Monday, January 22, 2018

Why am I waiting again?

On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. (Psalm 138:3 ESV) 

When I pray, you answer me and encourage me by giving me the strength I need. (Psalm 138:3 TLB)

On the day - catch those words. There are times we think we are praying to a "brass sky" - words bouncing back at us and not making any "inroad" to the God of the universe. We pray and pray - sometimes imploring God for the very things we need - never really feeling like we are "getting anywhere". There is truth in these words, "On the day...", for it isn't that he didn't hear, we just don't see evidence he has heard! On the very day we pray, he answers. The answer may just not be as quickly, or as "overt" that we can "sense" it, but trust God's word on this one - he has answered!

Our strength to endure the wait is often what we receive without even knowing we have received it! I have experienced long waits between the prayer and the evidence of the answer, but there has not been one exception to the truth of God's strength repeatedly filling my life and helping me to take the steps of obedience I need to take until there is evidence of that answer fully in my life. That "infilling" of strength deep within our soul is often all the evidence we get that God has answered. Trust that strength even when you don't see the answer, my friends.

What can we be "doing" while we are awaiting the evidence of God's answer? This is probably one of the most "telling" questions that reveals the depth of our trust in the answer God is bringing. It is in the moments between the prayer and the answer being evident where we show how willing we are to trust God to produce the outcome and not work it out ourselves! Trust doesn't mean we don't do anything, but it does mean we only act upon what we know to be the things God expects of us. In other words, we continue to be faithful to "do" what he asks us to "do" all the time. It doesn't mean we "create" the answer, but that we work within the guidelines of what the scripture teaches. 

That means we continue to pray - for scripture tells us to pray and "importune". In other words, we aren't "re-praying" because we think God needs to hear it a different way or repeatedly, but that we pray in faith. We unburden our hearts before him and we speak with him about the doubts we have that are impacting that faith. We continue to trust - even when all the evidence tells us our prayer hasn't been "effective". We aren't "re-praying", we are sometimes talking with God about our temptation to "take over" to get the answer here and now! Just sayin!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Don't put it off

I saw something the other day that said, "We cannot put off living until we are ready." It was probably an advertisement for some financial business, promoting one's "readiness" for those "golden years", but it kind of bespoke how much we go about life and just don't really "live it". We miss moments because we are making plans for "some day". Moments won't come back to us - once spent, they are gone! Maybe that is why Facebook put those "reminders" up there on our feed to remind us of the moments we actually posted something that are now called "memories".

23 Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! 2-3 He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most. Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.  You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow! Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home. (Psalm 23 TLB)

Most of us would associate the words of Psalm 23 being read at the bedside of of loved ones who is in the final course of their lives. Those all too familiar words, "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Yet, do we really walk without fear? Do we honestly feel those moments of meadow grass and quiet streams? Have we enjoyed them as much as humanly possible? Yes, I want God to guide us as we navigate any dark valley, especially the one that leads up to our last breath, but I also want us to really experience his presence in the moments of today's breaths!

God's goodness and unfailing love are often missed when the moments pass us by unnoticed. We forget to look, and then we miss it all! It is a sad thing to admit, but I have to "make moments" to spend with him, or life would consume all of me and there'd be nothing left to enjoy with him! I think this is a priority in my life - one others may not understand, but one which I guard very closely. Why? Those moments are not something to be "put off". There is strength to be found in them. There is substance that will help me to solve the issues ahead of me in the day I will face. There is even correction that needs to occur so that my day goes as it should, not as it would!

We might miss something in this psalm, so I want to focus us on it for just a moment. It says he "lets me" rest in the meadow grass. That means God's plan includes specific time where I just rest a little - not driving forward a hundred miles an hour all of the time - but just taking the foot off the gas a little while and resting. He also leads, but it is to places of quietness and refreshing. Whether he "let's" or "leads", both are intended for our good! Just sayin!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Influential, isn't he?

In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me and rescued me. He is for me! How can I be afraid? What can mere man do to me? 
What can mere man to do me? That is a powerful question many of us never really take the time to explore. The more accurate question we may want to ask ourselves is, "What has mere man been doing to me?" What is it you have come to believe or accept simply because someone told you, or because of their "threats" you now behave a particular way in response to those threats? There is a fine line between our behavior and our beliefs - we aren't usually too far off in our behavior when it comes to these two things!
May I meddle for a moment this morning? Way too many of us have some "fear". We don't want to "rock the boat" at work because we fear we may lose our job even though we are clearly aware of practices or behaviors that have become "common place" that ought not to be accepted. We don't step up when we see a need in someone's life because we fear how it is they may receive our assistance, perhaps even becoming "too dependent" upon us as their "relief". We have accepted the way others see us and have told us we "are" rather than listening to the voice of God speaking clear truth into our lives as to who we "really are" because of his grace.
It seems "mere man" may be more of a concern in our lives than we might like to admit! There is an influence man exerts in our lives - even if we don't admit it right off, that influence may be what is keeping us "cemented" in certain actions within our daily life. What we accept as truth or "the way it is", even when we aren't really aware we are doing it, makes our choices of behavior that much more dependent upon the actions of others than upon the actions of God in our lives. Therein comes the rub - our god is man and not God! We fear man and don't reverence God by giving him the right place in our lives. His right place? Any place where truth begins to invade the space where the fear of man has occupied!
If the influence of another, or of the circumstances you find yourself in exert more influence in your life than God's Spirit is right now, then this is the wrong influence to be honoring or obeying. It is important for us to get the right perspective on what man or the circumstances can "really" do to us. God is God and he remains supreme to either that human influence or the influencing pressures of the circumstances! If we want to be free of their influence, we start looking to a different source for our influence! Just sayin!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Our choice, but he backs us up

14 Obey God because you are his children; don’t slip back into your old ways—doing evil because you knew no better. 15 But be holy now in everything you do, just as the Lord is holy, who invited you to be his child. 16 He himself has said, “You must be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:14-16 TLB)

If I were to ask you to describe what the word 'obey' means to you, I'd probably get mixed answers on this one. If you grew up in a home where phrases such as, "Children are best seen and not heard", or "You will eat that because there are starving children in Africa", you probably have a view of obedience to your parents as being very cautious of ever 'crossing the line' with their rules. Others of us may have pushed that line a little in our lifetimes, finding ourselves clearly on the other side of that parent's anger or disappointment when we did. We can see obedience as a 'do it right the first time' kind of thing, while others could see it as a 'do your best, no matter what' kind of thing. Obedience has come to be such a hard thing for so many in society, even to the point of striking that 'love, honor, and obey' phrase from wedding vows because the thought of 'obeying' was just too much! Obedience in the terms of how God sees it is restoration and then moving away from what caused us to require that restoration in the first place!

Restoration brought us back to the place where obedience is even possible. Restoration's work begins the process of placing us on a path where obedience is more than just 'doing it right the first time' because we 'have to', but because we actually want to. We feel a different desire to not engage in those acts of disobedience any longer - even though they still present us with a little bit of temptation or struggle. Maybe we get down on ourselves now and again because we feel these desires, or struggle with the 'potential' of pursuing some course of action we clearly should avoid. We chastise ourselves, believing even the thought of such actions is suggestive we are not being 'obedient'. The truth of the matter is that sometimes those desires will still create a little 'tension' in our lives for a while - because we haven't fully stopped desiring them yet - we still want our own way a little bit. 

Sometimes obedience is two steps in the right direction and one backward step in the 'not so right direction'. Despite that step backward, we are still on the pathway to 'perfect obedience' - we aren't there yet, but we are clearly on a different course in life and that is what matters! Restoration changes the course of our lives, but it doesn't always mean we don't deal with some of the original 'framework' that has been established in our lives. God isn't the 'heavenly parent' who 'demands' obedience of us like the 'sit there until you clean your plate' kind of obedience like an earthly parent may have required. He presents us with the right course and knows we have a free-will to choose to walk in it. He shows us how much he desires us to follow it, not because he insists on us walking no other course, but because he knows of the safety he has provided for us within that course! Obedience is an acknowledgement of his 'knowing best' what we need, how our desires can be met in the best possible way, and what it is that will draw us further away from what can bring us harm in life.

Obedience is not 'giving up' - it is 'letting in'. We let God's Spirit and presence into our lives and we begin to sense things differently as a result. We have both paths before us - one clearly leading in a direction we shouldn't travel, while the other may not be fully known, but which has been specifically prepared to keep us safe in the journey. God's Spirit is often the voice of reason seeking our 'obedience' to choose the latter. It is a choice - we make it - he backs it up! Just sayin!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Big Treasure

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth where they can erode away or may be stolen. Store them in heaven where they will never lose their value and are safe from thieves. If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too." (Matthew 6:19-21 TLB)
Someone once said our stumbles could be our greatest treasures. I pondered on that thought for just a while and began to really think about the times I have stumbled (and I don't have to think very far back to begin this journey!). What "treasures" came out of those moments? Sometimes it was the knowledge another stood right there with me, willing to go that extra length to see me "make right" what I was obviously making a pretty big mess of in the first place. At others, it was simply the knowledge I wasn't alone in the stumbling - others were tripping up on the exact same things! Yet, some of the greatest treasure I brought out of those times of stumbling were the ones that revealed just how much God's hand had been on me despite my choosing to take a path which would lead to my stumbling!
There are those who believe any path taken toward sin or compromise is really a path without God. The truth is that if we have said 'yes' to Jesus, it is impossible to travel that 'wrong path' without him right there alone with us. He is just not the one choosing the path at the moment - it doesn't mean he is any "less with us" as we go down it. As a young girl, I remember asking my dad about a pin he kept attached to the visor in the car. It went with us from one car to the next as the family traded in one to get another. It was the head and shoulders of a brass angel about two inches long, with her wings outstretched. In response, dad simply said she was there to protect us, that is until we exceeded the speed limit! At that point, she flew out the window! I never saw her 'fly', even when someone was clearly over the posted limit!
There are times we treat God as though he would "fly out the window" of our souls each time we speed down that pathway to compromise. In truth, he is holding onto us so tightly we don't collide with all those obstacles in our path as quickly as we might do should we be totally on our own! We don't realize he is still there, just like the 'angel pin' was still there on the visor. God isn't an 'abandoning' type - it is contrary to his perfect love to only 'be with us' when we are good and then leave us when we are not behaving so well! The greatest treasures have come in recognizing all the ways he didn't abandon me along that path - and how he helped me find my way back to the right one each and every time! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Harmony doesn't just "exist"

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live in harmony! (Psalm 133:1 TLB)

What does harmony look like in your mind? In your heart? In your attitude? In your actions? Most would define harmony as the state of being united, without barriers or friction. In truth, harmony means much more - for it bespeaks a "congruity of parts" - where mind and heart are one; heart is reflected in one's attitude; and one's attitude directions all the actions that come forth so as to create a cohesiveness. Could it be possible to have harmony, but not to live in harmony? Yes, of course, for congruity of the parts doesn't always mean those parts will be all moving in the "right" direction!

While most of us would want to think of harmony as a state of tranquility, we all know to get to that "state" requires some traveling over some pretty rough roads at times! Tranquility is not something that just happens by accident - it requires a Creator, a Sustainer, and oftentimes, a Restrainer! The mind may desire to go in that direction more than anything else, but the desires of the heart need a little bit of restraint to actually get us headed in the right direction, especially where we feel we have been "wronged" within any relationship.

Harmony takes at least one Creator of that condition of mind and heart. It takes one party being willing to lay down their own agenda to listen, truly listen, to the desire of the other's heart. It would be best if both were pulling in the same direction here, but we all know harmony usually involves some "compromise" on the part of the one willing to take the first step. In the beginning, God created true harmony. Sin entered in and that condition of heart and mind was upset - it still had the capacity to exist, but their had to be an intervention in order to restore that harmony - Christ.

We have all we need, if we have Christ in control of our hearts, to realize true harmony within our relationships with each other - for it begins with true harmony with God. The heart and mind pull together under the Sustaining power of the Holy Spirit and we soon find our attitude begins to reflect the Restraining power of his presence, as well. It doesn't mean we are constantly biting our tongue, or compromising to meet the other person's demands. It means we learn to truly be quiet long enough to hear the heart of another and then realize where it is we can find mutual ground to travel! Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day

Follow God’s example in everything you do just as a much loved child imitates his father. Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, for Christ’s love for you was like sweet perfume to him. (Ephesians 5:1-2 TLB)
God is so ready to love us. He is simply waiting on us to be open to all the ways he wants to show us that love. The most important way he revealed his love was already done in Christ's death, but there are so very many more ways he stands ready to just encompass our lives with his perfect love! God's love isn't complicated like human love is. It reaches into places human love just wouldn't dare go and with such a tenacity that doesn't exist in the evidence I have observed with human love. 
Human love is conditional - as good as our human love is, there is a point where we give and give, but in some very basic place within ourselves we are at least hoping for a little bit of something in return, aren't we? Human love wanes where there is little to no "return" on the investment of that love. We find other venues to express that love - other parties become participants in that love - or worse yet, we learn to withhold it because we didn't get anything in return!
God doesn't withhold his love - even when we turn a cold shoulder his way. He doesn't move on when we take too long to respond to his overtures of love. He doesn't criticize us for not "getting" how much he loves us. He doesn't fake loving us even though we haven't been all that loving back to him. His love is genuine, not "conditioned" on our responses, and is persistent in its pursuit. His desire is that we get comfortable in the embrace of his love and then we learn how to embrace others with it!
Why did I turn to "love" as a subject this morning? Maybe it was because I was reminded of this whole "love thing" as I recently observed the shelves of Christmas decor coming down and the Valentine candies taking that place in my neighborhood grocery store. It was a reminder that human love is fleeting, but God's love is deeper and more reliable than any other form of love. His love goes beyond the red heart boxed chocolates kind of love - it goes to the red blood shed on a tree for us kind of love! Just sayin!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ascending?

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu reminds us: "To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders." I wonder just how often we afford ourselves the luxury of really getting to the point we would say our minds are "still". I know this is a hard thing for me because my mind works overtime! I awake in the night, thoughts of some project emerging until I am ruminating on the solution. I am creating in my downtime - innovating in my sleep almost. Yet, I have learned the value of just getting still before the Lord and not allowing other things to creep into that space I create just for that time we will share the "stillness" together. I am never disappointed by the stillness because it is there I find my soul surrenders, my will is made bendable, and my spirit is given new glimpses into the very things I need to grasp.

Lord, I am not proud and haughty. I don’t think myself better than others. I don’t pretend to “know it all.”  I am quiet now before the Lord, just as a child who is weaned from the breast. Yes, my begging has been stilled. (Psalm 131:1-2 TLB)


Now, let me caution us just a little bit here. Stillness of mind doesn't mean we empty our minds of every thought - it means we take "captive" the thoughts that wander, giving way to the Lord's voice to be heard. It suggests more of a closer attention being paid than it does to a total lack of thought! Psalm 131 is considered one of the "Psalms of Ascent". These begin in the 120th Psalm and go through the 134th. A 200 foot wide stairway leads to the Temple doorway in Jerusalem. It is this "ascent" in which Israelite worshipers would "sing" the various Psalms of Ascent. Each psalm carrying a unique meaning and purpose as they ascended to the doorway. Beginning with Psalm 120, the one ascending acknowledges he has been away too long. He moves on in the 121st to admit he worries way too much, but that he needs to settle his thoughts and just trust in God's keeping power. He then rejoices in not being alone in his worship (Psalm 122) and that he needed to hear God's quiet, simple instructions (Psalm 123). 

It may be this great desire to hear those instructions that drives him onward, as often is the case when we are moving into God's presence. In ascending, he also acknowledges the greatness of God's power on his behalf (Psalm 124), and he celebrates the "security" he feels while ascending within the walls of Jerusalem (Psalm 125). Others might threaten his peace and safety, but within the walls of God's city he feels secure and "at home". What a great way to consider God's presence in our lives - as a place where we can feel not only secure, but totally and completely at home! He recounts how God has not been lacking in his compassion toward his people, caring for even their most basic of needs, never abandoning them to their own devices (Psalm 126). What a joy it is to know and trust that God is never going to abandon us to our own devices - to leave us subject to the many enemy attacks that would threaten to be our undoing in life.

As he continues to ascend, his soul is lifted, mind is focused, and heart is filled. Why? He recognizes the "rule of David", the then King of Israel, was only the beginning of another rule that would never end - the rule and reign of Christ Jesus, the Lord (Psalm 127). Amazingly, he references rest and sleep - the refreshing phases of life - as he ascends. Maybe this is what "stillness" actually does for us - it helps us get to the place we actually leave God's presence more refreshed or renewed than when we came! As we make our way higher, we find he focuses on attitude and behavior - how both are interrelated and find their greatest "release" when attitude is toward God's goodness in their lives and behavior is subject to his commands (Psalm 128). By the 129th Psalm, the "mood" of the psalm seems to change from one of remembrance, celebration, and trust to that of outlining why God's people kind of suffer at times. Why would this be here in one of the Psalms of Ascent? Perhaps it is to remind us how very "real" this climb is into God's presence. It isn't always perfect, nor is it always easy. We get things messed up and we oftentimes just need to have a "realigning" of our lives in order to help us continue as we should be moving. 

As we enter the 130th Psalm, we find three short verses. In these verses, the psalmist is reminded of the importance of confession. You might think confession began much earlier on the "climb", but as the mind is stilled and focused, we often find we can see a little easier where it is we are struggling the most. It is there we admit our need for help and our absolute trust in God to create all the ability we need to overcome in these areas. To end these psalms, we find the psalmist referring to the attitude of a child - the simplest of ways to approach God's presence is through a heart and mind of a child - curious, open, and willing to learn (Psalm 131). I will leave you with this thought today - the ascent may not be easy, but as we allow the stillness of God's peace to invade the chaos of our minds, souls, and spirits, we find we are able to open ourselves to hear, to learn. Just sayin!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Time to get rid of the rocker

32 1-2 What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record.
There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration. All day and all night your hand was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, “I will confess them to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Now I say that each believer should confess his sins to God when he is aware of them, while there is time to be forgiven. Judgment will not touch him if he does. (Psalm 32:1-6 TLB)
How likely are you to admit you are a sinner? Hiding behind your dishonesty only makes you miserable - just as the writer of our psalm said. The truth sets each of us free. There is no better cure for misery than confession. There is no better vehicle for hope than grace. There is no better release than to actually lay it all out before God and allow him to really set you free! I have frequently said guilt is not really a short "trip" for many of us - it can be a lifetime journey for some! It could be we have become so accustomed to our guilt we just cannot believe there is any other possible way to "feel". 
I was kind of reminded of my need to take action the other day when I told a friend I did not accomplish the removal of a particular rocker from my mother's room that I feel is not all that safe for her any longer due to her lack of stability on her feet and how long it takes for her to gain stability upon rising from a chair now. In essence, she asked me what I was afraid of and suggested that mom couldn't spank me for doing it. The truth of the matter is that I will do this, but I want to give mom a chance to consider it as something of benefit to her. Aging is a hard enough thing and there is constant pressure on her to "give up" so many of the things she was accustomed to doing. 
The way we "feel" and adjust to those "feelings" is indeed important in this lifetime, but there are some some feelings we don't want to take too long to get used to - such as guilt! Guilt isn't something we want to accept as a long-term thing in our lives. We want to be sensitive to it, as I am trying to be sensitive to mom's need to adjust to her limitations, but we don't want to give guilt so much room that it takes over in our lives. We want to allow guilt to do what it was designed to do - drive us to our knees and seek God's grace to deal with whatever is giving us that guilt. While we cannot deny the feeling, we don't want to entertain it as a lifestyle!
We might not realize how much relief comes from dealing with our guilt as God designed. We probably haven't learned how much God desires to hear us acknowledge our sin before him and so we believe we have to deal with that guilt all on our own, or entertain it for way too long. God isn't going to "spank us" just like mom won't spank me for taking good care of her. He will embrace us and recognize that we have needs only he is capable of meeting. He will shower us with grace, as mom will shower me with grace as she adjusts to saying goodbye to this favorite little chair. As we let go of our favorite little sin, God has a big cushy "chair of grace" we can settle into. Just sayin!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A freedom like no other

For if you offered him thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of olive oil—would that please him? Would he be satisfied? If you sacrificed your oldest child, would that make him glad? Then would he forgive your sins? Of course not! No, he has told you what he wants, and this is all it is: to be fair, just, merciful, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:7-8 TLB)
I have often said we complicate this walk with Jesus way too much by adding a weight upon our shoulders of all kinds of "things" we imagine God must want us to do or bring or give. We get so bogged down under the burden of trying to meet whatever "demands" we believe God has of us that we miss totally it is just "us" he really craves! He wants time with us. He desires communion with our heart. He yearns to hear us tell him what is going on in our minds and hearts, and to allow him to unburden both!
We imagine huge offerings are needed - he already provided the "ONE" offering that accomplished it all. We create elaborate ways to worship him - he simply desires a complete honesty of heart and mind. We presume we need some type of "covering" for our sinfulness - he simply desires our nakedness. The desire of his heart is for us to walk humbly "with" him. It isn't that we "mask over" our weakness and need. It isn't that we create some elaborate way to make ourselves "presentable" to him. Sometimes the most vulnerable times are the hardest for us, but they are also the most rewarding.
Nakedness is feared by many - because it prevents disguise. When we are naked, all our flaws can no longer be hidden. This makes a good many uncomfortable. I think this is why we design such elaborate ways to come before God - because we are not comfortable with him really seeing all those flaws! The sad truth is that he doesn't see any flaw he hasn't already fallen deeply in love with, so attempting to hide what he already loves so tremendously is kind of silly!
There is an approach to God that is "uncomplicated" and free of all the encumbrances we so often see in "religion". It is the desire of God's heart that each of our hearts embrace this "uncomplicated" approach into his presence. It means we truly become comfortable being "naked" with God - humbly acknowledging we aren't perfect, that he doesn't demand our perfection, and that he has an intense love for us as completely "imperfect" people. If we'd get comfortable being "imperfect" before God, we might be surprised at how many ways we experience his perfection in our lives! 
It isn't that we walk humbly in and out of his presence. It is that we learn to walk humbly with his presence. This is different than how many of us walk with God, for we make the walk about the moments rather than about the lifestyle. God enjoys the moments of true nakedness of heart and mind as much as we come to, but he is most concerned for us to experience the lifestyle of open and honest nakedness - therein we find the true "freedom of soul" that causes our spirit to soar. Just sayin!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Another grace moment awaits

11 For the free gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone; 12 and along with this gift comes the realization that God wants us to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures and to live good, God-fearing lives day after day, 13 looking forward to that wonderful time we’ve been expecting, when his glory shall be seen—the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13 TLB)

Have you watched one of those "infomercials" on TV and heard their hard-sell pitches to get you to buy their product? It isn't enough we get one of those non-stick magic pans for the low, low price of $29.99 - hold your hat - we get two (for an additional shipping and handling charge which is equal to almost as much as the cost of another pan). They show you ten meals in less than one minute, dazzling you will the hype of how this will make your life so much easier, while giving you the healthiest meal possible since God created the first apple tree! Life offers us the "hard sell" on a whole lot of stuff - God offers us the "soft sell" when it comes to our salvation. The gift is ours - there are no gimmicks or "fast-pitch" tactics to rope us in. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving, but it is also the gift we can enjoy time after time again - never really growing tired of ALL that the gift accomplishes in our lives!

God doesn't need the "hard sell" because what he offers is the genuine deal! There is no substitute "on the market" for what grace affords in our lives. We can try a whole lot of other "marketed" lifestyle changes, but the true change happens only once we receive the gift of grace. Grace brings us to the realization of needing to embrace a new way of living - it helps us to recognize our choices haven't been all that God-honoring, and maybe even a little bit "self-centered". In turn, that initial gift of grace brings us into a daily "inflow" of godliness - changing us day after day until we become more and more "models" of God's goodness.

Grace may not seem to make our lives "easier" because there is some degree of "work" involved in "maintaining" this gift - the connection we must maintain is oftentimes harder than we imagined, but the "dividends" of grace are multiplied multi-fold each day we work on that connection with God's grace! Each new moment of connection with his grace brings us to the realization change is likely necessary - though not easy. God doesn't "spruce up" this day-to-day walk requirement by telling us it is the best thing since sliced bread. He doesn't promise a two-for-one deal in order to "win us over". What he does is offer us genuine change - through grace - and then he asks us to walk out that change by taking daily and consistent steps of obedience. 

At this time of the year, many of us are already beginning to wane in commitment when it comes to our "resolutions". The exercise program is just proving to be too hard, or more difficult to "fit into our schedule" than we might have originally thought. The "healthy eating" program we launched is just way "too healthy" for us! The promise to spend more "quality time" with the family begins to get a little complicated when we realize it actually requires "time"! God's not going to let us get away with "waning" grace moments for very long, though. When we said "yes" to Jesus, he opened up a whole bunch of grace moments to us - now he expects us to actually walk in those moments. 

That means consistent obedience to the principles he teaches us through his Word, good pastoral teaching, and solid biblical advice from other believers. As we engage in those consistent steps of obedience, those "grace moments" become more and more fulfilling. Those moments may not seem like much when taken one by one, but as they all add up, there are huge dividends that come from those consistent moments with Jesus! Just sayin!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Should or Would?

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

"As we should" are pretty powerful words, aren't they? They are also "telling" words, for many of us would probably echo back, "Not as we would", for we have chosen a much different path than the one we "should" have taken! Emerson told us, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Too many times we have followed his advice and found ourselves blazing a new trail that perhaps we'd have been much better off to have never explored! Someone once said that choosing a path means we abandon some other path - I think the rest of the saying implies that the abandoning of one may mean it is abandoned forever. 

We all have many choices of the paths we take each and every day. The paths may be well-worn by us by now, requiring us some effort to abandon because the grooves we have worn act more like a pit than a path! The choice to deviate from any path we have chosen as a "would take" path rather than a "should take" path opens us up to great perils based upon that misjudgment. Most disobedience carries some element of obedience - for we know the right path to choose, we just abandon that wise choice for the unwise! We are obeying an inner voice crying louder than another - listening to one over the other can often be our downfall - for the quietest voice is sometimes the hardest to hear, but the clearest on the matter at hand!

When we become "seasoned" in our choices toward obedience, we find the "should take" paths become more evident to us. What has happened there? We have learned to recognize the wisdom of the few! We have learned that our days are numbered and unwise choices will only eat up those "few days" we are given, sometimes quicker than we might imagine possible. As quickly as those days were given to us, we frittered them away on the "would take" path - losing sometimes days and days of opportunity which could have been ours down the "other path". What occupies our time the most? Would you say those things "fit" in the "should take" if I were smart or the "would take" because I want my own way path? 

The "I want my own way" ordeal is real! We probably struggle with feeling sorry for ourselves when we don't get it, create chaos at times when our way isn't being heard, and get really frustrated with constantly being challenged to take any other way but our own. Yet, the man or woman who learns to "number their days" realizes there may be only one opportunity to travel the obedience path. The chance for a "do-over" isn't guaranteed, even though God is pretty gracious to those of us who have needed more than one or two of those "do-over" moments! Obedience isn't accidental - it is learned in listening and in yielding to the "should take" path more and more. That may not be the one we desire the most, but in time, we will find our desires changing little by little until we crave that "should take" path way more than the "would take" one! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

No hand-me-downs here

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB)
Some of us need to hear that message time and time again to realize we are "not the same anymore". Too many times we tell ourselves a completely different story, such as "I will never change" or "No one will ever see me any differently". The truth is that you have changed and God sees you totally differently - for he sees you through the eyes of GRACE. Grace indicates a new beginning - we have become a brand new person - maybe not on the outside, but definitely on the inside!
Notice it doesn't say we get a "thrift store" kind of fix up. It isn't that we get the rejects of others to "make us new". We get the best of Christ - the new "garments of righteousness" to replace the very best of "hand me down rags" anyone else could ever offer us. We are often thinking we just get a few "patches" added to our mess of a life, but the truth is that from the inside out we get "brand new". It is about time we start to think of ourselves as "brand new"!
Take note - the new beginning is part of us saying "yes" to Jesus. It isn't found any other way. As best as we might try in some mystical religious pursuit, way of the shaman, or alignment of our lives through some chakra, we just aren't going to get "brand new" in any of these efforts! Brand new is only available through the grace of Christ - period! There may be a lot of "world religions" out there, but there is only ONE Christ and there is only ONE way to grace - through him!
We also need to take note that it is a "beginning" we find in Christ. The end might be foretold in that moment of our "saying yes" to him, but we begin what becomes a lifestyle of "grace change" - making us brand new in every aspect of our thinking, behaving, and even in our "looking". We develop into our righteousness from the inside out. As we say yes to Jesus over and over again - by taking faithful steps of obedience - we find we are changed more and more - casting aside all our rags of self-righteousness. 
Our heart is that of a prodigal - having done our own thing for so long we see no real hope for any real change. Our hope isn't found in cleaning up the outside - it is realized when we understand Jesus has begun that change from the inside! Instead of donning that "old us" today, we don a new life and freedom in Christ. Instead of telling ourselves that same old, sad story of "nothing will ever change", it is time for us to embrace the new story being written on our hearts made new by the grace of Christ! Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Good or Gooder

I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a path right through the sea. But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I’m going to do! For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert! (Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 TLB)
Is it possible God is saying to you that he is creating a brand new thing in your life - opening a road through the wilderness in some area of your life that has never been explored before? We so often start our new year with resolutions - wouldn't it be awesome to start it with revelations instead! God revealing new paths - opening us up to new possibilities - that sounds pretty awesome to me!
There are definitely times we hold onto the past "good stuff" thinking we cannot move on from there because if we do, we might just "lose" some of that "good stuff". Remember this...if God is telling you he has new paths in front of you, then whatever has been part of the old may have been "good", but what is just ahead is even "gooder"! The past is nothing compared to what God is just about to do in your life - and mine, too!
I'd like us to consider the words of a song by Britt Nicole called, "Through Your Eyes". In this song, she talks about the pressure we all place upon ourselves, telling ourselves we "could do better". Isn't that something we all struggle with on occasion - thinking we could "do better, if just..."? The truth is evident - we didn't do better! Now we are faced with the "new path" and wonder if we will "do any better" along this one. When God calls us down a new path, he empowers us with all we will need to "do better" in that path!
As Britt sings the words of that song, she comes to a very poignant part in which she says, "And then you broke apart the lies. You told me I had something beautiful inside. You brought to life the part of me I thought had died." How is that accomplished? As she goes on, she tells us it is because Jesus stood right there in front of her until she began to see herself as he sees her! Oftentimes the only thing we need to really "do better" in our life is to see ourselves as Jesus sees us - not as someone who "needs to do better", but who has all he/she needs in order to "do best"!
The "do better" part of is us broken. The obedience path is riddled with lots and lots of attempts to "do better". God is making a new path before us - it is ours for the taking. It is time to leave behind the "good stuff" of yesterday and move into the new paths of "gooder". It is down that path that we will find something far more amazing than we ever expected had we have "gotten it all together" on the path we were traveling on! Just sayin!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Therein I find love

They invented hugs to let people know you love them without saying anything. (Bil Keane)

Many of us grew up reading the Sunday funnies and pouring over "Family Circus" - Bil being the faithful creator of that cartoon regular. Many times the scene was one big quarter sheet spread, depicting some element of family life that we all associated with, such as the fiasco of trying to pack up the car for the summer vacation, or the gathering of family around the Christmas tree to open presents all the while remembering the reason we celebrate the season. Did you know it continues in syndication today because his son, Jeff, has taken up the pen to keep it going? Mr. Keane had one very special way of helping us to connect the "reality" of family life with the need we all have for understanding, acceptance, and compassionate love. Many of his cartoon depictions showed family members being embraced by each other - revealing a tremendous truth that each of us longs to be embraced in that hug that tells us we are loved exactly as we are!

This I declare, that he alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I am trusting him. For he rescues you from every trap and protects you from the fatal plague. He will shield you with his wings! They will shelter you. His faithful promises are your armor. Now you don’t need to be afraid of the dark anymore, nor fear the dangers of the day; nor dread the plagues of darkness, nor disasters in the morning. (Psalm 91:2-6 TLB)


I think the wings of a mother hen depict how God brings us close to his heart. As a mother hen spreads her wings, the little chicks can burrow deep within the softest place of her feathers and find not only warmth from her protective embrace, but it as though they become one. The chicks are no longer visible, for the overshadowing protection of those wings helps them be absorbed into the very image she presents to all who would see her. In much the same way, God embraces us under the shelter of his wings - helping us to know both shelter from the coolness of this hard life as it oftentimes can present itself, but also to help us become one with him - so as others look upon us they only see him!

Mr. Keane also reminded us, "A hug is like a boomerang - you get it back right away." God's hugs aren't going to linger forever, but we definitely know when we have experienced his embrace! We are pulled in, held close, if even for a short while, and then we are released with a deeper sense of his love and approval. This won't be a long post this morning, because I just wanted to remind us of the importance of nestling into his wings, but not to neglect the importance of sharing those hugs with those in our lives who have made a difference. Don't neglect to embrace those who need to have a difference made, as well! Just sayin!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Rekindle that love

Faith makes all things possible... love makes all things easy. (Dwight L. Moody) 

What we label as impossible is not seen the same way by God. What we label as possible may also not be seen quite the same by God! It is important to get God's perspective on each move we make - because we don't want to be ahead of his timing, outside of his plans, or apart from his presence to guide us through!

6 For the Lord watches over all the plans and paths of godly men, but the paths of the godless lead to doom. (Psalm 1:6 TLB)

We want to be on a path that is leading us somewhere in which we actually realize some benefit from exploring. We don't want to just spin our wheels or "travel" for the sake of traveling. I remember our Sunday afternoon drives as a kid - a tradition dad established early in life and one which continued well into my teenage years. We'd set out, but dad always had a destination in mind - even though we didn't always know what it was. We'd take in some scenery along the way, while passing the time in conversation and by making observations of having seen a jackrabbit, roadrunner, or the like along the journey. Where he took us was always "agreeable" to our senses, our heart, and our spirit!

God is just as careful in his plans for us, but they go well beyond the Sunday afternoon plans! They are continual plans - pathways unfolding before us each moment of the day - some new, others well-worn paths we just follow time and time again because we are faithfully ministered to along those paths. While it may be hard for us to travel some of them, others come much easier because we understand those paths. There are always going to be those paths that stretch us, while at other times the paths we travel will soothe us - bringing us respite and refreshing. Each has a purpose and each is best left in his capable hands of "driving us" to that end point on that path!

Why is it a path in God's capable hands seems to be easier to travel than one we are carving out ourselves? It might just be what Moody said - love makes all things easy! The over-arching love of God is what makes the path we travel a little easier and less "scary" - even though it may be a hard one to traverse. God's love is with us, just as my dad's love was always with us on those Sunday outings. He knew the importance of providing for his family - even if that provision was just for re-connection and a bit of laughter along the way! God isn't going to allow us to carve out our own paths for very long - there will come a time when we will yearn for that "re-connection" again. That yearning within us is because we miss that connection with his love - we miss HIM! 

My father's life was taken from us way sooner than I'd have liked, making those Sunday afternoon drives a thing of the past. It is a sure thing that my heavenly Father's care over all my paths will never cease, though. He will always be present with me - even when I choose to move ahead of his timing, not listen as close to his voice, or cease to heed his warnings. Just because I choose my own path doesn't mean he loves me any less - and the same applies to each of you! His love is drawing us each back to the path he has planned - the one in which connection is restored and love is rekindled deeply. Just sayin!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The "yoke" of obedience

Come to me and I will give you rest—all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Wear my yoke—for it fits perfectly—and let me teach you; for I am gentle and humble, and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens.” 
Most of us would think of a yoke as some form of device that put an animal into a place of subjection - pulling the cart or plow behind. It was indeed used to "secure" the animal to the cart or plow, but it served a very special purpose. It was used to guide and connect. Guide the oxen as they plowed and secure them to the cart or plow, and often each other so they could plow or pull in unison. That makes the yoke very important because it actually helped ensure the oxen were all going in the same direction and that they were purposeful in their movement.
It is a good thing to be ensured your movement is purposeful, isn't it? We don't just want to wander through life! It is quite another thing to find our purposeful movement to be made easier because we were actually "pulling together" rather than trying to do it all on our own. Christ's offer here is for us to learn the art of "pulling together" rather than thinking we have to bear the burden alone. In times long ago, the yoke came to be equated with slavery or "forced" submission. When it was applied to the ox, he knew he was in for a long hard haul and must do it regardless of how he felt that day.
Christ's offered yoke is not one of "forced" submission, but one of voluntary submission - leaning into the strength given when two pull together rather than having to pull all alone. There are times when I think we see Christ's offer as "putting us in the yoke" and then commanding us to pull - like the farmer behind the plow. We forget that Christ wants to pull along with us, not walk behind us. His place isn't behind the plow, it is right there helping us pull the plow. Yet, there is more. To obey really means to listen - at least that is the root of the word in Latin. To allow the yoke of Christ then is to put us into a position of listening - to really hear and then to move in unison with him.
Rather than resisting the yoke, we need to lean into it - for it brings us to a place of "union" in the work ahead of us. We aren't forced to work out this walk of obedience all alone. He is right there, reminding us each step of the way how it is done. He is there pulling with us - not against us. He also is there to bear some of the burden we feel as we attempt to plow that ground of obedience the first time. The first time the plow passes, it is hard and it takes a whole lot of energy. The next and subsequent time that plow passes through that same ground, it becomes easier and easier, until we hardly notice we are plowing at all! 
We might think the yoke will make life harder for us, but in actuality it makes it easier. Just sayin!

Friday, January 5, 2018

A nod says it all

I bless the holy name of God with all my heart. Yes, I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me. He forgives all my sins. He heals me. He ransoms me from hell. He surrounds me with loving-kindness and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things! My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! He gives justice to all who are treated unfairly. (Psalm 103:1-6 TLB)
What "glorious things" has God done for you lately? If someone asked you that question today, how would you answer them? What is the first thing that would come to mind as something he has "done lately" on your behalf? Many of us would fall back on the old rote answer of having saved our souls and keeping us from all harm, but how could we be more specific in our account? Many times we find the easiest answer comes in the form of those generalized comments, lacking the true thought or consideration behind it. God isn't stingy in his love, so let us not be stingy in our acknowledgement of how he reveals that love in us!
Our answers are to come from "all our heart" - in other words, with some emotion and true appreciation for these things. There are moments when I specifically thank God for keeping me from the pain of colliding with another vehicle in my journey somewhere. I have narrowly avoided an "impact" which would have damaged my vehicle, possibly my body, and the other's life or possessions. It may be due to my distraction, or totally out of my control, but either way, I am intensely grateful for the protection God provided at that very moment when one of us wasn't as "focused" as we needed to be!
There are times in life we become distracted by "life" that we just miss the moments of God's intense blessing. It isn't that we don't receive them, it is that we don't acknowledge them as we should. As easy as it is for us to miss the opportunity to point out those blessings in the moment, it is equally as easy to begin to develop a way to "recount" those blessings - if not immediately, at least at the end or beginning of the day. I think God wants us to have that quiet time with him at some point in our day to help us not miss those moments totally. He wants us to take time to realize all the ways his protection, provision, and power has been operational in our lives.
I had the opportunity yesterday to spend a little time working in the yard on my latest project with the help of my son. I just don't see him as much these days as I'd like to, so every moment with him is cherished (even if we are up to our elbows in dirt and grime). At one moment, I must have had a questioning look on my face as we were attempting to figure out how to level a particular piece of land to be ready to receive my workshop build. In a matter of fact way, he simply stated, "Mom, I've got this! I've done this before." I stared at him a moment and nodded, backing away in delight that he "had it". It made me think of the many times I must look at God with a quizzical look on my face and then hear his answer, "Child, I've got this...I've done this before."
God doesn't expect gigantic moments of praise each and every time he blesses us with his presence, but he does appreciate that same "nod" and then our stepping back to let him continue to display his power, protection, and provision in all the wonderful ways he does! Just sayin!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

On and on and on

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel. (Luke 2:32 MSG)

God made no attempt to enter into this world "under cover". He sent his Son, not as an "under cover God", but as God with a bod. He took on human form, coming as light to a dark world. Light just cannot be hidden - it has a way of finding a way out of the darkness, but best of all - it has a way of helping each of us find our way out of darkness.

Jesus could have come in any form, but why take on human form? It is pretty simple actually - we needed to "relate" to him. We might have heard of his power, seen his miracles, and even studied his existence, but to see him embody the very "form" of mankind revealed something of his love that actually allowed us to connect with him. That connection was only possible because of his ultimate sacrifice on the cross, though. While his birth, taking on human form, was very important and a little bit impressive, it wasn't nearly as important or impressive as his death, burial and resurrection!

Restored relationship required more than being able to "relate" to God with a bod. It required the blood sacrifice we never could offer ourselves - the blood sacrifice of the truly "perfect Lamb". While not growing up during the times of sacrificial offerings on the altar of fire, I can tell you the selection of the sacrifice was very important, yet still very imperfect. As close to perfection as that sacrifice came, with as little evidence of blemish as it had, that animal sacrifice was still not totally without blemish! It had no way of fulfilling the ultimate need of humankind. Only Christ could do that.

And so he did .... in being born, he lived among us. In living among us, he showed us aspects of his love and goodness we could not really understand apart from that example he left with us. In facing opposition greater than most of us will ever endure in a lifetime, he revealed something of his strength and character that only a God with a bod could show us and help us to hold onto in our own times of personal conflict. In coming, he prepared to leave again - not in a kind and humane manner - but in the ultimately awful death of the cross. In leaving again, he prepared the way for his return. 

None of us really could relate to God in the way we do today apart from that coming and ultimately in that leaving. It is this connection he made that helps us to "relate" to the righteousness of God because that righteousness has been made ours in his life lived on our behalf, and his death in perfect human form - a sacrifice too great for any of us to ever accomplish. Light came, we tried to snuff it out, but it shines on and on and on. Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

No walls allowed

The quiet words of the wise are more effective than the ranting of a king of fools. Wisdom is better than warheads, but one hothead can ruin the good earth. (Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 MSG)

Richard Nixon was the 34th President of these United States of America. As President, he didn't fare too well, making a name for himself as the first President to actually resign from office - not really because he wanted to, but the mess of Watergate created the exact framework whereby he felt there was no other option. Although we always remember the negatives of his term in office, maybe we'd do well to consider these words he so aptly said, "We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another - until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices." Stop - listen - really hear one another. That is the essence of what he said - no voice needs to be raised to be heard - for hearing begins not in the volume attained, but in the heart attitude assumed on the part of the one listening!

One "hothead" can ruin a good thing all around. It doesn't take much to change the mood in a group, does it? The very dropping of a few words not thought through very well before speaking can shut doors, create chaos, and shatter dreams easier than we might imagine. The attitude of heart makes all the difference, not just on the part of the one attempting to hear, but also on the part of the one attempting to communicate. The room we make in our heart for God makes the difference in the "room" our heart finds for the otherwise "intolerable" actions and words of others.

The "room" we give for God needs to be foremost in our actions, which come from having our attitude adjusted by the heart of Christ beating within us. When we give him his rightful place, we have little room for unkindness, harmful slander, or even prideful boasting. The difference is that Christ gives us ears to hear and a heart to respond, not with anger or contempt, but with understanding and true desire to maintain relationship. 

Over many years, and through many word not well chosen, mankind has built up walls that are now very hard to ever scale, much less tear down. I read a book recently about the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. What started as a barbed-wire barricade eventually became this formidable cement and block structure, complete with guard towers and a series of twelve checkpoints that kept people from passing freely beyond or within those walls. Effectively, this is what the words which are spoken in haste can do within our lives. They erect "prickly" defenses that eventually become formidable barriers, making it difficult for any purposeful exchange to occur.

As we begin our new year, let us consider well the heart we maintain, for that heart determines the ability we have to "hear" beyond the words! Just sayin!