Thursday, April 30, 2009

FIRE WALKER

Connie Hale is director for Faith Kept Ministries, a chaplaincy initiative to strengthen the visitation ministry of local churches. She sent me the following piece written in the last week. Her husband Tom has been given three months to live. When you read this, please pray for Tom and Connie and their adult sons.
Kevin

_______________________

The telephone rang, it was the doctor. He had looked at my husband’s CAT scan and confirmed that his cancer had indeed metastasized to his brain having only 3 months to live. I hung up the phone and proceeded into the bedroom and sat at my husband’s bedside to deliver the devastating news.

Only the sound of inconsolable sobbing from two people could be heard from that room. It was the ‘terrible beautiful’ moment. Even though we had to look at death’s terrible face, the cold reality of its finality, we had a chance to take our eyes off this world and truly look eternity in the face to see His plan of salvation.

Tom talked about heaven about how God has a place for him. That he would get to see his mom. In a half joking way, I said, “Tom wouldn’t you know it I am the ‘bible thumper’ and now it looks like you are going to get to heaven first.” Tom tenderly said, “Connie I will be waiting for you. However, I don’t think I will be getting many rewards.” I replied, “Tom you have stood beside me as I ministered the gospel, you will have every one of my rewards 
and more. You will be rewarded for being a faithful, loving, hardworking husband and father.”

In this one moment of time Tom and I became ‘soul mates’. With eyes filled with tears it took a lifetime…33 years to be exact to see beyond ourselves, and to look deep into the heart of God. Two people not understanding His plan…but felt loved by Him in the midst of our pain.

It became clear to me that the “I do” on our wedding day is not the same ‘I do’ today. Those words today hold a greater commitment and a deeper love that goes beyond the passion of two young people newly married. The ‘I do’ now came from a lifetime of beautiful moments…the challenging ones, the heartbreaking ones and the joyful ones. When we were dating, Tom and I professed our love to each other but marriage has forced us to prove that love. God in his mercy and grace enabled us to become a ‘Fire Walker,’ to walk through the fiery trials of our lives.

In the ‘terrible beautiful’ moment we became ‘one’. We were able to express our love to each other, and see God’s love. We did not become one at the altar…or even on our honeymoon. Becoming one took us 33 years. It took the act of forgiving each other’s wrong doings, accepting each other’s weaknesses, and supporting and encouraging each other in the good and tough times. In the ‘terrible beautiful’ moment it took hearts crying together and with eyes looking beyond ourselves into eternity to become one.

Going through this trial I realized that there is a strain, a tension in being a Christian when it comes to illness. We believe God can heal, but is it a lack of faith if we do not think He heals all the time on this earth?

When someone says to me in a moment of such pain, when my heart is weary, when my husband’s body is racked with pain, “You have to believe and stand on the word of God.” This well meaning statement however, does not add to my well being but makes me feel less; that something is wrong with me, I just don’t have enough faith.

We don’t need scripture because we know God’s word. We don’t need someone to say just stand and believe because for my husband he is too weak and weary.

We don’t need someone to say you must have more faith. We need people to say, “I love you…we are here for you…We are praying for you. We need a hug and a hand held out to us saying, “I’ll hold your hand and wait with you or I’ll be here to walk with you through this fire.”

Yes, we believe God can heal that is not the question. I know my husband will be healed but I don’t know if it will be on this side of heaven. God is sovereign and I believe that there is a time to die and a time to be born.

We all are on a mission with a certain amount of time. When the mission is finished, the project completed, we return home. When my beloved husband has completed his mission he will return home without delay and without interference from even our prayers. We are all destined to live forever in His presence but we must all walk through the fire, leading us through the door of death to get there.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

THE WATER IS ALIVE!

John 4:
10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
11 "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"
13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."


Of all the places for this conversation to take place, it happens at Jacob’s Well. Jacob their forefather had dug this well to sustain his people and their flocks. Centuries later it was still a source of water for the Samaritan village of Sychar.

This was not just any water in Jacob’s Well—it was holy water! It was a reminder of where they came from and all that the patriarchs had passed down. Every time they drank from this well, they were reminded of their history.

Jesus introduces a new thought to this woman. He possesses water that is greater than what Jacob had unearthed.

The Jewish and Samaritan religion involved a daily effort of going back and drawing from history. The Kingdom of God Jesus was announcing brought God’s water to each person. You did not need to go to the well anymore, since you would have it within you.

Water was symbolic for that which cleanses, refreshes and sustains life. God was introducing a new reality in which the life of God would be imparted into each person by God’s Spirit.

The living water is greater than Jacob’s well. Jesus identifies that he himself is greater than Jacob. He offers the Kingdom of God to this woman. The water is alive!


John 4:
15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."
16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."
17 "I have no husband," she replied.
Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."


Jesus knew that this woman had a real problem with men in her life. She had been married five times and was currently with another man.

Instead of ignoring what he knew, he steps to the heart of her greatest problem.

This was a woman who had moved from man to man unsatisfactorily.

It is at this point that we need to understand something about loneliness and sexual promiscuity. Men do not become pigs and women do not become sluts because they feel good about themselves. There is a deep, spiritual longing for God that can be easily compromised.

The need to be loved and accepted leads many to bounce in and out of bed looking for someone or something satisfactory. It keeps people addicted to computers and television screens. It fills the cash registers at businesses that specialize in the message that you are lonely and need their help to satisfy your appetites. From the strip club to the shopping mall, sex sells.

Something subtle happens to men and women who worship the created order. Idolatry of other people causes a thirst that cannot be quenched. The normal, healthy desire for a partner gets tainted by the false idea that there is another human worth worshipping. If the one you are with hurts or disappoints you, the false religion of romance says that there is someone who will give you more of what you are longing for.

There is a spiritual reality to adultery, fornication and co-dependency.

God wants to be your first love. He wants to love you and refresh you. His love may include a significant other, but it doesn’t have to. He is able to give you a great single life if you are willing to drink at a new well.

We live in a world that drinks at an old well with stagnant water. Worldly love makes people sick.

God’s plan includes a healthy view of marriage and sexuality. Unfortunately, the best marriages are sometimes sickened by drinking from the wrong well.

Marriages in trouble can be healed and refreshed by drinking in the provisions of God.

The woman who has five marriages under her belt can be renewed and recreated by the One who loves her with an everlasting love. God can restore the worst mess ever made. He is not restricted by the brokenness we create.

At this point in the dialogue, the woman could have been ashamed and shut down the conversation. She could have recoiled at the level of personal insight into her problems. But Jesus was not shaming her in acknowledging her brokenness. He was offering hope for healing.


And who does Jesus identify with? The outcasts, the people of the land who aren’t good enough, clean enough, wealthy enough, and pure enough to be a part of the establishment. He’s invited to dine with the elite and the rich, which he does numerous times, but he also eats with the lowest of the low—and he enjoys it. He enjoys them.
His entire life is about the stripping away of power and control. Jesus always chooses the path of love, not power.
Inclusion, not exclusion.
Connection and solidarity rather than rank and hierarchy.
Touch rather than distance.
Compassion rather than control.
He comes on a donkey, not a horse.
Weeping and broken, not proud and triumphant.[i]




[i] Rob Bell, Sex God. ©2007 Zondervan. pp.100, 101.

Monday, April 27, 2009

ENEMY TERRITORY

Jesus had been raised to view Samaria as ‘enemy territory’. Jesus came on a mission that had no enemy territory. Why did he need to be threatened by Samaritans?

He ends up at Sychar, a village that was in proximity to Jacob’s well.

Jacob was the great patriarch that Jews and Samaritans traced their lives to. They were aware of God’s dealing with an unscrupulous man named Jacob (the deceiver). God had changed the man and renamed him Israel. He was their common ancestor.

This was not enemy territory to Jesus. This was a place that reminds God’s entire plan of salvation for the world. It is a sad indictment when Christians think of people and places outside the flock as being ‘enemy territory’. The enemy has lost his territory and Jesus is the new Lord bringing God’s reign.

It’s possible to be in an unusual situation that God leads you to and never get past being a passive observer. Sometimes we need to be in places simply to see. Jesus would have missed the opportunity if he kept his mouth closed.

“Will you give me a drink?”

“Plus Ultra” – he goes beyond the boundary. A Jewish man speaks to a Samaritan woman. This is not hostile behavior, but it is unorthodox. It is a stunning way to relate to someone who is supposed to be an enemy. It makes perfect sense to Jesus, though. This woman was not his enemy and she was not a threat.


For Jesus to have dealings with this woman was to risk ritual defilement. The ritual impurity of the person was thought to pass to whatever he or she had contact with, like spiritual germs. There is thus an enormous religious barrier between this woman and Jesus, the first of several barriers. Jesus takes the initiative and will keep at it until all of the barriers are dealt with. This gentle persistence should be a great comfort to us who are not without barriers ourselves.[i]


It’s no wonder that the Samaritan woman wants to know why Jesus is talking to her.





[i] IVP New Testament Commentaries

Saturday, April 25, 2009

PLUS ULTRA


In Valladolid, Spain, where Christopher Columbus died in 1506, stands a monument commemorating the great discoverer. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain's motto for centuries. Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spaniards thought they had reached the outer limits of earth. Thus their motto was "Ne Plus Ultra," which means "No More Beyond." The word being torn away by the lion is "Ne" or "no," making it read "Plus Ultra." Columbus had proven that there was indeed "more beyond."[i]


The world is discovered because people like Christopher Columbus are willing to take some calculated risks into the unknown. In pursuing the will of God, ‘Plus Ultra’ is a great motto. There is more beyond the familiar, safe path we always travel.

While this is true in the macro level, it is learned at the micro level. Do you remember the first time you attended a particular church? Went to a job interview? Visited a new restaurant? Had your first kiss? Heard your favourite band?

Every step of growing involves new discovery. We are born curious and eager to learn. Somewhere down life’s path, it becomes apparent that some discoveries are painful. It is at this point that we are inclined to put up fences and boundaries. If we lose the willingness to learn and discover, we become old-fashioned in a bad way. Every new thing and change is challenged and viewed as a threat. We live life inside the fortified compound instead of joining a caravan leading to a new land.

I would dare say that no-one finds the Kingdom of God without boarding ship for the unknown. Faith is a journey into finding new realities.

The steps of Jesus prove this point.


John 4
1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)


At this early stage in Jesus’ ministry he was already on a collision course with the religious authorities. They were starting to see his popularity and had questions about his ministry. Eventually, there would be confrontations and plots to control him, but Jesus was lead away by God from an early death.

There was no geographical reason to travel to the village of Sychar in Samaria. Jesus could lead his disciples on a road of avoidance around the Samaritans. These Jews knew the territory and it was best to stick to their own turf.

But he had to go there. His mission was to go beyond Jerusalem and Judea. He was to go to Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.

The sixth hour was noon. At the hottest time of the day, Jesus went to the well. This was the worst time of day to be on a hot journey. It was also the most unlikely time for a woman to go fetch water at the well.

God will lead you at times to be in sketchy places at unusual times. It is these ‘off the beaten path’ times and places that are used by God to accomplish great things.

“Plus Ultra” – more beyond. Where Jesus did not go on his own, he calls his followers to go beyond their home town realities into a path of worldwide discovery. Go everywhere announcing to everyone that the Kingdom of God has arrived!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

REASONS TO SKIP LUNCH

John 4:27-30
27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?"
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,
29 "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?"
30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something."
32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about."
33 Then his disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought him food?"
NIV


Isn’t that like Jesus? His friends ask Him something simple and He turns it into a mystery. “Are you hungry?” “I have food that you don’t know about.”

Jesus takes the simplest things of life and uses them to teach the deep ways of God.

We, on the other hand are easily focused on keeping it shallow.

What was Jesus’ food? What was more important to him than a missed lunch?


John 4:34-38
34 "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
35 Do you not say, `Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
37 Thus the saying `One sows and another reaps' is true.
38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour."
NIV


There are spiritual passions that fill you more than ordinary, physical activities like eating and drinking. He tells the woman that there is water that once drunk will quench eternal thirst. He tells His friends that He is so nourished by doing God’s work; everything else pales in comparison.

Oh sure, he would eat and drink again but not without picking the fruit that was ripened in their spirits. He used every opportunity to look for spirit ripeness and to gather a harvest.

We can learn much about helping people by observing the Master. There is a spiritual harvest all around us. People who are ripe and ready to be harvested into God’s Kingdom.

Sometimes it is our job to plant seeds of love and goodness in others. Sometimes we see the readiness and need to gather them in.

Sometimes it happens when we are alone with someone. Other times it happens as part of a team effort where several people are involved in sowing and reaping.

Are you part of a team that plant seeds and/or reaps a harvest?

Those who say we have four months before the harvest will be ready miss the point Jesus makes. He says there is a plentiful harvest now. We do not need to delay at recognizing the immediate opportunity.

We are also called to proclamation. That means that we open our mouths and say important things at the right times. We tell others what God has done for us and invite them to follow Jesus.

Are your eyes open to this reality? You can walk past the same field every day and never see the ripening apple tree. Or you can see what God is doing in the lives of others.

What has God been growing in you? Is there a seed of faith that has ripened and ready to be picked? Maybe you see yourself as the woman in the story and have been awestruck by this man Jesus. Something is growing in you and you are ready to belong to Him.


Monday, April 20, 2009

IDENTITY REVEALED

He has spied the apple of His eye and it is you! He’s waiting for you to fall from the history you’ve grown up in. He’s looking for your readiness to be consumed in His Love.


John 4:25-26
25 The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."
NIV


And the apple fell from its branch… Jesus had found the apple of God’s eye and reveals to her who He is.

It was a rare occasion when Jesus would reveal His true identity as Messiah. He did not go about proclaiming, “I am the long awaited Messiah. Yield!”

The true worshippers would figure it out with their spirit, not just with their ideas and teachings. Jesus knew that she was ready to find out the real truth about God and so He revealed His true identity.

You can’t come to faith just by reading the Bible and studying. That will hopefully plant seeds of thought and desire in you. There is a spiritual reality of being ready that finally brings you into God’s Kingdom.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

RIPE FOR THE PICKING

In Grade three and four, I lived in Galt. Every day, I walked past a huge apple tree on my way to Tait Street Public School. At the right season, my friends and I would go in the yard and look for a juicy, red apple to devour before getting to school.

Sometimes I found apples that were twice as wide as the ones you buy at the store.

I wasn’t very old, but I knew that the best apples were the latest to fall from the tree. If I grabbed one from the branches, it might still be green and not good for eating. If they were on the ground too long, they started to rot.

You had to know what you were looking for to get a good tasty apple.

A trained eye and a couple bad experiences are usually all it takes to judge an apple ripe for the picking. The same can be said of strawberries, peas, corn and most foods that grow from a seed.

Jesus was always on the lookout for opportunities to gather people into the Kingdom who were ripe for the picking. If nothing much was growing in them, he would deposit a seed into their dirty hearts where it would eventually grow into something delectable.

On one of Jesus’ trips he travelled in Samaria, a region full of people whose religion was patterned after the Jewish faith. The Jews didn’t think much of the Samaritans. Their racist view saw them as wannabes falling short of true Judaism.

Fortunately God has a palate for all nations and sees people who are ‘ripe for the picking’.

Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well and breaks all propriety when he speaks to her. A seed of religious curiousity and desire had been growing in her. When Jesus reads her mind and reveals her secrets, she changes the conversation to religious questions.


John 4:19-24
19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
NIV


Often when you hit a spiritual nerve in someone, they will raise controversial questions. Worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem? The Jews and the Samaritans were both trying to come up with the best answer.

There are people who spend great deals of time formulating opinions about religious matters that leave the rest of us spinning. Religious discussions can be used to divert people away from the matters of the heart. Holding a particular view or position sometimes takes precedent over the truth at hand.

Jesus has a particularly skilful way of demolishing arguments and bringing hidden things to light. He can be trusted to do this.

Like an apple still clinging to her branch, the woman is attached to her Samaritan ways and beliefs. And yet, being a part of the tree that bore her has left her heavy and wondering about the meaning of life. Jesus spied her ripeness—she was ready to fall from her tree and be consumed by God’s Love.

Jesus rarely gives straight answers to controversial questions. He takes the attention away from the worshippers (both Jewish and Samaritan) and talks about what God is looking for. He is looking for those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

In other words, God is looking for people that have a spiritual connection to Him, not the people who are only concerned about getting everything right. He is looking for people who can leave the past behind.

How about you? Are you trying so hard to get everything right and miss the point that God is looking for you? He has a spiritual connection to you and wants to gather you to Himself. He has spied the apple of His eye and it is you! He’s waiting for you to fall from the history you’ve grown up in. He’s looking for your readiness to be consumed in His Love.


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