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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Don't be stingy!

I know there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good throughout our lives; to eat and drink and see the good in all of our hard work is a gift from God. I know everything God does endures for all time. Nothing can be added to it; nothing can be taken away from it. We humans can only stand in awe of all God has done.  What has been and what is to be—already is. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-15 VOICE)  

Hard work - we use that term to describe the fruitful endeavors of our hands, the back-breaking labor of our energies exerted in some task needing to be finally accomplished, and the exhaustion of our minds as we settle back to rest our weary bodies after a long day at the "salt mine" we call "work".  Hard implies we had to put some effort into it - maybe it was more than just physically fatiguing because it was troublesome for us to accomplish.  I have undertaken some projects on occasion which game me more headaches and soreness in my muscles that I wondered if it was all worth it once I got done. I just had to stand back and admire the work that was accomplished to know the answer to that musing, though.  There is nothing better than the sense of accomplishing something which just seemed to be beyond your abilities!  I think God must revel in our excitement when we stand back and just get excited about what he did in our lives once we let him get "underway" with that area which has been "troublesome" to us!

All the God does endures for all times - even when the memory of it become clouded by all the events which have come since.  We have a tendency to "move on" in our lives - seeing that good brought momentary excitement and fulfillment, but eventually, we move on.  We have other things to get on with in our lives and the "good" God has done some time in the past sort of fades into the background, overshadowed by the next troublesome thing we face either emotionally, physically, or spiritually.  Remembering what God HAS done helps us to face what God is presently DOING and what he may be setting up in our lives to have DONE in the future, though.  It isn't always a good thing to put the past memory of God's grace in the shadows of today's present problems - we may just find strength, or the building block upon which he will lay the "next row of bricks" in our lives.

Solomon spends the majority of the Book of Ecclesiastes reminding us we can build, work hard with our hands, muse over scientific studies, apply ourselves to the gaining of knowledge galore, all to be found as pretty worthless in the end. It isn't that these aren't good things - for they are gifts of God - but they pale in comparison to all God does in our lives we may not even recognize he has done! To focus on the task and forget the one who gives us the ability to accomplish the task is what Solomon wants us to guard against - for nothing else matters as much as how connected we become with Jesus in the process of taking on the tasks we see laid out before us!  There is no greater expanse of beauty for our souls than to stand squarely in the presence of God and admire what he has done. We can take credit for the hard work we have done with our own hands, but we cannot ever take credit for the way God orchestrates our lives to allow us to be in the place to do those things.  

God deserves our praise, but he also deserves our time - just to take in all he has done, is doing and is about to do in our lives.  This isn't wasted time - it is time spent replenishing our souls, refreshing our minds, rebuilding our emotions, and in general, it is the time we "recharge" for the tasks which are just ahead.  Don't skimp on time with Jesus - he doesn't skimp on anything with us!  Just sayin!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

What power do you hold?

"It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help." (Epicurus) Isn't it wonderful to have another to come alongside, lending that sense of confidence when ours seems to wane?  It is as though they see the wind in our sail just diminish, our forward movement begin to cease, and our burden beginning to bog us down to the place we cannot make another step.  As scripture so aptly points out, we all have a burden to bear and our own story to write - we cannot live life for another.  Yet, we can come alongside and help one who is struggling, so they might be bolstered by the confidence we can instill in that moment when theirs is far from them!

Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write. (Galatians 6:5 VOICE)


We don't always have to possess the answer to someone's troubles to be of support to them. I think people sometimes forget the powerful influence of just being a listening ear - comfortable to remain silent, not needing to answer every question or postulate an opinion on the matter.  You and I are not called to "write the pages" of another's story, but we might just lend them the courage to write what needs to be written, but seems a little too overwhelming to them right now!

Paul is writing to the Galatian church about the need to never let one fall into the snare of sin and just stand idly by watching while he or she self-destructs in the process.  When one gives into sin we can either watch them take that path, condemning them as they go, or we can come alongside and lend the support they need to find their way out of that pit again. It doesn't mean we become the means by which they escape the snare of sin, but we do show them they aren't without hand reaching for them.

Oftentimes all we need is that assurance we are not walking alone - even when we slip into some temptation we didn't plan on giving into.  Pete Carroll is a professional football coach. He is quoted as saying, "Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen."  A little nudge - a slight pointing of direction, not so much in words as in actions - this is the support many need in order to take action which points their sail into the wind again.

We all give and get in this world - some give way more, looking as though they "get" very little in the end.  I'd like to challenge that this morning, because not everything we "get" in life is what others will see or appreciate we have received.  There is something about "getting" we may not realize at first - it isn't always about what we can hold - it may be equally as much in what we can give away!  Just sayin!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Moments or Monuments?

There is an old saying:  Something crooked cannot be made straight, and something missing cannot be counted.  (Ecclesiastes 1:15 VOICE)  

Corrie Ten Boom said, "Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future."  There is a song entitled "Dear Younger Me" by MercyMe.  The song begins, "Dear younger me, where do I start; if I could tell you everything I have learned so far, then you'd be one step ahead..." Boy, isn't that the desire of every parent?  To somehow share with our children the things we have learned in the "school of hard knocks" and repeated "recesses of rebellion".  Those memories don't have to haunt us - for they can be, as Corrie said, the key to different steps in the future. Those "different" steps may bespeak of deeper faith, a more solid trust in someone other than yourself, or a greater understanding of how to avoid the pitfalls that come our way.  If I had to tell parents these days one word of advice, I'd probably say something like:  "Make the moments, not the monuments".

I don't remember the ranks to which my father rose in any of his jobs.  I remember the days by the creek, catching fish, enjoying nature.  I remember the long Sunday afternoon drives and the time he let me take a starfish home from the tide pools along the beaches in Southern California.  I remember the card games on summer nights, with good friends gathered around the table after supper, and all the laughter as the night went on.  So many parents today are so busy with the pursuit of career or aspirations of some type they miss the whole connection of the moments which are passing them by quicker than they realize. We can get so caught up in the monuments we are attempting to build in this world that we just plain miss the moments!

As Solomon discovered, you cannot make the crooked straight - once it has been made crooked, it is a much harder task to make it straight again.  Don't believe me?  Crumple up a piece of paper and see how "straight" or "flat" you can make it again.  In the end, it may resemble the former state of "straightness" or "evenness" it once had, but it takes a great deal of effort to get it that way again.  The moment to admire and utilize the evenness of that paper is gone!  It passed us by.  Now we are left with the crumpled paper - useful still, but not as it was originally designed or intended.  He also mused, "Something missed cannot be counted" - a lesson we'd all do well to learn.

After all is said and done, memories remain.  We can dwell in them, sometimes even too much so, but we cannot recreate them.  They are "past" - as such, they are something we can hold onto, use as an assessment of what was "good" or "bad" in that moment, and then identify how that moment can become the catalyst for a new "moment" today which becomes a new memory.  We can focus on the monument, getting our eyes off the moments which are passing us by, but we won't have as rich of a storehouse to take into those monuments as we might like.  Just sayin!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Where he is - there is light

God is pure light, undimmed by darkness of any kind.  If we say we have an intimate connection with the Father but we continue stumbling around in darkness, then we are lying because we do not live according to truth.  If we walk step by step in the light, where the Father is, then we are ultimately connected to each other through the sacrifice of Jesus His Son. His blood purifies us from all our sins.  (I John 1:5-7 VOICE)  

The light of God cannot be dimmed by all the darkness around us, or even that which is within us!  This is indeed good news in view of all the darkness we seeing perpetuated in our society today.  Darkness cannot dwell where perfect light shines - and God's light is perfect - undimmed by ANY kind of darkness. It is undimmed in our hearts where he has taken up residence and is renewing our minds, spirits, and souls each day.  it is undimmed in the midst of evil around us, despite the appearance otherwise.  God's light cannot and will not be dimmed. In fact, in the midst of the darkest places, his light seems even brighter - because no one appreciates the light until they have seen the darkness around them!

Intimate connection is what makes his light shine brightly in our hearts. If you have ever gone to turn on a light in your house, only to find it does not come on right away, you know you may just have to tighten the light bulb a little and the light begins to shine brightly. What has happened is that the connection has not become "solid" - there isn't a constant "contact" being made, so the bulb will not illuminate.  The same is true in our lives - if there is no constant contact - the connection being broken - we will not illuminate the goodness and perfect beauty of God's love and grace as we should.  Once that connection becomes solid and constant again, the light is free to invade all the dark spaces.

Just as in nature around us, there is often a gradual "dawning" of light in our hearts which brings brighter and brighter illumination.  It brings with it an intensifying heat which becomes stronger as the degree of light increases. It is unlikely we all walk out of darkness into perfect light and then allow that light to keep illuminating our lives at that same intensity forever and ever.  It isn't that the light has changed or is any "less bright".  We have just changed how well we are making the connection to allow that light to shine through the darkness within.

Light is best appreciated when we are "taking steps" forward.  With mom's failing vision one of the things she comments most about is the degree of darkness she sees many times.  This makes it very hard for her to take "confident" steps forward.  In fact, she puts her arms out, feeling for objects in her path.  Why?  She isn't assured she isn't moving into something which will cause her harm, such as a piece of furniture she may stumble over. The light she is able to "see" is minimal - it is affected by the connection which has been interrupted in various parts of her retina.  It isn't going to ever reconnect, so she has had to learn to deal with "taking steps" with the minimal light she is able to see.

The good news is that none of us has to walk in "minimal light" - God's light is perfect and it is there whenever we make the connection.  We may disconnect for a while, bringing dimmed light or even the lack of light for a period of time, but whenever we make that connection solid again, the light is as bright as it can be in our lives.  We don't know what is just around the corner, lurking in the darkness where light hasn't been "invited in" yet, but we know this - as long as we are taking the light with us in each step forward we make, light will always be there!  We most appreciate light when we need to move, especially into unfamiliar territory in our lives. 

The connection which brings light begins in our hearts first - by us inviting that light into our hearts.  Then that same light can begin to illuminate the darkness in the heart of another - until they can make that connection themselves. We aren't responsible to "turn on" the light, but we can show them how to make the connection!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are you broken-hearted?

"Only the broken-hearted know the truth about love." (Mason Cooley)  They say to have loved and lost is far better than to have never even attempted to understand or participate in love at all.  Love is a "messy" kind of thing - sometimes quite a pleasant "mess" and at others kind of devastating to the heart.  I don't think most of us humans actually understand the love of God, though.  We make a pretty feeble attempt to actually understand the breadth, width, and depth of that unfathomable love, but in essence the closest we ever come to understanding his love is to receive it in the first place.  The most profound thing about God's love is not that he is interested in loving those who have "perfect love", but those who are already pretty "broken" in their ability or willingness to love themselves, others, and him!

Some people became fools infected by their rebellious ways, and sickness followed because of their sins.  Afflicted and weak, they refused any sort of food as they approached the gates of death.  In their distress, they called out to the Eternal, and He saved them from their misery.  He gave the order and healed them and rescued them from certain death.  May they erupt with praise and give thanks to the Eternal in honor of His loyal love and all the wonders He has performed for humankind!  Let them present to Him thanksgiving sacrifices
and tell stories of His great deeds through songs of joy.
 (Psalm 107:17-22 VOICE)


To walk alone is to know misery and even a little bit of contempt.  Misery because we are enduring our own company; contempt because we will eventually come to realize our own flesh as pretty vile when left to the devices it can imagine or concoct.  We become fools infected by our rebellious ways when left to our own devices - we challenge what we know we should not challenge, engage in what we clearly know will bring us harm, and even experiment with what we know will not end well.  As I was growing up, there was a book made quite popular among the self-help gurus entitled, "I'm Okay, You're Okay".  It was as though the world was trying to find a way to "accept" all the idiosyncrasies of our poor, fallen character - all those things which "make us the way we are".  The book's author wanted to give people a way to dig deep into their thoughts, experiencing the "meaning" behind them, in the end coming to some realization of those deeply hidden memories.  It was proposed putting "meaning" to those memories would make us "whole" or better individuals.  Uhm...let me just say no "self-help" has ever made anyone of us whole - it is the love of God and his grace that does that!

The good news is that God accepts us the way we are - complete with all of our idiosyncrasies and quirks.  He doesn't love us less because we have them, but if it were possible, I'd imagine he might even love us a little more (but God's love is perfect, so I don't think that it possible).  Grace is based on love and need.  No one seeks grace unless there is a recognized need for it.  For example, as a kid I might have asked mom to forgive me for arriving home late from school because my teacher kept me behind to discuss a project I wanted to work on for science fair.  The "grace" I wanted was because I didn't adhere to the "curfew" set for arriving home.  I knew I needed it - so I sought it.  The amazing thing about God's grace is that even before we realize we need it, it has been extended to us - reaching out to us even when our behavior isn't quite recognized as "requiring" grace!

If what Cooley says is true, then we are indeed made aware of God's love not because we somehow "discover it", but because our need reveals it to us.  Love is understood by those whose heart has been broken by the things life sends our way - the things of our own making as well as those which come as a matter of others doing things which affect us.  The broken-hearted are God's "fertile soil" - he place where his grace can take root.  The moment we realize the devastated condition of our heart, the door opens wide for his love to enter to do what no other "repair" work can do.  We might try to shore up the gaps sin leaves in our lives on our own, but the truth is that grace is the only thing which reliable and consistently bridges those gaps.  Without grace, we continue in our rebellion.  Without grace, we wander aimlessly.  Without grace, we do not ever experience love in the truest and purest form. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"In" or "Out"?

Oh, that every part of my life would remain in line with what You require!  Then I would feel no shame when I fix my eyes upon Your commands.  With a pure heart, I will give thanks to You when I hear about Your just and fair rulings.
I will live within Your limits; 
do not abandon me completely!  (Psalm 119:5-8 VOICE)

I looked up the phrase "in line with" in an online dictionary and saw this definition: "to cause to conform or agree with". Most of our challenges in life are because we have somehow become "out of line with" what God requires. We have chosen our own way, determined our own course of action.  We thought the "line" was too hard - it "confined" us too much.  On the other hand, when we chose to cross the line, we might have just realized our "newfound freedom" was just a little more than we bargained for!

As a young woman, just learning to drive, I was in my friend's car and she gave me the permission to drive.  Thinking I was hot stuff, I went barreling down the gravel road at a pace similar to that of Indy drivers intent on qualifying for the next race!  We were in the off-roads near Anchorage, enjoying an afternoon of fun at the lake, and there I was enjoying this newfound freedom.  There weren't any real "rules" to follow - no posted speed limits, not police officers with radar guns, etc.  Add to that the "let me show you how it is done" attitude I had as a youth and we had a recipe for disaster!

The afternoon fun came to a screeching halt when I high centered it in a large ditch to the right of the roadway probably carved out by run-off in mud season. The small hole my folly produced in the gas tank left a tell-tale reminder of my extreme ease at pushing the outer limits of the "line"!  We all made it home safely that day, but I was humbled and ashamed at my behavior!  I "knew" better, but didn't hold to what I "knew" because my desire to "impress" others overrode all sense of reason and rational behavior!

I don't think it should amaze any of us how easily we can push the limits on occasion.  We ALL have this tendency - maybe not by driving at break-neck speed on an unsafe roadway with a car fully loaded with people - but we do find ways to not only push the line, but cross it!  In tennis, when the ball strikes the line, the ball is called as "in bounds".  The player should have been able to respond to it and hit it back into the opponent's court.  The issue is that the ones which land "on the line" are so close to being called "out of bounds" that we can be fooled.  In life, the behaviors which come so close to the line can actually be the ones that give us the greatest challenge because we don't see the subtle difference between being "on the line" or just marginally "over it".

I think the best way to stay "in line" with what God desires for our lives is to ask him to be our "line judge".  This means he points out the boundaries to us, then he lets us go about staying within those lines.  At the point we are too close to the line, he will be the one to make the call of "in bounds" or "out".  It is the only way we can be sure we are making the right "plays" in life.  Just sayin!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Learning what we already know

"It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows."  (Epictetus) This is so true, isn't it?  We might think we are open to learning new things until we actually realize we have developed a thought pattern which already sees our viewpoint as "right" or "the best".  In essence, we shut our minds and hearts to any further intake of knowledge simply by thinking we already have it all figured out!  Maybe this is why scripture warns us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, or that we are to remember the heart is pretty deceitful.  Epictetus also said, "The two powers which in my opinion constitute a wise man are those of bearing and forbearing."  To bear, one must take up, or come under a load so as to carry it for another.  To forbear, one must not given into the tiny annoyances which life (and sometimes people) send our way while not reacting to them in a negative or unkind manner.

...pass on to you these proverbs—a treasury of wisdom—so that you would recognize wisdom and value discipline; that you would understand insightful teaching and receive wise guidance to live a disciplined life; that you would seek justice and have the ability to choose what is right and fair.  These proverbs teach the naive how to become clever; they instruct the young in how to grow in knowledge and live with discretion.  The wise will pay attention to these words and will grow in learning, and the discerning will receive divine guidance, and they will be able to interpret the meaning of a proverb and a puzzle, the twists and turns in the words of the wise and their riddles.  (Proverbs 1:1-6 VOICE)

To recognize wisdom and value discipline one must come to the place of realizing he or she doesn't know it all, nor is life lived without the need for correction in our course from time to time.  Recognition is nine-tenths of all learning, for without realization one will always be in the same spot, doing the same things over and over again, and getting the same results. If a scientist approached a problem with the same set of steps over and over again thinking he could produce different results, you'd think him mad.  It make sense to repeat the same steps over and over only when you are actually trying to test a theory one might have about the solution as real or trustworthy.  If you didn't get the results you should have the first time, you try again, but you alter what you do slightly so as to get a different result.

The toughest lessons to learn are those you have to "re-learn" sometimes.  Why? I think it may be because we have developed the attitude we already "know that", so why do we need to reinvest the time or energy into learning it again.  Truth is, each time we approach a lesson we thought we had learned earlier in time, we will "re-learn" it in a little bit of a different way the next time we face it.  Why?  We have a new set of experiences in life - things we have born and forborne - and these influence how we will approach what we are about to "re-learn" now.  I think this is what scripture means when we are reminded there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  What has been will be again - it just isn't exactly the same.

The things we "bear" influence how it is we approach problems in life.  Try taking on a new load when you are already bearing up under a full-load.  It isn't going to work very well for you, is it?  You are about maxed out already, so to take on something new one must lay down something which one has been carrying (bearing).  It amazes me how frequently we don't realize the load we are bearing until we are asked to carry a different one.  It sometimes takes being asked to carry the new load to actually get us to examine what we have been bearing which really might not totally belong in our "pack" in the first place!  

The issues we "forbear" through in life are often those which define how we will face the new ones which arise and give us a little bit of a challenge later on.  Sometimes we are viewed as "holding back" in life, but in reality we are simply forbearing (refraining).  It isn't that we don't want to pursue another form of action, but we are allowing God's grace within to give us the patience to go through what we are facing right now.  We might not see it as valuable right now, but as we go through it to the other side of it, we might have a different perspective.  Patience is not learned in the classroom - it is learned in the living out of what we have been trying to learn!  Just sayin!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What happened to all the leaves?

Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives.  Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.  Make sure no predator makes you his prey through some misleading philosophy and empty deception based on traditions fabricated by mere mortals. These are sourced in the elementary principles originating in this world and not in the Anointed One (so don’t let their talks capture you) You see, all that is God, all His fullness, resides in His body.  You, too, are being completed in Him, the One who has dominion over all rule, all authority. (Colossians 2:6-10 VOICE)

Is our heart a welcoming place for Jesus?  We might answer a positive "yes" to that one, but let's just stop to consider what it is we welcome into our heart without really paying much attention until we see the damage it has!  I have tried to make my garden a welcoming spot for birds, bees, and earthworms. I want all those things in my garden.  The flies, mosquitoes, or green crawly things chewing on my plants - not so much!  A couple of weeks back I was just standing at the kitchen sink glancing out at the garden when I noticed my bell pepper plant was nothing more than a bunch of spindly stems!  It hadn't been that way a mere 24 hours prior - so what happened?  I spent a great deal of time trying to locate the "cause" of this devastation, but it almost escaped me. Although I could see evidence of something which produced waste the size of rabbit pellets, I just couldn't see the "thing" which was causing all the damage. I was just about to give up when I lifted the last remaining leaf only to see a humongous green caterpillar of some sort with a spiky long sticker on the hind end of it!  Needless to say, it met what I am assured was an unwanted end! As I gaze out at my pepper plan this morning, all is well!  Leaves have regrown and there are signs of buds on it.  In much the same way, we might not really know what has felt our heart a welcome place to take up residence until we see the damage it has done, or notice the "byproduct" of it in our lives.

We think we have welcomed Jesus, giving him all the room to spread out, taking up full residence, but in the course of a short period of time, we might not even notice those things which crowd him out.  What began well may not fair so well when there are things entering in which act as "predators" in our heart.  These are the things which affect our focus and devotion. The things we might not even notice, but if we look closely we will see evidence of their presence by the byproduct they produce.  These things don't stick out to us like a sore thumb, but are often concealed cleverly - almost disguised so as to blend in - much in the same way that caterpillar was.  It was exactly the same color as the plant and it blended in without my notice long enough to begin to destroy all signs of growth from that plant.  Things which occupy space in our hearts often don't reveal themselves right away - they just stay concealed until their ugliness begins to be revealed in ways we didn't really take notice of as long as there were signs of "good growth" covering over them.

This is a lesson for us - to learn that some growth can cover over some things which may actually work against that growth in the long run.  We ARE growing, but are we taking notice of the things in our lives that are out to work against that growth? In my garden it is these pesky insects and creepy crawlers - not to mention rocky soil.  This is why all my gardens are pretty much "above ground" - created from soil I brought in for the purpose of growing pretty flowers. Underneath all that really rich soil is some pretty alkaline, hard, and rocky Arizona soil.  It is almost impermeable without a good pick ax and a whole lot of strength.  I know it is there and have had to "work around" it.  This may work for a flower garden, but this doesn't work in the soil of our hearts very well. Whatever is there which acts as a barrier to root growth needs to be uncovered and removed.  There just isn't room for it in our hearts - that space isn't going to allow anything good to be produced until it is cleaned out!   Just sayin!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Doggone it! Did I forget to ask again?

If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking. The key is that your request be anchored by your single-minded commitment to God. Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind.  Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn’t assume the Lord will rescue them or bring them anything.  The splinter of divided loyalty shatters your compass and leaves you dizzy and confused. (James 1:5-8 VOICE)
I cannot tell you how many times I have started out on some journey in life with a whole lot of unanswered questions and feeling like I was barely making it on a wing and a prayer.  I think there are just times when we don't have all the wisdom we need for the steps we are about to take, but maybe we just launch forward in hopes we will somehow be able to muddle our way through things. As I go to the doctor's office, I don't know what they will tell me I need to do to treat my ailments, but I trust they have some idea based upon the years and years of training they have undergone!  Yet, even the multiplied years of training and experience can leave them clueless on occasion - simply because what they have tried hasn't worked to control a symptom or perhaps reduce someone's pain.  It doesn't mean they aren't good doctors - it just means they don't have all the answers in their own "set of wisdom".  One very good thing about walking with Jesus is the ability to stop, adjust our focus / attitude, and then get into a place where we can really begin to absorb the wisdom it is we will need for what is just ahead of us which we wouldn't recognize apart from his wisdom.
God will grant all that we need - maybe not in the timing we expect it, but definitely as it is needed!  I guess this is the toughest lesson to learn in life - to wait for God's timing, but to trust he knows what he is doing while we are in the process of waiting.  The one going through the ravages of disease and the tedious treatment of courses of chemo will tell you it is the waiting to hear the "verdict" as to the effect of the treatment that almost is more for them to bear than the actual effects of the treatment.  Waiting and not fully knowing what an outcome will be is the hardest thing to endure.  We hope in those times, but when the waiting is longer than we expected, or it takes a little more of us getting focused on listening to his voice, we can see our hope vanish because one or the other becomes "too much" for us.  As our writer says, when we ask, God gives "lavishly" - not out of greed, or with a lackluster kind of attitude. He doesn't just want us to live on morsels of his grace and wisdom, but feast on it until we are filled to overflowing.
Too many times we are set "adrift" by our own lackluster commitment to seek God's wisdom before we set out on the journey.  We utter some prayer of "Hey, God, bless this, okay?" and set out on our way without really taking time to ask God if this is the right path to choose, or how it is we are to prepare for what lies ahead.  When we find ourselves being carried by the current of emotions which can lead us in directions we may not have wanted to be going, we wonder how it is we find ourselves without an anchor!  We left the anchor at the dock! We never thought about it until we needed it!  Sometimes we treat God's wisdom this way - we don't think about asking for it until we realize we are in over our heads. It isn't too late, it is just that we have done a whole lot of drifting off-course while it took us time to realize we hadn't asked!  Just sayin!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Who's been sitting in my car?

I watched a short news clip the other night about a black bear in Colorado who managed to find his way into an automobile parked in the family's driveway, then lock himself inside.  Imagine coming out to leave for the day one morning and finding a little bit of a scary ball of fur in your front seat!  While the homeowners were walking round and round the car trying to figure out how he got inside the car and if there was a way to actually let him out, the bear moved from side to side, almost petitioning to be set free.  His gaze through the now pretty smeared up windows was not one of anger, but of pleading to be free again.  I don't think the bear liked it anymore than the homeowner did that he had ended up stuck in that car overnight!  Newscasters commented on how bears can find themselves in the most unusual predicaments in life - all because curiosity got the best of them.  Honestly, I don't think we humans fair much better on that one!

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

As Paul reminds us, any temptation we face, regardless of how intriguing or inviting it is, it isn't something brand spanking new - it has been faced by someone and even more than once by one of us!  Curiosity gets the better of us and we find ourselves totally "encapsulated" in what we thought was just going to be a little "exploration" of that temptation.  In short order, we find ourselves fully engulfed and maybe even with the door shutting behind, making us feel totally trapped.  I can imagine the black bear didn't think about sitting in the comfort of the car all night instead of sleeping up in a tree limb as it usually did. It didn't imagine things would be different as it found a way "inside" what it had been only able to explore from the "outside" on previous occasions.  All temptation has the potential to get us to explore more than what we originally thought we'd be able to explore - we just have to "get into it" and then we risk the "door shutting behind us" as we do!

Imagine being the black bear for a moment.  You observe these humans day after day, getting inside these shiny objects parked right there in front of the house, then observing the movement of these objects somewhere out of view until magically they reappear at a later hour, only to see the humans freely exit those shiny objects and go about their merry way inside the security of their home.  Now, you might begin to think you'd like to try out what is on the inside of that shiny object, and perhaps see if you could be transported somewhere exciting only to return a little later as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place in your life.  We kind of treat temptation this way at times - as though we can get into it and be transported away by it - then believe we will return totally unscathed after we are through exploring it.  How's that been working for the rest of you?  I know it hasn't worked well in my own experience!

I kind of felt like I imagined the black bear felt when it realized it was not "inside" what it didn't know how to escape because the "way in" didn't seem to have the same "way out".  If that bear got in by a door it was able to open from the outside, it probably could have exited the same way - but the way out didn't work quite the same way as the way in.  The outside door handle was easier to open than the inside one - it didn't look the same, nor did it behave the same. This is often the way it is with whatever tempts us "into" something - the way out doesn't quite look the same as the way in and this can confound us on occasion.  As with the bear, what we do while we feel trapped by our temptation is often telling about how the temptation has affected us.  As the game wardens opened the hatch of that car to allow the bear "safe passage" from what had entrapped him probably much of the night, the homeowners gazed in horror at the destruction "inside".  From the outside, all appears as normal.  When the door was opened, it was a totally different picture!

You see, when we feel "trapped" we often look for a way of escape.  The bear did just that, pawing and clawing at every nook and cranny of the interior, pulling down headliner, tearing through upholstery, ripping up carpet, and turning over contents of stored things.  In spite of all his efforts, he remained trapped.  All the ways of escape he imagined just didn't pan out.  It is like that for us, as well.  We try to find our own way of escape, making a total mess of things, then becoming so totally frustrated with the mess we find ourselves in that we just make more mess.  On the outside, things still look fine.  On the inside, the whole world is topsy-turvy!  Paul reminds us of a couple of important things:  1) temptation has a luring appeal and will be ever present in our lives; 2) there is a way of escape, even though we don't readily see it; and 3) God desires nothing more than to be both the one who delivers us from that temptation, but also diverts our attention away from what seems innocently appealing to us!  Just sayin!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Exercise that "giving muscle" today

"Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself." (Walt Whitman)  There are a whole lot of things and way we can give.  Many of us have "given" blood and would "give" more blood when called upon to do so.  Some have given of their time in the military forces, protecting our freedom as a nation.  Others give to charities in the form of foodstuffs for food banks, clothing for the homeless, or used goods to local thrift stores who employ men and women down on their luck.  A lot of church-goers "give" regularly into collection plates passed during service.  Some will give of their time, others of their belongings, some even give of their excess, while others give "till it hurts".  Despite all the ways of giving, none rises quite as close to the top of the list as when one gives themselves to another in service.

But I will say this to encourage your generosity: the one who plants little harvests little, and the one who plants plenty harvests plenty. Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine so that you’ll always be taken care of in every way and you’ll have more than enough to share.  (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 VOICE)

Yes, giving financially is essential to the continuance of works dedicated to improving the welfare of those "down on their luck", or even creating a positive environment for abused women and children to find a new start to life.  Giving of one's "stuff" is also a good way to put into use things you have outgrown, no longer find use for in your home, or just have too much of in the first place.  There is nothing wrong with these types of "giving" - it is the heart behind the giving which God is concerned with.  Too often it is easiest to give money or stuff when what is really needed is just a little bit of us!

Giving grows out of the heart.  When we begin to put heart behind our giving, we might just realize our giving changes a little.  We become more focused on making a difference by that which we give.  Even if it is financial support, we look for ways to make every penny count such as investing it wisely so it multiplies and more is available when we feel prompted to make that financial investment into someone's life, or a work just starting up which will help those in need.  I want us to notice what Paul says here - Giving GROWS.  Giving is not a stagnant thing - maybe this is why God wants us to focus not on what is given as much as the heart behind the giving.

At first, we might give because we feel compelled to - maybe because something has tugged on an "emotional string" in our heart, or because we know the one to whom we are giving and care enough about them to meet some need they have at the moment.  The more we exercise the "giving muscle", the stronger the desire becomes to invest of one's self into the effort of giving.  Notice what I said there - investing of one's self into the EFFORT of giving. Giving is not to be an easy thing - just happen-chance and off-the-cuff.  It is to be purposeful, with intent, and commitment.

Yes, there are opportunities to give "off-the-cuff", as when you see someone standing on a street corner, obviously without a home of their own, and you take them a sack of food from a local restaurant.  You might not have planned that specific moment of giving, but honestly, you did it because you were moved and you listened to that "niggling".  The more we put forth the effort of giving, the stronger our "giving muscle" becomes.  The more we desire to be "active" in giving.  This is what Paul means by giving "grows" from the heart.  It might begin kind of haphazardly, but the more we practice purposeful giving, the more it becomes a muscle we exercise quite frequently.

Giving of one's self is the toughest form of giving - for it means we invest "us" into the lives of others, giving of our time or talent, and not just throwing a couple bucks in the plate as it passes by.  It is found in those moments when you stop your busy schedule and pull that small child close who just wants to cuddle and read a book for a while.  Or perhaps it is in the time you take away from your tasks and just focus on one a coworker is struggling with a little.  It starts small, but giving always builds - for the heart never dwindles in giving - it swells!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Help me do more than survive

16 Celebrate always, 17 pray constantly, and 18 give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. (This is God’s will for all of you in Jesus the Anointed.)19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t downplay prophecies. 21 Take a close look at everything, test it, then cling to what is good. 22 Put away every form of evil.  (I Thessalonians 5:16-17 VOICE)

Throughout scripture we find certain actions which are presented not so much as suggestions for living, but as imperatives upon which we are to build our relationships with God and others.  They are not "optional", but are instead what we might just refer to as "conditional". They depend upon the condition of our heart!  They influence the condition of the hearts of others.  They can undo hard conditions.  They can create conducive conditions. 

The first we will explore today is that of celebration.  The directive is to celebrate always. I don't know about anyone else, but this one is hard for me because there are situations in life which are just difficult to remain positive as they unfold around me.  When I get the flu and begin to feel kind of run down, like I am going to fall over at any moment, and where nothing looks more appealing to me than the comfort of my bed, I don't usually want to celebrate very much! To be honest, I am asking God to provide a way for me to be better again - so I don't have to endure the torture of sickness any longer! There are just times and situations which are harder than others and it is harder to celebrate in those moments. God doesn't "condition" praise on the right set of conditions existing in our lives - it is a continual thing - in the good and the bad. Why? Our joy isn't based upon the conditions around us - it is based on the "condition" of our soul.  A soul redeemed is a soul which is set right - nothing can undo what has been set right, no matter how hard it may try.  So, the soul's celebration isn't based upon outward circumstances - it is based upon an inward condition well-established in us by the Spirit of God.

The second is that of continual prayer.  I have previously spoken of the unlikelihood of this actually being any of us on our knees 24-hours a day, but rather us being in a "prayerful posture" all the live-long day.  It means we keep our hearts in tune with God's by maintaining frequent and consistent contact with him - even when we think we have it all handled on our own!  This is something I have had to learn because I am one of those, "I've got this one, God", kind of gals.  I could try to pull the wool over your eyes on that one, but truth be told, I have a hard time giving God control some of the time.  Especially on the stuff I think I could handle just fine on my own.  The truth of the matter is that God isn't just concerned with the big stuff in our lives - he is equally concerned with the condition of our heart which wants to manage most of the stuff and only seek him out when the stuff gets too big or messy for us to handle alone!  He isn't wanting a relationship of convenience, but one of consistent contact and in turn, it becomes one in which he can show us his care, but also his support of our abilities and talents.  

The third is based on the first two, because thankfulness doesn't always come when we are feeling a load of weight or we go through times we have a tough time handling on our own.  Thankfulness isn't conditioned on the stuff getting worked out, but on the fact we know the one who will work it all out has it all under his careful and watchful eye.  Even the bad stuff will produce something good in us - things we may not realize we even need in our lives, but which God knows need to be produced there in order for us to walk strong and become more "grace-filled" individuals. 

We often just stop with these three, but he goes on to remind us of the tendency we have to suppress the Spirit and downplay what he tells us either in his Word or through teachers, preachers, and those who might just speak truth into our lives in some way.  When we suppress anything we are seeking to put an end to whatever it is - because it is too uncomfortable for us, it might give us a moment or two of embarrassment, etc.  Ever try to suppress a sneeze by grasping your nose really hard and holding it in?  The pressure is still there and something will escape - it is inevitable!  The thing which escapes gives us more pain and can be far more embarrassing than the sneeze ever would have been in the first place!  That is how it is when we try to suppress what the Spirit is doing in our lives - we experience pain we weren't intended to experience, and we find ourselves facing a little more embarrassment than we might ever have liked to experience!

To all of this, one condition remains - testing the stuff we embrace into our lives. I have tried various forms of "diet" foods, and let me just tell you this much - nothing quite matches up to the genuine.  When the genuine is embraced, it produces a certain satisfaction which just isn't there in anything which presents itself as a "form of" or "substitute for".  God's reminder to us is to have a heart which doesn't look for the easy out - but rather is willing to embrace the genuine.  In order to consistently do this, we need to become so familiar with the genuine we spot anything less than genuine when it comes along!  When we have done all this, we are reminded to let evil have no inroad in our lives. I think it is easier to meet this last condition when all the others are met first! Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Faith, Hope, & Love

"Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, and forgiveness." (H. Jackson Brown, Jr)  If we all harnessed these three, applying each of these without wavering, we'd really become a powerhouse to contend with, united in meaningful purpose!  Brown also said, "Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you."  Now, there's food for thought!  To live in such a way our children seek us out as the example by which they wish to pattern their behavior is indeed an honor.  Many kids these days emulate the behaviors they see on TV, in the lives of sports stars, or some imaginary "hero" of legendary proportions portrayed on the big screen. I wonder how different our society might just be if we gave them a different "pattern" by which they began to lay out the actions and course of their lives?

For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God. But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:12-13 VOICE)


Three virtues which are considered paramount in our lives:  Faith, Hope, and Love. In terms of God's "big three", these are the ones which really make the difference in how it is we will deal with others and how we will treat ourselves!  You see, when we begin to place our faith (trust) in someone other than ourselves or our own abilities, God is free to begin to work through our lives to channel the use of those talents for his glory.  At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but the more we anchor our trust in God and him alone, the more it changes what it is we begin to hope for in life.  Our priorities begin to shift and we begin to focus less on what it is we get out of life toward what it is we can put into life.  This truly begins to speak volumes to those who are constantly surrounded by those who are always taking in this world.

Faith (trust) placed "rightly" becomes an anchor for our souls, stabilizing our thoughts, beginning to calm emotions easily set on edge by the pressures of this world.  When we begin to feel security because of the solid foundation we are being anchored to, we can begin to hope in ways we never thought possible before.  You see, hope is more than desire because desire is the idea that the prospect of what we are thinking has possibility and probability of occurring.  Possibility may be within our control or that of another - being in the right place at the right time kind of thing is probability.  Now, I could go through life constantly relying on being in the right place at the right time, but that hasn't proven to be too reliable in my experience.  I'd rather anchor on the rock and count on him to work it out as he sees fit!

Love is an outflow of knowing we are anchored on an immovable rock and the hope of all things being possible when he is the one in control of our lives.  It is the evidence of our faith and the enthusiasm behind our hope.  These three go hand-in-hand.  We cannot be truly loving individuals when our trust is in what we can do for ourselves - the things we can calculate a way into materializing in our lives by our own effort, power, or creativity.  I can create a bed of leaves to lay upon in the outdoors if I need to make a shelter for the night, but I'd much rather have had Simmons, Tuft and Needle, or even Tempurapedic design the mattress upon which I laid my head!  They know what they are doing and how my body needs to be supported.  At best, I can "make do" with my own creativity, but when you stop to think about it - it was someone else's "creativity" which made the leaves for me to gather in the first place!

Love allows another to do for us the things we cannot fully do for ourselves - because as I have said before, we only see one part of ourselves when looking into the mirror!  We only "see part of the big picture", as Paul so aptly points out in our passage today.  It begins with us accepting the finished work of Christ on our behalf (something we could never do for ourselves), leads to us relying less on self and more on him (the place we begin to transition control and hope in what he can do rather than what we might be able to do), and eventually begins to transform our lives into examples of his love, grace, and beauty (because transformation is possible when the right one is in control).  Just sayin!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Feedback

"We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve." (Bill Gates) There is a principle taught in scripture of iron sharpening iron.  In essence, it implies it takes something a little abrasive to actually put a sharp edge on us.  The "tuning up" of our character is not done so much in the little "off-hand" comments, but in the times we actually sit face-to-face and listen with intent to what the other person is telling us.  It may not be perfect, nor may it be comfortable, but if our heart is open to actually learn from each other, we each have so much to share.  As I have said before, we only see half of ourselves in a mirror, but the other individual sitting across from us has seen us back and front!

In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend. (Proverbs 27:17 VOICE)

I saw a post recently reminding us not to change to get people to like us.  The rest of the quote just reminded us to be ourselves and then the "right people" will love us.  I'd have to change that a little by saying we need to be constantly changing, but in a way which is reflective of the strength and character of Christ.   In the end, others will be drawn to what they see in us - some out of curiosity because they don't understand the hope and peace they see in us; others because the long for that same character in themselves.  Yes, it is important to be genuine in our actions - that makes us "real".  It is also important to be genuine in our desire to embrace what Christ wants to change within each of us so that we settle into his peace and learn of his love.

Another friend posted a photo of a sign they saw in someone's lawn which told people to shut off the TVs and social media feeds and then go out to actually meet their neighbors. I must say, in the wake of devastatingly horrific events leaving people grieving the loss of loved ones and the maiming of others, it is imperative we do both.  We need to be people who see beyond ourselves and we need to be people who become the kind of people others can trust.  Trust isn't built behind walls - it is built when we live our lives openly - even when it may reflect less than perfect character on occasion!

Probably one of the best quotes I saw this week was of a farmer, tenderly stroking his horse, and the caption read:  "I am not a perfect person. I make a lot of mistakes.  But I really appreciate those people who look beyond my mistakes, who see my big heart, who stay with me after knowing how I really am and who love me no matter what." (Author Unknown) These are the kind of people we want to become, my friends.  The kind of people who remain true to who and what we are, are open to change when the change will make us better at the core of our being, but who are also willing to love people who are living this way, too!

We all need change - none of us has "arrived" yet when it comes to "perfect character". The road to change is long and hard at times, but when we stay real as we travel that distance between what we are today and what God is helping us to become, we will be able to enjoy the journey so much more.  There is nothing more liberating than to be genuine and there is nothing more joyful than to be embraced by others who are willing to get real with us! Just sayin!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Emptiness demands filling

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.  (Philippians 4:8 VOICE)

Is it just possible some of the awful things which happen these days are because we have filled our minds with things not so very beautiful and/or truthful?  What lies do we believe, simply because we were told them and we didn't do the work to validate them?  What untruths do we propagate simply because we repeat them, not really thinking about what could be at the root of what we are repeating?  What sinister plans do we have in mind when we do some of the things we do in the name of this or that cause?  I start today with a bunch of questions because I think we don't do a very thorough job of asking the questions in life which help to perpetuate the beautiful or the truthful! Maybe we need to ask those questions of ourselves - and we definitely need to ask those questions when we see, hear, or sense things from others which may not quite pass the "sniff test" upon closer examination!

In order to have "filled minds" they must first be open to being filled.  I can place an empty capped jar under water for a long time and it will remain empty despite being immersed fully.  As with the jar, whether it be truth attempting to get in, or some manner of untruth, it cannot penetrate the empty space allocated for memory or thought processing because it can remain completely closed. If I slightly loosen that lid on the jar, it is quite possible while remaining immersed in that watery condition long enough, some of the water may seep into the space inside that jar, but it can take a long, long time.  A similar thing happens to us almost unnoticed when it comes to our minds and thoughts.  We can be so immersed, slightly open to receiving new ideas, when over the course of time those ideas begin to work their way into our minds without us hardly noticing.  It is the result of space being available and a means of entry being created (even though it is quite slight).

Maybe this is why it is so easy for us to become affected by ideals not really all that "correct" or "right" for us to embrace.  It isn't so much that we went after those beliefs, standards, or activities as much as that we were eventually affected by them because we allowed ourselves to be immersed in them without filling the empty space with the right stuff in the first place.  Paul reminds us to fill our minds - a continual process - with the things which will help to guard against the stuff which shouldn't find any inroad into our lives.  These are the things which are honorable (worthy of respect, creditable, of the highest quality, upright) and right (in accordance with what is just and good).  They are the qualities and attributes, standards and beliefs which are pure (straightforward, unblemished) and lovely (of the highest moral standard).  These are the things we don't want just "seeping in", but rather coming in with a gush until we are filled to the brim and then overflowing with the stuff!  Virtuous and praiseworthy thoughts emanate from lives filled with these things.  Just sayin!