When figurative language fails

A section of the Arkansas river in Buena Vista, CO

Any time I am near a river, the verse that John wrote in his gospel where Jesus said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for as the scripture says ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38) comes to mind. How can it not? It’s an easy visual: If I seek Jesus, my heart should look like this stream. Right? Full of faith, confidence, joy in God. I am sure for all of us there are days where this might be easier to grasp, and others where it seems near impossible given all that is going on around you.

I wonder if this is even something people think about today.

Are we “thirsty” for something other than what’s trending on the social media platforms, the news feeds, political debates, or any other of the many, many things we can feast on when we are bored, tired, or trying to find something to fill our minds? Even as believers its easy to think that if we can feast on enough of these things, know how to prove ourselves “right” in a debate, or if we ingest enough instagram or blog “tidbits” of scripture that we have drunken living water and had our fill. My tendency is to read, read, bike, read (and snack) and read and bike some more (and snack more). I have to remind myself that even if I am reading books about God, this is not drinking living water either.

Those in Jesus day had heard of God as being “living water” from the prophet Jeremiah. They had heard that one day, living water would flow out from Jerusalem from Zechariah. They had been challenged by Isaiah to come to the waters of God to satisfy their soul. For an agrarian people who desperately needed rain to survive, the reality that God was the one that provided that the water that allowed them to live, I can only imagine this figurative language made sense to them.

What is interesting to me is that this statement is only made in the book of John. No other gospel records this, but let me reassure you: its not because Jesus didn’t really say it, or because the other gospel writers didn’t think it was important. The author of the gospel of John had a completely different core message than the other three (who focused on kingdom, repentance, and God’s fulfillment of his promise). Not that John’s gospel doesn’t address those things, but based on the stories and teachings of Jesus he included, his purpose was more to show the person of Jesus and his existence before time, as well as how he was the same YAHWEH who had been speaking to them all along.

What is even MORE interesting to me is that this claim was made on the last day of the festival of Sukkot, often titled as the “Feast of Tabernacles” in our bibles. The significance of this is crazy. This feast was held in fall after the harvest, and it was one of great celebration that lasted a full week. People came from all over to Jerusalem and built temporary huts to live in, as commanded in Leviticus 23:33-43. They celebrated God’s goodness to them, and sought His blessing on next year’s harvest.

Every day people would come and offer gifts to the Lord, then go back to sleep in their hut. On the last day, traditionally the priest would take a pitcher, march from the temple to the Pool of Siloam (which was fed from the Spring of Gihon), get some fresh water, and then return to the temple. He would stand near the altar and pour out the water as the people would cry and chant “Oh Lord, save us!” Symbolically, it was a cry for deliverance and saving by His provision in the next year of another good harvest.

Imagine for a moment having travelled with your entire family for a few days to get to Jerusalem. You are standing in a crowd of thousands, as you have since your childhood, celebrating the harvest that was harder than usual to reap this year. Yet you come to thank God and honor Him. You join with others, praying for rain for the next years crop and crying out for God to save you as a people, since you were living under an oppressive regime. Imagine watching this water being poured out…. and then a man you do not know stands up and says these words:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for as the scripture says ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”

I wonder if I would have been curious as to what he meant, or brushed it over and ignored it? It helps sometimes to listen to how the original language draws a picture for us.

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In Greek, the word for thirst, when used figuratively means “those who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened”

Likewise, the word for drink, when used figuratively, means “to receive into the soul what serves to refresh, strengthen, nourish it unto life” (Blueletterbible.org)

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In other words, what Jesus was saying is this: Those who need support and strength. Those who long for life giving stuff in their innermost being (often translated ‘heart’)… come and get it. I am the one that can deliver what you are looking for.

This is text we have to wrestle with today, my friends, because it’s just as applicable for us as it was the day it was spoken.

Do we recognize the thirst in our own lives, so that we can see the thirst of others? Are we letting OUR thirst be quenched by the very Spirit of God that was promised, or are we letting ourselves be dulled by the things of life that distract, or perhaps things in our past that tell us this water isn’t enough, it’s too low, it’s unpredictable, it’s unsafe?

I suspect that many of you who have been believers for a while have a complicated relationship with an understanding of the Holy Spirit, perhaps due to church stuff. But when we look back at scripture, it is this very Spirit that is to breathe on us, into us, just like the disciples, to BE the people of God. We need this living water just as much as people did when Jesus first spoke those words.

It is the Spirit that enables us to press on in loving our kids and families and neighbors …. that wound us, reject us, misunderstand us.

It is the Spirit that enables us to believe that God exists and moreover, He hasn’t stopped pursuing the broken people of this world…..including us.

It is the Spirit that will continue to lead us into truth – about ourselves, our world, and the church. It is the Spirit that will show us how to move forward so that we are aligned to Jesus and His mission, not ours – regardless of the political landscape.

It is the Spirit that will expose our motives, our weaknesses, our obsession with self, until we understand that only in being broken and poured out is the life of Christ revealed in us to a world that needs to know there is hope for them as well.

So as the summer starts and (hopefully) we can all get outside more and do the things we have been missing for a while – don’t forget to take time to drink in the Spirit of God and let Him refresh you… so that rivers of living water will pour out of YOU.

Blessing, my friends!

Easter thoughts

I really cannot imagine how the next generation will hear about 2020, or what they will think about the pandemic, or if they will really laugh that it was toilet paper that was a “hot” commodity for the first 6 months. I know we’re not fully back to our “normal” but we’re getting there in some places. I know it’s had an impact on us in different ways, but I’ll be honest that it’s taken a while to admit to the impact personally.  My kids are out of the house, I have worked remote for nearly 20 years before all this, and I was already going to grad school online….so in my mind, I didn’t have as much adapting to do as everyone. I realize it was a monumental shift for most, and my hat is off to everyone who has to navigate it different than I did!

That being said, I’m an extrovert. So in spite of having worked from home for all these years, not being able to gather – specifically at church – has probably had the biggest impact on me. Not that I don’t know how to seek God or learn on my own – I do. But in gathering, that truly is where I find so much joy, being with others whose lives are also being transformed by the life and way of Jesus. I know doing things digitally and “fellowshipping” remotely has taught us in new ways to be the Body of Christ scattered– and I so much want to hear what we all have learned in the midst of it!

Today, sitting in a common space that once used to be bustling with people having coffee and lunch after church… I realized something. I miss the feeling of all of us having BEEN in the presence of God – and having worshipped and been taught — together. Maybe bored sometimes – sure. Maybe challenged, maybe not. But seeing each other, seeking God, seeking to learn. I miss that.

I miss it because being together is a good reminder that we are not on this journey alone. Some of the videos I have seen this past year of people singing, together, across continents and countries has been just beautiful and healing. This one from Zimbabwe singing the Blessing song just about brought me to tears, especially given much of the hurt our country is feeling over racial things right now. It felt like my brothers and sisters from across the ocean singing healing to our wounded places, reminding us that in Christ… we ARE ONE.

https://youtu.be/OA1tVs7VNcY (you might have to copy and paste this, or just look up “The Blessing Zimbabwe” )

So as we step into Easter this weekend, regardless of whether your church is meeting in person, if you are still watching it at home…. If your church is big or small, or you are one that feels like you are on the margins and have been pushed out of the body of Christ for some reason (you know who you are, and let me remind you – you still belong)…. I offer you this humble thought on Good Friday, when we remember that our lives have been changed forever.

My dear family in Christ:

Remember that we are a force to be reckoned with, when we put ourselves in the presence of our God, then we walk forward in the love and joy and freedom we have found knowing Jesus. There is no depth of love that can every compare. You ARE the city on a hill, you ARE the light that is meant to shine hope and share an anchor we have.

It’s not that we huddle in our little groups and worship (which I’m sure folks think is strange) because we are proud, or exclusive, or want to perpetuate an “us-vs-them” mentality

It’s not that we have checked our brains at the gate, or been duped into believing some tale that gives us an escapist perspective that nothing matters

It’s because we’re willing to admit there is mystery in what we do not understand

It’s that we have been through knock-down-drag-out fights with the stuff of life and are STILL HERE

If we’re still in the dark, still in the hard stuff – it’s that we know there is a way out, because our God is not made of darkness

It’s that in spite of cultural messages that tell us we have to have the latest and greatest to stay relevant – we know we are being made new every morning when we talk to the One who created us.

(I guess that means I’m on v48.353… )…. hahaha!

It’s because in spite of bodies that age and break down, in spite of old injuries or surgeries or glasses or maybe a bout with cancer or two – we know and have experienced the Source of life – and that keeps us young forever

It’s because we haven’t settled for the subtle message that “everything will be ok”. We have wrestled with the God that created us and we know He’s real, and his promise to not abandon us is true. THAT’s why it is well with our soul

It’s because our faith is built on the stuff of wilderness and wandering, of calling back and of knowing we are here to live into a kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, grace

It’s because we too, may have at one time thought we didn’t need God, or his power living in us…But now we know it’s more important than anything else that lasts in this life

It’s because we know this is for everyone else too…. And we know the story isn’t over yet

That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship

That’s why we celebrate a leader, a master, a king….one that is not an idea, or just someone in a history book, or just a moral leader

It’s because the very life that brought him up from the grave brings us to life IN ALL THINGS.

So tonight, may things be surrendered at the cross that need to be surrendered. May we take the cup He offers, however hard, and say “your will, not mine”, knowing our Savior is right there with us.

And come Sunday… oh Sunday……may you worship with abandon, however you do it. May you delight in the body God gave you, however young or old. May you know your worth as a child in a kingdom that has been wrestling to make itself known since the day He walked the earth, but one that will never cease to be built as long as His story is told in us.

Hallelujah!

That craving….

Photo Credit: Free Photo Library provided by WordPress. Whoever took this picture.. I would have loved to be your taste tester 🙂

My kids have always known me for someone who, if you put a bag of almond M&Ms in front of me, will easily eat the entire bag in one sitting. There is just something about the perfect balance of crunch and chocolate. So too, a good chocolate mousse, the kind you take one spoonful of and savor, tasting every bit of the chocolatey goodness. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

I realize not everyone has such a liking for sweets. For some of you, this kind of reaction might only happen tasting a well-grilled, mouth-watering steak or a flavorful soup. Or, if you’re like my girls – it comes with the first bite of some good old Chicago deep dish pizza!

Regardless, we all know what it is to crave something, to savor said craving, to lean back and just smile as all those taste buds explode and send whatever good chemicals firing in your brain that it sends. “Delightful” might be one way to describe it.. “Delectable”…. “Heavenly”… or just down right “Damn that was good!” (Ok, some of you are going to just have to forgive me for that and get on with reading :-).

Why do I bring this up? Well, because its something we can all track with at some level or another. This idea of craving and desire. Oh, sure, maybe for you it’s not food based. Goodness knows there are sundry other things that we crave – some good for us, some not so good. When the weather’s nice, I also crave a good 10-15 mile bike ride to get my blood pumping. In quarrantine, you could say I’m craving a night filled with good friends and great conversations (and amazing food of course)!

Last night I picked up a book I read a few years ago (Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythms: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul) and skimmed the last few chapters again. I realized then that I had never actually finished the book. In one section, he talks about a sermon he preached on Phil 3:16, and challenged those listening to think about things they used to be sure of in God, but somehow had been stolen away, or maybe just lost. The movie “The Stone of Destiny” was a bit of inspiration, and so of course I had to watch it last night.

But it got me to thinking about what I had lost in my own life in some ways:

Delight…. in the Lord.

It doesn’t mean I stopped loving or seeking Him. He’s been true to every promise, faithful to me time and time again. But as I think back through most of my life’s walk, there was a childlike delight about my faith. Even through the tough years of raising teens, it remained. I don’t think I realized it had faltered….. but it did. Somewhere along the way of re-establishing who I was… it got a bit lost I think?

So today, I want to share with you my favorite passage that always reminds me of what my SOUL needs to crave. I hope, as you continue to persist during these times of quarrantine, this can be an encouragement for you too! (and I’m sorry this post is so long. There just wasn’t any other way to do it).

Isaiah 55:1-2

Looking at the first verse as more poetry, it speaks of cravings, and opposites: Thirst – there’s water! No money? – its ok, you can come buy and eat! In an agrarian society where you are completely dependant on the elements for food and water, I have a feeling this sounded a lot richer to the people who first heard it. But look at the progression. Remember that physical representations in scripture are often just natural things we can wrap our heads around to understand the greater message being conveyed.

Hebrew doesn’t have all the words we do and so sometimes translators have to add other words in to have the passage make sense and convey meaning. So I looked at just the Hebrew words. Now, please understand, I am still learning this stuff but still – in Hebrew it reads more like this:

“Why wages bread, earnings satisfy satisfy? Listen, listen eat/devour good good!” — still pretty similar to what we have in our translations. Its easy to read this and think: well of course I am working to earn money and feed my family. That is not the point. He’s saying LISTEN: There’s something more. You work to feed your self, your family – but there is MORE. Better.

Then this last part [anag nephesh deshen] : Be happy, delight. Your soul, desire, emotion, passion, the breathing substance and innner part of you. Fatness!Blessing!

Do you hear that?

God invites us to come to him to have our soul’s craving satisfied. That deep part of us that no one gets to see, that part where hope is supposed to dwell, the part that holds our emotion, our hidden desires, our longings, our fears.

Why do we think our earnings, our work (or what we do to keep busy now that you may be out of work due to the Covid crisis) – will really satisfy? Yes, its needed. Yes we have to feed ourselves and our families. But there is something deeper here to be learned, my friends. This means we have to step into the world of actually bringing our souls to him and asking him to satisfy that deep longing. Online church, zoom bible studies can’t always do that for you.

Who knows? Maybe its something else that you once had in your walk but you lost somewhere along the way. I’d encourage you to think deeply about what that was.

Trust?

Hope?

Joy?

A desire to even talk with Him? Belief that He actually cared about you?

Wonder about who He really is?

This week: I challenge you. Commit to getting away. Go for a walk. Sit in your car at the park, or in a chair at the far end of your back yard, or on your apartment balcony.

Wake up your soul, and invite the One who created you to breathe whatever is missing back into your life.

Blessings my friends!

For the love of… what?

This is Oliver, our Maine Coon. He’s about 21 pounds, looks like a little lion when we have him trimmed, and he’s a “spiritual cat”….. Haha, just kidding – he lays pretty much on any piece of paper or book around :-). Yesterday was the day I dropped Oliver and our youngest off at CSU for her second year of school – and his first. It was hot, and because he doesn’t like traveling, he decided to poop in his crate half way to Fort Collins. Needless to say, Oliver got a bath the minute we got to school. He smells like coconut now, Maia is moved in and happy to see her friends again. All is well.

Me, I’m taking a few days to explore the northern part of the state that I always drive by on the way to and from Fort Collins. Benefits of working from home mean that you can pretty much work from anywhere – so today and tomorrow my office is a quaint Airbnb with great wifi and not too far from Estes Park and Boulder. Oh, and the house has this KILLER bookshelf with a ladder that leads to a loft!

Can you get any cooler than that?? I want one!! Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a book nerd…but if you have read any of my other posts you saw my bookshelf. This would definitely be a nice upgrade – with room for growth! (Hey, a girl can dream, right??)

So today after work I decided to head on up to Estes Park. The drive was gorgeous – although the down side is there are so many turns I couldn’t sit and just watch the scenery because, well, I was the one driving to make sure I’d get there. Side note: If you visit Colorado, do it with a friend. Or me. Or someone to drive FOR you so you can enjoy it all.

Anyway….the town is darn cute. Who knew you could fit that many taffy shops and ice cream shops in a 1/2 mile stretch? I found a great photographer’s art gallery, one that takes pictures all seasons – this guy can actually capture the purples and pinks of the sky. He’s amazing. I wanted one of his prints for my house but the $750 price tag was a bit steep. I treated myself to a small 4×6 matted one instead.

On a riverwalk behind all the shops you can just stroll and listen to the mountain spring that rushes through the town. There are benches every few hundred feet for you to sit and relax, so I chose one away from much of the crowd and closed my eyes for a bit just to be quiet. It was one of those times where I realized I had set these days apart for searching, for seeking, and my soul was definitely longing to hear from the Lord.

What I need, I don’t really know. I’m not asking a particular question, there is just this sense that I’m … waiting. Ever have those times? Those times where the something bigger in the universe, the something bigger in God calls out to the well of deep in your own soul, and just won’t leave you alone.

“Deep calls to deep….” the psalmist says (Ps 42:7)

It’s one of those moments when you know that no matter the noise in your life, no matter the chaos swirling around you, no matter the mundane things, the ridiculously bothersome things, and the unanswered questions…..your soul KNOWS it was made for more. It cries out for its creator and there is no stopping it.

I think sometimes we forget to stop and listen to that longing, even maybe unconsciously without realizing why. Yet the longer we push it aside, the more our heart starts to justify maybe it was just our imagination, or we’re just being too sensitive, or we tell ourselves why would God want to just sit with us anyway? I know, I talk about this a lot…. listening to the very voice, seeking the very presence of the One we call God. But how can I not? This is where LIFE within life is found. And when we can tune and re-tune our hearts, minds, and souls to that presence, we begin to see Him everywhere.

I love how Audrey Assad puts it, in the chorus of her song “For Love of You” (2010):

You are my deepest longing

and so I see you everywhere

It’s you I’m chasin’ after

‘Cause I am captivated by who you are

and how you move

I’ll follow you forever

So that would be my question to you tonight .. What is your heart and mind captivated by lately? Is it leading you to life, or away from it? I know there are seasons of faith, my friend, and I know that some of them can seem dull, too long, too difficult. Some of you may be ready to walk away or give up because of the pain. But God is so more faithful than you realize. Know that HE is captivated by you… so take the time and let your soul breathe!