All of my springs are in you

Singers and dancers alike say, “All of my springs are in you.”

Psalm 87:7

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I pray the living Word of God, Christ himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reveals to you the beauty and power of this verse of Scripture. It is quite simple, and yet quite profound. It defines the very meaning of what it means to be in Christ and is one of those verses that draws attention to the true uniqueness of what it means to be a Christ follower.

A spring of fresh water was essential for life to people before modern plumbing was invented. Water is a source of life. Water is needed for herds, crops, cooking and drinking.  A spring of water was a source of life to nomads and settlers alike. Without water, there is no life. Individuals, families, cities and nations need a water source to survive. To lose one’s source of water would be devastating.

Where is your source of water? Where are your springs? Where do you turn when you need life, strength, encouragement, purpose, meaning, comfort, guidance, wisdom, truth? What, or who, is your source of life? God, through his Son, his Spirit and his Word, invites (maybe better words are callplead, urge, long) us to find our source in him – and nothing or no one else. To have any other source of life is idolatry in God’s eyes (you shall have no ther gods before me).

In today’s church we are focusing on lots of things: leadership, social justice, music, buildings to name a few. None of those are bad or evil things; they are all necessary. But yet, when I read the Old and New Testaments, none of those things are the focus.  We don’t have money problems, we have heart problems. We don’t have attendance issues, we have character issues. The goal of every believer is to be able to say, “all of my springs are in you.” Church leaders should be focusing on where people are drawing water from for life. If our source, our center, our North star is not Christ, then everything we do as believers and churches will miss the mark.

Finding one’s source of life in God is not something that a church can make happen by programming. Every Christ follower must make it their own responsibility to connect with Living Water (Christ). Having said that, churches must not distract people by constantly pulling people away from finding their source in God. Churches and pastors are not the source. The ministry of the church will flow from the heart of the church. The heart of the church is healthy to the degree it finds its source of life in God.

What does “all of my springs are in you” mean in practical, daily life? What does it look like? Well, it looks and feels different for different people, depending on whether you’re a singer or dancer. Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you wrestle in your own heart over this issue:

  • How would my walk with God improve if I spent 20 minutes every day in communion with Christ through devotional bible reading and prayer?
  • What would happen if you invited Jesus into every situation in your life and asked, “does this please you?”
  • Do you consider knowing Christ the priority in your life?
  • Are there activities in your life that you will not pray about because you are going to do them whether they are wrong or not?
  • If you did not have any communion with Jesus in the next 30 days, would it have any negative impact on how you live your life?

Psalm 87:7 is extremely convicting, yes? Good. It should be. One cannot claim to be a Christ-follower and yet drink water from springs that do not find their source in God. However, there are deeper layers to this verse than conviction. Psalm 87:7 is the path to a meaningful, robust, vintage, joyful, exciting  and rewarding walk with Jesus. The life God calls us to is a life where he is our one and only source. That’s the only way all this makes sense.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

Isaiah 55 and John 7

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Let’s sit somewhere else

The way our society uses social media can be very toxic. It’s the place where people sit and criticize, tear down, disagree, divide, hate, make fun of, and judge other people and ideas. The seat of scoffers is where we, with all the keyboard courage we can muster, tell other people how wrong they are and how right we are.

A scoffer:

n someone who jeers or mocks or treats something with contempt or calls out in derision. Type of: disagreeable person, unpleasant person. a person who is not pleasant or agreeable.

The intent of scoffing is simply to elevate our own importance, worth, intelligence, ideas at the expense of other people. A scoffer doesn’t learn, change, or grow. A scoffer is someone who finds fault in everything and everyone who has a different outlook than they do. Scoffers make other people feel bad about what they believe. Scoffers fuel the public debate with words of anger and ignorance. Scoffers excel at not getting along with people.

Scoffing is becoming ingrained in our social interactions. It isolates us by building huge walls that supposedly protect us from other people. Instead of being vulnerable, instead of admitting fault,  instead of trying to understand another point of view, the scoffing spirit of this age says, “have a seat.”  Sit here and no one will hurt you.

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Maybe in 2020, we can train ourselves to be the exact opposite of a scoffer. Be an encourager. Be positive. Be a learner. Be a believer. Be a friend. Be a peace-maker. Be a healer. Get up out of the seat of a scoffer and walk a different path.

This is one of the many practical reasons why I follow Jesus. He helps me to love people.  He helps me to see people the same way God sees people: of inestimable worth and unsurpassable value. When we see value in someone (regardless of whether or not we “agree” with them), we will be less inclined to mock them or demean them. Scoffing just isn’t in the playbook. You may not be a Christ-follower, but we can all still make a decision not to be a scoffer. Let’s sit somewhere else.

Something to ink about…

 

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footprints, redux

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The beloved poem, “when you only saw one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you,” has encouraged many people, myself included. However, it might not be totally accurate. Let me explain. And let me perhaps help you read the Psalms.

Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. – Psalm 77:19

In Psalm 77, Asaph is crying aloud to God on the day of his trouble (v. 1,2). Finally, in the middle of the night (either actual or metaphorical), he decides to make a diligent search of his heart (v.5, 6). Has God forgotten? Has steadfast love ceased? He makes his appeal to God (v. 7-10). As he begins to refresh his memory, he remembers God’s mighty deeds when He rescued His people (v. 11-15). Specifically, he recounts the awesome day of deliverance when God led His people on dry ground through the Red Sea in order to escape the Egyptian army (v.16-20). The Psalm ends abruptly, but we are left with the certainty that Asaph is once again encouraged; his soul comforted (v.2).

Asaph points out a curious detail about the exodus miracle – as God walked through the Red Sea with His people, He left no footprints. There was no physical proof that God was there holding back the waters. Sure, the Pillar of Fire & Cloud was protecting the Israelites as a rearguard. God had their back; that itself is powerful. Yet the way ahead, the way out – their next move – had no divine manifestation. It would have been nice if God walked ahead of Moses & Israel and left His footprints! But no. The only footprints they saw were their own. Moses was going to have to do this by faith, not by sight.

So it is with us more often than not; at least in my experience. God’s footprints are unseen, His ways hidden.  His path, which will regularly bring us through “the great waters,” will be a journey we will often take with no tangible proof of His presence. No divine footprints. Only one set, and they are mine. Yours. No wonder we also cry aloud to God, like Asaph – “are your promises at an end for all time? (v.8)”

Forgive me, but I am not going to throw dozens of verses at you to encourage you (like Isaiah 43:1-4). Instead, I am going to just ask you to take a moment and ponder God’s works. Don’t be spoon-fed encouragement. Go and find it by making a diligent search. Search the Scriptures. Meditate on the Word. Pour out your heart to God. Learn to draw upon your own memory of what God has done in your life. His ways might seem hidden to you. You might not see His footprints. But do you still believe He is leading you? If we spend our whole lives looking for His footprints, we might not get very far.

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There’s more. So much more. As you study the Psalms you will begin to see how they point to Christ so beautifully. As we have just seen in Psalm 77, sometimes God’s ways are hidden. Secret. Unknown.

Even God’s plan of rescue (salvation) of mankind was hidden. The New Testament calls it a mystery (Col. 1:26). Just like God’s footprints at the Red Sea (or lack thereof), so was the redemption of humanity unseen. God’s ways were hidden on the Cross. No one saw it coming. It was utter foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). Poor planning on God’s part? Nope.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory… He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in the cross.” (1 Cor. 2:7,8; Col. 215). 

So you see, Psalm 77:19 (and the entire Psalm) reveals the mysterious majesty of God’s saving love on the cross. Did Asaph know about the cross? No. But the Word of God is full of such prefiguring (see Ps. 22:1 & Matt. 27:46 for one of many examples). Psalm 77 was giving us a hint about how God was going to save us – with no footprints. Not even the disciples of Christ saw God in the cross. It wasn’t until He rose from the dead that they heard loud and clear what Pslam 77:19 whispered long ago.

When we take time to search and meditate on the Word of God, we will see countless ways in which Christ is revealed (Lk. 24:27).

Something to ink about…

Love Everywhere (some random reflections on Psalm 108:4)

“your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.”

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There’s nowhere I am going to go today where God’s steadfast, covenant, cross-bearing love isn’t going to be. It’s already there, and will remain there after I leave. Look for God’s love everywhere.

This is not only for my benefit, but for everyone I will come in contact with with. I’m not the only one God loves.

The love that got me this far will stay with me until I’m done. d7a56785ffbe512773a4f48f404ede7d  I can stake my life on that and shape my life around that. His love never gives up on me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder how God feels about His love? Does it make Him smile? Does it also affect himself? How does He want us to respond to it?

The best way to say “thank you” to God for His steadfast love that is great above the heavens and reaches the clouds, is to show it to someone else. And don’t just love those who can love you back. And don’t just love in the easy places. Love everywhere.

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The Flourishing Life

Jesus said that his purpose in coming to the world was so that we might be able to live abundant life (Jn. 10:10). Not just to live life, but to live abundant life; or what I will call “flourishing life.”**

1403479_227433164089737_159166833_oHe explained what He meant by flourishing life by His many and varied teachings on the Kingdom of God. In a manner that seems so striking to us modern Christians, He doesn’t talk about flourishing life with “how-to’s” or ethical advice. No sermon on “six ways to get rich,” or “how to be a better leader.” Nope, just the kingdom of God. Jesus reshapes the kingdom of God right before our eyes – and lives it out!(Spoiler alert – it’s all about the Cross).

Much of the New Testament goes on to explain in more detail what the kingdom, flourishing life, looks like. Consider this verse:

The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirt. (Romans 14:17)

What does it mean for life to be led well? It is righteous. It is lived true to God’s ways.

What does it mean for life to go well? It is peaceful. Our relationships with God and others are right: characterized by reconciliation, harmony and truth.

What does it mean for life to feel as it should? It is joyful. Joy is how love feels when it is at peace.

Flourishing life is righteous, peaceful and joyful. The source of this flourishing life is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the down payment, the guarantee, the source of God’s promised future when there will be no pain, sorrow, sin or death.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the flourishing life applies only to “the life hereafter.” Too many Christ-followers are missing out, or not seeking, the kingdom of God right now. Righteousness, peace and joy can be ours today. True, we do not experience these things now to the degree we will experience them in heaven. This is exactly where Jesus’s preaching is so powerful: the flourishing life is live into the next life. The flourishing life is the work of the Spirit in our lives today. Seek righteousness, peace and joy today. Seek the kingdom of God today. Live the flourishing life.

** – I got this from Miroslav Volf in For the Life of the World (highly recommended)

 

Hiding in the Garden

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It breaks my heart that so many people today are still hiding from God among the trees. I’m talking about Christians who can find the presence of God on a map, but yet never go there themselves. They are hiding for many reasons: they are disappointed with God; afraid of an accountable, truthful relationship with another person; secretly living in sin; broken-hearted from loss or abuse, uncertain about how having faith really makes a difference in today’s world or ashamed that they are not living like they know they should be living. For whatever reasons, people are coming to faith in Christ, entering the garden so to speak, but hiding from the presence of God. To be hiding in the garden is like being lost in paradise.

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The only way out of hiding, as far as I can see, is to experience the love of God expressed in the Cross of Jesus Christ. No pastor, church or book can do this for you. As to experiencing the love of God as expressed through the Cross of Christ, I have this advice: there’s Jesus, then there’s everything else.

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Turn off everything else and just keep your eyes on Jesus. Read the Gospels, because everything in the Bible points to Jesus. Everything. The Bible is one story – and the Cross is the at the center of the story. When you read the Gospels, imagine you are there. Imagine Jesus is healing you, saving you, raising you from the dead, teaching you, talking to you; imagine Him dying on the cross for you. The story of the Bible is a life-sized game of hide and go seek. We’ve been hiding; God has been seeking. At the Cross, we are found. If we can block out all the noise, even all the religious noise, and just receive the cross-bearing love of God, we will loose the urge the hide.

I believe the Cross can bring you out of hiding because unconditional love is safe, freeing, and it grounds us to a reality where we don’t have to hide. Ultimately, we hide because we’re afraid. Cross-love removes fear. If God’s presence is a garden, then the soil is love. Everything grows in the garden of God’s presence with the intent of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

The garden is the place of God’s presence. It us our home. It is in the garden where we truly find our identity, purpose and worth as human beings. It is in the garden of God’s presence where we are exposed to the cross-bearing, unconditional love of Christ. It is here that we are forgiven, cleansed and set free from sin. If we hide among the trees of the garden, Jesus will make every tree into a cross until there’s nowhere to hide. In the garden you have unsurpassable worth. In the garden you are the object of God’s love.

He brought me out into a broad place;                                                                                               he rescued me, because he delights in me. – Psalm 18:19

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Come out from hiding among the trees. In the garden you can be healed, restored and renewed. It’s a good place. A safe place. A healthy place. A joyful place. And in the garden, you will never be alone.

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I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

(In the Garden, C. Austin Miles)

Something to ink about…

 

The Tumult of My Heart

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There is no soundness in my flesh… I groan because of the tumult of my heart… my friends stand aloof from my plague…

… But for you, O LORD, do I wait.

from Psalm 38

Every had a time when you felt so broken you could never be put back together? When you felt like your insides couldn’t calm down? When you tried to find peace but couldn’t? When you wonder why people know your pain, but still don’t help? When your body starts to wear down from the stress of conflict?

If you read through the Psalms, you will see that you are not alone. And, you should know that these overwhelming feelings do not invalidate your faith in God. However, it is important that you learn how to find peace in troublesome times. Mental stress and depression can have a tremendously negative impact upon your physical health. Anxiety can eat away at you like a disease.

While there is no quick and easy answer to dealing with stress and depression, that comes from your brokenness or the brokenness of others, Psalm 38 does point us in the right direction – wait for God. This does not mean “wait” as in “I’m going to sit here and do nothing,” but rather, “I will place my hope in God because I believe that God will answer.” During these tumultuous storms in your soul, you may not feel like you have an abundance of faith. That’s ok, you only need faith the size of a mustard seed. If you have enough faith to act, then you have enough faith. How should you act? What should you do in these times when “my strength fails me?”

  1. Be honest with yourself and God, and with others. In order cope with  stress and depression in a healthy way, you can’t deny it or hide it away. God certainly can handle every emotion you are feeling. He is not going to hate you for feeling like you want to give up.
  2. Acknowledge your own contribution to the storm. Many times, but not all the time, your own sin and poor behavior helped create the stress. Confession is good for your own soul because it opens the door to God’s grace. Confession and humility before others is also a very powerful way of confronting anxiety caused by others.
  3. Talk less. Listen more. Wisdom says not to speak everything in your heart to other people. Be still and purposefully put yourself in a peaceful place. Chances are, if you are feeling like David did when he wrote Psalm 38, you are in no condition to go tackle the world. That’s ok. Be still. You can slay your giants later.
  4. Be especially mindful of sleep, diet and exercise. Stress and depression wreak havoc on our bodies and if we get worn down physically that will only compound the problems.
  5. Consider professional therapy. Find a therapist of excellent reputation and get help. There is no shame or defeat in seeking help from a therapist. Many health care plans actually cover monthly counseling fees.
  6. Use the Bible, specifically the Psalms, to put positive mental pictures in your mind of how God loves you, rescues you, protects you and delivers you. Win the mental battle by filling your mind with God-thoughts, God-images and let your self-talk be shaped by the Bible. One of the greatest ways you can fight anxiety and depression is to learn to filter all your thoughts through the love and grace of Jesus. This allows the Holy Spirit to comfort us.
  7. Pray. Pray what’s on your mind and pray the Psalms word for word if you need to. They show us a beautiful way to find God through the pain. Your prayers might be quiet and contemplative, or they might be full of tears and weeping. Here’s a beautiful promise for you: “the LORD has heard the voice of my tears” (Psalm 6:8).

I’m in one of those seasons right now where I feel like “all the day I go about mourning.” These times are very difficult because I tend to get filled with fear and doubt, frustration and anxiety. But it’s going to be ok. Pain does not mean I have failed. Turmoil does not mean I am worthless or forgotten. I can’t control what other people do, but I can control my own actions. And I choose to tell my soul to wait – to hope – in God. And, my friend, is where peace begins.

“O my God, be not far from me!”

Something to ink about…