Category Archives: Where Are You Now?

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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Holy or Unholy Roots?

RootsRecently, when on an evening walk in our neighborhood, my husband alerted me to a significant unevenness in the sidewalk. He wanted to alert me to a very real tripping hazard.  As I looked down, it was glaringly apparent that the sidewalk had been forcibly lifted up by subterranean roots of a tree adjacent to the edge of the concrete.  The lesson was not lost on me.  Aside from the obvious need to observe where I placed my feet in order to avoid stumbling, tripping, or even falling on my face, I suddenly realized that roots affect more than the plant they support.

In some cases, roots stretch deep into the soil below the plant they support; in other cases, roots spread out from the base of the plant and suddenly surface in unexpected places, thereby disturbing what has been placed there.

This disturbance can work both for good or for evil.  In the case of evil, unholy roots, the pernicious effect may remain underground, and therefore invisible, for a season; eventually, however, eventually those roots will surface and wreak destruction in the foundation of whatever has been established in the path of those roots.  Similarly, in the case of good, holy roots, the effect may be delayed until the plant reaches a significant point of growth.  At that critical point, the holy roots have the power to crack the foundation of darkness, no matter how long those roots may have lain invisible, seemingly powerless, below ground.

What’s the lesson?   Let’s examine the roots of our problems and not merely medicate the symptoms.   Those roots MATTER, and they impact those around us.   Are we striving valiantly to stuff our painful experiences from the past and move on, without truly processing them with the help of the Holy Spirit?  At some point, something will trigger those painful roots and cause additional pain.

Conversely, we can trust the holy ROOT (Revelation 22:16) — the Root and Offspring of David, Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ).  He is the Holy Seed that will continue to bear fruit that remains, fruit that transforms, fruit that is for food and leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47:12).

Moreover, the root affects the plant, including its branches.  Romans 11:16 admonishes us:  “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.” (NKJV)  We can therefore conclude that our good and bad roots affect our branches, our fruit, and the impact we have on those around us.

Father, search my heart and expose any unholy roots in me!  Help me uproot anything unholy in my life, that I might be healed of everything unholy from my past.  Connect me  more strongly to the holy Root, the Offspring of David, Jesus Christ my Messiah, that I might bear good fruit AND have impact for Your Kingdom on those around me, in Jesus’ Name!

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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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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.

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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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The Joy Thief — Can You Spot Him?

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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!

 

 

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Sink or Swim?

wooden raftSwimming, in theory, should come naturally, once one masters the techniques.  Supposedly, once one learns to swim, kinetic memory ensures those skills can be summoned whenever necessary at any point in the future.  However, swimming in a pool is quite another matter from swimming in a turbulent sea!  Similarly, paddling a canoe on a still lake is far less challenging than steering that same canoe through river rapids in a steep canyon!

Although we like to think of our life with Jesus as a place of safety, experience has taught us that it occasionally feels undeniably risky!  Instead of feeling snug and safe with Him in the boat (NOTE:  HE was sleeping, but the disciples definitely were not in any state resembling repose!), we lurch about on the turbulent seas of life as we desperately cling to our fragile rafts.  The waves crash over us, we are wet to the bone, and we wonder where our Prince of Peace might have hidden Himself!

Usually at some point in the midst of such storms, I remember that our Messiah subjected Himself to every sin, temptation, test, and storm imaginable during His life on earth in a human body.  He endured pain, sorrow, grief, and trauma far beyond what any of us could possibly have endured — and through each ordeal, He maintained a righteous attitude of heart without flagging.   If we are to reflect Jesus in this life, our cruise season on Earth with our Lord will not be merely still waters, nor are our vessels built with high, protective walls to shield us from every ripple in the sea of life.  Instead, we are awarded a wooden raft — a cross — to which we must cling for survival.  It may not FEEL safe, but He is with us on it; in fact, He was nailed to it on our behalf and can still save us through any circumstance life brings us.   Although He never promised to shield us from getting wet, or from feeling the wind on our faces, or from being bent over and clinging to that wood just to survive, He is faithful to be present with us in every situation.  Even when we are unaware of His nearness, He is with us; He guarantees He will save us THROUGH this stormy life, even though He does not always rescue us FROM it or from every painful or challenging circumstance.     

Father, thank You for providing the wooden raft of Your cross for me.  It is far more powerful than it sometimes seems in my more desperate moments!   Thank You that Your cross HOLDS through every storm and can carry me to the other side of every challenge.  Thank You that You are victorious when I cannot be; You are more than enough to compensate for all my weaknesses and inadequacies.   The place on that raft — Your cross — may seem risky for me, but it purchased my safety and assures me of Your Presence in me!   When the salt spray is in my mouth and the wind stings my eyes, help me to remember that You did this before me and will never abandon me.

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