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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fix the fix I am in!

Most of us would think of a journey as a time of adventure and discovery.  It is a crossing from one place into another - maybe not permanently, but it can be experienced and enjoyed nonetheless.  To others, it is a quest of sorts - a mission to accomplish something such as crossing a dream off of your "bucket list" of things to do someday.  If we view a journey as "destination-bound" movement, we kind of think of it as a way of getting from where we are to where we might want to be.  If we view it as somewhat of a "dream", we might never really make much movement toward it, right?  The truth of the matter is that a journey is anything we do or think which helps us pass from one place or state to another. If we take actual steps, leaps, or bounds to get from here to there, it is probably more of a physical journey.  If we prepare mentally and spend time in study, it may be a little bit of a journey in thought resulting in development of thought. If we add some "spiritual discovery" into the mix, we find ourselves growing on many planes while moving from one place or position in life into another!  I don't refer to "spiritual discovery" in a mystical sense, though, but more as a movement which involves the development of our faith, trust, and deeper love for Jesus!

If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking. (James 1:5 VOICE)

The important thing for us to remember is a journey is somewhat of an "unknown" - we set out on it without always having the full revelation of what we will see, experience, or learn along the way.  We place our trust in what we understand about the journey and then launch into it.  The good news is that we don't have to take the journey alone, or in our own strength, wisdom, or power.  We can simply ask God for the wisdom we need for the "movement" and he will provide it!  As with all "movement" in life, there is somewhat of a shift from where we are at that moment.  What we experience in the journey we take when God is the one empowering us for the journey is a little bit of a "shift" in our trust - we move from relying upon what we know or believe will get us to where we hope to be, to reliance upon the one who has prepared the destination for us.

One thing I have learned in life is that I don't possess all the knowledge, strength, or power I need for the journey!  I may have thought that I did on occasion, launching off with total reliance upon my own wisdom to get me through.  It didn't end well!  There is much more "safety" and "protection" when we have the Lord's perspective and his provision along the way!  Now, did I learn that overnight?  Nope!  Did I have to take a few "failed journeys" in life before I finally got it?  Yep! Did that make me look a little foolish in the end?  Yep!  Am I ashamed to admit I took some missteps?  Nope!  Why?  I know that even in ending up at the "wrong destination" I was able to get something out of the journey!  I think this is important for all of us to recognize because we have all somehow taken journeys to destinations which were clearly not the ones God intended for us and we did it without even consulting him about it.  These "wrong destinations" don't have to define us or bring us any shame in life.  They only help to bring us to a better understanding of our utter dependence upon Jesus!

To be truthful here, I have arrived at some destinations which proved to be absolutely "wrong" for my life, and instead of just trying to "fix" the "fix" I found myself in, I have often just sat there and cried my eyes out to God, ashamed of having arrived at that destination, but not too ashamed to ask for his help to get myself out of it!  I like what James says:  "He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking."  What I what us to say in those moments of realizing the "fix" we are in is: "Thank you, Lord, for not scolding us when we admit we have failed miserably or gone out on our own in this journey of life! Thank you for embracing us, helping us to "regroup", and setting us on right paths once again!  Thank you for helping us move beyond our shame over the failure into a place where we recognize we are forgiven and set right in your sight!"  It might not be the easiest thing to forgive ourselves, but when we realize we are forgiven by the one who loves us more than anyone else in this entire world - we get there!  Just sayin!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stop - consider - choose

Two paths - two choices - a whole lot of things drawing us down one - only one thing drawing us down the other. Life is not always easy, nor are the paths we take totally "well-traveled" by others.  In fact, we may find ourselves on a path which is just not all that well-discovered, nor is it well-worn, yet I have found those paths often give us the greatest discoveries in life!  You hear all the time of people getting a "major" in one subject and a "minor" in another while they are completing their degrees in higher education. In essence, they are saying they have "two pathways" in life which they can fall back on if the need arises.  If the economy takes a turn this way or that, they might be a little more resilient in their job opportunities because of that dual educational path, but in life, it is rare that we can actually follow two paths and do justice to both!

There are two paths before you; you may take only one path. One doorway is narrow. And one door is wide. Go through the narrow door. For the wide door leads to a wide path, and the wide path is broad; the wide, broad path is easy, and the wide, broad, easy path has many, many people on it; but the wide, broad, easy, crowded path leads to death. Now then that narrow door leads to a narrow road that in turn leads to life. It is hard to find that road. Not many people manage it. (Matthew 7:13-14 VOICE)

I recently listened to two testimonies from women undergoing the decision to abort their unborn child when they were much younger and ultimately taking that step to "rid themselves" of the unwanted pregnancy.  One explained they were kind of a "party hearty" gal, given to using a little too much alcohol at those parties, and then "finding herself" pregnant after one of those nights of hard partying.  The other simply told of the story of having thought she was loved by someone, but then discovering the individual had no real commitment to her, leaving her with the choice to be a single, unwed mother or abort the child.  In retrospect, both women told of their regret at having made that decision years and years earlier (one was 63 at the time she shared her testimony of a decision she made 43 years earlier).  To this day, they live with regret - shame - and even a little bit of inability to fully trust God to forgive them for their decision.

Two paths presented themselves to these women - only two choices seemed possible.  One involved years and years of dedication to a child's needs above their own; while the other involved a momentary decision that would supposedly "free" them from that long, labor-intensive, life-limiting journey. What they never counted on was the intensity of their grief over having made the "wrong decision" to end the life of their child.  They also didn't count on the shame they carried into their next 30-40 years of life.  Something I heard in their stories - the paths are not always "clearly marked" with truthful "way-faring" signs, my friends!  Sometimes the signs point one direction, promising something much different than what we encounter at the end of that path!

They never counted on the guilt or shame - they trusted in what others told them would "fix" the "problem".  One thing I have learned in my own "pathway decisions" in life is this idea of being certain where or in whom we are placing our trust.  Trust is "based" in or upon something or someone. If it is placed wrongly - just casually observing the "way-faring signs" along the way and placing your trust in them to get you to the best destination, you might find this is not ever the best plan.  I have a little acronym for trust:  Totally Resting Upon Someone Trustworthy.  In life, we "rest upon" a lot of things and people, but not all of these are trustworthy.  They haven't been tried and found to be reliable - but I have found God's word and his promises to be reliable - for they have stood the test of time!

Whenever I go into a forested area, I observe for the well-worn paths.  I may see some smaller pathways into the forested area, but I also see these well-worn paths.  Why do I choose the well-worn in these situations?  It is usually because someone has prepared that pathway for my future travel!  It is well-worn because it leads to the promised destination - such as the water along the path or the observation point which provides a majestic view of the land all around.  The smaller paths may be just as beautiful, but they don't always lead to as trustworthy or purposeful destinations.  In life, there are not always "well-worn" paths, though.  Sometimes we are faced with one "boulevard" of a path, streaming with others taking the same path, leading to a specific destination we know we need to travel - while others we are faced with are a slightly less worn path, narrow and not as easily traversed. The latter may look a little ominous before us, but I have often found it is the one leading to the most pristine of valleys and still places of God's rest.  

We must guard against just accepting the one traveled by all. It may be a good path - I am not saying it isn't.  It may also have some "okay" reward at the end, but it may also mean we miss the most coveted and tenderly prepared place of God's rest, majesty, and strength we could ever encounter in life! Just sayin!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Time is not in a bottle...

Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid in South Africa - the mission of his term in office as their President focusing strongly on racial reconciliation in their country. One of the quotes he is known for is also one of my favorites: "We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right."  Time is a fleeting thing - it is easy for it to get away from us, like water passing under a bridge, we often don't recognize the millions of seconds just frittered away. The time is always "ripe" to do right - there is no "wrong time" for doing right.  It is quite possible that what may be accomplished in this day may never be regained - so we must learn to appreciate the moment, embrace it, and then "do" what needs to be done in that moment.


Don’t you know that as long as you do what is right, then I accept you? But if you do not do what is right, watch out, because sin is crouching at the door, ready to pounce on you! You must master it before it masters you. (Genesis 4:7 VOICE)

God is in conversation with Cain, one of the children born to Adam and Eve.  Cain was in bitter disagreement with his brother, Abel, over which "sacrifice" was actually "better" in God's eyes.  One was a farmer - the other a herdsman.  The one brought the first-fruits of the field, the other a lamb. From what is recorded in scripture, God really found favor with Abel because of that "blood sacrifice" - a symbol of how God was foretelling the "means" of reconciliation between man and himself.  It is kind of a long story, but to put it bluntly, the brothers were at odds with each other because of what they chose to sacrifice.  Cain forms some bitter feelings toward his brother and before long, we find what God warned against in our passage above became the reality in his life. 

God's warning - master sin's urging or it will come to master you!  Sin or compromise always has some kind of urging with it - something perhaps not very "big" at first, but if given into long enough, it becomes the thing which masters us. Mandela may have said it another way, but he was really reflecting the message God gave to Cain all those years before - the time is always "right" to DO RIGHT.  God may have been just giving us a little warning about the "passage of time" when it comes to dealing with those little compromises we make over the longer course of time - they lead to drift and drift leads to us being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong things!

Psalm 11:7 reads: "The Eternal is right in all His ways; He cherishes all that is upright. Those who do what is right in His eyes will see His face."  The time is always right to do what is right - and it comes with huge rewards!  When we take notice of the time, we are more likely to be attentive to it, aren't we?  When you know a deadline is looming such as having a brief prepared for a meeting you need to be in attendance at in about thirty minutes, you focus on putting the finishing touches on that document, don't you? You proof it one last time, edit here and there so as to bring clarity and make it as thorough as possible.  Why? You want the finished product to reflect the time and effort you have put into it. Why should our lives be any different? Shouldn't we want them to reflect the time and effort we put into them?

If we fritter away the time we are given within relationship, we may be disappointed by the results we see at the end of that relationship - maybe even bringing it to an early end as a result of our inattention!  If we fritter away the time we are given in worship, we may never feel the presence of God, hear his voice, or know the guidance he so urgently wants us to receive.  Somehow I think we treat time as the sand in the hourglass.  It slowly makes its way through the tiny opening between the two sections of blown glass, until it is all gathered at the bottom of the glass.  I think we might just count on being able to turn that hourglass over and over again and again, without the sand ever coming to rest! Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth - for time is not in our hands, nor is it able to be "restored" by simply hitting the "reset" button!

James 4:17 reminds us: "If you know the right way to live and ignore it, it is sin."  The time to do right can be frittered away.  We often find the "frittering" is really just us ignoring the reality of something right in front of us.  I am as guilty of this "frittering" as the next person.  Ignorance is definitely not always bliss!  Ignore a dripping faucet long enough and you will eventually endure a night of sleeplessness while you listen to the incessant dripping!  Life is filled with "right time" moments - we just have to learn to be attentive to them, focused on making the most of the time we are given - learning to "do right" within those moments before they pass us by.  We never really know when the time will suddenly be lost to us, making it almost impossible to "get back" what we frittered away in the process.  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Chisel away, God

I am going to ask us each a hard question today, but one which I think needs to be asked:  "What are you running from?"  Many times we run from the stuff which incites fear within, but we don't have any destination in mind when we start running "from" those things - we just run.  I don't like spiders - I am not arachnophobic by any means - I just don't like their creepiness!  I don't exactly run from them, but if you ever encounter one of those big, hairy brown wolf spiders of the Arizona desert invading your space INSIDE your home, you might just find yourself taking a few steps back! They are scary looking - move faster than lightening - and they don't seem to take no for an answer!  I can totally understand why we run from spiders, or dogs who seem to be doing a lot of snarling, while eyeing you are a solid piece of meat.  We run from other other things, too, which are maybe not the best things for us to be running from - things like conflict in relationship, failures which are just too hard to "clean up" after, and lessons which seem to difficult to embrace.  These are the things we need to embrace - not run from!

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.  (James 1:2-3 VOICE)

Running is a form of escape - we hope to remove ourselves from the "immediacy" of whatever discomfort or danger we are sensing.  When we are running from compromise, this is a good thing!  When we are running from conflict because it is just too uncomfortable to face the music, this is not good. Tests and hardships are pretty much everywhere in life. Some involve huge personal loss on occasion, so we'd probably rather avoid those things.  When we lose a loved one, we face personal loss, but the loss doesn't have to consume us.  It can become the place of "launching" rather than the place of "anchoring" we often make it.  What we do in the moment defines what we learn from the moment and take into our future.  Run from the big, hairy spider who is also on the move in your house, and you may not sleep a wink that night because you have no idea what crevice he may emerge from while you are sleeping!

When we consider "tests" in life, they are simply an "investigation" into what we sometimes call our character. We find out more about ourselves in those moments of testing than we may at any other point in our lives. Tests are not always enjoyable - in fact, many of us can become quite anxious over them - even when we believe we are well-prepared.  I remember taking my nursing board exams. I took two - one when I became a Licensed Practical Nurse and one when I became a Registered Nurse.  Each time, I prepared and prepared, until the stuff I needed to know was drilled into my head.  I went in with confidence, but I left with questions about my success.  Why?  Those board questions were tough!  Combined with my own anxiety over having my knowledge of anatomy, disease processes, and assessment skills "investigated", they revealed just a little more "fear" than I'd like to say I expected.  I took those boards during the era when you actually had to wait about six weeks to receive the results - allowing all that anxiety to continue to mount as you recalled all the questions you agonized over when selecting the "best answer".  I had myself doubting my own competency!  It is sad, but we do this to ourselves from time to time, sometimes more than we'd like to admit.

Yes, I passed both sets of boards without issue, but those moments of self-doubt crept in and made the pressure of the "investigation" process that much more stressful.  In life, we can run from or run toward - the process of "investigating us" is still happening, though.  Adversity may come, but what we do with it when it faces us head-on is what will give "definition" to our character.  Much as a wood carver uses the chisel to take piece after piece of wood away from the piece he starts with, slowly and deliberately producing a new shape, form, and texture to the wood block in front of him, God is doing the same with our character through those hardships and tests we are undergoing.  The chisel is sharp, but that allows it to do the work of "reshaping" the wood. The sculptor will use one size and shape of chisel or tool one right after another until he has the final product in his view. He has an image in his mind, one which we may not fully understand or appreciate until he is nearly finished with the final cuts. 

We should not be discouraged when we don't see the image God has in mind for us!  He isn't using sharp tools to damage us, but is using them to shape us.  Tests and hardships are tools which we may not like to have used in "shaping" our lives, but they are the instruments God uses to reveal the beauty of his grace within each of us.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A verb lesson

A verb in the English language is the part of speech which describes an action - in simple terms, it is a "doing" word. It could be used to suggest a mental action, such as thinking. It could also be used to suggest a physical action, such as running. It also can be used to suggest a state of being, such as standing. Did you know God likes verbs? In fact, they are probably one of his most favorite parts of speech!  Don't believe me?  "Go ye into all the world..."  Go is an action word. "Seek first the kingdom of God..."  Seek is an action word.  Many of God's commands and instructions to us begin or end with some type of action on our part - he is asking us to not be "inactive" believers, but participate in what he is doing in this world!

Heed counsel, act on instruction, and you will become wise later in life. (Proverbs 19:20 VOICE)

Three important verbs to consider:  Heed, Act, and Become. We might just miss that last one if we didn't stop to consider it is also an "action" word.  When we "become", we are "growing to be" something which we were not in an earlier sense.  For example, we might "become tired" when we ride our bikes on a long bicycle ride.  We weren't that way at the beginning of the ride, but toward the end, we "grew tired". Weariness is a good example of "becoming" - we start one way, but we end another.  

Heed - to give careful attention to something.  God isn't just telling us to perk up and take a little notice here - he is reminding us of the intensive action on our part which is required when counsel comes our direction.  We actually need to give ourselves entirely to no missing what is contained within that counsel.  Not all counsel will come to us by us sitting on someone's couch in an office where a shingle announces the person behind the desk has the "profession" of being a counselor!  Although it may come to us in that form on occasion, most counsel is gained in the "regular conversation" of life.  

Act - the process of doing.  Notice the definition again - it doesn't say something which is done - it is the process of doing.  In order to fully grasp how God uses this word for us, we need to keep in mind our actions don't end.  There is no end to growing in Christ.  There is no end to learning in life. There is no amount of instruction we can say is "enough" and then we just don't need anymore!  God calls us to act - enter into the process of embracing the instruction we are given and then allow it to affect how we live each and every day, constantly engaging with that instruction over and over again until it impacts who we are.

Become - grow to be wise.  If we heed counsel, enter into the process of doing what we are instructed, we can count on growth being an outcome of our actions.  Even growth is an action - it is moving from one state into another, until we reach a place of maturity.  Even in maturity there is still growth, though.  Don't believe me?  Maturity is when we enter into the place of expanded capacity.  A fruit ripens on the tree - expanding to a new capacity as it does.  Inside that fruit, growth is still occurring, just in a different form.  The richness of what will be realized when that growth is final may not be evident on the surface, but it is happening!

Look at the time frame - later in life.  Now, lest you think you have arrived, I would have to ask you to define "later in life". If you are my mom's age (97), then you might say it is in your 90's, but if you are like most teenagers, you would say it is when you reach 20!  The goal isn't "arriving", it is the process of being engaged in doing - until whatever "state" of maturity God calls us into is totally and completely accomplished. I like what my pastor teaches us about the Book of Acts in scripture.  He says, "It is not the Book of Thoughts, or the Book of Pontification, or even the Book of Beliefs.  It is the Book of Action."  I guess God wasn't finished with all the verbs in scripture, so he wrote another one!  Truth be told, he isn't finished "writing" because he is writing the continual revelation of scripture in each of our lives - through the process of us heeding, acting, and becoming.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Nothing means "no thing"

If we have been in church for a while, we probably have heard the verse which tells us to "be anxious for nothing", right? Do we know the context of the verse, though?  Probably not. Let me set this up for us a little.  Paul has been talking to the believers at Philippi about those in this world who may oppose their beliefs, ridiculing them for their faith, and even persecuting them because they are followers of Jesus.  He likens them to "dogs who run in packs" looking for someone to pounce on and maul with their viscous attacks, throwing around their "religious pedigrees".  I like when he tells the believers he will make it through all the pain and suffering he will be enduring all because of his choice to follow Jesus when he says, "...nothing will stand in my way because he has grabbed me and won't let me go."  He is referring to Jesus holding him tightly through all circumstances - regardless of how painful they may appear, he will rise above them simply because God has him in his arms!  Those who reject the cross will often oppose it with great force - Paul encourages us to stand up against that force with a "force" they won't understand or be able to counter with their attacks!  The instruction he gives is to stand strong, but do it by keeping our "gentle nature" - so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus!

Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One. (Philippians 4:6-7 VOICE)

Pray about everything.  How many of us actually do this? Yes, when crisis comes our way, with the "suddenness" of the moment catching us by surprise, we lift prayers.  It is like we suddenly feel the turbulence in the plane and begin to pray the plane will not fall from the sky!  We are "crisis" oriented at times - prayer not being one of our top priorities when things are going "right".  Yet, if we understand what Paul is instructing, it can revolutionize our lives!  God is just about silly with glee whenever we take time to just talk with him! He already knows our needs, but there is something which happens in us when we express them to him - it isn't that our prayers unlock heaven's gates!  We get our focus changed when we pray - allowing us to shift our trust from self to the one who already has the problem handled!

Talk to God - that is what prayer is anyway - it is communication between two people deeply in love with each other!  How does love grow if there is no communication? If we don't communicate (and it goes both ways), we will find ourselves drifting away from the one who mattered so much to us at one time.  Followers don't get distracted in their following because there are these frequent times of reconnecting with the one they are following!  Sometimes it isn't what we share as much as it is about what it is we choose to bear.  We often bear things inside for way to long without ever even admitting to ourselves they are there!  It is like we think if we ignore the feelings, don't deal with the attitude, or just simply turn a blind eye to the struggle, it will somehow just get bored and go away!  Truth is, nothing ignored really goes away - it just looks for another opportunity to make itself known!

Most of the time, it is the battle which rages in our hearts and minds which gives us the greatest nightmares.  Heart is just a fancy word for our emotions and we all know how much unrest our emotions can bring.  Minds is the all-inclusive term used to describe thought, reasoning, intelligence, and meditation.  If we want to do well in either of these arenas in our lives, we need to get both under control - not ours, but his!  What happens when we finally talk to him about what it is we are sensing ("feeling"), we can finally put a "name" to the ideas we are entertaining by those emotions and we can begin to have those emotions shift from "unreasonable" into the "reasonable" category.  Peace begins to settle in because when we invite the person of peace into our midst, peace is the prevailing force which enters with him!

What makes us anxious?  If we believe what Paul says, it is "things".  No revelation there!  Things come and things go. All have the potential to make life a little haggard at times! We have no greater power over "things" (and even other people) than we do when the peace of Christ begins to settle our minds and hearts in the midst of "things" getting in our way.  All anxiety is really based in this matter of trust - what or who we are placing our trust in at the moment.  Believe your emotions and you will find the situation overwhelming and unbelievably hard.  Believe your thoughts at times and you will see yourself as little, frail, and unable.  Believe your thoughts at other times and you will see yourself as needing no one because you have things under control.  Either way, we see a different perspective when we finally begin to talk to God about the circumstances (even the mundane ones) of our lives.  

Nothing stands in the way of the one securely in the arms of Jesus.  Nothing overtakes the thoughts and emotions of the one who shares what they are going through with the one who holds them so close!  Nothing!  Just sayin!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Brick or glass - you decide

There are times in this life when it just will seem there is absolutely NO way of escape - times when it just seems like no matter how hard you try, the thing you are running from will catch up with you and you will be overtaken.  We all face those moments, no matter how sophisticated, "deep", or "spiritual" we might appear.  If we were more honest with each other, we might not feel so bad about the times when we just don't "do as we should", even when we "knew better". We do a disservice to each other to never show our failure to others - for it is by failure we have an opportunity to learn from not only the thing we failed at, but from what others have experienced in the same circumstances.

Any temptation you face will be nothing new. But God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can handle. But He always provides a way of escape so that you will be able to endure and keep moving forward. (I Corinthians 10:13 VOICE)

I like what Paul writes to the Corinthian church about temptation and learning from the examples we have which are recorded for us throughout scripture.  He reminds them (and US) of the times the "forefathers" of their faith had failed miserably - from times when they complained bitterly about their circumstances, to the times they outright disobeyed what God asked them to do.  All of these examples were recorded, not for our entertainment or for us to compare our actions to those of another, but because we are to learn from them!

Here is the hard truth:  ANY temptation YOU face will be NOTHING new.  There is absolutely nothing each of us face which we can say is totally unique to us - someone else (probably thousands of others) have experienced the same thing - just in a different place, time, or surrounded by different circumstances.  The temptation is NOT unique, though.  This should give us some encouragement, my friends.  Why?  This means there is nothing any of us faces which cannot be shared - there is nothing unique in our temptations!  Someone else has gone through it, is going through it, or will go through it!  What is unique is how well we share these things and get the help of others to walk through them without compromise!

The place of temptation comes with two options - give in or run from it like our very life depended upon it!  We can either embrace it or flee from it - there is absolutely no middle ground when it comes to temptation.  When we realize this, we might just recognize a way of escape a whole lot sooner!  If we actually develop this thing I will refer to as "transparency" - looking through glass instead of brick walls - we might just find the support in others we need to get out of the "middle ground" and into our running shoes!  Too many times, we erect brick walls to keep others from seeing the ways we have compromised in our lives - because those compromises don't actually do much to show we are committed to this walk with Christ.  

If we begin to view compromise as a means to overcoming, we might just begin to face our temptations in a completely different manner.  At first, that might not make sense, but bear with me.  When we actually begin to share our compromises with another, we can begin to "unwind" what led up to that compromise.  If we hide behind brick walls, not allowing anyone to know how miserably we can and do fail, we are just isolating ourselves from what may be the very thing we need to actually be free of that temptation once and for all.  Yes, glass houses are kind of revealing - and yes, they don't make it possible to hide much.  Maybe this is why they are such a good illustration of how God wants us to live with other believers.  

Truth be told, you may have already dealt with what I am presently struggling with, and the same may be true of your present struggles.  My struggles are not unique - I get angry, depressed, down on myself, too drawn into some things, and not into the things I should be into at other times.  I face loneliness, struggle with unwholesome thoughts on occasion, and even find myself complaining when I have nothing to truly complain about.  I get into messes because of what I say and I back-peddle to get myself out of other messes.  See, we are not so unique!  We share some of the same "issues" and we need not erect those walls to hide behind - for when we begin to reveal the "real us", we might just find the "real freedom" we are looking for so desperately.  Just sayin!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

I need more than a ritual

I absolutely appreciate the Apostle Paul's candor in his letters to the New Testament churches.  He was never ashamed of the gospel message, nor did he ever mince words as he declared whatever it is God prepared for him to declare.  He was bold, to the point, and always spot on.  Whenever there was controversy of some sort, he faced it head on - he didn't "make nice" with those who had the controversy in the hopes of "winning them over" to his viewpoint.  In fact, he often stood in opposition to the wrong actions of those who chose their own way of doing things and let them know very clearly their choices were definitely not "on the mark".  If we understand Paul's role in the New Testament church, we might just appreciate even more why it was he took such a firm stand on occasion.  He was the founding father of these churches - it was upon his shoulders to make sure they laid the right foundation upon which to build.  If they didn't start right, their chances of ending their journey right was far less likely!  The same is true in our lives - begin right, follow the right path, and you are more likely to at least in the vicinity of the mark in the end!

Here’s my instruction: walk in the Spirit, and let the Spirit bring order to your life. If you do, you will never give in to your selfish and sinful cravings. (Galatians 5:16 VOICE)

One such example of having to correct a little of the misplaced beliefs and "wrong foundation" of one such group of folks can be found in the letter to the Galatian church. There was a huge disagreement in the church about circumcision - the right observed by the staunch Jewish believers as a sign of the covenant made between Abraham and God.  Many years later, this symbolism was still being carried out, but it had become a matter of "religious pursuit" rather than a real heart-felt commitment between God and man.  The New Testament church at Galatia was trying to embrace the freedom of grace (being made right before God because of what he does on our behalf) and walking away from this practice of "religious pursuit", but there was controversy.  Some could not see any option other than circumcision - because it was part of who they were as a nation; while others never practiced the religious symbolism, so to demand it of them was kind of frightening and offensive.

Truth be told, there are a whole lot of things we "do" in our churches today which we have very little clue as to where these practices originated, why we do them, or even if they really "matter" in the scheme of what God expects of the believers.  We just do them because it is what people in churches do!  Don't believe me?  Try bringing some un-churched person into your church the next time it meets and then ask them what stood out, what they have questions about, and what might not have made total sense to them. They will come up with all kinds of "religious" questions you may not have every thought of - things you "do" or "say", but don't really know the meaning behind.  We do so much by "rote" because it is part of being "churched", but haven't really embraced the full meaning of what we do.

Paul is quite direct - the religious pursuit of circumcision isn't what makes a believer more or less connected with God. Embracing the rite of circumcision doesn't get you "further" in the Kingdom of God, or ensure you are "right" with God. It is a "rite" - a ritual, a symbol, but not the means by which this change of mind, heart, and spirit occurs. The only way to truly "change" what you "are" is to allow the Spirit of God to live within you, bringing "order" to your life. To this end, Paul simply states as a summary to his discussion about the merits of circumcision: "...if you choose to be circumcised, then you will oblige yourself to do every single rule of the law for the rest of your life." (Galatians 5:3 VOICE) In other words, if you want to put your trust in the rituals, then grace has no real effect in your lives.  Don't miss what he says - you "oblige" yourself to "do" every SINGLE rule of the law for the rest of your life.  The ritual becomes the focus, not the liberty God intends by grace being embraced.

When Paul says "walk in the Spirit, and let the Spirit bring order to your life," he isn't just saying we can intermix our rituals and this new-found grace.  We let go of the past practices, making a clean break from what we "counted on" to get or earn us merit in God's eyes.  We move into the place where we accept our merit comes from what God alone does on our behalf (and continues to do within us by his Spirit). If you have ever tried to rely upon some religious ritual or pursuit to keep you from doing things you didn't want to do, you probably are like me - you didn't do so well "not doing" whatever that was!  When I fully lean into the grace which dwells within by the power of the Spirit living in me, I find I do much better resisting the things I definitely am powerless to resist in my own effort.  Just sayin!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Islands form how?

Baltasar Gracian wrote: "True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island... to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing."  Life without friends is like life on a desert island - both barren and isolated!  It is empty - almost as though it were depleted and fruitless.  To go through life without the discovery of a close friend is to walk without legs!  It is possible to get through life, but the journey is so much tougher!

A true friend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times.  (Proverbs 17:17 VOICE)

What does an island symbolize to you?  The first thing which comes to mind is a body of land surrounded by water on all sides.  It may be kind of lush in appearance, as there is much greenery upon that island, surrounded by some beaches. Did you know there are really about three ways islands are formed?  As I began to look at the ways they form, I kind of saw some illustrations we might all learn a little from:

- When rising water surrounds a body of land and leaves no other pathway to that land again except through the water which now surrounds it, an island is said to have formed. In terms of relationship, "islands" happen when we allow things to build up which separate us from the once so easily traveled "connection" between us.  The connection still exists, it is just under a whole lot of stuff which makes it appear there is no connection any longer.  The waters around the island don't mean there is no connection to the mainland - it just means that connection has been interrupted by the water!  What we might need to do is build a bridge!  In relationship, we do a whole lot of bridge-building, don't we?  It would be nice if the need for bridges never existed, but in reality, there are just some things in life which cause the connection to be less than apparent.  The bridge actually helps us restore the connection and remember the benefits of that connectedness!

- When volcanoes begin to spew their molten lava to the surface, coming into contact with that which makes them hard (water and air), islands can form.  This is a slower process, where the layers form until the volcanoes byproduct (lava) rises above the level of the water.  Lava is a "hot" substance which hardens in the presence of a "colder" substance (water and air).  In relationships, there are times when we think the best thing to do when tempers run "hot" is throw cold water on them!  We calm down the anger with whatever it takes to diffuse the erupting force - not realizing all we are doing is allowing a hardened crust to form.  Do this often enough and you will have enough "crust" to form that island of isolation which is hard, barren, and fruitless! 

-  When creatures in the sea known as "polyps" form hard shell-like limestone covering in order to survive, it adds to the surface of the ocean floor in slowly multiplying layers. These "coral-like" creatures don't know any better - it is their defensive mechanism to protect themselves from things they think will harm them.  They protect the "softness" of their bodies by building limestone walls!  In relationship, we often deal with the "softness" of our emotions and heart by building walls whenever we think we need to protect ourselves from someone else in that relationship.  Those polyps have to live in a big sea - there are a lot of things which could harm them.  To provide the best protection, they live in colonies - huddling together.  We often do the same thing when we feel threatened, or under attack in relationship.  We huddle into small groups with others who also feel the threat in their own lives.  In time, we learn if we will build some kind of wall between us and whatever threatens us, we will be "safer" than just a blob of raw emotions floating in the sea of relationships!  This hardness builds up again and again until we find ourselves "covered", but isolated with no one other than people of "like emotional distress".  

Islands might not be as beautiful as they first look - because understanding how they formed in the first place gives us insight into just how barren, disconnected, and isolated they may be!  We need one another, but the work of friendship is difficult - no doubt about it!  We might see the circumstance surrounding us as too far a span to reach, with no sign of connectedness any longer - but it is there.  We might only see the hardness and walls, but underneath is a sign of life - we may just have to look a little deeper.  We might have found companions who do little more than reinforce our misery and loneliness, but are they really helping us to grow, or just isolating us further from all other signs of life?  Just asking!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Able

Do you know the purpose of the word "but" in your sentence? Whenever you insert "but" into the sentence, you are saying the prior stuff is "negated" by the next stuff you are about to say.  For example, when you say, "The caramel truffle was delightful, but I think it went right to my hips," you are saying although it tasted delightful and there was that moment of pure ecstasy when you indulged, you will regret having to workout a little longer on the treadmill tomorrow! "But" makes null and void what has just been said, or puts some type of condition on it.  Another example, "You were supposed to do that yesterday, but I understand you had an emergency..."  In this example, the person is willing to overlook the failure to do whatever it was that should have been complete by now, all because there was the "condition" of an emergency arising in your life.  So, the "but" is significant to set up what is going to come next, isn't it?

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12 ESV)

Our writer (Paul) has just told Timothy there has been a whole lot of problems in his life, including being put into prison for preaching the gospel of salvation.  His efforts to be a witness to the testimony of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection have landed him in some pretty bad places and his life is not getting much better.  But...  He is about to negate what others may see as negative and unrewarding circumstances in his life.  All of this present "sorrow" is about to be made inexplicably "okay" because of the "but".  It isn't that the circumstances are easy to endure, or even that there is hope they are about to turn around for him so he might enjoy release from his prison cell.  It isn't that he knows someone is about to post bail, or that his sentence will be reduced.  He is there because his message has offended the religious leaders of the day and they feel the only way to "silence" the message is to lock him up for speaking forth the truth.  With one tiny word he turns the outline of his present circumstances in a totally different direction - but...  

In spite of their repeated attempts to bring me shame and cause me to question what I am doing ...

In spite of their accusations my work is not "valid" or based on "truth" ...

In spite of their attempts to break me by placing me in darker places than I have ever known before...

I am not ashamed!  I am convinced even more today than I was yesterday - the message is real, trustworthy, and life-altering!

I am convinced that even when my ability wanes, ebbing and flowing like the tides of the ocean, HE is ABLE...

All this is introduced as the condition upon which Paul hopes and knows his deliverance is possible!  God is ABLE.  What does "able" mean to you?  If we are to stand "convinced" of his "ability", we have to answer that question for ourselves. We might judge God's ability based upon the circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment.  For example, we see God's ability as kind of "conditional" whenever  we do things such as celebrating with great joy his ability to provide for our needs, but then when leaner times come we might not even think to celebrate his ability to hold us up during those times.  

Able might mean "adequate" to some of us.  I don't know about you, but I don't want an "adequate" God standing behind me - I want an "outstanding", "awesome", "all-powerful", "all-knowing", "all-loving" God standing in my corner!  Able might mean "adept" to some of us.  I know God is an "expert" in working things out, even when I get them a little messed up in my life, but he is so much more than "skilled" at setting things straight - he is also the one who can help me live in such a way that things I've done or said don't need a lot of "clean up" in the end!  Able might mean "ready" to some of us.  It might be we think God just stands by "just in case" - he is "ready" (on the spot when we need him).  God certainly wants to be more than a "just in case" God for us.

When Paul says God is "able", he is saying he is "convinced" in the ability of God to "guard" the truth of the message he has been proclaiming.  In essence, he is assuring Timothy, and all the other readers of this letter down through the ages of the reliability of placing our trust in God above all other things, people, or actions.  He is "able" - equipped in every way to handle our life's circumstances; powerful in ways we are not; fitted to perfectly set in order what seems to be in utter chaos around us.  How we view God's ability in our lives may just determine how we face the circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment.  I'd like to think we KNOW with a certainty that God's ability in our lives is what negates all the "power" any circumstance has over us!  Just sayin!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The cocoon

Most butterflies and moths "spin" or "weave" a cocoon into which they kind of "hibernate" - or so it may seem on the surface.  The cocoon is an illustration of "going in one way, coming out another" - what once was may have the same "roots", but it is quite different from the way it once was. Whether it is the cocoon or chrysalis "process" we consider, a living thing goes inside this object, then a transforming process begins:  1) A larva transforms into the pupa; 2) the pupa begins to transform into the imago; and 3) the imago begins to emerge as a "new life form".  What once was is no longer what emerges - there is a new life form, unrecognizable as its former "form" any longer - the image is affected within that cocoon.

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete. (Romans 12:2 VOICE)

The caterpillar crawls around and around, making its way through life until one day it recognizes it is time for a season of change.  It was happy as a caterpillar, finding enjoyment in hiding beneath leaves in the trees, munching away on veggies in the garden, and pretty much being able to hide away in undiscovered places until one day it senses this need to prepare for change.  Much in the same way, we go through life just enjoying ourselves (or maybe not so much enjoying ourselves as much as being oblivious to the beautiful potential within).  We "hide out" in a whole lot of different ways, just going about "life", without really desiring or knowing what beauty is possible or prepared for us.  Almost without warning, there is a season of what we will call darkness which occurs - the cocoon, if you will, that takes us out of this time of just caring for our own needs and wishes into a time of absolute darkness.

In those times of "cocoon" stillness and absence of light, is there really nothing occurring?  Absolutely not!  In fact, as we know from the study of the butterfly and moth, within that dark place which appears to be the absolute absence of life or movement, there is transformation underway.  It should give us some encouragement to consider the absence of "movement" and the places of "darkness" are not places devoid of God's transforming power in our lives, but rather are the places where he does the greatest work!  If you didn't catch it when I talked about the three stages of growth, let me break it down:

- The caterpillar crawls along, not making great progress, and always having to move from one place to another under its own power.  It finds daily provision in places of hiding.  The day comes when things are about to change.  Inside the cocoon, hidden away from prying eyes, the caterpillar begins to change into what we call the larva - a very immature, wingless form whose sole purpose is to just eat and eat.  In this stage of growth (or transformation), the process begins by feeding.  It shouldn't catch us by surprise that God would prepare for our greatest season of growth by taking us into a place where he also provides for our growth - making all we need available to us, but no more.  Inside that cocoon, the caterpillar has just enough for its imminent transformation. At this stage, the "becoming object" is not capable of independent life, nor is it possible for it to fly - it is just all about growing.  I also would like us to consider the odd places a caterpillar chooses to begin this process of transition. They "attach" the cocoon to some of the oddest places, but their real transformation doesn't happen until the "attach" to what will become their place of rest and provision for the next stage of their life-growth.

- The larva form of the "new life" which is soon to emerge makes yet another transition into the pupa.  At this stage, the evidence of growth is at what appears to be a "stall".  The movement within the cocoon stops and there is stillness. From the outside there is no evidence of life within - it looks like death has occurred!  In the pupa stage, the whole action which is occurring is done in what appears to be the absence of movement.  It is considered to be the "non-feeding" stage of growth when the larva just simply gets very still and waits for the growth process to become final.  I know I resist this stillness part of growth because I am the kind of person whose mind goes a million miles an hour and I just don't "shut down" that easily.  If I don't still myself, I can be assured God will take me into seasons where he will do it for me!  Why?  He wants me to do more than "eat" - he wants me to change as a result of my having "eaten"!

- The imago stage ensues.  Inside the cocoon, what went inside does not emerge the same - there is a transformation into a new image!  The Latin root of imago is image!  Within these seasons of perceived darkness and a lack of movement, provision has been made for the transformation of our image from one of having little beauty to that of a totally new life form!  Inside that dark place, provision has occurred.  The absolute stillness begins to be shattered by the emerging, yet slightly immature growth just inside that dark place.  As the life emerges, it no longer resembles what went inside.  There is something beautiful emerging, transformed by the dark and still place.  It is just a matter of time when the thing hidden in the dark and confined space makes a discovery of its own - wings!  As the once-caterpillar emerges with its new image, the wings begin to unfold, taking on the form which will allow them to fly.  If we have ever resisted the dark place because it was too confining or too long of a wait to see what would become of us within the confines of that "cocoon", the image of the graceful flight of that butterfly as it catches the wind and begins to fly far above all it had ever experienced before in its "previous life" as a caterpillar should give us hope!  A new image emerges from deep within those dark and still places of growth - the image of Christ - with wings which will set us aloft!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pebbles in the path

One of Toby Mac's Facebook posts from January 9th was quite simple, yet profound: "Forget the past. But do remember the lesson." I think this is where the rubber meets the road for most of us - we remember the past and focus less on the lesson - if we even see the lesson in the past in the first place!  By definition, a lesson is a useful piece of practical wisdom acquired by experience or study.  If we go through things and never "acquire" anything by the experience of the event, we just might find ourselves repeating the "event" until we find the "lesson" in it!

Those who learn from the lessons of life will join the others who are wise. (Proverbs 15:31 VOICE)

A lesson is more than advice - we can take or leave advice, but to actually learn a lesson, we have to participate in it.  Heaven knows there were a few lectures during my years and years of schooling where my mind drifted into pleasanter places!  It wasn't unusual for me to have to look over at someone else to figure out where we were in the textbook at that moment when I re-entered reality!  Many times we try to go through life in much the same way - only half paying attention, but expecting to get 100% out of life along the way!

We might not think there is much to learn from the failures of our lives - but if we look close enough, those are the exact places opportunities exist.  It is in the moment of failing that we perhaps recognize there was another opportunity we might have explored.  In order to see the opportunity, we have to look for the lesson in the moment.  This doesn't come naturally for us because we'd rather gravitate to all the reasons something didn't work, or shift the blame to another just to get the focus off of our failure. 

I once heard someone say it isn't the mountains we trip over in life - it is the pebbles and stones which litter the highway which takes us to the mountain.  We see the mountain, but ignore the little things which tripped us up all along the way. When we step back a ways from the mountain, we might just see what we had been tripping on along the way!  It is those smaller things God wants us to see - not just the "big issue" in our path.  Those smaller "issues" may not have caused us to fail to make progress forward like the mountain does, but they impacted our journey and there is something to learn about their presence in our path and our response to them.

Pebbles might be kicked out of the way - ridding the path of their influence and making the journey for another a little easier to take.  This is one way we learn the lessons of our past - by preparing a way for another's future steps.  Pebbles might have become the things which dug into our feet as we trod along the path, giving us a little pain along the way. One thing is for sure - the process of pain can either be cursed, or embraced.  Embraced and it becomes a place of learning - cursed and it becomes a place of impeded progress.

Pebbles might have been scooped up, tossed in the air over and over again as we walked along, and then eventually tossed into the wind never to be seen or appreciated again. Life experiences can be treated in much the same way - they give us some moments of reflection and then they are gone from our sight in just a moment of time.  They can be remembered, but there is no "memorial" of their presence in our lives.  In time, we even forget the memory of the pebble, for there are other things in our path which require our focus and acquire our attention.  

Some of the stuff we deal with in life will be memorable. They will not be as easy to forget.  Over the years, there have been a few pebbles along the path which I have taken up, considered, and even admired the beauty of the pebble a little.  Those may have been placed in my pocket to be considered over and over again later on in life.  What made those pebbles different?  There was an appreciated beauty in them!  What we come to appreciate in life may not be the most "beautiful" or significantly "profound", but when we appreciate the beauty in those "pebbles" along the way, we take a lesson from our past even when we have moved on. Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Overshadowed?

Anxiety is just a fancy word for worry, but worry is a fancy word for trying to do things in your own power or ability! Let's be truthful here - we all struggle with letting go of the reins on some stuff in our lives - maybe a little more at some times than others.  If we are feeling kind of "strong" at the moment, we may not feel the need to seek God's direction, nor even give it a second thought.  If we are a little "weak" and a whole lot of emotional upheaval is brewing deep within, we may want his perspective on the situation a little quicker than later!  Why is that?  It is probably because we have a tendency to "work things out" in our own strength whenever we "feel" we might just be able to and then when we become pretty convinced by the building pressures that our way has not really accomplished the goal, we cry out under the pressure.  At the root of being overtaken by anxiety is this idea of being overshadowed with "self-ability".  

When anxiety overtakes me and worries are many, Your comfort lightens my soul. (Psalm 94:19 VOICE)

Anxiety has a way of creeping into a situation - maybe not really present there to begin with, but as time passes, things spiral out of control, and we begin to sense things aren't going as planned, we can begin to feel this overshadowing effect - we are about to be "overtaken" by the worries of the moment.  Any place in our lives where we rely upon our own self-ability to get us through, we are relying on a "faulty power" to bring the desired results.  The problem with "faulty power" is the lack of stability that power brings.  I have a flashlight in the house which works about 95% of the time. It has something wrong with it, though.  The other 5% of the time, I have to "coax" it to work by jiggle it a little, thereby rearranging the batteries, or just giving it a good thump on something to make it glow!  It has something wrong with it and the "power" is interrupted - it is faulty.

On the surface, the flashlight looks reliable.  Even when I flip the switch, it performs reliably the majority of the time.  Yet, when I may most need it, it could fail me because the source of the light can be interrupted by whatever keeps this flashlight from being reliable!  The same is true in our own lives.  We can rely upon the same way of getting thing done over and over again, until one day the light just isn't there when we need it!  It isn't the light which is absent, but the connection which needs to be made in order for the light to be present.  We avoid this connection when we are too reliant upon what we know or can do on our own in order to accomplish the task at hand.  We don't "need" any other source outside of ourselves.  In time, self-reliance will do something we may not realize - it makes us "count on" what has limited, or interrupted connection with the real source of power.

Anxiety can overtake us any time we are more reliant upon what we think or feel than we are upon looking to the source of reliable "power".  By definition, anxiety is some form of uncertainty.  As long as we are "certain" about our ability or strength, we plunge ahead.  When we begin to feel the ice cracking beneath our feet, we can stand there in our own confidence, or we can admit our strength may not be enough to rescue us this time!  Nothing we stand upon apart from Christ alone will give us a sure foundation and stable footing in our endeavors.  We will always feel some overshadowing of uncertainty when we fail to give him first place in our planning or performance.  Anxiety comes when we realize we don't have the "advantage" we thought we had.  It is like when I went into the candy jar as a kid, stole a few pieces of black licorice, consumed them quickly while mom was away, then thought I'd never be found out.  The moment she returned, she knew!  How do moms do that?  I guess I thought she had some super-human powers, but have you ever seen what black licorice does to your mouth, or smelled someone's breath after they have consumed it?  Duh!  She didn't have magical powers - she had perception!

Anxiety has a way of "over-shadowing" all the actions we take whenever those actions are taken outside of planning with Christ at the center.  God isn't against a good plan - he just wants us to bring those plans under his oversight.  When his oversight is there, our plans are more likely to succeed.  Why? We aren't reliant upon "faulty power".  Peace is disturbed when we are reliant upon what we know, believe, trust in, apart from Christ.  My pastor has asked each of us to consider what "story" is being written in our lives this year.  Many of us have heard the little quip of starting a new year with a "fresh slate".  The purpose of a fresh slate is to rewrite the story - or maybe to begin to write it with a new focus.  If we bring all the past chapters into our present story, we might be over-shadowed by what we have or haven't accomplished in our "story".  We can become too self-reliant if the story has been "good" up to this time, or we can be too fearful if the story has been a little "tumultuous".  Either way, we need a new "focus" in our story - as an author might put it - we need a better plot!

Anxiety has no place in the heart of a believer.  It is there only to show us we have become too reliant upon ourselves, or that we need to reach out to make connection again.  If we are being overshadowed by anything right now, it is time to shed some light into the story!  Just sayin!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Life does come with instructions!

The poet and philosopher of olden days, Samuel Johnson, is credited for these words:  "Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not."  Thinking upon these words may just cause us to reexamine how it is we have been responding to people on occasion!  We may not be fond of the way they act, the things they are demanding of us, or the lack of responsiveness on their part, but it doesn't have to affect the kindness we continue to reveal to them.  Mark Twain once said, "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."  Both authors hit the nail squarely on the head, don't you think?  

We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people. Grace arrives with its own instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy. (Titus 2:11-12 VOICE)

The grace of God is the beginning of change in our lives - we don't get away with being the same once grace begins to envelop our lives in the richness of undeserved favor!  Grace arrives with instructions.  How many of us actually read the instructions before we try to make something work?  If you are like most of the people in this world, you simply pull the appliance out of the box, remove the packaging and things holding other things together, set it on the counter and begin to use it.  Why?  We trust we know how it should work, so we set about making it work the way we believe it should.  This may not always work in life, though.  Life isn't always according to our perception of how we believe it should work! Especially when it comes to relating one to another!

When grace comes into our lives, we are given these instructions:

1) Run away from anything which leads us away from God. It doesn't say live as close to it as you possibly can, or dabble in it once in a while (just don't let it get hold of you).  It says to "run away" from it.  I like this to the wisdom of not standing still when you see a swarming hive of bees heading your direction!   If you want to get bit, stand still!  If you want to stand half a chance of surviving - get to safety.  The same is true in our spiritual lives - survival is not attained by doing the same things we did before grace entered into our lives.  It is attained and lived out because we do what grace directs us to do instead of what feels best at the moment.  As Johnson said, kindness is not based on fondness - it is based on knowing it is the right response to exhibit!

2)  Abandon the lusts and passions of this world.  About one mile from my house, there is an abandoned old home.  It probably has stood there since about the forties or fifties.  It isn't remarkable in anyway, except for the fact it is falling down, unsafe to dwell in any longer, and boarded up.  It stands still, but it is abandoned - no longer inhabited.  It has been forsaken - left to crumble and fall down.  One day, I imagine someone will purchase the property, bulldozing it down and putting up some new building in its place.  For now, it stands as a reminder of what once was, but which now stands utterly deserted by human life.  There are a lot of times we allow the lusts and passions we are troubled with to remain standing - boarded up, but still there are reminders of being our "former haunt" in life.  I think we might just do more good to bulldoze them down instead of preserving them as reminders of what once was!

3)  Live with awareness and self-control.  To be truly free of those things which have been issues in our lives, we need to be aware of how much they have affected us, what they use as agents in our lives to bring distress, and then develop the resources to rise above their plaguing attacks.  It starts with fleeing, is made an ever-growing reality in our lives by us abandoning (deserting) what gives us all the grief, and then taking on a new way of living.  Awareness comes as we have opened eyes, listening ears, and responsive hearts.  It is more than being conscious of our actions, but being deliberate to not return to that which we have abandoned.  We all realize that determination alone is not going to keep us from returning to the things which gave us so much grief in the past, though.  If determination alone was enough, we'd never need to diet again!  Self-control is not something which is totally reliant upon "self" to get our lives under control.  In fact, self-control begins by giving into the control of grace in our lives - to begin to exchange one action for another, until gradually and faithfully we are transformed from what we once were into what we are becoming.  All of life is about what we are becoming - not what we have become!  Things which have become often begin to go stale or rot in place! Just sayin!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Softening or hardening - all in the same water

Have you ever seen that little saying posted on someone's timeline or maybe in a little sign in someone's office which simply reminds you the same boiling water which can soften a hard potato is also responsible for making a runny egg hard? The idea is our circumstances can change us - it depends on how we view them, what we allow to happen to us "through" them, and if we are even willing to get into them in the first place! I don't know about you, but there are just some "boiling water" circumstances I don't want to face sometimes! I would rather not be in the pot of water at all, let's just be honest here! I honestly don't think I am alone on this one - there are just times we'd rather skip the "boiling" process and get whatever results will come without it! Ever try eating a raw potato? It is okay, but I prefer mine mashed, with a little milk, and rich butter! I know there are health advisories about under-cooked or raw eggs, so I am pretty sure I wouldn't just open one of those babies up and slurp it down in a big gulp! I rather like mine scrambled, but even that process kind of adds a little "complexity" to egg which wasn't there before - the parts become mixed up and not as easily recognizable as when they were "whole" and "unmixed". Life just isn't simple, is it? Rather than resisting the process, maybe we'd do better to consider what the process may provide!

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4 VOICE)

Yep, I will admit it - I am a runner on occasion!  I'd rather find the escape hatch and be prepared to get out of the water if it gets too hot than see it through to the end!  For example, facing our relationship problems head-on can be time-consuming, emotionally charged, and often reveal there are things about us which need to change.  We'd rather bale on that one at times - because change is hard (especially when it is change in us and not the other guy which needs to occur). Tests and hardships - not all come in the "boiling water" fashion, do they?  Sometimes those tests come in pretty boxes, all wrapped up nicely with absolutely no hint there is a test at the other end!  There doesn't have to be steam rising from the pot to signal a test is about to hit us head-on ... the circumstances just need to be aligned to produce the test!

Looking at our passage today, there is this idea of our faith "blossoming" under pressure.  I have to think of the seed planted in the earth.  The first pressure it endures is that of being planted under all that weight of soil.  If that weren't enough, it has to crack the shell or outer coating which protects it in order for any growth to come forth.  That isn't all for the seed though, for there is the pressure of putting down that first root and all the subsequent ones which come after.  Not enough pressure yet?  Now it has to send an upward shoot through that weight of soil to find daylight and actually begin to produce whatever that seed is designed to produce!  Still not enough pressure?  It has to endure dry seasons, wet seasons, cold, and heat, light and darkness, pesky insects and hungry birds - to just name a few of those additional "pressures"!  Yet, the seed does what it was created to do - it goes through each of those "steps" in the process because that is how growth occurs!

In our own lives, the trials or pressures of life may seem a little unnecessary, but as with the seed, each of those "pressures" are actually designed for something special in our lives - we cannot bypass them!  The pressure or weight of life's challenges may not be comfortable for us, but they are necessary!  It seems from our study today patience is what will help us endure and it is what will bring us through to the other side of whatever "pressure" we might be enduring right now.  Pressure can produce both "hard" and totally strong things like diamonds - brilliant beyond measure - but it can also soften to the point of pliability and mold-able capacity. It might be we will see diamond like strength and brilliance of character with one type of pressure; but then see flexibility and softening by another.  When it comes to relationships, maybe we need the latter to see two really become one in mind, soul, and spirit; whereas when it comes to facing hardship, we need the diamond-like strength and brilliance!

Remember this - it is the same water!  Could it be the water is only a medium by which God exerts whatever pressure it is we need today?  Rather than cursing the water, maybe it is time to appreciate the brilliance of the one who watches over us in the water until the process is completed!  Just sayin!