Friday, September 30, 2016

You trying to outrun the storm?

And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. (Romans 5:3-4 VOICE)
Would you ever associate getting to know God's goodness and learning to anticipate it in action in your life because you had just walked through some pretty bad stuff? I don't think this would be first thing that would come to mind for most of us as the "means" by which we actually learn to hope and anticipate, but if you really stop to consider it, this makes total sense! We don't develop faith when things are going smoothly - we learn to trust and hope and anticipate when things are kind of rocky!
When we are content, kind of just settled into whatever it is we are at total peace with in our lives, we don't have much "hope" for something to be different. Couples who don't ever argue, who seem to just "get along" all so well, don't really appreciate the value of conflict. While I am not advocating for arguments and friction in relationship here, I do think they are a means by which apathy and indifference begin to be challenged a little. If the wind never blew hard enough to cause the tree to send down roots a little deeper into the soil so it had good anchorage, the tree would be pretty weak when a storm really came!
If this is essential in our relationships here on this earth, don't you think it is quite possible God allows a little "conflict" in our lives from time to time to disturb us enough so that we don't drift into a place of contented apathy in our relationship with him? He wants us to develop hope and trust - in the right things - in the right person. He wants us to see life with his eyes - enlarging our perspective through the stuff we might not have wanted to face in the first place. He challenges our anchorage by sending the storms we didn't really believe we needed in our lives. No one appreciates the full value of the storm while they are in it. They might even be trying to outrun it!
A pretty significant rainstorm rolled through the valley yesterday, and I found myself literally outrunning those rolling clouds, blustery winds, and crazy stuff blowing across the roadways on my journey home. I got in the door just as gigantic raindrops began to spot my driveway. Do you know what? All that "outrunning" of the storm was for naught! Those 100 or so drops that dotted my drive were all I actually saw at my house, while my daughter who lives about 6 miles to the north of us got a good gully-washer for about 15 minutes or so. I outran it - she got the enjoyment of it!
We might think we can outrun what God sends to help us develop endurance, learn to hope in the right stuff, and increase in the trust we place in him. I wonder how much we really outrun that we just plain never get to enjoy in our life all because we don't want to get "caught up in it"?  Just meddlin!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Just as I am

So accept one another in the same way the Anointed has accepted you so that God will get the praise He is due.  (Romans 15:7 VOICE)
Mother Teresa always reminded us of the power of a smile: "Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love." She also said we are responsible to ensure no one ever leaves our presence without being just a little bit happier - how? Through the spreading of love wherever we go!  There is something powerful in accepting the other person - complete with their quirks and hangups, their good intentions and their not so "holy" ones, their wisdom and their foolishness. My dad used to remind me that the things happening in my life might just pale in comparison to the other person's life's events, so I shouldn't judge based on what I see on the surface.  It was that old adage of "there for the grace of God go I" kind of moment.
Acceptance involves approval - not so much of the actions of the other person as the person themselves. Too many times I think we confuse this - thinking when we accept another individual for who they are, we are somehow condoning the not so good parts of their actions, character, or choices. This isn't exactly the way God sees it, because the example he set for us was one of accepting us exactly as we are - not because he enjoys or condones our sin, but because he loves us. When we accept another, we are receiving them "willingly" into our lives - with no strings attached, no sense of obligation to perform or be a certain way in order to be "in our circle".  I think Mother Teresa may have had this down to an "art" in her life, for she could reach out to the lame, dying, crippled, and maimed as easily as she could the "whole".
When we accept another, we are taking them into our lives - we are holding them in a place of value which others may not always see or appreciate. I am fortunate to have been "accepted" by some pretty awesome people in my life. I have been blessed to be loved just as I am, not as I could be. The ones who embrace me in this manner aren't busy trying to "make me" a certain way, but are willing to be with me exactly as I am, allowing God to do the work of changing anything in me that might not be as it should be in my life. In so doing, we find ourselves able to grow together - no one being anymore "perfect" than the other - for we are pretty much equally in need of change - maybe just not in the same places.
God's acceptance is sometimes modeled to us in the lives of those who leave our lives just a little bit happier by just being with them. We don't know the power acceptance holds in the lives of those we meet each day - for nothing may display the love of Christ more completely as just allowing a person to be exactly who they are. Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A single rose

"A single rose can be my garden...a single friend, my world."  (Leo Buscaglia)  Friendship is under-rated. We live in a world riddled with all manner of casual contacts - filling a long list of "friends" on our social media feeds. In general, they are folks we "friended" because they posted cool stuff in their feed, had common friends with those we knew, or we know them casually from work or other places we frequent often. Do they really rise to the level of "friend"? Will they be there when the times are hard, or the things we count on seem to fall out from under us? Will they remind us our faith is in God, not the circumstances ahead of us or the ones we just found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of right now? If they aren't, then they are probably more of an acquaintance and not so much of a friend.

true friend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times.  Proverbs 17:17 VOICE

The other day, my BFF and I were commenting about some of the friends we have had down through the years. We recalled their names, the circumstances that brought us together, etc.  It wasn't that we were really reminiscing that much, it just came up in casual conversation because she recounted what a new member of someone's family was going to be named.  That one name made me remember a friend from high school that I had lost contact with down through the years. I told my BFF that I had tried to find a couple of close friends from high school, all to no avail.  Although the name of the one was quite unique (or at least I thought it was), there were thousands on social media with the same name!  The other had likely married by now and was no longer going by her moniker, "Fish".  Both of these gals meant a lot to me, helping me get grounded in my faith, not so much because they were Christians themselves, but because they challenged me to be a better Christian!

That may not sound like much at first, but let me explain. One was a professing atheist - just not able to make room for God in her realm of thinking.  She believed heartily in evolution and challenged me many times on this "Creation Theory", as she called it.  The other was from Lebanon and had never been raised around Christian people, but she challenged me to understand Islam - not to convert me to her way of believing, but to understand her upbringing and family faith.  The more time I spent with these two unlikely companions, the more time I spent in the Word of God and in good books which helped me to understand my own beliefs, laying a firm foundation for me during those high school days.  By the time we graduated, we were doing a daily Bible Study together in the Quad at lunch time.  We discussed passages, challenging each other to consider it from one way or the other, and in time, we became very close companions.

The people in our lives matter - maybe not because they all believe the way we do, or even act exactly like us. They matter because they help us grow, challenging us to go "deeper" in our faith, and keeping us grounded in what matters. I may have lost touch with these two over the years, but their impact on my life will never be forgotten.  I learned of the wisdom of some great authors who helped me grow in my faith, grew from the insatiable exploration from cover to cover of my Bible, and understood that we can love and be committed to each other deeply even when we don't see things exactly the same. 

Little by little, they began to appreciate "my God" and the beliefs I found so important in my life.  In small steps, they edged toward accepting there just might be something to this Creation Theory, Christ and the cross, and the power of resurrection.  Most of the time I wanted to be "right" - having them see what I believed to be "best" and "the truth". Some of the time they challenged me to actually show them why "my way" was best or the "only" truth to be believed.  If you haven't been challenged at that level, then I wonder if you might not just benefit from finding someone in your "circle" who challenges you that deeply.  Just askin!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Record-keeping again?

"Life is an adventure in forgiveness." (Norman Cousins) Let that one settle in for just a bit, please. Life is an adventure - into forgiveness and inside forgiveness. This thing we call forgiveness is a living, breathing, moment by moment existence. It is not a one time makes it all better kind of thing - it is an ever-expansive movement. I often hear people describe this phenomena of forgiveness as "I did it" and that is that. Let me just say the emotion and memory attached to anything that needs to be forgiven - in ourselves or others - takes a little bit more than a "I did it" kind of commitment!

How happy is the one whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sin is hidden from sight. How happy is the person whose sin the Eternal will not take into account. How happy are those who no longer lie, to themselves or others. (Psalm 32:1-2 VOICE)

Forgiveness is two-fold: in the moment, and then into continual action until the memory and pain of the issue becomes less and less. It doesn't matter how much we try to forgive because someone "deserves" our forgiveness, if we don't deal with the memory and emotion attached to the issue which stood between us, the "act" of forgiveness will fall far short of actually taking up the actions forgiveness requires in the long run. There are lots of times we cannot even forgive ourselves for something we have done (or not done) - so how much harder is it to actually let someone else off the hook?

Make no mistake - this forgiveness thing is not for wimps! It requires some effort to actually erase the slate and no longer keep account of the things we once kept account of. We are little "accountants" - all of us. We keep our own account - of the stuff we do wrong and have a difficult time overcoming in life. We keep the books on others - because the stuff they do just rubs us wrong or gets on that last nerve we had left that day. We keep record of stuff people we don't even know that well have disappointed us by - simply because we don't think they should have done something the way they did it!

I have a hard time forgiving myself on occasion - messing up in areas I thought I had a handle on previously. It isn't unusual that I want to use terms such as, "You always..." or "You should have known..." when I think about beating myself up for some repeated offense in my life. I can be harder on myself and keep a more thorough set of books on my misdeeds than most of you might be about me. In fact, I can even read where something has been erased - like a good CSI detective! Now, tell me I am not in this muddle of record-keeping on one's own actions all by myself - I won't believe you!

I know we all have an occasion or two where it becomes hard to let go of what we feel is a wrong we have committed against others or God and truly let the slate be wiped clean. It is like we want to confess it over and over again, somehow forgetting God doesn't keep books on our wrongs! He keeps books on how much grace he pours into our lives, not on how many wrongs required that grace! The more grace he sees, the more beauty we magnify, because we are becoming a mirror that reflects who he is!

Forgiveness of self begins at the foot of the throne of grace. Forgiveness of others begins the same place. We don't just "give" forgiveness - it is first worked out in our hearts at the foot of the cross and then it gets worked out in the actions we extend to others because we want to live out this life of forgiveness. Just sayin!

Monday, September 26, 2016

What's that I smell?

Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29 VOICE)
Who's really listening to what you say? There is a commercial out right now in this election season which depicts pictures of kids sitting in front of the TV while a certain candidate uses expletives, bashes people, and is generally not very civil in his communication style. The message is that our kids are listening - their little brains being like sponges taking it all in. While this isn't a political rant on any one candidate, let me just assure you of this - people are listening and the truth is we make more judgments than we might think based upon what it is we hear. As adults we carry this one step further than the child might - we might actually look for the action that backs the words up, but not always! Sometimes we are more than willing to take things at "face value" and not really wait to see the actions which will emerge behind those words.
I kind of like how this passage unfolds, but especially the choice of words used in this translation. Rottenness has a way of working its way to the surface, doesn't it?  I have a compost bin out in the backyard and that means I need a compost collection container somewhere in my house or garage. If I let that stuff "dwell" too long in that collection bin in my hot garage, it doesn't smell to pretty when I lift the lid! In fact, it could set you back a few feet! The odor seems to linger a long, long time after you have done so. Why? Rottenness has begun and when rottenness is the underlying process, what emerges is kind of rank. Even if I don't lift the lid, there is an odor which begins to seep from the small spaces between the lid and the container. That foulness has a way of getting out!
I don't think it is much different in our lives - rottenness has a way of seeping to the surface and letting it be known that something just isn't right on the inside. This may often be revealed quicker in our words than one might think - being spoken quicker than we ever wanted it to be, exposing just how "rotten" our motive might be or our heart has become. Interestingly, the word "seep" was chosen here meaning to escape even the tiniest of spaces so as to come to the surface. When there is something amiss in our hearts, it has a way of "seeping" to the surface - doesn't it? Try as we might to keep it under wraps, there is something "rotten" which begins to get out "between the cracks".
We probably all want our lives to reflect grace - the grace we have received and the grace we know others will want to receive. Yet, there are just times when we don't do the best job actually exhibiting grace - something quite different seeps to the surface, exposing a little bit of jealousy, anger, or even mistrust from deep within. It is at times like these that we need to ask God to show us what is at the core of those exposed motives. No motive exposed is ever wasted when it is placed into God's hands - he has a special way of using it to show us what is at the root of what we see or hear when we ask for his wisdom. Grace doesn't come forth when rottenness is at the core - the thing which comes forth is probably the furthest thing from grace. Allow God to deal with the rottenness when it is revealed - knowing that if even a little bit of it seeps to the surface, there is a whole lot more where that came from!  Just sayin!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A moment to pause

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.  (Philippians 2:3-4 VOICE)
We let a whole lot of things interfere with our relationships, don't we? Truth be told, most of us don't even know all the things we have tolerated that just aren't doing much to build us up, create cohesiveness in the relationship, or give us much of a foundation upon which to weather the worst of storms together. It isn't as though we set out to be selfish and prideful, but it is as though the world has an agenda for us that somehow twists our focus away from the important stuff in life and puts it squarely on the stuff some will definitely see as selfish and a little too much based in pride. We have to stop occasionally to really evaluate what we are keeping squarely in our sites and then refocus when we see we have not been focused as we should be.
Agendas have a way of getting filled by the loudest, most obnoxious things - don't they? The laundry is piling up, the dishes need to be done, the carpet has stains from where someone dribbled their cup of coffee, and the bathrooms just don't clean themselves! It is quite possible we see all of these things as very practical work we all need to do on a fairly regular basis, right? We all want to wear clean clothes! We can only substitute paper plates for so long - eventually we will need the pot to make the next meal! So, how is it these things could ever be something that takes us away from relationship? Easy - if we make the job the focus we are allowing the job to set the agenda. If we make the relationships we have within that home to be the focus, the jobs will get done, but the relationships will be built, as well.
In the blink of an eye a plane fell from the sky last night just one mile from my home. The house it crashed into went up in a fire ball quicker than anyone could have imagined. The people on board the plane were all skydivers, so they were prepared to jump, but those in the house - were they prepared for this sudden change in their agenda? I kind of doubt it! Even the skydivers and pilot of the small plane didn't expect the change in agenda! What could have been catastrophic for a great many people actually was quickly addressed by multiple fire and rescue agencies responding to this "sudden change in agenda". We just never know how life will change when we are so laser focused on one agenda or another. Relationships could have been changed forever last night, but fortunately for everyone concerned, it was reported all made it to safety.
We have a natural "inborn" tendency to protect what is ours - it is like we become mother hens just brooding over what we see as ours - our responsibilities, our dreams, our mission in life. We forget totally that others play a pretty significant part in "our responsibilities", "our dreams" and "our mission in life". We don't do this alone - you have heard me say that before. We live life in community and it seems to me there are things which just naturally oppose us being all that "communal" in our focus. We get all wrapped up in what matters most to us at the moment and forget about all the others God has placed in our path. It might just be time to refocus our attention to the things that matter in relationship. That may be a little time spent building a Lego castle with your grandson, or filling the bird feeder and sitting on the patio at night just watching the birds come and go with your loved one. Life doesn't have to always be "filled" with the complexity we call "living" these days. Sometimes it just needs to be filled with the laughter and tears of being real with each other in those moments of pause we take to really focus on what matters. Just sayin!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Do we imitate or emulate?

So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children,  and live in love as the Anointed One loved you—so much that He gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God.  (Ephesians 5:1-2 VOICE)

Have you ever observed a small child imitating his or her parent?  The parent crosses their legs and the child does the same.  The parent takes their cup of juice in a coffee mug and the child wants his the same way.  The father is pounding nails with a hammer and the little boy wants a scrap piece of wood, a handful of nails, and a hammer to do the same.  For some reason, children just naturally emulate the actions of their parents.  Notice that I used the word "emulate" there - they don't just imitate - they want to do it as well, not just "close enough".  I don't think anything is much different for a child of God - we want to live this life of grace and love - not just "okay", but with excellence and pretty closely emulating what we have observed in the life of Christ.

One who imitates is merely doing the same thing as the other person is doing. In drama class we had to do this exercise called "mirroring".  We'd face each other, then work to "mirror" the exact movements, expressions, and posture of the other person. The more we practiced this, the better we became at it, but we still weren't doing anything that the other person was doing. Imitating means we "copy" that which we see or have experienced. The child sees the parent pray at meal each time they sit down and it just becomes natural that they will bow their heads and hold out their hands to pray at mealtime. They "copy" the behavior they see the most.

That being said, we all know the risks of someone imitating (copying) the behavior they see that might not quite be the best, or even a little bit "risky" in nature.  Parents everywhere used to recite an expression to their children's objection to not being allowed to do something - you probably heard it at your home, as well.  The child would say their friend's parents were letting them do a certain activity or wear a certain style of clothing and our parents would respond back to our plea with what expression?  "Just because John jumps off a bridge, are you going to do it?"  Well, wearing a halter top or going to the beach with boys wasn't exactly jumping off a bridge - but it came close to challenging some of the moral bridges I found myself faced with!

Emulation is the process of measuring up to something we see or admire. In the original form of this word (Latin), it also carried something a little bit "wrong" in the meaning.  You see, those who "emulated" the other person were actually envious of the other person - they were wanting to outdo them!  Imitation is just producing a mirror-image or copy of what is modeled - emulation carries the idea of not only meeting the performance of the one we are modeling, but working hard to exceed it!  I don't know if any of us will ever perfectly model the love and grace of God, but I am pretty confident none of us will ever outdo his love or his grace!  So, what word do we use - imitate or emulate?  

Maybe the idea of following is a key to the answer we seek here.  Those who follow like "adored children" are probably pretty close to exhibiting the behavior traits God expects of each of us. As little children seek to learn how their parents move and act, God is telling us to do the same - come as little children, adoringly following every move he makes, and allowing what is patterned to become the way we begin to act ourselves.  It isn't so much that we just mirror the behavior, but that we begin to find ourselves acting as he does because it becomes second nature to us.  Just sayin!

Friday, September 23, 2016

A good leader...

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others.  (James 3:13 VOICE)
Gentleness is often an overlooked character trait in today's leaders. We expect wisdom - otherwise they probably couldn't do the job. Wisdom is the ability to apply the knowledge we have gained - making in practical to us. A good leader will be able to take what he or she knows in their mind and hearts and apply it to the situation at hand. Some leaders just apply what they know in their minds and forget about the heart.  A good leader considers both!
Wisdom and understanding - knowing in the mind, listening to the heart, and then applying what you know is right, sound, and of good value in the situation. We might think one thing, but when we consider it with our heart, we sometimes find ourselves holding back or just not going down that path all together. Why? Wisdom demands balance between the cold, hard facts and the impact those facts will bring to bear on the situation at hand.
Recently, a large smartphone manufacturer released a device which almost immediately began having problems with the battery contained in it. They have had to issue a "cease and desist" request of all those who bought the device - recalling all of those devices. In the large retail market, it is possible we mean well with the thing we produce, but when it begins to impact lives in a negative manner, we might just have to rework our design! The mind can conceive the billions in profits, but the heart knows the design is flawed and must be reworked.
The examples we are to follow tap into both - the strength of knowledge and the gentleness of knowing how to use the knowledge for the betterment of all concerned. As a young Christian, I possessed the knowledge - it took me a while to realize you didn't win souls by beating them over the head with it, though! Gentleness is what makes truth "palatable" - we are less reluctant to consider the value of truth when we find it presented in a way which reflects from a heart connected solidly to the one who is all truth.
We are to seek out these examples - using them to help us walk stronger and be as united in our walk with each other as is humanly possible. Things which normally divide a community need not be the issues of focus when we begin to be led by leaders who exemplify both wisdom and gentleness. Even totally radical ideas can be presented in a way that doesn't incite riots and unrest - when the leader is both wise and gentle in how these ideas can become the pervasive culture of our society.
Good leaders blaze the trail - they set the course. We don't just want leaders with good ideas - we also want them to be able to walk the talk!  We need to know they say what they mean, mean what they say, and have a connection between the "smarts" they possess and the ability to apply those smarts to the needs of our society today. Let us pray for leaders of this caliber and seek to align ourselves with their purpose.  Just sayin!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Experiencing through immersion

We have experienced and we have entrusted our lives to the love of God in us. God is love. Anyone who lives faithfully in love also lives faithfully in God, and God lives in him.  (I John 4:16 VOICE)

Experiencing goes part and parcel with entrusting.  It is impossible to truly "experience" anything without having also participated in it. We can watch all kinds of reality survivalist shows, but are we the ones hunting our meals, looking for potable water sources, or trying to figure out how to stay dry and warm at night?  Nope. We are taking it all in, maybe learning a little bit about ways to find edible food sources in the wild, and even how to make a steam water still to get potable water, but we still haven't entrusted our lives to the process of surviving in the wild!  If you suddenly were to find yourself cut off from civilization because you were the lone survivor of a plane crash in the remote wooded forest somewhere, then maybe you'd begin to experience it first hand - but now you are entrusting your life to those who were doing all that teaching to you when you were watching those shows.  You just moved from merely taking in knowledge into the place of having to put it into practical application.

This is probably where we fall short the most in our Christian walk. We somehow think merely being exposed to the love of God will make us "all better", but we forget the important part of entrusting those various hurts and hang-ups we have into his care and oversight.  His love is there within us, working at the core of our being, but until that love begins to affect how it is we respond to those hurts and hang-ups, it is merely like watching the TV show about survival.  We get the concepts, even see how it all works together, and store away "ideas", but we don't actually begin to really see the impact of that love until it begins to be used to help us overcome those hurts and hang-ups. We have to faithfully turn toward that love, allowing it to guide us into consistently right action designed to move us beyond those things if we are ever to see change evident in our lives.

A few things we cannot ever forget:  

1) God lives faithfully in us - he doesn't come and go, but remains within - even when our hurts or hang-ups seem to be the center of our attention.  
2) God isn't as concerned about our "exposure" to his love as he is about our "experiencing" his love - while one might lead to the other, it is entirely possible we get a great deal of exposure and a little less experience than we might realize.  
3) Hurts and hang-ups are not overcome by some magical will-power within us, but rather the presence of God's love and the willingness to allow that love to begin to affect how we see, feel, and experience things in this life. 
4) We aren't entrusting our lives to some 12-step program, but a living, breathing, ever-present God. We might place more emphasis on the "steps" we take toward our full deliverance from our hurts or hang-ups, but wherever God is, there is the power to overcome these things. It isn't the steps - it is the one we are immersing our lives in that makes all the difference.
5) Nothing just seen or heard is fully experienced - we need to be immersed fully in it to experience it. Think of music for a moment. When we hear a nice melody, it might catch our ear, but when our toes start tapping and we find ourselves swaying a little to that beat, then all of a sudden the chorus begins to well up within us, we are taking that "hearing" to a totally different level.  We are beginning to move from hearing into experiencing the full influence of that music. God's love can be seen - we can hear about it - we can observe certain actions of love. soon as that love begins to break through calloused places of our heart, tugging on doors we have kept tightly closed for way too long, and drawing us into rich places of lavish love and languishing in his healing pools, we begin to experience love's impact - we are immersed.  Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

We are the church

If you find any comfort from being in the Anointed, if His love brings you some encouragement, if you experience true companionship with the Spirit, if His tenderness and mercy fill your heart; then, brothers and sisters, here is one thing that would complete my joy—come together as one in mind and spirit and purpose, sharing in the same love.  (Philippians 1:1-2 VOICE)

Comfort - encouragement - companionship - tenderness - mercy...
What fills your heart? What encourages your spirit? What energizes your thoughts? What gives "lift" to your step and forward motion to your actions? What gives balance to your emotions? If you can answer "Christ" to all of these, then you are probably pretty saturated in the peace of Christ!  Your comfort isn't found in things you own or the stuff you might be able to "see", but rather it comes from being embraced by his grace, tenderly touched by his mercy, and wrapped up squarely in relationship with him!

The very next step in developing a strong walk with Christ is to begin to relate to one another as we go along in this walk. As I have said on more than one occasion before, we aren't meant to walk this thing out alone.  Most of life's challenges are not meant to be "self-study"!  They are meant to be faced with each other - maybe so that we will grow, but it could also be that the other one we are walking with needs to see us go through the challenge so they can face their own!  I used to think I had to be pretty "bottled up" about some of the stuff I struggled with in life until I realized I was cutting myself off from what just might be the help I needed to actually see things from a different perspective than I had been able to see myself!

My pastor likes say that the church isn't a place, it is the people who fill the place - it is us!  If you truly think on that one then anytime two or more of us are anywhere together, we are having church! So, does that mean if we are hiking the hillside together we are "in church"?  Yup. Does that mean if we are putting a room together that badly needs a make-over we are having "church"? Yup. Does that mean when we stroll the shops together on a lazy Saturday afternoon, just looking for a good bargain we are "being the church"?  Yup.  We don't have to be raising our hands in worship, swaying to some song being played on the stage, or sitting circumspectly as the pastor preaches a sermon to be "in church".  If we are "in Christ", then when we are anywhere, we are "in church" because we are the church.

Our purpose is to come together - as one in mind, spirit, and purpose. In that sense, when we are engaged in any project, even the ones that seem a little like leisure, we are in a place of representing Christ to each other and helping each other to grow a little.  As I have said, nothing speaks louder than our actions - how we live our this comfort we have experienced, extend the same mercy we have received without measure to those who might just need a little of it themselves, and just plain show how much love God has embraced us with in our actions is what counts.  God's love isn't just for us - it is meant to be lived out "in community" - with those he places purposefully in our paths. They may not all be "ideal" in their own walk with Christ, but if we are on this mission of learning to embrace his grace and love together, then we are going to move toward that goal together!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Living life to the fullest

If you love life and want to live a good, long time, take care with the things you say.  Don’t lie or spread gossip or talk about improper things. Walk away from the evil things of the world, and always seek peace and pursue it.  For the Eternal watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. He is always listening. But He will punish evildoers,
and nothing they do will last. They will soon be forgotten.
(Psalm 34:12-16 VOICE)

How many of us really "love life"?  If we say we do we will probably follow that statement up with some kind of ethereal kind of words such as, ", I will live it to the fullest" or "...and I am going to make the most of every moment."  We forget that we aren't the ones really determining what a "full" life is or what all the moments of that life will entail. We simply set out to "live it" and "love it" - but it isn't always that easy to love the "stuff of life" that happens along the way. Living a "good, long life" really requires a lot of work on our part, and a lot of trust in the one who will help us walk through it with grace, dignity, and secure in his protective covering!

There are some things we can "do" to live as "fully" as possible and in a manner that makes the moments count. The first is to be sure our lives are squarely placed in the hands of God by trusting in his Son as our redeemer. We all stand in need of a redeemer, regardless of how well we think we are doing in this life for none (and I mean absolutely none) of us is without a sin nature. Therefore, we are all capable of sinning and we will eventually make that choice to do so at some point. As such, we need a redeemer - one who has paid the price (penalty) for our sin already.  Once our lives are squarely placed into a position of trusting Jesus as our redeemer, then we need to figure out how to walk with him at all times.  Easier said than done, I assure you.  It is hard walking through this life without reverting back to the old ways of independent thought, actions, and intent.  It is quite possible we have tried to do things on our own for some time, but as soon as we realize we are making a mess of things trying to "manage them" on our own, we soon realize we have misplaced our trust. 

As we begin to walk with Jesus as our guide through this life, we find ourselves beginning to focus on the things in the list cited in our passage today.  Our speech begins to be affected - what we say begins to matter like it may not have in a long, long time.  What we say and how we say it often is the tell-tale indicator of who is in control at the core of our being. How we interact with others is either in grace, truth and love - or in anger, slander, and all manner of untruth.  It took me a long time to realize any untruth, regardless of how small, was still an untruth. There just isn't room for in-genuine words in God's economy.  His words count and he want our words to count, as well.  Not as harsh, judgmental, and crass words might - but as words of grace, love, and truth.

As pointed out in our passage, when our lives are being lived to the fullest, we are other-oriented instead of self-oriented. We are not just thinking of me first and you second, but we look for ways to build each other up, making each other better in the process. It may begin in our words, follow in our actions, and eventually engage our entire being, but that is what true Christianity is anyway!  Just sayin!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Spice of life

If only You would rip open the heavens and come down to earth—its heights and depths would quake the moment You appear, like kindling when it just begins to catch fire, or like water that’s about to boil.  If only You would come like that so that all who deny or hate You would know who You are and be terrified of Your grandeur.  (Isaiah 64:1-2 VOICE)

Mom always used to say I had a mind that needed to stay active and most of my closest friends still realize that about me today. I was not the smartest kid in my class, but I was always (and I mean always) curious. I like to discover new things - always trying to see things in a new light. This fascination with seeing what might occur when you introduce a new variable into the mix is just part of how my mind works. That has served me well when trying to create a new recipe on occasion, but at other times the meal was a little less than "good", if you get my drift!  There are just times when the "mix" of what is there is wrong - the variable which was introduced was just not right for what else was there. For some of us, our only impression of God is that of the GREAT JUDGE, ruling somewhere in the unknown great expanse of the skies, just waiting to bring down the gavel and declare us guilty for some slip up. For others, he is the FATHER they never knew and have the hardest time relating to because their own earthly father was so abusive or absent. God has many sides, but we must remember his most prominent "side" is that of grace - coupled with love - in which he displays himself over and over again.  

We might want him to rip open the skies and reign down judgment on occasion because things are so out of hand in our world, but let me just assure you of this - we don't want to see God in his full-on "Judge" mode apart from having his grace as a covering over our sinfulness if we do!  His grandeur is indeed awe-inspiring and even "nature" responds to his presence.  We don't really want God to display his judgment, although the circumstances might "warrant" it, because when he does nothing is left the same.  It is impossible for his righteous nature to tolerate unrighteous deeds of any kind.  Yet, he introduces grace into the mixture because grace has a way of overriding all the misdeeds and unrighteous motivations of a man's heart.  Grace is kind of like that ingredient we always want in our dish - it is what brings out the beauty of whatever it is added to.  

Grace has a way of bubbling up in us - much like a pot of water put on to boil. The tiny bubbles will only give a hint of something transformational happening deep below the surface, but as grace begins to take on the "heat" of his love those tiny bubbles begin to find themselves breaking to the surface.  They begin to churn within the depths of the pot and soon you begin to see steam emerging from that churning water. That steam is a product of the heat of his love - his grace is just a way of bringing forth something new and pure from within each of us.  Rather than asking God to break open the skies and reign down judgment, we might rather pray God open the skies, turn up his love full force, and reign down grace like nothing ever seen before.  In old time religious circles that was called praying for "revival". 

Israel awaited deliverance from their enemies. I have come to realize the power of grace in dealing with my enemies - it is an ingredient that never fails to bring out something in each of us that we never knew was there. Rather than praying for their judgment, maybe we need to pray for their peace.  Rather than expecting them to fall on their face, perhaps we should pray God will elevate them to new heights.  I am not perfect - I sometimes want them to "get what's coming to them" - but God's plan is to turn up the heat of his love, add the ingredient of his grace, and see something pure come from the mixture. Just sayin!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Not just another mountain

I look up at the vast size of the mountains—from where will my help come in times of trouble? The Eternal Creator of heaven and earth and these mountains will send the help I need. He holds you firmly in place; He will not let you fall.  He who keeps you will never take His eyes off you and never drift off to sleep.  (Psalm 121:1-3 VOICE)

There are two ways to look at mountains in our midst - either as that which is never going to let us past, or as that which can bring our deliverance.  So many times we view the mountains as that which stops us in our tracks - formidable obstacles, unable to be moved, and hard to cross over.  We cannot go through them because they are immovable, would crash down on top of us, and would take lots of resources we don't have at our disposal.  We cannot go under them because mountains don't come equipped with underground passageways!  We could walk all the way around them, but that would be lots and lots of extra work, time, energy, and challenges that would tax our resources.  The quickest way to deal with the mountain is not to go around it, but to get over it!  As good as my climbing skills might be in some situations where I can easily get my footing, the sheer climb upward is sometimes the most challenging, making me want to give up on the climb!  Yet, there is no way over until we make progress upward.

Too many of us look at the size of the mountain in front of us and make the determination there is no way to ever get beyond it.  We "settle" for life at the foot of the obstacle in front of us - thinking we have to just deal with it obstructing what lies just on the other side of it - making all that lies beyond out of our reach.  Our psalmist reminds us God doesn't make mountains as obstacles, but as sanctuaries and as vantage points!  They can become the very thing we need to get clearer perspective.  As I traveled a few weeks ago high up into the mountains of Arizona, one of the places we stopped to explore was a mountain rim upon which you could look out over one valley after another, one mountain after another, until they faded into the distance.  From that vantage point, I was higher than all those mountains, but I also saw the passage that clearly ran through those mountains to the other side of all of them.  It made me know that despite the innumerable obstacles, the way was clearly laid out and adequately prepared for our journey to the other side!

Those same mountains that seemed to be obstacles are sanctuaries for many a wild creature, lots of beautiful tall growth, and even the occasional thorny cacti.  Yet, these are all pretty much hidden from our view because we cannot see the forest for the trees  - we have no idea about the passage through, or the resources at our disposal along the way.  Our psalmist reminds us that God made that mountain - it isn't there by accident.  He also made a way over it which we may not fully see until we change where it is we are viewing that mountain from!  Just sayin!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Can I carry you?

Indeed, when you were still in the womb, I was taking care of you.  And when you are old, I will still be there, carrying you.  When your limbs grow tired, your eyes are weak, and your hair a silvery gray, I will carry you as I always have. I will carry you and save you.  (Isaiah 46:3-4 VOICE)

There are times in life when what we see started in our lives just don't seem to be coming to fruition. It seems as though progress "stalls out". As with any process change, the movement from one point to another can start with great strides, but in a course of time, the gains seem to get smaller and smaller. Why? We are nearing the completion of the change! It isn't that God has stopped working in us - it is that we are about to be transitioned into a different "change" focus. In fact, once change is deemed to be complete in one area, it doesn't mean we just coast - it means we ready ourselves for the next phase!

I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world.  (Philippians 1:6 VOICE)

We might just forget that God sets out to define, design, and direct our lives from womb forward - never neglecting one step in the developmental process along the way. He is "taking care of us" even when we don't feel his presence, know which way is up, and when times get a little rougher than we might have imagined. From womb to tomb - God is ever working to see us develop into the creation he designed and defined as his own.  I love the passage from Isaiah about "carrying us" way into our old age - never leaving us to have to "manage" on our own. We might think we have abandoned him along the way, giving up on some of the changes he set out to see accomplished in us, but he never abandons those designs.  They remain consistent - we are the ones who abandon the path to seeing them fulfilled.

What is begun will not be abandoned by God. This might be hard for us to imagine since we are so feeble in our own commitments to some things in our lives. We find the road a little too hard to travel, or we aren't seeing the progress be as quick as it was at the beginning, so we abandon the process. I wonder how many significant changes we might just have been hours short of completing - our full break through in that life issue just days away - all because it just didn't seem like anything was happening anymore.  I have had to learn that change is incremental - not all at one time. There are ups and downs to change, necessitating course corrections along the way on occasion. But...God isn't finished with me yet! What he has begun - he will finish. 

Sometimes we can go through change under our own power - seemingly standing upright and strong - facing the challenges head-on and with great stamina. At others, it is as though God needs to just carry us as we go through them. Some might think the latter is kind of wrong - but sometimes we just need to be carried! There are times when the change requires some adjustments which are not all that easy - we need to be carried over rough spots, through dense places which would mire us down if we weren't. It doesn't mean we are weak or barely holding on - it means we have learned God's hand is there to help us make it through!

I want us to reflect for just a moment on a truth we might just gloss over in our introductory passage. It isn't that God carries us when we cannot seemingly walk through under our own power - he ALWAYS has been carrying us.  We just notice he is carrying us when we are the weakest in our spiritual, emotional, or physical strength!  Maybe what God wants us to really know is that he isn't just there "when we need carrying", but he is there even when we seem to be "doing all right" in the journey.  In the old Southern vernacular, to "carry someone" meant you took them from here to there - not always a literal picking up and toting the person from here to there - but an accompanying of one along the journey.  Some of us need to be physically carried - God is there. Other just need to know he is with us on the journey.  Either way - he carries us! Just sayin!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Carrots or Cheetohs?

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You remove fine layers of film and dust from the outside of a cup or bowl, but you leave the inside full of greed and covetousness and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee—can’t you see that if you clean the inside of the cup, the outside will be clean too?  (Matthew 23:25-26 VOICE)

My BFF and I were walking after lunch the other day, crossing the area on our sprawling property at work in which we may occasionally catch a glimpse or two of some groundhogs poking their heads above ground, scurrying back and forth between dens, and looking for the occasional handout from passers-by.  We had been proceeded by a couple of other work chums who had obviously wanted to ensure the little critters had a good lunch.  Scattered all across the tops of the mounds were those small carrots you can buy these days, all peeled and about two inches in length.  Bright orange was evident on almost every active mound, but we didn't notice too many of those critters taking the brightly colored tidbits.  On the other hand, when my BFF and I have taken them out a bag of Cheetohs, also equally as colorful and vibrant atop their dens, those are snatched up in about 30 seconds!  We chuckled to ourselves, both thinking the same thing:  "They don't want carrots!  They want Cheetohs!"  Both are the same color, but one just catches their attention and tantalizes the taste buds a little differently than the other, right?  What appears similar is really quite different in both the appeal and the value.

In our Christian walk, we can all look the same on the outside - maybe not bright orange and brilliantly radiant like the carrots and Cheetohs atop those mounds, but quite similar in our outward appearance nonetheless.  The outside looks pretty close to the same, but the inside is quite different and each will affect the one who comes into contact with each of them quite differently, as well.  We both began to discuss how many times we encounter things (and people) in life that appear one way, but on the inside are quite different than what we expected. We have a tendency to "dress up" the outside to look quite good - like the Cheetohs promise to be by their brilliant color.  Yet, we have neglected to allow anything really "good" to have been added into our lives - much like the Cheetohs.  We settle for the appearance of good without the reality of anything good being there to affect our inner man.

While both the Cheetoh and the carrot will appear the same on the top of the mound - when the intake of one over the other is allowed, the outcome of what is produced is quite different.  I can eat a bag of Cheetohs, getting all that orange artificial cheese product to smear everywhere, but the outcome will be quite different than if I eat a bag of carrots!  In fact, I don't feel well after taking in the Cheetohs, but the appeal was greater than that of the carrots.  The appearance fooled me into thinking they were all right for me - but the affect of what we allow into our lives, deeply affecting our inner man, will one day become evident outwardly.  We may just not recognize it as having come from what we have "ingested" along the way!

We "dress things up" to look one way in our lives, when in fact they are quite different than what they appear.  We are creatures who have learned to masquerade one way, while the opposite is actually quite true about us - we are one way in appearance, another in actual performance.  While my BFF and I discussed the topic, she mentioned how much someone in her life was "supposed to be" a good Christian, but how little of Christ she actually saw exemplified in that individual's life.  This is truly a sobering thing to realize - that others are actually doing more than listening to our words - they are looking at our actions!  As Jesus chastised the Pharisee religious leaders of his day for looking all pious and proper, but obviously missing the "practical" application of what they taught acted out in their lives, we can fall prey to masquerading ourselves one way, but really not having that life-change occur on the inside. Maybe we'd do well to examine how we appear a little less and start allowing God to look at how we really are acting!  Just sayin!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Studying hard

Make me hear of Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You.  Teach me how I should walk, for I offer my soul up to You.  Rescue me from my enemies, Eternal One, for You are my shelter from them.  Teach me how to do Your will, for You are my God.  Allow Your good Spirit to guide me on level ground, to guide me along Your path.  (Psalm 143:8-10 VOICE)

There are a number of action words in this passage which will be our focus this morning. Why?  God's plan for us is not for us to just come to him and then think it will be "life on a silver platter" moving forward.  He wants us to realize there are actions required of us - as with any other relationship - it must be developed, maintained, and continually refreshed in order to remain vital, flourishing, and able to be reproduced in others.  Let's see what God says:

MAKE:  Hearing is sometimes not as easy as someone speaking and the other person just somehow having the words "sink in" so they have their desired effect.  In most cases, things might need to be said again, in a similar, but different way just so the other person will even have their interest in "hearing" tickled a little bit!  If you have raised children, you know exactly what I am talking about on this one - kids all "hear" at a different level because they are selective about what and who they actually "listen to" in life.  They will hear the same message time and time again from their parents only to somehow think they heard it the very first time from their best friend!  We often need to ask God to help us to hear - because we don't always want to hear the truth.  The truth might just make us a little uncomfortable, so we might want to avoid it.  God doesn't "make" us do anything - he relies upon our willingness to do it.  When we finally come to the place where we admit we haven't been listening and that we actually desire to hear, he is more than willing to make the adjustments in our lives to help us to hear.  Beware of this request, though!  It carries with it some adjustments we may not realize when we pray it!  Hearing is not always possible until there has been an adjustment in our attitude.  Attitude adjustments require some movement on our part - so don't be surprised if asking to hear brings some attention to those areas which might not be exactly as they should be in our lives.

TEACH:  Walking isn't learned through osmosis.  We don't just wake up one day and find ourselves walking with stability, strength, and perfect balance.  It is trial and error, at best, and we find ourselves falling a lot in the process.  Our psalmist isn't just asking God to show him how to walk, but to actually teach him how it is done.  A teacher does more than stand at the front of the room and demonstrate something.  The teacher repeats the instructions, oversees the efforts of the student, and encourages them when they make the right steps toward the desired results.  If adjustments are needed to ensure they are learning in a way which produces a stable process in achieving the end result, they are guided in those adjustments.  It is foolish for us to think we can simply wake up one morning knowing how to take each and every step along this path we call "being a Christian".  Finding balance between what we want to do, what we should do, and when it should be done is hard. We need more than the rule book to guide us - we need someone to interpret the rules and show us how to live them out in a very practical sense!

RESCUE:  Many of us think this walk with Jesus will be kind of "trouble-free" and are a little surprised when we find our there are pitfalls along the way.  I think of the disciples who found themselves smack-dab in the middle of a pretty tumultuous storm in the midst of their attempting to cross over from one spot in their journey to another.  Their boat began to toss to and fro, the waves almost causing them to be out of control, while waters filled the boat and the rowing they attempted wasn't seeming to get them anywhere closer to the safety of shore.  Their journey was far from trouble-free, even with Jesus right there in the middle of the boat.  Their intent was to go about what they normally did - finding themselves in the midst of something they didn't count on or know if they'd actually be able to ride out despite the presence of Jesus with them.  The storms of life sometimes catch us up, give us a few more challenges than we might expect, and seem like they are about to take us under - even with Jesus right there along for the ride!  Oftentimes we want deliverance, but haven't quite realized the one who is right there along on the ride - because he is silent, almost "obscure" in his presence.  Yet, when we turn to him for rescue, he is immediate in his response just as he was to calm the storm and silence the winds that night.

ALLOW:  Doing the will of God and getting to our destination on "level ground" isn't always the easiest of tasks for us - we like to complicate things by taking paths not quite as level as we might have been up to handling.  As I hiked in the forests around Northern Arizona over the past week, I wanted to be constantly cognizant of staying on the trails as they were marked out for me.  As we neared one particularly stretch of trail, there were warning signs indicating veering from the trail could cost us both a fine and possibly get us put into some kind of situation where we could even face charges for trespassing in a protected sanctuary for the bald eagle.  So, needless to say, we heeded the warnings - as neither of us were really keen on spending time in jail or giving up our hard-earned monies for some glance at an eagle's nest!  These patches of forest land were not for us to pass through, while the other paths were well-marked and indicated a safe passage.  We were "allowed" passage along the perimeter of the nesting area, just not passage into it.  Sometimes the will of God is like the trail system - we are allowed certain passage unrestricted, but at other times we are encouraged to avoid passage in another direction.  Why isn't it that the restricted things in life aren't "fenced in" with some type of barbed wire to keep us from passing into them?  I think it is because God is really looking at how well we have heard, learned, and trusted. In essence, he is seeing if we have been good students!  Just sayin!