Friday, July 19, 2019

So, what's your response?

"Christlike communications are expressions of affection and not anger, truth and not fabrication, compassion and not contention, respect and not ridicule, counsel and not criticism, correction and not condemnation. They are spoken with clarity and not with confusion. They may be tender or they may be tough, but they must always be tempered." (L. Lionel Kendrick) Very good instruction from Mr. Kendrick, is it not? I think he was not only reminding us of the necessity of correction, but of the equal necessity of kindness and grace in the midst of it!

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it— how shortsighted to refuse correction!
(Proverbs 12:1)

I have a mind that works almost all the time - finding myself awake in the night hours mulling over ideas, creating "fixes" to something that is need of my attention at work or at home, or even working out the solution to a word puzzle that has been 'holding me captive'. I have had friends ask me if I ever just 'shut-off' and chill. I guess that I'd have to say that I do, but it is just like taking a dimmer switch and turning down the "intensity" a little rather than a complete 'shut down' of my mind! There is a little "test" we sometimes go through to be able to tell if we really love being a disciple of Christ. It is the test that really sees if we love learning? The idea is that their will be 'evidence' in our lives that we do love learning.

Never forget that to love learning one must love the discipline and correction that goes with it! Our commitment to being a disciple of Christ is most often revealed in the attitude we take toward correction. Isn't it just like Jesus to go "meddling a little" in our minds and hearts until he really helps us see where it is we need the most help? Jesus wants us to equate his discipline (correction) with his love. God's discipline embraces us - it never drives us away. His discipline guides us - it does not make unrealistic demands of us. His discipline is meant for correction - not to diminish us or release his anger in outbursts of emotion.

The discipline of discipleship begins with a change of mindset and heart-set. As we begin to step out in obedient trust, we begin to realize that God intends for "good" to be the outcome of our steps. We begin to encounter things in our past that affect the way we think and act in our present. We call this "awareness". We begin to sense that the "old way" of responding, the "practiced" way of responding, to things that life sends our way may not always be the desired way to handle them. The tendency to get caught up in office gossip may be an alluring part of our past. As we begin to grow in Christ, that tendency to gossip brings with it a little "twinge" of guilt (a feeling that something is not quite right). The more we spend time with Jesus, the more we become aware that this "habit" of our past is not to be the "pattern" of our present.

Our mind is being challenged to think differently and our heart is being softened by the presence of the Spirit of God within us. As this occurs, we begin to associate the "twinges of guilt" with loving urges to not engage in those things that God declares to be sinful, unwise for our lives, or simply just not wholesome. As our love for Jesus' best in our lives grows, so does our desire to respond to his corrective leading. If you really want to "test" if you are growing in Christ, you simply have to look at how you are responding to his correction! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Yes, God knows...

It was Ann Landers who reminded us,"Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don't recognize them." While we are faced with opportunities all day long, how many do we actually 'act upon'? Truth be told, we probably overlook, or miss more than we know we do take some action toward engaging in. We are just not 'tuned into' them as we should be - making it quite easy to overlook them. The moment someone needed that touch of assurance, we were distracted and let it go by. That time a tear was about to escape the corner of a friend's eye, contemplating the loss of a member of their family, and you just were oblivious to their internal pain. We've all been there - seeing, but not really seeing! It is indeed hard work to seize every opportunity - acting upon what we see can even be a little bit uncomfortable for us, or a little awkward at times - but if we don't, who will?

So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important. This makes for happiness among the parts, so that the parts have the same care for each other that they do for themselves. If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. Now here is what I am trying to say: All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it. (I Corinthians 12:24-27)

Don't neglect the 'parts' God has placed right there in your path - you never know if you will get another opportunity to engage with them again! I will be the first to admit that 'tuning in' is hard work. It requires we stop what we are doing long enough to notice things around us. I see the tiny weeds beginning to take over the garden not so much when they are still just one or two leaved sprigs, but when they converge upon the things I have actually planted there! The small stuff can escape our view for a long, long time, but know this - small stuff grows into bigger stuff! Take care of things while they are small and it might just prevent a whole lot of 'bigger work' in the long run!

The Christian group For King and Country sings a song I really love. The song is "God only knows". If you know the lyrics, you might just have a window into my soul right now! The words? Well, let them minister to you as they do to me each time I hear them:
Wide awake while the world is sound asleepin'
Too afraid of what might show up while you're dreamin'
Nobody, nobody, nobody sees you
Nobody, nobody would believe you
Every day you try to pick up all the pieces
All the memories, they somehow never leave you
Nobody, nobody, nobody sees you
Nobody, nobody would believe you

God only knows what you've been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it's killing you
But there's a kind of love that God only knows
God only knows ---- but I think those who know God well also know! There is an ability to connect with his heart and then to reach others with the very thing someone who is hurting needs. God knows the opportunities ---- we need to trust him to lead us well in those moments when they reveal themselves. To become his hands and feet in a world where opportunities to express his love abound. Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Rejoice ---- and again ----

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. (John Calvin) Too often we almost pass by tremendous things of beauty and never even consider they were put there for our enjoyment! I stop to watch the inch worm make his way from one leaf to another. I observe the slowness and tenacity of the small snail in the garden. I notice the fragility of the opening bud on the hibiscus bush knowing full-well it will be short-lived, but cast such a brightness into the garden. I watch as the leaves slowly descend to the ground on a hot summer's day. These were meant for our enjoyment, not just a casual glance now and again!

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be happy today! (Psalm 118:24)

This morning I wish to ask a question: "What have you only casually observed this week?" This is a tough question to answer with all honesty, but I believe it is a necessary one! It could be the very thing you have 'casually observed' this week is yourself, or that person right across the room from you right now. I see us all fall into this trap from time to time - looking but not really seeing; hearing but not really listening; thinking but not really considering. If God made all things for us to enjoy - even the hairy spider trapped in between the window screen and glass - then why do we miss so much of it? It could be we are just to absorbed in other things to rejoice in their beauty and purpose! All things and people were created for a purpose - regardless of how 'ugly' they may appear!

We might miss what our psalmist is telling us if we aren't careful. His words are not just mere advice to us - they are a remedy to our not listening, considering, and seeing! We spend so much time focusing on 'getting happy' that we forget it isn't something we achieve - it is a result of us taking time to rejoice! Rejoice first - happiness will follow! Look at the 'order' in which he presents the topic: 'This day', 'Rejoice', and 'Be happy'. First we get the day into focus - we don't let it get away from us. We bring it into focus and then we rejoice in it! That very action of focusing and rejoicing will result in the best thing every - we get 'happy' in it. We may not look forward to everything ahead of us - like considering how to remove that hairy spider from the predicament he finds himself in - but when we take time to notice what he has made and then rejoice in it, we find well-springs of happiness that soon fill our souls.

Why is it our hair kind of stands on end and we get a little shiver up our back as we take notice of that hairy wolf spider trapped in the window? Maybe the response of our body is even a thing of beauty we should be rejoicing in - because God made us with those responses to danger as equally as he made us with those responses we observe with the things that bring us immediate delight! Even the 'ugly things' in life have a way of causing us to rejoice - for God created those warning responses to help keep us safe and secure. He reminds us there are always going to be 'ugly things' attempting to find an inroad into our life, but he also reminds us he has made a way for us to escape - making the rejoicing all that much better! So....rejoice! Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hello! It is me again! May I come in?

I remember welcoming my two grandsons into this world, privileged to be at both of their births. The joy was overwhelming, but so was the relief. The relief that my daughter had made it through, that the pain was over, and that she would stabilize her very stressed body. She suffered from high blood pressure, excessive swelling, and lots of health worries just prior to delivering the boys. When we welcome someone, or something that can occur, we are actually expressing a little bit of pleasure in the moment. There will be memories attached to it, but there might also be a little bit of work! Welcoming new life into this world is a lot of work. So is welcoming Jesus into your life! You don't have to 'do the work' of being forgiven for your sins, but you do have a 'lot of work' ahead of you in learning how to make right choices and 'rework' what have become bad patterns or habits in your life! Good news is that we don't do it alone!

It's the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—"Jesus is my Master"—embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me! (Romans 10:9-10)

The word for our day is "welcome". A word we can use as interjection when one's arrival gives one PLEASURE. This is like saying, "Welcome, stranger!" That is how it is with us when we first "welcome" Jesus into our lives - he is a "stranger" to us at first. His ways are a little foreign to us, his purpose for our lives seems a little like setting out into the unknown, so we welcome him, but as a stranger, not as a familiar member of our lives. Yet, in welcoming him in, there is the infilling of such pleasure that we are overjoyed by his presence. At other times, this borders on a greeting of kindly COURTESY. This is like saying, "Let's give him a warm welcome". There are times I think we treat Jesus this way - kind of formally welcoming him, but not really excited about his arrival or his purpose! We extend the "courtesy" of allowing him access into our daily lives without really much forethought or "end-thought" for that matter. Our relationship with Jesus is quite different when we anticipate the pleasure his presence brings vs. extending him a mere courtesy of access!

There is also the idea of RECEIVING something we will experience in a new or deeper way as we welcome someone or something into our lives. This is like saying, "It was a welcomed time of rest." When we welcome Jesus into our lives, we are welcoming all we will receive at his hands. This means that we welcome (move from mere acquaintance into practical experience) all that he brings our way. It means we give someone the FULL RIGHT to something we hold access to alone. This is like saying, "He is welcome to give it a go." When we welcome Jesus in this manner, we are really telling him that we don't want to give it a try alone! We want him right there, alongside us, helping us with the issue at hand. We "grant" him the right to be in control - to move us from "trying" into actually "experiencing" what it is he has in mind for us.

Last, but not least, there is the negative meaning of welcome that we cannot overlook. This is the idea of an UNWANTED welcome. This is like telling Jesus he has "worn out" his welcome! I hope we are not at that place EVER with our Lord! Yet, I wonder if there are times when we just want to ask him to "leave" for a while - because the "heat" is too hot, the "intensity" is too intense. We may feel that his presence is a little "no longer welcomed" because we really did not count the cost before we stepped into what he asked us to do. It is the "word of faith" that welcomes Jesus to go to work in our lives. I think this is kind of like telling Jesus, "You are welcome to have full access to my life." We are doing more than being "courteous" to Jesus - we are viewing that his work in our lives will ultimately produce "pleasure" beyond our imagining. I have times when I am guilty of welcoming Jesus in a half-hearted manner. I think this is human nature. Thank goodness, I have more times now of welcoming him with eager anticipation. That is the process we refer to as growth - moving from courteous welcoming of Jesus' work in our lives into a place where we are cheerfully embracing his work! So, how have you been welcoming Jesus this week? Just askin!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Considering Veneers?

There are “friends” who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

There is an optical illusion about every person we meet. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) What is the 'illusion' you are displaying right this very minute? Regardless of how 'genuine' you believe yourself to be, there are just times when you 'put on display' something quite different from what is really going on inside. It is kind of hard to be 'genuine' all the time - especially around those you may not know very well, or trust very deeply. When you do find that individual you feel totally comfortable around, I would challenge you to ask yourself the question about what you still portray as an 'optical illusion', even in that very close relationship. At first, you might just say there is nothing you keep from that individual, but let me ask you if you have ever tried to keep something from God. If the answer is 'yes' to that one, then let me just say it is highly unlikely you have no 'optical illusions' in your earthly relationships either!

An illusion is something 'put forward' in such a way so as to obstruct the true interpretation of the true nature of something. The road ahead appears to narrow, especially if you can see miles ahead on a straight path. Does it really? No, it is an illusion because of the perspective you have of that road from the vantage point you maintain. While up in an airplane, every plot of farmland may appear to be very perfectly 'portioned', straight lines dividing one portion from the other. On the ground, the same fields may appear to all run into each other seamlessly. Perspective often determines the degree of 'illusion revelation' one might have! Have you ever seen someone with veneers covering their teeth. On the way home the other day, I noticed someone's 'snap-on' veneers for their front teeth cast aside on the ground. What had once been a likely 'lovely set' of front teeth when they came into work were now nothing more than trash by the wayside! The illusion was broken!

I have a friendship that allows me to 'come close' to being my true self, but even at my most revealing, I imagine I hold a little back. Most of us do. We don't intend to, but we guard ourselves just a little. It is either because we aren't quite comfortable with who we are ourselves, or we aren't quite sure the other party is ready for us to totally be 'real' around them! Our heavenly Father doesn't want us to 'come close' to being our true self with him, though. In fact, he relishes time times we come just as we are - warts and all - and just settle into the comfort of knowing he doesn't judge us, nor does he see us as hopeless. He embraces us and loves us just as we are. My closest friendship is like that - we settle into the comfort of knowing we don't judge each other and we can be 'comfortable' with each other, warts and all. There is no good way to cover your warts, my friends. It is all an illusion that will one day be cast aside as nothing more than a veneer! Just sayin!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

So, just spill the beans...

You don't just have a story - you're a story in the making, and you never know what the next chapter's going to be. That's what makes it exciting. (Dan Millman) If every chapter of our lives was opened with the words, "My purpose in writing this chapter in your lives is...", we'd feel a whole lot better about what is going on at the moment! The truth is, we don't know the end from the beginning, so we enter each new chapter of our lives with just a little bit of fear, a tiny bit of doubt, and maybe even an overwhelming amount of both! When we commit our hearts to Christ, believing that Jesus is God's Son, our "end result" will be eternal life in Christ Jesus. This very fact leads us to a place of "boldness" in approaching God with whatever our heart is burdened with - the ability to face the 'next chapter' with a boldness we don't possess on our own.

My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God's Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he's listening. And if we're confident that he's listening, we know that what we've asked for is as good as ours. (I John 5:13-15)

Belief is more than a head knowledge that Jesus exists, that he is the Son of God - it is a heart knowledge that actually influences our behavior. When we "believe in" Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are saying we will "adhere to" his commandments - his teachings, the examples he gave us in his walk on this earth, the promises he made to his followers. When we "believe in" Jesus, we are making both a heart and head commitment to "trust in" him - his strength, his love, his grace, his peace that passes our limited understanding - all of it. When we "believe in" we are really saying we are in a place where we are ready to RELY UPON that one we believe in.

That very "believing" attitude is what brings us to a place where we are totally "settled in" our minds, hearts, and emotions as to who it is we are serving, what it is we are engaged in, and what the end result of our service will be. We will have "absolute" knowledge - not just some ethereal knowledge (pie in the sky kind of stuff) - but total awareness that God is real, his promises are assured, and his commitment to keep us in his care is totally "in force" within our lives. Remember - when we commit to Christ, we ALREADY have eternal life - we don't work to get eternal life - it is already an assured thing. That "confidence" that is produced by knowing we have committed it all to Christ and that he has committed his ALL in order to bring us to a place of "privileged boldness" is what God has in mind here.

I have spent some time exploring the historical sites of our founding fathers, but I have a whole lot more to explore. The thing that impressed me in my explorations was the commitment of the men and women who came to this country with the hopes of being free. That is kind of how it is with us as we "leave" our country of birth (sin) and establish ourselves in our new country of rebirth (salvation). We leave behind the old, allowing the new to be established within us, and in time, the new becomes the way of life we pursue with a confidence that we have made the right steps. We have a "privileged boldness" in our new life. A boldness based in the fact that "in Christ" we are assured that when we make any request of God that is in agreement with his plan for our lives, he listens to us and hears us.  He listens AND he hears. We have a tendency in our society to just listen, without ever hearing the message being conveyed. We are inundated with all kinds of messages each day - some worthy of really hearing, others not so much - so we have learned to shut out some of them. All that comes to God, he listens to AND he hears. No message brought to him (prayer, seeking heart, need expressed) is ever NOT heard. It is heard, the meaning hidden within the request is known, and he works to help us through the answer we receive. We sometimes think he doesn't hear because we don't get the answer we hoped for, but remember, even a "no" or a "not now" answer is an answer!

The thing that we most often "trip up on" is in our not even asking God for what it is that burdens our hearts, trips us up repeatedly, or is just a dreamy desire. We somehow don't take the effort, time, or "risk" of asking because we don't have a confidence to ask, or may we don't think it is worthy to bring to God - as though it was a waste of his time. We have a "privileged boldness" in Christ Jesus. Bring it! God will "sort through" what may not be to our benefit at this moment - like when we ask him to help us win the lottery! He will "sort through" what seems to be a muddled mess of emotions - getting at the heart of what it is we are really experiencing at that moment. Our part is to take full advantage of our "privileged boldness" to just bring it all to him. God stands ready to hear from us - his word to us today is to simply "Bring it on!" Just sayin!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Truth remains truth

I am in the process of some 'refinishing' projects around the yard - simply because the hot Arizona sun dries everything out, making anything wood very dry looking in a rather short order. The raised beds are in need of a good coat of paint. Not exactly the job you want to undertake when it a blazing 100 degrees outside! In the next couple of months, I will watch for one of those days when it is only going to be a 'mild' 100 degrees and undertake the project then. Why do I to do the job without much delay? The more the wood is exposed to the extremes, the more damage it will sustain. Nothing lasts forever, does it? God's love, his grace, and his words - these are everlasting and eternal. My raised flowerbeds are not!

“Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words remain forever. (Matthew 24:35)

Things today are not as they were yesterday and they won't be the same tomorrow. All of life around us is in a constant state of flux or change. Even the most 'constant' processes have some degree of variation! I am so glad to know God's love is never in a state of flux! I may not always appreciate his love, thinking I have to do something to earn it, but it remains unchanging regardless of how I approach it! I may not understand how his grace can be there each and every time I stand in need of it to be extended in my life, but it is! I certainly don't know how his words have remained consistently true from generation to generation, but they are never changing and always can be relied upon. We may not understand the 'how' or 'why' behind these 'unchanging' things, but we reap the benefits from their stability!

Truth is a 'fixed thing' - it is not changeable. We can attempt to add to it, but do we really add anything of value to genuine truth? Truth is 'unchanging' - but do we ever try to mold it to fit our needs, desires, or wants? If truth is a fixed or unchangeable thing, then of what value is it trying to add to it or 'morph it' into something different? Wouldn't we have to admit we are just doing so to fit some selfish or misdirected need of our own mind or heart? We are sometimes guilty of trying to make something fit into our way of thinking rather than adjust our way of thinking to fit the truth we are resisting so aggressively! Truth was never meant to change with the times. The times were made to conform to the truth! Just sayin!

Friday, July 12, 2019

A little resistance training

It was Emerson who reminded us, "We gain the strength of the temptation we resist." There is much to be said about 'resistance', but the greatest realization we can experience is that when we are resisting, we are allowing the strength of that which we resist to be weakened. We resist the urge to respond in anger and anger's appeal begins to wane. We resist the need to always control and we begin to see there are other opportunities that come to light when another is given a little of that control. Why does resistance actually make us stronger? We are working against a force - strength always comes when we work against a force. We may not realize it, but what we were resisting actually has a diminished strength the next time we resist it. Why? We have grown stronger and the strength it takes to resist again is now less than it was before!

So give yourselves humbly to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Give yourself to the right stuff and resist the wrong stuff - you will be surprised how much your strength grows! Those who engage in resistance training will remind you of several things. First, your own body can be the very thing you begin to use as a means of building strength into your muscles. You see, your body acts as a 'resistance' - it provides the force to build muscle. Don't believe me? While you are there right now, lift your leg using only the strength of your leg/abdomen muscles and hold it there for two minutes. Did you make it? Your own body's weight was being acted upon by the resistance force known as gravity and your body likely began to feel the strength of gravity's pull! This is a basic illustration of how resistance is actually helping us build 'muscle' over time.

Now, if we want to build 'muscle' of any sort, we have to concentrate on that which we want to 'build'. We wouldn't want to just focus on our upper arms at the expense of our shoulders, chest, lower arms, and even our hands. Why? Upper arm strength alone won't help us open that jar of pickles! We need to build all the muscles equally. In a similar manner, we need to build the 'spiritual muscles' we need to continually resist the devil's pull in life. Temptation is aimed at our weak muscles! It isn't aimed at the places we are already very strong. So, rob temptation of it's strength! Resist it a little more each time and see how much strength becomes your own in the process! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Inside my skin

"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too." (Frederick Buechner) 

Whose 'skin' have you been living in this week? I know a good many individuals who never 'get out of' their own skin long enough to realize what it is like living in someone else's skin. Their days are filled with 'me', 'me', 'me' - leaving little room for any other concern a brother or sister may be enduring. It is a truly sad existence to never get out of one's skin! Compassion isn't given any other way. The genuineness of one's caring is really not 'felt' by the other person until the 'compassion connection' is really made.

It’s criminal to ignore a neighbor in need, but compassion for the poor—what a blessing! (Proverbs 14:21)

The other person is overtaken by something that causes great pain for them. They may or may not reveal their pain openly, but know this - it is painful nonetheless. Be the kind of friend that recognizes their 'hidden pain' even when they are not yet comfortable admitting it exists. There is sorrow inside that other person's skin - you will discover it when you crawl inside their world for just a while. There is no joy felt deeper than when it is the joy that comes from sharing the burden with another who is hurting, fearful, or lost in their pain.

What is your neighbor's need? Sometimes we think we have to know someone so well in order to understand or acknowledge their need. Trust me on this - you can learn a lot about a person by walking a while in their skin! You may not know them well when you start the journey, but you will get insight into their life very quickly when you take that first step. It doesn't take much to lift the spirits of the one alone in their pain, sorrow, or fear. It takes you caring enough to do more than say you care! 

I don't know what it is like to lose a leg, but a good friend of mine has experienced it first-hand. Her struggles are real. Her pain is more than 'adjusting' to life without that limb. I haven't lost a child, but I have friends who have. Their pain is not just for the loss, but there is sometimes a sense of guilt for having 'outlived' them. I may not know that loss, or those feelings of pain, but I am able to understand they don't need to walk alone. I don't need to tell them their loved one is in a 'better place' - that isn't what they need to hear. They just need me to 'get inside their skin' a while and walk with them through that grief. If we want to be Jesus to the world, it starts by being Jesus to each other. Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Let me begin by saying....

What do you talk to Jesus about? I mean, do you do more than shoot up little arrow prayers from time to time when the challenge is a little harder than you might like, or do you actually have conversations with him about the things in life that you know perfectly well need some attention? It is easy to have those superficial conversations with anyone, including God. To have those deeper, more intimate, and sometimes very 'telling' conversations is just a bit harder. Yet, it is in the conversation that truth begins to be revealed - and where truth is revealed there is the potential of a 'mark' being left. Truth leaves something behind every time. It has a way of declaring 'new ground' oftentimes never quite seen before.

Scripture reassures us, "No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it." It's exactly the same no matter what a person's religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. "Everyone who calls, 'Help, God!' gets help." But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?
(Romans 10:11-14)

You may find that calling out to God ensures we develop and use a listening ear each and every time - a little hard to believe, but it is true! God listens AND he hears - to both our superficial and more intimate stories shared! As a little girl, I learned the old story about "crying wolf" too many times. The idea of "crying wolf" was really a symbol of sounding a false alarm - of being manipulative and only half-truthful in what you were declaring in order to draw attention to yourself. In other words, you think you are declaring you are in trouble, but really the threat is not real. The most amazing thing about God is that he really doesn't differentiate between us "crying wolf" and really being in trouble! He just listens and responds to each and every request we bring before him!

How can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? This is the question for all times, is it not? We often don't believe what we hear because we have heard so many different stories, so many lies, and been duped so many times. It is a sad fact, but true. Trust has been broken so many times by those we hold close to us, or those we really should be able to trust by nature of their position. No wonder society asks, "Who can be trusted?" God has not changed! He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is the unchanging one and as such, can be counted on to remain faithful in all he does and says (Deuteronomy 7:9). How can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? There is a tendency to "be in the dark" about things until someone shares with you what you have been missing. When that moment comes, there is a release that comes. That release causes us to see things in a totally new light - we move from a lack of awareness to a fresh awareness (light).

There is a responsibility to share our foundation of hope with those around us - not "hoard" Jesus to ourselves. The scripture is clear - if no one tells the world, how are they to know? Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a "stand on the street corners, shouting repent to the world" kind of gal! The fact is that Jesus came to tell us about his father in heaven, and he asks us to tell others about him, as well (John 8:26). How can they hear if nobody tells them? Telling is the ability to give an account, to report what one has done. All Jesus asks of us is to share what he has done in our own lives. It is an "accounting" for the hope we have. The hope we have is based on the testimony of ONE - Jesus. He came to tell us the way back to relationship with God - our testimony is to point others to that same hope (I John 5:11). It is to be our goal to be a living message of the truth that Jesus sets lives free.

How is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? What many of us really resist is the fact that we have been "called" and that "calling" includes being "sent". To be called simply means that we have been invited to be part of the family of God. To be sent means that we extend that invitation to others. Plain and simple. Just as we confide in a close friend, Jesus is standing ready to have us confide in him. He invites us to bring our hurts, our hopes, and our cries for help - both real and imagined. He sorts through each of them to "weed out" the perceived threats from the real ones. He is not concerned that we may "cry wolf" now and again - in fact, he uses those times as "teachable moments" to show us how he can be trusted, that he has things in his hands, and that there is NOTHING that can stand against us. There is a process of learning to "tell Jesus" our concerns, but it is best to allow him to bring out those things that really are at the core of our complaints and our concern. In so doing, he is teaching us. We are learning to pray - to talk to him openly. This is a good thing.

That process of "telling" Jesus is more than just "telling" him what we think he wants to hear. Too many times, we learn to "tell" others and Jesus something the way we think it should be rather than the way it really is! Jesus relishes our honesty and our willingness to share - even if it comes with a tendency to "cry wolf" on occasion. So, if we want to learn to "tell the world", we must first learn to "tell Jesus". No testimony to the world will be as effective as that which has already been discussed at the feet of Jesus! Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Be careful with those weeds

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I look at my garden at times and wonder where all the weeds come from. It isn't as though I plant those seeds. I don't even encourage them to find their way into my yard, much less take root in my soil. Have you ever stopped to consider the 'value' of a weed? I found out many are edible and you may have actually find you have even eaten some this very week! We probably all know dandelion leaves are edible, but how many of us have gnoshed on them? Watercress grows at the creek bed and was often a delicacy my dad would delight in on a hot summer's day of fishing. Lamb's quarter is a common weed in many gardens and we probably pluck it up, casting it aside in the rubbish bin. Yet, it is purported to have a taste similar to spinach and is even healthier for you! Not all weeds are bad - just as not all people are bad because of their labels!

“God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed that a man plants in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds. But when it grows, it is the largest of all garden plants. It becomes a tree big enough for the birds to come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

From the tiniest of seeds come some of the greatest virtues. Moral excellence doesn't spring up because it is the most aggressive seed in the garden of our souls. It springs forth because the conditions are right for it to grow! Weeds might seem like they have no 'excellence', but we can disprove that theory! What seems like the most unlikely character trait for God to use might just actually prove as a worthy thing in his hands. Don't discount the potential he sees in that tiny seed within you - he hasn't! Plantain is a weed, yet the nutritional value of the leaves of this common weed are astronomical. Not every weed is worthless - sometimes we just have to look deeper to see the value contained within. Yet, too many weeds in our garden can actually become a hazard to the garden growth. Why? The weeds give safe haven to destructive insects! Weeds may be fine in some cases, but if we allow an overgrowth, we may not be able to preserve the 'virtue' of the rest of the garden!

Did you ever stop to consider that weed seeds exist in every square inch of your garden, but it is those that are in the top one to two inches of the garden that spring up? Turning the soil of your garden doesn't ensure there will be no other weeds that spring forth! It might actually serve to give the buried seeds enough of what they need to grow! Maybe this is why God asks us to allow him to tend the gardens of our souls - turning over time and time again the soil of our souls so that every weed seed has an opportunity to be exposed. Those that won't harm us, he might allow to grow so they add something of excellence to our gardens. Those that will soon harbor unwelcome inhabitants he will encourage us to actively 'weed out' because he is fully aware of how damaging their presence can be. We don't always know what a seed will produce. Stop for a moment to consider the mustard seed. It is actually a weed! I would find it hard to enjoy a hot dog fresh off the grill on a summer's eve without the rich yellow condiment, though! It lends flavor to the dog, doesn't it? It adorns it with contrasting color and it awakens the taste buds as you take it in.

The seed may not always produce good things, but in the hands of Jesus each seed has the potential of being either cultivated or weeded out appropriately. Sometimes I think we are too quick to discount the value of the 'growth' that springs forth just because we didn't see the seed planted! Just sayin!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Not down for long

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. 
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Back in the day, Hasbro toy company introduced a simple little toy in the shape similar to an egg referred to as a "Weeble". There were firemen and doctor Weebles - dogs, cats, kids, and other barn animals - families and townsfolk alike. Small villages of these things could keep young children amused for hours. The whole 'draw' for these things was their marketing jingle - Weebles Wobble, but they don't fall down. Sure it would tilt from side to side, but it would 'right' itself rather quickly, making it quite easy for little hands to set up those townsfolk and barn critters. They were created with a very specific way of maintaining equilibrium - gravity causing it to return to an upright position without any real effort. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have such a center of equilibrium that we always came out 'righted' every time we started to fall?

The Lord saves the godly! He is their salvation and their refuge when trouble comes. Because they trust in him, he helps them and delivers them from the plots of evil men. (Psalm 37:39-40)

We actually do have the ability to be 'righted' before we fully fall, bringing us back to a place of internal equilibrium. We probably don't understand in much better than we understood those tiny toys of yesteryear, but it is there within us. The presence of God's Spirit in our lives makes it impossible for us to stay down long - he is that force that re-centers us and 'rights us' when we begin to fall. The thing is that we don't always have to understand something to trust how it will perform. I didn't understand the wobbly little play toys at first, but in time I came to understand they were created specifically to withstand the falls. I wonder if we might also have been created specifically to withstand the many trips and falls along the way in our own lives? After all, we were created with a void in our lives only capable of being filled with the Spirit of God! 

His presence doesn't assume we won't ever topple over - succumbing to some force that overtakes us at a moment in time. It does mean that we won't remain in that toppled state for long, though! We might 'wobble' a bit, but we don't have to stay down - his presence is there to help us be 'righted' in that upright position once again. Here is the lesson of the day - nothing needs to keep us down. God's presence within us gives us authority over every force pulling against us. The heavy base in the Weeble used gravity as a means to 'right' the toy. There is much more to God's Spirit than the ability to always help us be 'righted' when we are about to fall or have fallen already, though. His Spirit is there to actually help us recognize when the opposing forces are about to launch the attack that would like nothing more than to see us down for the count! Just sayin!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

A little change in direction may be helpful

Mom had a saying when she couldn't find something. She'd say she "put it away so carefully, so as to find it the next time," only to find it was nowhere to be found when she needed it! Have you ever been looking so diligently for something only to find that what you sought with such great earnestness was right there in front of you all the time? When you finally realize that the object of your search was just within your reach, didn't you feel a little silly having spent all that time and energy in the seeking? It's kind of like you just have to say, "Duh! Here it is!" and give yourself a little knock on the head!

Somehow, though he moves right in front of me, I don't see him; quietly but surely he's active, and I miss it. (Job 9:11)

A process in the business world known as "building shared vision" is usually facilitated by bringing a group of people together for a period of time to tap into what it is that they imagine for the success of the group. Get the right people at the table and this can be a very good exercise. Get a mixed group at the table and you might find it a little more of a challenge. Get the wrong group at the table and who knows what you will get. It is all about getting the people in the group to bring their thoughts and ideas into play as they "vision" the work they do as a group, or what they see as the outcome of their work. It opens communication, gets people on the same page, identifies some barriers to "being on the same page", and can help a group see the steps necessary to move forward in a full "team approach".

In the end, the group will be asked the telling question: "How do we get there from here?" I think this is a question that we often ask God in our daily walk. We see ourselves in some present circumstance, imagine what we'd like to see come out of that circumstance, and then we stand there wondering what steps we will have to take to realize the end that it is we are hopeful of achieving. We stand at an intersection - one path leads to one outcome, the other to quite a different one. At the moment of decision, we stand there asking "WHY" do we choose one or the other - often deliberating to the point that we don't move at all. The goal of a good group "facilitator" is to give people the chance to talk things out. In other words, the "facilitator" asks the "who", "what", "where", "when", and "how" questions with skillful tact. The ones in the group answer while the facilitator "pulls out" common themes. I think Jesus does this with us. We stand at that decision point in our lives, he spends a little time with us "pulling out" the common themes of past choices we have made that got us in our present circumstance (and others like it), then allows us to figure out that choosing the path in that direction will just lead us into the same muddle again!

I often hear believers say, "I just don't know what God wants me to do!" To that I simply answer, "He has probably facilitated this conversation with you multiple times already - you just did not recognize it was him facilitating that discussion!" We've probably uttered the words, "Somehow, though he moves right in front of me, I don't see him; quietly but surely he's active, and I miss it." We are so focused on the intersection of familiar choice vs. best choice that we don't see him moving down the path of best choice ahead of us. The path of best choice is often the one we have never been on before! I have a pastor friend that says it this way: "If we always do what we've always done, we will always get what we've always gotten!" So, think that through today. Ask yourself this question: "What path have I settled into a little bit of a comfort-zone while traveling?" It may very well be that God will bring you to an "intersection" moment soon. In that moment, let God "facilitate" that discussion that "pulls out" the common themes of past choices that may not have been all that helpful to you. In that "discussion with God", stop long enough to realize his movements - then ask yourself, "Can I get THERE from where I am traveling today?" If the the answer is "probably not", then perhaps it is time for a change of course! Just sayin!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Let me sit down for a while!

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) 

There have been lots of times I hiked on paths just way too hard for my level of conditioning. I don't know why I do it, but somehow I think I will make it. About a third of a way to the destination my body begins to tell me I bit off more than I can chew and in a short while it begs for me to just turn back! When we find ourselves on a path that is hard, maybe even what we might come to recognize as 'too hard' for us, what do we do? Turn back? Rest a while and go on? Creep forward at a snail's pace because we won't be fazed by the torture of moving forward? If you are like me, you rest a bit, then press on. You might find you need frequent rests along the way, but eventually you make it to the destination. Worn out, aching from the exertion, maybe even with a few blisters to show the 'torture' of the climb - but you made it. Making it isn't the main thing - it is probably more important we are on the right journey!

Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me and keep me from stumbling. (Psalm 119:105)

The path we choose is often a result of our mindset at the moment. As a novice hiker, I didn't realize you could actually research the 'degree' of difficulty of a trail. In fact, most marked trails have a trailhead that describes the degree of difficulty so you don't bite off more than you can chew! Ignore the signs and you may find yourself on a path that just isn't all the easy, or all that worthwhile! You won't enjoy the climb if it is much more than you are ready to handle! In fact, you could even be endangering yourself by being on the climb in the first place. I am not ready to climb Kilimanjaro, so to undertake that venture would be more than dangerous! I learned a simple lesson about trails - it is a way of calculating the climb. An easy trail is usually less than three miles, pretty flat, and usually able to be traversed without much change in elevation. A moderate trail is a lot harder, not only because it somewhere between three to five miles in length, but there are inclines and climbs requiring some agility and exertion. A moderately strenuous trail is just about above my level of conditioning, though. The terrain involves a steep climb or two, strenuous at best, and is labeled quite clearly as NOT suitable for those that are unconditioned to the climb.

Wouldn't it be nice if all our 'climbs' in life could be as clearly labeled for us? If we have a journey we are being asked to take and could consider the 'condition' of our soul and spirit ahead of time, would that journey make us take more time to prepare before we set out on it? Maybe! Would we be as quick to launch out with our unconditioned or "Under-Conditioned" souls? Probably not! We'd want a little 'conditioning' before we launched forward. Wouldn't it be much better to be 'always ready' for the climb ahead - regardless of the degree of hardness? I am not there yet - how about you? Until that time, I will allow God's Word to continue to condition my soul and spirit - climbing those trails he prepares for me and trusting him to show me how best to prepare for the next one that will likely be just a little more challenging. That is all we can really do, my friends. Prepare, be ready, and then be 'in tune' with the path we are about to travel. Don't be afraid to ask our 'trail guide' to point us along those trails for which we are best suited to climb - challenging us a little, but clearly not beyond our degree of readiness! Just sayin!

Friday, July 5, 2019

STOP, just STOP

Ever take time to consider some of the 'four-letter' words you use on a daily basis? Maybe some of them aren't all that 'good' for us to be using, but there are others we may use that we haven't really taken time to consider their meaning. GIVE is a four-letter word that can mean we seek something that we desire to have in our possession to the idea of having some flexibility in a situation. STOP is a powerful four-letter word. There are 39 individual definitions of this one word in the dictionary! Did you have any idea? When we come up to one of these signs on our drive to work this morning, we will obligingly bring the vehicle to a halt, look all four directions, and then take our turn in making the next move we need to make along the way. That is the purpose of the sign! Ignore it and you could find yourself with a dent in your fender, a ticket in your wallet, and more than a little late to work!

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. (Galatians 6:1-3)

This is a call for us to "stop" long enough to evaluate our response to our brother's actions - the things that bring "burden" into their lives. It is a sad thing, but we rarely "stop" what we are doing, cease from what we are saying, long enough to actually look at the one who is hurting so badly. Sin is a really simple word that has become an issue because compromise is at the core of some decision that is made. We often know what it is we were SUPPOSED to do, but then do exactly the opposite of whatever that was. When we didn't 'stop' before we went too far we find ourselves standing squarely in the need of forgiveness. Not only do we need forgiveness, but we need restoration. Is it possible to do one without the other? I think we often give "lip-service" to our forgiveness without really reaching out to embrace the one who has sinned - because it means we have to 'stop' reacting and begin responding. That is what restoration does - it brings the one who has compromised too much back into a place of being "unimpaired" by the sin. Until there is restoration, forgiveness is incomplete.

Have you ever heard "There, but for the grace of God, go I" come from someone's lips? I find myself sometimes being hard on the "sinner", not just the "sin". I forget that "there, but for the grace of God, go I" and I never should forget that! I have learned that I am really just one step away from the same fall from grace - if I fail to "stop" long enough to realize my course of action, I will end up with compromise in my own life! We need to act in love. It is impossible to really forgive - to restore - without love being at the root of our actions. Forgiveness is more than a mental choice - it is backed by actions that reveal restoration has occurred. We might not realize how close we are to needing the same act of love! We are probably just a few steps away from our own compromises in life and will need the love of Christ to prevail in our lives, as well.

Forgiveness costs us something. Really, it cost Jesus everything, but it does cost us something, as well. It costs us the "right" to be judgmental - harsh on the sinner. We may feel violated by an action of another - with our immediate response being that we want to "hold it against them". When we truly realize that forgiveness has a cost associated with it, we begin to realize that judgment does, too. Judgment actually puts us in a place of bondage to holding the "grudge" long term - continually remembering the "debt" of another and allowing the "interest" on that debt to compound! We have to get out of our place of comfort in order to forgive. Stooping down, sharing the burden, is really not suggestive of "being comfortable" or at ease as it comes to the restoration process. If you have ever tried to restore an old piece of furniture, you will realize the tedious amount of work that goes into it. Stripping away the old, getting rid of all hint that the old even existed, and then replacing that with the new is a lot of work! The same is true with our sin and that of our brother.

When we want to "stop" our compromise, "go" into a place of graceful restoration, and then we need to "remain" in a place free of things that impede our progress in our journey with Christ - we need each other in this place. The next time you see a stop sign in your journey, will you just take a moment to look inward? Is there someone in your life who has been "hung up" at a point of "immobility" in their walk for a while? Perhaps God is asking you to stop what you are doing long enough to reach out to that one who so desperately needs to get moving again. Is there some place in your life where compromise has you "stopped" in your tracks? Perhaps God has brought you to a place where you are face-to-face with your sin. If so, you need the grace he gives, but you also need the "embrace" of another to help you walk out that forgiveness until it becomes "real" in your life. When you come to a place of "stop" in your life - look up! Your forward progress doesn't depend on what lays behind you, but on what is in front of you! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Petrified Wood?

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Albert Einstein

What specifically would you like to learn today? I imagine some will quickly report their desire to learn how to make their money work well for them so their future income is well-established. Others will quip they need to learn how to save in the first place! If we are honest here, there are great deal of things we'd desire to learn, but take very little time or invest very little effort into learning. I would have loved to learn to play the piano, but I never learned a note on those ivory keys. It wasn't for the lack of seeing pianos - there were lots in my immediate associations who had them. It wasn't for the lack of affording lessons - I could have even trades my services cleaning a yard or washing windows if that was considered a fair trade. What I lacked was the 'want to' behind the desire. Sometimes we have a lot more desire than 'want to'!

To learn, you must want to be taught. To refuse reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

We must want to be taught - this means we have more than a 'want to', though. We need the commitment behind the 'want to' that actually gets us involved in learning. If I want to learn to knit, I need to buy the needles, yarn, and a few books on various knitting projects from beginner to intermediate that help me learn the process of 'twisting' those yarns together. I could possess all of this and still not learn to knit - I would still have to put into practice the skill! I need to actually pick up the needles, wind that yarn according to the instructions and bring those stitches all together into a row before I will ever be able to move onto the next one. It begins when we begin - there is no substitute for beginning! There may be fits and starts in our process of learning, but let me assure you there is no end to it!

To be taught we must have more than an idea - we have to make an investment. Ideas minus the investment don't really help us develop much character. In fact, where there is no investment, there is seldom any return. To refuse to learn is still another thing. Refusing to learn suggests to us that is possible to actually resist learning - to dig in our heels and just pull back with such a force it almost makes it impossible for us to grab hold of what is beckoning for us to be 'schooled in'. The refusal to learn stems from a heart that resists change. We all know how futile it is to resist change - change is inevitable. If we don't engage in the process of change, we will simply not move on! We will petrify in place! Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Did you mean to do that?

There are always going to be times when we feel like we have been 'harmed' in relationship - it is part of we humans trying to live and interact together. We won't always get our own way, nor will we be continuously satisfied with what we see in others. Part of human nature is to fail on occasion - we cannot avoid that harsh fact. It is how we respond to these failures in others that really matters - not the failure so much, but our response of heart and emotion toward the failure, and more importantly - toward the person who has failed!

Don’t seek vengeance. Don’t bear a grudge; but love your neighbor as yourself, for I am Jehovah. (Leviticus 19:18 TLB)

When we hold grudges, or 'nurse them' as some people refer to it, we are really creating a 'debt account' in which the other individual begins to 'owe us' for each offense. We are then adding 'interest' to the 'debt' owed each time we rehearse (nurse) the grudge. 'Unpaid debt' soon becomes something that causes more 'ill will' between individuals. Have you ever seen one of those advertisements for a 'payday loan'? You bring them something of value - such as the title of your car - they loan you a sum of money. What you don't see is the 'fine print' - at the interest rate they will charge that simple $1,000 loan will take you ten years to repay - long outlasting your car!

Debt accrues interest - there is no avoiding that - even when they propose to you an 'interest free' loan on some appliance or vehicle. What we don't realize is that they have 'marked up' the item to include what they would have exacted from you in interest over the term of the note! You and I can be cleverly disguising the 'debt' another owes us, nursing that grudge until the interest demanded becomes so much it is almost impossible to ever achieve 'pay-back' of the debt. We rehearse the debt and add a little to the account each time we do - essentially adding 'interest' to the debt! What comes next is that we send the individual to 'collections' on the debt!

We move from just 'adding interest' to the account into the territory of demanding very forcefully the debt be repaid. They are incapable of repaying what they 'owe' in any real satisfactory way, so the next thing we know, we are actually devising ways to bring further 'harm' or 'embarrassment' into their lives. It is like when the sign goes up on the front lawn announcing to the world the home you worked so hard to buy is now going into foreclosure and you will soon be living on the street! This movement from nursing the grudge into seeking to retaliate and bring further harm to the individual is entering into the territory known as vengeance. If you have ever heard the warning that vengeance belongs to God and God alone, you know you are treading into dangerous territory on that one!

Grudges should never have a chance to take hold. Debts should not be 'added to the account'. In fact, we shouldn't even be doing the book-keeping! A grudge begins with us 'crying out' - complaining against or about someone. Cry out long enough and you will begin to sense they 'owe' you for all the time and energy you are investing into this slight. Soon, without even noticing, you are beginning to keep record of the wrongs - and in time, you will be adding interest to those books! It is best to let 'real' wrongs go by working them out as soon as possible. It is an even more shameful thing to imagine wrong has been done when someone has been unintentional in their 'wrong-doing'! Remember this - intentional or not, the debt isn't really 'owed' to us - we just think we have a right to demand it. Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

I am wilting....

Have you ever ended up in a place where you just thought it was 'too dry' and a 'little barren'? As the summer sun heats up the Arizona desert, it is easy to 'get behind' in our fluid intake - especially when the day gets going and we forget to take time to seek out the water we so desperately need. When we finally feel ourselves 'fading' from the heat and the intensity of our thirst beginning to nag at us, it is oftentimes a little late in the process! We are squarely in the middle of the dry place and there is just no alternative to turn to in order to find the satisfaction we desire. God doesn't leave us thirsty, but he never says we won't have times when we 'thirst'!

Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn't a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: "Give us water to drink." But Moses said, "Why pester me? Why are you testing God?" But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, "Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?" (Exodus 17:1-3)

Why on earth would a huge band of wandering people actually "camp out" in a place where there was absolutely no visible water for their basic physical needs - drinking, hygiene, and watering of the animals? I think we just don't "think" about where it is that we "camp out" until we realize our 'camping spot' isn't going to provide for all our needs. We "get going" with God really well, then all of a sudden, we find ourselves "camped out" at a place that seems barren, without any provision for our basic needs, let alone our spiritual needs! Then what do we do? We might just complain to God because we are in a barren and dry place! There are times that I wonder if God would just as soon answer us with a resounding "Duh!" instead of his overwhelming patience.

"Directed by God" - revealing to us that they weren't in a barren and dry place totally because they just wandered out their on their own. They were on a path with God and came upon this dry place. The fact is, we don't know what the path will hold, but God does. He is aware of the exact points of "barrenness and dryness" that are part of the wilderness journey and he prepares a way out of the desert place (in his time, of course). Coming out of the desert place is often done in stages. We seldom find that moving from the wilderness into the land of plenty is ever a "direct" journey for us. In fact, we see that the wilderness almost presents obstacles to us. We wonder if we will ever get out of that place! Water was essential and they had none. It likely seemed quite impossible to them that they'd ever leave the wilderness without the provision of water they'd need to make the journey. We would probably equate this to the various "things" that keep "coming up" in our journey with Christ that seem to "trip us up" a little. The fact is, God prepared this people to make the move to this very place. Therefore, there must be a provision in what appears to have little value at the moment!

Why do we move by stages through the wilderness? God might just need enough time to teach us the lessons of the wilderness. There are a lot of lessons that we only become attune to when we are stripped of all we depend upon and are brought face-to-face with our utter need. In those places, no provision that we could make on our own will get us through. In fact, we keep camping out at the bitter waters and the dry places, completely unaware of the miracles that lie just beyond the points of our intensest need! The waters you face in the wilderness today may be a little bitter, if they exist at all. The bitterness of reliance on our own efforts, past failures, disappointments of missed opportunities - all need God's touch to truly make them "sweetness" in our lives. In the place of barrenness and thirst, we finally find that God's touch is all that will take care of the bitterness we have experienced. Don't curse God for the barren place, but thank him for the miracle that is just around the corner. His purpose in the barren place is just to drive us further into his provision! Just sayin!

Monday, July 1, 2019

I was HOW close?

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Thomas A. Edison

Boy, isn't that the truth? We go on along for quite a while, pursuing whatever it is we think will make us money, help us make a worthwhile contribution in this world, or simply give us a sense of accomplishment deep within, then suddenly we realize aren't 'there' yet and give up. In our giving up, we are really surprised to find someone else takes up where we left off and they are the ones that make it to where we were headed and they do it in no time at all! How does that make us feel? Defeated? Unlucky? Worthless? Most of the time we are so close to what we wanted to finish when we give up - even in things more 'spiritual' in nature. Maybe we should stop long enough to step back and take in the sight of just how close we really are to the finish line and just how much help we have right there, given to us to actually help us cross the line!

The Ten Commandments were given so that all could see the extent of their failure to obey God’s laws. But the more we see our sinfulness, the more we see God’s abounding grace forgiving us. (Romans 5:20)

Grace is one of those things beckoning to us to cross the line each and every time. Not in some form of religious piety, but in desperation to 'succeed' in this life we have been called to live in Christ Jesus. All our religious pursuits will just point out all the failure in our lives - grace looks at each of those failure as stepping stones that paved the pathway to crossing the finish line! We see our failures, God sees our possibilities. We see our 'end' as truly that - God sees it as a new beginning. We see our dashed dreams as no longer worth our attention - God sees them as starting spots for new dreams and hoops. The Ten Commandments weren't given to keep us righteous, just to point us to the need for Christ's righteousness in our lives!
"Close" counts if we are using an atomic bomb to attack a problem. "Close" doesn't count if what is needed is a sniper's bullet! "Close" isn't close enough in that case - it is a miss. Too many misses and we sometimes dessert the very thing God has given to us to show us how to consistently 'hit our mark' in life. Grace is what helps us pick up that which we have laid down in our failure and go on. Grace is what helps us refine our vision of the target. Grace is what God uses to help us see the target as we should. "Close" isn't enough - he shows us how to actually hit our target 'spot on' - not because we did it, but because he did it through us. Stop abandoning the target each time you fail - start embracing more of his grace instead! You might just find the target gets a little clearer as you do! Just sayin!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

What's that I smell?

Sometimes I think we confuse concentration with consecration. Concentration can be very time-limited, while consecration takes us beyond time-limits into a life-long pursuit. Consecration goes beyond the surface - in fact, it embraces all of our being when it is operational in our lives. Consecration is simply the act of setting something apart for a specific use - not for a while, but for a lifetime. When we say that the brownies are made special for daddy because they are his favorite treats, we have the expectation that the one receiving enjoyment out of those brownies will be daddy. The same is true when we say we have dedicated our lives to the service of our heavenly Father - he will receive the enjoyment our dedication brings.

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2)

Grace and mercy are two very powerful forces at work in our lives. It is the "favor" of God and the "pardon" of God that is at work in us. The first step in dedicating our lives to his service is to yield what he already owns! We are in a kind of "territory dispute" with God most of the time - our will against his. We want to enjoy the liberty of his grace and release of his pardon, but when it comes to actually turning over the "deed" to our lives, we totally hesitate. We are called to be separated UNTO God for his special work within and through us. What we fail to recognize is that separation is completely voluntary - it isn't a life taken, it is a life yielded.

In the off chance that I am not clear here, let me explain. God never REQUIRES our dedication. He is honored by it, but he never compels us to serve him. WE choose whom we will serve. What we fail to recognize is that by dedicating ourselves to him, we are really being set apart for the most awesome enjoyment that one could ever experience. Just like daddy may savor those brownies that have been "dedicated" to him, our heavenly Father will savor our dedication - by giving over our "right" to hold control of our lives into his hands. The most awesome thing happens when we finally yield the control of our lives to Jesus - we begin to bear the image of that which we have yielded ourselves to. Did you ever see two totally close friends and notice how much they "resemble" each other in their habits, ideals, and even in their communication? "Likeness" actually occurs because of the frequency of contact that they have with one another.

When we finally desire God's enjoyment of our lives more than our own enjoyment of our sin, God is honored to take what we yield to him. But...he only takes what is yielded (dedicated / consecrated) - he is not going to take it against our will! There is a practice in the Old Testament that we don't see any longer in our church services - the practice of the altar sacrifices. That is okay, since Jesus was the perfect sacrifice offered once for all! Yet, I think there was some value in seeing how the altar affected what was dedicated to God by being placed on it! Every gift laid at the altar is affected by the altar. I call this the "altering" effect of the "altar". It is like putting those brownies on a tray for the enjoyment of one person only - each time they go to the tray, the aroma of those brownies rises to meet their nostrils. At the altar of God's grace and mercy, there is an aroma that reaches God's nostrils and invites him to enjoy that which has been dedicated to him. Yet, at the altar, God awakens a sense of need in us, as well. It is at the altar that we are acknowledging our dependence upon him.

One last note - the CALLED OF God are CALLED FOR God - his enjoyment alone. He already paid the price for our souls at the cross. When we yield the right to govern our lives (our will), we are truly giving evidence that we are willing to have that which controls us the most affected by the altar. God calls this having our minds renewed. I think he might have had the picture of the altar in mind - leaving no part of our self-will untouched by the fire of the Spirit. So, be touched - begin with concentration - then move on to consecration. Just sayin!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Are you even listening?

Many of us don't remember the process of "tuning in" a radio any longer, much less the laborious task of adjusting the antenna on top of the roof or holding the rabbit ears so the family could catch the last few minutes of a show. Our electronic devices have "auto-tune" features, allowing us to scan through various stations until one comes in with the clarity of reception that is desired, cable delivers immediate channel clarity, and web apps make it so we can find anything we want at the touch of a button. The 'art' of moving an antenna has been lost - the need to recognize the exact location on the sliding dial of your radio while listening for the voices of your favorite announcers has gone the way of digital tuning. I wonder if all this ease of 'tuning in' has done anything with our ability to 'tune into' the things God still requires us to exert a little effort to get?

Dear friend, listen well to my words; tune your ears to my voice. Keep my message in plain view at all times. Concentrate! Learn it by heart! Those who discover these words live, really live; body and soul, they're bursting with health. (Proverbs 4:20-22)

I don't think that we have the "auto-tune" capability most of the time when it comes to God's voice - we sometimes don't know it well enough to recognize it when he speaks. In fact, most of us would probably admit to many times of "going right past" his voice because it was a "weak signal" that we just didn't take enough time to tune into! What makes that signal "weak"? It is the position of the antenna, or where we are at in the moment we are hearing that "faint signal" of his voice. In other words, how well we position ourselves to hear his voice matters! The signal that my car's GPS receives is totally beyond my understanding, but I trust that it knows where I am by the little picture of my roadways I am traveling. It is also amazing to me that it knows the speed I am traveling, the distance remaining in the journey, and the speed limit that is appropriate for the road I am on (even when I am not quite traveling at that same 'posted' limit! It is kind of awesome to have all those features available to me.

But...and this is the crux of what I want us to see...I have IGNORED the advice of the device on more than one occasion! I see road-work signs, or a plethora of traffic along that route, and then I veer from the course it has set for me to follow. As I do, it goes through this process of "receiving afresh" the signal it needs in order to "recalculate" my location and put me back on course - or at least the course it thinks I need to be on. Try as I might, I cannot ignore the constant reminders of "recalculating" and "turn right at the next turn, travel 1 mile North, and re-enter the freeway at exit number..." Why does the device keep doing that? It is because I gave it access to my life - and I am refusing to listen to what it has to say! 

I turned on the device, evaluated where I wanted to go, and then trusted it to get me there - but now I am ignoring it! Whenever I ignore it, the device attempts to recalculate in order to get me back on track because it "knows" the intention of my journey! The same is true with our Lord - he knows the intention of our journey and he goes through tons of "recalculating" maneuvers with us in order to keep us on that journey! We often ignore his voice telling us to go one way, choosing instead to go another. But...and this is the important part...his signal still comes through loud and clear when we are ready to listen! So, tune in, listen well, learn God's voice by heart! It is in the aligning of our spiritual "antenna" with his voice's signal that we find the greatest satisfaction in the journey of life! It matters if we veer off course - his voice is just trying to help us redirect when we do! Just sayin!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Have no fear

What are you wearing today? Have you dressed by the time you read this, or are you luxuriating in your jammies for just a little longer? Regardless of how you have 'clothed' yourself at the moment, there is nothing like what comes from being clothed with the blessing of God! Have you ever snuggled deep into something of comfort because your day was just a little harder than you'd like it to be? You may even find you needed some form of help, but it just seemed to never be coming, so you hunkered down, sheltered in place and are just there waiting. At those moments, all you want to do is sit down and cry out for help - but there doesn't seem to be anybody within earshot! Yet, you might just cry out anyway - if not outwardly, at least on the inside! Never lose sight of this hope - "real help" and very "real comfort" comes from God.

But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high; With all my might I shout up to God, His answers thunder from the holy mountain. Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes your people! (Psalm 3:3-4, 8)

God - the name of God also referred to as Jehovah - the unchangeable one. He is the one who stands ready to intervene whenever we cry out, hunker down, and seek his comfort. He is the one who gives grounding to our feet and lifts our heads high above the mess of the circumstances surrounding us on all sides. He is the one who becomes everything we need at the very moment have need. Need reveals itself in many way, but the answer to our need is always the same! He is the one faithful in all his promises and it is he that is our "real" help. You know, that word "real" has a unique way of describing our Lord's faithful interventions in our lives. We often look for that which is the most apparent to us - but did you ever realize that the term "real" means that which is not always apparent? Sometimes our "grounding" and our being "picked up" or "born along" is not always apparent in the circumstance we find ourselves in. We don't realize the reality of what God is and has been doing in our lives that brought us to the present point we are facing. We just know we need a little comforting and a lot of his presence!

We think of "real" as genuine, not counterfeit. That is true - but the thing I think we need to see is that God is not always apparent in those life "moments" when we find ourselves crying out! Just like clothing surrounds our physical frame and provides us with protection from exposure or the elements of the weather, God surrounds his people with his protection. He is what stands between us and the forces that come against us. Not just once, but each and every time! The next time you think you have no help - you are standing alone in one of those "life moments" when things are just not all that comfortable - cry out to the one who protects without always being apparent in his protection. He gives us a form of "immunity" to the things that otherwise might take us down! He provides the protection we so desperately require from the "inside" out - maybe not apparent to us immediately, but this protection begins to reveal itself more and more as we 'settle into' his presence! There is something of his character that is within us that will often be exactly what we need to draw from when we face that moment of challenge. God may not be "apparent" in the moment you face - but stand assured - he IS there! Just sayin!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Is that everything?

God's call is never too late, and it goes without saying, but his expectations are quite extensive when he calls! Abram (Abraham) was nearly a century old when God placed the call on his life. Imagine that in today's life-span and he would be very lucky at all to see anymore birthdays. It was late into life that he received his call, but keep in mind that people lived a whole lot longer in Old Testament times. I have heard more mature Christians saying that God cannot use them any longer - they are too old or too debilitated to be used of God. That is hog-wash! God's call is irrespective of age, natural talent, or financial means! His call transcends our physical limitations, infuses us with talents we never thought we'd possess, and makes miraculous provision for every inch of the journey! Any call is just beginning - it matters not where we start out, but that we progress toward the finish line!

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God showed up and said to him, "I am The Strong God, live entirely before me, live to the hilt! I'll make a covenant between us and I'll give you a huge family."
(Genesis 17:1-2 MSG)

The Lord spoke with Abram and gave two very specific expectations to him: 1) Live ENTIRELY before me; and 2) Live to the HILT. The 'entirety' of a man dedicated to living before God. This is the first part of the calling. Live - be alive, be entirely capable of vital function; exhibit vitality in your life. In other words, God was telling Abram that he wasn't an old, dried up man, incapable of doing anymore in this lifetime! You and I could take a lesson here - we still have capacity to live for God until we take our final breath on this earth! Entirely brings the idea of living completely and unreservedly. God was making it clear that service to him is not complete if there is any reservation in our heart about our commitment. There is a clear difference between commitment and perfection. Too many times we think that we are not "living" like God wants us to because we still struggle with sin in our lives - temptation is a real thing to us and gives us problems at times. God examines our heart for our commitment - how much "skin" we have in the game. He doesn't look for us to be perfect. If he did, he'd have a mighty small family!

We are to live before him - our entirety of life is to be lived before him. We could live our lives on display for the world to see, but God reminds us that the only one that really matters is him. We live for him - not for others - not even ourselves. Living to the hilt is maybe not as well understood these days, but the hilt is the handle of a sword or dagger. What is depicted here is that we are "all in". We don't hold back - just plugging into God with part of our mind, a little bit of our heart, and some of our talent. It is all or nothing with God! He is saying that we are to live to the maximum degree in him. God is really asking that we live with undivided hearts. Jesus told the disciples that man could not serve two masters at one time? It was this thought about 'entirety' he had in mind - being undivided. We cannot serve both man and God at the same time. It makes no difference if that "man" is our own selfish desires, or those demands of another. We must keep God in the center of all we do - only then will we be "all in" with him. God's call was always given without "recall" - God never went back on what he said he would do and he doesn't want us to go back on our commitment, either. We do what we can - being "all in" with God - and he does what we cannot! That is how it is in God's economy - when we are "all in", he is "all sufficient"! Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Crawl if you have to

By perseverance the snail reached the ark. (Charles Spurgeon)

Stop for just a moment to consider how much effort it must have taken for snails of all sorts to finally reach the door of the ark and you might find yourself taking hope that you will also one day reach that destination you so desire! Never give up - never given in. To give up means we just quit. To give in means we take an easier road. Neither will meet our need. Both will leave us with feelings of regret or guilt. Things will get in our way - that is a given. Others will have opinions that mess with our minds and challenge us to reconsider our determination. Stop short and you will always miss the boat!

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5)

We don't just wake up one day with a fully loaded arsenal of patience. Contrary to popular opinion, it is learned, not just acquired. There is no pill for patience. Maybe there are pills that lower our threshold of some emotional response to what we are going through, but those aren't really 'infusions of patience'. They merely help us deal with life. The snail's pace continues! Strength of character comes as we begin to use the treasure of God's presence and strength over and over again. Eventually it becomes something quite solid within us - something we can count on when the pressures build.

We might not like that we are crawling at a snail's pace toward a huge goal. We may want to complain about every obstacle that looms before us on the way to that goal. We could even desire to ride on someone's back, utilizing their energies to get us to that goal. None of these will ever allow the strength of God to develop within us in quite the same way as he intends for it to grow. Yes, we occasionally need the efforts of another to help us take the next step - there is no harm in that unless it means we never take another step on our own. When we find ourselves 'riding' we realize we aren't developing the same strength as we would if we were walking ourselves. Sometimes we just need to keep crawling. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Skills check-off

What is a preceptor? In many learned skills, there is a process of aligning an individual who has much experience with another who is just starting out in the skill. During a specific period of time, the preceptor 'checks off' the 'newbie' on various skills required for the work at hand. The main purpose of the preceptor is to help the newbie add line upon line, precept upon precept, skill upon skill, until they are deemed able to perform the task at hand without constant oversight. We all look for 'mentors' from time to time in our lives - whether learning a new job, or just trying to learn a new hobby. There is no greater 'mentor' relationship one can have than that which mentors another in the 'skill' of being in a committed and growing relationship with Christ.

God's readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation's available for everyone! We're being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness. (Titus 2:11-14)

Older men and women, well-established in their faith, being solid examples for younger men and women to look up to. Why is this important? It is because we learn best by the examples we can see, feel, and connect with frequently. God's readiness to give and forgive is public knowledge! Sometimes we think the things of God are hidden from us, but the scripture tells us differently - maybe because we don't want to see the truth that is right there. God is ready to give - sometimes we just have to be ready to receive! He is ready to forgive - sometimes we just have to be ready to repent! Sometimes the best way to realize this is to be mentored in a relationship that actually helps us to understand the truth we are not able to see ourselves.

This Christian experience is more than a moment-in-time experience. We grow fresh in our connection with Christ each day. We go through life "being shown" how to turn our backs on the old stuff of our sinful life and to embrace the good stuff of the life in Christ. The need for mentors or preceptors implies that we don't just "get it" alone - we need to be shown - we need examples. I know this is true for me - an example speaks louder than any words in the "instruction manual". I think that is why those 'put it together at home' furniture packages come with pictures, not just words!

A picture speaks louder than words! What we can perceive through observation cements the words to an actual lifestyle - seeing right choices lived out helps us understand the truths we may be struggling with that just don't seem to have connected with us yet. The preceptor takes it from being "ethereal" to being "real". We have been granted "leaders" in the church that help us make this connection. Yet, God is not stopping with the leaders - we also need to find good "mentors" - older men and women who can lead by example. I don't know who you have in your life that acts as a mentor or preceptor for you, but the truth is that you need someone! When we need to understand forgiveness, we benefit so much from the evidence of a lifestyle that shows the results of walking in forgiveness. To see another embrace forgiveness, despite the ugliness of their past sin, and then to walk in freedom that forgiveness produces allows us to "connect-the-dots" of God's grace, our repentance, and his restoration. 

Did you know that scripture says that we learn "line upon line, precept upon precept"? Yep, it does. Guess what another word for mentor is? Yep, you guessed it - preceptor! So, if we really want to learn what God has in store for us, we would do well to align ourselves with preceptors who can help us learn "line upon line, precept upon precept"! In turn, we become that preceptor to another who needs an example to follow. If you don't think of yourself as an example today, just wait - - - God is making each of us into the best example of his grace he desires for another to see! Just sayin!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Seed packets

A seed only does what it was intended to do when it is planted! In the package, it is just a nice thing (kind of like all the religious rules). Once in the ground, tended appropriately, the seed yields something beyond its original form. That is true of each of us as we become related to Christ. We take a new form - exponentially yielding fruit in season. That is what it is to be in relationship with Jesus - we become the evidence of what is "in" the package! That was what Lazarus was that day so long ago - an evidence of what had filled his heart! 

Word got out among the Jews that he was back in town. The people came to take a look, not only at Jesus but also at Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. So the high priests plotted to kill Lazarus because so many of the Jews were going over and believing in Jesus on account of him.
(John 12:9-11)

Lazarus became a living testimony of the power and deliverance of God when his life was raised. He became a "threat" to religion that day! The Jewish high priests were actually resisting his testimony because it was causing people to leave the "comfort" of religious pursuit of God to experience the dynamic of relationship with God. The fact of the matter is that God uses people to do the work of bearing testimony to his deliverance! We are never a threat to "religion" when we are just living in the status quo. As soon as we "cross the line" into a real and vital relationship with Jesus, guess what....we become a "threat". For the sake of clarity, let me just say that when I refer to "religion", I am referring to the rote, mundane, going to church kind of ritual that never really allows a man's heart to change or his life to be a testimony of God's power. When I speak of relationship, I am speaking of that life that exudes the power of God for others to behold.

The Jewish high priests were threatened because their "followers" are "converting"! They wanted reality in their lives - they wanted to experience some of the "vitality" they saw in Lazarus that day. All the Jewish leaders could offer the crowds was a set of religious rules - a set of standards they wer to live by - but the connection of the "rule" with the "ruler" was never really made! By definition, relationship is a "connection". What Lazarus showed the people was the intimacy of "connection" with Jesus. Connection implies involvement. When we move away from the ritual keeping of rules, we move into a place where God becomes involved in our lives and we become involved in his work. There is a relationship between connection and power. Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus - spoke the words to come forth - embraced him as he did - and Lazarus maintained that connection by being with Jesus as a living testimony of his power and grace. That is how it is with Jesus - he wants us to be connected to him.

Why is relationship a threat to religion? It is simple really...relationship makes the "connection" that rules never will. As a matter of fact, when all we are focused on is the "rules" we have to keep or never break, we often lack any incentive to pursue the relationship! Think about it. When you are so intent on not breaking the rules - like when you see those signs posted that remind you that there are workers on the roadway and that the fines for speeding are doubled in that area - don't you slow down just a little bit as you see the patrol car on the side of the road? You become "intentional" about the rules and all the other stuff that you were focusing on takes backseat! That is why the Jewish leaders had such a hard time with Jesus - they saw people moving away from the ritual, mundane way of "worship" and this was a threat to their existence! I don't know about you, but I want to be a threat to religion! I want to be a living testimony of relationship, not a dead-weight of religion. Belief is never a matter of having "seen" something - all the miraculous signs were evident to both the religious leaders and the ones following Jesus. The "signs" never convince the mind - they affect the heart! Belief often requires a testimony - like when you buy a package of seeds at the home store. That package of seeds has a photo (a sign) of a fully grown plant, bearing much fruit. Until that package is opened, the seeds planted, and care taken to tend that seed, the evidence of what is in the package is never fully understood. Just sayin!