Sunday, July 22, 2018

Open doors, not the earth!

How much time do you spend "pondering"? Pondering is way more than just letting your mind wander here or there. Pondering carries with it the idea of considering something so carefully that we are going through the mental process of weighing all the details, with an attentiveness to the details that help us to not miss a thing. God actually commends those of us who spend time in such a manner! This is how God wants us to be considering his actions on our behalf. There is nothing more rewarding than to truly begin to consider God's love and grace in action - it has a way of refocusing our attention and directing our attitude away from "me, me, me" - something we need more help with than we might want to admit. We are very 'me' focused individuals - even if we don't see it, others can attest to this fact!

We pondered your love-in-action, God, waiting in your temple: Your name, God, evokes a train
of Hallelujahs wherever it is spoken, near and far; your arms are heaped with goodness-in-action. 
(Psalm 48:9-10)

Do you know who the sons of Korah were in scripture? There were five sons of Korah that joined King David as expert warriors, but their heritage is marked by some pretty serious rebellion in their forefather, Korah. Korah was one of the individuals who rebelled against Moses and Aaron because he was jealous of all the attention and authority they received. His rebellion led to a few hundred followers also rebelling, but also to their ultimate end as the earth opened up and swallowed them! It just goes to show that when 'me' gets in the way of what our true focus should be, the outcome may not be to get what we really wanted! We also know from the record of the lineage of Korah, that his family line was numbered among the Levites (those that kept the temple in order). They were the door-keepers of the temple and were responsible to help carry the articles contained within the temple from place to place as Israel wandered in the wilderness. When they were not on the move, they stood at the threshold of the temple in their duties of service. As the temple became a permanent structure in the city of Jerusalem, we find their names recorded as men who were charged with the responsibility of setting prophesy and praise to song, along with melody from musical instruments. Today, we'd think of them as the men that "open the service in praise and worship" - worship leaders. If we consider their "station" in the temple, they are the ones who provide the way into the holy presence of God through praise and worship - a long way from the rebellion of their forefather.

There is importance in speaking the name of God. We are told that it invokes praise and worship where it is spoken. Why is this? There is power in the name of God - creative, restorative power that just beckons one to cry out in praise. We may not always see the immediate effect of his name being spoken, but there is a power so intense in that name that all of heaven and earth sits at attention when it is spoken. It is by that name that all things are held together - even us - think on that one for just a moment. Praise is the "pondering" of God's movement in our lives. It is the frequent and consistent consideration of the keeping, strengthening, delivering power of our God. When we become less focused on ourselves, and more focused on honoring God with every word that proceeds from our mouths, we open doors. We may not have the "job" of being the door-keepers in the temple of our God, but we do have a similar opportunity in opening doors for a hungry and thirsty world. We need only begin to speak of God's graces and someone who is hurting can be drawn into the presence of the one who can minister to that specific hurt. In the exalting of the name of God, they are ushered into the arms that are filled with all goodness in action - all the grace they need awaits them.

If you want to learn how to be a "ponderer" of God's graces and his goodness, God honors that desire with his presence. If you want to learn to express the wonder of his love even better than you have in the past, he will meet you in the moment of your praise. So, praise on! There is nothing wrong with opening a few doors, when those doors lead into the presence of God. We don't want to become so 'me' focused that what we encounter is our pride and rebellion. We will do much better by allowing God's presence to wash over us, turning our eyes again toward him, and seeing just how magnificent his presence is for those who stop long enough to 'ponder' him. Just sayin!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

You want me to get real?

While reality television is all the rage right now, it can be a little bit over the top most of the time. No matter the day of the week, you can capture some version of this "watch me make a fool of myself" programming complete with scenes from what we can expect the following week. People have been drawn into to the latest wave of "reality" programming because it gives them a chance to see the "true nature" of how people respond under pressure, how far they will really go when challenged to do what any sane individual would avoid, and just how much 'moxie' one possesses to treat others in ways they never should be treated in a million years. It has the game show appeal of some prize at the end, but it also puts people in the situation where all kinds of pressure emerges and then let's us see exactly how they respond to competition, disappointment, desire, and a whole plethora of pretty serious emotions. The idea is to go through not only physical torture, but emotional highs and lows, all the while allowing the world to gaze upon just how big of a fool you could actually turn out to be!

If you think you know it all, you're a fool for sure; real survivors learn wisdom from others. (Proverbs 28:26)

Why do we feel the allure to watch this type of programming? It is kind of simple really - we want to see the "raw truth" of how human nature responds - the word 'reality' is part of their name because it exposes the 'reality' of just how low we can go. We are curious, in a kind of sick way, to see if someone will "crack under pressure". We might even compare ourselves with the person featured on the show, finding that we either admire them for their response under pressure, or we find all manner of fault with their behavior. We sit before the TV, removed from the events, yet we "think" we know what they are going through - acting as judge and jury, we 'pass sentence' on their manifest behaviors. There is another "show" we taken in everyday - the "show" we call real life - the everyday stuff we encounter in keeping a home, working a job, and getting to and from wherever it is we need to be going. We observe others, even ourselves, and make all kinds of judgments about each and every response our eyes observe. Heed the warning - if we think we are in the position of knowing it all, we need to be very careful! That is actually a place of extreme personal bondage - it is easy for a know-it-all to be tripped up, duped into many an action that may have a pretty awful consequence, and engage in many a debate it would have been much wiser to have avoided. "Real survivors" learn wisdom from others - not because they have experienced it all themselves.

Sometimes our response to life's challenges leave others wondering if they would act similarly
 in the same circumstances, but there is more to what they see than that outward response we let them see, isn't there? It can take years to get to that response of forgiving when wronged, choosing to hold our tongue rather than responding in hostility, or to choose the path that affords the greatest resistance even when easier ones are right there in front of us! It takes years of observing those around us - of seeing how others respond in like circumstances. It also takes years of us seeing how our responses truthfully affect others! If we want to be "real survivors" we will open ourselves to the learning of wisdom from those placed within our lives - believers and non-believers alike. Each affords us an opportunity to learn the lessons of life that God so earnestly desires we will "get" some day. We need to become observers of the reality right there around us - in the relationships we form, the ones we avoid, and the challenges of each of these. In those learning moments, we gain wisdom - if we are open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. If we are closed minded (a fool), we will just make the same compromises/mistakes over and over again. The "reality" will continue to happen until we own up to our need for God's wisdom worked out in our daily walk.

Today, if we find ourselves in the position of "reality show" repeats in our daily walk, perhaps it is time to "change the channel" and embrace what God would want to teach. Our new-found wisdom could change the course of our life and give another the opportunity to see some 'truthful' form of reality! Just sayin!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Tell me honestly - I can take it

The last thing most of us want is any kind of reprimand - let alone a serious one. On a scale of 1 to 10, most of us would say a reprimand ranks as a 1 to 3 on the scale of "I really wanted that". Not too many of us would even give it higher than a 5 because we really don't enjoy being reprimanded because it is uncomfortable and often a little 'intrusive' into who we really are or how we are acting. A reprimand is always associated with behavior that just did not "measure up". It carries with it the idea of rebuke or reproof. I always knew I was in for a little bit of a reprimand by the tone of mom's voice, or when she'd use my whole name! It made my hair kind of stand up on the back of my neck - because I knew something I did crossed the line. She could have tried some kind of "positive affirmation", but let me tell you, it wouldn't have had the same effect. There is just something about hearing quite clearly that you missed the mark - isn't there?

In the end, serious reprimand is appreciated far more than boot-licking flattery. (Proverbs 28:23)

A rebuke is often coupled with the admonition to change one's ways, or else you will endure the consequences. To be reproved is to have one's behavior corrected - to provide direction as to how we should be acting or responding, rather than the way we did respond. Realizing that a reprimand carries with it the idea of both, how many of us would line up for a reprimand now? Having our behavior "pointed out" or "called out" is often quite uncomfortable for us. We get very self-conscious - when this happens, we want to "preserve" as much face as possible. So, we may become very skilled at trying to avoid the truth about our behavior - sometimes going to the extreme to cover it up! Having friends that do nothing more than lavish us with boot licking flattery is pretty lame. We call this "brown-nosing" today. I won't elaborate on that one!

I have endured both - if I were to be honest, I'd also have to tell you that I have been the instigator of both, as well. It is much easier to give a compliment and avoid conflict than it is to encounter a wrong behavior, or someone completely missing the mark. Flattery is really insincere speech of any kind - if we are not honest, we are probably engaging in a little flattery more than we might first like to admit. The difference between words of flattery and a reprimand is the result or outcome of those words. Flattery feeds my ego - a reprimand causes me to look at myself through the eyes of another which can sometimes give me a greater insight into where I am missing the mark than any other form of communication. A reprimand often exposes the unrealized results of my selfish behavior as it affects both my own walk, AND how it affects those around me. We don't live on an island all by ourselves - so, what we do and say affects more than ourselves.

A faithful friend will bring both words of encouragement (not flattery) and words of rebuke/reproof as warranted. Notice that I said "as warranted" - just being friends doesn't give us permission to constantly point out things that we don't like that another does. There are some things that we each do that aren't exactly the way another might do them, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they do them! It is their way of doing them and we need to allow them the freedom to do those things in ways that they have become familiar with as long as those 'ways' don't hurt others, or lead that friend down a pathway that could lead to their ultimate harm. 

Ever notice that it is much easier to accept encouragement or a rebuke from a friend? When relationship is established, the words have a different level of "hitting home". We may not appreciate a rebuke the first time we hear the words, but later, once we have had time to process them and the love with which they were spoken, we have a greater appreciation for both the reprimand and the friend who brought it. Let's be faithful in relationship to not only bring encouragement to each other, but to also add that element of "iron sharpening iron", as needed. When we are committed within relationship, there is no room for boot licking flattery! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Service + God's Hand = Blessing

It hardly seems a day goes by anymore without some tragedy being reported on the evening news of a man or woman bent on harming others by some means of gunfire or violent outburst. The news is filled with these stories of a world in chaos. Maybe not all of the news is 'human caused' events, as even nature seems to be joining in the chaos with volcano eruptions, massive wildfires, and consuming floods. Do we daily lift our leaders before the Lord, asking him to give them wisdom in their decisions? I know that I am not one of those that "regularly" prays for our country's leadership - I almost have to be reminded of the issues, then I remember to pray! Do we daily lift those who have to face hardship after hardship, finding ways to bring them some relief if at all possible? Do we casually say, "I'll pray for you," all the while knowing we will forget about the need just about as soon as that individual is out of our line of sight?

2 When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it—but it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.... 9 God has no use for the prayers of the people who won't listen to him. (Proverbs 28:2, 9)

Well, if you have been taking a really long nap, you probably don't realize that this fits us to a tee! We are a country in chaos - and it seems that everybody has a plan to fix what they view as "wrong with America". I imagine it is like that just about everywhere right now - Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Mexico - the list could go on and on. People are unhappy, needs are not being met, jobs are not panning out, the spiritual health of nations are in states of unrest, and even 'nature' seems to be bringing no relief from the mounting stress upon mounting economic doom. What's the remedy? Simply put, it is that we have an obligation to be a light in a very dark world - each one of us is to be sensitive to the needs that exist and then to find ways to meet them. We have opportunities to affect the course of our nation's crisis - through our prayers and through our witness - but also through our actions. 

I may not know how to pray for all the intricate details of each person's issues right now, but I do know how to pray for my next door neighbor and the gal in the cubicle next to me at work. That is where revival in our country begins - each one of us, stepping up to lift up those individuals God brings into our paths and finding ways to be a blessing in their lives. As we do this, he enlarges our influence. This past weekend, with mom being home from the hospital about one week, my BFF found a way to bless her - with freshly baked banana nut bread. That loaf of bread lit up her heart, and it filled her belly with awesome goodness! It was a simple act, but one that meant so much. The ways we become a blessing don't have to be grandiose - they just have to be done in love!

Even if we are not burdened by a "nation in crisis" right now, we should be burdened by a neighbor in crisis. We may not be the leader of a nation, but we are a "leader" in our sphere of influence. Let's ask God to give us real understanding as it applies to those we have the ability to influence - those whose lives need just a little bit of kindness and love shown to them in a world that seems rather chaotic and challenging to them at the moment. You never really know how God will take the lives of those individuals we have touched in simple acts of obedient service and use those lives to influence others. The results can be astronomical when service is directed by the hand of God. Some days that service may be in the form of a heartfelt prayer - others may be finding ways to touch their lives in very tangible ways. Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Bold as lions

Guilt has a way of making us "edgy" - nervously irritable, impatient, anxious - maybe because we fear we will be 'found out' somewhere along the line for whatever it is we are feeling all that guilt over. One of the most "telling" characteristics of someone who is feeling a sense of guilt is that sharp edge that they get to their tone whenever they feel they need to defend themselves in their present state. It is human nature to either want to defend our actions, or to run from the scene in an attempt to escape the emotional upset guilt brings. WE want an 'out', while GOD wants an 'in'!

The wicked are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one's after them; honest people are relaxed and confident, bold as lions. (Proverbs 28:1)

We each have a unique opportunity to touch "edgy" people with the grace of a forgiving God, but it might be harder to take the 'edge' off someone if they really don't want anyone to know of their guilt. In scripture, there is something referred to as the two-fold call of the disciples - it involves both preaching repentance and then revealing there is forgiveness of one's sins. We are not exempt from this call today. It is our duty to point guilt-ridden (edgy) people to the only thing that can really set them free from that guilt: Christ. Repentance is really the actionable part that man plays in the process - it is the change of one's mindset that begins the process of allowing healing to occur within. Forgiveness (or remittance) of our sins is God's part.

Honest people are upright in their character - there is no contradiction in their character - in other words, there is consistency between actions and words. They live relaxed and confident lives. We can see so many people living under the stress of life, never really enjoying their lives, living in a rather mixed up way, but never really feeling 'settled' in anything they do. Relationships are a mess, possessions do not satisfy their desires, and all attempts at success and fame leave them just a little emptier than they were before. Why? They lack the "relaxation" and "confidence" that comes from having their lives truly in order as it should be - ordered by the God of the universe, not by anything they can do or achieve.

What can we do to help point people to Christ? I honestly believe that a life that has been frequently touched by the Lord of Lords is "noticeable" - there is a difference in the basic way we process life and deal with life's occurrences. This difference acts as a little bit of a "lure" to peak the curiosity of the one who is observing us. It opens the doors to conversation and questions that stimulate further exploration. A redeemed soul reflect so much of God's grace and hope through the eyes - remember, the eyes are the window to the soul. Don't be afraid to let others "notice" what God has done in your life.

I know that we all have opportunities to be more sensitive to the "openings" God creates that are provided to share what it is that gives us hope, empowers us to live differently, etc. We often miss these open doors because we aren't looking for them. Others are frequently looking at things with a "different eye" for the detail than we may be seeing at that same moment. We each see and interpret life in a different way - even though we are in similar situations. Don't be afraid to share what God has given you a "view of" in your walk - it often differs from that of another - and may very well be exactly what they need to break free from what has them bound at this moment. Trust God for opportunities. With each opportunity, he gives insight. With each bit of insight, he gives the grace to express that insight. With each expression of his grace, he sends his Spirit to back it up with the power that plants the seed deeply. With each planted seed, he brings the future opportunities for the seed to take root and to eventually affect the one in which it was planted. We may not see much of an immediate result - but a seed planted is all he may be asking for from us at that moment. God's kids are unique and that uniqueness gives us an edge in a very "edgy" world. Let's allow our light to shine and see what that accomplishes in those we touch this week. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Evidence of Love - prayer

The return we reap from generous actions is not always evident. 

(Francesco Guicciardini)

Mr. Guicciardini also reminds us, "Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them." These are indeed wise words, for friendship is one of the things once gained acts as both a means to challenge us to move forward, but also gives us the support to take those first steps in the right direction. I am privileged to know good friends, but no matter what you say, there is always going to be one who stands out above the rest. That 'friend' who sticks with you through thick or thin, and even when they cannot be with you, their support is felt because you know you are never far from their thoughts nor out of their prayers for very long! Generous prayers lifted on your behalf, simply spoken from the heart, but with utmost meaning to those who need that support at that moment!

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 MSG)

We reap much in prayer, sometimes on behalf of another, sometimes for our own use and benefit. Either way, prayer is a powerful tool when spoken in genuine trust to the one who holds all the answers we ever need. Love flourishes when prayer is the beginning point within relationship - it cannot help but flourish, for prayer is communication with the God of ALL love! God allows our feelings to be expressed - he isn't going to turn away from a genuine heart poured out to him in prayer. Moreover, he is willing to listen to even those prayers we sometimes call "arrow prayers" - those ones 'shot up' in a moment of absolute need, trusting that he hears even those simple requests that pierce the darkness of the moment.

Bountiful fruits are a benefit reaped from living honest lives - lives poured out in sacrifice for each other and in genuine love. We can never deny the bountiful grace of God - for it is ever flowing and ever renewed. Fruit doesn't come just once - it returns season after season - but only to the 'tended vine'. The fruit we bear in relationship with each other is because we have 'tended the vine' of that relationship - communicating need, listening to confessions of deep-seated fears, and then responding by taking those things to the one who meets all needs - God himself. Friendship is nothing without prayer. It is nothing without grace. It is everything when it is based in faith and trust in the one who is greater than all our need combined! Just sayin!

Monday, July 16, 2018

I spy with my little eye.....

If you have ever tried to judge the contents of a book simply by looking at the cover, you may have been somewhere into the first couple of chapters only to find what you thought the book may have been about turned out to be something totally not like expected!  You may have been very disappointed in your initial "assessment" of the book, even leaving it unread any further just because you weren't interested in it, or it was way too poor of a read. Once I get into the "heart" of the book, and I find what I hoped was contained there is missing, or falls short of what I expected, I usually abandon it, never to pick it up again. What I hoped was a "good read" leaves me a little disillusioned. Sometimes there are things in life that look like they will be a 'good thing', but once we find ourselves in the midst of them, they aren't exactly turning out the way we imagined!

Just as water mirrors your face, so your face mirrors your heart.  (Proverbs 27:19)

While each of us are definitely not "books", we do "reflect" a certain image or 'cover' to the world by how we conduct ourselves, dress, and what appears on our face. I am often called on the carpet because my face betrays my REAL feelings toward some decision or situation that is evolving. So many people today have become proficient in "putting on a happy face", but deep underneath, they seethe in anger, wallow in disappointment, or are bubbling at high heat with absolute discontent. I am a people-watcher and you can often observe me just watching others. I like to observe how they walk, what they do with their hands, how they posture, where they position themselves in a group, etc. It tells me a lot about that person, but it never tells me the whole story. In fact, to really get to know the individual, I need to study their eyes. Within their eyes, I can often see hurt, fear, folly, or any number of other emotional connections that give me some insight into the individual. That insight either entices me 'into' relationship with them, or it repels me. It isn't that I want to offend them, but it is like I get a short way into the book and find it doesn't 'match' what I hoped to find in the pages within!

Windows to our soul - eyes are windows - and it is quite true if you consider what the eyes 'betray' about an individual. They often betray our true response to a situation quicker than any other part of our being. They also act as the "gateway" by which a whole lot of stuff affects us! What we behold with our eyes often determines our response to the situation.
When I am tired, and maybe even a little beat down by life, my eyes are dull - they don't reflect much life or enthusiasm at that moment. When I am energized from within by the Holy Spirit that resides within, there is a vitality evident in my eyes, despite the physical fatigue my body may feel. I have seen men and women in their last days of struggle with terminal disease, bodies consumed with disease and pain, with eyes aglow with the joy of the Lord. If I only looked at the "cover" of their book, I'd see an entirely different story than what is really contained within the pages of their heart! We often discount a 'good read' by the cover!

We need to become proficient at "reading" what is reflected in the eyes. Even if someone has become proficient at wearing the "masks" of life, simply covering over what is affecting them at the moment, their eyes are visible through the mask! The eyes are a true reflection of what is happening deep within the heart - as we 'read' the eyes, we are gaining insight into the individual's heart. The heart is the seat of our emotions - emotions are affected by much and by their very existence, they motivate or hold us back. Learning to go beyond the "cover" story will allow us to minister to others in ways that only God can do. It will also allow them to minister to us when we aren't willing to put forth the 'true' picture of where we are at that moment in our own life's struggles. Just sayin!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hit it big!

Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time planning, organizing, and generally creating a vision for our future without any evidence that implies we are guaranteed that future! It is human nature to count on the unseen, the unknown, to come to pass - for some, it is 'hope', but for others, they are counting on what will never come to pass because it was never intended for them. Those who hold out to win the lottery are playing against odds so great that their chances of ever winning are astronomical. Yet, they keep playing. Is that hope, or is that 'false hope'? If they are putting off the pursuit of goals because they would need that windfall fortune to do it, chances are they will never realize their goals! There is a place for hope, but hope must be founded in faith, rooted in a solid foundation, and reliant upon something (or someone) that can actually produce the outcome!

Don't brashly announce what you're going to do tomorrow; you don't know the first thing about tomorrow.  (Proverbs 27:1)

The idea expressed in this passage is not that we aren't supposed to have a well-thought out plan or a vision for our future, but simply that we are not to brashly just expect that we have the guarantee that it will come to pass, or that things will work out exactly as we plan. When we approach our tomorrows as though they will always be there, or that somehow we control the events of our tomorrows, the idea of trusting God for the outcome is not really there. Over the past several years, many of my friends and acquaintances faced tremendous things they never thought they'd face. Several have undergone mastectomies, still others have watched as their daughter underwent brain surgery, hours of painstaking therapy, and 'relearning' all the things that most young children only have to learn once. Lives have been changed by 'being in the wrong place at the wrong time', such as the young man whose family is now watching him relearn how to care for himself, walk, and say even a few words as a result of those injuries suffered at the hand of a hit and run driver.  None of them had these things "penciled" in on their date books as things they would be facing! Yet all of them are clearly in the hands of our Lord through it all. Life deals us things we never expected - much to our surprise!

We often find we have trusted in a false belief that we would never have to face these tragedies and 'unlikely events'. Tomorrow is never a guarantee and today is the focus, my friends! This can be a tough lesson to learn - today being our focus and tomorrow being left squarely in the hands of the one who holds those tomorrows. There are definitely times when God has a plan that may "perfectly" match our imagined or dreamed plans, and at other times, he may allow some things to cross our path that just don't "fit" with our plans. In those moments when the plans don't seem to 'fit' what we imagined, we need to learn how our God works, what he is looking for in us, and how we can nuzzle up closely to him through it all. That is the only guarantee we have! That he will be with us in our today, using every moment of today to prepare us for our next tomorrow. 

While tomorrow is not guaranteed, the placing of our trust in the one who holds those tomorrows in his hands is never 'misplaced trust'. In essence, God is asking for us to allow him the privilege of directing our path - to do more than live with 'pie in the sky' hopes. He is asking us to allow him to refine our dreams and build upon our hopes. In turn, we find we are brought into places and positions bigger than our dreams. Sure, they may not be 'lottery rich winnings' we realize, but the treasure of gaining what God has prepared for us is much richer than any lottery will ever pay off! Just sayin!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The boiling point

The truth of the matter is that it is a continual challenge to both listen carefully to the wisdom being laid out in scripture and then to take it to heart - to allow it to affect our actions. The scripture often gifts us with "sterling principles" by which to live - more than advice to be considered, but rather principles by which our lives become principled. These are tested guidelines to live by - guidelines that will hold us accountable in our daily walk and will help our walk to be marked by consistency. One such principle is to make wise choices about those you walk with on this journey.

Don't hang out with angry people; don't keep company with hotheads. Bad temper is contagious—don't get infected.  (Proverbs 22:24-25)

This is a pretty stern warning to avoid hanging out with the wrong company - angry people and hotheads. This isn't just a suggestion - it is a command - DON'T do it! Angry people are generally miserable people to be around, just in case you didn't already find that out. Their entire disposition emanates their often intense inward desire to respond to all life brings them with outbursts of violent and injuring behaviors. Hotheads definitely don't think before they respond - they simply allow the emotions to guide their responses and as a result, they leave a mess in their path time and time again.

Angry people and hotheads both present a major challenge in relationships. Being around someone who is given to constantly becoming exasperated, expressing that exasperation in violent outbursts, is totally exhausting and oftentimes very demeaning. You find yourself constantly on-guard, just waiting to "duck" out of the path of their fury - hoping they will miss a 'direct strike' this time. These individuals have no idea the wake of injury they leave in their path. They are often clueless to their own harmful actions. The warning is to avoid them completely - don't keep company with them. Why? Their emotional state has a way of being contagious! There is an infectious quality about their behavior that 'rubs off' on others around them. The thing you see so often with these individuals is there attitude or behavior of having a complaining and bitter heart. In turn, they either drive others away, or draw those in who want to commiserate with them in their misery - allowing or encouraging others to become equally as bitter and angry.

Why is that God warns us against keeping company with these individuals? Since their behavior is based on the perception that they have suffered some injustice, perhaps that have been treated in a wrong manner, or have an injury resulting from some action taken by another, there is a tendency to also become quite "satisfied" in the blaming of another (justifying) for their actions or response of an angry outburst in response to those actions. God wants us to be accountable for our OWN actions - there is no place for the shifting of blame to another. We are what we are, we are where we are, because of how we have behaved, the values we have embraced, and perhaps even the compromises we have embraced. No one "made us" like we are - the angry and hotheaded person does not believe that - he sees another as 'at fault'. The old time comedian Flip Wilson used to have a saying, "The devil MADE me do it." The truth is, no one "makes us" do anything. All the "doing" stems from within.

God wants impassioned people - but he wants our passion to be expressed in ways that bring honor and glory to him, in turn, bringing evidence of his glory in our lives for others to see. Guard against associating with those who damage the view of God's glory in your life and you will find that your life runs a whole lot smoother! Just sayin!

Friday, July 13, 2018

So help me God!

In our culture today, we equate being "under oath" with having sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We used to add the words, "so help me God", as we held our hands on a copy of the Bible. Society found this offensive and "intolerant" of the various religions of the world, so gradually this has been "phased out" of many courtrooms as the foundation upon which our testimony may be judged as "factual". The mouth that lies under oath differs from the tongue that lies in that it is associated with the giving of a testimony or acting as a witness either for or against someone. Scripture also reminds us that God hates a false scale (in other words, being dishonest in business affairs). God expects his kids to live as model citizens in a society that may not have very many good role models and a whole lot of rule breakers. 

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots,
feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

In God's economy, our word is our oath - he hears each and every word we speak and holds us accountable for the testimony we bear by those words. The term "so help me God" is a telling term. Think about it - if we truly speak these terms when giving an oath, we are asking God to actually help us tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth (help me God). We don't want to miss a fact that would be pertinent to a fair judgment and we don't want to embellish a fact that would change the course of the dispute - neither of these would be right. Whenever we are called to give a "testimony", we need to think upon these words and ask God to help us be "solid" in our testimony - keeping us from bearing any falsehood in our testimony so only the truth shines forth - regardless of where or when we are called upon for that 'telling of truth'.

One further characteristic that is outlined in this passage is labeled as the one thing that God loathes with a passion. To make this perfectly clear, this is not the simple dislike of a certain behavior - it carries the idea of the behavior being so repulsive that it turns the stomach. God loathes a troublemaker in the family. It is important to keep in mind that God looks beyond genetic lines to define family. He defines his children as family, and his Body as the Church. The destructiveness of one member of the family affects the outcome for the entire family. That is why God loathes a troublemaker in the family - their behavior crosses the line that is meant to hold us together, even in the worst of times.

God's view of these seven "not so good" character traits is one of dislike and disgust. He wants a holy temple in which to dwell - a temple that accurately reflects his goodness and grace. In evaluating these seven characteristics this past week, we may have found certain behavioral tendencies that are sometimes reflected in our lives that we definitely need the Holy Spirit to work on. If some of these traits have been touched upon that ring true as being evident in your life, remember that God always honors the prayer, "so help me God"! He stands at the ready to transform the life that is willing to be transformed - the life that cries out and leans 'into' his grace. Just sayin!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Door Number One? Two? Three?

The arrogant eyes (pride-filled attitude of looking down on others in judgment), the lying tongue (that destroys others and builds self up), the hands that murder the innocent (often without really "killing" them), and the heart that hatches evil plots (just because it can!). The feet that race down a wicked track - now that is indeed a description of some of our responses to temptation in life - we actually run toward them rather than away!

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Feet carry us on our journey - they are what propel us forward or stop us in our tracks. In this case - they are racing forward - not at a pace that suggests any hesitation in the way they are going, but with determined purpose. Their direction is down the track - they are making progress away from the point where they started. Their destination or course they are traveling is that of less than a desirable end - it is a wicked track. Now, lest we quickly dismiss this 'path' as one upon which we'd never place our feet, let me ask each of us to recall the last time we lost our temper, or became so frustrated with something that we took something into our own hands. Did you gingerly just meander down that path, or did you run like a fool on fire? I daresay, we all 'run' in the wrong direction at times, my friends.

This wicked path is more than a subtle mischievous path. It is characterized by both bad principles and bad practice - having principles doesn't always keep us from practice that is wrong - even the best intentions can go awry on occasion given the right impetus. When we set ourselves toward embracing principles (values) that are bad, the practices (actions) that stem from that foundation will also be bad. God is emphasizing that we have something within us that propels us forward down a path that we should not even be on at all - something within that motivates us to move in a particular direction with quite a bit of haste. He describes spiteful, malevolent, vicious actions caused by hearts that are not guarding against wrong-doing.

That is how it is when we allow compromise to enter into our lives - we find ourselves maybe only trying something once, but if the results are even a little bit satisfying, we try it again. This is fine if the choices we are making are righteous in nature, but it is quite a different thing if they are morally wrong choices. I can pick up a fishing pole and throw in a line from time to time, relaxing and enjoying an occasional catch. If this becomes a habit that results in me calling in to miss work, avoiding family duties or responsibilities, etc., then it isn't a righteous course any longer. Each time we compromise it makes it easier for our entire being to lower our resistance to the forces that entice us to go a little further. In turn, our response to the temptation to compromise comes into our thoughts a littler easier, making it appear that we are heading down the track without really exerting much effort at all.

So, how do we guard against having feet that take us down the "wicked track"? It is a moment-by-moment assessment of our responses. We can change course quite easily - but only if we are attentive to where we are heading! Remember that each of these seven characteristics lends to the 'success' of the other. Asking God to show us where we have problems with our pride is the beginning of staying on track. Counting on God to help us use our tongue in ways that continually honors him and build each other up keeps us from being a stumbling block for others. Allowing God to reveal how our words, actions, and attitudes destroy the character of others, hold back the growth of another, etc., will open our eyes to pathway choices that are reflective of bad principles and bad practices.

We are given the Holy Spirit as the means by which we can guard against running wildly down the pathway of bad principles and bad practices. He infuses us with the power to make the right choices, building upon the right principles within. We get those principles "in" by frequent exposure to the Word of God and times of deep, personal worship in God's presence. Sometimes we think it is hard to guard against compromise - and we would be right if we are assuming that task alone. We are given the Holy Spirit to assist us in avoiding those wrong principles from taking root. He acts as a guard over our actions by first assisting us to guard our attitudes. So, get time alone with him this week and see where he will lead you! Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It doesn't have to hatch

Attitudes of heart that God absolutely despises are not a secret - he does everything in our power to let us know what to watch out for in our own lives and the lives of others. This morning, we will examine the heart that hatches evil plots. It is important to remember that scripture refers to the "heart" a lot - if there is repeated focus on anything in scripture, we are supposed to pay attention to what God says about it. We may not realize that this is really the seat of our emotions, the center of our personality and temperament - so no wonder God spends so much time trying to help us understand it. The part of us that is driven or controlled by emotional response is often the main thing that gets us into trouble - not that there was a temptation right there in our path! When emotions are out of control, we might just offer up a short prayer of quick deliverance so they will 'settle down', but there are other times when we simply allow them to spin on and on.

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant,
a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

It is pretty safe to say that most of us (maybe even all of us) have had evil plots in mind at one time or another. Just remember this - you are not in this boat alone! We ALL go down 'thought paths' that we weren't supposed to travel, my friends. The thing God hates is the "hatching" of those thought plots - in other words, bring to fruition what has been preconceived in our minds. These plots, as they are called, are really pretty well thought out plans devised with the intention of hurting or harming another - seeing them fail, or even just stumble a little. Unfortunately, most of us would not cop a plea of "guilty" to this one. In fact, we'd probably say that we don't really think this one deserves much attention from us, but I want to challenge that 'plea' because I think we might just engage in this behavior a little more than we first realize.

God wants us to learn to live without needing to be the center of attention in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. There is danger in looking down our noses at others and God wants to keep us from that place of destructive judgmental attitude. Why? Because he knows it can lead to a whole lot of other destructive behaviors, such as a lying tongue and the actions of smothering the character of another! These seven things God is exposing to us in this passage build one upon the other. If we begin by laying a foundation correctly, the building that occurs on that foundation is solid. If the foundation is incorrectly structured, the building fails to meet the intended form and it will soon show signs of being 'structurally unsound'. So it is with our Christian character - start right, allowing God to work on our pride first, and we will begin to see our character take the form he desires.

When we are given to a prideful outlook on life, it is easy to "hatch evil plots" in our heart. The judgmental attitude that comes when we have a problem with pride is one that wants self to look good at ANY expense, even if it means we use methods that are not quite so respectable. Evil is really not understood well today. In fact, when you look up the word "evil" you will find that the first definition is something that is morally wrong or bad. God is reminding us that when our heart attitude is not aligned with him at the center, we make wrong choices and those choices will lead to our destruction. As we begin today, let's ask God to reveal our heart intentions. Are they bent on destructive behavior? If so, then it is definitely an opportunity for God to begin to show us how we can build again the foundations that will give us a solid character foundation that leads to morally right choices. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The killing effect

Pride rises up, making self the main focus - blocking our ability, or even our desire, to see how our behavior impacts the other person. Lies get told because pride cannot accept that truth could produce a positive outcome for one's own self. In time, relationships become brittle and break under the pressure of both. Today, we consider the issue of hands that murder the innocent. Most of us would say, "That doesn't apply to me, so you can skip that part", but let's take a look for just a moment anyway. You may be surprised to find that our English language has nine different definitions for murder - including the ones we commonly think of as the ending of a life either intentionally or accidentally.  What caused me to think more about this term was the synonyms associated with murder. They are very descriptive of other ways we actually can "murder" an individual without actually taking their physical life. One of the ideas conveyed in the definition of murder was the idea of being able to engage in a deplorable activity without incurring harm or punishment - we call this "getting away with murder". What I have found is that most of us are "getting away with murder" as it applies to our behavior toward others. 

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family.  (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Destruction is inherent in this word "murder" - meaning we take steps (either intentionally or without much intent) to reduce another to a state of uselessness. Do we ever find ourselves engaged in behavior that actually reduces another's value or worth, either in their eyes or the eyes of others? If so, we are probably engaged in a form of "murder" - the murdering of their character or reputation is just as significant as the taking of their physical life. As a matter of fact, character is much harder to get back once it has been maligned or discounted as worthless, so the person attacked in such a manner actually has to "live with" the effects of this murderous action. Remember, pride gets the eyes off others and onto self, lies come next, and then we find ourselves using those lies to actually "murder" the reputation of others. God is after the outcome - but to get at the outcome, he has to help us see the progression!

Extinguishing one's point of view or vantage point is another part of 'murder' - the purpose being to wipe out of existence so as to no longer have something 'count'. It is as though it never existed. Most of us don't go around trying to make others look bad - thank goodness, huh? Yet, we engage in actions or share words that can have the effect of extinguishing the hopes, dreams, or visions of others. Most of the time we are not doing this intentionally, but for a fragile dream to be compromised by careless words, the effect of extinguishing that dream can be quite easy for the one who is looking for affirmation and assistance. It is kin to the idea of smothering another - suppressing or concealing, enveloping another's thoughts or opinions in such a way that their freedom is suppressed. Fire needs fuel in order to burn. It also needs oxygen. If you have tons of wood and kindling, but you lack the oxygen, the fire is unable to burn. There are times when we become "murderers" of another person's actions simply because we "cover over" them by our own.

Maybe these are some interesting ways to look at how we can do more than take a person's physical life as a means of murdering them. I think God is concerned with our attitudes toward others. I believe he is interested in us learning what activities we engage in that don't build up the faith of another, or perhaps even impede their growth all together. In exposing these actions, attitudes, and tendencies to us, he is also giving us the ability to "lay down our weapons" that end in murderous results. Don't get me wrong - God hates murder! We cannot take a human life in acts of hatred or anger and have God dancing in heaven. Yet, I think God is just as concerned with what actions we allow to occur with the use of our tongue! The tongue is a powerful weapon and too often it is used without thinking. A gun in the hand of a marksman is a tool to provide food for the family. A word in the hand of a skilled orator or teacher can provide food for thought and growth. A word in the mouth of a fool can 'murder' the one who it is directed toward!

I just wanted to present a little food for thought this morning. I really want God to begin to show us (me first) if we have murderous tendencies in our attitudes, behaviors, or words. If so, then we need to allow him to help us (me first) change in those areas so that we are not destroying, extinguishing, or smothering others by those words or attitudes. Just sayin!

Monday, July 9, 2018

More than a little white lie

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

As we look at the seven things that God actually tells us he hates or abhors (absolutely cannot tolerate), we have already explored that the proud or arrogant attitude of a man is a thing that turns God's stomach. Why? It affects the ability of others to see God in us and it ruins so many relationships when self is at the center of our focus. It should not catch us by surprise that God begins with pride or arrogance - for the eye directed toward self and self-interest all the time can seldom find time or place for others - even him. When self is at the center, everything is viewed by what it may benefit or hurt one's own self. While God doesn't want us walking into situations where we are hurt or left damaged, he also doesn't want us to be so 'myopic' that all we care about is how everything will affect 'me'.

Another attitude or behavior that God finds to be very repulsive in his sight is the lying tongue - coming on the heels of pride, we might just do well to consider why God listed this next. God finds a lying tongue a repugnant thing - it causes him extreme displeasure and he passionately pleads for us to avoid the destructiveness of lying. The effect of a lying tongue on both the one who is the believer or receiver of the lie, and the one who speaks the lie is what God is interested in here. God looks at outcomes - the steps by which those outcomes are produced are important - but he always keeps his eye on the outcome. Lies destroy others because they place trust in what was untrustworthy - it makes them skeptical about trusting again. Damaged relationships are the outcome of lies - both ours with others and with him; and those we could have had with others had those lies not built up walls of mistrust.

A person that tells lies is motivated by one of several reasons:
  • They do not feel the truth is grandiose enough - so they embellish it to make themselves look better. There you go - that pride thing again. The one who tells the lie actually believes that if the truth made him look good enough, he'd never find the need to embellish it so that others would see him or his involvement in a situation in a different light. The root of this type of lying is deeply seated in a man's own pride. He wants others to see him differently than he actually is - so he creates a "story". In God's economy, reality reigns - not a false image one tries to portray. Transparency and authenticity are two traits that are praised when they are exhibited.
  • They do not value the impact of the truth - so they used embellished truth or used misleading stories to "manage" the relational impact of what was shared. When we seek to cover-up the reality of our true feelings or desires within a relationship, we are creating a false sense of security for the other person - they are banking on something that really isn't there. This type of "protective lying" actually damages the relationship because trust is never fully established - we sometimes call this type of lying "white lies" - equally destructive to establishing trust as an outright, full-on lie of deception.
  • They desire to hurt others - so they manipulate another by the lies they tell. Some individuals actually set out to hurt by the words they choose to speak. An untruth used this way becomes a dagger in the hand of the one using it to "dig into" the character of another, bringing untold damage to that other person's character or reputation. 
I suppose we could think of other reasons a person uses lies, but it is pretty much the same underlying reasons. We either don't stand strong enough in our own virtue, or we don't want others to stand strong in theirs. God's attitude toward the lie is one of disgust - he hates it! He doesn't hate the liar - just the lying. Words have a powerful impact - truth can set us free, while lies can place us deeper into bondage. We are warned repeatedly in Scripture about the importance of managing our words. Something that is spoken of that many times should become a thing that we spend some time understanding. The warning to us is that God "abhors" (has extreme dislike, considers it to be passionately wrong) to use lying words. If God has that strong of a reaction to a lying word, it is time we consider the root of all untruthful words within our own lives. We may be the ones speaking the words - if so, it is time to ask God to temper our speech, revealing to us the TRUE reason we are compelled to use embellishments of the truth. We may be the ones hearing and believing the lies - if so, we need God to help us apply "filters" within our hearing to allow us to become aware of the lies we are receiving and believing. God will do both for us - we need only ask. Just sayin!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What makes you so important?

Ever consider what God hates? We know what he loves - us! Yet, do we fully know what he hates -  declares to be vile, unacceptable, and with the potential to harm. God "HATES" these things - he doesn't just have a little displeasure with them. I have always tried to teach my kids that the word "hate" really should not be in our vocabulary, and especially not in our behavior or attitudes toward others. So, why is it that God's attitude toward certain things is one of hatred? It is isn't that God hates the one who acts in certain ways (exhibits these 'bad' behaviors), but rather, he hates the behavior - because it does not reflect him to a lost and hurting world and they drive wedges between relationships of all types. These behaviors are contrary to the actions of heart that reflect a spiritual renewal and cleansing. They also stem from a heart that has not truly made God the center of their focus.

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

God hates the first six identified behaviors and loathes the last. I always thought there was not too much difference between hating something and truly loathing it. Yet, there must be some subtle differences if both words are used to describe how God feels about these behaviors. Hate carries the idea of detesting something - being so intense in your dislike that you are actually hostile toward it. Loathe carries the idea of feeling disgust with a particular behavior - it just absolutely turns the stomach. Some pretty strong words, huh? And they are associated with our heavenly father's reaction to OUR sin! We cannot lose sight of the fact that there are behaviors identified as what he hates or loathes, not PEOPLE. Behaviors are outlined as objects of his intense dislike and disgust - because behaviors stem from the heart - in these cases, a heart untouched by his grace. You may have heard the saying, "God loves the sinner, but he hates the sin" - this is the idea behind this passage. He cannot condone sinful behavior because it is contrary to his character - who he is as a person (a holy God). He can accept the person and still not condone the behavior - he does this through the blood sacrifice of his Son - seeing us through that shed blood.

In fact, when God looks at our sinful state, he sees us through the eyes of forgiveness. Forgiveness that was purchased by the cross. If that is the case, why does God focus us on these seven characteristics of behavior as "not pleasing" to him? Well, look closely at what has been outlined within this passage. Pride, a lack of truth, harm of another, evil intents - all are suggestive that "self" is the focus, not God. These behaviors interfere with others seeing Christ in us - they interfere with his grace being evident. Therefore, they need to be forsaken. Eyes that are arrogant - an arrogant person is quite assuming in their behavior, aren't they? There is an air of superiority that emanates from them. The arrogant focus on their "rights" - ignoring the "needs" of those around them. God detests this kind of behavior because it is a "put off" to those who would want to draw near to us. People are not drawn to one who is always putting on "airs". In fact, they are often repelled by this attitude of superiority - maybe because they find themselves judged in the eyes of the one who exhibits this behavior tendency!

God wants his kids to be approachable - he wants our hearts and our attitudes to reflect that we are simply redeemed sinners. There is nothing superior in our "make up" that brings us into the place of salvation - ALL of us are sinners, ALL of us have fallen short of his glory, ALL of us stand in need of a Savior. The fact that we have welcomed Jesus into our heart should not "elevate" us to a place of self importance, but should stand as a constant reminder that except for his grace in operation within our lives we'd still be miserable sinners - repulsive to God and others. Maybe today we begin by asking God to point out any tendency we may have to look at others through eyes that are tinted with any type of arrogance. If he exposes any of these tendencies to us, we simply ask him to begin to change that attitude. We may be very surprised how a simple change in our perspective of "self" importance affects how we see others around us! Just sayin!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Adjustment necessary

Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that we "aim above the mark to hit the mark." We might think to hit the mark we merely aim at the mark. The truth is that the only way to hit it is to really be 'on the mark' in life. The mark? Christ himself! Can we really aim higher than Christ? No, but to 'hit' the mark, we keep our focus upward, not merely on some 'point' within the bulls-eye! We aim at the highest point 'within' the mark and then we proceed to move in that direction. There is no greater 'aim' in life than to follow Christ's example - doing that by living 'within the grace' he gives us.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.  (Romans 12:3 MSG)

Our aim isn't to just 'be like Christ', but to allow Christ to become alive within us so that we have the very fibers of our lives transformed by his grace. Hitting the target is not merely our work, it is God making that 'target' alive in us - making it possible for us to 'hit the target'. Our part in this is to keep our eyes on the excellence of Christ and then we respond to God helping us 'adjust our focus' as necessary so that we are always proceeding toward the 'bulls-eye' of his excellence.

Part of what God does to help us 'hit the target' is to give us an accurate picture of what each of us really is and where the adjustments in our lives need to be made. We can look in a mirror and see a reflection of the target behind us, but that isn't the most productive way to view the target. We view the target 'head-on'. What happens is we view the target in a mirror? We are also very much in focus, not just the target! God helps us the most by turning us around so that the thing we see the most is Christ and not us! This is what helps make our aim right and true.

The target cannot be behind us, nor is it somewhere off to the side, but right in front of us. I have watched bow hunters try to take aim at something 'on the run' from them. The adjustments that must be made when something is moving away from the point where you first take aim requires that you continue to adjust your aim. They don't just aim at the animal, but slightly above the present position of the animal because it is on the move. Jesus is always moving our focus just a little bit higher, sometimes because he moves a little, causing us to make those adjustments to our focus. Those adjustments get us moving again.

We all need adjustments from time to time - because we'd just hunker down thinking we could hit the target each and every time from where we are at presently in our walk with Jesus. The fact is that we have much more 'adjusting' to do to consistently hit the target. So, Christ moves us from beyond the blind of our present faith out into the open sometimes. We aren't always able to remain 'under cover'. There are times and seasons when God will take us out of the comfort of our 'cover' and cause us to adjust our position so we remain on target with him. We should not resist this movement, because it is keeping our aim right! Just sayin!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Torn down to be built up

The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you're lost for good. 
(Proverbs 10:17 MSG)

While I don't always reflect it, I am working toward having a disciplined focus in life. I want to be honest here - disciplined focus in every area of your life is hard work. A disciplined life is one that is molded - one that receives the necessary training that corrects the course of one's actions. Correction can occur at about three points along the journey we call life - either at the beginning of the course prior to the action being taken, mid-way through the consequences of choosing the wrong course, or after the course has been completed and we find ourselves experiencing a pretty unwanted outcome. The one who has chosen to live a disciplined life has accepted the fact that training is a necessary part of life - as much as having a 'personal trainer' isn't my goal in life, I need one. One who is willing to live a disciplined life has come to accept that it is this 'training' that both builds the mental faculties and establishes the moral character of a man. When obedience is learned, there is order in life. Self-control keeps one from doing or saying things that will adversely affect the course one takes.

The 'personal trainer' I need isn't the one for my physical body (although that wouldn't hurt), but for my mental and spiritual oversight. I need instruction in how to make right choices, not always listening to my emotions. I need to embrace the correction of the Holy Spirit in my life - my personal trainer sent from God to help me grow. Ignoring correction guarantees you and I a path of unsuccessful ventures - riddled with choices that undermine good character and eat away at solid morals. Correction to the unwise seems like a form of unjust or unwarranted punishment - often met with the "why me" kind of complaint. Correction to the wise is a blessing and a help in times of struggle or danger. It easy to fall into the "why me" pit of complaint, but hear this my friends - God isn't giving us anything he isn't willing to walk with us through, helping us to learn from what it is we are walking through.

The idea of correction is to 'set right' - the fool never realizes the specific course of action they are embarking upon as actually not being the right course in the first place! That is why the fool never embraces the correction - he doesn't see the value in it. A man or woman that is seeking to live a disciplined life will value correction for what it adds to life - not seeing it as 'taking away' from life. It is important to see the activity of the wise and the inactivity of the fool. The wise embraces correction - the fool chafes against it, ignores it, or simply never even hears it. Embracing correction is a life-giving choice that establishes a right course for the wise.

God's correction is always designed to make us stronger, wiser, and filled more with his grace! He never tears us down in correcting us. Sure, he may ask us to stop some course of action, but it is always with the design of building us up in moral character - remembering that to build up, sometimes one must make way for the new growth by dismantling something that stands in the way of that new work. The next time we are faced with correction, consider this: Is the course of action we are taking building us up, or tearing us down? If the answer is the latter, it is likely that God is attempting to steer us back on course in order to establish a strong footing upon which we may find our lives 'built up' anew. Just sayin!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Frazzled or Dazzled

A man or woman of wisdom allows the knowledge that is accumulated as the years pass by to be used in ways that are helpful and healing in the lives of others. Their words are like "spring water" - pure, gentle, free of harshness or bitterness. There is a refreshing that is found in the words of one who is wise. Their words bring the necessary revitalizing to the parched places of our soul and spirit. Recently, my mother was hospitalized and had a rough time with not being able to sleep. After days without sleep, my own body and frame of reference left me with frayed emotions. Emotions on edge are easily excited, played upon, and often cause us to act or say things that we don't mean or with a tone we don't really mean. While I know she didn't mean anything she was saying that was harsh or a little hurtful, it still affected me deeply. It was hard to not have her recognize me for those couple of days and then demand that the 'real daughter' be called to come to her side. It is good that she is back home and settling back into her 'normal' self. It is also good to know that with God's help, even when I wanted to say things that could have incited even more anxiety in mom, he gave me the words to say that just helped us get through. Remember this...God never gives us more than he is prepared to help us walk through - even when it comes to choosing our words.

Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense. (Proverbs 15:2 MSG)

There is a human tendency to use words and knowledge for our own advantage, but the wise man has learned to channel them for not only his own good, but for the good of others, as well. It is easy to come across some truth, tuck it away as totally awesome for our own benefit - it is quite another thing to proactively look for ways to make the lives of others better by sharing what we have learned - even when the lessons are learned the hard way! I know that when I learn a little nuance about a piece of software we use at work, I like to share it because it may make somebody else's work easier, more productive, or interesting. Sometimes I discover things and don't really pay attention to sharing what I have discovered. Later, I find that a peer has struggled with a labor intensive process, only to find that I had the "key" to making that process easier, quicker, and perhaps less "intense" for them, but did not share it! Knowledge isn't meant to be hoarded - it is to be used, shared, and replicated in the lives of others.

I am not saying that we should become "fountains of knowledge" just spilling out all over the place with whatever knowledge we possess. There are times when it is very appropriate to share what we have learned. Within relationship, things are different sometimes - we find there are struggles with sharing the knowledge we have gained in ways that helps each of us grow together. We must "sense" when it is a time to share and a time to remain silent. The writer of our proverb reminds us that a fool is like a "leaky faucet". Leaky faucets are annoying. They lead to build up of minerals in the sink, and also cost us much because of all that lost water. These things make the faucet less attractive, kind of annoying, and a little bit hard to tolerate at times. That is how it is when we share what someone is not really open to receiving. Just as the water seeping from that faucet serves no purpose in helping us wash the dishes or water the plants, so words spoken in the wrong season serve very little purpose in the relationship. In fact, they can inflame the relationship, forming hard callouses that make it difficult to get past.

A fool uses his words without thought. A fool has a tendency to waste his words, just like a leaky faucet wastes water. So, we can choose to be leaky faucets or springs of life. I know I have done my share of "leaking" words - sometimes in a very well-meaning way, other times with a little bit of a selfish focus, and sometimes because I responded to emotion rather than allowing God's Spirit to guide me. In learning comes insight. Insight brings revelation of truth. It is natural to want to share what we have had revealed to us - but we need to become skilled in how, when, and where we share it. Our relationships will benefit from our learning to use the wisdom God has given in the right time, the right season, and when emotions are not at their most frazzled point. Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Say What?

Ever get caught in a lie? I have and it is not pleasant! Ever been involved in some "juicy gossip", only to have that individual walk up behind you and overhear what you were saying? Not a terribly comfortable position to find yourself in, is it? There is a significant blessing in learning how to use our tongues for the glory of God. There is also a significant blessing in learning to "NOT" use your tongue at times! Learning the right time to hold our words is a good thing. Everyone might benefit from our words, but there are times when the only one that needs to hear those words is God and not others!

Grow a wise heart—you'll do yourself a favor; keep a clear head—you'll find a good life. The person who tells lies gets caught; the person who spreads rumors is ruined.  Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget. (Proverbs 19:8-9, 11)

I want us to see that a wise heart is "grown" - meaning it does not occur automatically. There is some work in becoming wise in the inner recesses of our 'heart'. The 'heart' is the seat of our emotions. Think about it - if we are becoming wise in our emotions, it should affect our speech. We will begin to 'test' the value of the words we speak and choose different responses than we may have when we were allowing our emotions to foolishly just flow out of our inner man. Application of truth and then the obedience to the truth repeated time and again in our lives is the beginning of wisdom. A clear heart (solid emotions) is not found in the chaos of confusion and misplaced priorities. It is found in the times of intimate communion with God - learning at the feet of the Master.

Smart people exhibit mental and emotional 'alertness'. Alertness is more than just being awake - it involves paying attention on purpose to the things that are around us and within us. The wise or smart person is not easily caught up in the gossip or angry exchanges inherent in just about every relationship. They are not given over easily to the emotional 'mis-spending' of relational truths that one is privy to enjoy. As we are being taught by the Holy Spirit to walk uprightly, tempering our emotions, we are encouraged and enabled to be 'in tune' with the subtle things that could trip us up and get us involved in conversation or action that becomes sinful in its focus. A person who remains mentally alert and exercises caution in their speech or actions will also be able to release an offender quickly. They will not find themselves in the place where they get all caught up in the all-consuming process of bitterness because they understand the dangers associated with that emotional investment.

We are often striving to 'learn more' - especially as it applies to our spiritual walk. We have this misplaced perception that if we learn more, we will be wiser in our choices. In a sense, this is true - but only if we couple the learning with actively practicing what we have learned. It is not always the 'volume' of what we learn that contributes to our overall spiritual, physical, and mental health. It is the quality of what we learn that affects us most. A smart person is not easily caught up because he or she has gained the wisdom they need to avoid falling into the temptation to lie or gossip - both very emotionally based responses - because they are exposing themselves to the 'right stuff' in the first place. 

Exposure is the first step - incorporating what we are exposed to in the Word, through biblical teaching, etc., is quite another thing. Repeated exposure increases our chances of incorporating what we are exposed to so that it might begin to have an effect. Think of being out in the sun - you don't get a tan the first 10 minutes you are out there. Yet, if you go out each day for 10 minutes a day, you will eventually be changed through repeated exposure to the sun's rays. So it is with God's graces in our lives. Whether it is the 'tempering' of our emotions or the purifying of our motives - we benefit from the repeated exposure to his Word! Never get tired of hearing what God's Word reveals. Today could be the day that your emotions take a turn for the best! Just sayin!

Let's learn to relate

There is nothing like being totally open with God in our communication of things we want to really understand well - God loves a heart that is curious about the things he has made, the truths he has given us, and the things that just make us desire knowledge.  God has showed us truths in scripture about always being welcomed into the presence of a holy God, and I find it amazing how "free" we can be in our communication with God. We don't have to have a lot of preconceived pretense in our "discussions" with God - we can be totally conversant with God in a casual, relaxed manner - allowing God to reveal things to us as he would see fit, in the orderly way God reveals things to us.

God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? "Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. "Don't hurt your friend, don't blame your neighbor; despise the despicable. "Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe. "You'll never get blacklisted if you live like this." (Psalm 15:1-5 MSG)

Here we find a question that had probably been niggling in the back of some of our minds, maybe even for a lot longer than we'd like to admit. The question? How does someone get welcomed into God's presence? In turn, God gives us a list of fourteen characteristics that "stand out" in a man's character that makes that man "stand out" in God's eyes. As we briefly look at each, let us keep in mind that God welcomes ALL of us, speaks to all of us in plain ways, and wants each of us to have a close and personal relationship with him. These characteristics aren't 'rules' for keeping as much as they are the things God wants each of us to develop in our lives that make in increasingly easier to nuzzle up close to him and find comfort in his arms.
  • Walk straight - suggests that there is movement in your life - you are not stagnant in your walk.  The walk that God desires, and which will benefit us the most, is characterized by straightness - it has directed purpose, a specific aim in mind. That aim is God's best in our lives - not just mediocrity, but his best.
  • Act right - when our walk is directed purposefully toward the things God desires of each of us, it becomes easier to have our actions be affected by the very goal we are directed toward. Action is always affected by the aim of our heart and mind - if it is rightly focused on God, we tend to act in accordance with his love and grace - any other aim or focus will probably amount to a whole lot of bumbled steps along the way.
  • Tell the truth - look at the progression here. First, your aim in life needs to be Christ-centered. Then, your choice of action is affected by the fact that Christ is at the center and self is no longer the main object of our satisfaction. In turn, we see our speech affected. The words we speak take on meaning and become life-giving. That is what truth is - it is a well-spring of life to those that hear it, but to hear, one needs to be within hearing distance!
  • Don't hurt your friends - did you know that one of the easiest ways we hurt each other is in the carelessness of our words? Our actions and our words can both hurt, but most people will be quick to tell you that words cut deeply. Actions may be more easily forgiven, while words are not quickly forgotten. Words can make a bigger impact that we might imagine - I wonder if this is why God gave us his 'words' within scripture?
  • Don't blame your neighbor - in other words, own up to your behavior and don't shift blame to others. It is easy to blame-shift, but it takes a strength of character to say, "It was me; I had a part in that outcome." It is even much harder to say, "I own the outcome".
  • Despise the despicable - those things we describe as mean, or vile things are to be despised. It is easier to despise a "scumbag", but a little more challenging to despise the sin that motivates the man to act as he does. It is never God's intent that we throw the sinner out with the sin - we are to embrace the sinner, and despise the sin. We sometimes get this mixed up in our minds and reject both!
  • Keep your word even when it costs you - and it WILL cost you! We use our words sometimes a little too freely and promise what we really did not intend to do later on. God asks us to only promise what we can provide - those things within our power, ability, and will to do. Words like, "I will NEVER...." are rarely achievable - but they are spoken way too frequently. We need to learn to be realistic in our commitments - both to God and to others. In so doing, it is easier to keep our words.
  • Make an honest living - not to imply that everyone needs to have a job out in the community, but we all have a contribution that is to be made to society, family, and local community. Whatever that is, we need to engage in it with a focus on contributing what we are capable of contributing. God blesses each contribution when it is made with a focus on him first and others second.
  • Don't take a bribe - this really goes hand in hand with making an honest living. Honesty and upright conduct should be the hallmarks of all we engage in.
You will never get "blacklisted" by God if your conduct is reflective of his action within your life. Don't get me wrong - you don't need to be perfect - just moving in that direction! God welcomes those with a right focus - the rest of these traits in our lives is an outcome of focus. So, come right on into God's presence - he welcomes those who welcome his presence into their lives! There we find not only acceptance, but also great and wonderful things that help us become better people in this world. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


It is wildfire season in Arizona and our very dry winter has created the perfect conditions for dry forest lands which can quickly burn out of control. Already many fires have taken out way too much forest land, burned down homes and structures, and tormented animals seeking a safe place to find food and shelter. Fire is a devastating force. The words of our mouth are more powerful than a small spark that can set an entire forest on fire – or so scripture tells us. If our words are this powerful, just imagine the extreme power of the words of God! His words are instruments of grace, love, healing, direction, and even chastisement, if warranted. Regardless of the types of words he speaks, they are filled with power - power not matched by any other power in this world or in the heavens above. They are spoken to hearing ears and responsive hearts. Those who will listen intently to their meaning will be blessed by these words, but one must apply themselves to listening and being open to what is heard. 

How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word. I’m single-minded in pursuit of you, don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted. I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, GOD, train me in your ways of wise living. I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth; I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches. I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you; I attentively watch how you’ve done it. I relish everything you’ve told me of life, I won’t forget a word of it. (Psalm 119:9-16 MSG)

We think of a word as something said or expressed. Words do a great deal to reveal intention and inner thought. They can declare meaning – proclaiming truth not before evident until the meaning was given. They are also spoken as a form of promise – opening the possibility of hope afresh in the heart of the hearer - giving a hint of something that is to come, but may not be fully realized yet. Words are a valuable possession or a resource at our disposal in times when we need to impart wisdom, change the course of an event, or challenge someone to consider a new perspective on a matter at hand. Words carry an abundance of supply in them – they can build up, create vision, give perspective, challenge movement, increase faith, and impart hope. They are worth a great deal and should be handled accordingly.

Words are most valuable when they are openly shared, not locked up or shut up in the recesses of our minds or hearts. As a believer, we have a responsibility to be free in the expression of wise counsel that is granted or revealed to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit has deeply affected our lives, the words that we speak will be so pure that there is no need to conceal them. We will be able to use them in an unrestricted manner, in just the right way that God prepares those words to be expressed. God’s words to us are made known to us through divine inspiration and instruction. His wisdom has been made open to us through is words. In turn, we are called upon to make known what was once concealed or hidden to us – the deep truths of his love, his compassion, and his grace as we have come to know them through his words and actions on our behalf. We are called to share even the small pieces of truth contained deeply in the Word that we find helpful as others may be as deeply affected as we have been.

It is God’s intention that our words spoken to him be something that makes clear the intentions and desires of our hearts. As we are transparent with him, he is transparent with us in the discoveries of the deep truths in his Word that make clear to us the essential qualities of his character, set forth the meaning of his actions, and define with clarity the path we are to walk. As we reveal our desires, we aren't just telling him our wants - we are openly admitting where our heart struggles and where our mind wanders. His words give meaning to our lives – helping to show the importance of our actions, the value of our deepest thoughts, and the danger in concealing anything from his tender touch. In the spoken or written word, meaning is conveyed. We often cry out for our lives to be filled with meaningful pursuits – desiring to know the purpose of it all. God declares the significance of a life in the power of his words. It was by a word that he created all that we see around us today – and by that same word, he holds everything in order today.

Words are indeed God’s way of conveying to us in limitless ways that he works to define and make distinct our significance in his kingdom. There is nothing “magical” in a word from God, but there is something creative and liberating in each word declared by him deep within our hearts. If we take in the word and make it part of who we are, the word of God will impact our lives. The Word of God is indeed sharper than a two-edged sword or the skilled use of a scalpel in the hand of the surgeon. It defines us, reveals hidden things within us, supplies abundantly what we stand in need of, and helps us to stand assured in even the most uncertain of times. The power of a word – in the hands of God, one word is worth more than any material treasure we could possibly desire. We should not be stingy in our exchange of words with God, and we should not limit our intake of his word in our lives. Both are powerful ways to set our world on fire! Just sayin!

Laying in wait

I like watching those animal shows where you learn how they survive the brutal winters, or the intense heat of the dry and arid lands in which they live. Their ability to hunt for food and secure water is always intriguing. One thing is frequently seen in these shots - they don't 'settle' for the first thing that comes along. They 'lay in wait' for a while in order to be sure they are pursuing something they have a good chance of actually securing as their meal. I find it truly amazing how many of us humans "settle" for the first thing that comes along - something or someone appears to be whatever we think will fulfill our immediate need or emptiness of spirit and we 'jump' toward it.  God's hope for us is that we will learn to be a little more discriminating in our choices - willing to wait until what 'comes along' is exactly right to fulfill that need.  His 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.

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. 

(Proverbs 16:2 MSG)

We settle - God probes. God searches deep into a matter, investigating all the possibilities prior to taking action in our lives. If we look close enough, we will see just how many examples we are given in scripture of God's examining hearts, looking deep for ones who are committed to following him, we will find they weren't willing to 'settle' in their lives for anything less than finding him or his way.  They could have "settled" for a run-of-the-mill half-hearted belief, but they probed deeper to find the commitment of heart that reveals a passion to be embraced by God's love and they found their yearning met and fully satisfied by his grace and love.

God is not a forceful God when it comes to his leadership in our lives - although he could exercise great force, taking control of our lives even when we didn't want to give it to him. 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 - because there is nothing as satisfying as being 'wanted' by one whose heart yearns for you. God is looking for open access to our lives, not just a glancing relationship with us. When this type of access is given, he is free to direct the situations and opportunities of our lives toward what will truly fulfill and truly bless - the things we won't have to 'settle' for in life.

It scares me to see how frequently we leave God out of our plans - trusting our own abilities or thinking rather than trusting in our Lord's oversight and protection.  It is a foolish and dangerous predicament to find ourselves in - we are almost assured failure when we take steps God has not directed for our lives. Remember this - 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, those same plans fail - we find ourselves squarely facing having no other choice but to 'settle'.  

God is always giving us new ability beyond what we imagine possible.  e gives us the wherewithal to 'live out' what we imagine. He also protects us from stepping out into things that are sure to bring us defeat. Don't you think it is 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. We don't have to settle for the first thing that comes along that promises fulfillment - there is a greater plan he has for those willing to wait for his purposes to be fulfilled. Just sayin!