Saturday, December 31, 2016

Forget all that!

I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea. “But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 NLT)
Many times God is preparing a way, not through the overwhelming waters, but through the wilderness - the driest and most challenging of journeys we may face, but one with preparations for our safety all along the way. The word of promise to us is simply: Forget all that - it is nothing compared to what I am going to do! 
I don't think many of us have seen waters back up on themselves as though an invisible dam halted their powerful flow, nor do I think many of us have stopped to consider just how God was able to dry up that riverbed floor so quickly! We might have seen just how quickly we could stop our vehicles in the blink of an eye when we were about to become very intimate with the bumper in front of us that just happened to get a little too distracted in their driving! We have "just missed" the deer, jackrabbit, or wayward squirrel who had to get to some point on the other side of the road. In that instant, panic rose and settled, as we breathed a sigh of relief for avoiding the collision or allowing some creature to live another day. We might even have uttered a quick prayer of thanks, but do we stop to consider those moments as "Red Sea" moments - those times when God just does something amazing to protect us? In those moments, his protection was evident, but there are times when his protection and provision are less than evident - in fact, all we see is the barrenness ahead and we begin to worry!
There are some today who face things ahead that appear as nothing more than "dry wasteland". Relationships which you counted on are being torn from you and your life seems to be turned upside down. There seems to be nothing but dryness and neglect. Others face what has become a very dry and somewhat non-productive spiritual walk - lost to the worries and cares of this world, too frustrated by life's challenges to try any longer to find God's answers. To each of you the reminder of God's words above need to begin to take root: "Forget all that!" Forget what was, it will not be again - because God has something different he is doing in and through you. Forget what might have been, it never was and God isn't about to let what "used to be" to govern what "can be" through his power and grace today. Forget who you were then, you aren't going to be that person again because God's plan isn't that you "were", but that you "are".
"It is nothing compared to what I am going to do!" You whose relationship has become a tangled mess of goofed up missteps - what was is nothing compared to what is about to be - for you serve the God of restoration! You whose physical bodies have been ravaged by disease so awful - what was is nothing compared to what God will do in his redemptive power! You whose minds are so laden down with worries you should not be bearing - what was is nothing compared to what God is doing today and what he promises to do into eternity when we keep our focus clearly on him.
Lay hold of that one command and this one promise today: 
    - Forget all that!
    - It is nothing compared to what I am going to do!
Focus on this main promise:
    - I am about to do something new!
God isn't finished just because you might not see more than wilderness and barrenness ahead. He has just begun! Just sayin!

Friday, December 30, 2016

I am looking for the intersection....

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the Lord, people avoid evil. (Proverbs 16:6 NLT)

When we consider what love is, how love is known to each of us, we can come up with a million different answers, but none comes remotely close to the "definition" of love as we can observe in the life of Jesus. His is the really only unfailing love - his the most reliable. His is the only unconditional love. His is the love that looks beyond what man or woman can see and finds something of untold value in even the "worst" of human life. It is that love, and that alone, that made atonement for sin. It is that love - and that alone - that brings us near to the heart of our heavenly Father.

I recently asked someone close to me to describe what love "looked like" for them. I was asking what it was that another did, said, or just "was" that made that individual feel valued and loved. If you have never been asked that question, it could catch you a little off-guard and it may be harder for us to answer than we may first imagine. Why? We know love when we see or experience it, but we seldom take time to describe what that "looks like" to us. We haven't stopped to really "put into words" what love is. Jesus knew he could have hundreds of people pen words on his behalf - many already did in the form of our scripture - but those words just wouldn't connect with our hearts until he demonstrated that love to us.

While it is important to be able to describe how it is we feel that "connection" of love, it is also important that we recognize what specifically helps us "feel" that connection. This is why it is important to be able to "describe" what it is that makes us feel valued, loved, and simply appreciated. It helps us make the connection - it is like we see the "pathway" the "current" of love travels to actually touch our heart.

It would be a fitting way for us to begin our new year together to actually take just a few moments and ask ourselves just how it is we "feel" loved. First, how is it we feel loved by Jesus? Don't just recite some Bible verse, but actually find one very specific way God has made connection with your heart this year and write it down. Now, that person you have the closest relationship with - how is it they show you they love you? What is it that reveals to you that you are valued and appreciated by this individual? Write that down. Finally, ask yourself how it is you believe you show love to that individual. If those lists don't agree or intersect on at least a few points, this may be the opportunity you need to just begin to connect with that individual in a fresh way in the new year.

We all have our points of connection - but actually giving "voice" to them or putting them into words is not a skill many of us actually master. Come a little closer to mastering this and you might be overwhelmed with just how many times and in how many new ways your "love" for that other person begins to intersect! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

From a bramble comes...

"Beauty is not all there is of poetry. It must contain the truth. It is not simply an oak, rude and grand, neither is it simply a vine. It is both. Around the oak of truth runs the vine of beauty." (Robert Green Ingersoll) I have a friend in social media who posts wonderfully beautiful photos of scenery - but the most eye-catching are some of those she posts of these simple twists and turns from vines and bramble bushes in her vicinity. She captures the beauty of those magnificently plain and simple sightings in such a way so as to depict them much like a poet writes words on a page. The beauty in something so twisted and mangled is not usually that which we would be drawn to at first, but when you consider the complexity of the vine from which that twist grows, you begin to see something way beyond a rambling bush or a trailing vine. You see such things as tenacity, courage, and conviction. Most don't even stop to consider that bramble bush or trailing vine - but one who looks for truth will have an eye that spots it!

He will raise up from among your own people a prophet who will be like me. Listen to him. (Deuteronomy 18:15 VOICE)

The bramble bushes we might be most familiar with are those of the raspberry and blackberry. From straggly, sprawling, thorn-covered vines taking root in places often not inhabited by other things come these wonderfully rich fruits that enrich our lives with such wonderful treats. Brambles don't seem like much at first, because they don't usually bear any fruit in their first year of growth. They just seem to be a little bit intrusive and kind of wild appearing. Then sometime in that second year or so, the fruit begins to set on those spindly and scraggly vines. When it does, all of nature is drawn to that fruit - birds light on the branches to peck away at their rich flavor, bears are drawn to the scent of the luscious fruit, and even humans brave the ragged thorns to draw from the rich treasure of these bushes.  Most bramble bushes are the hatching grounds for many species of moths and feeding grounds for butterflies galore. Does it amaze anyone else that something so "harsh appearing" can give so much beauty and sustenance to those who have learned of its richness?

We might find it hard to imagine that some of the most awesome things come from what doesn't appear to have much potential of producing such things. In fact, we are habitually judging things and others by what we imagine - not always what is there. When we look upon that object or person, we see what they display outwardly, often missing what they are inwardly - what potential they have which they have yet to display. As with the bramble bush growing in a craggy outcrop of a hillside, the immediate evidence of the richness produced from such a "thorny" and "obnoxious" vine may not be quickly apparent. In time, the seemingly aimless growth of that scraggly vine begins to produce something of strength not realized by those who have never explored it fully. You see, the bramble bush is often used as that which binds baskets together, for the stem of the bush can be easily split and retain strong binding power. The vine itself has a use, as does that which it produces - both leaf and fruit. Nothing of the vine is wasted - nothing of the bramble is without purpose.

I wonder if those who looked on the small child growing up in the home of a carpenter those many, many years ago saw much potential in him. I imagine they saw another carpenter, at best. But...did they see the fruit he would produce later in his life, or did they see the strength he would not only display, but produce when interwoven into the lives of others he would impact later in his years? Did they see that nothing of his life would be wasted - nothing was without a purpose? Did they think of his teachings as a little "harsh" and hard to handle at times? I imagine they did, but it didn't make them any less true. The "vine" would produce much more than it looked like it had the potential of producing, indeed! We might look upon each other as without potential or purpose. I would challenge us to look deeper into the "bramble" of our lives and see not the thorns, or the spindly growth, but the strength, determination, and richness of Christ's life within, bringing forth that which none expected and which so many need!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I cannot hear you God!!!!

"God speaks to me not through the thunder and the earthquake, nor through the ocean and the stars, but through the Son of Man, and speaks in a language adapted to my imperfect sight and hearing." (William Lyon Phelps) 
I want God to speak to me in the thunder - because I could be sure I heard him then. I want to feel his voice penetrate me like the quaking of the earth's crust. I desire to feel his current pulsing within me as the waves of the ocean. I even wish for just a sparkle of his presence in times when I don't feel him all that close. These are the ways I want God - but you really know how it is I hear and feel him? Yep - in the still small voice, or the peaceful repose of just resting in his presence when I don't know what else to do.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

As with any other relationship, hearing God's voice is easier when we have grow
n in "conversational relationship" with him. First and foremost, we grow in conversational relationship with God when we believe he actually WANTS to speak to us. Yes, we might not recognize his voice, nor will we respond to it immediately, but when we actually begin to believe he wants to carry on conversation with us, we will approach him differently. Think for a moment about a small child who doesn't know for sure if that adult reading the paper at the table across from him in the diner actually likes children. If the child wants to know, what does he do? He starts talking to the man! He asks questions. He poses ideas. Then he waits for a response.

What is the child doing? At first, he is testing the waters a little. He poses a simple idea or question - like asking if the man likes pancakes. To the small child this is a relevant subject worthy of discussion because he likes pancakes. God doesn't expect us to come to him to talk about great theological subjects - he wants us to approach him with the things which are relevant to where we are today and what we are going through in this moment of time. As the child poses the questions, initiating the conversation, he then waits. Why? He expects an answer! He might even move a little close to the man at the table by leaning over in his own chair, or turning to face him in the booth. Why? His "posture" suggests he expects a return of conversation. Sometimes we pose questions and walk away - forgetting that our posture might actually play a part in us hearing the response we so desperately desire.

The other thing you will observe about the small child is his fearlessness. He isn't intimidated easily - he believes he is worthy of spending time with and he positions himself so the man will be able to give him what he desires - attentive conversation. Now, I know God doesn't always speak in audible ways, nor does he always answer us in just the ways we expected. Sometimes we pose tough questions that really are answered not so much in a simple yes or no, but in us being willing to address some of the things in our lives that actually brought us to the place we are asking these questions in the first place. Some of God's answers may be to just call us back to "center" in life - to redirect our attention to what matters. Herein is the beginning of the conversation - not in that we get our immediate question answered, but in that we are set again upon the path that will lead to the answer.

What does the child want more than anything? Is it really to know if the man likes pancakes? Probably not. In fact, what he desires more than anything is just to be able to interact with this one he considers "bigger than him". It is how we approach God most of the time when we first start to talk with him - as though we just want to know we can interact with someone we consider "bigger than us or our problems". God might just speak to us more through the simple nudges of the Holy Spirit prompting us to do something unexpected, or to read a particular book by a good author. He may help us find fulfilling conversation with a sage adviser. He might even just lead us into quiet repose and reflection, bringing us to the place we kind of just "sit on his lap" a while. Some of the most memorable times I had with my dad were times when we just "hung out" together - not really talking so much as just observing each other.

We might think the heavens are brass and God doesn't desire us, but this is the furthest thing from truth. We first position ourselves to hear, then we pose our questions and make our observations. In turn, we wait for the answers. They most likely won't come the first time we ask, or in the way we'd hoped to have received them. We all want "clear cut answers", but God usually goes about answering us with more questions! Why? I think it might be that he doesn't want the conversation to end! He wants us to be fully unburdened and totally free to share - then he wants us to be comfortable just sitting in his lap a while - still, comforted, and attentive. Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It is not a ruined canvas

I believe it was the great artist Jackson Pollack who spoke often of not being afraid of making changes to what he was painting - because he believed the work of art had a life of its own. The more he'd add color or change an image, the "newness" of the artwork began to emerge. What had once been a spindly tree could have been devoid of leaves and rather barren in appearance, but with a few simple dabs of green paints of varying shades, the image took on life and fullness. Nothing remained stagnant on the canvas - it all had the potential of change right up until he laid down the brush. Even then, when the artwork was displayed in varying degrees of light, it could take on a different hue or tone to the color on that canvas. It just goes to show that until the master lays down the brush the canvas of nature, the heavenlies, and even our very lives is an ever-changing piece of artwork!

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

We might want to "dress up" what others see, but in truth, our lives are an ever-changing canvas upon which God displays his grace, truth, love, and power. When we become amenable to the ever-changing landscape he is making of our lives, we begin to see how he brings beauty from ashes and strength from failure. God has a way of making many a brush-stroke over our lives even without us even noticing he has, but in turn, he has changed what is now before the eyes of those who see this work of art in its outward form. We can put a really ornate frame on a rather ugly picture, but it doesn't change the picture! What changes the picture is the next brush-stroke, not the frame we put on it!

If this is true of the "good things" God is putting into our lives, it is possible it could be as true of the bad things we have allowed to become part of the canvas, as well. When we allow sin to enter in, it is quite possible we put a few brush-strokes of our own upon that canvas that are less than beautiful in appearance. In fact, they may be like the most abstract of art - hard to really understand, bold marks which carry depth of darkness within them. Yet, God can take the brush-strokes of darkness and turn them into a picture of his grace. We don't know what can do until we stand back - the image might not appear like much to begin with, but when God sets to work in our lives, his brush-strokes of grace will turn broken and violent strokes caused by sin's strokes to not be masked, but to be transformed.

I used to think a painter had to scrap a canvas because it was "ruined" - the image not coming out quite as they planned. It wasn't until I sat with some pretty skilled painters that I began to see how even the "mistakes" could be "undone" with another couple brush-strokes. We may think the picture of our lives has been "painted" already - believing we have to settle for whatever image we see before us today. I would have to challenge that one, though, because nothing is without the potential for him to reveal his glory in our lives when we put down the brush and allow him to take it into his capable hands. Even the ugliest and darkest of times are not "ruined" canvases to be discarded. They are a means to bring forth beauty - for God declares quite clearly that he is the one who can make beauty emerge from ashes, the garment of praise from the depths of despair, and joy from mourning.

We want the image to be "right" and "perfect" from the beginning, but our lives are an ever-changing canvas. Allow him to take the brush-strokes and we might just find the image which emerges in time will be the most beautiful work of art he has produced yet! Just sayin!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Psychological Reversal

Izaak Walton was an English writer who often spoke in terms of loss - not in a negative way, but in a very thought provoking manner. For example, he once said, "The person who loses his conscience has nothing left worth keeping." He also reminds us that "no man can ever lose what he never had". Probably one my favorite quotes from Mr. Walton is: "God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart."  He certainly hit that one on the head! I am certain God dwells in the heart of meek - for no other pursuit, self-help process, or therapy session can truly produce meekness in a man's heart. True thankfulness also springs forth from a heart that has become intimately acquainted with grace. Yes, we can be thankful without grace, but it is fleeting. Deep, lasting gratitude is only possible where grace has had an affect.

When the law came into the picture, sin grew and grew; but wherever sin grew and spread, God’s grace was there in fuller, greater measure. No matter how much sin crept in, there was always more grace. (Romans 5:20 VOICE)

Apart from grace's action, there can be no real change of heart - without a true change of heart, man will continue to choose things which end in loss for him - whether he likes it or not. Man cannot truthfully comprehend the depth of his need until he is faced with the beauty of grace. There is just something about grace that reveals the true self - the deepest longings of one's heart and the lame attempts we make to meet those needs in our own power or effort. Man might argue they don't like this idea of grace because it carries with it the idea of conviction, but I'd have to say that apart from conviction we don't appreciate the value of grace.

Why does sin grow in the presence of the law? Shouldn't it be just the opposite? Shouldn't the law produce something quite the opposite of "law-breaking"? You'd think that'd be the case, but in reality we have a way of seeing how close we can get to the line and even kind of "straddle" it on occasion without being "caught" by the law. Many of us have heard the term "reverse psychology" in which we say one thing while trying to get the person to do another, such as "kids stay in the house" when we actually are hoping they will go out and enjoy a little sunshine. 

Most of us have not heard the term "psychological reversal", though. This refers to the tendency one might exhibit to actually "sabotage" oneself through actions that seem contrary to what one would expect. For example, when someone can easily make friends because they are outgoing and engage in things that interest those who they are friends with, they may experience some "good feelings" from those friendships, but the psychologically reversed individual actually feels bad about feeling good! So, they do everything they can to create chaos in the relationship because they don't believe they are meant to feel good!

Some of us go through life thinking we should not feel good about grace. We are psychologically reversed in our thinking about grace! We think we are meant to experience "bad stuff" like conviction and shame, but we don't think we are "deserving" of the good feelings grace produces. Grace produces such feelings because we finally have an answer for our conviction and we come out from under that weight of shame! Like it or not, this is how God works - he wants us to feel good! He wants us to appreciate sin's weight and understand that there is a way "out from under" that weight - grace! 

A truly grateful heart springs from a heart willing to be embraced by grace - then holds on for dear life to the affects of grace to deal with the sense of conviction and the weight of shame that sin has produced in our lives. We can resist the "goodness" of grace all we want, thinking our sin should make us feel shame, but in God's economy there is no room for shame. Shame is not something we should live with - it is something "shed" at the moment we reach out to embrace grace! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

It is just one "small price" for the ride

Who has impeded your progress and kept you from obeying the truth? You were off to such a good start.  I know for certain the pressure isn’t coming from God. He keeps calling you to the truth You know what they say, “Just a little yeast causes all the dough to rise,” so even the slightest detour from the truth will take you to a destination you do not desire.  (Galatians 5:7-9 VOICE)

Have you been to the mall this holiday season? Have you seen all the beautiful displays and colorful window dressings? In one local mall, there is this small train you can purchase a ride in, complete with an older man dressed in engineer overalls and cap. He blows the train's whistle and takes the riders to destinations throughout the mall, all at the "small price" of whatever it is he charges. We know the prices is not all the "small" anymore, though, because the rocking horse that used to cost a quarter in my day now costs a dollar! Even a child's fun has escalated in cost! Yet, children beg their weary parents laden down with purchases galore for "just one ride" on this magical train. There are moments of melt-down for some whose parents resist the idea of paying that "small price" for such a short ride, and other moments of prideful glee of those whose parents just give in instead of enduring the tantrum. You know, there are things all around us touting that their enjoyment will only require a "small price" in order to enjoy their "ride", but in actuality, that "small price" is much more like the multiplied price the parent must pay since he/she must go along for the ride since no good parent would let their child go off alone with a total stranger! The "price" begins to mount up when you consider the impact of even one compromise - one ride on the train may not seem like much, but it is the cost of those who must "come along" that makes it a little too steep of a price to pay!

A destination you do not desire - - - we probably all have realized we were going in that direction at one time or another.  Unaware of the real cost of that small compromise, we were "taken in" by some skillfully placed distraction which touted just a "small price". The "small" soon adds up to the "bigger" and the "bigger" soon becomes the "larger". I don't know about you, but five dollars to ride the carousel, a dollar to ride the rocking horse, or even twenty dollars to jump for three minutes suspended from the length of a bungie cord seems like a "small price" to pay when we consider it as a "one-time" thing. The problem is that one thrill enjoyed brings with it the desire to repeat the thrill! Each time the child passes the vendor's booth, there will be this incessant pleading to "do it again". Why? For just a moment or two, we had "fun" - we let our imaginations carry us away and we had some degree of "fun", although it might have been short-lived. Most compromise is not really all that "big" in comparison to where it is we are headed. It is one "small price" added to the next that begins to add up, though! Heaven help the parent whose child it is that recognizes his classmates are getting to ride without him - the pressure just escalated tenfold for that parent! The one who is making the ride look so enjoyable isn't really desiring to ride it alone - he wants companions along for the ride!

God doesn't cause us to compromise, nor does he put compromise in our paths. We might want to blame someone for the "ride" we are about to embark upon, but hear this clearly - - - the ride is only appealing because we think it will have a lasting enjoyment which begins with just one short ride! The truth is quite the opposite, for that very short ride plants a yearning deep into our hearts that gets "tickled" every time we pass by that place of our first "short ride" down sin's road of compromise. God is calling us to truth - - - he is the one helping us to realize the "small price" touted is really not all that small - but we must listen to his voice of reason and recognize the voice of love as that which doesn't desire to keep us "from" enjoyment, but wants to move us into places where we will be certain of "continued enjoyment". Just sayin!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I don't want this pain anymore!

Those who love discipline love knowledge, but fools hate any kind of correction. The Eternal prefers those who do good, but He condemns those who plot evil. Doing what is wrong keeps everyone off balance and insecure, but those who do right will never be uprooted. (Proverbs 12:1-3 VOICE)

Okay, getting totally "real" with you today I'd have to admit enduring discipline is the furthest thing from "fun" and "enjoyable"! In fact, it is downright hard and very humbling. Without it I'd never have grown, nor would I have realized some of the tremendous things I have come to know and appreciate. Paul tells us to count it all joy when we encounter these rough places, because they will produce things like endurance, solid character, and patience. I am not sure why God uses these tough places as times to create such awesome stuff within us, but it may just be that tough skin of pride we have that just cannot be permeated otherwise! Fools hate any kind of correction - they are content to live in their foolishness - not wanting anything to get through their tough exterior and into the protected or secret places of their heart, mind, and spirit. They want to avoid the things which are uncomfortable because comfort is much easier.

If you have ever had something that gave you a lot of pain, you will understand what I am about to say. At about five years of age, my daughter was at the lake with us one day just prior to us moving from northern California back to Arizona. It was a lovely day and not too hot. I slathered both the kids in sunscreen as I always did, but somehow her light skin took in those sun rays and she actually had blisters by the end of the night the size of quarters and fifty cent pieces all over her back, shoulders and chest! It was a rough couple of days while she endured the pain of that burn. She couldn't rest, her every move caused her pain, and all of the resources of her body were focused on managing that insult to her system. That is what happens with pain - resources are tapped like never before and rest is impossible until the pain is relieved.

Pain doesn't have to be physical - it can be emotional, as well. I almost think the harder pain to deal with is that of the wounded or hurt emotions. They just don't heal as quickly as the stubbed toe or the blistered burn. They leave scars just like the physical wounds do, but they are much deeper and usually not as easily recognized as the more "outward" ones. It seems hard to think that someone who is wounded and in pain might have to endure anymore pain, right? You'd think the way "out" of pain was to walk away from the pain. Rarely does this work entirely well, though, for emotional pain has a way of following you in the form of memories that are hard to be free of later on down the road.

Sometimes the greatest pain relief we experience is when we face our pain head-on and then begin to have someone help us diagnose that pain. When I went through my knee replacement, I had hoped to be out of pain within a couple weeks of surgery. I went through about ten months of excruciating pain instead, until I finally told my surgeon we had to do something to figure out why the pain was there. While I didn't relish a return to the operating room, it became quite apparent this was going to be necessary. In rather short order, the reason for my pain became evident as he explored the knee - bone had grown onto the tendon - something that happens in rare cases. It was causing friction each time I bent the knee and that was the cause of all that pain! A small, less than a few millimeters of bone where it had no business being!

Most of the time, the pain we feel emotionally isn't from the really big stuff - it can be from the tiniest of stuff being somewhere it shouldn't be! Memories tucked away, not really realizing we are "filing" them away, per se. Then in the course of time, they begin to "rub" and cause "friction" that begins to escalate into painful stimuli. That pain demands attention and eventually it will be the thing that consumes us. That tiny thing being where it should not be gives us all that grief, causes us unease and an inability to really find rest, and eventually demands more resources to deal with than we might have ever imagined. While we might not like discipline, nor do we relish the thought of having things which cause us pain exposed so they can be dealt with, it is oh so necessary! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Considering Christmas

As Christmas is soon upon us, I just wanted to take a little time to reflect on some of the memories I have had of Christmas mornings over the years. I can remember one particular Christmas morning when the tree contained everything I wanted - kind of tom-boy toys, but nonetheless, they were all I wanted and there they were! A set of six-shooters in buckle on holsters, a little cowboy outfit in brown and yellow complete with cowboy boots! That particular year I wanted to be a cowboy. The next I wanted to be a soldier, so the tree was surrounded by green plastic army helmet, plastic canteen, and the like. It was around my fifth or sixth Christmas that the "theme" of my wishes changed to a Barbie and Ken doll, and even a Chatty-Cathy doll. Oh, I wasn't done being a tom-boy, I just found out girls asked for dolls! I grew up with a neighborhood full of boys, so I had asked for boyish toys as a result. I think I was blessed by parents that allowed me to just be me - they didn't try to convince me that cowboy outfits and combat gear was not "right" for a girl and allowed me to have what would help me connect with the friends I had in the neighborhood. They knew that connection was very important for me at that age. My neighborhood would change later on in life, as would my circle of friends, bringing new interests along the way. What mattered was that I was growing up feeling very loved!

So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others. (John 13:34-35 VOICE)

I can remember car rides into the late hours of the evening after Dad finished up a good day's work, all bundled up and secure in the family car, just exploring the streets of Phoenix for those homes where lights festooned the entryways and adorned the trees. In those days, the "decorating" was pretty traditional, with those big colorful bulbs. Every now and again you came across a home of someone with some creative talent in woodworking who had created cut-outs of various things like nativity scenes and even Santa and his reindeer. These would be lit up in colorful display, sometimes across rooftops while others were nestled in under the sprawling trees of the front yard. The lights and displays were memories I will long carry into my old age, but most important was those hours in the car with Dad and Mom, carols playing softly from the dashboard speakers and us singing along sometimes in perfect pitch and at others, kind of off-key!

There was always Christmas Eve mass. Mom and Dad would make sure I went down for a nap just after supper, then they'd awaken me about eleven o'clock, help me dress in whatever pretty outfit mom had picked for the occasion, and off we'd go. It was all pomp and circumstance, with all manner of incense and flowing robes, altar boys adorned in crisply starched black and white robes. The church would be packed and the anticipation of Christmas morn was palpable for every kid in the place. What made it even more amazingly cool was that I got to open one present when we got home! I'd have scoped out the tree and had made the tough decision about which one would be the package to get that particular honor. Yet, there were always one or two more packages each Christmas morn that weren't there before we made our way to bed to cover up our heads. That made the moments of Christmas morn all that more exciting as a child - knowing Santa still had to visit!

Christmas day was filled with all manner of terrific foodstuffs and lots of sweet delights. Mom and grandma would enjoy their fruitcake and tea. Dad would dunk Christmas cookies in his coffee cup. My favorite were those round white ones all covered in powdered sugar. Mom made them special each year for me - even when I was older and a full-grown woman. She cannot bake any longer and I guess that tradition has been passed on to me now. I don't do justice to them, though - not like she did. She just had a way of making Christmas special. Even that one year we ventured into the fudge making fiasco that yielded about 24 jars of fudge sauce for our ice cream! The stuff never set up, but we laughed and laughed about having all that white, rich goodness for months to come.

We might not appreciate all the love of the season we have experienced until we take time to look back over those years gone by, but as we near this Christmastime, let's just take a moment to pause to consider the love of family, friends, and Christ. Just stoppin!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reacting and responding

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." (Charles R. Swindoll) I am going to perfectly honest with you here - sometimes life just throws us curve balls! I used to play fast-pitch softball, so when I saw a ball coming at me, I usually knew when to swing so I could make a connection with the ball - at least most of the time. Whenever that pitcher threw me a curve, I usually missed! I wasn't counting on it coming at me quite that way, so I didn't have time to adjust or plan for that curve. This is how life is - things come at us and we rarely have time to adjust for the way the present themselves - we just have to be ready to "deal" the very best we can and leave the rest in God's capable hands.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:1-5 NLT)

I used to be pretty good at hitting those fast pitches, but I haven't practiced in ages, so I know I would be less than stellar at it today. My vision has changed, not to mention my reflexes have slowed down. My body doesn't possess the strength it used to, and my upper torso is not as toned as it used to be! In essence, life could throw me a curve ball right now and I'd probably watch it go right past me before I even had a chance to react to it. Why? I am out of practice! I haven't used those skills in quite some time. In dealing with the things life sends our way, sometimes we get too "out of practice" with how it is we are to "react" to them. When we are, we find ourselves reacting in quite a different manner than we perhaps should be reacting!

If life is ten percent of what happens to us - those things outside our control - and ninety percent of how we react to it - those things within our control - then I think I am saying we are not as "in control" as we might have thought we were. In other words, we are not "dealing" with life with all the resources we have available to us. When I played ball, I had a batting coach, a line coach, a team coach, and a base coach.  Along the way, each one played a part in helping me "read the signs" of what pitch was coming next, who was leading off to run, where to throw the ball - in general, they taught me how to "react" to what was happening in the game.

In our everyday experiences, we might not realize it, but we have skills we learn from our study of the word, others we can attribute to observing how others have handled similar situations, and those which we don't really know we have until we hear that still small voice urging us to respond to something in a particular manner. It isn't "one" coach we have in life that gives us the skills to deal with life's pitches, it is the "plethora" of coaching which occurs through all the things God gives us to help guide us in our walk. The still small voice may be the most difficult to heed, but it often is the one niggling us just a tiny bit immediately prior to us reacting.

Do you know what a reaction is?  It is our "change" in response to some stimulus. For example, when we see a ball coming at our face, we flinch. We change the way we were facing, withdraw a little, and maybe even duck or move a little because we don't want to be hit head on. If what Swindoll says is true, then we "change" in response to what comes our way more than we might realize. Change is not always a bad thing - for the change in response to a stimulus might be what produces a positive outcome in our hearts, minds, or spirit. To not react is to allow ourselves to either become victims of whatever hits us, or to just settle for things always taking us down.

Take for example someone attempting to goad us into an argument. We can "react" by going down that same path of immature reactionary response, or we can listen to the tiny voice of the Holy Spirit niggling at our conscience telling us to "react" with the love of Jesus. It is clearly a war of responses - for everything within us might want to respond with a full-fledged fight to the finish, but deep inside we know Christ is just yearning to shine on through. Whichever stimulus we react to will become the way we respond - either in equal anger, or in a tremendously meek and loving way that tells the other individual clearly that we love them too much to allow anger to destroy our relationship. Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Be an angel of impulse

"Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse."  (Henry Van Dyke) What impulses have you been acting on lately?  I really dislike being anywhere close to the shopping malls during this time of the year, so that probably accounts for my frequent deliveries from the guy who works for Amazon!  It isn't that I don't like people - I just don't like some of the impulses they act upon during this rushed and frenzied time of year. It seems that some of the most common acts of courtesy and kindness just fly out the window for some, while others take this season of sharing as a way to be a blessing to someone they don't even know. As we were at a local vendor a few days ago, mom wanted to purchase a small gift for one of the grandsons and something for my son-in-law. As we stood at the checkout counter, a woman of retirement age approached us and asked if she could pay for mom's purchases. Although mom reassured her that she was able to do so herself, the woman insisted. The blessing she was attempting to give was explained as, "I just want to do it for my late husband who passed seven years ago." The super-special blessing attempt was only foiled by her having taken the package right up along with hers and leaving the store with them!  There mom was, holding the receipt for what she did not purchase, watching as the woman left with the two small gifts. I wonder what she will do with a matchbox car and some chili spice seasonings for grilling?

Without actions, faith is useless. By itself, it’s as good as dead. I know what you’re thinking: “OK, you have faith. And I have actions. Now let’s see your faith without works, and I’ll show you a faith that works.”  (James 2:17-18 VOICE)

She meant well, and her heartfelt actions were touching to both of us. She probably felt horrible when she returned home to realize she had escaped with that bag! In fact, she stopped me as I was putting mom's wheelchair into the car, asking me for my name so she could put me on her prayer chain at her local church. She wanted to be sure I was thanked for what I was doing - being a caregiver to my mother. She explained she had nursed her husband during the latter days of his life until he went on to be with Jesus. She missed him every day for the past seven years. You could tell her heart was hurting for the man she had been with for so many years. I thanked her for her kindness, telling her how much it meant to have someone praying for mom and I. She had no way of knowing we had faced a tough decline in mom's condition not two days prior - not knowing if she'd bounce back again. Yet, her simple act of showing me she was appreciative of my efforts to care well for mom and to help her in these last years of her life touched my heart with gratitude. 

Our "impulsive" actions may be unplanned, but they can mean so much to those who will be touched by the simplicity of those actions. As she took out an old envelope she had tucked into her purse and a pen to write down our first names, I knew she sincerely meant to place us on that prayer chain - that women would be gathered around in the next week at her women's group and would be lifting mom and I in prayer. That meant more than the small purchase at the register that day, my friends. It meant someone was "on our side", helping to lift us up before the Savior, ensuring our needs were being taken to the throne of grace. It meant we didn't stand alone. Maybe all we can offer is a sincere hand of blessing, or a moment of shared thankfulness, or even a hug of encouragement to someone, but don't ever discount what one simple act can be in terms of blessing someone's life! 

We will have moments to be "impulsive" this holiday season - take them. We will be asked to fill a red kettle - fill it well. We might be asked to donate a few items into the holiday food drive boxes - fill 'em to overflowing. We might find ourselves patiently circling for the next available space in the parking lot - let that one who has three rambunctious children all under the age of six in the backseat have it. We could even be asked to reach out to someone who is alone, not able to get out by themselves - don't be shy, and don't ever think you don't have what it takes to be a blessing to them - chances are what they desire most is just to hold your hand or share a sugar cookie over a warm cup of tea or coffee! We never know when we will be the "angel" of "impulse" that someone receives a great blessing as a result of their encounter with us. Just sayin!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Aye! It is a time of flux once again!

Lewis Carroll once penned, "I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then." Indeed, what we were in the past is not something we can ever return to in the present, nor is it something we can become in the future - because what is past is past. We might want to get back to that size ten dress, or that slim and svelte body that was admired by many a gal back in the day, but today's size ten body is quite different than the size ten body I had in my twenties! There are a few more stretch marks, scars, not to mention cellulite that comes with old age! So, I might have achieved the "size", but I really didn't "go back", if you know what I mean!

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NLT)

In the midst of today's chaotic and crippling disappointments, we often want to relive a point in time when things were simpler and just less stressful. We want things to be "as they used to be", but we forget just how much stress those times had because it was a different kind of stress! The point is that Jesus never said we'd "arrive" at some point in life and just "coast" there. He assured us that we'd be constantly in a state of "flux" - there would be movement from here to somewhere else, even if we weren't quite sure yet of where that somewhere else would be.  Some things I have learned about being in "flux":

- Today's "momentary afflictions" usually seem like a lot to handle because we compare them to where we were, not where it is we are going. As Paul points out in our passage above, we used to know Christ from a human point of view. Now we see him differently - and rest assured that you will see him differently tomorrow, as well. Our life with Jesus is one of change - from what we used to be into what we are becoming by his presence within us. That may not seem like much, but if we keep that perspective, then these "momentary afflictions" (no matter how catastrophic they may seem) are a means to a new end, followed by a newer end, and then a newer one, and so on.

- Yesterday's "perfect" can be surpassed by today's "not so perfect", even though today's adventure is "not so perfect". It is a matter of keeping our focus on Jesus - so that whatever hurdle we have to overcome today isn't the focus. We see hurdles as impossibilities - he seems them as moments when we can soar! Look it up -  a hurdle is an "artificial barrier" over which runners must leap! Jesus doesn't want us to see them as "true barriers", but as what they are - artificial barriers designed to get us leaping!

- Tomorrow's "flight" will differ from today's because the "conditions of flight" will be totally different. Any pilot will tell you no matter how blue the skies look today, there are wind currents we don't recognize the higher we climb! It doesn't keep us from climbing, because the only way to stay aloft is to get to the place we learn to use those wind currents to our advantage - to give us "lift" and not "drag". I don't know the current you will face, but rest assured of this one thing - we can rise above and use those things to further our progress when we aren't willing to just stay in the hanger!  Just sayin!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Live like you are loved

See, a young maiden will conceive. She will give birth to a son and name Him Immanuel, that is, “God with us.” (Isaiah :14 VOICE)

When you are lost, what are you hoping for? You want to be found - you want direction. When you are confused, what are you hoping for? You want answers - you want peace. When you are afraid or anxious, what are you hoping for? You want strength - you want settled assurance. When you are faced with nothing but failure, what are you hoping for? You want something - anything to work out. We are creature of hope - we look for something to be different from the unsettled, difficult, or challenging circumstances we are faced with as life gets tough or the outcomes disappoint us, don't we? To hope is to imagine something different from what it presently is.
At Christmastime, children everywhere gaze in wonder at the brightly wrapped packages under the tree, shaking them when no one is watching, hoping to get some inkling that the thing they most hope for is there. Some gaze at an empty room, no tree with twinkling lights and bright ornaments. Their hope is probably quite different - they fear they have been forgotten - that there will be no Christmas for them this year. I would like to take just a few moments to encourage us to do something this week to meet someone's hope - in some unexpected way, but in a way which will speak deeply into their hearts.

Maybe you could go door to door in a neighborhood where you know very few of your neighbors, asking for just one can of food, an outgrown or unused piece of clothing, or an extra blanket. Then you could take those down to your local shelter to help those who have no home this Christmas, whose tummies are hungering to be filled, who have a job for the first time in quite a long time, but no suitable clothing for the position. 

I saw a post recently of people tying warm winter scarves around trees and light poles all over the city with a tiny note indicating these were not "forgotten scarves", but meant for the finder who might need to be warm on a cold winter's night. You could probably find one somewhere in your stash, write that simple note, and start that movement in your own city. It takes one spark to set a forest ablaze - be that spark.

As always, those Christmas Angel trees in shopping centers will be left with lots of unclaimed tags this week - take one or two. The gift doesn't have to be big, nor does it have to be name brand - just make it a gift from your heart. The child's life you change by that one gesture could mean the difference between an empty tree and a day filled with cheer.

Maybe you pay for the person's groceries in line behind or in front of you, purchase a meal for a cop on the beat today, or buy a flower bouquet at your supermarket and then present it to your cashier. That very simple act may be the only thing truly beautiful and selfless they experience this week.

What I am proposing is that we begin to live like we are loved and that we walk in a manner that shows the tremendous freedom we have been given in Christ Jesus. After all, he is the meaning of this season. It isn't the hype of the season we hear the most, but it is the truth of the season nonetheless. Christ is honored in our simple actions of the heart - not in the volume of the gifts, but in the action of the heart behind each one we are able to render. The moment will come this week for you - be ready! Be an instrument of hope to someone - their very life could be changed by your one simple act of love. Just sayin!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What exactly are you saying?

"Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself." (Andre Breton) I'd also have to say what they tell us about ourselves may not always be what we wanted to know about ourselves! It may reveal some ugliness of character we didn't realize dwelt somewhere deep inside of us. It may bring to light something we thought we'd dealt with somewhere in the past and had no idea has been hanging around, muddling up our emotions and messing with our brains all this time. 

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16 VOICE)

Truth may be harder to handle than we'd like to admit, but we all realize the only way to really change is to be brutally honest with ourselves, others and God. We might not like it, but until we are, the only thing we are doing is masking our bad conduct and misery. In the beginning, being this honest with one another may be a little more difficult than we might like, but it has such huge benefits if we remain consistent to doing this in love and with mutual respect for each other.

As a parent, some of the hardest times were when I had to just be silent while my kids made mistakes I could have easily "saved them from" if they'd have just listened to my "sage advice". We all face this reality from time to time, because we want our kids to grow up as strong, well-balanced, and generally great adults. In between where they begin to do things independently and make choices on their own until they reach the place they are at the place we'd say they are "generally great adults" they will make a lot of mistakes just like we did.

As a spouse, some of the hardest things to realize about myself what that I was not perfect. In every argument that ensued I would somehow put myself out there as "always" this or "always" that, while the other person in the relationship was "always" this or that. It took me a long time to realize I am very seldom consistent, so the "always" statements really were just masking something I didn't want to admit was occurring when I really wasn't "always" this or that. 

As an employee, sometimes I wanted to be excellent in all that was expected of me, but sometimes I just plain didn't do that great of a job with whatever it was. When my supervisor had to tell me I missed the mark, these were words I didn't always want to hear. Yet, they are the words that made me dig in harder, do a better job, and generally helped me develop as an employee.

The things we mask the deepest sometimes come out when someone else reveals to us they are not as deeply hidden as we hoped they were. The things we don't even know are there are often revealed when we are at our worst emotionally, physically, or spiritually. What we do with these things when they are revealed makes all the difference. We can deny they are there, or we can embrace them, take them to Jesus and ask him to help us with these. The thing revealed may be a little ugly at first, but in his hands even ashes can take on a new purpose!  Just sayin!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Better than a Hallelujah

Martin Luther King, Jr. describes faith as, "taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." I'd have to say there have been times in the lives of some of my friends when they are taking HUGE steps and definitely not being able to see the entire staircase as of yet. Sure, it will be revealed as you take one step and then another, but at first, we don't know the entire "climb", nor do we know the destination it will take us. That is why it is called faith - the direction isn't always obvious, and the destination isn't yet fully appreciated!

I rise early, before the sun is up; I cry out for help and put my hope in your words.  (Psalm 119:147 VOICE)

We can so caught up in looking for new doors to open that we totally miss the point that we haven't really arrived at the place the door has been prepared yet! Yes, we need to be looking for the door, but there might just be a little bit of a climb before we get there! My hairdresser is amazed at my ease at which I tell her to just make me look "good". She always asks how much to cut off, but I always tell her to leave it generally the same length, but trim away until it falls nicely. I remind her that I trust her because the work of cutting hair to make it look good is her business - not mine!

I wouldn't presume to tell her how to make my hair fall into the appropriate mixture of layers so as to fit the curve of my head and frame my face. She has that knowledge - I just put myself in her chair and let her go. Why? She has the years of experience that can run her hands through your hair and see how it will fall just by what she feels. What I have years of experience with is people giving me bad haircuts that don't conform to my head because I was too impatient to wait for an appointment with someone who actually manages this business of hair cutting quite well!

So many times, we jump ahead of God because we are too impatient to take however many steps are required on that staircase. It isn't that we don't know he can do a great job delivering us safely to our destination, or even that he has proven to provide some pretty tremendous things for us once we are there. It is that we get too impatient with the process of getting there! Yet, probably much of what we "gain" is found not so much in the destination, but in what we encounter getting there!

I think there have been times when I just didn't feel like going on any longer - like the climb was too hard. I wanted the quick fix - but it rarely turned out to be the best. It isn't fear that made me settle for the quick fix - it was my expectations. You see, we all set certain expectations as to how God should work, especially when we are hurting. We want the hurt to end, but we don't think God knows that.

We might not even speak about it with him - because we somehow believe "hurting" reveals some kind of weakness. If you have ever heard that song, "Better than a Hallelujah", you know that God isn't concerned with out "worship" always being "hallelujahs" - sometimes it is just expressing the honest hurt bottled up in our hearts for way too long. As the chorus says, "We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are. The honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah."

Today may be the first step on a staircase not yet fully revealed. Our hearts may be hurting beyond what we have ever wanted to admit, but in just pouring out of miseries, God hears what becomes a melody in his ears. It is that honest sharing of our heart that helps him show us how to put one foot in front of the other until we are climbing that staircase. We may not find the door after the first "flight", but each "bend" we round on that climb, the closer we are to where it is he wants to bring us! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Some thoughts on marriage

"It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages." (Friedrich Nietzsche)  If you look at what others may consider to be "successful" marriages, it usually becomes quite apparent they are more than lovers - they are friends. They are more than parents - they are comrades in arms - ready to do battle to keep them safe, out of harm's way, and steadily moving along toward adulthood. Marriage is kind of romanticized these days - with TV movies making it look so easy for two people to "fall in love" and "live happily ever after". The truth of the matter - the "happily ever after" is riddled with all kinds of potholes, some the size of mortar craters, and lots of opportunities for losing your way!

You see, the Eternal sees our ways before Him. He watches every move we make and knows where those paths lead. (Proverbs 5:21 VOICE)

One thing remains true in all "really good" marriages I have observed - there is an ability to weather the bad times, navigate the storms, and come out stronger together when Christ is at the center of the relationship. I think he is the one who helps the "individuals" who become a "couple" to actually learn about each other, what each other needs, and where each one finds their place of purpose and fulfillment. Now, this may seem like an odd observation from a divorced, single woman in her late fifties, but hear me out on this one. I have had the better part of a quarter century since my divorce to observe those who have "made it work" and have consistently observed some pretty important things. Here are just a few:

- The stuff we might think matters so much in the end probably doesn't matter all that much - be willing to compromise. To hold onto one's own opinion of the way things should be, or what one envisions as the "perfect" answer to whatever is being considered is probably not exactly the way the other sees it - be willing to come to a place of mutual consent or consensus. There is definitely something to be said about finding the "middle-ground" - not one, nor the other may get "all" they want, but each comes closer when the middle-ground can be reached.

- Words hurt almost as much as actions - be careful with what you allow out of your mouth for those very things may be the things which trip you up over and over again as a couple. Feelings get bruised very easily, especially when one is tired, at the end of one's whits with problems at work or with the children, or even too distracted to really notice what is happening around them. The things which escape our lips are seldom able to be undone - once spoken, they hang out there in the air for a long, long time.

- There is much wisdom in not allowing one or the other to go to bed angry. A small amount of time spent ironing out the matter prior to going to bed is time well-spent. Anger grows as one mulls things over and over again - time spent now getting to the end of the matter is going to keep a root of bitterness from ever getting a stronghold in the relationship.

- A couple may be more alike than they know, but until they actually begin to talk through whatever it is they are walking through, they don't realize just how close they are in finding the same solution to the problem. When both are unwilling to give up, there is always a way to find a solution - Christ is more than enough. This is why I go back to the thought about having him in the center of the relationship - for he is the glue that binds, the neutral ground that facilitates agreement, and the bonding strength that will guide the couple through many a "hairy" period.

- When things get toughest, it is usually that season that will produce the best and strongest bonds within the relationship, especially when Christ is at the center. Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Like a fly trapped in the window

We probably have all observed a fly buzzing frantically at the window, hitting himself repeatedly on the translucent glass. We hear the frenzied beat of those wings, coupled with the impact of his tiny body upon the glass. We probably all believe he is trying to get out again - but I have a question - if we call them house-flies, then isn't it logical they like it in the house? There are "stable-flies" and they are supposed to live in the stable, but do they find themselves constantly beating their tiny bodies into the barn walls all day long? Not usually because they are too busy enjoying their life of annoying the livestock in the barn and feeding on the byproduct of their waste! I wonder if the house-fly is buzzing so frantically at the window because it is discontent with where it is, or is it just silly enough to believe there is something more of the "house" beyond that translucent pane of glass? Life as a fly must be pretty different for the house-fly because it sees life very differently than we experience it. It is constantly on the prowl for food - nothing unusual about that! It is constantly feeding - nothing unusual about that. The unusual thing about flies is their inability to focus - they have what is termed "compound eyes", but they just cannot focus!

Stay true to my directives, and they will serve you well; make my teachings the lens through which you see life. (Proverbs 7:2 VOICE)

Flies have lots and lots of "visual receptors", but each one of these function as an eye all by itself. So, to a fly the world is made up of hundreds and hundreds of things they see all at one time, making their ability to focus on just one thing a little hard to do! The human eye can move, while the fly's eye is "fixed" in one position. We can move our eyeball right, left, up, and down - allowing us to take in more and more of our surroundings until we become acquainted with them. The fly must "fly" in order to take in the entire surroundings in which they find themselves - maybe this is why they spend so much time trying to find one place to stay for a while! They just cannot focus, so they are constantly trying to make sense of the environment they are in and heaven knows, they don't want to miss anything which might make good use of their mischievous mouths!

You might ask why a fly is constantly able to fly away when we swing at it with the swatter if their ability to focus is so limited. If you think about all the "fields of vision" the fly has, it is pretty aware of movement because of all those "out of focus" images they see portrayed to their tiny brains. They can perceive it, although they don't know exactly what it is, they just know it is coming at them and they move to avoid it! They have one mission - to feed, to poop, and to feed again. Somewhere in the mix, they will lay eggs in order to multiply their number, but this is about all we can count on from the fly buzzing at the window! Except that it carries disease and has no clue it is spreading it over and over again upon everything it finds perch upon! 

Many times we go through life with a "fly's eye" - unable to focus, taking all kinds of stuff in, avoiding what we perceive as a threat, but constantly on the prowl for what may make us happy. We have similar difficulty focusing - constantly receiving input from every direction, but not doing a very good job understanding that input. Like the fly, we beat ourselves silly time and time again thinking there is something "better" just beyond that "wall of glass" we seem to be hitting. We see it, sort of, and imagine there must be something better "out there" which we haven't experienced. In truth, we just haven't figured out what it is we are seeing because we are trying to focus on too many different things all at one time. The Christian life is not one of "taking it all in" as much as it is one of allowing the "one thing" we focus on to begin to impact our lives deeply.

We look for the next best thing to feed upon, always looking to satisfy an insatiable appetite for more. We are like the fly - flitting here and there, until one day we feel a little "trapped" by our mindless and unfocused flight. It at that moment where we come up against the obstacle we pound relentlessly upon, believing somehow to be able to escape, all the while trying to avoid what is trying to do us harm. Thank goodness God doesn't leave us to our own devices forever! Instead of leaving us in a place where we see no way of escape, he opens wide the windows of our soul and gives us flight into a newness of life. In turn, he gives us focus! We don't immediately begin to see clearly, but in time, we begin to focus more and more clearly on the one thing that really brings us satisfaction (Jesus). Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Undoing those knots

Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.  It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue.  Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King. (Ephesians 4:29-32 VOICE)

Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." He certainly had that right! Forgiveness requires more strength than almost anything else - because we have to overcome the hurdle of feeling we have a "right" to hold that grudge against the one who hurt us. Back in the day, Superman was probably one of our only "super-heroes" and his comics are well known for the phrase of being "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." Most of us don't "leap tall buildings" no matter how many "bounds" we take! We just don't have the "power" to do so. We are not faster than a speeding bullet, nor are we more powerful than a locomotive. The speed at which we forgive is kind of like that of a snail - not a speeding bullet! The power to overcome those ill-feelings is definitely much more than that of a powerful locomotive! In each of the cases where I have needed to forgive an offense, the only power, strength, and speed that matters is how quickly I rely upon his power, lean into it with his strength, and take action to let it go in the speed which he requires!

Gandhi indicated the weak have a hard time forgiving. I think it is more than just their "weakness" that keeps them from forgiving - it might just be there is something more at the core of unforgiveness than one's weakness. I have stood so "stubbornly right" that I was unable or unwilling to forgive the offense - simply because I could not or would not admit another may have been right, or that they stand in need of being "let off the hook" on the matter at hand. Sometimes I have stubbornly dug in, determining that I would hold on for however long it took for THEM to realize THEY were the ones who did ME wrong! Aye caramba! What a mess I made of those situations - all because I was too "weak" to admit my stubbornness!

Gandhi also said, "I know, to banish anger altogether from one's breast is a difficult task. It cannot be achieved through pure personal effort. It can be done only by God's grace." He hit it on the head there - nothing we do ever gets us to the place of truly letting go of the right to feel injured because of another's actions. We cannot let go until we let God take that injury upon himself and then we are free to "banish" that anger and hurt far from us - this is the action of grace within us. Strength may just be evident in giving control of our "right to be hurt" to the one who bore all hurt upon his frame as he endured the cross in our place!

Anger and hurt go hand-in-hand. We get hurt, then we get angry. We get hurt, then we "tie" another to that hurt through our anger. We hold them captive in our thoughts, allowing our motives to be affected, and then in turn, we see our actions exhibit that stubborn anger which holds them bound to that infraction. As Jesus instructed his disciples, we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Christ did not "tie us to our sin", but "undid" the ropes that held us bound - he released us. That is what is at the core of forgiveness - release. If we are to examine this closely, forgiveness does more than just release the other guy - it means we don't have to keep watch over the "tightness" of those knots any longer either! Just sayin!