Saturday, November 17, 2018

You want this!

Companies do indeed invest big money into making sure that they are recognizable in the community they serve by the "brand" they have invested time, talent, and energies into creating. They flash their names and photos on billboards, run numerous commercials, wrap vehicles in their 'branding', and send out mailers advertising their product. All these efforts are aimed at one thing - getting us to notice their product and show an interest in it that rises above the interest we have for any other 'similar' product. It is kind of like what God said through Moses so many years ago - "Set yourselves apart..." God was telling us to be known by our "branding" - that which makes us uniquely different from those around us and makes people want what it is that we possess.

"Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy." (Leviticus 20:7-8)

In the advertising world, branding begins with having a quality product that others will want as there is no use in spending time and talent 'branding' something that is inferior or simply not useful to those who are your target 'users' of the product. If the product is shoddy, no matter how much you invest into "branding", it will be a waste of your efforts. The product must be top-notch - there is little use in investing big capital into branding something that is just not going to measure up. Branding involves being visible in the community - the idea is getting as many people to take notice, if even ever so slightly influencing their subconscious mind. The advertising gurus will probably assure us that the more your brand is exposed to the public, the better. Companies invest huge sums of monies and talent into getting their product before the public. Why? It cements the brand with an image. An image speaks more than a catchy advertising phrase. Why? People associate with what they see more than they do with what they hear. Branding involves a commitment to provide a product that the community REALLY needs. A market inundated with similar products that are not well-differentiated from other products finds that they will go for that product that requires the least investment on their part - especially if there is no difference appreciable.

From God's perspective, he is only creating quality products - our passage points out several characteristics that will ensure that our "product" passes the "quality" test. Doing what God tells us involves living as God tells us, so that we are ensured there will be a product that can neither be labeled as "shoddy", nor a waste of efforts. Obedience produces within us what all the efforts at self-improvement could not - life transformation. Nothing is more appealing to someone without hope than to see what having a solid basis for hope can produce. God also makes us visible to others - often while we are going through some 'life-change' in which he is moving in our lives to produce a consistent picture of his grace and restorative power. Our passage does not imply that we are to live on a commune and never associate with others. Being set apart does not mean that we get "weird". It carries the idea that we have something that makes us "unique" - we stand above the rest. There is clearly a place for association with others in the faith, but that should not be our only association. Others need to see Christ in us - that exposure to Christ may be the only exposure they may have.

Another important principle in branding a product is this idea of supply and demand. Where the demand is high, the assumption is that you are creating a product that someone really needs - a unique product that no one else offers, but that everyone needs. There are a lot of "religions" in the world - organized and informal. What sets a Christ-follower out as unique is the ability of being "holy" as God is holy. Holiness is evident in a life that is changed by the Spirit of God within. The ability to steer clear of the gossip chain, the tendency to shy away from coarse or off-color jokes, or the simplicity of making ethical choices because that is the way you have come to live - these seem simple enough, but they serve to set us apart from other "religions" in the world. It is more than doing good deeds for the sake of doing them - it is a matter of engaging in right conduct because that is what stems from the core of your inner man.

How do we live in such a way that others see something in us that makes them want what we have been given? We allow God to live in us - we allow him to make us holy (branding at its best!). Set apart lives are not "branded" in some weird way, but are uniquely beautiful and appealing to others who will want to be in relationship with the 'product' that has been produced. Others want what we have allowed to be worked out in our lives because they see a sense of hope for their own life. That is what God wants of us - to give the world hope. Hope is best understood when it is exemplified - there is a "product" people can connect with. Believe it or not, you are a "product" of God's grace. Let your life be displayed as set apart for his service, dedicated to his love, and uniquely touched by his grace. Others will be drawn to him through your example. Just sayin!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Repeat this

Bill Graham reminds us: "Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent." We find ourselves repeating these things all through life. None of us ever gets to the point we stop making mistakes - for all of us are capable of missteps. Yet, all of us are equally capable of avoiding them again because we learn from those mistakes. There are many things that 'prod us' into living wisely, growing well, so that we understand the value in being patient, or trudging headlong into something we should not overlook. Nothing 'prods' us more than the Word of God - put that Word into the mouth of a close friend who is looking out for our good and you have a double-edged sword!

The words of the wise prod us to live well. They're like nails hammered home, holding life together. They are given by God, the one Shepherd. (Ecclesiastes 12:11)

The words of the wise - oh, how hard it is to find those words at times. We are inundated with all kinds of "words" - surrounded on all sides with varying opinions, challenging propositions, and proposals of hope that somewhat stimulate us into a form of action. In the end, if we are faithful to turn back to the Word of God, not just listening to these opinions or propositions, we will find balance in what we are hearing. Wise words are those which give counsel, steadying our course, and redirecting us when our purpose may be a little self-centered or off-balance. They "prod" us to live well - to make wise choices. Words that stem from relationship with Christ are those which stimulate others and excite them into action. They are words that trigger or launch action - rousing us from our spiritual, emotional, or physical slumber. They are words spoken at the right time, in the right spirit, with the right intensity to get our attention. As such, they "prod" us - stirring us up and moving us into action.

Like nails hammered home - they hold our life together. Nothing provides stability or soundness in the midst of chaos as well as a well-appointed word from a godly man or woman with a listening ear and tender heart of the one intent on learning what God would have them share. Some messages we hear from the pulpit are like that - they are nails hammered home. We almost sense that God "aired our dirty laundry" to the pastor that morning, and the message was directed right at us! Yet, in embracing the "prodding" of that message, we find exactly what we needed. There are times when the words 'hammered home' come from a close friend, knowing exactly what to speak and specifically when it needs to be spoken into our lives. Both carry a challenge - both stimulate us to growth - both help us to receive clarity. So many times we can feel like life is falling apart around us - nothing seems or appears stable. In those moments, a word aptly spoken provides great comfort, wise direction, and purposeful plans for our life. 

Learning to be the one God uses to bring such words of wisdom in the right season is what each of us should strive to see developed within us. There are probably things God has shared in your life (in your time of study, in your opportunities of worship, or in your moments of personal tragedy), that if you'd just took the time to share them, they would be like a spiritual hammer driving a much needed nail home to a listening and hungry heart. Some of us think we have no ability to "teach" another, but the words we share could redeem a life and right a course. Read this passage again. Have you the desire and ability to "prod" another to live well? Then ask God to open doors of opportunity to share the wisdom he has given you - someone will benefit from what you have learned in your walk with Christ. Open doors are the first step to your words "hitting home" just where they are needed. Ask God to give you the ability to share his truths that you've tucked into the recesses of your heart - with a clarity of speech that touches the heart of the hearer. As you begin to walk through the "open doors" God provides, trusting him to bring the "right words" in the "right season", he will. As I was out walking with my BFF this week, I found a gentle sharing back and forth - words that just come out of hearts committed to finding the best in one another and in lifting each other up. These are words that 'drive home' and 'prod' a soul. 

The words of the wise are not always the words of the "learned". Book learning and higher education just go so far. The words that influence are those that are spoken from a place of relationship - relationship solidly founded on truth, growing in grace, and triumphant in testing. They are not words spoken from places of perfection, but from places of perseverance.  The truth you stand upon, the grace you have embraced, and the triumph you learned in the midst of testing are but a few of the "words of wisdom" that are like "nails driven home" when they are ignited by the passion of the Spirit that lives within you. We don't do the "hammering" ourselves - the Spirit of God places the "nail" - he allows our words to drive that nail home. Words spoken in the right season, in the right spirit, act as a "hammer" in God's hands. Let's learn to be "hammers" in God's hands. Just sayin!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Love, Walk, Keep

Hardly a week goes by without mom's gentle plea to just 'be young again' - so she'd have energy for the task at hand, or feel like she can regain some skill long since laid aside due to memory or fatigue. With each new day comes the renewal of energy stores, but what reserve we have left at the end of the day is not always the same, is it? Some of us go through life so quickly we rarely even notice that we have had two choices placed in front of us - Life and Death, Good and Evil. How have we handled these today? For those of us placing our head on the pillow at the end of the day, we'd say we embraced Life, but how about Good or Evil? What did our choices reflect today? This is a tough question - one that demands unlimited honesty if we are to truly understand our choices.

Look at what I've done for you today: I've placed in front of you Life and Good - Death and Evil. And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16)

Every new day brings the dawn of new choices - no two days are exactly alike in what will come across our paths. We may believe our lives are "boring" and without any real sense of "difference" from day-to-day, but indeed, there are new choices each day. We are faced with choices of life and good or death and evil. Pretty heavy stuff, if you ask me. The evidence is all around us - in what we choose to listen to, allow our eyes to take in, or attend our minds to consider. Each entertained thought, internalized perception of sight, or message heard is an opportunity to bring forth from within those things that will produce life and goodness. Conversely, they also can produce death to our spirit, dryness to our soul, and confusion in our mind - each influencing us to actions that are neither good nor life-giving - we call this evil. So, understanding how we make choices that produce the outcomes that are life-giving and the evidence of goodness within us is essential to learning how to walk a steady path that will keep us from death and evil.

Love God, your God - to really love something or someone, it helps if the object of our love is OURS. When the object of our affection is someone else's, we call the attitude of "loving" that object LUST. God never asks us to "lust" after him. Instead, he places a distinct difference between desiring something we cannot have and enjoying something we are invited to participate in personally. To love God, we first make him our God - we must have personal relationship with him. Then we learn to enjoy the graces of that relationship by frequent and intimate contact with him. Intimacy with God involves transparency of heart, mind and soul - allowing him to touch the very fibers of our being with his refreshing, renewing, and regenerating touch.

Walk in his ways - when we are really in a "love relationship" with another, we don't demand our own way, but are content, and often quite fulfilled, in enjoying the things they enjoy. So it is in our walk with God - we make a committed choice to learn to enjoy what it is he enjoys - those things that will produce life and goodness. Notice that this requirement is for us to take action - "walk" is an action word. We cannot be passive and be "walking". Therefore, to be involved in this love relationship with God, we need to be active in our pursuit of him. 
 
Keep his regulations, rules, and commands - this is really where the rubber meets the road. It is one thing to "fall in love" - it is quite another to "live together in love". When some hear the word "submit", there is an immediate cringing away and self-preserving fear that emerges. Yet, in a love relationship, we often find that one leads, and the other follows in heartfelt devotion and trust. It is not a hard thing when one trusts the other - there is no fear that the other will lead them astray or leave them abandoned. God's plan is that we will neither cringe under his leadership, nor pull away in self-preserving mistrust. His desire is that we learn to live "together" in love.

In turn, we will be blessed. Nothing is more blessed than a true love relationship, complete with its intimate exchange of things hidden from the view of others. We often "say" that we want to live exuberant lives, but do we really? Are we seeking God as our own? Are we still demanding our own way? Are we learning what it takes to live together in relationship with God? If not, then I daresay we are looking for our "exuberance" in ways and places where we will be disappointed with the outcomes. In fact, we might just find that the end result of our searching in those places will lead us into decisions that produce death to our spirit, confusion to minds, and senseless waste of energy in our soul. Love is a learning experience - we don't just "fall in love". There is nothing passive about loving another - it requires our investment. There is nothing more fulfilling than being loved, though. There is nothing more rewarding than returning that love! Love God - YOUR God. Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Let it soak in deep

Have you ever wondered what power there is in a word? I know there are times I don't have to say much to find I have lifted someone's spirits, while there are opposite times when a couple of words spoken at the wrong time or with the wrong intent create a whole lot of misery. Words are quite powerful, but none so powerful as those contained within the pages of our Bible, as these were put there to set us on fire. They have a creative power - bringing to life what had once been dead. They have a convicting power - revealing what we might not even have known was there so it can be completely dealt with and removed. Words, when used as they were intended, have power - especially in the hands of a graceful and loving God!

Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said, The old life is a grass life, its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers; Grass dries up, flowers droop, God’s Word goes on and on forever. This is the Word that conceived the new life in you. (1 Peter 1:24-25 MSG)

New for old - that has been God's movement down through the ages. Promise given - promise fulfilled. Hope birthed - hope realized. There is and always be great power in his Word, but we have to get it into us if it is to be of any benefit to us. Words simply spoken, but never heard, are not going to accomplish the mission they had when spoken, right? I have said things under my breath - not really wanting others to hear what I was saying right then - but God's words are not those type of words. There is nothing hidden in his Word - all is there to be revealed to us - if we just look and ask.

The life within each of us is conceived, first by natural means, then by the divine touch of God in our lives. The new birth experience - as some call it - is that transition of our lives whereby the words God speaks deep into our spirits ignite a passion, define a purpose, and create a passage from one way of living into another. There is power displayed on our behalf - all through those words. They may have been penned many years ago, but they remain equally as powerful today as they were when they were given to those men who took pen to paper to record them.

Truth changes us. There is nothing more damning than a lie. There is nothing more freeing than the truth. Our spiritual conception is accomplished with one word - "YES" - saying YES to Jesus. Our spiritual growth is accomplished through many words - those written for us to serve as examples of how to both act and not act. The promises he gives are ours for the taking - to stand upon with assurance. His process of creating us anew isn't just that momentary 'birthing' experience, but it is the putting off of the old and the putting on of the new - day after day, year after year. YES is the beginning - in between that beginning and eternity will come many words to restore, challenge, help us conquer.

Embrace his Word. Listen carefully to its challenges. Open wide to its hope. Come often to his feet to listen with intent. There is much to discover in the power of those words. Much to soak in until we are so saturated that we 'leak' his Word from within every fiber of our being. Discover it. You won't be disappointed in his Words, for they are life. Just sayin!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Two by Two by Two

Direction, condition, and focus - what do these three have to do with each other? Direction is often thought of as the path one will travel - the way we are headed. When the condition of mind, body, and spirit are well, it is much easier to follow along that course. If the condition of the mind, body, or spirit is out of alignment (not clearly focused), there will be a little drift that occurs in the direction we maintain!

Grow a wise heart—you'll do yourself a favor; keep a clear head—you'll find a good life.
(Proverbs 19:8)

Within these two sentences, two words give us direction, two describe a condition that should be met, and two reveal the focus we must maintain. The two words that give us direction are "grow" and "keep". The two that describe the condition we are to maintain are "wise" and "clear". The two indicating the focus we are to keep are "heart" and "head".
  • Grow - the first thing that comes to mind when we consider growing is the natural outcome of development in which something or someone increases in size or capacity. As we consider this in light of our Christian walk, we see growth as more than "natural" development - it also encompasses "supernatural" development. That is the increase in our capacity that comes simply from spending quality time with Jesus. One of the least common definitions of "grow" is that of attachment. It is a process of attachment that occurs by close association with that which you attach yourself onto. A gardener will tell you this process begins with "grafting" one branch or stem into the "parent" tree, vine, or bush. Jesus reminds us that he is that vine - we are the branches - grafted into him. By close association to him, we begin to grow through that attachment.
  • Keep - we usually gravitate to the idea of holding onto something when we consider the meaning of "keep". Yet, it also carries the idea of continuing a given course, action, or state. When we are "keeping" something in this sense, we are involved in actively ensuring the course is consistent and focused. It means that we refrain from departing from a specific path - there is an element of restraint that is utilized in order to remain consistent in our focus.
  • Wise - the first condition addressed deals with discernment, judgment, and discretion. The "condition" is directly connected with growth. Discernment is the ability to evaluate two options and choose the best - often the result of what we have been exposed to and who we associate with in life. Since our growth is directly correlated with our choice of "attachment", it is important to choose the best attachment. Judgment affects our actions because it is associated with the matter of acting upon what we believe to be correct. It is associated with growth because it deals with discretion - choosing those things that produce right actions. 
  • Clear - the second condition is frequently described as the absence of that which clouds - in other words, it is that which gives transparency. As it applies to the idea of being kept, there is a great deal of "path-finding" that is clouded with all kinds of uncertainty, potholes of pride, and pitfalls of emotional upheaval. The condition of transparency is associated with us being kept - refraining from certain courses of action that will produce certain "road hazards" along the path of our walk. 
  • Heart - we often gravitate to the "nebulous" meaning of heart - that which describes our capacity for sympathy, the ability to connect with others, etc. We need to look a little deeper at "heart" in order to understand the importance of this word. It is the seat of all that gives us personality - our emotional make-up. The heart is to be growing and it is to do so in a wise manner. In other words, all that gives us our "internal make-up" is to be intimately connected (associated) with Jesus so that we learn to discern well. Our emotions are unreliable - our "spirit" is not enough to keep us on track at times. We form wrong attachments at a whim - stunting growth completely. Our passage reminds us that we are to "grow a wise heart" - in so doing, we are avoiding those things that do us "dis-favor" in life.
  • Head - we associate "head" with the mind or thought life. The "head", or rather, what is contained in the head (our brain), gives us the capacity to reason, rationalize, and rehearse. We are reminded to keep our minds clear. That includes learning to reason things out as Christ would - utilizing the "tools" he gives (the Word, the Holy Spirit, and our conscience). It also includes the idea of being able to be rational in thought - able to proceed in a course because reason has proven a path to be best. The often overlooked "capacity" of the mind is that of rehearsal. We use this capacity to both reminisce about the good and continuously remember the bad. The head is associated with being kept clear - in turn producing a good life. Thoughts lead to action - that is why the focus is on clarity. Clear thoughts lead to more transparent actions.
Two words, two conditions, describing two aspects of focus in our lives. Consider them well - they will keep your path clear! Just sayin!

Monday, November 12, 2018

How bright is your bulb?

For a moment, I would like us to consider "intensity".  There are words we use each and every day without really having a thorough understanding of their meaning.  When we "dig into" the meaning of a word, we often get insight into how God describes things in scripture.  Intensity if often thought of as that event or circumstance that creates some type of emotional response within us that has us "sitting on the edge of our seats", tension mounting, blood pressure rising, heart rate increasing, the mind set to respond with fight or flight.  As a matter of fact, we pay good money to go see movies that will elicit this response from us all within a two-hour window!

I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. 
(2 Timothy 4:1-2 MSG)

I'd like to look at intensity from the vantage point of that which displays the most vibrant color or the most radiant light.  When we look at rows and rows of light bulbs on a shelf, we make our selection based on the amount of "intensity" we want from the light.  If we hope to read by that light, we want a light with focused intensity - one that will illuminate the words on the page.  If we want a soft glow in the room without specific focus on one particular thing, we get a bulb that has a "muted" intensity - because we want calm and just a hint of illumination.  When we look at walls of paint swatches, we see various colors of what we could call "white", "yellow", or "blue" - but there are so many varieties of "color" within each of those palettes.  What makes one different from the other is the degree of intensity - the specific blend of colors that produces the more vibrant hues is said to have a higher intensity than the more muted color.

The persecution of the church did much to enhance the "intensity" of the believers.  When the pressure mounted, the degree of their "intensity" also rose.  Great energy, strength, and passion became apparent in their walk.  As they were made the focus of the attention of men intent on silencing their message, their commitment to follow Christ regardless of the cost became more apparent.  We could say that their "true colors" began to emerge!  There was a "radiance" about them that made the gospel message even more evident in their lives.  As they were scattered to Samaria and the outermost parts of the then known world, theirs was a clear and vibrant message of hope, not despair. Why? They had "intensity".

Intensity is a result of depth - the depth of a person's focus.  When we put a standard light bulb in a spotlight, we would have light "aimed" at a particular subject, but it would lack focus.  If we exchanged that bulb for a spotlight bulb, backed by mirrored substance, we'd see that the "reflected" light becomes more intense, giving us a better focus on the subject.  Now, exchange that for a halogen or LED spotlight bulb and wow!  You have not only focus, but vibrant and very clear light!  

What persecution's impact did in the lives of those believers long ago acted to increase their intensity.  It gave them an even greater "focus".  They were scattered, but in that scattering they had to grow.  The scripture points out that the apostles remained in Jerusalem.  That meant that the scattered believers would have to "dig into" the Word, learn to feed their spirits, and then allow the Spirit of God to "grow them up" in Christ.  The local church exists today because of the intensity of a few then.  First, the few gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem awaiting the power of God to be displayed in their midst.  Then the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem who would hear the message for the first time and embrace it with commitment and intensity.  Ultimately, the "few" that would be scattered to the ends of the earth - the first missionaries - brought much needed exposure to the Word of God and the truth of the resurrection of Christ! 

Intensity is always going to be because of directed focus.  There is nothing more powerful than directed focus - it can change the world - when that focus is magnified by the illumination that comes directly from Christ himself!  How's your focus? Just askin!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Grace-full

Let me pose a question to each of us this morning. If we truly have invited Christ to be at the center of our lives, forsaking all other gods and 'religious pursuits', how has he change us? What has he really done in our lives since that moment we said "yes" to him? If we have really put him at the center of our lives, there should be a vast number of things we could recount, ranging from righting our priorities to removing the stubborn stain of sin in our lives. Grace has a way of changing whatever it touches - no one is left the same as they were before grace invades those long hidden and covered over areas of our their lives!

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. 
(1 Peter 2:9 MSG)

I know we often think we did the choosing when it comes to us saying we 'invited Jesus' into our lives, but the truth is quite the opposite. It was he that did the choosing! We might have responded to the invitation, but let me just assure you - we weren't looking, nor were we even interested in seeking him out - it is his doing that we even felt the first twinge of 'interest' in grace! Indeed, we each have to answer the question as to whether we will allow Christ to deal with the sin in our lives, but the question isn't even posed to us without the answer being immediately available when we finally realize we do want grace to infill us.

The infilling of grace means we are never the same again - we are made new. I like new things, but I am drawn to the well-made things of past days when they were made with much more attention to them being lasting and capable of enduring much use. Back in the day, an appliance would last for a long, long time. Now things to be good for one year! Wouldn't it be a terrible thing if our salvation came with nothing more than a one year guarantee? Say 'yes' to Jesus and the 'guarantee' is eternal - there is no expiration date on grace!

The move of grace within means we are never the same again - what was marred by sin, stained beyond ever 'getting clean' again, now is made new. The fact remains - we are changed by grace. Grace has an enduring quality - it is not going to offer us 'shoddy work'. The work of grace is never finished - but whatever it touches is made more beautiful. There is a night-and-day difference when grace begins to work upon our hearts. Our minds are changed. Our actions are moved from what brought only harm and hurt toward those that produce goodness within us. 

The next time you don't think anything good has come of inviting Christ into your lives, you might just want to reconsider. Grace cannot, nor will it leave us unchanged. We may not 'act' perfect yet, but perfection is a guaranteed thing through grace. Grace is a growth thing - the more of it that takes hold of us, the more growth we begin to realize in our lives. Grace to overlook an offense. Grace to not respond when we know we could make a better point because it is wiser to be silent than to fuel the fire. Grace to not respond to an urge to pursue what should be left alone. Grace isn't finished with us. It is always a 'new beginning' kind of day in Christ - don't ever be discouraged you 'aren't there yet', my friend! You are grace-full and in time you will realize just how much of a night-and-day difference grace has made! Just sayin!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Seeding and Reseeding

All growth begins with a solid 'planting'. It is Fall in Arizona, which means those of us with Bermuda grass all summer are scalping it low, sowing loads and loads of Rye seed, and awaiting the beauty of that bright green to emerge once again. Yes, we Arizonans are silly enough to want 'year-round' grass! The 'sowing' of the seed is on top of the existing grass, making it necessary to scalp that Bermuda lawn down very, very low. This method sometimes involves people putting either steer manure over top of the Rye seed, or a topsoil for grass, but not all of us do that. Some of us just sow and hope the birds won't scavenge every last seed! When the milder days begin to produce the subtle warmth to produce the growth, the blades of Rye will emerge through, having 'taken root' where they were sown. They weren't exactly 'planted', but it is sown where it can make good contact with the soil, in hopes it will take root. All it takes is contact with enough of the right stuff and the blades will soon emerge, bright and green, tall and vibrant. All it takes for us is contact with the 'right stuff' and we will emerge in the beauty of new growth, as well!

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! (Ephesians 1:18 MSG)

It is the 'contact with the right stuff' that helps to produce a growth that is both 'intelligent' and 'discerning'. We actually do ourselves a disservice when we limit our contact with the things God has provided for our growth. Things like other believers, the Word, and time in service to others. We don't become 'intelligent' in the ways of God by osmosis. We learn of his ways from others - seeing how he moves in their lives often challenges us to 'change up' how we are living ours. It is the connection we keep with the Word of God, keeping it alive within us by taking in bits and pieces of it on a daily basis, that we are able to be nourished into fresh growth on a continual basis. As with all types of planting, there must first be the seed. The seed isn't worth much on its own - but once it is sown, the contact it makes is so very important. The right contact, combined with just enough nurturing to bring forth growth, and there will be an emergence of good stuff - you just wait and see!

As I put the seed out on the fresh scalped lawn, the first week was the most important, not only because it needed all the watering to occur so the soil never became dry, but also because I had to guard against all those flocks of hungry birds that stood at the ready to 'claim as their own' what I had just sown. I had to stay alert to the 'needs' of the freshly sown seed. It needed my protection and care. The same is true in our lives - as seed is sown into our lives, it needs a whole lot of attentive oversight in order to have a good chance of taking root and bearing fruit! This might just be why we are told to keep our eyes focused and clear - to be able to see clearly and take hold of that which is provided for us. The oversight of God in our lives never ceases, but the focus we must maintain is just that - maintained! It requires a revisiting of the places where growth is imminent in order to see that those places are being maintained, free of scavenging 'seed thieves'. 

Soon my lawn will be in, but until then, those emerging blades of new growth give me a hope that makes me excited about the next patch of growth and the next one. The full yard will one day be green and full, but each small patch right now encourages me to look for the next. This is how it is with our spiritual growth, as well. We don't see it all at once - it is an emerging thing. Little by little, because of careful attention, the seeds sown will produce signs of growth. As you may well imagine, some of the seed is stolen away by those scavenging birds. There might be the need to sow just a little more seed in some of those spots where they took their liberty to steal away the seed. This isn't dissimilar to what God does in us - sowing a little at first, then observing for signs of growth. If the places of our lives need a little 'reseeding' on occasion in order to produce the fullness of growth he desires, we need to trust him with that process. He sees the bigger picture and he knows where it is we are vulnerable. He knows the areas that most need his focus - and he isn't willing to allow us to have 'bald spots' without growth!

It might seem elemental to some to compare our spiritual growth to reseeding a lawn, but it isn't elemental at all. There is a process and the process takes much attention. God doesn't just 'seed' our lives and take a 'come what may' stand. He maintains his vigilance, not afraid to 'scalp us down', seed over past growth, and reseed as necessary, until there is a fullness and intensity in our lives that reveals nothing but the vibrancy of his presence within! Just sayin!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Rocks raining down

Stephen - a man appointed by the disciples to be a "deacon" in the church, 'shows' us what it is to really serve. In his role as deacon, he was given the responsibility to make sure the widows, orphans, and poor were cared for. His role as deacon allowed the first century disciples to go on with their work of spreading the gospel message to those who had not heard the 'good news' as of yet - preaching, healing the sick, and sharing the good news that Christ was raised from the dead. His ministry, although some would think it quite insignificant to be a deacon, gained him some momentum and there were people who were a little "miffed" because they could not match his wisdom, level of service, or commitment.

Stephen, brimming with God's grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them. But then some men from the meeting place whose membership was made up of freed slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and some others from Cilicia and Asia, went up against him trying to argue him down. But they were no match for his wisdom and spirit when he spoke. (6:8-10)

There will always be those who oppose truth - it is inevitable to have some who will want to discredit those who follow truth closely. The whole crux of the 'men from the meeting place's' dislike of Stephen was that they were no match for his wisdom and the spirit that was evident in his life when he spoke wasn't quite as evident in theirs. That is a pretty awesome testimony, if you ask me - to have so much of Christ evident in you that others are convicted because they don't. Stephen had a testimony - even in his role as a deacon in the church. That testimony spoke volumes - and it drew some attention - right up to the leaders, priests, and Pharisees. Why? The testimony of a well-lived life doesn't hold a match to a 'religious' life.

Stephen was taken into custody by the High Council of the land - those religious leaders who were appointed to judge the crimes of the people. He was in custody, not for speaking the truth, but because those who could not match his wisdom cooked up a scheme to "shut him down" - convicted by his message and shamed by his life's testimony. As I read the story of Stephen, I am reminiscent of the similar response to Jesus' testimony as he walked this earth - there were always pockets of people wanting to "shut him down". Truth convicts - it makes people uncomfortable. Many cannot handle the truth - so instead of embracing the conviction, they seek to silence the voice that brings it.

As Stephen stood before the High Council, they found they could not take their eyes off him (Acts 6:15). There is something dynamic about a life on fire for Jesus. There is a radiance of the presence of God that captures the attention of even the unbelieving. I laugh at the question they pose to Stephen: "What do you have to say for yourself?" At that, Stephen begins to open the Word of God to them. He did not "defend" himself - but rather, he let the Word of God speak volumes more than he could ever speak in his own defense. At the end of it all, he speaks the words that cut to the core of the hearts of those who look to silence him - "And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you're just like your ancestors." Bullheaded, calloused hearts, and ears that just will not hear. Ignorant to the move of the Holy Spirit occurring all around them. Just like their ancestors. Ouch! God had spoken similar words on many occasions to the nation of Israel - reminding them that if they would turn their hearts to him, forsaking the ways of the culture around them, and seek him with all their hearts, he'd restore them and make them whole as a nation.

This time, the words produced a reaction that was similar to the reaction of the crowd the day Jesus was crucified - hissing, violent words with riotous behavior emanated from the crowd gathered. The crowds did not know what to do with the conviction they felt - so they reacted as so many do - in anger. Anger is often an attempt to cover over whatever points out our weakness. Their response was to attempt to silence what he said - if not by their loud and confrontational voices - then with their actions. They drug him outside the city and stoned him. All because he spoke the truth! The story does not end there though - God gets the last word! Stephen saw heaven opened - he beheld the radiance of God's glory and it was evident on Stephen's face. It says that as the "rocks rained down" from his attackers, he lifted his eyes to heaven and beheld the face of God. In the midst of "rocks raining down" on us, would that be our response? Would we look upward and see through the hostility around us the beauty of the face of God. In beholding the face of God, he gives his very breath to God and in his dying words, he asks God to overlook the sin of this crowd. He petitions God, "Don't blame them for their sin." Nope, this is not a natural response of a man being stoned to death. This is definitely a response that stems from a heart of compassion - a heart made pliable through the touch of the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness is only truthfully possible within the hearts of those who recognize the value of the forgiveness they have received in Christ. Stephen might have had a testimony that was great in all the "work" he did in his local church. His life spoke volumes in the "deeds" of caring for the poor. His teaching was "spot on" when he opened the Word to share the truths within. But...what spoke the loudest was his ability to forgive even when his offenders did not seek forgiveness! Stephen left a legacy. His legacy was that of forgiveness. Not a bad legacy to leave, huh? Just askin!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Start, stop, begin again

Have you ever started watching a movie and not finished it? How about a book? We make all kinds of attempts to get into the show, but find ourselves just not enthralled by the story line. We aren't 'hooked' by it - making it easier to turn it off than something that absolutely catches our attention and holds us enthralled till the end. Beginnings all have one thing in common - it is a start. Endings also have one thing in common - there has been endurance to push past even the hardest places that threatened to keep us from moving on.

Endings are better than beginnings. Sticking to it is better than standing out. (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

Our year has flown by at record speed and as many of us sit looking at our "resolutions" made at some point within the year, we find ourselves conducting an inventory of our progress toward goals we had set for ourselves. Some of us will find ourselves having made a good start, but then petering out somewhere along the way! Isn't that always the case with our "resolutions" - they are good while they last, but they tend not to last! I have mentioned before that we might do well to focus on making a "revolution" in our life - not a "resolution". To some, those are just words, but if you know me by now - you know how much I enjoy looking at the words!

A resolution is simply an intention - formalized by some sort of plan. It is a determination of heart or mind, but it often lacks the quality of perseverance that is required to see it all the way through to completion. A revolution is the process whereby one set of actions is diminished (stopped, forsaken, or redirected) and replaced thoroughly by another. There is a clear difference when we look at them this way - one is well-intended, the other is well-planned, well-executed, and in the end, well-performed.

Revolution is similar to the process of metamorphosis - the process whereby the caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly or delightfully colored moth. At one season, it appears one way, and at a different season it has been transformed into something that no longer resembles the former appearance! Now, translate that into everyday life with Jesus. We need revolution, not just resolution. Yes, we need to be resolute in our commitment to what he asks of us, but we need the revolutionary transformation of our lives that only he can bring.

Solomon reminds us that endings are better than beginnings. We often do much to celebrate the beginning of something. Yet, the ending is the most important part! Sticking to it is better than standing out. That's the key to "revolution" in our lives. If we want Jesus to transform us (create a metamorphic change in us), then we need the "stick-to-it" kind of commitment - even when something doesn't always have the greatest of appeal or seems a little harder than we imagined when we set out in that direction. There is a place for resolution, but the outcome we all desire is revolution.

As we look back over the year - evaluating the "resolution" we once exhibited toward the goals we might have set, we need to remember that  God is the MOST concerned with the revolution of our mind, emotions, and spirit - not with the loftiness of the resolution or the magnificence of the plan. Maybe it is time that we examine our "resolutions" in the spirit of making them "revolutions" in our life! It isn't that we begin - it is that we finish well. Just sayin!

A conversation with God

A conversation I have had with God: Now I have you where I want you - but where exactly might that be? Under my thumb, so I can squash every idea you have? No. Under my feet, so I can walk all over you? No. Under my interrogating eye, so I can critically scrutinize your every move? No. So, where is it you have me, God? Right here - next to my heart - so you can understand my hopes for you, feel my heartbeat in unison with yours, and draw from my grace whenever you need it.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!  (Ephesians 2:8 MSG)

I don't mean to criticize anyone here, but I think we might just have a wrong view of where we 'stand' with God on occasion. There are times we think we are under his thumb - just being held back from every good thing we want to explore. The truth is we probably have no idea what looks so good on the outside doesn't really look all that good once we are into it. I cut open 4 out of 5 red mangoes this week in hopes of enjoying their juiciness, only to realize they had likely been frozen at the grocer. They were brown and without any good taste at all. On the outside, they appeared very much like they should, enticing me to enjoy them. On the inside, they were disgusting. When God "squelches" a plan we might have been concocting, it is likely he knows the plan better than we do and he is protecting us!

At other times, we believe God has his foot on our throats, holding us captive so we can never enjoy freedom again. It could just be the type of 'freedom' we want isn't really freedom at all. While at my grandson's school this week, I noticed a very large aquarium which housed a bearded dragon lizard. There was plenty of rock at the bottom, wood to climb upon and perch for a while, and even plenty of food and water. Yet, that lizard could see a vast world beyond those glass walls - a world it wasn't able to explore - one I wonder if he desired to know. It is quite possible there is more we aren't experiencing in the freedom we desire, but that might not provide us with any greater freedom or protection than we already are enjoying. It is possible the picture of freedom we imagine isn't going to produce a true freedom - it is more of an illusion.

God does see us and he knows our every move - so being under his watchfulness may seem a little 'intrusive' at times. Especially when we feel that conviction that comes from having moved into a place he doesn't really desire for us to explore. I like to explore the original meaning of phrases we have used for years and years, but have no real insight into the real meaning behind them. One such phrase came because mom asked me what it meant. The phrase "naked as a jaybird" made her curious because she knows jaybirds have feathers, so how could one be naked if clothed in feathers? As I looked it up, we found it carried a totally different meaning than we imagined - naked as a J-bird is the real phrase. It stems from the term given a prisoner arriving at the jailhouse, being asked to strip naked, and then showered with strong chemicals so as to remove any 'critters' they may be carrying. Then the prisoner would have to walk to their 'accommodations' naked. Hence, 'naked as a J-bird'. Being naked is a little 'intrusive' to me, but being in prison would be a whole lot more concerning! I think being open to his watchful eye far outweighs the latter! 

God's joy doesn't come in being domineering or unjust. It doesn't come in being critical or intrusive. It comes in those moments we experience his tremendous love and enjoy the peace of his presence. Just sayin!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Listen up!

Sometime we need to remind our soul - that is, our mind, will and emotions - to bless God with all that we have within us. If you are like me (and I suspect you are), the mind wanders, will is weak, and emotions pull us a thousand different directions. David was not above this very similar struggle we face daily - to keep our attention squarely on God. How do we do that? We engage in "soul-talk". Look at what David does - he focuses his mind on the things God has done in his life - then he begins a little "soul-talk". He recounts the many and overwhelming blessings of God in his life, his family's life, and those he knows at the leader of a great nation. He determines to bless God - he makes it a matter of his will. In so doing, he is bringing his emotions into alignment - his "soul" gets talked into alignment.

O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I'll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don't forget a single blessing! He forgives your sins—every one. He heals your diseases—every one. He redeems you from hell—saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you're always young in his presence. (Psalm 103:1-5)

There are clearly a couple of things David seems to focus on as he engages in this soul-talk. A few of those things might just help us begin our very own 'soul-talk' with God today:
  • God forgives our sins - not just in part, but completely; not just one or two, but all of them. There are times when I just want to cringe in shame when I remember some of the sins over the course of my life - and the enemy of my soul would love nothing more than to have me dwell upon those memories. When that happens, I have called to memory the fact that God is not "selective" in his forgiveness. It is complete and it keeps no records - even when my mind has a hard time letting go of them. What I seem to dredge up from my past in haunting memory of my sinfulness has already been forgiven - no longer remembered by God.
  • God not only heals our spiritual condition through forgiveness of sins, but he heals our physical condition by healing our diseases. I've had a couple of worrisome physician's reports over the years, biding time until surgery could be done and the final pathology reports could be obtained. In those times, I felt his presence. He is my healer and I know that the reports were excellent because he is an excellent God! The healing of God goes beyond our physical diseases - it encompasses the mind, emotions, and spirit damaged by all of life's woes.
  • God has redeemed us from hell - more than just forgiving us of our sins - he has ensured that we would never have to experience the horrific terror of hell. If nothing else challenges us to sit up and give God our attention, that should! If you haven't read what scripture tells us about hell, you may not fully understand the sheer awe at his goodness - being overcome with a desire to praise God for his deliverance from hell's torture. 
  • God has crowned us with love and mercy. I've never been much of a "tiara" woman, but I am awed by the beauty of character that God produces in a life surrender to him - an adorned life. That beauty of character is like a "crowning glory" over all of their life. Love and mercy - the crown of eternal love - encompasses their life and it radiantly displays God to all who look upon it. Love evokes the best in others. Mercy overlooks the worst in others. There is nothing more beautiful that can adorn a child of God than the crown of his love and mercy.
  • God has wrapped us in goodness - not greatness, but goodness. We have a warped view of how we value individuals in our society today. We often think that if they accomplish something "great", then that adds to or gives them value. God sees our value in the goodness of heart that he creates by the presence of his abiding Spirit within us. Goodness is really moral excellence - the best part of God created within us by the indwelling of his Spirit.
If all this doesn't elicit some praise from your soul, then the final point should - he renews our youth! We pay thousands for creams, tucks, lifts, and gym memberships - all to hold onto our youth. What is amazing is that in the presence of God I am made young! If you don't believe me - try it. There is a restorative power that occurs in the presence of the Almighty God. I want you to see one last thing - David recounts that God HAS done these things. It is not a "hope in the by-and-by" that God "might" do these things in his life. They are an accomplished fact. David celebrates the continual work of God in his life - continually forgiving him of his sins (past, present and future); continually healing his diseases; continually keeping him safe from Satan's evil; consistently displaying his love and mercy in his people so that it might shine through them; continually indwelling them with his presence; and continually renewing them. Feel like you have nothing to praise God for today - think again! Then do some serious "soul-talk"! Just talkin!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What a benefit package!

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. (Acts 2:1-4)

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and continually renewed in his presence, the result will be that there will be less of "self" around to influence our decisions and to take our focus off of our Lord. We will experience a hunger for the Word of God that goes well beyond what we have ever known before - because the Holy Spirit is sent to teach us the things of God. He is our "tutor" in the things that relate to God's holiness, right living, and the love of our heavenly Father. There is an opening of the Word to us like never before - we call this revelation. Those things that we may have never seen in the Word previously will seemingly jump off the page at us. There will be a revelation of Jesus to us and a revelation of Jesus in us.

The command Jesus gave to his disciples was to wait - waiting requires obedience. The promise was that they would be filled. The filling of the Holy Spirit brought them into a place where they would be witnesses of all God had done in them. That is another thing we can count on the Holy Spirit to do in us - he makes us witnesses. Not like the kind that stand on street corners and hand out Bible tracts (although there is nothing wrong with that). He will help us to form relationships that allow us to freely express the love of God and then to show others God's graces through the demonstration of God's love in our lives.

In Ephesians 5, Paul directs the followers of Christ to be very careful how they live. This "carefulness" about living involves being attentive to our choices, evaluative about who we choose to listen to (self or Christ), and responsiveness to the desires of our Lord. In this same chapter, he tells us that we need to make the most of every opportunity we are given - this is also part of the work of the Holy Spirit. He opens our eyes to opportunities that we may not have seen before. He directs our attention to truth, brings light into darkness, and clearly shuts doors that will lead to our harm.

The events in that upper room those many years ago were prophesied by an Old Testament prophet named Joel. (Joel 2) Those words, given to him by the Holy Spirit so many years before, promised that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. The promise included legal heirs (sons and daughters), people of all ages (young and old), and people without class distinction (servants and handmaidens). The Holy Spirit has a definite unifying work, bringing together people like nothing else can do. These are but a few of the wonderful outcomes of being "filled" with the Holy Spirit. There is a process of daily renewal that keeps our "cup overflowing". Paul reminded us in Romans 12:1-2 to daily renew our minds by presenting ourselves before him, allowing him to transform us from the inside out. It is when God is given the ordinary that he makes it extraordinary. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we might experience the extraordinary in God. Have you been filled today? If not, ask God to fill you to overflowing with the power and anointing of his Holy Spirit. It is an experience with a continual benefit! Just sayin!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Elevate well...

There is much that can be said about "good leaders", but the most frequent thing you will hear mentioned about "solid" leadership is the fact that people have no problem "getting behind them" in loyal support. Good leadership does not mean that everyone agrees with every decision that is made, but that they can apply themselves to the vision of that leader and move forward in the faith that the leader's plans will accomplish the end result. We find leaders in every area of our lives - at work, in our homes, in the community in which we reside, and over countries. In fact, we might be the ones who fill the role of leaders in some arena of our lives. Leaders play an integral part in "directing" our future. Therefore, the leader must lead with integrity, passion and purpose - but the leader must also lead with interest in others, compassion, and openness of heart/mind.

When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans.
(Proverbs 29:2)

I have been interviewed for leadership positions and in turn, have interviewed others who will fill positions of leadership. One of the "questions" you often hear posed is "tell me about your most influential leader". This question usually elicits a litany of character traits that exhibit commitment to the people they lead, an ability to create vision, genuine trust, etc. All of these are positive traits. No one ever says, "Well, my most influential leader ruled with a heavy hand, carried a big stick, and never wanted our input into decisions." Leadership qualities are exemplified in various people who stand as examples for us in scripture. As election day is upon us, maybe we would do well to consider some of these examples.
  • Job - a husband, father, rancher, and friend of many. When "misfortune" fell his way with his business, family, and fortune, he trusted God to bring provision to both his household and his "hired" workers. He knew in his heart that God both provided the increase and allowed for the decrease. With that being true, he'd provide for the increase once again. He kept his focus squarely on God's faithfulness through all his "down-turns" - he did not allow his focus to drift to the ill that had befallen him, but kept his eyes squarely focused on the truth. Things may have appeared pretty bleak on the outside, but God was still on the throne in is life.
  • Peter - an apostle in the New Testament church and a disciple who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. Most think of Peter as a little bit of an impetuous man - acting without thinking. That may have been the start of his "leadership" as a disciple of Christ, but it certainly was not his end. Toward the end of his ministry, we see Peter moved by the needs of the beggar at the Temple Gate - moved enough to veer from his intended path to meet the needs of the man before him. He connected with people, even when he did not see eye-to-eye with them. He allowed and cherished the "connection" between people who had needs, plans, and desires.
  • David - a shepherd boy, called to be King over the land. As a shepherd boy, he learned the importance of protecting those that he had been appointed to lead (his sheep). Without his care and attention to their needs, he'd lose them to the "competition" (those pesky predators just waiting in the wings). As King of Israel, he continued his "watchful care" over those he was called to "shepherd". Yes, without question, he made mistakes along the way. He displayed his humanity in those mistakes he made, but more importantly, he displayed his ability to admit he was wrong. A trait not to be overlooked in a solid leader.
These are but three examples of leaders and their leadership traits. The three things I really want us to see is that we can all be called to leadership at one point or another. The qualities we demonstrate, the connections we make, and the honesty we maintain in those relationships will either ensure safety for those we lead, or create a slippery-slope for them to traverse. Not only do we need to align ourselves with good leaders, but we need to be good leaders ourselves (in whatever arena of leadership we are in). There are people that will either be elevated to realize their potential because of our "leadership", or they will be diminished in their purpose through the lack of connection we make. Mentors are leaders - and we all mentor in one way or another. The example we set may be just what another needs to realize their full potential in Christ. Just sayin!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

One is more than one

There is something that happens when God's people gather together. By the very experience of being together in one accord - no emphasis on differences, no focus on the inadequacies of each other, but simply being content to gather in his name, united in their worship - there is a door opened to heaven unlike any other time. We have lost the 'art' of being 'one' - it has become so easy to be divided, or critical of others that we just don't realize the power we are losing out on by not being 'one'.

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. (Acts 2:1-4)

Without warning, an event began to transpire that would result in the transformation of the disciples like no other - the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament is full of descriptions of times when the Holy Spirit "came upon" an individual and they were able to prophesy of the future events in the lives of God's people or do something out of the ordinary for the time. Here we see the transition of the Holy Spirit simply "coming upon" a few to the fulfillment of Jesus' promise that he would send another to "indwell" them - to be their guide, comforter, and teacher.

There were three manifestations that day - a sound, a sight, and a speaking - all served to not only get the attention of the disciples gathered, but also the onlookers as far away as those in the streets! The mighty wind, the cloven tongues of fire, and the various filling of the disciples with the ability to speak forth in what we hear referred to as "differing tongues" was reaching beyond the walls of their little upper room. If we recall the words of Christ just before he ascended to heaven, he had asked these disciples to remain in Jerusalem - because he was sending something (really someone) that would help them in their calling to be disciples to the nations. That someone was the Holy Spirit.

Wind and fire in the Old Testament are symbols commonly used to describe the Holy Spirit. Wind also was symbolic of the breath of God. Fire often referred to that which produced God's holiness by "burning up the chaff - in other words, it had a purifying effect. The Bible is rich in symbolism - God "tying" a symbol to a certain action or characteristic of his character. He does this because he knows we could never fully comprehend his holiness without some connection to the things we can see, feel, and can generally interpret with our senses. The Holy Spirit spread through their ranks - like a wildfire. This is an example of symbolism - as one was touched, others began to be touched - just like a small fire begins to spread out as it reaches new "kindling". These were readied hearts - they were just waiting for the spark to ignite the fire! 

 God has wonderful things in store for those who are first of all obedient - these disciples were waiting as they were told. He opens countless blessings to those who are yielded - their hearts were in one accord. His touch in the lives of his disciples has a multiplying effect - those near and those at a distance were impacted by this infilling experience. We are given the Holy Spirit to indwell us - be there every day of our lives as our comforter, guide, teacher - at the point of our welcoming Christ into our lives as Lord and Savior. There is a separate experience when we yield to the Lord, fully surrendering, bringing our hearts into one accord with his, and asking for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit - not of water, but of enduing power. This experience transforms like none other. It is an empowering, "cementing" experience that places us on a journey with Christ that is powerful and purposeful. If you have not experienced this in your own walk with Christ - perhaps today is the day. God is waiting - are you ready? Just askin!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Connect

There are those who feel they have very little to offer in this life - as though they have come to believe that if the contribution cannot be great, then the little doesn't matter. The very thing we have at our disposal may not be much at the moment, but in the hand of God, it is great! Over time, the small things add up - in the hands of God, the tiniest of things yielded to him can become the most magnificent things.

One day at three o'clock in the afternoon, Peter and John were on their way into the Temple for prayer meeting. At the same time there was a man crippled from birth being carried up. Every day he was set down at the Temple gate, the one named Beautiful, to beg from those going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple, he asked for a handout. Peter, with John at his side, looked him straight in the eye and said, "Look here." He looked up, expecting to get something from them. Peter said, "I don't have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!" He grabbed him by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked. (Acts 3:1-8)

When we live in such a way that our lives are a testimony to a hurting world around us, we will always be in contact with those in need - our paths will PURPOSEFULLY cross with theirs - because that passing is an opportunity for God to use what we have to be a blessing in their lives. God gives his people a sensitivity to the needs of individuals - not because we are better than others, but because we are connected to the one who can meet that need. We may not even know the one we touch - but the connection with Jesus that occurs in that touch is what matters. The beggar was taken to the temple daily in hopes that he would gather just a few coins from those going into worship that day. Those coins would sustain him another day - probably not long term, but definitely what he needed in the moment. He had no means to get there under his own power - reliant on others to bring him to his "place". In that placement of his cot on the ground at the temple gate, he was in the place where he constantly had to declare his "need". Daily, time and time again, he would declare his need. We would do well to take note of the heart of the beggar - not too prideful to express his need, not too complacent to do it again and again. It is his consistency and his boldness that gets him noticed!

The disciples are on their way to daily prayer - a practice they had developed that they were consistent to engage in. They had one "mission" in mind as they were walking that path that day - yet, the Lord had another "mission" in mind. They likely did not set out to find a beggar or take notice of his need. They set out to find some time with Jesus and in turn, came face-to-face with one in need. It is not uncommon that when our "mission" is to seek Jesus, our path will be intersected frequently by those in need. The disciples are also consistently aware of their environment - they heard the request of the beggar asking for something to get him by another day. The beggar's expectation was that his cup would be filled just a little - God's plan was to fill his cup so full that it would spill over! It is often the case that we expect to see our need met one way while God has a completely different way of meeting that need. There were likely hundreds on their way to prayer that day - the potential for a few "mites" being dropped into the cup was definitely a possibility for the beggar. The disciples probably had no idea that they were on their way to a miracle service and the beggar likely had no idea that this was his day for a miracle!

It took only a moment to connect the beggar with the source of all authority and all the resources for his need. Yet it took both the sensitivity of the disciple's spirit and the desperation of the man's heart to make that connection. We often call this a "divine moment" - the moment when God reaches deep into the place of a man's need and changes him forever. The words of Peter, "Look on me", required the obedience of the beggar. I imagine he had been so accustomed to begging that he probably did not really know the faces of his benefactors. Today would be different! His attention is turned expectantly toward the voice of the one he believes will meet his need. Imagine his impending disappointment when Peter began with, "I don't have a penny to my name..." BUT...imagine his rising faith when he heard, "But what I do have, I give to you!" Oh, I am so overjoyed for those moments when God connects our seeming "lack of resource" with his great storehouse of power! All God ever asks of any of his disciples is to put to use what you DO have. We can bemoan all we think we DON'T have - but God wants us to delight in sharing what it is that we DO have! In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk! Those were miracle words to a lame beggar. Those were "connecting" words for a yielded disciple and an expectant heart in need. In that moment, God's power was released. We cannot avoid the moment of connection - it requires our sensitivity, our willingness to yield, and our obedience to make the connection with that one in need. It is our calling as his disciples to bring those in need into the place where they "look expectantly" upon Jesus for the provision of their greatest need.

You may not have silver or gold. You may not have amazing glamour or glitz. You may not have PhD or college degree. BUT...such as you have, give! Just givin!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Do you 'own' it, or do you 'experience' it?

I find there are just some individuals you cannot reason with - no matter what 'tact' you take, you will always be challenged by their arguments to the contrary. The fool just won't accept correction, much less be open to change. Those of us who have spent time attempting to change the mindset of the fool will be the first to admit there just isn't any argument we can present that will budge them from their own belief that they are correct in their way of thinking about things. In fact, they'd just as soon argue their foolish beliefs than to budge from them. Argue as they might, their beliefs are still not correct, but it will take the work of one greater than us to convince them otherwise!

If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face; confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins. So don’t waste your time on a scoffer; all you’ll get for your pains is abuse. But if you correct those who care about life, that’s different—they’ll love you for it! Save your breath for the wise—they’ll be wiser for it; tell good people what you know—they’ll profit from it. Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God. It’s through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen. Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life; mock life and life will mock you. (Proverbs 9:10 MSG)

The opposite is true of the one on the path of light. Although all our beliefs and values may not 'perfectly' align with the Word of God yet, we are on that pathway to discovering the folly in our wrong beliefs! The wise aren't going to argue their unwise beliefs for long - they will eventually see there is another side to the story that needs to be considered and embraced. The wise will forsake their wrong beliefs - sometimes not without a little battle to get to that point - but they will eventually realize just how wrong they have been. When that times comes, laying aside the wrong belief isn't hard because the wise want to embrace truth.

Truth sets us free - but we have to want truth in our lives. We can wear any amount of 'armor' we desire to protect us from truth, but truth will always be penetrate that armor! We don't 'escape truth' as it is everywhere around us in all of God's creation. There is but one God - creator of all that exists. There is but one way into truth and light - through the Son of God - Christ himself. Nothing else will penetrate the armor of our foolish beliefs quite like the truth of God and the light of his Spirit. The moment we are touched by truth, we are changed. The fool is won over by our arguments of faith, but through a life revealing truth at every turn.

Depth in our lives isn't a matter of age - it is a matter of being immersed. The one 'in the pool' is much wetter than the one who knows there is a pool in the backyard! Immerse yourself in the light of Christ and your life will be deeper than ever before. Immerse yourself in the illusion owning a pool makes you a swimmer in the pool and you will be no more than a fool who owns a pool! We can have access to light, but if we never immerse our hearts, minds, and spirits in that light, we are never going to learn the benefits of that light. It is one thing to 'own' or 'have' some truth - it is quite another thing for truth to become the thing that influences all your actions. Just sayin!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hey, friend me!

When we really determine to walk the pathway of a disciple, it will cost us. The pathway is not always traveled by as many of those we call "friends" as we'd like to think. Yet, when we find someone to travel with us in this journey of faith, what a blessing it is! We need each other to understand and fulfill God's calling on our lives. We each compliment the other, challenging and uplifting, learning together what is contained deep in the Word of God.

Keep me safe, O God, I've run for dear life to you. I say to God, "Be my Lord!" Without you, nothing makes sense. And these God-chosen lives all around—what splendid friends they make! (Psalm 16:1-3)

David's words ring true in the hearts of many who engage in this walk of discipleship with Christ - without you, God, absolutely nothing makes sense at all. We can attempt to make sense out of tragedy, loss, or even a success all on our own. Without God, and those he places in our lives as fellow travelers, we often miss the meaning hidden deep in the recesses of that experience. If there is one thing I have learned in this walk of faith, it is that the study of his Word presents a challenge to those who walk alone. The Word of God is not meant for individual interpretation - there is something that is missed when we attempt to see it through the eyes of our limited perception. As we seek to discover the will of God for our lives, we are often reminded in scripture that there is wisdom in good counsel. In other words, we need to hear how another may "perceive" life and the choices before us.

Isaiah was called to bring a message to Israel - one that reminded them, and all down through time since then, of how much God wants to be the one who teaches us what is best for us and to direct the ways we travel. Isaiah 48:17: "I am God, your God, who teaches you how to live right and well. I show you what to do, where to go. If you had listened all along to what I told you, your life would have flowed full like a river, blessings rolling in like waves from the sea." Lives flowing full like rivers, blessings rolling in like waves - I am pretty certain that most of us would definitely "sign up" for this kind of life! The challenge - listen - not just occasionally, but ALL along.

The challenge comes in our consistency - we waver, sometimes dilly-dally, and often just simply "peter out" along the way in our independent pursuit of godliness. That is why we should not travel this journey alone. Not only do we need each other to encourage us to take in the different perspectives of what God is doing, but we need the straight-forward teaching of his Word to steady us on the path - sometimes with lessons learned not in our personal study, but in the study of another. When the Word does not make sense - we might need the help of another to open it for our understanding.

The Word of God guides us in the very practical issues of daily life - how to relate to one another, when to let an offense go without the need to retaliate, what a wrong choice will cost, etc. We may not know how to live as a member of the family of God, but he provides those we can figure this out with to guide us in that journey. Without God's perspective, nothing makes sense - without the perspective of another God places in our lives, nothing makes sense. We need to discover his will for our lives - we need to run to him for his perspective. When we are consistently running to him in this way, we are less likely to drift into rebellion or areas of sinfulness that will leave us wounded and hurting. It is God that teaches us how to live right - he is the one that gives us the plan. It is also God who places others in our path that assist us in maintaining our walk - in broadening our perspective of God. What splendid friends God-chosen lives make! Just being a friend!