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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!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How are you depicted?

People will insult you and hurt you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things about you because you follow me. But when they do that, know that great blessings belong to you. Be happy about it. Be very glad because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. People did these same bad things to the prophets who lived before you.  (Matthew 5:11-12 ERV)
Recently I have viewed two movies that projected Christians in a very unbecoming manner. One showed the woman as a "Bible-thumping" prudish woman who alienated people with all her "holier-than-thou" talk. The other depicted the believer as someone always being the brunt of jokes, poked fun at for not wanting to do some of the things his buddies wanted to do which almost always bordered on the edge of breaking the law or actually going all the way to be law-breaking offenses. It wasn't that the young man didn't want to break the law, it was the way they depicted him - always giving some "pat" Bible answer for why they shouldn't do what they were about to do. The answers weren't wrong, but the unbelieving friends weren't going to understand "Christian-speak" any better than I understand Russian! If we are going to take a stand for our convictions, then we need to be ready to stand, but in gentleness, kindness, and with humility. We aren't to throw the scripture into the faces of those with opposing views. We aren't to be doormats, either. There is a fine balance to be maintained and we won't always be understood for our convictions.
Know what you believe and then live it. This is the best way to "message" God's Word. Don't be confrontational - no one likes the Word of God being shoved down their throats. It doesn't do as much good to quote the passage as it does to live it out. When we look at the life of Jesus, it was his words the religious leaders found fault with. It was his actions the hurting and searching fell in love with! Don't expect the unbelieving, unchurched to understand "church-speak". The ways we talk "about" God to the unbelieving might just cause more of a wall to go up than we wanted. If we are to be effective as witnesses of God's grace, then we just need to live out that grace - by displaying the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. 
Love - let it guide your answers and your actions.
Joy - let it shine out, speaking of the deep faith we have in Jesus.
Peace - let it be the basis of our relationships with all men, even when circumstances change and others demand things opposed to peaceful exchange.
Patience - let it be the hallmark of your exchanges with each other, for nothing speaks louder of our faith than to be willing to long-suffering with another's actions.
Kindness - let hatred be displaced by the return of kind deeds when the expected response would be to retaliate.
Goodness - let all that you speak and do be that which is profitable. The words we speak aren't going to affect others until they see what those words produce within in our lives.
Faithfulness - let all we do be consistent and unwavering. The steps we take toward obedience aren't to be done in secret, but they are to be the billboards of God's grace in our lives.
Gentleness - let it overshadow even the harshest of actions against us and be amazed at how this one trait brings the hearts of the hardened to a place of questioning what it is that resides within us.
Self-Control - let it be evident that obedience is a choice and is exercised in our every action, but not because we are "holier-than-thou", just that we are forgiven sinners in pursuit of greater grace.
Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

But I DO love you!

This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between what is important and what is not and choose what is important; that you will be pure and blameless for the coming of Christ... (Philippians 1:9-10 ERV)
What is important and what is not - - - isn't this the question of the ages? The answer to that question can actually differ from person to person, based upon the situation, people involved, and even the phases of the moon! "Important" to my 9 year old grandson is much different than what is "important" to my 13 year old grandson. One may want to sequester himself away deep inside a book while the other wants to be making the stinkiest bait he can concoct in order to catch those elusive catfish in the pond! To me both of these are "important" for the tasks at hand are as unique as the children who are pursuing them. When God looks at his kids, he sees what is important to each of us - and he works to meet those needs as long as those things won't harm us in some way. "Important" is to be defined by God's principles - if the thing isn't violating one of those principles, it is probably fine to be pursuing it, but we must balance all our "important pursuits" with what others around us also need.
Paul writes of a couple of these "balanced needs":
Love - notice that he speaks of this first. It is to be the primary thing we allow to be developed in our lives, for as long love is in the lead, all the rest of the actions that follow should be coming along in line with what God desires. It is to be a growing thing - not something we allow to be momentary or fleeting. It is to be consistently growing, evident in our actions - for all of love's actions speak much louder than love's words.
Knowledge and Understanding - to love, Paul reminds us to add knowledge and understanding. In fact, it is quite important that we grow in our knowledge of how God works, and what his purpose is for us. It is also important that we seek to understand each other, developing in our knowledge about what matters most to those around us. There is a young man next door who loves working on his car, which means revving the engine way more than one might think necessary and at times some might think a little intrusive to rest. This matters to him - so when the used suspension parts are hanging out at the side of the yard for a little longer than I might want, I just have to turn the cheek on that one. To love, we add knowledge and understanding - because both will help our love to grow.
The result - we will see the difference between what is important and what is not. Love opens our eyes, knowledge enhances our understanding, and our understanding creates a culture in which each of us may grow. What is important to us may pale in comparison to what another sees as important. We must remember to balance our responses to each other with the love that comes from Christ. Only then will we gain deeper understanding of how God wants us to reach a hurting world. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Light is about him!

Everyone who does evil hates the light. They will not come to the light, because the light will show all the bad things they have done. But anyone who follows the true way comes to the light. Then the light will show that whatever they have done was done through God. (John 3:20-21 ERV)
I had almost missed the tiniest bit of truth in this passage this morning, but after reading it again, I caught it! What WE do isn't really us doing it when we are moving toward the light of God - it is him DOING within us whatever it is that is done in and through us. Little steps toward light are called obedience. All steps into the realm of obedience are making it possible for God to be working in and through us - it is us yielding to his love and trusting his direction, but it is him working in us through and through.
There are times when we all can observe evil around us - maybe even a little bit of it dwells in each of us on occasion, if we were to be entirely honest here. Evil intent and action on purpose is one thing - evil that comes out of us because we are feeling a little selfish at the moment, or hurt about something we had hoped would turn out differently is another. God is still in control of our lives and is drawing us back into the light - we just need to turn back toward him and find that the evil is soon dispelled by the light we begin facing full-on. Evil cannot dwell in the presence of light for it requires the realm of darkness to spread like wildfire.
Light has a way of drawing people in - unless evil is the intent of the heart. Whenever evil is at the core of a man's heart, light is a repulsive thing because it brings exposure. To move from darkness into light is possible, but it is not always comfortable to those who have made "evil actions" their pattern of life for a long time. Once light begins to become the "comfort zone" in which we live, we find that more and more of Christ comes through in all we do. Why? Because it is him working in us!
We can thank God for the light, but we can also thank him that it is him working in us while we are drawn into and living inside that light. We can count that he will do good things - dispelling all manner of evil within us simply because in the presence of diving light, evil has no home! Just sayin!

Monday, October 9, 2017

I need another example!

People who do not have God’s Spirit do not accept the things that come from his Spirit. They think these things are foolish. They cannot understand them, because they can only be understood with the Spirit’s help.  (1 Corinthians 2:14 ERV)

Have you ever stopped to consider why someone who hasn't asked Jesus into their life yet really doesn't understand even some of the simplest truths found in the scriptures? It is most likely because the Spirit of God is responsible for helping us to no longer look at these truths as foolish or nonsense. Until the Holy Spirit takes up "residence" in our lives, we might just find ourselves discounting God's values, truths, and expressions of loving care more than we realize. Think of a good old-fashioned radio for just a moment. As we turned the dial, some stations would come in kind of garbled, barely heard, and with a whole lot of static - we hear, but we don't always catch every word. As we fine tuned that dial a little more and pulled out the antenna, what happened? The station came in loud and clear! The Holy Spirit is like the fine tuning knob and antenna in our lives - he helps us to recognize truth, making it clearer and clearer to us until we finally understand it loud and clear.

If you struggle with a new truth God may be asking you to accept as fact, it isn't that you don't have the Spirit of God within you. It may just be that the eyes of our "flesh" haven't seen the truth in a way that makes sense yet. The good news about truth is that God goes to great lengths to helps us "get it". When my kids were coming up through school, there were times when I thought they should get some simple lesson they needed to understand in order to move on with their studies at school. They'd bring home loads of homework, all because they weren't "getting it". I found myself in a position of having to figure out how to help them "get it" somehow. Often I'd use some other illustration that would help them because they could connect that illustration with the abstract concept they were having to learn. Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses the simplest stuff to explain some of the hardest stuff for us to understand!

For a long time I thought some things in "church" were foolish. I didn't really see the point in what was being expected of me. The fact of the matter is that we often don't realize the value in the boundaries set by scripture until we go outside of those boundaries. We push up against the boundary and don't feel any great pain or discomfort as we do. That makes us a little more curious about what is on the other side of that boundary. When we push past the boundary and head further away from it, we most likely find the purpose for the boundary. Fences are built for a reason - either to keep something within the boundaries of the fence, or to keep something outside of those boundaries. God isn't just about rules, but when 'rules' are there for us, such as don't let the sun go down on your anger, we do well to listen to the Spirit of God reminding us of the 'rule'. Anger that isn't dealt with has a way of festering into full-blown bitterness and resentment - both very damaging emotions for US, not so much for the one we harbor those things against.

We need understanding - nothing is more futile than to make foolish decisions, dismissing truth just because it is hard to understand. We need the Holy Spirit within us to help us understand truth. If we don't understand truth, we need to ask for his help. We may not 'get it' with the first illustration he uses, but trust me on this - we will 'get it' because he is constantly working to connect the dots for us until we do get it! Just sayin!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Big Red X

We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started. (Henry Ward Beecher)

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. Don’t trust in your own wisdom, but fear and respect the Lord and stay away from evil. If you do this, it will be like a refreshing drink and medicine for your body. (Proverbs 3:5-8 ERV)

If you have ever watched one of those "talent" shows, you might be familiar with the concept of the "big red X". You see, as the musicians, singers, and performers take stage, they are in a position of proving they are not deserving of the "big red X". They hope for a standing ovation, and most importantly, for the overwhelming approval of the three or four judges sitting in front of them. In our lives, we sometimes don't "put ourselves out there" because we fear the "big red X". We don't always know we will "perform well" in whatever feat lies ahead of us, and we sometimes put way too much credence in the value of those we deem as "important judges" in our lives. Let's clear a couple of things up - God is the ONLY judge that matters and ANY distance we travel that brings us closer to him is the right path to take! It doesn't matter what others think or how they will "judge" us. The good news is that God doesn't give out "big red X's". He might not always approve of the way we are "performing", but he uses his position as "judge" in our lives to get us back on course, not to tear us down or humiliate us.

All of us have a ways to go in our walk toward being like Jesus. None of us has actually arrived at the point of "perfection" in this earthly realm. We might as well face it - all of us are still "practicing our acts" to see that we "perform" well each and every time we set out to take action in life. This is called obedience, not "performance". We take steps toward our goal, climbing just a little bit closer to "no red X" performance in our lives, but we don't always "nail it" like we'd hoped to when we started out. Don't worry so much about the times you didn't "nail it", but look to God to show you how to make the necessary corrections so you come closer and closer each time you set out on that journey.

Many people will attempt to exert their influence in our lives based on some particular set of actions they see (our performance). In turn, we often "bend" toward whatever action they see as "necessary" in order to get us closer to not receiving a "big red X" from THEM. This is contrary to what scripture tells us, for we are not to live to please men, but to please God himself. (Colossians 3:23) We are do to all things so as to please God, but we get all wrapped up in what others will think about the actions we are taking and give way too much credence to their "opinion" about our actions. At best, they render an opinion. God doesn't want us living by opinion, but by truth! His truth reveals those who seek him first, keeping their focus directed toward him, will find themselves hitting the mark!

Obedience is a journey - it is a climb. We don't need to get so focused on the destination as to miss the milestones along the way, though. I want to be at the point which marks the climb's highest peak, but along the way, there are some pretty significant milestones that obedience reveals. We need to enjoy these milestones, for every step of obedience is a good step to take, even when you don't quite realize the summit of the peak yet! Just sayin!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Feelings....whoa, feelings....

"Love dies only when growth stops." Pearl S. Buck (American Novelist)

13 Look at what God has made. You cannot change a thing, even if you think it is wrong. 14 When life is good, enjoy it. But when life is hard, remember that God gives us good times and hard times. And no one knows what will happen in the future. (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 ERV)

Buck also reminds us, "You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings." We cannot underestimate the power of our feelings, for they often become either the catalyst behind our actions, or the anchor behind our inaction. There are days when we look at what comes our way and "feel" like we can handle each challenge, while at other times we simply have different "feelings" that tell us we won't handle another thing. Most of us engage in this insurmountable task of "changing things" because some "feeling" tells us change is necessary. When we find the difficulty in accomplishing the change, we get all balled up in even further emotion which leads to more and more frustration with the lack of change.

We have all probably heard the old adage of "taking the good with the bad" on more than one occasion. Easier said than done, right? We don't find the emotions hard to follow when they are steering us toward something we view are "rewarding" or "fulfilling". As soon as the emotions are not really being pulled in the direction we "want" to be going, we get bogged down and sometimes even find the task ahead of us as what we label "too hard". Things we view as "too hard" are often abandoned. I abandoned learning to play golf simply because getting that tiny white ball into that tiny hole so doggone far away was "too hard". I abandon a fishing hole that isn't yielding any fish after a reasonable amount time and effort, but I don't abandon fishing! Why? I enjoy it!

Changing based on feelings is kind a perilous place to be since our feelings aren't always all that reliable. I think God would rather we be honest about our feelings, though, than to go about "doing stuff" just because it is stuff that needs to "get done". There are days I don't "feel" like writing - I'd rather just go fishing! You know what I do to when this happens? I go fishing. Why? Sometimes I need the renewal and "clearing of my mind" being at the fishing hole brings. There is nothing wrong with observing how one is "feeling", then acting upon it when the feeling pushes us in the right direction.

In fact, there are times when I observe the tiresome work of the ants moving back and forth to their nest and think of the next thing I will write about. At other times, I listen to the gentle breeze, observe the incoming clouds of a summer's rain storm, or see the eagle swoop down with such grace to scoop up fish bigger than I'd imagined could be in the waters. All of this gives me gentle pushes toward writing again - it renews my inner being and often gives me reminders about the care, protection, and provision of the God I serve.

Feelings aren't to be our motivating force, but they are behind our every action. As Buck said, sometimes we "do right" despite how we are feeling. I need time in the Word - so even when I don't always "feel it", I take in even a little bit. That morsel may be what gives me fodder for the day's thoughts, keeps me centered when I want to get off-balance, and holds me firm when I find the journey rougher than I'd hoped. We cannot ignore our feelings, but we can learn to "use them" to drive us forward, instead of keeping us anchored in places we would do better to move away from. Just sayin!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Gifted?

We all have different gifts. Each gift came because of the grace God gave us. (Romans 12:6 ERV)

Have you ever thought of yourself as "gifted"? In today's vernacular, that terms refers to someone with a special talent that almost surpasses what another would call "normal". A six year old who can play complex pieces on the piano may be referred to as "gifted" simply because the child has "mastered" the concerto. A mind given to the advancement of medical science, investing time and talent into the discovery of a new cure for a plaguing disease can be said to be "gifted". Regardless of how we view being "gifted", God may just view it a little bit differently. In his eyes, ALL of us is "gifted", but we may not fully appreciate just how "special" that gift is within us!

As Paul puts it, 'We all have different gifts. Each gift came because of the grace God gave us.' God's gifts are "grace gifts" - they are not specifically "talents" as we might see in the above examples, but they are special gifts nonetheless. Grace gifts are those which restore the broken, build up the downtrodden, and replenish the diminished. They are the gifts that bring stability where only chaos was once allowed to reign supreme. They are the ones that look hardship in the face and ask, "What can we take away from this experience?" Grace gifts bring peace where disorder and unrest once was, helps us discover truths once hidden, and soothes the heart so burdened with cares that life no seems worth living. These are God's gifts.

A couple of things about God's gifts:

- They aren't "developed" by constant exercise or practice. They are "grace-given" - placed within us and then used by God's Spirit to 'minister' through us to those around us.

- They may be exhibited in the form of a talent, such as song, the ability to write beautiful words on a page, or even the repeated 'service' of preparing hot meals for the homeless. They aren't the 'talent' as much as they are the grace and love behind that talent.

- They aren't for our own benefit. God's grace-gifts are for the people God brings into our lives, who cross our paths for even the shortest span of time. Their purpose is to build up, restore, and re-energize those whose lives have been messed up by sin. Yes, we benefit from these gifts, but we are not to hoard God's grace or love - it is to be shared in unselfish proportions with those who have need of it, too. Just sayin!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Leaning or Pulling?

Natalie Grant sings a pretty profound song entitled "Just a Glimpse". The lyrics refer to not having to know how far God's love will go, nor how unending his mercy really is, in order to be deeply in love with and affected by his presence in our lives. We want to know the 'distance' his love will go, but honestly, all we need to know is that his love will reach us no matter where we are. We want to understand if there is anyway to go 'too far' so as to no longer be able to have his mercy when we need it, but the reality is that his mercy is greater than our deepest need. Natalie goes on to remind us that we don't have to fully understand God's holiness to appreciate his holiness embracing us. Chris Tomlin sings of not being able to run from the presence of God in his song, "Jesus Loves Me." The message is clear - no place we go, no "thing" we do, and no "ignorance" we declare can keep us from the love of God and the surrounding safety of his arms.

Great blessings belong to those who fear and respect the Lord and live the way he wants. You will get what you work for. You will enjoy the Lord’s blessings, and all will go well for you. (Psalm 128:1-2 ERV)

Yes, it is better to love 'for' God than to live 'against' him, but the reality is that ALL of us 'live against him'. We all need his embrace, and the definite truth is that we will 'continue' to need his love for all the days we take breath. His love is more than what saves us, it is what sustains us throughout our days. Broken hearts get mended because of his presence. Hurt feelings get righted because of his mercy. Damaged bodies somehow are renewed because of his healing touch. All the things that come out of 'living against' him somehow have a way of being different when we finally begin to pull into his embrace of grace and mercy instead of pushing against it!

At times I think we forget just how miserably hard our heart was toward God. It could have been a long, long time since you reached out to Jesus asking him to be the Lord of your life. If so, you may not remember some of the hardness that was there, the tremendous bondage you experienced apart from his presence setting you free. For others, the deliverance is so close you can still sense the tremendous relief freedom brings when grace touches those things that held you bound for so long. Regardless of where we are in our walk with Jesus, we all need an occasion now and again where we just recount his mercies, remember his grace, and allow ourselves to be renewed by his ever-present love. 

Maybe today will be a day of new beginnings for some of us - we never know when the depth of his love will touch an untouched area of our hurting hearts, damaged emotions, or misery caused by compromise and sin. When that touch comes, let us lean into it rather than resist it. His touch is memorable, but when we lean into it we kind of "cement" the effect of that touch, giving it a permanent part in our memories for all times. Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

No guarantee here

Never brag about what you will do in the future; you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. (Proverbs 27:1 ERV)
"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." (Melody Beattie) 
None of us is ever guaranteed a "tomorrow" - we all have today and can do the best with today as is possible. We allow all kinds of things keep us from enjoying our "today" - including the issues of our past or the constant focus on what it is we might accomplish tomorrow. I am no different, here, for there are times when I get so "future focused" so as to miss what is right in front of me. The sad truth is that there is absolutely no guarantee there will even be that "tomorrow" I spent so much time planning for! What a shame to miss out on so much because we are not able to see what is right in front of us!
For many, their lives were changed the day the towers came down in New York. Others would never be the same because of some school shooting, rampage in some mall, or being at a concert enjoying some time with friends. None of these people woke up one morning and expected their end, or their maiming. No soldier sent off to war expects to return with body parts missing from some explosive device cleverly put in his or her path. These are not things we "plan for" in life, but they come our way, often without any real purpose or warning. The best we can do is let go of the past, focus on today with all the effort we can dedicate to it, and be cognizant of the steps we should take to be as ready as possible for tomorrow.
Today is our challenge. Yesterday may have left us with a bit of guilt over what wasn't accomplished, or how some encounter didn't go as we planned. Today is where we can start afresh with whatever it is we need to take care of in order to be rid of guilt, restored in right relationship with God and each other, and to be living with intent (purpose). We must learn to be people who make "today" our focal point and then invest wisely in the opportunities that today may afford us. They could be opportunities for relationship - those that will be discovered, made right, or set aglow in a freshness that comes from just being together and focused on each other. They could be opportunities to learn something new, or remember something learned long ago, then pass that learning onto another.
Today is what we can make the best use of, isn't it? Tomorrow may involve a little planning, but to be hyper-focused on tomorrow while losing sight of today is to be a little too tunnel-visioned. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

These flames are a little too close for comfort, God!

He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood. He who faces no calamity will need no courage. Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in a soil with a strong mixture of troubles. (Harry Emerson Fosdick)

The people started complaining about their troubles. The Lord heard their complaints. He heard these things and became angry. Fire from the Lord burned among the people. The fire burned some of the areas at the edge of the camp. So the people cried to Moses for help. He prayed to the Lord and the fire stopped burning. (Numbers 11:1-2 ERV)

There are definitely times more difficult to endure than others, suffering almost too great to bear, and a sense of oppression too strong to bear up under for very long. It seems like one hardship after another has hit the peoples of our countries in the forms of natural disaster one upon the other. The devastation is great and the ability to "bounce back" for some of those affected will not be measured in how quickly they can "rebuild" as much as if they will have the endurance or "hardiness" to endure without complaint!

I occasionally find myself complaining about things I have absolutely no control over and at some point it dawns on me that I am not going to get control through my incessant complaints. In fact, I kind of give up even more control when I spend my days whining about the circumstances. I become the victim of whatever it is I am going through or dealing with. It may be tough to withstand the constant "blows" or "lapping flames" of what it is I am enduring, but I have discovered it rarely gets any better with constant complaint!

Is it okay to share our hardship with God? Is it okay to "complain" to him? I think it is, when our attitude remains focused on what he can do to help us IN the hard place, not to complain that we want OUT OF it. Sometimes I want to complain to God to get me out of the hard places - almost expecting him to bubble wrap me so I don't feel any of the blows! Those blows become harder and harder to bear the more I focus on the blows and less on what Jesus may help me to realize or develop while receiving them. 

I am not making light of the many hardships of those enduring excruciating devastation right now. I am reminding each of us to keep the right perspective, regardless what the circumstances are we face in life. What we must recognize it isn't so much what we avoid that makes us strong, but the things that we sometimes have to deal with face-to-face and struggle with a little, they are the ones that build the depth of character we likely need. Sometimes it means we are in the midst of hardship, while at others it is lapping at the outskirts of our "camp". Either way, take them to God and trust him with the control. Just sayin!