Monday, October 31, 2016

As a nation...

Thought for the day: "Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable." (Franz Kafka) I also like what Franz said about obstacles: "The thorn bush is the old obstacle in the road. It must catch fire if you want to go further." So many times today we allow others to define for us what is acceptable and that is what we seem to move towards in life. We sometimes even allow what we know to be acceptable to God to take backseat in deference to what society finds acceptable. I honestly have to say I know what I want in a President, Senator, and Sheriff, but often find the candidates just don't measure up to what I believe and find acceptable. Honestly, this is one of the toughest election years for me because I don't see one candidate as rising above the other at all and it is hard for me to "defer" to what one group says over the other. I think a whole lot of others are in the same boat as me, just in a whirlwind of unease over this election because we don't see great choices in that which stands before us. So, let me just give us a word of advice as penned by Mr. Kafka - start with what is right and go from there. It may be hard to pick anyone who stands out as "really right", but we have to do better than just choosing what is "acceptable"!

So get rid of hatefulness and deception, of insincerity and jealousy and slander. Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good. Come to Him—the living stone—who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed. (I Peter 2:1-5 VOICE)

As a nation founded on the principles of "freedoms" - whether it be religion, speech, liberty to pursue a dream, or the right to bear arms - we must want what is best, not just what is acceptable.  It may come as a surprise to many of us, but the "freedom" we really want begins within each of us - accomplished by the igniting of the flame of grace and the removal of the obstacles of sin that encircle us in bondage galore.  As a nation, we need God's wisdom to choose well. As a believer, we need God's protection to envelop our nation. This may be the one prayer we can lift which will help us the most as we choose one over the other - even when the choices we have are not entirely what we may want to embrace.

As a nation, we do no greater service to each other than to tear down walls of hatefulness and deception. We certainly live with walls of hatred built with the blood of many innocent souls, erected in massive proportion and really impassible by "natural" means. To break down those walls, it will require the love that is more divine than human, for human love is flawed and oftentimes comes with many string firmly attached! To deal with the hatred, we must also deal with the deception which has become so prevalent in our culture today. The "spin" is abundant - the truth is harder to ferret out, is it not? Yet, we need that truth to surface if walls are to come down.

As a nation, we need sincerity in all our relationships - from casual acquaintance to deeper relationships built over years of learning each other's habits, hang-ups, and hurts. We need truth - nothing being more sincere than living without walls of deceit, hatred, jealousy, and unkindness.  We need to help each other grow - not tear each other down. We need to begin to add foundation into the lives of our children - not just allow them to be influenced by what others find "acceptable" in our day. No other investment will pay as high a dividend as that of seeking truth and living it out in every relationship we embark upon.

As a nation, we must assemble ourselves, not in defiance to tradition, or allegiance to new causes as much as we must assemble in the spirit of truth and reverence for the values God so dearly declares as important. These are the values we must ferret out in each of our candidates running for offices all over this great nation. These are the allegiances we must forge. The choices may be difficult, or even a little muddied by all the "slinging" of mud which has been so very prevalent in this campaign season, but we owe it to our nation to dig a little deeper, search a little harder, pray for God's wisdom, then choose as wisely as we can from that which we are offered.  Just sayin!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Don't be a pack mule

Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us.  (Galatians 6:2 VOICE)
What burden do you have that I might shoulder on your behalf today? If someone were to ask you that question, could you really answer it honestly? Or would you be like most of the majority of believers and simply resign yourself to having to carry that burden yourself? For some strange reason, we have the hardest time allowing another to step into our "mess" of a life and take any of our burden from us. It may be that we carry the burden simply because we think if we admit it to anyone else they will judge us or think it is ridiculous for us to be shouldering it at all. It is as though we "judge" our burden by the burdens we see others carrying and see ours as just not as "big" or "serious" as those they carry, so we just shoulder it alone. You know what? No burden is ever as heavy as the one we are carrying right now, regardless of the size!
Mom is nearly 98 now and I have pretty lightweight dishes compared to my daughter's. I use Corning Corelle dishes and she uses stone wear type. Carry my daughter's across the room and you know you have carried it! To mom, it doesn't matter - both are heavy! Her strength to carry even the slightest of burdens at her age is much less than mine, and mine is much less than my daughter's! Why? The effects of aging have placed limitations - not the size of the burden, just the fact of being physically able to do so. It isn't the size of our burden, or the "importance" of it in the eyes of others, it is the fact we are not to shoulder it alone! It may be we are not emotionally as strong as we would want to be in order to shoulder it well. It could be that we aren't able to balance this burden with the weight of another we are about to have placed upon us in short order. Regardless, we need to share the burdens we have with others. The effects of life's events place burdens upon us in measures we might not be able to handle - we need the help of another to help us out from under them.
When Paul pens these words of instruction to us believers, he isn't just giving a mere suggestion - it is an imperative to carry one another's burdens. Why? The burden we carry is what is causing us to stumble and fall - the weight of it is too much for us alone. We need a chance to heal, be restored, and come out stronger - something we cannot do as long as we are straining to carry that burden all by ourselves. These instructions come right after he says: "My spiritual brothers and sisters (that means all of us believers who share the same faith and rely upon the same grace to redeem us from our sins), if one of our faithful (note he uses the word "our" faithful - because we belong to each other in this family of faith - we have an obligation to look out for each other) has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, (what we don't avoid can become the thing that trips us up the easiest and when carrying a burden it is easier to not see the trap) don't stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare."
Yes, admitting we have a burden is hard. Yes, it can be a little embarrassing at times. Yes, it can even mean we have to let another know we aren't as "perfect" as they might think we are. shoulder it alone is to guarantee we won't be as able to avoid the next snare in our path, or improve our chances of carrying even more burden upon the present one we are so reluctant to share with anyone right now.  There is no easy way to let another share our burden, but in honest confession of our need it is possible we might just find out that there are others who have already shouldered that burden in their own life and been able to let it go, as well!  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

I need the answer now!

There is great joy in having the right answer, and how sweet is the right word at the right time! (Proverbs 15:23 VOICE)
What is the right answer?  This is the question asked in schoolrooms all around the world by teachers desiring to "test" a student's knowledge or learning. The question seems innocent enough, but when called upon to actually provide the right answer it is a bit more difficult that one may first think.  There is this thing inside many of us which society has labeled as "test-taking anxiety" which seems to abruptly interrupt the "circuitry" in our brain and we "freeze" under pressure. I don't think this phenomena is limited to the classroom, though, for I know a good many times in my own personal life where I was called upon to share  the "right answer", but came up blank! The hard disk in my brain was spinning as fast as it could, but somehow the information I was looking to produce was misfiled or just too jumbled to come out right!
The right word at the right time is doubly hard to produce sometimes, is it not?  We just seem to go "blank" as though every bit of wisdom we amassed over the years is kind of like a locked treasure chest and we cannot remember where we laid the key! The issue isn't that we don't know the answer, it is that we don't know how to produce it. This is why we so desperately need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we explore the purpose of his presence in our lives, Jesus said it was to help us remember everything he commands, promises, and has taught us (John 14:26). As we look a little further into the Gospel of John, we find Jesus gave the Holy Spirit so that his disciples could take the mantle of forgiveness into the entire world - sharing the life-giving power to forgive sins.  The right answer at the right time may just be the answer that gives life, makes a path straight for forgiveness to begin its journey, and to ensure the work of forgiveness is coupled with restoration and reconciliation!
We might think the right answer at the right time is dependent upon something we "know" or are able to "reason out", but in truth, it is dependent solely upon us being willing to listen for that small voice within which guides us into all truth, gives us all wisdom, and reminds us of the importance of our actions. It is more about "yielding" or "resting" than it is about struggling or "computing" thought. That said, let me just say that not all "wisdom" is godly. We might be well-intentioned in what we share and still miss the mark. Why? It isn't that we didn't have the right intentions, we just didn't take the time to listen closely to what the Holy Spirit was saying - perhaps only listening to half the instructions and then launching into our action. We all can associate with that one, I am pretty confident, for none of us is "spot-on" all of the time in what we say or do. That is what makes us human.  It is also what makes us dependent upon "Supra-Human Wisdom" within us in order to ensure we are bringing forth the right word in the right time!
Rather than thinking we have to learn more, maybe it is just that we have to "think" less and allow the Holy Spirit to bring forth what is already there.  Just maybe that could be the best answer! Just sayin!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Etched upon my heart

I am pleased to live how You want, my God. Your law is etched into my heart and my soul.  (Psalm 40:8 VOICE)
What is etched into your heart - into the fibers of your soul? The true answer to this question often comes when we are put to the test when we are at our weakest point physically, are tired and have endured all manner of pretty frustrating events, or perhaps after a great emotional "high" on our way back down to equilibrium. The "stretch" placed on us in each of these moments is what often betrays the truth about how "pleased" we are to live as God wants us to live, doesn't it?
There is a type of art called crayon etching in which a person takes lighter colored crayons and colors "hard" on the paper - not necessarily in any specific "picture", but just to put the color on the paper in a pretty good "layer" of crayon. As the paper begins to fill up with color, it looks vibrant and pretty in a way. The next step is to take a big black crayon and color over every other color as darkly as you possibly can. When you have accomplished the obliteration of the vibrant colors with the black crayon, you pick up a popsicle stick or some sort of blunt edge object and then begin to "carve out" an illustration from the black covering. As you scratch the stick over the black what begins to be revealed is the beauty hidden beneath the surface. All that color placed there first is what shines through!
The same is true in our lives - although it isn't quite as simple as crayon drawing!  We get all manner of "vibrancy" added to our lives by the times we are filled up with God's presence, "colored upon" by his Word, and festooned with his grace. Then in almost imperceptible "obliterating" events, the black covers over these vibrant things - they are buried under the obstruction of the moments which seem to have eliminated all that vibrancy. with our crayon etching above, as the surface begins to be scratched, pulling away a little of the darkness, the vibrancy placed there by the hand of the Master Craftsman shines through in beautiful majesty!
What was placed there first is important, but what gets revealed when the times seem the blackest is also equally as important. When the surface of darkness begins to be scratched, what does your life reveal? Is there evidence of having that magnificent "vibrancy" in your life? If there are blank spots where "color" has not been able to touch, the pulling back of the black only reveals the "blank space" where God's grace, love, peace, and presence desire to touch in order to give us that "vibrancy" throughout every "space" of our lives. In the sense of etching metal, it is the unprotected surface that begins to bear the image of that which comes into contact with it. The more contact we have with the hand of God, the more our lives will bear the image of the one who is creating beauty in the "plain" places of our lives. Just sayin!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Conscience - why were we created with it?

Create in me a clean heart, O God; restore within me a sense of being brand new.  Do not throw me far away from Your presence, and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.  Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;  let Your willing Spirit sustain me. (Psalm 51:10-12 VOICE)

Sin creates a "void" in our lives - a palpable void that yearns for what has been lost and agonizes over the turmoil it creates. There is no escaping the sense of "uncleanness" which envelopes the inner man, because it is that sense which draws us into places of deep and meaningful confession, repentance, and restoration!  Did you ever stop to think why God made man with a conscience? We could have been created with that portion of our thinking / sensing / intellect being left out of the equation, you know. I kind of think an animal such as a lion doesn't have much of a conscience, simply because they wouldn't be able to pounce on an innocent young animal or an aged older one as their next meal and walk away smacking their lips if they did! Man is created to "sense" the "void" created when we do what God has declared will bring harm into our lives, is clearly off-limits for us, or is just not beneficial to our overall emotional or spiritual well-being. To deny this sense for too long is to sink deeper and deeper into a pit of guilt and despair, leaving the body, mind, and spirit ravaged.

No wonder our psalmist asks God to create in him a "sense" of being brand new - as though the sin didn't ever exist and the effects of it never embraced the depths of his being. In essence, we sense this "void" as though we were no longer "useful" in God's hands - so as David cried out so long ago, we join in that plea to God to be taken back from the "discard pile".  Sin not only creates a deep sense of void, it also leaves us feeling "unworthy" or "of no further value" in our relationship with Jesus. It separates us much like a really heated argument in which tempers flare and ego takes center stage in relationship will send two individuals to their respective "corners" to sulk and stew about whatever it was that caused the riff in the first place. It drives a wedge between us and there we begin to drift apart, not really content to do so, but kind of too reliant upon our egos to admit our fault or failure.

As David finishes this plea, his words are more than musings in the dark of night. His words are telling evidence of a heart broken, separated, with dawning awareness of just how far his sin has taken him into the depths of despair and "loneliness".  What sin has taken away, he desires to have back. The distance sin has created he desires to have removed. Inside he aches for restoration - outside his body is showing evidence of the effects of the sin. His physical framework cannot support the strain of what his emotions, thoughts, and conscience have been wrestling with for way too long. Sin creates a "sense void", but it also carries a very physical pain with it. We cannot escape the "effects" of sin until we escape sin!

Our conscience may just be the one thing that helps us recognize the void and turn again to the one from whom we have been estranged through our sinful deeds. It may just be the very thing that begins to help us sense the pain of sin so that we desire deliverance from it. I don't know if that is why God created us with a conscience, but I am grateful he did - because without it, there is no telling where I'd be today!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

You getting specific?

Take great joy in the Eternal! His gifts are coming, and they are all your heart desires!  (Psalm 37:4 VOICE)
I took a class once designed to help me do a better job of "relating" to others - something most of us think we have down pretty well, but likely could use an occasional refresher course on from time to time. In that class, one of the exercises was to write a list of what we believed to be the desires of our heart. In other words, the teacher was asking us to get "specific" about things we might say "off-handed" in conversation like, "I would like to find a soul-mate", or "I sure would like a bigger house". Both comments are "solid" in that they specify we want someone to be that "other part" of our life we call a soul-mate, or that we are desirous of more room to spread out, but neither of these is very specific. I don't think God wants us coming to him with a list a mile long, outlining exactly how we should receive all these "desires of our heart", but the exercise gave us a moment to "clarify" what we meant by those things we simply say in that kind of "off-handed" manner. Sometimes God wants us to actually get a little specific, helping us to see more clearly what it is we really are striving for, what goal we are reaching to meet, etc.
Something began to emerge as the instructor sent us back time and again to "finish our list" with a little more detail. In other words, we put down we want a soul-mate. He sent us back to describe some of the qualities we were seeking in a mate. We came back with that "expanded list" only to find he sent us back again to be more specific about how those qualities are manifest to us. For example, if we said we wanted our soul-mate to be kind, or attentive, he asked us to describe what "kindness" or "attentiveness" looked like to us. In essence, he was helping us bring clarity to our "stated desires". The intention to find a soul-mate was one thing, to answer the other "details" we all had to dig a little deeper and think a little bit more about what these attributes actually "look like" when we see them in another's actions, words, and attitude.
There is some definite value in being able to describe our heart's desire in a little more detail than saying we want a new house. To describe the desired square footage to meet our family's needs, the neighborhood or school district we wish to be in, and how much we can afford to pay monthly toward a house payment is one thing. To describe how that house has to meet very specific needs, such as a laundry room capable of holding a large sized stacking washer and dryer, a handicapped accessible shower, a double oven so we can bake the scones we sell to a neighborhood deli each week, etc. - these are details we just might miss if we don't know that we want them before we go looking to find that house. I think the same can be true when we voice "off-handed" remarks in prayer like "God bless our family" or "God provide for our needs". To pray that God will help your family to spend one night a week together playing board games, a day each month exploring in the desert to find "treasures", or to ask him to help you read through a specific book as a family while discussing the lessons taught is much more specific and might actually help focus your intent.
When we ask God for his blessing, or we honor him in praise and worship because of past and present blessings, are we specific? Are we truly getting at what our heart's desires are when we spend time with him? If not, maybe we need to get a little more "specific" in our "relating"!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Open seas demand faith

Alan Watts once penned, "Religion is not a department of life; it is something that enters into the whole of it." I think it is quite possible we relegate God to some "portion" of our lives, while we hold back other parts of us as "off-limits" to him. This is perhaps the one consistent theme in the lives of those who really don't go beyond "Sunday church" in their relationship with Jesus. Sure, he is good for the one hour on Sunday when we celebrate him in the company of others who come to do the same, but we don't take him much further than the doorway of the church sometimes. We hear the good sermon, even nod in agreement to the points the preacher makes, and laugh at the jokes he tells. When we leave the doors of the church, the matters discussed become as though they were carried on the winds - gone from our memories, and not at all affecting our hearts.  God isn't a "department" or "thing" in our lives just for one day a week, or tough seasons when we "need him". He is meant to be the center of our lives, integral to all we say, do, touch, and breathe!

You should love Him, your True God, with all your heart and soul, with every ounce of your strength. Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 VOICE)

Why do we compartmentalize God? I think it may be out of fear, or a lack of trust. We simply don't have many solid examples in our lives of being able to trust someone other than ourselves with our present or future circumstances. We have been disappointed by others so many times that we just don't think anyone can produce the evidence of reliability we so desperately need to rely upon - so we trust ourselves instead. I for one know that my own ability often betrays me as not much more "capable" than the next guy! The inability to trust anyone with the matters of life is often our greatest hurdle. We cannot fully embrace God into all the areas of our lives we have closed off to him because of this trust issue until we are willing to put our fear behind us. A ship can no more leave the dock while it is tethered tightly to it than Christ can enter into those places we demand he stays out of because we are afraid of what he will see, do, or change.

It isn't until we begin to loosen the tethers that keep us so tightly "bound" to the dock that we are free to experience the open waters of the sea. The growth of our faith beyond the one day a week kind of faith is not possible until we have loosed ourselves from the dock of our self-doing. No one has the need for faith until what lies between them and several million gallons of water is not much more than the thin hull of the boat!  We don't need "God" while we are docked securely, never exposed to the things which could rock our world and disturb our peace. We suddenly realize how much we need him when our "mooring" begins to be challenged a little. If that "anchor" or "mooring" is simply "secure" because we are holding life all together under our own strength, managing all these areas we have declared as off-limits to God, or simply don't "see the need" to bother him with, we will find ourselves awkwardly trying to navigate the seas under our own strength and power when that mooring begins to falter.

As our passage implies, God isn't to be limited to some "department" or "compartment" of our lives we somehow have labeled as the "religious" side of our life. He is to affect all aspects of our lives, giving us both secure "tether" and trusty navigation when we find ourselves in open seas! Just sayin!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Remember, rekindle, release

GRACIOUS Eternal One, remember Your compassion; rekindle Your concern and love, which have always been part of Your actions toward those who are Yours. Do not HOLD against me the sins I committed when I was young; instead, deal with me according to Your mercy and love.  Then Your goodness may be demonstrated in all the world,Eternal One. (Psalm 25:6-7 VOICE)

I am pretty certain I am not alone in saying that I want God to always and consistently remember his compassion toward me, to repeatedly show his concern and love toward me, and to never remember my sins, but cover them securely under his mercy and love. Daniel Goleman once penned, "True compassion means not only feeling another's pain, but also being moved to help relieve it." When we say we are counting on God's compassion in our lives to extend to us mercy and grace, keeping us free from the weights of guilt and shame, we are saying we are counting on God to being continually moved to help relieve the weight of our sin by placing it under the only thing which can actually bring "relief" - GRACE.

Our psalmist uses some pretty telling words:

He is counting on the "GRACIOUS" Eternal One to extend this mercy and grace. Mercy is sometimes seen as being "lenient" on sin. It is impossible for God to be lenient on evil or sin. He can, and does, place a covering over our sin which makes it no longer exist - the blood of Jesus is that covering. The GRACIOUS side of God is not one of leniency, but of deep-seated love for each of us he draws near. We might think of someone as "gracious" when they are kind toward us, but God's graciousness goes way beyond just being kind or courteous toward us - it embraces us, in all our filth, and undertakes the work of making us clean again.

He is also cognizant of the reality of love needing continual and focused renewal.  It isn't that God's love lessens over the span of the ages, but that the author of the psalm knows human love does. He knows we are the ones who need the reminding of how hot God's love is toward us - never dying out, never becoming smoldering ashes, but always ablaze with the heat of passionate love. When he asks for God to rekindle his concern and love, he is likely asking God to help him sense that concern and love - because he has grown a little cold himself in appreciating and luxuriating in that love.

Probably most telling about his prayer is this idea of asking God to not HOLD his sin against him - to harbor it, allowing it to taint his view of him. Mankind has a way of holding things against each other - kind of like storing stuff away for future "reference" anytime there is a repeated failure, or pattern of sinful action.  It is as though we have minds like steal traps when it comes to remembering the bad stuff and sieves when it comes to recalling the countless times God's mercy and grace poured over us in intense love and care. It is a sad, but true fact - we think God must "keep record of wrongs" we have done.  Look again at scripture for it declares our sin is erased - no longer to be remembered - no longer a thing we are identified by.

God sees our pain, and he moves to relieve it.  He sees our sin, and he moves to cover it.  He hears our grief, and he moves to pull us close to his heart so he can help us heal.  He sees the anxiety of our fear, and he moves to give us solid anchor and a reliable hold in life.  He knows our deepest and darkest secrets, and he moves to bring them into the light so he may remove those we shouldn't hold onto and answer those he yearns to fulfill.  God isn't deaf to our cries, nor is he blind to our needs. He is compassionate, kind, loving, grace-full, and mercy-full in all his actions toward those he calls his own. We just need to be reminded of that from time to time.  Just sayin!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Meditate on this

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval, O Eternal, my Rock, O Eternal, my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14 VOICE)
How would you describe the "musings of your heart"? For many of us these are unfulfilled dreams, wishes for things to be a little different than how they are right now, or a change to come that would somehow "kick things into action" in our lives that seem to be at a standstill right now. Did you know the meaning of "musing" is really "meditation"? Did you know the meaning of "meditation" is really the process of spending time in quiet thought? This passage is a prayer - that God would help the one praying it to bring forth words that honor, build up rather than tear down, and reveal the right "meditation" is occurring deep in one's heart.
As I get older, hopefully I am also getting wiser. One of the things I think leads us into developing wisdom in our lives is this process of spending time in quiet thought. I don't always speak what I am thinking, but I do spend a great deal of time in quiet thought. Why? It is the place God helps me sort out all the challenges my brain and emotions are presenting to me in the course of the day. It is the time I am able to consider the various components of the complexity of the situation and see them for what they are - if they are as they seem, or are there other things to be considered before I take a particular course of action. 
I used to hear the word "meditation" and think it requires a yoga mat, incense, and a little mantra of some kind. I have come to appreciate it is merely the musings of my heart, submitted to the counsel of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. The "process" of meditation isn't the location, the "mood" set, or the "position" one's body assumes. It is the ability to bring the thoughts captive for a moment or two, settle the emotions, and allow the "process" of being quiet to sort out the truth from the untruth, the wisest choice from the others. If you are "anti-meditation", think again. God advocates for us to quiet ourselves - if not outwardly, at least inwardly! The quiet is where we hear his voice!
While I don't advocate that kind of "mantra meditation" practiced by some, I do advocate for the quiet place of meditative thought becoming the place God can bring order out of our chaos. It often catches me off-guard to find I didn't even consider coming at something I have been struggling with in a particular manner until I get quiet long enough to "process the issue" with God's help. It is as though I suddenly see the solution to the problem because he begins to help me see the "order" in the problem. Sometimes it isn't that we don't have the solution to the problem, it is that we don't have the right "order" to the problem. We have things out of sequence and therefore, we are not getting at the solution! God is a God of order. Quieting ourselves long enough to allow him to help us bring the issues we are struggling with into "right order" is certainly not wasted time!  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Desire this...

Napoleon Hill once said, "The starting point of all achievement is desire." He didn't imply it was merely the desire that got us to the point of achievement, but that desire (passion) fuels us, moves us forward, gets us off the starting block, so to speak. desire is a powerful tool, but must be used carefully for it can either move us ahead in purposeful and ordered movement, or it can launch us into the unknown with little to no control over our trajectory! I would like to believe every Christian is certain of their desire, but I must be honest here - even my own desire gets a little out of whack on occasion! It needs constant filtering, frequent readjusting, and an enormous amount of work on the part of the Holy Spirit in my life because left to my own devices, those desires will be less than "desirable"!

Whoever pulls away from others to focus solely on his own desires disregards any sense of sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1 VOICE) 

For all my wanting, I don’t have anyone but You in heaven. There is nothing on earth that I desire other than You. (Psalm 73:25 VOICE)

For all our wanting...
We all "want" something, don't we? We have desires - some secretly held close to the heart, while others are boldly proclaimed for all to know and see.  Those we hold closest to our heart are the ones we may want to take the closest look at because they are either held secret because we are afraid to admit them to anyone, or they may be something we don't want to admit we desire!  One gets us launched down the wrong path - the other, if never really explored and acted upon will never get us moving, but will create a sense of dissatisfaction within us.

There is something amazing which happens when we begin to articulate our desires.  We often find that when we "say" them, we begin to see them more clearly - there is a chance to refine them, build upon them, or even to begin to see them as perhaps not the ones we want to build upon at all. I am a strong proponent of not keeping desire bottled up - it needs to be expressed, but not always fulfilled!  There are just some desires which are not meant to be fulfilled at the moment because the timing isn't right, the conditions are not met that would make it "right" or "safe" to take those actions, etc.  This doesn't make the desire "bad" or one to be "rejected".  It may mean the desire is one which is just not going to find fulfillment in this moment.

I paired these two passages today for us to consider side-by-side. When God becomes our primary desire, all others begin to be "ordered" or "sorted out" in right order. Whenever we think we can pull away from those he has put in our lives as friends and companions in this journey, to pursue our own desires, we get ourselves wrapped up in desires which may not always produce the best of outcomes for us. We are given community (relationship) with other believers because God's "desire" is for us to not have to sort this all out on our own - he gives us these "walking partners" so we will may begin to see what we have secretly held closest to our heart and then begin to let go of the stuff which doesn't really belong there!

Don't disregard the power of your passion.  Don't disrespect the power of your "walking companions" in helping you sort out those passions so that you begin to see them clearly. Remember this - the eyes of another are not searching "glasses", but rather "reflective mirrors" of that which we may just not see without them!  Just sayin!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fact check it

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.  (Romans 12:2 VOICE)
Something will "mold" our beliefs, morals, and ultimately our choices as we make our way through this world. We often have very little idea we are actually being "molded" in one way or another - it so subtle that we likely don't even notice the changes to begin with.  It isn't until we finally step back, taking in the totality of the change, that we see just how much we have been affected by the environment we are in, the people we are with, or the things we have allowed "into" our minds such as media messages. I saw a post the other day declaring that if you weigh a certain weight on earth, you'd weigh somewhere close to one-third that weight on Mars - so that meant we were living on the wrong planet!  
While this was intended as humor, you can see that the thought is it is easier to jest about being overweight on earth, wishing we could move to the red planet, and just not have to deal with it there! We may not have to "deal with it" on another planet because it wouldn't "report" on the scale as the same weight, but would we really be any different in total body mass there?  No. We just have a different set of "input" by which we now view ourselves.
Lots of times we find the "viewpoint" that conforms to what we want to believe or hear, rather than seeking the viewpoint that might make us a little uncomfortable, or creates enough sense of unease in our lives that we actually begin to deal with whatever has been molding us into what it is we have become. When we do this, we lose ourselves in whatever it is we are trying to actually avoid facing - we are no longer resisting the "molding" - we are becoming what we are most influenced by in life. 
I frequently engage in performing "fact checks" in my own life. I want to make sure I am seeing things as I should, not just changing my viewpoint to make it look as though I am on the right path. That is why I advocate "fact checking" against reliable and consistent sources - such as scripture. If it said it once, it will say it again - I just need to figure out if I am listening to it, embracing it, and allowing it to transform my life (mold me) and not the other things or people who might want to influence me in a certain direction. When I see drift, I have one of two choices - get back on course with what scripture declares; or allow the drift to continue. It is impossible to stay where I am at - either I anchor deeply into truth, or I will drift aimlessly - there is no middle ground. Truthfully, we never just "stay where we are" - drift means we are not anchored at all!
As hard as it may be to go back to the facts, comparing my present condition or performance against what scripture declares or commands, it is well worth the effort. When we do, we are doing more than just moving onto a new place where we won't look or feel all that bad, such as the one who wants to move to Mars. We are moving out of a place where we shouldn't have been in the first place, but which we drifted into because we were being molded by some influence either inside of us, or external to us which we didn't see at first. Sometimes facing reality is hard - but when facing it head-on brings us back to "anchor" in life, it is well worth the "reality check". Just sayin!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Objective and Obstacle

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Eternal, “plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that. (Jeremiah 29:11 VOICE)
Woody Allen once quipped, "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans." It was meant as humor, but I honestly think I may have heard a slight chuckle on occasion from my heavenly Father when I have declared some lofty goal, plan, or purpose for something I am putting aside for later use.  He knows I have not always met my goals; my plans are sometimes a little too one-sided; and what I thought I'd use down the road somewhere just ends up going into the give-away pile at some point. There have been times when I have just sat back and listened to the plans God lays out, luxuriating in the moment when I let the desire to be in control all of the time just go; and then rising to really get behind those plans with all I have in me.  Those are the times I'd have to look back on and declare the plan really worked!
Plans of peace, not evil - to give us a future and hope. Plans of peace doesn't mean we won't face any hardship, just that it cannot affect our internal peace, hope, and confidence we have in a future in the presence of Jesus. A future is no good if the present is riddled with all manner of doubt and unrest of soul, spirit, and mind. We need our conscience to be at rest - not constantly niggling at us with some sense of guilt for what we have done, are thinking, or have plans to do.  We need our passion to be settled and consistent - not constantly moving us toward the easiest or fastest means to an end. These are the condition of a soul at rest - a soul that knows peace. Hope follows where peace resides. 
Most people realize that we "revise" our plans constantly - whether it be the route we take to get to work when traffic seems to ball us up in delays beyond our control, or the weather changes when we had planned an outdoor activity for the kiddos. We "alter" our plans because there are external influences that alter them for us! It isn't as though we made a "plan B" in our initially planning - we had to improvise with a "plan B" because life demanded it! One thing I have learned about God's plans - they don't need revision or "improvisation".  They are consistent, purposeful, and can be counted on - even when things get in the way of them being fulfilled for a while.
God's plans are referred to as "pre-ordained".  An architect lays out plans for the building he is commissioned to design. He takes into consideration all the factors as he lays out those plans such as the slope of the land, type of ground upon which it will be built, the purpose of the building, and even things like what type of weather it will have to endure. In making his plans, he has to consider the objective and the obstacles. I wonder what obstacles God foresaw when he looked at our lives, making the plans he has ordained for our lives?  If we keep in mind that he has already planned for those obstacles, we might find it a little easier to trust him with the plans - since he has already "figured out" how to deal with those obstacles!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Let's get to the root of the matter

Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.  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. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love. (Romans 5:2-5 VOICE)

Radical grace - what a visual image comes to mind when I think of grace this way.  Grace is unmerited - it is undeserved and unearned.  It is a gift, given freely, not under some sense of compulsion.  Radical grace is that which is totally opposite of what the present condition is that exists within someone's life. In other words, when God extends radical grace, he is saying you and I are getting something so totally and completely opposite of what it is we should be getting. My favorite part of this passage is when Paul reminds us that we will learn what it means to hope and anticipate God's goodness.  Receiving radical grace actually puts us smack-dab in the center of what can only be described as God's goodness.  William Shakespeare said, "We know what we are, but know not what we may be."  As God's radical grace pulls us closer to him, we begin to hope in what he sees in us even when we don't see it ourselves.  We begin to think maybe there is something deep within that he values - even when all our actions and attitudes seem to be those which aren't "measuring up" at the moment.

All of life is a process of being refined - moved from one state into another, until what once was a "mixture" of good and bad, holy and dishonorable, beautiful and kind of ugly begin to be separated, allowing that which doesn't reflect who he is to be skimmed away.  We don't find our way into the "refining fire" on our own, nor do we find ourselves enduring it alone.  We have both his presence and the company of others to help us see our way through the process.  Look at where this passage begins - with Jesus leading us right into the place of being refined - made new through the radical grace he gives.  Most of us think of "radical" as something describing the intensity or gravity of an issue or subject. In this case, when Paul describes grace as "radical" he is really telling us that grace isn't just about setting things right at the moment, it is about getting at the root of the issue at hand until the root is changed, allowing the character which is produced to more closely and perfectly resemble Christ!

Peace comes through radical grace - changing the "root" of our trust from deeply rooted in what we can accomplish.  We move from trusting our own ability to overcome or "act right" - we begin to see our actions stem from a changed heart (mind, will and emotions). Hope stems from having experienced something just enough that we want or yearn for a lot more of what it is we have experienced.  Anticipation is based on both the sense of peace we have as a result of this change which has begun within us and the hope that there is more of the same available to us when we turn to the source of grace.  I don't know how many of us actually "celebrate" God's grace in our lives, but even when the root is still young and growing, grace is to be celebrated - reveled in, enjoyed, allowing it to bring pleasure into our lives.  We might not see the full transformation, what we can hope and anticipate what is about to be brought forth because where "radical grace" begins, "radical character" is just around the corner. Character with a "new root" - not the same old us, but the us that only grace can see and love can foster!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Darkness envelopes and seas toss

Aristotle Onassis said, "It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light."  He also said, "We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds."  While Onassis is best known for his business acumen and marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy after the death of John F. Kennedy, his statements both ring true to us today. We can experience a darkness so totally absorbing that it seems to blanket us within what feels like sharp talons just bearing down on us, but it is during those times of the greatest darkness, when we feel all of life pressing in that we often strain just a little harder to see that one ray of light just beyond our present place in life. As he so aptly said, we also must learn to navigate in rough seas - for life rarely gives us totally calm sailing for any length of time!

My salvation and my significance depend ultimately on God;
the core of my strength, my shelter, is in the True God. Have faith in Him in all circumstances, dear people. Open up your heart to Him; the True God shelters us in His arms.
(Psalm 62:7-8 VOICE)

Our salvation (the protection we receive from harm or destruction when in the midst of unending churning) and significance (that which gives us real "meaning" in life) both are found in God - to look elsewhere is just plain not very wise. Most of us will agree that our darkest hour seems to come when we least expect it. If it came with great banners of warning, flashing red lights, and loud clanging cymbals we would probably side-step it every chance we got! doesn't come that way - it comes like a thief in the night - making a beeline right at us and without any intention of stopping short of its mark! Once the darkness begins to settle in upon us, it is hard to escape the enveloping effect it has upon us - until we change our focus away from the darkness and toward that tiny glimmer of light.

Nothing causes us to strain harder to "see" than to be in such total darkness.  It is as though we think if we just "look harder" we will find our way.  Our way isn't in the darkness, it is toward the light. It also occurs to me that it takes very little light to actually change the depth of darkness we are surrounded by at the moment. If we are to realize the "way out" of that darkness, it will come only when we intently focus on that one ray of light we see - the one God places there just so we can navigate our way out of that dark place. We won't always escape the darkness coming, but we can count on a way being provided for our safe passage out of it!

Many times we don't know the significance of the moment we are living right now, but with God's help we can begin to see how today's obstacles actually become stepping stones for tomorrow's safe passage from here to there. Side-stepping darkness is just not possible.  Controlling the seas is just not one of the things we can count on to be within our sphere of influence. At best, we navigate the seas, taking advantage of the smooth sailing days, and developing savvy "sailing skills" when the seas are a little rougher than we might like. Aristotle amassed his fortunes in the shipping industry - sending freighter after freighter across many a stormy sea. No wonder he would use this analogy for life - because he was well-acquainted with the perils of being at sea in the midst of a storm, caught unawares by the bellowing winds, crashing waves, and entangling currents. 

For some today, their sea is tossing them to and fro. The darkness is closing in. Some may even find themselves in the darkest hour with the seas ravaging them from all sides! It matters not how dark it is - it matters that God has provided a light in that darkness. Focus clearly on it, my friend. God's light isn't there by accident. It is there to help us regain focus and stop straining to find our way in the dark place!  Just sayin!

Monday, October 17, 2016

One more Cheerio

Heed counsel, act on instruction, and you will become wise later in life. The impulses of the human heart may run wild, but the Eternal’s plan will prevail. (Proverbs 19:20-21 VOICE)
I imagine there aren't too many of us that want to go through life not ever learning anything at all. In fact, we began life by exploring things around us until we became acquainted with what they were and how we could "engage" with whatever it was. If it was a toy that would make noise when shaken, we delighted in the discovery of that simple movement producing something which could make us that giddy. If it was the splendor of spearing our first Cheerio on fingertip and actually accomplishing the arrival of said Cheerio into our waiting mouth, we reveled in the moment of satisfying crunch and awesome display of advancing hand-eye "skill". As we got older, the things we found ourselves learning may not have been that simple, or produced that much enthusiastic glee in the accomplishing, but they are lessons embraced, skills learned, and treasures we can lay up, nonetheless.
Probably the greatest "skill" we learn over the course of time living out live in the presence of Jesus is this idea of how "wild" our hearts can be and how much they actually need a little "taming" with regards to the stuff they find themselves attracted to so easily. God made us with "heart" because passion is a big part of us learning new things, embracing new challenges, and being determined in our focus. Without heart, we are merely robots! So, learning how to "tame" the heart is a good thing, but one which requires skill way beyond our own personal talent. It requires the skill of the craftsman who made it in the first place!
Two things God asks of us in this process of "taming" our hearts: Heed his counsel and act on his instruction.  To heed really means we simply pay attention. A long time ago, someone told me they know I am paying attention because I am present with them in the moment - there is some type of connection made between us that lets them know I am right there, totally focused, and intent on what they are sharing or doing.  I don't think it is much different in our relationship with Jesus  -  he wants us there "present in the moment" -  not star-gazing or mindlessly nodding our ascent to something he asks us to do.  The closer we listen to his counsel, the more we will be able to understand his instruction and act upon it without hesitation. Now, let me assure you, I don't always act without hesitation - sometimes I need a little convincing the thing I am about to do is the right thing in the right timing.  The more I listen to his counsel, the easier it becomes for me to actually move when he tells me to move and sit still when he knows I am about to make a pretty unwise move!
The "taming" of our hearts isn't really rocket science - it is purely focused obedience. Turning our attention to him, listening intently to what he instructs, then putting one foot in front of the other in obedience to what he asks. The first time we speared the Cheerio was a surprise to us that we actually accomplished such an advanced feat. The second one was probably as equally surprising, but in time, the movement of those Cheerios into the empty space of our mouths became a thing of beauty. We didn't stop there, though, because eventually a spoon was added to the high chair tray and we began that "learning" process all over again. We aren't going to just heed and act once - it is a continual process! Just sayin!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Remain loyal - how?

Remain loyal to Him! Fear Him and obey His commands. Listen to His voice. Worship Him alone. Be fervently devoted to Him. (Deuteronomy 13:4 VOICE)
As Israel was about to become a nation of their own among a whole lot of other nations who would eventually desire to put them into servitude, take their fertile land, and ravage them as a nation, they receive this command to remain loyal to the God who had made them a nation. This would not have been unusual to require this degree of "dedication" to the God they served, as the nations around them all "served" or "dedicated" themselves to some form of one or more "gods". The difference is that they are to serve the One True God - remaining loyal to him and him alone, despite the temptation to become wrapped up in the false worship of these other gods.

It should not come as a surprise that scripture refers to remaining loyal, steadfast, committed, and dedicated so frequently. It is probably linked to how easily we become distracted and enticed by the things others have, what they do, and how much "fun" it looks like they are having in whatever it is they are doing! What does it mean to remain loyal to God? We find our answer in the five other things outlined in this verse.

Fear him: Not that trembling in your boots kind of fear, but the right respect for both his authority and his love. As a child, I had a hard time accepting the fact parents were both the authority figures in my life AND the ones from whom I would learn the power and sacrifices of deep, sacrificial, and unending love. I think God gives us these "human" examples of "blended" authority and love because he wants us to know him in this way - as the one in ultimate control who deserves our attentive dedication, and as the one who yearns deeply for only the best in our lives.

Obey his commands: The worst part of obedience is that we must admit our way isn't always the best way, or the only way something can be done in our lives.  I think that is why God starts with respecting both his authority and his love - then submitting to his will for our lives doesn't have to "chafe" us so doggone much!

Listen to his voice:  It is hard to be obedient to his commands when we just plain don't listen to what he is saying. As a child, when my parents said to do something, that meant I was supposed to do it. There wasn't a whole lot of "negotiation" or "challenging" done over the matter. I think we may have lost a little bit of our obedience factor because we don't really listen intently to what he tells us.  We think we have things figured out - I might just ask how that's been working for you lately, but I know the answer would be the same as I would have to admit!

Worship him alone:  It comes as no surprise that he would ask us to put him in a place of prominence in our lives, not as "one" of the gods we might turn to in our times of need, but as the ONLY God we will ever need, serve, or honor with "first place" in our lives. That means he becomes the object of our focus - the one who holds our attention and isn't relegated to the "backseat" every time some other "remarkable thing or person" tries to gain our attention.

Be fervently devoted to him: We have come full circle here, for what we give our attention to is what consumes our lives. That which we are devoted to is that which infiltrates each and every fiber of our being. God isn't asking for us to just give him "a" place in our lives, but to let him fill "every" place.  Just sayin!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Not gonna stop

Confucius said, "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." I think he may have been describing many of the times when I looked at my own life and commented that I'd just like to settle in with what I had accomplished so far because things were just "stalled" or not moving. This can be especially true when I am moving toward a weight or exercise goal! It seems like I can get a mile walk under my belt pretty easily, but then my body is ready to take it to the next half mile, but the weight doesn't seem to come off despite my "extra effort" at lengthening the exercise. Just going further doesn't mean we haven't "quit" on the inside. The distance we travel, the goal we reach, isn't so much a matter of just putting one foot in front of the other - it has as much to do with how our minds and hearts are seeing the progress and the distance yet to be covered!

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

You will hear coaches of sports teams say, "Get your head in the game."  I would have to say to the coaches that is probably more important to get heart into the game, head will follow. The truth is, we can endure a whole lot of things in this lifetime, but we don't always get as much out of them as we might be able to have if we'd have had a little more "heart" in the game.  Progress forward is good, but when the head and heart are both moving in the same direction, we are less likely to stop!  Confucius also said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."  Boy, isn't that the truth!  We want to figure everything out before we move forward, but God tells us to take the step and he will do the revealing of what we need to know as we do.  Confucius probably had someone just like me in mind when he said, "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." 

I don't think God is looking for us to "just make it through" in life. Nor is he looking for us to hit the first plateau in the journey and declare that to be the place we will settle in and put down roots.  We'd have never found out what was beyond the Rockies if the first brave souls hadn't endured the treacherous passes and hard climbs in order to see beyond those beautiful mountains!  There are all kinds of things trying to slow us down, even working hard to convince us to quit - settling for what we have accomplished so far and just becoming "content" there.  As I have frequently said, "settling" is just not what God wants for us - especially when it comes to vision he has for each of us.  It may not be clear where we are headed, but he expects us to continue to focus on what he has laid before us and then endure, endure, endure.  

There is power in focus. In reading our passage today, it starts with focus - Any temptation you face...  What you face is what you are considering at the moment - it is the object of your focus.  The temptation could be to go somewhere or do something we know will lead to compromise in our lives.  It could also be to just give up, settling for what we have been able to accomplish to this point, growing ever more so content to just stay where we are.  Either way, the power of focus plays an important part in whether we will stop or move on.  Change that focus ever so slightly and you might just see a totally different path than you had seen before!

That way of escape God plans for you is not always seen in our immediate focus - sometimes God wants to show us a different path, but we have to be willing to take our eyes off the path upon which we have been considering compromise in order to see the different path he has for us.  Just sayin!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Read the label

O True God, You are my God, the One whom I trust. I seek You with every fiber of my being. In this dry and weary land with no water in sight, my soul is dry and longs for You. My body aches for You, for Your presence.  (Psalm 63:1 VOICE)

Do you ever experience those "dry places" in your walk with Jesus? You know - the times it seems like you read the Bible, but you just don't seem to "hear" him talking to you through it; or you find yourself less than enthused with the sermon, mind wandering to the grocery list.  I think we all get a little "parched" once in a while from the "dry places" we walk through, but what does being "parched" do for us physically?  We look for relief, don't we? We seek refreshment - we want water! Could it be the "dry places" we all experience are really a precursor to something amazingly satisfying just around the corner?

Hunger and thirst create a sense of "yearning" in our souls - driving us to find the place where we will find refreshing.  We might not know what it will be that will bring that "ahhhhh...." kind of refreshing, but we know it when we take it in!  I have watched nature shows that speak of the inward pull of the animals on the arid desert lands finding even the smallest pockets of water on the dry desert floor.  It is as though they can "smell" the water - it draws them because their sense are heightened by their thirst. The same is true with each of us - we are drawn closer to Jesus because of the heightened sense of hunger or thirst we have within.  

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to "fill up" on something because it is easy or convenient?  We reach for the bottle of soda, cold and tingly as we consume it on a hot day, but does it really refresh for all that long?  Not usually - it leaves us "moderately" refreshed, but it isn't like good old fashioned water.  Yesterday, I really wanted a cup of coffee in the morning when I arrived at work. The pot was fresh, my BFF having made it just moments before my arrival, and my cup was at the ready.  As I poured creamer in and took that first big gulp, I was met with a strange taste - something I had been noticing with all the coffee over the past week or so whenever I took a cup.  I haven't said much, but I finally asked why it tasted kind of "weird".  Alas, to my surprise, someone had brought in a pumpkin spice creamer, exactly the same color bottle as my sugar free caramel machiatto creamer I usually use, and I had been putting that one in my cup instead of my usual!  No wonder it tasted odd!

There are a lot of "look alikes" out there promising some kind of fulfillment for us, but only one Jesus.  There are all kinds of places and things to run to when we think we are a little parched and in need of refreshing - but only one "well of living water" from which to draw!  Don't be fooled by the "package" - be sure you are reading the label!  Just sayin!