Fountain

Thanks to the flu (which I have so far evaded) hitting my home, I’ve little time to engage on social media this week. So here’s an oldie from 2014 that I needed to re-read today! ❤

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:12-13

We do not like to hear difficult news. It isn’t much fun, I have to admit, especially when said news involves an uncomfortably close look at my own behavior. My pride doesn’t enjoy the buffeting that comes from a confrontation of my sin.

However, the longer I have walked with God, the more I see the absolute necessity of these moments. If I cannot humbly ask God to search my heart and know my thoughts, well… I am not drinking deep from the Fount of living water but trusting in the cracked and leaky vessel of my silly and rather vain human pride, either by trusting in my own effort or ability or by accepting a cultural standard that is man-made and fleeting. This brief passage in Jeremiah has given me pause for both personal reflection and for a close look at my expectations as a part of the Church at large.

Lately I have been wondering how much of our modern church services are driven by such cultural expectations and efforts. Have we allowed the show to upstage the Almighty?

I love some stirring music as much as the next gal, but I do sometimes fear that what passes for “worship” in many churches today is not actually the unadorned worship of the Father. I fear it isn’t fueled by a hunger for His Word and His presence and marked by repentance and obedience, but by something far inferior. I fear that it is nothing more and nothing less than emotional response.

The plain fact is, we do not need music or color-coordination or conducive environments to worship. Worship just happens, and it happens from a recognition of the majesty and worthiness of God. Worship cannot be manufactured: it is the natural response to our mighty King.

Just the other day as I read Jeremiah 2 to my kids, I pondered it in light of the current church trends. When we, the Church, allow human expectations to define our worship services, are we then trusting in the Fountain of Living Water? Or have we hewn out cisterns for ourselves, cisterns that we expend enormous energy trying vainly to fill only to watch our efforts drain away while we sit by, exhausted and helpless to stop the leak?

I do not claim to know the answers; it is just something I have been contemplating. I do know, however, that many people are out there searching, searching for just the right worship environment rather than simply seeking the limitless Fountain which will, without fail, well up to an overflow.

I have experienced that worship can happen in the midst of intense pain as well as in the midst of beautiful and stirring music. True worship is really a reflexive response to the work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be conjured by any amount of human effort or will. I hope to see a return to sincere worship in our churches in my lifetime. I pray to see it in my own heart, as well.

God has made me realize lately just how deeply I, too, have based my ideologies and standards upon these fractured and fragile, man-hewn cisterns. You see, I tend to view my life–my use of time and other resources, how busy I am, my assessment of my own spiritual condition–not by God’s standards but by measuring them against my peers.

This is an area in which God has been dealing with me lately, pointing to the leaks and flaws in the cisterns I am pouring my energy into and beckoning me to sit by His Fountain and be filled.

I spent years striving ceaselessly to keep my spiritual life “full,” but for years I neglected to begin with humility, repentance and surrender. I have tried to be “good,” but in the end my best efforts are no better than filthy rags. What I need is to abide–to be a part of the living Vine, to trust entirely in the Fountain of Living Water and allow His life, power, and love to suffuse every element of my being until I am utterly eclipsed by it. May He increase and I decrease.

My prayer today, Father, is that I will no longer commit these two evils. Teach me to forsake my flawed human understanding and surrender entirely to Your perfect will. May Your Living Water well up within me to an overflow, for the glory of Your Kingdom and of Your name.

Let it be Your power that others see in me–power over sin and over the cares of this world. I ask for Your forgiveness for my arrogance in carving out my own, leaky vessels. I pray, too, for Your forgiveness for our churches. I pray that we, as Your Bride, would humble ourselves completely and listen to Your will for us. Help us to let go of all expectations that we have created and heaped upon ourselves and open our hearts to pure and sincere worship of You, our King.

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16

Looking for the King

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Luke 2:25-26

During Christmastime, it’s not unusual to hear from all corners references to that ancient pair of travelers, Mary and Joseph, and their trek to Bethlehem. Songs about the birth of Jesus or the heavenly chorus which was performed for shepherd are occasionally played even on secular stations, and I’ve heard tell that some broadcasters will air A Charlie Brown Christmas complete with Linus’s recital of 2:8-14.

The story isn’t new to Christians. It isn’t even new to some who do not know the Lord. But how many continue reading in Luke past the point of the shepherds and their rejoicing? There’s more to the coming of the King than His undignified birth amidst the stench of a stable.

Forty days after His birth, the young couple would make a journey to Jerusalem because Mary’s time of purification according to Levitical law was at hand.  On this exciting day, we are told, they brought a sacrifice “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'”  (Luke 2:24)

A quick glance back to Leviticus 12:6-8 will reveal that the sacrifice of a pair of birds was a provision for those who could not afford to offer both a lamb and a bird for the ritual purification after childbirth. 

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

Leviticus 12:8, see also 12:2-4, 6-7

The idea of Jesus’s humble beginnings is not new, of course, but it bears fresh meditation as we approach the day of celebration. Most of us are familiar with the fact that His first bed was not one of down and silk in a palace, but scratchy straw in a place meant to feed animals. But it strikes me even deeper that Mary and Joseph brought two birds for the sacrifice, unable to even afford a lamb for the ritual purification of the mother of the Lamb of God.  

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28

Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of any of the trappings of royalty, two people at the temple that day recognized Him. A man named Simeon who’d received a promise that he wouldn’t die before he saw the Messiah, and an old widow named Anna.

A few years ago as I re-read this story, one fact really captured my attention as I read: Anna was at the temple that day, as she was every day, worshiping God.

… [Anna] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:37-38

 Somehow I doubt that Simeon and Anna were the only folks in the temple that day, yet they are the only ones mentioned who recognized the Messiah.

In our modern ways of worship, I sometimes fear we have allowed musical selections or environments or programs or gear or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King.

Perhaps this is more apparent at Christmastime. During the season when we are purportedly celebrating His birth, don’t we often find ourselves more caught up in the details of hymn selections and service times, or of parties and decor instead of being caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating? I confess that I sometimes do.

Don’t get me wrong – I love worship services both classic and modern and hymns both old and new. I also enjoy the entire Christmas season. But every year, I have to ask myself if I am still seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities. 

Anna worshiped. Simeon waited. Both recognized their King and rejoiced. What am I doing today?

I sincerely hope that I will not be found sitting in a place of worship going through the motions of devotion and somehow overlooking Him in the midst of it all! I hope that I, like Simeon and Anna, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.

Gracious God, forgive me for so often being concerned with the “hows” of worshiping You and neglecting actual worship. During this Advent season and forever after, help me to be alert to Your presence, looking attentively for you, eagerly anticipating Your appearance in my days as both Simeon and Anna did. May I never miss You whether You come heralded by trumpets or as subtly as a gentle whisper, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Worship

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

Lord, as we celebrate this Christmas season, let us not forget You as the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. You are the One true God, holy and pure, and in Your unfathomable mercy, You have established the ability to worship within the human heart. In fact, You created us to worship with the intent that You would be the recipient of our cravings and our praise.

Today we confess that we too often allow other things to eclipse Your glory in our lives. The Christmas season can be especially so, for although we sometimes say things like, ” Jesus is the reason for the season,” our actions sometimes betray where our true devotions lie. We can get so caught up in the busy-ness and the secular pressures of buying and giving that we forget Whose birthday it is we celebrate.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42)

So it is that we look to You as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Lord, take our small faith and make it grow. Hone it, refine it, purify it, and make it into something which reflects Your glory to others. Take away all that eclipses Your majesty in our lives, turning our eyes from worthless things and giving us life in Your ways. Make us to love Your Scriptures more, reminding us that it is the very Word of Life to us.

 Give us a passion for Your Kingdom, a hunger for Your presence, and a never-ending thirst for the Living Water. Forgive our lack of trust and help us to trust You more. Fix our eyes on You and ascend the throne of our hearts as our rightful King. May it be that our worship of You is evident to all, shining like a light in the darkness of this world and acting as a guide to bring others to walk and live in the light of Your love, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Idols

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
(Isaiah 44:6)

Most High, as You spoke through the prophet centuries ago, You are the first and the last and apart from You there is no God. You are the sole and supreme Authority, the One who existed before all else and in whom all things are held together. Everything is part of Your creation, made to serve Your purposes and subject to Your plans. Teach us to magnify Your name as it should be done and to serve no other God.

Lord, as we spend more time in Your word, the more we are forced to confront those areas in our lives which fall short of bringing You honor and glory. As we examine our hearts, our lives, and our loyalties through the light of Your truth, we find we are not so far removed from the faithless children of Israel as we would like to think. Like them, when You appear before us in glory we fall to our faces in awe, but also like them, when an obstacle appears or when Your promises seem delayed, we quickly fall prey to fear or turn our hearts to yearn after some other thing.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it…
(Exodus 32:7-8a)

Forgive us for our idolatry, subtle though it may be! Whether what we serve is our careers, our families, our pleasures, entertainments, or any other created thing, we pray that You will reveal all of them no matter how painful. And Lord, we invite You to tear down the idols, asking only that You will give us the faith and trust to work with You in removing whatever we have erected in the place of worship within our hearts.

As we submit to this process, we look forward to the freedom we will experience by walking fully and humbly in Your will. We long to see You exalted in our lives and ask for You to fill our hearts more and more with love for You.

Let us be genuine Kingdom seekers first and foremost, not serving you out of one side of our mouths and serving ourselves out of the other. Instead, Lord, make us fully Yours; a people of undivided minds and hearts loving You and serving You wholeheartedly. As we walk out our trust, use the light of Your freedom shining through our lives to set others free. May Your word speed ahead and be honored in us, in our families, and in every place we go with You, amen.

Pants on Fire

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(John 8:44)

Right now, I’m striving to take the excellent advice of an older lady given to me back when I still counted my firstborn’s age in months. She told me not to take anything kids say or do as teenagers personally.

In the difficult moments, I remind myself of this advice, though with varying degrees of success. At such times, I try not to think of my kids so much as young adults but more as very tall toddlers.

With that image firmly(ish) in mind, my aim is to be amused rather than angry; treating teenage temper tantrums with the same degree of hilarity that I did the time my son was three and answered my stern admonition to behave with, “I am being have!”

***Note that in his preschool pronunciation, ‘have,’ rhymed with ‘stave’ and should not be confused with the verb as we are accustomed to reading it (ie-May I have a donut?.***

To that end, I was thinking about some poor behavior-inducing deceptions my oldest is currently believing and acting on. These are lies any of us might believe – and sometimes mistake for humility – at one time or another. You probably know the litany: I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, nobody likes me, everybody hates me, etc.

As I was pondering how to get my teen to see past these lies to the Lord, a funny thought hit me.

But before I tell you what actually made me laugh a little on the inside, bear with me and forget for the moment that when Jesus called the devil “a liar and the father of lies,” His aim was not to encourage the depressed but to oppose those who refused to listen to Him.

Lest we think our Lord is permissive (as some opine), He was actually associating His critics with the satanic.  Heck, within minutes of uttering these words, He was almost stoned by the crowd. Perhaps there’s a post in there, too, but let’s shelve it for now. Follow me back to where we were before I chased that rabbit…

Nearly every time I hear this quote about the devil being the father of lies, it is maybe a trifle out of context but meant to encourage someone struggling with self-esteem; specifically someone who is believing lies about their own value or whatnot.

But rather than arguing with an ancient enemy who has more experience twisting truth than we have in dodging it, I thought it might be a lot more fun just to concede this point. Score one for team Abaddon, ya know?

What I have in mind is something along the lines of, “Darn it all, you’re absolutely right. I don’t have a worthy bone in my body. What a wonder that God would trouble Himself save me, useless hunk of animated clay that I am!  And yet, He has done it. Doesn’t it just accentuate His perfect love and His goodness?”

Somehow, I do not think praise is the response demonic deception is intended to evoke…

Even so and all kidding aside, how much more jaw-dropping the light of His mercy and grace is when superimposed upon the blackness of my heart. The mere thought of it only makes me love Him more. The truth of it brings a gratitude beyond words.

Oh who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!

… And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
(Nehemiah 8:10b)

A Lenten Prayer

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9)

Our mighty God, You are a God of covenant loyalty and of never-ending love. Your faithfulness endures through the ages, your mercies never cease, and your steadfast love is more abundant than we can even imagine. You are not only the God of love, You are the God who is Love.

We praise You today for Your love, offered freely to us despite our rebellion.We give thanks because Your love always brings about what is best for us, preparing us for eternity with You even when it is uncomfortable for us here and now.

Lord, may we become intoxicated with Your love. May it motivate us to greater surrender to Your perfect will and to loving others as You have loved us – not because they deserve it, but because they don’t deserve it. But they need it.

We ask for the love of Christ to compel us to honor His sacrifice by complete obedience to You, to zeal for Your Kingdom, to have mercy on others, and to love without holding back as You held back nothing from us – not even Your Son.

Help our love to be genuine; an outpouring of the work of Your Spirit in our lives. Teach us to truly abhor what is evil, agreeing with You on the definition of evil and rejecting it without delay – even if the evil happens to be an old habit, a grudge, or even a seemingly innocuous pleasure.

Help us to cling to what is good in Your eyes. Incline our hearts to love Your word, to feast on it, and to obey it so that by testing we may know Your will and understand what is truly good and acceptable and perfect – not in the world’s ever-chaining definition, but in Yours. May we become what You desire us to be in Christ, amen.

Gross But Good

… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:28)

Last Friday night, I spent some time with my 14-year-old and two adorable little girls wearing a sweatshirt and yoga pants merrily festooned with vomit.

It was glorious.

Well, OK, not the vomit of course…

My Sweet Potata had agreed to babysit for some friends but had neglected to tell me the two previous nights had been sleepless for her. Once my gang arrived home from school, her bleary eyes and slumped shoulders told the tale even before she could confess.

So I decided to tag along and be her wingman. We had a fantastic conversation on the drive over, and the first couple of hours were filled with joyful giggles and silly games. At the appropriate time, my no-longer-little girl tucked the two sweeties into bed we both settled in to do a little reading.

Twenty minutes later, I was bathing the youngest while big sister provided Sweet Potata with a detailed narrative of the differences between her sister’s vomit and the one time she had thrown up.

At this point, I wasn’t sure if excitement or illness had caused the event, but I was thankful God had worked things out so Sweet Potata and I could switch hit. Once the little one was bathed, Sweet Potata sat with the sisters and read books while I cleaned up the crib. Not long after, she had big sister back in bed while I held the little one in another room.

Seconds later, said little one was back in the tub and my clothing had acquired some distinctive new attributes. Even still, it was a wonderful evening.

You see, now that my own children are teens, connection with them does not always come as easily as it did when they were small. They no longer believe I know everything and in fact are often convinced I am not even capable of spelling my name correctly. They definitely doubt my abilities.

But all of it – the pulling away, the incessant questioning of my motives, the disbelief that our family rules are there for the good of each person, the reluctance to believe my insistence on a hygienic household and on the nutritional deficit of Pop Tarts have merit– all of it is a natural and necessary part of growing up.

But as a parent, it is a painful part.

And crazily, as I sat in the floor with the towel-wrapped toddler by my side (because my lap was, shall we say, no longer a pleasing place to snuggle), I had a powerful glimpse of the enormity of God’s love for me.

Like my teenage daughter, I spent much of my life pulling away from my Father. In truth, I rejected Him entirely.

All of humanity did. We all wanted to go our own way, test our boundaries without the pesky interference of thoughts for the future. We all disbelieved His laws were given out of love and concern for us. We all sinned and fell short of His glory.

Yet so great is His love that He did not give up on us.

Instead, He sent His Son away from Glory to immerse Himself in humanity. The Creator subjecting Himself to all the vile things which occur in a human body since the day sin entered and brought decay and death into His creation.

While here, Yeshua reached past the festering reek of leprosy and touched those who were infected by it – despite the social stigma of being unclean.

He raised the dead. He endured being spat upon, mocked, and brutally tortured. It is likely there were times when He was covered in worse things than vomit.

Suddenly, as I sat with one arm wrapped around a sick little sweetie, listening to my daughter’s voice mingled with big sister’s and ignoring the clammy funk of my own clothing, I realized something.

Yeshua came and suffered the nastiness of being human because it was worth it.

To me, all the cleaning up – and yes, even the light coating of vomit – was worth it. That night, I was able offer friends who are dealing with so much a chance to have some time alone together. I had the privilege of offering comfort to one I claim as a part-time daughter.

But most of all, it was worth it to reach through the wall of adolescent stubbornness and bring a little restoration into my relationship with my daughter. To talk with her and enjoy each other as we did when she was small. To know I was there by her side in a difficult situation.

And that is precisely why my Lord came. To restore the connection He once had with His beloved creation. To walk through the yuck with us.

For Him, I believe, it was worth wearing a bit of foulness to walk and talk with His beloved children once more as He used to before sin entered the world.

Which just makes me love Him even more.

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
(2 Corinthians 1:5)