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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Put away that scale

Redeeming justice, true peace, and joy - three things we could all probably say we don't see enough of these days!  Newscasts of late have just soured me to even watching the news (something I do more for the weather report than anything else).  Too many shootings, accidents deemed to be hit and run, homes burned out, and children left unattended by parents distracted by their own needs - just about everything as far away from "justice", "peace", or "joy" we could imagine and a little bit more.  We live in a fallen world - a fact that probably hasn't escaped your notice, my friends.  As long as sin reigns, bad stuff will continue to happen.  The good news is that God is above it all - he is able to create within us this everlasting state of peace only he brings because he has been given the place of reigning in our hearts.

When God reigns, the order of the day is redeeming justice, true peace, and joy made possible by the Holy Spirit.  You see, those who serve the Anointed in this way will be welcomed into the whole acceptance of God and valued by all men.   Join us, and pursue a life that creates peace and builds up our brothers and sisters.  (Romans 14:17-19 VOICE)

When God reigns - the simple use of "when" indicates there are times, places, and people in which his reign is challenged.  We all have a free will - something God values and created within each of us.  What we choose to do, how we choose to live, and what responses we will exhibit with life's opportunities or challenges is based on our free will.  It is possible, though, to have a free will and still submit to the reign of Christ in our lives.  It just means we "subject" our will to his oversight and care.  It means we begin to trust him to direct our choices and to give us "balance" wherever we have "swung out of balance".

When we begin to submit to his careful oversight of our choices, we will move into this place of true peace - for our choices are made in total trust of something (or someone) greater than ourselves, our ability, or our fortunes.  If you haven't figured it out yet, friction in relationships is because of an "imbalance" of power - one is upset because the other is taking more control - wanting their own way in some measure.  This imbalance leads to stressed responses and these responses lead to some pretty "unfair" or "unkind" actions. In turn, peace is disrupted, justice is not always the hallmark outcome, and joy leaves the picture entirely.

Life is filled with "redeeming moments" - those opportunities to make right what has gone so terribly wrong in the situation.  Life is also filled with "justice moments" - when we could demand "fairness" and "equity", but when our demands may not be in the interest of "peace" and "balance" in the relationship. It is a fine line we walk between "fairness" and "justice".  In God's eyes, his idea of just is adherence to the "moral standard" he exhibits.  Anything short of that standard is just not justice.  In those moments when we want "fairness", we might just ask God if he can make the moment on in which "redemption" occurs.

Redemption indicates the slate is cleared - no one really "wins" and it is much more than a "win-win" situation.  Instead, two come together as one and in place of "demanded fairness", we accept "payment" for slights in terms of what Christ has already done to "clean the slate" in each of our lives - because that "slight" is already taken care of (paid in full) by the blood of Jesus.  We lean into his grace and we trust him to do within each of us whatever it is that needs to be done, moving us toward peacefulness, resolution, and restoration.  I may not "get justice" every time I feel "wronged" or like there has been some imbalance of reward in life.  What I do get is something called "redeeming justice" - my slate is clean (and so is yours) because of the grace of God operating in my life, helping me "not keep score" in all of those moments in life when I could have. Just sayin!


Friday, April 29, 2016

Don't make your own mistakes

"A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether." (Roy H. Williams)  Are you smart, or wise?  According to Mr. Williams, we are wise if we learn from the mistakes of others!  I don't think he is far off in his statement.  Some of us are content making our own mistakes, essentially learning "the hard way".  I don't know about you, but it stands to reason if I can learn from YOUR mistake, I am much better off!

Words spoken wisely result in much good, and working with your hands pays a large reward.  Fools follow their own directions and think they are right, but wise people listen intently to advice.  (Proverbs 12:14-15 VOICE)

Not all of us are "content" to learn from what others have experienced, lived through, and perhaps "survived".  We just have to go and do it ourselves, believing the outcome will somehow be different just because we are the ones doing it.  Spoiler alert:  Most of the mistakes we will make in this lifetime have already been made by someone before us who thought the exact same way! I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but scripture is clear when it says there is nothing new under the sun!

Intent listening is often all we need to realize we don't need to travel down some path we might have been considering.  What is probably closer to reality is that we "hear" someone giving us the wisdom we need to avoid some of those hazards in our way, but we just don't act upon it.  For whatever reason, we just pursue the path in front of us rather than really "hearing" what awaits us if we do.  The process of hearing includes yielding to advice and direction which would help us avoid those hazards in the first place!

Two things to consider as we think about the "advice" we receive in life - the source of the advice and the point of comparison we use in evaluating the "worth" of the advice.  The source of the advice is important because not all sources are trustworthy.  We might find someone who sounds pretty intelligent by what they say, but when we begin to truthfully look into their "wisdom", we might just find some "shakiness" in their methods.  This is why it is important to keep in mind an accurate "measuring tool" by which we might evaluate the "soundness" of the advice we receive.

Scripture should be our first "measuring tool", but we also have the "check" of the Holy Spirit in our lives which may not be a "formal" as written words in a book, but is accurate nonetheless.  When we just don't get the right "feel", something is just slightly "off" with the advice we are hearing, it may be the Spirit of God within giving us that little "niggling" something just isn't right for us in that pursuit.  Scripture helps us have standards by which to "judge" or "measure" our steps.  The Holy Spirit within gives us that little "in the moment" check which we need to learn to hear and heed!  Just sayin!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bless me more!

Toby Mac says, "Life may not be fair, but God is always faithful."  It is not unusual for us to seek "fairness" in life.  As a child, how many of you were challenged to "share" your toys or snack with another child?  The lesson parents everywhere have been teaching us is that of "fairness" - it is not okay for one of us to enjoy the toy or snack alone - both should partake.  Then came the dilemma of just how long you let little Johnnie or Susie play with that toy or how much of the snack you actually shared!  Too short of a time to enjoy the toy or too small of a piece of that snack brought on the onslaught of tantrum from the other person proclaiming you weren't being "fair" in your "sharing"!  Parents would try another tactic - such as making us divide the snack in two and give the other person the "first pick" of the divided snack.  They were trying to get us to share sacrificially or "without measure", but we were more concerned with sharing "equally".  Yep, life isn't always fair - even when we try our best to "equal out" whatever it is we are going through!

O Eternal God, Commander of heaven’s armies, who is mighty like You? You are completely faithfulthat’s why we trust You.  (Psalm 89:8 VOICE)  

Let your heart overflow with praise to the Eternal, for He is good, for His faithful love lasts forever. (Psalm 136:1 VOICE)

In our normal "mode of operation", we seek fairness in the dealings of life.  We don't want to bear a higher tax burden than the next guy, or spend longer paying off debt than the other guy simply because our "credit" may not be deemed to be as good as the other guy's.  We want "equality" - that is probably one the biggest ways we interpret life as "fair" in society today.  I was raised on sports - loving to play softball, dodge ball, four-square, and all the other sports of days gone by which entertained kids into the dim hours of late evening on hot summer days.  We never played to lose!  We played to win - giving it all we had to see that last hit bring those runners in, the ball just graze the inside of the line, or the narrow escape of the direct hit from the red rubber ball hurtling through space toward us.  Did the game have to be "fair"?  No, in fact, sometimes we chose "teams" which gave one side of the field a little bit of an "unfair" advantage!  

I think we may have just done an injustice to our kids when someone invented this new form of "sport" in which no score is kept, everyone gets a trophy or ribbon at the end of the season, or limits are placed on just how many "runs" you can get in an inning before the other team gets a chance at bat.  We have shifted from each of us playing hard for the success of the team toward each of us contributing a little and all of us getting the same reward.  Truth be told, life is rarely "fair".  Women with young children receive the bad news of terminal breast or ovarian cancer which will take them away from their children way too soon.  Men work hard at a career, saving for retirement, only to suffer a heart attack or stroke just short of enjoying those "golden years".  Kids don't expect to endure chemotherapy or the loss of limb to the hungry cancers consuming their bodies.  Life isn't always "fair", but God is always FAITHFUL - maybe this is the lesson we should be teaching the clearest and the loudest these days!

Even when "bad stuff" happens, God's faithfulness isn't daunted, his love doesn't wane, nor does his "carefulness" over our lives slip away.  Yep, the "win" isn't always going to be there for us - sometimes we actually lose a little, but gain a whole lot more in the loss than we would have in the win.  The struggle doesn't lessen the blessing.  The trial doesn't mean there won't be any redeeming thing to come out of the hard road we travel.  What we can count on when all of life seems a little "unfair" is the faithfulness of God.  Some of us might just think when life seems a little "unfair" that God loves the other guy or gal just a little bit more - because they don't have to deal with whatever it is we are dealing with.  Nothing could be further from the truth - God's love isn't distributed to some in greater proportions than it is to others.  That would be impossible for God to do - as it is contrary to his character!  God loves us equally, supports us through trial equally, but he brings his blessing into our lives in different ways.  Rather than saying he is "unfair", we need to remember his consistency and his never-ending grace!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Avoidance 101

"Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured." (Mark Twain)  

Whoever is patient and slow to anger shows great understanding, but whoever has a quick temper magnifies his foolishness.  (Proverbs 14:29 VOICE)


I haven't met too many people in my lifetime who actually can admit truthfully to not struggling with anger once in a while, if nor more frequently.  Most of us actually get ourselves worked up about things, people, and events which are totally out of our control.  What's up with that?  Things or people out of our control become the very thing which "breaks" our control!  Ever made someone go from "zero to sixty" in like six seconds of less and later regretted whatever it was you said or did which triggered that reactive anger response?  You just kind of stand there, almost broadsided by the response and then you wonder why they got so "wigged out"!  

Sometimes I can appear a little "anti-social", but in truth, I am just avoiding the drama which is inevitable if I give the other guy or gal an inroad into my mind, emotions, etc.  It isn't that I don't like them, because I do.  It isn't that I don't care about them, because I do.  It is that I am just at that point where anymore "drama" in my life would put me over the edge and I wouldn't respond all that well to it.  It is like I put up with life for so long, then pull away in order to avoid confrontation.  When I did a little personality test once, I scored "high" on the side of being a "confrontation avoider". I don't know if that is all that bad of a thing, because I can confront when I have to, I just don't enjoy doing it on a regular basis!

Twain was spot-on when he likened anger to acid - it not only burns the one holding it in, but it splashes indiscriminately on those who will be in the path of the "spillage", leaving sometimes very devastating scars!  It harms more than the vessel holding it in - it harms those who eventually become the subject of that wrath once it is unleashed!  It eats away at the inside of the one carrying it for way too long.  The principle in scripture is not that we don't have anger, but that we learn to deal with it in the moment, not allowing it to fester (not letting the sun go down on our anger), and then working toward a resolution which is respectful, kind, and considerate of each party involved.  In other words, we learn to be angry and not sin!

What the personality test labeled as "avoidance" in my life was really something I have realized over the years.  You see, when I take a couple of moments to just reflect on what my desired "reaction" would be to the circumstances, I almost always realize that particular response isn't very kind, nor is it very respectful of either one of us in the circumstance (me included).  So, rather than just jump into conflict, I take a space of time to not open up a place for the acid to begin to be stored!  What others saw as a "flaw" in my character was really something God helped me to see as a good thing - it brings balance and perspective to the moment at hand rather than allowing the perspective to become distorted by the effects of a rather out of focus perspective anger can bring. In choosing to disengage for even a few moments, I am reordering my thoughts and asking God for his perspective. Something we can all learn to do more of as we are faced with those moments of drama in life.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A candle or a mirror

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."  (Edith Wharton)  A candle isn't really a light until the wick is set on fire - the fire isn't in the control of the candle, but the candle yields to the influence of the fire.  Similarly, a mirror is just a shiny piece of glass painted with a reflective coat of silver nitrate - until there is something to reflect back at the one viewing the image they see.  That image isn't "within" the shiny glass, but is a reflection of the one who stands within a distance so as to behold the image.  A mirror reflecting light can become a powerhouse of energy which ignites fire in whatever is in the path of that reflected light.

And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. 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 5:14-16 VOICE)

Light isn't something we "make", but something we reflect. We reflect the image of Christ - sometimes as a light giving a glimmer of brightness in a dark place like the candle; at others we are agents which allow the ignition of a powerful flame in others like the mirror reflecting the light. It doesn't really matter which "light" we are today, it only matters we are reflecting it!  Where would we be if a mirror only absorbed the light? Or if a candle was placed only where the light could reflect inside of us - never allowed to invade the darker recesses of the lives of others?  We'd be in a dark place without warmth!

As a city on a hilltop cannot be hidden, so the light within us cannot be contained or obscured from the view of those who catch even a glimmer of that radiance.  If you have ever been so far out in the wilderness as to just look for miles and miles without any sign of life other than the desert surrounding you, or the hillside after hillside of trees and green undergrowth, you know what it is like to perhaps catch site of something which reflects the light for even a moment.  It looks so different from what you have been looking at for miles and miles that it catches your attention.  The light of Christ within each of us is like that tiny object which catches the attention of the one who sees even the tiniest of reflection for even one moment in time.  

We don't make that fire within - Christ carefully places it there.  We reflect his radiance - not our own.  It is impossible for man to make fire - fire is a result of either a spark or the action of reflected "heat" from the light of the sun.  The spark and the reflected heat are both products of something done, they are not the object of fire itself.  Similarly, the light within is not "made" by human hands, but received by the opening of one's spirit to yield to the influence of the one who gives light.  Just sayin!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Walking on water?

In moments of distress, how do you respond?  I imagine a few will say they "hold their cool, take a deep breath, and redouble their efforts".  Others will respond they "freak out a little, working up a little bit of a tizzy, and then cry when it gets even worse".  The rest of us are somewhere in between those two responses.  We don't hold our "cool" because that departed from us about ten steps back. We find it just good fortune we are even taking any more breath and we certainly have no more effort to throw into the mix, so why bother!  The past couple of times we freaked out didn't give us much hope for change and just sapped us of the energy we had left, so we down-play that one.  The tizzy might have seemed like a good idea at the time because we were letting off steam, but it only complicated things.  Crying makes our heads ache and our make-up run, so that just isn't going to serve us well.  There has to be some middle-ground somewhere in between being so proud we cannot admit we need help with our trust and being so paralyzed by our fears we never take a step anywhere!

Be still. It is I. You have nothing to fear. "Lord, if it is really You, then command me to meet You on the water."  Indeed, come. Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus. But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.  (Matthew 14:27-30 VOICE)

Five little words we might do well to latch onto today:  Be still - it is I.  At both ends of our "response spectrum" you will not a lack of "stillness", right?  One end is action, action, action - the other is shaking, trembling, and oh my!  Neither is really a place of "stillness" or "peace".  The disciples had set out on the water - probably without much time to tell their wives and children where they were headed.  Peter and the disciples were simply trying to get from one side of the water to the other when a storm suddenly set the boat to rocking.  There were no "stabilizers" on those small fishing boats of the day to help them ride out the rough seas.  In fact, the waters, wind, and resulting waves were threatening to not only get them way off course, but could possibly cause them to capsize.  

It is kind of like that for us many times - the things we cannot control bring such chaos to our lives we feel we might just capsize and be "lost to the storm" without anyone really knowing where we are.  That almost makes "rescue" seem unlikely because no one really expected a seasoned fisherman to be out on such rough seas - they learned quite early to "read the weather" and avoid such circumstances.  Some of us go through life trying so hard to "read the weather", but we find no matter how well we thought we had read the "signs", something happens and we are getting a little freaked out by the mounting storm.  Worse - no one knows we are in the boat!

Peter and the disciples recognize someone coming toward them in the midst of the storm.  At first, the image is blurry and not easily recognizable - as is often the case when the storm seems to obliterate our normally quite clear focus.  They think it is a ghost, maybe as though it were a "premonition" of some kind they were going to be welcomed into the after-life by some spirit gliding across the waters.  Our imaginations get the best of us in the midst of the storm, don't they?  We think all the most catastrophic things and lose total grounding with reality.  What they saw is what we can all see if we look beyond the storm and don't allow our minds to overrule our rational thought - the one they trusted, served, and knew to be their constant companion - Jesus.

Two things are quite visible here as we consider this moment with the disciples:  1) The paralysis of fear; and 2) The questioning of trust in the midst of fear.  Most of the disciples stayed on the boat, even when Jesus told them they had nothing to fear.  They couldn't break free from the bonds of their "perceived safety" within the walls of that tiny boat.  Fear paralyzes us - keeping us bound to what we "know" we can count on.  Remember this - just a few short moments before, they were even afraid of the boat - but now they are going to trust in it again!  Fear can cause us to trust in what isn't all that trustworthy in the midst of rocky and uncertain circumstances!  The one who does take a step outside of the "safety" of the boat is momentarily caught up in the delight of having taken the first steps, but then realizes the "uncertainty" of faith's footing.  Faith isn't based on what we see around us, but on who we see right in front of us - the place we fix our gaze determines the soundness of our footing.  As long as we focus on the circumstance, we will be distracted from that which holds us on solid footing!  

Two things restore our footing - Christ's imparted stillness and trusting in the "I" we behold before our "eye".  Just sayin!


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weebles wobble but they don't fall down

Ever stumbled in this lifetime and found yourself quickly moving toward the ground in a downward progression quicker than you could blink an eye?  I have done so a couple of times - sometimes able to "right" myself quickly, and others actually hitting the ground with such force I could feel where that stumble was going to "leave a mark".  Each time I stumbled I looked for a reason of some sort, but almost always it came down to my distraction with something I was saying, doing, or which caught my attention diverting it from my path at hand. I don't honestly believe those "physical" stumbles have cost me as much as some of my "emotional" or "spiritual" stumbles in life - nor did they leave as "nasty" of a scar!  It is one thing to stumble and scrape a knee or elbow.  It is quite another to trust one's emotions or heart to another and have it left battered and bruised by all the emotional upheaval a bad relationship can leave.  It is also quite another story to try to figure out how to fill a "spiritual emptiness" within ourselves by searching the plethora of world religions and self-help gurus - those can lead us down pathways of stumbling toward ruin quicker than we could ever realize.

For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power. For in God’s deep wisdom, He made it so that the world could not even begin to comprehend Him through its own style of wisdom; in fact, God took immense pleasure in rescuing people of faith through the foolishness of the message we preach.  (I Corinthians 1:18, 21 VOICE)

Men and women "stumble toward ruin" anytime they follow any message other than the "message of the cross", as Paul puts it.  There are lots and lots of "religions" out there today - but any which don't keep the cross and Christ at the center are not going to fill the spiritual emptiness the way God designed for that "space" to be filled in our lives.  Yes, we may get a little sense of having good morals, or living by some standards which reveal our good intentions to live as "good people", but the void within which only can be filled by Christ himself will still be a void!  We will stumble toward ruin because our "own style of wisdom" cannot comprehend God!

Simply put, "stumbling around" is that condition wherein we are moving, but quite unsteadily.  Why is there an unsteadiness about our lives when Christ is not at the center?  If you have ever seen those little toys of the early 70's called "Weebles" you might understand what I am about to explain.  Those small toys were kind of "egg-shaped" toys with beautifully painted faces, colorful clothes painted on their little shape, and a "magic" ability to remain upright even when they "wobble" a little.  In very scientific terms, the "density" of the mass which kept it from tumbling over and always brought it back to upright acted as a "counter-balance" to any unsteadiness exerted upon that object.  Apart from the density infused into the exact correct location within that Weeble, the character would not return to upright!

We need to be "infilled" with just the right "density" - that "density" is Christ himself and nothing else will help us to "return to upright" each and every time we might stumble or bumble alone!  Any other thing or principle we might try to put into that space designed specifically for Christ will simply "fill space", but it won't create the "density" which brings us back to center time and time again. It is more than religion we seek - it is relationship.  The relationship with Jesus is the only "balance" we need to move from "emptiness" to "fullness" in one easy, but tremendously "balancing" step!  Just sayin!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What love?

I believe it was Erich Fromm who once said, "Immature love says: I love you because I need you. Mature love says: I need you because I love you." I think that is exactly what God had in mind when he sent his Son to make a way for us to be reconciled with him! He wanted reconciliation with us because he loved us so much it hurt to not have us near to him!  They say being loved by another gives you a measure of strength you don't possess any other way.  Jesus said to his disciples, "So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others." (John 13:34-35 VOICE)  Jesus' love was always "demonstrated" - something he calls for us to do with those he places in our lives, as well.

Don’t owe anyone anything, with the exception of love to one another—that is a debt which never ends—because the person who loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 VOICE)

We are all aware of the concept of actions speaking louder than words. In essence, Jesus was saying to his disciples to allow their actions to "back up" their words. The words are important, but when the actions match the words, there is a connection made which is not easily misunderstood.  Paul emphasizes this truth to the new believers gathering in the church at Rome shortly after Christ's death and they echo to us even today.  We should not "owe" anyone anything, with the exception of love to one another - a "debt" which never ends.  To owe implies we are under an obligation of some form.  He is using an accounting term here, because most understand an "obligation" - something has created a bond between two people and in this case, the bond cannot be broken because the debt is never paid in full!

It is not a "you did this", so I will have "to do that" kind of thing, though.  It is a commitment (debt) which we willingly embrace and don't view as a "you, now me" kind of thing.  I think we see the word debt and think there has to be an "leveling of the score" - but nothing could be further from the truth.  Think about what Jesus did on our behalf - how he showed love for us in all he did, including the cross, his burial, all that persecution, and then his resurrection.  Think about all he continues to do to show his love for us - grace upon grace, even when we don't "deserve" it.  His example tells us all we need to know about love - it isn't an leveling of the score, it is a giving without caring about the score!

To love in this manner is to truly embrace God's love and to begin to live as mirrors of his love.  We cannot "repay" love, but we can act as "agents" of love in all our actions, allowing his love to flow as graciously through us as it has flowed to us through his Son!  Just sayin!

Friday, April 22, 2016

A little leaven for our day

While I am not an avid baker, I do enjoy undertaking winter baking projects from time to time.  In the summer's of Arizona, we do as little to heat up the house as possible, so all morning baking projects are just not in the mix during those hot months!  I have never made a loaf of bread though, although I have watched others make it, observed cooking shows in which the technique is taught, etc.  I just haven't had the urge to undertake the project.  Maybe it is because I know I would like the warm, rich taste of that loaf freshly baked with just a little too much butter!  One thing I learned while watching those bread makers out there - a little "leaven" or "yeast" in the mix sure does a lot of work to make a pretty "benign" lump of dough rise to fluffy goodness!  It is a good illustration to us of how one right action can set off a chain reaction of "right actions"!

If the first and best of the dough you offer is sacred, the entire loaf will be as well. If the root of the tree is sacred, the branches will be also.  (Romans 11:16 VOICE)

I think this might just be why God asks us to stop in the morning for even a minute or two, to just center our thoughts on him, let him richly embrace us with his grace, and then begin our day's tasks.  When the first part of the "dough" is made well, the rest of the "dough" begins to be affected by that which was added in the beginning!  If we give God the first part of our day, chances are pretty good he will inhabit a great deal more of our day than just those few minutes.  Just as a tiny bit of yeast worked into the mixture of that bread becomes "active" in the period between being introduced, worked in, and then allowed to "sit and rise", so our lives can be impacted with that tiny infusion of his grace, goodness, and love each day.

I have a tree in the backyard which starts out the springtime season with green growth and the leaves fill the tree so well.  As the stress of the hotter season arrives, those leaves begin to turn a little yellow, falling from the tree and making the fullness of the tree a little less evident.  At first, the tree seems to flourish - because it is ready for the new growth and has been storing up all winter long to bring forth that new growth. Most of us start each new day the same way - we have been storing up all night to do whatever it is we need to accomplish today.  As with the tree, we begin with a gusto and enthusiasm which is evident in the work at hand.  As time begins to pass, the tiredness begins to set in - it is harder to sustain the same rate of growth as we did in the beginning.  Take heart - as with my tree, the beginning was strong, the roots are growing deeper, and the sustaining power of God's grace will get us through!

A little quote I came across might just give us a little encouragement today. Could I be bold as to ask you to use this as a prayer today?  In place of "Earth" could you substitute "God"?  I think it says it all pretty well:

Earth teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life. Earth teach me resignation as the leaves which die in the fall. Earth teach me courage as the tree which stands all alone. Earth teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.  (William Alexander)

In other words, we would pray something like:  God teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life (because it takes on a new form and a new path in life).  God teach me resignation as the leaves which die in the fall (because even loss holds a hope of new life coming again and give back even in their death).  God teach me courage as the tree which stands all alone (because although I feel alone, I know there are other trees left standing - I just may not see them right now). God teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring (because one tiny seed in your care can bring multiplied blessing we know nothing about right now).

The most important part of our passage today isn't that one life can affect a great many - although this is true.  It isn't that bread rises because of a tiny little bit of yeast added to the mixture - although this is quite true.  It isn't that a tree will grow strong when the roots are firmly planted and deep into the soil which gives it nourishment - although this also is true.  The thing we need to understand is this:  Begin well and we will end well!  We may show little signs of wear and tear along the way and not everything will be as perfect as we may have liked, but if we consistently begin well, that "beginning point" steers us in the right direction for finishing well.  It may not be the finish we imagined, but each day we get a little closer to that!  Just sayin!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Success matters - careful planning matters more!

Success:  The accomplishment of one's goals; the favorable or prosperous end to your attempts or endeavors; the attainment of something good or welcomed.   Most of us strive for success in our endeavors, but then find we have bitten off a little more than we could chew, making a true "success" a little out of reach for us.  If we examine the actual meaning of success, it might just give us a little hint as to why we don't hit a home run each and every time we try aim for success.  It is because they are our goals, our attempts to attain.  One thing I have learned in my 5+ decades on this earth - my plans are okay, but they aren't really good until they are blessed and overseen by God each step of the way.

People go about making their plans, but the Eternal has the final word.  Even when you think you have good intentions, He knows your real motives.  Whatever you do, do it as service to Him, and He will guarantee your success. (Proverbs 16:1-3 VOICE)

Plans are simply desired outcomes - we hope for something at the end of whatever it is we are striving to accomplish. In the end, when we miss the desired outcome, we get frustrated.  I had a spreadsheet formatting issue yesterday which just kept baffling me.  No matter how many times I looked at a long list of conditional formatting formulas I had entered, I could not see the subtle error which was causing me to not see what I wanted to see.  I cannot tell you how many times I read, re-read, and even erased, tried again!  The thing wouldn't do what I wanted it to do.  I was getting frustrated because I thought I had everything right.  In the end, I saw one flaw in just one of those six formulas - one! All that frustration was because of one simple symbol!

Most of life's issues as we set out to accomplish some goal in our day aren't because we didn't "plan well", but because we don't see the subtle things which actually get us pretty off-course and deep into frustration.  I spent way longer finding the error than I did in initially "planning" the way I wanted this worksheet to work when I put in the data needed.  This is often the case when we just try to "re-double" our efforts to make something happen.  We get stumped by the things which don't work out as we thought, sometimes even to the point we get frustrated and want to throw up our hands and walk away.  Planning is only part of the mission in life - we also need to be open to listening for God's wisdom along the way.  

As I sat there ready to throw up my hands, a little voice said to look at one set of formulas.  I looked at them, side by side, comparing each and every detail over and over again in the complex set of instructions.  It took me about ten minutes to see that one wrong symbol directing my worksheet to do two equations based on the same value!  We sometimes don't see the issue with our plan because we are too close to it - it has become too routine, too generic.  What we need is God to give us a little clarity, to help us focus in on the very thing inherent in our plan which will become a source of frustration somewhere down the road!

The other frustrating  part we may not realize is that the very thing we planned to do for another may be what gives us so much of a challenge!  This wasn't even a worksheet section I would be using - it was for someone else!  That issue wasn't an issue for me - it became an issue when someone else wanted to "pattern" what they were doing after something I was doing.  We may not realize how much our plans for success actually affect another until we see them struggling with the one thing we didn't "catch" in our "good planning". That one thing became a source of frustration for both of us! Success for her was impacted by a lack of carefulness in executing my plan!  We never know when our "success" endeavors are going to be the very thing someone else models along the way.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Doing a little rebuild?

In the past week, we have had many windy day.  I like the winds, as long as they are gentle and don't disrupt too much stuff.  It is springtime, so those winds help to spread the pollen and clear away clinging debris high up into the trees which needs to be shed for the new growth of the season.  I have a hard littered with pine cones from the two trees in the front, remaining firmly attached until put under the pressure of the winds which finally caused them to fall to the soft green grass below.  I know these winds are one way God designed for the seeds to be spread.  Yet, when I look at the tiny birds who have spent the past weeks busying themselves with the work of nest building and then depositing their tiny eggs high up in those tree branches, it is sad to see their nests (or their eggs) join those pine cones!  For several years now, I have been enjoying the Mourning Doves who frequent these trees each springtime.  I listen early in the morning and up till sunset as they echo their little coos to each other.  This year, some yellow-breasted finches made their way into my backyard elm tree.  What a wee little nest they make!  Even though the nests or their young didn't fair well during the storms, those birds aren't daunted by the storms.  In fact, they are all busy rebuilding their "homes".  I am inspired by their resilience even when the pressures of life seem to be working against them!

The forests are Yours, Eternal One—stout hardwoods watered deeply, swollen with sap—like the great cedars of Lebanon You planted, where many birds nest.  There are fir trees for storks, high hills for wild goats, stony cliffs for rock badgers. For each place, a resident, and for each resident, a home. (Psalm 104:16-18 VOICE)

Some lessons we can learn from our feathered friends:

- When it is time to be active with the work of preparing for the young we are to nurture, there is no time for laziness. Those tiny creatures seem to instinctively know when the season is "right" for them to set about building their nests and laying their eggs.  It is as though they sense the change in weather from cold to warm and begin to set about finding the choicest of articles with which to build their nests for their young.  They will work tirelessly from sun up to sun down in search of the right twig, piece of string, grass, or soft object they can somehow incorporate into the future home of their young.  Hours of flight, carefully selecting, then skillfully interweaving those fragments into a secure place for their young.  They have no time for lolly-gagging around, pecking for food in the grass and lazing on the fence line in the sun of the day.  This is the season they are to be "at work" and they embrace it with gusto.  We often set to work, only to get side tracked by other things.  Maybe we need to consider the birds and their tenacious determination to do what needs to be done until it is done!

- They know when it is time to just be silent and wait.  The wee bird prepares the nest only to wait a little longer to see what will be yielded by all their efforts.  Each egg may hold the potential of a new life, dependent totally upon them for their every meal until the day comes they will be able to find their own.  Yet, in those moments between the egg and the moment they hatch into new life, there is this season of waiting.  Those birds may want to "be done with it" as it applies to waiting around, but they don't abandon their post. Diligently they tend the nest, shoring up the edges, nestling those little eggs under the warmth of their feathers.  It is their time to wait - and wait they do!  Birth takes time.  New life isn't instantaneous - it is a process - one which requires tremendous preparation and often peaceful endurance to "wait it out".

- They aren't daunted by the storms.  The winds of life come for the birds and us alike.  When the nest is disturbed by those winds, it isn't the end for the birds.  Instead of abandoning it, they shore it up, rebuilding the weak places, preparing for the next attempt to bear their young.  Not every attempt we make in life will be immediately successful.  I noted several barely born young didn't survive the storms. Yet, their parents weren't stopped by the disappointment of losing what they worked so hard to produce.  Not everything which is "born" in our lives will come to full growth - sometimes there are times when we will face the disappointment of loss in order to grow strong in our efforts to see the next growth God will bring forth from within us. It isn't easy, but it is worth being tenacious to do what we know needs to be done.  The storms don't need to stop us either. Instead of abandoning the nest, we might just need to rebuild, refortify, and nestle down to wait it out once again. We never know just how much of a blessing this can be! Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Risk it!

If you have ever tried to be on both sides of the fence at one time, you know it is not very comfortable straddling the fence!  You really cannot be on one side today, another tomorrow, then back again the next day without it taking some type of toll on either your emotions or your spirit.  Yet, this is exactly what some of us try to do in our relationship with Christ - we want to be as close to the old way of living as possible, but we want all the benefits of serving Christ.  We think it won't matter to walk so close to the edge of compromise, but it doesn't take much for us to stumble and fall right into temptation when we do.
If any of you want to walk My path, you’re going to have to deny yourself. You’ll have to take up your cross every day and follow Me. If you try to avoid danger and risk, then you’ll lose everything. If you let go of your life and risk all for My sake, then your life will be rescued, healed, made whole and full.  (Luke 9:23-24 VOICE)
For most of us, the choice to live so close to the old way of living isn't because we aren't really excited about what it offers, but rather we are "comfortable" with it.  The uncertainty of what might change in our lives when we fully commit to Jesus, choosing to walk as he directs, is kind of scary to us, so we hold as close to the line as possible.  Not too many of us actually thrive on uncertainty. We want the "balance" or "equilibrium" we experience when we can count on something being as it has been.  The thought of something different occurring in our lives just stops us short of taking that first step because we don't like the equilibrium to be rocked!
Jesus didn't come into this world to let the status quo (existing state of our lives) continue.  In fact, he came into this world to rock this world to the core - to upset the imbalance sin creates and return balance to our lives which grace brings!  Jesus was quite clear when he spoke to his disciples those many years ago, and the message is still as clear today - you cannot continually "walk the line" and expect things to change for the better in your life.  You have to draw squarely into the "camp of grace" if you are to experience the true equilibrium of his life.  This requires what he calls "risk" - the very thing we think will bring us hazard or loss, but is assured to bring us joy and blessing.
Looking again at what Jesus said, it is a daily choice.  It often involves us dealing with whatever fear we have of the unknown, stepping out in obedience (not really much faith, but a mustard seed size trust), and then leaving the rest to Jesus.  That is scary because when we leave the outcome to someone else in our lives, we might not get what we expected, but it is entirely truthful to say we might get what we had no idea was right there in front of us! We see the risk as great only because our obedience is small. The more we take steps of obedience, even if they are small ones, the further we move from the fence line.  The further we move into his grace, the more we will have our faith increased and our lives changed in ways we never imagined possible.
The risk of obedience may be greater than any other risk we have taken in life, but far more valuable than any other risk we could take. No, obedience is not always easy.  Yes, it has some fear associated with it because we are going into the territory of the unknown.  In each step we take toward God's will, there is increased risk, but with that risk comes blessings in immeasurable amounts we could not have realized apart from having taken the first step toward obedience in our lives.  Risk it - the first step is totally worth it!  Just sayin!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Don't name before you truly see

"The precision of naming takes away from the uniqueness of seeing."  (Pierre Bonnard)  I realize this quote comes from an artist who painted mostly from memory, photos, and sketches, but these words speak volumes about how we view things in life.  If we are so caught up in putting a "name" to everything and everyone we see, we often miss the unique beauty in the object or person.  The other problem with "naming" people is that we soon learn to think of them by that "title" we place over their lives and forget all the other characteristics they possess in their lives which actually are way more important than the one we seem to zero in on! If the title is "precious" or "beautiful", someone may not resist the "impression" that title conjures up in a person's mind.  If the title is "loser" or "nerd", that one may be a little harder to stomach!

Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit.  This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy.  (Galatians 5:25-26 VOICE)

We spend a whole lot of time and energy "putting names" to the behaviors we see exhibited in people's lives and a whole lot less time investing what it takes to help them overcome some of those "less desirable" behaviors they may be exhibiting.  There is no greater "limiting force" in life than to have a "title" hung over our heads which we simply cannot break free of because the stigma of that title stays with us forever.  In the simplest terms, a stigma is something which indicates our disgrace because of the title put on some behavior observed which "won" us that title in somebody's eyes.  If we place a "title" or stigma on someone's life, we are "marking" them for life - a mark which may not be all that flattering, uplifting, or kind.

As Bonnard implied, we lose the quality of truly "seeing" another for the beautiful creation they are.  Even the worst of individuals was created as a beautiful object of God's love.  It was the choices of the individual which allowed their character to be formed in such a way we might "find fault" with today, but even bad character in the hands of a merciful and loving God can be transformed.  As an example, a person may bumble along in life, doing a half-perfect job at whatever they are trying to do, but it doesn't define them as "incompetent" or "unknowing".  If we look at that individual from the eyes of criticism and mockery, we will only see the "bumbling ways" they exhibit - we miss the good in their lives.  Notice that I said they did a "half-perfect" job - meaning half of what they were able to do was really pretty good, while the other half just didn't measure up to some standard we hold in our eyes.  Does it make the individual any less valued because they didn't "measure up" to whatever standard we hold?  Nope!  It just might mean the standard was a little high for their present ability to perform!

To place a label of any type on another without truly understanding the places they have been, the things they have experienced, or the qualities / attributes truly buried deep in their hearts is to be narrow-minded and sometimes even cruel.  We would not want another to do the same "labeling" of our lives, or to gossip about what they have determined to be our inadequacies.  What we need more than anything is to "take in" the beauty buried just beneath the surface - the beauty God sees in each of us - as we were created, not as we have "become" through our actions and missteps.  In turn, we might just find ourselves "seeing" the individual through eyes of love, mercy, and grace.  When more of us begin to see through those remarkable lenses of love, mercy, and grace, the "bumblings" of another's life don't matter so much and the unity God desires begins to matter more.  Just sayin!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Let's turn this boat around!

Thomas Fuller said, "Abused patience turns to fury."  Are you mad at God because something you have been hoping for has not come to pass yet?  I run across individuals who seem so angry at God because they had "big dreams" of being this or that, having achieve some goal, but in the span between the imagining of that dream and the present day their dream just never came to fruition.  We all can have times when we dream of the big catch and actually catch little fish!  Imagine the day the disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee all day without any fish in their nets for that day's work.  When they returned to the shore with all their disappointments and frustrations for a day's labor without a great return on their investment, they were met with Jesus telling them to go back out and throw their nets in again.  Would you have obeyed? There are days when we just go for it, and there are probably others when "enough is enough".  To be "asked" to do anymore is just not in the cards for us and anyone asking us to do so is just going to be caught in the crossfires of our anger or frustration.

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

Tests and hardships - two things most of us don't stand in line for!  Yet, in the midst of the test comes the proving of what is within us and probably more importantly - who is within us!  Tests reveal the "center" - they have a tendency to strip away all the facade we each muster on a daily basis and then what is left revealed is what we really rely upon.  It could be our own efforts, or it could be we rely squarely on Christ to navigate us through the test.  Once the facade is out of the way, it is clearer for us to see who actually is at the center, even when we proclaim it is Christ, it may not be.

Hardships have a way of wearing us down.  As the name implies, it more than a short-lived test.  It is a condition that has a great deal of difficulty that most of the time we consider hard to endure.  There is some kind of suffering, deprivation, or even oppression within it.  This simply makes it a little harder for us to stand strong in the self-sufficiency of our own strength or endurance.  In those times, we toil continuously, but seem to get nowhere.  In essence, the hardship is really testing our endurance and most importantly, where it is we find our strength to endure.

As Fuller implied, when patience is tested beyond what we can possibly endure, we can get a little bitter in the circumstances.  This is why it is so important to consider what James says about embracing them with the mindset of having our faith increased and our patience expanded.  Most of the time we pray for patience in the test or hardship - but if we read this carefully, it is the hardship and test which reveals or builds our patience.  Many tests have come my way which revealed a lack of patience.  As a single parent, there was no escaping the pressures of parenting - so my lack of patience was often revealed when that "last nerve" was frayed and finally hit.  If I stopped in those moments to just consider the blessing those kids were in my life, I began to settle into the peace God gave.  It often doesn't take much to turn your mindset around - it just takes a step of obedience.  

We might not recognize the test or hardship when it first comes, but as it gives full "blossom" in our lives, we know it for sure.  What we can know is that in the moment we become aware of the test, or increasing difficulty, we can look squarely into the eyes of Jesus and then lean heavily upon his arms to make it through.  The disciples on that log day of fishing complained a little - they explained they had been out all day and their nets came up empty.  We do that, too.  God doesn't mind our complaints as long as the next step is to "set back out on the water" to do as he says.  In that step of obedience of "turning the boat around" and setting out again, we find the way for our faith to increase and as we "throw the nets in again" we might just be surprised as to how much God reveals about his strength, provision, and protection over our lives.  Just sayin!