Desert Cure

He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there.  He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle.    Psalm 107:33-36

I wish I could say that I’ve stepped foot onto an actual desert.  But then again, thinking about standing atop a living dune of sand with nothing but mirages glistening in every direction is not my idea of a pleasant experience.  Life seems to beg for mercy in the desert, crying out to but a dew drop to quench the thirst — to give life.  And yet, it’s beautiful.  Adorned with brilliance and elegance, sculpted upon an ever shifting canvas of sand, the desert is a place of renewal, dependence and discovery.

The desert is a place that whispers no words, but instead churns more questions than answers.  It’s a place that gives no breaks and no hint of relief.  A desert can be personal, God makes certain of that!   It’s hand-made, different for each one of us — and trust me, everyone will encounter a desert at some point.

The desert experience is found throughout the Bible in many of the familiar stories.  Joseph’s desert was him being betrayed and spending years as a slave.  The Israelites wandered throughout the desert for forty years.  David ran from Saul in the desert.  Paul spent his converted life wrestling with sin in his desert.  Lazarus became an example to all of new life that comes from the desert.  And Jesus stepped into the desert for forty days to reenact our own desert journeys by fasting and facing the temptations of Satan.  All of these experiences face the reality of their own desert while holding tight to the hope of God’s Word and promises.

It becomes a place where all that once sustained you is no longer there to satisfy the cravings of the flesh.  It’s a place of spiritual purging that cleanses the soul and dries out the tongue that no longer thirsts for junk.  Instead, it defines the true thirst of our hearts.  The desert becomes the best place for God to wilt away the false selves and bring life to an authentic self.

Lord Jesus, in my desert are many mirages.  My eyes fail me, my senses deceive me to think that what my mind thinks is there is true.  But I know you are the only Truth to trust and it is not found by my senses.  It is found in the faith of knowing who you are in me and I in you!  While I’m in my desert may I encounter the gift of your presence each day.  And in your presence, as I am so thirsty, may I drink from the abundance of your well of living water!  It is in knowing you are with me in the desert I experience your protective love that gives me the strength to continue in this journey.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.   Psalm 63:1

Allow or Try

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.   Colossians 3:4

My whole life I have tried hard to be something I am not.  I wished it weren’t so, but the amount of energy I have spent in my futile attempts to live at being the best Christian I could possibly be has fallen just short of exhausting.  It has robbed me of experiencing the life God has intended and exchanged it for dependence upon false fulfillment and a crisis of identity.  My heart rejoices in knowing this treasure of realization has been discovered, but is coupled by sadness as with it has been a lifetime of destruction.

Lord knows I have tried and in my efforts only found the worthless jewel of failure.  But why?  Kudos to me for getting back upon the horse each time, but why am I so apt to fall off so many times over?  Are my efforts in vain?  Am I not good enough?  Am I just that horrible of a Christian?  Even Paul cries out about himself, “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:24)

But I am reminded of the life I NOW live!  A life not of worthlessness, but instead — victory!  Not because of anything I can do, but because of everything He has done.  It is not me trying to measure up to certain standards or conditions in order to demonstrate the life I ought to live, but instead finding the correct Who in which to use as a reference point to measuring up.  See, my reference point is no longer me trying to live a certain way and hiding failure from those I love, instead it is allowing Christ who is MY life live out who He is through me so that I may be a glory-carrier!

I cannot live the Christian life, only one person can do that and that is Christ!  So as long as I continue striving to live up to a standard of doing what the Bible says, doing all the right things, treating everyone a certain way, being to everyone what they think I should be, then of course, I’m going to fail.  Because I have to learn how to allow Christ, as my life, to radiate through me!  I have to learn more about what it means to allow Christ to live His life through me.  When I do — my actions no longer reflect a neediness, my attitude no longer drips with pity, my relationships reflect Christ’s love and my life springs with uncontainable glory!

Lord Jesus, I devote myself to allowing your life to live through me!  It says in your word (Romans 6) that through sin the parts of my body are offered as instruments of wickedness, but when I offer myself to you, I offer the parts of my body as instruments of righteousness.  This, I know, is how I live ‘Christ is my life!’  Today, and everyday, I offer the parts of my body as your instruments.  May I pause at the door frame of sin and allow you to live through me!

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.   Romans 6:14

Relevant Reality

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:16

I am struck this morning of the relevance of my Creator to the present state of my reality.  The Christ I know has been, throughout my life somewhat like that narrator from the old Twilight Zone series that somehow, and for some reason, always appeared to the viewer within a scene of the twisted story.  It’s not far off to think that I’m not alone in the presupposition that Christ is welcomed and waiting around the corner for my next crisis.  Or that He’d show up, present and waiting for the next funeral to embrace the grieving.  Nor would He turn His ear from being desperately approached and wait at a bout with severe illness.  Why wouldn’t I think that Christ wouldn’t be there for me?  He has always promised to be there and He has never missed an appointment.  But is that what He’s been boiled down to?  Have I really considered Him no more than a glorified bell-hop at the concierge counter of my life?

Christ is clearly more than that — more so, He is nothing of that!  The truth of the relevance of Christ to the present state of my reality is no different than it has always been.  My choice to justify His relevance to me has customized within my heart and mind a false reality of His existence in me.  It really isn’t a question of relevance at all — Christ is my life!  He lives in me!

He walks and talks with me wherever I go.  Never alone and never silent to the heartbeat of Christ within me!  He is the one who gives me understanding into the worlds of those unloving, unlovely ugly people that wander in and out of my life every day.  He is the one who takes the heart — broken and battered — and restores it to full strength!  He is the Christ who restores crumbling dreams.  He is the Christ who rekindles hope.  Christ is my Comforter!  He is the Christ who catches every tear I shed in the palms of His hands.  He is the Christ who laughs with me when I’m funny, when I’m silly and when life itself cracks a joke.  Christ is He who watches me breathe as I sleep and keeps me.  He is Christ who died for me — my Savior!

Dare I neglect the relevance of Christ — my Creator, my Comforter, my Redeemer, my Restorer, my Provider, my Peace, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Savior — who is my life and my all?  There is great relevance to Him in my current and future reality — because He is my everything!

Lord Jesus, may I live every second in fellowship with you!  Relating with others with your voice, your mind, your heart!  May my words and my heart be in harmony with your life in me.

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:29

Holy Dark

But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  Romans 8:24-25

My sweet niece was getting ready for school this morning in the room next to mine when I overheard her conversation with her mom.  Quite frankly, being in the next room over was no privilege since her 5 year old demands were being made at the top of her lungs.  I burst out into a sudden, unexpected and uncontrolled laugh and I quickly tried to douse my reaction.  But, according to her, she was going to have pigtails this morning — no I mean – she was GOING TO HAVE PIGTAILS!!  There were no options, no waiting, no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it.  She clearly did not wake on the patience side of the bed.

I’ve reflected on this moment all morning.  I’ve thought how not so very different I am with God and my circumstances.  I chart a way to get through the rough terrain of life and declare what I need, when I need it with no waiting expected.  When we’re five years old, we thought we were the boss of everything.  Funny how some things just never change.  But, truth is, I know the Boss — and I’m not him!  And so I wait.

I wait with anticipation, expectation and birth of a transformation unlike anything I’ve ever known.  In Romans 8 it speaks of all creation waiting with eager expectation of God’s glory and similarly, I wait for my wings.  But until then, something is happening.

As I wait in this holy darkness it almost feels like God is absent.  Everything I’ve known of Him seems nowhere near.  It’s quiet, it’s blindingly dark, it’s disorienting, it’s Mysterious.  I search for the “lights” that I have become so accustomed to leading me and in this holy darkness those lights are not allowed.  It’s a liquifying of the knowledge and reliance of my “creation” and the experience of the crumbling of who God is and the system that makes it work for me and my ego.

This place of darkness is not an evil place — it’s that place an inch beneath the soil where the seed waits to become all that God has designed it to be.  It’s that place in a mother’s womb where life begins and is nurtured.  It’s that place where God wanders and wonders and where His fingertips run along the seams of my heart.  It’s that place, in the darkness of the tomb where God transformed!

For me it has been as though I’ve been walking with Him in this dense forest.  It’s become so dense the light of the sun has been kept from the forest floor.  What once was day has turned to an eery darkness.  I want to panic, I want to run, but I have no idea where I am.  I feel lost among the trees, but lost I am not.  This darkness is part of God’s journey.  It’s not even a detour, nor is it a wrong turn.  It’s The Way and I’m on it!  Hallelujah!  There is no way I’ll find my way back alone and everything that I’ve ever trusted and leaned against is nowhere in this holy dark.

So, I let go and turn to the Boss to lead The Way.  If I can only trust Him and truly let go all glory will be revealed.  Too often I panic like many do when they find themselves in the pitch of darkness.  I need to understand the need to surrender and journey through and make my way to the real light ahead.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.    Romans 8:18-21

The Darkness Of True Liberty

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness,.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”  Romans 8:26-27

My experiences have proven the realization that life exists in the midst of straightaways and sharp curves, smooth surfaces and potholes, along with periods of light and darkness.  It’s within those moments in tight turns, jolted with blindness that life truly begins to define itself.  It’s when life enters the Refiner’s fire that the true S[s]elf emerges.  It’s a phase, a stage, within a life-altering experience that while the music stops and the lights suddenly go out, opportunity for something miraculous occurs — transformation into true liberty.

But letting go is a crazy thing to do, it’s not easy with something precious.  Stepping into the dark requires significant abandonment.  In the dark the senses are heightened because nothing is seen.  Nothing is as it appears and nothing seems trustworthy, yet it is here that God tells me to “let go.”  Let go?  What?  Are you kidding me?  Sound familiar?

And with that I light a candle, flip the switch and bring light onto my circumstances.  Why?  Well, it’s safe there!  I am most comfortable in that place I recognize, understand and relate.  Even if it means hurting the same way, staying in conflict or being in trouble, I am most familiar in those moments because experiencing these things would bring far more comfort in the light of familiarity than in the darkness of uncertainty.  But God tells me [us] to “let go.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

So, just maybe, in the midst of my own crisis, while in the chrysalis seems dark, it is a period of time to learn the lessons of letting go.  My flesh wants to cling on to those things I am most comfortable in knowing.  But true crisis: separation from something, warrants a response to change.  The options are simple . . . Run!  Walk! or Wait!  Each response determines the success and direction of the rest of my life.  And the process of waiting is the choice of transformation and wholeness.  My choice!

John Sanford writes in his book, The Kingdom Within:

At first the approach of the kingdom may seem like a violent attack from something dark and dreadful . . . . Entrance into the kingdom means the destruction of the old personality with its constricted and uncreative attitudes . . . . The fortress behind which the ego had been hiding must be torn down, and as these defenses are battered down forcibly by the movements from within, it may seem at first like a violent assault.

Lord Jesus, I’m feeling battered within.  My circumstances rear themselves to my heart and soul much like a violent assault.  I know and step toward you in confidence, that though this is how I feel, that true liberty in Christ is happening!  When my thoughts turn negative, whisper your promises back into my heart — remind me of your staff that comforts me and your spring from which I drink!

Inside The Chrysalis

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”  Psalm 130:5-6

I remember as a child, during the sweltering summers of the Florida heat, when an occasional mosquito would find it’s way in my bedroom.  Without air-conditioning the windows were extended as open and wide as they could stretch in the event a slight breeze may catch the sill.  The screens did their job for the most part, although I found it strikingly remarkable how the mosquitoes could find the four or five BB holes left there from . . . well, what else is a boy to do when he’s sent to his room and he has a BB gun?  The nights were hot and very sticky with that humid Florida air.  I begged most nights for that breeze!  With no hope of relief I fought hard to drift to sleep.  But the mosquito knew exactly where to find me!  Worse, he knew exactly where my ear was in which to announce his presence.  This sound, this buzzing sound was and quite frankly, still is, the worst noise in the world!  My only hope, my only escape was to retreat.  Despite the heat, the sealed, fortress-like fabric of my sheets were the perfect cover.  I pulled and tucked myself in and under the covers until I could barely breathe.  Inside the chrysalis.

Time has no measure inside the chrysalis.  Jonah spent three days in his, the Hebrews spent forty years in theirs.  Life is full of cocoons, both big and small.  But life inside the chrysalis is never easy.  It appears lonely, and may include a sense of abandonment.  After all, a caterpillar never shares his cocoon with another.  The journey inside the chrysalis is the second phase of a threefold process God uses in soul-making.  The life inside the chrysalis transforms!

The author, Sue Kidd says, “A creature can separate from an old way of existence, enter a time of metamorphosis, and emerge to a new level of being.”  Transformation happens!

Lord Jesus, it is dark, it feels lonely, and it’s hard to see what is happening inside the chrysalis of my life right now!  I ask you to work the clay, whittle away from my heart that which does not look like the man You called me to be.  And while I wait and put my hope in your word may I be attentive to the call, sweet whisper of your Spirit within.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  II Corinthians 5:17

So I Wait

“Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.”  Proverbs 14:13

When life meets crisis there’s rarely a warm welcome.  My crises, converging on many fronts has launched into a journey of soul-making I can hardly describe.  The torch of significance that flickered what seemed an eternal flame has been snuffed by the breathe from the whispers of God within my core.  The beacon that shone brightly throughout each of my identities has been extinguished — the night air is cold, the stars do not twinkle — so I wait.

Life as I knew it was pretty simple — coasting through the harbors the journeys of each day would set sail on new adventures, great discoveries — empty of purpose, laced with secrecy and ultimately hollow and void of meaning.  A voluntary departure was hardly considered.  But when God calls, it’s a good idea to answer!  And so it began . . . a journey of transformation or a journey of continued disobedience.  It was time to weave my cocoon — so I wait.

In waiting, the soul-making experience takes on a new form.  The change is slow, yet painful.  The change encounters loss, yet gain.  The change requires surrender, yet control.  The change swells with pathos, yet joy — so I wait.

The paradox in waiting is like many of those Christ spoke of during His ministry.  Like His call to drink of living water and never thirst again.  Like His call to die is to gain.  And no different too, is His call to find joy in the midst of sorrow.

Will I ever laugh again?  Will I ever see and live the joy He speaks of in the midst of such loss?  I suppose I will — so I wait.

Paul worried for the Galatians.  He visited and preached the love of Christ and the power of His resurrection and was welcomed as though he were Christ himself — despite his past.  Yet, upon return to them, he noticed a considerable change — they lost their joy.  They lost the joy in the hope of Christ Jesus!

Lord Jesus, I struggle with what words to say, but I know your joy in me exists!  I know that stripped of every mask, every persona, every identity, the only thing that remains is the essence of my being — I am.  I am only because You ARE!  This is who I am!  Living through my loss, my grief and my unfortunate circumstances breeds pathos within me.  While I may experience pathos though, help me laugh again through the joy only you bring.  May I not laugh for others — but instead live joy — so I wait!

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliott

Life Is Liquid

“But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.”  Hosea 12:6

They say patience is a virtue, but at times it feels more like torture than anything virtuous.  Waiting is not something we are just wired to do — or at least do easily.  In fact, we are forced into moments where waiting is necessary and since we are aware of our own discomfort with waiting, environments are created around us to distract us or deceive our senses into thinking we aren’t really waiting at all.  Amusement parks are good at this where long lines form to ride a spectacular ride, they will snake everyone in line back and forth in order to give the appearance of a shorter line and to create the effect of a line that is always moving.  A line that seems to be moving is the line I’ll jump in at the grocery store!

Life is very similar to this — it is fluid — always moving.  This reminds me of the crazy waters dumped on New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  For the first time since they were engineered by the Army Corp of Engineers the levees were challenged that protected the city from rising waters.  It was said they would never break, but the water became too great a challenge for the banks of the levee.   Slowly they weakened against the subtle force of rising waters and the water spilled into the city bringing unimaginable destruction.

Water flows to the path of least resistance.  My life has always somehow found it’s way following paths of least resistance. It feels easier that way doesn’t it?  But, before long it’s flooded.  God said (I didn’t listen), “Mark, the water is going to get deep, be patient I’m building the levee!”  But life seemed to pour it on and pour it on in volumes I was unable to manage and I wasn’t going to allow anyone else to take control.  So, I constructed my own walls to hold back the turbulent liquid of life — I did it my way. [Big mistake!]

Hindsight is always 20/20 — we look back and see the mistakes, usually coupled with more knowledge today than then.  It’s a measure of growth and includes an experience where life has been sharpened and more thoroughly engaged.  But there is something that comes with a spiritual hindsight that sharpens the focus of our vision and pierces the soul.  It allows and readies us  to wait.

The scripture is filled with patience!  I think of Simeon in the courtyard waiting on the coming Christ child.  I think of Noah waiting for the waters to subside.  I think of Elijah waiting on the ravens.  I think of Joseph left in a pit to die then sold to slavery.  I think of the blind man.  I think of the father of the prodigal son.  I think of Nicodemus.  I think of Jonah in the belly of a great fish. I think of Moses, then Jacob for Rebecca.  I think of the people of Israel and their journey to the Promised Land.  I think of Paul in prison. I think of Mary and Joseph.  I think of Daniel in the den.  I think of Sarah to bear children.  I think of our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives, on the shore, in a boat with stormy seas, with Mary and Martha, and I think of Him around the table with twelve He had chosen knowing their faith would be challenged.

It’s a time of waiting He calls us to.  This is because our time of waiting on Him is a picture — a reflection — of Him imprinted upon our spirit.  Nothing exemplifies this better than the story of the father waiting upon his prodigal son.  It is a story of waiting, a story of redemption and unconditional love.  It’s the best picture we have of our own Heavenly Father awaiting His children — you and me – to return to Him.  But He waits.  So also, I wait on Him.  It is a period of time, while the world flows by, for me to embrace, to fellowship, to awaken to life flowing not the path of least resistance, but flowing straight up!  Sue Monk Kidd says it best in her book, When The Heart Waits, “Crisis, change, all the myriad upheavals that blister the spirit and leave us groping–they aren’t voices simply of pain but also of creativity.  And if we would only listen, we might hear such times becoming us to a season of waiting, to the place of fertile emptiness.”

“But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  Romans 8:25

Rejection And Sorrows . . . He Understands

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Isaiah 53:3

I’d like to think it was a silent night on the night of our Savior’s birth, but I believe Bethlehem was far from quiet that night.  When people travel from all over the world for the Olympics, is the Village quiet?  When thousands descend upon a stadium for a game, are the roads, hallways or arenas quiet?  During the days of Mardis Gras, are the streets of New Orleans silent?  The answer to each of these is a resounding, “No!”  It was the busiest night in Bethlehem.  The census was underway and people had traveled from miles around.  So many had flooded the streets, overnight accommodations were slim to none.  Everyone was busy, so busy they missed the arrival of God himself in their own backyard.

Unnoticed by many, Christ was born to be noticed only by a few.  Those who listened, those who trusted, those who believed in something bigger and more hopeful than themselves — they came, bringing gifts, proclaiming the arrival of the King, welcoming the One they had been waiting in the courts to arrive.  A subtle entrance, a grand reception — but only by a few . . . the rest would reject Him, hurt Him, fill Him with sorrow.

It’s difficult to believe He understands the pain of rejection.  It’s not easy trusting the human sorrow He experienced to know the deepness of my own sorrow.  The truth is however, He does understand.  He understands and promises to heal the brokenhearted.  But, like those in Bethlehem that night, I all too often forget to listen, forget to notice, forget to see, forget “to taste and see that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!”

Lord Jesus, rejection sucks — that’s me being brutally honest!  You have promised to be my Comforter, my Healer, and NEVER reject me!  Your love for me is not conditional and never weakens!  You are seated upon the throne and I am seated with you!  I know you understand every ache in my heart!  Continue to refine me — burn off that which is unrighteous as I strive to be holy as You are holy! I’m so glad you understand!!!!

 

When The Bottom Falls Out

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8

Last night I received some horrible news . . . it’s related to the crisis for which I write this blog.

Ever had one of those moments when it seemed like the world was caving in around you and the bottom was falling out beneath you?  Ever been in a place where everything you know with vibrant colors suddenly turns black and white.  Ever reflected on the things that used to make you laugh and smile and instead feel sadness?  And in the middle of those moments we plead and all but beg for God to comfort, to hold, to carry the immense burden.  But the mere act of asking for those things reveals the lack of trust in my own heart I have in believing in His promises.

Yesterday He was here, right by my side — better, He was living inside me!  Today is no different!  He is right beside me, comforting me and living inside me!  Oh sure, the circumstances have changed, the scenery is a little scorched, but He’s the same today as He was yesterday.  So, while my crisis continues, my relationship with Christ is strengthened.

One thing I’m learning in the midst of crisis is the difficulty that comes in seeing the hope there is in a future.  But remember, yesterday . . . same — today . . . same — tomorrow and forever . . . SAME!  He cares for us — He cares for me!

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”  Ephesians 1:4