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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rulership 101

Okay, so you know how you read through scripture sometimes that you have read through like a million times and all of a sudden you see something new?  Well, what do you know - God isn't dead and his Word is living, alive, and life-giving!  If you experience something new on occasion - seeing some new revelation from scripture - it isn't that there is new stuff in there, it is just that you missed it the first million times because your heart wasn't ready to receive it!  There is actually a scripture which reads:  "Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun."  (Ecclesiastes 1:9 CEV)  It was there all along - so were you - but you just weren't ready to receive it, didn't really need it that much at that moment, or other things needed to be learned before you understood this "new truth".  I often speak of grace - God's unmerited favor - something given to us, never earned, totally undeserved, and in astronomical proportions.  I am always looking for the "thread" of grace in scripture, because I know it is interwoven in each and every page of this Bible I hold so dear.  One such thread stuck out to me this morning - only I had missed it before because the word "grace" is never used in the passage.  The actions of grace are, though!  Grace is action-based, not just something ethereal or "out there".  It is evidenced in God's kindness in our lives.

Don’t let sin rule your body. After all, your body is bound to die, so don’t obey its desires or let any part of it become a slave of evil. Give yourselves to God, as people who have been raised from death to life. Make every part of your body a slave that pleases God. Don’t let sin keep ruling your lives. You are ruled by God’s kindness and not by the Law. (Romans 6:12-14 CEV)

Anything or anyone who rules something else is really in control, right?  When "rule" is used as a verb, it carries the idea of exercising some dominating power, authority, or influence over something or someone.  There are probably lots of things in our lives which do this in one form or another when we really stop to think about it.  I have a speedometer on my car. It doesn't speak to me, nor does it give me an electric shock when I am hitting speeds I shouldn't be traveling.  It DOES give me a "reading" of how fast I am traveling, though.  It has an input, coupled with the visualization of a sign along the freeway which reads "Max Speed 65 MPH" which act as "controlling" agents in my life as I drive.  I have an alarm on my phone which sounds 15 minutes prior to any meeting I am to attend, acting as an "alert system" to help control my arrival and keep me on task with my work.  I also have this little niggling voice inside which speaks up from time to time reminding me the course I am about to take may not be the best.  All of these things have some type of "controlling" influence in my life, and probably you have similar ones in yours.  We have a lot of things which attempt to "rule" our lives - but we select the ones we actually allow to do just that.

Don't let sin rule your body is pretty straight-forward.  Sin - any deliberate or willful violation of what we know or suspect to be right in our lives - is trying to rule over our lives. It has a mission in mind and it isn't our liberty!  It is our bondage.  That understood, it becomes apparent from what Paul is saying here that we actually "let" sin rule - we give way to the influences in our lives which take us down wrong paths.  We actually submit to the authority of those urges, promptings, external or internal influences, etc.  The desires we get drawn into actually are not what gives us the problem - it is the ease at which we submit our wills to their influence!  "Don't let..." makes this pretty apparent - WE possess the power to resist the influence - we just don't use it!  It is like when I ignore an alert on my phone that a meeting is about to occur, or hit the snooze button.  When that meeting time creeps up on me and I am not rushing to make it there, it is not the phone's fault, nor the meeting organizer's.  It is mine!  I let my desire to direct my attention to something else overshadow the responsibility I had to be there at that meeting.

This is the truth about desire - it often overshadows what we know to be right, realistic, and relevant in our lives.  The opposite of "letting sin" be the controlling authority in our lives is to give ourselves over to another authority - that of God himself.  It is an exchange of power. We stop responding to the desires by allowing God's power to "rule over" our lives instead. The second part of the equation is that we "make every part" of our lives align with that authority.  This means there is a little "effort" on our parts to keep ourselves under the right authority.  When we "make" our minds focus on Christ and his power in our lives, we often see his power manifest in ways we didn't realize before.  Why?  We are just paying attention to his influence more than we were at other times.  It is like when I anticipate the meeting, listen for the alert from my phone, and then gather up my meeting materials and am off in advance of the meeting.  I am prepared because I am listening to the alerts and submissive to them, as well.  We are prepared to resist sin's influence in our lives when we are listening to the right voice and responding to it in obedience.

Now, the kicker to all this:  We are ruled by God's kindness (grace).  Bam!  It isn't his heavy hand which rules in our lives (that would be the rule of the Law), but his kindness (grace). When we think of grace, do we think of it as a controlling influence in our lives?  I doubt it. In fact, we think of it as what we need when something else has controlled our lives, leading us down a path we should never have traveled in the first place!  Yet, if we take this scripture in context, we are to be ruled by GRACE.  God's kindness displayed in our lives, setting us free from the "law of sin and death".  God's goodness activating our conscience, energizing our spirit, embracing our heart, and bringing consistency to our walk.  His grace is to be the controlling influence of our lives - we walk strong not in our power, but in his grace.  His undeserved favor - making us able to live as we should.  Sin demands submission and then ropes us into bondage.  Grace awaits our submission and then embraces us in the richness of freedom and liberty.  We don't break free of sin's domination - we are brought out of it by an exchange of rule in our life.  Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What we have in common

When you share something with someone, you take part in what one of the two has to offer. In some cultures, all things are put into common and viewed as common resources.  In other words, what one catches or grows is put into common storage and is distributed from the common resources to meet the needs of everyone in the community.  At other times, we may consider "sharing" as what we do when we have a little of what someone else doesn't have and then we give it to them so they can get use of it or enjoy it as much as we have.  Either way, there is this idea of "common use" or "common benefit" from what one has to share. When it is something as significant as our nature, that is a pretty awesome thing to share!

If we say that we share in life with God and keep on living in the dark, we are lying and are not living by the truth. But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn’t in our hearts. But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away. (I John 1:5-9 CEV)

We first share in the light Jesus brings into an otherwise pretty dark existence.  If you have ever stopped long enough to consider what it was like before you experienced Christ's light in your life - I mean really stopped to ponder the changes which occurred - you probably stand amazed at all the ways he has "enhanced" your life in ways you never thought possible. His light did more than just brighten our darkness - it dispelled it from areas of our life we didn't even know there was darkness within!  What we didn't possess, Christ brought - light and life.

This life we now live is possible because of what Christ brings and "shares" in our life - the resource of his life is something we partake of not through any effort of our own, but all because of his effort.  It is like the one who hunts for the entire tribe to benefit, or grows grains for the entire community to enjoy bread.  All did not work for it, but all enjoy it as it is given so there may be "common enjoyment" of it.  We do not work for what we enjoy so much in this life with Jesus - it is given freely so all may come into common enjoyment of it.

Along this line, our writer reminds us we not only have new life in common, we have this "washing away of our sins" in common.  We find ourselves grace-filled because of the actions of another on our behalf.  As a child, mom had to wash me in the tub - simply because I could not see where I needed to be washed, nor did I realize the benefit of being in the tub. I was content to live in my dirty state - but she knew how much better I'd feel after the bath. I think Jesus kind of works that way in our lives at first - washing over us with his grace time and time again - not because we know where we need it to flow, but because he does!

Grace has a way of creeping into the crevices of our lives - even where we don't realize we need it to go!  Maybe this is part of the blessing of grace - it knows no bounds.  It isn't shy about going into "dark places" in our lives - washing away the things which gathered there which no longer belong hidden.  Grace doesn't uncover what is hidden to expose it so we will experience pain, but because we all have one thing in common as it comes to our sin - we need to be free of it and we cannot do it alone.

Grace can be trusted - even when the confession is hard.  One thing we humans have in common - we have all sinned.  One thing God affords to us from his vast resources is renewed grace for all past sins, present sins, and future sins.  Now, that may seem a little contrary to what we know about being a "Christian" - because aren't we supposed to stop sinning?  Yes, we are.  The truth is - we will continue to sin, maybe not in the same ways, but until the day we find ourselves walking in his presence in glory, we will still struggle with temptation and require grace to both overcome it and walk away from it.

Grace isn't exactly light, but it is an adjunct to light.  God's presence is the light we receive - his grace is the enabling force which helps us to walk in this light and to enjoy the freedom light brings.  If you have ever stumbled a little in the dark of night, you know how "halting" your walk is when you don't know exactly what is in the room in respect to where you are now.  Sure, you have a general idea, but just walk in darkness for a while and you will realize the painfulness of stubbing your toes more than you might like!  God's light is what removes the darkness, but his grace is what enables us to walk freely.  

We may not all speak the same language, or go to the same church.  We may not all dress alike, or even have the same interests in life.  One thing is for sure - we all have sin in common and we all need to experience the freedom of his love, light, and grace.  Just sayin!

Monday, September 28, 2015

I want that! Or maybe that! No, that!

How many desires do you have which you kind of wish you could squelch pretty quickly so you didn't have to deal with them?  If you are like the average person, probably a few a day or more!  It might be the desire to reach out and slap that person who is acting pretty stupid right about now, or the desire to indulge your sweet tooth with the biggest and gooiest of treats in the dessert counter.  Some of the desires are because of something totally internal while others are kind of dependent upon another person or someone else's actions, right?  It doesn't really matter where that desire "comes from" as long as we learn to sort out the ones which are correct to act upon and turn away from the ones which aren't.

People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace. Our desires fight against God, because they do not and cannot obey God’s laws. If we follow our desires, we cannot please God. You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God’s Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:5-9 CEV)

This idea of being "ruled" by our desires can be a little overwhelming, though.  To recognize we are "ruled" by anything is kind of frightening, because it means we are a little out of control and we all know how much we all like to be in control!  I have to ask though - how's that "you being in control" been working out for you?  If you are like me, then you'd probably acknowledge it isn't working very well because we aren't all that reliable and trustworthy to be the "controlling agents" of our lives.

As Paul indicates, there are really two sources of "control" in our lives - either our own desires, or the action and control of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  One is less than reliable, the other is infinitely reliable and totally trustworthy.  "Rule" or "control" has one central location in our bodies - it is our mind.  Whatever has control over our minds is what determines our actions.  This is why many spiritual leaders have written so many books about the "battle of the mind" - because it is a battle of control!

Look again at our passage.  Our desires do not and "cannot" obey God's laws - they are in opposition - they act as resistance in our lives.  The whole idea of having a parking brake on a car is to give just a little more "resistance" to the wheels while parked on any kind of an incline so that there isn't any "slippage" which would allow the vehicle to start moving in the direction of the bottom of the hill.  Think of the Holy Spirit as that agent in our lives who helps us avoid "slippage" into places and actions we should not be in!

If this idea of the battle being in our minds is really the issue we need to consider, then let me just be the first to acknowledge the mess my mind is in!  I have so many thoughts running through that "space" every day that it sometimes is quite overwhelming.  The sheer volume of what we "take in" and have to "process" in our thoughts each day would probably confound some of the most advance computers of our day.  Yet, our minds keep up with all of it, often without us even consciously having to address those thoughts - we just respond.

Herein is the rub - what we respond to without conscious thought may be our undoing!  This is why it is so essential our desires be controlled by someone other than us.  We might not recognize the danger in the action we are about to take, but the Holy Spirit will.  We need a "filter" over our desires so that we respond with consistent obedience in our lives.  We won't hit the mark each and every time because we sometimes just let stuff get past our conscious thought and the niggling of the Holy Spirit gets ignored.  Yet, we have been given his "rulership" over our lives - helping us sort out these desires - so we can learn obedience.

Did you catch that?  Obedience is learned.  It isn't "soaked in" through osmosis, nor is it something delivered to us on a silver platter.  Obedience is learned - through wrong responses, right choices, and even avoided mistakes.  Desires aren't changed overnight - so obedience isn't an overnight thing either.  What we need to understand and accept is that obedience is a daily choice - allowing more and more of our desires to be ruled over by the one who is most reliable - the Holy Spirit.  Just sayin!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ever jump the gun?

Have you heard the term "jumping the gun"?  In sporting events such as the 100 yard dash, a starting block is placed on the ground, runners squarely planting their feet in those blocks in order to give them a little "launch" into the race, and then they await the firing of the starter's pistol.  The starter will be poised, ready to pull the trigger, and the runners will be determined to be the first off the blocks.  Sometimes the runners "jump the gun" though. They make a false start - long before the gun fires, they will launch from their starting position and into "action" down the track.  As they recognize their error, they stop short, return to the blocks, and assume the position again.  Do it often enough and the runner can sometimes be disqualified from the race by those who have oversight for the race.  Why? Those false starts signal you aren't really paying attention as you need to be and you are outside of the permitted behavior of the runners.  If you are a little like me, even a tiny bit like me, you have made a few "false starts" in your day!  What we do in that moment when we realize we are running at full-bore without any real reason to be running the direction we are running is what matters.  Do we stop short and return to the block, paying closer attention, or do we just keep running, because after all, we are running in the general direction of the finish line?

Willingness and stupidity don’t go well together. If you are too eager, you will miss the road. We are ruined by our own stupidity, though we blame the Lord. (Proverbs 19:2-3 CEV)

Runners learn to "tune out" the various things which distract, like the crowd, those cheering or coaching from the sidelines, and even their own thoughts.  They learn to "tune into" the various sounds of the race.  They actually listen for the subtle click of the starter's gun being cocked, knowing they are about to launch into the race at a break-neck pace, and then they wait.  It is that moment between the clicking of the hammer being pulled back and the gun being raised into the air that the most false starts have the potential of being made.  Why? We anticipate the connection of the hammer once the trigger is pulled.  Anticipation is one of our biggest obstacles when we are trying to pay attention closely to what we are seeing and hearing.  Anticipation is simply a foretaste of what is to come.  When we hear the click of the hammer, we know the firing of the gun is not too far behind.  The moments in between may be infinitely small, but they make all the difference in keeping us from having to stop short and take our position all over again!

Why does the runner jump the gun?  Isn't it because they have foreknowledge of what is coming next?  This is exactly why we want to wait for the actual "command" to start to the race we are about to run.  The foreknowledge we may have is based on what we expect.  We may not have all the knowledge - because the starter is looking where we aren't - all around the track, at each runner's stance, and even at the sidelines.  Why?  The starter is ensuring all the runners are going to be safe when they launch from the starting blocks!  He isn't just casually firing that starting gun - he is anticipating the right moment when he sees everyone "settled into the blocks", course ahead without any hazards, and the attention of the runners astutely in tune with his every move.  God isn't much different from that starter - he is anticipating the right moment for us to "launch" from the blocks - but not until we settle into the blocks, focus our attention, and remove all the preconceived ideas of how the race will be run.  

The runners see what is immediately in front of them.  The starter sees the entire track.  He knows if there are hazards to be removed before the runners can safely take to the track. He also knows by the stance of the runners' bodies if they are ready for the race.  He isn't responsible to get them ready - but he is responsible for creating the best conditions for them to run the race!  We might take a lesson here - God is sometimes waiting on us to be ready to run the race - getting ourselves focused enough to hear the gun, confident he has our safety in mind, and tuning out all the other distractions which beckon for our attention.

I have run a few races in my years, and I have botched a whole lot of starts.  One thing I know for sure - you sometimes just need to stop, shake it off, return to the blocks and get in the zone again.  You cannot just keep running.  The return to the blocks may be a little humiliating when you realize you were the only one out there running, but if we let our pride get in the way, we will just be running aimlessly, disqualifying us from ever winning the race in the end anyway.  So, rather than get all wigged out about having to admit we jumped the gun, let's get real about not paying attention, and being a little distracted or too caught up in the anticipation of what we thought was going to happen.  In the end, it is this honest appraisal of the situation which makes us more ready when the gun finally does fire!  Just sayin!

Friday, September 25, 2015

No more dead batteries

We sometimes forget to leave what is in the past in the past, but there are some things we might do well to remember from our past.  One such thing is the work of Christ in our lives.  In the past, we were spiritually dead - kind of like our lives had dead batteries.  All the pieces were there to make us all we should and could be, but there wasn't a "charge" in us which could actually get us moving as we should be moving.  Before Christ energized our spirits with his own, we were dead - without any spark of life.  After he energized us, we were made alive - nothing stood in the way of the current of grace infusing each and every aspect of our lives with his life-giving spark. Nothing we used to do or be matters anymore because the grace of Christ became the life-giving force which now drives us.

In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God. You followed the ways of this world and obeyed the devil. He rules the world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn't obey God. Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else. But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much he made us alive with Christ, and God's gift of undeserved grace is what saves you. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. God did this so in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. This is why he sent Christ to make us what we are. Ephesians 2:1-10 CEV

Think about a dead battery in your car for a moment. The battery is there and so are all the other parts of the engine which actually can propel the car forward once the gears are put into position. What does not happen when the battery is dead is the passage of energy which actually turns the engine over when the ignition switch is hit. Try as you might, you can crank and crank to ignite the power contained within that engine, but no amount of our own effort will produce the force needed to ignite the fuel until there is "juice" in the battery sufficient to ignite it.  In our old way of living apart from Christ, we may have done a whole lot of "cranking" to attempt to produce signs of life, but that was all for naught because the next time we went to reproduce that same action we could not because there was no spiritual "ignition" of that spark.  We didn't need new batteries, but rather we needed the battery we possessed to become fully charged. We all were born with a spirit, but that spirit lacked the "charge" necessary to consistently produce the same reliable energizing of our lives each and every time. We needed more than a jump start - we needed a total charge. This s God's gift to us - not just a jump start in this walk, but the continual "hook up" to the source which continually reignites us. This is the action of grace in our lives. 

A battery is in the position of doing the work it is designed to do when it is in place under the hood of our car. Yet it cannot function as it is designed until it is fully charged and there is an opportunity to 'discharge' the energy it contains. When we are given a place in Christ, we are in the right position to experience life. When we stay connected to the flow of his energizing force we find our batteries maintain the charge to consistently produce the spark which ignites us to do good works. We are daily being renewed in this spiritual energy because we remain connected to the source of that energy. Disconnect even for a short while and we "run down". We were designed for daily renewal, not just a once in a while recharge!  As I have said before, grace is both a one time thing, and a continually renewing source. It is what gives us right position and it is also what maintains us in that position so we can be consistently alive and fully 'operational'.  In the past, we were made new.  In the present, we are continually renewed. We keep turning to the source of connection because it is where we find our source of continually renewable 'spiritual energy'.

Grace has a source - Christ. The work of grace has a purpose in our lives - to energize our spirits with the life which comes from Christ alone. Until we realize a dead battery only takes up space but isn't functioning as designed, we don't know the power of a fully charged battery. Once we experience that 'charge' we don't want to be without the power which fully energizes and ignites life within. The only source of renewable energy in a spiritual sense is found in the continual connection we maintain through God's grace. Maybe we need to focus on the connection, not just that we have the battery!  Just sayin!

I am God's favorite

Okay, okay...I hate to break the news to you, but I am God's favorite child!  Now, I know this may come as a surprise to you, but God actually favors me as his favorite.  How do I know this?  Simple - he corrects me a lot!  That one fact, according to scripture, indicates I am his "favorite"!  Okay, I don't have an over-inflated ego or anything, but it warms my heart to know God actually "favors" me - by showing his love to me through his correction.  I never got all that excited about the correction of my parents when I was a little kid - in fact, I kind of thought they might just have needed a little intervention to know how warped they were in their parenting!  As they disciplined me, I thought they probably were the worst parents in the whole wide world and there was no one stricter, meaner, or less "loving" than they were.  How warped was that impression!  In the moment of discipline, nothing is pleasant, but when we step back enough from it, we see how loving those actions were.  They were intended to correct our course because we were not on the best one.  

My child, don’t turn away or become bitter when the Lord corrects you. The Lord corrects everyone he loves, just as parents correct their favorite child. (Proverbs 3:11-12 CEV)

Lest you think I had parents from down under (and I don't mean Australia), they were awesome parents.  During my formative years, though, they didn't exactly peg out on the scale of terrible to awesome in the awesome category, if you know what I mean!  My mind just couldn't see the wisdom in their discipline - at least not while I was going through it! I don't think I was alone in that feeling because I have heard a lot of other people indicate how "unfair" or "unjust" they thought their parents were in some of their discipline until they got to be adults and raised kids of their own.  Then, as though some switch flipped on, we found ourselves doing and saying things our own parents had done and said all those years before. Why?  We recognized the wisdom in their actions!

As a child, I became angry and sometimes a little bitter toward my parents - reflected in my rebellion against their authority in my life.  The issue wasn't their discipline, because it was always done with a heart of love, but rather my willingness to see it as a sign of their tremendous love for me.  We often face God's discipline in our lives in much the same way - seeing it as "unjust" or "unfair" instead of realizing it is the greatest sign of his love toward us. We want the warm hugs and cool gifts he gives, but when it comes to experiencing a little bit of his discipline, we turn against his hand.  

God loves us too much to allow us to continue in our "undisciplined" state.  Whatever we are doing and the thinking behind those actions are the object of his attention because we are the object of his affection!  We need to recognize God doesn't relish having to show us when we are thinking or doing things which will bring harm into our lives - he'd rather we didn't get ourselves into these places in the first place.  When we are about to enter them or just blindly run into those places of compromise and decisions based on feelings alone, he often opposes us with some form of discipline - not to harm us, but to keep us from going any further because he knows that path will be what harms us.

God isn't just "there" in our lives, he is there when we need him most and when we don't even think about him.  That means there will be times when we don't even know our actions are about to be taking us down the wrong path, but he is ever-watchful of us to insure we are soon aware of the danger in the choice we are about to make.  I think my parents did a lot to "sculpt" my conscience, often hearing their voice telling me I was about to do something I'd find some negative consequences coming into my life if I took those first steps.  I don't consider that a bad thing today, because I know it was that "voice" which kept me from going where I should not go on more than one occasion.  Did I resist it?  Yes.  Did I know better on occasion?  Yes.  Did they love me despite my actions?  Always!

God is the same - he disciplines us as though we were each his favorite child.  No one is an exception.  No one is outside of his love.  No one matters more to him that you!  Just sayin!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A plucked apple...

Standing up to anything is kind of hard - especially when it is bigger than you are, stronger, or just plain annoying.  You might want to muster the internal strength to just counteract that object's strength, towering presence, or plaguing niggling, but you find it almost impossible to do so each and every time.  Why?  We are inherently weak and will succumb to the pressure over time if we are only willing to rely upon our own strength, might, or ability to overcome whatever that pressure is.  Temptation is a form of pressure - sometimes from within our own selves, while at others from some outside source, but pulling at something within us nonetheless.  Temptation doesn't have any "pull" if we don't first have some kind of weakness within us which allows that outward pressure to tug at something inside of each of us.  This is important for us to realize, because if we can see this association, it is the first step of breaking free of the "pull".  Here is something else I have learned over the years - it is impossible to reattach an apple to a tree once it has been plucked from the branch!  

Even if you think you can stand up to temptation, be careful not to fall. You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations. (I Corinthians 10:12-13 CEV)

We might think we can toy with temptation a little, like when we twist an apple on a branch just a little.  If that apple was ready to leave the branch, getting close to the time it was ready to be called "ripe", that subtle twisting would be all it took for that apple to let go and now be in your hands.  The more we play with sin, the more easily it will "drop into our hands".  We have no power to put it back on the branch - we simply are left "dealing with it" because it is now ours!

There are times when we are tempted by the appearance of something - drawn in by our eyes and the "promise" of something wonderful.  A green apple on the branch isn't very enticing to us at first, but given a little time, it will begin to turn to the lush red color.  When it does, we are drawn by the color - enticed by the promise of something wonderful.  Sin is that way in our lives - it doesn't get us drawn in when we first notice it is present - just like we didn't pay much attention to the green apple on the branch.  Yet, when we have considered it long enough, going back to it time and time again to "examine it", we are drawn in by the promise of something wonderful because of what "appears" to be that way.

The truth is often realized way too late, though.  The red apple which promised rich and luscious sweetness may still be very bitter on the inside!  We might have been duped by the appearance, but we cannot be fooled by the bitter taste it leaves in our mouths.  Sin isn't much different - it might appear one way, but when finally experienced fully, it leaves nothing but bitterness for the one who partook.  As with the appearance of something wonderful, the pull of temptation is also made easier because of our other senses which get us emotionally "connected" with the thing which tempts us so easily.

The apple tree provides shade with a lush cover of leaves and the rippling peacefulness of the breeze gently flowing through the orchard.  The scent of the apples ripening gives off an aroma of sweetness, enticing us in a little closer.  The coolness of the fruit as we run our fingers over the surface of the apple, experiencing the beauty of the outer peel of the fruit with our touch makes us "want" to experience the perceived "delight" of what is on the inside of that apple.  The low hanging fruit on some of the branches make it even easier and more enticing to experience the apple. Yet, we can never forget this - we are drawn in by our eyes, ears, sense of touch, etc.  The apple can never be put back - once it is plucked, we are left to deal with it!

The shade of the tree provides cover - something we long for if we are about to sin.  We often get pulled into a place of what we believe to be "cover" when it comes to succumbing to temptation - so if we begin to recognize when we are being drawn into places of "cover", we might actually avoid being in the place where the "fruit" is available to us!  Plucked fruit is either eaten or discarded - plain and simple.  I have heard it said man can observe the number of seeds in an apple, but only God can know the number of apples in a seed. I think this may give us a little insight into why we need to rely upon the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives when it comes to avoiding the "apple"!  We might think there is little harm in plucking the fruit now and again, but God knows the potential in the seed.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The best laid plans...don't trust 'em!

Why do we trust the people we do in our lives?  If we were honest with ourselves, we'd discover it is because they might just exhibit some type of strength or ability we don't - so we come to rely upon them and trust them fully with that aspect of our lives.  What is inherent in trust is this ability or willingness to rely upon someone other than yourself.  There are times when the only person we do trust is ourselves - but I have to ask you how that has been working for you?  If you are at all like me, you might just occasionally have over-inflated impression of your own ability or strength - trying to tough it out on your own when God has in mind for you to walk it out with another!

Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way. Don’t trust in your own wisdom, but fear and respect the Lord and stay away from evil. If you do this, it will be like a refreshing drink and medicine for your body. (Proverbs 3:5-8 ERV)

George MacDonald said, "To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved."  Think about that one for just a moment.  Most of us would say the two go hand-in-hand.  If there is no trust, there can be no love.  Yet, many say they love the other person in the relationship, but they do things all the time which declare that love as lacking or deficient and the trust is broken.  This is just not possible with God.  He cannot betray his love - he cannot violate the trust we place in him.  It is impossible because it is so contrary to what his character is that he cannot possibly violate that trust.  Recognizing this may actually be the very beginning of a deeper relationship with him - trusting him with the things we have tried to manage all by ourselves all this time, but having not done a very good job with at all.

Whenever we are drawn into the believe we possess all the knowledge we need in order to "figure out" one of life's many dilemmas, we are certainly establishing a framework for failure in our lives.  Truth be told, we possess only a fraction of the intellect we need in most circumstances and just barely make it through to the other side of the issue unscathed because we were just lucky enough to avoid harm!  It is like when I put a cold pork chop into hot grease on the stove.  I can expect the hot grease to react to the cold chop by spitting at me a little.  How do I know this?  I now possess knowledge of this reaction because I was burned a couple of times!  This is how we learn many a lesson in our lives - getting burned a few more times than we ever wanted to.  Wouldn't it be better to learn our lessons from one who knows what to expect in the circumstance rather than trying to navigate through the circumstance blindly?

The instruction to us today is to learn to think about what God wants for our lives - to actually trust him enough to believe he has a plan worked out which we can rely upon as what we should be walking in at that very moment.  With every step you take, think about what he wants - not what we imagine, or what we might want overriding that desire he has for us.  The key we might miss in this passage is this conscious awareness of thought which considers what each step we take might look like through his eyes.  If we'd just learn to ask him if the direction we are taking is wise for us at this juncture in our lives, we might just take a few steps in the opposite direction, relying more upon what is unseen, but IN WHOM we know we can trust fully.

Trust isn't the absence of the unknown - it is the ability to rely fully upon what is known while encountering what is unknown.  When we do more than just "run things past God" in a casual or nonchalant manner, we might just avoid a few pitfalls in this life.  I have developed an ongoing dialogue with God throughout the course of my day, not so much because I "have" to run everything I do "past him", but because I know his wisdom is reliable and my half-cocked, poorly-planned "best laid plans" may not always get me the same results his will!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Given, Found, Recognized, and Experienced

There are times in life when we just need to sit back and consider what we already have. Yep, we are so busy moving forward to get what we don't have that we sometimes forget about the importance or significance of what we already have.  This is never more important than we stop long enough to consider what it is we have in Christ Jesus.  This one takes a bit of time to think about - because we might not fully appreciate the many blessings we have received in Christ simply because we haven't discovered them fully yet!  In times of considering what we have in Christ, we might just discover we have something we never new we had! 

Think about what we have in Christ: the encouragement he has brought us, the comfort of his love, our sharing in his Spirit, and the mercy and kindness he has shown us. If you enjoy these blessings, then do what will make my joy complete: Agree with each other, and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think. (Philippians 2:1-2 ERV)

The things we can immediately think of are probably the things we are most frequently thanking him for - such as our good health, the ability to work, the food on the table, or the money to pay the mortgage.  The things we may not consistently associate with being in our lives and a blessing to us are those things we want to consider today.  Let's look a little deeper, shall we?

- In Christ, we have been given encouragement.  I like to think of this as "in-courage-ment". In other words, he comes alive inside each of us and in that process of bringing new life, he gives us a courage to reach beyond what we imagined or knew to be possible in our lives. He stimulates us internally to be or do what we have never done or been.  When facing difficulty, danger, or painful situations, we are enabled (in-abled) to respond according to his power, never wavering in the peace he gives us.  IN us, courage takes root and new life begins to bloom.  Take notice - it is not a courage which somehow gets mustered from within a man or woman.  It is a courage which is brought to us.  In essence, we don't possess what it takes - so he brings us all we need!

- In Christ, we find the comfort of his love.  I like a sweet poster I see now and again on social media with two love birds, nestling neck to neck on a branch high in a tree.  The caption simply reads, "Love isn't something you find.  Love is something that finds you." When this love is that which comes from God, it is like a heat-seeking missile - it just doesn't miss the mark!  There is comfort in being enveloped in love - not just emotional highs, but a deeply appreciated and deeply experienced  sense of well-being and honor.  God's love not only embraces us, it holds us.  This is why we find comfort in it - because it gives us stability and it builds us up like nothing else ever can.

- In Christ, we recognize we share his Spirit.  I like my pastor's simple explanation of the triune God (the Trinity).  For years and years I tried to make sense of the Trinity.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - three, yet one.  How on earth does that one work.  Well, as Pastor Chad says, we need to stop thinking of it as "one plus one plus one", but rather as "one times one time one".  The Spirit of God is alive within us - so the "three in one" God of the universe dwells within us, complete with all his power, grace, and love.  This means we have an igniting force within - something akin to that which began the work of creation years and years ago.  Stopping to consider that for just a moment, you and I have absolutely the greatest hope for change deep within our lives - the Spirit of the Creator!  Change is possible! It isn't too far away or too hard to reach.  It is right there resident within.  

- In Christ, we experience mercy and kindness.  Far outreaching any other mercy man has ever shown, or kindness ever expressed in our lives - his mercy and kindness are experienced on a deeper and more consistent plane than any other we may have known. Mercy is receiving what we don't deserve.  Kindness is the extension of the gentle and helping hand of God when and where we most need it.  These two go hand in hand, for God's grace (getting what we don't deserve) is really manifest in his hand bringing us into a place we didn't achieve in our own ability or strength.

I don't want us to miss four very important words:  Given, Find, Recognize, and Experience. We don't come to appreciate any of the things above apart from knowing what or who we have been given; finding what we most need; recognizing the significance of the one who indwells us fully; and experiencing the immensity of his grace.  Just sayin!

Monday, September 21, 2015

You are special!

Special:  Distinguished or different from what is usual or ordinary.  Did you ever stop to think of yourself as "special"?  If you haven't, here are some things you may not have considered in thinking of yourself as "special".  A "special" person has a specific purpose in life.  They are particularly "valued".  They have a distinct character.  Now, does that describe you?  It does if you are a child of the Lord!  He declares us to be all of these things and more! As his kids, we have been called to a special purpose - to serve him faithfully.  As his children, we are valued above all other things within his focus.  As his "kin", we are given a very distinctive character as a matter of our "inherited" nature (the nature of Christ birthed within us).  We are indeed "special".


You can be sure that anyone who serves the Lord faithfully is special to him. The Lord listens when I pray to him. (Psalm 4:3 ERV)


Anyone who serves the Lord faithfully is special to him.  Two conditions:  Service and Faithfulness.  They go hand-in-hand and cannot easily be separated.  They indeed describe the activity of a child of the King of Kings.  Service implies being active in some form of endeavor.  Sometimes it is easier to understand the meaning of a term by looking at the exact opposite of the term.  For example, when we look at the antonym (exact opposite) of service we find the words "hindrance" and "disfavor".  In other words, when we are not serving Jesus as we were designed to serve him, we are a hindrance not only to ourselves, but to the advancement of his kingdom on this earth.  We bring "disfavor" or cause others to disregard the beauty and importance of his love and grace.  So, being of service to him means we don't live as "barriers" to the evidence of his love and grace in this world.

Faithfulness is descriptive of the character trait of allegiance or trustworthiness.  In essence, the child of God is aligned with is purpose - moving according to his plans - and is totally committed to the course outlined by him.  There isn't this resistance to the "plan", but a commitment to stick with it, even when it gets a little rougher than we imagined.  The opposite of faithfulness is "disloyalty" or "inconsistency".  In essence, the child of God is to be both "loyal" and "consistent" or "constant" in their dedication to his purpose.  Now, at first this seems a little simplified, but we all know how especially hard it is to remain consistent with anything in our lives!  We are easily distracted people!  We find all kinds of things to focus our attention on without much effort at all!

Putting these two together is important - we cannot serve without faithfulness being the hallmark of that service.  We cannot be faithful in our service without Christ first bringing us close enough to him to know just how very special we are to him.  Some of us have no real concept of being "special" to anyone - let alone Jesus.  In times past, others have told us how insignificant we were in the scheme of things, or that our contributions really don't matter when it came to the good of the whole.  Here is the truth - we are declared and made special in God's family.  Declared special by God himself.  Made special through the creative work of his hands and the determined passion of his love.

Assurance is something which comes from really believing something - standing upon it as though your very life depended on it.  This is what our writer has in mind when he says we can "be sure" that we are special to God.  We can stand with assurance - not because we "do" anything to become special to him, but because we are "made special" by him.  We have been transformed - created anew.  In that one act in our lives, we are made into what he already declared us to be - "special".  You see, we aren't "special" to God after we come to Christ - we are declared "special" to him even before we said "yes"!  He loved us enough to seek us our as the objects of his affection - even before we learned to serve him or be faithful in the pursuit of his grace and love in our lives on an everyday basis.  This might just help us to understand "special" in a whole new light.  Being "special" to God means he sees us as anything other than ordinary - and he makes us all things "extraordinary" by his grace and love bestowed lavishly in our lives.  Just sayin!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting free - living free

Enable:  to make able; give power or ability; to provide the means; and to authorize a particular action.  If we consider what it means to be "enabled", then consider who is doing the enabling, we might just begin to see our course of action as different than what we might have originally believed it ever could be.  For example, if I believed I might be able to attend college, obtain a degree in a particular field of study, and then become a proficient member of that profession, I might take a certain set of actions to accomplish this dream.  On the other hand, if I know the cost of that tuition will exceed whatever my family could possibly afford, I might settle for a profession similar, but lest costly to attain because of those limitations.  I might pursue some educational grants and even some student loans, but I know these loans can cost me much more on the back end than they may be worth.  So, I might not find much encouragement there.  Yet, if a school sought me out, offering to pay my full tuition costs, even my books and lab fees, I might be encouraged on a whole new level, believing with a true assurance this dream was going to become a reality.  What made the difference is the "enabling" effect of having the huge weight of the tuition removed from the equation.  The school provided the means by which the dream could be accomplished. Yep, I would still have to work toward the degree with all the effort and tenacity of a good student, but what stood in my way would have been removed and that provides me with the ability to focus on those studies even more intently.  There is something about being enabled to do something which gives us a certain freedom or liberty to pursue it with a greater passion and purpose, isn't there?

God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes. (Philippians 2:13 CEB)

Now, imagine your spiritual goals.  You should have some, you know!  If you don't, then maybe that is the place to start - with an honest conversation with God about what it is in your life which needs some adjustment in order to be a better example of his love and grace. Those spiritual goals may seem a little lofty at first - like wanting to be free of some life-dominating sin or point of consistent compromise in your life.  You might not imagine yourself fully "free" of those things, but you can "hope" there might be a point when you would be out from under their weight.  At first, the impossibility of "being on the other side" of the habit, sinful pattern, or consistent compromise seems a little bit like you will never be "truly free", but you know scripture declares that you are not only "set free", but being continually "renewed" in that pattern of being "set free".  This is referred to in two terms in theological circles:  Salvation and Sanctification.  Salvation makes you free (you are saved out of whatever it is you were in bondage to).  Sanctification makes you continually free (helping you to live free of those bonds over and over again until you stop returning to the place of your bondage completely).  

An elephant can be chained to the immediate ten foot radius around a peg and a chain attached to his rear leg.  For a while, he will pull and pull at that staked chain to attempt to be free.  In time he will come to think his "freedom" only consists of the ten foot radius around that pegged chain.  In a while, he could even be unlocked from that chain and he wouldn't move out of that area.  Why?  He has developed the pattern of bondage.  He has accepted his confined place and no longer believes he can escape it.  Sin is kind of like that in our lives - for a long time we might resist the hold it has on us and even chafe against it a little.  Given enough struggling to be "free" of that sin and we might just come to the place we give up on ever being free.  At salvation, the moment we say "yes" to Jesus, the chain is loosed and the shackle is removed.  If we only focus on the thing which held us in bondage for so long, we may never explore the freedom outside of that ten foot radius!  We will believe we are still bound - but if we get outside of that radius even just a little, we begin to experience life as it should be - free and full of good things God intends for us to enjoy fully.

God removes the shackles and even pulls up the peg, removing both the evidence of the bondage and the possibility of bondage from our path.  What he sometimes counts on us to do for ourselves is look beyond the rut we have dug for ourselves around that peg!  The elephant will wear a path in that ten foot radius - much like we wear a path into our lives with the repetitiveness of some particular habit or sin.  It may even take a little effort to get out of the rut if we have been traveling in that ten foot radius for a long time!  But...Jesus doesn't leave us in the rut, nor does he limit us in anyway.  He totally removes all the reminders of the bondage - but we have to change our thought pattern about our bondage. We need to realize we are free!  The elephant doesn't realize he is free - because he has accepted his position around that staked chain.  If we want to be free, we need to be enabled to be free (shackles / bondage removed) and then we need to be "authorized" to take the steps outside of that place of bondage (enabled again and again until we learn to walk in our freedom).  The elephant may need a little goading to move beyond the ten foot radius - we might just need the same!

No freedom comes without a little work on our part.  Jesus does the "lion's share" of the work - enabling us to be free and then authorizing us to live in that freedom.  Our part is to take the first step into that freedom.  Then the second, third, and so on.  Until we learn to stop returning to the place of our bondage, we won't be truly free.  Remember this - there is no stake or shackle left in that place!  It has been fully removed!  When we return to the place of our bondage, it is because we remember it well - we need to have our remembrance changed!  This is why God reminds us of the importance of daily renewing our thoughts - in order to begin to form a new view of our place of bondage - as something we don't really need or want to return to ever again.  It would be silly for us to stand around in the same place forever when all the shackles have been removed which held us in that spot for so long. So, let's allow the Holy Spirit to change our remembrance of the spot of our bondage and help us to form new memories of our liberty!  Just sayin!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I got your back!

To understand the meaning of the "therefore" in scripture, you have to consider what it is "there for". If we keep in mind this word is used as a means of joining supporting thought together, we will then be encouraged to look at what precedes the therefore to see what it is there for.  In this passage, Paul has just finished telling the believers at Philippi they need to live worthy of Christ's gospel.  The gospel is just another way of saying the good news Christ brings into the lives of those he touches. It isn't just the set of scripture we have which we call our Bible, but the Words of God which set at liberty the bound spirit and distressed soul.  In essence, Paul is reminding us of the importance of being "united" in thought, purpose, and action.  We aren't to have our own little way of doing things while others have their own - but are to live in harmony with each other, learning from one another, and drawing closer and closer to Christ in the process.  Unity is more than having a few things in common, but it is a mindset and determination to be consistently living in a manner which honors the other people around us.  Paul knew there would be a continual struggle to remain faithful to the gospel, especially in the face of persecution, conflicting opinion, and beliefs which concluded their faith to be in vain.  Most of the time we don't need reminders that we have enemies - it is pretty apparent whenever we try to take even one step forward because their opposition is ever-present. In the face of all this, we are to stand strong and there is no other way to do so than to be focused on the unity of faith we are to maintain.  At this revelation, Paul enters with the "therefore" - selfish purpose will destroy this unity, so be sure to guard against it.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2:1-4 CEB)

It is as though Paul is asking if there is any way we can stand with each other in such a way so as to bolster one another's confidence to stand strong in midst of the hard times we will face.  It is this "standing with" which Paul has in mind as the means by which many will be able to not only endure the trials they will face, but come out victorious on the other side of them.  We share the same Spirit - the Spirit of Christ - that makes us "kin" to one another.  "Kin" is supposed to look out for "kin". I know that seems a little elementary, but in a world which really focuses more on "what's in it for me" than "what can I do for another to bless them" this thought is not really as well understood as some may think.

Working together with one heart, mind, and purpose.  The heart is the seat of our emotions, so if we can get the emotional balance to not be so easily swayed by this influence or that one, then we might stand a better chance of being united in our purpose.  The mind is the place of thought or consideration. It can be the beginning of many a right action, but also many a selfish belief or purpose.  If we get the emotions under control and the mind aligned with God's mind, then the purpose we begin to operate within will be solid.  To this end, Paul asks us to consider our heart, mind, and allow our purpose to begin to be united under the banner of Christ's love and grace.

It takes some doing to make this "shift" in our way of thinking and operating in life. It is easy to be swayed by the most powerful of emotions - often discounting rational thought in pursuit of what feels "better" or "best" to us at the moment.  This is why we cannot rely upon how we feel when it comes to taking steps toward or away from anything in life.  If we relied solely upon our emotions, we'd be going a hundred different directions each week because they are up one day and down the next. While emotions lend the "stuff" to life which helps us to really experience the depth of joy and excitement, or the tranquility of true peace, we cannot count on our emotions to always steer us in the right direction.

Herein comes the help we lend to each other in relationship - we help to restore balance when emotion has been allowed to captivate our thoughts in any irrational or unreasonable way. We act as "check and balance" for one another.  In so doing, we are helping to maintain the unity which will drive us forward as a strong force to be reckoned with!  If we want strength it comes in more than just numbers!  Numbers of people all together is just a crowd.  Numbers of people united in purpose is an army to be reckoned with!  I don't know about you, but I want to walk closer to Jesus because of the people I am united with in my daily life.  I want to enjoy a greater sense of peace in my life because of the strength this unity produces.  I want to have a stability in my thoughts which produce consistency in my actions.  In essence, I want to know others are watching out for me, and I need them to know I am watching out for them!  Just sayin!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Never let the fire go out

I love to study the meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices, complete with the Law of Moses and the things which were established as signs or symbols of the promise of the Messiah and the action he would take in our lives at his coming.  The Old Testament can be a bit hard to read through, especially since it seems like there is a lot of blood wars, blood sacrifices, bad things happening, and a whole lot of sinning going on!  I take heart in all of this, though, because I see regular people, struggling to make a way in a regular world, and meeting with regular issues we all have to encounter.  So, instead of slugging through, I look for the hidden truths and things we might otherwise overlook if we were just reading these chapters as "historical content".  One such passage is this one I am sharing this morning. In the Book of Leviticus, much instruction was given to the priests on how they were conduct their daily business in offering of sacrifices.  In the instructions given to Moses for the priests, sacrifices, holy days, and special feast days, there is rich meaning pointing us toward the one who would become the ultimate blood sacrifice, making ultimate atonement once and for all for all of mankind's sins.  As Moses is receiving some of these instructions from the Lord and passing them onto the Tribe of Levi (the Levite priests), we come along this passage in Leviticus where we see the instruction to "tend the fire" of the altar - something which was never to go out.  I don't know about you, but I have tended some fires in my day and keeping it so that it never went out was a chore.  You'd have to gather the wood, keep enough alongside the fire to tend it even when bad weather made it hard to do so, and then you'd have to stir the embers frequently enough to infuse the fire with that "stoking" heat it often needed to ignite afresh.  I don't think this is too different from what has to happen in our own spiritual lives each and every day if we are to have a continual "burning" within our spirit which keeps us "on fire" in our relationship with Jesus.

The fire must never go out, so put wood on it each morning. After this, you are to lay an animal on the altar next to the fat that you sacrifice to ask my blessing. Then send it all up in smoke to me. The altar fire must always be kept burning—it must never go out. (Leviticus 6:12-13 CEV)

The altar fire must never go out.  It was to be tended - never left unattended.  It had to be stoked - not left to burn down to ashes.  It had to be able to consume what was placed upon the altar - so it had to burn hot.  It had to be "mobile" or easily moved - as the Israelites were a "nomadic" people for quite a while until they settled into the land of Canaan.  All of these important facts could easily be glossed over in this accounting of how the sacrifices were to be prepared and offered - but without fire, all the sacrifices would be nothing more than a rotting pile of flesh, putrid in the odor which it would give off, and festering with all manner of parasite and disease.  I think this also speaks to the importance of fire - it had to be able to consume and turn what would otherwise be a rotting pile of mess into a savory delight.

- Your heart fire must be tended and attended.  What gets our attention gets tended - plain and simple.  If we turn away from tending that spiritual fire, it is easy for it to begin to go out. So, diligence must be maintained in ensuring we are consistent in tending it.  Whenever we tend something, we are directing our attention toward the object we are tending - it means we narrow our focus to see just what we need to be paying attention to and then we do something.  It is not enough to just look like we are tending our spiritual growth - we actually need to be attending to it!  We need to be actively engaged in taking care of our spiritual lives - not just passively going about life hoping God will help us to grow.

- Your heart fire must burn hot.  The only fire which burns hot is that which has sufficient fuel, a "heat source", and sufficient oxygen to burn.  Embers produce a heat source - fuel is another matter which requires our attention.  If you have ever tried to keep a campfire or fireplace burning through the night, you know just how much wood it requires.  There is quite a bit of planning which must be put into keeping the fire "hot" throughout the night hours.  The store of wood has to be sufficient - it cannot be spindly branches - for those will be consumed way too quickly.  Although they help stoke the fire as kindling to reignite the embers, they quickly are consumed and burn out.  We need the "large logs" in order to keep the fire burning.  This means we cannot expect to go through life on short bursts of "fuel" for our fire spiritually.  We need to plan ahead for those larger "infusions" of life-giving fuel.  It may mean we need to take time to really get into the meat of the Word, or just get time alone with God to listen attentively to what he has for us that day.  We need "logs"!

- Your heart has to be available.  The altar was available to receive the sacrifices placed upon it - it had one purpose - to receive the sacrifice.  Our hearts have one purpose - to be the throne of God's grace and love in our lives.  I think we often get so focused on how we dress, how our hair looks, and whether we drive the right car to make us look successful and forget all the while that the heart is really the most important part of what is "on display" in our lives.  The altar stood there, ready to receive.  I think this is what makes us effective in our day - to be ready to receive what God lays upon our hearts.  Then we consume it fully and it becomes that sweet savor which emanates from our lives.

- Your heart must be movable.  This may be one of the most important parts of the the fire we might just miss if we gloss over these words.  The Israelites were on the move a great deal of the time in their first forty years or so as a nation.  In this time, they could not just let the fires die out and then make a "new one" later on when they settled somewhere.  In fact, they'd stoke the coals, heap them into earthen jars, and then carry those burning hot embers to the next place they'd erect the altar.  I think God looks for us to be ever-ready to move when he says "move" and then to be ready to get down to business when he says to "stay".  The fire must never go out - if it is abandoned, it will surely die out.  God's fire within can be abandoned by our neglect - but if we are constantly alert to his voice, we will be ready to move when called upon and eager to "dig in" when he shows us it is time to just settle into what he has for us to do.

We have a role in keeping the fire burning in our lives - God may give the initial spark, but we tend it ever so carefully, my friends!  Just sayin!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A waterfall lesson or two

There is a song which has been running through my head all night.  I often awake with a tune of some sorts just running over and over in my mind.  It isn't that I am all that musically inclined, but I think it is my desire to praise God with my life which gives me this song deep within.  As I rehearsed the lines over and over, something began to speak to me from those few words of the song.  Let me share the words of the song are from an album entitled "Love Ran Red" by Chris Tomlin.  The song is "Waterfall" and the words which kept "tumbling" in my head:  "Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall..."  The second remembered set of words from the song probably speak the loudest to me: "It's coming like a flood; I'm dancing in the rain.  Everything I've done is covered in rivers of grace...Amazing".  Those who have followed me for a while know I truly think there is nothing more amazing in this life than grace!  Grace is given when least deserved, cannot be earned no matter how hard you try, and is meaningless until it is embraced and allowed to embrace you.  Chris Tomlin's words in his song began to speak to me afresh last night - why?  I think it was because God wanted me to be reminded again of his great love and how it is a place of safety, refreshing, and life.   

But I am like an olive tree growing in God’s house, and I can count on his love forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8 CEV)

Why a waterfall?  Why was that the focus of the words which kept coming to mind?  I thought a while on the things I know about waterfalls and those which I have seen in my travels.  I have been deafened by their roar, refreshed by their far-flung mist, and amazed at the brilliance of their cascading beauty.  Maybe this is why I reflected upon these words for so long - they pointed me to the very things I appreciate about my Lord and Savior!  His voice is clear and consistent.  He refreshes me in times of dryness and fatigue.  He gives beauty where there is only barrenness.  In the words of this song, his love is like waterfall - running wild and free.  That is how God's love comes into our lives - wild and free.  It invigorates, restores, and sounds afresh the tunes of his majesty deep within the recesses of our souls.

Some lessons from the waterfalls I have observed:

- They cascade downward.  I haven't seen a waterfall yet which flows upward!  If we consider for just a moment all that we know about God's love, a waterfall might just be the image which gives us a moment to consider the awesomeness of a love which continually flows downward toward us.  His love flows from his throne into the very recesses of our lives - it flows toward us and draws us into its refreshing flow.

- They create a distinctive noise.  As the waters cascade downward, the noise created can sometimes be deafening, while it is quite alluring to the senses.  There is something about that noise which draws us in - we are moved toward it, not away from it.  Even the great Niagara Falls, with their deafening roar will draw in millions each year.  The sound of his voice is awe-inspiring, but it draws us in and enthralls us with its majesty.

- They run clear and clean.  I have observed the beauty of the waterfall, clear, crisp waters cascading from heights far above me.  Even the smaller falls seem to cascade their beauty in the crisp and clear waters which come tumbling down toward the grounds below.  The white color of the falls remind me of the purity of God's voice - clear, clean, and crisp.  

- They often are not fully contained.  As the waters tumble downward, the mists of water which drift out from the falling water as it cascades and tumbles along the course rocks it encounters can be felt often many, many feet away from those falls.  That mist not only refreshes, it gives life to the things drawn into its path.

- They don't freeze over and stop flowing in winter season.  In fact, the falls continue to run deep beneath the snowy cover and icy flow which may develop as a "crust" upon the top of the falls.  Deep within, the falls continue their downward cascade, bringing life even in the seasons of deepest freeze. This speaks to me about never considering things as "barren" and "lifeless" wherever God's love is free-flowing.

- They often are a shelter.  Behind those great tumbling waters, there are often spaces carved out which provide the most optimum shelter - almost unobserved by many.  The secret place within the falls is home to those who will take shelter there - but it is a shelter one must find in order to enjoy! 

God's love is like a waterfall - tumbling free.  His grace is cascading downward - for you and me. God's love envelopes the weak - making new the heart and lifting high the spirit of a fallen soul. Consider the majesty of that love and walk deeply into the secret place he has prepared for you in the waterfall of his love today!  You will find joy in its flow.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Working on making "second nature" become primary

What I choose to do versus what I am supposed to do is often quite different.  As mom and I sat at the local restaurant trying to decide what she wanted for breakfast (at 1 pm), she decided on two things - french toast and bacon.  The issue is that the breakfast with the bacon was too much for her, and I didn't want much to eat, either.  So, what to get, what to get?  In the end, I settled on the 55+ item which came with scrambled eggs, two pancakes, and two pieces of bacon.  As much as I love bacon (and I do enjoy the greasy, crispy stuff), I gave them to mom.  Mom was in heaven - she had the two things she craved for weeks. Now, lest you think I was doing some grandiose thing by giving her the bacon, I wasn't.  I have been trying to eat a little healthier these days and really need to work as hard as possible on correcting my diet as I am a little deficient in the good nutrients (such as potassium) and a little over-sated in the not so good stuff (cholesterol).  So, it was a thing more of obedience and denial.  There are times when we need to be reminded of what is important in life - like when God has to teach us what pleases him instead of us constantly focusing on what brings satisfaction or pleasure to our own lives.  We find it quite easy to focus on what we want (what we really, really want) and to ignore what he is asking (what he wants, really, really wants).  


Teach me to do what pleases you, because you are my God. Guide me by your good spirit into good land. (Psalm 143:10 CEB)


We need to be instructed in what pleases him because it doesn't come "naturally" to us. It is like when I choose the spinach salad over the chicken strips and fries.  I have a lot of reminders in this life to watch what I eat, but a wake up call from the doctor saying my potassium was seriously low made me take notice once again what I am putting in my body. If I were to be truthful here, it isn't that I don't know what is right to eat, I just settle for the stuff which is easiest to consume (takes less time), is available all the time, and is definitely not the best for me.  I think we sometimes approach the things God asks us to do as though they are too hard - we want the easiest and that which takes less time to realize.  It is only natural that we want to get at what we want in life in the quickest amount of time.  The issue is that God doesn't always reveal his timing or intention in the same speed as we want it!

I have said this before - to be taught one must be teachable in spirit, mind, and soul.  This means we must be open to what we are receiving - not just "attentive", but actively engaged in applying what we are receiving.  There is a difference - one involves passive listening while the other involves active involvement.  If I really want to learn something, I need to see one, then do one.  To really get it, I do it over and over again until I get consistency.  I have a few power tools in my little shop which I am learning to use with ease.  Some of them I am less familiar with because they kind of frighten me!  Others I am quite comfortable using, but I don't know if I am using them to their full advantage.  Do I understand what that torque thing-a-ma-jiggy is on cordless drill?  Nope, but I know it has something to do with not stripping the head on the screw as I land it into the wood.  Good enough for me!

I don't have a clue how to use the circular saw with any accuracy yet.  I cut as close to a straight line as possible, even using a straight edge to help me, but somehow I still manage to get a little "drift" in my alignment.  The issue isn't that I am not trying and using all the secrets people have taught me, it is something else.  I haven't practiced enough to become proficient with this tool.  The same might be true of some of the spiritual lessons we need to learn in life.  It isn't that we haven't received the information on what to do, it is that we haven't practiced doing it enough to have it really begin to be consistently how we do things in our lives.  Consistency is the key in learning - the more we do something, the easier it becomes to do it in the first place (like it becomes second nature to us).

For something to become "second nature" implies there is a "first nature" to deal with. This could not be truer in our lives than where it comes to obedience to the teachings of Christ. We have one way of seeing and doing things which may be totally opposed to God's way of seeing and doing those things.  We want what we want, what we really, really want.  All the while, we may know what God wants, but it is not yet "second nature" to us - we are following our instincts and desires of the first nature.  This is why God emphasizes the importance of renewal of the mind - for all action begins in thought and if we can wrap our heads around what God wants, we stand a better chance of actually doing it when we need to!  For God's nature to become primary in our lives, we need to allow what has been "first nature" to us for so long to be replaced with what some call "second nature" choices. The more we do this, the more "second nature" becomes primary nature!  Just sayin!