Sunday, December 31, 2017

No afternoon athletic contest

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. (Ephesians 6:10-12 MSG)

No "afternoon athletic contest" for us! We are in a life or death battle - to the finish! That means there must be consistent training and the right "arming" of one's self with all the tools we need to withstand the constant barrage of attacks coming our way. We cannot find those tools simply by being "stationary" and "inactive" in our spiritual lives. The tools we are given to resist attack are "put on" - they become part of our lives by osmosis!

Sunday church goers, you are probably going to get a little offended with me right about now, but don't hate me. There are thousands upon thousands of individuals who proclaim to be Christian. Of these multiple thousands, many will line the pews of their respective neighborhood churches on Sunday mornings, nodding when the pastor makes a "solid point", and even making an occasional "amen" heard. Yet, when they cross the threshold of the church doors back "out into the world" they will remember nothing of the message they heard, nor will it "outfit" their lives with any resources they actually will use. 

Why is this the case for so many who "attend church"? I think it is because we have become a society of "passive followers" of Christ rather than "actively engaged disciples" of Christ. There is a distinct difference between the two, my friends. One might think church attendance is very important, but if it doesn't do more than provide a social outlet for you to reconnect with a couple of friends you love to hang around with, it hasn't really done much of what it was intended to be when we gather together. 

Church isn't the place we go - it is the lives we lead in between the times we warm those pews! It is the way we respond to the driver who is going at snail speed in front of us down a one lane road, or the degree of patience we exhibit toward that child who just doesn't want to pick up his or her room. It more than pointing out a need - it is the way we zero in on a need and find a way to meet it. It is teaching in action - hearing that good message should promote some action within us - not just give us warm fuzzies. 

As we start a new year together, we can determine to become more consistent in not only hearing, but in doing what we are being taught to do. Obedience is action oriented - it isn't optional! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nursing a Strain?

It was Peter Marshall who reminded us: "The measure of life is not its duration, but its donation." What has been your "donation" this past year? Have you made a difference in the life of someone? Has your life been an instrument of grace and love? Have you encountered difficulties, but steadfastly stayed the course so others who will come behind you may see plainly what it takes to reach the next destination? If 2017 didn't end on the note you'd hope it would, there is always 2018 to improve the donation!

32 “Do you think you deserve credit for merely loving those who love you? Even the godless do that! 33 And if you do good only to those who do you good—is that so wonderful? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, what good is that? Even the most wicked will lend to their own kind for full return! 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned about the fact that they won’t repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as sons of God: for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are very wicked. (Luke 6:32-35 TLB)

We don't deserve credit for living the way we should - God gets the credit for that one! He is the one who actually reminds us to not say that thing we are thinking about saying in the heat of the moment, or challenges us to get up and get moving when all we want to do is nurse some wound we have been allowing to fester. Loving as we should, doing good unto others, and turning the other cheek are great virtues and probably can be "learned" by a great many, but to truly say it is our way of life is something we cannot take credit for because it is God in us that makes this truly possible ALL of the time.

There is a stern warning to us in today's passage - even the godless do that. This means it is quite possible to be loving, but without the heart of God motivating that love from within us, it is love that has conditions. We can do good to those who are kind, thoughtful, and compassionate toward us - but to treat someone who cuts you off in traffic in such a loving way oftentimes requires more than a little patience or iota of understanding. We all have "good" moments in life - those times when we actually "get it right" in interacting with others and being the kind of person we are called to be. Those "good" moments are just that - moments. We haven't the power or capacity to make them a LIFE-LONG string of consistent occurrences apart from Christ's Spirit within us.

I am sure many of us enter this New Year with some form of strained relationships - either small or large - it matters not. We just don't always do well with others - not playing well in life's sandbox leaving us wounded and hurt in one way or another. It is possible we are nursing those wounds right here and now. There isn't any power within us in our "self-effort" that can actually restore that riff or heal those wounds. That strain is going to nag at you until it heals! Just as a strained muscle grabs at you over and over again until you finally pay attention to it, so will those strained relationships. There is no other way to deal with them than to begin to "undo" what has been done.

The "undoing" is always much worse than the "doing" ever was. It requires much more effort than we expended in the moments of time it took to bring that strain. If you haven't figured it out yet, healing takes way longer than the injury invoking event! To really heal from a serious strain in our physical body, we seek medical attention. To really heal from a serious strain within relationship, whether it be with another human or with God himself, we turn to the "professional" on that subject and that is Christ! We cannot heal on our own. We may "get through it", but the strain will always niggle at us. To no longer feel the strain, we need the healing touch of Christ. We can "hold out" or we can "go all in" - the choice is ours. The choice is best when it moves us into the arms of Jesus and allows him to heal what we haven't been able to do totally on our own. Then we trust him to show us how to walk as we should so we are not going to create that strain all over again. Just sayin!

Friday, December 29, 2017

A fresh start

Did you ever stop to think the New Year is just a time where we enter into a space and place where new chapters will be written? Some of us are so "down" on ourselves because of some the chapters we have allowed to be written into our lives this year we cannot see beyond those chapters. The story isn't over - so there are more chapters to be written! That affords us a "change of venue" for the writing of the next!

13 O God, your ways are holy. Where is there any other as mighty as you? 14 You are the God of miracles and wonders! You still demonstrate your awesome power. 19 Your road led by a pathway through the sea—a pathway no one knew was there! (Psalm 77:13-14, 19 TLB)

God still stands ready to demonstrate his awesome power in our lives. We don't have to fear he has left us without any "re-writes". In fact, he may "edit" those chapters completely so they no longer have any bearing on the story that will be forthcoming! After all...he IS the God of miracles and wonders! Most of us expect far less from ourselves than what we have planned to write on the pages of this New Year's journey - so maybe it is time we expect more of him instead!

New Year's Day. A fresh start. A new chapter in life waiting to be written. New questions to be asked, embraced, and loved. Answers to be discovered and then lived in this transformative year of delight and self-discovery. Today carve out a quiet interlude for yourself in which to dream, pen in hand. Only dreams give birth to change. (Sarah Ban Breathnach)

What "new questions" will you ask yourself or others? 
What is it you wish to see written into the pages of your life?
Where is it you desire a "fresh start"?
What is it you seek to discover - either for the first time or to find it anew again?
Where is it you will find the beginning of your new chapter?

Tough questions, but I think Sarah said it well - when we "carve out" that time to get alone with God, consider what it is we desire above all else, and then surrender what we have been so selfishly holding onto that we "want to do ourselves", we find God begins to edit our pages and enter new content into those still left blank before us. We are not our own "editors" - God needs that spot in our lives. We can dream of what the pages might say, but those dreams are best clarified by God if we are to see them written in such a way they become the chapters we want to call "keepers" in our life! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Landmines, Switchbacks, and Ice Patches

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!  Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. (Ephesians 5:16-17 MSG)
Have you ever navigated through some place where you had to really watch your step? There have been times when I have to navigate landmines in the yard of a friend that would have caused a pretty uncomfortable odor to follow me around if I had of step into them. I have had to watch very carefully while traversing switchback trails down into the Grand Canyon, all the while watching for erosion and lose rocks. I have also had to stay upright on very slippery icy patches while trying to stay focused on getting to the destination I had in mind. When we are "watching our steps" it is pretty hard to see what is around us, though. We miss some of the beauty we all desire to take in along our journey all because our focus is at foot level!
Equally important is this idea of not living carelessly - we must take consideration of our steps - it isn't an option. Yet, we don't want to be consumed at "foot level" with each step we take - because we will miss much of what God has provided for our enjoyment if we do. So, how do we get balance here? We need to be concerned with our steps, but we also need to enjoy the journey, and we know the journey can be riddled with some pretty "messy", "treacherous", and "slippery" stuff. Have you ever thought God may just want to help us plant our feet and guide our path? When we finally get our focus off our feet, we might just see how well he has prepared that path!
Yep, life deals us some messy stuff sometimes and we'd do well to navigate around it rather than stepping right smack-dab into the middle of it. If we do step into it, we will know right away what a foul "odor" that missed-step leads to in our lives - and it is sometimes "lingers" a lot longer than we might desire. God can help us navigate around the "messy stuff" in life - but have you ever been called to just "clean it up"? There are times when the best plan is to just rid ourselves of the mess! We need to allow it be cleaned away for good so we don't have to be so concerned with stepping into one of those "landmines" of life.
There are also times when the pathway is a little narrower and steeper than we might have desired to travel. The journey gets rough and the path doesn't seem all that sure. Know this...if God has called you to take that path, navigating it is his business and he will get you there safely. I didn't plummet to my death in the Canyon and neither will you! If the path you are on is a little slippery and kind of makes you nervous, I understand how you feel. The moments when it seems like your feet are going to go out from under you and you know the fall will be hard are the times when you need a hand to hold onto. You need that steadying force to keep you upright. That hand is always extended in Christ - so don't think you have to stay upright on your own. In fact - - - you probably cannot do it all on your own! Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it. 
(Ephesians 5:8-10 MSG)

All of us grope around at some point in life, whether it being while we are trying to find a career, or maybe the next step we should take in order to get to some point we imagine will make us happier. To grope means we are just feeling our way toward something. Mom is legally blind, but I have noticed her vision failing just a week bit more this year and she is now "groping" around the house a lot more. She seeks those "touch points" that are familiar to her - the back of the sofa as she makes her way to the kitchen, or the length of the hallway wall as she makes her way back to the bedroom. It is a natural part of life to reach out when we don't know which way to go for sure - but to live all of life this way is extremely limiting!

God doesn't want us just barely making our way along in life - feeling our way through. He wants us to know for sure the direction we are to take and then step out into it with confidence and bold assurance. Life without Christ is kind of like life without our vision - always groping for the edges that help us know which path we are on. It is a pretty unclear course and there is a lot to "mire" us down. We find ourselves groping because WE are trying to find our OWN way rather than to have a way made open to us. Mom won't get her eyesight back, so I can see why she gropes for the familiar objects that act as "markers" for her path. We don't have to settle for the darkness of soul that makes us "grope" for some semblance of assurance we remain on the path to where we believe we are supposed to be headed!

Christ has made the way plain - but to enjoy the way that is bright with his presence, we have to change courses! We have to move from needing to trust in what we can see and feel on our own to sometimes not seeing, but trusting we are on the right course because we "feel" something better than a "pathway marker" - we feel his presence. His presence fills the hungry soul and opens the path before us - not so much free of wrong choices, but clearer as to what the right choices should be. Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Rubbing Shoulders With Love

1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG)

Love like that...easier said than done, huh? The key to loving is watching how God loves and then imitating what he does. That doesn't make our love "imitation" - it makes it an invitation! We learn the "proper behavior" of being truly loving by observing all the aspects of how God expresses his love in and through our lives and the lives of others. We make love so complex, but God makes it appear pretty doggone easy - he just loves us - without condition, exactly as we are, without requiring anything of us. This is one reason we need to observe how he expresses love - because we don't have this one down at all!

We "learn love" by keeping company with the one who is love in every action, in all ways expressive of his great heart of love and compassion. When we keep company with the right individuals, we learn from them - we almost "morph" our behavior because their behavior begins to "rub off" on us. There is much to be said to rubbing shoulders enough with an individual that you finally and truthfully get to know them. This frequent contact actually begins to not only expose who they are to us, but it exposes parts of their character that we may take on as our own.

Extravagant love - I have spoken of this often - not because I don't have anything else to speak of, but because the extravagance of God's love is indeed beyond our initial comprehension. We get exposed to this extravagant way of loving more and more each encounter we have with him and with others who have been "rubbing shoulders" with him for a while. His love actually hasn't "morphed", but our attitude toward it probably has! We want to explore new facets of his extravagance and we find ourselves yearning to know more and more of this love. 

Nothing revealed his extravagance more than Christ's birth and that cruel death on the cross. Nothing reveals his extravagance more than the great care he takes in seeking each of us out - right where we are - just as we are. It is indeed wise to observe how we are loved and then allow that love to be replicated in us. Just sayin!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Now, that's a perfect fit!

You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Ephesians 4:20-24 MSG)

Those who pay careful attention to Christ will see the careful attention of Christ manifest over and over in their lives. It is simple math - put in what you have to give and then watch as God takes the little you have and he multiplies it in exponential proportions until we are filled with the character of Christ within. The old way of life - given over to him - is subtracted. The new way of life - received from him - is added. In turn, there is an exponential increase in the truth and love of Christ rising within us.

Notice there is an "imperative" in this passage today - everything connected with the old way of life has to go. Actually it is a "double-imperative because it is said twice - once because it is important and then emphasis because it is not something we can compromise on at all. What is connected with your old life that may not be fully "subtracted" yet? I know there are a couple things I have tried to allow to be "subtracted", but they seem to have some type of anchor within - we might call them those "favorite" kinds of sins that we just don't want to let go of because they bring us some degree of satisfaction. 

It is only through final and permanent disconnection with those things that we come fully into the character of Christ that is meant to replace those things - and the sad truth is that we don't realize how much more satisfying his character is over those sins anyway! Wouldn't it be nice to be able to "try on" God's character much like we do a fine suit of clothing at an upgraded department store? We could see just how good that character "fits"! I have tried on suits of clothing of the "knock off" brand, but never been as satisfied with the fit and feel of that one that costs me just a little bit more. Why? The quality is different!

There is no substitute for the character of Christ in our lives. There is nothing that fits quite as well. His character was created for our "frame" - it was meant to adorn us in a "perfect fit" kind of way! We might try all other kinds of things to "fit" that space in the same way, but truth be told - nothing - absolutely nothing is meant to "fit" quite like Christ's character! That space was designed just for his presence - and where his presence "fits" - there is a transformation of character. We might just say adornment comes by laying down the "knock off" we have been trying to wear to disguise our imperfections. Just sayin!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Damaged or Gracefully Broken?

Matt Redman sings a song entitled, "Gracefully Broken", in which the chorus of the song really depicts an image we all need to grasp fully. Listen carefully to these words: "Here I am God, arms wide open, pouring out my life, gracefully broken."  The image is one of submission - lifting arms - not just a little bit, but totally and completely wide open. Wide open - does that frighten anyone else? Wide open means nothing is hidden, but it also means nothing is unable to enter into the space created by being open to receive!

But you’ll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you. Let the party last all night! Stand guard over our celebration. You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers, for decking us out in delight. (Psalm 5:11-12 MSG)

God has a special way of welcoming those with open arms - for open arms depict an open heart - and an open heart is the best ground for God's grace to work. God can take what we offer with open arms - open heart. He can also take away what we give to him with filled hands so that we are again free to accept what he wants to fill those hands with in return. Grace breaks us - grace remakes us.

What comes to mind when you hear those words "gracefully broken"? I know when I have dropped something on the floor, the shattered pieces don't always seem to depict an image of "gracefully broken". The shattered pieces depict helpless damage oftentimes beyond human repair! Maybe this is the image of what we see when we imagine being "gracefully broken" - grace bringing us to the place we recognize we are damaged beyond human repair!

Life manages to break us down. Grace accomplishes the breaking that builds us back up again! I don't understand how God does his rebuilding in my life, but I know it is constantly amazing me how much his grace remakes what life has broken down beyond what looks like any repair would be possible! We sometimes feel the most helpless at the point where God is about to do the work of rebuilding us in those broken places!

Gracefully broken - arms wide open - heart yielded. Maybe this is the best posture we take this Christmas season - arms wide open, pouring out our life before him - acknowledging we have need of more of him in each of us. Let us be gracefully broken and gracefully rebuilt by his hands! May your Christmas be wholly celebrated! Just prayin!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

One Teacher, Multiple Lessons

When one teaches, two learn.  (Robert Half)

21 Jesus and his companions now arrived at the town of Capernaum and on Saturday morning went into the Jewish place of worship—the synagogue—where he preached. 22 The congregation was surprised at his sermon because he spoke as an authority and didn’t try to prove his points by quoting others—quite unlike what they were used to hearing! (Mark 1:21-22 TLB)

They say any teacher really has to learn the subject matter prior to teaching it themselves. Does that mean I perfectly "get" every lesson down pat before I teach it and can replicate it time and time again without variation? Not hardly! It does means I learn a little more each time I teach it, though! It means I come closer to replicating the lesson without variation each time I revisit that lesson. It means there has been growth to some degree in my life. I am human, so my teaching isn't always my own - sometimes I reteach what I have learned from others - things that spoke truth into my life and helped me to grow in some area. Jesus taught from his own knowledge - because he is ALL knowledge. He surprised the people by his authority because they had never heard or seen anyone with so much "true" authority. As "ambassadors" of the message of truth God gives to each of us, we embody truth in some degree, based on how much of the lesson we have allowed to be worked out in our lives.

God's Word often "surprises us" no matter how many times we have heard or read the same passages. Why is that? I think it might just be that at certain times in our lives we are more "open" to it, seeing it through a different "lens" and therefore, we "get it" a little differently or clearer each time we are exposed to it. Does that mean the first "lesson" was not taught well? No, it just means we were open to learning it a different way, or to a different degree of understanding, the second or third or fourth time around. It doesn't make the first learning opportunity flawed in anyway because all learning is incremental. We don't become versed in quantum physics overnight! We first have to understand a little bit about particles - neutrons and protons. Then we have to understand how they react to each other, rely upon one another, act when in an electromagnetic field, etc. Right about at the point I said "neutrons and protons", I lost about half of you! Why? You have no desire or "need" to learn quantum physics!

Sometimes the lessons we are open to learning are those we need to learn the most. This is why scripture comes "alive" at times for us and at others that same passage is "good", but not as "rich" as it is when we need it most. Learning isn't about the "degree" to which we learn the lesson, it is about the openness of mind and heart to actually absorb and act upon what we are learning. The simplest lessons have been some of the richest and most meaningful in my own life. The more "grandiose" ones were good, but they didn't bring life change to the same degree some of the simpler ones did. To have learned what grace really is and what it truly does in my life - that was a harder lesson to learn, but in incremental steps, I have moved closer and closer to understanding the truth about grace. I have discovered no amount of "self effort" makes me right with God. No amount of "being good" is going to get me one step closer to heaven's doors. No "work" I do helps me overcome sin. All steps toward God are grace steps. All steps out of sin are there because God laid the paving stones of grace to help me walk away from it. 

We can learn at different paces, in different seasons, and in many different ways. The way we learn isn't too different, though. It occurs when we are "opened up" to learn. Sometimes this opening of ourselves is quite natural because there is a curiosity that drives us. At others, we need a little nudging because we don't exactly see ourselves as needing that lesson. Either way, the most instrumental way we come into knowledge is by realizing the authority of the one who is teaching that lesson - Christ! Just sayin!

Friday, December 22, 2017

We can fill up in a lot of ways

The psalmist tells about this, for he says that when Christ returned triumphantly to heaven after his resurrection and victory over Satan, he gave generous gifts to men. Notice that it says he returned to heaven. This means that he had first come down from the heights of heaven, far down to the lowest parts of the earth. 10 The same one who came down is the one who went back up, that he might fill all things everywhere with himself, from the very lowest to the very highest.  
(Ephesians 4:8-10 TLB)

Christ came down from the heights, but his return to those heights made possible the "filling" - not with a temporary filling of power, but with a permanent presence of himself wherever we are and go. That means everywhere you are, if Christ's presence dwells within your heart, then Christ is right there in the midst of the present moment. Many times we focus on the coming of Christ, but forget there is a "remaining" part that actually was the purpose for his entire coming!

We have the evidence of God everywhere we look, but can others see the evidence of God everywhere they look? They can, especially if the see even little bits of him in you! The purpose of our filling is that we might show forth what fills us not just to capacity, but expands our capacity so we can keep on being filled.  I think this is often missed - the belief that once filled that is "enough", or all there is. The "filling" is ongoing and continual.

Sometimes we allow things to fill our hearts, occupying the space intended for the presence and peace of Christ. The sad part of this comes when we finally recognize, often with regret, just how much we would have "benefited" from actually abiding in that presence and peace all along. It is understandable that regret may enter in when we consider just how "lean" we ran during those times we didn't count on his filling, or take time to be refilled. We truly run much "leaner" than we were intended to when we push the presence of God to be back and allow anything else to fill that space intended for him.

Cottage cheese fills my stomach when I am hungry, but it doesn't always satisfy what I long for - the craving is different than what the taste or texture of cottage cheese can satisfy. In a much similar manner, things and people may fill the space in our lives, but will they ever satisfy quite the same as Christ's presence? Hardly! That space was designed specifically for him - even a clever counterfeit might attempt to fill that space, but the counterfeit lacks one thing - the ability to keep filling that space as it was created to be filled! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Help me to handle this well

But remember this, that if a father dies and leaves great wealth for his little son, that child is not much better off than a slave until he grows up, even though he actually owns everything his father had. He has to do what his guardians and managers tell him to until he reaches whatever age his father set. And that is the way it was with us before Christ came. We were slaves to Jewish laws and rituals, for we thought they could save us. But when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own sons. And because we are his sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so now we can rightly speak of God as our dear Father. Now we are no longer slaves but God’s own sons. And since we are his sons, everything he has belongs to us, for that is the way God planned. (Galatians 4:1-7 TLB)
A long passage this morning, but it speaks volumes in such a short "story". We have been given an inheritance we have yet to experience in its "fullness" or "completeness". It is something we only taste little by little - because we live under the heavenly Father's care and protection. Yet, we haven't experienced ALL of it yet - because we are in the process of being equipped to "handle" all we have received. The ten year old son would have a much different use for his inheritance than the twenty year old son, or the forty year old. Why? As time passes, we develop awareness - becoming aware of the value of what we have received. During that time between inheriting it all and actually being able to fully come into that inheritance - walking and breathing every element of that inheritance as though it were our own - we come under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. Why? We need help "handling" what we haven't fully come to appreciate the value of totally!
It takes time for us to realize it isn't in the "doing" that we are saved, but in the exchange of what we could not do ourselves that we come into the fullness of what we "inherit" in Christ Jesus. It is like we "come of age" while under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of God's Word. We develop an understanding and an appreciation of what it is we have received - so that we stop trying to "get at" the inheritance and simply walk in it. Freedom is never really won by the one who escapes under his or her own power. There will always be a niggling of what it is we have escaped - and what could once again entrap us - holding us captive against our desire or will. Freedom is assured when the enemy is annihilated, though. When there is always and forevermore something bigger and stronger than that enemy standing between us and that bondage, we are less likely to fear that bondage again!
Slaves don't appreciate freedom until they walk in it. Yes, they dream of the "luxury" of it, but they don't actually realize that full enjoyment of it until they "come into it". Yet, even when "free", there is something that reminds them of what life had been like "before" freedom. The work of the tutor in our lives is to help us erase the pain or sting of that memory - so that we look back less and less - walking more and more into the enjoyment of life "apart" from that bondage. The privilege of inheritance is that we don't "do anything" to earn it, for it is given to us and is ours apart from anything we might want to do to show we deserve it or earned it. The purpose of the tutor is to help us realize we don't have to accomplish our freedom - it has been accomplished for us. The work of the tutor comes in helping us to be ready in every area of our lives to receive the depth, breadth, and height of this inheritance.
God's plans are for us to walk into everything that is his - to be at rest in his grace and at peace in his love. We don't get the fullness of this privilege fully at first - although we come into a great place of enjoyment. We understand there is great ability available to us, but we don't always walk in that ability. We need a tutor to guide us in the use of what we have been given - to see how that ability becomes our own more and more each day - not because we earned it, but because it has been prepared for us and made available to us. Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I'm hungry again!

Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. No one coming to me will ever be hungry again. Those believing in me will never thirst." (John 6:35 TLB)
What makes you hungry? As I catch the fragrant aroma of baking cookies or fresh bread, I get hungry! Walk into the putrid smell of old pine cleaner in a musty bathroom and that appetite just takes a hit in the old nostrils! It is amazing how we can be so hungry one moment and then have that hunger almost turn to a sour stomach in such a short period of time. How it is that happens? In the natural sense, hunger is made up of many 'senses' - smell, taste, texture, not to mention hormones triggering the desire to eat, etc. We can realize tremendous hunger, and then there are times we can ignore that hunger to the point it becomes a devastating thing to our physical bodies. In a spiritual sense, it is possible to ignore hunger so long we just don't realize we are becoming malnourished!
Hunger is satisfied as we partake - plain and simple. We can "sense" all the goodness awaiting us, but until we partake of what has been graciously provided for us, there is no hope our hunger will ever provide nourishment for our souls and spirits. If we want to experience provision, we have to allow it to actually work into our lives as it is intended. I can stare at food on a plate for a long, long time (and I did as a young child when those veggies didn't look all that appealing to me). It doesn't change the "provision" on the plate. The moment I take in even the tiniest portion of the provision is when I begin to experience the benefit of the provision. 
Wouldn't it be silly to have a feast specially prepared for us and then stop right after the appetizer? Or just take one bite of each portion on the plate and say we have "experienced it all"? The feast would still be a feast - our desire to be "filled" might just not be there! God looks for us to have a desire to be continually filled, but he allows us to experience a little bit of this thing known as "hunger" because hunger can be a great driving force to bring us into the place of provision! 
God has provided beyond our wildest dreams - we just need to recognize that hunger he allows to develop within us is to be met with the provision he makes! We might want to find our own provisions from time to time, but I know some of the best meals I have experienced are those others have prepared for me with great love and dedication to get it "just right" for me. If others can do this for me in the natural sense, isn't it silly that I'd think God wouldn't do it on a ten-fold or a hundred-fold grander scheme? The hunger for righteousness isn't going to be filled at any other "table", my friend. It is meant to be filled at his table. Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Enter and Enjoy

Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Wear my yoke—for it fits perfectly—and let me teach you; for I am gentle and humble, and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens.” 
(Matthew 11:28 TLB)

You know that every now and again I share some lyrics from a song I find speaks to me, or is just one I like because the song lifts my soul and spirit into the presence of God. Today is one of those days when I feel compelled to share one of my favorite songs from Sidewalk Prophets - "Come to the Table". The intent is for us to get only a highlight a few things from this song. If you'd like the complete lyrics, please go to the link at the bottom of the post and enjoy!

The song begins with a statement: "We all start on the outside - the outside looking in. This is where grace begins." Oh, these words are so very true - we ALL begin on the outside looking in - hungry for grace's satisfying filling. We want more than we ever imagine possible, but don't even know the half of what it is we will receive when we enter in! Grace begins where looking stops and we enter in. Too many times we settle for looking in when the invitation is not to just "look", but experience firsthand the fullness and enjoyment of his grace. Grace is not just something to be admired - it is to be incorporated into every part of our lives and that means we have to enter in if we are to enjoy it fully.

A few words from the chorus of the song: "He said come to the table. Come join the sinners who have been redeemed. Take you place beside the Savior. Sit down and be set free." Sit down and be set free. There are times I think we believe the way to freedom is to do more. Freedom begins when we stop "doing" and allow grace to begin the work of helping us lay down those things that held us bound for so long - sometimes without us even recognizing how "bound" we were! It all begins with the "come" and doesn't end until we are free from all that we bring as we come. The only action on our part is to enter in - all has been prepared in advance of our need for grace - to enjoy, we must take the first step inside that doorway.

A little further into the song, the words touch me each and every time I hear them: "There's no one unwelcome here. So that sin and shame that you brought with you, you can leave it at the door. Let mercy draw you near." Mercy has a way of beckoning the hurting - the worn, the shamed, the "misfits" of sin's aftermath. There is little that can keep us apart from his grace - the only thing standing between us and his grace is US! As soon as we enter in, he meets with us right where we are and in that moment, the "misfit" condition of our souls is transformed from being an "outsider" of his grace to being "on the inside track"! Nothing is more evident than our need. Nothing is more available than his grace. Just sayin!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Maybe it doesn't come from a store....

Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store. (Dr. Seuss)

“Yes, I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. For apart from me you can’t do a thing. My true disciples produce bountiful harvests. This brings great glory to my Father." 
Could it be that Christmas begins with "connection"? It took Christ's "connection" with human form in order to actually re-establish "connection" of the human with the divine! I have had some times of "loose connection" in my life - with Christ, others, and tasks or responsibilities. Let's just be honest here - maintaining "tight" and "permanent" connections is kind of hard sometimes. It requires constant attention to the details because it doesn't take much to disturb connection!
In what ways are connection lost? The first thing that might come to mind is by it coming "loose". In other words, something jarred it to the point it became loose - either through friction, bumps and bangs, or just plain "vibration". In the course of time, the connection gives into the constant movement and there is a "backing away" from the contact it had been making. This is why it is so important to examine those contacts from time to time, because this "backing off" can occur almost unnoticed. In time, the vital connection is lost and it takes work to realize how to restore that connection.
The second way I can think of that connections are lost is through corrosion. Things get into where they shouldn't be and the resulting effect of those interlopers is corrosion. It doesn't take much to interrupt that connection - the tiniest bit of corrosion can lead to disturbances - perhaps intermittent at first, but as more corrosion occurs, that connection is disturbed completely. There is nothing passing through as it should be. The thing about corrosive things is that they don't stop with just a little corrosion - the corrosive substance just keeps working until more and more interruption occurs. To deal with corrosion means we keep the things out that shouldn't get in and we do frequent inspections of the connection, removing anything that corrupts that connection as quickly as possible.
The last thing we might consider as affecting connection is what might be referred to as "normal wear and tear". In other words, through time we become complacent to the connection and it is just not as vital as it once was because of our neglect. Where it concerns connection, there is no room for neglect. If we neglect our connection of battery cable to battery, we can get corrosion and that interferes with connection. If we neglect the fluid levels in our battery, that leads to dry cells. Either way, we don't have enough "juice" to keep things going! Neglect creeps in - it isn't usually purposeful. Time passes and we just plain forget how important it is to do these "connection checks". 
If we have been feeling the effect of a "connection loss", it could be this is the best time to ensure there is vital and "free" connection between us and whatever (or whoever) it is we have lost connection with. Maybe the best Christmas gift we can give another is that connection. It could just be it would the best gift for us, as well! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Frame me

Choose your friends with caution; plan your future with purpose, and frame your life with faith. (Thomas S. Monson)

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds. It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness. (James 3:17-18 TLB)

We are all in the process of "framing" our lives each and every moment we make split-second decisions. It is what precedes those decisions that often determines the "steadiness" of the course we will take. As Monson stated, we need to ensure our lives are "framed" with faith - in other words, we have the firmest of foundations upon which to allow our steps to be taken. That foundation is Christ - it begins with saying "yes" to him, but it continues each and every moment when we allow the "frame" of our lives to be filled with him. The frame was that moment in time where we said "yes", but the picture that is contained within that frame is made up of all those moments when those split-second decisions are made!

A life of faith is built on all those moments when Christ's wisdom becomes our own. We step into his plans and purpose, assuming not so much the leader role, but the disciple role - allowing his teaching and wisdom to be imparted and then "grafted-into" our lives. If you have ever watched an arborist take a portion of one tree and graft it into another tree, there is a skill to his work. If he makes too big of a slit for the graft to fit into, the tree will be more susceptible to disease, allowing moisture and insect to invade the tender place created for that graft. If he makes too small of a slit or doesn't bind the new graft just tight enough, it won't make contact as it should with the "host" tree and it will not survive. The placement of the graft is important and the way it is bound to the host is equally so. The same is true of each of us - our lives of faith are not going to survive and grow as they should until the "bond" between Jesus and us is secure, well-founded, and free of invading disease!

The grafted branch doesn't always take on the characteristics of the tree where it is attached right away. It makes every effort to live as it used to live, but if it wants to grow, it must yield to where it is placed for that growth. As with each of us, we can try to live independently, but we will soon find we are cut off from the life supply we so desperately crave and need! The friends we choose are a direct result of the lives we allow to be framed - they make up the "picture" within the frame - for they affect each choice we make within that frame. The plans we make (or allow to influence our lives) are going to equally affect the picture within the frame. The one constant thing is the frame - the picture might change a little from time to time, but the frame is the same! When that frame is Christ, the picture doesn't yearn to be outside that frame - it is adorned by the absolute beauty of the frame! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What do you believe?

25 Jesus told her, “I am the one who raises the dead and gives them life again. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies like anyone else, shall live again. 26 He is given eternal life for believing in me and shall never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?” (John 11:25-26 TLB)

Could we insert your name in place of Martha's for just a moment? If we were to do so, this would read "Jesus told Jane" or "Jesus told Rebecca" or "Jesus told Harry". There is much impact when we make scripture apply to us as individuals rather than just accepting that Jesus was talking to just one individual in history. Martha received these words, but we can, as well. "Anyone" can be us - short and sweet - the "anyone" Jesus came for is right there staring back at you in the mirror!

Jesus may have been asking Martha if she believed he was the one who could give life - eternal life. The question is important - not just so her brother could be raised from the dead, but because it determines her own personal destiny. Like anyone else - we are all alike - but the blessing is that if we believe in him, we live again! Jesus may have been asking if she believed this one truth, but there are times when Jesus is asking us this question over and over again in our own lives about some truth he wants us to really get hold of in order to turn our lives around.

All truth is revealed in Christ - but there are times when he asks us if we will believe it as truth. To do so will open doors for us that seem to have been shut beyond our ability to open. Martha's brother (Lazarus) was dead and in the grave - the place of burial was not known to be the place of life - it was pretty doggone permanent. There wasn't much more of an alternative than to mourn the loss. Jesus is quite specific with Martha - as he is with us - and asks very pointedly if "SHE" believes. Not the belief of the crowd, or of her sister, or even of the religious leaders of the day - HER belief.

When Jesus zeros in on OUR belief, it is time to take inventory of what we truthfully DO believe. We give a whole lot of lip service to beliefs, but they aren't really held as much in our hearts, attitude, and spirit. They are nice thoughts, but they aren't living truth until we embrace them and allow them to take hold of all of us. It begins with the matter of who we believe Jesus to be - do we really believe him to be the Son of God, come to earth in human form, dying for OUR sins, and raising from the dead for US to have a pathway to enter into the presence of God. It doesn't end until I don't know when!

Settle the question about what you (not the crowd) truly believe about Jesus and a new life begins. There is a new-found freedom that comes into your life - free of guilt, shame, and even of self-done righteousness. It opens the door to us getting asked a whole lot more questions about what we truly believe - about his power, his authority, his faithfulness, his ability, his love, etc. The question will not always be, "What do you believe?" It may be, "Will you trust me?", or "Will you finally let go of that?" Either way, the question is revealing the root of what we believe! Just sayin!

Friday, December 15, 2017

White waters

While the river of life glides along smoothly, it remains the same river; only the landscape on either bank seems to change. (Max Muller)

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. (Psalm 90:12 TLB)

There are some days I am up to whatever comes my way, while others seem to be carrying me in a current all their own and one I cannot seem to master any control over whatsoever. We probably all experience those moments where it feels like we are totally being tossed to and fro in the white-waters of life. In those times, we can panic, or we can recount how well-equipped we really are, with life jacket secured, a guide who knows the waters like the back of his hand, and who knows some of the most beautiful things we will see are those we observe once we take our eyes off the churning and tossing waters. The banks carved by those churning waters are a sight to behold!

Not all of life will go as it "should", but I have to ask you who determines the "should" for your life? There are lots and lots of times I have been the one determined to be in charge, but all of life isn't "lazy river" floating. The river picks up speed and increases in "demands" as it flows further and further downstream. There will come times and places it isn't going to lend itself to "laziness"! When those times come, we can pull ourselves out of the waters and try to navigate around those rougher places, or we can allow God to help us navigate through them like champions! The latter gives us a much different view and a greater trust in the one who is navigating on our behalf!

Spending our days as "we should" is not always as easy as it sounds. There are times when the "could" of my desire doesn't actually match up with the "should" of the present demands. Honestly, I think God wants us to "relax" not so much in the laziness of the barely moving waters, but more so in the torrent of churning when the white waters actually catch us up in their flow. How hard it is to relax when we feel our life's survival is in the hands of another, though. I wouldn't think to navigate white waters alone simply because I am not an expert swimmer, nor am I an expert in reading the current! I need the hand of one more skilled than I to help guide me through those spaces. 

Rather than focusing so much on the churning of the waters of life, maybe we'd see much more than the upheaval in front of us if we learned to trust the one who has the helm of the boat a little more. If we got a good look at him and saw just how confident he was in those moments when the white waters are all around us, we might just rest a little more in his ability and desire to keep us safe! After all, that is his mission in life - ours is to trust and rest and take in the passing banks. Just sayin!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Seasonal Service

10 It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. (Ephesians 2:10 TLB)

This time of year lends itself to people doing kind deeds for those they really know. It seems to be part of the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Food banks pile higher with food items donated at the local grocer in collection bins dedicated to ensuring those "less fortunate" have a nice meal for the holidays. Soup kitchens see an influx of volunteer help to prepare meals for the homeless. Red kettles get filled with pocket change and spare dollar bills. It is the season of "doing for others" and it is seen in many ways. As good as it is to serve others in some small way during the holiday season, God has called each of us for "bigger" purposes - to spend our entire lives helping others!

Needs are all around us each and everyday. We don't need a "season" to point them out, but it seems there is much emphasis placed on those needs during this time of year because there seems to be some kind of "pull" to help others in need while we are preparing for the season ourselves. We find the commitment to helping others is often very short-lived, though. Why? It was an emotional response to the season, but not a life-long concern within our hearts. Jesus didn't place his Spirit within us in order for us to serve others only once in a while. Service is to be for a lifetime - as the need arises and in whatever way we are able to meet that need.

This is not a criticism - it is an observation of my own heart response on occasion. It is easy to meet the need once, but to keep on meeting that need - that is where the rubber meets the road. To go above and beyond time after time, long after the "emotional high" has gone, this is where true service begins and "seasonal service" ends. As you can see from our passage, it is God's plan for us to serve others - over a lifetime spent in union with him. It is this union that makes service really meaningful and moves us beyond the emotional high into faithful obedience. There are lots of ways to serve, but none so rewarding as when that service is "commissioned" and "empowered" by the Spirit of God within us.

Just a couple of thoughts about service:

- What is the need you are seeing that is tugging at the strings of your heart? When we begin to define the need, we often find there comes a "strategy" within our minds and hearts that helps us to meet that need. This is the Spirit of God working within us to show us how best to meet the need we have been moved to meet.

- Who can best meet the need? Sometimes we know the need exists, but we don't have the necessary skills or tools to meet the need ourselves. We can often connect others who have those skills or tools with the one in need. I am not a counselor for the addict desiring to live clean or sober, but I know those who are and I can help to connect the addict with them. My part may be to serve by being that conduit for connection.

- Will the service require a lifetime commitment on our part? This is the hardest part of "stepping up" to serve. If we are to serve as Christ intends for us to serve, the service doesn't end at meeting the need once. It begins there and continues until God tells us that need no longer exists. We must be prepared to give of ourselves as long as it takes, in ways we are being constantly prepared to give. 

Service doesn't have to be "seasonal" and is most meaningful when it becomes a "lifestyle" born within us by the Spirit of God. Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Navigation, please

Later, in one of his talks, Jesus said to the people, “I am the Light of the world. So if you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, for living light will flood your path.” 
I usually do pretty well navigating someplace I am quite familiar with, even when the light has faded and I am faced with total darkness - I just traverse that space a little slower than usual and with a whole lot more caution. Why? Darkness doesn't allow things to reveal themselves to us in quite the same way as light does - they get revealed, just with a whole lot of stumbling! At night, I often navigate mom back to bed several times, not turning on any lights. I act as her navigator - she follows my lead. With her macular degeneration, even when the lights are on, she still has a whole lot of darkness to overcome, especially with the advancing of dementia on top of the blindness. So, as long as she is following someone, she does pretty well. Some of us would do well to realize we never have to navigate life alone - there is a "lead" we can choose to follow - one that allows "living light" to flood our path!
Light isn't all we need. We need a "navigator" to help us know the course we should take. The one who navigates our lives is also the one who directs the course of the light. If we hold an ordinary  flashlight in front of us, how well do we see what is around us? Do we see what is behind us? Do we see much out ahead of us? That limited light source really doesn't flood our path with light - it just illuminates "some" of the path. If we convert to the use of a floodlight type flashlight, or one of those "tactical" ones, how much differently are things illuminated around us? The difference is astonishing. The clarity improves a hundred-fold. "Floodlight" living is not only safer, it brings comfort to our souls because we can know what is there much easier.
Yet, even with the brightest of lights to illuminate our path, we still need a navigator to help us take the right path. A whole lot of paths can be exposed by the light, but knowing which one to take isn't all that easy. Mom has a tendency some days to just stand there, looking around, and it is quite clear to me she doesn't know which way to go. She knows where she wants to go, but she doesn't remember the direction on her own. It takes a short turn in the wrong direction to send her looking for what she will never find! She won't find it because it isn't down that path. There are times we just take short turns that lead us down pretty wrong paths in life. This is why we so desperately need a navigator - we don't see clearly where each path leads despite the fact we know where it is we want to go! 
We could stumble around, doing the best we can with the limited light we have; or we could allow Jesus to illuminate our path, and then navigate us down the right path. Just sayin!