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!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I started out bad, but I am not ending that way!

We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God’s anger just like everyone else.  But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead—only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved—and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms—all because of what Christ Jesus did.  And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:3-7 TLB)
Yesterday, we began a study in this passage. If we want to deal with the residue we have in life, we need to recognize WE started out bad, but WE don't have to finish the way we started! The truth of the matter is that none of us is truly all that different from the other - we all have a sin nature and we all need a Savior. God's love is what actually begins to differentiate us one from another - for it is his love that makes us truly unique. It is the richness of God's mercy that fills those empty spaces where sin had filled us with nothing of any value. It is his love that empties us of those burdens sin so quickly placed upon us, weighing us down with a burden we were never created to bear. 
How we start may set the course in our lives, but it doesn't have to determine our final destination - the outcome. We do need to start somewhere, but if we must start again in order to change the course of our lives, there is no harm in that "restart" or "reboot". In fact, I have had to "reboot" a few more times than I might like to admit - and sometimes without really recognizing I had somehow become corrupted in the path I had taken! Restarting just means we make things fresh or new again - the old gets left behind and the new is free to take its place.
In every "restart" there is a recognition that Christ hasn't been the one in control - we have been. This recognition is what brings us to the place where we ask for grace and sink deeper into his love than we ever have been before, instead of sinking in the mire of wrong decisions. It is where we evaluate what we have been trying to accomplish and then recognize it hasn't gone all that well! It is Christ's ALL that overcomes our limits. This is something that may take time for us to learn, because we want to do it all and then seek God's help!
The sooner we recognize we cannot do it all, the better it will be for us. Why? There is "much" we can do - obedience - but we cannot "make" the end result as it should be. We lack the wherewithal to change things within our own character just by trying harder. Truthfully, we humans try way too much and then seek forgiveness for all our trying! There isn't anything wrong with admitting we haven't a clue how to get to where we want to go - in fact, stopping to "ask for directions" may just be what we need the most in order to accomplish the course corrections we so desperately need!
If we all start out poorly - sin being at the root of all we do - then we can pretty much be assured our end will fall short of righteousness. If we admit at the start that we need to have God's help to root out this sin, then we are open to receiving God's righteousness in place of our "bad" nature. Where God's nature is exchanged with ours, that is the place of "correct" beginnings - not "corrected" beginnings. As humans, we make a lot of "corrected" beginnings - starting again and again. As inhabited by Christ, we make "correct" beginnings for the one who lives and breathes all righteousness is working within us to help us take the steps in the right direction. Just sayin!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Residue

We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God’s anger just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again[a] when he raised Christ from the dead—only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved— and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms—all because of what Christ Jesus did. And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:3-7 TLB)
Have you ever tried to take something that went "bad" and make it good again? I have scorched food in the pan - making somewhat of a "burnt offering" of the dish - and tried to scrape out the parts that were "salvageable" only to discover they tasted pretty bad. I have also tried to cut out the soft portions of an orange that had begun to turn moldy on the outside, only to discover that sourness and bitterness of decay had permeated all the sweetness of the rest of the orange. It is harder than we might think to "salvage" or "make good" what has been affected so long by something that made good become quite bad. The whole becomes affected by the part that became bad. In both cases, the best I could do was declare them "not good" and throw them in the trash and start over and with all new ingredients that I could produce something good. It is only through "substitution" that we can experience the "not good" parts of our lives being "made good" again. 
The good news is that we don't have to be "thrown out" in order for God to do what only he can do - he is able to extract the "badness" in such a way that only goodness remains! God does more than "salvage" the good, though. He actually is able to ensure the parts of us that are affected by what has "gone bad" aren't affected by that bitterness and sourness of sin's effect in us. He is the only one able to do this, so any measure of "self-help" we might attempt in order to accomplish the same degree of "healing" is simply going to remove something bad, but allow the "after-taste" of the bad to remain! 
"Salvage work" is best done by the one who knows how to do it perfectly! If I went out on a ship that had located a long lost sunken ship at the bottom of the ocean's floor, I wouldn't even begin to know the precautions I'd need to take in order to preserve the items which could be brought to the surface as "found treasure". I'd have to look to the experts to do that, or else the items would be lost to the exposure to the air and elements such as the oil from my own skin. The ability to "salvage" would be impeded by my ineptness. So, why do we insist upon "salvaging" our own lives - isn't there a degree of "ineptness" that makes this kind of hard for us to do? After all, wasn't it us that got us to the place a "salvage mission" was necessary anyway?
I don't know about you, but when tell-tale signs of sin are left around in my life by my own "self-help" methods, those signs begin to show through again. It is like that stain on my living room floor. I don't know what made that stain, but try as I might, I get it to go away for some period of time and there it is back again. It is like dirt is attracted to that very spot and nowhere else! Maybe that is it how it is in our lives when it comes to sin - there seems to be enough of a residue of it that remains when we are the ones trying to "scrub it out" and in time it just attracts the dirt again! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Before and After

Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. And Christ became a human being and lived here on earth among us and was full of loving forgiveness and truth. And some of us have seen his glory—the glory of the only Son of the heavenly Father! (John 1:1-2, 14 TLB)
Before is a powerful word. Before today there was yesterday - now only a memory and unable to be altered in anyway. Before light there was darkness - now the shadows of dark are no longer and the brilliance of light makes all once hidden plain to see. Before means there was something and now there is something different. One thing was 'before' everything else, but has never changed or ceased to exist - Christ! The 'before' might not have had human form, but the 'after' does - yet he never stopped being divine!
In our everyday lives, there are lots and lots of "before" moments. The "after" moments we hope will all be 'good' and 'worthwhile', but there is no guarantee, right? The moment we take any step forward, we are establishing the "before point" on that journey. I once heard a story of a man who waited to take his journey until he could see nothing but green lights before him. While I know it might make the journey easier and a little less frustrating, green lights only suggest the way may be open to us - it doesn't mean it will be pain-free! If we waited for all the lights to be green in this lifetime, we'd never grow in our faith, nor would we get very far on our journey!
There is always some "condition" to 'before'. In terms of Christ taking on human form, it says "in the fullness of time". It never said that all things were perfect and that he'd be welcomed with open arms. It just said it was time for his coming. It was the moment we can mark out in history as a 'before point'. Christ left heaven, took on human form, lived among us, and showed us the way to restored relationship with the divine. Without that 'before point', there would be no 'after point' for any of us except the judgment for our sin! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

You're grounded

If we say that we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done. (I John 1:8-9 TLB)

You've probably heard the term, "confession is good for the soul", right? If not, let me assure you, it is! Confession is a way of simply acknowledging something exists - we don't cover it up even if we don't fully understand it. I can acknowledge gravity exists without having to fully understand it because I see and feel the effects of gravity. It is also quite possible for me to acknowledge sin exists in my life because I see and feel sin's effect. I can equally acknowledge there is such a thing as forgiveness and grace because I have experienced their tremendous release! 

We don't have to figure out the "root" of our problems all on our own - we know they exist because we can feel their existence in our lives. We can rely upon the goodness of God to show us how to be free of these things that give us constant struggle, even if we don't fully understand why they do! We acknowledge we have a problem - a sin problem. This is where all "learning" and "trust" begins - in the acknowledgement of something. When I acknowledge there is a force holding me firmly on this ground I stand upon, I am open to learn about this force of gravity and I have already begun to trust it exists, and it exerts a force I don't see, but know is there.

Sin's force in our lives is real - we don't have to fully see a sinful deed displayed in our lives to acknowledge the "force" of sin's pull exists. Grace's force is far greater than sin's pull, though. To acknowledge there are two opposing forces at work in us is sometimes the best place to start. Why? In acknowledging we feel each force at work, we begin to choose which one we will trust more to exert the greatest 'pull'. Sometimes we choose well - trusting more in grace to pull on the strings of our heart than sin does. At others, we know both are pulling, but we "give into" the pull that brings the thing we believe will immediately satisfy some desire we have. That isn't always the right choice, though!

Grace grows the more I acknowledge it is exerting power in my life. Any power in our lives grows stronger the more we trust it to be operational. I didn't understand gravity when I was a wee child learning to walk, but I felt its force. I didn't even realize this power existed when I learned to ride a bike, but it did. I didn't know it existed when I climbed trees and fell from branches, but it did. As I grew more and more familiar with the "effects" of gravity, pulling me back to ground level, the more I began to understand the power it exerted over my life. 

Sin has a power - I can trust it to be the more dominant of powers in my life, or I can begin to trust grace will exert a power which calls me back "grounded level" again each time I need it. The choice is in which power I will place my trust. I choose to be "well-grounded", not just grounded. How about you? Just askin!

Friday, December 8, 2017

But I want this....

I know Louis L'Amour was not really trying to wax philosophical when he said a good beginning make a good end, but he hit the nail on the head! The roughest beginnings can make for a very bumpy ride alone the way. The easiest beginnings can help us to get along the trail a little quicker, but the trail always has its own twists and turns, making the journey sometimes a little tougher than we first suspected it would be!

God’s way is perfect. The Lord’s promise always proves to be true. He protects those who trust in him. There is no God except the Lord. There is no Rock except our God. God is the one who gives me strength. He clears the path I need to take. He makes my feet as steady as those of a deer. Even on steep mountains he keeps me from falling. (Psalm 18:30-33 TLB)

Despite the beginnings, God's presence can make the journey bearable until it ends! There is no greater beginning than to begin with God - even if the start is a little rough around the edges. Most of us just need to get to the place we actually "start" - we just talk about beginnings and don't ever step up to the gate! Here's something I learned a long, long time ago - we get nowhere if we don't take the first step! We can spend a lot of time "admiring", "imagining", or "dreaming" of what we want to do, but until we actually step out to do it, we are just daydreaming!

God's ways are perfect - even when ours are a little messed up around the edges. His promises will prove true - even when the journey makes it a little unlikely that we will get out 'unchanged' or 'unscathed'. The moment we move from imagining the end and begin to take the steps to trust in what we come to call the beginning, the more we learn how very faithful God is when we place our trust in him.

I don't want you to miss one very important part of our passage today - "He clears the path I need to take." It isn't always the path I want to take. It isn't always the path you want me to take. It is the path which NEEDS to be taken. God knows what we NEED just as much as he knows what we WANT. Those two aren't always the same, are they? I want to be fishing. I need to be at work. I want to eat chocolate. I need to eat an apple. I want to be independently wealthy. I need to work for a living. Yup, those two aren't always the same!

Trust is the basis for any "good beginning" - making the "ending" more likely to be "spot on" for what we need in our life. What or who we trust in is one of the most important things we can establish prior to stepping out. We begin well when we have our trust rightly placed - even though we may not know the ending. We place our trust in a whole lot of dreams and fail to recognize those dreams aren't actually going to keep us for the "long haul" of the journey. The path we need to take may actually be contrary to our dreams - learning to trust God to refine the dreams so the dream matches the need is key to taking the "right" first steps! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Be there

Come before him with thankful hearts. Let us sing him psalms of praise. For the Lord is a great God, the great King of all gods. He controls the formation of the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains; all are his. He made the sea and formed the land; they too are his. Come, kneel before the Lord our Maker, for he is our God. We are his sheep, and he is our Shepherd. Oh, that you would hear him calling you today and come to him! (Psalm 95:2-7 TLB)

After over half a century on this earth, I have learned a thing or two - but I haven't learned everything I need to learn! One thing I have come to realize - not everyone will celebrate Christmas with joy, nor will all welcome it as a season to be "merry and bright". There is a heaviness of heart that engulfs some and the "season" is just not all that enjoyable. Sure enough, on the outside they give a good appearance of "getting into the spirit" of Christmas, but somewhere deep down inside, the "spirit" of Christmas just isn't moving.

While not everyone is going to celebrate Christmas with the same "gusto" or excitement, the door remains open for all to do so! God's hand will be outstretched, his heart open, and his grace overflowing - we only need to have an open heart to what he desires to do in us today. The truth of the matter is that God loves us with an intensity that goes beyond our "desire" to know him - even so far as to provide the only means by which we could come into fellowship with him. For this, we should all be thankful. For this, we should all be singing praises!

The lack of "gusto" doesn't mean someone isn't a a believer, or that they aren't solidly connected in their relationship with Christ. It may be they are under a burden they are not meant to carry alone - but they just aren't sure how to ask anyone else to help them carry it! This Christmas season, please remain open to God's leading - someone may be counting on you to recognize they aren't really "into" the spirit of the season. Someone may be waiting specifically for you to notice they need help with that burden they are bearing up under.

There is no greater service we can engage in this Christmas season than to be aware of those God puts in our path. They are there for a purpose - it is never accidental. Some will be happy - others will be downright miserable. Some will be open to sharing - others will just need you to be there as a friend. Some will realize all their wishes are coming true - still others will experience the continued disappointment of wishes not realized as of yet.

Regardless of where we are at today, there is someone just waiting for us to "be" the spirit of Christmas in their lives. It isn't about the gift we purchase - it is about the "Spirit" we bring into the relationship! Just sayin!

Grateful

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. (William Arthur Ward)

How is it you express gratitude in your life? In what ways is it evident? Gratitude is shown more than it is spoken. When we receive a gift, we often utter the words 'thank you' to the giver of that gift, but how we use that gift often reveals our truest response to the giver!

Remember what Christ taught, and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise; teach them to each other and sing them out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with thankful hearts. (Colossians 3:16 TLB)

We have been given much in this lifetime - from the very gift of life itself to the many enjoyments along the way in even the tiniest of life's experiences. One thing is certain - we can be grateful for those gifts (even the hardest ones to accept), or we can simply receive them and "file them away". The ones we express gratitude for in both word and then revealing how we "use" that gift are the ones which keep on giving!

We probably have all received something we just didn't know what we'd ever do with it, but we politely said our "thank you" to the giver and moved on. It gathers dust in some cupboard or high up on some shelf. We don't even want to "re-gift" it because we just don't know who could use whatever it is we were given. Excuse me if you are a fruitcake eater, but it like the proverbial Christmas fruitcake that no one wants!

God's gifts are all good - even the ones we don't know what to do with when we receive them! The ones we receive with true gratitude are the ones we are likely to find ways to "use" in our lives. We may not fully understand how the things he brings into our lives are actually going to do us any "good", but remember all of God's gifts are good - even the hardest ones for us to receive. They may actually be the ones we need "most" to receive - we just don't know it yet!

Over the many years I have been following social media feeds, I have observed the trend beginning early in November of friends sharing something each day they are thankful for right up until Thanksgiving day. This year, I saw much less of this, though. Only a couple friends posted this year. I wonder - did our attitude of gratitude change? Did our posture of praise differ? Or did we just find different ways to express it this year? 

Let us never forget to have that attitude of gratitude! Just bein' thankful!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Climb - go ahead - climb

One that would have the fruit must climb the tree. 
(Thomas Fuller)

When was the last time you climbed a tree? It has been years since I have actually climbed a tree in a literal sense! I consider it good these days to just scale a ladder! In a spiritual sense, I am constantly being asked to climb trees and reminded of the advantage of getting that different perspective! Not to mention - access to fruit I'd otherwise never be able to reach!

Godly men are growing a tree that bears life-giving fruit, and all who win souls are wise. (Proverbs 11:30 TLB)


A tree is made up of all manner of branches - some large and quite broad spreading; others wispy-like, but capable of holding lots and lots of weight beyond their imagined capacity. We'd think nothing of taking hold of that one with the broad expanse and firmness evident just by its size, right? We'd be silly to expect that wispy one to hold our weight, but it holds something very good if we can shimmy our way out to it on the more "substantial" one - fruit!

We rely upon the sturdy things in our lives to help the fruit grow to full proportion, but also to help us realize the benefits of that fruit. We look for fruit, not on the bigger branches, but on the smaller ones all covered with leaves. Why? This is where fruit grows! It grows at the furthest points in life - as far removed from the roots as possible, but still vitally connected to the roots as the source of all it needs!

The fruit we produce isn't just going to grow because we want it to. It grows because the tree is nurtured. That means the sturdy branches are pruned so they become sturdier and the roots are constantly making contact with that which the tree needs in order to grow and produce that fruit. In Arizona, we have lots of citrus, but those trees needs lots of regular attention in order to produce the most luscious of fruit from their branches.

God isn't going to ask us to look for fruit where there is none - so don't stand under the tree and expect it to fall into your hands! If we are to have the enjoyment of fruit, we have to climb the tree - but in order to do so, the tree has to grow strong enough to not only support the weight of the fruit, but ours, as well! Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Re-Presenting Grace

16 Remember what Christ taught, and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise; teach them to each other and sing them out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, and come with him into the presence of God the Father to give him your thanks. (Colossians 3:16-17 TLB)

Representatives are those who stands or serves for another - their life is patterned after another and they do what the other would do if they were in that moment or place. When we say we represent the grace of God, we are indicating we are a "picture" of that grace - a living picture. I know we can represent a whole lot of things, but when we represent any aspect of Christ's character to those around us, we are representing something that enriches the lives of those we are serving.

Words can indeed represent another, but when those words are coupled with the actions that "back up" the words, the message is a clearer "picture" of the one we are representing. A representative acts within the scope of "delegated authority". As Christians, we are living examples of "delegated authority" - for by his residence within us, Christ helps our actions to be expressions of his character. There is also power in "re-speaking" his Words, for therein we find truth that sets hearts free from those things that have held them back for a very long time.

What we "represent" in our lives is often a clearer picture of what we find to be at the core of our lives. The fruit is always a result of the fruit, my friends. If we begin to "represent" anything other than Christlike behavior, we might just want to do a little "root inspecting" - or better yet, we may just want to allow the Holy Spirit permission to do that inspecting on our behalf. The things exposed may actually strengthen the root once they are dealt with and the root is allowed to have fertile ground in which to develop once again!

Another way to think of being a representative of God's grace and love is to think of it in terms of what we "re-present". Much is "presented" to us in life - but grace is something we are presented with time and time again - because we need it more than once! We become "representatives" of God's grace each time we extend it - as such, we point another toward Christ's heart and in turn, we "re-present" a chance for them to embrace just a little more of him. Just sayin!

Monday, December 4, 2017

I don't got this one....

And now just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust him, too, for each day’s problems; live in vital union with him. Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him. See that you go on growing in the Lord, and become strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all he has done. (Colossians 2:6-7 TLB)
A moment of honesty here. There are times when I trust others to do as they say, but when they take too long, or aren't doing it the way I'd like it done, I sometimes intervene! Why? I've got a little bit of a "control" issue on occasion - most of the time it is "in check", but on occasion, it creeps out! God help me that it doesn't "creep out" where it comes to him doing things in my life, though! I don't want to "intervene" where he is moving, although his timing may not be my own, nor may his ways of accomplishing things always be the way I thought it should be!
Each day's problems have God's solutions close at hand, but how many times do we lean upon our own way of solving the problem? If we were painfully honest here, we might admit it happens a little too frequently for him and just a little too often for him to let us just get away with it. God doesn't want us to just trust him for our salvation experience - for that moment in time where we recognize he paid the supreme price for our sinful nature and that we need his righteousness to stand in place of our unrighteousness. He wants us to trust him with even the stuff we label as "simple" in our lives - the stuff we seem to want to say, "I got this one, Lord" to.
Living in vital union with God requires more than a "give and take" relationship. We have to lean into him a little more than we might initially desire to and that takes a whole lot of trust. When I finally recognize just how much I wan to "do" whatever it is that other person is taking way too long to "do", I have to pull back a little. Why? Not only will they never learn to do it themselves, but they won't be able to really shine like they are supposed to shine! God wants to shine in our lives - the more we trust him even with the stuff "we've got handled" in our lives, the more he shines!
Overflowing lives don't happen by accident - they are purposefully filled and continuously renewed. This is more than being in the right place at the right time - it is a continual connection that helps the brilliance of the one we are connected intimately with to shine through in a dynamic and vibrant way. This union is living - vital, vibrant, and vigorous. Growth is inevitable where these three characteristics are present! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sanctuary

Go through his open gates with great thanksgiving; enter his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. For the Lord is always good. He is always loving and kind, and his faithfulness goes on and on to each succeeding generation. (Psalm 100:4-5 TLB)

Those gates are open! Open gates differ from shut ones in that one beckons to enter in - the other tells us we'd be trespassing if we did! I live in a neighborhood with six foot block walls all around the yards and gates that are either locked shut, or whose hinges just don't swing open all that often. The image given is that each one who makes this neighborhood their home appreciates (and even demands) their privacy. "No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief." (John Calvin)
Entering in requires movement from where we are to within those gates. It means we leave behind something in order to move into something which is different, and maybe even a little "unknown". It could just be you have been considering moving beyond the gates Jesus has opened wide and entering into this newness of life he has provided for all who would enter. If so, then I'd have to ask what is keeping you out? You aren't going to experience what is beyond those gates until you take that first step within!
I recently had a yard sale and it was a big one because three families contributed to it. The sale required I open up some of my backyard for those who would browse the goodies we had on sale. That meant some who normally wouldn't get to view the inner sanctuary of my backyard got a firsthand view. I received many a comment about how pretty and peaceful it was. I have tried to create a nice place for mom to sit out and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I have invited the birds by planting the types of things that encourage them. I even keep grass green year round so as to make it even more inviting. In general, it is a form of a "sanctuary".
A sanctuary is a place of refuge. The inner portions of the churches came to be referred to as sanctuaries because they were to be places those who sought "relief" and "comfort" could enter into and find it. It was the place around the altar - the place of sacrifice that was referred to the most often as the "sanctuary". Isn't that kind of interesting that the place of sacrifice came to be known as the place of sanctuary? The cross is actually the "key" that opened the gate into this place of sanctuary - of refuge and of rest! 
While we may ponder entering - it is only when we actually find ourselves squarely inside that we begin to realize the tremendous blessing of "sanctuary". May you enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! May you know sanctuary! Just prayin!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Trouble me

It was Eleanor Roosevelt who authored the words, "Only a man's character is the real criterion of worth." She also said, "People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built." Without experience, life builds no character - it is meaningless and hollow. We need to experience things - it is how we create, give way to new ideas, and learn from each other. Not every experience will be what we label as "rewarding" - but it can be "meaningful" if we learn from that experience! If we learn, we are likely developing something within our character that sticks with us in the long run. Character is what remains after all the "hoopla" of the experience dies down!

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)

Why are we happy with troubles? The average person is none too happy when troubles come their way - for troubles can make life a little haggard and hard to handle at times. I think "trouble" gets a negative "label" in life - for we think of trouble as something that gets us down, puts obstacles in our way, or mires our lives with all manner of debris we don't want to have to deal with. Trouble can merely mean we don't experience stagnancy! Troubled waters were actually good on occasion, for they stirred up the debris that needed to come to the surface and helped the one navigating the waters to be ever-vigilant. 

Trouble can be a means to a new beginning - in turning over what hasn't been exposed, it can begin to influence that which is now "out in the open". Trouble is more than being "bothered" by something or someone because it really doesn't begin to affect us until it gets at what causes us to be "bothered". I am "bothered" by a lot of things, but only a few of these things actually put me into movement in life! The same is probably true for you - either because you need to avoid the impact of that which "bothers" you, or because you need to remove it so it no longer is a "bother".

As Roosevelt implied, character isn't bought or inherited - it is "earned" through the experiences one embraces. To embrace an experience, we engage with it - we get involved in it. We aren't bystanders - this is not how character is produced. If we are to have sound character, we need to engage in the things that actually help to refine and produce solid character within us. These are the things that might be harder than we liked, longer than we'd wished to endure, and more involved than we first imagined. Yet, these are the things that will teach us to navigate well, help us to be open to new experiences that will helps us to grow even more, and move us from a place of stagnancy into a place of freshness. Just sayin!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Configuring

Have you ever had to endure that really long period of time it takes for your computer's operating system to actually update? I am in one of those incessant spinning wheel cycles of some major update right now and I am forced to write this on my phone. I don't know why configuring something that already works pretty well has to take so long. There are times when I ask God the same thing about my life. I try to figure out why it is taking so terribly long to finish what he has started! Usually it is because I haven't connected with him in quite the right way so as to allow the "update" to be done!


Don’t look at my sins. Erase them all.  God, create a pure heart in me, and make my spirit strong again. (Psalm 51:9-10 ERV)


When you think of updating something you probably think of a new coat of paint, a few new furnishings, or putting a new facing on something. The fact remains there is still the old under the new when this all you do! You are merely dressing up the old to look new again. God isn't satisfied with just putting a few new window dressings in place. He wants to do more than dress up the old. He is after truly making new what was once old and written. That is why it takes a little longer for him to "configure" us at times.

Back in the day, we used to sing a worship song with words from one of the Psalms that reminded us of God giving us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for our spirit of heaviness. We don't sing that anymore, but the words are still true. God takes what might look okay on the surface and works beneath that surface appearance to produce new results. He is in the exchange business, not just the update business. He gives us a new operating system, not just a refresh.

If the refresh can take so long, just imagine how long it can take for things to be exchanged! We might imagine a refresh is all we need, but God knows when we need more than a little updating! He knows when the best plan is total renovation!  Just sayin!