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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Stem Cell Transplant

God, create a pure heart in me, and make my spirit strong again. Don’t push me away or take your Holy Spirit from me. Your help made me so happy. Give me that joy again. Make my spirit strong and ready to obey you. I will teach the guilty how you want them to live, and the sinners will come back to you. (Psalm 51:10-13 ERV)

Purity of heart is not something we accomplish on our own - we definitely need God's help with this one! In fact, it is impossible for the "impure" to ever reproduce "pure". The strength of spirit it took to compromise, or downright follow a path of impurity in the first place is what should make us realize we don't "find purity" on our own. We need (and we want) God to make our spirit strong again - but in the right direction!

It is one thing to be strong - it is another thing to exhibit the strength that is initiated and sustained by God himself. I can be a very strong-willed individual, but does that strength of will always produce the right outcomes in my life? Absolutely not! In fact, to be totally honest here, whenever my strength of will is in control, I kind of follow a course not so honoring to God!

Where God is given will, he produces that readiness to obey. In other words, when we eventually make a determined choice to stop demanding our own way, God begins to reproduce within us his strength of character that redefines our choices. Most of the time, this is exactly what keeps us in the compromising circle anyway - choices that need a little redefinition! His character reproduced within us isn't going to just come alongside impure character within us - it replaces it!

Think of God's grace as "stem cells" that have the ability to reproduce "good" and "vital" cells of solid character within. They are the "cells" that will overcome the "bad cells" of our own character that need to be gone anyway! We might "want to" change our character - but we lack the right "cellular materials" I would like to call the "purity cells". The character of God is exactly that - so he takes his "purity cells" and transplants them through "grace moments". 

The thing that makes the difference when that "transplant" occurs is our openness to receiving the new "cells" of his character. If we are really desirous to have a change of character, we usually don't "reject" that new growth - but we embrace it. Yes, there will be a conflict because nothing within us dies easily when it comes to our sin nature, but it is possible the more we focus on doing the right stuff that allows those "purity cells" to take hold! Just sayin!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Defined or conformed?

"Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces." (Matthew Henry) When we really stop to think about it, there are indeed times we equate affliction with some form of punishment, totally disconnecting that these present moments of affliction are really the things that reveal the tremendous depth of God's grace. Were it not for the opportunity the afflictions produce, we might not see the faithfulness of God in quite the same way, or his power, love, or depth of unending grace.

The Lord saves those who are good. When they have troubles, he is their strength. The Lord helps good people and rescues them. They depend on him, so he rescues them from the wicked. (Psalm 37:39-40 ERV)


Trees grow strong, but it is more than soil that makes them strong. It is the winds that challenge their rooting and give them cause to grow deeper than ever before. The trunks of those trees grow broader, giving them substance and greater resistance to the winds that come. When a tree is not subjected to any kind of adverse weather, it becomes "lazy" - it has been protected too long and it no longer is driven to have deep roots. Although it is "pretty", it won't endure! God wants more than "pretty Christians" - he wants those who will be able to endure!

The strong winds of adversity are like those that buffet the tree. They actually remove some of the dead growth from the tree. Adversity often has a way of revealing dead growth in us - those things that are just "hanging on" that we really need to be rid of once and for all. When the dead is gone, the new is free to take its place! As long as we hold onto the dead, the only hope we face is for decay! Roots are solid when they are in good soil, but even good roots can get tangled up in things they had ought to stay away from!

The winds of adversity also have a way of forming the tree. If you have ever explored the forest for any length of time, you will notice the trees have a certain "direction" to their growth. In a place were winds tend to prevail from the same direction for a lot of the time, you will notice the branches of those trees seem to also point a little more in one direction than the other. The winds have "formed" the tree's "bent" in life. Adversity doesn't have to define us or conform us to its shape - it can actually turn us toward the direction which will give us the greatest stability in life.

Old growth removed, roots solid, and expansive trunk - all signs of a tree that will likely be around a long, long time. But...all it takes is one tiny fungus, or even a little beetle with a bite that sucks life from the tree, and the tree is open to destruction. This is why it is equally as important to have one who knows the trees observe the tree for signs of "infecting or parasitic growth". The less the tree is tended, the greater the chances are of it developing issues that can go undetected until much damage has occurred. We need God's constant focus on our lives, especially if we are to ever withstand the adversity of the strong winds! Just sayin!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not another minute!

Wait for the Lord’s help. Be strong and brave, and wait for the Lord’s help. (Psalm 27:14 ERV)
We've discussed this before, but I don't like to wait. The time it takes to "wait" in line, or for slow traffic to clear while others in front of me gawk at a fender bender is almost unbearable to me. Why is it so hard to wait - because it is not very "productive" time! It wasn't until I was well into my adult years (and I mean "well into") that I began to realize there might actually be a purpose in waiting when it is waiting on the right stuff. 
Waiting for the Lord's help is one of those "right things" I need to be able to do. In fact, when I choose to wait on his help in my life, I realize something I actually need - strength and courage! Strength for the long haul and courage to face whatever the next challenge is that is just around the bend. Strength comes as we wait - not in us charging ahead under our own power or determined to do things our own way. Waiting involves us being willing to admit the "power" we need is something we don't possess on our own.
Waiting also involves a good deal of courage, because feeling the pressure begin to raise as we wait isn't always all that comfortable. We often charge ahead because we didn't want to deal with even the slightest bit of discomfort in our lives. Think about that traffic jam for a moment. All these "looky-loos" who are rubber-necking to get a view of the cars involved in the accident aren't paying very good attention to their own driving. They are too busy trying to make assumptions about someone else's driving that caused that accident. It takes courage to pay attention to our own course and not to gawk around, making assumptions about another's course in life.
Waiting assumes we have the time. With an elderly mother at home, I sometimes need to make a quick trip to the grocery store to just pick up a few things, but mom doesn't want to go for such short trips. I usually get the items I need, trying to stay focused on the "list" and then head for the register. Don't you know those are the times when they only have ONE register open - except all those "self-serve" ones!!! I have just enough to not qualify for the "speedy lane" and too much to go through the self-serve because I couldn't bag it all on that tiny pedestal beside the register. Alas, I must wait. But...my grocer is the best! They SEE me waiting as the third person in line and within seconds of me standing there they open another register.
What happened there? The management of the store anticipated my need. In much the same way, God knows our needs - he anticipates when waiting goes beyond the point which requires immediate action. Then HE takes the action! When we give God the authority to lead our lives, we also give him the authority to know when the right amount of time waiting has been accomplished! Just sayin!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Rice cake living

The Lord tells his secrets to his followers. He teaches them about his agreement. I always look to the Lord for help. Only he can free me from my troubles. (Psalm 25:14-15 ERV)
Another word for "agreement" is a much more formal one - covenant. It is always made between at least two parties, one of which is obligated to certain actions. In this case, God is the one who covenants with us - he is the one obligated to continually take certain actions based upon his unyielding love and unending grace. Our part in the agreement is to follow his teaching - to adhere to the principles that actually provide boundaries that will keep us safe. All of God's teachings contained within the scripture, even the bad stuff about those who chose not to adhere to them, is put there so we can learn to walk within these boundaries.
God uses example to teach as much as he uses words. He knows we often learn best when we can see it lived out in someone's life. This means we also have the ability to learn from those who choose not to follow his teachings - for their life is also an example of living "with" troubles.Yes, it is possible for one who chooses not to obey the teachings of Christ to move beyond troubles, but do they have the same unlimited peace as they go through them? Likely not! Do they come out on the other side of those troubles feeling the love and protection of God? Likely not. Yes, they "made it through", but making through under our own power is kind of like eating a rice cake - it lacks much "flavor".
God's covenant (agreement) with his followers is to always be there as an "ever-present help in troubles". That means we don't have to feel obligated to figure things out on our own. We can bring them to him, lean into him for wisdom in dealing with the trouble, and then take steps "with" him to get through the trouble. We don't just "get through" troubles when we walk them out with him, though. We "come through" with grace, wisdom, and a deeper sense of trust in his keeping power.
Since it is impossible for God to lie, his covenant is as "solid" as can be - it is an unbreakable agreement. Herein is the difference between standing on our own through troubles and walking "in him" --- one relies totally upon the mustered effort of mere human while the other relies upon the limitless effort of the Creator of all things. We limit the outcome of the trouble every time we choose to go through them apart from his grace and outside of his love. Both of these are given as part of his covenant and to choose to walk outside of those boundaries is to choose "rice cake" living. It may "fill the space", but it doesn't really satisfy all that well! Just sayin! 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Outlook

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14 ESV)
Have you ever noticed how quickly your mouth betrays the musings of your heart? The longer you dwell on something in your mind, mulling it over and allowing emotion to become attached to the idea, the more the idea has a way of "spilling over" into your words and actions! There is no disadvantage to this as long as those musings are pure, kind, and Christlike in nature. As soon as they turn inward toward the self-demands of our flesh, the worse those musings become!
John Maxwell reminds us that it is our attitude that others feel, even though they hear our words. That is why tone of voice so often betrays the true intent of the heart. There is not denying a begrudging or peeved attitude - it comes across in ones words just through the tone in which they are spoken. This makes it even more important for us to determine the right stuff for us to "meditate" upon - those things that become the musings of our heart.
When we "meditate" according to scripture's use of this word, it means we mull things over and over until we find the "meat" in it, or we become totally absorbed in it. If these meditations are on the things of God, such as a portion of scripture or some good word we have been taught by the pastor, these tend to produce things of high value or reliable worth. There is an ability for these musings to bring about change - especially when it comes to needing to have our attitude adjusted in any way!
While it may be kind of hard to meditate upon God's Word all day long, or sequester oneself away forever, it is possible to entertain good thoughts, allowing these thoughts to spill over into right actions and eventually those right thoughts and actions produce more. Whenever we find ourselves musing upon the things that are negative or anxiety-ridden, we are going to see ourselves making some pretty "wrong" decisions - we will act out of that negativity or anxious fear. When we meditate more upon God's grace and his love, we find these things give us a better "outlook" in life. 
Outlook is then determined by that which we determine to be our "inward look". What we dwell upon the most or the longest will determine our outlook in life. Just sayin!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Change - is this the right time?

A long time ago I began to realize the very best thing to do was to change before someone told you that it was time you did! While change is not always easy, it may be the more respectable and desirable of courses to take! Those who actually "make it" in big business will tell you they have to remain ahead of the curve - they must keep up with the demands of their customers - always anticipating if change will be necessary in order to have a product or service that will remain in demand. There are just some things that must change in order to remain "ahead of the curve" in our lives, but there are also some things that must remain very consistent if we are to change in the right direction!


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. 
(Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV)

The things that must not change:

1) The steadfastness of our trust - we must guard against placing this trust in anything or anyone other than the Lord himself. Any other foundations will crumble - causing us to be taken off-course very quickly. Trust implies a reliance upon - what we rely upon the most is revealed in our actions. If our actions betray a trust in something other than him, it is time to take the right action to move toward him as our Lord. As is declared in that "title", the Lord is one who is owner, possessor, master, and supreme authority. When Jesus gets his right place in our lives, we are assured to have a foundation that helps us live "ahead of the curve".

2) The commitment to place heart and mind in his care - both of these are pretty much "connected" when they are spoken about in scripture for the mind is greatly impacted by the "bent" of the heart (emotions). This being said, it is critical to our remaining consistently ahead of the curve to have both of these in alignment with the heart and mind of Christ. I find this easiest when I take time each day to just listen to what he has to say to me - in scripture, in prayer, and in just observing things around me. He speaks through others, in the gentle bending grass in the field, and the tumbling leaves in a gust of wind. The evidence of his good and caring heart is all around me - I just need to look. Once I see it, I lean into it and just enjoy that revelation of who he is. This builds trust and gives a sense of "settling peace" to otherwise chaotic and sometimes downright disturbing thoughts that could take me down paths I don't want to pursue.

The thing that must change:

1) The tendency to trust our own understanding of the issues - when we really submit to his lordship in our lives, we begin to realize we don't always see the bigger picture, nor do we understand how each step we take will impact the other steps we will have to take to realize our destination. Yet, we take those steps in faithful determination to remain on course - not because we "have to", but because we know our own understanding may be "flawed" by what we perceive, feel, or have trusted in before. We develop a better understanding of life's challenges with each one we face, but a lesson is best learned when we are open to understanding things from his perspective! Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Change begins with each influencing thought

Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. (Romans 12:2 ERV)
It is hard not letting the world change us, isn't it? We see so much that influences the way we feel about ourselves, from fashion to weight reducing surgery. We come across all manner of bad news meant to "inform us" and then the occasional story meant to "inspire us". We hear reports of war, threats of power-hungry men seeking notoriety in not so friendly ways, and even stories of terrible choices made by others that leads to astronomical outcomes ranging from suicide by the bullied and mass murders by the angered or insane. The world has a way of changing us in direct proportion to the amount of the world we allow to get inside of our minds, emotions, and hearts. The ability to resist the force tugging at our soul to conform to any outward influence is to ensure the right internal influence remains front and center in our lives.
Every thought must be brought captive - we must not dwell upon the things that influence us externally, but focus on those things that God places in our hearts to act as "steadying" influences in our lives. As with a compass, God's influence beckons us to "true North" - toward the things that bring him honor and those which build us up, not to those things that tear us down. With every desire to move toward the world's influence, there is an equal, but more reliable desire to move closer into God's presence and grace. Even though the compass points North, the traveler still has the ability to choose any "degree" of passage they like, though. We are not going to resist the influence of the world if we get nothing more than the input of the world, though. So, determining course setting and then ensuring we remain consistently on that solid course ensures we will be able to navigate around or through what would otherwise get us all muddled up.
The change we so desperately need is not external - it is internal. The heart is the seat of all manner of both good and bad intent. The way of ensuring the actions are consistently good is to allow God to change the heart - to change the way we think. The way we think is influenced by what we "let into" our lives. If we are letting in the Word on a regular basis, we often will fall back upon what our understanding of God's desires and instructions are for our lives. If we let in worship music, those words will resonate within the times frightening thoughts might want to creep up. What gets inside affects what we become - plain and simple. Guard what you allow in and you will be more ready to resist the wrong influences in your life. Change begins at the core of man - in the heart. The heart and spirit unite as one, in turn becoming less and less influenced by the world's "bad news" and "bad intent" and more and more by the stable forces of grace, love, and peace. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

But this hurts....

I say this because I know the plans that I have for you.” This message is from the Lord. “I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future. (Jeremiah 29:11 ERV)
We all start on new ventures with a little sense of apprehension, not sure of which way the events before us will unfold. We are open to something new, but also a little bit fearful that "new" will be harder than we might really want to experience. We don't always know the full depth of the chasms we will have to traverse, nor do we appreciate the full height of the hills we might come to find ourselves gazing outward upon. Yet, we begin.
Do we have to know the fullness of God's plans to trust him with our lives? I don't even think we are able to think things out to the fullest in our own finite thinking, so no, I don't think we need to know all God will do with what we are about to encounter. I do believe we need to trust he will not hurt us. I need to trust he will take whatever small hope I have and multiply it into the dynamic faith that will take me through what he has planned.
Having said that, let me deal with this feeling some might have of God not caring, or being a little "harsh" with them because they have gone through hard places in their lives. Hard places aren't always God's doing. Sometimes hard places are there because of our own doing, but most of the time they are there because evil exists in this world. We cannot live in a bubble - evil affects us all - some to a much higher degree than others.
If it is impossible to live without evil around us, what is possible? We can live without evil IN us. God's presence isn't going to take us out of evil, but it will help us to live in such a way evil doesn't gain an inroad into our lives. Some may ask how innocent people can be affected by evil - even those who know and trust God. God doesn't say we won't be in the path of evil intent, he tells us to trust him to give us the integrity to live upright in the midst of all manner of evil.
God's plans give us great reason to hope - for his plans are always for good in our lives. We might not understand how God can bring good out of tragedy, but as long as he remains our constant companion, he does. Just sayin!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wildfire or Stoked Fire?

Richard Nixon reminds us, "The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire." The hottest fires can be the ones that come up unexpectedly and consume way more than we ever thought possible by one tiny spark. They can also be those that are stoked over and over on purpose so as to accomplish a particular task. Both have similarities, for both require fuel in order to burn. What fuels the fire that refines the "steel" of our lives is sometimes stoked with great intent by a faithful God, while at other times we might just find that something which appears to be a wildfire burning in our lives is really the result of "untended" ground.

Fire is used to make gold and silver pure, but a person’s heart is made pure by the Lord. (Proverbs 17:3 ERV)

Wildfires burn because there was something to ignite - the fuel existed to allow the slow burn to begin to become a much bigger burn. The wildfire burns because something acted as an ignition point - there was something that set that fire in motion. Wildfires aren't very discriminating about what they burn - anything can be fuel to a wildfire! They also aren't very predictable because they are not contained - they have the potential for limitless impact if there is enough fuel for them to continue to spread. This is why fire fighters will create a "break" between the fire and the fuel - to deny the fire access to what would otherwise have been right in its path. There are times in our lives when we leave too much "untended" areas in our lives that eventually produce enough "fuel" to allow the wildfires of life to burn out of control when there is something igniting that fuel.

A stoked fire is usually a little more contained and is built with a specific purpose in mind. There is a specific type of fuel utilized to create this fire and it is well-tended so it burns at a constant temperature. Why? The fire is intended to warm cold places, light a dark corner, create a means by which nourishment can come into our lives, or perhaps even allow the purification of what touches our lives. It can only bring warmth if tended - an untended, but contained fire will eventually burn out if not frequently stoked. It can bring light into darkness when there is enough glow from the fire to illuminate - but that also means there must be a way for the fire to be in our lives without harming us. 

God doesn't want wildfires burning out of control in our lives, so he asks us to deal with the "fuel" of the "fallen stuff" in order to make is less likely there will ever come a time when the fire burns without a real purpose. He desires the "contained fire" for it is purposefully ignited and tenderly stoked so as to maintain just the right degree of "burn" for the task at hand. If we need illumination, he will ensure there is enough flame to shed light where darkness exists. If we are hungry, he will cultivate the coals just hot enough to bring nourishment from what is placed upon those coals. If it is purification, the fire might just be stoked a little hotter than we might like, but what will be produced far outweighs the momentary discomfort of those hot flames. Just sayin!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I MUST calm down!

I must calm down and turn to God; only he can rescue me. (Psalm 62:1 ERV)
You "calm down" in direct proportion to your willingness to turn to God instead of the problem which is making you anxious or up tight right now. Turning to suggests that we must turn away from. There is a physical "relocation" of our attention - away from the problem at hand and toward the solution that is nearer than we might imagine. Calming down suggests there is a certain sense of escalation that comes in the midst of facing that problem or unpleasant circumstance in your path. Once again, our emotions get the best of us...and where our eyes are directed our heart will follow.
As our psalmist implies, there comes a point when we recognize all our efforts and angst over the situation will only increase until we actually realize we must have "calm" restored in order to see things as clearly as they are meant to be seen. Anxiety and stress over the problem are not going to be managed well when all we see is the problem. We have to have a moment or two to actually get a new perspective in order to see the solution. 
Much of the emotional stress we deal with in life is not really anyone else's fault. Sure, they may be involved in the problem, but they aren't the ones responsible for how we are emotionally connected to the problem - we are. It is our emotions that get all tangled up in the heart of the problem - the other individual can only attempt to goad us into more frenzy or panic, but they don't control the "panic level" in our lives.
Most of the time we need an "emotional rescue" in order to see the problem differently. Our emotions are spinning out of control, but until we squarely take our focus off the problem and turn to God, we only feed those out of control emotions. Give more fuel to a car speeding ahead out of control and you only create a more dangerous situation! 
When we turn to God, refocusing our attention on him, it is like me putting on my glasses in the morning and beginning to see things much differently in the room than before they were on. We get a clarity that was missing because our "vision" was so clouded or blurred by all the emotional upheaval in our lives. Unreasonable emotions begin to be exposed for the untruth they have encouraged us to believe - perceptions begin to get clarity.
The problem doesn't usually go away, but we can begin to work on it little by little just by getting those emotions under control. Control is only possible by changing our focus. Changing our focus actually changes how the problem will affect us and in turn, it brings the control of the problem squarely out of our court and places it in HIS. Just sayin!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Friend or Foe - Who Goes There?

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly. 45 If you do this, you will be children who are truly like your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45 ERV)

I wonder if someone has to tell or teach us to hate one another, or if that is just something we come by naturally. Maybe it comes when we foster some sense of entitlement in our lives, believing others "owe us" because of something we believe we deserve. Perhaps it develops over time when we focus more and more on what we want more than on what another could want or need. It might even come when we get so caught up in comparing our differences that we cannot help but be angry or bitter over another's fortune, their status, or even their ability to enjoy life's simplicity. Regardless of how hatred develops, I know there is but one way for love to really take hold in our lives - through Christ Jesus.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." He was right - nothing short of love will ever overcome a sense of entitlement, the mystery of being so self-absorbed that we don't see others, or too enraged over dissimilarities that we cannot look past them. Love is impossible apart from God, for God is love "personified" - he is love in action. No matter how vile the mistreatment of Jesus was as he walked this earth, he didn't react with hatred or with "smiting" anyone. He is observed repeatedly giving light and truth, responding in kindness, and giving what was unexpected by those who didn't even know they had need.

Love isn't easy at times, because we find ourselves in situations where it is "hard" to love. We don't "feel" the love and it is hard to give out what we don't "feel". It is much easier to allow our feelings to dictate our responses, isn't it? We want to retaliate when wronged, because our feelings get us going in that direction. We want to throw a pity party when we don't get our way, simply because our feelings didn't get stroked the way we wanted them to be stroked. Feelings are fickle and are not very good indicators of the best actions to take, though! In fact, most of the time, unless the Spirit of God is invited to help us know when a feeling should be acted upon, we act upon some pretty "wrong" feelings!

Love may not be the easiest response in the light of disappointment, frustration, or fear, but it is the right one! It is possible only as long as we invite the Spirit of God to help us "filter" those emotions that get in the way of truly loving. It is only then we find ourselves on the path of transforming enemies into friends. Just sayin!

Friday, October 20, 2017

"MUST" says so much!

You must follow the Lord your God. Respect him. Obey his commands and do what he tells you. Serve the Lord your God, and never leave him. (Deuteronomy 13:4 ERV)
Follow, Respect, Obey, Do, Serve, and Stay - all seem like pretty easy-peasy kind of stuff until you put them ALL together and then you expect ME to actually live them out in my everyday life! This passage starts out with an "imperative" - you MUST. Must is a small word, but there isn't any wiggle-room in the action that is expected when MUST precedes that action. All of us must eat to live - the need to eat overrides reason sometimes. If you don't believe me, just watch one of those survivor shows where they have to live off the land and see what kinds of stuff they actually eat just because they are hungry! I watched one guy trap rats and eat them; another something that had been found dead on the ground - each seeking to meet that need for protein, but each making less than desirable choices. When we receive the imperative that we MUST follow the Lord, it isn't that we cannot look to have the deep inner needs of our hearts met in other ways, because there are always going to be other "options". The fact is, nothing and no one will meet those needs quite so well as he does - period!
Follow - when we follow anything, we are not only going after it, we are moving in the same direction as that which we are following. I think God starts with this because he knows if he can get us on the same page as he is on, we actually find ourselves growing quite pleased with the results. 
Respect - when we begin to follow him, it makes sense that we would defer to his movements and listen to his voice. To respect God means we simply defer to his judgment in our lives - we stop trying to control everything and we give him the ability to lead us.
Obey - along the way, we will be asked to do things we aren't always that comfortable with, or familiar with, simply because the things of the Spirit of God are different than what has been active in our lives up to the point we begin to follow him. Obedience stems from respect - we give way to his control and in turn, we begin to make choices which are in alignment with the truth he reveals.
Do - the outward evidence of obedience is always in the actions we perform. If our alignment is correct, our choices are likely to be at least "bordering on" correct choices, making our actions more likely to be good ones. At first, this may be harder than one might think, but in time, those good choices are easier and easier to make because we defer to him more and more.
Serve - all service is really is the idea of being of use to someone. We submit our time, talents, and treasures to God and he makes use of them. 
Stay - remaining consistent is the hardest part of any journey. We often start well, give it our all at the outset, and then peter out somewhere down the line. Why? It isn't for the lack of "want to", but more for the lack of focus. It means we somehow forgot we were following. 
To follow, one needs to focus upon that which is being followed - like the directions on how to bake chocolate chip cookies. We could "wing it", but if we do that the first time we are about to make them, we might just not realize there is a difference between baking soda and powder! Following the directions yields much better tasting cookies. Yes, in time, we can recount the "recipe" without even consulting the recipe book again. This is where obedience becomes a way of life for us. It isn't that we don't want to be obedient, it may just be that we aren't always remembering it is an "imperative" to life! Just sayin!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What's your faith worth?

Faith that does nothing is worth nothing. (James 2:20 ERV)

One of my Bible College professors always used to say, "Sometimes you must put feet to your faith before you will see the evidence of what you are seeking." He was reminding us that faith is more than a "thing" - it involves action. It requires us to believe, then to act upon our belief. Faith becomes most evident in the action we launch based upon that belief - either it is faith in God, or it become evident our trust is based in something we can do or accomplish. Our professor wasn't telling us to "force" God's hand, but rather to trust him to guide us 'into' what would ultimately become the fulfillment of our faith. 

When we begin to trust God even the tiniest bit in an area where we have struggled for a while to really make any progress toward a goal we might have, it isn't that we just say we have faith, we take steps to show we are willing to move in that direction. For example, if we have been struggling to lose weight and know very well what steps we need to take, but we haven't believed it possible, we are likely to have the "want to", but we lack the wherewithal to actually do it. Or do we? Most of the time, we have all the "truth" we need to accomplish what it is we need to do, but we lack the "umph" to put truth into action within our lives.

This is where trust becomes important. We may not have all the "want to" we really need, but when we take the first step toward the goal, God meets that tiny bit of faith with an even bigger amount of faith. He bolsters our faith and helps us take the next step. Little by little, we find that tiny seed of faith can blossom into a huge tree of faith when tiny steps of faith are bolstered with great big infusions of God's faith! We may not see the end yet, but as we begin to take steps of obedience into faith, we begin to see God meet us there and walk alongside us in whatever direction that faith is taking us.

Faith isn't meant to be a mental thing, although I think many of us make it "mental" and devoid of action. Faith isn't meant to be totally on our part, although many of us might actually believe all the faith part rests in what we can manage to "muster up" within ourselves. Faith is based on what we believe, so getting that foundation right is very important. Faith is a seed of hope - that seed grows as we water it and then God nurtures it to full growth. Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I am getting a little thirsty here!

God, you are my God. I am searching so hard to find you. Body and soul, I thirst for you in this dry and weary land without water. (Psalm 63:1 ERV)
There are times in our lives which we would have to say are "drier" than others. They might be within relationship, on the job, or even our spiritual lives. Within relationships, things grow "stale" and kind of "routine", leading those within it to just "coast" for a while without making much effort to keep things alive and flourishing. At work, the flurry of deadlines may have been met, bringing a longer than expect lull in your workload that just leaves you a little lost and without any real sense of pressure. In our spiritual lives, a "lull" or "dry" season may actually be more of a lazy drift rather than an abrupt ending. Either way, when we begin any kind of "dry season" in our lives, it may be a little bit harder than we expected to "rebound" or "start again" after experiencing such a prolonged dryness.
Dry seasons don't have to be an end, though. Many a farmer will tell you there is something tremendously rewarding in taking the plow to dry ground. It may be hard to get that soil turned over and properly prepared for the seed about to be sown, but until it is plowed, there is no chance new seed will actually "take". Dry seasons don't have to defeat us - they can be launching ground for new growth if we will allow the "fallow ground" of that relationship, career, or connection with God to be broken up. If you haven't noticed it yet, brokenness is actually what yields growth!
The hardest ground may not seem to promise much from where you are viewing it right now, but God sees what is just beneath the surface. In dry places within our relationships, we may have to "do again" some of the things that brought us together in the first place. I think this may be why most counselors will tell married couples not to ever stop "dating" one another. Making time that is consistently kept as time for each other helps keep things strong within the relationship. To begin again means those individuals may have to learn to communicate about matters that are dear to their heart, be truthful when things bug them, and even get into each other's interests once in a while. 
There isn't anything wrong with dry places as long as they don't remain that way. Dryness causes us to thirst - thirst causes us to seek - seeking usually leads to discovery. This might be the greatest reward in dryness - the discoveries we make about each other, ways we can contribute differently within our job, and where it is God wants us to experience new things about him. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Majoring or Minoring?

Thomas Jefferson reminds us: "Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you." I had the opportunity to work with two college-aged volunteers at our hospital the other day. As we began to share a little bit about the task we needed to accomplish that afternoon, we had a little downtime to just share a little bit about each other. I asked them what they were doing now that they were out of high school. One of them was quite certain - studying to be a trauma surgeon - while the other almost seemed directionless. She thought she wanted to go one way with a career, but then decided against it, so took a semester off to discover what it was she wanted to do. While this is not uncommon, it is often in the "doing" rather than the "not doing" that we discover our direction.

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)

The most important "action" we take is toward relationship with Jesus. The next actions that make or break us are those toward relationship with each other. There are really no other actions that matter more than these. While it is good to have a "determined course", I can understand how it can be very overwhelming at times to actually "know" where it is we are to be headed. Keeping in mind the instruction to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and souls - then to love each other as ourselves - we make a good start in the "right direction" every time! All other actions that flow from these will be "right" or "true".

George Eliot reminds us: "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."  I don't think it uncommon that many of us are looking to do the "great things", frequently missing that they are accomplished not in the "huge steps" we take, but in the consistency of the small ones we are taking!  While "big steps" are necessary sometimes, it is the much smaller ones that either make us or break us. Maybe you have heard it said that we have to be aware of majoring in the minors or minoring in the majors. It is so important to keep the "order" of our actions correct if we are to not drift into minoring in the majors. There are just some things that should not be compromised and this list begins with our relationship with Jesus, then moves into our relationships with each other. All other actions don't matter until these are right! Just sayin!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Okay, help!

"Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught." (Winston Churchill)

They will help you learn to be wise, to accept correction, and to understand wise sayings. They will teach you to develop your mind in the right way. You will learn to do what is right and to be honest and fair.These proverbs will make even those without education smart. They will teach young people what they need to know and how to use what they have learned. (Proverbs 1:2-4 ERV)

I am like Churchill - love learning, but sometimes kind of slow in the "being taught" realm! The stuff we are the slowest to learn can become the biggest and most rewarding lessons of our lives, though. As we look back over some of those lessons, we might find ourselves amazed at how God so faithfully kept teaching until we finally realized the truth he wanted us to see. It may just be the truth he wanted us to see was the ugliness of some sin in our lives - these are the hardest lessons for me to personally learn. Most of the time these are the things I'd rather sweep under the rug than to admit they need to be dealt with, but God isn't content to just let me skate by with a "well I tried to tell her" kind of answer!

We wouldn't want God to be slack in any manner when it comes to providing for our needs, helping us out when we need clarity, or opening doors for us when we have been trying to get something accomplished in our lives. Why would we want him to stop being as "attentive" to us, or show less concern in the areas where we need to have truth worked into our lives? We cannot have a double standard - either we want to know him fully, or we don't. There just isn't any chance that God is going to let us get away with areas of our lives where we are less than obedient. He will maintain his "teaching" until we begin to understand and embrace the lesson being taught.

Sometimes the lesson is sacrifice, at others it may be forgiveness. There are times the lesson isn't all that hard to learn, it is just that we don't always "want" to learn the lesson right then and there. It isn't that we don't need to learn it, it is that we aren't ready to let go of whatever we have been struggling with and let him help us figure it out. When I finally raised my hand as a kid in school, admitting I needed the teacher's help to understand a tough equation or find a solution to a troubling word problem, it opened the door to me actually seeing how to figure it out. It often takes us admitting we need to rely upon him a little in that area of our lives where we most need his training in order to open us up to receiving that help! Just sayin!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Happy Hearts

5 We have been made right with God because of our faith. So we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our faith, Christ has brought us into that blessing of God’s grace that we now enjoy. And we are very happy because of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory.And we are also happy with the troubles we have. Why are we happy with troubles? Because we know that these troubles make us more patient. And this patience is proof that we are strong. And this proof gives us hope. And this hope will never disappoint us. We know this because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts through the Holy Spirit he gave us. (Romans 5:1-5 ERV)

Almost no one equates troubles or problems as some 'thing' they are to treasure, much less enjoy! In fact, we do all we can to avoid troubles - even creating "troubleshooting guides" in every user manual for items from small appliances to gigantic industrial machines. We want to know 'what' can cause the problem, what 'steps' to take to no longer have the problem, and to be completely reliant on the fact things will 'run smoothly' now that the troubles are reversed. I might not actually want to admit this, but the whole basis of my job is to be a 'troubleshooter', for all that I seek are ways to improve processes that need a little tweaking to allow us to perform at our 'peak'. This means I often have to look for the 'problems' in the process in order to identify where it is we need to focus our attention. Discovering the problem is the first step to creating, or allowing the creation of a solution.

I will be the first to admit - there are times when we 'over-think' the problem, allowing us to miss the very thing that we should be focusing on in the first place. This almost always happens when we assume the position of being the 'victim' in the problem. Let me explain. The 'victim' role includes picking apart the issue from as many perspectives as we can possibly create within our minds while allowing our emotions to dictate the 'mood' we attach to those various scenarios we tell ourselves. The scenarios don't have to be realistic to be "believed" in our minds. What is believed in our minds will soon begin to be what influences our actions and leads us to make decisions that differ from what we normally would make if those 'believed scenarios' weren't influencing us.

An example might help here. We hear that the stock market is 'about to crash'. Someone is predicting the 'turn' in the market as the result of something happening way across the ocean on a totally different continent than where we live. We have a couple of choices - either pull what is invested in our stocks back out of the market, or ride it out. The choice for each of these decisions can be riddled with all kinds of emotions, though. Each of these emotions can create a bit of 'havoc' in our lives simply because they generate a huge amount of 'hormones' that keep us in a sense of anxiety, fear, or even thrill. If we are told very 'believable' stories that we attach some significant amount of emotion to, we will likely be swayed to 'act' one way or another. 

The things we 'tell ourselves' aren't always connected with the reality of the matter, though. We can hear the slightest change in the noise our engines or brakes are making and all of a sudden we think we need to take the car to the mechanic. The fact may be we have driven through very dusty roads, allowing grit to build up on the braking system and now we are hearing the added friction of that grit being worked over the rotors as the brakes begin to be applied. What we may need is a car wash with a good spraying down of the wheels, rotors, etc. One scenario tells us we need to spend hundreds for new brakes - the other tells us to spend an hour washing the car!

In life problems, there are always the stories we tell and the ones that are the truth. They can be one and the same, but depending on the emotions we attach to the stories we tell (and those told to us by others), we can get way too far removed from truth in what we soon begin to believe about the problem. When we are tempted to jump on some band-wagon that will move us one direction or another, it may be the perfect time to just pause and sort out what it is we 'know' and what it is we are being 'told' or 'telling' ourselves. If we don't know, then we go to the source of all knowledge - Jesus himself. 

If we still don't know, we simply rely upon what we know is true - his Word and the truth of his love. Let these guide what we do next - for we rarely will assume the 'victim' posture when we understand that God NEVER violates his truth, nor does he ever do things that conflict with the intense love he has for each of us. Just sayin!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Goal-Directed Obedience

You have not seen Christ, but still you love him. You can’t see him now, but you believe in him. You are filled with a wonderful and heavenly joy that cannot be explained. Your faith has a goal, and you are reaching that goal—your salvation. (I Peter 1:8-9 ERV)

By definition, a goal is something that is realized because you move toward it - you aim at it and hit it. It becomes your purpose and it is the basis of all the steps you take toward achieving it. Sometimes we confuse goals with intentions. What is the difference? I think intentions aren't always what we hit because they aren't always all that realistic. I intended to do so much on my three day weekend a couple of week's ago, but I only got about a third of what I intended accomplished. It wasn't that I didn't have a whole lot of good intent, it was that I lacked the energy to accomplish what I was aiming at. It is a good thing that our salvation isn't based on what it is we have the energy to accomplish!

The fact that our salvation is not accomplished by our own actions doesn't mean that we don't aim at a target with the intention of hitting it. Plainly stated, this is exactly what obedience is - aiming at the target and then hitting it. It is posturing so as to hit the target. It is focusing so as to be on-center. It is exerting the disciplined stance so as to limit variation in the direction we will travel on the way to hitting that target! Our faith isn't just a blind expression of hope - it is actionable steps toward the goal! Obedience is faith in action - it is taking what we believe and walking it out in our day-to-day practices.

Hard as it may be for us to accept sometimes, having a target in mind makes the difference between drifting aimlessly and having a purpose in life. Don't underestimate the power of purpose - it points us down the path we are going to follow. It is way more than religious activity - it is a purpose-driven life. We don't accomplish our own salvation, but we take steps to honor God's gift of grace in our lives by being obedient to the things he requires of us. When we recognize we have been given the tools to live obediently, we might just find the choices we make "toward" obedience are a little easier to take. Just sayin!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mulligrubs?

Fear can be a trap, but if you trust in the Lord, you will be safe. (Proverbs 29:25 ERV)
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." (Nelson Mandela) What fear evades conquering in your life? For many, fear is a daily struggle, making every step forward an effort so magnificent that it is almost impossible. We all fear different things at different times in our lives, making us not so much "unique" as "similar". For all of us, fear can indeed become a trap, paralyzing us and keeping us "fixed" in one spot from which we just don't seem to break free. Most don't recognize the paralyzing effect of fear, but when you stop to really think upon what fear does to us, this idea of getting us bogged down in the mulligrubs for a while becomes pretty evident. Don't know what mulligrubs are? It is the condition of our emotions in which our body feels the "griping" of our intestines!

The mulligrubs leave us feeling a little beneath the problem at hand. We get into the place of emotional stress where we feel "blue" or like we are in a "funk". Our emotions eat away at us until we get deeper and deeper into a pit of melancholy. In this sense, fear becomes a trap - a deep pit from which we can see no way of escape. To overcome fear, we need faith. Faith is the opposite of fear and something we don't always understand how to "attain". Fear is based on lies - either those we are telling ourselves or those made up by others who speak into our lives. Faith is based on truth, and more importantly, on our trust in that truth. To counteract fear, we need to pour in truth. 

Truth is the antidote to fear. It is the very thing that helps us to take steps into the realm of trusting. If we have been in the habit of being fearful, paralyzed and held in place by some issue at hand, when truth comes, it may be hard to trust at first. We want to question it because it is so "opposite" of where we find ourselves that we have a hard time accepting it as trustworthy. The exact opposite is what we actually need in our lives! We need to look up from the pit of fear and be released by gaining truth about the issue at hand. Truth sets the captive free and none is so bound as those who are bound by fear. Truth embraced leads to trust, and trust requires the first step "toward" God and "away" from that which we have given so much power to in our lives - that thing we fear. 

Yes, we give power to that thing we fear so much, and yes, God wants us to have his power to overcome it. It is as we change our focus from being on the issue we fear to being squarely on him and his power that we begin to move into trusting for different outcomes in our lives. Fear doesn't need to hold us back - it can propel us forward - if we turn away from it and toward the one who is all truth and in whom we can totally trust. Just sayin!