Monday, August 31, 2015

The heart is revealed

One day Jesus was out with his followers, walking through the fields, probably on their way from one spot to another.  The issue this day - it was the Sabbath. In the eyes of the religious of the day, the Sabbath had very strict rules one had to follow if one was even remotely close to being called or acknowledged by God. One such rule was that of not "working" on that holy day - so all manner of normal "housework" or "house care" was to have been pre-planned on the day prior to the Sabbath.  This meant they prepared enough bread for two days instead of their normal one, laid aside a portion of the meat they had cooked on the day prior to the Sabbath for the partaking on the Sabbath, and ensured enough water was drawn from the well to make it through.  It was like work shut down for the day - because the Sabbath was dedicated to the Lord.  The only problem with this was that there was also a whole lot of other "rules" added as time went on and the purpose of the Sabbath somehow got "lost in translation".  To the Jewish believer of the day, the Sabbath had so many rules attached from how many steps one might be able to walk in that day, to not even being able to pulverize a medicinal herb should the need arise.  It was on this day, with this frame of reference, that the Jewish religious leaders point out the followers of Jesus as "non-adherents" to the rules of the Sabbath.  They were passing through the fields, hunger setting in, and plucking a few grains of wheat in passing.  Shucking the wheat a little in the palms of their hands, they partook of those tiny grains to give them nourishment and stamina for their journey.  In so doing, they have "broken the rules" of the Sabbath and are now judged by the religious leaders as "non-adherents" to the Law.  It was as though Jesus is being pointed out as one who was leading these people into some type of sin.  It was just like Jesus to take their own "rule" and turn it around to show how utterly absurd it was to rely upon the "rule" more than the soul being expected to keep the rule!

The Scriptures say, ‘I don’t want animal sacrifices; I want you to show kindness to people.’ You don’t really know what that means. If you understood it, you would not judge those who have done nothing wrong. (Matthew 12:7 ERV)

Hearing this condemnation of the actions of his followers, Jesus begins to point out how much it mattered that they found nourishment - something they didn't have time to pre-plan for when they set out to follow the one who would lead them into all truth and liberty.  Herein is the "rub" - truth was right there being revealed in the person of Christ, walking in those fields, setting at liberty all who would follow, but the religious leaders could only see the "rule-breaking" behavior, not the hungry hearts of those seeking truth.  It isn't just like us to focus more on the rule being broken rather than the heart behind the rule-breaking?  Jesus counters their judging spirit with a pretty awesome answer when he tells them they really don't know the "intent" of the rule - they are just keeping it without understanding why God gave the rule in the first place.  That is sometimes how we go through life - keeping rules without any clue "why" we keep them or "why" the rule was given in the first place.  Most of the time, we keep the rule because we feel some "obligation" to keep it - such as when we are quiet in class because it is one of the "classroom rules" for which we can find ourselves in the corner with our nose to the wall if it is violated.  Maybe this is the way we view life within "religion" - as a set of rules for which there is no room for violation.  We believe penalty awaits those who "violate" the rule.  

While there is some truth to this, rules aren't given to penalize or punish the individual - they are given to provide the individual an element of safety or protection when they are kept.  Rules place someone under obligation - as though there was always a penalty to not adhering to the rule.  If we view rules this way, we see through the eyes of the religious leaders of Jesus' day - judging the behavior of those who don't adhere fully to the rule as "wrong" or "deviants".  Jesus' answer to the religious leaders also shows us how much we often "miss" the intent of the rule because we focus on the "action" over the "heart".  His answer:  "I want you to show kindness to people."  In essence, Jesus was saying when we focus on the action of the one in front of us, we often miss their heart need.  We see the behavior and don't even stop to consider the hunger driving their heart.  These were "hungry" people - not just physically hungry, but emotionally and spiritually hungry.  They longed to be in the presence of the one who revealed truth and who actually embodied truth.  This even impacted their "planning ahead" so much that they had no meal prepared for the Sabbath.  They were willing to "risk" the violation of the rule in order to be in the presence of the one who would give them what their hearts yearned to receive. 

In essence, Jesus tells the religious leaders they were the ones "doing wrong" by their judging without knowing the heart of the one behind the "rule violation".  It wasn't the one who shucked a few grain in their hands - it was the proud heart of the religious "rule-keepers" he points out as having missed the mark!  Do we ever find ourselves peering through these same "mirrored lenses" on occasion - seeing only the goodness of others by how well they keep the rules?  If we are honest, we struggle with this type of judgmental attitude on occasion - sometimes more than we might like to admit.  The lesson for us today isn't whether the rule is right or wrong - it is that the heart is always to be considered anytime there is a violation of a rule.  The rules are provided for a reason - but we might have a good reason for violating the rule, such as when we are rushing a loved one the hospital who is bleeding profusely from a wound they have suffered.  The heart matters more than the rule - failing to see more than the rule will always set us up to discount the needs and the actions of the human heart. Jesus made it a priority to consider the heart - we would do well to follow his lead.  Just sayin!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Listen to me!

Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."  If you haven't noticed this yet, we listen better when we sit down.  It may be that it lightens the load of having to stand there to listen, or just that it changes our point of reference to each other, but there is something which changes when we sit down and really begin to get on the same level as the one we are attempting to listen to.  Covey likens "really listening" to something akin to the oxygen we breathe, but equates it to some type of "emotional oxygen" which revives us deep into the very depths of our emotions.  If you stop to think about it, he is pretty spot on in this observation - people need to be heard and listening to them really does "infuse" them with a new sense of emotional energy.  As Churchill observed, that simple courage to "get down to each other's level" is something which we must evidently have to work on, for courage isn't always something which comes easily to us.  Listening means we may face difficulties we didn't want to face, or may "feel" ill-prepared to address.  It also means we will act in accordance to our beliefs - if we say we love Christ, then we must show we love one another - and we cannot possibly do this if we are too weak, or too proud to listen to one another!

People get good things for the words they say, and they are rewarded for the work they do. Fools always think their own way is best, but wise people listen to what others tell them. (Proverbs 12:14-15 ERV)

I think we have a hard time with this thing called "listening" because we think it requires us to offer advice, come up with the answers, or just be ready to infuse something "wise" into the equation.  I guess this is kind of true - we are often found giving advice, or presenting some tidbit of wisdom into the matter, but if we listen without feeling this is required, we might just listen a little better. When my daughter needs to unload about a difficult day with the boys, I listen and recount the various "shout at the top of their lungs" days I endured while she and her brother were growing up.  I don't offer advice, I just listen.  Now, if she asks if I have any ideas on what she can do to help them play better together, that is a different matter.  I can almost always tell when she is struggling to keep things together - almost at the point of wanting to just about disengage from this hard work of "mothering" two young boys.  She works from home, making it even harder when the pressures of playing "referee" all day long mount.  In those moments when she and I talk on my ride home, we don't have to have all the answers - we just need to listen to the hurt, frustration, fear, and downright tension which is there in the moment.  Somehow, in unburdening to me, and I to her about my day, we get through it.  It isn't a whole lot of "wisdom" sharing, or great counseling advice which gets us through, it is just knowing someone listened and cared enough about what we were going through to just hear you out.

If you have struggles with this listening thing, you are not alone.  Whether it is our listening to God when he speaks, or just plain getting down to the level of another who just needs someone to unburden their hearts to, it is hard stuff. I want us to recognize some of the things which make it a little easier for us to listen:

- Getting on the same level as the one we are speaking with is important because it brings us into "even ground".  This may not seem possible when the one we are listening to is God or unburdening one's heart to him, but trust me, he came to our level because he cares that much about us to make that very "living connection" with us!  So, we would be foolish to think he doesn't get on the same level as us when we need to unburden to him!  He doesn't expect us to "get up to his level" in order to unburden our hearts - but comes to ours and gets right next to us so he can hear all we have to say.  It isn't that he doesn't know what is going on in our lives - because he does.  It is that he knows how important it is to hear things from our perspective.  In so doing, he often helps us see things from his, not by preaching to us, but by listening to us unload where we are, what we are experiencing, etc.  If you haven't noticed, when we begin to truly unload our burden, we somehow see what the real issues are which have been hidden under that heavy load!  He is just helping us get rid of the load so we can see the way out!

- Emotional renewal comes when we are able to just talk things out.  As I indicated, there may not be much required of us to truly listen, but it is harder than we might think.  It isn't that we zone out and just sit there like a zombie, because we don't connect if we do.  In listening, it is actually more important for us to recharge one another's emotional energies than anything else.  We need to support each other through engaged, active listening.  Whenever we are more focused on giving the answer we think someone might want, or "thinking ahead" to what might be the possible solution to the person's issue, we are disengaging from active listening.  We have a unique opportunity to actually appreciate the facial expressions, tone of voice, and even the body language of the one we are listening to when we are both at their same level and putting the "wise answer" out of our mind until we have heard where their heart is in the matter.  We want to jump ahead to the solution - they just need us to allow them to unpack enough of the load they are carrying to actually begin to see they probably were already well aware of the answer in the first place!  This listening without judging or jumping ahead is hard work, but well worth the emotional "recharge" it gives to both of us.  

The next time someone just needs a listening ear, be courageous enough to both get down to their level and begin to connect to them in a way which will give them the emotional "recharge" they so desperately need.  In so doing, you will reveal greater wisdom than most of your well-thought-out words of wisdom could have!  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

No silk flowers here

Oscar Wilde once wrote, "Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead."  I'd have to add to it that without love, the garden of our lives just never really blossoms.  For the longest time I was quite impressed with my neighbors on the street corners by my house because they always seemed too have brightly blooming flowers, full flower beds, and just generally well-groomed yards.  Try as I might, my flowers never really looked as good as theirs - not as full, brightly colored, or continually blooming.  It wasn't until one day when I was pursuing something which had blown from my yard into theirs that I realized those blooms were all just silk flowers!  When I questioned my neighbor, she said she didn't have time to garden, but liked the color and the "curb appeal" of those "full beds", so she went to Walmart every so often, bought a bunch from the dollar section, and stuck them in the ground - giving the appearance of "beauty" and "growth", but without any real effort on her part!  Made me wonder about the things we "put on display" in our lives which "resemble" love, but which are merely "fake blooms" giving the impression of a lush garden.

My children, our love should not be only words and talk. No, our love must be real. We must show our love by the things we do. (I John 3:18 ERV)

The idea of creating the illusion of full flower beds was quite ingenious on her part, but it gave others an impression which wasn't real in any sense.  When those silk flowers faded, she merely replaced them with new ones - but never really did more than "buy" the beauty she displayed in those beds.  There are times in our relationships with other human beings where I think we may make the same discovery - there is an impression of love, but in actuality, this is only an illusion.  There are words of love, but the actions don't match the words. There is an intention to love, but the motivation never really reaches the heart and therefore, the actions fall short of what the intention may have promised. Mother Teresa was frequently quoted as saying you had to "spread love" wherever your feet walked, hands touched, or eyes connected.  Her thoughts really focused more on the concept of putting "feet and hands" to love - not just words and material things. Yes, she needed the donations of those who could support the ministry she had to those in need within her missionary work, but she desired more to see others begin to reach out to those around them, becoming ambassadors of love, just as she was exemplifying in her own life.

Thoreau said, "There is no remedy for love but to love more."  I have to add, "There is no reality to love until we love with true sacrifice."  Words are like silk flowers - they might catch our ear and cause us to turn toward them to admire them a little, but they won't lend richness to our lives until we see the actions which mirror those words.  A bed of living flowers, beautifully cultivated, and fully in bloom lends a scent which tickles the senses and stirs the inner part of our souls to consider the beauty we behold.  That living, "breathing" bed of flowers becomes a haven for other life form - deep within the soil, deep within the beauty of the blossom's petals, and safely sheltered within the expanse of the leaves.  Love lived out becomes much like this bed of richly blooming flowers - a place of life, sustenance, and shelter.  

My message today is short, because words cannot stir love within your heart as much as the actions I challenge each of you to begin today.  We may have been "duped" by words on occasion, but we are "drawn" by the actions of love because they are life-giving.  My challenge to us today - find a way to show love to someone who is in need of that life-giving, and sometimes life-altering example we will reveal within those actions today.  Don't settle for silk flowers in your life - but be willing to "tend the garden" we call life with all the attention love requires.  You won't be happy with the illusion for very long - nor will you or others find much enjoyment in what has "signs of life", but no real life at all. Just sayin!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Proximity is everything

I am privileged to work with my best friend, so I enjoy "hanging together" just a little more than some of you may with your best friend.  At work, our "hanging together" may take on the form of struggling through some "drudgery" of examining data, creating complex process flows, or learning how best display the plethora of data we have in order to present information meaningful to those who must use that data to drive the process of complex care forward in our healthcare environment.  It can also mean we laugh over a silly joke, notice when the other one just needs a neck rub because the tensions are building, or just plain sit quietly with each other while trying to beat the next level in that gem matching game.  If anyone sees us walking together, it is me on the right and my BFF on the left.  Why?  She hears me better on the right!  So, I have learned to position myself on her right because that is her "better ear".  Now, to the "unknowing" this may seem like a little oddity they might notice about the two of us, but to those who have come to know us well, they understand perfectly why we "position" ourselves this way.  One thing remains true no matter whether we are at work, play, or on vacation together - closeness matters!  We want to spend time together because we learn from each other, are encouraged by the strength the other possesses, and just plain enjoy the company of one another.  I think our heavenly Father might just want us to come to this same realization about what life is like when we have Christ as our "nearest and dearest" companion in life!

I always remember that the Lord is with me. He is here, close by my side, so nothing can defeat me. (Psalm 16:8 ERV)

As I indicated, the closeness of my BFF in relation to where I am sitting, walking, or working is something which matters to us.  Our offices have always been rather close, but when we downsized a while back, I had the privilege of moving right next door to her in the office!  I hear her clacking away on the keys and there is something just plain comforting about knowing we are side-by-side, knee-deep in our work, but near enough to each other to appreciate the other is "there".  Proximity seems like a little thing, but it isn't really, because "proximity" matters as much in relationship to another human being as it does in our relationship with Christ.  As much as we might want to be around other human beings, quietly going about the regular stuff of life, but knowing they are there right beside us if we need them, we need to appreciate the nearness of Christ as we walk through the various things our day holds.  In recognizing the "proximity" of Jesus to the matter at hand, we often recognize we are not standing in our strength alone to face it, but have the benefit of his strength to help us with the challenge standing in our path.

The nearness we maintain with Jesus is going to determine our perspective when faced with challenging situations, especially anything which presents a little bit of temptation in our lives.  When Christ is near, we don't feel as "free" or "uninhibited" to just pursue whatever our fancy might lure us into.  When my friend is near, I may think twice about having that candy bar, or indulging in a decadent dessert.  Why?  She knows I need to be attentive to my weight, so she helps me be accountable for what goes in my mouth.  Now, notice I said she "may" make me think twice - it doesn't work all the time!  Sometimes we are both tempted with the same lure to the indulgent dessert!  No one is stopping us then!  As excellent as she is in helping me be accountable to my desire to lose a little weight and reach a healthy cholesterol level in my body, she is human just like me and at best we are weak - even together!  On the other hand, Christ is a whole lot stronger than either of us, so when he whispers in my ear that I don't need that cookie, chocolate bar, or whatever it is, I kind of listen and "lean into" the strength he gives me to resist that urge.

I know we deal with issues way bigger than whether we are going to indulge in that dessert or not, but I hope that illustration will help us to understand why the "proximity" we maintain to Christ is important.  The "nearness" of his strength and ability to help us navigate through some of the more challenging temptations in life matters because not everything will be as "simple" as resisting the dessert menu.  There are things like the temptation to respond in anger or hostility when someone disappoints us, or the desire to engage in actions which will damage a relationship we are in that give us "big" challenges and we need his nearness to help us navigate those challenges successfully.  It didn't really matter to me how much I relied upon Jesus' strength and ability until I finally recognized my continual failure and subsequent disappointment when faced with temptation was really because I had not maintained that closeness to him.  Now, whenever I see myself drifting into things I know I shouldn't be doing, I pull back, recognizing I have allowed myself to drift a little out of that deep, intimate closeness with Jesus.  I have to renew that relationship frequently - just like I do those I have with my friends on this earth. Sometimes we don't recognize the value of the "nearness" until we have drifted away.  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Not situational, but positional

At times, people can tell some pretty tall tales - those "fish stories" of sorts which wrap you up in all the intrigue the storyteller can muster.  It is kind of harmless unless this becomes the way they live life - as "storytellers" and not ever being very genuine or real in their sharing of themselves.  Have you ever had to convince someone that what you said was true?  I think we may all have at times - simply because what we are saying is just too "out there" for them to believe at face value.  Whether it be trying to convince someone the spider you had to "corral" in your kitchen was actually as big as you said it was, or that the meat was so tender you could cut it with your fork when you experienced that new dining establishment, you go about "truth-telling" in a variety of different ways.  The hearer of your message has one of two options - to either believe it at face-value or question/reject it for some "unrealistic" point which you have made.  What determines whether something is "realistic" or "unrealistic" may very well be the "experience" of the other person.  If they have never seen an Arizona desert wolf spider, they won't ever believe you when you tell them it was the size of a tarantula!  If they haven't ever experienced the awesomeness of a tender filet cooked to perfection, they won't appreciate that a fork could ever pass through steak like a knife through butter.  Experience often sets the framework by which our minds can "interpret" and "believe" or "accept" certain facts which come our way.  This may not be all that important when it comes to considering the size of the spider you had to muster all that courage to kill when faced off in the kitchen that day, but it gets a whole lot more important when you are trying to tell someone how big God's grace really is!

We believe people when they say something is true. But what God says is more important. And this is what God told us: He told us the truth about his own Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the truth that God told us. But people who do not believe God make God a liar, because they do not believe what God told us about his Son. This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (I John 5:9-12 ERV)

Grace is huge and vastly different than the way man faces issues in life.  We want to hold people "accountable" and make them "pay" for their offensive behaviors.  This is kind of the way we are about matters which give us painful experiences.  Hit your thumb with a hammer and see if you appreciate the hammer too much at that moment!  You probably want to throw it across the yard and make the drill your new best friend!  Why?  It "hurt" you and you didn't like the experience.  It formed a pretty "brutal" memory in your mind of what hammers "do" to you.  That blackened thumbnail and bruise forming just act as constant reminders of the pain that hammer caused.  Now, isn't it amazing to us that we totally forget who had the hammer in their other hand when this incident occurred?  It is as though we want to put all the blame on the hammer for missing the nail and coming down on our thumb when WE were the ones wielding it in the first place!  Silly us - the hammer didn't do it - it was just an instrument in the chain of events and we attached a certain blame on that instrument because this is what we do - we are blame-shifters!  The thumb will heal, but there will be a memory of the event which lives within our memory for a long, long time.  We will be wary of hammers because of that experience.  In life, we often treat others in quite the same way - forming memories from one experience and then believing that it the way ALL of the interactions will go from that point forward.  Good or bad - we base our "judgment" of the "truth" we can count on in that relationship based on the experience we form the most "meaningful" memory around.

When God tells us his Son is the means by which we receive eternal life and within the "actions" of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection are the foundation of grace, we can either believe this truth or reject it.  Often, the basis of whether we will believe or reject this truth is squarely based on our life experiences with "human beings", not God.  We come to understand "grace" by the actions of another human being, not because of what God modeled for us in his Son's sacrifice on our behalf.  We have a "flawed" perception of grace based on "experiencing" a little bit of forgiveness (a thing not "held against us") by another human being.  Have you ever noticed how "limited" a human's "grace" is, though? Cross some imaginary line and their "grace-extender" just dries up! Based on their experiences, they have formed this "line" whereby they say "enough" and stop extending that grace.  It can be different based on "who" you are within the relationship with that individual - a child may get a little more grace than an adult who fibs the first time, because there is a lesson to be "taught" and "learned" for the child which we somehow expect to already have been "learned" by the adult.  It is kind of like we humans have a tendency to understand grace as "situational".  If the situation is right, we extend grace!

Unlike we humans, God's grace isn't situational - it is "positional".  When we are positioned to receive grace, we will receive it - regardless of how or where or when we "screw up".  How are we positioned to receive grace?  By being in relationship with Jesus.  This is the "position" of grace.  If we read the entirety of scripture, we see the threads of grace woven into the many stories recorded for our "learning", but we also see this importance of understanding it is more than "seeking" grace - it is entering into relationship with the one who is grace embodied which places us "positionally" inside grace's expanse.  When we study God's grace, there are "themes" which emerge - such as grace being something we cannot earn, but it is a gift from the one who gave his life so we could experience grace in its fullness.  We also see this theme of "being in Christ" and being "made a new person" - something not well appreciated when all we have known is the "situational" forgiveness of humans who hold onto past actions and think it impossible for a "zebra to change its stripes".  As we come into relationship with Christ, there is a continual exchange of our "wrong actions" with his full "grace".  Grace isn't a one-time thing, nor is it "conditioned" upon the "degree" of the offense for which one seeks grace (forgiveness).  Based upon our 'position' IN CHRIST, we are 'positioned' to receive grace - not because the 'situation' allowed for grace to be extended but because the 'position' of our trust was squarely based in the past and present actions of Christ on our behalf to secure that grace for us.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Teachable moments

If you have ever been around someone who is struggling to do something, or get through something, and you just offer them one piece of advice to make it easier or quicker, you might have been surprised to receive less than a welcoming and warm response to your "advice".  You know what I mean - when they looked you in the eye, expression of disgust on their face suggesting that you must be daft to even suggest such a thing.  Some people just cannot see any other solution to their issue than what they can manage to come up with in their own minds or power.  To suggest something outside of that imagined solution makes you the "crazy one" in the equation!

Some people like to do things their own way, and they get upset when people give them advice. Fools don’t want to learn from others. They only want to tell their own ideas. (Proverbs 18:1-2 ERV)

There is a lot of danger in being so determined to just do things our own way, though.  In many circumstances, the way we determine to be the "best" or "right" one may just be the easiest and present the least resistance.  I know I have chosen this option more than a few times, only to find out that the easiest "up front" isn't always the easiest on the "back end".  I have set up huge workbooks of data in Excel spreadsheets only to find it was set up so poorly it was impossible to drill down on the data to get any kind of useful report from it. I found myself "hand calculating" the data!  Now, maybe someone could have helped me if I had just have asked up front, but my pride kept me from finding out if there was an "easier" or "better" way other than what my mind could muster on its own.

This is often the case when it comes to our ability to learn in life - pride determines the course we take whenever we are faced with something a bit "over our heads".  We might think we have a solution, but pride keeps us from asking if we are even on the right track!  At this point in my career, I am often asked to build these workbooks for another to use - creating tools to make something they are doing in their job a little easier.  How silly would it be of me to just assume I know what their needs are and then to go ahead with building that tool for them without their input?  I have regular check-ins with these individuals because I know they will have to use the tool I create, so unless I listen to their needs, let them experiment with it a little, and then take their criticism or advice seriously, I will be creating something "for" them, but it won't be useful "to" them.

Pride is one of the most limiting things we can face - probably more limiting than just about any other issue in our lives.  Why?  Pride limits our ability to see any other solution to life's issue than our own - it is our way, or the highway. We don't even look for another solution because we have our minds and hearts so wrapped around what we believe to be best that we almost shut out any other possibilities.  Pride escalates one's ideas and beliefs to the place of superiority and shuts down any other idea or belief not completely like one's own.  There is a tell-tale sign one is experiencing some issue with pride in their life - whenever you are presented with another solution to what is front of you and immediately reject it as "wrong" or "unworthy" of your time or attention.

Now, there are times when we want this immediate rejection of ideas - like when they are totally wrong or violate God's commands.  For example, if someone says the way to get to work sooner is to just be a ding-dong of a driver on the road and weave furiously in and out of traffic until you nearly run every driver off the road, you might want to reject that one!  On the other hand, if someone tells you to set your alarm 15 minutes earlier and avoid hitting the snooze button five times, you might want to give that one some consideration. When my son had a hard time getting up for school, I moved the alarm clock to the other side of the room so he'd have to get up to shut it off.  Good theory, but it didn't work!  It wasn't something he really cared about, so he'd just let the alarm ring and ring - knowing it would eventually shut off!  Pulling the pillow over his head worked well enough to deaden the sound!

Some of what we imagine is "right" or "good" may not be "bad" - it just may not be what is best in the moment.  We need to first weigh what we are about to do against God's commands - if it is okay there, it is likely okay for us to pursue. Then if the scripture doesn't give us any real clear advice on the matter, we have to rely upon conscience - something a little less reliable.  When another comes alongside to give us advice, we weigh it against scripture and our conscience.  If it doesn't violate either, we might do well to give it consideration. We may never know when that "teachable moment" may occur which actually helps us move beyond something we've been struggling with for a while!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Okay, so I can't fly!

People boast a lot of things, don't they?  As we watch TV commercials galore, we can see products "boasting" the best eggs ever, the simplest TV hook-up in the world, and the best line-up of this or that.  Looking in the newspaper ads will riddle your minds with images of new products "boasting" something improved over anything you have ever used before, guaranteed to remove the stains from your clothes, whiten your teeth to a gleaming luster, and tantalize your taste buds with richness of flavor.  Man does a pretty good job of boasting about his accomplishments, the daring things he has done, and those "tales" no one can really validate because they took place in a day gone by or in a place unknown to you.  You might be intrigued to know the first definition of "boast" is to speak with exaggeration and excessive pride, especially about oneself!  This leads us to conclude the basis of boasting is pride - an excessive and exaggerated estimation of oneself, the object of your attention, or the accomplishment at hand.

What people say about themselves means nothing. What counts is whether the Lord says they have done well. (2 Corinthians 10:18 ERV)

There are lots of ways we engage in this boasting tendency, but none so dangerous as that which goes "unchecked" by either our own conscience, the niggling of the Holy Spirit's prompts, or just plain common sense.  As a small child, I boasted of flying - not in an airplane - but by the use of my "wings" (better known as my arms) and the lift I realized when "sailing" off the top of an overturned trash can!  No one could have told me differently because I was so caught up in the imaginative, yet concocted story I had told myself that I believed it was true!  Now, lest you lock me up in some padded room somewhere, I didn't stick with that story for very long, but the couple of weeks I actually believed I had flown was time enough for me to have told every kid in the neighborhood and then had them trying it from the tops of their own overturned trash cans!  When they couldn't reach those "heights" I had "realized" in my imagination, I suspected they were just too heavy, or didn't have the "wings" to fly!  Nothing inside of me actually believed my "story" was all wrong.  It took being challenged to prove it to make me realize my acquired claim to fame wasn't actually "spot on"!

Some of us need to have our "boasting" challenged once in a while - to keep us honest, bring us down to earth, or just plain help us see where pride has taken hold in us.  Some would ask why my acclaimed "flying ability" had to be challenged, since imagination in a child isn't all that uncommon and eventually the child moves on to some other imaginative thought.  Well, I had boasted so loudly, confidently, and kind of meanly to the kids in my neighborhood about my "abilities", I probably needed to be brought down to earth (no pun intended).  If no one challenged me then, and many times about other things since then, no telling what the estimation of my abilities would be today in my own mind.  Our mind often has to be "brought down to earth" - made to meet reality.  As long as it is allowed to concoct all manner of untruth, trumped up stories of grandeur, it will.  When encountered with the reality of where the rubber meets the road, the character of a man or woman is often revealed for what is really there.

This is why it is best to have a friend or two who helps you see when you are thinking a little too much about yourself and forgetting the needs of others.  It is also important to recognize how much that relationship keeps you real in those moments when you imagine yourself capable of doing things way outside of your realm of safety and protection.  Grand thoughts lead to some pretty damaging actions - so this kind of accountability relationship actually helps to reflect back to us "truth" or "reality" instead of the exaggerated estimation we have of ourselves, our own abilities, or the situation at hand.  There are times we need another to help us recognize when our estimation of the circumstances or our ability far exceed what God sees - because it brings us down to earth again and gets us to focus on what might actually bring us closer to what God wants for us.  God's opinion of both the matter at hand and our involvement in that matter are what is important - not how well we think we can handle it, what it will do for our reputation if we pursue it, or the things which we "gain" because we pursue it.  There are indeed times when the best thing for us is to be "knocked down a few pegs" in order to see ourselves again in the "less exaggerated" reality of the moment.  What matters is how God sees us - not how the circumstance will help us be seen in the eyes of another.  Just sayin!

Monday, August 24, 2015

The heart of the matter

We all have those moments in time when we just "feel" like doing something is going to be the right thing to do and we just go ahead with our plans.  There are even time when we kind of suspect there might be a little "issue" with what we are doing, but then we go ahead anyway.  Whenever we just move without fully thinking it through, or getting God's perspective on the matter, we are usually pretty disappointed with the results!  There are times when we have duped ourselves into believing our actions are fully "justified" by the actions of another.  It is like we are saying, "Well, he did this, so I did that" - thinking our actions are "made all right" because of the actions of another.  If they don't think about the outcome of their actions that is one thing - but we have the responsibility to think about how our actions exemplify the heart of Jesus, so we may not want to respond without thinking things through!

People think that whatever they do is right, but the Lord judges their reason for doing it. (Proverbs 16:2 ERV)

It has been difficult for my mother to "give into" some of the limitations of aging, such as no longer being able to write her own checks or even know how much money she has in her wallet at one time.  With her failing eyesight, she can no longer sign checks or many documents as she needs nearly 10 inches of space to even write out her name (and that is if she can remember how to spell it on any given day).  The frustrations which come along with these changes make it "safer" and "easier" for me to just do them for her.  The thing I have had to appreciate is that she still wants to know what it is I am doing "on her behalf".  So, we sit regularly and discuss bills she has coming due, such as her dental insurance payment, or how much money she would like to have in her wallet for the week.  I cannot assume it is "okay" for me to just do these things without appreciating these are things which concern her and involve her funds. I have to think about how my actions will affect her - although it would have been a whole lot quicker and easier to have just done it myself.

Whatever we do may not always be "right" - we have to look at the heart behind the actions.  In my example above, managing mom's finances is really not a bad thing for mom, but doing it without respect for the fact she still cares about her finances and where her money is going would be.  I have to possess the right motivation for doing what I am doing and she has to know I am not going to violate that trust she places in me.  The heart behind our actions is what God is after, not just that the actions are "right".  We can produce all kinds of "right" actions and still have a wrong "heart" behind them.  I can pay my taxes, but bad mouth my government and criticize how those funds are spent.  I can wave at my neighbors in a kindly fashion each morning, all the while cursing them under my breath for having a barking dog at night.  I can say I love someone, but but be holding onto all manner of bitterness toward them for something they may not even realize they have done.  You see, the action can be "right" while the heart behind it is not as "honorable" or "right".

God looks at the "reason" behind the action - the "heart" of the matter.  As we have discussed before, all action stems from thought - thought being influenced by our "heart" as scripture defines "heart" as the seat of our emotions.  Try as we might to "think" one way while our emotions are tied up in knots in the completely opposite direction, these two will not magically "align".  What God wants to do is help us live "above" our emotions - not dependent upon them. We would probably be surprised to find out just how many of our actions throughout the day are totally based on some emotion we are feeling at the moment.  For example, when someone interrupts you while you are trying to do some tough calculation or validate some details on a report, you might be a little frustrated (emotion).  Your response can be to give them eye-contact, nod as they speak to you, but all the while you are thinking you'd like them to just go away.  Your actions don't agree with your emotions, but God is after the emotion, not just the action.  The response he would rather see is to remember the deadline you have on the report, but appreciate the importance of the relationship right in front of you - one is important - the other is valuable!

We have a tendency to focus on what we "feel" is important in our lives - God wants us to focus more on what he has declared to be valuable to him.  We have a desire to put this right action together with that right action and see right results as the outcome.  God wants us to put the right heart behind the actions, then watch him produce the outcome!  Just sayin!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

More than a denomination

Those of you following my blog on a regular basis know I was raised in the Catholic faith and then after being out on my own, I chose to leave the Catholic church, choosing instead to associate myself with more of the non-denominational Christian church community.  I have been asked many times why I would leave the Catholic church and I always respond the same way - it wasn't the place for me to learn what I needed to learn, grow as I needed to grow, and become what I needed to become.  I will admit it almost broke my father's heart when I did leave the Catholic church, as he had been raised "staunch" Catholic and I can still recall every Saturday confession, Sunday communion, my first Communion, my Confirmation, and catechism classes.  All though high school, I struggled immensely with lots and lots of actions which really didn't reflect a very good "Catholic" at all.  I really needed more than a weekly visit to the confessional, if you get my drift!  Yet, all the while, I felt something tugging at my heart, for at the age of fourteen I had prayed the prayer of faith - asking Jesus to forgive my sins, come into my life, and make me a new person from the inside out.  I tried reading the Bible, but really had no one to mentor me in my faith, so I never really grew that much.  I had said "yes" to Jesus, but I was really "marching in place".  Deep inside I longed to be made new - sick of how lonely I felt all the time, distraught about continuing to disappoint my parents with all my wrong behaviors, and just plain miserable as a person, but wearing a pretty mask on the outside which said "everything is fine".  It wasn't until I was on my own in the military when I finally hit bottom. I can still remember the day my friend took me with him in his little blue VW bug to this "hand raising", "lively chorus singing", and very "happy" church.  My world was turned on end that night!  I could hardly wait for the sermon to end before I found myself at the altar, asking Jesus to transform what had become of my very empty and very lonely life.  I had found something which I had longed for without even knowing that was what I longed so desperately to enjoy!

So we should stop judging each other. Let’s decide not to do anything that will cause a problem for a brother or sister or hurt their faith. I know that there is no food that is wrong to eat. The Lord Jesus is the one who convinced me of that. But if someone believes that something is wrong, then it is wrong for that person. (Romans 14:13-14 ERV)

What I needed was community - something I just didn't find in my previous twenty years.  I needed connection - something I just didn't realize I could ever achieve because I had told myself I wasn't "worth it".  That night transformed my life - not overnight, but it began a journey I haven't turned back from or regretted for even one minute!  I made the decision to come regularly to that church in Anchorage - the church on a hill - Abbott Loop Christian Center.  Yep, it wasn't a Catholic church and I was about to break all the foundational "rules" I had been raised within, but it was what I needed in order to grow up in Christ. I grew by leaps and bounds that year, realizing I was loved more by Jesus than I ever had known before.  I found myself embracing lively praise and hand-raising worship.  I noticed myself broken and yearning - something "giving" inside of me which hadn't "given" before.  It was the beginning of a new era in my life and I was grateful for the things I was starting to see, appreciate, and understand for the first time.  Most importantly - I was certain that God loved me - just as I was, without any merit of my own, and he wanted relationship with me.  

I tell you all this to remind each of us of one important thing - God doesn't care about which denomination we attend - because in his eyes there is no "denomination".  These are "communities" of our own doing - we made these what they are today, not him.  His idea from the very beginning was one people, in relationship with him, and growing closer and closer to his heart each day. Where we get to that point doesn't really matter!  I can attend the Catholic church, Assemblies of God, or the local non-denominational Christian church. What he does care about is a few things:

- The Bible must be taught in totality.  None of it is without merit - all of it must be taught.  It isn't up for our own interpretation and we must adhere to the rules of interpretation which makes up "good teaching".  

- Sinners must be welcomed.  None of us is without sin, but to look down upon some or exclude them because of their "particular sin" is not the example we ever saw when Jesus ministered on this earth. 

- A sense of community must be established.  This is where and how we grow. We need the privilege of "being real" with another group of individuals because this is how we learn from each other and grow in Christ.

Paul said it well in Romans - we don't create a place where others feel judged and we don't create a place where there is no chance of being who we really are.  We don't have to "condone" any particular action or behavior which is opposite to that which God outlines in scripture, but it doesn't mean the individual is rejected or excluded from our fellowship.  What it means is that we create a safe place for them to meet Jesus, discover his love for themselves, find out how much he cares about transforming their lives, and then helping them to grow in that relationship.  If you think about "denominations" as how we describe something such as our currency and coins, you might see "denominations" within the church a little differently.  We have call our differing "bills and coins" of our money systems "denominations" because they each carry a different "value".  In God's economy, none of us carries any different value!  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Man! That lid is on there tight!

Repent (metanoeo):  To change one's mind and subsequently one's actions. The idea of repentance in scripture is not always fully understood, but when Peter preached to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus was taken up into heaven following his death, burial, and resurrection, he told them to change their hearts and lives.  The idea of repentance is that of change.  Change is something we all kind of struggle with, ranging from all out determination to not let go of the past to an eager desire to be rid of what weighs us down, but without the wherewithal to actually let go.  The biggest thing we need to recognize about the biblical definition of repentance is this idea of a changed mind.  All change in life begins at the point of our thinking - without a change of mind, we will eventually return to the same conclusions and patterns of action we once pursued.

People who live following their sinful selves think only about what they want. But those who live following the Spirit are thinking about what the Spirit wants them to do. If your thinking is controlled by your sinful self, there is spiritual death. But if your thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace. Why is this true? Because anyone whose thinking is controlled by their sinful self is against God. They refuse to obey God’s law. And really they are not able to obey it. Those who are ruled by their sinful selves cannot please God.  (Romans 8:5-8 ERV)

If we haven't figured this one out yet, then maybe we better really spend some time understanding why it is so important for us to have this "change of mind" as it applies to finally being "free" of whatever it is which has been holding us captive.  If we begin to understand what Paul was telling us in the passage above, we will see some important points:

1. When we are determined to do things our way, within the confines of what we can manage to accomplish, self-determined in our course, we are living apart from Christ.  At the point we invite the Spirit of God into our lives, we begin to see a change in our thinking.  If all action begins with thought, and try as we might to argue differently this is exactly where all action begins, then it is not unreasonable to recognize a change in thinking will likely result in a change in action.  Most of us don't change our thinking overnight - this is why we sometimes vacillate a while on decisions - it takes a while for our "emotions" to match our thoughts and then to get our actions following that thought pattern. 

2. Old habits die hard because we don't want to allow a change in our thinking. If repentance is really a change in our thinking, it is possible that repentance is not just a "one time" thing.  In other words, if we don't change our way of thinking as quickly as we can switch on the light with a light switch on the wall, then it is quite possible we might not fully accomplish the change in action which accompanies that change in thought.  It may be entirely possible that repentance begins with the willingness to admit we are desperately "thinking" and therefore "acting" in a wrong manner.  The "act" of repentance may be a one time thing - the results of repentance may take a little longer because they involve a change in our way of thinking about those actions.

3. Thought requires effort.  I believe many of us imagine repentance as some kind of mystical moment in time when we "admit" to our failure and then expect some instant "re-creative" work done by Christ in our lives.  While this is partly true, there is some action on our part which is required beyond our "confession".  We often confuse confession and repentance.  One is the admission of guilt - the other is the walking out of our new way of thinking. We are not "saved" (made right with God) by any of our good deeds.  Scripture is clear on that one, but there is some "effort" on our part as it comes to changing our way of thinking about what we "used to do" and how we "used to think". We can only fully recognize the total transformation of repentance once we understand the mindset change which will drive the new actions which result from the desire to turn away from what has been problematic in our lives.

While salvation doesn't count on our effort, our effort is paramount to repentance.  Repentance is a change in thinking which results in a change in both the type and consistency of our actions.  First the type of actions we take change, then there is this whole idea of consistency.  We have all heard the adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try again."  The reason we may not have succeeded is the type of effort we are applying to the issue at hand.  When I cannot get the jar lid undone I don't throw away the jar!  I get out that rubber mat thing which gives me a little more traction and try again.  If that doesn't work, I bang that jar lid with the handle of a knife to kind of break the seal a little.  If that still doesn't work, I go to someone with more strength than me!  

While life isn't like the jar of pickles which stubbornly remains "untapped" because I cannot remove the lid, there is something in the process we need to understand.  First, I desire the pickles (much like I might desire to be free of past issues).  Second, I am willing to take some effort to get at what I desire (even when that effort may not realize the result I desired at first).  Third, I don't give up on the desire just because their is resistance to my effort.  We cannot give up on living free of our past just because there is resistance in our mind or emotions to the effort.  We may just have to change the "tact" we are using to be free of it!  Lastly, sometimes the jar of pickles is within our ability to "tap into", while other times we need a "helping hand" from someone stronger than us.  Have you ever noticed how easily the lid comes off when the other person actually gets their hands on it?  All our efforts may not have accomplished the full result of getting at the pickles, but they certainly prepared the way for the one with just a little more strength than us to make easy work of the project!  God may just let us struggle a little with the "lids" in our lives to see how determined we are to get at what we desire.  If he does this, it isn't that our confession has been unsuccessful, it is that our minds needed to catch up with our determination and action!  Just sayin!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Baggage claim

Broken:  Reduced to fragments; ruptured, torn, fractured; not functioning properly; incomplete; infringed upon or violated.  I honestly believe this is exactly how each and every one of us arrives at the feet of Jesus.  Somehow, whether through our own choices, or the impressions others leave in our lives, we arrive reduced to fragments, not functioning as we should, and sometimes just plain violated by another.  It isn't that our lives are perfect and we finally come to the feet of Jesus - we bring him the messiness of our lives and he welcomes them with open arms.  One of the songs which really ministers to my spirit is the one by Casting Crowns which kind of expresses this thought of being "Broken Together".  If you haven't heard it, there is a part of the song which simply states, "Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete...could we just be broken together".  If we stop for just a moment to understand the wisdom in those simple words, we might just begin to view our relationship with Jesus and each other a little differently.  In coming to Jesus, we are bringing broken (incomplete) lives to him - his response is to say it is just fine.  In sharing "community" with other believers maybe we need to have more of this perspective - allowing others (and ourselves) to just be "broken together".

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed. (Psalm 34:18 CEB)

The song kind of opens up the basic feelings of many of the individuals I have known over the years - the desire to just go "back to simpler times" - when life wasn't as complicated and messed up as it gets when there are wounds, shattered dreams, missed opportunities, and all the resulting emotional scars which result from us "living life".  Broken hearts long for repair - this is just true of all who are broken.  No one wakes up one day and makes a conscious choice to be wounded, violated, left with shattered fragments of a life.  There are times when we make some conscious decisions to just "walk around" in our shattered state, though.  Whenever we reject the welcoming arms of Jesus, feeling too ashamed or too afraid to approach him with the reality of our brokenness, we are going to continue to live pretty fragmented, emotionally "damaged" lives. While we don't want to "live" in a state of brokenness, we need to recognize it sometimes takes a little while for the shattered pieces to mend - much in the same way it takes a shattered bone a while to "remodel" and become strong again.  Even when the shattered bone heals, being helped along by the skilled hands of the orthopedic surgeon, that bone doesn't heal without scars.  Our lives are impacted - scars form - but we don't need to be ashamed or fearful to allow those scars to be seen.

I am a firm believer that truth, spoken in love, mends the broken heart by setting the person who bears those wounds free from their emotional bonds to those wounds.  I am an even strong believer in trusting that "modeled love" will go further than any words we can speak to bind up the wounds of another. I think this is why Jesus didn't just open heaven's expanse one day, speak down the words "Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest". He didn't just expect us to understand this - he needed to come down to this earth and model that for us.  He had to model how much his love meets our brokenness.  He didn't just forgive the sinner - he bound up their wounds, straightened their deformities, and restored them to a place of honor or respect in society.  The leper wasn't just healed of their diseased skin - they were told to present themselves to the priest and be restored.  The prostitute wasn't just forgiven for her indiscretions - she was honored by Jesus as "worthy" of his time and attention and trust.

Some of us believe we cannot possibly be of value to others because our "brokenness" is too great - because we still limp, not always getting things "right" in our lives.  All I have to say is that I still limp.  I still have some pretty deep scars.  I don't have all the "pieces" of my fragmented life all put together in the perfect order.  I am on the road to mending - as are all of the other folks I have met along the way.  The most realistic thing we can do is to come to the reality we will walk this life "broken together" until the pieces mend!  As soon as we recognize EVERYONE has those fragments - some are just more visible than others - we won't be willing to walk "broken together", but will either be too judgmental to accept the broken-hearted, or too focused on our own wounds to feel we can be of any value to another in relationship.  We probably have all heard someone say "He sure has a lot of baggage" or "She's pretty messed up". Truth be told, we ALL have baggage.  Sometimes we might like to think we don't, but none of us lives life without some type of "baggage".  When we judge another by their baggage we just might be limiting the great blessing that other person will bring into our lives (complete with all the baggage)!  

I really don't know "how" your fragmented life happened, but I know those fragments will mend in time when Jesus has a chance to work in your life for a while.  I don't know who violated your trust, abused your body, or sent you deep into an emotional storm with gale-force damage - but I do know who can be trusted above all others, brings healing to broken souls, and settles the worst of storms in our lives.  Some of those who saw Jesus restore blind eyes and straightened bent limbs asked the telling question:  "Who sinned - the parent or the child"?  Isn't that just like us when we see "damaged goods" restored?  We want to know "who was to blame" when all Jesus wants to do is elevate them back to the place of freedom, liberty, and celebrated recovery!  Maybe we'd do well to adopt the truth - at best, we live life "broken together" until Jesus does his work in our lives.  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chaos isn't always bad

Honestly stop for just a moment - just get quiet and focus with me for just a second or two.  What were you just worrying about - that thing you just kept mulling over and over in your mind?  To worry means you pass over something with repeated focus, almost as though you were wearing a "rut" into it just by the frequency of thought or attention you are giving it.  In some respects, worry is understandable and kind of productive.  When you just cannot figure out the solution to the puzzle before you, you kind of "worry" on the solution because you know it is there - you just have to recognize it.  In thinking it through, you either pick up the right piece and place it correctly, or you find the five letter word which fits the letter combo perfectly.  What that form of "worrying" produced was a solution which was possible because of something you already possessed - you just needed to recall that information or notice the solution was right there before you.  Most of the "worrying" we do is of a different sort, though.  It is the type of worry where we "borrow" from tomorrow's sets of issues and bring them in today's focus.  In other words, we compound today's issues with tomorrow's "what-if" scenarios.  What if it rains?  What if we don't get as much in our paycheck as we hoped for?  What if the person I like doesn't like me?  What if I don't get the job?  What if my possessions aren't enough to sustain me when I am lonely, depressed, anxious, or just plain in need of entertainment?  There are lots and lots of worries, but most of them are just not really intended to be our focus in life.  These are the ones we need to learn to sort out and leave where they belong - in the past or the future!

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 6:32-34 ERV)

Do you ever have a "clothing crisis" kind of day?  Those moments when you look at the closet, pull out this top, that pair of pants, then another and another, feeling like all is futile because nothing "looks good" for either the particular events of the day, or because you feel "frumpy"?  I think we have all experienced one or two of those in our lifetimes, but how silly is it for us to spend so much time worrying over the "right" outfit?  I remember having a date once in which I was trying to "re-enter" the dating scene after my divorce. What a fiasco that wardrobe moment was!  I was well into my thirties and I was acting like a teenager - all nervous, kind of anxious about what outfit to wear - would I be too this or that if I wore this one or that one.  There were clothes scattered all over my bed!  I hadn't had one of those moments in so long it made me sit down and just laugh at myself when I was finally dressed and realized the mess I now had to clean up!  I did all that for one date - it never went any further because we didn't find ourselves all that compatible.  One date and so much anxiety, frustration, and worry!  

I wonder how many of us multiply our frustrations and fears in life because we just create chaos with all our "frequent changes"?  We cannot settle on this or that, constantly being drawn to the next "thing" we believe will fill some open space in our heart, create a sense of peace in a tumultuous time, or give us some satisfaction when we are just craving something a little bit beyond our reach. The pressures mount and we find ourselves adding to today's worries by "borrowing" some from tomorrow, or "recalling" some from yesterday.  We are actually "multiplying" our frustration and anxiety - creating an increasing sense of emotional chaos within our minds until we find ourselves about to declare ourselves on "overload".  You won't find me ever denying change as either inevitable or good.  In fact, I believe change is kind of a refreshing thing as long as we can let go of what belongs in the past, stop focusing so much on what lays ahead in the future, and focus on getting today right.

If we read our passage carefully, we will soon notice something we kind of "skip over" because we don't think it really is important or we simply didn't notice it at first.  Jesus says this type of "worrying" or "creation of emotional chaos" in our lives because of the frequency or consistency of change which is occurring is what those who don't know him engage in - it isn't to be the "mode of operation" for those of us who are all a part of his family.  When our focus is centered correctly on "who" gets us through the present change rather than the change itself, we find this perspective keeps the "chaos" at bay and our intentional actions to navigate through the changes we are facing become quite ordered, productive, and on-target.  It isn't always ours to control the change, nor is it to be the change which controls us.  We are to bring the change to God, allow him to set the course, then settle into the course he has us on.  In the end, we find as long as we remain set on observing his "navigational instruction" in our lives, we don't have the chaos in the midst of change.  We might have a little "turmoil" because change suggests the old is being purged and the new is coming into focus, but this is a good kind of turmoil.

What gets our clothes clean in the washing machine?  Isn't it the turmoil of tumbling over each other and the friction caused by the changing of cycles within that machine?  Without this action, the resulting effect of "being in the washer" would be of no value - clean and ready clothes are a result of the action and the "agents" within the washer.  Water, soap, and the action of the spinning or agitating tub are essential.  So, not all types of turmoil are bad - sometimes they help create the "friction" we need to get us to a new level of "cleanness" or "readiness" in life.  The turmoil is "helped along" to do the work it needs to do when God adds in a little of his living water and a lot of his cleansing power! Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

At the ready

A recent TV commercial shows a rather largely muscled, foreboding gentleman dressed in a suit standing guard in front of a person's house.  In the commercial, the premise is that nothing gets past this particular security system you can have installed and pay for each month.  The idea of this "body guard" of sorts is kind of effective to make the point - someone is standing watch over your life.  I have never been famous enough to need a body guard, nor have I had enough wealth to support such an expensive "personal protection" service for my home. I have gone into some pretty scary places, unarmed with natural weapon, nor supported by any burly dude big enough to stand up to any attacker who might come my way. I have been awakened to some "creepy" noises and wondered if someone was about to pounce on me in the dark of the night.  I haven't felt the need for another protector in my life because I have the privilege of being protected by the biggest "body guard" there is!  He not only protects my body, but my soul and spirit, as well!  

The Lord is your Protector. The Lord stands by your side, shading and protecting you. The sun cannot harm you during the day, and the moon cannot harm you at night. The Lord will protect you from every danger. He will protect your soul. The Lord will protect you as you come and go, both now and forever! (Psalm 121:5-8 ERV)

A protector is one who stands in defensive mode in your life - one who is at the ready to provide whatever intervention is necessary to see that your safety is assured.  Whether it is attack, invasion, potential loss, or just plain annoyances which are coming upon you, the Lord stands ready to defend.  Attack is the idea of being "fought against" in a violent manner.  It isn't just a call to give over your jewels and wallet, it is a lunging of full force against you in order to overtake and over-power you.  When we think of being "attacked", it brings to mind the hostilities of aggressive and over-powering behavior.  Invasion carries the idea of "entering into" your life - unwelcomed, often unnoticed, but with the intent to do harm.  We think of germs as "invading" forces which enter into the body and then set up shop to do their destructive work within you as their "host" for their activity.  

To understand personal loss, one must have something they don't want to lose. I often put things away so carefully because they are important documents, treasured items of some sort.  The day comes when I just want to get those out and use them for some purpose - and don't you just want to kick yourself when you have done such a good job "putting them away carefully" that you can't even find them!  To experience loss, one must value something.  For anyone to take what you value indicates they get close enough to you to actually take what you once had.  In other words, to experience loss you must have experienced the possession of something - the greater the value that possession is to you, the harder the loss will be felt whenever someone takes it away.  In thinking about annoyances, they are many and too innumerable to list, but you will likely understand that they are nuisances which you really didn't want to have to deal with, but there they are and now you are faced with the challenges they present.  

God stands as our defender from attack, invasion, loss, and just plain annoying things.  He is on the ready - at the guard - not like the burly guy in the commercial, but as the defender of our souls, spirits, and bodies.  His "impressiveness" isn't his "size", but his authority.  The truth is we can invite things into our lives which we might not like the resulting problems which come by having welcomed them into our lives, but God isn't to blame for the bad stuff which comes when we do.  He still was standing guard - we just didn't let him do his job! We opened the door for the attack, or invited in the thing which is giving us the greatest of problems now.  In essence, we knew he set up a defensive to not allow these things INTO our lives, but we chose to "shut down" his defenses by our rebellion and self-determined behavior.  It is as though we "ducked out" on our body guard and now we find ourselves in a "problematic situation".

When we embrace the authority of God in our lives, we can rest assured we will be upheld by his hand.  When we resist it, we can also be assured he will not leave his post.  He is at the ready to set in order what we allowed to create chaos in our lives once we come to the recognition of the futility of our misguided "judgment calls" which allowed us to "skirt" his authority.  This is called restoration - something we'd need a whole lot less of if we'd just trust his "defense" of our lives a little more!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Think about it

Throwing caution to the wind is rarely the best mode of attack to take, especially when everything inside your head and body is telling you otherwise! Yet, we find today's media pages littered with all manner of people "throwing caution to the wind" in incriminating photos, not well-planned posts, and some pretty crazy "rants".  I never cease to be amazed at what people will post.  I've seen everything from the funniest little kittens tormenting big burly dogs to minions captioned with catchy reminders of the woes of life.  In between, I have also seen some not so sweet or kind things.  You probably have, too.  Watching the news these days is like filling your mind with all manner of hatred, disgusting acts of violence, and just plain unpleasantness.  I really listen to the news for the weather, so I would honestly just prefer to look at the app on my phone!  As my daughter and I were talking the other day, she mentioned she wasn't sure who'd she vote for in the upcoming election for President of the United States.  My advice to her was to wait and pray, because I knew the smear campaigns would mount and the mud-slinging would begin to take on epic proportions, with tons of people offering opinion after opinion about each of the candidates.  What is most disappointing is to hear someone show their true colors, then tell the media something entirely different the next day - as though they were trying to "save face".  I think this might just reveal a little more about the character of the candidate than he or she really knows!

People sometimes lie to hide their hatred, but saying bad things about someone is even more foolish. (Proverbs 10:18 ERV)

A couple of things I think we can benefit from in our "shares" on social media, public announcements which get recorded for history, and distribution of our opinions for all to hear and see.  I think we need to keep in mind the principles taught in Philippians 4:8 which say, "Brothers and sisters, continue to think about what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected." 

- Thinking first often prevents us from saying things we might have done well to not have said.  Initiating our conversation with a moment of thought to form our answer may not look like we are very "decisive", but it often shows us to be a whole lot wiser than if we just blurt out the first thing which comes to mind.

- Having some form of "filters" in place through which we run our thoughts or ideas may actually benefit us from just allowing everything "into" our brains and hearts which can "taint" the flow of what comes "out" of them.  This may be why we are told to think about what is "true", "honorable", "right", "pure", "beautiful", and "respected".  These are filters of sorts.  If it isn't true - don't speak it or even entertain it in thought.  If it is going to bring honor to someone then it doesn't need to be considered a viable option.  If it veers from what God has declared to be right in his Word, then we should just treat it as untruth.  If it lacks purity, it isn't worth us embracing for it will make all it touches impure by its presence.  If it lacks the qualities which make it see, hear, think, or act upon, it likely isn't beautiful.  Lastly, if it isn't revealing the excellence of character which God would want us to exemplify, it isn't to be respected or revered.

- Thinking again often prevents us from heading down a path from which there really isn't much of a positive return!  Thinking first may help us to go a different direction, or not even pursue the path all together.  Thinking again, after these thoughts have been through the filters outlined above may just keep us on track and consistent in our walk.

We can hide behind lies all of our lives, covering tracks we have made by our misspoken words, misguided deeds, and misplaced affections, but trust me on this - the right path, taken in the right timing, with the right companions won't leave tracks we are afraid to have another follow!  All of God's direction is given to affect how it is we "do" life.  When we embrace the wisdom contained in his wisdom (the Word of God), we find we go about "doing" what we won't be ashamed or embarrassed to have another follow.  Just sayin!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Some assembly required

Well, if you have never experienced the delight of shopping at IKEA on a Saturday afternoon, you have missed the adventure!  My daughter needed to exchange something she bought for her craft room and I just thought it would be nice to find a few things I have wanted for the kitchen to assist with organizing a few things.  Forgetting the utter chaos of what Saturdays are like at this store, let alone that it was the beginning of school season and folks would be flocking there to get those great starter furnishings for the dorm rooms, I agreed to go along.  Lest you think this was an "outing" to just "kick it" with my daughter and two grandsons, let me set you straight.  First, we had to find a parking spot - a challenge even with mom's handicap parking privilege! Then we had to find each other as we had gone in separate cars - one with her return items in it, the other with the family.  Upon finding each other, we had to wait until her "number" was called to actually do the exchange. Thank goodness for her wisdom - she purchased the next set of items she actually wanted as a replacement to the ones she purchased right there!  Alas, I still wanted those couple of kitchen items, so we also needed to traverse to the kitchen area to obtain them, but not before my daughter realized she needed to move her vehicle out of the loading area, resulting in us having to connect once again. With the waiting finally over, I imagined my purchase expedition would be short-lived, finding 'exactly' what I wanted with the greatest of ease!  You know where this is going, don't you?  Circling the entirety of the large warehouse space not once, but two times, we finally were ready to check-out.  Now, if you have never been there on a Saturday afternoon, let me just tell you they run all the registers, but the lines are forever long!  With purchases finally in hand, my daughter then decides to visit the little deli section where you can purchase candies.  Finally, we were all done!  Except for loading the new bookshelves into her truck.  With air conditioning running full blast in my vehicle in order to cool it down in the Arizona sun, the two of us loaded the boxes into her vehicle and made a plan to meet at her house in order to unload and assemble.  Yep, you heard that correctly - assemble!  When she heard I actually intended to come help her put these boxed items together, you should have seen her face - she smiled from ear to ear!  Why?  I excel at this and actually enjoy it!  Every part of it is a delight except one - trying to figure out what those stick figures are trying to show me to do in the instructions that come in the boxes from Sweden!  Have you ever noticed they make these instructions these days without any words - just pictures, arrows, and little stick figures showing you to use a particular tool to attach piece A to piece B?  I am so glad God's instructions to me come with a little more than diagrams - although the diagrams are nice - the words actually help to give a little clarity missing in the image!

Children, listen to your father’s teaching. Pay attention and you will learn how to learn. The advice I give is good, so don’t ever forget what I teach you. (Proverbs 4:1-2 ERV)

As I read through this passage again this morning, I saw something I had missed before.  A child listens to the teaching of the parent, no just to learn, but to "learn how to learn".  You see, we all begin with some form of "knowing", but it can be a little self-centered and too limited in focus to really help us learn fully whatever it is we are to develop knowledge of.  A good example of this is when a baby has not yet discovered he can trust his parent will return after the nap. In his eyes, the parent disappears around the corner and his world as he knows it comes to an end.  He cries desperately because he cannot associate the disappearing act of his parent to a re-appearing act!  It takes a while for his to develop this awareness - something he must be "taught" by having the parent put him down, leave him alone to cry a while, and then allow him to sleep, awakening to the knowledge of seeing his parent come when he calls.  He develops a sense of trust - something he has to learn, but he hasn't the capacity to learn without the parent being willing to teach.  A child (and even an adult) needs to learn "HOW" to learn.  Learning occurs in life-circumstances, but we have to be open to getting the most out of them.  Learning also occurs while being instructed, but we have to be paying attention to get the lesson.  It also occurs in those moments when pictures are being painted for us, but it takes us a little longer to "get" those lessons because we have to learn how this line blends with that one, until we finally see the image of what is about to come!

As I sat with my daughter on the floor, surrounded with shelves, drawer parts, a variety of hooks, screws, dowels, and that dreaded instruction booklet before me, she went to get the pizza to help us "boost our energies" for the task ahead! It isn't that she isn't capable of reading the instructions, but that I actually enjoy the task of figuring out what it is they are trying to tell us to do. Let me assure you, this isn't for the one who suffers from attention-deficit disorders!  If you don't pay attention closely to the direction they give, you find yourself unscrewing a lot of pieces you "thought" went together a certain way and then putting them together again the "right" way.  In doing these projects, I inevitably manage to select the wrong screw or "connecting device" at least once!  There are so many parts which are close to each other in appearance, but are different lengths or thicknesses.  The diagram or image just doesn't help us to avoid those errors because you have to keep referring back to page one which gives you the measurements of the screws and other pieces!  When you are on page 15, to go back constantly to page 1 seems counter-productive to me.  Why on earth can't they put the little diagram in the margin of page 15 to show you the screw diagram so you can just put the screw up to that picture and see you have the right one?  If I wrote those booklets, I would do it that way because it would help to prevent us from making those "assumptions" we were using the right part at that point in the project!

I share all this to remind us of the importance of "learning how to learn".  We all go about "learning" in different ways.  Whoever wrote these instruction booklets thought the words weren't necessary, the one page of size diagrams was enough, and the individuals who would be assembling the products would have the ability to interpret the pictures without problem!  In other words, they expected us to "learn" as they see things - from their vantage point.  I daresay, we all learn differently and we need to be taught according to our ability to learn. My method of learning is to see one, do one, and then I can demonstrate it over and over again with pretty accurate consistency.  In seeing, I associate the steps which need to be taken.  I actually like the "words" because they help me take the right steps - they "elaborate" on the illustrations I am given (what I am seeing).  I think this is why God gives us both examples (illustrations) AND the words (his truth in the Bible).  We need both because they help "cement" the learning - bringing the two together gives us a fuller "picture" of what we are expected to learn.  As a parent, he understands we need to be taught how to learn what he teaches - it isn't up to us to interpret his teaching according to our "plan" - he wants us to understand his plan and then learn how to fall in step with it!  (Much like the illustrator for this shelving booklet)  Just sayin!