Drought–The Blessings of Dry Times

Here is the third and final set lesson notes from September’s New England Ladies’ Retreat. Several have asked that I share my notes. It seemed easier to clean them up a bit and post them here. They are not in narrative form, fully edited, or in tight order. Rather, they are a bit of rough journaling from my time with God as we poured over His word and I asked Him what we needed to learn. I am hopeful they provide a starting place for you to tuck in along side me as we are gathered by God to His heart. Perhaps I will return to them and be granted the opportunity to study even more, polish them into order, and share the lessons in full that God brought me.

Drought Blessings of Dry Times

The Condition: a period of dry weather, especially a long one that is injurious to crops.

What is Spiritual Drought? The Condition is: a period of dry weather, especially a long one that is injurious to crops.

an extended shortage: a drought of good writing. Archaic. thirst.

In our case, I want us to consider it the condition of our spiritual land.

As well, let’s consider our own droughts, and what God is teaching us here, and also the droughts of others and what His role for us is in those times.

What happens in a drought? There is not enough nourishing water to satisfy the needs of the plants and animals that depend upon it.

Allow me to paint a picture for you:

Spiritually speaking, it is a time when we feel depleted, dried up. Our souls feel limp and lifeless. We may look great on the outside, like we’re functioning, but inside, in our hearts and souls where it counts most, there is nothing left. Spiritual droughts cause a lack of food.

For example:

*worship becomes rote and distilled to ‘attendance’. You may be physically present at every service, many activities of the church, but you don’t feel connected to the body, or to Christ.

*your passion for Christ, His church, the lost, is in a holding pattern…has become stale

*your attempts at serving and ministering are stopped short at the walls of disinterest, criticism, ‘someone is already doing that’, failure, inertia (lack of movement)

*only you and a few others appear to be caring and or serving, and you have run out of steam. You are a ‘frequent flyer’ in the ministries. Why do this if it’s only you?

*Bible classes and sermons fail to inspire you to growth. You feel as though they don’t challenge your faith, encourage your spirit, or anchor your heart to Jesus.

*there is no spiritual encouragement at work, at home, anywhere, only a draining of your spirit

One of the dangers is:

*because of the dry landscape of your heart, the seed of rebellion (which can grow EVERYwhere!) takes root and begins to grow: rebellion against authority, rebellion in our marriages, rebellion in our free time, rebellion against our elders, rebellion against the convicting truth of God’s word

The other danger is spiritual death:

This condition can happen for days, weeks, months, or years.

**Here are the three Questions to keep in mind as we study:

Does God INTEND for us to have seasons of spiritual drought?

 If there is a drought, do we create it or contribute to it?

 What can we do to survive the drought?

Turn to John 6:35-37 with me for a minute…Jesus PROMISES his disciples (that’s us!) a life without drought.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:37

**What causes droughts? http://weather.about.com/od/drought/f/droughts.htm

Droughts are caused by a depletion of precipitation over time. Unlike a dry spell, prolonged lack of rain will cause regions around the world to slowly dry out. Because of the slow onset of droughts, their cost is often only estimated.

*Think about the lesson here God provides about your soul, His church…

1. My observation has been that (for me, and some others) one cause of Seasons of Drought is selfishness with time or lack of time listening to God and living in relationship with Him through His Word. Jesus made this same observation of the Jews:

Flip back to John 5. Jesus is speaking to the Jews here. They were having such a horrible time accepting Jesus as God’s son, and accepting His version of salvation. He says things of critical importance. He tells them something they were totally unaware of. They were living through a drought, and didn’t even know it!  Remember, a drought is the condition of lacking what is needed to thrive. Listen to how He point this out to them-how they did not have life! (v. 39).:

37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (NIV)

41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

THIS is their ‘lack of rain’.

First, Jesus says to the Jews: “You have never heard His voice nor seen His form.” Well, of course they hadn’t! To do that would be to die  So, what could Jesus mean? Think about it…there He was, Jesus the Son of God, Jesus who WAS/IS God!—saying, in essence, “Here I am. I have been living among you as Emmanuel-God with you, and you do not hear me! You do not “see” me for Who I am! I am God with you and you don’t LOOK OR LISTEN! You are living in a drought! You are WITHOUT Me.

How often do we do this? We have JESUS, here in His Body, the church, His Spirit, God-breathed in His Word! Do we look for Jesus here? Do we look for HIM, listen to HIM, not the people, the routines, the external structure of church life?

Next, God’s word does not dwell in you! They knew the law and the prophets, oh, yes, but God’s word wasn’t dwelling in them. This was their LACKING, their drought. They KNEW God’s word, but it didn’t take root in their hearts, it didn’t cause the BELIEF of Jesus. That is the PROOF that they abide in God’s word. That is the Proof that WE abide in God’s word. Belief. Do we take Jesus at His word…all His promises? All His commands? Do we live like we believe it?!

Jeremiah 17:7-9New International Version (NIV)

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,100_5396
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought100_3371
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

A tree planted, roots to the stream, with no worries of drought! THAT is refreshing!

Then, oh, Jesus saves the real zinger for last!: . 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5…

Do we equate our striving for a spiritual “summer” of thriving and growth with an academic understanding of faith and Jesus? Do we ‘study’ Jesus, and expect spiritual strength and understanding? Look what He says here. There is something different in spiritual life (the opposite of drought), than just knowing about Jesus. He wants us to COME TO HIM, which is really, the LIFE He promises us. V. 40

Yes, come to ‘church’, but not because it’s a  21st century social structure that attempts to live a life like Christ. Come to CHURCH—His Body, because IT’S HIS BODY! We touch Jesus and He touches us when we are together, worshipping, serving, reasoning over God’s word! We touch Jesus.

You know the scripture of us being all part of His body: 1 Cor 12:27 “ Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” RSV

Yes, study God’s word, but by this, He means, pour over it with an open heart. Cry with me over the state of mankind and your soul. Sit with me at the well and learn compassion. Listen to my lessons on forgiving debts and ask me to show you who you need to forgive…

Yes, come to JESUS…talk with Him! Bring Him along in our parenting, our sistering, our daughtering, our shopping, our dishwashing, our gardening,  our family taxi runs,  our walks on the beach,  our cooking,  our reading…ask Him what He thinks? What would He have you do? What corners of our hearts do we need to release to Him? What scales of blindness does He need to lift from our eyes so we can see ourselves raw and let Him work?

 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent

This is our lack of rain.
I have separation anxiety…from my bed…from sleep…from warmth. Yet, with God’s help, I have been blessed by wrenching myself out of bed in the early AM. It is by His strength that I get up early, daily, before the distracting of my work or home tasks begin.

This WAS me, for years: Drought Bear in AM

Not anymore. It is HARD WORK of wrestling with my will to rise every morning, but once I win that (spiritual and physical battle, I rejoice in the cherished time with God and He blesses so! I highly recommend reshaping your day with God’s help. Along with begging God for a relief from your drought, here’s an answer to “What Can I Do?” We’re always wondering what we can DO. Well, here we are: dig deep, deep down, into the word of God and root yourself by His feet in prayer. Find those underground lakes that the scorching sun and dry winds cannot diminish! They are below the surface, available to be tapped.

  1. **The Ugly Truth that we’d like to ignore, is that SOMEtimes it is WE who cause our droughts. Let’s just get this ugly part over with. It is more comfortable for us to speak of droughts as being seasons that ‘come upon us” that we must endure. That they are unpreventable. Someone else causes them. It’s the preacher’s fault, the elders’ fault, my family’s fault, my background, my work, my husband, my children…This the ‘victim mentality’, that, quite frankly, pervades our culture so deeply. And we pray, “Oh, Lord, give us strength and wisdom to get THROUGH.”

What about: “Oh, Lord, protect my heart and grant me wisdom to AVOID drought, to stay fertile and nourished by your waters!”

“work out your salvation with fear and trembling”  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Phil 2:12

Do the work. You do the work. Not anyone else.

You dig into God’s word. YOU pray diligently by yourself, with your children, with your sisters and brothers in Christ.

YOU make the choices in your life that grab hold of spiritual opportunities.

YOU sacrifice your time and sweat equity to serve and study.

YOU pour out your heart in joy and conviction and praise to Jehovah in worship.

Even if your husband doesn’t, your children don’t, your friends or coworkers don’t, your preacher doesn’t, your elders don’t, your church family doesn’t. YOU do it!

ERADICATE your drought!! By God’s strength and your malleable heart, YOU CAN!

  1. We ‘overfarm’ the landscape, and use it up. We suck its nourishment dry, without replenishing it. Think about this in the church, in your own spiritual walk.

How do we dry up our places? Our hearts? Our church communities?

-The most obvious is by sin. We misuse the soil of our hearts and lives.

Jeremiah 13:22- 27

22 And if you ask yourself,
“Why has this happened to me?”—
it is because of your many sins
that your skirts have been torn off
and your body mistreated.
23 Can an Ethiopian[a] change his skin
or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.

24 “I will scatter you like chaff
driven by the desert wind.
25 This is your lot,
the portion I have decreed for you,”
declares the Lord,
“because you have forgotten me
and trusted in false gods.
26 I will pull up your skirts over your face
that your shame may be seen—
27 your adulteries and lustful neighings,
your shameless prostitution!
I have seen your detestable acts
on the hills and in the fields.
Woe to you, Jerusalem!
How long will you be unclean?”

Haggai 1:7-11

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

The sin here (both places) was forgetting God. It’s always forgetting God. When we forget Him, we act, think, move, live in ways that either intentionally reject Him, or just ignore Him.

What gets me is v. 9 of Haggai… I am really struggling with that now. I feel so pulled by “my own house”. Even with my children grown and off in college or elsewhere, my house, my work—it all claims my time and energy. I feel smothered at times. Because my ‘house’ and its responsibilities are in front of me, loud and insistent, making everything immediate and urgent, they push aside the priority of God and His house.

How do we prevent this? How do we tend the blessings of home, family, work and first tend the Lord’s house?

*They must overlap.

*Sacrifice. Give. Something. Up.

*Encourage each other. Remind each other of opportunities. It’s got to be more than a pulpit announcement. If you see a need, come and ask ME. Don’t assume the needs will be filled by someone listening to a general announcement. Come gather me. Offer to work alongside me!

Deuternomy 28: all  The Blessings of Obedience, the Curse of Disobedience

*I assume that most of us are here because we choose to hear God’s call and walk with Him. Most of us do not purposefully live our days in intentional rejecting of Him and His decrees. Most of us probably fall into the category of forgetting Him.

How do we do this? Let’s look at some places that are easy to remember and easy to forget Him:

Easy to Remember… “church”…big decisions…travel…illness… marriages…  parenting…

Easy to Forget/Ignore…our use of time…everyday shopping purchases…who we choose to be with…financial management…leisure activities (what we read, watch, where we go, what we listen to …)…the words we say/write

God was upset at both the literal and figurative adultery that His people’s hearts committed. Read Hosea to find the love and grace in all of that.

There is ALWAYS an exit strategy, a door of redemption and return to the arms of our Father:

There is a mentality of taking, always taking, without returning that can cause our spiritual droughts.

Ask ourselves: Are we Takers or are we Givers? In the Kingdom, in our marriages, in or friendships, at work, at play…?

 What is the SOLUTION to spiritual drought?

You know this answer already. Casting nutrient-filled water upon the dry land in a steady flow is the ONLY solution to drought.

But this steady rain is not a torrent. What happens when torrents come and fill the land cracked and hardened by drought? Tremendous floods occur, further damage is done. As you move through and out of your drought, or see others in a drought, in particular. Remember to be tender. As we are admonished in Scripture: restore gently, exercise love, patience, and gentleness with each other. Provide nourishing water, but don’t do the bucket challenge on their hearts!

Preparation: develop deep roots and send them out toward the water.

The Blessings of Drought: deep gratitude and appreciation of the satisfaction of our soul in God; submission, a breaking of selfish will

God is a God of contrasts. I am convinced that He does so much of His deep shaping of souls while leading us through contrasts. By allowing the world to drag itself through sin, generation upon generation, He provides for us what we need to understand redemption, to see grace in action. By feeling need, by being in want, we can feel what it is like to be fully satisfied.

The Purposes of Droughts:

Proverbs 30:7-9

Two things I ask of Thee; deny them not to me before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

Give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” 

Droughts force us to give up our perceived control. We pray, “Not my will, but Thine”, but do we really want that? Are we really comfortable with that?

Celebrate the Droughts!  Drought, the contrast that allows you to truly see the light in the darkness, the satisfaction of soul-thirst. Learn from it.  Remember that God does not intend for you to live dry.

Move toward the holy Oasis, the only One who can satisfy…Stretch your roots deep and tangle them in the rich soil that is Christ, His Body, His love, His work, His Word, His relationship, His grace.

100_7644

From “Blessed be Your Name” by Matt and Beth Redman:

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

And blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name

Posted in Spiritual Drought, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Trials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer: A Season of Vibrancy and Vigilance

Here is the second set lesson notes from September’s New England Ladies’ Retreat. Several have asked that I share my notes. It seemed easier to clean them up a bit and post them here. They are not in narrative form, fully edited, or in tight order. Rather, they are a bit of rough journaling from my time with God as we poured over His word and I asked Him what we needed to learn. I am hopeful they provide a starting place for you to tuck in along side me as we are gathered by God to His heart. Perhaps I will return to them and be granted the opportunity to study even more, polish them into order, and share the lessons in full that God brought me.

Summer Title Page

The Challenge: (The Work): Tending, Filling the Soul, Guarding our hearts, staying focused

Our Response: With Summer comes responsibility-Looking out over the garden…what’s working, what isn’t…maybe it’s time to transplant

Weeds are also growing.

The Blessings: (The Joy): Growth, activity, rest, lush places, connection

The livin' is easy

For me, here’s what it looks like:

*We are deeply connected to God and feel that as we pray, worship and study. Every day is a new reminder of His grace, His love, His care.

How do we arrive at this summer? By planting and planning in our Springs. We make time with our Father regular and natural. I cannot overemphasize the necessity of weaving faith and relationship with God into every part of our lives. Rather than compartmentalizing our faith: formal worship, daily ‘quiet time’ devotional, acts of service, we should let Him breathe into us at work, at play, in the grocery store, over coffee with friends, as we wipe off sticky faces, sort out our finances, walk down the sterile halls of the hospital.

The Blessings: (The Joy) Growth, activity, rest, lush places, connection

Fruitful blessings

We are CELEBRATING the seasons.

Let us Celebrate the Great Love:

Ephesians 2:1-  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in (what we need most—more than financial stability, more than a marriage, more than another car or pair of shoes, more than food on the table, more than that trip to see our children…) mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesusin order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork (think of anything you create: a meal, a quilt, a day for your grandchildren, a garden, a lesson plan, a VBS backdrop…we now how much of ourselves we put into this, how we ‘return’ to it again and again, with fondness and pleasure…think of our CHILDREN, who we’ve ‘created’ by the grace and power of God!…it only magnifies our understanding more!), created in Christ Jesus (this is SO much better than created by some craft supply at Hobby Lobby or ingredient from Fresh Market!…our SOURCE of creation is the most highly prized. I can never afford the ‘best’ supplies, but whoa, God gathered the Best to create us and raise us up!) to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Summer is a time to celebrate the vibrancy of faith, when the richness of His blessings is apparent! As you look around and see the happy yellow heads of marigolds, the deep greens of forest, the bright red of cardinals…let them remind you of the richness of His blessings.

Summer is a time of growth. It is the fastest time of growth in the natural world, here in New England. Roots grow deep, flowers blossom, trees grow strong and develop the seeds for the next season.

Growth comes from ABIDING in the rich soil of Jesus!

John 15:4-11 (my favorite place to live!)

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” RSV

  1. In Greek, the word ABIDE (MEN-o) means… to remain, abide
    1. in reference to place
      1. to sojourn, tarry
      2. not to depart 1a
    2. to continue to be present 1a
    3. to be held, kept, continually
    4. in reference to time
      1. to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure 1b
    5. of persons, to survive, live
    6. in reference to state or condition
      1. to remain as one, not to become another or different
    7. to wait for, await one

 *How many of us TARRY these days? How many of us allow ourselves to linger over ANYthing?  We have bought the 21st century Western lifestyle of hurried, harried, instant living. Jesus calls us to live otherwise! ABIDE with Him! Linger. Spend time. It’s not about mowing through a scheduled reading of scripture as though it were an assignment. The reading itself of the Word is not the purpose. ABIDING and drawing near to the heart of God is! Spend time savoring a small portion of God’s word. GOD’S WORD!! It is sweet! It is life breathed by God. Drink it in! Take time and linger. Abide with God as you draw deep into His heart, turning His words around and around, laying your heart open to His lessons. What of the CHARACTER of GOD is revealed? What STRENGTH and reminder of His FAITHFULNESS does He demonstrate? What HOPE does He provide? What CONVICTION of sin does it wield, to grow you closer to Him and more like His Son?

*In summer we are deeply interwoven with the Spirit of God…we receive our nourishment and strength to bear fruit, to heal our heart wounds, to move forward, to be fruitful for Him and reach out to others. Summer’s flora does not receive what it needs without abiding in the rich soil of goodness. So are we. So…DIG IN!! Stretch your roots out to all that He offers.

*v. 5 “Apart from Me you can do nothing!…of value, of lasting worth, of importance. So, ALL that we do, all the programs, activities, family decisions, choices, if they are apart from Him, they do not bear fruit. They may bear something, but it is not the fruit of which Christ speaks.

*The place, the summer soil where we abide, is a place of LOVE. When we obey, we abide in Christ’s love, just as He did obey the Father and abides in His love.

This is NOT a home of dysfunction, but because it is GOD’S home, His arms, His dwelling place as well, His heart, it is a place of:

-healthy relationship. If you don’t have that in your marriage, your family, in your congregation, in your work place, in your extended family, you are 100% guaranteed to have healthy relationship here.

-grace-filled acceptance. Abiding in Christ means we don’t get berated for our missteps, our poor decisions, our vulnerability to sin.

-encouragement…in His word and the evidence of how His people persevere, and in His body, as we speak to one another and cheer each other on

-strength freely shared …from His heart to yours

-wisdom

-forgiveness 1 John 1:8,9S

–light 1 John 1:5-7

-discipline (He disciplines those He LOVES!  How awful to be ignored or so hated that we are allowed to run amok, making poor and soul-dangerous decisions over and over again. That creates an empty heart. Think of the children and adults you know that have not lived in families of healthy love and discipline. They have attachment disorders. Their hearts become unable to love and function healthily. Based on what I’ve seen, I believe Satan doesn’t care if we form an attachment to him, he is just as delighted if he can cause us NOT to form an attachment to God. His greatest weapons are hurled at us to keep us from a healthy abiding in God’s love.

-teaching

-rest

-help

Now THAT is something to celebrate!

HOW do we find and live in our spiritual summer? How do we abide? Well, how do you abide anywhere?

Abiding is to take up residence. Change your address from the world, to Christ. Sometimes we do this, but then we take a vacation home in the world.

Where do our thoughts live? Our time? Our activities?

Where do we let our minds go for wisdom, comfort, reflection?  Do we go to media, friends that are not of God, self-help, Pinterest, Facebook, the news?

*Don’t get me wrong, God works through ALL! EVERYthing in the world is at His disposal to teach, convict, encourage. But we must be of a discerning mind, referencing everything to Christ, and the character and commandments of God as revealed through His word.

*prayer…pray without ceasing…draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8?)

Celebrate the fellowship of believers. It is a rare one of us that does not have a part of the body of Christ with which to worship God and affirm our faith. Look at us here! Look at the arms, legs, hands and feet of Jesus that are represented here from all over New England and beyond. When we leave this place, we are still here. The fact that you are not alone in your faith remains! Ephesians 4.

We are the Precious Body of Christ.

THIS day, here in this plalce, is a “summer day”. We are here, in safety and amid the body of Christ, encouraged by the vibrancy of faith and digging into His soil!

To stay in the summer fellowship, we need to use what God has given us.

-the church and its life

-technology…create a Facebook group of encouragement and study and post through the Psalms or gospels, or another text….tweet an encouraging Bible verse to one another, to the world…share Christian blogs that use God’s word to uplift, convict and encourage

-phone a friend (or make a new one)

-use your free time (ha!) to reach out. Stop waiting for FREE time. No time is free. You always have to give up one thing to use the time for something else. Let your time have holy purpose.

Celebrate the closeness of God! In summer, our relationship is vibrant, thriving, ALIVE! It is close! God is near.

James 4:8  Come near to God and he will come near to you (NIV)

Some of us have a full work week ahead, or have lots on our heart-plate. Wherever our hours take us, hold on to the promises of our faithful God. The battles of discouragement, conflict, temptation, lack of self-control, selfishness, pride, wavering in trust…whatever our challenges, hold on to the promises!

““All who rage against youHand
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you. Isaiah 41:11-13

Today, everyone is left-handed! Whatever you accomplish today single-handedly, clasping your right hand tightly in God’s, will be more victorious and fruitful than if you tried it with two hands.

Praise God continually! Say it your head…speak it in your words…write it in your texts and Facebook statuses…wear it on your t-shirts…sign it at the end of every e-mail…pen it in your cards

Celebrate Opportunity: Our spiritual Summers are seasons of spiritual health and  involvement.  We are busy loving, and working, and serving for the LORD. Somehow, God opens the tightly scheduled and demanding hours of our days, and we teach Bible class, make VBS sets, take on World Bible Students, host small groups, take a teenager, or a group of them on an outing…reach out to the downtrodden, go on a mission trip, provide a listening ear, make a meal, visit someone in the hospital, extend hospitality to travelers or fellow believers… Praise God for those moments and days of summer in which He has provided opportunity and you have heeded His Spirit’s prompting to yield your time and talents in it!  These are gifts from our Father.

Growth comes by taking advantage of opportunity: (Our spiritual Summer is the season of Yes, I CAN!) As a summer plant that grows only if its roots are unclogged pathways to water and nutrients, its leaves open to the dew and rain, we thrive and grow in summer by keeping our roots deep in the nourishing soil and our souls open to the dew and rain of God!

So, say YES! I CAN to Yes I Can

*discipleship…spending time with your Savior…studying, watching, learning, listening …spend time in the gospels ABIDE with Him…help another Christian grow

-1:1 Bible study and prayer time

-online devotionals

-small group studies

-offer to lead a new Christian/teen/young women’s/mom’s class

*service…we cannot be a connected body of believers without serving one another…we cannot be a Christian without a life of mission (Mt. 28:28-30?)

-teach Bible class…World Bible School teaching…babysit…chaperone teen events…emails/texts/cards…coffee dates with a sister who needs a ready ear…meals made…Pie Ministry…clean out someone’s house or closet with them…shop for the food pantry…make a craft to sell for GanderBrook camperships or mission support…

The Macedonian church—Living in the Spiritual Season of Summer 2 Cor. 8:1-7:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, (so, is this a season of Summer or Storms for them? How about a summer storm?! It seems that SPIRITUALLY, the Macedonian church was living in summer.)   their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosityFor I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a] (Corinth was in a summer season) see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

 

The Work of our Spiritual Summer
-Transplanting: the act of moving one living thing from a place where it often is not thriving, or reaching its full potential, or the Gardener wants to try it someplace new, for Rubekia and thyme entangledhis or her own purposes. Maybe it’s needed somewhere else as shade or contrast so that another plant’s wonderful qualities may become more evident, or weed control…

Thyme is a ground cover type plant..the rubeckia needs a place to grow tall and shine. They must be transplanted in order to flourish as the gardener intends.

-Weeding:Weeding

-Because it’s summer, lots of things are green. So the unwanted, troublesome weed-greens blend in perfectly with the desired greens of vegetables, flowers, trees. And those choking weeds are relentless. In June, I spent hours over the course of several days rediscovering my garden so that I could tell the difference between the garden and the lawn. I had weeded in May, but the end of the school year came and with that came garden neglect. The job was overwhelming. But I did it, bit by bit. Of course, the next day, after the cooling rains…more tips of weed-green emerged. Arggh! I left for camp and then Alabama, and when I returned, the grass had overtaken the flower bed AGAIN! Vigilance! Vigilance is required. Those weeks slip in, unannounced and unwanted. They grow fast. It takes more time and energy to reclaim a heart, family, relationship, marriage, or church garden from neglect than it does to tend a little every day.

Digging the Weeds:  Oh, this is the hard work of summer. Grass grows were it’s not supposed to…flowers need to be watered steadily. Help each other recognize the weeds in our lives and dig them out. We have weeds of distraction and sin. Help each other with the digging, yes. Finding the weeds is easy, sometimes. Digging them out is the hard part. Sometimes we need a tool to loosen the soil around the weed so we can grip the offensive plant down deep and yank it up by its root ball. Be that tool. Help dig.

What does that “digging” look like?

*the tool is the Word of God, it is always and only His word-not our opinion, or tradition, but the Word. It is a sword of offense and the Gardener’s tool of decisiveness.

Ephesians 6:17

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

In Context | Full Chapter | Other Translations

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

*speak the truth in love, to others, to ourselves. Always remember the promise of God’s grace and redeeming love.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

 So the lesson from all of that weeding….There is no coasting during the summer season!

Scriptures:

Growing Fruit: Gal. 5:22, 23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires

The Work of Summer: Perseverance in Spiritual Work during THIS season: Gal. 6:1-10, esp. v. 9 and 10

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Gathering provisions in the summer…Big Lessons from Something Small: The Ant Ant storing

Proverbs 6

Go to the ant, you sluggard;

consider its ways and be wise!

It has no commander,

no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest. (NIV)

What are our ‘provisions’: spiritual food, deep roots in the church family through fellowship and service side-by-side

Proverbs 30 24 “Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer; (NIV)

STUDY, ABIDE…soak it in!

*Acts 17:10-12 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining

*Psalm 119  Teach yourself to LOVE God’s word!

Fill up on fellowship

Animals gather what is good and needful to prepare for the inevitable change in seasons. We need to gather all that is good in our spiritual summers to prepare for a change of seasons. One of my favorite children’s storybooks is a tale by Leo Lionni. It has a great Life metaphor in it for storing up in summer that which will take you through the winter. It’s called  FREDERICK.

Frederick

Sometimes all we get is a Summer DAY, not a season. Those perfect, everything is aligned days: we start the morning off with God, and ease into a calm day of fellowship, strength and service. At the close of the day, we reflect and it is sweet harvest. Those summer days are gifts. They are times to store up and draw upon. Remember the love.

2 Cor. 9 6:ff  sowing and reaping sparingly and bountifully…

What is our “spiritual summer”?

*at time of growth (victories over sin, triumph over trials, connectedness in the Body)

I feel like this: when I have established good habits of prayer and study; during and just after a unifying church effort, like a youth rally or VBS or Giveaway Day; during my week serving and fellowshipping at Ganderbrook; here, during retreats.

What do they all have in common?

*Focused and active faith

*Fruit
If we’re in a summer season, then let us:

*count the gifts with gratitude

-eucharisteo!

*praise the Giver of all good things

Who was in a summer season?

*David (though we know he lived through many different seasons)

-Psalm 147, 148

-Psalm 23

Here, David really ‘gets’ it: In this summer season, He is content and not wanting for anything. He may not HAVE everything, but he does not WANT for anything. He doesn’t lack anything. In this season, there is rest and the knowledge of in Whom we rest. There is peace and strength, and the understanding from Whom these come. There is direction, because there is submission to the Shepherd’s leadership. There is courage, companionship and comfort. (v. 4)  There is an awareness of spiritual protection, and abundance of enduring blessings. His response to this is COMMITMENT: I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!

Summer is a time of ABIDING:

JOHN 15…

Conclusion

Our Spiritual Summer is a time of ABIDING, of GROWTH, or STRENGTH, of VIBRANCY.

It is also a time of WORK, tending our souls and the souls of the world and the church.

Summer has its storms, its droughts. There are challenges in summer—hard places.

This summer, just outside my front door, swirled the up and down season of summer:

Tulip assassins roaming…family of turkeys eating blackberries (and just visiting– Just walked around to the kitchen to check for bees and found a family of turkeys on my front step, looking in the screen door at me!   They prefer our blackberries, though perhaps this time they were expecting a bowl full of washed and sorted berries, instead of U-pick.)… …hummingbird friends and the wonder of God’s intricacies…dead bird friends… a sweet fawn…Mr. Waddles…the bat family (poor dead baby)… bee infestation…beautiful greens, and yellows, and butterflies… turkey vultures and the bloody haunch

 

*Always: When you find yourself here, basking in the strength of summer…someone else is in Winter, or Spring, or Fall. Not everyone is in the same season as you. Share your summer spiritual vibrancy with your Sisters in Christ, your Brothers, the young people, the lost.

How?…

Hugs and conversation, service and teaching…Like the butterflies of summer, their presence is gentle and lovely, yet fleeting. Yes, BE that butterfly that notices and visits many of the precious souls in the garden.

It’s all part of summer…even the bloody haunch!  Praise God!

100_9142

Posted in One Another, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stormy Seasons: Hold On to the Promises

I had the blessing and privilege of God walking me through lessons to share for September’s New England Ladies’ Retreat recently. Several have asked that I share my notes. It seemed easier to clean them up a bit and post them here. They are not in narrative form, fully edited, or in tight order. Rather, they are a bit of rough journaling from my time with God as we poured over His word and I asked Him what we needed to learn. I am hopeful they provide a starting place for you to tuck in along side me as we are gathered by God to His heart. Perhaps I will return to them and be granted the opportunity to study even more, polish them into order, and share the lessons in full that God brought me.

The wonderful ladies from Massachusetts and Rhode Island who organized this event selected Celebrating the Seasons as the theme, and asked a dear sister, Betty Oliver, and I to share the lessons. From their plan, I felt moved to choose Stormy, Summer, and Drought. Betty studied and spoke on Winter, Spring, and Autumn.

I am humbly blessed by your presence as we walk this journey together.

Lesson One: Storms…Hold On to the Promises!

Stormy

THE CONDITION: stress…the feeling of being buffeted by all side, like a whack-a mole—you get one draining situation resolved, and another pops up…tension, fear, unpredictability, damage, despair, loss of direction, a broken heart

Types of Storms:

In the natural world, there are all types of storms, just as in Life:

Windstorm, rainstorm, thunderstorm, monsoon/hurricane, tornado, blizzards (white and blinding…can’t see), ice storm (where the roads and paths we walk and drive on become treacherous and near impossible to navigate)

Some of our life storms, and if you haven’t lived them, you’ve witnessed them, or you’re caught in the refuse spewn from the storm’s eye…

…disease…suicide…paralyzing depression or anxiety (you or your loved ones)…addiction (drugs, alcohol, pornography, food, technology, work, play)…fertility challenges…parenting difficulties…relationship issues (marital, friendship, church family)…infidelity…unemployment…rebellious children…loss of a loved one…major financial bills all at once…

Even some of the comparatively minor storms cause damage, exhaustion, worry, fear, frustration. like when all of your major appliances make a death pact and cease working the same month (yes, we had three one month—dishwasher, washing machine, and computer)

Some storm seasons are long and drawn out. The land becomes flooded, or at the very least, so sodden, it can’t grow anything. To walk on it (let alone, cultivate it), is to damage it. Sometimes roads wash out, the power fails

Don’t you feel that way sometimes? Like your power is out?

Some storms are brief and violent, leaving a path of destruction that we must clean up, and some are short-lived, and just leave us with a feeling of weariness or relief that we “dodged the Big One.”

Some storms that come, you know they’re coming. You see them on the horizon, or receive fair warning, either by looking at the sky, or heeding the forecast of those who watch the atmosphere. Other storms come up suddenly, their mounting clouds have been obscured by the beauty of rising peaks or forested green. These storms can catch you totally off guard.

These storms happen in our family, our churches, our relationships.

The Challenge: “Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”…without losing your grip, getting lost in the storm

The challenge is staying faithful. Trusting. Not losing your soul. The goal is ALWAYS to guard your salvation in Christ!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM14VZVu0og  Matt Redman You Never Let Go

What do people do in storms? Types of Storms

Leave, tie things down, prepare by gathering what they know they’ll need and hunker down, with no intention of leaving

What do you do in your storms?

What do you choose to keep tied down in the storm? And with what do you tie it?

Do you leave? Sometimes you have to, then you come back and help pick up the wreckage.

Some storms you need to leave, because they are not yours to weather. Such as…

Addictions….you cannot make that person’s decisions for them. You can support, advise, and, oh, you can love, but you cannot change. That is the Spirit’s work, alone, with the tortured soul.

As you have hit ‘storms and stormy weather’ in your life, ask yourself: What lessons has God taught you?

Is this a storm I need to leave, and return when the air is calmer? Or is it God’s will that I stay and hold on while the tempest rages?

Our Response: Take a stand!…“Hold on to the Promises”…change your grip (tighten or loosen)…praise God and trust Him

In living through storms, I go to the only place I can trust…God’s heart, as revealed in His word:

Let’s take a look at some Biblical Storms:

When you are in a storm, I want you to take a good look at the storms of God’s people. Look at the “great cloud of witnesses”  Read Hebrews chapter 11 with new eyes, read of the deep faith, of the horrible storms and of the hope that we can celebrate

Their storms? Slavery, infertility, a family member tries to murder another, building a boat to house a family and a zoo for the rain that had never before fallen, persecution, mistreatment, destitution…

Think of the first century Christians and their storms of persecution, of political and social exile…

Let’s look for a moment at Paul. Prison (Paul—prison epistles)

Boy, did Paul ever have a storm! (AGAIN!….Seems like God placed him in the middle of several storms, literally and figuratively!)  Prison. Think about that. This is NOT a story…It is the Truth. It is History!

It appears to have been a house arrest in Rome. He was allowed to live by himself, though was guarded by a soldier and not allowed to leave.
What we can learn about storms and faith and the work of God from Paul’s imprisonment:

https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/144-pauls-two-year-roman-imprisonment

Surely the weary apostle spent some sleepless nights praying for the regeneration of these evil hearts. In spite of all this heartache, however, Paul could still muster a generally jubilant spirit. “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice,” he would write (Philippians 4:4). As unpleasant as his circumstances sometimes were, he could affirm that the things which had happened to him had worked for the “progress” of the gospel (Philippians 1:12).

“Progress” is from the Greek term prokopen, derived of two roots (pro, “forward,” andkopto, “to cut”). Originally the word was employed of “a pioneer cutting his way through brushwood” (Vine 1991, 334). Paul views his troubles in the most positive light possible; they were like an advance party, preparing the way for the success of the gospel.

Have you ever felt under ‘house arrest’?  Tethered, boxed in by your circumstances? Not entirely impotent, but frustrated, just short of being able to exercise your own will? Perhaps you identify with Paul. Let’s see what God can teach us here.

Here’s what we can celebrate…not the pain, the suffering, the damage, but the hope within storms, the promises that raise us above the storms!

Keep a Holy Perspective:

Phil 1:12-

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[b] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[c] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

There is holy purpose in storms.

Know that Your Victory in Christ, Over the Storm, is a Shared Victory-a Weapon of Encouragement.

So, Satan has weapons? Flaming arrows? (Eph. 6:16 in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.) So do WE! In Christ, our weapons outperform his. They do more than merely deflect, the promise is that they are extinguished!

Col. 2:15 He has disarmed the enemy!

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

We have more than just holy garments of protection. We have an offense that has already been victorious and will continue to be!

 1 Cor. 15:53-57 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[h]

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Phil 1:14 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. I wonder…how does a fellow Christian’s imprisonment inspire confidence, and not fear? It’s the same as watching someone take the first step onto a rickety bridge over a chasm. Once they cross successfully, you feel empowered. So, let us look at the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) and march forward through the storms!

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.[d] 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Phil 1:27ff

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel (Our continued faithfulness to God inspires others in the storm, just as much as those that are in a storm inspire us to persevere. Both help us SEE God and the strength of His Spirit.)  (28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ (This is a purposeful grant, to suffer for Him.) not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

14 times in Philippians the words “joy” and “rejoice” occur. From prison. That’s quite a storm in which Paul discovered and lived the joy.

My Harper Study Bible commentary states: Of all the churches Paul had founded, none was so near and dear to him as the church at Philippi. The letter to the Philippians breathes an atmosphere of perfect love and mutual confidence; these were friends who had often helped Paul with their gifts (4.15, 16) and had not forgotten him now that he was in prison.”  We can learn from this. Paul was in a storm, and his fellow believers ministered to him with gifts, remembrance, and staying faithful, making sure the positive, uplifting news of steadfast faithfulness was shared. Church!: We can do this!

Let’s look at another storm. Acts 1 Jesus had been crucified. Then He’s back. Then Jesus leaves!  Acts 1

Who here has been left? Sometimes people leave because they choose to;; sometimes it is their turn to go Home, and they finish the race ahead of us; sometimes we are left because people change, church communities change, our circle of friends change; sometimes a spiritual leader must leave us; sometimes God has other plans for those we count on that do not involve being a constant physical presence for us…

No matter what the leaving is, it can cause deep pain at the most, and a spirit of unrest and detachment at least. Let’s look what happened when the Savior of the World left His closest friends and co-ministers. Let’s learn from the leaving of Jesus.

*Jesus told them “Don’t leave! Wait (Luke 24:49-53, Acts 1:4)…interpreted as “I have a plan. Wait for the promise of God.”

*The disciples still didn’t understand the purpose of this storm, or of Jesus. They still expected a restoration of the earthly kingdom.

*They stayed in Jerusalem. (Lk. 24:52, 53) Upstairs, “joined together constantly in prayer”  (Acts 1:12-14) 1 Thess. 5:17: Joined…together…constantly…in prayer. Let the power of those 5 words and their example take roots in your soul!

From A Holy Experience, the blog of Ann Voskamp:

There is faith that accepts no fast, next day delivery, but rests that the new order of things waits on the hands of God, not the hands on the clock.

There is faith that stands or falls on the truth that the future with God is more fulfilling than anything forecasted by either the fortunetellers or the fearmongers. (The power of sin and worry and fear over us is always the power of deceit over us.)

There is faith that in the midst of the setbacks, God is setting up everything for the comeback of your joy. Ann Voskamp July 19, 2014

Arms outreached JOY

Scriptures to Hold on to During the Stormy Season:

 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight** in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10 (NIV)

**the RSV says “I am CONTENT”

Paul’s storms: 2 Cor. 11:16ff

16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

Praising God in the Storms: Yikes! Really? How? And, quite frankly, for WHAT?

Just what can we CELEBRATE in our storms?

*God’s power, His character, His faithfulness

*He is ABOVE all of this. (Romans 8:31-38 If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any chargeagainst those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.)

Ephesians 1: 18-23! 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

*HE has the way out! Ephesians 3:20-21 “Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more ABUNDANTLY than all that we ask or think, to HIM be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen!

Job 1:21 (lost all his farm and children) Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

  1. 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

 

As we close this session, ponder this for a moment… even if you are not buffeted by a storm at this time, even if you are not living in a stormy season at the moment, you have a holy role in every storm. Be a …

Storm Helpers:

*Throw SALT on the icy roads: Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost is taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” Matthew 4:13

We PRESERVE when others are floundering. We preserve faith, love, trust, wisdom of God. We MUST be that salt that is freely cast by God, to continue to save men and women, to continue to save faith and belief!

*Light the way! (*lighthouse, lamp, floodlight, match pics*):

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.”  Mt. 4:14

Ps. 119:105  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

*Speak truth against the lies of the enemy. Counteract the lying arrows of defeatism, distraction, rebellion, devaluing with the truth of God:

*Offer their WORTH, again and again (Matthew 6:26  “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Isaiah 14:13-16

*Offer HOPE: Ephesians 1:15-23, Romans 8:28, 31-39  Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

*Offer confidence in God’s wisdom and promises

*Be the chain of strength that anchors them to Christ, the true and trustworthy anchor of our souls. Hold on to those that are suffering their storms. (*pic of grasping flood victim*)

*By anchoring them to you and the church, you are anchoring them to Christ’s body—to Christ Himself.  Be that arm that holds them securely.

*Realize that it is neither within your power, nor your responsibility to stop someone else’s storm. But you can be the one that encourages.

*Be sure you are anchoring them to Christ, not to you! or even the church (despite the fact that it is Christ’s body?)

*Wash Their Feet* 

The real Jesus turns to our questions of whywhy this sickness, who is to blame — and he says it like a caress to the aching,You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here.” (John 9:3 MSG)… “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:5 NLT).

That’s the grace touch of Jesus: The dark is not your fault, the dark is not the heavy night that weighs the worth of your soul, the dark is not about blame.

The dark is about bravely being a canvas for light — about courageously letting your dark be a canvas for sparks of God glory, a backdrop for ambers of mercy in the midst of your fire. Ann Voskamp August 12, 2014

From Ann Voskamp with Betty Moore

Lord, so knives can make heads roll
and terrorists can execute the unimaginable
and divisions can split up the middle of our streets & our towns & our hearts & disease can go devouring like some starved epidemic —

but we can feel the warmth of it on the nape of our bared, bowed necks, we can feel the beating warmth of it pounding like a victory march in the chambers of our praying hearts:

There is a Light that shatters the dark, that shards the dark, that pierces the cowardly dark right to the wall of an eternal pit,
and the diseased doomed to death walk straight out of hospitalsLight
and the pleading streets of pain feel justice roll & hope run like water
and the warring wounds of this world are dressed with a world of tender prayer
and you can bet that There. Is. A. Light. in every single darkness
and the darkness can never extinguish it, the darkness can never smother it, the darkness can never, ever, no matter what, suffocate the relentless coming of an emancipating Light.

And all the brilliant people, all the people looking for the Light, said? AMEN

Light shines in the darkness

 aholyexperience.com A. Voskamp

Posted in Deflecting the Weapon of Discouragement, One Another, The Walk, Trials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Learning to Expect the Unexpected

I am seaside today, in John 6, at the end of a long, hard, amazing day, and full of questions more than answers. Do you ever have days like that? Days full of a roller-coaster ride of emotions and outcomes? Days that seem to pack a week of living into 24 hour period? Like an old wine skin about to burst, the hours wear on, and each drop threatens to burst its wearied sidesOahu sunset crop 2011 TApgar

This day began so awfully. A beloved disciple and leader for Christ was lost in a heart-wrenching and violent manner. Then, at the point of emotional exhaustion, there was a faith-building miracle that swept over thousands of souls.

Evening has finally come. The disciples crawl into a boat and start across the sea toward Capernaum. Jesus has bid them to go on without him, and finally dismissed the crowd on the hillside that lingered. He retreats to the mountain by Himself. After all the day’s activity, the crowd’s response to this miracle worker who claims to be God, is to take Him by force and make Him king. It isn’t His time, and it isn’t His Father’s plan, so He steps aside into the shadows to pray. Dimond Hill Farm 2013 TApgar

While I wait for Him to finish, I am wondering…

Does Jesus withdraw from the world, from us, from me when we try to make Him something He is not?

In what ways do I try to force Him into my own mold and try to capture Him into my life the way I see fit and when I think He’ll fit best?

My eyes shift out to sea and I am in the boat along with the disciples. It is dark. The water’s chop is becoming larger and the wind whips up against the boat, making it painfully difficult to make headway.

I have a boat. It’s not a fishing boat. It’s a modest 17-footer motor boat in which we play in the sun on a little lake tucked into western New Hampshire. I am not a fisherman, as comfortable on the sea and with its fickle temperament as I am on land. I am wary of the waves. When the clouds hang dark, the inviting blue of the water becomes a stern and unsympathetic grey. When the wind whips up, and slows the momentum of the boat’s progress, the shore seems farther and farther away. It is unsettling, especially as you watch a storm draw closer from over the hillside.

I would never be in a boat, in a windstorm, at night. You can’t see what’s out there. I admire the men and women who fish for a living, who live this daily and take it in stride.  Such were some of the disciples. These men row with the wary respect due the sea that they know well, and with knowledge and experience to navigate the waves safely.

Climb in this boat with these fishermen turned fishers of men. Hang on to something because it’s not a smooth ride. What do you see? Not much. By a flicker of oil lamps, perhaps, you see the shadows of those that row, squinting in the wind, muscles straining against the opposing pull of the waves that rise against the keel. The spray from the waves stings your face as the waves beat against the boat. Up and down we rise as the sea roils black and contrary. It is somewhere between 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM. Dark. This trip is taking longer than it should. Where did these waves come from, and would they Please. Just. Stop.

“When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened (struck with fear, to be seized with alarm).” John 6:19

Matthew and Mark add another perspective. “They were terrified.”

Matthew and Mark use a word which means, among other things, “to cause one inner commotion, to take away one’s calmness of mind…render anxious or distressed”

Hmmm…Have you been there? In a storm? Without calmness of mind? Anxious…distressed…seized with alarm…?

Relationships are stormy. Parenting is stormy. Church fellowship is stormy. Illness is stormy. Work is stormy. Growing up is stormy.

I find it interesting, don’t you, that the disciples were not afraid of the wind here. It is not the same storm as when Jesus is asleep in the boat with them, and rises to calm it, and their fears.

So what were they afraid of?

It is dark or toward dawn—black at its worst, grey at its best. They are preoccupied by the struggle of moving forward, and dealing with the opposing forces of the wind and waves that are obstacles to them reaching their destination.

Ahhhh…I see myself here. (Do I have company?) Hawaiian Sea 2011 ApgartT

Suddenly, in a totally unexpected manner, Jesus strides along toward the boat. He’s walking, not struggling. He means to pass by them. Maybe there wasn’t room for Him in the boat. He was comfortable sloshing through those turbulent waves like they were nothing. (Mark 6:48, 49)

The disciples are struck with alarm and a feeling of anxiety and distress overwhelms them, so much so that they cry out in fear. Definitely gone is that calmness of mind and focus. They don’t even recognize Him for who He is at first.

“Take heart,” He says. “It is I. Have no fear.” Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.  John 6:20, 21

(There is more that happens in this boat. Please pop over here another time: http://anearthenvessel.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/company-in-the-boat/ )

The wind ceases. They are where they need to be, with Whom they need to be.

Here are my other questions…

Do I, in my struggles, not recognize Jesus when He comes? Is it because He arrives in unexpected manners, totally out of the ordinary?

What can I do to recognize Him more?

I recognize people by spending time with them and paying attention to them when I am with them.  Isn’t it the same with Jesus?

I should remember to expect the unexpected. Jesus doesn’t fit into my human mold. He shows up in events, in circumstances, through people, in ways I cannot imagine, that break all the rules. I need to get used to that.

And I need to get used to Jesus treating the waves like they are nothing. Because, to Him, they are.

Do you notice here that Jesus doesn’t offer a discourse on how to row better against the wind? He doesn’t offer solutions, as in actions to take. He offers only Himself. That is enough.

“It is I. Have no fear.”

It has been quite a boat ride. I have learned a lot on this part of the journey, but I am ready to have firm footing on land for a while.

I will be thinking about these lessons for a while.

Next up: a conversation about bread…

Blessings on you as you journey. Be on the lookout for the unexpected ways Jesus shows up!

 100_7825

All scripture quotess from: Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1971

Posted in Facing Jesus, The Walk, Trials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What You Can Learn from Listening in to a Conversation

Sometimes you stay longer in one place than you intended. It may be because what’s there is so  sweet, you don’t want to leave. Other times, your feet get mired by one distraction or another and it takes a while to untangle the vines.Grapevine tendril ApgarT 2014

I’ve been untangling the iron tendrils of the world, and mulling over where they’ve had me tethered… 

Still at the temple, I am watching the conversation between Jesus and those who spent a lifetime pouring over God’s words and discussing their importance. Those in charge.

As always, Jesus has something to say to those that professed to be ‘religious’.

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to Me; yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.” V. 39,40

I cannot move past this verse, spoken from the lips of God’s Son, and it has me looking at this from all sides. By “this” I mean the coming to Him.

Just prior to this soul-excavating two-by-four, He says something else:

“…you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He has sent.” v. 38

These men have poured the hours and days of their lives into knowledge about God and His promise of redemption, and yet His word remained lifeless on the ancient scrolls–unrolled for study and dialogue, and rolled back up until the next discussion.

I have more in common with them than I think, sometimes…
Like them, I go to the right places, digging deep into scripture on my own or in a class, but in the process, I forget the Person. “... it is they that bear witness to Me.”

Even Jesus knew that devotion to the study of God is not the same as abiding WITH God. Bible by Kaylee

After pulling off the chokehold of the vines of responsibility and distraction, I have gathered the blessings of coming to Jesus and abiding with Him. What richness I found that renewed my soul! In the quietness of this moment we have together, breathe them in with me:
Coming to Jesus’ side is coming to a place of STRENGTH!

“Everyone who COMES TO ME and hears my words and does them, I will show you what He is like. He is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundations upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” 6:47-49

The message: Dig deep. Lay your foundation into the bedrock that is Christ. Not scripture. Scripture points TO Christ

Coming to Jesus is to come to God, whose Place is one of compassion, healing, and love.

“Yet it was I who taught E′phraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of compassion with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

 and I bent down to them and fed them.”  Hosea 11:3-5

Breathe in those words of deep, deep love. Wouldn’t we rather be here than anywhere else?

This place with Jesus is our intended residence!

“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne…Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Mt. 25:31-34

Jesus calls us to Come, and has waiting for us, exactly what we need.

“The apostles returned to Jesus, and told Him all that they had done and taught.  And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.”

This happens immediately following a long, very difficult day. They had just lived through the beheading of their beloved coworker, John the baptizer. Can you imagine the gruesome vision in their heads? They must have been broken hearted, and terrified. Still, they took care of their friend and came to Jesus to report on their work in His name.  He recognizes their need for pause and refreshment, compassionately bidding them, “Come.” Not “Go, take a break, regroup, then return to Me and the work at hand.” He uses the word “Come.” Come with. Come alongside. This is the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 4:19 for “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It’s an ‘along with Me’ word—a word of presence, of companionship and teaching.

Did you ever have an exhausting, horrific day or season of your life? (Are you having one now?)

Look what Jesus does here:

He invites them to come away with him for rest from the pressing crowds and separation from the emotional and political turbulence that was John’s death. They hadn’t even had time to eat, let alone regroup and refresh. You’d think, being Jesus, that He’d choose to exercise His power and clear off that secluded place He had promised them for rest. Yet a great throng followed them and beat them there.

I hate it when that happens. I clear out my morning, my day, or place, or activity so that I can decompress and rejuvenate, then the people come, or a need arises, or husband, kids, friends, mother, strangers, brothers or sisters in Christ…they press in with their needs and wants and expectations. Apgart 2014

Jesus does something interesting here I almost missed. In inviting His beloved disciples to rest, He moves into a situation that at first looks absolutely draining, but ends up turning the world upside down for a while, and their faith with it. “Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them.  As He went ashore He saw a great throng, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.” Mk. 6:33ff

He takes over the work for a while. Maybe the disciples stayed slumped in the boat while He taught, or resting on the hillside. Maybe they dragged themselves on shore to provide crowd management, as always. No matter, Jesus took over for a while. Then He feeds them from almost nothing. You know the story: 5 loaves, 2 fish. Thousands fed.

Forget about the filling of bellies. Think about the filling of souls. THINK about it!  Those disciples got exactly what they needed. What a faith-building experience that drove the needy to Jesus who provides! In their exhaustion and fear, in the middle of an oppressively difficult day of training, Jesus bid them “Come” and gave them- and in the process, others- exactly what was right for them at the time. Totally different from what they were expecting, it took a long while for what He really did for them to sink in. They didn’t get it at all at first, and their hearts were hardened. (v.52)

Gulp. I’ve been there. Has that ever happened to you? Longing for rest, God places more on our plate. We don’t get it at first. Quite frankly, we rebel against it.  Then, with the passage of time, He gently nudges us toward understanding of the gift He gave us in all of that.

Coming to Jesus and abiding with Him is living in a place where His grace is deep and the pull of the world can be cast off.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Our bodies may not rest, but our souls will. It is promised.

 

I’m back to the temple sit in John 5, the tangled vines released and laid down at my feet.  I am ready to move on. With Him. Alongside Him. Vines cast aside T Apgar 2014

Some things to ponder…

Whether we are church leaders, officially, or leaders of our families, our friendships, our marriages… we need to come to Jesus and abide with Him. The responsibility that comes with this privilege is to help those we lead in the Coming to Jesus.

If we mentor another precious soul, or are a camp counselor, or a Bible class teacher…we need to come to Jesus and abide with Him. The responsibility placed in our hands by God is to guide those we lead in the Coming to Jesus. Not to me. Not to the lesson agenda. Not to the structure of church activity. To Jesus. Those are worthy tools, but they are just tools to keep us clinging to Jesus.

I am thinking, too, of the danger we place each other in by treating God’s word as an academic study. How challenging it is to share and gather knowledge about God without reducing Him, His Son, and His plan to a scholarly outline! This is the peril that comes with the gifts of our Christian schools and universities, and of our Bible classes, is it not?

Let us train ourselves to love the presence of God and abide in this life here, with His Son, Jesus.

Blessings on your journey to and with Him.

“LORD, I love the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwells.” Psalm 26:8

Lily hope T Apgar 2014

Posted in Facing Jesus, One Another, Sharing Jesus, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Trials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What is it You Want?

I have been stopped for several days now, in Jerusalem, trying to get to the temple. There’s a conversation unfolding there (in John 5) that has grabbed my attention.  However, God has not allowed me to get close just yet. He has had another work in mind for my heart. In life and study with God, I find that I sometimes think the direction I am going is so clear, the destination so obvious, that I plow forward of my own accord, disregarding some precious ground of opportunity along the way. Sometimes I cause God to have work very hard to unlock MY focus and reestablish HIS. Does that ever happen to you?

Apparently I have a stop to make before I join that temple conversation. 100_4461

It is the Sabbath day of a feast, which like any holiday, brings throngs of extra people to town. There is a multitude of humanity pressed in by a certain pool of water. The crowd is at a standstill. It is the bottom layer that I see. It pulses with need, pressed in, straining to get closer. That is where I find the expectant and hopeful faces, etched by years of agony. Bobbing above this layer are the occasional faces of mothers, fathers, and brothers, lined with the burden of caregiving. Sprinkled into the crowd are the rubber-neckers, the “hey-while-we’re-in-town-let’s-go-visit-that-pool-and-watch-what-happens” kind of folk.  It’s hot, and smelly, and claustrophobic. The air is riddled with sighs of despair, groans of pain, murmured petitions for help. Squinty eyes, hands shading foreheads from sun. “Is the water moving yet” the constant question. “Is there hope for relief?”

In the middle of this all is where I find Jesus.

Don’t I always? Don’t I always find Him in the middle of the muck?

Here’s the interesting thing to ponder…

Jesus had no obvious reason to be there. He was not ailing. He was not taking care of a family member or friend that could not move of his own accord. There was feasting to attend—a scheduled set of events and obligations.

But we do find Jesus there. On purpose.

Jesus looked upon that crowd pulsing with disease and want. He saw the helpless individuals trapped in bodies that had failed them, at the mercy of their fellow man’s grace, and totally without subsidized health care.

Why he chose who he chose, I’ll never know, but he began a conversation with one individual, a man who had been ill a lifetime—38 years worth. Jesus knew him. He knew he had been lying there a very long time. Hopeful, but helpless.

He begins a conversation with a question: “Do you want to be healed?”

That man has been lying there for who knows how long. Others are cutting in front of him, time after time. The crowd is big, and needy, and unhealthy.  The possibility of a sarcastic retort is bubbling up in my mind, including a rolling of his eyes. “No, thank you. I am just here for the view, taking a little break from the feast!”

But no, this man responds to Jesus with respect, and answers the question by summarizing his situation:  “Sir…I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” There is no demanding, no rant of complaint, no begging, just a respectful commentary of need.

Jesus always seeks the hearts that know they need Him. And He always finds them. 100_6457

His response to this man, the one He’s singled out of the crowd, is “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” At once, the man is healed, takes up his pallet and walks. Jesus slips away.

The next day, the location changes. Jesus is where He is expected– in the temple. The man that was healed is also there. Jesus finds him and finishes their conversation: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may befall you.” Then the man leaves and tells his story.

 Today’s Take-aways:

I have a lot to learn here. There are things I MUST let God make me better at:

*Go where the people are. Those who are spiritual invalids—blind, paralyzed, lame—seek them out. Sometimes they are far outside the safe circles of church fellowship, sometimes they are right in the pew next to me (scooted over at a safe distance). There are hearts that don’t see the hope in God’s truth, or are paralyzed by fear, apathy, or sin. Others are limping along and just need the strong shoulders of encouragement and service to rise up and walk. Be that.

*Become a question-asker. Find out whose heart is open to the work of Jesus by asking. We don’t know if we don’t ask. I have a brother in Christ who makes a point of asking total strangers (usually fellow passengers on an airplane) what their goals in life are, and what they are doing to achieve them. He pries open the reluctant doors of their hearts with unexpected questions that create opportunity. That’s a little scary for me, but I’ll bet I can start with asking my brothers and sisters in Christ, and my friends and family. If I practice with them, I’ll be better at starting conversations with those I don’t know that need to have that conversation.

*Take a look at the way Jesus finishes the conversation with the man whose life He touched. “See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” Listen to His words. What are they really saying? Affirm what I have done! Reflect and affirm! Underline and boldface it for yourself. AND….Sin no more. Go forward. Jesus asks us, every day, what do we want? “I know it already, but you tell me in your own words. Do you want to be healed?”

Then, “Rise. Walk.” By His direction, under His orders: Rise. Walk. Whatever you do, whatever ails you, or whatever you want, get moving! Then, affirm what I have done for you. Remember Whose you are and by Whose power you move, then go forward as I have directed you!

*God is big on remembrance. He wove a structure into the lives of His people from the earliest times, because He knows that one fault of His imperfect beloved is their habit of forgetting. When time and activity stretch the distance between our salvation and today, the freshness of His grace, and its impact can become dull. IT is not dull, our perception of it is. So, like the man at the temple, walking on healthy legs in temple worship for the first time in 38 years, listen to the words of Jesus: “See, you are well!” Remember the Before, to appreciate the After. This encounter with Him will always be your touchstone.

*After Jesus celebrates with the man in greeting, and cautions Him about how to move forward, the man goes away and tells his story. Not anyone else’s story, but his story. I can do that. I can tell others the effect Jesus has on my life. I don’t have to impress them with doctrine, I don’t have to recall book, chapter and verse, I can just tell my story. Everyone has a story. forsythia

Whew! Now that I have spent time at this pool of healing, I am ready for the walk to the temple. I can hear the murmur of Jesus’ words, and He’s saying something powerful. See you there…

 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Posted in Facing Jesus, Gratitude, Memorial Day, Sharing Jesus, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When the Questions You Ask Aren’t the Ones You Need Answers To

Sidle up, Friends. It’s time for a little rest on this dusty journey. Grab a stone, shade your eyes from the noonday sun and look up.   You can tell a lot about someone by the way they talk to others. We’re in John 4, at an old well–a well that has seen generations of God’s people coming and going. Our Savior is taking a rest, and sets His wearied body down. Along comes a woman–an ordinary woman going about her daily business of water-gathering. Jesus starts a conversation by asking her for something simple, yet deceptively complex-a drink of water. There were a lot of social protocols attached to the getting of water in those days… River in Jackson NH 2011 apgart

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that you,  a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

I love how Jesus doesn’t even really answer the woman at the well’s initial question, the question she thought was the most important to ask. He doesn’t get sucked into that conversation. He steers the conversation toward Himself. Now this would be quite off-putting for any of us to do. No one’s heart or mind stays open to the words of an arrogant conversationalist who must always be the focus of the dialogue.
Somehow it’s different with Jesus. Because it’s supposed to be different. This is the One Conversation that we should have that is always, ALWAYS turned to Jesus.
The Questions: What on earth are You doing with me, Jesus?! You are not following the rules! Who ARE you?
He leads her heart and mind a bit, until it’s ready. Then…
The Answer: I am He.

Sometimes, the first questions that pop into my head aren’t the ones I really need answers to. What are my first questions?…Why?  How?  When?

Maybe they need to be Who?

Not Why is this happening?  How will it unfold? When will it change?

But Who will walk me through this? Who will grab ahold of its edges and peel them back to reveal what is needed? Who will choose the right time, and Who will help me wait?

Not Why do we do things this way? How should it look? When should we start?

But Who will help us see it? Live it? Whose eyes and hands and feet shall we use?

Have you ever had a faith conversation with a skeptic, particularly one who comes from a religious tradition? They are often relentless in their questions that hinge on the perceived externals of faith. Like this woman, they say

Question 1: Why aren’t you following the rules? How is it you are even speaking to me, let alone asking me for something? What ARE the rules?

Watch Jesus. He massages her curiosity. He knows her heart. This one…she needs to be led, with dropped crumbs, as though leading a skittish bird to hand. She’s missing the point.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

I wonder how often I stand beside Jesus, asking Him a question, without remembering, without really KNOWING the Gift of God, and to whom I am speaking? Is that why I get my questions so wrong sometimes? It’s not that He doesn’t hear my questions, He just knows me so well, that He tries to guide my heart to asking the deeper, more needed questions-the ones that have the important answers to unlock the power of His grace and majesty. These are the questions that point to HIM. 

Question 2: What you offer is impossible, and it doesn’t fit with what I think you’re saying. You don’t have a jar, the water is out of reach, and by the way, where do you get that living water?

Question 3: (She doesn’t even give Him a chance to answer her second question before she’s peppering Him with another. I am so like her!)  Are You greater than those leaders in the past on whom we place our confidence?

Jesus does not stray from the point He’s trying to make. He has something to offer that is different from anything she’s ever had, and He’s willing to offer it to her.

Next, she responds with a demand, and it’s a demand with an expectation that when satisfied, this daily burden of water-drawing will be gone from her life.

But Jesus gets personal. She won’t, so He will. Let’s talk about your husband…s.JacksonNH covered bridge 2011 apgart

Uh-oh. I know that sinking feeling of  Jesus hitting my heart in the hard places.

She deflects His attention away from her to yet another religious argument.

Jesus is so patient. He finally addresses her question…sort of. He reminds her of what she should already know. It’s about salvation. Then He opens it up for her: God is seeking those that are His. (I love that He shares that the Father SEEKS those who worship Him!)

The woman mulls over her religious history… “I know that Messiah is coming…”

Jesus responds: I am the one you’ve been waiting for. I am He. He has spent the whole conversation trying to lead her to Himself. He has been bringing her past what she supposed was important to wrestle with, and led her to Who He is.

How often does He do this with me? What kind of questions have I been asking Him? Am I missing the point?

I laugh when I imagine the next few moments. The disciples arrive, carrying food from the city. They notice Jesus in conversation with this woman. Their eyebrows raise. (Can you imagine the knowing looks flying back and forth between them?) They see it. They marvel at it, but for some reason they don’t question Him about it. Maybe they’ve learned that this Man of God has the authority to not play by their rules. He’s a game-changer. Then the woman flees, leaving her water jar, and calls out to the people to come see this man that may be the Christ!

Today’s Take Aways… Rhododendron bee apgart 2014

*I really see myself in this woman. I am so grateful for Jesus’ patience in our humanity and often misdirected focus.

*Jesus knows our hearts. He’ll steer our conversations the way they need to go. Even if we don’t ask the right questions, He’ll give us the needed answers.

*Jesus will wait while we pepper Him with questions that aren’t of primary importance. He’ll answer them by redirecting our attention to Himself, then He’ll get personal. What’s REALLY going on in our lives? He sees that, and takes it, and uses it to move us forward.

*God seeks after us. He offers full satisfaction. How wonderful to be sought after and satisfied!

*This ‘living water’ He offers…it’s amazing! It means active…blessed…endless in the kingdom of God…having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul. Soul refreshing!

I hope our stop has been restful. We  next stop in Jerusalem, after continuing on our journey through Galilee. This would be a good time to check the soles of your sandals, and fill up your travel mug with some of that living water.

May your day and walk be blessed. Enjoy your drink.

Posted in Facing Jesus, Prayer, Sharing Jesus, Spiritual Transformation, The Walk, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment