Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pickles anyone?

Happy are those who are strong in the Lord, who want above all else to follow your steps. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains! They will grow constantly in strength, and each of them is invited to meet with the Lord in Zion. (Psalm 84:5-7 TLB)

Strong carries different meanings for different folks. To the one who cannot open the jar of pickles, strong are the hands of the one who makes it look so easy. To the one who cannot take their failing pet to the vet for those last few moments of life together, strong are the arms of that one who stands alongside even though it wasn't their lifelong pet. To the one who needs a trench dug through tough Arizona soil, strong are the arms of the teenage man who wields the pickax in rhythmic movement until that soil yields to his strength. Strong is often observed in ways we might label as "service" toward another. When we were weak, another was strong on our behalf.

Service isn't for the weak. It begins by recognizing the need exists - something that we may not believe possible becoming possible because someone 'steps up' with a strength greater than our own. The most memorable service of this type was that of Christ's strength being revealed when we had absolutely no way on our own to do away with our sin. That strength is multiplied day after day, each time we need a moment of grace to 'right' our missteps. His 'service' on our behalf never ceases, so why should we think he would desire any less of a response from us? Our service is an outcome of having been served in the greatest of ways possible!

It is this 'following in his steps' thing that we are considering this morning. The moment we decide to follow Jesus we enter into a lifestyle of service - becoming the strength others draw upon when their weakness or need is at its greatest. Some think weakness suggests some kind of 'bad thing' in one's life, but where I am weak is where I relish the service of another who is also connected to the heart of Jesus. Why? They might just be able to turn my weakness into a strength by that service! We don't have to fear God will ask us to give up all our worldly wealth and traipse off to some remote corner of the world to convert the natives. We have to fear we won't be responsive to the needs right there in front of us!

Service is all about serving where there is a need. The need may not be great to you, but to the one who is too weak to open that jar of pickles they have been craving for a week, that service is a blessing! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Let's get love right

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." Love is indeed harder to sometimes abide within, but the actions of hatred come easier than many would imagine. Love requires investment of one's self - entirely and without hesitation. Hatred has a very low 'ignition point' most of the time - making it an easy 'burn' for us, but hatred, like love, has to remain fueled in order to actually continue to grow.

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. (I Corinthians 13:4-5 TLB)


The total truth about love is probably not known to any of us. I think we all see bits and pieces of love in action around us - experiencing it in varying degrees depending upon a number of factors ranging from our own receptiveness to the time or season of our lives in which it is experienced. Too many of us think of love as a "thing" - clearly forgetting true love is a person - Christ! We forget that love is shown long before it is known. 

If we remember that all written in this passage in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is really about a person (Christ), then we can see how it is possible for love to not demand its own way. We know this is not always the case with we humans, for we get our way muddled up in the mess of this thing called relationship all the time. We want this - they want that. We think it should be done this way - they have another idea. All the while, 'our way' is demanding to be heard, honored, and responded to. 

Just because these words best describe our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, doesn't mean we might not have the potential to rise to this level of love in our own lives. In fact, I believe this is why this chapter was written - to show us the opposites between love and hatred, between sacrifice and stubbornness. The words would be quite damning if there were no hope of a "way" to exhibit this kind of selfless love, wouldn't they?

If we struggle with jealous thoughts, envy of any kind, we know just how hard it can be to get to the place we let go of those emotions that wreak havoc on our thought life. The very idea of letting go requires trust. Trust requires truth - the very thing we blow out of the water anytime jealousy or envy enter into our thoughts! Instead of truth, we rationalize a whole lot of untruth - we accept the lies because they seem more "realistic" than the truth. 

To be truly loving as Christ loves each of us, we begin to allow him to replace the imbalance in our emotions with the perfect balance of his peace. We allow more of his truth to enter into the places where any untruths have been allowed to exist for any length of time. We open up to his love, in turn finding ourselves able to really begin to love others in small ways that model his love. We may not get to the point we love as he loves right away, but live with him long enough and his love gets pretty ingrained into the fibers of your being! In time, he gives us eyes and ears to see or hear things which foster love, reducing the burden of hatred exponentially in our world! Just sayin!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Stop overshadowing me!

Leo Buscaglia was quoted as saying, "No one can grow in the shade." As a professor of special education at the University of Southern California, Buscaglia taught many students throughout his career - each one learning that if we "overshadow" another long enough, we stunt their growth. We need to let others experience the light in order to grow! It was his firm belief that love began around the supper table - around a good, old-fashioned meal. Why? If done well, with clear expectations set that media and electronics would not be interrupting this time, it became the place where dreams were shared, thoughts were expressed, ideas were proposed, and people got down to the business of getting to truly know each other. If we want to allow others to grow, we need to give them a way to shine!

If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise. If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do? Even if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love. If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 TLB)

If you didn't know this about Mr. Buscaglia, he was known as "Dr. Love". Why? He had learned well this idea of not 'overshadowing' others, but allowing them enough space and light to grow to their full potential - whatever that may be. Maybe this is why he chose his profession - helping others learn to teach those who others in society may label as not having 'much potential'. It was n the context of 'family' that he learned some of his greatest lessons. Family isn't always about those that share our same last name, though. Sometimes family can be those God has graced our lives with - those who make a connection with us and become the ones that foster our growth. Family isn't everything, but without family we might not see the areas where we need the most help growing.

As he often said, the love we have given we will have forever, but every moment lost in expressing or sharing that love is lost for all of eternity. I believe the opportunity to grow may be the very act of love that takes a step back and allows another to take one forward. The opportunity to 'shine' isn't realized until one has something to reflect. In order to have something to reflect, one has to be graced by the light! Human compassion is a very good thing - true connection with another is something which comes when someone can actually begin to appreciate the subtle differences between one another and then work to let those differences shine forth in the light of Christ's love.

If you have ever observed the shady places in the tall pines of the forest, you see growth, but that growth is something quite different from that which is graced by light at least some of the day. Why? The light challenges the tiniest of growth - it urges it to break forth - then to struggle to find root - so that it may grow even more. We need to love in such a way - so as to help others grow in ways only the light of Christ's love is capable of bringing growth! Just sayin!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

To everything there is a time

There is a right time for everything: A time to be born; A time to die; A time to plant; A time to harvest; A time to kill; A time to heal; A time to destroy; A time to rebuild; A time to cry; A time to laugh; A time to grieve; A time to dance; A time for scattering stones; A time for gathering stones; A time to hug; A time not to hug; A time to find; A time to lose; A time for keeping; A time for throwing away;  A time to tear; A time to repair; A time to be quiet; A time to speak up; A time for loving; A time for hating; A time for war; A time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 TLB)

In hindsight I can see how some years are different than others - going through them may be like riding a roller coaster of sorts, but when the year is over, I can look back and observe there were subtle differences in those months that passed. Zora Neale Hurston puts it this way: "There are years that ask questions and years than answer." You might find yourself in the year that asks more questions than are being answered right now. You might find you came out of one that seems to have all the questions posed in the last year being answered in the present. Either way, the years all have meaning or potential. 

What we find posed in the form of questions in one season of our lives can be the launching spot for some of the most meaningful answers at another. It is a mystery me how God does that, but he remains faithful to bring the changes in "season", not out of it! There is a time...no one can tell God when that time may be...but there is a time. There is a season...reliant upon his graces and goodness...but in that cycle, we find increase at times - at others a little lessening of the load.

Is it your time to plant this year? You know that the planting isn't going to yield an immediate harvest, but without the planting, there is no harvest. Have you come out of a season of tearing down and now you are entering one of rebuilding? The devastation left behind when the 'tearing down' occurred might make one think there is no hope or help in rebuilding, but rest assured - God provides both! Perhaps this is your season to find what has been lost, or draw closer to what you have come close to losing. 

The time to be quiet - the time to speak up - each plays an important part in any relationship. Learning which season you might be in is critical to maintaining the harmony of the relationship, but if it is the season to speak up, to hold back may stunt the growth of the next season! The time to love and find peace is good - we embrace both with open arms. The times that produce discord and unrest are harder and we want to push them away quickly. One does not exist without the other - one brings the tearing down - the other brings the building up!

I don't know the season you are in - maybe the one that is posing all the questions, or perhaps the one that seems to be revealing the long awaited answers. Either way - embrace it. Walk in it. This is a season designed for your growth - even if it seems like one that is just about to 'do you in'! Just sayin!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bring on the enemy!

Most of us have heard that saying to "keep your friends close, but your friends closer" right? Ever think about the meaning of that one? Keeping our friends close makes sense because they bring awesome things into our lives in special ways by their laughter, hugs, tears, and even their wisdom. We WANT that stuff in our lives. Our enemies, on the other hand...well....they don't bring the kind of stuff most of us would label as "awesome". You might think keeping your enemies closer is so that you can wreak as much havoc in their lives as they have in yours, but just when they aren't looking! Is it possible the real meaning of this saying is keeping our enemy "closer" might just reveal some stuff about ourselves that otherwise would go undiscovered?
“There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. (Matthew 5:43-45 TLB)
Jesus put it slightly different, but he wanted us to realize the potential in our enemy. If we keep them close to us, we find ways of allowing them to help us grow - to discover strength we didn't know we had or needed. That 'enemy' actually reveals stuff about "YOU" that you didn't know existed until they got too close for comfort. They reveal both the good and the bad - the latter being why we might just not want them all that close to us!
Let me ask you this - what one thing has someone you have labeled as an "enemy" in your life revealed about you just by their presence in your life? Chances are, if you really take some time to think on that one, you will begin to realize they drove you to your knees on occasion, had you searching for answers you had yet to discover, or perhaps even taught you a thing or two about what it truly means to love unconditionally. Our enemies have a way of helping us to realize behavior WE need to correct, not just that THEY need to correct!
We can curse the darkness, or we can light a candle to see what is revealed in that darkness! The enemy we might want to push away is the very thing we need to 'push us' closer to Jesus, or deeper into the discovery of his truths contained in his Word. I'm right there with you - I'd like to just 'be rid of them' as much as the next guy - but God asks me to love them - embrace them. Why? If I do, there is something that happens to BOTH of us in the process. I get to know myself (and my Lord) in ways I didn't know before AND they get to see just a little bit of Jesus (something they might not ever see otherwise). Just sayin!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Crown him

10 The Lord loves those who hate evil; he protects the lives of his people and rescues them from the wicked. 11 Light is sown for the godly and joy for the good. 12 May all who are godly be happy in the Lord and crown him, our holy God. (Psalm 97:10-12 TLB)

How do we actually "crown him" Lord of our lives? I think it is in the small ways, like when we choose to be kind when a hurtful word would be easier or quicker to say. It might be in the moments when we give of ourselves unselfishly to help another who is struggling to figure something out. It could be in those moments you offer yourself for 'whatever needs to be done', knowing someone is having a hard time keeping up with the tasks at hand. It is definitely in those moments when we actively choose to worship him, but it is also in those small things that might not seem to matter all that much, but that make all the difference in the lives of another.

Someone once said you can get happy in the same pants you chose to get mad in, or feel good about life in the same pants in which you chose a sour disposition instead. We choose to crown him in our actions - not in just our words. We make conscious, and some not very conscious decisions to honor him within the context of our everyday comings and goings. We don't need to 'have church' to bring him honor - because giving him honor is elevating him to the place of the highest control and the most frequent focus in our lives.

We looked at the word 'honor' just briefly yesterday and found the meaning to be that of having or living with integrity between one's actions and beliefs. It is fine to 'believe' - Jesus told us that even the devil believes. It is fine to make gestures of good deeds, but they don't stand alone. The link between beliefs and actions is what produces honor. Some equate honor to that kind of fame someone gets for winning the gold medal, or coming in with the highest marks. While this is true, it isn't the root of honor - honor began with the belief one could win the medal, underwent years and years of rigorously focused training in order to win it, and then performed at the top of one's ability to obtain that honor. Beliefs were linked to specific actions.

Honor begins with making the right choices. We choose to give Christ his rightful place in our lives - at the center - in control of it all. Then we choose to actively learn how it is we live each day continuing to make the active choices to leave him in that center of control! Yep, it isn't a one time deal - it is a continual choosing. It takes actively choosing to turn away from evil and toward what is right and true. In time, our actions become more consistent and we begin to see our beliefs and actions align. As this alignment occurs, we are bringing honor to Christ, for it is in the evidence of his presence within us that he is seen. Crown him today, in both your beliefs and actions. If they aren't in perfect alignment yet, don't fret - you are on the way! That is one way we honor him with our lives - by taking the first steps in the right direction (even if we have to take them a few times over and over again until we get consistent in taking them each time!).  Just sayin!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Truly honorable

The man who tries to be good, loving, and kind finds life, righteousness, and honor. 
How does one live in a manner that expresses the goodness of God? This is probably one of the hardest questions for us to answer in life because goodness, true goodness, often evades the human mind and heart. "Good" expresses the meaning of moral excellence - virtue taken to the 'nth' degree. This is why it is sometimes hard for us to truly grasp this type of behavior - because it is motivated in a heart not corrupted in any manner by sin - or with a sin nature at the core of all its actions. Indeed, we need an exchanged heart, for ours is incapable of this type of 'moral excellence' or goodness.
A loving and kind disposition is what stems from this goodness of heart. Honestly, if we struggle at times to act in a way that expresses the love of Christ, it is probably that we haven't connected in some time with the heart of Christ! We need more time getting to know him, being renewed by his Spirit, and taking in little bits and pieces of his person into us so that we are molded and fashioned by that character into morally strong and confident beings.
Life, righteousness, and honor - the three byproducts of seeking this moral goodness in every fiber of our being. Life comes because we are disconnected from a decaying life source and reconnected to the source of eternal and vibrant life. Righteousness because we begin to see the sin nature stripped away until what is left is right and true. We see an exchange of what appealed to our sinful desires - because our desires begin to change the more we find ourselves spending time with Jesus.
Honor seems oddly placed in this list of character traits because we often see this as belonging to God himself and not us. Did you realize the primary definition of honor is honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs or actions? In other words, get the mind and heart of Christ into the fibers of your being and what emerges is a total "connection" between our actions and that heart of Christ. There is a congruity of character! One that is worthy of being called "honorable". Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Truth to be Trusted

For all God’s words are right, and everything he does is worthy of our trust. He loves whatever is just and good; the earth is filled with his tender love. (Psalm 33:4-5 TLB)
Some of us need to hear these words today because we have had our trust violated, someone giving us their 'word' and then never 'making good' on that word. As a result, many have a hard time ever trusting again, going through life a little skeptical. Trust lost is a hard thing to regain - is it not? The good news is there has not been even one moment of time in which God's word could not be trusted! He CAN be trusted, but our circumstances in life have made it harder than some would imagine to ACTUALLY trust him - especially when that breach of trust was caused by someone in a position of authority in our lives.
Break it down - ALL God's words are right. There is no "sometimes he gets them right", or "every now and again he hits the nail on the head". ALL his words are right - meaning we can trust them because they are never in error. The are also RIGHT - maybe not what we want to hear, but what is RIGHT for us to hear. Truth has a way of not always being what we WANT to hear, but because it comes from a heart of one who loves us intensely and with unwavering faithfulness, they can be trusted as the RIGHT ones for the circumstance at hand.
It goes without saying that we humans have a hard time carrying through on only the best of actions - sometimes we cross the line into whatever action may be considered a little 'edgy' or kind of 'out of character' for a child of God. Maybe that is why we have such a hard time believing God's actions on our behalf are always to be trusted. He never crosses the line of his love - even when that means he allows us to follow our own selfish will on occasion. It isn't that he wanted us to do those things, but he loves us too much not to give us the choice!
There is no greater hope we can have than to trust in his goodness and faithful love. There is sometimes no harder decision we can make than to choose his will over our own. There is nothing that bespeaks his love more than his words, for they are consistently backed by his actions. This is where we differ from God - his words and actions are consistent - true and right. We might have to test it out a little at first, because we haven't always done well with where we have placed our trust, but the more we test his truth, the more we realize it is indeed truth to be trusted! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Deserts, Beaches, and Mountaintops

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.  
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5)

I grew up in the desert of Arizona, very much before all the sprawling expanse of industry and growth took over much of the desert land around Phoenix. As a child, I'd spend hours and hours just poking sticks in holes to see what was in them, turning over rocks to see if I could find lizard eggs, and lazing under Palo Verde trees watching industrious ants go to and from from their nests. To me, the desert wasn't a thing to be feared, but a very exciting place to explore. Why? I didn't know anything else as well as I knew the desert! I thought the desert was beautiful and bountiful - not barren and something to be feared. Yes, the tall pines around the lakes were beautiful, but they weren't the place my family called "home". There are those who wouldn't think the desert offered much, but to me, it offered everything! 

Some will find the desert places in life a little less than desirable, because they are used to the mountaintops or the beaches. The beach is beautiful, bountiful with items to discover, and constantly changing. The mountaintops give great views and help us see the expanse before us, but there comes times of great snows and icy temps. Each offers something different - the point of discovery is when we begin to look beyond where we are and discover who we are in the place we presently find ourselves. Deep inside the dry wash created by monsoon rains of seasons past, I'd discover tiny toads that otherwise would not have been born. Out in the blazing hot of the noontime sun I'd observe the creatures of the wild slow their day's work to a crawl, resting up until the blazing of the sun lessened. 

The lessons we learn right where we are today are not to be dismissed as unimportant or unimpressive. What today's experiences provide for tomorrow's challenges cannot be underestimated. The key is in observing well what it is we find in our 'today experiences'. They may be desert-type experiences, but there are learnings galore, even from the barren places. They may be mountaintop observations, but there are lessons to be found by looking at the strength observed in giant trees surging to the sky from what appears to be nothing more than rocky crags. They could even be beach-side experiences, filled with all manner of living discovery in an ever-changing environment controlled not by your own making, but by the making of a 'tide' much greater than you.

There is hope in each experience, but it must be found not so much in the experience, as in the one who helps us enjoy and comprehend each experience. Just sayin!

Monday, February 12, 2018

So, what's that you say?

William Wordsworth said, "Wisdom is oftentimes nearer when we stoop than when we soar." I would tend to agree, for whenever I have needed great wisdom I find it comes in ways I rarely expected - from places I wouldn't always think to look, or even from the lips of a child. Why is that, I wonder? It may be God isn't always impressed with the more lofty answers - he seeks to inspire with the simple ones. The simplest of answers can be the ones that open the doors wide to great discoveries!

Yes, if you want better insight and discernment, and are searching for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure, then wisdom will be given you and knowledge of God himself; you will soon learn the importance of reverence for the Lord and of trusting him. (Proverbs 2:3-5 TLB)

Sometimes it isn't that we cannot find the wisdom we need, it may just be we haven't simplified the question enough to really get at the answer. One of the things I frequently attempt to do is re-frame the question. Why? It may be in asking it in a slightly different manner, I get to the point of clarity in really asking it in a way the solution can emerge. There is no harm in asking questions - in seeking answers. There is definitely a drawback in never being willing to change up the question to make it clearer, or to get at the real point of the matter!

It was Wordsworth who also reminded us that it is the "wish to find out" that is more important than the "will to believe". It is that desire to get at the root of a matter that makes the difference between finding an answer for the 'right now' or an answer that will endure the test of time. When the individual just wants a quick answer, there may come an answer, but will it be the one that produces the outcome again with any degree of reliability? Not always! Sometimes we need the "tested answer" instead of the quick one! 

It is something we must guard against in our walk with Jesus - this desire to get the "quick answer" and not to wait upon him for the one that is more enduring. Both may very well be "correct" answers to the situation at hand, but one will produce a much better outcome! Just sayin!


Sunday, February 11, 2018

I was thinking...

11 No one can really know what anyone else is thinking or what he is really like except that person himself. And no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world’s spirit) to tell us about the wonderful free gifts of grace and blessing that God has given us. (I Corinthians 2:11-12 TLB)

Have you ever had one of those moments when someone else finishes your thoughts even before you get them out? It is like they are so perfectly connected to you that they just 'complete' you. I have always thought if they could complete those 'harmless' thoughts so quickly and perfectly, how much could they possibly know what I am thinking that is not as 'harmless'? Kind of scary to think about, huh? Someone else knowing you so well that they actually 'get' both the good and bad about you so well they just know what you are going to say next. If that 'someone' is the Holy Spirit, there is a connection to goodness that is bound to come through - because he is God and perfectly reflects the mind of Christ in us!

All we need to know and act upon comes from God himself - the mind of Christ resident within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Stop for just a moment to consider what it would be like to be connected to some 'super-computer' that could spit out any piece of information you needed at that very moment. You'd ask a question and in what seemed like just nano-seconds, the process of answering your question became evident on the screen. We'd all probably pay good money for this kind of treasure, wouldn't we? There is a knowledge that surpasses even the most powerful computers in the world, or the most highly intelligent individuals who have amassed tons and tons of knowledge. The computer is only capable of crunching data someone put into it! The human is only as intelligent as their learning capacity has taken them.

The mind of Christ far surpasses all human knowledge and certainly all computing devices known to man. There are no 'super-powers' greater than his power - maybe because his power emanates from his all-knowing mind and wisdom. The mind of Christ is known to the Spirit - and by his presence within us, we have access to this same mind. Scripture actually challenges us to allow the same mind that is in Christ Jesus to be our own - in other words, allow his thoughts to be the ones that come forth most. Easier said than done, I know. The struggle in our mind is so evident because of the evidence of our actions. Our actions betray what we think about the most. Although we have access to the mind of Christ because the Spirit of God resides within, we don't always rely upon these thoughts, do we?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Christ began to complete our thoughts? Wouldn't it be more awesome if he actually began to initiate those thoughts, as well? Just askin!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

If I needed advice, I'd have asked for it!

Advice is like snow - the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) We all have received advice at one time or another, embraced it, and seen the difference in our lives as a result of that sage council. There are probably a few other times we have received 'advice' that we didn't really grasp hold of simply because of the way it was presented to us! As a novice in investing, I appreciated the advice of a more knowledgeable friend when I was seeking ways to make my retirement fund grow. As a novice nurse, I looked to my 'elders' in nursing to help me develop the little tips and tricks they don't teach in nursing curriculum so as to no miss important facts about the patient and to improve the level of trust the physicians placed in me in caring for their patients. We all can grow from advice, but if we treat the Word of God as mere 'advice' we can either accept or reject, we will somehow be missing the point - it is truth and truth is what we should base ALL of our decisions squarely upon!

For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are. (Hebrews 4:12 TLB)

Notice clearly in our passage today - it is God speaking TO US. It isn't just mere advice - it is directed conversation. It is conversation 'full of living power'. The Word of God has a way of taking truth into the depths of our hearts and thoughts - so that we gain 'exposure'. In wound care, one of the first things they teach is that wounds don't heal if they aren't cleaned out well. That might mean we have to 'cut back' to healthy tissue once again. If you have every cut into your finger or hand, you know that 'flap' of skin created can sort of 'dry up' as healing begins to occur, but it doesn't 'belong' there any longer. Why? The vital supply of nutrients it needed has been cut off. It is damaged tissue and needs to be sloughed or cut away. God isn't going to be able to help the healthy stuff in us grow by giving us 'advice' alone - we need truth - because truth is what cuts away the 'dead stuff' in our lives!

If you'd allow me this morning to 'meddle' a little, may I ask what 'dead tissue' you have been trying to preserve in your life? The area where there has been damage because of repeated sin, or maybe some of those hurts we've held onto way too long - these might just be the 'dead tissue' areas of our lives where the Word needs to get into us and do some 'debridement' of that dead stuff. If you recall that snag of skin drying up around that cut on your hand, what purpose did it serve as that wound was healing? If it was like some of mine, it got in the way of healing! Why? It was a point of 'snagging' that opened healing tissue again and again! I had to snip it away in order to expose the new tissue underneath. Yes, that tissue was a little 'sensitive' because it was not calloused by years and years of wear and tear, but it was fresh, vibrant, and growing! This is what each of us hopes for when truth comes into our lives - freshness, vibrancy, and continued growth.

Apart from truth, all the other stuff we receive into our lives is mere advice. God isn't an 'advice' giver - he is a truth-giver. In giving truth, do you know what he is actually giving? Himself - for he is all truth and when he brings truth into our lives, he is leaving behind little bits and pieces of himself in those places he touches. Pretty neat, huh? Oftentimes, we need truth, but we are seeking advice. Maybe we'd do well to ask for truth instead! Just sayin!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Catch up, please!

O Lord, you are so good and kind, so ready to forgive, so full of mercy for all who ask your aid. (Psalm 86:5 TLB)
I wanted to take just a few moments to remind each of us of the importance of forgiveness. It isn't that we need forgiveness sometimes as much as we need to forgive ourselves for some misguided step we took. We somehow understand that God forgives us - by our asking / seeking his forgiveness. We have some level of understanding that the forgiveness we receive is based solely upon the actions of another on our behalf - Christ's actions on the cross. We get that we don't deserve it, but that it is freely given. We also comprehend to some degree that it is no longer an offense remembered by God - he wipes the slate clean. Yet, somehow we don't always believe we should forgive ourselves and move on. We get anchored to our failure and spend a great deal of time just kicking ourselves in the seat of our pants because we made those unwise choices! One question - if God isn't kicking us, what makes us think we should be?
Memory is often the hardest part of forgiveness - because we remember what we did and sometimes we even have the insight into 'why' we did it. The mystery of grace is that what matters is that we are restored to the 'condition' of heart that is as if we had never done the misdeed in the first place. The mystery of the memory is that we have a hard time changing the memory that is anchored to that misdeed. Perhaps what we need is for God to help us apply grace to our thoughts, as well! If we are fortunate enough to have insight into 'why' we took the steps in the wrong direction, then we also know how to create safeguards to ensure we don't take those same steps again. Handrails are on stairways because missed steps can bring catastrophic results! 
Forgiveness is to involve both the actions of Christ on our behalf - grace - and our part is in the willingness to let go of the guilt or shame associated with that action deep within our minds. Guilt and shame are not 'things' - they are emotions and emotions get 'tied' to every action we taken or that is taken against us in life. Guilt is one of those emotions we can take to the extreme. We find it harder and harder to escape that which we take to the extreme! Stretch a rubber band to the limits of the band's strength and what happens? It snaps! Stretch our emotions to the point of the extreme and we just get snagged in the repeated memories of those emotions.
If God is full of mercy and 'at the ready' to forgive when we ask, why are we stopping short of just having the 'sin' wiped away? Why aren't we asking God for the grace to move beyond the painful memory of guilt and shame, as well? Why aren't we asking him to help us recount his goodness and faithfulness to forgive, shutting down every thought that tells us we aren't good enough to be forgiven? I think it is because we count on our emotions to 'guide' us more than we believe we do! We want to 'feel' better, but there is a negative feeling associated with guilt and shame - a 'feeling' we sense we cannot easily escape. Maybe we begin by asking God to help us not count on the 'feeling' as much as we count on the 'fact' of his forgiveness. In time, feelings catch up with what faith believes! Just sayin!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Get schooled!

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2 TLB)
If you have ever worked with the elderly in that latter stages of their lives, or little children in the early years of theirs, you know just how hard it can be to constantly be telling them the same things over and over again. Add to the elderly's constantly dwindling short-term memory the issues of not hearing well, problems with their sight, and the advances of pains galore and you have a recipe for some challenging moments that put to test the fibers of your character. Think about the boundless energy of a small child and constantly challenging curiosity and you have a recipe for exhaustive patience. I wish I could say I never get frustrated repeating stuff over and over again, but I do. I would like to report I never have an edge in my voice that betrays my lack of enthusiasm to be moving at a snail's pace when I'd like to be zooming ahead. I'd like to say I never grow weary in doing the right stuff - the really good stuff - for others, but I do. What I can report to you is that sometimes I have to ask for forgiveness - I just wasn't as patient as I needed to be in making "allowances" for the needs of the other individual.
Humility, gentleness, and being available to the other person are earmarks of a child of grace. Don't be duped into believing these things come easily for a child of Christ, though. They are still three of the toughest character traits to develop and consistently display in our lives. Like it or not, this is a life-long ordeal of learning how to truly live in humility. It means we learn to not be brash in our responses - displaying a little more tactfulness than the occasion may warrant, being consistently reverent in times where our response may logically border on criticism or sarcasm, and being available to take the time to help another understand. Gentleness engages all our senses so that we are not allowing any roughness either in our action or our speech - even when our nerves are fraying a little. Both bespeak living in such a way that there is evidence of a "moderator" over our actions and words.
Christ desires to be that moderator, my friends. He desires to help us know when our pride is going to lead us straight into a landmine. He has ways of helping us realize there is about to emerge a sense of roughness in our actions or words that can be conveyed in so many different ways it could set a forest on fire. We don't always recognize these things on our own - sometimes even justifying our lack of humility or gentleness with excuses. It is the 'you did this' and that made me 'do that' kind of rationalization. It takes a life of consistent connection with Jesus to help us realize there is no real rationalization for bad behavior! It takes this consistent connection to help us recognize opportunities for change. In the past week, I have emphasized this need for consistent connection over and over again. Why? There is no substitute for grace, and their is equally no substitute for those moments in which his grace "schools us" in how to behave! Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Me, me first!

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” 34 The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. 35 He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” 
(Mark 9:33-35 MSG)
Sometimes silence 'says' it all! There is nothing more 'convicting' than to be called out for one's behavior, is there? When it is done in a kind fashion, out of love and with grace, we can embrace it pretty well, right? To be 'called out' because we are too self-absorbed to see the needs around us is kind of hard at times, but we all have a tendency to drift into the 'what about me' kind of moments and need a little nudge to get back to the 'its not all about me' mode!
Over the past week we have been considering prayer - the life of communication and maintained connection. Service to others stems from times of just being in God's presence, sensing his heart, and then acting upon what it is we sense. The closer we get to him in our times of connected communion, the more we see others and the less we will see ourselves! How does that work? God has a way of turning us 'outward' when all we want to do is turn 'inward'. It is a process of transformation that really is accomplished in small exchanges of his grace.
Servants are 'grace-filled' individuals. They have a way of sensing or noticing the needs of others and are inwardly driven to meet that need. Do you know what Jesus used as an illustration to his disciples when he said these words? He brought a small child into the center of the room and simply embraced him. There is something within service that embraces another - it is one wrapping their arms around another, surrounding them in all the grace-filled way that individual needs.
Grace embraces. Pride pushes away. Grace engages. Pride pits one against the other. Grace entreats. Pride portrays impatience. We cannot embrace with full arms. We cannot engage unless we really look and listen. We cannot entreat if our lips or attitude convey we have no time or interest. It is as we commune with God throughout the day that our pride begins to receive little pin pricks of conviction. It is there we can lay down those things that push others away and open ourselves up to giving those grace embraces just like we have repeatedly been receiving from Jesus all day long! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Make it count

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (John 4:24 MSG)
Prayer is part of a life of worship - worship is part of a life celebrating what God's grace has accomplished on our behalf - trust is at the core of both. Grace makes little difference in a life if there is no trust it will "count" or "last". I have received good gifts on occasion that I just know won't last. It wasn't that they were flawed in anyway, but that they were either designed to be consumed, or they wear out because things don't last forever. Grace is based on what God does - on who he is at the 'core' of his being. That makes grace reliable (trustworthy) since he hasn't failed us even one time! True worship engages our spirit in the pursuit of the truth that God exists, loves us, and has our best in mind in all he allows/does in our life.
To truly 'engage', one must be so attracted to the object of their attention that it is almost impossible to place attention elsewhere. God's desire is that he be in that place in our lives. He wants nothing more than that we 'engage' - being ourselves all the while, not parading any kind of religious facade before him. It is our "true self" God desires - not some 'made up form' of us! This sets the stage for a true exchange of what is on our minds and in our hearts, and for him to heal both! When we worship with engaged minds and hearts, not afraid to be our true selves before him, we find he is more than willing engage with us in exactly the same manner!
Maybe we haven't been very honest with God lately. It is easy to hold back whenever we think we aren't really doing "all that well" in our walk with him. It is easier to tell ourselves we don't "measure up" than it is to really lean into his grace so that we will actually stand as "fully measured and found lacking nothing". Prayer and worship go hand-in-hand because both require a laying down of whatever we think will keep us AWAY from God and then going for it with all the boldness of grace-redeemed kids that brings us CLOSER to him and FURTHER away from whatever has been keeping us apart in the first place! Worship isn't just about raised hands, bended knee, and soft music. It is about a heart-connection that begins in just sharing what is on our minds so that they can be unburdened and able to engage with him fully.
It may have been a very long time since your were your "true self" before anyone, much less God. It isn't that you don't want to be, but that you don't feel you will be accepted if you are. Let me just remind us of a couple of examples of those who weren't afraid to be exactly who they were and just how much God embraced them IN SPITE of their imperfections:
- David, the leader of Israel, committed adultery and then had the husband of the woman murdered when she conceived a child through his sinful action. God didn't reject him, but fully restored him - not because he deserved it, but because he had no way to redeem his misdeeds on his own!
- Rahab, the harlot, took in the spies from Israel late one night, not because she was seeking righteousness by her "good deeds", but because it was the thing she was moved to do. God didn't judge her as "unworthy" of protection when the walls would come down in that city - in fact, he counted her as worthy of the greatest protection in the form of grace!
- Peter, the disciple of Christ, was always going around popping off about this or that, even to the point of chopping of a centurion's ear because he thought Jesus needed defending. God didn't reject Peter for his flaws, but called upon him to be one of the most influential founding fathers of the New Testament church!
Grace calls us inward, to the heart of God. Prayer is our way of unburdening our hearts so we can actually connect in worship with the heart of the one who beckons to us. Just sayin!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Fight until the finish

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Ephesians 6:12-13 MSG)
All of life is a battle - if not well fought, it will be wasted. How well are you fighting, my friends? How hard is the battle? How engaged are you in the warfare ahead? What strategies are you preparing to implement against the one who wants nothing more than that you stagger and fall, never to get up again? God's plan for each of us is to stand, but with purpose. To fight, not without any control, but with strategic accuracy. It is what we put to use in our lives that makes the difference between fighting and fighting well!
God has given us so much, but we fail to tap into all he has given, then wonder why we falter in our stand. We don't take time to learn of him - to really understand the principles of how he works, so we cannot be duped into believing the decoys the enemy puts out there to get us to believe lies. Truth is learned at the feet of Jesus, in times of consistent study of the character of God. It is through the study of scripture we often learn how God moves - so we will be sensitive to his movements in our life. 
We don't always need to "hear" a loud voice declaring this or that way is the one to take. We need to just know how God acts - what he holds as unwavering principles of his character - and then go in the direction that aligns with those principles. We act upon what our heart has come to trust in - because it has connected with the heart of God in times of prayer and connected contemplation. We make prayer hard - but we are to pray hard, not make prayer hard! What is prayer? It is connection. It is listening. It is also just absorbing.
We sometimes want to separate our "prayer life" from our time of studying the scripture, but they are intimately connected. As described in our passage today, we learn from the Word and then we see how it is applied - not just in study of the scripture, but in times of connected exchange with God. I rarely have what some might call "prayer time" - I have a prayer "life"! It is a constant listening - yielding - learning - leaning - and yes, "talking" kind of prayer life. It is in my everyday connections with him that I see just how he wants me to move - because that connection just continues throughout the entire "living" of my day!
God isn't going to settle for little bits of time with us - he wants us to have a "prayer life" - not just a prayer time. Herein the connection is cemented and we get to the place we cannot live without that connection. Just sayin!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Say what?

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet. (James 4:10 MSG)
In looking at prayer this week, I wanted to take a look at this familiar passage from James. James puts it so very well - plain enough for us to really understand what prayer really helps to accomplish in our lives. As we say "yes" to God in our lives, he comes into our lives in ways we didn't even know we needed him. He isn't lax in his care, nor is he timid in his exploration. His desire is that his will takes the place of our own stubborn, sinful will. Why? Simply put, we need purity in places we don't even know about yet!
Time in conversation with God helps us see those edges that are a little too rough, the dark corners no one has really explored in a long time, and the secret rooms where we have stashed away memories we just should have let go of a long time ago. It is the time we declare to the enemy of our soul that he no longer will get the upper hand - he doesn't have control - God does! Notice...we say a LOUD 'no' to Satan, but a quiet 'yes" to God. Prayer isn't about how loud we get in our sharing with God, it is how genuine we get!
As James so aptly puts it - when we are willing to get serious, God is willing to take action in ways we never imagined possible. We settle into time with Jesus and he settles into our lives in ways that bring us clarity, comfort, conviction, commitment, and courage. We get down on our knees, a rather submissive action that is supposed to match the intent of our heart. The sad truth is captured in this passage, though. We often don't get really serious with God until we are at 'rock bottom'. When our back is up against the wall, suddenly we find time for the relationship.
God isn't after just those moments of 'rock bottom'. Yes, we need to turn to him during those times, but we also need the consistency of the daily expression of our willingness to turn our back on the old and embrace the new. To say 'no' to the choices that would delight the devil and say a very clear 'yes' to the choices that ignite a fire within us that burns with the passion of Christ - this is the desired outcome of our time alone with Jesus. To pray isn't just to simply express our need - it is to allow Jesus to get access to parts of us that require his skillful exploration. Just sayin!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

What's that you say?

Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. (Philippians 4:8 TLB)
A part of prayer that is often overlooked is our mindset toward both God and others. We don't "think" about how our "thinking" affects our frame of mind while in prayer with God. If we consider for a moment that prayer is just a time of celebrating and communicating with God and him with us, what things are we focusing on in communication with others that we can also focus on when in prayer with God? For one thing, we can clear our minds of all the other stuff we have been focusing on for a while and just settle into some special time with him. Whenever my BFF and I get a chance to really share with each other, I can count on one thing - she is listening to me! She shows it in both her attentiveness and in her posture. Sometimes God is just waiting for us to get "attentive" and with a posture that shows him we are ready to receive whatever it is he wants to share with us!
If you ever watched any of the Charlie Brown specials, you might remember the "voice" of the teacher. It was a "sound effect" versus an actual voice. The "whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, whaaa" of that "voice" is sometimes what we hear when we try communicating with God. It is as though we aren't "tuned into" his voice and all we hear is static! Maybe we hear so much "static" in prayer because of all the "static" we allow in because we haven't brought our mindset into captive thought yet! We are allowing all the things we are hearing around us to override his voice! "Fixed" thoughts begin in purposeful focus - there is intent behind the focus. Trust me on this one - it isn't easy! We get so caught up in the "untrue", "impure", and "not so right" that we often only hear those "tones" in our prayer time. It is probably because we are the ones setting the "tone" of the exchange in that very negative framework!
If you get to know me well enough, you will realize I have very little desire for any other "perspective" on "spirituality" other than what the Bible clearly and plainly teaches. I haven't made room in my mind for mysticism, superstition, and the like. Why? Those are "tones" that override the truth God yearns to share with me and I don't want that "interference". I want a "pure" exchange in our time together - just as much as I enjoy and long for that "pure" exchange in my time together with my BFF. Maybe some will label me as "narrow-minded", but that is okay because I think scripture backs up my actions on this one. Others will think I am limiting the "forces" I can be connected with, but again, that is just fine with me because I haven't found any other "force" quite as reliable and powerful as the one I "tap into" when I get time alone with God.
As we consider the development of our prayer time today, let us not lose sight of the importance of "centered" or "fixed" thoughts. Allow what is good to remain, and remove what distracts or acts as the "whaa, whaa, whaa" you hear. The most important connection we will make today is the one in which God hears us and we are listening intently to hear him. We may only hear the sound of his breathing or his beating heart, but even in these things we find the enjoyment of the closeness of our connection! Just sayin!

Friday, February 2, 2018

But...I want to know it all!

12 Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and prayerful always. 13 When God’s children are in need, you be the one to help them out. (Romans 12:12-13 TLB)

Some of our plans don't always work out as we had hoped they would, do they? The best laid plans, so to speak, are pretty unreliable at times. I can remember when my kids were little and they'd get sick right around the major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. One or both would have an earache, runny nose, croupy cough, or some sort of thing hit them full-on. My plans were for a "normal" holiday, without the additional expense or worry of a sick child. Their plans were probably just to have fun. The reality was that some bug would catch up with them and they'd be sick! Plans don't always work out, but when we do our best to listen to God about what he plans for us, we have a much better chance of seeing the "right stuff" come out of those plans.

God makes plans - each part of those plans fitting into perfect order in our lives - even the sore throats and earaches "fit" somehow, although we may not know it at first. Maybe that sick child kept us home off the roads avoiding some catastrophic car accident or natural disaster. Perhaps their illness helped us dust off one of those books we used to read and just settle into some "alone time" with the kiddos. I am not saying God 'made' the kids sick, but it is quite possible their illness helps us grow together in some way as a family unit. That would be God's plan for the family - growth. So, even out of bad God can bring something quite good if we are willing to see it!

How hard it is for us to be patient in prayer. I know there are times in my own prayer life where I just blurt it out to God, wait a couple of seconds for an answer, and then give up in frustration because he 'didn't reveal his plans' as quickly as I'd have liked. Maybe  you are in the same boat on occasion, finding yourself 'less than patient' to see God reveal his plans, not really all that willing to get still enough to hear what he intends. I will say this, any opportunity God brings to 'still' my mind and soul is a good thing - because it usually re-centers my focus and opens me up to seeing what his plans might just be. I may not get the full picture, but I get hints of his intent and then I begin to act upon them. 

Some of us need to learn to be content with the 'hint of intent' God reveals and then take the necessary action God desires. It is in acting upon what we know to be true that we find greater truth. I don't know about you, but God doesn't always reveal his plans to me like an architect displays layer after layer of blueprints for a building project. There isn't that finite detail at first. I might see the 'first set' of prints, the ones were the work of leveling the ground begins, but do I see the finished product of that action ahead of me? Nope! I just act upon what he asks me to do. Prayer isn't going to always give us ALL the answers we need, but it will give us hints about the right direction we should be heading! Just sayin!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

You bold enough?

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open. (James 1:5 MSG)
We have been looking a little at what it means to pray - the posture we should take is one of boldness, not timidity. The purpose of prayer is relationship - to strengthen our heart's connection with the one who already loves us so very much. The pathway to prayer is submission - in laying ourselves down, even for just a little while, we "make room" to take in a little of the presence of God and to bask it in a little while, listening and absorbing. The productivity of prayer is found in what we leave and what we receive - it is in "bringing" and "leaving" that we have room to now "receive".
The process of prayer begins a lot of times simply in us not knowing what we are going to do about something that is troubling us, or that we need another perspective on in order to see things in a new light. When I am struggling with a solution to a particular problem, I spend endless hours just thinking on the solution. I wanted to have a workshop - a dream of about a two years in the making. That is a reality now, but not without a whole lot of pondering, reconsidering, planning and purposeful preparation. 
We all deal with problems a different way. Maybe we face them head on, in a rush of emotion and quick response - but I have to ask - how's that been working for you? We could be planners - taking such a long time to act on anything that the problem is now magnified because we needed the "perfect plan". The issue isn't that we have problems - it is in how we deal with the problems we have! We rob ourselves of great resources and tremendous insight when we are too proud, passionate, or pessimistic to bring them to the Lord first!
Just a couple of thoughts on prayer:
1) WE often don't have the solution. WE need a different perspective in order to see the solution. If we don't ask, we might not ever find that "additional" or "different" perspective that brings the right solution WE need.
2) We aren't admitting defeat every time we come to God for his perspective on a matter - we are deferring to his wisdom - to his awareness of what exactly we NEED at that very moment. To defer is not to take action - it is to yield to the direction that supersedes our present knowledge.
3) We are bold about some things that aren't as important as prayer - so why aren't we as bold, or bolder in prayer? Just askin!