Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Let's get this right ALL of the time

Those who spend their lives teaching will tell us the ability to learn a subject is directly influenced by our specific desire to learn that subject - if we don't find the subject interesting or useful, we often discount the learning opportunity, making it more difficult to ever get much from what is being taught. We often miss out on some of the most profound (yet insanely simple) lessons in life simply because we don't want to take the time or energy to apply ourselves to that learning. There are also times when we feel that we don't "need" to learn the lesson being offered - seeing ourselves as above the lesson - already having knowledge about a particular subject and feeling as though we didn't need to learn anything else. Both scenarios are dangerous ground to tread, for learning happens only when hearts are open.

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

It is shortsighted to refuse correction - for correction is basically the opportunity to begin a new lesson in life - an opportunity to learn. Did you ever consider that "correction" is directly tied to "learning"? Think of it - you do a series of math problems, turn in your paper, get it back "graded", observing that there are "red marks" on those problems that you did not get "right". If you go through math class refusing to change the way you solve the problem, you will never get a "passing grade" in math. In fact, you will probably never graduate! That "red mark" is designed by the teacher to point out where you needed to focus some attention in order to avoid making the same "error" over and over again.

Think of God's discipline as the similar to that type of "red mark" - it is designed to focus our attention on the areas of our lives where we need to make some changes in how we are doing things. The purpose is not to humiliate or frustrate us, but to help us move into a place of understanding - to come to a revelation of how things have been going and the things that need to change in order to get on the right track again. The goal is that we "graduate" from doing things our own way into learning the value of doing things God's way. In so doing, we develop a consistency of getting "right answers" each and every time (as important in 'real life' as it is in math class). Disciplined living is evident when we see a heart that is consistently looking for insight into right choices. I always challenged my math teachers by asking why "my answer" was wrong - citing that if I got the right answer, why was the method I used to determine that answer necessarily wrong. The reply was always the same (no matter the teacher). It was simply that I would not "consistently" get the right answer if I did not use the proper method to solve the problem each and every time. It was the consistency that was lacking - not the wherewithal to solve the problem 'this time'.

The same is true in daily living - we can arrive at the same answer today that we got yesterday by using the same principles we applied yesterday. But...will those same principles applied a year from now produce the exact same answers? Probably not! Why? Simply put - things change! We need to grow, so the problems become a little more complex as we grow. Just as in math class, we moved from simple addition (2+2=4) into more complex problems like solving for "x" in an algebraic equation. What I learned in basic math and simple addition lent itself to solving the algebraic equation, but I needed more complex thought processes to solve the latter - and I needed even more completion of learning to understand trigonometry. I needed to "grow" in order to see the new concepts of algebra or trig, or I'd never solve the problems consistently. In daily life, there will always be a growth opportunity that comes with two choices - remain bull-headed and stubbornly rooted in the past ways of doing things, or yielding to the possibility that there is something new to be learned in the present. The disciplined life will embrace the learning with the desire to build insight into how to consistently arrive at the right choice each and every time we are faced with whatever life hands to us as the 'present problem'. Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A rudderless ship?

A ship without a rudder is kind of 'dead in the water' - it can propel in some direction, but without the rudder, the direction is haphazard and subject to drift by the most powerful current it faces. A "principled" life can stand up to the worst life throws at it. Principles acts as our "rudder" - giving us the guidance for right conduct. They give us the fundamental truths by which we make our decisions. A life that is governed by the right principles will withstand the toughest of life's conflicts and all those disappointments we can face in our lifetime. Moral character and integrity act as marching companions of "principles" - each bringing the balance we need to "stay the course" when the worst is upon us.

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin. A thick bankroll is no help when life falls apart, but a principled life can stand up to the worst. Moral character makes for smooth traveling; an evil life is a hard life. Good character is the best insurance; crooks get trapped in their sinful lust. (Proverbs 11:3-6)

Over and over again, scripture has record of the importance of developing wisdom and understanding. In order for wisdom and understanding to fully develop, we need certain foundational principles to be built into the fiber of our being so that our choices are consistent and upright. In the pages of scripture, we have record of the struggle that man faces with overcoming pride and embracing humility - one leading to honor from our heavenly Father, the other man's own disgrace. Honesty must be our guiding action in our affairs of life - otherwise our end will be ruin. Some 'foundational truths or principles' we must 'add into' our lives as we will with Christ are outlined as follows:

Silence - learning when no answer is better than any other answer we can bring into a situation. There is much wisdom in learning when our mouths will betray us with words that sting or belittle. It is best to never utter a word than to allow words to be spoken that bring another down. To this, we have the reminder about the destructiveness of gossip - words best left unspoken and unheard.

Submission - learning to accept the wisdom of counsel (those who have gone before us in learning the lessons of life). There is safety in wise counsel - learning to trust in that counsel is quite another thing. It is a struggle of "will" to learn to seek out wise counsel instead of plunging ahead in our own self-will and self-determination.

Sensitivity - coming into an awareness of our surroundings, those we are with, or the impact our words and actions make on others. The principled man or woman has learned to use their beauty wisely and modestly. The needs of others are foremost in their thoughts. The example that is set is one of integrity.

Service - the freedom to extend oneself in an openness of heart that betters the life of another and provides a positive example of the heart of God to those around us. Sacrifice and service go hand-in-hand. The heart of a servant is moved by the needs of those around them - they need not look far to see where their service is best used.

A principled life is both continually refreshed and rewarded. There is an unending supply of all we need to live well, live consistently, and live outwardly. There is an "emotional energy" that is "spent" in living a life of integrity (principled life). Yet, we can look forward to the continual refreshing of our mind, spirit, and emotion as we walk in the principles of righteousness. There is much to be discovered in "living well"! Let the rudder of your life be solid and right principles and your course will be steady. Just sayin!

Monday, January 21, 2019

How to spot a counterfeit

If you were to tell me something today - something very important for me to remember - I'd do my level best to keep that foremost in my memory, rehearsing it until it was committed there. Unfortunately, if you were to just talk to me about something without really impressing the importance of it to me, I might not give it a passing thought again. I would just see it as 'information' shared, but not really see it as something I needed to hold onto very long. It was what we shared in the course of the day - something in passing - but it wasn't expressed to me in such a manner as to make me commit it to memory. Telling me what is on sale at the local grocer this week is only of use to me until the end of the week and the new ad being released. If I commit it to memory, it won't do me much good because it no longer applies - it was time-limited and specific to that store. When you tell me where you hide the spare key for your house in case I ever need to do a welfare check on you, that is much more important for me to 'hold onto' in my memory! When God tells us something - is it held onto, or do we let it just be passing thoughts that really never get committed to memory?

I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you, I attentively watch how you’ve done it. I relish everything you’ve told me of life, I won’t forget a word of it. (Psalm 119:15-16 MSG)

God asks for us to ponder his Words as wisdom we will never really find anywhere else. He also encourages us to consider his actions - to pay attention to the ways he works, the timing of his actions, and the specifics of his movements. Why? He wants us to be able to recognize counterfeit "truth" when it comes along! He wants us to be so familiar with him that we don't get caught up in anything that is only 'partial truth'. Those who work with the Department of Treasury will tell you they didn't take courses on how to spot 'counterfeit' monies by studying the 'fake' bills - they studied the real until they became so familiar with all the aspects of the 'real one' that they can easily spot a fake! The more we study God's Word, combined with the observations of how he moves heaven and earth to accomplish his purposes, the more we will be able to spot the 'counterfeit' as it comes along!

When we 'relish' something, we are saying there is sufficiency in that 'something' to satisfy us - it meets our desires. The more we come to appreciate his Words as more than just 'good advice' and really count on them as life-sustaining, the more we will find our desires begin to change. What once we found satisfaction in pursuing just doesn't impress us with that deep sense of satisfaction any longer. We recognize those things have been 'counterfeits' of the very real life-giving, life-sustaining truth we are now surrounded by when we embrace his truth. We understand there was an element of truth in everything we embraced previously, but it wasn't 'totally' or 'thoroughly' accurate. Much of the 'truth' we come to believe in life is because it was taught - either by example or in some form of instruction. Imagine how we feel when someone comes along and shows us an even better solution to that problem in life - the 'truth' we were using over and over again in our lives becomes apparently 'deficient' in potency. We take up the even 'greater truth' we now see and understand - using that truth to solve the problem moving forward.

In God's kingdom, truth doesn't change. It remains the same, but our appreciation for it grows over the course of time. We begin to realize we have bits and pieces of 'counterfeit' truth influencing our lives and we don't want to keep the 'counterfeit' any longer. We yearn for the real, trustworthy, and reliable truth. We lay down the counterfeit for the real. Why? The 'real' has more value than the counterfeit, doesn't it? We know the counterfeit only 'looks real', but it lacks something - it won't accomplish what is needed in our lives. We need the 'real' if we want to see change be real and lasting. The counterfeit might get us by for a while, but eventually it will be exposed as only partially 'true' by the results it produces within us! Just sayin!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Don't make a way for sin

For just a moment, think about what it means to be in "common relationship" with others. We have a variety of 'common relationship' experiences in life. As we drive down the freeway to our destination, we have the 'common relationship' of being motorists on the roadway. As we nurse ill patients back to health, we have a 'common relationship' of being that momentary caregiver administering medications, dressing wounds, and helping them feel safe. As we sit in the theater with our best friend, all the others there are in 'common relationship' with us - seeing the big screen come to life and the picture capture our attention. Of all the 'common relationships' we can explore, there is none as rewarding or captivating as that of our common relationship with Jesus Christ!

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise. [ In Christ’s Family ] In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises. (Galatians 3:26-28 MSG)

Many will find it hard to think that we can all be in 'common relationship' with one another just because we are in 'common relationship' with Jesus Christ. Why? There have arisen all manner of denominational walls that divide us, setting one against another, causing us to create opinions and judgments about each other. While I am quick to admit that not all 'denominations' are really that different, there are some who oppose things others approve and vice versa. Here is the cold, hard truth, my friends - IN CHRIST JESUS we are brought into common relationship with one another, but WE can drift away from that place of "common relationship" simply by making inaccurate judgments about what sin is/is not, what attire is holy/unholy, or even if tattoos are 'honorable' or dishonorable' to a body. 

I am not naive - there are definite differences in our beliefs - some have veered far from what scripture clearly 'allows' or provides us directive about as to our behavior. Some differences are perfectly harmless - such as choosing elaborate church buildings or 'open', more versatile buildings in which to meet. Some differences are quite harmful to the message of Christ's grace - such as embracing what God has clearly described as things he disapproves of, or worse, absolutely abhors. Whenever we veer into this latter territory, we are choosing to no longer align our beliefs to the Word of God and the grace pathway established via Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. To say there is any other way into relationship with God except through Christ is clearly taking us out of "common relationship". To say Christ is "one way" to realize heaven's glory is clearly not what God said in his Word.

There are indeed differences that mark us out as unique from one another - some like loud music, others like hymns and melodic harmony; some will encourage us to look our best in church meetings, while others will tell us to come and be comfortable. These aren't differences we should worry about, my friends. We would do well to look at the things that take us out of 'common relationship' with Christ - such as accepting what God has clearly defined as sin. Yes, we embrace the sinner, but we don't make a way for the sinner to continue in their sin! We provide a means for them to leave that sin and enter into this common relationship with Christ. That was always God's plan - for us to leave our sin and to enter in. Just sayin!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Checking off too many on the list?

Scripture outlines six things God hates, and if six were not enough, God adds just one more (kind of like the cherry on top) that God has some pretty serious feelings about (in fact, we might call it a total loathing for that thing). Hate carries the idea of a very intense, passionate dislike of something. Loathing carries a sense of disgust and gives one the idea that God is repulsed by the type of action he is observing - actions not 'befitting' a person who calls himself a child of God. In total, seven things God asks us to take notice of in our lives and then seek his help to break free of them so we can live in a manner that shows we are engaged with him on this journey of 'right-living'. Our eyes get us into so much trouble - almost as much as our mouth - so it should come as no surprise that the 'top two' things God hates have to do with these two!

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

#1 on the list: Haughty eyes (arrogant eyes) - in other words, being way too prideful for our own good. Pride is a battle we must fight every day. When we have a higher opinion of ourselves than those around us, we are probably dealing with an issue of pride. Sometimes we need a "pulse check" from another we trust to see how we are doing in this area. The call is to lay down one's own agenda for the good of the whole - to not become focused on what you believe is "due" you because of your position, contribution, sense of self-worth, etc. God pretty much declares that pride becomes a barrier that keeps us from realizing some of the best stuff he has. #2 on the list - coming it at a close second:
Lying tongues. Words are more powerful than we'd first like to give them credit. Our words make or break a situation - they either tear down, or build up. Plain and simple. More defilement enters into our lives through the destructiveness of our words than we'd probably like to admit. Hurtful words drive wedges, create animosity, and destroy character. God simply cannot abide that kind of behavior in his family - because it destroys the family's integrity.

Lower on the list, but not to be overlooked or 'reduced in rank' by any means are the hands that murder the innocent. In most cases, we don't go out and kill each other, but our hands are tools that can either reflect the grace of God's touch, or the hurtfulness of selfish, prideful self-will. Much is conveyed in a touch, but nothing rises to the level of touching that which is innocent and bringing death by that touch. In our society today, we could go so far as to say this is not just the "taking of a life", but the stripping away of the dignity and respect of a life by the use of any type of inappropriate touch (bringing death emotionally). Innocence is lost in just one touch. Following closely on the heels of 'wrongful touch' is the idea of our heart. Hearts that plot evil - our emotions are either positive or negative (there really is no "emotional middle-ground"). Envy, lust, pride, fear, anger, rage - these describe emotions that stem from our heart. Each of these emotions are a reflection of something within. They may be the response to an actual circumstance, or the imaginations of our mind. Regardless of their "source", the action is the same - repaying or responding out of our emotion. God looks at the outcome of our thoughts - not so much that we simply had the thought. He works on changing the thought patterns, of course, but his focus is on the outcome (what we do with the thought we have). 
 
We may find the next one a little unflattering, because most of us wouldn't think our feet could be the problem when it comes to making right choices. Don't they go where the mind tells them to? That is probably why God dealt with our hearts first - because our emotions do a whole lot to encourage our feet along! Feet that race to do wrong - it is one thing to meditate on what is wrong, or on what will yield an outcome of sinful behavior, but it is another thing to embrace it and follow hard after it. Whenever we find ourselves "racing" toward what we know is wrong, we are in a place of dishonoring our God. The more we focus on the actions God doesn't want to see in his kids' lives, the more we cannot veer away from dealing with the mouth once again. The mouth gets us into more trouble - doesn't it? A false witness - more than someone who just tells a lie - this is the testimony of one against another. The testimony of our lives is one of either living out the message of the gospel, or the message of a self-directed life. We make a choice - reveal God's grace in how we live out our lives, or reveal our selfishness and pride. To say that we are Christian and choose to live selfish, pride-filled lives is to have a false witness.

A person who sows discord among brothers (family) - the cherry on the top! God's method of accomplishing his purposes is within "family" - anything that destroys family is an abomination to God (something he abhors). God desires us to be in relationship - to be "builders" of relationship, not in the "demolition" business. As we embrace patterns of sinful behavior, we are working to destroy the integrity of the family. The list starts out pretty "tame" - deal with your attitude of "self-importance" and ends with a strong warning about not destroying family. All that comes in between builds upon the others. Rarely do we see one of these traits in isolation of another in our lives. Most of the time, they go hand in hand with each other. Learning what it is that hurts God's heart is paramount if we want to draw close to him. When we realize the things that drives a wedge between us and him, we also realize just how much we need his help to be free of those very things. Just sayin!

Friday, January 18, 2019

The making of a Royal Beauty

Now and again, mom begins a discussion by saying she doesn't know what she has done in this lifetime to 'deserve' all the pain she experiences because of her arthritis, stenosis, and neuropathy. Any one of those can be quite debilitating - add all three together and you rarely have a day when one or the other isn't a troubling thing. Add to this that she is legally blind, hard of hearing, and 100 years old, and you can see why she might just 'bemoan' some of these ailments once in a while! While we may not understand the 'why' behind the present set of worries and woes that we experience, we can be assured of one very important fact - the day is coming when we will live healed and whole once again if our hearts are surrendered to Christ!

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory. (I Peter 1:3-7 MSG)

It is our faith that is proven in the fires of all these present trials we may endure, my friends. We might not fully appreciate that as we are going through those trials, but the purest of gold isn't just 'found' somewhere along the way - it is exposed and rises to the top in the fire. I get it - fire isn't comfortable, nor is it desirable when the exposure has been long. I also have had many a conversation with God about 'why' some things had to go the way they did in my life and have come to the conclusion on more than one occasion that there really was no other way to 'prove' the 'metal' of character any other way. The fire was the turning point for something within me - it brought out some things I may not have realized needed to rise to the surface so they could be 'taken out' of my life, as well as exposing some things that needed to be realized for the beauty that was really there.

Healed and whole is a good goal, but if we live with the expectation of seeing that in totality while here on earth, we have unrealistic expectations set in our minds. We aren't going to beat disease 100% of the time - colds will happen, flu will knock us down a notch or two on occasion, and even bones will become brittle and less 'movable' over time. Parts wear out! We aren't going to avoid all calamity in life - storms will tear away roofing, waters will invade spaces where pipes didn't hold secure, and cars will get dings. We don't control the weather, nor can we observe pipework hidden behind drywall or buried beneath the earth. These things are not always in our direct control - so we will have to face them when they arise. We aren't going to be able to keep out all manner of temptation - media will bombard us in every direction, opportunities will present themselves, and desires will still mount an attack within us. We are human!

The very best news I can share with you is that Jesus isn't going to abandon us in the midst of the disease, calamitous event, or incessant temptation. He is going to be there in the midst of the 'fire', not because he wants to see us 'burn', but because he wants to show us how much beauty is being exposed in the midst of it. He doesn't allow the fire to punish us - he allows it to purify us. At first, this seems kind of cruel, but when we stop to consider the beauty produced because of the fire, we might just reconsider the value of it. Yes, we can get excited about the time when we will be whole and healed. Yes, it is something assured to each of us. Yes, the time will come when all these present worries just slip away. In the meantime, there might just be a little refining going on behind the scenes in our lives that is producing within us a thing of 'royal beauty' that compares to no other. Just sayin!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Are you a hoarder?

Treasures come in all forms, from small to gigantic, 'observable' or 'unseen'. The 'unseen' treasures can be the most valued of all to us, but never really known or appreciated by others. They are 'just ours' - to be enjoyed and appreciated by us and us alone. Memories can be treasures - unseen by others, but treasured up in our hearts and frequented as often as we like. They aren't 'tangible' like a diamond ring, but they are appreciated and felt nonetheless. Treasures can be 'laid up' in all manners, as well. Today, if someone has way too many 'treasures' we might just call them hoarders! They make entire TV shows to show the unhealthiness of being too focused on saving all these 'tangible treasures' that one can amass, but have really little to no use of over the long range. I wonder if it is possible we also can 'hoard' intangible treasures - such as memories we should have let go of long ago because they don't really provide any benefit or enjoyment for us. It has been said the things we ponder long enough, or frequently enough, will be the things that guide our actions. If that is the case, then maybe some of the thoughts we 'hoard away' really need to be discarded once and for all in order for them to no longer have the influence they do over our actions!

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (Matthew 6:19-21 MSG)

Stockpiles exist because someone is either preparing or hoarding! Stockpile a load of lumber in anticipation of building a room addition and you are preparing your materials for the project that is ahead. You are stockpiling because the lumber is expensive, the budget is small, and you will need to have things all in place before you can begin the project that will provide added room your family will utilize as an office, new bedroom, or the like. Stockpile a load of guilt and shame in your memories and you are not preparing to build anything other than walls that keep you 'boxed in'. The wrong stuff stockpiled, or things stockpiled just for the sake of never letting them go, are the things we call 'hoarded treasures' - they are not really valuable in the true sense of the word, but we have placed an 'unhealthy' value on them. Sometimes a 'memory hoarder' needs to let go of the 'unhealthy' treasures they have amassed in those unhealthy relationships!

Examples of hoarded memories that might just be unhealthy in nature could range from those memories of wrongs done against you to the ones we created after engaging in activities that we knew to be wrong. We don't exactly 'build walls' of guilt and shame overnight. Our actions, and those of others, create those walls over the course of time. The wall is always built brick by brick, board by board, or stone by stone. Even cement walls are erected in sections! Even a hoarder begins by saving away that first 'treasured item'. He doesn't just back a truckload of 'treasures' up to his home and dump them there, creating him as an 'instant hoarder'. He brings one item into his home, then another, and another - not really parting with them - until one day there is a massive increase in his 'treasures'. The problem is that no one really wants to 'steal away' those types of treasures - they are not valued by anyone else and the 'burglar' isn't even enticed to give them a second thought!

Most of us are 'guilty' at times - we say or do something that makes us 'feel' we didn't 'do right' or 'perform well'. We might file that memory of guilt away, not really dealing with it at the moment. If we do, we might find ourselves revisiting it later on, sometimes repeating that revisit. One day, we realize that guilt wasn't really dealt with in the moment and we have been 'treasuring' it (and similar memories) way too much. When we come to this realization, it is hard to part with those 'treasures' because they have taken up a whole lot of space in our lives - they have become the walls that we have been enclosed within. They weren't 'healthy walls' for us to build, but they have become walls of 'comfort' to us. Can guilt bring us comfort? Sometimes even the unhealthy stuff in life can provide a sense of 'comfort' or 'security' to us - because the walls seem to protect us from what we fear may be on the outside of those walls! Unhealthy memories are not walls we want to keep erected in our lives, but until we deal with the fear of what may be outside of those walls, we won't desire to be free of them! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

In one, out the other

Do you all get things right the first time you attempt them? Have you ever heard from someone there is a better way of doing something? What did you do with that advice? If you are like me, there are times you have embraced it, while there are other times you have 'let it go in one ear, then out the other'. Wisdom comes through a process of learning. Good judgment is something that must be developed. We'd like both to be "instant", but they only come in the process of time. They are a result of exposure to learning opportunities and time invested. The matter I choose to let out the other ear is not always the right matter!

Listen, friends, to some fatherly advice; sit up and take notice so you'll know how to live. I'm giving you good counsel; don't let it go in one ear and out the other. (Proverbs 4:1-2)

Ever see someone limping around after they have done some type of activity that they are not "used to doing"? It is like when I spend a day out in the garden or shop working, then feel it in every bone and muscle the next day. I try to bend over like it is no problem, but instead of "bending" I find myself creeping slowly back to an erect position, regretting each movement because of the pain. Why do I feel the pain? Simply because I don't use those muscles often enough - my back aches because I have spent more time doing what I don't usually do in the course of a day than my body is used to doing!

The same is true in the development of wisdom and good judgment - they are spiritual, emotional, and intellectual muscles that must be used over and over again to not get "flabby" and out of shape. We can lose what we don't use. Let us not forget we are to guard our heart above all else - because it affects every choice we make - we don't want 'flabby spiritual hearts' more than a flabby heart beating in our chest. Our emotions affect our choices - so we must be on top of our emotions. Our intellect gives us the basis for choice - we choose what we believe because we think it will make the most sense. Our spirit guides our choice - acting as a governor over choice when neither intellectual insight nor emotional pull can be trusted. If not maintained, these "muscles" of wisdom and good judgment will cause us to live a pretty "halting" walk.

There is no sense in living in the past and we all know there are more than ample opportunities that present themselves as distracting forces in our lives. The past is just that - it is not the present. Too many times, we attempt to revisit the past, finding nothing more than disappointment in the process. The past is simply not what we are to be focusing on - it is the present that has the power to affect our wisdom and good judgment the most. The past served a purpose - learn from it and then move on. Don't dwell on it; it will hold you back if you do. Maybe it is okay to let the 'past' be the thing that goes out the other ear!  We can be assured of this one fact: God knows our heart very well. When he speaks words of wisdom and works on developing good judgment within us, he is doing so with the knowledge of how our heart works (what it responds to, what moves it the most). His call to us is this: "Don't let his wisdom go in one ear, and out the other!" Act on it - live it - exist in it. Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Follow the pattern

The pattern makes all the difference when we don't know how to do something and need a little guidance to get the job done. I used to sew my own clothes and clothes for the kids. I used a lot of patterns back in the day. Some were very simply making it very easy to follow along with the completion of the garment. Others were quite hard, requiring a lot more concentration and attention to the details if I was going to get the job done right. I have assembled my share of 'out of the box' furniture - gaining me the privilege of being called upon by my family to always do it now. Why have I become so proficient in the task? Because I made my share of mistakes of NOT following the directions, having to start over again, and now I remember to read the instructions word for word! They are given to guide me in the assembly and to discount them is to allow for error. The Word of God is given as our instruction, but we are also asked to watch God and see what he does - his actions serve as an example or pattern for us to learn from and begin to emulate.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG)

Watch and do. This is an age-old way of learning new things. Try as I might, I never did learn to line dance even though I really wanted to, although I have had great examples to follow. Why? It isn't in me to learn it! I think I don't have the rhythm or something, but it didn't ever really 'sink in' no matter how much I observed their example. Forward, backward, side to side, slide, glide, turn, AYE! Now my feet are all muddled up and everyone is bumping into me because I went the wrong direction! I was watching my example, but I didn't do it right! We don't always get things 'right', do we? Sometimes we have the best example around and still don't get it 'right'. We make a wrong step, turn the wrong way, and alas, we find ourselves stumbling or being a stumbling block!

I gave up on line dancing. but I didn't give up on learning a life of love by keeping company with the one who loves like no other. Line dancing won't minister to a hurting heart, or lift a spirit knocked down by life. Love will! Keep company with God - learn of him, observe his actions, see when he doesn't act, and really soak it all in. There is something powerful in observing the actions of another. Not only do we see how it 'should' be done, but we can also observe how it should 'not' be done. The coin has two sides, doesn't it? I have observed examples I really don't want to emulate - simply because the outcome of their actions didn't produce what I desired in my life. The examples we choose to emulate will be those that produce the outcomes we desire or 'crave' in life.

God's love doesn't quit - it is steady, persevering, and focused. His love doesn't find favorites - it is open to all who would receive it, even though they don't know they want or need it. His love finds ways to reach people - it is powerful, penetrating, and persuasive. His love is unmatched by any other and it is a great example for us to follow. We only learn of his love by observing him - by keeping company with him and those who have already learned a great deal of his love in their own lives. Examples - patterns to be followed. Being new to woodworking, I realize the importance of a good 'pattern' to follow. I can go to Pinterest for ideas of all manner of projects, but if I want to really know the way to construct something, Pinterest is not the end-all. I need the pattern. I have to go to the site of the individual who posted the project and read the intricate details of each cut, joint, and required tool.

God provides all these instructions in his Word, but he doesn't expect us to learn of his love from words alone. He provides examples - repeatedly showing us HOW he loves. Why? He knows very well that when we connect the HOW with the WHAT, we might just understand a little better the WHY behind the actions we are taking! Just sayin!

Monday, January 14, 2019

A few gaps?

Mind in gear? What does that mean to you? When I consider a 'mind in gear', I think of the one who is deep in thought, creating, coming up with plans and ideas, or working to put those ideas into application. I think of the carver who looks at a plain piece of log and begins to fashion what he sees in his mind. I also think of the one who might calculate the risks and benefits of a particular set of actions and then formulate a plan they will act upon - such as a surgeon considering the best course to take with a patient to optimize their health. Having one's mind in gear is really a sign of being engaged in the process - you are more than a casual observer. God isn't after those who have all the answers as much as those who will engage with him and be more than casual observers in his kingdom.

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” (1 Peter 1:13 MSG)

As long as we are doing nothing more than 'casually observing' the promises and commands of God, we are never going to really grow into our full potential in Christ. We each have been given so much potential - but how we engage in the use of that potential determines if we will reach the fullest extent of it! God doesn't just ask us to follow him, all getting in a line and following after him like a game of "Simon says". He is looking for those who will learn of him, engaging in the things that exemplify his love and grace in our everyday lives. It doesn't take a 'message from on high' to take some actions - they are common sense! They are in alignment with his will because they exemplify his love and grace, so act upon them. 

We are shaped by God - that 'shape' takes form with each step which reveals our total engagement with the things he is teaching and doing in our lives. He looks for a mind in gear, a heart in total dedication, and a body willing to be used in the labor he sees fit for us to engage in. This is how he operates - ready hearts receive, open minds understand, and eager hands are set into service. It is easy to see that God is pleased when a life is willing to be pulled into a way of life shaped by his hands, energized by his Spirit, and filled by his grace!

Lest you or I think it is impossible to be holy (right, true, and honest), think again. God's existence in our lives actually fills us to overflowing with this 'rightness'. We are free to move about, not as 'unclean' and 'unholy', but as examples of his holiness. As such, we are also examples of his 'wholeness' - for where his presence dwells you will always find his grace filling every gap in a man's character that has been left by sin's outcome. If you feel a little 'drafty' today because of all of the 'gaps' in your character, take heart....those gaps are filled, sealing out all manner of unholiness because Christ isn't going to leave us deficient in any manner. Just sayin!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Bouncy, Bouncy, Bouncy

Back in the day, there was this little contraption you'd suspend from the door jam that allowed the infant to bounce happily up and down. Suspended in the enclosed seat, the infant could test out their legs a little and develop some strength in them. These simple devices were eventually replaced with walkers with four wheels, then these walk behind toys, and even more complex contraptions over the years, but the idea is all the same - to help the child develop their strength and balance. God gives us a whole lot of things in life to help us develop strength and balance, but none as lasting and true as his Word! We can hang onto his Word like nothing else - it never fails because it is backed by his oversight and careful attention to each detail contained within it! 

Remember what you said to me, your servant—I hang on to these words for dear life! These words hold me up in bad times; yes, your promises rejuvenate me. (Psalm 119:49-50 MSG)

His words have a unique way of rejuvenating each of us - not by some magical power, but because truth brings restoration, renewal, and reformation where needed. The change that occurs when we have a steady intake of his words into our minds, souls, and spirits actually is attributed to his strength and power, but it produces a strength and power within us that isn't possible without the constant ups and downs of life. The ups and downs of life are like that hanging contraption that suspended the infant - they help us develop strength - not in ourselves, but through the application of truth where it is needed. 

David was often heard asking God to not let his words return void to him - reminding God that he was counting on them. He also frequently asked God to not forget what he promised - because he wasn't going to develop 'independent strength', but he was going to rely upon the strength that comes from connection with God. The truth we choose to believe is very important. Think about that infant suspended in that seat in the doorway. The child could look around for a while, just admiring the new view he had of his surroundings. That wouldn't be uncommon, but eventually he will realize that his feet move and he moves when they do! He will become curious about how this change in viewpoint is occurring - not realizing it is by his own strength made possible because of the strength the 'contraption' he is sitting in gives him!

The Word is kind of like that - we place our hope and trust in it - enjoying our new viewpoint in life. Shortly after the Word lifting us up, we realize we can develop a little strength that we didn't have before in our lives - all because God's Word is actually supporting us in such a manner as to let us build that strength. It won't be strength that makes us independent and no longer in need of his support in our lives, but a strength that helps launch us into new places we hadn't explored before. Eventually the infant is free of the contraption and is wandering all around the house. His growth is giving his new freedom. This is the same with us in Christ - the Word helps us build new strength - and in turn, we begin to enjoy new discoveries previously hidden from our view. Don't ever underestimate the potential of being 'suspended' in his strength for a while until you are strong enough to learn to walk into these new discoveries! It is part of his plan! Just sayin!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Collect and Guard


What have we come to 'treasure' in life? There are lots of treasures when we stop to consider it, but we probably have some things that rise above the rest. For me, it is relationship - first with God and then with others. We place a 'premium' on what it is we come to treasure - devoting time and energy to those things. We are asked to live disciplined lives - exhibiting the ability to "listen" well and to "treasure" the right things in life. The ability to listen may be hampered by the life choices we have made. The clarity of what is heard becomes crystal clear when we learn to treasure the relationship we have with Christ. We won't want to miss what he says - the advice he gives.

Good friend, take to heart what I'm telling you; collect my counsels and guard them with your life. Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding. That's right—if you make Insight your priority, and won't take no for an answer, searching for it like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt, believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours; you'll have come upon the Knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

Think of the "listening" process similar to "tuning" into a radio station. You have to sometimes turn the dial so precisely to get the best reception of the station. I have a radio that just won't 'tune' beyond the station it is stuck on right now. I know it is fixable, but it is kind of annoying because the tuning is just a little bit off, making the station a little less than clear. To listen to God, there is an effort on our part - we have to tune out all the distractions, situations, and choices that are in conflict to hearing his voice. We have to fix what is keeping us out of tune! We also have to concentrate on understanding. One of the things we learn in school is that we learn best when we are able to concentrate on what is being taught. If we are distracted, we often miss "key content" in the lesson being taught, thereby not really learning fully. Understanding is directly related to how well we are able to reduce or eliminate the distractions in life. Understanding is not always quick or easy. There is much effort placed into understanding - attention must be focused and we must be in an attitude of willingness to learn what is being taught.

God grants wisdom - a gift in our lives that comes directly from his hand. He grants a treasure of good sense to the godly. This "good sense" becomes the shield of protection we so often need to keep us from making "bad choices". Sometimes we expect to hear a booming voice from God that tells us not to take a particular course of action. What God wants us to do in those circumstances is to simply listen to the "good sense" he has already given us - not expect the 'booming voice'. God protects the faithful - when we waiver in our consistency of walk, how can we expect protection? The seat of our emotion (the thing that causes us to waiver so much) is our heart. Wisdom isn't just to be found with our heart, but with our head and spirit working in union with our heart. Wisdom helps us to not always be driven by whatever emotion is the loudest or most active in our lives at that very moment. It is wisdom that gives us that rational response to those irrational situations. Wisdom saves us from wrong relationships, wrong money decisions, and even wrong choices in what we eat. 

Scripture reminds us to follow the steps of good men - we have them recorded as our examples because God knows that we learn best (come to better understanding) when we set our eyes on an example we can follow. It is like using tracing paper to get the outline onto a project we are completing - so we know how to follow the pattern. The choices we have to make may not be exactly the same choices that our example has had to make, but the principles of living that are exhibited in their lives serve as an illustration of how right choices are made. There is a value in setting our eyes on right examples - it comes in learning how to differentiate between right and wrong choices in life. When we focus on the right examples, it affects our choices. When we focus on the right authority within our lives, we have our understanding expanded. Just sayin!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Quench that stench

If you have ever had your eyes diverted for just a moment or two while driving, then realized how dangerously close you were to heading into the tail-end of another car or swerving into someone else's lane, then you probably also know the 'immediacy' of your reaction to 'correct' your course. You immediately brake, bringing the car back into a safe distance behind the one in front of you, or you get back into the lane you were to be in and then remain vigilant to remain there! With all the texting while driving I see these days, it is easy to see how accidents can be on the rise - for diverted eyes only take a moment to allow the catastrophic to occur. The same is true in our spiritual lives - diversions are dangerous to us - they change our course, put us in harm's way, and can take a little bit more 'over-correction' than we might first imagine.

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments;
I love traveling this freeway
! (Psalm 119:33-35)

God doesn't go about 'teaching us' stuff from his Word - things about the way he works, what to expect of his careful attentiveness over our lives - just so we can live as we please. He expects us to use these truths to guide us into 'carefully lived' lives ourselves. This means we have to guard against the diversions that come our way. Back in the days when warfare was a little less 'scientific' than it is today, one of the tactics utilized was to 'divert' the supply of water, food, and needed supplies away from the place you were attempting to 'take over'. They did this to cut them off - so they'd get desperate and let their guard down. Desperate people do desperate things - not always all that carefully thought out or purposeful!

If they diverted the flow of water coming into the township, there would arise a panic because water was a necessary part of daily life. If it wasn't available any longer, the chances of survival were significantly reduced. Yes, they could look for alternatives, but eventually they'd need the water. The  body isn't made to survive without it. Similarly, the spirit of man isn't meant to be cut-off from God - although one may survive for a while, the vitality of life soon fades and you begin to experience a sense of being 'dry' on the inside. The human spirit needs connection with God's Spirit - continual and uninterrupted. Only then do we sense the 'fullness of grace' that God desires for each of us.

Diversions also lead to chaos in our lives. If you have ever been diverted from doing something that needs to be done, but you chose something else in place of that action, you know what I am referring to with this thought. Leave the laundry just a few days beyond when you should have addressed those piles and you will become desperate for clean underwear at some point! Sure, it could be as simple as 'buying new' to further avoid the needed task, but eventually the piles will require some action on your part. Eventually the stench of dirty laundry will reach your nostrils! Diversions can lead us away from the course we should be on and take us down ones we might find add a little bit of a 'stench' to our lives. When this happens, the stench can only be avoided for so long! Eventually we will desire to 'quench the stench'!

Divert your attention away from God long enough and you will find your living a very barren and dry life filled with all manner of not so 'sweet' a scent to it! The connection we maintain is one of attentive and purposeful choice to stay on course - to not be enticed by diversionary tactics used by the enemy of our soul. I choose not to text and drive. I choose to pay attention to the road. If we can make this purposeful choice in our driving habits, why can't w make similar choices when it comes to our spiritual focus and purposeful connection with a loving God who cares for us so deeply? Just asking!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Let's get stupid together!

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don't 'get stupid' with my friends like some may think of 'getting stupid' with their friends. I don't know how you interpret what Emerson said, but in my opinion he was trying to say it is okay for us to be our true selves with those we are able to call true friends. Why is that possible? I think it is because trust has been established and we know it won't be betrayed when we 'bumble' a little around a friend. It is a true blessing to have such a friend - it is a greater blessing to be such a friend!

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family. (Proverbs 18:24 MSG)

Old friends are those we usually refer to as 'true friends' - they have endured the test of time, the challenges of relationship with us, and become our truest companions along some of the toughest journeys. Not all of us have experienced that kind of friendship - not all of us have been that kind of a friend. Yet, it is not too late - for we have the ability to make that connection - to be that connection - as long as we have breath left in us.

"Stupid" is really the word Emerson used to describe someone acting in an unintelligent or careless manner. This can describe us in so many ways, at so many times! The 'senselessness' of some of our words, much less our actions, can sometimes be quite annoying! Yet, the true friend will stick with us even when our words and actions get a little exasperating. I was always told that to have good friends you have to be a good friend. There is very good wisdom in those words!

How do we 'befriend' another? Isn't it through attraction of some sort? We see something in them, or they see it in us, and we are drawn to them. We want to associate with them - because we admire something in them, or we just enjoy their enthusiasm and joy. We make ourselves available in relationship and then we see where it goes. Not every venture into friendship will end up with us having that BFF kind of relationship, but there will be those that rise to the top. When we have these kinds of relationships - we must treasure them well.

To be a good friend, one must be faithful to the relationship. One must treasure the relationship. We do this by not only spending time with each other, but spending time in prayer for each other. There is as much 'behind the scene' work in relationship as there is 'face time'! We need those supportive prayers, and even those prayers that will turn us away from our folly. We treasure most those times when we feel the support of another - even when they lack the ability to 'fix' the issue for us. 

Be a good friend - exemplify the love of Christ in those relationships you have been given. Be a 'grace-giver' where grace is not so much 'deserved' as it is 'needed'. Be a faithful companion - showing you can be trusted to walk alongside another long after others have drifted away. Be a good friend and you will be surrounded with good friends! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Inside or Outside - Where are you looking?

We make decisions all day long, from what time to awaken to what we will wear, eat, or do within that day. Some are quite easily made - like taking a drink of water when we are thirsty, or crunching on a cracker or two when we want a snack. Others are a little harder - like when we have to figure out the budget or what market moves to make with our investments. Still others are astronomically hard for us - like taking the first step toward seeking forgiveness when we know we have been wrong or making things right when we have made a mess of things. Decisions are not all easily made - some take us some time, while others almost 'percolate' within us until they are finally fully formed and we are ready to take action upon them. There are just some that should not be overlooked, though - especially the ones that are the harder ones to make!

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

The decision of God to provide us restoration through the death of his Son wasn't something I believe God had to 'percolate' on - he just knew it was the right decision and he set things in motion to move heaven and earth so he could see us restored to full relationship with him. If God didn't think twice about his greatest decision, why is it we have to 'mull things over' time and time again when it comes to taking steps of obedience with him? Maybe it is because of our stubborn determination to 'get things right' ourselves. How's that been working for you? It hasn't been working very well for me! The decision to be obedient may not always be the most popular, the first one you consider, and definitely not the easiest, but it is guaranteed to be the most rewarding!

We look a whole lot at the outside of a man or woman and make judgments about what they are like. It is one of our downfalls to consider only what we see on the outside, though. The outside can often present an image quite different than what is truly going on within the man's soul, heart, and mind! The soul can be in a place of tumultuous upheaval, steeped in guilt, shame, and sin's damaging accusations. The mind can be in turmoil because it is unable to rest as long as these accusations are allowed to continue. The heart can be sensing very little positive love because the mind and soul see's themselves as 'unworthy' of any love. All that can be going on inside, while the outside looks kind of like the individual has it all put together in a neat little package! The outside is no indication of what is on the inside - that is why they say the eyes are the window into the soul - they 'betray' the reality of what is on the inside.

We are created anew in Christ Jesus - but we all know it can take a little bit of time for the 'inside' and the 'outside' to 'catch up' with regard to this dramatic transformation process. In the meantime, we struggle with the old image of how we see ourselves and each other. The important thing for us to remember is that the cross makes us spotless - there is no flaw in us any longer. The reality is that we are kind of 'messed up' and it can take a little while for the mess to get all cleaned up! There is no change within us until we decide (make the decision) to take the first steps toward obedience that God asks us to take. Yes, they may be hard, but they are necessary. Yes, we may have to 'eat crow' a few times, while admitting we were wrong in some matter, but that is the first step of GRACE taking care of business in our lives!

The scars will be there. The hurts will creep in from time to time. Yet, the truth never changes - we are made new in Christ Jesus. The old is passed away - the new has come. Now get on with those decisions of obedience! Just act upon what you know he is asking you to do and without even noticing that it has happened, your 'inside' will begin to make a transformation you never knew was possible! Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Old history be gone!

I don't think there is anything more damaging to our overall sense of well-being than for us to continually rehearse the 'bad stuff' in life. The 'stuff' may have happened TO us, or we may have been the ones to have DONE it. Regardless, to continually go over and over all that "old history" is really not all that productive and it might actually be the cause of why we aren't moving forward right now! There is something much more powerful in 'being present' in the moment - to be focused on what it is we can take control of within ourselves, then turning the rest over to God to let him have the reins in our lives. 

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands." (Isaiah 43:18 MSG)

To forget about what's happened one must be willing to let go of both 'hurts' done to us and those things that aren't doing us any good to hold onto, like all those hang-ups we continually make excuses to ourselves and others about instead of dealing with them. I know this is easier said than done, for I also have struggled with holding onto hang-ups God has asked me to put down. It may have been my stubbornness or simply my inability to trust things will ever 'get better' if I did put them down. To let go I had to yield where I had been unyielding, and go 'all in' where I had been lacking in trust. It isn't that I didn't know what to do - it is that I had to be willing to live in the present, allowing God to change my present, instead of me holding onto my past!

"Old history" - we all have it. We all deal with it differently. We all have those moments when we resort back to some old way of thinking - falling back on what happened instead of focusing on what is happening now. We miss what is happening now if we do! We close our eyes to God's presence in our lives - we only see the impossibilities - but where he is, there are infinite possibilities. Desert places aren't easily traversed, are they? Why? There are obstacles in the way. The dry places we experience there make the journey even harder. Isn't it good to know that God is in the business of clearing the way and providing for us to be refreshed along the way?

Be alert and be present. Actions are described there, my friends. Most of the problems we have with our 'old history' is that we have been unable to take some action we have been asked to take at some point along the way. We were supposed to seek forgiveness from one we wronged, but we didn't. We were asked to lay something down, but we stubbornly held on. We were called to go above and beyond, but we simply stood still and let life happen around us. Be alert - pay attention, get focused, and be prepared for action. Be present - take notice, and be real. Being present means we are willing to be 'genuine' about ourselves - admitting where we have failed, owning our next steps, and then taking the action required.

The more we focus on the 'old history' portion of our lives, the more we get mired down by that history. The moment we come into the present, we open ourselves to being transparent, real, and truthful with ourselves, God, and others. This is the starting place for moving out of the 'old history' portion of our lives and into the 'new places' God is about to bring us into by his grace. Just sayin!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Valley or Hilltop View? It is different, you know!

"Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley." 
Theodore Roethke

I have done a fair amount of hiking in my lifetime, but one thing continues to amaze me when I reach some summit point - the look back down the trail by which we ascended to this new height. The 'look back' often shows just how many switchbacks, twists, and turns that path really took. It also often shows us just how much we missed that was right there in front of us, but because of the things that 'bordered' the path, we missed what was just beyond that border. The view from the top is much different than the view while we are traveling the path. At the moment we enter that 'trail head' to explore the path, do we know what the path will hold? Not likely. If we have traveled it before, we are probably a little familiar with it, but even a short period of time and the influence of the elements can change that path. Erosion occurs where rain waters flow freely down the hill. Underbrush grows, sheds leaves, becomes the nesting grounds for new creatures. All is subject to change - nothing remains the same. Yet, the path still leads to the summit - changed as it might be from one ascent to another - it is still an ascent!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute— you’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you. (Psalm 139:7-12 MSG)

God is faithful as we climb the path - this is the one 'constant' in the path. The other changes we experience are indeed eye-catching and sometimes even a little startling. Nothing changes without God taking notice and preparing for our safe travel over that pathway, my friends. Over every mountain there is a path - what is that path for you today, my friend? Is it one that will bring you the greatest of delight in the journey, or will the ascent by harder than you might have imagined? I have taken on some paths in my years that were just way too advanced for my hiking skills. I wasn't prepared with the right shoes, didn't have a walking stick to help me maintain balance, and simply was too out of shape to really have attempted them. I didn't quit though - I just persevered because the view from the top was going to be worth it all! There are times we may feel inadequate for the path we are upon, but remember this - God has prepared a place for us to stand at the top, to take it all in, and to marvel at the greatness of his hand in helping us make it to that place!

Just a short reminder to us today as we are making new transitions, finding ourselves on paths that are yet unexplored in our lives, and re-traveling some that have been traveled so many times the path is worn smooth. We aren't going to appreciate the journey with each step - it is the accumulated steps that help us to appreciate the journey - for these are what have helped us be set high, enjoying the vantage point, and seeing the journey's path in total! Just sayin!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Let the past launch you into the future!

"One faces the future with one's past." Pearl S. Buck

The other day the hospice nurse was chatting with mom. They were talking about how mom feels like she is sometimes a burden - something I think most parents feel when they become a little more dependent upon their children for their daily needs. As they chatted, the nurse kindly reminded mom that I appeared to be very happy doing what it takes to keep her safe and well-cared for, then she said that maybe it was my turn to repay mom for the many times I may have been a handful for her in my younger days. While she didn't know me as a kid, she certainly had me 'pegged'! I did my share of things that put mom and dad through heartache and the simple acts I perform today to keep mom safe and well are nothing compared to those times! We all have those 'tales from the past' we'd rather like to keep hidden from view - things we are neither proud of, nor very appealing to onlookers. Yet, they are the very things that actually can launch us into greater things in our present and into our future!

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:21-24 MSG)

This mess we get ourselves into isn't a hole we cannot escape - it is a launching pad for us into realms of grace when God does the launching! Realms of grace that we come to fully know as we are fully known and loved by him each and everyday. He fully knows us - like no other can. His grace is able to help us face our future, not based upon our past reputation and performance, but on his present ample influx of grace in our lives. It is an exchanged life - the past doesn't hold us down when it is placed in his hands - it launches us into new heights of grace-filled living.

I often go back to this very passage from Romans to re-read it - not because I don't believe it - but because I sometimes need reminders that grace HAS DONE the work in my life (and yours). The work is done - the past is just that - and the future is what I need to focus on today (not the past bumblings of my life). The impossible has happened - what I could not do for myself - getting past my past - has happened by sheer and utter grace. While I don't always forget I have a past, I no longer dwell upon it as the present reality of who I am today! I am a new creation (and so are you) - as such, we don't act upon the past, but use it as a catapult to push us into the newness of our present grace-filled life!

It was Pearl Buck who reminded us: "Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members." It isn't my past guilt that 'makes me' do the things I do for mom, but my present love of her made deeper and deeper with each passing year. In fact, the tasks may be hard at times and even become a little taxing on both strength and stamina, but they are rewarded by the even greater return of her love. We aren't bound by our past, but we can allow the experiences of our past to build into our lives a great love for the things we come to value as 'the best' in life! The moments mom poured love into my life when I was far from deserving of her love and grace only pointed out to me how God loves each of us. Grace returned for actions far from deserving of grace! That is how God operates  --  and he wants us each to realize he loved us in our 'past', and continues to love us in our present, preparing to love us in an ever-deepening manner into our future! Just sayin!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The unforced rhythm of grace

There are lots of invitations that come our way. We get invited to birthday parties, sometimes celebrating huge milestones in one's life. We receive invitations to social events such as the grand opening of an art gallery, new theater production, or movie premiers. We are encouraged to attend small events that honor someone who has done a great job, or larger ones that celebrate their heroic efforts. Invitations some in all shapes and sizes, for small and big events, celebrating great and small achievements. One invitation rises above all the rest - the one that invites us to recover our lives.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28 MSG
I get tired at times, almost 'over-tired', making it harder to get any rest for my weary body and worn out 'thinker'. I have a hard time 'shutting down' when I have been running at break-neck speed all the day long. I have accomplished much, but there is much more I'd like to accomplish, making it hard for me to actually 'turn off' the day. I can honestly say there have also been times when I am just plain 'worn out' and even 'burned out'. The truth is that all of us reach this point from time to time, but it is what we do at those times that matters. If we continue to drive, drive, drive - we wear out - especially when that 'driving' relates to us trying to 'fix ourselves' in some respect. The 'fixing' isn't all that easy sometimes and we are best to leave it to someone who actually knows how to do the fix right!
Jesus makes an invitation to us that we really should consider - walk with him, work with him, and watch how he 'fixes' lives - ours included! There is no better invitation we could receive, but look at the posture we must assume to fully appreciate all that is included in that invitation. The first this is to get away with him if we want to recover our life - we have to accept the invite. Next, we have to actually take steps with him - walk with him. We cannot move toward an invitation without taking action upon that invitation. We need to get up out of the mully-grubs we find ourselves in and just take some steps in the right direction - toward him. When we do, we find we begin to shed some of the stuff that has been weighing us down, keeping us right there in the thick of the mully-grubs!
Then if that is not enough, Jesus reminds us there will be a little 'labor' in the pursuit. We must work with him - we have to do what it is we can do and then he will come alongside to do the rest. I cannot say this enough - it isn't us 'fixing' ourselves - but we all are asked to take certain steps that are within our 'power' or 'ability' to do. One such action might be to reconcile a relationship by taking the first steps toward reconciliation - actually reaching out to the one we have been at odds with. It might not seem like much, but that little step of 'labor' is all he asks to begin to set in motion big things within our lives - big things that lead to restoration and renewal on so many fronts.
As we begin to walk with him and work with him, it will become apparent how the 'unforced rhythms of grace' actually begin to play out in our lives. I like how Jesus describes grace as an 'unforced rhythm' - reminding us that grace is something given freely on his part and it is 'rhythmic' in nature - repeating the paths of renewal until full and total renewal has occurred within each of us. The rhythmic and unforced passage of grace over and over those worn areas of our lives can actually 'put back' more than what was originally lost - sometimes without us even realizing it has! Just sayin!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Let's take a stand here!

Take a stand - what do those words really mean? To take a stand, one must have some form of footing upon which they will plant their feet - in the most literal sense. To take a stand may also infer we have 'grounds' for that which we are placing our trust in - such as having insurance on our savings account. We take a lot of stands in life - some very official and important, while others are more casual and kind of just spur-of-the-moment. In the most important category comes this heart determination to be on the Lord's side in all matters within our lives. There are certain lifestyle characteristics of one who has determined to stand with the Lord - unyielding in their commitment or allegiance. It has been said that if we don't stand for something, we will stand for nothing - pointing us to the important fact that what we "stand for" both determines our course and leaves a legacy for those that follow.

My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the LORD. (Psalm 26:12)

As we take this 'stand', we begin by asking God to test us and try us - examining our heart and our mind in all aspects. The desire to be tested by God is not something for the weak, though! It is saying we are not looking for the judgment of men here - we are not seeing if we measure up to some standard arbitrarily declared to be the "standard" we are to follow. We are asking God to hold up HIS standard for us to plainly view and then to make a comparison between our life and that holy standard. When we have that mindset and heart determination, we live above the various judgments of men - let them think what they want, God's judgment is all that matters in our life - the only thing that will guide what we take a stand for in our lives.

There is something powerful that happens when we give God permission to put us "on trial". There is a desire to have a formal examination of lives. It implies that there will be both a testing of the quality of the commitment, but also a determination of the value of the thing being examined. The value is something that is assigned after the examination is complete - like when we assign a "value" to a piece of property after it has been appraised. We are really asking God to affirm our usefulness in his hands - that God has a specific place and use for us. We can only ask for this type of examination once we have truly established our stand - once we have "trusted in the Lord without wavering". God is looking for the characteristic within each of us of being faithful. Our faithfulness is made easier because we have made God the center of our focus.We need both a heart and a mind that is free of vacillation in the choice to serve God - no hesitation in commitment, no second-guessing the journey.

There is great importance in living dependent on the Word of God - in taking a stand upon the promises contained within those pages. It is more than a familiarity with the Word of God that we need - it is an awareness of the Word of God and an adherence to what it says. When we have truth exposed, we have two choices - embrace it or reject it. A man or woman of God has made the choice to embrace it, no matter the cost. When we are "adhering" to the Word, we are first remaining loyal to the study of the Word. Then we are learning obedience to it - allowing it to be fused to our heart. Our starting point is in making the commitment - that leads to the willingness to be put on trial (examined). What gives us the ability to "pass the exam" is two-fold: We have trusted God for our right-standing with him, and we have opened ourselves to the adherence to all he asks us to do. Just standin!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Now, where'd that get to...it was just here!

There are times when what I need is right there in front of me, but for some strange reason, I just don't see it. I was working in the shop the other day, using a small level to ensure some shelves were put up squarely. The first one up, I was ready to install the second. Wouldn't you know it - that level was nowhere to be found! It was right there a moment ago, but at the moment I needed it, it had vanished! The sad truth is that it was right there in front of me, just slightly hidden by something I had placed half over it! While new life in Christ is available to all, we must still choose to avail ourselves of what is right in front of us. God stands ready to both give us his gift of grace and to forgive us in his mercy. There have been lots of periods in our growth as a society when that message came through loud and clear. I am not so sure that God's message of salvation is as clear, or as loud as it once was - it has been drowned out by the many other messages we hear today. It has been obscured a little by other things that seem to cover over that message of hope.

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)

The truth we need to hear clearly is that our new life in Christ starts right now - it is always fresh and new. There is nothing stagnant about serving Christ - it is a living message, constantly filled with the discovery of truth. God's message may not be the the loudest, but it is the most consistent one, even in times when it seems the 'other messages' we are hearing are louder. There are all kinds of other messages that promise good things, but they soon fall short of fulfillment because they are not backed with anything of enduring character. Just like that level, the truth can get obscured by some other messages being proclaimed a little louder, but none will do the job of the message of truth! Nothing would substitute for the level when I needed it. I have a few others in the shop, so to have that one obscured was inconvenient, but it wasn't a total loss at that moment. The message of Christ is without substitute, though. There are no other 'interchangeable' messages or truths that will do what his message of hope will!

God not only provides the way or means to salvation (restoration with himself and full forgiveness of our sins), but he shows us how to live this life out in our daily walk. We are not left to figure this "new life" out all on our own. We have his assistance each step of the way - to make sense of our choices in a world that often offers choices that are contrary to what is best for us. I am a novice woodworker right now, so every project I begin requires a bit more research than others may engage in who have been at it a little longer. I have to study how the cuts are made, how the joinery is accomplished, what bits to use with the pilot holes, and even which finish is appropriate for the task at hand. There are lots of resources I can turn to with my learning needs for woodworking, but only one resource that fills my heart to overflowing, restores my soul, and fills me with true joy. That resource is Christ and his grace - nothing else guides us quite the same, nor accomplishes the task required within us quite as well.

God's goal is that we become less "self-absorbed" and more Christ-centered. As we turn our backs on those things that indulge our lusts, we are being shown how to find fulfillment in having Christ at the center of our choices. Today's blessings are just a "whetting of our appetites" for what really lies ahead for every follower of Christ. Notice, this "new life" experience, the blessings that come with it, and the hope for what lies ahead are not simply for those that "believe" in Christ. They are for those that "follow" Christ. Scripture tells us that many "believe" - even the devil! It is something else to follow. I can read a whole lot of directions on how to complete the project in the shop, but if I fail to follow them what is produced is not going to work out that well! Believing in Christ is simply having the confidence that he exists, that he is reliable. Beliefs are something we may have confidence in, yet they may not fully direct the course of our actions. When we are followers of Christ, we move into a place of accepting his leadership over our lives - we align our goals with his, our desires are submitted to his planning, etc. Believing is having understanding - following is putting into action what it is that we believe.

We are to turn our backs on a godless life and take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This is never done by simply believing in all the right stuff. It is only "lived out" in the exchanging of one set of goals (our self-indulgent ones) for another set of goals (those with Christ at the center). Beliefs impact our actions, but they are not actions themselves. Therefore, we need to take what we have come to believe about Christ and put his leadership into practice in our lives. When we do, we begin to live the "exchanged life". If you are a believer in Christ - that is the beginning point. Your next step is to become a follower of Christ - allowing his authority and leadership to direct the course of your steps each and every day. It is time to put into practice what you have come to believe! Just sayin!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Have you asked him?

As with most 'baby Christians', I was one of those who actually believed that everything would come out all right - nothing bad would ever happen to good people because God makes everything work together for their good. Only good things are gonna happen to Christians, right? Wrong! It came as a surprise to me that bad things still happen to good people! What I failed to recognize is that God often takes us through periods of "adjustment" in order for his vision to be accomplished within us. He sometimes has to "enlarge" us enough to see what it is that he intends for us. The 'bad' isn't really meant to hurt us, but to make us see a new aspect of his keeping touch, understand a little more about his healing hands, and come to a place where we follow him no matter how the circumstances attempt to dictate otherwise.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves...and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. (Romans 8:26-28)

One of the key characteristics of a yielded life is that of being "adjustable". That doesn't mean that we just bow to whatever new things come along. It means that God is always going to be expanding our vision - of who he is, what he has done in our lives, and how he wants to use us to accomplish his mission on this earth. In that "enlarging" or "expanding" process, he is increasing our faith - and opening our comprehension. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of these times of 'not so good stuff' is the expansion of our faith - in areas we didn't even realize we weren't all that trusting of him!
Commitment and being yielded is a matter of being "governed" by something or someone. God has a purpose in governing our lives - so he works to enlarge our understanding of that purpose over and over until we come into a place where there is a fullness of faith and commitment to that specific purpose. We often only want to see God's purpose for our lives through eyes that focus on what that will accomplish for us (how it will bless our lives). God's intention in enlarging our faith is that we will see the blessing it will afford others, not just ourselves.

We often forget that we are called to be "channels" of God's blessing - we get caught up in the blessing and forget that it is meant to be shared - good stuff isn't to be hoarded. In scripture, Christians are referred to with many "titles" - priests, prophets, kings, kids, etc. Priests had a responsibility to be spiritual leaders - so when God calls us priests, he is asking us to lead others into spiritual insight and growth. Prophets spoke forth the message they were given - so we're to speak forth the message God gives us. Kings had authority to govern and rule - we are given authority as members of his kingdom to rule and reign. Kids had the right of family relationship - we have been given the access of a member of his family (intimately knowledge of God and his love). We are given access to all God's blessings, authority, grace and mercy - not to hold these things close and enjoy them for our own benefit, but to become channels of these to others. When we become less occupied with how a blessing from God affects us and open up to how he wants to use that blessing to affect others, we are beginning to have our vision enlarged. God is in the many and varied "details" of our lives - he focuses on what we often overlook. His Spirit is faithful to deal with the details, so nothing is overlooked. That is how everything is worked for good in our lives.

The Spirit of God is at work within us doing two things: 1) Exposing us to the very things that God is after in our lives (our dedication, our trust, our very hearts); and 2) Revealing to us the methods he uses to accomplish those things (the test or trial, the time of waiting). It is his purpose in our lives to do the necessary "adjustment" of our ways of thinking (how we process what we are going through) so that we interpret the methods God is using as the very thing that will work all things for good in our lives. The next time you are going through a rough spot in your life, you might want to take some time to ask God how he is enlarging you through what you are experiencing. God delights in showing you what he is doing - he often just is waiting for you to ask! Just sayin!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Never without an outcome

Conspiracy is not something most of us would consider ourselves as being part of on most days - it is something we'd like to say applies to those spy movies on the big screen. We probably think of that as something from a James Bond movie - action packed, adventure galore, and intrigue at every turn. If we really look, we will probably identify that there are elements of "conspiracy" pretty commonly occurring in our lives almost everyday. Yup, you and I are 'conspirators' of some sort!

Don't bad-mouth each other, friends. It's God's Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You're supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others? (James 4:11-12)  Isn't it obvious that conspirators lose out, while the thoughtful win love and trust? (Proverbs 14:22)

To conspire means that we agree secretly to do something wrong, inaccurate, or under-handed. It can be an agreement of just one person, or many people all working together to create that 'under-handed' plan. Probably the most common word we use to describe 'conspiring' is "plotting" - to secretly plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose (especially ones that are hostile or evil in their purposes). Now, think that one through - if we spend time and emotional energy "plotting" how to respond to another, make another look bad, etc., we'd be "conspiring" against them.

Okay, so we don't find ourselves actively doing this kind of "conspiracy" work all the time, but I bet we find that we do it more than we'd like to admit. Even finding ways to "bad-mouth" each other is a form of conspiracy. We are meddling in things that are dangerous to our soul and the integrity of another. Conspiracy is at the base of all the actions 'meddling' in matters we would be best to leave undone! Our attempts to point out the faults of others in our secret enclaves of others who might "join in" the conspiracy is simply our way of taking the focus off of ourselves and keeping it on others. It is easy to point out the faults of another and avoid ever focusing on our own. I want us to consider this - a spotlight is quite bright. Even when it is focused on another, there is some "illumination" that escapes the object of its focus. It is quite possible that the illuminating effect of our criticisms of another may expose the similar tendencies in us!

The most important thing we need to remember is the outcome of our words - they are NEVER without an outcome. When we engage in demeaning, inconsiderate talk about another, we are actually "pulling out our cans of paint" just like a person set on "leaving their mark" does when they set out to write graffiti on the wall. We "leave our mark" by the words we speak. This type of communication leaves a trail of "relational" graffiti - repulsive, unwelcome reminders of another's faults, wrong actions, or conduct. Just like graffiti on a wall along the busy streets of a city, our "secret words" leave constant reminders of the way we feel about another. Conspirators lose out - the thoughtful win love and trust. Why? Simply put, the thoughtful have no "spray cans of paint"! They have learned that there is no need to advertise the conduct of another - God knows it and he is the one who will judge it. The destiny of each person is in his hands. If we have never thought of our "careless speech" about another's faults as "graffiti", maybe it is time that we do. We would not want our faults displayed for all to see - that other person doesn't either! Just sayin!