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Monday, February 29, 2016

Not just another election

Leap year means a lot of things to people, but it is technically just a way to "balance" the calendar every four years or so to keep it in alignment with the astronomical year (the one we base our seasons upon).  All other years in the calendar are called "common years".  There is nothing "special" about them. If you speak with someone who understands this astronomical calendar thing to the "nth degree", they'd tell you the 365 day a year calendar pattern would cause a "drift" in the tracking of seasons if this adjustment did not take place.   In the United States, leap year usually ends up being the year we launch into electing the next President.  I wonder if this "election year" corresponds with leap year because it is our way as a nation of dealing with the "drift" which somehow manages to occur in our nation when a leader has lost popularity or seems to come under criticism from the masses?  Just wondering!

Elegant speech sounds odd when it comes from a fool, and a lie on the lips of a leader is even more out of place! (Proverbs 17:7 VOICE)

As a reminder, in election years everywhere, we hear all manner of "promises", "debate", and "profound statements" on international, national, and even personal matters.  Some will be memorable and we will "take them to the bank" on election day.  Others will fall upon deaf ears and almost go unnoticed by the masses.  We are swayed by what we hear, aren't we?  This is the whole purpose of "campaigning" and "debating" - to win over the masses in order to win the vote. What comes out of the lips of these potential future leaders becomes the thing we hang our hope on as we head to the electoral booths in November.  

Elegant speech may not always be the measure of a truly wise man or woman, though! I can provide you with a good many examples of when my own "elegant speech" didn't match up to what I said I would do or what I had already done!  It is truly an odd things these days to evaluate a man or woman who assumes the role of leadership based upon lifestyle or past accomplishments/failures.  We seem to rely upon the campaigning as a means of establishing the truth about their character.  If we looked a little deeper at the matters of the heart, we might just get a more reliable and "balanced" leader!  

So, I am not on a soap box this morning, but wanted more to remind those of us who will participate in the election of our next leader to do just a few things which I think might must make a difference if we do:

1)  It is absolutely necessary for us to ask God for his perspective on the matters at hand.  God doesn't remain silent about matters which are common to mankind - things like poverty, sickness, and even hatred.  He has guidance for us which might just help us "weed out" those who don't have God's perspective on how to "deal with" the matters at hand in our nation.

2)  It is imperative to listen beyond the words which are spoken and to evaluate as much "history" of the candidate's life before casting our vote in their direction.  Although pasts can be riddled with stuff we'd all like to forget, the examining of the "historical aspects" of a candidate's career and even their personal pursuits can give us insight into the types of patterns they repeat.  It is unlikely they will change their spots just because they get elected to office!

3)  It is essential to be attentive to the issues at hand in this election climate.  Many will zero in on what they believe to be the "big" issues, such as terrorism, bullying in schools, or the like.  All of these are indeed valid issues to address, but there are other "social" and "spiritual" issues our nation needs the skilled guidance of the right leader to navigate through each and every day.  We must never lose sight of the "many" issues in deference to the most "prominent" or "media worthy".

Just a few thoughts as we see the months unfold before us leading up to the next Presidential election.  It may not be the most "spiritual" of lessons today, but it is "practical" and I know we serve a very practical God who wants us to use our every "sense" to help guide us in our choices this year.  It could just be that our "wisdom" in voting this year is what helps to bring back the "balance" our nation needs. Just sayin!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Let love settle in...

So many times we focus on the "do not" phrases in scripture as the means by which we should live our lives - the boundaries we are supposed to live within. I am not saying that is necessarily the worst way to look at things, but there is a different take on the matter - we could just live by the one "do" statement which really summarizes all those "do not" ones! I think the "do not" ones are there because we need "concrete" evidence of what is "allowable" versus "disallowed" in this Christian walk.  It isn't as though the "do not" instructions don't matter - they do make it pretty clear for us to know when we are crossing the line.  Yet, if we hear what Jesus taught, it is the one "do" statement which really captures all the others in their entirety.  The do statement? "Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself."  Okay, so maybe you see them as two separate statements - but they really are one - for when we love God in such a way, it is only natural for us to begin to love others in this manner, as well.

The commands given to you in the Scriptures—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not take what is not yours, do not covet—and any other command you have heard are summarized in God’s instruction: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Does love hurt anyone? Absolutely not. In fact, love achieves everything the law requires. (Romans 13:9-10 VOICE)

Love achieves everything the law requires - nothing is left "undone" when love is at the core of our thoughts and actions.  Paul taught the Corinthian believers to be aware of the beliefs of the other person who may be watching your actions.  Just because the liberty you find in Christ to do something with a clear conscience may be okay for you, you must be considerate of the feelings and perceptions of the other person who views you doing it.  For example, if you are with a recovering alcoholic, ordering wine at dinner for yourself may not be the "kindest" nor "wisest" thing to do. Why?  You didn't order a glass for him, did you?  No, yet you are placing a reminder in front of him of how great the struggle is for him to remain sober.  We aren't exactly being loving in our actions at that point - so being conscious of the struggles, attitudes, and needs of another is at the core of what Jesus wants for each of us.

Paul also went on to share what love is and is not - why? He knew we would get this messed up if we didn't have a little clarity around the subject!  When he tells us love is patient and kind, it isn't one-sided, either.  Love is two-sided - one being as patient to the other as he expects the other to be toward him when patience is needed most.  I probably struggle with this one a little more than "love doesn't celebrate injustice" or "love doesn't tally wrongs". Patience when someone is really not acting wisely, or asks you the same thing over and over again is kind of hard. Yet, they may not even know they are doing something for which patience is needed. We all have our little "spots" in life where we struggle to live out our "love" in a positive way.  I think this is why Jesus focused on "love" so much - he knew if we could get this right, everything else would follow.  Love begins with God, enters into us within the person of Christ, and then is to be lived out in us as we allow the image of Christ to become the the dominant force within us.

If you didn't catch that, I will say it again - all we need to live a life according to the "rules" or "commands" laid out in scripture is to allow the love of God to enter into us fully and begin to change us from the inside out.  God's love is doing the work of helping us to become loving individuals - by embracing all the unlovable stuff within us, transforming it by the power of his grace, and then allowing that love to leak out into the lives of others who need it as desperately as we do.  This is probably why Paul teaches that love fulfills all the law - if it begins to affect all of our life, then all of our life will begin to emanate that love in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  For some of us, love is not an easy subject to latch onto - because we haven't been loved well, we have been told we don't matter or are unlovely, or maybe we just have told ourselves no one could possibly love us because we are this way or that.  Love isn't understood in the mind - it is interpreted in the actions of another on our behalf.  This is why God connected us to his love through the actions of his Son!  He knew we would only understand the intensity of his love through the intensity of those sacrificial actions.

Instead of trying to "not do" this or that, maybe we'd be better served to begin to just allow God's love to settle into the places of our lives where we struggle the most.  Just sayin!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A little weed and feed never hurt anyone!

Is it possible we foster things in our lives we really don't want to have around for the long haul?  To foster means we do something which promotes the growth or development of that thing.  I can water the lawns over and over again, but if I don't put some weed and feed on it occasionally, I eventually end up "fostering" the growth of weeds, not just grass! Spring has come early to the Arizona desert and I will have to take action soon with my lawns or else I will have a bumper crop of weeds and then it will take me even longer to rid myself of all the issues they will cause.  This is how it is with things within relationships which really shouldn't be fostered - keep allowing the stuff to occur which promotes the growth of the wrong stuff and you will yield a bumper crop of wrong outcomes!

Those who forgive faults foster love, but those who repeatedly recall them ruin relationships. (Proverbs 17:9 VOICE)

We can foster the good stuff, or the not so desirable stuff - the choice is not always an active one, though.  Sometimes we foster the "not so desirable" just because we don't pay attention to what is happening around us.  I went out into the yard this past week only to come to the realization the "green" grass was about halfway green because of weeds, not grass!  The flowerbeds are weeded because I did them a week or so prior, but the grass had escaped my focus.  I didn't think much about it because the winter rye was growing so well, is a lush green and kind of makes the weeds a little unnoticeable.  The thing which called my attention to the lawn - the unevenness the weeds created.  The grass pretty much grows at an equal pace, getting cut weekly.  The weeds, on the other hand, have a mind of their own and spring up with shoots here and there which far outgrow the grass, leaving this uneven appearance to the lawn.

Relationship issues may seem like they don't exist at first, but given just a little time to be fostered (even by our inattention) and they will grow bigger in our lives.  They bring an "unevenness" to our relationships and these can make it harder and harder to navigate.  If we don't focus on those things quickly, we might just be harvesting a crop of "negative growth" we don't really want.  The truth of the matter is that relationships take a whole lot of work - if anyone tries to convince you otherwise, they are misguided in their beliefs!  Consider the examples set by God himself. Does he allow relationship issues to go on and on without directing some attention toward them?  Not for a moment!  He may allow us to muddle around for a while, but he knows we need him to reach out when we are muddling.  The most amazing thing is his willingness to forgive faults even before we realize they exist in our lives.  He doesn't wait for us to confess - he extends forgiveness before we even ask - but this doesn't mean we don't ask!

I am going to say something kind of radical here - God doesn't need our confession - we do.  God knows our failure or sinful state - but it can take us a while to actually figure it out ourselves.  In confession, we benefit - for we are able to begin to express what he already knows and in so doing, we are able to connect with the solution to our failure or sin. This is why I think confession is more for us than it is for him. If we understand this example, then we might just understand how that will work in our physical relationships here on this earth.  WE often benefit more than we might just realize from the confession of what we understand to be wrong within our relationships, opening the door for restoration. In confession, there is an acknowledgement WE didn't get everything right, or that we realize something isn't exactly right within the relationship.  It is like we notice the unevenness.  We open the door to "weeding out" the stuff which has been fostered by wrong attitudes, bad judgments, or even neglect.  

We can foster the good stuff, or the not so good stuff.  Maybe we need to spend a little time examining what we foster in our minds - for the wrong stuff fostered there can actually damage the relationship worse than we might realize. The things squirreled away in the recesses of our minds, recounted over and over as things someone didn't do, shouldn't have said, might have done differently - these are things which will eventually produce a bumper crop of "weeds" in our relationships.  Instead, let's begin to foster the attentiveness our relationships genuinely need.  We might just be surprised at the "lush" product of love and grace which is yielded by this attentiveness!  Just sayin!

Friday, February 26, 2016

As the dawn's light trickles in...

We all have those moments where we wonder if God has anything "special" for us - as though just being the object of his heart's desire weren't enough!  Those moments usually come when we have seen someone else around us really take a huge step, get awesomely blessed beyond measure, or realize some fantastic outcome as a result of their course of action.  We just cannot help but think, "What about me, God?"  It is just "natural" for us to kind of zero in on the fact we aren't doing or feeling "something special" at that moment, so we get to thinking God might have forgotten us, moved on without us, or just plain doesn't have much in store for us.  There is nothing further from the truth!  God cannot forget us - we are the apple of his eye.  He doesn't move on without us - although he might move a little to tug at our heart to get moving in the direction he is heading, but he doesn't abandon us.  He doesn't have the same things in store for us as that one we are comparing ourselves to right now - but that doesn't mean he doesn't have something designed for each of us that is "specific" to our needs.

Your thoughts and plans are treasures to me, O God! I cherish each and every one of them!  How grand in scope! How many in number!  If I could count each one of them, they would be more than all the grains of sand on earth. Their number is inconceivable!  Even when I wake up, I am still near to You.  (Psalm 139:17-18 VOICE)

God's thoughts and plans are revealed in the words of scripture - placed specifically there to meet whatever need we may have today.  If you don't believe that, then just remember the last time you read a passage and it meant hardly nothing to you - like words on a page you could just read on through, but nothing really jumped off the page at you.  Then you are dealing with something in particular and that exact same passage is full of meaning - exactly what you needed, when you needed it!  Those are his thoughts, his plans, and his purpose revealed - when you need it, exactly as you need it, designed to accomplish specifically what you need at the moment.  Indeed, they are like the grains of sand which number the ocean shores - too great for us to count, beyond our fathoming, and constantly renewed with each passing wave!

Even the process of awakening in the morning is a process of discovery - for we recognize God has not left us, nor has he abandoned his purposes for us.  Each new day is a time of renewal - this is probably the greatest and most profound of all mysteries.  Think about it.  The air you breath each moment of each day is not the same air you took in with the last breath - if it were, it could not sustain your life for it would be depleted of the oxygen you need.  The movement of air and water current is even beyond our control - we can no more still the seas than we can create the human brain!  The shining of the sun, even through the darkest of clouds, is simply not in our control - yet it comes and goes each and every day, with consistency and purpose.  God is faithful in ways we cannot fathom - they are beyond our intellect, but appreciated by our heart and mind!

In the night hours, he doesn't draw away, but he might draw us closer to him by creating a sense of "distance" between us. Why does he doe this?  I think it might be to help us not get settled into a rut in our faith - but to continue to seek him a little closer, discovering the newness of his grace each new day.  In the stillness of the night, he gave us rest.  In the newness of dawn's light, he gives us the myriad of discoveries he has prepared for us while we slumbered.  Even as we slumbered, our bodies were being renewed.  Our minds were being cleared of all the turbulence of the day before and readied for the challenges we shall face today.  When we walk with God, each moment is a time of "coming into" what he has prepared for us well in advance of when we will "come into" whatever it is.  His mercies are new every day.  We may think his love actually grows toward us - his love really doesn't increase for us - because he loves us beyond measure already.  What changes is our appreciation of his love!  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not gonna give you the key!

All too often, we give into feelings of condemnation or the attempts to ridicule.  We find ourselves even doing this to ourselves, on occasion, pointing out our many flaws, devising ways to describe how "awful" we are because of a course of action we have taken.  I have to ask this - if God doesn't condemn us, what gives us the right to do it to another, or even ourselves?  Condemnation is really a form of expressing disapproval.  We may not do it in words, but our actions often speak louder than words.  Blame is associated with any condemnation passed down upon another, or even ourselves. We place blame for the "way" something is on someone, thinking assigning blame somehow makes it okay to point out the flaw in that individual's character.  I am trying to learn this lesson myself, but when we condemn self or others, we are really "sentencing" them - we are passing judgment. Since that job belongs to God and him alone, we don't have that role or right. Those who live under our condemnation (even when it is us living under our own) find themselves constantly trying to be free of that "sentence", much like a prisoner might want to file appeal after appeal hoping he may one day be free from the confines of his imprisonment. It is wise for us to learn to not come under condemnation in the first place - but also to learn not to be the instruments of that condemnation!

If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed... 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. 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, 34-35, 37-39 VOICE)

Since condemnation belongs to God alone, we might think it is just a matter of "mind over matter" to overcome this sense of being condemned by others or ourselves.  I am here to tell you it may not be all that simple!  We willingly succumb to some condemnation because we don't believe what God says about us - that we are his chosen, made right through the Son of God who gave his life on our behalf, and are a new creation (the old is gone, the new has come).  We see ourselves as others tell us we are - if they point out the faults, we take it all in.  To make matters worse, we often tell ourselves the same story and find the condemnation multiplied!  Yes, a mindset change is necessary - we have to learn to think of ourselves as God does.  Yet, we also need to learn to respond to condemnation (impractical, unfair, and sentencing actions or words) with a counter-attack of sorts if we are to reject these unwholesome thoughts and actions.  Thinking is one thing, believing it with your heart and allowing it to affect your actions is another.

The truth we need to learn:  Nothing (no thing) can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing (no thing) can come between us and victory in our lives.  That may seem like an over-simplified approach, but hear me out on this one.  When we finally begin to believe that truth, it dynamically changes our lives.  I may say those words over and over, but until they anchor in my heart and begin to affect my actions, they are just words - truth indeed, but not the foundation upon which I build my life.  IF nothing can separate us from God's love, then no stumble in our walk or compromising action on our part can interfere with how God sees us.  He sees us as inseparable from him - we have a heart connection which cannot be severed.  That said, to believe otherwise is to believe a lie.  IF nothing can come between us and victory, then no amount of falls can keep us down - we always have a means by which to get up again and start anew.  It is called grace!

Sometimes we need to tell ourselves something a whole lot of times before we even begin to latch hold of the matter we are considering.  I used to read out loud when I was studying in school.  Why?  I "heard" what I was studying, not just saw it with my eyes.  I found when I heard something, it took on a different meaning.  Those things which didn't make sense when I said them had to be repeated (re-read) until I got them.  Some of us would do well to repeat God's truth about how he sees us over and over until we actually began to see that truth as pertaining to us!  Nowhere in scripture does it say God's love is different for one or the other of us.  It is the same for all mankind.  We try to tell ourselves otherwise - that he couldn't possibly love us as much as he loves the other person we are considering right now.  Nope - not true!  His love extends to all mankind - his means of restoration is the same for all of mankind - his extension of grace when times of compromise come is the same regardless of how "badly" we fall - for ALL have sinned - ALL need a Savior - ALL need grace in measures far outside of our means to ever earn or achieve!

We may have to remind ourselves of these truths from time to time in order to move beyond condemnation.  Remember this - if God has pardoned our "sentence" through the blood of his Son, Jesus, then we are pardoned - no one can "lock us up" again!  When we give them (or ourselves) the key, they will find the cell which it fits and attempt to place us there behind those bars of condemnation.  If we don't hand them (or ourselves) the key in the first place, they will have a hard time getting us behind those bars!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Waylaid between here and there

Finally - in the end, after considerable delay, at last.  We probably all have those "finally" moments in life, when we have been dinking around with something for so long in our lives and then as if we either could not stand it any longer, or the urge was too great, we proceed in the course we have been avoiding.  Avoidance is a tremendous deterrent to actually getting a matter accomplished!  We all have those deterrents, don't we?  The matter was too daunting for the energies we had left, so we rest a while.  The matter was too hard for the intelligence we possessed, so we "research" it for a while.  The matter made us just a little too uncomfortable, so we wait until we can have a change of heart toward it. When we reach the point of "finally", there is usually something good which will come from taking the first steps toward obedient action and if we are careful, maybe even a learning or two from the "delay".

Finally we did as the Eternal had commanded me, and we headed back...

...the Eternal your God, has blessed you in every way. He’s watched over you as you’ve journeyed through this vast wilderness. Throughout these 40 years, the Eternal your God has been with you, and you haven’t lacked a thing. (Deuteronomy 2:1,7 VOICE)

Israel had spent 40 years on a journey which would have taken about 11 days if there hadn't been a whole lot of "delayed progress" on their part!  An 11 day journey lasting 40 days is one thing, but 40 years?  Yep!  I will be the first to admit, there have been simple decisions I should have made much earlier, but because of my stubbornness or lack of commitment to whatever it was which I needed to take action on, the "journey" took a whole lot longer than it needed to!  I may not have taken 40 years, but I am but one heart and mind. Imagine what it was like for Moses trying to wrangle about 600,000 adult males, not to mention their wives and children!  That is a whole lot of minds and hearts to get moving in the same direction!

There is something about the point between the Red Sea and the time Israel is beginning to move into the Promised Land of Canaan which I think we can all benefit from seeing today. In the midst of the 40 year journey, God was at work!  Even in our most stubborn and resistive times in life, God is at work - not deterred by our stubbornness, nor offset by our predetermined will to do our own thing.  Let's examine a couple of things from the excerpts of our passage in Deuteronomy this morning:

- The "finally" moment involves them coming to a place of decision.  All our lives need on occasion is for us to come to a place of decision - to actually have our mindset fixed on one course of action.  Sometimes the lack of progress we make is not because we don't have options - we just don't pursue any of them!  We are in the middle of the options, digging ourselves a rut because we just keep circling all the options like horses pacing in the corral.  A rut is simply a path leading to nowhere!  It forms because of frequent travel - not because of inactivity.  We see that Israel wasn't "doing nothing" while they took this 40 year journey, they were just stuck in the middle of doing this or that, but not really settled on one course of action!  So, the rut got bigger and the distance between Egypt and Canaan got a little further away because they now had to also climb out of the rut!

- The "finally" moment didn't mean they had not seen anything accomplished in their wanderings.  In fact, when we read a little further, we see they came to a place of one mind and heart.  Imagine that!  When they "finally" came to an end of determining their own course, they aligned with God's course, and they began to make progress.  I imagine it should come as no surprise to any of us that this would actually be the result of repentance.  When we finally realize our course of inactivity, or misled activity, is just not getting us to the destination we so desperately desire, we often realize just how close we were to our final destination!  The "finally" moments in life are not without struggle - but within the struggle, a whole lot of "heart alignment" must occur.  We have to decide who it is we will listen to, serve with all our heart, and align our thoughts with.  In those moments between Egypt and Canaan, Israel had a whole lot of alignment moments.

- In between the time they began their journey and the "finally" moment, God was there all the time.  He didn't abandon them to their own devices, although it might have seemed that way to an outsider looking in. Here was this huge "herd" of people on the move from bondage in Egypt to establishing themselves as a people under the new "rule" of God himself.  Yet, somewhere between here and there, they got a little waylaid.  When one is waylaid, they are actually subject to an attack they may not have prepared for.  Imagine that - - - to get one's freedom and then be almost instantly "waylaid" by that freedom!  Has that ever happened to anyone else besides me?  I get so caught up in the enjoyment of my new found freedom that I miss the fact I am still on a course toward something else!  Israel forgot their mission because when it finally dawned on them what might be involved in seeing the fruition of that mission, they staggered in their belief.  They got all excited about their freedom, but then petered out when it came to pushing back a few obstacles in their path on the way to the blessing God had for them!

God is with us even when we are busy digging a few ruts! We may get a little distracted by the things which shouldn't really distract us, but God doesn't abandon us to our distractions! He keeps us, works with us, continues to provide for us, and when we are ready, he is there to help us take the first steps out of our ruts.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

It is all in the DNA

We all have moments when our minds go into overdrive, finding ways to remind us of our failures with a tenacity which seems to be undaunted by every effort to distract it from that course.  It is kind of like we cannot escape those bad feelings about ourselves no matter how much we want to be free of them.  The heart and the mind are not always united in purpose or direction, though.  Sometimes our minds take us in many directions which our heart clearly says are wrong for us, or get us thinking in ways our heart knows are just not going to end well.  This may just be why there is a constant focus by God on renewing our minds - he knows our hearts are okay because he indwells our hearts with his Spirit. It is our minds which need a little work!

There is a sure way for us to know that we belong to the truth. Even though our inner thoughts may condemn us with storms of guilt and constant reminders of our failures, we can know in our hearts that in His presence God Himself is greater than any accusation. He knows all things. My loved ones, if our hearts cannot condemn us, then we can stand with confidence before God. Whatever we may ask, we receive it from Him because we follow His commands and take the path that pleases Him. His command is clear: believe in the name of His Son, Jesus the Anointed, and love one another as He commanded. The one who follows His teaching and walks this path lives in an intimate relationship with God. How do we know that He lives in us? By the gift of His Spirit. (I John 3:20-24 VOICE)

Our inner thoughts work overtime to condemn us - for the littlest infractions to the big things which ought to cause us great concern anyway.  I think our writer hit it on the head when he said these thoughts invade like storms of guilt - they are kind of like "thunder-heads" just brewing, building, and when they let loose, watch out!  Guilt comes in waves and buckets, trickles and gushers.  There is no limit to it - it is that "gift" which keeps on giving!  Our hearts, on the other hand, are indwelt by the Spirit of God - so they don't condemn us - in fact, they remind us we are loved, grace has covered (and recovered) a multitude of sins, and we are valued by God. Such a conflict of ups and downs, isn't it? If we are to move away from being so easily and frequently influenced by the storms of guilt, we are going to have to count on the truth which is declared by God himself about our heart - it belongs to him and therefore, everything else in us is his, cared for by him, and is being made beautiful because he indwells us!

The secret to the waves of guilt is the relationship we maintain in our heart.  If God indwells our heart, the basis of all our trust and hope is in the one who indwells us.  If our heart is right, our minds can TRY to condemn us, but it is impossible to change what God has already accomplished by making us right with him.  It is impossible for God's Spirit to indwell a sinful place - our minds may try to convince us we are not right because of past failures - but God has made us right and gives us his Spirit to indwell us so that we "stay right" for the long haul!  This may be why God reminds his children to draw close to him - we don't do that with our minds, but with our hearts.  As we draw close in relationship to him, we find our thoughts begin to change - the process of renewal occurs.  The heart was already renewed (made new), but the mind takes a while to catch up!


To really understand this, we go back a few verses in this chapter: Everyone who has been born into God’s family avoids sin as a lifestyle because the genes of God’s children come from God Himself. Therefore, a child of God can’t live a life of persistent sin. (vs 9)  We have a new set of genes! You may not know this, but the genes determine the "make-up" of a person - so with a new set of genes, our make-up changes!  We aren't the same person we once were - we are given so much through grace, but live in confusion and doubt because we don't think about what genes are responsible for within our make-up.  One of the things a gene does is "transfer" the traits of the parent to the offspring.  The new set of genes we have been given at the moment we said "yes" to Jesus actually transferred the traits of his Son into our hearts - our genetic make-up is no longer the same!  We have a new "bloodline". 

We may not always remember this, focusing instead on the irrational thought created by our sense of guilt over past failures - but the genetic make-up of Christ himself is there within our hearts nonetheless.  We are given his Spirit to reside in the secret place of our heart to remind us of this. As we begin to focus less on the storm of thoughts brewing up a gully-washer of guilt, and more on the settled fact of God's presence within, we may just begin to see the storms of guilt being cleared away and rays of hope beginning to dawn in our lives.  I often remind myself of this fact:  My mind needs daily renewal.  My genetic make-up remains constant!  Just sayin!

Monday, February 22, 2016

An empty page

Gandi said, "My life is my message."  It is not a long quote, but it speaks volumes!  So, should our lives - I think this is what he meant!  I went to the local hardware store yesterday to get a few things.  I was amused to see the checkout gentleman sporting a huge St. Patrick's Day green top hat. At first, this may not seem like much to you, but it was Valentine's Day on the day he was sporting the hat.  I didn't need to ask him why - it was evident to me right away.  He either didn't like all the hype of Valentine's Day, or he was making a statement we see so very often nowadays - one "holiday" really doesn't stand out at unique anymore!  They all just make way for the next.  He was definitely not afraid to live his life as a message.  I wonder if we'd be so bold with the message of our lives?

Remember His call, and live by the royal law found in Scripture: love others as you love yourself. You’ll be doing very well if you can get this down. (James 2:8 VOICE)

The message we are called to live is that of loving one another. Nothing quite shares this message in the same way as when it is lived out. Love wasn't meant to be words on a card, or pages in a book.  It wasn't even supposed to be the candy in a heart shaped box or the bouquet of flowers tucked under the opposite arm.  It was always intended to be "lived out" for one another - action upon action demonstrating the very essence of love.  Yet, this is the hardest of all messages to get right.  Rose Kennedy was quoted as saying, "Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments." Maybe she came close to understanding what our passage wants to remind us about today - life isn't really about the "grand" things we do, but the simplicity of just making those moments which matter.

Love others as you love yourself - you'll be doing very well IF you can get this down.  I think James may have penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because he knew how hard it is for us to live with consistency when it comes to loving one another.  We get into those modes where we judge others for their actions - not exactly how we'd want them to exhibit their love toward us, but hey, they acted kind of "wrong" and we had a hard time getting past that action. We also get into modes where we shut out others for some reason - either because we get so distracted by whatever has our attention at the moment, or because we think they have done something to deserve a little bit of a cold shoulder. If we are honest here, we all struggle a bit with "getting this love thing down" in our lives.  

I think James may have had in mind this idea of being present in the moment, making the moments count, and not being so concerned with all the things people do or have.  We get caught up in the ways people act - forgetting their are people behind those actions just as confused about life at the moment as we are.  We get all bundled up in misgivings - totally missing the fact the expectations we set may not have been realistic or something we should have held over the other person's head.  When we begin to think about these things in a different way, we might just begin to exhibit love in a different way.  Here's the crux of it:  Turn the table around - would we want the other individual to "expect" the things from us we expect from them and actually be able to meet those expectations?  Would we want someone to judge us for our less than stellar actions whenever we don't quite "measure up" to whatever the standard was which is being held over our heads?  Not likely.  So, why do we do it with others in our lives?

Moments which really matter are genuine moments - those moments when you are free to act, even when those actions may not quite be what we want them to be.  Someone said we don't actually move forward until we take the first step. If we want to know love in our lives, we learn to demonstrate the love we have been given.  We may not get it "right" the first time, but when we are genuine in our expression of love, this shines through.  We live life as a message - with each day bringing a new page.  What gets written on those pages is within our control.  They can be messages of love when they are messages of grace, forgiveness, giving, and genuine care. Just sayin!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Not old, but new

As the days pass, I see subtle changes in mom which clearly indicate the aging process is taking a toll on her. Her energy waxes and wanes, mostly waning these days.  Her memory doesn't hold the details, or process the input as quickly anymore.  The hearing is kind of shot, the legs don't propel her as quickly, and the teeth don't chew through food as well as they once did.  All in all, the changes may be gradual, but they definitely mount up.  One thing I can be reassured of - though her outward body is failing, her inner spirit is strong! She is being renewed day-by-day, energized by the Spirit indwelling her.  

So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life everyday. (2 Corinthians 4:16 VOICE)

None of us lasts forever, despite all the advances in medicine and the tremendous amount of money some of us will drop on this "enhancement" or that, we cannot stop the process of aging!  We can take care of our bodies, but it won't help us live forever.  We can keep our minds as sharp as possible, but it won't mean we never forget things and slow down in our though processes.  We don't usually think of this as a process of decaying, but in truth it really is.  The good news to each of us is this idea of our inner spirit never decaying when it is energized from within by the Spirit of God who indwells each of us!  In fact, it is the only part of us on the "upward climb" when the rest of us is in the downward spiral!

For a moment, I'd like us to consider what each new phase of our lives means to us.  For one thing, whenever we enter a new phase in life, we begin to learn new things or at least appreciate thing in a new way.  For example, when I moved from being a floor nurse into my first position of leadership, I had to learn to let go of some of the daily routines I had developed and take on new ones.  I also had to learn to relate to people in a new way - those who were coworkers were now those I was expected to lead.  My direction would set the course for the entire team, so it mattered what I did, how I created the enthusiasm around the  mission we had to tackle, and how well I could convey that mission to others so they would actually be inclined to go that direction with me!

As we enter new phases of life, new information comes our way.  We are often expected to embrace this new information, somehow making "room" for it in an already cluttered brain! To many of us, it is like we "let go" of some of the stuff which was always at the forefront of our minds and we put new stuff in that spot. Do we really forget the old stuff?  Not really, we just don't use it as much, so it seems like we have "made room" by letting go of that stuff.  It probably is still there, we just have to work a little harder to find it on the hard drive of our brains!  New information may seem a little harder for us to apprehend and comprehend as we enter these new phases in life, but it is important to remain open to what God may want us to see, experience, and grasp in each phase. 

Some new phases mean we slow down a little, taking life at a different pace than we once did.  I don't think this is always bad because we sometimes move along at such break-neck speed that we miss so much along the way.  As I see my grandsons today, I recall my own kids.  There are windows of time when I cannot recall if they did the same things, experienced life with that same enthusiasm, etc.  I know they did, I just was too busy to form the memories which help me to recount how they experienced that phase of their lives!  As I am older now, I take time to watch my grandsons - not because I didn't love my own kids enough to do it then - but because I have come to appreciate what things are a little more important at this phase of my life!  Would that I could have realized it earlier, but I don't think I have floated in this boat all on my own - I have a few others of you who have seen those years fly by way too fast, as well!

Let's not forget we have the opportunity for moment-by-moment life renewal - and course corrections!  Sometimes we need those reminders - just to stop, listen, hold hands, sing an old tune together, or just hang out in the stillness of the afternoon with the breeze gently tugging at our hair and the birds lulling us into quiet repose.  Just sayin!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Learning from the best...

If you have ever had any type of a "problem" with another individual in life, this one's for you.  Sometimes it is just easier than others to connect with an individual.  Let's be truthful - relationships are not always the easiest things to get right in this lifetime!  We think we make inroads into relationships, then someone does something which disappoints us or doesn't live up to some expectation we have set - then things between us are just strained, awkward, and a little less than "great".  Love is something modeled and learned because we have good role models, not because we have good words or solid advice in books.  Love isn't learned in isolation, either - we have to be around others long enough, frequently enough, and with enough commitment to actually learn what it is to love. Therefore, if we humans are to learn to love, we need solid examples and a lot of practice with the subject!

For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life. (John 3:16 VOICE)

We love because He has first loved us. (I John 4:19 VOICE)

Our first example is none other than God himself.  His example of love is that of sacrificial giving - not out of obligation or merit, but because it is who he is at the core of his being.  Each of us falls short of this type of love - we aren't all that "no strings attached" at the very core of our being. In fact, if we get painfully truthful here, we are probably a whole lot more "strings attached" than we'd like to admit.  He is a "give first" God - not waiting for someone to do something which "deserves" his love, but giving even when there is no one deserving of it!  

The second example set by God is that of giving what someone has need of - the recipient of his love isn't given some superficial expression of his love - that individual is given EXACTLY what they need, in EXACTLY the way they need it, at EXACTLY the time they need it.  His love connects with a specific need in each of our hearts - in varying ways, at just the right time, in total sufficiency to meet that need.  What a positive example of love - connecting with the need of another and meeting that need fully.

If we look close enough, we see a third example of God's love. He isn't afraid to initiate love.  He expresses his love in ways we can connect with it - by the means we come to appreciate and understand it little by little.  He reaches out to us - not waiting for us to reach out to him, but taking the first step, the second, the third, and so on until we begin to sense it. He doesn't let up - but keeps initiating these steps of love until we latch hold of the fact he loves us with a love so immeasurable we cannot totally fathom its depth, width, breadth, or tenacity!

Three characteristics modeled for us.  One pretty solid example we can consistently count on to "re-model" those behaviors over and over until we learn from them.  He brings us into opportunities galore where have the privilege of modeling these behaviors in our own lives.  Loving someone who is maybe not being all that "deserving" of our love at the moment.  Lovingly meeting a need - even those which remain buried and unspoken.  Taking action even before being told, giving even before the need has been spoken, reaching out when someone really doesn't know they even need a hand yet. These are expressions of God's love "re-modeled" in our lives, learned at his feet, and capable of being "re-modeled" in the lives of another. 

Let us remember this - we love only because he first modeled love for us.  We love only because we learned from the best! Just sayin!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Memories

"Suffering passes, while love is eternal. That's a gift that you have received from God. Don't waste it." (Laura Ingalls Wilder)  I once heard it said it isn't the days in life which we really form memories around, it is more the moments in life which we latch onto and place carefully away in the recesses of our memories.  Days come and go, not really with much significance attached to any of them - they are kind of routine with no lasting memory.  Then there are those moments in time when we just will not forget the thrill, enjoyment, or perhaps the grief of that moment.  Speak with someone who has lost a loved one and they tend to remember the good things, not so much the suffering and tragedy which took the loved one from them.  Love is eternal - suffering passes - sometimes slower than we might like, but it does.  Yes, we shall endure hardship, but it is God's love which beckons us onward from the midst of hardship into the warmth of his tender arms.

He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. (2 Corinthians 1:4 VOICE)

Is it possible to waste the gift of love God has given us?  I think it might just be possible, but if we are careful to hold onto those memories, it is less likely to happen.  Pain and hardship won't escape us all the days of our lives - we are bound to come face-to-face with it at some time.  When we do, we can form awkwardly difficult memories of those moments, rehearsing them over and over again until they are burned into the recesses of our minds; or we can let them fade in time under the refreshing and renewal of God's love washing over those memories like water washes over the canyon's floor.  

Yes, those are deep places in our lives - places we didn't want to ever go - but places which house a beauty all their own.  It just takes his love to help us realize the canyon is not going to consume us, but help us to be built stronger.  What we draw from his comfort in those "canyon moments" are not things we are to hold to ourselves.  In the most literal sense, these are to become "shared learning".  Those around us also go through those "canyon moments" - maybe not exactly like ours, but deep places of what appears to be no escape.  The mind begins to see nothing but the walls of the canyon and feel the coldness of those walls all around them. Yet, when we come alongside, sharing the reality of how God can draw us out of the pain and struggle of that "canyon place", there is a spark of hope given which is often all another needs to begin to see a way out of that deep canyon.

When we console someone, we are actually helping to lessen their grief, sorrow, or disappointment.  It is usually something which comes out of some type of sharing of the memories we have associated with various moments in our lives.  Those who hold up those bad memories, never to share them with others, are probably not able to get beyond those memories themselves.  They need the help of another to see beyond the walls of the canyon of grief, disappointment, or sorrow those events have left in their lives.  God's love echoes within those canyon walls whenever we begin to share the ways God has touched us in our own canyon experiences. Those sounds of his voice begin to reverberate into the recesses of our companion's heart until we begin to see the effect of those words of love healing, restoring, and regenerating their heart.  

Sorrow, disappointment, and grief are not meant to be born alone.  We may want to pull away in those moments, but what we need most is the companionship of others who have been in those canyon places themselves.  In the moments which have elapsed between their loss and ours, there are likely great lessons of love and healing which have occurred. We draw from each of life's challenges, but we form memories of those things which helped us the most.  Isn't it about time we take those memories of God's love to those who need to also form those memories themselves?  Just askin?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What do you expect?

One of my friends posted a little saying today which I wanted to share with all my lady friends (and guy friends who might just benefit from this, as well): "What a lovely gift to give a friend...to never expect her to be perfect." (Proverbs 31 Ministries) It made me think about how many things it is we do in life which we think someone else actually expects us to do, wanting so desperately to please them and not allow things to get in the way of our relationship. We might just do this a little more often than we admit - simply because it has become such a way of living for us, it might not be easily recognized at first. Maybe we need to actually stop long enough to ask, What expectations have I imposed upon another, and What is it I want from them? We might just be surprised what emerges when we stop to think what it is we "require" of another in relationship!


Love is patient; love is kind. Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag, or strut about. There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude, or indecent—it’s not self-absorbed. Love isn’t easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth—yes, truth—is love’s delight! Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what.  Love will never become obsolete. (I Corinthians 13:4-8 VOICE)

Expectations can be the death of a good relationship - honestly, we sometimes don't know just how demanding we can be until someone just plain cannot take it any longer and walks away!  In the most literal sense, an expectation is an assumption someone will be or do something in a way we have "created" in our minds.  For example, as a mom, I assumed my kids knew homework had to be done before play time could begin.  Well, here's a shocker --- my kids didn't quite have that same expectation!  In fact, for them, it was just the opposite --- they had been in school doing schoolwork all day long, so home time didn't mean "homework" for them, it meant letting it all go and engaging in something they actually enjoyed!

Expectations are based upon "chance" - there is a chance the thing will turn out as you assume it will.  Life isn't like a slot machine, though.  We can put a quarter in a slot machine and take the chance it will return ten dollars.  We may not want to go through relationships "chancing" things, though!  They may not "pay off" as we expected!  We have a "notion" or "prediction" something will be just as we imagine it to be and then when something other than that imagined state is what is presented to us, we kind of think we didn't get what we wanted.  Relationships cannot succeed based on "chance". It may have been a little hard to realize this when I was a kid, but as I have grown up, I see the truth in this - - - people don't "do" or "behave" one way just because I say they should!

So, is it really possible to go into a relationship without expectations and to have a solidly growing relationship without developing them?  I don't really think so, but we have to be careful about what types of expectations we put upon the other person within that relationship. Some will not be very realistic and others may be spot on.  We need to be careful about the unrealistic, or almost impossible to achieve. The right kind of "expectations" to have within relationship should be based upon scriptural principles.  This is why I brought this passage into today's lesson.  Where there is love, we should expect patience when we don't always measure up, or get something the first time around.  When love is the guardian over our relationships, we should be kind, even when that kindness may not be deserved.  These two are the toughest for some of us to get because patience and kindness are hard responses when someone keeps repeating the same patterns which leave us disappointed or which make unending demands of our time, talent, or treasure.   

One thing I know for sure --- where the "PERSON" of love dwells, there is infinitely more resources available within the relationship.  The "PERSON" of love is Christ - so where Christ dwells, there is the infinite possibility of love.  Keep Christ center in your relationship and I bet the "expectations" we exert on one another will begin to morph into the types of expectations he says are important for us to meet within those relationships!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Don't cast the dissenting vote!

We can find ourselves in situations where we are bickering with another over some trivial matter. Before we knew what happened, we were in some type of disagreement about a matter which really should not matter to us in the scheme of things.  It is like we zeroed in on something and now we are not going to let up on it.  We have all been there - in the cycle of discord without any real appreciation for how it all began or much hope of this thing ending well for us!  In those moments between "ignition" and "the crash", we all face the same issue - will WE be the ones to admit we are wrong or will we hold out for the other person to admit it?

Hatred fuels dissension, but love calms all rebellions. (Proverbs 10:12 VOICE)

We can fuel flames of discord by simply saying wrong stuff, or even ignoring some of the stuff we should be taking a stand about.  Nothing fuels discord and disagreement in our lives more than hatred.  Did you ever stop to think that we may not need two people to have discord?  It is possible to know discord right there within ourselves, simply because there are two "factions" at war against each other!  One part of us wants to do what is right, while the other part is kind of liking doing what is wrong!  There are times we bring on our own "battles" of sorts - all within our minds, hearts, and emotions - and all directed at none other than little old us!  

It is entirely possible to know controversy within our own minds and hearts - this is often the basis of many of our longest "arguments".  We find ourselves getting all "lathered up" about stuff we cannot control, things we have perceived one way or another, and which we simply shouldn't be dwelling on at all, but are.  Instead of getting a handle on our internal conflict, we allow it to begin to spin us out of control until we find ourselves allowing that internal controversy to affect our outward lives and relationships.  In short order, the dissension within becomes evident without!

If we are to be honest here, it is this sense of "disunity" within which often leads to the disunity we experience with others in our lives.  It isn't that we wanted the conflict - we simply didn't allow the conflict to be dealt with within ourselves and now it is affecting those around us, as well.  In the most literal sense of the word, all rebellion is because of this "internal discord" we experience in life.  We want one thing, know another is probably the better path to pursue, but struggle to figure out which one we will ultimately follow. As this battle rages on, it cannot help but affect our relationships around us, for every "internal battle" is the fuel for the fire within the relationship moments we must navigate through each day.

I think the Apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he described this internal discord as doing the things he hated (Romans 7).  He says this internal conflict occurs when he does the things he despises (hates).  The answer to this is to embrace God's love a little more and allow it to embrace you a little deeper.  The love of God actually begins to calm the discord within - it isn't that we need to stop the argument, we just need to embrace the love!  We don't need more love, we just need to begin to be embraced by the love we have been shown and which desires to set our inner man at peace! Conflict stops when love invades the spaces of our minds and hearts which had previously been in such discord.  Love brings with it agreement and harmony (the opposite of discord).

Instead of living in conflict all the time, maybe it is time we just open our hearts to the love begging to do what love does - set in order what has been in such a state of disorder for so long within each of us.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Don't go it alone...

Helen Keller said, "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." I don't think we ever count on walking alone through life, but there are times when we can be in a crowd and still be "alone".  It is truly a hard thing to learn to walk alone - because we lack the stabilizing force the other's hand offers, their balance creates, or their persistence with us getting it right affords in our repeated efforts to walk!  


Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together. If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone? In the same way, if two lie down together, they can keep each other warm. But how will the one who sleeps alone stay warm against the night? And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 VOICE)

A good return comes when two work together.  I would have to say a good return comes when two "walk" together. When two are walking side-by-side, they may not be together - they are simply "next to each other".  To truly walk together may be best symbolized by the illustration of actually walking in the footprints left by the other.  We don't blaze our own path, but set out to learn what the other has discovered on their journey.  Sometimes you will walk in those footsteps I have left before you - at others I will enter into yours.  Each of us shares those steps because each of us has so much to gain from the lessons learned along those steps.

If you have ever done this, you know you don't always see the same things, nor do you experience the journey in quite the same way the one who led the way might have.  We each have our own perspective and sense of "mindful intake" we exert as we journey similar paths - even when we appear to be totally in step with each other.  Why?  We don't always sense things similarly, and this is not wrong for we can learn from the experiences of each other as we engage in the similar journey.

Keller didn't see - she was blind - so her perception of the journey was entirely different from that of a sighted person. She developed a keen sense of hearing, touch, and other sensual intake which made it possible for her to "experience" the similar journey taken by another, but in a totally dissimilar manner.  The same is true for each of us - not because we are sighted or visually challenged - but because we have a mindset "similar", yet "unique".  When we each share how it is we experience the journey with another along on that journey with us, we benefit from the way the other experiences that journey because it is perhaps a similar perspective, but different, as well.  

The most important thing we may not realize about the journey we each experience is just how vulnerable we would have been to attack if we had walked the path alone!  There are times we think we have it all under control - spoiler alert - you and I rarely have it "all under control"!  In fact, what we view as control is probably just ordered chaos simply waiting to spin out of control at the next opportunity!  

Henry Ford is credited as saying, "My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me."  I'd have to agree. Vulnerability is the ability to be wounded or subject to attack. When I see myself as capable of being independent in my journey, I rarely see myself as being susceptible to attack - a truly dangerous position to assume in life!  When I walk with another, there is that moment in time when they help me recognize just how vulnerable I am!  In essence, they are bringing out the "best" in me at that moment - for learning to be dependent upon another is not weakness, but rather it is trust! Just sayin!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Regret vs. Repentance

Saw a post this morning that I just had to re-post: "There's a difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse is being sorry for being caught. Repentance is being sorry enough to stop." (Greg Laurie)  I think this is so very true! There are probably a whole lot of us walking around out there with some warped idea of repentance - thinking it is what Greg said - being "sorry".  The truth of the matter is that until we "stop", we are only "sorry".  It isn't regret which brings a change of heart and mind, but truthful desire to do whatever it takes to change the way we have been thinking and acting! Regret may seem legit, but it is nothing more than a sense of thinking about what one has lost!  I dropped my breakfast pastry on the floor the other morning - something I regretted. I thought about that warm pastry stuffed with strawberry filling for a little bit - eyeing it just lying there on the floor. I could have scooped it up - the five second rule, you know - but instead, the trash can became the resting spot for this "fallen pastry".  I regretted my quick movement and slippery plate.  I regretted my inability to enact the "five second rule". I regretted it all, but nothing changed the fact of the fallen pastry being just that - fallen!


Now this type of deep sorrow, godly sorrow, is not so much about regret; but it is about producing a change of mind and behavior that ultimately leads to salvation. But the other type of sorrow, worldly sorrow, often is fleeting and only brings death. Look at what is happening among you! Notice how authentic and diligent you have become because this godly sorrow has been at work in your community. But there’s more: your desire to clear your name, your righteous anger, your respect, your longing, your zeal, and your concern for justice. All these demonstrate how you have been made clean. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11 VOICE)

Paul had written to the church at Corinth to take action against some sinful actions within the church - things which were just being tolerated without ever being really addressed as sinful.  He takes a pretty hard stand on what is "allowable" in the believer's life and what is not.  Evidently the issue of a son taking his father's wife to bed was not really being addressed, so Paul takes a stand on the matter and his words are kind of interpreted by some as a little "harsh".  His concern is because they have taken this sin "lightly" - not addressing it themselves.  After a little time has passed, the second letter is written, and here we see the good news - the church leaders have addressed the sin, seen the man change his ways (repent),  and now he is restored to fellowship among the believers in Corinth.  At first, the letter to "take action" instead of sitting around with blinders on seems a little harsh, but if we aren't willing to be a little "harsh" on sin, then we will never see real change in our midst!

In this second letter, he commends them for not only taking the action to confront the sin, but the response of the one who has sinned - embracing the conviction by making a full change of mind and behavior.  Herein is the crux of the matter - regret doesn't really change the behavior.  The whole point of repentance is this change in action - we stop doing one thing and begin doing something completely different. If my sin was one of flying off the handle at the slightest thing which got on my nerves, then I would say the opposite of this was to become more even-tempered, less volatile, and kinder in my responses.  The potential to sin still exists - people will do stuff around me which could "stimulate" my anger response - but I will choose a different response.  Behavior is about choices.  We choose something over something else. I could have picked up the warm pastry from the floor, brushed it off and consumed it - but that would have been putting myself at risk.  We need to begin to see even the subtle compromises as "risky behavior" in our lives, for even though we think we can "justify" them (like we do with the five second rule), they still place an unwanted "risk" in our path.

Regret might open the door to repentance - it isn't all bad.  If we stop at regret, we will always be looking back with longing at what we could have had, done, enjoyed.  It is this "looking back" which Paul challenges us to deal with - no real change happens until we start looking ahead!  Focus on the thing we think we will miss and we will never move away from it. We will just be drawn back to it over and over again!  After that pastry landed in the trash can, I didn't pursue it again.  It was a "goner" to me.  Sin needs to be that way for us - put away, removed from our focus, and just a "goner" to us. Repentance points us in a new direction - through a change of mind and then a change of heart. We begin to think differently and then we act differently.  Plain and simple, but oh so hard to do, right?  We do ourselves an disservice to simply regret bad decisions.  We do ourselves (and those around us) great service when we finally walk away from those things and make a new plan, allowing it to work in our lives, until it becomes the "new way" we live.  This is what Paul commends in the Corinthian church - they acted upon what they knew to be true, taking tough steps to encounter sin, and then allowed God to do the rest.  Maybe this is what separates regret from repentance - taking the tough steps to encounter what we know to be wrong and then allowing God to become our focus so we can allow him to do the work of renewing our behavior. Just sayin!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day

It is Valentine's Day in the good old USA, so millions will exchange cards with words of appreciation, sentiment, and love. Millions will be spent on "special moments" which celebrate the love of one for another. Balloons will be filled by the thousands and bouquets of the things will appear in homes, workplaces, and even adorning headstones as some will remember loved ones who have gone on before. To some it is a very "commercialized" day - to others it is a day which takes great planning and creativity in order to show someone the depth of their love. As we express ourselves to one another during these moments of appreciation and celebration of one another, let us not forget the words of John F. Kennedy: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." 

You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it. (Matthew 5:16 VOICE)

I wonder how it would be if we took even one day a year to express such deep love for the one who gave his all for us - to truly spend all that energy, time, and talent just celebrating the greatness of Jesus - what would that be like?  Imagine one day with all the attention given to Valentine's Day redirected toward him - all that appreciation and love overflowing not in the "commercialism" of a holiday, but in the sincerest expression of a life lived out for him and only him.  Wouldn't that just set our world on fire?  Christ calls us to be an illuminating light - shining forth wherever we go. Nothing brings his heart greater joy and excitement than to see one of his children so full of his love that the "brightness" of Christ shines through!

The Calvinist minister, Henry Ward Beecher, penned these words:  "I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love."  I'd have to say the opposite is also true:  We never know how to love until we truly learn what it is to worship. Worship is devotion - the laying down of one's own thoughts, purposes, and plans in order to really engage with those of another.  For some of us, we declare our devotion to another human being on Valentine's Day - proclaiming we have laid aside our own agendas in life, if only for the day, to honor and celebrate the life of another and how that life has enriched our own.  We can be devoted to a lot of things or simply one person.  Devotion is a matter of directed attention and focused purpose.  We can devote to a field of study, a hobby, or even a passion of some kind.  Devotion is part of worship, but it isn't the whole matter.

To bring light into the world, we need to first be filled with light.  The only way for light to fill us is to empty ourselves of everything else which takes up the space light needs to occupy!  I wonder what might be different with this Valentine's Day if we were to empty ourselves of all our empty pursuits and center our purpose of loving just one - Christ himself.  If we were to finally make room for him in our complicated and "filled to capacity" lives, what might that light illuminate in each of us which might ignite the light in another?  I think we might just start a revolution of light!  In so doing, many could perhaps understand there is a way out of their darkest places and most confounding issues.  It isn't hard to let our light shine once we give light room to expand and become the illuminating source it was designed to be! Where light shines, love is sure to follow! Just sayin!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Squeezing a little?

"I've heard there are troubles of more than one kind; some come from ahead, and some come from behind. But I've brought a big bat. I'm all ready, you see; now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!" (Dr. Seuss) Could it be that maybe some of us just need a bigger bat?  I pose that question because it seems like there are some in our lives who just don't ever seem to get past or away from those problems which "come from ahead" or "come from behind".  It could even be one of us who just doesn't ever get truly "free" of the things which have come as "troubles of more than one kind". I challenge us not to think about those troubles, but the size of the bat we have been given to help us deal with them once and for all!

When the upright need help and cry to the Eternal, He hears their cries and rescues them from all of their troubles. (Psalm 34:17 VOICE)

Peter Marshall had a great perspective on the troubles which come in life:  "God will not permit any troubles to come to us, unless he has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty."  Re-read that if you must because there is something quite profound in that statement - God has a specific plan by which GREAT blessing can come OUT of the difficulty.  The greatness is found IN the difficulty, not by avoiding it.  In the midst of troubles coming from ahead or coming from behind, we find ourselves kind of "sandwiched" in the middle, and this makes for a whole lot of squeezing! This is perhaps why we don't like troubles very much - it isn't the thing which come out of them which we so much resist as it is the amount of "squeezing" it takes to get the blessing out!

Troubles vary in scale from things which mildly irritate us and give us a moment of grief, to the type which almost crushes us under the weight of the thing.  The first type of "inconveniences" we deal with, probably on a daily basis, such as traffic jams on the way to work.  The middle of the road types of troubles may be those things we wish no one would ever have to deal with such as the loss of a job, or death of a much loved pet.  Then there are the really hard ones, like the diagnosis of cancer, or the loss of a loved one. Life is indeed filled with troubles which "come from ahead" and "come from behind", but the outcome will be different depending on what we keep in the forefront of our mind. Yes, I just got a little "Dr. Seuss" on you and made that one rhyme!  Our mind can be filled with doubt, fear, frustration, and the like.  If peace is not what fills our mind in the midst of trouble, we aren't carrying the "right bat"!

In the words of the great hymn penned by Horatio G. Spafford, "When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. It is well with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul."  Peace attends our soul - it watches over our minds - steadies our raging emotions - and floods our hearts with overwhelming joy.  No matter the trouble, the thing we use to deal with them is what makes the difference.  As Seuss said, the bat he carried gave him an "edge" over the troubles.  The "bat" we carry in life is none other than that of the peace of Christ which rules our hearts and minds, bringing comfort to our soul and strength to our body.  Peace is not a "thing", but a person - Christ.  It is not the absence of chaos, but the presence of God bringing order out of that chaos.  

The next time troubles approach you from ahead or behind, remember who it is who stands clearly in your defense at that moment of great trouble!  You might just find those troubles begin to reveal what is being "pressed out" by their pressures from all sides.  Just sayin!