LIVING WATER

Medicine LakeJesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water. … But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” [John 4:10,14 (NLT)]

When in Canada last summer, we came across a strange body of water called Medicine Lake; although it looks like a lake, it really isn’t. It’s where the Maligne River backs up before disappearing into several underground pipelines. The cave system draining this river is one of the most extensive in the world. Every spring, the runoff from melting glaciers and snow fills the river with water much faster than it can drain and, as the water backs up, the river becomes a lake. As the summer progresses, the inflow slows and the water level gradually lowers until, in autumn, it once again looks like a river. The disappearing water resurfaces far away in lakes and rivers throughout the Canadian Rockies and eventually ends up in the Pacific Ocean. Medicine Lake is like a bathtub without a stopper that is being filled faster than it can drain; once the faucet’s flow slows down, the tub’s water level lowers but it never quite empties.

On the other hand, the bogs near our northern home are more like bathtubs with drains so gunked up from hair, soap and other yucky stuff that the water can’t empty. Typically, rain and snow are the only source of a bog’s water. Formed when a lake fills with debris, a bog has little or no drainage and the water that enters it stays there. Without movement, the bog’s water becomes stagnant, gets a foul odor, and can become a breeding ground for insects, bacteria, parasites and disease. Thinking of these two bodies of water, I wondered if I’m like Medicine Lake or a bog. Like the lake, do I spread God’s blessings or, like the bog, do I keep them all to myself? The water that feeds both starts clear and fresh, but only water that flows (as it does in the lake) remains that way.

Jesus said He gives us living water, the Holy Spirit, so that we’ll never thirst again. For the water to remain fresh and sweet, however, we can’t allow it to become stagnant; it must flow in and through us and, like the water from Medicine Lake, spread far and wide. Like those underground streams, we must be His pipelines, not just of our blessings, but of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Only when Jesus’ living water pours through us can we bring life to the world. Are we stagnant cisterns or flowing pipelines with rivers of living water flowing from our hearts?

Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. [John 7:37-39a (NLT)]

The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. [Isaiah 58:11 (NLT)]

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WHY JOIN?

The community continually committed themselves to learning what the apostles taught them, gathering for fellowship, breaking bread, and praying. Everyone felt a sense of awe because the apostles were doing many signs and wonders among them. There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. [Acts 2:42-44 (VOICE)]

Locarno-Madonna del SassoWe’ve left our old church and have been house-of-worship hunting. At first, it was like trying various hotels once a week to discover one of good quality with the right character, location and features for us. Having found a good prospect, we returned several times, signed up for a community service opportunity, and joined a Bible study. Now, it’s more like we’re renting a house; we’re meeting the neighbors, becoming familiar with the community and getting an idea of what a long-term stay would be like. Nevertheless, we’re still just temporary residents and have no ties. As we settle into this new church, however, our prayer is that it will feel enough like home that we’ll want to join it, which is a commitment somewhat like buying a house (but without the mortgage and closing costs.)

Why should we bother to join a church? Couldn’t we continue as Christians-at-large and just visit churches? There are over 85 Christian churches in our town alone, so we’d have plenty from which to choose. Why not remain a renter and just drop our tithe into whatever basket is passed that morning?

There’s a big difference, however, between renting something and living in a home we own. In a nightly rental, we really don’t care about the mud we’ve tracked into the room, the burnt out light bulb, the coffee stain on the rug, or the people in the next room. Even when renting a house, as long as everything works, we aren’t concerned about the aging appliances, the armadillo digging under the deck, or the grubs in the grass; we can always move on elsewhere. It’s only when we buy the house that we become committed to it, our neighbors, and the well-being of our community. Because the house’s future is tied to ours, we invest our time, love and money; we look not just to today but also to tomorrow.

Church membership, like owning a house, is a commitment and one that means far more than maintaining a building. It’s a commitment to worship regularly, serve one another, spread God’s word, study, fellowship, pray for each other, uphold doctrine, be held accountable, and ensure its future for the next generation. Commitment is what keeps us caring for the homes we own and it’s what keeps a church functioning.

When we buy a house, we get a building but, when we join a church, we get much more than that. We get a ready-made family—a group of people who share the same foundation and love of Christ. And that, more than anything else, is why we’ll join the church that’s right for us once it’s found.

Why should you join a church? Because by committing yourself in that way you will help to fulfill your purpose as a Christian. It seems pretty obvious from biblical metaphors of building stones and body parts that the Christian life was not meant to be lived alone. You, as a Christian, were designed and created by God, not for a life of individuality and self-will, but to fill a niche in the spiritual building called the church. [Jim Elliff]

They were unified as they worshiped at the temple day after day. In homes, they broke bread and shared meals with glad and generous hearts. The new disciples praised God, and they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people of the city. Day after day the Lord added to their number everyone who was experiencing liberation. [Acts 2:46-47 (VOICE)]

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CLAIMING PROMISES

Tao New MexicoThe Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. [Genesis 13:14-15 (NIV)]

We were visiting an area church when the pastor referred to the above verse from Genesis in which God tells Abram (Abraham) he can have all that he sees. As the sermon continued, the pastor recited a litany of God’s promises and he seemed to be preaching a “name it and claim it” theology only, in this case, it was more like a “see it and have it” one. Granted, it was the first sermon of the year and the pastor clearly wanted to start 2018 on a high note. Nevertheless, claiming God’s promises and thinking they mean He’ll give me everything I visualize isn’t Bible-based.

Our faith and thoughts do not create our reality. If they did, among other things, I would be two inches taller, a whole lot shapelier, and without a wrinkle or any arthritis. Our faith doesn’t promise to give us what we want; our faith allows us to trust in a loving God who will give us what we need.

It is God, not us, who chooses when and how to bless us or, as in the case of Job, afflict us with trials. Job didn’t suffer for lack of faith; the man was filled with faith and yet he endured the loss of everything but his life. As baffled as Job was by his troubles, he knew that blessings and misfortune are not a measure of faith; the faithful can suffer and the wicked can prosper.

Not every promise made by God in the Bible is a wholesale across-the-board promise to us. That promise to Abram was a specific promise about a particular piece of land. God said nothing about seeing and having boyfriends, better jobs, new businesses, babies, healing, bigger paychecks, larger houses, or freedom from debt. Jesus came to save us from our sins and not from bankruptcy, infertility, illness, bad marriages, poor choices, difficult in-laws, unemployment, demanding bosses, or a host of other life challenges. Moreover, He calls us to sacrifice and deny rather than want and get.

Although God wants our love, worship, faith and obedience, He doesn’t need any of those to operate the universe. As Christians, we believe in the power of faith and prayer but we must remember the real power lies in God and His plan. We’re not God’s customers who can order what they see; we’re His children who thankfully accept what He gives us. Much of what we envision never will be ours simply because it’s not in God’s plan. When we become so intent on seeing what we want, we may miss seeing the blessings we’ve been given or different ones waiting in another direction.

I will continue to have faith and claim God’s promises—the promises of His presence, unfailing love, strength, wisdom, comfort, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, the power of Holy Spirit, and the peace of God. What He hasn’t promised me is that if I see it, believe it or name it, it will be mine.

 Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. [Max Lucado]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)]

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HOLY INNOCENTS

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this. … He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. [Matthew 2:1-3a,16b (NLT)]

Herod the king, in his raging, Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing, “Bye bye, lully, lullay.”
[Coventry Carol (Robert Croo)]

sleeping baby boyRuthless and paranoid, King Herod had killed three sons, several uncles and cousins, and one each of his wives, mothers-in-law, and brothers-in-law to protect his regime and keep his crown. When he was dying, desirous of having the Jews mourn rather than rejoice at his death, the heartless king hatched a diabolical plan to imprison all of the Jewish leaders and execute them upon his death. Having been crowned “King of the Jews” in 40 BC by the Roman Senate, it’s not likely a man like that would be willing to share his title with an infant. To safeguard his reign, the merciless king ordered the death of Bethlehem’s baby boys.

While there is no historical evidence of this slaughter, the story is plausible. It’s easy to believe that Herod, the Kim Jung-un of the ancient world, would order the death of innocent children. The early church grossly inflated the number killed by Herod’s men to thousands when, in actuality, Bethlehem’s population at the time was between 300 and 1,500. It’s estimated that only about fourteen to twenty-four of those were children under two, half of which were girls. Given all of Herod’s other evils, the death of a six to twelve baby boys in a time of high infant mortality wasn’t newsworthy.

The first Christian martyr wasn’t Jesus on Calvary or even the sainted Stephen; it was some nameless baby boy in Bethlehem. Those babies may have gone unnoticed by ancient historians but they had names to their mothers and their loss was noticed by all who knew them. Having only sung the first two verses of “Coventry Carol,” I hadn’t realized that, rather than Mary’s lullaby, it is a mother’s lament for her doomed child.

Around 485 AD, Herod’s massacre was commemorated in a feast day called “Holy Innocents” or “Childermas.” Recalling this slaughter and picturing mothers desperately trying to save their boys is the dark side of Christmas. Today, several churches celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents by remembering the preciousness of children. As we recall Herod’s victims and thank God for the children with which we have been blessed, let us also remember the holy innocents of the twenty-first century: refugees, the homeless, hungry, and disenfranchised; the elderly, mentally ill, sick, and isolated; casualties of war, the victimized, poverty-stricken, and vulnerable. They are all God’s precious children. How can we protect them from the Herods of today?

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen [Collect for Holy Innocents from the Book of Common Prayer]

Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah—weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” [Matthew 2:17-18 (NLT)]

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ARMLOADS OF GIFTS

O Israel, hope in the Lord; for he is loving and kind and comes to us with armloads of salvation. [Psalm 130:7 (TLB)]

dahliaMy arms were filled with precariously piled packages as I trudged through the mall parking lot. Thinking it was the perfect time to test the easy tailgate feature on our new SUV, I kicked my foot forward under the car’s rear bumper expecting it to magically open. Perhaps it was the trailer hitch or that my legs are too short, but the sensor didn’t work and the trunk lid remained closed. After trying several more times, it became clear that, in spite of the car’s promise, I was not going to open the tailgate while holding armloads of anything! It was when I tried to find the keys in my purse that my pile of holiday gifts tumbled every which way. On the plus side, my arms were finally free to lift the tailgate!

As God would have it, that morning’s Bible reading had taken me to Psalm 130 in the Living Bible translation: “He…comes to us with armloads of salvation.” While gathering up assorted packages in the parking lot and muttering a few bahs and humbugs, I wondered how God, with his armloads of salvation, would do with my tailgate. Then I pictured another, far nicer, scenario. It’s Christmas and someone’s at the door. As the host opens the door, he welcomes his visitor inside. The guest’s arms are overflowing with beautifully wrapped packages piled so high that you can’t even see his face. Everyone eagerly gathers around him with open hands to receive their gifts. The boxes, however, aren’t filled with shirts, purses, perfume, toys, books, and the latest electronics; they are filled with a never-ending supply of salvation, redemption, wisdom, forgiveness, joy, peace, faith and love. It may be His birthday, but it is Jesus who brought us armloads of gifts!

Since the Lord’s arms are filled with His gifts, we must open the door for Him. I couldn’t open the tailgate when my arms were filled with packages and we can’t open the door to our hearts if our arms are filled with the stuff and nonsense of this world. Although attachment to wealth and actual possessions can fill our arms, things like unforgiveness, fear, doubt, pride, anger, ingratitude, shame, and guilt also can leave us too encumbered to open the door or accept His gifts. God’s got an armload of good things for us but our arms must be free and our hands empty if we ever hope to get them.

Faith is two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord. [Alan Redpath]

Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. [Revelation 3:20 (TLB)]

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POWER

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.  [Matthew 20:25-27 (NLT)]

red-shoudered hawkRecently, the news has been filled with stories about powerful men who have misused their influence to prey on others. Unfortunately, abuse of power is nothing new. Consider our Biblical hero King David. While strolling on his roof late one afternoon, he looked down on the city below and spotted a beautiful woman taking her ritual bath. Even though he knew she was married, David sent for her. With at least six wives already, he wasn’t lacking for female companionship. Nevertheless, he wanted the beautiful Bathsheba. The Bible tells us the two had sex, she got pregnant, and David killed her husband to conceal their adultery. The Bible, however, tells us nothing of Bathsheba. We know she didn’t ask David to invade her privacy and, obedient to her king, she went to his palace. How could she refuse and to whom could she complain? Whether David managed to seduce her with his charm or forced himself on her doesn’t matter. He was her king and she had no choice. He wrongly took advantage of his power when he sent his men to get her, had sex with her, and manipulated events so that her husband was killed in battle.

This is not a male-bashing devotion; it is a reminder to us all that power and authority of any kind is a privilege. We are told to be good stewards of our wealth and use it wisely. When we are blessed with positions of authority or power, we should use that wisely, as well. If we’re not millionaires, CEOs, politicians, producers, or celebrities, we might think we have little or no power, but we do. We have the power to make someone else’s day good or bad and we have the power to affect their future. We can badger or intimidate co-workers, baby sitters, interns, clerks, sales people, bus drivers, assistants, neighbors, care givers, maintenance people, spouses and even children. It’s not just sexual abuse; there are many other ways to abuse, demean, mistreat, manipulate, or exploit people. Bullies aren’t found just on the playground; I’ve seen them berate wait staff, receptionists, and students. Threats aren’t made just by bosses; I’ve seen them made by irate customers. Politicians aren’t the only ones with clout; many of us have the ability to put in a good (or bad) word that can change someone’s future. We can make or break someone’s reputation with a few keystrokes. Having the upper hand never gives us the right to hit with it and having the power to do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

Abuse of power has consequences; conceived in adultery, David and Bathsheba’s child died and we’ve recently seen numerous successful careers crash. We may not make the tabloids when we shortchange the sitter, take out our anger on the secretary, or threaten someone out of spite. Nevertheless, there will be consequences for us as well—if not in this world, then in the next. In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us that we’ll be held accountable for the way we use our gifts. We tend to think of those gifts as money, time and skills. They also include knowledge, relationships, privilege, power and authority and we should use all of them with love and compassion. Moreover, when we use our influence or authority to mistreat those less powerful, let us remember that we are mistreating the most powerful one of all!

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” [Matthew 25:40 (NLT)]

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