Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nope, not that one. Maybe that one?

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:5 NLT)
God would rather have us ask than to move ahead in blind abandon to whatever it is we are concerned about, my friends. The attitude of asking for wisdom is not an admit of defeat, but of trust. I don't ask for help from those I don't trust - simply because I don't know they can be counted on to have my best interest in mind. There are a whole lot of counselors in the world today, but not too many who speak with the wisdom of God. We need to be consistent in where it is we seek wisdom, and what it is we embrace as wisdom.
Thomas Jefferson said, "Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom." To admit we don't know what to do, how to do it, or even that something needs to be done in the first place is to seek wisdom. One thing I have observed over my years is how freely people give "wisdom" in the form of advice, but how hard it is for them to actually embrace it and live by it! It is very important we seek wisdom from "reliable sources" - those who have embraced it, live by it, and stand strong because of it. Not all advice is wise. Not all advisers are going to give you biblical counsel - but when you find the one who will - listen. After having listened - test it out! Don't just accept "wisdom" at face value - it needs to be tested. 
Does it align with scripture? Does it follow the principles we saw modeled in the life of Jesus? Does it violate our conscience? Does it hurt another or take advantage of them unfairly? These are some of the questions we ask when seeking true wisdom - before we act upon it. Why? It is easy to hear something that aligns more with what our feelings are demanding at the moment than it is to hear the wisdom that denies those feelings! Feelings are "situational" - they depend upon the circumstances and they are highly unreliable as a result.
Another warning about the multitude of counsel you may receive in this world - if it is unsolicited, you may not want to heed it! People give words of "wisdom" all the time - from telling us how to spend our money, what to wear, who to dump, who to pick up, etc. We cannot simply listen to every voice we hear. Wisdom is sought, it doesn't just get offered to you at every turn of the head. Read the Proverbs and you will see that wisdom is something you ask for, you seek, and you "find" because you were looking for it. But...we cannot be looking for just ANY answer either. We have to be aware of what it is we seek wisdom about, then ask the one who IS wisdom how it is we should move forward or stay put as it applies to the thing we have under consideration. Sure, he will often bring us someone with spiritual wisdom and sound judgment as a "sounding board" of sorts. That isn't wrong to rely upon them, but even then, test it out before you act upon it.
We don't go through life "doing all we feel", nor do we live so stifled by fear that we never take a step in any direction. We seek wisdom and then we act upon it in faith. Ask, seek, knock - he's listening. Are you? Just askin!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Celebrating Defeat!

Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out. (Edwin Markham) 

Most of us would agree with the idea of victory sending us into places of awesome praise and tremendous celebration. Those who win some major sporting event will jump up and down, slap each other on the back, whoop, holler, and even cry in awe at having "done it". The tremendous release of emotion can almost overwhelm, but the sense of "high" which was celebrated with such passion cannot live on, for the moment will pass, memories will remain, but the moment is now behind. On the other hand, one walks away from the "win" as the defeated. Is it possible they could celebrate in similar fashion, for out of the things that shake our very souls can come greatness and character formation not quite found in the moment of gleeful victory?  

In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Psalm 118:5-9 NLT)

As I write today, the song by, "God is on the Move", is playing softly in the background. If you haven't heard it, the words that capture my attention are "God is on the move today" and "God is on the move in many might ways". My friends, I don't know the things which seek to overwhelm you, or the troubles that disturb your restful slumber, but I know for a fact that God is on the move! It isn't just the victories we celebrate in Jesus - we celebrate the defeats, as well. Why? These are the moments he uses to show us just how much we need to lean into him - to do more than just declare ourselves Christians, but to act in every way as though we are!

Whenever I begin to see the waters of my own life stir a little more than usual, building into lapping waves at first, then eventually in rolling waves, and soon into mounting waves carrying such force behind them that I am pretty sure I will feel their churning effect, I can either panic, or I can look up. The seas are constantly changing, not because the fish move from here to there, but because of those waves - those underlying currents, the winds of the air, the phases of the moon, and the movement of our earth's own crust all play a part in their change. Nothing is static in the seas because they are meant to change! In fact, nothing is static in our lives because we are designed to move from glory to glory - sometimes through tremendous victory, and at others, through agonizing defeat.

This may seem strange, but I fear victory more than I fear defeat. Why? Victory has a way of lulling me into times of complacency - because I somehow think I have "arrived" or that things are all "worked out". The truth is, the place of victory is just a place of temporary rest - it isn't the place I am to stay forever! In time, the waves will begin again! While I don't relish the times of defeat, and my pride takes a tremendous hit at times, they are probably the "best times" in my life because they are the times I learned to trust. They are the times I let go of my stubborn will to do things my way, leaving behind some pretty bad habits and hang-ups, taking tenuous steps forward into the unknown. Each tenuous step was always met with God's encouragement, though. Never once did God kick me when I was down in order to keep me down. In fact, sometimes we need a little "kick" to get us moving again! It is as though the wave frees me from the resting place where I remained entrapped and just continuously pounded by those waves which were doing nothing more than wearing me down. In setting me free, he changed my perspective - giving me a new freedom to see things from a new vantage point.

I don't know what "waves" of defeat you may think you are experiencing right now, but let him move you with those waves, my friend. You don't know how much that small change in perspective can change the defeat into a moment of victory and in turn, allow the "glory out"! Just sayin!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Grace or Justice - You Decide

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, "Whenever you do a thing, act as though the whole world were watching." Wise words, indeed. There is nothing more powerful than considering our actions we might take in the secret places of our lives, or when we don't think anyone will notice, in light of what others would see if they were to observe those actions "out in the open". Sometimes we might even stop in our tracks before we took those intended actions simply because we wouldn't want others to ever see us doing them. When you have ever been in a place with closed circuit cameras all around, were you as inclined to adjust your underwear as you might have been when you were in the "safe place" of your own bathroom? Probably not! Why? You didn't know who was watching! Maybe we'd do well to remember that principle when we take many other actions in our lives - we never really know who is watching and really, no action ever goes unnoticed by God!

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7-8 NLT)

Jefferson also voiced, "I tremble for my when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." We don't really know when God will put things in motion that allow things done in secret for so long to become "discovered". It could be the way another country has been unjustly persecuting those they don't see as supporters of their particular "political agenda" and then we see God reveal that injustice along with a loud and clear "call to action" by others who cannot possibly support that injustice any longer. If we stop to think about that for a moment, this is how allied relationships work - we stand up for injustice as a unified group. It could also be that God brings to light some particular injustice within our own ranks - allowing the misguided intentions of some and the evil intentions of others to be brought into the light. Whenever this has happened, "justice" usually demands their removal from that position of power or office. Why? Justice is a foundation of our way of life.

You have often heard me say the way we live matters - the choices we make define us. We cannot forever make unwise choices and expect to continue to experience God's grace in our lives - either as individuals, or as a nation. We can make course adjustments - even slight ones - that get us closer to living as we know we should. When we do, we might experience a little more of God's grace than we deserve, but if we don't continue to make those course corrections, we will eventually find God's justice coming our way. Why? The half-hearted corrections we made didn't carry us fully to where we needed to be and God's chief desire is for us to live a principled and just life - individually and as a nation. He will encourage those course corrections, either through renewed grace or through swift justice. I prefer grace! How about you? Just askin!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Privileged life, but principled, too

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both. (Dwight D. Eisenhower) 

Have you seen the Facebook post of a nice log cabin in the woods, surrounded by stately, lush trees and a rather picturesque view of the surroundings, with the little caption that asks: "You have to stay in this cabin for one month, with no access to internet, cell phones, or TV. On the last day, you received $100,000. Would you do it?" Most of us would have to consider that one very, very carefully because we are kind of "connected" via our cells, internet, and media outlets! We almost freak out just thinking about being "disconnected"! I wonder if God asked us a similar question, like if we'd want to gain all the treasures of heaven and his kingdom, would we "disconnect" from where we have put our treasure on this earth, would we do it?

Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road; whoever values life will avoid it. (Proverbs 22:5 NLT)

We have indeed become a society that values its privileges - almost taking it for granted they will always be there. When a power outage affects our town during monsoon storm or hurricane force gales, we find out just how "connected" we have become and how truly difficult it is for us to manage without those things we take for granted in our lives. We can almost hear the protests of the kiddos who have to find a way to occupy themselves without internet or TV.  We see the deer-in-the-headlights look of people who actually have to chat "live" with one another rather than send texts from one room of the house to the other! What we might not realize is just how much we "treasure" the things that keep us from valuing the things God has prepared for us that will live on in our lives way into eternity.

Privilege and principle are two entirely different things - one is assured because we live by the other. There is no "entitlement" for privilege - regardless of what some may think to the contrary! Privilege has a way of "corrupting" us - maybe not immediately, but in the course of time, we begin to take for granted what we have come to count on as "our right" or "ours". As a single parent, raising two children, I had to take many a moment of grief from my kiddos when they'd complain about buying "generic" jeans instead of the most popular name brand ones. The running shoes were likely bought at a big box store and not some sports store in the mall - despite their protests. The cars they got when they were old enough to endanger other lives on the road were second or third hand, but they ran. It was sometimes hard living by the principles I believe in - living debt free, not always having to keep up with the guy next door, and the belief that God didn't look so much at the outside as he did the inside. On the other hand, the love I always gave to my kiddos and received from them was much more valuable than enduring those protests from the kiddos, though! Despite their protests, they knew deep down that I loved them more than any words could describe.

Despite our protests, do we know deep down that we love God more than these things we call "privileges" that we have come to take for granted in our lives? Do we know deep down that he loves us enough to sometimes disturb our sense of "privilege" in order to keep us walking a "principled" life? I hope so! If not, it is time for us to disconnect a little from what we have come to count on more than making that connection with him. It is that connection with him that matters more than the privileges we enjoy - it is that connection that gives us the principles by which we make right choices, live in right relationship with others, and enjoy right-standing as citizens of his kingdom. Just sayin!

Friday, January 27, 2017

That pesky Golden Rule

This is what our Scriptures come to teach: in everything, in every circumstance, do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12 VOICE)

Most of us recognize just how truly hard this command actually can be in "real life". It is as though we want to say back to Jesus, "Yeah, but you don't know that other person as well as I do!"  We want them to hurt as bad as we are hurting, or at least a fraction of it! We don't want them getting off "free" of any accountability for their wrong actions. We don't want them to be "pain free". We think there has to be SOME consequence for their bad behavior! The thing Jesus was trying to get across to us is that we wouldn't want God to have that attitude with us - so we shouldn't have that attitude with others.

If you came up in church, you probably remember hearing this passage referred to as the "golden rule" somewhere along the line. I even have a ruler I got somewhere with this passage printed on it! Living it out in our daily walk is a whole lot different than seeing it on a ruler or plaque on the wall! We have to put "feet" to those words and turn them into very practical and personal actions and this is where it gets very, very hard. The "simple rule" becomes much more difficult when "that jerk" who just got on your last nerve is sitting across from you at the diner! Now it gets "real" and the moment defines us.

I have had to ask for more "rewrites" of how I am defined than I honestly care to admit to, but in the interest of being totally transparent here - it has been a lot! My "defining moments" just didn't go as well as I might have wanted them to, but thank goodness I don't have to "live with" that definition forever! God can rewrite how it is I am defined as much as he can do it for you. Someone once quipped that as long as everyone could just live by that one "golden rule", we'd probably be all right as a society of people - as long as the right person was the one starting the chain of actions in the first place! In nursing, they often say we are supposed to take care of our patients as we would our own mother. If you don't like your mother, that could be a problem!

The principle is quite simple - the actions we reveal are not to be dependent upon the actions (or inaction) of another. We are responsible for us - not the other guy. We model the behavior - then we count on God to do the rest. It may mean we don't see the "consequences" of their wrong actions, but that is okay because we can trust God to do what needs to be done - he hasn't failed us yet and he isn't about to! Another way to look at this is that we don't know what has already happened in that individual's life, nor do we know what is right around the corner, or even a little further down the road. We know about now - the opportunity we have while we are together at this very moment. Our actions are all we can have control over - so when we respond as we'd have liked to be treated rather than getting all uppity or wigged-out about something, we are setting God up to do whatever he needs to do in that person's life. If we think about it that way, we might just be more inclined to return good for evil, love for hatred, and forgiveness for lame stuff people do! Just sayin!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

But I want that cookie!

Any temptation you face will be nothing new. But God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can handle. But He always provides a way of escape so that you will be able to endure and keep moving forward. (1 Corinthians 10:13 VOICE)
Anyone who has ever "dieted" will be sure to tell you there comes a point when you are face-to-face with something that is tempting you to indulge, and in that moment, you face the toughest decision to either listen to the tempting thought or walk away from it. If that temptation was for a rich, warm cookie right from the oven, to walk away from it doesn't stop the lingering smell of those freshly baked cookies, does it? The temptation remains - you are just a little further from it than you were before. You could leave the area a little further, but the temptation is still there in the form of a thought or memory. What you did was move away from "immediate danger", but you didn't actually replace the craving. You just took the craving right along with you to another location! We often think this is the way we can deal with sin's temptation in our lives - just walk away, get a different perspective by being in a different location than the temptation. It rarely works, though. Why? We have just changed our location - nothing replaces the temptation.
I have had to learn the enjoyment of the sweetness of fruit instead of the cookie; the crunch of the apple instead of the chips; or the "snack fix" of air-popped popcorn instead of theater-butter style loaded with all that fat and sodium. The temptation has less "pull" for me because I have learned to substitute (replace) the thing that tempted me in the first place. There isn't room for the thought to tug at my senses any longer because I am actively replacing it with something else. Sometimes we need to do more than remove ourselves from the temptation - we might just need to replace it with something God desires for our lives more than whatever that is that is tempting us!
In looking at our passage, we discover a couple of things we should consider:
- There is no "new tactic" the enemy can use to get at us. It is just a "rework" of some other tactic he used some other time or in some other circumstance. He doesn't have limitless tactics - they are all pretty much the same. He works to distract - but that has many angles. He works to dissuade - but you can only persuade someone through so many arguments. He works to discourage - but he doesn't count on God's graces rebuilding us with encouragement beyond the immediate circumstances. He works to create distrust - but he forgets how much God's love anchors us deeply in that which is infinitely trustworthy. He works to defeat and deflate - but he doesn't count on God's goodness and peace to fill us anew each time we turn to him.
- There is a way of escape. Not once does scripture tell us we can get too far down the road of temptation to not be able to take the turn-off of escape. The way is there - we just don't always make the turn! This is where we need to learn the action of replacing that which is tempting us with something else God designs as a "suitable replacement" for whatever the temptation is. For example, if the temptation is to become angry over the actions of our children when they won't listen to us, we might need to have some "tactics" to counter the anger. We might begin to recognize the anger emerges more when we are under pressure to meet a certain deadline like leaving the house by a certain time each morning. To counter the temptation to fly into a rage at the slowness of the kids and their seeming lack of concern with the condition of the kitchen counter after their breakfast, we might plan to arise 20 minutes earlier each school day. We counter the temptation with a measurable action to replace the moment when anger would normally emerge. To further build in a way of escaping the moment of anger's trigger, we might agree there is no TV to distract us in the morning, setting a timer to keep us all on task, and making some of breakfast before bedtime so it takes less prep time in the morning. With each temptation there can be a practical "replacement" action - we might just have to think it through a little.
- Lastly, temptation isn't going to kill us - it is going to make us stronger. We actually learn the "art" of making right choices because we are presented with both a "not so good one" and a "little better one" and a "best one". The "little better one" may be the interim step, but it is a step in the right direction! What doesn't kills us makes us stronger - ever heard that one? At one point, we might need a rope to pull us out of the pit of temptation, while at another we need a ladder. Today's tactic (way of escape) will not always be tomorrow's, but there is something quite similar in each way - it is always upward! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just get me to the intersection already!

So the impossible is possible with God. (Luke 1:37 NLT)
Charles Swindoll once wrote, "We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." Let's face it - there are times when we just cannot see the opportunity because the disguise is just too good! We might want to find some "silver lining" in what it is we are going through, but if the truth be told, we are having a tough time finding much of an "opportunity" in the circumstances. An opportunity is just an intersection. It is a place of choice - go one way or the other. Most would say the opportunity has to be "favorable" to be considered positive, but there are times when we don't see much favorable in what is right in front of us. The rest of the definition is that at that place of opportunity (the intersection), we stand a good chance of advancing or making progress. In God's hands, I think we stand a much better than "good chance".
Milton Berle always used to quip, "If opportunity isn't knocking, it is time to build a door!" Oh, how many times I have done just that! Somewhere between here and there, the journey was taking way too long for my liking and I just "built a door". I created the "intersection" because I didn't want to invest whatever it was going to take to actually get me to the one God had designed! Most of those self-built doors didn't yield the exact outcome I'd really hoped for, though. They fell short on many accounts - but mostly because they fell short of that intersection God prepared for me that would have yielded a far more rewarding bit of advancement or progress in my life that I so desperately needed!
We all experience those intersection moments. What we do as we approach them is as critical as what we do when we reach them. I have endured several months of painfully slow construction on the road leading to my home. They are supposedly widening the street so it can accommodate more traffic, but in the meantime, they have a four lane road taken down to two lanes and it is so interspersed with twists and turns this way and that, with detours where you might like to turn and closures where you normally find passage. Getting from one intersection to the other can be a long, long process. It takes me all I can do to not turn off like some do, heading through a neighborhood, twisting and turning their way around that mess of traffic, going way out of their way just to avoid the wait. Isn't it funny how many times in life we want to do as much as we can to actually avoid the wait?
I watched as some followed what they thought would get them to the other side of the slow and go traffic down that two lane mess. In time, do you know what I saw? They are now waiting in line with me! Why? That detour didn't get them where they wanted to be! They thought they'd "save time", but it actually just put them in another long line of traffic trying to merge back onto an already way too congested roadway! What we believe to be the opportunity may not always yield us the results, especially when we "make" the opportunity! Rather than resist the time it takes us to reach the intersection God has prepared, we need to be attentive to the journey. We might just see something we have missed before! Like the chickens pecking away in the yard of a neighborhood plant nursery, feasting gleefully on all manner of bugs, or the vine beginning to show signs of full bloom climbing across the fence of a house we almost always pass without noticing. 
On the way from here to there, we can make many a detour. We can see what some may call "opportunity", but which God just labels as "distractions". We can attempt to get there faster than we should, but in the end, every extra minute spent "detouring around" what seems to be an obstacle in our path may just end up putting us where we don't really want to be in the first place. Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One more wave

Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.  (Charles Spurgeon) 

I can recount numerous times when a particularly difficult season of my life seemed to be finally winding down, when I could just begin to see the clearing of the fog of chaos, and then almost imperceptibly there comes the "next wave" of trial! I know you have had similar experiences, when you didn't think there was much more you could or would have to face before the muddle you were in would clear and allow you some "breathing room". You might have even uttered the words, "Can it get any worse?" I think Satan might just like to hear those words uttered because he relishes in showing off his pretty ugly self all around us!  I have learned not to ask those words, but rather to ask God, "How shall you show yourself stronger than the trial adding havoc in my life today?"

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Galatians 5:22-25 NLT)

The trial teaches us who we are - who is at the center in our lives - what it is we hold onto more than anything else. If self is at the center, it becomes pretty apparent in the midst of the trial - through unsavory attitudes that emerge a little too frequently, or even the constant fear of what will come next because we don't have the peace of Christ in the matter. It reveal to us where our trust is squarely placed - either in self, or in Christ. There is no middle ground here. The trial will reveal areas of our lives where we need to let go and begin to trust Jesus like never before. In the natural sense, trust is defined as an assured reliance on the character, strength, ability, and truth of someone. I know for a fact that my character waxes and wanes - kind of a little too "situational" for my own good. I also know the truth I believe about myself is kind of flawed - because I have told myself many lies over the years!

As much as trials come, you'd think we'd be better at recognizing them and the value they actually carry, but we almost get blind-sided by them, don't we? It is like we didn't expect anything to "test" us - to place us in a position of having a little more chaos or discomfort than we wanted at the moment. As Spurgeon implies, the soil isn't turned by just watching it! It is turned because the plow is set to the ground, the team pulls the plow, and the one who guides the plow directs the team repeated over those patches of soil until they are of sufficient "texture" for the reception of the seed to be planted deep within it. Notice that I said the team is directed to take that plow over the same soil time and time again - in order to ready the soil. Even the farmer knows the soil is not ready the first time the plow hits the fallow ground! It requires continued efforts to be directed toward making it "receptive" to the seed.

In much the same way, we might just need to recognize trials come, not in onsey-twosey fashion, but in one "passing stroke after another" as the plow passes over the soil of our lives. It isn't that God couldn't do it all in one pass - it is that we need to learn to trust the care he places in making sure no rock is left unturned! It is that one rock that makes all the difference in how the growth he desires may occur! Until it is brought to the surface and finally removed, the plow will continue to pass. That may be a hard concept for us to grasp because we wonder how a loving God would require more trials instead of taking care of the stone the first time! I think it is because God knows if all of life was just instantaneous, kind of that "one-pass fixes it all" kind of lifestyle, then we'd never learn where it is we are to place our strength, who guides the passage of the plow, and who created the seed that will take root in that prepared soil!

God isn't allowing the "next wave" because he wants to hurt us or bring unnecessary upheaval into our lives. He is doing it because he wants to reveal areas of our lives where he is not our strength - where we are reliant upon our own self sufficiency, or where we have misplaced trust in another. If we begin to think about it, there are moments of rest - as when the farmer puts the plow away for the day and rests the team overnight. Yes, he sets to work the next day, but it isn't because he hates the soil - instead he sees the potential there and knows that until it is fully prepared, those small breaks are all he will give it. Relish the breaks - but don't count on the "tilling" to be over. Until the farmer realizes the soil has a certain "feel" to it, he will continue to work it. When it reaches that stage where the plow's blade just glides through it, he knows it is ready. It no longer resists the blade - it yields to it. Maybe we are right on the brink of being totally yielded to God's hand - trusting him to know when the soil of our hearts is just right. It may take one more "pass", but if it does, rest in the assurance that each passing of the "plow's blade" has a purpose. Just sayin!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Please just answer the door!

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8 NLT)
God doesn't string us along in our lives - although we might have formed that perception when we don't get immediate or instantaneous answers to our prayers. Somehow we interpret God's "not right now" as "we will just have to wait and see". Parents are good at using that last one, simply because they want to encourage some type of behavior from their child, or they really need to see if they will have the funds later to be able to do whatever the child is wanting. God doesn't manipulate us into "right behavior", and he certainly has all the resources he needs right at his fingertips, so he probably doesn't use the "we will just have to wait and see" response to our prayers! His "not right now" can seem like an eternity because we hope for answers right now. Going from one job interview to the next, moving higher and higher up the "hiring ladder" with the company seems a little nerve-racking more because of the "not quite yet" you realize when you leave that "next level" of interview. It isn't that they are saying "no", nor are they saying "yes" - they are just saying their is a time and a method to their plan. God has a time and a method to all his plans.
Ask, seek, and knock - three very specific actions. I think God might just have another in the mix - rest. When we have asked all we can ask, sought with all the focus we can direct toward the seeking, and made our need undeniably evident by all our knocking, it may just be time to rest. Rest in the peace he gives - for even in the waiting, we can know rest. God doesn't forget our need, nor does he turn his attention away from our lives. He remains ever-vigilant to prepare the moment when his answer shall be revealed. It isn't always a quick wait - but when we wait in peace we often begin to see his purpose in the waiting a little better. The wait isn't to punish us - it is to refine us. It is to help us see his provision, to appreciate his presence, and to trust his power in our lives.
Ask specifically - God doesn't need lofty prayers, but in being specific in our prayers, we often get to the place of understanding what we are asking. We need the specificity even more than he does! It isn't that we are telling him "how" it is to be done, but we let him know the need and then trust him with the details.
Seek with tenacity - God isn't "making us work for" the answer, but he may look for us to put a little bit of ourselves on the line in the process. I often told my kids I could see they were committed to something by their focused attention toward it - I knew what they wanted was important to them because they were putting forth some effort on their part to obtain it. While God doesn't need us to "make things happen" in our lives, he does count on us revealing a determined focus and a seeking heart.
Knock unceasingly - God isn't deaf, so why must we knock? I think it is the connection we are making that he is after. When we knock, we rap upon the door and then what do we do? We wait. We listen. We are trying to perceive what may behind the door we are rapping upon, right? God might just be helping us to refine our perception of his movement a little when he tells us to knock. Not in that we beat the door down, but in that we listen and begin to perceive!
We aren't idle in our prayers, nor are we "performing to obtain", but we build trust, learn to rest, and develop our perception of his movements just a little clearer when we pray as God tells us to pray. Just sayin!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pray the Word

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”
(Isaiah 55:10-13 NLT)

Some of the promises in Isaiah are really rich in character, aren't they? The imagery presented for us here about God's Word is dynamic. As often he does, God uses a word picture to help us understand the impact of the Word of God in our lives. As rain comes down, it has an immediate impact on the plants which take in the refreshing of the downpour, right? Yet, there is a lasting effect to rain we might not have considered - it fills the wells, cisterns, and dry beds. It has a "reserve" effect, not just an immediate one. The significance of what seems to be "gone" in such a short while is lost to us because we don't see the inward effect of the rain! We often don't see the inward affect of the Word of God until our character is challenged and our choices have that moment where they are "defined" by what comes next!

Everywhere God sends his Word, it has an effect - it NEVER returns void! That is indeed something we need to latch onto in our prayer time, my friends - because if God's Word never returns void, then we need to start praying his Word! I often find myself recounting scripture as our pray, reminding God that his Word declares a certain promise. Why? I am laying foundation to my prayers. His Word ALWAYS produces fruit. As with any product of nature that bears fruit, there is a period of time between the "promise" of fruit and the "enjoyment" of fruit, isn't there? We can watch it develop, almost tasting the luxurious flavor of that fruit, but until it reaches the place of full development, that fruit isn't ready. In fact, it will disappoint when it is plucked too early! God's Word may not have the full effect the first time it is taken in, but trust me on this one, it has a "reserve effect" much greater than we might ever imagine!

In praying God's Word, we aren't coaxing God to act or respond a certain way. We are just recounting the wonderful promises he has made to us about things that matter in our lives. For example, when a parent sees their child making unwise choices in life, the parent may remind God that they have raised them in the truth and they are counting on God to return that child to the truth. They are resting on the scripture that says if we direct our child on the right path, when they are older, they will not leave it (Proverbs 22:6). It isn't magic to pray scripture. We are just counting on God's Word to NEVER return void - something he encourages us to do as we pray.

As we consider our passage today, I know I have often reminded God of the promise of his restorative power. Thorny ground yielding the might cypress tree speaks of a re-created "landscape" in our lives. There are many times when I look at the nettles and thorns in my own life and have to ask God if he can possibly bring anything good from such a barren and dry place. He inevitably reminds me of this scripture. Why?  He is reminding me I can stand on the "reserve" of his Word - the ground may be dry right now, but there is something deep within the well that will nourish and refresh those dry places! We may not realize the power of the Word in prayer until we actually begin to use it more and more. I would encourage us to make it a part of our prayer this year.  We could just be surprised to realize such depth of hope, peace, assurance, and refreshment dwells within each of us! Just sayin!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Just call me "Ambassador"

It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 VOICE)

Many of us watch the news each evening, or prior to going to bed, only to get discouraged by all the stuff we see and hear reported. Officers shot in the line of duty, car wrecks, mass shootings, downed planes, war efforts redoubled, natural disasters - the airwaves are full of these kinds of reports. Rarely do we receive the heartwarming reports of kids being kids, families reunited after years apart, or the like. Why? News isn't considered "news" most of the time unless it carries a negative report! Yet, the most important "news" to be shared is definitely not negative - in fact, it is shared in order to deal with the negative!
An ambassador is one who had been duly authorized to act on behalf of the official under which they were commissioned to perform the mission of the official. We are called ambassadors of Christ - commissioned to perform a specific mission he has designed for those he calls. We are called to urge others to be reconciled - not just in word only - but in every fiber of their being. This type of message is indeed "good news", for anything which brings and maintains the condition of being in right standing and reconciled to God and one another is definitely worth celebrating!
The good news also carries the important message of faith - our sins are no longer held against us because Jesus has dealt fully with them. When we invite him to be the one who governs our lives, we are coming under that authority or rule. When we come under the authority or rule of a particular official in our own community or country, we enjoy the benefits of that rule. The same is true in terms of our alignment with the authority of Christ in our lives. But...that alignment also means we are charged with a mission - to ensure that others hear the message of healing and restored relationship with God through Christ.
When a surgeon identifies there is a diseased or damaged part in the patient, what does he do? He seeks to remove it, right? After it is removed, the patient goes through a series of "restorative" periods. Some rest is necessary so the body will have the strength to heal. Good nutrition is essential to knit together the tissue and form a good bond at the site of the surgery. Consistent care of the surgical wound is critical in order to ward off anything which could contaminate, thereby slowing the process of healing's return. 
In much the same way, Christ sets out to not only remove what is damaged in our relationship with God, but he also ensures we can know his rest, so we have the strength to stand strong under his watchful care. He provides all that is need to nurture that restored condition and ensures that we come to a place of solid bond with him. In much the same way as a patient extols the skill of his surgeon, the child redeemed from their sin will shout the praises and share the good news of what Christ has done to bring about restoration within them! Being an ambassador of the message of hope which is found in Christ is not that hard - it just means we share our story of restoration and invite others to see theirs written as well! Just sayin!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Resistance isn't a bad thing

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33 NLT)
As I was coming through Bible College, the "deeper" the theologian, the "greater" the writing of that author was deemed to be - but did it always affect my heart the way it needed to? No! In fact, although the truths were spot on and accurate as all get out, they were "too deep" to affect some of the spaces of my heart where I just needed to trust Jesus. I tried to apply those principles taught by those great theologians, but they just didn't make much of an impact. What did? When I just honestly stopped for a moment and realized I am a pretty simple person, so simple solutions and principles were going to be the things that changed my character, not the deeply profound theological principles! For example, it wasn't that I had to figure out "what faith is", I just had to remember that faith is demonstrated more than it is understood. The heart demonstrates faith when it reaches out for grace, or is embraced with overwhelming peace that supersedes the mess you are in at the moment. That demonstrated faith is trust - trust correctly placed not in one's own efforts, but in the overcoming power of Christ who indwells you the moment you say "yes" to him.
When Jesus taught about trials or sorrows, saying they were going to be part of what we'd have to deal with as long as we walked on this earth, I never really understood how a loving God could allow kind of ugly stuff to happen to good people who put their trust in him. Another one of those things that just "don't add up" when you think about God as "good", "kind", "loving", etc.  When you think of him as the giver of grace and peace, then why isn't it that we can avoid these awful things? I think it might have to do with something called resistance. You see, when resistance is applied there is a little bit more which happens than if there was no resistance at all. Endurance is developed. Strength is increased. In terms of medical science, when an organism develops resistance it is said to be "incapable" of being affected by the "normal stuff" which would otherwise affect it. The strain of organism develops "super-strength" and resists the intake of the stuff that could otherwise destroy it! Where resistance doesn't exist, the organism is said to be "susceptible" to the impact of what is applied to it. This is why antibiotics work to kill some organisms - they are susceptible - they allow input of the medicine and that medicine counteracts the effects of the organism.
Maybe this is a "simplified" way of understanding the purpose of trials and sorrows, but I think it might just make a little sense. The things we "resist" and become less "susceptible" to are probably good for us in the long run! The things we are supposed to be susceptible to are his grace, peace, and love. The things we are supposed to develop a resistance to are things like sin, hatred, envy, bitterness, and the like. Those things exist all around us and they provide just enough "impact" in our lives to allow resistance to be built to them when we get enough of the stuff into our lives that make us strong to "fight against" them! The more of God's grace we embrace, the more resistance we exhibit toward the things of this world trying to impact our lives in a negative or harmful way. This brings us back to the topic of faith - for faith is simply stated as trust. What is it we lean into - rely upon - hope in? That will be the thing that we have faith in. It could be our own intellect, but when it is, we usually find ourselves trying to reason our way through some of the most awkward circumstances that really aren't "figured out" with the mind at all. It could be our emotions, but when we are trying to work through things on an emotional plane alone, the ups and downs can be dizzying indeed!
Jesus doesn't want us to be unknowing or oblivious to the things around us - he warns us there is evil - it exists. He also reminds us that to counteract evil he gives us one very powerful weapon - peace. How can peace serve to build resistance or help us counteract the attacks against us? When we lean into Jesus more, his peace becomes that wall of resistance that isn't easily penetrated by those things working to tear us down and gain access to our inner man. His peace surpasses human understanding, but is a great indicator of how closely we are relying on him (leaning into him) rather than trying to figure stuff out all on our own. His peace then is like a barometer - giving us a good indicator of how "susceptible" we are to attack! Just sayin!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Polar Opposites

Lady Wisdom: Whoever is young and gullible, turn in here.
You are welcome in this place!  Then, turning to those who are naive, she says: Come in. Come, eat my bread, and drink my spiced wine.  Give up your gullible ways, your naive thoughts, for true life.  Set your course for understanding.
(Proverbs 9:4-6 VOICE)

When we think of someone as naive, we think they are lacking in "worldly wisdom", not really having much going for them in the way of informed or sound judgment. They are indeed kind of unknowing and unsuspecting of things that others who are considered a little "smarter" or "wiser" might not be so "tricked" by in their course of dealings. There are some who are young and gullible - readily taken advantage of by those who are on the lookout for their opportunity to make a point, take advantage, or just plain humiliate. God doesn't want us to either be naive or gullible - he wants us to come to a place where we "set our course" toward understanding.

The issue is that when we "turn a blind eye" or a "deaf ear" to things which should give us cause for concern, we kind of are approaching things as a little too naive or gullible. We open ourselves up for attack - we become easily exploited. God's intent is that no one be able to exploit us in any regard - emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially. He wants us to possess wisdom to deal with the things some may use to "exploit" our lack of understanding in order to produce some benefit for themselves. It is kind of amazing in this world of high technology and the ability to research almost anything with just a few keystrokes on the keyboard that we can still be duped into believing some of the stuff we do!

I watched a news report about a man who runs a pillow manufacturing business because he wanted to create that "perfect pillow" that everyone needs. I had just observed the advertisement this weekend and noted he was making a two-for-one offer - buy one, get the other free - just because he is grateful for our business! The news report showed how the Better Business Bureau just dropped his rating from A+ to F because of his false advertising and his unwillingness to stop running that two-for-one offer which was really a scam, charging customers nearly $85 for the two pillows! Obviously someone was being duped into believing the lie that this was some tremendous "deal" or "gift" from his company, but they became wise to his wacky deal and reported it!

We can be duped into believing whatever we are open to receiving - this is what I want us to understand more than anything today. We don't set out to embrace untruth or engage in silly schemes designed to exploit us in some regard. We get "drug in" or "lured into" something we probably didn't want to be into in the first place. Think of two magnets for a moment. Have you ever tried to put them in alignment when their similar 'poles' - putting the negatively charged pole next to the negatively charged pole? When the negatively charged pole of one magnet is brought next to the positively charged pole of the other magnet, they attract each other. When both are similarly charged and brought together, they repel each other. Those who seek to engage us in behavior which is contrary to the way we should be acting will do so by using a clever way to attract us with the "opposite" of what we might have normally considered or been engaged in. 

What gets the mouse to the trap is the enticement of the cheese, my friends. The trap is just a piece of wood and metal until it is armed with cheese! Once armed, it can attract the hungry. What we hunger for must be more wisdom - more of Jesus within us - so we won't be drawn to what should not attract us in the first place. Do you know why a compass arrow points North? The arrow of the compass is referred to as "North seeking" - it is drawn to the polar opposite of what it is itself. What we need to be drawn to is the polar opposite of what we are ourselves - into relationship with Jesus - from the naive and gullible ways of a wayward child into the stability and wholeness of a Christ-centered child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Jungle Book

I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory to the Father. (John 15:5,8 VOICE)

I had the opportunity to spend some time home with mom this week and on one particular afternoon which found her dozing peacefully, I turned on a movie thinking I'd drift off into a peaceful nap time, as well. It was the remake of Jungle Book and I had not yet seen it. Within minutes, although my eyes were drowsy and my mind was exhausted from having to deal with medical issues for mom, I found myself unable to doze. The story just captured my attention and there I was, desperately in need of some rest, but enthralled in the imagery and story before me. As you may know the story, the "man cub" was adopted by a pack of wolves. I am not sure how he developed all his ability to talk with the wolves, tigers, leopards, and birds, but he could. He lived among them and actually was viewed as "one of them" until one day a very old and scarred tiger named Shere Khan came upon the scene to challenge him. Shere Khan was old and bitter, having been left scarred by the burns he received while killing the father of this boy much earlier in the story. He was angry, manipulative, and vindictive - three very common traits of anyone who allows bitterness to take root.

As the story went on, the boy finds himself fleeing to save his life - at least that is what he thought he'd do by escaping the "nearness" to such a bitter and angry opponent. The trouble is that no matter how much we think we distance ourselves from bitter people, they have a way of finding us! They have some kind of "bitterness radar" that just helps them hone in on our location and they do so because they think they are going to destroy our lives through their bitterness. The real potential of them doing this is pretty minimal, though, because it is hard for one who is rooted well to produce the same fruit as one who has his or her roots deeply embedded in the soil of bitterness. It isn't so much that they cannot wreak havoc in our lives by their bitter shenanigans and hurtful deeds, it is that they cannot change where it is we find our rooting! That place of rooting is what will determine the fruit we bear even faced with the awfulness of the bitterness and anger around us.

In case you haven't seen or read The Jungle Book, I will not spoil the plot or give you the ending, but know this - it is a good story for all of us to consider for it speaks to several values we might do well to consider:

- Family is not so much determined by birth as much as it is determined by nurture. Those wolves nurtured the young boy, helping him to always remember the value of others - the power of the "pack", so to speak. The relationship he formed with those other members of the pack was so important - constantly remembering we were not to pursue our own devices, but be mindful of the needs and feelings of others around us.

- There is a place and time for new experiences. The young boy made new friends as he fled for his life, some which thought they could manipulate him to get him to do as they wished. Yet, in the end, they discovered they valued each other - not because of what they could "get" from one another, but because together they were better than when they stood alone. 

- The fruit we bear is directly related to the root we cultivate. There is no changing the fruit until we change the root! Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Less is more when more is no good

The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "Less is more when more is no good." Let that sink in a while and you might just agree with Mr. Wright. When what we desire is no good, it doesn't really matter if the desire is a little one or a huge one - it is still not good for us to pursue! One of the Roman philosophers of the first century, Publilius Syrus wrote, "If you wish to reach the highest, begin at the lowest." In other words, what we don't think might matter is what usually will give us the greatest difficulty. We take for granted the washer in the faucet until the drip begins to keep us awake at night!

13 So get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act, control yourselves, and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you. 14 Be like obedient children as you put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better. 15 Since the One who called you is holy, be holy in all you do. (I Peter 1:13-15 VOICE)

We are to focus on the grace that comes from, in, and through Jesus Christ. It isn't the natural way of thinking to focus on what we cannot earn, do not deserve, and have no fathoming of the depths of its reaches. The instructions to us today are pretty simple - let's explore:

- Get yourselves ready. I sometimes call my daughter on my way to work in the morning. When I do, I usually have to be interrupted in our conversation several times with her reminding the grand-boys to stop what they are doing and "get ready" for school. They have used their mother's distracted attention to engage in some activity they know is not part of their normal morning routine - simply because she isn't paying as close attention as normal. It is always amazing to me to realize how many times we know we need to be ready for something, but we dilly-dally along the way, allowing for things we know better than to focus on at the moment to get our attention. The first call to us is to "get ready" - not to have someone else ready us for what may come, but for us to put forth effort to be ready.

- Prepare your minds. If we think for one moment readiness is just a state of having a few things "prepared", we have a much too simplified view of being prepared. I live in a community not too frequently ravaged by any type of severe weather, such as flood, blizzard, or hurricane. Yet, my local "big box" store carries pallets of five gallon buckets filled with all manner of food staples - just so people can be prepared for whatever. Maybe they are preparing for the "zombie apocalypse" TV and film seem heck-bent on portraying as a possibility some day! What amazes me is how these things actually sell! Someone believes there is a need to "be prepared" for some "emergency". How much more do we need to prepare our minds for things we don't even realize are coming? Rather than focusing on some of the stuff we spend time on, it is more beneficial to us to prepare our minds through study of the Word, pondering the ways God works, and the true mystery of his grace. When we are preparing our minds, we are preparing our hearts to act - to know how to respond when life throws us stuff we didn't expect.

- Control yourself. Up until this point, I think most of us could find ways to actually "do" what we are asked to do. On this one point, many of us will struggle for controlling "self" is sometimes not the easiest endeavor! The fact of the matter is that God doesn't say he will control us - he asks us to put our focus right, fill our minds with the right stuff, then act upon what we know to be true - in turn, we use the right stuff to produce the right actions. I have talked with believers who wonder why the continue to struggle with the same issues over and over again. If the truth be known, it is probably because they haven't prepared. There is nothing in reserve when the time comes to act - so they reach for what comes naturally - and that may not always be the most godly response we could give. God doesn't control us - but he does give us his Holy Spirit to be "resident" within us to help us sort out our responses when the time comes to respond. If we will do a little work ahead of time to prepare, we might just do a little better when the need for control arises.

- Look forward in hope as you focus on the GRACE Jesus gives. Grace isn't a thing - it is a person. It isn't a condition - it is a living, breathing existence fusing two lives together. As our lives become "intertwined" with Jesus, we begin to draw from his strength - even when the circumstances of life seem to tell us we won't make it. His will becomes the center of what we do - not our selfish desires. We find purpose in things he values - not in the things the world tells us matter. We find hope in grace - when our eyes are turned from what WE can produce to what he IS within us. Just sayin! 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Renovation 101

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT)
Where are your treasures? What is it you treasure most in life? If you were to look around your home today, what one thing would you say means the most to you? Although I have all kinds of things I have acquired from friends, family, and special finds down through the years, I'd have to say none of those really are my treasures. In fact, I'd probably say the only true treasures I have are those who fill the house with me - my family. Jesus never had much in the way of earthly wealth from what we can see recounted in scripture. He probably came from a "run-of-the-mill", working class family - regular home, furnishings, and the like. He didn't dress opulently, nor did he have countless herds or flocks that would have made him the wealthiest man in town. He DID surround himself with people - those whose lives enriched his and whose needs tugged at his heart.
My pastor often reminds us of the importance of focus - for what we focus upon will the very thing we spend all of our time moving toward. When our treasures are things, wealth, or career, our friends and family will suffer. We just cannot focus on so much and expect all of the things or relationships to remain constant. Something will always take backseat. This is why Jesus reminds us to get our focus right in the first place - so whatever gravitates to the backseat isn't going to interfere with what needs to be front and center in our lives. The things we give our attention to will eventually flourish - maybe not at first, but in the long run they will begin to show deep signs of growth and development.
We live in a time when it is easy to get distracted by the things all around us and totally miss the tremendous blessing we have right in front of us. Family and friends are often put into the backseat in our pursuit of something "more important", but I'd have to challenge us on that focus. There is nothing more important than the relationships we have been given. Yes, we have been given these blessings - we didn't earn them, buy them, or create them. They were divinely provided and the need to be divinely maintained! Jobs can be lost and found - the blessings we are given in each other, once lost, are hard to rebuild! I have seen people lose it all in light of how the world sees them - career, financial security, and even their homes. Yet, they stand strong, vibrant, and totally resilient because they don't stand alone - they have family and friends at their side.
I don't know how Jesus does it, but when we put him first (as our primary focus), he helps us maintain balance in our relationships and somehow it works. It isn't a "divided focus", but it is the ability to focus on what matters most that Jesus is after in our lives. Why? So our hearts won't steer us toward things that don't really provide fulfillment. Have I always had the right focus in life? No! Have I always kept the right priority to things in terms of family and career? No! Was Jesus able to restore what I lost in that time when I got my focus wrong? Yes, but it the work of restoration almost always comes at a higher cost than we might imagine. If you have ever thought about doing a little restoration work in your home you know what happens. At first, it looks simply like we are going to remove the old and put in the new. In actuality, when we remove the old, there are multiplied "unknown" issues that arise. What was neglected for so long created an abundance of unrecognized issues that we now have to deal with. What was going to be a "short" renovation process becomes a major "redo"! It would be much better to have been paying attention all along, working diligently to keep things in order. Just sayin!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

More than religious practice

Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed. Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people. (Amos 5:14-15 NLT)
Love good and hate evil - two seemingly "easy" things, right? Yet, do you realize what conflict these two commands actually bring into our lives? The desire to do good is there, but the actual ability to "do" good is based upon more than a desire to do it. We must act upon desire - which means we act even when the desire is kind of masked by our other feelings of desiring to actually make someone else hurt as much as we might be hurting right now. Running from evil is easy when we recognize it - but we all know there are times when we don't realize a particular course of action as "evil" in nature. It is possible for people to "cover over" their evil intent and desire simply by doing some good stuff now and again, isn't it? We must become proficient "readers" of character - this is the only way we can keep ourselves from running toward evil and turning from what is good to what may actually be quite destructive in the end, isn't it?  We aren't fooling God - only others - whenever when we try to mask over some intent which isn't quite as it should be.
We can become quite complacent - almost as though we just expect God to bless our lives - simply because we call ourselves Christian. We have seen this in our own nations, friends. Many report they are "Christian" on census forms each time it is administered, yet they live as they want, not really following after the principles Christ modeled. It is a truly foolish thing to think we can drift into a place of complacency or compromise and still expect God to bless us again and again. At some point, he will allow the things we have been turned toward to have their way with us. We rarely see the decline in our subtle compromises until God allows us to do as we so evidently please. Then, all "hell" breaks loose in our lives and we find ourselves crying out to God for mercy and grace.
It isn't religious practice that makes us righteous - in right-standing with God. It is relationship sought after with passionate pursuit that brings us into a place of solid footing and grounded in goodness. We may think it is find to "dabble" in the things declared by God to be evil or "off-limits" for a believer. Yet, when we do, we find ourselves moving toward a deep pit, not the elevated places of grace and goodness. God doesn't just want justice for our lives, he wants us to pursue it with all our heart. Justice isn't something for the weak of heart because it means we often have to take a stand against evil and injustice - first in our own lives, then in the lives of those we walk this earth alongside. When we stop to consider what "justice" demanded as a payment for the penalty of our sin, the cost was astronomical because it was the life of Jesus. The cost we pay for justice in our own lives is obedience. Obedience is what helps us flee from evil and move consistently toward what is just and right in this world. We may not immediately recognize evil, but the more we are turned toward what is good and right, the less likely we will be to embrace what will bring us harm. Just sayin!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Finding the right fit

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT)
Have you ever made one of those really dumb moves where you tried to imitate something you saw, like a style someone was wearing or they way they were behaving, only to find the way you managed to pull it off just was a total fail? I have! You don't realize you are even doing it sometimes until you look back in horror or humor at what has just occurred! When I try to find a new hairstyle, I look at photos in magazines, watch people on TV who seem to have a style I admire, etc. When I ask the beautician if she can do that with my hair, inevitably she ways "no". Why? My hair won't conform to that cut. There are a lot of times when we try to "conform" to some particular way of living only to find we are not really cut out for it! The truth is that God made us to conform to a particular "style" of living that just doesn't line up with much this world has to offer.
We might try to imitate a lot of things in this lifetime we are given, finding more of them add up on the "fail" side of the list rather than the "awesome" side. It isn't unlikely that some of us find ourselves with a full journal of "fails" and a short list of "awesome"! One thing I have noticed - the more I try to imitate Christ, the closer things get to being added to the "awesome" side of the list! When we imitate something, there are basically a couple meanings:
1) to follow as a pattern, model, or example;
2) to be or appear like; and
3) to produce a copy of something.
When we think of imitating Christ, all three of these carry some meaning. First, we are to constantly keep in mind the example he set out as he took on human form and walked this earth. He modeled the behavior we are to model - something tangible we can actually wrap our arms around. He modeled forgiveness, how kindness can be the hallmark of all you do, and even how to take care of family and friends. Second, we often think we can just try to "look like" someone else, but deep down inside, we aren't that individual. When we keep his example in the forefront and strive to imitate that modeled behavior, we do a lot more than "look like" Jesus - we become like him. Lastly, the very term "Christian" means to be "like Christ". All of what Jesus taught and modeled was that of being made new - being made in his image and taking on his personality, traits, and behaviors. In essence, we become "copies" because he imprints our lives with his presence, peace, and perfection.
We don't always find the "fit" perfect at first, but when we actually pause to consider it, the "fit" might not seem like the right one to begin with, but it perfectly "frames" and "adorns" our lives with all the beauty we long for in the first place! Just sayin!