Search This Blog

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Oh, I have to APPLY it?

21 So get rid of everything evil in your lives—every kind of wrong you do. Be humble and accept God’s teaching that is planted in your hearts. This teaching can save you. 22 Do what God’s teaching says; don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. 23 Hearing God’s teaching and doing nothing is like looking at your face in the mirror 24 and doing nothing about what you saw. You go away and immediately forget how bad you looked. 25 But when you look into God’s perfect law that sets people free, pay attention to it. If you do what it says, you will have God’s blessing. Never just listen to his teaching and forget what you heard. (James 1:21-25 ERV)
There are definitely times when I take a gander in the mirror early some mornings when my first inclination is just to turn away, believing there is absolutely no help! Hair askew, blemishes seeming to bud out of nowhere overnight, and eyes heavy with sleep - things don't look all that promising! But...rather than turn away, I do the best with what I have been given that day. It may not be perfect, but it the best with what I have to work with! In our spiritual lives, there are times when we look in the mirror, turning almost immediately away in a kind of disheartened manner, thinking things will not change in our hearts or minds. Things seem to just "stay the same", or worse yet, they seem to change, but in a negative fashion. We don't like what we see, but we don't know how to change it, either. The good news is that a humble heart and an open mind can actually be the framework by which God can "pile in" his word and create anew what we have no idea how to change!
The Word of God isn't there as a mirror that allows us to ignore or neglect whatever is reflected there - it requires us to deal with what we behold. If you have ever read a certain passage and then said something such as, "Oh my... That certainly hit the nail on the head", then you know exactly how the Word of God is a mirror that does more than "reflect" back to us an image of imperfection. It has a way of showing us not only where those flaws exist, but how to use what we have to see those imperfections made better and better over the course of time, but....we have to apply what we have been given. It is like having all manner of make-up available on the bathroom counter and then just thinking it is going to somehow affect your appearance by just looking at it! Well, duh...it isn't going to just apply itself! You have to do something with what you have at your disposal!
A lot of the time we really do not realize God has planted this good stuff we need in order to realize change in our hearts and minds - it is already planted - it just needs a little cultivating to make any difference! I don't know where you are today in your walk with Jesus, but here are some words of encouragement:
- You have what you need, even when you don't honestly see evidence of it right now. 
- You are the one to put into use what it is you have been given. God isn't slack in what he provides, but we are often "slackers" in what it is we do with what it he has provided. Take the first step and you may just be dazzled with the difference just a little step like that makes.
- You don't have to get it all right the first time you try. I remember putting on eye shadow the first time - I think it was green. Uhm...just so you know, green is not in my color pallet! It didn't look all the good and I put it on way to thick and way to "inexpertly". You have to try sometimes a whole lot of times until you get some of this right - but don't just give up when it doesn't go well the first time - eventually things will "click" and you will be amazed at the results. Just sayin!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

No more white noise

Tell me this one thing: How did you receive the Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by following the law? No, you received the Spirit because you heard the message about Jesus and believed it. You began your life in Christ with the Spirit. Now do you try to complete it by your own power? That is foolish. You have experienced many things. Were all those experiences wasted? I hope they were not wasted! Does God give you the Spirit because you follow the law? Does God work miracles among you because you follow the law? No, God gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you because you heard the message about Jesus and believed it. (Galatians 3:2-5 ERV)

Do you ever "complicate" things by adding just way too much to the time you take to do something, or by adding so many requirements that must be met before you will do it? I do on occasion and whenever I do, I find myself in a muddle that kind of bogs me down. I don't move at other times simply because I get confused about what I should really do as a result of all the "noise" in my life from that which I have allowed to complicate the picture. Whenever we attempt to "make better" what God has already declared to be "perfect", we just end up adding stuff that we could label as "unnecessary noise".

Paul is dealing with the Galatian church - not just the leaders, but those who have been busy adding "noise" to the daily walk of each of the believers there. In simplest terms, they were requiring some of the old "rules" of the Law of Moses to be kept in addition to the finished work of grace in these believer's lives. Noise - pure and simple - lends complexity, makes it hard to sort things out as well as we should, and makes us work harder to get at the core of what is at hand. As Paul points out, we didn't receive the Spirit of God by following any set pattern of rules - so to reintroduce those into our lives is kind of like adding "noise" to a symphony!

Some of us don't sleep well in a completely quiet house. We need what some refer to as 'white noise' - that little bit of hum produced by the turning ceiling fan, or the gentle in and out breathing of someone in bed next to you. Remove that "white noise" and we are like hyper-alert and just don't get into that place of rest we so desperately desire. In a spiritual sense, when we need all this created 'white noise' of the rules we insist on or requirements we believe must be met in order to achieve some measure of "spiritual position" to make us feel secure about where we are in relationship with God, we miss out on the beauty of the simple "rest" he has for us in this place of grace.

While this may not seem like much at first, the more "noise" we add to the simplicity and sweetness of grace, the less we become comfortable with the peace grace produces in our lives. What we need to do is learn to quiet some of the "noise" and really settle into the peace! Just sayin!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Choose a better diet

From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.  Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (Proverbs 13:2-3 ESV)

"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble." (Yehuda Berg) The words we use most frequently reveal a lot about who we are, how we are motivated, what gets our jets fueled, and the things that rile us into action. There don't have to be many of them, but those which are selected to be spoken are the ones that reveal so very much about us!

If you have ever heard the old adage of "eating one's words", you might note the scripture says something similarly. The words of our mouth are what we "dine upon" so very often - because they either reveal fruit which nourishes the soul, or that which makes bitter all it comes into contact with. While I can tolerate a little bitter once in a while, I don't want a steady diet of it! I want there to be a variety of fruit, all with their own luscious "flavor" to lend to the lives of those around me, but not very many "bitter" ones "served up" that overpower the goodness of the others!

When you say you are "eating your words", you are admitting what you said actually was "wrong". Now, if I tell you it is to be a sunny, cloud-free day and you walk out into torrential rainfall, you will return to me drenched and I would "eat my words" on that one. If it is something "recoverable" such as drying one's self off, putting on a dry set of clothes, and setting out again with an umbrella in tow, that is one thing. If those words cut to the quick of your emotions or push against the fabric of your heart, these might just get "eaten" a little more frequently than you might like!

Why is that? Hurtful or harmful words seem to have a "repeat factor" that the good ones don't. Just like the strong onion you eat at dinnertime, both the fragrance and "repeat factor" of that onion stick with you, touching the lives of others in turn. Hurtful words just stick with us - they don't need to be lengthy, nor do they need to be particularly well-spoken. They just hang around a lot longer than we might imagine. Some would think we could shake them off, but that may not be as easy for some to do as you might imagine. They are like that sticky stuff that gets onto something and you just cannot figure out where it keeps coming from, but you feel the affect of it for a long time.

I think this is why so many a political leader, including our own in this country, gets so much attention in the media. Their words matter - and when they are "put out there" before millions of people without much forethought to their outcome, we observe them "eating them" for a lot longer than they ever imagined. Let us learn to use our words wisely, because what gets "eaten" has a way of affecting those who partake of them! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Start...Stop...Start Again

Mark Twain always said the secret of "getting ahead" is to actually "get started". There are a lot of times in life where I want to be "ahead" of where I am, like saving for retirement - as long as I am started on the journey, I am much further ahead than when I first took consideration of the idea! For some of us it is the task of just getting started each and every day that gives us some of the greatest challenges. We have the hardest time even getting out of bed, let alone actually accomplishing anything! I am not a procrastinator, so when there is something that needs to be done, I usually think about it in terms of "that won't take too long" or "it best get done, or I will have worse things to deal with". Have you ever under-estimated the demands of the project at hand, or over-estimated the potential you had to actually complete it? If you are like me, you have started more than one thing which either could not be completed in the time frame you afforded yourself, or you became frustrated, over-extended and exhausted because the demands were just too great.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.  He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:7-10 ERV)

The idea of "starting" is frightening to some, because they don't actually have confidence they will be able to finish anything. They have tried so many times to just "start", but within a short period of time, they find what they started has become difficult or just doesn't hold their interest any longer. This might be okay if we are speaking of a hobby here, but living with Jesus isn't a hobby. It is a lifetime of "starting" each day with him, taking one step at a time, and starting again, if need be! There is no shame in "starting again". We might think there is some negative attached to having to start again, but in truth, isn't that what the backspace and delete keys are designed for on our keyboards? The anticipation we will make mistakes or that something will just "not be right" is inherent in all we do - we are human and humans frequently need to start again.

Our electricity went out the other night in a windstorm. That isn't a big deal as long as it comes on again in pretty short order. Even when it is off for more than a few seconds, all the electronic devices in the house have to be "reset". The satellite dish must reconnect with the receiver box, microwave clock demands resetting, and the ceiling fans must be set to "on" again. Why? The interruption in power "messed them up". They don't function as they should again until they are all "reset" to do what they were designed to do. Some of the devices have this nifty batter backup feature, resulting in them just "coming back on" as though nothing had interrupted their reception of power. Life isn't always that simple, but as long as we are "powered" by a source that keeps us even when we aren't feeling all that "powered", we will motor on!

There are those who won't start something if they even think there is a remote possibility they won't finish it, or finish it well. It doesn't take long to realize this philosophy can greatly impact what we "take on" in life. Nothing ventured is nothing gained - I don't Benjamin Franklin really is credited as the original source of this quote, he is frequently given credit for this "version" of it. It comes from a much earlier quote by Chaucer who actually used the words of a French proverb to indicate: He who never undertook anything, never achieved anything. Much of what we accomplish in life isn't because we mastered it before we started it - we somehow mastered it along the way! It takes "getting started" to get us to move toward mastery - not the other way around. I think we get this mixed up in our heads and our hearts when it comes to things like prayer, study of the Word of God, and even relationships. We don't get started because we don't feel we know all that needs to be done, or that we will do the thing well. May I just say - venture out a little bit. If you fall, so what? Get back up - step out again - fall again. It is part of mastering whatever it is that is before you! Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Correct this...

“Lord God, with your great power you made the earth and the sky. There is nothing too hard for you to do." (Jeremiah 32:17 ERV)
What is your "too hard" point in life? At what "phase" in the development of events or alignment of the issues do you actually say this is just "too hard"? My grandsons have had to learn math, but not the "easy" way we might have learned growing up - for their "method" of teaching math these days is through something they refer to as the "common core". Honestly, this "newer math" is kinda hard! It almost borders on being "too hard" for this old gal to learn! Every now and again I get this pleading call from my daughter, asking me to help him over the phone with his math homework. It is one thing to see it, read through it a couple of times, and then figure out what they are trying to instruct him to do, but over the phone to just "hear it"...that just compounds the "hardness" of it! I think most of us do a combination of things to actually lay hold of our "lessons" in life - like seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. We are able to get past the "hardness" of it somehow because of the combined learning accomplished through our various senses.
At times, the events of life are just so terribly difficult for us to actually lay hold of, so we either want to just throw in the towel and say it is "too hard", or we persevere through, doing what we know how to do and hope for the best. "Hoping for the best" rarely gets us through in life, though. There are just times we need to arrive at the "right answer", not just a "close one". Whenever we simply accept things as "close enough", we might just be shutting out the potential God wants to add to the mix so that it isn't just "close", but it is "spot on" and "perfect". God isn't going to add to our muddle - he is going to help us see clearly, understand what it is we are hearing, get the most our of what we are feeling, and help us to put into words what he is doing in our lives. He is the power behind our life lessons - not just the instigator of them!
I don't have perfect vision, relying upon glasses to bring clarity, but at best, these extra lenses I rely upon give me a "close to perfect" picture. They get smudged, attract little particles of dust that distract from me seeing clearly, and occasionally even slip down my nose so that they aren't exactly in the right position to help me see clearly. I have to rely upon an optometrist to assist me in finding the right refraction of the lens - I don't have the ability to know what sphere or angle will accomplish the "correction" of what my eyes are incapable of doing on their own. Even with the "supplemental lenses", my vision might be corrected, but it isn't perfect. In life, there are things that get pretty close to "clear" for us, but at best, they are "corrected", not "perfect". Until we turn to Jesus and ask him to display his power wherever and whenever that power is most needed, we won't realize "perfection". We get "close", but it is possible God would get us even closer if we'd just get out of the way a little and let him take over! Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Uneven balance

It was the late German theologian Thomas Kempis who reminded us how "seldom" it is that we actually "weighed" another by the same balance we use to weigh ourselves. We often find it easier to stand up for what we believe to be "right" in our own lives, but then overlook what might equally be right in the lives of another simply because we become so hyper-focused on their faults and our merits. As God handed down the Law of Moses, one of the particular things he required was "fair scales". He didn't want the people of Israel to become known as being "unfair" or "unethical" in their dealings with others. Their jars, baskets, and scales were all to be "correct measurements", so there would be no opportunity to take advantage of another. When we use "differing scales", we are taking advantage of others.

Stand up for what you know is right, and judge all people fairly. Protect the rights of the poor and those who need help. (Proverbs 31:8 ERV)


Kempis also reminded us the acknowledgement of our weakness is the very first step toward "repairing loss" in our lives. Anytime we overlook any weakness in ourselves, while hyper-focusing on it in others, we are actually creating a void that becomes deeper and wider between us. That void may not seem like much at first, but given time to expand and it will take a monumental work of bridge-building to get us back together! As our passage reminds us, it is our moral obligation to stand up for what is right - not just in ourselves, but in the lives of all those who surround us today. When we use unfair scales, we are standing up for what WE want to get out of a relationship, while often overlooking what it is the other person so desperately seeks.

To acknowledge one's own weakness FIRST is going to open the door for the relationship to develop open and honest communication, freedom of sharing, and a "bent" toward being our real selves. While my real self wears a halo that is a little bent, tarnished, and slightly askew, it soon becomes apparent to me that others suffer the same "condition". None of us has perfectly polished halos, although we may want others to think we do! Anytime we hold out the "polished" us as the one others "can see", we are using an unfair balance or scale. We are setting them up to believe the scales tip in our favor - but we forget how much is on the other side of the scale we don't want anyone to see! Rather than applying "unfair weights", let us learn what it is to use the same "scale" God uses - that of Christ himself. Any other scale is just a little too "uneven"! Just sayin!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Generous?

Give freely, and you will profit. Help others, and you will gain more for yourself. (Proverbs 11:25 ERV)

My pastor asked this question this weekend about giving and serving - do we give and serve without caring who gets the credit? It is quite telling to actually take inventory of each action behind our service to see if we are secretly desiring some credit or acknowledgement for what it is we have done. If we are honest, we might not always serve without the intent of getting the "credit we are due". 

As my pastor aptly said, the generosity of Jesus is what actually provides our ability to relate to God - for without that generosity, we'd still have sin between us and the throne of God. There is nothing accomplished within the church that doesn't stem from the first act of generosity. The simplest example of generosity is revealed in how we care for one another.

How do we care for each other? One of the ways we can reveal our sincerity in caring is through the generosity of our grace (even when the other guy or gal doesn't deserve ANY grace at all). We need to be radical in our generosity as it applies to grace, but it is probably the hardest thing for us to give without expecting anything in return. You can give without loving - but to really extend grace, we must give out of love.

Be generous long enough and it will become a natural part of who we are. Automatically we will respond with generosity - in grace, love, and compassion toward others. Just sayin!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Intrinsic or Extrinsic Power?

With God’s power working in us, he can do much, much more than anything we can ask or think of. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever. Amen. 
What "power" do you possess - or maybe the best question is what "power" do you exhibit in your life? Back some years ago, the concept of "super-heroes" hit the television and big screen audiences everywhere. The "super-men" and "super-women" of these shows were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, stop supersonic aircraft with the breath from their mouth, and somehow rescue every damsel in distress. In real life, rarely do we see this type of "power", nor do we this consistent intervention "just in the nick of time" into the situations where harm is about to wreak havoc in the lives of people. In real life, the "power" we rely upon is usually either intrinsic (stemming from within us) or extrinsic (someone else doing it for us). For believers, the power is both - intrinsic and extrinsic!
Christ "indwells" us - making his power our power. That means nothing comes against us that we don't have the "intrinsic" power to deal with. It also means there is nothing "extrinsic" with any greater power! This may not seem all that significant until we truthfully evaluate just which power "source" we are tapped into most of the time. The monsoons have arrived in Arizona, so power outages will abound for some due to tripped breakers at relay stations, downed power poles, and the like. When these "interruptions" in electrical power come upon us, we "feel" it - because the hot, hot air of the desert has no way of being cooled without that power. There are no real "deterrents" to the downed poles - for the extrinsic power of the high winds will have their way no matter how carefully we think we have planned.
The truth is evident - sometimes the extrinsic powers are not easily deterred. The one thing we can do to guard against their dangers is to have the right source of power intrinsically! If Christ is our main source of power - not our own will or determined focus - we have more power internally than anything that comes against us externally (even when it is trying to get on the inside of us). I have to tell on my daughter here - for the lightening and thunder still make her want her mommy a little bit! The "anger" or "fury" of the extrinsic forces are capable of some destruction, but as long as the right "force" is at work within us, the "damage" is extremely minimal! It isn't about what is coming against us as much as who it is that indwells us.  Just sayin!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

May you have many such jewels

It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help. (Epicurus)

If you have ever read the Proverbs, you will note there are a lot of passages that deal with the friends we keep, ranging from those that remind us to choose them wisely to realizing their strength in times of trouble. I would like to just spend a moment today contemplating just a few of these:

Good people are careful about choosing their friends, but evil people always choose the wrong ones. (12:26 ERV)

Choice of friends is key to both the direction and distance a relationship will travel. If we choose the right friends, they will be on course with where need to be heading, AND they will be with us through the entirety of the journey. We need both - the companionship along the way, but the wisdom and determination to help us make the best choices about the direction we take in life. If we choose wisely, the benefits are astronomical!

Be friends with those who are wise, and you will become wise. Choose fools to be your friends, and you will have trouble. (: ERV)

Conversely, the wrong choice in friends can lead to many a chaotic and unnecessary difficulty in life. When I look for someone to align my life with, I want to consistently choose someone who will "supplement" what I need most - bringing me perspective where I don't already have it. I don't always want to align with those who just "see things my way", because that limits my opportunity to see things differently. It also may not help me realize when the way I see things are contrary to the way God wants me to see them!

Forgive someone, and you will strengthen your friendship. Keep reminding them, and you will destroy it. (17:9 ERV)

We sometimes ruffle each other's feathers in relationship, but it isn't always a bad thing to get a little ruffled on occasion. It teaches us to see another's perspective in life, and the much needed quality of forgiveness done well! When we value the relationship, we learn how to successfully forgive - letting go of offenses and focusing on the extreme value of the relationship over any slight that would threaten to tear us apart.

A friend loves you all the time, but a brother was born to help in times of trouble. (17:17 ERV)

There is no greater help we can have than to know we have someone standing alongside us when we are in the midst of tough or touchy circumstances. What we get from that companionship is labeled as "help" in our passage, but we all realize "help" comes in many different forms. I think there is "help" in words, but also in actions. It comes in the form of a simple look that tells it all, as well as in laughing our way out of failures as we make our way into "trying again".

Some friends are fun to be with, but a true friend can be better than a brother. (18:24 ERV)

The "fun" ones may be the delight of the party, but the "true" one is the one who is there to cry with me, pull me up when I am down, and dust me off when the fall has left me less than "pure or clean". They aren't afraid to go the extra mile, nor are they looking for any "credit" for having done so! To have such a friend is to have what equates to a jewel in your crown! Here's hoping you all have at least one of these jewels in yours! Just sayin!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hold on...it is gonna get bumpy

God’s way is perfect. The Lord’s promise always proves to be true. He protects those who trust in him. 
There are definitely times when I have to remind myself that God's ways are not always my ways and vice-versa. I can never forget that his ways are "perfect" - while mine are usually a little off-target on occasion! There are times in life when the contradiction between the two are actually what turns me back toward grace and further away from that which would only provide misery or harm in my life!
The perfect ways of God aren't always the easiest, but they are the best for us. Sometimes all we can do is "go with it" - keeping on course with his steps and trusting that we will understand where the path of those steps is leading us in the end. In the meantime, we may want to ask a whole bunch of questions and even question the validity of some of those steps, but there are times when we just have to trust and reveal that trust by taking those steps of obedience he asks us to take.
We can never lose sight of the truth of God's protection - his path will not lead us into what would be harmful for us - but toward what may actually reveal the gem hidden just beneath the surface in our lives! Notice our passage again - it reminds us that it is God's "way", not his "ways". This is not plural - there are not a whole lot of paths to obedience - there is simply one! It is based in trust and that trust is based upon the evidence of his love toward us, grace in operation in our lives, and the fact it is impossible for God to lie!
I am not above disobedience, nor am I above making my own way. That is relevant to you because I haven't reached perfection yet, just like the rest of you who are reading these words. We are ALL struggling to trust, ALL battling with following his steps totally without veering right or left (or turning around to run the other way for that matter), and ALL sometimes find ourselves wondering if it is all going to be worth the effort in the end.
In the meantime - we hold onto God's promises - good as our intentions may be, they don't hold a candle to what he has planned for us, promised to be ours in the end, and prepared for us to achieve with our lives. The path may be a little bumpy at times, but we need to "ride it out". It isn't until we experience the bumps of disobedience on occasion that we come to appreciate the beauty of the places of obedience he has prepared for us! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The value of a bib

The weapons we use are not human ones. Our weapons have power from God and can destroy the enemy’s strong places. We destroy people’s arguments, and we tear down every proud idea that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We also capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ. 
(2 Corinthians 10:4-5 ERV)

It was Mark Twain who reminded us of the fact, "It is easier to stay out than to get out." It might be helpful to actually use an illustration here. Think of a baby at the high-chair, all ready to eat some mushed up spinach and carrots and spaghetti. He is wearing a bright white t-shirt and his clean little diaper. What is the instinct of most parents just before they sit that plate of colorful food in front of the little guy? It is either to strip the wee one of his white shirt, or to place a bib large enough to cover it! Why? We know the stains that will be inevitable if we don't keep them away from the shirt - easier to keep (or stay) out than get out! The "weapon" against the stain doesn't have to be all that complicated, does it? Both are relatively simple - but unless we avail ourselves of one or the other, we will inevitably be dealing with the problematic stains!

There are far too many times we don't want to take that little extra effort to just "guard against" the things that "get in", but when we don't do that very well, we find the "getting out" is much, much harder than we'd like it to be. Attitudes tolerated that ought to be dismissed quickly are often setting us up for even worse attitudes, and actions, later on down the road. Look again at what Paul says - we don't just give into the things we need to dismiss - we capture them and "make them give up". I liken this to what my brother used to do when I was a little child. He'd tackle me, holding me down, tickling me until I nearly lost my breath from laughing so hard. It didn't take long for me to cry "uncle" and beg for my merciful release. But...how did I get tackled in the first place? I put myself in range! I got in his space - near enough for him to grab me - and sometimes quite deliberately, I might add!

We wonder why we are working so hard to "get out" what got into us, but we ignore the fact we "got into" that predicament because we put ourselves near enough to be drawn in and pinned down! If we'd spend just a little moment of time ahead of time taking that thought captive BEFORE we act upon it, we might find we are doing a little less "stain removal" after the fact! The issue isn't the stubbornness of the stain - it is the stubbornness of the one who allowed the stains to occur in the first place! It took only a couple of occasions of fighting to remove stains on those fashionable and cute little "man shirts" my daughter dressed my grandsons in from infancy to suddenly make her appreciate the value of removing the shirt while they "dined"! We may not learn our lesson the first time, but if we are constantly fighting to remove stains from our lives, I'd have to ask what we aren't understanding about how they get there in the first place?

We may want to "look good", not wanting to wear that "unfashionable" bib of God's protection, but I'd much rather guard against the stains of life than work hard to remove them later on! Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Meet my true need

As you serve the Lord, work hard and don’t be lazy. Be excited about serving him! 
(Romans 12:11 ERV)

The late Peter Marshall said, "The measure of life is not its duration, but its donation." Let that one take hold for just a moment, then ask yourself what it is you have "donated" to the lives around you this week. What are you "giving" of yourself in the relationships you have around you? How are you meeting the needs of those who rely upon you or look to you for assistance? Some will answer that they went to work, provided food on the table, and gave them a roof over their heads. Others will say they wrote a check, made a donation, or joined an organization that supports a cause. I'd have to ask if we are really making that much of a donation in our relationships or toward our "causes", though. There is nothing more important than you giving of yourself - not just your funds.

Doesn't our passage tell us to work hard and not be lazy? Yes, but don't take it out of context - for the context lends to the passage invaluable evidence of being invested into the lives of those we walk alongside. It begins with us allowing God to change us from the inside out - affecting the way we process information, find satisfaction and fulfillment, and interact with each other. To this, Paul adds the importance of not seeing ourselves more highly than we should - for no one can serve when they have their heads in the clouds, or are too "good" for that. Being many, with differing abilities and gifts, we are to serve one another - utilizing those abilities and gifts to build up and not tear down.

I think this is the hardest lesson to really get our hands around, for time seems to trick us into thinking we don't have enough time to really "serve" as we should. We do a very cursory job of "serving" each other simply because we believe the lie that "time" isn't available or is more urgently needed in order to accomplish "something else". The time it takes to just meet the need of another seems "wasted" to some, but to the one receiving that gift, it means the world. We watched a little movie over our holiday weekend about a wealthy, really driven man who had pretty much destroyed two relationships and ignored his two children - one from each relationship. He was sent into a coma as the result of an accident and his life's "spirit" was placed into a cat.

That cat became the companion of the daughter he had ignored for so many years. In those days that ensued, with his family wondering if he'd make it off life-support and arouse from the coma, he had to learn the lessons of life through the eyes of a cat. Now, this is kind of a far-fetched story, cute in its own way, and a little bit sappy, but you get the moral of the story right off. We cannot ignore those we are given for what it is we might get. We don't learn to serve at the top of the ladder - we learn to serve by being the ladder by which others may ascend to their places of greatness in this life.

We all have those moments when another stands in need - may we be sensitive to meet that need with ourselves, not just our resources. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Which bridge do you take?

Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs.  But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do. (Matthew 6:14-15 ERV)

Thomas Fuller put it this way: "He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven." I don't know where you stand today as it comes to this forgiveness continuum, but let me assure you of this - none of us has "perfectly arrived" at this destination! There are ALWAYS going to be new opportunities to cross that bridge time and time again. As long as we are taking in breath, people will be annoying, inconsiderate, forgetful, hurtful, lacking empathy, etc. People will stand in need of forgiveness - plain and simple. Some will be part of our lives - others will merely cross our paths briefly. Regardless - all will need that infinite measure of grace and forgiveness from time to time.

I believe the hardest bridge to cross is not so much the bridge of forgiveness, but of forgetting - erasing from our memories the actions (or inactions) of another that made it necessary to cross the first bridge of forgiveness in the first place. There are times when we believe forgiving will also deal with the unpleasant memories that want to creep up from time to time, but this is rarely the case, for our memories are like steal traps that store away tons and tons of "useless" information! Yeah, those memories of being "wronged" are not always all that "useful" to us - in fact, they bring us more harm than good. We hold onto those "wrongs" in our memories a lot longer than we might imagine we do - for complete erasure of the wrong isn't fully accomplished until the bridge of forgiveness is joined with the bridge of reconciliation. 

Reconciliation is not always possible when someone is no longer in our lives, so it is important to "take action" when we can. We can make reconciliation in a number of different ways.  The Latin term from which we get our word "reconcile" actually means to "make good again, repair". In the most basic sense of the term, to reconcile means that we move heaven and earth to bring full restoration to what has been broken down by whatever tore us apart in the first place. Now, at first, most of us will say, "Yeah, but they need to meet us half-way." Yes, this is a common belief, but if you look at what scripture teaches, the one who realizes there is a "rift" created by some action should be the one beating a path to the other person's door. In fact, Jesus illustrated this by his very life on this earth, culminating in his death and resurrection. For that life brought reconciliation by making a pathway to us so we'd have a pathway to God's throne unhindered by our own sin!

The time to reconcile is now. The way to reconcile is through forgiveness - extending grace where it may be least sought and where it is greatly needed. The means to reconcile is the bridge of love - for God SO LOVED us that he gave and he gave and he gave and he keeps on giving. Maybe we don't know how to forget, but as we continue to love like God calls us to love, it will become less and less important to hold onto the things we once focused on as so important to remember. Just sayin!

Monday, July 10, 2017

It is worth the climb

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own estimation; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. This will bring healing to your body, and refreshment to your inner self. 
(Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)

It was Thomas Fuller who said, "One that would have the fruit must climb the tree." There are a whole lot of us who want the fruit, but we aren't willing to put forth the effort to "climb the tree". We don't mind taking advantage of the low hanging fruit, for that is easy to obtain - we merely reach a little and we have it in our possession. But...to climb into places where a clear line of sight may be blocked, or thorns may prick us as we reach a little further, some don't want to extend themselves that far - the known is much better than the unknown or the uncomfortable!

When the view is obstructed, we can either work for another vantage point, or we can trust what we don't see that has been provided to keep us safe. I have those surround cameras on my vehicle that alert me when a car is in my blind spot and I want to change lanes. It helps keep me safe - because what I cannot see could very clearly do me much harm. I don't know all the technology behind those devices, but they are a great invention and one that I am learning to appreciate all the more on each morning and evening commute! To say I "trust in them" to help keep me safe is true - what I cannot see may hurt me - and what they see that I don't can actually keep me safe.

This is also true when it comes to getting into new places where we may not be all that comfortable in our walk with Jesus. We are on a quest to reach the fruit, but it isn't always clear what we are going to go through in order to reach that desired end. In the midst of the climb, we find ourselves a little challenged by what we cannot see. As much as those devices on my vehicle are good at keeping me safe on the road, Jesus' presence and his Holy Spirit prompting me in my daily walk are even better! What I cannot see is clearly seen by him and his "early warning system" in my life alerts me to the dangers with certain paths I could take along the way.

The effort to actually obtain fruit in our lives is sometimes more significant than we might want to put forth. Any climb isn't easy - even if it is just a short way. The word "climb" suggests effort as we ascend to a height different from that which we occupy right now. I have hiked on occasion, finding myself looking at what appear to be pretty straight-up inclines that probably could "do me in" if I let them. What I have learned is that it only takes putting one foot in front of the other, resting on occasion, renewing my resources by drinking a little and eating an occasion bite from the provisions I packed along to just get me a little bit further up the incline. The full steepness of the climb isn't really appreciated until I look back down the mountain, though!

I feared the climb a little, dreading the effort, anticipating the exhaustion I'd feel at the end, but when I stand on the summit of the climb, I don't remember any of the effort! Why? The things that I now see clearly put every part of the climb into perspective. This is a lesson we could all learn as we take this "climb" toward fruit in our lives - the climb is worth it! Just sayin!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Okay, I am listening now

For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He stores up effective counsel for the upright, and is like a shield for those who live with integrity, to guard the paths of the righteous and to protect the way of his pious ones. (Proverbs 2:6-8 ESV)

By making our ear attentive to wisdom and turning our heart toward understanding, we can learn what it is to really walk in the way of the right-standing. It is a two-fold thing to learn to walk uprightly. We must first really apply ourselves to listening - something which can be a huge challenge in a world where there are so many voices vying for our attention. As we "tune up" our listening ability, we must do more than just "hear" - we actually have to be willing to apply what it is we are hearing. It must begin to affect the heart, for this is the way of the right-standing - hearing and acting upon what is heard.

God is the one who gives understanding. Man can do a tremendous amount of searching - looking into every nook and cranny in search of truth. It is God who gives man's mind and heart the ability to both recognize and embrace it, though. At best, man may get a niggling they are on the right path by the outcomes they witness when they apply truth in their lives. For example, there is a truth which says if you save a little each paycheck, you will eventually have a nice little sum put away in a matter of a few years. Those who teach it in financial seminars will call it the "spend less than you make" principle. Now, it isn't rocket science, but you must convince your brain and align your heart to actually abide by this principle for the eye is constantly being entertained by the next new thing on the forefront beckoning for us to just "buy it".

It sometimes takes longer to get the mind and the heart to come to agreement, doesn't it? It is like one leads a certain way, but the other is drawn another. This constant tug-of-war is what often makes it harder for us to really trust truth when we hear it - for it seems to have a different pull with differing outcomes, but it may not be thing we have either convinced our minds to believe or our hearts to respond to. Look at our passage again - it reminds us that it is God himself who stores up "effective counsel" for the upright - a shield to guard those who desire to live with integrity (congruity) in their hearts and minds. I am encouraged by the idea that it is God's "effectiveness" that makes the difference in our lives - not our own consistent use of wisdom or determination to obtain understanding.

We can either admit we don't do a good job of listening, causing the actions which stem from our heart to be a little challenging to us; or we can struggle with this "in-congruence" between heart and mind for way longer than we should. The choice is simple to me - listen, apply, learn and relearn time and time again. I don't learn the first time - I am one of those who learns by repeating the lessons. It isn't anything I am proud of, but if you relate to need to relearn the lessons from time to time, then you are in good company, for most of us actually live this way! Just sayin!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Where do you belong?

For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. (Romans 12:3-5 ESV) 

I don't know if you have ever considered "belonging to one another" before, but in light of this reminder from the Apostle Paul, let us spend some time today just exploring what that may "look like" in our everyday life. One of the first things that comes to mind if I truly realize I belong to someone other than myself is that my normal focus on "me" is going to need to change! It has to be about someone other than me all of the time! That may not be the most popular concept to put our there to begin with, but it is so very true. We don't belong to ourselves and therefore, "me" needs to take a backseat if we are to be successful in this relationship thing. I think this may be what Paul was trying to describe when he reminds us not to think "more highly of ourselves" than we ought to think. 

Next, we face the challenge of figuring out where we "belong". Honestly, this is an age-old question faced by every kid growing up in this world - setting out to "belong" or "fit in" somewhere. For those with minds that function on the "braniac" scale, this may be with others in a group who also enjoy digging into those books, learning new things, considering the possibilities and probabilities of certain happenings, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those who have bent toward learning - but not everyone will relate to this group. There are others who function on the "socialite" scale - finding it very easy to make all kinds of friends and be involved in many different groups all at one time. I am not one of those - but those I do find my "fit" in life with are pretty important to me. Regardless of your "fit", you look to find a "place" with others who meet some need you have on that "relational" level. To figure out where we "belong" is a really big deal.

Lastly, we all serve each other - finding a purpose in fulfilling some "need" within the group we find our fit within. Sort of like a glove contains five smaller "tube" spaces to house the five digits on our hands, we find our fit in some "nitch" within the group. When we do, we realize a "good fit". When we don't find that "nitch", we start looking elsewhere to find it. We all need to serve one another in some fashion - even though we may not realize it at first. We might just think others are put into our lives to serve "us", but there is no fulfillment in being served until one also learns what it is to serve another! Just sayin!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Colored by Grace

It was Marcus Aurelius who said, "The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts." Depending on where you are in life, you might view this as the soul becoming "stained" with the impure and unkind thoughts of the mind. While this is quite true, the opposite is equally true - for when our thoughts turn frequently to grace and the power of the living God to set us free from these types of "staining" thoughts, we might just begin to be "colored" with a much more vibrant hue!

13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, 15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.” (I Peter 1:13-16 ESV)

How do you get your mind "ready" for the day? What do you do to take every thought captive, allowing every untrue imagination to fall by the wayside? I daresay a great many of us spend way too much time thinking upon the things that "color" our actions in a way that is neither reflective of the grace working within us, nor the grace that is to be extended through us! We might not always realize that we are doing it, but when we hold onto thoughts that color us in anyway that is opposite of grace, we are holding onto thoughts that will eventually reveal themselves in the form of wrong actions and attitudes!

There is this principle of "taking every thought captive" taught in scripture. I think this is very important - the thoughts belong to us. They are under our control - they aren't there unless we give them room. They don't take us captive - we take them! That means we can put any thought pattern which isn't actually bringing us the right actions under control - because of the power of Christ that indwells us. This is the first step to producing "right action" - for all action is produced from the foundation of thought, is it not? If we want to move toward right action, we first begin to bring captive the thoughts that have been leading to wrong action. We don't do this independent of Christ, but reliant upon the grace that indwells us.

Grace is brought to us - it is not ours to "get". It is a gift. The wrong or "poorly colored" thoughts we entertain may not have begun as "our thoughts" entirely. We overhear some conversation, or are influenced by what it is we read, see, or somehow are exposed to in our daily walk. These "coloring influences" have the power to invade our thoughts and in time, they do indeed "re-color" our thoughts, but not because they hold the power - we GAVE them the power to have that influence in our lives. If it is possible to give that power to the harmful thoughts, then how much more possible is it to have our thoughts changed by giving that power to the ones that build us up rather than tearing us down?  Just askin!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Oh, what a view!

Many of us have probably ridden a bike at one time or another. Isn't there a vast difference between coasting and peddling? Think of the last time you road uphill - how much more energy did you have to exert to actually get up that hill? If you are out of shape, you'd probably say it was horrendously hard! You found yourself huffing and puffing, holding onto your side which was splitting from the intense cramp you developed, and you knew for sure you'd "feel that one in the morning". Arnold Bennett was an English novelist and his opinion was that hills were meant for climbing, not coasting. Why? The best view was from the top!

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Micah 4:1-2 ESV)

We might just have to admit our view is determined most by whether we are settling for coasting, or putting forth the effort to actually climb the hill. I know the climb is harder, but I agree with Bennett - the view is the most spectacular at the top of the summit! Recently I had the opportunity to take my grandsons up into the mountains of Arizona. As we made a very subtle ascent into the mountains, the elevation changes were not all that evident. We had mountains all around us obstructing our actual view of the significant climb we were making. It is like the old adage - not seeing the forest for the trees. About five minutes from the top of the range, I pointed out a huge ridge of rocks that formed an awesome lookout point just ahead of us - a place that put into perspective the significance of the climb. Oftentimes we don't think we will ever reach the place of perspective, but when we do, what an awesome place that is!

My SUV was loaded down with all the gear and food we'd need for our five day adventure, plus the five of us. It was working quite hard at times to make that 7600 foot climb through the windy roads, but when we finally made it - awesome! The break in the trees gave way to the splendor of the lush valleys below - laid out like a tapestry of various shades of green, red, and tan. I wonder if he noticed there were still higher peaks off in the distance, or that not all the distance we had traveled was within our view? There are times when we think we will see all things clearly just because we reach some point in our climb, but when we get to the top, we actually see points higher than we have achieved! We don't always see the places from where we have come, or the significant distance we have traveled.

The ability to just "coast" isn't really realized until we have made the climb! That descent from the higher ground is what gives us the "push" that allows us to coast - we stop working so hard for just a little bit, but it isn't because we will be able to do that for long - there will be another uphill climb soon! We need the "summit" experiences to help us get perspective and then to encourage us to use our newly found strength to mount the climb to the next peak! There will always be another climb ahead - we never really get to stay at the summit in life. We need to be prepared to move on when it is time and then to mount the next climb just as we did the present one. Maybe we take something of a new perspective with us as we do, but we climb because the view is always best at the top! Just sayin!