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Friday, August 18, 2017

Pray for Peace and Live It Out

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." (Dr. Seuss)

Absolutely nothing will change until we are the ones willing to "get better", "be better", "behave better", and "live better". My sister often says behaving bad is still behaving - it might not be behaving in the "right direction", but it is still behaving! We are living in times where the unexpected happens - where tragedy strikes without warning - and where lives are turned upside-down in the blink of an eye. As Seuss reminds us, unless WE care a whole awful lot - absolutely nothing will change! These times demand peace-makers and peace-givers. We have way more of the other side of that coin than we need!

Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace. God will call them his sons and daughters. (Matthew 5:9 ERV)

Being a peacemaker is not the easiest job in the world, but it is a role into which each of God's children are called. We are called to be bearers of God's grace and examples of his love. It is indeed "work" to bring peace at times - but the rewards of hard labor are often the most rewarding we can experience! It isn't so much if this statue is "right" to have displayed, or if that policy enacted in government offices somewhere is "fair" - it is how much we care about each other and the outcome each of us experiences because we learned to care for each other well.

A couple of thoughts for us today:

- In life there are always going to be choices - how we choose to embrace or reject those choices often determines the peace we will make or the moments of peace we will take from others. As my sis says, we can always "behave", but the choice of behavior is up to us. We own it! We live it! What we need most may be the wake up call that reveals where our "behaving" hasn't exactly been on the "best side" of the choices.

- Others can so easily be offended by our words, so guard them well. Choose those which will be spoken by thinking upon them before they escape your lips. The tiniest spark of words spoken in haste (or in hate) can set a huge forest ablaze.

- Balance opinion with fact - one without the other is not going to keep us steadily headed down the course toward truth. Opinion has a way of being swayed by the monumental amount of input we receive in a day. Truth (fact) has a way of creating balance to that which we receive - but we have to embrace it, learn to live by it, and occasionally even speak it. 

We have to learn to care "a whole awful lot" about each other and truth and less about our opinions if we are to live at peace with one another in this world. Just sayin!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The top of the heap

Someone once told me if you have to tell someone how smart you are, you probably aren't all that smart. Those who rise to positions of power, whether it be in terms of job or perhaps leadership within government, need not tell us of their intellect, but should model it in their actions. I believe it was Bruce Lee who said, "Knowledge will give you power, but character respect." Those who seek to lead don't need power as much as they need the respect of those they are leading!

A nation without wise leaders will fall. Many good advisors make a nation safe. (Proverbs 11:14 ERV)

In today's news, we will likely catch wind of one or more controversies in government stemming from policy to practice, or privilege to poverty. All of the world's eyes will be directed for just a moment or two to some sound-byte that was likely taken out of context and is then sensationalized for all to hear over and over again. Leaders today have a great responsibility - but I wonder if some of them really recognize how much they lead by their example and not by what they tout as knowledge or intellect.

Our challenge comes in doing as scripture declares - praying for our leaders and their wisdom to make the right decisions. Proverbs 8:16 reminds us it is with God's help that leaders make good decisions and govern with the wisdom they so desperately need. Isn't it our responsibility to lift them up in prayer and not to tear them down in social media? I may not agree with all the controversy raised by those in office at present, but these individuals have been selected to lead - like it or not. God turns the head of the leader wherever he wants - we have the honor and privilege of serving him first, then lifting our leaders up to him second.

If you ever aspire to a position of leadership, this may be the hardest venture of your lifetime. Being at the "top of the heap" is not always what we believed it would be while aspiring to get there! We may find there are a whole lot more eyes upon us than we ever imagined, each with an opinion all their own about how we should "lead" so they can "follow" as they like. The "top" places a person in plain view of all - making it harder to go unnoticed when you slip up, or a little more challenging when you don't have the right answer for the issue at hand. The "top" is terrifying at times and whoever is in that place needs our prayers. Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Be a "do gooder"

Mark Twain once quipped, "Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest." I think sometimes I do a pretty good job of astonishing myself with doing what is right instead of what I may have wanted to do! Why does doing the right thing sometimes just flow from us and then at other times it is so very, very hard? It might just be that the "right thing" is harder because we wanted something to be different - we thought we'd be on the receiving end, instead of the giving end, or maybe we believed the circumstances would have changed just a little the last time we "did the right thing", but found they pretty much remained the same. It can be difficult to do the right thing all of the time, but the more we get this right, the more of Jesus others will see in and through us.

9 We must not get tired of doing good. We will receive our harvest of eternal life at the right time. We must not give up. 10 When we have the opportunity to do good to anyone, we should do it. (Galatians 6:9-10 ERV)

Why would "doing good" tire us? Shouldn't it be exactly the opposite - giving us energy and "fuel" for the next thing we will be faced with in this life? Maybe it is because we are looking for a "return" in this lifetime. God doesn't promise us a "return" for doing good or what is right in this lifetime - but he does promise us a "return" in the lifetime we shall live with him into eternity. The inheritance that awaits us may not be fully realized now, but we can rest assured it is ours in Christ Jesus. There were times when Jesus got weary in doing good - he needed some downtime now and again to regain his physical strength, renewing his spiritual vigor, and launching again into what he knew was the "right thing" to do while on this earth.

"Doing good" has a lot of meanings. It ranges from making the right choices when it is hardest to make them, to knowing what it right and doing it even when others may not be doing the same thing. If we condition our choice to do right around what others are doing, we may find ourselves consistently struggling to do right! Others should not be our gauge by which we "measure" how well we are doing at "doing right". Christ should be that gauge. I am not very wise, but I am tapped into the one who is wisdom embodied! I may not be consistent, but I serve the one who does not waver or falter. I may not be always aware, but I live with the one who is all-knowing. That said, my choices may be inconsistent at times, but God is helping me (and you) to become as consistent as possible by always presenting us with new opportunities to reveal that consistency!

A little Bible passage jumps into my head on occasion, reminding me that if I know how to do good and then choose not to do so, I am choosing to sin. (see James 4:17) It usually "jumps in there" whenever I am about to walk past something I know I should respond to, or do something contrary to what I know is right. It happens when I want my own way and another is making demands on my time or energies that sometimes will "cut into" what I want. It also happens when I see something I should address and then just leave it be because I am too busy, tired, or unconcerned to actually deal with it then. It is amazing how one tiny scripture can influence our decisions, though. That reminder from God is often enough to "fix" my contrariness and turn me around to doing what is "right" rather than just continuing on my way. It may not seem like much, but I think God uses this scripture for me because he knows it will move me in the right direction. You may have such a passage, too. If you do, don't underestimate the power of God's Word in you to help or assist you in doing good at times when you may not possess the strength (or the "want to") to actually do it! Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Gonna shed a little light here

As people understand your word, it brings light to their lives. Your word makes even simple people wise. 
Okay, I am looking to get as much light into my life as possible. How about you? Want more? Then the way to get more is through the exploration of God's Word, for his Word brings light to our lives in places we didn't know darkness dwelt and in ways we didn't realize possible. Most of us don't know there are "dark" or "unexplored" places in our lives - but in truth, there are probably more than we'd like to admit. It isn't that we are "evil" or "bad to the bone" - we just need a little light to expose what we don't already see!
I can only see when I am looking forward. Sure, I have peripheral vision that picks up a little here and there on the sides, but what is right behind me, underneath me, and even over me is not always apparent because I am just not looking there. Too many times there are things in our lives that are there, but we just aren't looking at them right now. We either don't want to, or we haven't realized there is a need to explore them. These are the things the Word of God has a way of uncovering for us - even when we don't expect it.
His Word makes the simple wise. Well, who really desires to be "simple" if we could be "wise"? You don't hear too many people saying, "I wish I didn't have this wisdom in my life." There may be times when people tell us they wish they didn't know some of the stuff they know - like the bad stuff they have been exposed to that has left a mark in their lives. Or maybe it is that they "know too much" because others keep telling them stuff they have no real business knowing about others - some might call this gossip. Either way, there is stuff there we don't want and other stuff we don't even know we want because we haven't explored it yet.
We want God to open our eyes to what is hidden - so he can either polish it for his glory, or rid us of it for our peace and joy. It is a good thing to explore his Word, then to allow his Word to explore us. It is a two-way street - it must get into us if it is to affect us. Then we have to act upon it if we are to realize the full benefit of it. Just sayin!

Monday, August 14, 2017

You're driving me crazy!

It was Douglas Horton who reminded us we should dig a second grave while seeking revenge, for the second one would be ours. He also told us no one could drive us crazy unless we actually gave them the keys with which to do so! It is probably more common than we'd like to admit - we kinda have this tendency in each us to just want someone to get what is coming to them. They cross us in some fashion and we just wanna tell 'em off. We want them to "know" how much pain they have caused, or how much their insensitivity to the situation has compounded our grief, anxiety, or doubt. We don't like that our workload has increased because they are slacking. It happens in thousands of different ways each day, and we ALL struggle just a little bit with the "not fair" kind of thinking, desiring to see them experience just a little of what we have been going through as a result. Horton was spot-on though when he told us to dig two graves - for taking these "little feelings" of anger and hurt to the next step will result in us getting buried under a whole new load of guilt we didn't want to have to dig out from under in the first place!

17 If someone does you wrong, don’t try to pay them back by hurting them. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. 18 Do the best you can to live in peace with everyone. 19 My friends, don’t try to punish anyone who does wrong to you. Wait for God to punish them with his anger. In the Scriptures the Lord says, “I am the one who punishes; I will pay people back.” 20 But you should do this: “If you have enemies who are hungry, give them something to eat. If you have enemies who are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this you will make them feel ashamed.” 21 Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good. (Romans 12:17-21 ERV)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if no one did anybody else any wrong? That would be like Eden without the serpent! Unfortunately, we don't live in a world like that, so we had better get it straight in our minds and hearts how it is we are to deal with those who do us wrong. We need to learn how not to hand over the keys to our "crazy car" so often - then maybe we'd be a little less likely to be 'driven' in that direction so frequently! Too many times we experience the sense of "wrongdoing" against us because we turn those keys over to the other person and let them drive us down that "easy street" toward craziness and frustration. When I stop long enough to actually enjoy those things that otherwise frustrate me, I find they aren't so unpleasant if I just slow down, look for some good in the moment, and then make the most of the good I am experiencing. It may not be much, but even a little good from an otherwise "bad" situation is something!

As Paul reminds us, evil will defeat us if we allow it that opportunity. The key is to not hand the opportunity over to that other person on a silver platter. Do what is unexpected - that is what he says actually overcomes evil. The key to avoiding those feelings of wanting someone to get what they deserve is to give them what they don't deserve - to give them (and ourselves) what is unexpected. If I leave work for you to do that I didn't want to do myself, I honestly don't think you will do it without being a little begrudging in doing it, but it doesn't stop me short of leaving it for you. My attitude is probably, "Who cares if you begrudge doing it as long as it gets done and I don't have to do it?" It isn't "MY" problem that you have those feelings of "begrudging" the work at hand. It is yours. So, why are we trying to control how the other person "feels" or what they will "get" in return for their having left us that work to do? We don't control them - but we give them control of us whenever we start to move down that pathway of begrudging them their "freedom" while we are left with the task at hand.

Seems simple, but we will all admit it is harder in real life. Feelings come and we hand over the keys - making the short trip into the lane that takes us down the revenge highway. Unfortunately, that highway leads to the graveyard - not for them, but for us! Our challenge today: How can we do one thing that someone didn't expect as a response to something they did that otherwise would have been something we'd have wigged out over? How can we turn evil into good in our lives by one simple action of giving what is undeserved? It won't be easy at first, but the more we take back those keys that lead us down the "crazy road", the more we will realize those keys don't belong to anyone else but us! Just sayin!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The right fit

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Eliab is tall and handsome, but don’t judge by things like that. God doesn’t look at what people see. People judge by what is on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart. Eliab is not the right man.” 
(I Samuel 16:7 ERV)

One of the sons of Jesse had been chosen by God to be anointed the next King of Israel, taking the role King Saul had first filled. It was the custom that the High Priest or Prophet go out to do the work of anointing the new King. He'd take a horn of oil prepared for the task and listen intently to where God was leading him. As God would direct, Israel would soon have a new King, and he had to be prepared through the "anointing service" as evidence his life from "head to toe" was dedicated to the task of both serving God and the people. Samuel ends up at the house of Jesse, but is a little confused at first when he sees the first son, Eliab, who is tall and handsome - by appearances, he was all things you'd look for in a leader. As we all know from personal experiences, appearances can be deceiving! God's directive is look much deeper than the surface qualities and there Samuel will find the "right man" for the job. It is often when we finally learn to look beyond what we see on the surface that we realize what actually is right there, but would have easily been missed had not we stopped to consider these things.

Seven sons get paraded by Samuel, each one with a resounding "not the one" heard clearly in Samuel's heart. He was likely losing hope that he had heard from God correctly - for all the sons appeared to have been disqualified by God as the one to lead the people. As is often the case, when we finally come to the end of whatever it is we plan, God reveals his plan. Jesse, the father of these seven boys, thought for sure one of these fine, upstanding young men would be "qualified" to be King. After all, God had directed Samuel to his household, and the custom was usually that the oldest, or at least one of the elder sons would have been chosen. The eighth son was not even there - for he was tending the sheep - his regular work of the day. Herein is a little lesson for each of us who would seek any form of leadership opportunity - it isn't in seeking leadership that we find it - it is in seeking to do what we are called to do consistently every day that we come to the place God elevates us to that position.

David was also a good-looking, ruggedly strong young man. He had the look of a shepherd - having come right from the flocks into the presence of Jesse. He was probably tanned and fit - walking long distances to protect and guide these flocks to their watering holes, green pastures, and restful places where they'd be safe under his watchful eye. He was likely more "recognizable" as a common, everyday herdsman than he was as the one to fill the throne room of the King! What we recognize most about others is often what we see with our eyes - God wanted Jesse to see with his heart and his spirit - so he'd see more than what others saw. God is always more concerned about what a man or woman is on the inside than he is with our outward "image". While we always want to present an "image" that is honoring of God, we might do very well with the outward image and be very deficient on the "inward maintenance" that needs to occur!

Inwardly, God wants a heart that is pure - one that isn't caught up in the pleasures of this world to the exclusion of having an eye for the good things God has prepared for us in his presence. He wants a mind that is focused - not on all the loudest voices, but in hearing and understanding the smallest of voices that has the most significant of messages for us to hear and learn. He wants a spirit driven not by lust or greed - but one which is seeking and submissive - desiring to be filled to full with the presence and love of God. These are the things that drew God to David. These are the things he helped Samuel see - even though he might have begun with the outward, Samuel received the confirmation from God that David was the "right one" by what he saw "inside" this young man. There is a great lesson for each of us here - for as we "measure a man", let us look not to what he outwardly portrays, but what at what dwells within. Therein we will find the "perfect fit" for whatever it is we seek. Just sayin!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Courage comes from within

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. (Lao Tzu)

Tzu really described what it is like to come to the revelation of how deeply we are loved by God and then in turn, we begin to draw strength way beyond whatever is resident within us - building and growing until we are able to overcome obstacles that once stood squarely in our way. To be deeply loved by God and to realize even a tenth of what that love is like is to begin the journey of walking with a strength not your own. We will never fully comprehend the love of God in this lifetime, but we have an eternity to enjoy it!

15 Every family in heaven and on earth gets its true name from him. 16 I ask the Father with his great glory to give you the power to be strong in your spirits. He will give you that strength through his Spirit. 17 I pray that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. I pray that your life will be strong in love and be built on love. 18 And I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide, how long, how high, and how deep that love is. 19 Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with everything God has for you. (Ephesians 3:15-19 ERV)

Strength comes through God's Spirit residing within us - his presence is an assurance we shall see all he has promised to us as his children (our full inheritance in Christ Jesus). We can be strong, but unless it is a strength that begins and grows in our spirit under the tutelage of the Spirit of God within us, that strength will falter and fail. The more we begin to grow in God's love, the more we realize courage in places where we once felt only fear or anxiety or mistrust. It is an amazing truth of the gospel - faith brings love into our lives with an intensity and integrity that overcomes all fear, displaces all anxiety, and exposes truth in ways it could never have been known before.

A life strong in love is so because it is a life enveloped in God's love. There is no greater way to overcome a life-debilitating habit than to be immersed in the love of God. It is the beginning of all victories and the end point will require a courage not our own, but one which grows out of the realization of how deeply we are loved. There is no lack of trying on our parts in this thing we call life. We try this, that, and the next thing. We often face the "new thing" we must do with a little anxiety - simply because it is a "new thing". Yet, as long as the love of God is there to guide us through, we can walk with a strength not our own. There is no greater way to invest ourselves in others than to share that love which envelopes our lives. In so sharing, we might just help to create the courage in others that they need to take their first step toward God, or something he has been impressing on their hearts to do. 

The strength we find in Christ is something somewhat different than, or contrary to human strength. It is a supernatural strength that is rooted and grounded in the assurance of God's love. Down through the ages, man has stood wanting in many areas of his life. In each place of "wanting", there is a need for a little courage to realize the fulfillment of that longing. Human strength would call out how much we "cannot do", while supernatural strength that comes through the love of God resident within us points out how much he has "already done" and "continues to do" in and through us. It is this revelation that actually gives us the courage to take that next step even when it may seem harder than we might imagine. In essence, when we say courage comes from within, it is true - but it is there because of "who" is there, not because of anything we possess ourselves. Just sayin!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Obstruction Free Zone

Lord, your rules are wonderful. That is why I follow them. As people understand your word, it brings light to their lives. Your word makes even simple people wise. My desire to hear your commands is so strong that I wait with open mouth, gasping for breath. (Psalm 119:129-131 ERV)

How do you "find out" things in life? Are you an inquisitive individual who searches out truth and seeks to understand the meaning of things, or perhaps how things "work"? I have two grandsons - one very mechanical and inventive, the other very artistic and creative. Each sees things just a little differently, but also kind of similarly. They have a way of picturing things and then creating them - especially my oldest one. We wanted a stand for our fishing poles and he had an small folding table (the type you use in bed) with a broken top. The legs were made of heavy duty metal tubing/wire. You guessed it - he took it apart, began sawing the pieces and bending into a top and stake for the pole holder. Then he fashioned a multi-part stake to attach all this to (while still allowing it to come apart into four pieces) to now have a "rest" for his fishing poles while shore fishing. When it was all said and done, he had created something out of what would be cast off - making what was once quite useless into something quite spectacular! It could just be he was doing what God does in each of us every time we come to him seeking to understand him just a little more!

Light comes when we seek it. I recently installed two solar lights into the backyard for a little bit of "security" and to have some low-lighting so I could enjoy the garden a little bit longer than the few hours I have after work. One is excellently placed to pick up lots and lots of sun rays during the day. The other will have to be moved around a little to pick up equally as many rays, because it didn't quite last as long on its "charge" as the other did. One was "turned toward" the sun without any obstruction in the rays coming toward it. The other likely suffered some "interference" from the patio overhang and/or the trees in the vicinity. It should not surprise us that an "unobstructed" path between us and the LIGHT produces the best "charge" or "recharge". The more obstructions there are in our path, the harder it is to obtain that same level of "charge". God's Word brings light - but when there are obstructions in the way - such as regret, anger, mistrust, or even guilt, it will impact how much we are "open" to receiving that light. Light is best received when there is no obstruction in its path! Any obstruction just leaves a shadow and where shadows exist, there is limited "reception".

To seek well, we first remove or "relinquish" the obstructions. Maybe that means we "seek first" God's grace and then we begin to bask in the warmth of his Light which comes from the Word. To really begin to understand God, to really figure out who he is and how he is moving in our lives, we need to be in the best place to receive what he is revealing to us by the Light that comes through to us. Just sayin!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Caught or Taught

Do good wherever you go. After a while, the good you do will come back to you. 
(Ecclesiastes 11:1 ERV)

From the time I was a kid, I have heard the "golden rule" preached in many different forms, but as many times as it has been "preached" or "taught", it doesn't really "ring true" until I see it demonstrated in the life of another. I think this is how Jesus taught - he showed his love - he didn't just talk about it. He could have said his love was never ending, but until Peter realized his repeated and consistent mess ups didn't affect how much Jesus loved him, he really didn't understand the "rule". He could have smitten each every one of those who spat upon him, beat him, or even shot words of ridicule his way as he went to the cross, but he chose to forgive them, modeling for us how monumentally huge his love is for us. The "rule" is caught more than it is taught!

Looking again at our passage, notice that it never implies we do good to get good. It reminds us we just do good wherever we go. In turn, we will reap what we sow - but we don't sow with the ultimate intent of reaping in this case. We sow because it is the right thing to do! Jesus taught it this way:

- If a man needs a loaf of bread, don't give him a stone - meet the true need of his stomach's ache and in it you will meet the need of his heart's ache, as well.

- If he needs a coal to light his fire, don't send him away because of the inconvenient hour at which he seeks the coal. Invite him in, heap coals into his pot and send him away warmed and with what he needs to care for his needs.

- If he cannot see his way to your door to seek forgiveness for an offense, make a pathway to his door. Extend yourself beyond your comfort zone and don't allow any distance to become too great to bring reconciliation.

- If a man cannot see his way free of a burden he bears, come alongside him and lend him the hand to bear that burden - no matter how far that takes you out of your way. 

Our passage doesn't say we get an instant blessing from having done a little good in this world, but it does promise us it will "return to us" somehow. If not in the here and now, it will someday. Just be faithful. Jesus modeled the "rule" - he didn't just preach it. Maybe our greatest hope is to begin to model what we believe and have been taught! Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A reed is very strong

Some people refuse to bend when someone corrects them. Eventually they will break, and there will be no one to repair the damage. 
(Proverbs 29:1 ERV)

"You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks." (Ludwig Wittgenstein) We come across those from time to time who are just "un-bendable". They refuse any advice to do something a different way, determining their way is best of all, despite their lack of progress or inefficiencies. When we face these individuals, what is our reaction to their determination to "not bend"? It may be that we dig in our heels a little bit harder and try to make the point a little louder or with more determination ourselves. It could also be that we shake our heads, turn away, and just leave them to their own self-directed course. Either way, we do little to influence their unyielding determination. What they may ultimately require is the touch of God's hand in their lives, bringing such a "storm" as to bend them to the point they actually break.

While this is never the ideal, the broken tree can often be "re-birthed" - it just is left with very noticeable scars. I have a Palo Verde that backs up to my property that is constantly being whipped to and fro in the winds of the monsoons. Inevitably, there is a time when one or more of those branches gets broken off, splintering and tearing deeply at the soft green bark and yellow heart of the tree. That exposed area subjects the tree to disease, with the entrance of dust and bugs, water and debris. If the tree is lucky, it develops a way to heal, but the area where the branch was rent from the tree is forever noticeable. Some of the other trees on the same street have not weathered well those winds. They have been uprooted, left to the fate of being cut into firewood and hauled to the dump. 

Either way, these trees, while appearing strong, revealed there true "weakness" in the midst of the storm. The most versatile of tree isn't the one that is unyielding to the winds, but the one that is able to sway, giving way to the winds and allowing those winds to pass through their boughs without stressing them to the point of breaking. Their roots aren't superficial, and their boughs aren't spindly. I have pines in my yard and a couple of elms. Their branches might get whipped by the winds, but they remain intact. Their roots can be found yards and yards away from their base - making their anchorage broad and strong. I have had to "correct" the growth of these trees from time to time by anchoring them with stakes and binding their branches with ropes. In the end, they have become stronger and more able to endure the storms.

Rather than standing all proud and unyielding when the times comes for us to be "corrected" in our growth, wouldn't it be much better to endure the "harassment" of the stakes and binding ropes than to give way to the "renting" power of the stormy winds? Just askin?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Okay, enough of this already!

If I had not found joy in your teachings, my suffering would have destroyed me. I will never forget your commands, because through them you gave me new life. (Psalm 119:92-93 ERV)

We probably can all look back at points in our lives when we thought whatever it was we were going through just about "destroyed" us. Our joy was gone, energies depleted, and wherewithal to make any new decisions totally evaded us. In short, we were "suffering" - either by our own doing, or that of another, and it just about "undid" us. Our rescue in those times is often found in the simplest of things, but often the most overlooked when we find ourselves in the midst of tremendous suffering - his Word. It is by his Word all things were created - it is by his Word that all things are sustained - it is also by his Word all things are renewed and made whole again!

David sums it all up for us by reminding us that everything has its limits - even those things that seem to be unending and grossly overpowering in our lives (vs. 96). The one thing that is limitless is the power of his commands - his Word. We can count on this - take it to the bank, so to speak. His Word and the unfathomable power that "backs" that Word don't have any limits - they are all-powerful, all-knowing, always present. While we may not think our present suffering has any limit or end, God knows when and where that will be - and he knows exactly how it will come to pass. Isn't it silly for us to go through our suffering without looking into the one place where we will find such wisdom?

Just a few thoughts for us to take with us today:

- The places of our pain make perfect breeding ground for his Word to nest. What is the purpose of a nest? Isn't it to allow for "multiplication" and "renewal"? The bird makes a nest not out of habit, or because they needed something to occupy their time. The bird makes the nest in anticipation of what will one day come from that nest!

- That which becomes our constant companion has the greatest influence on us in times where doubt, fear, hopelessness, and anxiety want to invade our minds and hearts. If this be his Word, we will soon find there is no room for doubt - for his Word settles our minds and gives security to our heart (emotions). If this be his Word, we will also find fear and anxiety begin to diminish - for his Word brings peace beyond measure. If this be his Word, there will always be a reminder of the tremendous hope we have when we finally realize he is in control and how deeply he cares for those he loves. Just sayin!

Monday, August 7, 2017

The prize is already ours

I keep running hard toward the finish line to get the prize that is mine because God has called me through Christ Jesus to life up there in heaven. (Philippians 3:14 ERV)

I read this passage again this morning in the Easy to Read version and I saw a couple of things that really hadn't dawned on me before. While not every translation puts the original intent perfectly, there is some validity to just looking at the passage from a different perspective once in a while as it can bring things to light you may not have seen in quite that perspective before! Here's what I saw:

- The prize is already ours! We are running a race that is already pre-determined to have us as winners - to gain the prize, we just keep running. I think there are a whole lot of us that have the idea we run to attain - but we really run because it is already ours.

- We are called, so we should live up to our calling! Through Christ Jesus, we are called. In him, we have a new purpose and destiny. We are destined to live life, not just here on this earth, but in heaven. We are called to life up there - so maybe we need to adjust our focus a little higher at times - because too "low" of a focus may limit what we see!

- There is a finish line! At times, we might think this will never end, especially when the journey gets really, really hard. We don't want it to last too much longer, but there is a pre-determined finish line already clearly marked out by our loving heavenly Father. We just need to keep making progress toward the finish line.

- We don't have to run at full-out speed all the time, but we are asked to keep running! There is such a thing as pacing yourself for the journey ahead - to run too fast, too quickly may make it harder to actually finish. We need to speed up when there is energy, slow down to regroup energy, and then pick it up again when that energy is renewed. God is always going to provide for our renewal, but we need to be running in order to be in a position for those "rest stations" along the way.

The rest of the story is also helpful in order to understand why we run and what we are running toward:

12 I don’t mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. (My thoughts:  I don't think any of us is there yet, but we can move together toward that goal!) I have not yet reached that goal (My thoughts: Nor have you). But I continue trying to reach it and make it mine (My thoughts: We don't choose the prize - it is chosen for us - but we do run in such a way that we "make it ours"). That’s what Christ Jesus wants me to do. It is the reason he made me his. (My thoughts: We don't belong to ourselves - we are bought with a price and now we belong to him.) 13 Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me. (My thoughts: You can help me focus on the finish line - but you must be there alongside me in order to do that. You're running this with me - not against me! We are all winners! We all receive the prize!

Just sayin!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Give me a double portion, please

I saw a post in my social media feed this week which simply read: "Don't look down on anyone. Only God sits that high." There is much wisdom in this advice, my friends! We sometimes try to sit in God's place, don't we? The throne of judgment is reserved seating --- and none of us has what it takes to sit in that seat! Seriously, how many times do we maybe think in our heads (and hearts), "Sheesh, I'd never do something a ridiculous as that?" I know I find myself thinking this other person should "know better" or "have more sense" or "pick another hobby". They are just not doing very well and it is pretty evident, but do I need to be the one to point it out? Probably not.

God is light, and in him there is no darkness. 6 So if we say that we share in life with God, but we continue living in darkness, we are liars, who don’t follow the truth. 7 We should live in the light, where God is. If we live in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood sacrifice of Jesus, God’s Son, washes away every sin and makes us clean. (I John 1:5-7 ERV)

The idea of us all dealing with some measure of darkness in our lives means we might just be cut out of the same cloth! None of us escapes the darkness entirely - we are born into it, live among it, hear about it, observe it, and even engage in it on occasion! We find "darkness" comes in many different sizes and shapes, at various times of the day and night, in ways we don't always recognize, and with such subtlety that it is likely we may not even know it is there until it has fully enveloped us. The reason we cannot sit on that seat of judgment is that we aren't light - God is! He is the one who has "perfect view" of all the facts.

It is the same blood sacrifice we ALL need. It is the same measure of this sacrifice we ALL require in order to remove all evidence of darkness from our lives. This truth is the equalizing force for all of us. None of us is aware of just where the darkness lives within our lives - at least not entirely. We make judgments about our own lives and then suppose it is also "okay" to begin to do the same with the lives of others. The fellowship we "attain" is the one we "maintain" and that isn't going to happen very well as long as we see the measure of grace WE need as different than what others need.

My dear children, I write this letter to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone sins, we have Jesus Christ to help us. He always did what was right, so he is able to defend us before God the Father. Jesus is the way our sins are taken away. And he is the way all people can have their sins taken away too. (I John 2:1-2 ERV) 

What we need more of is this reliance upon Jesus to help us where WE need help - focusing squarely on the truth we ALL need to "better our acts". More of Jesus in us means less of US looking down on others for their mistakes, bumblings, and whatever it is they are "lacking" in their lives. He is the only one capable of defending us against all manner of judgment - because more of him equates to less of us! Just sayin!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Push-ups again?

4 You are struggling against sin, but you have not had to give up your life for the cause. 5 You are children of God, and he speaks words of comfort to you. You have forgotten these words: “My child, don’t think the Lord’s discipline is worth nothing, and don’t stop trying when he corrects you. 6 The Lord disciplines everyone he loves; he punishes everyone he accepts as a child.” 7 So accept sufferings like a father’s discipline. God does these things to you like a father correcting his children. You know that all children are disciplined by their fathers. 8 So, if you never receive the discipline that every child must have, you are not true children and don’t really belong to God. (Hebrews 12:4-8 ERV)

I am going to tell tales on myself this morning. As a kid, I really needed a whole lot of discipline in my life - not because I was a really "bad" kid, but because I had a tendency to get myself into one muddle after another. As mom used to point out, the company you keep makes all the difference - and I didn't always choose the best company to hang around with. That said, I was still responsible for each and every "dumb thing" I did, said, or conspired to do. Sometimes I didn't even have to hang around with anyone to get things all messed up! I could do it all on my own! Yet, one thing I remember specifically about my childhood is the discipline of loving parents. Yes, at the time I was going through that discipline, I thought they were "abusive", "mean", "too restrictive", and the list of insults could go on! You probably have been there yourself, because parents just "don't understand" what you are going through as kids - right? We have no fathoming of them as children once, dealing with their own set of rebellious actions and activities. Yet, they too went through those times of discipline - and therein is the message today - none of us escapes the discipline of God in our lives because he loves us too doggone much to let us continue in our mess.

Do our "messes" differ? Are we all alike in our need for discipline? While my particular "mess" may differ slightly from yours, at the root of it all there are very similar things - pride, envy, selfishness, etc. We are all pretty much cut from the same fabric, so despite our differences, we are all pretty similar! We ALL struggle with sin - even those who have been walking a little longer with Jesus than others. Sometimes I encounter an individual who wrongly believes at some "point" in life with Jesus all this struggling with sin should be no more. Honestly, as long as we are taking in breath, that struggle will be present - it will be real - and our need of the Father's discipline in our lives will continue. He disciplines, not out of anger, or frustration - but out of love and compassion. He desire for us to be free of those struggles, yet he knows we need to go through some of them to realize we need to embrace what he has been telling us will set us free and keep us free. To be free of today's struggle doesn't ensure we won't have a different struggle tomorrow, for each day brings its own challenges.

Discipline is really instruction - similar to what a new soldier goes through in Basic Training. The rigorous training is meant to get us into a position of realizing the advantages of working as a team, listening to the direction of those who have devised the plans, and then enacting those plans specifically as directed. God is the one who devises the plans for our lives - those that will keep us safe and help us to walk strong. There are times when we don't always embrace those plans - and we wonder why we are doing push-ups all the time! If you didn't know, the Drill Sargent would use the "push-ups" as discipline - to help us realize every time we didn't embrace the instruction we were given, following through with specific details, we'd pay a penalty for that wayward action. God isn't "punishing" us - he is helping us to refocus - just like the push-ups did for us in Basic Training. As long as you are focusing on doing 50-100 push-ups, you don't have much time but to think about not pursuing that same course again! Let me just say, I came away from Basic Training in the best shape of my life! It may not have always been because of my own need for the discipline, but because we ALL did the push-ups. Those opportunities to learn from each other's failures also increased the stamina and strength of each member of the team. If we don't need the discipline ourselves, chances are we will help one another walk through it because we are part of a "bigger team" in this walk with Jesus. Just sayin!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Radical Roots - 101

Faith is what makes real the things we hope for. It is proof of what we cannot see. 
(Hebrews 11:1 ERV)

Look up faith in any dictionary and you are likely to find a definition referring to the belief or trust in God one might have. This morning, I'd like us to consider what "radical faith" looks like - because I think this might just be what God intends for each of us. Faith is more than just a belief - it is a lifestyle - an allegiance and loyalty to someone or something. I have said it before, I can believe my car will start when I hit that ignition button each time, but I am like the rest of you - there have been times when I have just plain had a dead battery! The engine doesn't kick over - the car goes nowhere - and I am stuck wherever it is I am until that changes. In Arizona, the cells of these batteries dry out way too quickly and even "maintenance-free" batteries need maintaining! In our spiritual walk, sometimes what needs to happen is a little less of that "blind trust" - we need "roots" to our trust - and those roots need a little maintaining. 

Radical faith is that which has roots - solidly planted, immovable, and tapped into that which will nourish and make complete. Did you ever realize we get our word radical from the Latin word "radix" - the same word we get the word "radish" from. It refers to a root - that which gives anchorage and support. It refers to the "essential core" of something or someone. Our faith is defined by what is at the "essential core" of our lives - be it ourselves or God - that "core" is what will give us immovable anchorage or give way whenever the undermining effects of sin and pride get the best of us. We need deep roots - they help us stay "anchored" in what is going to see us through - they are always hopeful because they continue to grow toward that which gives them continual and ample supply!

Paul goes on in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews to remind us that faith helps understand what we cannot see - but which is all-powerful and all-knowing. It helps us understand the "unseen God" of the universe. God wants us to enjoy the blessing of knowing him deeply - of full restoration into fellowship with him. From there, we grow deeper and deeper in our devotion to him. That devotion fuels our passion for living and our delight in even the simplest of things. There is much to be said about having "good roots" - but equally as much to be said about where it is we find "a foothold" for those roots! Maybe it is time to not so much say we have "no faith" or "faulty faith", but that we look at where it is we have taken root. That place of our deepest roots should be will be where we go to find our strength. If it is barren ground, we can have all the roots we want, but we will still live barren lives. Just sayin!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

You want me weaker?

I feel weaker and weaker as I wait for you to save me.  But I put my trust in your word. (Psalm 119:81 ERV)

Have you ever just wondered why God makes us wait for something? Why is it the thing we so desperately desire or "require" seems to take so long to come to fruition in our lives? We don't always understand God's timing, nor do we appreciate it fully! We think, "You are all-powerful, God, so why don't you just do this right now?" We want to understand what he is waiting for - and we may be surprised it is for us to become just a little weaker. If God gave us everything at our strongest and most determined part of our lives, do you think we'd learn to trust him? Probably not!

As we become weaker and weaker, there is something that happens - we begin to lean into God. Don't believe me? Think of the last time you were really "desperate" for God to step in and do something in your life. The more your desperation grew, the weaker you got, and the more you pressed in to hear what he was saying, see how he was moving, and understand his purposes in whatever it was you were going through. It could just be God has a design in our waiting - it might just be to bring us to a place of "weakness" - that place where we press in just a little closer.

After a period of victory in our lives, what often comes our way? Isn't it a period that almost drives us to the point of desperation? We want the mountaintop experience all the time in our lives, but there is something beautiful about even the rocky and craggy places in our lives that we don't want to entirely miss. We develop strength in navigating those places under the hand and watchful eye of our Savior. We learn to look for the small blessings even in the most barren of places - because those symbols of hope bring us deeper into a place of trusting Jesus with our next steps.

In those rocky places, we grow weak - because navigating them takes all our strength and then some! We don't realize how limited our strength is until we are driven to the place where it wanes. We don't realize how weak we are until the challenge becomes too great for us to handle alone! I like to learn new things in various computer software programs, but when I want to, I don't just "experiment" with the buttons on the keyboard. I go to the experts - read their blogs, follow their detailed instructions, and watch their guiding videos to help me develop those skills I need for whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Why? They know what I don't!

God knows what we don't. He also knows we won't seek that knowledge sometimes until we have exhausted our own. It is at that place of weakness when we finally begin to reach out to find his solution. Maybe those places of challenge aren't all that bad after all. Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Not a genie in a bottle

Great blessings belong to those who fear and respect the Lord, who are happy to do what he commands. (Psalm 112:1 ERV)

Back in the day, I watched that funny little sitcom known as "I Dream of Jeannie" - a show about an astronaut who comes across a genie in a bottle. He has some huge adjustments to make in life as he "incorporates" this genie into his life, but if he could imagine something, she'd fulfill that wish. So many of us approach God as though we had found a genie in a bottle - expecting him to just jump when we say jump, and answer with "your wish is my command". We get things all backwards - for his commands are to become our wishes! They are to make us happy - to give us great and meaningful delight. 

There are far more of us than might want to admit it who approach God in our prayers as though we were making a selection from a vending machine. We "do something" and now we want something in return - like putting a dollar in the vending machine and expecting that sugary sweet snack to fall into our waiting hands. Prayer is communion - not wish granting. It is a time to lay things out that need sorting out - then to listen so we understand how to best proceed. It is a time for us to focus on others - not just ourselves. We've even heard of those deathbed prayers where someone promises God they will live differently if they are just spared whatever fate awaits them - bargaining with God to get a different outcome.

Our psalmist gives us some insight into our relationship with God - it is one of respect and service. We reveal that respect in reverence and obedience. We give him his rightful place - at the lead in our lives. We honor him for his leadership - by doing as he instructs - not our of obligation, but out of tremendous love for him. That genie astronaut Tony Nelson found that day actually loved him - she served him out of love, not obligation. We sometimes get those two mixed up - thinking obligation is part of love - but obligation carries the meaning of "having to" do something or being "made to" do something. Love is not "obligatory" - it is willful submission and the giving of oneself selflessly to another.

Respect is kindred to esteem - it is the way we show how much we value something or someone. God is for each of us to understand how much he values us, and in turn, we come to a place where we value that relationship we have with him more than anything else in the world. In essence, his wishes will become our commands - because we love so intensely we could not help but want what he wants, enjoy what brings him great joy, and elevate what brings him the greatest honor in life. Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

You used to live that way...

18 You know that in the past the way you were living was useless. It was a way of life you learned from those who lived before you. But you were saved from that way of living. You were bought, but not with things that ruin like gold or silver. 19 You were bought with the precious blood of Christ’s death. He was a pure and perfect sacrificial Lamb. 20 Christ was chosen before the world was made, but he was shown to the world in these last times for you. 21 You believe in God through Christ. God is the one who raised him from death and gave honor to him. So your faith and your hope are in God. (I Peter 1:18-21 ERV)

All of us have points in our lives that we look back upon and say, "I used to...", but now we "no longer". I used to run - but no longer. I used to play sports - but no longer. I used to be married - but no longer. I used to like that person - but no longer. I used to be thin - but no longer. You get the idea! "Used to" and "what is" are not always the same! In fact, there is very little that is actually the same in life - the last breath you just took won't be the same as your next, nor will the last blink your eye made open with the exact same view as the image you beheld just before that blink. Everything changes - but one thing remains sure - the foundation of God's love in our lives.

Our "used to" moments are likely not always that "good" when we look back upon them. I used to do a whole lot of things I am really grateful that I no longer do! If we are all honest here, there are probably some things that need to go into the "used to" category in our lives. They may even be those things God has been working in our hearts to get us to let go of for some time now, but we just don't want to "let go" because we have become emotionally attached to it. The emotional attachment may not even be all that "good" or "edifying", but we won't let go of it. The moment we let go, we know something will be different and "different" scare us because it is the "unknown".

Let me just say we all have some "useless" things we hold onto in our lives and God has probably been after us for a while to get us to just rid ourselves of those things. We all form these emotional attachments to perceptions that may not have been right, or actions that may have wounded us. We also form emotional attachments to hopes that aren't very realistic and need to be laid down in order for us to move on from where we are right now. In essence, these "attachments" are "useless" - they need to be moved into the "used to" category in our lives. There is hope - it is found in what Christ wants to do with us when we finally let go and cast those things squarely into the "used to" rubble pile. We may not fully comprehend what he plans for us when we do, but we can count that it will be awesome.

Why do I say that with such assurance? I think our passage points that out for us - Jesus' sacrificial death was perfect - he gives perfect gifts! His plans are perfect. His actions are perfect. His determination and perseverance are perfect. God doesn't do things "half-way". He goes above and beyond what is expected and does the unexpected - that is what grace is! We may not want to let go of the emotional ties we have to that thing we know he is telling us to be free of, but we can count on this - if he asks us to let go, it is just so he can hold onto us until we are fully free of its hold! Just sayin!