Strongly Rooted or Dangerously Disconnected?

pexels-photo-247537.jpegThere was no real reason to notice it that day — the strong, stately pine with a lone branch suspended over the narrow side street.  It was familiar area I travel almost weekly, yet I was “seeing” this sight for the first time.

Something about the way that bough shot straight out, forming a canopy over the road, supported by nothing but the trunk that wore it so gracefully, caught my attention. “What on earth would seem remarkable about a pine branch here in the middle of Mississippi?” you might wonder. Large, stately pines are just about everywhere you could look in our area.

I’m sure a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have appreciated this one nearly so much.  But then, a few weeks ago I would have probably laughed at the idea that a near-record snowfall was about to hit our little piece of the South, with a crushing load that would leave most every roadway littered with pine boughs.

The branch I noticed that day had held on when others hadn’t. Its strength had a chance to speak to me in a special way.

THE STRENGTH IS NOT ITS OWN

A tree’s limbs are only as strong as their connection to the trunk. The branches grow there in the beginning because life-giving sap is able to move within the channels at their core. As long as this process continues unhindered, they are likely to remain intact. It doesn’t always work that way, of course. An almost imperceptible flaw can develop from some insult to the tree — a high wind that loosens some fibers or insects that burrow deep to make their home. Over time this process can progressively work against that branch, leaving it vulnerable to fall in an event that others might withstand.

Jesus used this analogy in the spiritual realm: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing,” John 15:5. He taught His followers about the life He was soon going to place within them, when He would fill those who obeyed Him with the Holy Ghost. Oh the joys of becoming connected to the Vine! The power He would pour out on the Day of Pentecost — which Peter told the crowd was “to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as our Lord shall call,” (Acts 2:39) — would turn the world upside down. But Jesus was showing them ahead of time that what He would place within them was not going to remain a strong, vibrant force unless they fought for it.  It was a connection that would have to be maintained for them to remain alive and productive in Him. 

He went on to say, “ If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,” (John 15:6).

THE DANGERS

Beside our house, a beautiful cedar which had seemed to be growing a safe distance away when we built there, now has branches that stretch over that part of the roof. As it sits on the side where the power line comes in to the house, the power company recently trimmed up limbs closest to the line to avoid a catastrophe. During our snow event, branches that had seemed a safe distance above broke under the weight fell onto the  line.  It could gone very badly, pulling the line completely out of the house.  The tree will likely have to come down, as it has now become a hazard.

The same boughs that had blessed us with shade and beauty became a liability very quickly once they were disconnected from the trunk. Likewise, our disconnection from the Source of strength and joy affects so much more than our own lives.

Eve in the Garden discovered that what seemed to be a simple choice she was free to make on her own affected her husband, the children she would have, and all generations to come. All she could share with them of the Garden of God was her memories of being there and the shame of what caused them to lose it.

A disconnection that produces a fall inevitably brings someone else down as well. Others look to us, whether or not we are aware of how much we matter.

IT’S A FULL TIME JOB

Staying connected requires fighting our tendency to drift, to pull away from the Source of life. It requires a diligence to push ourselves to fervently pray every day.  We must read the Word of God with a goal of examining ourselves in the light of the Scriptures — exposing any area where some slight damage to our connection may be forming — rather than simply justifying ourselves that we are “close enough” to what it teaches. Faithfulness to the house of God where the Word is preached in power and anointing can never be neglected, for even in our best efforts, we will not always be as honest with ourselves as is required to stay connected on our own.

It is indeed not a comfortable thing to walk with God. We serve Him in a fleshly body with a carnal nature. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).  These words of desperation were spoken by the man who wrote most of the New Testament.  Can we conclude he was only able to accomplish what he did because he saw his fight for spiritual health as it truly was? He told the Corinthians, “…I die daily,” (I Cor. 15:31), and “…I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection…,” (I Cor. 9:27). He knew how to stay connected, and the vital importance of regularly experiencing the power of God that Peter described as “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Peter 1:8).

CHECK YOUR CONNECTION

Where are you with being connected to the Vine? Have you established the connection Jesus promised His followers? Are you checking your connection consistently? Do you understand the fight of pressing toward the mark?

Dangerous disconnection often starts with satisfaction in where we are with God. Reaching for Him, calling on Him, seeking Him daily is truly the way to keep the life flowing from Him through us, to refresh, revive, and strengthen our hearts and lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on becoming, and staying, connected to the Vine. Feel free to leave a comment below.

SOME NEWS

Start to Finish: Starting a Walk with God That Can Finish Strong — some observations from my fight to stay connected over the past thirty years — is due to be published soon. I look forward to sharing these insights with you when the process is complete in a few weeks.  Look for it on Amazon, or find a link here on my site.

In the meantime, let’s stay connected!

 

 

 

Don’t move that Bible for me!

bible

“Don’t move that Bible for me! I don’t get that many chances with God!”

We were headed to lunch when I scooped up my Bible from the passenger seat to clear a spot for the social work intern to sit. Her protests would have amused me, except she seemed in dead earnest. In the ensuing discussion she described her upbringing in a strict Catholic tradition. Her earliest faith memories had stuck, as a perspective of “As long as I don’t mess up and offend God too badly, maybe He will let me into Heaven.” Those early experiences were her only concept of God.

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Blessed like David or Just like David?

I have no doubt that many people familiar with the biblical story of David — “The Poor Shepherd Boy Makes it to the Throne of Israel” heartwarming saga — would like to identify with the elevated king. After all, God promised him that he would bless his house, as in the sons God would raise to sit on his throne, forever. That’s a long time. Who wouldn’t want to be blessed like that? God also promised to subdue David’s enemies and make his name great in the earth. Generations following spoke of “the sure mercies of David”. Not a bad Old Testament hero to be aligned with, right? Most would be thankful to find themselves and their families under the fountain of God’s favor, “blessed like David”.

But how many are willing to be “just like David”, a man after God’s own heart? We rightly consider this phrase from Acts 13:22, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart” to be declaring David’s heart to like or in the fashion of God’s heart. But what if an equally valid perception is that David was in pursuit of God’s heart, as in following after Him closely to have that very heart in himself? A case could certainly be made for that perspective as one looks back over the direction of David’s life: seeking God, praying, praising, wanting to please Him, fighting with all his might against the enemies of the LORD, yet walking away from his own enemy, Saul, when it was within his power to kill him, preferring to wait for God to fight his personal battles for him. These are all actions, the results of strong desire coupled with hard work.

Once there came a time in my life that I was stirred up to hunger for whatever God had for me beyond the faith I had known growing up as a child. I could say at that point I began to be after God’s heart. Answering that hunger, He sent people into my world who had tasted something of God that I had only imagined before that time. I could see it in the way they lived, hear it in their speech, feel it when I was around them — in church or out. I  began to draw closer to them to see what this was about. At every step of that walk, I had a choice to make. I could be comfortable dabbling in their experience from time to time, enjoying what I felt when I was around them, or I could work toward getting that for myself. God had to confront me at one point, in ways that left me no doubt it was His work, to make me realize I had lingered around the edges long enough, and the opportunity wouldn’t last forever. I had to choose to follow, or He would move on and leave me comfortable with where I was before.

You see, it was not just about experiencing the more powerful prayer, the deeper understanding of the Word, the livelier worship, the more authoritative preaching: rather it was the doctrine — the truth in the Word of God — that had to be obeyed before I could enjoy that power and closeness to God I saw in them. Action was required — obedience to the Apostles’ doctrine summarized in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Before that point in life, I thought I knew all I needed to about living for God. I had been a rank sinner for awhile, but had come back to the roots of the belief system I was part of growing up, and was doing all I knew to do: teaching a class, singing in the choir, being faithful for every service. In the lives of people who are sincere in what they believe, and practicing that with all their hearts, there often comes a time when, as with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10, God will take note. “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God,” the angel told Cornelius. But when God took note of him, He didn’t just pat him on the back and tell him he was doing a great job,and “Carry on!” No, he told him where to find a man of God to tell him what he needed to do.

How many, many people have had this same visitation in various forms, yet responded, “What? I’m doing what I’ve already been taught to do, what my family is doing, what my friends are doing. What do you mean someone is coming to ‘tell me what I ought to do’?” I tell you it happens just this way over and over again, to people who confess that they are just like David, after God’s own heart. I understand it because I know the struggle I faced in considering “jumping off the deep end” as my family and friends considered my choice at the time.

I am very logical and methodical, and the last thing I wanted to do was something irrational or foolish that would be a major, public choice. But my prayer, over and over, during the time of consideration was “God, I don’t understand this, and I’m not even sure all of it is right. But if I’m wrong, You show me, because I don’t want to miss You.” I assure you God went to great lengths to answer that prayer. My heart’s cry was to follow Him. In ways I won’t go into for the sake of your time, He met me where I was and did little things, minor miracles in my book, to show me this was, in fact, Him. I knew in my heart of hearts that if it was God who was leading me, I would follow Him anywhere, no matter what it looked like or what it required, because I was ready to abandon anything to have all He wanted for me. I had become, in that sense, just like David. I took the leap of faith so to speak, and when I obeyed what the Apostles preached, I got what the Apostles got: the Holy Ghost and fire.

One day, after I’d had the Holy Ghost only a short time, I remember standing at the mirror in the bathroom of my little apartment, getting ready for work. All of a sudden I was overcome by an indescribable sense of sadness and pain, and in a moment’s time was in a heap on the floor weeping and sobbing, though I knew not why. I cried out to God in agony. As plainly as I could ever feel Him impressing anything on my spirit, the words came, “Do you want this part, too?” Through tear-filled eyes and a with raspy voice, my response was a resounding “Yes!”, for I understood then that this was the burden of prayer that could move mountains in hearts and lives, both my own and those of others. This was the immediacy of being able to be moved by God for whatever His purpose was, not merely the things I knew and thought to approach Him with. This was the walk I had seen in the others that drew me to this way in the beginning. It was my professing to be His servant, to acknowledge that I was “not my own”, but at His beck and call. That was the deeper part of what I had hungered for, without even understanding what it was.

It’s been thirty years. I can tell you that wasn’t a phase or a fad. When I obeyed what I was shown in His word to obey (it sounds simple, but I assure you the steps of Acts 2:38 matter), He changed me forever, and this is still the best life I could ever imagine. Ups and downs? Sure, but always deep calling unto deep, to find more of Him.

So, what about you? Are you only willing to be blessed like David? Or are you sincerely desiring to be just like David? I’d love to hear you thoughts and comments.

What’s your earliest faith memory?

They say a two year-old wouldn’t be able remember much. I remember the barn burning. Not from what I was told, but the vivid picture of where I was sitting on the bed in the bedroom that doubled as a den and looking out the window.  And the flames. I don’t remember much else from being two, but those yellow flames against the black sky have never faded in my mind.

I remember being in a baby bed in the corner of that room near the empty fireplace, and waking up from a nap with the babysitter still asleep. I remember so clearly the image of the baby aspirin on the mantel, just out of reach, and my hands on the mantel tugging, and the bed rolling closer. I remember the last tiny orange treasure slobbered onto the bottom of the bottle, and my frustration at not being able to get it out. I remember throwing up in a bright room, and people talking about getting my ‘stomach pumped’. I think I remember giving up baby aspirin.

I remember, not  many years after,  the powerful feeling that I had to have Jesus and had to have him right then, and not knowing what to do except to cry out and call his name, “Jesus”, and I remember the sweet, tender pain of knowing he was real, if I could just get to him. I remember those people who were still in the sanctuary after service telling me it was going to be alright and they’d send the preacher by the next day to tell me how to me pray to be saved. I remember him telling me a prayer to repeat to know God, and doing what he told me, and trying to believe that was right, but missing the sweet reaching for Jesus I’d felt the night before.

I remember the off-and-on journey of years believing that the one prayer repeated in faith with the preacher (or one of several others when I’d decided I must not have done that first one right), had saved me forever, and no matter what I felt or didn’t feel, nor what I did or didn’t do, nothing could ever change that.

I remember, over twenty years later, the accumulation of a gut-wrenching gnawing in my heart that said my sin was not OK, that there had to be more to being a child of God than what I’d known thus far. I remember the growing desperation to find, at all costs, the way to know him as his word said he could be known. And I remember once again reaching the point of breaking, as with strong, tender crying, I called on the name of Jesus with everything inside me, but this time in an altar where everyone who was hungry prayed that way, and where men preached that repenting of my sins and washing them away in the name of Jesus, and calling on him in fervent prayer was how God could come inside us to give us life through the power of the Holy Ghost.

I remember the sweet, strong power of God when the Holy Ghost came in to shed his love abroad in my heart, and how I spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance, and with that he gave me evidence that he’d come in, and no one could refute it. I remember the joy of understanding that it wasn’t a one-time prayer or a one-time repentance, but something that came fresh every time I sought it. In fact, I remember feeling it again this morning.

What’s your earliest faith memory?

Jesus said,”All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
John 6:37 KJV

I’d love to hear your comments.

Where do you get your water?

We’ve had enough rain in the past few weeks in Mississippi until it’s hard to picture anywhere on the face of the earth being short of water. Even on higher elevations, the ground squishes when you walk. But I know that’s not the case everywhere.

In fact, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows high-level drought conditions (D4 – exceptional, which is a step above D3 – extreme) for a large area of the Plains states, surrounded by descending degrees of drought farther away. Even Hawaii is experiencing drought in some areas, which staggers my imagination for a state surrounded by water.

As much as we like to think we’re in control of our own destinies, how much control do we actually get over the amount of water we have access to? We conserve when there’s a drought, call for a rescue when there’s a flood, and hope for the best in between.

Water through the ages

Moses painted a word picture for the Israelites, near the end of their journey in the wilderness, of the contrast between Egypt, where they had been in bondage, and the Promised Land — Canaan — that they were about to enter:

“For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt from whence ye came out, where thou sowed thy seed and watered it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs.” (Deuteronomy 11:10 KJV)

Meanings of “watered it with thy foot” could include digging a small trench around a plant with one’s foot, allowing water to collect at its base, or operating some sort of foot pump-powered irrigation device. Either way, they seemed to only be able to get water to support a small garden producing a few herbs. The picture is clear, especially when compared with the next verse, that water was not easily available in the land of Egypt.

“But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven:A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” Deuteronomy 11:11-12 KJV

The land of Canaan was a special place God had prepared beforehand for them, and that he himself watered with rain from heaven and cared for, watching over it all throughout the year.

In fact, God referred to himself in later admonitions to his people as the “fountain of living waters”. Through the words of the prophet Jeremiah, God rebuked the people for having forsaken that fountain of living waters and chosen instead to carve out cisterns, even broken cisterns, that could hold no water. (See Jeremiah 2:13)

Was God condemning the practice of digging a covered reservoir for collecting rainwater? Most likely not, because other references indicate the practice was common for literal water usage. But he made a point they would understand: Why would someone leave a free-flowing, clean, refreshing fountain of water and go a little distance away to dig a cistern, even a leaky one, that was vulnerable to contamination from the ground, from insects or animals or anything that washed into it?

Why, indeed? Obviously he was using the physical practice of getting water via a fountain vs. digging a cistern, to draw attention to more spiritual matters than their source of drinking water. Why choose what isn’t working that well, when all you would ever need, and more than you could ever hope for is so close and available?

Drink up

I know this blog is potentially read by people from all walks of life and backgrounds. But one thing that seems universal is the appreciation for something refreshing and satisfying to the heart. We’re just made that way.

I recently learned that I reside in what a Gallup Poll has determined to be the “most religious state in the U.S.”, earning that distinction for the second year in a row, in fact. But even here, I wonder how people divide out across the fountain-cistern choice index. How many are getting their thirst met with a free-flowing fountain that washes things away and cleanses and heals and restores? How many cautiously protect a little water pooled in the family cistern that they’re too hesitant to leave, either for fear of losing something they’re not ready to part with in the rushing water, or simply fear of trading what they’ve always known for what they are not sure of?

Good enough?

Author Kristen Lamb, an encourager of writers and other artists, warned recently of staying in the Land of Good Enough. The blog is not intended to be about spiritual matters, but about the things in life that can be allowed to hinder writers and other artists from reaching for the greatness that is in them: not by just being lazy or giving up or deciding against writing altogether. No, the danger is in starting to pursue the dream, but being lulled by the security of a day job, or a little return on the writing investment, or other actually good things that make struggling to get the best out of ourselves simply feel like too much to fight for.

The principle surely applies to other areas of life, as well. “Good enough” gets stale, rancid and tasteless. Like the water in a cistern.

So where do you get your water?

Jesus said, in John 7:38, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Believing according to the scriptures — a cut above what’s often thought to be the confession of simply saying we believe — produces a true river of living water.

So what does your Drought Monitor show?

If you’re thirsty, there’s a fountain flowing.

Why do I bother to blog about these kinds of things among people, including many professionals, who have their own ideas about life, which in many cases they are so ably sharing through their writing? Why venture out of a safe zone of topics mutually comfortable to everyone?

Because in a time when I appeared to have all I wanted from the outside, nothing was further from the truth on the inside. One person who was open about a different approach to these matters quietly allowed me the opportunity to decide if I wanted to ask more questions, and I’m forever thankful that I did.

Once I Heard the Sweet Song, my upcoming debut novel, portrays a young girl’s desire to have the best above the good.