Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Next Right Thing

These next couple of blogs should, perhaps, come with a warning label. Neither may be popular or comfortable. With that said, I’m a pretty surface person. So, don’t read more into what I’m sharing than what the words say. 

When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church, then summarized his entire letter with five closing admonitions (see above, 1 Corinthians 16:13-14), his end goal was to see a church that was moving on toward maturity and standing firm in faith. For quite a season they had been stuck. They were stuck in their divisiveness, arguing about which spiritual leader was more important. They were stuck in immorality, fearful of confrontation. They were trapped by some warped theology, which was reflected in their understanding of the gospel; and, their response to the celebration of communion. More than anything, they were stuck in spiritual infancy. So, Paul instructs them to “act like men…” “Grow up,” he tells them. “Put away childish things.” “Lose the bottle!” I offered a current cultural phrase that might capture Paul’s essence with this: “Man-up.” 

Man-up. Not in the sense of “toughen up.” Not in the sense of “stuff your emotions.” Not in the sense of “refrain from authenticity or vulnerability.” Definitely not those things. As I studied and followed the bread crumbs of Scripture (in a hermeneutical sense), I walked down two different trails. One trail took me down a path with a sign that read “courageous.” The other led me to explore a path with a marker reading “maturity.” I’d like to bring you along, point out a few of the sights along both paths. For this week, let’s start down the courageous-path

As we’re all aware, courage isn’t about a lack of fear. Courage spites fear with faith. It stares fear down and responds anyway. I’ve always loved this quote from John Wayne: 

But, what does Scripture tell us? Over and over again (just do a simple search on, we read these words, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.” David’s dying words to his son, Solomon, were these: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you…(1 Chronicles 28:20 - emphasis mine).”

Years ago, after Bay and I returned from Kenya, I found myself rapidly putting on a lot of weight (there’s just so much yummy food available in the U.S.). Since my clothes weren’t fitting correctly, and I didn’t have finances for a new wardrobe, that meant something had to be done. I didn’t want to do the work; but, truly not just my wardrobe, but my health, was at stake. I joined a weight reduction class at my church based on Scriptural principles. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember one thing that was stressed in that program, “Do the next right thing.” That stayed with me…and, oddly enough, it was a key to pushing forward…in spite of fear of failure, in spite of not “feeling” like it…in spite of my want-to. 

That’s a small example. There are a lot of times when fear seems to loom large and I forget the greatness of the one who is with me. There are those times when I don’t much feel like doing what I know I need to do, like right before I step behind a microphone at a women’s event; or, when I am stretched out of my comfort zone, being asked to do something that is SO NOT ME; or, when I sit down to write; or, I know there’s a need to confront in a healthy, biblical way;  or, when I’m asked to forgive, when the last thing I want is to forgive. It’s in times like those, when the path of courage leads me to simply stop looking at the overwhelming big picture, take one simple step, and “do the next right thing.” 

We can do that, you and I. We can always be courageous, in spite of us, and in spite of our emotions. Sometimes, it’s just so easy to allow those feelings to dictate our lives, rather than let them be simply what the Lord intended: indicators of the heart. So, let’s take one step toward courage; for we can always do that one right thing that comes next. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Man Up

Sometimes, the Apostle Paul is just too blunt. Seriously. The way he phrases things (inspired by the Holy Spirit, of course) isn't always tempered the way I'd like them. I prefer sugar and spice (and everything nice), but the man just gets to the point, and leaves us, undeniably clear as to what he's trying to say. One thing is for sure, we're never confused.

Having just finished Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, I'm more convinced than ever that Paul wouldn't preach long in any church pulpit...anywhere in America. However, in his defense, the Corinthian church was pretty messed up. They were cliquish, divisive, self-centered, immoral, unloving, unfocused, forgetful, immature, and prideful. Other than that, they were a great group of folks. Sadly, I see myself in that list on multiple counts. So, Paul's words still ring through the ages right down to my self-centered, immature heart. His letter is instructional; it's convicting; and, it's filled with reproof and admonition. Sometimes, I need to hear those things; and, I don't need them wrapped in a pretty package. I just need straight-talk.

As the letter winds down, Paul summarizes his instructions with five authoritative and specific reminders. Here's his list:

It's the one in the middle that stabbed me. "Act like men!" (But, Paul, I'm a woman????) In some translations, the literal rendering of these words are given, "Quit like men!" In other words, if Paul were standing in my church pulpit, he'd be saying:
"Grow up!"
"Go out of this world valiantly!"
"Put away childish things!"
"Stop with the bottle-feedings."
"Man up!"

This brief life story is A LOT embarrassing. Here it comes. When I was little, I loved to stay with the two aunts who raised my mother. Mostly, I loved to stay with them, because they coddled me. I was the baby, and, even as a six, seven, yep, even as an eight year old, they let me BE THE BABY. I'd get rocked before bed, and sung to each night. They let me have my favorite "blankie" - the one with the satin edging - so I could suck my thumb as I went to sleep. Probably worst of all, they'd still let me go to bed with a bottle of warm milk (oh, yes, they did...BUT, they hid it from my was OUR SECRET, until the secret came out). In their house, I didn't have to grow up. Until I did.

It would be a very sad thing, if that were still my response to life. Right?  If I still wanted to suck my thumb and sip from a baby bottle? It was bad enough as an eight year old! However, with another birthday approaching soon, it wouldn't be right for a 63-year-old, old lady to want to continue to be coddled. It's just! Yet, spiritually speaking, I'm still there. Sometimes, I still want to be bottle fed. Sometimes, I still want to be swaddled and held and rocked and sung over. Sometimes, I don't want to have to be responsible, or to adult.... Sometimes, I still wish I could just be the new-born-infant where spiritual matters are concerned; but it's!

I know, you expected me to say, "it's ok." That would be the graceful way to respond. After all, Zechariah makes it clear that the Lord does, indeed, sing over us with delight...but, that's not where I'm headed. Where I'm headed (stay tuned for next week) is a bit uncomfortable. It won't be popular. It's a place where I've been doing some wrestling. In the mean time, Paul has been saying this to me, specifically:

This week's "words of wisdom" from Scripture are these two: MAN UP!  So, what does that look like, practically? What is God really saying to us? In light of these words, what does He want from us? From me?

Come back next Thursday...I've been given a couple of thoughts... For now, what do those words written from Paul's hand from the whispering of the Holy Spirit mean to you? Soak in it...and let's compare notes.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Jesus Wants More Beggars

Here's a thought...


It's a biblical principle. I see it over and over scattered throughout Scripture (and, yes, even in the Old Testament). Grace is extended in all kinds of ways: in attitude, in relationship, in patience, in love, in kindness, in pursuit of peace...the list is endless. There's another way it's shown, that is less spoken of, lest we "offend." Grace is also extended out of our pocket books, using the almighty

So, it stands to reason that the followers of Jesus are the most generous of givers. Our churches are filled with grace-receivers. However...

"The church of today is not great at giving.  This isn't exactly news. But it is a statistical fact: 
-Tithers make up on 10-25 percent of a normal congregation.
-Only 5 percent of the U.S. tithes, with 80% of American's only giving 2% of their income. 
-Christians are only giving at 2.5% per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3% rate." (Relevant Magazine)

With that, here's what I believe the Lord would like to see from His followers: beggars.

Yes! Jesus is looking for beggars. Not in a third-world-country-sort-of-way. I've seen a lot of those kind of beggars on the sidewalks of Kenyan cities, in South Africa, in Tanzania, in Cuba, and sadly, in our own country. Jesus isn't looking for beggars who want to receive, Jesus is looking for beggars who want to give!

There's a great need for Christian beggars. Beggars who have their "eyes open," and are (here's that word from last week)  WATCHFUL, begging for an opportunity to generously pour out "relief." He's looking for His bride to stop worrying about getting more, storing up what they think is "enough," and, even out of their own poverty, overflowing in a wealth of generosity. It's not about how much we have, but what we do with it. Like the Macedonian churches who gave to the needs of the Jerusalem church.

We want you to know brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor or taking part in the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

Do you see it in there? The part about begging? The part where Paul tells how the churches gave? They were afflicted and in EXTREME poverty; and, they "begged earnestly" for a favor. That favor had nothing to do with themselves. They didn't ask for help with their needs; they asked if they could take part in helping relieve the needs of others.

That's not me. I'm not naturally thoughtful. It's not in my DNA to beg-to-give. When I have a need, or I'm in a season of HARD, I don't default to OTHER'S HARD. I become self-focused. "How can I get relief for my own need? However, I won't just point the three fingers backward; I'll point my finger at YOU, too. I don't think it comes naturally in any of us. There's a key to being OTHER's FOCUSED. There's an answer to being this kind of earnest beggar...

Paul finishes his sentence this way, "...and this not as we expected, but they gave themselves to the Lord first, and then, by the will of God, to us (2 Corinthians 8:5)"

"They gave themselves to the Lord first..." They entrusted themselves to the Lord's care; had committed their lives; and, they had surrendered everything they had (and didn't have) into His Hands, giving Him full permission to manage their interests (even their $$$). Obviously, their God was proving Himself faithful, over and over again, because their hearts were filled "with abundance of joy." We don't have that kind of joy if we aren't experiencing the Presence of God in our Place of Hard (Psalm 16:11). 

Jesus-Beggars are givers. First to the Lord. Then, by the will of God, to one another...for the relief of the saints. 

Followers of Jesus, BEG! Followers of Jesus, look out for one another! For when we do, "we will be His witnesses..."  The Lost will see and CRY OUT:


(feel free to print and color)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ready? Or, NOT?

I've loved the song "Even So Come" since I first heard it played on my SiriusXM Station in the car. However, these words, " a bride waiting for her groom, we'll be a church ready for you...," have caused me question each time I've heard it. Are we really ready, church? Am I? 

Some of the grand-treasures were here over the weekend for a birthday celebration. What a great gathering as the truth of my little sign played itself out time and time again!

I hardly saw the kids on one of their devices, as they played hard outside, swimming in the new pond, building forts at the back of the property "in the woods," and, some of the littles even playing Hide and Go Seek. It's a timeless game. My sister-in-laws grand-daughter found the best hiding place, and I wasn't sure if the other girls would ever find her. She must have gotten a little skeptical, as well, because I finally heard her little giggle-voice coming from behind Bay's clothes in his closet, and, voila(!), she was found. The point of the game is mostly about being found. However, you'll not get the opportunity to be found, if you're not READY when the "seeker" calls out, "Ready or not, here I come!"

Jesus will one day say those words, "Ready or not, here I come..." However, His heart beat is that we BE READY. It's why He often told his disciples they wouldn't know the hour, but His return would be like a thief in the night, so they should be WATCHFUL. Staying awake and watchful is part of being ready for the bride who is waiting for her groom...  Jesus' return is not just about the lost being found, it's about the found being prepared, as well!

With that said, here's part of the definition of "Ready."

1. poised for action
2. to make suitable, or equipped, in advance for a a particular purpose or event
3. Completely prepared, or in condition for immediate use or progress
4. Mentally disposed and focused
5. Responding with great speed and sensitive
4. Immediately available.

The fact is that a waiting bride who is ready is vigilant and focused. She is careful, lest her remission find her unfocused, ill-prepared, unorganized, and, well, less than anticipatory. How excited and prepared a bride is for her wedding day is indication of how much she wants to be with her groom. The correlation is undeniable.

Are you ready, bride?
Are you watchful, vigilant, giving strict attention toward the anticipation of His coming (Matthew 24:42, Matthew 25:13)?

Are you sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6): calm and collected in spirit, circumspect, completely focused and mentally engaged?

Are you prayerful (Mark 14:34-38, Luke 21:34-36)?

Are you protective of "the house" from the thief who wants to steal, kill, and destroy (Luke 12:37)? Luke adds this in his gospel: " that your hearts aren't weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the cares of this life..."

In our alertness, are you admonishing others with compassion, even tears, commending one another to God and His Word of Grace, which builds up the church (Acts 20:31-32)? This is so important, because "there will rise up men among us who speak twisted things, misinterpreting the Truth, leading the church off the correct path (Acts 20:30)...

Are you really ready?

The bigger question is this: Am I?

Do our actions match the words of our mouth...the words of our song...the words of the Lord that we love to declare?


Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Bible As Commentary

I had a conversation a while back with an acquaintance who'd called me for a little marriage advice. She asked. I shared. She didn't like what I had to say. Basically, I directed her to Scripture. She was looking for someone who, more or less, had a magic wand, would agree with her that her husband was horrible, and could wave that wand to give him a quick fix. She'd tried many one seemed to have the right wand, or the correct bippety-boppety-boo. I suggested she take a look at a few Biblical principles that could help, then work on herself, while asking the Lord to send conviction to her husband, rather than seek to change him. In the meantime, she could start with showing him respect (Ephesians 5:33). It dawned on me, by the end of the conversation, that this gal was looking to find the right counselor, the right book, the best program that would "do the trick." The Bible, however was simply an "add-on" which validated the counselor-program-book-of-choice-for-the-moment. Sadly, I own no magic wand (though I have often prayed for one); and the truth of the Word of God isn't just something to validate my opinions. My opinions are shaped by the TRUTH.

Here's what I walked away from this conversation with: The Bible isn't a commentary, that validate man's opinion or worldly philosophies; the Bible is a stand-alone-book. We don't find a belief-system we agree with, then look within Scripture to locate a God-Word to back up my-word. First, I find a God-Word that shapes my belief. God's Truth has been breathed from His mouth to my heart. When I read, it's not just for my information. It's for my transformation. This is foundational. Yet it seems using the Bible as a commentary is more common, especially in a world filled with Christian literature, blogs, Bible Studies, YouTube, and programming.

If I'm reading the Bible for life-change, I'm asking questions: Lord, what do you want from me as I read? What steps can I take to live out your teachings? How might I rise above the norms of this world, as I journey toward my real heavenly-home? I ask these questions because "nothing changes if nothing changes." I don't ask them because I think God's acceptance of me, or the value He places on me, is affected. I ask them, because I'd like to look more like the Son, here on earth, today. I ask them because I really do want to be "peculiar" (Paul's word in 1 Peter 2:9, KJV). Peculiar, not in an odd-crazy-way, but in a special, unique way that makes people wonder what I have that they don't. It's one way to fulfill the "you will be my witnesses" of Acts 1:8.  I, also, ask those questions, because it puts a smile on the Lord's face.

Stepping forth to live out Truth is an act of faith. The "want to" to change, and the tension of conviction (a God-placed-grace to want to change), requires no small amount of trust. Faith acts. Faith works. Living faith is far from stagnant; and, active faith pleases the Lord. It's reward in itself to feel the warmth of Jesus' smile in my spirit.

For me, change is not easy. I, too, want that magic wand (it's why I've prayed for one - don't think it's to help others - I'm certainly not that noble). I'm not a fan of the tension that comes with conviction. That push-pull between my want-to and my not-so-much is extremely uncomfortable. So, I wrestle with truths like the one the Lord showed me last week: "I want you to look more like Isaac." "You will be my witness." "You will be my "martys" (martyr)." Easy to hear. Easy to say. Hard to live out.

So, I give you this background, because there are a few other winds-of-change blowing through God's Word to my soul. I'm still on the wrestling mat with the Lord, regarding some of them. So...ponder the above ...wait for it...I'll share a few of those changes God's wanting to see in me next week.

How do you approach God's Word? Is it commentary to your belief-system; or does it, truly and fully, establish your beliefs?