My eyes get in the way…

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I play piano. I learned from my mom, who tried her best to get me to learn music theory. But third kid stubbornness won out. I just wanted to play. I didn’t care about theory and couldn’t see it’s relevance to just playing that song I really liked. I didn’t want to bother with plodding out the rhythm, so I would ask her to play the music first. I would listen to her rhythm and watch which notes her fingers started on so that I could get started without figuring it out first.

She eventually responded to my requests with “you figure it out”, I suspect realizing that I wasn’t learning to play so much as I was learning to mimic.

All these years later, I still don’t know theory. I couldn’t tell you what key a song is in or how to change keys. But I am learning. I have recently taken up scales. These musical exercises that seemed so booooring as a kid, are actually pretty relaxing now. As I increase my hand strength and finger placement ability, I realize yet another thing.

Reading the music is getting in my way. The more I look at the music, I realize I am not actually looking at it. I use the first note of a string to indicate where that first not should be, but I ignore the rest of it. Now, my progressions are moving at a quicker speed where I simply close my eyes and focus on the sound. I know I hit a wrong note because it sounds wrong.

But here’s the kicker: this eye closing is an extension of the prior issue. Yes, I might be learning theory now and practicing scales now, but I am not also reading music. I can read music. I am just choosing to rely on my ear and my finger muscle memory instead. This works for scales. It does very little for increasing my ability to sight read a new piece.

And such is the life of faith. your go to might be your gut check reaction. And most of the time, it might be right. But what happens when your gut is wrong, or worse, quiet? Have you built other skills, other approaches to faith that can fill in when the gut fails? Or maybe you fixate on studying the scripture to the point where you’ve drown out the Spirit. What do you do in that moment when you haven’t a scripture memorized that will assist?

Using the music example, here is what happens. I play piano. But I cannot play piano for church. One, because I do not believe it is my calling. But secondly, I simply can’t. My nerves at not being able to sight-read, my need to practice so much that ear and muscle memory can be relied upon, and my inability to ad-lib- fill in if the song leader take too long to come in result in panic disaster for a church piano player. The same is true in faith. If you only build or rely on one set of skills, you will only have those available to you when the situation shifts. God gives us many methods of seeing, hearing, approaching, and engaging with Him.

I still love music, and I still play piano. And I do so relying on my natural inclinations toward it. You can still approach the Father in your natural inclination. But remember we are at war. And sometimes the enemy purposely wages the battle in such a way that you need to use a different set of fighting to attack. Don’t be caught with only one tool of warfare. Use them all. Practice them all. And you’ll find yourself ready when a new battle arises.

It’s amazing what silence will do…

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I didn’t mean to go radio silent on you. Life offers some interesting turns–nothing spectacular, nothing really all that new. But burblings emerging, breaking the surface, and popping in a way that old ideas shine in a new light.

Quietly, surprising in a whispering oh-look-at-that kind of way, confirmation after confirmation emerges. I wondered for many years if I walked the right path. And yet, in all the reflection that an over-analyzer can offer, I cannot see a different way. These confirmations, showing how the circuitous way I arrived here was instead setting a foundation from which to build.

I went into a hiding of sorts that last few months. Hired to achieve a particular goal and knowing it could take three years to do, I hid from the numbers–numbers only I reviewed regularly. The numbers I was brought in to fix, I hid from them. Reason combined with even my own I-can-do-anything approach said it would take three years. And three years was still an optimistic goal. But what I was seeing in the early numbers for the fiscal year had me wondering.

But the come-to-Jesus moment came. In preparing for a team retreat, I knew I had to bring the numbers out onto the table. I prepared for spending three days brainstorming how to keep fixing the numbers. Oh, those numbers. As I built the projections for the end of fiscal year, I had to stop. At first, the potential deficit looked bigger than I had hoped for the first of three years. But there was that big fish at the bottom of the list. And oh how I needed that big fish. I didn’t wait to get that far, I jumped to the bottom, ran some quick calculations, and dumped that fish into the barrel. It provided just a little more hope. I continued on, and not long later, I had to stop. I went back and double-checked, triple-checked everything to that point. I couldn’t believe it.

I took a lap around my office. How could this be? I dove back in and finished the report. Not only did we stop the hemorrhaging, we climbed out of the hole and were already building a new structure for the future. How could things turn in just a couple months? Well, when 70% of your business comes in during those months and each individual account saw growth, hiding from the numbers quickly becomes shouting them from the rooftop.

And inside, quietly all I could repeat was, “it worked.” And all the while, Jesus smiled. We have killed ourselves individually and as a team trying to start scratching back. And the news met with varied reactions. One, who is in the midst of closing his final accounts for the year, took a step back, leaned over on a chair, shook his head, and commented, “I really needed to hear that.” Another got teary-eyed. And a third laughed because neither she nor I believed she would be able to see it before she retires in a couple years.

I wonder how the reaction would have changed had I not avoided the numbers for those couple months. And I have spent (wasted?) much time wondering the same about my life choices. What if…what if…what if…

But the truth of the matter is this: had I seen the numbers creeping up, oh so slowly, I wouldn’t have felt the relief I felt when it broke through this week. The end result is the same–nothing I could have done would have changed that. But the relief, oh the relief. And I see my life in similar terms now. I can question and second-guess, but I keep coming back to the reality that regardless of my choices, I would have ended up right where I am. And any other path I would have chosen would have only brought heartache.

Regardless of where you are in life and what decisions you’re questioning in hindsight, remember this massive promise–post is on your wall, your screen saver, and every social media page if you need to:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” –Romans 8:28, ESV

But wait, there’s more! Yes, the cheesy infomercial tagline is true here too. Often overlooked, the prior verses take Romans 8:28 from a lovely sentiment to a battle cry:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:26-28, ESV

You’re not alone in the battle. The working together for good is not because of you. In fact, it is predicated on your weakness and the Spirit’s prayers. Your weakness plus the Spirit’s prayers for you means that everything will work out.

Fruit of the Spirit: The love complexity…

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I have to admit, y’all, this post has stumped me for a while now. What do I write about love? I have writing of it before. I have studies that focus a whole week of homework on it. I have taught it for years in a graduate level organizational development course as a model for a leadership career. And then there are the doubts of what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Haven’t we heard it all?

And as I dig in my yard, crouched down with a hand rake, moving river rock so I can de-grass a planting bed, I start thinking. I currently rent a home, and the train of thought, in an effort to not curse the contractors who put sod in the planing bed, was “if this were my home…” If this were my yard, I would tear it up and put in new sod to make up for the years of previous renters’ neglect. If this were my yard, I would re-fence it so that front yard spigot was actually in front of the fence and the backyard spigot was behind the fence. If this were my yard…. you get the picture. The list of improvements, differences, and investments I would be willing to make differ because I am renting.

Still, though, the list also differs because of the agreement I have with my property manager. I cannot tear up the yard without permission, but I can weed it. I cannot change the physical structures, like the fence, but I can weave 100 feet of hose through it so that I can get water where it needs to go. Why do I follow these rules? There is always one motivator of the potential fees I would be assessed should I break the rules. However, I used to work as a property manager. I know the damage renters do. I saw the filth they would leave behind. And I value my word. I agreed to follow these rules as a renter. I will show the property manager the respect due based on that agreement, and I will follow the rules laid forth. (But if it were my house, I would have a dog…just saying.)

And as thoughts of yard care mix with thoughts of a post on love, the interweaving come through. I have been thinking about Hosea and love. I often joke with close friends that nobody signs up to be Hosea. Nobody reads through scripture, and when picking their hero, they think, “You know, I really would like Hosea’s life.” It’s not that he’s the last chosen at recess for the dodgeball team. We pray and hope that we aren’t Hosea. And we pray for the strength that if God asks us to be Hosea, that we would be able to endure. (Simply “enduring” life is such an appealing approach.)

I have heard it preached that Hosea’s unconditional love fore Gomer is a picture of God’s love for us. And really, scripture flat out says that. What strikes me in thinking of love is that Hosea’s love for God is what had him going back for more. It was Hosea’s love for God that allowed trust in God’s direction for his marriage. Hosea’s love for God gave him the perspective needed to go find the wayward wife and bring her back to a place that Hosea very likely already understood she would flee from again. It was Hosea’s love for God that led to his obedience.

Why? Because the yard wasn’t his to dictate. Just as I have limitations to my yard work dreams based on the agreement I made with a property manager, Hosea had limits on his life based on his love-agreement with God.

And so do we. Could we run roughshod over the people in our lives? Sure, that is one option. But as Christians, we agreed that we would follow Jesus’ approach of loving our neighbors, praying for our enemies, and encouraging our brothers in Christ. We could choose to go our own way, but we would be violating the agreement we made with the Savior. In receiving His love for us, we then began to learn how much we love Him. And in that love, we live in the restrictions on the life we freely gave to Him.

As I write this, a friend and her family are looking at saying goodbye to a baby they have fostered for all but the first two weeks of the child’s life. They would have adopted if they could have, but God’s plan was different. Within the week, they will put the small one on a plane to fly across the state and be reunited with her bio mom in a rehab facility. The depth and the challenge in this are heartbreaking. And yet, every confusing step of the way, with each going back and forth, they have committed to asking for what they want while realizing that what the child needs from God may be very different. They are grateful for the time they have had, grieving the loss that will come, and yet are still pushing forward. Because the God they love is greater than them, and they know it.

The fruit of the Spirit is love. We love Him because He first loved us. If we can nail that, the rest will be so much more manageable.

Fighting for deliverance…

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“And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the kind of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land.” –Joshua 8:1, ESV

God delivered Ai to Joshua and his 30,000 fighting men. But deliverance didn’t come without a fight. These were fighting men–the tool God used in bringing Ai to Joshua were fighters. The Lord’s deliverance didn’t come while they were kicking back watching the NBA playoffs. It didn’t come overnight while they slept. In order for Joshua to take Ai, he had to make a choice of the fighting men, they had to go to Ai, and then they had to actually fight.

Are you expecting God to deliver? Are you expecting to fight for that deliverance? Are you willing to do the work necessary to receive the deliverance God promised? Yes, there re times when deliverance comes became we simply believe. But an honest look at our lives and the lives whose accounts are in the Bible will show that deliverance most often comes with a fight.

Yes, the walls of Jericho came down without much more than a stroll around the block. But you know what came after the tumbling walls? A fight. Though the walls of Jericho came down miraculously, the fight still had to be fought. The victory promised by God still had to be won.

Are we walking through life believing that God should just give us what we want without needing to work for it?

In my other career, I have led departments and turned units around financially organizationally. I have managed staff who point out discrepancies and operational challenges who then go to work to make the changes. And I have managed staff who simply point out the discrepancies and operational challenges. Guess whose challenges get addressed more frequently? It is not only because they are individually working to move a solution forward, though that is a big part of it. It is because if they are not interested in it enough to actually spend time making a difference, than why should I shift my priorities to assist?

Are you invested in the deliverance you seek from God? Are you working for it, pushing for it, and staking steps to make it happen? I find that when we are both invested and faithful, trusting God to move, mighty things happen. Not because of our work, but because we believed God and worked for it. After all, if you’re not willing to participate in receiving something from God, why would He trust that you would work to take care of it once He gave it? Why give it to someone who won’t value and care for it?

Are you a “fighting” man like Joshua’s army? Are you willing to battle for that which you ask God to provide?

When the supply disappears…

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God promises to provide. Over and over, His word declares that He provides for His children. Then one morning, you wake up, and what you knew of provision disappears. It was there yesterday. It has been there for decades. And, poof, it is gone. The world tilted while you slept and the feeling of loss remains not just in the provision, but in faith as well.

What happened?!? Has God abandoned? Did I miss a cue, a hint? Did I make a wrong turn and this is the result? Where did everything go?

Where did God go?

“While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” –Joshua 5:10-12, ESV

After all the issues related to getting into Israel, the people were in under Joshua’s command. They celebrated the Passover–which celebrates the protection of God in a time of destruction. They looked and found produce in the land, and they ate of it. That morning they had their umpteenth serving of manna, and by evening, they were feasting on cakes made from their new land.

Then dawn broke, the people awoke, and poof–or rather, lack of poof. No more manna. Wait, what? The provision of God, faithfully provided for literally as long as this generation remembered was no more. It was there yesterday, but gone this morning. Maybe they hung around, wondering if it would come later. Maybe they kept peeking up to the heavens, wondering if a stiff breeze blew away their breakfast. The celebration from the night before gave way to confusion the next morning.

They feasted at dinner. And at breakfast, the meal they were used to having laid before them for easy pickings was missing. Was God missing? No. But His provision had changed. Instead of breakfast delivery, the people faced a new reality: they had to go find their own meal. Now, that’s one thing when it is a celebration feast as the night before. But to awake with the surprise that the grumbly belly wouldn’t be filled with a simple bending and plucking must have been quite a shock.

No more were they to gather only provision for the day straight from the hand of God. Planning, stewardship, and the chore of preparation lay before them now. God’s provision changed, but it did not disappear. What came easy before now required a bit of work. But He still provided.

In moments when struck with the reality that something shifted, let us continue believing that God provides. It may look different today than it did yesterday. It could be that your situation is backwards from the Israelites, that you are used to the work to put food on the table but now you face the generosity of others to provide. Either way, God has not changed. His love for you has not changed, And His promise of provision has not changed. The only thing that changed was the way the provision came. Do not lose heart. rely on God, take a look around, and you may just find a different provision waiting for you to grab hold.