Sunday, December 9, 2018

Living - Dying - or somewhere in between?

There are days when we just don't think we have much purpose in whatever journey it is we are called to undertake, but let me be the first to assure you nothing could be further from the truth! Whatever it is we are called to do, we are to do it with intent, commitment, and love. Jesus had one of those days when it seemed like he was just 'on his way' from one place to another. He found himself coming into Bethany, a town a had frequented on many occasions. It was kind of common place for him to 'cycle' through Bethany on his travels. He even had friends there. One very special event had transpired there that made Bethany a notorious place - Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Not just the dead, but the smelly, not so inviting tomb. Already wrapped in burial clothes and scented with the herbs of burial, he laid there for three days prior to his coming forth from death. His unmarried sisters were grief-stricken at the loss of their brother - their male head of the home - the one who would have been their provider.

Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. (John 12:1)

No words are recorded for us by accident. They aren't in the Bible just to give the story some sense of "plot" or to "add character" to the passage. They are each there by intention - the record of this account of 'entering in' is there because God wanted us to see something in it. Therefore, when we see the words, "Jesus entered into Bethany where Lazarus, SO RECENTLY RAISED FROM THE DEAD, WAS LIVING," we need to pause to notice what that really says. Bethany is noteworthy now for this miracle, but it also had a rich heritage. As a small town about 1.5 miles outside of Jerusalem, it was best known prior to this miracle for being a city with an "almshouse" - a place for the collection that would be distributed among the poor and sick in the region. Bethany was also a town that catered to the needs of the sick. It was kind of like a place to go when one was not doing well physically or financially. One other event in this town got people riled up - the dinner Jesus had in the home of Simon the Leper. As a town that welcomed lepers, it would have been considered an "unclean" place for most of the religious crowd to gather.

Lazarus lived there with his two sisters. It was a town populated by many peoples from various regions. It was notable as the last in a row of cities just prior to entering Jerusalem. Many pilgrimages were taken each year into Jerusalem from all over the land of Israel - in honor of Jehovah and for the purpose of the keeping of the feasts he had established. Many would pass through this region of Bethany on their journey elsewhere. As was the custom of the day, Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, would have opened their doors to many as they sojourned there for a rest prior to entering into the holy city.

The most important thing we might recount about Bethany is that Lazarus, once dead, is now living! So recently raised from the dead - now living. What a wondrous statement of fact! What a tremendous message of hope! In fact, if we really look at this, we can ask several questions that might give us insight into why this simple opening statement was penned for us. What is the purpose of resurrection? We might say it is to give evidence that God exists, that his power is over everything and everyone that would attempt to destroy his people. We might also recount that it the purpose of resurrection was to manifest his grace and to display his glory. What is the evidence of resurrection? It is the opposite of the death - life. There is a shift from one state of being into another. The tomb is empty, the grave-clothes have no further purpose, and even the stench of death no longer exists.
 
What is the outcome of resurrection? A changed life. No longer the same - Lazarus was transformed by the miracle of his resurrection. We are also transformed by the miracle of our resurrection. Don't get too literal here on me - I know you were not raised from a crude tomb, wrapped in grave-clothes, and sprinkled with herbs of burial. Yet, you were raised to newness of life in Christ. The outcome is the shedding of all that is old - the "putting on" of all that is new. The evidence is that the old no longer has a purpose in our life - we are living a new life - no longer to be associated with the trappings of the old life. Lazarus, who was one dead, was now living - not bound by the past, but freed for the present. 

That is the result (outcome) of resurrection. We sometimes attempt to "live" still bound by the grave-clothes of our past. Not only is this impractical (as they bind us pretty tightly), but they reek of the past sinful lives we were living before Christ. They carry the evidence of the old life into the present. The work of resurrection for Lazarus was complete when he put on the fresh clothes and took dinner with Jesus. He "put off" the thing that had him bound, and "put on" that which gave him freedom. If we are walking around within the bonds of the "tomb", we exhibit the evidence of the hopelessness of the tomb in our lives. If we are freed from the tomb, why would we want the "tomb-clothes" as our garments any longer? Just sayin!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Are you a little too desperate?

I often re-read passages of scripture, sometimes seeing a 'new truth'. It isn't really a 'new truth' because the truth was there all along - I just wasn't seeing it before! My circumstances change and the 'new truth' I need changes with them. I need encouragement one moment, and maybe I need conviction the next. How is it possible one passage could deliver one such truth at one time and a completely different one the next? I think it is both the condition and readiness of our heart that makes the difference. All of us has called out for help at a moment when things are getting a little too harried for us to endure. As soon as things 'settle down' a bit, we lose that intensity, don't we? To be transparent here, I would have to admit there is no other acknowledgement that God needs more than the simple admittance that we "need his help". I honestly believe that those very words set in motion countless things way beyond our comprehension - things meant to protect us, provide for us, and powerfully intervene in the turmoil of our life experiences. Desperation moves the heart of God.

Listen, God! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help. Every morning you'll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend. (Psalm 5:1-3)

A bold cry from a desperate heart - Listen! Pay attention! Why? I need your help! Think about it - if you had two kids sitting side by side on the couch, each making a plea for your attention, which one would you be most inclined to turn to? One is sitting passively there, holding up a sign with crudely written words, "Will honor you for food for my body, housing for my shelter, and clothing for my body". The other is bouncing up and down, waving his arms, crying out, tears flowing down his face, crying out, "Please, please, I need you! No one and nothing else will do! I need YOU!" You may not know the need of the one, but do you really know the need of the other who defines it for you? Maybe not - because we all know we are guilty of saying one thing, but desperately needing something quite different!

It is true that in serving God, there is no room for complacency on our part. The characteristics of a complacent heart are simply to be so self-satisfied with the present situation that we don't see or acknowledge any need for change. We are completely unaware of the potential dangers that lurk just around the corner if we continue in that place of complacency. In our spiritual walk, we could say we are quite certain that nothing is as EXPECTED as change! I think David realized that change was inevitable - and perhaps that it was fast approaching the boiling point for him. He had patterned his life after the ways of God - he knew full-well that yesterday's "constants" would be today's "traps" if he allowed himself to "settle in" and just enjoy the ride. David admits his need - he even goes so far as to tell God that he could expect to hear about that need over and over again until that need was met by God. Not met in his own power or ability - but in the power and purpose of God himself.

Desperation is marked by a sense of urgency - there is an awareness of the circumstances of the heart, mind and soul that leads to an admission of the urgency of one's need. There might even be the ultimate effort to give it all - in surrender to the one who can take the little we surrender and make it significant in his hands. David says he did that every morning - offering his "all" to God on the altar, hoping for God's fire to descend and to consume his total offering. Nothing was as vivid to the Hebrew people as the sense of an offering totally consumed by the fire of God. Think about it - a life offered totally consumed by the fire of the Spirit of God! That was David's plea. I'd have to be the first to admit that we have lost the concept of 'offering' in the terms the Hebrew people understood - for we barely think of bringing an offering, giving an offering, or being the offering, do we? We put a little in the offering plate and call that an offering! We give an hour at the food bank and call that service. Do we realize the cost of an offering - of service as it was intended to be offered? Likely some do, but the vast majority of us do not.

Urgency compels us - it moves us forward (or gets us bouncing up and down on the couch, so to speak). It creates an internal motivation to "do something". The danger comes in us trying to "do something" in our own efforts - not seeking God's "something" to create the exact answer that we need. We see the need for "food", just like the first boy on the couch. God sees something quite different - the need for "spiritual sustenance" - just like the second boy on the couch. Yes, he meets our physical needs for shelter and food, but he desires to meet much more than those basic needs of our lives. He desires to meet the needs of our stripped-bare hearts, our hurting emotions, and our ripped apart relationships. He wants to repair damaged beliefs, tainted perceptions, and unrealistic fears. Those are the pleas he hears the quickest - that turn his ear, direct his attention, and fill his heart with compassion toward us. Nothing moves the heart of God quicker than the one who realizes that the need for change is present, not future. His response to that realization is to send consuming fire! Just sayin!

Friday, December 7, 2018

You buzzed?

The other morning, I happened upon a quote that caught my eye, not so much because it was majorly profound, but because it was just a little insightful. Kin Hubbard wrote, "A bee is never as busy as it seems; it's just that it can't buzz any slower." While that may not be labeled 'profound', it is quite revealing of how some of us go through life - buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, all the while appearing very busy, but really doing not much more than buzzing! We have those huge carpenter bees here in Arizona - some black and others kind of orange and black colors. They can come out of nowhere, then 'buzz' all around you incessantly until you wonder if they are eyeing you as a huge piece of wood they could burrow into! All the while, they are menacing, but not very productive in what they are doing!

Light, space, zest—that’s God! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing. When vandal hordes ride down ready to eat me alive, those bullies and toughs fall flat on their faces. When besieged, I’m calm as a baby. When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool. I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, the perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic. (Psalm 17:1-5 MSG)

Some of us would do well to recognized we are being besieged by all the hubbub around us, causing us to 'buzz' all the more, but really accomplishing very little with all that buzzing! Hell can rage around us, all the world can be in a 'buzz', but we don't have to be. It is possible for us to live at peace, to be calm in the midst of chaos, and to not just 'buzz' incessantly. Hubbard was also one to remind his readers that some people can look so busy that they actually appear to be indispensable. The truth of the matter is that appearances are one thing - the reality may be something quite different. When my grandsons were young and they first saw those big bees buzzing in my yard, they were noticeably frightened by both their size and their 'buzz'. When I explained they don't sting and they only like wood, they began to tolerate the 'intrusion', but were less concerned by it as time passed.

Sometimes we focus on the intrusions in life rather than on the stuff that really demands our attentiveness and determination. We listen to the buzzing instead of understanding the buzz is nothing more than a byproduct of activity. Not all activity is productive - nor is it necessary - sometimes it is just destructive. The carpenter bees knew where the wood pile was - they didn't have to look elsewhere. They left tell-tale signs to assure me they had plenty to gnaw upon - plenty to occupy their attention! So, why all the buzzing around? Did you know carpenter bees don't actually eat wood? They just destroy it! They burrow so as to have a place to reproduce - not because they are making a home for their colony. They are very isolated - not social at all. The 'buzz' we most often hear evokes a sense of fear in us, but it is usually from the male of the species - the ones that don't sting. The female is capable of stinging, but rarely does because the buzzing of the male makes people fearful of them.

Don't you think for a minute that buzzing is not distracting! The whole purpose of that male carpenter bee buzzing around our heads incessantly is to distract us from the 'gallery' or hole where the female is creating new life. More of that 'new life' that will do little more than create more damage and inflict countless hours of work and fear upon those unfortunate enough to be in their path of buzzing! While carpenter bees are not a really deep spiritual lesson, there are some lessons to take away today. First, not all buzzing deserves our attention. It is often the silence we should concern ourselves with more than the buzzing! Second, buzzing evokes fear in us - it is like chaos turns up the heat in our lives and we begin to buzz a little bit ourselves. As with my grandsons, we want to turn tail and run when we are 'buzzed upon' by those things that do little more than create menacing distractions in our lives. Remember this - many things may menace us, but only one thing calms us - God's presence! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thorns or no thorns?

My grandson and I built a deck on my workshop this past weekend. It was an undertaking - each of us learning something along the way. As we were working, I heard him ask if I had enjoyed any grapes from my vines this year. I told him I had not because it takes at least two years for them to begin to produce. I did not expect any this year - in fact, if I see them next year, that will probably be about as soon as fruit would be predicted. As a child, we had a home surrounded by citrus trees - 13 of them in our yard. Grapefruit and oranges abounded this time of the year, but in order to enjoy their sweetness, we had to do more than just stand under the trees and hope a fruit would fall off into our waiting hands. We could pick the low hanging stuff pretty easily, but we had to climb ladders and branches to get to the rest of it! Oftentimes the most prized fruit was up higher and more hidden from immediate view. That made the discovery of the fruit much more enjoyable indeed. It was Thomas Fuller who reminded us, "One that would have the fruit must climb the tree." I don't know about you, but there are times I would just like something to be as easy as the low hanging fruit!

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. (Galatians 5:22-24 MSG)

When we live according to the plans and purposes of God, we can be assured of a couple of things. First, we will enjoy his company. While that in and of itself should be our ultimate satisfaction, his presence is certain to bring forth some fruit that we didn't even know was possible to stem from within us. It is kind of like that hidden fruit that has had the potential of developing all along, but it took the right season, the right tending, and the right 'discovering' to reveal it! Fruit can be both low hanging and then it can also be pretty well-hidden until there is a movement toward discovering it is there. Before the days of us owning one of those long handled citrus pickers with a little basket like device on the end, dad would gently nudge those fruit down with a broom handle into my waiting hands. Sometimes more than one would fall at a time - making it harder to catch them. Regardless of where they landed, we'd gather them all up - for their were our 'bounty' of harvest. At some point in the season, we'd believe we had harvested all the fruit that had been produced. You know what? Almost every tree had at least one more piece of fruit we overlooked - well hidden, covered with leaves, still developing in its hidden spot. 

There are times our 'life fruit' is like low-hanging goodness - it is just there, ready for all to see, and pretty easily enjoyed. There are also times when the fruit in our lives takes just a little bit more effort to see it produced, much less enjoyed. I imagine it comes as no surprise to most of us that there remains some fruit which must be sought out - discovered because we were actively looking for it. We wanted to get at it, but it was concealed by other growth in our lives - making it harder to see, but not negating its presence! In the 'climbing of the tree', we discover it. The revelation can be amazing, because it is that freshly discovered fruit that can be the most luscious of all! To climb the tree, one must be certain they want to make the discovery. If we climb the tree without attending to where we are placing ourselves, we can hazard a fall or even break a limb from the tree. 

My memories of the citrus trees is that they have an occasional thorn along the way. You may not realize it, but citrus trees have thorns! Today's citrus trees have been 'bred' to be thorn-free - at least those we buy from our local nursery. If you plant a citrus seed and await the growth that will be produced, you will likely find the tree produced will revert to its original state of being thorn-bearing. We are also kind of 'thorn-bearing' - we have a tendency to revert to our original state if not 'bred' correctly at the hand of someone who knows how to produce the branches of our lives 'thorn free'. Encounter one of those thorns and you might just realize not only the sharpness, but the lasting 'burn' of having been stuck. The purpose of the thorns is to protect the fruit from 'fruit-stealing' intruders. We might not realize it, but God doesn't always discourage the 'thorns' in our lives - because they actually give sufficient time for the fruit to be developed without being stolen away by intruding forces in our lives.

Did you know the thorns on the citrus tree are the most prevalent when the tree is youngest? This is because the tree needs a chance to develop without intrusion and the fruit needs a chance to set on the branches. In much the same way, we might be allowed a few thorns as the growth begins to occur in our lives in a spiritual sense, but as it comes time for the fruit to be fully developed and harvested, are those thorns still there? As the tree ages, the thorns are less and less necessary - because the tree has enough growth to conceal the fruit until it is developed. It is strong enough to resist intrusion. The younger tree is more vulnerable - the fruit is at risk. The thorns serve to afford time for growth. While none of us likes to think of ourselves as 'thorny', it is quite possible God has allowed a few thorns until the strength of our faith is increased - allowing for the fruit to grow without the need for those thorns. If the thorns seem to be his focus these days, it may just be a sign we are ready to produce the fruit 'thorn free'. Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Truth or Dare?

Did you ever play that game as a child referred to as "Truth or Dare"? If you were brave enough to trust the one asking the question, you'd maybe choose 'truth', all the while hoping the individual wouldn't ask you anything all that revealing. If you didn't trust them to 'stay out of your business', you'd select 'dare' and take your chances that you'd be able to endure drinking a cup of pickle juice, putting your tongue on a frozen light pole, or the like. Sometimes I think we approach God like we are playing a game of "Truth or Dare" with him. We might just fear he will dig a little too deeply, so we opt for 'skirting the issue' - diverting attention to another topic in our prayer time. All the while, we need the 'truth moment', but we opt for the 'daring moment' when we veer from what we really needed all along - confession!

If we claim that we're free of sin, we're only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we've never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. (I John 1:8-10)

One of the first things I do in the morning is to ask God where he wants me to focus my study that day - getting tea ready for mom and making my lunch just acts as a natural time to ponder. Confession is often a poorly understood concept - partly because it is hard for so many people to admit their need, and partly because it is something that they fear because they are ashamed of their failures. Confession begins with the idea of considering what our true need is. When we understand that a true need exists within our lives we respond differently than if we just "feel unhappy". When we allow our minds to be set to work in the process of "considering" something, we are paying attention to that action, those thought patterns, or those various desires. We are focusing our energies on making a decision about each of them. Confession begins with us focusing our energies on making a decision about the sin that has us so bound by the pull it has on us. It may be as simple as coming to a place of truly considering the choice of words we use when we speak - maybe they are consistently harsh, or perhaps they are crass. As soon as we begin to focus our energies on "considering" those words, we become aware of when those words fall short of what God would desire to have come out of our mouths. 

That brings us to the idea of recognizing those thoughts, desires, or actions as true needs. When we truly contemplate those items in the light of what the Word of God says about how we are to think, be motivated, or to act, we come into a different perspective of these areas of need in our lives. We want to have them dealt with, or we want to hide them from view - the first leads us to confession, the latter leads us into denial and a whole lot of emotional turmoil. Whatever is hidden often provides ample fuel for shame to build in our lives - just a word to the wise on that one - it doesn't work well for us to hide stuff. Once we have considered our need, we come to a cross-road. We can either hide that need, or we can effectively submit it to the one who can address that need with all authority and power. When we choose to ignore or hide that need, we are acting to preserve "self" - we don't want to lose face with another or with God, so we hide that need. The transparency of confession is often uncomfortable because we don't want to be honest about our need. We may feel that if we are honest about our need, others will think differently about us. Or perhaps we have not learned enough about the deep love of God that is unconditional, so we fear that he will reject our request for forgiveness because our sin is "too great". Either way, we remain in bondage.

The only path to real freedom is that of confession - plain and simple. The only way to truly make an effective confession is to be honest. We have to be honest with ourselves about the depth of our need, then with God about the depth of our desire to be rid of that thing that pulls us down, adding unnecessary weight to our shoulders and a very heavy burden to our souls. This is the obedience part of confession - coming face to face with our need, admitting to ourselves that we have no power or authority to overcome that thing that pulls us into patterns of behavior or thought that are truly dishonoring to God and to our own spirit. Then we lay it down in front of him - so he can deal with it in his mercy and grace. Sometimes we need a little reminding that if we are "faithful" to confess our need, he is "faithful" to forgive us. Faith is then part of finding forgiveness - it begins with the recognition of a need, considering why that need exists, and then effectively laying that need before the ONLY one who can truly meet that need head on - Jesus. His response to our confession is forgiveness - total and complete! Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Jam or Peanut Butter - you decide

Capacity is determined by what is attempting to enter the vessel and the vessel's "space" to hold what is entering. For example, if we have a used jar of peanut butter that has not been scraped clean and washed out, there are remnants of peanut butter in there. For all intents and purposes, we'd say the peanut butter jar was empty - we can easily cast it away as no longer of use to us. No matter how much we attempt to fill that "empty" jar with something else (like jam), that jar would never be totally full of the jam because it still was partially filled with the peanut butter. It may not be much peanut butter, but it still affects the taste of the jam and it takes up space that the jam would like to have enjoyed. Christ is kind of like the jam in our lives - wanting to fill the empty spaces of our lives, but he is competing with the peanut butter - remnants of our old ways of doing things, responding to things, and things we have held onto that we just don't want to part with.

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can't receive the gifts of God's Spirit. There's no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God's Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God's Spirit is doing, and can't be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah's question, "Is there anyone around who knows God's Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?" has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ's Spirit. (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

Capacity is defined as the ability to both receive and contain. The part of our 'self' that might be labeled as un-spiritual cannot receive the gifts of God's Spirit - things like truth, wisdom, and insight into God's ways. Why? To our human nature, these things are silly - they just don't make sense - they are counter-intuitive for us. For example, if you are an engineer and you are speaking with another engineer about how something is constructed (like a bridge), the force it can withstand under pressure, and the specifics of its design, you probably both understand each other. If you are like me, you are thinking, "I just want to cross that bridge - I don't really need to know how it is made in order to do that, do I?" The "details" seem silly to me because they don't "apply" to me - I have no interest in receiving that detail - I want merely to cross that bridge! Many times all we want is to 'cross some bridge' from un-spiritual into spiritual, without much thought as to how much of the un-spiritual is still within us, making it harder for us to embrace the spiritual.

To the one who has not invited the Spirit of God into their lives, the truths shared are nice, but they have no real relevance. They are not received because there is no "use" for them. To the one who has invited the Spirit of God to oversee their lives, giving constant guidance and tutelage, those truths, no matter how small are like that lovely tasting jam - they ooze into every crevasse they have access to and begin to affect that space. The challenge comes in getting all the "peanut butter" out of our "jars"! We cannot contain all God wants us to contain until we make way to have the "vessel" fully cleaned out. We sometimes try to embrace spiritual truths without really allowing the Spirit to deal with the things that need to be removed / cleaned up along the way. Try washing an "empty" jar that has contained peanut butter - that stuff gets into the tiniest nooks and crannies of that jar - making it hard to get all the peanut butter out on our own! You really have to work hard to get it completely clean (unless you have a dishwasher that does the work for you!). That is how it is when we "try" to clean ourselves up after coming to Christ - attempting to deal with the things that entice us to make wrong choices, but they are just hanging on to us like they belong there within us.

The key is to allow the one who has the ability to thoroughly clean the vessel to do that work - just as we'd rely on the dishwasher to remove the peanut butter! If we want capacity for the things of God, we need his Spirit to clean out our vessel of those things that "take up space" without really serving any purpose anymore. I cannot say what those may be for you - but I know that his Spirit will be faithful to point them out and remove them when he is given full access to your life. So, you might want to ask this question: Are you settling for "some" jam with a little of your left-over peanut butter? Or are you desirous of only pure jam in your vessel? If you choose the pure jam, you will need to turn the vessel over to him in order to allow it to be emptied so that your capacity is expanded to receive it fully. God wants full access - not to compete with the "left-overs" of our live's choices and things we have trusted in at some point in the past. Just sayin!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Here's my wrapped present

Gratitude is indeed something we don't realize we haven't expressed until we realize we have begun to take some things (or people) in our lives for granted. There are times where we really are grateful, but we don't express it. We just assume another knows we are indeed grateful for the relationship, appreciative of what another has done for us, or just that we are well-pleased with the way things have gone. When we are walking in step with one another, it is kind of common to occasionally just 'take for granted' that we have each other. William Arthur Ward penned the words, "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." We can 'feel' very grateful - but fail to express it - not 'giving the present' so to speak. He also reminds us: "Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." We might just do well to realize routine can bring joy, common can spark newness, and ordinary might just be the biggest blessing we can receive!

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:17 MSG

Give the message of Christ's love and grace plenty of room in your life and you will find there is lots and lots of room for expressing gratitude, my friends! Why? His grace overwhelms in ways we may not recognize at first, but when we stop to consider what he has accomplished through the extension of that grace time after time again, we cannot but burst into thanksgiving for his overwhelming outpouring of love. The details of our lives spark others to be grateful when we begin to express those details! Ward also reminds us to not just flatter one another and that includes how we approach God in our prayer and worship. As Ward says, "Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you." God loves us - not to force us to love him, but to cause us to realize our need for his grace in our lives. That realization of grace's need is what causes us to reach out to him. 

The peace of Christ helps us live in harmony with one another. Why? Where his peace dwells, there is less opportunity for the ugliness of self to get in the way of loving each other. His peace actually takes over the space where the ugliness of envy seeks to rise up. It also less space for our own guilt to hold us bound to our past. When we are not bound to the past, we are free to begin to enjoy the present. You, my friends, are part of the present - not the past! We are given each other to spur one another on toward love and grace - revealing the peace of Christ to one another. Give God plenty of room - by allowing him 'space' we are allowing him the privilege of transforming that 'space' into the most lovely space of all! From that transformation stems gratitude - grace-filled, peace-filled, and love-engorged lives cannot help but express their gratitude. Never take for granted what God has begun and continues to reveal within one another. Spur one another on to see the fullness of God's presence and peace within them. Just spurring you on today!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

School's out!

Do you remember as a kid looking forward to Christmas break, or summer break? You just dreamed about all the fun you'd have when you finally heard, "School's out!" The possibilities were endless - that is until you realized the 'break' was not endless and the parents may just have a different idea of how you should while away your time! We were given a break, but did we always get to enjoy it exactly the way we thought we would? Not always - maybe bits and pieces of the dream - but not usually exactly what we thought we'd do. Our friends weren't available when we wanted them to be, the demands of being part of a family may have pulled us a little in another direction, and the things we thought we could leave until another day just mounted up. Maybe 'school's out' carries a very different meaning - maybe it actually means you now have to make more choices for yourself, put into practice more of what you have learned, and get down and dirty with some stuff that you have been putting off!

My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7 MSG

We have received much through our relationship with Christ, but when we really stop to think about it, how much of what we have received are we actually 'living out' each and everyday? The honest truth is that we sometimes have a whole lot more 'book knowledge' stored up and very little of it gets put into practice! The faith we live is the one we will replicate in others. If we just get acquainted with Jesus, we will be passing on 'acquaintance' relationship. There will be no depth to it. If we perhaps spend a little less time focusing on the 'book knowledge' that just tells us ABOUT Jesus and focus on getting to really know him, perhaps what we have to pass on will be more of an intimate relationship with Jesus!

The rooting is solid. The foundation is laid with perfection. All that remains is that the growth occur in such a way that fruit is produced - shelter is secure. The thing that draws others to Christ is not that we have merely growth - it is that we produce something with that growth that makes others desire to share in that which we have. My neighbor down the way has a pomegranate bush that overgrows the fence line and hang heavy with fruit at the end of summer and early fall. Yet, he lets many fall to the ground, unharvested, rotting away and picked at by the birds. My sister has actually stopped to tell him she'd like to harvest a few since he doesn't seem to, but has been turned away because he doesn't want anyone else to have that fruit. The fruit is desirous to those who are hungry - but we have to be willing to give it away, not just put it on display!

We pretty much have to admit that we each know our way around this thing called 'faith' - we are comfortable in our relationship with Christ. Our book learning has been going on for some time now, and we kind of feel like we have 'mastered' some of the subjects. Yet, book learning rarely transforms lives. It must be put into practice for it to begin to impact living! Even a doctor knows he must practice his 'book learning' on real subjects! He cannot possibly benefit society with his study of medicine until he does something with it other than storing it away in his memory! The same is true with our faith - it is meant to be real, vibrant, and inviting. It is meant to draw others to Christ. What most of us need to hear more than anything today is that 'school's out'! It is time to take this living, breathing relationship with Christ outside the walls of our 'salvation schoolroom' and let it begin to impact the lives of those around us! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

You wearing spurs?

Know why so many arguments happen? We aren't walking 'in tune' with each other - we have gotten out of step with one another. We are so focused on something else and we get all 'out of whack' with each other - sometimes without even noticing. Whenever we are 'doing our own thing', we have little concern for what the 'other guy' needs or wants in the relationship. We find ourselves running over each other quite easily and that is what leads to frustration, eventually either emerging in an argument or hurt feelings. God doesn't want this to be the way we live, so maybe we should consider how to avoid these relationship pitfalls.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15 MSG)

The peace of Christ is to be the overriding principle in our relationships. Yet we struggle so much with allowing his peace to guide our steps. What impacts his peace in us? One of the first things that impacts that peace is when we find ourselves drifting into taking things and others for granted - not really being thankful for these things and people God has given into our lives. Yes, he gives us each other - we don't find each other all on our own, you know? We are brought into relationship with one another - ushered there by the hand of God. When we are no longer thankful for these relationships, they become a thing we take for granted - and this leads to relationship woes galore! Trust me - I speak from experience!

Another thing that dynamically impacts our internal peace, and will affect how well we live at peace with one another, is not getting a steady and hearty intake of the Word of God. Now, this is more than just reading a passage and saying, "That was good." We have to ingest it, digest it, invest it, and divest it! Take it in (ingest it). Get it working on the inside of us (digest it). Find ways to let it multiply within and without us (invest it). Give it away to others so they can put it through the same process themselves (divest it). The Word of God is powerful, but it won't impact our relationships if we are always just casually considering it. We have to get into it and allow it to get into us!

The peace of God is also nurtured through worship - letting your heart soar in praise and adoration for the one who gives us life and peace. The grace of God is a great thing - but does it spark a sense of worship within? If not, then we may have become a little too complacent in our appreciation of his grace. We might want to ask God to help us 'tune up' our thankfulness for his work in our lives, then we might just see we become a little more thankful for the ones God has placed us into relationship with in this journey of faith. Life isn't about the things we get out of it as much as it is about those we travel alongside as we go through it. We need peace inside, peace impacting our actions, and we might just find we are spurring one another on toward peace in this world. Just sayin!