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Friday, September 22, 2017

I forgot that blessing

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. (Melody Beattie)

What or who is it you find yourself complaining the most about? Chances are that thing or person is never going to be viewed as a blessing in your life until you change your way of seeing them just a little! I used to complain about not having a car when I was first married with young kids at home. If I wanted to go some place, I walked, rode the bike, or hitched a ride from a friend. Many a grocery trip was comprised of one child in the child carrier on my bike and another peddling alongside, with a backpack of groceries on my back. Then one day quite unexpectedly I was blessed with a car - as a gift! My in-laws bought a new one and no longer needed that little VW Rabbit. I was overjoyed to receive such a blessing. That is...until it began to break down every other day! Isn't it amazing how quickly we can view a blessing as a curse when that blessing doesn't live up to our "expectations" of the blessing?

I look up to the hills, but where will my help really come from? My help will come from the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ERV)

It is hard to always remain positive when bad things are happening, or people aren't behaving as we might have expected them to in a particular situation. It is much easier to begin to find fault and pick apart that circumstance, or the other person's character, than to just be grateful for the blessing they have been. Yes, the car broke down frequently. There was some type of wiring or computer problem under that hood, but most of the time it got me to where I needed to go. On the occasions it broke down, it actually drove me to learn a little about taking care of a car. You see, we didn't have much money, so every time it broke down, I had to break out the "auto repair for dummies" book and try to figure it out! Yes, my hands got greasy. Yes, it interrupted my plans a little to have the car not work as it should. Yes, it cost me a little extra here and there. But...it was a gift and a blessing - so I had to often adjust my perception by reminding myself of that fact!

Often we need to remind ourselves where it is our help comes from - because we look for it in the manuals, in other people, or in some form of man-made thing. The truth is, when we are truly standing in need, our help comes from the Lord. There were days I would be stranded somewhere with two small kids in the hot Arizona sun, head under hood, and hot pavement under my feet. In those moments, sweat dripping down my nose, I'd ask God to show me which wire, widget, or fuse needed a little tweaking. In time, he'd guide me to the right solution. Once it was the fuel injector, another time it was the fuel relay switch, and so on. In time, I got to know more about that little car than I probably knew about my entire house! Why? God helped me realize a blessing isn't always "self-maintained". Sometimes blessings in our lives need a little more attention in order to "function" at full capacity. 

What blessings have we been overlooking that may need a little bit of our attention today? It could be the blessing of a human nature, or something entirely material, such as the refrigerator that needs a good cleaning inside, outside, and underneath. It could be the one relationship you find is strained and just not going as well as you want it to, the one which demands attention, but you avoid like the plague because it is "so hard". Our help for dealing with blessings that are disguised or overlooked is to realize they all have come into our lives by God's hands and it is by his hands and guidance that they are maintained! Just sayin!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The past has no cure

I have carried you since you left your mother’s womb. I carried you when you were born, and I will still be carrying you when you are old. Your hair will turn gray, and I will still carry you. I made you, and I will carry you to safety. (Isaiah 46:3-4 ERV)

There are times we just need to be reminded of God's faithfulness toward each of us - today may be one of those times for some of us. Regardless of what you are going through, if you look hard enough, you might just realize that God is the one who has been carrying you for quite some time! From moment to moment, we may forget who is at work in our lives, believing God has abandoned us on occasion simply because things get a little tougher than we would have wanted. Whenever we get to feeling like we are abandoned, we just need to look to our Creator - for the one who creates will never abandon his creation.


It was Elizabeth the First who said the past could not be cured. Too many times we go about our day's efforts trying to improve upon (or cure) what yesterday brought our way. What is past is past - what we are left with is sometimes a little bit of the aftermath of the past, but we cannot ever change the past. What we can allow to happen is for God to change us in our present so our past mishaps and misgivings don't have to be repeated. The past may not be cured, but it sure can be repeated, can't it?


The seasons of the past that weren't all that great give each of us moments of grief because we would have done things differently if we only knew the outcome was going to be what it turned out to be. We wouldn't have spoken those words that cut to the quick. We wouldn't have allowed the distance to come that is now like a cavernous abyss we see no way of crossing. We wouldn't have chosen that route of downward compromise. Those choices were made, but today's choices remain to be made. What we focus on is not the ones we made in the past, but the ones we can make in our present.


Choices made incorrectly in the past haunt us in the present and make choices today harder because we may fear repeating them or really don't know what choices will yield different results. This is when we lean into Jesus' care over our lives just a little bit harder. We stop doubting his provision and start trusting him to help us do things differently - making better choices today, not so much to cure the past, but to improve the present and make way for the future. Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Too high, or too low?

The poet Edward Young reminds us, "Too low they build, who build beneath the stars." A building site is often the most significant part of the building. Too much on hard, impenetrable stone and the necessary foundation might not be as easily placed as one may imagine. The running of pipes to bring fresh water and take away waste is made all the harder when the ground is solid with impenetrable stone. To accomplish the placement of these, blasting may need to occur. The process is costly, loud, and riddled with all kinds of dangers. Too much shifting sand and the foundation will never be secure, for the ground beneath is subject to every flow of water from storms and every gust of wind. Sure, the building may go up, but will it stay up? Jesus reminds us to not lay up our treasures on this earth, but to look to what it is we can lay up in the heavens instead. Why? There are a whole lot of forces seeking to destroy or "take away" those earthly treasures - but there is a "guard" who keeps each one of our heavenly treasures secure!

Don’t save treasures for yourselves here on earth. Moths and rust will destroy them. And thieves can break into your house and steal them. Instead, save your treasures in heaven, where they cannot be destroyed by moths or rust and where thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will be where your treasure is." (Matthew 6:19-21 ERV)


We humans spend a great deal of time "storing up". I realize that every time I have to reorganize the pantry, or get rid of the stuff stacking up in the garage. It isn't always that we will have need of the stuff, it is that we don't know if we will need it again! Some time ago I developed a little system that helps me determine when something is not really needed in my life. You see, if I don't use it at least once a year for those "stored items", it goes. If I don't use it at least twice a year for those "closeted" items, it goes. I keep a jacket around, but don't use it more than a couple times a year because I live in a climate that doesn't warrant jackets too many days out of the year. Most of the time I get by with a sweater. I don't need more than one jacket, though, because it doesn't make sense to keep something that I won't use more than a couple times each year.

The stuff we "store up" on this earth can often get in the way of what it is we are "storing up" in the heavens. We can get so earthly focused that we miss out on what other blessings God has prepared for us in his presence. We get distracted, pulled away, and often totally miss how God wants to move in our lives. While I don't always do a good job of ridding my home of the stuff that gets "stuck in corners", I am getting better at it. It is made a little harder because I have an elderly mother who blended a lot of her stuff into my household when she came to live with me 9 years ago. Little by little, I have been able to weed out some of this stuff, but there is still stuff hanging around I don't think we will ever use. You likely know how that goes. It is hard to let go, especially when you are forced to pare down because you are "blending households". I wonder if God ever looks at us and shakes his head because we are so caught up in "blending households" (ours with his) and just won't let go of some stuff we call "treasures", but pale in comparison to what he has in store for us. Just askin!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Who's at the helm?

Show me your faithful love this morning. I trust in you. Show me what I should do.  I put my life in your hands! Show me what you want me to do. You are my God. Let your good Spirit lead me over level ground. (Psalm 143:8,10 ERV)

Edward Gibbons reminds us, "The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators." Sometimes I find myself navigating on the worst side of the winds and waves, how about you? It is like all I can do is barely keep the boat of my life from capsizing and the wind and waves seem to be working against me at every turn. In those moments, all our efforts are placed in just making it through the storm. The ability to navigate the storms of life aren't so much found in our own strength or "navigation skills". The ability we need to navigate the wind and waves is that which comes from the Spirit of God helping us to read those winds, observe the movement of the waves coming against us, and then to successfully point the nose of our "life boat" at the right "attitude" so we don't capsize. The attitude of the nose too high and we could end up in pieces; too low and we will take on way too much water; turned sideways and we will likely end up in the drink. The "attitude" makes all the difference.

Our psalmist reveals a couple things about his "attitude" we might do well to keep in mind when the winds and wave come our way:

Expectancy - there is an attitude of actively awaiting what is needed to endure and overcome these winds and waves. It isn't passive waiting, but active looking ahead. Too many times we don't look beyond the present wave - we just get so focused on the one right in front of us. The psalmist reminds us of the importance of keeping our gaze fixed on what is in our immediate focus, but what also is about to come as a result of the movement or position we assume throughout each rise and fall of the waves.

Trust - here is the crux of learning to be wise navigators in the storms of life. We must learn where it is we will place our trust. It isn't in the strength of the boat, but in the wisdom of the one who we allow to navigate it through the storm. I recently rented a motorboat to do some fishing. I was so busy trying to navigate the boat, I barely got to enjoy the fishing! The one navigating the vessel is ensuring the safety of all that is within the vessel. To trust the navigation of our life's "boat" to anyone other than Christ is dangerous.

Faith - he knows the destination is level ground. In maintaining the right attitude as it applies to the wind and waves, the psalmist reminds us we can look forward to the level grounds. They may not be in our immediate line of sight, but when we are expectant and trusting in the right navigator, they are assured! Just sayin!


Monday, September 18, 2017

Blessing in what we have come out of

16 But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you! Don’t force me to go back to my own people. Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you sleep, I will sleep. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and that is where I will be buried. I ask the Lord to punish me if I don’t keep this promise: Only death will separate us.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ERV)

Naomi found herself widowed, losing both sons, as well. A widow in her day and age relied upon sons to take care of her, but now they were gone and she only had her two daughter-in-laws who could possibly help support her. The desire to remain together as a "family unit" is strong, but when it comes to leaving a place where you are comfortable, surrounded by friends and other family members, it can be quite difficult. The time comes when Naomi wants to return to her home land - to be nearer her own kin. Perhaps someone will act as a "redeemer" on her behalf to provide for her needs well into her advanced age. This means "new ties" would have to be broken in order to return to "old ties". One such tie would not be broken, though, for Ruth's desire was to stay with her mother-in-law. There are indeed times when the journey one thought they were taking for their "well-being" ends up totally contrary to where they thought they were headed. It could be that journey "ends" with "new beginnings".


Naomi had moved away from her homeland not in search of great wealth, but in order to survive famine and hard times. The truth of the matter is that sometimes we find ourselves in "new places" because the circumstances dictated a change in our "normal plans". Something got "disturbed" in our normal course of actions, causing us to be in places of uncertainty, hardship, and even despair on occasion. It is in these moments we find what defines us and what will direct our future actions. Naomi knows the provision of her needs could be accomplished in this foreign land she was in, but she also knows the provision of her needs may be even greater should she be in the place where God has prepared for each of her needs to be met. Just because some of our needs are being met right where we are doesn't mean God hasn't prepared something much greater for us when we go into the place he prepares for us! Both are places of provision, but one is better than the other!


I think Douglas Adams states it very well when he says: "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I intended to be." We often intend to go in one direction, but find our destination just a little bit different than where we were "going". Naomi was in search of provision (food, shelter, and daily needs met). Her "going" was directed by her husband, the leader of the household, taking her into a land she neither knew, nor one in which she really felt a sense of "belonging" while living there. When her circumstances change, her desire to be "home" really drove her to pick up and return, although she had little to return to where she was going. Yet, in so doing, she was finding herself "ending up" where she intended to be - safe under the protection of a kinsman redeemer. Not only did she end up where she intended to be (and where God intended her to be), but she had a companion for the journey, and a friend for life in her daughter-in-law Ruth. God made a way for the provision of her future needs by the blessing of this daughter-in-law in her life - for it was her service that found them at a place where all their combined needs would be cared for all the rest of their days.


Naomi's intention: Get home and somehow she'd find scraps in the fields where some manner of small provision could meet her needs. 

God's intention: Gather in the fields of the one who would become her kinsman redeemer - the one who would make way for handfuls of grains to be left "on purpose" for both the women's needs to be abundantly met. 

God's intended destination for us may not necessarily become evident to us within hardship, but regardless of where we come into the "place of his planned provision", we need to remember this - the journey hasn't been wasted, for we often bring INTO the final destination something of great blessing from what we have COME OUT OF. Just sayin!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A grace-filled touch

Cesare Pavese said, "We do not remember days, we remember moments." There are lots and lots of moments in my lifetime that come flooding into my thought on occasion, some bringing warm feelings of pleasure and others causing just a little bit of pain as a little bit of the memory of an old wound is recounted. I had one such unpleasant memory on my recent trip with my BFF while we were just sharing a little of ourselves. What struck me the most is that she sensed my intensely deep pain as she reached out and just simply touched my arm, and in an instant, without one word from her, the pain dissipated. God has a way of helping us even when we don't recognize we need that help, my friends. In any moment, we never know when a moment remembered can become a time of healing - no words necessary, just the touch of grace.

Praise the Lord! I thank the Lord with all my heart in the assembly of his good people. The Lord does wonderful things, more than anyone could ask for. The things he does are great and glorious! There is no end to his goodness. He does amazing things so that we will remember that the Lord is kind and merciful. (Psalm 111:1-4 ERV)

God's greatness isn't always displayed in big ways. We think Charlton Heston and the Ten Commandments parting of the water kind of moments are those we will remember the most, but it can be the simplest of touches that brings the greatest of memories. The acts of God don't have to be catastrophic to be memorable! There are moments when we don't expect anything to happen, and we are caught off-guard by the greatness of God. There are other moments we look for the big "event" to reveal some majestic thing about God's grace and goodness, only to sense nothing more than his faithful presence with us as we go through them.

Moments define our past more than days. Moments define our present more than any accumulation of days. It is the accumulated moments that make up the memories we will take away. It can also be those moments that we commit to memory that can define us even when we don't want them to give us that particular definition. It sometimes becomes imperative to let go of some moments in order to allow the memories of those moments to no longer be our defining moments, though. The moments we want to define our lives are "grace moments" - those moments in time when God reaches in and just touches us where we most need a touch.

We may not always know which moments have defined us, but in God's faithfulness, he reveals those worth adding to our defined character and those which we should just let go of in order to no longer allow them to hold us bound to that definition any longer. When we have those "grace moments", we need to commit them to memory, recount them often, and allow the newness of their strength to envelope our lives. Just sayin!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Which way?

"Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley." (Theodore Roethke) I had the chance to head to a lovely area of the Northern Arizona rim country this past week, enjoying a little R&R with my BFF and some quality time in nature. It always manages to recenter my focus and calm my weary body, despite the strenuous climbs down paths unknown, or long days awaiting those telltale nibbles that let me know there is a fish on the hook! One of my favorite things to do is to just look out over high places on the mountain's edge and see the vastness of the valleys below. While I appreciate the many things seen deeper down into those valleys, such as the lush meadows, abundant wildlife, and tall pines, I always appreciate the perspective one can obtain when one climbs to the top of the mountain for just a little bit of a different vantage point. As Roethke said, the path is there, but sometimes we just need to change our vantage point to see it a little because there are things that obstruct our view at times.

God is the one who gives me strength. He clears the path I need to take. (Psalm 18:32 ERV)


There are times when friends will ask my advice on which path to take in life. While I appreciate being asked, it sure can put me in a little bit of a predicament when I may not have the same vantage point on that path as the other individual has been given. I am not walking in that other person's shoes, although I may have taken similar paths. The best I can do is offer some advice on how I chose the path I did and what I looked for in confirmation that it was the right one to choose. If you are considering a particular path today, here are some tips:

- We don't want others to choose it for us. It is rarely the right path for us when another chooses it on our behalf, insisting we take one over another. About the only exception to this one is when we are clearly headed down a very wrong path and the other person is pulling us back from that direction. If we are headed in a direction in which we will experience harm or loss, we might just do well to heed their advice to consider the direction we are headed. When choosing our path, we should consider what God has to say about it (in his Word), and perhaps even listen to the advice of those who might have already explored similar paths (remembering that no two paths are equally the same).

- We may want to take the one that is "marked" the clearest, but it may be the one with the absence of those "markings" that brings us to the place we will find the greatest blessings in life. We want the path easiest to travel, well-marked, and often well-traveled. As much as this is a good thing, a well-traveled path could just be a rut dug by frequent passage! Sometimes we need to forge new paths, which may be a little scary at first, but in so doing, we come into new explorations others haven't experienced. In these times, we become the leaders and not the followers. We help others to see new vantage points that were previously undiscovered by them. 

No two paths are the same. No two vantage points will take in the same view. In each person's exploration of similar paths, the lessons may be similar, but they remain absolutely unique to the individual exploring those paths. Choosing one over another is often a matter of conscience, allowing the Spirit's presence within us to confirm the right one for us to travel. Remember, it may not be evident because the mountain looms ahead of us, but it is there! Just sayin!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Discovery begins...

This is what the Scripture says: “God’s teaching is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” It is the teaching of faith that we tell people. If you openly say, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from death, you will be saved. 10 Yes, we believe in Jesus deep in our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we openly say that we believe in him, and so we are saved. (Romans 10:8-10 ERV)

In what ways are God's teachings near to each of us? First, it becomes apparent his teachings are near us whenever we hear the Word of God spoken aloud, or spend time discovering the truths within our Bibles. Next, his teachings are near us each time we observe another walking and breathing right next to us. Each of us is his creation - the work of his hand - therefore, when we live among each other, we are observing elements of who and what God is by observing each other. Lastly, all of nature displays his wonders - evidence of who he is and how he works is all around us in the displays of nature. Whether it be the tall trees or the secretly balanced boulders high atop some mountain structure, all speak of his greatness and care. Since there are so many ways of discovering truth about God, that means none of us is without some evidence of him everyday - we only need to look!

What is the purpose of having evidence of his teachings in so many places and ways? It is so that man is able to find restored relationship with God himself. The one who created it all desires nothing more than to have his creation know him and understand his heart. He displays himself in so many ways and at so many opportunities so that none of us is without excuse as it comes to knowing him. His heart is revealed in the gentle breezes, rippling brooks, and cloudless crisp skies. His caring heart is evidenced in the eaglet taking food from the parents, the school of fish jumping wildly after the bugs gathering on the surface, and the mother bear protecting her cubs from all manner of intruder. In all, we see God's heart and we hear his cries for mercy and restoration.

How is it we embrace these messages? We simply open our hearts by acknowledging that he is Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and the Creator of all things. We acknowledge "Jesus is Lord" and in so doing, we begin to understand the mysteries of his death, burial, and resurrection. We are embraced by his grace and restored to right fellowship with the Creator of all things. We are "made right" by taking the evidence of what we see and hear, what we feel and experience, and then trusting in his love and mercy to do what none of us can do ourselves - be made right in his sight. It isn't a mystery to be discovered through our own effort, but one to be experienced because he gives us so much undeniable evidence of his presence with us and his care over our lives each and every day. Just sayin!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

It isn't what I want

God you owe me...

Have we ever said this in one fashion or another? Stop for just a moment to assess your motivation behind that thought. At first, it is possible that we just want something a little bit better than what we have because what we have gives us troubles, such as a poorly running automobile. It might be we want a matching suit of clothes instead of the second-hand stuff we are wearing. Or perhaps it is the sinking feeling that we aren't going to get as much in our stocking this year at the holiday season as someone else will. Regardless of the motivation, the root of the motivation is discontentment - we haven't really accepted the blessings we have been given. We are not content with what we have been given or will receive in the near future - believing "something else" will be more satisfying or rewarding may be sort of naive on our part.

We may believe there is something "unfair" when others are blessed in ways we may have wanted to be blessed ourselves. Some of us have kids who love us and are actively engaged in our lives.   What we may want is for our kids to call more often, be less dependent upon us for financial support at some point, or to produce us some grandchildren because all our other friends have some. Others have strained relations with their loved ones. The one who has that strained relationship with their children might just long for nothing more than the immediate restoration of that relationship above all these other things that give us such discontent. Discontentment often discounts the circumstances of the other person, my friends. When we learn to see life through the eyes of the other person, we often realize just how blessed we are and how much we should want to share that same blessing with the others God has placed in our lives!


Riches and honor come from you.
    You rule everything. You have the power and strength in your hand!
    And in your hand is the power to make anyone great and powerful!
13 
Now, our God, we thank you,  and we praise your glorious name!
14 
All these things didn’t come from me and my people.    All these things come from you.     We are only giving back to you things that came from you.
(I Chronicles 29:12-14 ERV)

Discontentment takes many forms, but at the root of it all, we desire "more" or "different". We want shinier, bigger, newer, and the list goes on. In God's eyes, maybe the one thing we need "more" of is him. God's hope is that we will acknowledge his desires in our lives, seeing them as the only thing that really brings contentment and fulfillment. Discontent gets us looking externally. Contentment is found first inwardly, in the grace of God working in our hearts and minds. Then it gives blossom externally in the giving of ourselves to one another in love and gratitude for the many blessings we have been given in each other. Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Be a giver

24 Some people give freely and gain more; others refuse to give and end up with less. 25 Give freely, and you will profit. Help others, and you will gain more for yourself. (Proverbs 11:24-25 ERV)
I watched a movie over vacation that was about a man wrongly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He spent about a quarter of a century behind bars serving time for a violent crime he had been wrongly accused of all those years earlier. Yet, in the midst of all the harshness of prison, living a life he neither bargained for, nor "lived up to", he did not grow bitter. He longed for the day he'd be able to be free again. That day came when they discovered the "real" criminal because of new evidence. His release was bittersweet, though, for his main desire was to reunite with his father and have his father know of his innocence. It was almost too late, for his father was in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease and didn't recognize his own son. Isn't it just the way things go at times - we want something so desperately, only to find what we believed would be so easy becomes such a hard thing for us to deal with in the end...
One day, the released prisoner finds himself in church, but without anything to give other than himself. He explains to the preacher that he cannot put anything into the offering plate because he has nothing to give. Yet, in the scenes that are displayed one after another, we see this man giving more than he knows. He gave a young boy a much needed friend, a worried divorcee raising two children someone to watch over her and her family, and a dying father the attention of a loving son. He had so much to give, but it didn't look like much compared to those who could write out the large checks. In the end, the courts help to make right what had been wronged in this man's life, allowing him to be given a large sum of money for what amounted to his lost wages all those years. In the end, he pays off the debt of the single mother, restores hope to a dwindling church worried about keeping its doors open, and blesses more lives with his generosity than we would ever know.
Generous people don't always display their generosity in their financial giving, though. He was generous long before he had come into money. He gave of his time maintaining the property of the single mother. He gave of himself to a boy without a good father image, feeling lonely and bullied by his peers. He gave what he was - not what he possessed. In the end, it may just be the greatest lesson some of us can learn - what we are is much more important to others than what it is we can "give". When we give of our true selves to another, blessing them in turn, we may be giving the greatest gift we can give. Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Is it bread yet?

Doing right makes life better for those who are good, but the wicked are destroyed by their own wicked ways. Doing right sets honest people free, but people who can’t be trusted are trapped by their greed. (Proverbs 11:5-6 ERV)
I sometimes come across people who are bemoaning something in their life's circumstances, announcing they "just want things to be better". It isn't an uncommon thing to face some type of struggle only to wish things could "be better" - the struggle often reveals the unrecognized desire each of us has to see things change in our lives. What most of us fail to recognize is that the struggle is actually the catalyst whereby "better" begins - it isn't where it ends! 
It is what we "do" when we are faced with the struggles that matters. We have a whole bunch of choices when faced with struggles, but the hardest ones may be the most rewarding. They may also be the choices that take the longest to get us to a place of realizing the reward, though! Think of a little bit of yeast. We add it to a mixture of all the ingredients that will produce a loaf of bread in the end. Adding the yeast doesn't make this bread, though. As a matter of fact, although the yeast is the catalyst by which the reactions begin that cause the mixture to "rise", it still isn't bread even after is has "risen to new heights".
The bread isn't bread until it is fired in the oven! While the yeast became a catalyst to change the structure of the mixture, giving it the potential to "rise to new levels", it didn't make the mixture different than what it was - it is still a mixture of ingredients. Until it is placed into the heat of the oven, the mixture doesn't begin to really take the form it was intended to become - bread. Today's present struggles may just be the mixing of the ingredients that begin to provide access to the catalyst that moves us toward our desired and much needed change in life. We may not really see the fulfillment of that change until we have come out of the heat of the fire on the other side transformed into glowing goodness! Just sayin!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A lesson from a barren tree

Did you ever stop to consider how big or how little a situation actually looks depending how close or far removed you are to it? Be up close and personal with the issue and you might see only parts and pieces of it, while missing the bigger picture. Be a little further away and you might miss the detail. At surface level, much may be appreciated, but rise a little further above the issue and you often see much, much more, but not as much as you see until you gain God's perspective on the situation!

17 We have small troubles for a while now, but these troubles are helping us gain an eternal glory. That eternal glory is much greater than our troubles. 18 So we think about what we cannot see, not what we see. What we see lasts only a short time, and what we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ERV)

This summer I took a few days in the high mountains of Arizona to just enjoy time with my grand boys and a second trip to enjoy some time with my BFF. On my trip up with boys, I spotted a very old, gnarled tree that had lost all the leaves, bark, and any signs of growth. At the very top of the tree, the broken space of the highest branches became the nesting spot of a great bald eagle. High atop the tree a nest was formed from fallen branches and pieces of deep wood undergrowth. Atop the nest, an eagle stood watch over the vast expanse of the forest. It made me think about a couple of things:

1. The places we might think are the most barren and not likely to serve much of a purpose often can become the place where we find our greatest perspective. We don't often find the eagle nesting among the hidden places of the tall tree's branches like you find the nests of the sparrows or finches. In fact, the eagle finds the highest perch and is often quite exposed in where it nests, but it also have the greatest vantage point from which to watch for threats. Sometimes the barrenness doesn't seem to have produced much in us, but it may just have given us the vantage point to observe for the threats that come our way in life.

2. The most unlikely things can become the greatest blessings in our life, when we see them from God's perspective. That tree didn't seem to serve any purpose any longer for much of the wildlife in the forest. The lack of leaves and small branches didn't make it much shelter from the storms that come or the hot heat of the afternoon sun blazing down upon it. It no longer produced pine cones or seeds for the squirrels to find sustenance in. Yet, it did still have purpose - as the nesting place for the great eagle. We might have to look a little closer at what we discount in life, for it could just be what we discount as "worthless" or "barren" is really the very thing that changes our perspective in life, making us more aware of our surroundings and brings us insight we didn't possess before.

3. Lastly, the nesting spot was at the very highest point in the tree. It was as close to God as that eagle could nest - some of us need to "nest" a little closer to God - maybe it will be at the place of the least amount of "visible growth" in our lives that we come to the place of our greatest nearness to him. Just sayin! 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Don't is a mighty powerful word

Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests,  but take interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude Christ Jesus had. (Philippines 2:3-5 NLT)
Don't is a hard word for many of us. In fact, it is not uncommon for us to hear that word and then almost feel challenged to do it anyway! It is as though we know we shouldn't because we have been advised it would be unwise to do it, but there is a defiant part of us that wants to know why or what will happen if we do. I am not unlike others in this matter, for don't doesn't always work as enough of a deterrent to keep me from trying whatever it is. This means we might just need a little bit better of a deterrant!
What things act as deterrant in our lives? There are probably more than we might think, but here are just a few to get us thinking. We might be deterred because we have some fear, either natural or learned, of whatever it is we are challenged with. Fear can be a good deterrant, but it can also be a paralyzing one. We might find the breaking of trust as a deterrant, because an action in the direction we are advised not to go would result in trust between us and another being broken, sometimes irreparably. It is also quite possible we see the thing as not worth doing, so we more readily resist doing it. Regardless of the reasons for not doing something, we sometimes don't have the right filters working in our life to keep us deterred from doing it.
One of the most powerful deterrant we can have in operation in our lives is that of God's word. This is why we are told to hide it away in our hearts...so it will be there when we hear don't and are faced with the desire to do. Another very present deterrant that of the Holy Spirit presence in our lives. His still small voice often challenges just enough to pay closer attention to the command or advice to not do something and reminds us of the consequences if we do. As a child, considering the consequences didn't always keep me away from whatever it was I was told not to so, though. As I got older, I had learned there were consequences to be dealt with if I chose that particular action. Often it is the consequence that acts as an effective deterrant.
One thing must be kept in mind with any "reason" we might choose to not do something and that is the desire to have the same attitude as Christ exhibited in his example to us as he walked this earth. There are times when the deterrant we need to embrace is that little question, "What would Jesus do?" It is often very effective to just consider this for a moment and we will more than likely choose to obey rather than follow our own path. So, deterrant aren't bad, but they are only effective if we heed them! This means our desire to be like Christ must be stronger than our desire to do our own thjng. To that end, we need all these 'positive' deterrants in operation in our lives. Just saying.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Both feet wet

25 Keep your eyes on the path, and look straight ahead. 26 Make sure you are going the right way, and nothing will make you fall. 27 Don’t go to the right or to the left, and you will stay away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27 ERV)

When we are determined in our course there is a motivation that keeps us moving right along, but not every "determined course" is actually the right one to be on in life. Some of the course we tread actually bring us turmoil, troubles, and tempests we have to navigate around or through. We aren't infallible people and we make fallible decisions, don't we? It is easy for us to mistaken about where we are headed, but it is impossible for us to never see or hear any of the warnings to not put ourselves out there - at least one or two warnings will be observed, but not necessarily heeded. 

I think this is best illustrated in something I discovered on a recent fishing trip. You see, I knew where the fish were hiding - I had observed them darting in and out of this area for a good deal of time. It was a remote location, requiring some pretty doggone accurate casting and navigation of my bait into just the right spot in the creek. To do so meant I need to maneuver into just the right spot and that meant going over a few rocks out into the river a little ways. Wanting to keep my feet dry, I chose the rocks that were above the surface as my "stepping stones". You know what happened, don't you? Yup - one wobbly and slippery stone later I found one foot solidly planted on a dry stone and one immersed in chilly water now up to my ankle. 

At times we need to get both feet wet in order to be right where we need to be, but we want to take the path we think will cause us the least amount of pain or discomfort. The moment my foot hit that cold water, I wanted to pull back, but there was no solid ground upon which to find my footing. The solid ground I needed was IN the water - both feet needed to be there if I was to find stability and not topple into the water entirely. I nearly found myself fully falling into the waters, but as soon as I realized the cool waters could be tolerated, I shucked the socks, put my shoes back on and waded in up to my knees. Now I was in the right spot!

The moment we decide to put both feet in, we will probably get a little shock of sorts, for it requires on foot to take the lead into some places we may not have considered "favorable" or "dry ground". One foot in front of the other until the footing we so desperately need is found. Yes, there may be a little discomfort in discovering that place of solid footing, but in the discovery there promises to be moments when the pain of getting there makes it all worth the while. I found those fish and went home with my limit most days we fished that same hole. After the first day, I knew good and well what it would take to get to them - wet feet, solidly planted, moving me closer and closer to the place of reaping. 

You may not realize it, but it could just be God is asking you to get both feet wet, my friend. You want the comfort of dry ground, but God may be calling you a little closer to your reward by challenging you to get both feet wet! Just sayin!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Which "vision" do you use most?

"Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye." (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.) Most of us need to be a little more proficient in seeing through the heart and less reliant upon what we take in through our eyes! We might just be surprised what is possible to "see" when we don't limit our "vision". Quite some time ago, a series of books came out featuring this little guy dressed in a red and white striped shirt and hat, hidden somewhere in the midst of many other people on the pages. The object of each of the books is to find Waldo amidst a plethora of other "distracting objects" and then to find some object he absent-mindedly left behind or lost in that location he has just visited. I think it may just be the illustrator of these books wanted us to focus - to train our eye to see the important thing (Waldo). Yet, our eye is drawn to all the other color, images, and "clutter" on the page. We have to work hard to see what the eye may miss, even after it has scoured the page for a long, long time! Seeing what we are "supposed to see" is okay in a game, but in real life, we want to see what we "need to see", not just what we are supposed to see.

You say to your friend, ‘Let me get that little piece of dust out of your eye.’ Why do you say this? Can’t you see that big piece of wood in your own eye? You are a hypocrite. First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to get the dust out of your friend’s eye. (Luke 6:42 ERV)


Brown also reminds us, "Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more." Part of seeing with the heart is learning to also give from the heart - to be less focused on what we get than what it is we can bring or give. We might just see a little lest "dust particles" in our relationships if we developed this ability to see what the eye does not! Wherever our focus is more on what isn't said, but what is acted out by the heart, the more we are truly beginning to understand the other individual - seeing a little more clearly how it is we can "give into" their lives. All of life is not about getting - it is most rewarding when it is about what it is we can give.

Sometimes the greatest gift we give in life is a piece of our heart. To do so means we don't have anything hindering that pathway between our heart and our actions. There is a free-flow of love, acceptance, and trust - because we don't allow that others stuff that complicates our lives to hinder that flow. Those things might be hatred, anger, bitterness, just to name a few. These things focus on what hurt or disappointed our hearts, not on what brings joy or peace to them. They keep our heart vision focused inwardly, not toward others. We justify our internally directed focus as our "right" to be hurt, angry, or bitter - because others have revealed a little bit of their heart in some action that wasn't all that good toward us. "Waldo" becomes that thing we cleverly disguise in the midst of all kinds of other cluttering things, but which "stands out" to others. To see with our hearts, we need to eliminate the thing that is obstructing our focus and keeping that pathway to giving from being "wide open". Just sayin!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Good or Bad - I am HIS

Some of you were sick because you’d lived a bad life, your bodies feeling the effects of your sin; You couldn’t stand the sight of food, so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead. Then you called out to God in your desperate condition; he got you out in the nick of time. He spoke the word that healed you, that pulled you back from the brink of death. So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves; Offer thanksgiving sacrifices, tell the world what he’s done—sing it out! (Psalm 107:17-22 MSG)

It is so true - our bodies feel the effects of our sin. Our minds feel the effects in feelings of guilt or shame. Our emotions play on our memories and these weigh us down with depression, anxiety, and perpetual feelings of low self-worth. Live well and there is balance; live poorly and there is imbalance. Convictions aren't always enough to carry us through in life - we need to make the right choices to back up those convictions - without compromising the values by which God wants us to live.

Despite our greatest efforts to make ourselves 'feel better', we find ourselves feeling worse than before. We allow ourselves to be "belittled" by our own thoughts. It is one thing to allow another to belittle us, but quite another to do that work ourselves. We can tell ourselves all kinds of "horror stories" about why we aren't "good enough", "worthy", or even "forgivable", but the truth of the matter is that God sees us through the finished work of Christ - nothing can detract from the beauty he sees when he looks at us through the blood of Jesus.

A couple of thoughts this morning for us to ponder:

1. Choice doesn't have to define us. We make one choice in life that really matters and which can "define us" - that is the choice of asking Jesus into our lives - of accepting his finished work of grace. Notice I said it is a finished work. In our everyday exchanges, it may not seem like God has "finished us", but in terms of what needed to be done to restore us to right relationship with him - it is DONE. All the other choices we make in life don't have to be what gives us our definition. Sure, they might leave imprints on our lives that make it hard to ever deny they existed. But...grace redefines those definitions. We may want to hold onto them a little bit too long, though. We refuse to believe we have really been changed. If we have been embraced by God's grace, the change is both complete and underway. Complete because all he does is final - underway because our minds and hearts have to catch up to what he already has accomplished!

2. Criticisms don't have to paralyze us. In life, there are those who encourage and those who seem to be in the place of holding us down, making us feel inferior, or just plain making all kinds of observations about us that are unnecessary and not uplifting. Criticism is judgment taken to the point of hurting another - it is pointing out the demerits in another and demeaning the worth or value of the other person. Criticism compares something to something else and comes to the conclusion one of the objects being compared is inferior. When that object is us, we are left with broken dreams, damaged emotions, and faulty feelings of self-worth. There is hope, though, for damaged emotions, unfulfilled dreams, and of feeling valued - it is found in Christ. To look to another to give us any of these things is to look to a faulty source.

3. Convictions aren't always aligned well - we can have lots and lots of convictions and still take a totally wrong path in life. It is so important to ensure our convictions align with what God reveals of his will in his Word. To have other types of convictions apart from what God determines to be right and true is to set ourselves up to make wrong choices, be open to criticisms galore, and to then deal with deep-seated guilt or shame. To be solid in our convictions doesn't immediately change our feelings of self-worth, but it does begin to change our choices. Right choices may not make us stand out to the world as "better than", but it helps us to feel good about where we stand with God and that is really all that matters. Criticize all you like, but when our choices are right, the only judgment that matters is God's! Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Peace of or Peace with

God, you give true peace to people who depend on you, to those who trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3 ERV)

We can often overlook the simple truth of God's peace in our lives, that is until it is disturbed by negative circumstances! Once the tough stuff comes into play in our lives, we sometimes freak out a bit because we don't know what to do - the going is getting tough, but we don't find ourselves as tough as might be needed to get going! The awesomeness of God's peace is that it is a gift - it isn't earned or somehow "acquired". It is truly given when and where we need it, but there are definitely forces working against us to keep us from experiencing the depth of that peace as much as he would like us to in giving it to us.

The peace of God is different than finding peace with God. We find peace with God through Christ Jesus, accepting the finished work of the cross for our sinful nature, and then actively seeking to obey his Word. The peace of God comes as a result of that restored relationship with our Creator. Scripture reminds us, "Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have.  And because you belong to Christ Jesus, God’s peace will stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings. His peace can do this far better than our human minds." (Philippians 4:6-7 ERV) It is because we belong to Christ that we have God's peace "standing guard" over our thoughts, feelings, and helping to guide our actions. 


Any action which disturbs that peace can then be defined as an action that moves us away from the direction God would like for each of us to be consistently heading - toward him. These are actions he'd like us to avoid, or stop engaging in. They are not going to help us walk in his peace and will keep us under the oppressive force of "disturbed peace". Edwin Louis Cole reminds us, "Peace is the umpire for doing the will of God." As an "umpire", it reigns over our hearts, keeping us steadily on course, calling for us to take a "time out" on occasion to "regroup", and often has to arbitrate between the actions we choose. When we lose God's peace, or don't listen to that niggling voice within, we might not realize it at first, but the loss of that peace allows for an undermining of destructive forces to be at work within our lives.

We need to guard our hearts against destructive forces at work to keep us from enjoying God's peace. Every action contrary to that peace must be resisted. It is a good thing God doesn't expect us to do this on our own, though, because each of us would be in a muddle if he did! God's gift is to continually renew our sense of peace, but it is our part to seek him in all things. Then we shall have his peace as our guide, umpiring our lives and helping us to resist certain actions which actually disturb that peace. Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Not all are evergreen

I am like a green olive tree growing in God’s Temple. I will trust God’s faithful love forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8 ERV)

"For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver."(Martin Luther) I have some trees in my yard that shed their leaves every fall as the weather begins to change enough to let them know winter is fast approaching. There are other trees in the yard that do not ever lose their "green" appearance because they shed leaves all year, little by little, as they are no longer vital to the tree and new ones come in their place. There is much to be said about both processes, so let's consider just a few things this morning:


1. The tree that sheds all its leaves is left bare and exposed, allowing all the scars of growth and pruning to be visible. I once heard it said we should rejoice when we see our scars for they really are signs that once a wound was there, but now we have healed from that wound. The exposed branches make that tree look a little vulnerable, but in essence we are seeing the parts that remain hidden, but which give structure and strength to support all the growth of those leaves once they return!

2. The tree that keeps its leaves all year might be beautiful and provide much shelter for those birds that weather the storms of winter in our midst. Perhaps this is why God created some trees that retain their leaves - to provide shelter and protection for those who need a welcoming place to rest. They also provide just a little bit of beauty in what might otherwise resemble a barren place and a hard time to endure. 

3. The tree with those year-round leaves has learned to shed what isn't any longer growing, allowing those dead leaves gently detach and fall to the ground. Even in the death of one leaf, much life is possible. The new leaf comes behind, but the old one provides a new place of shelter and protection, not for the birds on high, but for the tiny creatures that keep our soil rich and aerated by their presence. Even the cast off has a purpose - never lose sight of this, my friends. No part of our lives is ever wasted - even those parts we see as no longer necessary carry a purpose!

Just a few thoughts this morning to get us thinking. We may want to be an "evergreen" tree, never showing signs of winter's presence, or bearing the evidence of those scars of our "pruning", but there is beauty there, my friends. We should never be fearful of exposure, for those scars show where God's hand has healed and where his guidance has "pruned" what wasn't helping us grow in the right direction. Just sayin!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Who made me do it?

Those who love your teachings will find true peace. Nothing can make them fall. Lord, I am waiting for you to save me. I obey your commands. I follow your rules. I love them very much. I obey all your instructions and rules, because you know everything I do
(Psalm 119:165-168 ERV)

The words, "Nothing can MAKE them fall," jumped off the page at me this morning because I sometimes deal with the issue of feeling like I had no choice but to do something I did. The truth is, we always have a choice and we always have an arm stronger than ours to lean into when the choices get hard. The word "make" is what I really want to emphasize. Way back in the day, there was a father-son sit com in which one of the characters always cried out to his dearly departed wife, faking chest pain each time he didn't get something his way. His intent was to manipulate - to "make" someone do something he really wanted them to do, but were putting up some resistance to doing. There are times we push back against all resistance to NOT choose a certain course, all the while being determined we WANT to go down that path - then we blame someone for "making" us end up where we are.  No one makes us fall - we do that pretty much on our own!

What strikes me next in this passage are the words, "Lord, I am waiting for YOU to save me." Isn't that just like us? We get ourselves painted into some corner and then we stand there just waiting for God to deliver us from our mess. He loves us too much to leave us there and we know it, but there are times when we might just have to stand in that corner a little while until we get good and tired of being there! Why? God isn't always quick to deliver us when we want to accuse others for the muddle we have made for ourselves. He knows we need time to see where our disobedience caused the issue at hand - too quick of a deliverance may not change our desire to go that same direction again. It isn't that he wants us to suffer - it is that he desires us to see how limited, or restricted wrong choices leave us in terms of being truly "free".

While we may want to blame another as "making" us behave poorly, the truth is that we do so many times without much influence from others. We make those choices because it is what WE wanted. When my children were tiny, they'd be placed in a "walker" (a small, confined seat with wheels and a huge circular bumper that kept them from tipping over). They'd move along until they came to some obstacle they couldn't free themselves from and then they'd cry out for "deliverance" from being "stuck". Did they remember not to go there again? Not really. Time after time, they'd cry out for deliverance, having wedged themselves into that same position again and again. There were times I'd leave them just a little longer than they might have wanted to be there, not out of meanness, but because I wanted them to see it wasn't a good place for them to go. The good news is that God is there to rescue us, but the timing of the rescue is sometimes directly related to the lessons our hearts have embraced while we are looking up for our deliverance.

We aren't "made" to misbehave - it is our own choice. The moments between our misbehavior and our deliverance may vary, but in that lapse of time it is God's hope we might learn where we ended up wasn't a good place for us to be. Just sayin!