Category Archives: 04. Hunger and Thirst

Hunger and Thirst (Sunday) – Psalm 42:1-2

Hunger and Thirst – Psalm 42:1-2

      Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?

When our souls have come to the place where they ask these kinds of questions, the kingdom of God is drawing us in. Christ is standing right at the door, delivering his invitation to come into His house and dine with Him. Are you saying that Christ has come knocking at my door clothed as a disturbance, dressed in despair? Exactly. A soul that exhibits the inward honesty to ask questions of this maginitude has already been influenced by the Holy Spirit and God’s prevenient grace (explained yesterday).

However, in its struggle, the soul may be asking, “Where is the victorious Christian life I have heard about? Why is my soul in despair anyway?” The answer: “Because it is the blessed victim of a divine conspiracy.” The Holy Trinity has a plan. God the Father has his mark on this one. His relentless love is sponsoring this mission to rescue the one in ninety-nine. Jesus, Good Shepherd that he is, has arranged that this sheep find its way through this unlikely appearing gate into a safe pasture. The Spirit, the Great Counselor has brought things to a boil within the heart, uncovering, as He had intended, a primal hunger and thirst. Without it even knowing how it has happened this soul has been brought by the Spirit to the threshold of a great adventure. How will the next chapter of this soul’s life read? The following is from a book that needs to be written. Only the names have been changed in the following narrative, to protect the guilty …

Devon was taking some courage, as he entered the pastor’s office, that in his parched soul, there was at least some fear and trembling, pulsing there as a sign of spiritual life. He was like most young men who had seen more on his computer screen than he should, but that particular temptation was in check, at least for the moment. Devon was also struggling to some degree with finances, vocation and the ever gnawing questions about his relationship with the opposite sex. Yet there was still more. While Devon had been going through the motions of work and church, there was this abiding, and escalating, concern that all was not well with his soul. He had even begun to question scripture and church authority. Yet, out of a white-knuckled effort, he had called and asked for some time with the pastor, hoping this representative of God could tell him why his soul was in despair. Devon was disturbed about his own spirituality and believed he needed some answers. He had been given an 11:00 am appointment. 

Larry was Devon’s pastor mostly because he was his parent’s pastor, but Devon really had no one else to go to. Larry was actually pretty stoked that one of the few younger folks remaining in the congregation had elected to seek him out. In fact this was a first. However, Larry was confident he could serve this young man because God had personally told him what he had always known, his primary call was that of a disciple maker. Just as Devon entered the office, Larry’s last thought was, “Oh crap! (I mean darn), Is this kid’s name Devon, or does he pronounce it Devón?” He comforted himself that in the long run, the pronunciation of the name would be of secondary importance to the biblical knowledge he was about to impart. He also made a mental note to repent later for thinking the word “crap”.

“Hey Big’un! Good to see you! I’ve been meaning to call and see how things are going with you. Still reading that bible we gave you at your baptism?” The question reminded Devon that his pre-batism discussion 7 years ago was the last conversation he had had with this person. He didn’t say it but, he had never actually read that bible. It was too small and he could never get into the King James translation. Devon improvised, “Yes sir, I’m no scholar but I’ve been reading the bible pretty steady now for several years.” “Excellent!”, Larry announced, ” The scriptures truly are the pathway to the abundant life, aren’t they?

Even though exactly what the abundant life was, had never really been explained (or for that matter modeled), Devon nodded, hoping a sermon was not brewing here. (Larry had a bit of a reputation of not really listening but going on ad nauseam on subjects entirely unrelated to the matter at hand.) Devon was fortunate (kind of). After digging deeper than he ever had, telling the story of his spiritual struggles, he was only getting a homily, not a full blown sermon on Larry’s go-to-topic, spiritual warfare. Devon was doing his best to listen but his worst fears were being confirmed. Larry was not really hearing anything he was saying.

The damage done by this train wreck was only compounded by the fact that Larry was quite pleased at how this session was wrapping up. Knowing that he had to lead the ministerial alliance meeting in just 15 minutes, he cheerfully closed their session, “Devón, I hope that was helpful. Just keep attending church, studying your bible and tithing and you can be confident that God will reward your faithfulness and give you the desire of your heart. Amen?” Devon, viscerally shaken by what had just taken place, managed an “Amen” and thought, “I was right. He didn’t even know my name.”  As for Larry, he was in awe of God’s goodness, to allow an anointing that strong even after he had almost cursed.

Unfortunately for Devon, he had run into a hireling instead of a spiritual father. While Larry could not have been better intentioned, neither could he have been more ill-equipped to see what God was actually up to in Devon’s life. Devon didn’t need an appointment with a counselor. He needed a relationship with an elder brother, a friend or mentor, who knew the ways of God and the landscape of the human heart. Fortunately for Devon, the Trinity’s conspiracy was not derailed.

This unfortunate encounter turned out to be providential. As Devon allowed his turmoil to drive Him toward God, he was able, with the help of some spiritual fathers, process the rejection and hurt of his encounters with the religion around him, and in him. He was finally able to forgive Larry and the institutional church and realize, that had God not allowed this experience in His life, he would never have learned that Christ Himself was his sufficiency, independent of whatever the pastor and the church do or do not do. Neither would he have discovered that the true Church is not defined by bricks and mortar or driven primarily by pastors and programs. As the kingdom of God has continued to grow in Devon’s heart he has been filled with hope as he finds himself in an ever expanding network of souls who understand how to steward the hunger and thirst within…To be continued.

                 As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.

                                       My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;

Father, please help us to be vulnerable with You. Help us to find safe places where our facades are unnecessary. In our own increasing liberty help us to create those safe spaces for each other, where the Holy Spirit can better access the broken things within and liberate us into the freedoms that You have purchased for us. Lord, help us to weep over the things that grieve you and celebrate the things that bring you joy. We shall hope in you and we shall praise you again! Amen.

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Saturday) – Matthew 5:6

Hunger and Thirst – Matthew 5:6

          Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

In a recent gathering someone asked, “Where does hunger and thirst come from?” Superb question! They wanted to know if God gave it as a gift to some and perhaps withheld it from others. Even though I couldn’t direct them to a book in the Bible called Hunger and Thirst, I did direct him to The Psalms. One Christian voice I monitor has said, “When I am astray within and the way seems obscure, I go into the Psalms and I read until I find my voice.” The Psalms model hunger and thirst for God in their expressions of transparency and passion.

Among all the ways the scriptures inspire us, they are intended to provoke our hunger and thirst. However, If we approach scripture as academics who must subject each verse to bible study vivisection we may miss the benefit that comes from the scalpel’s work on our own hearts. It is easy to think that scholarship (either mine or some one else’s) is the key to relational intimacy with God. While it prevails today, the idea that bible study is the key to an abiding life would have been utterly foreign to the first disciples. While inductive thought is important and will aid in our grasp of the letter of God’s Word, it will fall short, in itself, in revealing the Spirit of the Word. The Spirit of the Word can only be tasted in our personal experience with God.

If we look at the narrative of scripture and read it as a mere history book or missions manual we will miss its point. However, when the narrative becomes our reference point, our hunger and thirst will be stirred. The bible was not given to us to glorify a by-gone dispensation. It was given to us to direct us to Jesus – our Life. The Bible is God’s invitation to us into a living breathing encounter with Himself, complete with a now-glory all its own. When this dawns in our heart, the fires of our own hunger and thirst will be stoked.

The stories that resonate with me, the reports that have the most authentic ring to them are those where people have responded to their questions and to their pain by opening themselves up to God and to others. The act of becoming vulnerable is an expression of humility which God responds to. The story line is predictable. In their perseverance, these people invariably taste and see for themselves just how good God is and they begin entrusting more and more of themselves to Him. Because He loves their faith and rewards them when they seek Him, God entrusts their hearts with an increasing awareness of Himself. Because of his infinite and generous personality, the inevitable outcome for any heart taking honest and humble steps toward God will be increased hunger and thirst.

Because it often appears (at least in the natural) that the burden of relating to God is on us, I may not be able to satisfy my friend’s question regarding the origins of hunger and thirst. But, I can say that God is the giver of all good gifts. I am also reminded that no man comes to the Father unless he is drawn. So, I think we are mistaken if we credit man as the initiator of any relationship with God. I have always been influenced by the doctrine of “prevenient grace” which says in essence, that before there was anything (including a response from man), there was God, the primal spark. In light of prevenient grace, we must always ask, “What are the current and provocative circumstances in my life that God is endeavoring to use in order to draw me to Himself and nurture my hunger and thirst?

To my friend who has asked the insightful questions, I believe that the Author-Spirit of these Psalms says …

Come and lay bare your broken heart. Say what’s on your mind. Be yourself. I know it all anyway. It will do us both good for you to tell me your deepest disappointments. Ask Me your deepest questions. Tell Me your deepest hurts and make the requests that are on your heart. From here I can best address those matters you cannot even see, which are generating your turmoil. Do this and watch your hunger and thirst grow. Watch our relationship blossom.

Father, while Your ways are higher than our, and we cannot know all that we might like, we can rest in the good news that You have things covered. Thank you that redemption is buried deep into the DNA of creation and therefore into life’s circumstances. One thing we are compelled to seek, that we might continually dwell in Your house, that we might meditate in Your Word and behold the beauty of Your presence. Grant that we might become those whom You seek, who worship you in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Friday) – Jeremiah 2:13

Hunger and Thirst – Jeremiah 2:13

 For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

A friend knew I was headed off to another of my many construction industry conferences. He asked, “Is this your annual Tar convention?” “Tar!” I thought, “Nooo! It’s the National Asphalt Paving Association’s annual meeting! It’s ASPHALT! Not tar! Dear Lord. Do you not know that asphalt is the most recycled material in the world and that 90% of the roads we use are made from it? Strangely though, as I was mastering my defensive thoughts, I knew that for many of us asphalt devotees, our gathering might be called The National Tar & Broken Cistern Conference.

This is not a blanket judgment on capitalism or its partner, democracyNot at all. They have helped create the most stable society this earth has yet known. Yet, we do see the cracks, don’t we? Capitalism and democracy are not inherently evil. They aren’t the two specific evils Jeremiah is referring to, but being human institutions, they are infected.

If my construction brethren and I have lost sight of the fact that God is the creator of hydrocarbons and the giver of the intellectual gifts which enable us to produce asphaltic cement and build roads with it; if we are greedily lavishing upon ourselves the spoils of our profits, then we have forsaken God. If our lives are purely financially driven and asphalt is merely our ticket to material blessing, then we have hewn out for ourselves lives that are indeed cracked. Our cisterns will never hold living water – the very thing they were designed to do. This is a great loss because Living Water is the only means of satisfying our native hunger and thirst.

How tragic that by merely living out the American Dream (unedited), we can participate in evil. Evil? Really? I am certain the fine looking (almost exclusively Caucasian) executives with their wives and children walking the granite and marble corridors of the Marriott would find the idea – that they are evil, absurd and offensive. It is quite understandable. Have their pastors, dependent on their tithes, addressed the idolatry of materialism as it may pertain to their hearts? It would be rare. For conservative, upper middle class American Dreamers, only those who commit violent crimes (and those who do not believe as they do) represent evil.

If however, evil is redefined as those things which cause the greatest harm, to the greatest number of people, over the longest period of time, then broken-cistern Christianity, where Living Water is ritually wasted is culpable. If we have discredited the gospel with our lives, which convey that surrender to Christ as Lord, and walking in the Spirit are optional tracks, then an evil (although benign in appearance) has infected our ranks. The enemy will rule us as long as we continue to measure Christianity by our own standards instead of those that Jesus revealed and the apostles preached. How much Living Water leaks out of a pseudo-Christianity where surrender to Christ is optional?

To some, whose grasp of God’s sovereignty disallows questions, this essay will be folly at best and misleading heresy at worst. However, those who are hungering and thirsting may find encouragement because someone is validating their questions. Their broken hearts are not irrelevant. In fact, their holy dissatisfactions (minute as they might seem) likely represent the sprouting of kingdom seeds God has planted. And being of the mustard seed variety, they may ultimately grow into safe spaces where others can find refuge.

Holy dissatisfaction is a pivotal crossroads in our journey. One road leads to liberty and the other leads to bitterness, posing as super spirituality. When the idea of dissatisfaction first crosses our minds, the enemy will be present telling us it is the church’s fault for serving an inadequate diet of spiritual nourishment. He may also throw in a few people who have always rubbed us wrong to sweeten his next proposal, which is typically, “You need to find a new church.”

In a quieter voice, the Holy Spirit is also speaking. He says, “Watch over your own heart. For your own good, don’t pass the blame of your barrenness onto others.” If we follow the Spirit’s path, we will find that He is present and that he has always been present. As we acknowledge who God is, we will discover that he has prepared a feast for us in the presence of our enemies. New opportunities, we have only dared to imagine, will appear on our horizon.

It is the Father’s glory to deliver his children from their worldly affections, from whatever tar we have given our lives to, from whatever cisterns we have hewn for ourselves. To do this we have to know where we have become entangled in this world. We must humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and ask him to show us.

Father, deliver us from all evil, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forevermore. Make us vessels of honor, which not only hold living water, but which also pour it out for those you have placed near to us. Amen.

And, did I mention that asphalt is the most recycled material in the world?

 

 

 

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Thursday) – Isaiah 55:1-3

Hunger and Thirst – Isaiah 55:1-3

In the gospel of Matthew we find the parable of the Marriage Feast where a great king is hosting a grand celebration, all centered on the union of his son to a chosen bride. I believe Isaiah helped pen the invitations. They read:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; 

And he who has no money, come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, 

And your labor for that which does not satisfy? 

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, 

And delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

Hear, that your soul may live; 

And I will make with you an everlasting covenant, 

My steadfast, sure love for David.”

             Where were you when you first received your invitation? Has it arrived at your heart yet? How did you respond? Rather, how are you responding? It seems many I know were sitting as children or teens in a meeting when the evangelist handed out some invitations he had printed up that read:

Dear Monsters of iniquity,

            You’re hearts are wicked beyond knowing. I am mad as hell about it and am prepared to send you there without even blinking if you don’t agree with this right now. Today is the day of salvation!

            Affectionately, 

            The Great King

I will get back to the evangelist in time. But permit me to shift gears here.

I recently was encouraged by my daughter to watch Brené Brown’s TED talk on YouTube (it may be titled “Transparency”). Mrs. Brown is a PhD researcher in the area of human interaction. She is a nuts and bolts, fact driven, social scientist whose research is closer to revelation than science. Is that really surprising if we are beings created in God’s image living in a world He created for us?  Here are a few of her bullet points:

1) We are neurologically hardwired for connection.

2) It turns out our stories are data with souls.

3) Shame undermines connection because it undermines transparency.

4) The whole-hearted have overcome shame and live with the assumption they are worthy of love and belonging. Their healed and whole hearts allow them to treat themselves with compassion and kindness. They live out of the conviction that “they are enough.”

5) To have courage means to tell the story of who you are with all your heart (especially with the imperfections).

6) Love, belonging, creativity and joy are birthed in the vulnerable hearts of the whole-hearted.

7) Vulnerability can be blunted. We can squelch it when we shut down our emotions and blame others.

8) Blame is a way to discharge shame and discomfort.

In addition, she makes an interesting reference to religion. She says that instead of becoming a celebration of mystery, religion has become a mere set of declarations of certainty. I mentioned that we spoke the same language. The book I have reread most often in the last ten years is The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor. My blog site address is middlewithmystery.com.  That site was constructed as a platform to transparently and wholeheartedly tell my story; it has much to do with an escape from religion, which I think of as any system of thought or practice whereby the doing of it causes me to think that I have gained the favor of God.

Mrs. Brown and I also share something else in common: we both had breakdowns of sorts. Since both of us arose from the ashes of those experiences with new and whole hearts, we can think of them as spiritual breakthroughs. I think, in our souls, we both received God’s invitation…

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; 

And he who has no money, come, buy and eat! 

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, 

And your labor for that which does not satisfy? 

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, 

And delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

Hear, that your soul may live; 

And I will make with you an everlasting covenant, 

My steadfast, sure love for David.”

The condemning spirit of our evangelist is pervasive within Christianity and all religions where men are working out their salvation with fear and shame. I can testify, there is no living water in this well. But, that will not keep the spirit of religion from encouraging us to regularly dip into it to reinforce how utterly deformed and alienated from God we are, how angry and ready He is to punish us.

While there are elements of truth in this twisted gospel, it contains the poison that explains how we have become so smug and certain about God whose vastness and mystery dwarf human perception.

Since my heart has been delivered (to a greater extent) from the burden and deception of religion, where I was striving for the approval of God and man, it has been in a continual state of celebration, declaring,  “I am enough because God created me in His image, and that image, though marred, has been restored in Christ. I am not just a wretched sinner saved by grace. I am a new creation, beloved of God. This is my identity. Christ is the unchanging rock from which I gratefully and continually make this declaration. So, I would love to rewrite the shame-driven counterfeit invitations that our evangelist tries to hand out. I would write:

Dear Beloved,

            I created your hearts in my image. In Adam’s fall they have become misshapen.  I have sent Jesus to explain all that is confusing. Look to Him. In Him, My image can be restored in you and you will discover the way back into the safety of my heart.  Hell is real, but it was not created for you. Today (and every moment, for that matter) is the day of salvation! And for the record, I am not mad at you. On the contrary, thoughts about you make my heart beat faster.

            Affectionately, 

            The Great King

The Parable of the Wedding Feast (essentially, the theme of the Bible) is about the Kingdom of God, not the religion of Christianity. This kingdom has come in Jesus Christ, and it enjoys its inevitable expansion in the earth as its laws of Love and Truth overthrow the shame and guilt of performance-driven religion. Millions of the kingdom’s sons and daughters are beginning to glow more brightly than they even imagined possible as this kingdom, which is also within them, finds expression. Their stories frequently have common themes…

Life’s circumstances have created some kind of hunger or thirst. They have often bottomed out, realizing they have been spending their money on that which is not bread and laboring for that which does not satisfy. They are listening more diligently. They are inclining their ear that their souls may live. In a new and radically beautiful covenant with God in Christ, they are coming and buying wine, milk and bread without money and without price.

So, how shall we get from religion to Life? Perhaps we begin by being radically honest and vulnerable with ourselves and with God. We could take Jesus council…

When you come before God, don’t turn it into a theatrical production. Don’t make a show out of your prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are.

 Set the world right; Do what’s best— 

As above, so below. 

Keep us alive with three square meals. 

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. 

You’re in charge! You can do anything you want!

You’re ablaze in beauty!  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Wednesday) – John 7:37-41

Hunger and Thirst – John 7:37-41

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.

We Christians in general are filled with passions that enthuse us and drive us to share them with others. I relate to many followers of Jesus Christ, who together represent an surprising array of particular passions that bubble over when the opportunity allows. My heart’s desire really is to listen to those passions, praying that my encouragement will serve to bless those particulars in the most beneficial way.

Meanwhile, on another planet…

In a gathering of believers in my home, I am trying to learn how to give the Holy Spirit room to express Himself; you know…when you assembleeach one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation or a teaching; has a tongue and an interpretation. I Corinthians 14 suggests this was the extent of the early church’s liturgy. Beyond this limited picture, we also know that in these meetings, the secrets of men’s hearts were revealed; they would experience conviction; they would fall on their faces and declare that God was certainly among them. The outcome of these gatherings where the gifts were being expressed through many was the edification of the group as a whole. However, in my home group, I am often taken aback and challenged by the disparate particulars and passions that surface.

disparate: 1) containing or made up of fundamentally different and often incongruous elements 2) markedly distinct in quality or character.

In our home gathering of 20 or so people, here is a sampler of the particulars that can bubble up: Messianic Christian emphases, a TED talk (having nothing and yet everything to do with Christianity), angels, the latest prophetic word on what God is about to do, foreign missions, the revival that is on the near horizon, the need for signs and wonders, or God and American conservatism. As a facilitator, I just try to keep one eye toward heaven and the other on earth in hopes of reading the currents of what God is doing among us. This is challenging—trying to lean into God, listening for that common divine vibration that needs identified and encouraged. In fact, I am going cross-eyed in my efforts.

I have come, by way of hard knocks, to a firm belief that groups, no matter what their size or mission, are healthy when they have something they can collectively own, something we can call ours. I may be wrong (I am seeking feedback on this), but as a facilitator I am concerned that the disparate nature of our bubbles (for some in the group) is producing more of a sense of “theirs instead of “ours.” As a leader, I have not picked up on our common currentI have even wondered if I am reading crosscurrents. I not sure whether I’m looking at living water or something else. As far as the edification of the group is concerned, is the water still alive if its particulars are alien to others present?

From 1991 to 2013, a part of me died in the local church trying to determine if my particular current held anything in common with that of my co-elders. In that setting with its particular passions, I learned that it is very challenging to have a creative open dialogue that will benefit the whole body when most are simply waiting to share their particular passion. When one person’s passion is alien to another’s, the available options are: 1) promote and endeavor to infect others with your passion; 2) subjugate your passions to the passions of others; 3) abandon your passions; shut them down; go through the motions; just try and survive without bitterness (good luck) in an environment that repeatedly fails to esteem the things you call treasures.

Do you see the dilemma? How do we nurture and honor all the disparate particulars and simultaneously create the hallowed and essential our that makes a group healthy and fosters legitimate community? If I am right, when people sense that a gathering is mostly somebody else’s, they will leave and instinctively seek a setting where there is an our (that includes their passion). As well they should.

As the facilitator, I thought I had detected the common current: it was Christ in us, the hope of glory. I thought, “Voilà! That must be it!” Down below all the disparate particulars, there is Christ, who is our life; Christ alone and Him crucified; Christ who is our sufficiency; Christ Jesus who aspires to be the satisfaction of our soul’s deepest longings. At the very bottom of the well Holy Spirit must be present, revealing to us the Son of God and the Father. The natural expression of this living water must be present tense awe and wonder with God alone. Real living water is flavored with a now joy, a now abiding contentment and rest, all flooding out of God Himself. So, it turns out that its not so much a passion of particulars as it is a passion about a particular person–Jesus Christ.

As it turns out, my particular passion, Jesus + no particular particular, may be the most peculiar and disparate particular of our gathering. As this has dawned on me with some force, I have begun to wonder if I would make a good Catholic or Episcopalian. I find myself longing for liturgy—anything to take the strain off my eyes, which are failing to find a current we can collectively call our own.

I know some of you might be concerned that I have set my sights too high and am setting myself up for more disappointment once again. I just want to share with you that I have a great peace about this because in the end everything will work out because it’s my house and I know I am right.  🙂

In case that was unsatisfactory…

For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in Christ Jesus and finds its purpose in Him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, He organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and He is supreme in the end. From beginning to end, He’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is He, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in Him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, His blood that poured down from the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 MSG)

Father, as we press on to know You, help us to keep smiles on our faces, knowing that You are the head of Your church, that You’re not going to loose a single one of us that the Father has given to You. You are not going to fail to have a Bride that is radiant beyond our grasp. Thank You that where we are the most fragmented, You are holding us together in the site of God, holding us harmless of every offense. If we never see an iota of our particular, may we be individually and collectively content with You alone. Just give us Yourself. Our cups will overflow. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Tuesday) – John 6:25-35

Hunger and Thirst – John 6:25-35

When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. 

It appeared the numbers of Jesus’ congregation were up this week but contrary to popular seeker-friendly strategy, Jesus challenges their motives for even attending. I suspect Judas was in the wings thinking, “Man, this guy is going to kill our cash flow.” But Jesus just pours it on…

Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.

But, their hearts are set, so they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” I wonder if Jesus was thinking, “There’s no way this crowd will ever understand me but, for those who will one day get the printed version, I’ll say …

Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.

But again, the multitude wants what it wants, when it wants it, and makes its counter proposal…

Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

God, in his patient and persistent love, pursues this multitude (and us as well) with these words, which he desires should produce eternal fruit in us rather than temporal benefits. He explains…

The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.

This is what they came to hear!

                          They jumped at that, “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”

Jesus then summarizes his sermon…

I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.

It appears The First Church of Jesus in the Wilderness is poised for growth but Judas knows better. He has heard Jesus’ sermons. He knows the multitude’s stomach for the Bread of Life will be soured when Jesus tells them they are going to have to take up their cross daily if they really want to chew it.

Perhaps, because Judas had less delusions regarding Jesus’ intentions, he knew that while miracles are impressive, you can’t rule men with them. Ruling requires power. Power requires money. So even though Jesus was not going to produce a kingdom to Judas’ liking, he could still exchange Jesus for some real cash when the time was right.

The question remains,”What do you really hunger and thirst for?” Do you want revival – complete with God’s presence, signs and wonders? Do you want to feed, clothe and shelter the poor? Do you want to go abroad where people are really more open to Jesus? Would you like to simply find a good church with good music and strong teaching where your family could attend? These are certainly worthy but what if they were preceded by this answer, “Actually Lord, I have no wants, Christ in me is sufficient for every need.”

Jesus’ words have always done as much stirring as they have settling. But, in the heart-turmoil his words create, there is always a loving Father’s intention. He knows, bound up in our hearts, there is folly that needs exposed so that it doesn’t end up leading to our wasting energy and striving for the temporal. He is always persistently sending out his invitations for us to partake of his Son – the Bread of Eternal Life. By abiding in Jesus we are vested into a counterintuitive kingdom – a domain where he reigns, saying and doing things that will last forever, from his earthly base of operations – our hearts.

Thank you Father for your persistence in challenging our heart-level understandings of your words. We pray that you alone, at the center of our motives, will build your Church in your timing and in your ways. May you become the loving and persistent disturbance in our hearts so that you might ultimately become, in yourself, our exclusive satisfaction. Amen.

 

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Monday) – John 4:1-26

Hunger and Thirst – John 4:1-26

 

Jesus and his disciples were headed back to Galilee through Samaria. This route carried with it the risk of robbers and the inherent tension of being in Samaria, a nation of people considered by the Jews to be illegitimate sons of Abraham. To the Jews, Samaritans were disgusting imposters. When they stopped in Sychar, Jesus was left alone near Jacob’s well. In this unlikely setting we will learn much about our God.

Jesus is the biggest deal in Israel at the time (for more reasons than anyone even knew). Jewish culture would have inherently seen him as the holiest and purest man in their nation, a prophet, keeping the law, adhering to the traditions with perfection. A Jew of this caliber, intent on maintaining his purity, would have been on religious-DEFON 3  (an increase in readiness above that of normal). What is about to happen to Jesus is a holy man’s worst nightmare – an isolated encounter with a soiled Samaritan woman. In his interaction with her, Jesus overturns all Jewish notions of holiness. That this scene takes place at a well is no coincidence. Wells hold that which quench human thirst. 

Rather than retreating in an effort to maintain his purity, Jesus instead humbles himself, asking her for a drink. The woman is floored …

             How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?!

Jesus, as he did throughout his life, unapologetically spoke truth from heaven which is incomprehensible on earth. Jesus knows he has addled this poor woman’s mind.

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.

 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As the woman is letting the bucket down into Jacob’s well, Jesus is letting his bucket deeper and deeper into hers. To probe her depths, Jesus uses words that make no sense (at least on the surface). Jesus’ prophetic insight into this woman’s morality drops the bucket about 50 feet, splashing into her pool.

He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

She does what every one in sin does when the truth hits too close to home – she changes the subject. She tries to divert the conversation from the facts of her life to religious generalities.

 Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

Jesus is the master fisherman. Since this one is already on the line, he uses the opportunity to go ahead and overturn the traditional notions of worship.

Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus might as well still be in the temple overturning tables. He is crashing through all Jewish thinking about gender, geography, race and even morality. These are no longer barriers to enter into worship; they are themselves points-of-entry. Salvation is for everyone!

I suspect, at just the right time and place, the Spirit reminded her of what she had heard and the puzzle pieces slipped together and this woman realized just what Jesus meant, when he said …

                                                           I who speak to you am He.

In the blink of an eye, when her heart said “Yes” to Him; “I believe you are the son of God and I believe you are risen from the grave to give me that living water.” In that moment the well in this women’s heart was transformed. The stagnant waters were replaced with water originating in heaven. Jesus became to her living water and her life was ruined for this world but her thirst, nevertheless, was quenched. She was just the sort of person…

                                                     the Father seeks to be His worshiper. 

We must each let God probe our depths, allowing his Word and Spirit into the dark and hidden places deep within us. And we must not despise the prophetic word or the probing question, which may cause the bucket to drop 50 feet into our own dark pool. If we respond rightly, our water will be exchanged for living water. Our thirst will  be quenched and we will understand when Jesus says …

                 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

Father, as you did with this compromised woman, let Truth find His way into the compromised  places we hide. Liberate us that we may become those whom you seek to be your worshippers and those who run to tell others of what you have just done. Crash through our barriers and addle our minds if need be. Do not lot our flesh prevail. Amen.

A suggestion: If we are not hearing God speak, we should back up to those words that addled our brains, those words that offended our traditional views. Instead of redoubling our defenses on these points, protecting the stagnant waters of our own status quo religious experience, we must invite God to speak. He is an excellent communicator. We must slow down that we may hear.

 

 

 

                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Sunday) – Psalm 42:1-2

Psalm 42:1-2

      Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?

When our souls have come to the place where they ask these kinds of questions we have come near to the kingdom of God. Christ is standing right at the door delivering his invitation to come into His house and dine with Him. Are you saying that Christ has come knocking at my door clothed as a disturbance, dressed in despair? Exactly. A soul that exhibits the inward honesty to ask questions of this maginitude has already been influenced by the Holy Spirit and the prevenient grace (explained yesterday).

However, in its struggle, the soul may be asking, “Where is the victorious Christian life I have heard about?” Why is my soul in despair anyway? The answer: “Because it is the blessed victim of a divine conspiracy.” The Holy Trinity has a plan. God the Father has his mark on this one. His relentless love is sponsoring this mission to rescue the one in ninety-nine. Jesus, Good Shepherd that he is, has arranged that this sheep find its way through this unlikely appearing gate into a safe pasture. The Spirit, the Great Counselor has brought things to a boil within the heart, uncovering, as He had intended, a primal hunger and thirst. Without it even knowing how it has happened this soul has been brought by the Spirit to the threshold of a great adventure. How will the next chapter of this soul’s life read?

Devon was taking some courage, as he entered the pastor’s office, that in his parched soul there was at least some fear and trembling pulsing there as a sign of spiritual life. He was like most young men who had seen more on his computer screen than he should but that particular temptation was in check, at least for the moment. Devon was also struggling to some degree with finances, vocation and the ever gnawing questions about his relationship with the opposite sex. Yet there was still more. While Devon had been going through the motions of work and church, there was this abiding (and escalating?) concern that all was not well with his own soul. He had even begun to question scripture and church authority. Yet, out of a white-knuckled effort, he had called and asked for some time with the pastor, hoping this representative of God could tell him why his soul was in despair. Devon was disturbed about his own spirituality and believed he needed some answers. He had been given an 11:00 am appointment.

Only the names have been changed in the following story (to protect the guilty) …..

Larry was Devon’s pastor mostly because he was his parent’s pastor but Devon really had no one else to go to. Larry was actually pretty excited that one of the few younger folks remaining in the congregation had elected to seek him out. In fact this was a first. Larry was confident he could serve this young man because God had personally confirmed to him what he had always known; his primary call was that of a counselor and a disciple maker.  Just as Devon entered the office, Larry’s last thought was, “Oh crap! Is this kid’s name Devon, or does he pronounce it Devón?” He comforted himself that in the long run, the pronunciation of the name would be of secondary importance to the biblical knowledge he was about to impart. He also made a mental note to repent later for thinking the word “crap”.

“Hey Big’un! Good to see you! I’ve been meaning to call and see how things are going with you. Still reading that bible we gave you at your baptism?” The question reminded Devon that his pre-batism discussion 7 years ago was the last conversation he had had with this person. He didn’t say it but, he had never actually read that bible. It was too small and he could never get into the King James translation. Devon improvised, “Yes sir, I’m no scholar but I’ve been reading the bible pretty steady now for several years.” “Excellent!”, Larry announced, ” The scriptures truly are the pathway to the abundant life, aren’t they?

Even though exactly what the abundant life was had never really been explained (or for that matter demonstrated), Devon nodded, hoping a sermon was not brewing here. (Larry had a bit of a reputation of not really listening but going on ad nauseam on subjects entirely unrelated to the matter at hand.) Devon was fortunate (kind of). After digging deeper than he ever had and telling the story of his spiritual struggles, he was only getting a homily, not a full blown sermon on Larry’s go-to topic, spiritual warfare. Devon was doing his best to listen but his worst fears were being confirmed. Larry was not really hearing anything he was saying.

The damage done by this train wreck was only compounded by the fact that Larry was quite pleased at how this session was wrapping up. Knowing that he had to lead the ministerial alliance meeting in just 15 minutes, he cheerfully closed their session, “Devón, I hope that was helpful. Just keep attending church, studying your bible and tithing and you can be confident that God will reward your faithfulness and give you the desire of your heart. Amen?” Devon, viscerally shaken by what had just taken place, managed an “Amen” and thought, “I was right. He didn’t even know my name.”  As for Larry, he was in awe of God’s goodness, to allow an anointing that strong even after he had almost cursed.

Unfortunately for Devon, he had run into a hireling instead of a spiritual father. While Larry could not have been better intentioned, neither could he have been more ill-equipped to see what God was actually up to in Devon’s life. Devon didn’t need an appointment with a counselor. He needed a relationship with an elder brother, a friend or mentor who knew the ways of God and the landscape of the human heart. Fortunately for Devon, the Trinity’s conspiracy was not derailed.

This unfortunate encounter turned out to be providential. As Devon allowed his turmoil to drive Him toward God, he was able, with the help of some spiritual fathers, process the rejection and hurt of his encounters with the religion around him and in him. He was finally able to forgive Larry and the institutional church and realize, that had God not allowed this experience in His life, he would never have learned that Christ Himself (independent of whatever the pastor and the church do or do not do) was his sufficiency.  Neither would he have discovered that the true Church is not defined by bricks and mortar or driven primarily by pastors and programs. As the kingdom of God has continued to grow in Devon’s heart he has been filled with hope as he finds himself in an ever expanding network of souls who understand how to steward the hunger and thirst within.

                 As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.

                                       My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;

Father, please help us to be vulnerable with You. Help us to find other spaces where our facades are unnecessary. In our own increasing liberty help us to create those safe spaces for each other where the Holy Spirit can better access the broken things within and liberate us into the freedoms that You have purchased for us. Lord, help us to weep over the things that grieve you and celebrate the things that You celebrate. We shall hope in you and we shall praise you again! Amen.

 

 

 

Hunger and Thirst (Saturday) – Matthew 5:6

Matthew 5:6

           Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

In a recent gathering someone asked, “Where does hunger and thirst come from?”  Superb question! They wanted to know if God gave it as a gift to some and perhaps withheld it from others. Even though I couldn’t direct them to a book in the Bible called Hunger and Thirst, I could direct them to the Psalms. One Christian voice I monitor says, “When I am astray within and the way seems obscure, I go into the Psalms and I read until I find my voice.” The Psalms model hunger and thirst for God in their expressions of transparency and passion.

Among all the ways the scriptures inspire us I believe they have certainly been given to provoke our hunger and thirst. However, If we approach scripture as academics who must subject each verse to bible study vivisection we may miss the benefit that comes from the scalpel’s work on our own hearts. It is easy to think that scholarship (either mine or some one else’s) is the pathway to relational intimacy with God. While it prevails today, the idea that bible study is the key to an abiding and abundant life would have been utterly foreign to the first disciples. While inductive thought is important and will aid in our grasp of the letter of God’s Word, it will fall short, in itself, in revealing the Spirit of the Word. The Spirit of the Word can only be tasted in our personal experience with God.

However, if we look at the narrative of scripture and see it is not only a history book or a manuel for missions but first and foremost a reference point of how we can relate to God, our hunger and thirst can be stirred.  In other words, if we can grasp that its not just about others and their glory in a by-gone age, rather its an invitation to us into a living breathing encounter with God with a now-glory all its own, then the fires of our own hunger and thirst can be stoked.

The stories that resonate with me, the reports that have the most authentic ring to them are those where people have responded to their questions and their pain by opening themselves up to God and to others. The act of becoming vulnerable is an expression of humility which God is responsive to. The story line is predictable.  In their perseverance, these people invariably taste and see for themselves just how good God is and they begin entrusting more and more of themselves to Him. Because He loves their faith and rewards them when they seek Him, God entrusts their hearts with increasing measures of Himself. Because of God’s infinite personality, the inevitable outcome for any heart that will take honest and humble steps toward God will be increased hunger and thirst.

Because it often appears (at least in the natural) that the burden of relating to God is on us, I may not be able to satisfy my friend’s question regarding the origins of hunger and thirst. But, I can say that God is the giver of all good gifts. I am also reminded that no man comes to the Father unless he is drawn. So, I think we are mistaken if we credit man as the initiator of any relationship with God. I have always been influenced by the doctrine of “prevenient grace” which says in essence, that before there was anything (including a response from man), there was God, the primal spark. In light of prevenient grace, we must always ask, “What are the current and provocative circumstances in my life that God is endeavoring to use in order to draw me to Himself and nurture my hunger and thirst?

To my friend who has asked the insightful questions, I believe that the Author-Spirit of these psalms says, “Come and lay bare your broken heart. Say what’s on your mind. Be yourself. I know it all anyway. It will do us both good for you to tell me your deepest disappointments; ask Me your deepest questions; tell Me your deepest hurts and make the requests that are on your heart. From here I can best address those matters you cannot even see which generate your turmoil. Do this and watch your hunger and thirst grow. Watch our relationship blossom.”

Father, while Your ways are higher than our ways, and we cannot know all that we might like, we can rest in the good news that You have things covered. Thank you that redemption is buried deep into the DNA of creation and therefore into life’s circumstances. One thing we are compelled to seek, that we might continually dwell in Your house, that we might meditate in Your Word and behold the beauty of Your presence. Grant that we might become those whom You seek, who worship you in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

Hunger and Thirst (Friday) – Jeremiah 2:13

Jeremiah 2:13

For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

A friend I love and respect knew I was headed off to another of my many construction industry conferences. He asked, “Is this your Annual Tar Convention?  “Tar!” I thought, “Nooo!  Its the National Asphalt Paving Association’s annual meeting! It’s ASPHALT! Not tar!! Dear Lord!!! Do you not know that asphalt is the most recycled material in the world and that 90% of the roads we use are made from it. Strangely though, at the same time as I was mastering my defensive thoughts, I knew that for many of us asphalt devotees, this gathering may have been more appropriately promoted as Tar’s (or Whatever’s) 2015  Annual Broken Cistern Conference.

This is not a blanket judgement on capitalism and its partner democracy. Not at all. They have created the most stable culture in the history of earth. No, capitalism and democracy are not the two specific evils Jeremiah is referring to, but at the same time, they could be. Allow me to explain.

If my construction brethren and I have lost sight of the fact that God is the creator of hydrocarbons and the giver of the intellectual-technical gifts that allow us to produce asphaltic cement and build roads with it; if we are greedily lavishing upon ourselves the spoils of our profits then we have forsaken our God. If our corporate and personal goals are purely financial and we are simply using asphalt as our ticket to material blessing then we have hewn out for ourselves cisterns that are indeed cracked. Sadly, they will never hold living water – the very thing they were designed to do and the only thing that will satisfy our native hunger and thirst. How truly tragic that we could be guilty on this count of evil, simply by living out the American Dream.

Evil?! Really?!! I am sure the fine looking professional people with their wives and children walking the granite and marble corridors of the Marriott would find the idea that they were guilty of evil as preposterous. It is understandable though. Would their pastors, dependent and grateful for their tithe as they are, want to tackle the idolatry and materialism as it pertained to them? I’m thinking probably not. No, evil among conservative upper middle class Americans is represented by those committing violent crimes and perhaps worse, those who do not believe as they do.

If however evil is redefined and ranked in terms of those things which cause the greatest harm to the greatest number of people over the longest period of time (I’m thinking of hell) then broken-cistern Christianity where Living Water is wasted daily (and called “normal”) is culpable. If we have discredited the gospel with our lives which convey that surrender to Christ as Lord and walking in the Spirit are optional tracks for special “called out ones” then a benign-appearinmg evil has infected our ranks. The enemy will rule us as long as we continue to measure Christianity by our own standards instead of the New Testament and better standards that Jesus foretold and the apostles preached. How many perish because of western Christianity’s accommodation of Christianity without true discipleship?

To some whose grasp of God’s sovereignty disallows questions this essay will be folly at best and an intrusive misleading heresy at worst. However, to those who are hungering and thirsting they will find encouragement because someone is saying their questions are not invalid, their broken hearts are not irrelevant. In fact their holy dissatisfactions (minūte as they might appear in the grand scheme of things) are likely the sprouting of the kingdom seeds God has planted which ultimately grow into a place where men can take refuge and find safety.

Holy dissatisfaction is a pivotal crossroads in our journey. One leads to liberty and another leads to bitterness posing as a super spirituality. When the idea of dissatisfaction first crosses our minds the enemy will be present telling us it is the church’s fault for serving us an inadequate diet of spiritual nourishment.  He may throw in a few people who have always rubbed us wrong to sweeten his next proposal which is typically, “You need to find a new church”.

In a quieter voice, the Holy Spirit will also be speaking. He will be saying, “Watch over your own heart. For your own good, don’t pass the blame of your barrenness onto others.” If we follow the Spirit’s path we will find that He is present and that he was always present. We will discover that crediting God by faith for who he is (aka; renewing our minds) we will discover that he has prepared a feast for us in the presence of our enemies. New horizons we only dared to imagine will begin appearing on the horizon.

It is the Father’s glory to deliver his children from their worldly affections, from whatever tar we have given our lives to, from whatever cisterns we have hewn for ourselves. But first we have to know where we have become stuck to this world. We must humble ourselves in this way in the sight of the Lord.

Father, deliver us from all evil for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forevermore.Make us vessels of honor Lord that can not only hold living water put who can pour it out for those you have placed around us. Amen.

Did I mention that asphalt is the most recycled material in the world?