Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hammered?

Do you have those days where the 'pounding' you took just leaves you feeling a little defeated and like you just cannot go on any further? I think we all do, but did you realize there might just be a little benefit from being 'pounded' a little? A hammer has a job to do - it is to pound! It could just be your day had a job to do - to bring about a change within you that was absolutely necessary and required the use of some 'strategies' designed to change you!

Does not my word burn like fire?” says the Lord. “Is it not like a mighty hammer that smashes a rock to pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29)

You know me well enough to realize that I would look up "hammer" in the dictionary. In doing so, I discovered some meaningful uses (purposes) for the hammer. Over the next couple of days, don't be surprised if we explore those and see just how they make an impact our lives. The first use of a hammer is to strike a blow, or repeated blows, so as to pound an object. My Dad would give me some nails and a hammer with a piece of scrap wood - not because he didn't like the scrap wood, or he didn't appreciate the straightness of those nails. He wanted me to learn the proper use of the hammer and to avoid driving the nails in crooked, or worse yet, bending them so they couldn't do their job. I'd start out well, "pounding" them for a while, but with very 'timid' taps on the heads of those nails.

Those 'timid taps' didn't do much to drive the nails into the wood. They advanced them a little, but basically never got them very deeply into the wood. Dad would have to remind me to not choke up so much on the hammer handle, and then take bigger swings, all while keeping my tender fingers clear of that impending impact. The bigger the swing, the deeper the nail was driven. It took me a bit to actually make consistent contact with the nail's head, though. The swings would leave dings in the wood from the impact of the hammer's head. In time, I got more accurate with those swings and the nails went in like butter.

When something is "pounded" it is reduced might be reduced to powder - it no longer bears the image of what it had formerly been. Being "reduced" seldom occurs on the first blow of the hammer - it requires repeated blows. The nails were "reduced" into the wood. The stone is "reduced" into gravel and then into dust if the blows continue. There are lots of forms of hammers, but one that I always liked the best was the sledge hammer. It was about five pounds and took both hands for me to wield the thing...but the pounding yielded quicker results! Yet, that hammer was absolutely no good for wood and nails. It was too "over-weighted" for the job. The nails couldn't stand the impact and would bend right away. Instead of penetrating the wood, they'd bend away and be wasted.

If I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a piece of scrap metal, I'd work on that for a while. I was always intrigued by how a round piece of copper wire could be "mashed" into a long thread of thin, shiny copper. The wire was malleable, but the pounded wire was mold-able - it could take on a new form! The more I applied the hammer to it, the more it took on new form, and then that new form could be molded into something even more beautiful. Sometimes God's Word is like a hammer in our souls - coming in repeated measures until what it was after no longer bears the image of what was formerly there! God is persistent - he doesn't just use his Word once and then move on. He uses it long enough, and frequently enough, that it begins to affect us deeply. The goal is that we'd no longer bear the image of sin and compromise in our lives, but would be re-formed into the image of his son.

Sometimes God uses his Word to make us into a "new form" and at other times he needs to use it to drive home something that needs to become more deeply set into our lives. God is all about turning what has had one purpose in our lives into something with a fresh and vital purpose. He is also as concerned for us to 'take in' what is being worked in. The blows may be repeated - feeling like we are taking a pounding from time to time - but they are calculated blows with a specific purpose behind each one.  We'd do well to consider the frequency of the "blows" we receive from the Word and ask God what it is that he might be changing by those blows! Just sayin!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

In need of a heart transplant

Sometime we just need a little reality check, don't we? It is as though we need to hear we aren't doing things all that well, or that we don't have our act all together - and then we come to some revelation we need to change the things we are doing, or how we are responding to life's circumstances. If you don't want to know the truth, then don't ask, but you won't get very far in this lifetime if all you expect to live 'within' is the confines of some made up reality! There are just times when something 'new' needs to be added - because the 'old' hasn't been working out too well for any of us!

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. 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 3:23-24 MSG)

There is no monopoly on needing God's help to set things right in our lives. It isn't a "Christian" thing to need Jesus' help to get things right - it is a worldwide thing, regardless of any particular 'belief system', all have sinned - all have fallen short of God's plan. All need the one, true God. All need an understanding of just how fall we have fallen and that there is no way to set things right no matter what we 'try'. All need to be 'set right' from time to time - some of us more than others! I am one of those who needs a little 'setting right' a little more frequently than some others, but I am not afraid to admit it. It is in the admitting of my need that I find what it is I most need - to be set free from my 'making things right' so that Jesus can go about truly 'making things right'!

The cold, hard truth is clear - you and I are incapable of living as we should. We might make a valiant attempt at being 'pretty good' people, but even all that valiant effort on our part doesn't do what God's grace can and does do within our lives. Nothing we 'do' restores us to a sinless state - it might mask the 'badness' of our nature, but all those 'things we do' don't change our nature! The only one capable of changing our nature is the one who created all of us in the first place. Sin has no end until Jesus brings it to an end in our lives, by empowering us to live beyond the pull of sin's influence.

Scripture is clear - there really is no difference between us. Our 'need' is all the same - it may just come in different packages! While my 'package' gets unpacked a little differently than yours, we are still a bundle of messiness! We live messy lives when we try to live them apart from Christ. Why is that? Simply put, we need his guidance to get things right. Our best attempt at 'goodness' is to show a little kindness from time to time, but to be truly 'good at heart', we need new hearts! Our hearts have been hardened by sin and there is no softening of it once that occurs. There must be an exchange of heart - his for ours! Just sayin!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Your true convictions

What does the cross-examination of your life reveal about the "rock-solid" or "a little too shaky to admit" testimony of your life? Whenever someone wants to build a case 'for' or 'against' you, they begin with something they call 'discovery'. There is a 'looking into' the life and events to see what really comes forward while 'looking'. A trial always begins with what they have come to term "opening arguments" - the laying out of the case from each person's perspective (prosecution and defense) in such a way that those 'on trial' are given a hint about what will be presented. It is often quite telling that something is about to become apparent, but it usually isn't all laid out in infinite detail in the 'opening argument'. There is much to be brought forward and that takes on a whole lot of 'asking' and 'telling'.

The first speech in a court case is always convincing—until the cross-examination starts! (Proverbs 18:17)

The opening speeches may all be nicely worded and organized into a nice synopsis of the beliefs of both the prosecutor and the defender, but they don't contain all the "evidence" that will be presented in the case being made. That is the purpose of the trial - it "opens up" the intricate pieces of evidence for the judge and jury to examine for the purpose of coming to a conclusion about the outcome of the one 'on trial'. Many times, these life-scenes reveal a pretty certain prosecutor who believes his/her case is rock-solid against the one who ultimately is 'under examination'. All the witnesses for the prosecution are believed to be exactly what will bring the "conviction" against the defendant that is ultimately desired.

Remembering that the case is a series of back and forth question or "examinations" that reveal the evidence 'for' or 'against' someone, it is easy to see how important it is to have all the right questions asked. Those questions come to light in the time of 'discovery' BEFORE the trial even begins. The "case" against the defendant is really made in the cross-examination of the witnesses. If the witnesses can have their testimony discredited in some manner, the case against that individual can go down the drain pretty quickly. This is so true about our daily testimony - the facts we present by the actions we display in our lives. The "making" or "breaking" of our "testimony" is determined in the closeness of "cross-examination" that we are placed under in the course of the 'trial'.

We stand "on trial" each and every day for evidence that our testimony is "rock solid" and unwavering. From the way we respond when we are wronged to the response we give when we are called on the carpet for less than stellar behavior - all lead to a conclusion about the "solidness" of our life's testimony. If our first response is to excuse our behavior (even though it has not been stellar), the testimony we give about Jesus is that our behavior really doesn't matter to him (or to us, for that matter). If our response when wronged is that we will turn to retaliation (rather than to forgive the offense), we damage the testimony of God's grace in our own lives. Either way, the testimony we give will betray our true convictions! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Do I need this?

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.” (John 14:21 MSG)

Some might think there are a whole lot of different gods in this world and they'd be correct in their assumption! There are a lot of 'different gods' in this world, all of them man-made gods. Even men who have risen to places of 'adored exaltation' are not really all that exalted. There are a few reasons why Christianity is different from every other world religion in which someone or something has been exalted as the god they worship. We observe the first difference in respect to 'how' one is able to be made 'righteous'. In all other world religions one must 'earn' their way to some placement or position. It is a system of 'works' to become more 'enlightened', 'fulfilled', or 'empowered'. As my pastor so aptly puts it - all other religions require us to work our way to their god, but Christianity is clearly about God working his way to us. Think for a moment on what we find recorded for us in Romans 5:8 about how Christ died for us. If we truly understand that passage, we notice one very clear thing - before we did anything for him, he did it all for us! The truth is that God doesn't wait on us to get things right in our lives - to achieve some place or position with him. He takes the first step and then does the rest to boot!

While almost every 'religion' has some set of very specific rules that must be followed, from observing various days or seasons to very specific rituals, Christianity is a bit different. You see, God reminded us these might be good things to help us remember we serve a great big God, but they don't get us any 'stature' or 'special attention' from God. He finds one thing very attractive - relationship. He wants us to be in relationship with him - intimate, growing, and free relationship. Rules and rituals pretty much keep us bound to the need to 'perform' in order to attain something - bringing us right back to 'earning' our way into heaven once again. In Christ Jesus, God showed us there was no 'earning' through ritual or religious pursuit - relationship was established and maintained by the actions of Christ and nothing else. Some may find great joy in keeping certain 'seasons' of celebration in their churches, but if they become the focus and not the relationship, we are drifting outside of what God desires of his children. 

As we are nearing the Easter celebration - the remembrance of the empty tomb of Christ and all that was accomplished in his death, burial, and resurrection - let us never lose sight of the fact the tomb is a reminder of all he accomplished. The tomb never held him captive and it shall not hold his followers captive, either. There was no system of works, or rule-keeping service-based rituals that accomplished his release from the tomb. It was relationship with his Father - something he provides to all who enter into relationship with him. Christ is the difference between all other world religions and Christianity. His sacrifice on our behalf was what created that 'bridge' between our 'rule-keeping' existence and that which is opened into intimate relationship with the One True God. We might not fully recognize our need for Christ, nor our desire for relationship with God, but both are provided even before we do! Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Carry me

Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own. (Henry Ward Beecher)

I pose the question today of who specifically it is that you are carrying? Are you carrying yourself, concerned only with your own reputation, focused merely on what you find you will obtain from the 'greatness' you are portraying? Or are you carrying others, sometimes without number, into that place of greatness, not on your coat-tails, but in the places of your heart and soul that truly help get them from where they are to where you imagine they can be? We might think we need to develop more strength for the battle, but it could be we just need to come alongside someone so that we both make it through the battle together!

No king succeeds with a big army alone, no warrior wins by brute strength. Horsepower is not the answer; no one gets by on muscle alone. Watch this: God’s eye is on those who respect him, the ones who are looking for his love. He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times; in lean times he keeps body and soul together. We’re depending on God; he’s everything we need. What’s more, our hearts brim with joy since we’ve taken for our own his holy name. Love us, God, with all you’ve got—
that’s what we’re depending on. (Psalm 33:16-22 MSG)

We can be very strong, but quite weak at the same time. Some might find that hard to imagine, but if we stop to really consider it, we might just find it true. The strongest among us are sometimes the loneliest! They are sometimes the hardest to get to know and are the hardest to be around! Why? It could be they haven't learned how to use their strength as wisely as they should, or it could be they have no idea how to use that strength to better the lives of another. Strength alone doesn't make us strong - it is the combined 'strength' that comes from realizing grace carries us so that we can in turn assist in carrying others!

I ask again - who are you carrying? If there is no one, you are likely most miserable in your journey! The strength we are given not just for our own benefit - it is meant to be used to assist another in the journey. Greatness is not strength and strength is not greatness. Sometimes we equate the two, but I have seen many a strong person with no position or power other than that they immensely love God and have been touched deeply by his grace. I have observed many a 'great person' who possesses absolutely no strength themselves, relying on the efforts of others for everything they achieve. 

God isn't after our greatness - he is after our hearts. In touching our hearts, he makes us great! In making us great, he desires for us to help others be great. In giving us strength, he hopes we will use that strength to urge another along their course, or carrying them for a while when they cannot do it any longer on their own. We don't find our strength in all the places the world seems to think we will. It isn't in stature, or fame, or money. It is simply found in the deepest places of our need - for in those places we come face-to-face with his grace and nothing, absolutely nothing, makes us stronger than grace! Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Three, but two

Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. William Wordsworth
Life is indeed past, present, and future - what have you been doing with each of these parts, my friends? Some of us hold on so very tightly to the past, not willing to let it go, thinking we may somehow be able to change what has been. Others live so fully in the present, all the while forgetting the future will have demands of us we need to prepare for somehow. Very rarely do we get this past, present, and future thing down well in our lives, but when we do, what an amazing thing it is!

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. (Ephesians 1:11-12 MSG)

Who are we really? Many times we feel as though our past has left indelible evidence of some things we find it impossible to believe we could be free of in the present. It is as though those mistakes of the past have been woven into the fibers of who or what we are today. Did you ever stop to think through a few miracles recorded for us in the pages of the Bible? There is much to be said of the way it was and the way it is now. For example, think of the woman with the issue of blood. She was the woman with the issue - unclean by the standards set out by the Law of Moses, plagued with some form of debilitation from the unceasing flow of blood. She became the woman healed and whole! No longer defined as the unclean, but as the clean and whole. 

Why do we let our past define our present? The blind man saw again - no longer blind, he wasn't defined by his 'previous condition', but by his present one! He was a man with sight! Lazarus wasn't the corpse any longer - he was the brother of Mary and Martha, head of the household, and dear friend of Jesus. Paul was not longer the prosecutor of the Christian believers - his past was gone and his present differed by leaps and bounds. Our present doesn't have to be our defining influence. It doesn't have to be how we view ourselves, nor how others view us. It can be left where it belongs because there is something quite different in the present by which God defines us - it is called grace.

The past may leave tell-tale reminders in our lives, like those scars created when we skinned our knees, bunged our noggins, or biffed it royally. The scars don't define us - the healing does! The scar is a reminder of a former way of living - of choices made - not of choices we continue to make! The fact is that Christ in us changes our present and sets up for the future. His eye isn't on our past, it is on what he is doing in us right now, in order that we will be prepared for what he has created for us well into our future. God is a past, present, and future God - but it isn't the past he focuses on as much as it is the present and future! Why should we be any different? Just askin!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Furnishing your heart

It was Dwight D. Eisenhower who reminded us, "We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it." Peace is sometimes found as the result of the fight, not just in the absence of it. We might just find ourselves in the fight of our lives, but see no way out. In just the right time, and in just the right way, peace comes. How is that? The fight is still going on around us, but in the midst of it all, there comes a peace that is quite unexpected. It is a "God thing" - something we don't have to understand to appreciate!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:7 MSG)

Worry is the natural emotion when the battle rages and the fight gets harder and harder. We find ourselves fretting over the smallest of things. Why? Worry occupies the space of created by doubt in our lives. Anytime doubt is allowed any space, it always clears the way for worry to be made right at home. It is like there is a double-whammy with doubt and worry - one never being far from the other. Both emotions can be a little daunting, especially in the midst of the fight before us, but both can be undone quite easily - in the blink of an eye.

How? We allow our prayers to fly. What happens when we do? Those worries begin to be shaped into praises and those doubts begin to take backseat to God's peace. The worries will have there way until we begin to escalate them into words to God. As soon as we do so, there is a turning of those worries into words of praise, and in rather short order we find there is an overwhelming sense that God is in control. That is the basis of doubt, you know - that we believe God isn't in control. So, does it surprise us that the presence of peace begins to be apparent when we realize he is?

A sense of God's wholeness comes, settling us down. Did you ever stop to consider how much our wholeness is directly related to how much doubt and worry we allow to occupy the space of our lives? It is true - there is a direct correlation between the space we give to our worries and the peace of God. The moment we evict doubt is the moment peace is allowed to move in! God's peace 'fits the space' created by our worries when we have allowed those worries to become praises lifted to him. The presence of God is like no other. Wherever peace is needed the most is the place he will battle hard in order to overthrow all that disturbs or keeps that peace away. Just sayin!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Never enough

Does your ego every get the best of you? Do you find yourself having to 'put forward' something great you have accomplished just so others know you have accomplished it? If this is a tendency in your life, you are not alone. There are bunches and bunches of us that have been caught up in that trap from time to time. We get so focused on whatever it is we have accomplished and then we want everyone to know we have done it! We find ourselves prouder than can be and we want everyone to know it. Impressions only are made once - isn't there some kind of statement as to that truth? Doesn't it go something like, "You only get one chance to make a first impression?" Well, what impression have you been trying to make with God? Do you honestly think he finds your 'first impression' all that great? If you are like me, the first impression you put forward to him was a 'fake one' because you were ashamed by the real one!

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. (Galatians 2:20 MSG)

When we identify completely with Christ, allowing him to be the central focus of our lives, we find what is 'put forward' isn't us, but it is him! We don't need to make the first impression on our own merit any longer. It is him in us that is seen - this life we live now "in Christ" is kind of different because we don't have to impress God to have an audience with him! We have an audience with him because of who lives within us! The things we think of us as giving us a good reputation are really nothing compared to the indescribable work of grace within our lives when Jesus takes control of who we are and what we are doing.

The very essence of ego is based upon a focus that requires us to put forward something that will dazzle or impress others. "WE" need to be central in their eyes and therefore, WE put ourselves forward for all to see. The truth is that there isn't much good in me apart from Christ. That may seem a little harsh to some, but I know it to be true in my life. I am not going to sugar-coat this one for you, because there is nothing good that comes out of putting things out there that aren't true. The fact of the matter is that apart from Christ, no good thing dwells within me. It is his life living within me that makes what I do and how I do it 'good'. 

Goodness is God's gift - it is a result of his grace refining our otherwise a little too self-focused lives into somewhat of a beautiful thing. Apart from his life within, the only hope we have is to continually try to do 'enough', be 'good enough', get 'enough', and in the end, never really find 'enough is enough'. The freedom that comes from living the life Christ calls us to live is that 'never enough' takes a backseat - because we have 'all that is enough' in him. Just sayin!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Experience, then understand

Understanding and experiencing are related, but they can also come separately into one's life. We can experience something long before we understand it. The baby who touches something hot and then realizes it leaves a nasty sting may not understand how the heat came to be, or that it can be used for good, he just knows to stay away from it because it causes pain. The one who understands how 1,500 pieces of picture coated cardboard can all make a huge mural may not know how to fit those many pieces all together! When one actually understands AND experiences something, it is vastly different and there is a different appreciation for whatever it is they both understand and experience.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. 

To understand God's love, we actually need to begin by experiencing it. It is kind of hard to understand it without first having tasted it, felt it, and basked in it a while. The love of God is often felt or experienced in the lives of those he purposefully allows to grace our pathway. There are key individuals 'purposefully placed' into our lives in order for us to begin to experience the different aspects of his love - something we eventually will come to understand through the experience. The more we experience of his love, the more we want to understand it, but trust me on this one...it is harder to understand than it is to experience!

Why is that so true for us? I think it could just be how very different his love is from the very 'natural' types of love we experience within relationships here on this earth. Our 'natural' form of love is very 'conditional' - it honestly has some strings attached no matter how we slice or dice it. There is a give and take kind of rhythm to our natural love. We give a little, hoping to take a little, and the cycle continues. Give, give, and give again without ever taking anything in return and you will likely find yourself a little exasperated in the relationship. Why? We actually crave or need something "out of" the relationship - there is a desired 'exchange'.

God's love isn't all that different, though. He desires something 'out of' the relationship - our dedication, commitment, and worship. Yet, he pursues even long before we get to the point of understanding this is important within the relationship. We don't understand how much these things are needed to help the relationship grow deeper, but we are drawn to it because of how his love reaches into the places of our heart not reached by any other thing or person. We don't understand how he draws us, or even how he touches those places of our heart, but we know for certain that we are experiencing a form of love we don't find elsewhere.

Get to know a little of God's love by experiencing it. He doesn't expect you to understand it right off the bat - he just invites you to experience it. In the experience, there will come a desire to understand it - to fully appreciate it and bask in it fully. The place of understanding comes in the experiencing. Just sayin!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Words of Wisdom

Okay, I remember the old 'first generation' personal computers that were about the size of your entire desk. Yes, I recall the brick cell phones that weighed about 10 pounds and could poke an eye out with their heavy duty antennas. Yup, I even was a part of that first 'social networking' clan known as Myspace and had to access it via "dial-up" modem! That makes me old! But...does it make me wiser? No! Age and wisdom are not always connected - there are times when age occurs and wisdom just seems to evade the person who has those added years under their belt!

A wise person gets known for insight; gracious words add to one's reputation. (Proverbs 16:21)

It is no secret that I like to veg out with my tablet in hand. I like to play the games, find joy in reading a free book I have downloaded, or just laugh occasionally at a well-posted joke on my social media feed. I also find that there are nougats of truth that people sometimes share that make me pause for a moment to consider those words that have been posted. They evoke thought, but sometimes they also evoke emotion. We would call this "insight" - the ability to connect with a truth in such a way that in sharing in it the insight impacts the lives of others.

Insight is really the ability to apprehend the TRUE nature of a matter and it is almost always because the individual has what we'd term an "intuitive understanding" of the subject. They may not have even had to "study hard" to really "get" what it is that they are sharing - there just seems to be a "connection" with the object of their understanding. I know that I often prayed for ANY form of insight in my calculus classes - not always equating hours and hours of intensive study with the ability to actually get those concepts! That was just one of those math classes where you had to either "get it" or you just simply did not and needed to move on!

Life is kind of like that sometimes. In some moments you simply "get it", while at other times there is almost a constant struggle to find any meaning, making the idea of "connecting the dots" just plain incomprehensible and the desire to 'move on' to come more and more frequently. Insight is the ability to "penetrate the surface" - being able to see the true character or the hidden truth. People who have insight sometimes make others uncomfortable - because they think that individual may be able to "read them like a book"!

The ability to discern truth - ferreting out the insignificant from the facts - is sometimes frightening for someone who is constantly trying to hide behind the falsehood of a well-kept facade! Yet, in moments of despair, where does that one who is hiding behind that well-kept facade often turn? You got it! To the one who has insight. Why is that? It stems from understanding the second part of the verse above - because they are known for their gracious words. The person of insight can bring "truth" to the surface, but does it in such a way that there is "grace" in the truth. That is probably why we are drawn to these individuals and to their words so frequently - because they are filled with grace! Grace is simply unmerited favor - being able to connect truth in such a way that even when "blame" might be called for, grace is extended. Surround yourself with these type of individuals and you will learn much. Wisdom is inherent in their actions! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Remove that lid

No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Scripture reminds us 'honesty lives confident and carefree', while 'shifty is sure to be exposed'. (Proverbs 10:9) There are lots and lots of us who go through life 'wearing one face' at home and another out in public. Sometimes we don't always know we are doing it, but we find ourselves acting as though life is perfect when deep down in side we are crumbling to pieces. We cannot 'act' before God - he sees behind the scenes and knows when there is nothing more than a cleverly prepared backdrop being portrayed!

There is a confidence that comes when we are first honest with ourselves, then with God, and finally with others. We must come to terms with ourselves before we can actually do this, though. We have to realize we aren't all that we want to be - we get things wrong and we might actually get a little bit right. In general, we are not going to always be consistent - no matter how positive our intent is. There are always going to be times when we don't get it right - when life just doesn't go as planned. In those moments, we can choose to live carefree (in honesty) or we can live a 'caged in' life (in dishonesty).

Most wouldn't think of dishonesty as 'caging us in', but it does simply by all the various stories and facades we must maintain in order to stay within the boundaries of not being totally honest with ourselves, God, or others. I have pans in the kitchen with glass lids. Those lids allow me to see what is going on inside the pan, but if I am not attentive to the objects within the pan, it is possible they may still be damaged by my inattention. Things in our lives can become damaged - not on purpose - but because we haven't allowed or afforded 'directed attention' toward them.

God doesn't have an index finger that he uses to 'point out' our areas of opportunity in life. He might 'direct our attention' to those areas through others, either in something they say, or in how they are reacting to us. Regardless of how we become 'aware' of whatever it is God needs us to focus our attention on for a bit, it is important for us to actually 'remove the lid' so we can see for ourselves what is going on under it! If we aren't willing to 'remove the lid' then we aren't willing to get honest with ourselves. Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Re-engage

At the end of a particularly long, arduous day I might just desire a little 'me time'. The transition from the hectic pace of the day into the quietness of an evening relaxing and a little slumber later into the night is a promised reward for a long day's work. There are times when we desire renewal, whether it be by 'me time' or some type of 'retreat' from something, but it seems hard to find. The opportunity just doesn't seem to come and we are finding ourselves getting tireder by the minute. There are times we don't understand the reason for our endless work, but we know we are called to engage in it. We might question the continuation of the efforts, not always seeing much return on our investment, but growing more weary each day. Remember this - we don't always have to see the immediate return on our investment - we just need to continue making it.

He continued, "Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don't have anything: This day is holy to God. Don't feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!" The Levites calmed the people, "Quiet now. This is a holy day. Don't be upset." So the people went off to feast, eating and drinking and including the poor in a great celebration. Now they got it; they understood the reading that had been given to them. (Nehemiah 8:10-12)

Revival brings a response of heart that cannot but help bring praise to God. The people of Israel had been listening intently to the Word of God as Ezra, the priest, brought it forward to them - something they had missed for so very long. They were moved by the Word - as are we so many times - and they were brought to a place of awareness about just how far they had drifted from what God had intended for their lives. There are times we just need a fresh look into God's Word in order to 're-enter' what engaged our hearts in the first place. That is what a fresh look into the Word can do for us - it can bring us to a place of recognition, repentance, and re-engagement.

Ezra is a wise leader - he knew the passion of their hearts, but he also recognized the struggles they were having - their extreme need to re-engage with their Lord and Savior. He saw the older members of the congregation and understood their deep sorrow over the loss of their former ways of worship - those experiences were only memories now. The "old ways" of worship were destroyed when they were taken into exile as a nation. The temple was destroyed, the walls of the city brought down, and even the "instruments" of worship were carried off into foreign lands. The old was gone - that brought deep sorrow to those that remembered the "former glory" of the old ways. It is quite possible for us to be 'exiled' from what it is that is capable of bringing us the greatest of joy and not even realize we have missed it so very much!

God gives us times of refreshing in order that we will connect with the freshness of worship that God has prepared for us in this season of growth. The nation of Israel was allowed to "return" from exile in a foreign land, but they would never be fully restored until they also returned their hearts to their God. There is something that happens within us when there is a renewed awareness that God is with us - it is the beginning of revival in the spirit of a man. When this awareness begins to dawn, there is a corresponding awareness that the worship God desires stems from a heart that is free of compromise - free of distraction and the fatigue of the recent arduous activities that have kept us so distant from him.

There was weeping that day in Israel - some out of sorrow because of all that had been lost, some out of joy for what lay ahead. Perspective often determines our response to the offered sanctuary of re-engagement. When we hold fast to what is lost, we are rarely able to grasp what lays ahead. There is something so powerful that happens within us when we let go of the past and embrace the freshness of the present. The Word of God will impact our hearts - it will ring true in our minds, affecting us in the depths of our souls and refreshing our spirits. The hunger of our souls brings us to the place of exploring the Word. As is true with all times of revival, God honors the hunger of souls willing to be "real" with him. The dryness of our spirits is refreshed in the newness of his grace - whenever we are willing to truly be "naked" before God.

The true, unencumbered celebration of God is the outcome of a seeking and transparent heart. We often worship out of a sense of obligation - God desires worship that is given out of a sense of awareness and hope. The beginning of revival is hunger - the awareness we need to re-engage in order to be filled anew. The means to revival is repentance. The response of revival is worship from a pure, unmasked heart. The result of revival is re-engagement. Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Embrace it!

Some might believe being a Christian ensures a life of ease. Like it is some one-way ticket to a 'silver-platter' kind of existence. Then all of a sudden there is some unforeseen event that occurs, knocking us for a loop, and we get all up in God's grill over him allowing such a catastrophic disturbance of our 'ease'. It is easy for us to believe that God is not with us in our times of suffering. It is very important for us to recognize God as the "Father of all mercy" or "Father of Compassion and Comfort". Remembering that a father is one who has begotten a child and as such, he has a certain sense of responsibility for that child, it is natural for us to believe he will always ensure our 'ease'. God does not abandon those he calls his children, but a little unrest in our 'ease' is not abandonment!

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

As our heavenly father, he has a consciousness of the distress we are going through. That ever-present consciousness brings about a desire to alleviate that distress for us. As a parent, one of the toughest struggles I encounter is knowing when to allow my children to experience the discomfort or unease of the circumstances, and when to intervene to alleviate that distress and to restore their ease. There is often a lesson is allowing the child to "find their way out" of the discomfort, so intervening too soon lessens the opportunity for them to learn from having chosen a wrong path. God is sensitive to the emotions of his children - he is moved by them, but he is more interested in our growth than he is in our ease.

As the God of all Comfort, or God of all Healing Counsel, we can observe there is a side of God's character that is yearning to offer strengthening aid - even when we haven't asked for it yet. He comes alongside, as a support, to bring consolation in times of trouble, and to remove worries because he knows how much these things are disturbing our sense of 'wholeness' and 'balance' in life. God's intention is to bring relief - immense encouragement, deeply felt hope, and release from the grief or trouble we are experiencing, but not at the expense of our growth.

Hurts are a part of life - we cannot escape them. It has been a tough lesson to learn that comfort is often found not in the absence of pain, but IN the midst of it. Think about it - do you really appreciate your comfort until you are experiencing pain that you cannot relieve? When that throbbing ache in your back, or the pounding in your head, is finally ended - isn't that when you realize the beauty of comfort? Being comforted is not equivalent to being comfortable, though. The term being comfortable carries the idea of being content or secure, free from doubt, stress, and tension. The idea of being comforted carries the idea of being strengthened greatly, or being made strong - in the hope that is given, in the word of encouragement received, and in the presence of the one who is making us strong.

Comfort that comes from God is not based on our circumstances. In the midst of the moment of our affliction, we cry out for comfort. We think that if the circumstances change, then our comfort will return. God is compassionate - yet some of his greatest comfort comes in giving us the strength to go on in our discomfort a little longer - so we might come out stronger on the other side of that discomfort! We often equate comfort to deliverance - God often equates it with the strength to "bear up" under the pressures of the circumstances and to remain encouraged. It is in moments of deep sorrow that God brings deep peace - he is close enough to meet our deepest needs. There are a lot of "avenues" that God travels in our lives - each one involves him coming alongside - whether it be the "avenue" of grief, anxiety, regret, or personal pain. Don't curse your unease - embrace it and learn from it! Just sayin!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Welcomed Dominion

Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. (Deuteronomy 8:1)

Be Careful! The instructions the people who would become the nation of Israel received all those years ago. Though they were spoken to reference their specific movement from wilderness wandering into the land of Promise, they actually have application for us today. The first instruction they receive as they are about to set out on this new journey was to "be careful" - to mark their lives, their actions, and their thoughts with attentive concern so as to avoid error or any omission of truth or trust. The challenge to us is to be living in such a way that we show close attention to the details when it comes to conforming to the Word of God. It has often been said that the "devil is in the details", but I would like to challenge you to think more appropriately that "God is in the details".

Follow! Notice specifically - they weren't asked to lead, but rather to follow. There are some that follow a leader so closely that they eventually begin to think, act, and speak like that leader. There are others that follow so far back that the impact of that leader's life really is insignificant in their own. Those are the ones that are "just barely" on the journey! We cannot be one step behind or sitting on the sidelines. We have to go after God with the intention that we will attain all that he has prepared for us - with purpose and intent. We need to follow with the intention of allowing his life to affect ours fully. This type of following involves attentiveness - watching steadily for the movement, that action, the intention of the one we are following - not willing to miss one single move he makes.

Every Command! Israel was coming into a new place - both physically and spiritually. They had not been this way before. The same is true for us - we haven't been this way before, so we need the complete instructions from our leader on how it is we are face what awaits us just ahead. The purposes of God are laid out in his Word - it is one thing to look at a road map - it is quite another to follow it turn by turn until you discover you have arrived at your destination!

That You May Live! Here we get to the crux of the matter - the idea of "what's in it for me". The idea presented here is not just the simple matter of breathing in and breathing out. It is the idea of doing more than just "existing" - it involves understanding our purpose and living in such a way so as to fulfill that specific purpose. This kind of "living" is full of spiritual energy, enthusiasm, vigor, and vitality that is not subject to the attitudes of the world, the afflictions of our body, or the winds of circumstance.

That You May Increase! Woohoo! The were given a 'taste', but now they would experience the realization of another "what's in it for me"! The promise is one of growth - in our intensity, our strength, and our usefulness. Increase is really meant to "enlarge us" - in our walk, and not just our talk. It is through this process of "enlarging us" that God is able to align the things we portray on the outside with the actual attitude of spirit and soul on the inside.

That You May Enter and Occupy! It is one thing to enter - quite another thing to actually possess. What God is challenging us today with is the idea that he wants to penetrate areas where he hasn't been given access to before. He wants to probe new depths that have previously been out of bounds in our lives - that he may possess us and we may possess him. When we occupy our physical homes, they have a tendency to become our places of dominion - we aren't just visitors there. God wants to not just "visit us" with his presence and his love - he wants to be set up in our lives so as to be in a place of welcomed dominion. Just sayin!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Hard, but better

I am so glad for a simple last name! To pronounce some of your last names is kind of hard, isn't it? The names in the Bible can be even harder! Add to the family names all the names of the regions in the lands referenced within those pages and you get some pretty good tongue twisters! Sometimes we skip over those parts in the Bible because reading all the names is hard and rather than face the challenge, we just move on. Ever wonder what you have missed out on just because you found something a little too difficult? Or you settled for something else that seemed a little easier or more appealing? Yep, the things we 'settle for' can be quite satisfying, but will they ever be as satisfying as the things we have to work just a little harder to obtain?

Of the land that we possessed at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer along the Brook Arnon and half the hill country of Gilead with its towns.  I gave the half-tribe of Manasseh the rest of Gilead and all of Bashan, Og's kingdom—all the region of Argob, which takes in all of Bashan. This used to be known as the Land of the Rephaites. (Deuteronomy 3:12-13)

Two and a half tribes belonging to the nation of Israel decided that they wanted to stay on the "wilderness-side" of the territory when the rest of Israel was forging ahead into the land promised to them by none other than God himself. Isn't that so like us sometimes - good things are right there in front of us, but we choose our place of familiarity, comfort, and 'first appeal' over the unfamiliar!  We want what we have come to understand and appreciate instead of what we might have to work a little harder to really "get". We often stop just "short" of what God designs for us. Instead of being willing to take that extra step or go a little further, we shrink back. In today's vernacular, we call that "settling". If there is anything I have learned in my years on this earth it is this - God's "best" is not part of "settling". Yes, the land the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh "settled for" was sufficient to meet the needs of their families. It just wasn't all God had intended for them!

There are times we settle for what will be 'sufficient' - but will it be God's best for us? Settling for what we can see and touch is often not best for us - it is just easiest. Think about it - how much easier is it to open a bag of chips and nosh on them than to fix a salad and really get some positive nutrients into our system? Those who entered into the promised land were indeed facing some battles and challenges - giant challenges lay ahead. Their entry and possession of God's blessings would not be a "cake walk". The journey would be hard, but they were confident the rewards would be greater. Provision was made for each of these battles - as long as they kept God in right perspective (as the one true Lord of their lives). Protection was assured - as long as their eyes were fixed (on the one true Lord). By choosing not to "settle" in a place of comfort, they were given a place of reward.  Years later, they'd build the temple, celebrating all things good, remembering all things bad, thanking God for the journey.

On the other hand, Moses wanted more than anything to go into the Promised Land - to experience first-hand the enjoyment of it. Yet, he never would experience that full opportunity. He got the people there, but he would not go in with them. He saw the blessing, but he never partook of it - he didn't enjoy the experience of the land. He heard the reports, but he never got to make them his life-story - there would be no record of him being in the land. He had experienced so much of God's wonders already, but the enjoyment that laid ahead for the nation of Israel was not to be his. Today, we can make the choice to "settle" for what we think is best - what might promise some semblance of fulfillment in our lives - or we can be focused on what God has just around the corner. The choice is ours - what we do with our choice determines our outcomes! There is something I'd like us all to remember - the harder the choice, the deeper the blessing. Just sayin!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

See or Behold?

Albert Pike once penned a reminder to all of us: "The eye of the cheerful and of the melancholy man are fixed on the same creation; but very different are the aspects which it bears to them." In other words, we all see the same things, but we see them in quite different ways. The way we interpret things is often based upon the circumstances we find ourselves in, or the experiences we have amassed over our lifetime. We "see", but the similarity of what we "behold" is different. It is quite possible to gaze at God's creation one day, seeing one thing that captures our attention, then see it totally differently the next day. Why is that? Today's perceptions may be 'colored' or 'clouded' by whatever is occurring deep within our mind, body, and soul at that moment in time. It is good to see, but it is even better to see as God sees - with freshness, renewal, and grace!

What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations. Oh, look—the deep, wide sea, brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. Ships plow those waters, and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them. All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it. If you turned your back, they’d die in a minute— Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud; Send out your Spirit and they spring to life— the whole countryside in bloom and blossom. (Psalm 104:24-30 MSG)

We have a whole flock of love birds that live in the wild in the area of our work. When my BFF and I take our afternoon walk after lunch, we oftentimes will see them in flight, or repeating messages across the tree tops at each other. It is as though one calls to the other and they are just not satisfied until all of them have joined up in very close proximity to each other. I wonder if that is the case with you and I? Is God's creation calling to us to draw nearer to him? To each other? It could just be we won't fully appreciate God's creation until we are near enough to him to fully see it as he sees it! You do realize scripture declares that even his 'creation' gives testimony to who he is - meaning that even the love birds in the trees, or tiniest of hummingbirds calling out can be a reminder to us to draw near to him!

As we walk along, my BFF may point out a tiny head peeping from a mound way across the open field. The wee gopher perched just far enough out of his hole - allowing him to see just enough to keep him safe - yet so far away from us that he will not find the grapes we toss his way. There are times we stay so safely 'perched' so as to just barely see, close enough to quickly escape anything appearing as a threat to us, but in so doing we often miss the greatest of pleasures God has prepared for us! It is possible we miss much - maybe by our 'not looking so as to behold', but merely to 'observe'. There is a great difference between 'looking' and 'beholding', my friends.

Let us go through life, not just 'seeing', but really 'beholding' what it is God has put in our midst. When we hear the calls to come closer, to draw in and be with him, let us heed those calls. When we find it is time to look with fresh eyes on something we have seen only one way all our days, let us be open to seeing, really beholding, that thing in a different way - through 'fresh eyes'. Just lookin!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Heed that flag

There is seldom a time when "going in circles" isn't a waste of time. I think that someone like a race car driver would be the exception. He accomplishes either the winning or the losing of the race while staying on that oval track - going around and around at a calculated pace to accomplish the goal. For most of us, going in circles is another story - we find that we accomplish very little in the course of our efforts. The people of Israel had been "going in circles" in the wilderness for years. They had shed more than a few tears of grief over their choice to doubt God's provision for them. Something I have seen over the years (even in my own life) is that tears don't make someone change! You cannot equate tears with repentance. We can shed real tears without any real sense for what we need to change or how to change.

Then we turned around and went back into the wilderness following the route to the Red Sea, as God had instructed me. We worked our way in and around the hills of Seir for a long, long time. Then God said, "You've been going around in circles in these hills long enough; go north." (Deuteronomy 2:1-2)

Some of us just 'go in circles'. "Circle runners" find themselves doing the same old things over and over again, wondering why they are not getting a different response. In turn, they get frustrated and their self-will becomes even more determined to accomplish something, but it just means we find ourselves "taking another lap". It grieves God for us to stay in our self-willed 'circling the track' disobedience, but he allows us to "do the laps" until we come to a place where we recognize the futility of our having gone in circles so long! We often find ourselves complaining about the multitude of "circles" we travel - but if the truth is really known, we don't really want any other path!

"Circle runners" often don't realize what it is that keeps them doing the same things. There is a lack of awareness because there is a lack of awareness that could help the "circle runner" to "exit the track". As long as self-will and self-direction is our plan, we may shed some tears at our outcome, but we are still not "uncomfortable" enough in our present circumstances to want any change. We don't look for an exit when we are comfortable! God's promise is to be our guide - to give us clear direction. The only thing is that we have to be near enough to him to actually catch the movement he makes. A guide is useless if those being guided are not paying attention to the guide's directions. Just as the race car driver must be ever-vigilant in monitoring the conditions of the course by watching the man with the "flags" - so we must be with keeping our eyes on God. I had no idea that there were so many flags they use in a race, but the list below gives us some idea. Notice that some of these flags are what they call "conditional" flags - once a specific condition is met, the flag is raised.

Green - Race begins or resumes. Without this flag being displayed, we don't move. We are anchored to where we are - poised to begin, but never really hitting the gas.
Yellow - Racing under caution. Conditions adverse or hazardous. It isn't safe for us on the track - we might find a hazard or two we weren't counting on finding!
Red - Racing has come to a halt. All pit crew and repair work must cease. There is some reason for the 'stoppage', but the main response elicited from this flag is to just stop and pay attention.
Black - The "consultation flag". Driver must pit. Usually due to rule violation. Huh...there is even a flag for violating rules! If we were really smart, we'd look for these flags in our own "circle running".
Black with White "X" - Driver no longer scored for failing to pit under black. Ouch! This one really speaks to the self-will, doesn't it? The flag was out there to advise us it was time to hit the place of repair and safety, but we just took another lap!
White Flag - Last lap of the race. Woohoo! We have an end in sight! When this is displayed, the racers all know it is their time to make their last 'big push' for the finish line.
Checkered flag - Race is over. Winner is about to be declared.

The simple truth is that God looks for two things: 1) A waiting heart - one that is "tuned into" the exits and the warnings along the way! 2) An obedient heart - one that actually takes the exits, heeds the warnings, and is tuned into the conditions of the path ahead! If you are running in circles today, perhaps it is time to examine the "flag" that is flying in your life today! Then heed it! Just sayin!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

How to find a best friend

You know, we probably have a lot of 'friends' who will help us to fall, but I wonder just how many 'friends' we have who are there to help us get back up again? There are lots of us who have way more who fit into the former category, and we are truly blessed if we have even ONE who fits into the latter! It was the Greek historian Herodotus who left us with the thought, "Of all possessions a friend is the most precious." I'd have to add the 'right' friend makes that possession even more priceless!

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

Who is there when you fall? Not just 'there' in the physical sense, but 'there' to help you mend your ways, find your way back, and ensure you are really stable once again? Who is there to see your misgivings and then to know which ones are to be abandoned and which are to be pursued? Who is there to delight in your accomplishments AND suffer in your defeats? Many a friend is there to celebrate your accomplishments, but I doubt there as many standing by when you are wallowing in defeat!

I used to tell my kids they needed to be wise about the friendships they chose as the actions of those friends could act as 'encouragement' in their own life to do things that they maybe shouldn't be doing. While all of life is about choices, this is perhaps one of the most significant ones we will make - who we choose to be within our closest circle of friends. If you have ever been 'abandoned' in a time of need in your life, you know why I tried hard to teach my kids this lesson.

You know by now that I like to use the dictionary, find a good quote or two, and do some Google searches to learn what I can about things that peak my curiosity. I actually did a Google search today to see what others defined as the 'character traits of a best friend'. I imagined I would find a few articles or blog posts, but I actually came away with over thirty-nine million results! Obviously, this concept of 'best friend' means a lot to people!

I found lots of 'advice' on having common interests and the time to pursue them. Equally so, there was advice on finding someone who will really listen to you and will 'have your back' when they need to. The reality is that it is kind of hard to define the character traits of the 'right' friend for you, but the idea portrayed in scripture is that the 'right' friend 'sticks by you' no matter the outcome. There is more than just common interests with best friends - there is a common bond of heart, passion, and purpose.

The man or woman who finds such a friend is beyond blessed. There are so many in this world today who have yet to find such a friend. The best way to find such a friend? Be one yourself! Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Circling the Drain?

Do you have a safe place? It could be the peace and quiet of your bedroom after a long and crazy day at work, curled up with a good book, or vegging with a game on your tablet. It could be you have built out a little sanctuary in your garden, allowing you to bask in the sun while listening to the soothing songs of the birds in the trees. Maybe it is a time each day you take just for yourself - a time set aside when no interruptions can come and when you can just be alone with yourself, God, and your thoughts. Your safe place doesn't have to be a 'place' as much as it should be a harbor where you can find firm and safe anchor! The first two 'safe places' exist in my life, but the third one is the safest place for me to find what it is I am really needing.

My help and glory are in God —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God— So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be. (Psalm 62:7 MSG)

What does absolute trust look like? In today's society, the concepts of trust have been a little skewed by perhaps whoever is in a position of authority at the moment, or whatever the norms of society say we should be trusting in. Some trust in their bank accounts - finding greater security the more those accounts amass. Others trust in one individual, focusing all their time and energies into that one relationship at the expense of all other matters in their lives. While the relationship may indeed be very important, does it warrant ALL of your attention? Then there are those who find their trust is only placed in what they can do for themselves, not needing any other source of help other than what they can muster themselves. Likely that trust is a little misplaced, as no one is an island unto themselves.

Our safe harbor is to be God, not career, savings, another individual, or even our own ability. The moment we assume our safe harbor can be anything other than him, that is the moment we move out of the harbor and into the rough waters! The anchor being as secure as it can be is not good enough when the waters get really, really rough! We need to lay our lives on the line, not with misplaced trust, but with a sure and certain trust in the one who holds us secure no matter what storm comes our way. I think we may want to trust in what we can see and feel rather than in something that isn't all that tangible. God's protection, love, grace, and peace are always there as long as we remain safely harbored in him - placing our trust in him alone.

The concept of trust is that of relying on another's ability and integrity. We learn quite quickly of God's integrity - for who else never stops loving even in the face of a whole lot of 'unloving' actions on the part of the one they are loving? We also learn quickly of his strength and ability when we see his extended grace in our lives, keeping us secure even when all around us seems to be caving in. We don't go down the drain with the bath water - we might feel the tug or pull of the waters rushing our all around us, but we don't follow the water. We remain secure in his care - despite the tug of the waters! Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Fearless Faith

Moments will come when we are faced with things that just seem a bit too frightening for us - times when we don't really want to move forward despite the fact we know we need to do so. The moment we are faced with the need to move, we kind of see all the many things that bring us fear and anxiety, then we want nothing more than to either shut down or run away. In Old Testament times, there was a region known as Kadesh-Barnea - an Amorite occupied territory. They occupied a pretty strategically protected hill country region and were often described in historical writings as a "people of great stature". In other words, they were tall - handsome men and beautiful women. They occupied the territory where we'd consider Jerusalem to be today and the regions around that area (Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine). Forty years before, Israel had been presented this land and were so intimidated by the size of these nomadic dwellers that ten of the twelve spies said there was no way to defeat them. That one report kept the Israelite nation traveling in the desert wilderness for over forty years - wandering through a huge and frightening wilderness! I daresay we have all had those 'Amorite' moments - when all we do is look at the daunting size of the problem ahead and choose to wander in an even more 'unknown' wilderness instead!

Then we set out from Horeb and headed for the Amorite hill country, going through that huge and frightening wilderness that you've had more than an eyeful of by now—all under the command of God, our God—and finally arrived at Kadesh Barnea. There I told you, "You've made it to the Amorite hill country that God, our God, is giving us. Look, God, your God, has placed this land as a gift before you. Go ahead and take it now. God, the God-of-Your-Fathers, promised it to you. Don't be afraid. Don't lose heart." (Deuteronomy 1:19-21)

It sometimes catches me a little by surprise at how quickly we can believe the first report we receive with our minds - allowing our hearts to latch onto it and respond with paralyzing fear! We don't take time to consider all the facts - we just launch into an opinion about the way something must be by the first impressions that we have formed. I guess that is why it is said that you never have more than one chance to make a first impression! The fact that God had given them this land - it was set before them just for their taking - that never even crossed their minds. It was a gift that was part of a covenant God had made years before with Abraham. That should have been enough for them - the promise of God should have done away with all fear. We have tons of promises from God laid out for us in the Word and yet choose which ones we will believe and those that we will reject! Are we any different than these Israelites that day?

God never makes a provision without the ability to take possession of that provision. There is the promise of provision and the promise of ability. What he promises, he also provides the full measure of faith to accomplish. Yet, the Israelites choose to send spies into the land - just to check it out! It was kind of like putting one's toes in the water to test the temperature before they take a swim. Isn't it silly how many times that little "testing of the water" keeps us from actually taking the "big plunge"?
When we take the element of faith that God gives us and use it to "test the waters" instead of "plunging in", we are really arguing that what God has provided might not be worth the effort - or worse yet, he may not be trustworthy! Faith (true faith) does not need to "spy out" what God has given! If God extends grace in the form of a provision within our lives - all we need to do is step into it! Plain and simple.

"Testing the waters" is really a form of unbelief. It is us revealing our true heart condition - we don't trust God to give us what we need, things that are for our benefit. This grieves God terribly - yet, he knows that without the "testing" we'd never take the first step. So, sometimes he allows it - even though is hurts his heart for us not to trust him fully the very first time he makes the promise. As we grow up in our faith, we should find that we "test the waters" a whole lot less than we did earlier in our walk. This is a result of us finding that God is extremely (totally) trustworthy! What he says, he will accomplish! So, whether you are in the place of "testing the waters" or are simply "taking the plunge", God's promises remain true. God's hopes for us is that we will soon move from needing to "spy out" everything he has planned for us and will just move forward in fearless faith. Just sayin!

Monday, April 1, 2019

More than intent

Ever hear someone boast about how good they are? They go on and on about how they rise above the rest, or perhaps this 'great feat' after that 'great feat' is highlighted in great detail, all the while 'showing themselves off' to whoever will listen. The idea is that they want others to know just how 'good' they are - but in truth, those who brag much about their accomplished tasks are those who are actually pretty insecure. There is a great deal of freedom that comes when we admit we are errant in our pursuits, not really sure of where to go next, and our propensity to listen to the wrong voices in life. This is the beginning of recognizing we need a Savior!

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. (1 John 1:9 MSG)

WE cannot ever be free of sin. WE cannot ever put ourselves together, no matter how 'positive' we want to believe we can be. WE are sinners - plain and simple - complex, at war within, and mixed up in a whole lot of ways. The first step out of our sin might actually be to admit it is there! The second step is definitely for us to admit we cannot find our way out of it alone! Fools admit they have no sin, so if that is the case then to admit one is a sinner shows great wisdom! Rather than hide from our sin, or attempt to bring forth what we see as 'good' in our lives, isn't it about time we get really honest with ourselves and others? We ARE sinners - through and through - we cannot erase our sins anymore than we can erase the love of God that made a way for us to be free of that sin!

Sin needs to be purged - it isn't easily shed. If you don't know what it means to be purged, then maybe a little word study would be good for us today. The word means something akin to 'throwing up' these days, but at the root of this word is the idea of being free of guilt - not because we can just lay it down, but because we have been cleared of it. In much the same way a judge in a courtroom would declare us 'not guilty' and expunge our record of any sign of the offense, Christ 'clears us' of our sin and all the guilt that is associated with it. There is no longer any association of us with that sin - it is completely gone from record.

Yes, to purge means we get rid of something - free of whatever it was that was blocking the flow of grace and love in our lives. It also means we have a change of position - from guilty to free! Most of the time, a defendant will stand before the judge and make a declaration that he is 'not guilty'. The defense attorney has to show the jury and the judge just why this declaration is true. The prosecutor has another job - to prove there is evidence otherwise. There are times we'd like to just stand up in the face of our sin and say we aren't guilty - lying to ourselves about the truth of our guilt. This isn't going to get us free of that sin - it is just going to keep us bound by the sin a little longer.

Sin is a tricky foe - it knows how to bind us up very tightly - but it also knows how to let go when there is a force more powerful than it is who declares us not guilty! Jesus is that force - his power is all powerful. His grace is all searching. His cleansing is all-purging. It goes much deeper than any 'intent' of our heart to be right and good. His grace produces a 'freeing' of our lives from whatever has been blocking us from really being 'good'. Herein is truth - we ARE sinners in the need of a Savior. Purging is only possible because there is one more powerful than the blockage of sin that keeps us from freely enjoying God's presence. Just sayin!