Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wow! Look up!

There is always a story we are telling others - in the way we walk, how we respond emotionally, and in our tone of voice. The story is more than words - it is 'acted out' in each and every move we make. Is it any wonder we can look at the things God has made and see how much he displays about himself in them? Even the things within nature declare the character and love of God. Consider for a moment the beauty of the rose. It comes from a stem riddled with thorns capable of tearing apart human flesh, yet it has the softest of petals and most magnificent odor. What seems harsh produces something so sweet and delicate. Isn't it just like God to take some of the 'harshest' of things life sends our way to produce the sweetest and most delicate responses within us? 

The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. (Psalm 19:1-2 TLB)

The heavens are vast - you really cannot comprehend their beginning, nor their end. They are what we might refer to as 'limitless' - kind of like the grace of God. The grace he displays is oftentimes very hard for us to comprehend, yet it comes and keeps on coming, as though there can be no end to it. The heavens are also what we might call 'expansive' - with a wide range of possibilities in one vast expanse. In the east we may see clouds, while the west may be clear blue and the overhead be burning hot with the sun's bright rays. The possibilities are limitless - much like the love of God. 

Even the colors of the sky tell us so much about the God we serve. Stop to imagine nothing but blue sky - as far as you can see there is nothing but rich blue expanse. As you look at the calm blue sky, you might think also of the way the Word of God can open up before you, bringing calm and peace into your lives. If you see the grayness of winter skies you might think of the lean times when God is still ever present, although it seems like coolness and things you cannot fully see begin to obscure the 'fullness' of view you'd really desire to have instead.

The richness of a summer night's radiant gold, magenta, and vivid orange make us think about the beauty God bestows. Considering the vastness of those skies upon which this scene is radiantly displayed, isn't it befitting to recount the many ways he continues to display himself, allowing us moments to just bask in his presence in the awe of his wonder? The sky is painted so vibrantly bespeaking his vibrancy and strength. The speed at which the many hues come on display and are suddenly changing before our eyes gives us insight into the speed at which God can change things within our lives.

Even the night sky, filled with tiny twinkling stars, sometimes shooting across the sky and at others just stationed in their resting place high up into those heavens, show us the care God takes to adorn each of his creations in just the right way. None of us is without the display of his greatness and care; not even the darkest of moments can refuse to shine forth some beauty. The skies tell of his glory, but they also tell of his certainty - they don't fall or fail, nor do the wither or die. They are consistently there as is he. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

No runt here!

If you have ever felt like you just didn't have what it took for the issue at hand, rest assured you are not alone in that feeling! For seven years, Israel was under the domination of a heathen nation known as Midian. The story of man called Gideon begins with the description of the ugliness that domination brings to a nation - others eating their crops, turning their camels loose to bring their pasture lands to ruin, and sending the people scurrying to the caves to hide from their captors in cowering fear of their destructive forces. As is always the case with God, he hears the cries of their hearts, sends a prophet, and re-explains to them why they are in bondage. It is simple: God spoke to them of his tremendous care for them, demonstrated that care repeatedly in mighty ways, and they still chose to fear the people around them! Fear is always a place of bondage - plain and simple!

One day the angel of God came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, whose son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress, out of sight of the Midianites. The angel of God appeared to him and said, "God is with you, O mighty warrior!" Gideon replied, "With me, my master? If God is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the miracle-wonders our parents and grandparents told us about, telling us, 'Didn't God deliver us from Egypt?' The fact is, God has nothing to do with us—he has turned us over to Midian." But God faced him directly: "Go in this strength that is yours. Save Israel from Midian. Haven't I just sent you?" Gideon said to him, "Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan's the weakest in Manasseh and I'm the runt of the litter." (Judges 6:11-15)

Working away on the threshing floor after the grain harvest, Gideon is interrupted in his work by an angel of the Lord. You may not realize it, but it is in the "doing" of the ordinary things of life that God can speak the loudest and clearest to us! We think we need retreats, revival meetings, and the like in order to "hear from God". The truth is that if we are simply willing to be available to God, we will hear from him no matter what we are doing! The angel refers to Gideon as "mighty warrior" - an image Gideon obviously did not have of himself! Gideon immediately begins to debate this perception with the angel. Isn't that the way we are? God says, "I declare you worthy" and we argue about our worthiness. God says, "I love you beyond measure" and we question how he could love us as we are. God says, "I will give you the words to speak" and we complain that we are not eloquent enough to be a messenger of his grace.

It amazes me how many times we try to "talk God out of" what he declares to be true within our lives! It is important to realize that he has the "big picture" and we are quite limited in our perspective. We may see only what is immediately in front of us, but he sees what is to transpire. Our arguments are simply not valid when put in perspective by God! God has to repeat the message that he is with him and will use him to defeat Midian not once, but three separate times! If that doesn't speak to God's infinite patience with us, I don't know what does! In the end, Gideon asks God for a favor - he asks for a sign! Okay, an angel sits down in your place of business, engages in conversation with you, assures you that God will go with you into the battle, and you still need to ask for a sign? I am so glad that we have this recorded for us in scripture because it gives me hope that I am not the only one that struggles with being obedient when God asks something of me! Even I doubt, ask for further evidence, and then await God's assurances that he really did speak to me! Thank God, we serve a patient and loving Lord!

We often doubt our "credentials", citing something as lame as "I am the runt of the litter" when God declares us to be the leader of the battle! I am so glad that we are not limited to our own perceptions of ourselves! Gideon was so focused on what HE could accomplish in his own abilities and God was so focused on what GOD would accomplish in his power! We make lame excuses when all we see is the possibilities of our own abilities! God has greater possibilities if we'd just lean on him like he asks. God never commissions us to take certain step without also being willing to back those steps up with his full power and provision along the way! Just a few thoughts from the "runt of the litter" today! Our inadequacies are God's opportunities! Don't try to argue that one out! God wins every time! Just sayin!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Kept from stumbling

Ever begin a day proclaiming God's grace and end it assured he has displayed his grace time and time again throughout that very day? I have and I know that it was God who set things right in that day, not me! It makes me want to 'repay' what I have received so generously, but there is not way to 'repay' God for his grace! The only thing we can do is to be grateful and strengthen our resolve to live obediently to all he commands.

What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me? I'll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God! I'll pray in the name of God; I'll complete what I promised God I'd do, and I'll do it together with his people. When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him. Oh, God, here I am, your servant, your faithful servant: set me free for your service! I'm ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice and pray in the name of God. I'll complete what I promised God I'd do, and I'll do it in company with his people, in the place of worship, in God's house, in Jerusalem, God's city. Hallelujah! (Psalm 116:12-19)

Lift high the cup of salvation! In other words, we need to put the grace of God on display in our lives. Be a living testimony of the deliverance of God. In so doing, we proclaim the greatness of God's love and the faithfulness of his provision. Pray in the name of God. That may seem like a "given" to you, but in the times these words were written by our psalmist the nation was surrounded by all kinds of false gods. Religions abounded, giving "choice" to man as to who deserved the "glory and honor" for what had occurred in their day. There were gods for the seasons, gods for fertility, gods for the weather, and even gods of war. To the psalmist - there is but ONE God - and to him he will pray! Today, we are afforded a whole lot of "other" sources for what occurs. We have the god of Wall Street to blame or thank for our financial status. We have the god of media to fashion our thoughts and frame our ways of acting. You name it, we've got a 'god' for it! It is the intention of the psalmist's heart to have no other God before his one true God! It should be the intention of our hearts, as well.

Complete what we promise God we will do - and do it alongside your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Our commitment to God should be "lived out" in our regular and ordinary daily life. In the moment of truth, will we step up to what we promised God we'd do? In our comfort, we seldom remember the promises we make in the times of our greatest distress. Whenever we make a promise (a vow), we are committing to a set course of conduct. We need to follow-up on that commitment - and we will not do it alone - we have our brothers and sisters alongside in the journey. When we are weak in our fulfillment of our vows, perhaps we'd do well to simply invite another to stand alongside as we take the steps toward faithfulness that we have promised! That relationship of another can go along way toward helping us be faithful! Desire to be of service to God. The outcome of our soul's deliverance is that we should desire to be of service to the one who has done so much in redeeming us and keeping us safe along the way. There is nothing more rewarding to God than to see his children lifting hands in praise to him. The heartfelt worship of our Lord stirs his heart as we lift him high in exultation. We connect with God through heartfelt worship.

We often forget the many blessings of our God. That is one reason that I journal my studies and why I share what God does through the written word we share in this blog. God has done much to transform this sinful soul and he deserves the honor due his name! Man cannot "repay" God for the many blessings in his life, but he can give two things in return: his heart and his commitment to fulfill his vows. The heart connects him with God - the desire to fulfill the vows he has made is a direct result of his gratitude toward his Lord. These next words suggest that we can be at peace and our soul can be at rest. This is not because of what we have done, but because of the faithfulness of what God continually does! Let this be our prayer of both meditation and praise on this day. See if it doesn't change your perspective a little today to "relax and rest" by remembering that it is God who is in control, who delivers, and who sets all things right! Just sayin!

I said to myself, "Relax and rest. God has showered you with blessings. Soul, you've been rescued from death; Eye, you've been rescued from tears; And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling."

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A stone for a wall or a path?

While most mistakes we make are not those that result in a permanent riff in a relationship with another, there is a tendency for us to recall the past ones made when the individual keeps making the same ones, isn't there? Most of the time, we do our best to not make the same mistake again, but if you have ever made the same one more than once, you know just how frightfully hard it can be to seek forgiveness, much less give it! Rarely do we look as mistakes as 'permanent' because we allow 'do-overs' in life. Wasn't the key labeled backspace on the keyboard really a way of allowing us to retype those misspelled words, or completely eliminate a thought we did not want to continue with in those written words? We all have those 'backspace' moments - those times when we know we have made mistakes, but we need to the grace of God to wipe them out so we can start over again.

Love forgets mistakes; nagging about them parts the best of friends. (Proverbs 17:9)

A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance. (Proverbs 28:13)

Olympic downhill skiers don't learn their skill playing video games any more than we learn the 'art of forgiveness' from just saying we will forgive someone. Forgiveness is a skill best learned by active participation. How much more do my actions convey when I not only forgive, but also come alongside to embrace and help that other with their 'do-over' in life? Or to get just a little closer to home...when they embrace us and help us with our much needed 'do-over'? Life isn't easy and choices are made that sometimes don't always end up the way we want. Rather than seeing these mistakes as 'discards' in life, wouldn't it be wonderful if our mistakes could actually become the building blocks by which a thing of beauty could spring forth? By God's grace no mistake is ever wasted!

According to Webster, a mistake is a 'blunder in choice'. It carries the idea of a wrong act of judgment. We all suffer from impaired judgment at times, but we need never reject those moments of impaired judgment as stepping stones to help us take steps in the right direction. Admit the misstep and incorporate the lesson learned by it so you don't make it again! At that point, it isn't wasted - it becomes foundational to not making the same one again. Yes, you may make a similar one, but it won't be exactly the same. Yes, you may have a few stones laid before you realize they weren't leading you down the right path, but you can redirect any path! Path changes often come because we are reconciled by love - the love of Christ, then the love of those who befriend us on this earth. 

We are received by God without barrier - don't let mistakes become a barrier that keeps you away from being received by each other. We are the ones who take those mistakes and use them to either build walls that separate us, or turn them into paths that pave the way to newness in the relationship. Just sayin!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The right image

Did you ever dream of being someone else? You observe a famous sport's star performing so well in his sport and you begin to imagine all the glory and grandeur he enjoys. You see one of those shows on TV where what is depicted is some lifestyle of opulence and magnificence. You note the admiration a particular teacher receives from her students and you imagine being so well-liked someday by all those who you will touch in your profession. We all 'admire' another from time to time, or consider 'what it would be like' to live in their shoes. Did you ever stop to consider what it is like (truly like) to be the President of the United States, a U.S. Senator, or Prime Minister of a great nation? Imagine being the Son of God, come to earth, leaving behind your divinity, knowing that your entire purpose for being there was to endure the ridicule of people and the ultimate end of death on a cross. Not exactly the same image is created, is it? You might not want to walk in his sandals as much as you may want to walk in the shoes of the sports star or admired teacher!

If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! (Romans 8:31-32)

The rest of the passage that follows these two verses ends with a statement of fact: I'm absolutely convinced that nothing - nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable - absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. Nothing and nobody - nothing in heaven, nor in hell - can remove us from the love of God! Whenever we begin to allow thoughts to enter into our mind that we can lose our relationship with Christ, we are really not considering the context of these verses. When we are doing this "questioning" of our salvation we begin to doubt OURSELVES - our worth as we are. No act of salvation is based on anything good in ourselves, any good deed our "self" can perform, so why do we allow the doubts we have about ourselves to be those that we focus upon? We are accepted exactly as we are - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

God has declared us worthy of his love. That is something that many struggle with - a sense of worthiness. This is because we equate worth with what someone has done or is doing / achieving. God insists that we do not determine our worthiness because whenever we do that we are getting into the realm of religious efforts and not intimate relationship with him. Whenever we feel we have to "prove" ourselves worthy of someone's love, we work overtime to convince them that we are worth loving. The simple fact is that we are intensely loved JUST THE WAY WE ARE! Romans 8:29-30 goes on to say that God knew what he was doing from the very beginning - deciding from the outset to shape our lives along the same lines as the life of his Son, Jesus. The fact is, Jesus is our "mirror". We see the original and intended shape of our lives IN HIM. It was all God's work that set us on a solid foundation - his intense love for us is the basis of that foundation. The fact is, God not only STARTS the project of restoring us to wholeness, he COMPLETES it! That means we can be assured that what has been declared "worthy" by God (that is you and me) will stand that way forever!

The part we play in the salvation experience is pretty limited. God calls, we listen. Our part is hearing and responding - he does the rest. Don't miss what I am saying here - we don't even seek - he seeks us, calling out to us so that we can find him in the midst of our chaotic mess of life! Our part is to just "hear"! It is in hearing that we come to a place of acceptance - we are no longer bound to our sin nature - there is an exchange of nature. Someone once asked me the question, "Which one of your sins did Jesus take to the cross that day on Calvary?" You know how we each are when it comes to admitting to this truth - we begin to list off this sin, and maybe that one! The fact is, Jesus took ALL our sins to the cross - those we had already committed and all that we might commit down the road. He didn't just die for the sins of our past - he knew there would still be struggles with sin in our future and he died for those, too. Our salvation is through a repeated gift of grace in our lives. Grace can never be added to - we don't ever add works to grace! Grace allows do-overs in life! His grace pursues us until we get it right! So, don't think of your salvation experience as a point in time, but as a progressive act of grace upon grace in your lives. It is in the extended grace that we become the image of the one we behold! Behold the right image of who we were meant to become and we will! Just sayin!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Where are you?

We have a whole lot of terms for the transition of life referred to in religious circles as 'salvation' - inviting Jesus into your heart, making him Lord of your life, being saved, finding new life. We need to keep in mind one thing - our "salvation experience" is a one-time experience that involves an "exchange" of our sinfully selfish nature for the holy nature of Christ. This happens both instantly and it takes time - while we 'receive' the exchanged life at that point of 'salvation', it can take us a lifetime to see it 'worked out' in every area of our lives!

Jesus said, "You're not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the 'wind-hovering-over-the-water' creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it's not possible to enter God's kingdom. When you look at a baby, it's just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can't see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit." (John 3:5-6)

Our life is supposed to change once we accept the awesome gift of Christ's death on the cross on our behalf. We could call that one time experience a "rebirth" process. It is where we get the term "born again". At that moment in time the exchange of character that takes shape within us is formed by something we cannot see or touch - we become alive within our spirit-realm. Never miss the fact that  it is by no action of our own that our spirit is reborn. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. When we have a mindset and 'heart-set' change - believing that Jesus is the full and permanent provision for the forgiveness of our sins - God goes to work in us! The exchanged life is really the changing of our desires. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we develop a desire to love God. We don't possess that naturally. In fact, we don't possess the desire to love unconditionally at all! That is a learned thing - the closer we get to God, the more we understand love without strings attached. The Holy Spirit is also responsible for helping us to serve God with our whole being - body, soul, and spirit. It is that "help" that actually makes us act and appear "different" than we were prior to that rebirth. If we find we aren't acting the way we want to it may just be time to ask the Holy Spirit to help change our actions!

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. (Ephesians 2:7-10)

God has us where he wants us - right next to his bosom - close to his heart. That is the direct result of the salvation experience. In that position, he is able to shower upon us his graces. SAVING is all his idea, and all his work. That means that we don't even desire to have an exchanged life until he places that desire there within us. It also means that we do absolutely nothing from start to finish to accomplish that exchange except say 'yes' - the exchange begins there, but in time, we will find we must recommit to it over and over again! If you have ever wondered who is more powerful - God or Satan - let me settle it - God is supreme - he is sovereign. Satan operates ONLY within the boundaries God allows for him. Sometimes we don't understand why God allows for Satan to have any "reign" at all - but we have to trust God's design. It is important to recognize that God will not allow Satan to do anything at all that could alter our position in Christ. It is impossible for Satan to "take us away" from God! We are his! He watches over us and he cares for us - each one in an intimate way. We do NOTHING to gain our salvation - it is a gift of God, plain and simple. We cannot be "stolen away" from God by a crafty act of Satan. We are secure in his care - although we may be a target of Satan's attacks, we are not subject to his winning those attacks! Just sayin!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Counting House Books

Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs. (Charlotte Bronte) If you recall the Charles Dickens classic in which Ebenezer Scrooge is observed making his way to his counting house (today's version of a bank), all the while intent on not celebrating Christmas, holding people captive to their debts, and being unwilling to ensure the poor could have even a small meal to enjoy on the holiday, you might be close to the miserable state a soul endures who is so tied up in himself that he fails to recognize the needs of others around him. I daresay none of us is exempt from a periodic display of selfishness from time to time. If we find ourselves given to this pattern of behavior over and over again, it is likely we are going to develop some of these traits as revealed to us by Scrooge. Nursing animosity or registering wrongs is really a condition of the heart that goes much deeper than 'keeping accounts'. Did you ever stop to wonder why Dickens chose to give Scrooge the profession of running the counting house? Maybe he was trying to help us realize there is no 'record-keeping' that will ever lead to us living a full and honorable life!

Overlook my youthful sins, O Lord! Look at me instead through eyes of mercy and forgiveness, through eyes of everlasting love and kindness. (Psalm 25:6-7)

We all do dumb stuff from time to time - there is just not escaping that fact! We all need forgiveness for the things we have said, thoughts we have entertained, and coolness of attitude we have displayed as the moments arose. We all might seek it, but do we render it as quickly as we seek it ourselves? This is where the rubber meets the road - in our giving forgiveness - not just in our seeking it for ourselves. It is easy to point out where someone has wronged us - it is quite a different matter to release them from the debt of 'owing us' something for that wrong. The 'counting house' books we all can potentially keep against others can soon become full of 'debts owed' if we aren't careful. The 'books' could be filled with our own transgressions and failures, but God in his vast mercy wipes the slate clean. Those pages bear the words "paid in full" next to our names, my friend. Isn't it about time we learn what it is to live above 'keeping record of wrongs'?

Forgiveness isn't always sought - in fact, some may find it easy to point out how they feel wronged, where it is we have failed them, and what it is others have done to make life hard for them. It seems their 'record-keeping' is quite thorough - as they are able to 'turn the pages' of their 'counting books' and find each and every 'debt' they feel they are owed. Animosity is really a big word for resentment or bitterness. All record-keeping does is allow us to constantly keep in mind what debt hasn't been paid in the moment. Debt is always something 'owed' because it could not be repaid at that moment in time when the payment was required. If you went to your car dealership today and declared you desired a new car that you needed to take off the lot today, but that you had insufficient funds saved to pay in full for that car, how is it you'd be able to drive it off the lot? You'd owe a debt you could not pay in full - a debt that would need to be paid back 'with interest'.

The 'interest' is kind of what Scrooge was revealing to us as the 'hook' that keeps us mulling over those debts. Every time we allow a 'debt' to be recorded in our books, we assign some form of 'required interest' on those debts. We expect the individual to 'pay back' in full what they owe, including some measure of interest. The longer the debt is held, the more the interest expected! There is a danger in holding debts others cannot repay - those things we should forgive in the moment, never allowing even one entry to be made into a 'counting book' under their name. The danger isn't always clear to us, though. We forget that our sins have been many and we have been forgiven much more. We forget the interest we never had to repay, or our future inability to make payment for some infraction or 'debt'. We'd do well to recall the extreme mercy of God and remember he keeps no records of our wrongs! Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Am I revealing my ignorance?

The greater our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds. (John F. Kennedy)

Imagine that you are a well-studied, perhaps even having accumulated a few degrees you proudly display on your walls, yet lacking in all manner of common sense. If you don't think this is possible, look again! We are told to value the degrees we can amass - gaining more and more education from our books and halls of learning - yet we oftentimes forsake common sense when we need to count on it the most! While scripture clearly encourages us to be open to 'new ideas', we are also reminded of the importance of learning 'good judgment' in light of all our 'new knowledge'.

The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them. (Proverbs 18:15)
Now teach me good judgment as well as knowledge. For your laws are my guide. (Psalm 119:66)

It was Kennedy who also reminded us there were risks and costs to our every action - as well as the risks of inaction. I think he may have been reminding us to consider both - the risks of action can never be considered apart from the corresponding risks of inaction. This is where we often find ourselves in a quandary. We consider only one-side of the matter, focusing so clearly on that 'side' that we forget there is always more to be considered - some of it quite worthwhile, others not worth our attention.

Common sense isn't the only way to view a matter - neither is the lesson learned merely from the pages of the books. There is one 'book' we study that gives us both 'lessons' in common sense and in truth we can put our trust in at all times - the Bible. Even in terms of the study of these hallowed pages, our ignorance can come into full light! It is there we can be 'undone' - revealing just how much knowledge we thought we possessed, yet living completely ignorant of how to live consistently by that knowledge.

This is why we need to rely upon more than just the book-learning of the Word of God. We need the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and of those who have already figured out how to live by what is contained within these pages. It is 'good judgment' we often lack, not knowledge. We learn that 'good judgment' not in the halls of education, but in the moments we spend at his altar each day just soaking in what he will teach us there. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A little more than "fire insurance"

Have you ever heard someone say of someone's 'salvation experience' that they just 'bought themselves a little fire insurance'? It is as though they are pointing out the individual has said 'yes' to Jesus, but only as a means to not go to hell. Is it possible to get 'fire insurance' and still live a life as we choose? It also begs to question if the "once saved, always saved" term is biblical - based on what we can find in scripture and recognize to be true about the nature and character of God. I know parties that will weigh-in on both sides of this equation, but we need to understand some scriptures that might help to answer those questions - or at least, provide the biblical perspective "in context" rather than taking a few verses out of context that might support one opinion or another. "Fire insurance" and "once saved, always saved" are just two 'states' of our soul we have labeled - you won't find these terms in scripture, so you have to be vigilant to glean what you can from what is there!

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him." (John 3:16-18)

Salvation is a term used in Christian churches to describe the condition of having surrendered your body, soul, and spirit to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is more than asking Jesus "into your heart", as some put it. It is a condition of "exchange" - we exchange our filthy, unholy condition for the holy and whole condition of God's Son, Jesus. This exchange is something that is a result of believing in the work of Christ on Calvary in dying for the sins of mankind. It comes by faith - there is absolutely no amount of "doing" that makes us "saved". It is more than 'fire insurance' to keep us from burning in hell. What really happens at the point of "salvation" is that we are delivered from the potential of eternal death. There is a lengthy passage in Matthew 25 that speaks of weeping, gnashing of teeth, being cursed, everlasting punishment, and eternal life. One is the condition of eternal death - the other is eternal life. There is a very real separation from God that is eternal and there is only ONE way to ensure that we escape that eternal separation - Christ. If you want to call this 'fire insurance', be my guest, but there is much more to it than ensuring we don't 'burn in hell' for our sins!

Sin is really a condition of heart that means that we have gone beyond the boundaries God has set for our lives. Sin is more than a "passing thing" in our lives. It is a series of behavior problems that stem from wrong attitudes, impure motives, selfish actions, and just plain wrong patterns of conduct. By nature, we are pretty self-centered individuals - always on the lookout for how a circumstance will affect us, not so much the 'other guy'. We are born with this nature. If you don't believe me, look at a newborn. They pop out hungry, expecting to be fed. They soil their diapers, expecting to be removed from what makes them uncomfortable. They miss the warmth of the womb, so they cry until they are rocked into slumber. These are traits that indicate we have needs and we demand them to be met - don't meet those needs timely and the infant makes life miserable for everyone! Behavior may be a learned thing, but our sin nature is something that we are indeed born possessing. Our tendency to sin is therefore not a LEARNED thing, but a product of the nature we were born with. If you don't believe me, try changing a particular behavior all on your own. You may change that behavior, but underneath the very nature that encouraged that behavior is still there - that is why we struggle with change so very much.

Many people feel they can just deal with their own sin - like willpower is enough to change behavior in a lasting and meaningful way! Willpower is the desire and ability to resist something, but it is a self-motivated action and can be very 'short-lived'. It is important to realize that we cannot transform our spirit without also having our "nature" touched by the hand of God. We need that nature to be altered by the altar! We cannot alter it by merely 'determining' to be 'good'. "Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him." (Romans 5:6-7)

We probably have a little problem associating with this passage because we don't really understand this kind of sacrificial love and commitment as we don't 'sacrifice' on alters anymore in our culture. An alter sacrifice was 'procured' and 'prepared' in order to make it to the altar. It was a lamb without a blemish, a sheave of the harvest taken from the first of the thrashing.  We have absolutely no ability on our own to "procure" our salvation. There is nothing in man that could make right what sin had made so wrong. God being the loving God he is by nature made that provision for our sin - he provided the exchange of nature we so desperately need, but could never produce by any effort of self-determination or willpower on our own. Romans goes on to say that God has a holy nature and his holy nature cannot coexist with the sin nature of man - in order to come together, the nature had to be "fixed". Reconciliation with God requires a change of nature. Man must act on what has been provided in order to enjoy the provision. In other words, we must desire the exchange of our nature, calling upon the sacrificial work of Christ to make us holy - not just to give us 'fire insurance', but to work upon our lives to 'insure' we are transformed. God made provision for the exchange of our nature - that provision is Christ. All we "do" is accept the work of the cross, believing that Jesus is the only provision for our sin problem. It is through Christ that we exchange natures - no other way works! Just sayin!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Just thinking....

When we have thoughts that are constantly gravitating toward worry, it becomes an all-consuming process that works over and over again in our brains until it eats us up! Did you ever really think about what worry is - not worry over worry, but think about what might be at the root of it? When we are spending our time in worry, we are really focusing all our time on reviewing over-and-over again what we have absolutely no power over - the control is really in another's hands! That seed of doubt, fear, frustration, and indecisiveness soon become a full-grown tree of worry, bearing repeated fruits of anxiety that we feed on and continue to mull over in our minds. We have no control over it, but it soon begins to control us - it draws us in deeper and deeper.

I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Philippians 4:8)

If we can get our minds constantly in a place of frenzied activity (worry), then we have less ability to tune into what God wants to say to us about the situation. Activity shuts down the communication avenue with God in so many ways. That is why Satan is delighted whenever he sees us engaging in the thoughts of doubt and worry - they keep us 'moving' in ways that makes it hard for us to settle down long enough to hear what God has to say on the matter! The term "worrywart" actually comes from a comic strip in the 50's in which a character in that strip was constantly causing worry in others rather than being worried himself. There are both extremes to worry (fretting) - being so consumed yourself, or shifting it to others in order to avoid it yourself.

The first thing we need to embrace when dealing with our thoughts is that they are a matter of choice. Go to the local home repair stores during planting season. In the gardening section, there are these displays with tons of packages of seeds in them. Within each package you will find between 12 seeds (if you are planting something like pumpkin) and hundreds of seeds (if you are planting radishes). One seed is large and easily recognized. The other is quite small and many may slip through your hands unnoticed as you examine them. The same is true with our thoughts - there are big ones we easily recognize, place carefully into their place, or even dismiss entirely. I don't want a full garden of pumpkin, so I will likely not plant the entire package anyway! There are also small ones, not so easy to detect, but nonetheless capable of producing a bumper crop of growth! Especially when many escape our grasp without our even noticing.

Did you know that a rut is a track worn by habitual passage (something akin to worry)? Take that and apply it to your thoughts today - what "track" or "rut" have you created in your thought life? That which consumes your thoughts soon consumes your heart. Outward circumstances impact what we internalize so very well. Internalized circumstances soon become worries. Worries soon become tracks well-worn by habitual passage! We have power over our perspective in life - it begins in our thoughts. When we begin our thoughts with the instruction to "think on these things", we are insuring that we have the power to choose our thoughts. Perspective is the relationship we attach to the various input we receive - when we are actively involved in choosing how we view the various input, we learn to control the impact these things have on us. You have heard the saying "mind over matter" - I'd like us to begin to realize that it is "what comes into our mind matters"!

Worry is often a point of conflict in our lives - our minds think one thing, our heart knows another. We choose our response to that conflict based on the thoughts we allow to become the most central part of our focus. The same is true of hatred, anger, or bitterness - our minds entertain the thoughts of how we have been wronged, our hearts are challenging us to forgive as we have been forgiven. We choose our response to that conflict based on which thought we give the most attention to. There is no better place to have boundaries in our lives than in our thought life. When we learn to declare some roads as "off-limits", we are less likely to end up in the ruts of habitual passage! Just thinkin!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Not one more cookie!

The resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible. (Thomas Hardy) Ponder Hardy's thoughts for just a moment and you will understand why willpower alone seldom keeps us from eating the candy bar within our fridge! Now, the one still at the grocer's counter is a little harder to actually enjoy, is it not? The nearer the 'evil', the harder it is to avoid - it is within our path and we find things harder to resist when they are in our path!

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

My BFF was sharing about her father's desire to lose a little weight, so he has 'divested' himself of some of the goodies he had 'stockpiled' in the house. The box of chocolates found a new home far away. The rice krispy treats made someone else very happy. The cookies blessed another's family. I imagine the purpose of the 'divestiture' is to ensure the temptation for the 'evil' of those sweets is further away than the cupboard! As long as they remained, there was difficulty avoiding them. When they were gone, there could still exist a 'yearning', but the ability to satisfy the yearning was much harder.

Sometimes the hardest thing for us to remember is that temptation is not all that powerful when we remove the thing from our midst! If it becomes harder and harder for us to ever 'acquire' whatever it is we are tempted with, it is less likely we will 'give into' that temptation. If our 'temptation' is able to be fulfilled by what we eat, we stop bringing that object into our home. If our 'temptation' is acquired and fed through what we view on the TV, then we disconnect from the cable company's feed. If it is indulged through the associations we keep, we begin to change those associations.

The opposite of evil is good - most would agree. Today, many have framed evil in such a way as to believe there are 'degrees of evil' - some not so bad and others at the opposite end of the spectrum. The problem with this reasoning is that what we 'tolerate' as a 'less offensive' evil today will become the norm tomorrow. The evil we once avoided becomes a 'tolerable' or even 'acceptable' evil. It has been brought close enough to begin to tempt us to accept it and believe it is 'okay'. This is shaky ground, my friends, for evil of all types is to be resisted (avoided at all cost).

To resist - give yourselves to God in humility - admitting freely the pull toward the temptation that we feel. God isn't caught off-guard by our admittance of the 'pull'. In fact, he knows temptation exists and he has provided a pathway of escape, but we have to seek his assist to walk that path! Just sayin!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Good or Good for Something?

Be not simply good - be good for something. (Henry David Thoreau) What is that "something" for you? We all strive to be 'good', but how much do we strive to be 'good for something'? I think Thoreau was maybe trying to tell us we all have that 'something' God has placed us on this earth to do and we won't be totally fulfilling our purpose until we recognize and move into that 'something'. We do focus on 'being good' a lot more than we focus on finding our 'something' we are really 'good at' and then finding how that 'something' can bless the lives of others.

God made everything with a place and purpose... (Proverbs 16:4)

Our place and purpose has been defined by God - at the time he formed us in our mother's womb, that purpose began to take form. The 'something' we were created to fulfill began long before we ever knew life. It may take a while for us to figure out what our 'something' is that we have been called to fulfill, but we can never let another define that for us. The only one who should 'define' it for us is Christ himself. As the creator of all things, including us, isn't it wisest to allow the 'definition' of who we are and what we are placed her to fulfill be left to him?

Too many of us allow others to 'define' us - to tell us our purpose on this earth. I wasn't created to be an architect, but I can build stuff. I wasn't created to be a musician, but I can read a little music. You wouldn't want me to design your home because I don't understand all the stuff that goes into it. I can drive a nail, install a faucet, and even lay a little tile, but there is a vast difference in being available to help with these tasks and being the one who designs the tasks that make up the whole building! I remember trying to learn to play the guitar - although I could strum a few tunes pretty well, I wasn't created to be a musician.

My calling is quite different from yours - but I didn't allow anyone to define my calling as they saw it should be. If I had allowed that to occur, the military would have made me an automobile mechanic! That was one of the things I scored well on in my testing, but stop for a moment to consider that nursing is really being a little bit of a 'mechanic' - the 'engine' and 'drive-train' are just a little different! Aptitude testing is one thing - fulfilling God's purpose in life is quite another. Don't just strive for 'good' or 'good enough' in life - strive to be good for that 'something' God created you to fulfill. Just sayin!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Grace when I need it most

In watching one of those shows set back in the 'old country' of Scottish history, I observed as these homeowners kept their sheep 'penned in' within stone walls they'd erect from stones found right there in their own fields. It didn't have to be high - just about the same height at the sheep. They'd graze along until they came to this stone enclosure, then they'd almost turn around and graze in another direction. These small, but quite effective boundaries actually kept the sheep from wandering willy-nilly off into pastures not theirs to graze upon, or into areas where harm would await them. The Word of God presents a wide variety of "boundaries" that actually act quite similarly. Those boundaries actually serve to give us a sense of safety - we stay within them and we are safe - we step outside of them and no telling what will happen. One of those 'boundary areas' should be in our thought life. Our thoughts are not really all that "right" or "good" without boundaries. Eventually an uncontrolled thought life will begin to display in our words. 

Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. (James 1:22-25)

It is by the intake of his Word that we are able to begin to get control over the outflow of words, and eventually those actions that flow from our mindset. We may find that we have engaged in wrong thought patterns and therefore, the actions behind those thoughts are being displayed, despite our efforts to not display those actions. An example of this is when I begin to formulate thoughts that someone is just being selfish in their demands of my time. When I entertain this thought over and over again, I begin to resent every action I take to fulfill that person's desires. My speech may be a good warning sign of what is actually going on in my mind - those subtle jabs and snippy answers tell me a lot about what I am really thinking!

Thought has power - it is that which is the "igniting" source for what it is that we say and do. Thoughts can be creative, or entirely destructive. They can be edifying, or spoken in such a way that they almost carry a damning effect to them. They can be spoken in such a way that they are instructive, or they can be so frivolous that people wonder why you are even speaking them at all! They also can be challenging, moving us ahead in relationship, or complacent, keeping us in a rut. They can be ruminated upon, giving them an acidic taint - so be careful with your thoughts! Lest you think that there is no hope for "unbridled" thoughts - those that are really given no real boundaries to stay within - I want to point remind us we are all given "filters" by which we can "test" each thought before it ever has a chance to become an action or a spoken word. Those filters come to us through the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the intake of the Word of God, and the development of our conscience. It only takes ONE tiny seed thought to change the entire course of our actions! The exact change you so desperately desire in your heart begins with that one tiny seed thought placed there by the intake of the Word, the urging of the Holy Spirit, or the niggling of our conscience.

Did you know that if you rehearse even the smallest "good" thought, it has the potential to become the greatest influence over the rest of your thoughts? It is true. Begin to entertain just one good thought about something you are struggling with today in a relationship you are engaged in and then keep rehearsing that thought. Then look specifically for insight from the Word of God as it relates to that "good thought" and allow it to fertilize that thought. Eventually, it will grow and begin to become pervasive in your mind. That one "seed thought" begins to "over-grow" the other less edifying thoughts you might have been entertaining about that relationship. It isn't always the bad stuff we see in each other that we should be rehearsing - it is the good. There is safety in setting boundaries in our thought life. When we begin to exercise the authority over what it is that we allow into our minds, we begin to form the right mindsets. Boundaries have a two-fold purpose: They keep us in the right mindset, and they keep the wrong thoughts out! When we begin to set the right boundaries, we begin to reap the benefits of a more controlled mindset and a more fruitful display of God's grace in our lives. Grace that actually 'gives grace' when others need it most. Just sayin!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

More than a pretty bottle

Every now and again I get set very near a bar in a restaurant. What catches my eye while sitting there is the myriad of beautiful bottles into which those 'adult beverages' have been placed. There are bright blues, dark greens, tall and short bottles. Some carry labels stamped in red melted wax while others display ones with edges of gold. There are even those with little emblems on them. What is within those bottles is not always evident - if I had never been exposed to what a 'bar' serves, I might see those bottles as having something beautiful inside them. I would not know of the biting taste of some of those liquids, or the addictive power contained within. What is within is concealed by the loveliness of the bottle. I cannot ever be aware of the totality of a man by just reading the label he might display, my friends!

Don't judge wine by its label, or its bouquet, or its full-bodied flavor. Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with—the splitting headache, the queasy stomach. (Proverbs 23:31-32)

I think we each do a whole lot of "label" reading in our lifetime, even an occasional little look inside, then come to the conclusion that whatever we are examining looks good, or at least 'good enough'. It isn't until we have consumed it fully (or it has consumed us) that we understand just how lousy the thing was for us to have ever considered as 'worth it' for us to partake of! We are left with a really bad taste from the experience of "consuming" what it was we were judging by nothing more than a label or pretty facade! I am a "label reader" - I confess it! I look at the outside of the box of cereal, the outside of the can of tomatoes, the outside of the non-dairy creamer - the outside of many things. Sometimes, okay, quite often, I have been very disappointed by what "appeared" to look good on the outside, but once I got into it, I was faced with something entirely different from what it appeared to be on the label. Labels are not always accurate.

I think that is the meaning of our passage today - we often think it is okay to entertain certain ideas, simply because they were labeled "okay". For example, we might believe that old adage, "God only helps those who help themselves." In truth, if you were to look at the origin of that saying, you would find it comes from one of Aesop's Fables! It actually reads, "The gods help them that help themselves." Did you catch that? The "gods" - not God! The phrase was coined by Benjamin Franklin later in his writings "Poor Richards Almanac". What most don't know about Mr. Franklin was that he was a firm believer in the idea that if man could not help himself, then man was hopeless. I daresay if I had to rely upon the 'help' I could give myself at times, I'd be sailing down a pretty murky river to an even murkier destination! Scripture actually tells us that those who trust in themselves are fools - they are not doing a good job of walking in wisdom and their life reveals that (Proverbs 28:26)

So, the old adage of 'helping one's self' doesn't hold up under investigation! Those that actually find that they spend their efforts on what they can accomplish find themselves labeled a completely different way than they might have imagined when they set out on that course of travel - fools! To draw our strength from what we can accomplish is a foolish thing. We are not able to do all things! Only God is able to do that! We need to be wise about the "labels" we believe, or put our trust in. We cannot simply accept them as "fact" because someone we admire wears the label - not every label will be 'right' or 'true'. We must become wise to the "influence" that the "label" makes in our lives. Just as all that 'pretty bottle alcohol' may produce a "buzz" and leave someone feeling pretty poorly the next day, believing a wrong thing or imagining a wrong thing can mess us up! Don't become consumers just because of the 'label' one wears. Become wise to what the Word of God teaches about what the "label" really affords - it is a descriptor, but not always capable of making us appreciate what is contained within! Just sayin!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What distance is enough?

Stop for a moment to consider the distance between here and there. If you are considering the distance between your forefinger and your nose, it is likely not further away than the end of your arm! If you are considering the distance between your home and a small island in the Pacific the distance may be two or three thousand miles. Consider the distance to Mars and your journey just got beyond what you have ever traveled before. Now, consider the distance between your guilt and your sin - it is likely a lot closer than you'd like it to be! When God's grace comes on the scene, though, that guilt and sin go through a separation far greater than any distance we are capable of understanding with our finite minds! Our sin is separated from us as far as the east is from the west. That includes the guilt associated with that sin - if we allow God to separate us from it at the same time he separates us from the sin. Too many times, we hold onto the guilt and go through some form of 'separation anxiety' because we cannot fathom how completely God has removed our sin from our lives.

He has not punished us as we deserve for all our sins, for his mercy toward those who fear and honor him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:10-12 TLB)

The key is in first understanding God's position on our sin - it is already forgiven in Christ Jesus. We think of it as something we must endure some form of 'punishment' over, but when we fully begin to appreciate the purpose of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, we begin to realize the 'punishment' for our sins (past, present, and future) was already placed squarely on his back! The 'separation' of us from our sin was accomplished at the cross - the 'separation' of us from our guilt over that sin is accomplished at the foot of the same cross. Guilt serves a purpose - it tunes us into something that is problematic in our lives. It gets us to the point of admitting we need to stop, take notice, and allow some adjustments to be made in our lives. It causes us to refocus and get our attention rightly placed. It isn't to be held onto, muddled over, allowing it to build up into waves of shame. It is to be the thing that causes us to realize God's grace brings separation - as far as the east is from the west - of us from our sin.

Guilt isn't about God forgiving us - it is about us forgiving ourselves. Since the beginning of time, we have had the hardest time giving ourselves 'absolution' when we know we have done something 'wrong'. God built us with this internal sense of 'imbalance' that comes when we have engaged in behavior that is not good for us. It is this imbalance that he intended as a means of communicating where it is we need to adjust our choices. Guilt was always intended to help us, not to drive us deeper into despair or fretting. It was not ever supposed to drive us into the self-pity of shame. We need to learn to see and use our guilt as God has designed it - as a warning to consider what we have been doing and then to adjust our behavior so that we are back in line with what we know we should be doing. 

If God is able to remove our sins as far as the east is from the west, do you think he might also be able to remove our sense of shame over those same sins? Shame is really what comes as a result of what we, or others, are telling us about that sin. If we start telling ourselves the truth that God tells us about how wide this separation is, maybe we would have less opportunity for shame to take hold. I think that may be a lesson we all need to embrace - God's grace is sufficient to cleanse us of our sin, but his Son's actions on the cross were more than sufficient to remove both the guilt and the shame of that sin. The distance we put between our guilt and us begins at the cross and it never meets up with us again. Just sayin!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Was that me?

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. (Eli Wiesel) Indifference is really a condition of the heart and mind in which a person has determined that they have very little interest or concern for something or someone. Another term we use to describe this condition that is quite similar to indifference is the term "mediocrity". There are some very telling telltale signs that someone is pretty much indifferent, or that they have "settled" for a position of mediocrity in their lives. An indifferent individual might be apathetic to the needs in their own life or those of another who may be right there in their path. They may be calm, exhibiting a very cool indifference in the face of what would cause uneasiness or apprehension in others. It could be they possess a seeming absence of emotional connection with others or circumstances around them - removed as it were from the influence the circumstances might normally have on an individual. Apathy is a dangerous condition of the heart and mind - seeping deep into the very soul of an individual and creating a coolness that is hard to overcome.

Patient persistence pierces through indifference; gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses. (Proverbs 25:15)

When you hear about indifferent people, you might think of an individual who struggles with frequent periods of depression or emotional darkness, but they are not the only ones that experience this kind of apathy or distanced-connection with the world around them. In fact, any of us can be indifferent in much the same way simply as a matter of our own choosing. Rigidity is different from apathy in that it suggests a condition of the heart and mind that exhibits an unwillingness to bend, with little to no concern for yielding the stand one has taken on a subject. We might label this person as "hard" or "callous". It comes from a Latin word from which we get another term - rigor. When we think of rigor we might just imagine the stiffness of death! Both apathy and rigor have one thing in common - the lack of movement!

Neither condition of heart, mind, or soul is desirable. An apathetic mind leads to very little positive action. A rigid heart, hardened by life's hurts will do little to reach out to another for help. An unyielding soul is in danger of hell - it will oftentimes make its own hell right here on earth! There is an antidote to indifference and rigidity, though. The patient persistence of a loving God is what breaks through our indifference - he challenges us to take up this same patient persistence in dealing with the indifference of others. The gentle words of a merciful God break through the areas of hardness or coolness in our lives, challenging us to exercise the same gracefulness in our conversation with each other, breaking through with gentleness and compassion into the coolest or hardest of places.

It seems like we have the greatest difficulty allowing God to "get into our business" where we have the greatest amount of indifference, or maybe where we have erected the walls of rigidness toward him. We need to remember that he "counters" our apathy and hardness in much the same way he asks us to "counter" those same traits in others. A wise friend used to tell me, "We are quick to see in others the things we don't want to see in ourselves." She was so true in her assessment of my actions and attitude! What I was unwilling to allow God to deal with in me became the thing I "criticized" most in others. We would do well to ask God to target areas of apathy and hardness in our lives. In turn, we need to ask him for the patience to persist and the gentleness of speech that will allow us to be instruments of grace in the lives of those we have been the hardest on. When we really begin to ask why we are being so hard on them, we might be surprised to know that it is because the area we find fault with is really so close to what God wants to deal with in us! Just sayin!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Are you a masterpiece?

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Do you have a 'masterpiece' in your life? I do and am blessed to have one! Did you ever stop for a moment to consider what scripture has to say about friendship? For one thing, we are highly encouraged to make God our closest friend (James 4:8). God's friendship is often revealed in the ways we interact with each other on this earth - in the ways we form relationships, nurture them, and come to appreciate the blessings we have in them. When we consider 'picking' a friend on this earth, here are some pointers from scripture:

1. They should be a constant guide - leading us toward goodness and away from things that harm.  One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)

2. They will help us grow in wisdom - leaving unwholesome ways of thinking and acting behind. Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

3. They will be even-tempered and considerate - helping us to develop these same characteristics in our own lives.  Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. (Proverbs 22:24-25)

Our choice of friendship begins with our relationship with Christ and then if we are wise, we will choose others to surround us who build us up and help us to be more Christ-like in our behavior. Luke reminded us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves - in a kind, loving, and considerate manner. (Luke 6:31) We might find it hard to make friends, but once we have made a good friendship we may find it is even harder to keep it! Why? We don't always act like we are supposed to! Sometimes we get self-focused and forget about the needs of others. Maybe we get a little over-zealous in our enthusiasm toward some things and lose focus of the things that matter to the other person. Regardless of where we 'bumble' in relationship, if we have chosen well, there will be one over-arching thing that remains - grace.

Grace brings us together - grace keeps us together. Plain and simple - we all need grace from time to time, regardless of how solid the relationship is between us. We will say things we didn't think through. We will act before counting the cost of the actions. We will make mistakes in relationship, but when the relationship is rooted in grace, it will endure these 'bumbles'. The price of friendship is high, but well-worth the 'expense'! The one who seeks a masterpiece must be willing to be worked on by the Master who creates all masterpieces in the first place! Just sayin!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Knock, Knock, Who's There?

I am kind of a 'silent' person at times. My BFF will query me just to be sure I am doing okay. Because I know she is concerned for not only my emotional well-being, but my total well-being, I appreciate these little 'check-ins' from time to time. She knows I can get deep into thought, ruminating over things that have been giving me concern from time to time. Sometimes I let her know all is well - I just needed to be still for a while - to regroup and renew a little. I think God knows we need these times of stillness to just regroup - spiritually, emotionally, and physically. They are times when we find ourselves emptied of what doesn't really matter and filled with what does!

Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God, and also obedience. You hear the prayer in it all. (Psalm 65:1-2)

The "prayer in it all" is the key because we come to understand God hears both our silence and our spoken word. We can never forget the third thing he "hears" - our obedience. Silence is the absence of sound or noise - when there is a "perfect stillness" we call that an absence of motion. We often don't think we have made a connection with God unless we are able to experience the noise or movement of that connection (like when we cry out loud or lift our hearts in worship). Yet, silence is actually a form of praise! Even in the quietness of waiting in his presence, we praise our God. It is a difficult thing to do sometimes, but when we actually do stop long enough to simply admire him, we connect with him in new ways! I wonder if we were to stop long enough to simply admire each other if we'd connect on a deeper level with each other?

Our obedience is also praise to God. We rarely equate obedience to praise - but God does! Obedience is submission to the control of another - who better to have in control of our lives than Jesus? God's control is sometimes more rewarding when we just "hush" long enough to enjoy it! God hears the "prayer" in it all - even in silence, prayers are lifted in ways our words cannot possibly lift them. It is important to remember that prayers are more than words that are spoken. God knows us intimately and he connects with us even in the moments of silence we allow to come between us. Maybe this is because this is where he is best able to see the submissiveness of our hearts!

We all arrive at your doorstep sooner or later, loaded with guilt, our sins too much for us— but you get rid of them once and for all. (Psalm 65:2-3)

We all "arrive" at his doorstep - no one is exempt. Some of us come to his doorstep willingly - others kicking and screaming. Still others come before him with the awful emptiness of not ever knowing him! The fact is that no one is exempt from that "arrival"! We are drawn to his doorstep - through his love. That "doorstep" is a destination with a purpose - but the journey is unique to each individual that comes. It is "sooner or later" that we all arrive - I think we'd do much better if we'd listen to his invitation SOONER! We'd save ourselves a tons of issues, loads of guilt, and a boat-load of disappointments if we'd come to him sooner! We arrive "loaded" down - carrying more than any one person was ever meant to carry. We are loaded down, burdened under the weight of our guilt, sins too much for us to handle.

We don't even "arrive" in good shape! How would you feel if every time the Fed Ex or UPS driver came to your door the package was dented, dinged, or somehow damaged? You'd probably dread opening the door to see what you'd received! Not Jesus! We come to him with our full load of blame and condemnation, probably not fully aware of all the violations in our conduct, but sensing the associated guilt of those 'missed steps' all the while. We were never meant to bear the guilt of our sin on our own - the cross did that for us. We are just meant to lay that guilt down, walking away free in his presence. We knock. Jesus answers the door! Completely, thoroughly, and without a trace of evidence that our sin ever existed, he embraces us! Too bad that we struggle with "memory disease" - remembering all that he has already forgotten in his love and grace toward us! We arrive in pretty miserable shape - he "re-shapes" our miserable state through the gentleness of his touch!

If you think your silence is not praise - think again. If you think your obedience doesn't matter - rethink that one, too. If you think you are "too far gone" for anyone to love and accept you - you'd definitely better think again! Jesus envelops our silence, relishes in our obedience, and welcomes us into his graces in spite of 'how' we arrive at his door. We are truly a blessed people! Just sayin!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A little time in the garden

A few years back, my son built me a raised garden area with a small deck space inside those beds. The area is very relaxing and is kept a little cooler by the large tree in my neighbor's yard that spans the fence line. Arizona sun is brutal on wood, though, leaving some of those deck boards split and peeling away in spite of my efforts to seal, reseal, and seal again. I bit the dust yesterday and pulled up all the old boards and laid down some composite. Now the wood beds look a little rough next to the newness of the deck! Yep, now I am considering how to refinish those beds! Not with new composite, but with a good couple coats of paint that will brighten up the area nicely. My garden boxes need a little attention to ensure they will continue to yield those bright red hibiscus blooms and the sweet bell peppers each season. There are just times when our 'garden' needs attention - because the garden is where life springs forth!

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. (James 1:19 MSG)

How is it that God asks us to pay attention to the garden of our life? It is plainly laid out for us as learning to listen well, speak only after we have listened well, and then dealing with the junk that keeps us from having deep and lasting relationships. Tend the garden well and it will produce beautiful growth for not only your enjoyment, but the enjoyment of all who pass through it! We are landscaped with his Word. These are the 'seeds' by which life becomes vibrant and fruitful. Those red hibiscus flowers encourage the pollinating creatures like the wee hummingbirds to come into the garden. They help ensure I have a consistent yield of bell peppers - sweet and tender from the bush. In much the same way, God plants seeds and tends them with care, but he also asks for us to be attentive to what he has planted and to 'cooperate' with the growth process!

Certainly learning to be a good listener is not the easiest of tasks to undertake, but it is one of the first things he lists here as helping to ensure a good 'yield' from the garden of our lives. Seeds planted won't matter at all if they are constantly trampled over by our arguments and constant excuses. We aren't to talk, then listen - we are to hear and then act! Just sayin!