Monday, December 17, 2018

Need a little glue?

We all know there are things in this world 'joined together' that just don't stay together very well! I have had chairs get wobbly over the course of scooting in and out, with joints coming loose and requiring much effort to get them 'firmed up' again. I have had papers placed in right order, stapled and bound, only to find that after repeated examination those pages 'wear loose' and sometimes even tear away from their bound edges. Heaven knows there are tons of relationships, once strong and vibrant, now withered and worn, no longer with anything holding them together - although once bound together, they are now separate and standing alone. It is not God's plan to have what he joins with him ever loose that connection, though. His intent is that we are joined with him - in an intimate and growing relationship - not to be separated from him again!

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples." John 15:5,8 MSG

When we are correctly joined with Jesus - he grafts us into his life source. There is no doubting where the life comes from, for the power is supernatural, the energies oftentimes way beyond our own natural energies, and the outcome far exceeds what we could produce in any effort of our own. Living and vital connection yields vital growth - fruit is born from such a connection. Sometimes people share with me their frustration over not 'seeing' much change in their lives - as though they somehow expected to be instantly free of frustrations that have been a constant cause of stress in their lives. I guess I'd have to ask a couple of questions of those individuals. 

Is the connection you made with those things that frustrate you so much now really a connection you need to keep now that you are connected with Christ? I am not telling you it is okay to abandon your marriage if that is the point of frustration, but maybe you could abandon some of the things you have held onto within that relationship that haven't been producing the right outcome within that relationship. For example, if you have learned it is okay to raise your voice at one another, yelling and arguing all the time about who knows what, maybe it is time to let go of some of those 'bad habits' you have allowed to interfere with the growth within that relationship.

Is your frustration with certain things because you are expecting to see growth without any investment on your part? God doesn't just 'pump life into us' - he expects us to invest in that life sustaining connection. The grafted branch doesn't just sit there - it begins the process of meshing with the branch it has been grafted into. It works to make the connection just as strong as possible - as much as the branch it has been grafted into works to supply all that will be needed to accomplish that vital connection and 'growth possibility'. We might want to just sit in relationship with Jesus and have all handed to us on a silver platter, but there are times when God asks us to take a step and then he backs that step with his power.

Fruit is a result of connection. Connection is only possible when two are willing to be 'merged together'. Solid connection is something that must be maintained - for every connection can be weakened by stress against the joints that bind the parts together. We must maintain the connection with Christ on a daily basis - a connection that will bear fruit in time - not instantly! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Road - Truth - Life

The road often reveals the journey, does it not? Along the way, we make discoveries - some major, others less, but all have significance regardless of big or little. In the end, we hope to have a look back and make the determination we have lived well - life has been a little up and down at times, but it has been a great life nonetheless. When Jesus told his disciples he was the road, the truth, and the life, he wasn't waxing poetic. He was describing what it means to embrace a life lived in the safety and provision of walking with him.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” John 14:6 MSG

When he describes himself as the Road, he isn't just saying he is 'a way', but 'the' way. There are lots of roads to take in life, but none is quite as significant for us to traverse as the Road which leads us right into the very throne room of God, Most High! Along any road, there can be many a chance to deviate from that course - exits along the way that lead us who knows where. Sometimes we choose to take a road not well-marked, seldom explored by others, and kind of scary to traverse because of all the 'unknowns'. That isn't the road Jesus describes when he calls himself the Road. His way is straight, well-marked, and leads us into places of safety and provision.

As we travel any distance in this lifetime, we come across all manner of things touting themselves as truth. I have bought into a few of those 'truths' only to find out I got suckered into believing something that was only a partial truth! With Jesus, it is total truth - he is not sugar coating it, nor is he making claims he cannot back up with all manner of action. Truth may not always be popular, but it doesn't change the fact it is true. When we think about truth, we might call to mind something or someone we have a hard time trusting. Why is it we think of what we cannot trust when we think about truth? I think it is because we recognize the extreme contrast between something that is trustworthy and that which betrays our trust each and every time!

Jesus won't betray our trust. In fact, he makes it hard not to trust him because of how trustworthy he is in all aspects of our lives. Even those who have experienced significant tragedy know they can trust God with the outcome. It may not have been a pleasant outcome, but in the end, they stand just as strong in their trust in God as they did before the tragic outcome. How is that possible? I think it is possible because Jesus never abandons them - somehow they felt his presence, saw his hand, knew his care, felt his touch. Maybe the outcome wasn't as they would have hoped, but he remained steadfast in his attendance over their journey, and they walked it out together. Trust isn't always about getting the outcome we desire, but it is about us knowing we were on the right path with the most trustworthy companion in that journey! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A gift requires a giver

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

Maybe we'd find more joy in our Christmas if we really believed this to be true! Christmas isn't about the amassing of things given - it is about the acceptance of the ONE given. There are about two weeks left before the 'big day' when families will gather in homes, celebrating the festivities and wonders of time together. Snow will fall for some, others will enjoy touch football after gorging on Christmas delights. Let us not forget those who are far from home, who yearn for time with family, but whose duties keep them engaged in the fields of battle. Let us not overlook those who will spend their day ministering to the sick and frail, at the bedside of the ones facing imminent death, and helping those who struggle to feel at ease. Let us not gloss over those who walk the streets, searching for their Christmas meal, and hoping for just a little rest from the weariness of living on those streets.

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” John 11:25 MSG

Embrace truth and you will be embraced back. The truth of God's love is evident in his Son - embrace his Son and you will be embraced by the love that speaks louder than any words! In giving his life for us, we can experience the closeness of relationship with him - it is a gift given once, but enjoyed over and over again into all of eternity! This won't be a long blog this morning, but instead a chance to extend the invitation of the holiday season to those who have either never received it, or those who have not fully appreciated the gift they have been given. To those who haven't received - the door is open. Simply enter in. To those who have received that magnificent gift of God's love and grace, don't just make it a 'shelf thing'. The gift of our new life in Christ isn't just something we receive once and then 'shelf away' somewhere as 'fire insurance' to keep us out of hell! It is meant to be a daily experience - moment by moment enjoyment of his grace and love.

The 'season of giving' can begin right now - we just have to accept the one given. Then we enter into the daily experience of that gift. There are times we desire the gift, but discount that a gift is only a gift because there has been a giver of that gift! We need to look beyond the gift and see the giver. Jesus is waiting for us to recognize him in this holiday season - not just the gift of our being 'made right' with God - but in being able to continue to 'live right' each and every day because he is there helping us do so. Receive the gift, but don't overlook the giver. Just sayin!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wrapped, settled, and at ease

Times of transition can be both upsetting and thrilling at the exact same time. We get scared because of what we are seeing an end to something we have held dear or worked with for quite some time, but we are awesomely excited about what may be forthcoming as we take on the new venture. The moment we commit to take those steps forward, we are lambasted with all manner of doubt, anxiety, and maybe even a little bit too much adrenaline! The emotions evoked in transition can be undeniably hard to maneuver through, but when we move from one thing to another, there will always be a little bit of emotional 'build up' experienced in making that transition. Transition is a time of unrest for all of us. We like the familiarity of what we have come to know as "constant" and "secure" in our lives. When transition is called for, we often feel like our "legs are being pulled out from under us". This might be why we are as apprehensive in transition as we appear to be. We allow fear to guide our thoughts and influence our actions instead of taking the things we fear to God for his guidance in those times of transition.

Complain if you must, but don't lash out. Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking. Build your case before God and wait for his verdict. (Psalm 4:4-5)

Transition by definition is simply a period or season of change - changing from one position to another, a state of what some have come to call "stability" into a state of the "unknown". We also see that it is characterized by times of transformation. Transition brings with it transformation opportunities. We only enjoy the butterfly because the caterpillar underwent the transition - it prepared for and submitted to the transformation! There is a process in transition whereby a metamorphosis from one state or stage into another is underway. The end result is to make us more beautiful, stronger, and different from what we were when we entered into that transition.

Complaint is inherent in transition. It is human nature to complain 'about' or 'against' whatever it is that is seeking transition. Why? We may not even like the present process or way things are, but to change means there will be this encounter with the unknown, so we resist it. We don't seem to understand the process, or even want to participate in the process change, so we lash out against it. We can approach transition with a degree of maturity that will assist us in making it through the transition in a positive manner, but we don't come by this 'maturity' all on our own - we need God's help. The first thing he expects of us is that we will limit the complaining. It is the easiest thing to enter into the "whining" stage of complaint when we don't understand something, we don't feel it is fair, or we don't interpret the transition as something we can endure. Complaint is often an expression of our uneasiness over the situation at hand. It is quite easy for complaint to go the other direction into becoming an expression of our resentment toward the transition that is occurring. How we face the transition is directly impacted by both our "self-talk" and our "outward talk" about that transition. 
 
Some find they let their heart do all the talking, but when our heart does all the talking, we might just find that what is expressed is really so much of the grief we are experiencing with the transition at hand. As we let go of something we have developed a certain comfort level with (even when we don't really 'like' the present way things are), we often experience a deep sense of grief over the loss (because our comfort is impacted). We want to hold onto what "feels secure" to us, while God may have a different plan for our "security". Grief is often best understood in the midst of transition - we are parting with the old and embracing the new - bringing to light just how much we have been holding onto something within the old that we needed to let go of in the first place.

When compliant is done well, we actually build our case before God, finding there is no other resource as readily available, or as totally reliable to assist with the fear associated with change, the grief associated with letting go of the old, and the sense of unease created when transformation must occur. We often gravitate toward building our case before man - but it is time for us to truly consider that God is in control, so we need to build our case before him, not others. It can be hard to wait for his verdict - once we have laid it all out before God (our fear, disappointment, grief, unease, etc.), we are told to wait. Not the easiest instruction to follow, huh? I know for a fact that I am not the best at "waiting" to see what will unfold. It is in the "wait" that we often receive the greatest revelation of what the future holds - and how to let go of what has been an ineffective process in our lives. 

Think about that caterpillar for a moment again - in the moments of transition, he is going about his daily life until one day he is somehow moved to create a new form of existence. He goes into the safety of a cocoon - a place for his transformation to occur. That is kind of like us building our case before God - we take time to envelop ourselves in his watchful care, and then we wait for the rest to occur according to his plan. In the end, the cocoon produces the beauty of the butterfly - sometimes it is a Monarch, other times a simply little butterfly with golden wings. So, whatever transition we face today, perhaps we'd do well to consider the instruction of our psalmist. God can deal very well with our complaints - but we need to take them to him, not others who have no control over the transition. God is about to work in the midst of the transition - to produce what he believes will produce the greatest beauty in us. We need to find what we need for the transition in the safety of the "enveloping" covering of his care. Just sayin!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Passport stamped?

A few years after my dad passed, I was feeling a little nostalgic and I decided to go looking for our first home in Arizona. Mind you, the home was built probably somewhere in the 1940-1950 range, and we all know how things change over time. Trees get bigger, neighborhoods morph from one look and feel into another, and what may have been a 'majestic mansion' when we were little kiddos is not always the same when we return to it some 30-40 years later! I eventually found the street I was seeking, now almost unrecognizable because of the transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods. I recall knowing quite clearly the house was the second on the right, so down the lane I went and there it was, but...what a different scene than the one I remembered or imagined! The gnarled mulberry tree was there, but the branches were all cut off and it no longer spread out over the corner of the yard. The once whitewashed fence still stood, but the faded appearance told me keeping it whitewashed each year was no longer a concern of the owners. What once stood as a palatial mansion now appeared as a small, once quite quaint home. Weathered and worn, it no longer 'shown out' as the once beautiful home it was at one time. A friend once told me we can never really return home, but I didn't quite understand that advice until I stood there gazing upon my one-time family home. The thing I'd have was the memories because the present state offered no such comfort!

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! (Romans 6:1-3 MSG)

We might think we can 'go back' to a former way of living, for just a moment in time, just for a quick little jaunt into the past. The truth is that the past is never the same as it was when we were living it! The past changes, if not in size, importance, and appearance, then in what it is we see when we come face-to-face with it again. It is an 'old country' to us - one we left behind in pursuit of another when we said "yes" to Jesus. We actually forsook that country and embraced another - not as immigrants, but as citizens who enjoy new rights, privileges, and passages. We might believe the past still has good stuff for us, but in that 'former life' are none of these 'good things' God has prepared for us to enjoy in this new one!

When I was just starting elementary school, we packed up and left that home in North Phoenix, making our way out to the very furthest point of the East Valley. The places were miles and miles apart - especially in the eyes of a child. The journey seemed long and a little bit frightening, but in truth, the new became the 'new norm' for me. Something similar happens when we come to Christ, welcoming him into our lives as more than a religious pursuit, but as one we desire close, personal relationship with. We begin to experience a 'new norm' - what once held fascination and great appeal is likely to fade more and more into the 'background' of our lives (the past). The past is indeed 'background' for our lives - no experience ever being totally without some meaning to us. Yet, we are not called to live in the 'background' of life - we are called to live in the present!

I could no more go back to living in that old family dwelling as I could go back to living a life without Christ. That boat has sailed! Those doors are closed! That old life is not my present one! The new life in a new land was prepared specifically for us - we don't need that one in the old land! There is something liberating about being able to break those ties with the past, my friends. But...there is equally something quite liberating about learning to look forward and turn our backs on what we imagine the past could offer us. The more we yearn for the past, the more we are discontent with the present, but the problem is that the present offers way different things for us than the past ever could. Way different things that make the old way of living look run-down, no longer showing signs of being tended and cared for. 

We don't 'go back' - we look and move forward. The life with Christ isn't lived one moment in the present and another in the past. Once we take that step into the new country of grace, we don't even want to look back at the old country of sin. There is nothing there that will ever satisfy us quite the same as what we find when we turn our eyes fully toward Jesus. Yes, the past still stands in our memories, but little by little, the past becomes less and less appealing to us. Maybe we need a little look into our past once in a while to see it is no longer all that appealing, but it doesn't mean we return to it - pursuing the stuff of the past! It just means we allow Jesus to make real to us where it is he has delivered us from - the past is a country no longer marked on our passport as 'home' - we are citizens of the country of grace, not sin! Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Just one degree....

Robert Half is credited with reminding us, "When one teaches, two learn." I've said it before, we can 'learn' only so much until we match the 'learning' with 'doing'. The action of 'doing' puts into practice what we have been learning up until that point. In the 'doing' we often learn just a little bit more. Recently I decided to take up a new hobby. I finally had my workshop built and have been enjoying filling it with all manner of tools. Now, I am experimenting with this and that - until I become proficient with the tools. Let me be the first to admit - there are a few scraps in there that weren't created as 'scraps', but ended up there! I make mistakes and in the process learn a little by my 'doing' of some step that didn't work out as well as planned. The learning continues - not merely by reading, but by actually 'doing' some woodworking!

But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG)

The written Word shows us how to live - it is in living that we discover how the Word is made real within us. There have been times I have been exposed to the Word in written form, taking it in, not really knowing when or where I would ever see that particular passage put into practice in my life. Then a little later, sometimes years later, I realize that scripture is 'playing out' in my life - I have the opportunity to put it into practice now. I am learning by 'doing'. This is the reason God tells us to have not only a steady 'intake' of the Word, but to hide it away within us. We are to allow it to be 'stored up' because we will certainly have future use for it! If it isn't meaning very much now to us - it will one day!

A couple of things we need to remember about the Word of God:

- It is taken in, but not without a cost. It often exposes something in us that isn't quite right. We are often caught a little off-guard whenever the scripture begins to point out something within us that has been 'tolerated' as the way things are in our lives. It is like we never knew that stuff was actually there, then one day the scripture and circumstances of our lives 'align', making us very much aware that things are just not 'right' in our lives. At that moment, scripture is convicting us - showing us where our lives have embraced folly and rebellion just a little bit too much. 

- It isn't going to affect us unless we take it in. We don't get this stuff by osmosis - it requires some attentiveness on our part. I was always amazed at the students in school who'd just sit day after day in class, daydreaming or doodling some artwork on the binder. Then came the pop quiz and they'd act all surprised that they got a failing grade on it. The evidence of their lack of attention or focus became painfully apparent. The same thing happens with us when we don't really pay any attention to the study of the Word. We need to be prepared - the pop quiz is coming!

Many times we just need a little 'shaping up' - because we haven't really been paying all that close of attention to what it is we are being taught. We need a little bit of adjustment - but it is in doing that we find the greatest opportunities for adjustment. As I put wood piece to wood piece, I realize how well I aligned that saw blade and how even those angles were cut. I actually found a previously unrecognized know at the rear of the chop saw I bought used from a neighbor. It actually was one degree off center and as a result, my cuts never perfectly were measuring up! What a difference even one degree makes! Now my cuts are spot on! I have learned to make a few adjustments and now the outcome is quite different. Similarly, we can think we are all good in life, but then we discover 'one tiny thing' that calls for just 'one degree' of adjustment - and what a difference that one degree will make in the outcome, my friend! Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hike up that skirt and run!

You have probably heard the saying, "Actions speak louder than words." While this is very true in life, there are times we 'discount' the actions of another - especially if we don't think those actions line up with what we expected or what we believe. I think Jesus must have encountered more than one or two of such individuals in his ministry on earth - somewhat resistant to his love and hope just because his actions didn't 'line up' with what they believed would be the actions of their "Messiah" (deliverer).

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.  John 6:35 MSG

They had seen him in action - watched firsthand his healing touch transform lives and observed at close proximity his incredible knowledge of the prophesies of old. Yet, they didn't believe. I have heard some say, "If I had been alive when Jesus was walking this earth, there is no way I wouldn't have believed!" While we'd all like to believe this of ourselves, let me assure you some of us still wouldn't have changed our minds about Jesus! Why? He didn't fit the picture they had in their minds and maybe he wouldn't have fit that picture for us either.

Look at what he says next - eventually we will come running to him. Nothing really speaks louder about our actions than those that result in us making a run toward Jesus with all we have within! Nothing speaks louder about his actions than that he makes the way clear for us so we don't get tripped up along the way! He holds on and he doesn't let go! See that - listen to it - let it penetrate your heart. You are on a mission toward 'home' - when you finally make it there - wow!

We might think we need to see overwhelming evidence of him in every realm of our world before we could possibly trust him with our lives, but seeing isn't always believing! Some of us would do well to just believe and then we will begin to see what has been right there in front of us all along - his overwhelming, realer-than-real love! In Old Testament times, the 'proper' in society would run anywhere - much less into waiting arms! When Jesus says we will run to him, he isn't asking us to be 'proper' in our faith - he is asking us to abandon ourselves to him.

We might think abandon is a little over the top for us - because it means we lay down our control and let another take over. Yet, it is in abandon - in running toward him - that we find our true selves. We are not going to recognize him fully, appreciate all of his grace, or understand all of his love as long as we stand resistant to his invitation. As soon as we recognize he is discovered in abandon, we might just admit we really did not know what we were missing! Just sayin!

Monday, December 10, 2018

A memory dump is needed

Hey, does anyone else out there ever feel like your life is just unraveling a bit? There are days where my ends seem a little frayed - how about yours? Those days don't always come that frequently, but when they do, man oh man...they can leave you exhausted! Some of mine come in the form of being there when the Department of Health walks in for an unannounced inspection or complaint investigation when I am the sole occupant of the office! Then maybe there is that moment when you see deadlines fast approaching, but you have put off that project you just didn't want to get to - now it looms like a spider coming closer and closer while you have no shoes on! You know the feeling - that moment of panic and dismay - wondering how you will ever get past it! What we must always recognize is that God is still in control - even when we have lost it!

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words! (Hebrews 1:1-2 MSG)

I put that last portion of the passage in bold font for a purpose - we need to hear and appreciate the importance of those words. There is also something I'd like us to recognize from this passage - God speaks to us through various means - he doesn't just use one tool in his box! If we cannot see something one way, he helps us see it via another venue. If we don't heed his wisdom when it comes in one form, he delivers it in a different form, but it is the same wisdom! The very nature of God is to oversee and secure everything in his creation. That includes us. In fact, we are probably the most significant part of his creation - for we were created in his image and he desires for that image to always reflect him well.

What's God been saying to you? Those words aren't meant to tickle our senses - they are meant to hold us together and give us powerful anchorage. The words of God are not aimless or without purpose - they are creative and sustaining. As such, when God speaks, we need to listen! That's not easy, though, because we sometimes don't recognize the vessels he uses to speak to us. He even uses the looming deadline, unannounced visitors, and creepy crawlers of the world to speak into our lives! The thing is that we have to be open to hearing how he speaks through these various vessels. The openness of our heart is directly linked to the openness of our ears. We can hear and not do - link between ears and heart being broken somewhere. The broken part is usually our mind!

The mind is instrumental in trust because it is the center of our memory. What the memory files away often becomes the most influencing factor when the vessel God uses begins to speak to us. We fashion some type of response - sometimes even before he finishes speaking - all because of what we have stashed away in the recess of our minds. The mind is like the conduit between the ears and the heart. If the conduit is closed off or clogged, his word isn't getting through! Sometimes we need a memory dump in order to let his word get through to the part of us that most needs to hear it - our heart! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Living - Dying - or somewhere in between?

There are days when we just don't think we have much purpose in whatever journey it is we are called to undertake, but let me be the first to assure you nothing could be further from the truth! Whatever it is we are called to do, we are to do it with intent, commitment, and love. Jesus had one of those days when it seemed like he was just 'on his way' from one place to another. He found himself coming into Bethany, a town a had frequented on many occasions. It was kind of common place for him to 'cycle' through Bethany on his travels. He even had friends there. One very special event had transpired there that made Bethany a notorious place - Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Not just the dead, but the smelly, not so inviting tomb. Already wrapped in burial clothes and scented with the herbs of burial, he laid there for three days prior to his coming forth from death. His unmarried sisters were grief-stricken at the loss of their brother - their male head of the home - the one who would have been their provider.

Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. (John 12:1)

No words are recorded for us by accident. They aren't in the Bible just to give the story some sense of "plot" or to "add character" to the passage. They are each there by intention - the record of this account of 'entering in' is there because God wanted us to see something in it. Therefore, when we see the words, "Jesus entered into Bethany where Lazarus, SO RECENTLY RAISED FROM THE DEAD, WAS LIVING," we need to pause to notice what that really says. Bethany is noteworthy now for this miracle, but it also had a rich heritage. As a small town about 1.5 miles outside of Jerusalem, it was best known prior to this miracle for being a city with an "almshouse" - a place for the collection that would be distributed among the poor and sick in the region. Bethany was also a town that catered to the needs of the sick. It was kind of like a place to go when one was not doing well physically or financially. One other event in this town got people riled up - the dinner Jesus had in the home of Simon the Leper. As a town that welcomed lepers, it would have been considered an "unclean" place for most of the religious crowd to gather.

Lazarus lived there with his two sisters. It was a town populated by many peoples from various regions. It was notable as the last in a row of cities just prior to entering Jerusalem. Many pilgrimages were taken each year into Jerusalem from all over the land of Israel - in honor of Jehovah and for the purpose of the keeping of the feasts he had established. Many would pass through this region of Bethany on their journey elsewhere. As was the custom of the day, Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, would have opened their doors to many as they sojourned there for a rest prior to entering into the holy city.

The most important thing we might recount about Bethany is that Lazarus, once dead, is now living! So recently raised from the dead - now living. What a wondrous statement of fact! What a tremendous message of hope! In fact, if we really look at this, we can ask several questions that might give us insight into why this simple opening statement was penned for us. What is the purpose of resurrection? We might say it is to give evidence that God exists, that his power is over everything and everyone that would attempt to destroy his people. We might also recount that it the purpose of resurrection was to manifest his grace and to display his glory. What is the evidence of resurrection? It is the opposite of the death - life. There is a shift from one state of being into another. The tomb is empty, the grave-clothes have no further purpose, and even the stench of death no longer exists.
 
What is the outcome of resurrection? A changed life. No longer the same - Lazarus was transformed by the miracle of his resurrection. We are also transformed by the miracle of our resurrection. Don't get too literal here on me - I know you were not raised from a crude tomb, wrapped in grave-clothes, and sprinkled with herbs of burial. Yet, you were raised to newness of life in Christ. The outcome is the shedding of all that is old - the "putting on" of all that is new. The evidence is that the old no longer has a purpose in our life - we are living a new life - no longer to be associated with the trappings of the old life. Lazarus, who was one dead, was now living - not bound by the past, but freed for the present. 

That is the result (outcome) of resurrection. We sometimes attempt to "live" still bound by the grave-clothes of our past. Not only is this impractical (as they bind us pretty tightly), but they reek of the past sinful lives we were living before Christ. They carry the evidence of the old life into the present. The work of resurrection for Lazarus was complete when he put on the fresh clothes and took dinner with Jesus. He "put off" the thing that had him bound, and "put on" that which gave him freedom. If we are walking around within the bonds of the "tomb", we exhibit the evidence of the hopelessness of the tomb in our lives. If we are freed from the tomb, why would we want the "tomb-clothes" as our garments any longer? Just sayin!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Are you a little too desperate?

I often re-read passages of scripture, sometimes seeing a 'new truth'. It isn't really a 'new truth' because the truth was there all along - I just wasn't seeing it before! My circumstances change and the 'new truth' I need changes with them. I need encouragement one moment, and maybe I need conviction the next. How is it possible one passage could deliver one such truth at one time and a completely different one the next? I think it is both the condition and readiness of our heart that makes the difference. All of us has called out for help at a moment when things are getting a little too harried for us to endure. As soon as things 'settle down' a bit, we lose that intensity, don't we? To be transparent here, I would have to admit there is no other acknowledgement that God needs more than the simple admittance that we "need his help". I honestly believe that those very words set in motion countless things way beyond our comprehension - things meant to protect us, provide for us, and powerfully intervene in the turmoil of our life experiences. Desperation moves the heart of God.

Listen, God! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help. Every morning you'll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend. (Psalm 5:1-3)

A bold cry from a desperate heart - Listen! Pay attention! Why? I need your help! Think about it - if you had two kids sitting side by side on the couch, each making a plea for your attention, which one would you be most inclined to turn to? One is sitting passively there, holding up a sign with crudely written words, "Will honor you for food for my body, housing for my shelter, and clothing for my body". The other is bouncing up and down, waving his arms, crying out, tears flowing down his face, crying out, "Please, please, I need you! No one and nothing else will do! I need YOU!" You may not know the need of the one, but do you really know the need of the other who defines it for you? Maybe not - because we all know we are guilty of saying one thing, but desperately needing something quite different!

It is true that in serving God, there is no room for complacency on our part. The characteristics of a complacent heart are simply to be so self-satisfied with the present situation that we don't see or acknowledge any need for change. We are completely unaware of the potential dangers that lurk just around the corner if we continue in that place of complacency. In our spiritual walk, we could say we are quite certain that nothing is as EXPECTED as change! I think David realized that change was inevitable - and perhaps that it was fast approaching the boiling point for him. He had patterned his life after the ways of God - he knew full-well that yesterday's "constants" would be today's "traps" if he allowed himself to "settle in" and just enjoy the ride. David admits his need - he even goes so far as to tell God that he could expect to hear about that need over and over again until that need was met by God. Not met in his own power or ability - but in the power and purpose of God himself.

Desperation is marked by a sense of urgency - there is an awareness of the circumstances of the heart, mind and soul that leads to an admission of the urgency of one's need. There might even be the ultimate effort to give it all - in surrender to the one who can take the little we surrender and make it significant in his hands. David says he did that every morning - offering his "all" to God on the altar, hoping for God's fire to descend and to consume his total offering. Nothing was as vivid to the Hebrew people as the sense of an offering totally consumed by the fire of God. Think about it - a life offered totally consumed by the fire of the Spirit of God! That was David's plea. I'd have to be the first to admit that we have lost the concept of 'offering' in the terms the Hebrew people understood - for we barely think of bringing an offering, giving an offering, or being the offering, do we? We put a little in the offering plate and call that an offering! We give an hour at the food bank and call that service. Do we realize the cost of an offering - of service as it was intended to be offered? Likely some do, but the vast majority of us do not.

Urgency compels us - it moves us forward (or gets us bouncing up and down on the couch, so to speak). It creates an internal motivation to "do something". The danger comes in us trying to "do something" in our own efforts - not seeking God's "something" to create the exact answer that we need. We see the need for "food", just like the first boy on the couch. God sees something quite different - the need for "spiritual sustenance" - just like the second boy on the couch. Yes, he meets our physical needs for shelter and food, but he desires to meet much more than those basic needs of our lives. He desires to meet the needs of our stripped-bare hearts, our hurting emotions, and our ripped apart relationships. He wants to repair damaged beliefs, tainted perceptions, and unrealistic fears. Those are the pleas he hears the quickest - that turn his ear, direct his attention, and fill his heart with compassion toward us. Nothing moves the heart of God quicker than the one who realizes that the need for change is present, not future. His response to that realization is to send consuming fire! Just sayin!

Friday, December 7, 2018

You buzzed?

The other morning, I happened upon a quote that caught my eye, not so much because it was majorly profound, but because it was just a little insightful. Kin Hubbard wrote, "A bee is never as busy as it seems; it's just that it can't buzz any slower." While that may not be labeled 'profound', it is quite revealing of how some of us go through life - buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, all the while appearing very busy, but really doing not much more than buzzing! We have those huge carpenter bees here in Arizona - some black and others kind of orange and black colors. They can come out of nowhere, then 'buzz' all around you incessantly until you wonder if they are eyeing you as a huge piece of wood they could burrow into! All the while, they are menacing, but not very productive in what they are doing!

Light, space, zest—that’s God! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing. When vandal hordes ride down ready to eat me alive, those bullies and toughs fall flat on their faces. When besieged, I’m calm as a baby. When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool. I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, the perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic. (Psalm 17:1-5 MSG)

Some of us would do well to recognized we are being besieged by all the hubbub around us, causing us to 'buzz' all the more, but really accomplishing very little with all that buzzing! Hell can rage around us, all the world can be in a 'buzz', but we don't have to be. It is possible for us to live at peace, to be calm in the midst of chaos, and to not just 'buzz' incessantly. Hubbard was also one to remind his readers that some people can look so busy that they actually appear to be indispensable. The truth of the matter is that appearances are one thing - the reality may be something quite different. When my grandsons were young and they first saw those big bees buzzing in my yard, they were noticeably frightened by both their size and their 'buzz'. When I explained they don't sting and they only like wood, they began to tolerate the 'intrusion', but were less concerned by it as time passed.

Sometimes we focus on the intrusions in life rather than on the stuff that really demands our attentiveness and determination. We listen to the buzzing instead of understanding the buzz is nothing more than a byproduct of activity. Not all activity is productive - nor is it necessary - sometimes it is just destructive. The carpenter bees knew where the wood pile was - they didn't have to look elsewhere. They left tell-tale signs to assure me they had plenty to gnaw upon - plenty to occupy their attention! So, why all the buzzing around? Did you know carpenter bees don't actually eat wood? They just destroy it! They burrow so as to have a place to reproduce - not because they are making a home for their colony. They are very isolated - not social at all. The 'buzz' we most often hear evokes a sense of fear in us, but it is usually from the male of the species - the ones that don't sting. The female is capable of stinging, but rarely does because the buzzing of the male makes people fearful of them.

Don't you think for a minute that buzzing is not distracting! The whole purpose of that male carpenter bee buzzing around our heads incessantly is to distract us from the 'gallery' or hole where the female is creating new life. More of that 'new life' that will do little more than create more damage and inflict countless hours of work and fear upon those unfortunate enough to be in their path of buzzing! While carpenter bees are not a really deep spiritual lesson, there are some lessons to take away today. First, not all buzzing deserves our attention. It is often the silence we should concern ourselves with more than the buzzing! Second, buzzing evokes fear in us - it is like chaos turns up the heat in our lives and we begin to buzz a little bit ourselves. As with my grandsons, we want to turn tail and run when we are 'buzzed upon' by those things that do little more than create menacing distractions in our lives. Remember this - many things may menace us, but only one thing calms us - God's presence! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thorns or no thorns?

My grandson and I built a deck on my workshop this past weekend. It was an undertaking - each of us learning something along the way. As we were working, I heard him ask if I had enjoyed any grapes from my vines this year. I told him I had not because it takes at least two years for them to begin to produce. I did not expect any this year - in fact, if I see them next year, that will probably be about as soon as fruit would be predicted. As a child, we had a home surrounded by citrus trees - 13 of them in our yard. Grapefruit and oranges abounded this time of the year, but in order to enjoy their sweetness, we had to do more than just stand under the trees and hope a fruit would fall off into our waiting hands. We could pick the low hanging stuff pretty easily, but we had to climb ladders and branches to get to the rest of it! Oftentimes the most prized fruit was up higher and more hidden from immediate view. That made the discovery of the fruit much more enjoyable indeed. It was Thomas Fuller who reminded us, "One that would have the fruit must climb the tree." I don't know about you, but there are times I would just like something to be as easy as the low hanging fruit!

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. (Galatians 5:22-24 MSG)

When we live according to the plans and purposes of God, we can be assured of a couple of things. First, we will enjoy his company. While that in and of itself should be our ultimate satisfaction, his presence is certain to bring forth some fruit that we didn't even know was possible to stem from within us. It is kind of like that hidden fruit that has had the potential of developing all along, but it took the right season, the right tending, and the right 'discovering' to reveal it! Fruit can be both low hanging and then it can also be pretty well-hidden until there is a movement toward discovering it is there. Before the days of us owning one of those long handled citrus pickers with a little basket like device on the end, dad would gently nudge those fruit down with a broom handle into my waiting hands. Sometimes more than one would fall at a time - making it harder to catch them. Regardless of where they landed, we'd gather them all up - for their were our 'bounty' of harvest. At some point in the season, we'd believe we had harvested all the fruit that had been produced. You know what? Almost every tree had at least one more piece of fruit we overlooked - well hidden, covered with leaves, still developing in its hidden spot. 

There are times our 'life fruit' is like low-hanging goodness - it is just there, ready for all to see, and pretty easily enjoyed. There are also times when the fruit in our lives takes just a little bit more effort to see it produced, much less enjoyed. I imagine it comes as no surprise to most of us that there remains some fruit which must be sought out - discovered because we were actively looking for it. We wanted to get at it, but it was concealed by other growth in our lives - making it harder to see, but not negating its presence! In the 'climbing of the tree', we discover it. The revelation can be amazing, because it is that freshly discovered fruit that can be the most luscious of all! To climb the tree, one must be certain they want to make the discovery. If we climb the tree without attending to where we are placing ourselves, we can hazard a fall or even break a limb from the tree. 

My memories of the citrus trees is that they have an occasional thorn along the way. You may not realize it, but citrus trees have thorns! Today's citrus trees have been 'bred' to be thorn-free - at least those we buy from our local nursery. If you plant a citrus seed and await the growth that will be produced, you will likely find the tree produced will revert to its original state of being thorn-bearing. We are also kind of 'thorn-bearing' - we have a tendency to revert to our original state if not 'bred' correctly at the hand of someone who knows how to produce the branches of our lives 'thorn free'. Encounter one of those thorns and you might just realize not only the sharpness, but the lasting 'burn' of having been stuck. The purpose of the thorns is to protect the fruit from 'fruit-stealing' intruders. We might not realize it, but God doesn't always discourage the 'thorns' in our lives - because they actually give sufficient time for the fruit to be developed without being stolen away by intruding forces in our lives.

Did you know the thorns on the citrus tree are the most prevalent when the tree is youngest? This is because the tree needs a chance to develop without intrusion and the fruit needs a chance to set on the branches. In much the same way, we might be allowed a few thorns as the growth begins to occur in our lives in a spiritual sense, but as it comes time for the fruit to be fully developed and harvested, are those thorns still there? As the tree ages, the thorns are less and less necessary - because the tree has enough growth to conceal the fruit until it is developed. It is strong enough to resist intrusion. The younger tree is more vulnerable - the fruit is at risk. The thorns serve to afford time for growth. While none of us likes to think of ourselves as 'thorny', it is quite possible God has allowed a few thorns until the strength of our faith is increased - allowing for the fruit to grow without the need for those thorns. If the thorns seem to be his focus these days, it may just be a sign we are ready to produce the fruit 'thorn free'. Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Truth or Dare?

Did you ever play that game as a child referred to as "Truth or Dare"? If you were brave enough to trust the one asking the question, you'd maybe choose 'truth', all the while hoping the individual wouldn't ask you anything all that revealing. If you didn't trust them to 'stay out of your business', you'd select 'dare' and take your chances that you'd be able to endure drinking a cup of pickle juice, putting your tongue on a frozen light pole, or the like. Sometimes I think we approach God like we are playing a game of "Truth or Dare" with him. We might just fear he will dig a little too deeply, so we opt for 'skirting the issue' - diverting attention to another topic in our prayer time. All the while, we need the 'truth moment', but we opt for the 'daring moment' when we veer from what we really needed all along - confession!

If we claim that we're free of sin, we're only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we've never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. (I John 1:8-10)

One of the first things I do in the morning is to ask God where he wants me to focus my study that day - getting tea ready for mom and making my lunch just acts as a natural time to ponder. Confession is often a poorly understood concept - partly because it is hard for so many people to admit their need, and partly because it is something that they fear because they are ashamed of their failures. Confession begins with the idea of considering what our true need is. When we understand that a true need exists within our lives we respond differently than if we just "feel unhappy". When we allow our minds to be set to work in the process of "considering" something, we are paying attention to that action, those thought patterns, or those various desires. We are focusing our energies on making a decision about each of them. Confession begins with us focusing our energies on making a decision about the sin that has us so bound by the pull it has on us. It may be as simple as coming to a place of truly considering the choice of words we use when we speak - maybe they are consistently harsh, or perhaps they are crass. As soon as we begin to focus our energies on "considering" those words, we become aware of when those words fall short of what God would desire to have come out of our mouths. 

That brings us to the idea of recognizing those thoughts, desires, or actions as true needs. When we truly contemplate those items in the light of what the Word of God says about how we are to think, be motivated, or to act, we come into a different perspective of these areas of need in our lives. We want to have them dealt with, or we want to hide them from view - the first leads us to confession, the latter leads us into denial and a whole lot of emotional turmoil. Whatever is hidden often provides ample fuel for shame to build in our lives - just a word to the wise on that one - it doesn't work well for us to hide stuff. Once we have considered our need, we come to a cross-road. We can either hide that need, or we can effectively submit it to the one who can address that need with all authority and power. When we choose to ignore or hide that need, we are acting to preserve "self" - we don't want to lose face with another or with God, so we hide that need. The transparency of confession is often uncomfortable because we don't want to be honest about our need. We may feel that if we are honest about our need, others will think differently about us. Or perhaps we have not learned enough about the deep love of God that is unconditional, so we fear that he will reject our request for forgiveness because our sin is "too great". Either way, we remain in bondage.

The only path to real freedom is that of confession - plain and simple. The only way to truly make an effective confession is to be honest. We have to be honest with ourselves about the depth of our need, then with God about the depth of our desire to be rid of that thing that pulls us down, adding unnecessary weight to our shoulders and a very heavy burden to our souls. This is the obedience part of confession - coming face to face with our need, admitting to ourselves that we have no power or authority to overcome that thing that pulls us into patterns of behavior or thought that are truly dishonoring to God and to our own spirit. Then we lay it down in front of him - so he can deal with it in his mercy and grace. Sometimes we need a little reminding that if we are "faithful" to confess our need, he is "faithful" to forgive us. Faith is then part of finding forgiveness - it begins with the recognition of a need, considering why that need exists, and then effectively laying that need before the ONLY one who can truly meet that need head on - Jesus. His response to our confession is forgiveness - total and complete! Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Jam or Peanut Butter - you decide

Capacity is determined by what is attempting to enter the vessel and the vessel's "space" to hold what is entering. For example, if we have a used jar of peanut butter that has not been scraped clean and washed out, there are remnants of peanut butter in there. For all intents and purposes, we'd say the peanut butter jar was empty - we can easily cast it away as no longer of use to us. No matter how much we attempt to fill that "empty" jar with something else (like jam), that jar would never be totally full of the jam because it still was partially filled with the peanut butter. It may not be much peanut butter, but it still affects the taste of the jam and it takes up space that the jam would like to have enjoyed. Christ is kind of like the jam in our lives - wanting to fill the empty spaces of our lives, but he is competing with the peanut butter - remnants of our old ways of doing things, responding to things, and things we have held onto that we just don't want to part with.

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. (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

Capacity is defined as the ability to both receive and contain. The part of our 'self' that might be labeled as un-spiritual cannot receive the gifts of God's Spirit - things like truth, wisdom, and insight into God's ways. Why? To our human nature, these things are silly - they just don't make sense - they are counter-intuitive for us. For example, if you are an engineer and you are speaking with another engineer about how something is constructed (like a bridge), the force it can withstand under pressure, and the specifics of its design, you probably both understand each other. If you are like me, you are thinking, "I just want to cross that bridge - I don't really need to know how it is made in order to do that, do I?" The "details" seem silly to me because they don't "apply" to me - I have no interest in receiving that detail - I want merely to cross that bridge! Many times all we want is to 'cross some bridge' from un-spiritual into spiritual, without much thought as to how much of the un-spiritual is still within us, making it harder for us to embrace the spiritual.

To the one who has not invited the Spirit of God into their lives, the truths shared are nice, but they have no real relevance. They are not received because there is no "use" for them. To the one who has invited the Spirit of God to oversee their lives, giving constant guidance and tutelage, those truths, no matter how small are like that lovely tasting jam - they ooze into every crevasse they have access to and begin to affect that space. The challenge comes in getting all the "peanut butter" out of our "jars"! We cannot contain all God wants us to contain until we make way to have the "vessel" fully cleaned out. We sometimes try to embrace spiritual truths without really allowing the Spirit to deal with the things that need to be removed / cleaned up along the way. Try washing an "empty" jar that has contained peanut butter - that stuff gets into the tiniest nooks and crannies of that jar - making it hard to get all the peanut butter out on our own! You really have to work hard to get it completely clean (unless you have a dishwasher that does the work for you!). That is how it is when we "try" to clean ourselves up after coming to Christ - attempting to deal with the things that entice us to make wrong choices, but they are just hanging on to us like they belong there within us.

The key is to allow the one who has the ability to thoroughly clean the vessel to do that work - just as we'd rely on the dishwasher to remove the peanut butter! If we want capacity for the things of God, we need his Spirit to clean out our vessel of those things that "take up space" without really serving any purpose anymore. I cannot say what those may be for you - but I know that his Spirit will be faithful to point them out and remove them when he is given full access to your life. So, you might want to ask this question: Are you settling for "some" jam with a little of your left-over peanut butter? Or are you desirous of only pure jam in your vessel? If you choose the pure jam, you will need to turn the vessel over to him in order to allow it to be emptied so that your capacity is expanded to receive it fully. God wants full access - not to compete with the "left-overs" of our live's choices and things we have trusted in at some point in the past. Just sayin!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Here's my wrapped present

Gratitude is indeed something we don't realize we haven't expressed until we realize we have begun to take some things (or people) in our lives for granted. There are times where we really are grateful, but we don't express it. We just assume another knows we are indeed grateful for the relationship, appreciative of what another has done for us, or just that we are well-pleased with the way things have gone. When we are walking in step with one another, it is kind of common to occasionally just 'take for granted' that we have each other. William Arthur Ward penned the words, "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." We can 'feel' very grateful - but fail to express it - not 'giving the present' so to speak. He also reminds us: "Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." We might just do well to realize routine can bring joy, common can spark newness, and ordinary might just be the biggest blessing we can receive!

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:17 MSG

Give the message of Christ's love and grace plenty of room in your life and you will find there is lots and lots of room for expressing gratitude, my friends! Why? His grace overwhelms in ways we may not recognize at first, but when we stop to consider what he has accomplished through the extension of that grace time after time again, we cannot but burst into thanksgiving for his overwhelming outpouring of love. The details of our lives spark others to be grateful when we begin to express those details! Ward also reminds us to not just flatter one another and that includes how we approach God in our prayer and worship. As Ward says, "Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you." God loves us - not to force us to love him, but to cause us to realize our need for his grace in our lives. That realization of grace's need is what causes us to reach out to him. 

The peace of Christ helps us live in harmony with one another. Why? Where his peace dwells, there is less opportunity for the ugliness of self to get in the way of loving each other. His peace actually takes over the space where the ugliness of envy seeks to rise up. It also less space for our own guilt to hold us bound to our past. When we are not bound to the past, we are free to begin to enjoy the present. You, my friends, are part of the present - not the past! We are given each other to spur one another on toward love and grace - revealing the peace of Christ to one another. Give God plenty of room - by allowing him 'space' we are allowing him the privilege of transforming that 'space' into the most lovely space of all! From that transformation stems gratitude - grace-filled, peace-filled, and love-engorged lives cannot help but express their gratitude. Never take for granted what God has begun and continues to reveal within one another. Spur one another on to see the fullness of God's presence and peace within them. Just spurring you on today!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

School's out!

Do you remember as a kid looking forward to Christmas break, or summer break? You just dreamed about all the fun you'd have when you finally heard, "School's out!" The possibilities were endless - that is until you realized the 'break' was not endless and the parents may just have a different idea of how you should while away your time! We were given a break, but did we always get to enjoy it exactly the way we thought we would? Not always - maybe bits and pieces of the dream - but not usually exactly what we thought we'd do. Our friends weren't available when we wanted them to be, the demands of being part of a family may have pulled us a little in another direction, and the things we thought we could leave until another day just mounted up. Maybe 'school's out' carries a very different meaning - maybe it actually means you now have to make more choices for yourself, put into practice more of what you have learned, and get down and dirty with some stuff that you have been putting off!

My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7 MSG

We have received much through our relationship with Christ, but when we really stop to think about it, how much of what we have received are we actually 'living out' each and everyday? The honest truth is that we sometimes have a whole lot more 'book knowledge' stored up and very little of it gets put into practice! The faith we live is the one we will replicate in others. If we just get acquainted with Jesus, we will be passing on 'acquaintance' relationship. There will be no depth to it. If we perhaps spend a little less time focusing on the 'book knowledge' that just tells us ABOUT Jesus and focus on getting to really know him, perhaps what we have to pass on will be more of an intimate relationship with Jesus!

The rooting is solid. The foundation is laid with perfection. All that remains is that the growth occur in such a way that fruit is produced - shelter is secure. The thing that draws others to Christ is not that we have merely growth - it is that we produce something with that growth that makes others desire to share in that which we have. My neighbor down the way has a pomegranate bush that overgrows the fence line and hang heavy with fruit at the end of summer and early fall. Yet, he lets many fall to the ground, unharvested, rotting away and picked at by the birds. My sister has actually stopped to tell him she'd like to harvest a few since he doesn't seem to, but has been turned away because he doesn't want anyone else to have that fruit. The fruit is desirous to those who are hungry - but we have to be willing to give it away, not just put it on display!

We pretty much have to admit that we each know our way around this thing called 'faith' - we are comfortable in our relationship with Christ. Our book learning has been going on for some time now, and we kind of feel like we have 'mastered' some of the subjects. Yet, book learning rarely transforms lives. It must be put into practice for it to begin to impact living! Even a doctor knows he must practice his 'book learning' on real subjects! He cannot possibly benefit society with his study of medicine until he does something with it other than storing it away in his memory! The same is true with our faith - it is meant to be real, vibrant, and inviting. It is meant to draw others to Christ. What most of us need to hear more than anything today is that 'school's out'! It is time to take this living, breathing relationship with Christ outside the walls of our 'salvation schoolroom' and let it begin to impact the lives of those around us! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

You wearing spurs?

Know why so many arguments happen? We aren't walking 'in tune' with each other - we have gotten out of step with one another. We are so focused on something else and we get all 'out of whack' with each other - sometimes without even noticing. Whenever we are 'doing our own thing', we have little concern for what the 'other guy' needs or wants in the relationship. We find ourselves running over each other quite easily and that is what leads to frustration, eventually either emerging in an argument or hurt feelings. God doesn't want this to be the way we live, so maybe we should consider how to avoid these relationship pitfalls.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15 MSG)

The peace of Christ is to be the overriding principle in our relationships. Yet we struggle so much with allowing his peace to guide our steps. What impacts his peace in us? One of the first things that impacts that peace is when we find ourselves drifting into taking things and others for granted - not really being thankful for these things and people God has given into our lives. Yes, he gives us each other - we don't find each other all on our own, you know? We are brought into relationship with one another - ushered there by the hand of God. When we are no longer thankful for these relationships, they become a thing we take for granted - and this leads to relationship woes galore! Trust me - I speak from experience!

Another thing that dynamically impacts our internal peace, and will affect how well we live at peace with one another, is not getting a steady and hearty intake of the Word of God. Now, this is more than just reading a passage and saying, "That was good." We have to ingest it, digest it, invest it, and divest it! Take it in (ingest it). Get it working on the inside of us (digest it). Find ways to let it multiply within and without us (invest it). Give it away to others so they can put it through the same process themselves (divest it). The Word of God is powerful, but it won't impact our relationships if we are always just casually considering it. We have to get into it and allow it to get into us!

The peace of God is also nurtured through worship - letting your heart soar in praise and adoration for the one who gives us life and peace. The grace of God is a great thing - but does it spark a sense of worship within? If not, then we may have become a little too complacent in our appreciation of his grace. We might want to ask God to help us 'tune up' our thankfulness for his work in our lives, then we might just see we become a little more thankful for the ones God has placed us into relationship with in this journey of faith. Life isn't about the things we get out of it as much as it is about those we travel alongside as we go through it. We need peace inside, peace impacting our actions, and we might just find we are spurring one another on toward peace in this world. Just sayin!

Friday, November 30, 2018

The same or different?

Do you ever feel like the only thing that remains constant in your life is change? You are probably not alone in this impression because change is all around us. We are expected to change sometimes at the drop of a hat, while other change is gradual and kind of creeps up on us without us really noticing the change has been occurring. Change comes in all shapes and sizes - ranging from crazy, radical change to the subtle changes of age. Change is merely the process of making something that was one way to no longer have the same form. I have to ask a question here - if that 'something' was left alone, would it truly not change? Even things 'left alone' in life will change over time. There will always be influencing factors that lead to change of some sort - maybe not immediately perceptible to the naked eye, but there has been change nonetheless. What would the content of our life be like if Jesus was not an active part of the change we experience in our life? What would the course of our life include if we were 'left alone' to be influenced only by our own desires and actions?

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The form of our lives - that which manifests what we are, what we hold to be true, and what we count as important in life - it would definitely change. If there is anything that brings quality to our life, creates a good attitude in our minds, or involves us in activities that are honoring and upright, we receive that from God through Jesus. The "form" of our lives is directly impacted by the one we embrace - just as a "mold" gives a certain structure to the content of that which is placed within it - so Jesus gives us content that differs from what was previously occupying that 'mold' of our lives. If we embrace Christ, the change we experience to our "form" is that of being made into his image - we become the manifestation of who he is.

The nature of our lives - the combination of all the qualities that belong to a person that are revealed in the tendencies we exhibit in the conduct of our lives - it would change because Christ adds new qualities that are not really part of our sinful nature (like the quality of grace). We often refer to our "nature" as our temperament - our disposition to certain things in life - the way we act or respond. Many times, we might find that our temperament is defined by our nurturing - if nurtured well, we tend to conduct our lives with a reasonable sense of good judgment; if nurtured poorly, we might not develop the same sense of responsible conduct. Jesus can take the sum total of our nurture (how we have been raised and what has influenced us most in life) and our nature (our internal make-up including our talents, skills, and tendencies) and transform them into that which consistently produces conduct that is fitting of a child of God. Without that transformation, we often struggle with the temperament we have formed over the years.

The content of our lives - content gives us significance - it fills us up and gives us something we can share with others that they will actually desire. When we feel we have little to offer in a situation, we feel "insignificant" - we see ourselves as lacking what will lend to the situation at hand, therefore we see our contribution as "worthless". The content of our lives is made up of what we have experienced, how we have interpreted those experiences, what we have learned, and what we have "unlearned". That said, if we have allowed "content" that is not quite "right" or truthful into our lives, we have probably established patterns of behavior that keep us feeling like we are insignificant. One thing I want us to understand - in Christ, we are made new - there is a 'significance' poured into our lives, but there is also an awareness of the extreme significance of our lives because it is a life Christ values. The old content is replaced with new - we take on Christ, and we put off the old patterns of behavior, the old patterns of thought, the old failures of our past. 
 
The future course of our lives is not always clear to us when we are constantly in a state of flux or change - when we asked Christ into our lives, we opened the door for change. We actually invited change to occur - not once, but consistently - it is a process of movement, not immobility. We asked for the influences of our past to be diminished, and the influences of our present to be affected deeply by the hope that we find in Christ alone. We invited the Holy Spirit into permanent residence within us - to direct the future course of our lives. Paul reminds us that he is fully aware of his imperfections  - he doesn't have it all together. He recognizes that his past had many things that needed to be changed - but he could not change the past, he could only allow his future to be changed. We get all wigged out by our past - because it influences our present form, nature, and even the content of life. BUT...the past is DONE. We now must look toward the future. That is where change really takes hold. Transformation is a work of the present and the future - not the past. Press toward that which will make you whole - don't hold onto that which will diminish you any further. Just sayin!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Is that a little 'grace-bud' I see?

God's sacrifice of his one and only begotten Son did not give us immediate perfection in the sense that we suddenly begin to act and think differently as we say "yes" to him - but it is a beginning point whereby our actions are molded into those that reflect the "grace work" he began by his atoning sacrifice. Growth is incremental - the changing of how we think about our sin is a step-by-step process.  We embrace grace, step into his love, and allow him to show us that forgiveness.  He does the rest.  Isn't it time that we begin to view our sins the way God does?  Once on the alter, they are done away with!  

If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God. (Romans 2:12-13 MSG)

Sometimes we just don't do right and we know it almost instantly. At other times, we don't do right and we really don't realize we have done anything wrong - until we see the consequences of our actions begin to bear fruit! There are all kinds of sins, but one thing is for certain - there is only one way to deal with whatever those sins are! That way? Christ and Christ alone. The grace God gives is not 'interchangeable' with any other religious experience. The forgiveness of sins is not found in any amount of religious 'work'. Grace is a gift found nowhere other than at the foot of the cross - at the altar of atonement. 

It is a waste of our time, and God's, for us to merely hear his word and then choose to just ignore it. It is equally wasteful to receive his gift of grace and then just go about doing whatever it is we want to do because we are counting on that 'grace gift' to just undo all we do wrong. The gift of grace isn't given so we can keep on sinning. On the contrary - it is given so we can learn how to move away from sin and into right-living (righteousness). Grace isn't a 'thing' - it is a way of living, acting, responding, choosing, and even just 'being'.

At the altar of grace, our sins are dealt with (once and for all). Yet, we can still make wrong choices, right? As long as we are breathing in and out, there will be the opportunity to choose right and wrong. Grace offers us new choices - but we still do the choosing. We determine to walk into grace, or we choose to walk away from it time after time again. Grace is what helps us to 'adjust' our focus and undermine those wrong choices we are making in life. Grace is equally what pulls us back to the altar each time we slip and fall.

While we may not 'feel' grace-filled, and made new, the fact remains we are indeed both of these things. Why? Where Christ makes his dwelling, there can be no denying his presence fills that space with grace. Where grace abounds, new growth is possible. I observed a small plant springing forth in one of my beds the other day. I was weeding and almost plucked that thing up. Then it dawned on my that those leaves looked just a little bit like a squash plant. So, I determined to extend a little 'grace' to the plant to see what comes of it. It remains with an opportunity for growth because grace was extended. 

In our lives, there are times God sees that budding of new growth and then extends just a little more grace to help that growth reveal itself fully. What appears to be 'grace-buds' of new growth are given the 'extended grace' so that there begins to be a revelation of what will come of that 'bud' of new life given to us. Grace is all about the 'budding' of new life. It is the replacing of something old and not so good with something new, but not always fully developed yet. The development comes in time - time at the altar and time at his feet. Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Here, God? There, God? Where, God?

I will the first to admit that I don't always heed the revelation I have at my disposal. I know the benefits of following some course of action, but choose something completely different. I don't always see the results I wanted, though. That change in plans didn't get the same results because it wasn't the best course of action for me to take in the first place. We all want to know what comes next in life, don't we? We'd rather have 'more information' at the start of a matter because if we were totally aware of the outcome ahead of time, we'd just launch right in. Sometimes we only get hints of what is to come - not an entire disclosure! When we only get hints, we are required to operate in some element of faith by taking that course. This is where we struggle - faith isn't our strongest course of action, but it is the necessary one!

If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. (Proverbs 29:18 MSG)

Revelation provides that something once otherwise or previously hidden from our perception becomes known - if even in the smallest way. It is common to say that we don't know what God is doing, but that we will just trust him with the outcome. While this sentiment is certainly commendable, we fail to admit just how much we are struggling with "not knowing" what God is doing and we are operating more on sentiment than on faith! We find ourselves stumbling around in the dark and hoping that we are going to come into a place of light sometime soon - maybe, just maybe, we will get a little more of the 'revelation pie' if we just head out in the direction ahead of us. This is not the way God wants to have us proceeding through life. He wants to give us opportunities for disclosure - times when he brings us into the knowledge of what he is about to do.

God brings revelation during times of specific communion - times of communication. For communication to be effective, it must be two-way. Much of our communication with God is simply one-way....we pray and expect him to listen, answer, and reveal - forgetting that God is looking for the opportunity to speak into our lives, as well. There are times when God may be asking us to do the listening, giving him an answer, and revealing to him things we are struggling with or trying to deal with in our own effort or power. God's hope is that true communication will occur - genuine exchange of the 'two-way' type. There is something powerful in "good" communication - it cements relationship, building strong foundations. When we are brought to a place where vision is created, there is an internal igniting of passion to pursue what we are now beginning to see just a little more clearly. A good leader will first create the vision around what he is desiring to accomplish, then will assist those around him to lay hold of that vision, its possibilities, and its challenges. Together, they tackle the challenges - through the innovation of the whole, there is an ability to overcome what challenges the one. I think we could all agree that God is a pretty awesome leader - if we'd just allow him to lead!

Without revelation (disclosure, communication, and inspiration), there is nothing to restrain us from taking one course of action over another. We are aimless and aimless people accomplish absolutely random things. There is no order to what is created - it is up to chance. Good may come out of this type of random effort, but it is certainly not as good as if we understood what we were doing, its purpose, and how it fits into a bigger plan. Attending to what God discloses is the key to purposeful action and movement in life. Our challenges are nothing to God! The storms of life are of little concern to him because he controls them all! Where there is revelation, there is the ability to navigate safely - nothing really offers immovable barriers when we are walking with God. God isn't asking for us to just pick through life's challenges a little step here or there, but dance through them - on his arm! Have you stopped long enough today to seek some revelation (disclosure, communication, and inspiration) from the one who knows where the next step you take really should be? Just askin!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Now, that's the 'real deal'

Today you will hear someone exclaim - that's the real deal - referring to something that is genuine, not fake, the real thing. Back in the day, Coca-Cola used "real-thing" to describe their soda. They were trying to establish that their 'cola' was the genuine cola - none comparing to the taste you'd find in opening a bottle of Coca-Cola. Let me just say, there is ONE "real deal" in this lifetime - it is Jesus. He is the "real thing" - the genuine article. He is not just another "thing" to be worshiped, but the only way into true and everlasting life - the 'real-deal' that connects us to God the Father. Try as some might, there is no 'counterfeit religion' that will do the same thing!

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten. (John 1:9-13)

It is Jesus who brings us into light. Let me acknowledge that no one who has truly experienced light wants to willingly settle for darkness - there is something liberating about the light. Darkness has very little appeal after we have experienced the wonder of all light exposes - color, hue, form, etc. It is important to note that we don't somehow get into the light ourselves - he brings us into the light. The challenge of being blind is that we must trust another to guide us in our darkness - mom takes my arm in order to navigate a place she is uncertain about. A blind person must learn to place their faith in another - coming into step with the one who is "in the light" in order to move through the darkness. So it is with us - we need to trust in the one capable of bringing us into light - coming into step with him.

The world did not even notice him while he was here among them. It amazes me that the creator of the world, the one who sustains everything in this world, was actually in the world, right there living and breathing alongside human beings, and our fellow humans failed to notice him. Each of us has had a point when what has previously been a lack of focus for us suddenly comes into view and we wonder how long that object or solution has been right there in front of us. Most of our "revelation" of Christ in our lives is really just a discovery of what is already there. We just didn't notice it before - either because we were too busy, self-focused, or distracted.

If anyone wanted him, he made them comfortable to be their true selves around him. At best, we walk around trying to be what we think we should be. We have an "image" of what we want to achieve, how we want to be perceived by others, or what we present as the goals of our lives - something we put forward for all to see. No one knows us better than the one who created us. The 'real deal' himself is well-acquainted with the 'real deal' in us.  When take our car to the dealership, telling them it is making a certain noise, they are likely to know very well what to consider as the cause of that noise. Why? They made it!  Others mechanics not associated with the dealership may be "trained" to look for certain things - but at best, they can "guess" at the cause - they aren't as acquainted with the 'real deal' as the ones who actually make and sell those automobiles. The one who made the automobile "knows" - because he is the one that formed every part, placed every part into its particular use, etc. Jesus is the one who knows how we were formed - and he knows the purpose for each one of us. 

We are "God-begotten" - sure, we were all born the typical way - a sperm made its way into an egg and conception occurred. Most of us were born from a mother's womb, but today this 'connection process' between egg and sperm can occur in a test-tube in a laboratory. The fact still remains, the sperm and egg must come together and then the action of physical life begins - the 'real-deal' begins to take form. In a spiritual sense, the same must occur. The Spirit of God enters into our spirit, and spiritual life begins. We sometimes refer to this as the "new birth" experience. The "replication" of Christ's character begins to take place - until we are completely formed into his image, reflective of his character.

We become the "real deal" because we are inhabited by the "real deal"! What we once overlooked has become our very existence - every moment, every breath, every step. The absolutely amazing thing about this process of the "new birth" experience is that we come into a place where we are free to be exactly who we were created to be - our unique qualities on display for God's glory and at the ready for his use - the 'real-deal' is revealed. Just being real here!