Thursday, February 21, 2019

Making the right contact

An introduction goes a long way in the business world, doesn't it? Make that right contact and the doors will open to new opportunities and greater potential for your career. The moment the contact is made, the things set in motion may not be fully known, but the momentum has begun. My dad was a great one at making contacts in the business world. He could connect with people like no other - all with what appeared to be the greatest of ease. He was just comfortable in his own skin and he let others be comfortable in theirs! There is one connection we all can make that helps us beyond measure - it is the contact we make with the one and only Son of God. Without that contact, the doors we need opened won't be opened!

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. John 3:16 MSG

A whole and lasting life is opened when we make that contact, but I wonder if we recognize the full potential of that life? Just as with that business contact we might make, we probably have not real idea of just how far we will go, or how great that influence will be in our lives. We might have a niggling of an idea - that it will the 'best move ever' for us - but do we really recognize all that is accomplished by saying "yes" to Jesus - by making that contact? Not likely. Our minds are probably not able to handle it! We just cannot contain the goodness prepared for those who will take that first step into relationship with him.

I noted that my dad had a way of allowing people to be comfortable in their own skin. There was just a way he had about him of setting you at ease. I remember always feeling so free to be just who I was with my dad. There was no need for pretense - he gave me room to be just who I was. Our heavenly Father isn't any different. He is quite willing to allow us to be just who we are - no pretense, no pointing an accusing finger, no disapproving eye. He loves us just as we are - complete with all those imperfections we might refer to as our 'character' - or those things that really make us 'characters'!

Trust is a hard thing, but when a door has been opened for us, do we see it as an opportunity we don't want to miss out on, or as something to be feared. Many times we see an open door and just blindly walk in. I have explored little shops housed within old houses, filled with all manner of antiques and things from yesteryear. I might just find that one rooms leads to the next and then the next and the next. There have been times when I don't see the sign for 'employees only' beyond a certain point - all because there was an open door. I get so caught up in the exploration and I miss the sign.

There are times when we go through open doors quite freely, in an almost 'blind trust', while we resist these open doors at others. God opens doors for us - asking us to pass through those doors with something more than 'blind trust'. He asks for a 'loving trust'. That was the kind of trust I knew with my dad - a loving trust - the kind that made me free to be exactly who I was when I was around him. I didn't have to impress him - he already loved me! God already loves us and he encourages us to be just who we are around him. He doesn't just invite us through an open door - he has prepared all manner of goodness beyond that open door - and it is specifically for us! We enter in by making the right contact - saying "yes" to Jesus. Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Let him at it!

As a parent, we all have those moments when we are less than patient with our children. As caregivers to the elderly, we can experience those similar moments. Regardless of our 'age' in Jesus, he never seems to become impatient with us. God is immensely patient with his children. He gives us space - to make our own choices. He gives us time - to come to our own conclusions. He gives us these things because he knows that in order to have our heart, he must have it yielded willingly - we must 'want to' yield our hearts to him. God is infinitely patient in his waiting for us to turn from our sin - but he will not wait forever. Sometimes, he gives us gentle, but quite firm nudges to cause us to see our sin. When he does, remember that it is out of his immense love for us that he has done so.

You didn't think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. (Romans 2:3-4)

We often want to take the "focus" off of us by putting it on someone else - pointing out their faults. It is like we believe that by pointing out the other person's faults, no one will ever see ours, including God! Silly us! In fact, look at what another criticizes in another on a frequent basis and you will usually have a good idea of what the one doing the criticizing is struggling with, too! That includes me! It is not a subtle walk with God that we are called to live out. It is a "radical" life-change. These three words say it all! Radical means getting at the root of things. This word carries the idea of getting at the fundamental stuff - what's really at the core of our being. 

When God goes for the "root", he is expecting something to be extremely different in the end. The "root" of something gives it both the stability and the system for being nurtured. If the "root" is wrong - the fruit will be, as well. Life really focuses us on looking at what is produced. This word carries the idea of growth - the ability to adapt when moved upon by a force greater than ourselves. God focuses on the root because he hopes to affect the fruit. He is concerned with our growth. His desire is that we no longer "adapt" to the world around us, but that we "adapt" to his will, his direction, and his love for us. In so doing, he really is "transplanting" us from infertile, diseased soil into the nutrient rich soil of his grace. There is no better place to take root.

Change signifies us moving (sometimes at a snail's pace) from what we were to what we would become if we were left to our own devices. God is not as concerned about what we have the "ability" to do as in helping us realize that ability in him. His greatest goal is to make our "form" or "nature" just like his son's. To do this, he removes the covering we place over our sin in an attempt to hide it from him and others. In so doing, the exposure allows him to transform what has been hidden into something that can actually be a display of his grace. So, it is to this radical life-change that God calls us. We can probably all agree, it is easier to cover up our sin than it is to face it - but no amount of cover-up will change what is produced in the end. The "cover-up" needs to be over in our lives! It is time to allow the Lord to see the "true" us! He has something divine he desires to produce...so let him at it! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What goes in...

We can 'swallow' things both in the literal sense and in a figurative manner. Swallow your mashed potatoes and meatloaf at dinner and you have eaten dinner. Swallow a really bad scheme and you have potentially set out on a path you will come to regret. What goes into a man or woman is as important as what comes out! When the right stuff goes in - the right stuff is more likely to come out! So many times we focus more on what "goes into" the body and completely miss the importance of what it is that "comes out" of that same man or woman in the form of action, attitude, and exemplified values. There was this day when the disciples were being criticized for not "washing" prior to partaking of their meal. Trust me, this was not based upon a real concern that the disciples practiced good hand-hygiene to reduce the spread of micro-organisms! It was a "custom", plain and simple, that they were 'bypassing' - and that drew the attention of the religious leaders who were zealous about keeping every letter of the Law.

"Listen now, all of you— take this to heart. It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it's what you vomit—that's the real pollution. It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution."
(Mark 7:14-15; 20-23)

In one sense, we can be too overly focused on what it is that we "allow" into our physical bodies (not to say that we shouldn't be conscientious to take in good stuff). On the other hand, we can be too nonchalant about our physical intake, bringing unwanted things like obesity, clogged arteries, and diabetes into our lives. While focusing on what "goes into" our physical bodies is not exactly a bad thing - it is not the primary focus Jesus is concerned with here. His concern is in what we allow into our lives that will ultimately "pollute" everything that comes out of our lives. The list of "outward" manifestations of things that are hidden in the recesses of a man's mind, or heart, is what he is concerned with. These are directly impacted by what we allow to be the repeated focus of our thoughts, or the continual intake of damaging things through our physical senses like sight or sound.

As we examine the list of "outward" manifestations of what is "inwardly" embraced, it easy to see why he is so concerned with our "intake". Obscenities - morally offensive, disgusting, and repulsive communication. Lusts - intense and uncontrolled desires of all types that demand fulfillment and suck up our focus in life. Thefts - the taking of what we have no right to on our own. Murders - the "ending of life" may not be literal, but even the desire to "do away" with another is a crime in Jesus' book. Adulteries - the uncontrolled urge to take what belongs to another. Greed - the continual desire for more and the competition to always outdo the other guy. Depravity - evil, corrupt, totally consumed by what pleases self and demeans another. Deceptive dealings - fraudulent, misleading, misguided actions. Carousing - loose living. Mean looks and slander - wrong conduct toward another that damages or demeans another's reputation or self-image. Arrogance - the incessant desire to be the best and to be noticed for it. Foolishness - you could name any number of things here!

The question we need to ask is simple: What is it that is "going into" our lives that could "come out" in a manner that is not honoring of others or God, or that will damage the image of what others might believe about God as a result of our behavior or actions? We need to be cognizant of the "outflow" of our lives. We can only do that by being conscious of the "inflow". What goes in is what comes out! Count on it! Just sayin!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Me? Not me!

If you are like me in the slightest, you may have found yourself on one occasion or another telling God why you aren't the most qualified for whatever it is he is asking you to do. You and I are not that dissimilar when it comes to occasionally making excuses for what we see to be a list of 'impossibilities' in our character when faced with what appears to be insurmountable odds or things we just find hard to do. I am an introvert by nature, so whoever thought I'd fill a pulpit, or stand in front of a classroom teaching? From the very first time, there was this little argument going on between God and I - you know, the one that goes something like: "Me?" "You couldn't mean me!" "I don't know the slightest about..."  Yup, that's the one. The one where we admit we know very little and possess even less in the way of ever accomplishing whatever it is that God wants to do with us. Maybe you have also been like me, hearing quite clearly from him that all of 'my' qualifications aren't the ones he is looking for!

"Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment..." Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits. (Mark 6:8-9; 12-13)

The disciples are being sent out in pairs to begin to reach out to those in need. Their goal is to preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand and to heal the sick - setting the captive free. Before they go, Jesus takes a moment to give them their "marching orders". The first thing he focuses on is that very quickly displayed human tendency to tell God we don't have what we need to accomplish what it is that he is asking us to do. Jesus tells them not to be concerned about the "equipment" to perform the tasks ahead - letting them know in no uncertain terms that THEY are the equipment God needs and plans to use. It matters not what their 'pedigree' or 'degree' - he chooses to use the foolish to confound the wise, the simple to reveal the amazing, and the sinner to reveal the means to salvation.

This is an important message for us to receive - WE are the equipment God intends to use. It is not the fancy church buildings, the elaborately designed expensive outreaches to the community, or the mega-bucks sound system we might invest in so the message is heard. It is, and has always been, we HUMAN BEINGS that God uses as instruments to touch other HUMAN BEINGS. God knows our tendency to make excuses for what we view as a "lack" of ability on our parts - citing reason after reason for us not being able to reach out with the message of hope to those in need. Rather than allow us to focus on those excuses, he reminds us clearly - wherever he is, there is no thing lacking!

God has no other plan. We are his one and only plan. If we don't step up to the plan he has devised, the message is not going out as he intended - each of us with our unique ability to touch our own unique peer group. Yes, the rocks could cry out, but honestly, how many would rather hear the message from us? You know what it sound like when an orchestra of instruments like the oboe, violin, cymbals, french horns, flutes, etc., all play in unison. It is a thing of beauty - the unity of sound (each unique in its own way) bring forth a beautiful result. The oboe alone is not very graceful, nor is the cymbal, but put all together and playing in just the right timing, now that is a thing of beauty. That is what God has in mind for us - each "playing his/her own part" - each displaying the beauty God has place in each of us.

They went as he commanded. They did what he commanded. Amazingly, his Spirit was right there, backing up everything they were doing - just as he had said. The simple fact of truth here is that we step out in obedience, God is right alongside to back up each one of us, and he doesn't focus on what we don't have - he focuses on what it is we do have - HIM. We never stand alone - never need to worry about the message we preach. They preached with joyful urgency. Why? Simply because they knew they had a message of hope - they had a message of grace. They had experienced first-hand that God's presence in their lives made their life radically different. That is what we have the ability to share - the radical life change of a life touched by the grace of God. There ought to be an urgency burning within each of us to share what it is that God has done in us. The grace of God is best embraced when the results can be demonstrated - and nothing demonstrates grace better than a changed life!

What were the results of their obedience? The Spirit of God intervened. The communities they touched were changed for the glory of God. Lives were impacted with the grace of God - healing and transforming lives. There is always an impact when God's kids step out in obedience - using what he gives and not limited by what they 'don't have'. It is impossible for things to remain the same. Lives will be changed. YOU are his instruments. Each of us begins to realize our true calling when we yield to the skilled direction of our Lord and Master. Just sayin!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Constructed or Created?

Charles Dickens reminds us: "The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists." The one creating is able to see long before the created comes into existence - there is much thought as to how the end result will be formed, but more thought goes into how much the object is loved. If that be the case, just imagine how much thought goes into the love extended our way each and every day by a loving and gracious Creator!

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. (Psalm 139:13-16 NLT)

If you have ever complained about the complexity of your life, you might want to think again - the very nature of that complexity bespeaks a Creator and that Creator formed you in love. You and I were 'knit together' - not by accident - by purposeful and intent creative power. Even in the creation process, God took such good care to form us - long before we were known to man, we were the object of his great care. From the beginning of our time, and even before it really, God had a plan for our lives - a plan unique to each of us.

Man might try to construct a life - directing the studies one will pursue and even the skills we will acquire. Yet, the very essence of who and what we are goes much deeper than any course of study or acquired skill - it goes to the essence of who we are created to be - the workmanship of the Great Creator. As such, God makes no accidents. We are his craftsmanship - as such, we are unique. A craftsman makes no two alike - he creates each with a unique flare - similar though we may be, each of us is somehow expressive of the uniqueness of God's character in somewhat of a different manner.

We aren't called to all be the same - we are called to be what we were created to be. While it is good to have common interests and goals, we don't all have the same way of seeing things, of interpreting life. We might all have brain matter, but it processes at different speeds, some of us using more of our life hemisphere and other our right. The left may make our thoughts more logical and linear, but the right may make them more colorful and holistic. One without the other leaves us 'bent' on seeing the world only as our thoughts can interpret it. 

Why did God make some to be more right-sided thinkers and others more left-sided thinkers? Maybe it was so we'd come to see what others see - and take that interpretation of life not so much as 'uniquely theirs' as it could be uniquely God's! Maybe he gave us such span of thought so we'd share about him - how he has created us and how his unique character is expressed in each of us. If that be so, then we'd do well to consider the work of creation he has done, respecting it and upholding the beauty of all of it! Just sayin!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

But...you weren't being nice!

We probably all know how easy it is to be nice to nice people, but tell us to be nice to someone who isn't being nice back and we just wanna throttle both of you! The idea of being nice to someone who isn't being nice is like fingernails on a chalkboard - it gets our dander up and we just wanna scream! The idea of loving our neighbor isn't all that hard - but ask us to spend the 'energies' of prayer on our enemy and we might just think that is the biggest waste of our time. After all, can a leopard change his stripes? Our enemy will always be our enemy - right? They will always act as foolishly as they have been - right? Things aren't going to change - or are they? Maybe the change might not happen with them, but with us!

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that." Matthew 5:43-45 MSG

Some would propose there is not end to the 'hard stuff' God asks us to do in the course of our lifetime. This idea of praying for our enemy ranks up there as one of the harder ones, doesn't it? After all, they earned the title of 'enemy' for some reason - there was some action, attitude, or animosity shared that set things on edge between the two of us. We don't want to encourage them, so why would we respond with any kindness toward them? Wouldn't that just enrage them and make them behave toward us in an even more 'enemy-like' manner? Maybe so, but in turn, God asks us to respond with even more energies of prayer. Perhaps that single action is not so much for our enemy as it is for us - because God doesn't want us to form any sense of resentment and bitterness toward them!

Resentment and bitterness is all about us - although we may want to blame the other guy for it existing, it is entirely our own doing. Bitterness and resentment are rooted in our own reaction to our enemy - not necessarily in the actions of our enemy. We form anger, respond in unkind ways, and in time, we come to 'hate' what the other person stands for or who they are as a person. We don't let that 'hatred' end with them, though. In time, we begin to 'hate' what has become of us in our attitude toward them and others like them. We are angry and resentful - and that spills over - in time, affecting other relationships that should not have been affected. 

A 'hard time' is given - what is your response? Isn't it based on where you are at that moment? If you are well-rested and kind of in a 'good mood', aren't you a little more likely to let it just pass? If you are tired and kind of grumpy because of all the effort you have put into your day, aren't you less likely to let it pass - probably! You can see how our response could be very 'situational' - it depends on us a great deal. Maybe this is why Jesus emphasizes US taking the issue to God in prayer - with some energies exerted in prayer. The 'situation' may just change a little when we get our attitude right and our heart renewed - and there is no better place to do that than in times of prayerful consideration before God.

I know I begin to prayer for my enemy by complaining a whole lot about him or her. This is only natural, after all, and God doesn't mind me getting things out into the open with him. He respects that I need that time to 'deflect' a little by telling him why I am angry with the individual. But...rest assured, he isn't going to let me 'deflect' very long. Jesus is going to let the tides of those prayers change a little, bouncing those words of complaint right back onto my hearing ears. In rather short order, he shows ME just where I need the greatest amount of adjustment in the situation. What began as a complaint AGAINST my enemy becomes an acknowledgement of MY need for help to be the light of Jesus TOWARD my enemy. 

It may be that we feel like we aren't good enough to respond this way, but let me just begin by saying we all begin somewhere. For some of us, it will be in bringing our complaints to God, instead of sharing those with another who doesn't need to hear all about our circumstances with that individual. To others, it may come when we stop complaining just long enough to consider the other person's own naivety in the situation. Regardless of what is revealed to us in prayer, it begins by us beginning to talk - not so much to others or even our enemy - but to God about our enemy. Amazingly, we may find the conversation begins to focus not so much on the enemy as it does on our response toward our enemy. In short order, God shows us how to responds in kindness, even when others aren't being kind toward us. Just sayin! 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Seeds - we need two types

What kind of seeds do you have planted? It is just about the time of year when folks begin to start their seedlings under grow lights in some protected environment, readying the starter plants for the spring planting season. Various vegetables and herbs will begin their growth - seeds sprouting under the watchful care of those who desire those gardens to flourish this coming growing season. The truth of the matter is that the gardener does not just plant any old type of seed - he plants corn seeds if he wants corn, eggplant if he desires that growth, and flower seeds if he wants to adorn the garden with some manner of color to attract the pollinating insects. It would be insane to think he could just plant one type of seed and expect all kinds of harvest of different produce! His harvest will depend on the seeds - not just that something was planted!

Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God’s people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil. (Psalm 97:11)

Light seeds and joy seeds - two types of seeds that produce a little bit of a different harvest in the heart and soul soil of each of us. I am a little bit more concerned with the light seed first - because when the soul has been cultivated with the right seed, the heart will be receptive to the seeds of joy that soon get cultivated deep within your heart. Light seeds might just be likened to the seeds that produce the types of growth that yield a harvest of fruit - like the gardener's planting of the corn and eggplant seeds. The joy seeds are maybe just a little bit more like the flower seeds he plants. One produces things that change us from the inside out. The other bring what is on the inside and put it on beautiful display for others to see.

The soul isn't always the most receptive of soil, though. If you have ever tried to grow much in this desert soil in Arizona, you will realize quickly that the alkaline content of the soil limits the growth. There is much work that must be done to neutralize and bring a balance to the soil so it will produce. Much in the same way, the soul soil within our lives needs a lot of cultivating in order to be readied to receive the light seed. There are stones to be removed and soil to be turned so it is can absorb the nutrients that will be added. The nutrients added, it must be watered and maintained. The soil is not receptive to the seed until it is readied. The soul is not receptive to light until it has realized the darkness cannot produce the goodness it desires!

There is something I have realized about the 'light seed' God plants. It doesn't take much 'soul soil' to allow it to begin to grow. The smallest amount of soul soil can begin to allow the growth of the light. Once there is light seed planted, the condition of the soul soil begins to change and as it does, the soil of our soul becomes more and more receptive to receiving more and more of the light seed. We may not realize the bounty of the harvest until we begin to see the second type of seed taking root deep within our hearts, though. For the joy seed begins to permeate the ground of our hearts and as it does, we begin to give evidence of the work being done within us by the light seed. As the blooms of the flower plant begin to attract the 'pollinators', the blooms of joy begin to attract the things within our lives that will help us to grow even stronger in the goodness and grace of God. 

We need both seeds - light and joy. We need to remember they work on different soil patches within our lives - one the soul, the other the heart. Both need to be cultivated - both yield a unique harvest. One might flourish within, the other gives evidence that there is growth taking place! Just sayin!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What are you hunting now?

My brother is a hunter. He is quite skilled at the tracking of the animals he hunts. He is able to recognize signs of their coming and going. In the effort to find a good place for his blind, he can find those positions that allow him to observe unnoticed and in time, he is able to find his target. While I am not a hunter in terms of carrying a gun, tracking game, and bringing home the meat, I am a good hunter when it comes to a bargain! I like to find that 'end-cap' hideaway where bargains go to hide and then find something I can use at a greatly reduced price. There are all kinds of 'hunters' out there and all kinds of 'hunted things' to boot. I wonder if we were all to hunt for the right and good things in life just how different our culture might become?

Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself—glorious life! Proverbs 21:21 MSG

Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors are just two of the traits that exemplify the life that is 'on the hunt' for what is right and kind. There is much to be said for these two traits, but nothing that says it quite like God did when he told us these two traits mean more to him than any pursuit of religious performance on our part (Proverbs 21:3). Clean living is more than just not chewing, cussing, or running with those that do. It is a choice to allow the influence of the Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit refine our daily actions so they align with what is good and right. While this isn't always the case in our lives, the more we allow that influence to permeate our choices, the closer our actions will be to what can be termed 'clean living'. 

Justice with our neighbors can be viewed a couple of different ways. Maybe one of the most elemental ways to interpret this is just the idea of being fair with them. Fairness implies that we remove those things that create any bias or dishonesty from the relationship. In other words, we don't prejudge and we don't live secretive lives. We are transparent in our faith and we allow others to see the love of God displayed through us. Not by 'preaching' at them every chance we get, but by being good neighbors who look out for them. Pick a few weeds once in a while, or roll their trash can back up from the curb. It won't hurt you and it shows that you aren't afraid to be the kind of neighbor God wants you to be!

Our passage implies there is a purposeful movement required - we have to "go" hunting for what is right and kind. It doesn't just fall into our laps! My brother has to pack up the toy hauler, get all the gear together he will need for that week long trip, and then set out for places with limited access and that require him some effort to get into. Then he has to set up for the week, exhibit a whole lot of patience, and even be willing to tear down / move / set up again if things aren't working out where he first explores. The pursuit of good things isn't a one time deal, my friends. It is a continual process and one which requires our involvement. Sometimes I think we believe God will deliver all goodness right into our laps. The truth is that God may require us to put forth some effort to see that 'goodness' worked out in our lives! We often find what we are hunting for, but it requires the hunt. Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Nope, not going there

I once heard it said climbing a hill is a great challenge, until you recognize there is just another hill beyond that one, and another, and another, and so on. The hills just never really stop - even the flattest of places is marked by some spot that makes another a little higher or lower than the other. Hills are not 'high places' all the time. Sometimes they are our 'lowest'! Ever run across an individual that just seems contrary in all they do? There is just no pleasing them because they find fault with everything and love to quarrel over the smallest or lowest of things. There is a word for these type of individuals - fools! A fool loves to pick a fight - to find a hill and then mark out one's stand upon it. It is a mark of honor (of good character) to avoid a fight. I am not implying that we actually live in a state of existence where we go through life without ever saying a cross word or entering into constructive debate periodically. Yet, a man or woman of good character knows that insisting on a quarrel is never a sign of wisdom.

It's a mark of good character to avert quarrels, but fools love to pick fights.  (Proverbs 20:3)

It is a good thing to overlook the small things in life - the offenses that could become huge mountains upon which debates lead to wars. There is a saying I heard some time ago that has stuck with me: "Is this the hill you want to die on?" In other words, is this the "battle" of the will, or warfare of the mind that you want to engage in? "Small things" lead to the bigger battles and most damaging of forces when we allow ourselves to dwell upon them. Angry outbursts and quarrels are most often the result of not being willing to overlook an offense. God honors the one who is able to turn away from fighting and to be a peacemaker. It is probably the toughest job in the world to be a peacemaker, but one that not only honors God, but points others toward him.

Life well-lived isn't all about us not having the opportunity to quarrel, it is that we "avert" from that opportunity. To 'avert' carries both the idea of turning away before you enter into the quarrel and to prevent it before it has an opportunity to begin. This is more than the "counting to ten" thing that some may encourages us to engage in (not to say that this is bad). It is the attitude of mind and heart that shows how much you value the other individual - so much so that you don't see the hill as something to be mounted in victory, but rather as something that will come between you both if you do! When we "turn away" or "turn aside" from a quarrel, we are choosing to honor God by not engaging in actions or the sharing of words that will not represent God well.

When we prevent a quarrel, we actually are doing what God calls being a peacemaker. A peacemaker is an intermediary - one who is able to see both sides of the coin. There is an ability to not judge a situation by face value, but to see that there are always two sides to how a situation can be interpreted (each being valid in the other person's eyes). Think on that one today - your interpretation of the situation may not be that of the other individual - we each see that hill a little differently. Today, we have a choice - it is to choose wisely the hills that we are willing to die on. Quarrelsome behavior will soon wear us down, wear upon our relationships, and make us devoid of those strong supports we need in life. Choose wisely - it is better to be numbered with the wise than with the fools! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Stooping down

"Wisdom is oftentimes nearer when we stoop than when we soar." (William Woodsworth) There are moments in time where we find ourselves unable to soar, feeling like we are in our darkest days, when it is time for us to 'stoop' because we just find it impossible to rise up until we have spent a little time prostate before God. It may be one of those moments for you today, and that is okay if it is, because God isn't put off by our lowest moments. The darkest days are oftentimes the times he shows us the greatest light and our lowest moments are the ones that help launch us into times when we will once again soar.

How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word. I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted. I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God; train me in your ways of wise living. I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth; I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches. 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 119:9-16 MSG)

In the darkest moments, we find ourselves recognizing any place in our lives where we have failed to remain 'single-minded' in pursuit of the grace and goodness of God. We find where it is we falter a little in our faith - where our moments of doubt all culminate and perhaps where it is they actually began. In these moments of recognition, there is but one 'constant' - God's grace. His goodness extends into the lowest of places and meets with us there - not to condemn, but to lift up; not to point out failure, but to help us see the signs he has posted that show us the pathway into his presence once again.

God asks us to 'bank' his promises - not so much because we don't have them written down for us in scripture - but because when we need them the most we won't realize where to find them as much as if they are already safely in the vault of our hearts and minds. Our hearts and minds are to be filled with his promises - not to just 'take up space', but to help us know his goodness in any circumstance we are in. The Words of God 'mulled over' time and time again in the moments when we are able to 'soar high' are oftentimes those we will fall back upon when we are deep within the pit, stooped low and hungry for just a morsel of his truth.

You know, Jesus stooped low one day to write something in the dirt as men who claimed 'righteousness' stood in condemnation of a woman caught in the sin of adultery. He stooped down to draw the child close when arguments ensued as to who had the greatest importance. He wasn't afraid to show us where mercy is found - at his feet! Just sayin!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Don't blame God

Ever hear someone say, "Why did God let this happen to me?" It is a natural question to ask whenever something bad happens in life - especially when someone doesn't realize or understand fully the love of God and the nature of his character. We react this way because we feel that we did not "deserve" this moment of disappointment, season of loss, or depth of difficulty that we are experiencing. Yet, "bad things" sometimes come into our life, not because God did anything to orchestrate them - they are a result of us living in a fallen world. It can be related to our own ignorant zeal - hasty decisions, careless answers, silly compromises - those things that get us into the "soup" we are in each and every time. People can sometimes ruin their own lives and God gets the blame for their silliness. Rather than asking why God allowed something to happen, we might do well to examine what was in our own heart that might have allowed or fostered this result! We may just find God isn't to blame - in fact, he was right there alongside us as we were dealing with it and he still is!

Ignorant zeal is worthless; haste makes waste. People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed? Grow a wise heart—you'll do yourself a favor; keep a clear head—you'll find a good life. (Proverbs 19:2-3, 8)

A wise heart is both the result of taking advantage of learning from what God provides as direction for our lives and then determining what is beneficial in the pursuit we are about to undertake. We have a good many pursuits that are best left 'un-taken', but that we choose to take anyway. People with good sense restrain themselves. Restraint is one of the most difficult things for us to learn, though. Restraint is nothing more than having a system of "checks and balances" by which we "run through" a decision before taking any action. In the end, the results are usually better because they have been thought through with some level of 'sane' consciousness. Our thinking is often clouded by whatever is the most demanding thing in our life that day - it could be the needs around the house, the chaos at the office, or the inner turmoil of emotions that are constantly on edge. We need a "clear head" in order to process life correctly (with wisdom) and then to make the right decisions with what it is we know about the circumstances at hand.

It takes time to "clear your head" - haste does not give us the "time" we need for the decisions of the day. When we compromise the investment of time, we compromise the outcome of the decision. No wonder we find ourselves questioning how "God could let things happen" in our life - we somehow equate our foolishness with is lack of care. Indeed, we are just compounding our own foolishness when we choose this manner of thought! Just sayin!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

You hungry?

Most of us want things to turn out 'all right' in life. We strive for this outcome - not really wanting to endure any type of failure at all. Why? Failure isn't comfortable - it costs us something - we don't always regroup after it very well. Have you ever been accused of taking life too seriously - of being 'too afraid' to fail? Guess what...when someone tells you that you take life seriously, they are actually paying you a high compliment! According to scripture, taking life seriously is something that will find you a great reward, significant honor, and integrity that stands the test of time. I have been told on more than one occasion that I am way too intense about life - I am not afraid to fail, but I like to think things through before I take that first step - making others think I am just a little bit scared of the next steps. I guess that it really doesn't bother me - in fact, rather than being put off by that insight, I want to continue to have that intensity without putting people off by it - I want to be cautious when I need to be and bold when it is time for me to take those steps God asks me to take.

It pays to take life seriously; things work out when you trust in God.  (Proverbs 16:20)

Quiet reflection is often the "norm" for a believer who is given to "taking life seriously". They have those dedicated and consistent times of reflection - times to think things through and run them through the various "filters" they have been given by God's Spirit, the Word, and those times of prayerful consideration at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes people interpret this kind of "reflective" time as delaying a response, or not being concerned about what is going on in their life. It is most often that time we take to gather our thoughts, allowing God to give us the right answers to even the toughest of questions that help us make decisions in a more 'decided' fashion and with absolute certainty (faith).

God is in the business of examining motives. Whatever motivates us is the object or person that has captivated out attention and drives our actions. We are moved by that which maintains our focus the most. That's why God focuses on motives so much - getting at the heart of the matter in our daily choices means he can begin to point out to us where focus is in need of a little adjusting. He asks for serious reflection on what it is that "has our focus" - because it also has our heart. He desires to be the only one that has our heart - therefore, he examines our heart so frequently.

There is much to be gained in reflective times. In the intensity of life, there are times of refreshing that are needed. The path of the upright leads away from evil - they have learned to follow a different path. This is not because a Christian is perfect, but because their heart has been captivated by Christ, thereby affecting their focus and intent. This affected focus ends up impacting motives, and keeping us from wrong paths - those choices that would otherwise be made in the haste of the moment. Hunger drives us to the kitchen - desire drives us to prepare the meal - passion drives us to consume it for all the enjoyment we will derive from that meal. We need all three!

I wonder if we really know the value of what makes us "hungry" for more of God's grace, "desirous" of times alone in his presence, or "passionate" about giving all in service to him. This type of "intensity" doesn't happen accidentally - it is a choice made because of a hungry heart. Becoming what God desires begins with hunger. Hunger actually makes our focus more 'acute'. We may not recognize the value of our hunger until we begin to experience the desire for more of God! Just sayin!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Love on!

The other day one of my acquaintances asked if I'd be interested in taking some of the supplements they are taking, touting just how wonderful they made her feel. I am not a big "taker" of stuff, taking only the stuff I need to take to be 'in balance' with my blood pressure, cholesterol, and the like. I find that to be quite enough! We are always looking for the things in life that truly make a difference - from supplements to the latest self-help book. If we observe a product at the market that will make life easier - we buy it. If we hear of a new tool that will remove the tightest of bolts - we put our faith in it. If we come across a book that announces the quickest way to lose ten pounds - we shell out the money to learn how. Why? We want what others have come to believe is the 'greatest' answer to our current need!

If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4)

The most 'promising' of inventions and craziest of promises excites us and causes us to plunge head-long into believing they will make a huge difference in our lives. Yet, when someone begins to speak to us about the love of God, we can find ourselves shutting down. We give excuses for why God could never love us because of what we have done, why his love doesn't matter to us because we are too busy with other things right now, or how his love is too hard for us to grasp because it is given even when it is not actively sought. We miss the point of how deeply his love affects those he embraces - simply because we don't understand his unconditional love. It is possible to miss out on something not really all that crazy, and kind of overwhelmingly awesome, all because we don't understand it!

There is far more to living this life in Christ than simply trusting in him - there is an expectation that his life will have deeply impacted us in our relationships with each other. The stuff that really matters will be 'made better' because of his touch in our lives. Christ's love in our lives brings us into community with those of similar character and identity as us. God uses "community" to accomplish so much in the way of growth in our lives - exposing us to things about ourselves that we wouldn't realize otherwise. We cannot escape the "value" of being related with others of similar character - those who share the identity of Christ in their lives. Within community, we are challenged to face our real self, move beyond the mundane, and to come into new areas of growth. That is what love does - it moves us. It is not content to see us "unaffected" by life - love wants to see a response. God places us in community to give us ample chance to see the response of others to the love of God - all the while learning from their examples.

Through his love, we can learn how to agree with each other - we are not talking "world peace" here, but a true ability to view another as a valuable part of God's creation - of greater worth than any of the latest or greatest of fads, supplements, or 'offered' solutions out there. His love in our lives is meant to be continually reproduced in the lives of others. Love that is modeled is able to affect someone much deeper than love that is merely in reflected in words. Agreement is really making a way for the individuality of each person. It is being willing to accept instead of allowing people's short-comings or differences to become a stumbling block we get tripped up on all the time. We stop focusing so much on socioeconomic status, the color of our skin, or the level of education one achieved. We focus instead on what we have in common - the love of Christ.

His love is what helps us maintain proper perspective of our own worth - we are valuable citizens of his kingdom, but interestingly, we are not more highly valued than our fellow brother or sister. When his love guides our actions, we do less "fronting" of our own worth and more "elevating" of the worth of one another. This adds to the agreement within a community. When God's love is given the proper perspective in our lives, it affects the community in which we live. His love is no "fad" that promises one thing, but sadly disappoints. In fact, his promises are true, perfectly orchestrated to meet each need of our heart, and are a solid foundation for us to place our trust in. His love is no "fast fix" to life's woes, but it is a consistent "fix". Nothing is more consistent than his love - nothing conveys consistency in our lives more than his love manifested in us. So, love on! Just sayin!

Friday, February 8, 2019

In need of a plumber?

What is the cost of a leaky faucet? When those washers are worn and the thing just doesn't shut off correctly, allowing it to drip what appears to be nothing more than small drips of water - how much do those drips actually end us costing us? If you are like my dad was, not very much - because as soon as there was any sign of dripping, he break out the toolbox and go to work to replace the seals again. If you are like most other people, you might find it costs you a bit more - because you wait until it annoys you enough to do something about it! Leaky faucets eventually get our attention - especially once you see how much the leak increases with time. There is a tremendous amount of waste in what a leaky faucet can cost us in the course of time. The tongue can be like a leaky faucet at times - first with only small 'leaks', but eventually when the tongue is left 'unchecked' for too long, the 'leak' gets to be pretty annoying and causes a whole lot of damage. Imagine how much "relational waste" occurs with the leaky faucet of an uncontrolled tongue!

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense. (Proverbs 15:1-2)

It is a joy to be the recipient of gentle words - considering that they bring healing, turn away anger, and even calm emotional upset. They are the basis of relationships that are solid, growing, and heart-committed. "Drippy faucets" in relationships can be likened to those individuals who use gossip to "one-up" the other person - sharing without discretion things that are none of their business, or that should have been maintained in the confidence of relationship. "Drippy faucets" leave signs of their presence - but not exactly good ones. Have you ever seen a sink where a faucet has been dripping for a long, long time? In the sink, there is a tell-tale sign that the faucet needs repair - little rings of lime and rust building up in a fashion that "paints" a clear image of the leak. Unless that "drippy faucet" is fixed, it will continue to leave deeper and more permanent damage. If one repeated drip after another can cause significant erosion over time, imagine how much one 'misspent' word in a relationship after another and another can do within that relationship.

Good relationships require the right building materials - the right resources can yield a strong bond. As important as it is to have good building materials with which to build, it is equally important to maintain what is built - but we often don't do anything about problems until they cause us some other form of problems. It has to be costing us something within the relationship before we finally break down and fix it! Sometimes we abandon what we don't think is worth fixing - leaving behind the damage to just continue to do the erosive work set in motion by our misspent words. When we begin to lose sight of the small things, like a drippy faucet, we may not know the damage being caused until it is too late. When we see the outline of lime in the sink, we might begin to think we should direct some attention toward fixing the leak. But...when it keeps us up nights, or the drip moves into a continual stream of water that won't shut off, we finally do something about that leak!

It is equally important that we deal with the "leaky faucets" in our relationships. If we are one leaky faucets - it is time for an overhaul of our "internal plumbing" to get that leak under control. If we are being "dripped on" by one of those 'leaky faucets', it is time to call attention to the leak within the relationship and deal with it! As important as words are, we need to continually consider the power of our words. We don't want to use them indiscriminately, nor do we want to be 'naggers' (those drip, drip, drip kind of words). We want to learn to use our words wisely - to build up, not tear down; to bring near, not push away; and to encourage, not criticize. Words matter as much as the drip of that faucet - it may not seem like it at first, but that first drip may set in motion a steady stream of drips if left unchecked! Just sayin!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Use it or lose it

When I used to play team sports, I used to like basketball. The game was both a challenge in endurance and accuracy. We had to run a lot to keep up with the movement of the ball, but we also had to be very accurate in our passing of the ball to the next player, while assisting them in making their lay-up shot with absolute accuracy. As I have gotten a little older and a whole lot more out of shape than I used to be, I have neither the endurance, nor the accuracy! I have tried shooting hoops in the driveway with my grandsons, but alas...I stink! I miss more than I hit. My skill didn't leave overnight - it left because I failed to use the skill to keep it 'in shape'. My muscles have lost their tone and my eyesight requires more and more correction every couple of years. All this combined leads to a fairly 'ineffective' basketball player now. Use it or lose it - isn't that what they say? I wonder what we haven't used in a while that we might not even realize we have lost now.....

I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. Ephesians 4:2 MSG

Use it or lost it...don't just sit around on your hands. That is a challenge to us this morning - for most of us actually can associate with the 'use it or lose it' reality. We have stopped using something in our lives, only to find when we need to use it at some later point, we haven't really maintained it, so we don't have it at our disposal any longer. There are talents God has given us that have been tucked away long enough - use them! There are truths we have studied a long time ago - use them! There are relationships that have become a little 'moldy' and dry - restore them. God doesn't want us to lose what he has gifted into our lives - he wants us to use ALL of it!

When it comes to our spiritual walk - we need to remember it is a 'walk' - not an 'armchair' kind existence, but an actual 'progressive' walk that maintains our spiritual 'health' and 'vitality'. My basketball skills are gone - but could they be restored? Yes, with a whole lot of conditioning and time and effort and retraining. If I had of maintained that former conditioning, I'd not need the time, nor as much effort, or the significant amount of retraining I'd require today! In our spiritual walk, we use it, or we lose it. We keep this walk in tip-top condition by walking it out everyday. We listen, observe, adopt, and adapt to what we are instructed in times of prayer. We read, study, and commit to memory so as to know exactly how to live. We serve, sacrifice, and encourage - not because we have to, but because it brings all the truth we have heard and studied into practice in our lives.

Our passage shines light on the idea of noticing differences and quickly mending fences. Much of the drift in our lives isn't because we were paying close attention and taking immediate action - in fact, it is just the opposite. We allow drift - we make way for it by our inattention and delayed responses. When we 'dilly-dally' in taking action, we open the door for that hesitation to become a pattern. When faced with similar circumstances down the road, we dilly-dally once again, allowing just a little bit more drift to come into our lives and relationships. Slowly, but surely, relationships are changed - not for the better, though. What matters to us the most gets the most attention from us. This is a simple truth. If I wanted to be good at basketball again - I'd direct some attention to the physical training required for that sport. If I want to have a solid, growing, and fruitful relationship with Jesus - I direct my attention to doing the things he says will help me grow and be fruitful. If I want solid relationship with others - I direct my attention outside of myself and toward meeting their needs. Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Sit down - we need to chat a while

Have you ever been just a little bit 'over-the-top' when it comes to your competitive spirit? I watch some guys play basketball in their 50's and 60's like they were in their teens and wonder just how great they are going to feel in the morning. Some will awaken with aches and pains in places they forgot even existed! They will find their 'enthusiasm' of the day before might have been a little overboard when they realize how foolish they were to drive for the basket as earnestly as they did in order to lay up that shot. We all have a bent toward enthusiastic competition in some form or another, although it may not be in the realm of sports, it still exists. What we do with our competitiveness matters, though. Too much can actually be our undoing - not enough can cause us to never try anything new.

He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 MSG

I'd say the twelve disciples may have suffered from some 'over-the-top' competitiveness from time to time, making them entirely human and just a wee bit like us. Do you find it satisfying to know that others needed Jesus to take them aside from time to time, sit them down, and have a heart-to-heart with them about just how crazy their competitiveness was? I kind of do, because it means I am no less human than they were, and no less in need of God's kind reminders that I am not the one who needs to 'stand out' - he is!

Jesus sits them down. Whenever I wanted to actually spend some time trying to deliver a hard message to someone, I usually asked them to sit down. We needed to be eye-to-eye and I needed to be able to see their body language and facial expressions. Why? Those things often let me know if I was getting through to them. I could 'read' their reactions to what was being shared and 'adjust' my message a little bit if I wasn't 'hitting home' quite as it was intended. I don't think Jesus differs - he often asks us to come away, sit down, and come face-to-face with him so he can share some pretty important stuff with us. In so doing, he is actually coming to our level - in order that he might give us his perspective in the matter.

These guys wanted the 'top seat', so to speak, in God's kingdom. In their minds, Jesus was coming to set up a world dominion - a kingdom he would rule and that would require other 'rulers' alongside him to assist him in those duties. It was probably much like having a Vice President and Secretary of State. They thought those 'top positions' should have been 'awarded' to one or the other of them, arguing publicly along their journey that day about who had more merit for these positions. Although their idea of how God would establish his 'rule' was a little bit off, Jesus doesn't start there. He focuses on the greater need - the 'rule' of their hearts.

Jesus is all about the heart whenever he speaks with us. He isn't about us getting everything right in our minds - he will help us get that right later - as soon as he has our hearts in the right order! We oftentimes get this a little out of order - we believe we should understand everything and then we let our hearts catch up. Jesus is just the opposite - get the hearts in order and the understanding will follow! Whenever Jesus takes us aside and has one of those 'heart-to-hearts' with us, we shouldn't feel ashamed for our attitude or behavior - we should feel blessed because he cares enough to get 'at our level' in order to help us put things in right order again! Just sayin!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

No cover-up required

God isn't looking for us to have it all together in worship before him - he is just looking for us to be ourselves and to be together in the worship of him! Our worship has to engage our spirit - and it has to be genuine. It is impossible to have a truthfully 'engaged spirit' if we are not truthfully ourselves in spending time with Jesus. Jesus was never looking for the 'polished' and 'perfect' in his ministry - he always engaged with those who were far from perfect and mostly those who were 'dirtied' by their pasts.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:24 MSG

If I were to ask you who you 'really are', would you know how to answer that question? Most of us live with some 'made up' image of ourselves and aren't entirely honest about who we are - making it harder for us to be truly ourselves in relationship with others. For some strange reason, we create an image of ourselves as we think others see us rather than accepting the image of ourselves as God sees us. If we were just free to be exactly as God sees us, we wouldn't need to spend so much time maintaining our facade!

When we are transparent with each other, we don't have spend a whole lot of time trying to connect the dots between who we are and the way we live - it just flows naturally. We aren't one way in public, another in private, and still another 'in church'. Some of you will get my meaning there - for many of us put forward our 'very best' in church, because we think that is what others in church demand to see from us. The truth is that the others in church are just as messed up as us and would love it if we could all just be ourselves instead!

Simply and honestly ourselves - these are the individuals God finds very engaging - because in our genuineness he is free to really begin to help us face up to what needs to change in our lives so that we won't need those facades any longer. It takes a lot to let down our guard before God - it takes even more, it seems, to let down our guard before others. Why is that? It is likely because we know there are those who will judge us based on what they see. I found it quite frightening to realize the things I find I am most critical of in others are usually the things I have to deal with in my own life, as well.

While it may not always be comfortable being our real selves, there is a connection made that is genuine - there are no layers of complex 'cover-ups' that get in the way of our relationship. This is the way it should be in our relationship with Jesus - no cover-ups required. If that genuineness begins there, it is sure to begin to spill out into the other relationships we have with each other. Instead of hiding behind cover-ups, we will finally begin to make 'direct connection' with each other. Nothing is more rewarding than being your real self with someone else who is also their real self. Just sayin!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Are you using what you have?

Have you ever fallen behind? Your peers are so far ahead of you that you can barely see their backs any longer and you have 'forever' still to go...what is your reaction? You could just stop, sit down on the side of the trail, and give up - it would be the easiest thing to do after all. You could call out to see if anyone would come back to help you out a little, pulling you, pushing you, and somehow getting you to move again. You could even just cheat a little by just not even covering that ground your peers have covered and just jump ahead to wherever they are, but what would you have missed in the journey? It is easier to fall behind than to catch up. It is easier to feel defeat than it is to experience elation over success at times, isn't it? The thing is that God doesn't want us to be defeated in our walk, or even 'falling behind' in any respect. He wants us to be strong, encouraged, built up, and moving on. To that end, he provides us with not only the 'tools' to keep us on track, strong, and moving forward, but also all the encouragement we could need along the way.

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. Ephesians 6:12-13 MSG

We might just not realize it, but we have all the tools at our disposal to actually complete this race called 'life'. We might not think so at first, but our toolbox is full! I have been accumulating various tools over the years in hopes of eventually having my own workshop and enough time on my hands to actually use them all! I'd have to say I have a lot of tools, but the more I read up on woodworking, the more I realize there are other tools I may need down the road. The good news is that our 'toolbox' that God gives us is not half-equipped - - - it is fully equipped with all we could ever need, long before we even realize how to use what is in there or realize that we have any need for some of that stuff!

I have a biscuit cutting tool, several different types of sanders, various chisels, and even a few odds and ends that have never been used in my shop. The thing is that we learn to use some tools and then we leave others in the box or on the shelf totally unused. We don't exactly know how beneficial they can be to us, so we haven't incorporated them into our lives yet. I had a router for almost six months before I even took it out of the box - not because I didn't see the benefit of having one, but because I was afraid to use it! I didn't want to mess things up in the projects I was making, so I avoided it. Once I opened it up, experimented with a few bits, the wonder of how this tool works came alive to me. Now I need to find projects that will help me develop my skill with this tool! 

Too many times we have at our disposal all we need in a particular situation, but we discount the value of what we have been given. We don't appreciate it until we actually take what we have and put it into use. The various 'tools' God gives us are ALL designed for some purpose in our lives. We can have a 'comfort level' with many of them, but then neglect others. We might read the Word well, going there frequently, but if we neglect to use the 'tool' of prayer and meditation, we are limiting the effectiveness of the one 'tool' we have become proficient using! You might not realize that prayer, meditation, encouraging conversation with others, and even challenges from others, are all tools God uses in our lives from time to time. If we want to stay in this race, we need all the tools in the box to be put to full use! Just sayin!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

I need a little 'filler' here God

I have been around those recovering from alcohol or drug addiction and heard them say things like, "When I hit rock bottom..." or "My rock bottom came when..."  Their meaning was that life had to reach a certain 'low' in order for them to realize just how far they had fallen into the hold of their addiction. They are indicating that 'bottom' isn't the same for everyone - theirs was different than yours or mine. There is a point for each of us, though, when we finally realize we have 'hit bottom' in some area of our life and that 'bottom' feeling leaves us desirous of getting help to finally be free of the pit we have dug for ourselves. It may not be addiction to a substance, but we all have a 'bottom' in terms of something we need to say a final "no" to in our lives. It may be some secret addiction like pornography, or something very 'out there' like the use of food to deal with some sense of frustration or disappointment in our lives. Regardless of what 'bottom' we have hit, the same assurance is there for all of us - God is there in the bottom just as he was before we even took up the shovel to start digging that pit! Some 'pits' are deeper than others. Some may resemble a deep well, while others are kind of like a shallow grave. Either way - the way out is the same!

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet. James 4:10 MSG

The way out is to say a firm "no" to the influence and a quiet "yes" to God. Why a loud no to the influence? Why a quiet yes to God? Seems like we'd yell out to God, doesn't it? Like we'd plead for mercy, crying aloud about our helplessness over the thing that so easily trips us up - right? What we are being told here is that it isn't the 'loudness' of our voice as much as the determination of our hearts. A determined heart acknowledges there has been wrong choices leading to a whole lot of wrong actions - and admits there is little one can do to stop those actions in their own power. God isn't impressed with the loudness of our pleas as much as he is moved by the conviction in our hearts and submission in our spirit.

He is looking for us to say a firm "I don't want this anymore" to the sin we have been pursuing. That is the beginning of the deliverance - the grave or pit can no longer be our habitation because we are about to be taken from the place of rock bottom. Do you know how pits get dealt with? There isn't a whole lot of safety in just covering over them. If we want to be sure we don't fall into that pit again, we fill it in! We do more than put a barrier between us and the depth of the pit - we allow the pit to be filled with something that keeps it from becoming a place we can inhabit or be tripped up in again. Too many times, I think we just want a 'lid' put over the pit - reminding it is there - but not really dealing with the depth of the issue. Whenever we don't deal with the depth of the pit, we are apt to find ourselves exploring it again!

Conviction is the beginning of repentance. Repentance is the beginning of starting afresh. But...the break with the past 'pit' must be made 'stone by stone', level by level. God will take great care to help us fill those spaces which have been steps into the depths of that pit by 'filling' them with his presence, peace, strength, and power. His Word becomes powerful 'back-fill' for those pits - like a stone upon a stone, one promise builds upon another until we see there is no way we are ever going to stumble back into the depths of that compromise again. The 'bottom' is no longer there because it has been filled up. God wants us to be safe, so he does more than provide 'covers' for our sin - he provides all the 'filler' we need to be sure those pits are no longer going to be our places of captivity. Just sayin!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mooooove back to where you belong

God respects the choices we make. We can either choose our own path, or his. The simple fact is that it is OUR choice - and he honors it. If we choose to hang out in places or with people that present opportunities for compromise in our lives, we may choose that course of action. If we choose to be in the place where God can bless us, he honors that choice. This does not mean that we never "hang out" anyplace but church, a convent, or a monastery! God intends for us to be light and salt in this world. He does expect us to make choices that are honoring to him WHILE we live in this world and hang around with others in this world.

God blesses those people who refuse evil advice and won’t follow sinners or join in sneering at God.
instead, the Law of the Lord makes them happy, and they think about it day and night. They are like trees growing beside a stream, trees that produce fruit in season and always have leaves. Those people succeed in everything they do. That isn’t true of those who are evil, because they are like straw blown by the wind. Sinners won’t have an excuse on the day of judgment, and they won’t have a place with the people of God. The Lord protects everyone who follows him, but the wicked follow a road that leads to ruin. 
(Psalm 1)

God gives us the tools to help us make the right choices. The first "tool" he gives us is his Word - the Bible. We are to "chew on" the Word we receive - not just do a cursory 'fly over'. In other words, we engage in a process of meditating on it. Meditation is not something "mystical", but is simply a process of reflecting on something over-and-over again, until we get something out of it. Something that is considered that frequently begins to have an affect on us - it begins to 'get into us'. The second "tool" outlined is our "proximity" to God - a tree planted well can bear fruit! If we are not staying close to God - enjoying times of his refreshing - we will be influenced by what we are closest to at that moment in time. God gives us the ability to bear new fruit. Fruit is a result of the process of growth. If there is no active growth, there is no fruit production. Choices affect action. Action affects where it is that we end up (our location). Location affects the next steps we take - after all, don't they always say it is location, location, location?

Simply put - if we make the right choice, we manifest actions that yield fruit in the right season. Think about a small calf in a large pasture. That calf has many fascinating things that may attract his attention along the way: a butterfly flits about out of some bush and draws his eye; the strands of grass moving in the wind a little farther off might lure him for a nibble; the rustling of the leaves in a stand of trees could even get him a little spooked. As the calf is distracted by these things, it wanders farther and farther from the safe source of nourishment, protection, and sense of safety (his MOM). Soon, the calf is growing hungry and kind of concerned because he doesn't actually see his mom any longer. It begins to bellow out in absolute misery - calling for the security and nurturing of mom. We are sometimes like that - wandering away, in seeming innocence, then realizing that our wandering has made us miserably hungry, lonely, and with a deep sense of needing the security we once knew! As long as we stay close enough to the source of our growth, we are content. When we wander, we "feel it".

God has given us "feelings" as one way to "measure" our location in life. When we are not quite "feeling right" about where it is that we are at, the choices we have made, the acquaintances we have been keeping, it is likely that our feelings are pointing out the fact that we have wandered too far from the source of our nourishment and nurturing - from that place of absolute safety and security - God's protective arms. Remember this: The tree "planted" is the one that bears fruit! It isn't the tree uprooted, or the tree torn down by the winds - it is the one 'planted' securely, firmly, and committed in that placement. Just sayin!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Man, it is dry!

There are lots of places of dryness in our lives, aren't there? As I age, my skin just seems to go from moist to dry in no time flat. Before long, I look down and see those lines and grooves that suggest all the hand washing of my day has left behind a look similar to that of a lizard's skin! The day can get past me in pretty short order and I wonder why I need to drink a gallon of water when I get home, then realize it is because I forgot to stop to get anything else to drink after my coffee first thing that morning. My body is just demanding to catch up! Arizona is a kind of 'dry' climate, but when you need the heat on in winter AND you live in a dry climate, even breathing can be 'dry'! I have come across animals and even fallen cacti - all leaving behind tell-tale signs of life at a former time - now dry and scattered, making it hard to really tell for sure what that animal may have been, or how majestic that cactus may have stood. Imagine if God were to take you to a very barren place, littered with all manner of 'dry bones' - carcasses that suggested there had been life at one time, but now scattered and without any sign of life. What would you see as you gazed out over that space? Would you see the dryness and barrenness - or would you see hope and renewal? Likely, if you are like me, you'd see the 'lack of potential' within that place. I wonder how many times we look at the 'dry and barren bones' of our lives and see the 'lack of potential' instead of the potential for renewal that God sees?

God grabbed me. God's Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun. He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "Master God, only you know that." He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones: 'Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!'" (Ezekial 37:1-4)

Within scripture, some of what is shared is figurative, not literal, bringing a little confusion to how we interpret the things that are shared. So, we shy away from them because their 'interpretation' is kind of hard. This is an entire valley of dry bones - a gruesome picture of some type of battle or famine having left hundreds or thousands of bodies to be picked at by the wild animals, leaving nothing but dry, barren bones in the end. The characteristics of these bones are interesting when we consider them individually. They were dry - no sign of life in them. When I think of something being "dry", I think of staleness, a lack of freshness, nothing within that object that gives it flexibility or usefulness any longer. There were a whole lot of bones! That means that this "dry" condition was shared by a whole bunch of bones, not just one. There was no sign of flesh on these bones. It is the flesh that played a part in keeping these bones together - it is now totally gone. We don't know why it is gone - we can imagine it was picked clean by predators or that it was simply rotted away by time. Dry bones, absent of flesh, have not a lot of use - do they? They just gather, sitting there as a reminder of 'what has been', but 'no longer is'.

God takes Ezekial to the Valley of Dry Bones and tells him to look out over it. He asks Ezekial what he sees - then he tells Ezekial what it is that he sees when he looks out at those dry bones. Man often only sees the bones - the 'what once was' but 'no longer is' kind of bones - dead, without form, and kind of useless. Go figure, but God sees the "dry bones" as having the potential of life once again - yes, he sees their dryness and barrenness, but he is limited in his view of their potential. The changing point for the "dry bones" is in the speaking forth of God's Word - in the Words Ezekial will prophesy over these dry bones. It is the Word of God that brings a stirring. Can I be "corny" a little here? It is the Word of God that often sets our bones to rattling - gets us up when we are down and sets in motion things that haven't been 'stirred up' in quite a long time! He is in the business of bringing life to what seems absolutely lifeless and without hope in us! God is not simply in the business of reviving "corpses" - he wants to give us total and complete newness of life. He has a "framework" that he works within (the dry bones of our lives apart from him) - but he is the one who does the "creative" work of bringing those dry bones together, placing them in right order, and covering them with all things beautiful!

It was something in the breath of life that came into those dry bones that made it possible for them to rise up once again! It was in the "wind" of God's breath that those bones began to rattle - they were awakened. That same "wind" stirred them, causing a change in their position, a change in their attitude. The "wind" drew them together, set them upright, and moved them forward. It is the "wind" of God's breath (his Spirit) that we are moved from the dryness of our "valleys of dead bones" into the freshness of life that only he can produce. The purpose of bringing Ezekial here was to show that when God is at work, what appears dry and barren, without any signs of life, there can be transformation. That transformation takes barren, dry lives and turns them into a powerful, vast, and responsive army! When God is at work in our lives, dead bones can live again - dry places can be made new again! We may not see the same potential God sees, but when we allow his Word to breathe life into us once more, we might just be surprised to see what starts out as just a little 'rattling' becomes a brand new creation in his hands. Just sayin!