Thursday, April 19, 2018

Just change the boundaries!

What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record. There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration.  All day and all night your hand was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, “I will confess them to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.  Now I say that each believer should confess his sins to God when he is aware of them, while there is time to be forgiven. Judgment will not touch him if he does. (Psalm 32:1-6 TLB)

There was a time...those simple words have been heard time and time again, recounting the memories of some former condition and now observing the change that has occurred. In some situations, the memory of the 'old' or 'former' condition depicts the 'old' as better than the 'now' because change hasn't been kind. The 'now' of our lives isn't always based on the 'then', unless the 'then' was that moment when we asked Jesus to enter into it!

Guilt is an extreme emotion - often causing us great consternation and lots of anguish. The moment we ask God to help us deal with that which brought those emotions to play in our lives, we begin to see change. We don't ask God to deal with our emotions associated with our sin before we ask God to deal with our sin, though. I think there are times when we get this backward - we want God to let us out from under that load of guilt, but we don't want him to muddle in that area of sin in our lives. We kind of like the sin, we just don't like the feelings of guilt it produces!

Guilt is part of our lives because the action producing that emotion is likely not right for us. It is a little too close to the line, or even outside the boundaries of what God has planned for us. The more we try to ignore the emotional response to our sin, the more we move further and further from those protective boundaries. I think this is how some come to live within their sin (a new set of boundaries being formed) and not feel guilty any longer while in pursuit of that sin. God doesn't change the boundaries - we do. In so doing, we create a new perspective of what is right and wrong in our lives.

Changing the boundaries isn't the answer. Asking God's help to stay within the ones he has created by responding to each occurrence of guilt-producing actions is! Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Impotent or Important?

When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him. Even if we were good, we really wouldn’t expect anyone to die for us, though, of course, that might be barely possible. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8 TLB)

What would you do for someone who 'under-valued' you, having little to no use for you? Most of us would be honest here and say we'd do very little, if anything at all! Why? We live in a world that expects reciprocity! We look for the 'what's in it for me' situations and that is what we go after more than those 'even if it means nothing for me, I will do it anyway' moments. Honestly, we want to 'get' a little out of whatever we 'put into' something, don't we? This is only natural. It is something quite supernatural to give without any expectation of getting!

Helpless people are really powerless. The helplessness isn't that we lack courage or even the 'want to', but that we lack the power to make something happen. We have been 'incapacitated' - we lack the capacity to do whatever needs to be done. A similar word to helpless is impotent - we are inadequate in completing whatever lays before us. The idea here is that we were unable - there was absolutely no way for us to ever make ourselves right with God again. We were without any way of escape - bound by our sin and shame, linked to our past mistakes and failures.

Now, you would think that someone who lacks the capacity to escape - being held in a place of bondage - would want to be free, wouldn't you? Do you know it is quite possible for someone in bondage to become so 'used to' the bondage that they don't even look for freedom any longer? There might be a niggling of desire now and again, but since the bondage has become so much the 'norm', the motivation to try to be free just isn't there any longer. Maybe this is why scripture points out we had 'no use' for Christ. We just didn't see the purpose of a Savior any longer - we had become resigned to our lack of freedom and just didn't see any way out.

Even those who live 'really good lives' have no real way of escaping the fact they were born sinners. The nature to sin is inherent in our genetic make-up. We will eventually compromise, no matter how 'good' we are. The need for Christ's sacrificial death may not even cross our minds because we are working out our own 'destiny' via our 'good deeds', but the truth is that our own destiny won't even get us close to an eternity in God's presence! We need what we don't even know we need - a Savior. 

It is good news that our eternity isn't limited by what we value or what we can do for ourselves. If we counted on these two things to draw us close to God's heart, we'd still be miles and miles away in the end. Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Positive or Negative???

Memory requires some effort on our part, does it not? Try learning your mathematical 'times tables' for the first time and you will likely have to 'memorize' the fact that 3 times 3 equals 9. Eventually, in the course of 'rehearsing' that which you have memorized, you will form long-term memory of that fact. It is a fact, not fiction, for three rows of three oranges a piece will yield you nine oranges. There are parts of our memories though that are a little more fiction than fact. We all 'add to' memories, not the stuff we memorize, but the memories made in the moments of life. Most of what we remember will be true, but there are parts of our memories we 'make up' to fill in some gap in those memories. It just could be because we didn't 'take notice' of those things 'in the moment', but now we are recounting something from those moments and realizing there was more we never even saw while we were living in that moment!

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know when I sit or stand. When far away you know my every thought.  You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am.  You know what I am going to say before I even say it.  You both precede and follow me and place your hand of blessing on my head. (Psalm 139:1-5 TLB)

Much of what we 'remember' is based upon the significance of the event or moment. Much of what we memorize is based on some 'fact' or 'subject matter' we want to store away for one reason or another. Memory and fact are not one in the same, though. It can often be our downfall when we remember what would have been best to forget and forget what we might have done well to hold onto! Every now and again, it is good to just sit and recount what it is we remember - allowing God to point out the 'gaps' in our memories that need filling in a little. If we allow him to point out what it was we missed in the moment, we often see these memories from a whole different perspective. If we attempt to paint in those gaps with what we 'imagine' to be true, we can be filling in the gaps with what really is nothing more than imagination.

In the moment, we see only portions of what is around us. It is impossible for us to take everything in with total clarity. We are just not created to comprehend all things at one time. In fact, this is why we learn at a steady pace instead of just waking up one day totally 'smart' in some area! We add fact to fact until we form knowledge of the subject. My math teacher started us out with the one times one equals one because understanding one times anything still leaves you what you started with. When we got to the zero times anything equals zero, I kind of got a little depressed. I was hoping that 'times' thing would always 'multiply'. I didn't expect it to leave me with zero! When she threw in the negative numbers and tried to teach me a negative times a negative equaled a positive, I admit it ... she lost me! If you had less than zero and multiplied it with something else less than zero, how on earth did you get a positive?

I don't know how that works except she told me it was like saying do NOT NOT do something. A double negative really was moving you in a positive direction! It was contradicting the negative. Admit it . . . you were lost right along with me! So, the best I could do with that one was memorize the facts - a positive and a positive yield a positive, opposite signs yield a negative, and two negatives move you back into a positive direction again. There, I have recited the facts and I still don't understand the 'why' behind them! But...I do know that God takes my negatives and turns them to positives. I am not bound by what I remember or the memory parts I didn't form correctly in the moment. I am free to allow a positive to come out of the negative because he is the one who knows how to bring positive out of negative even when I don't! Just sayin!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Not perfect....just evident

20 So they brought the boy, but when he saw Jesus, the demon convulsed the child horribly, and he fell to the ground writhing and foaming at the mouth. 21 “How long has he been this way?” Jesus asked the father. And he replied, “Since he was very small, 22 and the demon often makes him fall into the fire or into water to kill him. Oh, have mercy on us and do something if you can.” 23 “If I can?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if you have faith.” 24 The father instantly replied, “I do have faith; oh, help me to have more!” 25 When Jesus saw the crowd was growing, he rebuked the demon. “O demon of deafness and dumbness,” he said, “I command you to come out of this child and enter him no more!” 26 Then the demon screamed terribly and convulsed the boy again and left him; and the boy lay there limp and motionless, to all appearance dead. A murmur ran through the crowd—“He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet and he stood up and was all right! (Mark 9:20-27 TLB)

It was Daniel Webster who penned the words, "How little do they see what really is, who frame their hasty judgment upon that which seems." The boy 'seemed' dead - he was motionless, limp, seemingly without life. To all appearances, he was a goner. I am so glad God isn't bound by what 'appears' to be, but he is free to take what 'is' and make it what it 'should become'! In my life, that means he has taken what 'appeared' to be without hope and breathed life into those places labeled as 'without hope' and made them alive again! In your life, it can be the same!

There are lots of ways we judge by appearances, aren't there? Some of us do it every time we see someone walk by. Their gait suggested they were tired. Their clothing suggested they didn't take the time to iron that outfit they donned for the day. Their hair standing up on end suggested they got up late and had no time to fix 'the do' before they headed out the door. At first impression, these may be the judgments we make. When we look deeper, though, we understand the 'lazy gait' is really that they just received news their parent has a terminal disease and they are heart-broken inside. The wrinkled clothing isn't because they didn't want to iron them, but that their iron broke and their financial situation won't allow them to buy another one until their next paycheck. The rumpled hair wasn't because they arose late, but that they slept at the bedside of a dying friend last night as they breathed their final breath. Appearances can be quite different from reality - it behooves us to look a little deeper!

What we see on the surface is rarely the way something is - all of us have learned to cleverly mask a certain amount of what we truthfully feel at the moment. It is a rarity to find someone so genuine that they will reveal their true self at each encounter. It is a trust factor - we reveal the most to the ones we trust the most, holding back those things from those we trust the least. The good news is that God doesn't violate our trust - when we are genuine with him, it stays with him! He honors our honesty with his gentle and careful grace sheltering us there in his presence long enough for us to feel safe and secure. 

We see the boy so many times in this passage, but think about the father for just a moment. That boy needed to be free. That father was desperate to see his son truly live free of the epileptic seizures that gripped his body and left his lifeless. That father exposed something of himself that day that couldn't have been easy. Not only did he want his boy to be free, he had to admit he had faith, but it wasn't perfect - he had to ask for Jesus to make up what he lacked! It is a liberating moment when we are truthfully honest with Jesus, admitting we have 'lack' of what we need. To do it publicly required even more vulnerability on this man's part! He probably struggled with is boy's disease privately for many years - his son being considered an 'unfortunate outcast' of society. His willingness to expose not only his son, but himself is what Jesus saw and he met him right where he was. His faith didn't have to be perfect - it just had to be declared! Just sayin!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

This is a result of that...

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 TLB)
Every now and again I try to teach someone something in Excel that will actually make their life easier if they adopt the function or shortcut into their practice. At first, they listen intently. At some point down the road, either they get it, or I see their eyes roll back in their head and you know they will never use that shortcut or function in a million years! What happens is that some are very intent on learning - on wanting to know how this software 'tool' can work FOR them. They have tried to create their own ways of doing the same function, such as selecting all the data at one time, but their method of scrolling for eternity until they find their last row and column of data is just insane when a simple holding of the Control Key and striking the "A" key at the same time will do all that in one simple move! When they see the ease at which they can adopt the new practice of the shortcut, they are delighted! Why? Life just got less complicated! The sooner we realize that the complication is US trying to do things OUR way, the sooner we can get out of the way and adopt the 'new practice' of allowing Christ to live through us - the complication we have added to our lives isn't going to interfere with our forward progress anymore.
At least that is what we think when we say "yes" to Jesus - that those things we have created as these huge 'work arounds' that 'get the job done', but bear a tremendous cost to us, will somehow just be gone in a poof. The truth of the matter is that sometimes we hold onto what we have come to think will 'work' in a particular situation, but which really isn't working FOR us all that well. It might get the job done, but at what cost? I might be able to resist a particular temptation, but at what cost? How much effort has to go into that 'will-power' moment (or moments) to resist? When I embrace the grace God gives to resist that same temptation, it still might require some effort on my part, but the effort is much less when he guides my steps! The 'real life' we live 'in Christ' isn't the result of US the results, but his presence and power creating those results within and through us. 
Almost all the functions within Excel begin with the equal sign. Why? You are telling the computer you want a certain outcome as a result of what you are doing. For example, to add two numbers together, you tell the computer to look for the sum of those two cells and return it in another cell. In real life, we are constantly creating similar scenarios in our minds. We might imagine something, then say "if this happens, then that will be the result" - the famous 'if,then' statement. There are a lot of 'if,then' moments in life. If I am hungry as an infant, I cry, then someone feeds me. The 'if, then' is rewarded. If I do something nice for that person, then they will do something nice in return. How's that one been working for you in life? Not all 'if,then' situations return the desired results, do they? You have to have the right 'if' in order to get the right 'then' and perhaps you will get the desired result. I have created way more functions I thought would work in this lifetime only to find the 'if' or 'then' didn't yield the desired result!
The 'if,then' is only assured when the beginning and ending point is Christ! You want the best results - start with the right formula. In this lifetime, we look for the shortcuts. That isn't all that wrong. But...there are very few that actually yield the results we desire. To be assured of better results, maybe we should start with the 'if Christ is at the center here' and end with the 'then I will listen to what he has to say'. Just sayin!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Avoid that pile...

I once heard a coach tell his team they needed to find out what the other team was going to do - paying close attention to their formation, footing, eye contacts, etc. Then he said to them that this how they could take that next move into their own control - making it almost impossible for that team to 'make that next move'. Maybe this isn't bad advice for our daily lives either. If we were to pay a little closer attention to the enemy of our souls, observing his moment, noticing how he is 'setting things up' so we can take a fall, maybe we'd have a better understanding of how to counter those attacks!

8 Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart. 9 Stand firm when he attacks. Trust the Lord; and remember that other Christians all around the world are going through these sufferings too. (I Peter 5:8-9 TLB)

I think many of us feel it is impossible for us to actually 'stay ahead' of our enemy's attacks. It is like we stand there and just continue to take the beating time and time again, him scoring full-on hits repeatedly in our lives. I honestly believe God has given us all we need to not only recognize his attacks, but to begin to understand his strategies. When we become more familiar with the strategies of our enemy, this is the fuel we need to form a solid defense against him!

God gives us his Word, complete with very specific illustrations and examples of how the enemy of our soul opposes us, setting up attack after attack. For example, the story of David would give us an illustration of why we don't want to attempt to stand alone in life. We need the companionship of others, especially when it comes to facing our enemy. David had a couple very specific examples of when he didn't do very well at resisting temptation when he stood alone - like when he sent his warriors off to 'do war' and he stayed back. That opportunity presented that infamous encounter with Bathsheba and his fall into adultery. 

From this example, I might come to realize I don't do well resisting temptation when I am not doing what it is God has planned for me to do. David was the leader of the army - he was their king. His place was with his soldiers, not back at home camp killing time in leisure activities. I might also recognize that where there is a weakness in my life it becomes harder and harder to 'look the other way' when the temptation is right there in front of me. Either way, I have been given these examples so that I can learn (and you, too) how to recognize where it is the enemy plans on making his attacks. The plans of the enemy are best thwarted when we are paying attention to learning how he moves!

We are also given immediate help - because the Holy Spirit of God indwells us with his presence and power. When we may not immediately recognize we are about to step into a trap, we can count on him to give us that little niggling that lets us know our steps are about to get us into a pretty big pile of poop which will leave a pretty nasty effect that lingers for a lot longer than we might like! Some of what we learn is by studying - at other times, our learning is more by the power of observing. Both are necessary if we are to ever understand and respond to our enemy's attacks. Just sayin!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Good dog or ferocious dog?

Someone once said "faith" has a twin - "doubt". Is it possible that maybe "faith" has a triplet brother - "fear"? Doubt and fear reside alongside each other so much of the time. We may not want to admit it, but when we are doubtful, we have an element of fear that begins to creep into our thoughts and affect our emotions. Doubt leads us to take certain actions or respond in a specific manner. Fear is part of that reaction to doubt. If a large, ferocious looking dog approached me at a dead run, I probably don't have any need to have a sign over the dog's head that tells me I am about to get mauled! Some things we just 'fear' because we have absolutely no doubt about their intent! At other times, doubt just barely creeps in like the tiny chihuahua pattering our way who looks harmless, but when close enough, those teeth can nip at our heels - maybe not with as much power as the huge over-powering dog, but they can still do damage. If both dogs bear their teeth whenever I am around them, I will not trust either one! If the next time I see them they are both wagging their tails and happy to see me, I will likely be a little doubtful they won't 'turn' on me. Past experiences play into doubt, as well as the unknown of what we have never experienced before. Fear has a foundation in both - the outcomes of past experiences often overshadowing what we believe will be the case each time we approach anything even remotely similar in life.

Teach a wise man, and he will be the wiser; teach a good man, and he will learn more.  For the reverence and fear of God are basic to all wisdom. Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding.  “I, Wisdom, will make the hours of your day more profitable and the years of your life more fruitful.”  Wisdom is its own reward, and if you scorn her, you hurt only yourself. (Proverbs 9:9-12 TLB)

A lot of our doubt and fear is based in not knowing what it is we are trusting in at that moment. If we are trusting in the past outcomes as the basis of how we approach things in this lifetime, we will never step out into anything new. If we are always doubtful anything good will come of any new venture, we hold ourselves back from ever taking the first step. There is no change the occurs without the first step - there is no fear overcome without first exposing what we fear to truth. In the case of those two dogs - not all dogs growl, bear their teeth and take joy in noshing on your flesh! To judge all dogs as 'man-eating ferocious creatures' is to exclude a whole lot of really friendly and loving dogs from ever getting near enough to us to change our impression of dogs! All things we fear or doubt must be held up to truth - for truth exposes the reality behind the impression fear or doubt is making upon all the rest of our emotions at that very moment. The good news is that we are never bound by our fears or doubts - we CAN move out from under their control. They aren't our permanent!

Change, or seeing things from a totally new perspective, can oftentimes be the result of having refused to believe what our past experiences have dictated as things we should fear or doubt. It is true we should be concerned that a car coming at us while we are trying to cross the street at the crosswalk brings a mounting fear within. Should that keep us from attempting to ever cross the street? Cars have the capability of striking us down, even doing harm to us. Not every driver behind the wheel will be distracted and not see us, though. Almost every time the drivers of those cars note someone is in the crosswalk, slow down, and stop so as to allow the walker safe passage. The walker must trust in the things put there for their safety - the crosswalk lines, signal that alerts to the safe time to walk across, and the visibility created by us crossing at those designated locations. We have much more to fear when we are attempting to 'cross outside those lines' in life. These are the times when doubt and fear might just niggle us into reconsidering where it is we are heading - this is when doubt and fear are 'good companions'. You see....fear and doubt can be either a 'good dog' or a 'ferocious dog' in our path. We cannot just take them on face-value. We must test them against faith - faith being rooted and grounded in truth. Just sayin!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Intelligent Design - YUP!

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. You might recognize him from the History Channel's show called "The Universe". He was one of the ones opposing keeping Pluto as a planet and who frequently lectures on the extreme "limitations" of any scientist who believes in "intelligent design". His stand is that to believe there is a God and Creator of the universe is to limit the possibilities of all other 'discoveries'. You can be very well educated in the sense of 'intellectual content' and be very empty when it comes to connection with the God of the Universe! If we truly believe all this beauty and majestic 'inter-working' of all of creation could just occur by a 'big bang' or some 'alignment' of the universe's 'forces', then we are missing out on the most amazing relationship we can have with not just this universe, but with the Creator of it all! We live within the confines of a much bigger set of boundaries - those of our human knowledge and understanding.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. (Ephesians 1:7 MSG)


The things in the deepest heavens and the yet undiscovered mysteries there - all were set in order by his hand - all are held together by the power of his word. The things we have discovered about our earth and those planets around us - these discoveries are part of his doing - even though we might want to take our claim to fame for them! God reveals himself in all of creation - but the mind's eye and soul's heart must be open to receiving them. Nothing in all of creation is a greater mystery than to be free of sin's dark hold on us - the power it has to sway our minds, direct our heart, and captivate our souls. When we behold Christ, we have at our disposal a full disclosure of all of God's mysteries. We don't need microscopes, telescopes, and magnified lenses galore. We need open eyes, responsive hearts, and yielded wills!

Abundant freedom is no accident - it is purposeful design! Education usually expands our minds - but those scientists who approach education with a heart in tune with God's heart discover much more deeply the truths evident in nature and the vast universe. They should not be criticized for their 'narrow view' of science, but praised because they are discovering truth in the way God intended - through the eyes of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Discovery takes on new meaning when it is done through the eyes of the one who knows the plan from start to finish, doesn't it? All we need to discover is Christ - the rest  of all that we discover after that is up to him. 

Intelligent design doesn't take a degree in astrophysics to understand or appreciate. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. The human body and mind compare to nothing else. We don't need to understand the vastness of the universe to appreciate the total awesomeness of the God we serve. Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How heavy did you say that was?

Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 TLB)

What slows you down? As each decade passes, I find the things that once couldn't stop me are more or less obstacles in my path these days. My strength is still good, but it isn't what it was in my twenties or thirties! I didn't used to have an artificial knee and running was no problem for me, but running with 'artificial parts' doesn't exactly make me the Bionic Woman! My grandson took a hike this weekend with his youth group and before he went he packed his 'survival gear'. It was as though he thought he'd have to keep the whole group hydrated, first aid rendered, and possibly navigate the open spaces of the mountains around us with his trusty compass. His pack was full to the brim! Before he left, my daughter had to help him 'pare down' a little bit of the stuff because he'd have worn himself out on the six mile jaunt with as much as he was carrying. He didn't like it, but his mom was right in doing so. In life, we sometimes carry way too much - things that eventually will hold us back if not let go of early on. 

Stripped down we move at a much different pace than we do when we are all burdened down with things we don't really need to carry. If you have ever tripped on your own shoelaces, you know how easily you were 'entangled' in what was really meant to be a thing of help to you in life. Shoelaces were designed to keep our shoes on our feet so we could move with ease and not have excessive movement of our shoe as we did. They were designed for our comfort. Untied they become a source of entanglement - what once was designed for our good becomes an object of frustration and harm to us. We often don't realize how quickly the things that can start out as "good" in our lives can easily turn into things that are more of a burden or entanglement to us. When there is no evaluation of how well those things are 'maintained' or 'monitored' for effect in our lives, we might just find them becoming a burden down the road.

We run best when unburdened. Whatever is burdening you today, it is time to figure out how to 'strip down' from that stuff. Why? It will become your entanglement over the long run and you will trip and fall way too often for your liking! Ask yourself if whatever it is was really meant to be something helpful in your life and now you have allowed it to consume you. If so, then maybe it is time to pull back from that which demands so much of your attention that you miss out on what is happening around you. You don't have to 'get free' all by yourself, you know? You have God's help and the help of others you can 'tap into', but to do so, you must first recognize those things need to change - they need to go. Look down at an untied shoelace or recognize the looseness of the fit of your shoe and you usually stoop down to 'put things in order again', right? Look over your life to see what has become your 'tripping point' and you should be just as willing to 'put things in order again' in those areas, as well. If you find your 'want to' doesn't match your 'need to', then just ask for God's help. Specifically ask him to send you the right person to help you walk that out together - he knows who that should be. We don't have to get unburdened alone. Sometimes we need someone else to point out just how heavy that burden is we are carrying! Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Compassion or Condemnation?

"Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation." (Henry Ward Beecher) Most of us need more doses of compassion and far less doses of condemnation! One of the things I used to tell my kids is that the world would find ample opportunity to poke fun at them, finding fault with what they did or what they wore, but within the walls of the home in which they lived, we wanted to do less fault finding and far more accepting. Why? Simply because I knew the 'condemnation' moments would outweigh the 'compassion' moments in this lifetime.

Jehovah is kind and merciful, slow to get angry, full of love. He is good to everyone, and his compassion is intertwined with everything he does. (Psalm 145:8-9 TLB)

Compassion is a "God-word". It involves that deep-seated desire to alleviate the suffering and pain of others, even if it costs you everything. Seldom are we truly encountered by such a great desire here on this earth in those we associate with. God isn't moved by sympathy, but by compassion. He sees great need before him, often knowing others heap piles and piles of condemnation upon us in measures disproportionate to what is deserved. He also knows our tendency to heap even more condemnation upon that pile ourselves!

In this lifetime, those 'condemnation moments' come more regularly than we'd like, but remember this...God's 'compassion moments' are innumerable and are always available to us. To the harshness of this world God speaks kindness to us. To the indifference of those who turn a deaf ear and blind eye to sin around them, God speaks attentive tenderness and consideration. He isn't immune to our cries for mercy anymore than he is blind to our constant hurt because of all the condemnation coming our way daily. 

Before we condemn one another, let us remember that there but for the grace of God we walk ourselves. It is because of his grace we live above condemnation - in compassionate fellowship with him daily. It is because of his kindness toward us that we know the peace of God in the midst of turmoil that would otherwise destroy us. Think about how much words cut, glances in our direction cause us doubt, or silence speaks more than words ever could. Now think about how much grace counters each of these. Which would you rather speak into someone's life today? Condemnation or compassion? I hope it is the latter. Just sayin!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Favorite or Favored?

St Augustine wrote, "God loves each of us as though there were only one of us." Having two kids myself, I know there were moments when one of them would say, "Who do you love more, mom?" Or perhaps they would postulate about who my "favorite child" was at that moment. As a mom, it is hard to not 'play favorites' at times, especially when one kiddo is acting so sweetly while the other one is a terror from you know where! Ask me at that moment and I'd admit - the sweet one was my 'favorite'! It is good we serve a God who has no favorites - whose love and acceptance is not at all dependent on how we are acting or behaving at the moment, isn't it?

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us. (Romans 8:38;39 TLB)

Behaving is a very good thing - misbehaving is not really all that 'desirable' in any of us. Yet, our misbehavior doesn't 'ruin' God's love for us. His love doesn't 'sour' by our misbehavior, causing more rottenness in our lives. In fact, his love adds whatever is needed in order to remove that 'sourness' or foulness of character created by our misbehavior! When my kiddos would ask me which one was my favorite, they were sometimes quite sincere in their inquiry. I wonder how much of what motivated them to inquire of me as to their 'standing' with me was based on their own insecurity because they knew their own misbehavior may have 'spoiled' the moment?

I think we are kind of like that with God sometimes - wondering if our misbehavior has somehow 'spoiled the moment' with him. We sense there is disappointment because of our actions - knowing full-well that in a natural sense we'd probably feel that disappointment if someone acted that way toward us. It is a good thing God doesn't see things the way we do - that he doesn't count on our actions, but looks instead on the actions of his Son on our behalf. God doesn't 'play favorites' - he loves us equally, in spite of and in the face of each of our 'failures' or 'misbehaving moments'. I don't know how he does it, but he loves each of us as though we were the only ones he loves. It is beyond my comprehension that he can focus on each of us with such unique clarity and pay such close attention to our lives, but he does! None stands as his 'favorite', but in his eyes, we are 'favored'. Just sayin!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

How sharp are you?

A dull ax requires great strength; be wise and sharpen the blade. (Ecclesiastes 10:10 TLB)

I am a stickler about using a good sharp knife when I am prepping meals. I don't like to 'hack thru' food items, but prefer that very clean, swift cut while prepping. The desire for a sharp knife means I have to frequently sharpen the blade to keep the 'edge' in the condition I like. In so doing, I actually shorten the length of time it takes to prep. I have had some knives that just don't hold their edge, no matter how much effort I put into sharpening them. Those knives don't get used much in my house, simply because they increase effort! The same attention should be paid to remaining 'sharp' when it comes to my mind, emotions, and spiritual condition!

Just as with the care and treatment of my knives, there needs to be special effort put into maintaining a 'sharp edge' in our spiritual lives. If you find your 'sharpening' has increased in frequency you might ask if the 'edge' being sharpened is really 'taking the sharpening'! As with some of those softer blade knives that don't hold the edge I attempt to put on them, our spiritual lives can get a little 'soft' at times. We might spend a lot more effort trying to 'maintain the edge', but the 'material' we are sharpening isn't going to 'hold it'. 

If you consider what makes a knife durable and dependable, able to maintain the edge, most knife craftsmen will tell you it is a combination of hardness, toughness, the ability to hold up to wear or resistance, and what some call a "corrosion factor". If we take these same components and consider them in light of our spiritual lives, then it might translate something like this:

Hardness - are we engaging in the things that will help us avoid any "deformity" in our character when things like stress and external forces are applied to our daily tasks? If we want to avoid developing weak points on our 'edge' spiritually, we need to be sure we are adding things into the fabric of our lives that actually increase our strength to resist stress and external factors that oppose us, not ignoring them!

Toughness - similar to hardness, but a knife craftsman will tell you the toughness of the blade is the ability to not develop little pits, cracks, and chips along the edge of that blade. Where does the cutting really happen - on the edge. What do cracks, nicks, and chips do when found on the blade's edge - they snag up and make a mess. A chip in a knife's edge makes for much work to rectify it - creating undo friction, stress, and work!

Wear and Corrosion - the knife craftsman will tell you this is the ability to withstand damage - not really to avoid it. Abrasion happens when you cut with a blade. The wear-ability of the blade is in direct correlation to how well it can withstand that abrasiveness. Along that same line, as cuts are made with a blade, things are 'attracted' to the blade - the process of adherence. Corrosion happens when too much 'adherence' occurs, increasing friction, wearing the blade, and eventually dulling it significantly. There is much we can do to avoid both wear and corrosion in our spiritual lives, but both require attention to detail. Both of these factors are dependent upon the make up of the steel - what goes into the steel determines how the steal will withstand damage! Just sayin!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Do we use the light we have?

We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care. Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! (Isaiah 53:3-4 TLB)

Albert Pike said, "We have all the light we need, we just need to put it in practice." Light came into the world, but the world rejected it almost as though they didn't need light to survive! Even a blind man will tell you without light on someone's part, the things he enjoys so much would not have been created for his use. The things he relies upon for his safety, such as audio cues at the crosswalk, braille lettering on the elevator buttons, and even the knowledge others have that a red-tipped white cane signals a visual deficit on the part of the one carrying it are all part of what was created 'in the light'. If a physically blind man benefits from what light has created, how is it we would think our spiritual blindness wouldn't benefit from the most perfect light? Light comes in many forms, but only one 'form' lasts an eternity. It is that light which so many reject, assuring a very dark and treacherous course into eternity. It wasn't his eternity in light he was assuring on that cross - it was ours! Our grief - our sorrows - our sin...these he bore so as to give us each light beyond all our understanding. 

The leaders who voted in favor of executing Christ that day had no idea what they set in motion - they never really stopped to consider what their own prophets had written years before, as a reminder of how the Messiah would die and what would be accomplished in his death. Had they have listened to their own prophets of the ages, they might have recognized there was something within Christ that bore witness to the truth of all ages and brought light wherever he went. What was set in motion at the cross has never been truly 'finished' because all that the cross did to deal with our grief and sorrow and sin goes on and on into eternity. It is never-ending light and it remains consistent even when other things seem to want to mask it.

If Pike was correct, and I think he might just be, we are all without excuse for not moving into that light! We only experience as much light as we immerse ourselves in, my friends. We don't produce the light, but we allow the light to produce within us the radiance of that light until light replaces every area of darkness within. Grief and sorrow are inward 'issues' or emotions - yet they have an outward effect. The light of God's grace doesn't just deal with outward stuff - it works to bring health to those areas of our deepest need - those areas where we get bogged down in our own misery, sometimes even without our own knowledge of just how heavy that burden has become. Sin produces deep, inward pain. Light produces deep, inward peace. I don't know about you, but I'd rather know the benefits of Light than the results of my sin. Just sayin!

Friday, April 6, 2018

More than a moment

It was Dr. Seuss who said, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." We pretty much like how things begin, but we often feel let down when they end. I know that is the way I approach vacation times - happy that the day has arrived to embark on my adventure; then the final day comes and I must begin the journey back to "normal". Some projects begin the same way - with great gusto and good cheer; then end with a few bumps and bruises, tired muscles, and a sense of a little let down to be completing it. I wonder if we approach some of the moments in our lives with Christ in much this same manner - seeing a closed door behind us as something to mourn rather than to smile about 'because it happened". There will be bumps and bruises along the way sometimes, but remember...we grow by falling and getting up again!

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

Our days are few - we must make the best of each one. Life doesn't just 'happen' - we aren't just abandoned to whatever happens without any apparent reason. Even those things that seem to escape reason have a purpose; although that purpose may not be understood some times. The other day I took my daughter to the airport for one of the first flights of the day. It was an early flight, so we anticipated being at the airport about one hour early would be sufficient. We judged leaving 1.5 hours before the flight would allow the 30 minutes travel time and enough time for her to take her time to get to the gate. Well, you guessed it - - - there was a huge traffic issue on the freeway and we were caught in the middle of the muddle. We sat on a two mile stretch of the journey (our last leg of it, mind you) for an hour waiting for traffic to clear from a huge roll-over accident at the specific exit we needed in order to get to the airport. In fact, we were trapped with no way of escape, for there were no other exits. 

Sometimes we feel trapped by what our days bring to us, much like we did in that traffic jam. The minutes just ticked by, the flight came closer and closer to take-off time, and my daughter's peers all sat at the gate awaiting her arrival so they could begin their journey that day. The truth of the matter is that she arrived at the door of the airport 18 minutes before her flight, somehow made it past TSA security checkpoint, and to the door of that flight just as they paged her name for the last time! But...the lesson of the adventure is not the ending, but rather the beginning of this journey. You see, as she loaded her stuff into the car, I was ready to pull out and go, but she needed to talk for a moment with her husband, delaying our start that day by just a few minutes. The cats stood ready at the open door contemplating an escape, and she needed to remind him to herd them back into the house just in case they scurried under her parked car without him noticing.

That simple delay seemed like an eternity as we sat on that traffic clogged section of freeway that day, but 5 minutes earlier might just have placed us in the very spot where that out of control driver created such a mess and sent innocent people to the hospital that day. As we waiting for what seemed an eternity, I knew we were being taught a lesson. The lesson? God holds our lives securely in his hands. As traffic began to clear, we all began to move - picking up the speed as separation between vehicles began to increase. As my speedometer approached 45 mph, we were suddenly cut off from a vehicle to the left of us, crossing two lanes of traffic, cutting across the gore point into oncoming traffic exiting the freeway, and we were run off the road, narrowly avoiding a collision of our own. In a blink of an eye, our vehicle veered off the road, avoiding all other traffic around us, and we were kept safe from what could have proven to be the permanent delay in my daughter's adventure that day.

Sometimes we set out with one thing in mind, but come to the realization the journey will yield something quite different. We saw miracles that day - both in our own lives and in those lives around us. We saw provision that day - both in delivering us safely to our destination and in allowing that flight to be delayed ever so slightly for air conditioning repairs! In those moments, stress levels rose to high proportions, but in equal proportions God's peace overshadowed us. I simply turned to my daughter and spoke with the peaceful assurance of God's control of the matter and said, "You are going to make your flight." We started well, but I think we ended better. We might have wanted to cry with the let down of it all being over and her being safely on her way, but we smiled in the peace of knowing God's hand was clearly in each moment of that early morning's adventure. Maybe you are there today - feeling a little let down at the end of your adventure - don't look back and mourn, but smile with the assurance of having experienced the teachable moments! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

I am not hiding

My protection and success come from God alone. He is my refuge, a Rock where no enemy can reach me. (Psalm 62:7 TLB)

Protection is often thought of as the preservation from harm or injury. It comes from the root word 'protectio' in Latin and means "a covering in front". We want God 'out front' in our lives - shielding us from all harm that is attempting to find a means to lay us out. The idea is that of 'guarding' so as to keep safe from invasion or loss. The President of the United States has a 'protection detail' with him wherever he goes. His 'detail' is huge, not only in number, but in the armored vehicles he has at his disposal and the military defense at the ready wherever he goes. The purpose is to keep him safe from any harm that might be planned for him. This allow him to do his job, much like God's protection 'out front' in our lives helps us 'do our job' on this earth. The right 'protection' makes all the difference, doesn't it?

Success speaks of more than just beginning well - it refers to the way something is ended. The 'termination' of the thing is deemed favorable whenever we say it was a 'success', right? The word success comes from the root word for succeed and carries a meaning of thriving, growing, and prospering. With the right 'out front' covering, the ability to thrive is much different than being exposed to the things set against us in this life, isn't it? The one who knows 'success' has accomplished what was intended - the attempt had a positive outcome. The main thing about success is that the desired result is accomplished. As our scripture today points out, with the appropriate covering in place, the ability to see the desired results in life are much better than if we go out there 'exposed' all on our own!

Refuge might be considered to be a hiding place - a place of safety. We only need a place of refuge when danger drives us into that place, right? The root of this word comes from the word meaning to run or flee from. This implies there is danger in what we are escaping - causing us to need a 'hiding place' where we will be safe. I don't live in tornado country, but I have lived in earthquake regions and know every opportunity is taken to instruct people how to find the best place of safety when the ground starts to rumble. You don't run out into the open, you find a sturdy place of safety, such as under a strong table. Why? Things come 'at you' when the ground starts to rumble, maybe not with the force of the tornado's winds, but an earthquake has a damage all its own. Regardless of the 'force' coming against us, we need a place to 'run into' for our safety. Let that be God and you won't ever find your place of refuge faulty! We aren't hiding out - we are sheltering within. Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Let truth do the work

Answer fools when they speak foolishly, or they will think they are really wise. (Proverbs 26:5)

One can always be wise in their own eyes - because the fool often fails to see what is right in front of their own eyes. The wise person spends time reading the situation to know whether to answer or not - taking just that little bit of time before answering often keeps us out of silly quarrels or needless minutes lost listening to the rantings of a fool! How do you answer a fool? It isn't that they don't deserve an answer, but maybe the way we answer them is more important than we think. The moment we stop to consider our answer - pondering the potential intent of the fool's words - we might just uncover something that will expose the foolish thoughts and intents of the heart that otherwise wouldn't ever be exposed!

To not counteract the words of the fool is to be foolish yourself. Why? The fool will go on spreading the foolishness just as he sees it - as he interprets life and how he is motivated by whatever is fueling his intent. The moment we take to consider our answer to the foolishness of a man's heart gives us time to listen to the small voice of the Spirit within. Jesus assured his disciples they'd never be at a loss for words - as long as they listened for that still, small voice. The best way to counter foolishness is with truth - it cannot stand up to truth. 

The fool doesn't really know his actions or words are all that foolish, though. There is a fine line in answering to expose his folly, and being downright rude or dismissive in one's response. The wise will respond to the folly of the fool in a way that brings truth without tearing down or unnecessarily wounding the fool. Now, don't get me wrong - the truth can sometimes sting. When I was young, mom and grandma used to believe the best thing for any type of cut or abrasion was to pour hydrogen peroxide on it. You know what comes next don't you? Yup! It burned like the dickens and got all white and foamy as it did it intended work. Sometimes truth it like that - it might sting a little, but it was the right thing to say because as soon as it 'hit the mark' it began to do what truth does - it exposes what really needs to be 'cleaned away'.

I used to think that you could argue with a fool bent on his own way of believing something to be, but I will let you in a little secret here - I lost more 'battles' to the fools than I won by arguing with them! The truth sets things in order - maybe not at first, but in time truth does its work - just like the hydrogen peroxide on my cut. There is no need to argue with the fool - his foolishness will just inflame the situation and that can make things get a little out of control. Arguing with a fool is like pouring fuel on a fire - it ignites more and more foolishness! The truth spoken is often not heeded right away, but when spoken in love and the authority given to you as a child of God, the truth never returns void. You may not see the immediate result of it, but it is working nonetheless. Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ignited

But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins. (I John 1:9 TLB)

Depended upon - that means our part is to rely upon him. If you depend upon your vehicle to start when you turn over the ignition, you are relying on the battery to have held a charge, the alternator to do the work of assisting in providing all the amperage needed to support all those other electrical components in the vehicle, and the engine's components to all 'turnover' in response to your having hit that ignition switch. For us, the 'ignition switch' is our confession. The power ignited in response to that confession is to be relied upon - without failure, or need of calling 'roadside service' because it may 'fail' one day!

Have you ever hit the ignition more than one time, only to hear the grinding effect of the engine trying to 'restart' when it was already running? The grinding of the parts being set in motion once again that don't need to be in motion gets our attention to remind us things are already in motion under the hood! When we confess the same sins to God time and time again, either because we have a hard time remembering our forgiveness has already set things in motion in our lives, or because we just don't rely upon his work to be finished within us, we are creating a similar scenario. While God doesn't 'grind out his protest' like our engine might, I can imagine he groans inwardly because he has already forgiven us for that offense we keep bringing up time and time again to him!

When we ask for God's grace, he extends it - reliably and consistently. He isn't subject to the wear and tear like an engine parts are subject to, so he doesn't fail to 'deliver' when we 'hit the ignition' of confession. What is 'set in motion' at the moment of our confession remains in motion. If we don't always see or 'hear' his action on our behalf, it is nonetheless there - because the cross is reliable beyond all influences to stop its effect! The cry of our hearts for forgiveness are met with the action of Christ to clean and renew - period! Timeless grace - eternal forgiveness - absolute cleansing. Reliable each time. Just sayin!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Current strong?

It was the late Woodrow Wilson who said, "The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it." I imagine there are more than a few individuals in my circle of influence today who feel like they are swimming against the current - toughing it out and trying to battle to the other side. A long time ago, I learned if you'd 'tie off' on one side of the river to a sturdy tree or large rock, you could use the momentum of the river's current to carry you across to the other side, all while still tethered to the anchor on the side you were abandoning. That tether could serve as the guide to help others get across, because you would solidly secure it to the opposite side of the strong current's flow on the other riverbank. The next behind you could then 'tether on' and be guided safely across. Many times we are the ones taking the first risk to cross those troublesome currents of life, but as long as our anchor is secure, we can prepare the way for others!

Disaster strikes like a cyclone and the wicked are whirled away. But the good man has a strong anchor. (Proverbs 10:25 MSG)

The strength of the current doesn't have to be our worry when we have solid anchor. The current can toss us to and fro a bit, but as long as the anchor is firm, we are going to weather the tossing. The current serves the purpose of pushing us to our limits and then it requires we allow God to show us where our limits end and his take over! The moment we try to navigate the current without that anchor, the current is free to exercise a great deal more 'liberty' with where it takes us, what we brush up against, and how frequently we 'go under'. The current doesn't change - the anchor just changes the 'influence' of the current upon us.

We all have varying degrees of 'strong anchors' we have trusted in over the course of our lifetime, some of which have proven to be unstable in the face of the strength of the current itself. The current exerted enough pressure against the ANCHOR that the 'hold' was broken. The captain of a large sailing vessel wouldn't expect a 12 inch rock tied to a length of rope to even begin to 'hold steady' the vessel against the current's strength. The size of the anchor is equally as important as the strength of the current against which it must give anchorage! We sometimes trust in 'anchors' that are less than trustworthy - like money or talent. While both are capable of giving us 'security' for a while, they can both be very untrustworthy anchors.

There is but one solid anchor to which we must 'tie on' as we face the currents of life. That anchor isn't crafted out of anything material or even taken from nature. It is Christ and Christ alone. There is not stronger or more secure anchor than the cross! Just sayin!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Consider the cross

But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed—and we were healed! We—every one of us—have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us! (Isaiah 53:5-6 TLB)
It wasn't for HIS sins, but OURS. What kind of a man would take upon himself the penalty of so many without consideration of his own pain? It was for us that he died - no sin of his own - for he was the perfect lamb sacrificed to all. In the Old Testament worship practices given down to Moses by God, God taught of the need for an "atonement sacrifice" - a perfect sacrifice whose shed blood would 'cover over' the imperfect sins of the many. Christ was that "atonement sacrifice" - his blood shed for the imperfect condition of each of our souls. Believe it or not - it is your choice. But...if you do choose to place your trust in that finished work, oh how wonderful life is!
Who would ever think a man's beatings would prove to provide the greatest of peace for the hurting and wounded souls of so many? Who would ever believe the innumerable lashes cutting deeply into the flesh time and time again of an innocent man would provide so profound a healing of so many? In reality, we think first about ourselves, and perhaps we may venture into the realm of thinking of others just a little bit more than we think of ourselves. In truth, we don't usually get to the point on our own of moving out of the place of our own need - we need the help of Christ to actually do that! 
Guilt for sin was ours - not his. Sinful deeds were our doing - not his. Separation between us and a holy God was our choice - not his. Yet, all he did was for US. Beaten that we might have peace. Lashed that we might be healed. Have you ever stopped to consider the weight of your sin? If all the sin of your lifetime was placed in a scale and weighed, what would it weigh to carry all that sin upon your back? Now imagine that the sin of all of mankind, from Adam till the tiny baby being born today in some hospital somewhere - ALL that weight of sin he bore on HIS back. It was his back that was lashed, allowing that burden to really sink in and the weight of it to be felt even more as the day wore on. It was that weight he sought to free us from - that guilt and shame. 
As we stop for just a moment to consider the cross today, let us not forget the tremendous love that kept Jesus on the cross that day. He could have been like us and recanted his commitment that day, but he didn't. He could have said the weight is too great and the pain too deep, but he did not. All he did was with one eye on his Father and one eye on us. He never lost sight of what the action of ONE would accomplish for so MANY who were incapable of those actions themselves! Just sayin!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Terca!

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Boy, is that ever the truth! The strongest thing to overcome is our "won't" moments - those times when we dig in our heels and just determine we "won't" change the course of things, or the behavior we are being challenged to lay down. The more we determine we "won't" do something, the more we desire it! There are lots of times we label our obstinacy as being sort of something we have no control over, like a force that is 'forcing' us to do something. The root of the issue is our stubbornness, not our commitment. We commit very well to pursue something - we are just choosing the "wrong something" to pursue!

First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. (Proverbs 16:18 MSG)

Obstinate people aren't going to compromise - they are unyielding, dug in, there for the long haul. The hallmark sign of an obstinate person is that they are not easily controlled. They will not hand the reins of control over to anyone else and they make that quite plain. Some call this stubbornness, but there is a degree of obstinacy that goes well beyond just being a little stubborn. The determination to always be right, in control, unyielding to any idea other than their own - these are symptoms of an obstinate heart.

Some label obstinacy as being "determined", but it is really nothing more than being "self-willed" and "strong-minded". If we could manage our will well enough, would we ever need a Savior? No, because we wouldn't get ourselves into places of unyielding compromise if we had a will that always functioned by making the choices that God's will declares to be right for us! Ego may be a small word, but it is a big problem! It keeps us doggedly determined to do some things in ways we choose to do them that may not be exactly correct.

Headstrong individuals are all around us - even right before us in the mirror looking back at you know who! The more headstrong we are, the more independent we attempt to function because we see little need for others to ever lend their help, ideas, or plans. There is no room for 'deviation' from one's own plans and that can be the greatest battle for us at times. As Beecher said, the will isn't the issue most of the time - it is the won't that messes us up more than the will. We label it being 'willful', but maybe we'd be more accurate if we labeled it as being 'won't-ful'.

Every now and again, my BFF reminds me I am being a little "mulish" in my behavior. She calls me "terca" (stubborn, mulish, obstinate). It is usually because I am refusing help, but the truth of the matter is that she is probably a little bit right - I am being "terca". While stubbornness to avoid the wrong stuff is not bad, carried to the extreme of thinking we can get past all the wrong stuff on our own is quite arrogant and 'mulish' indeed. We might just do well to examine our 'will' and our 'won't' now and again - because I think it is possible to get those two mixed up now and again! Just sayin!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Tumbling along

“Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans, who thinks he can make it on muscle alone
and sets God aside as dead weight. He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie, out of touch with the good earth.  He lives rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows." (Jeremiah 17:5-6 MSG)

We probably hear the next couple of verses more often in "church circles" than the ones above. The next couple of verses in this chapter say, “But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers; never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season." The idea of being solidly rooted, immovable or unaffected by the worst of circumstances is one we get encouragement from, so it is more frequently quoted that the one I chose this morning. Yet, the Curse comes before the Blessing in this passage. Why? I think God may have been using Jeremiah to point out some failures for the nation of Judah. They had drifted into practices God had told them to avoid, accepted cultural norms God told them would get them into all manner of trouble, and allowed many a compromise to honoring only ONE God in their lives. All that said, the curse comes before the blessing - not as a message of defeat - but as a reminder none of us is above this sin of pride.

Dependence upon our own way of doing things - making it on our own - choosing our own way over that of a life of obedience to the boundaries God sets - these are all struggles with a root of pride. We want our own way - declaring we are able to 'muscle through' in our own efforts, following our 'well crafted schemes and plans'. I don't know about you, but some of the most 'well crafted plans' I have created in my mind have been pretty 'ill crafted' in the end. Somewhere along the way, my 'muscle through' became more like I was 'muddling through'! News alert...human beings are fallible. They lack ALL the resources they need - there are just some things outside of their control no matter how much muscle they exert! God cannot be set aside in our lives in place for us being in control - things just won't end well for us! Maybe we fall under that 'curse' Jeremiah spoke of in this passage - being too dependent upon self or others is never going to end well.

I live in Arizona, so I have seen my share of tumbleweeds in the middle of the desert. The tumbleweed comes from a form of the Russian Thistle - a prickly plant that is out of its native soil most of the time! It actually is quite a prickly little thing, living best in a rather salty soil. It doesn't need much to drink, so it is prolific even in arid times and places. It gets the name of tumbleweed because it grows to a certain point, what some may call "maturity", and then it breaks off from the roots. Now, that may seem a little counter-productive to detach from the roots as it seems to end life. The truth of the matter is that this separation from the root is what allows it to disseminate its seeds! The dead plant spreads its seeds by separating from the root - by allowing death - by taking advantage of the winds to blow it wherever it will go.

I think this is an apt illustration of what pride does in our lives. Yes, there is quick, green growth. It looks like something good is about to come out of what we are doing. Yet, in the end, we get big (full of ourselves), but there is no real 'solid root' to our accomplishments. The thing we thought was 'massively important' really becomes more of a nuisance than a blessing. The tumbleweed actually was brought into the plains in the Dakotas in bags of wheat and flax seed. Because they are an opportunistic seed, they soon found their way from there to places never before touched by these thorny little plants. This 'nuisance' plant has become a prolific nuisance in over 19 countries now. It takes advantage of what starts out to be something quite good (wheat and flax) in order to get an inroad into an area, much like pride takes advantage of good seed to get an inroad into our lives. It doesn't take long to realize that a little 'bad seed' goes a very long way, almost undetected until the 'thistle thorns' begin to burrow into tender places! Just sayin!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Back in the day...

15 It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who foolishly condemn the Gospel without knowing what it can do for them, having never experienced its power. 16 You are free from the law, but that doesn’t mean you are free to do wrong. Live as those who are free to do only God’s will at all times. (I Peter 2:15-16 TLB)

I know the moments seem to be magnified these days when someone chooses to do something so wrong it just cannot help but make headlines. The actions of a few make the lives of many a living nightmare. I was talking the other day with my BFF about how different it is to grow up today. We reminisced about the times when we grew up - running from sun up to sun down with the neighborhood kids - likely no emerging from whatever 'play' was at hand until we were called for supper. The mischief we managed to get into was indeed 'child's play' and we didn't live in fear of our lives. We went to school without having to carry bullet-proof backpacks, or experience the repeated 'active shooter' drills. Our 'drills' were those designed to get us all lined up neatly on the playground while the fire alarms blared signaling it was prep in case we had any type of 'explosion' in the chemistry lab from an experiment gone awry! We didn't dream of package bombs and we didn't kill ourselves because we were made fun of on social media. Our form of 'social media' was the playground talk at recess or over the lunchroom table when the 'cool kids' huddled together to talk about the hand-me-down dresses we 'uncool kids' might have had on! I wonder where we really started to 'go wrong' as a society. Some may postulate it was Rock-n-Roll, or those pot smoking hippies, or even the protests of the early sixties for human rights and women's lib. It matters not where the turning point was - it matters if we can reach a turning point today - back in the right direction!

Live as those free to do only God's will at all times. There are a couple of imperatives in this command. First, we are to live - not just exist in some semblance of what might be called 'life'. We are to really live as though all of the day matters - as though every action is important. Second, we are to live as those who are free - not to do whatever pleases us, but with consideration of what pleases God first and then what honors our fellow-man second. Freedom has been taken to extremes by some, while others still only dream there might be some freedom for them somewhere at some time. There are many kinds of 'bondage' (lack of freedom) beginning with the condition or state of our souls and going on from there. Nothing matters as much as the condition of our soul - for that soul which has never experienced the grace and forgiveness of their Creator has not really experienced any great sense of freedom at all! Lastly, freedom is an "all the time" kind of thing - it isn't now and again, but consistently lived out in our daily lives. Freedom comes because we live according to the will of God 'at all times' - not just when the urge hits us, or in 'pockets of society'. Live at those free to do - not free to be - but free to do. There is a purpose to our freedom - it is to do the will of God at all times. Some equate freedom with the will to do as they please whenever they please, but the will of God is to override our will - especially when that freedom of will leads us down a path other than the one he would have us choose.

We live free, not as powerless creatures, but as those who have experienced the ultimate power - that of our Creator's hand and heart. Power doesn't come in our actions, but in the actions of Christ coming through us, touching the lives of those around us. Those hungering for power need to realize any power other than the power of Christ pales in comparison - it will be lack-luster when held up to the light and majesty of his power! Power doesn't come when we take advantage of others - it comes when we put them first. It doesn't manifest itself in the actions of 'advantage', but in the actions of love. If we seek for an advantage in life, we will likely find any advantage we obtain is soon lost because others are seeking for the place of advantage equally as hard as we are! There is no greater place of 'advantage' than in the arms of Christ - for his 'advantage' comes in the form of grace, compassion, love, and true freedom. Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Consider the audience

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. (Psalm 51:17 MSG)

I will be the first to admit there are days when I am merely going through the motions. Something deep inside of me just isn't all that excited about doing whatever it is I am doing. I don't quite see the thing ahead of me with any real sense of passion. While these days are not frequent, they can really bog me down when I allow them to influence me for very long. Going through the motions is nothing more than putting on a performance. You feel one way, but are doing something entirely contrary to the way you truthfully feel. Why do we do this? I think it may be it is easier to just go along for the ride than it is to step up, take ownership for how we feel, and allow ourselves to really face the day without masks. A flawless performance - many of us know very well how to give these. Few of us will actually ever step beyond the performance, but when we do, we find a liberty and a peace that transcends whatever bit of pride we are hiding behind!

To 'perform' one needs an audience. Real or perceived, the 'audiences' in our lives frequently dictate the 'performance' we render. There are times we consider only the audience we can see, discounting those who look on that we don't really think are observing our 'performance'. As a parent, I quickly found out more was 'observed' than I thought. The things modeled in the behavior of one of my children oftentimes revealed to me they had been observing my 'performance' much closer than I ever dreamed! Their choice of actions or words were a direct comparison to my own. Now, if this is me sitting quietly reading with a leg crossed over the other and the child imitates that exact pose and takes up his/her own reading book, I might find it delightful. If that child imitates my 'less than stellar moment' when I lost control of my emotions and let my anger fly, I am not as 'flattered' by that 'performance'.

One thing I learned in theater - you must consider the audience before you. You must know how much to project your words so you will be heard. You have to 'read' their connection with you so you can vary your actions and your topic ever so slightly to keep them engaged. The need to 'perform' varies depending on the audience. I am so grateful for those in my life that don't need to see a performance from me. The ones I can get totally 'real' with are perhaps most inclined to actually extend grace in my life where I need it most, but they are also not willing to let me 'perform' to the audience. They want reality through and through. While this may be challenging, they keep me grounded and honest. There is nothing wrong with that! In fact, the more honest I am with them, the more honest I discover I am being with others. While I may be tempted to 'perform', they hold me accountable to just being th real me. Not a bad thing considering it is the real me that Jesus wants to come through anyway. Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Grace again...yup

I came across a quote the other day that spoke to me deeply: "Who has a harder fight than he who is striving to overcome himself?" (Thomas a Kempis) Let that one sink in a little and it may just give you a moment of pause as it did me. The very thought of overcoming myself is almost maddening, for there are many complex issues within that are actually in conflict with each other, the Christ-centered beliefs I want to live by, and the way I should be living if I were living by the standards others would create for me to live within. The conflict is real for all of us - we honestly don't appreciate the full impact of this struggle until we step back and ask ourselves if what we are doing at the moment is actually what Christ would desire of us!

23 But anyone who believes that something he wants to do is wrong shouldn’t do it. He sins if he does, for he thinks it is wrong, and so for him it is wrong. Anything that is done apart from what he feels is right is sin. (Romans 14:23 TLB)

The Apostle Paul has been laying out various responses to those who were struggling with the rules of the Law of Moses and the liberty of the Grace of Christ. Law and Grace have a hard time most of the time, because grace changes the 'why' behind the rule. It doesn't always do away with the rule - for it is still a 'rule' to not kill your brother, or steal his belongings, or commit adultery. Those rules didn't go out the door just because grace entered it! In fact, the only thing grace does with the rule is make it possible to keep the rule for the right reason - because it is the right thing to do! Grace changes things for us because it moves us from keeping rules SO THAT WE CAN BE MADE right, to keeping the rules BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN MADE right.

Overcoming one's own desires is sometimes the fine balance between grace and rule-keeping. We know what is right - because our conscience and scripture don't contradict us. We want to do right because we know it is the right thing to do. We hate to do wrong - knowing there will be both consequences and end-results we may not like at all. Yet, the fight continues between our 'striving' to live right and our 'actually' living right! We get this all wrong at times - thinking it is us doing the work. I have said it before, but it bears repeating - there is a new force at work within us - it is no longer us in control.

It was Kempis who also said, "He who loves with purity considers not the gift of the lover, but the love of the giver." It isn't grace we need to focus on, but the one who gives us the grace to live in right standing with a holy God! We consider the giver, not the gift. When the struggle is real within me over something I want to do, but know better than to do, I often have to remind myself God didn't give grace so I could ask for forgiveness - he gave it so I wouldn't need to! Just sayin!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Cyclical Reboot Mode?

Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most. (Psalm 23:1-3 TLB)
"Because" is a big word in the hand of Jesus! Because we are his, we have all we need - everything - nothing missing or incomplete or lacking in any manner. We are secure in this knowledge, my friends. We are allowed to rest - not made to rest, but allowed to rest. There are times when God guides me to take times of rest, because he knows without it, I will be on a downward slope toward burnout. I imagine the same to be true for each of you. We can all get a little too over zealous in our pursuits. Right now I have a couple of projects in mind, several started, and a bunch almost complete, but not quite there yet. If I don't manage these well, something gets left 'undone' or 'half-done'. God helps us have times of rest so that we get to the place of not leaving anything undone that needs to be done!
Last night my tablet took it upon itself to go into some 'warp speed' rebooting mode repeatedly. Right in the middle of what I was enjoying (a game of solitaire), it started this continual cycle of rebooting and rebooting. The problem is that NONE of the reboots allowed me to reset the device so it would stop doing this cyclical reboot. There are times I feel like I am doing a cyclical reboot in my own life - just spinning and spinning - but never really getting to the point that things 'set' so I can move on. How about you? Are there times when you just need to be led into rest? I bet there are more times than you might first recognize. God took you there without much resistance most of the time, but those times when you just were spinning out of control like my tablet were the times you probably remember most. Why? You needed those times the most! You were spinning and nothing was getting 'set' in your life.
It is in the moments of well-deserved and much-needed rest that God actually renews us, but he also is moving in our lives to help us learn what it is we need to 'do' next. He uses these times of rest to set our minds into focused renewal - spirit following suit - body finding a similar type of regeneration complete with enough energy to complete what is ahead. We might think we don't need these times of rest - because we have so much to accomplish. "BECAUSE" we have so much to accomplish is the exact reason for the "BECAUSE" of God's pulling us into that place of rest. He allows us those restful moments 'because' of the 'because'. If we all want to get to the place we are consistently doing what brings honor to God, then we need to heed these places of rest and actually settle back into that rest. It is there we learn how to honor him - it is there we are taught - it is there we are most open to hearing what he wants to show us.
At 4 this morning, my mind was spinning on all the projects I'd like to accomplish today. I have four cupboards to finish the sorting and relocation of stuff in the garage; a cabinet in mom's bathroom that needs the bottom lined anew; a desire to clean and organize a couple kitchen cabinets that have 'gotten out of control'; sheets to wash and beds to make; clothes to launder, hang up, and iron; lunch and dinner to prepare; a refrigerator that needs a good scrub down; and the list could go on for about another four inches. Instead of bouncing up, after being awake a great deal of the night because of the neighbor's barking dog, I rolled over, told my mind to shut off a while, and slept in until 6:30 (a rarity for this gal). God was reminding me that I was in a 'reboot cycle' that needed to finish the cycle and I shouldn't resist it! Maybe we all need a little extra leading into rest by the one who knows how to give us perfect rest! Just sayin!