Down the mountain and into the plain. Thoughts on life.

A stream of consciousness and a peek into my journal:

July 29, 2017

Lord, help me to stop living for the next big thing or the next “mountaintop experience.” The only destination is heaven. Everything else is bonus, or better yet, your grace on display. Help me to live for today, this moment, this people, right here and right now. Help me to see life as linear. The problem with living life as though it were just one mountain to climb is that once you get there you just start searching for the next mountain top. Life becomes a never-ending mission to seek one climactic event after the next. Let us remember that You are our High Point, and Heaven is out final climactic end.

Let me rest in the journey. Let me appreciate the mundane. Help me to rejoice in the subtleties of life. Let me take enjoyment in restful seasons. Because You are there. You are always there. In and out of every season, You are there.

God Almighty is His name.

There’s no point in saying, “I have arrived,” because you will only arrive when you are sitting at the feet of Jesus. There is no next best thing. There is only Jesus.

We search and we search for more and for what’s next because our soul is constantly wandering through this life unconsciously crying out because it knows “this is not our home.” We cannot find true contentment here. We cannot find love and peace and joy here in it’s purest form. When we try, we will always come up empty.

But Jesus is saying, “Here I am.” I am peace. I am love. I am patient and kind. I am all things and more, and I offer them to you in the purest state. I AM that I AM . There is nothing else. I AM and I always will be. I AM the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Your life is but a blink, but I AM forever. I AM the answer you seek. I AM the hope you desire. I AM the fulfillment of your heart’s desire. I AM because I AM.

Trust Me. Seek Me. Find Me. Know that I AM God.

 

 

Root Bound

rootboundThere’s a term in horticulture called, “root bound.” In short, it’s “the nature of plants whose roots are ‘bound’ by some kind of barrier” (Roades). The plant can wilt quickly and/or have stunted growth. Thinking of this metaphor, I started wondering if people, like plants, can become root bound.

The Seedling
Yesterday, I caught myself wondering if I had outgrown my surroundings. I have lived in my hometown for 38 years. I have explored almost every nearby county, and I have been employed by at least two dozen companies. For years, I’ve been plagued with the desire to move. Like a plant in its container, I’ve been reaching for something more, but my roots always bring me back. This is where I’m secure. This is where my family is. This is where I grew up. Some days, I feel like I am wilting, or I worry that my growth is being stunted. In light of that, I can’t help but wonder if being transplanted elsewhere will help me to grow even more.

The Transplant
Plants that have outgrown their container need to be replanted into either a bigger planter, or into the ground. However, the transplant process is extremely delicate. There are many factors to consider. If transplanted too early, fragile flowers can go into shock and die. To deter this, many plants are brought outside for a few hours at a time until they get used to the new environment. This process is called, “hardening.”

For years, God has been at work in my life. Possibly, he has been “hardening” me for a life as a transplant. Foreseeing my need for growth, the tender Gardener has been cultivating my leaves and bringing me out for little spurts until the timing would be right. In the meantime, I grow and I wait.

The Gardner
Regardless of my little musings, God knows exactly what He is doing and when.  In a way, we are all like tender plants. He knows when we need to be sheltered. He knows when it’s time for us to bloom. We all serve a specific purpose. Some of us are prickly; some of us are sweet; some of us are big and showy, while others radiate a quiet wonder; some of us provide food; others provide shelter. Plants don’t worry about what they will do, or how they will do it. They just trust in their Gardner to make sure that their life is used for its ultimate purpose. Unlike foliage, we have the ultimate privilege available to us– an intimate relationship with the Creator, Himself.

Grafting
One of my favorite images in the Bible comes from John 15:
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (NIV).

We are all in the process of being remade. Truth be told, there will be times when we have outgrown our surroundings. But no matter how we may feel, the Gardner will not let us become root bound. He knows the exact moment when we will be ready to move on; we just have to trust His timing. In the meantime, we continue to draw nearer to Him, producing fruit for the people that find shelter in our shade.

 

 

Rhoades, Heather. “Root Bound Symptoms .” Gardening Know How, Gardening Know How, LLC, 29 Mar. 2015, http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/environmental/root-bound-symptoms.htm. Accessed 19 June 2017.

“Pink Purple Sky.” https://www.freewebheaders.com.

In Lieu of Grief

Deciding to leave your job without a backup plan seems to have the same crippling effect as the five stages of grief. I’ve been in denial about thirty times, and I have bargained, or better yet, wrestled with God throughout this process. I’ve accepted it, only to start my walk through the stages again. Many people have asked me, “What are you going to do now?” Faking bravery, I smile and say, “I don’t know.” While this answer suits me most of the time, I am often completely freaking inside the rest of the time.

Yesterday, I was freaking out internally again when I stumbled upon something in my Bible that I had written almost a month ago. It was something that God had showed me the same week I decided not to return to my teaching position in the fall.

For the full story, I suggest that you read Genesis 24. In brief, Abraham decides that it is time to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Abraham sends his chief servant into his homeland so that he may find a wife for his son.

There are five major events that take place during the servant’s journey:

1. He prayed. Before reaching Nahor, the servant prayed, “[God], give me success today” (verse 12).

2. He watched. “Without saying a word, the man watched [Rebekah] closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful” (verse 21)

3. He gave thanks. When he realized that Rebekah was a potential partner for Isaac, he praised God (verse 27).

4. He told others. After Rebekah brought the servant to her father, he tells them of how God moved on his behalf and timely answered his prayer (verse 40).

5. He did not stop. While he took the time to tell the others of God’s work, he did not stay for long. He even asked Rebekah’s family not to detain him since the Lord had granted his request. He wished to return to his master so that he could share the good news (and the success) with him as well (verse 56).

Almost everyone at one time or another has felt as if they were on a journey. As anyone who has ever stepped outside the flat lands of South Florida knows, journeys aren’t all smooth-paved. Paths, much like life, curve and dip, jag and slope. Through it all, we have to remember the One who establishes our ways. This is why I felt so drawWindingRoadn to the character of the servant. When doubt creeps in, these details can help to keep wavering faith in check. The first thing he did with Abraham’s difficult request was to pray. Amazingly enough, before he had even finished praying, Rebekah showed up at the well that God had led the servant to. There, he waited and watched (probably the hardest part for any of us!). When the servant was sure that Rebekah was the proper helpmate for Isaac, he stopped and gave thanks to God right then and there. Unable to hold in his excitement, he spread the good news to everyone around him. Lastly, even though his request was answered, he did not stop. He immediately continued the work the Lord had prepared for him.

Maybe you are like me, and you find yourself on a new journey. Maybe you too are struggling with doubt and uncertainty.

As we navigate through new territory, it’s important to remember the actions of the servant and:

•Pray for success.
•Wait and watch for the Lord to move.
•Praise Him when he answers.
•Share the good news with others.
•Keep moving forward until the race has been won.

And,

Journey on, Sojourner. Journey on.

 

It’s Time

In 2012, God asked me to leave my job and go to the Czech Republic. I went and returned 30 days later with a better relationship with my Creator that was deepened even more over the next six months, as I went without a job. Now, here I am nearly 5 years later, and I find myself at another crossroad. As it stands, I am about to decline my teaching pomost-inspiring-quotes-9-480x720sition for next year, and instead, take a trip across the United States. Not since I was 17 years old, have I thought about making this cross-country trek. Yet, at nearly 40 (1 year and 6 months to go), I find myself readying for a grand adventure.

There are many questions, but the few that plague me the most are:

• Is this what God wants me to do?
• Have I lost my mind?
• Can I trust Him?
• How will I get the money I need?

I may not have the answers to these questions, but I do have these promises to rely on:

• For I know the plan I have for you, says the Lord. Jeremiah 29:11
•  What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived— the things God has prepared for those who love him— I Corinthians 2:9
• In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs16:9
I would love to hear about any crazy trips you have taken or any road trip advice. Leave all of these and more in the comment section.

This is War

This past week I started a new Bible study based on Priscilla Shirer’s book, Armor of God. I’m only two days into the 7-week study and I am loving it. Too often, I get so caught up in the day-to-day monotony of this world, that I forget we are at war. Sometimes, we think our war is the Indy 500 traffic (if you live in South Florida), the ornery woman at the register, or that student who just refuses to listen. But can I tell you that they are not the problem. The Bible reminds us of this when Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

We devote so much time fashioning our words, emotions, and attitudes into weapons in a vain effort to strike down those who have offended us. We are the only casualty in those scenarios as we are at the receiving end of frustration, anger, loss of relationships, and bitterness. If you ask me, it looks like Satan is the only winner in the battles of the flesh. So, what are we to do? Well, if our war is in the spiritual realm, then maybe that is where our battle should be waged.

In her book, Priscilla highlights that fact that prayer is essential to the battle. Ephesians 6: 13-17 tells us how to “put on the armor of God” as Paul eloquently reminds us of our weapons of spiritual warfare, but we often miss the most important weapon. Look at Ephesians 18, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and request…” Putting on the armor without praying is like going into war only partially dressed. Your defenses are easily left open to attack.

Prayer requires precision and intentionality. It’s not easy. The devil wants to distract us in every way possible. He knows that he is in a losing battle, and he realizes his time is almost up. He knows that a believer in Jesus Christ will never be his, so instead, he uses his tactics to keep us tired, busy, frustrated, and essentially, useless for God’s Kingdom purpose. Prayer keeps us on the frontline. It also keeps us connected to the Father, so when we can’t go on, He is there and steps in to fight on our behalf.

As you proceed to put on the armor of God this week, remember to pray. Pray for strength as you face the struggles of this world. Pray for love as you are confronted with those who wage war against you. Pray for wisdom when you find yourself face-to-face against a threat. Pray to be filled with immeasurable peace as you remember the battle is won, and you are already seated in Victory in the heavenly realms.

Hope in the Desert

I don’t know about you, but I am busy. At least I feel busy most of the time. Even if I am not physically doing something, my mind seems to be in a constant state of work, either I’m mentally creating, going over my lesson plans, or thinking about my to-do list. I have noticed that in one’s refusal to get quiet before God, He sometimes takes drastic measures to get our attention. Surely, if you’ve spent any time in Christiandom, you’ve heard of “desert experiences” or “seasons of drought”. These can be as traumatic as a sickness or job loss or as subtle as a flat tire, coffee on a new shirt, or just a real awful day. In seasons of drought, it often seems that God is far away. But maybe, God is using these moments of His silence to show us just how far the distance has grown.

A quick study of Scripture will show just how often Jesus retreated to the desert places. After healing many people in Capernaum, Luke writes, “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:15-16). After the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Mark says, “After telling everyone good-bye, [Jesus] went up into the hills by himself to pray” (Mark 6:46). Unlike us, Jesus sought out the desert. Jesus knew that he needed the quiet barrenness to meet with God. He needed to get away from the people, the busyness, and the noise of city life. In the desert, he could reflect on His mission and refocus His attention on His purpose. He understood just how desperately He needed God’s strength to carry out His arduous journey.

What is taking up your time? Is it a ministry? Is it a job? Is it family? While God is giving us all these avenues to glorify His name, we must make sure that we take significant time to meet with Him. As a teacher, I experienced extreme burnout last school year. I was drained. For 180 days, all I could do was cling to Jesus. Even into the first month and a half of summer, I spent it at His feet. At the end of the appointed time, I finally knew what Jesus meant when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Thankfully, God worked through my for the entire school year; there was no way I could have done it without Him. I am even more thankful that while I still cling to Him just as much as I did last year, He has given me a new strength for the current year.

Too often we wait until we are suffering in the unquenchable desert before we even think about asking for help. How much better would it be if we stopped frequently on our journey, and allowed the One with rivers of Living Water to nourish our weary souls?

Stop often. Sit daily. Journey more.

 

What I learned about church through #PokémonGO

(Photo: http://www.13wmaz.com)

It was like something out of a horror movie. Hundreds of them coming on foot and by car, flooding a vacant lot, heads turned downward, eyes glazed, slowly moving through the night. If I wouldn’t have known better, I would’ve thought it was a zombie apocalypse. But it wasn’t that at all. It was hundreds of teenagers gathering together to play the new Pokémon GO game. It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before.

I was flabbergasted and shocked that so many people would come together for one common goal. I couldn’t help but laugh at their essentially useless goal. In a world of ISIS and police shootings, hundreds of people are preoccupied with fake monsters in some alternate universe with minimal human interaction. I accusingly thought, “How can they all get together like this for no real purpose? There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.”

And of course only God, in his infinite mercy, gently corrected me. He reminded me of another occasion when people gather together for one reason and for one purpose. Yet now, this Pokémon game had me wondering if outsiders were asking the same thing of the church: “What are they doing in there? Do they even have a real purpose?”

Hundreds of us gather each week. We sing a few songs. We contort our faces in adoration. We stare down in our Bible apps. We sing a closing song. We get up, and we go home. But how big was our impact? What did we do, really? I can’t help but imagine what would happen if hundreds of Christians gathered outside the church in unity, love, and service. What would it look like if we walked out of the church building on Sunday, entered into the local neighborhood, and began meeting the needs of the people there? It would be shocking and strange. And it would be exactly what the world needed.

I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I sense that if ever there was a time when the world needed Jesus and Christians committed to serving them, it is now. The harvest is ready. May we be willing to do the work.

(…Or at the very least, maybe you can place a few Pokémon monsters in the location of your church this Sunday so hundreds of young people will show up in search of something truly out of this world.)