Living For the Urgent Leaves Us Thirsty

thirstyLife is busy. The busyness runs over into our marriage, our parenting, and our friendships. Busyness has left our souls parched and our hearts empty. Think back over this past week of how many times you said to someone or to yourself, “I don’t have enough time” or “I wish I had time.” Lack of time has left us thirsty. The author of Ecclesiastes says that everything has its time: “A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted” (Eccl. 3:2). There is a rhythm to life. Life has a cycle that has been set in place by God. Our lives are marked off by what happens at particular times. For the writer, the thing that separates the fool from the wise is knowing what time it is.

A lot of our busyness can be attributed to not knowing the difference between the urgent and the important.  Some live for the urgent. It makes them feel useful when they spend our days putting out fires. It makes them feel powerful. However, life in urgency mode can become the excuse for not dealing with the important in our life.

Urgency is a part of life. A car needs repaired, illness happens, a teacher walks in class and says, “We are having a pop quiz,” a friend needs a place to stay, someone losses a job, or death comes to the family. Urgency is a fact of life. The problem is when urgency becomes the dominant force in your life.

In the three years of ministry, it is amazing that Jesus did not get caught up in the urgent. There was always a son in need healing, a daughter who was sick, a leg that needed fixing, eyes that needed to be opened, or a relationship in need of mending. In Luke 9:51 it says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” It was in Jerusalem that he would complete his mission of redemption. Starting in chapter 9 we read over and over how he was determined to get to Jerusalem. On his way he taught, healed, ministered, and performed miracles. He responds to the urgency on his way to Jerusalem. But he doesn’t let the urgency take away from what is important.

Have we? Have we let the urgent take away from what is important? If we let urgent control our time, we will never get to our Jerusalem. Our Jerusalem is our purpose. It is the reason we are here. It is living out God’s plan for our life. But it will never happen if we always live life in reaction mode.

Focusing on the important keeps us from being left thirsty by the urgent.

Asking the Right Question

WITL1When I was in my early-20’s I bought a used Mitsubishi Eclipse. It was the first car I bought without any adult supervision. It was a dark green sports car with a five-speed transmission. A beautiful car. Nice ride for a young man. A few months into the purchase while going down the interstate at 70 mph and the engine completely dying, I realized I probably didn’t ask the right questions when buying the car.

How fast does it go? Do I look cool with the windows down and my arm resting on the door? Should I get matching sunglasses? Does the five-speed in the middle create too much distance between me and my girlfriend? All are probably not the questions I should have been asking. Instead, “Has it ever been wrecked? What is the repair record? How much is insurance?” seem to be questions I should have asked.

We will never get the right answer by asking the wrong question. Growth comes in asking the right questions. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a day when the people had rejected God. They were no longer devoted to God. They had turned away from the fountain of living waters and were looking elsewhere for something to quench their thirst. In Jeremiah 2 the Lord speaks through the prophet. The Lord says, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2). God describes the relationship in terms of a marriage. He remembers how the honeymoon phase was full of devotion and commitment. The love was strong. The bond unbreakable. But then the Lord asks, “What did I do wrong?” “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things?” (2:5). “Why did you walk out? Why did you destroy the relationship?” The Lord reminds them of how he led them through the wilderness. God freed them from slavery and gathered them into the Promise Land. But they never stopped to ask, “Where is the Lord?” (2:6, 8).

Since they never took the time to ask the question, they sought out their own direction in life. The Lord says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (2:13). The people are living life in the desert, dying of thirst, seeking after anything that will quench their thirst.  Their life drying up. Their relationships falling apart. And they never stop to ask the right question.

If they would just ask, the living water is available. But they would rather dig their own cisterns. The problem is our cisterns always break. They never hold up. The water leaks out. We remain thirsty. The answers to our relationship struggles is out there. God has shown us what it is. It is found in asking the question.

Digging your own cistern will never satisfy. Cisterns from our own making will always be cracked. They can never hold water. Only God can quench our thirst. God says, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on dry ground” (Isaiah 44:3). Sometimes we get angry with God when our relationships fail or they get too hard. But God will not help us dig our own cisterns. God will not guide us in seeking to satisfy our thirst outside of Himself. There is one way that leads to life and the Lord has laid out for us. We are promised, “The Lord will guide you and provide you good things to eat when you are in the desert. He will make you healthy. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water or like a stream that never runs dry” (Isaiah 58:11).

What is the question? It is the one question the wanderers in the desert refused to ask. It is the one question that the settlers in the Promised Land refused to consider. “Where is the Lord?”

Why is asking this question so important? Because in the heart of God there is a reservoir of deep love that compels us to new beginnings. God promises, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). And because God’s love is eternal, there is possibility for a future. “There is hope for your future,” says the Lord. (Jer. 31:17).

Take a moment to reexamine your relationships in the context of the question, “Where is the Lord?” In doing so, you will be led to discover that the thirst in your relationships can be quenched by the living water.

A Shattered World (Response to Shooting at Emanuel AME Church)

pray for charleston 2Our world is shattered. The brokenness revealing itself on a Wednesday night during a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine of God’s faithful murdered in the sanctuary of the Lord. A man with a self-assigned operation of animosity walks into Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and displaces a haven of hope with a message of homicidal hatred.

Like a magician walking across broken glass while trying not to bleed, we are left with trying to figure out how to tread the shattered pieces. Some want to get political. Others play the blame game. And some scream an eye for an eye. But it is those who were the most directly involved that have shown us a better way. During the killer’s bond hearing, members of Emanuel AME Church stood to tell the young man what he had taken from them – fathers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and brothers. They reminded him of all that was left shattered in their world. But being people of faith, believing that God can make whole that which was left broken, they let grace glisten through the words of forgiveness.

The members of Emanuel AME Church have reminded us that God isn’t interested in saving a world in a way that is beyond us. God heals people through people. We are once again reminded that God’s grace is so real that you can touch it, smell it, taste it, and even attempt to kill it, but you cannot stop it. When the Church starts being the Church, as the faithful in Charleston have shown us, God’s grace can give us the strength to walk across the broken glass of racism and prejudice.

As followers of Jesus, we have been shown how to love in a fragile world. The final night before his life was left broken on a cross, Jesus gathers his disciples in an upper room. Up till this moment, for three years, they had been walking the streets of a shattered world teaching, healing, and showing a better way. Their feet dirty and cracked from the journey. Jesus takes off an outer garment, gets down on his knees, and one by one, goes around and washes their feet. In response he says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). In a fragmented world we are not to add to the broken pieces by throwing down more hatred and violence. Instead we are called to love. The one left broken on a cross, encourages us, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

We pray for our brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME Church. They will step lightly as they walk into their sanctuary on Sunday morning. They gather as a community that has travelled through life and death. They have taken a drink from the cup of suffering but they are preparing to feast on the eternal bread of life. They have entered into the depths of Christ suffering but, like all believers, they will wait with a joyous expectation because they know that resurrection is on the horizon. We have been reminded that we live in a shattered world. However, within the reflection of the broken we see a glimpse of God’s redeeming love.

As you make your way through this life take time to pick up the broken pieces. Show grace. Offer forgiveness. Be careful not to leave the path littered with hate. Love makes the way easier to tread. It minimizes the bleeding. Continue to love in Jesus’ name because we have been shown that love conquers all.

Easter: The End Becomes the Beginning

heisrisenA few summer’s ago, we were eating yogurt at a local shop and my youngest son’s kindergarten teacher comes strolling in the door. We all had to do a double-take. This sweet teacher of kindergarteners was wearing leather chaps and carrying a motorcycle helmet. She and her husband were out enjoying a ride in the beautiful weather. For my son, it was just too much to absorb. He couldn’t believe it. It was a bizarre thing to see his teacher out of the context of her classroom. Throw in the motorcycle wearing gear and it was a lot for him to take in on that day. She was out of his element.

Mary and Mary and Salome go to the tomb to anoint the body of a dead Jesus. What they got was a Jesus out of context. He was out of place. He supposed to be dead. Imagine showing up at a funeral and the director of the funeral home meets you outside and says, “You are not going to believe this but he isn’t dead. He got up this morning and wanted me to tell you to meet him down the street.” Talk about showing up expecting one thing and getting something else. How do you react to such news? How do you respond? We can’t be too hard on the ladies for being afraid. After all, they went expecting a dead Jesus. A Jesus sealed behind a rock. They were going to anoint his dead, decaying body with oil and spices. Their biggest concern was who was going to roll back the stone. Who was going to get that big rock out of their way so they could get into the tomb? Instead the stone has been rolled away. Jesus is risen. Jesus is out of context.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)

A mysterious young man greets the women at the tomb. They are told to go tell Jesus’ other followers that Jesus is not dead. He is not in the tomb. He is risen. The women leave. If you are on a death journey and what you find is life, you might be a little out of sorts as well. You show up at the funeral home hoping that the flower shop got the flowers correct and delivered on time and the funeral director greets you saying, “You can take your flowers and go home because he isn’t here. He has already made his way back home.” I got to admit I’d be a little afraid as well.

The context has changed. Death no longer has the last word. The enemy has been destroyed. God has come to redeem. God is going to take what looks like bad endings and turn them into new beginnings. God is going to take what looks like failures and giving them back as opportunities. When Jesus is risen the context changes. The end becomes the beginning. Life, not death, has the final word.

Happy Easter. He is Risen!

We Have a Friend in Jesus (Good Friday Meditation)

good friday 2A few years ago a volunteer at a hospital told of meeting a little girl who was suffering from a life-threatening disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had somehow survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. He hesitated for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.”

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

When it comes to family most of us would do what it took to save a life. There is no barrier that we would not cross to ensure the safety of those we love. There is no mountain we would not climb for those we care about. What is true of family can also be the case for friends.

Jesus understood this. He says, “Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). True friendship is life-giving. It is life-sacrificing. True friendship is willing to be wounded for the sake of the other.

Jesus was a friend of sinners. Jesus loves even when he is not loved back. He is a savior that chases after us even as we run away. A friend who ask nothing in return and yet, is willing to give all for our love. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because of whom he chose to call friend (Matt. 11:19). When Judas, the betrayer, shows up with a legion of Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he responds, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for” (Matt. 26:50). The one who betrays, Jesus calls friend.

Jesus lays down his life for his friends. He bears the sins of his friends. Toward the end of his life, he says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15). The cross is his claim that he has not given up on his friends. It is on the cross that Jesus befriends humanity. On the cross, we have been shown the heart of God, so that our hearts can be won. On the cross, Jesus dies a friend of sinners, so that we may become a friend of God. On the cross, God battles for those he longs to call friend.

If you are lonely and dejected, you have a friend in Jesus. If you are battered and beaten, you have a friend in Jesus. If you are rejected and ashamed, you have a friend in Jesus. If you are suffering and in pain, you have a friend in Jesus. On this day, the day we call good, we discover we have a friend in Jesus.

Palm Sunday: Beyond Our Expectations

Palm Sunday 2I once knew a guy. A guy who always made excuses for not coming to worship. His biggest excuse was that it interfered with his fishing. So, I decided to start praying for him. I prayed, “Lord, make his fishing trips horrible. If he catches anything, let it be so small that there is no way possible for him to brag. Lord, put a crack in his johnboat. Not a big crack where it sinks, just one small enough where he notices. Lord, make it rain on the lake but just on the lake because it is hard to get anyone to church when it rains. In Jesus name, Amen.” One day about a month after I started my prayers I ran into him. I asked him about his fishing. He said, “Preacher, you won’t believe it. I have caught some of the biggest fish of my life and have had some of the most beautiful mornings out on the lake. My fishing has never been better.” On my way out I just gave the Lord the look. ”He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

On Palm Sunday they wanted to make him king but by Friday they were ready to kill him. His teaching of peace and turning the other cheek was more than they could handle. His talk of forgiving ones enemies made them want to puke. His talk of grace and forgiveness was just too much to handle. They wanted a destroyer. They got a redeemer. They wanted a warrior. They got a savior.

God just doesn’t do things like we do. Jesus disappoints. We want a hero and we get a suffering servant. We want a warrior to swoop down and destroy all our enemies and Jesus teaches us how to love our enemies. We want Jesus to be supportive of our middle class morality and he says stuff like “blessed are the weak and the poor for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” He simply refuses to be forced into our mold. He does not allow us to use him to support our own way of thinking of what we need in a savior. Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

It is the Sunday before Easter, the Son of God is to be handed over, betrayed, abused, and murdered. As he rides toward Jerusalem, the host of heaven hold their breath to see how this turns out. The angels watch with anticipation as the start of Holy Week begins. The disciples are confused. The crowd gives a shallow praise. This is the calm before the storm. Jesus rides up to the gate of the city. Once he enters there is no turning back. There is no back tracking. This is the moment. If you pay attention, if you look closely, you will notice his eyes are on you. His hand is extended towards you. He is inviting you to enter this final week with him. Will you go? Will you let go of your expectations and walk with him the way of salvation? Before you say, “Yes,” take a deep breath, hold on to the hope of resurrection, and let go of all your expectations. Let Jesus show you the way toward a resurrection beyond your wildest expectations.

(Mark 11: 1 – 11)

My Father Owns the Mountain

God providesI heard a story of two teens who arrived at summer camp at the same time. They were forced to share bunks. One girl was a brat who introduced herself by saying, “Hey, there. I come here every summer because my daddy owns part of this property. Do you see that speedboat on the lake? My daddy owns that boat. Do you see that mansion on the side of the mountain? My daddy stays there when he comes to visit me.”

Looking at the other camper, she asks in a condescending tone, “So, who’s your daddy?”

She smiled and lifted her dejected head. With a twinkle in her eye, she replied, “Do you see that large lake that your daddy’s boat is in? My Father created that lake. And you know that mountain your daddy’s cabin is on? My Father owns that mountain.”

By focusing on the provision, we can become like the bratty girl and forget the One who provides. We can come to love the provision more than the provider. The safety becomes more important than the obedience. The comfort sounds better than the responsibility.

Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, was led to a ravine after foretelling a drought that would devastate the land. At the ravine, God promised to provide for the prophet. In the morning and in the evening, ravens would bring him meat and bread. The small ravine would provide him with water. One day, the ravine dried up. No more water.

If we find ourselves in life where it seems all is dried up, it is easy to feel resentful, abandoned, or no longer loved. This is especially true if our focus has been on the provision and not the Provider.  It is in those dry places that we must be “persuaded that God has power to do what God has promised” (Romans 4:21). It is worth remembering that sometimes God guides by what God does not provide. It does not mean that God is not taking care of us. It just means the creek has dried up and it is time to move on. In those seasons of our life, we must trust in Jesus who promises “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink! Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you” (John 7:37-38).