or even bending beneath their force.  Stress isn't always bad, my friend.  Sometimes we need a little stress to actually do us the good deed of digging in a little deeper!

- The harsh weather conditions.  Rain pelted us that day as we traveled along, but harsher conditions would have been the "lot" of this tiny tree much earlier in this season.  The snows around the area would have been present not long before our visit and in fact, were expected during our visit, as well.  The Animas River is known for remaining "ice free" in the winter months, but that doesn't stop the snows from flying in the area.  In fact, those cold conditions present the second stress this tiny tree has to face.  We all know what the cold does to us - making us slow down.  The tiny tree cannot slow its growth, though, for every season sends the challenges which will cause it to take even deeper root and grow stronger against the elements which challenge it.

- The many falling and moving rocks.  Within these gorges are huge rocks and rocks which just break off, falling into the Animas and being carried by the force of the raging white waters.  Imagine this tiny tree beginning to take root - averaging about 12 - 24 inches of growth per year, depending on the conditions.  This tree was about 12-18 inches in height making it about 1-1.5 years old.  In that time, it has been pummeled with many a river stone, not to mention silt carried by the raging waters, falling rock wedging its way into the crevices of the waterway.  One of the things a person knowledgeable in the growth of trees will tell you is that a tree grows when the soil conditions are the best.  Imagine the rocky conditions of this river bed and think about the stress of having to constantly send roots around rocks.  Those rocks create not only stress against which the roots must exert pressure, but they exert pressure on the roots as they move and shift in the raging waters.  I imagine these rocks add to the already challenging growth conditions for this tiny tree, but I don't see them as uprooting it anytime soon!

Just some observations from a tiny tree wedged deep into the waters of the Animas.  We might not be "in the waters", but be assured of this, we are challenged to put down deep roots, to find strength against the elements which would seek to challenge us to slow our growth, and those things which come against us to seek to uproot us.  In each case, these things can serve us well - when we put our roots down deeper and grow straight and tall toward the light we have been given.  Just sayin!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Who is "in residence" in your life?

Wisdom has a couple of companions "in residence" with him - Good Judgment, Knowledge, and Planning.  All three make the best "roommates" for Wisdom.  If we want to have a "full house", we want all of these "in residence" within!  Get Good Judgment, Knowledge, Planning and Wisdom inside of you and you will find you make decisions a little differently - these "residents" create a culture quite different from what might be the "norm" in your life right now.

I am Wisdom. I live with Good Judgment. I am at home with Knowledge and Planning. (Proverbs 8:12 ERV)

Wisdom is not a thing, he is a person - Christ Jesus.  All wisdom comes from God because God is the embodiment of wisdom.  Wisdom is the applied knowledge we amass over the years - to have both in residence in your life suggests you are in a position of learning on a continual basis - not just to amass knowledge, but to figure out how it applies to the daily decisions you make.

Good Judgment may seem like it is the same thing as Wisdom, but it stands alone because we can possess a whole lot of knowledge and still make bad decisions.  Wisdom and Knowledge are good companions, but we need Good Judgment to assist us when we don't have time to think things through - when we need to be spontaneous or instantaneous in our decision-making.

Planning is the companion of the rest because when we apply our knowledge, we find ourselves planning our steps.  We aren't as quick to take steps which are not well-ordered and appointed as the best ones for us to take.  We find we are more apt to avoid missteps when we have invited a little Planning into our lives.

Why are these important "residents" to invite into our lives?  I think it begins with our choices.  When we have these companions living so close to us, we find that our choices are a little different than they were without these companions. I can tell you I live a little differently today with my elderly mom in residence with me than I did when it was just me living in the house.  When it was just me, I could choose to stop at the stores and window shop instead of coming home to make dinner.  I could eat a bowl of cereal at dinner if I didn't feel like cooking. I would not be concerned with shutting the doors when I showered or changed clothes.  Why?  Alone I make different decisions than when I have someone "in residence" with me. 

To have these companions in residence in our lives begins to affect how we live our lives on a daily basis.  Wisdom is the governing companion - helping us make wise choices when we might not possess all the knowledge we might need up front.  Wisdom calls upon Knowledge to reveal truth to us so that we might stand in strength in the decisions we make.  Good Judgment will tweak our choices a little - giving a little "tempering" to the ones which may not be the optimal for us.  Good Judgment helps us live life at the "optimal" level - by helping us pick and choose what it is we will respond to.  Planning is kind of there as the "leveling" factor in our lives.  When we invite a little Planning into our lives, we are taking steps to avoid wrong decisions, but also to plan for the right ones to be made.

We don't just want Wisdom - although it is a good start.  Knowledge is the beginning of wisdom - Good Judgment and Planning help us in our actual walking out of what we have learned and what we are actively applying in our lives.  Just sayin!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Entering God's grace

I have enjoyed vacationing in Colorado again this year, exploring areas I haven't seen since I was a kid.  One of the things I like to do is notice the signs around me - especially those which announce we are "now entering..." and "now leaving..."  It is like a clear-cut way of understanding where the town or landmark begins and where it ends.  Why is this important?  When we are looking for our way, these signs welcome us.  When we are drifting a little too far outside of where we wanted to go, they warn us we are about to leave the area we hoped to spend a little time in exploring.  On road trips, these signs are important.  In real life, when we need to be cognizant of where we are in comparison to where we want to be, these "signs" may be equally important to us!  They may not be physical signs which announce "now entering..." or "now leaving...", but there are "signs" we are about to something foolish such as "leaving God's grace".

If you try to be made right with God through the law, your life with Christ is finished—you have left God’s grace. I say this because our hope of being right with God comes through faith. And the Spirit helps us feel sure as we wait for that hope. When someone belongs to Christ Jesus, it is not important if they are circumcised or not. The important thing is faith—the kind of faith that works through love. (Galations 5:4-6 ERV)

We cannot be "in the right place" without being "in God's grace".  This is impossible.  We need to pay attention to the signs we might actually be "leaving God's grace" if we are to be continually within the "boundaries" of the place we need to be living our lives.  We aren't made right through our travels into lands marked out by those signs which tell us we are "entering by our own works". We are entering into territory where we will only experience frustration and continual disappointment if we think this is the right place for us to live!

Our hope is in the actions of faith - not in the actions of works.  Our place of dwelling begins within the boundaries of grace - our place of actually enjoying life also begins in this exact same place!  We cannot get to "right with God" apart from looking for the signs we are "entering God's grace".  Grace isn't one of those place we find haphazardly, like some of the discoveries we make while on vacation exploring new places and observing the scenery.  Grace is a place purposefully pursued and actually found because of God's "GPS" working in our lives.

In a literal sense, we have experienced the "value" of the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) of this world.  If we have flown, we have benefited from the pilots being aware of their location because of their "plotting" of path of flight because of the benefit of these satellite positioning devices bouncing back signals alerting them where to turn that plane and when it is time to land.  If we have used them in our vehicles, we know the comfort of listening to the voice announce we need to turn right or left within the next 500 feet.  Last night, we took a wrong turn, thinking we were entering into our neighborhood for the condo we are renting.  Ummmm....we were getting more and more twisted around with each turn because we weren't fully aware of the environment and it was after dark!  The landmarks we used to navigate in the daytime don't show up as well in the night.  So, we had to turn on the GPS quickly, punch in the address of the condo, and you know what - we were 1.1 miles out of the way!

What happened when we took the first wrong turn?  We left where we thought we were entering.  As we navigated back with the assist of the GPS, I observed we were within about 200 feet of making the right turn when we actually took the wrong direction which took us 1.1 miles out of the way!  What I realize is how easy it is for us to get off-course with where we think we are whenever we rely upon our own devices to get us to where we think we are going.  We need to heed the signs!  Something told me to turn right, but we chose left. I was as disoriented by the landmarks as I could be.  We cannot always rely upon the landmarks we have relied upon in the past.  What we can always rely upon is the signs of God's grace in our lives.  Where grace is, there is freedom.  When we begin to step outside of grace, we begin to get into places of bondage again. Places where we feel "bindings" of works and self-effort placing their ties upon us again.  This is when we find we are "leaving God's grace" and entering into the place marked by the sign "entering self-works".  Not the place we want to be living, just sayin!