The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols: It’s a mythical fire bird which consumes itself in flames and rises renewed from the ashes. It doesn’t do this just once, but many times, so that it lives on and on. It reminds me of the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit… (Isaiah 61:1, 3 ESV)
I can’t help thinking about this creature and these verses on this first day of the new year, as I say goodbye to 2015 (I won’t miss it at all), and look forward to a brand new year. I woke up today and it was as if I had new eyes too see everything; I had hope and joy for the days ahead like I haven’t had in quite some time—maybe ever. Today truly is a new day; all the days before are gone, and they cannot tell me who I am or hold me back from where God is leading me. I am ready to leave those ashes behind, no looking back, for the beauty and the joy of walking with the Lord in His all-consuming fire.
It is a happy new year indeed.
(Reposted from my own facebook page)
So I had to share this picture, not because of the main message (though it’s still true), but because the image itself struck me. Look at the ground she walks on: Dry as a desert. There are walls of water on either side, but they don’t come down on her. Sometimes, we go through “desert times,” seemingly inhospitable and dry, and we feel abandoned. Perhaps sometimes, what we don’t see is the torrent on either side, the raging waves we walk through that don’t crash down and take us under. Sometimes the paths God leads us on seem hard, even impossible. But these are the ways to be thankful for, because on these ways God is leading us right through the midst of chaos that would otherwise overwhelm us, even destroy us. He is a good Shepherd, who walks with His sheep wherever He leads them, so we can take heart in this as well: Desert or dry ocean bed, we are never alone.
The other day, I was minding my own business when the Lord, as He often does, spoke up to tell me something I needed to hear. It was actually a question: What are you being saturated by?
I’d actually had a pretty rough day, the kind where all these relatively little things added up to a very frustrated me. I was completely flooded by my own negative thoughts; I had allowed myself to soak in my funk all day. I had to choose instead to allow myself to be saturated with God’s presence, to soak in His word instead.
This is true of life in general. What do we allow ourselves to be saturated by? The past? Present circumstances? Pain? Offense? Fear? The things we are full of are the things that will pour out of us. It’s a daily choice, I’m finding, to be in the flow of His word and Spirit, so that praises pour out instead of complaints. We all need to get things off our chests sometimes, of course. But I find that when I’m full of nothing but negative comments, it’s because I’ve allowed my mind to dwell on unlovely things for far too long in a day. I long to be saturated by the presence of the Lord 24/7, so maybe others will get soaked by the river around me.
At night, and especially in the rain, everything can look very different. Streets you’ve driven many times look unfamiliar, the lines on the road become hard to distinguish among the many reflections from streetlights and businesses, and even though you know where you’re going, suddenly it seems like getting there has become more challenging.
This will be honest.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I seem to have changed so much in the past few months, and I realized tonight (while driving home, in this midsummer weather bummer) that part of it is because my life has become very unfamiliar to me. A lot of changes have happened in my life in a relatively short span of time, and I have been grasping for something that feels like the way things were; something familiar, from what I think of as a good time in my life. Even though it’s the same road I’ve been on, a turn somewhere brought me into the night; the lines on this road are harder to see amidst the distractions and deceptions coming from the side. I feel alone on this road, and I’m nervous about driving it. Suddenly the path I was sure of has become foreign and even frightening. Suddenly, I feel like I don’t know where I am.
I realized the things I’m grasping for are times and seasons and places that I have passed through, but can’t get back to, or things that aren’t here yet that I keep hoping will be. What I’m missing, what I’m really looking for, is something unchanging. I hunger for that place that can be reached from anywhere I am—I want the peace, the quiet stillness, the presence of my Father.
I’ve also realized the quiet is something I’ve come to dread. All my fears find a voice there, and all the worries begin to shout in the silence, and the many things I feel I must do to keep occupied suddenly seem so very important. I ride the wave of the clamor right past the secret place into more chaos, and the things I do just to keep busy really just keep me cluttered and confused. Then, when the desire to meet God in my prayer closet becomes so strong I might actually act on it, I feel guilty or ashamed for having put Him off, and so continue to put Him off (which totally fixes the problem..?). Yet in the times when I find that place, and the voice of the Lord breaks through with a blast of peace, I remember the comfort of His presence and the joy of His word. He is the solid ground I’m looking for while this ground seems unstable. He is the light that shines without distortion, though the night is dark and the rain is heavy. When I live by His presence, I find the road I’m on to be one I’m able to travel, regardless of how hard it is. I am reminded that I’m not driving alone, either in my own vehicle or as the only vehicle on this road.
I am also reminded in these times, when I allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and strengthen me, that there is no time or place in life when I can’t seek Him. Another friend of mine was recently talking about “getting to that place” where she can find God again, and when I opened my mouth to reply, the Spirit came out and said, more or less: “You don’t have to get anywhere. Find Him where you are, because He’s seeking you where you are.” How often we think we must be a certain way, or change certain things, or find a new circumstance, before we feel like we can come into His presence again. God is always where we are, right there with us. Certainly He wants to lead us into new places—but it’s impossible to be led by someone who isn’t there, so how can God be elsewhere? This brings a whole new dimension to that familiar phrase, “Be where you are.” You can’t live in either your past or your future, for better or worse. You’re not what you were, nor what you will be, but you are, here and now—and so is God. Find Him where you are, without fear or shame, without regrets, without reserve; and let Him find you, every part of you. Whether you feel completely lost or completely on track, seek Him; He already knows the road you’re on.
So I never watch Church TV, but this morning I turned on some TV Church programs, just because. I ended up flipping through a couple, all with good, smart, biblically-sound teaching. I ended up on a channel with a Youth Pastor who was preaching something different, and I noticed a trend: the “grown-up” church teachings were all about little nuggets of wisdom and power that can be mined out of the Scriptures and applied to everyday life, but this youth service was all about how God loves. This Youth Pastor was talking about how, of all the weapons in God’s heavenly arsenal, the one He chose to use to save humanity was Love; he went on to to talk about how God saved him from his pit, how God is not angry or disappointed in everyone, how He loves. And it struck me as odd that the message of God’s love should be reserved for the young and the new believers, as if it is something to be moved on from in favor of “higher” teachings.
Now there is certainly a maturity that must be developed as one grows in the Lord. In Hebrews 5, the writer talks about how those he writes to should be graduating from basic teachings, from “milk” to “solid food.” The love of God is foundational to living a life following Him; He doesn’t make sense without it. The basic, foundational things should not be discarded, however, but built upon. God’s love never becomes obsolete, as if one could spirtitually upgrade past the need for it. To the contrary, as one grows in the Lord, the knowledge of His love should increase rather than diminish–as if the God who is Love could ever change.
My Pastor has been talking recently about how we are like dogs in that God has given each of us a passion to pursue that one thing He made us for—like a dog has a passion for chasing a ball. A person in the Lord is like a well-loved dog: we aren’t afraid of not being fed, we’re content to just be in the Master’s presence, and we certainly come running when He picks up our ball. But so many of us forget all the love of the Master and instead live like distrusting cats. We hide, we avoid the Master; we cry out for fear of not being fed, or of being left alone, or of being locked in or out of the house. It’s because we forget just how much affection God has for us, how much He loves us.
Deeper understanding and a more mature mindset are certainly part of growing in the Lord, and we must lay aside immature ways of thinking and put down misconceptions. But God’s love is not something anyone can grow out of; it’s something we’re supposed to keep growing in. So don’t forget the basics you are building on: “For God so loved the world…”
My site here is called “Be in the Flow”, and some may be wondering why; I have. It did sound good when I named it that, but I didn’t just want a name that sounded cool or catchy, I wanted a name that described what this blog is about. So, what is “The Flow” and why should anyone be in it?
The flow I’m referring to is a river that comes down from the throne of God; it flows through His city and His people; it’s His presence and all that He is. We were meant to always be immersed in it, in Him, but something went awry in the beginning: we rejected the flow. We turned to what we could manage, to deciding what is right and wrong, to holding others to our standard. We exchanged the flow of the river of God for the bog of our own understanding.
In the biblical temple of the nation of Israel, the Holy of Holies was separated from the people behind a great thick curtain. Behind the veil in this place rested the Ark of the Covenant, the tangible representation of the Presence, and no one but the High Priest, and only once a year, could go in before it. When Jesus’ spirit departed his body in death, the earth shook violently, the sky darkened… and the veil was torn in two. No longer would the Presence of God be confined and hidden from His people, but because of the one sacrifice of the Christ, God became accessible again.
Many people think being a Christian is only about being a good person and going to heaven when you die, but that’s not it. It’s about regaining access to God directly, living in the flow of His love and power, experiencing a life out of heaven right here on earth. There is nothing separating you from Him! Nothing is in the way, nothing can keep you from Him. He desires you to be in the flow, always.
This word about the presence is resonating throughout God’s church; the presence is the one thing God wants His people focused on. For a much more eloquent and powerful word on this one thing, please follow the link below!
Also, check out my Info page for more about the flow and this blog.
I was talking to my very good friend last night about my current life situation(s) and all the uncertainty that comes with, and she remarked that “Limbo” seems like the story of my life right now.
Oh, that is the most apt description of my life I have ever heard.
My autobiography could be titled “Limbo” with the subtitle, “How low can you go (and still trust God)?”
(I know that’s mixing metaphors, but it’s still true.)
In the past year I have started college solely by financial aid, lost my job, been unable yet to find a new job, had to move out of my lovely apartment and in with a friend (who is absolutely wonderful, by the way); and just today I found out that a class I took this quarter may be worthless as it pertains to my degree requirements. These are a few of the recent major happenings of my life and, needless to say, I am stressed.
I’ll admit it, this post is a little ranty, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
My favorite passage in Scripture when I first got saved was Matthew 6:25-34; you could call it the “Do Not Worry” mini-sermon (it is part of the portion known as the Sermon on the Mount). Jesus says that no one should worry about anything: if God feeds sparrows and clothes flowers, both of which are virtually useless, then He will certainly take care of a person’s every need; if one seeks Him first, that person will be supplied from heaven. It is certainly true, and I believe God keeps His promises, but man is it hard!
I feel like I am going through training on how to be Paul: “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Some may say I should think about people in other countries, especially those experiencing actual persecution for the faith. It is true: I can’t hold a candle to their suffering. When I look at the things other people go through, it makes me seem downright “whiny”. A wise woman once said something to effect of, “We don’t get to decide what is a big deal to someone else.” We can’t compare our own suffering to that of others.
After writing all of that, I am reminded of this: God Is Who He says He Is, regardless of circumstance or experience. He Is faithful, He Is love, He Is power.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
His plans for our welfare don’t mean we all get a Ferrari and a house on the coast. His plans for our welfare mean everything will be taken care of, even if it’s not the way we imagined or planned: I didn’t plan on being an unemployed student, while seeing many of my friends happily married, some with kids, able to pay their own bills.
God’s plans are also for His glory. What seems hard to us on earth—finding a job, finding a mate, breaking addiction, leaving the past, fighting through illness, mastering emotions—all of this is easy for God, not because it is meaningless, but because He is God. Jesus lived on the earth: he experienced the hard life first-hand—he even asked God to not have him go to the cross… But he went, because he trusted God, and God said that was the only way that Jesus could be The Way.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18 (Paul)
We can’t compare our sufferings on earth with those of others, because what tears the heart of a person can’t be measured by other people. But when I look to heaven, not as a coming thing but as something that is here now—as Jesus said, it is in our midst—then my hope is restored; there is glory to be revealed to us, and also through us:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
God has something amazing to bring through us, to be witnessed by those on earth and in the heavenly realms. Some of those in the heavenly realms include the enemy, who hates us and will do everything he can to get our eyes off God and on what’s wrong, and he’s good at it. But my God is greater, and I know my story isn’t over yet.
…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I know that His love is big enough for me to tell Him how I really feel; I know He holds me, and I know He is leading me. So after I’ve flopped down and complained, I get up and brush off the dirt and follow after Him, and I know He’s still smiling at me.
I wrote this in my personal journal over a year ago now, when I was feeling very discouraged. Perhaps it will encourage someone else today.
A Soldier’s Complaint
I am walking to the land He has given me to possess; I am walking in it, to possess it.
I’ve walked through deserts; through dim valleys and lush fields.
I’ve scaled high, steep hills; I’ve climbed long, shallow ones.
Through rain and sun, night and day, I have walked.
When I have walked alive, I have been dead. And when I have died, I have walked in new life.
And what I have lost along the way—it is worthless; to what I have gained, all the world does not compare.
I have nothing left, yet I have everything I have ever needed; indeed the desires of my heart are mine.
I’ve fought—I’ve fought, and been victorious, and I’ve also given up victories.
I’ve swung the sword and thrown the dagger and held fast the shield.
I’ve put on the armor, and I’ve forgotten the armor.
I’ve been wounded. I’ve been in pain.
I’ve been healed, restored, renewed.
In battles, in the war, I have fought.
I’ve died to all things, slowly and assuredly; and even to this day, I am dying!
I am walking, I am fighting—fighting for what? Walking where?
My Darling, do you not trust Me?
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for harm, plans to give you a future
and a hope.
I am so weary, I am so drained…
Run, and do not grow weary.
I can’t see where I’m going, I have to stop…
Walk, and do not grow faint.
What if I can’t run this race set before me? How can I go on?
I am with you always
Even to the end of the age…
My life is not my own. I am not my own.
You are all I have; You are all I want! I am only alive in You, and life flows through me from You.
You refresh my soul, restore my strength, and quench my thirst.
You fill my heart when I open it wide, and I overflow when I do not shut it up.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
So I run.
I run, sword in my hand, shield on my arm.
I run, my face to the sky and my eyes to the hills; through the tempest and the eye, through the shadows and the light.
I am the torch, I carry the flame; running always for the prize,
For I know the plans I have for you
plans for welfare and not for harm
plans to give you a future and a hope.
Running home, to my Father and my Groom; fighting alongside my King and my Lord.
I have a future.
I have hope.
[Original: 28 January 2012]
I grew up in a neighborhood on a closed military base, so I had the luxury of running wild outside (at least until the streetlights came on). My parents strategically chose the house we lived in from a number of others available because it was within walking distance of a lake (with lifeguards on duty) and, as my sister and I soon found out, miles of woods and trails. In the summers, if we weren’t swimming at the lake, we would spend literally all day out in the woods with our friends, either making forts or exploring old trails and creating new ones. For a bunch of kids, I’d say we were pretty good at making trails; all we really had to do was find an appropriate stick and beat the blackberry vines into submission, and maybe break or move a fallen branch here and there. The only downside is that every summer when we’d go back into the woods again, we would have to remake most of our trails, because they’d be overgrown.
This morning, Pastor Lorelei talked about the five aspects of shame that Pastor James has talked about in recent sermons*. Apart from the major message, this one part caught my attention, and I’ve been chewing on it all day since: The idea that we as humans tend to fixate both on our own failings and the failings of others as they pertain to us. We have all said or done not-so-great things in our lives, and we have all had not-so-great things said or done to us, sometimes by people who are very important to us. We tend to hold very tightly to these things; we set up little shrines to them in our souls, even unintentionally, and we hold them up as things that cannot be overcome. “But I had this happen to me” or “But I’ve done this” becomes our excuse, sometimes very subtly, to not believe God or do what He’s asking us to. These are objections to which God generally replies, “So what?” Not because He is uncaring; He cares very much for you and loves you beyond your comprehension. But He is the God of the universe; He can do anything! He is in the business of miracles and transforming lives; there is nothing that He cannot overcome. However, there is that small matter of free-will choice. God is a “gentleman” and therefore will not force His will upon any person. He invites us to walk on a certain path with Him, but we must forsake all other paths to do so. Pastor Lorelei put it somewhat like this: “How can you move into the promised land if you’re still living in Egypt? The commute is too far!”
The picture I had when this subject came up was of remaking overgrown trails in the woods as a kid. We would follow the same paths to visit the same places all the time, so that the trails became well-worn and familiar enough that we didn’t even have to look for them anymore. If we stopped using one though, after awhile the vines would grow over the trail, fallen leaves and branches would cover it, weeds and bushes would hide it, and it would eventually disappear. If we wanted it to stay, we’d have to keep using it and tending to it, or we wouldn’t be able to get to that tree or that lookout place anymore. There were some trails we lost completely and forgot where they had been in the first place.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
It is ok to forget how to get back to Egypt. God isn’t going to ask you to go back into bondage when that’s what He has saved you from; in fact, He warns Israel multiple times to never turn back. He wants us to move forward with Him. God designed us to follow Him on the path he chose for us, forsaking all others. We don’t get to walk the path He has for someone else that we think looks good, or the ones we have made for ourselves either. We all have paths we’ve tended, so we don’t forget how to get back to this offense, or that hurt, or those memories, all reasons why “I’m a broken person.” God can heal anything, if we let Him. He will open up new paths we have never seen to places we can’t yet fathom, and we’ll end up doing amazing things: all more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Trust the Lord and His leading; let all the other trails become overgrown, until you forget where they were and what they led to. And don’t listen to Satan, when he tries to get you to remake old paths. When he comes along and reminds you of those things “they” did or “they” told you, or all the times you’ve messed up, just reply, “So what?” and keep walking with the Lord.
The link below is to a video made for the Crossing the River service to be held at Zion’s River on May 3, 2013. It’s not just a cool ceremony to parallel the biblical crossing of the Jordan by Israel under the leadership of Joshua; it’s a prophetic action for us as we are moving into the territory God has promised us, and forsaking our Egypt.
When I was a teenager and my dad was teaching me how to drive, he once told me something I’ll never forget. I’m the sort of person who likes to know the whole plan and have it all laid out before I even start. So as we went along I kept asking him where I was going, and what turns I needed to take and what lane I should be in. And finally at one point he said, “You see that yellow line on the left? You see that white line on the right? Stay between them ’til I tell you otherwise.” I realized this statement applies to life in general, not just driving.
One day when Abram was minding his own business God spoke to him:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:1 (ESV)
So Abram (who later was called Abraham by God) got up the next day, packed up his family and left. I imagine if anyone passed him and kindly asked him where he was headed, he might have replied, “That is an excellent question!” and kept on going. God didn’t tell him where the land was that he was going to, but He just said to go and He’d tell him when he got there. Abraham trusted God and followed Him all the way. Hebrews 11, or “The Hall of Faith,” talks about him and many other great men and women of God because of their great faith in God and willingness to trust Him with everything, no matter what. Hebrews 11 also says that all those people never actually saw everything promised come to pass—just as Abraham never saw his offspring become a great nation while he lived—which is what made their faith that much greater.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8 (ESV)
God doesn’t usually show us the full map of our lives, but it is all laid out before Him. Many times He doesn’t tell us where we’re going, but He always gives us the turn-by-turn directions to get there. He planned a lifelong roadtrip for us before we even existed, one meant to be awesome, though not easy. Sometimes the road gets really bad and the ride is rough; sometimes we look around and have no idea where we are. Sometimes it’s lovely out, and sometimes it seems like the wipers can’t move fast enough to clear the downpour from the windshield. God gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us, like a spiritual GPS; He will never steer us wrong, no matter what the road looks like. It’s only when we don’t trust His leading that we get lost.
Maybe you’ve felt before the way I’ve been feeling lately: that life feels smothered in a thick fog, and I have no idea where I’m going or really where I am. I never knew until recently that the bright white line on the side of the road is called the fog line, and it is there to guide drivers when inclement weather (like fog) keeps them from seeing clearly, so people don’t go driving off the road or crashing into each other. Sometimes God takes us on roads that are covered in fog or darkness, where we can’t see more than three feet in front of us (or even less). On these roads He is the fog line that we follow to keep us on course, until the fog lifts an the sun comes out; it always does, even if it’s not until the end of the road.
So when you don’t know where you’re going, just stay between the lines until He tells you otherwise; and if you can’t see the road, then hold to the fog line; keep trusting His word, and drive on.
The path is narrow, but Jesus never said it was straight. I’ve heard people talk about “staying on the straight and narrow” but this is what I read:
“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Matthew 7:14, ESV
The path that you follow God on isn’t promised to be a straight one; in fact, it is full of twists and turns, hills mounting up before you and winding descents into valleys below. It is narrow, purposed, very precise, no room for meandering and wondering about as there would be on a wider road. You are meant to go somewhere specific, and I don’t mean heaven. Ultimately when following Christ you are promised to get there. But there’s a place you’re assigned to be, while you’re living and breathing on the earth; you bring heaven with you and within you everywhere you go. The path isn’t hard for the sake of salvation, because Jesus took care of that on the cross. It’s because following Him requires everything, at all times, and we don’t want to give it. Where you go on the path as a follower of Jesus Christ is where the kingdom of God is coming. What you leave behind you is a straight path.
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”
Luke 3:4, ESV
When you are following Christ, consumed by the fire of His Spirit, on the path He has laid before you, what you leave in your wake is a path made straight and leading directly to the Lord, which everyone who comes after you will follow straight into His arms. His presence and glory is the goal, and bringing His children to Him is the honor, of forging ahead on this winding, narrow path.