Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Slip sliding away

When I said, “My foot is slipping!” Your unfailing love, O Eternal One, held me up. When anxiety overtakes me and worries are many, Your comfort lightens my soul.  (Psalm 94:18-19 VOICE)
    Martin Luther King said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."  We have a moment of success and feel like we are standing on the top of the world - as though nothing could "undo" the feeling we are riding high on for that moment in time.  We also all know just how fleeting "riding" on success can be - for nothing soars forever - all things must return to ground level!  Comfort and convenience can be the enemies of challenge and controversy as much as the other way around.  We don't want to move when we are comfortable, much less find ourselves in a position in which we might actually feel the footing going out from underneath ourselves!  It is the moments of near "slippage" that we come to know how sure our footing in life really is, though.
    When challenge and controversy come your way - where do you stand?  What motivates you to continue in the midst of doubt and frustration?  Who is it you look to for advice, direction, and solutions to the thing standing clearly in your path?  Much of what we "go through" in life is really that - something we will get to the other side of eventually - but to get through, one must move!  We all know worries can be the enemy of movement - we might just tend to think of worrying as "running in place".  We want an escape, so we run, but we just run in place, making a rut in the place we are standing.  Worrying "wears down" the space because we tend to spend too much time allowing it to "rub us raw"!  A challenge is what we enter into whenever the authority we are submitted to and live under is challenged.  A controversy is that moment in time when we recognize we are in direct opposition to whatever it is we are facing - either because we are standing on the right side of the argument, or the wrong side of it.
    We can either embrace God harder and closer as we face the challenge and deal with the controversy, or we can choose to weather it on our own.  Truly, we might just find the things which prove to be the best challenges and hardest controversies manage to sort themselves out, bringing clarity and purpose into our lives just because of how close they brought us to realizing we don't walk them alone!  Look again at what our psalmist wants us to see in this passage - it isn't that we face the challenge, or deal with the controversy - it is that we admit we are not able to stand alone - our foot is slipping.  Every now and again, while I am on a daily walk with my BFF, she reminds me to not fall.  You see, she was there the day I almost face-planted on the hard gravel outside our building.  She saw me moving so quickly toward the ground nothing could stop my descent.  She and I still laugh when we think about me hitting those rocks with the full weight of my body and then bouncing up quickly so no one would see me!  But something she does that even lightens my spirit more than bringing me to see the levity of that moment is when she sees me slipping in my spiritual life, the way I am dealing with an issue, or even when I am just grumbling through life - the moment she helps me realize my footing isn't all that great.  
    You see, we don't always understand where our feet are planted until we need to reach out for something to catch onto when we are about to slip!  It is at the point of realizing our footing is giving way that we reach out.  Isn't it important to know when we need a stronghold to strengthen our stand that stronghold is actually the arms of Jesus?  Just askin!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In the middle of the storm

God is our shelter and our strength.  When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.  So why run and hide?  No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.  When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless. When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.  Even in heavy winds and huge waves, or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless. (Psalm 46:1-3 VOICE)

It is the time of year we call "monsoon season" in Arizona and with that comes high winds, lots and lots of blowing dust, sometimes even flash floods, but generally a whole lot of "bluster" without much rain to speak of in my neighborhood.  It seems to blow before we see any promise of rain, though. With the "outflow" of these big storms come this rolling dust storm you can see for miles and it almost darkens the sky as it passes over your area.  We call these dust storms "haboobs" - miles and miles of dust carried on the "current" of the moving storm.  Sometimes there are torrential rains right after it passes because those rains are "pushing" that dust out as they come in.  I have been caught a time or two on the roads when these occur, leaving no other choice than to pull off and ride it out because the visibility cuts down to nearly zero at times.  You can just hear the sand pelting the sides of your car and the strong gusts can even rock you. If storms in the realm of nature can leave us stranded, unable to move, without any signs of awareness of what surrounds us, and just "rocking" a little, how much more can those things which assail us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically?

I love this psalm of Korah, the worship leader in the house of God during King David's time.  It speaks of storms - of things spinning out of our control - and the question to all of us is clear - why do we run and hide from them?  I love how he reminds us right off as he begins to lay out this psalm that trouble may very well be near, cutting off all signs of clarity in our path, but God is nearer. You know why a blind person has a seeing-eyed dog?  It is to have "eyes" when the natural eye has failed!  I am not saying God is our "seeing-eyed dog", but you get the idea.  He is able to perceive what we cannot and if that is the case, then why is it we fear what we cannot see?  Won't he still protect us from harm in spite of our "not seeing"?  He is ready to help...nearer than anything which attempts to rock our world, cut us off in our path, or darkens our horizon. 

What a picture of emotional composure Korah wants us to see - no fingernail biting, no pacing back and forth, no trying to find some place to hide to "ride it out".  This "composure" doesn't come naturally to any of us - it comes because of the one who is nearer than the storm!  Sure and fearless - this is our "stand" when we begin to sense the presence of God as nearer than any "outflow" life sends our way!  I have to ask us to stop for just a moment and really examine our lives at present.  When we do, we may just realize we have pulled over, are attempting to "ride out" on of life's storms, and are more than a little disoriented because our "vision" has been cut off all around us.  We may not be able to see beyond the nose on our face, but we don't need to see Jesus to know he is there!  We only need to trust he is nearer than the storm.

Go back to the first part of this passage again - when troubles SEEM near, God is nearer.  A lot of things SEEM one way, but the truth we need to hold onto is that God is nearer than anything else in our lives - ready to help, holding us secure, and keeping us from being consumed by the storm.  When something SEEMS one way, it is quite possible what SEEMS to be one way may actually be a figment of our imagination - because imagination can blow things out of proportion quicker than reality and faith can sometimes invade the same space! We can "spin" the hype of the storm oftentimes quicker than we can lean into the arms of the one who is even nearer than the storm!  When you are sitting smack-dab in the middle of the haboob, no one can tell you to just be calm - for all around you is the feeling of impending doom.  You don't see anyway out. This is where God never fails us - he is high above the storm, knowing full-well how things will be "after" it passes. In the midst of the storm, we can only see the storm.  When you see as God sees, you know the length and breadth of the storm, and the majesty of the light just about to break through that layer of heavy cloud!  Just sayin!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Despite my emotions...

Yet in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love. When night settles in and all is dark, He keeps me company— His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life. (Psalm 42:8 VOICE)

It is very beneficial to understand the words preceding a passage cited as they give meaning to the intensity of what the writer is communicating.  As some may realize, not all of the psalms were written by David, although he wrote a good many of them. Korah was a worship leader in the Temple and he is attributed authorship of a good many, as well. Today's psalm is by Korah and opens with the thought, "My soul is dry and thirst for you, true God, as a deer thirsts for water."  What does a deer do when it is thirsty?  Does it merely stand there and hope it rains?  Nope.  It moves to where it expects to find water!  It begins to sniff out the water - motivated by the thirst building within.  Now understand the words of the worship leader - our soul is never so dry or thirsty that it won't find what it longs for!  That very dryness drives us to the place we know we will find refreshing and renewal!

Within the words of this psalm we find such admissions as, "Right now I am overwhelmed by my sorrow and pain; I can't stop feasting on my tears" and "Why am I so overwrought?  Why am I so disturbed?  Why can't I just hope in God?"  It comes as an encouragement to me to understand that the one who is "leading" worship is also able to be real and come clean with God about the struggles of his heart!  There is no better place to "come clean" than in the presence of God - in the midst of all the dryness and yearning to just admit our brokenness and barrenness.  I am also encouraged by his words, "Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life."  Despite all our emotions, we can believe and lift our voice in praise to the one who not only saves us from our disasters, but who has become all we live for.  I think this might just be key to what we discover in the psalms time and time again - nothing is more important than making God the center of our lives - so much that he becomes our very life itself!

The world will taunt us with all manner of accusation, troubling thought, and anxiety-producing worries.  We can feel pretty overwhelmed, even to the place we begin to wonder if God has left us in the midst of it all - wondering if we have made "too big of a mess of it all" that even he is disgusted with us.  I can only respond as our psalmist has - despite all our emotions which try to deceive us about God's continued love or watchful care over our lives, we can trust both!  When things are "light" and we seem to be walking in the light, we see him clearly - not discouraged in anyway.  In the night hours, times when darkness seems to close in, the story change a little - our emotions dictate a different focus, don't they! In the darkness, God will keep us company - nothing changes his position - he is still there.  Just as the deer pants for water, moving ever closer to the source of all refreshing, we must draw closer to him in the midst of our "night" struggles.  Despite our emotions, we will praise - we will worship - and we will be honest about where it is we find ourselves today!

Just as the deer finds water as he moves toward it, so we will find what our soul so desperately longs for as we draw closer to the heart of God.  Our emotions may tell us we cannot connect with him any longer because our sin is too great this time, but know this - there is nothing which can separate us from the grace of God. Nothing!  Just sayin!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My closet is way too full!

He is ever present with me; at all times He goes before me. I will not live in fear or abandon my calling because He stands at my right hand.  (Psalm 16:8 VOICE)

Have you ever just looked things up and down only to discover the feelings those things bring from within you are kind of saying, "I wish I could just let all this go" and you really mean it?  We hold onto way too much baggage, don't we?  Stuff we don't really need to worry about because it isn't really our business to take care of whatever it is, but we take on the issue nonetheless.  Things we get ourselves into because we weren't honest with others or ourselves about our desire to be involved.  Monumental problems caused because we didn't take time to listen, or we just heard what we wanted to hear.  You know what I am talking about - I know I don't find myself in these messes all by myself!  To really be at the place we want to finally let go of these things is really a good place to be - for it means we know we are holding on way to tightly to stuff we have "no room" for in our lives!

I look at my closet from time to time only to realize I have some good clothes in there which haven't been worn in quite some time (I am talking years here, guys).  Why do I hold onto these things? They either don't fit any longer, aren't part of my current style of dressing, or were things I received from someone that really fit my color pallet. I use the illustration for our clothes closet because most of us can associate with it.  We cram way too much stuff in there, hold onto it way too long, and somehow think we will get back to determining the stuff is "useful" at some point in our lives. Oh, did I mention most of it doesn't even fit anymore?  My philosophy is if I am no longer that bigger size, why keep it around to tempt me to let myself go again?  If the smaller size is there to somehow motivate me to get to it, has it really worked?  Not so well!  Why not pair down to what is useful, serves a purpose, and is going to make sense for your present needs?

Now, let's think about some of the emotional baggage we cram into the small spaces of our lives where we really don't have much more room to cram anything else.  Some of those emotions are just no longer "serviceable" in our lives - they need to go.  Some of those memories need to be trashed because they are so stained by the past events they are just not anything we can make use of any longer.  I have often thought about having a good friend just come over one day and help me sort through all the stuff in my closet.  Why?  She would be objective!  She would tell me what looks good, really fits my style, and what still has potential.  She'd encourage me to let go of the stuff I really don't need.  Why are we so hesitant to open up the closet of our emotions to a good friend, or even to Jesus?  God sends these friends into our lives so we don't have to sort all of life out alone.  Why do we resist their loving care over our lives when God has placed them there to actually help us grow?

It is probably because we fear they won't see the "value" in whatever it is we are holding onto so tightly!  Truth be told, we may be placing way too much "value" into whatever it is we are holding! We might just need to let it go to actually see it didn't serve a good purpose in our lives in the first place!  God doesn't abandon us to our worry, or even our emotional baggage.  He doesn't want us to have to sort it all out alone either - that is why he planned for us to live life in "community" - to share this task with another who may be a little more objective than we are ourselves.  Truth be told, the wisest words from my closest friend may seem a little hard to hear at times, but I trust she says it in love.  She sees in me something I don't see in myself - and that is invaluable!  Live life to the fullest - don't fill your "closets" to the fullest!  Let go - hold onto the good - and learn to value those God places in your life to help you not walk this thing out alone!  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Knowledge or Truth?

If you have the Son, you have eternal life. If you do not have the Son of God, you are not acquainted with true life.  (I John 5:12 VOICE)

As John wraps up his letter to the believers in the New Testament church of the first century, he is attempting to confront a belief system known as gnosticism.  In general, the belief perpetrated by the gnostics of the day valued the gaining of knowledge in ever-increasing way because knowledge broadened one's understanding and they believed a broader understanding would help you "transcend" evil. I don't know about you, but I have discovered just knowing truth doesn't mean I actually act upon it all the time!  I can have all the knowledge in the world, but until my heart is changed, which affects the choices I make, I will still continue to do dumb things!  As John puts it, no life comes to us by just gaining more knowledge - we need to gain Jesus, the Son of God, in order to really know life.

Most of us would agree that knowledge is important - John isn't advocating that all knowledge is evil.  Yet, knowledge alone doesn't make for life-change.  True change occurs when there is a deep, inward connection with the one who actually is truth Himself. We all have a measure by which we evaluate knowledge when it comes our way.  You could tell me the blue sky before me was actually green, but based on what I learned when I got my first box of crayons, was "studying" colors in kindergarten, and mastered my color wheel in art class, the color before me most closely resembles the blue in my crayon box!  I evaluate what you tell me against what I have already gained as knowledge.  When the gaining of knowledge has been correct, the tool by which I measure all you tell me is going to be more consistently "correct". If that knowledge is a little skewed in one direction or the other from what is total truth, I am going to use a flawed tool to evaluate the knowledge you are trying to convince me is true - making me susceptible to accepting untruth.

As John states earlier in this chapter, "To love God means that we keep his commands, and his commands don't weigh us down." To some of us, we might feel as though God's commands are a weight around our necks - keeping us from doing what we really want to do.  They are a burden, not a delight.  We don't appreciate their value, nor do we see the boundaries they set as warranted in our lives.  At some point after we ask Jesus into our lives, we begin to see these commands from a different perspective - because our understanding of truth is impacted by the presence of truth within us. Apart from Christ, we cannot truly evaluate truth. We might come close on occasion to making an accurate judgment apart from Christ, but reason and intellect will only get us so far in keeping us in alignment with truth.  We need the person of truth within in order to really live as we should.

"True life" is only known in Jesus.  Until you have experienced it, you just cannot appreciate that truth all that well.  It doesn't make sense to evaluate truth solely based upon our own knowledge. Each of us possesses a different perspective on how we don our clothing each morning.  No one is more "right" on the matter than the other person.  We all end up with our clothes on in some fashion or another, so we can walk out in public without shame or finding ourselves arrested for indecent exposure!  Some will wear socks, others will not.  Is one person "right" and the other "wrong"? It could be we are both right - but we arrive at that conclusion by the degree of knowledge we possess at the moment.  Even those who have invited Jesus into their lives don't "get" all the knowledge they have at their disposal, though.  It takes us a while to "undo" things we have come to accept as truth - but in time, the presence of truth within begins to realign our beliefs and practices so that we are closely aligned to the truth which resides within.

The important thing is that we invite truth in - not in the form of book learning or schooling, but in the form of the Son of God, the person of truth, becoming the center and focus of our lives. As we do, all truth begins to align in our lives - we don't get truth and then transcend into a new dimension by some means.  We "transcend" by connection - not by knowledge.  Just sayin!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Be not the hypocrite

"Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)  Many times we focus on whether we have what it takes it to make it to the finish line when all the while what we are probably more likely to need is a fresh start!  Mom has a plant on the patio she has been watering faithfully, taking good care of, but recently it began to show us it was not too happy with something - the environment, the heat, or maybe even the pot.  Even a little bit of fertilizer added to the water didn't seem to perk it up.  Last night I had to ask her if she was willing to let it go.  Nope....she wants to see if it can be nursed back to vibrant life once again.  There are probably lots of things which could replace that withered and anemic looking plant right now, but she won't let go of it.  I don't think it has what it takes to come back to the life it once had, so I am more inclined to just start over with the pot and go for something more vibrant and colorful.  What we hold onto the hardest may be the very thing we have to let go of in order to get a fresh start, though!

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun!  All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him.  It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.  (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 VOICE)

If we have been united with Christ, we can be confident of this one thing - we are being made new.  We are no longer the old man or woman we used to be - although we may look the same on the outside, the inside has been and is continuing to be made new.  New life begins where the ground has been prepared for it.  The work of preparing the ground belongs to God himself - the work of tending that ground begins with him and it includes each of us.  We actually become "ground-tenders" in the lives of those around us - not acting as their conscience or telling them what to do/not do - but through prayer, living as positive examples, helping with choices when they seek help, etc.  We are called to be engaged in this work of reconciling each heart to God.  It isn't our mission to "get them to Jesus", but it may be our mission to help maintain them!  God is in the work of pursuing lives - he is the one going after the heart, mind and soul of man.  We are his instruments of showing others what it means to live out this work of grace. We are living "testaments" of his grace.

There are times I think we believe "proclaiming" a message means we stand on the street corner with large signs and shout out to the ones passing us by that they "need Jesus" and their world won't be right until they find him.  This may be very true, but a message delivered in this manner rarely "hits home" in the hearts of the passerby.  What speaks volumes is this vitality and vibrancy they see within us as we live out the "regular stuff" of everyday life.  Occasionally I am asked what it is that seems to keep me afloat when so much seems to not be going as I had planned.  I might not always respond with a scripture verse, or some "saintly" explanation as to my "motivating force" within.  In fact, there are times when I just plain don't know what it is within me that keeps me going, but I trust it is the Spirit of God, living and breathing within me, helping me put one foot in front of the other until I reach the "other side" of the mess I am in.  There are also times I have to admit it is my persistent and self-centered pride that has held me up in the midst of what really should not continue in action in my life!

It is probably the hardest thing to admit one's pride is the thing keeping them going, but I honestly don't want anyone to confuse the power of Jesus and his grace within me as the motivating force for some of the stuff I do which I probably would do better just letting go of in the first place!  The fact we "persist" doesn't always mean we are moving in the right direction.  Just because we have said YES to Jesus and have his Spirit resident within us doesn't mean all the steps we are taking in a forward direction are going to produce life in the end.  Some of them will still end up being a little lifeless and fall short of anything we might label as "vibrant" in the end.  It is my willingness to admit when I have taken a wrong path which often speaks volumes about where it is I have centered my life.  At that moment, I was centered on what seemed right to me - when I finally let down my prideful exterior mask, one would soon see that there is nothing more important to me than me taking the path God shows me - not the one I may have forged in my pridefulness.

Vibrancy simply means we see signs of life.  Not all signs of life mean the growth is good, though.  I have some pretty vibrant weeds in my gardens and some pretty stubborn grass that grows in places far outside the confines of the lawn!  God calls for us to be honest with ourselves first, then honest with others next.  In that moment of honesty about where we have been and where we realized we needed to be going, we almost give a breath of fresh air to a soul hungry for hope themselves.  Admitting we were traveling a wrong path isn't going to make us appear weak, but will actually bespeak the strength that comes from within us because the person of grace indwells us.  The world needs this reality more than it needs "super-star" images of the "perfect Christian".  It needs real people, walking through real stuff, dealing with totally "anemic" obedience.  In this image of what God can do in the life of an open heart and submitted will, others can find hope for the "redo" they may need in their own life, as well.  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why is it so hard to heal?

"Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed, but truth moves to the heart as slowly as a glacier." (Barbara Kingsolver) I love this expression because it speaks so clearly as to why it is we deeply experience some things so doggone quickly, then take eons to actually have others things even inch their way beneath out skin! Pain jars us - truth sometimes doesn't even affect us until some time way into the distance when we have one of those "ah-ha" moments. I think the degree to which we have been influenced by pain may also be the degree to which we are willing to actually trust someone to be true and reliable - even if that someone is God himself!

DEMONSTRATE Your ways, O Eternal One. Teach me to understand so I can follow. EASE me down the path of Your truth. FEED me Your word because You are the True God who has saved me. I wait all day long, hoping, trusting in You. (Psalm 25:4-5 VOICE)

Pain is an "indicator" of something which we need to address - either to remove ourselves from the thing causing the pain, or to seek attention to properly address whatever it is that has resulted in the sensation of pain.  If we have a toothache, how silly would it be to go to the mechanic down the street to ask him to address it?  Yet so many times we experience deep, inner emotional pain and then attempt to find answers to it from sources which prove to be extremely unreliable to us.  We need to learn to understand pain as an "indicator" in our lives that we are either heading in the wrong direction, have come up against the wrong influences in life, or have buried stuff deep below the surface which now is struggling to remain contained because of how much it has festered there.

The good news is that God wants to DEMONSTRATE his way of healing - of renewal from the pain - to us if we will just bring that pain to him.  It can take us a long time to actually accept that truth in our lives, though.  We may dink around with our pain for a long, long time, then one day just come to the place of desperation where we say "enough is enough". Sadly, there are individuals who go to their grave in deep emotional pain simply because they wouldn't allow God to demonstrate to them the way out of that pain.  When God demonstrates the way out of pain, he is doing more than just pointing the way - he takes part in walking us out of it!  He isn't just setting us in the direction we should go, he is pointing out to us all the things he wants us to appreciate along the way, until we come to the place of realizing he has helped us to uncover the root of our pain and finally deliver it into his hands.

When we see a demonstration of something, we are seeing what can be if we just do the same, right?  How hard is it to actually paint that oil painting just like the guy just "demonstrated" it to us?  Our perception of the ease at which he handles the paintbrush, skillfully combining the colors and strokes to produce the desired image on the canvas can leave us feeling it is a cinch to produce what he has just produced - right?  We slather the pain all over the canvas in generally the same method he did, but our "work of art" differs quite a bit from his!  What was the difference?  He is the artist - we are the apprentice!  We haven't mastered the skill - we are still learning from the master.  There are times when we try to deal with our pain, thinking we know how the Master would deal with it, but simply fall short of actually dealing with it because we aren't equipped to do so.  We need the Master to demonstrate his grace, illustrate his love, illuminate his truth.

As our passage suggests, God doesn't just throw truth at us and expect it to "stick" in our lives.  He knows we need to be EASED into truth a good many times - simply because we have this problem with either self-sufficiency or we have been wounded too many times to count so that we are scarred, damaged, and just plain skeptical of the trustworthiness of anyone in our lives.  This is why he demonstrates his grace and love repeatedly, in many different ways, applying it to different forms of "pain" in our lives - so we will eventually "get" that he is able to be trusted with our heart!  Our heart is the canvas - but what has made contact with that canvas may have left it a mess.  He is the one skilled at taking even the messiest of works and transforming them into clear evidence of his love and grace.

Pain gets in quickly - truth takes a little longer - but the only antidote to pain is truth.  In order to heal, we have to absorb truth at whatever pace we absorb it.  Little by little, it will EASE us into trusting his DEMONSTRATED love and grace.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Repair it, or replace it?

Have you ever heard the quote, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." (Frederick Douglass) His words are truer than we might realize, for God reminds us to train up our children in the way they should go, spare the rod and spoil the child (Proverbs 13:24), and that discipline proves a father's love for his child (Proverbs 3:12). If there is so much emphasis on training up our children in "the right way" so they will make decisions which end up being "good choices", then how much more do you suppose God will do the same with us?  As Douglass said, it is much easier to build us up than to repair us!

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

I think the first thing we all need to remember is that we are told to approach God as the small child does - with innocence, curiosity, interest, and awe.  As we do, we are drawn into his presence and begin to sense the guiding direction of his hand.  A good parent isn't one who swings the paddle, spouts a plethora of obnoxious words to motivate us, or even one who just sits back watching us stumble through life.  A good parent is one who knows when to say "no", gives a little latitude when they know the child will not be harmed by their actions, and gives advice when the decisions are a little tougher than the child may be ready or equipped to handle at the moment.  As good as a parent may be, if the child is unwilling to embrace the direction given, life will always be a constant struggle of will.

As scripture implies, we need to be taught.  At first, I didn't want to buckle down in school to "learn my lessons" - I liked recess the best and that is where my mind constantly wandered!  Why?  It was fun - there was a chance to release my energy - and did I mention, it was fun?  Most of us go through life wanting all our decisions to be "fun" in nature. The tough ones we'd like to leave to someone else, but when it is a parent we are leaving those to, we can sometimes even resist what we know we don't want to deal with!  We don't want to have to learn the "hard stuff" as much as we want to know when the next "recess" will be!

Broken adults are often the result of lots and lots of missed-steps along the way in life.  Steps when we should have asked for direction and been willing to receive it, but chose instead to follow our own advice.  Steps when others with greater insight than we had tried to talk us out of whatever it was we were about to do, but we just couldn't bear to have anyone tell us what we needed to do.  Steps when we just followed and found ourselves following the wrong lead.  I think this is why God reminds us to come to him as little children - laying aside all our preconceived ideas of how life works, who controls all the pieces, and what is really "good" for us. Little children are drawn into loving arms, aren't they?  They learn to trust by being sheltered in those arms - even when the things they are asked to do seem contrary to their wishes or a little too frightening to handle alone.

While all brokenness is a place for God to begin a work of rebuilding in our lives, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't need to "deconstruct" what has been built in us in order to see the "construction" of what only he can create?  Truth be told, all of us are at different places of "reconstruction" in our lives. Some are further along than others because it was easier for them to get rid of the old and embrace the new - something just "clicked" on the inside of them and they saw the old as undesirable and the new as better than anything they could ever imagine or dream.  The rest of us are struggling with letting go of some of the decisions and missed-steps we have made in life.  We continue to look at the dilapidated ruins of those places where we are broken beyond measure, but we somehow escalate those ruins to a "monuments" of pain in our lives.  Monuments are things we protect, aren't they? Yet when it is all said and done, some of the things we have erected monuments to in our lives are not really worthy of that status!

We'd be better to allow God to build us up - taking apart the pieces which don't belong in our lives.  Just remember this - in order to see anything new growing in the place of the old, there has to be a removal of the old.  We cannot "build over" the rubble of our lives.  Brokenness is not a bad thing as long as we allow God the access to not "repair" all the broken parts, but replace them with what only he can bring into our lives.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dreams or Plans?

You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You as I took shape in secret, carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb.  You see all things; You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb; every detail of my life was already written in Your book; You established the length of my life before I ever tasted the sweetness of it. Your thoughts and plans are treasures to me, O God! I cherish each and every one of them! How grand in scope! How many in number!  If I could count each one of them, they would be more than all the grains of sand on earth. Their number is inconceivable!  Even when I wake up, I am still near to You.  (Psalm 139:16-18 VOICE)

Toby Mac posted a timeline picture sometime ago which simply read: "If today I lose my hope, God, please remind me that your plans are better than my dreams." It is a truly beautiful thing to have our dreams and God's plans perfectly align, but if anyone else is like me, there are times when my dreams are pretty big and my performance is pretty weak!  It may not be the dream was wrong, but the execution of the plan was because it was done in my power or at the wrong time in my life!  We might just think we have to abandon our dreams, but what may be the case is that God wants us to submit the fulfillment of those dreams to him.  A friend posted:  "Thank God we don't look like what we've been through". Boy howdy!  Isn't that the truth!  Some of us are so worried about the dream's fulfillment, we barely "get through" unscathed. We just trudge through even when the "signs" all seem to be saying "not yet" or "slow down" or even "caution, proceed at your own risk".  

God's plans for our lives are not hard to understand.  He plans good for us - not evil.  He desires growth for us - not death.  He positions us for greatness - not defeat.  There are times though, when we get so wrapped up in seeing our dreams come to fruition that we totally miss out on what God might have intended for our lives in the process.  I don't think God opposes any dreams of ours as long as they are not evil, won't bring death, and are not going to leave us devastated beyond recovery.  I think he might caution us to avoid a few pitfalls and remind us some of these "big dreams" are "okay", but they aren't as good as what he might have planned for us.  In essence, God is going to watch over us, but he won't oppose our determination to do things our way if that is what we choose.  This is why it is ever so important to be sure our dreams make sense in accordance with the plans God has for each of us.

Now, God's plans are not that hard to get to understand.  They can be discovered by reading the Word many times.  It is there where we find "patterns" of what God allows and blesses. We can discover what he disallows and will not sanction as "okay" for our lives.  It is there for the discovery, but we have to be willing to discover!  Some of us get so "bent" on our dreams we cannot think there might be anything other than those dreams.  We go head-long into places we might very well find ourselves regretting down the road, but trust me on this, God can even use our failed dreams to bring good into our lives.  In those failures, we can grow or we can shrivel up and die.  That is our choice.  We chose the way we went, but God can redeem something from the worst course we have chosen - even though we are a little battered from the journey!

I like that God reminds us nothing about our lives is hidden from him - from the moment we were more than a twinkle in our Dad's eye to the moment we breathe our last breath, he had his hand on us.  He didn't miss a beat - a cell's division - or a hair's loss.  He sees it all - knows the end from the beginning - and in it all works to bring good out of both the courses he planned and we walked, and those we dreamed and chose instead!  God's thoughts and plans for our lives are innumerable.  We can only grasp hold of a few at at time, but he has the "play book" of our lives right there in front of him.  He knows when we will follow his call to execute a certain "play", or when we will choose to run our own play despite his advice not to! 

"God's purpose is more important than our plans". (Myles Munroe)  Wouldn't it be nice if both were perfectly aligned, though?  The more we submit our dreams to him, allowing him to craft them into the purpose and plans he designs for us, the closer the two will become. It doesn't take much sometimes to make a dream a reality, a near-miss a success.  In fact, it might just take us bringing those things to Jesus, laying them at his feet, and then just waiting for him to give us the guidance we so desperately need.  Just sayin!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where do we find beauty? posted a picture of a weathered, elderly female with the caption: "A beautiful face will age and a perfect body will change, but a beautiful soul will always be a beautiful soul."  I could not agree more!  We spend so much money and time trying to attain/maintain the perfect complexion, avoiding any signs of the aging process having occurred, and so little time actually looking into the eyes to see what the soul behind the face really reveals.  I catch a show on TV now and again where women are trying to "redo" their bodies for totally cosmetic reasons, not because they have some birth defect, life-altering scar from a traumatic event, or the like - just because they want smaller this or bigger that.  What does all this effort produce?  For most of them it still leaves a sense of dissatisfaction because they are "career lifters/fillers"!  They aren't fulfilled by their first attempt to get the "perfect image", so they go back time and again to "redo" what has been done. Let me just say I am so God looks at the inside and doesn't notice my wrinkles, gray hair, or even the occasional "wild hair" on my chin!

Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights. (I Peter 3:3-4 VOICE)

I don't think God wants us to let our bodies "go", but I also don't think he wants our outward appearance to be the overarching focus of our lives.  In fact, he spends so much time in scripture telling us to focus on allowing change to occur in our "inner man" that he really doesn't have much to say about the outward appearance at all.  There are a handful of occasions when scripture mentions the individual had "ruddy appearance", or something along the line of "Abishag possessed stunning beauty", but really the emphasis always comes back to what is on the inside that really matters.
It doesn't matter if you follow a gluten-free, Paleo, or low-carb diet.  It doesn't matter if you spend 10 hours a week at the gym, or if you wear out a pair of Nike's every two months from running each morning.  Spend time with God and allow him to fine-tune your inner spirit and you will be MORE beautiful than all of this effort combined could ever produce!

So, I have had some people tell me they really don't know how to spend this time with Jesus every day.  I guess I have tried a lot of things over the years, but nothing has proven to be more effective in my life than just getting my eyes off everything else for a little while and allowing him to speak to me through his Word, good music, or the comforts of nature around me.  Let me assure you that the times of burying myself in the books were good - but I didn't really notice the change in my life until I just began to feel comfortable with God.  It isn't as though I am saying I just "hang" with him, but I don't have to be all "formal" about my time with him to make it count - to have it affect my inner person.

I love music, so putting on a good worship station, or streaming some songs I enjoy may just set the stage for God to begin to speak into my life.  I enjoy listening to the birds, watching them bob around the yard, and skitter here and there.  In those moments of watching them, or even observing the industrious labor of the ants on an anthill, I see little bits of truth God wants me to lay hold of in my life.  Things like how he provides to even the sparrows of the field, with seeds, small insects, and even the occasional considerate "bird-feeder" in the neighborhood - so why would I worry he doesn't do that on a totally magnified level when it comes to my needs?  I see the ants scurry hither and yon, all working together, and I think of the beauty of being part of a gigantic family in Christ - all with a mission / purpose to serve him.

Most importantly, when I just allow his Word to begin to speak to me - taking in even small portions of it (2-3 verses a day), it begins to change the way I think, how it is I make my decisions, and for whom it is I make those choices.  Instead of making all those choices to please others, I focus a little bit differently on pleasing him.  It isn't in the volume of time you spend - it is what occurs IN the time you spend.  It isn't in the volumes you read or take in from the printed page - it is what begins to transform the "inner you" that matters.  As much as we might want to be "totally put together" today, trust me on this - God isn't finished with any of us, so stop trying to rush perfection!  Just sayin!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What on earth are you producing here?

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.  (Ephesians 2:10 VOICE)

Gandhi said, "My life is my message."  Nothing can be truer than that statement except maybe, "My life, with Christ lived through it, is my message."  Our passage refers to it as "heaven's poetry etched on our lives".  Grace isn't just something we "get" - it is something we see affecting our lives, changing our testimony, and actually turning our lives into a message from God's hand itself.  An author doesn't set out to "just write" - he has a message in mind as he begins the task of creating the masterpiece he will one day finish.  I imagine God to be quite the same as an author - a mindset for what the end result will be, creating scenes all along the way, orchestrating the "building of the story", until we see the climax of it all when he loudly declares, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

We are the "product" of his hand.  A product is meant to be used in some fashion - it isn't just created, tossed aside, and then forgotten.  God's intent for each of us is to become the thing he uses to declare the beauty of forgiveness, the bigness of his grace, and the boundlessness of his love.  As the products of his hands there is nothing "ugly" about us. God doesn't create ugly things - evil does.  Evil is not part of God's make-up, so it is impossible for him to produce a product which is less than perfect - as he is perfect and all he does is perfect!

A product may also be produced simply because of the environment it is within.  For example, diamonds are not "natural" - they are formed by the pressure placed on carbon deep within the earth.  Eventually, they rise little by little to the surface and are mined. Even in their "raw" state, they aren't all that "beautiful".  It takes more and more cutting, fashioning, and specific application of skill to produce the diamond we will proudly wear. Sometimes I think we are quite impatient when it comes to seeing "God's product" produced within us.  We don't realize all the work required to bring the greatest amount of beauty from each of us!

Etching may be accomplished by the placement of acid upon the surface until the surface is altered by the application.  The acid actually leaves a mark which was specifically "purposed" to be there.  Acid isn't all that "palatable", but when it is applied by a skilled craftsman it produces a beautiful work expressive of something the craftsman saw as lending beauty to the object.  

God may use a little pressure, and even a little bit of what seems to "sting" or "burn" a little to produce the most beautiful things in our lives.  We shouldn't resist this process, because it is the process which produces the object's beauty!  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Construction Zone

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."  (Ernest Hemingway)   Hemingway had a way with words which made him one of the most famous authors of all times, but he also had a connection with the despair and agony of the human soul which frequently came across in the words he penned.  He was able to connect with the perils of loss, maybe as a result of being part of the ambulance corps during World War I or because he personally experienced the severe wounds of war himself.  Either way, he made this connection of brokenness, despair, agony, and even sometimes defeat - all plaguing the human soul to some degree in almost all of his writings.  Yet, nothing he said ever rings truer than the words above - through all the breaking processes in life we might just be left a little stronger at the broken place! 

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

Broken places are the "construction zones" God uses to make stronger the foundation upon which our lives are formed.  We might think of them as rubble or damaged goods, but God looks on all those broken pieces as "building material".  Hemingway also said, "Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."  You might have heard the little analogy of the "dash" between the dates on your tombstone are what makes the man's legacy - it isn't that he was born, or that he died, but what he did in that span known as the "dash" between the dates. It is that dash which represents so many of those "construction zones" God can use to make a person's life truly rich, strong at all the broken places, not just left as a pile of rubble.

We often look at the broken places as no longer serviceable areas - the issues with that area are too great that dealing with it makes life almost unbearable.  Truth be told - we all have way more issues than we have strong places!  We all end up in some process where brokenness is produced - if not one way, then another.  Our battles and struggles are really not all that unique to each of us, yet even in the similarities, no two broken places in one or the other is exactly the same.  We all get to the place of "brokenness" at a different speed, with a different set of circumstances, and perhaps with a different amount of courage to deal with what brought us to that point.  Brokenness might look like devastation has occurred, but it takes a bulldozer to level the ground for the building, doesn't it?

A broken spirit and a contrite heart God will never despise, but guess what - these don't come naturally to us.  We all likely have a pretty confident spirit and haughty heart until we don't do well in the test!  At that place of "testing", what truly is within is revealed.  You can recognize those who have been through the "construction process" a time or two, though. There is a little bit more strength there as they face the present struggle or challenge. They aren't immune to the issues, they just know where to place their trust when going through that struggle.  They have learned their hope does not come from within themselves, but from God himself.

How we live and how we die - these distinguish a man one from another.  I have seen many live with their own passions driving and dictating all of their lives, only to see it end with a great deal of unfulfilled dreams and broken relationships.  I have also seen many live with determined connection with their God, observing their final hours as resolute joy in the face of seeing their heavenly Father face-to-face at last.  In between birth and death, they each faced their "construction zones", but those who realized brokenness isn't a tragedy, but a place for God to build us up stronger than before come to life's end with a different resolve. 

Brokenness doesn't spell disaster - it actually might just be a new beginning when it becomes the place where God's Spirit is free to dwell and do the work of making us stronger with all those broken pieces.  Just sayin!  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hit it again!

I have celebrated Your testimonies as though rejoicing over an immeasurable fortune.  I will fix my mind on Your instructions and my eyes on Your path.  I will find joy in Your ordinances; I will remember Your word forever.  (Psalm 119:14-16 VOICE)

I think the words of George A. Moore speak a lot about my heart at times:  "The wrong way always seems the most reasonable."  He also said, "The difficulty in life is the choice." How true!  We have lots and lots of paths in life to choose - knowing with a certainty which one is the "right" one is not always as plain as one may think.  Some of these paths are choices we make at the spur of the moment, such as when we choose to pick an argument with another over words or actions which just occurred.  We don't get a lot of warning, or foreknowledge they are about to happen.  It isn't like there is a natural, built-in "early warning system" ready to fire off in our minds which announces we are about to make a really unwise choice. In fact, we have to cultivate our minds in order to create a sense of awareness to these potential pitfalls.  It is like the one who is an experienced white-water rafter, able to recognize the patterns of changes in the water, constantly "reading" the horizon to be able to plan how the raft will have to be navigated through those waters.

The rafter observes things like the subtle changes in the pattern of the water's flow, revealing what may be hidden rocks just beneath the surface, causing the waters to divert ever so slightly around that obstacle.  He may also observe the change in the horizon where the waters seem totally flat against the walls of the canyon in which the water is flowing, suggesting a sudden drop-off such as a waterfall.  Did the rafter know all these things when he set out on the waterway?  No, but he develops his senses, such that of listening for a rise in the "roar" of the water, suggesting he is coming upon a place of rapids and tenuous passage.  He "tunes in" with all he has - sight, hearing, feel.  In turn, he learns to "read" the waters - but not always the first time he passes over them!  Sometimes he gets bumped up against some pretty big rocks because he wasn't paying attention!

As our psalmist points out, fixing our minds on learning will go a long way toward helping us develop this "early warning system" we need to navigate around or away from the things in our path which will spell our doom if unnoticed and unheeded.  There is no better place to learn what to avoid and how to avoid it, what path must be navigated, etc., than to spend time in God's Word and time allowing that word to take hold in our lives.  Too many times we give God's Word a cursory glance or two, thinking we have "spent time" with God in the process.  We really aren't taking time to celebrate his testimonies, engage with his instructions, or heed his warnings.  

I recently had to buy a new garage door opener because the other one just wore out after 22 years of very good service.  In the process, I had to reteach my car to communicate with the new opener.  It took a while to figure out the technology wasn't talking to the garage door opener, though.  I just kept following the instructions and rereading them to figure out if I missed a step, because it wasn't working.  Eventually, I read a little further in the instructions which came with the opener to realize I may need something referred to as a "learning repeater".  The car wasn't "learning" the signal, so it needed this repeater device to "teach" it to receive the signal.  I think maybe we are all a little like my car as it comes to learning how to make things work in our lives.  It isn't that a signal isn't being sent by God, it is that we aren't able to receive it until we get a "repeater" working to help us learn it!  Just sayin!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The great design

Charles Eames said, "Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design." He was an American designer made famous during the 50's and 60's. He worked with is wife in a design business, whose mission was to create the first types of furniture which could be "mass produced" in warehouses and sold to the millions. He is also known for saying, "Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose." Sometimes we see all the elements (pieces) in life, but we really cannot break past the mess of the pieces to see the design which those pieces can produce. We might recognize the need for a particular thing to occur, but we just don't know how all the pieces of life we are juggling at the moment all come together to create anything even remotely like what our "condition" demands.

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

If we look at what Eames said - that the arrangement of the elements can be done in such a way so as to accomplish not just ANY purpose, but a specific purpose - we might just begin to wonder what the "specific" purpose is for these PARTICULAR pieces we are given right now.  God isn't unaware of what those elements are designed to form - the unique way they are to fit together in our lives to create something beautiful, functional, and purposeful within, for, and through us.  Those elements have a purpose within us - maybe to change a fear into a trust, a hope into a motivation, or a desire into a fulfillment.  They also have a purpose for us and that may just be to allow those elements to begin to work in us so that what comes "through" us will be a blessing to others.

I have moved a few times in my life, dreading the endless task of packing, loading, unloading, and unpacking.  Why is it such a drudgery to "start anew" in a new location, a new home, or a new job?  I honestly believe it is the chaos of seeing all the pieces, but not knowing how they will all fit together yet.  As I moved into a new home, for example, all the boxes get stacked in the rooms I "believe" they belong in.  My first move, I simply marked them "Kitchen", "Bedroom", or "Bathroom".  After trying to find a coffee mug for almost an hour going through boxes labeled for the kitchen, the next move included just a little more detail on those boxes!  The furniture gets put in the general space of the room it is intended to go in, but until it all put together in then "placed" into position, it has not really served the purpose for which we placed it there.

We have pieces, but we don't have order to them yet - we have a vision, but we don't know what that design will fully produce.  Good news is - God knows both the design and how to make the pieces fit as they were designed!  Don't we wish that life was as easy as rearranging the furniture to get it to "fit" a room?  Life is way more complicated, though, so I am pretty certain the "designer" of the pieces is much better at fitting them together than I am.  The boxes we move into the various rooms of our new home are capable of being called "pieces", right?  They are labeled that they belong where they have been placed, but not too many of us leave the boxes.  We know their "design" was to house the pieces inside until they had a place to be mounted, displayed, housed, or function.  The box served its purpose, but once the move is over, it no longer belongs.

Sometimes there are pieces of our lives which no longer serve a purpose - things we need to take to the curb, so to speak.  We break down all those packing boxes, placing them in piles to be hauled away by the recycling folks.  We don't leave them in their original form because in order to get rid of them, we have to have them "broken down".  The same is true in our lives - sometimes the pieces we are ready to get rid of must be "broken down" a little so we see they are no longer useful, serving a purpose, and so we can easily move them to the place where we can finally be rid of them!  We recognize the need for something in our lives.  God prepares the design of what will be needed to meet that need.  We allow him to bring the pieces together in such a way the design begins to unfold, then we allow the stuff which no longer fits to be removed so it no longer clutters up the space for that which he has designed! Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Better than ... not just like

Here’s whose opinion you should be concerned about: the One who can take your life and then throw you into hell! He’s the only One you should fear! But don’t misunderstand: you don’t really need to be afraid of God, because God cares for every little sparrow. How much is a sparrow worth—don’t five of them sell for a few cents? Since you are so much more precious to God than a thousand flocks of sparrows, and since God knows you in every detail—down to the number of hairs on your head at this moment—you can be secure and unafraid of any person, and you have nothing to fear from God either. (Luke 12:6-7 VOICE)

Do you ever find yourself being afraid of all the wrong things?  I know we all can watch some movie on TV, sitting on the edge of our seat, feeling our heart rate rise, the anxiety building, until all of a sudden the show cuts to a commercial.  I think they actually pause those at times when we just need to get our heart rate back down into the normal range again!  Is what's happening on the screen real?  Not usually.  It is a "story" made up to stimulate our senses and elicit some response from us.  We are not supposed to go through life living with this type of anxiety and dread, though.  Our "fight or flight" response is good - it protects us from stuff that can eat us - but it wasn't meant to be overstimulated or become a place where we dwell all of the time.  Fear has a place - but it doesn't have any place where it comes to our relationship with God!

I have talked with women who have lived with incredibly abusive individuals - some were husbands, others were just boyfriends.  Both tell me the same story - it was an up and down roller coaster of emotion, constantly walking on eggshells and never really knowing what the moment would bring.  There weren't any "commercials" which allowed you to regroup and get that fear under control - they lived with it when they were with them and when they were away from the home.  Why?  The fear became the pervasive theme of their lives, honestly believing there was no way of escape and as though they themselves were the cause of all the things which lead up to them experiencing all that fear anyway!  The men in their lives kept them captive through the dominating forcefulness they exerted over them both emotionally and physically.

I have also been on the receiving end of mistrust from teens who have been abused for so long by every "father figure" in their lives that they just cannot possibly believe you when you tell them God loves them like a father.  They have never really known that type of love, so it is almost impossible for them to relate to it.  Their lives were perhaps influenced by a parent who drank too much, got nasty in their drunken state, and then lost control.  Or maybe they were constantly hearing words from a parent who simply could not see any good or value in them - making them believe they could not or would not ever be of any good other than to be someone's whore or do someone's bidding all their lives.

The good news is that we don't need to approach our heavenly father with this kind of fear. Yes, we respect him as the creator of the universe and the one who loved us so much that nothing stood in the way of him providing a way for us to be totally, perfectly connected with him through all of eternity.  But...we don't stand intimidated before him - nor do we fear any recourse from him - as long as we have said "yes" to Jesus, our relationship with God is bound with a connect which simply cannot be broken.  Too many times we fear God - thinking he is just waiting for us to screw up and then wants to whack us on the head for our screw ups.  If that were the case, God would have a field day in my life alone!  

God isn't standing over us with a big stick, nor is he neglectful of maintaining the connection we need with him.  He is attentive - even when we don't think he is.  He keeps his promises - even when others don't.  He is intuitive about our needs - even before we acknowledge them to him.  We can approach him with trust - because he has proven to be trustworthy.  We will never understand this until we stop seeing him as we have seen that earthly father, authority figure, boyfriend, spouse, or significant other who has disappointed us so deeply in this life. We have to open our eyes to how Jesus presented him - as the one who reaches out to us in grace and mercy - the hallmarks of love in action.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Do you hear me now?

Praise the Eternal!  Write new songs; sing them to Him with all your might!  Gather with His faithful followers in joyful praise; let all of Israel celebrate their Maker, their God, their friend; let the children of Zion find great joy in their true King.  So let the music begin; praise His name—dance and sing to the rhythm of the tambourine, and to the tune of the harp.  For the Eternal is listening, and nothing pleases Him more than His people; He raises up the poor and endows them with His salvation. (Psalm 149:1-4 VOICE)

A new song - isn't it kind of exciting to hear that new release from your favorite artist? When they first put out that new recording, it may be heard a million times or more in one day nowadays.  In the good ole days of yesteryear, they'd have to crank out those vinyl disks, lay out a track on an 8-track or cassette tape, and then eventually we saw the evolution of the compact disk - all of which took time to produce, package, and ship to your nearest store. Now all we have to do is tune into one of our favorite apps online and we can hear it the moment it is released - even purchase it for a nominal cost!  

You know what?  God's way of receiving "new releases" from our very hearts and souls has always been instantaneous!  He has always had a direct line to the one singing the new song! What makes God listen isn't that we all have such melodious, perfectly pitched voices. Heaven only knows there are a couple ringers in there each time I belt out a tune to him! He listens with intentional delight because it is us lifting our voices to celebrate our love, admiration, and ultimately our connection with him!  

Praise is a time of celebrating God - not just what he has done for us, but what he is to us. Grace brings us right up to the ear of God and there it is that we sing our "new songs" of praise and celebration. We have his ear because of grace!  Then grace begins to work in our hearts and we have his ear because of the heart change which is occurring.  In short order, things within our minds begin to become ordered and we see truth in a way we never have before, leading us to erupt in thanksgiving and honest celebration - again catching his ear. In the long run, we celebrate God because he is God - the creator of all things, the one who sustains the universe by his very voice, and the one who finds great pleasure in relating to us through grace.

I think the most important part of this passage is found in the last verse - "For the eternal is listening..."  It may seem a little impossible to many of us that the God of the universe would actually take time to stop, listen, and focus his attention toward us.  Maybe this is because we don't feel worthy of his attention, much less his listening to what it is we have to say to him.  You know what?  God isn't impressed with our perfect pitch - he is excited we stopped to share our day with him!  He isn't overjoyed that we expressed thankfulness for the blessing we just received - he is drawn into the words which express a heart making connection with his.

For some of us, it is like waiting for a "new release" when it comes to how frequently we stop and really take time to just lift our voice to God.  He waits and waits - then finally one day we just step up to his ear and let it go.  Time passes again and then we come to another pivotal point in our lives and let it go again.  This isn't the way God wants it to be, though.  He wants us to have his ear ALL the time - to trust him with the nutty stuff we think, and even the kind of fearful stuff we imagine.  He wants us to celebrate with him, but also celebrate because of him.  He isn't interested in us getting it perfect - his ear is open to our words, cries, celebrations, revelry, and even our unspoken groans of the heart and soul. 

Might it just be we need to "let loose" a little with God today?  I think he has his ear turned to you right now!  Just let go - he is listening.  Just sayin!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Empty nets

"Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success." (C.S. Lewis)  There seems to be weeks upon weeks in which the most we can look back on for the week is just to have made it through - when it doesn't seem on the outside like we have really accomplished very much.  We cannot forget we made it through! In that short little acknowledgement we can take heart, for the week and all the troubles which mounted against us just didn't stop us in our tracks - we ended up making it through. As Lewis points out, even the failures of the week are finger posts on the road to achievement - each failure not pointing toward an end, but a place to begin again. We might just treat failures in a different manner if we saw them as markers of where we have been on the way to where it is we are headed!  Peter was approached by Jesus after his return from an "all-night fishing trip" which yielded nothing.  Jesus asks them them to put out again onto the waters.  Most fishermen will agree, when the cool night waters have yielded nothing for a long night's efforts, it is kind of futile to try again in the sun's heat.  Their "haul" was astronomical and their obedience was rewarded.  They could have settled for their failure - but they didn't see their set-backs as stopping points.  They were launching pads from which they would start again!

Simon’s fishing partners, James and John (two of Zebedee’s sons), along with the rest of the fishermen, see this incredible haul of fish. They’re all stunned, especially Simon. He comes close to Jesus and kneels in front of His knees.  Simon: I can’t take this, Lord. I’m a sinful man. You shouldn’t be around the likes of me.  Jesus: Don’t be afraid, Simon. From now on, I’ll ask you to bring Me people instead of fish.  The fishermen haul their fish-heavy boats to land, and they leave everything to follow Jesus.  (Luke 5:8-11 VOICE)

We can fail over a great deal many points in life, but none seem to affect us so deeply as those things we know we (or others we care deeply about) were counting on in some manner.  Some failure is good for us - it challenges us to rethink things and begin again. Repeated failure without any break in the process, or glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, is without a doubt one of the hardest things to endure.  When we fail in relationship, we often feel the devastating effects of that failure for a good deal longer than we may have wanted.  Why?  There was something we valued there and we know we disappointed.  I imagine the fishermen set out onto the sea that night with no intention of returning empty-handed.  Their night's work was their way of providing for those within their families.  If the boat was empty upon the return to shore, the family did not have their next meal, or their coffers were not going to be refilled with the coins they'd need to buy what they needed.  A "fruitless" night meant a pretty big disappointment to those they cared deeply about.

I like what Jesus does when he approaches these fishermen.  He asks them to set out again. Their response is kind of like ours many times, "Hey, listen here, Jesus...we've been at this all night and there wasn't even a minnow that snagged our nets!"  We often proclaim we didn't get the minnow, all the while missing the point that Jesus is asking us to set out again so we might encounter the biggest "haul" of our lives!  We focus on the lack of minnows - he focuses on the availability of our nets.  It wasn't the minnows we really wanted, but we'd settle for them if that was all we could seem to get!  Jesus wants to get our eyes off the emptiness of our nets and onto the fullness of the sea!  Maybe Jesus isn't so much teaching them to fish as much as he is teaching them to not count on what they have always counted on!  We often give Jesus grief about being asked to do something a little differently than we have always done it.  Why?  It isn't comfortable - it is out of our "normal" way of doing things.  Yet, the greatest "haul" can be when our nets are the emptiest and our hearts are the most desperate!

Lewis also said, "There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'"  I don't know about you, but I've done my share of providing all the excuses why it won't work to just "do it again". Rather than be the kind of person who says, "Thy will be done", I kind of resisted a little and complained there weren't even minnows to be caught!  It is a sad thing for Jesus to encounter that kind of resistance on our part, but it is often what he gets when he asks us to "cast the nets again" in life, isn't it?  "Having it my own way" isn't always the best way to have it!  In fact, the nets just come back empty or all we get after repeated attempts are the minnows!  Minnows won't feed us for long, though!  They might make it look like we have had some success, but those minnows had the potential of growing into another big haul later down the road!  Just sayin!