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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mor than just a merry band of men

For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’”

Allegiance is more than being bound by a pledge or feeling a sense of "duty" toward something. It is the action behind that pledge - the heart that drives one into action to do as one commits to doing. There are far too many people who do little more than give lip service to whatever it is they are pledging themselves to. Their heart is in it at first, but eventually the heart's enthusiasm begin to wane a little. Don't believe me? You only need look as far as those garage sales in your neighborhood to see the treadmills, stationary bikes, and weight benches, all gathering dust, but barely used for more than catchalls! Lip service is easy - but actually doing what we say we will do requires a measure of determination we often don't possess on our own.

Allegiance begins first of all with an adherence to some form of "rule" or "standard" one believes will produce an end result. Robin Hood attracted his band of men because they were willing to adhere to the standard he proclaimed of "robbing from the rich to give to the poor". Not every standard is a good one, as some can be a little misleading - good in "philosophy", but not as good in execution! Allegiance also carries the idea of being faithful to someone or something - you have no other focus or determination in life. We can be faithful to the stuff we think will produce the results we desire, only to find it didn't work! If you have ever tried one of those "lose weight fast" drinks or pills, you know what I mean here. The idea is that you can eat whatever you want, take the pill, and still lose weight. Sure - but it is water weight, not fat!

The most significant part of allegiance is the commitment one makes - often with the heart first, followed by the mind's determination, and then with the spirit's will. This isn't easy, nor is it for the half-hearted! The commitment I am referring to is one that requires consistency - something we don't always exhibit very well in our walk with Jesus. It is a good thing none of us is measured by our commitment, because most of us would be found lacking since our commitment is often based upon what is the easiest or provides the least amount of resistance! All Jesus asks of us is devotion - to keep him central in our lives - then he assists us with the rest! The will to live as we should isn't about rule-keeping, but about "focus-keeping"! The more Christ is at the center of our thoughts, our actions are going to be more Christ-like. The more he is at the center of our imagination, we will be creative with a power not our own.

Allegiance is best when it is alignment with the right person - not just any leader will produce the same results as Christ will in our lives. We don't align with a pastor, a guru, or even a priest. We align with Jesus and he helps us live out the walk of faithfulness and commitment we are called to live. Just sayin!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

GPS precision, or broad perspective of the paper map?

A wise person chooses the right road; a fool takes the wrong one.  You can identify fools just by the way they walk down the street! 
(Ecclesiastes 10:2-3 NLT)

It was Voltaire who said, "The mouth obeys poorly when the heart murmurs." Chew on that one just a bit. What got Israel into all that trouble during those years they were wandering around in the wilderness between their deliverance from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land? Wasn't there a whole lot of murmuring going on? Isn't that just about the truth each time we think about how much trouble we can find ourselves in on occasion? We start to listen to the murmuring in our heart and before long we find ourselves "speaking out loud" what is in our hearts and that leads us down paths we might not want to have traveled at all!

The choice of the "right road" isn't a spur of the moment kind of decision. In fact, to choose wisely, one needs to "plan" the journey a little. I like to travel with by BFF and we now rely a great deal upon our GPS unit in the vehicle. It is there, so we use it to our benefit, navigating with ease in areas where we don't know our way around. We simply put in the destination we choose to explore and off we go with step-by-step guided directions. I even have this app on my smartphone to assist me if I am walking somewhere and need to discover the location of something I am interested in, such as the closest coffee shop. The right "tool" makes the job easier, doesn't it?

The tools we are given to assist us in choosing the "right road" in our daily walk with Jesus are simple: The Word of God, the Holy Spirit within, and the confirmation of our conscience because God even gives us common sense to help guide us. The excuse that we didn't know is just no excuse at all. The ability to "know" something and choose wisely based upon the knowledge we have is readily available to us - we just don't always rely upon the tools we have been given. As good as my GPS unit is in the car or on my phone, there is something missing - it doesn't give me a very "broad picture". There is something to be said about unfolding one of those old fashion things called "maps"! When I do, I get a glimpse of the general geographic area, but within the inset of the map, I get a perspective of where I am going in a little more detail.

It is almost that way with the Word of God - open it, study the detail there, but remember there is a whole lot more to the "map" than just that one "inset" you are studying! Sometimes we make the best decisions in life's journey because we get a bigger perspective by taking in a little more of the truth set before us! Just sayin!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Invasion of the body snatchers?

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” 

Years ago, there was a movie entitled, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Believe it or not, that was first released in 1956 in the old black and white format! The scenes depicted a local hometown physician presented with several of his patients suffering from some form of what he believed to be paranoid delusions. These patients thought their friends and relatives were actually "imposters" of some sort. During the timeframe this movie was released, the strong suspicion that there were "extraterrestrial forms" moving about in little space ships and intent on stealing our brains was kind of popular. Now, whether you are a believer in the "alien invasion" camp, or think this is all a myth intent on keeping folks entertained, the truth of the matter is that there is a force intent on stealing our soul - the force of Satan and his demons!
While they may not be "alien forms" traveling to earth in tiny space ships, intent on stealing our brains, they are definitely at work attempting to steal our joy and keeping us from realizing our full contentment in Christ. Why? They want hell full to capacity! They don't want to burn alone! As simplistic as that seems, Satan has been intent on keeping humankind from experiencing the fullness of the grace of God from the beginning of time. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the attempts to dissuade mankind from being content in relationship with God has been the focus of Satan and his demonic forces. That said, forewarned is forearmed! If we know there are forces opposing us, we are more likely to take defensive action, aren't we?
The good news is try as he might, Satan might create a little chaos in our lives, but he will never be successful in taking us out of the arms of Jesus. That relationship is "cemented" through the blood of Jesus. The feeble attempts of Satan and his host of fallen angels are nothing compared to the strength and magnificence of grace's power! As Christ put it, we are placed into the Father's hands, and nothing is stronger than that position! The best defensive action is then to just curl up tighter into the arms of the Father! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Inside your skin

Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. 
(Frederick Buechner)

I don't suppose we really understand the difference between empathizing and sympathizing with another until we find our way "inside their skin" for just a while. Some time back, we faced some challenges as a leadership team - kind of a "we" - "they" type of situation in which one group of staff didn't feel the other knew what it was like to work their job. In essence, we did a "walk in my shoes" kind of experiment, allowing each other to see just how crazy and totally awesome each person's job actually was. Crazy busy, insanely hard at times, but also very rewarding and tremendously satisfying. We were asking them to "get inside each other's skin" for just a short period of time, so there would be a little bit of understanding and compassion toward each other rather than all the complaining that "they never" or "they don't get it". In short, it worked! Why? When we experience just a portion of what another experiences, we somehow connect with them in just a small way.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:1-4 NLT)

As Buechner says, there can "never be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you, too". This is the essence of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf - no peace and joy for him until it was finally and completely known by us, as well. Most of us realize what it is to go through hard times, feeling that we are in the midst of such pain and no one really knows what we are going through. I haven't had breast cancer, but I can see the tremendous effect it has on your strength as you struggle through the chemo. Do I need to experience chemo to know your agony? No, because I can see the havoc it brings to your body, family, and spirit. My real prayer is that you know peace and joy once again in your body, soul, and spirit. I may not ever get "inside your skin", but my heart breaks with compassionate understanding that you are going through the fight of your life.

Inside your skin may dwell fears untold, yet you go on. Inside your skin may be the pain and suffering of hopelessness from the loss of someone who left you with little more than a broken heart, yet you struggle on. Inside your skin may be someone crying out for someone to just care enough to come alongside, yet you cry in silence because you don't give voice to those cries. Your brokenness doesn't escape the notice of Jesus - and it shouldn't escape the notice of each of us, either. We may never truly "get inside your skin", but we can walk alongside you close enough that we begin to feel as though we were!

God will always exceed our expectations - humans may not - yet I am certain of this one thing - when God knows our troubles, there is always a strength and joy that isn't our own. Sometimes what another experiences when they "get inside our skin" for just a while is this strength God has placed there to walk where it is we are walking at this very moment. They actually begin to realize the peace of God because it dwells within us. God doesn't send us into the lives of others to just "get", but to "give" and "experience" -  to share what he gives, to be open to experiencing just a little bit more of his grace by giving away the measure we have been given. Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seek first

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!  His faithful love endures forever. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. 
(Psalm 107:1, 9 NLT)

There are lots and lots of things in this world with which we can "satisfy" our souls, but only one thing which will satisfy our true need in life. We think things might just work to "scratch some itch" we might be feeling that "deserves" to be satisfied, so we go off to the local department store and search for just the "right thing" to satisfy that itch. Then we find that our "itch" wasn't as well satisfied by that purchase as we'd hoped it would have been, only to find ourselves "soul impoverished" again, searching for the next "thing" that might fill that empty space. The problem with all our searching is that it ends in what will meet some "soulish" need and we totally miss that the real need is much deeper in our spirit.

Good things....this is what God desires to put into the empty spaces of our lives, but when we clutter these spaces up with "things" we believe will tickle our fancy, we don't seem to have as much "space" for the things God really desires for us. Grace has a way of focusing us on not what pleases our soul, but what fills our spirit and in turn renews our heart and mind. This is the difference between a "soulish pleasure" and a "spiritual" treasure from God himself. If we look again at our passage, we find there is a prerequisite to being filled - it is that we are hungry and thirsty. To "desire" is to place one's self in a place that we can actually be filled.

What is it we desire above all else in our lives? If we stop for just a moment and do more than just give "lip service" to this little question, we might just be surprised to acknowledge it isn't God or his grace! It is that next promotion, or the new couch. It might be the relationship we believe will bring us great delight, or the freedom from the one that isn't doing much to delight us right now! All of these are not really going to meet that deep inner need we all have, though. They aren't all that bad - for to desire a promotion because one works hard and enjoys the tasks he or she completes is not a bad thing. To desire a relationship that is deep and meaningful is not at all bad. But...to desire any of these things as the primary things we will focus upon in life...that is where we cross the line into being more focused on what will please our souls than what will fill our spirit.

Jesus reminded his disciples of a very important truth - seek first the kingdom of God - - - then all these things would be added into their lives. We don't seek the things and then expect to find God in the mix! We seek God and if we see the things come our way, it is just a double-blessing! Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What is your why?

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NLT)
What is you "why" for living? If you have been declaring that you just cannot make it any longer in your present circumstances, maybe you haven't tapped into the right "why"! If we are connected to the right "why", we can endure almost anything. Nietzsche wrote in response to a prevalent revelation of a lack of moral compass in the society in which he lived. He is probably most famous for one of his works entitled "God is Dead". In it, he discusses the evidence that society had taken leave of their desire to follow any form of morality at all - seeking all manner of pleasures and openly revealing their desire to have anything at the center of their lives other than God himself. In essence, he was saying when anything other than God is at the center, our "compass" or "way-finding" in life becomes altered and submits to the loudest or most prevalent voice in the crowd. Yet, the ability to endure, to outlast any trial or temptation to succumb to any immoral actions is to keep one's sight and heart firmly fixed on God and nothing else - to have the "why" firmly fixed!
Many times we attempt to "make right" what we have "made wrong" in our lives by "cleaning up our act" a little. If you are like me, you might just find all the "cleaning up" you do is little more than what is accomplished by adding a coat of whitewash to the side of a barn. The storms will come and soon the evidence of what has been concealed by that chalky white coat is washed away and leaves us exposed, complete with evidence of all that "weathered and worn" us that is underneath! For us to have a "why" within is to have a "moral compass" - something that helps us to move out of the place where we just "cover up" our sin in some form of self-help or self-preserving way. It drives us to realize we aren't going to ever be able to "make right" what is truly "wrong" in our lives apart from the application of that which does more than "coat" or "cover over" - grace!
Grace has a way at getting at the roots - it is like nothing else because grace isn't just a whitewash - it is the very essence of God instilled into the place where once only our futile attempts at right living once existed. It is the vibrancy of life renewed, regenerated beyond our capability of "cleaning up". The moment we realize it is the "why" that matters, there is a transformation that occurs - a metamorphosis of sorts. The old is no longer content being covered up - it desires to be reborn. If you have ever seen the work of a skilled craftsman taking the lush woods of yesteryear and restoring them to their original beauty, then maybe you understand just a bit of what it is like to be renewed by God's Spirit. The craftsman doesn't merely put another coat of varnish over the layers already there. He removes all that obstructs the beauty of the wood underneath - dirt, oils, stains, etc. Then he rubs it until it is smooth and the grains become evident. Only when he is satisfied with the revelation of the beauty of the wood does he add the luscious oils of his choosing, enhancing the depth of the grain and bringing forth the magnificence of the color found deep in the wood.
In much the same way, God's grace removes all that hinders the true beauty and "covers over" the depth of the heart's yearning for that true moral compass. In time, as those layers and layers of masked "beauty" are removed, the evidence of his beauty begins to be revealed in the character of the "grain" of our lives. As he becomes the "why" for our living, his beauty begins to shine forth in the evidence of his grace touching each "grain" of our lives. Just sayin!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Forgiveness has a depth, breadth, and weight

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. 
(Corrie Ten Boom)

23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. (Mark 11:23-25 NLT)

The temperature of our heart often determines how quickly we are willing to step into the uncomfortable ground of forgiving another who has offended, doesn't it? If it has grown cool through unkindled passion, we are less likely to overlook an offense. If it has been allowed to reach that "tepid" point, we are neither hot nor cold, and we are likely to embrace whichever "emotion" seems to cloud the picture at that particular moment, oftentimes making forgiveness harder to extend.

The power of forgiveness lies not in the gravity of the offense, but the red-hot embers of Christ's forgiveness burning passionately in our own heart! If there is a continual renewal of our position of grace in Christ, we are less likely to embrace any offense as worthy of holding a grudge against another. In fact, we are more likely to let it go - covering it with an equal measure of grace as we have been given ourselves. To believe forgiveness is an emotion alone is to be wrongly informed as to the depth, breadth, and weight of forgiveness!

Forgiveness requires depth - first in our relationship with Jesus and then in our relationship with each other. The temperature of our heart is determined in direct correlation to the depth of our relationship with Jesus and the acquaintance we keep with is grace. The deeper we sink into his grace, allowing it to permeate each fiber of our being, the less likely we are to allow unforgiveness toward another to take root in our lives. Why? Where fire burns there is no opportunity for that seed of bitterness to take root - it will be consumed by the fire of his grace within.

It also requires a breadth - looking beyond the immediacy of what we see or hear right now, into the vastness of the future God holds in his hands. The moment we focus on what happens right now, holding that as the reality of the outcome for the future, we limit the future. If I hold a grudge because I can only see the action right in front of me, I don't count on the work of grace to change the circumstances both in the now and in the future. To this we must add the tremendous "weight" of forgiveness, for if we could place it upon a scale, we might find it often weighs much more than the offense itself. Forgiveness may mean we give much more than we ever received in the way of the offense!

That last point may be a little hard to handle, but it is so very true. The moment we determine in our hearts and minds that we will forgive an offense, we are opening ourselves to be extended in ways which go beyond human reasoning and power. There is much required of the one who is forgiven, but nothing compared to what the one who is extending that forgiveness must pile upon the scale! The desire to be right, to hold onto the offense, and to create a sense of hostility or animosity toward the one who has offended you outweighs the offense! Maybe this is why Jesus warns against holding onto the offense - the weight of it is overwhelmingly huge compared to the lightness of grace being extended! Just sayin!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Invincible summer within

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. 
(Albert Camus)

Winter is just about over for most of us in the states, but there is this lingering little bit of a visit now and again from the chilly north that brings just a hint of winter's snow and cold. As Spring blossoms into full bloom some places, others are still thawing. What is the purpose of winter? Isn't it a time of dormancy - when the living plants take leave of growth for just a while and endure the frosts and winter winds as they beat against them? It almost looks like death has come to what once was alive and thriving, but then suddenly we find wonder one spring morn when we note the tiny green growth once again emerge from the barren branch or spring forth from the frosted ground below. What appeared to have been lost to the winter shows signs of being stronger than ever!

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 2:1-4 NLT)

What seems lost suddenly gives evidence there has been no loss, but rather greater strength and mightier endurance! This is the way of winter - giving way to the season of springtime growth and rich development. In our own lives, there are definitely times when the 'frosts' of despair and fear seem to chill us to the bone. The moments of challenge just pummel us with icy crystal after icy crystal, until one day we appear to be devoid of all signs of growth. But then...under the warmth of the Son's light, something from within spring forth giving evidence that all is not lost! As Camus said, the depths of winter give rise to the awareness of the eternal summer within! There is nothing going to destroy what God tends - even in the times when there aren't signs of growth, his hand is still at work! 

It is in those seasons of challenge where we see our faith tested and our endurance getting the chance to grow. Think about it for just a moment. If all of life was the intensity of summer, would we really be as strong as we could be? I don't know about you, but I need the down-times of winter to regroup for the "heat" and "intensity" of summer! It may not be easy to endure the "coolness" of winter seasons within our hearts and spirits, but God gives us everything we need to emerge from the "chill" of those seasons refreshed and ready for the intensity of the hot summer months ahead!

Have you also noticed that each springtime brings just a little different growth in the garden, or to that tree? New branches emerge from places where no branches were in the past. New buds become evident behind those green leaves of the flowering plants. New blades of rich green grass spring up where brown, trodden down blades once stood. The growth looks "similar" to what once was, but it is totally different! The seasons of winter might just be placed in our lives to help us not become focused so much on what we are, but to help us discover what we can become as we emerge from the other side of winter just a little different and more vibrant than we were when we entered into that season! Just sayin!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Let the skies declare...

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. 

I was up this morning in time to gaze into the pre-dawn sky with my oldest grandson in search of the Lyriad meteor shower. We captured two brief moments of shooting stars, but not much more. Needless to say, the time with him was what mattered, not so much that we were dazzled by shooting stars or meteors in the sky. As we repositioned from time to time to catch a different glimpse of the sky, I was amazed at how much this thirteen year old boy has not only grown in height, but in intelligence! He has this awesome app on his phone, points it toward the sky, takes note of the key stars in the constellation and speaks of the stars and their path across the night sky as they moved from horizon at sunset to their present position high above us in the early morning hours. His passion for the stars is impressive - for he is speaking of the Creator and the majesty of his dwelling!

While we didn't see huge displays of shooting stars, we did capture some of the beauty of the outdoors and the things our God has created for us to enjoy. There were the fluttering moths captivated by the street lamps and the crowing rooster in the farms nearby that gave announcement one upon another that a new day was settling in around us. The grass prickled under our bare feet and the moon held a beauty all its own as it shown with utmost clarity in the southeastern sky. The stars were radiant in the clearness of the springtime sky and the trees held that ominous shadow in the hints of light from neighboring houses and street lamps aglow. We made out shapes and forms, but some things remained hidden, yet in it all, we felt peace and listened with intent at the quietness of the early morning dawn. In all, we took in God, for in all we saw God.

How can anyone declare there is no God? After all, there is so much that bespeaks a Creator, for there is way too much that is way to complicated to have just "exploded" one day! It is these small moments away from the hectic movement of life that recenter each of us and help us remember the awesomeness of the one who holds us so close to his heart. It is these small moments he has prepared uniquely for us, so that we can connect with all he has made, enjoying it with grateful and contemplative heart. In the busy-ness of life, take time. Take time to consider the desires of a young man's heart, as he shares his passion for the stars and the Creator's heavens. Take time to listen to the repeated stories of an elderly woman, intent on sharing something, but not always able to easily recount the details of what she wants to share. Take time to sit at the bedside of a loved one struggling to make sense of a disease that ravishes her body, but intent on living. 

The beauty of the Creator is experienced in so many ways, but it is most easily experienced when we just take a moment or two and center on the things that matter most! Just sayin!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Help

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.  The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.  The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.  The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.  The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. 
(Psalm 121 NLT)


Have you been on a website and taken notice of the little question mark in the corner, or perhaps the "help" button they embed on their page? It is designed to launch you into some "commonly asked questions" so that you can better know how to use their webpage. It isn't uncommon for those pages to get tons of "hits" just because people want to get right to the page where they need to go to sort out an issue, find their desired item, etc. I have one of those movie viewing apps on my TV and laptop. It even "predicts" what I may want to watch since I viewed something similar the last time I viewed a movie on their site. It is the "recommended for you" kind of feature. Wouldn't it be great if we could just somehow hit the "help" button in scripture and it took us to the exact right place we needed to find the answer we were seeking, or even look up to the heavens and see something written across the skies that clarified the direction we were to take in life?

While not all of the scriptures just "fall into place" for us based upon our immediate need, if you really think about it, the times when you most needed the answer, didn't you somehow get to it without really knowing how you did? It is because we have the "built-in" help of the Holy Spirit in our lives, connecting our spirit with God's Spirit, helping to guide our lives and keep us on track with where we need to be headed. Did you realize his guidance and help is just as close by as that "help button" on that webpage? In fact, all you need to do is look up! His presence is all we need to rely upon for the next step we are about to take, or the toughest decisions we will have to deal with.

I brought the entirety of this psalm into our reading for today because it really reminds us how God's "help button" works in our lives. We can look tons and tons of places to find peace, but peace is found in a person, not in a place. We can research all matters of faith and belief, but the only faith that matters is that which is given to us that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and trust in him to redeem us of our sin. You see, we don't walk without help, nor do we stand still or stand strong without his guidance right there with us. It is God who is watching over our lives - in so doing, we are kept from that which will bring harm to us. It is like our life gets "bumpers" - we might "tap into" something a little, but we bounce back because those "bumpers" of his presence and guidance help us avoid harm.

We come and go - but he is with us. We have a present and a future - and he is there in both. Herein is our trust rightly placed - in the presence and indwelling power of the living God within! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Have we become blind?

"The precision of naming takes away from the uniqueness of seeing."
 (Pierre Bonnard)

If you haven't noticed, we spend a great deal of our lives putting "names" or "labels" on things. In school, you get a red mark in the form of either a letter or numeric "grade" - labeling the work you have performed as either "passing" or "failing". In the sixties, those with long hair, loose fitting clothing, and wearing sandals were labeled "hippies". Folks who are comfortable taking up signs of protest of the lawn of our capital buildings are labeled "radicals". Still others who are slow to learn, unable to integrate into society, or below a certain "intelligence quotient" are labeled as "backward", "disabled", or even something worse. Names and labels do a great deal to take away from us seeing the uniqueness in each individual and I don't believe God get much glory when we use them!

A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.  (Ecclesiastes 7:1 NLT)

There are some names or labels we might want to carry in this lifetime - like that of a good parent, excellent student, positive contributor, law-abiding citizen, etc. While these are what we have come to appreciate as "good labels", it doesn't negate the fact that there is an "opposite" state suggested in the use of these "good labels". In other words, there are bad or poor parents, underachiever students, those who take more than they give, etc. So, not all the "good labels" have a "value" to them. In fact, it matters not what you think of me, or what I think of you - it matters only how God sees us!

In God's eyes, he sees Jesus when he sees us. He sees the finished work of the cross - not so much the "work in progress" our lives seem to be. He doesn't "label" us as good or bad - he sees us as his creation and something he desires above all other living things. It was that desire that drove Christ to the cross. It was that desire that culminated in him rising from the grave three days later. It was that desire that seated him in heavenly places, preparing a place for each of us to dwell right there alongside him, ruling and reigning as he intended from the very beginning of time.

God sees sin in our lives, but he doesn't label us as "sinner". In fact, he made a way for sin to no longer have a place in us, so that we could live out from under the weight of that sin. He sees the outcome or end result of sin's effect - he doesn't place that weight there! We might judge others by the things we think make them worthy or valued in society. God "judges" us by what he sees in each of us as we are formed in the womb, tenderly knit together, and created in the image of our Creator. He sees us in all our uniqueness and loves us in spite of how others see us (or even how we see ourselves).

As Bonnard said, to label is to limit our seeing - we stop seeing the moment we put a label on something or someone. We no longer look for any other evidence. We believe the label! The outcome of that practice is that we soon begin to stop living to our full potential in Christ and we stop looking for that same potential in others. Rather than placing that label upon someone maybe we need to remember all God sees is Christ in us - the hope of glory! Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Planted or sown?

The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit. (Saint Teresa of Avila) 

What truthfully produces joy in your life? There are those who will answer it is their family and the delight of each member joined together in amiable conversation over a simple family meal. Still others will acknowledge there is not a whole lot of joy in their family life, either because loss has left them with a void not easily filled, or because there has been some riff in the ranks. Others will give an accounting of this great accomplishment, or that newest purchase. In time, those accomplishments will be outdone and the item we held in such high regard will begin to decay or diminish in value. Nothing quite measures up to the joy of being where we can be fed, nurtured, and allowed to bear fruit, though - for this is TRUE joy, not the type easily fleeting or worn out over time.

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.  But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (Psalm 1:1-3 NLT)

To delight in the Word of God is to find oneself in the fertile soil that bears much fruit. To be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to realize the refreshing rains and warm sun rays of his grace. To be tested by the winds of hard circumstances is to send down roots that will serve to hold us tight when others might be uprooted. As our psalmist points out, it is where we are planted, from where we take our nourishment, and with whom we fellowship that we find our greatest joys. For me, it is in these early morning hours spent with him in quiet repose, sitting alongside mom in quiet enjoyment of some lazy Sunday afternoon, or in the gut splitting laughter shared with a friend.

Where do you find advice? It matters, you know. There are lots and lots of self-help books, self-proclaimed subject matter experts, and motivational speakers these days. We could turn to these, but I kind of think we'd find these principles to be "okay" at best compared to the advice that comes through the study of the Word, or the wisdom of the multitude of counselors who also have spent time in the Word and at the feet of Jesus. There is advice - then there is counsel. Advice is based on opinion and perhaps even experience - counsel is based upon truth - principles upon which we can take anchorage and find ourselves consistently doing well because we have.

With whom do you find yourself hanging out the most? These are the ones who will pour into your lives, or those who will constantly drain your reserves. The company we keep matters and it determines how it is we will face much of life's challenges. There is strength in some relationships, while others only sap our resources, never giving anything back. While I think we cannot always pick and choose which ones we will keep in our lives, I do believe we can limit the impact of those who drain us by setting boundaries. I also believe we can be filled up by those that build us up and help us to be better individuals by determining to make the most of every opportunity with them.

To stay "fresh", we need to be constantly renewed. To show signs of new growth, we need to be planted where we have the potential of growth. Look again at the passage - we are "planted" - we don't just fall upon ground and sprout up in some haphazard manner. We allow God to position us for our optimal growth and continual renewal. I want God to plant us in solid relationships, in places and circumstances where we can take root and find strong anchorage in our lives. Here is where we will realize the true joy of life. Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I am giving up, but not in the way you think I am!

You will never exaggerate when you speak good things of God. It is not possible to do so. Try, dear brethren, and boast in the Lord. (Charles Spurgeon)

What do you exaggerate about the most frequently? Is it your weight, age, or even your income? Is it the state or condition of your soul, telling someone you are "fine" instead of being truthful about the fact life is falling apart all around you? Is it perhaps the small things like that you'd be happy to do something for someone, all the while begrudging that they are asking for yet another favor from you? It seems we have become a society that appreciates being in-genuine instead of remaining true to our integrity. We boast about stuff we really don't control, while we remain silent about stuff we probably need to be more forthcoming with. It is far better to boast in what is true, reliable, and consistent - the grace and love of God!

14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. (Galatians 6:14 NLT)

As Paul indicates, the cross is the center of our "boasting" - for nothing compares to the ability and power of the cross. There is no life-change apart from grace, although we might try our best to change things up a bit. We are still the same at the core of our being until the cross is embraced and Christ becomes our focus! The cross changes our interests - it redirects our attention to the things that really should warrant our attention. The condition of our soul is what is changed with the cross - our spirit united with his, our souls begin to be transformed from self-seeking, self-preserving, and self-boasting actions and attitudes.

Our interest in the things we once felt a great pull toward often begins to wane as we grow closer to Jesus in our "heart affection and attention". If you want to be able to explain salvation to someone who is unchurched, perhaps that is the clearest evidence they will ever need - to know that salvation doesn't "restrict" you, but it "refocuses" you. If you speak with an unbeliever, they will often focus on what it is you "cannot do" as a Christian and the stuff you "have to do" such as going to church and reading your Bible. They don't "get" that you do those things not so much because you "have to", but because your interests change as grace enters into you. You also probably take some "heat" about the things you need to "give up" - cursing, gossip, and even going to the bar or somewhere you used to frequent. 

What the unbeliever doesn't understand is that you aren't "giving up" anything - your interests in those things have changed and you no longer desire to pursue them. You aren't being made to "give up" anything - it is as though you just know it is time to move away from those things and move toward something else. It isn't a burden - it is a joy. I think this is the most misunderstood thing about "being a Christian" - the fact that life-change is occurring and your interests are changing right along with that change! Our interest in the worldly things we once felt drawn toward isn't the same anymore. Little by little, this transformation is taking place - and our lives reveal evidence of grace's pull being stronger than the world's!

Boast about the change going on inside, and the one who is at work reordering your interests - this is a good thing to boast about! Just sayin!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Need an attitude adjustment?

The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That's the day we truly grow up. (John C. Maxwell)

Maxwell also reminds us that others often hear our words, but it is our attitude that comes through even clearer than any of our words! I have heard it said that our attitude determines our altitude - the way we will go is revealed in the attitude we maintain in our pursuit. We assume an attitude and it either carries us or weighs us down - it is simply that which "fixes" us to the point we are aiming toward.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. 14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. (Philippians 2:12-15 NLT)

As Paul writes to the church at Philippi, his one main goal is for them to grow up in Christ and to experience true contentment and joy. There is something powerful in contentment, maybe because it stems from a mind and heart truly focused on Christ - not swayed easily by every distraction around us. The attitude of contentment often drives us toward things that are truly worthy of our attention and keeps us away from things that will serve as nothing more than nuisance distractions in life.

As Paul indicated, one has to work hard at maintaining the right attitude that helps one attain the right altitude in life. The presence of God in our lives, working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases HIM is what is in consideration here, my friends. For our attitude is directly "conditioned" or "formed" by that which dwells within! When Christ is front and center in our lives, we find our attitude begins to reflect the conditions of contentment, peace, joy, and focus!

As Maxwell indicated, the thing that comes through the loudest or clearest most of the time is our attitude - the thing that some refer to as our "mental position". We take up this position - it isn't thrust upon us. Too many times we want to blame another for our attitude, or even the circumstances around us, but the truth of the matter is that our attitude is entirely within our control! It is something we assume (take up) - not something another gives us. 

When Christ dwells within, we are less likely to assume attitudes of haughtiness, anger, or even disdain for another. Why? His Spirit within us exerts a pull much in the same way the needle on a compass continually "pulls" north - there is a power within that "rights" our focus. Remember, focus and attitude go hand-in-hand. One is directly related to the other. His Spirit within helps us move toward grace and, in turn, to draw others toward grace, not to repel them with harsh or uncomely attitudes. 

If we find our attitude needs a little "adjusting" now and again, it is likely that the Spirit of God is "pulling" us toward center once again - he is exerting just enough pull to get us focused on Christ so that our attitude begins to reflect his grace once again. Just sayin!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

And the highest bidder is....

Henry David Thoreau once said, "The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." What is the price you'd pay for something you really, really wanted? Would it be only "up to" a certain amount, or would you keep extending yourself time and time again until you got what it was you were after in the first place? I wonder what would have happened to us if God would have taken the tact of just paying "up to" this point and then not being willing to go any further - would any of us really have understood or embraced grace? Likely not!

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

The life of Christ given on our behalf declares just how much God wants each of us - enough to give the life of the one closest to his heart! As our passage points out, it wasn't because we were some sparkling jewel on the shelf, but rather we were tarnished brass hidden from view most of the time! We may not have known it at the time, but there was actually a "bidding war" going on over us! You see, God said he'd pay the price, we said we'd figure out a way to make ourselves worth more, and Satan was none too happy to let God's bid win out!

Thoreau also said, "What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us." If we are to fully understand the price God was willing to pay on our behalf, we need only consider what life without Christ at the center is really like. For what lives within us is what matters. If Christ was willing to become the price of our life transformation, then why is it we continually tell ourselves and others that we are not worthy of the price he paid? The one who pays the price is the one most able to determine if the price paid was "worth it", isn't that true?

The price paid was exorbitant in our eyes - for most of would seldom give our lives for the ones we love and who love us back, let alone give our lives for anyone who is too caught up in their own lives to even realize how much they are loved and desired. The sacrifice of Christ isn't understood in the mind - it is understood in the heart and the spirit. Our lives weren't much to look upon apart from him - but in his eyes, they were diamonds in the rough! But...think about it for a moment - there WAS a bidding war for us! Some would deny it, but even WE got in on the challenge of seeing what "price" would be declared to be "good enough" to purchase our lives.

Thank God our lives didn't go to the loudest bidder, for I think things may have ended up much worse for us if we actually won the bid, or worse yet, Satan! The price paid was indeed higher than anyone could imagine, but it was the price declared from the beginning to be what sin demanded - and the price prepared was the price paid! Just sayin!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Light is both sudden and constant

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. 10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 
(Ephesians 5:8-11 NLT)
We once were full of something other than light - darkness. Where light enters, the darkness is dispelled. The light we not possess is that which comes because the presence of Christ dwells within each of us. There is no longer room for darkness, nor is there anywhere for it to hide - eventually all that is darkness will be revealed (uncovered) by the light. We are called to live as "people of the light" - no longer tolerating darkness within. That means we allow what Christ begins within us by bringing light to do the work it does - exposing every hidden thing that needs to be fully brought into the open so it may be removed and set in order.
Christ's light within either produces what is "good", "right", or "true". 
- Good refers to that which is bountiful or fruitful. Light's first "outcome" within us is to bring us from a place of just barely existing to being filled - bountiful in every way. God's light changes what has been an infertile place for his grace to become a place of ultimate fertility - ensuring there is good ground for his grace to not only be accepted, but multiplied ten and a hundred-fold. Where God's goodness dwells, there is a beauty produced that some would say is "considerably different" than what was once produced or housed in the place where darkness used to dwell.
- Right means he brings truth into areas where we have believed and embraced anything less than full truth. Where God's light is allowed to have access, the lies we once believed about ourselves, and even those we have repeatedly told ourselves, begin to be exposed for what they are - untruth. The idea of his light bringing what is "right" into our lives is that of us no longer having to live confused about whose we are, what our value really is, or how "suitable" we have been made because of his presence within. 
- True carries the idea of bringing us to the place that we retain only what is essential to life and godliness within. We shed the "other stuff" that only clutters the space of our lives - making it more confusing than it should be, or creating a lot of chaos within our emotions or thoughts. We allow his light to reveal what should remain and what should be discarded as "worthless" or "trivial" compared to the magnitude of his grace and love that desires to dwell in that place.


When God's light enters, there is a great deal of "care" taken to ensure only the goodness of God, the righteousness he brings, and the truth he declares is allowed to remain in residence. We don't casually accept Jesus into our lives, anymore than we casually see the effect of light when we flip a switch. When the switch is placed in the "on" position in a room, the light suddenly illuminates the space into which it is brought, doesn't it? The illuminating effect of light is sudden and then it is constant. Christ's grace is both - sudden in that it brings light to these areas where light needs to come, and constant in that it remains laser focused on those areas until all is set in order there.  Just sayin!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Serve

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. 
(Ephesians 4:14-16 NLT)

What is your "part" in the family of God? So many times we are simply content to allow others to serve around us, while we just observe their service. There is a direct correlation between our service and our growth. One does not occur without the other. Now, don't get me wrong - service is not a way to "earn" anything in God's kingdom, but it is a means by which we put into practice the things we have learned while sitting at his feet and experiencing his grace poured out in our lives.

Not all of us blaze new trails, but without the trailblazers in the group, we'd never discover new things or explore new places. Not everyone is comfortable reading stories and holding the focus of wee ones gathered around in rapt attention while they do, but without them many a parent would not have the opportunity to enjoy some time with other adults in worship. Not all possess the skilled craftsmanship of a carpenter, but without them we'd find our homes devoid of many a beautiful piece of furniture.

Since we all possess a little bit of a different "talent" or "skill", similar though they may be, it is important that we utilize what we possess for the good of the whole! This is the principle of the whole body "fit together" perfectly - each doing their part - each appreciative of what the other offers regardless of how "small" or "insignificant" their "service" may seem. 

Mom is blind, only being able to make your your shape or form. When one of the gals or guys who serve as greeters at church welcome her and comment about how wonderful she looks, she may not recognize their face, but she appreciates so much being acknowledged and welcomed! They each play a part in encouraging her at 98 to still be there enjoying fellowship right along with them.

We become stronger when each does their part - regardless of how different that part may be, or how "changing" it may seem over the course of time. It may be you find yourself of "service" by praying for someone God places on your heart today - not really knowing how to reach out to them or what their specific need may be, but just knowing they need to be lifted up to Jesus in prayer and then doing just that. It might also be that you adjust someone's cane that is too long or too short for them, making them a little unsafe in using it to "steady their gait", but that small act of service can keep them safe and help them in ways untold.

Service doesn't have to be big, but in serving we all grow. Maybe it is because when we show how much we appreciate and have been embraced by God's grace through returning fragments of that grace in some form of service to each other, we are revealing an element of God to them that they needed the most at that moment. The single parent needed that time away from the kiddos to just regroup, find strength for another week, and to be "refilled" for the many tasks ahead. The struggling married couple needed to know that others struggle with similar issues of trust, insecurity, and communication. 

We are placed in community because it is where we find out just how much God's love can be reflected in different ways and through different instruments. Be an instrument of his love today - serve! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Don't ever think you aren't growing

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 
My old self can be more of a little bit of a challenge now and again. I grow in fits and spurts - how about you? I don't seem to be able to stay on the "growth cycle" for very long before I find myself in a phase where it seems I am just sucking in nutrients, but not really doing much in the way of growing. Or at least that is how it seems! I cannot ever forget that it is not longer me alive within - but Christ. If he wants to take small seasons of rest to allow me to "regroup" for the next season of growth that is ahead, then who am I to question his foreknowledge!  The important thing for all of us to keep in mind is this idea of it no longer being about us living for ourselves - it is the power of Christ within us that is living now. As long as we live in this earthly body, we are to do so by "trusting in the Son of God" - the one alive within us!
We often question if we are "going anywhere" when it seems our movement is kind of slowed or even barely there. We have this vague idea that any sense of "not moving" means we aren't doing what we should be doing, or that we are somehow not in God's will. Sometimes his will for us is to just take some time for our bodies to catch up with our minds! Our minds run at millions of miles an hour, while our bodies exhaust after somewhere around fifty miles or so! This drives us crazy because we want to accomplish so much, go so many directions, etc. - but when we have to slow down to allow mind, body, and spirit to all be on the same page, we just about freak out! This is one reason I take a day here and there to just allow this "catching up" to occur. It renews me for what is ahead.
A couple of things we need to see from our passage today:
- Our old self might be there in our memory, but it isn't the thing in control of our actions any longer. Don't believe me? Think about a man crucified on a cross. In the times this form of death was used, the body was either nailed through the hands and feet, hanging there in suspension until death occurred. If the means of securing the man to the cross was that of tying hands and feet, it was still equally as effective. When placed upon that cross, the intent was not that they'd ever come down from there alive. They ceased to exist - their bodies may have been present, but they were dead! You could see the body, but the spirit was no longer within the old man on the tree!
- It is no longer I....  We cannot deviate from reminding ourselves of this - especially in the middle of the storm or when it seems things are "getting out of control" in our lives. God's presence is what is at work within us now, not our old sinful desires - for those are only a memory and not an active, living being any longer. The exchange that occurs when Christ's Spirit engages us in this new life is one that changes the course of how we respond to life's challenges. It is no longer I - it is Christ in me. Where Christ is in control - there is hope and healing; anchorage and protection.
- It is a matter of trusting, even when we don't see evidence of movement or growth. Where Christ's Spirit dwells there will be life everlasting - and ever growing! That means even when it doesn't appear we are growing, we are likely just regrouping long enough to enter into the next phase of his plan for our growth and development in his grace and love. His care over our lives doesn't cease even when we rest - it is even more present because he is at working bringing mind, body and spirit into perfect peace and alignment with his will - so we will be ready when he asks us to move again! So, trust him - he is still at work. Just sayin!