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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Know vs. Show

No one really knows the day or the hour of their final breath, although some may sense it as quite near, while others fight for every last breath as though it were something they might control. As time winds down for some and time begins for others, the world continues the constant buzz of life's circle. Some believe there is no end to their life, with perpetual opportunity to return in some other form in a life hereafter, while others hypothesize there is nothing beyond that last breath. I will always believe there is life after death - not in "some other form" such as returning as a goat or coming back as some famous person - but in union with the Most High God - ever present with him into and throughout all of eternity. If that makes me a little flaky to some, I shall not apologize. If that makes me a little too "holy" for some, I also shall not apologize. As much as it matters where I am headed once this is all over, I want to be assured I am living this life I have been given in the best manner possible. I don't want to miss a beat, nor do I want regret at the end of my life for not having done more of something that mattered, or having had opportunity to forgive and did not. How we live today determines a great deal about how we will face that last breath on this earth - with joyful anticipation of the hereafter, or sorrowful regret at the missed opportunities!

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)

Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, "A good character is the best tombstone. Those who love you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not marble."  There is much truth in what he says - the best character, lived out in our everyday life, is the greatest honor we can achieve in this lifetime. We are not the name carved on the stone as much as we are the "dash" between the years! That dash can represent all manner of "living", but those who will be remembered well will have lived in such a way their real memory lives on in the hearts of those they have touched by their kindness, integrity, and love. It may seem a somber thought for consideration today, but it is a worthwhile one, nonetheless. We make the day today, not in our tomorrows. We are given today - we are never assured of tomorrow.

One thing is for certain in this life - bad stuff will happen.  Some of it will happen to us, while other stuff will happen without us even being aware - maybe even because of us! It is not that we escape the bad stuff, but that we shine with the character of Jesus as we go through it. It is how we respond in the midst of the rough seasons that often is the tell-all of our real character - what is at the core of our being. Do we pout and sulk in our disappointments? This might just reveal how much we were putting our trust in something quite untrustworthy in the first place. It could also reveal just how much we counted on getting our own way in the matter. Do we get angry or anxious when things "interrupt" our plans? We all plan - even those who don't think they do. Some "plan" to do nothing - that is still a plan! How we face those plans gone awry often reveals a great deal about our inner character, doesn't it?

Lincoln said it wasn't adversity that tested a man's true character as much as it were to give that same man power - power being the ultimate test of one's character. This is so often the truth - for power and position can be the undoing of many a good man or woman - often without them even noticing how much it has changed them. This is why those who find themselves suddenly in the view of public fame face a myriad of criticism - with those who look upon that individual's actions with an eye focused on finding some "fault" in their actions - some disconnect between what they say they stand for and what they reveal in their actions. I think this is why scripture warns against desiring to be a teacher of the Word - because the scrutiny of one's character is ever present. This is also why I will be the first to tell you that I am far from perfect, struggle with exactly the same things you do, and find myself sometimes quite far from the mark I was aiming at hitting! 

I am as human as the next person, but because of Jesus in my life, I trust in his grace to bring me through to where I should be and not where it was I was headed!  Sometimes my "show" doesn't always match my "know" - if you know what I mean - but I am confident Christ will bring me to the place these both align in my life. I also am confident he will do the same for each of you as you place your trust in him to help your show match what it is you know to be true, right, and just in every action you take today. Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What are you wearing today?

Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind.  But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together.  Let your hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful.  (Colossians 3:12-15 VOICE)

The word "since" is suggestive of a completed action - based upon something which has already occurred - it is a done deal. That means there is no denying this life-change which occurs when we give our hearts to Jesus - it is an action like no other, setting into motion all future actions which are based upon that one action. At the point we say "yes" to Jesus, inviting him to take control of our lives, there is an action on God's part that sets into motion a cascade of events we call sanctification (a big word meaning we are cleaned up, our priorities are set straight, and we begin to take steps in accordance with what the scriptures declare to be the "right actions" of his followers). 

We are set apart by God - meaning we don't do the setting apart - he does. This life change is his doing, not ours. We cooperate with him, responding in obedience to what he reveals to us as the "right actions", but he is the one to call us away from the way we were living apart from him and calls us toward a new set of choices and actions. We are told to clothe ourselves with a holy way of life - manifested in certain actions such as compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I don't know about you, but I might get one or two of these "right" some of the time, but to get all of them right all of the time, that is beyond me to actually pull off in my own power!

We need God's grace to get all of these actions aligned and consistently revealed in our lives. If we read on, these expected behaviors are revealed in such things as being tolerant of the other person when they do something which disappoints or isn't "up to par". It means we forgive one another for actions they might not even have realized they revealed in response to one of life's circumstances. It means we love in ways we just cannot do apart from Christ's life being real within us. To love as Christ loves means we do so without strings attached - truly forgiving offenses even before we are asked for that forgiveness. It means we don't wait - we beat a path to the other person's door in order to see relationships restored.

Joyce Meyers frequently reminds us that patience requires more than an ability to wait - it is the actions we reveal while we are waiting. We have probably also heard it said that all things are difficult until they become easy. We may not get this right all of the time, and only get some of these right most of the time, but the truth is that God will take the sum of the ones we do get right and use them for his glory. We just need to take action as he directs and leave the rest up to him. Eventually, we will be fully clothed with all these actions of grace, but until that time, get as many pieces on as possible! Just sayin!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Which way you planning to go?

"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way."(Henry David Thoreau) Wise words for us to consider this morning, aren't they? Which direction do you plan on pursuing today? It may be that you have already selected that direction by the focus you are maintaining! Thoreau also said that things are not what change in this world - it is US that change in the midst of the things! 

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor. (Hebrews 12:1-2 VOICE)

Stay focused on Jesus - this is the message I want us to hear as we begin this "mad rush" toward Christmastime. It isn't the malls, presents, trees, cookies, fudge, or even the carols that will enlighten our hearts, or help us manage our time well. It is his presence - his face before ours - remembering it is not the purchases that matter, but his peace and his grace.

He designed us - who better to trust with our day's business? He knows the ins and outs of our every capability. He knows the true capacity of one's endurance. He knows the internal working of our mind as we mull over each and every detail. Trust him to keep that mind focused and determined not to let what beckons for our attention to get us bound up in things we don't need to concern ourselves with.

He perfected us - we aren't going to achieve anything"good" this holiday season apart from what he has already done within us. We might volunteer at a soup kitchen, or run a food drive for the homeless. These are worthy plans and will indeed be blessed when we keep him first in all we do. We don't need to do these to earn his love, nor "complete" what he has begun in us by his grace - we just do them because he burdens our hearts for the need around us.

He doesn't intend for us to carry that weight - so let it go. There is no better time to be free of what weighs us down unnecessarily. Some will have convinced themselves they were "meant" to carry that burden, simply because their "deeds" didn't measure up somewhere down the line and this present weight must be a punishment for those misdeeds. Nothing could be further from the truth, for all those misdeeds are covered by his grace.

He knows the "cling" of sin - so he made a way for us to be free of it. Sin has a way of "shrink-wrapping" to fit our present circumstances - to hold us tightly inside the boundary of its bonds believing their is no way to escape. He splits that seal and places another deeply into our hearts - the seal of his Spirit declaring loudly that we are his and the object of his affection. As such, no sin can "cling" to us any longer.

He is aware of the length of our race - so he made a way for us to endure it, and not only to endure, but to win. We run a lot in this lifetime, isn't it about time we run for what matters? To run from sin, and toward grace - this is the goal. To run from doubt, and toward trust - this is the mission. To run from worry, and toward peace - this is the aim. 

As we begin the "mad rush" of the season, let us not lose focus. Let us run with endurance, focused intently on him, never losing sight of the reason we celebrate this season in the first place! It is indeed that we might celebrate the grace he brings and the love he so magnificently revealed in coming to earth to make a way for us to reconnect in fellowship with the heavenly father. Just sayin!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

As my soul pants...

Come, let us worship in song, a joyful offering to the Eternal. Shout! Shout with joy to the rock of our liberation. Come face-to-face with God, and give thanks; with loud and joyful voices, praise Him in songs. (Psalm 95:1-2 VOICE)

Although I am not a big fan of those who make millions telling others how to make millions, I find it helpful when someone can help those struggling financially to learn to live on a budget or find some freedom from over-spending such as using a prepaid debit card rather than running up large credit card bills. While I am have not attended one of her seminars, or even read one of her books, I came across a quote recently from one such author and speaker: "True generosity is an offering; given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations. Time and love are the most valuable possession you can share."  (Suze Orman) I am not sure if she meant to, but she connected the giving of one's self to the greatest gift of all. I think this is something God had in mind when he gave the gift of his one and only Son, Jesus - freely given, out of pure love, the greatest possession he could share with us. No wonder our psalmist calls us to come and worship him!

A joyful offering is called for - nothing else could be our response. Shouts of joy and exuberant praise should be our response to such a display of love and commitment. Yet, when we come face-to-face with God, many of us don't think to thank him, but cower in fear because we think he will "remember" something we have done wrong in our past, or judge us by some standard by which we could never measure up. We forget that when he sees each of us, it isn't our sinfulness or "worthiness" he focuses on, but the heart and spirit of his dear Son born within each of us! That is our cause to celebrate - that is the rock of our liberation upon which we stand and proclaim his praises!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." When we enter into God's presence, no longer focusing on our unrighteousness, but gazing solely into his eyes of sacrificial love, we cannot help but have our minds, hearts, and spirits stretched to "new capacity". We experience just a little bit more of his grace, love, and peace - if that were even possible - and therein find our lives expanded. It is this expansion which results in our desire to praise, give thanks, and celebrate his goodness in our lives. It is this continual expansion which draws us back, thirsting for more of his grace and love.

As scripture puts it, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." The intense longing for the experience of the refreshment of the stream moves us closer to the stream until we can actually partake of the sweetness of the refreshment it provides. The presence of God should cause us to long for the "refreshing" we find there - to pant for it, move toward it, and drink deeply of it when we find ourselves face-to-face with it! Just sayin!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Really, God?

God’s blessings follow you and await you at every turn: when you don’t follow the advice of those who delight in wicked schemes, when you avoid sin’s highway, when judgment and sarcasm beckon you, but you refuse. For you, the Eternal’s Word is your happiness. It is your focus—from dusk to dawn. (Psalm 1:1-2 VOICE)

We don't have to fear the next turn in the bend, although we don't know what awaits us, we can be assured of this - God will bring blessing out of every circumstance we face. It may not seem that way as we are rounding that bend into what seems to be a tumultuous ride, but God's plan is to bring blessing even out of what is the hardest and most demanding of life's moments. God's blessings follow us - they are like the wake of a boat moving through the water - impacting those around us and leaving their lives just a little bit more blessed by having been touched by him. It isn't that we avoid the calamity, but that we refuse to be overcome by it - not giving into the pull toward judging the moment as too severe, unfair, or unrealistic.

Stop for just a moment to consider this - if we resist the desire to become judgmental or flippant about whatever it is we are facing, could this possibly be one of God's blessings he gives us in that moment? To face it without going down the path toward a sinful response of ungratefulness, complaint, or anger - maybe this is one of his blessings - this stable attitude with which we can focus not on the event, but on the one who promises to keep us as we go through it. There will be lots of advice from those around us as to how it is we are to face the moment - some will lean toward embracing it, others will advise we resist it, while still others will say we probably deserved it. Didn't Job have those who came to offer their advice on the matters he faced? What makes us think we won't have the same type of "advisers" rising up when we least need them! The best we can do is thank them for their desire to help, then lean into God's Word - for he longs to declare to us what it is we are to lean upon while we are going through the situation.
I would be remiss here in not admitting my own failure to keep a positive attitude on occasion as I faced unpleasant stuff. There are times when it is just easier to complain, resist, and get downright angry about facing the stuff I thought was too hard, or perhaps too unfair in my life. I didn't want to walk through divorce, but I made it through by his grace. I didn't want to be a single parent raising two kids, but with his grace and guidance every step of the way, my kids turned out pretty well and I was reasonably "unscathed" by the trip! I didn't want to lose my job, but whenever it happened, God made a way for me to stay totally caught up with my bills, never missing a beat in blessing me along the way. I didn't always embrace those challenges eagerly, waiting with marked anticipation to see how God would turn these things into a blessing. In fact, I think I complained a little too much, got angry a lot, and even worried way more than I should have. What I can tell you is this - God helped me see the blessing even when it was not very apparent at the get-go, turning my complaint into gratitude, my fear into trust, and my anger into submission.

Going down any path with God is not an assurance it will be an easy path, but it is an assurance you will make it through and in the end, although it may not look like it, there will come blessings untold!  Just sayin!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Immerse me

Like Me, they are not products of the corrupt world order. Immerse them in the truth, the truth Your voice speaks.  In the same way You sent Me into this world, I am sending them.  It is entirely for their benefit that I have set Myself apart so that they may be set apart by truth.  I am not asking solely for their benefit; this prayer is also for all the believers who will follow them and hear them speak.  Father, may they all be one as You are in Me and I am in You; may they be in Us, for by this unity the world will believe that You sent Me. (John 17:16-22 VOICE)

Jesus is just about ready to be taken to the cross and he takes some time to pray for his disciples - those who follow his teachings. The moment he starts praying you can see this intimate connection he has with his father - it is a comfortable exchange of words and is free-flowing in expression of his heartfelt wishes and burdens.  A few times in this prayer, he reminds us that we are not products of this corrupt world but are set apart for his purpose by accepting the truth he declares. Truth is a liberating force in our lives - a force to be reckoned with. To this end, he prays one specific thing - that his father would "immerse" each of us in the truth - the truth which comes directly from the voice of God.

Why is this important to us today? In understanding this prayer, we must first understand the relationship Jesus had with his father - the deep connection he had with the heart of his father. It was this heart connection which causes him to be burdened for not only that generation of followers, but for all future generations who would see their example and follow their teaching. The prayer is that God would connect them as closely to his heart as he himself was connected - infusing truth into every fiber of their being (and ours). Immersion means there is nothing left exposed - it is fully and completely "covered" or saturated with whatever it is immersed in. Immersion in truth is what makes it possible for us to look beyond our differences and see the specific connection we have with each other through the blood of Jesus.

Truth does more than set us free from the bonds we have had in this world - from the bondage to sinful deeds and motives. It sets us free to unite with one another even when we are not entirely like the other person - breaking down divisive walls and creating a cohesive bond between us. Immersion in truth is the only way to realize true unity - apart from that, all we have is casual connection (occasional agreement on a subject or matter at hand). In Christ, and the unity made possible because of our heart connection with the heavenly father, we can unite together in purpose on this earth. We may not all be the same - but in Christ we can focus on the same goal!  What we may need just a bit more of in this world right now is not more truth, but full immersion in the truth we have already received in Christ Jesus. Just sayin!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Momentum

"The undertaking of a new action brings new strength." (Richard L. Evans) While this is ultimately quite true, most of us begin some new task wishing to be where we want to end up right from the beginning - we wish the steps in between didn't have to be taken because it is a lot of work sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other!  Some think we make our own future, create our own hope, live as though we create the world in which we live. While I think keeping a positive attitude is quite important, we don't actually create our outcome just because we think our way to a positive approach to the problem at hand. We often have to struggle with the "negative" stuff in the middle of the problem, with the gamut of emotions that brings, until we reach the other side. As Evans said, the actual action we take creates a little bit of new or renewed strength in us. Each action is the starting place for momentum to develop - without action, there is no possibility of momentum because for momentum to exist, there must be movement. We don't create change by just thinking about it - we move forward with the first stumbling action and then add the next and the next until we seem to be moving as though we know where we are headed.

Your word is a lamp for my steps; it lights the path before me. (Psalm 119:105 VOICE)

The world we live in has become proficient at expecting action, but many times we just want to sit back and let someone else take that action. It is as though we all desire a certain course of action, but we do very little to help each other realize that goal. When we begin to realize our words only disguise the actions we "intended" to take, or mask the real actions we took along the way which were less than desirable, we might just stop using our words to disguise or mask our true momentum or lack of it. God's words, on the other hand, often reveal the true intent of our actions - because they reveal the heart of man better than anything else which exists. The scripture has a way of unmasking the intent of the heart, even when one's own words have done a great job of concealing the truth of one's inaction or wrongful action. It is time to realize that every word has an effect - regardless of whether we believe the true intent of those words were heard or not - but also that each step toward action we take has a powerful impact.

I believe it was Gandhi who said action expresses priorities. When we take a particular course of action, we are declaring our priority in the matter. We either have made our needs the priority, or we put the needs of another foremost. Some of us are proficient at ensuring both of these are met by the actions we take, but it is not likely we do this very well all of the time. We live a life of balancing between taking action which will help another, and taking action which is really intended to meet some need within us, but which might just also touch the life of another in a positive manner. It isn't that we totally separate the two, but that we sometimes don't realize the impact of action upon another until we see it. Our priorities must be focused correctly in order for the action to be that which produces the momentum we want to have carry us through till the end.When we allow God's word to illuminate our path, helping us to be guided into correction action, we find the momentum created is not always a result of our own actions - it is there because God is exerting the force behind that action which produces the results we are seeing!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Let us be grateful

Let me see clearly so that I may take in the amazing things coming from Your law. (Psalm 119:18 VOICE)

What is it you are not seeing that clearly right now? Is there some question you have been wrestling with for some time unable to quite reach some form of resolution or solution? Is the time you spend pondering the stuff of everyday life kind of getting harder and harder when you expected it might just let up a little? If so, you are not alone in this inability to see clearly at times - we all suffer from the same "lack of clarity", but may not always admit to it because we don't actually realize we haven't reached a point of "clarity" yet.

I think one of the greatest things which unlocks clarity in my own life is when I reach a place of gratitude in whatever are I am struggling or wrestling with at that moment. That may seem a little naive at first, but hear me out. When I transition from questioning into trusting, it usually happens when I begin to settle into being grateful for whatever it is I am facing or dealing with regardless of how tough, unfair, or monumental it may seem. I think Melody Beattie penned it beautifully when she wrote: "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."  

It doesn't take much of a rudder to turn a huge ship, my friends. Sometimes the smallest amount of gratitude in our hearts and minds ends up bringing the deepest sense of trusting, the exact amount of hope we need, and the most insightful direction we could ever receive! We may not be removed from the tough place, but we somehow manage to see it differently. I don't know how all that works because I am not God, but I have seen him do this in my own life time and time again - simply because I turn from complaint about the issue, stop struggling to produce the answer myself, and begin to just thank him for holding me right there in the midst of it until he reveals the way out.

We don't uncover truth - it comes to us because we have opened our hearts and minds to receive it. One of the keys to unlocking our minds is to change from using the key of "questioning" to using the key of "thanking". When my marriage was falling apart many years ago, I had lots of questions, hurts, anxieties, and frustrations. The one thing that settled my heart and mind, guiding me through that tumultuous time was being grateful for what I had received and learned during those years of being together. I don't always embrace the lessons the first time I am going through them, but as I see things unwinding or getting a little chaotic in my life, I can choose to see things from a different perspective, not because I become "enlightened", but because I choose to be thankful.

We are in a season dedicated to being grateful for the many wonderful things God has placed in our lives. I challenge each of us to think upon the things we are not the most grateful for today - those tough things we are facing. As we think of those things, could we just for a moment ask God to help us change our focus from one of wrestling or struggling with those things to just being grateful for them? We don't know what awaits us around the other side of those things, but trust me on this one - when we change to a position of gratitude, we may just see possibility where we only saw challenge, hope were we only imagined the worst, and delight where we had been experiencing all manner of frustration. Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My attitude directly influences my altitude

Trouble and distress have overtaken me, but Your commandments bring me great joy. (Psalm 119:143 VOICE)
There is more to "keeping a positive view" than just thinking positively. Trouble abounds - but we don't have to be under the weight of it. Distress comes in bushel baskets - but we don't have to succumb to it. We might feel "overtaken", but when we really understand the meaning of that word, we might feel differently. Overtaken is made up of two words - "Over" and "Taken". When we allow feelings to guide our thoughts, getting us engaged with all the chaos around us, and causing us to be fearful or angered by the situation at hand, we are likely to feel like there is something which has "come over us". It envelops us in the strangling tentacles of the chaos and seems to have us squarely in the shadow of the oppression of the moment. To be taken, one must be "available" - that which is watched closely and guarded with tenacity has a much lesser likelihood of ever being taken!
Some preach we only need to change our way of thinking in order to be free of that which is oppressing us, but I think it might just be a little more than that which truthfully sets us free. Oppression is a "sense" of being weighed down in our minds. It is this "sense" that engages our bodies in the "feelings" of the oppressive weight which comes upon us, until we are "under" that weight - as though something had come "over" us. Our "sensing" might begin in the mind, but it is made up of all manner of emotion, as well. The idea of "sensing" something carries the meaning of experiencing it in your mind and your body. To just change our way of thinking may begin to make our bodies feel better, but until we take some other course of action, the real freedom from the weight isn't realized. To stop sensing pain when touching the hot curling iron, one needs to remove the curling iron from their ear! It doesn't come because I think my ear is cool and without pain - relief comes when I remove the thing causing the pain, or remove myself from it!
Distress isn't handled by some magical "de-stressing moment" at the spa. It might not hurt to get a massage, or even pamper yourself a little with a pedicure and hot rock massage, but the stress we are under is only masked until we deal with the condition which placed us in such physical or emotional need in the first place. We might think we can escape it for a while, but it won't change the fact it is still there when we leave the spa! To be free of it, we need to change our relationship with it - we stop focusing ourselves on that object of our stress and focus instead on the object of our peace - Christ! The object of our stress may be a bad relationship, or financial troubles, but if all we see is the oppressive weight of either of these, we will never think we can move out from under them. The moment we put our eyes on Jesus, the weight may not immediately feel like it is gone, but the way out from under those things is in the works!
Some of us might want to believe we can "deal with" those objects of our stress, affliction, and oppression on our own, but I'd have to ask, "How's that been working for you?" If we are entirely honest, it probably hasn't been a lasting change of scenery! The moment we stop making ourselves available to the oppressive weight of the circumstances, the misery of the relationship mess we have entangled ourselves in, or the burden of misplaced steps down a path we knew better than to take, the less likely it is that we will be "taken" on that oppressive and stressful ride again! We might not control it by our mind's thoughts, but when we change our focus - where it is we are looking for our help and deliverance - we might just see the scenery we have been observing while under that weight changes a little. The first step out is a change of focus - a redirecting of our heart - leading to a redirecting of our mind - and ending up with a clarifying of our emotions. In turn, we take the subsequent steps to be free of the weight - simply because we see it as possible to be less "available to be taken". We don't change our minds - we change our focus. In turn, it changes our attitude and our attitude will directly influence our altitude! Just sayin!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Make me a little less crooked, please!

"What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains." (Tennessee Williams) Williams sure hit that one square on the head, didn't he? The human heart is probably one of the most "un-straight" things in this world! Jesus said to his disciples one day as they were considering their heart's affections that the human heart can be found in the same locale as one's greatest treasures. "Some people store up treasures in their homes here on earth. This is a shortsighted practice—don’t undertake it. Moths and rust will eat up any treasure you may store here. Thieves may break into your homes and steal your precious trinkets.  Instead, put up your treasures in heaven where moths do not attack, where rust does not corrode, and where thieves are barred at the door. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21 VOICE)  In considering the human heart, Jesus undertakes to explain a few things our hearts struggle with on a pretty regular basis. In considering these things this morning, let's just reflect upon how he develops this conversation with his disciples.

But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. (vs. 1) It was the custom of the religious of the day to make a "show" of giving to the poor, showing how much they gave in the offering at church, and the like. It was as though they wanted their "good works" to show as a sign of their "true devotion" - but all the while their heart was betraying them, revealing the underlying pride at the center of their actions. As Jesus begins this discussion, he reminds us how "curved" our heart can become toward taking center-stage. If left to our own devices, we might all just have to admit we want to be noticed when we do "good stuff", but as Jesus said, that "notice" we receive from our fellow man will become our only reward. God rewards in secret - when the heart connection is made between him and us, secretly showing us how very much he is pleased with us and drawing us even closer to him.

Your prayers need not be labored or lengthy or grandiose—for your Father knows what you need before you ever ask Him. (vs. 8) When the heart is curved toward the wrong "bent" in life, our prayers can be anything from hollow to self-seeking. They can become a "chore" we undertake, rather than a place of connection with God himself. We may not know this, but our prayers reveal more about our heart's focus than we may actually realize. If our prayers are a burden and a laborious task we undertake, they may reveal we have wandered a little too far from the heart of Jesus. If they are "big and wordy and kind of lofty", they may reveal we either don't feel comfortable talking with Jesus, or that we are still struggling with a little bit of that pride thing. Our prayers are to be genuine, for God already knows the "bent" of our heart and he wants to "unbend" it in these times when we just get honest with him in sharing what is in that heart of ours!

If you forgive people when they sin against you, then your Father will forgive you when you sin against Him and when you sin against your neighbor.  But if you do not forgive your neighbors’ sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (vs. 14-15) The heart is also the place of relationship - the place where we either treasure up the good in others, or form the most awful batches of resentment and bitterness known to mankind. It is in forgiving others we find the path to forgiveness in our own lives. Jesus has no greater mission for us than to be agents of reconciliation on this earth. To store up all manner of unforgiveness is just not God's way, and it makes our heart tremendously "curved" toward all manner of evil intent and malicious action.

- No one can serve two masters. If you try, you will wind up loving the first master and hating the second, or vice versa. People try to serve both God and money—but you can’t. You must choose one or the other. (vs. 24) As he winds down the discussion about the "curvature of the human heart", Jesus reminds us of the tendency of the heart to think it can juggle more than one focus in this life. It is as though we think we can dabble a little in this or that, then stay on track with the path of righteousness we are asked to walk, but in reality there is but one focus we can truthfully maintain. We might keep a lot of stuff in our "periphery", but that should never be Jesus! Just sayin!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Break free

God our Savior and His overpowering love and kindness for humankind entered our world; He came to save us. It’s not that we earned it by doing good works or righteous deeds; He came because He is merciful. He brought us out of our old ways of living to a new beginning through the washing of regeneration; and He made us completely new through the Holy Spirit, who was poured out in abundance through Jesus the Anointed, our Savior. (Titus 3:4-6 VOICE)

Many times we have to "begin again" when it comes to the things we attempt in this walk of faith - simply stated, we all mess up! It may seem like some Christians don't ever admit they have times when they just plain "fail miserably", but the church would be a whole lot better off if more of us admitted we aren't perfect! I think we give a false sense of reality to those who haven't quite overcome their desires to do things they shouldn't do, and I honestly believe this grieves the heart of God when we present this false image to those who are struggling. I think God wants his church to be filled with hurting, broken, and struggling believers - all on a mission toward "no longer failing", but genuine in that journey.

If I were to be entirely honest here, I honestly cannot tell you how many times I have asked God for a new beginning over something I knew better than to do or say, but just went ahead and acted upon anyway. In fact, I have to consider my words and actions each day in the light of his grace - asking for a fresh start each time I stumble. Maybe yesterday's stumble was a little bit different from today's, but at the heart of the matter is a mind that wants to please him and a heart that is kind of fickle sometimes. My feelings get the best of me on occasion - how about you?

Perhaps the church needs to arrive at the place they spend a little less time judging each other and a little more time embracing the reality of imperfection inherent in each of us. That is a pretty bold statement, but it is worth considering - for none of us has "arrived" at perfection - and even if we do at some point, it won't be by our own merit or effort! All of us move toward perfection through grace - God's gift, not our efforts. We drive away hungry and hurting souls whenever we demand perfection - when we judge someone as "too sinful", "not perfect", or "different from us". We forget, even though we may not have "sinned" in the exact same way as that person next to us, we ALL have sinned nonetheless! And there is no "degree" to sin - although we might somehow want to justify our sinfulness as "better" than another's.

I think this is where I got hung up for a while in my own walk - thinking some sins were kind of "menial" (trivial, of less concern, easier for be forgiven for) than others. Those more "grievous" sins were tougher to break free from and just rose to a "different level", but truth be told, the "menial" sins of my life were equally hard to be free of as some of those more "grievous" sins were! Sin is sin - plain and simple. The world is full of hurting people, complete with some kind of hang-up they need to break free from, and we would do well to embrace them - not push them away. The example Christ gave was one of "inclusion", not "exclusion". Just sayin!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A way of escape

I believe it was Oscar Wilde who once quipped, "I can resist everything except temptation." Although he may have said it a little "off the cuff", I think he had a pretty good handle on the human condition. We all struggle just a little bit more than we may want to admit with this idea of "resisting" - we tend to resist the stuff we should be embracing eagerly, all the while embracing what it is we are supposed to be resisting! Scripture reminds us that there is absolutely no temptation that is not "common" among mankind - it has been faced by someone else, so you cannot ever claim to be unique in whatever it is that is causing you to be a little tempted in your life. 

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)

It is important for us to remember that God doesn't "remove" temptation totally from our lives by placing us in some sort of "bubble" that cannot be penetrated. Temptation exists because we live in a world where man has choice - as long as there is choice, the desires within us are capable of devising all manner of evil given the chance and the right circumstances. What we can count on from God's perspective is his guidance to navigate through temptation (or should I say "around" or "past" it). He doesn't allow more than we can handle in the grace he has given us - we can be tempted right up to whatever that measure is, and not any more than that.

There is always a way of escape - we may choose not to see it, or take it, but it exists nonetheless. When we "face" temptation, we almost assuredly felt drawn to it because we are "facing it". The most amazing thing is that when we turn to face God instead of the temptation, it is no longer as strong! What we focus on determines the course of our action. What Wilde didn't probably understand what this power of focus - the way to resist is not to "face" the temptation, but to turn away from it! Perhaps this is why we are told to "flee" sin and Satan's activity in our lives.

"Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Don't. You are in good company... You will argue with yourself that there is no way forward. But with God, nothing is impossible. He has more ropes and ladders and tunnels out of pits than you can conceive. Wait. Pray without ceasing. Hope." (John Piper)  Temptation comes in many forms, but one of the most powerful can be this desire to just give up - to throw in the towel, to admit defeat, to say we "cannot" win. As Piper indicated, God has a way out, we just may not see the ladder, rope, or tunnel he has been constructing for our escape. We won't see it until we turn fully to his face and recognize his presence with us as we face the pit of temptation. Remember this - you are NEVER alone in the pit. God is ALWAYS with you and he is ALWAYS your way of escape. Just sayin!

Friday, November 18, 2016

All the bells and whistles

Now God has equipped us to be capable servants of the new covenant, not by authority of the written law which only brings death, but by the Spirit who brings life. (2 Corinthians 3:6 VOICE)
I sometimes fall prey to the pervasive attitude of "I could never do that" when I see someone run a marathon, but the truth is that I have never trained or attempted even a short one, so why would I ever assume I could not do it? The more truthful statement would be to admit I am too doggone intimidated by the race to even enter it!  It isn't that we "could never" as much as we haven't really ever tried all that hard! The good news about our walk with Jesus is that we are "equipped us to be capable servants" - we don't have to worry or wonder if we have the "right stuff" to run the race because we do!
Back in the day, my father was a car salesman for a period of time. He was great at sales, so most of his career involved one forms of sales or another. In those days, the salesman with the biggest sales got to bring home a demonstrator car that he could use for about six months.  It was quite a treat to see dad drive up in some shiny new automobile, complete with all the fanciest of gadgets and features. As dad would have said, it was "fully equipped". The sound system was top notch, the seat upholstered with luxurious fabrics, and when steering wheels were just starting to be adjustable, we had one! 
The "fully equipped" car changed though as new technology came on the market. That demonstrator would be traded in for one of the newest and greatest of "fully equipped" automobiles on the lot - but he always chose something practical and totally serviceable for our family. He probably could have brought home a pick-up or sports car that was "fully equipped", but he always drove home some sedan that would accommodate all the needs of our family. Dad was just that kind of guy - he always met the needs of his family - we were first and foremost in his mind all the time. He was a great example of what our heavenly father is like - for of heavenly father is always thinking of us first!
Our heavenly father wants us to understand how much he has provided for our "equipping" in this life. His intense love requires he provide nothing short of all we need to live godly lives - it is how he rolls!  He doesn't do a half-way job of equipping us for godliness - he goes all out and "fully equips" us with everything we need to overcome the evil without and selfishness within. Whenever we feel a little "incapable", we must turn our eyes to him and recall all he has done to provide all we need to walk this life out in complete confidence. I guess you could say God took great care to make sure we each were equipped with all the "bells and whistles" so that we have every "feature" we require in order to live godly lives. Just sayin!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

But I don't understand it, God!

I know You can do everything; nothing You do can be foiled or frustrated. You asked, “Who is this that conceals counsel with empty words void of knowledge?” And now I see that I spoke of—but did not comprehend—great wonders that are beyond me. I didn’t know. You said, “Hear Me now, and I will speak. I’ll be asking the questions, and you will supply the answers.” Before I knew only what I had heard of You, but now I have seen You. Therefore I realize the truth: I disavow and mourn all I have said and repent in dust and ash. (Job 42:1-6 VOICE)

I don't believe any one of us is immune to a season of complaining once in a while, no matter how positive we attempt to live our lives the desire to complain is there. We might not understand something, see sense in a decision which was made, or even support it, and this emerges in a moment or season of complaint. Why? It is usually because we are disappointed, or maybe it is because we think we "knew better" or could have "done better". Sometimes rational thought does not enter into complaint, as with Job when he stood questioning his family's fate or the loss of all he had amassed. He didn't understand it, and this made his desire to complain surface a little. I don't think God wants us to live with a complaining type of mentality, never content or willing to accept what we receive, but I don't think he turns a deaf ear to our complaints either.

While we may not want to make a pattern or lifestyle out of complaining or finding fault in everything which doesn't seem to go as we planned or wanted, we don't have to fear God hearing our frustrations. He isn't put off by them - but he doesn't want us to dwell in that place too long. He wants us to get it out and move on - with his help, under his guidance, and with his strength. When we dwell there too long, we have a tendency to allow the complaint ushered because of some disappointment to escalate into a much deeper-seated sense of being "wronged" or "mistreated" or perhaps not "respected". We get a little bitter over the issue at hand and it begins to taint us toward resentment and anger over the situation.

If this occurs, we distance ourselves from truth just enough to continue to "nurse" our wounds over whatever frustration or disappointment first brought about this complaint in the first place. We magnify the issue until it takes center-stage in our lives and we begin to dwell on nothing other than whatever it is we see "wrong" in the matter. As God so aptly pointed out to Job, we don't always see things as they are, nor do we have the power within ourselves to change them even when we do. All that exists does so under God's watchful eye. All that occurs does so under his supervision. He isn't about to let one of his children fall into a trap, or walk away scathed by the issue. 

Some may ask if God "creates" evil - since evil seems to be at the root of some of the things we become upset with and enter our complaints over. Evil exists because of sin - but God's children don't have to participate in evil's actions. We do get affected by their "drama" though. We see the actions of evil evident all around us - simply because man is sinful and apart from God's grace, their actions will lean toward being rooted in evil on occasion. When this occurs, we can become quite "put off" by their actions - simply because we don't understand them, nor do we support them. God's desire is for us to rise above evil, allowing him to protect us, but when his protection doesn't seem to take the course we expected, do we complain?  Sometimes we do! We expected to never be affected by the evil and if we feel the effects, we kind of get our noses out of joint.

Instead of cursing evil, or standing in constant complaint over the manifest actions of evil, we would do well to bring our complaints to God - letting him know we don't understand it all, but trusting him to bring us through it in his grace. This may be all we can do, since we neither made the evil, nor do we understand it. Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why an egg?

"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad." (C. S. Lewis) The truth be told, many of us are actually trying to fly while still in the egg! We want escape from the developmental process occurring in which we feel a little bit like we might just be "trapped" inside the shell. The egg's mission is not to confine us, but to provide all we need while confined so that we emerge strong and prospering, ready for flight! If we stay inside that protective shell too long, we find the nourishment we need for continued growth begins to be depleted - until we escape the confines of the shell, we don't find what we need next for our continued growth.

You are the gentle equalizer: soaking the furrows, smoothing soil’s ridges, softening sun-baked earth with generous showers, blessing the fruit of the ground. You crown the year with a fruitful harvest; the paths are worn down by carts overflowing with unstoppable growth. Barren desert pastures yield fruit; craggy hills are now dressed for celebration. Meadows are clothed with frolicking flocks of lambs; valleys are covered with a carpet of autumn-harvest grain; the land shouts and sings in joyous celebration. (Psalm 65:10-13 VOICE)

If God is able to soften the hardened soil of the desert lands to bring forth growth,what make us think he will not be able to bring forth growth from the soil of our hearts?  Barren places in our life have access to the greatest amount of nourishment needed for growth - but we might just not recognize the ways God is brooding over those areas to see them "hatched" into newness of life. The embryo of growth always starts as a single cell!  No growth within is ever without his purposeful provision and watchful brooding. 

Flight isn't the end goal while confined to the egg. When the embryo begins to take form, the tiny chick inside the egg doesn't even know it wants to fly yet. As growth begins to push against the hardness of the shell, it does begin to realize it wants to get beyond the shell! The shell confines, but at some point, it also challenges the little chick to yearn to spread those tiny wings that have taken form. The shell has done the job it was intended to do, and once it has outlived its purpose, it must be shed. 

The brooding hen will tenderly care for the growth "within" the eggs until she senses the readiness of the growth to be free of the shell. At that point, she encourages the chick to come out from the shell by spending a little less time sitting at roost upon the egg and a little more time allowing that egg to be exposed. It might not be much time, but that tiny change in the "temperature" of those eggs might just encourage their next phase in growth. I think this might be to encourage the chick inside to find the way out - to push with tenacity at the shell which is no longer serving a purpose and from which it wants to be free. 

The shell might seem a little confining right now in your life, but never forget the purpose is to "house" us within a protective environment prepared specifically for our growth and development. Once we begin to grow "inside" that environment, we will begin to sense when that shell no longer is necessary - but to escape too early is almost certain death to the growth occurring within. Once outside the confines of the shell, our wings are still not developed enough to fly though. We need a chance to run, build our strength, feed upon the goodness of what has been provided, and then eventually we will explore flight. 

We want to fly the first time we get the urge to fly - sometimes inside the shell, sometimes newly "exposed" and eager to explore the newness of growth we have experienced. Either way, we will do well to take growth at the speed God intends - to rush it is almost certain to destroy the growth or result in repeated failure. Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Walking on a tightrope?

Immersed in the practice of creating, all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light—a light that thrives in the depths of darkness, blazes through murky bottomsIt cannot and will not be quenched.  (John 1:3-5 VOICE)

Edith Wharton said, "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."  We might want to concern ourselves with the cleanliness of the mirror, but the one who gazes into the mirror and sees his reflection is the one who much concern himself with the cleanness of that mirror, not us. In reflecting Christ, it is Christ who brings clarity to that image - we simply reflect what we receive. We are filled with his living breath - the very things which animates us and gives us connection with him and others. His light cannot be put out, nor can it be hidden. It is a light unlike any other - one which is meant to be reflected back and shown outwardly that others may catch sight of the only one who is able to see beauty in the murkiness of our lives.

As most would agree, that which we are "birthed from" makes up the majority of who or what we are. If we were birthed from a goat, we could not be a cow or a chicken. We could and would always be a goat. Try as we might to be otherwise, our make-up is that of a goat. We have been "birthed from" the living God. To think we can change that once the living, breathing light entered into us is simply foolish - for what God has breathed light into will reflect that light. We might not be as good at reflecting that light at times because our mirror gets a little smudged by the "dirt" of life, but it is God who works to remove that smudge, bringing clarity once again to the reflection of light within.

Wharton also stated there were two ways of facing life - as either walking a tightrope or lying in a feather bed. To her, the choice was simple - she wanted the tightrope. I'd have to agree with her, for the moments that challenge us the most are those which reveal our true focus. If you have ever studied those who walk a tightrope, you'd find out there is nothing more important than the focus one maintains while doing so. If one looks down at the distance below them, one could become overly concerned with falling - something which dramatically affects one's balance, for fear puts one totally off balance. If one doesn't continually consider one's perspective in relation to the tightrope, one might soon lose balance and take a misstep, resulting in a fall or at least a slip.

The feather bed may be the easiest and the "safest", but what happens when we take our slumber? We find the light is soon gone! We drift into sleep and the things we once revealed while awake are no longer as evident. The tightrope might keep us a little "stressed", but it is that stress which clarifies our focus, reorders our steps, and keeps us attentive. We might long for the feather bed, but God wants to reflect his light in and through us - something we really find we do best when we focus directly on him while living a life of perfect balance upon the tightrope. Just sayin!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Keep to the script!

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.  Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 VOICE)

Paul was the kind of guy many might think of as "Ivy League". He was considered to the be the Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Jewish Rabbi, high up in the ranks of "religious zealots" of his day.  We might liken that to being "top of the class" - or lettering in a varsity sport - getting a name for yourself - or even being in the spotlight. He excelled in the study of the Law of Moses and practiced it down to the smallest instruction. He was too good to walk on the same side of the street as the leper, and too righteous to associate with sinners of any kind. He took issue with this new-found "Christian" movement into which many who followed Jesus' earthly ministry seemed to be "taking up a position". In essence, he was kind of pretty much "into himself" and felt pretty sure of his standing in this world, certain his opinion of his "interpretation" of truth was the best, carrying the most weight, and being the only "standard" by which one should live their life. His life was lived in zeal, but was exclusionary in focus, determinedly biased to one way of seeing truth, and pretty "judgmental" of those who didn't adhere to his way of believing. Saul would have aligned himself with others of similar beliefs, but distanced himself from those who didn't see things as he did. 

Does this way of living sound vaguely familiar to anyone today? The circumstances may be different for many of us, but if we look closely we see one group pitting themselves against another, judging each other through whatever "colored lenses" we each wear, and really trying to justify our position through some misguided belief our "stand" is the best. In truth, there is but one standard by which each of us will be judged - one example by which our lives will be measured - Jesus. It took a while for Saul of Tarsus to realize that very thing, and a pretty dramatic encounter with the Divine to set him straight, but once he understood the only standard by which we all live is that of grace, there was no turning back for him. He got knocked down a few pegs in order to become "all things to all men" - in order to enter into their lives, not as judge and jury, but as one who is equally as much in need of God's grace as the next person. We might do well to recognize this truth, as well. None of us is "Ivy League" in our beliefs - none of us is "fit" to be judging the actions of any other person. All of us need grace - none of us is without sin. As good as we may be, as different as our actions may be from another's, we are all standing in need of God's grace to set our lives "right".

As Paul realized, his thinking had to change - not because he believed "bad stuff", but because the stuff he believed set him apart as an "elitist" and made it almost impossible for others to see anything good in being in relationship with God. The facade he put up of being a religious zealot only masked over his intense need for God's grace - and that facade kept others at a distance. In essence, the robe of his "self-righteousness" confused others into believing they could never "measure up" to the standard by which he lived. It took him getting knocked down a notch or two to realize the zeal he had was only creating confusion for those who had genuine hunger and need in their lives. The leper didn't need to be judged for his spots - he needed to be healed of his disease and embraced as a valuable part of society. The prostitute didn't need to be looked down on because she walked the streets at night - she needed to be shown there was no sin to deep, nor any choice too wrong to be out of reach of God's grace.

We might not be so judgmental of others if we'd learn to see what I think Paul saw that day on the road to Damascus - that "there, but for the grace of God, go I". Just sayin!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Crown

"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither."  (C. S. Lewis)  I have frequently commented about each of us having an "aim" or "purpose" in this life - without one we are kind of set adrift without any real destination in mind. As Lewis said, when our aim is correct, we realize blessings beyond our imagining - when it is limited by what we can see in the natural sense, we might just not ever be able to enjoy all the things God wants us to experience. If I were to ask you what God wants you to experience today, what might you answer? If you could not really answer that, or you gave some "cookbook" kind of answer, you might just want to take a few moments to reconsider your aim - maybe it isn't high enough!

We all know that when there’s a race, all the runners bolt for the finish line, but only one will take the prize. When you run, run for the prize! Athletes in training are very strict with themselves, exercising self-control over desires, and for what? For a wreath that soon withers or is crushed or simply forgotten. That is not our race. We run for the crown that we will wear for eternity.  So I don’t run aimlessly. I don’t let my eyes drift off the finish line. When I box, I don’t throw punches in the air. I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after all this, after I have brought the gospel to others, I will still be qualified to win the prize. (I Corinthians 9:24-27 VOICE)

Are you a runner who bolts for the finish line, eager to get there, one prize in mind? I used to be that way - kind of headstrong and determined to get things done. I am not so much that way any longer - sometimes I need to step back and take in what is happening around me more than I need to make it across whatever "finish line" I have imposed. Far too many of us have our eyes set on earthly goals, all the while neglecting or forgetting the heavenly goals God has for each of us. Yes, God wants us to have an aim, but I don't think he wants these earthly aims to consume us to the point we neglect relationship with him or others. The most profound portion of this passage is the very last statement: "I will still be qualified to win the prize." In running, we can attain all kinds of prizes along the way. In making it across the finish line, we can win but one prize - the prize of having crossed the end point well.  

Unlike earthly races in which one wins and all others just "place" somewhere in the list of those who "finish", all of us will cross the finish line with Christ - all of us "winners" of the crown. As we run, our focus determines our drive - without a focus for the right goal, we can find ourselves stopping short of where God wants us to be. Lewis also said, " If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."  What is it that causes you to hunger or thirst? If it is something that things in this world can satisfy, might I suggest your hunger (and mine) is just not created by the right focus or aim.  When we find satisfaction in the things of this world, we are limiting the supreme satisfaction which God has prepared for us in his! Just sayin!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Be an artist

Picasso once spoke of all children being artists - but then he quickly changed his thought to the idea that it is hard to "remain" an artist as one grows up. I have to say I kind of agree with him - we get so wrapped up in the complexities of growing up and all the decisions that come with being "adult" that we often forget the simplicity and beauty of just being ourselves. When we are ourselves, there is a freedom of expression, movement, and voice that isn't heard when we are guarding each movement, scrutinizing every expression, or worrying about whether our voice will be heard or count in the scheme of things.

Then it dawned on me that this is good and proper: to eat and drink and find the good in all the toil that we undertake under the sun during the few days God has given, for this is our lot in life.  Also, God gives wealth, possessions, and power to enjoy those things, and He allows them to accept their lot in life and to enjoy hard work. This is God’s gift.  For people like this have no time to despair over life because God keeps them so busy with a deep-seated joy. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 VOICE)

God intends for us to keep busy with our work, whatever that may be. There is no room for us to be worried, though - for he has all our days in his hands and has designed the work we are about to undertake. He gives us the strength to sustain us in the tasks at hand, and he also gives us the joy to revel in them and experience a deep-seated sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Do we always do things well? No. Are we able to revisit things on occasion to rework them? Yes. Do we always find the solution we are looking for? No - but the solution we may find could just be the one we didn't consider until God directed us toward it!

I believe God wants us to be as little children - with open eyes, enthusiastically embracing the things before us, eager to experience things in a new way. We grow when we face life this way - for we don't see it as a challenge or a drudgery, but as an opportunity and a hope. As Picasso said, children have this heart of enthusiastic expression, allowing their God-given imagination to take them into places they have not explored before. I think God wants us to be a little more open to going places with him we haven't explored before and to allow ourselves to enjoy the things he has given us - whether wealth, possessions, power, or relationships. 

We miss so much of life because we are focused on the work of it. We don't get the most out of our work because we see the work as a task rather than an opportunity to find joy. God says it is good to enjoy hard work. I probably don't enjoy yard work all that much, but when I take out old shrubs and replace them with a full bed of seasonal flowers, my heart is made warm by the welcoming feeling I get as I gaze upon the freshness and beauty my hands were able to create in that garden. Sure, God made those flowers, and even the soil into which I planted them, but he gave me the ability, helped me do the hard work, and then allows me the privilege of standing back to admire the beauty all around me. This is as it should be - for God expects us to enjoy our labor.

We might all do well to embrace the "artist" within - allowing ourselves the freedom to be expressive, the joy in being creative, and the deep satisfaction of having engaged in the hard work of the day. Just sayin!