River of life or stagnant pool?

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Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” John 7:38

Those who live in the desert especially know how crucial fresh water is for survival. Right now California is experiencing a drought. Growing up there, I lived through one back in the seventies and I’ll never forget it. Every drop was precious then and now. Can you imagine being lost in the desert, your last drop emptied from your canteen a day ago and coming upon what you thought was a fresh body of water, only to find it stagnant and undrinkable?

How about the kind of water Jesus was talking about? If you know Him, you have that living water. It’s a fresh and inexhaustible supply flowing out of your heart that’s available to anyone who asks. Can someone expect to come to you and hold out their cup and be refreshed or do they find water as bitter as the water of Marah?

When the Israelites came upon Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

They were extremely disappointed after being in the desert 3 days, that the water they finally did find was undrinkable. After Moses cried out to God, He directed Moses to a stick on the ground. When Moses threw it in the water it became fresh. I was thinking about that…….one commentary said that the piece of wood represents the Cross. I would agree, since it’s Christ’s work on the cross that makes those rivers of living water flow out of our hearts.

So the question remains. What about you? What about me? Can someone hold out their cup expecting to receive words that will give life? Can they expect refreshment or after tasting what you have to offer will they turn away in disappointment. Do your words edify and lift up or do they tear down? Are people drawn to you because they see the living water flow out through your easy laughter, soft words, humility of spirit and all around likeability?

Are you easy to be around or do people have to watch everything they say around you for fear of being judged or condemned?

Are you a good listener or are you already forming your own words even as the person across from you is still speaking?

I think Jesus was incredibly easy to be around, that’s why crowds followed Him everywhere He went. Of course we aren’t Jesus. We aren’t perfect. But He does expect us to display the fruits of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22,23)

How willing are you to be a peacemaker? Are you willing to sacrifice your need to be right in order to make peace?

Are you willing to apologize even when you and everyone else in the room knows you had your facts right because it’s what God would have you do? My precious friend did this the other day and I am not so sure I would have been obedient to the Holy Spirit like she was in this instance. Nobody could understand why she was doing it but she said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

She was being nudged by the Holy Spirit to make peace in a situation even when she and everyone else in the room knew that she had been in the right and the other person clearly in the wrong. It reminded me of the scene in “War Room” when Tony gives back those drugs to the company even after he’d already lost his job. As Christians we are asked to do certain things that just don’t make sense to the world. Those are the hard things.

Being that living water isn’t easy. Being that living water means you have to be readily available for those who are thirsty. It means you are a peacemaker and think of others as better than yourself. It means you have to love the unlovable in your workplaces, homes, in the parking lot. It means you can’t put a stopper on your own supply because you’re afraid you’ll run out.

Jesus invitation stands open.

Someone is thirsty for what we have today.

Please Lord:

Help me to be a fountain of cool clear

refreshing water to offer hope and help

to the thirsty wanderer.

Help me not be a stagnant pool but a living supply

of what Jesus gave to me freely.

Help me be easy to be around.

And help me be available and ready

to give an answer for the hope

and joy that lives within me.

And help me always strive to do the right thing.

No matter what.

Amen.

Those “little Gethsemane” moments

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“Now my soul is in turmoil, and what should I say—’Father, save me from this hour’? No! It was for this very reason that I came to this hour.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

No doubt about it, Jesus had the real Gethsemane moment. None of us will ever come close to going through what He did that awful night in the garden. And even though He knew that all that suffering would be over in 3 days time, even though He knew that Heaven was just on the other side of it:

He still wrestled…….He still struggled…..He still resisted. But ultimately He trusted in His Father to see Him though.

What about you? You know you are headed for Glory eventually. You know where your real home is, but does that minimize the Gethsemane moments while you are going through them? I admit, knowing that the end of the story is victorious takes the sting out, but when you’re in the dark groping around, the pain is real. It feels like your own personal mini Gethsemane.

Wednesday was a day like that for me. It felt like God was hiding behind a cloud all day. I knew He was there alright, but I couldn’t feel Him. The night before I had slept fitfully. Taunted by the worry demons, they danced around my mind like shadows. I tried to recite the 23rd Psalm but I could hear Satan whisper…..”There are no green pastures or still waters for you….” He’s such a liar.

Right now it seems ridiculous. Yesterday and today I felt like my old self again, but Wednesday was a battle. I went out to my car during break to get some alone time with God. I had visions of playing some quiet music as the breeze wafted through the car windows, but when I got there someone was sitting in the car right next to me with their window open. So much for that.

I even moved my car to the next shady spot, but lo and behold, there was another person in the car next to me again with their windows rolled down. I know God’s sense of humor well enough by now to know that He was playing a little private joke on me.

Guess He didn’t think I needed any alone time.

Sometimes, God likes to play a little hide and seek with us. He hides Himself for just a little while, and it’s good for us. Those times stretch our faith like nothing else can.

Awhile back I was talking to my Dad, who was going through his own mini-Gethsemane moment at the time. He has a lot of those lately. He is 87 and dealing with all the changes that go along with that. He needed some bolstering up. Thinking to be helpful, I started to tell him about someone else who I felt was in a much worse situation. He told me something that I will never forget. He said, “Hearing about someone worse off doesn’t help me because my situation is what matters to me.

It’s my pain that’s real.

He’s right. There are times when it does help to talk or hear about someone worse off than you, but there are other times when you desperately need a loving ear with an open and sympathetic heart. And here’s the thing:

Anytime you hold out your heart to someone you are taking a risk. You hold it out with trembling hands with the hope that someone will treasure it and take it from you gently and treat it with care, instead of dismissing it or ignoring it altogether.

That was an important lesson that I needed to learn and I thank Him for trusting me enough to speak the truth and speak it kindly. I truly believe the best lessons we can learn are the ones we can learn from each other. We’re all still learning.

None of us is perfect and very few are actually out to get us. The best thing we can do is to ask the Holy Spirit to make us humble and able to receive the lessons He wants to teach us through the classroom of each other.

Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.

A person isn’t who they are the last conversation you’ve had with them, they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship. 

Rainier Marie Rilke

Meet me at the Cross

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One of the most unifying factors of our Christian faith is the simple knowledge that we’re all failures at it. And directly on the heels of that thought comes another, that God loves me anyway. That failure, that weakness, after all is what drives us again and again to the cross. He has promised that He will never leave us. He’s there in the morning and He’s there at night when I whisper my thoughts before welcoming the great eraser that is sleep.

I am reading Madeline L’ Engle’s book, “The Irrational Season.” In it, she describes how against the backdrop of her faith there is doubt and anger at times at why God would seemingly direct and allow evil things to happen, and yet in the midst of that doubt and anger is the bright ring of hope and assurance that yes, God does know exactly what He is doing, even if she doesn’t always understand His ways.

God is not surprised or threatened by our doubt or our anger because it’s also that same doubt and anger that is also an expression of our faith, for you can’t doubt someone you don’t believe in in the first place. You can’t be mad at someone who is not there.

The fact that we are driven again and again to the cross allows no room in our faith for pride. You can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but until you find yourself driven to your knees in humility at the misery of our human weakness, you will be separated from the world, the people whom Jesus most wants us to help.

One of the most confounding and misunderstood paradoxes of our faith is that even though we fail, even though we are weak, God still considers us Holy. When He looks at us, He sees us washed in the robe of righteousness because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. That should not make us proud, it should make us more humble. That God would grant us with the stamp of His approval by indwelling us with His Holy Spirit is a staggering thought that must never get old. Our faith and the miracle of it, should never be old hat.

We should wake up each day in astonishment that He has forgiven us yet again. And yet, time after time, I have taken that fact for granted……stepped over it on my way to something I feel is more important. That is why I feel so strongly about giving God the first few moments of our day. It’s a way to say and acknowledge all over again that yes, I am grateful beyond measure for the grace I never deserved.

The Apostle Paul perfectly describes our imperfect weakness here: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:24,25

Are you going through something today that is an extreme test of your faith? Right now, stop what you’re doing and hear God say: “What part of always do you not understand?” Remember when your parents used to say, “What part of no do you not understand?” God has promised never to leave or forsake us and He never will.

Love is in His limits, for He gives us exactly what we need to know in the Scriptures, the rest we must take on faith.

I get like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining and grousing despite the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. Instead, all I can see are the hordes of people contentedly settled in the land He has already promised me. I used to blame them, I used to say, “I would have believed God if I had seen those signs.” God smiles and says, “No you wouldn’t.”

Because if I really and truly had a perfect faith, I would look back at all the times in my 56 years that He has provided for me and never failed to be there for me, and that fact would erase every last fear. And yet, I can truly say that I am getting closer to the goal than I was before.

“but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

Pressing Pause

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I’m here marveling that yet another work week has come and gone, here standing on the shore of another 4 days off and the first prayer out of my lips when I awoke in the early dawn was, “Where are you Jesus?” And this is the miracle of it all. He spent the next hour announcing His presence in a myriad of little ways.

My God is an action word. I guess you could say if God were a state He would be Missouri. God is a “show me” God. I puzzle at people who ask for proof. The proof was in the sky last night and the moon this morning. It was peeking out at me from between the palms, all yellow and present.

The God of the old Testament was bigger than life, I don’t think anyone could deny that. And Jesus……I don’t think you can get bigger than coming out of the grave and revealing yourself for 40 days. And the Holy Spirit transformed a handful of cowering men and women into a church that changed the world.

And God hasn’t changed. He took my question seriously this morning and proceeded to take pleasure in cracking little doors of joy open everywhere I turned. He is the God of undoing just as much as He is the God of doing.

You can get up slogging in your slippers toward the coffee pot, with only the whisper of hope on your lips but God can do something with that. He rewards an attitude of expectation however small, and hopelessness can turn into hope when it runs in tandem with gratitude.

God holds all of time in His hand. I was thinking a lot about time this morning. How it seemed like just yesterday I was staring down the tunnel of a 48 hour work week and now I’m looking at 48 hours of me time. How will I use it?

I’m thinking of my Dad who is facing time in much more of a monumental sense in the beating of his own heart. Nothing makes you more aware of the ticking of time than a heart that is fluttering out of control. Right now he is aware of little else than slowing his wildly beating heart down. He has a procedure tomorrow to do just that. Because of him, we are all just a little more aware of time today than usual. His and ours.

The thing about time is that it has a beginning and an end. We are never not conscious of it. It never speeds up or slows down and yet it seems to. It rolls out wildly out of control like a spool of yarn rolling down a flight of stairs, and sometimes it sits like a car tire stuck in the mud, spinning madly but going nowhere.

There are wild exultant joys in life and there are times that are so low we don’t see how we will ever get out the other side. And there are stretches of time where there are no big joys just lots of little joys and that’s okay. Some might call that complacency or settling but I call it contentment of the kind the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The other thing about time is that we have a choice as to how to use it. We can squander it, waste it, use it wisely, cherish it, or use it up until we look around and it’s all gone. I believe the best way to honor the time God has given us is to be fully present in it. Sometimes I succeed at that but many more times I fail.

But when you realize just how precious of a commodity it is, it changes how you live. You learn to look for the little things.

This morning one of the little things was pausing to watch a hummingbird take a bath. It’s not everyday you see that. He was only there for about 30 seconds, but if I hadn’t been staring at the fountain right at that moment I would have missed it. But I think God wanted me to see it. He likes giving us little surprises that make us smile.

He is after all, a “show me” kind of God.

No Wiggle Room in the Beatitudes

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Yesterday I wrote a post. It was after I had read something that fired me up a little. But after I posted it, it didn’t feel quite right. I felt a bit unsettled the rest of the day. And a friend’s comment made me think, (Thank you Mark). Sometimes we get off track a little because we just want to say what we want to say. And sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful nudge to get us going in the right direction again.

I have since taken the post down, but the gist of it was that I didn’t think we had an obligation to pray for our leaders when they are corrupt. Rethinking that position, I think that maybe we need to pray for them even more. The reason why is because when we do that? We get fresh healing ourselves.

So today, I go back to those crowds and that dusty road where Jesus walked in the middle of the throng, and I imagine myself as the woman pressing against Him reaching for the hem of His garment. You see, she had no illusions. She knew she needed healing. Sometimes I forget I still need it to.

This morning as I leafed through the pages of my big old marked up red Bible, the one I reach for when I need to remember when it was all so exciting and new; and I heard Jesus voice ringing through the hillsides when He preached that famous sermon on the mount known as the Beattidudes.  And surprise, surprise……I found no wiggle room there when it comes to love and forgiveness. No wonder those words seemed so radical back then. They still do.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew5:43-45

Even Isis, Lord? Even those who might seek to do me or my family harm? Even those who misunderstand what I am trying to say, who misinterpret and twist my words? Even someone who might even kill someone I love? Even them?

The answer is always the same. Yes. We are called to love and forgive. Anything and everything. Because He did.

He forgave me everything, and He intercedes for me even up to this very day, and pours fresh grace into my life, even when I make bad choices. He has filled me with His Holy Spirit who enables me to do the impossible. I think of the laundry list of things I have neglected to do for Him, times I have turned the other way when someone who glanced my direction may have really needed a kind word.

All the things I said I would do tomorrow.

I am humbled afresh today. I think it’s possible to stand down for peace even while holding up your convictions. The Beatitudes have taught me again how far I have to go in that direction.

Holding onto His hem today……….all I need is one touch.

Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.”……Matthew 9:19-21

Between Earth and Heaven

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Sometimes, there is a slice taken out of time that lets you see just a little view. Something bigger than the here and now. This afternoon it was a song that rent the sky and let a sliver of light down right in the midst of my day. I was absently thinking why I don’t cry much anymore. It’s not really for lack of things to cry about because everyone I know is going through hard things. I guess it’s because there remain so many things to be thankful for……joy is much more rewarding than the sadness that seems to spring out from every corner these days. There are times to cry, but then you get up and go on. So this afternoon when I heard the lines of the song, it was as if I was hearing an old familiar tune from long ago. Or something I knew all along but needed to be reminded of. Or how I imagine it will be when my folks pass on and I hear a song they loved. That’s what brought the tears. And it wasn’t a bad feeling, it was just the Holy Spirit reminding me He was and is still here. That’s when I heard the words from the song “Shoulders” by For King and Country”

My help comes from You You’re right here, pulling me through You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders Your shoulders My help comes from You You are my rest, my rescue I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders Your shoulders……

Sometimes we just need to be reminded where our help comes from, even though we know it in our hearts and minds and everywhere in between. I felt such a burden right then for everyone I saw around me. As I wheeled my shopping cart down the aisles I saw people just living life picking out items, cereal, bananas, beer, anything and everything that makes their world go round. And as I smiled at the lady in front of me at checkout I noticed that she did smile but it was almost like it pained her. More like a grimace. I wondered what burdens she carried along with her to the store.

Enough ruminating. But the whole experience changed my afternoon and evening. It was touched with Merton, I guess you could say. He said this:

By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.
Just when I had this all captured after I got home, I hit a key on WordPress and immediately my whole post disappeared. So I gave up and went outside to sit with the mourning doves out on the deck. One of them, we have been watching has made her nest on top of the block wall. We hope and pray they will be hatched before the infernal heat hits.
I sat as the gray clouds whirled around me and the mosquitoes came out. Tapping out my letters I heard the whirl of hummingbird wings and didn’t dare turn my head, but only my eyes. He went to each section, every side. I scarcely breathed sitting still as a stone. It was another slice of Heaven, a miracle unlooked-for.
A reward at the end of the day. That, is really what we have. Each and every day if we can only see it. And give thanks.

When confusion’s my companion And despair holds me for ransom I will feel no fear I know that You are near When I’m caught deep in the valley With chaos for my company I’ll find my comfort here ‘Cause I know that You are near

You mend what once was shattered And You turn my tears to laughter Your forgiveness is my fortress Oh Your mercy is relentless My help is from You Don’t have to see it to believe it My help is from you Don’t have to see it, ‘cause I know, ‘cause I know it’s true

“Shoulders”

for King and Country

Lent Day 39: “What else can I do?”

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I have just finished the remarkable true life story of Chinese-born Christian Pastor Liu Zhenying or “Brother Yun” as he is more widely known. It’s a story of a life totally surrendered and dedicated to lifting up Jesus no matter what the cost, and the cost was great. It was prison time, it was torture, and days without food, years without his family. But even more than that, it was a story of victory and joy and how God is still very much a God of miracles as displayed by many events in the book.

As I walked back into work after my break, my soul felt buoyant, lighter somehow.  I was remembering a special time in my life when I was a new believer and faith was very simple. I was 14 and I knew my parents couldn’t afford the refrigerator they needed so I told Mom I thought she should tithe her money and we would pray for a new fridge at the same time. She ended up finding one like new for $25.00. I can still see it if I close my eyes, it was big and it was beige and it was a humming miracle.

That refrigerator lasted for years.

There are so many other things to put our trust in here in our modern society. Everything we need is at our fingertips, but when you have great need there is little option but to trust God for your needs. The one thing that impressed me most about Brother Yun was that even under extreme duress and pain, he forgave those even while they were beating him. And he had what I call the “what else can I do” attitude. He was always looking for another opportunity to help those in need, even though his own needs were insurmountable.

Most of us are not under such extreme circumstances and most of us, at least those of us here in America have pretty much all we need and much more. But when we give God our open heart, He will always find plenty of ways we can bless the others around us. 

I’ll use my best friend as an example as I do so many times in this blog. She has one of those “what else can I do” hearts. Always looking to make things better for others. Yesterday, she came home from working and doing errands and I knew she was exhausted. She has been trying to recover from an illness for a month. Even so, she knew that our Canadian neighbors would soon be home and she wanted to do something for them. She went out and trimmed their trees, swept the walk, and drug all their patio furniture out so they could relax in their patio as soon as they got home.

She amazes me.

Now as we come to the 39th day in the desert with Jesus, He is hungry…….and tired……. and at the end of His strength. Satan comes at the very worst time. (Doesn’t he always?) But Jesus is thinking of you and me. And He doesn’t cave in. The angels come to minister to Him. And then He lifts His eyes to the Heavens and asks His Father.

“What else can I do?”