Sparkling Water for Parched Tongues

“And when people thirst, when those poor souls with parched tongues look in vain for something to drink, I, the Eternal, the God of Israel, won’t leave them to suffer. I will respond by making the hard, brown hills sparkle with streams of fresh water and causing valleys to come alive with springs…”

~Isaiah 41:17-18a The Voice Bible

Sometimes God’s mercy surprises us. That’s what His miracles are, like water in the desert.  Water is enigmatic in the Word, a symbol of God’s mercy.

There may be days when you feel like these prophetic words from Isaiah are not speaking to your situation.  But, I encourage you to listen again. We are all poor and needy, faint and thirsty, in one way or another. This passage is not focusing solely on financial poverty.  This passage simply reminds us of the truth that, in every moment in which we are without God or whenever we are not seeking His face in every matter of decision-making, we are empty. Thirsty.

God satisfies every want, every thirst.  He is our constant supply, opening up rivers of Living Water. God’s water is the source of refreshment and prosperity. His Water is comfort that supplies all of our wants; it is an answer for all of your prayers.

I spoke with a father recently who was concerned about how to inspire his son to go back to church. Disappointing, discouraging words spoken by others had caused the son memorable hurt and he stopped attending worship. The father and I talked about how the most important thing he could encourage his son to do was to develop a close, personal relationship with God. Then, returning to church would happen.

That is the prayer I have for my children, grandchildren, all the children I know and those I will never know.  My prayer is that God’s presence in our lives will be exceptional—overflowing, bursting at the seams, like fountains brimming over in a desert.

When we break away from the cares that concern us, moment by moment, and turn our attention to God, we are like a dry and thirsty land that is, suddenly and unexpectedly, filled with gushing streams. The words recorded by Isaiah are actually God Himself speaking and giving you His promise. God will arise; He will spring up in the midst of every barren day.

Life is a journey. Pathless, because we do not know what’s ahead. We cannot see around each bend. Yet, in the wilderness seasons of life, God provides for all our needs.

My prayer for you is that each daily experience of God in your life is so richly alive, flourishing, cool and refreshing, that you liken it to a plunge in a pool of water on a hot, summer day.

The Help You Never See

When our enemies heard the work was complete and the surrounding nations saw our wall, their confidence crumbled. Only one possible conclusion could be drawn: it was not just our efforts that had done this thing. God had been working alongside us.

—Nehemiah 6:16 (The Voice Translation)

Here’s one thing we assume about God’s Word: people who have a whole book named after them are usually pretty remarkable. Indeed, the story of Nehemiah is an example of why miracles and labor go together. The Book of Nehemiah illustrates The Power of Purpose.

You were born on earth to fulfill your purpose. I will not presume to know what your assignment is, but I can tell you this: just like Nehemiah’s, your mission is restoration. Whether that mission is to sing a song, write a book, preach a sermon, or save a city, you are in the restoration business. Your task inevitably involves renewal, repair, building and rebuilding that benefits someone else. Bottom line: you are to help others live their best life, in fellowship with God.

As parents and mentors, our job is definitely about restoration. I saw a young man carrying his infant and thought about how important it is for a father to build the life of a child. Mothers are critical nurturers, but a child with the blessing of a close, minute-by-minute connection with his or her father is doubly prepared for life.

The important thing is this: when you are achieving your destiny, when you are in the right position and when you are doing the work you have been assigned to do, the great God of the universe is present. In fact, He is working right beside you. Incredible, isn’t it? God Himself providing the help you cannot see.

You also may not see the enemies who oppose you. “Enemies?” you ask. “Why would I have any enemies?” Great question. You will have enemies; know that and move forward. Nehemiah clearly saw those opposing him and the work.  But when those enemies observed Nehemiah’s success, they lost their confidence.

How do you know God is partnering with you on your assignment? Here are some indicators. God is there when—

  1. You apply yourself, without reservation to the work He has given and refuse to stoop to distractions or nonsense. Use Nehemiah as an example; his response to critics was: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
  2. You realize you must cling to God as your only support. Your close relationship with Him ensures a positive outcome.
  3. Great work is being done and results are the blessed and successful. When that happens, God’s support is undeniable.
  4. The plans of evil collaborators are clearly defeated in the end.
  5. You celebrate early—even before you see your work completed, because you know that the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHO YOU ARE?

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.  

2 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV)

Let’s do an experiment. Go get that special cup of gourmet coffee (or tea, if that’s more to your liking), take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the answer to this question:  who are you?  I don’t just mean your name. No, don’t just give me your bio. Who are you…really?

Here’s a bold statement: you are not who you think you are! I am struck by this fact—many of us don’t know our own worth.  If we look at the outside, we see a common vessel–a pot made of clay–we see the external you. However, the internal you is a priceless treasure. The divine light of Christ’s presence is within you. You mirror His glory; you were made in His likeness.

What makes this treasure even more valuable is that, as weak and as frail and as fragile as we may be, we carry the transforming power of God’s grace and share it by our words, our joy, our testimony and our actions.

The PBS’s documentary, “Who Do You Think You Are? With Henry Louis Gates,” highlights celebrities whose background is traced, as cameras follow. I spoke with one of the producers of that series not long ago and expressed how I appreciated their perspective on heritage. I’ve been thinking about having that kind of DNA test done that breaks down ethnicity, even geographically. What part of Africa were my ancestors from? I’ve always heard that my maternal grandfather (he died the year I was born) was Native American, as many people have said…was that true?

Bigger than the mystery of our ancestry is the awesome truth of how valuable we are to God. He bought us, He paid for us, He bankrupt Heaven…giving up His beloved Son…to buy us back to Himself. In the art world, a piece created by Pablo Picasso or Jacob Lawrence is valued based on what someone last paid for a similar piece.  Beyond that, the great God of the universe values you so highly that He paid an incredible price.

Early in the summer, I sat in the window of a fast food restaurant in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, waiting for an appointment with an Army small business specialist to begin.  I decided to use the time to read several documents I had saved on my iPad.  As it approached midday, I looked up and suddenly realized that I was surrounded by men and women dressed in fatigues.  What struck me most was the reality of who these young people are who serve in our military.

Fort Campbell is one of the world’s largest Army installations. It was lunch time. The restaurant had quickly filled with fresh-faced, fatigue-clad men and women. Should I have been surprised at how they looked like my grandchildren? Almost aloud I said, “These are our children! We send them around the world to fight for us, and they have only been in the world for two decades.”

With that vivid picture still so fresh,  the Defense Department announced statistics on military suicides.  They now cap one a day, a record high.  A few weeks ago, I passed through the book store of the airport ain Columbus, Ohio, nd picked up the July 23 issue of Time magazine.  The cover story was:  “One A Day.” The article, by Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs, stated that “every day, one U. S. soldier commits suicide” and went on to describe “why the military can’t defeat its most insidious enemy.”

Are these youthful soldiers returning from combat and giving up on life? Why? Perhaps it’s because no one told them who they really are.

You matter to God!  The One who created you wants you to claim the power of your identity and enjoy life…completely.  You were meant to know God, up-close and personally, serve Him by doing the work you’re created for, be joyful every day, and enjoy Him forever after this life. So, go do that.

 

The Dream I Dream for You

Our dream for joy is (or, at least, it should be) the dream you dream for someone else. And not just for you and yours. And so, today, I dream a dream of greatness…just for you.

The Garden of Dreams is a neo-classical historical garden situated in the midst of the city of Kathmandu in Nepal. In the midst of this bustling, urban metropolis, the Garden of Dreams exists as a tranquil, lasting legacy of the extraordinary vision and talent of one man who dreamed a better world and then created it.

Closer to home, we have The Garden of Dreams Project at Madison Square Garden. In New York City, the Garden of Dreams Foundation, which has partnered with The Madison Square Garden Company, strives to make dreams come true for children who are facing various obstacles.

The projects involve the New York Knicks basketball team, Rangers hockey team and other connected entities. According to their web site, “in the six years since its inception, Garden of Dreams has worked tirelessly to fulfill its mission by creating unique and unforgettable events and activities—often involving unprecedented access to Madison Square Garden celebrities, events and venues—that have brightened the lives of thousands and thousands of special children and their families.” An example of their activities is surprise player visits scheduled for youngsters who are confined to local children’s hospitals.

In life, dreams can be shattered by virtue of the fact that life happens. When someone’s dreams have been broken, it’s our job to be there to help them bear their burden. Let’s face it, everyday joy is a global responsibility that we all share.

Suppose you choose not to be concerned.  Suppose you choose to ignore the broken dreams of others.  Then, where do you go to get away. Do you have a gate high enough, a neighborhood far enough away, a cocoon that really works? How do you rear your children in a world where there are no bullies, no drugs, no guns, no jails, no depression, no suicide, and no negatives? How do you create that circle? The answer is that you can’t, so that’s the reason it makes sense for everyone to help those beyond our inner circle to become whole, healed, healthy and…filled with joy.

The channel for everyday joy, on the global level, is that we care about one another. Each of us is responsible for building a spiritual Garden of Dreams that encompasses all of those whom we know and love…and the stranger you sit near on the bus or pass on the street as you’re cruising by in your comfortable, air conditioned car.

Make this personal note. Dream a garden for those who are homeless, helpless, abused, hungry, poor or illiterate. Whatever you can think of, just do it. Think of something meaningful, purposeful and helpful. Share the dream of everyday joy.

Dear Jesus, Do You Still Heal Like You Used To?

At times we need a reminder that the Lord’s promises to heal and to help us are just as relevant today as they have always been. Whenever we are facing a health challenge, this question may come to mind–does Jesus still do that?  Indeed, I want you to know for certain that there is definitely a spiritual side of healing. And it is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago.

For far too many people, there is skepticism about the healing power of God. We know that it used to happen, but can we still believe in it–trust in it–expect to receive it?

The assurances that you have are found abundantly in the Word, including these:

“Beloved, I pray that you  may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”  3 John 2

“And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.”  Luke 6:19

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8

” ‘For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 30;17a

“And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up…” James 5:15a

If you know someone who is struggling with a health challenge, please remind them that Jesus Christ still does the hard stuff. And that includes healing, no matter what the diagnosis.  Because the Lord is your shepherd, you shall not want for anything (Psalm 23:1)…and that includes your health and healing.

A comprehensive list of the Lord’s promises for healing will be published in my new book…coming soon…of healing scriptures and stories.

 

Is This What Jesus Said to Do?

We each go through life looking for the meaning of our calling, the purpose of being alive, the reason for taking up space in the universe. We look for connectedness to a greater purpose. I know I do. I believe that, as long as I’m alive, I have a purpose. There is a work still to be done.

There are people we haven’t met, places we need to go, tasks that yet need the unique touch of our hands.  We squint to see the rich cord connecting people, circumstances, places and events—to find out the “Why?” of it all.

Above the door in his pastoral office, my husband had affixed the words of the great commission:  “Go ye therefore…”  Followed by the promise:  “Lo, I am with you always…”

In the last few months, I have reconnected with a pivotal part of my history. Before moving to Wisconsin, we spent four years living on the campus of American Baptist Theological Seminary, now American Baptist College. Those were years of awakening, of bonding with those who became lifelong friends—all as dedicated to sacrificial ministry as we were.

Now, I am back on the Holy Hill, strolling across paths that span these marvelous fifty-three acres on the edge of the Cumberland River. Views of the city from here are breathtaking. Sometimes I stay until dusk just to watch the diamond of Music City come alive, as lights come on.

One of the people I needed to meet is Professor Janet Wolf. I am astounded by her vision of Christian leadership and of our responsibilities for community building and social justice. Every conversation with Janet has caused me to consider what Jesus told us to do. Our individual “go” and “lo.” Dr. Wolf teaches classes in the Tennessee prison—but not just in the prison, one class is on death row. As part of her Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, she teaches “Transformative Justice” and “Community Building and Conflict Resolution.”

God’s timing is so precise. He knows what we need to experience. When I took my seat at ABC’s commencement ceremony last week, I chose a spot near the rear so that I could be a quiet observer. Dr. Wolf delivered the prayer.  Her words were so Holy Spirit-filled that they were like a mighty wind blowing across everyone present on the Library lawn.  I asked her to share them with me…so that they could bless you.

This prayer is for every graduate in the class of 2012, everyone who watched a child reach a milestone, and everyone who wonders if God still calls us to touch lives—in prisons or in palaces. You be the change agent God requires today.

Gracious, life-giving and holy God,

we come this day with joy and with thanksgiving.

Thank You for the gift of this day

and for all who gather here,

for the power of your presence, the wideness of your mercy

the enoughness of your grace.

Surely you are good and we are thankful.

 

Thank you for ABC and all who have labored here.

For almost 88 years, on this holy hill, you, O God,

Have been calling forth and raising up

Prophets, pastors, and protestors;

teachers, transformers and truth tellers,

nonviolent but militant warriors and saints.

 

Over and over again, on this holy hill, you, O God,

have made a way where we saw none;

you have opened doors when others slammed them shut.

You have propped us up on every leaning side

when things got hard;

and we thank you.

 

Thank You for those who graduate today,

each one a miracle, a sign of your steadfast love.

Thank You for their courage and creativity,

Their passion and persistence, their fierce determination

and defiant trust in your promises.

Thank You for all who accompanied them,

those who loved them and fed them,

those who supported them and encouraged them,

those who challenged and prodded them,

those who refused to let them give up or in

or settle for less.

 

Pour down your Holy Spirit upon us this day and always,

that we might be all you have created us to be—

Channels of healing and hope,

agents of change and challenge,

instruments of justice, generosity and joy.

In Jesus’ name.

                                                Dr. Janet Wolf

 

Note: the above prayer is abbreviated. Please check back here tomorrow; I will post the prayer in its entirety.

What It Really Means to Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God…”  Psalm 46:10

All right, I admit it. I have hit my meandering stage. The “me” who used to be throw-caution-to-the-winds, drive pedal-to-the-metal, hit a smooooth 80 on the straight stretches—where did she go? I believe I must have slammed head first into the slow lane.

I remember hitting an easy groove once, with an eighteen wheeler following right behind me. Sun roof wide open.  Setting the pace for anyone who wanted to r-e-a-l-l-y drive. Flipping through curves, zipping in and out of the slower traffic (undoubtedly, those were the meanderers!).  And I did it so skillfully that the trucker trailing me honked when our paths separated. He gave me an obvious “that was fun” kind of wave.

My Uncle Andy knew how to enjoy the moment.  He drove from Ohio to Wisconsin to visit us one summer. That’s about 450 miles and he did it without ever touching an interstate highway.  All the way—through small towns, past farms and waving villagers. Uncle Andy meandered for 450 miles. Back then, it seemed to me like a potentially incredible waste of perfectly good travel time. Now, I get it. How classy. How sensible.  Missing nothing.  Absorbing everything.

You neglect so much when you never amble, whether on foot or behind the wheel.  When we walk or run, we’re embarrassed to achieve less than an x.8 minute mile (you pick whatever number it is that fits you.)  At the gym, I glance down at the row of people on treadmills near me and ramp up to something that resembles their speed, even if I am about to propel myself over the control panel.

In this song of David quoted above, God commands us to just slow down a minute. Otherwise, you miss His divinity. Really, when you analyze it, rushing around in a tizzy is so irrational. We rush, then we are forced to take medication to calm us down.

Just for a moment now, stand still. Shut your mouth (I didn’t mean that to sound rude…just be quiet).  Consider His Almightiness. Focus on the magnitude of Who you have working on your behalf.  Quiet your thoughts.  Calm and quietness are qualities that must be cultivated.

Stop careening down the road of life at top speed. Don’t miss the wonder of what God is accomplishing in your life by rushing, pell mell, right past it.  There are wonders all around us that we miss because we are in such a silly hurry.

First, be still. Then, know Who you’re waiting for in the midst of that quiet moment. I can promise you, something wondrous will happen next.

The book of Exodus presents one of God’s greatest promises of His presence.  In verses 18-23 of chapter 33, there is a pivotal exchange between God and Moses. What a great conversation!  Moses said, “God, you told me to bring these people up here but I’m not sure I know where I’m going and even who you are. If you don’t go with us, I don’t want to go a step farther.” God said: “I know you by name.” Moses pressed for more, “Then I want to see your glory.” God said, “If you see my face, you will die. I will hide you in the rock and let you see my back when I pass by.”

Today I am like Moses. I want to pause long enough for a quick reassurance of Who is with me. I want to see just a little bit of His glory.  If we ask, He will allow a glimpse of His splendor to pass by us, as He hides us in the cleft of a rock and covers us with His hand. (Exodus 33:18-23)

Yes, You Can–Take Your Spirituality to Work!

On one thing we can agree:  for the average individual, the workplace has its challenges.  What is critical is how you confront those challenges. People bring their emotions to work.  They can be unhappy.  Insecure. Jealous.  Angry.  Depressed.  Or just plain unpleasant.

I wonder what would happen if you infused the workplace with your faith? What if you decided to bring your most loving, compassionate, calming, forgiving, self-assured ego to work?  How would you go about doing that? What impact would it have on the lives you touch?

As a consultant, I have been up close and personal with a variety of organizations over the past two plus decades and observed a range of workplace behaviors. In many ways, as adults, we haven’t made much progress since kindergarten.  In a down economy and with unemployment high, people feel pressured to keep their jobs and to look good to their superiors—even at someone else’s expense.  According to a CBS News special report, workplace sabotage has increased.  This ranges from pranks to malicious attacks.  Someone steals your work and takes credit for it. A colleague covers up their mistake by blaming you.

Here are three steps you can take to become the person you are meant to be at work—a human being with the nature of Christ in you.

Step One:  Every day, as you enter the work environment, see yourself as nothing less than your “best spiritual self.”  God wants to be present in everything we do. See yourself as God’s trophy in your workplace.  If your light is hidden, uncover it. Cultivate it. Be prayerful.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once spoke of looking at the backs of people’s heads and praying for them, silently.

Step Two:  Do the right thing.  Whatever others say or do, make your response positive. If you’re provoked, don’t be quick to retaliate. Sometimes retaliation backfires and you end up looking as culpable as the other person.  Even if the situation is challenging, bring out your best smile. Years ago, someone gave me this advice: “Smile; hold your head up, even if you’re dying hard.”

Step Three:  Be solid and stable.  My son, Randy, is a firefighter and emergency medical technician who faces crises every day.  The people he attends encounter life-threatening situations and, sometimes, he puts himself at risk to aid them.  Every day brings an unexpected surprise. The one consistency is his compassionate spirit. I’m convinced Randy was born for this work. You may not fight fires or use the Jaws of Life to rescue a victim from a wrecked automobile, but you can still experience what it is like to bring spiritual values to work.

As of this day, make this your mantra:  Faith is not just my Sunday pursuit!

What Are You So Anxious About?


D
o not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~

Philippians 4:6 (New International Version)

Anxiety!  It appears to be a commonly accepted illness of our age. Everyone is anxious. Or, at least, everyone has anxious moments. We are nervous, we are worried. We are concerned about everything. We fret. We’re fearful. We choke up, feel nauseated, get migraines and can’t sleep…all because of some very real (or imaginary and anticipated) troubles.

The great psalmist, David, must have been intensely familiar with anxiety. In writing the 139th Psalm, he expressed the assurance that God saw him, knew where he was and knew everything he was going through. David acknowledged the certainty of God’s presence.  To paraphrase, he said:  “If I am up high or down low, asleep or awake, in darkness or in the brightness of day, God, you are there.” But, in that same poetic expression, he pleaded words that can only come from a troubled heart.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. ~ Psalm 139:23 (NIV)

I have not completely escaped this malady. Today, I am taking my own medicine. I can imagine wild disappointments. Thankfully, most never materialize.  I have those moments, when I woefully predict, like Job:

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.~ Job 3:25 (NIV)

In those times, you must make a conscious effort to trade anxiety for peace. There is a peace of God which passes all understanding. And it is available, just for the asking. Next time you feel yourself drifting into one of those moody, hand-wringing moments, stop and remember your past victories. Yesterday’s fears never came.  Speak words of peace and calm to yourself. Make a list of your favorite scriptures for joy, victory and peace.

Replacing negative thoughts must be an aggressive strategy. The Word of God gives us tremendous coping skills. If you take the Word, like medicine, your joy and peace always win!

The Miracle of Forgiveness

Jason R. Warren

Suddenly, it’s Easter week! A time of triumph and renewal…gently lifting our spirits, ushering us closer to the warmth of summer. These are days of brightness and new beginnings.  We passed thru winter (such as it was); we’re coming out green, vibrant, alive. Easter: a time of hope, healing, restoration, rebirth.

Stores fill with ribboned, bejeweled creations. Sunday bonnets of every style imaginable burst with blossoms. Mothers slap slightly-tilted hats on the heads of recalcitrant little girls and put crisply pressed trousers and bow ties on little boys.

Jesus’ resurrection is central to our songs of praise and worship. At Easter we’re reminded of the certainty of love and the power of forgiveness. Even extreme forgiveness.

My spiritual daughter, Kim, introduced me to a living example of forgiveness on steroids when she met women who forgave those who meticulously, brutally murdered their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. Battered and bruised—the women of Rwanda were left to pick up the pieces of devastated lives and communities. To bind up ragged remnants of their families and country. Hearing their stories, many ask: “How is this possible?”

Stunningly beautiful, Rwanda is “the land of a thousand hills;” it resembles Switzerland.  What we remember, however, is the 100 days of slaughter in 1994 and the loss of over 800,000 lives.

Kim participated in a conference for women from Rwanda and the Congo. One group lived so far into the bush and were so impoverished they actually lived naked. The ministry provided clothing; the women walked two hours to the nearest road to be picked up and driven to the gathering. Others walked for hours, babies strapped to their backs. After eight or nine hours of teaching, they still hungered for spiritual strength.

One woman, in particular, stood out. In one single day, she had lost seventeen members of her family—her husband, parents, in-laws, brothers, sisters, and all of her children. Three months later, she gave birth to a child who also died. As she spoke, she thanked God for all He had done in her life and for sparing her live.

To live in joy at that level, despite such dire circumstances is remarkable. The first thing many do is blame God.

Kim said: “We went to Rwanda to help.  Instead, we were the ones who were transformed. By their example, the Rwandan women were our teachers.”

Forgiveness is a choice. To do otherwise is to live in bondage to anger and bitterness.  The thrilling discovery of the power of forgiveness sets us free.