Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Off to the Promised Land

"Ok. OK... Its time. I have been sitting on this way too long but I must start somewhere." --Isn't that how any journey begins-with a starting point? A jumping off point, a place of departure. Well, this is it. This journey like all lessons God has planned out for me will prove to be quite the adventure. You see, I'm heading out to make my way to the "Promised Land".

You may be scratching your head wondering what in the world I am talking about. Historically, the Promised Land is found in the Middle East. No, I'm not off to Israel but I am looking to discover that place flowing with 'milk and honey' in my own life. The truth is, I've been working on this for some time. A few years back, I started to pray to have a desire for the things of God. I wanted to have a better understanding of what the Bible had to say about how to live. I wanted to know the God I had learned about in Sunday school in a way that was real. And God in His faithful way started to lead me on a journey that would leave me wanting more each step of the way.

Recently, I heard a quote by CS Lewis that said this:

"The more we let God take over, the more truly ourselves we become--because he made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself to his personality that I begin to have a real personality of my own."

I believe this quote speaks of the 'Hebrews 12:1' lesson of "...Throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us” in order to become the people that God intended. "Everything that hinders"  is anything that keeps from focusing on God and his ways. Each of us has our own list of things, some very good,  that we carry. They demand our attention  preventing us from fully centering our hearts on God and his plan for us.

This whole idea  of 'throwing off everything that hinders' reminds me of our own American pioneers who set our to the "promised land" of the West. Their desire for a more abundant life called them to the Frontier so they packed their wagons full of their belongings hauling them along to their new lives. The problem was they soon found that the weigh of their possessions would become a hindrance to the success of their journey and the trail would become littered with castoffs once thought of as necessities.

In order for us to travel into our own Promised Land it may require us to do some offloading of things that belong to us as well. In Priscilla Shirer’s book One in a Million, she gives a list of things that will be evident in our lives if we are living abundantly. Things like sensing and acknowledging God’s continual presence (Psalms 139:7-10); being led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14) and showing evidence of conformity to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). Anything that is keeping us from experiencing these attributes in our lives must be thrown off so that we can be the people God designed us to be.

Our journey will evidentually lead us to the ultimate 'Promised Land' - Heaven. But in the meantime, God is transforming us into the likeness of his son, Jesus. (Philippians 3:20-21) He wants us to share in all the goodness He has to offer right now.  If you want to move forward in your journey to the 'Promised Land' here are some things you might consider doing:

  • Pray having faith God has the very best in mind for you-

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

  • Act knowing God has made a plan that will bring about the best possible life-
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind…To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:1, 21

  • Follow God to the way everlasting, to the abundant life – to the Promised Land. That’s where I’m headed. Hope you’ll join me.

"They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten."
Jeremiah 50:5

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Overlook the Fine Print

Every day is full of lessons for life if you just keep your eyes open and for me, today was no exception. This morning while baking a cake for a friend, I was reminded how important it is to read and follow all the directions if I wanted the desirable outcome-something beautiful and fit for a celebration. In my case, I needed to look farther than just the basic directions listed on the back of the cake mix of add water, oil and eggs. I need to also read the fine print.  Since I live at an altitude above 3500 feet, for 'BEST results' I needed  to add a 1/4 cup of all purpose flour and increase the water to 1 1/4 cups otherwise I would end up with a crumbly, less than pleasing result. Not something I wanted to present to my friend.

  So, how does this particular lesson apply to life? Well, who doesn't want a desirable outcome in life's everyday situations but what guarantee do we have? Life seems so 'ify' at best. But listen to the Old Testament writer Isaiah has to say-- "This is what the LORD says--your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go..." [48:17]

That tiny word 'best' found in the passage seems too small to convey its true meaning-- of highest quality, excellence, or standing; most advantageous, suitable, or desirable; with the most advantage for success; most fully. So, what God is saying in Isaiah 48:17 is He knows the best way to live that will result in the the highest quality, most desirable and full life that doesn't 'crumble' under hardship but has the most advantage for success. What's more, He's willing to teach us how to do it. Why would we ever to settle for anything less? Yet, time-after-time we do settle for a 'crumbly' life.

In the same way I found the solution for crumbly cake, we can find the information we need if we just read the 'fine print' and put it to practice in our lives.  The 'fine print' in our case is the Bible.  It is a collection of the best quality, finest grade, most excellent and admirable Divinely inspired words printed out for us. The instructions found on its pages are meant to be put into practice so we can have the best life possible.

Timothy, a writer found in the New Testament, tells us that "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." [2 Timothy 3:16-17] The Word of God provides us with the information needed to create a successful outcome in our everyday lives.  Check the following  'fine print' found in Proverbs 4. It is full of instructions along with the promised 'best' results we can expect when we read and follow God's Wise Instructions--

Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching...    
  • Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.
  • Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.
  • Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
  • love her, and she will watch over you.
  • Esteem her, and she will exalt you;
  • embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor
  • Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.

I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

  • When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
  •  when you run, you will not stumble.
  • Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.

My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words.
  • Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body.
  • Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

It is only by God's ways that we will ever find real fullness of life. God desires the best for us and when we follow the instructions found in the 'Fine Print' we can expect the results He promises every time. And who doesn't want a life that is beautiful and fit for celebration?

"Sing to him a new song... shout for joy.
For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does...
--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him..."
Psalm 33:3-4; Romans 10:12
photo by John Franklin

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Open Hands

"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." Psalms 68:19

Sometimes I feel like I am my own worst enemy. Well, maybe more specifically its my hand that is the trouble. You see, it has difficultly when it comes to surrendering my burdens. My heart may know that I need to allow God total access to my troubles but my hand keeps them tightly held in its grip. They’re my responsibly after all. If only I had made better choices. If only I had acted it differently. If only I had seen things more clearly. If only, If Only, IF ONLY… And as the if only’s resonate in my head, I hang on to my burdens and continue to carry them along firmly grasped in my hand.

Fortunately, this is not how God intended any of us to live. There is a way out and it’s literally at our fingertips. In Psalm 81:6 (NLT) it says,

"Now I will take the load from your shoulders; I will free your hands from their heavy tasks.

The Psalmist is speaking of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in this passage. We, too, have been delivered from a similar tyranny when we made the decision to follow Christ. We’ve been set free. Jesus unloaded that burden of sin from our shoulders and removed the heavy task of carrying our shame from our hands. He rescued us out of bondage to live in freedom. Galatians 5:1 tells us--

"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

This verse urges us stand firm, to persevere, to persist in living free and never be burdened again by our fear, our shame or our shortcomings.

One of my friends pointed out this week that if our hands are full of burdens there will be no room in them to receive blessing. I think this is something to consider. In the New International version of the Bible Psalm 68:19 tells us "God our Savior... daily bears our burdens." but in the American King James its translated in a slightly different way--

"Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits..."

Daily He carries our burdens while daily loading us with His benefits. Empty your hands. Pry those fingers open if you need to. Let God take your burdens and get ready to receive all the blessings He'll put in their place. =)