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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Learning vs. being taught

It was Winston Churchill who once said, "I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught." Boy, isn't that the truth! I like learning new things, but there are a whole lot more times I resist being taught more than I'd like to admit! Life is full of teachable moments, but not all of us are great at actually engaging with the moments. According to scripture, a good student is one who "closely observes" and then "follows instructions".  A good student will not only follow instructions, but he will observe so as to emulate or "reproduce" the behavior / actions of the one he is observing. I like watching those cooking shows on TV, but do you know how many of those recipes I actually make?  Zero!  I don't even come close!  What they do provide for me is a seed thought of how I might make or use something differently than I had in the past.  Oftentimes, this is a means of learning we may not really count on happening - reserving something we have seen, heard, or experienced for use at a later time in life, but not always in exactly the same way we observed it.

You have been a good student. You have closely observed how I have lived. You’ve followed my instructions, my habits, my purpose, my faith, my patience. You’ve watched how I love and have seen how I endure.  ...So surely you ought to stick to what you know is certain. All you have learned comes from people you know and trust because since childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which enable you to be wise and lead to salvation through faith in Jesus the Anointed.  All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 VOICE)

Observation involves our senses.  It stands to reason much of what we learn is taken in through one or more of our senses (sight, touch, smell, etc.).  It also stands to reason we can observe and not have touched, heard and not have seen, etc. Not every sense will be involved as we learn, but science has shown that the more of our senses which are engaged in the learning, the more we usually learn.  I'd like to go one step further with that and say the more of our emotion which engages in the learning, the more we might actually engage with being taught.  As we consider that one, we can probably see the emotion doesn't have to particularly be a good one in order for us to be taught.  Getting our feelings hurt and being left with "raw" emotions abraded by the circumstances we have come through will help us to learn a lesson we may not want to repeat in the future, right?

It also stands to reason we learn some of our deepest and most meaningful lessons in life from those we know and trust.  I hesitated for a long time in asking for advice on how to actually make my investments begin to perform so I would have a little put away for my retirement.  I had to ferret out who I could trust with my financial naivete.  It wasn't easy to know who to listen to, or what patterns of investing to follow because there was a lot of "advice", but very few who actually were accomplishing all they set out to do.  When I finally found someone to advise me, I began to realize I could do things in ways which would position me for a better return on my money, but keep me relatively safe in terms of protecting those investments, as well.  Trust is a big factor in learning - for no one is open to being taught when the one teaching under-performs, over-promises, etc.  

All we learn in life, all those moments we spend being taught, all add up to one end goal - that we will be up to the tasks ahead of us and accomplish what we set out to accomplish. There is no purpose in learning, in subjecting oneself to being taught, if there is no real "goal" in mind.  At first, while being taught some of the lessons I have learned in life, I didn't really know what the "goal" may have been, but as I began to settle in to learn those lessons, I began to see the evolving purpose or goal.  When I set out to lose weight, I might set a goal, but in the end it isn't the number of pounds I lose, it is how I feel when I do.  I know my "healthy weight" and when I achieve that, it produces within in me an ease of movement, reduced pain in my joints, easier breathing as I move, etc. The goal has other ways of affecting my life, not just that those pants in the back of the closet fit again!  Those other "realized goals" may not have been the ones I set when I determined to lose the weight, but they are accomplished as a result of taking the steps toward the goal of losing XX pounds.  Often the things we "realize" in learning one lesson in life provide ample opportunity for us to see how that lesson begins to help us in so many other ways.

As Churchill said, we can set out to learn, but if we aren't really ready to be taught, all the "learning" isn't going to happen as it should.  This is probably why we see "lessons" being "recycled" in our lives - we just weren't quite ready to be taught when the lesson was there for our learning.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cling isn't accidental

Because he clings to Me in love, I will rescue him from harm; I will set him above danger.  Because he has known Me by name, He will call on Me, and I will answer.  I’ll be with him through hard times; I’ll rescue him and grant him honor.  I’ll reward him with many good years on this earth and let him witness My salvation.  (Psalm 91:14-16 VOICE)

These are God's words - his promises to keep us safe, rescue us when we are about to slip into some harmful pursuit, and to be attentive to our voice as we cry out to him in the honesty and integrity of heart willing to be open to him. They are words of commitment to those of commitment.  Nowhere does God say, "If you get it ALL right, I will be there for you."  In fact, these words imply something quite different, for we come upon harm, realize danger, finding ourselves needing to call out for rescue, and even counting on him for the extension of our days because we are not always in the right place, doing the right thing, open to hearing what he says the first time he says it, or aware of just how close we came to taking our last breath at times!

This passage is a summation of trust being placed in God and his joy at taking us under the safety of his wings as we face both things we are well-aware of and those things lurking in the darkness we just will never see. One who clings is "adhered to" so as to not allow any escape, nor allow any penetration of unwanted things inside.  I think of the cling wrap we can buy at the grocer to cover over our foods.  The purpose is to seal in and seal out - keeping food as fresh and useful to us as possible.  I have seen other very creative ideas for the use of these cling wraps, such as the binding up of that which might otherwise become marred as it passes through wherever it is bound.  It is commonly used in packing and moving industries as a means to secure, cover for protection, and keep from excessive movement during transit.

Thinking about the qualities of the cling wrap, I can see how God may tell us to cling to him.  You see, God is reminding us of the importance of clinging to him, so as to seal out that which will adversely affect us.  There are all manner of influences just vying for our attention - to get an inroad into our lives.  God's Spirit isn't magic for us, but when we draw close to him, close enough to be under the shadow of his wing, the Holy Spirit "seals" us.  He marks us out as his and he provides the protection we need to avoid the harmful influences which want that inroad.  A packer or mover may use the clingy sheet of plastic to wrap around the object in order to secure it during transit - keeping it from being marred, jostled so as to allow breakage, etc.  I don't think this is too dissimilar to the way God envelopes us in his arms - keeping us so tightly nestled into the security of his bosom that we don't get "jostled" by all that could possibly shake us up in life.

We may not realize this, but clinging isn't just a one-way thing.  The adherence comes because there is a waiting surface for the substance to cling to.  Cling wrap in the package is just cling wrap coiled up on itself.  Cling wrap over the surface of my potato salad in a serving bowl is transformed into the protective barrier it can be only because the bowl received the "cling" of the wrap.  The two actually come pretty close to being "one".  I think this is a vital image for us as we consider what it is to cling to God in the way he describes in this psalm. We see cling wrap, but we don't see the seal.  We appreciate the seal when we almost spill the substance out onto the floor and it remains securely in the bowl. We may not fully realize the seal we have with God, but when it comes to the point we are counting on that seal to keep us secure, it doesn't fail us!

One further consideration of what it means to truly cling.  Trust is a vague concept to some because we have had it violated more than it has been honored and kept.  It is like we see all relationships as generic cling wrap - not very trustworthy!  I have bought some pretty cheap cling wrap in my days, only to find it does a mediocre job at best of protecting whatever I expected it to cling to.  I pay a little extra now because I have seen the value in the right wrap! We might have placed our trust in things and / or people not so "reliable", leaving us feeling like we didn't want to trust anyone or anything much anymore. 

I encourage us to reconsider that stand, though.  What we might not realize is the idea of the cling wrap depending upon the surface it will be asked to cling to as much as the quality of the wrap itself.  Cling wrap just doesn't cling well to porous surfaces - it might try, but those tiny, uneven places actually allow for air, dust, and the like to "interfere" with the cling.  Sometimes it isn't the fault of the wrap which is to blame, but the surface.  God offers the best "wrap" possible, but we must have an "open surface" in order for the cling to actually make that full connection it so needs to be the absolute protection it is intended to be for us.  God isn't looking for perfection in us, but he is looking for us to make as much of ourselves open to receiving his connection as possible.  The greater the surface which is connected to his "covering", the greater the protection we experience.  It is a matter of opening up to him to trust him - even when we know our surface is a little more uneven or rougher than we might think he can deal with!  His protection is better than cling wrap - it is like bubble wrap, cling wrap and shrink wrap all combined! Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Did I just paint myself into another corner?

"When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."  (Harriet Beecher Stowe)  There is many a tight place in this world, isn't there?  Where I might find myself "confined" in a tight space, you might not - it all relevant to the individual in that particular predicament.  It is often more of what we do, who we turn to, and how we choose to manage those tight spaces which will determine just how easily we are going to be "released" from them!

My soul quietly waits for the True God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my deliverance, my citadel high on the hill; I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2 VOICE)


Once in a while I like to turn to these shows which highlight those who have chosen to "live off the grid" in remote parts of Alaska.  I used to live in Anchorage, so I am always fascinated when I see these guys and gals making a way of life in the rain forests of Southeast Alaska, or in the wind-whipped and ice-glazed regions of some of the most isolated of islands in the northern regions.  It is not only isolated "freedom", it is a tough existence!  The most amazing part of how they live is their ingenuity with the use of things others might no longer make use of, living "off the land", and learning ways to heal when broken because no doctor is going to be making a house call to their little home.  

There are probably a whole lot more of us who have chosen to "live off the grid" without actually moving into the Alaskan wilderness, though.  It isn't that we move to the woods at all, we simply get backed into some corner in life and we choose to stay there, thinking we will must find a way to "make it" there.  The moment we choose to live by our own rules, or to think we can "make it on our own", is the moment we choose to "step off the grid" in life. We shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves having to be "creative" in how it is we will address life's issues that arise when we choose to isolate ourselves from others around us, though.  It just don't lend itself to safe-living.

I know another man or woman is not my deliverance - only God can truly be my deliverer - but he didn't make me to live alone, isolated, backed into some corner somewhere either. He made us each to be related, connected, and "insulated".  Isolation leaves us standing rather exposed. Insulated leaves us surrounded by those who act as a covering in our lives to help us get through the tough places which might otherwise leave us pretty exposed to injury. While we aren't reliant upon anyone other than God to be our deliverer, we are reliant upon the connection of relationship for it is at the core of how God purposed us to live.

In life, we all have those moments when things just seem to be going against us, as though we were swimming against a strong current.  I have experienced the strength of some pretty nasty currents in lakes and rivers which made me swim with all the power my body could muster.  There were a couple of times when I wondered if I'd ever break free of the hold that current seemed to have on me.  When we are alone in the current, we don't have anyone to throw us a lifeline should we want to give up or find it too hard for us to escape on our own. Yes, we have God, but never forget this - we need to have each other's backs!  

When you are standing on the shore and you can see someone getting a little too close to the churning current which could take them under pretty quickly, you shout a warning, don't you?  They don't see the "tight space" they are getting themselves into - but you can - simply because you have a different perspective than they do.  We often glean the greatest insight into our "tight spaces" when we are able to see it from the perspective of another who is observing it from a different vantage point.  As my pastor says, "The eye cannot see the eye." In other words, I can see the end of my nose, but I cannot see the window to my soul (the eye). 

If I need perspective of the "tight space" I find myself in, I turn first to God who has the best vantage point of anyone, but I don't exclude what others he has placed in my life see either. Their perspective is given to me for a purpose - because God saw fit to bring these individuals into my life to help me see what I cannot see on my own.  Thank goodness we don't walk into or out of tight spaces alone - we have each other!  Just sayin!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Don't lecture me

I saw a quote once that remarked about our parents having taught us everything we know. The problem stipulated in the quote was that those same parents didn't teach us everything THEY knew! This is so true of parenting - we teach our kids and teach them again - only to realize somewhere down the road we haven't remembered to teach them something we learned at some earlier point in our lives. As a grandparent, one of the advantages I have is that of being "quieter" in my living - able to observe with a power of insight I didn't take the time to stop to share when I was younger. As a parent, I was busy, busy, busy - especially since I was doing this alone! Now that I am a grandparent, it is as though I can just enjoy the time I have with the grandchildren without having all those external factors weighing in on me - at least most of the time!

Teach a child how to follow the right way; even when he is old, he will stay on course. (Proverbs 22:6 VOICE)


I used to think this verse "insured" us parents our children would always follow the Lord, never deviate from their faith, avoid sin, and find the best of acquaintances who would help them stay "on course" in their life.  Just teaching a child "how to follow" doesn't always ensure they will follow, but I do think it lays the foundation for there to always be some sense of "inner-niggling" whenever they have veered enough off course to warrant a re-examining of their choices.  God doesn't issue "insurance policies" to us as parents, guaranteeing our children won't engage in certain behaviors which bring harm or hurt into their lives.  He does guarantee his grace is sufficient to go with them into those places and to deliver them when they cry out!

Even a teacher has to learn the lesson first - and oftentimes "relearn" it several more times until it becomes so easily recalled and reapplied that it is like second-nature to them.  As I made my way through the grocery store yesterday, there was a mother and a son, each seeming to have a little bit of a different agenda for their shopping trip.  The boy was about 10 or so, and desired nothing more than to spend some time in the aisle where toys, summer water games, and the like are displayed.  From the moment they entered the store (and I mean that literally), the mother and son were at odds about the "agenda" each would follow. She wanted her Starbucks first, then a trip through the vegetable aisle, followed by a trip down the meat and dairy aisle, and then to the more mundane aisles housing boxed and canned goods.

As they made their way through the store, I seemed to be constantly crossing paths with them.  What made me notice them each and every time was the pained look on his face, her repeated reminders that he could not have his way, and the seemingly never-ending lecture about how she had things to accomplish and he could not ask her one more time to look at those things down that aisle he longed to visit.  It was a repeated reminder of "I am the mom" and "You are the child - you will do as you are told".  Now, he wasn't throwing a temper, nor was he being overly vocal.  He simply asked every so often if he could please (and I did hear please at least once) go down that aisle. Now, I don't know her total agenda, but she was rather leisurely in her shopping and coffee drinking, so I am not thinking her objection to his request was based on being time-constrained.  

What stuck out so clearly to me is how easy it is to "lecture" our lessons, but how difficult it is for us to truly connect with the child to understand what they might be desiring, walking through, etc.  He just wasn't letting up in his request and she wasn't about to let up in her lecturing about being the mother and him just doing as she said.  What makes us think we can just "hurl" lessons at our children and think it will somehow "stick"?  There is a connection between the lesson and the intended learner of that lesson which can only be made when the teacher makes the connection "three-way".  God has a way of getting into our space, not in a "I am God and you are the child" kind of way, but in a way which first makes the connection and then begins to connect the lesson within the framework of the foundation created within that relationship.  

Training doesn't happen because someone barks out orders to us.  It happens because we come to value their input, appreciate their presence, understand their heart, and connect frequently enough in an open way so as to be real with each other.  We never know when the lesson we are teaching will taken on meaning and bring life into another's life - but we do know if we are faithful to the relationship FIRST, we stand a much better chance of "training up" in a way which will help them "stay the course" as they are on their own.  Just sayin!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Take a stand - for love

Winston Churchill once said, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." He also said, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."  Jesus said, "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)  As good as it is to "take a stand", it is far better to stand in such a way you actually draw others to the one who demonstrated love for all of mankind. As good as it is to be courageous, taking the lead and being the hero, it is far better to know those you are leading in a deep and genuine way.

The Great Preacher of peace and love came for you, and His voice found those of you who were near and those who were far away.  By Him both have access to the Father in one Spirit. And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people,members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household.  (Ephesians 2:17-19 VOICE)

Churchill was correct - when we stand for something, someone will always find fault with what we stand for.  Why?  We don't all have the same perspective of things in this life and as we venture toward taking a stand for something, someone else will say that isn't the right thing to stand up for.  It is human nature to disagree on some points, but there are some we simply cannot disagree about:

1. We are all human beings, deserving of respect, love, and compassionate understanding. Our "stand" may not always agree, but the similarities we share should cause us to reach out to each other in love and respect.  Do we have to agree to respect the fact we are all members of the human race, uniquely different, but awesomely similar?  No.  Do we have to agree to understand the heart longs for contact with something outside of itself?  No.  Doe we have to agree to realize there are hurting souls, struggling to just know they matter to someone? No. We just have to remember how Christ demonstrated his love toward us - not judging us for our sin, but embracing us in spite of our actions.

2. We aren't always going to see life through the same set of eyes, interpreting it the exact same way.  Yes, there are things we will not and should not compromise, but there are ways to not compromise and still love the one who doesn't exactly see things the way we do.  It takes more effort to learn to love another than it does to say we cannot stand their way of life, but it is exactly what Jesus did on our behalf.  He may not have condoned our compromise, but he never stopped reaching for us!

3. We might actually make "outcasts" of some by the labels we apply and the attitude we form toward that "label".  "Slow", "Dim", "Loser", and the list goes on.  All labels, but are they really suggestive of the real heart of the individual "behind that label".  If we would just understand we probably struggle the most with what we understand the least, then we might not be a quick to place labels upon anyone in this world.  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Make those moments

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)  I used to have a teacher who frequently reminded us, "There is no time like the present", especially when giving us a big assignment or sending us on our way to discover things we were studying firsthand.  In essence, he was reminding us of the desire to put off what needs to be done today and how much that impacts the benefit out of what it is we could realize if we just did it.  I have never been a big procrastinator, liking to just "get er done", unless the project ahead of me was just way too big for me and I was a little more than uncertain about how to tackle it.  There is some room for "pre-planning" and getting oneself in a position or posture to tackle what lies ahead, but when that "pre-work" gets in the way of us moving at all, it isn't good! 

Whoever pursues justice and treats others with kindness discovers true life marked by integrity and respect. (Proverbs 21:21 VOICE)

I often take notes at meetings, then come back as quickly after those meetings to put those notes into a usable format by which I may have an accurate reflection of what it is we wanted to accomplish through our efforts together.  It isn't just that I like to be on top of my work, but because I have learned if I put something off too long, the details seem to get muddled in my brain and I lose the benefit of the moment together.  There are times I think we put off letting someone know how much they have impacted our lives, that they really matter to us, or even that we want to be a blessing to them - not because we don't have all the good intentions in the world, but because we just don't consider the benefit of the moment. 

I would like to count on having ample opportunities to be a positive influence in the lives of my grandsons, but I truthfully don't know just how many "moments" I will actually have with them, so I try to make them count.  I don't know when it will be the last time I will tell mom, "I love you, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck," so I take advantage of each one.  I may not know when passing you by will be the exact moment you needed me to stop, notice, and invest in your life - but I want to be obedient to those times when I know I should say something, stop what I am doing, listen intently, etc.  Why?  The moments matter and the time may never be there again - truly there is "not time like the present".

As each day brings reports of new tragedies striking families all around our great big world, it isn't likely we can all look back and proclaim we "made the moments".  There will be regrets, for sure, but if we dwell on the regrets and don't learn the lesson of looking intently for those moments we can make, we aren't really allowing that loss to become the teachable moment it could be for each of us.  We don't even have to look too far forward to realize those moments are right there in front of us - we just need to be looking.  The timing may not always be "convenient", nor the energy level at the "optimum", but if we just put it in neutral long enough, simmer on what it is we think is more demanding or important, we might just realize there are other moments to be made.  Just sayin!


Friday, June 24, 2016

Doing more than enduring

"Sometimes you get to what you thought was the end and you find it's a whole new beginning." (Anne Tyler as seen on www.facebook/tobymac) 

This is so true - we think we finally make it to the "end" of something only to find a new door opening where one is closing, another roller-coaster loop to traverse just when we thought we were done with "all that fun", or something totally unexpected and phenomenal that wows us and leaves us breathless in awe.  We might have even uttered the oft familiar words, "When will this ever end," and hoped with all our might for some resolution to come quickly. What we are wishing for is just for some "break" so we can catch our breath again.  We know the pressures will come again because as sure as we count on the peace, there is more of whatever gives us grief somewhere lurking just ahead!  Some authors will tell you as one book comes to an end for them and it is finally sent to the presses for publication, it as though they have given birth - but most of us realize that birth is just the beginning!  What is to come is not yet known - what will be birthed from what has been born is somewhere down the road.  Nothing truly comes to an end.

The words of the wise are like goads; the collected sayings of the masters are like the nail-tipped sticks used to drive the sheep, given by one Shepherd. So be warned, my child, of anything else that might be said! There is no end to writing books, and excessive study only exhausts the body. And, when all is said and done, here is the last word: worship in reverence the one True God, and keep His commands, for this is what God expects of every person. (Ecclesiastes 12:11-13 VOICE)

If things we counted on (or may didn't actually count on) reaching some sort of end really are just new beginnings, how is it we are to prepare ourselves to be ready for the next phase of what is to come?  I think the answer lies somewhere in how it is we begin to view "endings".  As I watch a movie on TV, it can spark a range of emotions from leaving me feeling "warm and fuzzy" on the inside, to having just a little sense of my nerve endings being on high alert.  Each ended, but one ended kind of "nicely", while the other left me with some unanswered questions, concerns I didn't really have before watching it, etc.  It is the purpose of the writer to "goad us" into some sort of response - like heartfelt tears, a sense of uneasiness, exhilaration over the endured thrill, or kindled desire.  Endings are then just new beginnings - bringing us to new places, with the experience of new emotions, and the whole gamut of questions which must be answered as we move on.

If we begin to see endings as beginnings, we might just face them a little bit differently - for when we begin to anticipate there is a new possibility awaiting us when one door closes and a new one opens, we are less likely to just stand there without knocking!  As our writer implies in our passage today, men go about making endless assumptions - often capturing these assumptions in books and in volumes of scientific publications, research articles, and summaries of posed philosophies.  We can exhaust ourselves with the "what ifs" of life - never really experiencing life because we are so caught up in finding an end that we miss all that comes in between!

As we await an "end", it is always best for us to remember what it is we are expected to do while we are waiting:  "Worship in reverence the one True God, and keep his commends, for this is what God expects of every person."  Reaching an end doesn't mean we cease the important activity of "obedience".  Obedience is not measured in having made it to the end, or through something "successfully".  It is measured by each "block" of obedience, one building upon the other - moving us from one "structure" to another.  All of life is about "adding to" and "taking away from".  We need to be attentive to add the right stuff and leave behind the other things which only get in the way and weigh us down needlessly.

Too many times we think, "Well, that is finally over," but God is thinking, "Well, now let's add a little bit of this, so you have the opportunity to add to what you just learned."  When we learn to see each ending as a new possibility for us to see something added to our present obedience, we might just see them as things we will do more than "endure through".  They will become the means by which we draw closer to God, learn of his great love, and hold closely to his hand as we navigate unfamiliar paths.  Just sayin!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I need a little shoring up

Be strong and brave, and don’t tremble in fear of them, because the Eternal your God is going with you. He’ll never fail you or abandon you!  (Deuteronomy 31:6 VOICE)

Moses was about to "pass the baton" to Joshua, and in preparing for his leaving of this earth, as well as the future leadership of the Israelite nation, Moses gives final instructions to carry on without fear.  Great armies, vast in number and strong in "fighting force" would stand in their way, but greater forces would rear their ugly heads most of them knew nothing about.  Forces like stubborn pride, unyielding discontent, and unbridled lust.  Forces which indeed, if unchecked quickly, would lead to their fall as a nation.  I think Moses had a foreshadowing of this, since one of the very last things he did while on this earth was the recording of the words given to him by God so they could be brought out long after he had gone as a reference and reminder of all God required and promised. Charles Stanley says, "When God speaks, oftentimes his voice will require an act of courage on our part."  The problem is we often start well in our "acts of courage", but somewhere along the line, we dwindle in our resolve, or tremble in fear of the unknown which lies ahead.

We often associate "strong" as a word describing the powerful ability of something or someone.  When we buy a new cleaning product, do we buy it because it advertises gentleness or fluffy scent?  Not usually!  We buy it because it promises to remove "even stubborn stains" or that it "breaks through dirt and grime".  We want power!  We want whatever is in that bottle or can to be a force dirt will have to reckon with.  I'd like us to begin to change our thinking about "strong" - because strong isn't just "able", it is "firm".  When Moses commands the people to be strong and brave, he isn't saying he wants them to have all the "power" to fight the enemies they face, but to be strong in their resistance of those powers who will oppose them (especially the ones they won't see coming).

It isn't what we see coming which usually is our undoing - it is the unnoticed attacks which do us in.  At first, we don't notice them because we are distracted by something else, or we just plain don't recognize the "skill" at which these forces "invade" our lives.  I like to play board games like backgammon, and card games like Euchre.  On my tablet, I can play these with "virtual opponents" or "partners".  In a couple of these, I can set the "skill level" I want to play at - like novice or expert.  This gives me a hint about the skill with which the other player will "maneuver" to win.  I know this up front - something I think I'd like to know up front in most of my life's dealings, but which oftentimes remains hidden until I make the "first move".

The "first move" in life is often the hardest - not because we are cowards, but because we "fear the unknown".  As Moses is speaking with Joshua and the people, he is reminding them of the importance of not just trusting what we can see with our eyes alone.  We need to develop a sense of confidence in the one who walks with us into the unknown, so that we stand strong (firm) and don't succumb to the fear lurking at the doorways of our hearts.  What gives us the greatest problems in life aren't the things we know will oppose us, but those things from within and without which we don't know will give us more than a few challenges. What Moses did that day might just serve as a reminder of the tactic we need to take when asked to do something which requires courage.  He set into permanent record the words of God - so they could stand as a reminder of all he had done, what he promised to continue to do, and what we should be doing.  

Maybe the best strategy when facing the unknown isn't to "muster up" whatever courage we can on the inside, but to admit we aren't as "firm" as we need to be and allow God to "shore us up" through his Word.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What are you losing?

What are you losing by chasing what you are chasing?  Some of the time we chase stuff we think will "enhance" our relationships - like dream vacations, that next level at our job, or even all the sports games we can possibly enroll our kids in.  Most of us would benefit from someone helping us to just sort things out so we could see which ones will actually make some positive impact in our relationships before we get too far down the road.  In order for the advice of any adviser to actually "stick" in our lives, we have to believe it is more "valid" than the direction we have been taking up to this point.  We have to trust the adviser to steer us in the right direction - not just to give us a plethora of choices.

Really, what profit is there for you to gain the whole world and lose yourself in the process?
(Mark 8:36 VOICE)


We chase, but do we consider the cost before we set out on the chase?  We desire a bigger home, but do we consider the upkeep, taxes, furnishings, and sheer volume of labor with acquiring it?  We want to drive the shiniest new car, but do we consider the impact of that "investment" on the bottom line of our family's finances?  Lots of times we think we are making the right moves, especially when it comes to relationships, only to find we somehow missed the mark.  Time slips away, things we thought were going to build the relationship ended up tearing it down, and we find ourselves not much further along than when we first began - just with more baggage and a lot more "clean up" than we desired.

What we fail to recognize as we set out on these "brave new journeys" in life is the "cost" compared to the "profit".  A good businessman will tell you it is important to not just "break even" - you want to make a profit in your endeavor.  I have undertaken some things, like selling Tupperware or Avon earlier on in my life, only to find the "break even point" was pretty hard to reach and the "costs" associated with selling the newest product actually chewed away at my bottom line!  I just didn't know that many people and door to door sales were not my thing!  

In every "venture" there is some kind of "cost" - but there is usually an associated "profit" we expect from that venture.  In terms of relationship, the costs can be things like the time it takes to actually cultivate relationship, or trusting someone with the "real" us enough to actually be genuine within that relationship.  There are costs with every decision we make as it affects someone else in the process - one of us in the relationship will "pay" for the decision and rarely do we get it right so it is an equally "shared" investment!  To believe all relationship decisions can be 50/50 is kind of naive, to say the least.  Someone will always be asked to give 51% (having the controlling interest in the decision).  This is the nature of relationship - give and take, invest and profit, hold on and let go.

As it comes to the most important relationship in our lives (the one we maintain with Jesus), we don't always get the "profit/loss" ratio right.  You see, we believe ourselves to be giving 100%, while we all know it is impossible for us to give what has already been given!  Maybe we think it is a 50/50 split - I do a little, he does a little, I do a little more, he does a little more, etc.  When something is already "done", how can anyone give or do anymore to "get er done"?  Jesus asks a pointed question:  "What profit is it for us to gain the whole world, while all along the journey from here to there we are losing little bits and pieces of ourselves in something which really could not gain us anything more in life?"

All the world has to offer is fleeting - the only eternal thing we can chase is closeness in relationship to Jesus.  The more we chase the things, the less we chase the ONE thing which really matters.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Time to just share...

Look, all of you are flawed in so many ways, yet in spite of all your faults, you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to all who ask!  (Luke 11:13 VOICE)

Jesus just didn't mince words when he addressed his disciples or the religious leaders of the day.  He was approached one day by his disciples, just after he had finished praying.  Their request - teach us to pray the way you pray.  His instruction - get close to my Father and just share with him.  In essence, he points them first to the importance of the relationship - for all good communication really starts with the relationship.  Then he turns them to the specifics of the types of things we might want to bring to God as we communicate with him in an attitude of prayer.  It isn't so much that we kneel, raise our hands, or even than we remember all the "dear God" phrases.  It is that we open our hearts so we begin to bond in relationship with the one who cares so deeply for each one of our needs.

He makes mention of this attitude of being one who maintains the relationship despite the difficulties one might imagine which could come between two people when they are struggling to communicate.  We are all human, so having a little difficulty knowing what to say, how to say it, or even when the time is right to actually communicate our heart can sometimes be a little unnerving.  We want the closeness, so we get right up to the edge of being willing to open up like we should, then we back down a little - we don't persevere. As much as we longed to share what was in our hearts, we just didn't ever get to that point. Jesus wants to show his disciples there is nothing wrong with asking, nor is there anything wrong with expecting.  These are both part of relationship.

At this juncture, he takes a moment to remind us of the importance of asking - something we don't always do very well.  We "skirt" the issue which is really burning in our hearts, either because we don't think God would see our need as important, or because we don't believe God would ever meet our need.  He sets it up with a reminder about our own "flawed state" and yet our ability to meet the needs of those we love in a human sense.  If we are capable of being compassionate toward another's need, reaching out to meet it in some way, isn't it quite possible we serve a God who can do this in much bigger ways?  

Yes, Jesus was speaking about his Spirit - being given to those who will ask.  Yet, in a bigger sense, he is reminding each of us to just talk to our heavenly Father.  To enter into open, not too deep or "religiously right" words, but to share our hearts in a genuine sense.  I think we miss the boat anytime we just struggle to "find the right words" when it comes to sharing with our heavenly Father.  You see, no words are wrong - because as long as we are opening our heart, the words don't have to be perfect, they just have to be real.  Just sayin!

Monday, June 20, 2016

You following me?

Those who live right are good guides to those who follow, but wrongdoers will steer their friends down the wrong path.  (Proverbs 12:2 VOICE)

"A blessed thing it is for any man or woman to have a friend, one human soul whom we can trust utterly, who knows the best and worst of us, and who loves us in spite of all our faults." (Charles Kingsley)  I doubt there are too many of us who actually want to make someone go down a path where harm awaits them. We might see a particularly calloused and hardened criminal, thinking they have done such atrocious things, but do we want to see them take others down that path with them?  No, we want to turn them away from those choices in order to help them see there is a different set of choices they could be making.  We want to be the kind of friend who will be a "good guide for those who follow".

I saw one of those posts this morning wherein someone was expressing something they felt deeply.  The post simply read: "The person who tries to keep everyone happy and always cares for everyone is always the most lonely person."  Let that one sink in a while.  That individual in your group of acquaintances who is always going the extra mile for another may also be one of the loneliest in your group of acquaintances. It is not uncommon for someone to use "service" (caring acts) to cover over their own loneliness and desire for acceptance. We think they are just "nice people" doing "nice things" for other people.  In fact, they may be very lonely people treating other people in ways they wished others would treat them!

To be a guide another would want to follow is one thing - to be the type of guide another should follow is a slightly different thing. There are lots of idolized individuals in this world, but not all are really living genuine lives dedicated to the principles of grace God gives - so are they all worthy of us following?  No, not really.  They may have some redeeming qualities - I am not saying they don't - but the individual we choose to follow the closest will become the pattern by which we model our actions the closest, as well.  Therefore, it is both important for us to be good examples and to seek out good examples - the first because others are following us, and the latter because we need to be following the right examples ourselves.

A guide is someone who helps another in unfamiliar places to overcome things which might otherwise be something which would bring fright, worry, or even panic.  A guide helps to reveal the meaning or significance of the moment, place, or time one has entered into - not because they have some special "insight", but usually because they have already been there themselves!  In ranching, a goad is used to "guide" stubborn animals along a course which is best for them - such as down the chute leading to the pen where they will receive their vaccinations which will keep them healthy.  As a guide, we nudge, prod, and even "steer" another in a course of direction - not because we know it all, but because we care enough for the well-being of the other to ensure they remain safe and secure.

Live right - be a good guide for another to follow.  You never know whose life you may actually be directing just by being who it is God has called you to be. Just sayin!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Be still, get calm, really see, & finally understand

“Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God. I am honored among all the nations. I am honored over all the earth.” (Psalm 46:10 VOICE)
Stillness isn't always part of our days, is it?  In fact, most of us don't take time to recognize that the trees have grown absolutely still, without any evidence of even the slightest breeze ruffling their leaves. We don't even miss the sweet songs of the tiny birds until someone calls it to our attention. In the stillness of those moments there is usually something "brewing" - hence we get the term the "calm before the storm".  Ranchers, farmers, and those who work in the outdoors have learned to pay close attention to a change in the weather which comes with a very eerie stillness simply because they know it could be building into something they will be having to do significant clean up after if they aren't adequately prepared.  Maybe we'd do well to pay attention to the times God purposefully "stills" the things in our lives just before he is about to break in upon them in a pretty big way!
As a kid, when the big monsoon winds would begin to blow, we always knew we had a little time before the lightening would start, so we still had time to play, despite the sudden increase in the wind and dust.  We had a "build up" till the worst part of the storm would be upon us, so we didn't become alarmed by the increasing winds.  Usually one good crack of lightening and clap of thunder would send us scurrying into the nearest home and then off to our respective homes if the downpour was just a little delayed. In real life, we don't always get such good "warning signs" that the skies are about to open up and pour down on us, though. It is often the "calm before the storm" which we miss that was our "warning" something was about to happen.
Our writer records four things God wants us to know.  First, we are to get very, very still.  Stillness differs from calmness in that stillness is the absence of any motion - we don't continue any longer in whatever it was we were doing, but stop dead in our tracks.  Second, we are to get into a calm place.  Stopping is one thing, but remaining calm is really the evidence of slight movement, just not big steps.  Sometimes I think we get ourselves into a place of being "still" and then don't take any further steps in any direction because we don't know what to do.  Calm waters are those without a lot of turbulence or waves - but they aren't motionless.  Those are still waters and if they remain still too long, the waters grow a little stagnant.  In stillness, we cease from the major movements so we can refocus. In calmness, we begin to order our steps again in the direction which seems to carry us forward as we need to go.
This is where the importance of the last two reminders come into play - seeing and understanding.  As we stop the rush of movement in our lives, we begin to allow a calmness to settle which will make it easier to recognize the subtle changes about to happen. In essence, we are able to "see" the subtle changes and in so doing, God brings us into a place we begin to comprehend what he is doing.  God wants us to understand his movement in our lives - he isn't trying to put "one over on us" all the time!  He engages us in his plans and purposes for our lives when we get still and calm, allowing our spiritual vision to be focused on him and our minds to be open to his instruction.  We often don't get to this place until we have accomplished both the stilling of our busy-ness and the calming of our internal drive.  Just sayin!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Do or wait?

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)

Not every plan is a good one.  Heaven knows I have had a good few which just didn't pan out the way I'd hoped!  More than once I have had to go back to square one and start again, not because I didn't have what I believed to be "good plans", but because my plans didn't factor in something along the way. At times, I lay in bed awake at night and think of ways I could make something better.  I have limited space to create a workshop space for myself without building another free-standing shed in the back yard.  Last night was one of those nights I was laying there trying to think of ways to keep storage in the garage, but also give myself some surface space to work on larger projects. I was thinking of a "Murphy style" fold out work space in place of a couple of cabinet doors which exist on some of the storage cabinets I have right now.  It would give me surface space, fold up easily to be out of the way, and could double as doors over that cabinet.  Now I just have to figure out the leg supports and I might actually have a good plan!  This plan didn't come easily, nor with all the "parts" I needed in order to make it actually work.  But...it is developing and just like other things in life, what we have to work on a little harder, wait a little longer for all the answers to be evident, and let time bring some of the solutions through other means, it might end up being the way I imagined, or totally "morph" into something quite different.

Life doesn't always let us plan out each and every step, seeing them all come to fruition as we imagined them.  Sometimes the plans need a little "morphing" in order to be as they really should be.  One thing is for sure, when our plans are left in the hands of Jesus we stand a much better chance of seeing the things we need to bring those plans to fruition "set in order" as they should be. In the above passage, one of the key elements is the attitude we maintain while we are setting about to see our plans worked out.  We are to be in service to Jesus, doing all we do in a way which honors him, and in turn, he will set in order the things which need to come together within our plans.  The truth is that when we bring our plans to him, listen carefully when he says, "Not that way, but this way," then we will find ourselves in the best position to receive his assistance with those plans!  I cannot tell you just how many times I got this a little bit backwards - bringing him my plans only when they didn't work out the way I hoped they would.  Get things in the right order and it usually manages to kind of sort itself out, doesn't it?

What does it mean to do things so that we are "of service" to Jesus in them? I think it has to do with the attitude behind doing whatever it is we are doing. Success or failure is often very closely linked to our attitude - pride goes before that fall, doesn't it?  As we set out on any venture, God's blessing on that venture is really the key thing we want to obtain.  None of us wants to "step out" in just our own path and purpose - relying solely upon the flapping of our arms to keep us afloat when we realize we don't have a parachute!  Yet, we do this all the time - stepping into some pretty big messes just because our attitude behind what we were doing was a little too self-focused, or self-serving. In turn, when we seem to hit roadblocks, or stumble in some mess of a hole in the path we are on, we find ourselves turning to God and asking him why he didn't bless our venture!  It is like we think God should just bless our mess just because we thought it was a good idea.  Get things in the right order, keep the right attitude while we await all the pieces to come together as they should, and we usually see a different outcome!

Some take this passage to mean they can do anything they want to and God will bless it just because they are doing it "in the name of Jesus".  Think again! God doesn't bless it just because we ask him to - sometimes he has to set those plans straight before we even start them, or keep us from starting them all together.  Just sayin!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Prep matters

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

Do you know anyone who walks so close to the line that they are actually trying to straddle the line?  I used to jump up on any surface like a curb, short block fence, or even a log across a river just to see if I could make it across without falling off.  It was like being on a balance beam - really requiring focus and attention to where or how you planted your next footstep. I even used to jump up on the beam in gym class because of my fascination with it.  When the "beam" was the curb, I didn't worry about stumbling back down on the side where there was a level surface, but when it bordered a flower bed full of thorny roses, it wasn't so pleasant to lose my balance and fall to that side.  While up on the balance beam, I didn't want to fall because the mats may have blocked a little of the impact, but not all of it.  It usually left a mark!  In life, there are a whole lot of things which are actually like that balance beam - one misstep and you could find yourself totally on the opposite side of the line than you wanted to be on, nursing your wounds, and wondering why you ever chose to follow such a precarious "line" in the first place.

I believe it was one of the boxers or fighters of our time who said something about watching someone trying to walk in a straight line.  He said he would walk in a zig-zag pattern every time just because the other guy was trying to walk a straight line!  At least he was being honest about how he planned on rebelling!  Some of us are just as stubborn - we see the straight line and then we choose to walk everywhere else but according to that line!  Why? We want our own way, or the "challenge" of seeing how close we can stay to the line without actually having to "follow it".  In school, they made us line up before recess or movement between one place to another.  We usually had an order to which this line up was to occur, as well.  It was like having a "system" we followed to ensure "order" while on our way to wherever it was we were going.  One of us would surely get "out of line" on occasion - requiring the teacher to remind us of the importance of keeping our hands to ourselves, not touching something we weren't supposed to be touching, etc.  To me, it was probably more of a challenge to the teacher than to us!

In life, I wonder if God looks at us trying to stay on a straight course and if he ever thinks about how much of a challenge it is to keep us in line?  If I were God (and I am not), I think I would look at some of us and declare it too much effort!  That is probably why I will never be God!  It isn't about straddling the line, being so close we can actually see the perils on the other side, or about what we can or cannot touch while trying to stay in line.  It is about trusting God to get us to our destination along a course he has already designed for us, without us wanting the easiest way possible all the time.  When the teacher would let us just "go", we managed to bowl over each other, knock over a few chairs in the process, and generally leave a mess in our wake.  That is exactly why she made us line up!  She knew the mess which would ensue!  God is ever-mindful of the mess we will make of living life by our own set of rules, so he gives us a few to help us avoid some of those messier moments.

A few months back, my BFF and I were able to escape to the north country of Arizona for a little time away from our daily routine.  We like to hike, but we don't like those crazy hiking paths that are too challenging.  We seek out the easy to moderate paths and follow those. We have taken some more challenging ones in our ventures together, but we don't do it on a routine basis (nor is it usually "on purpose").  One thing we have learned is to do a little study before we go.  We look at the hiking trail maps and posted signs.  We learn "up front" whether it is going to require us to be a little more "fit" than what we actually are!  Not every path, even the well-marked, well-worn ones, is meant to be followed by just anyone who comes along with some sort of whim to follow it.  Some of those paths will require a lot of effort, stamina, and preparation to actually navigate!  When we realize that before we go down that path, it is much better than finding ourselves in need of a rescue somewhere down it!  Just sayin!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Don't see the glitz

"Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too." (Will Smith)  We live in a world of people - everywhere we look, we are surrounded by people, of all walks of life, all manner of beliefs, with a full range of ideas, hopes, and disappointments.  We don't inhabit this earth alone - no matter how far we go to isolate ourselves, or how introverted we become - people are still going to be living life on this earth with us.  It behooves us to find ways to understand their hearts, see their hurts, appreciate their struggles, and to  invite them into our lives rather than pushing them further and further away from it.  We don't have to understand all of the other person's challenges, choices, or commitments in order to understand they are created beings struggling to find their way just as we are.

Those who have understanding hearts hunger after knowledge, but those with no understanding feast on foolishness. (Proverbs 15:14 VOICE)


I think we make a feast of foolishness sometimes, all the while overlooking the true hunger in our hearts.  We find ourselves feasting on some things we just probably would do well to turn away from.  I watched just a short video online the other day about a gal who was going to show the viewers of her video how to "fix themselves up" for the day, complete with the glittery eyes, bold eyeliner, long lashes, glowing red lipstick, and all the rest of "glitz" she displayed.  It started with her showing just how she looked all "made up", but the real point of the video was to show just how much the "glitz" covered over what was really underneath it all.  I think there are lots of moments like this in life - times when we cover over things with all the "glitz" we can muster, all the while hoping no one sees what is truly underneath all that "paint and goo".

Her point was to drive us to look beyond the showy stuff on the outside and to really see what was on the inside of an individual.  To look beyond what appears to be the really "cool" stuff they say or how "put together" they may appear.  At the core of it all is likely the same struggle we might be walking through right now, or the one we just finally made it past a short time ago.  We sometimes don't seek to understand the soul of another before we condemn that soul because of what we observe with our eyes.  To understand we are not unique, but actually quite similar, for all of us is made up of body and soul, with a place designed perfectly for the Spirit of God, is to really begin to look beyond the surface of an individual's "display".

We are all connected in this way - created not as uniquely different from each other - but fashioned in the same three parts - body, soul, and spirit.  Each with a mind, all with a beating heart, every one of us with emotional make-ups which drive us upward one day and plunge us into the depths of despair the next.  We don't always have to see all the differences we each possess - we just might do well to begin to see all the similarities.  We don't have to choose to accept each of the choices the other makes - we might instead begin to pray intently for those we don't understand, agree with, or adhere to.  

I don't know who I will vote for this year, but I will make some choice.  I don't know what natural disaster will overtake us next, but I will do my best to be ready and to be of service to others who might not weather it as well.  I may not fully appreciate your struggle because I haven't walked it myself - but I know someone who has walked every path we could ever walk and he did it without ever stumbling, so I can hold him out to you in order that you might take his hand as you walk that path.  Sometimes the greatest understanding we can reach is that we are not always right, nor are we always perfectly put together.  In realizing this, we may just come a little closer to being the example God desires us to be to those who cross our path, complete with all their imperfections and struggles, as well.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Avoiding continual recalculation

I will praise the Eternal in every moment through every situation. Whenever I speak, my words will always praise Him. When I needed the Lord, I looked for Him; I called out to Him, and He heard me and responded. He came and rescued me from everything that made me so afraid.  (Psalm 34:1,4 VOICE)

In every moment - through every situation.  IN suggests while being fully immersed in the moment.  THROUGH connotes there will be an end to it, even though we may not see it immediately. I know from my own experience, some things just seem to hang on and on, never really appearing as though they will ever come to an end.  As I come to this realization, I have to recount these words - not everything will end as quickly as we may like it to end, but God is with me THROUGH it, while I am IN it, and therefore, I will be able to endure it.  I just need to learn how to navigate IN it so I am able to see my way THROUGH it to the other side.

Navigation is half the battle.  To navigate just means we have found our way through.  It means we have fixed our course and have a "fix" on the destination.  If you have one of those gizmos in your car which navigates you, then you are probably familiar with the prompt, "Recalculating".  This prompt comes on anytime we make a course determination which will adversely affect our ability to arrive at our destination as plotted out.  That voice in that computer doesn't know we are just stopping for gas so we will have the fuel to arrive without issue!  It can just detect when a course isn't what was established when we first asked for directions!

IN the moment, we make occasional stops for refueling, don't we? We do this because if we didn't we would not be able to get THROUGH the course we are traveling without issue.  God asks us to be as attentive to him IN the moment as we are as those moments pass and we make it safely from this moment to the next. We sometimes look back, recalling all he HAS done, but we forget to be cognizant of the fact he IS doing things on our behalf as we are IN the circumstances of life we are passing THROUGH.  Our psalmist just wants us to keep God in mind at all times - not to allow our focus to become fixed on the circumstance, but to remain on God IN and THROUGH all of life.

As I have mentioned before, where we fix our eyes determines the course (direction) we will take and what it is we will realize at the end of the journey.  Fix it squarely on the chocolate bar in the gift shop and you will eventually end up consuming it or something else to satisfy that sweet tooth!  Rarely do we fix our gaze on something and then not move toward it - if not physically, at least in our thoughts, intents, and emotions.  Even though it may not look like we are moving, the "wheels are turning" and some form of "navigation" is occurring fully dependent upon the destination we have established.  When our gaze is fixed upon Jesus, we are less likely to take navigational turns which will land us stranded along the way.  Instead, we might need to stop to refuel once in a while, but we won't veer far enough from the course determined in order to affect us reaching that destination!  

Praise centers our thoughts.  It helps us keep something in the forefront of our minds.  What dwells in the forefront of our minds frequently enough ultimately will help determine our focus.  Since destination is directly linked to focus, what we center our thoughts on often enough matters.  Just sayin!