Christianity 201

May 18, 2016

The Well-Watered Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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•••by Clarke Dixon

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. ’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 NRSV)

WaterfallHere is a wonderful promise of the Holy Spirit so infilling the Christian believer that “rivers of living water” flow and others are blessed as well. You get the impression that there will be “times of refreshing” to borrow a common phrase and that things can’t help but grow in the presence of Holy Spirit filled people. The believer will be a “breath of fresh air” to change metaphors. Of course we recognize that God is the source, we are merely the vessels. Yet when we are being honest there are some days we feel more like a drip than a river, more dry in our own spirituality that overflowing with the goodness of God. How do we get to that place of being so refreshed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence overflows to refresh and bring life and growth to others?

Jesus tells us how: “Let anyone who is thirsty . . . ” It begins with thirst. But thirst for what? The timing of Jesus’ call to the thirsty helps us figure that out for thirst was an important theme of the festival happening that day. Actually it was seven or eight days, depending on whether you counted the eighth day when things were being wrapped up. This was the Feast of Tabernacles and over the course of seven days priests would go to the Pool of Siloam to fill pitchers with water which would then be brought up to the temple to be poured out around the altar. All this happened with prayers being made for rain and with certain “watery” scriptures floating in the background of people’s minds.

For example, the people would have been thinking of the time God provided the Israelites with water from a rock in the wilderness following the escape from Egypt.

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:3-7 NRSV)

That miracle began with thirst. They also would have been reminded of Ezekiel’s prophecy to God’s people in exile about coming back to the Promised Land. The temple was to be rebuilt and there would be a life giving river flowing from it.

1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. . . . Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. (Ezekiel 47:1,2,6-9 NRSV)

The exiled people of God were thirsty for God’s forgiveness and restoration. By the time Jesus makes his call to the thirsty the people had returned from exile, at least some of them, and the Temple had been rebuilt. However, with the Romans in charge, it hardly felt like God’s promise had been realized. Surely this is not what the prophecy through Ezekiel was pointing to! Hence, there was still thirst for the presence of the Lord in a fuller way, and for the fulfillment of His promises. “Let anyone who is thirsty . . . “, thirsty for God’s presence and provision, thirsty for God’s glory. Rivers of living water will not flow from us if we are not thirsting after the presence of the Lord.

While it begins with thirst, it does not end there: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Here we have not just thirst, but a call to decision. God’s people had faced decisions before. Looking back to the example of God providing water from a rock in the wilderness, the people faced a decision. They could either go back to Egypt, or go forward with God trusting He will continue with the blessings of His presence and provision. They could cave into temptation, or crave the presence of God. When Jesus calls out to the thirsty at the temple, he is pointing to Himself as the rock through whom God’s presence and provision happens. He is calling people to decision, to trust in him.

The example from Ezekiel is similar. When Ezekiel prophesied the restoration of the nation and the rebuilding of the temple there would have been a temptation for the exiles to just blend into Babylonian society instead. Ezekiel’s prophecy about a rebuilt temple with a flowing life giving river came with a decision, either cave into the temptation to blend in, or crave the presence and provision of God, looking forward with trust to His keeping of the promise. When Jesus calls out to the thirsty at the Temple, he is pointing to Himself as the Temple, the source of the living waters, and those waters will not flow from a building, but from Himself and through the people of God. He is calling people to decision, to trust in him. We face that same decision.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”

Perhaps we do not feel like the promised vessels of God’s blessing and refreshing because we are not thirsty for God. Or perhaps we are thirsty, but we try to quench that thirst with gods we have created instead of the God Who is. There is so much temptation all around us to cave and blend in. We will never be vessels for God’s living waters if we drink deeply from our society and culture with a fire hose while we sip at God’s presence with a straw. When we feel dry ourselves, when we feel our presence in the lives of others lacks any kind of spiritual refreshment, let us evaluate our thirst for God. Then let us evaluate the decisions we have made in quenching that thirst. Have we gone to Him? Do we drink deeply?

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”


Enjoy more of Clarke’s devotionals/studies at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

 

October 17, 2014

Full of Grace

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John 1:14 — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

John 4:19, 20 — “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (NLT)

Today we offer you a preview excerpt from Philip Yancey’s new book Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News, releasing Tuesday from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

pp 27-29

April 10, 2014

When God Steps Back

We try not to “borrow” posts from any one source more than every six months, but Jim Thornber’s writing is exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for here. When you click through to read, you’ll notice the name of the blog is similar to one you might have seen before! This one looks at very challenging passage of scripture. Click to read God Left Me Alone? (For those of you too shy to click the text is below.)

 “God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” — 2 Chron. 32:31

I know this is hard to believe, but sometimes I’ve felt very alone in the world.

Shocking, isn’t it? Here I am, a pastor of a church and a man whose been going to church for 40 years. I’m a self-proclaimed normal and sane person who believes I can actually talk with God and, at times, believes God even talks back.

Yet, sometimes I’ve felt there was no one listening, that God was not in the room much less in the universe, and I was the only real person in the world with feelings, hurts, disappointments, desires, lusts, dreams, failures, successes and more questions than answers.

Then I read about King Hezekiah, and I began to understand that I’m not the first person who ever felt he was alone in the world. And this was after Hezekiah had a great encounter with the miracle-making God. It went like this.

One day Hezekiah wakes up from a nap and isn’t feeling well. His buddy Isaiah, a local prophet, tells him to get his affairs in order for he was going to die. King Hezzy cries out to God and God sends Isaiah back to the King with good news: he is going to live!

When you read the story in 2 Kings 20, you see God promised He would heal Hezekiah of a life-threatening disease and proved it by making the shadow go back ten steps on the stairway. This is very heady stuff.

Word of this miraculous series of events draws international attention and foreign ambassadors come to pay their respects and see how the king is doing. Now God, knowing Hezekiah had a tendency to become proud (2 Chron. 32:25), decided to test the king. He withdraws His presence to see if he’s going to tell the ambassadors about God’s goodness and loving-kindness, or if Hezekiah is going to show them all his accomplishments as a king. Hezekiah failed the test by showing his visitors everything in his storehouses (2 Kings 20:13).

This is where I pause, because I completely understand Hezekiah. If I felt the Lord left me after I’d been healed of a life-threatening disease, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t try to recount all my accomplishments before the assembled crowd and show them everything in my storehouse. Then in my spare time, I’d be looking for God under every pew and behind every stack of Bibles. I’d be telling everyone who’d listen what God did in hopes that God would show up again and let me feel His presence. God, of course, can never truly leave us. There is nowhere you can go to escape His omnipresent Self. David learned this lesson well and wrote a poem about it. Well call this poem Psalm 139.

What I need to do when I feel God leaving the room is simply sit down and know He never really left me.  I remind myself that in His absence, nothing else satisfies. God knows this, but it is a lesson we all need to understand. Maybe we’re all a bit like Hezekiah, building up our storehouses by chasing things like cars, houses, iPhones, titles and vacations because we’re really looking for God. C. S. Lewis said, “All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

I see now that on the occasions God left me alone, He did it to see if I’d pursue Him or the stuff I think replaces Him. I’ve done both, and I found the stuff falls short. So next time I sense God has left me alone, I’ll know that all He really wants is me, and all I really need is Him.

January 14, 2011

Hunger as a “Gift”

Today’s post is the daily devotional from Joni and Friends, the ministry founded by Joni Eareckson Tada.  The first link above is a general one that will get you a new devotional reading each day, not necessarily the one printed here.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  –Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Humans get hungry, and not just for food but for a whole range of desires and dreams. Hunger to have hopes fulfilled and longings answered seems to be built into us.

Sometimes our hunger gets us into trouble, and we wish we could curb our appetites. But in Deuteronomy 8:2, you’ll be surprised to learn who gives us these longings. The Lord is the one who causes us to hunger. He is the one who has put within us our desires and yearnings. At first, this seems odd. Doesn’t God know that the “hungries” often get us into trouble?

God has good reasons for giving us such large appetites. He has placed within us desires and dreams in order to test us and humble us, to see what is in our heart, to see whether or not we would follow Him. He causes us to hunger so that we might learn to feed on the Bread of Heaven, to live on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To hunger is to be human, but to hunger for God is to feed on Him. Hunger and thirst after His righteousness and feed on Him in your heart. Taste and see that the Lord is good; it is He who will fill you to satisfaction.

I am prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. I’m prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, please take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above. 


Want to get more out of the devotional and teaching blogs you read online?  When I’m preparing Christianity 201 entries for each day, especially the ones where I’m reposting something that someone else wrote, it’s easy to just say, “That one looks good;” and do a quick cut-and-paste.  What I find causes me to really slow down and consider what I’m reading is preparing the “tags” that accompany each blog post.  If you blog, you know about these, but if not, you can pretend you’re editing a site like this one.  What keywords or “tags” can you think of to attach to what you’re reading?  The tags don’t have to be words in the actual text — I use “Christianity” and “devotional” most days simply to attract readers who are looking for those themes — but the tag can be something else that is suggested by what you’re reading.  We often find ourselves so hurried that it’s easy to miss the essence of what we’re reading.  Slow down and look for the tags!

 

November 2, 2010

How We Approach Worship

Joshua Harris has noticed a disturbing trend in his church with people arriving later and later, even for the “late” 11:30 AM service.   “I’d rather have you guys looking bedraggled on time than looking beautiful late.”   He also introduces a pre-service prayer time.

His three points are:

1. Come Eager to sing to him, fellowship with other Christians, hear his word.
2. Come Expectant that he will speak, change us and refresh us.
3. Come Early —not walking in late, but in our seats and ready to go [when the service starts].

Is this message applicable to the place where you worship?   Do we need reminders like this to avoid the risk of complacency?

June 1, 2010

Down At Your Feet: No Higher Calling

Here is another one of those “lost” worship songs.   I knew the song connected to Lenny LeBlanc, but didn’t know it had been recorded by Maranatha! Music.

The actual title is “No Higher Calling,” but you may remember it as “Down At Your Feet, Oh Lord.”

Down at Your feet oh Lord
Is the most high place
In Your presence Lord
I seek Your face
I seek Your face

There is no higher calling
No greater honor
Than to bow and kneel before Your throne

I’m amazed at Your glory
Embraced by Your mercy
Oh Lord I live to worship You

Greg Gulley & Lenny LeBlanc
© 1989, 1999 Doulos Publishing (Maranatha! Music [Admin. by Music Services])

The video version here is a little more “polished” than I remember this song; I appreciate worship that is a little more “raw” than this.   But it’s a great song worthy of some updated exposure.

“I’m amazed at your glory; embraced by your mercy…”

Bonus video:  Here’s another version of No Higher Calling.