Life’s Ebb and Flow

I could have listened and watch the water in the grottos at Rosh Hanikra, Israel, for hours. It only took a few seconds for them to teach me something.

The waters slapped against the rock, over and over, ebbing into the rock over many years. As I watched the water, it didn’t seem to move much. It was powerful as it repeatedly crashed against the rocks, but it reminded me of someone beating his head against a wall. Sometimes, we don’t feel as if we’re going anywhere, and we feel battered through the process. We may not feel as if we’re moving, as if we’re repeatedly being slapped against the rocks, yet…

When we abide in Christ, He directs, carries, and changes us. He holds us together with others, just as the particles of water stick to each other and move as a unit. We stick with others…even when we don’t want to at times. God knows who needs to be side by side to experience the ebb and flow of life together.

God moves us to greater depths, even though we don’t like it at times, He knows when we need to repeat the same motion over and over. He knows what changes the repetition makes, even though all we feel is a sea-sickening battering.

As I watched the water ebb and flow, rise and fall, crash and recede, I was filled with gratitude. I was thankful that we can trust God to know just where we are and why. No matter where I am, I can be content…not because I’m thrilled with where I am, but because I’m thrilled that I am with God.

 

Gathering at the Water Gate

water-pakistan_1601384iAll the people of Israel gathered together in the square by the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the teacher to bring out the Book of the Teachings of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought out the Teachings for the crowd. Men, women, and all who could listen and understand had gathered. At the square by the Water Gate Ezra read the Teachings out loud from early morning until noon to the men, women, and everyone who could listen and understand. All the people listened carefully to the Book of the Teachings. Nehemiah 8:1-3

The Water Gate was where the water supplying the temple flowed into the city. It was a place everyone could gather and learn. While some places were reserved for men, the Water Gate was available for men, women and children. Families could learn together. Mothers could gather and hear. Everyone was welcome.

Learning as a community is a rich experience. It allows us to come face-to-face and listen. We share space, thoughts and lives together. Each of us as individuals experience the same situation differently. We have a different perspective because of where we stand. We have different distractions around and within us. We process what’s heard and seen at different speeds and through different filters.

Yet God’s Word doesn’t change. God doesn’t change. His Spirit works within each of us to coordinate the timing of where we are and what we experience. He can use a distraction to intensify focus. He can use an experience to prime us for sensitivity. He can use a filter to fan the flame of passion.

When have you clearly felt or heard God even if you were among throngs of people?

When have you been distracted among a crowd so you missed what you had gathered to experience?

God speaks to you personally, yet every time you gather with others, it’s not all about you. God can multi-task. He wants to nourish you as an individual, while at the same time he’s nourishing the community of believers around you.

Live It. Identify the distractions throughout your day. Notice how you respond to them. Be prepared at all times to focus on God. Encourage those around you to do the same.

Watered By a Spring

springSo when Joseph came to his brothers, they pulled off his robe with long sleeves and threw him into the well. It was empty, and there was no water in it. Genesis 37:23-24

Joseph is like a grapevine that produces much fruit, a healthy vine watered by a spring, whose branches grow over the wall. Your father’s God helps you. God Almighty blesses you. He blesses you with rain from above, with water from springs below, with many babies born to your wives, and many young ones born to your animals. Genesis 49:22,25

Joseph’s brothers threw him into an empty well. He was in a dry pit with no hope of escape. There was no water. We often don’t have physical water when we still have a spiritual source of water.

Fast forward many years later when Jacob, Joseph’s father, is describing his sons. Because of what has happened in Joseph’s life, it’s obvious God has provided for him and provided a source of nourishment that is much deeper and more reliable than physical water. God showers blessings upon Joseph. He pours into him with an everlasting spring. God honors Joseph’s obedience through times obedience would not have been an easy choice. There were many times in Joseph’s life when it must have seemed as if God’s blessings were far away from him.

When have you felt forgotten or at least not in God’s focus?

What is your typical response of obedience when you feel forgotten by someone on earth? Do you project that same response onto your relationship with God?

Look at some of the words Jacob uses to describe Joseph: produce, healthy, spring, grow, blessed, many.

Search for areas of your own life in which one or more of these words apply right now. Can you find a variety of circumstances to attach the various words?

God’s blessings are not limited to Joseph. God’s blessings are not limited to Scripture. God’s blessings are for you. God is active in you as you yield to him in obedience and trust him through all circumstances.

Live It. All circumstances do not make sense. We don’t see what we think is a blessing in one area because we’ve suffered through a similar circumstance. We often define blessings different than God does. As you experience a trial today, consider the blessing that might be underlying it.

Where’s My Camera When I Need It?

I heard there were sea turtles (honu) along the North Shore of Oahu where we were staying. Tim was headed back to the house, so I decided to walk along the beach and see if I could find any turtles swimming along the shore. I didn’t want to carry much with me, so I only kept my phone and shoes. I didn’t see any turtles and kept getting distracted by waves, people, rocks, and more. There’s something mesmerizing about walking along the shore. I soak up the sounds and scents. I enjoy the feeling of my feet in the damp sand and the water splashing my legs, and time simply seems to pass.

I was so distracted, I nearly tripped over a large sea turtle sunning on the beach!

Where’s the camera when I need it?

I don’t take many photos with my camera, but at least I had it with me. I snapped a few as the turtle pushed his way back into the water.

My photos turned out okay (I wasn’t as close as it appears, since I didn’t want to scare him). I was glad I at least had my camera, but I kept thinking, “Where’s my camera when I need it?!”

I watched the turtle swim away and continued down the beach. I’d had enough excitement for the day and returned to tell Tim of my adventures…and regret of not having the camera with me.

We returned to the beach the next day (with the camera) and saw many turtles…in the water. I enjoyed watching the turtles, but I couldn’t get great photos. Drat.

I returned a bit later, again with the camera. The sun was going down, and I snapped several photos of the gorgeous colors. I walked a short distance down the beach to take photos from a few different perspectives. Since I didn’t see any turtles, I might as well take photos of the available beauty.

As the sun disappeared, I turned around to return. After less than 20 steps, I saw a turtle close to the water not far from me. I quickly grabbed the camera and took several photos, but the lighting was wrong, and there wasn’t time for me to adjust. Before I could think through what I needed to do, the elusive turtle was swimming away. I missed it again!

As I shared my frustration with Tim, I realized I had seen two turtles on the shore and he hadn’t. I was focused on the image I hadn’t captured when I could have been focused on the experiences I’d had.

The next time I went to the beach, I decided to intentionally leave the camera behind.

Consider a time you’ve focused on what you missed. In the process, could you have missed out on something else you could have savored? Have you consequently added to the “missed out” list of an experience?

God blesses us. We often misdefine his blessings.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. (John 1:16)

Fit Faith: Aerobic: Race to the Mediterranean

Cathy and I were serving, distributing food and supplies throughout Israel. We caught glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea while we rode through Netanya in the delivery truck. We were focused on serving but enjoyed the beauty of the vast blue water shimmering with reflections of sunlight. After our deliveries in the city were completed, the driver pulled into a parking lot overlooking the Sea. He said he thought we might enjoy the sight for a few moments. He was right. We sat in silence and gazed into the sprawling deep blue water.

After a couple minutes, he confessed he intended for us to do more than just look. We’d worked hard, and he wanted to give us the opportunity to enjoy a place we will rarely see in our lifetimes. He said, “I’ll make you a deal. You continue to work hard the rest of the day as you’ve been doing, and I’ll give you twenty minutes to enjoy the Sea.”

Deal!

We weren’t dressed to play in water, but we didn’t hesitate. The only problem we foresaw was the height of where we were compared to the water level. We’d have to walk a short distance to a set of stairs, which led to another set of stairs and another until we reached the beach and could run straight toward the water. It was a hot day, so we knew we’d work up a sweat while running to the refreshing water, but we didn’t care. We started running nearly as soon as our feet hit the pavement.

It took us at several minutes to reach the edge of the beach, and we were already out of breath. We’d spent precious time out of our 20 minutes to get to the beach, and we knew the upward return climb would take us even longer. We kicked off our shoes and ran to maximize every second we had. We rolled up our pants and waded through the water, took photos of each other and began to search for souvenir shells and pebbles. Before we knew it, it was time to trudge back to the truck.

Looking up to where we needed to go looked much more daunting than running down. This time, we knew we’d get hot again – without the appealing, refreshing water awaiting us at the end of the climb. That was okay with us. It had been worth it.

We took the return climb more slowly, but we were as out of breath as before. Our hearts were racing. We realized our blessed break had a dual benefit: we were given the opportunity to experience the Mediterranean Sea, plus we got in some aerobic exercise for the day.

When it’s God-directed, effort is always worthwhile. You might breathe hard through the process. You might feel the sting of working muscles. You might feel weak. You might struggle to maintain normal conversation and daily life. However, what you experience will exceed the energy you expend.

Fully engage in God’s plan. When he invites you to experience his presence and peace, you will often need to respond in obedience, actively seeking and pursuing his will. He will only bring the refreshing water a certain distance toward you. You need to take a few steps on your own. His requirement of obedience isn’t because he’s not loving enough to give you everything easily. It’s because he loves you so much he’s not going to giving you everything easily.

Your faith must be aerobic. It requires life-sustaining oxygen that only God can provide. You must use the air he’s giving you to breathe. You must grasp the opportunities he’s placing before you. You must open your eyes to see what is in the distance and be willing to run with all your might to jump into his arms and splash in his waters of joy. You won’t be able to stay there forever, but he’s given you a memory to sustain your experiences and familiarity with him. Let him guide and nourish you.

I do not run without a goal. (1 Corinthians 9:26)

When We (Thought We) Were Fat

I saw a high school friend the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time, and we both talked at once as we caught up on each other’s lives. As the topic turned to high school memories, my friend exclaimed, “I actually ran across some high school photos of us the other day, and as I was looking at them, I remembered how fat I felt in that outfit! What I would give to be that “fat” now!”

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

What do you remember about your past that you wouldn’t mind transferring to your life now?

What about your life now would you not trade for anything in the past?

When it comes to the core areas of your life, is there anything you’d trade?

I’ve heard many people say, “If I only knew then what I know now.” Just recently in a small group discussion, one woman talked about how much she had learned since studying the Bible regularly. She looked directly at a couple young women and assured them that being more disciplined would have made a significant difference in her parenting. She intended the women to learn from her mistakes. Sad to say, most the time we seem determined to make our mistakes. And the truth is, even if she had studied years ago, God would still be working in her life now, revealing himself to her and challenging her to grow.

If we’re seeking God – no matter where we are – we’ll grow, which means we’ll see areas in our past in which we were “less” than we are now. We might be tempted to wish we’d known then what we know now, but we can’t learn everything at once. We can’t learn everything – period. Learning is a process. And it’s not automatic. Learning isn’t a default setting. Well, perhaps we’ll learn something by default, but it might not be the most desirable learning.

In order to grow toward God, knowing his character and truth, we must be intentional.

We can’t trust ourselves to define where we are, where we’ve been or where we’re going. That’s God’s job, because he has the best perspective. He has the only true perspective. Left to ourselves, we’ll think we’re fat when we’re thin and wise when we’re ignorant.

Yesterday doesn’t define today. Today defines today. Don’t miss a moment of what God has to teach you today. Memories are great for appreciation. Dreams are great for motivation. But as soon as you sacrifice opportunities of today to yesterdays or tomorrows, you miss what’s in front of you. You might not like what you see in the mirror right now, but without looking at who and where you are in the context of God’s perspective, you’re likely avoiding reality.

Let God define today. Be willing to learn. Be ready to fully experience God’s presence and live his will.

So God created human beings in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female. Genesis 1:27

Guarded Aerobics

I recently blogged about the (dis)comforts of home, the things we don’t necessarily like when we’re at home but we might miss when travelling. Travelling can be an odd experience. When the novelty of it wears off, a quest for balance begins to surface. On the one hand, new experiences and adventure keep travelling interesting. Even when a seasoned traveller is confused as to where he is, as each airport, hotel, and conference center blends into the next, there are intriguing and energizing experiences of watching, meeting, and listening to people that never seem to grow stale. There’s beauty in the changing landscapes and architectures. There are challenges of finding directions and getting orientated to new home-away-from-homes.

On the other hand, there’s a quest for sameness. Finding a favorite coffee shop. Arranging clothes or an office-away-from-office in the hotel room. A schedule of travel rarely reflects the average schedule near home, so finding a few common threads helps maintain some continuity and familiarity. For me, that includes exercise.

It would be easy to avoid exercise when travelling. Finding a suitable place to work out is often a challenge. Finding a suitable time to work out is often more of a challenge, especially during a busy convention schedule. To work out in the morning requires an unreasonably early wake-up call because of the time it takes to work out then shower and get ready for morning sessions. Late night sessions aren’t ideal because there’s little energy at the end of the day, but late night workouts might also spur enough energy to keep me awake. However, I’ve found delayed sleep doesn’t matter much anyway, since I’m usually waiting for complete exhaustion to set it, so I fall to sleep with a dulled realization I’m not falling asleep next to my husband.

So, I often opt for the late night option. And I’m rarely sorry for the sacrifice. No matter how tired I am, I feel better knowing I’ve expended energy other than walking from room to room throughout the event venue.

Another challenge often presents itself with late night workouts: location. Why large hotels don’t keep fitness rooms open late I don’t know, but I’m obviously not going to go outside for a strange-city-in-the-dark tour. And that’s why I’ve gotten into the habit of travelling with an exercise DVD.

So when a group of women were standing around the first evening of the conference, lamenting about not being able to work out when we were done for the night because the fitness room would be closed, I offered my DVD. Next problem: There’s barely room in a hotel room for me to do aerobics, so we needed an alternate location. Because there were several of us, we’d also need a TV, because we wouldn’t be able to see the laptop screen well.

Aha! One of the displays right outside the conference ballroom had a TV and a DVD player. Perfect! Of course, that meant we’d be in a major hallway while working out, but since it was late at night, who would notice?

Um…the security guard!

It was actually quite comical. He was a nice guy and will likely find his way into a future blog or two. He’s probably seen much more interesting things during his late night shifts!

The bottom line is we got to exercise, and we felt much better. Plus, we got to work out side by side each other, which makes it a bit more fun. It’s funny: We set aside the reality of working out in a very public area, because establishing some sort of routine to our day took priority.

We might need to find some adventure among the regularity of daily life, but we also seek regularity among the adventure of life.

Consider what habits bore you and make you long for adventure.

Consider what habits keep you grounded. What will you try to incorporate into your daily life even when you’re outside your norm?

We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way. Hebrews 12:11