There’s One In Every Group

Have you seen the Southwest Airlines commercial about the solidarity in a group when one member, Fenwick, faces pending attack and probable death?

 

As men in the group stand up for him with the bold statements of “I am Fenwick,” I want to stand up and cheer: “Yes! Stand up for each other! Band together!” And then, another man in the group ruins it all.

There’s one in every group.

I’m a “group” person. I coordinate small groups at church, and I encourage people to build healthy friendships. I know the value of finding people who will stand up with you (and also be honest with you when it’s time to sit down or move on).

But groups are messy. Relationships are messy. Over and over again, I see people shy away from groups because they don’t want the mess. They usually state other reasons; often they claim to be too busy. But when I have a conversation and listen to past experiences and concerns, whether they can admit it in words or not, they are apprehensive. They don’t want to be annoyed, inconvenienced, or vulnerable.

Life is messy enough. Why open ourselves up to people who are immature and messy?

We’re immature and messy, too. By someone’s standards. We might not see it, but each of us can be annoying. But we’re also worth the risk. We’re in need of others, whether we want to be in need or not. Connections help us grow. They also challenge us. In fact, being challenged through our connections is often what spurs us to grow. That means it’s sometimes the connections with people who seem very different from us that impact our lives the most.

We might claim to be Fenwick when we feel a strong connection with others, but we also speak out in bad timing, stay silent in bad timing, and become “that one” among others. Be patient, gracious, and available.

Please Stop the Bleeding

sandA woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better, she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:25-29)

This woman pursued Jesus in a crowd. It was a risky venture for a weak woman who wasn’t usually around people. But she took the risk because she wanted to be released from the pain, loneliness, and weariness, and she trusted Jesus would be able to release her.

He did.

We all want to be released from something, because we’re suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The woman who had been bleeding for twelve years must have been desperate. She was isolated, ostracized, and likely exhausted and weak from incessant bleeding.

Sometimes we need to pursue Jesus, asking and trusting Him to release us of something. We must be active in our pursuit of Him and confident in our faith in Him. Other times, we need to accept when God wants something in our lives instead of release from it. We still must be active in our pursuit of Him and confident in our faith in Him.

Surprises All Around

Bethlehem wasn’t on our itinerary. It’s impossible to do everything in Israel. It might be a small nation, but it’s packed with possibilities. During my first trip to Israel, I had quite an adventure in Bethlehem. It’s a walled city that requires time-consuming procedures to enter, exit, and tour. I decided the time required wasn’t worth the benefits of the visit, especially with the additional options I could add to our itinerary if I removed it, so Bethlehem wasn’t on the schedule for the 2014 trip. Everyone who signed up for the trip knew we weren’t going to Bethlehem. However, one night, a couple women asked if they could fit it in.

We had no touring or serving scheduled for Shabbat. I encouraged everyone to soak in God’s presence and rest as He guided them. Understandably, many women wanted to pack in as much as they could while they were in Israel. We were close to Bethlehem, so some asked, “Can’t we fit it in on our free day?”

I explained the security issues, the necessity for a guide, and so on. I tried to encourage everyone to experience Israel in whatever ways they wanted and felt comfortable doing, but for a variety of reasons, I asked that no one go to Bethlehem on Shabbat. I like adventures, but it wasn’t worth the risk of small groups venturing outside Jerusalem, finding a guide who could tour in Bethlehem, and going through the security without having someone who spoke more than English. Everyone respected the decision, yet I felt there was a little tension about it.

Fast forward a few days, and I brought it up with a couple women I knew had been disappointed. I wanted to make sure they understood why I had said, “no.” They said, “It’s okay. We’re over it.” They assured me they wanted to ask in case it was possible but trusted my decision. They knew they couldn’t do everything in Israel; they knew there were choices to make.

With acceptance and submission often comes blessing.

Only a few hours later, our guide quietly asked me if I’d be interested in adding something to the end of that day: Bethlehem. I nearly laughed aloud, knowing only God would orchestrate such an abundant blessing for the two women who wanted so badly to visit Jesus’ birthplace. Apparently, our guide was certified to lead groups into Bethlehem (with several required arrangements), so he would stay with us. I asked him not to tell the group until later in the day so no one would get distracted.

I watched each of the two women for their reactions when he announced the addition to the itinerary. They were surprised by joy, overwhelmed with the blessing. So, we ventured to Bethlehem as the sun set.

As before, it was a chaotic place. It wasn’t the peaceful place we might imagine it to be. For many, it was unsettling. Yet another surprise. I was surprised, too. Surprised by the blessing of seeing Bethlehem by night, by talking to people I didn’t know and might not meet otherwise because they were “behind the wall,” by watching women process Bethlehem for the first time, and by taking time to reflect as we sat in the long security line to leave Bethlehem.

We can’t know surprises are coming, but we can certainly appreciate them when they come our way.

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

 

Standing on the Precipice

When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. (Luke 4:28-30)

We stood on Mount Precipice outside Nazareth.

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

I thought of Joseph’s words: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)

God’s plans prevail. “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Mount Precipice is a daunting place. Unlike many other mountains (more like large hills, but they classify as mountains in Israel), the side we stood on wasn’t a gradual decline. I couldn’t see the ground, so I walked a short distance beyond the platform among the large boulders to get a better look. I still couldn’t look far enough over the edge to see the drop. I decided I could miss that vantage point, and I stepped back. This was no rolling hill. If anyone was pushed over (or slipped as she was straining to see over the edge), it wouldn’t end well.

Yet the view was beautiful. We could see Nazareth by night…

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

Mt. Tabor…

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©PurePurpose.org

And Afula with Tel Meggido in the background across the Valley of Armageddon…

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©PurePurpose.org

Pieces fit together as I looked at the relationship among places. Because I had stood on Meggido a few years before, I could follow roads and mountains and make connections.

Journeying through Israel isn’t about going to all the places that make us feel warm fuzzies because we’re walking where Jesus walked. If we walk where Jesus walked, we’re uncomfortable at times. There are risks. After all, He took risks for us.

Walking in Jesus’ footsteps isn’t limited to Israel. We have His footsteps in God’s Word. If we’re willing to go with Him, we’re not always going to have warm fuzzies. Faith isn’t about feeling good. It involves being bold. It’s risky, because faith isn’t safe. We can be secure with Jesus, but we’re not always safe by the world’s standards.

I’m glad I stood on the precipice. As I stepped near the edge, my heart quickened. And that’s okay. If I hadn’t walked to the edge, I wouldn’t have seen the view.

Lesson from Nature: Stronger than You Think

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©PurePurpose.org

Just because something looks precarious doesn’t mean it is. Just because it looks strong doesn’t mean it has a lasting, dependable strength.

We’re usually taught to rely on our own strength. If we have to rely on anyone else, we’re seen as weak. At least, that’s been the predominant cultural message for quite a while. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Stand on your own two feet.” “Make sure you can provide for yourself.” Responsibility is a good thing, but self-reliance isn’t. It will get us into trouble, because we’ll begin to believe that we’re in charge, that we control what will happen next because of our own efforts. But, think about it, how much do you truly do with absolutely no influence or assistance from anyone else? People are interdependent. We need each other.

And we need God.

If we believe we have the strength to withstand everyday pressures, what happens when one day’s pressures become too much? We think the ledge beneath our feet will hold us up, because it has, day after day. But one day, we don’t realize how the ledge has been weakened over time, and a large chunk falls beneath us. On the other hand, if we believe we have no strength, we don’t step onto the ground that gives us the best perspective. We don’t fully enjoy what God has planned for us. We let fear and insecurity guide our steps instead of God’s assurance.

Strength isn’t ours to muster. We get it from somewhere. And that means we have to go to the source of it.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song. (Psalm 29:7)

Lesson from Nature: Two Paths

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©PurePurpose.org

Look closely. There are two paths. I recently wrote a post, Choices are Not All Cut-and-Dried, about facing the pros and cons of two paths. Some choices are more obvious.

Following the well-worn path would have taken me into water and mud. The path to the right of the tree was on slightly higher ground. It was obviously not the established path. It was simply the way several people had tried to avoid the water that naturally flowed along the path after heavy rains. Because of the choices of people ahead of me, I had an option that seemed obvious to me…more obvious than it probably seemed to them. Their willingness to try something cleared the way for me.

Following others doesn’t always work out well, but sometimes, it does. I don’t even know who I was following. I don’t know how much time had passed since the first person took the alternate route. I don’t know how many people it took to wear the path in the grass. All I know is…I had an excellent option ahead of me because of them.

Had the path led me into a snake pit or bear’s den, over a cliff, or into the lake, the people before me wouldn’t have left me with a good option. Every option that looks good isn’t good. But this one worked out, and it made me consider,

What if someone is following every step I take? Am I establishing a trail I would want others to follow?

I’m not talking about creating safe trails for everyone, trails that eliminate every risk and adventure. In fact, we couldn’t, even if we tried. What I am suggesting is simply considering where we’re walking, not just for ourselves but for others. Shouldn’t we know how to choose a path well in order to lead well?

Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Step Into the Water

feet-in-mudSo the people left the place where they had camped, and they followed the priests who carried the Ark of the Agreement across the Jordan River. During harvest the Jordan overflows its banks. When the priests carrying the Ark came to the edge of the river and stepped into the water, the water upstream stopped flowing. It stood up in a heap a great distance away at Adam, a town near Zarethan. The water flowing down to the Sea of Arabah (the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed the river near Jericho. The priests carried the Ark of the Agreement with the Lord to the middle of the river and stood there on dry ground. They waited there while all the people of Israel walked across the Jordan River on dry land. Joshua 3:14-17

Sometimes you have to get wet to keep others dry. What if the priests had decided they didn’t want to get wet?

Sacrifice isn’t easy. When we think it is, we’re usually choosing the areas of sacrifice we’ve enjoyed. There are also the tough sacrifices. Sacrifices can be risky, time-consuming, and painful. But when God says to do something, whether we like it or not, whether it’s comfortable or not, we must be obedient. We weigh so many choices placed before us as Choice A and Choice B. We make pros and cons lists. We ask friends’ opinions. We do the research. We question ourselves. We play eeny-meeny-miney-mo. We flip a coin. We agonize.

The choice is always simple (but still not usually easy). The choice is obedience. What does God want us to do? Once we have that answer, we’re ready to choose. The truth is it’s often hard to discern, because we’re not always choosing between what’s good and bad. We know we should say “no” to the bad. In many cases, we don’t even stop to process such choices. We struggle when we’re faced with two choices between good and good. Neither seems wrong or contrary to God’s will, so how do we then decide?

We don’t need a pros and cons list. We just need to seek God’s best. The choice between good and good, when made in obedience to God’s will, is the best, because God’s will is the best choice we can make.

Live it. Wet shoes aren’t comfortable, but when you’re following God, your feet will sometimes get wet as you step out in obedience. Get your feet wet today. Step in a puddle or put your socks on freshly showered feet. Remind yourself of the benefits of obedience even when it’s uncomfortable.