Saturday, October 31, 2015

How much of a threat are you?

As Jesus neared the time when he would be publicly humiliated, beaten, and then marched to his death on a cross, he also is found drawing near and sharing time with those he had formed relationships with on this earth.  One such occasion was upon his return to Bethany, a town best known by the time of his return because of a pretty spectacular miracle he had performed there - the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Now, the "fame" of this miracle wasn't because Lazarus was a "big man" in the town government, religious faction, or some type of a "rock star".  He was simply stated to be the brother of Mary and Martha - two loving sisters who were grieving his loss.  In terms of how this would have been treated today, if this man had been "famous" like Elvis Presley, his being raised from the dead would have had people flocking to his burial place and doorstep by the thousands!  He wasn't Elvis, but the "fame" of his miracle was making a certain group of people more than just a little anxious - the religious zealots of the day.  That seems a little like an oxymoron doesn't it? Those who were supposed to be the religious authorities of the day were actually getting "put out" by the "fame" of this miracle - not because they wished Mary or Martha ill, but because there was now "competition" in the religious "circles"!  You see, they were "losing followers" of their religious community to the gospel message of truth and liberty - the one Jesus was teaching and modeling in his miracles.  They viewed Jesus (and Lazarus by extension) as a threat to their way of life - one which had become a pretty comfortable thing for them and one they didn't want disrupted!

A lot of people came when they heard that Jesus was there. They also wanted to see Lazarus, because Jesus had raised him from death. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus. He was the reason that many of the Jewish leaders were turning from them and putting their faith in Jesus. (John 12:9-11 CEV)

This is kind of how it is whenever "religion" becomes the end all - because "relationship" isn't even a focus any longer.  To the religious zealots of the day (Pharisees and Sadducees), the raising of Lazarus was leading some of their followers (and even some of their religious leaders) to move toward grace and away from religion!  They were putting their faith in Jesus and this threatened their beliefs, practices, and "comfort level".  Religious people are "comfortable" in the pursuit of whatever beliefs and practices they develop - because they are predictable and "comprehended" by their minds.  This is the difference between religion and true faith sometimes - one can pretty much be comprehended by the mind, while the other needs to be trusted by the heart.  

I imagine the crowds were filled with a combined group of those who were merely curious to see the one who had been dead, but was not living life as though nothing unusual had happened, and those who were truly seeking the truth which Jesus showed them by how he spoke and lived.  Some would seek with their minds - while others would reach with all their hearts for something they might not come to fully comprehend with their minds, but which they knew with a certainty they could trust with all their hearts.  This is where faith takes hold - not in the ability of our minds to comprehend truth - but in the willingness of our hearts to embrace it, run with it, count on it, and lean into it above all else.

I don't know if you have ever seen this in this accounting of the story of Lazarus before, but it caught my attention this morning - the religious leaders wanted to kill LAZARUS, not Jesus.  They wanted to do away with the evidence of Jesus' miracle - not the one who performed the miracle.  Lazarus had become a threat to them because his life was a testimony of GRACE and MERCY.  If that doesn't make you sit up and take notice, then I don't know what will!  Stop for a moment to think about the potential each of us has to be living testimonies of God's GRACE and MERCY.  Each of us has the potential to be in the "cross-hairs" of some who don't truthfully understand the mystery of grace - simply because they don't understand it, they might feel threatened by it, and this causes them to want to "silence" the threat.

In a day and age when religious freedom is touted as so very important, isn't it kind of amazing how much the testimony of GRACE and MERCY is resisted and told it has no place in our society?  In essence, I think there are "grace-released" lives being lived which have become a threat to the "religious" who don't understand the mystery of this relationship we have with Jesus.  It has long been the case that what isn't easily understood by the mind is kind of a threat - because man seeks to have a reasonable explanation for things and has a hard time with anything they cannot put into the box of their understanding.  GRACE isn't one of those things which easily fits into the "box" of our understanding - for grace isn't a "thing", but a person.  It isn't a set of deeds we perform, but the continual action of another on our behalf.  

This is honestly where religion and Christianity part ways - in the difference between us doing things to reach God versus him doing everything to reach us.  Lazarus did nothing to reach Jesus - but Jesus did everything to reach him.  Lazarus didn't even know to trust in Jesus and the grace he would extend into his life by giving him back life - allowing him to become a living testimony of grace.  Yet, a life so touched by grace as to become alive in the freedom and joy of grace is truly one which becomes a threat to any other way of living which places someone in bondage to religious pursuits and the "doing of deeds" to find favor with God in any manner.  I wonder how much of a "threat" our lives are to those around us? Just askin?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Then --- Now

Did you ever stop to consider just "how" it is you overcome sin in your lives?  I bet it wouldn't be by yourself!   If we are truthful, we are spurred to consider our actions as sinful in the first place because of something we hear from another, see from the eyes of another, or just simply by seeing a different "picture" modeled in the lives of someone else.  We often have blinders where it comes to our sin - we just see what we want to see and it often takes the perspective of another to point us in the right direction.  The scripture refers to sin as something which "traps" us.  Have you ever seen something struggling to get out of a trap? It is almost impossible to get "out of" whatever it is they "got into" on their own.  The hole is too deep, the ropes too tight, or the weight too heavy which is pressing down upon us.  We actually need the hands of another, and sometimes even their ability to see clearly what needs to be done.  

You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand. (Galatians 6:2 CEV)

There is a song popular by Josh Wilson with the words, "That was then, this is now".  It is a song based upon grace - grace declaring a clear cut difference between then and now. In the scheme of things, it isn't so much the "then" which is important, but the "now".  No one helps us see the NOW clearer than someone who has "perspective".  Perspective begins first through the eyes of Jesus - because no one sees clearer than he does what will break the bonds of sin in our lives.  Yet, he never meant for us to be "free" alone - his grace involves us having others help us walk free of the bonds of sin.  Grace actually provides companions for the journey!

I have lots and lots of old photographs.  How about you?  Some of them are quite faded now because of the age of those photos.  Others are curled at the edges and a little dogeared because of the frequency they have been held, gone through, and talked about with others. Still others are kind of ignored - taken but not really "focused upon" much after taking. Some of the old photos actually act as a "memory jogger" of past events, don't they?  We see how we looked in the seventies, eighties, and so on.   We take notice of what we drove, who we hung out with, and what our homes looked like then.  In almost all of these cases, we can say "that was then, this is now".  

We don't look the same, dress the same, or even dwell in exactly the same surroundings. Even if we are in the same house as we were in a photo taken thirty years ago, the surroundings change somewhat just because of the changes of time's passage.  What we were is no longer what we are - this is the "doing" of grace in our lives.  What we used to think "mattered" may no longer be as significant to us - because perspective changes depending on where are "at" right now.  This is no more true than when we are in bondage to some sin in our lives - it changes where we are "at" and in so doing, it changes how we see things.

The view from inside a cage is much different than the perspective we have when gazing into the cage from the outside!  Sin "cages" us - limiting our movement, holding us within the bonds of the "perimeter" it establishes over our actions.  If you have ever spent much time watching a caged animal, you might notice they pace a lot - going over and over again the exact same territory they have traversed for quite some time.  Why?  They don't know to do anything else because their cage establishes the perimeter in which they exist.  They eventually don't even notice the cage because they begin to think of their cage as "their territory".  

Sin isn't too far from being like a caged animal - at first angered by the limits of the cage, but over the course of time, coming to accept this is just how it is going to be.  This is when we need the perspective of someone on the outside of the "cage".  We need the faithfulness of a friend to come alongside, helping us to see there is life "outside" of the perimeter of sin's hold in our lives.  We need each other to separate the "now" from the "then".  Grace does more than provide a way of escaping the past - it provides the helping hands to encourage us to make the full transition from the "then" into the "now" of life.  Whenever someone presents a different perspective of our sin, it may just be they are seeing our sin from the side of grace!  What better way to see it?  Just sayin!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

It is all "relative"

Have you ever been in a place where no matter where you look or turn absolutely nothing is going right?  You one avenue of attack, only to find that ends in a dead-end.  You plan a new way of dealing with the issue, then get foiled because your plan turned out to be too hard or just took too much effort.  At some point, you find yourself about to give up and you don't know why life has to be so hard!  We have all probably been that at some point in life as this is not an uncommon "fate" for humankind.  One area where I think we all struggle on occasion is finding the "right answer" when it is most needed.  You know exactly what I mean here - those moments when the moment passes and you are now able to think up all kinds of "good advice", "better solutions", or "clever come-backs".  Where were these "in the moment"?   If you think about it, life happened and you weren't very well-prepared for what happened because you cannot "plan" for everything.  What we can "plan", we should.  What is absolutely out of our control or planning, we CAN plan a strategy to deal with, but we may not have the "exact" plan figured out.

Without good advice everything goes wrong—it takes careful planning for things to go right. Giving the right answer at the right time makes everyone happy.  All who are wise follow a road that leads upward to life and away from death. (Proverbs 15:22-24 CEV)

I think this is probably one of the specific areas of our lives where we just don't do as well as we should - planning and preparing.  Now, lest you think I am going down the path of being so well-prepared that we are constantly in control of our outcomes, I am not saying that at all.  What I am saying is that if we have the right principles formed into our lives, the chances of facing life's challenging moments with some degree of "prepared response" will occur.  It isn't that we have it "all figured out", but we lean into what we know is true and right, then we count on those principles to help us formulate the best "plan" to deal with whatever or whomever it is we are facing.

Good advice just isn't the result of receiving counsel from someone "wiser" than you are on the subject.  It involves getting so familiar with the truth that we can begin to spot at first glance something which veers from truth even in the slightest.  We get "familiar" with truth through continual study of the Word of God, listening to wise teaching from those God has appointed as teachers in our lives, and also from simply living life next to someone who helps challenge you to continually grow up in Jesus.  We might get two of these incorporated into our lives - usually the first two - but neglect the other.  Why is that?  It is probably because it is hard to become so vulnerable with someone that you challenge each other to grow.  We live in a pretty superficial world - even in the realm of our relationships!

Life wasn't meant to be lived in solitude.  I think this is the moral of the movie "Cast Away", in which Tom Hanks played a Federal Express employee who was stranded on an island apart from any other human being after a crash of the airplane.  In the course of time, he came to "create" relationships with things like a soccer ball he named "Wilson" - his new best friend on the island.  What most don't remember about the movie is how he was called away from friends and family during the holiday season in order to solve some issue in an overseas location.  His job "trouble-shooting" life's issues for his job took him away repeatedly from his girlfriend - further delaying their chances at marriage.  

One of the most touching scenes in the movie comes when Tom Hanks actually creates a raft and sails away from the island.  After a period of time paddling hard, using his make-shift sail on the raft, a storm comes and he loses "Wilson" into the tumultuous seas and heavy winds.  He sinks into depths of loneliness so severe you think he might just want to end his life.  At the end of the movie, he buys a new volleyball and takes it to the home of the person the original packaged volleyball was addressed to in a small town in Texas.  Somehow, he wanted to restore what was lost those years before in the crash of the plane by those who were counting on those packages for their holiday giving.  I have to wonder if the one receiving the new "Wilson" would ever know how much that package actually meant to him on that island for all those five years he is stranded alone.

We are definitely not created to "go it alone" in this life.  Even when we are so alone our "alone" place echoes with the quiet of "just us", there is something deep down inside which craves so desperately for relationship.  The depths of our hearts echo the loneliness - often creating what is "missed" or "missing" through whatever means it has at its disposal.  Why? I honestly believe it is because God created us not only with a unique place for him within each of us, but for each other.  In creating us this way, any "void" created because we are not relating to others in the deep way he intends will cause us a sense of "loneliness".  Loneliness is an acknowledgement of the "void".  We need the Word to give us the foundation upon which relationship is built and maintained.  We need the solid teaching of those who have learned God's truths and know how to use them as building-blocks for wise living.  We also need each other - the missing element we often don't "build into" our plans in seeking answers to life's toughest challenges.  

Rather than "creating" something to fill the void, perhaps we'd benefit more from asking God to help us find the ones he has designed for us - to help us walk this life out, learning the answers to life's toughest challenges lie not in the "good answer" we might be able to provide in the moment, but in the "depths of relationship" which will help us walk stronger through those challenges!   Just relating!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The muddle demystified

If the heart of man is made up of mind, will, and emotions - the place where we make choices, decide which "voice" sounds the most "credible" at the moment, and what it is we will hold onto when times get a little challenging - then we had better figure out pretty quickly what is IN our heart and what CONTROLS it.  If the right stuff is IN there and the right ONE is controlling our heart, then we stand a better chance to have consistency in our lives which is reflected in our correct choices and wise responses.

We may think we are doing the right thing, but the Lord always knows what is in our hearts. (Proverbs 21:2 CEV)

I enjoy pleasing you. Your Law is in my heart. (Psalm 40:8 CEV)

God knows how many times we set out to "do" the right thing, but then somewhere along the way we get distracted by something which influences our thoughts, will, or emotions just enough to get us pursuing something else entirely.  It may not have been our original intention, but it ended up being the one we listened to or followed.  When God's Word (his Law) is allowed to get deeply into our hearts, we stand a much better chance of not being swayed by our emotions, or listening to voices which would be better off not heard!

Getting the right "stuff" into our lives is important.  Whenever we want to overcome something which has been a bit of a challenge to us, we often need a kind of "tutor" to help us figure out the right steps to take to get beyond that "sticking point".  I play these matching games which require a great deal of strategy at times.  If I make the right moves, I pass the level.  If not, I get stuck in the rut of trying and trying time and time again until I finally get it.  I have learned to seek out those who have passed the level already to learn from their strategies because if they have it figured out already, I know their tutelage may actually help me pass the level myself.

The same is true of the "spiritual sticking points" in our lives - those things we get hung up on where obedience is the ultimate desire, but compromise tends to become the response. We likely need a little tutelage in that area - either because emotions are out of control, will is just plain not enough to get us past the "sticking point", or we don't possess the knowledge to really understand what is at the "core" of the issue.  Either of these areas of struggle can be undermining to our walk with Jesus.  Getting the tutelage of the Word of God may be the one thing we overlook when struggling.

Joyce Meyers said, "Once I realized that right thinking is vital to victorious living, I got more serious about thinking about what I was thinking about, and choosing my thoughts carefully."  Don't miss what she said - she focused on what she was thinking in order to change the actions she was producing.  It has often been said the main place of battle over things which become "sticking points" to us living above compromise in our lives is mostly in the mind - the way we are thinking and what it is we choose to think upon the most.

It is not just that we know "what" to think, but it is actually choosing to think about those things most when there is a muddle of thought which is getting us confused about what is our real priority in life at the moment.  For example, anger causes a muddle of emotions and thought - leaving us responding out of a place where we make wrong choices and often deliver wrong actions in response.  I can find myself getting a little frustrated with mom when she wants something done her way or in her timing.  It isn't always convenient for me, nor is it the "necessary" thing to do at that moment, but it is in her mind and that is all she can think about.  Whenever I fail to see this, I kind of get a little short with her because she just keeps stating the same thing over and over again - something we call perseverating.

What I fail to see is that she cannot get beyond her perseveration over the same thing until I take the action she desires.  To reason with her is just not going to change her impression of what she needs done - in her mind, it is what it is and I just need to see it from her standpoint.  To respond in the emotion of anger or frustration only makes things worse, because she doesn't get what she perceives she needs done and now her feelings are hurt because I was short with her in my response.  I compound the issue whenever I respond out of a "muddle" of thought rather than clarifying the thought enough to respond in a more reasonable and loving manner.  You might have been there on occasion - responding out of the muddle instead of getting control of your thoughts - thinking about what it is you are thinking about - and then choosing your thoughts just a little more carefully.

The Word of God helps us settle the muddle - it helps us clarify the intent of our thought, see the futility of others, and to get the emotion out of the middle of thought so that we can see the reality of what we are considering.  We need this kind of clarity - without it, we just respond to life out of the midst of the muddle - something which leaves us standing in the midst of compromise, wrong response, and just plain bad choices.  Getting it into the midst of our thoughts will help us make sense of the muddle and deal more consistently with the choices we make.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Deep thoughts anyone?

The youngest player to ever win the Grand Slam in tennis was Michael Chang - a Christian athlete who frequently gave all the praise for his ability and talent to the Lord.  One of the things he is quoted as saying kind of speaks to our passage today:  "Maybe sometimes I'm such a thinker, I reevaluate too much. Sometimes when it comes down to it, I really don't need to do anything. I don't really need to change anything.  I need to just keep plugging away, working at it."  We probably all have a tendency to "over-think" matters on occasion, making mountains out of molehills and tragedies out of small blips on the radar.  WE see things one way - GOD sees them quite differently.  Somewhere in-between what WE see and what GOD sees is where revelation begins to dawn.  Deep thought may be where we discover the deepest of truths, but as long as they remain "deep", we don't actually bring them forth into the place of discovery and usefulness in our lives.

Someone’s thoughts may be as deep as the ocean, but if you are smart, you will discover them. (Proverbs 20:5 CEV)

When asked about how he did so well in his career, rising to such a prestigious level in the tennis world so quickly and at such a young age, he shared that he had an ability to see the "tendencies" in another individual - he used those tendencies to judge how he would respond to them.  If I constantly have a tendency to go one way when having to choose a particular course of action, it is pretty realistic you can come to expect that of me time and time again.  This may not be bad unless that tendency is a weakness!  I think this is how great athletes become great - they learn to look for the tendencies in another player which give them the edge to be one move in front of them - a move which will catch them off-guard.  We don't want to be so "predictable" in our walk that the weaknesses we have become the tool by which we are undone.  We want to keep the enemy of our soul guessing!

Discovering deep thoughts is sometimes pretty hard - but if we want to really discover what makes a man or woman what they are, we need this insight.  We also need this insight if we are to discover how it is we break life-dominating habits in life.  Things hidden deep in our thoughts are often the key to us "breaking dawn" in the realm of overcoming tough issues. Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who received the Nobel Prize in 1922 for his atomic model and breakthroughs in quantum theory.  He was truly a "deep-thinker".  Yet, he often said one needed to change one's way of thinking in order to find solutions in what one was considering.  The fact of the matter is that many times we need to restructure our way of thinking in order to come up with new solutions to the problems we face!

Now, if you are a deep-thinker you will understand what I am about to say.  You don't exactly like to expose all the stuff you are pondering.  Why?  It is your thought and the things you are considering in the depths of those pondering moments may not always be understood by others around you.  Sometimes the greatest discoveries are made when we can be transparent with the things we hold so deeply!  In the action of sharing those "deep thoughts", it is like dawn breaking in on the darkness of night - the light begins to dawn in a fresh way and we often see things with an entirely new perspective.  I am always amazed when this happens in my own life - because what I "thought" I had all figured out in the depths of my musings I come to discover will not work as well in the "light of day"!

A truly "smart" individual will learn how to mine these deep thoughts not only from others, but from within themselves.  There is this unrealized benefit of making this discovery of thought - it often exposes the tendencies of an individual to the light of day!  From my own perspective, when I finally share what I have been musing upon for some time, I may often discover the complexity of what I was considering was really quite simple - it just needed a little exposure to light in order to realize that!  A good friend will help you to "mine" those deep thoughts.  A truly wise individual will learn when that moment will yield the greatest reward - and they will have the skill with which to bring forth those deep thoughts.  We all can benefit from the sharing of our "musings" - if not to benefit the life of another, it may just be to finally break free of some tendency within us which has become the weakness by which another may predict our response in life.  Just sayin!

Monday, October 26, 2015

You ready?

As another wave of storms swept through the valley over the past three days, they came with quite strong winds and what some call "micro-bursts" of storm activity.  These micro-bursts have the capacity to dump a lot of rain at once in seemingly one spot, combined with high winds which do significant damage.  Block walls were leveled, power poles snapped in two, and trees uprooted.  It seems like the storms lately have become more and more "aggressive", taking their toll on the neighborhoods where they hit the most.  It also seems like there are areas of our large metropolis where these storms hit with such frequency that people are constantly "bouncing back" from them.  Some areas were hit with nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain, while others enjoyed a steady rain most would consider nothing more than sprinkles.  Close to 30,000 customers were without electrical power for over one day.  At first this doesn't seem to significant in the face of things like Hurricane Katrina or the raving effect of tornadoes in the Midwest, but Arizonans just don't expect the "worst". They don't plan for it, nor do many of them actually know what to do when the "worst" actually does come.  I guess we all have a tendency to live life like this on occasion - not really believing the "worst" may happen, so failing to be in a place of readiness should it happen.

Those who obey the Lord are daily in his care, and what he has given them will be theirs forever.  They won’t be in trouble when times are bad, and they will have plenty when food is scarce.  (Psalm 37:18-19 CEV)

There is a way to live life prepared for any and all inevitabilities - those we see and don't see coming.  The weather forecasters predicted three days of rain - some heavy and some just enough to wet the parched earth.  They revealed the storms left great flooding and mudslides in their path as they made their way through neighboring cities in a neighboring state, but did their predictions change the response of those in their path?  If you looked at those who were affected by the storms in the metropolis in which I live, I'd have to say "no". The way they were living just before the storms began to hit didn't really change - there was no sense of preparation or even any belief they'd need to prepare.  This is how it is with many people in this day and age - living as though preparation was not necessary - in a physical, financial, and spiritual sense!

That place of preparation is found not in a "place" as much as in a "person" - Christ.  As my pastor puts it, we learn to live "prepared" lives when we place our faith, hope, and trust solidly in Christ and nothing else.  Those who obey the Lord are daily in his care...  This says it all - there is no better place of "preparedness" than to be daily in the care of Jesus.  It doesn't mean we don't save our finances so we are prepared when a need hits us such as an unexpected medical bill or car repair.  It also doesn't mean we don't "do" anything with the knowledge we possess about the grace and love of God.  We are called to live prepared lives and that means we make Christ central in our physical, financial, relational, and spiritual lives.  In all areas, he is central.  In all areas, we then stand prepared.

What does "fire insurance" do for us?  It helps us rebuild our houses if there is a disaster which results in fire damage to our homes, right?  It is there for the "what if" of life.  In most cases, people just rest a little easier because they have it, not ever expecting to actually use it. The same might be said of "flood insurance" and "life insurance".  We don't expect to use it, but we have it for the "just in case" type of occurrence.  With the exception of life coming to an end for all of us, most of our other types of insurance are not typically collected upon - we pay the premiums faithfully and then we never make a claim.  We did get peace of mind by having them for the "just in case", but we never really actually needed them.

I wonder how many people go through life treating their relationship with Jesus as though it were "fire insurance" - there to keep us out of hell, but not really laying "claim" to all this relationship means.  My father was a life insurance agent with a large insurance firm for years.  He was a certified life underwriter - he wrote policies designed to insure lives.  Those policies didn't change the outcome of death to those who bought them - they just made it a little easier for those left behind to go on without that person in their lives.  They provided some financial benefit to the survivors.  The life insurance didn't benefit the one whose life was covered, but those who would come after them.

I wonder if this is how Jesus expects us to treat the "life insurance" his grace provides in our lives - by helping others who come after us to meet, know, and follow him.  Grace isn't an "insurance policy" - it is a means by which we live our lives to the fullest and then pass that blessing onto others.  Yes, grace provides a means by which we escape the separation from God which sin ultimately maintains.  Yes, grace provides us with access to the many blessings of God.  Yes, grace is a kind of "insurance" against our continued separation from God - because it not only covered our past sins, but those we commit today and into the future.  But...grace isn't just "insurance" - it is a means to live our lives to the fullest, prepared to face each challenge, and igniting a passion within us which in turn helps ignite the spark of faith in others which will ignite their own passion for serving Jesus.

We don't prepare for the inevitabilities in life through "buying insurance" - we prepare for them by actually "preparing".  In other words, we buy the flashlights, batteries, and generator to prepare for times when electrical power may not be available.  We aren't doomsday prep kind of people, but we live prepared lives.  This carries from our physical lives into every realm of our walk - finances, relationships, and even into our spiritual lives. We need to learn to live prepared!  Just sayin!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Alert and thinking straight

I don't always think straight - how about you?  There are times when my emotions overrule my intelligence and I just plunge right into things I should have left undone or unsaid. In a flash in time, the reasonableness of my decisions isn't even a concern in my mind because I am responding out of feeling rather than intellect or reason.  It happens to the best of us and it brings us into things which are harder to get out of than they were to get into!  It isn't by accident that scripture links "being alert" with "thinking straight".  When we are alert, all senses are standing at attention.  We are paying attention because all our senses are united in action.  This isn't the best way to overcome responding to only feelings - to be "on alert" in the realm of our senses alone often leads to us relying upon feelings even more.  We need to learn what scripture means when it says to be alert and think straight.

Be alert and think straight. Put all your hope in how kind God will be to you when Jesus Christ appears. Behave like obedient children. Don’t let your lives be controlled by your desires, as they used to be. Always live as God’s holy people should, because God is the one who chose you, and he is holy. That’s why the Scriptures say, “I am the holy God, and you must be holy too.”  (I Peter 1:13-16 CEV)

If you have ever been awakened out of a dream, then laid there for a while in the dark trying to figure out if that was real or not, then you might just be able to understand what I will say next.  When we move from relying upon what we can experience with our senses into the balance of running those sense-input factors through our intellect and sense of reason, we often find what we are experiencing in our senses is removed from what is true reality.  As with the dream, we might awaken with a start because of the dream, but when we stop to allow our senses to settle down a little, we find the reality of what we experienced in the dream wasn't real at all.  Our senses were on alert, but we needed to balance them out with our "straight thinking".

Senses alone are not going to guide our actions in the right direction.  We sense a lot of things which if responded to would send us down many a wrong path.  For example, I have mosquitoes in my area and there are times I see them flying in the house - like when they buzz across the TV screen, alerting me to their presence.  After I see them, what is it that I "sense" all night long?  You got it - I find myself swatting at every little twinge of my skin and brush of air over my exposed arms and legs!  No mosquito is in sight at that moment - the power of what I saw continues to set my senses on edge and I am responding to my senses, not what is reality.  The mosquito is safe and secure in some dark recess of my home, lurking there until I go to sleep - then it will attack!  While I am on alert, it doesn't come near me!

Lots of things have the potential to put us "on alert" in life, but if we are always just on "high alert", we will become confused by the input we are receiving.  We need balance between being "alert" and thinking rationally and obediently.  What puts us "on alert" is probably "sensed" in some way or another - those senses may or may not be "reasonable".  We need to run them past God to be sure. The moment in time it takes to ask God if they are real and to be trusted may save us a whole lot of misery and unnecessary activity in our lives!

Living by desire isn't always bad when the desire is pure, holy, and right for us.  Living by desire when it is unreasonable, self-seeking, or downright determined to be "bad" for us is something we need to avoid at all cost.  As we came into this relationship with Christ, the most important person in our lives was us.  We focused on what brought pleasure to us. We responded to what we sensed to be okay for us.  We didn't think outside of us very often because we were the center of our universe.  As we came into relationship with Christ, that "center" changed to him.  Our focus changed from us to him.  That fact may take us a little while to "catch up" with when it comes to our senses, though.  They are still teased by the things we pursued when we were apart from Christ and want us to respond to them as we used to before this change in focus.

As God gives us the mind of Christ in all matters, we will begin to balance out what we "sense" to be worthy of our attention with what is "declared" to be worthy.  In other words, we don't just respond because our senses are on alert and we "feel" the desire.  We run that desire through the mind of Christ, sorting it out as worthy of our response or not.  God helps us "think straight" - giving us the wisdom to avoid responses to the things we sense, but which no longer "make sense" for us to pursue, put our hope in, or look to as something which will fulfill us.  Yes, we need to be on "high alert" to the things which are subtle "pulls" in our lives which will get us off-center, but we need to be sure we are also alert to what is real, trustworthy, and perfect for our lives, as well.  Obedience is achieved by both being alert and thinking straight.  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The rules are there for the sinner in each of us

When was the last time you played a game of Monopoly?  If you are like me, you played it a lot as a kid, but as you have "aged" a little, you just don't have the time to play, or perhaps your social circle just isn't "into" the game any longer.  As kids we all loved to play it - some more competitively than others - but we'd drag it out, appoint the banker and realtor, and count the monies out, dropping a couple hundred in the free parking spot to "seed" the booty to be gained for landing on the spot.  That last part may not have been in the rule book, but it kept us excited about landing on free parking and we liked doing it, so we did it. As kids, we took a little latitude because we didn't really think too much about the rules - if it made sense to us, we just did it.  As we got older, some of those we played with seemed to like to stick closer to the rules - as though they were some "deterrent" to something "bad" happening in the course of the game.  Now, I don't really think it matters a whole lot if there is "seed money" put on the free parking space or you agree to pay everyone double for their rent from the beginning of the game, or you reduce the cost of hotels by half.  If everyone agrees to the rules before we start, it is fine to proceed.  It is a board game - there is no real exchange of real money, no investment into real property, and we are all gathered just to have fun, passing the time with other people who are kind of fun to hang with.  In life, there are far less opportunities to "make up our own rules" and just proceed!  In fact, when we do this, someone will usually get hurt in the process - if not us, then someone else in the scheme of things will realize the bending of the rules impacting their life.  We are just expected to be a little more concerned with keeping those rules, aren't we?

Please, Lord, remember, you have always been patient and kind. Forget each wrong I did when I was young. Show how truly kind you are and remember me. You are honest and merciful, and you teach sinners how to follow your path.  (Psalm 25:6-8 CEV)

As kids, we didn't have to be as concerned with "following the rules" in the things we considered to be "play", but as we got older there was an exchange of play for the "real deal". We are now dealing with real matters which require our responsible responses and adherence to the "rules", right?  Every now and again, we need to refresh ourselves on the "rules" because we have a tendency to drift from them whenever we just count on our ability to "remember" them with accuracy.  I think this may be why God tells us to frequently spend time in his Word and to allow it to sink deeply into our minds.  He doesn't come right down to telling us to "memorize" it, but he tells us to bind it to our minds - something pretty close to memorizing something.  I need to admit - I don't spend a great deal of time "memorizing" the Word.  I DO spend a consistent amount of time IN the Word and then allowing it to speak to my heart.  I think that matters just as much.  I don't have a daily memory box, nor do I write scripture out on index cards, placing them on my dashboard or bathroom mirror. It just isn't how I personally allow God's Word to get "into" me.  If you do it that way, there is nothing wrong with that method - if it works, then do it.  My way works for me.  There are no "rules" about how we get to know what God has to say to us - it is as different for all of us as we are different from each other!

As we look into our passage today, let's go back to the Monopoly game.  As a kid, we didn't see anything wrong with "bending the rules" in the game because no one was hurt with our subtle changes in the rules.  Now that we are more "mature" adults, bending the rules may not be that "socially acceptable", even when we gather to play a game of Monopoly.  What changed?  I think it may be our understanding of why the rules were made in the first place. If we consider why the manufacturer created the rules, it was in order to create a "framework" by which we could conduct the course of the game.  If we know how to start, how each move is to progress, and the means by which the game is declared to be over, then we can begin playing the game with a "mission" in mind.  The rules give us that guidance - even though they don't determine who will land on someone else's property, who will buy up each piece of the property, and who will build houses and hotels on the property, they give us the guidance to know the "steps" toward the end result - declaring you have a "monopoly".

God teaches us how to follow his path - even though he doesn't "make us" make decisions in a certain way.  He allows us the autonomy to make decisions "within" the rules he establishes for our well-being.  Just like in the game of Monopoly, he lays out the rules, but we determine to buy, build, or sell - our decisions being based on the "rules" he establishes for our lives.  There are times when we get a little too over-exuberant in our actions - crossing the line a little like when we put the seed money on the free parking.  We don't see the harm in "bending the rule" a little, since it doesn't appear anyone will get hurt.  We may not see the effect of our "bending" the rule, but somewhere down the line, that subtle compromise is observed by someone and that someone will begin to form an idea of their own which somehow "allows" for the bending of the rule to the same (or even a greater) degree.  Therein is the danger in walking outside of the rules God establishes for our safety and security in life.  The rules aren't put there to keep us from experiencing life, but to expand our life into places where we can truly be free and enjoy life within his care and protection.

Our psalmist speaks of times when he "crossed the line" into areas he may not have been directed to go.  Some of us refer to these as "youthful indiscretions".  Whatever we refer to them as, we must never forget we are not free to "re-write" the "rule book"!  God's Word stands true today, just as it did thousands of years ago - nothing changes there!  We may not be in the same time period as when those words were penned, but the truth remains spot-on in providing for the protection of our course.  God is always honest with us - he doesn't mask his intent or hide his purpose.  If we examine his Word, we become familiar with both. Don't miss what our psalmist says - God hasn't laid out the rules contained within his Word to guide the angels - he put them there to guide us sinners!  The rules aren't as important to the ones who have adopted them as a regular part of their lives as much as they are to the ones who need their correction to the course they are traveling or about to embark upon!  Just sayin!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ever stop to consider....

Do you take for granted things like the consistency of the sunrise or the predictability of the phases of the moon?  Most of us probably do unless we make our living predicting something based on their predictability.  If we were to stop for just a couple of minutes and consider what the scriptures declare about the sun and moon, we might just be amazed all over again at the next sunrise, sunset, and the phases of the moon!  Why?  They are simply doing what they were designed to do - to keep telling the wonders of God and declaring boldly what he has done!  They declare his creative power and his ability to sustain all things with nothing more than the sound of his voice!  This should give us cause to pause for just a few moments to consider his greatness and to bask in his brilliance!

The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done.   Each day informs the following day; each night announces to the next.   They don’t speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice.  Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world.  In the heavens a tent is set up for the sun.  It rises like a bridegroom and gets ready like a hero eager to run a race.  It travels all the way across the sky.  Nothing hides from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6 CEV)

When we think of the sun and the moon, we are to consider them as "declarations" of God's continued care for each of us.  Without a word, the sun sets and the moon takes its place in the sky.  Without a sound, the sun begins the slow journey from somewhere below the horizon into the majesty of the sky above.  In the passage of hours, it finds itself lingering just along the opposite horizon, giving that final glow of daylight as the moon sets about the path it will keep during those ensuing nighttime hours.  No announcement is heard - no words are spoken - yet the brilliance of the sun's brightness and the faithfulness of the moon's passage tell of the faithfulness of our God.

Scripture tells us if we don't tell of his faithfulness, even nature will declare it.  The message we declare is heralded by the brightness of day and the heralding of the night hours.  The world is without excuse when it comes to knowing there is a God - for even the things we take so much for granted declare his faithfulness and grace.  Without the sun, we would be launched into perpetual darkness and frigid temperatures.  Without the brilliance of those rays beating down on plants below, the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen would never occur.  Apart from their faithful coming and going, all life as we know it would cease to follow its pattern of life.  Even us!

We take for granted things which God has taken so much care to prepare and preserve for our well-being.  I am not a "save the whales" or "stop hunting the seals" kind of girl, nor do I hug trees and tell make-up manufacturers to stop killing the animals.  I do have an appreciation for the majesty of what God has created and the tremendous amount of care he put into the handiwork each object of his creative power exhibits.  Whether it is you or I that is being considered as his handiwork, or the tree fully in bloom with magnificent magnolia blooms filling the air with their sweet smell, or the seeming ease at which the humpback whale rises from the depths below - God is declared to be GOD in all of these things.

Stop to consider these wonders now and again.  As you do, think a little deeper into the mystery of these objects.  We don't really know what keeps the sun and moon in their places in the skies above, although scientists have studied their existence and course for years and years.  We don't really know how they came to be, although scripture declares clearly their existence is clearly from God's hand - created from nothing - something we cannot comprehend with our finite minds.  

I was pondering how consistent the sun is in coming and going every day.  Some days reveal the passage of those bright rays in shorter spans than others, depending upon the time of year we observe their presence.  Maybe this is because God wants us to recognize there are times when we need to bring rest to the earth and seasons when productive growth are to occur.  Maybe this is symbolic of how we go through seasons of tremendous growth, followed by what seems like times of coolness and barrenness.  Those aren't times of barrenness my friends - they are times of preparation - for in those moments when the days seem darker, our hearts are being prepared for the returning of the brilliance of those productive seasons soon to break upon the horizon of our lives!

No announcement is necessary for the sun to take its place high above us - but know this - God's care is behind the dependability of its rising and setting!  Just as consistent as he is with the care he takes in arranging for the sun to take its course high above us, his care over our lives may be depended upon because his carefulness over our lives and the course we take within them is for more important to him!  Just sayin!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

I couldn't - could I?

It is one thing to "know" and another thing entirely to "obey".  One is having an acquaintance with what is expected - the other is actually putting what you know is expected into action so it influences your actions.  There are a tremendous many people who go through life "knowing" all kinds of standards, but then walking by an entirely different set of standards.  In my office I have a little plaque which reads: "Every time you walk by the violation of a standard, you set a new standard."  I think this is so very true in every area of our lives - whether it is spiritually, in relationships, or financially.  We go about setting all kinds of "new standards" in life, sometimes without any real effort or intent - it just happens because we don't stop long enough to think about what we are saying, doing, or responding to in the way of "feelings" or "emotion". The last time you spoke a little "harsher" than you wanted to - did you give that one much thought?  The last time you compromised on your diet - did you really think about the effort it would take to do away with those extra calories consumed?  The last time you just blindly did something - did you really stop to consider the consequences of just doing something without knowing a little more about it?  We can all probably answer one or more of these questions with a resounding "no".  Why?  We ALL have moments when we "know", but we don't follow what we "know".

My child, you must follow and treasure my teachings and my instructions. Keep in tune with wisdom and think what it means to have common sense. Beg as loud as you can for good common sense. Search for wisdom as you would search for silver or hidden treasure. Then you will understand what it means to respect and to know the Lord God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 CEV)

Following begins with treasuring - what we value enough, we begin to pursue.  I believe God created us to give first, save second, and then to be able to live on the rest.  At regular intervals, I re-evaluate where I am with these three principles.  Am I maintaining a giving practice that reflects not only what I can "comfortably" give, but what I know God has called me to give?  Am I learning to give of my finances, time, energies, talents, and the like - or am I withholding / resisting in one or more of these areas?  Am I consistently putting a little away for those unexpected expenses, emergencies, and the future needs of my household? Am I living within my means, or constantly extending my "means" by using credit?  These are questions which help me to clarify what I know to see if I am putting the right value on what I know so it influences what I am doing with what it is I have been given in life.  We learn to treasure God's teachings and instructions when we first place our trust in them as truth, then lean into practicing them until we come to value them as the standard by which we should conduct ourselves with consistency.

Common sense if practical wisdom - we don't walk on wobbly bridges because we know their structure will eventually find a breaking point and we don't want to be there when it does! Wisdom is the application of knowledge - whether we gain it through study or common sense decisions.  When we apply what we know, we are learning to trust truth. Common sense is sometimes quite underestimated for value or worth in our lives - thinking instead that we need some "word from heaven" or "deeper spiritual truth" in order to make some of the decisions in life we are faced with.  The "truth" is that God gave each of us something called "conscience" to help guide our common sense and he gave us the capacity to learn so that we could develop common sense.  The first time I burnt myself on some hot object didn't require me to repeatedly put my finger back on that object to see if what I was experiencing in the way of the scorching pain radiating through my finger was "real" or "reliable".  I simply trust that each time something is hot, it has the potential of burning me!

There are times I think we avoid what we don't trust and we don't trust something because we either don't listen to the "niggling" of our common sense, or we are just too lazy to test it out to see if it is truth and reliable.  This is often the case when God asks us to do something, especially as it comes to exploring what he has said in scripture.  It isn't that we don't trust that God's Word is real and reliable - it is that we don't trust we will be able to "get it" or understand what it contains, so we just ignore the study of it because we think it is too hard and we will never be able to "get it".  If we approach the study of God's Word simply with our common sense guiding us, we learn there are lots of things within the pages of scripture which will ring true and become guidance for our lives.  We don't need some super-spiritual knowledge in order to "get it" - it is based on good common sense.  Maybe this is why our writer tells us to beg for good common sense!  It is the beginning of wisdom in our lives to use the common sense we are given to explore the deeper truths we will come to appreciate as "deeper wisdom" later on in our lives.

My daughter tells me she went to the doctor a week or so ago, stepped on the scale as we all are required to do, then heard the girl tell her she weighed about ten pounds more than what she believed to be her true weight.  Now, common sense would say, "Please reweigh me - I don't think that is correct because my scale says something else."  Common sense would look at the little sliding counter weights on the scale and see they weren't fully engaged in the little slots created for them.  Common sense wouldn't just accept the heavier weight and walk away believing it could not be challenged.  Sometimes common sense causes us to "challenge" things which others believe to be true - because of common sense, we see the stated facts just don't add up.  It is never wrong to question something which doesn't lend itself to the test of "good common sense".  It IS wrong to rely solely upon what we hear or see without putting it to the test.  While common sense may be a good place to BEGIN our determination of whether something is reliable, truthful, sound, etc., it is not the end all. I think the term "COMMON sense" should give us a little hint there!

What comes to be trusted as "common" knowledge may not always be truth.  We always need to balance common knowledge with the deeper truths discovered because we have a deep and intimate relationship with the one who is ALL truth.  In so doing, we may just discover what we have common to trust as "common" may not be all that trustworthy.  A stove isn't always hot - is it?  A bridge isn't always wobbly - is it?  A frozen lake isn't always frozen solid - is it?  What we see and what we come to trust as truth are two entirely different things.  We need to "marry" common sense (the ability to figure things out in the power and reasoning of our own minds based on the knowledge we have developed) and the wisdom God gives which guides our responses in life.  Maybe what we learn through the power of reasoning and listening to the tiny "niggling" in our gut is "common", but when we see into the depths of a man's heart and begin to speak healing into the damaged places therein, this is wisdom and wisdom is love.  God is all about us learning his love - and his love is revealed first in the person of his Son and in the words we have been left with to guide us in our walk!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Help! I don't wanna change!

There is something in "counseling circles" called the "put off - put on" dynamic.  In other words, stop doing this and do that instead.  In scripture, this is often seen as the don't do this, but do this and you will realize a different (usually better) outcome.  Our passage today is one of those "stop - start" instructions.  Stop following whatever had been your previous way of living before you said "yes" to Jesus and live differently now.  In other words, when we come to Jesus, there is to be a transformation evident in our lives - as some activities cease and others take their place.  Now, on the surface, the world may see it as we stopped going to the bars and started attending church.  We stopped using swear words, and now we say "God bless you" and "Hallelujah" a lot.  I do hope we realize there is way more to this instruction than that we just stop one thing and start another.  If we are to really "do" as scripture instructs us, we live by the example we have been shown in his gift of salvation through his Son, and then we cultivate a new set of desires he places within our hearts so that our way of living becomes dynamically different than it used to be.

God has shown us how kind he is by coming to save all people. He taught us to give up our wicked ways and our worldly desires and to live decent and honest lives in this world. We are filled with hope, as we wait for the glorious return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He gave himself to rescue us from everything that is evil and to make our hearts pure. He wanted us to be his own people and to be eager to do right. (Titus 2:11-14 CEV)

Max Lucado says it this way:  "You change your life by changing your heart."  I want us to keep one thing in mind - God is the one changing our hearts - we are just embracing that change and "going with it" until it becomes the way we live without even having to "think too hard about it".  To truly change our actions, the motivation behind those actions must be changed.  As we all know, some of those motivations are hard to change - there doesn't seem to be any easy way to let go of some of the things we have held onto for so very long in our lives.  The struggle is realized not so much in the "letting go", but in trusting whatever our hands will take hold of next will be vastly "better" than what we have come to hold so dearly to in the first place.

Alvin Tofler was a former editor of Fortune magazine.  While he no longer holds that position, his writings live on.  One of the things he said may not have been "biblical" in basis, but it has a great deal of truth as it applies to what we are speaking about today.  He said: "Change is not merely necessary to life - it is life."  Ponder that one for just a moment. Change is not merely necessary to life - in other words, in a biblical sense, change is the beginning of new life (at the moment we say "yes" to Jesus there is a change which occurs - a new live is begun).  Life is born out of change - this is the biblical perspective.  Life is not the result of "more life" - in other words, we don't become "more alive" by somehow finding "more life" to live.  We find life in death!  

To be eager to do right, one has to realize what has been the way of doing  things up to a certain point is in need of change.  If we want to lose weight, we have to realize the way we have been eating and the amount of exercise we have been getting might need to change. We do more than "adjust" our life - we "restructure" it completely.  We get rid of the junk food and bring in the healthier fare.  We pull out the walking shoes and shorts when we get home instead of the jammies and slippers.  Have you ever noticed how eager we are to "start" change, but how quickly this eagerness slips away when we realize the first bump in the road? Change might be necessary - but there is no guarantee it will be easy.

Change requires motivation - motivation requires focus - focus requires commitment - commitment requires more than just will-power.  Commitment requires an exchange - a submission of the will to the one who gives us all power and authority to make the change happen.  I see people market themselves as "motivational speakers" - but the power to motivate someone is not really something another human being can actually do.  To motivate means we "persuade" or "provoke" another into action.  So, the truth is that something we hear, see, or experience while with that individual finally "clicks" in our minds and hearts, making us feel as though we are ready to take the necessary action.  But...that "click" isn't going to keep us going for very long - we need to maintain focus.  The motivational speaker may have been the catalyst to start the change, but they aren't going to be the ones to "coach" us through change on a daily basis.

A coach is one who actually helps us maintain focus.  On the sidelines, the coach sees each of our moves and helps us make subtle adjustments in our actions until we become consistent in doing something the correct and "reliable" way.  To stay on the field requires something internal to us - commitment.  When we commit, we are saying what we are accomplishing by the action we are attempting to embrace is "worth it" to us - we see the value in it and we are actually pulled toward that "new action" because we no longer see the value in the old action we were engaging in.  We are given the Holy Spirit to live within us as our life-coach - helping us to adjust our actions and bring us to a place of reliable consistency within our lives. We are given the strength of God's love and grace to keep us committed throughout the walk, but the one thing we can never forget is that love and grace may help us run the race, but our inner commitment comes in seeing the value in the change we are moving toward.

Whatever we value will eventually become a motivating factor in our lives.  If we value the "right stuff", our actions will eventually align with our values.  We may struggle with consistency once in a while, but this is because we are human.  God's grace and love brings us back on course and helps us to make the right choices again.  We cannot get too down on ourselves whenever we veer from the "right stuff", but instead ask God to give us his grace, embrace us with his love, and then recommit to listening to the "life-coach" to help us make the adjustments necessary so we will develop reliability in our walk.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


As I was growing up, I remember doing all manner of "things" which I hoped would have made me acceptable to some group of individuals.  Some of them were kind of insignificant, like just dressing to be acceptable to my peer group, while others were pretty much crossing the line because the actions either "broke the law" or "broke some rule".  By the actions I took, I either disregarded the clear-cut instructions of my parents or some other superior in my life, or I actually engaged in activities which put me at odds with the laws we are all supposed to live by.  I trespassed into private property, sometimes with complete disregard for the danger this could present to both me and those with me.  At other times, I found myself telling one lie to cover another, simply because I thought the truth would make me somehow "uncool" or "unacceptable" in the group I desired so much to be accepted within.  I expected my actions to somehow "change" me from the "nerd" I was accused of being into someone totally "better" than what I was in the eyes of those who saw me as a "nerd" in the first place.  What a silly thing to think I could accomplish through some action on my own behalf!  I honestly believed I could change the way others saw me by the actions I took. It is just impossible to change who we ARE at the core of our being without the power and intervention of GOD in our lives.  We can change the "outside", but only he can truly change the "inside". 

Now we see how God does make us acceptable to him. The Law and the Prophets tell how we become acceptable, and it isn’t by obeying the Law of Moses. God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins. God sent Christ to be our sacrifice. Christ offered his life’s blood, so that by faith in him we could come to God. And God did this to show that in the past he was right to be patient and forgive sinners. This also shows that God is right when he accepts people who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 CEV)

As long as we view ourselves as unacceptable, we are saying there is something within us which is kind of "objectionable" to someone.  It may be we even view ourselves in the mirror and make that determination ourselves.  Why?  We judge by the appearance - what we see or observe through our limited powers of observation are what we use to fashion our opinions of what we see.  Good news - God looks way beyond the "appearance" and gets right at the root of the matter - what actually makes up our "core".  Another piece of good news - God doesn't see ANY of us as more "acceptable" because of something we do, think, or possess. He sees all of us exactly the same.  That means we are all on an "even playing field" when it comes to approaching God, being "accepted" by him, and being made "acceptable" in terms of his grace.

When you look in the mirror, do you see a sinner?  If you don't, then look again!  All of us are sinners - some may "sin" more outwardly than others (like me when I broke the law or was in blatant opposition to the rules of my parents), but all of us "sin" inwardly in some manner or another (like when we want to hold a grudge for a wrong done).  We all have the "genetic make-up" to sin and knowing we are all "cut of the same cloth" means we all have the same propensity to choose self-motivated actions on occasion.  We also share the same "fate" for this propensity - we are separated from God and his grace.  Apart from God, we live alienated lives - lives devoid of the Spirit of God within.  In this state, all we do is "soul" directed - mind, will, and emotions controlling our every action.

In the scheme of things, we can try to clean up our act and appear one way when we still have the old way of "being" and "acting" at the core of who we really are, but we rarely can impact who we are at the core.  I will always be a "nerd" in the eyes of some.  I like technology, enjoy playing games which challenge my mind, and find humor in things which others may think of as kind of goofy and childish.  It is who I am at the core - so to try to change this make me untrue to the way I was created.  If I had extreme musical talent and then tried to morph myself into an investment banker, I probably could learn investment banking, but something of the deep down passion which makes me a talented musician would be squelched.  I would live with the frustration of not being true to what I feel the most "free" at doing.

In much the same way, whenever we try to live apart from the way we were truly created to live (with God's Spirit within each of us, energizing our being and ruling our lives), we find a great deal of frustration with the way we are living.  We are living "close" to the way we were created to live, but not "fully" in that place.  Grace is God's means of bringing his Spirit fully alive within each of us.  His means of keeping us "true" to what we were created to be is by giving us his Spirit and then igniting that life within us until it motivates and moves us in every aspect of our lives.  Grace is available to all, but grace must be embraced - we are made acceptable through the presence of grace.  Grace does more than just make us "acceptable", though.  It does more than change us from "objectionable" in God's eyes.  It transforms us into living, vibrant beings capable of reproducing the life which dwells within us through the sharing of this life with others.  Isn't it about time we stop looking at others as "objectionable" and start sharing what has the power to transform each of us from our "objectionable" state into the glorious state of grace God has prepared for each of us?  Just askin!

Monday, October 19, 2015

He listens - just call out and see

I read a post recently which simply read:  "The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything."  I don't disagree with this, but wanted to challenge us to see this from a little bit of a perspective - God's.  In God's eyes, when we say "yes" to Jesus in our lives, we receive the best of everything, affecting not only our "happiness", but our sense of contentment, resolution, determination, and ultimately our peace.  In essence, God's saving graces sets our world on a kind of "different axis" - we stop focusing on the little we have and we begin to embrace the "much" he has!  We move from wanting the "best of everything" and the "making the best of everything" to the "we have all we need" kind of living!  

The Lord says, “If you love me and truly know who I am, I will rescue you and keep you safe.

When you are in trouble, call out to me.  I will answer and be there to protect and honor you.
You will live a long life and see my saving power.”  (Psalm 91:14-16 CEV)

As we wrap up our study into this psalm, I want us to continue to focus on what God has been saying through our psalmist.  First, there is no place for fear or anxiety when we are firmly in the arms of Jesus - nothing can "rock our world" when we are firmly planted on the Rock.  Second, nothing secretly planned to overshadow our days is out of his purview.  All of our days are within his "scope of insight" and protection.  Therefore, we have nothing to fear in our past (for it is all under his blood), present (for he helps us navigate even the biggest of chasms), or our future (for the path ahead is fully known by him).  Third, others may seem to be overtaken by the things which "lie in wait" for their missteps, but we don't have to live like this.  We can trust our steps to be ordered when we first place those steps into his care. Lastly, legions of angels are at his service (and ours), lifting us above hurdles, removing obstacles, helping us navigate torturous course, and shielding us from fiery darts of our enemy.  We walk assured because we ARE assured!

As we close, we find a couple of conditions - something which is not uncommon when we consider the promises of God.  The "if" is our focus today.  "IF you love and truly know who I am..."  I think we all have some understanding of who God is and how truly vast his "span of control" is, but our understanding is finite and his span is infinite - so to truly understand it is almost impossible.  We can understand the conditions of his protection, though.  These are kind of "finite" and within our scope of understanding.  First, we are to love him with all we are - surrendering our mind, will, and emotions to his care and oversight.  As a chick crawls under the shelter of the mother hen's wings, we nuzzle up close to him and allow him to settle troubled emotions and mind.  The chick who desires protection under the wings has to actually move inside their protective covering - the chick submits the will to live independently (out in the open) to the will of the mother hen (with all the desire to protect her young ones).  Our willing surrender to his care is important - because it is what helps us move within the protection of his sheltering arms.

Those who are more than just "acquainted with" him as their God not only know the sound of his voice, but he knows theirs.  I find it amazing to know that a shepherd actually knows the bleating of his own sheep.  He does because he has but one focus in mind - their protection.  The same is true of our God - he knows but one focus - our protection.  He listens intently for the cries of our heart.  When we are troubled (or in trouble), we are to call out.  Why?  It may be because in our cries God hears the submission of our will to the protection of his heart.  As we call out to him, he responds by being more than our protection, though.  He protects us - but he also places us in a place of honor.  He honors us by lifting us our of danger's way and placing us in the safety of his sheltering arms.  I don't know about you, but when mom or dad used to take me into their arms, out of harm's way, they usually did something you may have forgotten - they lifted you up.  God is in the business of "lifting us up" above the circumstances which frighten and bring dread, threaten and taunt.  He is on the mission to honor us - to lift us up as an example of his grace and love.

We have so much to consider in this one psalm.  I hope you will take time to consider how God has honored you time and time again with his grace in action within your lives.  When you stop long enough to consider how he has lifted you up above the muck and mire of life's trapping influences, you might just turn your eyes afresh to him and bask in his love a little deeper.  Considering his actions on our behalf is one way to meditate on his greatness, bask in his love, and become enraptured by his grace.  Just thinkin.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

More than a legion

It is a sin to "soft peddle" the Christian walk - like it is going to be all sunny and rosy each step we take.   We cannot overlook the tremendous amount of work on our part to consistently listen to the right voices vying for our attention, nor the effort it takes to actually make the right choices when faced with all manner of temptation.  It is not a walk in the park by any means, so don't let anyone tell you it is going to be easy!  In fact, our path will be riddled with all manner of tempting thought, tremendous obstacles which will seek to make it impossible for us to cross without stumbling a whole lot, and lots of times when we just don't hear God's voice, but have to dig deep down inside us and lean into our faith that he is there.  There is one thing we can count on though - we don't walk without his tremendous care and protection over our lives!

God will command his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms, and you won’t hurt your feet on the stones. You will overpower the strongest lions and the most deadly snakes. (Psalm 91:11-14 CEV)

I don't live in a country with a monarch, but I have seen movies depicting what it is like in the "courts of the king".  He utters his wishes and it is as he says - no questions asked. The swiftest of actions go into play and the desires of the king are put into motion - simply at his bequest.  I don't think of God as a monarch, but this picture can give us a little insight into how things "go down" when he commands something to happen in our lives.  With the swiftest of action and utmost obedience, those charged with overseeing these actions in our lives are put into motion.  Now, I am not going to get into the whole "guardian angel" thing, but I do believe he has legions and hosts of angels just at his beckon call - awaiting his instruction and then taking the swiftest of actions to ensure his wishes are fulfilled on our behalf.  The argument isn't whether I believe I have one specifically assigned to my care and attendance, or legions at his side just waiting to intervene as he instructs - it is that I trust God has resources beyond my ability to see, but there nonetheless!

The God who protects does more than just conserve something in our lives - for conservation has some loss built into the best of plans to conserve.  For example, I may conserve rations if shipwrecked in a life raft on the open seas, not really knowing how long I may have to be afloat.  Try as I might, I cannot totally conserve all my energy, nor can I conserve all the "expenditure" of my own body fluids such as perspiration.  It will occur as a result of me being where I am and doing what I am doing.  I may "conserve" as much as possible, but there will always be some "loss" as a result of what I cannot possibly control. He also preserves, safeguards, puts up barriers on our behalf, acts as a buffer in our lives, and makes us invulnerable to the things which would attempt to trip us up or bring us down.

It might just be you avoided tripping over that last obstacle in your midst because of angels lifting you above them, or because they moved the obstacle completely in order to preserve your well-being and allow a liberty in your walk you'd not realize otherwise.  We don't have to see them to know they exist - nor do we have to know their names to understand their purpose in our lives.  We appreciate they are vessels of God's grace and protection over our lives.  Some will be agents who perform as our offense - ready to attack anything which seeks to mess with our liberty and interfere with the actions of grace in our lives.  Others will be agents who are our defensive line, so to speak - acting to protect the ground we have already taken and helping us to stand strong in that place of surety in our lives.  Regardless of their action - they are acting in our lives not because we call upon them, but because we call upon God.  I just want that to be plain here - angels aren't at our beckon call - they are at God's!

The point our psalmist wants us to see is that God employs all means to bring us into safety and keep us there once we have arrived!  He doesn't take it lightly when things get in the way of our safety or security.  He moves heaven and earth on behalf of his children.  This should help us overcome worry and anxiety in our lives, warding off the fear and dread which comes when we think we "manage" this life all on our own.  Mom's gait is unsteady these days, shuffling feet and failing eyesight making her often not quite sure of what the next step will bring.  I often reach out an arm, which she takes willingly and with confidence.  Why? She knows I am there to help her navigate the path.  She doesn't have to manage the path on her own.  In much the same way, God extends his arm - we only have to take it - resting securely in the truth he is there helping us navigate the path.  Just sayin!