Monday, June 18, 2018

Strategically Placed Tools

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. 
(Philippians 1:3-6 MSG)

It is a truly comforting thing to know that God has placed leaders, mentors, and caring relationships in each of our lives that are frequently moved into "prayerful consideration" of our needs as we cross their minds. God can do much with a soul that is yielded to his purposes – especially when that yielded vessel is willing to reach out to the needs of others. The “trigger” toward "prayerful consideration" is born out of the newness of heart that God places within us at the time of our salvation. A trigger is something that initiates a process or response - it starts the ball rolling, so to speak. God places a desire for his people deep into our hearts as we begin to grow in his graces – this desire moves upon us to uphold those that he has surrounded us with - not so much because they aren't doing a good job of reaching out to God themselves, but because we all need the strength that comes in numbers.

The support of our fellow believers is more than just a pat on the back periodically. It is God purposefully placing individuals in our lives that will boldly take us before the throne of God - as the need becomes apparent and even when there is no evidence of need! Our daily walk is affected by the many prayers of those who stand as a 'supporting structure' in our lives – oftentimes unnoticed, perhaps even unknown to us. Did you ever to stop to think of that BFF as a 'supporting structure' in your life? Well, there is more shared in prayer for each other than we may first realize - oftentimes because that other individual wants only the best for us!

At the time we welcomes Jesus into our hearts, God began his work within us. God wants to complete the work that he began in each of us. This work is a two-fold work, with the first being fully accomplished by the work of the cross, and the second being a process of life-altering, character-transforming work that is walked out in our lives daily. No other thing is more important to God than our growth and maturity after we say 'yes' to his rule in our lives. His focus is one of producing the fruit of our new relationship with him – fruit that evidences his grace, love, and compassion. Yet there are times when fruit seems to evade us – change is not as quickly evident in our lives as we would desire. We are just not growing as we might have expected.

It is important to keep perspective as we daily walk in this newness of life. We are changed incrementally – changed by the blood of Christ, God’s grace, and his daily mercies in our lives. We want growth by leaps and bounds, but God prepares us for growth in fragments - incremental changes that sometimes take more time than we might want and lots more more than we thought we'd have to invest. The believers God surrounds us with in our 'extended' family, those we encounter in mentoring relationships, as well as those who speak into our lives at those critical moments are strategically placed in our lives to assist in the process of completing the work within us that God began. There should be no doubt in our minds that the very thing God begins, he also provides a means for the successful and undeniable completion of that work.

Whenever we are tempted to get down on ourselves because our progress is slow, or the "same old" sins or problems just seem to be coming around again and again - it is time to reach out to our "family" in Christ. Their support is often the deciding factor in the success of our ability to overcome those all too familiar sinful patterns. The family of God is like a tool in a well-equipped tool box. If we never pull the tool out to use it, it is nothing more to us than something we look fondly at and are proud to have in our box. If we lay hold of it and use it as it is fashioned to be used, the results can be astronomically wonderful. No tool is just decorative - they are meant to be used! Just sayin!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Welcome back!

God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children's hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live... And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I'm commanding you today. God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you: you'll have babies, get calves, grow crops, and enjoy an all-around good life. Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors. But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back. This commandment that I'm commanding you today isn't too much for you, it's not out of your reach. It's not on a high mountain—you don't have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it's not across the ocean—you don't have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now—as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! (Deuteronomy 30:6-14 MSG)

It does not catch God by surprise to find our hearts wandering, our focus dwindling, and our attitude twisting toward things which should not really get our attention. While it would please him most for us to be consistent in our focus and attentiveness toward the things he loves and blesses, he knows it is hard for us. He also knows we sometimes have no clue we are even being lured away by our apathy, or some laxity we have allowed in our lives. Therefore, he reminds us there is a way for restoration when it is needed - as heart devotion wanes, it can be restored by embracing the truth of his Word and 'beginning again' where we left off. Most of us know the "way back" is never as easy as the steps we took in our wandering away - but as long as we use the tools he has that guide us back into a place of restored grace, we will find our path restored. 
Our return to a straight path is conditioned on heeding, or paying attention, to the things that begin to surface in our lives. The first step back is to recognize that we even need to make a turn in the first place!

Do right, and we enjoy blessing; if we pursue wrong purposes,we experience curses upon our nation - not just our own house, but our wrong-doing actually affects other lives around us because there are always others watching what we do. God says we need to "tune into" our lives a little better (and a little more consistently), allowing the Holy Spirit to expose our motivations, our heart attitudes, and then weigh them against what God defines for us in his Word as "righteousness". If we find ourselves falling away from the "standards" he defines there, then it is time to make an about-face and come back to center again. "No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there..." This is the promise in scripture - for those that acknowledge they need a 'return' can be assured he will be there to help them return. That should squelch all doubt we have in our minds that we could ever drift away from God unnoticed by his watchful eye, or unreachable by his caring hand.

WHEN we drift (and not IF we drift), God is a restoring God - scripture makes it quite clear that it won't always be a 'consistent path' we walk - we will drift. When we recognize our condition, then respond to the grace God is extending, and take the identified actions to return, look at the actions God takes on our behalf:

-He brings us back - it is not OUR efforts that get us "back on track" in our walk, but his!
-He removes the calloused parts of our heart - freeing us again to love him with our entire heart. Think about a callous for just a moment - it is hard, unsightly, and abrasive to everything it touches. It is also pretty impenetrable. If a "physical" callous was around our heart muscle, the heart would be so restricted that the normal and regular beating of that heart would be impossible. God is the one to remove those callouses of our spiritual heart - removing our "restriction" in obedient worship of him.
-He places us in the very circumstances where we can make a new start - dealing on our behalf with our enemy (our own lust, our immense pride, and even the devil himself). Our part is to listen obediently - callouses removed, giving us freedom to "beat again" in unison with his heart, we are free to listen and respond.
-He will outdo even himself - in making things go well with us! He blesses us over and over again - outdoing all we could ever imagine about his grace, his love or his ability on our behalf.
-He will ENJOY us - it absolutely amazes me that God could ENJOY me! Sometimes I don't even bring much joy to myself - much less others - so how could I ever bring joy to him? Yet, he says we will become a thing of enjoyment to him.

Our part is to hold nothing back - no half-hearted attempts at obedience. God knows we will slip up from time to time. He also knows he will give us grace to get up again and move on. The worst thing we can tell ourselves is that we can never move on in life. It is the heart attitude he is focused on here - one of commitment, dedication, and entirety in our responsiveness. If you have ever found yourself moving at a speed of 45 mph down a busy surface street, approaching the intersection, and suddenly the light turns from green to amber, you make a split-second decision to screech to a stop and possibly have a multi-car pile-up, or plunge on through the intersection in spite of that amber light - risking even more. If you decide to do the latter, it means you are "committed" due to the speed of your vehicle, the traffic coming at a face pace behind you, etc. Commitment describes a determination that drives us forward, truly calculating the risks, and then acting in spite of those risks. That is what God expects of us - make a commitment - allow it to drive us forward despite what we see may be the risks. When we do, he stands ready to restore us.

His word to us is to "come back". His action on our behalf is to "welcome us back". His blessing to us in coming back is to "take back" what we have lost and restore it to us completely. Don't get bogged down in the fact that you may have wandered - listen obediently to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, respond with an open heart, and come on back! Just sayin!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Don't steam in it any longer!

"Count yourself lucky." We use this phrase, "I am so lucky", often without realizing what it means to be "lucky". It means that we are "favored" - to find a special space or focus of attention where all is going well. We should count ourselves as specifically favored by God - an object of his special focus! Being the special object of his favor should produce within each of us a sense of awe - tremendous wonder at how the God of the universe could have favor on us. His care for each of us begins with a specific action of his love - he forgives us - giving us a fresh start. The slate has been wiped clean! How many times do we say, "I wish I could get a fresh start"? Well, we can as many times as we need that 'fresh start' - God's footstool is the place of fresh starts. Fresh starts are characterized by being able to leave all the mess of our past exactly where it is and moving on beyond that place of 'messiness'. Not only is this possible - it is a reality as we cry out to our God - an assurance his kids can count on all the time.

Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—you get a fresh start, your slate's wiped clean.  Count yourself lucky—God holds nothing against you and you're holding nothing back from him. When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. Then I let it all out; I said, "I'll make a clean breast of my failures to God." Suddenly the pressure was gone—my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. (Psalm 32:1-5 MSG)


Sin has a way of getting us into places where we just yearn for a breakthrough. I probably don't have to point out the misery of spirit, mind, and body that becomes the "mire" of our lives when we remain in our sinful condition, wallowing in our failures. It weighs heavy on us - bringing disease, sickness, depression, and even something scripture refers to as a "dryness". Living in the desert, I understand the effects of heat - the tremendous drying effect of the hot air and blazing sun. I have seen the sun literally turn a body that is otherwise healthy into a mess of dehydration, electrolytes totally out of balance, and the ensuing weakness absolutely destroying internal organs. Where there is "dryness", it is impossible to maintain life! The issue isn't that lack of moisture - it is that the 'heat' isn't something we are equipped to deal with!

Why is it that we live like we are inside pressure cookers? We let all the pressures of life build up, then at the point of absolute explosive capacity, we let it all out - sometimes not very well and usually making a big mess when we do! We remain in our place of absolute misery - unaware of what tremendous grace and peace lays just on the other side of our pressure cooker - and stew in our misery! When he finally "let it all out", the pressure is gone. That was not recorded for all time in the Word simply because it sounded good - God knows all too well our tendency to keep it all inside and attempt to deal with life's failures on our own terms. He also knows how messed up we can become when we do! I have a pressure cooker and when I release the steam that has built up, I have to wait a couple minutes longer to actually release the lid. Why? There is unrecognized pressure still in there long past the time I think the pressure has been released - pressure that is still capable of hurting me. I need to let the pot rest a little to ensure it is not going to bring me harm. Sometimes we need to just rest after God has relieved the initial pressure of our sinful state, not because we aren't feeling release, but because we need to allow the release to finalize!

Today, if you have been keeping it all wrapped up inside - afraid to let it go - allowing the very juices of your joy to be dried up - it is time to let it all out! Not in ways that will bring you or others harm, but under the guidance of the knowing hand and eye of the God that knows us all too well. God is not stunned by our guilt - he already has made provision for that. God is not shamed by our failures - he already has provided a way back from those failures and out of that shame. He is not intimidated by the mess of our lives - he has already made a plan for restoring the disorder of our past with the perfect peace of the present and the joyful anticipation of the future. Whatever it is that is robbing you of your joy, keeping you bound in your failures, let it out! God stands ready to relieve you of that pressure today! Not just for a little while, but for good! Just sayin!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Throw it all in

Blessed be God—he heard me praying. He proved he's on my side; I've thrown my lot in with him. Now I'm jumping for joy, and shouting and singing my thanks to him. God is all strength for his people, ample refuge for his chosen leader; save your people and bless your heritage.  Care for them; carry them like a good shepherd.  
(Psalm 28:6-9 MSG)

Each of us have been through a rough stretch or two in life - times where we don't think we are going to make it because either relationships fall apart, circumstances keep us so frustrated and busy, or coming to the realization absolutely nothing was working out as we had hoped no matter how hard we tried. Companions may have turned against us, maybe even conspiring to destroy our reputation and keep us from some role we had been dreaming of all these years.  The constant running, the immediate danger, and the ever-churning frustration causes us to cry out to God for help - it could be we are just left silent and pondering quietly what to do next.  In our cry and depth of contemplative thought, we come to the place where we are acknowledging our need to "throw our lot in with God". In other words, we want to abandoned our own way of doing things and now completely rely on God to be all that is needed in the moment.  God has heard even our silent praying.  We can see over and over in scripture and hear it time and time again from other believers - God hears - the answer may be delayed, but he heard when we cried out - even in our silent contemplation of 'what do we do next'!

Somehow, we don't think God is "on our side" if we don't have an awesome outcome to every circumstance in life.  We wonder if our prayers have fallen on deaf ears, or if he has abandoned us to our own devices because of some root of rebellion within that we don't readily recognize.  Many times the circumstances have proven to be overwhelming, uncomfortable, or just plain undesirable - not because God has not listened or heard, but because we have chosen the course we are on apart from listening to him. Ouch!  Now that I've gone meddling, perhaps I should say that I am not immune to this same type of moving out ahead of God and then asking God to bail me out!  I also struggle with the "God, why aren't you listening?" prayers. The skies can be like brass to me, as well. The times when things don't work out as planned just keep on coming for me, too!

The conviction in the heart of our writer states clearly that God is all strength to his people - not just to the "good ones", or the ones that "deserve" his attention and get everything right the first time (thank goodness, because I rarely get things right the first time).  God is ALL the strength we need - plain and simple. Finding ourselves in a moment of rehearsing our misery is not an uncommon occurrence - but finding ourselves celebrating the strength and shelter of our all powerful God should be the "norm" - not the exception.  Look at the exact way God is described here - he is ALL strength. GOD - Jehovah - the one who is unchangeable in his promises, permanent in his commitment, and divine in his compassion - is all the strength we need for this moment. He is our physical strength.  He is also our mental strength - giving us the power to overcome negative self-talk; the authority to stand against evil thoughts. There is a "potency" that is palpable in his presence. Where his presence is, there we will find ample resources for the present need in our lives. We just need to "tap" them - to avail ourselves of those resources.

God is presented to us as an ample refuge - not some mediocre, broken down shack we can find some meager shelter from the heat, a little protection from the rain - but an ample refuge. God is fully sufficient and more than adequate for every purpose or need in our lives. He is a God of "liberality" - a giving, caring, and compassionate God. His presence is a place of shelter and protection from all forms of danger - real or perceived. Three things can be counted on: he will save us, bless us, and care for us. Save us - rescuing us from all possible error or harm - which we get into or that comes our way. Save us - because we find ourselves in circumstances where we lack the power to come out on the other side unhurt and unburdened. Bless us - because without his divine favor, life is not worth living. Care for us - like a good shepherd, tending with gentle care over his sheep. Care for us - because he is concerned about us, and he lets us see that concern. We are God's heritage - we belong to him by reason of our birth into his family. Would God ever let his heritage go into a state of disrepair? Would he ever shirk his duty as the Good Shepherd?  Absolutely not.  When we feel the skies are brass - he IS listening. When we feel that we cannot trust - he is faithful. When we are more focused on the battle than on the Commander of our lives - he stands strong on our behalf. God is our ample refuge. It is time to lift his praises! Just sayin!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

But....but....but...

Ever find yourself paralyzed by fear? Considering something 'ominous' in front of you, with memories of what you once had behind you? These thoughts plague us and we find ourselves wondering if we can ever make it past the past and getting fully into the present. There isn't much hope of ever experiencing the 'newness' of the present until we let go of all the excuses we offer to attempt to stay connected with our past!

Attention, Israel! This very day you are crossing the Jordan to enter the land and dispossess nations that are much bigger and stronger than you are. You're going to find huge cities with sky-high fortress-walls and gigantic people, descendants of the Anakites—you've heard all about them; you've heard the saying, "No one can stand up to an Anakite."  Today know this: God, your God, is crossing the river ahead of you—he's a consuming fire. He will destroy the nations, he will put them under your power. You will dispossess them and very quickly wipe them out, just as God promised you would.  (Deuteronomy 9:1-3)

A blessed land for a chosen people - but not before some conditions were met. We find Israel spending 40 years wandering around the small wilderness region between Egypt's border and the land of Canaan - not a very long journey, but one that took them loads longer than it needed to simply because of their lack of trust and rebellion! After many years of aimless wandering, they finally stand ready to enter into the promises of God - but before they can possess what is promised, they must 'dispossess' some other stuff. Stronger armies, seemingly impenetrable fortresses, and giants await them as they take the first steps into what God had promised them.  If I were standing in their sandals, I'd be wondering if God had been kidding when he said he had "good stuff" for me just on the other side of the river!  I'd have wondered if God had maybe been a little mixed up in his attention to detail here. The things ahead of me would have made me a little skeptical, to say the least.

We sometimes find ourselves in similar circumstances, looking ahead, knowing we need to "make our move", and we are almost paralyzed by fear because of what lays just beyond the borders of where we are now and where we are headed. We might make excuses for our unwillingness to take the first step - focusing squarely on the insurmountable odds rather than the imperceptible strength of our God - pointing out each and every pitfall along the journey. Perhaps we have been asked to take steps toward something and away from something else.  It may be that God has been tugging at our heart, asking us to spend time and energy on something we find hard.  We look at what is just ahead and all we see is rock-solid walls that seem like they will never be penetrated.  We want to 'step out', but we only feel waves of paralyzing fear in face of past failures.  Wherever we find ourselves this morning, God is saying, "It is time to take the first step. Trust me to guide you."

We don't take those first steps alone. As the nation of Israel stood on the very edges of what God promised to them, God stood alongside.  GOD (Jehovah) - the unchanging one, the one who becomes all we need, the one holding us accountable - stands ready to go alongside.  God (Elohim) - the creator of all things, the possessor of absolute power and authority, the covenant keeping God - stands ready to exhibit his power on our behalf and not let one of his promises fall short of completion in our lives. Look at his position - he goes ahead of us to put under his power all that would stand in the way of our victory!  That means he is going ahead of us to bring understanding into our times of personal chaos and confusion.  He is going ahead of us into the fearful places of budding relationship and past failures.  He is the consuming fire - the fire that burns through our doubt and fear; the fire that illuminates our path; the God that creates newness where we can only see devastation.  

I know this passage refers to where Israel stood that day, but I believe it has meaning for us, as well. God is to be realized as both our unchanging one and our becoming one. He is the Alpha and Omega - the beginning of newness in our lives and the finisher of all that he promises. Walls may seem huge, and even impenetrable - holding us back from realizing what awaits us on the other side. There is no "wall" that can withstand his power or authority - no enemy can stand in the midst of his mighty acts on our behalf. Giants may loom over us - God stands taller and stronger than any giant standing in our way. Today is a day of new beginnings - it is definitely time to step out, God going ahead of us, preparing the way for us. Our part is to take the first step - his is to go ahead of us, driving out the giants and tearing down the walls. His part is to be all we need - our part is to be obedient to his voice. Is God urging you to step out today? If so, take the first step knowing whole-heartedly that he goes ahead of you! Just steppin!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

I think I have separation anxiety!

Dear friend, do what I tell you; treasure my careful instructions. Do what I say and you'll live well. My teaching is as precious as your eyesight—guard it! Write it out on the back of your hands; etch it on the chambers of your heart. Talk to Wisdom as to a sister. Treat Insight as your companion. They'll be with you to fend off the Temptress—that smooth-talking, honey-tongued Seductress. (Proverbs 7:1-5 MSG)

Scripture speaks of Wisdom and Insight as a person - the person of Jesus Christ. God's primary purpose in telling us of the 'person' of Wisdom and Insight is for us to get to know Jesus' character a little better. The character of a person is what we sometimes call the 'real person'. A person's character is more than their personality - it is made up of their code of moral conduct and even their consistency in being honest or true in their actions. Keeping the commandments of God has great reward - a reward of developing the character traits we so often read about when we discover the truths of Christ within scripture. All of character is formed by the keeping of a two-part command: 1) Do and 2) Treasure. One is an action, the other a condition of the heart that influences the action. The reward of the action - life will be well for us.

There is this wisdom that comes from wise counsel and then there is the wisdom that comes from the Word of God - both combined are to be as precious to us as our eyesight. I remember a time when I had to have one eye patched for over a week due to a problem with the cornea of my eye. The pain in my injured eye was so significant that the other eye had a "sympathetic" response to the pain, making it almost impossible to keep my good eye open and responsive to stimuli. The doctor was uncertain if my eyesight would be affected by the injury to the cornea and he actually had nothing hopeful to offer me as I recovered. I naturally felt anxious about the possibilities of losing my eyesight or having some permanent impairment from this ulceration that had formed. Why? We depend on our eyesight so very much. Yet, if we are totally truthful here, we almost take it for granted. There is a warning to us of taking God's leading and direction (his wisdom) for granted - whether it comes through the wise counsel of a friend, the tender nudges of the Holy Spirit, or the personal revelation of truth from the Scriptures - it is never to be taken for granted.

We are to talk to Wisdom as to a sister or brother; treat Insight as our companion. Think about the very nature of our Savior. He is closer to us than a sibling - as a matter of fact, he is our older sibling! My two grandsons are inseparable. The youngest follows after the oldest, getting into his "space" as much as humanly possible - even to the point of falling all over him with hugs and physical affection - and sometimes wrestling matches that don't always end up as well as he'd hoped. When they are separated - there is a tendency of the younger to want the oldest back. Is this is our relationship with Jesus? Are we earnestly "connected" to him as our sibling? Are we lavishing him with our affection and praise? Are we lost without him in our 'space'?

Jesus is our wisdom. He has the ultimate knowledge of what is true and yearns to show us truth at every turn. He knows what is right and he couples that with the understanding of what actions produce right living. It is nice to have a "big brother" to look up to for direction in our lives. Treat Insight as your companion - what better companion to have than Insight. Jesus has the complete understanding of the motivation behind our every action. We don't even possess that on our own - if we did, we probably wouldn't have done half of the dumb stuff we have done in this lifetime! No wonder God urges us to spend time getting to know our "sibling", Christ Jesus! He wants us to have our lives deeply affected by the one who can reveal even the deepest secrets of our heart and bring true revelation of sound judgment into our circumstances. When we get to know Jesus with this kind of intimacy, we can be assured that we have all we need to avoid the tempting seductress we can easily call "sin" in our lives.

Let's get to know our "big brother", Jesus! Talking frequently with him and spending time in companionable enjoyment of his presence is not a short-cut to some 'special place', but it is a 'space' to be experienced as often as possible. Perhaps we will develop the heart of a loyal sibling, never wanting to be separated from him, always seeking him out, and never being afraid to get in "his space" as often as possible. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I need you!

Good friend, follow your father's good advice; don't wander off from your mother's teachings. Wrap yourself in them from head to foot; wear them like a scarf around your neck. Wherever you walk, they'll guide you; whenever you rest, they'll guard you; when you wake up, they'll tell you what's next. For sound advice is a beacon, good teaching is a light, moral discipline is a life path. (Proverbs 6:20-23 MSG)

There are certainly those in society today that lack the good advice of a father (or a father who actually listens to any good advice) and the wise teachings of a mother (or a mother too caught up in herself to actually listen to others). Perhaps father or mother is actually absent from the scene - or simply totally not involved in the life of their children. Worse yet is that the parent was present to teach, but what was taught was continual abuse, absolute neglect, or total mistrust. Society today has not done a good job of representing the role of father and mother. There are homes torn apart by all kinds of selfish influence - leaving damaged children in their wake, kids wanting for this type of wise counsel and solid direction in their lives, but finding nothing of the sort.

It is heart-warming to recognize that God "sets us in families", many times simply to re-parent us where we have been parented poorly in the first place. That family he sets us in is our local church - an assembly of other believers, much like ourselves who draw strength from one another and grow in the graces of Christ right alongside the other. Within the local church, he brings us face-to-face with others who will help us walk this out on a daily basis - individuals who will invest in our lives. According to our passage today, we are to wrap ourselves in the teachings of our parents - allowing them to guide us, guard us, and tell us what to do next. If we have lacked "solid" parenting in the natural sense, we must focus on our "spiritual" parenting within the community of Christ to guide, guard, and assist us in our walk.

Our spiritual family is often the path by which we learn the meaning of true love and unconditional acceptance. It is often the place where we come to recognize the strength of open arms, the infusion of value that a positive word brings, and the emotional healing of an accepting nod of approval when words just aren't necessary. Our spiritual family is a refuge for us - a place of growth. No wonder God makes such an awesome provision for us by placing us in the local church and within close-knit relationships! There are three truths I'd like to elaborate on just a little. Our writer indicates that sound advice is a beacon, good teaching is a light, and moral discipline is a life path.

Sound advice - most of us would be quick to acknowledge that there is nothing more rewarding than to have received sound advice and to have acted on it. Sound advice is characterized as that which guides our action or conduct. Often, sound advice can be a warning designed to keep us from harm, or to redirect our course so that we avoid pitfalls along the way. It influences our thought and in turn, our actions. Good teaching has a similar function in our life with a subtle difference. Some of us have learned things throughout life that we need to be "re-schooled" about now that we are walking with Christ. We may have developed some pretty unnecessary actions and thought-patterns in our life experiences that we need to have exposed as self-centered, sinful, or just plain "dumb". The strength of good teaching is that it produces light - light gives exposure to that which is hidden. We find good teaching in those who are placed into our lives in our local church and other close-knit relationships. Heed their teaching well - whether it is in word or action - and see what the light will expose in your life.

Moral discipline is a little different - it carries the idea of being upright, ethical, and pure in our action. All action stems from thought - therefore, true moral action stems from true moral thought. Moral discipline is the desire and ability to keep the rules without being overly focused on the rules. Moral discipline is a life path - it is an understanding of the rules for right conduct and then the passionate pursuit of those rules that will produce that right conduct consistently in our walk. We cannot learn this kind of discipline alone - it takes a village! Therefore, we are placed into a family - to engage in this walk together and to hold each other accountable along the way. We each get a fresh start in Christ - including a fresh start on family. If your family was not "ideal" and the parenting you received was "less than perfect" - take heart. God has placed you where you will receive all you need for a life of godliness - you are placed into his family. Let's learn to turn toward the beacon of the good advice shared in the lives of those he has surrounded us with. We are each an example of God's love and grace in some manner - let's learn from each other as we grow in Christ! Just learnin!

Monday, June 11, 2018

This is tough!

When I call, give me answers. God, take my side! Once, in a tight place, you gave me room; now I'm in trouble again: grace me! hear me! You rabble—how long do I put up with your scorn? How long will you lust after lies? How long will you live crazed by illusion?  Look at this: look who got picked by God! He listens the split second I call to him.  Complain if you must, but don't lash out. Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking. Build your case before God and wait for his verdict. 6-8 Why is everyone hungry for more? "More, more," they say. "More, more." I have God's more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees. At day's end I'm ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together. 
(Psalm 4:1-5 MSG)

Enemies will come and go - their attacks are as certain as the sun rising and setting - there will always be opportunities for us in this lifetime. Yet, in the midst of scorn, lies, and all kinds of attack, we can stand before our God, our acquaintances, and even our enemies with the same assurance we know in the "good times" when there is no sense of 'attack' around us. We have all been in "tight places" before - but our God has always come to our rescue, giving us the room we needed in order to dodge the attack of these enemies. In that place of feeling "boxed in" by life at any time in our walk with Jesus, all we need to do is call out to God for his grace.

It is that ability to call out to God with an assurance that we will be heard that allows us to turn to our enemies head on and ask, "How long...?" We can know their attempts to tear us down are limited by the keeping hand of God in our lives. I love it when David looks at his enemy squarely in the face and says, "Look who got picked by God!" It is kind of like a "na-na-na-na-nah" response! He knows, standing with absolute conviction and assurance that the moment he calls out to God, God listens. There is no delay in responsiveness on God's part - he is always listening. This is the same assurance and absolute conviction we can have in our lives, as well.

Sometimes we might even spend a little time complaining to God (complain if you must), but we don’t lash out and accuse God of the attacks in our lives – that would be incorrect. God may have allowed it for our growth and development, but he is not the one doing the attacking. It is okay for you to let your heart do the talking. Why? God wants to hear from us exactly where we are at (he actually appreciates the honest approach) - no embellishments, no need to "clean it up" for him - simply being real is how he wants us to approach him.

This psalm closes with a message of assurance - God is more than enough! We know that we possess God's "more than enough" for the present circumstance and the ones that may yet come with the dawn of each new day. We serve the God of "more than enough" and enjoy the rest that brings to our soul. That is how we lay our head down at night in the midst of tough circumstances and sleep like a baby! I know the value of a night's rest to my body and the difference it makes to the view I take of the circumstances I am in – without it, I see the circumstances as a lot harder and bigger than they really are. It is in trusting God's "more than enough" that we can rest - really rest. 

If today is one of those days when you are up against tough odds - run to the God who is "more than enough" to deal with those odds. Pour out your heart to him - even if you must complain - he listens. Then, stand assured that the graces of God will take you through – remembering each step of the way that he is more than enough! Think about that - more than enough. That means that there are "left-overs" in the grace department with God. Left-overs that can even be a blessing through our lives into the lives of those who observe the struggle, those who stand as enemies in our path, or simply those who brush up against us long enough to enjoy them! We serve a God that stands ready to give us rest in the battle. Cry out to him today - he is listening. Just cryin!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Just a little pause to look within

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? (James 2:14 NLT)

Just about every week I ask myself what my actions are revealing about my relationship with Jesus. Why do I ask this of myself? I guess it is because I know there is a root of selfishness in me that sometimes allows little compromises and unholy actions to slip into my life. I don't want these little things to become bigger things, so I spend some time just evaluating those actions in light of what scripture tells me about how it is I am 'supposed' to be acting. It isn't a bad thing for each of us to do on occasion - evaluating our actions to see what they reveal about our relationship with Jesus. We might just find our relationship needs a little 'tune up', so to speak. 

In the second chapter of James, the topic of showing preference to some individuals over others has been presented. Why? There is a human tendency to give some better placement in life based upon what they have, can do, or who they are. This means we give a lesser placement to others by the actions of elevating one over another. As a reminder of the limitlessness of God's grace, James wants us to recall salvation isn't a thing for the more 'fortunate' in life, but for the masses - evil, good, well, sick - it matters not what their condition is in this life - Jesus reached out for all of these. In this mix, we find ourselves - not sure where we fit on the scale, but in terms of God's grace, we are ALL equal. No one gets a greater degree or measure of his grace - grace is an equalizing force in ALL of our lives.

If our actions reveal we are not always allowing a view of others as 'equalized' through the grace of God, then we have a potential of being a little 'prejudiced' toward some and discount the worth of others. To this end, James wants us to remember there is no place for such prejudice in the house of God. A believer's heart should NEVER give any more preference to one over another - because grace draws us equally to the throne of grace and equally distributes the grace that perfectly makes us 'equal' in all respects.

Another way to look at our actions is in light of how Christ 'acted' toward others while he was on this earth. Herein is a view of what it is like to live out our daily walk. He was faced with all kinds of 'issues' and difficult people. In each occurrence, he found a means to reach beyond the surface of what others revealed or 'put forward' in order to meet the deeper need of their soul. I think we do well to consider how well we reach the 'soul need' of others around us. Are we just superficial in our relationships, or do we find ways to get at the 'soul need' that is buried a little deeper below the surface in these relationships? 

We may not always find we have great revelations of things we could do differently each time we do these evaluations, but trust me on this one - do it often enough and you will find there is ALWAYS something of God's grace we could embrace a little more! Just sayin!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Let's get this out of the way

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.  
(Proverbs 9:10-12 NLT)

We can fear many things in this life, most of which can do us some harm, but other things that really cannot harm us often get in our way through unrealistic fear. If you have ever watched a movie and jumped at some unexpected happening, you had unrealistic fear. What you saw was not real. It was a portrayal on the screen, but you somehow took it as real, internalizing it as a reality. For just a moment your emotions were caught up, causing you to believe you were to react to that fear. Many of the things we fear might not be based in reality, for God tells us to fear nothing when he is in control of our lives. As we revere him as Lord and Savior of our lives, we displace the unreal and accept the real into that previously occupied space. Wisdom rules were foolishness once had the primary spot.

Knowledge of God is good, but getting firsthand knowledge of him comes as we get to know him on a much deeper level than just studying ABOUT him. To really get to know someone we spend time with them. We allow them to share bits and pieces of who they are with us. We share bits of our lives. In time, we say we are familiar with each other...acquaintances so to speak. To become closer, we begin to open up in the areas we guard for the ones who prove they can be trusted with those things. God is much the same way...opening up deep wells of his truth to those who can be trusted with his knowledge. They are the ones who will use his knowledge to grow and to help others to grow, too. He opens up great depths to those willing to explore AND implement these truths.

The key to knowledge isn't in the obtaining of it, but rather in the use of that knowledge. Good judgment is the outcome of applied knowledge when that knowledge comes from his deep wells! To become wise, one embraces the truths, that once applied, will make us stronger, more loving, and solid in our stand. To deal with unreal fear, one embraces truth. In terms of the movie example above, we turn off the TV and walk away telling ourselves we are safe, it was just a show, and all is well. In much of what we form fears over in life, we may not escape that easily. For example, if we have a fear of making new relationships, we likely don't put ourselves out there that easily. It brings us anxiety...unreal fear. We fear rejection or something bad happening to us if we extend ourselves. It isn't that we don't want relationship, but we have attached some unrealistic fear (emotional control) to these encounters. To overcome the fear, one will eventually have to give up that emotional control and jump into the deep end.

One unrealistic fear we can put to rest is that God will reject us when we put ourselves out there. He isn't in the business of rejecting, but of welcoming. As we revere him as Lord and Savior, we are saying we want to give up all our unreal fear...embracing truth and then learning to walk by that truth. It may not mean we get rid of all our unrealistic fear to begin with, but the more we get to know him, the more we will lay down those things that just aren't true about ourselves and even about others.  Just sayin!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Don't be 'dull'

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.
(I Peter 5:8-11)

Today we find a reminder of the importance of keeping our guard - never, never letting it down because when we do, the dangers lurk.  This is a call to stay alert, aware of our surroundings, attentive to things that cross our path - it won't be smooth sailing all the way and we need to be 'aware' of all that comes our way.  Here we see a picture of the Devil being "poised to pounce" much like a large jungle cat just laying in wait for its prey - eyes fixed, every muscle tense with the power to just explode into action at the moment the chance presents itself. What does it take to stay alert and stand our ground in faith?  We will go through times of testing, much like a refining process, that will purify our faith - so it is important that we figure this out as quickly as possible.  A pure faith is one that can stand confident in the midst of trial and temptation.  How is our faith purified?  The trial (times of testing) brings to the surface things that otherwise would be hidden from our attention and allows us to lay those things before God, trusting him to remove them.  

We need to be involved in our daily walk with a passion and a purpose - not just lazily accepting our lives as already being all they can be (although this would make life it a whole lot easier).  In other words, we stay committed to growth - doing what it takes to grow up in Christ.  This may mean doing what we don't necessarily feel like doing - daily time in the Word, gathering together in regular times of worship and teaching, etc.  It means that we don't accept "good enough" as the basis of our Christian walk - we ask God for the best, and pursue it with the passion that he enables us to develop.  We also need to realize the importance of love in our lives - because it is the manifestation of how God has worked in us, creating a new life within. We are to be attentive to the needs of others, not always focusing on our own wants/wishes, but truly being sensitive to the plight of the other person. Love is learned at the feet of Jesus - love is lived out in the daily example we set to a lost and dying world. Love involves being kind with our words, encouraging in our actions, committed in our attitudes, and industrious in our work.

It is very easy to indulge our ego at the expense of our spiritual walk. Whenever we focus on our wants before God's desires for our lives, we are putting self first.  This is a place of danger for us!  We are called to do good with both heart and soul - that makes us unstoppable in the kingdom of God.  We cannot focus on our needs above those of another.  We cannot control the outcomes of a man's life, but we can impact the outcome by the choices we make, the example we set, and the love we display. We won't go very far in being ready for attack without a complete change of thinking - not dwelling on the old sinful ways of thinking any longer.  In other words, we need to have our minds (thoughts and attitudes) cleansed by the power of God's Word and his Holy Spirit.  The exchange of thought pattern from that of focusing merely on self, sinful passions and pursuits, to that of how God would have us to live is a process of growth.  We learn to "put on" the mind of Christ as we learn to bring each thought, desire, and attitude before him for his approval.  Those thoughts we entertain that do not bring him honor begin to be pointed out, while God faithfully reveals to us what we need to lay down in the process and what we need to replace those thoughts, desires, and attitudes with.  God is in the business of pointing out what needs to "go away", but he is also so faithful to provide what needs to "be put into" our lives.

Last, but not least,we need to be aware of our surroundings - standing our ground, alert, ready for the attack of our enemy.  Satan is like a prowling lion, waiting to pounce, just looking for the opportunity to trip us up in our walk and impede our progress with God.  He most common weapon is doubt - causing us to question the sincerity of our heart commitment, planting little seeds of doubt that cause us to focus on what we are NOT, instead of what we ARE. Be alert! Be ready!  That is the call.  Don't let the enemy of your soul trip you up with his discouraging words, immobilizing thoughts, and tantalizing temptations.  Stay on guard - in other words, don't grow lazy in your walk!  Be prayerful, study often and study well - not just to study, but to actually learn.  The best antidote to a lack of growth is to learn to take in that which will spur us to growth again - regular time in his Word, committed relationships with others walking with him, and attention to times of special communion with our God.  Just sayin!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Be one - get one

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing. Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, here's what you do: say nothing evil or hurtful; snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you're worth. God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he's asked; but he turns his back on those who do evil things. (I Peter 3:8-12)

Herein we find a very long list of character traits that we are to exhibit as the children of God - some of them a little bit hard for us to actually 'implement' in our lives, but which we are not given any lee-way. Living in such a manner actually encourages God's blessing in our lives - and it appears that it actually opens up a lot of blessing into the lives of others, as well. God's goal is to open us up to living in such a manner, bringing delight to his heart, and in turn, delighting us with the blessing of his presence, constant care, and protection in our lives. In the end, we reap huge benefit, but so do those around us. These character traits aren't just for our own good - they are to help us be better people and in turn, we all become better together.

Why does the first one to 'top the list' have to be to be agreeable? When we live in a manner that is compatible with the character of Christ, we are agreeable - agreeable isn't easy, but it is possible when Christ is at the core of our every choice and action. We are accommodating of others, gracious, and harmonious in our responses. Why is this so important? Because it reflects the very grace of God to others, and in turn, it draws others to us - agreeable people are like magnets. They never lack for friends because others like to be friends with them.

Being sympathetic - affectionate, appreciative, considerate, and understanding of what the other person is going through hits the list second. If your main focus is to be agreeable by keeping Christ at the center of all your actions, it will be easier to be considerate toward others. God wants us to learn to see life through the other person's eyes, instead of judging them from our vantage point in life. This engages us with their needs and better focuses us on how to pray for them, helping them through their time of need. There is no greater form of 'sympathy' than to identify with the needs of another and then take their needs before the Lord until you see that need being met through his grace and help.

Be loving and compassionate - this reflects a responsiveness on our part because love and compassion are action words. Loving and compassionate people are charitable in their response - kind, considerate, and accommodating. Love and compassion flow from being agreeable and learning to identify with the needs of others. In order to truly identify with the needs of others and then to develop a consistently loving response to those needs, one needs to add the trait of being humble - being courteously respectful of others in every way. No need to pretend you are important here, my friends - God honors the life that is real, genuine, and unassuming. A life that is humble is genuine - there is a transparency that does not assume any of us have it all together, but that we are willing to be opened up before others.

No retaliation comes next in the 'list' - the ability to not return like for like. It is quite easy to strike out when we have been struck first. It is quite another things to withhold angry response, returning evil with good. This comes at about the middle of the list for a reason. When we are learning to be reflective of the graciousness of a holy God, considerate of others, understanding of their vantage point in life, it is easier to NOT retaliate when they strike out. These traits build upon each other - there is first a change of heart that begins to affect how we interpret life (how we think), followed by a change of action (how we respond). Similarly, we are to not have sharp-tongued sarcasm - because sarcasm is caustic. It destroys the self-worth of another - rarely does it do much to build one up. It is usually directed from a heart that has little understanding of being charitable (kind and considerate), one that is struggling with pride (wanting to cover up our own faults by pointing out another's), etc. God wants his kids to be known for their gentle answer, truthfulness, and their compassionate embracing of each other - including their faults and failures.

The promise to us is that God looks well on those that are working to allow these traits to become part of who we are - he opens the doors of blessing in our lives. He turns a hearing ear to the heart that wants to live in such a manner - it honors him and brings his great joy. These are tougher traits to develop than we imagine - yet, with the help of God's Spirit resident within us, they are entirely possible character qualities that we can have worked into the fiber of our being. Today is a new day. Give it to God and see what he will do with it! Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A different perspective helps

 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 1:3-5)

Most of us don't want to consider that the hard times we are going through yourself may be designed for us to learn what we will need to know in order to come alongside someone else going through a hard time.  When we are in times of trial and the way seems pretty awful to us, the last thing we think of is that God would make us an instrument of his grace in the life of another!  As a matter of fact, we usually are thinking, "Get me through this as fast as possible, God! I want out!" The Apostle Paul spent a good deal of his ministry under house-arrest in a Roman prison - that is somewhat of a 'trial' for sure.  He was not free to go about the work of the ministry as he would have liked to - he had to resort to writing epistles, teaching what he could through his writings when his 'itinerant' ministry was put to a halt.  From his place of imprisonment, he penned the majority of the words we have recorded for us as the Pauline epistles.  His attitude was one of trust in his God, not chafing against the trials he endured, but embracing them for the value they produced in his life.  It is apparent that he had come to understand God comes alongside in order to not only bring him through the trial, but to prepare him to come alongside others in similar trials.

Being human, we sometimes focus on the hard times more than we focus on the good times, finding it easier to gravitate toward what is NOT right, focusing only superficially on what IS right.  Why is it that we go to the bad before we ever think upon the good?  Simply put, it is because we have a sin nature - we are pursuing what come NATURALLY to us. God's mission is to change that nature. His plan is to use the things of this life to expose the sinful side of our choices, motivations, and attitudes. It is 'this life' which is at his disposal to become 'teachable moments' for each of us. In so doing, he also is there to replace wrong choices with correct ones - something we often resist because it isn't very comfortable for us. He affects what motivates us by getting into our heart and spirit. In moving upon our emotions, setting them straight where they are all messed up, he begins to affect our attitude. In time, our sinful desires, patterns of behavior, are changed.

A question comes to mind: How can a Christian can grow up? Truthfully, the one asking this question is struggling with something they are trying to "grow out of" - most of growing up is really growing out of something.  Most of us are looking for a formula to follow - some mystical advice that will change everything in our lives almost instantly - like when we wanted so much to blossom into women, or grow that first facial hair. We want it so bad, until we realize 'growing up' isn't all that easy! The means to growing up: Don't resist the trials! Not what you expected? Well, it is the way God does business and we cannot circumvent his methods no matter how hard we try.  In the trial, he comes alongside. He is there, not as an observer, but as a participant in bringing us through with grace, peace, and exuberant mercy. He even provides others to assist us in the "moving through" phase of the trial.  

This Christian walk is not mystical - there is no immediate, instant growth process. There is no formula to follow. In fact, it is one consistent opportunity after another opportunity designed to help us lay down one pattern of sinful behavior or selfish attitude, taking up new patterns of righteous living and Christlike attitudes. Step one today, in today's trial, may not even be the same the same step required tomorrow. God is after our obedience, not a system of rules or regulations we follow - so the steps change from time to time. The next time you are in the heat of the trial, ask God who he will be bringing you alongside to help in their time of trial - who is it he is preparing you to be of assistance with later on as they move into their place of growth. Having the attitude that you are in the trial with Christ alongside and for the purpose of becoming a means of blessing for another can make it less difficult to bear up under. Knowing he will use us to come alongside another in similar trial gives us hope that we will get through the present trial! Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Don't neglect this important step

So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into "the Holy Place." Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The "curtain" into God's presence is his body. So let's do it—full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10:19-25)


The context of this passage comes upon the summation of the necessity of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection.  Unfolded in these passages are the truths behind the old covenant of the Law of Moses (a set of sacrifices, feasts and ways of worship) and the total fulfillment of that Law by Christ.  The shedding of his blood was the perfect sacrifice, negating the need for any other work, sacrifice, or performance of feast days in order to approach the throne of a holy God.  Now, we are about to learn we can walk right up to God - into the place God calls holy - his presence. We do this without hesitation because we have been made pure in Christ's sacrifice for our sins, We may not look pure to the outsider (I know I don't) - but IN CHRIST all things are new, the old is passed away, and all that remains is new in him (even though what comes across at times still seems a little 'tarnished' by bad behavior).  It is at the moment of salvation that we are made "presentable" inside and out.  God takes messed up lives - lives focused on our own destruction - and turns them inside out.  In the doing of that, he purifies our lives by the blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

That very action of Christ's sacrifice gives us the ability to be both full of belief and confident in our approach to a holy God.  So many times, we form thought patterns that "limit" our approach to God because we don't feel "good enough" or "worthy" to enter into his holiness. So, we go about the day trying to "work" ourselves into a place of "worth" - through good deeds, pumping ourselves up with words that 'tell us' we are 'good enough' and the like. That was never God's intention for us - he provided the perfect sacrifice, opened the doors wide into his courts, and stands ready to embrace even the worst of sinners IN CHRIST. The worst includes even those who may not see themselves as needing a Savior - even those who consider themselves 'the best'. 

It is in the presence of a holy God that we become acquainted with his very nature.  His nature is always focused on provision - he provided what we were incapable of providing by any action of our own and that provision never ceases.  His nature is one of compassion - he reached out to us even before we knew we had need of his love - that is a true heart of compassion, for reaching out to someone who doesn't want to be reached might just seem a little futile to some, but he does it time after time again.  His nature is one of fullness - he opens the very throne room of his presence in order that we might have full and immediate access to all he is and all he provides.  Let's not lose sight of the fact that his nature is such that he cannot go back on a promise - he is fully and completely trustworthy. Unlike we humans, it is impossible for God to break his promise and when he gives it, it is with purest of intent.

No wonder we can be both bold and fully convinced of the love and care of our God!  It is time that we do our part in this salvation experience - God has done the rest!  Our part is clearly defined for us in this passage - keep encouraging one another in living right, making right choices, being built up in the faith.  How do we do this?  By frequently gathering together, taking accountability for the growth of each other through specific times set aside to really focus on relationship with each other, and by continual openness to being renewed both inside and out.  We are to be instruments of encouragement and exhortation at the same time.  Spurring one another on to the fullness of salvation - being transformed day by day into the very image of the Son of God. 

We need to take this warning seriously - DON'T forsake the gathering of ourselves together - nor relationships that require our focus and intentional engagement in order to be nurtured! The Body of Christ is a place of safety, but it is also a place of intimate encounter with the holiness of God.  We need each other - so don't neglect the relationships God has placed you in. Especially those he has given you as unique, challenging, and nurturing. For me, that is my BFF - she knows who she is. We need to be as bold in our relationships with each other as we are in our boldness we now possess in Christ to enter fully into all that God intends for us. Just sayin!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Keep me on my toes!

So watch your step, friends. Make sure there's no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it's still God's today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn't slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we're in this with Christ for the long haul.  (Hebrews 3:12-14)

Many of us have others in our lives that we have some measure of responsibility for "watching over" their lives, their work, or their general well-being. This can be because we are a parent, a supervisor, or just a good friend - yes, even good friends need a little 'watching over'. Today, we consider some very stern words that should get our attention - both as those who are "watching over" someone and as those who are "watched over" by another. The warning to take daily "precautions" to ensure that the steps we take are on course and free of things that will "trip us up" should catch our attention here. Many believers come to Christ, embracing as "much" of Christ and his teachings as they are "comfortable" with. If something causes a little discomfort, they reject it - justifying it with ideas such as, "That must not be for us today" or "That was okay for them, but it doesn't make sense in today's culture". The problem with these 'views' is that we aren't going to do a great job of keeping each other on their toes when we don't have the same 'set of game rules' we are all playing from!

Whenever we limit our understanding of God by what we allow or disallow into our belief system, we create many little opportunities for deception, compromise, and a lack of spiritual growth. It is always a good thing to take what we believe and compare it with the resources we have at our disposal - the Word of God, the Holy Spirit resident within us, and our conscience - not to mention the wisdom of a great friend who is 'tuned in' with the Lord, as well. These things work together to provide us with what we need to ensure that we are not embracing thoughts, attitudes, or perceptions that are untrue, harmful, or sinful in any manner.

Look at what we are instructed in this passage - watch YOUR step, make sure there is NO evil unbelief, keep EACH OTHER on your toes, and keep your grip on what you STARTED out with. The idea is that of continual and unyielding vigilance. It takes a lot of effort to be aware of what we are allowing to affect our beliefs - there are so many inroads for the things that affect us. I am encouraged to note that our writer did not see us as "standing alone" in this process, though. He reminds us that it is a thing that we do TOGETHER. We are placed in a body of believers in order to help us to grow up into mature believers, complete in every way. My brothers and sisters in Christ act as tools to help me grow in Christ - some skillfully directing me toward areas where I need change, others encouraging me in areas where change has already begun, and still others working on the same things I am - changing is always better when someone is along for the journey. Whenever we take ourselves out of that place of accountability, we act as impediments to our growth. We are in a place where things of this world can begin to affect us, making us susceptible to being "tripped up" by sinful desires.

The body of Christ is the local church, and by extension, your small group that you might be involved with (a group of other believers, close to you, that you have committed to study with), work teams, and even close friendships. We may not "like" everyone at church, work, or even in our neighborhood, much less appreciate that God likes and loves them!!! Yet, they are there for a purpose. God knew we could not walk out this journey alone - so he gave us each other! Sometimes, the ones within our 'circles' we have the hardest time accepting, being around, or receiving anything from are those we need to learn from the most. They serve as tools to expose some of the "rough edges" in our own character that God needs to work on. So, the next time you think you don't need that person - think again. Sometimes, we don't see the potential in those relationships - but if we look close enough, we can find it. I have had more of my own habits, faults, and sharp edges exposed by some folks I thought couldn't contribute anything into my life!

We don't walk alone - remember to consider each relationship for its ultimate worth - iron sharpens iron, thorns prick and sometimes leave behind little places of 'rawness', and two make the journey less tedious. You may find yourself with a whole lot of iron or thorns right now. If you do, it is likely because you have need of that. Just remember, there is also someone divinely placed in your life to walk alongside to make the journey less tedious, as well. You don't walk alone! Just sayin!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Transformers indeed

Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body." Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done." 
(Matthew 8:1-4)

I have often wondered why Jesus asked this leper to NOT go all over the place, proclaiming the tremendous miracle that had happened in his body.  The natural result of being so totally healed would have been to jump for joy - maybe even shout aloud - running through the streets telling everyone willing to listen the story of one's healing.  Yet, Jesus asks him to be quiet - to just simply allow his cleansed and grateful life to be a witness to what he had done. It isn't the verbal testimony as much as the 'living testimony' of a changed life that often speaks the loudest, isn't it? Does Jesus need us to 'tout' his redemptive work in our lives with all manner of words? Not really - because a living testimony of a transformed life is sufficient to testify of the magnitude of grace and the magnificence of restorative power he provides!

I remember coming to Christ in the early 70's - the Jesus Movement was well underway and people who came to Christ as a result of that "movement" were quite "vocal" in their testimony.  As a matter of fact, we were taught that we needed to have a prepared testimony to give so that when conversation came about that would allow us to share about Jesus, we'd be able to relate what God had done in our lives. My prepared testimony could have filled a three-ring notebook with spillage to perhaps two or three more!  The things God changed in my spirit, my mind, and my actions were astronomically huge!  That may be why I struggled so much with having a "prepared" testimony that I could "tell" people. Is it really necessary to have one "prepared" for the curious or questioning? If there is a real life transformation, I think the words follow the actions - not the other way around!

This leper was likely in his condition for a while.  He probably did not smell too good, his clothing was in disrepair, his general health declining - not to mention that he had been out of mainstream life for probably a long while since lepers lived in their own colonies, enduring the misery of their disease with others of similar misfortune, and were looked upon by all of society as "less than" whole. They were deemed 'unclean' and as a result, they were ostracized. Now that I see his life described that way, the description of this leper's plight could probably have been our "testimony" as well!  We were consumed in all kinds of stuff (attitudes, actions, beliefs) that didn't make us "smell too good" in the sense of living in such a way that our life is a sweet-smelling fragrance raised to our Lord.  We were not adorned in the best of garments (spiritually speaking) - our filthy rags of sinful deeds just made us look pretty doggone shabby.  We were in a crowd of people all doing and saying the things we said - pursuing the similar things we were pursuing (our leper colony of sorts).

Then one day, we came face-to-face with Jesus and made our impassioned plea, "Master, if you want to, you can heal me!" The miracle that occurred that day over-shadowed all our faults, failures, and fears. We were transformed, made completely whole, and clothed in the splendor of his holiness. Like the leper, we probably wanted to go tell everyone we met that Jesus had transformed our lives.  Why did Jesus ask this leper to be quiet and just simply allow his life to be a testimony?  In the context of the ministry of Jesus, this healing was one of his first (in the first part of his earthly ministry).  He directs the man to make the appropriate presentation to the priest - the only "man" who could proclaim him "clean" so that he could be restored to his family, re-entering mainstream society once again as a "clean" man.  We are not really told why Jesus didn't want the public "fan-fare" of this man's testimony all over town.  What we do know is that Jesus says there is a testimony that is even more powerful than our words - it is a transformed life.

The next time you don't think you have much of a testimony to share - or that you really cannot put into words all the tremendous things Jesus has done in your life - don't fret.  Your grateful and transformed life speaks volumes more than your words ever will!  Yes, there will be times when you will feel moved to share a portion of what Jesus has done - with another who may be hurting in just the same way you were when he delivered you from your 'leprous' state.  We don't need "written down" testimonies, prepared well in advance of needing to share them.  What we need is transformed lives, grateful hearts, and an open spirit.  God does the rest! Just sayin!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I choose to be intentional

"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.  "But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards."
(Matthew 7:24-27)

Jesus wants us to remember that the words he speak are not just to be "incidental" in our lives, but a living part of who we are.  If we really get the meaning of this passage, it can be life-transforming. Jesus tells us that we have to "work these words INTO our life" - not just roll them over a time or two, but really mull them over until they are ingrained into the fibers of our being!  Having to "work" to get hold of what God has for us in the Word of God is sometimes more overwhelming than we would like, so we just don't do it. We hear them, but we don't really do much with them. The difference between "incidental" learning and "intentional" learning is significant.  Incidental learning is that which happens without any coordinated effort on your part - it is almost accidental.  Since there is no coordinated plan for learning, so when it occurs, it is called incidental.  Incidental learning is almost always contingent on someone else's learning - in other words, we get the learning because someone else taught us what they had learned first.  It is not wrong to get our learning this way, especially when the subject matter becomes a little easier for us to grasp when it is presented by someone who already has this stuff down pretty well themselves.  

Intentional learning is the type of learning that is done with a purpose in mind.  When you are intentional about learning, you know what it is you seek to learn about, then you use resources available to you to dig for the truths yourself, and you consult other types of references when you need to dig even deeper.  With intentional learning, lessons are first-hand - they are 'work' for you, but the expenditure of effort yields a positive result.  You come to know the truth yourself.  This is the type of learning that Jesus was referring to here - "working the word" deep into your life so it impacts your every action - getting to know the truth for yourself. It isn't that we have to ferret out the truth - we allow the truth to become evident to us by becoming so familiar with it that we begin to realize how that truth can be applied in our lives. 

Jesus refers to these intentional lessons as foundational - they give us a stability when times get tough.  Rains come, strong winds blow, but we stand strong.  How does that occur?  Through intentionally allowing the Word of God to get worked into the very fibers of our being.  At first, it seems hard and like nothing will ever make sense, but in time, little truths begin to pop off the pages at you.  Most importantly, when you are working that word deep into your life, it is there when you need to stand upon it!  That is why Jesus referred to it as "foundational". A foundation gives us stability when there is counter-pressure pushing against us that would seek to topple us. If you are like me, you want to get those walls and roof up quickly in your life (you want something to show for your efforts) - but you cannot neglect the grounding of a good foundation.  A good foundation takes time to build.  There is a footing that must be laid - it must be plumb and well positioned.  If it is laid on sandy soil (a heart that really is not intent on holding to the truths), it will be difficult to build a solid foundation.  As the footing of God's word is laid, then we are ready to "fill in the spaces between the footing" with the stuff that gives us the character to stand strong.  Now, we have a foundation!

Maybe you are in the "footing" stage of growth - being made plumb and just beginning the work of having a solid foundation.  Maybe your foundation has been laid for a while and it is time to begin to build upon it.  Either way, God is eagerly awaiting the time you will take each day with him to allow him to assist you in "working" the word into your life - it is a mutual effort, intentionally performed, that yields the greatest results.  The incidental learning will happen along the way, but we cannot rely upon this as the only means by which we grow up in Jesus. We need those moments of intentional, committed study to help us develop that solid foundation. Just sayin!