Monday, May 20, 2019

Detour me

It seems like every road I take to work these days is riddled with construction! We cannot turn left at some intersections, whittle down to one lane in others, and are detoured in directions we have to rely upon GPS guidance to maneuver! The inconvenience is made all the more unbearable by the rudeness of those who think they can avoid the longer waits by moving to the head of the line and cutting in around all of us who have waited our turn to make it through! It brings me back to elementary school all over again when you'd frequently hear the cries of "No Cutting" called whenever someone tried that in the cafeteria line! The benefits of the construction projects are hard to imagine when you are enduring the agony of the months of torn up roadways, but when they finally reopen that intersection with wider and safer turn lanes, you suddenly understand it from a different perspective. It makes sense on the other side of that construction, even though it seemed unbearable whilst it was underway.

"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. 
But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." (Matthew 7:24-27)

The same is true in our lives - we are almost continually "under construction". That construction process involves quite a bit of noise on our part - usually complaining, whining, and statements about not understanding what is going on! We deal with a lot of mess - because our lives are more than a little messy at times. We certainly view the constructive processes of our lives as less than convenient, as they rarely "fit" our schedule! They give us 'detours' we may not have wanted and we get a little wigged out when the delays are significant. Jesus tells his disciples are life lessons that need to be "worked into the core" of their lives. In other words, they are the foundation of all they are to be, will do in this lifetime, and what they will experience. As is the case with our torn up roadways, the "cement" or foundation of our lives is poured, smoothed out, and takes form by the skilled work of his hands. It is not a quick project - it takes time to get it right!

The better the foundation, the stronger the structure. The process of preparing us for the foundation to be laid is as important as pouring that which will bring the sure and certain foundation into our lives. The ground of our hearts and minds must be prepared to receive what God is doing. The recesses of what brings "unevenness" into our lives must be explored so that the things that would "trip us up" are removed. The potential for 'sink-holes' in our lives must also be explored - because what is just underneath what appears to be a hard or firm surface may not be as reliable as we'd like to imagine. Then, and only then, is the ground prepared for the receiving of the "cement" of his Word. That "poured out" Word has to be smoothed out into all the corners of our lives - taking on the form Jesus desires to see within us. Just as with the cement, the Word is carefully eased into the corners, worked and reworked, in order to get out all the tiny "bubbles" that would form weak areas if they remained. God is careful in his design because it is paramount to the success of the next phases of our usefulness! He takes time to "form us" so that we don't just take the Word in, and then it dries up and is worthless in purpose or design.

There is a design to the work being done in each of these roadway construction areas this morning on my way into work. There is an even greater design in what God is doing in our hearts! He is about the process of "molding" us into what it is that will bring him honor, bring others access to him, and give us usefulness in his hands. These Words are what give us strength, allow us to pass from one stage of growth to another, and give passage to the waters of the storms that come. We cannot escape the "construction" work of the Word - if we do, we are certain to have cracked foundations, weak spots, impassable areas of our hearts, and little shelter from the storms of life. It is by his hand that we were formed - it is out of his heartfelt love that we receive his Word. What we allow to be formed within us is what will become foundational to all we do and become in life. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Drawn by the light

Charm is a glow within a woman that casts a most becoming light on others. (John Mason Brown)
What amount of light do you cast on the lives of others? If we were honest, there are times when we cast more of a shadow, not light! The truth is that we can be very 'charming' at times and altogether 'mean spirited' at others. The more we try to 'charm' another, the less 'true' we are, for 'charm' is really designed to display one thing while silently moving to perform another. A snake-charmer speaks soothing noises, plays a little tune, and uses his hands to mesmerize the snake. His aim is to get hold of the thing! The very enticement he has displayed is meant to display one thing while his heart and mind is all about doing something quite different. Charm can be deceiving, but when it is combined with the true grace of God within a life, the light that is cast by that charm is genuinely warm and enriches the lives of those that bask in it.

Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises! (Proverbs 31:28)

The one who lives in the 'fear of God' is 'graced' with his peaceful presence and that presence brings a glow from within that reaches deep into the lives of others like nothing else is capable of doing. There is a radiance about one who has given their life into the hands of a gracious God - he adorns that life with his glory. Live in this way and others will be drawn to you, not because you 'charm' them with manipulative words or actions, but because of the genuineness of each word and commitment of each action. 

The love of God changes a life in a way that is quite unlike any other thing. We can be 'positive' in our intent all we want, but the life that is touched by the grace of God becomes one that emanates the positive glow of grace. Why? There is no room within that life for one's own pride. There is no seeking of the attention of others, or the desire tor receive the 'credit' for things done well. In fact, the 'credit' comes from within - for the individual moved upon by the grace of God basks in that grace and is nourished by the presence of that grace. No amount of praise really gives us what God's grace produces wherever it dwells.

We might not realize we are being 'charmed' by the grace of God when we see a life lived well in the Lord's presence, but we do know we are being drawn toward that life because of the sheer beauty of light within their soul. Just sayin! 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Lay down, give in

There are many life events that we just barely eke by with any semblance of being "all together" at the culmination. There are others that we seem to simply "sail" through. Which do you prefer? I think we'd all say that we want the ones that we can "sail" through opposed to those that give us cause to reconsider how on earth we ever found ourselves messed up in the muddle we are in right now! I once read that we should not borrow from tomorrow what rightfully belongs in tomorrow - leave it there because today has enough worries of its own. That is the definition of worry in a nutshell - bringing imaginations about the "what if" of tomorrow into the "known" of today. There is a moment in time when we need to "deal with" life, not by just doubling-down or digging-in, but by laying down and giving in!

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.  (Matthew 6:34)

The very definition of us "coping" with anything is to struggle or deal it, for however long the struggle will go on. I imagine that we all have days where we are simply "dealing" with stuff - not really rising above it, but muddling through with all the intensity of the moment. Yet, the definition of coping does not end wit the struggle. It goes on to remind us we struggle or deal on a "fairly even playing field" or "with some terms of success" - in other words, we aren't always 'going uphill' in life because God has leveled the playing field. That means we are making it despite the pressure to give in that we all feel from time to time! The very best definition of coping is the ability to face difficulties with a sense of calm and adequate resources. We all have different "coping mechanisms" - some of us exercise a little more to "burn off" the stress, while others of us "eat a little more" (a method I don't really recommend as it adds more stress because you now have to exercise a little more!). The simple truth is that we all have the same resources to "deal" available to us - we just may not realize that they are at our disposal or avail ourselves of them.

It is "when things come up" that we get the resources to "deal" with them. Worry gives us an "uneven" playing field - in other words, the other guy has 10 husky linebackers and we only have one puny one better known as "me". Worry opens the doors of our minds to the infinite possibilities of rationalization - what we think is "rational" at the moment. We think we are "rationalizing" our way "through" the problem at hand, but we are really bringing all kinds of irrational thought into the mix. The truth is that we are all given the capacity to "cope" with life - we just have to realize our capacity and then allow God to exercise his capacity where ours is grossly insufficient. That is where we come to the place where we are really able to "cope" with life - when God is given freedom to intervene instead of us struggling through on our own. There is a very "old world" meaning to the word "cope" and it simply means that we come into contact with and encounter something or someone. What better source of contact can we make than to go to the one who holds our destiny in his hands?

If you are holding on by the skin of your teeth, just barely getting through today, take hold of this truth and begin to "cope" from a different perspective. Act on the instructive portion of this passage: Give your entire attention to what God is doing. Stay focused on the time frame we are each reminded to maintain: NOW. Stop "planning" tomorrow while we have things to deal with or allow to be dealt with this very day. Know with a certainty that God will help you! He does not make promises that he will not keep! Recognize the timing: It is God's, not ours! Coping isn't about us knowing it all or having it all under our control - it is more about realizing there are answers beyond our knowledge and action beyond our ability that might just be more easily recognized if we just lay down and give in a little quicker! Just sayin!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Me Time

The very fact that we can make frequent and open contact with a holy God is always a thing of comfort to me, but it is hard for me to fathom the degree of love and grace that so openly welcomes sinners into the presence of the holy and mighty God of the Universe! Jesus was always very forthright in his reminders to his disciples about prayer, or conversation with God - first in his instruction to the disciples about "how to" pray (we call that the Lord's Prayer), and in his reminders that God is not to be "bargained with" in prayer. It is not a "you do this for me" and "I will do this for you" kind of contact, as we are so accustomed to in many business and day-to-day dealings these days. It is a direct, ask what you need type of relationship - but God isn't just there for our every whim and fancy. When we are in the position of bargaining, we are saying we have something "worth" trading or bargaining for. Either our price is what the owner of the item really can "get by" with, or the advantage of having what we are trading is something to be desired by the owner of the item. God has way more than we could ever offer and we need so much more than we are capable of ever offering in return!

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?" (Matthew 7:7-11)

We come to God with a whole lot of needs and not much else. God isn't looking for us to bring him something as a "trade" in order to receive his blessing - he just wants us to fall so totally in love with him that we enjoy spending the time with him. The "side benefit" of that time with him is often the blessing! Amazing how that works, isn't it? We fall in love with him, spending more and more time with him, and in return we experience way more from the relationship than we ever knew was possible. Even more amazingly, we experience things we never even knew we had need of in our lives in the first place! Being direct for some people is easier than it is for others. They may have been raised in a home that actually made this an expectation. Yet for most of us, being direct was not the expectation and often was taken as a little bit of an affront - we may have been viewed as being "too" direct. So, we learned to "skirt" the real intention of our actions or requests with subtle "clues" and "little bargains" that would eventually get us what we hoped for. We learned to "mask" our intent because we didn't think we had much hope of getting whatever it was we needed if we were open and direct about it.

Being direct is simply proceeding by the shortest course - in other word, you get to the crux of what you want to express, not mincing words or hiding behind a huge display of words. God actually doesn't mind that his children are that open with him. He wants us to experience that total freedom of expression - even if the thing being expressed is disappointment, fear, frustration, or doubt. God can work with that kind of "directness" much more than he can our "hiding behind" a huge display of words! Contact with God is the best when it is by the shortest course possible! Whenever we put up "obstacles" to that access - like the idea that we have not "performed" well today, so God doesn't want to hear from us until we get our act together - we are doing ourselves the most harm! God doesn't need our perfection - he needs our heart. He doesn't reward our "perfect performance" - he rewards our commitment and our openness. I am a performance kind of person - it is true. I like to do well in life, but truth be told, I miss the mark WAY more than I hit it! I am not all that good and most of my friends know it!  The totally good news is that I don't have to hide behind my words when I approach God - I can be direct about my need for forgiveness, my help with overcoming my 'issues', and the confident expectation he will realize my heart is so totally in love with him.

Today is a fresh day for "direct" and "open" contact with God. Don't let anything be an obstacle to keep you from that. In fact, maybe you have never discovered the "shortest course" to his feet - it is on your knees! So, fall down on those knees, or just crawl right up into his lap, open up your heart, and enjoy that time with him today. You won't regret that "contact"! In fact, you may just find that the shortest trip to realizing the thing you needed most wasn't really what you thought you needed in the first place! It may just be you needed a little more "me time" with him! Just sayin!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Give credit where it is due

Harry S. Truman reminds us, "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." I wonder how many of us go through our lives just trying to get credit for whatever good we manage to accomplish and totally discount the very significant struggle we have with that stuff in our lives that often might just border on being a little bit 'not so good'? Most of the time, the desert region around where I live is kind of arid, not very 'colorful', and kind of scraggly. Yet, whenever we have a particularly wet winter and early springtime showers, something amazing happens to the desert floor. Not only do the cacti come into full bloom, but there is a plethora of wildflowers that spring forth. I had never really considered the fact that most of the wildflowers in the world go completely unnoticed by human eye. They spring forth from the hard soil of the earth, struggle against the elements, bloom in all their majesty, and no one ever sets an eye on them, or gives them 'credit' for all the hard work they have had to go through to actually bloom for such a short time! The 'credit' doesn't matter to them - their main 'job' in life is to just bloom!

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met." (Matthew 6:30-33)

What are the differences between the wildflowers and the ones planted in my garden? Well, first of all, it is who is doing the planting and caring for them! One is completely God's handiwork - the other is a local nursery worker, followed by me, then their fate is left to the sprinkler system and the elements! No wonder God's wildflowers do so much better than mine and look so majestic! That is not the only difference between the two types of 'growth', though. There is also the fact that one is deliberately planted to bring God joy - the other is planted to bring only me joy! That wildflower, bending with the gentle breezes, in the meadow, or tucked gently into a crag on the side of a rocky cliff or desert floor, has been placed exactly where they are by the hand of our Creator God. They enjoy their placement and beauty because it has been designed by God. I doubt if that wildflower on the side of the cliff or desert floor says to itself, "I wish I was in the meadow" and then bemoans the "fate" of being on the majestic cliff or otherwise pretty 'bland' desert floor! Yet, how many times do we "bloom" where we have been planted only to complain about our "planting"? The 'credit' of where we are planted and who had done the planting gets in the way for us many times.

The fact is that God plants us where we will bloom best! In his perfect wisdom, he plants us - some in meadows, others in seeming "craggy places" of life. Yet...in our perfect placement we have the true honor of bringing God joy and glory. It is when we understand that we are not placed to bring ourselves joy or glory that we truly begin to enjoy where we are "planted". It is there that we can begin to be "carefree" - allowing God to soak up the beauty of our lives as he designed it! You may not be noticed by the masses, but God has his eyes constantly directed toward you. You never escape his watchfulness. He sees your struggle to get your "head above the hard soil" of life. He knows how you will "fit in" with the "environment" where you have been planted. He encourages your growth with "gentle storms" and "forming winds". He opens you to the fullness of beauty with the warmth of his radiance, much as the sun does for the wildflower in the field. He does get a little concerned when all we focus on is that we didn't 'get the credit' for any of the work, though! It is in being "carefree" that we truly become aware of how much we are "cared for" and watched over. In blooming exactly where we have been planted, we bring much joy to the one who has planted us exactly where we are! In worrying less about the 'credit' and more about the one who watches over our lives with such care, we actually begin to enjoy life much more! Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

I see that!

The eyes really tell a lot about what is going on with a person. Whenever someone gets sick, we often see reddened "rings" around their eye, making the eyes themselves look a little "hallow" and "sad". They may not open their eyes as wide, and the "crystal-clear" appearance of the eye may look a little "foggy" or "dry". A "yellow" appearance turning to brighter shades of orange over time can signal huge issues with the liver. The size of the pupil, especially with one larger than the other, can signal a huge issue going on with the brain. The eye really can "alert" us to much that is going on inside a man in the physical sense, but it also betrays what is going on inside of the man in terms of his emotions and spirit!

"Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!"  (Matthew 6:22-23)

I may not know all the specifics of what is making the man "ill" at that moment, but the eyes "betray" that something is happening in their body, soul, or spirit! The emotional and spiritual matters affect the "clarity" of our eyes, often in conjunction with how a man holds his frame, or walks along. For example, ever see a man so stressed by what he has managed to get himself into by not being able to say "no" to the things he should be saying "no" to in his life? His eyes betray much about his situation as they appear to give off a sense that there is no hope of being out from under his burdens, his lack of rest, and his fear of inevitable failure.

Whenever you want to "meddle" a little into the life of another, simply examine the eyes. You don't even have to ask much to see that the person is hurting, they are playful, or they are weighed down by some circumstance. The truth is that the eyes are indeed windows into our souls. They betray the true condition of the heart, even if we have become good at displaying a 'poker face'. Whatever is within a man will be on display through the eyes - maybe without him even being the wiser that it is on display. Maybe that is how moms all over the world know when their children are lying to them!!! Try as we might, we cannot successfully hide what is hidden deep. We think we "pack it away" very successfully - but as Jesus puts it, either we display the good, or what comes across to others is the not so good! There have been many times that I told a friend that their eyes "betray" them - even when they are saying everything is "all right" in their lives. The sadness or pain displayed in their eyes says more than their words do. We would do well to look beyond the words!

So, why is this important? Simply put, what we allow into our lives affects what others perceive from WITHIN our lives. We are mirrors of what is within - through the "eye-gate" of our souls others will see deep within even when we are too scared or proud to share it. When we begin to be selective about what we will allow into our lives, we are also making choices about the "window-treatments" we are allowing for the windows of our soul! Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The reward is in the time

It is easy to get distracted when it comes to anything like a little quiet time with God. Taking time with my best friend is hard enough, but time alone with God is sometimes harder. Why is that? I think it might just be because the enemy of our souls knows exactly what happens when time is spent together with our mighty Savior! He knows the power that is given and the settling of uncertainty that comes. He doesn't want either to occur, so he puts up as many smoke screens and mirrors to distract us from this exchange as much as possible. Create the right environment and you can eliminate a few distracting forces. Allow the wrong ones and you will find time alone with God becomes harder and harder.

"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well." (Matthew 6:16-18)

Jesus points out that there should be some times (periods) in our lives when we will set aside some time and energy toward really "concentrating" on God. We may think of these times as going to a retreat, choosing a time to fast and pray, or even just a few days set aside with limited interruptions from the outside world, such as camping in the outdoors or fishing by a cool stream. The purpose of the "set apart" time is to focus on God. It is to have some 'alone time' with him and to allow him to really settle into the space we have created for him by enjoying the space he has created for us! In the process of "concentrating" on God, we are bringing all our efforts, activities, and attention to one central place. We are moving from being very scattered in our efforts, activities and attention, to being very focused. When we are concentrating on something or someone, there is a tendency to come to a place of "convergence" - we become in sync with each other.

For example, my mother is at a stage where she loves some time now and again to just tell me something - sometimes about anything that comes to mind, while at others it is a more concerted effort to share something she was wanting to tell me about. In that "talking time" she sometimes doesn't make a lot sense because word-finding can be difficult at a hundred years of age! Yet, when I take the effort to really concentrate on her (putting aside all other distractions), I find that she is really trying to connect with me, figure something out, or share some very meaningful experience she has had that she needs me to know about. If I miss the chance to concentrate on her and what she is sharing, I miss the chance to connect with her where it is she needs me to make that connection. It is vital to make that connection - in her eyes and in mine.

When we are in the process of concentrating on something, we are coming to a place where that object becomes clearer, stronger, and more intensified. It is like turning up the power on a microscope, with each lens serving to intensify the view we have of the object within our focus. Jesus reminds us that we need those times when we are concentrating on him - not because he 'needs' to be the center of our attention - but because we gain something in the time of examining him this closely.

It was no big production to take time to listen to my mom. All it takes is a little time, effort on my part to concentrate, and a heart desire to get something out of the encounter. That is what God says he will reward. Not a big show of religious activity - just the simplicity of a heart focused on knowing him better. So, don't miss out on the times of "concentrating" on God. The ability to focus on him, the desire to have him "intensify" himself in us, is really a matter of us making the time and effort of really getting into the encounter with him. Just sayin!

Monday, May 13, 2019

A well-worn path

We all probably have heard some variation of the 'confession is good for the soul' terminology. The fact of the matter is that it is one of the most powerful 'actions' we take on behalf of our soul that actually begins to touch the souls of those around us. Being able to own up to your mistakes is hard, but there comes a time when the soul is changed by one simple confession. There is nothing that binds two people together in a more committed manner than being able to confess one's mistakes to the other. Too many times, we hold out for the other to come to the place of admitting they were wrong before we will take even one step in that direction. When we choose to do this, we alienate ourselves from that which will bring health to our own lives. It is in confession that we find healing. The first place of healing is at the foot of the cross - in confession we find deliverance. The next place we may need to make confession is at the feet of a friend - for in confession, we find wholeness in the relationship is restored.

"This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won't get out without a stiff fine." (Matthew 5:23-26)

Jesus is talking about making the "first" move. Whenever you have knowledge that you have offended, or that the other feels that you have offended them, it is your responsibility to make the first move toward reconciliation. Sometimes we think that we did nothing wrong and in actuality, when the facts are examined, we probably didn't have much to do with the thing that now drives a wedge between us! But...the other person interpreted something you said or did as offensive to them. It was a very difficult thing for me to actually learn that I was responsible for the way others perceive me. I wanted to believe how they saw me was their problem - not mine. After all, if it was their problem, then I didn't need to do anything to 'fix' the problem!

It is in my actions, words, or lack of these, that you form an impression of me. You "perceive" me as kind, caring, and a joy to be around, OR you see me as meddlesome, overbearing, and a pain to be associated with at all. The way I "come across" is my doing - it is my responsibility! Sometimes, we don't do such a good job at putting our best effort into being our best in relationship. Whenever this happens riffs are apt to occur. Jesus gave us the picture of being at the altar, ready to offer a sacrifice of worship, and realizing that a "riff" had occurred. His instruction: Leave the sacrifice (abandon what you are doing) and beat a path to the doorway of the one you have offended - the sacrifice matters little if there is discontent and misunderstanding in relationship.

Now, for some of us, this "pathway" to the door of the one we have offended may be a little better worn! I have been in relationships where I find that the two of us are just like course sandpaper to each other - constantly rubbing each other wrong. Those "paths" are a little deeper worn than in some of my other relationships. In fact, I "know the way" without even looking - simply because I have made my way to them often enough that the way is familiar to me. At first, it was very awkward and uncomfortable. Now, it is a little easier, but no less important! If we are always waiting for the other to make the first move, we may wait a long, long time. In that passage of time, the mind and heart has a chance to "formulate" all kinds of imagined reasons for why the relationship will never work again. It is that very passage of time that Jesus was focusing on us avoiding. He even says that worship is not more important than making things right when an offense exists. It matters that much to him to see us living well with each other!

We are not "overlooking" an offense and just letting someone get by with something. Instead, we are coming together to "settle the differences" - making a clean slate of things. Sometimes, it means we both confess we were wrong - at other times, it may only be one of us that comes to the place of confession. It does not have to be both of us realizing the error in our ways to bring reconciliation - it only takes one of us making the move! In time, God will do the rest. In the times of open dialogue within relationship, confession plays an important part in the destruction of "dividing walls" that serve to drive us far apart. That 'well-worn' path is not a bad thing, but remember - as important as the pathway is, avoiding the need to use it at all is something we should learn over time! Just sayin!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Did I say that?

I know I am not the only one who has ever said something long before they ever thought about the impact of those words or the tone of voice used in speaking them forth. There is a whole lot to be said about our words, but I don't need to say a lot to tell you these words of us are like a loaded weapon at times! Words matter - what we think should not always be spoken! There is no greater struggle than to learn to control one's speech. Words that are thoughtlessly spoken often require us to "mop up" the aftermath of those very words! Jesus focused on the fact that words "kill" - they have an absolute  destructiveness that rises to the level of committing murder! If he feels this strongly about our speech, isn't it worth evaluating our choice of words?

A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! (James 3:3-5)

The reality of how powerful our words are is likened to a tiny rudder on a ship. They have the power to direct the course of events. I have heard it said that words don't matter - actions do. I think in some cases, this is quite true - such as when I am evaluating if someone's commitment is genuine or that there has been a true life transformation. Actions often speak louder than words in these cases - the individual may still call themselves an alcoholic, but their commitment to stay away from alcohol for the past ten years speaks volumes about their recovery. There are some basic communication "tips" that we should heed if we want a strong community of relationships, though.

Don't be afraid to think before you speak! When we "run" our words through our mind first, we may not always speak everything we are thinking. Some people may see this as a weakness because you are not as quick to speak as others, but the words that come forth will often be more readily embraced because they have been "processed" before they are spoken. We are actually practicing the skill of "filtering" our words when we do this - allowing the Word of God we have tucked away to help us bring light to what needs to be said and to hold back on that which really is not necessary to speak at that moment. Learn to hear the "tone" of your words. There is often more "spoken" in the tone of our voice than in the actual words spoken. You might respond positive words, but your tone of voice lacks excitement and is actually conveying something entirely different. Words matter, but the tone conveys the heart. When we realize the tone of voice matters, we can deliver even the hardest message in a loving and compassionate manner - making the message just a little easier to be heard.

Words that are not solicited are meddlesome. We may think we have something "worth hearing" in the situation, but if the words of advice are not solicited, they are not going to be heard anyway! It is important to "weigh" the moment, consider the attitude of heart each person is conveying at that moment, and then choose our words according to the moment. That moment may not be the best - the attitude of heart of the hearer may not be open to receiving the message. The message is important - but the hearer's open mind and heart as equally as important. Not rocket science here - just practical advice on communication. Words do matter - they often control the outcome of community and relationship development more than we know. Our silence conveys meaning as much as our words! Our words, aptly spoken, direct the course of our lives and those we associate with! Just sayin!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Be a little salt

Ever wonder why Jesus left his disciples with the idea of being 'salt on this earth'? We don't fully appreciate salt these days because we aren't as accustomed to how it was used during the times Jesus spoke those words. We often have to put ourselves into the culture where the words are being recorded in order to fully comprehend the significance of their meaning. In the days of the disciples, salt was a basic "staple" of life. It was that which acted as "preservation" for everything. It also was the main seasoning of the dishes prepared - although there were other spices, salt was a 'staple'. Perhaps we would do well to look at some of the other functions of salt in order to see what Jesus may have meant when he referred to our lives a salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of the earth.

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage." (Matthew 5:13)

Did you know that the taste of salt is one of the basic "tastes" that we can sense? There are four basic "tastes" that the human tongue can interpret - sweetness, bitterness, sourness and saltiness. Take in something that is too salty and you will immediately form a desire for hydration - you want to drink because salt has the function of assisting in the "water-balance" of your body. Too much or too little salt in your diet affects you with dizziness, muscle cramping, neurological problems, and even death. So, having the right "balance" of salt in our system is important to our good health. Yesterday, I worked out in the heat a little too long. Even after showering, I licked my lips a little while later and my immediate taste was that of saltiness. Why? I had been perspiring out all the extra sodium in my system while out in that heat and I think there was a little bit left on my lips! It is one of the easiest 'tastes' to interpret by the human body.

When Jesus spoke of being "salt-seasoning" that brings out the God-flavors of the earth, he was describing the purpose that salt has in being a flavor-enhancer. If you have ever had to restrict your sodium intake for any length of time, you will know how much you can "crave" just a little salty snack! Your body has a use for salt, so when it is restricted too much, it craves it. The same is true in a spiritual sense - if the "saltiness" of our character is not doing the work it is intended to do on this earth, life is dull! According to the "Salt Institute" there are about 14,000 known uses for salt! If we explore just a few, we might see why Jesus tells us not to lose our "savor" on this earth.

1) When added to water on the stove, it functions to allow the water to come to a higher cooking temperature, thus reducing the cooking time required for the food being prepared. Maybe Jesus is challenging us to be salt on this earth because the time is short! The time for his message to 'cook' on this earth is growing short - we need to be salt!

2) When you add two teaspoons of salt to a cup of water, a fresh egg will rise to the top and an older egg will sink to the bottom. This doesn't mean the egg is rotten - just that it is more "mature". Maybe Jesus was challenging us to reveal the spiritual maturity of those we associate with in community. Bring to the surface those who need help in their growth and allow those who are more mature to mentor those who need our assistance.

3) When you don't want freshly cut fruit to lose their natural color, turning brown on the cut edges, you quickly dip them in a salt water bath and drain. Maybe Jesus was reminding us that we have the ability to keep things fresh - allowing the "true colors" of this world to be seen. We rarely think of ourselves as 'keeping fresh' this world, but without the influence of Christ in this world, it would quickly become a rotten and putrid place to dwell.

4) When you want to keep a "cured" cast iron skillet clean, but not damage the "curing process", you clean it by rubbing salt on the pan's surface to remove the excess grease. This is one of the uses that the earlier pioneers had for salt. Maybe Jesus was giving us the wisdom to be able to touch lives without damaging them! There are a whole lot of damaging influences in our world today - to be one that allows the 'curing process' to continue is a good thing.

5) When you add salt to your wash-water, it functions to brighten your colors. Maybe Jesus was showing us that we actually bring "new life" to old things just by being "salt". Just a few ideas on the ways that we might be "salt" on this earth - bringing out the God-flavor and spark of life for all to enjoy! Just sayin!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Living in the open

Conviction of heart really refers to not only the condition of the heart, but the 'bent' of the heart. Which way will we choose more than once when offered the choice? This is often the 'conviction' of our heart. We find we pursue one direction more than another - maybe not all the time, but this particular choice rises to the surface repeatedly. It may be a good direction to choose, or it may leave us feeling a little out of sorts because we know it wasn't the best choice at all. It is our actions, not so much our words, that reveal the real convictions of our heart. We always hear that we "cannot judge a book by its cover" and this is so very true. I have learned what is hidden in the heart is what is manifest in the actions - if not openly, then in secret. We have a huge opportunity to affect how the world sees Jesus based on what actions we reveal to the world. We have an equal opportunity to affect how we see ourselves by the choices we make in secret! Remember this - our faith is revealed in our works - both those openly performed and those secretly pursued.

"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable." (Matthew 5:10-12)

Conviction is defined in several ways. Personally, conviction is being fully convinced by the evidence so as to be able to stand firmly on the facts presented - unmovable, resolute, and wholly determined to pursue that truth. We become a dynamic evidence of God's grace when we model that grace to others. We are "evidence" that helps to convince others of the unmerited favor of a holy God. Conviction is also the state of standing "confident" - in times of public action and in those of secret choice. There is nothing that conveys living a really "solid" life than being able to speak and act with assurance - knowing what we believe and in whom our trust is fully placed. Equally, making consistently right choices is evidence of the grace of God working in our lives.

Conviction also carries the idea of being convinced. Conviction comes from a Latin word "convictus" - meaning to convince. When we are "convinced" of something, we move from a place of just being acquainted with the evidence at hand into a place of belief, agreement, and consent. The evidence results in a transition - we have a solid footing upon which to stand. Jesus challenged his disciples with the idea of persecution - telling them that it would actually cause them to be drawn closer to the Kingdom of God. What he is saying here is that persecution actually drives us closer to the heart of God - it urges us to turn to what we know we can trust. The outcome of that closeness to God's heart is that we have a testimony that presents the evidence of God's grace, justice, and love. This kind of "evidence" makes people who don't know God in the same way do just a little uncomfortable - it affects the status quo.

Jesus was not giving his disciples (and us) the marching order to "mess with people's minds" or even our own minds. He simply is telling us to live in such a way that we are totally convinced of what it is we believe and allow that "firmness of faith" to become that which brings the conviction to our heart and then to the hearts of others. We are simply presenting the evidence - the conviction is delivered by the evidence! We cannot judge a book by its cover, but we can learn much about the "author" by exploring the pages. Our depth of conviction is revealed in what the "author" of our lives has written on the pages of our heart. The best thing we can do is live our lives as open books! In open and in secret. With others and with ourselves. Just sayin!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Prepare for the ride

If you are anything like me, you might have tried to side-step all the 'preparation' required for some exam in life, only to find all that side-stepping really left you wanting when you needed the right answer! You believed you could just do a cursory review of the work and all would be well. Preparation is key to not only exams in school, but for each of life's challenges as they come day by day. We all have differing responses when we face one of life's challenges, don't we? Some of us will rise up, take the bulls by the horns and plunge right in, while others withdraw a safe distance, consider their options and seemingly take forever to respond to the challenge. Sometimes we take every opportunity to avoid the challenge, just hoping it will go away! Regardless of how we face life when we are "challenged", it is important to keep in mind that each challenge carries a purpose. As Jesus remind us, true blessing in our lives comes when heart and mind are in alignment. Believe it or not, the "purpose" of the challenge is oftentimes to assist us in identifying where our heart and mind may not have that "perfect alignment" - the places where some preparation is needed.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4)

If you have ever driven while your tires are "out of alignment" you can relate to the "challenge" of controlling the vehicle. It is a rough ride and there is a tendency for your car to just drift to one side or the other! This tendency to "drift" to one side of the road doesn't take any real effort on your part. The effort your must exert is more in keeping the vehicle centered on the lane you need to stay within! That is how you know you might have an "alignment" problem - when there is continual "drift" out of the path you should be traveling. Guess what - it is pretty much the same in our spiritual lives! We might just begin to take notice of the fact that when faced with challenges, we often find ourselves "drifting" to the path of least resistance. When we try to "counter-act" that drift, it becomes a little difficult to control mind, will, or emotions - because they are not 'set' right. It takes effort - sometimes beyond what we seem to have left within ourselves for us to stay on course!

The truth is that the car "stays on course" much better when we routinely have the alignment checked.  The ride is a little smoother, isn't it? As long as we have those tires rotated every 5,000 miles and request that the mechanic also "check the alignment" with those rotations, we enjoy a much easier ride! Take this idea into your everyday living. It is because of the continual focus of the one who operates as the "mechanic" in our lives that we can enjoy the alignment of our mind, will, and emotions with what he knows will produce the best "ride" in our lives. The mechanic does not automatically check our tires for alignment when we come into the shop each time - we have to request him to do so and we have to be willing to pay the price for that request. The same is true in our spiritual lives - we have to make frequent requests of our Lord to "test our alignment" and then we have to be willing to pay the price in order to be "realigned". There is always a price for preparation, but without preparation the ride we call life can be much more 'bumpy'!

God sometimes points out that we are "out of alignment" much as our mechanic might point out uneven tire wear as a sign that our car needs an alignment. God's way of "pointing out" our lack of alignment is often in the challenges we face throughout the day. He often lets us "struggle through" the natural pull of our emotions, will, and thought processes until we become aware of the lack of alignment that is giving us enough 'drift' that we aren't quite able to stay the course on our own. Yet, there are times when we have been drifting long enough and he just simply sits us down and points out the "results" of our lack of alignment - the wear and tear the drift has taken on our being becomes evident the more the 'drift' has been accepted as an 'okay' part of our lives. When challenged by the drift the best response we can have is to take time to realign our mind, will and emotions. You will save yourself a whole lot of unnecessary and expensive wear and tear on body, soul, and emotions when you prepare for the ride! Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Our need, His provision

I absolutely love the tiniest of words that seem to join ideas together. Take the word "but" for a moment and you might just find this tiny word actually negates or puts a condition into play. For example, when you say 'I wanted a taco, but I ate a salad', you are putting the condition into play of choosing the healthiest of the two options. The tiny word "and" joins two idea together. There is much to be explored when "and" is put into play in a sentence, for it often joins two things that are required in order to make something whole. For example, when you join 'peanut butter and jelly', you get a mighty enjoyable sandwich! When you join 'black and blue' in describing a recent bruise, you are letting others know of the severity of damage done when you struck yourself against that hard object. When God tells us we must believe that he exists AND that he cares enough to respond to us when we seek him, he is describing two very coexistent conditions which must be evident in our lives. One just doesn't exist without the other.

By an act of faith, Enoch skipped death completely. “They looked all over and couldn’t find him because God had taken him.” We know on the basis of reliable testimony that before he was taken “he pleased God.” It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6 MSG)

If we want to have a relationship with God, we must believe two things - that he exists and that he cares for us. How futile it would be to just imagine someone exists and then not ever believe they will respond to us when we seek them out. If a child is separated from his parents for even a while, he would seek them out because he believes they exist. He somehow knows that even though he cannot see them, they are still there somewhere - so he makes his intention to be rejoined to them known by crying out from his crib. There is a deep trust, even though the object of his seeking remains unseen. In the seeking, he hopes to discover they are still near and want to relate to him as much as he wants to relate to them. When the parent returns to the crib in response to the crying child, the parent is affirming his trust.

God isn't going to respond to our seeking with any less concern or care. He exist AND because he exists, we can be assured he loves us enough to care for us in a deeply loving manner. We only seek what we believe exists. I have on more than one occasion put something away 'so carefully', only to discover I cannot find it when I want it! Yet, I believe it still exists - so I seek even harder to discover that spot I so cleverly placed it in! I believe - therefore I seek. The same is true in relationship with Jesus - I believe he exists AND therefore I seek. In my seeking, I believe he will be found AND he will respond to my seeking heart in a way that tells me my seeking has not been in vain.

Seek AND find. Come AND eat. Knock AND it shall be opened. Confess AND be forgiven. Surrender AND be made new. There are a lot of ways AND is bringing together our need with is provision, aren't there? Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Hallmarks of Care

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy." I like how the Message interprets this passage as 'at the moment you are "care-full" - you find yourselves cared for'. There is a saying in both scripture and common day that reminds us we reap what we sow. There is a direct link between us sowing seeds of "care" and reaping a reward of being cared for. As many of you have discovered over the years of following this blog, I am in the role of a caregiver - mom having come to live with me about 11 years ago. It has been a lot harder than I imagined at times, but it has equally been as rewarding! There are lots of ways we sow into the lives of others - not just to receive something in return - but because we sense how blessed we really are when we begin to reach out to sow into the lives of another. It might not seem like we'd receive much blessing in the 'toil' of sowing, but remember that the farmer only receives the crop because he has done a whole lot of work to realize any harvest!

Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17-18)

When we are "care-filled" (full of care), we are looking out for the other person, not just ourselves. There is an extension of our lives that looks beyond what is in it for us and sees that there are others around us that need to be "cared for" in the midst of today's challenges. True "community" is built upon living right with God - but never forget that this is HARD WORK that requires consistency and integrity. Lives of 'care' don't just happen - they are built. The heart doesn't just determine to love others - it learns to love others. The mind doesn't just create goodness at every turn - it is persuaded to find goodness because the heart is turned toward Christ!

Extending mercy - being able to care about another's thoughts, opinions, or desires - in the midst of not understanding why it is that they are acting a particularly harsh way is sometimes quite challenging. We don't "naturally" want to respond with "care" or "mercy"! In fact, if we were totally honest here, we'd probably like to tell them off! The moment we realize there are some "community-traits" that need our attention we will be more apt to help one another to always be "care-full" in dealing with each other - regardless of how our 'help' is received at that moment. Sometimes our parents won't be patient with us - not understanding why it is we don't want to stop what we are doing to do what they want done, or listen when they want to tell us the story that will take some time for them to fully explain. Even in those moments, we have the opportunity to be 'care-full' with one another!

We are to be gentle with each other. Two words to describe this trait - compassionate and considerate. We avoid severe, rough, condescending responses - even when the other guy may be struggling with these responses themselves. This is the idea of turning the other cheek. Rising above the emotion of the moment and extending a kindness where it may be least deserved is hard, but the sowing of kindness instead of harshness will yield a positive reward. We are to be reasonable in our dealings. This means that we exercise sound judgment at all times. We don't respond "out of proportion" to the circumstances at hand. In other words, we don't get caught up in the emotion and allow those emotions to stir us into responses that are disproportionate to the facts! Emotion often outruns reason! We respond out of emotion, without all the facts, and then wonder why we have no sense of "community" or harmony in our relationships!

We are to be consistent with each other - for nothing bespeaks 'care' more than consistency. Not being hot one day and cold the next, up and down in our 'carefulness' with each other. Whenever we ride the roller-coaster of being okay one day and then out of sync with each other the next, we always struggle to keep our "community" together. Learning to bring balance, order, and proportionate response to circumstances goes a long way to keeping us on even ground in our daily relationships. Dignity and honor - the hallmarks of a strong community relationship - are the outcome of learning to live "care-full" lives. It isn't easy work, but 'work' rarely is! Just sayin!

Monday, May 6, 2019

A graceful model

Appetite often determines if we take time to eat, right? Appetite sometimes even determines what it is we eat. An appetite bent on the things that aren't all that good for us will result in a pretty lousy outcome for our bodies, while one that is set toward wiser choices that offer solid nutrients will have a better outcome. A good appetite for God creates a desire to live in a world where justice is the rule. That appetite for justice yields both a commitment to be just in your own dealings and a desire to have others be just in their dealings with you. Justice requires some mature consideration when decisions are required - there is an evaluation of facts that goes beyond the initial reaction to the moment. In order for us to "act well", we need to understand that without factual accounts of "happenings" we are making assumptions that may be incorrect - feeding 'appetites' we might just as well leave unfed.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.
(James 2:12-13)

We should be very grateful that God wants first-hand knowledge of our lives instead of a second-hand accounting from someone who may or may not know our real heart toward him. It is a very good thing that God considers the intention of our heart, not just the actions of our hands. He'd be honored if both were in alignment all the time, but he knows that as long as we live, we are likely to have a "disconnect" between what our heart and conscience telling us what to do and how we actually respond to what we are told.

Mom raised me to understand that the "golden rule" was that if I wanted to be treated well, I needed to treat others well. That meant that I had to "model" what I expected to see from others, even when they may not be modeling that behavior themselves. Imagine my disappointment the first time somebody did not respond to me with the consideration I thought I had modeled! Was the "rule" faulty - no! The person was! The rule was good - the intentions of that person's heart may have been, as well. Yet, what came across as harsh, judgmental, or critical in response to my loving, caring, concern just did not align with what I expected.

Imagine how God feels sometimes when he looks at us! He sees the intention of our hearts - to love and serve him with our entire being. Then he sees us interact with that slow driver on the freeway and he knows exactly where the disconnect is! We "want" to live considerate lives - but actions are 100% harder than intentions! Thank goodness for God's grace! No one better exemplifies the grace of God in his life than King David. He repeatedly failed to honor others, bring honor to God, and keep his commitments.  Yet...the most awesome words that could ever be spoken by God of any man is that he "had a heart after God". David was a man whose heart was indeed 'after God's' despite his interactions that might have revealed otherwise at times.

Learning to "consider" our actions - seeing if they are aligned with our hearts - is an art. God knows we won't get it "right" all the time - but that doesn't make the "trying" any less important. When we align our hearts with his, we are taking the first step to begin to live justly, or by his grace. When we align our actions with our God-aligned hearts, we are learning to live considerate lives. When we begin to live by the "rule of grace" instead of the harshness of judgment, we are modeling the heart of God to a hurting world. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

I am who I am - no more, no less

I am always surprised when I hear of these 'leagues' of children's teams where no one wins and no one loses. All are winners - that seems to be the concept being taught. Now, I understand we want the kids to become enthralled with the pursuit of the sport and that we want to encourage time involved in physical activity, but where in life do we ever see that you always win? When the child faces his or her real 'first loss', how will they handle it? The sport somehow turns to one of winning and losing - there is not an entire 'sport pathway' that is merely based on just showing up to play! In the end, someone keeps score, determines a 'winning team' or 'winning athlete'. Then we have the other side of the coin where some coaches focus so much on winning they lose sight of encouraging the kiddos to actually have any enjoyment in the sport. In fact, they almost intimidate the kids by their 'win at all cost' demands. It seems we need a balance - a realistic view of the issue of failure combined with a very rewarding view of having had all the pieces fall into place on the 'win' side of the 'scoreboard'.

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

We each have to deal with the tendency we have to not be content with who WE are and what WE are able to do - the talents we all possess. We are looking to have 'purpose' as defined by what WE are and not so much WHO we are in Christ Jesus. There is too much gray in our hair - so we rush to color it or pluck it out, quickly forgetting that each one is a mark of wisdom. The mid-section has too much "beef" - so we buy the "love handle" exercise widget of the hour, forgetting we find lots of ways to avoid even the idea of exercise in our lives. The clothes we just bought three months ago are already classified as "out of style" - so we send them off to the thrift store while we rush to the department stores to buy the latest in fashion - forgetting that God just asks us to be modestly dressed and content with what we have. All the while, we neglect the biggest thing that brings contentment in life - being happy with who and what we are in Christ Jesus!

Yes, my mid-section could use a little work and I am not up-to-date on my wardrobe selections. My hair is almost not recognizably brunette any longer. But...I am who I am! No more, no less. There is nothing I can do that will change that - try as I might, I am who I am and no one else is me! I can make myself "look" better - but it is the "inside" that counts! We have lost sight of the fact that inner character is the true measure of a man or a woman. This is something we'd do well to relearn! Mom has spent about the past nine months not always recognizing me. She sometimes thinks there is more than one of me in the house - others saying they are me, but not really me. Yesterday she seemed to come to some revelation, though. She was staring at my neck as I bent in front of her doing her hair. She reached out and touched my chain with the little dove on it. All of a sudden she proclaimed she knew I was the 'real' one! All because of the little chain. That tiny symbol helped her to connect with me and she asked me to never take it off because it would be her way of always being able to recognize me. I don't plan to remove the necklace!

We are all "what we are". No more, no less. When we come to that realization, we are liberated to begin to live "just as God made us". With all the quirks and nuances of our character. We stop judging others for what they have, how they act, or what they say. We start seeing others as gifts in our lives - someone placed there for this moment in time. We also begin to see others and ourselves as God sees us - with the 'recognizable' signs of his Spirit within each of us. The idea of contentment is being satisfied with what or who we are - not wanting anything else - because we already have much more than we realize. It is coming to a place of satisfaction - knowing that we are "perfect" in God's eyes. Yes, he encourages us to keep our bodies in shape - but he doesn't want us to make our bodies our gods. Yes, he desires for us to have things that will make life easier - but he doesn't want us to elevate those things to a level of importance that exceeds his in our life. What we "are" first and foremost is children of God - direct heirs of his grace and his love! No more, no less! Just sayin!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Making it

You know that I believe in the best "control" in our lives as the transition of control - giving control to the one who is able to manage our lives the best - God. "Losing what is dear to us" really doesn't excite any of us because it wouldn't be 'dear' to us unless we wanted to keep in near! It is in loss that we understand the need for comfort and most of us would rather bypass the loss part entirely. It is also in loss that we connect with that which is most important to us - because sometimes it takes loss to help us see very clearly how much importance something has in our lives. There is just something about loss - physical, emotional, financial, or relational - that causes us to look at our lives again and evaluate where we are now that the loss has occurred. We become "evaluators" of where we have been, what we have done, and the cost that we have paid for where we find ourselves today.

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you." (Matthew 5:4)

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don't ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that's a picture of the "prosperous life." At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing. (James 1:9-11)

Things in and of themselves are short-lived in terms of how long the last in our use or enjoyment. We tend to count on them sometimes as though they are permanent, though. We expect our cars to run when we hit the ignition switch and not to ever get flat tires when we need to be a certain place at a certain time. We don't count on them sputtering to a halt in the middle of an intersection. When we take them to the mechanic and hear the news that the cost of repairs outweighs the remaining value of the vehicle, we find ourselves faced with tough decisions. None of us really wants to hear that we need to realize that things are really not permanent. They change with time - they are not permanent or lasting in any terms of the word. Even a diamond has no worth to us after we are buried!

We are often find our careers take a turn we did not expect, the economy sends us into a tizzy because ends no longer meet, or the people we thought would be there for us in times of hardship are just not sensitive to the turmoil we are finding ourselves enduring right at this moment. These are the very opportunities for God to embrace us like he has not been allowed to before - they are not to be wasted in self-pity and grief. Our "counting on" people, things, or circumstances has kept him at arms length. In the time of whatever this loss might be for us, he can finally pull us closer than we have been before. Our defenses are let down, and he can reach into our hearts in comfort, in correction if needed, and in his healing compassion.

When God embraces us, he is taking us in eager anticipation of what we will experience next to his heart - there is an intense willingness on his part to pull us near. He takes that which is ready to be received because he never will force himself on us. Comfort is only accepted by a readied heart. Correction is only useful if the ears and mind are open to listening to it - swaying the heart to follow in due time. Compassion only connects with our misery and walks with us in the moments that cause us distress when we are open to having a "walking companion". We may not fully recognize the real frailty of those things, plans, and people who have been given a position of "trust" in our lives. Yet, in the loss of these, God stands ready to reveal his love - and yes, if necessary, his correction. The two are not opposites - they go hand in hand. It is in love that correction brings us close. It is in love that comfort accomplishes healing. It is in love that we understand the strength of his embrace. Just enjoy his embrace - you will make it to the other side of this stress, my friends! Just sayin!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Well...maybe

Some of us don't really believe what we pray - almost as though we pray the words, but we don't honestly expect God to answer us! Why is that? I imagine some of us see God as we do our earthly parents - never really there for us, kind of on the fringes of our lives, needing more of our help than them giving us theirs. Others might just see God as the 'big man' in the sky, too busy to be bothered with our 'little' needs. I know there are others of us who simply pray 'big prayers', knowing in our heart of hearts that God answers prayers, but we somehow equate our prayer to something 'bigger' than what God may want to do on our behalf. Whatever the reason for wavering in our faith when it comes to expressing our heart to God in prayer, we need to get over it! God is listening, even when the answer isn't always as we might have imagine it to be!

If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who "worry their prayers" are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you're going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open. (James 1:5-8)

The idea presented to us today is that when there is less of us, there is more of God - less of us always equates to an opportunity for God to reveal more of himself. No one is more blessed than the one that has allowed the presence of God to become central in their lives. The place of being at the "end of our rope" is the beginning place for God's presence to begin to affect us in ways it had not ever been able to before. It is there, at the end of our rope, that we find deep, connecting love. It is in the connection that the 'transition' is made between our lack of faith or trust and the knowledge that God's love is always working on our behalf.

In prayer, as in all the other areas of our lives, it is a matter of who is in control. The one in "control" is the one that must be relied upon for the outcome or solution. We have all probably been in a situation where we have seen the example of "trusting" someone to catch you when you fall backward or jump from a higher place. The use of this "technique" of trusting another to catch us is really designed to show us that in a team we are better than when we are alone. Yet, it is the idea that control is being given to the other person that often frightens most of us and keeps us from "taking the plunge" in the first place! None of us likes to lose control.

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." (Matthew 5:3)

We want to be "in control" of all avenues of our life. To "let go" of control suggests that we may get what we don't want, might suffer some loss, or might be somehow "misdirected" into something that will do us harm. So, we hold onto control. We have to control because we cannot trust. God's purpose in telling us that it as at the end of our rope that we enjoy the greatest freedom is because he knows that 'end of the rope place' is the place where we finally give up control! Praying for our needs to be met, then going out and meeting them on our own terms and by our own efforts is silliness. James knew that prayer that really mattered was prayer that revealed trust in the one who answers prayer - God himself. We often "think" we have prayed in a "trusting" manner - yet, the end-result of our prayer is that we are still doing it all ourselves! God is not honored by those types of prayers - those prayers where we "keep all our options open". 

God must be trusted and in order to reveal our trust, we have to allow him to be in control. Let's ask ourselves who is "really" in control in our lives - who is it we are relying upon for the answers to our needs? Are we simply living life "keeping our options open" - trusting self more than God? If so, it is time for a "shift" in the 'driver's seat' of our lives! Just sayin!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Nothing more...nothing less

Nothing more...nothing less. Have you ever heard that saying and wondered what caused the first person who uttered those words to actually have to say them? Nothing more suggests someone could try to 'add to' whatever one is considering - because it isn't complete the way it is. Nothing less might just indicate someone would try to 'take away from' what was there because they thought they could be a little crafty or devious in their dealings. Nothing more...nothing less. When it comes to what we know about God, there is no 'adding to' the truth - truth is truth and it cannot be 'added to'. When it comes to what God does for us, there is 'nothing less' than his perfection that is offered - nothing can be added to it, nothing can be taken away from it and have the same impact on our lives.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me. (Colossians 1:27-28 MSG)

God wants us to know his truth 'inside and out' - with a full disclosure of truth on his part. He expects us to embrace it as unashamedly as he has given it to us. Nothing more...nothing less. The 'nothing more' is Christ - the 'nothing less' is also Christ. There is no substitute for truth - no substitute for Christ in our lives. We cannot work our way to God - 'nothing more'. We cannot do anything to cause him to love us anymore than he already does - 'nothing less'. We are as he sees us and he loves us just the way we are. We are asked to embrace him as he is - nothing more, nothing less.

The message of Christ 'makes sense' only when we don't attempt to add to it or take away from it. We might not fully understand the depth of his love, but we don't have to understand love totally to enter into the embrace of love. We may not fully understand the truth given to us in his Word, but we don't have to dice and slice it to our taste or desire in order to make it work for us. We are given the totality of his love, but we don't always appreciate ALL that is 'included' in that love. We see in part, understand in part, and appreciate only bits and pieces of his sacrificial love. That doesn't make his love any less perfect or complete. It just makes our perception less than perfect!

All the truths of God's grace and love are not dependent upon our understanding of those truths. They stand as true even when we are trying to take away or add to them! We might not realize the error in either of those choices, but when we finally do, we see that God is a God who promotes common sense! He doesn't make his love so complex that we cannot receive it. He doesn't proffer his truth as so mythical that we cannot take it in and be nourished by the wealth of hope and strength contained within it. WE are the ones who add to and take away from - like we need to have a say in the matter!

God is love and he gives perfect love. God is truth and he brings perfect light into our lives. God is freedom and he doesn't just set one free 'up to a certain extent', but with total freedom and release. God provides a total health in our inner man, not just in the areas of his choosing. The sooner we understand the complexity of his love and grace doesn't depend on the simplicity of our understanding and trust, the more we will fall in love with him and find we have all we need exactly in him! Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Live up to your value

What someone is willing to pay for something is what some say determines the 'worth' of the object being bought. I just observed a discussion of a woodworker on social media who crafted a raised dog dish holder from wood, painted it, and then put it up for sale on the social media feed. He was surprised at how much people were willing to pay for the newly crafted item. He found there are a whole lot of people out there very willing to pay for their doggies to have a nice place to dine! He already has thirty orders for more! Now, I am sure he put the doggy dish up at a reasonable price, but the demand for the item outweighed his investment of time, talent, and creativity. I imagine he will be able to create a little 'market' for these items in no time at all because people are willing to pay the price for their dogs. If we are willing to pay a price for the comfort of our animals, I wonder why it is we don't fully appreciate the price God has paid to see our lives set free from the power and pull of sin?

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God. (1 Peter 1:18-19 MSG)

We are all on a 'journey' somewhere, but not all of us appreciate what has been done for us so that we may enjoy that journey to the fullest extent! Sometimes we forget the extreme 'value' placed upon us by the 'price' God was willing to pay for our restoration. If we humans are willing to pay such a high price for our animals who are with us for such a short while, why is it hard for us to reconcile that God would pay the ultimate price for us to be with him for all of eternity? As we might already have realized, not all of the journey we were traveling apart from Christ was all that rosy. Sometimes the journey got downright dirty and nasty. The 'dirt' we found clinging to our lives almost weighed us down with a guilt far too heavy for us to bear up underneath.

We are on a journey, but not one we travel without consequence. Either we experience the consequences of separation from God, or the consequences of being brought near to him through his grace and the shed blood of his dear Son, Jesus. There is no greater price - no more perfect a price to be paid. Therefore, we are encouraged to be aware of the journey we are now on - to realize that it is no longer one of 'empty' or 'vain' pursuit, but of 'extreme value' and 'fulfilled joy'. We are to live with a deep consciousness of the price that has been paid and then to learn to live up to the value God places on our lives!

All of us have probably heard about living by our values, but maybe it is time we take a different view of this and learn to live up to our value! The value of our lives was clearly determined by the price God paid - we now need to live with a consciousness (awareness) of the value he declares about each of our lives. Sometimes we 'discount' the value of our lives, but let me assure you that no life bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus is to be 'undervalued'. It is one of supreme worth and as such, we are to live with a new awareness of this future we have been prepared to enjoy with him for all of eternity. Just sayin!