Temple Rivers

Ezekiel 47:1-12

I am not sure what effects our internal chemistry, what causes our dispositions to change. I’m not sure why that internal chemistry then reflects outwardly in the form of a heavy countenance or a downcast soul or glowing joy. I often wonder what ignites and fuels the fire of hope inside individuals that enables them to live confidently. What I am sure of is, the people I admire most have this gift of giving themselves freely in way in which their personality flows out of them as they give

inside0the-temple-in-spainIn this second to last chapter of Ezekiel, streams are flowing out of the Temple and a man with a measuring line takes Ezekiel into some water that was ankle-deep. Then he goes knee-deep, then waist-deep, then into water that was too high, deep enough to swim in but not pass through.

How does so much water flow out of this Temple. Where does the water even come from? How does it form into a rushing river?

In v. 8-12 the water flows into a sea and there it becomes fresh.  And the river contains living creatures and many fish, and fishermen will make their living from the river. The banks of the river will grow trees with leaves that will bear fresh fruit every month. This fruit will be for food and the leaves will be for healing.

Those 4 verses are a picture of Heaven and are depicted in a little more detail in Revelation 22. It’s a visualization of what flows out of the Temple being a producer of life everywhere it flows. The Temple of God functions as something that sustains life.

fast-flowing-river.jpgThe New Testament says the Christian, as the individual, has become a temple for the Holy Spirit. The implication of this that God Himself might be seen and expressed as flowing like a river out from within the individual. The power of expressing the love of the gospel presents the Christian with the opportunity to be a vessel that nourishes, heals, and builds up strength in others.

It is also here, conveniently nearing the end of the book that Ezekiel, perhaps the prophet realizes that as much a this is a picture of a future temple and the nourishment of the nations, Ezekiel himself  has represented the temple in his ministry. Ezekiel bears witness to a vision God has placed in him to express in proclamation to a nation. The hope is Israel will believe it and rejoice in God’s promises for them.

Fortunately this disposition, this flowing river of living water is what the Holy Spirit longs to stir in and overflow out of us.

 

Story Life: A Poem

You refer to your life as a story because

You hoped

leafing through this text you’ll find a cohesive thread.

You hoped

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the sadness you keep tracing will have a distinctive end

You hoped

that the next chapter will find a way to pick you up

You hoped

the bottom you hit isn’t a ledge from which you drop

You believed

albeit for a short period that you were the author

You believed

unseen, that the Father picked out for you, His daughter

You believed

that these pages were landscapes for you to conquer

You believed

time was cherished, then it revealed the way you wander

You loved

I don’t know why you did but you still managed

You loved

though it seems you subjected it to much damage

You loved

as if that is what made you worth reading

You loved

trying to show that it is worth keeping

You Love

looking at the characters you kept from hurting

You Love

risking reputation despite the risk of the burning

You Love

the un-lonely journey, despite uncertain seasons

You Love

proving life faithful without offering reason

You believe

there’s no need for a sequel when this goodness is eternal

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You believe

the greatest riches you received turned out to be paternal

You believe

that the vow you made is sufficient against ill feelings

You believe

the forgiveness you’ve exchanged reproduced healing

You hope

all dialogue and narration will be a welcome intrusion

You hope

you will be pleased to share with us a joyous conclusion

You hope

this all wraps up nicely, hearing you were a dear friend

You hope

 pen and eye won’t recognize the end whence you began

 

 

How Do You Want to Be Governed?

Ezekiel 45:7 – 46:18 

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God is better at taking care of those in positions of authority than those individuals are at taking care of themselves.  As God protects those in authority, he also entrusts them to wield their power responsibly. He commands them to avoid violence and oppression, to not evict, to have just weights and measures, and to celebrate with the people.

A leader is also expected to lead the way in offering sacrifices to God. The people follow the leader in offering those same sacrifices. But I think there is a slight nuance between the one in authority and the leader as it pertains to who is worth following.

I’m reading this book by Pete Scazzero called The Emotionally Healthy Leader, and I find it both helpful and challenging. What I love about the book is the direction it takes in exposing our interior life to God. It calls us to be self-aware and to find our life in relationship with God. Scazzero continually points to the time we spend with God as the source of health in our leadership. What makes any spiritual leader in the Church worth following is their relationship with God the Father.

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I feel that one way to tell if someone is worth following is to see who they have chosen to follow. I don’t feel like the same can be said of someone put in a position of authority. I don’t think you can judge someone’s authority based on the rules they follow because I’m not sure how often those in power follow their own rules. Which leads me to my point of this particular piece: power is not the measuring stick for leadership. Helping others get where they are going is what it means to lead.

I’m a decent follower, I’m a better follower when I have clear instruction, expectation, and affirmation. I think those three tracks illuminate our path, and I think Jesus himself directs his people with those tools.

As far as personal leadership goes, I’m a squanderer when it comes to positions and titles. In fact, my ministry career is lackluster. But at the end of the day, unless I take responsibility for my own calling, it doesn’t matter how much encouragement I receive or which opportunities are before me, I must believe in Christ in me. I must believe that God empowers and is pleased with my identity.

To be both a leader and follower of Christ, trust is foundational. It’s trusting that my control is limited but my obedience is possible. Furthermore, we need the confidence that our obedience is the demonstration of our love and that this will fill us with a joy that provides us with real freedom.

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Which is why the current state of leadership not just on a national level but on an organizational level is disheartening. Confident obedience is lacking and often non-existent in the way most places and people lead, including in government.

I assure you though, the solution is not protests, those may lead to legislation but they don’t lead to cleansing the heart from hatred. Dark fire still rages in the hearts of humanity and that can only be quenched by an encounter with love and forgiveness. Forgiving the oppressor, that is real power. Calling out the wrong for what it is, and forgiving while expecting the potential in people to set things right. If it starts and then stops at a protest, all we’ve done is express anger, possibly acting out of our own prejudices and assumptions.

How do we enter?

I love Ezekiel 46:10 “When they enter, the prince shall enter with them, and when they go out, he shall go out.” This verse is power to the max for leaders that lead in love. It is a picture of a leader, who as the one in authority, chooses to follow the people.  He hears their cry and rather than spinning their story, he walks with them responding to their movement. We need presidents, politicians, pastors, CEO’s who will kneel with kneeling, who will confess and ask for forgiveness for ways they have objectified others, who will have honest compassionate corrective conversations.

We enter in by giving up something. Usually, it is what we perceive to be our power or our source of strength outside of God. We sacrifice for God and for one another. Sacrifice becomes part of us. But even more, mercy becomes part of the way we live. Part of this mercy is giving up the sense we are owed something.

Furthermore, leaders must learn to pass on to their children what is theirs, not what belongs to someone else. They don’t leverage their situation to bolster their family wealth at the expense of other’s suffering. Those leaders also willingly subject themselves to being held accountable to this standard. They enter through surrender because they recognize that victory in Christ is demonstrated through loving both friend and enemy.

We enter in and are governed by the God who gave of Himself. A God who objectified no one and knows that in creation is a unique beauty, that each individual is fearfully and wonderfully made. A God who gave His only begotten Son so that we might be called sons and daughters. A God who delights in mercy and is saddened by judgment. That’s the leader worth following and thankfully, that’s the one we have.

The Medicating Gospel: For the Still Ill

John 5:1-17- A Physician’s Position

I’ll be honest. I don’t know how to start out this blog post. By the end of this I imagine I also won’t know how to finish it. Mostly because of stigma and because the mind is complex and because there are so many other podiums to stand on or kneel for right now. So I’m going to start out with a few observations and sneak in a couple of really vulnerable statements that I hope if you read this you just won’t judge me for or alter your opinion of me because:

  • As someone who has not witnessed too many healing’s, the Church by in large in the West lacks faith for healing
  • With that being said, I’m not exactly sure what determines our measure of faith for healing.
  • I believe that mental illnesses and even the mentally disabled can be healed.
  • I feel like we live in a culture that places far too much emphasis on a person’s usefulness or worthiness being tied to their quantifiable productivity.
  • I have often felt like the stigma and fear associated with admitting that one might struggle with a mental illness or hampered by a mental disability is a huge obstacle to overcome and admitting to this seems like career suicide especially if you are in ministry.
  • With that being said, I’ve sabotaged enough ministry opportunities that it’s not worth pretending; I struggle with depression and I struggle to be fully me in Christ and a lot of my cognitive energy is spent trying to dispel negative thoughts or at least avoid dwelling on those negative thoughts while maintaining the Truth that God promises to give us a hope and future in Christ
  • In the humblest terms possible, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at managing this.
  • With that being said, I only manage it well when I am not alone in my thoughts. I manage best when I’m honest with others and know I can call others, and when I rely on God rather than isolate myself.
  • Outside of ministry, my current job is the longest job I have ever held for a consecutive amount of time. I hit one year last week, and for anyone who knows me I have been discontent at my job for several months for _____ reasons.
  • Nobody owes me anything
  • With that being said, I don’t owe the world anything, maybe a few lingering apologies, but I do owe Jesus everything
  • When I was 25 years old, I made 6 figures in an industry I had little to no experience in and quit my job because everyday for two months I would either hide behind a trailer or go to a local track to cry for about a half hour every day.
  • I saw 2 therapists at age 25 because I was living alone and lost myself.
  • My 2 biggest fears are that I won’t find love again and start a family and that the rest of my life is a sentence of penance because I can’t hold things together.
  • Those fears are 1) not from God and 2) they are false.
  • Hearing others people’s hurts and fears actually opens doors to lasting healing.
  • Yo! The world is hurting everywhere; it is literally impossible to tune out the outcry; I’ve been trying to because it overwhelms me but it’s not possible. Do I even need to list the hurts? I won’t, I’ll list the solution- 1. Jesus, 2. Jesus 3. Be someone who loves like and knows they are loved by Jesus

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I could go on, but I won’t because I would stop reading beyond that list, and this blog is largely about Scripture, and I’m trying to get through the Gospel of John by the end of 2017.  So if you’re still here, John 5 is about a man who is paralyzed sitting by a well who has been an invalid for 38 years. It’s also about Jesus who reads the heart of man and responds to it in ways that glorify God.

Jesus asks an odd question, “Do you want to be healed?” To which I would respond, “Who doesn’t?” (I should add, before I go on, that I have heard stories of people admitting that they do not want to be healed) But the sick man answers by saying, “No one will help me and someone beats me to it.” Rather than just saying yes, he explains why he is not healed, blaming the lack of assistance from others as well as the general rat race for healing that he cannot win.

Jesus doesn’t waste time beyond that and says, “Get up, take up you bed, and walk.” If you did not believe in healing but believed the story, this sounds like Jesus is suggesting this guy has been faking being an invalid for 38 years to obtain pity, and after Jesus calls his bluff the man gets up and changes his tactic.

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But that’s not what happened. This man, after 38 years was healed. And the story takes a strange turn because rather than someone being happy for this man’s healing, religious leaders approach him stating that he is breaking the law by carrying his bed.

Imagine that; you gain new traction on your life, transformation after almost 4 decades of laying on a mattress and the first words you encounter are correction for carrying your bed, doing something you were not even physically strong enough to do for almost 40 years.

This man doesn’t even know who healed him until Jesus finds him in the temple. And once Jesus finds him, Jesus says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man responds by telling the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who healed him. The Jews then persecute Jesus because he acted on the Sabbath.

To the man healed, this story is about his healing and telling the Jews about it hoping they will rejoice in his healing and overlook the carrying of his mat.

To Jesus, this story is about God healing man and the deeper healing that comes with repentance and forgiveness of sin, so we might live wholly unto God.

To the religious leaders, this story is about a man who broke the law at the word of another man who they believed was teaching falsely.

When individuals are powerless without God, refusing to follow him they legislate. And their motive for legislating is to maintain a power dynamic in favor of their establishment. They do this in writing rather than in blood. It is a power over mind rather than body. But the writing is made out to be vague enough that those with the power dynamic can narrate that they themselves act within the confines of legality in order to continue oppression through greed.

The result is to keep the ill still, to keep the poor wanting, to keep glass ceilings in place, to construct a rationale for our prejudices rather than repenting of them. It is illness, it is sickness, it is what Jesus addresses when he says, “You lay heavy burdens on the people that they cannot carry without lifting a finger to relieve them.” It’s what Jesus is addressing when he knows religious leaders who see an invalid of 38 years and have done nothing to relieve him of his sickness.

“You may not owe them anything, you may not even have been the one to wrong them, but you can offer help, you can offer healing, you can offer forgiveness and ask for forgiveness, so why won’t you? Why turn your eye from them? Be there for them. bind wounds; heal with your hands instead of harming.”

Jesus closes in verse 17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” As God in the flesh Jesus labors in love for creation, for the person in front of Him. He is addressing the fact that the Sabbath and all the commandments are meant to be gifts as guides for fullness of life not hindrances to our fun. The Sabbath should be the easiest commandment of all. It is literally, do nothing, or more accurately, rest.

After 38 years this mans body found rest; he fulfilled the Sabbath by walking in his healing, and he just so happened to be carrying his bed.

The Administrating Gospel: On the Campaign Trail

John 4:31-38, 43-54 – Reap the Vote

If Jesus wanted to run for public office or wanted a political overthrow of the Roman government, his tactics would have been vastly different. Jesus’ public approval and desire to garner a vote was non-existent insofar as His desire to complete a mission of saving the world before visibly ruling it.

But as God would have it, he simultaneously rules the world whilst being put to death by the world for the love of the world. It’s one of those mysteries of faith, one of those theological paradoxes that are understood in some place deeper than the human mind.

Yet, when public officials came to Jesus he did not turn them away or write off their public service as unimportant because he recognized that behind a person’s vocation is their humanity and potential for goodness and compassion. In the concluding verses of John chapter 4, we read a short passage about a man who has an ill son. This man not only wanted his son to be healed but he wanted Jesus to stop what he was doing to come and heal his son.

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Perhaps, this official thought his status would garner Jesus’ full attention to administer healing to his child. Instead of going, Jesus pauses and makes a statement regarding the people’s belief being tied to signs and wonders. This exposes the officials heart who then begs, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Do you hear the desperation? If not, read it with desperation.

Often desperation for those we really love can overshadow our desperation for ourselves and this kind of desperation especially moves God’s heart. Because it is the type of desperation that  laya down our own lives for someone else which Jesus later describes as the greatest form of love.

Jesus responds immediately, “Go; your son will live.” Rather than pleading for Jesus to come with him, Scripture tells us that the man believes the word that Jesus spoke and he went on his way. That step of obedience eventually leads to the officials servants running to him on his way home with the news that his son was recovering.

He inquired when his child began to get better and finds out that it was the same hour when Jesus administered the word. The healing caused the officials whole household to believe. Finally, someone who speaks a few words that come to pass in due time.

See, if Jesus were to run for public office, we could actually count on the words He speaks as being true because His words are always true and they are always faithful and they are always on time. Jesus elected to speak truth as one who sometimes seems to discreetly rule the world, yet awaits the decision of His creation to choose to honor Him as king.

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Several verse’s prior to this story Jesus has a conversation with his disciples by Jacob’s well. They try to feed him supposing he was weary and not thinking straight. Jesus responds, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples are confused about how he got food, but that wasn’t what Jesus was getting at. Instead he gives us insight into the administration. He gives a peak into the relationship of the Trinity and suggests that His life, the abundant life, is bound and energized in doing the will of God the Father.

Then he talks about the relationship with the Word of God and those who labor for the gospel’s sake. Sowing, seeing, and reaping a harvest are all parts of the labor that might be rejoiced in together. Jesus lets the disciples know that they are about to reap the wages of someone else’s work. They see the immediate fruit of that statement when that Samaritan village I wrote about previously comes to faith in Jesus.

But they also are continuing to be schooled in this way of Jesus to be present, to walk in the Spirit of God, and to be readily available to respond to the needs of others. Reaping always happens when something or someone else is ready, not prior. Administrating the good news or administrating anything for that matter follows the same pattern.

A resistant spirit, someone who boasts in self-sufficiency and strength, someone who cannot or will not apologize, someone who just wants to be heard without listening, this person cannot be managed, guided or ministered to. They must always first heed correction, they must humble themselves, and when necessary, they must apologize/seek forgiveness. Those are choices, choices God will not resist. Choices that reveal a ripe harvest. In 2017 America, offering and asking for forgiveness is our greatest gift.

 

The Soliciting Gospel: By a Drink

John 4:1-30, 39-42 – Sell at the Well

Have you ever  been in the wrong place at the right time? There is an expression that timing is everything in life. There also is a high price tied to location. I have found that the price associated with “the where”  can make or break.

In ministry and in life, I’ve been broken by the where. But God is able to make His timing work for our good even when we find ourselves in a place or predicament that is difficult.

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Jesus is never in the wrong place, but in John chapter 4 it feels like Jesus finds himself in a potentially precarious position. During the hottest part of the day, he finds a rest stop at Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar. It was a Samaritan town so he was a foreigner (a Yankees fan at Fenway, not on game day).

Waiting by the well alone while his disciples went into town to by food, a woman approaches. Jesus asks her for a drink. His accent gives him away; she is confused as to why he is talking to her. Something feels wrong, but it’s actually right. Later, even his disciples are confused as to why he was talking to her, but Scripture says that they did not dare to ask him, “What do you seek?””

The implications of that verse suggest the disciples had a passing thought that Jesus was trying to spit game with this woman.

It’s such a human situation. It’s a dude situation. By outward appearance, it appears a single guy  is hitting on the attractive female at the water fountain. It happens at gyms, trust me. It also appears that the bro’s are suspicious of a conversation that is actually concerned exclusively with this woman’s salvation. This happens less so at gyms, trust me.

I encourage you to read the passage and hear Jesus’ conversation with this woman as one filled with compassion.water

Jesus is just soliciting this woman for a drink which turns into this woman soliciting Jesus for living water. Perhaps, Jesus is seeking kindness, while this woman is seeking convenience.

That is until Jesus changes the subject. Maybe Jesus feels like the conversation is venturing down the road of flirtation. Maybe the woman’s desire to avoid ever drawing water again stems from wanting a husband that is wealthy enough to pay someone else to do the work. Maybe she is disillusioned with her current living situation.

Regardless, Jesus drops a “Go call your husband, and come here,” which honestly at first glance could exacerbate the idea of flirtation. If you didn’t know Jesus you might assume he is testing the waters and she more than happily admits that she has no husband.

However, Jesus so as not to insinuate any gesture reads her mail with a word of knowledge. He knows she has had five husbands and is living with a man currently. I imagine him saying this with concern. She responds with a concern of her own about the proper place of worship. She admits a longing for God but is frustrated by a system that disallows her worship and prohibits her from finding fullness in God.

Jesus admits the system is broken but suggests a time is coming and indeed has come where worship becomes about who you know rather than where you are. He offers a relationship with God the Father to her because the Father is seeking those who worship in spirit and truth. And in a moment of revelation Jesus tells her that He is the Messiah because she, though a Samaritan is aware that a Messiah is coming.

This is where the beauty of God’s timing and location is so tangibly real and overwhelmingly good. A woman who is seemingly in the right place at the wrong time (at a well to draw water during the hottest part of the day) and the God-man who is seemingly in the wrong place at the right time (a Jew in a Samaritan town alone asking a non-Jewish woman for a drink) are actually in the perfect timing and place for a God encounter.

That encounter empowers her to solicit others to come see Jesus. Her excitement must have been convincing because many from the town came to see him. They convince Jesus to stay two days and many believed in Him because they heard the good news for themselves. A town full of Samaritans recognize Jesus as the Savior of the world.

True conversion, true encounter with the gentleness of Jesus and His pursuit of the heart of people mark us with hope and hopefully fill us  with felt joy. I remember this feeling, albeit in this season it often feels foreign. Yet,  I recognize there is nothing in the world that compares to knowing the love of Jesus. It is living water. Lord, give us this water.