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Monday, November 30, 2015

Know when to quit...

Do you have enough sense to know when to quit?  In my industry, we call this "work - life balance" - knowing when work needs to come to an end and the things in life which matter outside of work become our focus with enough energy and enthusiasm still left to actually enjoy them.  Quite a few people in your circle of influence may struggle with this "knowing when to quit" kind of thing - whether it is in the realm of a job they go off to each day, or something which distracts them equally as much in their leisure life.  Either way, if there isn't balance, we find ourselves engaged in what becomes the focal point of our lives and this can demand a very disproportionate amount of our time, energy, and heart.

Do not overwork yourself just to become wealthy; have enough sense to know when to quit. As soon as you become fixed on riches, they vanish. For suddenly they sprout wings and become like a soaring eagle flying high in the sky. (Proverbs 23:4-5 VOICE)

Notice that our passage doesn't say have enough sense TO quit - it says have enough sense to KNOW WHEN to quit.  There is a difference.  We can have enough sense TO quit - but we may be falling down from fatigue by the time we reach this point!  Knowing when to quit is a matter of heart, mind, and spirit being aligned - knowing deep down when the place we are at is the point at which we need to take a break from what we are pursuing in order to pursue things of higher value (such as time with God, those we love, and those we care about deeply).  

The focal point of our lives has a tendency to become that which gives us the most satisfaction - or at least promises to do so.  When we have the job as the focal point of our lives, we find ourselves too worn out at the end of the day to enjoy our family or even a little leisure time.  That cannot be good, right?  When we have the leisure stuff as our focal point, we might not have enough to pay the bills, going into debt beyond our ability to repay.  That also cannot be good, right?  Either way, we need to learn this art of "balancing" the two - or we will love one way too much and neglect the other.

We don't work to make ourselves wealthy.  We work to provide for the needs of our family (or our own needs, if we are single).  When God instructed man to work the fields and tend the animals, he didn't have in mind that we were to amass fortunes by doing so - neglecting all other pursuits.  In fact, when you look at what God instructs, he tells us to be sure we don't become so consumed by the pursuit of one thing we neglect everything else in life.  

As the Israelites were about to come into the Promised Land, God actually warned them to not become so consumed by the homes they would inherit without building them with their own hands, the fields they would be gathering from which they had not planted, and even to be very careful about the pursuit of the religious ways of those who dwelt in the land.  Why did he have to tell them all this?  He knew very well that increasing one's wealth brought a certain temptation to focus on that "wealth" rather than on the one who had really made the provision in their lives.  They would become "unbalanced" very quickly and drift away from keeping him central in their lives.

God doesn't oppose us gaining wealth - he opposes it becoming the primary pursuit and the thing upon which we place our trust.  He doesn't oppose us enjoying leisure time - he opposes us putting so much into the pursuit of leisure that we neglect him.  In all cases, he looks to our heart - seeking balance there - with a right focus on him, balance is maintained. Fix your attention on anything else and it will flee from you, causing you to muster even more energy and time to pursue it.  Just sayin!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Merry Christmas

"All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ." (quote from Crosswalk.com)  

As I was scrolling through the updates from my various friends on my media feed, I came across this quote and it kind of hit me.  I spent the afternoon with mom in the wheelchair, my daughter at my side, and the three of us just strolling a couple of the local stores for a few Christmas presents yesterday.  It wasn't a big deal, and we weren't like some of those crazy types of shoppers who were looking for the big bargains, willing to camp out at the wee hours of the morning to find that door-buster item.  We just went to have fun with each other, enjoy a little shopping for some specific items, and then see where the afternoon would take us.  As we luxuriated over a hamburger and fries for our late afternoon lunch, we just enjoyed each other's company.  I'd have to tell you there were a whole lot of people out there on "Black Friday" seeking those huge deals and willing to drive themselves crazy finding them.  Some of the best finds of our afternoon were the 2 for $1 Christmas cards my mom found at the local Dollar Tree for those she likes to send special cards to over the holidays.  They were usually over $3 a piece!  Now that is a bargain!  Yet, even with all the bargain hunting folks streaming in and out of the stores, one thing mattered the most - the three of us just hanging out at a leisurely pace and coming across the occasional "good deal".  

Love will never become obsolete. (I Corinthians 13:8 VOICE)

I'd have to say there is no greater gift this holiday season than the gift of God's grace - to know his peace and to personally experience his love is the greatest gift one can receive.  I also think it is the greatest gift one can "give" to another!  There are times when we are shy about sharing the hope within our own hearts - remember...you may never really know when someone will be ready to embrace the love God is so eager to give!  Love (especially God's love) will never become obsolete.  

On occasion, I have the rare treat of leaving work a couple of hours early, especially for a holiday weekend.  There are a whole lot of things I can do on those days, but this week I chose to come home.  It was a hard choice because I could also have spent it with my BFF and just hung out for a couple of hours at the mall - something I don't get to do as often as I like.  There was just something tugging at me that afternoon which called me home.  As I saw the delight on mom's face to see me home early and the enjoyment she took sitting watching me put up the Christmas tree, string it with the colored lights, and fill the boughs with ornaments galore, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  In those moments, love was shared - not because of any gift I could wrap, but because of the gift I could only give with my heart and with my "presence".  Such is the gift of Christmas - it isn't something wrapped under the tree, brightly colored paper and bow surrounding it, but the gift of God's blessed love and grace - given to us in the action of his Son's presence in our lives.

Love will never become obsolete - these are more than words - they are the actions of the cross over 2,000 years ago!  Do you know what obsolete means?  It is the idea of being effaced by wearing down or going away.  God's love is never wiped out by any action on our part, nor is it ever done away with by any action on his!  His love is never-ending and it is the true "gift that keeps on giving"!  We cannot find this gift in any local store, or online, or delivered to our front door.  We CAN find this gift in the heart of a friend who understands your decision to head home instead of going to the mall; the touch of the gnarled, arthritic hand of an aging mom as she strokes your hand just sitting there in the quiet of the evening; or the proud smile of excitement as your grandson displays his newest skill of riding the bike without his training wheels.  Yes, these are gifts we cannot ever replace - for they will never wear out!

My wish for you this Christmas season - to know the presence of God's love in your lives. May you find and enjoy his peace, live deeply in his love, and give generously of his grace as you have so generously received of his!  Just sayin...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

For this I am thankful....

Maybe you have heard the little acronym: GRACE = God's Riches At Christ's Expense.  I think it says it all, doesn't it?  Grace is no piddly gift - it is everything Christ could offer - his very life given for ours.  We also know grace is God's unmerited favor - not deserved, totally unearned, and never able to be purchased by us.  It isn't a "bartered" item - you cannot "talk God into" grace - it is freely given because HE wants to give it, not because of anything we can offer in return.  All of these facts about grace are probably what make it so hard for us to get our brains around grace.  WE don't "get" grace because it is so contrary to everything we have learned in life - we "get" by earning or deserving, right?  God gives without us earning or deserving - totally outside our basis of understanding, right?  The good news is that we don't have to understand GRACE to appreciate the effects of grace in our lives!

I am continuously thanking my God for you when I think about the grace God has offered you in Jesus the Anointed. In this grace, God is enriching every aspect of your lives by gifting you with the right words to say and everything you need to know. (I Corinthians 1:4-5 VOICE)

We can SEE and FEEL the effects of God's grace.  Grace has an impact in our lives which helps us in ways we may not fully understand or come to appreciate while on this earth, but we see evidence of grace all around us.  Grace will live on long after we are gone and grace will impact the lives of countless others who have seen the evidence of the work of grace in our lives - even when we may not think it made any impact!  This is probably what our writer was trying to help us understand - grace is God's way of enriching our lives - every aspect of our being being touched by his "undeserved favor".

Many in the United States are finishing up a week of Thanksgiving, having celebrated friends and family, enjoying countless meals together and consuming way too much turkey, ham, and pieces of pumpkin pie.  The move came again this year, as it has for many years running, to share things and people we are thankful for in our lives - some done publicly over social media, while others were shared around the Thanksgiving meal table.  Football teams were cheered on, their wins celebrated and losses mourned.  Some who were without family to celebrate with were invited into families to enjoy the memories together, laughs were shared, and even a few tears of memories gone by.  

Yes, it has been a week of Thanksgiving - but the one thing I am most thankful for above and beyond all the blessings of family, friends, and provisions galore - the GRACE which works in my life and yours!  Grace enriching every aspect of our lives - gifting us with the right words to say and all the wisdom we need to possess.  Did you catch that?  God's grace has gifted us with all the words we ever need to say - none of us has to worry we won't have the right thing to say when we need to speak up.  God's grace has gifted us with everything we need to know - nothing confounding us when it really matters.  Sure, we may not be able to figure out the 7-letter word in the New York Times crossword on Sunday morning, but when it really matters - God's wisdom is there for us!

The effects of grace are what we come to appreciate in our lives - not that we fully understand how grace "functions" - how it is possible for a God to love so much that he makes a way for sin's penalty to be paid once and for all, and how his loving gaze is first focused on Jesus' blood, making it possible to see us not as sinners, but as redeemed.  We can see the change grace effects in our speech, actions, and even our thought life.  We can see the impact grace makes on how we treat others, and how they have treated us when grace has embraced their lives.  We may not understand giving "freely" because we can only associate giving with getting and that coming with many a string attached, but we can appreciate having received what no one else could ever have given us.  

What are some of the effects of God's grace you have observed in your own life?  Take this moment to outline just a couple of them.  Don't just gloss past this - for his grace has enriched your life in ways you may not stopped to consider in quite some time.  For that enrichment, let us be grateful.  For that free gift, let us be ever thankful.  We may not stop often enough to think about what grace has enriched our lives with, or how it has encompassed us with love too magnificent to fully comprehend, but when we do, we find our hearts overwhelmed with the greatness of God's grace.  This is when Thanksgiving takes on new meaning in our lives - for it is when we truly focus on what makes life full and worth it all!  Just sayin!

Friday, November 27, 2015

What is restorative justice?

Embarrassed may be translated "ashamed", "flustered", "disconcerted", or even "bewildered" or "confounded".  Lots of ways to say the same thing, but each with just a tiny hint of a different meaning.  If I said I am not ashamed of the gospel I might just be trying to tell you it doesn't make me hesitant to share it, or take action on what it says.  If I were to tell you I am not flustered by it, you might get the idea I am not "put off" or "put down" by what I read there.  If I were to tell you I don't find myself disconcerted by the gospel message, then you might just get the impression I am not "mixed up" when I read its words, but in fact find a kind of power to put at peace what is already so mixed up within me.  You see, we all have a slightly different approach to the gospel each time we take it in - the most important thing to remember is that we are not to shy away from it!  No matter how we are "experiencing" it at the moment, it is and always will be God's power to save every person who believes!

For I am not the least bit embarrassed about the gospel. I won’t shy away from it, because it is God’s power to save every person who believes: first the Jew, and then the non-Jew.  You see, in the good news, God’s restorative justice is revealed. And as we will see, it begins with and ends in faith. As the Scripture declares, “By faith the just will obtain life.”  (Romans 1:16-17 VOICE)

As I was listening to my favorite radio station on the way to work yesterday, a woman called who was on the verge of tears. She shared the "encouraging story of the day" - something the radio station does each morning during my commute.  Most of the time, I get pretty jazzed to hear what is going on in people's lives, but this time the conversation made me think about the "image" of what the host of the show was actually asking the individual who called. She shared how she had been "away from Jesus" for a good many years, just doing her own thing, even though she "knew better".  She had recently experienced a tugging at her heart strings to "get her life back together" and as she put it, she was "trying to get things right with God" again.  As the host asked the question, I heard her pause and she answered in a way I hear so many people answer.  The question?  "If you were standing at the door of heaven right now, and God asked you why he should let you into his kingdom, what would you say?"  The answer from the woman caller:  "Well, I'd tell him I have been trying to get things together in my life..."

So many times we think an "open door" to God's presence is about what we "do" to get there, especially when we have turned our back on God for a period of time and are out there doing whatever it is we felt like doing for that period of time.  It isn't about what we do or have done - but ALL about what Jesus has done ALREADY for us.  His actions on our behalf HAVE been done, are CONTINUALLY enough to cover ALL our sin, even when we wander away for a while or "take a vacation" from living as we "know we should".  When we are living in a way which is kind of self-centered and focused on the "wrong stuff", we don't want to get into the Word - because the Word might just bring a little conviction and that makes us uncomfortable.  There is a difference between feeling discomfort over our actions and being ashamed of the gospel, though!  Just because it makes us feel like we need to do something differently in our lives doesn't mean the message "flusters" us, or "confounds" us. It simply means the message is doing what it was intended to do - lovingly show us we need a Savior.

If we need a Savior, then it is because we haven't been able to do enough to save ourselves! Ponder that one for a bit and you might just recognize how even the convicting power of the Word is God's way of showing himself powerful ON OUR BEHALF, not against us!  We need to stop considering conviction as a means of being "punished", or of a means to "punish" ourselves.  Conviction is a part of God's love expressed toward us - he cares so deeply for our needs he lovingly wants to bring correction into our lives, helping us refocus, and then drawing us closer to his heart until we don't want to leave his presence ever again!  We ALL slip up - we ALL feel conviction - we ALL fall into traps of sinful experiences on occasion. Some of us choose to "live in them" a little longer than others, but the same means "OUT" of where we find ourselves exists - the blood of Jesus.  

I think this is what our writer had in mind in this passage - conviction is a means to reveal God's "restorative justice".  In essence, he is saying our sin has been wrong - we need to confess it as such.  Then we need to trust fully in the powerful work of Christ on our behalf to be ALL we need to be restored to the place where God sees nothing of our sin, but only the right-ness of Christ's action on our behalf.  You see, in God's eyes sin cannot just be dismissed - there must be a "payment" for the sin.  The truth is that we cannot ever "repay" the debt sin created in our lives.  No matter how much we try to dig our way out of that hole, we will still find ourselves in the hole until we allow Jesus to lift us out!  His sacrifice on the cross, death, burial, and resurrection - these are the ONLY "payment" which actually fulfilled the debt fully.  As we stand at heaven's door knocking, we aren't "allowed in" because of our merit or ability to make payment - but because our "admittance" into the kingdom of God has already been secured through his living and dying!

God's love is best understood not in the absence of conviction, but in the fact conviction exists.  It is evidence of his restorative justice - beckoning us to turn away from what we have been pursuing and to embrace what awaits us in his presence.  Just sayin!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

They are still brussels sprouts!

The other day, I saw this recipe advertised for the "best ever garlic roasted brussels sprouts". Spoiler alert - they are still brussels sprouts! My daughter actually tried these and she said she had to gag them down, make the kids gag them down, and then announced she'd not be serving them again to rounds of cheers and delight! She is a chip off the old block, let me tell you. I have one vegetable I just don't enjoy and it is brussels sprouts! They are advertised as "miniature cabbages, but their taste is something quite stronger and a little more bitter than cabbage, so despite my love for cabbage, they remain on the lowest part of my "vegetable" list. You can "fancy them up" anyway you like, but they are still going to be the same old thing underneath. The same is true in our own lives - we can decide things look pretty good to us, but when we finally decide to partake of them, they leave us with a pretty bad after-taste.

God’s blessings follow you and await you at every turn: when you don’t follow the advice of those who delight in wicked schemes, When you avoid sin’s highway, when judgment and sarcasm beckon you, but you refuse. For you, the Eternal’s Word is your happiness. It is your focus—from dusk to dawn.  (Psalm 1:1-2 VOICE)

I am not sure how life has come at you lately, but there are plenty of things in my own days which come at me with all kinds of "promise" and leave me disappointed in the end.  I have to learn to avoid the things which "promise" delight, but send me sprawling down a slope of despair, disappointment, or depression.  We probably all find ourselves in this situation from time to time, don't we?  We are presented with all manner of "good-looking" stuff in life, but when we don't do a little deeper investigation into the "stuff" itself, we may find we are just taking in the "same old stuff", it is just dressed up a little differently this time around. My daughter never did like brussels sprouts as a kid, so what made her think she'd like them as an adult?  It was the promise of a "new recipe" - something advertised one way, but "delivering" something quite different than she expected in the end.  It was like when she made pizza with ground up raw cauliflower as the crust - her friends all promised she'd be delighted, but she gagged down another not so enjoyable meal - one which she will not repeat again.

We all want God's blessings in life - in fact, we want the to follow us, be there around every bend in the road, and almost fall from heaven on our lives like gentle raindrops.  There are probably more enticements to go after things which promise to be "like" God's blessings than we recognize - duping us into believing we are "going after" the right stuff in life, only to find we don't realize the blessing we hoped for in the beginning of our pursuit.  To avoid being "duped" in life, we need help - we just cannot avoid this on our own.  This is why God provides his Word - his guidebook of sorts which stands as a "manual" by which we may determine if our focus is on the right stuff.  To not end up following in the path set out by the voice of one who offers wrong advice is one thing - to recognize it when that person first starts speaking is quite another.  God wants to endue us with the power of recognition so finely tuned that we recognize the "imposter" in every circumstance and don't become duped by anyone or anything.

Avoiding sin's highway isn't done by taking back roads!  Back roads just get us to the same destination at a slower pace!  In order to avoid sin's destination, we need to travel in the opposite direction entirely - not just avoid the "super-highway" to sin's end!  To move from being critical and judgmental about someone or something we don't just decide one day to have a change of mind about that person or object.  That is like saying today's presentation of brussels sprouts will "win me over" as a fan of brussels sprouts!  Just because I love garlic doesn't mean I am going to accept the brussels sprouts!  If I have already formed a belief something is just not want I want to be pursuing, then I probably will need God's help to change my mind and attitude on that one!  It may just be the original attitude I already formed about that object, pursuit, or person is "spot-on" and God doesn't want me to change my determination to avoid contact with the object or person, or travel down that pathway toward whatever pursuit it is.  I need the clarity of God's Word to help me sort out if my "opinion" is "founded" in truth, or if I am being critical and judgmental because of some selfish, ill-founded attitude.  

God's hope for each of us is to help us see there are things which appear pretty doggone good in this life, but in truth, no matter how much they are dressed up differently, they still leave us in a place we'd rather not have gone.  I am not talking about brussels sprouts here, but life's choices, acquaintances, and promotions.  Not all of them are good for us - but we need to recognize those which are best to be avoided - then learn how to avoid them without toying with them even in the slightest!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

More than an app....

I saw this cute quip on Facebook this morning: "There is no app to replace your lap - read to your child." It was a sign prominently displayed over the doorway to a bookstore, so it made all the sense in the world to me. It also spoke to me of something even more important - the idea of coming fully into God's lap and allowing him to open his Word to us. Sometimes I think we kind of want to replace the "time" just nuzzling close to each other with whatever can be found in the "Bible Verse of the Day" delivered to your email or Twitter feed. No app will ever replace the moments had on the lap! Sorry, but it is the cold, hard truth and I just thought I'd put that out there!

Immerse them in the truth, the truth Your voice speaks. (John 17:17 VOICE)



Jesus is about to be taken from this earth, leaving those who were called his disciples and followers in a place of potential harm.  He knew the only way to protect them was to leave them something which would help to guide their continued growth - the Word of God. He says:  "In the same way You sent Me into this world, I am sending them. It is entirely for their benefit that I have set Myself apart so that they may be set apart by truth." (vs 18-19) We are given the Word, not because we needed the "nice stories" ABOUT Jesus, but because they reveal to us who he is, how he acts, what he loves, and why people are so important to him.

He asks his Father to immerse us in truth - the truth which comes directly from the throne room of God.  I remember hearing my dad call out on occasion for me to come home for supper - usually because I was off wandering in the desert around the house, or maybe riding my bike up and down the street.  As kids, we were all "tuned into" that "bellow" from the doorway announcing it was time to end our hard day of play.  That far off voice was beckoning me home - calling me into the place of protection and provision.  It would have been growing dark outside - a time when harm could come my way unsuspected and unwelcomed.  It was also a time when my body needed "refueling" for the next day - through food and rest.

Dad's voice was clear when he called, but it was clearest when we sat close to each other at the table, on the sofa, or just hanging out side-by-side on a hot day by the cool waters of a running brook.  His voice took on clarity, not because he shouted from the doorway, but because I drew near enough to listen intently to every word he spoke.  The same is true of our heavenly Father - draw close enough and you will be able to hear not only the words he speaks to you through his Word, but even the beating of his heart as you nuzzle right on up into his lap for a little while.  You don't get that from an app!

To immerse is to saturate.  Do something for me.  Take a totally dry sponge and pass it quickly under the running faucet.  Did it get wet?  Yes, it likely did.  It expanded a little, showing it had capacity to take on what it received, right?  Now, take that sponge and sit it in a bowl of water which totally covers the thickness of that sponge.  Give it a minute or two. Now, remove that same sponge from the bowl.  What is different this time?  It is the saturation of the sponge's every nook and cranny, isn't it?  The sponge was immersed in the water and as a result, it reached a point of saturation - it was full to capacity and now dripping wet.

When we immerse ourselves in the Word of God, it is as though we are saturated not only to capacity, but so as to be oozing the truth of God from every pore of our being!  The sponge could have done the job of maybe wiping up a few spills on the counter top with just being quickly passed under the water of the faucet, right?  What more can the sponge do when it is fully soaked in the water?  It becomes pliable in the hand of the one using it, doesn't it?  It has the ability to be bent this way and that, getting into this spot and then the next, until all the "service" that sponge can provide is fully performed.  We don't recognize the value of being immersed in his Word more than when we see the results of how "clean" our lives can be made when we are pliable in his hands.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Meaning to" and "getting there" are different

We try to bring a lot of things into God's presence, thinking we can somehow repay him for his grace or win even more of his grace or affection by what we offer to him.  The sad truth is that no gift is sufficient - no sacrifice great enough - no offering satisfactory.  Two things God asks of us - live justly and love kindness - then walk with him in humility.  He doesn't "expect" us to "do" things "for" him - like bringing him sacrifices, offerings, and doing all kinds of good works.  We don't get "merits" for what we do anymore than we get "demerits" for what we don't do, or the wrong stuff we do.  God isn't into keeping score and this is probably one of the most liberating things we can understand about God's grace.  In his grace, "score-keeping" doesn't exist.  Nothing we do "adds to" or "takes away" from the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Nothing!

What should I bring into the presence of the Eternal One to pay homage to the God Most High?  Should I come into His presence with burnt offerings, with year-old calves to sacrifice?   Would the Eternal be pleased by thousands of sacrificial rams, by ten thousand swollen rivers of sweet olive oil?  Should I offer my oldest son for my wrongdoing, the child of my body to cover the sins of my life?  No. He has told you, mortals, what is good in His sight.  What else does the Eternal ask of you but to live justly and to love kindness and to walk with your True God in all humility?  (Micah 6:6-8 VOICE)

We are all a little uncomfortable with this idea of grace because we find it hard to love or be thankful "without strings" - it is just not how we are taught to "respond" or "react" in life. Think about it.  As a child, when an adult gave you something, what were you told to say? "Thank You" - right?  Whether you wanted those peas on your plate - you were to say "thank you" and just be "grateful" for what you received (after all, there were starving children somewhere in the world who would be grateful for those peas if you weren't).  If you received something which brought you delight (like a piece of candy or a new toy), you had a little more expressiveness in your "gratefulness", didn't you?  You were more genuine in your thanksgiving.  We were almost taught to be kind of "false" in our gratefulness when our parents were trying to teach us to have "good manners".  Now, I am a big proponent of good manners, don't get me wrong, but it is the attitude of thankfulness deeper in the heart which actually makes God's heart move with delight as we approach his throne of grace.  He isn't impressed with us just having "good manners" when it comes to bringing him praise, thanksgiving, or worship!

I know there are hundreds who engage in this season of thanksgiving on public media feeds by finding something each day for which they are grateful, then posting a short blurb about what makes them thankful for that blessing, person, or possession.  I am quite grateful for a house to live in, a reliable car to move me between points here and there, and even for the many great relationships I have been given in life.  I am also very grateful for God's grace in my life - to live each day with mercy is a blessing I find harder to put in words.  It is an attitude best expressed in the heart and how the heart responds to God when I actually stop to meditate upon his love.  Words on a page cannot really fully express what my heart feels when I confess my sins to a merciful God - when I don't have to worry if that was one "demerit" too much on the wrong side of the page for him to forgive.  God isn't into my "gifts" or "sacrifices", but what does delight his heart is when he sees me model that same limitless grace in my response to those whose "demerits" could add up on the wrong side of the page if I were to be keeping score.

Live justly and love kindness - two things best expressed in us not keeping score against those who probably have more demerits than merits!  When we refuse to "mark that one up as a demerit", we are showing the same mercy God shows us - we let go of the offense and we embrace them in love.  It isn't simple, but it is the example we are shown and the hope of God's heart that we learn to live by that example.  God's hope is that we live decently, learning to give as freely as we have received - not because we "have to" because it is "good manners" - but because we desire to be as free in this gift of grace as he has been in sharing it with us.  It is hard to not attach strings to our forgiveness, mercy, and grace - isn't it?  We hope the other person will change their actions, be more responsive to us, or even be less offensive in their own behavior when we respond in a way they didn't deserve.  God doesn't just give us grace when he knows we will be "different" as a result of that grace - he gives it even when he knows we "won't be different"!  Thank goodness for that - for if I only received grace from God when he knew for sure I'd never do the same wrong thing again, it might be I'd receive it pretty infrequently!  I "mean" to change, but I don't always get to the point of change before the next time I need his grace!

Thankful hearts embrace the love of God even when they don't understand fully the love which is extended.  It takes a lifetime of walking with him to actually come closer to understanding his heart - if we even get close to understanding it!  I don't know about you, but my greatest moments of thankfulness come when I consider all I deserve in life based upon how I have lived and see all I have received which I did not deserve - all because of grace.  Grace enhances our lives with a richness we don't possess apart from receiving it.  It cannot be improved upon, but it can be magnified by the giving away of that grace when it is least deserved by those who act in ways which disappoint, bring disparaging actions upon us, or just leave us a little damaged by their impact.  When we give grace away, we can be assured the "reserves" of his grace are sufficient to not only refill us, but overflow us with even more grace for the journey.  For this, I am most grateful.  Just sayin!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Whoops! That one just escaped!

The majority of us would rather be remembered for something profound we might have said at a point in history than to be remembered for the silliness which sometimes has a way of coming out of our mouths at not always the most perfect moment.  We want to "go down in history", not as the fool, but as the wise.  Then how come we spend so much time letting foolish words escape our lips?  Maybe it is because we neglect the heart!  The words which escape our lips are merely a reflection of what is in our heart at that moment.  Deal with the attitude of the heart and the words which come forth won't just "escape" - they will serve purpose, hit the mark, and give wise counsel to the hungry soul.

From a wise heart flow careful words; wise words make the lips more persuasive. Pleasant words are like a honeycomb: they drip sweet food for life and bring health to the body. (Proverbs 16:23-24 VOICE)

I have found that I can judge the effectiveness of my words by how easily they come out of my mouth.  Those which seem to escape usually don't have a lot of thought behind them, or they are stemming from a whole lot of "wrong thought"!  Words which simply "escape" our lips are oftentimes words which indicate a departure of some degree from the standard by which we have deviated.  When I allow impure thoughts to invade the spaces of my mind, they begin to affect my emotions, and when my emotions get caught up in the mix, the words which seem to come forth without restraint are less than pure, as well.  They may be crass, cutting, or sarcastic.  They could be unkind, hurtful, or shameful.  Either way, they don't bear much grace, love, or concern for those around me.  They are the words of a fool, not the words of the wise.

Wise words flow from the heart and they are carefully spoken.  I think of them as the kind of words which help to paint a picture - filling in the blanks for someone - not just filling space! Careful words are precise - they get to the point and are able to pinpoint the specific need of the circumstance or situation.  They are also words which reflect I have been attentive to the things and people around me - not just glossing over, flitting in, or randomly being engaged. If my words are to be effective, they have to come as a result of me being attentive to God first, then to the needs of those around me.  Carefully spoken words are those which are chosen from a whole myriad of words, but are specifically the correct ones for the moment. They have impact, not because I am perfect, but because those words come as a result of being willing to allow God to speak through me.

The difference between foolish words and the words of the wise is often the amount of time one takes being mindful of the source of the words one is speaking.  As I went through Bible College, one of the challenges my dean gave to each of us was that of walking around one full day with a tape recorder taking note of all the words we would speak in that day.  Then we were to play it back, making special note of how many times we spoke about ourselves, or how many times we just spoke in a way which showed we didn't really listen to the one we were speaking with.  We were to play those tapes over and over until we were able to glean as much information about the way we engaged with others in order to learn how to be cognizant of our words.  I have to admit, it didn't take a full day of tapes to show me that I had a tendency to talk over people, jumping into their conversation before they got a chance to finish what they wanted to say, almost "pre-interpreting" their needs.  Carefulness in my words was not really a priority for me at that point in my life!

Mindfulness is important if we are to become wise in the use of our words.  One of my instructors told us after this exercise a little saying which has stuck with me down through the years:  Think all you will speak, but don't speak all you think.  In other words, give some thought to what you will say, but be sure to filter what you say so that only the helpful, beneficial, and grace-filled words come forth.  Not everything we think needs to be said - not everything we say shows we spent much time thinking about it, either!  We need this fine balance if we are to become "effective" in our communication with each other - mindfulness over our words, and then the willingness to be silent long enough to allow the Holy Spirit to place a filter over our words so only the helpful stuff flows forth (vs. allowing everything we think to just escape our lips).

Carefully spoken words are deliberate - prudent, purposeful, and pondered.  The three "P's" of wise words.  Prudent words are those which are judicious - they show discernment and reveal common sense.  Purposeful words are those which carry a significance - they have a meaning which brings sense to a circumstance, gives direction, and helps to sort out difficult issues.  Pondered words have been weighed carefully and are determined to be the "right words" for the "right moment" for the "right person" to be hearing.  These three "P's" might just help us to become the type of individuals whose words "flow" from rather than "escape" our lips!  Just sayin!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Prepare to develop

I recently saw a post on my social media feed with a simply phrase:  "You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it."  It was set over a simple photo of a farm and farmhouse.  I think it probably had a couple of messages behind it, such as farming is not for wimps!  It probably had another meaning closer to the passage below - we don't receive lessons in this life through osmosis, but because we walk through them and learn from them.  Someone might think they were given the life they were given because only THEY could live up to the challenge.  The challenge wasn't given to you because you had the strength, it was given to you to reveal the strength the Almighty would give you to walk through it.

Those who learn from the lessons of life will join the others who are wise.  Those who disregard discipline sabotage themselves, but those who are open to correction gain understanding. Reverence for the Eternal is the first lesson of wisdom, and humility always precedes honor.  (Proverbs 15:31-33 VOICE)

Some think the process of learning comes as a result of enrolling in some course which will somehow "educate" you.  This may be true when it comes to learning how to fix air conditioning compressors, or successfully anesthetize a patient for surgery, but there are far more lessons learned in the school we never really "enroll" in!  We call it life and it comes at us at extraordinary speeds on occasion.  The lessons of life will lure us in like a slow, lazy river gives us the sense all will be peaceful as we launch our raft upon it, only to find it takes us straight into the roaring rapids of chaos!  Most of us want the lazy river kind of lessons - the ones we learn by laying back, luxuriating in the beauty of the moments which pass, and the sounds of peaceful breezes coming through the trees.  

We might get a little curious when we begin to hear the rapids in the far off distance, but we still don't connect those sounds with the river we are afloat upon.  As our raft begins to rock a little, picking up speed, we may begin to wonder a little, but we are still not stirred enough to make course corrections.  Yet, when the full-on rapids begin to jerk us back and forth, tossing all manner of cool spray into our faces, and the horror of the moment grips our emotions, we somehow begin to pay attention!  

The wise don't avoid the river altogether - they learn to navigate it because they don't allow it to lull them into repose and stupor.  They remain attentive to the sounds of the journey, for the subtle changes only catch a listening ear - for they alert them to course corrections long before they become "necessary".  They enjoy the journey not because it is without challenges, but because each challenge reveals a new opportunity to embrace life and learn what is revealed in the moment.  

There are those who regard discipline as "control" - either that which you exert in the moment, or that which is imposed upon you at the time.  Did you know the word "discipline" can be translated "education".  To learn is to live a disciplined life - a "discipled" life.  The followers of Jesus were asked to do more than just "float the river" with him.  They were asked to "learn of him" - to engage in life with him, actively participating in the journey.  We learn the greatest lessons when we actually participate in them.

Disciples (disciplined individuals) actually exhibit two very important character traits:  1) development and 2) preparation.  Lest we think we can learn without either of these traits, let's think about that one again.  Preparation involves time - time spent "getting ready".  A baby is in the womb for how many months?  Nine, if they are full-term.  What is happening during that time?  The baby is developing - getting ready to be born.  Born too early and it needs all manner of artificial support, because it wasn't intended to live outside the womb that early on its own.

What happens to the parents during the time the baby is in the womb?  They are preparing for that which is developing within!  They are making adjustments to their lives in order to be ready for the new life about to become part of theirs for a long, long time.  The room is set up, the seat is installed in the car which will ensure the baby is secure for whatever journey they will take together, and the clothes are amassed which will keep that infant warm as it slumbers through nap times galore. 

The parents are not only preparing, they are developing, as well.  As they read the books on what to expect when an infant is born, they are preparing for the labor process, the delivery, and the subsequent sleepless nights!  Sometimes they actually make life corrections, such as beginning to save money, knowing the time has come to change how much they spend on only themselves, as another is coming who will count on them to provide for their needs. They are learning - preparing and developing.

As we go through life, it isn't the challenge which actually prepares and develops us, but the one who walks us up to the challenge, then continues to walk with us throughout it!  He prepares us in the quiet, lazy river moments, only if we are attentive to his lessons.  He strengthens us and takes us into the "advanced lessons" of life in the rapids, but he never abandons us upon the waters - ever!  Just sayin!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Don't think you can constrain me!

Have you ever done good and found out someone was talking behind your back about what you did in a not so positive way?  In fact, they are kind of making fun of you for being a goodie-two-shoes, or just "brown-nosing".  It is unfortunate, but people will be people - this is one thing we can count on!  Not everyone will understand why you do what you do when God moves you to do something out of the ordinary for someone else, nor will they always see it as done just because you wanted to bless someone.  In fact, they will likely see it as you trying to get ahead, or maybe as though you are trying to "one-up" them.  Either way, don't get all weird about their reaction to you - they don't understand your purpose and they drift into this criticism of your actions because they don't know your heart.  The important thing is that you are acting in a way which honors God and with the intent of being an extension of God's grace in the lives of the ones you touch today.  Your "blessing" doesn't come in someone else understanding the purpose of your actions of love - it comes in you being obedient to be a blessing in the lives of those around you!  The tendency of human nature is to offer criticism about things we don't understand - we cannot avoid criticism in life - it is just going to come.

Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing. Don’t let them frighten you. Don’t be intimidated, but exalt Him as Lord in your heart. Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame. (I Peter 3:13-16 VOICE)

As kids, we may have heard that little saying, "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt me."  Anyone other than me ever think, "You're crazy man...words get to the core of who I am quicker than a few lashes from a stick"?  Words, especially those intended to show disapproval of one's actions, can eat away at us like acid on a fine paint job.  They just don't stop at being heard - they get at us because our minds have a tendency to rethink them time and time again.  One of the reasons people criticize another is this feeling of being "intimidated" by the actions of the other person.  They are made to "look bad" because another thought to do something they didn't, or they just couldn't find a way to show their "skill" like you did, so they are jealous of your talent.  One of the very skillful tools they will use is their attempt to intimidate you with their words and even their actions. In essence, they are working to "constrain" you - something pretty hard to do when God is directly behind all of your actions in life!

Intimidation is meant to disquiet you internally - it is something which works at the core of our thoughts and begins to affect our emotions.  This is the power of intimidation - it gets a foothold into our emotions and when our emotions get stirred up, there is no telling where the power of those emotions can take us if we don't get a grip on them.  The way our writer tells us to deal with intimidation is by keeping God in the center of our hearts - exalting him as Lord in your heart.  If we are to have a good defense against criticism and intimidation, we need to have a good offense - God at the center is probably about the best one I know! It is hard to dishearten someone who has God at the center of their hearts!  If we get God at the center of all we do, there really is nothing for anyone to criticize, is there?

Another component of being "strong against intimidation" is this concept of keeping a "clear conscience".  I think this has to do with us "staying current" with God as it comes to our actions which may not be entirely "spot on".  In other words, we don't allow our compromises and slip-ups to "pile up" until we find the need to make some huge "altar confession".  We simply ask God to forgive us, help us change our focus, and then move on in obedience to what he desires for us.  We don't allow compromises to "mount up" because when we do, we open the door to allowing those side-ward glances to become the path we will follow with greater and greater consistency.  In time, our conscience no longer responds to the prompt to stop.  So, the advice of our writer is to keep a clear conscience - stop when you feel the prompting to stop, confess you are tempted to give into something which is playing upon your heart-strings at that moment, and ask God to show you the way to turn away from that compromise.  

Even our own conscience can be a little intimidated at times - especially when it listens to the tugs of our heart-strings more than it listens to the truth we know somewhere deep down in the inner core of our being!  It is a fine balance to walk through this life in such a way that neither our own conscience, nor the criticisms of man can derail us or constrain us from doing right.  Just sayin!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Like-minded people unite

Like-minded people have a tendency to gravitate toward one another, don't they?  It is as though there was some internal form of radar which brings them together and they just mesh.  This is all good when the "like-minded" thoughts and actions are pretty upright and honorable.  When they are at the opposite end of the spectrum, we don't like to see those people "get together" because the opposition they bring to others when together is pretty challenging to deal with.  What are the "like-minded" tendencies we are supposed to be focusing on in finding those we travel through this life with on our journey to eternity?  The characteristics we are to look for in others are the ability to show sympathy, love, compassion and humility for each other.  This is the beginning of "finding" the right type of companions for the journey, but when we add to this the willingness to move from paying back the evil or insult we receive in life with nothing more than grace, we truly have found the best companions for the journey.  

Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and humility to and for each other—not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing.  It is written in the psalms, "If you love life and want to live a good, long time, then be careful what you say.  Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things.  Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it.  For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers.  But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers." (I Peter 3:8-12 VOICE)

To be like-minded doesn't mean we agree on everything, but we agree on enough to make our travels together moments when we will actually experience growth in our lives.  In some translations of this passage, "like-minded" is translated as being in unity or living in harmony with one another.  I like the term "like-minded" because it actually focuses on the root of all action and helps us recognize the importance of finding those in our lives who help us develop "sound thought or reasoning" in order to produce the right actions within our lives.  If our thought processes are at odds with each other, our actions will also be opposed to each other - we will be working against each other, rather than creating the synergy which brings us to a better place or behavior pattern.  It is more than agreeing to disagree - it is actually living in agreement with each other because the standards by which you each pattern your lives are the same (those which are revealed in the scripture).  Unity is probably one of the hardest things to attain - because agreement is tough stuff.  They key to agreement is not that we each give into the other, but that we all are focusing on the same standard by which we "take action" in our lives.

Toby Mac is quoted as saying, "When someone does something wrong, don't forget about all the things they did right."  We have a tendency in life to focus on the stuff which rubs us wrong, or is in disagreement with what we believe, don't we?  It is like we have laser sharp focus on those things and then keep them in our "sights" for a long, long time.  When we focus on the stuff we don't agree about, we sometimes lose sight of the tremendous amount of stuff we do agree on!  I may not have any issue with eating pork, but my sister does.  She is in one of her 'healthier' kicks right now, so she is refraining from eating any meat outlined in scripture as "unclean" when God gave Israel the Law of Moses.  She wants to make good choices for her body - I cannot lose sight of that "motive" in her actions.  I may not live by that standard, but it doesn't hurt me to support her in it as much as possible.  We can live in harmony - but disagree about which meat we will serve at each other's dinner table!

In making life choices, we often tend to find those who will support our choices - this is only natural.  We just need to make sure those who support our choices are doing so for the right reason - especially if our choices may not be entirely correct!  If people just "get together" on a choice because it is a similar choice, but that choice is far from the standard God would want for our lives, then it is just two people pursuing wrong choices and encouraging each other to continue to do so!  We don't need "allies" in sin, we need "allies" in righteousness! These might actually be harder to find, but well worth the discovery!  Look for those who guard their tongue - for the tongue can set many a life into turmoil with the speed of light and the destructiveness of a raging wildfire.  Seek those who are willing to forgive others for their poor judgment or not so "right" actions - for there is something contagious about letting go of grudges and leaving vengeance to God.  Find another who will walk away from things which aren't all that honorable, guarding carefully what they allow into their lives as influences - for what we "allow" often becomes the standard by which we form our future actions.

There are things we can never compromise on - scripture clearly declares what these are. There are other things we can agree about as the "right choice" for another because it meets the needs of another, but doesn't violate any principle taught in scripture.  We help each other to grow when we don't focus on the little things which don't really matter all that much. It doesn't matter that your body bears a tattoo or two (or more), nor does it matter that there is are earrings running the length of your ear.  As we look deeper, we might just find the heart of the one standing across from us is just like ours - in love with Jesus, open to his grace, and desiring to share that grace with others.  Just sayin!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Got a little turmoil going on?

Ever been in a place some might call a real "brouhaha"?  You know what I mean - the place in your life where everywhere you turn, it is like total conflict.  It could be conflict all created by your own mind and soulish desires, or it could be external to you, but affecting your life nonetheless.  It is that place where someone or something is lying in wait for that moment when the attack will be just right to take you down.  It is as though things are on a slow boil up to a point, then all of a sudden the boil begins to roll and steams begins to build.  At that point, what do you do?  For most of us, it is too late to do much because when it finally builds to that point, it is harder and harder for us to find peace, get a clear picture of what is happening, or even call a retreat from it.  We are there for the duration - simply because we didn't know how to avoid the conflict in the first place!

I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing, my soul’s desire:  To live with Him all of my days—in the shadow of His temple, to behold His beauty and ponder His ways in the company of His people.  His house is my shelter and secret retreat.  It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.  Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.  He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.  (Psalm 27:4-5 VOICE)

At the point of turmoil's first hint, where we turn with that turmoil makes all the difference in the outcome.  Turmoil takes on all manner of "appearances" in our lives.  Probably one of the most noticeable types of turmoil in our lives is that which we call "anxiety" - the internal type of turmoil which really is a matter of trust.  Anxiety is really caused because of some question of who or what we are going to trust in within that area of our life.  If we lean heavily upon our own "wisdom" and don't have much use for the wisdom God provides, we might find that turmoil builds until we reach levels of anxiety which are difficult for us to manage.  The problem is that WE created the turmoil - by placing our trust in something which is unreliable in our lives.  Until WE step out of the way, the peace we now lack cannot be re-established by God.  It is as things BEGIN to build within our minds and hearts which seem to be creating internal unrest that we must turn to the sanctuary of God's shelter and secret retreat - not after we have allowed all the angst to build to the point of breaking!  Our psalmist describes this as "living with" God in the shadow of his temple - not occasionally taking our messy lives to him to sort out.

For others, the greatest place of turmoil comes when there has been some type of "mix-up" in life.  It is like you "thought" things were going one way and then you come to discover they are going in the opposite direction.  You discover (often too late) that the road you have been traveling is not the one you expected.  Expectations cause us a great deal of turmoil in life - either because we didn't live up to them, or because someone else dashed our hopes by not living up to ours.  In those moments, the greatest thing we need to realize is that our expectations were the wrong focus for us to maintain.  It is okay to have expectations, but who or what we choose to focus on to meet those expectations is another matter.  If we are counting on ourselves to meet those expectations - all our desires and aspirations in life - we may come up a little short in the deal.  We are limited a great deal of the time by our talent, energy, or time.  In the end, we either burn out along the way, or we get to where we were going to find we are too "spent" to enjoy what we have achieved.  The best way to avoid the turmoil of the "mixed-up" expectations in life is to sit with the one who provides "safety" for us.  We need to constantly be turning to him to seek clarity and a "re-sorting" of our priorities so our expectations are realistic, not based on the performance of another, or even ourselves, but squarely on the boundaries he provides for our safety and protection.

Perhaps one of the most difficult types of turmoil for us to deal with is that of feeling a sense of rebellion - a place of resistance exists and we just don't know how to break free of that turmoil it causes. Simply put, rebellion occurs when there is a schism of sorts which takes place, allowing two parties who are "at odds" to exist in the same "space".  It is like oil on water - the two exist together, but they are totally "unmixed" and remain "at odds" with each other despite being in the same "space".  Within our minds, rebellion wreaks havoc.  We are at odds with none other than ourselves - our spirit tells us to do one thing, but our emotions are pulling us a dozen different directions - leaving us "at odds" with ourselves.  In turn, we give in to the "voice" which is making the most "noise" in us at that moment.  This "noise" is often created by the very thing we don't want to be pursuing because we "know" it is clearly not the right thing to do, but we "feel" the opposite about it.  Until we learn to shut out some of those voices which scream the loudest within us, we won't rise above the rebellion brewing within.  When we want to overcome rebellion, we don't argue with it, we withdraw from it - we get away from the voices!  It isn't a sign of weakness to say we are weak!  It is a sign of strength to recognize when the voices are too loud for us to resist!

It may seem a little too over-simplified to say this, but the greatest way to avoid turmoil in our lives is to run to the place where turmoil doesn't exist!  David went regularly (with consistency and purpose) the place of where "safety sat with him", bringing order and peace into the midst of his turmoil.  Safety isn't a "thing", but a person!  As long as we give into the people, circumstances, and voices of turmoil in our lives, we are not going to understand the benefits of running to the person who provides safety for us when turmoil abounds.  God can set at rest the things which are spinning out of control, and he can settle the screaming voices of compromise, but we need to be in the place to allow him to do this.  Here is the key to overcoming - we go regularly, with consistency, and with determined purpose into the presence of the one who can set right what is totally wrong within or without our lives.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stop playing the field

I saw this cute little post the other day on Facebook and thought you might enjoy it:   Dating tip...Run as fast toward God as you can and if someone keeps up, introduce yourself.(GodFruits.tv)  Kind of profound in a way because most of us simply run toward the one we want to date rather than running toward the one who actually can help us find the right one to date!  My pastor says something similar to us singles all the time - become the kind of person you want in a mate and you will attract that kind of person as a mate.  The message is similar - who we choose to pursue so much so as to actually make a heart attachment to will determine the rest of our course in life.  Who we become in that relationship with another human being isn't the other person's "fault", it is an outcome of us pursuing another person rather than us pursuing God with all our heart, soul, and mind.

Don’t fall in love with this corrupt world or worship the things it can offer. Those who love its corrupt ways don’t have the Father’s love living within them. All the things the world can offer to you—the allure of pleasure, the passion to have things, and the pompous sense of superiority—do not come from the Father. These are the rotten fruits of this world. (I John 15-16 VOICE)

The reason we are to follow God first and foremost is this idea of becoming so much like the one we set our focus toward.  If we are following him closely, so as to really understand his grace and mercy in our lives, we will have a change of heart, mind, and soul.  We will desire less of what the fleshly soul desires - things which please only us - and will begin to desire the things he does.  If you have seen people who have been a "couple" for a long time, what seems to happen in their lives?  Don't they develop a lot of the same mannerisms?  They almost becoming "matching bookends", so to speak.  Now, if the one we focus on first is what can help us to become the person we are intended to be, then we become a "matching bookend" in a pretty awesome sense.

We "fall in love" with some pretty questionable things in this life, don't we?  I think this whole wording of "falling in love" should give us a clue as to the lack of reliability with this whole concept!  I don't know about you, but falling suggests to me a downward descent! It almost has the idea of being "tripped up" so as to stumble head-long into some situation. I have fallen a few times in the natural sense - usually because I was not looking squarely in the direction I was traveling!  After having my knee replaced, whenever I do this, simply because my "footing" isn't as trusty as it used to be, I can almost stumble a little easier.  If we are to avoid "falls" in life, we need eyes forward, fully focused, and attentiveness to our surroundings!

I did a thesaurus search for the word "falling" and do you know some of the terms it returned?  Words like collapsing, decreasing, sliding, weakening, diminishing, and slipping. Now, take each one of these and use them to describe what happens when we get our eyes on anything other than Jesus first in our lives.  
  • We collapse under the weight of the worries this brings simply because we weren't meant to figure everything out on our own.  
  • We decrease in our capacity and capability to endure threats which come our way simply because we don't have our eyes fully fixed on our best defense!  
  • We find ourselves slipping slowly into patterns of behavior which are not that all that honoring of the way of life we should be living.
  • We are weakened in our response to resist those things which comes as a temptation into our lives simply because we have our eyes more focused on them than on Jesus.
  • We find our power and purpose diminishing because anything which distracts us really robs us of our right placement in life as alongside the ruler of the universe.
  • We slip into ways of acting or responding which are just not that noble, trustworthy, or grace-filled because we forget who is the most trusted foundations of our lives.
Now, if this doesn't show us how important it is to keep ourselves in a place where we avoid "falling for" anything or anyone, then I don't know what will.  As we learn to pursue the right person in our lives, then we find ourselves being built up, changed in character and likeness to the one we are pursuing, and enticing to those who are in pursuit of the same things in this life.  We are focused on becoming - not enticing.  The one who is drawn to us is really being drawn to Jesus in us.  Doesn't that sound a whole lot better than just taking your chances on what or who you may find by simply "playing the field" in any sense in your life? Just asking.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No, No, No....Cut!!!!

There are times for each of us when we just lose sight of things in our lives - things which are more important than other things.  In these times, what we do to regain focus is what will make all the difference.  Wouldn't it be much easier to just remain focused?  Of course, but it is hard to maintain focus - it requires us to take action when we might not feel like taking action, redirect our attention when we are becoming distracted, and dig into the Word of God when the answers just don't seem to come.  

Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written upon your heart. In this way, you will win the favor of God and others, and they will think well of you. (Proverbs 3:3-4 VOICE)

The basic thing I believe we need to see in our study today is this idea of being directed - one way or the other, the direction we choose is because either we are directed from some desire within, or we have a desire planted from another which motivates us to take some particular course of action.  Where the desire originates from is probably the most important part of us taking any step of action, as we discussed yesterday.  If the desire is from within and is selfishly based (to feed some craving or desire of our flesh), then we will be taking steps, but they may not be in the right direction.

To be focused is to be directed.  In acting, actors and actresses assume a place on the stage. In the beginning, they are looking for the oversight of someone we call the director.  They are very attentive to his words, requirements, and "advice".  As they become more and more familiar with their roles, something happens - they begin to ad lib a little, thinking it "adds to" their role.  As long as this doesn't veer too much from what the director wants to see, he may allow it.  If the times comes where they get too much into this realm of ad lib, the director will stop the production and "re-direct" them.  

Why does he do that?  Isn't it because he has a story to tell and by remaining true to the script, the story will be told in the way the author intended?  Now, in life, God has a story to tell through each of us - one he has authored and wants told pretty close to the original intention of the "script".  We are more than actors and actresses on a stage, but think of life as a stage for a moment.  As we receive our direction from God himself, we are to remain true to the script - following the lead he gives.  Veering too far "off-script" is what gets us into the realm of needing to be "re-directed".  

The "script" of life is filled with words and actions of mercy and grace.  As long as we are remaining true to the script, our lives illustrate what the author intends through our lives. As soon as we get caught up in some self-directed "whim or fancy" which comes from our selfish motives, we drift into this place of "being off-script" (we are "filling in" with a whole lot of ad lib).  The stage of our life is filled, but the quality of what is being shown to others is not at its optimum!

I think we get a little mis-directed on occasion - either because we are listening to some inner voice telling us there is a better way to live life, or because we are caught up in the misdirected "ad lib" of another's actions.  Either way, we will hear the director of our lives (Jesus) tell us to stop and get redirected.  In acting terms, it is when the director tells every one to "cut".  It is understood that the actions come to a screeching halt when this word is spoken.  Why?  They all know they are about to receive some "direction" which will better tell the story.  

Maybe we need to approach redirection in our lives a little more like that - knowing no redirection is meant to criticize or tear us down, but to help us remain "true to the story being told" through our lives.  If we did, maybe we'd be more in tune with the "script" and less willing to accept "ad lib" in our lives.  Just sayin!

Monday, November 16, 2015

If God is...

If God is on our side...words which really say it all.  What does it mean to truly stand with God on our side?  In the most literal sense, it means that nothing is bigger, stronger, more powerful, or with any greater authority than the one who stands with us through any and all storms, troubles, diseases, or threats.  It also means that no warring faction within us can ever win the war!  This is indeed good news for those of us who haven't quite learned to walk away from temptation when it comes our way, huh?  Although we may not have "drawn the line" far enough away from compromise the last time to actually avoid "opening the door" to sin, we have the one resident within us who helps us redraw the line a little further away the next time!  Most of us think we chose God, but in truth, he chose us.  It is like he stood on the field and specifically picked us out of the line up to become part of his team.  We weren't the ones choosing that day we said "yes" to Jesus.  God had already chosen us, but not because of our extreme talent like a talent scout might do in looking for a new ball player, but because of our extreme need.  You see, God's methods are much different than ours - he isn't concerned with surrounding himself with self-righteous people who need no help, but with sinners who just cannot make it without his grace!

If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear?  If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty” verdict is already declared. Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing.   As the psalm says, "On Your behalf, our lives are endangered constantly; we are like sheep awaiting slaughter." But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 VOICE)

Nothing can come between us and the love of God.  NO THING!  We have this to count on: the one who went before us through all manner of temptation as we are tempted with, we can stand against all manner of temptation - in his power.  My pastor shared four areas where we are tempted - using the acronym "HALT".  Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Trust. When I really thought that one through, he was right.  All aspects of temptation which come into our lives are based in one of these four "root-causes".  It may not be a physical hunger, but some hunger drives us closer to compromise.  In anger we make a whole lot of choices we later regret - especially when it comes to the choice of words we may utter!  When lonely and feeling a little less than loved, we give into all manner of unwanted compromise - settling for things and people in our lives we'd never think of settling for if we weren't plagued with loneliness.  Trust is at the core of so many of the compromises we engage in because we are really trying to figure out who it is we trust - ourselves or God.  Yep, he hit the nail on the head, didn't he?  

When scripture says nothing can come between us and the love of God, it means that even those compromising moments don't separate us from his love.  How is that possible?  We need only look as far as the rest of this passage - it is through the blood of Jesus that we experience the presence of God and it is by the blood of Jesus we are upheld in the constancy of that love.  Grace is only necessary for those who need undeserved favor.  Why do we need undeserved favor?  We compromise - that's why!  We don't get it right 100% of the time and we need grace to get us back on track and love to keep us there!  We might not resist hunger, anger, loneliness, and issues with trust all of the time, but we can be certain that his grace reaches down to pick us up each time we need it.  

No matter what comes - and the stuff of life certainly "comes" our way, doesn't it?  No passage of scripture is to be taken on its own, though.  We have to remember what Paul has been saying all along in this letter to the Roman church.  The basis of our faith is Jesus Christ and his "payment" for the penalty of sin on our behalf.  His life given freely is what gives us the ability to stand.  The one who places their faith in that truth is going to stand strong - plain and simple.  Death didn't hold him captive in the grave - he overcame even the most "permanent" of situations by the power of his Father's love.  Think on that one a little, my friends.  Even the most "permanent" of circumstances - death - didn't hold him back from completing his purpose in our lives.  His love would not allow his actions on our behalf to stop at the cross - it took him to the grave and back to the right hand of the Father in heaven - all on our account.  

If "NO-thing" kept him from revealing his love for us, then "NO-thing" can keep us from experiencing that love fully!  Our own desires and "less than well-planned compromises" might try to separate us, but grace reaches beyond every "slip up" or "ill-devised plan" to avoid compromise.  In our own strength, we don't stand a chance of completely avoiding compromise.  It wasn't "resistance" which helped Jesus to overcome everything which came against him - it was LOVE.  The love of the Father kept him and held him close.  This is something we can learn from, my friends.  God's love is what keeps us - calls us closer and helps us "draw the line" a little further from compromise the next time.  Isn't it about time we leaned into that love a little harder?  Just askin!