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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Working hard or hardly working?

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. 
(Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 NLT)

There are always going to be days when we just look at whatever we are doing and wonder if it is all worth it. This is just a human reaction to stuff when it gets a little harried and difficult to go through. We want to know whatever it is we are "enduring" is going to somehow be worth it. I have taken on projects that physically tax my body - only to wonder half-way through why in blazes I ever started the task! This can be especially true in the hard work we undertake that actually stretches us beyond capacity. We don't enjoy the stretching process much after we get into it, even though we may have been totally gung-ho at the start!

The truth is that God designed hard work - regardless of how we might feel about it right now! The design of God is for each of us to be stretched now and again - so we don't grow "flabby" in our faith. He wants us to be challenged - so our trust grows deeper and our hold on his truth becomes more solid. Have you ever noticed just how close you grow to God during the tough times? Do you think that is by accident? Nope! It is by design!

The enjoyment of life is not a sinful thing - God designed for us to work hard, then to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I know there have been times when I decided to build something for the garden, or perhaps repaint a room to freshen it up a bit. It took lots and lots of energy, stretching me to capacity at times. When I get to finally admire the job at the end, it is kind of rewarding - like the "fruit" of my labor becomes some kind of "artwork" I get to take it for a while and just "enjoy".

We don't know the scope or magnitude of all God has planned for us, but we can rest assure that if we apply ourselves to it, we will enjoy the fruit of whatever it is he has purposed for us to do! This is what we hold onto as we "go through" stuff that seems harder than we imagined it would be. This is what we gather around when we recognize we need help in the journey. No one sets out to fail. No one sets out fully knowing what they will encounter, either.

What we realize from our "hard work" may not seem like much today, but continual application of what we know as we continue to journey from this piece of work to the next will eventually result in a finished masterpiece we can stand back and enjoy fully as we see what all came together. Just sayin!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mom, Friend, and Companion


When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. 
(Proverbs 31:26-27 NLT)


Today another family sees the end of an era of the watchful guidance and oversight by a wonderful mother, tremendous friend, and loving lady. My sister-in-law has lost her long and arduous battle with breast cancer. I don't often write tributes to individuals, but feel compelled to do so this morning. She was a great gal and leaves a huge hole in her family with her passing. She was always one to put her kids before her own self - one who loved well and was loved so very much in return. She didn't seek the lime-light, nor did she stand out for what the world would see as some "great accomplishment", but her children will stand for years to come recounting her love, generosity, guidance, and support - perhaps the greatest accomplishment one could ever strive for anyway!

She was the "careful watcher" over her household, noticing the small things that mattered in life and supporting every dream of her children. She found ways to help them deal with life when they couldn't deal with it very well themselves and always found ways to show them she'd leave a door open and a light on for them when they just needed to find their way home again. She was taken way too early, but she leaves a lasting legacy in the hearts of many she has known and touched down through the years. Perhaps this is the greatest treasure one can take to their grave - knowing they have loved well and were loved well in return.

My friends, many fight valiant battles today against diseases not fully understood and endure many hardships associated with that long battle. It is my hope each will have been surrounded by such a loving family and dedicated group of friends, while being held in arms of comfort when words could not express the deep sorrow as each cascading report was received that gave less than encouraging news. It is also my hope that each of your homes are as filled with the love I have observed in the home of my dear friend and family member. There is no greater blessing than to have been loved well, for I believe it bespeaks the truth that you have loved well yourself! Just reminiscing....

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I have a high "IQ"

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

Intelligence is measured in a number of different ways, but most commonly we hear of someone's IQ (intelligence quotient) as the measure of just how "smart" that individual is or is not. I am not a proponent of measuring "smartness" by this quotient, for I have met many a highly "intelligent" individual who lacks common sense or much in the way of spiritual insight. The higher IQ doesn't guarantee that individual has filled their "spiritual tank" as much as they might have filled their "intelligence tank". With an empty spiritual tank, all the intelligence in the world leaves you lacking some of the best and most beneficial of knowledge there is - the mind of Christ!

I believe it was Erma Bombeck that eluded to the concept of judgment slowly, but surely turning to compassion and understanding - simply by becoming a parent. The mindset changes when the circumstances of life change, doesn't it? The hard and fast way of seeing things, always black or white, suddenly gets blurred when we see these wee ones in front of us and then have to make sense of how they see the world through their innocent eyes. The way we see things doesn't always "add up" in their understanding of life - so we have to bend a little in how we hold fast to the way we think things should be so that we don't destroy their ability or willingness to learn something. A parent has one way of defining a "clean room" for example - a child sees that they can quickly identify where their clean underwear are, even if they are in a pile on the floor where they landed after the laundry was all folded!

The child isn't "unintelligent" - he or she is adaptive to the situation at hand and applies the knowledge at hand to get the job done. To the child, the drawers are nice, but when you can see everything and don't have to go through the extra steps of opening the drawers - that is a bonus! Their primary concern is that they know where their toys are, who is interacting with those toys, and just how much time they can spend with those toys before bedtime encroaches upon their enjoyment. Over the course of time, the child must learn there is a time for play and a time for work - a tough concept for a child to grasp - not because it requires a high IQ, but because it requires a "bending of the will". This is often where true "intelligence" is judged - not in that we can remember all the facts or systems in the world, but that we know when our needs may have to be put on hold to meet the needs presented by another.

God's mind isn't going to mysteriously just "populate" ours with his thoughts and ways of seeing things, but the more we are willing to lay down how it is we insist on perceiving things, the more we are opened to the way he does. The simple truth of the matter is that our spiritual tank must constantly be refilled, and this is done by allowing more and more of the mind of Christ to be revealed to us. We then determine how much we will allow those thoughts to determine our actions, lending to the overall "intelligence" we exhibit in the matter at hand. Sometimes the best "IQ" we can display is the one in which we admit we don't have all the answers and we just need God to give us a little more insight into the matter! Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Let's be sensible here

Sensible people keep their eyes glued on wisdom, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. 
(Proverbs 17:24 NLT)

Although I like the style of some shoes, I wear "sensible" shoes because I have undergone multiple knee surgeries and value the health of my knees more than the style I display on my feet! Despite the fact I may admire some of today's fanciest cars, I drive a very "sensible" vehicle that gets great gas mileage and has room for more than two of us so we can go places together. I enjoy rich foods, but choose "sensible" foods over the rich ones because they don't end up on my hips quite as quickly! "Sensible" choices are under-appreciated sometimes, but stop for just a moment to consider what "sensible" means and you might just learn to appreciate those choices a little more.

Sensible carries the meaning of someone having sound judgment - there is a basis to the choice they make that isn't just haphazardly chosen, but is consistent with other choices that lend to a solid foundation. The most important part of "sensible" choices is that the one making them is "cognizant" of some matters that lead to those choices - they aren't made without thinking. We find "sensible" choices are often labeled as "wise" or "intelligent" choices. They are the ones people think of as logical or practical. They aren't the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of choices!

I don't know about you, but I do better in an environment that fosters sensible choices and encourages sensible actions. It seems to "fit" best with what I honestly believe God sees as "best" for my life. Those times when I have launched over into the irrational side of "choice camp" have not ended as well for me - how about you? The irrational side of the camp is often missing something we might call "foundational principles" - there is some foundation, but it can be situational and oftentimes changing as fast as the weather!

Our eyes wander, don't they? We just have a hard time with focus. In the doctor's office, while having my eyes examined, they usually tell me to just focus on the green dot in the center of the screen. Do you know how hard that is when all these other moving things on the screen are occurring? They tell me to look straight at their left ear, and then my mind wanders to why their earlobes are formed that way, or how their earring seems to pick up the pattern in their blouse and now I am looking at their blouse!

What might not occur to us is that "sensible choices" are actually much harder than the irrational or "impractical", "irrational", or "unreasonable" choices we find ourselves making from time to time. It is all because one requires focus and the others don't! Sensibility is not easy - it means we remain true to the foundation - we don't compromise the integrity of the foundation just because we get distracted. Sensible choices align with wise principles - so one might think the key to making them is to evaluate the wisdom in the choice. While this may be true, wisdom isn't the thing always the clearest to see - it sometimes requires us to settle down long enough to actually hear the small voice pointing out the wisdom, or lack of it, in the choice we are about to make. Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Written in the heart

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. (Ann Landers)

An honest answer is like a kiss of friendship. 

(Proverbs 24:26 NLT)

As my kids were growing up, we faced all manner of "tragedy" where friends were concerned. One week the "best friend" would not have paid enough attention to the other - the next these "best friends" could be the best of buds. The pendulum swing of friendship almost drove me crazy during their teenage years! The message they heard from me was quite consistent and has not varied down through the years - if they are the type of friend you really want, you will work this out. 

Sometimes we get into a place where true friendships are tested - times when a sideways glance or a word spoken in haste can set in play a wide variety of emotions and unrest. At others, the simple smile or knowing look can tell you there is a connection deeper than words can ever explain. The value of a true friendship is really immeasurable - for it keeps you straight when you want to go astray and it reminds you how much you really need one another even when you don't always say it.

One of the most valuable treasures we can have is that of a true friend. They aren't afraid to speak wisdom into your life. They are there when you just cannot figure out what to do next. Their smile encourages your heart and their tears weight you down with a sadness so deep you are certain their grief is your own. There are times of laughter and equally times of quiet appreciation of just being together. There is no compulsion to speak, nor is there the censure placed upon the words you find necessary to speak at the times they most need to hear them.

The one who finds such a treasure has innumerable resources at the ready - for that friend will stick with you through thick and thin. There is strength found in their words of encouragement, hope in their words of trust, and freedom in their words of pointed advice. The time you spend together doesn't need to be "filled" with anything - for it is the time that "fills" each of you more than words can ever tell. It is as though you just "sense" each other's need and without even noticing, you have set about to meet that need.

We can look many places for wisdom and truth, but it is found first in the relationship we maintain with Jesus and second in the friendship we maintain with that one God has placed in our lives to help us maintain balance, center our focus, and yes, even to develop our patience or open our eyes to things we just don't see in ourselves. Their words may not be recorded in the pages of history for others to read, but their words and actions write a message of love and hope so deep within our hearts that it shall never be forgotten! Just sayin!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Premature birth

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5 NLT)
Viability is determined for the fetus at a point in time when the baby can "exist" in an environment outside of the womb. Premature birth may actually "harm" the tiny infant because it cannot fully support life outside of the womb - intensive intervention must be performed repeatedly to sustain the life of a 24 week fetus. It may be possible for the tiny infant to survive, but the effort which must be put forth to see that life sustained outside of the womb when born too early is astronomical. There are times in our own walk with Christ when we try to birth something way too early, resulting in a whole lot of extra work, or "re-visiting" of the subject matter time and time again in order to sustain that thing which was birthed way too early!
When we "mess with" God's timing or his purposes in our lives, we often can see issues associated with "prematurity". That portion of our character God was developing within us may just not come to full growth, requiring quite a bit more work than may have been required if we'd have just allowed him the time or the right circumstances to see it developed fully. It is not uncommon for us to rush God - thinking we have a full impression of what he wants for us. I know that every time I have rushed his plans, I have experienced way too many problems to count. It isn't that he isn't there with me - it is that I am not ready for what I have tried to "birth" ahead of schedule!
As the baby develops within the mother's womb, the mother can become very curious about what is actually occurring. There are "signs" that something is afoot inside there, but do we know exactly what it is? Nope! We can guess - based on the things we are experiencing - but we don't fully know if 10 toes, 10 fingers, 2 ears, and a perfect little button nose are as they should be. We don't know that until the time of birth. While some will argue we can know this with the use of ultrasound, I would have to remind us that even the most clear picture in an ultrasound still pales in comparison to the "true picture" of that which we will hold in our arms later.
While development is taking place, we wait - often quite impatiently. This where the rub comes in - we don't like to wait. We rush God's handiwork so many times in our lives simply because we don't "know" what he is doing. The truth is that we don't trust him to be doing the right stuff! We want to "see" because we don't often trust what we cannot see or fully understand. I don't "see" gravity, but I see the results of it. I don't "see" the air I breathe, but I know it must contain sufficient oxygen to sustain my life because I am still pink and upright! There are things we all come to "trust" without really thinking too much about them - so why do we want to rush God into "showing us" what we cannot see he is doing rather than allowing him the time to be about his perfect work?
I think most of us would agree - it is hard to trust what we cannot see, but there are definite struggles with seeing something way ahead of God's perfect timing! Let's not rush God's hand or challenge his timing. We may not fully "see" what he is up to within us, but we can trust he is creating what will be good and right. That is just what he does. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The window is open

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. (Psalm 139:13-14 NLT)

If you have ever watched people, you know we humans come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and dare I say, complexities! The wide range of dissimilarities is evident, while the even wider range of similarities is glaringly obvious, as well! We all have skin - although it may be dark, light, paper-thin, or leather-like from too much time in the sun. We all have eyes - some with two rather well-working ones, others with neither working well. We all have a heart beating within and lungs expanding to take in air and let it out when it is no longer useful to our bodies. As I watch people around me, I observe one thing with almost all of them - their eyes. Why? As it has been said, the eye reveals much more about a person than almost any other feature of their make-up, for it is the window to their soul. The eye betrays or confirms their "heart condition".
It was the American author Minna Antrim who said, "A beautiful woman delights the eye; a wise woman the understanding; a pure one, the soul." She is also quoted as saying, "Experience is a good teacher, but she sends a terrific bill." The soul is defined by the "bill" it has had to pay - the "debt" that has been accumulated by the tremendous amount of experiences one has endured over the course of one's lifetime. The make-up of every man and woman is impacted by the types of experiences one comes into contact with and how we each choose to deal with them, or perhaps reject them completely. The "bill" we owe is often the direct result of us having taken on more than we should have!
The soul is revealed through the window of the eyes - the heart condition of each individual is evident to those who will look deep enough to discover the truth within. When I look into the eyes of those closest to me, I most often see love - even when I know they are frustrated with me, the circumstances I am presenting, or the difficulty I am creating in their lives right now. There is something of God in those eyes - for within the eyes of those I have chosen to surround myself with I can frequently catch huge glimpses of grace and love. Perhaps this is the one thing we should always have in common, but which oftentimes escapes us more than it should.
My BFF and I frequently quip about being able to find "a good man" and just how hard that actually is, for we all carry some baggage from our past. Some of us have made a rather short list of "qualifications" for those we will allow into our lives, while others have a list so lengthy it almost makes it impossible for anyone to get close to them! My qualifications are simple - love God with all your heart. In turn, your soul will reveal elements of his grace, your mind will be settled on truth, and your spirit will soar to heights I can only sometimes imagine. If your eyes reveal that love - I am drawn to you without question. I don't care if your skin is dark or light, you are tall or short, you have too much "fluff" or are buff beyond measure. I care about what your eyes reveal as to the condition of your soul. 
Maybe we'd be better off today if we'd stop looking at the statement we make with our clothes, the number of tattoos or piercings we have, or the precision of our make-up applied and just look a little deeper into the window of our souls. It could be there that the deepest and most meaningful connections will be made for mankind has been created with the capacity for so much of God's grace and love to fill and indwell the inner man. Just sayin!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Beauty is more than skin deep

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. 
(Proverbs 31:30 NLT)

I was taking a look of some recent photos of movie actresses as they are now in their seventies or older. They look nothing like what they used to! In fact, those who have chosen to "stay young" by getting all that botox, collagen, and who knows what pumped or implanted into various areas of their bodies look a little bit "morphed" from what they were! Maybe they see this as an improvement over the wrinkles and natural sagging process of older skin, but eegads - it can be scary! Those voluminous lips stand out like nobody's business! The perfectly toned skin is obviously stretched to capacity - it barely moves when they blink, talk, or smile!

Audrey Hepburn once commented about "true beauty". She said, "The beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides." She was so right! Those stars can primp this, puff that, and plump whatever, but their eyes tell a much different story at times! They often betray the true emptiness of their heart - the misery of the years of living in the constant "circle of attention" they have endured. Try as they might, they cannot "mask" the absence of peace, love, and true joy that is only there when one has made Christ the center of their lives.

One of my favorite quotes about beauty comes from musician David Allan Coe: "It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time." The foundation is paramount to what is built upon it. A bad foundation creates a less than reliable building! I have a great BFF who isn't afraid to go without make-up or just hang-out on vacation in our baggy sweats or even enduring "hat head" after a long day fishing. We don't have to "put on airs" to be together - we can be real with each other - and I value what has been built upon that foundation of genuine concern for each other's well-being more than anything else in the world. Without it, I don't know where I'd have gone astray!

Beauty is fleeting unless it is built upon a great foundation. No matter how much you try to "apply it", it comes from much deeper. It isn't applied, injected, repaired, or "refreshed" by any substance. It is the result of a right heart, a settled mind, and a restored spirit. Just sayin!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Praise Him, all creatures here below...

Praise the Lord from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds, kings of the earth and all people, rulers and judges of the earth, young men and young women, old men and children. 
(Psalm 148:7-12 NLT)

I had the privilege of enjoying a solid week with my BFF away from the busy schedules of work life with both of being able to just "settle into" the beauty of nature and the peacefulness of the cool pines. It was enjoyable to take walks among the tall pines and take in the wonder of huge boulders balancing precariously one upon the other. The gentle lapping waters of the lakes and the sound of tiny scampering feet as the squirrels made their way from one "stash" to the other just has a way of relaxing the soul and re-centering the mind. We took one Sunday morning to enjoy a rather leisurely, but long hike through the woods, listening in wonder as the trees seemed to carry the tune of praise to the one who created their majesty. I recall turning to my BFF and sharing that it seemed to me the trees were keeping beat with the song of praise gathering in my mind and spirit as we traversed that forest land. It should never amaze us that even nature cries out to the Creator!

Don't ever think the Master of all Creation takes for granted even one breath of praise. He is ever-listening to even the "breathed praises" of our minds! James reminds us that every good and every perfect gift is from the Father above. Nothing exists without his care - nothing then should remain silent where it comes to giving him praise and worship. As I set one foot in front of the other, pausing to take a photo here or there of the loveliness of the scenery I was beholding, the doxology so many of us may be familiar with kept running through my mind - "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow". The words are simple actually:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

(Thomas Ken, 1694)

The power of praise - it cannot be underestimated, for it has a way of filling the empty soul and encouraging the downcast spirit. The mind is renewed and the heart is set free to take in the beauty around, not by accident, but because God has purposed to allow us the enjoyment of taking in such magnificent moments. It doesn't matter where you worship God, although his plan was always for us to do it in conjunction with other believers. It matters that we engage in the action of praise and the heart-connection of worship. If it has been a while since you celebrated the goodness of God and enjoyed the many wonders around you that he has prepared for your enjoyment, then maybe it is time to just relax a little - allowing his presence to sweep over you until you are once again at rest and in peace. Just sayin!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mountain climbers don't skirt the mountain

If you have ever climbed a mountain, you know there are times when you get so out of breath you just don't think you are going to make it any further. The stress of going up that additional altitude just puts a strain on you that your body takes a while to adjust to, even for the most "conditioned" climber. The fact that we have climbed a mountain before doesn't always prepare us for the next great peak we must scale. Every climb can and will be slightly different, even when we traverse the same mountain again!

God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect.
33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
 enabling me to stand on mountain heights. (Psalm 18:32-33 NLT)


We are always going to be faced with things in this lifetime that seem to be as immovable mountains - the only way to move past them is either to walk the long, long way around them, or climb the hard climb to get over them. There is something magnificent that happens in the climb, though, that we don't actually find when we just choose to "skirt" the perimeter of the mountain. We don't get the newness of differing perspectives. On the ground, at the base of the mountain, the view of the mountain may appear different as we skirt the great expanse of its base, but we still don't have the advantage of "higher perspective".

You have heard the old saying that we cannot see the tree for the forest. If we never climb the mountain, we get bogged down in the details of what we "can" perceive, and we never get to a different perspective that could alter our perception. I think mountains come into our path because God wants to change our perspective - to help us see the beauty of the wood within those trees, or that there is much, much more in life all around us that we don't see because we are so focused on the "tree" issue in front of us. Yes, the climb to actually come into that "new perspective" is hard. Yes, it is going to challenge what is within us. Yet...if we stay where we are, or settle for skirting the base of the issue looming over us, we will never see what God sees!

The largest perspective comes as we move from the broad base of the mountain-like issue into the smaller areas at the peak of that issue - the more we "take on" the mountain, the less we see of the mountain and the more we see of what lies way beyond the base of that huge issue that stood in our way. Those who make it to the peak see very clearly that the real issue is usually something far different than what they perceived at the base of that mountain! Some of our hardest climbs bring us to the best understanding of the real issues we need to deal with in life!

We don't climb blindly, though. We prepare for the climb, but we don't spend endless hours and days and weeks and months just preparing. At some point, we stop skirting the base of the mountain-like issue and we just take the first steps upward. This takes a degree of faith, believing that when the climb gets us into tight spaces or tough territory to navigate, we will be as sure-footed as the deer continuing that climb! If you have ever tried to walk around a mountain-like issue, you just find there are other mountain-like issues behind that first mountain you didn't appreciate as there because you couldn't see them! When you climb the first mountain, you soon see where it is you need to navigate in order to make the journey in the least and more "productive" amount of time! 

Overcomers don't skirt the mountain - the take on the mountain, ascending into the heights until their perspective of the mountain and what lies beyond it changes enough for them to move beyond it! Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why the guard rails?

Guard rails exist beside the side of the road for a reason, don't they? They are not decorative. They aren't put kn totally flat,non-winding roads. They are there for our safety...to keep us from gong over the edge into a ravine or a ditch. They come in places of the road where it would be easy to miss just how close to the edge we were without them. We don't always know the "proximity" we are maintaining to the edge in our lives until we begin to bump up against some of the "guards" God places there to keep us safe!

Lord , you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance! I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. (Psalms 16:5‭-‬8 NLT)

As a kid, I would crawl into the upper bunk in our camper while mom and dad were in the cab of the truck. We'd go rattling down the road in search of a good fishing spot for dad to throw in his line and our drive often took us high up into the mountains. As we traveled further and further away from the valley into these elevated places, the road became noticeably more windy and narrower. The combination of climb, curve, and narrowness made the journey slower, but the reward of cool pines and gentle streams to relax by made it worth it.

As we journey through life, the best places we reach are often the ones that were the hardest, narrowest, and often the most "frightening". There are twists and turns, with sometimes a whole lot of unknowns in the way. At the end we look back and are amazed at the "climb", but in it, we are just concentrating on getting there unscathed! My vantage point as we journeyed was much higher up than my parents. I knew dad saw the guard rails, but I saw the reason for them! The rails exist because God has a much higher vantage point than we do!

We might think the things God places in our lives for our safe-keeping are a little too restrictive, but trust me on this one...his vantage point gives him perfect insight into what could prove to be our undoing if we didn't have those safety "rails" in place. We might chafe a little to stay put within those "rails", but we need to get past that feeling of being 'restricted' and start thinking of it more as being 'divinely protected' from what we cannot fully perceive?

The rails? His Word, the Holy Spirit, other believers, and yes, even some very odd things such as gut intuition. All can serve to keep us safe, but not if we ignore them. I recently drove a long section of winding, narrow mountain roads. The drive was enjoyable because the scenery was terrific, but the twists and turns demanded my careful attention. One thing I always try to do in these places is obey the posted speed limit in those curvy places. Why? Someone who knows the layout much better than I do prepared those warning signs to keep me and my passengers safe.

God often prepares well in advance those things he knows we will need for our safty. Our part is to use them and pay attention to them. In other words, we are obeying the safety signs and staying within the limits of the "guard rails" he provides! Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is your tank full?

Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all. (Alexander the Great)


People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.  The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices. (Proverbs 21:2-3 NLT)

I wonder if we'd live our lives any differently if we really stopped to consider someone else's fate may be the result of either our actions or inactivity? If we had to do over the things we ended up seeing as "bad results" in our lives, would we? Or would we head aimlessly down that same path again at some point? Most of us would say that we'd definitely not make the same mistakes again - we'd do things quite differently if we were given a "second chance". The most unfortunate fact is that most of the time we don't get "do-overs" in this lifetime! This might actually mean we need to pretty much get it right the first time around!

There are times when grace allows for us to "do again" what needs to be done, but it doesn't always assure us of a chance to do something differently especially with the ones we may have hurt along the way. Those individuals may no longer be living, or they may not be a part of our lives any longer, making it impossible for us to "do over" something which left an offense unsettled between us. What then? Some counselors will tell you to use some method of bringing closure to that negative outcome such as writing the dead parent a letter and then ripping it up. In the letter, you sought their forgiveness, or perhaps you extended yours. Unfortunately, this only takes care of some of the hurt - it doesn't heal it all because we still have a whole lot of living yet to do.

God's grace is perfect - don't get me wrong - it helps us get to the place of a "clean slate", but it takes very careful attention to our wounds to actually see them through to full or total healing. The more we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the better our chances are of doing things right the first time, so all these "corrective steps" don't need to be taken and there aren't wounds formed in the first place. We become aware of our responses toward each other and in turn, we might just find we are "thinking before we speak", considering the consequences before we take that action, or noticing there is a gap that needs to be filled while also recognizing we have the resources needed to fill that gap. 

Too many times we believe our personal conduct only affects us. The opposite is quite true - this is why scripture warns us to consider the company we keep. Does that other individual in your life lead you toward right choices, or are their actions leading you into actions which you will later regret? If the latter is true, then you might reconsider why you are in that relationship with that individual in the first place. Sometimes it is because you are there to be a positive example, but you must constantly be on your guard to not let their negative actions pull you down that same path. It is a hard place to be for very long, and you need balancing relationships that foster the right actions, as well. All of us can be positive examples that help to guide others - especially if we live a life filled with grace and truth.

Fill the tank with the right stuff and the right "performance" is observed. Fill the tank with the wrong stuff and the opposite is quite true. Remember, as Alexander the Great said, the fate of others may just depend on what we are filling our tank with! Just sayin!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Just another stormy night

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

How is it that weather can go from one extreme to the other? One day it can be in the 100’s in the Phoenix area and the next it can be in the seventies! You can go from huge billowing dust storms to the calm of clear springtime nights. Almost as quickly as the storms start, they are over…leaving behind a plethora of downed branches, gathering leaves, and grit on every surface as far as the eye can see! My poor plants are confused – they don’t know whether to bud or wilt! There can be equally as confusing times in our spiritual, emotional, and/or relational lives that leave us wondering.

When spiritual storms confront us, we might discover either how solidly we are secured to Jesus, riding it out quite well, or how loosely we have become connected to him that we just get tossed to and fro like a cork floating in the sea. The storms might be a battle for our minds – hoping to get an inroad into our faith through troubling thoughts or dreams. They could be a battle for our souls – desiring nothing more than to have us surrender to every evil desire afforded to us at the moment. Still yet, they could be an attempt to disturb our peace “just enough” that we get rattled and begin to waver in our commitment to something God has asked us to do.

Relational storms challenge us in ways we sometimes didn’t ever imagine – making it more than a challenge to “motor on” within that relationship. We want to throw in the towel, but we know we can’t because these relationships are important and their existence is a direct design of God himself. God places us in families – the relationship issues within those families are our doing! God places us within work environments that will challenge us and help to use our creativity – those relational issues with coworkers, bosses, and supervisors are a result of either our pride, perfectionistic attitude, or an unwillingness to see these issues as a way to help us “shave off” a few rough spots in our lives.

Emotional storms seem to be never-ending – raging at will and not letting up until we get ourselves all “twitter-pated”, as Tigger would say. Emotional storms have so many “angles” to them – hormones adding a blend of ups and downs that make circumstances seem a bit like we are weathering a hurricane in open seas in a small life raft! One of the hardest storms to endure is that of our unending emotional upheaval brought on by circumstances we could have or should have controlled, but didn’t. We find ourselves thrown into a fray of mixed up and sometimes “messed up” emotional conflict. These aren’t the easiest storms to ride out, but when we lean into Jesus and stop responding to those emotions like they own us, we might just see how close we are to a break-through in the “weather” we are enduring.

Extremes come and they go. They aren’t the “forever” of life, but they are forever with us – at this time, then at another. We might do well to ask God which type of storm we are facing, what it is that will helps us get safely through the storm, and where it is we can find safety the next time that similar storm rages our way. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spin-out ahead....

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)
Okay, how many of us actually "do" what this scripture tells us? I could honestly say that I am joyful some of the time, but when hard circumstances come into my life, my first inclination is not joyfulness! As far as this issue of praying without ceasing, I don't think too many of us have mastered that one either! Thankfulness in times of difficulty --- maybe we do this one on occasion, but our first reaction is usually one of, "Not again!" or perhaps "Really!", or am I just alone in that one?
God's will is that we learn something most of us miss when we read through this passage - to trust him, regardless of the events or happenings in life - not because he is a magic ticket "out of" those circumstances, but because he is the stabilizing force "through" them. The joyfulness we come to appreciate is simply a result of him being "with us" in and through those trying times. The thankfulness we cultivate in our lives is the outcome of trusting - when we stop focusing on the circumstances and turn our focus toward Christ, we find ourselves being thankful for his presence with us.
It is God's will for us to pray - not so much for deliverance "from" those trying times, but that we will never lose contact with him "through" those times. Contact is lost when we turn our focus from him toward the circumstance that threatens to overwhelm us. This is a tricky thing for each of us, not because we don't love Jesus enough, or the fact we don't enjoy the trying circumstances. It is because our focus is often so easily distracted by whatever makes the most noise in our lives. Our trust is impacted by that which is in our immediate focus.
Don't believe me? Have you ever spun out on an icy road? In that moment before the spin-out, was your focus on the road as much as it is in that moment when you are doing donuts down that icy roadway? Were you thinking about how to steer the car? Probably not. You were focusing on something else, distracted by the snow falling, the tune on the radio, or even the conversation you were having with the other person in the car next to you. As soon as there was a spin-out, where did your focus go? To the road, the steering, and the other traffic on the road around you! Your focus immediately changed - because you needed to pay attention now!
Sometimes God's way of getting us to pay attention a little more to what is important in life is to help us refocus through those moments of life's little "spin-outs". Just sayin!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New beginnings

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.
Hebrews 6:1 NLT


Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. (Seneca)
Stop for a moment to think about the last time you chose to begin something new. Did you simply add to the stuff you had already been doing or did you actually find your new beginning required you to put something else away? In a physical sense, I cannot mow and weed eat at the same time. I cannot stir the stew and chop the vegetables at the same time...one leads to the other, but both aren't done at the same time. Why do we then think we can just go on and on in the same learning we have been taught without ever beginning anew to explore what God has for us? Yes, we maintain a great foundation of fundamental truth, but then we go on to add in more and more of his truth into our lives. This is how we grow out of some habits that need to be broken and grow into other ones that amply replace those bad ones!

Broken hearts don't heal by just beginning where they left off. They heal because of new beginnings. As Seneca said, one beginning comes to an end and the new one starts. There is freshness needed because the old had many wounds into which one needed health to come again. Healing is about the diseased being removed and then the new life or health taking that place. Places in our heart and mind can be too preoccupied to allow new beginnings at times. Sometimes we need to let go of some stuff to make room for the new!

Letting go is part of beginning. I have had too much stuff stored in the garage for a while again - clothes I no longer fit into since losing my weight, bits and pieces of this and that which gathers because we get something new as a gift and the old is now no longer needed. If I want to reclaim some of the space in the garage I must load it in the car and take it to the local thrift shop, donating it there for others to use as they are able to.  I must let go in order to have room for anything new to ever begin in that garage - or they will one day call me the "hoarder lady"! 

Just as with the garage space, the space in our heart occupied by hatred, envy, bitterness, lust, pride, and the litany of other sins that keep us tethered to one spot in our lives, we must let go of them if we are ever to have the space for what Christ wants to build into our lives. The space in our minds consumed by repeatedly running the list on all the ways another has hurt us, or even ruminating over the things we think we must have in life in order to be successful, can become too consumed for Christ to begin to affect our thoughts. We have to let go of those in order for the new beginning of fresh and vibrant thought to take place. So, if we think about it, letting go isn't really going back to square one again - it is simply letting go of the weight that has occupied the space and beginning to allow a focus there once again, but in an entirely new direction. Just sayin!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Beware...beauty may be deceiving

While fishing by the shore of Showlow Lake in the White Mountains of Arizona, I observed what is known as the "cow killer" - a solitary red velvety ant or wasp-like creature. Although the red velvet appearance of the wasp-like insect made it quite attractive and enjoyable to watch as it made a track across the rocks along the shoreline, I found out it has the sting capable of bringing down a full-grown cow! It destroys bee colonies by laying eggs in their hives and then the young kill all the bees in the hive. While it looked beautiful on the outside, the awful venom in that single sting was something that none would soon forget.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (I Peter 3:3-4 NLT)

Sometimes we evaluate others by what we see on the outside. They may look like they have their life all put together and kind of like everything is well under control, but I wonder how many times we admire the "mask" of what they display while being totally unaware of the venomous condition of the heart under that mask. The outward beauty isn't always an accurate reflection of what is much deeper. Maybe this is why we get the expression of beauty being only skin deep!

While Christ didn't possess some magical power to read someone's mind, he could accurately identify what was at the core of someone's soul. He didn't rely upon the image portrayed, but examined the actions that revealed the heart. The superior attitude of the religious leaders, for example, was something he called out as masking a problem at the heart level known as pride. They masked their pride with all manner of religious piety, but it was still front and center for anyone with eyes to see.

I think we often are deceived by the image portrayed and then wonder why we got burned in a relationship. We fail to look beyond the beauty on the surface and then find out we really couldn't trust the real person under that mask of beauty. In order to see beyond the surface we need to learn to uncover the heart within and I think we don't do this without Christ's help. He helps us see the true person below the surface by revealing little bits of their inner character. In time, we begin to see the traits we can appreciate as true beauty and rely less upon the beauty simply displayed on the surface!  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Falling

I have a question for us today - how long does it take to fall? Answer: Not long at all! While on vacation, I missed that the roadway had a rather uneven spot because I was too busy taking in the lake, birds, and scenery to notice about a two and one-half inch drop off in the concrete roadway where the concrete had become uneven. You guessed it - I biffed it big time! Down I went and up I popped - sore, skinned up, bruised, but too proud to stay down for long. When we fall, we don't want anyone around us to notice that we fell, right? We want to recover as quickly as possible, so that no one really "sees" that we have fallen. You guessed it - my fall was not only observed - the couple called out asking if I was okay or needed any first aid. Obviously they could see my rather skinned up forearm and the blood beginning to form in droplets within those jagged scrapes. As much as we might want to fall "unnoticed", every fall we take in life is observed by someone - if not one of our fellow human beings, it is seen by our heavenly Father.

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  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.’”  Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.  So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. (Romans 14:10-13 NLT)

We ALL fall at times - maybe not in a physical sense, but emotionally, spiritually, and often in ways which wound many parts of our inner man. We are encouraged to not judge each other when we fall, but rather to assist another up if they have fallen, and keep them safe from falling again! Most of our "falls" in life leave us wounded in some fashion - maybe not with skinned up knees and elbows - but wounded in our inner man, spirit, soul, and even our mind. Falling isn't easy - it hurts! No wonder God doesn't want us walking alone - he wants us to be as protected from a fall as possible! Most of the falls in my life could have been avoided if I had observed a couple of factors. Let's see if these might help any of you:

- Don't walk alone. Every instance of isolation in which we choose to walk out our faith alone is an opportunity for the enemy of our soul to make quick prey of us. Hikers don't walk alone because there is safety in numbers. We take our children to the bathroom in public places because there is safety in knowing they are well-cared for in vulnerable times. It is important to remain connected, because our connection with each other may be the first and best protection against falling.

- Don't get distracted. Falls happen because we take our eye off of what is at hand. We get into thinking about what could be if we'd just have or do this or that. We find ourselves captivated in thought of what could have been, but didn't quite work out as it should have in our estimation. We allow our thoughts and attention to drift to things that easily consume our senses - including our common sense! To focus is not easy, but perhaps there is another advantage of never walking alone - what one may not see in their distraction another may warn them about.

- Don't think you are above falling. Pride plays many a nasty trick on us, allowing us to think we are "better than" or "not ever gonna". We somehow place ourselves in a very vulnerable position when we think our falling won't happen - for none of us is above losing our "footing" in this walk. An antidote to pride is humility - and I believe this may be the other reason God gives us each other to walk with in this journey. My accountability partners actually help to hold me to task and keep me grounded when I get to thinking of myself as better than another. 

- Don't think your fall went unnoticed. Every missed step in life is observed - they leave their mark! Those marks live on for a longer time than we may want them to - in the form of emotional, spiritual, and physical scars. We cannot deny there was something "behind" them - for they reveal a moment or season in time when our focus was distracted, our pride dealt us a blow, or our isolation caused us to be "unprotected" in a most vulnerable time. While scars will eventually fade a little, they always leave a tell-tale sign that something happened.

Lastly, I'd have to say that when we do fall, we need to remember God is there to help us get up quickly. He is the one there to brush us off and help to "clean us up". We don't have to do that ourselves, despite our desire to just "manage it" on our own. Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fishing

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 
Have you ever spent any amount of time fishing? You buy just the right rod and reel, secure the amount of tackle you believe you will need to land that huge haul of wiggly swimmers, and head off to the huge lake or pond to drop that line in the water. Then you wait. Then you wait even longer. Still you wait even more. After about two hours of this, I have had it! I am not very good at this "angling" thing! Yet, I find the day totally relaxing and awesomely invigorating, even though I have given up on the original intent of the day - fishing. Why? Maybe because it is spent with people I love, watching them do something they love. Or perhaps it is that I enjoy being in nature and observing the handiwork of God - remembering he created all this magnificence for none other than each one of us. Better yet - perhaps it is because of both of these reasons! 
Sometimes we aren't in the best of places while we are living life day-to-day. We find ourselves tied up in knots and our confident hope in God wanes a little bit because we find the troubles we face looming big in our immediate sight. I think waiting is the hardest thing to do, especially when things haven't gone as expected or desired. Babies are born with heart defects or epileptic seizures, requiring endless hours of care and dare I say worry about their every need. Homes are set into chaotic disarray when one takes ill. Families are torn apart by decisions made in haste. It isn't that life isn't easy - it is that life gets complicated and there is a degree of "unrest" that occurs for each of us. When all is at "unrest" in our lives, it is the best time to come to a place of quiet repose and just "be still" in God's presence.
Many of you have followed my blog long enough to know how much I love to vacation with my BFF. She thrills my heart with her laughter, gets me recharged with her beautiful smiles and warm hugs, and challenges me to soar to new heights - all probably without even realizing she is doing it! This vacation isn't cram packed with visits to this amusement park, or that tourist spot. In fact, it is spent enjoying the hiking trails and sitting on the shorelines in quiet repose, just recharging our batteries, so to speak. There are many in need all around us - cancer ravaging bodies of those we love; jobs being lost by those we respect and care about; and family dynamics challenging even the best of us. One thing I have learned - we rest and God does the rest! We pray and he does the work of sorting out those prayers, making sense of all that has us tied up knots. We ask and he does the work of helping us find the right answers. We seek and he reveals that which will perfectly meet our need.
May I challenge each of you to take time to recharge your batteries once in a while - you probably don't do it often enough anyway! It is the best time to just remember the God you serve and the blessings you have been given in life. The challenges will sort themselves out when we learn to rest in him a little bit more. Just sayin!