Sunday, March 18, 2018

Diamonds - Rough, but still diamonds

The English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, wrote: "There are many sham diamonds in this life which pass for real, and vice versa." If you stop for a moment to consider the diamonds you have overlooked as you have gone through this lifetime, you might be surprised at what you discover. To me, I recount the 'diamonds in the rough' that have touched my life in ways some just might not understand. There were hugs from that child I worked with who could not speak more than a couple words due to his mental handicap that touched my soul deep down when I was feeling particularly lonely during my high school days - diamonds beyond value. Those giggles from the kiddos when they discovered some perfectly good way to sneak up on me and startle me with their shenanigans that just warmed my heart because they felt comfortable enough to be silly and free with me - they were diamonds indeed. Maybe even those moments of temper that emerged when someone didn't get their way, but in which we remained calm and made it through despite that initial outburst - diamonds beyond measure. It doesn't have to be 'shiny' to sparkle, nor does it have to be 'brilliantly cut' to radiate beauty - diamonds all start out 'in the rough'.

6 For the Lord grants wisdom! His every word is a treasure of knowledge and understanding. 7-8 He grants good sense to the godly—his saints. He is their shield, protecting them and guarding their pathway. 9 He shows how to distinguish right from wrong, how to find the right decision every time. 10 For wisdom and truth will enter the very center of your being, filling your life with joy. (Proverbs 2:6-10 TLB)

We don't always find treasure just because we are looking for it - sometimes it is discovered quite by accident! We might just realize how truly blessed we are when someone reminds us to have a totally blessed day. We could discover there is a blessing, even in the deepest place, that was hidden to us before, but suddenly we see a value far superior to anything else we take from that place. The treasure is found in the openness to discover it. Discovery is the process of recognizing it - it is the ability to 'see' what others don't see and 'hear' what others only casually receive. There is much to be said about discovering one's 'diamonds', but here are just a few thoughts today:

- What 'diamond' has God been working to reveal to you? It could be that you have been looking for the shiniest and most brilliant of gems, but right there before you is that diamond, all covered in mire and muck, just waiting to be unmasked. Sometimes we have to put a little bit of work into uncovering the true gems.

- When is God's opportune moment to bring 'diamonds' into our lives? It rarely is in those moments when we are 'on top of the world' and thoroughly 'on top of our game'. In fact, it may just be that the most magnificent diamonds are discovered when we are at one of our lowest points - because diamonds are 'dug from the earth' - they rarely just fall into our laps!

- Who has 'diamonds' to share? We often overlook those who don't quite seem like they have much to offer us in life - sometimes to our detriment. I have worked for years with the elderly - do you know how many diamonds I have met in this work? Thousands! I have been a teacher's aid with the mentally handicapped - do you suppose there were many diamonds there? Yup! Hundreds and hundreds. Remember - if you are always looking for the shiniest and easiest to find, you might just overlook the most valuable of diamonds! Just sayin!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Misery loves company

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 MSG)
We probably all have heard that old English proverb, "Misery loves company", but does it really 'love it'? Back some time ago, I came across some research attempting to see if people who spend a good deal of time together actually influence the 'moods' of the other individual. They attempted to see if one depressed individual in the relationship did more to bring down the other individual, or if the opposite would be true and the other brought the depressed one up. It was a good study showing that only the severely depressed individual actually pulled the mood of the other downward. Normal emotional mood swings didn't play as much role in 'pulling the other guy down'. They were part of life and they were momentary mood swings that could easily be changed in the company of another. 
The study stopped short of actually proving the positive mood of one party in the relationship being able to actually impact the negative mood of the other - it just showed that we aren't always negatively impacted by the mood of another. I think we have all felt it from time to time though. We are feeling low and kind of dragging along through life somehow and one of our close friends comes alongside with a much more positive disposition in that moment and what happens? Most of the time, OUR mood begins to change, ever so slightly. I believe even a little while in the right company makes all the difference!
The 'God of all healing counsel' is just dying to display his goodness in our lives. He isn't about to abandon us to our worries and cares. In fact, he helps to actually 'strategically' bring others into our lives that will act as the counter-balance to our current emotional need. Alongside us, they find a way to help us heal, create a new enthusiasm for what lies ahead, or even just be a shoulder to lean on when we think we might want to abandon it all. God's healing counsel isn't always found by us getting into the Word of God, or in spending long moments of prayer sharing our miseries with him. Sometimes his healing counsel comes in us recognizing a need similar to our own in the life of another and then finding some way to be an encouragement to that other individual, even though we might have a need of our own. Somehow, in that moment of being what the other guy needs, we find healing for our own need!
While God will always remain our primary source for emotional strength and 'balance' in our lives, he does use others to help us walk out this daily struggle called 'life'. We don't have to go it alone and this is likely surprising news to some. I have met individuals who think they cannot ever ask for help, or ever be who they really are around others because they figure they have to shoulder life's burdens all on their own. Nothing could be further from God's plans for our lives for we are created to 'partner with each other' in this walk. Yes, it may be true that misery loves company - attracting 'birds of the feather' into the middle of your own muddle - but if we truly want to overcome our misery, we want to find ways to 'look outside' our misery and recognize the misery of another. Just sayin!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Habit or obsession

It was Benjamin Franklin who reminded us it is easier to prevent habits than to break them. A habit is an "acquired behavior pattern" that is followed so frequently that it becomes what scientists would call 'involuntary'. More than likely we each have one or two habits that have become so 'involuntary' we no longer think about them, we just do them. As a matter of fact, it probably throws us off a little whenever anything interferes with that 'pattern of behavior'. If you are used to rising in the morning, putting on a pot of coffee, and sitting with the paper in hand as your 'routine', you will likely be lost if the paper delivery doesn't occur that day. Your 'pattern' just got disrupted! Most would agree some habits are not bad to have, such as washing our hands and brushing our teeth. Good hygiene is an 'acquired behavior pattern' appreciated by all. Yet there are others which are a little more 'out there' that might not be considered as 'acceptable' by some - the types of behavior patterns we might not want to 'flaunt'. If patterns of behavior can be 'acquired', wouldn't it be wise to consider if they are 'acceptable' and 'good for us' before we develop them?
Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Psalm 139:23-24 MSG)
If a habit is 'customary' for us, then it stands to reason we can develop 'behavior patterns' that stand up to thorough scrutiny, such as having those 'patterns' observed by others, or God. Those 'patterns' we may not want others to observe or know about are likely the ones we developed because of wrong choices in our lives. It is even possible for a 'habit' to become more of an 'obsession' for us when that 'pattern of behavior' becomes so much of a focus that we have a hard time not engaging in that behavior for any period of time. 
Is it possible for a 'good behavior' to turn into an 'obsessive' one? Yes, if that behavior begins to interfere with other actions we are supposed to be engaging in. For example, getting our hair styled in the morning is positive, but when the time it takes to style that hair exceeds the time we take eating a good breakfast, spending a little time with the family, or doing a little bit around the house to keep things in order, it likely is becoming an 'obsessive habit'.
When I think about habits, here is a little thing I have used to examine if I want to be heading down that 'behavior road' or not:
Help - will this action, if repeated time and time again, help me to develop other positive character traits that are beneficial to me and others?
Acceptable - is this action something that God views as acceptable for my life? (Just because it is acceptable for another may not mean my circumstances are the same - it might not be acceptable for me.)
Benefit - is there a benefit to the repeated action such as the positive development of deeper relationship, or the added benefit of growing in my relationship with Christ?
Intent - will the intentional pursuit of this behavior now result in any unintentional consequences later on?
Time - is the time it will take to make this action an 'involuntary' one going to be worth it? (There are times when the time expenditure outweighs the return on that investment.)
If the habit is not harmful, doesn't detract from solid character development, and won't keep us away from other equally important 'behaviors' or 'activities', then it probably is okay. Yet, we always need to re-evaluate our 'habits' from time to time because it is possible what once started out as a 'good habit' has turned into nothing more than a 'habit' without much long-term benefit for us. Just sayin!

Thursday, March 15, 2018


14 But Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us; therefore let us never stop trusting him. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since he had the same temptations we do, though he never once gave way to them and sinned. 16 So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 TLB)

We need to be bold in our faith - bold believers through and through. I know there are times when we face uncertainties and somehow all our boldness flies out the window like some vapor ascending into the unknown. If we are be 100% truthful here, we ALL need a little lesson in boldness! Why? We get doubt in the driver's seat and faith merely becomes a passenger. Passengers don't control the car - although they may try to tell you where to turn, stop, or what's just around the bend, you are under absolutely no obligation to heed their advice. You are driving. Boldness isn't about us driving, but us being willing to allow another to drive us!

BOLDNESS isn't about us having it all together - it sometimes about us recognizing we actually don't have all the pieces in order. It isn't going to hurt us to admit we struggle with boldness - it will only hurt us when we refuse to be honest about our struggles in areas of BELIEF, OBEDIENCE, LEARNING, OR DISCIPLINE.

BELIEF might just be the starting place for boldness to begin to blossom in our lives because every action has some basis of belief behind it. We almost take for granted some of the stuff we believe, but have come to trust in fully. We don't think twice about our next breath most of the time because we just trust it will be there - until one day we find ourselves plunged into icy cold water through a crack in the ice and have to hold our breath until we can find our way to surface again! We don't want to take for granted where we put our trust, do we? We want assurances our trust is well-placed, yet when we take for granted anything (or anyone) we place our trust in, we create an environment where we are just assuming upon the 'good graces' of that person or object. Boldness begins in recognizing God's graces are always to be trusted, but never to be taken for granted.

OBEDIENCE is not an outcome of boldness - it is the outcome of belief. The one who understands where his trust is placed is determined to align his actions with the one he has given his allegiance to by such an alignment. Heart, mind, and body - aligned perfectly so as to take actions based upon trustworthy evidence. Obedience is more than conformity - it is inward strength in action even when outward circumstances don't seem to paint the picture we might want to see. What we believe determines how we stand when asked to go any other way than that which grace would pull us. 

LEARNING is an inward expression of our belief. To learn, one has to trust either the one doing the teaching, or the subject being taught. I don't know why I trusted my elementary school teachers when they told me one apple plus another one apple will yield me two apples, but I did. Before my eyes, I saw one shiny red apple and then another. In my mind I thought those amazingly crisp and juicy objects were good eating! I didn't care why one plus one equaled two, but trusted that more than one apple in the bowl was a very good thing! You see, we don't always question what we learn when we trust the one doing the teaching so very well!

DISCIPLINE is the outcome of having solid beliefs, a committed heart of obedient service, and an open heart to being taught the truths that will keep us safe in life. Discipline is merely focus - it is determined action that won't allow an opportunity for wavering. Nothing bespeaks boldness better than an unwavering ability to stand. Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It is an ALL-Inclusive thing!

You must love him with all your heart, soul, and might. And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning. Tie them on your finger, wear them on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house! (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 TLB)

There are those of us who may postulate the hardest part of loving the Lord with ALL our heart is obeying him. I think it might just be the hardest part of loving the Lord this way is for our 'self' to get out of the way long enough to actually let God connect with our hearts! Pride keeps us at arm's length - shame helps us put up a good front - 'image' drives us to 'religious expression' instead of relationship. Indeed, to get close enough to love God and serve him with ALL requires a whole lot of other stuff in our lives to get out of the way!

I didn't realize I had some really good salvageable wood in my 'pallet pile' until I took some time to actually pull out about 8-10 of those pallets yesterday and start examining what I had. The more I pulled, the more that was exposed. The same happens with our relationship with Christ - the more we are pulled toward him, the more of us gets exposed - but...that applies to Christ, as well. The more we are drawn to him, the more of him we get to know! As Moses was delivering the commandments to the nation of Israel that day, I don't imagine he knew the total 'cost' of loving God in such a manner, but it didn't dampen his enthusiasm one bit.

We often want to know the cost up front - almost as though we were shopping for a new car. We don't want any 'hidden' costs. I think that might just be what Moses had in mind when he spoke these words - there is really no other meaning to ALL than ALL! It was pretty plain - the Word is to affect us deeply, be part of our daily lives, and be used to guide both family and business life. It was to be reverenced, obeyed, heeded, and trusted. It was to fill our conversation, but not just as 'passing commentary'. It was to be that which lent clarity, direction, and encouragement.

Coming - going. Working - playing. God didn't 'carve out' any hidden costs here. He was pretty plain - ALL of us needs to connect with ALL of him - keeping his Word in the forefront of all we do. Why is his Word so important? Perhaps it is because words connect us - they are the foundation of relationship. Yes, there are other 'actions' that occur in relationship, but without communication, we dry up and aren't really going to remain vitally connected. The emphasis on his Word being central in our lives is tied to us being able to live for him with our ALL. The ALL-inclusive plan of God is revealed in his Word! Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A fresh canvas is art

An empty stable stays clean—but there is no income from an empty stable. (Proverbs 14:4 TLB)

An empty stable stays clean, just as an empty house might remain neat and with things in order. An empty bottle doesn't really serve the purpose for which it was created, nor does an empty heart! Another 'empty' to consider is that of a canvas stretched tightly upon the frame. The frame gives it a 'form', yet the canvas is still just 'empty' until the artist takes up the brush and begins to add brush stroke after brush stroke of color to that 'void'. An empty canvas is rarely seen as 'empty' in the eyes of the artist - simply because he knows all the ways it is to be filled.

There are times we believe 'empty' is a bad thing, but if you actually stop to think about it, 'empty' defines the object as 'not full', not that it isn't open to being filled. The canvas might be nothing more than canvas until it stretched tight upon the frame, but once it is stretched upon the frame, it is now open to being filled. Yet, it is not quite ready - it must be 'primed' to receive that which the artist will add. The artist needs to 'prime' the canvas with a substance known as 'gesso' - a substance which actually helps 'hold' the paint that will be added to the canvas onto that canvas.

Did you know you could add 'gesso' to almost any surface, even vinyl, rubber, etc., and it would help hold paint to that surface? It acts as an 'adherent' when it is applied to that surface. There are also two grades to gesso - one is much stronger and actually helps that which is painted upon that surface to remain true in both color and texture. There is much prep which goes into making the canvas ready to receive the artist's touch - it isn't as simple as just unrolling a little canvas. The frame must be put into place, the canvas stretched and held into place, and then there must be the placement of that which helps what will come next to actually 'stick'!

Maybe then empty isn't really empty! The canvas isn't truly empty - it is ready! The work of 'receiving' that which will be added by the artist actually begins when the artist conceives the canvas - bringing together the parts that will make the canvas in the first place. Who could add to the canvas any better than the one who conceived it in the first place? If you are feeling a little 'empty' these days, perhaps it is just that God has been at work bringing together the pieces and priming the canvas of your life! In his mind, he sees what he will add next - even when all we see is 'empty'. Just sayin!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Water or snow? Both help us grow!

“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree. “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them." (Isaiah 55:8-9 MSG)
It is probably a good thing God doesn't think the way we think, huh? My 'thinker' gets a little muddled in thought at times, making it kind of 'hazardous territory' to travel! If God thought the way we thought, he would be very limited in his approach to issues and to our needs. We see things one or two ways, not really seeing the bigger picture at all, but we aren't limited by that thought when God is the one doing the thinking in our lives!
It is also a very good thing that God doesn't do things the way we might always think they should be done, nor is he limited by the way we choose to do things in our lives. He can 'work beyond' our actions and this is a very good thing indeed! I know I am grateful for each time he has actually worked beyond my actions and even those times he has worked around them in order to change them!
God's thoughts lead to consistent actions. His words activate consistent actions. These two go hand-in-hand. The words and thoughts of God are action-oriented. They produce - never returning devoid of accomplishing exactly what they intended to accomplish. Unlike our thoughts and words, his are reliable and trust-worthy. 
The words of God complete the assignment he has given them to do - not ending their effect until that very thing is fully accomplished. I guess this is why so many of us can say we feel like God's got his attention consistently focused on one particular area of our lives. It is like we are under the magnifying glass in a particular area - with him focusing on a particular thought pattern, attitude, etc. Each time we hear or read his Word, we hear that consistent message to deal with that area. The desire of our heart might be to 'take a break' from dealing with that area, but his desire is that his Word accomplish exactly what he set out for it to accomplish - nothing short of that will do.
If you ever wonder how it is God's Word can seem to come to us in oh so many ways, all saying the same thing, just a little differently, it might just be that God knows we need to hear it all those different ways in order to have it finally accomplish what it is set out to do. The rain comes to produce growth, just as the snow does. Both are quite similar, yet very unique. One is immediately soaking in, the other settles in for a while and eventually the temperature of our souls will begin to affect how quickly it is broken down and allowed to saturate them! Just sayin!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Go ahead...depose me

“But he knows where I am and what I’ve done. He can cross-examine me all he wants, and I’ll pass the test with honors. I’ve followed him closely, my feet in his footprints, not once swerving from his way. I’ve obeyed every word he’s spoken, and not just obeyed his advice—I’ve treasured it. (Job 23:10-11 MSG)
I wonder if this will be our testimony - that we didn't waver in our walk, we kept step with him, not choosing our own way instead? Could it be that it would be said of us that we did more than obey 'his advice', but that we treated each and every word he has spoken as that which we treasure and give that right place in our lives? This is indeed a testimony I think all of his disciples really hope will become theirs, but many times we don't even believe this is possible!
Look at what Job recounts for us. He begins with God and ends with himself. All we can hope for is that we really get that right - we begin with God and let self take a backseat to his desires and plans for our lives. Yes, God does know what we have done - and even what we haven't done that he may have asked us to do. He also knows where we have been - no matter how cleverly we try to disguise that from others, he is still the one who 'knows all'. 
I have had the opportunity to be deposed and sit in the witness box for matters totally outside of my control by attorneys intent on wanting nothing more than to tear every word of someone's testimony to shreds. It is an uncomfortable feeling to be 'in the hot seat' and know very well that they are trying to find fault with something that might incriminate a physician, nurse, or owner of some healthcare establishment. The idea is that if they can get you to just 'slip up' once in your testimony - find just a shred of incongruity in it - then they can argue their point either on the side of the defense or the prosecution.
I can recall how uncomfortable it was to know you had nothing to hide, but be treated as though you did! It is not this way with God, though. He isn't going to put us in the hot seat, intent on finding something 'bad' in our testimony he can use to build a case against us. In fact, he does everything he can to ensure our testimony is flawless by giving us the very thing that makes us flawless - grace! His 'cross-examination' will come up short every time because of the life of Christ resident within us! He will find no flaw, no fault, nothing will lack congruity in our lives when all he sees is Christ in us! 
We might start with a pretty 'flawed testimony', but all that changes when Christ is given access to our lives. He isn't about to let us stand 'undefended' or in a place where anyone can 'poke holes' in our testimony! That might come as a surprise to some who believe they can never escape their past failures, but search the scriptures and you will find this is truth! The past doesn't need to be a concern when Christ has made us new in the present. Just sayin!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Morning dawns!

He keeps the peace at your borders, he puts the best bread on your tables. He launches his promises earthward— how swift and sure they come! He spreads snow like a white fleece, he scatters frost like ashes, He broadcasts hail like birdseed— who can survive his winter? Then he gives the command and it all melts; he breathes on winter—suddenly it’s spring! (Psalm 147:12-18 MSG)

The days are getting longer again. It isn't quite as dark when I go to work in the morning and it is a little lighter when I return home at night, allowing me to enjoy a little of my day in 'daylight'. The funny thing about winter is how dark it appears a great deal of the time. I lived in Alaska for about three years and the winters were long. I learned to appreciate the daylight during those years, but those long summer days, although beautifully brilliant with light, were soon forgotten when the darkness of winter set in. The coldness that comes with the lack of sunlight was magnified and even the enthusiasm of our inner soul would 'chill' in the considerably long and dark winter days. Scientists and physicians have studied us long enough to realize there is a condition of the mind and soul caused by the lack of light referred to as 'seasonal affective disorder' - what some call 'winter depression'. Should it catch us by surprise that mankind flourishes in the light and withers in the darkness? 

It was the late French philosopher, Albert Cammus, who penned the words, "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer." He was right - although the winter seems long and dark, sometimes devoid of any signs of life, the movement and increasing energy light brings as seasons begin to turn is almost palpable. What is happening is that dormancy is awakened as the light begins to become the prevailing trend. In our own lives, light awakens places within us that have become dormant, allowed to go long enough without signs of growth. Those who suffer from seasonal affective discoder, (SAD for short), will tell you how 'palpable' the changes are within as more and more light begins to fill their days. In much the same way, I think each of us could describe just how much God's light begins to awaken us until we finally begin to feel a pulse once again. It is as though what was dead is now made alive.

Did you know that the most important time for each of us to get light is in the morning? Maybe that is why I rise about two hours earlier than I need to start my day - so light (God's light) can begin to affect my soul long before the pressures of the day have a chance to do their work! Researchers show it is this early morning light that 'resets' our internal clock (our circadian clock). I also think it is this early morning 'reset' with my Lord that helps to reset my spiritual clock! It helps me feel renewed and ready for the day, despite whatever might be on the forefront of the agenda. While physical light affects our physical body, God's spiritual light has a much deeper potential when it is allowed to 'get into' our lives early each day! Just sayin!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Sensible gifts

God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible. (2 Timothy 1:7 MSG)

The gifts God gives are truly magnificent - some may try to mimic the true gifts of God, but where there is a true talent given, it shines through. I am not musically inclined, but that didn't keep me from attempting to learn the guitar. Notice, I said I "attempted" to learn that instrument, but to be totally honest here, I strummed a good strum, but somehow couldn't make that instrument 'sing' like others could. I learned the notes, memorized the fingering for some basic chords, and studied lots of hours in an attempt to become proficient. The real crux of the matter is that I wasn't going to learn! I didn't really possess that musical talent that one needs to get 'really good at it'. You just cannot force a gift - it emerges 'naturally' - as though it just fits you like a custom-made glove.

If you have received a gift from God, don't kid yourself into believing it isn't going to be noticed by others - no matter how much you attempt to keep it under wraps, the gift will emerge! I have a mind to see detail, often missed by others, that some think is akin to having a photographic memory. I honestly don't think that is because I have been given better 'insight', but it is just the way God made my mind to work. In a very real sense, this is a gift from God - it is intended to be used in ways that will benefit others. My grandson has an ability to conceptualize something in his mind, taking things discarded by others, and re-inventing them into objects that will meet a need. When he needed a fishing pole holder to place along the pond's edge, he found discarded parts from an old wire rack, an extendable handle (also in the junk pile), and a little ingenuity with the welder. In short order, he had a double rod holder!

It doesn't always have to be a 'gift' as outlined in scripture sometimes referred to as 'ministry' gifts - such as preaching, teaching, administration, service, etc. While all of these are essential to helping us meet, know, and follow Jesus, there are a ton more gifts that some might refer to as 'too practical' to even begin to think of them as 'true gifts'. I think of the woman who has a way of settling down a crying infant with her ability cuddle them, coo reassuringly, and bobble them into submissive calmness. I'm good for about 15 minutes of that and then I want you to come get your baby! I have also watched the extreme patience of the first grade teacher who patiently reminds that daydreaming child of the right way to write the letters in between the lines on the paper. If you don't consider that a gift, give it a whirl and see how much you come to admire the degree of 'vision', 'belief', and 'patience' those teachers have each and every day. They see possibility in your child, create a culture that supports their trying time and time again to get it right, and then praise each effort as though it were 'gold medal' worthy! That is indeed a gift!

Let us now be shy in expressing the gifts God has poured into our lives. They may not seem like much to us, but to the ones on the receiving end of your gift, they are amazing! They may seem a little too 'sensible' to be called 'gifts' in the minds of those who see only the gifts outlined in scripture - those 'ministry gifts' - but there is a time and a place for each gift - sensible gifts used by sensible people. Just sayin!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A thing of beauty

Let me ask you a question today: What has become irrevocable in your life? What is it in your life that you absolutely know is "unalterable"? There are likely a good many who would say it is the crook in our nose, the moon-surface shape our cellulite creates over our body, or the whiteness of our teeth. Another group might make mention of the bad reputation they have come to acquire over the years, or the lack of any real reputation at all. There are a whole lot of things, occurrences, and "issues" we'd like to label as 'irrevocable' in our lives - unalterable facts, things not easily repealed, or with 'no appeal' left to be made. In Christ, there are certain facts that are truthfully 'irrevocable' - like the fact he loves us, or the fact his grace is sufficient for everything we think is 'irrevocable'!

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:21-24 MSG)

We each have a 'long and sorry record' as sinners, but the good news is that what we have no way of changing ourselves is not beyond changing when Christ is given access to those things. Nothing about our sin nature is 'irrevocable' - nothing we have done is too great for his blood to make a way for our cleansing (our 'being made right'). Something irrevocable is permanent - our sin is not permanent when it comes into contact with the blood of Jesus. It isn't that we get it 'annulled' - it is that we get it totally and completely taken away. Unlike the one who wants whiter teeth and must go back time and time again to have them bleached, the blood of Christ does the job the first time and it just keeps on doing the job!

Whatever has become a 'constant' in your life that you don't see any way out of is not really the same thing as God sees as the 'constant' he wants to portray in your life. No reputation - good or bad - is constant when he comes into the picture. No blemish or scar - real or imagined - is unalterable in his hand. He hasn't labeled us a certain way and then left us in that condition. He provides a way for any 'negative condition' to be transformed by the power of Christ. We want to label a whole lot of things as 'unalterable' in our lives, but the only thing truthfully unalterable is the truth of God. The only thing that transforms time after time is this truth. We might perceive the 'issue' as not able to be changed, but God sees a way even when we don't. 

Some things we 'want' to change are superficial - like the crook in our nose or the cellulite on our thighs. The things God sees as 'worth the worry' are our heart, mind, soul, and spirit. Don't sweat the small stuff - they might annoy us a little - but God sees a thing of beauty even in the dimples of our thighs! Just sayin!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Don't just entertain me

How wonderful to be wise, to understand things, to be able to analyze them and interpret them. Wisdom lights up a man’s face, softening its hardness. (Ecclesiastes 8:1 TLB)

If you have ever watched the expressions of discovery and intrigue on the face of a small child, you probably have close to what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as they explored each new creature, plant, and living thing. They must have had those moments of discovery that awed them, while almost overwhelming their soul with delight and wonder. To discover one has to be open to discovery. To uncover one must look. To gain understanding one must be open to seeing through different eyes at times. To unmask one must reveal a genuineness of character that encourages the removal of that which covers.

A good poker player is known for his ability to maintain what is referred to as a "poker face" - the ability to have the most amazing hand while never once 'declaring' that hand in the expressions of the face or eyes. I don't believe the discovery of truth actually lends itself well to the use of a 'poker face', though. The discovery of truth actually brings light to the eyes and a softening of the facial expression. The moment truth comes, the soul is lifted, changing the 'landscape' of not only our soul and spirit, but finding expression in the landscape of our face!

The Roman poet Virgil once wrote, "Consider what each soil will bear, and what each refuses." Notice the condition of the soil of the soul as understanding begins to come into the life of one ready to receive it. The soil is malleable, 'open' to receiving seed, making the seed 'part' of itself. The soil of the soul closed to understanding is quite the opposite - hard, closed off, almost repelling the seed as soon as it falls. The soul is often reflected in the landscape of the face, betraying the condition of the soil just beneath! The soul which has been prepared reveals itself in the softness of the face as that truth begins to be made part of the soil of one's life. There is something about truth understood that cannot be contained within the inner man - it must be revealed outwardly. Truth doesn't entertain - it sustains! Just sayin!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Novice to expert

10 The master may get better work from an untrained apprentice than from a skilled rebel! (Proverb 26:10 TLB)

I was thinking about a particular issue a friend is having within the group of individuals who work within her department. It is possible the issues would resolve if the processes and workflows improved. It is practical to think if we 'fix' the issues, all will be well, isn't it? In reality, sometimes it is the leader who must be 'fixed' before the processes! It is the leader's heart that must be right as we often heard Solomon speaking to in the wisdom he left us with in the book of Proverbs. Really, the first 'issue' we must always focus on is the heart behind each action. A leader doesn't lead so much with 'good ideas' as he does with a 'good heart'. 

Many years ago, given my first responsibility as a leader, I remember struggling from day to day with all kinds of issues I just didn't think could possibly be linked to anything I was doing. I wanted to believe it was all 'them' - because I thought I was leading well. There are times we find ourselves having 'dug in' on some decision. We know the way it 'should be' or the way we 'want it to be' - both may be perfectly good and there is no real fault that can be found with the desired outcome. Yet, if we fail to create the vision, building trust as we do, we find those we lead are not sure about where we are headed. The lack of direct communication of a vision is oftentimes the beginning of chaos as we attempt to move in any particular direction!

As that new leader, I would have to admit I was more like an 'untrained apprentice' than a skilled rebel, but it was than 'untrained' side of me that failed to connect all the dots. I wasn't doing a good job of establishing trust within the group I was leading because I did not take time to share well. In homes everywhere, there are 'leaders' of those homes leading the blind! The blind are their own families - not really sure what the vision for their family really is because mom and dad haven't done a good job of creating that vision, establish that purpose, and guide in those actions. In work environments across this land, people go into work day after day, confused as to the purpose of the actions they are taking. It isn't that they don't want to understand - they just haven't received what they need to really guide their actions.

Novice to expert - one would think that pathway is so very easy, but it is riddled with all manner of continual learning. If you didn't figure it out by now, continual learning means we are continually making mistakes! Mistakes that have to be corrected before we can move on. While I am not sure about all the mistakes I have made along the way, I know the many course corrections I have had to make! Trust me on this - those course corrections cost way more than if I had just done a better job of charting the course out ahead of time! Just sayin!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Plans change

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest. (Jeremiah 29:11-13 TLB)
What is a future without any hope? What are plans worth if not held together by hope? Today, there is a wood bed frame out of trash pick up on my neighbor's driveway. The headboard is also just wood railings, but as I glance out on it, I don't see a bed. I see the framework for a mobile tool table on wheels! Now, when that bed manufacturer put those plans together for the bed frame, he probably didn't see any future for that frame other than being a bed. There are always other ways those things intended for one purpose become quite useful for an entirely different purpose in the hands of someone who sees them with just a little different hope.
I am looking at all things a little differently since I am working to outfit my workshop with storage, workbenches, and the like. There is a 'practical' side to salvaging good wood and turning it into other projects. One can take a perfectly beat up dresser and turn it into a stunning accent piece in their home with a little planning and hard work! In our daily lives, there are things planned for us and plans we make. Each carries a certain sense of 'design' to them. That is really what a plan is - a design. All designs begin with a mission in mind - we set out to create something because there is a need for it in our lives. We need a workbench, so we set out a design. We might go through various steps of planning in order to design the bench, but in the end we are left with at least a rough image of what we desire to see formed.
As we go through life, God has plans for us - he has 'designed' certain things for our lives that are to be placed there for our growth, character development, enjoyment, etc. Those designs are only as good as him taking actions upon what he has planned. I don't know if I will actually drag that wood frame into the yard and begin to break it down into usable pieces to reclaim for my workbench, but the possibility is there. God acts upon possibilities. He doesn't just stop with the planning phase. He sees the vision of what he desires for us - sets out the plans for how that vision should be 'acted out' - then he sets in motion the actions that helps what he has planned to become a reality in our lives.
As we walk out those times when what he has planned doesn't quite seem all that clear to us yet, it is sometimes quite hard to keep a hope that the finished product will ever become a reality. We may not fully understand the plans - only seeing fragments of them revealed to us. It is kind of like a book of blueprint images. One page looks very clear for just that 'phase' of the work, but without seeing how plan one fits with plan fifty, we are lost to know how the 'finished product' will actually look! While my 'planning' for the workbench may not become a reality from that particular piece of salvaged wood, it will become a reality. Sometimes plans change, but the hope of the finished product remains the same! Never lose hope. Just sayin!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What process are you setting in motion?

Those who plot evil shall wander away and be lost, but those who plan good shall be granted mercy and quietness. (Proverbs 14:22 TLB)
Good or evil - both are the result of certain processes set in motion within our lives. Deming said that if we could not find a way to describe what we are doing as a 'process', then we actually didn't know what we are doing. All of life is filled with processes, beginning with thought and carried into action. If you have ever had one of those involuntary moments when you are asleep and suddenly feel like you are falling, jerking yourself awake, you know how 'off' that feeling of falling can make you feel. You might not realize it, but we are all subject to 'interpreting' certain actions or reactions based on how they make us feel. Yet, not all feelings are real - that 'fall' was imagined. You weren't actually falling out of bed, but somehow your thoughts engaged a reaction to that 'impression' of falling. A 'process' was set in motion - you were startled, awoke, and now are staring into the darkness wondering if that was real! There are times when we 'engage' in the process without knowing fully where the process will take us! At others, we find ourselves at the end of the process wondering how we got there!
While we cannot control everything in our lives, we can develop consistent processes that help us to maintain stability and make good judgments as those processes around us are set in motion. I spend a great deal of time in my work life just evaluating processes and seeing where they need 'shoring up' in order to improve both efficiencies and outcomes. An efficient process with poor outcomes is not a great process - it might get the job done, but the job reflects the lack of consistency in the process. In our daily walk with Christ, there are a whole lot of processes we could engage to help us remain consistent in our walk. We might read scripture each day so that we get a little of his Word into our minds and hearts. We might engage in purposeful conversation with God (prayer) in order to get things out into the open and then hear what he has to say on the matter. We also might meet with others who are working good 'in' and evil 'out' in their lives - making the idea of two being stronger than one a reality for us. Processes - each designed to help us be established in our walk with Christ, consistent in our 'outcomes', and directed in our focus.
Some think there is not way to change the process of evil either within ourselves or around us. Both of these beliefs are dead wrong. Evil exists because man hasn't 'shut down' those processes - there is an 'allowance' for them to still exist. In terms of looking at the process, I might label this as an 'allowed variation'. In other words, we allow just 'enough' evil that we get the thrill of it once in a while, but not so much of it that we exemplify this evil all the time. Whatever we allow will eventually be accepted - hard truth, but it is truth nonetheless. Allow variation in the process and you will eventually get deviation from the process. This is another truth about processes. A little 'wobble' may not seem like much, but allow that wobble to continue over time and eventually the wobble will allow a 'gap' to form. The ignored or tolerated 'wobble' actually creates 'holes' which allow more variance. The idea of evil beginning as that tiny 'wobble' in our choices, if tolerated long enough, carries the added idea that the consistency in making those errant choices will result in a totally different process than was once designed or desired!
While the process matters, it is the steps in the process that all lead up to the outcome. Any step in the process that is neglected affords an opening for a new process to begin. That new process may the very thing that gives us the greatest opportunity to stumble and fall. That variation ignored long enough may not become evident to us until we are startled by the fall! Just sayin!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A mouse in the house

The run of the house - who has it where you live? When I had young children at home, I'd have admitted they did! When I had pets, there were days when those cats would have told you square and fair that this was their domain and they just let me live here! If you have ever had even one mouse in your house, you'd almost think there were a million of those little creatures prowling around, taking what they wanted and then eluding capture by some clever means! The run of the house can be 'given' or 'taken' - the mouse would fit that latter category! That which is given is much easier for us to accept and 'live with' than that which is taken, though. When the 'house' is our heart, to be given is much easier than to be stolen. The latter brings fear and anxiety, much like never knowing where that mouse would show up again or when. God doesn't want us to live with this type of fear or anxiety - so he focuses on who exactly has the run of our house - who specifically it is that controls things within our lives.
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. (1 John 4:18 MSG)
Love should have the run of our house - it should be at the very core of our being. Love and Christ are used interchangeably here. One cannot truly know love without Christ at the center of one's life. I have taken vacations away from home, 'transplanting' my life for a week or so into a vacation timeshare, complete with linens, cooking items, and all the furnishings. It is pretty close to being at home - because I have almost all the conveniences of home. I have to admit that it still isn't home, though. I might have managed to bring some spices, food items, and the like, but I find I have to work within the confines of what I brought - what is available to me. If I were home, I could scour the pantry, look through the shelves of frozen foods in the freezer, etc. until I found what interested me. The confines were removed. The conveniences of just having access to whatever I needed is freeing, isn't it?
When God's love takes up residence in us - is given the 'run of the house' - there is a removal of the confines that restrict us so much when his love is not central within us. My pets didn't worry about being loved - they knew their 'run of the house' included forgiveness when they spilled water cups over, stole away with a sock or two deep under the bed, or left tracks of litter for me to step on in the middle of the night. They also knew it assured them of continual feeding and comfort. They lacked for nothing. In much the same manner, Christ's love assures us we will lack for nothing. We are granted forgiveness, even when we do irritating stuff. We find provision even when we have done not a whole heck of a lot to earn it. Like the cats, we sometimes draw near when we feel like it and remain elusive when we don't. We enjoy far more than we might deserve by our being so 'distant' at times, don't we?
The mouse who takes over the run of the house has something to fear - the trap! It isn't welcome in the house. It brings a sense of anxiety and concern. It demands constant attentiveness and this is exhausting. It places one in the continual mode of 'cleaning up' and this is somewhat frustrating and concerning to one who just desires to be rid of the pesky creature. Wherever 'perfect love' isn't given 'free run' of the life, 'pesky' stuff will continue to bring all manner of anxiety, frustration, and a desire to just be rid of it! Just sayin!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Don't plus Don't = ????

Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. (Romans 13:9-10 MSG)
Don't hit your brother. Don't get mud on your shoes from that puddle. Don't put objects into the electrical outlet. Don't forget to carry the one when you add those numbers. Don't enter - wrong way. Don't leave the door open when the air conditioner is on. Don't leave the toilet seat up. Don't leave an empty toilet paper roll on the roller. Don't...Don't...Don't.  There are a whole lot of don't moments in life. Some are practical advice - others are social rules of relationship. Either way, they are to be heeded - they come with consequences. Hit your brother - go to the time out corner.  Step in the puddle anyway - you get to wash the floor! Put that bobby pin into the electrical outlet - get the jolt of a lifetime!
While not all the consequences are understood 'up front', the don't moments matter - they are more than 'practical advice' that we can pay attention to when we want to and ignore at other times. The 'rules' set out by the 'don't' are there for our protection, provision, or safety (and the protection, provision, or safety of others). Let me just assure you that I know what the bobby pin does in the outlet, not because of the 'don't' warning, but because I didn't heed it! I know what a mess the muddy floor is to clean up - not because I didn't get a warning, but because I chose a behavior contrary to the 'don't' laid out for me. The consequences shouldn't be what motivates us - it should be that we desire to heed the warnings given by a loving and caring Father to his children!
All God did in laying out all those 'thou shalt not' parts in scripture was to help us live within the boundaries that assure our protection is ongoing, help keep us in a place of provision that has been prepared specifically for us, and create a barrier of safety over our lives. The sum of all the "don't" parts is LOVE. His love overshadowing our lives - not as an 'over-protective' Father, but as an 'all-protective' Father. He provides rules because without them we live pretty loosey-goosey (careless and imprecise) lives. Careless actions have no place in the life of a believer - because every action counts! It may not amount to much right now, but repeat that action again and again - the compounded effect of the action matters. When the action is love, the compounded effect of that action is astronomical! Just sayin!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

No nagging allowed!

Love forgets mistakes; nagging about them parts the best of friends. (Proverbs 17:9 TLB)
Okay, time for true confessions here...I used to be a bit of a "nagger" in real life. I was married ten years and have to admit, I found it sometimes a whole lot easier to nag than I might want to admit. If something didn't get done - I nagged. If someone was too slow at a task - I nagged. If the kids weren't behaving - I nagged. It was just so easy to find fault in the actions of others - because I was hoping it would keep the focus off of me! Continual fault-finding in others is nothing more than a smoke-screen to attempt to keep others from looking too closely at you!
Demands, complaints, and continual fault-finding just doesn't cut it in relationships for very long, though. After a while, it gets old! Others don't want us continually showing them where they are coming up short in life, anymore than we want them turning that spotlight on us! Mistakes will be made. Demands will not always be met. Things won't always work out as you have planned. This is life and placing the 'fault' for these things always on others may just keep you from seeing what part YOU actually played!
I have been have had to do a whole lot of soul-searching in my life and it wasn't always easy. If we want to know love, we need to be the kind of person who others can love. If you will indulge me a little, let me tell you a few things I have learned:
- Life has more than one player in it - we are put here to work together at this thing called life. None of us is without a 'part' to play. That also means none of us is without an occasional slip-up, missed step, or just plan 'dropping of the ball'.
- No one really sets out the course we may walk together free and clear of any bumps and ruts in the road. We might think we can have relationships that are going to be 'free and clear' of all 'hazards' along the way, but we honestly cannot always navigate around them. Sometimes we have to face them squarely, admit our part in choosing those bumps and ruts, and then learn from them!
- To constantly 'light up' another's faults is contrary to what scripture requires. We are reminded to not so much 'overlook' them, but to hold each other up until we can get past them. Easier said than done, I might add. Yet, it is an essential part of any healthy and growing relationship.
- Hiding behind the smoke-screens won't help us grow - it just brings a whole lot more 'irritation'. Smoke has a way of irritating our eyes - we soon aren't seeing very clearly because we just cannot get our focus. It has a way of irritating our airways - soon closing us off and making us 'hold in' whatever we think we might soon be without. Smoke leaves behind a film that is hard to see beyond.
Naggers beware - the tendency to push blame onto another isn't going to help unite us - it just further divides us. Just sayin!