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!

Lamenting at Christmas?

I have found myself a bit more somber as of lately, and its been hard to know what to chalk it up to. Sure, 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. I think its more like a culmination of things, between the hard things I have watched our nation go through, the new (but not so new) things I am learning the more I delve into the pages of scripture, and the end-of-year calls for donations for just about every charity out there.

Generally I would say I am someone who can look at my immediate world and be happy that things are well. They are. I am in a great neighborhood, making new friends, and still have a job. I really have nothing I can complain about.

Yet I am in a season where the pain of the world seems more difficult to bear than usual. The slave trade is alive and well, where land is taken and people are forced to work for practically nothing. Sex trafficking, where young women and men are treated as propery and ravaged in a way no child should be. Refugees returning to war-torn places with nothing to sustain them, orphans who have nowhere to go, corruption and families across nations hungry, not even knowing when their next meal will come. (*see footnotes for ministries I support that tackle these very things in case you are looking for a place to help)

That being said, my heart is heavier right now, carrying the weight of the knowlege of all of this, and it has been for a while. I long for nothing, and what I have and can offer seems to barely make any dent of a difference. I long for things to change, for these stories I hear so often to be over. For bellies to be full, relationships restored and evil gone, for hope to rise and everything to be made right.

Not exactly the Christmas Spirit, I know.

But then again.. maybe it is, in a way. Maybe its a way to enter into the real desperation that was felt by the people that first witnessed the fullness of God take on flesh. The longing for deliverance, the longing for something to hope in, the cry for God to change the way things are.

When I can still my soul enough to remember…. I know that this longing for all things to be made right is not unique, for it is the same longing felt by every prophet in its day, every person on the pages in our scriptures, and by so many of us know who have had to endure our own pain, our own grief.. or who have watched it up-front-and-center in other countries.

What is your pain this season, your longing? Have you lost a loved one this year, that you never got to hug goodbye? Did you struggle in relationships or in marriage, did you watch a child leave home and not make choices that were good? Have you subsisted on little, having lost a job or on the brink of it even still? Did you make choices you are not proud of? Do you feel alone more than ever?

For this, Jesus comes. He knows the pain our world endures, for he walked its breadth and saw its hardship, its ugliness, its inability to heal itself….and he too wept over its pain. For even in the face of the darkness of humanity, the plan and purpose to breath life back into His creation cannot be stopped.

I read something this week that really struck me, given my musings about this lately. In his book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey was talking about how we tend to “santizie” our story of Christmas in a way, because we hardly ever talk about the slaughter that followed of all the boys under 2 in the region (p58). Somehow…I’m pretty sure those that live in dictator led countries and war-torn villages know what Mary and Joseph were living through a lot more than we do.

But Bailey goes on to point out that “If the Gospel can flourish in a world that produces the slaughter of the innocents and the cross, the Gospel can flourish anywhere” (p59-60).

In some way, then, there is a place for lament this time of year, if we will choose, to enter into the shared pain of all that is still not what it will be. To confess our weakness, our inability to fix things at our own hand, and to receive anew the MERCY of the one who can. To receive Jesus in a new way, as a good king, whose heart yearns for all to be made right. To trust that he is still building his kingdom, and to let our hearts find hope in this truth.

So I close this post with a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Rise in our hearts and remind us that you are in our midst, and you are with our brothers and sisters across the globe who fight for justice and mercy, who long for your peace and who share your love with their world as well. Make us one. Pour out your love and your presence on hungry souls this year, Lord, and let us work for your kingdom now, offering what you have given us to offer, even as we look forward to the day when all is made right.

Ministries I referenced earlier

International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org/

Preemptive Love: https://preemptivelove.org/

New Life for Haiti: https://www.newlifeforhaiti.org/

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!