Thursday, May 24, 2018

Muck and Mire

You can't find firm footing in a swamp, but life rooted in God stands firm. 
(Proverbs 12:3)

Swamps aren't exactly my idea of a good place to make a home. There are lots of critters who'd just as soon eat me than leave me alone. There are pesky bugs, and way too much moisture. The opportunity for dry ground just isn't all that frequent - not to mention the unpleasantness of all that humidity and 'foul-smell' of boggy places. In the swamp are many obstacles that impact our ability to be on the footing that allows for solid growth. There are some lessons in the swamp, though - - - a couple of common obstacles found in a swamp are kind of like some of the obstacles we face in our daily walk.

A swamp is made up of water, reeds, muddy bogs, and lots of pesky critters. The water of the swamp is not known for its clarity or purity. In fact, it is known for the extreme, almost impenetrable  murkiness. Within the murky waters are all kinds of insatiable "creatures" that science has come to term as "leeches". These little wiggly creatures serve a purpose - to suck the very life out of that which they attach to! The swamps of life are full of those things that exist to suck life from those who wander into the murky waters - all too often unaware of what is just below the surface. Those leeching creatures are upon us faster than we know and are already hard at work long before we realize their attachment. It is important to note that we cannot be continuously immersed in the murky waters and not be affected by what is contained in their murkiness. We cannot expect to live pure lives (righteous lives) if we continually surround ourselves with the murkiness of sinful relationships, sinful practices, etc.

Within the waters of the swamp are all kinds of outgrowths - reeds that sway gently in the winds and provide shelter for birds looking to nest their young. Although they form a welcoming shelter to some  and appear to give a semblance of peaceful repose - providing a temporary place of refuge for some - they also have an ominous side to their existence. The reeds of a swamp can make progress difficult, preventing the one traveling the swamp from getting through their masses, or hiding terrorizing swamp creatures within their gently moving leaves. They look good, but hold some pretty terrible consequences. They can have an entangling effect for some who enter, making them easy prey. They blow in the wind, but they are sharp on the edges - one wrong move and you can realize a sharp gash that produces much pain. If you or I get entangled in them, movement forward in life may be limited, responses to issues dulled, and the opportunity for our endangerment and potential harm increased.

The muddy bottom of the swamp is the most telling feature of the swamp. It is filled with all manner of silt, fallen trees, rocks, uncertain drop offs, and bottom-crawling beasts that are just waiting for their prey. Muddy footing provides no soundness for our movement - it is easy to get "stuck" in a place where the footing is not sure. Silt gets easily stirred up with any kind of movement, making the already murky waters of the swamp even murkier. Vision becomes impossible. Tree limbs that have fallen into the recesses of the swamp act as hidden obstacles, just waiting to trip up the one who is unaware of their presence. Uncertain depths and unexplored recesses make and movement risky at best.

The writer of Proverbs reminds us that we cannot find firm footing in a swamp - in other words, we cannot expect to live in the midst of compromising stuff and not be affected by it. What waters do you find yourself navigating today? If they are a little too murky, you might ask if you have drifted into some swamp land - places we might just want to avoid at all cost because they are designed for our harm and not our good!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Relearning those lessons?

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it— how shortsighted to refuse correction! (Proverbs 12:1)

Once in a while, I take a little heat from my friends because I like to learn new things and relish a good 'how to' book or discovery while searching facts on the internet. I have a curious mind that is only satisfied when I have discovered a new fact - like taking something apart to see how it works, or discovering the name of a bug that crawls out of a hole in my back yard. The writer of Proverbs says that if we are the kind of people that love learning, then we will also love the discipline that goes with it. Most of us could say that we are open to learning new things, but does discipline REALLY have to be part of it? According to God, yes. According to me....uhm, no thanks!

The process of learning requires that we take in knowledge or a new skill through the process of being instructed or through some means of self-study. We go through a process of learning - it is usually quite systematic. Learning is seldom "instantaneous", although it can be. Sometimes we approach the learning we experience in our spiritual walk with the expectation we will get some "instantaneous" learning experience and then be able to move on. Honestly, I find that doesn't happen too often. Instead, we get those repeated learning opportunities. We get repeated exposure to whatever it is we need to learn - but have you noticed that somehow, for some reason, we don't take it seriously until we are in the midst of a really painful situation! We call this type of learning "behavior modification" - we engage in a behavior, it produces an "ill effect", and we recoil when we experience the effect. Do this long enough and you will eventually recoil from the very thought of even engaging in that behavior - your behavior becomes modified! Most of us need to be honest here and admit that we need some 'modifying'!

God doesn't want us to have to experience the "bad stuff" in order to "modify" our behavior, though. He wants us to embrace the process of learning - willingly, enthusiastically, and with a trust in the one who is doing the teaching - HIM. Learning is a process of first being able to take in the knowledge - having an open heart to his teaching is foremost. Then we must have open minds - being able to discover what truth he is revealing, because we are paying attention. To this, he adds that we need to have "hearing" - this is a combination of both an open heart and an open mind - we rarely just hear with our ears. It is this "hearing" that brings us to the place where we finally "know" the truth that is being revealed. Discipline is the type of training that corrects - it molds us or perfects our mental faculties enough that our moral character is affected by it. The passage points to the fact we need to couple learning with discipline. We could take that to mean that we need to be "disciplined" in our learning - and this would be one truth that we could adopt from this verse. Yet, the meaning God probably has in mind is that learning becomes the most effective when it includes elements of disciplined correction, or the perfecting of those things that need to be changed in our inward character.

The end of all teaching (as God sees it) is a greater awareness of just how much our "self" interferes with our character growth and then the embracing of that which will finally deal with "self" so that our character is changed. That means that if I truly love learning, I will whole-heartedly embrace the discipline or correction that comes along with it! I was always disappointed when my teachers would return a paper to me with a grade that suggested I had not "learned" the materials. Some students in the class would just accept that grade and go on getting that same grade throughout the entire semester. That "grade" made me try harder - study more, get another viewpoint on the material presented, etc. I guess that is why they gave the grade in the first place - to show us where we needed improvement. God doesn't use a "grading" system to show us where we need to embrace learning in our lives - but he does use the promptings of the Holy Spirit to show us where we are responding inappropriately, believing stuff that is dangerous to our moral development, or surrounding ourselves with things that will distract us from what is important. We would do well to learn to appreciate the "discipline" of learning! It provides an opportunity for our development that we'd never experience otherwise. Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

SO very incredible....

It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. (Ephesians 2:1-6)

The scripture sure knows how to "peg" us with the reality of our sinful nature - mired and stagnant, following the advice of someone who is just as unaware of the destructiveness of their path as we are! Look also at how simply he puts his amazement that God has compassion on such a wayward lot of hopeless, sin-filled people - people often so messed up that even they don't have a clue how they came to be such a mess! Mired lives - yep, that about sums up the reality of where I was prior to giving my heart to the Lord. As a matter of fact, there are some moments in present day living when I wonder if the "mire" was completely washed away! My choices seem to indicate I may just be living a little bit by my own motivations, and listening to the wrong source for my life choices on occasion. The difference today is that listening to the world's advice and using those sources as my chief way of living is not a consistent thing - I march to the beat of a different drummer now!

Look at all God has done for us in salvation. First, he exhibits the greatest of restraint in not just zapping all of us with his "fire from on high" and doing away with us! Paul puts it in politically correct terms when he says "he didn't lose his temper".  To be truthful, there are some days I'd "zap" the whole lot of us if I were God! That is why I am not God - I don't have infinite mercy and I am far from long-suffering on occasion! He has immense mercy - far beyond what we can even imagine or comprehend with our finite minds. It is not just his mercy for those messes of yesterday or some time in the future - it is new every morning and present even before we need it (or think to ask for it)!

God is SO very incredible in love - he'd have to be to exhibit that kind of unconditional mercy and compassion for a lost world. We simply don't understand this kind of committed love today. We live in a society so "free" to give love and just as "free" to walk away from it when things get tough that we don't really understand the covenant (permanent, binding, unbreakable) love of God. It is that depth of love that reaches out to us even before we are aware that we need to be reached out to - he initiates the love, keeps it going, and embraces us over and over again, even when that love may not be immediately reciprocated. Bask in that revelation for just a while!

In the end, he pulls us out of the muck and mire of our lives. Mired lives simply mean that we are bogged down, entangled in stuff that causes us to sink deeper into the sinful and rather self-focused condition we are living in. Jesus provided us the way out of the "bog" of our sinful existence and provided the extreme opposite of that entanglement - total access and freedom to sit at the side of a holy and loving God. The amazing part of all of this is that God provides it all without ONE iota of work on our part! It is a gift. The opportunity to be "in Christ" is a gift. The opportunity to be loved and embraced by a loving God is a gift. The freedom to no longer be led into things that entangle us and bog us down is a gift. The freshness of mercy new every morning is totally a gift. We may have received gifts in the past that "under-whelmed" us - making us head for the "exchange" line as quickly as possible. God's gift to us through his Son and his ongoing gift "in us" through his Son IN us is certainly a "keeper" - no exchange necessary! Just sayin!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Principles run deep

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin. (Proverbs 11:3)

We can so easily get off course - caught up in all the things that vie for our attention each and every day.  According to scripture, the integrity of an honest man or woman keeps them on track. Though we may veer off course, we are soon able to recognize, through the help of the Holy Spirit within, that we have drifted and then correct our course so that we are 'back on track'.  The soundness of our character (words, actions, and thoughts) and the intensity of our desire for an undivided heart are what God has in mind when he "pulls" us back a little. It isn't always that we 'want' to get back on course - it is that we somehow know it is really for our well-being that we do 'attend to the course'.


A thick bankroll is no help when life falls apart, but a principled life can stand up to the worst. (Proverbs 11:4)

The habitual devotion to the right principles laid out in God's Word are going to help us evaluate if our course corrections have been 'good ones'. The Word of God lays out these principles and is quick to point out for us where we have character traits that do not align with those God desires of his kids.  We can understand the forces and forcefulness of all kinds of evil when we remain true to the principles in the Word.  God designed the written Word to give us a foundation for our safety, long life, and intelligent choice - to ignore what is contained within its pages is to say we know better than he does.  I don't know about you, but it isn't a bankroll I am holding onto when life deals me troubles - it is the principles I have learned in God's Word.


Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances. (Proverbs 11:14)

A 'good person' is saved from trouble, while those who do not possess the character God desires actually run toward trouble with a passion. Goodness isn't just a matter of trying to do good at all times. It is worked into our lives as we repeatedly allow the Word of God to refine us - much like sandpaper removes the flaws and brings out the richness of the grain contained within the wood. Without good direction, we lose our way.  We often trudge off in the direction of what we think will offer us fulfillment, only to find it to be a disappointment to us.  When this happens, we become disillusioned about the circumstances we now find ourselves enduring.  God provides wise counsel in our lives - we just need to have ears to hear and a heart to respond.

Counsel is defined as a plan of action or behavior.  Counsel can be revealed to us in the Word, through the words of a friend, or in something like a sermon we hear.  Counsel is also guarded thought or actions.  It is the ability to "filter" what we see/hear and then to apply what we know to be true about God before we take the action.  It is the continual 'planning' for our actions and the 'guard' we place over our thoughts that helps to keep us in the place where we operate in the realm of protection from making rash decisions.  How valuable it is to not only have (possess) good counsel, but to live by it (act on it).  

Integrity is developed in the midst of good counsel - first through the Word of God made real in our lives, and in the wisdom of those who have developed good character themselves.  A principled life is a valued treasure.  It is something we both relish and put on display.  Others learn from what they see - so don't be ashamed of the principles God develops in your life.  They may run a different course than the mainstream of society, but they are the examples God wants society to see.  The principles he places deep in our heart act as wise counsel to those who most desperately need it. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Why isn't this working?

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. (Proverbs 16:2)

Count them all up and you may just be surprised by how many times you "settle" for the first thing that comes along - something or someone appears to be whatever you think will fulfill your immediate need or emptiness of spirit and you just 'settle'. We definitely need to be a little more discriminating in our choices - as evidenced by some of our choices. God's greatest desire is that we would come to use the wisdom and direction of the Holy Spirit to move us toward what truly matters and away from what only holds value for the immediate moment.

We settle - God probes. God searches deep into a matter, investigating and understanding prior to taking action. Look at how many examples we are given in scripture of God's examining hearts, looking deep for ones who are committed to following him, really getting to understand the heart behind our actions, not just the actions we display. He could "settle" for a run-of-the-mill half-hearted belief, but he probes deeper to find the commitment of heart that reveals a passion to be embraced by totally in his love.

Put God in charge of your work, then what you've planned will take place. (Proverbs 16:3)

God is not a forceful God when it comes to his leadership in our lives. He asks us to put him in charge of our lives - even though he could quite easily take charge of us, manipulating us like puppets on a string. God is looking for open access to our lives - a backstage pass, as it were. When this type of access occurs, he is free to direct the situations and opportunities of our lives toward what will truly fulfill and truly bless us. The 'forcefulness' of God is not in his taking charge, but in his protectiveness of those who have given him that place of leadership in their lives.

It scares me to see how frequently we leave God out of our plans - trusting our own abilities or thinking - the stuff we can muster up in our minds and dreams - rejecting a total trust in our Lord's oversight and protection. It is a foolish and dangerous predicament to find ourselves in - we are almost assured there will be failure when we take steps God has not directed for our lives. In the ninth verse, the writer calls to mind that we may plan the way we want to live, but the very ability to live that life comes from one source alone - God. Our plans, in the hands of God, can be ignited into purposeful and fulfilling work. Apart from his Spirit's guiding force in our lives, plans fail.

God is always giving us new ability beyond what we imagine possible. He gives us the wherewithal to 'live out' what we imagine - not because we imagined it alone - but because as we align our desires with his, those 'imagined things' become more and more like what he has imagined for our lives all along. He also protects us from stepping out into things that are sure to bring us defeat. It is probably way past the time to let God do some 'probing' in our lives, uncovering what he sees as impeding our progress. When he does, we will be free to allow him to energize us with the plans he has for us. Just sayin!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

S.O.S.

I came across this quote this morning and just had to share it with you: "It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way." (Rollo May, Psychologist) While I don't subscribe to many of the beliefs of existential psychology, this thought just captured my attention because of the simple observation May made about us 'running faster'. Those who have lost their way often are like little gerbils in the proverbial wheel - running, running, running. All the while, they are getting absolutely nowhere. It doesn't matter how fast we run - we are still lost! The more we run, the deeper into the place of 'being lost' we find ourselves. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just to sit down, admit we are lost, and prepare to be rescued!

God rescues good men from danger while letting the wicked fall into it. (Proverbs 11:8 NLB)

In situations of survival, one of the things they teach you is not to wander from where you find yourself at the point of 'being lost'. The more you wander, the harder it will be for you to be found! The more you wander, the deeper into 'lost-ness' you actually become. To be rescued, one has to stop long enough to prepare the signs that they need to be rescued. For example, they tell you to gather kindling and wood to be ready to start a fire to alert search planes of your location, or place a bunch of driftwood or stones together to spell out SOS so it can be seen from above. You find something shiny, like a piece of glass or a mirror to signal using the sun's light to reflect your location. You 'do' something, but it doesn't involve running!

The 'running' comes when we realize we are not where we are supposed to be - we panic and we want a quick way out of where it is we find ourselves. We run because we are scared - we are not excited about where it is we find ourselves at the moment. The place isn't 'right' for us and this causes an emotional response of 'panic' - that sudden, overwhelming fear that causes us to do things that would otherwise be considered irrational. Panic has a way of getting us into circumstances that aren't going to make things better - they are just going to compound the issues we face! I had three cats at one time and when one would get startled, jump and run - all of them would. They had no clue why they were running - they just panicked because the first cat was running!

We have a tendency to 'run' with a sense of panic because we see others running. This might be fine in nature when the gazelle is attempting to escape the lion pride on the hunt for their next meal, but it isn't going to cut it in our day-to-day actions as humans. We might experience overwhelming fear on occasion, but running from that place of fear doesn't usually deal with what it is we feared in the first place. It just gets us very, very tired! Did you ever stop to consider why the SOS signal is placed on the beach or the fire is lit to signal one's whereabouts? It is because rescue oftentimes comes 'from above'. While rescue is possible from the ground level - the line of sight is much greater when it is from above. This is why they use search planes and helicopters to attempt to find lost hikers and downed wreckage of crashed planes. 

The view from above has a different perspective of what is below. In life, our rescue isn't so much on the same parallel plane on which we 'got lost' in the first place - it is from above! We need to not run away from our 'lost-ness', but admit it, prepare for rescue, and be alert to our coming rescuer! Those who are rescued the quickest are those who don't run away from the place of their first discovering they are lost! Just sayin!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Time to Tend

First plant your fields; then build your barn. (Proverbs 24:27)

A farmer has several things in mind as he is going about his daily chores of life - although I have never officially been a 'farmer', I have had many friends who have helped me understand some of these facts. He needs a plot of ground in order to plant for a harvest. He starts small - a garden is certainly not a farm, but it will yield fruit in time if tended well. It is in tending the garden that we can learn the skills to help us create a "farm". I can tell you for a fact that is tougher than it looks - even small gardens demand a lot of knowledge and attention! You cannot just go down to the local nursery, pick up some seeds, come home, drop them into unprepared soil and expect miraculous growth of beef steak tomatoes, gargantuan zucchini, and a mountain of chili peppers! There is preparation necessary and the crop that is yielded is a direct result of the quality of the preparation.

Accountability is much the same in our lives. It begins with the small stuff - the tiny, well-tended gardens will yield a much bigger harvest. At times, I think we see our 'present state' and think there is just no way we will get to where we dream of being. Discouragement sets in and we languish in our guilt of having tried and failed, or of having not even tried at all. Okay, bear with me here - I'm going to a secular movie to drive home this fact! "What About Bob" is a movie about a man paralyzed by his phobias. He cannot get out of his apartment, cannot face the world because he is a germa-a-phobe. In this movie, his psychiatrist gives him some advice that we need to probably embrace ourselves - take "baby steps". Throughout the movie, you observe Bill Murray taking "baby steps" to deal with his phobia. It is not the best movie in the world, but it illustrates the point. When we want to see results, we have to do SOMETHING about it - even if it means taking tiny, but measurable steps!

When we have the small steps accomplished, we move on. The writer of Proverbs says we plant the field, then build the barn. What a crazy thing it would be to build a barn and have nothing to fill it with! Yet, we often look at our faithfulness in these things we are attempting to 'build into' our lives in just that way. We have compared our "garde" with another believer's "farm" and we don't see the same results, so we get discouraged. That is why Scripture warns us against comparing ourselves with one another. If we want to have a barn, we have to start by planting a garden - not a whole doggone field at one time! It doesn't happen overnight, but eventually we will see the garden become a field and the field a farm. Soon, we have a barn, full of refreshing stuff that will bring life to those who partake of its stores.

You're gardening right now - relying on the fact that a "failed" crop is never really a failure. Even if you don't "tend the garden" each day this week, the soil benefited from being tended as many days as it was! The crop produced may not be as rich as you'd hope to see it, but the soil benefited from being tended! Don't tackle more than you can handle - perhaps you begin with a "flower pot" sized growth opportunity. There is no shame in starting small - baby steps, remember? In time, that well-tended plant will outgrow the pot and then there is the opportunity for the garden! Tend it well, then begin to look at expanding to a field. At the pot level, you use your hands and just fill the pot with soil. At the garden level, you need a trowel to actually begin to turn over the soil. At the field level, you need a plow, because the 'clods' of dirt get bigger, and harder to turn. The work becomes harder and the time involved in producing a crop takes a little longer the more we grow up in Jesus. The barn could still stand a ways off, even for one who is tending their field! Eventually, there is sufficient harvest yielded to require the barn. It is incremental growth that God designed us for! Have fun with your garden! Don't forget to tend it well. The time spent tending is time well-spent. Just sayin!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bathed, Clean, Freshly Dressed

It wasn't so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God's gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there's more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. (Titus 3:3-8)

Hmmm...both stupid and stubborn...not exactly the way I would want to be described, but in truth that description isn't too far off!  In our sinful, self-absorbed life "before Christ", we are all both stupid and stubborn.  Stupid implies that we were lacking the ordinary quickness or 'soundness' of mind that we now possess with having the mind of Christ.  Our thinking outside of Christ was pretty dulled, especially where it came to the things of deep spiritual awareness or knowledge. It was slow as it comes to the spiritual things and pretty wishy-washy to boot.  We'd like to "clean up" the description of our state of mind as "foolish", but truth be told - it all means the same thing!

Stubborn is quite applicable to our state of 'being' prior to Christ.  Stubborn carries the idea of being so fixed on some way of thinking or course of action that we are resolute in that course of action regardless of where it will cause us to end up.  We don't "want" to waiver from it because we have "willed" to continue, in spite of the consequences - we might not even consider the consequences because we are so attached to the pursuit we can see nothing else.  I'd say "stubborn" about wraps up our condition of "willful" disobedience prior to Christ taking over the controls of our lives! I might even go so far as to say stubborn describes some of my current actions because I just don't let go of stuff that I know clearly is the wrong stuff to be pursuing!

The neatest part of this passage is the "but when".  But when God...
Think about it - when God stepped in, he saved us from the dulled thinking and placed us on a course that would not take us off some deep end into a pit of despair.  I love the "buts" in the Bible - there is always a hope for something better when we see that the condition we are in is not determined to be our permanent condition because we have a merciful and gracious God that reaches out to lift us out of our stupid and stubborn life pursuits. The 'buts' are there to help us realize we aren't 'bound to' being the stubborn and stupid individuals we can be apart from Christ!

We have been washed us inside and out by the Spirit and that washing is a continual thing.  We are washed so that our choices will be affected - so the actions we exhibit won't be as stubborn or stupid as they would be if we remained steadfastly committed to doing things 'our own way'.  Choices begin in the thought life - if it is moved from a place of 'lacking soundness' to a place of 'soundness of mind', won't the choices we make be better?  Certainly!  Actions proceed from our thoughts - so the way to better actions is through better thinking.  The way to better thinking is an exchanged mind - renewed (washed) by the Spirit of the living God!  We've been given the freedom to exhibit a new life - the life given by the Spirit of God. It is not 'positive thinking' - it is 'positive living' because our thoughts have been purified (cleaned up) by the Spirit of God within.

Our new life demands new choices and new actions.  We don't take a bath and then put on our old, filthy clothing we just finished the yard work in an hour before.  We put on fresh undies, don a freshly laundered shirt, and pull on a clean pair of shorts.  Snug in the feeling of freshness that we experience through the "bath" and the "donning" of the clean clothes, we feel like a new person!  Translate that into our spiritual life for just a moment.  We are "bathed" by the Spirit and the Word - cleaning up our minds, washing away the dirty effects of sin in our lives.  Then we are told to clothe ourselves with some pretty awesome stuff - peace, joy, righteousness, etc.  There is a "freshness" in the renewal of the mind that produces a "freshness" in our "appearance". I guess it goes without saying that I certainly don't want to embrace a life of stupid decisions followed by stubborn actions - that would be silly.  My life has been transformed - I've been bathed by the Spirit.  How about you? Just askin!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Most valuable

If you listen obediently to the Voice of GOD, you God, and heartily obey all his commandments that I command you today, GOD, your God, will place you on high, high above all the nations of the world. All these blessings will come down on you and spread out beyond you because you have responded to the Voice of GOD, your God: GOD’s blessing inside the city, GOD’s blessing in the country; GOD’s blessing on your children, the crops of your land, the young of your livestock, the calves of your herds, the lambs of your flocks. GOD’s blessing on your basket and bread bowl; GOD’s blessing in your coming in, GOD’s blessing in your going out. GOD will defeat your enemies who attack you. They’ll come at you on one road and run away on seven roads. GOD will order a blessing on your barns and workplaces; he’ll bless you in the land that GOD, your God, is giving you. GOD will form you as a people holy to him, just as he promised you, if you keep the commandments of GOD, your God, and live the way he has shown you. (Deuteronomy. 28:1-9)

We may not fully recognize the meaning of “blessing”. Webster describes “blessing” as anything that is conducive to our happiness or welfare. In other words, a blessing is something that is given or provided that directly provides for our protection and preservation. It is a thing that gives us a sense of approval and encourages us in difficult times. It is a sign to us that divine care is rendered in a loving, careful manner, seeing that every measure is taken to provide for our spiritual, physical, and material prosperity and happiness. We would do well to see that these blessings in our lives come directly from GOD, our God - they are not 'man-made'.

In exploring these various blessings or gifts promised, it comes without surprise that they are conditioned on the obedience of the one looking to God for these blessings. We do our part, and God does his. This is the basis of covenant relationship – there are conditions to be met. In order to fully understand, apprehend and appreciate the blessings in our lives, we need to be obedient to the revealed will of God as he has defined it in his Word. In so doing, we are given provisions beyond number, protection beyond our means, and deep-seated happiness that is not based on circumstance, but upon the sense of tremendous welfare we enjoy. We sometimes describe blessing in our lives as a “treasure”.

Treasures are wonderful things. They can be described as anything that we consider as a type of “wealth” that we could store up or hoard. Treasures are wealth of any kind or of any form that produce a sense of “richness” in our lives. They are more than money, more than flocks or herds, and definitely more than a fleeting thing enjoyed. A treasure is something held as precious, cherished, and prized. Treasures in the natural sense are often things “hoarded” for ourselves, kept for our own enjoyment or use. The treasures of God are never meant for self-gratification, or self-enjoyment. They are designed to be on display and to be put in use for his glory and honor. The treasures of God are given in generous measure to an obedient heart. In turn, what has abundantly been supplied is to be shared without measure. Perhaps the greatest blessing of all is that he is making us into a holy people – a provision that goes beyond my ability to comprehend or ability to provide in my own efforts.

God is in the work of making us each into something of extreme value – a treasure of his purpose. A thing of value is declared by the one who beholds it to be of worth, useful and important to the one that possesses it. In God’s eyes, we are a treasure trove – a valuable and productive discovery that he declares as "most excellent". As a result of his touch in our lives, we are declared to be something that is intrinsically valuable and desirable. He considers us to be of more value than any other possession he has. He declares us to be his riches – that which he esteems, prizes and regards highly. We are his treasures. Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Passion is part of waiting

God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up.  They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!  I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over). He's all I've got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.  It's a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.  It's a good thing when you're young to stick it out through the hard times.  When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.  Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions.  Wait for hope to appear.  Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst.  Why? Because the Master won't ever walk out and fail to return.  If he works severely, he also works tenderly.  His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.  He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way.  (Lamentations 3:22-33 MSG)

The merciful love of God - his loyal love - new every morning! Beyond the mundane of my today is the awesomeness of God's love! Our writer is feeling pretty beat up by life - he is in a low place. If you took the time to read the couple of chapters just before this, you'd see that he has been through some pretty ugly stuff and his walls seem to be coming in around him. Life has been a challenge and he is barely keeping up! Yet, in the midst of it all, he has made a determination of heart that keeps him steady. That determination? He is sticking with God no matter what comes! In the midst of the toughest stuff we face in life it is not uncommon to feel like all we have left is God and nothing else. The writer goes on to say, "God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks." What a hope for each of us when God becomes ALL we have left! Most of the time we think of 'all we have left' as the dregs of life, but when our ALL if God, there are no dregs coming our way!

Please indulge me just a moment here while I explore the meaning of "passionately" and "waits" with you today. I don't know about you, but I don't really connect waiting with being passionate! In fact, I find the two ideas just a little bit at the opposite ends of the pole.  If I am passionate about something, I usually am pretty much driven by that passion - it energizes me, pulling me forward, and I am "active" in some respect in that passion. Waiting implies that I am not moving forward, perhaps not even very energized about the whole thing - I am standing still - or so some may think. So, why does this writer connect the two? Let's look.

Passionately carries the idea of being affected by something so deeply that there is an expression of intensity within - kind of like an enthusiasm that moves you forward. It also has a way of revealing us as capable of being acted upon by some external agent or force - not dead to what once moved us deeply and that 'force' is free to move us deeply once again. To be moved in such a way that you exude fervor or zeal - intense emotion that compels you to act and not be immobile - this is passion. Most of my 'waiting' doesn't actually seem to come with this type of intensity, though. The idea that comes to mind when I think of passion is something like a current - maybe it is hidden below the surface, but it has an intensity that carves out the course of the river and keeps the waters fresh and new each and every day! Waiting implies that we are staying in one place, but it doesn't have to mean we are getting stagnant! We stay in place in expectation of something, with a readiness to receive or respond. Now, do you see why the writer connects the two?

Think of it this way - we are having our passions ignited by a holy and passionate God in order to be ready to respond to the moves he makes within our life! Even in the waiting, there needs to be the compelling of our heart to earnestly seek with a passion that comes from deep within. To this end, the writer adds that we need to be diligent seekers. Steady, earnest, and energetic in our pursuit of God's best in our lives - not the mediocre, but the best. Someone who seeks is one who makes every attempt to discover, to ask for or request in such a way that nothing else will satisfy until what is hidden is discovered completely. That is the absolute culmination of passionate waiting! As we realize there is actually a passion in our waiting, we might embrace our waiting just a little bit differently. Just sayin!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Exchange is possible

And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!  God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn—Zion! God in full view! (Psalm 84:5-7 MSG)

The psalmist declares that "happy" is the one in whom God "takes up residence" - the one that gives him right placement in their lives. As I read this passage again today, I asked myself the one question I like to ask myself from time to time: "Is my life marked by the footsteps and hand prints of God?" If God "passes through" my life on a frequent basis, my life should be marked well by his "tracks". If I spend time following him, the only footsteps that should be seen are his! If I find my hand securely in his, the only hand prints that should be molding my life are his - they are the ones that should be making the greatest and most lasting impression.

A little further into this psalm, we find the reminders, "he doesn't scrimp with his traveling companions" and it is "smooth sailing all the way with God!" Does that mean that you and I will never encounter any difficulty in our life if we will just surrender to God? Absolutely not! What this says is that God spares nothing to provide us with the protection we need, the provision that becomes more than we need, or the presentation of his unending and boundless grace as we travel along with him into uncertainties galore. God's provision is always greater than our awareness of our need - we might think we know our need, but he knows the specific provision that will meet that need in ways we never imagined possible. His protection is quicker and more thorough than our awareness of the dangers we face - even when we think we have a good handle on these obstacles, his view of what lies just beyond that present danger might just be an even bigger danger he has to guard us against. His offered grace and mercy are freer than any other offered blessing that crosses our paths along our journeys in life.

That being the case, I wonder what we do with his provision when it is offered - do we embrace it, or are willfully rejecting it? Do we hoard it up all for our own enjoyment and satisfaction, or do we disperse it into the lives of others around us so that they too may be blessed in their journey? What is it that we do in his protective arms - under the umbrella of his watchfulness and safe-keeping? Some of us might just nuzzle up there and enjoy the protective arms of our God, but I also know that we may, at times, chafe under that watchfulness. Instead of finding shelter there, we complain about the limits that shelter places in our lives - all the while pushing against those limits because we don't like being "limited" - our willfulness getting the best of us on occasion. When we examine our response to his mercy and grace, we are afforded an opportunity for the examination of our heart and mind as it relates to the healing of our pasts. His mercy and grace are there to create wholeness out of the emotional, physical, and spiritual injuries of our past.

Sometimes, we don't want to let go of what is so imperfect within us, choosing to hold on to the crushed emotional state, or what we could come to call the 'experienced damage' of our spirit. Although those areas of our lives are damaged and hurt, they have become a thing of certainty in our lives and letting go presents a place of uncertainty - so we hold on. Yet, God extends his arms and offers his mercy and grace - looking for an exchange to occur (our pain for his provision). A traveler is impacted by his travels - there are memories that are formed, experiences that are new and fresh that become things we hold onto, and moments of awe as we partake of something new, boundless, and beautiful. Those we choose to travel with along our journey in life impact the beauty and enjoyment of the path we travel. Therefore, they also impact the memories we form along the way. We can choose God as our traveling companion and be blessed along our journey - and this is just exactly what the psalmist had in mind as he penned these words. Our blessings are determined by who travels with us. Choose your traveling companions wisely! Just sayin!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

What's that I hear?

"Heaven's my throne, earth is my footstool.  What sort of house could you build for me?  What holiday spot reserve for me?  I made all this! I own all this!"   "But there is something I'm looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say."  (Isaiah 66:1-2 MSG)

It is an encouragement to me to know that God is not looking for the eloquent or fancy to use for his purposes because I am neither. He is looking for the simple and plain to utilize as his instruments of grace and mercy to a hurting and hungry world. I spent some time a while back just looking at the various definitions of "simple" and "plain" found in Webster's dictionary. It is always a wonder to me to discover the "less than common" meanings of the various words we use in our English language. Know what I discovered? Simple isn't all that simple and plain isn't all that plain! For example, did you realize 'simple' means to be free, but freedom comes in many forms. It is to be free from guile - the bad stuff that pollutes our lives and affects our innocence. It also speaks for the freedom that exhibits itself in modesty - without vanity getting in the way of others seeing us as we really are. Most of us think of 'simple' as uncomplicated or free from that which gets us muddled up. This is true, but never truer than when 'simple' describes the need to not 'display' anything in our lives other than Christ and his grace.

While simple carries a little more 'complicated' meaning, is it possible 'plain' does as well? As a matter of fact, 'plain' might mean to us that something is kind of 'unflavored', but being plain in the sense God desires means we carry a much different flavor in our lives now that Christ is in it! We might be free of that stuff that impacts our purity in life, but we are also able to see things clearly because our lives are free of impediments that once obstructed the view. We find our perception is clearer and our minds are more open - they aren't as cluttered anymore. Plain might just be the way we would describe a life that is free of anything extravagant or 'pungent', but a plain life in Christ isn't 'flavorless' or without a sweet odor! In fact - we might just say is it something to be 'savored'!

All that meaning in two simple words. Break each down a little, and you will see a picture of the one whose life God can continually pour more of his power and grace into. Our passage today indicates that God is looking for the one who is willing to live above the guile or mess of this world (the insidious cunning in attaining a goal; crafty or artful deception; duplicity of character that is exhibited in so many who live without God in their lives). Those that do not need to be the center of attention attract the attention of God! Isn't it amazing how God works? Step out of the limelight and God shines his glory through you!

What does it mean to be free of complications in our lives - to be free of that which obstructs our view? It means that we don't complicate our lives with things that just keep us busy, not really producing anything of lasting value. I have a tendency to complicate my life with all kinds of things. It could be those relationships that don't bring any real value into my life (like hanging around with those that bring us into places of compromise in our choices). It could be those activities that take my time, but I am just using it to 'fill a spot'. Whatever it is that "clutters" our life - it acts as a obstruction or a complication in our spiritual walk. It keeps us from a clear view of God's plan and his purposes for our lives.

If you try listening to ten people talk all at one time, making requests of you to perform multiple different tasks simultaneously you will like not catch the absolute intention of each of the ten petitioners or the specific task they need accomplished! When our lives are free of clutter, it is easier to hear what is being said! Our hearts are more prone to respond when their is clarity in what we are hearing. We can "unclutter" our lives, but as with any other 'cleaning job', it takes some effort, but it is worth the effort! We might just begin to hear that still small voice of our God in the hidden recesses of all that clutter being moved out! Just sayin!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Called into account

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4 MSG)

Our passage today refers to the process of our "faith-life" being forced into the open by the challenges we face in our daily walk. We don't always like it when our "faith-life" is brought into the open, though. Many times we try to compartmentalize our "faith-life" as something separate from the rest of our 'real life'. Pressure helps to produce evidence of our faith in Christ and brings evidence of Christ-like maturity in our choices - those 'real life' choices. I don't want you to miss the statement that "true colors" are revealed - these are often hidden or need something else to be removed in order for them to show through. Pressure is simply a burden of physical or mental stress. It can be a constraint that comes into our lives that demands our attention at this very moment, no delays. There is usually an urgency about what we face - we are not able to sweep it under the rug - it just keeps exerting that pressure until we pay attention to it. James is pointing toward the process where both our growth of character and spirit is in unison - the type of unified growth that produces unity between our 'faith-life' and our 'real life'. He is giving us the simple truth that the pressures we face in life have an impact of producing what God desires - the image of his Son deep in our lives.

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 1:5-8 MSG)

Ask boldly - this is the attitude of heart that we are to have when faced with challenges that we don't understand - challenges that exert pressure and oftentimes don't let up until long after we are thinking we are sort of "done" or "over" dealing with them. To be bold is to be fearless, assured, and confident. A bold person stands out - they are conspicuous - there is no hiding their boldness. God never expects us to either keep our needs hidden, or to feel like we have to just barely let out a "squeak" in his presence while laying our burdens down before him. He tells us to come boldly - totally assured he will be listening, absolutely confident that he will be responsive, unwavering and fearless to lay it all down (even the ugly stuff that may not come easily for us to actually admit or deal with). It amazes me how many times I come to God as the "worrier" and not the "warrior"! That 'boldness' isn't always evident in my life and I bet I am not alone on this one.

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. (James 1:12 MSG)

Meeting challenges head on can only be done under the anointing of Christ. Lots of times we have all the passion, but we need him to give us the ability to actually fulfill what needs to be done in that moment. A challenge is something that calls us out - invites us into competition - it opens us up to the possibilities of something being different from what it is right now. It stimulates us - exciting our passion. It also serves to call us into account - or into question! What calls us into combat at this moment? Are we facing those "giants" or running from them? What invites us into competition - in our thoughts, our actions, or simply our interests? What is it that stimulates us - what do we get excited about? Those things that stimulate us act as a "goad" to draw us out of our present complacency and to move us into places where we can often feel a little exposed - but our 'faith-life' and 'real life' actually get very intertwined when this happens. A challenge that will produce right character, or that will reveal an opportunity for change in our lives isn't always embraced eagerly, but when the pressure is allowed to expose something new in our character, what an awesome sight to behold! Hold onto this truth - that pressure is revealing your true colors! I want mine to be the colors I don't mind "flying high"! How about you? Just askin!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Plans involve the margins

Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and prayerful always. (Romans 12:12 TLB)

Ever notice how well you can plan things when you are really motivated by the thing you are planning? I don't get much time away from the house, especially to just relax and fish, or hike. I am a caregiver to an elderly mom during all my 'off hours' and work a full-time job. That means the things I 'plan' are for my renewal and overall well-being. It means I plan pretty much all I can so as to really make the most of these times away. Even the best laid plans don't always go as they were designed because there are just some things we cannot plan - like the weather, the fish biting, or the mosquitoes leaving you alone. You have to trust God with the things 'not in your control', while you plan well what you can exercise control over. Know this - God is always planning on our behalf. His plans are bigger than our plans and he has a way of orchestrating them to the very last note!

We all know plans don't come without some difficulties. These are hurdles we must overcome if we are to see the fulfillment of the plans. I am planning to finish a backyard flowerbed 'remake' I began with my grandson's help a few week's back. The concrete block is in, but the 'top' finish is not. I am torn between solid tile, broken mosaic tile finish, or pebble rock finish. The issue isn't that I don't have the money or time - it is that I don't want to have to fill all the holes in the block with sand, gravel, or mortar in order to accomplish a smooth surface to allow adherence of whatever I put on top of those blocks. I am trying to create as I go and when I do this, I often have to take a week or two between project phases to just think things through. It is often the 'thinking through' phases in life that bring us the greatest clarity and help us to recognize the next steps we are to take. These times cannot be discounted or discarded unused - they are important to the process.

Part of planning is this 'patience' thing - something I don't always excel at, especially when I am eager to see a project through to the finish. The longer I wait to finish this current project, the hotter the weather will be, making it less and less enjoyable to complete! There are times the 'planning' puts is smack-dab into 'timing' we didn't count on, right? The things we don't 'count on' are ALL in God's hands - so don't get all up in arms about them. The moment we turn them over to him, the more we begin to enjoy the moment, even if it comes with a little bit of a 'delay' in the fulfillment of the entire plan. Part of patience is prayerful contemplation. I put it that way because I am not a big "pray on your knees" kind of gal. In fact, I often just sit and contemplate God's plans, shoot him a question or two, and just listen. Sometimes my contemplation takes on the form of 'out loud' conversation - at others it is silent conversation (yes, inside my head, and no, I am not 'hearing voices').There comes clarity in those moments - something we can never take for granted. Prayer (or contemplation) is never to be bypassed in the interest of 'seeing the plans fulfilled'. We need these times, or we might just miss out on something beautiful he has planned for us!

As I was putting together some of that 'build it from a box' furniture for my grandson's room makeover, I was given a rather large instruction booklet. Each page had the 'plans' for how it was to be assembled. Follow those plans and you ended up with a pretty nice entertainment center. Leave out some steps and I am pretty sure you wouldn't have either a stable piece of furniture, or one that would endure the wear and tear of teenage boys! What I appreciated most about the instruction booklet was the moments that just made you pause and chuckle a little. At the top of some of the pages, after you had just completed some major step in the process, it would tell you to go make nachos! Yes, that was actually in the instruction book! I wonder how many people miss that because they are so intent on the plan to build the object in front of them that they discount the stuff written in the margins! We can go through life just focused on the plans and miss all the 'margin' stuff we might just get a kick out of along the way! Just sayin!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Do a little gardening today!

7-9 The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.  The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes.   God's reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee. The decisions of God are accurate down to the nth degree. (Psalm 19:7-9 MSG)

We all have those times when we just don't feel like God is getting through to us, or that we are getting through to him no matter how 'hard' we pray, make our requests known, or struggle to find his will in a matter.  Some of us may even feel that the attempts we make to draw closer through his Word or times of contemplation are so unrewarding that we have grown weary in trying.  As we examine this passage from the Psalms this morning, I want you to catch what our Psalmist is saying:  The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes! It doesn't imply they are quick to come, but that they are 'plain' - in other words, they are distinct from the other answers we get from all around us. They are able to convey their meaning to us very clearly.

I often think that we make God's Word harder to understand than it really needs to be because we don't believe it could be that 'simple' or 'easy' for us to grab hold of.  We buy the translation that another believer uses and expect that it will "translate" into our lives in the same measure that it has in another's.  When it seems to be just as unclear as ever, we are defeated by our "seeming" lack of understanding.  Go back to the Bible Book Store and get a different translation - one that will help you actually 'get' the passage you are reading! Don't hold out to some day be able to actually understand the King James Version - you may never really 'get' the 'thees', 'thous', and other word structures in that one! Your desire for an understanding of the Word of God isn't going to be bolstered if you cannot understand what you are reading!

I daresay that I have more Bibles than I use!  I have translations galore - each speaking to me in a different way and in different seasons of my life.  I switch them up in my study, but really have come to enjoy the everyday reading of The Message Bible and the New Living Translation.  Yep, I know these are what are referred to as paraphrases, but if the words on the page touch my heart with how plainly they are written and God's words "get into" my spirit and can have a chance to affect my conduct, could they be all that wrong? I don't think so! They are helping me to understand 'plain truth' - making it meaningful, purposeful, and 'directional' for my life. This is what we want from our Bible.

God's intention for our times of personal study is to make the revelation of who he is, how he acts, and what he desires of us to be so apparent that there is no second-guessing on our part what our actions, attitude, and direction should be.  God does not want us to settle for less than a complete revelation of him - he wants us to press in fully to him and he will reveal himself fully within us.  David is extolling God in this Psalm - he is praising God, declaring his wonders, and enjoying his presence revealed in his life.  His heart is responding to the revelation of God in the most natural manner of exaltation that comes from a grace-filled heart. It is through revelation that David stands in awe of God and his heart swells with the knowledge of God's goodness, protection, and provision.

Why is David so assured of his God?  He has a growing appreciation of God because he has learned God's promises, heeded God's warnings, embraced God's goodness, and watched God's interventions in his life.  In turn, he is assured that God makes accurate decisions down to the "nth" degree.  Decisions that directly impact his life. This type of revelry in our God awaits anyone brave enough to get into God's Word.  I say "brave enough" because it takes commitment, stepping out into territory that is sometimes scary, a little too revealing of our faults and short-comings, and sometimes downright challenging to our character.  As we do, God meets us there and opens his "life map" to us, showing us not only the highways of good conduct, but the hidden paths of the secret gardens of his love and grace.  Get into his Word today and let his Word get into you!  Enjoy the "gardens" that await only you!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Kicking it up a little

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing—you're at least decent to your own children. And don't you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?"  
(Luke 11:10-13 MSG)

Storms in life are tests that prepare us for what comes behind them - sometimes the storms get pretty scary even when we know there is about to come a clearing that will bring us some relief.  Without the storm, we'd never be prepared for the growth that comes as a result of the storm.  It may seem like we have been in the storm a while - what we need is for God to intervene and get us to the end of our storm a little quicker - right?  Luke tells us that we are not to bargain with God - he doesn't need our negotiations - he needs our obedience.  The delay in the ending of the storm may be the direct result of God needing our obedience in an area of our life - an area in which we still haven't bent our knee.  In the storm, God expects that we will "be direct and ask for what we need" - God already knows our needs, but in expressing them to God, our faith grows and our will is exposed. It is the will that we often struggle with the most - needing the greatest exposure of all!

The storm (or test) in our lives demonstrates the reality of who he is and what he is working to bring forth from our lives.  In this same chapter of Luke, a man that had been mute for many years is totally healed.  It says of him that he started talking up a blue streak, taking the crowd by complete surprise.  That is how it is God when God intervenes in the storm of our lives - he takes us (and those that are looking on) by complete surprise sometimes.  God moves in ways that get the attention of those who need most to see and experience the evidence of his grace. We often don't fully understand the storm until God reveals the end of that storm.

The storm is a time of intensity in our lives - hopefully moving us out of areas of only so-so commitment and drive into places where we are challenged and focused intently on his purposes.  The storm stirs, the Spirit speaks, the believer is made strong - it is his method or mode of helping us to grow.  We experience monsoon type storms in the Arizona desert each summer season with a  tremendous build up of wind, thunder, lightening, and if we are very, very lucky, a downpour of rain that drops huge amounts of water in a short period of time.  Those strong winds kick up quite a bit of dust - sometimes manifest in rolling dust storms that seem to just come at you across the desert in slow motion. The sky becomes red with dust and the hue cast gives the scenery an odd yellow orange appearance. What is 'kicked up' in the storm can be very evident, but there are times when the winds will blow and you just don't see what is getting 'kicked up' in your life.

The purpose of the wind is to expose and spread the seeds.  The springtime produced quick growth in the desert that has gone to seed in the hot summer sun.  Those seeds lay covered by layers of shed leaves, dropped petals, and shifting dirt.  The winds of the monsoon sweep across the desert, exposing what lays just hidden beneath the surface - things previously unseen get 'kicked up'.  In turn, the winds pick up what has been exposed and scatter those seeds into parts of the earth where growth may occur when the conditions are right.  Nothing may happen to that seed for quite sometime, but when the rains finally come, the seed is given that which it needs to begin the germination process - water.  As the rains move on and the hot Arizona sun comes out again, the seed is now free to take root, send up its growth and reveal evidence of its true character - even that which is concealed in the seed is now exposed.

That is how it is with us in the midst of life's storms - we have the character of Christ within us in seed-form, just waiting to take root in areas of barrenness in our lives.  The storms expose the seed, carrying it into those areas where we need to experience the growth of God's grace, and then provide for that seed to take root and grow.  Next time you are in a storm, ask God what seed he is trying to plant in an area of barrenness in your life.  Ask him what "soil" of your heart he is trying to expose so it can be yielded to his touch.  Let God kick things up a little in order bring the germination of his new life within that area. Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Who knew?

For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle. (I Cor. 4:7-8 MSG)

Who really knows your heart - not mine, not the next guy's, but yours? At first, you might think of someone very close to you and say they come pretty close to really “knowing” us, but do they really? Do they know the intimate workings of our mind (that could be scary), see the inner challenges of daily decisions that we make (uhm...that would be meddling), or understand the pull of our self-nature in every opportunity for compromise that presents itself to us? To be truthful here, no one really has that kind of knowledge of us - but some come "close". There are those who we confide in, but even in the deepest of relationships, we don’t always share ourselves completely, with full transparency in every area of our being - we 'guard' ourselves in some area because it is just not comfortable for us to expose ourselves totally.

There are always going to be challenges faced by the believer in understanding and appreciating the unique character qualities and talents bestowed in their lives. There are always going to be the tendencies of human nature to engage in comparing one’s own talents and abilities to those of another - he has that, she does this. The tendency of our nature is to zero in on some area of performance in the life of another and then to see if we “measure up” to that performance level – in areas that are spiritual, material, physical, or relational. Measuring up is kind of subjective, though, because our 'measuring tape' in life is often skewed by our experiences, beliefs, and sense of 'self-worth'.

The concept of “wanting what the Jones’ have” is not a new concept to the 21st century. It has been a challenge for human beings for as long as man has walked this earth. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were challenged by the fact that they felt God was keeping something from them in forbidding them to partake of the two trees in the Garden. They wanted what they did not possess right now and were willing to pursue it, regardless of the cost. Beware of this kind of 'inward drive', my friends, for 'getting what we want' in this 'very moment' may not always work out the way you hoped! Sometimes we bite off way more than we can chew when this is the drive behind what we are doing!

Everything we have and everything we are is completely a gift of God in our lives. We often claim credit for our accomplishments, focusing attention on our ability or talent, all the while completely missing the fact that God was the creator and the one who bestowed that talent in the first place. Without the gifting God places in our inner man, we would fall short of the ability required to accomplish the very thing we so often take credit for ourselves. Comparison often leads to the conclusion that we are not “gifted” or “talented” because we do not accomplish the same things or walk in the same manner that the one we are observing has accomplished. What we really need to hear (and I mean loud and clear) is that “You already have all you need.” Could it be that easy? It is really a matter of us realizing that the unique way we have been created, including the uniqueness of our personality, make up something of significant usefulness in the hands of a mighty God.

When we get real with ourselves, allow ourselves to get real with others, and then allow God to expose the unique way he has created us to interact with others, building one another up in the special way their are created, we find a great synergy begins to occur. The body of Christ begins to function exactly as he intended - each of us being a building block of greatness in his kingdom. Just sayin!

Monday, May 7, 2018

More than a pat on the back

Ever have one of those moments when you just need to hear a word or two of encouragement - something that uplifts and helps you just keep on keeping on? Encouragement is something we all need more of – we just don’t get enough of it in our daily contacts. In fact, most of us struggle with discouragement on a regular basis. Encouragement is at the root of our "self-worth". It is what gives us a sense of dignity and respect - it changes how we see ourselves sometimes. As one of God’s kids, we have a sense of being “grounded” in his unconditional love, and that gives us a sense of encouragement even when our actions, personal character flaws, or lack of success in today's complicated tasks seem to be pulling us down.

That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. "I took on the troubles of the troubled," is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it's written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we'll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  (Romans 15:3-5 MSG)

A long time ago, I heard a preacher deliver a sermon that has stuck with me for all these years. The crux of the sermon was this: Your past and present need not continue into your future. Too many times we want to allow our present to be clouded by our past. Encouragement is simply hope - hope that not only CAN God do what needs to be done in your life, but he WILL do it - without failure! His love for us is unconditional and absolute – it will not change over time or be meted out in proportion to our behavior - thank goodness. It is steadfast even in the midst of our wavering - bless God. He loves us first and foremost! We don’t even have to show him we love him first in order to be a beneficiary of his great love – he loves us and draws us. I find that pretty doggone encouraging! God is there when we need him – even in the midst of the most difficult times. In fact, he uses those difficulties to draw us closer to his loving heart and to help our love for him grow deeper.

At times, we are facing tough circumstances – things we label as punishment in our lives - things we just don't 'get' why they are happening. As a child of God, we are not subject to punishment because of our negative behavior. In fact, we are given the opportunity for corrective action – being taught by the Holy Spirit and the truth revealed in the Word in order to correct the behavior and walk away from it in a freedom of spirit. God is using those circumstances to complete the work of perfecting us through ongoing opportunities for learning of his great love. Even in the times we need to seek him for his faithful and unwavering forgiveness, we can be encouraged - his forgiveness isn't 'conditional' based on our performance. He forgives the old and gives the new – we call this an exchanged nature. He forgets the past and focuses on the future – we call this a fresh start.

Regardless where you find yourself today – God’s forgiveness is extended to you. Your part is to see your need for forgiveness and to turn to God to receive it. His part is to extend his grace, embrace us in his tender arms, and then lead us into the path of his love. Be encouraged! God’s love is enough to make the sorrow and shame of the past and the present a thing we need not carry into our future! Embrace his love and enjoy his encouragement. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Unlearn that Sin

If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin. But remember that the temptations that come into your life are not different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it. (I Cor. 10:12-13)

I think we could all agree that no one is immune to temptation or 'above it' because it is a tool Satan uses to trip us in our walk with the Lord - he delights in nothing more than seeing us fall flat each and every time. When you are “immune” to something, it has no affect on you - it cannot get an inroad. As we grow up in Jesus, that temptation we struggle with today will become less inviting to us – but as we grow up, the very nature of the temptations we struggle with will change - they just get a little different inroad. The old temptations will not have the same appeal, but be assured, Satan will continue to find ways to tempt us and our own human nature will still struggle with stuff!

We don't always resist, though, do we? Guilt is associated with temptation because it is an end result of our inability or unwillingness to resist. As we grow up in Jesus, we will come to the place where we understand God is helping us to no longer be “caught off guard” when the temptation comes.  Satan’s ability to even make us feel guilty that we are “being tempted” is one of his tactics. Satan wants us to feel that I we are not really changing – growing into a new creature – so he uses that temptation over and over again to attempt to get us to believe the lie that we are not truly a new creation in Christ - we are the 'same old us'.

Satan has a way of bringing up old sins that are already forgiven to make us feel guilty for them again and again! That guilt is a means of keeping us bound – allowing doubt, frustration, and fear to enter in – focusing us away from our deliverance and toward our PAST bondage. It is important for us to remember that temptation only becomes sin when we allow our emotions and imaginations to have free rein to entertain the tempting suggestions the enemy brings. We can reject the thoughts – or we can give place to them in our minds and see them through to actions. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything that you do.” When we entertain the thought – we begin to give into the temptation. It begins with rejecting the thought – because our thoughts eventually become our attitudes and those attitudes influence our actions.

All of us want to know how to overcome temptation. Recognizing that it exists and has an effect on us is the first step in overcoming – but the main way to deal with temptation is to take responsibility for it. When we blame others for our temptation, we deny our need – we are assigning the responsibility for the sinful temptation to another (even if it is Satan) and that limits our ability to see our need (getting from God what we NEED to overcome). When we acknowledge our need, God’s resources are at our disposal to do the work of overcoming the sinful temptation. God wants us to rely on him, not our self-directed ability (or inability) to resist. James tells us, “Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires.” (James 1:14) Sometimes we need to cry out to God to deliver us from OURSELVES.

As we learn to rely upon the Holy Spirit’s assistance in recognizing the temptation, we are able to respond obediently to the truth we have come to learn in our times of spiritual discipline. It is the Spirit’s presence in our lives that helps us to conform to the image of Christ in us, learning to respond differently to the temptation’s pull, so that we are no longer pursuing it. Obedience reinforces our spiritual integrity – our character is transformed, removing the diseased part of us, chunk by chunk, until it is completely gone and we enjoy the total freedom of spiritual health in that area of our life. Integrity is a state of being undivided – not serving two masters – giving of ourselves to obedience to only one master. It is true - we can count on God to unmask what Satan has masked as excuses or "I will never change" thoughts in our lives! Just sayin!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"Pretty good"

"Give yourselves to disciplined instruction, open your ears to tested knowledge." (Proverbs 23:12)

One of the easiest things for many of us to do is to believe what we are told or taught without ever seeking to validate the knowledge shared. As a believer in Christ, we have an obligation to avoid blind belief in everything we are taught or are exposed to over the course of our lives. There is an expectation that we will apply ourselves to learning - active, involved, frequent and committed study of the Scriptures. As believers, we should offer words of wisdom, thoughts that challenge each other to grow, and even subtle humor that draws us closer together in the Lord - thereby applying what it is we are being taught.

Disciplined instruction is characterized by that which produces development of self-control (something I lack more than I'd like to admit), obedient actions (also not a consistent thing in my life), and orderly conduct (well, might as well confess to all three). We often "bristle against" anything that smacks of discipline or obedience because it rubs us the wrong way - it is going to "cost us" something and that makes it challenging. It challenges us and often requires that dreaded thing: "change". For many of us, nothing challenges us more than being called upon to actually change - after all, most of us see ourselves as 'pretty good' individuals. "Pretty good" isn't really good enough if we are to examine ourselves through God's eyes, though.

God expects that we will be open to the correction that he identifies as necessary in our lives as we apply ourselves to gaining that deep, intense spiritual knowledge he desires to share with us. Study of the scriptures can be a difficult pursuit for even the best scholar, but nothing pleases the Lord more than to see us delve in, even if we don't always "get it" as we are reading it through the first time.  We are each given a tutor to take us verse by verse through these 66 books known as the Holy Bible. He is the Holy Spirit and he is an awesome teacher - all he needs is attentive and responsive students.

As truth is revealed in the Word by the Holy Spirit, course correction will inevitably be called for in our lives. The simple truth is that none of us "lines up" to the characteristics of a righteous, obedient servant of Christ 100% of the time - we are 'pretty good', but not 'all the way good'. We struggle with ALWAYS being honest, ALWAYS being kind, ALWAYS being loving, and the list could go on. God not only asks that we are disciplined in exploring what he has for us in his Word, the Bible, but that we examine the knowledge we receive, putting it to use in our lives on a daily basis. Knowledge applied is powerful - bringing change, release, and honest transformation of character - moving us from 'pretty good' to 'all good'. Just sayin!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Is it valid?

It is a badge of honor to accept valid criticism. (Proverbs 25:12 TLB)

Have you ever been criticized for something -- criticism you didn't deserve? Maybe it was something others could not know all the details about right then and there, but you had to take some immediate action in order to prevent some other action coming along that would hurt all those who stand there criticizing your present action. Now, that one just plain hurts, doesn't it? Perhaps it was the time you weren't as eloquent as you could have been in expressing yourself, but something needed to be said and you stepped up to say it, then found others picking apart what you said and how it sounded. Those words are picked apart, analyzed, and scrutinized time and time again, all the while finding some fault with them. No one probably knows how many times you have allowed those same words to turn over and over in your own mind, realizing you could have said it better! Valid criticism is one thing - undo criticism is just doggone unkind and unnecessary.

There always comes a time when some action on our part 'deserves' that moment of critique - when you dissect what was said or done and look for ways to do it better the next time. If we are walking with the Lord, those times probably come more often than we might imagine because we get these little prompts from the Holy Spirit to 'evaluate that moment'. Valid criticism is good because it helps us grow. Unwelcome or hostile criticism is not. That actually stunts our growth, or creates even more problems for which we must address new issues requiring even more attention than it would have taken to have had that moment of constructive criticism in the first place! Who defines 'valid' anyway? This has been a debate in one of my work teams about a certain set of tasks we must perform - trying to determine when something is 'valid' is a challenge. Why? We all have our own perspective!

Valid criticism isn't determined by our own standard or perspective, though. It is defined by the standards outlined in scripture. If the action on our part didn't align with one or more of those standards, then we need the honest evaluation of where it is we got off course. Valid criticism is well-founded. If that foundation is the Word of God and the standards laid out there, we will stand a better chance of attaining the desired result. Valid criticism produces the desired result - it causes us to examine our actions/words and then to evaluate where the adjustments need to be made so we don't repeat those actions/words again. This is a good thing - something we don't need to fear or run from. We need the action to be 'pointed out' sometimes because we don't see it as 'invalidating' the standard of God in our lives.

Criticism that produces growth isn't harsh or 'gossipy'. It is to the point, presented in a gracious manner, and has some thought behind it. Rarely is constructive criticism 'given in the moment' - it usually comes when the heat of the moment passes and the other individual is ready to receive it. To attempt to give 'valid criticism' in the moment often meets with hostility, rejection, and hard feelings. It is much better to give that 'cooling off' period, because the other party often begins to realize things didn't go as expected and is actually looking for a way to improve so it won't happen quite the same way again. Valid criticism doesn't point fingers - it is delivered in such a way that it is clear, concise, and given in commitment of the parties to all the parties involved. We need more of this kind of criticism in our world and a whole lot less pointing of fingers and talking about how wrong everyone is, don't you think? Just askin!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

One step in the right direction

13 For, dear brothers, you have been given freedom: not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other. 14 For the whole Law can be summed up in this one command: “Love others as you love yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 TLB)

Charles Kingsley reminds of us a great truth: "There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought." In which manner of freedom are you living today? This is a tough question, for it requires intense honesty and true depth of character to really acknowledge one is living by a sense of entitlement - doing what one wants rather than what one ought. There are days I'd rather be fishing in the cool waters of a summer stream than to be sitting behind a desk trying to solve problems. The only problem I really want to consider is what the fish are biting on! It isn't always about doing what we like - because what we ought to do beckons. 

Freedom isn't a place of inaction, though. What we ought to do can often be interpreted as "if I had my wits about me, I ought to do...." We don't see it as pressing enough to actually move us into action. It is a thing we 'think about' as good to do, but we don't do it. It is kind of like exercising - we ought to do it, but our "ought to" and "want to" don't always match up! Freedom is to go beyond our 'want to' and begin to affect our 'need to'. "Ought" is a word that puts a person under moral obligation or duty to some action. It isn't about 'thinking' good thoughts - it is about 'doing right actions'.

This is why Paul reminds us our freedom is designed to bring us into a place of loving and serving one another. It isn't about what we want as much as it is about it is the other guy! Freedom isn't just personal - it is corporate, as well. It is to affect the entire community in which you live - not just your small self. True freedom looks beyond the things that will benefit us to learning how it is we can benefit others by what we have been given or experienced. When we begin to live by a different standard of 'moral obligation' we often observe just how desperately others need to experience the freedom we have been enjoying ourselves.

When our likes and 'ought' align, this is a powerful place for us. We begin to move in such a sense of freedom and joy that it isn't 'painful' to serve and we don't hesitate to love. Why? It isn't about us 'needing' any longer - it is about the need of others now. Freedom isn't just a 'personal thing' - it involves all those around us who haven't experienced it yet. If you are like me, you probably need your 'ought to' to match up with your 'I will do' a little more often. If that is the case, you and I are on this journey together. Our freedom journey begins with loving others and finding ways to serve them. How is it we can take a step on this journey together today? Just askin!