Category Archives: Where Are You Now?

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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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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Living from a Platform of Peace

HaKotelDo you ever feel as if you are barely hanging on wherever life has taken you?  Are you hanging on by your fingernails, or are you flourishing, even on the wall of adversity?  Sometimes I feel as if I am about to fall into the nether reaches of a deep pit.   What precipitates this sense of peril?  It is not always the greatest challenges that shake my stability; instead, it is often the smaller disturbances that disrupt my internal sense of peace, particularly concerns about the people I love most.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me recently and revealed to me that this loss of peace was rooted in fear; He gently said, “You are not trusting me with ___________ [insert a situation or the name of a person you love].”  I immediately acknowledged that He had put a finger on a part of my heart that, in fact, did NOT trust Him!

Since that moment, I have been learning to function from a more solid platform of peace; although I certainly have not mastered the art of flourishing on the wall, I am becoming a better student of that art!  First, when faced with a challenge or a worry, I need to ask myself where I am sitting, as my position will determine my perspective on that challenge.  Ephesians 2:6  states that God “… raised us up together with Him and made us sit down together [giving us joint seating with Him] in the heavenly sphere [by virtue of our being] in Christ Jesus [the Messiah, the Anointed One]” (AMPC).  The perspective from the heavenly realm with the Lord will certainly prove different from my own human perspective!  How do I practice this approach?  I literally imagine myself running into God’s arms and jumping into His lap!  I then ask Him to give me His vision and His perspective on my situation.  I also take great comfort in being seated with my heavenly Daddy.

Secondly, I ask myself where I am planted. Although I am well aware that Paul instructs us to be rooted and grounded in Christ, I must confess that my heart often feels uprooted and transplanted to rocky soil or soil full of sorrow or despair.  The Holy Spirit is able to re-ground me and refresh me; He reminds me that my roots are in Jesus.  I am learning to submit my disturbed feelings — fears, unbelief, doubts, dis-ease — to Jesus; I do not deny my emotions, but I release them to Him.  It is His nature and character to comfort, heal, and encourage me.  I ask Him to help my thoughts reflect Who He is.  He is faithful to do that, as He has given to every person a measure of faith, and Jesus Himself is the author and finisher of that faith.  We can trust Him with our doubts, fears, and anxieties!

Finally, I am practicing what Psalm 149 describes as a powerful weapon of warfare:  verbal praise.   Praise is particularly powerful when expressed from a position of rest.  We read in verses five and six:  “Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds.  Let the high praises of God be in their mouth and a two-edged sword in their hand” (NKJV).  The rest of that psalm describes the effects of that kind of praise in the spiritual realm.

Operating from a position of peace means to assume the correct position (be seated in heavenly places and be rooted and grounded in Jesus).  Father, help me to remember my assigned seat with You and to stay connected to the ROOT!  Empower me to wield spiritual weapons rightly with Your high praises in my mouth and Your two-edged sword in my hand.  Praise will defeat the enemies of my soul and the enemies of those I love.  Praise will invite the Presence of Jesus Christ into every situation and circumstance.

 

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Shake It, Shake It, Baby!

earthquake-1665892_640Does it feel as if there is a “whole lotta shakin’ going on?”   Do things you have taken for granted seem to be shifting and shaking?  It seems that spiritual earthquakes are becoming more commonplace.  Our ways of doing things in church, in our ministry groups, and even in our households are changing.   Instability seems to rule, and confidence in our circumstances has become a thing of the past.

However, as challenging and disturbing as it may seem, this shaking process is a part of the Lord’s methodology for these end times.  “For this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land.  I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.   (Haggai 2:6-7  NLT)  God promises to shake everything before He comes in all His glory.  In fact, the earthquake releases the treasures into the Temple.   

Indeed, God desires that we trust in Him alone — not in our families, our friends, our circumstances, our education or credentials, our employers, our governments, our ministry methods, or even our pastors.  He longs for us to abandon every confidence that is not established on Christ alone, the chief Cornerstone. “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.”  (Isaiah 28:16)   Jesus Christ is the only One that will be a sure foundation stone that lasts forever.

As the various circumstances in my life begin to change and even shake, and it feels as if an earthquake is about to strike, I must remember to call on the Lord, who will be my rock of defense in times of trouble.  When everything falls away, He remains.   At times, even the things He has directed me to build and the areas of ministry He has opened to me seem on the brink of collapsing.   What should my response be?  I must declare that it is well.   I have confidence in God alone, and even that confidence is not of my own doing, but given by Him.

The Holy Spirit’s current word to the Church might be:  “Awake! Awake, TziyonClothe yourself with your strength! Dress in your splendid garments, Yerushalayim, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean will enter you no more. Shake off the dust! Arise! Be enthroned, Yerushalayim! Loosen the chains on your neck, captive daughter of Tziyon!” (Isaiah 52:1-2 Complete Jewish Bible)  If we recall that the earthquake following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was accompanied by the dead coming to life and the curtain of the Temple being torn in two, we can rest assured that any personal earthquakes we are experience are designed by the Lord to release treasures from dark places and fill the temple of our hearts with His glory.   The key is to let go of everything we tend to cling to during the shaking process.   Instead, let us cling tightly to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, our strong tower, the One who is never shaken but remains forever!

 

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