Thursday, August 16, 2018

Be a life-flow

We church-goers hear the phrase, "Be a doer of the Word." Do we really understand what this statement means? Putting the Word of God into action in our lives is really more demanding than we often imagine - sometimes it is one of the most daunting tasks we can undertake. Learning the Word of God is one thing, actually doing what it says is quite another. Most of us do a very adequate job at 'learning' the Word of God, but I'd be the first to admit - the 'doing' of it is sometimes a little lacking!

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Here we find a reminder about the God we serve - the one who is unchangeable in his promises, righteous inside and out - the God of divine compassion who places man under a moral obligation to be righteous - to learn to do what it is we have come to learn. So, how do we get to the place that God looks at us as righteous? It begins with our belief in the finished work of the Cross of Christ - the blood shed as a substitution - a sacrifice for us, making atonement for our sins, certainly not his. Over the course of the rest of our lives, we move from the place of being "saved" into a continual walk of having that righteousness that was imputed (credited) to us at the point of salvation worked out in our daily choices.

Imputed really means to be counted as bringing our account into full payment - in other words, no debt is owing for our sins any longer as that debt was completely paid in full by Christ. God reminds us of some interesting things about how this daily walk progresses. First, he tells us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts. This type of love is a devotion that is based on a kinship experience - there are strong personal ties to the one we are loving. God brings us from a place of alienation into a place of closeness - in turn, we are adopted into his family, experiencing all the privileges of "kin". We are to cherish God - experiencing a repeatedly expanding desire for him.

We are to love him with our whole heart - our whole personality, including our intellect and emotions. We need to stop here and remember that love is more than a state of mind - there is a ton of emotional investment behind it. It may begin with emotion, get stalled a while until the mind catches up, then the mind gets reignited again with fresh emotion. The important thing is that it is growing and that it involves our whole being - every part of our character, feelings, inclinations involved in the pursuit of God. To the heart, he adds that we are to love him with our entire soul - "entire" means "all". The soul is that which we think of as animating us - it makes us different from every other creature roaming this earth. It is our moral and emotional nature - that which gives us that sense of conscience. Love that is animated is indeed evident to all who look upon it. There is an evidence of that love manifest deep within our soul.

If that is not enough, God asks us to love him with all our strength - with our total capacity. Nothing held back! There is to be an honest intensity, a potency, and a power in our daily walk with God. When we go through "dry seasons" it usually means this is missing from our walk and we wonder if we are really still "connected" with our God. We feel "dry" - vitality is missing in our spiritual walk. The reason God asks for us to give our total capacity is that he wants us to be filled to (and even over) capacity - with his love, grace, peace, truth, etc. When we hold nothing back, he is free to hold nothing back in filling us with these good things - allowing them to overflow so others get a sense of his goodness, as well. The instruction goes on to say that we are to impress them upon our lives, tie them to ourselves, bind them so they cannot be broken, and write them down so we remember them well. God wants his Word to be in constant contact with our innermost character, affecting every inclination we have. His words gives support to every choice we make. 

The Word is designed to influence us, but it is also meant to transfer or transmit to us that which will mark us as Christ's. When we tie the Word to our hands, we are using the Word as a restraining power, or an influence, that affects everything we set our hands to do. The Word is a symbol (a visible sign) that is manifest through the hands. Binding the Word to our foreheads can be likened to causing our thoughts to be confined to, restrained or restricted to that which is honoring, worthy, and holy. This will make our minds firm and settled - experiencing peace in our thought life. The Word of God is to be written ALL OVER our lives - in our speech, our actions, every impulse we respond to. It affects our entire being, directing our entire course of action. In turn, we become a channel for the life flow of God. This is what it means to be a "doer" - become a life-flow of God's grace today! Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Power to really do better

When a new power comes into play, the game changes a little bit, doesn't it? The new power exerts some influence that is 'new' to the circumstances. In baseball, they change up the pitcher in hopes the 'new power' will deliver a no hitter run of pitches. In technology, the introduction of panoramic WiFi added a more advanced web-surfing power to the game. Well, there is a new power in operation in our lives. This new power gives us a whole group of new principles by which to pattern our lives. In fact, it gives us a new potency for life - efficient, forceful, influential progress AGAINST sin in our lives. The rules we have been trying to live by could never do this for us. Our human condition requires a radical change. This type of radical change could only be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit within us - the 'force' to begin anew.

A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

Rules can only cover over our selfishness like a bandage covers over a wound - the wound still exists under that bandage and if you rip it off, the wound oftentimes just reopens, giving us new pain to deal with. Keeping a set of rules merely makes us "look good" on the outside, but the desires to do stuff that feeds our selfish desires still exists deep inside. We call this our sin nature. The Spirit of God does not "mask over" our sinful nature. He encounters it, exposes it, and exchanges it - setting us in order from the inside out. The key to growth is to embrace what the Spirit is doing. What we frequently do is to simply "redouble" our efforts to "be good" or "live right", instead of embracing what the Spirit is doing within. 

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored. (Romans 8:5-8)

As long as our focus is inward, self-centered, we have absolutely no new resources by which life-long struggles can be overcome. As soon as we turn our focus upward, toward God, the resources we need for living an "exchanged life" are limitless. Focus determines outcome. It drives us when it is right, and it diminishes our passion and pursuit when it isn't. Focus is the position in which something is placed in order to have clarity in what is perceived. Until we take the focus off of self, our perception is clouded by every failure, every desire, and every attitude that we have formed because of faulty life experiences.

We often cannot see beyond the immediate, but until we look fully into the eyes of the one who holds the future, we cannot fully comprehend the value of the present circumstances either. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives - getting us to "focus" correctly. The value of the immediate is defined by our vision of the future state. We are defined by our identity in Christ - we don't appear to be entirely Christ-like today, but our immediate condition is being shaped by the promise that we will be entirely Christ-like in the future.

We are NEW today in Christ - our full exchange of character and the subsequent changes in practice will change in proportion to our willingness to keep our focus steady on him rather than the circumstances. Becoming Christ-like is more than holding a sentiment in our hearts - it is something that has to be worked out in every fiber of our being. As we partner with the Holy Spirit, we find this possible. Embrace him, allow him to expose your struggles, and then let him show you how to live a totally exchanged life. Just sayin!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Steady the course and full-speed ahead

The heart and mind are intimately connected, which doesn't really account for us doing dumb stuff, because we should be thinking about what we respond to with our full heart if we recognize this connection exists.  Whatever we think on long enough will impact the course of our heart – affecting our emotion deeply and influencing our choices.  God knew this in calling us – and in that call, he planned for our ultimate “drift” in course - knowing full well that we are people who struggle with remaining steadfast.  He provided for a way of escape – a reordering or redirecting of our course. There are a whole lot of 'if' statements in the Bible - 'if' is conditional - meet one condition and the next will be met. "Think on these things" is a condition - 'if' we do, then our emotions are less easily swayed onto the wrong path.

No matter how far away you end up, GOD, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back…GOD, your God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love GOD, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live; really live.  And you will make a new start, listening obediently to GOD, keeping all his commandments…GOD, your God will outdo himself in making things go well for you…Yes, GOD will start enjoying you again…The word is right here and now – as near the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest.  Just do it!  And I command you today: Love GOD, your God.  Walk in his ways.  Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by GOD, your God...
(Deut. 30: 6, 8-9, 14, 16)

If we will again take his commandments seriously - there is restoration at hand. Play around with those commandments, tweaking them to fit our whim or fancy, and we will drift further and further off course. When we have drifted from 'center', it is a change of focus that God requires – and in the change of focus, there is a change in control.  When we take our eyes off Jesus, we place our eyes somewhere else - on self, on another person that we think may fulfill our desires, etc.  God's goal in "refocusing" us is to see us return Christ to that center-point in our lives.  When we move from being influenced by all that comes across our path, to being purposefully directed by that which gives us a sense of purposeful direction, we begin to see the mind and emotions more balanced.  The influence of the Word is like the influence of the rudder of a ship – it gives clear, purposeful direction, staying the course for our lives, influencing the passion of our heart, and righting the thinking of our minds.  In “righting our course”, we embrace anew the influence of the Word to direct our course, and in turn, God embraces us in the winds of his Spirit, speeding our return to him.  

God seeks us out with the purpose of restoring us – he never counts on our own efforts or ability to bring us close to him again.  Here this: God delights in being good to his children - even when his children have not trusted fully in his goodness.  It is his extreme pleasure to provide for us – grace, love, compassion, and peace – every blessing in full abundance, not skimping in any way.  He seeks – searching in such a way so as to acquire again our hearts, our attention, and our center of control. His seeking is purposeful – our drifting is not.  His restoration is orchestrated – our movement away from him, on the other hand, is chaotic, confused, and a matter of chance.  The first step toward restoration is to “turn again”.  This suggests a change in our direction that is purposeful or a matter of determined choice.  It is a change in our course and a change in our posture.  We turn away from the pursuits that gratify our selfish ambitions and turn again to the safety of the things God designs for our well-being.  We shift in our posture – moving from bent down low in subjection to things that weigh us down and keep us burdened – to a posture of praise, adoration and uplifted head.  God’s promise to those who return – he will outdo himself in making things go well for us!

God’s call is to return – to come back to our proper position.  The condition of returning is orchestrated in our obedience to his Word.  Obedience opens us to his leading - to hearing from him and then being able to respond as requested.  The first step in discovering the course God has for us is wholehearted obedience to his currently revealed will - not waiting for the full revealing of his will before we take the first step.  The revelation of God’s will come in stages – just as stages of growth occur in us naturally.  As we are obedient to that which he asks of us today, he opens new truth to us tomorrow.  As we rightly redirect our course back to him today, he refines that course tomorrow.  Let us examine our “drift”, adjusting carefully our “heading”, that we might “stay our course” on that which truly brings us to the destination he has so graciously designed for our lives.  That destination is his presence – pure and holy, loving and gracious, restoring and renewing. Just sayin!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hey God....feel free to interrupt me here...

Try as we might, there are just times we don't hit the mark spot on. We miss, sometimes by a mile, and other times, just barely - but a miss is a miss, is it not? The moment we set out to do anything at all, we run the risk that we will not get to the end result that we imagined or desired. We fall short, or the desired result is just not what it should have been. This is all part of living on this planet - sometimes you get nuts, other times you don't! Sometimes you do okay in the realm of obedience - other times you just plain screw up! I am so glad to know that no matter how far away from the mark we end up - we are never too far away for God to set us back on target again!

No matter how far away you end up, GOD, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back…GOD, your God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love GOD, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live; really live.  And you will make a new start, listening obediently to GOD, keeping all his commandments…GOD, your God will outdo himself in making things go well for you…Yes, GOD will start enjoying you again…The word is right here and now – as near the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest.  Just do it!  And I command you today: Love GOD, your God.  Walk in his ways.  Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by GOD, your God...
(Deut. 30: 6, 8-9, 14, 16)

Staying close to God is not always an easy thing to accomplish – especially in the influence of the world’s pull and our selfish disposition to pursue things that appeal to our sin nature.  Coming back to God is probably even harder once we have given into the pressures of the world or pursued the selfish desires of our heart.  The tendency of our heart is to hide in that place, hoping to not be discovered or exposed. God is a truly merciful God – he will seek us out right where we are at – even when we may not realize we have drifted, or even that we need to be found.  He gently moves upon our spirit until we recognize that the drifting of our heart, the focus of our attention, has been away from him.  He intervenes to get us back into right relationship – he interrupts us in our wandering long enough to present himself, his grace, and his tender care.  In that interruption, he offers his hand of rescue.  In this intrusion into our complacency, he interjects his grace and refreshing renewal.

As simply as God presented the promises of his blessing toward his people, he addressed the one who he knew would walk away from that position of blessing and provision – the one who would not stay engaged in the plan God had ordained for their safety and well-being.  He offers a way of escape when the plans we pursue unravel on us and leave us desolate in spirit, emotion, or relationship. Here is the heart of God toward his children – tender, compassionate, reaching, seeking, hoping in the potential of obedience he sees in each of our hearts.  It is as though he knows the tendency of our hearts to drift into complacency, to succumb to the tantalizing appeal of things that sway our dedication to his purposes, and to gradually withdraw into a place of self-centered disobedience.  He understands our heart and that drifting may occur (and likely will occur in some measure) – just as a ship is impacted by the currents of the water, gently being tugged in a certain direction against its original course.    

He also knows that the forces that come against our undivided attention to his plans are not necessarily overt, driving forces, but small, sometimes almost imperceptible, steady influences.  These move upon us in such unnoticed ways, yet they manage to shift our attitude or position – setting us on a course that often is without aim.  We can liken this "movement away from God" as a sort of "drifting" that occurs - not really intentional, but coming over a course of time when we just don't take full notice of the influences around us and their impact on us. It is important for us to see that drifting is not a purposeful, well-planned movement – it is a haphazard movement created by that which influences us the most at that specific moment.  Jesus was speaking with his disciples one day about the dedication that is required of one who wishes to stay rightly ordered in his course of direction.  He shared, “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me.  If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself.  But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”  (Matt. 10:38-39)  

We need to take heed to this warning about where we place our attention or direct our concern – if it is continually on our self, we will never find the satisfaction, peace, or joy that we earnestly seek after.  If we are able to move from focusing on our “wants” or “wishes” long enough, re-centering our thoughts on Christ, we will find deep, inner fulfillment.  The focus of our attention determines the course of our actions.  We go where we are “headed” – just as the ship points its bow into the course it hopes to complete. Sometimes we just need a good old course interruption to get us headed in the right direction again! Just sayin!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Time to let it go

We all have "relationship" issues - no one is really immune to them - even if they only last for a while. One such 'issue' is something referred to as worry or anxiety. What does worry have to do with relationship? Glad you asked! Worry must be understood in order to see the impact it has on us - both in our relationship with God and in relationship with others. Worry can be defined as those things (thoughts, attitudes, actions) that choke or strangle us - consuming our energy, and thereby choking the "life" out of our relationships. Worry impacts relationships because it is a behavior that "takes away from" the time or energy one puts into relationship - because our attention, thoughts, and activities are directed toward whatever it is we are worrying over. 

Worry weighs us down; a cheerful word picks us up. (Proverbs 12:25)

An old-fashioned definition of worry is to touch or "bother" something repeatedly. The idea of "bothering" or "repeatedly revisiting" something impacts relationships because what we have a tendency to revisit would sometimes be better off left alone. There are things we come back to over and over again that should have been left at the feet of Jesus a long time ago. Whenever we find ourselves "bothering" that issue again, we reopen wounds, impact trust, etc. Worry becomes our enemy - undoing some package of garbage and re-examining it time and time again. The stuff we should have been able to be free of long ago is actually a weight around our necks.

Probably the most telling definition of worry as it applies to impacting relationships is that of us subjecting someone or something to persistent attention - in other words...nagging! Sometimes we have a tendency to "overdo" our attentiveness to a particular issue - "worrying" it to death - and then we don't even leave it alone! This only serves to repeatedly direct attention to something that has very little opportunity to yield much in the way of results. The thing is done already - it hard to 'undo' what has been done - but we can move past it. If we are to do that, we cannot pay it such persistent attention.

Most of us think of worry as that "niggling" feeling we call "anxiety". This is an accurate definition, as well - it also has an impact on our relationships (both with God and with each other). Whenever we find it a "huge effort" to proceed or make forward progress, we are usually struggling with some type of "anxiety" over the forward movement we need to be making, but find we 'just cannot'. Fret as we might, we can actually change very little in our life by all that fretting. It would be better to spend some time with wise counsel, the Word, and in prayer. In the end, we would have an ordered, progressive approach to that which is making us anxious in the first place.

Worry only serves to weigh us down. It presents huge emotional burdens that have a negative effect of disheartening the one under the weight. It saps our strength and energy. In the end, we experience "relational" failures that bring "rifts" that seem to drive us apart (both with our fellow man and with God). God reminds us to cast our burdens (weights) on him. Where do we find cheerful words? Wise counsel, time alone with God, in his word - but not all that we hear will seem "cheerful". A word spoken or made alive from the pages of the word of God in the appropriate timing is able to produce "cheerfulness" inside our weary soul. It may not be causing us to jump up and down with "glee", but it sets us in the right direction, and that brings rest to our weariness. Wherever there is rest, there is "cheer". Just sayin!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Think, Then Speak

There is great frustration in communication that does not accomplish the intended purpose. It is like talking to the air, receiving no acknowledgement of what is said, no indication that anyone listened at all. There are times when I share very important information with others, only to have them say they don't remember it, or worse yet, they never even looked at what I sent. I know others of you have the same issue from time to time. We are reminded today that well-spoken words bring satisfaction - these are words spoken in the right season, with the right intention, in the right spirit - the words that accomplish their purpose. Yet, there is not always a clear indication that these words, though spoken well, have accomplished anything - because the revelation of what has been accomplished in the speaking of those words may be delayed until a different season - the hearing or acknowledgement of the words comes much later.

Well-spoken words bring satisfaction; well-done work has its own reward.  (Proverbs 12:14)

I have been frequently found guilty of speaking all that I think without thinking through all that I speak! It is a tendency for us to do this in the heat or height of emotion - whenever we are sort of carried away by the moment. Sometimes, it is a word of sarcasm - not really intended to hurt the one hearing it - but cutting or discouraging nonetheless. At other times, it is my "full mind" on the matter which I speak - not always "rationed" in objective portions, or in quantities my hearer can possibly absorb all in one sitting. Either way, my words can accomplish more "dissatisfaction" at times than they bring "satisfaction". I imagine you may have struggled with this at times, too, because none of us is immune to this problem.

What are truly well-spoken words? I think they are those words that are spoken "in season". There is a time to speak what we know will bring light into a situation, and there is a time to remain silent on a matter - being able to 'read' the season is very important. The writer of Proverbs tells us that words spoken "out of season" fall on deaf ears - actually not penetrating through to the heart or soul of the receiver - they aren't going to be acted upon because they aren't even heard. Just as with planting seeds that will yield crops, the seeds of our words must be planted in the appropriate season. If you plant crops that need long, warm days to germinate and take root, planting them in winter will stunt their growth, or keep them from growing at all.

Second, well-spoken words are spoken from a prepared heart to a prepared heart. Consider the farmer planting seeds in his field. If he hurls those seeds haphazardly on soil, just somehow "believing" they will grow wherever they fall, he is a fool. Those seeds will be picked off by birds, small rodents, and even wither in the sun. We all know that the successful farmer spends hours and hours preparing that soil long before the seed falls to the earth to begin its work of taking root. If we want our words to fall on prepared soil, we first begin with preparing the soil of our own hearts. Words spoken from a heart that has been touched by God's Spirit will be kind, appropriate, and in season. The receiver's heart must also be prepared to receive - asking for help with this by asking God to open the heart of the one we are speaking to. Just remember - this may take time - we must remain sensitive to the timing of the Lord.

Last, but not least, well-spoken words are delivered in love. Seeds haphazardly sown take very little effort on the part of the farmer. We can be too quick to share our minds, too limited in what we share, or too timid in our sharing that the words we speak are sown haphazardly. Love is always to be a governing force in our lives - we need to think before we speak, and learn to not always speak all we think. Tougher than we think! It is quite easy to speak - it is quite another thing to take what we think to God first, asking him to "temper" what we speak with his love and then to speak ONLY what he has covered with his love and grace. "Right Season" words are those that are both loving and grace-filled. They are truthful, but they remain kind and respectful. Just sayin!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Yup, NOT perfect!

There are always going to be people in our lives who poke fun or find fault with something we do or don't do in life. We might not dress the way they feel we should, with perhaps a little bit of a 'square' look to our style, but if it is modest and it is clean, is there anything wrong with it? We might not believe in zombies and a zombie apocalypse, but we do believe in the second coming of Christ and the Tribulation times, and that difference might just get us some ribbing. Perhaps we don't cuss at the drop of hat and find it a little more than offensive to be around those that do, but is our lack of 'free speech' really all that bad? The more we find ourselves 'fitting into' the pattern Christ gave to us on how it is we should treat ourselves and others, the more others might just find opportunity to 'poke holes' in that lifestyle. Why? It may just be they are a little 'threatened' by the true freedom we have in this life!

Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. (Galatians 2:17-18 MSG)

The most powerful testimony we can give of Christ's grace is to live in such a way that others see that grace lived out in our lives, not just the ones who see us in church, but all those we come into contact with each day of our lives. Grace doesn't mean we are perfect - it means we are learning to walk by a different 'standard' - the standard of the Word. We are learning to hold our tongue when we'd like to respond curtly - but we don't always remember to do that when the moment hits us. We are learning to look the other way when an offense is directed at us - but we don't always avoid a full-on display of our disappointment or frustration with that other individual. What should come across to those who observe us in these situations is that we don't just 'act out' and then walk away from those actions like they didn't matter. We take the opportunity of our failure as another moment we may turn to Christ for his grace to show us how to do things differently the next time we are faced with one of those moments.

Too many times we equate the present 'bad' behavior with the idea that Christ made no difference in the life of the one exhibiting that behavior, but nothing could be further from the truth. You and I don't really know what is going on 'inside' that other individual, nor how God will take that moment and turn it into a moment of conviction and teaching for that individual (and maybe even for us, too). It is unfair for us to judge that individual because of their actions - there might just be more going on under the surface than is being revealed in those actions. The best thing for us to do is to allow each other the opportunity to be real or genuine - even if that means we mess up from time to time and have to go through the process of a lot more 'do-overs' than we'd really like. God doesn't want us to live behind some mask of 'rule-keeping' - because that charade doesn't bring us or others any closer to the grace of God. Showing another how God's grace actually brings us to the place of acknowledging out short-comings and then learning to live 'differently' through his grace is what others really need to see.

There is no shame in being 'real' - but there is a little bit of shame in living behind a mask. After all, the purpose of the mask is to 'cover over' what you didn't (or weren't) wanting to reveal! The mask might just look or sound a whole lot like 'religion' for many people, but there is no reality in religion - only a whole lot of 'white-wash'. What others need more than anything is the revelation of God's grace in and through us. When we sin, admit it. When we fall, get up and brush off, then start walking again. Others will see that we aren't perfect - but that our imperfections don't need to be hidden because God's grace makes a way for us to move beyond the sin and to walk straight again. None of us is without sin - and none of us is without the need for more grace in our lives. We can try to hide behind our 'religion', but as long as we wear that mask, we aren't going to really be free from that sin. We are just going to dance around it time and time again! Grace is the only thing that will deal with it and grace is only available to those who recognize it is not their own effort that changes a man, but the power of God within that brings that change. Just sayin!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Do I measure up?

There is much written in the letter to the Roman church to describe the conduct becoming of a child of God. There is also this idea of the futility of trying to impose your way of believing on another individual. Sometimes we find there are certain issues at hand in the church causing the members to be at odds about some 'doctrine' or another. It could be the 'age-old' argument of 'is this right for you to do' once you become a Christian, or it could be much deeper, such as what does the Bible say about a certain 'hot topic' in culture today. It could even be if we are free to worship this way, or if there is another 'more acceptable' way in which to worship Christ. It seems there are always individuals trying to impose "rules" into the relationship they have come to experience in Christ - bringing freedom of heart and soul into the bondage of rules and rituals instead of allowing grace to break one free from the need for 'ritualistic worship'.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong. (Romans 14:22-23)

We have a responsibility to cultivate our own relationship with God - not imposing it on others. This may seem contrary to the idea that we are called to share the gospel message with those who have not heard it. In actuality, what our passage is driving at is the idea that we cannot share the message of freedom in Christ if we are still living in bondage to certain 'forms or rituals' in our lives - there is an inconsistency in what we are saying and doing. It isn't that the 'rules' are bad, or that the 'rituals' are incorrect - it is that we seem to focus on the rules or rituals MORE THAN we are focusing on the relationship we cultivate with Christ.

For most believers, we start our Christian walk with a whole lot of inconsistencies in our pursuit of holiness. We believe with all our heart that we are free from our past, but we hold onto something we somehow believe we just cannot let go of right now. Past hurt becomes an influencing factor by which we interpret present day events. Jesus proclaimed we are free from that past hurt. We "say" we believe that we are free of it - but our behavior reveals that we are still responding to that past hurt (either in our expression of bitterness, regret, or mistrust; or in our inability to step out in newness of faith in that area).

Mind, will and emotions all play a part in what we "hold onto" from our life prior to Christ. It is only to the degree we submit the mind, will and emotions to the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that we will be transformed. Congruent behavior is based on consistency - all the pieces aligned in our lives. When there is a lack of agreement in what we say compared to what we do, we struggle with feeling like we aren't making any progress in our Christian walk. The fact of the matter is that there ARE inconsistencies in our daily character - mind not agreeing with emotions (we think one way, but respond another); spirit not agreeing with will (we are prompted to do one thing, yet act totally contrary to what we are prompted to do). This is the truth for ALL of God's children - there is a continual struggle with having our actions align with our beliefs. No one is exempt from this challenge.

There is a need to bring those inconsistencies frequently before God - asking him to align the parts of our character that are not in total agreement. Through his Holy Spirit and his Word, he gives us the tools that begin to affect our mind (helping us adopt the right way of interpreting life); align our will with his (giving us stability in our motivations); and to dissuade us from relying on our emotions to interpret what we see or feel in life (providing us congruence between what we believe and how we respond to it). Since the struggle of living "aligned" or "consistent" lives is common to all mankind, we must bring our struggle to the ONLY source for congruency - Christ Jesus. As I indicated above, mind and will come into alignment, followed by our emotions. We often get this backward - wanting to "feel" changed before the work is really "final" within us. The mind must be assured, the will must be submitted, and the emotions will follow.
Ask God today where there are inconsistencies in your character - what is it that you are "saying" (believing), but are not "doing" (acting)? When he exposes those areas in your life, trust him to align those areas with his Word, even when you may not "feel" fully or totally "aligned" yet. Congruent behavior is a matter of a yielded heart - mind, will and emotions fully surrendered to his control. The change will come - you just need to remain committed to the steps you know are right for you to follow! Just sayin!

Love connection

It is so easy sometimes to just "fake it" when it comes to loving other people. We make everything "look good" on the outside, but on the inside we are really just not all that into it! Loving others is a LOT of work! I don't think God challenges us to do anything more difficult than to love unconditionally, just as he loves us. We almost always have "strings attached" when it comes to demonstrating our love to another human being. If you don't believe that, then let me ask you if you have ever felt a little bit slighted when a courtesy you have extended to another has been overlooked? Maybe someone overlooked an important date in your life, or perhaps they did not pick up on a hint that you'd really like to have them take a small burden off of your pile of things to do. When that was overlooked, how did it make you feel? Most of us would honestly admit that we felt like we were "let down". Ultimately, we make judgments based on how 'well' someone hits the mark when it comes to expressing their appreciation or love for us. Right or wrong, we form an 'opinion' of the other individual's actions toward us. If we want to learn to love as God loves us, then we have to learn to look beyond these 'opinions' we might form and see the other person through the eyes of grace instead!

Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. (Romans 12:9-10)

These words are more than challenging - they are downright impossible in the natural or human sense. As much as we try, we cannot love unconditionally - it is not humanly possible. It takes a transformation of heart - that which is only available in Christ Jesus - to actually "remove the strings" that are attached to our actions of love. It also takes an exchange of our will - we may not "feel" like another is deserving of our love because of their actions (or lack of actions), but Christ commands us to love them anyway! The 'strings' that should be attached to our love are the ones that help us make a consistent connection with Christ so that we learn to love as only he was able to love!

What is described here is the willingness to "play second fiddle" - to not always be the one in the center of the room. In a large orchestra, the man or woman assigned to the position of "first fiddle" has a huge role as the lead violinist. There are perhaps upwards of fifty or so other violinists in the orchestra, but not more than one "lead". "Second fiddle" violinists have the unique role of supporting the lead - they "back up" the lead with all the other intricate, but vital parts that need to be played in the piece being performed. So it is with us when we are being asked to be content playing "second fiddle". 

We are to perfectly complement the talents, abilities, and inadequacies of others without envy, malice, or indifference. In this way, we are displaying the love of Christ to them. It is love from the core of who we are now - at the point of 're-creation' as a result of our new birth (when we ask Christ to be the center of all we are). There has been an exchange of heart. The "core of all we are" is now Christ in us - the hope of his glory revealed in us with each action and reaction. When we are asked to love from the core - we are asked to love from the life of Christ that dwells within us. We may not feel like it (because our emotions have not caught up with our "exchanged heart" yet), but we are to do it anyway. We aren't faking love, but we are trusting God's grace in us to help us see the things that make another 'love-worthy' in God's eyes. You see, he loves them, so we need to display that love - we may be their only connection with that undeniable love they will ever see!

In such a display of love, we are being good friends to those in our circle of influence. We are to discover beauty in everyone. We may have to look deep to see beauty in some individuals - just because they are always rubbing us the wrong way, but trust me on this one, it is there if we look deep enough - beyond the surface of what they say and do. When we begin to ask God to train our eyes to take in their beauty INSTEAD of the things that are offensive in the other person, we often can begin to see small character traits in another that we missed before. It changes our perspective of how we see one another. 
Love is a thing of discovery - first we have to discover how very much God loves us and how he displays that love - then we have to discover how to display that love to others God brings across our path. Whose life have you been asked to "discover" love in today? To discover is to simply notice - by asking God to give you eyes to notice the beauty in another over their offensive behavior or words they may display on the surface is the beginning of how it is we can discover and reveal that love. In this way, we are beginning to love as Christ loves us. Just lovin!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

More than a hug

Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, represents not only a characteristic we develop, but a person - the person of Jesus Christ. The very life of Christ was a display of wisdom by which we can pattern our daily walk. We are reminded frequently of the importance of choosing wisdom over any other action - all other action paling in comparison to the one directed toward embracing both the person and trait of Wisdom. We are told, "When you find me, you find life, real life" - these words point us directly to Jesus. In him, we find all the things in life we label as "good" and "real". There is nothing as fulfilling as coming into relationship with Jesus. Yet, so many of us live far below what we would really call a "fulfilled" life - we just don't "feel" fulfilled. Why is that? Well, we might just find out that we have not embraced God's ways as we should - this is key to experiencing God's fullness every day of our lives. 

"So, my dear friends, listen carefully; those who embrace these my ways are most blessed.
Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don't squander your precious life. Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day's work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of God's good pleasure. But if you wrong me, you damage your very soul; when you reject me, you're flirting with death."
 (Proverbs 8:32-36)

The concept of embracing involves the idea that we take something with eagerness, excitement, and anticipation. There is a gladness in accepting what is offered and a willingness to allow ourselves to come close to what we are embracing - almost like taking it to ourselves in such a way that we become one with it. God's promise to us is that if we embrace him, he embraces us back (we become one) - and his embrace carries with it more than just physical comfort. God's embrace carries with it "blessing" - the sense of knowing that we are safe, secure, and sheltered. 
When we understand that God values a daily "embrace" as much as we do, we find ourselves eager to run to him. It is as we come to him with listening ears, awake and ready for him each morning, we find real life and his good pleasure. There is nothing more that God desires of us than to be alert and responsive. 

Alertness involves being ready and prepared for action. Responsiveness involves responding readily to what God shows us. Think about an embrace. When we reach out to another human being in embrace, aren't we hoping to find that person as open and responsive to our embrace as we are - ready and totally prepared for the embrace? God is no different - he is waiting each morning - arms outstretched. His hope: That we will respond readily to him - prepared for the action he will call us to be involved in that day. Today, the willingness to embrace God in a responsive and alert way may not come as easily as it will two or three week's down the road - but do it anyway. Yield some of yourself to him today and ask him to show you how to live a life of discipline and learning. Then faithfully return each day - reaching out with an "embracing" heart - open to what God has for you each new day. In turn, God's embrace begins to become the thing we cannot live without. It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but a thing of blessing as we practice his embrace more and more.

We can squander away our time on all the "agenda items" we have lined up for our day - things we have labeled as "important", "urgent", or "requires attention". God is not an agenda item - he is a relationship. At first, you may have to "pencil him in" - but, in time, he will become your first priority even before you step out to "check off" the things of your day.
God knows that we have a need to experience affection - not just the physical kind we find in relationship with others - but the 'spiritual' kind we find no other place than in times where we are embraced by God himself! Think of how much more God wants to fill us up with the good things we can enjoy as a matter of being embraced by him! His arms are waiting - are you ready to be embraced today? Embrace on!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Knock, Knock - I know who's there!

There are a lot of way to be 'beat down' by the things and people we have to deal with each and every day - just walking this earth today may make you feel that you are persistently beaten down - worn out by hard or unnecessary abuse.  There are those who have suffered repeated blows to their ego, emotions, or physical well-being. The repeated blows have left behind damage that seems to do nothing more than place on public display the defects of our lives. To each of us with 'damaged lives' let me just give you a word of encouragement - God isn't put-off by our damage!

God's a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times. The moment you arrive, you relax; you're never sorry you knocked. (Psalm 9:9-10)

What?  The anointed of God, the one who has been hand-chosen by God, feels beaten down, abused, emotionally spent, like his or her life mattered for little in the scheme of things?  Yep - it happens to the best of us! We each experience emotional disappointment at the hand of friends on occasion. Our life canned be turned into turmoil at times because enemies are being constant in their pursuit.  We all can have problems with our own lusts and pride, bringing shame, immense feelings of guilt and anguish into our lives. News flash...we are all just a little bit like the other person across from us!

In today's society, there are "shelters" that one can run to when they are dealing with extreme mental or physical abuse at the hand of another - we call these "safe-houses".  We also should never forget that God specializes in being our "safe-house" in times of trial. Think of all that the safe-houses of today provide for those that find shelter there and you might just see an image of God:
  • Security - it is a place of safety, free from the pressures, anguish, or torment of what one have been dealing with
  • Strength - it is a place of recovery, allowing one time and resources to heal from their "battering" and "abuse"
  • Substance - it is place of provision, affording one the tools they need to get back on their feet again - strong, empowered, whole, and healed
God is just such a safe-house.  David is so faithful to show us that it is at the very moment we arrive in his care, we are able to relax - to find peace where no peace has dwelt in a long, long time - within us. The effort we have had to exert to "hold up" under the tension and stress of the "battering" we have been under (whether that battering is the doing of another against us, or the result of what we have done to ourselves) suddenly begins to ease.  

As soon as we knock - we find shelter! We don't even need to wait until the door is opened, we begin to experience that we are fully inside the safety of his sanctuary - he begins the work of bringing us into that state of "peace" when we first knock! Yes, we are invited into his safe-house, into the very presence of the holy God of this universe. His door is open to each of us - a place to run to, not just when we are in trouble or in times of extreme hurt or pain, but on a frequent and consistent basis.  There we find our security, our strength, and our substance. You'll never regret knocking.  You'll never be disappointed in taking refuge in God. Battering will come - but the provision for everything we need for our health and well-being is found in his presence. Knock and it will be opened to you! Just sayin!

Monday, August 6, 2018

I will follow you....

Remember the old Ricky Nelson song, "I Will Follow You"? The song started out with the words, "I will follow you, follow you wherever you may go, there isn't an ocean too deep, a mountain so high it can keep me away." I know this song was talking about someone's "true love", but the words just stuck me this morning - I will follow you...wherever you may go. Those are powerful words - especially when they are spoken to Jesus in sincerity. The idea is that we will follow - even when things seem a little harder than usual, or when the path seems a little 'foggy' at times. We will follow - no matter what. Why? We love him and our heart sings just as Ricky used to sing, "I love you, I love you, I love you!"

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right – you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I’m going to do what you tell me to do; don’t ever walk off and leave me. (Psalm 119:1-8)

Today, as most days, I am challenged by the meaning of the word “follow” - maybe because I don't always do a very good job with this one - trying to take the lead when I really need to just follow the one who really needs to be in the lead! To follow implies many things that I have come to appreciate:
  • To accept the authority of the one we make a matter of our focus or attention – it implies a condition of obedience to the authority and counsel of our righteous God. Don't gloss over this one, for it begins with focus or attentiveness - we rarely follow anything that is no longer in our focus. To keep God in our focus - central in our thoughts and primary in our choices is hard, but it is the beginning of a great journey!
  • To come to a specified place in a specified time, sequence, or order – we are brought into a place well-planned for us in the exact timing, by the exact method, and in the specific purposes of our unchanging God. The idea of following means we are engaged in the pursuit of something - not just blindly tagging behind. We know there is a specific plan, and we are engaged in that plan, listening attentively to the one who is leading us within that plan.
  • To imitate – it is our greatest glory to imitate, or take on the image, of our God. We all imitate something or someone - not one of us are truly unique. There are always examples we pick up little bits and pieces of and 'imitate' in our speech, actions, 'style', etc. The idea of following so as to 'imitate' carries more than the idea of taking on 'selected traits' of the one we are following, but rather the taking on of all the traits Christ has revealed in his character.
  • To watch steadily, observe keenly, or to keep the mind on – it is not an inattentive, haphazard pursuit, but one of purposeful, directed steps with a fixed focus and an enlarged perspective. We sometimes limit our forward progress because we limit our focus to the things we 'want' in our lives and forget the things we 'need' might just be more important! God isn't just after us following him for our 'wants' - he would also like us to follow him because of our 'needs'.
  • To chase or pursue – passionately engaged in truly catching or laying hold of the one we pursue – overcoming him with our passionate pursuit is what he has in mind as we set out on this journey with him. Not overcoming him so as to 'take over' the control again, but to 'catch up' to him so as to be walking as closely to him as possible.
We don’t go off on our own – we remain consistent in the path he designs, even in the midst of our own battle of will that pulls us to take an easier path or one promising us more tantalizing reward. We walk straight – not veering in our course. It is a blessed thing to remain – to not be used up by the path we pursue, to not be destroyed along the way. This ability to “remain” is provided by the God of divine compassion – the one who makes our ways straight and gives us the endurance to stand strong. He prescribes the way – outlines the plan. Our part is to walk in what he prescribes. In the end, the promise is a life free of regrets. Oh, I am sure that sounds like “pie in the sky” for many of us – we’ve already endured more regrets that we care to admit. It is never too late to “begin again” in the course God has prepared for us – to lay aside past regrets and to pursue the path he outlines in the pursuit of all he plans for us.

Regret is an outcome of disappointment – a result of hopes dashed, dreams unfulfilled, and losses deeply felt. This is not the outcome of pursuing the one that is unchangeable in all his ways – it most definitely the result of our pursuit of our own selfish desires, focusing our attention on imperfect people, or embracing empty relationships. We protect ourselves from regret by embracing his wise counsel – by comparing our every movement with what he has outlined in his Word. In it, God outlines “safe paths” and speaks to us “straight from the heart” so that we can avoid the pitfalls of disappointment that await us down the paths he has not designed. We learn to walk in his paths one step at a time – it is not a dash, nor is it a relay. It is a consistent, forward movement toward a goal. It is a patterned pursuit – marked out by the Master of our souls. As we daily seek his paths, we learn to step out in a growing assurance that the way is ordered, well-marked, and free of all that brings harm. At first, we may step out in the path God outlines, then quickly veer to the direction that appeals more to our natural reasoning, only to find ourselves knee deep in hazards we did not anticipate. At these times, we even are so vain as to blame God for the hazards – we question why we face the things that seem to have brought harm into our lives. Thank God, he is a merciful guide – he points out the hazards, heals our wounds, righting our stand – then he places us on course once again. Even in the midst of our accusing and questioning ways, he tenderly guides.

It is a good thing to walk in such a way that we never veer off course, but is an even more comforting thing to know that when we do wander or drift, he is there to restore and renew. He has even planned for our “changeableness” – knowing full well that we may purpose to do what he has revealed for us to do, but that our self-man is weak in its commitment to that path. We are like David – we yearn for the path he prepares – yet we struggle to resist the appeal of the path that offers the immediate reward, the passing enjoyment. David purposed to walk straight – let that be our purpose, as well. Just sayin!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Which way do I go?

Have you ever been lost? There have been times when I am heading to a particular destination along an interstate or back road somewhere and find I am all 'turned around' in my way-finding. I missed some sign somewhere along the way, or just plain didn't judge the distance correctly. I find myself back-tracking, looking again for the right way to go, or I might just give up on ever finding what I was looking for in the first place because it was just impossible for me to find without help! Much of the time in life we are on some kind of journey. We find ourselves kind of 'lost' sometimes, not because the way wasn't explained to us, or that we hadn't consulted the plan for how we'd get their several times, but because we misread, missed, or just plain didn't acknowledge the signs along the way.

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.  You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him.  That’s right – you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set.  You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it.  Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.  I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.  I’m going to do what you tell me to do; don’t ever walk off and leave me.  (Psalm 119:1-8)

It is a comforting thing to understand the direction we are headed – to clearly know the paths we are to follow, the things to avoid. There are even times we head off in directions unplanned for us, venturing out on our own completely unaware of what lays in wait along the path we chose. It is a God-honoring thing to await his course direction – it is even more honoring to choose that course above any other. It is one of the hardest things to allow another to set our course, especially when we have created a 'picture' of the way we believe our course should be going! There is a sense of deep satisfaction when we stay on course – a deep sense of pleasure and contentment awaits us as we walk “steadily” on the road revealed by God. Happiness is a very elusive thing – it is conditioned on so many 'unknowns' along the way - things such as circumstance, the people in our lives, timing, and even the attitude of our heart at the moment. We seek happiness in the most amazing ways – through the pursuit of fame, fortune, or position; in some type of what we believe to be a meaningful relationship; and even in giving away all we possess because we heard this could bring us to a certain 'level' of happiness in life. All the while, true happiness appears to evade us and we are left empty, frustrated, and perhaps even filled with despair or disappointment.

The advice set before us is one of “walking steadily” on the course outlined by our God - a little harder than we want to admit when we have this thing called "self-will" to reason with along the way. The word used for God in this text is that of Jehovah – the God of divine compassion, who stands unchangeable in his promises, permanent in his tender care, and righteous. The course we choose in life is established, overlooked, and guarded by this very God of divine compassion and unchangeable character. We can walk steadily when we understand the care that has gone into preparing the course before us and the caring oversight that is ours as we traverse that 'established' path. To “stay” on course implies that we are continuing on, standing firm, and remaining in consistent pursuit of the course outlined by God. I think there is an even deeper meaning that we need to consider – that of enduring. Happy is the man or woman that “stays the course” or “endures” in the way. There is a great sense of inner satisfaction to have remained consistent under suffering without yielding to its pressures – to not give in to the hardships along the way - and each road has its own hardships, regardless of how small. Our consistency comes not in our own effort, but because of the power of our unchanging and consistent God. He is the one that gives us the ability to be firmly fixed in place, to be unfaltering in our movement. There is a resolute assurance that the course we walk is designed at the hand of our God - we have a direction established by God, but we need to choose to stay within the guidance of those directions. It is our fortune to stand with him along this course constant in our emotion, principled in our actions, and stable in our thoughts.

Along the path, we are commissioned to “do our best to find him”. What is our “best” – what does that look like? Some would describe “doing our best” as giving our maximum effort – I’ve even heard some describe it as giving 110%! To be painfully truthful here, I am not inclined to believe that I actually have more than 100% to give – so I am not going to stress that we somehow find an additional 10% to reach some “stretch goal” in our pursuit of God. Rarely do we even get to the 100% mark, let alone find an additional 10% we can muster up to go 'above and beyond'. I am challenged daily to be productive, to excel in some way, but rarely am I able to say that I have given “my all” in the pursuit of God. I daresay that most of us would find ourselves in that same condition if we were to truly analyze our walk with God. It is encouraging to realize that God only requires our attentiveness to his direction – that is how we “do our best” in serving him - we pay attention. We “pay attention” when he speaks, we “focus our will” on his, and we choose to be engaged in this course he has established for us. In so doing, we are placing ourselves on a steady path. What is God really asking you to "pay attention" to along this path you are travelling on presently? What is he asking for you to focus your will on - to be determined in effort and mind's focus? Until we can answer these questions, we probably will wander around pretty doggone aimlessly, even getting a little lost along the way. Just sayin!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

You don't got me on this one!

David, as King of Israel, was in heated battle with the Edomites in the Valley of Salt - not exactly a lush place to be nor the top of someone's bucket list to visit.  The Edomites were descendants of Esau, one of the sons of Jacob.  Esau is probably best known in scripture as the son who sold his birthright for a pot of stew (Genesis 25) - his hunger outweighing his solid thinking on that one.  As the firstborn of Jacob, he had the full right to the inheritance of his father (a double portion as it is referred to in scripture).  In a time of weakness, hungry and weary by what life had dealt him, he "sold out" to his twin brother. I wonder how many times we 'sell out' in times of hunger, weariness, or worry?

16-17 And me? I'm singing your prowess, shouting at cockcrow your largesse,
   For you've been a safe place for me, a good place to hide.  Strong God, I'm watching you do it, I can always count on you—God, my dependable love.
(Psalm 59:16-17)

Esau's family became a band of nomadic raiders settling in the region just south of the Dead Sea - the land that Israel would realistically pass through on their way to Canaan as they exited their bondage in the land of Egypt.  Edom is recorded in Scripture as the people that would not allow the passage of Israel through their land, causing them to detour around Edom on their journey - something they would be sure to regret down the road.  King Saul mounted a huge attack against Edom during his reign and 40 years later, King David, along with Joab, his General of the Armies, destroys 10,000 of the military men of Edom. Yup, a poor decision made in haste once again by the people who descended from the man who made a very poor decision!

This huge battle is what is celebrated in this Psalm.  David cries out:  I am singing of your prowess, shouting of your largesse!  He is overcome with the protection of his God and the safety he has enjoyed in the battle - a battle that could have easily overrun his troops and caused huge casualties to his kingdom. To David, God has been a safe place to hide - a good place for him to find refuge.  Some might think that David is a little cowardly because of these words, but in fact, these are the words that describe the condition of his heart - he chose to trust God and not his own ability.  He faced his fears in the midst of battles that seemed insurmountable by placing those fears squarely in the hands of his great God.  When David brings his fears to God, he stands back and watches as God repeatedly intervenes in ways that would have been impossible through his own natural skill or military might.

I know that we probably don't face huge armies today, wielding all kinds of weaponry, preparing to charge at us with all their military might (although some reading this might be in service to our country, facing just this type of an enemy).  We DO face "armies" of forces just waiting to see our destruction - armies intent on waiting for those moments of weakness and weariness that will drive us into places where we might not always choose wisely.  Those forces are the armies of doubt, bitterness, deception, lust, pride, etc.  Enemies that stand against us, filling us with fear and unbelief.  To us, they seem insurmountable.  To God, they are like the grains of sand that get into our shoes - irritating, but totally removable!

Maybe you find yourself in the place today where you could say, "I have been trying to do this all on my own, God!  I have been trying to figure a way out of this bondage, but I am just not getting out of here on my own!"  If that is the case, you have an opportunity today to take your inabilities to God - then stand back and watch what he does with the heart that yields to his plans.  Most of the battle is not in the "sin", but in the laying down of our will.  When we finally lay down our will, step back and begin to watch, God begins to move. I am encouraging you today to be able to lay down what you have been holding onto so tightly; to be able to take a step back; and to have your eyes opened to how God will move once you do. As your eyes are opened to God's graces refilling you with his peace, setting you free from your resentments, taking you to new heights in his love, I am confident you will sing out with David:  I am singing of your prowess; I can always count on you, my God! Truly, God's 'largesse' will manifest itself, not in our moments of greatest strength or ability, but in moments of our greatest hunger and weakness! Just sayin!

Friday, August 3, 2018

The craftsman at work

I don't know about you all, but I have projects that were begun with the best of intentions, but just never really came to the place of really being 'finished' in the timeframe I expected. It took longer than I thought, was more involved than I imagined, or just cost a little bit more than I may have realized when I began the work. Sometimes I get creative and take on the design of something - like a new raised bed or the huge project of garage organization. No real pattern to follow - I just set out with a vision in mind. The problem with these types of projects is that we seldom understand the cost, intensity, or true outcome of the project. It is actually very freeing to have an example to follow - acting as a guide by which we formulate our work and direct our effort. Even in how we choose to live our lives, we want examples - at least one. When we no longer have to "figure out" what it is that we are expected to be, how we are to live our lives, or what our next move should be, it is quite liberating. Even if we don't realize it, we have a pattern for our lives established well in advance of each new breath we breathe. God decided long before you or I breathed our first breath on this earth what our lives should be like - he shaped the very fibers of our being with the purpose of living according to his purpose. There is a plan!

29-30 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.
(Romans 8:29-30)

When we really begin to grasp the reality of that statement, we can begin to live a transformed life - a patterned life.  You see, when we are no longer needing to decide the direction our life should take, we are free to pursue the purpose of one who already knows what the plan looks like!  It is also very satisfying to know that what God begins, he takes to full or total completion!  God isn't into making junk - something that serves a purpose for a time and then is discarded somewhere down the road - he finishes what he starts (unlike some of us). He is all about making works of art - things of beauty to be treasured for eternity.  God planned for us to be his kids - it was his ultimate goal that he should have us in his family. After making this plan, he sent out the invitation - our part is to accept the invitation. Once we have taken on the new "family name" (a child of God), he sets us up for all we need to walk according to his purposes. Now established on that strong foundation, we can be assured that he will complete the work of growing us up in his family. To be truthful here, there just isn't any room for us to deviate from the plan! I don't see any deviation in the plan, do you?  He does the work, we respond to the calling, he completes that which we were called to be - children of the living God.  We may fail to acknowledge his grace on occasion, even stumble and fall a little, but we are still part of his family, under his care, soon to be moving according to his plan and purpose again!

Woohoo!  We serve a good God!  Awesome in every way!  We need to celebrate the grace of God in our lives.  We need to enjoy (truly embrace) the plan of God - his working in us, making us into works of art!  An artist has an end in mind when he begins his work - it may not be evident when the first brush-stroke hits the canvas, or the first clump of clay is placed on the wheel, but he has a "vision" for the "finished-product". We sometimes get so "wigged-out" by the fact that we don't look like or act like a "finished-product" of God.  Don't lose hope!  God is still making brush strokes and tenderly shaping the clay.  Keep this one thing in mind:  He who begun a good work in you will be SURE to complete it! The plan is only the starting spot - the hand of the craftsman is what allows the plan to be worked into the finished product! Just sayin!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Good meets better

Do you ever ask a simple question of God - one that is quite often a consideration of humankind, but kind of niggles at you until you actually find the answer? Sometimes the questions we ask almost get a little too revealing of our insecurities. Like us asking who it is that God shows favor to - who is it that is welcomed into his presence, made to feel at home, enjoying the very fruits of his rule.  When we hear the answer from God, we rarely record it, but once in a while what we hear may do well to be recorded. David heard from God about those traits that we see in a man or woman of God that make him/her free to move about in the presence of a holy God - something that niggled at his mind and heart enough that he asked God who it was that gets on "God's guest list".

1 God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? 2 "Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. 3-4 Don't hurt your friend, don't blame your neighbor; despise the despicable. 5 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)

Although I don't think this is a literal "guest list", there is evidence in scripture that God has our names recorded in heaven, so it may actually be likened to one. To 'get on it', one has to learn to walk straight, act right, and tell the truth.  Let me just tell you for a fact, we don't do this on our own - it is impossible to do this without the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. At the moment we cry out to God to cleanse us of our sinfulness, opening the door for the cleansing that comes by the blood of Jesus, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our lives.  It is his purpose to assist us in the revelation of truth - providing for us the enabling to behave in a different manner than we had previously responded in life's moments of making choices. 

Acting right is one of the most difficult challenges we experience in life - it is the very thing that good parents strive to influence their children to do from the moment they are able to first understand the consequence of their actions.   Yet, we must keep in mind that action alone is not what God desires - we can do all the "good deeds" we want to, but apart from a heart yielded to his desires, open to his leading, and abandoned in worship to him, we are only "being good". It is artificial goodness - it pales in comparison to the goodness that God works into our lives through this process referred to as obedience. Not one human being could hit a home run out of the park on each and every one of these listed traits.  We may attempt to live according to these standards a good deal of the time, but we will find moments of compromise in our lives where we stray from the standards we set, no matter how hard we try to live by them in our own power.  It is impossible to be righteous in our own power!  Righteousness comes by one source - the blood of Jesus.  His sacrifice on the cross those many years ago is the only means by which we are viewed by God as righteous.

The "good deeds" that we do are only behaviors that are exemplary of the work of the transformational power of God in our lives - they are not of our own doing.  Try  as we might, we will find all these particularly "good" behaviors rather unrewarding without the empowering of the Holy Spirit within. So, if we are desirous of experiencing God's presence, being welcomed into his throne-room, not as guests, but as members of the Royal Family, we must be "in Christ".  As we come to Jesus, hearts open to his redeeming work, asking him to be Lord of our lives, he brings us into the family. The outflow of that life leadership change is the exhibit of the most right kind of behavior in our lives. We begin to look out from ourselves, seeing others in a new way, and look beyond how the events of life affect just us, seeing how there is an impact of each of our behaviors on another.

A promise to us - he who does these things will never be shaken.  Want to live a life that isn't always on the verge of collapse, shaking each time something doesn't seem to be going as well as we might have liked?  Reach out to Jesus, welcome him as your Savior, and watch the life transformation of being welcomed into the family of a holy God. Then you will know what it is like to be on a solid foundation - unshaken by life's challenges and welcomed into the presence of God. Just sayin!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Let it go

I used to be a pretty organized person at home, with file cabinets well organized and papers all in their place. Then something happened to disorganize me a bit - life! At one point, I had to hire help to come in to be with mom, so I hurriedly moved all the files out of the office and locked them away in a few boxes stored in a locking cabinet in the garage. Then I no longer found it so easy to put things in their place - because things didn't have a place any longer! There are times in life when our 'record-keeping' really has no place any longer - especially when it comes to keeping records of wrong!

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that's why you're worshiped.  (Psalm 130:3-4)

We humans are "record keepers". We manage to stuff all kinds of information into our brains - dates, times, events, memories, agendas, wishes, dreams - to name only a few. We organize that information based on importance to us - prioritizing it and "packaging" it into "parcels" of thought. If we cannot manage to store anymore, or feel that the information is SO important that we cannot risk losing it, we write it down, recording it for future reference. This process works well for us if what we are "storing away" in the recesses of our brain, or recording on paper, has a significant meaning that will lend itself to our growth or development. When we begin storing away the thoughts or memories that actually serve to tear us down, or keep us (or another) in a place of bondage to a past hurt or failure, we are opening ourselves to more hurt. When these thoughts are about another's actions in our life, God refers to this process as "harboring unforgiveness" or resentment. When these memories are about some failure on our part, God refers to this as "bondage".

Look at the example God sets for us: He keeps NO record on our wrongdoing. In fact, he practices forgiveness out of a well-established habit of repeatedly forgiving his children. If this is the case, why do we find ourselves so engulfed in keeping record of wrongs committed by or against us? Why do we hold those memories so close to our heart, investing more and more emotional energy in the maintaining of those memories over the course of time? Instead, we should embrace something quite different in order to be free of our past failures and our present resentments. We need to embrace God's forgiveness. We cannot be free until we are convinced of God's ability and willingness to forgive us. Don't gloss over this! God is both willing and able to forgive. He is able to forgive based on the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. That one sacrifice paid any penalty that is "due" as a result of our sinful wrongdoing. He is willing to forgive because he is a loving God - his grace is his response of love.

We also need to embrace God's ability and renewal. God can bring good of even the worst situations we manage to get ourselves into - there may have been unwanted consequences, but he is there to pick up the pieces. We made the choices that led to the outcome, but he stands at the ready to restore what we have allowed to fall into ruin in our lives. We don't see much value in forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply - we may know that we are commanded to do so, but we just cannot connect the dots of how this will set us free. All I can say is that as soon as we begin to let go of that other person in our thoughts, refusing to invest our emotional energy in holding on to the hurts of our past, we can begin to be free in our present circumstances. Embrace God's plan for wholeness. We often stop short of being completely free of our past by not following the pattern laid out for us in Scripture. God has given us repeated examples in the Word of how a man is to live once he has been forgiven (redeemed). First, there is a "turning away" from that which was once a strong pursuit of our heart (that which we were making that huge emotional investment in). Then, if we are to live free of that past hurt, we need to "replace" it with something else. This is where God comes in - we turn away - he helps us with the renewal. We have to put something into the place of those past responses to our hurt or disappointment. They leave a void that must be filled. God asks us to fill that void with more of him - investing our emotional energy in the things he delights in. This may be Christian service, or it may be as simple as time spent with him in worship and study until what was significant to us about a past hurt or failure fades from our memory completely.

We stop short of allowing God to completely set us free by not being willing to let go. Letting go is the hardest part of emotional healing and the new life he purposes for us. Yet, we cannot move on until we are truly willing to move out of that focused investment of our time, energies, and repeated rehearsal of our past. It begins with just one step - often, this step will NOT be coupled with an immediate "feeling" that something has changed. We call this obedience. We step out in what God is asking us to do, whether we "feel" like it or not. If we continue to do this long enough, the emotions associated with the actions of obedience will begin to follow. When we release ourselves from our past enough times, filling up that "gap" a little bit more each time with what God wants us to have in our lives, the emotions will follow. Today is a day to "let go". I don't know what you need to let go of - that is between you and God. I am praying for your journey to be swift and thorough - cuz that junk just isn't worth holding onto any longer. Just sayin!