Thursday, March 31, 2016

Not wanting any drift

The day may start out well, when we think the plan we have outlined for the various tasks ahead will come to fruition, and the sun is even shining - then in an instant, everything so well-planned can erupt into chaos.  As I watched the news last night for a couple of hours, the big deal was a fire at a recycling plant very near our airport.  A very windy day was creating a huge spread of this flame from the original piles of recyclables into some others way down the yard and even possibly to neighboring businesses.  The cloud of jet black smoke bellowed into the sky and was seen for miles and miles. Trust me on this - those guys and gals who worked at that plant didn't "plan" to see their day end that way!  Nor did the rush hour commuters attempting to get to the polling places on election day expect to be in a quagmire of long lines at the polls due to someone in government thinking we could reduce our polling places to 1/3 the number we normally have.  We just don't know what our day may hold, but we plan nonetheless.  The failure we may have is in not actually asking God for the wisdom we need in the planning process!

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. The key is that your request be anchored by your single-minded commitment to God. Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn’t assume the Lord will rescue them or bring them anything. The splinter of divided loyalty shatters your compass and leaves you dizzy and confused. (James 1:5-8 VOICE)

I think many of us fall into the trap of complacency where we simply plan, knowing God watches over our lives, and totally forgetting we need to seek his will for those plans.  It is like we are on auto-pilot up until the point something goes wrong. When the fire begins to rage out of control, we turn to God! Am I the only one ever caught in this cycle of acting first, seeking wisdom second?  All the wisdom we need for the journey isn't always available to us as we take our first step out the door in the morning - there will be things which despite our "good planning" will mount up in a hurry like the raging fire at the recycling plant!  What might have seemed "ordinary" or "routine" to begin with erupts into "extraordinary" and "colossal" before the day is over.

Whenever we set out on our own, without seeking God's wisdom to at least assure us we are on the right path, we run the risk of being "stranded at sea" - like a ship whose turbines suddenly stop working and the seas are able to take it where they will simply by the pull and sway of their currents.  I don't want us to lose sight of what James says to us here - we are to ask for God's wisdom, not just for the blessing of our already "cemented" plans!  A builder doesn't just lay a foundation, put in all the plumbing, wiring, and the like, then go to the city for approval to build.  He lays out his plans, takes them to the offices of those who oversee the approval of these plans, and sometimes he walks away with recommendations on changes which need to be made before he ever breaks ground.  Those simple changes may make the difference between a whole lot of rework and the project finishing without added expense or time investment, though. He does well to follow the process!

There are times when we lunge ahead, thinking we are motivated by a single-minded commitment to God, but in fact, we are motivated by some other commitment to self or others.  James says we can be assured of wisdom when we place our commitment on the right focus - God first, the plans second, and then the actions will follow.  Will they always go smoothly?  Nope.  Will there be occasional bumps along the way and even a little "rework"?  Probably.  Then why ask?  When we ask, we are centering ourselves on the one who knows the end from the beginning - even the places where a little "rework" will become necessary.  The rework was not likely part of what he would have designed for us, but he knew we'd be good up to a certain spot in the journey, then we'd encounter some difficult spots.  When we are in the midst of those "spots", what we determine to do in those moments makes all the difference in just how far off-course we allow ourselves to get.  When we get waylayed by life's issues, we can either be set adrift, or we can send out the SOS to God.  

The issue is that we don't live by the standard or routine of relying solely upon the SOS!  We will need less and less rescuing when we seek the right course to take in the first place and allow him to prepare us for the events of the journey well in advance of us ever facing those events!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I call you friends

Hubert Humphrey said, "The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love." There is something "enveloping" about the tender hugs of a companion in the journey, one who will not only come alongside, but will bear you up during times when you just feel you cannot go on any longer. Over the years, I have been observant of those who seem to live "rich lives".  They aren't those who drive the fanciest of cars, dress the snappiest, or even are surrounded by the most "friends" at the party.  In fact, they are often those who have learned to live well as "friends" themselves, drawing those who are loyal, trustworthy, and there for the long-haul into their lives not by their overwhelming charisma, but by their faithful example.

There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. You celebrate our friendship if you obey this command. I don’t call you servants any longer; servants don’t know what the master is doing, but I have told you everything the Father has said to Me. I call you friends. (John 15:13-15 VOICE)

I call you friends - four words with the greatest of potential and a magnitude of blessing far outside of my limited ability to describe.  Jesus was speaking with those who were then and were to become his followers - disciples in this journey. To them he proclaims four things:

"I" - It isn't just anyone who makes this claim.  It is the Son of God, the one who sits at the right hand of the Eternal.  He is the one who makes this proclamation.  The all-becoming, all-knowing, all-powerful one proclaims, "I" call you my friends.

"Call" - The "I am" declares - indeed, he "makes it known" - we are his friends.  Not only is it to be known to us, but by evidence he leaves all over our lives by being a part of our lives, it becomes apparent we are his!

"You" - He directs his words clearly to those who are willing to follow - to do more than merely "associate with" him, but those who make the active choice to be with him no matter what comes.

"Friends" - Not acquaintances, not comrades, not colleagues, nor are we sidekicks.  We are the closest of "friends" - a person attached to another because there is a bond of love. 

Jesus is about to reveal the greatest evidence of this bond - the giving of his life for those he loves.  His example declares the depth of his commitment and the breadth of his encompassing love.  We are to celebrate his friendship - to give evidence of this bond relationship - through the giving of ourselves to the things he revealed as important in his time on this earth.  The binding up of wounds too deep to heal without the care of another.  The encouragement of words and actions that lift the spirit of one weighted down by the discouragements of a lifetime of wrong choices.  There is no greater love - no greater evidence of his grace in action - than to love with the heart of Jesus. 

In essence, Jesus is saying, "There is no greater bond..."  We can form bonds with many things and many people. Those bonds can be both trustworthy and a little flimsy - depending on the type of bond which is formed.  I have "glued" things to other things, such as a bead on top of a bottle so mom can easily identify it as the one she wants when she is in pain. Depending upon the glue I use, the wear and tear that bead receives each time that bottle is accessed, and the "bond" which formed when the glue was setting, that bead may last a long time right where it was attached, or come off in a moment of "pressure" too strong for that attachment.  God is calling each of us to be the type of friends with bonds too strong to detach, even when the pressures build!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

As he is

We might come to Jesus "as we are", but we don't remain the same for very long!  The car resale industry might post an "as is" sign on the auto for sale on the lot when they don't want to make any guarantee in the integrity of the "working parts" of the vehicle.  I think most of us come with "as is" signs clearly posted in our lives - not wanting to make any guarantee about the working parts of our character!  The most we can bring is "damaged goods" - at best.  The most we gain is a renewed spirit, whole heart, and mind set right again! Seems like a pretty "uneven trade" to me, but I am so grateful God isn't expecting an "even trade"!

Look on me with a heart of mercy, O God, according to Your generous love.  According to Your great compassion, wipe out every consequence of my shameful crimes. Thoroughly wash me, inside and out, of all my crooked deeds. Cleanse me from my sins.  For I am fully aware of all I have done wrong, and my guilt is there, staring me in the face.  It was against You, only You, that I sinned, for I have done what You say is wrong, right before Your eyes. So when You speak, You are in the right. When You judge, Your judgments are pure and true.  For I was guilty from the day I was born, a sinner from the time my mother became pregnant with me.  (Psalm 51:1-5 VOICE)

Guilt has a way of "being there", as our writer puts it, "staring us in the face".  We bring a mess of "not-so-well-functioning" pieces to God as we come, but he doesn't look upon us as rejects, or as too much of a "fixer-upper" that he rejects us. In fact, he has a special running on "clunkers"!  All clunkers are welcome!  No questions asked - no guarantees need be made on our part - just come "as we are" and he will do the rest. According to Autotrader's website, when we purchase an automobile from the dealer or seller with an "as is" designation, the buyer is assuming the risk of whatever the condition of that vehicle is at the time of the purchase.  God did the same for us - he purchased us with the blood of his Son, Jesus, in an "as is" condition.  He knows fully well we are not "well-maintained".  In fact, he knows we have been driven in some tough conditions which have put pressure on us, are marred by the dents and dings left by those things we collided with or that collided with us, and we don't know where half of the scratches which take away the "surface appeal" have come from.  Yet, he welcomes us "as is".

Oscar Wilde once said, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."  We all find ourselves in that "as is" condition - no exceptions.  What we choose to do when we realize the "best" we have to offer is "as is" makes the difference, though.  God isn't afraid of the "risk" he takes in welcoming each of us into his family.  In fact, the "as is" condition of our hearts, minds, and souls is something which kind of tugs at his heart!  He wants not only to restore us to our "former condition", but to help us realize what we never even knew was possible.  In terms of car restoration, the one who purchases an old vehicle might have a great deal of work to make it run "like new" again, but at best he only removes the rust, fixes the dings, and puts the working parts in order again.  The parts are pretty much the same, they just get a little overhaul.  With God, the parts actually are transformed. The heart of stone is made flesh.  The mind is renewed, but it is also made new because it becomes the mind of Christ.  The spirit which was vacant and unattended now becomes filled with the very presence of God himself.  "As is" need not be the way we see ourselves any longer - for we are now "as he is"!

"As he is" suggests more than an outward polish or new paint job.  Indeed, it means every part has been thoroughly inspected, made new, and realigned as it should be - no part left untouched.  When God takes an "as is" like you and me, making us into the "as he is" condition only he can do, he isn't "done" until all is made as he is!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Just take another road

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."  (Helen Keller)   There are times when traffic moves so slowly - usually on my way home!  Those times when I want to be in the simplicity of my own space, comfortable in my sweats, and just free from the day's pressures it seems I have to languish through slow moving traffic and long lines of other waiting to do much the same thing!  Traffic lights turn red way before enough cars make their way through the intersection and more cars merge into already busy streets, further delaying our progress.  Ever get behind that semi carrying a load of housing materials or giant I-beams on their way to a construction site?  They don't just jackrabbit into a start!  If you are in the midst of others who are smart enough to have changed lanes to get around the semi, there is rarely any opening big enough for you to do the same, so you "creep".  On the inside, I am soaring.  On the outside, I am creeping!  Many times, the progress we make in life may not be the progress we had hoped to be making, but when we see ourselves mounting up with wings like the eagle, we are more likely to enjoy the journey.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Eternal, the Everlasting God, the Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.  His wisdom is beyond understanding.  God strengthens the weary and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.  Young people will get tired; strapping young men will stumble and fall.  But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles. They will run—never winded, never weary.  They will walk—never tired, never faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31 VOICE)

Age and care - two killers of the human spirit.  One is pretty much outside of our control, while the other is entirely within it.  We will age, no matter how well we follow a regimented diet rich in that substance or another, exercise regularly, or refrain from certain practices which will place our bodies at risk.  No one lives without aging - that is just a fact of life. The parts wear out!  Care, on the other hand, is within our control, for we determine what we will hold onto and what we will let go.  The focus of our minds is determined by us, and as such, we are the ones who can either dig in deeper to that which places burdens too great for us to bear, or we can lift them up to the one who desires to carry them in the first place.

Both wear upon us and eventually will wear us down unless we allow God to help us.  We only regain our strength when we seek a source of strength clearly outside of our own ability or capability.  Our pressures in life are not always of our own making, but they are clearly impacting us - just like me being stuck in traffic on my way home.  I didn't invite all those drivers to head home at the same time I do - but they are there nonetheless.  Those who made the roadways didn't plan on all the people taking this one roadway home, either! There are multiple ways to reach the same destination - some slower, or requiring much more caution than others.  I may experience less traffic on the roads which contain multiple school zones and a few more stop lights, not to mention having to cross about four railroad crossings.  That way may not be any faster - but it may be less trafficked. 

We don't "soar" simply because there is less "traffic" where we travel, though.  We simply don't have the same distractions, nor the same obstacles.  We do have obstacles, they are just different.  No matter how we travel through this life, we face some form of barriers to our progress and things which will weigh us down.  We cannot escape that fact.  The "road" to where we are heading may be different, but the destination is the same - we want to be where we are not presently or realize something we haven't realized yet.  We want safety, security, and perhaps even a little enjoyment. How we get there is often riddled with all manner of "cares" which get in the way of us realizing what we desire.  The most important thing to remember is that we don't soar on our own. We soar because God lifts the weights of our cares and gives us wings to soar!  Just sayin!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

No road at all

"If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."  (David Livingstone, medical missionary to Africa)  I wonder how we might approach life a little differently if we were to consider a few less traveled roads instead of the super-highways of life?  The roads we choose in life are not always well-marked, completely paved, or even well-charted ahead of time.  Sometimes we just set out in faith, knowing the direction we are headed, but not so clear what will come along the way.  As I explore new regions of our country, someone has usually gone before me to discover those paths I travel, but I have not been those ways before.  Those roads are all new to me and each turn brings a discovery fresh and totally new to me.  I have been the one blazing the trail on occasion, but there are some trails I take because I trust those who have gone before me to prepare those trails!

You have searched me—my heart and soul—awakened me from dreaming and tested me.  You’ve found nothing against me. I have resolved not to sin in what I say.  The path violent men have followed, I will not travel. Violence is not my way. Your ways and Your voice now guide my journey.  I will press on—moving steadfastly forward along Your path.  I will not look back. I will not stumble.  (Psalm 17:3-5 VOICE)

The path we choose NOT to travel matters just as much as those we do choose to travel!  When we don't go the way everyone seems to be heading, we may make the wisest choice of all.  As moms everywhere have asked their children for eons, "Just because your friend jumps off a bridge, does that mean you will, too?", they were just asking the ageless question about our willingness to choose to NOT travel a road just because it was highly traveled by others.  They were simply advising us to make right choices, based on common sense and truth we have seen modeled in the lives of those who are good examples for us.  

We make judgments about the path at basically three times: 1) before we begin to travel it; 2) after we have been on it a little while and experienced what it has begun to reveal; and 3) when we have finished the journey and are looking back at what has been our course.  The first looks at the journey from the perspective of what will be.  The second looks at the journey from what is being revealed.  The last looks at it from what has been and what is now the new place we occupy as a result of the journey.  Depending upon our "place on the path", we see it differently.  One vantage point sees it as daunting and maybe a little scary.  The other says it isn't all that bad, or worth the exploration.  What we often fail to recognize is the point of "reckoning" with our will to either take the path a little further, or turn around when it gets a little too hard to continue.  We sometimes turn off "right paths" because the way gets a little too hard for us.  

There are basically "right" or "wrong" choices in life.  Some are clearly plain to us - like not jumping from a bridge just because everyone else is!  Others are not so "clear" - like which stock will perform at the pace we need to realize in order for our investments to "pay off" as we need them to for our retirement.  Yes, there are a whole lot of grey areas in life, paths not so easily recognizable as "right" or "wrong", but I think we can make the "best" choices when we rely upon the truth of the Word, the internal "check" of the Spirit within, and the niggling of our conscience along the way.  Yes, God looks for those who have a pioneering spirit and a willingness to go where perhaps others haven't gone before, but he also looks for those who are willing to evaluate their course in light of the truth he gives, not just take the path others so freely travel.  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Steeped in faith

Where is it joy and peace actually find the best resting place in our lives?  The place where they can grow and be nurtured instead of being constantly at war with our anxiety and fears is really in the midst of our faith!  If we consider this for just a moment, it makes sense - faith isn't the absence of doubt, but the trust in someone bigger than we are who will navigate us through the things we are about to face!  All hope is in him, therefore, when we are struggling with whatever it is, we can count on his joy and peace coming to rest right smack-dab in the middle of our faith, dispelling the doubts and creating hope which is solidly grounded.

I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 VOICE)

Mom drinks tea, so we go through an abundance of tea bags over the course of the week.  I put many of those tea leaves in the garden because they still have a great deal of "value" once they have served their purpose of giving her a few warm cups throughout the day.  As I put that new bag into the hot water in the morning, I can observe the color of the water change. As a kid, mom taught me the water needed to be at a full boil before it could be poured into her cup - a proper cup of tea required boiling water to allow the tea to "steep".  The steeping process is an extraction process which comes from being totally immersed and ultimate soaked with whatever one is steeping in!  

Steep yourself in the right stuff and what is released is a richness not quite released any other way.  An infused life is one which has been steeped in the right stuff!  It has been transformed because of the immersion process, but also because the "heat" was sufficient to extract all the good stuff! Mom's little lesson in tea making may have seemed insignificant to some, but it all depended upon the temperature of the water.  I live in Arizona, so we often make what some call "sun tea" to enjoy as iced tea on a hot afternoon.  The bags are placed into cold water, placed out into the sun in the jar of water, and the sun is allowed to heat the water gently until the extraction process occurs.  It is good tea, but there is a definite difference between tea made with boiling hot water and that which is made with cold water.  There is a "clarity" to the one made with boiling water.

I know we don't always have things come to a boil in our lives, but as they do, God infuses our lives with his joy and peace if we allow him to be immersed in our faith.  Most of the time our lives are like the sun tea - we have his joy and abundance inside of us, but it isn't until things begin to heat up that we see the evidence of it begin to transform us. Regardless of the "temperature" of things right now in our daily walk, we can count on this - in the midst of our faith, God's peace and joy reside.  It may become more "visible" when we are feeling the "heat" in our day, but it has been there all the while.  His peace and joy are transforming our lives because they are immersed into the very thing which will allow them to begin to change us - our faith.   Faith is really a fancy word for trust - where we place our trust determines our faith.  Place your faith in yourself and you will trust yourself for everything you have need of - but that may not work out very well for you.  Place your faith in Christ alone and things will be perfect for the infusion of both an abundance of joy and peace.  Just sayin!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fenced in?

To care for something is more than just giving it a little attention now and again. I came home yesterday to find a beautiful husky just sitting on the curb outside my home.  At first I didn't know if she was friendly or going to be kind of stand-offish with me.  After pulling into the garage and seeing she didn't run away, I asked her to come over and to my surprise, she did!  She immediately cowered down, rolled over and let me give her a few good rubs, scratches, and a little ear jostling.  No tags, just a collar.  Someone obviously claimed her as a pet, but were they caring for her all that well?  Not at the moment! She was free to roam and now I had to decide where she needed to roam back to!  It didn't take me long to identify an open gate at a neighbor's home, recall they had two dogs, and then equate the open gate with the escaped dog.  What did take a while was getting them to open the door to actually tell them their dog was roaming the neighborhood!  Once they knew the dog had been out, they immediately went to the gate to see that it was secured.  The truth is pretty similar in some of our lives - we don't really know how much we care for something until it is about lost out from under our noses!

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always. He provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water. He soothes my fears; He makes me whole again, steering me off worn, hard paths to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name. (Psalm 23:1-3 VOICE)

Thank goodness God isn't like us!  He doesn't wait for one of us to "escape the confines" of the place he thinks we are to actually become concerned with where we are at the moment. In fact, he ensures the boundaries are secure before he ever places us there!  He does observe our cleverness in trying to escape those safety confines and he often reminds us in a gentle manner to remain within those confines.  God knows our whereabouts and our activities at every moment of the day - even when we think he may not be "watching" or really paying enough attention to "care about" whatever it is we are facing.

Mom wants to see me off in the mornings as I make my way into the garage and off to work.  We have a small step down in the garage about three to four feet away from the doorway. It doesn't seem like much, but when you are legally blind even a three to four inch drop-off can be your undoing - especially when your balance is also compromised by age!  I often tell her I will not pull away from the garage until I see she is safely back up on the stoop and near the door itself. Why?  I hate thinking she could be out there all day if she stumbles and cannot get up.  It hasn't happened yet, but there is always that potential she will slightly misjudge the location of that step and down she goes!  God knows where we have the potential for any misstep or misjudged step in life.  He is watchful over us to ensure we aren't getting too close to the edge of what could spell certain disaster, or at least compromised safety for us.  He isn't content to just let us be "on our own" without also providing some level of continual "oversight" for the path we are on.

In the case of the dog escaped from the yard, nothing bad happened because she didn't wander far from the security of her yard.  She did get a little taste of "freedom" though, so she might be tempted to do it again and again. It is kind of like that for us in life - we push the envelope a little and get a little taste of something which is maybe a little different than we expected, but it also doesn't "burn us too badly" when we are outside of those safety confines God has placed, so we want to do it again.  We might want to "push the envelope" a little more and more until we get burned bad enough to stop what it is we are doing.  As with the neighbor's dog, "gates" and "fences" can be breached - God won't keep us from what we are determined to do.  He will not enforce his will over ours. If the neighbor were to force his will over the dog's, he might chain her to a stake driven way into the ground, as well as place her within the confines of the fence and gate.  That would eventually break her will!  God isn't into breaking our will, but he is into teaching us to trust his will!

His will places the boundaries for our safety.  Our will has to decide if we will stay within them.  His will determines the breadth of our "safety zone", but our will has to determine to exercise our choices within that zone if we are to remain in a place of safety.  Our will to choose doesn't cease to exist just because we come under the care of another - we just submit our will to the watchfulness and care of the other!  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dusting - an exercise in futility?

"Dusting is a good example of the futility of trying to put things right. As soon as you dust, the fact of your next dusting has already been established."  (George Carlin)  This is so ridiculously true, isn't it!  You dust the house and in minutes you see the gathering particles again!  What is up with that? Add to the mix you live in the desert where the air is seldom without dust due to the dryness of the climate and you just have a recipe for doing the same things over and over again (even if you invest in the expensive dusters that "attract dirt").  Maybe that is my problem - I am investing in the dusters that actually attract dirt!  They are probably just beckoning the stuff to come right on in and settle down for a while so they can do their job again!  Seriously, all kidding aside, we sometimes just face the same stuff again and again in our lives, don't we?  It is like we do something to counteract whatever it is, but then it is just there again, almost like we never dealt with it in the first place!  Maybe it comes from doing the same thing over and over again hoping to find a different outcome.  I think that is what some call the "definition of insanity"!

The hope of those who do right is joy and celebration, but the only prospect for those who do wrong is futility. (Proverbs 10:28 VOICE)

"Change is the only constant, and to turn one's back and pretend that it is not coming is an exercise in futility." (Anthony Carmona)  It may come as no surprise to any of us that change is upon us the moment we take the next breath. Even the next breath we take is not guaranteed, so change may come in the form of a new odor taken in with that breath, or even the sudden indication breath has been taken from you without your knowledge.  Change is inevitable - it is the only constant!  I honestly believe there is one other "constant" in our lives and that is the truth of God's grace! His grace doesn't abandon us to the futility of our own repeated actions, nor does it abandon us to the emptiness of doing the same things over and over without getting different results.  Grace changes things up for us, but we have to see where it is grace points us in order to allow our course of action to be changed just enough to get us off the same mark we have always hit!

Futility may be the result of becoming too "idle" in our walk. We just don't take the necessary steps to remain vibrant and "alive" in his grace.  It isn't that grace has changed or abandoned us to our own devices - it is that we don't appreciate the presence of grace for grace is always with us. Idleness is a dangerous threat to growth. As long as we continue to just stay put in whatever we are doing, we will eventually begin to sense the emptiness of nothing "new" coming out of or entering into our lives.  It isn't that there is no hope for change, it is that we have become complacent in our emptiness and accepted it as the "futility" we are forced to deal with.  If we are to break free from the futility of our inactivity, or the activity of doing the same things and expecting different results, we have to allow grace to propel us forward!  Grace isn't about staying put - it is about embracing what comes next and then what comes after that, and so on.

To some, the defining factor in change is the sense of uneasiness which comes when you think things are impossible.  As you may recall, scripture reminds us all things are "possible" with God's grace!  Nothing is impossible, but our imaginations and will might need a little convincing on that one!  Think about dusting the house again - we imagine the furniture without that layer of annoying grit - right? It is one thing to imagine it - it is quite another to embrace the dust rag and actually put forth the effort to see it removed. Some of us are content to move it around a little - like when we take up a feather duster and just "brush it off" that surface. All we are doing is sending it into the air to come to rest on another object a few feet away!  Grace does more than "brush off" the things we are trying to be rid of - it actually captures it and removes it so it is not the same "dust" we are dealing with again and again!  We may see a layer of "dust" in our lives at a later point, but grace ensures it is not the same dust this time around!  We may never be totally free of those things which seem to "settle" into our lives, leaving a layer of "dust" where it settles, but the remedy remains consistent - let grace embrace it and remove it!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Then, When, & Now

Then, when, and now - three very insignificant words until you begin to think just how much they affect your lives. Stop for just a moment and consider the word "then".  Then can speak of the past - a point in time at which something happened other than what is happening right now.  Lots of us have a tendency to be limited by our "then".  When often refers to the future - a point in time where we imagine one thing or another actually coming to fulfillment.  Living in the "when" moments all the time can be a little daunting because we are always imagining something "better" than the way it is right now.  Now is the only really "good" way to focus our attention - if we do a good job with the "now", we won't have to worry about the "then" or "when" in life!

So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today. (Matthew 6:34 VOICE)

Jesus gave some very practical advice to his disciples - stop worrying about what is in the future.  I have heard it said worrying is "borrowing" from the future - bringing whatever the future holds into the present.  It clouds the present (now) with the stuff which belongs somewhere in the future.  If we do this long enough, we get overloaded with not only the issues of today (now), but those of the future (when).  I don't know about your life, but my "now" holds quite enough issues which must be worked through and completed without hauling all kinds of stuff from the "then" and "when" moments in life!

"The rest of the story", as Paul Harvey used to say, is what is so important for us to grasp: So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?  Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.  (Matthew 6:31-33 VOICE)  Jesus pretty much hits the nail on the head, exposing what we all have a tendency to do from time to time - some of us way more frequently than others!  We are consumed by the worries of what will come next, how it will add to what has already happened, and how we will possibly be able to handle it all. To this he simply says, "Stop that!"

We can all take upon us the vantage point we choose - one of focusing on yesterday, tomorrow, or remaining steadfastly focused on today.  The vantage point from which we view life often makes the difference between "managing", as we call it, just barely making it through.  The difference isn't in how well we manage it all, but in who we are trusting to manage what is no longer in our control and what really hasn't come into our control yet.  The matter of control is at the center of it all.  Jesus reminds his disciples "control" belongs to him. We may think we have it all "under control" just because we are "managing", but truth be told, the control is really outside of our control!

The task of living for today is a large enough task, according to Jesus.  The "now" holds just enough challenges for today, so we do well keeping focus contained to "now".  I think Jesus was teaching us to trust - for trust is really based not so much in what has passed, although it is a foundation for trusting; nor is it based in what is to come, although we focus on the future with a sense of trust it will all come to pass as it should.  It is a fine balance between the three - "then" not holding us back, "when" not bogging us down, and "now" being securely placed in the heavenly Father's hands for the management of what today holds.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Turning away

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." (Albert Einstein)  There are all manner of "evil devices" man can concoct in his imagination - too many to list.  We all have our own list of "evil" we might pursue on occasion - things we do with malicious intent, that are destructive in nature, and downright hateful at times.  None of us is above evil - although we may want to believe we are, the "root" of evil is there in all of us - it just doesn't get fed as often as some others might feed theirs, so it is not as "openly evident".

Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. (I Peter 3:11 VOICE)

To walk away from anything, we have to be aware it exists in the first place.  We also need to recognize walking away from anything means there has been some sort of "appeal" to that object in the first place.  I often window shop, not because I am on the look-out for anything new for myself or the home, but because it is interesting to see what the newest trends are in clothing, style, and household goods.  The purpose of the window display is to get you to come into the store, isn't it? The people who display the stuff in the windows don't do it because they have time on their hands - they want us to be intrigued by what we see and enter into the store. Why? They know if we make it inside the doors, we have a better chance of spending money there!  The problem comes when you don't need anything new - you are just window shopping and get lured in.  You didn't set out to purchase, but the lure of the window display took you past those double doors!  You did not simply walk away - there was a pull which drew you in!

The same is true with evil in this world - it is on display, cleverly masked at times, but designed to lure us into things and situations we would be best to leave undiscovered, untested, and undone!  As Einstein said all those years ago, it isn't the evil in the world that is the problem - it is the people who do nothing about it when they recognize it!  Evil exists everywhere - in everyone.  What we do with what we recognize is what makes the difference!  When we take the evil within each of us to the foot of the cross, asking for the grace of God to remove it far from us, we are responding to evil in a way which makes sense.  When we turn our backs on the evil within, or the evil resident in another, we are simply condoning it and allowing it to multiply!

I am not much for politics these days, especially since it seems to be so sensationalized and over-popularized in the media.  I won't slam one candidate for office over another. I won't even listen to their debates, rhetoric, and "political blustering".  Why?  I honestly believe if the media would just stop sensationalizing all this political banter, the candidates would be forced to finally expose their agendas, making it easier to choose the right one.  I am one person, so I won't change the course of the media outlets across this nation, but I won't give into the lure to draw me into all the political hype and hullabaloo, either!  I won't be lured inside the "double doors"!

God's plan is for us to walk away from evil - leave behind those things which really don't belong in our lives - things and attitudes which shouldn't have influence over our minds, hearts, or spirits.  Then we are to seek peace and always pursue it first and foremost.  As long as we are operating in this realm, the lure of the things on display won't have the influence they hoped to exert in our lives.  It is when we are roped into the "glamour" of the "window display" that we are likely to head down the path toward "buying into" the thing we most want to avoid.  As long as we ignore evil, it will continue to grow out of control all around us.  Evil closely resembles weeds in the garden - let them stay there long enough and they will become the dominant force in the garden!  Sometimes what we leave behind - untouched, undiscovered, and untested - is the very thing we needed to walk away from, escaping the pull of whatever is trying to lure us into its snare.  

What we turn toward is important.  If it is continuously the cross before us and the world behind us, the outcome is likely to be very different.  When we turn our back on one thing, we expose ourselves to something else.  We need to be certain whatever we expose ourselves to is not just another form of evil!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The making of a gemstone

Everything working toward something good and beautiful is a whole lot different than only good happening, right?  Some of us are duped into the mistaken belief that followers of Christ will somehow be "exempt" from any type of bad stuff coming our way - that scripture declares only "good" will happen in their lives.  In truth, the opposite is true - for Christ even warned his disciples to "take heart" when they faced the many trials and evil plots that came their way (John 16:33). He never said they wouldn't face them, or that only good things would come their way - he said they'd be able to take heart and stand strong because their peace was not found in the absence of "bad circumstances", but in the presence of him as we face those circumstances!

We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. (Romans 8:28 VOICE)

I came across a quote recently which lends itself to our discussion today:  "A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)  Seneca was a Roman philosopher during the time of Nero.  Sometimes the works of older philosophers and authors give us very vivid pictures of a lesson we can take to heart, don't they?  A stone is just a stone until it is put into the tumbler with other stones and spun over and over again. Once it is tumbled a few thousand times, the appearance of the stone begins to resemble something close to the gemstone we all recognize.  Then the finishing touches are applied by polishing the now smoothed surface to a high gloss.  What once was a simple looking stone becomes a radiant gem - all because of the friction!

What goes into the tumbler is a mixture of raw gemstones - ragged, unpolished, and only subtly recognizable.  Then there are other things put in with those stones - such as pieces of ceramic, metal, and even other stones.  As the stones tumble, grit can be added to refine the stones even further.  It isn't just the stones in the tumbler - the things which don't seem to the naked eye to be of much worth that are what really accomplishes the action of refining the gemstones toward their final state of beauty.  The stuff some may have labeled as "junk" in the mix is what really becomes the objects which lead to the friction which will produce the beauty previously unrecognized in the gemstones themselves.

The passage today deals with that oft mistaken truth about trials and troubles - it isn't God taking bad stuff out of our way that makes us strong - it is him working all things in our lives toward something good and beautiful.  Our part is to put our trust in him, allow our hearts to be softened by his love, and then live deeply in that love until we are able to see the beauty in what we are going through.  The gemstone in the tumbler doesn't recognize the beauty being produced, but it is the process which will reveal it.  We want to escape the tumbler and just get a good polishing so we can shine without all the unpleasantness of the process!  Spoiler alert:  The process reveals what is in our heart and where it is we place our trust.  Bypass the process and we won't really know what is in our heart!  Just sayin!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Strengthened, but not petrified

Ernest Hemingway said, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."  He also said his life had a "tendency to fall apart" when he was awake, so he advocated for periods of sleep to lessen the effects of being awake! Isn't that the truth!  Our day-to-day life probably doesn't so much have the earth-shattering events which do us in as much as it has the constant "erosion" of time which seems to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that away from us without us even being the wiser it has done so!  As much as we need to be vigilant for the "big" things which might leave us toppled and seeking some type of grounding again in our lives, we probably need to be more aware of the things which come upon us in these gradual, and almost undetectable ways!

What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit because a broken spirit, O God, a heart that honestly regrets the past, You won’t detest. (Psalm 51:17 VOICE)

I recently revisited the Petrified Forest in northern Arizona with my BFF.  We absolutely marveled at the mystery of this great forest felled by a flood of some sort, then those grand trees resting there covered by sand and debris for who knows how long until one day they were so hardened by what came upon them in that moment in time.  Life sometimes does that to us - it comes upon us with such force and magnitude as to literally topple us - uprooting us from what we once believed to be our secure foundation.  Then it leaves us under the weight of the debris which comes after this type of catastrophic event. In the end, because we remain covered by the debris, we begin to "petrify" under the weight - but even with the passage of time after such an event, God can bring something strong and beautiful from it.

Although most of life doesn't come at us in "flood-type" proportions, it does have a way of changing us by what it does bring our way.  If what the world brings upon us is allowed to break us, we often regret making the passage.  I believe when we reach out to God at our breaking point, grace is allowed to strengthen us instead of the events being able to fell us and leave us buried under weights we weren't designed to bear! Grace isn't really appreciated until we need it!  We don't need grace if we are doing everything and life is seemingly okay, do we?  We don't need it when life seems to be sailing right along, without much effort.  We often don't realize we need grace until whatever we see coming toward us seems to be coming at gale force speed, or earth-turning force!  No mystery there - we begin to cry out for grace because we just cannot withstand the impact of what is about to take us under!

I think God might just be more delighted by us seeking his grace even when we don't know we need it yet!  Instead of us waiting for the charging forces of the "flood" to come our way, causing us to call out in despair, I think he might just be more delighted if we'd trust him for the grace we need even when the only "disaster" we face is a little bit of "wear and tear"!  Just sayin!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Free to be stupid?

Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." He also said, "To be yourself in a world constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."  Friendship is one of the greatest blessings anyone can extend into our lives, is it not?  When another comes alongside and lends not only their "best" to your life, but is free enough to add some of the stuff that makes you laugh that deep belly sort of laugh, and just puts a smile on your face, that is a great friendship!  I am so grateful when I can just hang out with my bestie and be "myself" - no pretense, no real need for any kind of hiding - just being exactly who and what I am.  It is probably one of the greatest compliments one can pay another when they just let the other be exactly who they are!

Those who live right are good guides to those who follow, but wrongdoers will steer their friends down the wrong path. (Proverbs 12:26 VOICE)

I count on my best friend to help guide me down paths worth me following and I think she counts on that from me. It is a kind of "give and take" - kind of like "bumpers" on a bowling alley.  We each head down a specific course in life, but then we find the other one guiding us gently back on course when we are steering our course in the direction which will land us in the "gutter" of life!  We couldn't do this for each other if we weren't free to be exactly who we are with each other - we need to be genuine in order to really be of aid to one another. There is just something about being the "real deal" that liberates you and allows you to get at the nitty-gritty of life.

Emerson hit the nail on the head when he said it is a tremendous blessing to be able to be "stupid" with your friend. I don't think he was saying we can have or take so much liberty that we do the very things which are unwholesome or unhealthy for our lives, but we can be free to try something, stumble, and then come to the realization we were a little short-sighted, naive, or kind of senseless in our pursuit!  This is the meaning of "stupid" I think he was aiming at - the freedom to be a little "rash", but not judgmental of one another whenever we are.

I can honestly say my BFF has kept me from making some rash decisions, saying things as they first came to mind, or making some pretty irrational judgments because I was caught up in the moment.  It is what we all can do for each other - act as that "balance" - allowing one another to be exactly who we are, and then adding the necessary restraint to keep us each from heading down the "gutter" of life!  As Emerson implied, this really only works when the masks are off!  We cannot do it when we are unwilling to be who we really are. I often speak about transparency - being real with one another and with God.  It is often pretty obvious when we are not!  We hide behind some pretense, not because we aren't valuable as we "really are", but because we often haven't had anyone in our lives who shows us it is okay to be exactly who we are and will still love us when we take off the masks!

My prayer for each of you - that you find your "bestie" in life who will allow you to be you, provide that "balance" to you life that helps to keep you out of the "gutter", and with whom you can share those deep belly laughs as you live life out in real freedom with each other!  Just livin!

Friday, March 18, 2016

The 3-C's of "Turning Away"

What is it you actually walk away from?  In clothing stores, I find it easy to turn away from things which have a very low cut, loud prints, or some type of price tag which is out of this world.  In food stores, I find it easy to turn away from things I cannot identify displayed in the meat case, or pickled animal parts in jars on shelves.  In conversations this time of year, I find it easy to turn away from all those controversial ones about who to elect as our next leader in our nation.  Some things are easier to walk away from while others are a little more challenging - like the candy at the checkout counter or the plate of freshly baked cookies someone brings into work to share.  What we choose to walk away from may be the very thing which could take us down a path we don't really want to pursue!

Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. (I Peter 3:11 VOICE)

Scripture is clear - we are to walk away from the evil things in this world.  This would include any unwholesome conduct, conversation, or company.  Conduct is really behavior - when we turn away from bad behavior, we are less likely to become engaged in the same behavior.  For example, when I was raising my kids, I would give them a little time away from each other in order to go through a "cooling down" period when they were behaving poorly toward one another.  It usually worked because they really didn't want to be alone in their rooms.  That solitude gave them a moment to consider their behavior.  Often, when we are considering a course of behavior we might be enticed to pursue, we will have this niggling inside which is warning us about that particular course of conduct.  It isn't quite right and we know it.  When we are willing to walk away from it - even when it seems enticing to us - we often find we look back upon that choice without any regret!

Conversation is another area where we often need to just "walk away" from the whole unwholesome path it is taking.  If we examine scripture, we are warned to avoid the kind of conversations which will lead us down roads where we are complaining, arguing, antagonizing, or even ridiculing another. It is probably one of the hardest things to avoid gossip, but scripture clearly tells us not to engage in this manner of conversational "sabotage" of another person's character.  Really, when we consider "walking away" from conversations we are not going to benefit from, or which will certainly not benefit another, it makes sense. There is no positive outcome from these conversations - they just end up creating a higher degree of dissatisfaction over whatever we were complaining about, get us riled up so we are likely to take pretty unwholesome action, or leave someone else exposed in the process.

Company is the third area where we might find ourselves faced with "companions" who are just not that committed to the same values we are, or are kind of deviant in their conduct. When we choose to walk away from these interactions and find different relationships, there may be a sense of abandonment the other feels as a result of us not choosing to pursue that relationship any longer. In some cases, it actually helps us become stronger in our commitment to what truly matters in this life. People are important, but there are times when some people are just not right for us because we are too weak to avoid the things they are doing which might lead us into compromise, or we are just being continually degraded in the relationship.  The company we keep matters - it affects our conduct and conversation, so it cannot be eliminated from this "walk away" process.

The important part of this instruction to us is not the "walking away", but the "pursuing" part.  We turn away from something, but it is always to turn toward something better.  We turn away from unwholesome conversation to pursue that which is uplifting, encouraging, etc.  We turn away from conduct which is a little sketchy and pursue conduct which is grace-filled, honorable, and trustworthy.  We turn away from company which is not pursuing the stuff God tells us is okay to pursue in order to avoid the trap that wrong conduct will actually create for us down the road!  Just sayin!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Already or All Ready?

When I was first learning how to spell and developing more and more of a vocabulary, one of the things that stumped me on more than one occasion was when you wrote out words such as "already" vs. "all ready".  One has a completely different meaning than the other, just as much as "then" and "than" or perhaps "your" and "you're".  I'm not sure why our English language has to be all that complicated, but I also tried a year of Spanish in high school and let me just tell you - language isn't easy no matter how you speak it!  One thing is for certain, when we say "already" it isn't meaning we are "all ready" - it means something has been done, come before, is completed, etc.  It does speak of a particular "condition" or "state" - but it is in the past - it has been.  To make matters more confusing, it can also speak of a condition meaning "as of now" or "at present".  Now, do you understand why it easy to get confused about our language? It means something in the past, but it also means something in the present - something from earlier, but also something from now.  

God has already saved us and called us to this holy calling—not because of any good works we may have done, but because of His own intention and because eons and eons ago (before time itself existed), He gave us this grace in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. (2 Timothy 1:9 VOICE)

God has "already" saved us and called us to this holy calling - it is an accomplished thing in the past, but it has an "at present" meaning, as well.  Salvation is a "one time" matter of saying yes to Jesus and allowing him to remove the guilt and shame of all our sinfulness by his grace.  Salvation is also a "continuing" thing - something in the present - because we are constantly being renewed by grace.  Eons and eons ago - before time itself existed - and even before we existed - God extended his grace to us.  That may seem a little hard to grasp because we didn't exist yet, but God "already" made a way for us to "exist" with him through eternity in the grace he would extend to each of us through his Son, Jesus Christ.  

Some of us are "existence" kind of creatures in our thinking - we have to see and feel something to experience it "for real" - we have a harder time with this concept of something being there if we cannot see it.  Scientists had to tell me oxygen existed - I know I breathe in and out, and there is something occurring inside me as I do.  I also know when I don't continue that cycle of breathing in and out, the consequences cause a little panic for me.

Sin or sinfulness is one of those things we all struggle with as long as we are breathing - even AFTER we say yes to Jesus this internal struggle can still exist. We still compromise when we know better - no surprise there because we still struggle to be in control of our lives. We still argue about the things we have deemed too hard to grasp in scripture - because when we don't understand things we make up other things to support why we believe scripture to say one thing or another. Yet, if we trust what scripture tells us here, we are "already" saved and called - we might just not always "feel" saved and called, but it doesn't change the facts!  

If we are to understand the "already" of this passage, we might put it this way:  What God saw as a continual need in us a long, long time ago, he prepared for far in advance of us continually needing it in the here and now.  As much as salvation is a one time event, it is also a continual process because the "need" for grace is never really fulfilled.  Grace made a way, continues to make a way, and will provide a way in a future state.  It is this idea of "already" - it was provided earlier, it is available to us at present, and by the time we need it again, it is there. Salvation doesn't mean we are "all ready" - although we are made ready in God's grace.  It means we have a continually renewing means to be "all ready" whenever we breathe in and out - grace is renewed each moment we need it in our lives!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bandaid anyone?

I observed a little photo on Facebook this morning (credit goes to the Warriors of Christ community on Facebook). It was simple, but the thought behind it was pretty significant! Two images - one of a Bandaid, the other of an open Bible. One caption read - "This is for outside wounds" while the other read "This is for inside wounds". Brilliant!  We find all kinds of ways to bind up our wounds on the outside from bandages for those larger cuts or sores, to a small wedge of toilet paper to cover that nick obtained while shaving. In time, they usually heal because they were covered over by something while they had time for a scab to form and the open surface area to close.  Sometimes this is all we need - a simple covering in order to allow time for the wounds to heal. Then there are times when the bandage on the outside means there has been some work done on the inside, as well. 

All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. 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 1:3-4 VOICE)

Wounds are best bound up by that which will become the most advantageous for the healing of whatever has been hurt. For example, we don't put a wet dressing on a very wet wound.  We use dry dressings in order to absorb the moisture the wound is exuding itself.  Then there are times when a little salve may also be required because that wound will not heal well without a little help from the medicinal effect of that salve.  The same is true of the "internal wounds" of our soul and spirit - they sometimes heal with the simplest of bandaging, but at other times, they require a whole lot more TLC and a lot of "nursing" to heal.

In that time of healing, the Word of God can be both the bandage and the salve.  It absorbs what needs to be absorbed, covers over while tender areas have a chance to heal over, and brings the necessary "medicine" to that wounded soul or spirit!  God's Word is that which "soothes" the pain and removes the "grime" of sin which hurts us more than we might ever realize and creates wounds way beyond the ability to heal without the tender care of the Great Physician.  It also binds up those areas in our lives where hurts from others just seem to deep to heal from because they have cut deep and left gaping wounds.  Regardless of the wound, the Word of God is sufficient to heal.

As wounds heal, there is a process we might observe of us becoming less and less sensitive to the pain originally caused by the wound.  It is one of the signs we take as a positive sign the wound is healing as it should.  If you have ever cut the end of your finger, every time you go to touch something, you are reminded afresh of the presence of the wound. This is often how it is with those wounds which are closer to the surface in our lives - those things others can "bump up against" and bring a reminder to us of the pain we are enduring.  Then there are those deeper wounds which ache and give us cause to pull away on occasion because we are being crippled by them.  All wounds have a chance to heal when they are given the right attention and treated with the right medicine, though!  Even the deep ones!

It makes no difference the type of wound - the course of treatment is the same.  Allow the Word of God to get into you, cover over those raw areas of hurt and pain, and then allow it to either be the cover which provides a barrier until health is restored, or becomes the means by which deeper wounds are cleaned out, allowing newness and freshness to be restored to the inner spirit.  In time, health comes - but with the right "medicine", healing is sped along in the process. Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

You see what I see?

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)  I recently spent a few days up in the high country, doing a little exploring and hiking down some pretty well-marked trails. There were a couple trails which appeared to be trails, but it was unclear where they led as they were not blazed by those who set out the park system trails and therefore, they weren't on the map.  They looked promising, but without knowing where they led, it was a gamble to take one of them, especially in bear country! The thing which became very apparent to me was that someone before me made that trail. There was a sense of intrigue in something they believed to be down that path that they struck off in that direction. In time, they traveled it enough that it became worn into a noticeable path. The world needs those willing to blaze a path where others have not traveled - when they do, new discoveries are made!

Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am. Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain. Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me, and guide me down Your path forever. (Psalm 139:23-24 VOICE)

As we went into the National Parks, the rangers handed us trail maps and maps of the various parks we visited. Why? They wanted us to be informed, safe, and armed with the information which could very well preserve our lives in the end. As we made our way around some of the trails, they directed us to look for "guide marks" on the path which would ensure us we were still on the marked route. As we glanced down the path, we could see these trail-markers pretty well, helping us to stay on course to finish the loop of trail as intended. The map gave us a general sense of the length of the trail, the terrain we'd need to hike through/over, and the ability to "orient" ourselves to direction we were headed. God's Word is much the same for us - it helps to orient us in the direction which is best for us to travel!

Before those trail maps were prepared for our use, there was someone who prepared the trail. The ones who went before us made the passage a little easier, removing obstacles and placing those markers along the route. In much the same way, God prepared paths for each of us to travel complete with various "markers" which will help us to navigate safely through those pathways. If we are honest here, we have done a little "trail-blazing" of our own in this life. We have chosen to go a different route, maybe not even knowing what was down that path we were embarking on, but determined to make the discovery ours. At times, that worked out okay for us, but not so much because of something we did, but because God watched over us as we blazed that trail! Trail-blazing sometimes doesn't turn our that well - because the trail was too hard for our endurance, ended in a place we didn't really want to be, or just plain presented so many dangers we barely came out alive!

In our journey through life, we aren't always committed to looking at the map, are we?  We often do a little more "trail-blazing" than we might like to admit, but not every one of those trails ends as we imagine when we set out on that path. When I am out in nature, my camera is in my hand. Why? I want to be ready to capture the beauty around me, never really knowing what I will discover, but open to the discovery. I like to photograph the birds, trees, and even the effects of the elements on the surface of the ground. There is something of beauty in almost everything I can behold - from the desert stones to the majestic pines. So, every path for me is one of discovery, even when someone has gone before me to clearly mark it out! 

In everyday life, every path is an opportunity for discovery, but sometimes we will discover what others haven't - simply because we have eyes to see what others may have missed totally. It may be the small creature inching across the path, or the tiny marks left by birds seeking their meal. It could be the truth we so desperately need, or the vision to do what has been left undone by others. Perhaps it is the clarity we seek, or the purpose we must discover, but regardless of what it is, the means to "knowing" is by being attentive to our path. The discovery is only possible when we are observant!  Just sayin!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Your BFF?

"The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian." (A.W. Tozer) I don't think truer words could have ever been penned or spoken. The Word of God, when it is understood well, then followed with the tenacity of one not willing to let go of one truth contained within can actually become not only the safest route to travel, but the shortest! It may not seem so while we are struggling with what route to travel on occasion, but it proves to be the shortest because there aren't any "repeat passages" along the same route as we might endure if we chose to travel our route in our own strength, power, or willful disobedience.

The Eternal is ready to share His wisdom with us, for His words bring true knowledge and insight; He has stored up the essentials of sound wisdom for those who do right; He acts as a shield for those who value integrity.  God protects the paths of those who pursue justice, watching over the lives of those who keep faith with Him.  With this wisdom you will be able to choose the right road, seek justice, and decide what is good and fair because wisdom will penetrate deep within and knowledge will become a good friend to your soul.  (Proverbs 2:6-10 VOICE)

There are stored riches within the pages of the Word of God, waiting to be discovered, not just in our time of need and pain, but during the seasons of rest and regeneration we also have the privilege of experiencing. It seems we discover things easier when we are hurting or trying to get through some trial, doesn't it?  Why is that? I think it is because we are seeking for something to make it "better". We are actively looking for a way of escape, or we need the intervention of God in our lives in order to get us through whatever it is we are going through. We seek because there is a need. Wouldn't it be an amazing thing if we learned to seek his wisdom just as much when we don't have a problem brewing as we do when we feel the flames of the fire licking at our heals?

Our soul has a lot of things clamoring to become "best friends" with it - ranging from passions we probably would do best not to pursue to those things which God actually wants to see become permanent character traits we embrace and walk within. Wisdom found in the Word of God is something also clamoring to become the best friend of our soul - but this friendship carries a degree of protection unlike any other best friend our soul could embrace! I have a "best friend" (my BFF) who always is there for me, has my back when I need my back covered (and that is more often than I may want to admit), and seeks to bring a smile to my face when my days have become a little mundane and dreary. Yet, as good of a friend as she is to me, God's Word is an even better friend! It has my back; bears me up under great loads of pain, grief, and sorrow; creates excitement in my life when the routine of life seems to have created nothing but the mundane. It is indeed the light of my path and the center of my decision-making.

Why is it we take God's Word for granted at times?  It may be we just aren't allowing it to "befriend" our soul in the way God intended. A few years back, when I was first beginning to develop a bond with my BFF, it wasn't as easy to hang with each other as it is now. It is like we finish sentences for each other and actually know what the other is thinking! Why? We have bonded because we have discovered little truths about each other, learned what makes the other sad/happy, and the like. In other words, we have embraced the challenge of learning to relate to one another. God's Word is all about relationship - it is his way of relating to us - bringing us insight into who he is, how he acts, what he expects, where he finds joy, etc. The more we allow the Word of God to "bind" us to him, the more we will find we begin to think like him, know what makes him happy/sad, etc.

It isn't about reading the scripture from cover to cover each year.  It is about allowing what we do read to begin to affect us - to form a bond between us and the one who took the time to give us these words down through the years through many writers, faithful to their call in life. It is about being affected by the truth, drawn into the deeper places of discovering his heart within those pages, in turn developing a closeness and bond which cannot and will not be broken. This bond actually becomes the thing which holds us secure when our world is rocking and the dizziness of life spinning out of control seems to take us deeper into peaceful places instead of chaotic disruption.  Just sayin!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Okay, I need your help, please

There have been moments when I am struggling to get something done and it seems like God sends someone my way to help me get it done. Does that ever happen to you? It is like when I am reaching and reaching for the last box of something high up on the shelf at the store, then along comes a tall gentleman who just wisps it down and hands it to me. I didn't ask for his help - he just knew it wasn't within my grasp, so he stepped in. Sometimes I think God sends others our way to help us understand new things or to find our way simply because they were not within our reach alone.

Help each other with your troubles. When you do this, you are obeying the law of Christ.  (Galatians 6:2 ERV)

Nothing speaks God's love as loud as when we serve one another. When we recognize a need in another and set out to meet that need by some means within our ability, we are serving as God would have us serve. Our service may be practical, such as preparing a meal during a busy time for them. It could be a little "impractical", such as when we just stop what we are doing long enough to let them talk through an issue which has been on their mind for a while. It could be quite spiritual, such as when we share something God has been teaching us from his word. All of it is important when it reveals the love of Christ to the other one.

Troubles come and go, but those which linger are often not meant for us to work through on our own - we need the hand of another to help us with what is 'just out of reach' for us. I challenge us to stop today for just a moment to consider what it is in our lives which has been kind of out of reach. These areas of struggle often are the hardest to admit, but in being honest about their existence, we are taking the first step toward overcoming them. It is quite possible they will continue to be 'troubling areas' in our walk until we allow another to help us with them.

Have you ever settled for a more costly item at the store simply because you couldn't find a way to reach the one you wanted? I think we do this in life, too. Instead of admitting something is out of reach and seeking help, we settle. We settle because we find it hard to admit we need anyone's help with our issues. If life were meant to be lived out alone, there would be nothing more than a sea of islands on this earth! What we often 'settle' for will be the most costly to us. In settling, we are assuming the cost of asking for help is greater than the cost of whatever we settle for instead. I am going to have to challenge us on that one! No cost is as great as settling and then still having the original issue hanging around to boot!

It may not be easy to accept the help of another with the 'issues' which are out of reach, but in doing so, we not only open the door for our issue to be resolved, but we allow another to serve their purpose in life. They benefit by serving while we benefit from their service. They fulfill God's purpose while we get our issue dealt with once and for all! It is a win-win!  Just sayin!