Boggle, A New Word, and A New Roadmap

For lovers of words, Boggle can prove to be either an exhilarating or extremely frustrating game.  If you are unfamiliar with this game, the covered box of wooden cubes (engraved with letters on each face) is shaken at the beginning of each round.  Players compete with one another to write down the greatest number of words that can be spelled from the letters exposed after the shaking process.  The words must be formed using adjacent letters on the tray of cubes (diagonally, vertically, or horizontally, in any combination).  The round is timed with a small hourglass, and duplicate words (listed by more than one player) are eliminated from the final word count.  The challenge is to be able to see the words, particularly the less common ones, and write them down quickly.   The cubes are then shaken again for the next round of play.

Just like a new round of Boggle, it seems our society has been undergoing a season of shaking.  Many leaders have resigned their positions or moved into new positions.   Organizations are undergoing re-structuring, and mission statements are being revised.   Companies are learning to adapt to new  types of markets and increasingly complex consumer expectations.  Even the Body of Christ is being shaken as the Church attempts to reach a culture fraught with division and turmoil.

Clearly, we need fresh words of hope in the midst of this instability, as the strategies that served us well twenty years ago are falling short in the face of current challenges, whether in business or in ministry.  Communication methods have been revolutionized, yet we somehow have lost the simplicity of ordinary friendships we enjoyed when life was not so turbulent or complex.  In that sense, Boggle has a lesson to teach us.  The words from the last round do not help us win points in the current round of life.   Strategies that guaranteed success in the past do not motivate us (or anyone else) to take the initiative in today’s chaotic array of activities.  We need NEW WORDS for this NEW SEASON!

Similarly, we need new pathways to reach new destinations; the old routes have been blocked by construction or, in some cases, are even closed.   Just as I find myself needing to update the mapping program on my phone or in my car, I need the Lord to update His spiritual instructions for me to move toward the new destinations and goals He has appointed for me in this new season.

Interestingly enough, centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke clearly about our need to see a fresh word and travel new roads:  “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV

God, we DO need some fresh words for this bewildering, unfamiliar season.  Sharpen our vision to SEE the new things You are doing and to recognize the words You are speaking to us.  We want to follow Your directions!

 

2 Comments

Filed under Where Are You Headed?, Where Are You Now?

Pass the Salt, Please!

As a young person growing up in an American household, I do not recall having a fondness for the squishy, nearly flavorless bread available on American grocery store shelves.  As a result, the only time I actually enjoyed eating bread was when my mother baked it herself, which usually was in conjunction with a special meal.  However, when I spent time in France and Germany as a university student, I discovered the marvels of REAL bread — bread from ordinary local bakeries that tasted heavenly, was surrounded with delicious crust, had substance, and actually required chewing prior to swallowing.  I suddenly understood what BREAD should be.  Although my personal preference in physical bread probably does not matter to anyone but me, I do believe God desires me to cultivate a taste for spiritual bread, bread that nourishes, bread that brings life, bread that has eternal weight.

As an adult, sometimes I feel overwhelmed and wonder if there is anything left of me!  When I am depleted — or close to being so — , I remember that I most likely need another serving of REAL bread — the Bread of Life. In John 6:48-51, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (NKJV)  

When I feel exhausted, used up, and empty, I can always turn to Jesus, the One Who loves me better than anyone else could ever love me.  He is the living Word, the Bread of Life, Who infuses me with His very own life.  He is always available, and He always listens.  He never grows stale.  He gives me His life to share with others, as He is the God of more than enough.  He gives me what I need, plus enough to give away.  The Living Word of God — Jesus Christ — is the source of strength and power in my life, and He wants to manifest Himself to others.

Sometimes, however, those around me may not be receptive to the Gospel; they may not wish to hear about God’s faithfulness, power, or sacrifice on our behalf.   Perhaps they have not yet acquired a taste for the Bread of Life.  After all, I have met people who do not realize that there is a better loaf than the ubiquitous and inappropriately-named “Wonder Bread.”  In that case, I need to remember that Jesus, the Bread of Life, also stated that those who believe in Him are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).   As salt, I need to be willing to be poured out on behalf of others (just as Jesus was poured out and sacrificed for me).  

I recall devouring my mother’s homemade dinner rolls with a generous sprinkling from the salt shaker at the table.  Somehow, those rolls, though light and deliciously buttery, tasted even better with salt.   Is it possible that the Holy Spirit is inviting me to be sprinkled over the Bread of Life as I share God’s love and kindness with those around me?  Am I truly the salt on the Bread?  Is God inviting me to enhance the flavor of His Presence as I am poured out for others?  He surely can show me creative ways to present His life to them, ways that will help them desire His goodness for themselves.

Father, help me to be the salt that attracts people to taste of the Bread of Life!  Show me where you want to turn me upside down and sprinkle your goodness on those in my circles of influence!

Leave a comment

Filed under What about the truth?

Healing the Water

WaterEvery time we have moved to a new location, we have noticed a difference in the taste and properties of the water that comes out of the faucet in our home.  Sometimes the water has been incredibly hard, which causes our appliances to calcify, renders the bathtubs impossible to clean, and adds a patently unpleasant taste to our favorite beverages (coffee, tea, or just plain water!).  The simplest (and cheapest) solution for this dilemma would be to install a water filter under the kitchen sink or even on the water line that runs through the refrigerator.  However, the water supply in one Texas location was so unpotable that we were compelled to purchase a water softener to improve the water quality for the entire house.   Interestingly enough, the “fuel” for that water softener was nothing other than oversized bags of salt.

Water is vital for life, and its toxicity or purity dramatically affects every aspect of our day-to-day activities.  Of course, although bottled water is now readily available, at least to most of us in industrialized nations, that was not always the case.

We can read two examples in the Old Testament of methods used by leaders to heal the water on behalf of a community.  In Exodus 15, 22-26, we read:

22 Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. 23 When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

24 Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.

It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”  (NLT)

The Lord directed Moses to throw a specific piece of wood into the water; that piece of wood (not just any piece of wood) made the water potable.  For us as believers in Jesus Christ, that particular piece of wood is the Cross, which represents God’s Presence and power with us.  He heals us and protects us; He frees us from bitterness that could  poison our souls.  Asking God to help us add the power of the Cross to every situation can bring healing and hope to the worst imaginable circumstances.

Again, in 2 Kings 2: 19-22,  The Lord directs Elisha to bring healing to the water supply in a particular way:

19 One day the leaders of the town of Jericho visited Elisha. “We have a problem, my lord,” they told him. “This town is located in pleasant surroundings, as you can see. But the water is bad, and the land is unproductive.”

20 Elisha said, “Bring me a new bowl with salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the spring that supplied the town with water and threw the salt into it. And he said, “This is what the Lord says: I have purified this water. It will no longer cause death or infertility.” 22 And the water has remained pure ever since, just as Elisha said. (NLT)

In this case, God instructed Elisha to cast salt into the water.  Salt is a reminder of our Covenant with God (see Lev. 2:13, Numbers 18:19, and 2 Chronicles 13:5).  That Covenant is a perpetual covenant that cannot be dissolved.  It transforms our lives and guarantees God’s Presence with us.

Water & FireIn turn, Jesus reminds us that, as believers, we are the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13).  His Presence, due to the power of His Crucifixion and Resurrection on our behalf, is what transforms us and has the power to impact everyone around us.  May the Gospel of the Cross actually change me, heal me of every trace of bitterness, and cause my 

 

life to be a beautiful taste of Jesus to those around me, a clear reflection of His glory!   Lord, make manifest in my life what that Wood and the salt of Your Presence can do!  I give You permission to heal the waters of my soul.

1 Comment

Filed under Where Are You Now?

When the Pressure’s On, Shift Your Focus

wine_press_1[1]When visiting Israel a year ago, one of the details that captured my attention was a replica of an olive press used in the first century A.D.  The disc used to apply pressure to the olives was powered by a vertical shaft that could be turned to lower the disc and thereby increase the pressure on the fruit.  This process forced the olives to release the desired product — rich, golden olive oil.

As I contemplated this visual reminder of spiritual, emotional, and physical pressures I often experience in my personal life, it struck me that pressure of this type is designed to generate a valuable product.  Pressure is not pointless; it always results in a breaking down of the current status quo and yields some type of product.  Of course, not all pressure is positive or healthy; however, assuming I have examined my heart and made any necessary changes to my schedule, actions, and attitudes, I can trust God to produce something of value from that season of pressure and crushing.

Is it easy?  Certainly not!   However, the Bible says that Jesus “was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NET Bible).  Jesus experienced being pressed out, crushed, and bruised on our behalf.   He chose to confirm His commitment to that process in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The pain and grief He experienced in bearing the sins of the world were far from easy; we read that He even suffered to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44).  Undeterred from His purpose, He obediently carried our sins to the cross and endured the horrors of physical and spiritual death on our behalf.  Of course, the Bible also describes how His unspeakable pressure and pain resulted in resurrection power and deliverance from darkness for everyone who receives His gift of forgiveness!

In Hebrew, the word Gethsemane means oil press, or literally translated, press of oils. In English, we do not use the expression oil press, but rather olive press.  Notice that, in English, this simple phrase we use to describe a piece of ordinary agricultural equipment emphasizes the fruit being crushed; on the other hand, in Hebrew, the phrase for the same piece of equipment emphasizes the product to be gained as a result of the pressing!  The lesson to be learned for me:   when I experience pressure, I must shift my focus from myself to the end result of the process God is allowing me to walk through.

Father, when I experience times of great pressure, help me to remember not to focus on myself and my personal pain or inconvenience; help me understand that the crushing process will prove productive and that You have appointed me to bear Kingdom fruit.  Empower me to focus on the gain and not my personal losses or sorrows or pain.   May I be an “olive” yielded to your holy pressing process, in Jesus’ Name!

2 Comments

Filed under Where Are You Headed?, Where Are You Now?

The Wedding Garment

IMG_20190303_130717982Less than two years ago, a friend and I decided to visit the owners of a local business as a simple act of kindness.  It turned out that the business was owned and operated by a family from India.  Unlike some American-born business owners, this family was very receptive to our unexpected visit.  They did not seem to mind taking the time to simply chat with us, even though we were not purchasing anything at all from their company. We were intrigued by their receptivity, and we continued to stop by a couple of times a month.  Sometimes their young adult son would welcome with us, and other times the owner’s wife and mother-in-law came to the door to greet us.   Ultimately, we met the owner, one of his other young adult children, and one of the grandchildren.   Over the course of that first year, we discussed food, travel, family, ethnic customs, language, challenges, and shopping.  It was clear that they were not bothered by our visits, which we never announced in advance.  We simply stopped by on our way to another regular errand we planned, and this place of business was on our way to that location.  

One evening, the son in the family announced to us that he was getting married in less than a year, and he invited us to the wedding.  Naturally, we were surprised and delighted at the prospect, as we counted it a privilege to be included; after all, we were outsiders with respect to their cultural and religious circle.   The parents then began talking with us about the wedding plans and clearly assumed we would be coming.   We could hardly believe that they would invite us to this momentous family event!   

As the day drew near, the mother made the arduous journey to India to shop for materials for the extra-festive sarees for herself, her own mother, and for a few of the close relatives who required special wedding clothes for the various ceremonies.  She explained how important the clothing would be for the family, and she showed us photos on her phone of some of the exquisite dresses worn by brides, grooms, and their families in India of late.   We were in awe of the bright colors, the beautiful fabrics, and the extravagance of the beading on many of the sarees.

When she returned home from India, we stopped by to visit the family again.   This time she presented us with small, exquisitely woven clutch bags as gifts from her trip.   She spoke of the food she would be preparing and the organization of the various ceremonies in different locations over the course of the wedding week.   These conversations were intriguing to us, as the wedding celebration seemed much more extensive than a typical American wedding.

A few weeks prior to the first event, which was to be hosted by the groom’s family, she presented us with exquisitely designed wedding invitations. Not only were we ourselves invited, but she and her family were inviting our husbands as well (even though our husbands had never met the family!).  Of course, we readily accepted this generous invitation and were excited to witness this wedding!

About ten days before the big day, when we asked whether we should wear short or long formal dresses for the ceremony, this precious woman brought out complete wedding garments for us to wear!   We were overwhelmed at the sight of the sarees and matching tops!   Then she and her mother gladly demonstrated how to put on the elaborately jewelled material by wrapping it around themselves multiple times and how to secure it at the end of the process.  

When the wedding day arrived, we each (predictably!) had some difficulty in wrapping ourselves in the beautiful fabric.  I had to enlist my husband’s help, and my friend’s daughter helped her.  The clothing was heavy with jewels and challenging to wrap properly and tuck in securely.  It was unfamiliar to us, yet we made every effort to ensure we looked appropriately dressed for this very special day in the life of our new friend’s family.

For me, the parallels to my relationship with God were poignant and moving.   In response to the least overture on my part, our Father receives me warmly and kindly.  He draws near to me whenever I cry out to Him.  He calls me His friend when I have done nothing to deserve that status.  He clothes me with a garment of praise and garments of salvation.  His Son shed His atoning Blood for me and  now dresses me in a robe of righteousness, “as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”  (Isaiah 61: 3, 10 NIV)  Jesus  calls me His bride and invites me to the wedding feast.  And, although I may have difficulty learning to wear those garments of praise and robes of righteousness, and I may find it a challenge to walk in my new clothes, I am thrilled and grateful for His overwhelmingly generous provision for me!

The fact that this hospitable mother-of-the-groom decided to call us her friends, though we were foreigners to her culture, and  bought us the wedding garments (mine was red, no less!), when we did not deserve to be included in her family, reminded me of all that Jesus has done for me.  God used a woman from India to demonstrate to me what He has provided for Me through His Son! 

IMG_20190303_130710661

Father, help me to allow You to clothe me in Your righteousness! Help me to keep the garments of praise and salvation securely fastened, and empower me to walk steadily when I feel I cannot take another step without falling.  Teach me to wear well the clothes You have given me at such a high price to Yourself! 

3 Comments

Filed under What about the truth?

Shakedown or Breakthrough?

cracks-2099531_640In Christian circles, we love to pray for breakthrough, discuss breakthrough, anticipate breakthrough. However, it appears we seldom actually experience it. Part of the difficulty might lie in a lack of understanding of what breakthrough entails.

By definition, breakthrough involves breaking or piercing THROUGH an obstacle or hindrance into something different; it means to leave something familiar or confining and move into something new that allows more freedom. While the concept of a breakthrough may sound grand and glorious, we often fail to experience it, primarily because we do not want to pay the price. When we count the cost of moving into an unknown, unfamiliar place, we honestly are not certain we are willing to relinquish the comfort and familiarity of the old place, however confining it might have become.

Breakthrough can be painful, and it usually entails the loss of something precious we cannot carry with us into the new place. When a baby is born, he or she loses the familiar place of comfort and constant, immediate supply of everything needed. The baby has to learn to breathe, to wait for others to supply his or her needs, and to thrive in a radically different environment. What constitutes great joy for the parents — to finally see and hold their precious child — might not be that thrilling for the baby, at least not initially. The baby is not allowed to take the womb or the umbilical cord into the new place. If that were possible, such accoutrements would certainly prove ridiculously useless when carried around outside the womb!

Similarly, when a family moves to a new location, the entire household must adjust to a new home, new schools, a new church, and often even a completely different climate! When we left Norway and moved to Texas, our eldest child had difficulty understanding why he couldn’t continue wearing his stocking cap, and he tried in vain to pull down the short sleeves of his shirt to make them longer. He also had to acclimate himself to new idioms in the language that had been unfamiliar to him in our home in Norway, not to mention new cultural phenomena (We had committed the sin of forgetting to teach him about American football at the ripe old age of seven, as we are not a football-aware family!). He left behind Helly Hansen rain gear, which were not needed in Texas but had been worn regularly when playing outside in the rain in Stavanger, Norway.

The same principle holds true for spiritual breakthroughs as well. When the time comes to move into a new season, everything familiar to us invariably begins to shake. Fear may grip our heart, and we may strive to hold tightly to the trappings of the old season, whether titles, positions, ways we have functioned in the past, sweet stages of life with our children and friends, or time-tested ways of doing things. Everything dear to us may appear to be threatened. Might it be that we are, in fact, to count it all as loss — even the things given to us by the Holy Spirit for ministry purposes, the talents and roles we hold dear, the skills that were hard-won — for the sake of moving forward into the new season with the Lord?

Even for the Lord Himself, breakthrough was not without a price. To break through the barrier of sin that kept us from the Father, Jesus had to BECOME sin on our behalf; He endured crucifixion in order to move through it into victory over sin and death. When He surrendered His Spirit to the Father, a powerful earthquake caused such a shaking that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two; Matthew records that rocks split apart, and graves were opened (Matthew 27: 50-54, TCJB). In order to break through as the Redeemer, Jesus had to sacrifice everything He was and everything He had, including His earthly body. Of course, He thereby conquered sin and death forever, but He was not allowed to hang onto anything of this earth.

If things are trembling and shaking to the point that you feel your life is falling apart, hang on tightly to your Heavenly Father, as He is with you and will carry you into the next season. Release the things you have held dear and dare to move into the unknown; He will carry you through the barricades and into things you never imagined, not on your terms, but on His (which are far better than the best we could imagine). When the ground begins to shake, remember He is rolling away some stones that have kept you in the old season! May the Lord of the Breakthrough carry you through to fresh experiences of His goodness and Presence in this new year!

Be encouraged by the song “Forever” as sung by Kari Jobe:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv4LRl2KI2M

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Where Are You Headed?

The Joy Thief — Can You Spot Him?

0

Have you ever noticed that our lives never seem to leave the fast lane?  Everything seems to operate at breakneck speed, and pauses must be carefully and deliberately orchestrated if they are ever to be experienced!  As a high-energy person, I generally thrive with a busy schedule; however, the past few years have been too frenetic even for me.  Events I await with anticipation end up seeming scrunched in between other demands that scream for attention; those long-awaited pleasures then become far too quickly a thing of the past.  Even though the past six months were rich in terms of experiences, I was not actually able to savor anything on more than a surface level.   After all, even the best of gourmet meals may as well be a fast-food hamburger if that meal is choked down without even chewing it!  Similarly, the pleasures of life cease to be pleasurable if we do not compel ourselves to actually stop long enough to experience the joys of the PAUSE! Indeed, I have MUCH for which to be profoundly thankful; my gratitude list is too long to enumerate.  Nonetheless, recently I have missed out on the joys associated with those people, things, and opportunities on my gratitude list, simply because I have been  moving too fast and feeling too anxious about the next task to be completed. 

Suddenly, I recognized the presence of the joy-stealer and realized that he had been stalking me for several months!   Specifically, the taste of a spritz cookie I baked using my mother’s recipe brought this revelation of joy and how I had missed it!  In Marcel Proust’s book,  À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, one bite of a madeleine cookie evoked a tidal wave of memories from the author’s childhood.  For me, that spritz cookie caused me to experience a sudden breakthrough of vibrant joy that I had not felt in a long time.

After all, Jesus warned us about the thief:  “ The thief comes only in order to steal, kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure”  John 10:10 (CJB).  The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy everything in my life that expresses God’s Presence:  my faith, my peace, my health, my joy.  When I notice my joy has evaporated, I need to remember that I have an enemy; somehow I had allowed him to plunder my joy.  Isn’t it wonderful that God can use such an insignificant thing as a small cookie to reveal to me my need for a fresh infilling of His joy and my need to pause long enough to savor it?

How do I take back what has been stolen?  The first step is to stop and reflect long enough to recognize its absence.  The second step is to repent for careening thoughtlessly along the highway of life with only the goal (however noble) in mind.  The third step is to ask Jesus, the ever-available Restorer, to make my heart new and restore to me the joy of my salvation (see Psalm 51).  

Father, empower me to experience fully Your Presence and goodness in the little delights of this holy-day season!  Grow larger in my heart, in Jesus’ Name!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Where Are You Now?