Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The big reveal...

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. (Proverbs 28:13-14 NLT)

You might have heard it said that confession is good for the soul - it is also good for everything else! I am not talking about the kind of confession where you tell a man in a small wooden box your sins while you are kneeling in a small wooden box next to him. I am talking about the willingness to be transparent when you do something wrong, to take responsibility, and to seek forgiveness from those you have hurt in the process (God first, then others, and even yourself).

Concealment involves keeping something under cover. I liken it to the covering over of an object with twigs and leaves to have it "blend in unnoticed" in the forest. The idea of concealing anything is that you don't want it noticed - you don't want it to catch the attention of anyone. You know it is there, but you don't want others to know it exists. It involves putting something "out of sight", but also "under cover" - both with the intent of limiting "disclosure".

I don't want everyone to know my security password for my bank account - it is concealed and I do my best to keep it that way. I use this "concealment tactic" wisely as it applies to keeping the security of my bank account. I would not be using this same tactic wisely if I sought to hide money from someone in an unknown account, or perhaps even hide a wrong-doing I was engaged in such as an illegal activity. Concealment has a "right time and place" - the purpose of which is to protect something from those who should not have access to it.

Concealment also has a "wrong intent" - especially when it is to attempt to hide a wrong-doing or cover-up an unwise action on our part. Confession is the "bringing out into the open" - but it isn't to flaunt the wrong-doing, or to shame the one who has taken unwise steps with one's life. It is always to bring restoration - to reveal the misguided actions is to place one self in the place where those actions can be corrected, not engaged in again, and replaced with more wholesome (right and true) actions.

In God's economy, truthfulness with him yields grace in return. Confession is met not with judgment and condemnation, but with love and grace. It might be hard for us to grasp this concept because our immediate action to someone having done wrong is to find fault with their missteps. We want to poke at their failure as though we were poking at an open wound. There is no stopping how hurtful we can sometimes be when someone actually engages in the action of no longer concealing their wrong-doing. Wisdom demands grace - foolishness always renders judgment and condemnation.

God wants us to be wise in our treatment of another's wrong-doing. He wants us to be graceful and loving in our response to their transparency - for he knows how hard it was for them to "uncover" what they had been keeping under wraps for sometimes a very long time. Grace doesn't rip the cover off - it allows the twigs and leaves to be removed one by one until what is underneath all that concealment is fully and completely revealed. Love even holds their hand while they gradually lift those twigs and pull away those layers and layers of protection. Just sayin!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Do you resent me?

A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but the resentment caused by a fool is even heavier. (Proverbs 27:3 NLT)

Carrie Fisher once said, "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." There are a whole lot of us drinking our own poison and then expecting the other person to be affected in some negative way by that poison which is in actuality consuming US and not them! Resentment is a terrible "eroding force" that eats away at the foundation of our spirit and emotions until one day there is this "landslide" that makes it almost impossible to actually dig out from under. 

While some of us may not think we are holding any grudge or harboring "ill-intent" toward another person or persons, there are some pretty easy ways to see if we are:

- Do we think frequently about the wrong they have done? This is probably the easiest way to know if we are holding onto stuff we need to let go of - because what occupies our minds most frequently is that which gets more of our attention than it might deserve.

- Do we always bring up that individual's name in conversation with just a little bit of negativity and unkind words? Or do we find ourselves always talking "about" that individual? When the center of our thoughts, words, and conversation is the one who has wronged us, we may just be paying a little bit too much attention to their response to the issue at hand, rehearsing the details of what they have done wrong, etc. This keeps the wounds open and raw. It is hard not to bring up the wrongs of another, especially to another individual not directly involved in the situation. We want some form of "sympathy" or "empathy" for the wrong we have been enduring - so we "share" the issue, but we don't always do so in a kind way. 

- Do we gloss over things and add a little humor to them, knowing full-well that they are eating away at the inside of us? We often use humor to mask true hurt feelings and raw emotions. This is not uncommon, because it is easier to mask our emotions than to risk the overwhelming anxiety and fears being "real" brings. You see, we think being real will show someone just how vulnerable we have been and still are - something that is riddled with all manner of anxiety. Than anxiety just fuels the resentment, because we want to be real, but we cannot break past our fears in order to do so.

- Do we say we have forgiven, but then remind the others involved that we are having a hard time forgetting the wrongs done? The hardest part of forgiving someone is letting their offense go - erasing the marks on the chalkboard, so to speak. Disappointment is real, acknowledge it. Hurt is real, don't bottle it up. Yes, we need to be aware of these very real feelings, but we don't need to let them become the focal point of our relationship. When we are willing to release, we bring those issues and individuals to God, asking him to take our hurt, but also to bring blessing into the other individual's life. Blessing? Really? Yes, because we are asking God to help us show grace - and that is a blessing totally undeserved, but so totally needed! Just sayin!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Silence speaks the loudest

Do not answer (nor pretend to agree with the frivolous comments of) a (closed-minded) fool according to his folly, otherwise you, even you, will be like him.  Answer (and correct the erroneous concepts of) a fool according to his folly, otherwise he will be wise in his own eyes (if he thinks you agree with him). (Proverbs 26:4-5 AMP)

This passage seemed a little contradictory this morning. The first part of the passage tells us NOT to answer a fool, while the second part tells us we DO answer a fool. Confusing, huh? So, how is it we are to respond to foolish people, with their foolish plans and supposed "wisdom of the ages" as they put it? There are indeed times when we probably just need to keep silent, for our silence is enough to counteract their foolishness! 

There are other times when it is both wise and necessary to answer their foolishness - so that others aren't manipulated by their foolish plans or pulled into senseless beliefs themselves. Learning how to do this is kind of like an art - it takes wisdom and some practice - for I am here to report I have tried on occasion to do so without much success! I got pulled into argument rather than just helping to shed a little wisdom into the situation - just because it was so doggone easy to fall into the trap of argument when all I needed to do was state truth and stand firm!

As our writer states, some will try to pretend to agree with the fool who has a very closed mind, just because they think it is easier - avoiding confrontation and calamity. It is indeed easier, but in the end you find the foolishness just gets magnified because the fool now thinks he has others following his train of thought and purpose! It is equally unwise to allow the fool to continue with his folly without giving as much light and truth into the matter as is possible - for whatever is not corrected by truth becomes a new standard by which one makes decisions and takes future actions.

While it may not be easy to correct a fool, for they seem to be set in their ways, it is necessary to continually bring truth into a matter whenever practical. As I have already stated, there are times when silence (not saying anything at all to counter their foolish words or actions) is just as good as stating truth. For example, when the fool is attempting to incite argument and/or divide a group of people, is it wise to jump right into it with the fool? Probably not, for the fool is rarely dissuaded from his mission to create havoc and stir up dissension in the ranks. 

We don't like the tactic of silence on occasion, but honestly it may speak the "loudest" message to the fool who is just not being dissuaded from their evil intent and foolish message. Just sayin (or maybe not sayin)!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grace on!

"If someone you know makes a bad decision or uses bad judgment, it doesn't mean you have to allow that to alter your attitude. Why should you allow anyone else's bad decisions to send you into a tailspin of misery?" (Joyce Meyers)   I wonder just how many times in life we let another's actions and attitude determine our own? I know it is hard to think pure thoughts when all around you are all manner of unwholesome influences. I know it is difficult to find good when all seems to be a little too "tainted" to actually be easily overlooked. Yet, when we allow the bad influences of those around us to affect who or what we are, we allow them to be in the driver's seat of our lives - and they are definitely going to steer us in the wrong direction if they get that degree of control!

The Lord approves of those who are good, but he condemns those who plan wickedness. Wickedness never brings stability, but the godly have deep roots.  (Proverbs 12:2-3 NLT)

Most of us don't want to be "easily influenced" by those who are doing foolish things around us, or when they are specifically targeting us by their actions. We don't want to give into their foolish taunts or accusations when they see things differently than we see them. Truth be told, most of us are easily influenced by the words people say, the thoughts they manage to put in our heads because of their gossip, and the maliciousness of their actions than we might want to believe. We don't exactly know how to respond to them when they act this way against us, but God wants us to get to the place where we don't need to respond and where their actions don't become the dominant influence in our lives.

If you have ever seen someone respond in graceful patience toward another who is acting in some foolish and hurtful manner, you might have kind of wondered how on earth they could be silent or seemingly not respond to these actions in some confrontational manner. It is just possible that the world has seen so many examples of responses to foolish actions that are NOT grace-filled that we have come to expect these types of responses as the "standard" by which someone should respond when affronted? I think we have more than enough "negative examples" of individuals who don't respond in grace to those who are being foolish in their actions against others. What we need is a few more positive examples of God's grace - even when people may not understand the response, they are being given a chance to see just a little of Jesus whether they realize it or not!

Others may not understand the depth of your roots - how deeply they are grounded in the grace of God and how deeply you have been affected by that grace in your own life. Those who respond in grace even when grace doesn't seem to be the "norm" for whatever has been done, said, or tolerated aren't understood, but they set God up to reveal bits and pieces of himself to those who most need to see him in this world!  Just sayin!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Thank you for the journey, Lord!

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NLT)
We could all recount times and seasons of tremendous trial and overwhelming changes occurring in our lives - times and seasons we'd rather not have passed through, but for which we will always be tremendously grateful for God's presence guiding us through. We neither planned them, nor did we always welcome them with open arms. Some of these times were just plain hard and awful to have faced - almost bordering on being our "undoing". Could it be possible that was the purpose of those seasons - our "undoing"? Maybe it is just possible God was after a little "undoing" of what it was we were so busy "doing" that needed to be accomplished in our lives.  Proverbs reminds us that we can make our own plans, but it is God who actually determines our steps in the end (16:9). It is his purpose that will prevail - not so much our plans (19:21). 
There is much we can take away from every season in our life - even those that seemed to be like drought times and what others may label as "worrisome" or "tumultuous". It is important to keep in mind God's purpose in all of life's adventures - it is to bring us closer to him, ultimately moving us further away from our dependence on self and closer to full devotion to his will for our lives. We'd like to avoid the "hard stuff" in life, but trust me when I tell you that this "hard stuff" is exactly what makes the journey worthwhile. One day a friend and I set out on a pretty well-marked trail in search of what were promised to be "majestic waterfalls". Now to be truthful here, neither of us are all that skillful in our hiking abilities, but we enjoy a good walk and a little bit of a challenge is okay. What we didn't count on was the climb!
Rarely do we see the steepness of the climb in life - because the trees mask the ascent! The forest around us - those situations and circumstances that spring up and present all manner of obstacle - these things often don't convey the extreme heights we are being taken toward all along that journey. My friend and I realized we were "climbing" because of the level of exertion we were having to put forth - our muscles felt it, our lungs panted for breath, and our hearts raced at speeds telling us we were definitely "on the climb". It isn't always clear where we are headed, nor is the full "climb" known, but when we put one foot squarely in front of the other, embracing the climb in trust of what will come when we reach the summit, we will make it!  We don't know the majesty that awaits us at the end of the journey, but in faith we take each step forward (and upward), even when it hurts. 
I am here to tell you the climb was worth every step! Those twin falls were indeed breathtaking and the joy of beholding their beauty was only outweighed by the knowledge we'd made the climb together! We rarely climb alone in this life - most of us are giving climbing companions - we need them because they help to spur us on when we don't want to go any further. I am going to tell you something we discovered at the top of our climb, but please don't laugh. There was actually a road leading up to the falls - paved, with a full parking lot! We didn't need to make the climb - we could have just bypassed all that "effort" to behold the beauty of those falls. I also want to tell you I don't think we would have appreciated them quite as much without that climb! Why? We talked along the way, laughed at each other's breathlessness, and took in things about each other we'd not have learned without the climb.
The journey reveals much - but we have to be open to experiencing the climb, not just the destination. The going may be rough and challenge our endurance - but the majesty of what awaits us at the end of the journey will leave us breathless in wonder of the majesty of the God we serve! Just sayin!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Anguish of Soul

Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.  Make your face shine down upon us.  Only then will we be saved.  (Psalm 80:19 NLT)

If you have ever been in one of those places some would label as "a funk", you probably have cried out a little to God because of the circumstances of life and the just plain miserableness of your plight. You might even have complained, groaned, screamed, and even fallen prostrate before him in prayer. It is not uncommon to begin to heighten our intensity toward prayer when life isn't dealing us what we consider to be a "fair hand". As I read through a couple of the psalms this morning, beginning at the 77th and moving through the 80th, I noted a common theme of crying out to God for restoration of some "former condition". The nation of Israel had slipped away from their first love - they had enjoyed times of great privilege, but had come into a place of being overtaken in their own lands and placed under the bondage of pagan kings. The conditions were definitely far from "favorable" for them and their hearts were in anguish because of it. 

Anguish has a way of being expressed, doesn't it? It isn't always easy to conceal our deep anguish - especially when disappointment after disappointment seems to mount to astronomical proportions. We want to be free of that overwhelming sense of heaviness that just rests heavily upon our thoughts and burdens our hearts. Anguish is most often a condition of the mind - the thoughts cannot seem to turn away from the continual ruminating that burdens the soul with feelings of despair, mistrust, and fear. Anguish is most frequently felt because we sense some loss - we cannot seem to connect with something we had known previously. Those who are clinically depressed will often speak of the feelings of deep despair and of feeling "disconnected" from what life had once been for them. I don't think God allowed the emotions associated with what we term "anguish" by accident - they are intended to help us realize we are somehow disconnected from something of significance.

The thing God intends when we begin to experience these deep feelings of internal anguish is to return to him with unbridled surrender to his purpose and will for our lives. Easier said than done, for our first inclination is often to question "why this is happening to us", isn't it? We want to pinpoint the cause and then eliminate it. God may want us to focus a little less on the cause and a little more on what we have lost in the process! Sin happens because we make some compromise, no matter how small it seems at first. As sin occurs, we either deal with it head on and allow God to bring us close to him through is grace again, or we continue to cover over the sin and experience even more anguish of soul.

Anguish isn't meant to keep us in bondage - it is meant to turn us again toward God and his grace. We might languish a little too long in the place of anguish, though - simply because we aren't willing to let go of something we are holding onto or we haven't quite realized we aren't connected to God's heart as we need to be. Either way, the "crying out" that is part of anguish may be exactly what we need to begin to "talk out" what it is we are going through. Oftentimes, when we are crying out, we come head on with the "culprit" for our anguish! It is often revealed in those moments of honest expression of the heart when we are just free to share the deep-down hurt, overwhelming frustrations, and the total lack of peace we might be experiencing.

As our psalmist implies, it is in anguish we cry out - it is in loving care that God begins to turn us again toward the direction of his grace. Anguish drives us to God - despair is really a cry for restoration. When we "languish in our anguish", God may send someone to us to help us recognize we need to move a little - helping us to start taking movement back toward him. This is really his grace in action in our lives - nothing bespeaks his care more than him sending someone into our lives to help us see the way back to his arms! The thing to remember about anguish is that our "crying out" is really two things - an acknowledgement that we aren't where we want to be and a cry to help us find our way once again to the place where our spirit is brought close to his once again. Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

You are quite a character!

"A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble." (Charles Spurgeon)

The moments we make today may not seem like much when we consider them one at a time, but when they are all added up and seen in their totality, that is a different story. In the moment, the decisions we make, the way we choose to solve life's problems, or the responses we give to one another when hurting, offended, or critical of something we have done make all the difference.

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. 

(Philippians 1:11 NLT)

When Jesus is central in all we do and think, the character produced will be consistent with his. When we are at the center of all we do, the character produced will be a little too harsh, kind of wobbly at best, and just plain too self-seeking. The character we see manifest is really a manifestation of what has affected our "core" - mind, will and emotions. When what affects our "core" is our own self-seeking nature, we see mind focused on things that matter to us with little regard for what others think or need, will determined to get what we need even at the expense of the needs of others, and emotions unraveling whenever we don't feel like our needs are being met.

Mirrors might have helped us in some respects, but I think we might have become a little too self-focused because we focus on the image that we think should be portrayed to others rather than on the image God wants to portray. We "doll up", "dress up", "cover up", and "man up", all while considering our "image" in the mirror. What we neglect to see is the image portrayed by our words, actions, inaction, and even our non-verbal cues. Mirrors don't help us see what is at the core of our being - it takes the mirror of God's word and the help of his Holy Spirit to actually "reflect back" a true picture of what is at the core of our lives.

In much the same way as fruit is seasonal in our markets everywhere, the fruit we bear in our lives is kind of helped along by the seasons we go through in life. A particularly dry season may not seem to produce much fruit, but what comes from that season is hardy. A different season of plenty and what seems to be "easy sailing" may produce the fruits of joy and peace, but does it produce the same "hardiness" of these "fruits" as the particularly dry season did? Not usually. It quite possible that both seasons are necessary, but one gives something of "deeper stability" in our character than the other. The hardest season to endure may produce the deepest roots and the most "robust" of fruits! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I need a little pampering!

It was C.S. Lewis that reminded us when we aim at heaven, we get earth thrown in, but when we aim at earth below, we end up with not much in return. If you haven't read much of what he has written, he is well worth the read. It was Lewis that also reminded us of the thing we call "self" - not being more than a "meeting place" of sorts for things that we refer to as "natural forces", "fears", and "desires" - some from within us, others from without. That "meeting place" is frequented by these things because of our upbringing, influences from around us, and even some of the "devils" we cannot really see but know must exist just because of all we experience. Probably one of the greatest things I remember from his writing is the statement: "The self you were really intended to be is something that lives not from nature, but from God." We might think we are a product of our environment, and we might just be correct, for when our "environment" is Christ's presence, we cannot help but become like him!

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:8-11 NLT)

Many of us would hardly do any sacrificial deed for an enemy, let alone give our lives for one. We might do it for a friend, but one who is actually distanced from us, separated from us because of some great chasm - that requires something different than most of us possess naturally. It is important for us to realize it was while we "were still sinners" that God made a way for that chasm to be bridged through his Son. God didn't wait for us to get half our act cleaned up, or even all of it - he did it before we even realized our act needed any cleaning up! Stop for a moment and chew on that one, friend. Nothing we do gets us any closer to God - nothing we desire keeps us any further from him. We are a "product of the environment" into which we are "reborn" - we become like Christ because Christ draws us out of the environment we are languishing in apart from his grace and into the environment where we can begin to live anew by his grace.

As Lewis implied, our aim is not to live as close to earth as possible. It is to live as close to the heart of Jesus as we are invited to do through his grace! We don't choose the families into which we are born, raised, and nurtured on this earth. We don't even know the idea of "family" even exists until we are more than a couple years old and realize there are continual people around us we come to count on in some regard for food, warmth, and protection. Is it any wonder many new believer bumbles around for a while with this new life in Christ - trying to figure out what it is they have been "born into"? If we stop for a moment to think about it, we might just realize it is kind of like when we first recognized we were part of a family on this earth - there were others who cared for us, looked out for us, and ensured we were continually safe. As a believer, we walk through some of the same "questions" in our walk with Christ - we need to know we will be cared for, our needs will matter to him, and that we can be safe in his protection.

Those "feelings" of family begin to emerge the closer we get to his heart. His reassurances come over and over again to us as we draw closer, even when the times all around us seem to be challenging us on every side and in ways we never imagined probable. The closer we are to the heart of the Jesus, the more we tend to reflect his character in our lives - even when self resists a little because it doesn't get its own way. The self we become isn't reliant anymore upon upbringing and environment in the natural sense, but it is reliant upon who we now draw our strength and purpose from in the spiritual sense. If we struggle a little with detachment from the old way of living, that is to be expected. Closure has to occur in any "relationship" we have maintained. We had a "relationship" with our old self - and we pampered that person quite religiously! Now we need to embrace a relationship with the "new self" and begin to allow Christ to "pamper" the new creation we are becoming in him. One who is pampered is treated with excessive care and concern - something Christ can do very well when given full reign over our lives. Just sayin!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Growing through or just going through?

Every now and again, a quote comes across the social feed that just catches my eye and holds my heart. One such is that by Toby Mac: "If you saw the size of the blessing coming, you would understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting." We SEE the battle raging around us. We EXPERIENCE the torment of the fight. We DELIBERATE over the choices we must make.We AGONIZE over the complexity of the circumstances. Yet, in all this, we don't ever really know the true size of the blessing just around the corner!

You have armed me with strength for the battle; you have subdued my enemies under my feet. (Psalm 18:39 NLT)

Who arms us for the battle?  God himself provides the armor, sends in the legions of angels who battle in heavenly places, unseen by our naked eye, but there nonetheless. Who gives us the strength to put one foot in front of the other when there is no human strength left to put forth?  God himself renews our energies, not just physical, but spiritual and emotional, as well. Who has the plan that will set our enemies to flight?  God himself orchestrates not just the "pushing back" of the enemy lines in our life, but the complete annihilation of those opposing forces.  

If we saw the size of the blessing - would we fight harder? Maybe, but could it just be that God wants us to trust him and fight just as hard even without knowing what awaits us just around that corner? I think God wants us to fight, not because of the blessing, but because we trust him with all that is within us - even if the blessing weren't to come!  Right now, the battle seems too great to handle because we are "going through" what we are meant to "grow through".  No battle is without purpose - it is designed to grow us.

There is a vast difference between "going through" something and "growing through" it. Growth requires active participation. The plant must open its leaves to the sun, send its roots into the soil, take up the nutrients and drink in the refreshment of the water provided. The plant doesn't do all the work, but it does put forth some "effort" in order to realize growth. The same is true for us - the battle isn't just endured - it is fought! The battle isn't just "around us", it is "in us", "with us", and "against us". To "make it through" the battle is one thing - to come out victorious is quite another.

Too many of us are so focused on "going through" that we forget all about the purpose of "growing through" the battle. We put all our energies into just "staying afloat" and forget that God provided that which keeps us afloat, not so we will just survive, but that we might "arrive" at the place he intends for us to be at in the end of the battle. I don't know the magnitude of your blessing, but I see evidence of your battle, my friends. I don't "get" why the blessing has to come this way, but I know the faithfulness of the God who is keeping you afloat through it.

We might not want to go through this today, but if we change our focus to growing through it, I wonder if our attitude toward the battle would take on a different perspective?  Just askin!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What marks your journey?

"Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. 
In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you."
(Oscar Wilde)

God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens. He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning. Then he saw wisdom and evaluated it. He set it in place and examined it thoroughly. And this is what he says to all humanity: ‘The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.'" (Job 28:23-28 NLT)

We can probably all recall the scripture verse about where our heart is there will our treasure also be, but when we stop for a moment to consider where our heart has been, where it is now, and where it is it might be headed into the future, we can certainly see how much "different" treasures it may have held along the way. The way to wisdom is probably the hardest path to follow, but also the most rewarding, for along the journey, we discover not only what we call "wisdom", but we come face-to-face with the person of Christ - the embodiment of wisdom himself.

The fear of the Lord is true wisdom - to forsake evil is real understanding. It might matter to some the journey one has taken to finding a close, personal relationship with Christ, but I think it matters more that their journey has been marked with signs of grace and mercy along that same path. Those places or moments of grace are what actually "crafted" their journey toward that closeness of relationship with Christ - something money cannot buy, nor committee approve, or legislation transform. The fear of the Lord isn't learned in the classrooms as much as it is learned in the living of life - the place where decisions are made - good or bad - and the outcome is set in motion. At that juncture, the heart is swayed toward good or evil - the moments of God's grace ever pulling us toward goodness.

We might think someone's journey has been riddled with "too much drama", or "too little positive upbringing". These are our judgments, my friend, not God's. He sees every life as valuable and every step along their journey as those moments when he allowed grace to intervene where evil might have wanted to a different outcome. Their journey might be marked with hard places, absolutely hurtful and harmful decisions, and consequences unintended when setting out, but their end has not been written yet! Their journey toward grace is still being written by the hand of a God who sets in motion the very path they will travel to meet face-to-face with the Wisdom of the Ages. We too often want to write these moments off as just "bad decisions", but even the worst of decisions can become the canvas upon which God writes a tremendous story of love and grace for all to see. Just sayin!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Do I act or not?

"He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other."
(Francis Bacon)

Good advice comes from various sources - sometimes the wise words of a cherished friend, at others a discovered truth from God's Word, and at times it even comes from those we might not think to really have had much influence in our lives until we look back and see their fingerprints in what has become our "molded character". Many times advice is sought, but there are also times when it is offered without anyone asking for it. In those moments, it can be listened to, heeded, and result in some type of impact in our lives. It can also be ignored, not acted upon, and result in an even bigger impact. The key isn't that we acted or didn't act - it is in discerning which was the advice we were to heed and which it was we were to ignore!

The godly offer good counsel; they teach right from wrong. They have made God’s law their own, so they will never slip from his path. (Psalm 37:30-31 NLT)

We tend to rely upon advice oftentimes more than we might realize. We listen into the news in the morning before we make our daily commute into work, seeking the advice of the reporter assigned to monitor the condition of the roadways and the flow of traffic. Our goal was to get some advice on the things to avoid. We take in the talk at the lunchroom table about what movies our friends went to see this past weekend, only to form an opinion of the ones we might want to see and those we won't waste our money to view. We share our frustrations with other parents over the issues we are having with a teenager who is forging a path we don't want them to go down, in hopes we might get some glimmer of hope the teen can be dissuaded from their pursuit. Advice is sought, given, gleaned, casually "put out there", and even "caught" in the most common of occurrences and daily exercises.

What we do with the advice we receive is quite a different matter - for it may be easily embraced and quickly acted upon, or it may be forcefully rejected and labeled as "bad advice". We tend to embrace that which "makes sense" or gives us some element of hope. We tend to reject that which either seems to monumentally "out there" to ever "work for us", or is just not "adding up" to what we wanted to hear. No advice is as solid and worthy of our attention as that which lived out in the lives of those who render it - for the example behind the words is the best judge of whether that advice, once heeded, will produce the results we might have hoped for! Just sayin!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Light is the symbol of truth

James Russell Lowell penned, "Light is the symbol of truth." Why do you suppose he said that? Maybe it is because when truth becomes known it is as though what was once hidden in the darkness is suddenly manifest, as when a light comes on in a dark room.  Perhaps it is because when we think of the paradox of good and evil, we think of one as pure and clean, while the other is dark and murky. If we are believers, we see evidence of "light" in all that God is and does - his character is that of truth. It is impossible for God to be untruthful, for all his essence is that of light!

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12 NLT)

Light leads us somewhere - it leads us out of darkness. Where light is, darkness cannot prevail. Where shadows exist, it is only because there is light. When truth is revealed, all that once was murky and kind of dark takes on its true form or character. In the dark, the image I see before me seems ominous. In turning on the light, I see the looming dark figure as the artificial ficus tree! It isn't anything to fear, but in the dark, it took on a different "form" than it did in the light, so I could not be sure it wouldn't be something that would hurt me. Much of life is like this for us - things hidden in darkness seem ominous until Jesus begins to shed light, revealing the things we once "feared" as simply obstacles we can overcome!

Look at what Jesus said again - if you follow him, you won't HAVE TO walk in darkness. If we take that literally, it could mean that much of the time we "settle into" the darkness around us because we think we have to somehow "feel our way through it". We don't ask for light, but simply think we must "deal" with the darkness - walking in it despite our discomfort with it. We only need to do as Jesus indicates - follow him, not IN the darkness, but OUT of it. His life is one of light - to embrace his life is to embrace light. To have his light is to have truth - to be embraced by truth is to be free of all things dark and murky!

Light doesn't just keep us where we are - it leads us somewhere. As Jesus said, it leads to life - to a place of full and complete living. We often settle for less than what he desires for us - simply because we refuse to follow him to the path that leads into life. Eternal life isn't in just in the hereafter - it begins the moment we exchange darkness for light - the moment truth begins to permeate the fibers of our being. In turn, we begin to move away from all things dark and murky into more and more light (truth). We exchange the lies of this present life for the truth of what becomes unending life in his light.

We don't have to settle for muddling through darkness. Whether it is a decision we must make that seems way to hard for us to figure out on our own, or a dark season of hurt and pain we have been muddling through without much success - he is light and he gives truth. We need only do as he says - follow him out of that darkness. This means we don't muddle through on our own anymore, but squarely admit our fear of the "ominous stuff" in our way, and allow him to show us it isn't anything to be feared. Just sayin!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

It is ALL a waiting game

Joyce Meyers speaks of patience as the "behavior" we exhibit while waiting: "Patience is not simply the ability to wait, it's how we behave while we are waiting." Many of us feel waiting involves us just doing nothing - being kind of "stagnant" for a period of time until whatever it is we are waiting for happens. It is really quite different, though, for waiting involves movement, just not ahead of schedule or in a direction of our own making. According to Webster, patience means we bear pains and trials calmly and without complaint, but it also means we don't act hastily or rashly. If you think about that one for a moment, you will begin to realize "bearing" suggests action - we don't act when we sometimes think we might have a "solution" to the problem at hand, but trust in the one who will bring the right solution in the right time. It means we remain steadfast - not easily swayed or affected by the circumstances.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT)

In the scheme of things, our present troubles are pretty small in comparison to the vastness of this universe that God holds together by the simple command of his voice. We seldom realize that in the midst of trouble, for our focus is easily directed to the impact of the trouble upon our lives rather than keeping our focus on the one who holds all things together, orchestrating all things for our good. As Meyers suggested, how we "behave" in the midst of trial or trouble is an important factor to be considered. We aren't just idle - we are trusting (an action); focused (an action); hopeful (an action); and obedient (the toughest action of all).

To be "immovable" doesn't just mean we are "steadfast", it means we know where it is we have our footing and that helps when it comes to our first action - trusting. Our ability to stand firm is really subject to what or who it is we are trusting in when the troubles seem to want to dissuade us from that peaceful trust God wants us to have when our trust is placed in him. If we are trusting in our own ability to "figure out a solution", we might just find ourselves "rationalizing" a whole lot and placing our trust in what it is we can "put together". While I honestly believe there is a place for us to act upon what we know is consistent with good judgment - such as getting our resume out to employers when we are seeking a new job - it isn't up to us to "figure it all out" on our own. God does expect us to act upon what is good judgment - but he also wants us to be certain we aren't just depending upon our own efforts, but are reliant upon the wisdom he gives, listening intently to the things he tells us - this is where obedience plays an important factor in the mix of things.

The "behavior" we exhibit in the waiting times often reveals much about where our trust is placed, how obedient we really are to the things God reveals to us, and where it is we are focused. Focus on the issues at hand and you will be overcome with doubt, worry, and all manner of anxiety-ridden side-effects of the issues. Focus on Christ and you will begin to sense peaceful anticipation even in the midst of what looks like "hopeless" circumstances in the eyes of those who don't have that same focus. There is a plethora of counsel offered in the midst of trouble - from all kinds of sources. Not all of this counsel will be able to see things through the eyes of Christ, though. Listen to those who won't encourage you to lose focus, act rashly, or intentionally place trust in anything other than Jesus. These are the wise counselors God places in your life for such times as these when you are tempted to lose focus, drift into doubt, or get ahead of the plans God has. These counselors will advise you to stay grounded, act upon what you know to be good judgment, and then wait committed to the trust that God has already prepared the outcome. Behave as a wise and trusting child of God and see the tremendous things he will do on your behalf! Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Raindrops keep falling on my head

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise...
(Chorus: Blessings by Laura Story)

So many of God's greatest blessings come to us in the form of some "disguise" - they aren't realized as blessings until somewhere down the road when we look back and see all God has done to coordinate those steps up to where we are at that moment of "realized blessing". There are times when God's greatest blessings seem a little "counter-intuitive" - they just don't "add up" at first. In time, we see the bigger picture, but along the way the road is littered with hardship, tears, hurts, and trust issues. Could it just be the purpose of every "bigger blessing" coming in that disguised way may just be to really clarify our true place of trust?

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.  (Psalm 86:5 NLT)

Along the way, we get to the place where we might just come face-to-face with our "trust issues". It isn't that we don't trust, but that we really place our trust in some of the weakest and unreliable things. It also may be that the disguised way that blessing comes into our lives reveals we are the ones we have been trusting in all along - doing things our way, intent on somehow figuring stuff out all on our own. Some misinterpret the adage found in a fable as gospel truth: "God helps those who help themselves." Look it up - it isn't in scripture, my friends! In actuality, the fable written by Aesop says the "gods help them that help themselves." That paints quite a different picture, doesn't it?

What God asks of us is to take the steps we "know" to be true - to be right for our lives. In doing what we know to do, we are "helping ourselves" to remain in a place where we can hear from God and recognize his purposes for us in this life. We don't get distracted. We find ourselves not so much "doing to get", but "acting right because it is the right thing to do". Yet, as many times as we "know" what we should do - the things God declares to be right and good in our lives - we find ourselves standing at some crossroad trying to figure out the "other stuff" that isn't all that clear to us about whether it is "right" or "good" for us at that moment. When we find ourselves faced with uncertainty, this is the moment the issue of trust begins to surface - will we lean into God and ask for his wisdom; or will we trust our own ability to "figure it out" and run ahead like wild children on a mission to find our own way?

Often the greatest blessings come when we admit our lack of trust. We find ourselves "unburdened" from having to "do it all ourselves". We come to the place where we are obedient to the things we know God desires of us and then we just trust him with the rest. We don't bring him the fifteen "plans" we have devised that might get us out of the mess we are in. We don't ask him to "sanction" one of those as "best". We simply admit that we have been trying to figure it all out on our own and that we need him to show us what HIS plan is. 

Often the greatest clarity comes when we are at the most "muddled" place in our lives - simply because in our "muddle" we finally admit we need help! While we don't relish the moments of pain and hardship leading up to some of the greatest "breakthroughs" in life and relationship, could it be that God is just bringing a little clarity through those seasons? Could it be that we need to bow a knee and admit we have been trying to do this on our own? Could it be that the pain will reveal our greatest healing? Just askin!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

As Valentine's Day is upon us, we are challenged to show our love to one another in ways depicted in media as "gifts" of our love. I wonder just how many of us are being challenged to show our love for God in ways that really express our love for him and not just the gifts he gives? It is a challenging question we may need to ask more than once over the course of our lifetime because it is so easy to appreciate the gifts or blessings themselves and totally lose touch with the Giver.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NLT)

Martin Luther King, Jr. had it right when he said the only way to transform an enemy into a friend is by the sharing of the love which comes from one heart. It is the only "force" capable of creating that change. I think this might actually be why God demonstrates his love to us through the blessings he sends - so we can somehow connect with the intensity of that love until we desire to be so transformed by that love that our lives no longer rotate around the blessing.

Some understand love as an "expression" tied to some emotion. I think God wants us to understand love by the ultimate expression - the giving of his most precious gift. He could give that gift only once - but that is all that was needed. He could offer that gift to all, but each has to accept the gift in order for it to be enjoyed. Love is indeed more than an emotion - it is "feeling in action". God's intense love for each of us moved him to give what no other could give - the path to reconciled relationship to him.

What we need more than anything is to recognize just how much our soul longs for something other than the "things" we can amass on this earth. We need to understand these "things" are only fleeting substitutes for an even greater gift (blessing) than we could ever imagine possible. The "blessing" is Christ - the gift is salvation - being set right with a holy God despite the unholy condition of our hearts. The gift was his blood - the giver was Christ - the blessing was the ability to be transformed by love! Just sayin!

Monday, February 13, 2017

My political post

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth. (Psalm 33:4-5 NLT)

With so much changing all around us, at speeds sometimes too great for us to keep up with, it is good to know that God's word will always and consistently hold true - unchanging and totally immovable even though some may try to tell us otherwise. It is not "open for interpretation" as some may attempt to rationalize, nor is it "exclusionary" as others may want to report. It is all-encompassing, consistently relevant, and boundless in application.

John Calvin once said, "A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent." So many times we remain silent when we clearly see God's Word being attacked, blatantly disregarded, and trampled underfoot by those who tout their lack of respect for the One True God. It is probably not that we don't want to respond - it is that we are at a loss of how to respond to such nonsense! 

I have observed many provide one reason or the other supporting their stance on why our government is "doing wrong" or they are "absolutely right" in whatever they are signing into legislation or issuing as an Executive Order on any given day. From each confirmation of official to each controversial action taken, people "take a stand". I'd have to ask - is the stand we are taking "right and true" or is it the "coward's way out"? To sound off on these matters by taking to social media alone, or to raise a fist in violent protest while harming those in their path may very well not be the best way to respond.

Violence begets violence. Hatred only enrages the masses - it does little to change the circumstances. In fact, violence and hurtfulness only increase the "unrest" many souls are experiencing right now. No "wall" will fix our problems. No "appointee" will make all things right again. No "order" will set things in the correct course for dynamic change. What will make the difference is when we take a stand in a way that scripture defines as the only way truth and justice will prevail. What is that stand? We need only turn to 2 Chronicles 7:14:  "Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

It isn't the masses who move the head or hand of government - it is God. It isn't the violent protests that change the tide of government or sway the opinions of the officials - it is the humble who pray and seek and turn again to the Only True God, seeking his grace and goodness to restore justice to our land. Just sayin!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The enemy within

Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us. (Charles Spurgeon)

I have heard many a conflicted soul tell of the battle with those enemies within - bringing them to their knees more than once. There are those who see those enemies as something we must be rid of in order to move on, but I wonder how the Apostle Paul would see that one. He prayed, evidently repeatedly, requesting some "thorn" be removed that gave him a constant battle of some sort. Allegedly, it was something that kept him from getting too high a perception of himself - keeping him humble. I wonder if some of the "enemies" within are really those types of things that help to keep us humble?

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.  Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NLT)

We might have been praying for deliverance from the enemies within, but as Paul indicates, it is quite possible that God's power is being revealed in the battle! Most of us think of power as deliverance - God might just see it as leaning a little more into his strength when the battle rages until we are living our way "through" the attack by the grace of God within! Kind of like a light in the darkest of rooms, God's power works best when weakness is the means by which his grace and power is most clearly revealed. 

Each time he said... 

There are probably times when we'd like a different answer from God, but "each time he says" what we probably don't want to hear, but need to hear nonetheless. God answers that he isn't going to deliver you from that rocky relationship, but that his grace will be sufficient to walk through even the most tenuous of places. God answers that he isn't going to magically fix that problem your over-spending got you into, but that his grace will teach you how to walk in wisdom where it comes to your finances as you slowly dig out. God answers he isn't going to remove that one coworker who constantly gets on your nerves, but that his grace will show you ways to bless that coworker instead.

God acts "contrary" to what we "reason" should happen in our lives many times - not because he wants us to suffer, but so he can show just how real his grace is and how powerful his presence can actually be within each of us. We may not like the "each time he said" answer we keep receiving, but it probably is the answer we need to hear the most! As with Paul, we will be able to stand in the certainty that when we lack the wisdom and strength, he stands strong to give us the wisdom which exceeds our understanding and the supernatural strength to walk through that place we'd probably rather just run from in the first place.

How is the power of Christ working through your lives today? Could it be in answering that question you see some area where an enemy within is waging battle, but in turn God's grace and power is helping you to stand stronger than the pull of that enemy's forceful efforts to bring you down? The battle doesn't always go to the strong - it goes to the ones willing to remain humble, lean in a little closer, and rely upon the grace and power of God within them to carry them through! Just sayin!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What are we seeking to win?

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:12-13 NLT)

A German soldier by the name of Erin Rommel is quoted as saying, "Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning." There are a whole lot of battle lines being drawn in the sand these days - but I am afraid some just don't warrant our time or attention! I honestly have had to ask why some of these marches, protests, media campaigns, and rather large crowds of disagreeable people are doing what they are doing. I don't even know if some of these individuals in the crowd know what it is they are doing. Some may actually just be following along because they heard just enough to peak their interest, but neglected to really understand the battle being fought. If we are going to go to battle, we must know the real enemy - the specific purpose and intent of the battle - and the battleground we are about to launch our attack upon!

The biggest part of battle isn't the actual fighting - it is the preparation. British soldier Bernard Law Montgomery said it well: "Every soldier must know, before he goes into battle, how the little battle he is to fight fits into the larger picture, and how the success of his fighting will influence the battle as a whole." The warfare of a lifetime isn't always won on the "biggest" battlefields, but in the smaller battles of each man or woman's will, spirit, and desire. The "will" to win isn't the only necessary weapon in our arsenal in this battle we wage today. Why not? The battle isn't just political, physical or emotional. It is spiritual! All of life's most significant battles are won more in the realm of the spirit than in any other venue. Therefore, spiritual preparation is one of our most powerful weapons!

If we truthfully understood the spiritual forces waging war in our communities today, we'd do less protesting and more praying. We'd kneel more and throw fewer punches. We'd stand alongside each other in unity and oppose every force that sought to divide - for our strength comes not in just standing strong, but by standing united in warfare. We'd draw a few less lines in the sand and stand firmly at the foot of the cross - the real place the line was drawn in the first place! I think we'd take less "sides" and realize there is a place where all are truly made equal - at the judgment seat of God. We'd respect God's justice more and work to counter all that stands in the way of anything that opposes his truth. Maybe we'd realize the importance of the small part we play in this bigger battle - not because our "punches" alone will make much difference, but because our "prayers" together will drive back the most formidable enemy of all times - Satan himself. Just sayin!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Roots in the sewer?

For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (I Corinthians 2:10-12 NLT)

Did you ever stop to really consider why it is we are given the Spirit of God as a teacher or guide in our lives? In looking at this passage again this morning, I realized it is so we can know the really intentional and purposeful thoughts of God - so we can really get to know him on an intimate basis. It is so true that the thoughts of one man's mind are known only to him - he has to share them in his words, actions, and attitude in order for us to even get a "hint" of what might be going on in that mind. In elementary school the kids used to taunt with the saying, "It takes one to know one", whenever someone pointed out some flaw in another person. Maybe there is just a little more truth to that than we might first like to admit!

I think of the mind as the place where roots take hold. Just as a tree is seen from the "surface up", most of the really important things we need to know about the tree are under the surface! The nice leaves and swaying branches are pretty and might bring us some enjoyment, but if the roots are having a hard time under the ground, or meddling in territory they should not be meddling in, that tree may look okay for a while, but eventually it will reveal what is underneath! Tree roots have to go deep - if too close to the surface and just sprawling out everywhere, the tree will topple when the winds come. Tree roots have both the potential to "take hold" and to be kind of "invasive" at times. We want them to have a good "hold", but we don't want them to be invading places they'd be best to stay out of in the first place!

A man's thoughts are known to that man until they are revealed by the evidence of what has "taken root" in the mind. If the mind lays out a rooting system that is too superficial, the actions of the man will be kind of wishy-washy and very scattered in focus. If the mind gets into territory it should not be in, the actions of the man will be destructive or unkind to whatever they come in contact with. If you have ever had a root system of a tree damage your water or sewer lines, you know exactly what I am trying to illustrate. We want the roots - we just don't want them to go where they aren't supposed to be!

We are given the Spirit of God to help us understand the mind of Christ and begin to see as he sees, act as he acts. We might have some "root thoughts" that need a little "uprooting". They have gone where they shouldn't have gone - so they are dabbling in things and places they have no business dabbling in as a believer. Until we allow God to reveal to us where those roots have taken hold, we will continue to act in ways that are destructive to our walk. God reveals his mind to us so that we know the specific "root system" we are to have in order to act as Christ acts. Back a few years ago, a phrase was all the rage in Christian circles: "What Would Jesus Do" or WWJD was everywhere. People wore bracelets with the WWJD lettering - others displayed it on bumper stickers and t-shirts. To really understand what Jesus would do, we need his mind! Just sayin!