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Friday, July 31, 2015

Another take on "ask", "seek", & "knock"

I have two grandsons, two children, one elderly mother, and a bunch of people at work who know the meaning of "continually" asking.  They know what it means to be tenacious - persistence likely "paying off" at some point.  At times, you kind of feel like people just keep asking for more and more, then at some point you almost want to say, "Hey! Don't you ever stop asking for more?" If you look at what scripture describes as a "tenacious spirit", you will find God actually doesn't discourage this type of persistence in asking, seeking, or even spending time with him.  In fact, there is a reward for persistence!  

Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. Yes, whoever continues to ask will receive. Whoever continues to look will find. And whoever continues to knock will have the door opened for them.  (Matthew 7:7-8 ERV)

If we look carefully at our passage, you will see there is a two-fold instruction to us: 1) Continue to do what you have been doing; and 2) Be ready to receive. It is one thing to ask for something - another thing to actually be ready to receive it.  There have been times in my life I have asked for way more than I was ready to receive - like when I challenged someone to "bring it on" in some manner or another.  When whatever "it" was, and "it" came at me full-force, I wasn't ready!  In fact, because I wasn't ready, I ended up missing what came my way, dropping it, or just plain fumbling whatever "it" was!  

There are a couple of meanings to this word "continue" which I think might just help us with understanding what Jesus was instructing his disciples to maintain as a practice in their daily lives.  First, if you have any type of interruption in what you are doing, you need to "pick up" and "start again".  This is one of the first definitions you will find of this word "continue".  This implies we started something, got interrupted from it (or distracted), and now we find ourselves in a position of "starting again" or "getting back into the swing" of whatever it was we had been doing.  

We all deal with interruptions in the "cycle" of stuff we engage in each and everyday.  They range from subtle, quite momentary interruptions, to those big ones which just way-lay you totally.  I think Jesus might just have been reminding us of the importance of US managing the distractions instead of them managing us!  These distractions, no matter how small, can deter us from the steady course Jesus wants to set for us in our lives.  They can influence us quicker than we might realize, so he sets out this idea of taking control of them before they take control of you - so they don't interfere with our asking, searching, or continued progress toward deep, intimate relationship with him.

We sometimes don't "continue" in what we are doing because it becomes "hard" for us.  This is where Jesus is reminding us of the reward of tenacity - the "pay-off", so to speak, of just being consistent in our daily walk.  At first, our prayers might seem to go unanswered - that doesn't mean we should stop praying. In time, we might just find our prayers get "clarified" a little as the "delay" actually brings about insight into "how" we were seeking the answer, or "what" answer we were willing to "accept" as the "right" answer from God.  

Just as importantly, Jesus reminds us of our openness to receive whatever it is we might be finding comes our way.  When a door opens to us, do we always know what is behind that door?  No, but if we are "at the ready" because we have positioned ourselves to receive whatever might be behind that door, we are more likely to be able to "handle" whatever it might be.  He says God doesn't give his kids a snake when they ask for a fish - but there have been times when doors might have opened in our lives where it seems kind of like a den of snakes!  Is that because God was "mad at us" or "teed-off" with us? I don't think every door which opens is because God opens the door!  Some of us are knocking on the wrong door.  It looks like the right one - but we are simply at the "wrong address" when it comes to what God ultimately desires for our lives.

This is a hard one, because God's ultimate desire for our lives may differ from what he allows in our lives.  WE spend a lot of time asking, seeking, and knocking at doors which are not his ultimate desire for us, but he allows them in our lives because he will not violate our will to choose which doors we knock on! If we are to be at the "right address" all of the time, it becomes most important that we stay as close to Jesus as possible in order to be sure we don't get distracted at those "other doors".  Just sayin!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another take on anxiety

One of the emotions which can run rampant in our bodies is that of anxiety - even leading us into such serious attacks mimicking what appears to be a heart attack or some kind of severe reaction.  Many of our emotions are "strong" and don't give us as much of a challenge as this one emotion!  God created all emotion, with anxiety being the one connected with the sense we are somehow in harm's way.  There is something akin to a "niggling" which just alerts us to the need to do something differently or else we will be in the midst of some type of trouble we may not want to face.  As long as we don't get overwhelmed by this emotion, we are fine - but in today's world, the stress factors are much worse than they used to be and we tend to internalize our stress in ways we may not even recognize.  I am jaw clench kind of gal - clenching my jaw without any real thought just because the stress is building.  I then begin to feel it in my shoulders and neck, because the tension in my face is connected to my neck and that is connected to my shoulders - - - oh, you know the song!  Since this is one of those emotions which can give us a great deal of problems, we'd do well to learn how to keep it under control.  What we may not realize is just how much this emotion is really "our problem" and not caused by some external stimulus!

Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ That’s what those people who don’t know God are always thinking about. Don’t worry, because your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. What you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what he wants you to do. Then he will give you all these other things you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Tomorrow will have its own worries. (Matthew 6:31-34 ERV)

God designed the anxiety response to stimulate such a flow of hormones it is kind of like what is released when we get that fight or flight response - ramping up our response ability.  The trouble with anxiety is we seldom act upon it as we should - we simply allow it to build up and give us more pressure internally than we know what to do with.  We have probably heard it said worry is simply bringing into today the issues which belong to tomorrow.  If anyone has ever said that to you, they were quoting Jesus - each day having enough trouble of its own - tomorrow having its own set of worries.  The instruction Jesus gave was simply not to worry, but to trust.  This means the opposite of worry is trust, implying worry is a lack of trust (or perhaps a misplacement of our trust).  Much of the anxiety or worry we experience in life isn't because of some external threat, but because we have an issue with control.  We don't want to relinquish some control we might have and therefore, we hold on for dear life to things which we really have very poor control over in the first place!

Anxiety is one of those emotions which evoke the sense of "dread" we might describe at not knowing what is ahead.  It is that sense of apprehension something bad is about to happen.  For about a week now I have been narrowly avoiding some kind of accident with another vehicle or two on the roadways, with folks just either not paying attention, or being too quick to try to get somewhere.  Yesterday, while completely stopped at a red light, it happened! I was bumped from behind by a big SUV.  I was just sitting there!  The damage was minimal, leaving a little crease in my rear bumper, but what was worse was the anxiety leading up to this event.  Based on the inability to control the driving patterns of those around me, I have realized I get to my destination with jaw clenched, shoulders tight, and the like.  Why?  I am unable to control, feel threatened, and know something bad will happen if I am not at my best when driving on these streets!

What makes anxiety worse is the ability of the brain to hold onto memory.  I can recount the near misses over the past couple of weeks when someone has pulled right out in front of me, attempted to cross into my lane in fast moving traffic without seeing my in their blind spot, or even the times when it appeared someone was approaching me from behind at too great of a speed.  We don't need to actually have a memory associated with the impending "doom" we sense, we just need an accumulation of emotional memories similar to what we imagine will happen and the dread begins to build.  I used the illustration of the traffic issues because we can easily associate with those, but there are tons of other memories we have tucked away in the recesses of our brains, giving fodder to all manner of anxiety if we are to actually stop and think through our sense of dread over certain matters.  That time when the checkbook read zero and the bills came due.  The moment we received the bad report on a lab value or diagnostic test the doctor performed.  It doesn't matter what the emotional "memory" bank stored away, it can "come forward" whenever anything "remotely" similar threatens us again.

The worst part of this memory thing is we don't even know we are allowing it to happen, because much of anxiety is simply happening in our unconscious.  We don't consciously bring out those memories, fearing we will lose control in the current circumstances based on the evidence we can conclude from memories one through thirty on our memory drive!  We just "feel" the impending doom because these memories evoke the unconscious set of hormonal release which increases our anxiety level within.  Jesus says the remedy to this anxiety is to trust - to do so means we let go of being in control all of the time.  If you have ever done one of those "falling back into someone's arms" exercises, you know how hard it is to surrender control - to trust in what you cannot see.  The fact is, we may not "see" God at work, but we can see evidence he loves us and we can count on the fact he will never betray his love because it is impossible for him to do so.  We can count on the circumstances to not bring more than he knows we can handle - as long as we are handling those circumstances while he is leading us through them.  It isn't us taking God's hand and dragging him through the circumstance with us - it is us being taken into his arms and allowing him to carry us through them!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It isn't the root of ALL evil.

One of the silliest arguments I have heard is that of whether God wants his people to be rich or not.  In some "circles" of influence within the church, there are those who proclaim God wants you to be wealthy - so keep "claiming" you will be wealthy and it will eventually happen.  Then there are those who say God didn't want his people to be wealthy because wealth destroys people and should only be used to "win souls to Christ".  While both sides of the coin (no pun intended) carry a valid argument, neither is right on.  Whenever we take some portion of scripture and quote it out of context, we are in danger of believing something only "partially" true - because we lifted only one portion of what was said.  Partial truth may be truth, but it isn't the full truth - we want truth, but we want all of it.  As Jesus is talking to the crowds, he has talked about the kingdom of God being the "possession" of those who are "poor in spirit" - in other words - needing a Savior and reaching out to receive based on their need. He has shared about the need to forgive others - staying current on life's issues rather than letting them get all wadded up in a bundle of anxiety and bitterness within.  Relationship principles have been outlined including being genuine, avoiding making wrong choices with your body, and learning to talk to God as you would a close friend.  Now we come upon this idea of not letting our treasures be those which we can amass in this life, but those which will elevate us to a new place in Christ Jesus.  It isn't Jesus' aim to instruct us to become wealthy, or to choose to give it all away - he wants us to have a right relationship with what we have been blessed with as much as he wants us to maintain a right relationship with God and others!

Don’t save treasures for yourselves here on earth. Moths and rust will destroy them. And thieves can break into your house and steal them. Instead, save your treasures in heaven, where they cannot be destroyed by moths or rust and where thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will be where your treasure is. The only source of light for the body is the eye. If you look at people and want to help them, you will be full of light. But if you look at people in a selfish way, you will be full of darkness. And if the only light you have is really darkness, you have the worst kind of darkness. You cannot serve two masters at the same time. You will hate one and love the other, or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other. You cannot serve God and Money at the same time. (Matthew 6:19-24 ERV)

Any time we allow what we "have" to become the focus of our lives rather than the people in our lives, we have a little bit of a wrong focus which will require some adjusting.  Focusing on the "stuff" instead of the people in our lives will not help us develop very strong spiritual, emotional, or even physical lives.  In recent months, I have watched my grandsons get a few more electronic toys (partly because Grandma gave them some at Christmas).  My grandsons both love to read.  They both love to create amazing things from their Lego collection, often without any instructions guiding them.  The backyard is riddled with inventions from baseballs on rope hung from a tree limb to practice batting swings, to rope and pulley system rigged to a plastic milk crate in the tree house to assist them in getting their "loot" up to their level.  They are creative and energetic.  Yet these electronic devices can rob them of their focus if they are not managed well!  I am proud of my daughter's sensitivity to this fact and her willingness to make the boys take a "device free" period of time between their use throughout the day.  She doesn't want them to become focused on the fake "reality" and forget about the real "reality" we call "living life as a family".

Although the electronic devices can be quite educational, they can also be quite alluring and consuming.  There are more "lures" in the day we live in than in days past.  I am not putting down electronics here, but anytime we choose to "socialize" through the electronic means rather than the face-to-face contact, we lose something.  Jesus isn't so much concerned by us having blessings in life we might call "riches" or "wealth", but that we don't allow any of them to detract from real riches known as relationships.  Our relationship with him is only kept in the right perspective when we give it that perspective.  Anything other than him as our main focus in life will cause something else to take on the primary place of importance in our lives.  Keep him central and all the other "stuff" in life (including our relationships with each other) will take on the right focus and become a blessing to us rather than a curse.

Is Jesus really instructing us to "hate" some things?  I don't think so - he is simply contrasting love and hate because these are two strong and opposite emotions we pretty much all understand.  When I was shopping this weekend, the man assisting me in making my selection asked a very simple question: "What are you drawn to on this wall of samples?"  I usually tell someone considering a new dress, that new set of towels for the bathroom, or even a new carpeting for their floors to be cognizant of the things your eye is first drawn toward.  It is usually "appealing" to your senses - you like what you see because it does something for you "inwardly".  I have tried decorating with the latest of colors, and even wearing a few of them on occasion, but trust me on this - I don't feel comfortable when I do.  Why?  I am not built-up by whatever it is I am trying to embrace in this new color or fad.  If we are to be truthful with each other, you would probably tell me it just doesn't "fit" who I am at the core!  I like red and black.  I wear red and black.  I like browns and blacks - I decorate with browns and blacks.  I like comfort - I decorate and wear clothes which display comfort.  

We are drawn to some things naturally - because they please something within us in a "sensual" term.  Our senses are comforted or stimulated by them. Whenever something or someone begins to bring more delight or "stimulation" to our lives than Jesus does - our focus is in need of a good "readjustment". It is as though we have need of a "vision correction" in order to get better focus. Hate what gets us out of focus - love what draws us into focus.  This is probably closer to what Jesus is saying instead of hating money and thinking it is the root of all evil.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Don't take that detour!!

You might recognize the first two sentences of our passage as being from the Lord's Prayer.  I think we do a disservice to ourselves when we "compartmentalize" the prayer into just so many verses and exclude the immediate two which follow.  They are there to give further explanation to a very important concept Jesus wants us to understand - especially when we recognize Jesus was ALL about relationships - and he wanted us to learn to relate well with God and others.  The Lord's Prayer is a reminder of how we need to take time to speak with God on a regular basis - not just to "cover our bases", but to really get more acquainted with him and to allow him to reveal more of himself to us.  As Jesus concludes the instructions on "how to pray" or "talk to God", he reminds us of the importance of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a two-way street, so to speak.  We forgive others, God forgives us.  We get God's forgiveness, we pass it on to others.  In terms of what Jesus has been teaching, he is reminding us of the importance of not being judgmental of others when they don't live up to what we expected because we have the same propensity to "not live up to" what is expected of us!

Forgive our sins, just as we have forgiven those who did wrong to us. Don’t let us be tempted, but save us from the Evil One. Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do. (Matthew 6:12-15 ERV)

We occasionally hear about those bad traffic accidents which block traffic for miles and miles, making all movement an impossibility.  Unforgiveness is just like the worst of traffic jams.  It keeps us from moving forward in relationship and it means we are going to just "sit and stew" for a while.  Whenever my sister runs into one of these on the interstate between our house and hers, she just pulls off and gets a coffee somewhere along the way - but that only works if her "position" in the traffic jam actually puts her close enough to an exit where she can take "refuge" until the mess clears up.  Most of the time, she is somewhere in between and cannot budge from the stalled traffic. She didn't cause the accident, nor did she instigate the delay or mess which must be cleared up, but she is "suffering" because of it.  When we hold onto unforgiveness against another, many will suffer because of the "jam" it causes in the relationship, not just us and the other person.  

The traffic is stalled because something is impeding the cars from making progress forward. They could detour, but that still leaves the mess right where it lies, blocking the free-flow of traffic.  Until the mess is cleared, the passage beyond the mess may be possible through avoidance, but the detour never quite makes the trip through life the same!  Every detour I have taken means I get into unfamiliar territory, hung up by stops and starts I just didn't want to make in the first place.  That is how it is when we avoid the relationship conflicts which really need to be cleared away, not detoured around.  We go through all kinds of stops and starts - making our progress slower than desirable - and we probably don't feel very comfortable with the path we are taking because it is unfamiliar to us.  The more we detour the issues in life, the more comfortable we may become "skirting the issue", but it isn't quite the same!

My father died in his late sixties, succumbing to heart disease which no doctor had been able to detect on any exam.  You see, my father was evidently born with a deficient right coronary artery and his body "compensated" for the lack of this free-flowing major artery to the heart by creating a whole lot of collateral circulation.  It was the "detoured circulation" which probably kept him alive all those years, but as he aged and small plaques began to form on the smaller circulatory pathways, the blockages actually prevented the blood flow, leading to his death.  Relationships can look all right from the outside, but be quite deficient just beneath the surface!  We might develop all manner of "coping mechanisms" similar to the collateral circulation dad's body created, but when push comes to shove, the "collateral" will not sustain life within that relationship!

Instead of creating "work arounds" to our relationship issues, Jesus says we need to tackle them head-on.  Confess what is bothering us, getting it out into the open, and then dealing with it until the stuff is actually cleared away!  This is the benefit of forgiveness - it removes the debris and makes the "free-flow" of relationship possible again.  So, keep those paths clear, my friends!  You aren't just serving to make it easier for yourself - there are a whole lot of other people impacted by our relationship "mishaps"!  Just sayin!

Monday, July 27, 2015

And when you pray...

We have all probably encountered those who don't like to pray in public - kind of shying away from being asked to do the honors of saying grace or the like. Then there are those who seem to like it very much, almost going to the extreme when doing so - as though the grandeur of their words would somehow unlock heavens gates for the beckoned answer quicker than any other "key".  When you run into someone who actually knows God in a deep, personal way, you realize the simplicity of their prayers is really quite moving.  As a mother, I always loved it when my kids would just reach out to pray for the thumb I had hit with the hammer, or the splinter I had managed to embed in my hand while doing yard work.  They were simple prayers, but I knew heaven took special notice of them - because they were genuine.  Just simple "Jesus heal mommy's splinter" opened my heart to heaven, so I knew it had to open heaven to me!

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray loudly. They want people to see them. The truth is, that’s all the reward they will get. But when you pray, you should go into your room and close the door. Then pray to your Father. He is there in that private place. He can see what is done in private, and he will reward you. And when you pray, don’t be like the people who don’t know God. They say the same things again and again. They think that if they say it enough, their god will hear them. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8 ERV)

As Jesus met with thousands eager to hear his stories, connect with his power, and simply be onlookers in a crowd of curious looky-loos, he didn't miss an opportunity to point out the futility of "religion".  Yep, you read that right - the futility of religion.  Religion is a set of rules for the sake of rules - going through the motions without any real relationship behind them.  Relationship was always Jesus' number one concern and his main focus in life.  I don't know about you, but I have a private place - it pretty much is inside my head most of the time! I don't spend a whole lot of time going into a closet, closing a door, getting down on my knees and praying.  Sorry to disappoint some, but it just isn't my "prayer style".  I spend time praying in traffic while I drive - not usually concerned if people think I am talking to myself since most cars these days come with bluetooth and people are "talking to themselves" all the time!  I pray in the middle of staff meetings when I am feeling like I need the wisdom to know how to respond when something needs to be said.  I even pray at baseball games to keep my grandson safe, or help their coach to have the wisdom to coach without breaking the spirits of the boys.

Prayer isn't necessarily following a pattern as many of us who grew up in one denomination or another with "prayer books" or the like may have come to appreciate prayer.  It isn't a series of this prayer, followed by that one, etc.  It is expression of the heart - in simple conversation with a listening and responsive God.  There isn't any magical equation to prayer, but when Jesus tells his disciples to pray "like this" when he recites The Lord's Prayer (The Our Father), he is simply telling them his heavenly father has concern for each of their daily needs.  Acknowledge him for who he is in your life, express your gratitude for what he does, ask him for whatever it is you need (and even want), yield to his instruction, and don't forget to be real in your confession of sin.  This is what he taught in the prayer.  It wasn't a pattern so much as it was an indication of being in relationship with God the Father.

When we are in relationship with another human being, what do we do?  We communicate with them - our hopes, fears, dreams, needs, praises, frustrations, etc.  It isn't any different with God - we just don't need to talk with him in a showy way or with such "piety" that we "drip" religious words.  Look again at the Lord's Prayer and you will see he doesn't "prescribe" the prayer, but he reminds the disciples that none of their needs is too small for God to care about. He also wants us not to be shy about sharing how much we love God, count on his grace in our lives, and appreciate the care he gives to each of our steps. The people of the day lived for God's Kingdom to be established - as once it had been under the great King David.  They had been overtaken by one king after another and were now under Roman rule.  They wanted their "old ways" back. Jesus isn't overlooking their desire to have God's Kingdom restored - he is pointing them to the way it is done - through relationship with him!  Just sayin!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Be a blessing

There is a reward which comes from doing something because you know it is right and you know there just isn't anyone who needs to know what you have done.  It is a deep-down sense of satisfaction with doing "right" or "good" without having to "account" for your actions to anyone other than yourself. The fact is - God sees those actions and he takes note of them, even when others don't see them.  In the practice of the religious zealots of the day when Jesus was delivering this sermon, there was this custom of making a "big deal" of doing the "right thing".  The gifts were brought to the temple and a "show" was made of the significant "offering" someone gave who was "very religious".  Their actions on behalf of the widow or the poor were done in a noticeable fashion, so as others might be able to see them and give them praise for having "taken such favorable actions".  As Jesus put it, they already have their reward - it was the public recognition they received - they cannot count on anything from God in return for their "actions of kindness" done to "show up another".  It isn't what is done so much "openly" which gets God's attention, but what is held in the inner places of the heart and what is acted upon when you think no one else is watching.

Be careful! When you do something good, don’t do it in front of others so that they will see you. If you do that, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to those who are poor, don’t announce that you are giving. Don’t be like the hypocrites. When they are in the synagogues and on the streets, they blow trumpets before they give so that people will see them. They want everyone to praise them. The truth is, that’s all the reward they will get. So when you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know what you are doing. Your giving should be done in private. Your Father can see what is done in private, and he will reward you.  (Matthew 6:1-4 ERV)

For nearly a year we struggled with the poorest telephone connection imaginable.  The squeaks, hums, buzzes, and clicks just about made it totally impossible to carry on a conversation over the phone.  For most of us today we'd just say it was not big deal, cancel our landline service and go exclusively with our cells.  For a blind, elderly female with a lack of feeling in her fingers, being without a big buttoned, beads glued onto special numbers phone is an impossibility!  We worked and worked with our phone company, putting in repair request after repair request.  I'd talk passionately with the men who showed up to test the lines and they'd test this, that and the next thing, leaving us with a "marginally better" connection in the end.  In short order, we were right back to where started and mom was without contact with the outside world again!  

At first, this story may not seem to make sense in light of the above passage, but let me tell you the rest of the story.  We finally made some progress to get the phone company to dig up our front yard, complete with what was to be new cabling to the house which was to fix the problem permanently.  For about a week, I had a four foot trench in the front yard, a huge pile of dirt, and barricades making my house look much like a construction zone.  Finally the project was finished, the hole filled in, the sod put back into place and our phones worked - for all of about two days!  Mom was heartbroken and I was feeling like I had no answers to give her - we had tried it all and now we had no other choices, but I filed another repair ticket and pleaded with the repairman to do something once again.  He said the new cable was bad and they'd have to do it all over again - but he would have to run it passed his supervisors to see if they'd allow the work to be done again.  

I don't know about you, but this just didn't seem to be the answer we needed. We had been in this position before and we waited endless weeks to find out no one would ever come to repair it.  I just had to have someone intervene.  That is when I remembered a small card left with a handwritten note by one of the repairmen on a past visit. I had squirreled it away in the side door pocket in the car and went to get it.  You see, the number of a "supervisor" was on the card and I hoped I could make some kind of plea to have the work redone if I made contact with whoever answered on that end of the phone.  If you want to understand the significance of this piece of paper, you only need to understand I had been trying for over a year to actually talk in person with a supervisor of ANY sort at the phone company, but got nowhere because most of the time the phone trees of automated answers got me nowhere!  I don't know who left that note on my door, nor do I have any idea why they gave me the number they did, but when I called the number it was to a private cell phone of one of the supervisors who actually managed the division who needed to lay the cable we desperately needed in order to fix this problem! 

When I called, she answered with hesitation as I was calling her personal cell phone and she wondered how I got her phone number.  I apologized for calling her at home and asked if I could speak with her at work.  She gave me that number and I left a detailed message which was returned the very next working day!  Now, if you aren't getting the significance of this event, let me spell it out a little.  The supervisor took my information, committed to having someone there that day, and would update me on the findings.  By the end of the day, I had a call back, informing me the permits would be requested to dig another trench across the street, locate the exact portion of cabling which required repair, and it would be done within 5 days.  In exactly the time frame specified, the workers were busily digging the trench, locating the bad cables and rerunning them to the necessary spot.  If that wasn't enough, the supervisor called me personally to report the work was done!  

I don't know who left the number, but I consider them a blessing from God! Their "deed" done in secret was the blessing we needed!  The supervisor had no idea who gave out her personal phone number, but it was the "exact" blessing we needed in order to move forward with this necessary work.  We may not know who brings the blessing, but we know when we have been blessed.  We may not understand the significance of the blessing until we need it most, but the one leaving us the blessing knows it will be used when most needed!  Just sayin!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Three lessons from the Mount

There aren't too many of us who haven't heard the teaching of "turning the other cheek" whenever someone wrongs you - like we needed to actually be hit twice!  Yet, in the breadth of this teaching, Jesus is really laying out the path he will walk during the next several years of his teaching ministry - continually allowing the criticism, forgiving the hateful words of others, and refusing to strike back when deliberately opposed by those who would seek to shut down his ministry on this earth.  Back in the Old Testament, there was a practice set up in the Law which allowed for this "eye for an eye" kind of thing to occur. For example, if a man killed your donkey he was to restore it and something extra in return. In making restoration of the one thing which was lost also to make some type of restitution for the lost item.  Steal from someone and you had to not only repay what you stole, but a portion more.  Maybe God was trying to help us see the connection between sin and it "costing" us something.  Or maybe he was just trying to help us see the distress sin brings into our lives.  It doesn't really matter why he established those rules, because Jesus is about to blow the minds of those listening to his sermon when he tells them they should turn the other cheek, give a coat to one who steals your shirt, and hate our enemies!  A totally radical thought for a generation who had grown up under the Law! 

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t fight back against someone who wants to do harm to you. If they hit you on the right cheek, let them hit the other cheek too. If anyone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. If a soldier forces you to walk with him one mile, go with him two. Give to anyone who asks you for something. Don’t refuse to give to anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly. If you do this, you will be children who are truly like your Father in heaven. He lets the sun rise for all people, whether they are good or bad. He sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong. If you love only those who love you, why should you get a reward for that? Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than anyone else. Even the people who don’t know God are nice to their friends. What I am saying is that you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.  (Matthew 5:38-48 ERV)

A couple of pretty important relationship principles are being taught by Jesus - those which he would demonstrate in his own life over the next couple of years as he made his way around the cities preaching and teaching to those who came with curious hearts.  Here are a but a couple:

- Give more than you are asked to give.  Most of us understand what it is to have some kind of "debt" we might own.  When we go to the grocer we fill up our baskets and then head to the checkout.  At the checkout, the clerk rings up the total bill for all of the items in the cart.  This becomes a debt we must pay if we are to remove these groceries from the store.  Until the debt is settled, we are not free to roll that cart out to the car and make our way home with those delectable treats.  We "get" that we have to pay for what we put in the basket, but how many of us actually would think to give the grocer another ten dollars at the end of the transaction, just because we wanted to give something to recompense the grocer for the debt we incurred?  I daresay we'd point out if we were over-charged, but to actually leave more than what we owed - not!  I think this is a principle mom and dad tried to teach me, and I have tried to pass it on to my children and grandchildren, as well.  What can we do which is just a little more than what we are asked to do?  It may not be much, but if we always just go through life giving exactly what we are asked to give and never any more, we will live kind of empty lives.  Learning to bless another is our focus here.  We need to see the "value" in giving - sacrificially - not just when something is demanded of us.

- Partiality is not going to serve anyone well.  In the time of Christ, there were "systems" of people - some might call them "casts" - some more affluent and "honored" than others, while others were looked down on because of disease, poverty, or the like.  The idea of God allowing the sun to shine on the rich and the poor, the diseased and the well, etc., is Jesus' way of reminding us that no one sticks out as the "shining star" in God's eyes.  All are equal - all receive the same attention, privilege, and honor in his eyes.  Neither money nor poverty impact how he thinks about us.  Neither good looks or plainness impress him. His is an attitude of grace and acceptance of all who turn his way.  The religious leaders of the day had a hard time with this one - especially when Jesus modeled it by hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and then came into the synagogue to teach a lesson or two on the Sabbath.  It just wasn't in their "system of beliefs" to be lacking in this "social partiality".  But...it was not Jesus' intention to win a popularity contest - it was his intention to embrace all of mankind with his grace and love!  We'd do well to model this behavior in our own lives.

- Love sometimes doesn't get returned in the way we might expect it to be returned.  This kind of goes back to the idea of us thinking there should be "compensation" for what it is we "bring" into the relationship.  Jesus didn't just go to those who accepted his teaching and warmly embraced him.  He stood in the crowds of naysayers and those who out-rightly opposed him.  He helped the widows and the captains of the armies - both with nothing to give back to him. He opened the eyes of the blind and made the withered arms straight - some never even looking back to say thank you for the tremendous reward of being made whole again.  Learning to give "into" a relationship without expecting something "from" it might just the hardest lesson for us to grasp from this teaching, because love just yearns to be returned in some manner.  Jesus yearned for a return of his love from those he touched - he didn't demand it, though.  It was a "condition" for him to love us - he just loved, and loved, and kept on loving - not waiting for a return of that love.  Yep, probably the hardest lesson of the three for us to fully grasp, but probably one of the most important! Just sayin!

Friday, July 24, 2015

The enemy of good is good enough

When I first encountered people from the southern states, I didn't realize some of their "customs" or "accepted behavior".  One such trait was that of not saying "yes" or "no", but "maybe" a whole lot more than I was accustomed to hearing. If you'd ask them if they wanted more mashed potatoes, they would answer "maybe" - but in actuality their "maybe" meant "yes".  It confused me for a while until I began to realize they were simply being polite by doing so - it neither committed them one way or the other, but if there indeed were mashed potatoes left in the pan at the end of the meal, they likely would eat them! I was raised in a "yes" or "no" kind of family - we didn't "commit" to things with a "maybe" very often.  In fact, I can hardly remember mom or dad not giving a decisive answer one way or the other.  Even when there was a little indecision in a matter, they qualified what would give clarity in the matter, such as being able to go to the park after dinner IF the rains didn't come.  So, it didn't come as a surprise to me to think about keeping promises as a "yes" or "no" type of answer - either you intended to or not.   There was no middle ground of "maybe" in the mix.  There wasn't a whole lot of room for "if the conditions are right", then you can count on me to keep my word.  The problem came in my "intentions", though.  I "intended" to do what I said a whole lot of the time, but my "intentions" didn't help me to stay on course with what I promised!  In short order, I found myself doing exactly what I promised not to do!  

“You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘When you make a vow, you must not break your promise. Keep the vows that you make to the Lord.’ But I tell you, when you make a promise, don’t try to make it stronger with a vow. Don’t make a vow using the name of heaven, because heaven is God’s throne. Don’t make a vow using the name of the earth, because the earth belongs to him. Don’t make a vow using the name of Jerusalem, because it also belongs to him, the great King. And don’t even say that your own head is proof that you will keep your promise. You cannot make one hair on your head white or black. Say only ‘yes’ if you mean ‘yes,’ and say only ‘no’ if you mean ‘no.’ If you say more than that, it is from the Evil One. (Matthew 5:33-37 ERV)

I don't think I am alone in this struggle of having "intentions" which guide our behavior some of the time, but then prove to be totally unreliable at other times, allowing some behavior to come forth which was "unintended" and completely off-track with the promised action.  God puts a premium on "vows" or "promises" because he is unable to NOT keep his word.  When God says something, his "intentions" and inevitable actions are the same.  There isn't variation between the two.  Variation would actually create an environment within the relationship which would be lacking in trust - something God cannot accept in relationship.  Trust is built more on what we see someone consistently doing rather on what they say they are capable of doing.  If we served a God who said he was capable of loving us, but then he did things contrary to what love looks like, such as abandoning us to live life without his oversight and care, we'd soon come to doubt if he really loved us.  

Since God values, or places a premium on having no "distance" between what one says and what one does, it seems to me we need to figure out if we actually have more than good intentions whenever we make a promise (whether it is to him or another human being).  It caught me by surprise the other day when I was observing one of the surgical cases in our hospital.  My role is to observe human behavior in these cases to ensure we are consistent in our practices which lend to a safe patient experience - such as maintaining sterile technique, and following our checks and balances to ensure we do the right thing all of the time.  In the field of medical care, there is very little "margin" for error - something I think we all pretty much understand.  If we want to be consistent in our practice, we monitor our outcomes.  This is just part of our "business" of caring for our patients.  One of the people in the room made a statement which kind of caught me off-guard for a moment or two, but it really relayed something we might just see more of in society today than we realize at first.

He said, "The enemy of good is better".  In essence, he was driving at the point of constantly focusing on getting better NOT being as desirable as being consistently good.  Now, you and I may not be able to argue with that one, right?  Good done with consistency is indeed desirable in pretty close to all the settings in life.  For example, driving attentively all of the time, without giving into the distractions of reading a text message, or putting on make-up behind the wheel and you likely won't be involved in an accident.  A good outcome is accomplished each time you get behind the wheel.  It doesn't seem to enter your mind that the speed limit is 55 and you are going 65 nearly all of the time. Nor does it seem to be your focus to stay in one lane, but your continual desire to be ahead of the "slower" vehicles on the road results in you changing lanes frequently. In essence, you are able to accomplish a good outcome (arriving at your destination without accident), but is this really "safe driving"?  Good was accomplished, but did we keep our promise to be a safe driver?  Probably not!

In life, we want to be consistent in our practices - "yes" meaning yes and "no" meaning no - not living in the realm of "maybe" too very often.  The enemy of us becoming "better" at living with this kind of consistency is us thinking "good enough" is okay simply because the outcome didn't really "hurt anyone".  If we look at the times we "intended" to act one way, but acted completely askew from that intended pathway, even when the outcome wasn't "all that bad", we might just realize enough of these "not all that bad" occurrences accepted as "okay" really get us into a place of compromise.  Maybe this is why God puts such a premium on being consistent to our promises - keeping our "vows".  I wonder what creation would have looked like today if God would have thrown the stars up in the sky, the moon perched in its orbit, and then said, "Uhm...that is good enough"?  He placed them each in their position, dotting the vastness of heaven's expanse, each in their own orbit or path, and he didn't say it was "good enough", but rather than it was "good".  His intended action matched his intended outcome.  Something we need to get a little better at, don't ya think?  Just sayin!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Not another relationship hurdle!

The relationship woes of today's society are too innumerable to even recount. Suffice it to say we have a lot of work to do when it comes to relationships! We cannot seem to commit.  There is tension caused by too many distractions and individualize pursuits.  The media encourages conflict and break-up.  The lack of true depth in relationship created by a "mobile" society and reduced time actually spent "relating" to one another the "good old fashioned way" is just another among many of the issues we face.  I don't pretend to be a relationship expert, because I have my own issues which get in the way of developing solid and founded relationships!  One thing I do know is that we can glean truth from the Word of God which will help us to develop foundation within relationship - truth which will give us "anchor" and hold us steady when things come into our relationships to distract or divide us.

You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Any person who commits murder will be judged.’ But I tell you, don’t be angry with anyone. If you are angry with others, you will be judged. And if you insult someone, you will be judged by the high court. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell. “So, what if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that someone has something against you? Leave your gift there and go make peace with that person. Then come and offer your gift. “If anyone wants to take you to court, make friends with them quickly. Try to do that before you get to the court. If you don’t, they might hand you over to the judge. And the judge will hand you over to a guard, who will throw you into jail. I assure you that you will not leave there until you have paid everything you owe. (Matthew 5:21-26 ERV)

The "old standard" was not to murder.  Since not many of us rise up in the morning thinking, "Who can I whack today?", I don't think many of us actually realize the gravity of what Jesus was saying here.  The standard is still the same as it has always been - but we probably don't think about it much because it is just not one of those principles taught with any frequency.  In the Old Testament times, there were actually specific places of sanctuary prepared for those who accidentally took a life - called cities of refuge.  There were men set up to act as judges to help differentiate between an accidental death vs. a deliberate death.  So, although we don't have these cities anymore, we do have laws which indicate the violation of this standard will result in a certain penalty. The old penalty of a life for a life just doesn't hold fast in many places anymore. So we probably have bent the standard a little, but it still is there in society. 

The focus Jesus has in speaking with the crowds on the Mount that day was not so much to focus on "murder", but on the other types of relationship woes which need to be dealt with pretty doggone quickly - anger being one of them, with criticism and hurtful words among the list, not to mention this whole idea of owning someone a debt.  Critical words do a great deal to tear down trust and impact the emotional well-being of the other individual in relationship.  Say these words long enough and the other party within the relationship will become paralyzed by fear - fear they will never measure up to the standards by which they are being judged.  This is the basis of criticism - judgment.  We all know what it is like to be judged in a way we never intended for our actions to be judged.  We sometimes call this being misunderstood, or wrongly accused. When this happens, what does it do within relationship?  It kind of diminishes the value of one or more of the parties within the relationship.  It devalues the one being criticized, but it also devalues the one doing the criticism - because it is hard to trust and respect one who will find fault with your every movement.

The other relationship woe he deals with is that of anger - because anger drives wedges between individuals and separates even the closest of friends when it is allowed to fester and brew into a full-fledged issue of resentment and bitterness. When anger gets an inroad into our relationships, we are instructed to not let the sun go down on it - why?  That which is buried rots!  Hold onto something long enough and it will decay wherever it is held!  I like to turn the fruits and veggies the birds manage to get hold of into the soil as they will soon begin to decay beneath the rich soil of the garden bed.  When they do, they lend to the soil.  The decaying process occurs, giving back to the soil.  Now, in relationship, it doesn't work quite the same way.  Humans weren't meant to deal with "decaying stuff" in the same way the soil was.  We operate in the realm of "getting rid of stuff" which no longer serves any use to us.  Look at our bodies, for example.  When we take in oxygen, and exchange takes place of oxygen for carbon dioxide.  The body takes in the good stuff (oxygen) and gets rid of the bad stuff (carbon dioxide).  We take in water and foodstuff, getting the value from what is taken in and then there is waste which is produced which functions to remove what is not useful to the body any longer.

In much the same way, we need to get it through our minds and hearts that anger will happen - it is an emotion we were created with, after all.  If it does, we aren't to hold onto it and allow it to decay within us.  We are to deal with it. Get rid of it and don't allow it to have a place within the relationship - so our relationships can be strong and solidly anchored.  We are to "settle debts" quickly, not just the physical ones, but the emotional and spiritual ones, as well. This means we stay "current" in our relationships and we don't hold things others do which didn't measure up to our expectations over their heads as things which we latch onto every time something doesn't go our way. Relationships are complex, made all the more difficult to manage and muddle through because we each come with our own set of emotions and hang-ups. What we need to bear in mind is the attention we need to spend toward remaining vigilant in these relationships.  I think this may be what Jesus is reminding us of in this passage - not becoming so accustomed to the relationship woes that we don't immediately seek to remedy them when they raise their ugly heads!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Law or Liberty - which is it?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the Old Testament: 1) It is out of date and no longer applies because we have the New Testament now; and 2) It has "some" meaning, but it really isn't all that relevant to us today. Both of these beliefs are a little bit askew of what Jesus taught, making them inaccurate.  There used to be an old adage about tossing the baby out with the bath water - if we toss out the Old Testament just because Jesus came on the scene, we are kind of doing just that.  In fact, Jesus reminded the people he taught of the importance of "keeping the Law", but he changed the focus of "how" it was to be kept.  Prior to his teaching, the Law was a set of rules to be kept by repeated self-effort.  If we look at what Jesus says about "keeping the Law", we will find that he simply says we are to obey it, teaching others to obey it, as well.  You may argue Jesus came to "fulfill" the Law, therefore making the Law no longer necessary.  I don't think we are seeing what Jesus was saying here, so maybe we need to consider the "audience" of the teaching.  This is part of the Sermon on the Mount, a message to "curious" (those who hadn't quite figured out who this Jesus was), the "well-taught" (Pharisees and Priests who were actually the teachers of the land), and the "hungry" (those who were following Jesus not so much as "look-loos", but as those who wanted to have what he offered).  Most of the time, people compared their lives to that of the Pharisees and Saducees - the teachers and priests of the land.  They thought of them as the "spiritual elite" - those who "got it right" when it came to "serving God".  Jesus is about to set their perception of what they "believed" on end - something he did with quite a bit of skill and frequency!

“Don’t think that I have come to destroy the Law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have come not to destroy their teachings but to give full meaning to them. I assure you that nothing will disappear from the law until heaven and earth are gone. The law will not lose even the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter until it has all been done. “A person should obey every command in the law, even one that does not seem important. Whoever refuses to obey any command and teaches others not to obey it will be the least important in God’s kingdom. But whoever obeys the law and teaches others to obey it will be great in God’s kingdom. I tell you that you must do better than the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. If you are not more pleasing to God than they are, you will never enter God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:17-20 ERV)

As Jesus opens the discussion with the crowd, he sets them straight on a couple of matters which seem to have been the discussion in the crowds:

- The Law isn't made "invalid" by his presence, but it fulfilled (given full meaning and having all requirements met).  When we begin to see Jesus as giving the full meaning to our lives, meeting all the requirements which bring us into a place of renewed/restored relationship with God, we understand the meaning of the Law in its entirety as God wanted us to come to know it.  We don't throw it out, but see the requirements set forth in the Law of Moses as something which points us toward living within "safety boundaries" and not something we can discard as irrelevant.

- Those in the crowd who were relying upon their own ability to fulfill the Law were not even close to doing so, because self-effort will never make us "pleasing" to God.  The means of finding pleasure in God's eyes is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he is the means by which we enter into this position of "grace" in God's eyes.  As much as the religious leaders went out of their way to keep the rules, their rule-keeping didn't "buy their redemption" for redemption still required the shedding of blood (something no religious leader ever did as part of their "rule-keeping").

Jesus is simply dealing with the fact of religious "focus" rather than relationship focus.  We don't pick and choose what we will believe - we either believe the Word of God in the entirety of its contents, or we don't.  There is no middle ground.  We don't fulfill the law in self-effort, but receive the effort of Jesus on our behalf to actually make us "able" to fulfill the meaning or intent of the Law. In essence, Jesus was saying we don't have a clue what the Law really meant until we see it through the eyes of grace!  Grace sets everything into perspective - making all the rule-keeping take on different meaning or significance.  In essence, when I see the "rule" to have no other God but the One True God through the eyes of grace, I begin to understand God was simply protecting me from the things in my life which would distract me.  Distractions mess with focus and focus determines how well we will fulfill our purpose.

The "mixed" crowd on the Mount that day all came to an understanding of the Law from a different perspective.  Some had no clue what the contents of the Law were, but they saw the religious in the crowd as kind of rigid, rule-bound, and pretty "limited" in their focus.  Others had an idea of just what the Law required, but kind of felt a little down on themselves because try as they might, they just didn't measure up to all the Law required.  In other words, they had tried and failed enough they were pretty discouraged by their "lack of progress" toward being "religious".  Then there were the religious zealots in the group who just didn't have much good to say about the other two-thirds of the group! They were so caught up in the rules, they missed the relationship.  All in all, Jesus just says we need both the rules and the relationship.  The relationship is primary - the rules just keep us safe WITHIN the relationship!

We may not keep the rules all of the time, but we do know and trust them as guiding principles we cannot discard.  We may call upon grace more than we think is humanly possible to understand or comprehend, but we can rest assured it is readily given whenever we do call upon it.  We may not be the religious zealots in the crowd, but then, we aren't called to be!  We are called to be the "relationship zealots" who focus on the one who fulfilled (completed all the requirements) the Law and now guides us into the wise principles and practices of the Law as a means of keeping us safe in our daily walk.  So, don't shun the Old for the New - allow the Old to give meaning and provide the boundaries we might just miss if we only focus on "liberty" and throw out the "law".  We don't need to offer the sacrifices of grain, animals, and the like anymore, but we can understand and appreciate the principles of sacrifice, knowing how much God values a heart who serves without restraint. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A little salt makes things a whole lot better

Salt does more than season our foods and preserve them for a shelf-life which ensures we have stores of food for the upcoming needs of our families.  Salt is one of the basic "ingredients" of our cellular system and without it we experience quite an imbalance in our physical bodies.  Since sodium (salt) attracts and "holds" water wherever it is, a certain amount of it must be circulating around our bloodstream in order for us to maintain what we might refer to as a "healthy blood pressure".  Too little can actually cause the blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels and result in serious complications. Our nerve pathways are also highly regulated by the right amount of positively and negatively charged particles in our body at any one time - sodium being one of those things which carries a "charge" to help with nerve conduction.  Along with these attributes of this important substance in our bodies, we can thank sodium for helping to bring things in and out of our cells, for wherever sodium goes, other substances contained in the fluids which are attracted to sodium follow, making the work of sodium kind of like creating a series of roadways within our body for things to pass through.  As important as sodium is to our physical bodies and in the preservation of food items, it also has some negative effects.  Too much of it and we get bloated, retaining too much fluid, and struggling to maintain a safe blood pressure; or we find our bone density begins to decrease, leading to a condition known as osteoporosis.  There must be a balance within our bodies of all the things we need for health.  In a spiritual sense, we need to be aware when our lives become too much one way or the other - getting too lenient in our beliefs, or too broad.  Either "imbalance" can lead us into places of compromise, or an unforgiving lack of grace in our lives.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its taste, it cannot be made salty again. Salt is useless if it loses its salty taste. It will be thrown out where people will just walk on it. “You are the light that shines for the world to see. You are like a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden. People don’t hide a lamp under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand. Then the light shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ERV)

As the salt of the earth, we have the mission of being the pathway by which the message of Christ's love and his offered grace is brought to those who need this "richness" in their lives.  Without us doing our part as messengers of this grace, the pathways become blocked in our society to the truth we have to offer. Become unconcerned or unaffected by what the world is embracing as "truth" and we will be allowing the "pressure" of our society to reach "unhealthy" levels of compromise.  Doctors will be the first to explain the importance of giving a "bolus" of saline fluids to a patient who is suffering from severe dehydration. They immediately need to restore not only the depleted fluids, but the "electrolytes" (one of which is sodium).  In fairly quick order, the body begins to respond to the "influx" of the sodium and fluid, "righting" the balance of fluid in the bloodstream and cells.  Our testimony in a world which has become "dehydrated" by the many messages of truth heard from every street corner, media outlet, and podium today is essential to maintaining "balance".

One thing to note is the action of sodium - it doesn't really get noticed until it is missing from something!  My grandmother suffered from congestive heart failure, resulting in her doctor restricting the amount of salt she could consume in her diet.  She couldn't have too much or her heart would be put under too much pressure - and a weak heart cannot stand to be under pressure too long. So we had sodium restricted diets, as well.  Yes, there was a salt shaker on the table and dad grabbed it up as soon as the food was placed in front of him.  At first, I couldn't have told you what was missing from the food, but as I got a little older, I recognized the salt as among the missing.  Let me be the first to tell you - food without ANY salt in it is just plain bland!  When salt is missing, you recognize it!  When we aren't being objects of God's grace in a hurting and confused world, the world recognizes it - although they may not be able to tell you what they are "missing", they do indeed recognize something is missing. 

Now, it is equally important to note the action of salt.  In food, it is easily dissolved and brings out the savor of the food item.  In sterile water, it is dissolved and becomes a life-saving fluid restoring balance to a body under assault from disease.  In eye drops, it brings about refreshment to eyes so dry and aching from the onslaught of external dust particles and allergens which enter into them.  Dissolved in water in a "neutral" balance, it can be the cleansing substance which washes away debris and makes a wound ready for healing.  In the right time and amount, salt plays an important part in soothing, refreshing, and even cleansing.  Since God calls us to be the salt of the earth, I think it is important we play our part in being that which brings refreshment, the soothing impartation of grace, and the gentle cleansing of sin's putrid festering.  Just sayin!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Emotional ups and downs

Since the beginning of time man has tried all kinds of things to attempt to fulfill this deep-seated desire to "be happy".  Happiness is some kind of elusive "dream" for many individuals - just never really getting to the place where they are ever truly "happy".  Yes, they experience a little "delight" or "enthusiastic fulfillment" with this accomplishment, that purchase, or even those relationships, but in the end it isn't lasting.  All they are left with is a whole lot of "expense" or "baggage" and then they have to start all over again!  The pursuit of happiness in a particular thing, or even in another person, is going to cost us something we may regret having to "pay".  With happiness being elusive and carrying a bigger cost than we may want to pay, what keeps us going back time and time again to pursue it?  I think it may come in the deep-seated need for God himself - a need many fail to recognize as "spiritual" and not physical, emotional, or material!

I said to myself, “I should have fun—I should enjoy everything as much as I can.” But I learned that this is also useless. It is foolish to laugh all the time. Having fun does not do any good. So I decided to fill my body with wine while I filled my mind with wisdom. I tried this foolishness because I wanted to find a way to be happy. I wanted to see what was good for people to do during their few days of life. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 ERV)

I have a drawer in my bathroom which is partially filled with "fails" when it come to face creams.  It isn't that they didn't keep the wrinkles away, or that they didn't take the bags away from under my eyes.  It is that they couldn't be used long-term because they made me break-out.  In pursuit of a cream which would work, it took a whole lot of trial and error.  I have now sought the advice of a dermatologist and you know what - the cream he suggested is actually pretty good for my complexion!  What's the difference?  He looked at my skin under the magnifying glass and he realized I have patches of dry skin caused by something none of these creams had the capability of controlling!  It is like when God looks at our lives and shows us the truth about what we have been pursuing in the "pursuit of happiness".  We come to the place of realizing he actually knows us better than we know ourselves and if we'd just trust him with our lives, we'd be much more content (and even happy).

I have said this before, but it bears repeating:  Happiness is elusive!  It goes almost as fast as it comes and can be gone without us even noticing it has begun to wane.  Pursuing happiness is like pursuing the wind - you can feel it, but you cannot always see it, nor can you predict which way it will turn.  As with the wind, there are ups, downs, and even pretty stagnant periods of time.  In those uncertain moments, we almost come to the conclusion happiness has left us.  Not really.  Our emotional "high" just wasn't sustainable.  We cannot be on an emotional "high" all the time - our bodies would burn out from the extreme stress this continual release of hormones would do to it.  We can get to a place of contentment, though - something quite different from the emotional "high" of happiness.  Contentment is a deeper-seated ability to live above the ups and downs, rushes and calms of life.  It is the anchor which brings stability and this anchor isn't found in the pursuit of anything, but in the stopping to be embraced by the one who is in pursuit of us!

For most people, the pursuit of happiness is almost a lifestyle.  When anything or anyone gets in the way of their pursuit, their world crashes in around them. The amount of effort it takes to remain "happy" when someone gets in your way of "happiness" is kind of daunting, isn't it?  You are going along at a steady clip, making your way to whatever you believe will bring you happiness, when out of nowhere comes someone who is there to present a roadblock, or stir things up in your life.  Now what?  You could almost make a case that life is filled with these kinds of moments, right?  Those times when the decision has to be made to divert around the obstacle to our happiness, or realize the obstacle is stopping us from making progress because the direction is totally wrong for us in the first place!  It takes a great deal of maturity to realize the obstacle to our "happiness" may actually be the thing which keeps us from total ruin!

Rather than pursuing what gives an emotional high, maybe we'd be better to take those unfulfilled emotions to the creator of those emotions - the one who actually understands how each of them was created to work and how they work together.  In so doing, we might find balance to those things which seem to make us feel so unfulfilled and realize how fulfilled we are when the spiritual balance in our lives is attained instead!  Just sayin!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Another election - another debate

It is another election year in the United States - the year in which we will determine who will be our President for the next four years.  As we know, this election season will be filled with all manner of debate, with men and women alike posturing for position and power.  Lots and lots of promises will be made, some quite valid and within the individual's ability to keep, while others are not. I cannot help but be discouraged from watching all the media hype about some of our candidates, though.  This is also the time of year when groups of individuals begin to "choose sides", so to speak, and align with these candidates in the race.  In essence, it is like a big schoolyard filled with bullies, all squaring off against one another, while the onlookers choose sides and begin to cheer them on.  It is quite unfortunate that our political climate has become one of having to undo the other's character, pointing out each and every character flaw as though the other candidate had none of their own.  This is also the time in our nation when men's sins will be flaunted and will eventually become so "public" that their hopes of achieving office will be dashed to pieces by the smearing of their names across the airwaves.  It will be difficult for us to really get at the root of what makes for a good leader of our nation when all this hype is happening around us, though.  The truth we need to realize is that of having wise leaders and good advisors makes or breaks our nation - plain and simple.

A nation without wise leaders will fall. Many good advisors make a nation safe. (Proverbs 11:14 ERV)

Some will campaign on the rights of every individual to be and / or do as they see fit - choosing who they will call a spouse, what "rights" an individual has who seeks out a better life in a country which promises more in the way of work or schooling for their family, etc.  While all the issues will be important, some will receive much more focus from the media than others.  If we were to be honest here, the truths our founding fathers actually stood upon a couple hundred years ago will not be the main focus of the campaigns.  Instead it will be the rights of those with an "illegal" status, along with the rights of the gay/lesbian communities, and the candidate's stand against terrorism that will likely hit the forefront of much of the debate materials.  As we "choose up sides" in this all out "war" to the finish line, maybe we'd do well to keep in mind the issues our country was actually committed to "standing upon" when it was formed back all those years ago.  

Some have taken the "right" for the pursuit of "life, liberty, and happiness" to mean there is a wide avenue of ways to actually pursue these goals.  If we look at what our founding fathers intended by the use of those words, it wasn't that government officials would "make" or "define" the rights of individuals governed by them, but that they would reinforce the "rights" God gives to individuals.  We need trusted and wise advisors to guide our nation - men and women alike who understand the principles established by God as "right" and "true".  Principles such as true liberty coming from the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross for the "setting free" of all who would call upon his name as Savior and Lord.  I think the leaders we need are those who understand that liberty is freedom to pursue anything which "feels good" to the individual, but which better establishes one's rights to pursue the principles taught in scripture.  This is what our founding fathers intended those many years ago.

To prepare ourselves for the elections ahead, we need to be wise in asking the right questions of our candidates.  It isn't whether they support this or that right which have become the popular "rights" of the day, but where their heart is aligned with supporting the "rights" of true life, liberty, and happiness as outlined in God's Word.  This may seem a little too "narrow" for some, but honestly, I have to ask - are we "on track" with what our founding fathers intended?  Their vision was for neither candidate to debate the truth - because debate really has the power to change the minds of those not only engaged in the debate, but in those who are onlookers to it.  Maybe we'd do well to look for candidates who are able to not turn scripture toward their opinion, but form their opinion upon what the scriptures say!  Just thinkin!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rest a while - you'll need it!

We all have those moments when we just feel like we aren't going to get to where we hoped to get to, finish what we hoped to finish, or just accomplish that one big thing we set in our sights.  What we do with those moments matters because it often determines if we will ever pick up the task again, or direct our focus toward it.  If we get defeated by having to put down the pencil when we are trying to finish a rough draft of a book just so we can rest our minds and renew our creative juices, we'd never finish the book.  We cannot think of having to "rest" in between the spaces or seasons of "accomplishing stuff" as a negative thing.  In fact, I think God purposefully gives us some seasons in our lives where we kind of "coast" for a while, though they aren't long, because he knows we'd be overwhelmed if he didn't.  He knows our personality and our emotional make-up.  So, just because you need to step back for a moment, don't beat yourself up over it - God isn't finished, so you don't need to think it is all over for you!

I am sure that the good work God began in you will continue until he completes it on the day when Jesus Christ comes again. (Philippians 1:6 ERV)

The seasons of mad-paced, gotta get 'er done frenzy would be our undoing if they continued on and on.  Since this is the case, don't you think it a reasonable thing that God gives us "pauses" in our growth?  It isn't that we aren't still soaking in his nourishment and provision - it is just that we aren't growing at the same pace as we were when we were in that "push forward" kind of determination.  We just want to be sure we don't stop growing all together! That would signify something we have come to appreciate as "death"!  In the simplest of terms, death is the total and permanent cessation of the vital functions of a living thing.  Slowed growth doesn't mean we are about to die - it means our bodies, minds, spirits, and emotions have been under enough "pressure" to grow for a little while - we need to rest and renew.

In some cultures, death is something they actually wanted to attain!  To them it meant the passing from this life into a better one - a higher "plane" of existence.  While this isn't exactly as scripture explains death, it has some merit in considering.  Death is really a passing from one plane of existence into another - right?  Equally true is the fact of life being the passage from one plane of existence into another!  God begins good things in us all the time.  They are like the tiny seedlings I find springing up in my garden from the seeds planted there much earlier.  They aren't strong enough to survive yet, but they are signs of life and of more to come.  In examining our lives, we find lots and lots of signs of life - promises of more and more to come.  We just need to not lose heart when we don't see those things coming at the pace we might have imagined!

I have dieted a good many times in my life.  In reality, I want a quick "pill" I can take which will shed the weight in like seven days!  Let me get out of what I got into in short order because the distance between the present weight and the desired weight is a bigger distance than I would have originally judged to be the case, especially since healthy weight loss occurs at a pace of about 2-3 pounds a week!  If I am 50 pounds overweight, that means I am on a diet for an eternity!  This is why those who coach us on weight loss don't have us set these type of lofty goals.  In fact, they focus us on the ten pound goal first, then set an new one, and so on.  Why?  We'd get defeated by the lack of "huge" progress if we just focused on the one to two pounds we lose a week!  The same is true in our spiritual lives - focus on the small goals and they will mount up to help you realize the bigger ones. 

We can count on one thing - God isn't finished with us.  He may be giving us seasons of rest, followed by some intense seasons of growth, but he won't stop until he brings us to the place he desires for us to be.  We might want to focus on the fact we don't feel growth occurring right now, but he is focusing on getting us rested for the growth opportunity he has coming for us just around the corner!  Just sayin!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Anew is not Again

New starts - what exactly are they?  In everyone's life, there come opportunities to "begin again", "make a fresh start", or have a "do-over".  The thing about each of these is the "carry-over" from the old into the new.  Let me explain what I mean.  Take a tablet or pad of paper and a pencil or pen.  Now write these words: "I just failed".  Go ahead - do it.  Now, tear off that sheet of paper and throw it away.  What you are left with is a "clean" tablet of paper - right? Not really! Gently run your fingers over the surface of that table of paper and then hold it up to the light at an angle.  See or feel it?  Yep, there is a tell-tale sign of the old message you wrote there, isn't there?  As much as we thought we go rid of the old, we still had some indication of it being there.  It isn't much different from that every time we go to make a fresh start, begin again, or attempt a do-over in life!  We have those tell-tale signs of the old which act as reminders to us of the whole reason we are "beginning again" in the first place.

The Lord’s love [loyalty] never ends; his mercies [compassion] never stop. They are new every morning; Lord, your loyalty [faithfulness] is great [abundant]. (Lamentations 3:22-23 EXB)

You may know this verse from the good old King James: It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  Either way, the message is the same - we can count on God's mercy to be new every morning.  His compassion never stops.  His love never ends.  I think to understand this we also need to consider in light of one other verse:  And he has taken our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.  (Psalm 103:12 ERV)  God's mercies are new because he doesn't just tear off the sheet which contain the list of our sins or shortcomings, but he actually gives us a new tablet of paper upon which we may right our life's story anew!

That might be tough for each of us to fully grasp, but when we finally do, it is a life altering experience!  The way we see things is through the eyes of "beginning again".  The way God sees things in our lives is through the eyes of "beginning anew" - in a new form or a new manner.  In other words, we don't do it in our power, but in the power and grace he provides.  We don't pick up the same tablet of paper and try to rewrite the story - he gives us the new tablet and helps us begin to pen the words which reflect the beauty and liberty of his grace in our lives.  In our common day language, again and anew are used interchangeably.  In God's way of doing things, again means we pick up the pieces - anew means he does it!

A pastor friend of mine can frequently be heard saying, "As long as we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten".  Now, I know that may not be good grammar, but the point is poignant.  "Starting again" is like doing what we have always done, but with maybe this little "alteration" in how we will approach the problem.  "Starting anew" is doing it completely in a different manner - because we want a different outcome!  We don't want repeats - we want an entirely new result.  There is a contemporary Christian song which has the words, "It's day one of the rest of your life..."  The idea is that of beginning anew.  Renewed mercies each time we fail.  Not just "refilled" mercies, but renewed mercies.  They are new - because we need new starts.

Again suggests it is the same person or place.  If we have written something upon the tablet we may not think of as "good" or "right", and then attempt to "rewrite" the outcome in exactly the same "place" or by the same "efforts" of the person who managed to write the "wrong" outcome in the first place, then we will likely see the messages from the past "bleeding through" on the pages of our lives!  If we understand what God says about how he forgives and removes our sins (shortcomings, failures, negative outcomes), then we understand he isn't asking us to have the same "person" start again.  He is giving us the ability to start anew because his mercies bring the life of his Son alive in us and it is by his power we begin "anew".  Just sayin!