Thursday, August 31, 2017

Stupid or Wise?

The late Walt Disney reminds us the "way to get started is to stop talking and begin doing." It is quite easy to talk - another thing to actually put actions to those words! There are times when my words get the best of me, though - especially when I commit to do something before I really count the cost, or determine if I even have any enthusiasm toward the task at hand. In so doing, I commit myself to something I neither wanted to do, nor will I enjoy doing in the long run. Maybe you have done similarly, finding yourself smack-dab in the middle of something you absolutely dread will never end. When you are there, what you do next may actually determine just how long you stay in that state of misery! Most of us wouldn't dream of admitting we were wrong in making the commitment to do something, but those of us who actually realize it was worse to make the commitment than to admit it was wrong to make it might just realize a release from the commitment once we do! Others may actually see this as a strength in us - while we may think they will see it as a weakness.

8 You praise people for their intelligence, but no one respects those who are stupid. 
(Proverbs 12:8 ERV)

I am a "doer", which means I don't find much satisfaction in just "standing by" or "lolly-gagging around" when there is a task needing to be accomplished. Oftentimes, this works to my disadvantage, because I bite off more than I can chew! If you really want to evaluate whether you are taking on more than you should, just look at your "to do" list. If it is longer than your day, it is probably too much! When I first went into management, I had to learn the hard task of delegating some of the work that needed to be done. I had to engage others in the decisions being made and I had to paint a bigger picture for them so they would know where we were headed. Needless to say, those lessons were learned by trial and error. I made a whole lot of errors by enduring a whole lot of trials! 

It is honestly "stupid" to commit one's self to something just because you felt pressured, thought you could do it better, or maybe you were just too proud to admit you couldn't do it. Either way, you will be miserable. Wisdom exercised in choosing your commitments is never wasted. As our scripture states - no one can expect praise when they are over-extended, over-committed, and over-the-edge. We find praise comes when we are "doers", but peace comes when we are doers of the right stuff! Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Branch or Root

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." (Henry David Thoreau) 

The branches of evil are easier to deal with than the root, making going after the root a task many will avoid simply because of how hard it is to discover and then deal with in an effective manner. There are a whole lot of harmful things in this day and age, but actually being aware of their harm is another thing. Evil has learned to mask itself in ways we don't easily recognize, making it harder than ever to get at the root of it in our society today. As Thoreau proposes, there are a lot of attempts to expose evil, but very little is actually being successful at permanently eradicating it. The same can be true in our own lives - for evil lurks in places we might not have even considered - places we don't like to look!

12 God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So your new life should be like this: Show mercy to others. Be kind, humble, gentle, and patient. 13 Don’t be angry with each other, but forgive each other. If you feel someone has wronged you, forgive them. Forgive others because the Lord forgave you. 14 Together with these things, the most important part of your new life is to love each other. Love is what holds everything together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking. It is for peace that you were chosen to be together in one body. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15 ERV)

If we want to deal with evil in our own lives, we follow the above instructions. If we want to do more than "hack away at" the branches of evil in our society today, we follow these same instructions. It begins within each of us and it then begins to affect the root from which evil is able to find effective growth. Consider this:

- We have been chosen. When we go to the grocery store, we have something in mind which we will prepare for our meal. As we make the rounds to the various shelves and display cases, we observe a wide variety of products all promising us "good stuff" inside. We "choose" the ones we want based on whatever it is we desire - the low fat if we are watching our calories, the low sodium if we are concerned with how much salt we get in our diet. Based upon our desire, we choose what we believe to be best. God has already chosen each of us - that means he has selected what he believes to be the best! He has plans for us - a use for each of us. As his chosen, we begin a journey to be rid of evil ourselves and then to be instruments of his grace to help others to be rid of evil themselves.

- Evil gets an inroad anytime we refuse to follow these instructions. When we allow anger to burn deep within, it leads to hatred, and eventually to bitter and disgusting displays of hurtful actions. Evil is best eradicated where true love exists. God's love cannot tolerate evil - and his love indwells us as his grace embraces us. Evil isn't going to just disappear - it is "loved out of us" by his constant love and mercy! Now, we live by this same means - loving the evil right out of others as God has loved it right out of us!

- The root of almost all evil has the richest ground for growth in the realm of our thoughts. Thinking needs to be transformed if evil is to no longer rule in our own lives. The peace of God is the very thing that transforms our thinking, in turn transforming our attitudes and actions. It is impossible to truly be embraced by the love of God and continue to think the same way we once thought. His love will transform our thinking, in turn transforming the "root" of all we say and do. Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Don't discount the storm

I’m thanking you, God, out in the streets, singing your praises in town and country. The deeper your love, the higher it goes; every cloud’s a flag to your faithfulness. Soar high in the skies, O God! Cover the whole earth with your glory! And for the sake of the one you love so much, reach down and help me—answer me! (Psalm 108:3-6 MSG)

I am enjoying a week of respite away from the routines of life with my BFF - a rare treat and a privilege. We have already enjoyed sunny weather, awesome wildlife finds, and tremendous fishing. The evenings have been cool, the days mostly sunny, river waters refreshing, and breezes calming. We have had afternoon rain flurries, with mounting clouds, thunder claps, and displays of gloriously bright lightning. Even when it rains, there is something of beauty in our lives - whether it be the rainbow as the sun finally begins to break through or the vividly painted skies at sunset when clouds adorn the sky with colors galore. "Every cloud's a flag to your faithfulness." We should ponder those words, for they imply even the storms are a reminder of the faithfulness of our Creator.

"We all have life storms, and when we get the rough times and we recover from them, we should celebrate that we got through it. No matter how bad it may seem, there's always something beautiful that you can find." (Mattie Stepanek)  As we go through the storms, it may seem like we will never recover, but through God's grace and guidance, we somehow navigate to the other side of the storms bellows and booms. Psalm 107 reminds us it is God who quiets the winds to a whisper and the towering waves to calm waters (vs. 22-32) It also records our response to the calm - we become glad from the inside out. Why? We have discovered something of his love in the midst of the storm - a thing we may have missed had it not been for the times we were tossed to and fro. Even in the storm, we learn to soar!

Winds toss, but God's Word settles even the most raging of winds. Waves seek to engulf us, leaving us capsized and struggling for safety - but God's wisdom rescues us from even the most "engulfing" of issues. Worries capsize us, but God's peace rights us and helps us set course again. If we learn from the storm some nugget of truth which is reveals the preciousness of God's Word, then the storm hasn't been a catastrophe. If we learn not to struggle with our fears, but turn them over to him, we have indeed been blessed in the storm. When we embrace even a smidgen of his wisdom, allowing it to wash over us like refreshing waters on a hot summer's day, we have found the joy in the storm.

By definition, a storm is something we refer to as a "disturbance". This might just shed a little light on why storms come into our lives - to disturb us from those places of complacency we may have settled into without even knowing. We might discover how much we fear change, or where we have overlooked compromise. We could find we have embraced wrong attitudes, finding them as regular companions in our day's journey, only to find the summation of the day unfulfilling and a little frustrating. The storms aren't something to be taken lightly - for it is by them we face things we didn't easily see otherwise. It is also where we will find God's wisdom, peace, and guidance. Just sayin!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Plant on

Good people are like budding palm trees. They grow strong like the cedar trees of Lebanon.  They are planted in the house of the Lord. They grow strong there in the courtyards of our God. Even when they are old, they will continue producing fruit like young, healthy trees. They are there to show everyone that the Lord is good. He is my Rock, and he does no wrong.  
(Psalm 94:12-15 ERV)

Martin Luther said, "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I'd still plant my apple tree." Tomorrow may not be assured, but what we can do today is still in front of us. We must take advantage of what is right in front of us and not be so focused on what lies ahead that we ignore the tasks or responsibilities right in front of us. Luther reminds us we may not always see the fruit of our labors, but today's labor may be the very thing that produces tomorrow's harvest!

The moment we sacrifice what is right in front of us, the opportunity which may come further down the road may no longer be in our path. All God expects of us is our faithfulness with what we are given today. He doesn't deny us the right to "plan" for the future, or to even look forward to it, but he does not want us so consumed with the future that we fail to partake of the things we are called to do today. The time we spend planting today is never wasted. The farmer doesn't withhold the seed because he fears a few bad weather days or dreads the weeds!

What has God called you to plant? Is it your family you are to be "tending" right now? Or perhaps your "extended family" in church or your community? In just a little bit of faithfulness to those God has placed in our path there could be the reality of a harvest way beyond anything we might ever realize in this lifetime. Seeds planted in years and years before I was even born are producing a great harvest today - not just through the lives of "celebrity" preachers or teachers, but through the lives of regular people, consistently doing regular things, in quite regular ways.

It is natural to want to experience the fruit of our "labor", but it isn't always possible. To limit our focus to what we can see, feel, or touch right here in the here and now is to be way too near-sighted. There are times when we need to be faithful to what we are impressed to do and then leave the harvest to the next person who comes behind us. It may be hard to let go, but we aren't the ones responsible to bring the fruit - the Holy Spirit has that job. We are called to be faithful with what he asks of us, then leave the rest into his hands. In so doing, we are assuring what is planted has the potential to bring forth the greatest amount of fruit in just the right season. The key to fruit is faithfulness. Just sayin!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Boast only...

“Whoever boasts should boast only about the Lord.” What people say about themselves means nothing. What counts is whether the Lord says they have done well. 
Someone once reminded me my present issues and troubles don't determine where my life is headed - they merely make up the place where I can start (or perhaps even start again). I think they may have been quoting Nido Qubein who also reminds us, "Change brings opportunity."  As a novice using Excel spreadsheets, I built spreadsheets and workbooks of data only to find the elements I needed to extract from that plethora of data were so jumbled up I could not really get much meaningful data out of that mess. Over time, I came to realize the significance of not only the data housed in these sheets, but how it was organized in order to make meaningful use of it later on. In life, we often know we are supposed to do something with what it is we have right in front of us, but it is just such a jumbled mess we don't know how to go about it. We want to scrap it all and just get a fresh start. If I had scrapped all those worksheets of data, I'd have to start all that data entry again. Often all we really need in life is a "restructuring" of that which is right in front of us and we can go in a totally different direction than wherever it was we were headed.
In terms of what we say about ourselves while we are in the muddle of a mess we have created often determines how we will look at the mess as defining our destination, or describing the place we "begin again". Seeing "opportunity" in the midst of a mess is harder than one might imagine - because most of us have a tendency to get caught up in the mess. Yet, it is in observing these "disguised opportunities" as "launching pads" that help to drive us to our next destination, not keep us anchored where we are, that we finally move onto the journey that reveals the opportunity hidden deep within that mess! The ideal is that we don't get bogged down in the muddle, but that we see it as a place of beginning or beginning again. The reality is that the muddle clouds our view of the possibilities ahead.
If we could master one thing in life, we'd be all the better for it. What is that one thing? It is that we learn not to boast about ourselves when we are 'doing well', or bemoan the mess we are in because of our actions that bespeak us 'not doing so well'. We are to boast and hope in the Lord - for he is Lord IN and OVER the muddle and mess as much as he is the Lord IN and OVER all the stuff we find pleasing and orderly in our lives. It is in keeping this perspective that we can determine to make the mess a launching pad and not an anchor. Just sayin!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The past's place

It was Alfred Lord Tennyson who said, "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." He also said, "Tis not too late to seek a newer world." With all that is going on in our world today, wouldn't it be grand to seek a "newer world"? We may want to escape just a little of the present in hopes of finding a little bit better of a future - but what we have in the present cannot be ignored. We must deal with the present conflict and sorrow in order to really see change. This is a premise to change - sometimes sorrow leads us to make changes we might not ever see as necessary apart from that sorrow. As Tennyson alluded - wisdom is what lingers once the sorrow has produced the work of turning knowledge into life-change.

10 The kind of sorrow God wants makes people decide to change their lives. This leads them to salvation, and we cannot be sorry for that. But the kind of sorrow the world has will bring death. (2 Corinthians 7:10 ERV)

The Corinthian church was pretty upset over some letters they had received from the Apostle Paul, reminding them that they could not tolerate certain unholy practices within their community of believers. It seemed there were some practices just being "tolerated" - a "blind eye" being turned to them even though there was a sense or niggling these practices might just be "wrong". It can be more common than we might first imagine that we "overlook" certain things, knowing full-well they are not "holy" or "right", but for whatever reason, we tolerate them in our midst anyway. Sometimes it is "tolerated" because it makes up part of our "history". At others, it may be overlooked because it doesn't "seem to be that big of a deal". At some point, everything tolerated or overlooked has the potential to become a bigger influence in our lives than we might have imagined!

As these things might come to the surface, God isn't after us to just allow them to remain - he is asking for us to be open to the potential we might just need to deal with them - change won't happen until we do! I have said it before, but it bears repeating because I think this is a tough one for us to learn - change is inevitable, but it is also quite hard at times. Change might just mean we have deal with a little sorrow - the kind of sorrow that drives us to embrace what is not right and then deal with it once and for all (or better yet, we allow God, through his Holy Spirit, to deal with it).

Could it just be possible what some have tolerated for so long as part of their "history" might need some focus right now? History is not always "well-written", nor was it "well-rehearsed". History is what it is - sometimes good and sometimes bad. What is good, we should embrace. What isn't, we should allow God to deal with - using that sorrow as a means by which we might come to the place of embracing holiness in place of what is not. Just sayin!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Perfection this side of heaven?

Dr. Brene Brown reminds us, "You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging." None of us is perfect - none of us is "just right" when it comes to where we have been, are right now, or even where we are headed. Along the way, we have made a few missteps, created a little chaos in our lives, allowed words to flow forth from our mouths that ought not to have been spoken, and found fault in others for the same thing we do ourselves. Dr. Brown reminds us we find our true sense of belonging when we find ourselves being our true selves. I'd have to say we find our true identity in Christ - then we live "true" to who we are from then on!

8 If we live, we are living for the Lord. And if we die, we are dying for the Lord. So living or dying, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:8 ERV)

My "true self" apart from Christ is pretty "unlovable" - it made messes out of life's choices and created more than a little chaos in the lives of others who were just trying to love me. With Christ in my life, I'd have to say I am more "true" to self than I have ever been before - for I no longer have to live to impress myself or others - just to please him. Maybe this is why we find ourselves much more contented after we settle into this walk with Jesus - because we don't have to try so hard to find our sense of belonging or prove our worth in this lifetime.

I want to stop for just a moment to consider something referred to in modern day circles as "perfectionism". In today's economy, there is a high price put on those who can somehow conform to some image we expect of others. We place a premium upon what we see as the ideal employee, mate, leader, etc. We even pay a little more to gain the employee, seek out that mate, or elect that leader. Having lived for more than half a century now, I can assure you no one has really reached "perfection"! The premium we "pay" to attain perfection in ourselves or in others is a high price to pay and not always assured of the "return on our investment" we'd hoped to achieve!

Perfect doesn't exist this side of heaven. It takes heaven getting into us to even bring us close to the place we realize "perfection" - and then I don't even know if we "arrive" at that destination this side of actually being in heaven. We seek an unattainable goal in our natural ability or power. We strive for what cannot be created - but which exists in the one who created it all in the first place! Rather than seeking an elusive "standard" of perfection, maybe we'd do well to seek the one who IS perfection! Just sayin!

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Anyone who makes fun of wisdom will never find it, but knowledge comes easily to those who understand its value. 
(Proverbs 14:6 ERV)

Socrates reminds us the only true wisdom is in knowing that you know absolutely nothing! On occasion, my BFF will ask me a silly question that goes something like, "Is there anything you cannot do?" I usually just glare at her or answer there are a lot of things I don't know and have never tried. Some will never be known by me, nor tried, for they are not in the plans God has for me in this lifetime. There will always be things we cannot know or do in this lifetime, but we can count on this - the things we need for today are readily at our disposal simply by asking God for them!

The knowledge we need for today's decisions is at our disposal - we often just don't go to the right source. I have several websites I consult when I want to figure out something challenging with a spreadsheet function or formula at work. The problem comes in knowing what it is that I want to do (at least knowing how to describe it in "Excel-speak"). I know what I want to accomplish, but I may not know the right name for the formula or function, so I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what something is called before I can ever accomplish doing it!

In life, we often spend more time trying to put a "name" to what it is we hope to accomplish and a lot less time actually accomplishing it! This is not always a problem, because the time we spend discovering the destination is often helping us to get ready for what it is we shall encounter once we arrive. The issue comes in not asking for the wisdom to get from where we are to where we want or need to be. Wisdom is best exercised in the time we spend asking - for in asking we make discovery - in discovery we make steps forward or stop what we are doing. Part of asking is in listening - for whatever we desire in this lifetime will only be accomplished when we are wise enough to discover through listening to the voice of God. Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Come as you are....

10 God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 ERV)

Big nose, tiny toes, dimply or bony knees, brown or pale skin tone, wiry or thinning hair - all of us are unique. In our uniqueness, we all have exactly one thing in common - we are made "what we are" by God himself. Each of us is a unique creation of his hand. We can go through life trying to "remake" what we are by getting this lifted or plumped, that tattooed or pierced, or even just a touch up here or there over the years. We go through life trying to change whatever "image" of ourselves we don't fully appreciate, or which others have poked fun at for some reason. We almost forget we were uniquely and wonderfully made by the hand of the Almighty "just as we are"!

If we want to "remake" ourselves, we might just need to refer back to this scripture once in a while to remind ourselves the "remake" is God's business. He is the one who makes us "new people" - with the express purpose of spending our lives doing the good things he has planned for us to do. There is a song I like to listen to once in a while to remind me this "remake" is God's business - it is "Come As You Are". I'd like us to consider the words of this song this morning as part of our devotion together.  It is sung by the Crowder band. 

The words begin with, "Come out of sadness, from wherever you've been. Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin. Come find your mercy - Oh sinner come kneel. Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal."

- There is no "imperfection" in our lives - done by or to us - that heaven's grace cannot heal. Rescue begins the very moment we kneel in submission to his grace. What - submission to his grace? Yes, grace is something accepted and to accept something, we have to submit to the influence of it in our lives. 

The song continues: "So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame. All who are broken, lift up your face. Oh wanderer come home. You're not too far. So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart. Come as you are."

- No matter who we are, or what we have done, all we need is grace. We receive the change we are so desperately desiring not by doing, but by resting - by laying those things down before the throne of grace and just resting in the finished work of Christ.

The next words speak the loudest to me: "There's hope for the hopeless and all those who've strayed. Come sit at the table, come taste the grace. There's rest for the weary, rest that endures. Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't cure."

- Stray as we might, there is always the rest we so desperately need right there at the table he has prepared for us. The rest is the result of grace - weariness comes as we stray away from "center" in our lives into any path which leads us away from that table of grace. Rest returns as soon as we take our place at that table once again. In the times Jesus walked this earth, the tables weren't surrounded with hard chairs, but pillows that one lounged upon as one dined and enjoyed the company at the table! Maybe it is time we lounge a little in God's grace!

The song ends: "So lay down your burdens. Lay down your shame. All who are broken, lift up your face. Oh wanderer come home - you're not too far. So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart. Come as you are - come as you are. Fall in his arms. Come as you are. There's joy for the morning. Oh sinner be still, earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal. Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal. So lay down your burdens. Lay down your shame. All who are broken, life up your face. Oh wanderer come home - you're not too far. So lay down your hurt - lay down your heart. Come as you are."

- We are never too far gone for grace to reach us right where we are. If we want to be remade, we come to the one who knows how we are "originally made" - for he is the expert on what gets laid down, picked up again, and put right by his hand. Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Aiming on the Fly

John Maxwell reminds us that our daily agenda is what determines where it is we will be pointed that day. We start well, but do we always finish the same course we started? If you work in an environment like I do, you probably will answer that one as a resounding "NO". Our healthcare environment might allow us to "plan" our day one way, but the demands of the day can change at breakneck speed. We have to be "flexible" in our aim, but still maintain some semblance of pursuing that aim. In our jobs, this might be okay - in the direction our life takes emotionally, spiritually, and within relationships - that might just be a different story.

Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ERV)

With every step we take, we have a choice - we can choose what seems best to us, or we can take a microsecond to just possibly reach out to God for his wisdom in the matter. Too many times, people tell me they don't have time to wait on God - to take that time to consult him with their steps. I wonder how that is really working for them? They may never know just how much of God's knowledge they missed out on just because they didn't ask! The truth of the matter is that we don't need to fall to our knees, get ourselves "right" in an attitude of prayer, and then spend time there until God talks to us. While there are appropriate times for this type of contemplative reflection and fellowship with our heavenly Father, he is also right there in those microsecond prayers when we merely say to him, "This way or that?"

I believe this is what Paul had in mind when he reminds us to pray continually (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). It isn't that we need to be alone in our "Prayer Closet" - that place where we spend time with God - but that we live a life of continual contact with him. This may seem hard for some who have grown up in a little bit of a "religious" bent where the church you attended had specific prayers you prayed at certain times, or specific "formulas" you followed in "getting yourself right with God". I grew up Catholic, so I come from the background of "prayer books" and all those "ups and downs" of kneeling, rising, kneeling, rising of the church service. Don't get me wrong - I am not criticizing - but I didn't actually know WHY there was these requirements for prayer. I much preferred just getting real with God, telling him like it was, and being my real self with him. The "religious" part of me just didn't connect with him - but my genuine part did!

I think this is where God wants all of us to get to in our walk with him - the genuine part that leans heavily upon him, settling into a consistent and purposeful rhythm with him. It is as though he asks us to breathe him in and out - with each breath we take being a moment of contact with him. In terms of "praying purposefully" and allowing him to help direct our choices, I think we do this a whole lot more "on the fly" than we do in those "contemplative moments" we call prayer time! "On the fly" we find ourselves face-to-face with the things we need to have answers for in the here and now. Maybe we don't get all the answers, but we get a sense of the general direction we are to aim and then we move in that direction. God helps us because we remain aware of his presence with us all day long - not just in those quiet, contemplative moments. Just sayin!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Do or do not...

How can a young person live a pure life?  By obeying your word. I try with all my heart to serve you.  Help me obey your commands. I study your teachings very carefully so that I will not sin against you. Lord, you are worthy of praise!  Teach me your laws. I will repeat the laws we have heard from you. I enjoy following your rules as much as others enjoy great riches. I will study your instructions.  I will give thought to your way of life. I enjoy your laws. I will not forget your word. 
 (Psalm 119:9-16 ERV)

"Do, or do not. There is no try." (Yoda - Star Wars) "I'll try" is one of the most overused phrases in the English vocabulary! We "try" to make it to some event that we really don't want to go to anyway. We "try" to learn how something is done, but there is no real joy in our effort and we'd rather just avoid it anyway. We "try" something new, but we know we won't see it very far because it isn't "our cup of tea" in the first place. We "try" to be consistent with exercise, but it is just plain hard and there are lots of other conflicts demanding time out of our schedules. You get the point - we "try" way too much and lack the follow-through to actually "do" very much!

There is just one thing we cannot compromise on in this lifetime - putting forth the effort to get as close to God as possible. It isn't a thing we "try" for a while and then just think it will be okay to ignore it. It is a consistent spending of time getting to know him and letting him show us just how much of ourselves he knows, but maybe we weren't aware of ourselves! Obedience isn't about "trying", it is about "doing" and this with consistency! In all our "trying", one of the most common things we don't realize is that if we'd simply ask God's help with our consistency, we might actually find it comes more naturally and with even more "tenacity" than we might ever dreamed possible.

Do - or do not. There is really no middle ground there - either you are on the side of the fence "doing" or on the one of "not doing". It is pretty much impossible to ride the fence on this one. Consistency isn't really "taught" as much as it is "caught". When we begin to see new things, we want to explore other things that we might discover. As we start to find enjoyment in something, we make a mental (and heart) determination that there might be more we'd enjoy about whatever it is we are finding enjoyment in at that moment. So, we put forth effort to pursue whatever it is that brings us into newness or gives us that sense of enjoyment.

Obedience isn't difficult - it is consistency in that obedience that gives us the challenge. We know what we are "supposed to do", but we don't always have the "drive" to do it. It is the age-old issue of having our cake and eating it, too! We want to "do", but we start with "try" and before long we find ourselves "having tried", but not really "doing". God's greatest gift to us that can help us in our "doing" is this person resident within each of us - the Holy Spirit. His urging and prompting can often be the difference between us having "tried" and us actually finding ourselves "doing"! We just need to learn to listen a little closer to his prompting and we'd probably find ourselves realizing we are "doing" much more than we ever did when it was us "trying" alone! Just sayin!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Mistake meet Retake

If you refuse to learn from your mistakes, you will be poor, and no one will respect you. If you listen when you are criticized, you will be honored. 
(Proverbs 13:18 ERV)

When was the last time you made a mistake? I mean the "very last time" you made one. Likely you haven't make your "last one", nor have you recalled "all" the mistakes you have made in the last week, let alone in your lifetime! Mistakes are a part of life - it is part of being human. Sometimes we call them "errors", but whether we call them mistakes or errors doesn't matter - the fact is we all "make them". A mistake is any "error" in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge. We don't have to work at making mistakes - they happen most of the time because something wasn't "working" in us!

There are two words in the English vocabulary that are kind of awesome: Mistake and Retake. One describes the error, the other the opportunity to "redo" or "re-take" the steps again until we get it right! It is possible a mistake is just us not really understanding how to do something - such as when I put together one of those assemble-it-yourself pieces of furniture only to find I put a part in backward somewhere back around step three when I am now on step twenty-three! I didn't understand there were two ways to look at the object I assembled and it created a problem much further down the line when I tried to get other pieces to align. This is how mistakes often affect us - they may not be fully recognizable until we attempt to get other things to "align" in our lives.

Retakes are an opportunity to "take back" or "take again" certain steps. We do a "retake" when we want to correct something that didn't go as planned or turn out as well as we'd have liked. In the film making industry, retakes are common. The director will call for them time and time again, getting the lighting just right, having the characters portray just the right amount of emotion or passion in their acting, or even just having the right pauses where he wants them - all in the interest of getting it right. In life, we want to "get it right". We want to do it right the first time, but if you are like me, your life has been a series of "retakes" along the way! It is nothing to be ashamed of - grace is really God's version of a retake!

John Maxwell reminds us, "A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them." If we are honest here, most of the time we don't want to "publicly" admit them - nor do we want anyone to know we have taken steps to correct them - we just want them to see that we "got it right". If we are to help each other in this lifetime, we need to realize mistakes are part of life and we often will profit most from those others share with us - for their steps taken in their "retakes" are often what can help us out of our own mistaken path or keep us from ever veering in that direction in the first place! Rather than conceal a mistake, be honest to share when a "retake" has been necessary. Sometimes it is realizing a "reset" was needed that actually stimulates another to realize their own life needs a similar "retake"! Just sayin!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wings that bear us to heaven

Michelangelo may have had a different meaning in mind when he penned the words, "Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven," but I believe these two things do indeed create the pathway for our entrance into the heavens. It was the death of Christ and the insane love of God that created the pathway we follow into heaven. Nothing short of these two, nor any other path has the potential of creating the same degree of peace, harmony, or path to change in a person's life. It was God's love that set out the course of the path and it was Christ who walked it faithfully on our behalf!

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. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we are saying that God is a liar and that we don’t accept his true teaching. (I John 1:5-10 ERV)
We share in this life with God, not through any of our own efforts, but because Christ walked that pathway of death on our behalf. We may experience physical death at some point in our lives (in fact, it is statistically pretty close to 100% who can count on this one). That physical death doesn't have to be the end for us, though. It can be the magnificent entrance into the dwelling place of the divine if we have allowed the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ to speak eternal life into us. Death may seem like a "dark path" for some of us because we don't understand death's sting has been taken away through the sacrificial love and obedience of Christ. It isn't something to dread, but something to embrace as it approaches, for we know that path leads directly into the presence of the heavenlies.

Notice our passage today - it speaks of "sharing" in life with God. This is only possible because God makes that pathway "open" to each of us. He has provided the means by which we travel this path and it is one that moves us from a plaguing place of darkness into a permanent place of light and peace. It is this pathway we consider this morning, for as John so aptly reminds us - it is all about the light we experience and the dissipation of the darkness which "true light" produces. The point of light we follow isn't a "broad" light, like that of a lighthouse. It is the pinpoint accurate light of a "laser". We are focused on one thing - eternity. We are determined to live by one thing - trust. We are committed to one thing - truth. We are motivated by one thing - love. The path of light we follow isn't "broad spectrum", but radiant focus!

Along this path, we discover the wretchedness of our inner condition. We come face-to-face with the reality of the darkness that dwells within - the places where light has yet to reach and where light so desperately needs to make discovery. We open up to the possibilities of healing only when we understand we are sick and in need of that healing! Sometimes we think death to something means there will never be any life again - but the exact opposite is the truth. The death to one thing (that thing we have held onto so fervently) can open the path to the possibilities of something much greater once we let it go. Sin may not seem like much until there is the evidence of light - the presence of God's permeating love and his tender mercies that seek it out. Light isn't going to heal us, but his love will. Light merely opens us up to the point of realizing we need health in our lives - we need life anew. Just sayin!

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!