Monday, December 31, 2018

A little fore-thought and intentional progress here....

It is always good to have a "recipe" or "instructions" to follow - especially when you are trying to create something you are not familiar with - new experiences demand solid instructions in order to not get things messed up along the way. The same is true in our spiritual walk - we have not walked this way before, so we need the "recipe" or "instructions" for how it is that we are to live. Today we will explore a couple of important principles - contrasting the way we should live against the way we often choose to live. Probably above all, we need to understand what it is that we are choosing to have "made of our lives" - it should be to be counted wise and to build a reputation that is rock-solid. Reputation is how we are known - it reflects either the wisdom or foolishness of our choices. Some people refer to a reputation as the "character" of a man or woman. Today's 'recipe' or 'instructions' is really focusing on what develops a "solid" character.

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom—it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others' throats. (James 3:13-16)

There is a simple contrast presented here: Live well, wisely and humbly - OR - be mean-spirited, twisting the truth, focusing on what makes you look good, but destroys relationships. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to evaluate the "best" course of action when faced with these two sets of 'instruction' side by side. We want to be known as having made wise decisions with our life. Individuals who bring tragedy into lives of others are certainly known for their actions, but we would not say they have a "good" or "solid" reputation. The problem arises when we are faced with two 'recipes' or sets of 'instruction' on how it is we are to live. One will produce something 'close to' what we may want, but it won't be the same as the real deal! If you have ever tasted sugar-free anything, you know exactly what I mean! The most important portion of this instruction is that our actions and words should match. We lose credibility when we say one thing and then act completely opposite of what we just said. We cannot call ourselves disciples of Christ and then never spend any time or effort at being involved in learning what it is to be a disciple. We cannot say that we are ambassadors of Christ if we never make any effort to bring the message of reconciliation to others. We cannot say that we care for people, then engage in all kinds of destructive behavior that tears down others.

The "carelessness" we engage in pursuit of some of our activities in life can be quite frustrating when we see the outcome. We end up having to "go back" to "undo" our mistakes and to "redo" our efforts all over again. "Redoing" life is costly - we cannot make up for lost time, missed opportunities that would have existed the first time around a lot easier than they do now, and we often find relationships are just not the same once we have "damaged" them. The simple truth is that it takes more work to "redo" life than it would have resulted in if we'd just have taken the time to consider the result of our actions before we ever pursued them the first time around! Thank God that we have the opportunities for "do-overs"! I am grateful for each one, but it is apparent to me that the "do-over" cost more than I often wanted invest in the first place! I have had my share of "doing again" what I did not do right the first time. We've heard it said, "If the job is worth doing, it is worth doing right." If a relationship is worth having, it is worth "doing it right" the first time - and that includes our relationship with Christ. That means that we don't allow things in the relationship that damage either of those involved.

Much discord in our homes, work relationships, and even in society in general, could have been avoided if we were more concerned with maintaining solid character (both for ourselves and the others in the relationships). Relationships are much more complicated than some of the other 'recipes' or 'instructions' we set out to follow - but the principle of "connecting" correctly, with fore-thought and intention, applies within each and every relationship we engage in - including our relationship with Christ! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Just sayin!

A fool engages in words that are both thoughtless (not a lot of thought taken before speaking them) and careless (headstrong and determined to make one's own point or get one's own way). Put them together and you have a recipe for many an unhappy relationship, family gathering, or workplace environment! The fool is often described as reckless, unthinking, indiscreet, lacking caution, etc. Not too flattering of a list of character traits, huh? The wise, on the other hand, are described as discreet, caring, respectful, concerned, etc. The difference isn't rocket science here - it is found in the ability to "govern" one's words.

Fools have short fuses and explode all too quickly; the prudent quietly shrug off insults. Truthful witness by a good person clears the air, but liars lay down a smoke screen of deceit. Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise. (Proverbs 12:16-18)

Ever know someone who has a "short fuse" - reacting at the drop of a pin and then leaving everyone in their path standing there in the wake of their outburst without even noticing how much damage or confusion their words have caused. The simple truth is that they are "fools" - lacking judgment and wisdom that would keep them from damaging both themselves and those in their path. Yep, they are quite "enthusiastic", but they lack the sense to know when they should indulge in a certain behavior or withhold themselves. They are characterized by "speaking before thinking" - a sure sign to those of us who have had more than one occasion where we have put our foot in our mouth!

The prudent, on the other hand, may "reserve" what they think for a later time, or never speak what they think at all (novel concept). It is not because they don't believe their thoughts are valuable enough to put into words - they have just learned that all that they think at the moment may not lend to the good of the situation, so they remain silent. A prudent person is both wise in the present moment and forward-looking in their planning - even when it comes to their words. There is a bigger picture in mind. The fool reacts to the moment - the prudent plans for the future. We often refer to this prudent one as discreet or controlled in their response. Trust me - discretion and control are both learned traits!

There are moments when the truth will be the best path to explore - allowing the air to be cleared between individuals and circumstances to be set into play that will 'mend' breaks in relationships. At other times, truth may be known, but it may not be the moment to speak it - simply because it will inflame the fool in one or both of us, leading to more issues arising that will have to be dealt with at a later time. Knowing when to speak truth is wisdom. Rash language is simply anything spoken without taking the time to think it through. If there is one thing I have realized in my study of scripture, it is that if the same instruction, warning, or spiritual insight is taught more than once, God expects us to pay attention - we need to 'get' the topic into our hearts and minds so it affects our actions. This short passage speaks to us in about three different ways - all focusing on how and when we use our words! Therefore, we better sit up and take notice!

Rash words are those that are spoken without considering the consequences of those words. It is not just the words that are spoken, it is also the timing of the words, the ones that are hearing the words, and the framework in which our words are created. Yes, the words we speak matter, but we are not always cognizant of the audience hearing those words. We would do well to consider if the one hearing what we are saying is really the right audience for those words. We can "frame" any message (even a difficult one) in a way that can be both constructive and edifying. This entire chapter of Proverbs is chocked full of the differences between the fool and the wise. Many other passages speak to the importance of our words - the impact they have on others. We would do well to consider the impact OUR words have today - they are reflections of either our wisdom, or our fool-hearty ways! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Okay, I am ready now!

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...  Have you ever really stopped to consider those words, or are they just words of 'nice sentiment' to you? If the day will hold just a moment or two for contemplation, I think these could just be the words we might want to meditate upon! They are better than anything we can do to 'medicate away' the pain - emotional or physical. They are more trustworthy than even the most binding of contracts on this earth. They are more fulfilling than the biggest and best of meals we could luxuriate upon. These are words spoken with intent - they are words that are filled with hope - and they are words meant to encourage us even when all else seems to fail us!

God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure. You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life. (Psalm 23)

We have an authority over our lives. The role of the shepherd is to lead and protect the sheep, "directing" them, and "providing" for them. As a leader, the shepherd sets the way, just as a person in charge of directing gives wisdom and insight, and a provider makes every need his priority. When God is in this place of 'leadership' in our lives, we don't need anything else! We are able to stand confident and assured because we know our direction is established and all we will need along the way will be available to us when that need arises.

You lead me beside still waters - in a way, he is bedding us down, providing us with rest for our weary souls, and allowing us the comfort we need in order to be restored. All the world hurls at us daily serves to wear us down - it sucks energy from our souls, occupies precious space in our thoughts, and entangles us in its grasp. Still waters run deep - there is a refreshing that comes when we partake of what God provides for our restoration. You restore my soul - true to his word, he gives us time to catch our breath - even when others would not. I cannot count the times when life was throwing stuff at me so fast that I physically, mentally, and emotionally did not feel like I could ever come up for air. The pressures mounted and the fears entered in - that is the natural outcome when pressures mount and we are left trying to lead ourselves through the many pressures we face. We can find some insight here - we need to go to where God is leading us - there we find rest.

The worst thing we can do is to believe that we are too busy to take time for God, to 'preoccupied' to even allow him to refresh our weary souls. God delights in "giving us space" and "giving us time" to really refocus our lives. It is there in that 'space' that God gives us the sense that he is "alongside" us in our struggles. When we sense his presence, there is a renewed confidence that we shall come out on the completely opposite side of the troubling circumstances with our head held high, our minds at peace, our energies renewed, and our faith built strong. That last verse reminds us of God's unending love for us - his faithfulness to pursue us every step of the way. He "chases after us" - we don't chase after him. What a sad fact, but truth nonetheless. He is the one pursuing us - so that his love may affect us deeply and his grace may embrace us closely. We don't know the many times when God's pursuit was initiated in our lives by the "wrong turns" we took along the way, but a shepherd is ever-alert to the many wanderings of his sheep.

This is a Psalm of Life. It is about God's pursuing love, engaging us in his restorative provision, and renewing us for the next challenge we face in our day ahead. Life is found in his arms, in the nudges of his shepherd's rod, and in his quiet places of renewal and rest. Renewal is around the corner - you are being pursued - stop, listen, and behold the face of your pursuer. Take time to allow him to occupy your 'preoccupied' space a while and you might just find yourself readied to 'attack life' in a totally different manner! Just sayin!

Friday, December 28, 2018

What? It isn't all about me?

There are commands in the scripture that are not 'optional' behaviors or attitudes. We are to embrace them as a way of life regardless of how we feel. Too many of us are reliant upon 'feelings-based' actions. If we feel like it, we do. If we don't feel the urge, we don't. Don't love the world's ways is not optional. Don't love the world's goods is also not optional. Neither of these commands are 'optional' or dependent on how we feel at the moment. We might want to gloss over these commands, but there is much value in considering them as guiding principles in our lives as the consequences of being too caught up in the ways of this world system or in seeking after what it offers carry some heavy burdens for us. When we are in love with this world and what it offers us, we isolate ourselves from God - although we may align with others in this world, isolation from him is just not good.

Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.  (I John 2:15-17)

What is the 'world' in scripture? In the plainest terms, it is that which sets itself against the ways of God. The idea is that of being in opposition to, or living in such a manner as to take one's focus off of grace and love of God. Don't love this world's system of doing things, or treating people, as the world spends so much time just focusing on self is really a means of helping us not be so 'me-focused'. The plain truth is laid out for us - the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure - those things that will please our 'self' while paying little attention to the things another needs. It offers us what will build our pride and what will fill our coffers. In the end, we are left empty - devoid of the connection with God that fills our spirit to overflowing. The world system teaches us that "our way" is the most important - we need to look out for #1 (us). God's way is contrary to this - look out for your brother, and then let me look out for you. 

The second command is to not love the world's goods - meaning we are not to be so consumed with getting everything we see, amassing to ourselves great storehouses of physical wealth and "things" that will eventually deteriorate, break, and be of no value in the end. Craving attention is natural to human nature - we like to be the center of our universe! As a matter of fact, we learned this quite young. When we were not considered the center of all that was going on around us, we learned we could throw a little tantrum until we got our own way - until attention was focused on us - even before we could speak, we figured this one out! God's plans and "systems" are different. His desire is that we would place our attention on him - first and foremost. That means that we consider all we do in light of answering a few simple questions: 1)If I pursue this course of action, will it keep Christ central in my thoughts, attitude, and actions? 2) If I pursue this moment of pleasure, will I regret the consequences? 3) If I bring this "thing" into my life, will it add unwanted distraction to my life?

These are not really "rocket-science" kind of questions. They are practical questions that help us to evaluate decisions "in the moment". The world only offers us a continual craving for physical pleasure - what we see and hear is that if it feels good, we should do it. We are encouraged to want what it is that we see - even if we don't really need it. After all, isn't that the concept behind 'end-cap' sales in the stores? The world also encourages us to become puffed up in pride over our achievements and those physical possessions that we acquire or amass. If we ask ourselves those questions (run our decisions through those "filters" before making them), we might just avoid some heartache in our life. The reminder to us is that when we fail to use some "filters" to guide our thoughts, intentions, and actions, we will drive a wedge in between God and ourselves - we isolate ourselves from God's fellowship. Isolation is really disconnection. When something is isolated, it is "set away from" that which it was designed to be connected to. We isolate very contagious people in hospitals because if they were "connected to" others in the hospital without taking the proper precautions to avoid the spread of disease, we'd have an epidemic!

Isolation from God occurs when our heart or mind places anything else in the position of authority in our lives that is designed specifically for God. We are allowing ourselves to be "exposed" over and over to those thought patterns, cravings of our bodies, etc., that connect us more with the "disease" of our sin instead of the "remedy" for our sin. The best thing we can do is to use the "filters" we are provided: the Word of God, our conscience, and the Holy Spirit resident within. When we do, we find that they answer the questions posed above with pretty reliable truth - directing our behavior, our thoughts, and our intentions toward God and away from the world's systems/ways. If you are in a place where you are realizing that your love for God has been "squeezed out" by the things you have been pursuing, it may be the perfect time to begin to evaluate your focus. If all we can see is "us", there is not much room for God. In other words, we have "isolated" ourselves unto ourselves - taking God out of the equation of our lives. It may be time to step out of that isolated place and into the safety of God's arms. Just sayin!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Plunge right in!

We all have those moments when we want to move forward, but something inside us is holding us back. We want change, but the thought of it overwhelms us. We desire newness, but the familiar often outweighs the unknown - doesn't it? As I have begun to work with wood a little this year, the thought of using some of the more 'daunting' tools is a little bit intimidating. Yes, I can put two pieces of wood together. Yes, I can sand them smooth. Yes, I can use a jigsaw, circular saw, and even a miter saw. Now, ask me how I am doing with the table saw! It sits there all ready to go, but it intimidates me! I have heard horror stories of digits severed, injuries from kickback of the wood and the like. The thought of it frightens me, but I know I can do even greater projects once I set my mind to learning the ins and outs of that thing! There are times we focus on our 'impotence' - our inability - instead of God's 'potency' - his ability. When we do, we might find ourselves staring at a mighty pretty table saw and never seeing the results of what it can help to produce in our lives!

Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God. (Romans 4:19-25 MSG)

Some of us are guilty of 'tiptoeing' around God's promises in our lives - terribly skeptical, not really willing to trust fully, and kind of focused just a bit too much on our own inabilities. We ask questions that betray our mistrust. We make obvious our focus by the way we avoid even looking in the direction of the change God desires in us. The more we avoid the thing we fear, the more fear we develop toward it! Why? Fear is like yeast in bread - it cannot be deemed inactive where it is given free rein! I have tried to use old yeast in a recipe, only to find my recipe a flop for the dough never rises - the yeast was impotent! It lacked the ability any longer to affect that which it was intended to affect. The same is true of us - the longer we sit around NOT using what God puts at our disposal, the less affect it will have if we ever do attempt to put it to use!

There are moments in time when we just have to plunge right into whatever it is God is calling us to do - because we cannot move beyond the fear without taking that first plunge! When I was a kid, we have a swimming pool in the backyard. All the neighborhood kids would congregate in our yard because it was the place to be on a hot summer's day. There were some times of the year, when it was getting warm, but wasn't really all that warm yet. We wanted to swim so badly. We knew the water wouldn't be as warm as it would be in just a couple of weeks when the weather turned even warmer, but we were desperate to swim! What did we do? We plunged right in! We didn't dangle our toes, creeping slowly into the water, shivering all the while. We took that first plunge and got it over with! From then on out, the water's temperature no longer deterred us from enjoying the fun of the pool.

The moment we take the plunge is the moment we declare to fear and doubt that they will no longer have control over our minds and hearts. We will be declaring very definitely that their influence will not be allowed to deter us from the things God has prepared for us. We can be sure that God will make good on all he promises - all that he has prepared for us in his infinite wisdom and grace. God isn't going to always 'warm the water' for us, my friends. Sometimes we just need to put the 'tiptoeing' aside and take a running leap into the unknown. What awaits us may just be more than we ever dreamed possible! God knows the possibilities even in the impossibilities and he has a way of exposing us to those possibilities best when we have taken that first plunge! It is a new year about to dawn - maybe God has called you to take that plunge into something new with this new year. It isn't going to come as long as we hesitate to take that plunge. Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A + B = C

There is a lot of emphasis today on getting education. We start children in educational opportunities as early as pre-preschool and encourage advancing our education by adding advanced degrees to fill the period after the end of our college days, as well. Trade schools have risen all over the place, offering degrees to those who want to simply better themselves in one particular field of study without going the long route of learning all that other stuff the 'regular' colleges and universities require for a degree. Education is at a premium in our society. Why is it then that we scoff at the wisdom God offers - at the education he provides in his Word?

Give advice to a wise person, and he will become even wiser. Teach a righteous person, and he will learn more.  (Proverbs 9:9)  Show me how you work, God; school me in your ways.  (Psalm 25:4)

King David was adamant that the one thing he wanted in his life was to know how God works - to be schooled in God's ways - not just for his personal benefit, but also for the benefit of those he was leading. King Solomon, David's son, penned the words we find in Proverbs, with an equal focus on being taught and learning what was important in life. He also knew that learning the truths God reveals is a life-long process - something not to be ignored and definitely a guide to one's direction in life. Many of us finally get something when we are "shown" how that something works, how it comes together - what purpose it fulfills. We "get it" because we can visualize it - it moves from being just a taught concept in our minds to be something we can interpret with our senses. I never really "got" algebra - the concepts yes, but the working use of it, no. I knew how to do the equations so that I solved for "x", but I never really knew the reason behind needing to figure out what "x" represented. Algebra was a "concept", but not something I knew would "serve me" in my daily life.

The "schooling" God affords is more than just "classroom time". Yes, we have opportunities to attend Bible College, sit in Bible Study classes together, listen to good sermons and teaching. Yet, the greatest "learning" comes in the "doing" of what he teaches us in his Word. Learning becomes reality when we are engaged in putting into practice what we have embraced as a "concept". When we attempt to love another as God first loved us - unconditionally, even before the other person realizes the need for love in their life - we realize the extreme difficulty in fully "learning" all about love just because we have studied the actions of love. The "schooling" God affords is accomplished in the "living" what we have learned. Everything God teaches is based on "living it out" in our daily life. Having no other God before him is lived out in the choices we make each day. Learning how to be still and truly "know" that he is God is learned in the midst of chaos and discord. Trusting that he will never leave us, nor forsake us, is developed in the times when we least "feel" or "see" God's presence in our midst. His truths are made "real" in the midst of "living".

With "learning" comes accountability - we are expected to take what we have learned and "use it" in our daily living. That is why algebra did not move from "concept" with me into "practical use" - I never realized how to use it in my daily life. Then, one day while working as a cook in a daycare center, I needed to figure out how to make a recipe from my cookbook that could feed four people into a recipe that would feed 150. All of a sudden, I was "learning" how to solve for "x"! The concept became "practical" knowledge at that point. As God exposes truth in our lives, we are expected to use those truths - taking them from "concept" and making them the guiding influence in our lives. God gives us much wisdom - exposing us to much truth. Yet, truth is of no real benefit unless it influences the way we make our choices. God's methods of "teaching" always vary depending on how we will "best learn" in the situation, but they are consistent. His desire is to always take us from "concept" to "living". What is God asking you to "live out" today? Just askin!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

I ain't no saint!

Some try to live like saints - others know just how much of an impossibility sainthood really is! The good news is that God can make somebodies out of nobodies - he can actually make saints out of sinners! We all bear many names such as son, daughter, mother, father, worker, foreman, leader, and even child. None of these names really defines us as God would have us defined, though. We are each individually defined by the 'new name' he writes upon our hearts the moment we say "yes" to Jesus. That new name doesn't make us who we are in Christ Jesus - it is given because of what God has done in us.

We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!” (Romans 4:17-18 MSG)

We can all associate with being 'nobody' at times. It is like we blend into the woodwork almost - not really noticed, but there nonetheless. There are also times when we try to shine like the glowing light, only to find we cast shadows too large to disguise or hide no matter how 'bright' our light shines. We all go through phases of living according to what we can do, forgetting all the while that God is desiring for us to live according to what he has done and what he continues to do!

We don't live like saints very often - at least I don't, so I imagine there are others who might be honest and admit it, too. We might want to be 'saint-like', but all our actions just don't amount to much. We are incapable of being saints until we are made saints by the grace of God. Abraham hit the nail on the head by choosing not to live on the basis of what he couldn't do. Too many of us refuse to admit we cannot do life on our own - we are incapable of true change on our own. Once we admit we are incapable - God opens the doors to capabilities beyond our abilities!

God says he will make us white as pure driven snow - we don't get pure by our actions, but by the drive of his Spirit within us. God says he will give us a new name - not because we really desire one, but because he knows we need our lives 'redefined'. God says there are possibilities we won't ever accomplish on our own - so he gives us the abilities to accomplish great things, not in our own power, but through the grace and power that comes by his hand.

There is no greater gift we receive than to first acknowledge we are incapable of living saint-like lives and then see how God begins to make us saintly in our appearance, attitude, and actions. It is a grace-thing, pure and simple. That which we cannot do ourselves is best left in the hands of the only one capable of doing it anyway! Just sayin!

Monday, December 24, 2018

The best gift is...

Wouldn't it be great to have someone just tell us everything was going to be all right in our life? There are moments in time when things just seem to spin out of control and all we want to hear is that it is going to be well with us - we are going to make it through, survive, and rise above this current unease or unrest. We are loved by God and kept by Jesus Christ - therefore, what spins today is still in his control. Some of us just need to hear, "Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!"

But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven. (Jude 1:20-23)

There are people in our midst that make it their mission to view the grace of God we have received as a license to continue in sin - to spin out of control - to let the world dictate what they should do and say.  We need to know without any doubt that grace NEVER licenses us to continue in sin - it never encourages us to spin out of control.  We need to be carefully built up in the faith - in order to counteract the things that are contrary to a life of peace and rest.  We are reminded of the necessity of "continuing" - whatever is begun in our lives at the moment we say 'yes' to Jesus is something we must continue with all through our lives.  When one is on a trip to a destination, the best method of arriving at the destination is to "continue" in the course laid out.  If we stop, we never realize the joy of the destination.  If we continue moving away from where we started, we get closer to where we are headed.

The opposite of living a life that spins out of control (freely pursuing sin just because we think we can receive the grace to cover over that sin anytime we like) is to stay right at the center of God's love.  I have never experienced the terror of a tornado, but those who have speak often of what it is like when the "eye" of that tornado passes over.  For just a period of time, the very center of that tremendously destructive force is calm, peaceful, and a place of rest.  All around that "eye" there is a pulling force of wind that is attempting to tear up all in the path of that storm.  We need to stay in the middle of God's love - thereby avoiding the pulling of the forces that exert pressure on us, pulling us into things that will cause us to spin out of control once again.  No other place is as safe as right in the middle of God's love - it is a stabilizing force, a peaceful place.

In addition to moving "away" from sin and "into" the center of God's love, we are to keep ourselves open to receiving God's mercy.  Open arms are welcoming - they invite us into their embrace.  To live in such a way that we are always open to receiving God's embrace - this is where we find our spinning ceases.  We are to be tough on sin, but easy on the sinner.  It is the sin that stinks - not the sinner.  We often find ourselves throwing the baby out with the bathwater - we can't or won't deal with the sinner because we have an issue with their sin.  The practicality of loving the sinner while not condoning their sin is difficult for us to grasp.  We cannot seem to separate the two.  It might help to remember that God looks at us, not our sin.  He is moved by our need, not the sin.  He is touched by our helplessness, not the sin. He desires to end the spinning - not to just slow us down.

The challenge is to "go easy" on those who "hesitate" in the faith - those that might set out on the journey, making good progress for a while, then kind of "stall out" for a while.  They are no longer making progress toward their destination.  They may have been caught in the "fringes" of sin once again - pulled in unaware of the destruction that awaits.  Our part is to love them, reminding them of the welcoming arms of Jesus - of the gift that beckons to them to be unwrapped and embraced.  Grace is most appreciated when it is most needed.  We often don't know we need water until we are parched with thirst.  If we know someone spinning out of control today, maybe the best gift we offer them this Christmas is grace! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The gift

How much is a fair day's wage? I sometimes watch these shows depicting how life was in the earlier days, when men and women plowed fields, laid up stores from their gardens, and raise livestock to support their families. Some were laborers in the fields, others worked at 'trades' such as carpentry, stone mason, or storekeeper. Yet, one common theme seemed to emerge - the day's wage. It wasn't much, but it usually helped with the bare necessities - such as new shoes when the soles of the present ones had worn thin. The day's wage was well-earned by the sweat of one's brow and heavy lifting of one's back. The worker did a good job and he earned his wages - he deserved his pay. It wasn't a gift to him - it was hard-earned. There is one thing we can never earn - that which is given as a gift. A gift is something given from a heart that knows the specific need and desire of another.

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift. (Romans 4:4-5 MSG)

There are just some jobs too big for me to do anymore. I don't do well with lots of heavy labor any longer - although I sometimes forget this fact! I have found I must hire these tasks out to others - not because I couldn't do them, but because I am not as young or as strong as I used to be! There is one task too big for any of us - that of making our hearts right with God. This is only done via a gift - the gift of the cross. This is the season of gift-giving. Many will take great care to listen to what others share about what they would like, how they have yearned for a particular thing, and then they will ensure that object of one's yearning is wrapped carefully and put under the tree for Christmas morn. One such gift is available - but it doesn't need to be unwrapped one day of the year! It is available to use year round!

We could never find this gift in a store, nor could we fashion it with out own hands. It is impossible for us to make right our own hearts - we do not possess the right stuff to 'put right again' the gap between us and our heavenly Father. There is but one way to be made right - and it is sheer benevolence that makes us right. The benevolence of our heavenly Father makes the gift possible - the obedience and love of his Son 'paid' for the gift. No 'cost' too great where it concerns our hearts! The love of our heavenly Father overrides all human reasoning. His love embraces those who refused to embrace him. His grace-filled love 'paid' the price to purchase for us what we could never earn by even our best of toiling!

We shall celebrate with friends and family all over the world this Christmas season with gifts of all kinds. Let us never forget the gift that need not wait until Christmas morn to fill our hearts and settle our minds. Let us open it up, try it on, and see just how well it 'fits' our soul! The gift we could never earn is a most well-fitting gift indeed! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

We need zero skipped beats!

God is not after a big church or even 'big names' in Christian circles - he is after an obedient church and obedient children who are not concerned with making a 'name', but in sharing his love in big ways. It really doesn't matter the size of the church or the years we have been a believer. The number of pews or the size of the building really doesn't matter - nor the number of times we have read through the Bible from cover to cover. The thing that matters is the condition of the hearts that make up the "church" - the condition of our hearts - yours and mine. God often deals with obedience as he speaks with his kiddos - "Do what I tell you". There is to be evidence of obedience in our lives. The first evidence we should see is that we "treasure" God's instructions. They are not given haphazardly - they are "careful" instructions. The requirement of an obedient heart is first to learn to treasure the things that bring growth, integrity, and restoration into our lives. When we treasure something, we are regarding it in such a way that we keep it "stored up" - at the ready.

Dear friend, do what I tell you; treasure my careful instructions. Do what I say and you'll live well. My teaching is as precious as your eyesight—guard it! Write it out on the back of your hands; etch it on the chambers of your heart. Talk to Wisdom as to a sister. Treat Insight as your companion. They'll be with you to fend off the Temptress—that smooth-talking, honey-tongued Seductress.  (Proverbs 7:1-5)

We are reminded that the value of his teaching is as precious as our eyesight - so we need to guard it. We all probably know the extreme measures we take to remove an annoying bit of dust, or a wayward eyelash from our eye. Why?  It irritates us to no end to have that small particle on the surface of our eye and our IMMEDIATE instinct is to get it out! When God's teaching is held as the "eye" through which we filter all that comes into our lives, we will guard it from all that irritates - we will take immediate action to ensure nothing interferes with the clarity of focus we need to maintain! We are to write the Word on our hands. This is not a literal thing of tattooing these words to our hands, or even using indelible marker to accomplish it - it is figuratively spoken. What do our hands do? They touch. They either reach out or they resist - the pull together, or push apart. Why is the Word to be affecting our hands? Simply put, it is important to have the Word affecting what we touch and what touches us. We want to be instruments of his grace - involved in serving where there is a need (touching others). We also need to guard against being touched by that which will defile us (resisting). Our hands are instruments of service and should be guarded as such.

The Word of God needs to be etched on the chambers of our hearts because the heart is key to life - any absence of a 'beat' of our heart puts us at risk - interrupted beats one after another are not good at all! No circulation occurs without the heart. Simply put, the very thing that brings life to our being is carried in the blood - the instrument for ensuring that the blood is transported to every living cell is the heart. Blood passes through the heart on the way to and from each cell. The Word of God is to be what gives us life - energizing us from within. Last, but not least, we are to treat Wisdom as a sister and Insight as our companion. Think of wisdom as a person for a moment - a sister. If we have had a rocky relationship with our sister in the natural sense, this may be a little difficult to grasp, but bear with me. Sisters are of the same bloodline. They have a connection to us that goes beyond close association - it is more than skin deep. There is a connection through the DNA we share. God wants us to have that same depth of connection with his Son - the embodiment of all wisdom. He wants us to share the same DNA.

Insight as our companion is simply having the discernment we need when we face a set of values that we need to evaluate for the "truth" contained within them. We are bombarded by all kinds of values - some right on and solid, others not so trustworthy. We need the discernment of a spirit connected to through the DNA of Christ. A companion is one who walks with us at all times, not turning away in the face of danger or conflict of misunderstanding. That is what we can count on from the Spirit of God - always there in the face of danger, standing strong with us even when we waiver in our own allegiance. So, God's desire is an obedient church and obedient children make up that church. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to take seriously what this means. When we are "born-again" into spiritual life with Christ, there is a "DNA exchange" that occurs - all things old pass away, all things become new. Then we begin to explore the Word of God, not as a novel, but as a source of life (that which regenerates, refreshes, and reignites). Soon, we find that we begin to desire to serve others. In time, we begin to evaluate what our hands touch and what our eyes behold. It all works together - one upon the other. The mission may seem "impossible", but if we see the inter-related parts as a whole, we soon realize that we have what we need for the mission of obedience! Just sayin!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Nope, it is a God thing!

It is a "God thing". Have you ever heard anyone say that? I had a friend who always marveled over what God was doing in her life and she'd be heard exclaiming those words. What she meant was that we mere humans couldn't take credit for how things turned out, or what transpired to get us to the outcome we were seeing at that moment. It was a God thing. Since the beginning of time, we can see accounts of men and women, all trying to somehow get an outcome they desired, but even after lots of struggle and willpower, the matter still 'came together' by God's doing. None of us are ever accepted or made "right" by our own deeds. For the nation of Israel, it took a realization that it was in the "keeping of the letter of the law" that they were "made righteous" was not exactly correct. They missed the boat as it applied to seeing God's provision for their holiness through the life of his Son. Abraham was pointed to as one of the exceptions to that general belief of being able to keep all the rules and make things turn out okay - he "entered into" what God was doing - and was thereby made righteous.

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we're given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, "Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own." (Romans 4:1-3)

There is something liberating about "entering into what God is doing for us" vs. us always trying to "do for ourselves" what is impossible for us to accomplish. God never intended for us to "fix ourselves up" so that we could present ourselves as holy before him. We are not "made acceptable" by our actions - our actions follow the change that occurs in our heart - the heart change is God's business. God is after our heart - the place within us that fellowships with him. The heart is the "instigator" of both our right and self-centered actions. God wants us to understand first and foremost that it is nothing we do ourselves that makes us "clean" - we are in a process of being transformed - and that "work" is his. The "turning point" for us is in realizing that fact. Abraham came to a place where he "trusted God" to set him right instead of trying to constantly do it on his own. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that the beginning point of any change is crucial. If we begin wrong, we usually end wrong. If the starting point is correct, we reach the end result we were aiming for in the first place. We may not get there on our own - and that is perfectly fine - but if we start with the right action (trust), we end with the best results (a God thing).

The starting point for most change in our lives is at the point of repentance. The point of repentance is a time of recognizing that we have "started wrong" and as a result, we are on a wrong course. There is nothing more liberating than recognizing that we are on the wrong path - simply because it causes us to search for the right one! I have been lost before - traveling blindly down a course I "thought" would end where I wanted to be. Along the way, some things did not look familiar - I questioned my surroundings - they 'felt off', so I found myself uneasy in that place. It is in that "questioning moment" when we often are awakened to the danger of continuing on the path we have chosen. That is the moment of "turning" - our specific turning point may vary, but we all need to find that point. The way out of anywhere is usually the same way you came to be where you are at - you turn around and go back to where you began. Most of us find that when we do this, we can see clearly where we "went wrong" in our journey. The nice thing about God is that he never focuses on the negative turns we have taken in our lives or makes us go back to the beginning - he simply points us toward what is right and holy. Sure, he wants us to know "where we went wrong" - but those things don't become a focus point for him. He sees us through the eyes of forgiveness and restoration - no longer remembering the "wrong turns", but focusing on moving us forward.

In this same passage from Romans, it goes on to say: "If you're a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don't call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it's something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift." (Romans 4:4-5) The thing about forgiveness is that it is a job that is "too big for us". We simply need to trust God to do what we are incapable of doing ourselves. Try as we might, we struggle with always seeing the "wrong turns" in our lives, making it hard to forgive ourselves and let ourselves off the hook. What we need to do is be asking God how he sees us. When we do this, we are always greeted with the perfect image of his Son, Jesus Christ. That is the ONLY way God sees us! With that picture in mind, maybe some of us need to let God do his thing in our lives and just trust him to do what only he can do! Just sayin!

Thursday, December 20, 2018 might want to share that with someone

When was the last time you had a deeply intimate conversation with anyone? Most of us would think of an 'intimate' conversation as one that got deeply personal - there was some sharing at the most 'confidential' level. Whatever was shared wasn't meant for public knowledge - it was between you and the one you were sharing it with. Sadly, there are those who have never really gone beyond the surface in sharing with others - sometimes even keeping a very superficial relationship with God, as well. They might have trust issues, but it could also be pride issues - their pride keeps them from sharing too much of themselves because they believe themselves to be better or worse than another. The bottling up of emotions and the hiding of these things that really need to be shared is just not good for us, though. We need the freedom of sharing our innermost self - even if it is worse than what we want to 'portray' for anyone else to see! God isn't surprised at our 'badness' anymore than he is overjoyed with our 'goodness'!

But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.  Galatians 4:4-5 MSG

Intimate conversation with God - have you ever really had that? I suppose all of us might have shared some things with him that others don't really know about us, but really be truthful here - are your conversations with him deeply intimate? Are they the type of conversations in which no holds are barred? The ones where you just let your hair down and be your true self - freely sharing, even the bad stuff, and delighting in his just listening to the musings of your heart. In wrestling, there are certain 'holds' barred - you cannot choose that 'hold' in the match to bring your fellow wrestler to the mat. A 'no holds barred' kind of match is really a brawl - a free-for-all, in which both of the individuals engaged in the match up are free to use any means to get their partner to the mat. The idea is that both parties are free from the usual limits. God doesn't want us putting 'limits' on what we share or how we share it with him. He wants genuine honesty and in turn, he gives us genuine grace!

An heir doesn't have to use any gimmicks to access his inheritance - there is a freedom in access. As we consider our inheritance in Christ, we might just do well to remember freedom goes two ways. We get tremendous freedom by the extended grace of the cross, but in turn, God gets extended access to our hearts and minds! The moment we say "yes" to Jesus, we are agreeing to an open and deeply intimate relationship with him. We aren't to keep things back in our times of prayer with him - he wants (and even expects) the good, the bad, and the ugly to come out. The good news is that he isn't surprised by any of it! He knows when the 'limits' are taken off of us, and we really begin to open up our hearts to him, it is quite possible we will begin to see just how much we need that vulnerability in order to finally be free of some of that which doesn't really belong there anymore. The moment we share truthfully with him is the moment our deliverance begins to come in many of those areas we have kept secreted away into the recesses of our heart, far away from anyone else's view. 

Deeply intimate conversation takes some work - it doesn't come easily. Trust must be developed. We must believe in the one we are sharing with - that those confidences will not be displayed for all to see. God doesn't put our dirty laundry on display for all to see - he guards those things we have shared. You might think he has violated your trust when something very similar to what we have shared with him begins to reveal itself in a circumstance in our lives - something that reveals the truth we have shared in a way others might begin to see. It isn't that he is violating our trust - we have just become sensitive to just how much he has been using others and circumstances in our lives to get us to the place we'd share that deeply hidden thing with him. It is still kept in confidence, but we might just begin to see how much that 'thing' we thought was so well hidden from others has really been revealed all along in us in some measure within the circumstances of our lives. What God helps us do in those moments of intimate conversation is to allow us to sort out what to do with those things we have hidden so deeply. This is often the outcome of any deeply intimate conversation - we sort things out.

While not every conversation with him will make it to this level, the more we practice this type of deeply intimate sharing with him, the more we will desire it. We won't fear it any longer because we will see how much we are knit together in a close bond as a result of that sharing. The bond between us is made 'stronger' and we are 'freer' to live life with him without those limits we have placed on ourselves. They aren't put there by him - those limits are of our own making. The sooner we let go of the limits, the sooner we will begin to enjoy just how meaningful the relationship between Christ and each of us can be! Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

You don't need a new lampshade

All of us need to be 'set straight' from time to time - some of us more frequently than others. I have a lampshade in the house that seems to always be askew, no matter how many times I make those adjustments, I will return to find it is somehow out of whack again. I could just toss the thing and start from scratch, but it is a perfectly good lampshade! Why would I get a new one? Well, some would think the straightening was not worth the hassle, while others would see the shade as defective. Too many times, I think we see the obstacle and give up on it rather than dealing with it. I guess some may flee when obstacles stand in their way, but I tend to see the obstacle as just another bump in the road!

I've already run for dear life straight to the arms of God. So why would I run away now...  God's business is putting things right; he loves getting the lines straight, setting us straight. Once we're standing tall, we can look him straight in the eye. (Psalm 11:1, 7)

David is being challenged to flee to the hills - run away, escape, make himself scarce - so his enemies don't overtake him, so a challenge does not overwhelm him. He has two choices - stand and face what comes his way, or flee and count on the mountains to protect him. His answer to this obstacle - he sees no sense in fleeing to the mountains. Why? God has not made his residence in the mountains, but in David's heart! The obstacles won't deter him from remembering where his help comes from.

David has put his trust in God's keeping grace - he is counting on being held in the hands of God regardless of the circumstances that are coming his way. He relates his trust in his affirmation of where it is that he has found his hope - in God's arms. Then he gives us insight into the hope he has - God is in the business of setting things right - so the solution is at hand! God not only orchestrates the situation, but he "orchestrates us" throughout that situation. He delights in setting things in order - marking out a path to follow and then walking with us along that path. For that reason alone, David will not flee when the going gets rough. For that reason alone, we should hold steady in the face of obstacles.

It is natural to desire to flee - it is part of our make-up to want to preserve what we already have found enjoyment in - to not want things to change. David says he finds great joy in keeping himself near to the heart of God. You cannot get closer to the heart of someone than being in their arms! His is not a casual relationship with God - it is one that has developed - there is evidence of intimate communion. God has drawn him near, set him upright, and now he is looking God in the eye - no shame, no fear, no barrier to intimate fellowship with a holy God. Why? Because God has set things right in his heart.

Herein we are given a glimpse into our choice in conflict - run and hide, or stand and be strong in the power of the Lord. I'd like to think we'd all choose the latter, but I know the reality of our fickle emotions - we sometimes run! When we find ourselves ready to "bolt", we would do well to ask the question: "Is God going to be more present, more available, more willing to meet with us wherever it is we are running than he is in the midst of the challenge we are facing?" If we have truly asked ourselves that question in sincerity, we likely will know the answer is "no". We can ditch the lampshade, but is that the best solution?

Running affords only a temporary escape from the present conflict. Wherever we go, conflict inevitably will occur. There is really no escape - just a chance to face what "giants" lie before us and take them on in the power found in relying on his grace to get us through. Running is a means of "going around" what gives us concern - rather than facing it head on. God's method of dealing with the obstacle is to face things head on. So, whatever the challenge today - whatever the conflict or obstacle you face - run to the arms of Jesus first. There you will find all you need for the way to be made straight, with your own life ordered in such a way that you will be able to face the challenge ahead. Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

More than bending over backwards

I think we shall always be among those who don't approve of what we say, what we do, the way we dress, or what we take joy in discovering. The world is full of people who think they know best, not really knowing much more on the subject than we do, but they think they do. There also all of those in this world who find fault in what we do, but all the while they are secretly admitting they want to do the same thing, or probably are! One day, Jesus and his disciples are walking to their next destination. They find themselves in the midst of a field of grain. Hungry from their journey, they reach out to take some of the grain as a little snack to get them through. What they do is forbidden - not because this was not their field to harvest, but because it was the Sabbath. To the Jew, this was a day of rest - commanded by God many years prior to be kept holy; a day when men cease from work and pay attention to God. A day in which there was absolutely NO flexibility for these Jewish 'law' followers - the 'letter of the Law' must be followed.

"There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—'I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual'—you wouldn't be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge." (Matthew 12:6-8)

Their simple actions of removing grain from the stalks, and rubbing them between their hands to remove the outer "husks" of the grain, was the issue - not that they were hungry, not this specific source of food, and not even their desire to be satisfied. It was the action of 'conducting work' on the day dedicated to not doing any work. The Sabbath had become a day full of ritual observances, but it lacked the reality of seeking God, of truly enjoying his presence. The Pharisees were livid with Jesus and his disciples - they were not honoring the traditions of the Jews and this just wouldn't do. Their encounter of Jesus and his disciples was less than welcoming - they immediately confronted Jesus with an accusation: "Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!" Not that they recognized their need for food, but that they weren't keeping all the rules!

I almost imagine Jesus at this point taking a deep breath, holding back the desire to roll his eyes and shake his head in disappointment at their lack of understanding about what the Sabbath was to be to the one who serves God. There are probably times when we receive a response from Jesus that is "tempered" with his grace when what we really deserve is a good "chewing out" for our lack of belief, limited understanding in the face of revelation, or our silly belief some 'set of rules' will get us somewhere in life. His response is direct and to the point. "There is far more at stake here than religion." This is the key we must see in what he says. Jesus is pointing out that the "religion" of the Jewish leaders had not produced what God would honor. They were hung up on the keeping of rules, while God was looking for obedient and submissive hearts. To so many, religion is a set of "do's" and "don'ts" - keeping many in a place where they don't really want anything to do with "religion". I think that was what Jesus was most concerned about that day when he responded as he did. He knew that the religion of rule-keeping was driving men further from God, not drawing them nearer.

"I prefer a flexible heart rather than an inflexible ritual." Plain and simple - Jesus focuses on the condition of the heart, not on all the good intentions, the innumerable times they had done "good stuff". He looks at the "pliability" of their heart - in other words, the responsiveness of their heart to the voice or leading of God's Spirit. The one thing that gains the attention of God more than anything else is the flexibility of our heart. If we are rigid in the keeping of rules with the idea that the rule-keeping will somehow get us the notice we desire from God, this does not move his heart. It is quite plain - the openness of our heart is what God notices. Rules are fine - that is not the issue. We spend lots of time developing the rules - far less time evaluating the heart that struggles with the keeping of those rules. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath - he is the "point" of the Sabbath. It is not the rules, the religious rituals, or the day of the week. The Sabbath was always known as being a day of rest. He is the one who provides perfect rest to our souls - the place where we cease from all the things that distract us from living for him and then we are drawn into the nearness of his presence.

A flexible heart is one that is capable of being "molded" without being completely destroyed in the process - one that is willing to be modified for the use of the one who is doing the "molding". The desire Jesus has for his disciples is that they be "pliable" in his hands - yielded to his leading, open to his voice, hungry for more of him. When he finds that kind of heart, he takes delight in making that one into his image. The person who is rigid in belief, unyielding in the "rules", finds themselves struggling with the "change of heart" that Jesus may be after. If we can learn anything from this exchange with the Pharisees it is this: We need to be flexible. That which is flexible is expandable. Jesus is looking for "expandable" hearts - because he desires to gives us more and more of his grace until it leaks out of us to all those around us! Just sayin!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Need a little glue?

We all know there are things in this world 'joined together' that just don't stay together very well! I have had chairs get wobbly over the course of scooting in and out, with joints coming loose and requiring much effort to get them 'firmed up' again. I have had papers placed in right order, stapled and bound, only to find that after repeated examination those pages 'wear loose' and sometimes even tear away from their bound edges. Heaven knows there are tons of relationships, once strong and vibrant, now withered and worn, no longer with anything holding them together - although once bound together, they are now separate and standing alone. It is not God's plan to have what he joins with him ever loose that connection, though. His intent is that we are joined with him - in an intimate and growing relationship - not to be separated from him again!

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples." John 15:5,8 MSG

When we are correctly joined with Jesus - he grafts us into his life source. There is no doubting where the life comes from, for the power is supernatural, the energies oftentimes way beyond our own natural energies, and the outcome far exceeds what we could produce in any effort of our own. Living and vital connection yields vital growth - fruit is born from such a connection. Sometimes people share with me their frustration over not 'seeing' much change in their lives - as though they somehow expected to be instantly free of frustrations that have been a constant cause of stress in their lives. I guess I'd have to ask a couple of questions of those individuals. 

Is the connection you made with those things that frustrate you so much now really a connection you need to keep now that you are connected with Christ? I am not telling you it is okay to abandon your marriage if that is the point of frustration, but maybe you could abandon some of the things you have held onto within that relationship that haven't been producing the right outcome within that relationship. For example, if you have learned it is okay to raise your voice at one another, yelling and arguing all the time about who knows what, maybe it is time to let go of some of those 'bad habits' you have allowed to interfere with the growth within that relationship.

Is your frustration with certain things because you are expecting to see growth without any investment on your part? God doesn't just 'pump life into us' - he expects us to invest in that life sustaining connection. The grafted branch doesn't just sit there - it begins the process of meshing with the branch it has been grafted into. It works to make the connection just as strong as possible - as much as the branch it has been grafted into works to supply all that will be needed to accomplish that vital connection and 'growth possibility'. We might want to just sit in relationship with Jesus and have all handed to us on a silver platter, but there are times when God asks us to take a step and then he backs that step with his power.

Fruit is a result of connection. Connection is only possible when two are willing to be 'merged together'. Solid connection is something that must be maintained - for every connection can be weakened by stress against the joints that bind the parts together. We must maintain the connection with Christ on a daily basis - a connection that will bear fruit in time - not instantly! Just sayin!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Road - Truth - Life

The road often reveals the journey, does it not? Along the way, we make discoveries - some major, others less, but all have significance regardless of big or little. In the end, we hope to have a look back and make the determination we have lived well - life has been a little up and down at times, but it has been a great life nonetheless. When Jesus told his disciples he was the road, the truth, and the life, he wasn't waxing poetic. He was describing what it means to embrace a life lived in the safety and provision of walking with him.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” John 14:6 MSG

When he describes himself as the Road, he isn't just saying he is 'a way', but 'the' way. There are lots of roads to take in life, but none is quite as significant for us to traverse as the Road which leads us right into the very throne room of God, Most High! Along any road, there can be many a chance to deviate from that course - exits along the way that lead us who knows where. Sometimes we choose to take a road not well-marked, seldom explored by others, and kind of scary to traverse because of all the 'unknowns'. That isn't the road Jesus describes when he calls himself the Road. His way is straight, well-marked, and leads us into places of safety and provision.

As we travel any distance in this lifetime, we come across all manner of things touting themselves as truth. I have bought into a few of those 'truths' only to find out I got suckered into believing something that was only a partial truth! With Jesus, it is total truth - he is not sugar coating it, nor is he making claims he cannot back up with all manner of action. Truth may not always be popular, but it doesn't change the fact it is true. When we think about truth, we might call to mind something or someone we have a hard time trusting. Why is it we think of what we cannot trust when we think about truth? I think it is because we recognize the extreme contrast between something that is trustworthy and that which betrays our trust each and every time!

Jesus won't betray our trust. In fact, he makes it hard not to trust him because of how trustworthy he is in all aspects of our lives. Even those who have experienced significant tragedy know they can trust God with the outcome. It may not have been a pleasant outcome, but in the end, they stand just as strong in their trust in God as they did before the tragic outcome. How is that possible? I think it is possible because Jesus never abandons them - somehow they felt his presence, saw his hand, knew his care, felt his touch. Maybe the outcome wasn't as they would have hoped, but he remained steadfast in his attendance over their journey, and they walked it out together. Trust isn't always about getting the outcome we desire, but it is about us knowing we were on the right path with the most trustworthy companion in that journey! Just sayin!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A gift requires a giver

Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store. (Dr. Seuss)

Maybe we'd find more joy in our Christmas if we really believed this to be true! Christmas isn't about the amassing of things given - it is about the acceptance of the ONE given. There are about two weeks left before the 'big day' when families will gather in homes, celebrating the festivities and wonders of time together. Snow will fall for some, others will enjoy touch football after gorging on Christmas delights. Let us not forget those who are far from home, who yearn for time with family, but whose duties keep them engaged in the fields of battle. Let us not overlook those who will spend their day ministering to the sick and frail, at the bedside of the ones facing imminent death, and helping those who struggle to feel at ease. Let us not gloss over those who walk the streets, searching for their Christmas meal, and hoping for just a little rest from the weariness of living on those streets.

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” John 11:25 MSG

Embrace truth and you will be embraced back. The truth of God's love is evident in his Son - embrace his Son and you will be embraced by the love that speaks louder than any words! In giving his life for us, we can experience the closeness of relationship with him - it is a gift given once, but enjoyed over and over again into all of eternity! This won't be a long blog this morning, but instead a chance to extend the invitation of the holiday season to those who have either never received it, or those who have not fully appreciated the gift they have been given. To those who haven't received - the door is open. Simply enter in. To those who have received that magnificent gift of God's love and grace, don't just make it a 'shelf thing'. The gift of our new life in Christ isn't just something we receive once and then 'shelf away' somewhere as 'fire insurance' to keep us out of hell! It is meant to be a daily experience - moment by moment enjoyment of his grace and love.

The 'season of giving' can begin right now - we just have to accept the one given. Then we enter into the daily experience of that gift. There are times we desire the gift, but discount that a gift is only a gift because there has been a giver of that gift! We need to look beyond the gift and see the giver. Jesus is waiting for us to recognize him in this holiday season - not just the gift of our being 'made right' with God - but in being able to continue to 'live right' each and every day because he is there helping us do so. Receive the gift, but don't overlook the giver. Just sayin!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wrapped, settled, and at ease

Times of transition can be both upsetting and thrilling at the exact same time. We get scared because of what we are seeing an end to something we have held dear or worked with for quite some time, but we are awesomely excited about what may be forthcoming as we take on the new venture. The moment we commit to take those steps forward, we are lambasted with all manner of doubt, anxiety, and maybe even a little bit too much adrenaline! The emotions evoked in transition can be undeniably hard to maneuver through, but when we move from one thing to another, there will always be a little bit of emotional 'build up' experienced in making that transition. Transition is a time of unrest for all of us. We like the familiarity of what we have come to know as "constant" and "secure" in our lives. When transition is called for, we often feel like our "legs are being pulled out from under us". This might be why we are as apprehensive in transition as we appear to be. We allow fear to guide our thoughts and influence our actions instead of taking the things we fear to God for his guidance in those times of transition.

Complain if you must, but don't lash out. Keep your mouth shut, and let your heart do the talking. Build your case before God and wait for his verdict. (Psalm 4:4-5)

Transition by definition is simply a period or season of change - changing from one position to another, a state of what some have come to call "stability" into a state of the "unknown". We also see that it is characterized by times of transformation. Transition brings with it transformation opportunities. We only enjoy the butterfly because the caterpillar underwent the transition - it prepared for and submitted to the transformation! There is a process in transition whereby a metamorphosis from one state or stage into another is underway. The end result is to make us more beautiful, stronger, and different from what we were when we entered into that transition.

Complaint is inherent in transition. It is human nature to complain 'about' or 'against' whatever it is that is seeking transition. Why? We may not even like the present process or way things are, but to change means there will be this encounter with the unknown, so we resist it. We don't seem to understand the process, or even want to participate in the process change, so we lash out against it. We can approach transition with a degree of maturity that will assist us in making it through the transition in a positive manner, but we don't come by this 'maturity' all on our own - we need God's help. The first thing he expects of us is that we will limit the complaining. It is the easiest thing to enter into the "whining" stage of complaint when we don't understand something, we don't feel it is fair, or we don't interpret the transition as something we can endure. Complaint is often an expression of our uneasiness over the situation at hand. It is quite easy for complaint to go the other direction into becoming an expression of our resentment toward the transition that is occurring. How we face the transition is directly impacted by both our "self-talk" and our "outward talk" about that transition. 
Some find they let their heart do all the talking, but when our heart does all the talking, we might just find that what is expressed is really so much of the grief we are experiencing with the transition at hand. As we let go of something we have developed a certain comfort level with (even when we don't really 'like' the present way things are), we often experience a deep sense of grief over the loss (because our comfort is impacted). We want to hold onto what "feels secure" to us, while God may have a different plan for our "security". Grief is often best understood in the midst of transition - we are parting with the old and embracing the new - bringing to light just how much we have been holding onto something within the old that we needed to let go of in the first place.

When compliant is done well, we actually build our case before God, finding there is no other resource as readily available, or as totally reliable to assist with the fear associated with change, the grief associated with letting go of the old, and the sense of unease created when transformation must occur. We often gravitate toward building our case before man - but it is time for us to truly consider that God is in control, so we need to build our case before him, not others. It can be hard to wait for his verdict - once we have laid it all out before God (our fear, disappointment, grief, unease, etc.), we are told to wait. Not the easiest instruction to follow, huh? I know for a fact that I am not the best at "waiting" to see what will unfold. It is in the "wait" that we often receive the greatest revelation of what the future holds - and how to let go of what has been an ineffective process in our lives. 

Think about that caterpillar for a moment again - in the moments of transition, he is going about his daily life until one day he is somehow moved to create a new form of existence. He goes into the safety of a cocoon - a place for his transformation to occur. That is kind of like us building our case before God - we take time to envelop ourselves in his watchful care, and then we wait for the rest to occur according to his plan. In the end, the cocoon produces the beauty of the butterfly - sometimes it is a Monarch, other times a simply little butterfly with golden wings. So, whatever transition we face today, perhaps we'd do well to consider the instruction of our psalmist. God can deal very well with our complaints - but we need to take them to him, not others who have no control over the transition. God is about to work in the midst of the transition - to produce what he believes will produce the greatest beauty in us. We need to find what we need for the transition in the safety of the "enveloping" covering of his care. Just sayin!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Passport stamped?

A few years after my dad passed, I was feeling a little nostalgic and I decided to go looking for our first home in Arizona. Mind you, the home was built probably somewhere in the 1940-1950 range, and we all know how things change over time. Trees get bigger, neighborhoods morph from one look and feel into another, and what may have been a 'majestic mansion' when we were little kiddos is not always the same when we return to it some 30-40 years later! I eventually found the street I was seeking, now almost unrecognizable because of the transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods. I recall knowing quite clearly the house was the second on the right, so down the lane I went and there it was, but...what a different scene than the one I remembered or imagined! The gnarled mulberry tree was there, but the branches were all cut off and it no longer spread out over the corner of the yard. The once whitewashed fence still stood, but the faded appearance told me keeping it whitewashed each year was no longer a concern of the owners. What once stood as a palatial mansion now appeared as a small, once quite quaint home. Weathered and worn, it no longer 'shown out' as the once beautiful home it was at one time. A friend once told me we can never really return home, but I didn't quite understand that advice until I stood there gazing upon my one-time family home. The thing I'd have was the memories because the present state offered no such comfort!

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! (Romans 6:1-3 MSG)

We might think we can 'go back' to a former way of living, for just a moment in time, just for a quick little jaunt into the past. The truth is that the past is never the same as it was when we were living it! The past changes, if not in size, importance, and appearance, then in what it is we see when we come face-to-face with it again. It is an 'old country' to us - one we left behind in pursuit of another when we said "yes" to Jesus. We actually forsook that country and embraced another - not as immigrants, but as citizens who enjoy new rights, privileges, and passages. We might believe the past still has good stuff for us, but in that 'former life' are none of these 'good things' God has prepared for us to enjoy in this new one!

When I was just starting elementary school, we packed up and left that home in North Phoenix, making our way out to the very furthest point of the East Valley. The places were miles and miles apart - especially in the eyes of a child. The journey seemed long and a little bit frightening, but in truth, the new became the 'new norm' for me. Something similar happens when we come to Christ, welcoming him into our lives as more than a religious pursuit, but as one we desire close, personal relationship with. We begin to experience a 'new norm' - what once held fascination and great appeal is likely to fade more and more into the 'background' of our lives (the past). The past is indeed 'background' for our lives - no experience ever being totally without some meaning to us. Yet, we are not called to live in the 'background' of life - we are called to live in the present!

I could no more go back to living in that old family dwelling as I could go back to living a life without Christ. That boat has sailed! Those doors are closed! That old life is not my present one! The new life in a new land was prepared specifically for us - we don't need that one in the old land! There is something liberating about being able to break those ties with the past, my friends. But...there is equally something quite liberating about learning to look forward and turn our backs on what we imagine the past could offer us. The more we yearn for the past, the more we are discontent with the present, but the problem is that the present offers way different things for us than the past ever could. Way different things that make the old way of living look run-down, no longer showing signs of being tended and cared for. 

We don't 'go back' - we look and move forward. The life with Christ isn't lived one moment in the present and another in the past. Once we take that step into the new country of grace, we don't even want to look back at the old country of sin. There is nothing there that will ever satisfy us quite the same as what we find when we turn our eyes fully toward Jesus. Yes, the past still stands in our memories, but little by little, the past becomes less and less appealing to us. Maybe we need a little look into our past once in a while to see it is no longer all that appealing, but it doesn't mean we return to it - pursuing the stuff of the past! It just means we allow Jesus to make real to us where it is he has delivered us from - the past is a country no longer marked on our passport as 'home' - we are citizens of the country of grace, not sin! Just sayin!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Just one degree....

Robert Half is credited with reminding us, "When one teaches, two learn." I've said it before, we can 'learn' only so much until we match the 'learning' with 'doing'. The action of 'doing' puts into practice what we have been learning up until that point. In the 'doing' we often learn just a little bit more. Recently I decided to take up a new hobby. I finally had my workshop built and have been enjoying filling it with all manner of tools. Now, I am experimenting with this and that - until I become proficient with the tools. Let me be the first to admit - there are a few scraps in there that weren't created as 'scraps', but ended up there! I make mistakes and in the process learn a little by my 'doing' of some step that didn't work out as well as planned. The learning continues - not merely by reading, but by actually 'doing' some woodworking!

But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG)

The written Word shows us how to live - it is in living that we discover how the Word is made real within us. There have been times I have been exposed to the Word in written form, taking it in, not really knowing when or where I would ever see that particular passage put into practice in my life. Then a little later, sometimes years later, I realize that scripture is 'playing out' in my life - I have the opportunity to put it into practice now. I am learning by 'doing'. This is the reason God tells us to have not only a steady 'intake' of the Word, but to hide it away within us. We are to allow it to be 'stored up' because we will certainly have future use for it! If it isn't meaning very much now to us - it will one day!

A couple of things we need to remember about the Word of God:

- It is taken in, but not without a cost. It often exposes something in us that isn't quite right. We are often caught a little off-guard whenever the scripture begins to point out something within us that has been 'tolerated' as the way things are in our lives. It is like we never knew that stuff was actually there, then one day the scripture and circumstances of our lives 'align', making us very much aware that things are just not 'right' in our lives. At that moment, scripture is convicting us - showing us where our lives have embraced folly and rebellion just a little bit too much. 

- It isn't going to affect us unless we take it in. We don't get this stuff by osmosis - it requires some attentiveness on our part. I was always amazed at the students in school who'd just sit day after day in class, daydreaming or doodling some artwork on the binder. Then came the pop quiz and they'd act all surprised that they got a failing grade on it. The evidence of their lack of attention or focus became painfully apparent. The same thing happens with us when we don't really pay any attention to the study of the Word. We need to be prepared - the pop quiz is coming!

Many times we just need a little 'shaping up' - because we haven't really been paying all that close of attention to what it is we are being taught. We need a little bit of adjustment - but it is in doing that we find the greatest opportunities for adjustment. As I put wood piece to wood piece, I realize how well I aligned that saw blade and how even those angles were cut. I actually found a previously unrecognized know at the rear of the chop saw I bought used from a neighbor. It actually was one degree off center and as a result, my cuts never perfectly were measuring up! What a difference even one degree makes! Now my cuts are spot on! I have learned to make a few adjustments and now the outcome is quite different. Similarly, we can think we are all good in life, but then we discover 'one tiny thing' that calls for just 'one degree' of adjustment - and what a difference that one degree will make in the outcome, my friend! Just sayin!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hike up that skirt and run!

You have probably heard the saying, "Actions speak louder than words." While this is very true in life, there are times we 'discount' the actions of another - especially if we don't think those actions line up with what we expected or what we believe. I think Jesus must have encountered more than one or two of such individuals in his ministry on earth - somewhat resistant to his love and hope just because his actions didn't 'line up' with what they believed would be the actions of their "Messiah" (deliverer).

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.  John 6:35 MSG

They had seen him in action - watched firsthand his healing touch transform lives and observed at close proximity his incredible knowledge of the prophesies of old. Yet, they didn't believe. I have heard some say, "If I had been alive when Jesus was walking this earth, there is no way I wouldn't have believed!" While we'd all like to believe this of ourselves, let me assure you some of us still wouldn't have changed our minds about Jesus! Why? He didn't fit the picture they had in their minds and maybe he wouldn't have fit that picture for us either.

Look at what he says next - eventually we will come running to him. Nothing really speaks louder about our actions than those that result in us making a run toward Jesus with all we have within! Nothing speaks louder about his actions than that he makes the way clear for us so we don't get tripped up along the way! He holds on and he doesn't let go! See that - listen to it - let it penetrate your heart. You are on a mission toward 'home' - when you finally make it there - wow!

We might think we need to see overwhelming evidence of him in every realm of our world before we could possibly trust him with our lives, but seeing isn't always believing! Some of us would do well to just believe and then we will begin to see what has been right there in front of us all along - his overwhelming, realer-than-real love! In Old Testament times, the 'proper' in society would run anywhere - much less into waiting arms! When Jesus says we will run to him, he isn't asking us to be 'proper' in our faith - he is asking us to abandon ourselves to him.

We might think abandon is a little over the top for us - because it means we lay down our control and let another take over. Yet, it is in abandon - in running toward him - that we find our true selves. We are not going to recognize him fully, appreciate all of his grace, or understand all of his love as long as we stand resistant to his invitation. As soon as we recognize he is discovered in abandon, we might just admit we really did not know what we were missing! Just sayin!