Friday, March 31, 2017

Killing me softly

Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. (Matthew 11:29)

Back in the day, the recording artist Roberta Flack became known for several of her most popular songs. One such song had lyrics that somehow touched me, not because they were a "love song" really, but because of the undertone of the song as I viewed it in light of what Jesus did in my own life.  The song?  "Killing Me Softly With His Song". Why did this song speak to me of Jesus and his action in my life? Maybe an exploration of the words might tell you:

Strumming my pain with his fingers - Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song - Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words - Killing me softly with his song

Doesn't Jesus have just the right way to place his fingers exactly where the pain is in our lives, making what others might see as too much pain and making it into something special through the song he gently sings into our lives through his words?  Killing us softly isn't really "death" in the "mortal" sense, but a death to the things that weigh us down and hold us back from being close to him.

I heard he sang a good song - I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him - To listen for a while
And there he was this young boy - A stranger to my eyes

Something draws us to Jesus - even though we don't know exactly what it is - and when we come close to him, what we hear is a "good song". His style? Gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. His hope - that we might listen - if even for just a while - for he has a story to write in our lives.

I felt all flushed with fever - Embarassed by the crowd
I felt he found my letters - And read each one out loud
I prayed that he would finish - But he just kept right on

Isn't it just like us to think Jesus "reads our mail" - for he knows exactly where we need his touch and exactly how that touch will impact our lives. We might stand in total embarassment as we are "found out", exposed a little and feeling pretty vulnerable, but in his gentleness, he woos us in with his words and settles our troubles spirits and wounded souls.

He sang as if he knew me - In all my dark despair
And then he looked right through me - As if I wasn't there
And he just kept on singing - Singing clear and strong

He indeed sings as if he knows us - because he does! He knows our darkest places of despair - he looks right through even those "walled off" places we might not want him or others to ever see. Why?  I think it is because he wants us to know he loves even those imperfect and wounded places of our lives that others might never see. His song - it is clear and strong and it is the song of grace and love. His melody - it is healing and release. I don't know if Roberta knew it when she sang those words, but it could be she was speaking of more than some might have realized - for Jesus came through to me - how about you? Is it quite possible he is singing your life with his words! Just sayin!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Outlast those wages....

The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. (William James)  There comes a time when we all will have to ask ourselves if we have lived in such a way so as to leave a positive impact in the lives of those we have touched. We might have accomplished the big things such as graduating from college, landing that first "great job" that provided the way we bought our first house, or rose to the top in our industry. The big things aren't always the things that will live on, though. They aren't the things that leave that legacy in the lives of those who come behind us and who have observed the way we lived our lives. Sure, they were all milestones and "great things", but in the scheme of eternity - will they matter?

The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 CEB)

What outlasts our accomplishments? What outlives our lives? Isn't it the evidence of grace - lived out today, given away to those who need it most, pointing others to its embrace? Consider for a moment that grace is a gift - not to be hoarded and squirreled away for just a few - but generously and freely given to all - even those who don't know they have need of it. To live in such a way so as to give what can in no way be earned is truly to leave a legacy that will outlast your life on this earth and live on into eternity!

Two things I'd like us to take from our passage today:

1. Sin renders wages - wages are something we "earn" because we have done something to deserve them. As a teen, you mow the grass of at the neighbor's house, or babysit their kids so they can have a night out together. In turn, they "pay" you a fair "wage" for the time you spent with the kiddos or the job you did on the lawn. You "did" something and you "received" payment for what you did. Isn't that exactly what a "consequence" is? It is the result of what was done earlier - much like the wages we earn for doing a job. Sleep through class and you don't pass the mid-term. The failing grade isn't a "gift" - it is a "consequence" or "payment" for your inattentiveness in class. Sin renders a wage, unlike grace that is received as a gift. Sin's wage is based upon something WE do - it is the consequence of either our action or inaction.

2. Grace provides what we didn't earn by our action or inaction. It is a gift - something given voluntarily without payment in return. It is undeserved and freely given. God's gift to us is grace in the face of us having "earned" the wages of sin - all those things we "deserve" because of our sin. God's plan isn't for us to earn grace, but to receive it, then gift it again and again to those we touch each and every day.  A legacy isn't as much about what we have "earned" along the way, but what we have "given" as we have lived. It is about love demonstrated in the kindness of acknowledging a need and meeting it however we are able. It is about saying less and acting more. It is about time spent and less about the things one can afford. 

We don't live in such a way that our lives outlast us through "earning" anything. We live in such a way so as to have our lives outlast us into eternity because we have first been embraced by the grace of God and then we in turn give away that grace in ways that are counter-intuitive to the consequences of what others may have deserved by their actions toward us. We demonstrate grace - it isn't an "accomplishment" we add to our list. Grace may not mean we avoid all consequences of sin, for some wages are paid simply because we earned them. Grace does mean we live beyond those consequences, or in spite of them, in such a way that points others to the same grace they will need when they realize they have "earned" the same wages as you have! Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Not another one!

Those who stand firm during testing are blessed. They are tried and true. They will receive the life God has promised to those who love him as their reward. (James 1:12 CEB)

There are certainly times of testing and trial - when you don't feel like you are ever going to be out from under the pressure of "issues" that just keep surfacing. You just get your head to the surface again, gulp a little fresh air, and another wave comes crashing down over you! Some time ago, I watched a movie about the first black Navy diver portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. - born to a poor family, joining the military in hopes of finding that "better life". It is the story of our lives, isn't it? We want something "better", taking steps in that direction, only to find the "distance" between what we had and what we want is gigantically longer, harder, and more challenging than we ever expected.

Gooding soon comes to realize he isn't going to be "accepted" just because he wants to join the elite squad of divers - he must prove himself over and over again to both his peers and his instructors. We often want what others say we cannot have or accomplish, don't we? Some call us dreamers, or "out of touch with reality" just because we want what they believe we will never quite be "good enough" to reach. When pushed to our max, we bounce back, amazing even ourselves at times for the ability to "recover" and "get beyond" what some would label as "set back" after "set back".

The truth of the matter is that absolutely nothing that comes very easily in life actually makes our roots stronger - it merely blesses us and makes life a little "better" at the moment. Those things we never worked for, struggled to attain, or put forth some effort to enjoy are simply not going to help us stand strong in the midst of the battle. The sooner we realize the "fiber of our being" is made strong not by having a dream, but by putting forth the effort to see that dream become a reality, the less we will resist the waves and waves of resistance that comes with those dreams!

Maybe you have spoken those words lately that tell someone you just need a break from what you have been going through. Perhaps you have uttered those prayers out loud to God asking for something to "go right" for a change. This is only natural when pushed to the edge of our capacity. In basic training, I remember being pushed way beyond what some could endure. We each had the dream of being part of the "graduating class" at the end of that training, but week after week there were those who just couldn't make it. They didn't have "what it took" to make it to the finish line.

"What it takes" is sometimes contrary to what the world thinks it will take. When our marriage is challenged beyond what others may think is "repairable" - we dig in and try a little harder - confounding those who think we should just cash in our chips and walk away with our losses. When our kids are balancing on the edge of some very poor decisions and facing consequences we don't want them to go through - we stand by them while they endure those consequences - not because we want harm for them, but because we love them so deeply we help them to develop a few deeper roots of their own.

Capacity isn't "pre-determined" - it is developed over time. As we embrace the difficulties of the hard places and push beyond what some might think ever possible, we send roots deeper. Those roots are what will give us anchor and help us to stand strong. Capacity is expanded - not just accepted as a "set amount". It isn't stagnant - it is a growing and vibrant part of who we are as kids of the King. Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Parenting isn't for wimps!

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you. (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.) How we choose to live our lives affects many more than those in our immediate circle of influence.  Our children, our children's children and their children on down through the generations become the recipients of the example we set in the here and now. A wise man once told me that what we "tolerate" in our lives today will become the foundation for us moving closer and closer to tolerating something just a little worse down the road until one day we are so far from what we once stood for that it is hardly even recognizable anymore. Nothing could be more true.

The righteous live with integrity; happy are their children who come after them. (Proverbs 20:7 CEB)

I know there were days when my kids were growing up where my "example" slipped a little. I sometimes lost my cool over stuff that really didn't matter all that much. I opted for a quick meal that probably lacked all the nutritional quality a mom is supposed to ensure her children get just because I was too exhausted to make it, or argue with them to eat it once made. I focused on just making it to the end of the day on some days. There were indeed days when they frustrated me to no end and others where I saw the tender graces of God's goodness shining through their lives. Sometimes I wondered how "marred" or "scarred" they would be because of me raising them as a single parent. If I look back now, I can see moments when God "graced me" with his goodness, protecting my kids from disastrous consequences and sheltering all of us in his watchful care.

Although parents don't expect accolades from their children, there are those moments as adults where they just touch your heart in some special way, letting you know all those years of "hard parenting" didn't go to waste.  They put their arm around you and squeeze hard - just making that momentary connection that says "I love you" louder than any words. They reach out when their lives are falling to pieces and they just need to know their momma is there. They call when it thunders and know you won't tell them to stop being a baby and just grow up. They show up one day with a load of pallets just because you mentioned you'd like to reclaim a few for a project in the yard. In small ways, they give you glimpses into their lives that show you it all mattered - no matter how hard it may have been.

Some parents don't always get these glimpses, though. Some children choose to walk away, severing relationship with them and not even looking back. Others were taken from this earth way too soon, leaving a huge gap no parent really wants to endure. Still others find their children's lives way to busy and filled with all manner of "other stuff", making time together with their parents just a very low priority. My heart breaks for those who don't have these glimpses into the lives of their children - for it truly is the reward of a parent to know those hard years of parenting weren't for naught. The heart of a parent can swell at the success of a child as deeply as it can fall into despair over not knowing these successes. It truly is a hard job to be a parent!

The most I can say to those who are parents today, considering parenthood in the future, or who will "parent" others in some role in this lifetime is that EVERY moment matters. The good ones stick out, but how we make it through the "bad ones" might just speak even clearer to those we parent in this lifetime. We want to be remembered for the good ones, but it is quite possible how we handled the bad ones actually helped them more. Our example cannot be underestimated - for we never know how much that one moment matters until we see the "value" of it through the eyes of the one who emulates that example down the road. Sometimes all we can do is what some label as "our best", then trust God with the rest. Just sayin!

Monday, March 27, 2017

But I am so cozy right here!

"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad." (C. S. Lewis) I think it might just be possible some of us have "gone bad" because we have refused to leave the safety of our shell! The place of "nesting" is good only while the egg needs "nurturing" - until it is time for birth to occur and maybe just a little longer until the hatchling learns to fly. At some point, the mother pushes the bird from the nest - either because the life within never emerged from the shell, or the thing refused to fly!

3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. (Romans 12:3-6 CEB)

There is definitely a time and place for us to be "shelled in" - it is a season, or specific time for our growth (development) to occur. Anyone knows the shell isn't meant to contain us - it is meant to help us develop "in safety" - keeping all we need for that developmental stage right there where we can draw from it. At some point, the thing developing within the shell meets the boundaries of the shell. That shell isn't meant to encapsulate us forever - it is meant to challenge us to break free into a new exploration of what comes next as we feel it pressing against us. 

If the bird remained in the shell, would it ever learn the usefulness of those tiny feathers which have been developing within the shell? No, it would not even notice the other birds using their similar feathers to soar to new heights - all because it stays in the shell. In the shell, there is comfort - but only up to a point. At that point of "resistance", the bird faces two choices - break free, or be broken free! From within the shell comes a little stirring - alerting the brooding hen to know life is about to come forth from the shell. I wonder if God feels something similar in any of us today? Are we at the point of escape - the exploration of new things outside of some shell of protected growth we have been contained within for some prolonged period?

We are created with a purpose - to remain in the shell is to deny that purpose. To settle for the protection of the shell would result in us never learning to see things from a new perspective. All growth prepares us for a new vantage point, but to realize it we must be free of the confines of the place where we have done that growing. The nest served the purpose for which it was created. The shell confined and provided for our growth only so long. The heights we are called to reach are now beckoning to us from without that shell and from beyond that nest! It is likely time for some of us to leave that shell and to begin to try out our wings!

Have you ever noticed birds? They tend to move in groups - one hobbles down the yard to a new section of grass, searching for their next "big find" of nourishing tidbit. In turn, the others hobble a little bit further in that direction, and eventually they are all kind of in the same place again. A little later, one will take flight and the rest will join as they move on to the next place of their rest or purposeful pursuit. The church doesn't just "nest the young" - it encourages them to take flight and then to lead others along in flight, as well. It may be God is calling you to take flight, but in order to do so, you must break free of the shell and flap those newly developed wings! Just sayin!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Heart, mind, action - in that order

13 Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly, place your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Don’t be conformed to your former desires, those that shaped you when you were ignorant. But, as obedient children, 15 you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy. (I Peter 1:13-15 CEB)

There have probably been times when you begin something, thinking it is the exact thing you needed to do, or the right time to do it, only to find you run smack-dab into one wall after another. What happened? Was your intention wrong? Were the steps you took just not good enough? No, it may just be that your mind was ready for action, but you weren't thinking as clearly on the matter as you needed to - you had a good idea, but you didn't give it time to filter through enough or the right filters in order to remove all the "sediment" and "mud"! Even the best of us run into issues with acting upon our first impressions, only to find we really weren't going anywhere!

Minds ready for action AND the ability to think clearly are two separately functioning "features" of every action. I can be ready for action way quicker than I can begin to sort out the muddle of thoughts invading my mind! There are times when thought comes so quickly I cannot possibly "keep up" with all the ideas I have floating around in my brain. I definitely need some type of filter by which I should ferret-out the most important ones that I should act upon! If I don't use that filtering process, I can end up taking a lot of actions that end up being rather non-productive in the end.

We are no longer ignorant children of this world, influenced by whatever whim exerts the loudest call or strongest pull. We are governed by the living, breathing Spirit of God within us - helping to sort out those actions we are to act upon from those we are to disregard. When our heart is connected with the heart of God, we usually do a little better job at being "mindful" in our actions. When we drift a little further away, those actions get a little "muddied". We don't quite hit it out of the park all of the time! We get pulled in too many directions, and our minds become "cluttered" with all manner of thought that does nothing more than confuse and stifle us.

God's instruction to us is to have our minds ready for action - not that we jump into action without thinking. He wants us to take that "pause" so that we are present in the moment and making purposeful decisions that will get us down the path we really want to be heading. Ready minds come not in the moment of decision, but in the hours and hours of continual connection with him that lead up to that specific moment of action. It isn't that we just "know" the right steps to take when the moment presents the decision before us - it is that we have come to KNOW Jesus in the many moments leading up to the decision. We get to know him through our "grace-connection", but we get to know the right actions to take in life because we have remained "connected".

If we want a clear mind that makes good decisions when action is required, we need to have a steady heart, as well. The heart is made right in times of intimate fellowship with Jesus - the Spirit of God working in our hearts to bring balance and stability to our emotions so we don't just respond in haste to every idea that presents itself. Yes, we need to ready our minds. Yes, we need to have a stable heart. But...there is no consistent action without a consistently anchored heart! Get the heart right, let the mind be brought into alignment, and then the actions will be solid, as well. In short, this is what most in "religion" call "obedience". Just sayin!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Building or Demolition Crew?

God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it. (I Thessalonians 5:11 MSG)

It is time to be a church were people truly love one another - more than one hour per week, but in everyday "doing" of life. It is time where the church doesn't just look back at all the blessing it has "known", but is a continual stream of God's blessings time and time again. It is time to BE the church - not to proclaim the church as a building or place, but a people, vibrant and strong, moving continually in the grace and love of Christ. Too many times we have the wrong view of the church. Maybe it because others see it as a place where things used to happen, but now is nothing more than a place where a bunch of stodgy people head off to for a couple hours each week. Perhaps it has become a place of judgment, not acceptance; a place of condemnation, not forgiveness. I want to challenge us today to consider the call given to us in our passage above. As the people of God, chosen by him, we are called to be "alive in him". We are called to be a people - not a place.

We build up, or we tear down. The church is either a group of people madly in love with Jesus, or it is a place of meeting, where little to no life exists. There is not any real middle-ground here. In a world hungry for truth, maybe not even knowing it is searching for truth or meaning, but hungry nonetheless, isn't it time we BE the church? We need to let the world know we are alive - but not because we build big buildings, or host all the greatest speakers on the circuit these days. We let the world know we are alive by BEING the church to our community, each other, and in our homes. Evangelism is vital - but it begins in our family first, them moves out into our community, and eventually it reaches the world. We build up, or we tear down - strong families produce a strong church, who in turn affect our world dramatically by the power and love of Christ evident within their ranks, not their walls!

We build through exhortation - encouragement. We challenge each other to be greater in our faith than we ever have been before - when we feel like giving up on life, we challenge each other to hold on a little harder and battle on. Too many today stand alone - no one there by their side to walk things out that are just too hard to walk through alone. It isn't by their choice as much as it is this missing element in the church today. We don't "stand with", we tend to "stand apart". Maybe this is our greatest weakness - possibly doing more damage than we might imagine. It is time for us to become encouragers - to come alongside those who might want to give up, whose families are in disarray, relationships all messed up, and homes crumbling from the inside out. 

We build up by edifying each other - building up, not tearing down. Tough question here - are you more of a wreaking ball, or a layer of building blocks? While some construction work begins with the demolition of what needs to be replaced, it is done purposefully, in order, and with the specific understanding of how the "new" will take form in the place of what is torn down. God needs more builders and less wreaking crews - for builders know where damaged areas need carefully planned renovation and they know what areas need precious preservation and re-infusion of life. Let us become builders, skillfully using the grace God has given to us as the mortar that binds together and creates strong bonds among the various building blocks in God's church - each other! Just sayin!

Friday, March 24, 2017

What is your IQ?

Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge. (Proverbs 18:15 NLT)

I have met some very "intelligent people" as the world would label them - great at math, science, the study of human language, etc. Yet, in the very short span of about 20-30 minutes, I can see also see how very "unintelligent" they might be where it comes to using common sense and the ability to "relate" to others at a deep and meaningful level. A high "IQ" doesn't guarantee you have common sense - nor that you use it. It also doesn't ensure you can be very "good at" relating to others. The most "intelligent" people I have met are those who aren't so much consumed with learning that comes from the lesson books, or even the study of a particular subject matter until they master it, but that they are committed to developing and using common sense - understanding where it applies to how they first relate to God and then to each other.

As our passage implies, we are to be "always ready" to learn - especially when it concerns our relationship with Christ. I have not been very good at this at times, sort of making a mess of things when it comes to maintaining close and personal contact with him. Whenever this is the case, I tend to drift into a place of feeling a little out of control. One might think that is kind of contradictory, for to remove myself from his control is to take control myself. The truth is that control doesn't belong with me --- I don't know how to handle all life throws my way and I don't want to handle it alone! I might be open to learning, but one of the biggest things I have learned is that we belong in deep, personal, and growing relationship with Jesus. Every attempt to live otherwise is just not wise, nor is it going to produce the outcomes we really want!

Always ready to learn reflects a continual state of both mind and heart. We don't learn with just one or the other - we really learn best when our mind and heart are equally engaged in the process. My mind has frequently been ready way ahead of my heart - especially when it comes to relationship matters. How about yours? There have been times when my heart and mind are in such conflict there can be no real progress made. How about yours? Learning is most effective when it is done with both the readiness of heart and mind that opens us up to what God intends to do, how he wants to move us, and when it is we are to move. In this sense, God is asking us to use our common sense to not respond merely with the heart, nor solely with the mind's understanding - he wants us to keep these two aligned.

Most of us battle this same issue - keeping that perfect alignment of heart and mind - allowing the Spirit of God within to guide us into all learning and help us with each step we take. We aren't "good at" this learning thing all of the time, nor are we going to do well if we are always lean toward one side or the other (mind or heart). Balance is needed. The pivotal thing which brings balance between these two is the Spirit of God within us. To remain well-balanced on this pivot, we need constant refocusing --- so the weight we give on the side of mindful intelligence doesn't outweigh the weight we place on heartfelt devotion. Just sayin!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Lord is my shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. (Psalm 23:1-3 NLT)
What does a shepherd do? How is it he goes about his daily work? Isn't his whole purpose in life to watch over the flock he shepherds? As he "watches over", doesn't this entail an unwavering commitment to focus on their needs, often above his own? When is it the shepherd is "on duty"? Isn't it all the time? Isn't the shepherd "on duty" when the sheep are not as "focused" on their surroundings? I think maybe the shepherd has the hardest job, for his work never ends, his vigilance can never cease, and his provision must always be renewed.
We have all that we need - not always all we want. For many a child (and even an adult or two I know), this concept of want and need get a little confused. We want a lot of things, but not all we want is always the best thing for us, nor are the conditions right for us to receive what it is we may want. The shepherd of our lives has a great deal of "work" where it comes to getting us to focus more on our needs and less on our wants - even though both of these matter very much to him. We need rest, but does it always come at the beach? We need refreshing, but does it always come with a massage? Even the provision that meets our need may differ depending on the time and place - right?
God's promise to his children is fourfold:
- He will be our shepherd. As such, he watches out for us and is keenly aware of our every need (as well as our every want). He knows us intimately - not just in a cursory way - because he spends time with us.
- He provides for us. We focus on the things he provides, but we must never forget the "conditions" he provides, such as the peaceful rest at night when our bodies are wearied by the day. He does more for us than just give us "stuff" - he gives us the rest of spirit and soul that refreshes our inner man and renews our energies (physical and spiritual).
- He promotes our success. When he leads us, guiding us as we "grow through the things we go through", it isn't without a focus in mind. His aim is our movement from one level to the next - so we don't just "stay put" where we are. Sheep are kind of goofy that way - they will stay put, never even noticing their pasture has been diminished, eating until the nubs of the grass are even gone. So, the shepherd encourages them to move on - to not be content to stay put. Sometimes our needs are best met not in standing still to receive them, but in moving forward to the next place where our provision will come.
- He desires nothing more than our best. In the end, the shepherd is known by the flocks he shepherds. It isn't that he just fulfills the part of a shepherd - he must produce the "quality" or "integrity" of sheep that produce a great deal of rich wool. Sickly or undernourished sheep don't produce good wool. Sheep run ragged by moving hither and yon without any real chance to rest are not going to produce great offspring. As God shepherds our lives, he is always taking us to where we will have renewed energies and the chance to produce only the best from within our lives. In the end, his name is known by the sheep he shepherds. The quality and integrity of our lives become the testimony of his great and continual care! Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Where is all this mess coming from?

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8 NLT)

St. Frances de Sales reminds us to never be in a hurry - I think it is because he knew hurry is often the cause of many a misstep in life. He said, "Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset."  There are times when all around us seems to be in a fray, poking at us, goading us to get involved in that discontent or rush-rush kind of activity. When our peace is disturbed within, we tend to give into the rush-rush and find ourselves giving into things we thought we could resist. Quiet is most easily disturbed when our inner peace is diminished because of a lack of refreshing of that peace. While God gives us inner peace through is Son, Jesus, he also reminds us that time regularly spent with him brings a renewal of that inner peace. It isn't that we don't have capacity for the peace - it is because we "leak"!

I watched my cup of coffee the other morning - I had purchased it in a Styrofoam cup. I made my way back to the office, sat the cup down to add some creamer to it, and noticed it left a ring of coffee where I had sat it. At first, I thought nothing of it thinking I probably dribbled a little while carrying it back to the office. As I sat at my desk, it became apparent the integrity of the cup was not all that great! In fact, in about five minutes there were beads of coffee all around my cup toward the bottom third of it. My cup was gradually draining of the hot liquid within, making a small mess wherever I placed it. There are times in life when we are kind of like that cup - we look okay on the outside, but we allow what is good within to leak out, diminishing what we have in reserve within. We have "unrecognized" inner peace leaks until we realize how much mess our lives are creating because of that leakage!

At first, I wasn't alarmed by a little mess - but in time, it became very evident the mess was getting larger and larger. As it did, I was forced into action. I had to secure another cup, transfer the hot liquid, and then clean up all the mess left by the one that leaked. My cup's diminished capacity or inability to hold onto what was placed within it required immediate intervention. This was easily seen by not only the puddle being created, but the solid ring of beads of liquid forming on the outside of the cup. While God's peace is meant to affect our world around us, it isn't doing us any good if it is slowly leaking out. Whenever our inner peace is affected deeply enough that we take action, this is an "okay" thing, but it is much better to ensure we have the capacity to hold onto that inner peace and are attentive to the things that rob us of that peace.

Peace isn't stolen as much as it is surrendered. It is slowly allowed to diminish because we don't maintain the integrity of our hearts where that peace has the greatest impact. We allow leakage and don't take time to get refilled. We aren't paying attention to the "micro-pores" where "leakage" occurs. It might be in the subtle ways we brush off the warning to not take on more than we can handle, thinking "it is just one small task". At some point, that one small task becomes a giant problem because it took over where peace once resided - exerting pressure until our peace escaped. It might also be in the ways we ignore the tender urging to spend time just being quiet for a while - allowing God to renew our energies and refill our peace. That renewal is about "filling in" the "micro-pores" of our lives where leakage can occur. Without it, those "micro-pores" become weaker and weaker, allowing more and more of God's inner peace to escape - leaving us with diminished capacity for the stress that might come.

Yes, we want to allow our peace to affect the world around us, but when our peace isn't there because it has all leaked out unnoticed, we don't have it to give! Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

You giving anger fuel?

Marcus Aurelius was an emperor of Rome during the second century, but is noted for being one of the "last good ones" of that era. His main "call to fame" are his writings or "meditations" on dedicated service and uncompromising duty - being a great warrior and temperate leader himself. He was what has been coined a philosopher of stoicism - living with a strong commitment to self-restraint, the heartfelt respect of others, and a compelling duty to one's country. He was known as the ruler who lives a temperate life and was pretty much uncompromising in his principles. One of his statements pretty much sums up his philosophy of living: "How much more are the consequences of anger than the causes of it." His understanding of this truth may have made him one of the last "good emperors" of his time - because those who came after him actually didn't adhere to some of the valued principles he upheld. One of my favorite quotes from his writings is: "Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts."

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8 NLT)

I think Paul might have had this "habit" of thinking in mind when he penned these words under the direction of the Holy Spirit during his lifetime. Whatever we fix our thoughts upon will influence the very things we "do" with our bodies, "act out" toward others, and allow to be "done" to us in the course of our lifetime. I have a tendency to get "quiet" at times - almost like a turtle pulling into a shell - activity ceases on the outside, but on the inside I am fully focused on something. Others may see this as being "distant" or "moody", but in actuality I am deeply thinking upon something that is either niggling at me for a solution, or I just need time to ruminate on stuff so I get the right perspective on the subject at hand. Those who know me well actually give me the space to "get quiet" and "pull in" a little - because they know I need this time to form a plan for the next steps I am about to take.

What we think upon does indeed "color" our actions - our thoughts form a connection between the idea and the solution. The action directs us toward the solution - but it all begins with the thought. No wonder we find ourselves given to some pretty lame actions at times - it isn't that we didn't know what to do - we just didn't let that knowledge ruminate long enough to affect our actions! As Aurelius said, anger is easy - it is the consequences of anger that stick around for a long, long while! These consequences aren't all that easily "cleaned up", are they? Anger is one of those emotions in which we might "react" with either outburst or withdrawal, violence or malicious intent. Anger is also one of those emotions that has a way of "coloring" all the other emotions with at least a "hint" of the same hue!

Jesus didn't spend a lot of time dwelling upon things that angered him - he spent the main part of his life thinking upon what it is he loves in this world - US! Herein is probably one of the simplest truths we can take from Christ's example for us - when our thoughts are directed toward loving others, we find our actions "flow" in that same direction. It is easy to find fault and to dwell upon that fault we find - but it is much more profitable to both others and ourselves when we choose rather to dwell upon the things we can find of value in each other. We might just realize that choosing to dwell upon what is good in others helps us to draw together and have less distance build between each of us. Anger has no opportunity for flare up where there is no fuel to kindle it! Just sayin!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Open ears, open heart

“And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise.  Don’t ignore it.  Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home!  For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord36 But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36 NLT)

The call is to "listen" - not absent-mindedly, but with deliberate attentiveness to what is being said, how it is said, and even when it is said - for all God says has a purpose and a plan and a specific timing.  God's instruction brings joy. You might ask how that can be since his Word sometimes brings conviction. The end result of conviction is repentance - the result of repentance is a "do-over" - a chance to do again what the heart had not done well the first time. How many times in this life do we actually get a "do-over"? In the natural sense, it isn't very often. In fact, even when there is a chance to do again or set something right that was done wrong, there is much work trying to do again that which wasn't done so well in the first place. As we look again at what is said to us in our passage, it reminds us that when we "follow his ways" we are joyful. Maybe it is because following requires watching with expectation - waiting with open hearts. This is what truly brings us joy - not the work required in the "do-over", but the trust declared in the hope and expectation of waiting on him.

Listening is probably one of the hardest things we have to do in this lifetime, not because it has anything to do with how well our ears "hear", but because of how poorly our heart actually pays attention! We might be sitting alone right now as we consider these words. If so, we likely don't hear much more than the words rolling around in our minds as we consider them. Now that I called your attention to what it is you are hearing, you probably hear that hum of the air blowing overhead from the vent, or even the low pitched hum of the refrigerator and the crackling of the coffee pot as the coffee drips slowly into the pot. You heard these things because you were attentive - but how long does it take for you to forget them - to allow them to become what is coined as "white noise" once again? Probably not very long! I wonder if this might just be the cause of some of our heart problems - the tendency we have to "forget we were listening" and drift into some other pursuit without even noticing.

There is likely no specific way or plan for how we "listen" to God's direction in our lives - it simply happens because we actually turn our attention to him for sometimes even a fraction of a second. Imagine what it might be like if we actually took that fraction of a second and multiplied it by a thousand or a couple thousand seconds! We might actually find our hearts settling into his timing, understanding his purpose, paying close attention to his warnings, and getting caught up in the joy of getting to know him a little better! There is something to be said for "purposeful listening" - paying attention because you don't want to miss what is right there at your doorstep or fingertips. To listen with this kind of "intent" opens the heart to actually being affected - and when the heart is affected, trust is built. God is after trust - the purpose of listening is to allow a trust to develop in someone other than ourselves. When we take in the Words he brings, we are opening ourselves to the possibilities of some other answer other than our own.

Perhaps the greatest means of building trust comes in the exchange that happens when two individuals actually get to know the ins and outs of each other. No one really does this apart from listening - for your sighs even declare something about our level of fatigue, contentment, and even the depths of our hope. The words of God are everywhere, but they aren't heard with the ear alone. They are caught in the sighs of the wind, the movement of the grass on a lazy afternoon, and the buzzing of the bees busily gathering nectar from the newly opened blossoms on the plants. They are intercepted in the happy laughter of children at play and the tender tears of a broken heart weeping with deep agony over loss. They are multiplied in the melody of a song of praise and cultivated in the moments we actually open the pages of the Bible to seek out his plan. Trust in God isn't just an attitude - it is an action - a desire to focus our attention toward another other than ourselves. If we really want to listen so that we will know the joy of the Lord to the fullest extent, we need to do more than open our ears - we need to open our hearts! Just sayin!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

1000 pieces and counting

2 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.  But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7 NLT)
It is a long passage this morning, but it is all good stuff! The stage is set with the words: "Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins". Then the door opens to reveal the results of God's actions taken to counteract all our sinful actions. The most important thing within this passage is very easily "glossed over" - "You used to live..."  It doesn't say we continue to live, but that we used to live...past tense...a done deal. If we have been wondering if our walk with Jesus really "took hold" because we are continually struggling with some kind of sin or another, then let me just assure you - it did! It is no longer the spirit of the devil at work in our hearts - it is God's Spirit - and there is no greater power available to us to turn us away from sin than his indwelling Spirit.
I have spoken before about the power of that tiny word "but" - it cancels out everything that comes before it and focuses us squarely on what comes after. So, all that giving into sin and being ruled by our sinful desires, fueled by the enticements of the world, they are all behind us. Look at the passage again - we were raised - it is a finished work, my friends. Think for a moment about a jigsaw puzzle. On the outside of the box, what do you see? Isn't it an image of the finished work inside that box? Is the "stuff" inside the puzzle box a finished work? No - because there is a "fitting together" of the pieces which is required in order to have it resemble completely the image depicted on the outside of that box.
In much the same way, we are like puzzle pieces not yet fully fit together to resemble the image of Christ. The image is there, constantly reminding us of what it is that is being created each time a piece falls into place within our lives. As long as the pieces are moving into place, we are on the right track! They aren't all fit together yet, but they are sorted into "piles" much the same way we sort puzzle pieces into color or design before we go about trying to assemble them. The edges are important - because they form the framework in which we fit the pieces. There are some sections of the puzzle which are quite easily fit together - because the design is simple or the color is the only type of that sort in the whole puzzle.
In life, not all the pieces fit together as easy as some may. I think God gives us those "easy pieces" or sections of our life's puzzle that seem to "fit together" easily because he wants us to begin to see the resemblance we have to the image he sets before us - his Son. If I try to make the puzzle in the box resemble anything other than the image it is patterned after, the pieces don't fit. It is the same way with our life - the pieces fit best when they are held up to the pattern of Christ, then places into that pattern in just the right place at just the right time. We don't see how all these pieces of our life fit together - but thank God, we have a continual pattern before us to help guide us into that perfect fit! Just sayin!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Desire....Meet Power

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT)

Sometimes I think we believe we somehow get to the point we are living exactly as we should - that our obedience is all our own doing and it is kind of "perfect". I'd like to think I had everything to do with my obedience and that it is completely perfect all of the time, but it is a constant struggle for me.  I am pretty sure more of my obedience is based upon a little "want to" on my part and a huge "power-infusion" on the part of Jesus! How about you? Is your obedience a struggle at times? Is it sometimes more difficult to do what you know is right for you to do than you might want it to be? If so, then you are right there with the rest of us!

The good news is that all we need in order to live obedient lives is given to us already in the person of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. It isn't about us "being more" anything - it is about us embracing more of who he is and what he wants to do in and through us. When we realize obedience is about desire - the desire to allow Christ to flow through us - then we stop struggling so much with what it is we "do" and what it is he begins to reveal about himself within us when our desires are directed toward him more and more each day.

Looking again at our passage, we might just begin to recognize the struggles we have with obedience are because we are trying to live in this world with the incorrect "thought process" of us not having to struggle with the things this world throws at us any longer. It isn't that the struggles cease to exist - for the world will still exist complete with all the corrupting influences around us. What ceases to exist is how much power these forces can exert in the way of influence in our lives. The more we are embraced by grace, the less power these influences exert. Sure, they still exist and yes, they do tug at us on occasion. But...we have a power within us exerting not just equal "pull", but an overwhelmingly stronger pull than any influence in this world!

We don't "do" obedience. Obedience begins with desire - and desire is matched with God's power within us. Obedience is about 1/10th us (desire) and 9/10ths him (power)! I don't have a scripture to back up that "percentage", but you get the idea - it is a whole lot of his doing and very little on our part! When we desire godly responses - we are more likely to "feel" God's prompting toward those responses within us. When we desire godly thoughts - we are less likely to dwell very long on those thoughts that lead us down ungodly paths. Why is this? I believe it is because God meets our desire with his power! When he senses our desire, his power begins to be set in motion in tremendous ways within us. 

It isn't that we "become" obedient - for all we need to live obedient lives is within us already. It is that we desire obedience first and foremost - then allow God to match that desire with his power. When those two meet up - our desire and his power - all things are possible! Just sayin!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beneficiary or Benefactor

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything.  The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:24-25 NLT)

In most of the economy of our world, people increase their "wealth" by charging for whatever it is they can "sell" in the form of wares, goods, or skill. There are very few who form a company to actually "give away" things without any expected "return on their investment". Even those companies who offer "freebies" on the internet aren't really doing what they do for "free". They get a list of your contacts, allowing them to reach out to hundreds of others who will also be enticed to get the "freebies" they are giving away. 

In actuality, those companies who give away all this stuff are paid to give it away! In God's economy, it is in giving of one's self, time, talent, and even treasure, that we find an "increase" in what really can be viewed as "great wealth". In his economy, the "great wealth" is the ever-increasing measure of grace that continually transforms our character to align with the character of Christ who resides within us.

I would challenge us today to really examine how it is we are "refreshing others". Specifically, what is it you do to show another grace, or perhaps give a little encouragement where it is most needed? Do we consistently reveal the "great wealth" we have received in Christ - this great wealth of grace? Do we seek to refresh others in the same way we are continually being refreshed?
It isn't a "give to get" kind of thing. It is a give because you have been given kind of thing! 

We understand grace, not by hoarding it to ourselves, but by giving it away in the same measure as we have received it! I don't know where you stand in the matter of grace today, but I can certainly attest to the fact of God's grace being shown to me in such a huge way over all these years. It is impossible for me to measure just how much grace I have been given - even when I didn't know I needed it, it was being poured into my life!

In the same way it is given, we are challenged to give it back to those who need a measure of grace in their own lives. Our challenge today is to become less of a hoarder of his grace and more of a benefactor of his grace! Just sayin!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Recipe for Enjoyment in Life

For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” 
(I Peter 3:10-12 NLT)

I have met many an individual who is seeking enjoyment in life with gusto. Their every move is somehow purposed to get as much from the moment as possible, all while planning the next steps they will take so the enjoyment just doesn't have to end. I vacation with a friend about twice a year, getting a little respite from being a caregiver and just being able to be away. As the week begins, we are always excited about the possibilities the week holds - the discoveries as we enjoy a little time with nature on a hike, or get a few good movies under our belt on a "veg" day. As the week draws to an end, we will always comment to each other about how short the week was! Why? We want that sense of enjoyment and liberty to continue! Most of us want to live less complicated and more liberated lives, but in reality life is quite complicated and there are a whole lot of things making demands upon us that can easily compromise our liberty when given the right opportunity.

The scriptures "lay out" a "pattern" for living in such a way that we are able to enjoy our "liberty". We must embrace this "pattern" if we are to totally be unencumbered by the mess of stuff that would seek to waylay us into compromise. So, let's discuss what that pattern entails:

- Keep your tongue from speaking evil or telling lies. Now, before anyone really gets too caught up in the absolute insanity of actually being able to do this on a day to day basis, let me assure you this one is going to be a "work in progress" throughout all our days on this earth! Our mouth gets us into a whole lot of messy places we'd rather not have gone once we discover we are there, doesn't it? Notice this is an action on our part - we are to "keep" our mouths "from" speaking evil. This must mean we have to exert a little control - but we all know that control over our tongue is much harder than we'd like to admit. We must take conscious action to choose our words - with our words beginning in what it is we allow our minds to dwell upon. When we want to keep our tongues from speaking evil, we must begin with keeping our minds from going down wrong paths of envy, judgment, and other malicious pathways. When we rightly order our thoughts, the words which are spoken tend to be spoken from the path we are walking!

- Turn away from evil and toward good. This goes along with how we order our thought life. When we choose to think upon things that are wholesome and of "good report", we find ourselves not being as easily enticed into things which are not going to build up one another. There is a deliberate choice required - this is what our writer wants us to see. We don't just happen upon good - we deliberately choose to walk away from evil and toward good. If we are honest here, this is not always our first choice! We might just want to be a little "bad" on occasion - we choose to do what we know to be wrong. Turning away suggests we do more than just divert our gaze - we literally do a 180 and walk in a totally different direction. When I first began my lifestyle change of eating healthy rather than choosing "convenient options", I had to avoid the cafeteria at work. Why? There were too many "convenient options" that just didn't border on the word "healthy" at all! I had to take a different pathway to lunch which didn't include the path to the cafeteria. As you might imagine, when you remove the path, your focus changes!

- Search for peace and seek to maintain it. Seek peace - note, it doesn't say we will be the recipients of peace within all our relationships with mankind. It says WE have to search for it in those relationships. It means we have to learn what 'hills we want to die on' in this lifetime. There are some things we just shouldn't compromise, but there are a whole lot more that we can safely find neutral ground upon which we can stand. For example, I don't have to choose to drink wine, but I also don't need to find fault with someone who enjoys a glass with a meal once in a while. The consumption of that glass of wine isn't going to send them to hell! It isn't my choice, but it also isn't something I need to take issue with, allowing it to become a wedge driven between us over the course of time. 

These are very practical words of advice - meant to help us walk well and avoid what otherwise can become very cumbersome problems for us in this lifetime. When we embrace even these three short lifestyle changes, we will be amazed at how much less we are "mopping up" messes in our lives. Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Demonstration, please

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:9 NLT)
You have probably heard it said that actions speak louder than a thousand words, right? Well, let me also tell you that grace is only truly understood in action - there are just no words to really describe grace. It is undeserved - unmerited favor. It is demonstrated love.
It is the kind of demonstrated love that reached out to the one with leprosy, whose body was marked by missing fingers and toes, scarred with untold sores, and a "stigma" society placed upon them as "unclean" and "rejected".
It is the kind of demonstrated love that takes notice of the small man perched in a tree, while attempting to catch even a glimpse of the "great teacher", while countless others overlook him because he is not of "great stature".
It is the kind of demonstrated love that recognizes the one whose disease plagues her body while making it almost impossible for her to press through the crowds, but whose determined hope in what others may see as "impossible" pressed her onward until she touched just the hem of his garment.
It is the kind of demonstrated love that opened the eyes of the one born blind, left to beg day after day for his very subsistence, humbled to the point of being labeled an "outcast" by those who saw his "imperfection" as a sign of judgment upon his life for some sin.
Grace isn't understood in the mind - it is understood and embraced in the heart. It is "known" in ways we almost cannot put into words, but it has actions all its own. Actions such as liberation of a ravaged body, restoration of a hurting spirit, or release of an anguished soul. Grace isn't emotional, but it touches the depths of our emotions. It isn't mental, but it sets in order that which confounds, confuses, and condemns the soul. 
It may not mean much to some, but to one whose life has been set free by the embrace of grace - it means labels falling away, status changing, and renewed hope refilling the empty spaces of one's life. Grace is "shown" - not just "known". It is "embraced" - not just given. It is "transforming" - not just a nice addition to our lives. It is demonstrated love - meaning it is revealed in actions on our behalf.
We may not fully understand grace in this lifetime, but we can be embraced in the richness of God's love revealed in the actions of grace - undeserved, unmerited love when our actions or condition probably deserved something quite the opposite of what is being demonstrated toward us. Grace isn't a "thing" - it is the demonstration of God's great love for each of us - even before we know we need the embrace of his love - he demonstrates his love toward us! 
Grace isn't just offered - it is demonstrated - not around us, but in us and through us. Love isn't known until it is fully shown - grace is God's love in action - it is his "show" of what it is he wants us to "know". Just sayin!