Sunday, September 23, 2018

Soul-Empty

Lots of time is spent pouring out our heart and then hearing from God as to what has been transpiring around us that seems to give us concern, fear, or a lack of peace. It is impossible to live without faith, as scripture plainly reminds us that the just shall live by faith. Faith must be growing, continually developing. There are times when all we want is for God to do what he had done at times past in our lives - in other words, be awesome in every way, delivering us from whatever is just about to come in around us, and keep us from any type of mind or heart captivity. It might have been a while since we really experienced God in the 'earth-shattering' way we did in previous times - almost failing to sense his presence and longing for things to 'be good again' where is applies to our 'closeness' with God. We could even say we have allowed our 'souls' to get a little bit on the 'empty' side - we just seem to lack what we need.

"Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive."  (Habakkuk 2:4)

There is both first-hand and 'hand-me-down' knowledge of God. Second-hand or 'hand-me-down' knowledge about God is never all that fulfilling - it is still good, but when we experience God's goodness ourselves, it is so much better. We are sometimes challenged to really take in the various aspects of what we are beholding in our lives - looking intently at the man who is bloated by self-importance - and painfully, that man could be us. At a cursory review of this passage, we may immediately think about someone who is filled with pride, boastful and living with his "nose in the air". The actual intent is quite different - being bloated with self-importance actually encompasses any man or woman who spends more time focusing on the things that please or fulfill the selfish desires of the heart more than on what pleases the heart of God.

We are asked to look at the intentions of our heart - why it is that we do what we do, what drives us to make the decisions we make, how it is that we have chosen to live our lives. Here we are reminded, albeit not very tenderly, that choosing to live in a self-centered, ego-centric way is to live a life that is "soul-empty". There is no real substance to it - it is vacant of what really rewards. We may have "full lives", but they are filled with that which really brings no satisfaction in the end - soul-empty lives. The intent is for each of us to come into the experience of God's presence in our lives - getting to know the "ins and outs" of how he works, having our heart "tugged" by the things that move his heart. It is quite easy to get so focused on what "I" want, how a circumstance will affect "me", and what "I" think is important. In the end, "I" truly does "stand alone". When an individual is "ego-centric", that person is focused on self - others are tolerated, but they are not the focus of life (including God).

We can be fully alive - but it is only by steady and loyal believing. It is the commitment to keep God in focus - central in our lives - that keeps us steady. As long as we are focused inwardly on our needs (our wants), we don't have our eyes on anything that gives us stability, assurance, or lasting "advantage" in life. In fact, all we are focusing on is something that will "pass away" in the course of time. Faith is a growth experience - it is taking our eyes off of ourselves long enough to put them on Christ, intentionally seeing him. We can keep two things in our line of sight, but it is impossible to focus on both at the same time. This is a basic principle of photography - the photographer can go for the big picture (really focusing on no "one thing"), or can obscure the big picture (take it out of focus) to move in with clarity on one thing in the shot that is brought alive as the "focal point" of the image. When we see this type of image, properly displayed, we are awed by the brilliance of what is captured. So it is with our focus in life - if it is obscured by trying to constantly take in the "big picture", we will miss the awesomeness of the brilliance of God in the midst of the "picture". Remember, the right perspective determines the image that is ultimately portrayed. Just sayin!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

On the hook?

There are times when my BFF says something and I fake being 'hurt' about whatever she said - like walking away with head hung low, sagging my shoulders, or just putting on a pout. It is all in jest, but there are times when we all say or do things that really hurt another. We may not intend it, but the words come across curtly, the actions seem a little too rehearsed and stiff, or the response just doesn't match the moment. What happens next is critical. We can internalize the hurt so it does us harm, or we can externalize it in a way that harms another. Another option is to learn to actually recognize the offense as an opportunity to grow and to solidify the relationship.

Overlook an offense and bond a friendship; fasten on to a slight and—good-bye, friend! (Proverbs 17:9)

There are definitely times in life when an offense seems just too significant to overlook - there is just something about that offense that makes you think it is "justifiable" to remain angry with someone, or to perhaps even break off the relationship. When we overlook an offense, we are actually bringing a "bond" to that relationship that is like super glue. When we "fasten onto" an offense, we are taking the risk that the relationship will be harmed by that action. To overlook something means more than that we don't take notice of the offense - sometimes we notice, but we don't have to react to it. It carries the idea of not taking time to consider that offense over and over again - we don't rehearse it repeatedly. Ever been in a "heated" discussion with someone, only to have them bring up something you had done years before? People who are "holding on to" offenses are like that - they have an ability to recount the failure of the past over and over again.

The meaning of this word also carries the idea that we extend a pardon - the person who is offending us gets a "buy" as it comes to the offense. For many of us, giving someone a "buy" when they offend us is conditional - if the offense is minor, we might extend the pardon, but if it is more grievous, we hold on for dear life and don't want to 'let them off the hook'. One thing reiterated in scripture is that God is not conditional in his grace - he extends it even before we realize we have need for it. When we fail to take notice of the offense, or extend that pardon when it is least deserved, we are bringing a bond in that relationship that is not easily broken. That simple action on our part serves to unite us in relationship. It brings a connection between the two parties that helps the relationship be twice as strong as it was prior to the extension of that mercy. The important thing is that we learn to look beyond the "slights" in behavior that we often have a tendency to "latch onto", but which really deserve to be overlooked.

None of us needs to go through life being the doormat in a relationship - letting others just walk all over us and leave us covered in dirt! There are times when an offense is egregious - it is glaringly bad or wrong and needs to be dealt with in a fashion that indicates the significance of the offense! For example, being pulled over by a police officer because you are changing lanes without use of your turn signals may warrant a warning instead of a ticket. We need to be able to express the way that the action of another affected us - without attacking that other individual - not just give them the cold shoulder. Then we need to let that other person go - not holding them in a place of "owing" us, but allowing God to take that person into his hands for whatever action he feels may be warranted.

There are "little things" in relationships that become "big things" - all because we fasten onto those things more importance and energy than we should - focusing on them, rehearsing them, not being willing to overlook them. The reminder to us today is to learn how we might overlook the slights in relationship. Most of the time, the slights are really done without malice - they are unintentional and often worthy of a 'warning' more than anything else. When we learn to focus less on those and more on the person, loving them unconditionally, it is amazing how little those small things will really matter in the end. In fact, we will find the little things that used to be big things to us have really become building blocks upon which that relationship grows stronger and stronger. Just sayin!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Turning up the heat a little

Back in the days of the pioneers, there was a crazy flurry of activity to 'hit it big' in the gold mining 'rushes' of the day. Someone would come across the 'mother-load' and the rush would be on. Whether that sparkly stuff was panned from streams or chiseled from the walls of the caves that housed their rich vein, the result was the same - it had to be melted down before it could really be used. Along came the silver and copper mines, each yielding their own 'ores' of great promise - each requiring their own type of 'smelting' processes, but each producing various 'qualities' of 'finished product' as a result. The smelting process usually involved what came to be known as the 'crucible' - that smaller collection spot within the larger furnace where the refined metals would be collected. While the furnace produced the heat to accomplish the refining process, the crucible acted as a collection device to capture the purified substance which would emerge from the furnace.

As silver in a crucible and gold in a pan, so our lives are assayed by God.  (Proverbs 17:3)

Silver is mined - then must be separated from all the various impurities that it is surrounded by such as sulfur, arsenic, antimony, chlorine, or argentite - all important elements, but not really desirable for us to wear or use in our eating utensils! It is rarely found in some big clump, or small dust particles such as you have with gold. There is a refining process that must occur in order to separate the other stuff from the silver so you are left with the silver alone. Silver is 'bound to' or 'clings to' other substances and it must be 'extracted' from the stuff that it clings to or that which clings to it.

Sulfur - when burned, it can have a suffocating odor. Its various uses are for the production of gunpowder, in the formulation of medicines to kill various germs, and in the vulcanizing process of making rubber. While it has a benefit to us, it doesn't really belong to the silver, nor is the silver made any stronger by it being there.

Arsenic - the interesting thing about arsenic is that it vaporizes when heated, has a great metallic luster which gives it an appearance of beauty, and is quite poisonous if it is ingested. Now, I don't know about you, but something that that just gives me an appearance of beauty, but is 'poisonous' by nature isn't all that appealing! I don't think we'd want that stuff around too long!

Antimony - a kind of lustrous metal compound that looks good, but has very little value as a metal. It has one main use as an addition to metal alloys to give them strength. It is the item usually added to the mix when someone is manufacturing semi-conductors. The important thing to remember is that it is quite toxic - although useful, it carries a very high risk by being present.

Chlorine - we know that chlorine has many uses, but its main use is in the purification process because it has the ability to kill bacteria. It is toxic in both its gaseous and more "visible" forms such as liquid or crystal. Sometimes it is a silent killer since it can escape without notice and be carried pretty far on the winds. There is really a great risk in keeping something so volatile and lethal around.

Argentite - this mineral usually never exists alone. It is found in the silver mines along with the silver, clinging to the silver as part of the ore. It is lead grey in color and is very unstable once exposed to air, so it is not really of any use as a mineral. It is a 'cling-on', but it is useless if it cannot 'ride on' something else. Remove it and the silver is still strong - keep it around and it just makes silver ugly.

Okay, I did not want to bore you with all kinds of information on the minerals of silver mining, but I wanted to refer to each of these just a little bit to bring some clarity to why this analogy of silver in a crucible is used to describe God's work in our lives. It is important for us to see just what God may be doing by placing us in circumstances that we refer to as the furnace - the refining "crucible" of trial.
We may have some "sulfur-like" behavior that we need to have brought to the surface and separated from our lives - such as anger or wrath. When it is allowed to remain "combined" with the silver - we have a "combustible" part of our character that does not bring honor to God. Arsenic may look good, adding some type of "luster" to our character, but it is toxic. We might have some types of "toxic" character traits, such as gossip, malice, or envy that God knows have the capacity to be extremely "toxic" if they are allowed to remain. He puts us through the purifying process in order to remove these from our lives. 
 
Antimony gives the appearance of "looking good", but the presence of the "mask" never determines the reality of what is hidden. God knows that a transparent Christian is more valuable than one that looks good on the outside and is hiding nothing of value on the inside. Antimony is kind of like being this intensely strong appearing Christian on the outside, but being a blubbering idiot on the inside!
Chlorine has both a positive and negative affect - it can be a purifying agent, but not until it is "processed". It must be separated from all the other impurities, then it has to be used very carefully or it burns! We can liken this to either giving off a "sweet smelling odor" that delights God, or being "toxic" in what we emanate, burning the world around us. Argentite is absolutely worthless when it is exposed to air - it does nothing to lend to the strength or beauty of the silver once it is exposed. That is the same with any secret sin in our lives - as long as it is hidden in the core of our inner man, it gets along just fine. Once exposed to the Word of God, the sin shows the true corruptibility of its presence. God always uses the furnace and crucible of circumstance (trial) to remove the stuff that only serves to contaminate our spiritual beauty and our testimony. The next time you are going through the fire, you might ask God what "worthless mineral" he is focusing on separating from your life at that moment in time. The "smelting" process God uses is designed to produce the clarity of pure, refined silver - gleaming in all its beauty, reflective of the image of Jesus. Just burnin!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Look, don't touch

As a member of the human race, I speak as one fully aware of how we are so consumed with what "looks good" - many times judging a book by what we see on the cover without inspecting the pages to see what is contained within. The perception of eyes often becomes the only method we utilize to determine the "goodness" or "evil" of a certain thing or person. We set ourselves up for accepting things that are clearly outside of God's best for our lives when we are only "cover readers". While the surface may be soft or hard, bold or muted, or even seemingly impenetrable, it remains just that - the surface! There is ALWAYS something beneath the surface - sometimes begging for discovery, other times hoping no one will ever know!

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

Surface or real? David and Bathsheba - David was King of Israel, his troops are out fighting the battle to take more territory in the name of Israel, and he is at home, enjoying the view from his rooftop. He gazes upon Bathsheba, a beautiful woman, bathing on her rooftop (a custom of the day). What he saw "looked good" - what he saw, he wanted and so, he took her as his own. What he failed to do was to consider the reality that under the surface, she was another man's wife - she had already given her heart to another. He looked only at the surface, became enamored in what he beheld with his eyes, and engaged in his plan without further thought.

Surface or real? The Rich Young Ruler - a man of wealth, holding a prominent place in society, approaches Jesus and his disciples one day while they were ministering to the crowds. He proclaims to Jesus that he wanted to be a follower of Christ - one of his disciples. To this he adds a long litany of "credentials" he hopes will show Jesus just how "qualified" he was for the role. His "credentials" are all "good" - kept the letter of the law, observed the feasts and holy days, studied the scriptures, and the list goes on. Jesus asks him to sell all he has (a substantial amount), give it to the poor, and then come to follow him as his disciple. Beneath the surface of all these 'shiny works and accomplishments' this is too much for this man, as we see him leave and never return again.

We often see what we are looking to see - not what is actually there to behold. David saw the "woman of his dreams" - or more accurately, the woman of his fantasies! He never stopped to listen to the niggling of his conscience that she was another man's wife! She looked good! He wanted her and he never looked back until it was too late. The rich young ruler saw a life of tremendous fame in front of him if he could get on this 'inside track' with Jesus' band. He had attained all he could attain in the society in which he lived. Now Jesus and his disciples, thronged by crowds, filled the streets with miracles, signs, and wonders. He wanted what they had, but wasn't aware there would be a cost to obtain it. I am not sure that he actually saw what they had as "fame" or "renown", but he is called upon to go deeper than he has ever gone in his obedience before - and he is unable to do so. What he saw "looked good" to him - but he had failed to count the cost of such a life of service.

How do we begin to "look beyond the cover" of what we see? We are to "probe" deeper. When we probe, we look into a matter with the intention of seeing all there is to see (just like when we read the pages of a book rather than skimming it or only looking at the pictures). This type of "examination" allows us to see beyond the surface appearance of "good" to what actually is at the root of a person, a circumstance, or a pleasant appearing opportunity. God's invitation to us today is to look deeper than we ever have before - to learn to see the heart behind the action of another; the temporary satisfaction of an immediate gratification of our longings or lusts; or the indicators of integrity that give us insight into the heart of another. We need to learn what it is to "examine carefully before we buy"! We "buy into" much that God would rather we never consider in the first place! Sin has an enticing cover - we need to learn to look beyond the cover to see the trap contained within. Just lookin!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Piggy-back ride

Every now and again I like to catch one of those episodes of funny videos where someone is caught in the act of doing something just bordering on the edge of stupidity. One such video last night featured a wedding in which one of the bridesmaids wanted to have her escort hop on her back for a piggy-back ride. Let me just preface this with the fact she was about twice his size, so she may have been able to do it under normal circumstances! She was in heels, a long dress, under the influence of perhaps a little too much bubbly, and he came at her with a running start - all laying out the steps for a total flop on that idea! As you can imagine, they both ended up face first into the dance floor!  I used to be able to carry my children or grandchildren on my shoulders. I could give them piggy-back rides, supporting them when they needed a little bit of carrying to make it to the end of the journey, but that was a long time ago. If I tried it today, I'd be face down just like that bridesmaid. There is no way I could ever think I could carry them any longer, but just because I can't doesn't mean God isn't!

“Listen to me, family of Jacob, everyone that’s left of the family of Israel. I’ve been carrying you on my back from the day you were born, And I’ll keep on carrying you when you’re old. I’ll be there, bearing you when you’re old and gray. I’ve done it and will keep on doing it, carrying you on my back, saving you." (Isaiah 46:4 MSG)

God's intent in 'carrying us' isn't that we will never have to work at anything in this lifetime, but that we can always count on his support when we need it. Some of us think we need to be carried all the time - not true. If we expect to be carried all the time, we are actually resorting to the tactic of coercing God into 'pampering' us way too much. We need the strength a little hard work on our part will produce in our character. Just as with physical activity, the soul and spirit require some activity to grow strong, as well. We don't need to be carried all the time, but when we do, God is always going to do it, just as he said he would. He isn't going to let us falter, but he won't pamper us, either!

The moment we realize we have an active part to play in our spiritual growth, there is a change in our inner man that might just be a little frightening to some of us. We don't want to have to work for things in life - we'd much rather have it provided to us just like when we were infants. But...none of us remain as infants all our lives! We are expected to grow, and that growth means we will be carried some of the time, but at some point, we learn to crawl, walk, and even run. All creating a little bit of growth in us that wouldn't be realized if we were carried all the while. The 'active part' we play in our spiritual growth is what scripture refers to as obedience. The starting point of obedience is the first step. The first step requires not so much a trust in ourselves, but a trust in the one who said we could take that step in the first place!

If we want to be carried in all of life, God isn't going to let us get away with that desire. Why? He loves us too much to not give us exposure to the things that will help us grow strong in our obedience and trust. He will put us in the place where we have to trust so we develop the awareness of what or who it is we are trusting in the most. He will bring us into times when we experience fatigue and weakness, not because he wants us to hurt, but so we will know his strength bearing us up when we can no longer bear up on our own. He isn't going to abandon us, but he wants us to be able to walk equally as much as he wants us to allow him to carry us when we need to be carried! Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I've never been this way before...

There are times, seasons in life, when we just have to admit it is all 'new' to us. We haven't been that way before - it is uncharted territory for us. I haven't had any cardiac surgery, but my friend was facing another in a history of those types of surgeries, and he didn't know if it would be his last or just another in the list. While it would be 'uncharted territory' for me, it was old hat to him. I haven't been in a hurricane, but I have endured many a monsoon, haboob, and microburst capable of uprooting trees, toppling fences, and hurling large objects across roadways at your vehicle. We can all say we have had those moments where something comes as 'old hat' to us - familiar territory, for sure. As much as we may not like to admit it, when it is 'new territory' we are traversing, we might not feel all that comfortable, secure, or 'faith-filled'! We don't know what to expect, so we are a little fearful. These are natural responses to new situations - but God has the perfect antidote to our fear. The antidote? Keeping the right thing in our focus as we traverse the 'uncharted territory'!

Joshua was up early and on his way from Shittim with all the People of Israel with him. He arrived at the Jordan and camped before crossing over. After three days, leaders went through the camp and gave out orders to the people: "When you see the Covenant-Chest of God, your God, carried by the Levitical priests, start moving. Follow it. Make sure you keep a proper distance between you and it, about half a mile—be sure now to keep your distance!—and you'll see clearly the route to take. You've never been on this road before." (Joshua 3:1-4)

Jericho - a huge city fortified with walls and a large army - uncharted territory for these Israelite armies, although a familiar one to those who inhabit it. This was a city surrounded by palm trees, rich soil, and natural springs. As a result, the land was coveted for its resources. It was a good place for Israel - giving them water, food, and position for what comes next. The army of Israel had "insider information" on the ins and outs of this city - not to mention an "inside source" to support them on their attack, if necessary, yet it was still 'uncharted territory' for the vast multitude who would be asked to enter in. We see the instructions that were given that would keep them well, provide for their security, and act as a guide for their every step. It is simple: Keep God before you! The rationale for this: You have never been this way before! You may have expected some great revelation from God if you were about to go into some new land, laden with giants, surrounded by fortified cities - uncharted territory. I imagine most of us would want the "inside scoop" on just how God was going to "pull things off" before we'd even want to take our first step!

Spies had been sent - reports had come back. They knew the gravity of the battle ahead. I imagine they were likely a little intimidated by the size of the walls - if not by the fact that these cities had "trained" armies. These Israelites were "green" when it came to warfare. That would make me feel pretty "inept" in a similar situation! We cannot forget the report they brought back - the people are all trembling in their boots because of US! In fact, the cities of Canaan had already heard of the reputation of the God of Israel - it had preceded their arrival. They knew of the reports of the Red Sea being parted, swallowing countless numbers of Egyptian soldiers, and the safety of this band of Israelites being maintained in their exodus from Egypt. They had learned that they did not even have to "bear arms" to accomplish this great exodus! God's reputation was well-established already!

That is important for us to remember when facing the next major challenge of our walk (whatever 'uncharted territory' that may be). God asks one thing of us - keep him squarely before us! Why? Because we have never been this way before. When taking new ground in our lives, we need to remember the "placement" of God - if he is squarely in the middle of our thoughts, our hopes, and our movements, we can count on his reputation making the path clear for us. Just sayin!

Monday, September 17, 2018

A little prep now makes sense

The training a soldier receives is for one purpose - to be prepared for the battle. Not to be prepared just in case there might be a battle someday in the distant future. It is training to be prepared - regardless of the battle, foe, or challenge. There is a great deal of attention that must be paid in "being prepared" - it involves mind being ready, body being physically prepared, and gear all being in solid working order. Another important part of the soldier's training is that of learning how to use the gear and when it is the appropriate time for each piece of gear. I was issued so much stuff - winter and summer gear - combat and survival gear. Each had a purpose and I had to learn how each piece functioned. If I didn't know how to dismantle my weapon and put it back together perfectly, it could mean the loss of life! Scripture describes the fact that we must learn how to apply the various weapons / pieces of armor we are provided in this Christian walk. It s something we must learn - it does not come naturally to us.

Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Ephesians 6:13-18)

Here we find the reminder we are up against way more than we can handle on our own. Mark my words, we may try repeatedly to handle what life throws our way without ever seeking God in the midst of it, but we won't handle it well when we do! We need God's help - and he stands at the ready to do just that. God has "issued" us certain weapons - things we have at our disposal that we must become proficient at using. I was issued a rifle as a soldier. I learned how to handle that weapon - everything from zeroing its sights, cleaning its many parts, and actually firing it with expert proficiency. It became a tool in my hands that was to be used, if warranted, in the defense of my life and the life of my peer. So it is with the weapons of warfare that God has given us - the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, Prayer, abundant Faith, and even everlasting Peace. Regardless of the "weapon", each serves a purpose in our "arsenal" of defense against the enemy of our souls.

Paul reminds us that these are more than mere words on a page - they are true life "tools" we must become skillful in implementing. We need to learn how to pray - not just pouring our hearts out to God asking for his help, but in supporting each other in prayerful battle. We must get truth into our minds so it effects our daily walk - keeping us steady when the enemy tries to offer deceptive tactics. There is stability in learning what it is to stand in the peace of God - unwavering because we know that we are in Christ and he is in us. Regardless of the "tool" provided, if is never used, the tool is useless. Every weapon / tool provided for both our defense and our offense are necessary. The skill of learning how to use each of them is often best learned from others who have already learned - just like I learned to fire my rifle on the firing range with a group of instructors who were expert marksmen. Yes, we will learn much on our own, just us and God. Yet there is much to be learned from each other - so come alongside one who has walked through many a battle and learn how they have used the weapons of our warfare in their lives. The fact remains - we need to learn how to apply the weapons (utilize the tools we have been given) because we will need them all our lives!

We are not exempt from learning how to use these weapons - there is a command in this passage to learn them and learn them well. Where a command exists, there is implied obedience as an expectation. Therefore, it is imperative that we don't take for granted what we have been given for our defense. Preparation is a process of making ready. Are you ready for the battle? Are you ready to stand strong? Are you ready to stand for another when they can barely stand alone any longer? The invitation is to be prepared - not just for yourself, but for the guy or gal next to you, so learn how to use your weapons of warfare well! Just sayin!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Just you wait and see

The development of habits, thoughts and behaviors comes through both ongoing discipline and repeated instruction. We become proficient at something through the repetitive "doing" or "experiencing" of that task or behavior. God's training of our lives encompasses many aspects, but none so soul-liberating as the ordering of our thought life. The training of God that is directed toward our thought life, bringing into alignment our thoughts with his mind, allows us to develop behaviors that actually build our character on a solid foundation.

Train me, God, to walk straight; then I'll follow your true path. Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I'll worship in joyful fear. (Psalm 86:11-12)

The ability to walk the path God has laid out for us comes as we are submissive to the training God brings into our life - especially as it applies to our thought life. When I say "submissive" I am not referring to some mamby-pamby kind of response to God. I am referring to us taking the lead to center our thoughts on him, leading to the ability to refocus the desires of our heart toward the things that delight him. There is some effort exerted on our part, but it has huge rewards, so it is 'worth' that expenditure.

The ability to walk God's true path comes not only in our being trained, but in our "being put together" by God. We need to see the unity of heart and mind as important to being successful in our walk - we cannot have a divided thought-life as it will lead to a divided heart focus. Nothing could be truer than the fact that what the mind is inclined to dwell upon leads the heart in that same direction. If we think it, we often find ourselves saying and doing it! We need our minds aligned with his in order for our hearts to be affected by his heart - in order for our actions to actually reflect our relationship connection with him.

Undivided mind and heart - the basis of true worship. We are presented with the idea that we really enter into a different "level" of relationship with God when we have an undivided mind and heart - both functioning in unity with God's plan for our lives. Elsewhere in scripture, we are reminded that a double-minded man is unstable in all he does (James 1:8). There is no stability because there are no "constants" in his life. While there is always a place for variability in life, the mind is not one of those places!

What I mean is that we need to have focus - the right focus helps to determine the right outcome. As a young student in science class, the teachers introduced me to the idea of forming a hypothesis. A hypothesis was a basic idea or thought of what the outcome of the experiment would be - take this action, get that response (or so we thought). We would set out with one thought in mind, but often get a totally different result in the end. Why? Simply because our hypothesis was not based in fact - it didn't include all the factors that influenced the outcome. When what we desire and then set out to accomplish is based in fact, the outcome is much different.

Both mind and heart must be based in reality - centered on what God teaches, what he holds dear to his heart. This gives us a basis of "fact" from which to live life. The unity of heart and mind, centered upon God, loyal to him and him alone - this is the desired direction of our life. The outcome of that alignment will be phenomenal - just you wait and see!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Better than or worse than?

Have you ever been accused of taking yourself too seriously? It could be you just cannot get past the bad habit of thinking of yourself as superior in some way, or deserving of more distinction than someone else for something you may have done. For some reason, you might find yourself getting a little pretentious, attempting over and over again to win someone's affections, or receive some kind of 'merit' by pushing your 'good deeds' as 'deserving' of some kind of notice. Since I could put myself in this boat on occasion, let me just say that it might not have occurred to any of us yet, but it could just be that those 'good deeds' we are counting on as getting us some kind of 'merit' with another are really what was reasonable in the first place - they weren't really all that 'above and beyond' actions on our part. There are times we push ourselves forward, demanding something more than we should, and it makes others uncomfortable. There are also times when we just get way too down on ourselves, not wanting to give ourselves any credit at all, and then others are always trying to encourage us to see ourselves differently. Either way, it isn't how God wants us to see ourselves - because it isn't the way he sees us if Christ dwells in us. He wants us to take him seriously - not ourselves!

How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. (Micah 6:4-8 MSG)

The offerings were to be of the 'first-fruits' of the fields and flocks. The best of the best - so to speak. The farmer or rancher would wait all season to bring forth that crop or see the firstborn emerge from the flock or herd. The season just prior to the first of the crop may have been the leanest for them - making it especially significant that God asked for the first-fruits to be given to him. The farmer would have likely desired to partake of those first-fruits himself - because of the leanness of the times preceding their harvest or emergence. The reminder to the farmer or rancher was that all the 'yield' of the season was a direct blessing from God - a direct result of his work within their lives. To give back just a little of that increase really was just a way of showing God we knew exactly where the increase came from! The truth has always been that God desires our best - first. He has equally always made a way for us to give our best - first! He also makes a way for us to continually be our best - Christ.

In respect to the harvest or increase of the flocks, the idea is that of honoring not only God, but also each other with the increase. The increase isn't just for our own edification or enhancement. It is given to us because there will always be others who will benefit from what God has blessed us with in our lives. It matters not if the thing God brings as an increase in our lives is his grace or love - gift it! It doesn't matter if that increase is some form of knowledge or intelligence - use it to help others! The increase has always been about us giving, not about us being 'better than' or 'more blessed'. It has always been about us honoring God with the increase, and in turn honoring others with an outflow of that blessing. In this way, we are keeping our focus right - God is the one who gives the increase, he is also the one who wants us to use that increase to be a blessing in the lives of those around us.

Some may not have had much of a harvest or increase in their flocks or herds. The times may have been way too lean for their liking, making it harder and harder for them to find ways to be fed, clothed, and housed during those times. God never 'let them off the hook' when it came to the sacrifice - he required something. But...he made adjustments in what they could offer. If they didn't have a lamb, they could give a dove. If they didn't have oil, they could bring salt. They may not have found they had much to give, but God provided something they could bring - something that they could give. As is the case with us, we always have something to give of ourselves - regardless of how little or much it may be. We can always bless another is some way - it just may take a different form from time to time. 

None of us is 'more blessed' or 'better than' another - all of us who have Christ have it all! Circumstances may change our 'increase' in some way or another, but they never change who or what we are in Christ. We all have been created with a place for his Spirit to dwell - all have an equal chance to say "yes" to him. All have a similar 'framework' - born into sin, sinners at the core, and in need of a Savior. That puts all of us on a pretty even playing field, my friends. None is better than, or worse than - - - we are just the same! Just sayin!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hand me the pick-ax

Undeterred - not able to be restrained from action. Wouldn't most of us like to say our walk with Jesus is rather "undeterred" - there is nothing that distracts us, keeps us from moving forward, or discourages us in our pursuit of right-living? Truth be told, there are a whole lot of things that 'deter' us each and every day - most of which we have total control over! The commission given to the disciples was to "go", followed closely by "train". Both are significant action words - one suggesting we don't remain stagnant, firmly planted somewhere, not moving - while the other signifies a specific course of action. My BFF is bilingual and she often attempts to help me gain a little bit of conversational Spanish along the way. My Spanish is helpless! It is as though my mind has a barrier to retaining this stuff! She aptly points out that I have no problem learning something new when it comes to Excel database writing, so why do I have a road-block to learning Spanish? I think it has to do with the 'action' I invest in the pursuit! Much of what we realize in life is because of some action - we take steps toward something and we begin to see the progress made with each step. Many of us stop way short of the progress we should be making, simply because we don't take the next step!
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 MSG)
Where would we be today if the disciples just stopped short of their commission? The first churches wouldn't have been planted. The first missionaries wouldn't have carried the message outside of the city gates. The 'first' always marks the beginning - the hope is that their will always be a 'next'. Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Sad truth, but the truth nonetheless. We often don't 'go' because it involves work. We don't 'train' because it is kind of hard to learn some of this stuff ourselves. We have a preconceived idea about how opportunity comes our way in life - we think silver platter, while God thinks 'get out the pick-ax'. We want it all when it comes to the blessings, but weare seldom comfortable getting out of our comfort zone when the blessing requires a little effort on our part!
While I know this passage is about the 'Great Commission' - the sending out of the disciples to make converts of many - I also think it applies to our everyday life. We need to see the pattern of go and train. As we go, we are learning. As we take action, results begin to follow. As we go, others are encouraged by our progress. It is a cycle - one goes, another is touched, now two are going, and so on. We don't 'go' alone. In just that same way, we aren't expected to learn the life lessons alone - we are guided into learning, but there is effort on our part to learn. We are given the tools, but we have to take them up and use them. I have lots of gardening tools, but my garden doesn't reflect anything about these tools until they are used. It may not reveal it was a pick-ax that loosened the soil beneath the surface, but without that pick-ax, the soil would be impenetrable. Without hard work, we might just not get 'trained' in the things God wants us to know and experience in life. Just sayin!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Taunt on...go ahead...I'm not budging

There are basically two responses to life - facing it head on, or ducking for cover - although there could be different versions of both, it basically boils down to head on or turning tail. The first requires some element of determination, faith, and commitment. The latter simply requires a spirit of complacency, an overly sensitive emotional response to fear, and a whole lot of discouragement. David was in a real "pickle" when he pens these words - perhaps like some form of "pickle" a couple of us might feel we are in right now, or will inevitably face from time to time in life. Friends had turned their backs, enemies were all around, and everything he had counted on seemed to be failing - except God (remember that one, will you).  So, in the midst of this, he turns to the one he knows will never fail.

Take a good look at me, God, my God; I want to look life in the eye, so no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face. I've thrown myself headlong into your arms—I'm celebrating your rescue. I'm singing at the top of my lungs, I'm so full of answered prayers. (Psalm 13:3-6)

When we look deeper at what he says in the midst of his disappointment, we find that he is not going to 'give into' the doubts that come - doubts like God has turned his back on him in the midst of his circumstances.  He is not going to give into the disbelief that his friends have all scattered like the wind - because he still has his most important one - God.  He is not going to succumb to the "woe is me" emotional roller-coaster of missed opportunities, delayed answers, disappointing outcomes, and inadequate responses - because he has learned to trust. Instead, he faces God - asking God to keep his face turned toward him so that God can take a good look into his life.  He invites God to search him - to uncover anything that is not honoring to him.  Why?  Simply because he does not want his enemies to have even one thing that they can boast about - one thing David can look back upon and wonder if he had done something different at that moment, perhaps things would have turned out better.  He wants his reputation to be pure.  He wants his testimony to be strong.  This purity and strength is proven (tempered) in the presence of a holy God - so he runs headlong to God, asking God to expose his character to all who would look upon him.  

He can do this because he knows God has been working in him to form the quality of character that stands up under the pressure of life's negative stuff.  It is not easy, but it is true - we can stand strong in the midst of life's "junky" moments.  If we faithfully come to God with our responses, desires, fears, unbelief, etc. - he takes each open exchange of our time together and begins to use those times to mold us into the image of his Son. The goal is to have a strong reputation - not because it is a bragging point, but because it is evidence of the grace and love of God in his life.  For us, it is to be a man or woman of God that our enemy cannot speak a negative or accusing word about.  The enemy of our souls is the accuser of our souls - he looks for opportunity after opportunity to accuse us - relentless in his pursuit.  Why?  Because those accusations eat away at us - they allow doubt to enter in, they invade the personal peace of our soul and the space of our minds which should be reserved for meditation upon God's Word and enjoyment of his revelation.  God invites us into his arms - enjoying the intimacy of those moments - in order to build us up where we have been torn down by life.


We are invited into his arms today and every day of our lives.  There, he delights in creating a freshness of spirit, a renewal of joy, and a treasure-load of hope - because of his grace.  In those moments of intimate sharing, our character is being transformed - our reputation is being "re-written" so that the world sees only Christ in us. The hope of glory! We might want to turn tail and run, but when we learn to stand in the midst of fear, trusting in the one who holds us closer than imaginable, we learn to look beyond the enemy's frightful taunts and pursuing tenacity. We see instead the glory of God revealed in us. Just sayin!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A new bike pump

We might not know what is missing until we look for it. The other day I needed my bike tire pump. Doggone if I could find it. I went into bins, pulled out cabinet items, and no pump. The thing had vanished into thin air! I never knew it was misplaced until I needed it to fill the new tires and tubes on my 'new to me' bike I was blessed with! It is a good pump - the kind that fits onto the frame of your bike. I knew where I thought it had been, but then I looked in all the places it might have gravitated into, but alas...no pump. The next step was to buy another one, so off to the hardware store I went. It still hasn't shown up, but I expect it to at some point. What I feel bad about is that I wasn't a good steward of my 'tools' for the task at hand. I usually do a better job than that at maintaining an awareness of where my resources are, but not this time. God calls us to steward some pretty significant stuff in our lives - like grace, truth, and love - but it is quite possible we could misplace these if we are inattentive to them, as well!

Don't wear yourself out trying to get rich; restrain yourself! Riches disappear in the blink of an eye; wealth sprouts wings and flies off into the wild blue yonder. (Proverbs 23:4-5)

The more we watch the news these days, check in incessantly on the status of our investments, and listen to the doomsday picture painted by those who analyze the status of our financial institutions, the more we move into a panic mode as it relates to our "financial security". We begin to envision the worst - because the picture laid out for us by those who have a "big picture" view of the state of things. Scripture has a lot to say to us about our relationship with our money. We are reminded that we can "wear ourselves out" trying to get rich - and even more so when we are trying to "keep" the riches we have amassed in an economy that is failing. We steward our riches - they aren't really just earned and spent - they are to be watch over, used wisely, and given freely.

Wealth can really be defined as anything that we have in great quantity that we have laid up in store for future use. Jesus reminds us that laying up treasures on this earth is a great waste of our time - it is the treasures in heaven that matter. When we think of "wealth" in our society, we think of the amassing of goods, finances, or even the lack of those things that leads to poverty for some. When Jesus referred to wealth in the "kingdom economy", he was thinking about positive character, richness in mercy, and fullness of grace, just to name a few. Two differing views - two very different outcomes. I don't want to imply that wisely planning for our futures is not supported in scripture. In fact, we are told to make wise use of all that is given to us - all increase is to be wisely invested and utilized in the best manner. We are warned against waste, reminded of the importance of sharing with those that don't have the same blessings we enjoy, and to be good providers for our family. In scripture, this is referred to as stewardship.

A steward is one who manages the property of another. This should give us some insight into our "wealth" - it is not our own. God give us the increase so that we can be channels of blessing into the lives of others. If this is the view we have of our "increase", then we are less likely to be consumed by the increase (we don't spend a lot of time fretting over the outcome). We are to come into a place of stewardship - the guardian of what we have been given, in service to those we are placed with in this walk of life. Exert wisdom in that which you are called to steward - riches and bike pumps! Then turn yourself to focusing on how you can be a blessing in the lives of others - in the furthering of the gospel, the changing of lives imprisoned in poverty, or delivering a soul from the darkness of their emotional prison (and repair of a friend's bike tires).

These are worthwhile uses of our "wealth" - whether it is great or little. Ask God what he would have you do to set aside something for a special purpose that he will reveal to you in the weeks ahead. It may be to support a local shelter, or to deliver sack lunches to the homeless in your city streets. It may be to support the work of a children's ministry in your church, or to drive a disabled person to their doctor's appointments. God's use of your "wealth" goes beyond the monetary - to the use of your time, talents, and yes, your treasures (and bike pumps). How is God directing you to be a steward of what he has given you today? Just askin!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Risking it all...how about you?

We can be on our way toward doing one thing, but find ourselves called upon to do something else without warning. I was on my way back to bed at 3:30 this morning after tending for mom's needs - she was on her way to set the electric tea kettle to the "on" position as she was up for the day! I was heading one way with one mission in mind - sleep. Mom was headed another - with a totally different mission for me in mind! We can have our days or moments interrupted. Our desires and our plans can endure interruptions. Even our relationships and our health can be interrupted. We never know when that interruption may mean an adjustment in our course. Jesus was on his way one day to accomplish one healing he'd been called upon to do, (that of the dead daughter),  when a totally different use of his healing power was called upon, (the healing of the woman with the issue of blood). It is the woman that I wish to focus on this morning. Not specifically her need, but her faith - her faith to interrupt such an important task for the one she had in mind.

As he finished saying this, a local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, "My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live." Jesus got up and went with him, his disciples following along. Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, "If I can just put a finger on his robe, I'll get well." Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: "Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you're well." The woman was well from then on. (Matthew 9:18-22)

Most of us can associate with this woman on occasion - having an intense need that just causes us to see our need as the one that needs the attention at that moment. A need so intense it warrants interrupting the ones we hold close and even Jesus. Jesus is among a huge crowd of people - each pressed in on every side - lots of onlookers and even more who were seeking his touch. Most simply waited for him to notice - in other words, they waited for him to call attention to their need. This woman did something entirely different from the crowd - she took her need to him - undaunted by the pressure of the crowd. Sometimes we wait for others to notice our need - at other times, we are like mom - setting out in determined focus to have that need met. Jesus commends this woman for her faith - stating that she took "a risk of faith" and that was what made her well. Risk is something that we "take", not something that is passive. We see an opportunity and then we respond to that opportunity - we take the risk.

We are presented with hundreds of "risky" opportunities each and every day. Think of the last time you attempted to pull your car out into oncoming traffic, or invested money on the stock market - that was a risk. The last time you bought the "bargain brand" of detergent, or the t-shirts that were on sale for an amazingly cheap price was a risk you were willing to take in order to save a little money. We take "calculated" risks each and every day. It is the "un-calculated" risk of faith that Jesus is commending here - not so much the risks we 'plan' to take. This woman did what no other in that crowd did - she moved beyond her fears of rejection, beyond the norms of the day, and touched the hem of his garment - risk at its riskiest. She seized the opportunity because she believed in the possibility. That is the reality of faith in action - looking beyond the limitations of the present to see the possibilities of the future when that future is in the hand of the Master.

To risk it all means that we expose ourselves to some things that may definitely not be in our total "comfort zone". She was a woman - in those days, to approach a man without being invited to do so was unheard of - risky business in private, much less in public. She was considered unclean by the issue of her blood - to be in the crowd that day was in violation of every "rule" of the orthodox Jew - a risk of 'religious' rule-breaking. She was desperate - moved by her need, not by her rational thought. Maybe the risk comes in not really thinking it through, but in just abandoning ourselves to our faith. Jesus honors this kind of faith - that which is centered in taking the risk of moving beyond what our minds think impossible to what our spirits believe possible. We are encouraged to move into "risky" faith - taking steps of certainty toward Jesus with our need - even when everything in us is uncertain. She pushed through the crowd - there was some resistance to her touching his garment - the resistance of the crowd, the norms, and the rules. What resistance are you facing today? It may be that resistance that is holding you back from risking it all, but when you push past it, what may you find on the other side?

Jesus did not need to acknowledge her - he could have allowed the healing to have occurred - simply by the touch of his garment. Yet, in his love and intense compassion, he stopped, turned to her, and specifically presents her with the assurance that what she desperately believed for was an accomplished fact. Jesus always moves beyond our expectations each time we take the steps of "risky" faith. He is in the business of rewarding this type of committed "exposure". What do you need to touch the Master's hem for today? What is your "issue" - that thing that requires a little more risk in your life than you might have been willing to take before? Take that 'risky thing' to him in the same type of "risky" faith - see what he will do with the commitment of your heart to bring the impossible into the very presence of the possible. Just risking it all!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Not just the easy stuff

Do you ever ask questions, only to find you already knew the answer? Sometimes we ask the question because we want to be certain we do indeed have the right answer already, but there are times we really doubt that we do - making the question really kind of like a fact-finding mission. We ask, hoping to receive, but we aren't sure we will receive anything that we didn't already know. The questions we ask can be 'conditioned' on the type of answer we really want to receive. For example, if we ask only a very superficial question, we are probably seeking only a superficial answer. If we want to get to the nitty-gritty, down and dirty truth of the matter, we might just ask the harder questions. The answer is almost predicted by the question posed. There is a quote that says, "Good questions outrank easy answers." (Paul Samuelsen)

But Jesus was matter-of-fact: "Yes—and if you embrace this kingdom life and don't doubt God, you'll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you'll tell, 'Go jump in the lake,' and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God."
(Matthew 21:21-22)

While this passage is focused on learning a little bit about prayer, we can see Jesus is concerned with his disciples learning more than the superficial - he wants them to get to the root! Jesus focuses them on the condition of heart that is necessary to receive what is desired from God in prayer. We need to have an embracing heart that is filled with faith if we are to receive as God intends for us to receive. It is often difficult to live above doubt - often because the impossibilities look way too menacing and too prominent - so we ask what we think will be simple or easy. Overcoming, or at least stepping out in spite of our doubt is a challenge for most of us - we don't like the potential 'unrest' getting to the root of a matter will bring if we ask in that manner. We need to pay attention to the entire passage here - embrace God first, then overcoming our doubts is easier - we won't fear asking the harder questions.

When we fully hold on to God - really drawing close to him - we find it easier to step out, even when there is a hint of doubt in the way. The key is relationship - the closer we are to God, the closer we are to asking according to his purpose and seeing the fulfillment of what we ask for. When we are in close relationship, we understand that all the blessings and promises of God are for us - there is no question in our mind. We also need to see that we must ask - unspoken requests are not really a thing that God works too well with - even when the questions are not really seeking the 'easy answers'. He wants us to express our hearts to him because it develops the intimacy he desires with us. As we open up to him about what it is we have need of - the deep inner desires of our heart - he is able to embrace us, pulling us closer, and he meets us there. The promise to us is this - if we believe, we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer. Condition - if we believe. Promise - we will receive. Condition - whatever we ask for in prayer. The promise of God has two conditions - we must ask and we must believe. Our doubts are dealt with in the presence of God - our needs are expressed in the times of prayerful sharing - not just the easy stuff, but all of it.

To receive carries means we come into possession of something - this is what we really almost always gravitate to as the definition of receiving. Yet, see the components of this definition a little clearer - WE come into POSSESSION. In other words, we step out in faith and we come into a place where possession is possible. The impossible becomes possible in this place of faith. The action is one of being open to acquire or take it as our own - when we talk openly with God about our needs, we are trusting him to allow us to take that which we desire as our own. Nothing delights the heart of God more than to meet the needs of his kids. To ask means we are also willing and ready to act as a receptacle or container for whatever comes by asking. When we ask, we need to be readied to receive. Why is there a difference between the time we ask and the time we realize the answer? It is often because we need to be readied to receive - our "container" is not ready.  When we ask with an open heart, purposing to take in what we are believing God for, we find that our hearts are open to experience the fullness of God like never before. We are open to assimilate through both our minds and our senses all that God is doing. We are enlarged. Our invitation today is to receive - the condition of our receiving is to ask. The method of asking is to do it while drawing close to God and relying on him more than we believe in our doubts. We don't just ask for the easy - we are ask, knowing we will receive, even when the answer might be a little hard for us to receive! Just sayin!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

So, that is what it is there for

My pastor is always saying, "Don't overlook the therefore, because you need to know what it is there for." The use of the word "therefore" is a "joining" word. It focuses us on what has been said up to the point that this word is used - reminding us that based on what has been presented, we can make the following conclusions. In this case, the 'therefore' points us to the fact that ignoring God leads man into a place of ungodly pursuits and God is never pleased with this behavior. We try to get away with our sin, but God is not willing to let us off the hook. He has his eye on us, attentive to our every choice even when we try to mask the conviction of our sin with the pursuit of all kinds of religious experiences - thinking that if we look or sound religious, somehow this will appease the requirement for holiness that God requires of us.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

At the time these words were recorded for us there was a struggle in the church between Gentile and Jew. The basis of the struggle was that the Jew felt superior to the Gentile because they were chosen by God to be his unique people - given the law, brought out of bondage to their slavery in the land of Egypt, and finally called his bride. They thought this gave them a "leg up" on the Gentiles and constantly threw this up into their faces. The "works" of the law did not "save" anyone - even the Jews - it is faith and faith alone that accomplished that important 'transition'. We are then presented with the concept of peace with Jesus - gained through faith in the grace in which we now stand. We no longer stand in "religion" or "rules of the law", but in grace (unmerited favor).

Therefore...or "since"...in view of the fact that we have been justified through faith....

We are justified - proven right and qualified to become participants in the ownership of our inheritance in Christ Jesus. We are now treated as righteous, all sin absolved through the work of the cross - not by any work of our own. It is through faith - we have come to a place where we have complete confidence in the promises of God. We have more than a passing knowledge of his work on the cross - we have a firm persuasion, a conviction based on hearing that leads to a full acknowledgement of God's revelation in us. We are firmly grounded on fact - the fact of the cross accomplishing what we could not in and of ourselves - holiness comes at the foot of the cross, not in the keeping of rules.

We have been given peace with God - a sense of security, freedom from all disquieting and oppressive thoughts - now it is time for us to walk and live in that peace. It is gained through Jesus - we have an obtained advantage over those who have not experienced the work of the cross in their lives - peace. We also have access to God - a total freedom to obtain and make use of the grace extended to us - something not to be taken for granted. Not just once, but over and over again we can come freely into his gracious presence. Grace is needed frequently - it is to be accessed repeatedly. Grace is the special favor, privilege, approval, and pardon of God. It is his unmerited, divine assistance - just when we need it, right where we need it, just how we need it.

That gives us an ability to stand - in a specific position - occupying the "space" God has prepared for us in his presence. To have this kind of assurance is something that people seek for all their lives in the natural, worldly pursuits of life, yet never find in any of these. The peace of God - the freedom to stand in his presence - both elusive to those who have not experienced his grace. We are reminded in Ephesians 2:11-18 that we were once without hope, but now are brought near. That nearness to God is accomplished at the foot of the cross. In coming near, he became the very peace we needed. In that peaceful nearness, we experience the total access to God that the blood of Christ accomplished. If peace is just not within you today, perhaps it is time for a fresh visit to the foot of the cross - asking God to revitalize you today with the joy of his presence and restfulness of his grace. Just sayin!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A perfect fit

You can build a house, or you can build a home. There is a vast difference, for one is just built and the builder moves on. The other is custom built for the one who intends to inhabit it. When a home is created, the one creating it is intent on bringing together all the right materials for what he envisions. The home will have all the 'finishing touches' of the creator. It is a joyful thing to finally come to a place where we feel like we "fit".  We often spend the majority of our lives looking for that "perfect fit" in life.  We experience disappointment when career, schooling, family, friends, spouse, etc., all somehow don't "fit" in quite the same way as we imagined.  The good news is that there is a "fit" in life that will never disappoint!

That's plain enough, isn't it? You're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

When something "fits", we say it is adapted or suited for the purpose it is created for.  Our "fit" in life is that of relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are created for the very purpose of bringing him glory and honor.  When we pursue anything else as that "perfect fit", we find that it falls short - it just doesn't measure up as it should.  Something that is "fit" is also prepared or readied - such as a crop that is "fit" for gathering into the barns.  The only thing in life that makes us "fit" (prepared or readied) is Christ.  We need his transforming power in our lives in order to be prepared for what comes our way in the building process.

We often overlook the meaning of these verses - glancing over them with a quick acceptance that we are being built into a holy temple for God's presence to indwell.  This is only possible when Jesus is the builder (creator of the home). He is the one "fitting" the pieces of our lives together so that they are a perfect dwelling for that presence - each one being perfectly crafted so that as we are fit together, we all 'fit together'.  Together, we need his perfect forming, his spiritually powerful "architectural" abilities.  No group of individuals is "built together" without that power.  We can try as we might, but the differences we each possess are often a hindrance to such "building".  In his hands, those differences are uniquely placed side-by-side, forming exactly what brings him the honor he desires and the 'fitness' of the finished work suggests something of strength and solid structure. We aren't created to just be part of the house - we are created for his presence to declare that house a home.

Where do you fit?  Have you found your "fit" in life yet?  If not, Jesus stands at the ready to begin the work of "fitting" each of us for the exact placement he has in mind for us.  Some of us have a "fit" that lends itself to being supports, while others have the unique fit of bringing beauty and pleasure to the structure he is creating.  Regardless of the "fit" we fulfill, when we finally find that "fit", we are in a place where we know perfect peace, overwhelming joy, and everlasting grace.  Ask God to show you what he is "fitting" you for today.  He delights in placing his hands on your life, forming you into his planned purpose for your life, and creating a place for his presence to dwell for all of eternity. Just sayin!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Anyone else annoyed?

My BFF and I often talk about what we see or hear on social media and the TV nightly news. The days are pretty much past now where we'd be shocked by some of the stuff we see posted and hear talked about in these newscasts - even by those whose positions should dictate they have a little more decorum and tact in what they say. It is this lack of tact and constant pushing back that can actually incite arguments and disagreements of all sorts - even to the point of war. James 4:1 reminds us that wars and quarrels don't "just happen" - they are not forces of nature. They exist because WE exist - humans bring about quarrels and start wars. Humans contend to overcome some 'foe' - whether it is another human being we are contending to overcome, or some habit or interest. We often stand in opposition to that which we don't understand. So it is with our spiritual walk, as well. When we don't understand a commandment, it is easy to dismiss it as too hard to grasp, or too difficult to meet - we contend with it and in the end, we often set ourselves at odds with it.

I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary. (Romans 7:14-16)

A man's desires are considered the things that he craves, longs for - they are defined as those things that we have an impulse toward because they promise some type of satisfaction or enjoyment - even if what we find enjoyment in is inciting those around us so we get into a good fight at times. Man chooses to respond to that which his mind and emotions craves the most. Choice is mostly made after careful consideration - because there is a preference for some outcome over another. We are likened to individuals who have spent a long time in "sin's prison". We are "friends" with sin - we tend toward / are inclined to respond to sin's goading and demands. Since this is such a struggle for us, how do we break free of this hold that sin has on us?

We cannot be trusted to figure out what is best for ourselves - so we need God's commands to assist us in knowing how to respond. That is the purpose of the Word of God - to give us guidance in how to live, respond, and grow. John has a reminder for us about the placement of our affections - those things that we embrace as our frequent choices in life. Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (I John 2:15-17) Don't love the world's ways - all secular affairs, the systems of all created things. The world's systems (ways) find God's systems (ways) distasteful, criticizing them as 'archaic', and 'too prescriptive'. That is one test of whether a pursuit is godly - is it in alignment with the love of God (the Creator)? We struggle so much with the matter of choosing the things of the created instead of the Creator because we perceive that those in pursuit of the world's ways have some advantage over us. We see them enjoying themselves and we want to possess that same advantage.

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he'll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet. (James 4:7-10) To resist means that we withstand the force or effect of the one in this world - the devil himself. We counteract and defeat him - in total opposition to his force - by fleeing from him. To flee means that we run from the danger or force that is opposing us - we vanish (get off the scene) from the very thing that has a pull on us. In other words - we don't entertain it - we don't stand around and let it goad us; and we don't goad it! The wrong response to sin's pull is usually initiated in the very entertainment of the thought of that sin. We recall the part of this commandment to "flee from the devil", but we often ignore the rest of the passage. It reminds us that we need to come near God - approaching him with intimacy. There we find washing (cleansing and separation) of all that passes through our minds. We are purified in his presence - made clear from defilement or imperfection. Our entire being - every part of us - needs this cleansing. We obtain it in the presence of God.

So, how do we move from sin into holiness - how do we stop letting sin goad us and get us all worked up? It is in the keeping of the very commands we often resist so boldly. Keep his commands - even when you don't fully understand or appreciate the value of those commands. In the keeping of them, he brings us closer to himself than we were before. In this place of closeness, we will come to understanding - we will also come to into rest and peace - something most of us lack because we are so focused on how much this thing we have been contending with actually annoys the heck out of us! Just sayin!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Need a re-alignment?

Direct relationship with God - made possible by the blood sacrifice of Christ - is ours today. We can really "live" in his presence - have a life rich in every worthwhile experience, driven by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer to spend all our time and energies gratifying the works of the flesh, but to live according to the Spirit of God that energizes us within. To gratify is to give pleasure to - give satisfaction to through indulging in - to give into sin's pull and the mind's lusts. Did you realize that scripture says we are free of that "pull" that demands 'gratification' now that we are Christ's?

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise. (Galatians 3:25-27)

A man's nature is defined as everything that makes up his inner man - his temperament (how he responds) and his character (why he responds). Apart from relationship with Christ, it is contrary to the things of the Spirit - incompatible with, on an ongoing and opposing course, and moving in a direct opposite direction from all that God would have for us. When we come to Christ, there are many times when we feel like our lives (old and new) are being lived in conflict - the old nature being in direct conflict with the new. It is as though they are in competition - each with their opposing needs, drives, wishes and demands. The scripture goes so far as to tell us that these two natures are "irreconcilable". They aren't just to go through a 'trial separation' - there is to be a total dissolution!

Those who are the property of Christ have become attached to him by new birth - their allegiance to their sinful nature being broken as a result of this new attachment. Now we find our dependency in Christ, not in ourselves. Romans 8:5-7 tells us that those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires - yet, those who live in accordance with the Spirit of God have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. In other words, there is an exchange of "allegiance" and this leads to an exchange of "focus". Allegiance is described as that which we dedicate ourselves to - every attitude, every motivation all directed to that particular thing or person. Because of that dedication, there is a desire to be obedient or submissive to the wishes of that individual. We find ourselves deferring to that individual - adhering to their wishes as expressed. If we have crucified the old man and been raised to newness of life in the Spirit of God, the flesh and all its passions have also been put off (we no longer give allegiance to them). Yet, many of us struggle with "fleshly" thoughts, actions, and compulsions every single day! Why? Actually there are three questions that might help us to answer this question:

1. What is our mindset? It is a little appreciated fact that where the mind goes, the spirit follows. If it is set on things that are opposed to the Spirit of God - it will follow. If it is set on things that truly promise satisfaction and fulfillment - that is what we will experience.
2. What controls us? That which controls us either holds us in restraint - keeping us from responding a certain way - or allows us the freedom to pursue that which we desire. It is easy to see that if we have the wrong thing in control of our lives (like our sinful nature), we will not have much restraint when it comes to not pursuing sin. If we have the Spirit of God in control of our lives (moment-by-moment authority and direction over our lives), we will be less likely to respond to the sin nature - we will respond to the new nature being worked into us.
3. What do our emotions reveal about us? Although we are told not to rely upon our emotions as 'good' judges of what to do or not to do, they do provide us some measure of why we do what we do. If our emotions are up one day, down the next, we often feel like we are riding a roller-coaster with our obedience, too. We tend to be "emotionally" driven individuals - if it feels good, we do it, if not, we refrain. It is the Spirit of the living God that wants to have the control over our lives - if we are relying on our emotions to tell us something is good or bad, we will be disappointed.

We are not just "washed up" for a fresh start - we are also clothed in some pretty snazzy "adult wardrobe" that adorns us in some pretty awesome fashion. We are not talking clothing here - we are talking an exchange of mindset, emotional response, and spiritual 'will-power'. With our death to sin and resurrection into newness of life comes an exchanged mind - not all at first, as you may well have realized - but it comes. Our minds find other things to dwell upon that once were less appealing to us before this exchange took place - like meditating upon the scriptures and allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us daily. Our emotions become more "even-keeled", with less ups and downs, and even less pull on us to respond when they are in a state of changeability. The biggest thing we see is our battle of the will - we almost talk ourselves out of responding to the old ways of life because we know they are in opposition to the things of the spirit. We call this a battle of the wills. The problem of "will" is addressed in the issue of control - who is in control? We constantly make a choice of our allegiance. Today's choice may be stronger than yesterday's - each day bringing new challenges for our allegiance. The more we align our allegiance (responding in obedience to Christ), the stronger the pull of that allegiance will be. Our desires begin to take a backseat to those of the Spirit indwelling us. It is a matter of choice - what will we align with today? Just askin!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Consumed, Cleansed, and Consecrated

My neighbor is getting ready to move. He has been busy cleaning out his garage and backyard shed - places where we know things 'gather', sometimes without us even noticing! He is getting it ready to be purchased - knowing the new 'owners' won't want all his excess stuff just hanging around when they take ownership. When we are bought with a price, there is an exchange of ownership. This exchange of ownership is to have an effect on us. The first thing we should notice is that there is a desire for cleansing. We want to have things in our life that are not honoring to God dealt with and removed so that we can move on. 

God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness. (Romans 3:25-26)
The place of cleansing is often referred to as the altar in the scripture. The altar had various purposes in scripture, but there is a lesson to us in each purpose.

· It was a place that required something to be placed on it – an empty altar is nothing more than ornamentation. The only way something can be affected by the altar is to be placed there - for the purpose of sanctification - cleansing. There is an action of submission that must occur if something is to be 'placed' upon the altar.
· It was a place that consumed what was placed upon it – we yield or submit to the work of the altar; Christ does the work of consuming the sacrifice that is placed there. In the Old Testament, the altar sacrifices were consumed – either by the fire, or by the one tending the fire (the priest). In the case of the “spiritual altar” we are called to embrace, there is a yielding our hurts, sins, fears, failures, etc. to God, so that the fire and the one tending the fire are both able to do their work in our lives. What is touched by the fire of the altar is never the same again – even a sacrifice not fully “touched” by the fire has noticeable evidence of having been in the fire!

The altar is a place where we can yield all to God and he will take our “all”, in turn, he cleanses it. The blood of Christ has both the power to cleanse and the ability to keep us clean. When a vessel is cleansed at the end of one use it is so the vessel can be of use to transport something new. We are cleansed at the altar in order that we might be of use for another purpose – instead of responding to our sin nature, we begin responding to the Spirit of the Lord. At the altar, we find that we are changed – filled up with something that takes the place of that which was once so evident in our lives. We are filled up with the Spirit of God in the place of that sin, failure, fear, etc. To be filled implies that we receive a full compliment of what is needed. To be filled also implies that as much as can be put into our spirit is put into us until our spirit is not able to contain any more. We walk away from the altar satisfied.

A life invited to the altar is one that is tenderly transformed – we are received there in order to be transformed there. Once we are cleansed by the Spirit of God, we are also filled. In that filling comes the ability to be open to his leading and direction. Direction implies that we are willing to have the way pointed out to us – having our activities regulated in such a manner that we are energized by another. The fire has done its work. We are transformed. We have been invited to come to the altar. There we will find transformation awaits the yielded soul. The purpose is sanctification – the be in the place of cleansing. What is God asking you to lay on the altar today? What needs to be affected by his fire? What is in need of his consuming touch in your life today? Surrender it on the altar of his grace and mercy – be affected deeply by the fire of his love – never to be the same again. Just sayin!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Be yourself

Some of us have quite a struggle with comparing ourselves to others. Are we thinner or fatter than that other person? Do our earnings outdo theirs? Does our sense of style reveal we have at least kept up with the current century while others have lagged behind? We engage in all manner of comparison and that moment we begin to compare ourselves to another is the moment we open ourselves up to envy, jealousy, strife, and riffs in relationship. Why is that? I think it just might be that Christ never intended for us to compare ourselves to another human - because we are ALL flawed in some manner. His intent was that we compliment each other - not compete!

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. (Romans 12:4-5 MSG)

We get our meaning from Christ - no one else. We find our purpose in him - not in our achievements. We might get enjoyment in our achievement, but it isn't our crowning glory - Christ in us is that crowning glory! We aren't made complete through human effort or restraint. We are complete in Christ. This is the starting point of all sense of real purpose in our lives. When we engage in comparison, we are always going to look down on someone (it might even be ourselves). We might not realize that at first, but when the toe starts to demand all the attention because it gets a little ingrown nail artifact, how much of the body's attention does it get? ALL of it - small though it might be - it views itself as most important at that moment!

Hear the words of this scripture clearly, my friends. We are ALL excellently formed and we function in a marvelous fashion not on our own, but because we have been joined into this thing called the Body of Christ. In times gone by, churches used to preach that we were the Body of Christ. You don't much hear that message any longer, but the truth still remains - each part makes up the whole. No part is more important - nor is any part less significant. ALL are necessary to what God intends. The main message in this passage isn't that we were all put into the Body of Christ, but that we are to get good and comfortable just being who we were made to be - without pretense, comparison, or fear!

Too often comparison leads to us being or striving to be something we are not. We try fashions that we just aren't all that comfortable wearing just because we are trying to "keep up". We buy into neighborhoods that put a crunch on our budgets just because everyone else is doing it. We find ourselves extending ourselves in ways we just aren't comfortable with just because others expect it of us. The end result is that we are miserable. We find ourselves striving, but getting very little reward from all the effort. Did you realize that to strive is to not only to engage in serious effort, expending serious amounts of energy, but that it also means we are struggling in opposition. The opposition is really our conscience! We know better, but we are doing it in order to 'keep up'.

The more we try to be what we are really quite uncomfortable being, the less true we become to our 'original design' - who we were created to be. The greatest way to honor God in our lives is not by becoming the other guy - it is by being ourselves! Just sayin!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Built upon

The price one is willing to pay for something says a whole lot about the 'something' they are about to purchase and the person who is willing to pay such a price! We are 'bought' with a price far too great for us to pay, but which suggests the absolute extreme value of what we are to the one who does the purchasing. A price too great for us to pay - our salvation - purchased by the life of another - the Son of God himself. That one purchase moved us into the unique position of being another's possession - owned but tremendously loved and cherished beyond measure. What does being 'owned by Christ' carry for us? Can you be bought, but not really owned? Is that even possible? I think it just may be!

Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Ownership begins with an exchange - something changes hands. One is willing to 'give' what will allow this exchange to take place. In turn, that which is exchanged is to designed to allow something desired to come into that person's possession. What is possessed is designed for the enjoyment of the one willing to make that extreme purchase. When Jesus asks for full possession of our lives - body, soul and spirit - he is asking for access to not only our spirit, but all that gets "built" into our character as a result of that exchange. He wants the land AND the house - for the special purpose of building what he sees as most important in our lives - the land without a house is just a nice thing, but it doesn't fulfill the purpose he has in mind. It is possible for us to be in relationship with the Lord and still not be fully his. We go about building into our lives what we think is important - exclusive of what he wants for us. When we do this, we remain slaves to the pull of our flesh - responding to the sin nature that drives us.

We are bought out of slavery to our sin nature - the price for our sin being paid, we are to live in service to the one who paid the price - responding to the new nature he places within. We are to be of use to him - responding to him as he desires - allowing what is 'built' in our lives to be his work and not our own. What was accomplished in the payment of the "purchase price" is to have an affect on our entire being - nothing held back for our own purposes. Our bodies are to reflect the work of Christ. People are to see the image of the Creator in us. In other words - if God wants the "land of our lives" for his 'construction work' - so be it! Consider what areas of your life you are maintaining control over (building what you want to see built). It is quite possible that God is receiving honor from those things. Getting an education is an honoring thing to God - applying ourselves to learning is not a sinful thing in and of itself. Yet, getting that education with the intent that we climb a career ladder exclusive of God's direction in our lives can be sinful. God wants to be in the decisions of our lives, central in our focus, creating what will bring him the greatest honor. As owner of our lives, he wants to direct the outcomes of our steps.

We aren't bought with an extreme price just to be 'purchased land'. We are bought to be built upon! That means we will feel his movement repeatedly in our lives until that building 'project' is complete and it meets his satisfaction! Just sayin!