Friday, October 19, 2018

A well dug well

Deep wells are necessary here in Arizona because anything near the surface actually dries up pretty quickly unless it is fed from a very deep and refreshing source. The tendency to water only the surface of our ground actually doesn't promote deeper root systems, but a more superficial rooting. The trees, shrubs, and grasses with only these superficial roots often don't make it for the long haul of summer because they have nothing to draw from when the intensity of heat comes. We want to have deep wells to draw from, as we will face many a circumstance in life that turns the heat up more than a little in our lives.

Knowing what is right is like deep water in the heart; a wise person draws from the well within.
(Proverbs 20:5)

There is a tendency to "over-think" things today. We "work" a solution until it is what some call "fool-proof" and then we might take the steps to put it into action. The problem is that none of us is really all that what we work is sometimes 'proof' we are still a little bit foolish. I find that I am more spontaneous than 'over-working' a solution at times - I like to try something before the idea has a chance to grow mold! Most of the time when I act quickly, I come out all right. There are more than a few occasions though where that spontaneity resulted in the occasional flop, supporting the idea that it wasn't a "fool-proof" plan.

There is a time for planning and I definitely know not every half-baked idea is a good one! I am no fool, although I act the fool on occasion. There is a well that lies deep within that we each can draw from when we need an immediate solution to a problem life deals us - but a well must be found before it can become our source. Whenever we take the steps to do exactly what God has reminded us to do in his Word, we are creating a deeper well to draw from. What are those steps? Glad you asked!

First, we must hide his word in our hearts. That is more than just memorizing chapter and verse. It is allowing the word of God to get deep into the core of our being - through study, meditation, and application of the word. When we need to call upon the lessons we have learned, they will be there as guiding influences. Then we must allow the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our lives. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit at the point of our saying 'yes' to Jesus in our lives. There is a very distinctive act - a point in time - when we invite him to truly "fill us" to overflowing with his presence. At that point, there is a definite "infilling" of our lives with the power to live for Jesus.
We also must engage with the Holy Spirit to see the fruits produced within that only he has the power to bring forth. Fruit such as affection for others that stems from an attitude that is not simply focused on what WE can get out of the relationship, but is committed to being a blessing in the lives of others. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of the work of Christ in our lives - evidence of a deep well.

When a believer allows these things to occur, there is a well of "wealth" to draw from when the time arises. We look upon that person and call him "wise" because his every action seems to be "well-planned". In fact, you are probably just witnessing the person living life with lots of "dips into the well" of faith. They have frequented the "well of life" (Jesus) and now they have a "reliable well" to draw from when life hands them challenging moments. Wells require some work, though. They must first be dug in a place where there is hope for the flow of water. That is why we "dig into" Jesus. Then they must be dug deep because the waters that come from deeper down are purer and much more refreshing. They must be accessed - no well serves its purpose if it is just there for "wishing"! Become a "well-digger" today - you will be amazed how many times you will "tap into" the refreshing, reviving, and rejuvenation of the "well of life". Just diggin!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Let me be clear here...

What are the ways you are influenced? Where is it you turn to when you need to be updated on the state of affairs in politics, the weather, or the results of the football game? It used to be we had newspapers, but more and more of those have gone by the wayside. We used to huddle around radios and listen with intent as the latest events were crackled from the airways. Now we are likely to read our social media posts, quick one liner tweets, and updates on our 'electronic' news feeds. As times change, so do the ways we receive our influences in life. We might not realize it, but the things that need to have the greatest influence in us are actually being suffocated out of their place of influence by all the things that vie for influence in our lives today.

"Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he's up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won't follow a stranger's voice but will scatter because they aren't used to the sound of it." (John 10:1-5)

We have many opportunities to listen and to respond to many voices each day. There are individuals we admire that speak words of advice - easy to embrace as a voice we actually want to listen to. There are individuals that are passing acquaintances in our lives - we listen to them, but are more selective in what we act upon when they speak. Then there are individuals that are only influential because of their position, prominence, or popularity - we'd be surprised how often we lean toward their voices without even realizing it. Each voice represents a unique place in our lives - some are more intimately "in tune" with the deep spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of our lives. That is what Jesus was referring to when he said the sheep hear his voice. As a matter of fact, they listen for it! Why do they know his voice? Simply because they have become familiar with it. It is a pretty well-accepted fact that we respond to what we are most comfortable with. If we are comfortable with the voice of Jesus, it stands to reason that when he speaks, we will respond.

Look at what Jesus says about the "other voices" we listen to:
  • They are deceptive - they don't come at you with honest intentions. There is an agenda in mind that is contrary to your good.
  • They are misleading - they promise one thing, but end up leaving you in a more chaotic place than you were in the first place.
  • They are not reliable - they are not only deceptive and misleading, but they cannot be counted on when the rubber meets the road.
The voice of God is entirely different:
  • It is trustworthy - his voice is well-known by his disciples. He comes with words that encourage, exhort, and direct. As he speaks, the words settle in deeply and 'bear witness' within our spirit. 
  • It is directive - his voice gives clarity, never bringing chaos or uncertainty. In fact, his voice is instructive to those who know him.
  • It is loving - his voice comes at times when we need to know his presence, oversight, and care the most. His words are those which uplift, keep us safe, and afford us the opportunity for shelter.
Today is an opportunity to clarify the source of the "voices" we listen to. The voice of God - simple, direct, and loving - comes at us "straight on". As our shepherd, he has direct access to our lives - no need to weasel his way into our lives because he has been granted open access to our hearts, minds, and emotions. If the voice we are choosing to listen to is coming at us in a forced, uninvited way, it is likely not the voice of God. There are many choices in life, but none so rewarding as choosing to listen to the still small voice of our loving God. Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Through and through

The reality test of discipleship: Living out in your daily life exactly what Jesus tells us. All the world is into the fad of reality shows. At every turn of the day, new ideas for reality shows spring up - everything from being marooned on an island to trudging across country without anything at all to your name, dancing with famous people (whether you have rhythm or not), or making an absolute fool of yourself in the name of entertainment. These shows often push the envelope and exhibit the basest of human nature - it is truly "no hold barred" as far as they are concerned. People eat it up! Why? Perhaps because we are living "posthumously" through those on the screen - not really wanting our life's calamities portrayed for all to see, but associating with the ones we see up on that screen. Maybe we want validation that we are not any worse than others. Regardless the reason, the shows are prospering - they are big business these days. Not all that makes it in 'big business' is really all that refreshing or rewarding, though.

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. "If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you." Surprised, they said, "But we're descendants of Abraham. We've never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, 'The truth will free you'?" Jesus said, "I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a transient, who can't come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through. (John 8:31-35)

There is one "reality test" that would never make it to the top reality show ideas, though - the test of walking daily as a disciple of Christ. I imagine some would see this as too "tame" for the widescreen. Still others might see it as too "ordinary" or "mundane". I feel sorry for those who would make that judgment without ever experiencing the reality of the walk. In fact, they'd discover that there is nothing "ordinary" about a walk with Christ. It is challenging at every turn. There is more dedication required in one simple act of obedience than all the challenges of the reality show realm could combine! There is more 'test of the will' in each step of transparent truth about one's self than any journey on these shows. This walk is not for the weak of heart - it requires determination, commitment, and endurance - all the things our hearts have more than a little trouble with. The neat thing is that if we lack any of these, Jesus provides what we need!

The result of discipleship: We will experience the truth. As with the reality show programs, there is an end result - something that is desired as an end result. The disciple of Christ is to be transformed into the image of Christ. There is to be an exchange of nature - resulting in the revelation of Christ through us. Truth is freeing - even when we don't know we are bound! The Pharisees were questioning Jesus about the reality of his ministry when he spoke these words about being free or bound. He was called upon to explain who he was, what he was all about and what he was doing on this earth. In response, he challenges them toward discipleship and reminds them that they need to be free of their bonds of sin. Now, if you know anything about the Pharisees, you probably know that this did not sit well with them!

You see, we don't realize the benefits of the "result" until we have a revelation of the "resistance" put up to keep us from ever realizing those results. Sin is resistance - we are resisting the control of God in our lives, choosing our own way over his. In turn, we get all bound up in sin. At every turn there is "resistance" in our lives. If we experience enough resistance, we often reach out for different "results". Jesus promises the result that really matters - being set free from all that brings resistance into our lives. The reward of discipleship is that the truth will make us free. As with the reality shows of the widescreen, there is a reward to those who choose the path of discipleship. The truth makes us free! If you are struggling with the walk of a disciple today, I challenge you to see that the reality is that you lack nothing to enjoy both the results and rewards of discipleship. Everything you need is revealed in Jesus - he is the truth that will set you free. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Take this most seriously

The power of two - do we really understand or appreciate it? There is something most powerful that happens when two are standing together! When there are two, one recognizes where it is that one or the other is a point when that one can no longer stand alone. At that point, we reach out to others. In a society that values the strength and ability of an individual, this idea of 'partnering together' is seldom overlooked for the value it presents. In recent years, we have seen education begin to teach the concept of "teamwork" by having students do "team projects" to obtain their grade rather than individual reports. This is not taught so much for the benefit of developing the inter-relatedness of each other as much as the development of the "social skills" that allow people to work together for the good of the whole. In God's economy, there is a benefit in being rightly related - first to him, then to others that he strategically places in our lives. It is more than the social skills of teamwork - it is the strength of not standing alone.

"Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there." (Matthew 18:18-20)

Get together on anything at all on earth - the promise is pretty "all-inclusive". Whenever two of us get together on anything at all on this earth, God is there. The idea is that God never wants us to walk alone - he knows we need the strength of others - the physical hand, arms, and presence of another. The strength of their hug, the warmth of their smile, or the intimate "knowing" of their silence all serve to give us the strength to endure the present battle and prepare for the future one. God values when two stand in agreement - determined toward the same goals, living the same values, pursuing the same excellence. In that union, he is glorified.

And make a prayer of it - now we come to the crux of the matter. It is in the prayerful expression of our united stand that God is present. God gives us the one we stand alongside, not just for the hugs and moral support, but as a prayer partner, a helper in prayer. One who will take the burden we bear and lift it to the throne room of God - what a valuable treasure we have in one such as this. It is an honor to lift the needs of another to God - it is his joy to answer the prayer of one so committed to the other. We stand as more than just "moral support" - being a sounding board or a place to "dump" our stress and worries. We stand as "prayer support" for each other - a person who will do battle on behalf of the other.

My Father in heaven goes into action - that says it all! God sees the two standing in agreement, lifting the needs of each other, and he goes into action - for both! What more can be said? God in action is better than any solution two heads could come up with - and the benefits of standing together outweigh just one being blessed - both receive the blessing! Two hearts joined in prayer is the key that puts God's power into action. The next time you are tempted to stand alone, don't. Remember the "power of two". God's heart is "softened" and his power is placed into action by the prayer of those who stand united. Just sayin!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hope is a seed

I watched an episode of "The Good Doctor" last evening and the story depicted a mother whose statement really caught my attention. She had a son with a heart disorder, requiring a major surgery to correct all the defects. As the doctors examined and re-examined this boy, their decision was that he was beyond the help of the surgeons - his defects were too serious. They were ready to prescribe some pills and send him home. The mother's determination on behalf of her son is not unique to this mother - for she was like a dog with a bone - determined to have these doctors do something for her son and not just write him off. In one of those tense moments when the doctors stood before her saying they had no plans of doing the surgery, she says something along the line that she doesn't have much at home - she is poor from a wealth perspective; she doesn't have any type of fall-back - for this is her only alternative. The one thing she has is hope - the simple hope of a mother trusting that these doctors will be able to save her son. It was Tertullian who said that hope is patience with the lamp lit. This mother was being very patient with a group of young doctors, all intent on telling her that she had no reason to hope. Her lamp would not be put out, though!

Depend on God and keep at it because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.  (Isaiah 26:4)

There is much to be said about faith, but the greatest part of faith is hope - hope begins in the heart and it convinces the entire body and mind to follow suite. This mother wouldn't be dissuaded from her hope, for her intense love toward her son would keep that faith alive. She held on, encouraging his heart to beat - intent on seeing this little life made totally whole and fully alive through the interventions of these doctors - he last hope. None of us wants to be at the place of our 'last hope', because when hope is gone, so is our faith. Faith isn't kept alive within us because of what any man may do for us, but really because of what God can orchestrate through man on our behalf! Let that one sink in a little. God uses others to build upon and answer the longings of our hope - our faith. He isn't asking for us to trust man for the answer, but to trust him to bring the answer to us, sometimes through man and sometimes just simply by some miracle we don't fully understand. As our passage implies, dependence is a continual effort - it cannot be bypassed, nor dissuaded. We must depend like our life depends upon our dependence - because it does!

Tertullian also observed that the martyred saints of the early church - men, women, and children murdered at the hands of the Roman soldiers - had one common trait of intense faith in the God they served. Yes, they died at the hands of the Romans, but as Tertullian quickly pointed out, their blood was actually "seed" that brought forth an even stronger church! The bloodshed should have ended the growth of the faith people were placing in Christ, but instead, it acted as seed to bring forth even more hope, faith, and growth! That is the thing with faith - it isn't going to stop with us. It will multiply in the lives of those around us - because it is a 'seed'. As Christ said, it doesn't have to be a huge seed - even the tiniest hope is enough to see his hand moved in our lives. We might not think we are holding onto much at this very moment, but if we have at least a 'seed' of hope, that is sufficient in the hands of our God. Just sayin!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Your full attention, please

My mother frequently uses the term "Listen to me!" as a way of getting my attention so that I actually stop, pay close attention, and hear out whatever her idea or issue is at the moment. It isn't always at the most convenient moment, nor is it always easy for her to get out whatever it is she wants to share. Yet, it is important enough for her to ask to for me to hear it, so I respond with, "I'm listening, mom", and she begins.  It isn't said in anger or in a moment of disappointment. Rather, these words are usually spoken in a "sing-song" manner, but with very specific intent - they are intended to get me to REALLY listen to what she was saying. Why? Because she knows she has something to say even if it is getting harder for her to say it! She has walked through much already, learned many lessons, and has the advantage of experience on her side, but the disadvantage of advancing age makes it harder and harder for her to actually form those thoughts into sentences. She wants me to pay attention to the things she needs to say - even when it is hard for her to say it - so sometimes she has to show me because the thoughts just won't form well enough to get her point across. We usually figure it out, but sometimes it can be a little more of a challenge than others!

Dear child, I want your full attention; please do what I show you.  (Proverbs 24:26)

God stands everyday asking for our full attention - knowing he has something which may be hard for us to hear, not always easy for us to understand, but important for us to actually listen and respond to. He is asking us to tune up our ears, focus our minds, and direct our heart toward his voice. Why? Because he knows what lays ahead, how it will affect us, and what we need to make it through! That's love! That's compassion and concern in action. When God asks for our full attention, he is asking us to "narrow" the field of voices we are paying attention to - those we are willing to give careful thought to and respond in some manner. It is a concentration of our faculties that affords him access to ALL of our inner doubts, conflicts, and frustrations. In that 'space of concentration', he sorts things out, brings order to chaos, and gives clarity. When we are so focused on the chaos, we aren't open to the clarity that is at our disposal. So, God asks for our "attention".

Many of us have "attention deficit disorder" when it comes to listening to God (and sometimes when it comes to listening to others). We spend all kinds of time and energy getting distracted by the loudest voice of the moment - those things that seem to tug at our emotional strings. Then we wonder why we are in a "muddle" of chaos emotionally!!! God is seldom the loudest voice! As part of understanding and overcoming our "spiritual attention deficit disorder", it is important to recognize that we limit our success in any matter when we find ourselves focusing on the voice of "emotion". Emotion is irrational - it seldom is based on fact, but rather on "feeling". How the event "makes us feel" becomes predominant, not how it will impact the outcome of our lives if we respond to it in irrational ways. God's voice is rational, focused, and direct!

His voice may not be the loudest, nor may it seem to "stroke us emotionally" just as we would like to be stroked at that moment, but it is reliable and consistent. If we settle into taking time to hear (focusing our attention), then pay attention (doing what we are shown), there is almost always a better emotional outcome for us in the end! God's goal in speaking to us is to keep us safe, give us direction for our present, protecting us into our future - it is something we 'need' that we cannot gather from any other source! So, if we find that we struggle from 'attention-deficit' type behavior when it comes to hearing God, it is time to respond differently when we fell the tug at our heart that begins with the "listen to me" warning that comes from him. It is intended to better us, never hurt us. It is intended to focus us, not lend to our ever-increasing chaos. It is intended to bring us into partnership with him, not a further reliance on our emotions or all those other voices that lead us astray. We often find that we don't need more clarity - we often need less chaos! Just sayin!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Oh, listen, then do! I get it!

The Golden Rule - I even have a ruler with the words printed on it! This is one of the most common 'rules' of the Bible, often repeated by many an individual who has no idea they are quoting scripture! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Did you ever stop to consider how Jesus opens this statement? If you look closely, you will notice he says these words to anyone who is listening - really listening to what he has to say. The beginning point of all teaching in our  lives begins with listening - then it moves into the doing part. Sometimes we get this backward and attempt to do before we hear!

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:27-30)

Jesus is speaking these words - the setting or timing of when they were spoken is important to understand.  He is under attack from those who should be shouting in praise of his works.  The Pharisees see him "mixing with" common sinners and criticize him terribly, publicly ridiculing him for the company he keeps. Rather than celebrating that he is reaching out to those in the greatest need, they criticize his choice of friends. He is criticized for his timing in doing what he is doing. He heals on the Sabbath - seen by his critics as a "work" by those of Rabbinical teaching. Their hearts are so "into" the rule-keeping (doing) that they fail to see the needs right before them (listening). He has just finished the appointment of his twelve disciples - calling them to be his closest companions during the ministry he performed on this earth - something we should not gloss over as we look at his timing in speaking these words.

There is one thing I have learned over the years - if we are prepared for the journey, the path is easier to travel. It is when we are unprepared to travel where it is we are called to travel that we struggle with the pathway we are on. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus deals with one of the most difficult "roads" that any of his disciples must walk - the road to forgiveness. Why does he begin with this teaching? I believe it is because Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they'd find themselves walking it over and over again. He wanted them to be prepared for a very long journey. The journey would involve many opportunities to put into practice the principles they were being taught - hearing, then doing.

Oftentimes, forgiveness is a journey we'd rather not travel alone, but we often find ourselves as the only ones realizing that the journey is necessary. We recognize that there is the need to forgive - bringing restoration into a damaged relationship - but we feel as though we are the only ones traveling the road. Those who may have committed the offense may not even realize that they play a part in the journey. It is important to remember we NEVER walk the path alone - Jesus is alongside each step of the way - even when the ones involved in the offense are unaware the journey has even begun. It is a road that must be traveled frequently - over and over until the journey is completed. Jesus was asked by one of his disciples just how many times he must forgive. He posed a question and suggested an answer that seemed quite generous - seven times was his proposal. To that, Jesus answered, "Naw, seventy times seven....", and at that answer, jaws dropped. Forgiveness extended over and over - until it is complete.

It is an uninvited pathway - we don't forgive just because another asks us to travel that path with them - we initiate the journey, often without anyone else realizing the journey has begun. This is quite evident in Jesus' words to his Father on the day of his death, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Those who needed his deepest forgiveness did not seek it - in fact, they did not even know they needed it. Our offenders often don't seek forgiveness - ours is the path to them - we take the first steps. It is an unconditional and costly journey. There is no "trip insurance" with the assurance that your "investment" will be fully enjoyed and participated in by all who take the journey. There are no "conditions" under which the journey can be "refunded" if the destination is not reached by all involved in the offense. In other words, we pay the price - others enjoy the benefit - often without realizing the price that was paid.    

So, although it is a difficult road to travel - it is a necessary one. Jesus began his ministry with his disciples revealing this much needed lesson of life. Forgiveness begins with us taking the first step. Forgiveness is possible only because of the first step taken. Do unto others...we call this the "golden rule" by which we are to relate to one another. Easier said than done. It is a difficult path to walk, but the rewards of the journey are astronomical. There is nothing more binding than bitterness. There is nothing more weighing upon us than a load of unforgiveness. There is nothing more costly to us than forgiveness that is not sought, or is not "deserved", but which is given freely from a listening heart. 
There is nothing more freeing than unconditional forgiveness - taking the first step. There is nothing more enlightening than seeing the other person through the eyes of Christ. Equally, there is nothing more rewarding than the steps you take toward your offender. A tough journey at that, but a necessary one! Walk on!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Is it today or tomorrow that we get that?

There is clearly a difference from being willing to learn and being excited to be taught. It was Winston Churchill who reminded us, "Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I don't always like being taught." We won't always like the topic we are learning, nor will we be in the best of mindsets to receive what is being taught. There are still going to be those 'lesson moments' when we hope to make it through relatively unscathed. We are just getting through it by the skin of our teeth.

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. (1 Peter 1:3 MSG)

In the meantime, there is a whole lot of discomfort on more occasions than we'd like as we are taught what it is we need to learn along this pathway called "life". We are headed to a life healed and whole, but along the way we might just discover how 'unhealthy' and 'broken' we really are. God isn't surprised by our desire to learn, and he is equally not surprised when we find ourselves feeling a little like life caught us unaware. He knows we have difficulty with staying focused, so he designs specific learning moments that help us to recognize how much we still have to learn and just how broken we are without his health making us whole again.

Many of us live for some time in the future. Don't believe me? How many of us have a retirement fund of some sorts set aside for the day we retire from our regular, day to day employment routine? Isn't preparing for our income at that time actually living for some time in the future? Today we are focused on all the things that need to be done and setting aside that little nest-egg for that day in the future when we won't have to punch the clock any longer. This isn't something God frowns on because he asks us to steward well all the increase he brings into our lives. Yet, there are places in our lives that remain untouched and unprepared simply because we see them as 'future' and not for the here and now.

The future starts now. God isn't preparing us in the flash of an eye for all he has prepared for us to enjoy in his presence - he is preparing us in the now for all that we will come to fully enjoy in the future. Today we see and understand only fragments of what we will come to fully understand in the future. This incremental growth in our understanding is the way we learn - not all at once. All God is doing today in our lives leads up to all that he has prepared for us in the future, but the future isn't really anything we 'put off' - it is embraced with each new breath!

It is Christ in us that brings us into our future - it is Christ in us that makes every moment of today an opportunity to learn something new - to see life through his eyes and not just our own. We get so caught up in the here and now, we miss some of the beauty of what he has prepared for us right now. We don't want to see some of these things because we don't 'feel worthy' of them. To that I simply say, "That's bunk!" We are declared worthy and we are brought into his safe-keeping. In that moment, we become students of his grace. This is a life-long journey into our full future, but we are living our future with each new embrace of grace in our lives. Grace made our future possible - grace brings our future into our today, also. Just sayin!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Learn on!

There are times when I just don't want to listen. I am intent on something else, the plot thickens in a TV drama I am intent on watching, or I am just too tired to care. Listening is hard at times because life gets us involved in other things. Listening is really a two-way street. When we aren't listening, we are blocking one side of the street! We must have open ears to hear the message - but we must also ask clarifying questions so as to get the full meaning of what is being shared. That is how God intends for us to be with our spiritual "ears" - listening with the intention of getting the full meaning of what he is sharing.

Simpletons only learn the hard way, but the wise learn by listening. (Proverbs 21:11)

There is a clear difference between being a "simpleton" and being a wise learner. We rarely use the word "simpleton" anymore in our English language. In fact, I cannot remember hearing it used in very many situations in my entire lifetime. A simpleton is a fool, a knucklehead, a ninny of sorts - he does not seek to understand, therefore we call him ignorant. I grew up with the idea that a fool was some kind of ninny that just did not get what was going on, was too self-absorbed to see others, or just plain 'didn't get it' in life. I think we need to focus on the fact that the fool is one who is "ignorant" - he or she just doesn't get it.

Look at the root of the word which is ignore. The fool is one who ignores what is right in front of his face - it is there for the taking, but he doesn't even notice it, or if he does, he just plain steps around it. He spends very little effort attempting to grasp what he has evident in his immediate path, much less a future one. The fool is ignorant because he will not learn from what is available to him - he has the tools, but he lacks the initiative to use them. I think of initiative as the 'internal reason' for which we use what is given to us. We are moved to use something because we see the usefulness, even though we may not fully grasp its purpose.

The fool is oblivious to life oftentimes ignoring the very plain or obvious. Even when there is clear evidence, he chooses to ignore it as not pertinent to him, the situation, or the future. Being oblivious is really because of two traits common to the fool - being inattentive and being easily distracted. The ability to distract a fool is really quite easy because he lacks the intent "focus" that is required to stay on task - not because he does not have the ability to focus - just because it is the path of least resistance for him.

The warning to each of us is that the simpleton (fool) only learns things the hard way! Ouch! That stings! Ever feel like you could have learned a lesson just a little quicker, or a little easier? The obvious conclusion is that you were submitting to the path of least resistance (the fool's path) and had to learn that lesson the hard way. So, the tendency to be "foolish" in our response to life events is apparent in all of us - even though we may not call ourselves a simpleton. We make the choice - live as a fool, taking the path of least resistance, or live as a wise man, submitting to the path of learning.

Keep one thing in mind: The "hard way" is evident at the end of the path of least resistance. The path of learning may seem "hard" at first, but in the end, it is really the path of "least resistance". Submission to the process of learning is paramount to avoiding the life-course of a simpleton - a journey none of us really wants to take. Therefore, we need to learn on! Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Shhhhhhhhh.......

Our challenge is NOT in having the right advice to offer - it is allowing enough time to pass for the other person to actually WANT our advice! When I was in Bible College, one of the classes we took was designed to give us the skills to "listen" - really intent, serious listening. It was probably the longest and hardest semester learning the skills of biblical counseling - beginning with the skills of listening and ending with the skills of, oh yeah....listening. What was that all about? Somewhere along the way, our professors had learned that answering before listening is both stupid and rude. People were going to want to confide in us, hard things would be shared, and answers would be sought - but we had to learn to hear them out before offering the advice we were just chatting at the bit to get out!

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. (Proverbs 18:13)

The failure to listen long enough or allow the time to build the trust that would be required to really share the issues could result in a wrong perception of the issues and a truly faulty answer to the problem. That would benefit no one. The entire eighteenth chapter of Proverbs is about words - how a fool speaks in ramblings and without thought; how a few words of gossip are nothing more than cheap words that really turn your stomach in the end; or teaching about how fights are started by the words that are chosen - be it your words or the other guy's. This is only one chapter of the Bible, and it has so much to say about what comes out of our mouth!

God has much to say about how we speak, what we listen to, and when it is that we are to speak or be silent. He commends us for bringing forth truth instead of lies. He exhorts us to listen before we speak. He encourages us to consider the audience and the timing of the message before we bring it. It must be an important thing for us to learn how to listen if God speaks to us so much about our speech and about our listening ears and responsive hearts! Words are weapons or wealth - they have the power to heal and the power to restore - but a lot depends on who is wielding the weapon or sharing the wealth.

We are encouraged to learn the skill of being good listeners. That may mean that we have to learn to NOT speak - something we might just benefit more from than any other instruction we embrace from scripture! I was often taught that all I think may be true, but not all I think needs to be spoken (although I struggle with keeping my thoughts inside sometimes). I need to give others time to come to a place of clarity in their thinking - eventually they will come to a place of sharing that may include the things I knew before they even said it. If that is so, they needed that time in order to be ready for the answer God wants them to receive. This is called wisdom - learning to speak when the time is appropriate.

I have learned that words do more than describe a situation - they expose a heart. The 'skill' comes in allowing the other person enough time to connect with their heart. When we take the time to truly listen, we give them the time they need to make that connection themselves. You'd be surprised what you learn about the heart of another when you give them time and opportunity to share it without jumping in to offer advice at the first opportunity. Our challenge is NOT in having the right advice to offer - it is allowing enough time to pass for the other person to actually WANT our advice - godly wisdom comes in allowing the time for the other person to be ready to receive that advice! So, tune up those listening ears and shut off that constant flow of "free speech". It is time to listen! Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Shaky footing

From time to time I like to share a quote I come across that speaks to me. Today, I will share one that we all need to learn well: "The past always looks better than it was. It's only pleasant because it isn't here." (Finley Peter Dunne) It was Henry Ford who reminded us that failure was just an opportunity to begin again, wasn't it? The past looks so good because we are probably busy finding ways to fail anew right now! As long as we are still on this earth, we are going to know times of failure - of unpleasant endings to what we hoped would end a little better. We didn't count the cost well - we didn't consider the outcome before we took the leap. The past looks good only to those who don't remember the pain of the failure!

Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won’t show that we have failed. But if it comes to that, we’d rather the test showed our failure than yours. We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you. We couldn’t possibly do otherwise. We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives. (2 Corinthians 13:6-8 MSG)

Solid isn't deemed solid until it is put to the test. I have cautiously taken that first step out onto suspension bridges spanning drops so great I could not estimate the distance. The second step comes with a little more bravado, and then a little bit of the bridge's board crumbles upon your third step, and you feel that moment of panic! The first two steps may have been called 'solid', but that third one undid all you believed about the bridge! Your footing is less that secure at that point and you almost find yourself taking a step back. Why? You return to where you knew there was solid footing because you felt more secure there. If you have ever lived in icy regions, you know there is just a fine line between 'firmly frozen' and 'unstable ice'. There is a huge difference in where one stands or ventures between the two! 

We all need regular checkups where it applies to our spiritual health, my friends. We get off on not so solid footing from time to time - because we have a tendency to allow a little drift due to our inattentiveness. The thing about the suspension bridge or the icy crossing is that we are forced to test what it is we are placing our trust in all the time. Each step requires our intense concentration - we really cannot just stop to enjoy the thing around us. If we are a little easier path, we might not pay as close attention, allowing our thoughts to drift and our focus to be less intense. Speaking as one who has come up a few times a little bruised and battered by that one, let me just say we might not realize the unevenness of the path or that we have veered a little askew of straight!

The truth winning out in us isn't the result of a one time test - it is the result of being aware of our footing along the way. We don't lose focus - we don't need to 'reset' our course. Yet, if we have lost our course, it is easy enough to 'reset'. This thing called grace is actually a great 'reset' point in life. We lay hold of grace, it lays hold of us, and we get pulled back to firm footing time after time again! The truth is that our footing isn't going to always be solid. When we need that 'reset' in life, we might find we look back and think it wasn't all that bad 'back there', but we soon forget just how shaky that footing was! Just sayin!

Monday, October 8, 2018

All come free!

Hide or seek - do you remember the game? When we played it as kids, it was usually in the yard and we had to come up with clever hiding places behind shrubs, up on a tree limb, or maybe behind the trash can. The places weren't all that 'concealing', but they worked! We'd hide in the most obscure, hoping not to be found, but when we were, we would then become the seeker. Do you ever remember finding that one spot no one would ever imagine you'd hide and you'd be there until someone called 'all come free'? That spot in my yard was deep inside of this huge cypress tree. We had two of these teardrop shaped trees lining the driveway and they were huge. The inside left you totally obscured from sight, but it came with some risks. Have you any idea what lives inside those branches? Spiders, bees, hornets, just to name a few! The hiding was supreme, but the risks in the hiding were huge!

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.” (John 3:20-21 MSG)

The purpose of hiding is to keep hidden from view - so as to keep something secret or shut off from others. On occasion, the things we hide are pretty insignificant, like that candy bar we are saving for that day when we just need that little indulgent treat to get us through. At other times, the things we hide are not so 'harmless' - in fact, they almost are being 'kept in secret' because we don't want anyone to know those things about us! We want to avoid having those things exposed, so we won't have to face some form of 'pain' if they were to be seen or realized. The problem with running from God's light is that it penetrates where darkness attempts to hide - no amount of darkness is ever really going to cover over what we seek to hide so deeply - his light is able to see past the dark places!

Hiding always comes with some risks - either because the hiding produces some form of risk to us (like the inside of the cypress tree), or because discovery would be our undoing! The hiding places in our lives aren't really all that robust. The principle of camouflage may have been used to cover over something in our lives, but even a well camouflaged thing isn't going to be completely unrecognized by the trained eye. The trained eye will spot the little incongruities that exist with that clever conceal. God's light, combined with his 'trained eye', makes it virtually impossible to totally conceal what we think shouldn't be known or seen by anyone.

Exposure is indeed painful - it requires a degree of honesty that many are not comfortable with because if we are honest with ourselves, we are also asking others to be honest with us. We might be inclined to bring things into the light if we know others won't judge us for whatever that thing might be. The only one who really doesn't judge us for bringing things out into the light is Christ himself. Yes, he helps us have deeply honest relationships with each other, but trust me on this one - as honest as we might be with each other, it is hard for us not to judge each other. Christ has already been judged on our behalf for whatever it is we are trying to conceal, so he doesn't need to judge us for that thing! It has already been judged and the thing has already been forgiven. Just sayin!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Don't hammer that screw

If you ever have a hard time understanding some spiritual truth, or truth in general, you aren't alone. There are hundreds and hundreds of us in the same boat! We are always on the lookout for the next scam these days, simply because the untrue has become so prevalent. We find it has become insanely easy to sway people into buying a product, or in believing we mean the best for them if they will just give us a little bit of their time and money. The truth is in there somewhere most of the time, but we just have a really hard time seeing it. No, Microsoft has not employed hundreds of people to call our homes from unknown numbers to tell us they have detected something terribly wrong in our computer because of messages it has been sending them! No, the IRS is not about to issue a warrant for our arrest for tax fraud. No, the city of New York is not in possession of warrants for outstanding crimes we have committed and we don't need to contact the 'unknown' caller to pay those fines! These are scams. The truth is there, though  -  someone wants our identification, access to our personal information, and/or our money! That is the truth! Truth might attempt to evade us, but we have something to help us uncover it - the Spirit of Christ within!

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah’s question, “Is there anyone around who knows God’s Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?” has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ’s Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:14 MSG)

Capacity for truth is all we need. Capacity is created when the stuff that no longer needs to occupy space is removed. Believing all manner of untruth only takes up valuable space that truth is just waiting in the wings to occupy! The moment we invite Christ into our lives, there is an open invitation for his Spirit to begin to uncover those pieces of untruth we have embraced and that continue to bombard us for 'space' in our lives. The task then becomes the letting go of those pieces of untruth or the resistance we apply to keeping them out in the first place! Spirit is known by spirit. We need a lot of help in this matter because we find it a whole lot easier to just accept stuff and not put it to the test, my friends. The more capacity (room) we create for truth, the more we will be on solid footing in our lives. Truth isn't just 'nice stuff' - it sets us on solid ground and helps to guide our actions so they produce right outcomes. Christ knows we need this 'solid footing', but he also knows we sometimes need to understand where the 'footing' has not been laid quite correctly. 

One of things I think we resist a little is letting go of what we have come to trust in, although faulty and a little less than reliable at times, whatever it is 'works' at least some of the time, so we hold onto it. We don't want to release it for the total truth because we already have a 'workable solution' to some issue in life. Let me just say I can hammer in a screw if all I have is a hammer, but the threads of that screw aren't meant to be 'driven in' with the force of a hammer. The 'bite' really is firmest when the screw is pushed in with the circular motion that follows the direction of the threads! The threads make a bite into the wood and then there is a connection that is smaller and firmer than if we had hammered it in. The hammer caused the screw's threads to create a much larger hole than intended, leaving the 'connection' much less secure than it should be. The hammer accomplished the work, but not one that will last the test of time and trial!

When we let go of what works some of the time for what will work time after time into eternity, we are making wise solutions. When we empty out to be filled, we are operating in wisdom, for we know God intends to pour in his spiritual truth wherever there is 'capacity' created. Just sayin!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

I need dance instructions!

I always thought I'd enjoy learning how to ballroom dance. I like to watch the gracefulness of two people being so totally in sync with each other that they can just glide across the floor. If you have ever watched my try to dance, you will know I have absolutely no understanding of the concept of being led in the dance. I struggle with not getting ahead of the one who is leading! I don't know why that is, but maybe it is because I have never really had a dance partner that knew how to ballroom dance themselves! I have never been led by one who knows how to lead. Having the right lead in our lives goes way beyond the ballroom.

Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:24-26)

Jesus has spent endless days answering the accusations of the Pharisees - men who just plain did not accept him as the Messiah. They were so consumed by all their religious rules - Jesus was consumed with the fact that access to God is not with keeping rules, but in knowing Christ. They pushed away from him - he pulled those who were open to his teaching near - because he desired to lead them as the one who knows perfectly well how one is to be led! Jesus has just finished asking his disciples who they REALLY think he is. They answer with the "pat" answers, the easy answers - well, people say you might be John the Baptizer, Elijah or Jeremiah. He asks them to declare who THEY think he is - one lone disciple spoke up - Peter. He declares with a certainty - you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. He recognized the one he wanted to lead in his life!

To that revelation Jesus adds this teaching we have before us today. Anytime there is a revelation of the person of Christ, hearts are opened - leading is occurring. Anyone receiving that revelation comes into a place of discipleship. Jesus tells them - anyone who intends to come with me must let me lead. This is the stumbling point for many a person - letting Christ lead. We want the controls - we find it difficult to not pursue salvation on our own terms. Jesus reminds us that it is not a self-help pursuit - discipleship is sitting at the feet of the Teacher, learning of him, allowing him to direct our path, and enjoying the privileges of his leading. People of the day in which Jesus was teaching would have understood this concept better than we do today. We are not accustomed to having to wait for the Rabbi to circulate into our townships in order to get the teaching of the Word - to become educated, learned, and wise. Today, we can simply turn on our computers, seek out innumerable teachings online and find ourselves immersed in all that promises the answers to life's woes.

The message of leadership over one's life is found in a person, not in the pursuit of a religion. It is Christ that desires to lead - to be the one helping us gracefully make it across this ballroom called life. It is his GIFT of sacrificial love that we embrace with open arms, allowing ourselves to be led. Jesus asks us to answer one important question today - who do YOU say that I am? If you call him Savior, rejoice! If you have yet to call him Savior, reach out to him today. He is waiting to be invited into your life. Remember this: Jesus not only wants to lead our lives - he came to this earth specifically to make a way for our lives to be led. When we submit to him, we are allowing the fullness of the gift of his sacrificial love to be at work in our lives exactly as he intended. Open up to his leading - control is best when it is submitted to one who knows how to perfectly lead. Just sayin!

Friday, October 5, 2018

A shiny lure

One of the neighbors recently blessed my grandsons with a huge tackle box and several smaller ones filled to the brim with all manner of fishing tackle. The lures in there were worth hundreds, some not even used yet, beautiful and shiny. The boys were overjoyed with such a treasure. As my neighbor is getting ready to move, he didn't think he'd need these any longer, so he wanted to bless the boys with them since they have many more years to enjoy their use. As you can well imagine, the fisherman with this much tackle must have had some rods and reels to go with it. He also blessed them with those! It was a double-day of blessing. The rod and reel alone is not much good without the tackle and vice versa. You need both to get the job done! There are times we try to get the job done with one thing in our life, but not another - we want the benefits of Christ without the commitment (the work). We want the blessing, but we don't want the one doing the blessing. We want the privileges without the responsibility. Unfortunately, the 'job' of salvation doesn't get done without both parts - grace and faith!

There should be a consistency that runs through us all. For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself. Don’t be lured away from him by the latest speculations about him. The grace of Christ is the only good ground for life. Products named after Christ don’t seem to do much for those who buy them. (Hebrews 13:8-9 MSG)

God doesn't change - it is our attitude toward him that does. He doesn't manipulate his appearance or 'performance' - we just see him differently from time to time because of our attitude. How we think determines a lot about our attitude. How we behave is motivated by what we believe and what we trust in at the moment. Believe in the lure and the line and you will fish for hours. Give up on either and you will likely go hungry! We all get lured away from time to time - it is part of our 'attention deficit disorder' as Christians. We find it hard to be consistent ALL of the time - because this right-living thing gets exhausting on occasion. Our attitude takes constant focus - it drives us to respond in ways we would otherwise be less likely to if not motivated by its influence. 

Keeping the right attitude helps us in more ways that one might imagine. There are times when I just need to ask God for an attitude-check. I need him to help me make adjustments were they need to be made. Why? My attitude has a tendency to be influenced by circumstances, other people, what I hear, and whatever acts as the shiniest lure in my life at the moment. I daresay I am not alone in this tendency to get lured away into things that begin to eat away at my attitude of trust and faith little by little. In fact, there are probably hundreds of us right now thinking on things we would be better not considering, or listening to some enticing scheme of the enemy of our souls that we should be listening to in the first place. This battle is real - we are lured away and into things that shouldn't have any pull on us, but the pull is stronger than our natural ability to resist.

Thank goodness for God's grace and his protection. He isn't about to let us wallow in the wrong attitude for too long because he knows it will begin to affect all our choices and actions - not in a good way, either. So, he brings this little 'grace-gift' called conviction. Would you think of conviction as a gift? If you have never considered it as one, think again! Grace brings conviction - in love, God points out where our attitude is being lured and where our trust is being misaligned. The moment we realize God's grace in conviction, there is release. We no longer are captured by the lure - we are free again. The thing about sin is that it takes both the lure and the line - one to entice us, the other to reel us in! Grace does more than cut the line - it unhooks us from the lure!

In God's goodness, the convicting moments actually bring about an adjustment in our attitude - an ability to see the lure as something we don't want to move toward again. If pursued again, we'd end up under its control and moving into places again best left unexplored. God doesn't change - his grace isn't a one-time deal. His love isn't a fleeting fancy. He will repeatedly bring conviction until we begin to stop pursuing the lure that is affecting our attitude so greatly. When he does, don't look at his grace as a thing to be taken lightly - it is a display of his tremendous love to pursue us even when our attitude has wondered into territory best described as 'foul'. Just sayin!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Problem solved

I don't know about you, but my hardest subject in school was math. I did well, but I had to work very, very hard at learning math. It just didn't come easy to me. Natural sciences, reading, writing,  language work, and all the rest just seemed to come easier. Math took effort and lots of study. It is the one class I actually didn't look forward to - all the others were a delight. When I finally 'got' the method of solving the problem, whether it was a formula I needed to follow, or some principle I needed to consistently apply, it made sense and I held onto that method. Put in another variable and that same method didn't always work! Sometimes you had to adjust the method to get to solution. I am so glad God gives us a little help in the 'problem-solving' department when it comes to sin (another subject I mastered well without much trying!). There is no 'method', nor any particular 'series of steps' we need to take, just trust him to be the solution!

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s. (1 John 2:1 MSG)

Sin isn't a 'field of study' most of us need to spend a great deal of time 'mastering', is it? We seem to just gravitate to it and get pretty doggone 'good at it' without much effort! On the other hand, getting free from the hold sin has in our lives is way harder than it appears. Those math problems in algebra and calculus didn't look all that 'confounding', but the truth of the matter was that they were beyond my grasp without the intervention of one who already knew how to solve the problems! Sin is exactly like that - beyond our grasp to solve without the intervention of the one who already knows there is only one solution!

The sin-problem is solved for good, but we have to apply the solution. Just as with those math problems, it we don't use what has been provided to reach the end result, we might just find we have been spinning our wheels. We invested a whole lot of effort without reaching the result we really needed to reach! I had pages of 'work' to show I had solved the problem, but oftentimes the 'work' was just that - work. It didn't solve the problem and wouldn't work the next time I tried it! When it comes to my personal character, marred as it is by wrong choices and selfish desires, I am powerless to find the right solution to the problem. What leads me down the path to sin one time is not always going to be what leads me down it a second time. 

The solution to sin's problem in my life, and yours, needs to be consistent because the variables with sin keep changing. There are a whole lot of variables, but thank goodness, there is only ONE solution! The solution is Christ - our advocate - our sacrifice - our problem-solver. The moment we realize there are no amount of 'right steps' we can take to solve sin's problem on our own, the solution becomes quite clear - we need someone to solve the problem for us! There is no admittance of weakness here - just the revelation that sin doesn't just solve itself! If we are to be free of its grasp, we need someone who understands its root. Just sayin!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Can you re-purpose this?

Construction projects come in all forms. What is built is really determined by a few things such as how much someone is willing to invest, the place where the constructed item will rest, and what the purpose of the construction holds. We might not all see the constructed thing the same way, as some may look at an old barn and see a venue for weddings, or an old grain silo and see a new home for their family. The thing constructed can be 're-purposed' if it has the right attention and the right hands doing the work! All of us are capable of having 'constructed' many things in this lifetime, but none of what we construct measures up to what God can 're-construct' from our lives when they are firmly placed in his hands.

What the wicked construct finally falls into ruin, while the roots of the righteous give life, and more life. (Proverbs 12:12 MSG)

As I have pointed out before, that which is constructed sometimes needs to be deconstructed before it can be reconstructed. The demolition process can go very, very fast compared to the reconstruction process, though. The effort to remove all the things that no longer belong can oftentimes turn up things that we never knew were there. I have watched a couple of series with people doing home remodeling or the demolition of older buildings. The most amazing discoveries can be found buried deep within walls, or under floor-boards hidden away by years and years of 'recovering' the surface time and time again. Sometimes what we have sought to 'cover over' for so long can be the one thing that lends the greatest beauty to the entire 'reconstructed' life!

It is awesome to see old, once hidden hardwood flooring, weathered and worn by the years and years of misuse and 'cover-up' to finally be uncovered and restored. The weathered and worn look only lends character to the dwelling - allowing the true character to show through lends warmth that invites others into the dwelling - it doesn't drive them away. What we sometimes think will repel others can become a thing of great beauty that actually invites others to 'uncover' what has been hidden in their lives, as well. The hidden only masks the true beauty - we might not think it possible for beauty to emerge from what is cleverly masked over, but with the right attention that which has been hidden away can become a glowing reminder of how much God's tender care can restore a damaged life to the most beautiful showcase of his grace.

What matters most when the deconstructing work is occurring is our trust in what God sees as the finished project. He knows what he is doing by uncovering all those hidden places and taking out what no longer belongs in our lives. He knows where the 'root' of our lives will reveal beauty instead of masked flaws. The moment we trust him with the 'reconstruction' of our lives it might become a little uncomfortable to see all those flaws brought out 'front and center' in our lives, but when we see how his tender care begins to do more than 'mask' those flaws, we begin to see that he has done much to 're-purpose' what we thought would serve no further purpose in our lives ever again. Just sayin!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Short-changed in life?

Have you ever had a bumper crop? One of those "I cannot find enough pots to store it all" kind of harvests? Probably about the last thing you want to hear at that moment is that there is more to come! You are having a hard enough time just finding ways to use all you have already been blessed to receive and now there is more to come? That's how it is with God's generosity, love, and grace - it just keeps on coming until it overflows from our lives into the lives of others!

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3-4 MSG)

Troubles might slow us down a bit, but they aren't going to do us in. They might just challenge our fortitude and increase our faith. They might cause us to see our present capacity as an opportunity for our God to create 'space' within us for even more than contained there previously. Troubles aren't just bumps in the road to be endured - they are opportunities for us to develop greater trust, firmer convictions, and more attentive focus. 

What is God about to do next in your life? I know my 'next' may not even be close to your 'next', but together we can endure that space between now and next! The moment we partner together in this ever expanding walk, the more we can help each other stay alert for what comes next. You know, I don't always see things the way you do and vice versa. I don't always have the right perspective, even when I think I do! The same might be said about you - so we need each other as we face these challenges.

Short-changed in life? If so, maybe it isn't so much God's doing as it is ours. We might have just lost our focus a little and now we are facing troubles that seem insurmountable to us. Dare I say it - those troubles might be our 'undoing' designed specifically to get us 'doing' again what we were supposed to be doing in the first place! Every time I am feeling a little 'short-changed' in life, complaining about something in my present circumstances, I sit back for a moment and remember God is never going to be the one 'short-changing' me. If I am short-changed, it is likely my own mismanagement of what he has provided in my life. I just lost focus.

If you are feeling a little 'short-changed' right now, perhaps it is a good time to just stop and unplug a little. The moment we unplug from all the distractions that seem to only escalate those feelings that lead to those 'woe is me' moments, we begin to see that God is still in the business of bumper crops! He is still providing generously - we just need to empty out the container a little so we can have a place for what he has been providing all along. Just sayin!

Monday, October 1, 2018

A little here, a little there

I recently paid to have my trees trimmed by a professional tree trimming company in the valley. They had never been properly trimmed in the 24 years I have lived in this house, so they were way overdue. I could have attempted to 'make do' with my minimal reach and tools, but they were really needing a professional's touch. While it was a hefty price to pay, the results were astronomical! The dead branches, wayward growth, and excess weight is all gone now. The trees look remarkably healthier, although they are 'scrawnier' and not totally full right now. When the wind storms came just a week or so after they were pruned, I had hardly any fallen branches or dead leaves in the yard. In fact, I think the damage others suffered with the storms bypassed my house because the trees were trimmed in such a way that supported the wind going through rather than pushing against the trees and ripping at their branches. It is amazing what the right tools, in the hands of the right person, can do to complete a task in the correct manner!

"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken." (John 15:1-3)

Why does a tree or vine need to be pruned? Doesn't it hurt it? Won't it die if we do all that cutting? I remember watching Dad take out the pruning sheers, oiling them a little, sharpening the blades, and then cutting the bushes, vines and trees until they barely resembled what they were. In the end, they looked "naked" - cut back almost to the point of what I considered to be "death" - much like the trees when the tree experts had finished with them. What some of us do not understand is that proper pruning produces even more growth and prolongs the life of the tree or bush. In fact, an un-pruned tree can actually be a hazard - branches breaking off in windstorms or causing damage to roofs and surrounding structures as they sway and are pushed upon by the wind. In our yards, we want things that enhance the beauty of the yard, so the purpose of pruning is to keep things "in shape" so that they contribute enhancing effects to the landscape. In the orchard, pruning has a significantly different purpose - it is designed to get more fruit, earlier fruit, and healthier fruit.

Pruning is usually done during the dormant season - when the tree or bush has less sap flowing, leaves are not consuming all the life-flow of that sap, and the health or lack of health of the branches becomes very evident. The right tool produces the right cut. Use the wrong tool and you may splinter off the branch, leaving a ragged cut that is neither beautiful, nor conducive to further growth the next season. In fact, "where" you cut the branch is just as important as the tool you use to do the cutting. How high up you cut the branches also determines the health of the trunk, because too much sunlight against the bark of the tree trunk can require the tree to demand much more water. You always cut near the "collar" of the branch - where it joins in with the branch you want to have remain. Why? It produces a better cut that ends the life of that pruned branch and focuses the growth potential on the branch that remains. You go to where a large branch "V" occurs and cut it off at the "V" - leaving no indication that the branch existed except for evidence of the "cut". This forms the tree into the shape you desire, allowing overlapping branches to be trimmed away and exposing the remaining branch to the needed sun. Sometimes a tree needs to be 'topped'. For those of you that don't know what it is to "top" a tree or bush, it is the arbitrary cutting to do nothing more than shape the tree/bush. There is no care in where the cuts occur. What ends up happening is that the tree or bush sends off many more shoots from that area, increasing the wildness of the growth instead of stopping growth in that area.

God never prunes us for the sake of just "pruning" - he always has an intention in mind - healthy growth, staying some wayward growth in our lives, and/or the production of fruit. He uses the best technique for the "pruning" in order to accomplish the desired results - if it is to stop us in our tracks before we become too "wild" in our growth, then he even does that. God is concerned with the end result - not just with the appearance of health. He wants to see solid growth, productive lives, and healthy relationships. To that end, he prunes. He always uses the appropriate instrument to get the desired result of his pruning. Sometimes it is a saw, producing a more noticeable "cut" in our lives - other times, it is the sheers, just barely cutting away a small sucker or a branch that is not looking as healthy. We have a great "gardener" in Jesus. We can trust him with his "pruning" techniques and the exact timing of his work. He is skilled at what he does and he understands what each "pruning cut" will produce. We can embrace the pruning if we trust the one doing the pruning! Just sayin!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

What's the point?

I often study the life of David - from boy in the field tending sheep to the ruler of a nation. David had an intimate relationship with God - something quite evident in how frankly he spoke with God and how "free" he was in the presence of God. There is much to be said about having a deep, beyond the mundane, relationship with God. Look at what David reminds us time and time again - God is the one who welcomes, we are the ones who come into that place invited. We aren't interlopers in God's presence - we are welcomed and embraced.

You've always given me breathing room, a place to get away from it all, a lifetime pass to your safe-house, an open invitation as your guest. You've always taken me seriously, God, made me welcome among those who know and love you.  (Psalm 61:3-5)

David acknowledges that God gives him something we call 'space' - that thing we like to refer to as breathing room - a place of complete sanctuary. Have you ever had a really good friend that you can just be yourself around? You can kick off your shoes, let down your guard, and be your real self - no pretense, no masks, just you. God desires that kind of relationship with us - extending to us the invitation to come into his presence and "chill" - to find rest for our souls, nourishment for our spirits, and uplifting for our emotions.

We are reminded that it is a lifetime experience - not a one-time experience, but a cultivated enjoyment of the presence of God. We have an open invitation - to come freely into his presence, drink deeply of his graces, and know that we are there as an invited member of his household. We aren't just invited 'guests' - we are members of his family. David's most consistent theme in his writings is that God knew him and he knew God. He even acknowledged that he is aware of this most because God "takes him seriously". Nothing he shares with God escapes God's attention or care. Why? Because he knew God in a personal way and he loved God with all that his heart had the capacity to love.

Jesus came to this earth, taking on the form of human nature, to connect with us. He laid aside his divinity to take on human form - connecting with the struggles we encounter, understanding the limitations of our mortal bodies, and involving himself in the tasks of ordinary everyday life. That is why scripture reminds us that we have a Savior that is not unaware of our struggles, knows what temptations await us at every turn. We are soon approaching the season we celebrate his birth. As my pastor likes to remind us, sinners (like you and me) are the POINT of the birth of our Savior in human form. They are not just PART of it, they are the POINT of it. God takes each of us quite seriously - we are the objects of his affection and the consistent POINT of his attention. Isn't it time that we recognized the tug of Lord on the strings of our heart? Isn't it time that we came into his presence, thoroughly enjoying the sanctuary of his graces? We are the POINT - sinners in need of a Savior. When you are at the place of asking, "What's the point?" - you are! You are the point of his every action! Just sayin!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Watch your step!

We are so blessed to live in a country where we can worship freely. There are still a multitude of people in this world who must live 'undercover' because of their belief in Jesus Christ - because it is not a 'permitted' religion within the country where they reside. The places of worship for these individuals are sometimes the tiny living rooms of a group of believers where someone opens the meeting with prayer, shares a thing or two from the scripture, all the while longing for a trained pastor to be their shepherd. In some senses, those believers are closely worshiping together in much the same way the early church did - or even as the nation of Israel did until Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. They open their homes, gather under a large tree in shade of the day, or find a shelter somewhere just so they can be together and share from the Word of God. This is the heart that drives them - not that they have to 'go to' church - for they 'are' the church.

Watch your step when you enter God's house. Enter to learn. That's far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice, doing more harm than good. (Ecclesiastes 5:1)

Solomon was charged with the responsibility of giving God's people a place of permanent worship - he built the Temple in Jerusalem - the first "physically permanent" structure for the presence of God. Up until that time, God's presence had been enclosed in a tent-like structure we know as the Tabernacle. It was "portable" and served Israel well during the time they moved throughout the wilderness, were on the move while taking the land of Canaan, etc. David had longed to build God a "permanent" house for his glory to indwell, but that task was passed on to his son, Solomon. Solomon gives us some words of "wisdom" about coming into the "house of God". It is a warning to those who would choose to worship at the throne of God - no matter where the 'location' of that worship may be. He reminds us that we are not to enter God's presence flippantly - but with mindful care. I wonder how many of us head off to churches around this world on our day of worship (whether it be Sunday, Saturday, Friday or another day of the week) without even so much as a consideration of why it is that we are going. I imagine that there are many of us that can say without a doubt that there is absolutely no "fore-thought" in that "church attendance". In fact, it is more of a social gathering than a time to seek God, learn of him, or celebrate his presence.

In Old Testament times there was a great deal of preparation that went into worship. Hearts and minds were "cleansed" - thoughts focused - bodies prepared. Why? Because they were entering into the presence of a holy God (even if they didn't 'go' anywhere to do so). Solomon reminds us that we are to use "care" in entering God's presence - coming into God's house is really another 'gathering place' for entering into his presence. The attitude of heart that he reminds us we need is one of serious attention - in other words, we have made provision to learn. We have centered our focus so that we are open to learning what it is that God is about to share with us. In the presence of God, revelation is available. Careful attention to being readied to learn is what we need to glean from this scripture. When we are "open" to receive from God, there is an expectancy that reaches out toward God in worship and in attentiveness to the sharing of the Word. We must enter to learn - come with a purpose. Learning comes as we become "acquainted" with the object of our attention. If we are attempting to learn the task of driving an automobile, we spend some time learning about what makes it work, how it is maneuvered, what distance it takes to stop its forward movement, and what steps we must take to ensure safety in our driving ventures.

So it is with coming into a position of being open to receiving from God - we have to become acquainted with the object of our attention. That suggests we have to place our attention on him - being eager to learn of him. This is the beginning of our journey - many are preparing to gather somewhere this week. What a tremendous thing it would be if we could enter into his presence this week with a fresh determination to learn of him - careful to enter with purpose, attentiveness, and great anticipation of what it is he has to offer us as we gather together! Don't forget to make room for Christ in your worship experience - after all, it is the real purpose of that experience. Enter into his presence - he is waiting to bless you with the best gift of all - HIM! Just sayin!

Friday, September 28, 2018

A friend - a hand - a hope

There is a newer show on reality TV about people being left alone to survive - but they are given survival items such as fire starter, knife, and sleeping bag. They just have to learn how to build a shelter and survive off the land. The main part of the survival experience is that you are alone, must stay alone, and cannot seek out the other 'survivalists' that are a mile or further away from you. The point is that you are being tested on 'standing alone'. Scripture pretty much discourages trying to stand alone, especially in times of trial and struggle. It is as though these folks are welcoming the extreme loneliness that comes when they don't have contact with others. I have seen them adopt pet field mice in order to have something to talk to and take care of beside themselves! We are created as social beings and attempting to remove ourselves from social contact completely is not well tolerated by our minds, hearts, and spirits!

By yourself you're unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped.  (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

By yourself you're unprotected! We are not meant to stand alone - though we may try, we will inevitably fail - if not immediately, somewhere down the road. There is a principle taught from the very beginning of time that we need each other. From the creation story forward, man was not meant to be alone. God observed the struggle Adam had even when surrounded by all manner of living creature in the Garden of Eden and he stated, "It is not good for man to be alone." Don't get me wrong - God does not want us to become reliant on another to do in our lives what he intends to do in our lives. He gives us each other so that we don't walk alone - so our 'emotional tank' gets refilled from time to time and we gather strength from each other's experiences, enjoyments, and revelations.

With a friend you can face the worst! Let me be the first to admit that I have tried my best to "stand alone" in the midst of trial, fearful circumstances, and the worst of times. In the end, I am miserable. I daresay, if you've tried this yourself, you have probably found yourself in the same sad state, too (or you will soon). Oh, you may not realize it, but it's true. Unless you actually walk through something you are personally going through with another individual, you will never see the difference. It wasn't until I reached the point of obedience to God that included letting others into my carefully guarded "space" others called "independence" that I fully realized how miserable it actually was to walk alone.

A three-stranded rope is not easily snapped! Round up a third! Having one close friend is awesome. Having another is priceless! The individuals God brings into our lives add value - some bring talent, others bring time, while still others bring invaluable treasure (love, respect, trust, etc.). Each adds value. Each brings a strength that we did not possess alone. Two strands of yarn tightly entwined makes a significantly stronger piece of yarn - but add the third and it is a cord that brings support, strength, and sweetness to a relationship. So, in the quest for words to encourage you with this morning - I offer these. Be a friend. Embrace a friend. Draw from each other. Encourage each other. Open up to each other. Learn to count on another. Bring another into your trust. Within the cords of that relationship there is strength immeasurable. We are not meant to stand alone. As mom always used to remind me - be a good friend, and you will befriend many a friend. Just sayin!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Can I get a witness?

Who do you find it the hardest to speak to? What are the words you have the hardest time saying? What are the thoughts you need to share, but you feel you just aren't up to it, or that it is just too difficult to say them? We all have those moments when it is one of the most difficult things to just say what it is we need to say - to get out into the open what has been veiled behind other words for so long. How many of us really get to the point of sharing our full heart with those who need to hear the words contained within it? Counsel and guidance are there, but do we know how to share it, or when it is the right time to share them? From the looks of things, I'd say we don't do a very good job with this one, my friends!

It's true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It's obvious, isn't it, that the law code isn't primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I've been put in charge of by this great God. (I Timothy 1:8-11)

There is indeed importance in tempering one's words, being aware of our audience, and of being sensitive to the timing of our message. Did you ever stop to consider the message you have to bring to those God has place you into relationship with? Yes, the most important of those messages is the truth that the only qualification for being called of God is to be a sinner - he never called the righteous, only those in need of a Savior. A condition all of us bears and one from which we all need deliverance. We are called to befriend sinners - not to be involved in their sin, but to be friends with sinners. The purpose is to bring love, mercy and grace into their lives. There will be other counsel and guidance that comes out of that relationship each of us has with Christ - and each other. There also needs to be the wisdom and guidance as to how to share it and when the time has arrived for it to be shared!

Hear this - we all have a message that needs to be heard. That message may be seen as moral guidance and counsel from time to time - especially when the heart gets entangled in things it ought not to be paying attention to in this life. This counsel and guidance actually needs to be given. Yet, not everyone is in the place of receiving such a message. When there is a basis of friendship, I am more apt to listen to the message - even when I am not really excited about hearing it! Moral guidance and counsel are not always spoken words. A modeled life is actually of more importance than the words we speak. There is nothing more disgraceful to the gospel message than a person who speaks about love, grace and mercy, but has no evidence of these in their lives. Jesus calls us to be examples of his work in us. In other words, we are to model to the world what he has accomplished in us by first loving us, extending his grace to us, and repeatedly bringing mercy into our lives.

The sinner knows nothing about the love of God, but can understand the loving actions of a brother or sister who comes alongside to walk with them during a time when they receive a serious diagnosis about their health. There is understanding that comes about the amazing grace of God when we should have been hurt by something someone did or said, but we press in deeper into the relationship despite the hurt. The eyes of a spiritually blind man can be opened wide to understanding grace as they take in the repeated times of forgiveness for the repeated times of failure in their lives. Sinners need saints - not to preach the message - but to live the message. The plan God had from the beginning was for each of us to be living examples of his love - displaying to each other the wonder of a loving, holy, and caring God. We cannot underestimate the value of being an example of moral guidance and wise counsel - actions truly do speak more than a thousand words!

There are times I drift into complaint about something that bothers me repeatedly - you might think of it as the reaction to that one person who just constantly rubs me the wrong way with their actions or words. The repeated wearing of their actions or words just leaves me circling the drain when it comes to going a 'little south' with my words about them! I would rather complain about them to another than deal with the wrong responses I have toward their actions. I must admit, it is like adding kerosene to an already glowing ember when I do! Rather than getting things right in my mind and heart, I allow those feelings to ignite words of complaint and those just create fuel for the fire! The wisest counsel my BFF often gives me is nothing more than silence when she hears these words emerge from my lips. Why is that wise counsel? She isn't adding fuel to the fire! She helps me put the fire out rather than adding fuel to it!

There aren't always times when we need to speak - sometimes we just need to be silent. Our silence speaks volumes and brings some of the wisest counsel to bear on a situation. At other times, we need those words that remind us to consider this action or the way we have been responding. Either way, the words we say, or the message we deliver in silence, speak volumes and help hearts to know when it is time to turn away from something toward a much more solid foundation! Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

And don't for a minute...

Where does a warrior find strength? I watched a show this weekend about the great warrior chiefs of various American Indian tribes as they were being asked to sign treaties to no longer attack the white settlers. The thing that struck me was not just that they were fighting for their land, but for their way of life - they valued their beliefs, customs, and traditions. These included how they viewed and treated the land and the animals inhabiting that land. They were willing to fight for them. The warrior has a different kind of 'heart' and 'mindset'. The warrior knows what he believes, stands upon those beliefs even when pushed to give up on them, and trusts those beliefs because he trusts what is behind those beliefs!

And don't for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you'll get where you're going; then you'll succeed. Haven't I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don't be timid; don't get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take. (Joshua 1:8-9)

Joshua became the leader of Israel right after Moses passed away. Moses passed the torch on to him as he was next in line to get the Israelites out of the wilderness territory they had wandered in for long enough and into the Promised Land. He was commissioned with a huge purpose - cross the Jordan - get the people across safely and into their inheritance. It was finally the time for Israel to take what God had given to them when he delivered them from in Egypt. The promise to Joshua was pretty clear - "I'll give you every square inch of land you set your feet on". If that was not enough to get Joshua motivated to move into the land, God promised to be with him just like he had been with Moses. As a new leader, knowing you had the 'backing' of the one you believed in more than anything else was huge!

The "success" Joshua enjoyed in taking the land of Canaan was based on him keeping God's Word clearly before him and the people - obediently pursuing the revelation God had given through Moses. If we look at how this sentence is structured, we will notice that it is an "imperative" - it demands our attention and our action. There is an unavoidable obligation - keep the Word before you - practicing every word of it - none of it was to be neglected or discounted. We also see a tremendous promise or word of assurance that reminds Joshua that there is to be an order to the victory Israel will win. First, God will be in his right position. Then his Word would be the guiding force of their lives. As each of these were rightly aligned, they would realize success in their endeavors. This is definitely something we can learn. When we get the "order" right, victory is just the next step away.

There is something extra-ordinary in getting this right: God is with us every step we take. When God is in the right position in our lives (at the center of all we do) - the hunger for his Word is also there. His presence at the core of our being and his Word continually being turned over in our minds is certain to guide our steps. Joshua received two other reminders: Be strong! Be courageous! The strength here is not that of physical strength - muscular enhancement that just let him fight like a warrior. It is also the mental strength that would keep him focused in the times when defeat, not victory, seemed more like a possibility. It is the emotional strength to doubt his doubts and continue on in the faith that God was with him each step of the way. The courage of a warrior - the strength of a leader - Joshua was expected to have both and so are we. Strength and courage are based on keeping our focus right - God first, his Word constantly before us, and our steps will be ordered of God. We will do well to learn the lesson of Joshua - Be Strong! Be Courageous! The Lord Thy God is With Thee! Just sayin!