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Saturday, November 18, 2017

I got your back - you got mine?

Here are my directions: Pray much for others; plead for God’s mercy upon them; give thanks for all he is going to do for them. Pray in this way for kings and all others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility, so that we can live in peace and quietness, spending our time in godly living and thinking much about the Lord. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 TLB)
How much are we praying for others? How often are we pleading to God on their behalf - for his mercies, blessings, and provisions? Pleading is more than just "asking" God to bless them or keep them safe on their journey. Pleading suggests we are earnest in our appeal - we make every effort that we can to ensure their "case" is heard by God. In other words, we pray and don't let up until God intervenes on their behalf.
There are times I see appeals on my social feed that tell me someone has a need - whether spiritual, financial, relational, or emotional - they are asking for those of us who see their post to "take on" their need. While God doesn't expect us to always be in the position to "meet" their need, he does expect us to make an appeal to him on their behalf until that need is met. If it might be within our means to meet it, then maybe he has shown us that post because he has placed us in their life at that moment to meet that need.
To be truthful, there are also times I hear things, see them, or just know something is not going well for someone. Then I do a half-hearted appeal before God's throne on their behalf - not going to lie here, because my honesty may help us here. I find myself lifting up a brief prayer and almost without noticing it, I forget their need exists. Life goes on and I forget because other things come in and "cloud" that need from my focus. I don't think I am alone here on this one, so how do we do as our scripture says - praying much for each other and pleading each other's case before God?
I think this is why God gives us community - so we have each other's back on this one. When our focus gets clouded by some other things that come our way, another steps up to take the helm of prayer for a while, until our focus gets clarified again. While I might want to be this "super-prayer-warrior" who never takes her eye off the ball, I am not! I will pray for you, but we need each other's back on this one because none of us does this entirely well ALL of the time. Just sayin!

Friday, November 17, 2017

The heart of the matter

God’s word is alive and working. It is sharper than the sharpest sword and cuts all the way into us. It cuts deep to the place where the soul and the spirit are joined. God’s word cuts to the center of our joints and our bones. It judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts. (Hebrews 4:12 ERV)
If you have ever tried to change the way you feel about something without dealing with the constant barrage of thoughts that invade your mind (and heart), you know how hard it can be to manage those feelings when there is no change in thought pattern. A lot of people will adhere to the theory of changing one's thoughts - giving us the catalyst by which we move from feeling one way about something to feeling a different way. I will tell you there is an element of truth to this, but it is much more than positive thinking that changes the way we behave! 
It takes more than just being "positive" about a matter to change the feelings we have toward it. For example, if we think we cannot possibly save up that emergency fund we are supposed to have that ensures us a little "buffer" should it become difficult for us to work of a period of time, you likely will "feel" the "hardness" of saving. If you begin to think even a little can get you to the goal, such as giving up one foo-foo coffee a week and placing that in the savings jar, you might just begin to see some practical change in the way you feel about saving.
Too many times we "feel" bad about the way we are acting or what has been developing in our lives - especially that inward stuff we don't always want others to know is happening. We deal with a barrage of "bad feelings" that really "nag" at us all day long. If not all day, then at least when we encounter that one individual who rubs us the wrong way, or the tough circumstances that are just putting the "screws" on us right then and there. These feelings don't stem from the outward stuff, but how it is we begin to "think about" that stuff.
This is why God uses his Word to change both thought and feeling. Thought first - then feelings follow. Too many times we get this backward - thinking thought will follow some feeling we try to muster up in order to move beyond that issue. The truth is - feelings follow thought, not the other way around. God uses his Word to "reorder" our thoughts, convicting us sometimes where we most need it, then providing us with the necessary tools to change the way we are thinking. In turn, feelings follow. 
We won't accomplish this change of thought all on our own, though. Positive thoughts aren't always heartfelt! They need to be heart-taught, then heart-got! Just sayin!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Muck and Mire - Hard to Disguise

It was D.L. Moody who said,"I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man." I would have to agree whole-heartedly with Mr. Moody - my own "self" gets the best of me without much effort at all more than any other person does and THEY are the ones who have set out to get the best of me! Time can get the best of me without much effort. People can be my worst obstacles, and they don't even know they are sometimes. Then there is this whole struggle with wanting my own way when I know perfectly well it may not be what is right or best for me. It is not so much that the "thing" was wrong as much as the "desire" behind the thing was not exactly "right on". Indeed, I can "get in my own way" more than anything else at times!

But remember this—the wrong desires that come into your life aren’t anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation’s power so that you can bear up patiently against it. (I Corinthian 10:13 TLB)

Notice it doesn't say we won't have temptation, or that our own self wants or self-directed focus won't get in the way of making right choices. It says with each of these things God will "show us" how to escape that power AND to bear up patiently AGAINST it. So it is really a battle we are being instructed about here, my friends. A battle of the "self" mind or will against the desire of our heart to fulfill the will of God. Both are tremendous forces and some of us find ourselves spending way too much time struggling through instead of "doing what he says".

The thing I want us to see this morning is not so much that we struggle, but what the "nature" of the struggle really is. Look again at our passage - the struggle we face isn't "anything new or different". They are the same problems we have faced before and the same ones others face. You might say your present problem is much different than the ones you have had in the past, but deep down, at the root of the matter, all problems are really very similar - they are a battleground for the will. Whose "will" will win out? That is the real crux of the issue.

If we are to understand the problem before us, we need to stop seeing it as unique to just us. Others experience the same issues - they may not admit it readily, but they do. We all have moments of greed. We all struggle with lust on occasion - in one of its many forms. We all give into desires that only have the basis of bringing joy or satisfaction to us and no one else. Nothing we face is uniquely different. The set of circumstances that "set us up" for the opportunity or struggle may be slightly different, but the root of the issue is really the same. We ALL struggle with "self".

The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we may bring down some of our facades and begin to be more genuine with each other. I think this is the single most important need in our churches today - to be genuine. Christians are GREAT at wearing the "holiness mask" and denying their life is a mess of muck and mire. Instead of covering it up, imagine how much more we might learn from the insights of others if we'd just realize others have had similar muck and mire moments in their lives and they might have actually figured out how to move beyond them! Just saying!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

To get or to serve?

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. (C.S. Lewis) 

He is the one who has helped us tell others about his new agreement to save them. We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die; but we tell them there is life for them from the Holy Spirit. The old way, trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives them life. (2 Corinthians 3:6 TLB)

As a child, mom or dad would instruct me to do something, perhaps a chore to be completed prior to going out to play. Whenever I was given this task, although the task was "reasonable", the effort it took to get it done so I could pursue what "I wanted" always seemed so huge. I wanted to ride bikes with the other neighborhood kids. I wanted to get out the Monopoly game and launch into an all day marathon to see who would amass millions. The things I "wanted" mattered to mom and dad, but helping me to see I had contributions to make to the family and that these contributions mattered just as much as doing what I "wanted" was a very important lesson for me to learn as a child. They were instilling a hard work ethic, helping me to see other needs outside of my own, and realizing there were things I would do all my life that would help to make a home for those I call family. In essence, by asking for my obedience ahead of my enjoyment, they were showing me that enjoyment begins as a result of obedience!

In religious circles, many a church-goer finds him or herself smack dab in the middle of this endless cycle of keeping rules for the sake of earning some "privilege" or "status". My chores were never to "earn me a place in the family", but rather to help me realize as a family we all contribute something of value that makes the family more robust as a result. Church-goers who merely "do" in order to earn are less likely to enjoy the privileges of "family life" because where is the enjoyment in doing? The keeping of rules doesn't make us a Christian - the enjoyment of being a member of God's family through grace does! The moment we realize "service" is an outflow of what has been done for us and not to help us do for ourselves, the more we will find enjoyment in serving. 

So many times we find ourselves coming back to the "keeping of rules" - forgetting that service stems from being loved, accepted, embraced into the family of God. We serve because of who we belong to, not in order to belong. Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Chosen to Tell

But you are his chosen people, the King’s priests. You are a holy nation, people who belong to God. He chose you to tell about the wonderful things he has done. He brought you out of the darkness of sin into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 ERV)
Commercials on TV are written to tell a quick story related to a product the manufacturers hope to sell us. It could be they have created the most comfortable pillow known to man and they want to convince us to spend far more on one pillow than we ever did on all the pillows we have owned combined! It could be they have developed a sure fire cure for some ailment if we just use their salve, or will delight our families with the latest flavor found in some product they package for us to snack upon as we watch our favorite sports on TV. Regardless of the "product", the "story" told is supposed to create a "desire" in us to "want" the product. Could it just be that God knows the importance of "advertisement"? Could it possibly be in his design to have created us to be "walking advertisements" of his grace?
God chose us to tell of his grace - to be examples of how his grace can not only "convert" or "change" an individual, but how it also can "keep" and "protect" that individual. God's plan is to have us "shine" as his "billboards" of grace's ability and capability. By being "brought out", we are also "brought into". As a result, we have a story to tell. Grace in undeniably the most profound gift an individual can receive - for it has the power to convert what was otherwise "malformed" or "mal-positioned" into something that is perfect and aligned correctly. This is a story so many desire to hear, but it is also one they wish to experience - but it must be told!
If we are "chosen to tell", then what is it that keeps us from doing so? A lot of times it is that we think we don't have a story to tell. We believe we are "ordinary" or "unimportant", so we don't think the story we could share matters as much as someone else's. Let me assure you - your story is important - in the eyes of God, none of us is unimportant or ordinary. As a matter of fact, his grace declares us as extraordinary! "Ordinary" people have no way of really dealing with the sin in their lives. "Grace-filled" individuals know their sin has been dealt with, not by their own efforts, but by the personal sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. This makes their lives extraordinary - for someone who owed NO debt assumed the total debt we owed and paid that debt to the full.
There are bits and pieces of each of our lives that actually get "sewn into" the lives of each other whether we realize it or not. Each time we are together, we are experiencing a little of the other person's life and that experience changes us in some way. It may hardly be noticeable at first, but let me assure you that it is impossible for God's presence to NOT leave an impression. If God lives in you because you have reached out to be embraced by his grace, then his presence indwells you. It is now totally impossible for you to go anywhere, be with anyone, or just be in a crowd and NOT somehow leave a little of his presence there in the lives of those around you. Grace is meant to be shared - it is the message we have been chosen to tell. Just sayin!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Really, the lesser of two evils?

Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. (Romans 13:1 TLB)
There are times when I look at the state of things in our country and honestly wonder if God really had much to do with who filled some of these official seats.Then I remember the story of Israel demanding a king, just like all the other nation's around them had. He tried to remind them they needed but ONE authority in their lives and that was HIM. He attempted to dissuade them from "following suit" with all the other nations, but they continued to desire that "government official" sitting on the throne. So, he gave them exactly what they wanted - not exactly what they needed, but what they wanted. There are indeed times our stubbornness to pursue a certain course might just yield us what we want, but veer from what we really genuinely need!
While not all government officials are upright and godly in their attitudes or actions, God is still in control, and he has a few very important directions for us as it comes to our officials who hold office:
- We are to obey the law - not taking it into our own hands, or standing against it in any violent manner. We may not always agree with the laws that are passed, but as long as it doesn't violate scripture or our conscience, we are to adhere to it. We may not see the importance of the taxes we pay, or understand how each penny of those taxes are spent, but we have an obligation to adhere to the practice of paying our taxes. Even Jesus reminded his disciples to "give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and give unto God what is his."
- We are to pray for those who hold these positions - even more so when we see the decisions they are making as being in direct contradiction to what scripture declares. The heads of the leaders can be turned by the hand of God, but our part is to pray for them to listen, hear wisdom with ears that have been turned by God, and then to act upon that wisdom as God would desire. It starts with us praying, though!
- We are to be active in shaping our communities. Christians don't always "step up" to be part of the leading roles in our communities, but if we did might not our communities benefit from this step of obedience and faith? I think Christians avoid office so many times because of the tremendous "hit" they take from those who like to "stir the pot". They are an open book while in office, and the scrutiny of those accusing eyes is often enough to make them shy away from pursuing these posts. This might be all the more reason to pray for them!
It certainly says a great deal about our nation when we hear individuals say, "I voted for the lesser of two evils", doesn't it? If we are to ever see this change, it begins with us - in prayer, example, willingness to serve, and faithful commitment to the standards we know to be true and honest. Just sayin!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Time to clean house

I pray that God will open your minds to see his truth. Then you will know the hope that he has chosen us to have. You will know that the blessings God has promised his holy people are rich and glorious.  (Ephesians 1:18 ERV)
Most of us don't realize an open mind is a gift from God. It is by his doing that we actually have "space" for truth in our minds. It is by his grace that we desire more than our own intellect by which to navigate through life. To truly "know" truth requires more than we just expose ourselves to it - we must be open to the person who is all truth - Jesus Christ. Hope stems not so much from knowing all things from start to finish, but in believing the finish will be something that creates a deeper desire for the one who loves us beyond measure. 

While we are busy "going about life", God is all around us and working hard to reveal truth in all things to us as we are in constant movement. I have two grandsons, both have ADHD - something that keeps them in movement in one way or another. For one, it is the "fidget factor" we manage - for this was always what distracted him more than anything else. For the other, it is the wandering of mind into that creative and social place he so much likes to go to. Both are highly intelligent, creative, and well-mannered kids, but both struggle due to the "constant movement" they experience.

While movement is not a bad thing, it can be distracting to us. It can take us off task so easily, and sometimes without us even knowing it. This is often why God has to be the one to actually open our minds to receive truth - we are too "busy" or otherwise "occupied" to realize he is trying to reveal something to us. It is quite possible we miss out on a great deal by our "mindless fidgeting" as we go through life. God's desire is to focus our minds on truth - so we aren't missing these moments.

What are the advantages to knowing truth? Probably the first that comes to our minds is that we won't be duped by untruth. We will so quickly spot the counterfeit that we know when we are about to fall into a trap. This might just be the primary reason God reveals truth - to keep us safe. Another advantage is that of making right choices when the time comes to make the "best one" or a "good one". They both aren't far apart, but one is much better than the other and will result in much better outcomes for us. Truth helps us see both courses and then to choose wisely.

Regardless of how it is we learn, God is at the ready to reveal truth. He knows the only way we will have the "capacity" for truth is to actually "make space" for it. That means he has to help us let go of things we might have embraced that weren't exactly true. They were good ideas, perhaps, but not the best ones for us to base our present and future choices upon. So, don't be surprised when God comes to do a little "house-cleaning" in your mind. It is just to make room for more truth! Just sayin!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Giving in

Raymond Moody once said the most powerful prayer was that of surrender. It is so very true - for surrender is the beginning of all change. Surrender isn't about what we can accomplish any longer, it is about what the one we surrender to will accomplish on our behalf. Surrender opens the floodgates of opportunity - to all those things we could never do on our own. True surrender is probably one of the most difficult places to arrive at in our hearts - for it means we let go and we give over what little control we were still holding onto. There is the type of surrender done under duress, but God isn't looking for this type. There is the type where we resign ourselves to the fact something will be a certain way, but God isn't even looking for that. What he is looking for is the abandonment of control - the willingness to relinquish it in order to allow other potential to be released - the potential that originates in God himself.

Since we respect our fathers here on earth, though they punish us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to God’s training so that we can begin really to live? (Hebrews 12:9 TLB)

There is something powerful in submitting - despite the negative connotation that word musters in some hearts. The process of submission is not so much a stance of "giving up" but one of "becoming". It is the freedom to embrace new ideas, see things from a new perspective, and it opens us to new potential. Until we abandon the old, we cannot embrace the new - there is not room for both. Recently my BFF "downsized" her living situation, moving from a three bedroom condo into a much smaller two bedroom apartment. While the move was good, it required some "abandoning" of the old - some things no longer "fit". It made me realize there are times we take a whole lot of stuff from our past into what God has prepared for us in the present, not being very willing to part with them at first. As time goes on, we realize they just don't "fit" any longer. There isn't space for the old within the new. At that point, we can stubbornly hold onto everything, or we can let go of what God's been tugging at for a while anyway.

To begin to really live, one must surrender. It may seem like we are "giving up", but in truth, we are not giving up, we are giving in. When we go all in with God, he is free to go all out for us! Just sayin!

Friday, November 10, 2017

No longer a victim

Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart. Stand firm when he attacks. Trust the Lord; and remember that other Christians all around the world are going through these sufferings too. (1 Peter 5:8-9 TLB)
If you have ever played the "victim", you know how easily you can fall into the pity party mode. Before long, you have yourself made out to be so this or that, the other guy totally wrong or hurtful, and the spin begins. The truth is that we have one really big enemy who is out to put as much of this "spin" into our lives as possible. He knows that as long as we are "spinning" the pity wheel, we are not focusing on how much God cares for us, is madly in love with us, and has more than enough grace to help us through that difficult place.
Victims aren't always blameless. Sometimes the "victim" puts themselves right where they shouldn't be and then wonder why "all this is happening" to them. In this case, they opened the door to the reality of the muddle they find at their doorstep. There are just times when we are in the wrong place at the right time and we get caught up in what would have been best to not "step in". We don't need to be caught "unaware" of the trap being set for us. We can develop a keen eye to the traps, but we have to be willing to pay attention in order to see them.
Any good trapper will tell you they work hard to disguise their trap. Why? Nothing comes into what looks plainly like a trap! They avoid it because they know there is something suspicious about it. To spot counterfeit, the study of the genuine is most important. Why? We don't need to study what is "wrong with the picture" - we just need to know very well what the true picture looks like. As scripture reminds us - truth sets us free. We aren't going to spot the attack, or realize the trap, if all we do is study up on how many ways something could go wrong! We need to study how much grace has made a way THROUGH all attacks.
In the military, we learned to set up something referred to as a "M-18 Claymore mine". It is a semi-circular mine with a trip wire. When the wire is "tripped", the mine explodes outward in a pretty broad pattern. It isn't all that accurate - not like the sniper's bullet - but the massive outward explosion is sure to hit somewhere on that victim's body. The enemy of our souls uses a lot of these types of "mines" to trip us up - knowing that something in the "big scheme of things" will eventually hit target. He doesn't care that it doesn't totally "kill us" - he knows maimed "soldiers" are pretty lame.
The enemy's mines may be relationship directed, with all the explosive power directed toward damaging "something" in that relationship. His financial mines are designed to keep us indebted, taking our focus off God and placing it more on the worries of how we will ever "bail out". Whatever the "mine" is, we need to become aware of where those "trip wires" are. When we begin to recognize the environment we are in through the eyes of God, we will be able to spot what is "out of the ordinary" or is "counterfeit" in real time. Then we will be able to successfully navigate the mine fields that have previously claimed us as "victim"! Just sayin!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Prioritizing our Priorities

So I beg you, brothers and sisters, because of the great mercy God has shown us, offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him—an offering that is only for God and pleasing to him. Considering what he has done, it is only right that you should worship him in this way. (Romans 12:1 ERV)
How exactly does one offer their life as a living sacrifice to God? If we were to take this literally, one might think about needing to die as a martyr for God, as one might for a "good cause". If we were to merely think of this figuratively, one might reason it is some type of reference to the amount of time we spend at church, doing "work" for the church or community. While neither of these is bad, it isn't the intent of the passage. Paul is reminding the Roman church of how much God's grace has accomplished in their lives to deliver them from "religious pursuit" and from having to make all things right in their lives by their own effort. In other words, he has reminded them of the work of grace in their lives. The natural outflow of grace is to honor the one bestowing that great gift by living in obedience to his will. This is the "living sacrifice" God is most "impressed" with - for a life lived well is one in alignment with is will.
Living only for God brings him great pleasure. Some might think this means we have to lock ourselves away in some cloistered convent or monastery, but the opposite is probably more accurate of what God wants. He wants us to be in this world, working alongside each other, living out our faith in our daily work. In so doing, we meet up with others who also need to discover the joy of what it is to experience complete freedom from a life of sin and to come freely before the throne of God in restored relationship. We "live out" our faith in service to each other, helping each other grow in God's grace. We share in developing one another's understanding of the magnitude of God's plan for their lives and then we help them walk it out. In living life as an example of his grace, we are offering a precious sacrifice.
In another sense, we offer our lives as a living sacrifice each time we come into the presence of God. We spend times specifically focused on celebrating him, enjoying his presence and learning at his feet. This is what energizes us and helps us to be ready to "live out" our faith in our everyday work. It is more than just going to church on Sunday, then calling that "all good" for having had time in God's presence. It is the time each and every day in which we just take time to get alone with him and celebrate him in praise and worship. It includes time in his Word and time just listening. In so doing, we are being renewed and he receives honor each time our lives are changed more and more into his likeness.
We over-think this "sacrifice" thing, but if you have ever tried to take time each day to do this, you know how incredibly difficult it can be when life's demands are knocking at the door. Yet, if we do take the time with him first, we find all the "knockers" can wait and all we needed to accomplish that day gets done. It might just be that God is asking us to prioritize our priorities in asking us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice! Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Serving, but with boundaries

“But maybe you don’t want to serve the Lord. You must choose for yourselves today. Today you must decide who you will serve. Will you serve the gods that your ancestors worshiped when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates River? Or will you serve the gods of the Amorites who lived in this land? You must choose for yourselves. But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15 ERV)
We all serve something. It may be we serve ourselves - paying close attention to our needs and wants, while shutting out the needs and wants of those around us. We might serve others - doing all they demand and even more, but ignoring all the needs of our own body, mind, or soul. We could even serve something - not a person, but rather an object that has become the central focus of our existence, such as alcohol, drugs, or addictive substance. It really isn't as much a matter of "serving" as it is making a choice as to who or what we will allow in that space reserved for God himself.
I wanted sleep last night, my body craving it almost, but it wasn't in the cards for me as mom had one of those totally restless nights. It made me think this morning about the many needs each of us has, some very well articulated, while others have to be ferreted out by some means of intuition or interpretation. Mom couldn't put her finger on why she was so "antsy" and a little disconcerted herself - something common as dementia advances. She knew she didn't want to be alone, didn't want to be in bed, and that maybe she wanted a little fresh air. At two in the morning, we don't usually sit on the patio - so that was a little unrealistic, but we could open the front door and let in some of the cool air of an Arizona fall nighttime.
How do we decide what or who to serve? If we are uncomfortable taking a stand "against" those who may make demands upon us, we might just find ourselves "serving" but very begrudgingly. At two this morning, I had to put my foot down and let mom know we were not going outside. It was fine to sit together, or even pace the floors together, but we weren't going to venture beyond the house. Boundaries had to be set. In serving, it is important to set boundaries. You might think this a little counter to what it means to serve, but hear me out. If we allow others to constantly determine our boundaries, we may just find we are moving beyond what God wants for us, and sometimes even at the expense of either our own health or spiritual well-being. This is the importance of determining those boundaries even before we choose to serve.
As the Israelites were about to make the choice to either serve this or that god of the land, they also had the choice to serve the God of the Universe. The choices were clearly outlined and God had even helped define some of the boundaries, but the choice remained theirs. In serving, remember there is always a choice, and that choice is exclusively ours. We may "give over" that choice to another, but even in doing this, we are making a choice! Service is best accomplished in choosing wisely and understanding the boundaries behind those choices. Don't be intimidated into service. Don't let others set the boundaries for you. Be aware of what God desires of you, then remain faithful to those boundaries. You will be the most content serving when you do it within these boundaries. Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What we should never fear...

God has told us his secret reason for sending Christ, a plan he decided on in mercy long ago; and this was his purpose: that when the time is ripe he will gather us all together from wherever we are—in heaven or on earth—to be with him in Christ forever. (Ephesians 1:9-10 TLB)
If you could be "in the know" about why something happened a certain way, wouldn't you want to be? To be the "inside track" isn't all that hard when it comes to understanding God's intense love for his people. His love is at the basis of all he does - especially as it comes to our redemption from sin and his provision of mercy. 
The plan of mercy didn't just get "worked in" to already made plans. God knew by creating man with a free-will there would come a time he'd choose to "stretch the limits" of that will. He knew there would come the opportunity for compromise, but he also knew there would be absolutely no way anything else would fill that void in our lives he created for his Spirit to dwell. He also knew we'd need a means to bridge the gap between our need and his faithfulness. 
This morning mom came to me and told me she didn't know why, but she was afraid. She felt fear for some reason. Nearing her ninety-ninth birthday, mom has her challenges, especially as it relates to just how much longer she may be with us on this earth. While she isn't too keen about living with her aches and pains, she also "fears" a little the unknown she will find in leaving this earth. I don't think that is all that unusual, for taking steps toward the end of one's life is a little frightening.
Some things we should never fear
1) God's love - for it goes beyond our imagination and it is always reaching for our hearts. 
2) God's mercy - for it covets our souls and pursues us with an intensity we cannot comprehend.
3) God's plan - for it is encompassing of the hungry, hurting, and helpless.
These we should never fear, nor doubt. His grace makes a way for all of mankind to know his great love and his love makes a way for all of us to partake in his plan. That is indeed "good news". Just sayin!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Perfect pitch

All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live. Using the Scriptures, those who serve God will be prepared and will have everything they need to do every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ERV)
While it is very important to remember all scripture is given to help us correct what is wrong in our lives, it is not to be used to beat people up with. The desire to use scripture to point out the faults of another is not what is intended here. The "pointing out" is really the job of the Holy Spirit - the helping another to learn part is where we come alongside and walk out that learning together.
Most of the time, we forget that learning is all about us walking out what we are given instruction to do. Having a hymnal doesn't equate to singing the songs correctly - especially if you don't actually read notes or understand rhythm or beat. If I have heard the hymn often enough, I may have a better chance of actually singing it according to how it is written, but the notes still mean very little to me. Why? I am not "schooled" in music.
There are a good number of biblical teachings I am not "schooled" in, but I am able to read them just like I could read the words of a song in the hymnal. The teachings don't have exactly the same meaning until someone helps me grasp the content of the teaching. This comes not only in instruction, but in example. When I hear the song and how it is supposed to be sung, I can "imitate" the song without really totally understanding a single note on the page. Sing that song often enough with me as it should be sung and I will eventually get a better understanding of the counting of beats and the meaning of the notes.
If you were to tell me to hit an F-sharp I probably couldn't even get close. If you were to hit that pitch yourself and then I were to "match" that pitch, I would eventually appreciate the tone of the note. What I needed was the example - the ability to hit the note was there all along, but I didn't appreciate the note as "matching" the F-sharp on the page until someone sung it for me. Christ was our first example of "perfect pitch". In turn, he showed his disciples how to imitate that "pitch". 
Now it is our turn to "match the pitch" in our own lives. We do this as a team - walking this learning and understanding together - following the examples we have been given. The more closely we listen to Christ, the more we are able to "hit the note" in our lives. Just sayin!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Do you wallow?

"Your attitude towards failure determines your altitude after failure." (John C. Maxwell) How many times a day do you fail at something? You meant to keep your mouth shut about something that should have never been spoken, but alas...those words escaped. You meant to take care of that piece of pending work, but it seemed the hours slipped right on by before you could turn your attention to it. You planned to spend "quality time" with the family, but you were saying your good nights long before you realized. You thought you'd start that exercise program today, but the hotter than expected weather made a good excuse to delay until tomorrow. We have innumerable opportunities to succeed, but probably many of these opportunities pass us by, getting categorized in the "failure" pile of our life's choices. What we do with the failures makes all the difference with how we will deal with the new opportunities that come our way.

The Lord is kind and merciful, patient and full of love. The Lord is good to everyone. He shows his mercy to everything he made. (Psalm 145:8-9 ERV)

Since we all fail (some in greater degree than others), it is important to know how it is we are to "handle" our failures. It is important to realize God doesn't see any failure as "permanent". Each failure becomes an opportunity for grace in our lives, when confessed and allowed to be a place for his hand to change us. If we ever get to the spot where we think our failures are "too many" or "too big" for God to actually forgive, we are looking at our failures much differently than God does. He doesn't see our failures - he sees our possibilities. This is why he made a way for each failure to be a launching pad for change through grace. 

We can wallow in our failures, much like a pig does in the mud and muck of his pen. All that does is rub in the failure! It takes what could have been a launching pad toward change and "grinds it in". The moment we wallow, the more we will see our failures as defining who we are. Pigs aren't trying to escape or be free of the mess they are wallowing in - they are content to just wallow. Pigs wallow because they don't sweat, and this helps to "cool" their bodies a little. Sometimes we wallow in our failures because it brings us some "relief" from the sting of the failure, but that relief is short-lived because it never fixes the core problem. Pigs have to wallow time and time again because they still haven't changed their ability to sweat! We have no excuse because change is possible - we just need to embrace it!

We can make excuses for the failure, but that does little more than discount the failure as "expected" or "tolerable". To make excuses is to attempt to remove "blame" from the behavior. We want it overlooked, but until we stop "tolerating" the bad behavior we are not free to embrace new behavior. Excuses don't really remove the blame - they just attempt to change the focus. Much like the pig who wallows to get some relief from the heat of the sun, the one who makes excuses is just looking for a little relief from the pressure of admitting they have failed. To admit failure is hard, but it is a necessary step toward admitting we may not know how to change our course! Just sayin!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Enter in

Wisdom has built her house; she has made it strong with seven columns. She has cooked meat, mixed wine, and put food on the table. She has sent her servant girls to announce from the highest hill in the city, “Whoever needs instruction, come.” She invites all the simple people and says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have prepared. Leave your old, foolish ways and live! Advance along the path of understanding.” 
(Proverbs 9:1-6 ERV)

For just a moment, imagine this huge house with the biggest dining area you have ever seen. The table is all set with lots and lots of fruits, cheeses, and fresh baked crusty breads. The room is filled with the luscious odors of finely seasoned meats roasting on a bed of hot coals, savory roots and nourishing veggies mixed with rich butter, and the sweetness of baked desserts oozing with goodness. The servants all stand at the ready to launch into service, but there are no guests yet. The room is empty except for those who stand at the ready, but this feast has not been prepared for the affluent or the proud. It has been prepared specifically for those who have "need" - for those who are ready to "leave" behind their need and enter into the goodness prepared just for them.

The call goes out - come if you have need, enter if you're interested in leaving your old ways...the door is open, the feast is prepared. The call is for "whoever", meaning anyone who realizes they have the need to partake of Wisdom's table. It isn't a "by special invitation only" kind of moment - it is one of those moments when you come to a place of realizing the intensity of your hunger and the desire to have that hunger met with what will truly satisfy. The feast is set, the participants just need to realize the invitation is for them!

A little later in this chapter there is a comparison of the "other woman" who merely sits at her door and calls out - the woman's name is "Foolishness". She hasn't gone to such troubles, but she doesn't have to exert much effort to get people to enter her doors! It says of those who pass by that they show little interest in her offering to enter, but somehow they are lured in anyway. It isn't the amount of effort she exerts as much as it is they are too gullible to realize the death trap they are about to enter. It says of her house, "18 Those simple people don’t realize that her house is full of ghosts and that her guests have entered the world of the dead.

One feast is prepared with the greatest of care. The other house is "open", but the same appeal isn't there, yet the ease at which some can be invited in should not surprise us. There are just some who will take the easiest path in life, regardless of how appealing some others might be. Let us be wise in our choice of "whose" house we will enter into today. Let us not choose the easiest, but the "choicest"! Just sayin!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Take this

Help each other with your troubles. When you do this, you are obeying the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 ERV)
In other translations you might find "burdens" in place of troubles. Either way, we are to be there for each other - regardless of the burden or the thing that troubles our mind, soul, or spirit. A burden is something that is "carried" - it can be a load, but it can also be what some feel in the sense of what is described as the "onus" to do something or be a certain way. The task some of us are trying to do is more of an obligation than a desire. This may be because someone imposed it upon us, or we committed to something we later would come to regret. The "burdens" we carry can be quite hard for us and God's plan isn't that we remain "under" those burdens - but that we help each other out with them.
Sometimes the greatest "help" we can be is to set someone free from the sense of "obligation" they feel toward something they have committed to do, but which they neither has the joy in doing, or which has become way to hard for them to continue to do any longer. It may be we are helping that individual to realize something much more fulfilling in the long run. That release can turn the tides for the individual who is only "halfway" doing whatever it is they are obliged to do anyway. It can set them free to do something "all the way" with gusto, enjoyment, and a deep sense of fulfillment.
At other times, we need to come alongside an individual burdened down by life and ease the load a little. It doesn't even always have to be that we take the full load, or that we carry it long. Even the slightest relief can make the world of difference in their lives. It renews them enough to continue on. It may be we need to carry that load a little bit longer than we might have imagined, but if we do so with an open heart and in the mercies of God's grace, we find the other individual's need is met and our lives are enriched. 
This is God's plan for "church" - that we come together, share the load, and live in such a way that we are sensitive to the needs of those around us. We open up to the possibility of becoming "burden bearers" for just a little while and in turn, we open up to some of the greatest blessings we could ever imagine. What are those blessings? Well, one would be the cementing of lasting relationship - for each time we open up to bear the burden of another, we are working toward creating bonds that will take us through rough places and deep waters. Just sayin!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Appropriate words

To give an appropriate answer is a joy; how good is a word at the right time! (Proverbs 15:23 CEB)
Do you ever find yourself just standing there speechless at times because what you just heard, saw, or were asked just absolutely floored you? There are entire shows on TV these days in which individuals try to leave those around them "shocked" by some behavior they exhibit. The idea is to see if anyone will say something, or react in a way that reminds us these behaviors are really not all that acceptable. It amazes me to see how many times others will take offense, as evidenced by their body language, but will absolutely say nothing! Then comes along someone with the "moxie" to stand up to the guy trying to elicit some response and how the words fly! What others only thought, this individual is putting into quite a diatribe of words!
God doesn't expect us to be speechless - but he also asks us to be very deliberate in the choice of words we speak. They are to be "appropriate" words that hit the spot, but don't damage others in the process. Sometimes an "appropriate" word will put someone in their place, though, but in a way that is tempered by the oversight of the Holy Spirit. Remembering that we aren't to "be" the Holy Spirit in the lives of another, we really are just to be "used by" him when we are called to step up. That probably means we won't ridicule, tear down, criticize in an unkind manner, etc. It means we will speak truth - but in gentleness and kindness.
Words have such a great power to both build up or tear down, and sometimes one speaks the right ones in the right time, while at others one doesn't do as well in this regard. We all find ourselves fallible where it comes to our words. We speak without thinking. We don't weigh the intensity of our tone. We disregard the feelings of another. In turn, we hit the mark, but we bring damage in the relationship. Wouldn't it be so much better for our words to be chosen well, tempered with the gentleness of the Spirit's guidance in our speaking of them, and hit the mark in such a way that it changes the heart of the one hearing them?
Just asking?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Coming and going....


I raise my eyes toward the mountains.  Where will my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector; the Lord is your shade right beside you.
The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life.
The Lord will protect you on your journeys—whether going or coming—
    from now until forever from now. 

(Psalm 121 CEB)

I once read something by a poet about closing one's eyes at night and all seems to become "dead" with the enclosure of darkness, but also of the tremendous miracle of opening one's eyes the next day to the newness of life where all seems to once again be reborn. It was kind of an amazing thought to consider our times of slumber as that which bring rebirth or newness in such a way - death to the old and life to the new, so to speak. We need this "slumber" at times in not just a physical sense. If we equate the closing of one's eyes as a chance to "reset" what it is we see, then every opportunity for a "closure" within one season of a relationship can be the "opening" of another one!

I read a post this morning from a friend who has moved away, so my only way of remaining connected with her over the miles is often in her posts. She was celebrating the beauty of roses - not so much because they were open and fragrant - but because of the gentleman who has won her heart! One door closed in order for another to open. One job ended in order for another to begin. One relationship brought pain, but another has opened up to the newness of joy once again for my friend. I was truly celebrating with her, as well!

Whether coming or going, God's eyes never shut on our lives. His tender mercies are new with each new day and even with each new breath! While this may sometimes go overlooked by us until we take time out of our busy lives, once we just "shut down" for a little while, we realize just how much God's restorative and keeping power have been at work in our lives. It may be in the realm of energies for the tasks at hand all the way to the restorative power of helping us be ready and rightly placed for new relationships. Regardless of "how" his mercies come into our lives - they are sufficient to meet all our needs and are evidence of his great care for his kids!

Our comings and our goings - both are in his care. Our beginnings and our endings - both are within his design when our lives are positioned to follow in his steps. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Stem Cell Transplant

God, create a pure heart in me, and make my spirit strong again. Don’t push me away or take your Holy Spirit from me. Your help made me so happy. Give me that joy again. Make my spirit strong and ready to obey you. I will teach the guilty how you want them to live, and the sinners will come back to you. (Psalm 51:10-13 ERV)

Purity of heart is not something we accomplish on our own - we definitely need God's help with this one! In fact, it is impossible for the "impure" to ever reproduce "pure". The strength of spirit it took to compromise, or downright follow a path of impurity in the first place is what should make us realize we don't "find purity" on our own. We need (and we want) God to make our spirit strong again - but in the right direction!

It is one thing to be strong - it is another thing to exhibit the strength that is initiated and sustained by God himself. I can be a very strong-willed individual, but does that strength of will always produce the right outcomes in my life? Absolutely not! In fact, to be totally honest here, whenever my strength of will is in control, I kind of follow a course not so honoring to God!

Where God is given will, he produces that readiness to obey. In other words, when we eventually make a determined choice to stop demanding our own way, God begins to reproduce within us his strength of character that redefines our choices. Most of the time, this is exactly what keeps us in the compromising circle anyway - choices that need a little redefinition! His character reproduced within us isn't going to just come alongside impure character within us - it replaces it!

Think of God's grace as "stem cells" that have the ability to reproduce "good" and "vital" cells of solid character within. They are the "cells" that will overcome the "bad cells" of our own character that need to be gone anyway! We might "want to" change our character - but we lack the right "cellular materials" I would like to call the "purity cells". The character of God is exactly that - so he takes his "purity cells" and transplants them through "grace moments". 

The thing that makes the difference when that "transplant" occurs is our openness to receiving the new "cells" of his character. If we are really desirous to have a change of character, we usually don't "reject" that new growth - but we embrace it. Yes, there will be a conflict because nothing within us dies easily when it comes to our sin nature, but it is possible the more we focus on doing the right stuff that allows those "purity cells" to take hold! Just sayin!