Category Archives: Where Are You Headed?

The Word as Gauge and Guide

We who are called on mission for God must abide in His Word.  It is easy to get distracted, postpone, or neglect our daily time with the Lord.  We can slide into a pattern of picking up the Bible when we have “more time” or something else does not take precedence instead of making our priority Jesus as the Word.  Great benefits and blessings are ours as we give the Lord the “firstfruits” of our attention and devotion.  Additionally, we simply cannot complete our mission successfully if we don’t.

How is success measured?  In God’s eyes.

Joshua was called on mission to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River to a new land the LORD was giving them (Joshua 1:2).  He was to divide the land as an inheritance (1:6), which required defeating the enemies resident in the land as described in the book of Joshua.  It was a God-sized mission.  Joshua couldn’t have done it without depending on God and His provision.

When God called Joshua to it, He outlined the scope of the mission and also told him how to succeed.  “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (1:8, NKJV)

There are three things to note from the first sentence in verse 8.  First, the Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth.  Like Joshua, we are to speak the Word continually.  We are to speak truth over our circumstances from the Word.  We are to speak in faith knowing the power of the Word.  Secondly, like Joshua, we shall meditate in it day and night.  The Word is to be our focus, our go-to, our joy as we go through our days and nights.  This is true in the easier times as well as in the times of great struggle and difficulty.  The Word gives us the perspective, the wisdom, and the hope we need all the time.  Thirdly, we, like Joshua, are to “observe and do” (v. 8, AMP) according to all that is written.  It’s not just about agreeing with the Word, it’s about doing it.  It’s about making decisions about how to proceed with the issues at hand based on the Word.  And then, we are to take action based on the wisdom and truth of God’s glorious Word.

Verse 9 is God’s mandate to Joshua as well as to us today as to the way to successfully complete the mission.  “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and of good courage;  do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  When the going gets rough, when we feel stuck, when the obstacles seem too great, God is with us giving us all the strength and courage we need to overcome, press through, endure, and complete well His assignment.  He shows us how to replace fear with faith and dismay with renewed assurance.

How are we to do our mission?  By following God’s command to Joshua:  keep the Word front and center and go for it, trusting in the Lord to make the way.

 

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Marooned or Moving Forward? Pilgrimage & Promises

pilgrimSometimes we travel through desert seasons in our lives — seasons where we feel the heavens are brass, God isn’t listening (and certainly in not answering!), and our provisions are becoming increasingly depleted.   We wonder what happened to our initial sense of adventure.  In fact, whatever became of our vision?  Will we perish in the dry, desolate, silent space?

God’s Word describes this very predicament:  “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.”  (Psalm 84:5-7)

It is interesting that God promises blessings to the one whose heart is fixed on pilgrimage, on continuing the journey, no matter how desolate the circumstances in which he finds himself.  That person is determined NOT to stand still and feel sorry for himself, but instead to press on through the Valley of Weeping (Baca in Hebrew), to continue his journey through the difficult straits of life.   Somehow, in the process of moving forward in the dry, sorrowful places of life, water ultimately springs forth in that wilderness.   Rain begins to fall and covers the dry ground with pools (the same word for blessings in Hebrew).  God brings life out of the barren, dry places of our lives if we purpose to move forward through them.

Luke corroborates the principle of pilgrimage when he relates the story of an encounter ten lepers had with Jesus:  “As He went on His way to Jerusalem, it occurred that [Jesus] was passing [along the border] between Samaria and Galilee. And as He was going into one village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance. And they raised up their voices and called, ‘Jesus, Master, take pity and have mercy on us!’ And when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go [at once] and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cured and made clean.” (Luke 17:11-14 AMPC)

Sometimes, Jesus heals people instantly.  At other times, healing is a process.   More often than not, we are healed when we purpose to move forward in our inadequacy on the path set before us.  Pilgrimage is a journey with a purpose, often to a new, unfamiliar place.   When we set our hearts on pilgrimage, despite our weaknesses and inadequacies, even infirmities, the Lord brings forth springs of refreshing and blessing, even in the midst of those infirmities.   We are often healed in the going, regardless of how lame or halting we feel.   He meets us in the process of moving forward in the face of lack.

Can I dictate to the Lord how and when He heals me or meets my need?  No! He is God, and I am certainly aware that I am powerless to change myself.  However, as I obey Him in the process of pilgrimage, often not understanding even when I will reach my destination (moving stolidly, even with baby steps, toward Him), He heals me and brings forth life in the wilderness places of my heart.

Father, empower me to keep putting one foot in front of the other!  Strengthen me to move forward on this relentlessly challenging path and trust You to speak life to my personal wilderness.   You will bring forth streams in the desert and will heal my heart “in the going.”

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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!

 

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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!

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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

 

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Waypoint or Destination?

465303034-612x612When we are passionate about something we are doing, particularly a spiritual pursuit or passion,  we typically make every effort to ensure the visibility, desirability, and even attractiveness of our cause.  We might have a passion to pursue Jesus Christ in all His fullness and to experience the truth and power of the Gospel, a passion to end modern-day slavery, a passion to end abortion, to eradicate racism, to end child labor in African coffee fields, to dig water wells for communities without clean water, to provide education for the homeless or fair wages for those in the clothing factories in China. While there is nothing wrong with drawing others to a cause we deem worthy of their attention, we need to be aware that we (and our “ministry” or “cause”) are a waypoint, as opposed to a destination.    If we are not careful to serve only as a stopping point, a location where people might find a bit of rest and a place to get their bearings before continuing their journey, others may fail to reach their goals; they may camp out with us and completely forget about traveling onward to reach their own intended destinations.  

In the case of Aglow International, the local groups are (quite appropriately!) called lighthouses.  Lighthouses illuminate the safe approach into a harbor potentially fraught with obstacles.   Local Aglow groups use the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit to refresh, equip, and train “travelers” to continue to their various areas of Kingdom assignments this side of heaven.   However, in my experience, it can be far too easy to expect people to come to US, remain with US, champion our particular cause, and never move on past a certain point.  

This principle applies to families, churches, and any other ministry or movement.   The purpose of parenting, for example, is to raise self-sufficient, independent young adults who pursue their own paths in life.   My thirty-year-old should not rely on me to tie his shoes!   He should be well equipped, if I have done my job properly, to make his own decisions and pursue his own passions (which may not be expressed the same way as mine).  Similarly, churches are families of believers where people are equipped to touch the hearts of others outside that immediate family with the good news of Jesus.   If churches never train and launch anyone, they will never impact the surrounding community.   

I often ask myself whether what I am doing revolves around me and my personal causes, or whether I am designing what I do to include, train, and send others on the road to their respective “harbors.”  Do my ministry activities focus on drawing others to me, or do they facilitate others in connecting with the Holy Spirit and hearing His voice for their own areas of impact? Am I seeking followers to come camp with me permanently, or do I remember to shine the light, serve up something fortifying and refreshing, and perhaps provide a temporary stopping place, before launching them back into the water?

In the case of Aglow lighthouses, the goal is to serve as a waypoint, a stopping point, an equipping post; Aglow is NOT a destination.   Aglow groups seek to position themselves in a harbor at a point of need or challenge in their respective communities, and they strive to shed light on the safe path through those challenges into the harbor of the truth of the Gospel.  Aglow leadership trains and launches others into various fields of ministries, which are always a function of the individual’s particular gifts and passions.

Let’s remember that our lives are NOT a destination — they serve to point the way for those around us and to encourage them in the area of Kingdom activity THEY are called to pursue.  It is no coincidence that Jesus said to GO into all the world (Mark 16:15); let’s shine our lights in strategic locations to help others find their way!  WE are NOT the destination…. 

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Does She Look Like Her Daddy?

Every time a new baby is born, all the friends and relatives insist that the hands-father-child-17297036[1]baby looks most like his father — or his mother — or Uncle Harry or Grandma Bess.  However, the fact is that, although infants may bear some resemblance to a particular relative, babies change as they grow.  One of our children was born looking like his daddy and ended up looking more like his maternal grandfather.  In other instances, the resemblance might not be physical, yet may be clearly evident in behavioral patterns or personality characteristics.

Family resemblances give us a clue to a spiritual truth:  Just as we tend to look like our human parents, Daddy God designed us spiritually to reflect Him in this world. When people look at us, He wants people to see Him.   That means I should walk like Him, talk like Him, forgive like Him, love like Him.  Of course, the transformation process of bearing His image is a lifelong one!   The good news is that, since I am powerless to change myself, the Holy Spirit Himself does the work.  The only requirement is that I be willing and available!

Paul explains the looking-like-Daddy-God process in 2 Corinthians 3: 18 (AMPC):

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