Category Archives: Where Are You Headed?

Holy Release

During the past couple of months, I have made an ongoing, concerted effort to function from a platform of peace and not allow myself to be tormented by the prevailing atmosphere of anxiety that has been threatening to overwhelm our nation and even our world.  Resting in God’s Presence to drink in His peace takes WORK, particularly when the tide of sorrow and suffering is rising around us.  (Resting in peace certainly does NOT mean I am lying around in a bathrobe popping chocolates in my mouth!)  Dwelling in His peace entails a serious examination of my thought life and heart attitudes, combined with a willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to correct and re-align my mind and heart to agree with His Word and character.  More often than not, this process is exhausting and messy!

On Friday, May 29, I happened to be on the phone for a regularly scheduled prayer call.  Toward the end of the brief call, I felt strongly prompted to pray a release over the things and people for whom we had been praying.  This sense of release also applied, I felt, to some personal concerns of those on the call (including my own needs).   I felt a strong impetus to speak the release of the Lord for those people and circumstances from specific hindrances and into the future the Lord would appoint for them. It was not a lengthy prayer, and the call concluded with additional prayers and mutual encouragement from the others on the line.

The fact that we were in the midst of the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) was not lost on me.  In fact, the Lord promised His disciples that, if they WAITED for the promise of the Father, they would be immersed in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). He also informed them that they would receive power from this experience — power to be His witnesses even beyond their regular circles of influence (Acts 1:8).  They waited, not knowing when this (probably strange-sounding) promise would be fulfilled.  Suddenly, when the Feast of Shavuot arrived, what had been promised came to pass in the form of a mighty wind of God’s empowering Presence (see Acts 2).  That experience became the ignition and fuel for Peter’s famous testimony that released thousands into an encounter with the truth and power of the Gospel.

We are always released FROM something INTO something else.  The timing is of pivotal importance, as the wrong timing can lead to disastrous results.   For example, oddly enough, the Spacex launch that had been planned for May 27 was delayed at the last moment, as conditions were not optimal for a successful launch.   Instead, the fabled craft was launched a couple of days later (the final day of the Feast of Shavuot!).  

Without any intention to assert that anyone deliberately delayed the timetable to ensure the launch could happen during Shavuot, the coincidence strikes me as interesting, as the Lord often uses physical examples to illustrate spiritual principles.  In this, case, the prayer of release I felt prompted to utter on that very ordinary Friday morning proved significant on several levels.   First, the next morning I learned of an unexpected but specific answer to one of the items for which we had prayed, and it struck me that this breakthrough was a clear response to the Pentecost prayer of the previous day.  Over the course of the next two days, multiple other releases came to pass (some of which had been “back burner” prayer requests over the course of several months!).

Meanwhile, I discovered later that day that the Spacex had finally been gloriously launched.  As I pondered the intricate and mind-boggling design of the equipment that powered the release of that massive spacecraft from the launch pad and propelled it into space, I saw a picture of the principle of release — God’s power to release us FROM things that restrain us (our past, our sin, our pain, or even roles we have outgrown) and INTO new realms of experiences and new vantage points.   

How glorious He is!  May the shaking we currently experience remind us of an impending “launch” and fill us all with holy expectation instead of fear, and may we experience release from hindrances and into His promises, in Jesus’ Name!  

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The God of the In-Between

Book.twowheelsgroverIn view of our need to get some exercise beyond wrestling matches with the vacuum cleaner during this season of isolation, my husband and I decided to venture out on our bikes.  For various reasons, I had not actually ridden any bicycle (apart from a very tedious stationary bike) for twenty years.   Although I feigned interest, I was secretly hoping that we would end up postponing this outing, as I lacked confidence in my balance of late (largely due to multiple successful but traumatic eye surgeries).  

Despite the fact that I had learned to ride a bike without training wheels when I was five, the challenge seemed daunting.  After all, after six decades of life, one’s perspective changes!  Moreover, the surfaces to be navigated near our house are often irregular and far from level.  As my husband aired up the tires,  I dubiously inspected the dusty gear shifts on the ancient handlebars.  Tremulously, I mounted the bike and wondered if I would make it around the block. 

However, when I began to pedal (quite vigorously, due to my fear of tumbling to one side!), the old thrill returned!  As my husband sped on ahead of me, I shifted the gears quite easily and streaked on in his wake.   Suddenly, I was in a different world — remembering the freedom I had felt as a young person riding a bike around my neighborhood, to classes at college, and even as an adult around Lake Dillon in the Rocky Mountains.   I stopped wondering whether or we would ride back home via the same route.  Instead, I meditated on what the end goal of this test ride might be and contemplated what adventures might lie before me.  

Exhilarated, I nearly forgot myself as the bike lurched with a sudden change in pavement.  Forced to look down just beyond the front wheel, I noticed gaping cracks in the sidewalk and changes in the level of its surface.  A squirrel unexpectedly darted in front of the bike and barely avoided certain death.  With a fresh resolve to pay more attention to my immediate surroundings, I purposed to abandon my reveries.  

That deliberate focus on the immediate challenge, however, robbed me of any sense of purpose.   Even as my husband continued to pedal swiftly on, I was distracted by what I would or would not encounter on the ground directly ahead of me — so much so, that I lost him and didn’t know what direction he had taken.  (Of course, it turned out he waited for me at a crossroads and had been keeping an eye on me the entire time!)

The situation reminded me of two specific lessons:  

When our children were young, we enjoyed a book entitled Two Wheels for Grover, a story of Grover’s hesitation (despite the encouragement of others) about learning to ride a bike and how he conquered his fears.  I could certainly relate!   The fact was, the lessons learned in the past about overcoming challenges are available to me still, and I certainly felt confidence and strength return once I dared to confront the task!

Secondly, I love the truth about God being the God of the first and the last, the Lord of the “already” (the things that have already been established in the past) and the “not yet” (those things He has yet to fulfill).  What a glorious juxtaposition of what He has completed and what He has yet to complete (yet regards as completed)!  His fulfillment of His plans and purposes is in process based on what Jesus did at the Cross.  Healing, freedom, and deliverance from earthly sorrows and pain are provided for by the Cross  and Resurrection, but some aspects of that Kingdom-appointed fullness have yet to be manifested this side of Heaven. 

Somehow this truth connected to the bike ride for me!  I dared not turn to focus on what I left behind me, as I would surely lose my balance and topple over.  When I focused inordinately intensely on where I was headed, I risked overlooking hazards in my immediate path.   When I was absorbed in looking directly down in front of the bicycle, I did not appreciate the ride and failed to gain the greater perspective of the journey.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that, if God is the Lord of the “already” and the “not yet,” He must also be Lord of the “in between,” the journey from where we have already been to where we are headed.  HE is the stability of my times, and HE is able to sustain me, alert me, and carry me to new places.  He is my compass and strength as I travel on these heretofore-unknown roads.  

As we read in Isaiah 33:6, “He will be your constant source of stability in changing times,
and out of his abundant love he gives you the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.  Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure! Yes, the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure! (The Passion Translation)

Father, thank You that, “You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me…Wherever I go, your hand will guide me; your strength will empower me.  It’s impossible to disappear from you or to ask the darkness to hide me, for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night. There is no such thing as darkness with you.  The night, to you, is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two.”  Psalm 139: 4b-5, 10-12

 

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Battling for Breakthrough: Lessons from the Dirtmeister

Historically, I have considered myself a meticulous housekeeper;  however, since the last child graduated from college and various volunteer commitments began to fill my days, I have become less rigorous in actually executing my formerly meticulous practices.  Lately, a careful observer would certainly have noticed an impressive layer of dust on the ledge above the front door, and the blinds only looked clean at night.  I excused myself by reasoning that I am home far fewer hours now than when I was shepherding a tribe of children and their young friends; moreover, I reasoned, most people would consider my home clean and inviting, as I am assiduous in cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen, and I am a neatnik by nature.

Even so, as the months flew by, I felt an increasing concern that the house was screaming for attention, and I simultaneously began to dread the length of time it would take to clean everything properly.  Thus began my experience with staying home to avoid exposure to COVID-19.  Finally, my months of procrastination screeched to a halt:  unable to tolerate the ever-expanding pile of cleaning chores at home, I carefully made a list and grouped various tasks into categories that could be tackled over the course of several days.

Last Friday morning, I faced the most daunting task:  two days of vacuuming everything in the house:  blinds, shutters, window sills, baseboards, floors, carpet, and area rugs.  I had remembered that our vacuum cleaner was heavy as well as powerful, but somehow I did not recall it being THIS heavy!  I speculated how much time might have passed since I had last dragged this veritable “dirtmeister”  all over the house, up and down the stairs, all the while disconnecting, attaching, and re-attaching the various vacuuming tools for different surfaces.  This machine, however valuable and effective it might be, had never felt this ponderous!  I wondered to myself whether I simply had somehow morphed into an elderly, feeble lady since my last rodeo with this vacuum cleaner.

In addition to its impressive weight, the machine kept tipping over backwards when I attempted to pull it along behind me.  To make matters worse, the tube accessories that connected to the hose flew apart quite often (except when I wanted to pull them apart to attach a different tool).  Suddenly I found myself vacuuming with a tool attached to nothing.  As the hours of battle wore on, the level of my ire was growing.   That night, with calves aching from dragging this megaton machine around the house, I collapsed into bed.   Perhaps I needed more rest and more regular exercise, in view of my new weakling status.  I consoled myself with the thought that I had vanquished at least half of the house.  As Scarlett O’Hara valiantly declared in the film Gone with the Wind, I asserted, “Tomorrow is another day!”  

The next day continued in the same vein; I tackled the master bedroom and was hopelessly losing the hose behind me and jerking on the recalcitrant beast when it refused to move forward.   Apparently, I started addressing the vacuum as if it were alive, yelling, “Come OVER here!  Stop breaking!”  Unbeknownst to me, my husband came downstairs to check on me, as he had actually overheard my yelling from the upstairs office on the other end of the house!  

At some point in the throes of this battle, I remembered a parenthetical comment my husband had made during the first day of this wrestling match.  I suddenly decided I might as well check the dirt bag to verify whether or not it needed to be emptied.  As I unzipped the cloth bag containing the dirt collection bag, I was aghast to see a bulging vacuum bag that was inflated to the point of bursting (mercifully, it had not done so!).  After laboriously disconnecting it, I lugged it out to the trash — horrified to discover that it weighed as much as a newborn baby!

A few moments later, still aghast at the volume of dirt packed into that bag, I fitted the dirtmeister with a clean bag and re-initiated my quest to finish vacuuming the house.  To my astonishment, I was no longer an elderly weakling!  The machine followed my lead quite readily without toppling over, and I lifted it over obstacles with ease.   (The hoses still fell apart, and one of the tools broke, but I persevered.)

The lesson was not lost on me:   how many times to we long for breakthrough into a new season without realizing we are encumbered in entering it?   How often do I exert an earnest effort to do what needs to be done without considering that I may be carrying detritus around with me that actually impedes my progress into the new season (in this instance, a clean house and a new sense of order in our personal space)?  Oddly, I had wondered for a day and a half why the battle was so fierce and the burden was so heavy — not realizing for a moment that the greatest source of the problem was my own baggage, baggage that belonged in the trash!

Jesus Himself invites us to come to Him when we find ourselves overwhelmed and weighed down by things visible and invisible:. “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me.  I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.” (The Passion Translation) Father, expose any hindrances to my spiritual growth that I may be lugging around with me.  Show me what to do to divest myself of things that should be consigned to the trash bin — dead things from past seasons, sins You already forgave, pain You want to lift from my heart.   Help me to be willing to respond quickly to Your revelation so I will be able to move more easily into breakthrough. Empower me to recognize and discard the harmful burdens of the past.  Be glorified in and through Me, Father!  

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The Holy Hunker

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13, NKJV)

In these days of increasing challenges, I find myself scrambling to meet obligations, yet grasping for some sense of routine and normalcy — even without an international health pan(dem)ic!  It seems that life these days is being lived on an increasingly precarious edge.   Attempts to cut back, set boundaries, and re-focus on personal priorities often are sabotaged by the urgency of various commitments to which I strive to be faithful.

Suddenly, I find myself confronted by governmental directives to cease and desist from routine activities:  gathering, traveling, meeting together in small groups, using public transportation.  Events I may have felt led to plan or even just attend are summarily cancelled.  Even education is moved online out of concern for infection.

What is the good news about this outwardly imposed isolation?  How could hunkering down in the bunkers of our homes or apartments lead to anything remotely positive, particularly when we witness the economic impact of the corona virus (and understandable fear of it) wreaking havoc with people’s jobs, incomes, and bank accounts?

What remains?  Personally, I am confronted by my own insignificance and human sense of helplessness.  However, I believe the Holy Spirit is calling me to seek Father God more passionately.  Desperation can be good for the soul; the Lord promises to meet me when I seek Him with my whole heart.   After all, He gave Himself wholeheartedly for me, and He is faithful even when I am faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He is always listening; He longs to hear my voice cry out to Him, and He loves the sound of it!

What an amazing thought that the God of all Heaven and Earth wants my full attention!  I certainly do not deserve HIS attention, yet He gives it to me!

May I cease my restlessness and fretting, and may I seek the Lover of my soul with my whole heart in a deeper way than ever before!  Moreover, may my “hunkering down” not be self-protective, but outwardly directed to the magnificent Lord of the universe.  He wants to heal and touch, not only me, but the hearts of many around me who need His Presence and love in the midst of this season of trouble.  May my response to Him during this tumult be pleasing to Him, and may I reach out to others in need rather than focusing on my own losses, in Jesus’ Name!

 

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The Times, They Are A-Changin’

As a friend recently described a special envelope she had typically kept in her Bible for safekeeping; in this envelope was a list of significant events in her life, events that served as milestones in her family over a span of several decades.  In hearing her describe the joy she experienced upon discovering the list after having misplaced it for a period of time, it struck me that that list was a part of a permanent, even eternal legacy.  She will give that paper to her children as a record of momentous spiritual events in the life of her family.  Those events have eternal value.
Conversely, some things may contribute to our legacy but may not be a permanent part of it.   Just as we buy different kinds of clothing for different seasons, and we accumulate various types of supplies for particular chapters in our lives (baby bottles, children’s books, snow suits or sleds, pool toys, cameras, typewriters, computers, bread machines, even sound equipment that subsequently becomes dated), some items outlive their usefulness.   At intervals, we are compelled to sort through our “stuff” and give away or throw away things we no longer need (but to which we may have become attached).  This process is not always as simple as it sounds, as nostalgia can easily overwhelm us!
The challenge is to discern what is part of the permanent, eternal legacy of our lives and what might be temporarily vital but not carry lasting value.   With Aglow, we also face new seasons:  we distill what is and will always be part of who we are as a ministry, but we must lay aside the strategies that may have been pivotal in the past, but which no longer are proving useful or relevant in our current culture.   When God has used certain things to minister deeply to us, it can be very challenging to release those activities and approaches.   (Just yesterday evening, I was looking through a photo album and was overwhelmed with nostalgia at the sight of photos of our eldest two children when they were small; even their clothing was very dear to me, as it was passed down to their younger siblings yet ultimately given away or thrown away.  I remember how difficult it was to part with those clothes, as they symbolized the end of an era!  As a result, it was a bittersweet experience to gaze on those photos and wonder how those years had evaporated so quickly!)
The temporary things may CONTRIBUTE to the legacy, but they are NOT the legacy.   Jesus is our inheritance!   I am so grateful!  These days, I am continually asking God what has eternal value and what is merely temporary — what has outlived its season of usefulness — so I can focus on the eternal things.  Often, despite my earnest desire to move forward with Him, I find it challenging to welcome new seasons that, at least at first glance, seem unfamiliar and even frightening.   May the Holy Spirit empower me afresh to embrace the next part of my journey with confidence in His goodness and in the knowledge that He can be trusted to retain those aspects of the past that have eternal value!   Yes, we can agree with the Psalmist that we have a beautiful, eternal inheritance:  “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, my cup [He is all I need]; You support my lot.  The [boundary] lines [of the land] have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.”  (AMP:  Psalm 16: 5-6)
I love this song by Amy Grant called “Heirlooms.”  Jesus is more than an heirloom to you and to me.  We can praise Him forever for that!

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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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