Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Line of Sight

"Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always." ~1 Chronicles 16:11

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my husband to Chinatown in Los Angeles.  He was sent there to survey a piece of property that was nearly straight up and down on a side of a hill. It had a beautiful view but the topography of the lot would be a bit of a challenge to map out.  Luckily, technology has provided a tool that makes the surveyors job easier. The way it works (remember I am a  a non-surveyor, non-techie person) a base station is set up on what is called a control point. Then, the surveyor carries a rod with a prism that reflects a beam of light back to the base as he stands on various points on the property.  The information is stored and a model can be generated from the data received. This all works well until something comes between the base station and the prism.  Things like a trees or fence posts that block the surveyor's view of the base can break the connection and information cannot be received. There must be a 'line of sight' to be successful.

Watching the whole process made me think of some I just read in Beth Moore's study Stepping Up; A Journey through the Psalms of Ascent. Beth spoke of how keeping our eyes focused on God is so utterly important to our well-being. She says that she would "like to suggest that an entire chain reaction begins with our eyes and ultimately affects our hearts, souls and minds.  Where we look--where we genuinely fasten our gaze amid the continual life challenges has a tremendous on how we feel". She goes on to say that the reason "she is convinced that where we look has such an impact is because where we look is also primarily where we listen".  If our gaze is on God then we will hear from him and when we hear from him it affects the way we feel. But there is another added bonus--When we focus on God and hear from him, we also can know what to expect from him through the knowledge we have gained about who he is and how he operates. We will not have to ask ourselves I wonder how God feels about this. The more we focus and the more we hear,  the more we hear the more we will anticipate God's ways and the more easily we can follow the Lord.

This all works well right up until something stands in the way of pursuing regular Bible reading and prayer.  Many times a busy schedule can take priority in our every day life leaving us with the feeling there is little time to seek the Lord on a regular basis. Just as a tree or fence post interrupts the signal between the base and the prism when doing a survey, life's issues loom in the forefront of our daily living blocking out our vision of God. Before we realize it, the connection is lost and we find ourselves out of communication with Him.  It's a bad position to be in but the solution to this dilemma is easy. We must reestablish that 'line of sight' with the Lord. Seek his face. Make prayer and Bible reading a must in order to navigate through this life successfully. First Chronicles 12:14 says to "seek his face always".  Always, continually, daily.  It's a constant action that provides a strong connection. And with this strong connection, God can pass along His wisdom to deal with the details of life providing me with His strength and peace.  Psalms 34:10 states, "those who seek the Lord lack no good thing." That being said I'm planning on keeping my eyes on him.

The LORD is a friend to those who fear [in awe of] him. He teaches them his covenant.  My eyes are always on the LORD, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies. ~Psalms 25:14-15 NLT

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Legs to Stand On

This morning while on a walk, I noticed a small millipede crossing the road. All of his legs were working in unison to move him along his way.  What a lucky little creature to have so many limbs to rely on. It seemed to glide along its pathway without hindrance or hesitation. We bipeds are not so fortunate. Only two legs to stand and if one is injured we are pretty much stranded where we are unable to move without help of some kind.

This visual brings a new perspective to the verses from Ecclesiastes 4 that say, "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble." [9, 10 NLT]  Solomon, the writer of this saying, sees the benefit of having a friend to help "have a good reward for your labor" [KJV] and when you fall to have "another to lift him up!" [AMP]

Let's take this idea of helping one another to a new level. What if like that tiny creature the milipede our legs numbered anywhere between 36 and 400? That kind of support would certainly make an impact our lives as we move along life's path. This is where small groups, ministry partners and church fellowships come in. They are the multiplication factor when it comes to having others to share the joys and struggles of daily living. The writer of Hebrews urges us to "... not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another..." in order to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Hebrews 10:25, 24 NIV

Paul  also spoke of this idea of supporting each other in his second letter to the Corinthian church--

"We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety."
2 Corinthians 1:8-11

 "And you are helping us by praying for us..." is a factor in "leg multiplication". These people who prayed literally came along side and carried Paul and Timothy with their prayers. In addition,  the words encourage, build up, serve, do good, share with and love found in the New Testament speaking on how we should relate to each other. When we come along side one another and put these words into action everyone benefits. And these benefits are not just added to individuals, they are multiplied throughout the whole group.

Here is another way to look at it. Let's look at the action of sharing. When someone shares with you, you have something you didn't have before. Two people rather than one have something. Whether it be a piece of cake, a kind word or a helping hand, both have enjoyed an increase. Yes, it's true. No dividing has taken place but rather a multiplying  of the 'joy factor'.  Joy in the giving and joy in the receiving.  Win win.  When its your time to share you not only have the joy in giving but now because you have received you also understand the joy the receiver will have in the getting.  Now, we are moving beyond simple multiplication into exponents (and I know by just saying the word I've lost you), but it's win, win, win for each person- the giving, the receiving and the experience we have in common of knowing what the giving and the receiving feels like. Too complicated? Maybe but it only builds from there and it applies to the words encourage, build up, do good and love as well.  They are multipliers of hope when it comes to living life side-by-side.

In the case of our little millipede, more legs mean more stability, more ease when it goes along its way and more hope that it will reach its destination. As we watch this little creature whose legs work so well in unison scury off on its way, we can picture a life that can seem to glide along when we work together and watch out for one another. Paul writes of a time when he can't wait to be rescued from Judea and return to the church in Rome saying, "that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed." Romans 15:32  Refreshment does come when we join together.  Life seems a little easier, we feel encouraged, and the joy we share is multipied.  What a wonderous thing it is to to have each other's legs to stand on as we move along the path of life!

"May God, who gives this patience and encouragement [waiting for his promises to be fullfilled], help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." ~Romans 15:5-6


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Built on the Rock

 "I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." ~Psalm 18:1-2

David sang to the LORD the words of this particular song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. I came across it while doing a search on what the Bible has to say about God being  'a fortress of salvation'.  The phase the Lord is my rock has always caught my attention.  What does that that mean anyway? When I was a kid we moved into a new housing tract that was built in an area that was very rocky.  I remember these rocks making hard to grow things.  They had to be removed from the yard to make way for a lawn and shrubs.  It was backbreaking work to make anything flourish in the hard environment.  Rocks were a nuisance.   Mom made the most of them by mounding them up to create a rock garden and planting it with cactus and flowers. But no amount flowers made those rocks less rocky.

It wasn't until I visited the Middle East did I get what ROCK the psalms were talking about.  On our travels we visited many sites that included castles or fortresses. They were always found at the highest point in the city and that high place was usually made of rock. Structurally sound, impenetrable, unmovable rock. A perfect place to build a place of safety.

A good example of a fortress built on a rock is the Zenobia's Castle in Deir Ez Zour (Palmyra), Syria. The ancient city of Palmyra is built on a plain with the fortress itself built on a high mound of solid rock. An access road to the top of the rock was carved out of the side of the hill and  a bridge was built to reach the entrance. The gates were even offset to prevent the use of a battering ram to sedge this stronghold. Once at the top of the rock it was possible to see in every direction. This fortress on flat land alone would have offered protection to its occupants but the rock underneth raising it up into the air made it an extraordinary place of refuge.

With this picture of a ROCK firmly etched in my mind I now understand the references to God being a Rock. Samuel states that  "The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior--from violent men you save me." [2 Samuel 22:2-3] Samuel's ROCK was a place of great security. 

The Psalmist repeats over and over Samuel's description of a rock being a safe place from the enemy. Then, in Psalms 40 he adds the idea of God actually setting our feet on that ROCK, placing us out of harm's way.

"He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." ~Psalm 40:2

God provided a firm place to stand but the actual standing will depend on us. We will need to choose to do it. In Matthew, Jesus ends a long message on Christian Living with these words-- "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."  [7:25]  Whether a house or a person, a firm foundation is essential for standing strong and the words of Jesus provide that very solid, safe, secure place for us to live.  But take heed lest we forget, building or standing on a foundation other than the ROCK will always lead to disaster and ruin.  We will find ourselves overcome by disaster.

"But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." ~Matthew 7:26-27

Maybe this blog should just be named Want a Good Life then Know the Word of God. Each time I write I tend to focus on the how important it is to know God's word.  Each day, I find that my life does depend on God's word for everything. It brings discernment, pleasure, understanding, encouragement and insight. I can't think of an instance when God's word does not apply to what I am doing or thinking. It guides my actions and checks my thoughts. It is always with me and never fails me. And every day I discover a little more about who God is. Yes, The Lord is my ROCK, my firm foundation. He has provided a place of safety and I plan to keep my feet and head and heart securely fixed on it.

"For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights."
~2 Samuel 22:32-34

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy Traveler

While I was out running some errands particularly rainy day in February, my journey took me across the Mojave River. Usually ‘river’ is a broad statement when it comes to describing this particular tributary but that day, this normally dry stretch of sand was flowing from bank to bank with rushing waters from storm runoff. It was an amazing and unexpected sight.

I find when I travel it’s the unexpected sights or happenings that leave me with the biggest impact. I may have spent hours pouring over travel guides and looking at web pages to plan out the trip and the must see sights and sounds of my destination but its the unplanned events that I remember the most. And this is also what sets the trip apart from the preparation.

Let me explain. When I am looking forward to a trip I generally study everything I can get my hands on to get ready. I will look at maps and pictures to get my bearings. Read travel logues and stories about the area. Find out about its history. Search out places to see, find out what regional food to try and become familiar with the customs of the locale. I may even learn a few words of the language spoken there before I set out.

I love this part-- the planning out my adventure, learning the ins and outs of the location I will be visiting. To me the anticipation is at least half of the trip but unless I set out on the journey I will not have any experience to go with my knowledge of that place. I would miss out on the true sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the trip. And found among the expected I will always find the surprising and unanticipated. Little blessings placed right where I would notice. Things like an eagle flying away with his fresh catch in his talons from a harbor in Washington, the eerie sound of the evening call to prayer in Damascus, the smell of carni asada cooking on an open grill at the taco stand in Mexico, the sight of gold flakes drifting in the air at a Buddhist temple in Thailand or the taste of handmade pralines brought from a shop in New Orleans where I had stopped just to ask directions would have been missed if I had opted to stay home and just been satisfied with the knowledge of the areas I planned to visit.

Some people follow this same method in their journey through life. They have the knowledge of God. They have studied the Guide, listened to the stories of other people’s experiences and they have even received advice and instruction from the Experts but they haven’t quite ventured out to experience it for themselves. They play it safe and settle for the awareness of God but never make his acquaintance.

It’s such a shame really. In Psalms 84:5 it says,

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

The word blessed is actually more accurately translated happy and

pilgrimage would translate any long journey, esp. one undertaken as a quest or for a dedicated purpose-

so this verse in the PSV (Patty Schell Version) would state--

Happy are those whose strength is in God, who have set their hearts on a quest to seek God. Psalm 84:5

And the really cool thing is in Jeremiah 29:13 (The Message) it says,

"When you come looking for me, you'll find me. "Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed."

Now, that’s the kind of journey I want to be on. One that includes the best tour guide ever AND won’t leave me disappointed to boot. How about you? No matter the circumstances of the journey the trip will be worth it because of the personal experience you will receive when you travel with God. Knowledge never trumps experience and in order to share in the adventure you first must put your foot on the path. It’s where the miracles happen.

“And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!” Psalms 84:6-7 (The Message)

"God in full view." Now, that's an amazing sight!