Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The River: How Deep Do You Want to Go?

I love to feel the ocean lapping at my feet; to soak away stress in a hot tub. I like to plunge into a lake on a hot summer day and cool off. But I admit I get a little nervous if there’s much of a current or in over my head. I’ve learned to respect and fear the power of water from nearly drowning a time or two. So I tend to limit my swimming to the shallow end of the pool and places where I can maintain control. 

That’s why this portion of Ezekiel 47 challenges me: 

“The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple…then [he] led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross” (Ezek. 47:1, 3-5). 

The man mentioned is an angel showing Ezekiel things to come in heaven. The River, coming from the temple, is spoken of again in Revelation. I’ll talk more about that in my next post on The River. This chapter from Ezekiel is so rich and complex. I don’t understand it all, but it has kept drawing me back four days in a row now. 

Every time I read it, I feel the Spirit of God calling me to go deeper. I must pause and ask myself which group I want to be in. 

Dabblers are the people who only get in the water of God’s Spirit up to their ankles. They want to experience its cool refreshment, tingling between their toes. This might be at a Christmas or Easter service, or listening to Christian radio on occasion. These people believe that God exists, and they enjoy the warm feelings they get when they encounter God-stuff. However, by going only ankle deep, they still maintain control over when they come into His presence and when they leave. 

The Waders want more. They get up to their knees. This might include discussions about God, attending Christian concerts, occasional church attendance, or TV preachers. Waders enjoy experiencing more of God’s living water, splashing joyfully in His refreshing presence. But they are still in complete control over their lives. God does not direct their decisions and movements; they’re not that deep yet. 

Venturers sample the water of God up to their waist. They’re halfway in. They often pursue small groups or Bible studies; they might talk freely about God and scripture, even insist that God, our Creator, loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. They enjoy the sway of the water and often feel the pull of the current. They even allow the current of the Spirit to take them where God desires - until there is a cost – being different than the world, rejection, sacrifice. That’s when they plant their feet firmly on the river floor and fight for control. 

Finally, there are the swimmers – the group I want to be in. I long for and fear this, because it requires full commitment. The scripture describes the river as deep enough to swim in. The swimmer is buoyed by the water’s power, completely free from gravity’s pull. But it also says no one can cross it. Those who plunge into the River of God must fully surrender to the flow of His will, allowing Him to take them when and where He wants them to. Swimming doesn’t depend on whether or not a person believes in God, talks about God, or attends church regularly. It hinges on a relationship of trust and obedience to God’s lordship. 

Where are you in relation to the River? Are you on the bank wondering if you want to get in? Testing the waters, ankle or knee deep? Have you ventured halfway in and yearn to go deeper? I encourage you as well as myself to take the plunge. Dive in to the powerful, sustaining life of the Spirit. Swim out where you can’t touch bottom and discover the adventure God has for you. 

#morethankneedeep #fearofdrowning #trustenoughtoswim #Ezekiel47 #ankledeep #committoswim #diveintotheriver

Monday, January 5, 2015

After Christmas Ponderings, and Happy New Year! - Two

our children's safety is of utmost concern

we never want them to be without our protection

If you’re a parent, your greatest fear is the loss of your child – physically or spiritually. If they’ve ever run away, wandered off, survived a serious illness or accident, or suffered at the hands of another, you know the raw terror Joseph and Mary experienced when Jesus went missing.
I vividly remember the day my youngest daughter disappeared. She was seven years old and had silky moonshine hair. Our family was working with missionaries in Manila, the largest city in the Philippines. We’d been repeatedly warned to keep an eye on our beautiful blonde girls, because of trafficking. When I came back from a walk, she wasn’t with the other kids and no one in the household knew where she was. I panicked. Where would I begin to look for her in a city of 1.581 million? For what seemed like hours, I scoured the neighborhood, made calls, and begged for God's help. Finally, I got a hold of my husband; he had taken her on the motorcycle to run an errand. 

Jesus’ parents experienced this same panic. Every year of His earthly life, their family went to Jerusalem for Passover. Only this time, they lost Him:

 “After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you’” (Luke 2:43-48, emphasis mine).

From their viewpoint, Jesus had been disobedient. Yet His explanation and subsequent actions, gave Mary reason to pause and reflect once again.

“‘Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:49-51, emphasis mine).

What treasures were there for a distraught mother to ponder? And what can we learn from this passage? 

It was one thing for Jesus the baby to be recognized as the Savior. At that point, He was still in the care and control of His earthly parents. It was quite another story when He began to do things of His own volition. Even though they could see the respect and wonder among the religious teachers, it stung that Jesus hadn't consulted them first. He hadn’t asked permission or sought their counsel at all.

This same jolt of recognition hits us. When we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, we enter as a babe into the wonder of who He is. But as we grow in our relationship with Him, He begins to step beyond our plans and control. Suddenly, Jesus asks us hard questions and speaks with authority that stings. 

We say, “Why are you treating me like this?” 

And He answers, “Why are you surprised? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”

After that, Mary took time to think about what it all meant. God revealed Jesus to her as not just her special and wonderful child, but as His Son with a mission all His own. Jesus went home with His parents, obeyed them, learned, grew, and earned the respect of others. But Mary’s view of Him was never the same. 

It’s a huge growth point in our relationship with God when we recognize His Lordship of our life. When we see that Jesus won’t behave the way we think He should, but act with authority. When we can accept and treasure that revelation, we, like Mary, will be able to glory in being part of His plan.

The question is will we take time to ponder this, so He can accomplish His will in us this year? It takes quieting our heart before Him each day to value all He is and all He has in store for us.

Friday, January 2, 2015

After Christmas Ponderings, and Happy New Year! – One

Today it seems like all is back to business, but I didn’t want to let the season pass before appreciating all God has done in 2014. With the story of Christmas still fresh in mind, I want to continue Mary’s lead just two days more.
In my last post, I explored the treasures of being chosen and validated. Today, I want to look at two more blessings we share with Mary – deliverance and fellowship. 

Mary was delivered in childbirth, which is no small matter, but there is so much more to her story. God delivered her from the shame of divorce, death by stoning, the sword of King Herod, and loneliness in her life’s work. He did this through Joseph, divine messengers, and by weaving faithful followers into the fabric of her life.

I’ve experienced God’s deliverance in many ways as well - from accidents when I could have been seriously hurt, or hurt someone else in my path. He has prevented me from making disastrous relationship choices, even when I resisted His wisdom. Most of all, He has delivered my soul from eternal death. For that I will praise Him forever! Just this last year, He delivered me from a plaguing depression that stretched on for months, as well as a sense of helpless despair over the choices of loved ones. And I am confident He will continue to deliver me in these and other ways. 

What have you been delivered from in 2014? We don’t often see God’s angelic host, protecting and rescuing us from harm, but we often look back and realize what could have happened (Psa. 18:2). What unhealthy relationships has God delivered you from? What fatal or debilitating accidents or illnesses have you survived? What destructive choices has He swayed you from making? Take time to praise Him for His rescue – especially when He halted your steps on a willful, stubborn path. 

It may not seem like a big deal to us today, but I’d be willing to bet the arrival of the shepherds – unwashed strangers that they were – were a huge encouragement to Mary and Joseph.  They were in a strange town, huddled in a dirty stable (possibly a cave). It probably felt like God had forgotten them. Then the shepherds arrived, excitedly talking about the angel’s announcement and bursting with joy of the news. Suddenly, in the fellowship of others, that dirty stable became a party.

Fellowship makes all the difference. Just the other night I experienced the wonderful encouragement of the body of Christ. I was emotionally and physically depleted. Wondering if I was making more of a mess of things than accomplishing God’s work. I stepped into a gathering of believers and was instantly surrounded with love, hugs, prayer, and a listening ear. Oh, how I thank God we do not have to walk this path alone! He gives us companions for the journey. Thank you Jesus!

I hope you will continue Mary’s journey with me in the last “Ponderings” post. Twelve years after Jesus’ birth, we find her still meditating on the riches of God’s plan. I suppose she did do a few other things in the meantime, but in the Bible, this next scene is just an inch or two down the page. I have so many questions about what happened in between, but for some reason God didn’t think we needed to know any of that. Instead, He tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s terrifying experience and how they chose to respond to every parent’s worst fear – a missing child.