Enduring the Wilderness

Throughout the Old and New Testament, we see people experience the wilderness and find God in the midst of it. Moses came out of the wilderness, ready to lead God’s people out of Egypt: in the wilderness of Horeb, Elijah heard the still small voice of God. Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant who Sarai gave to her husband Abram to have a child with found herself in the desert at two different times. In both instances, Hagar encountered the Angel of the Lord, who gave her insight about the life of her son Ishmael. And of course, the one I’m sure that comes to mind for most of us is Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness. In each one of these instances, the persons involved came out of their wilderness better prepared for the journey ahead.

My journey through the wilderness over the last eight months has been a stripping away of issues like control, a judgmental spirit, and self-reliance deeply ingrained within me. “Controllers are inherently incapable of yielding control to God.” Whether we want to admit it or not, we are control freaks. “But faith involves a loss of control. And with the loss of control comes the loss of certainty. And faith is the willingness and readiness to embrace those uncertainties.”

These insights opened my eyes to my lack of trust and dependency on God. So, there was much confession and repentance during this time in the wilderness.

The wilderness developed within me that quality so beneficial to living faith: desperation. Left to myself in uninterrupted comfort, I found that I had drifted. It is all too easy to give lip service to God while our hearts pursue our careers or ministry.

In the wilderness, I learned about the weakness of my flesh, the Lord’s faithfulness, kindness, and grace. This “stripping away” removed blocks so that there would be more time and space for God to bring more significant form and shape to my life.

The wilderness emptied me of issues that blocked my ability to reflect the image of God to others. God’s purpose for each one of us is to “become persons of compassion, persons who forgive, persons who care deeply for others and the world, persons who offer themselves to God to become agents of divine grace in the lives of others and their world. And persons who love and serve as Jesus did.”

There were times in the wilderness, where I struggled to hear the reassuring voice of the Father. But the Scriptures gave me hope during this difficult time. Job declared, “He reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light” (12:22). In Hosea, God says, “I will lead her (Israel) into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (2:14). And Jeremiah 31:2, “They found grace in the wilderness.”

Eventually, God brought His light, grace and tenderness into my journey. The wilderness was a training ground to prepare me to die to self and to live for God. It brought me to a place of surrender. In the wilderness, I found out what my heart desired. Although it is a place of correction, pruning, and discipline, God is there in the wilderness.

Throughout my wilderness journey, I begged God to take it away; eventually, I have come to thank Him for the stripping away of that which had distanced me from Him.

I want to share with you a prayer from Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

“God of our creation and re-creation, you who are constantly at work to shape me in the wholeness of Christ, you know the hardness of the structures of my being that resists your shaping touch. You know the deep inner rigidities of my being that reject your changing grace. By your grace soften my hardness and rigidity; help me to become pliable in your hands. May there be a melting of my innate resistance to your transforming love.”

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

I must confess I grow weary of the day to day judgments that I read and hear about. The volume seems to get louder and louder with each passing day. Yet, I’m well aware that when I’m living out of a vacuum and not the fullness of God, I find myself judging others.

A wise man once said, “Judgments are like corks they block the flow of God’s love flowing through us.”

If that flow is blocked then I fail to see every human as one who bears the image of God. I’m not able to see what God sees in them because I’m seeing them through my old nature. I should only have one opinion about all people; they were worth Jesus dying for.

James addresses the issue of judgment in chapter 2:12-13, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Now, when I find myself commenting about the speck in someone else’s eye and fail to see the plank in my own, I know it is time to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” And then ask the Holy Spirit to collapse those judgment mechanisms that live in my head.

Jesus shows us how we can live out of the fullness of God. John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” When I choose to live out of the fullness of God that comes through making my home in Him, I will bear much fruit and see others as He sees them.

Lord fill us with mercy, not judgment.

Close the Gap

“I wanted my father to close the gap between us.” I needed to know that he cared about me.

Without that knowledge, I eventually became a “tell me what to do” kind of person. This way, I could show you how good I could be. Without my father initiating towards me, I lacked what I call masculine initiative. Now athletics helped be tap into that initiative, but it wasn’t enough. I lacked a forcefulness to lead and to speak up.

There was within me still this need for someone to care about me. After I became a Christian, I wondered if God the Father cared about me. Because I hoped that God would close the gap that I felt between us. But my eyes and my ears still hadn’t learned how to behold Him or listen to Him.

Matthew 3:17 shows us a wonderful picture of the Father moving in His power and initiative to name and bless his Son Jesus. That’s what I want!

My older brother rebelled and gave up on our father caring. I strived and sought his approval through my good work. If you think about it, we were kind of like the two brothers in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). But we had it the other way around, it was the grandiosity of the older brother and the striving and approval seeking of the younger brother, me. I could see my brother asking for his premature inheritance even though there wasn’t one to ask for. And there I was committed to duty. Isn’t that what being a Christian is all about? I was emotionally cut off and lacked the initiative to ask for a young goat to celebrate with my friends. My older brother lacked commitment and duty because in his grandiosity he was all over the place.

Fortunately, my story doesn’t end there. Over the years, my eyes and ears began to open, and I could see God the Father closing the gap between us. And I could hear his powerful voice tell me how much he loved me. Developing that ability to listen to that still small voice and to gaze on the beauty of the Father has healed the father wound within me and strengthened me to lead and speak truth to others.

Happy Father’s Day – Close the Gap

Mature Faith

Matthew 8:23-27Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

So, I’ve been going through the book of Matthew and read this very familiar story from Matthew 8. The words “why are you so afraid” jumped off the page. It’s kind of been my personal question to myself these last few weeks. In the story when the disciples cry out, “Lord save us,” rightly understood it is a manic plea from them to Jesus. This is a prayer I have been uttering quite a bit these days.

Jesus uses the word faith when he addresses them and honestly, I thought I had a mature faith but this whole COVID 19 thing has shaken me to the core. I realize and confess that in the absence of faith I can become a bit cowardly. This is a quote from a commentary that I looked at to help me better understand this story. “Faith is often depicted in the gospels as courageous confidence that Jesus is equal to the occasion.”

And obviously he was equal to the occasion. He gets up and rebukes the wind and the waves and it says it was completely calm. In spite of the “little faith” of His disciples he acts. That helps me heaps as I struggle with my own faith in this unprecedented time. I am grateful that in the midst of this furious storm that has come upon us Jesus hears my cry and calms the storm within me (again and again).

We are familiar with the Vine-branch union from the gospel of John (15:5). The fruitful branch is connected to the Vine drawing life from Him. I am finding as a branch I am in definite need of that union with the Vine to live my life in these desperate times. I am praying for you to find this union with Him and that He fills you with His comfort and peace and the gift of faith to deal with any storms you might encounter.

Fear of Intimacy

One of the most terrifying experiences for me was when I began to let others know about my hopes, dreams, fears, and painful past. The amount of risk this entailed required me to find the courage I had never thought possible. The risk of being hurt was the barrier that kept me at arm’s length with others for many years. To depend on someone, only to possibly be shamed by them when I needed them to extend empathy felt impossible. The two questions that resounded in my head all those years were, “Will they embrace me in my pain or cruelly push me away?” And, “when they see me for who I really am will they reject me? “

To truly depend on another is a bit like the game that I believe is called “trust fall.” You cross your arms in front of you then fall back with the belief someone is going to catch you. My fear was no one would be there to catch me if I trusted them with my heart. So I would just opt out of the opportunity for intimacy or turn the tables and attempt to care for them. Having been hurt badly in my childhood through physical and verbal abuse it seemed like madness to trust another with my heart. The world seemed like a dangerous place to me so intimacy was difficult to find.

Shutting down my feelings and shutting others out altogether are actually telltale signs of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In my refusing help and actively pushing people away I sought comfort through several addictions that never provided the intimacy I hungered for from another.

I can remember after one of my most traumatic childhood incidents thinking to myself, “I don’t ever want to feel that weak and powerless again.” The end result of all my protecting was I became isolated and left to deal with the demons of my past alone.

I was only able to succeed at overcoming my past by letting people; especially those I had known for many years, get close to me.

Intimacy is an act of courage. Remember, I was terrified of falling and no one catching me? The more I avoided that act, avoided intimacy with others, only made that prospect of letting others get close more terrifying.

I became strong when I finally chose weakness and an act of courage to share my fears and my pain. I took a leap of faith to seek comfort and to be held up by these loving and caring friends. I let them see all of me at my most vulnerable. And while none of this was easy, it is what I had to do to get free of my shame and fear. The payoff was the world and the people in it became a less frightening place.

In my search for intimacy, I found grace, not just from God but from others also. The apostle Paul tells us that Christ’s power rests on us when we choose weakness.

Seeking His Face

A couple of weeks ago I grabbed A.W. Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God off the shelf and started to read it for about the tenth time. Tozer always brings me back to what it means to “follow Christ.” He talks about being “children of the burning heart” and writes, “complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.”

In a world that is changing “rapidly,” I find it easy to get overwhelmed if I’m not in a seeking posture toward God. I find myself burdened by the chaos of uncertainty that I read about every day or hear about on the news. This plus what I believe is the prompting of the Spirit has led me into a season of “earnestly” seeking God. Call it an inner ache for His comforting presence. As I sit quietly before Him I cry out, “Come Holy Spirit.” I do this because I need His presence in the midst of the busyness of life and the chaos and uncertainty I just mentioned.

To center oneself on the reality of God comes at a cost but it helps me to be “in Christ” in a world that desires me to be influenced by its message. I hoped in that message for many years and it never satisfied that deep ache within me for something greater. Or perhaps that should be someone greater.

Many of my close friends comment that they no longer feel His presence and have turned to the talking heads of this world for wisdom and understanding. The intimacy they once knew has disappeared and their face is no longer pointed towards His face to be reminded of His deep love for them but to the lesser things, the world has to offer.

Look, I’ll be honest with you at times my attempts to commune with Him are clumsy at best. But in seeking His face at times it calls for us to search for Him, to pursue Him and to look for Him. Let me remind you that the word “seek’ is found throughout the library of Scripture. One of my favorite passages with the word seek is Psalm 27:4-5, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in His temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”

I share this with you as a word to consider. Perhaps it is not just for me and will hopefully encourage you to “earnestly seek Him.” May your heart begin to burn anew for His life-giving Presence.

Psalm 63:1, O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirst for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Strength in Weakness

We just finished our winter 2019 Healing Path class and on the final night, we have a potluck and testimonies. Imagine that, getting up in front of forty people and sharing with them what God has been revealing over the last ten weeks. Not everyone signs up to share but we had a handful of courageous people overcome their fears and share with us about their experience. Because of confidentiality, I cannot share names with you but their willingness to be weak in front of their brothers and sisters in Christ was powerful! Heroic!

We see snapshots of this throughout the Scriptures and the verses that pop into my head are from Hebrews 11:32-34, And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful (valiant) in battle and routed foreign armies.

“Whose weakness was turned to strength” is what The Healing Path is all about. Because when people choose to not allow their shame or fear to keep them silent they become powerful through the word of their testimony and the enemy is routed. Oh, I wish you could’ve been there to experience the power that was loosed that night.

As you well know It takes courage to stand “naked and unashamed” before others to share one’s story. Fear is in evidence every time we run one of our Healing Path classes (some of it is healthy). For many of the participants, it is the first time they’ve ever been part of a group that is so transparent. So it takes a while for some of them to “jump into the deep end of the pool.” I totally understand and encourage my leaders to be gracious in their ministry to them.

As most of you are aware, fear and shame are old friends of mine that kept me imprisoned for years. Having been “cowardly” for many years to be transparent and to live out of my true self I allowed fear to keep me bound up and powerless. But as you know God can take the most fearful of people and make them heroes (think Gideon in the book of Judges).

I am reminded in Revelation 21:5-8 what becomes of the cowardly.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty, I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

This is one of those verses that slap’s me in the face when I read it. In verse 8 at the beginning of the list, we see “the cowardly and “the unbelieving” listed and it is a bit of a head scratcher compared to the rest of the list. Hopefully, it gives us pause to ask ourselves the question, “Have I been cowardly in my walk with God?”

I did a search on the word “cowardly” and “unbelieving” and one writer wrote “Literally “the unbelieving” recalls Jesus’ rebukes to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid?” (Literally, “Why are you such cowards?”). ”Do you still have no faith?” (Mk 4:40; compare Mt 8:26).

Another writer wrote about verse 8, “They are not humble enough to accept His authority in their lives.” Ouch! That is what fear does to us; it convinces us to remain hidden, disabled in our ability to confess or even acknowledge we need Jesus to heal us. Rather than trust in the goodness and mercy of God we trust in the many masks we choose to hide behind.

Where do we start to overcome our fear of man? I started by trying to listen to God while in a place of fear. Such a battle at first to hear His voice in the midst of the powerful voices of my childhood that was mostly negative. Listening was a learned process for me that took time. Many times I wanted to abandon the process when I ran into what seemed like a dead end. Here is where patience and persistence were valuable assets in the pursuit of my freedom from fear.

Learning to engage with God I discovered more of God’s heart for me and found the freedom I never thought possible. Christian writer and speaker John Paul Jackson reminds us “Anything you fear you empower and whatever we focus on we make room for in our hearts and minds.” Focused on fear I became blind to the life the Lord offered to me through the choosing of weakness and humility. I lived with a “survivalist mentality” trying to hide my bad parts from people and never really experiencing the life Jesus was offering me. I believed that if I shared with others what was really going on in my life “something bad was going to happen.”

I am reminded of what Eve says in Genesis 3:13, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Like Eve, the devil hitched a ride in my head for many years deceiving me to remain in the shadows. Weakness was avoided, power was not my experience and I remained in bondage to my past wounds and pain. It wasn’t until I chose weakness that my healing was realized. There is no other road but “going the way of the Cross” to die so He can bring His resurrection power to raise us up anew.

Let me close with this verse, Hebrews 11:34 in the New King James version says it well, “out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle…”

On that Monday night in The Healing Path, we saw people choose weakness and become strong, valiant in their battle against the lies, wounds and sin in their lives.

Distracted From His Presence

I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for almost eighteen years and throughout those years I’ve watched people become disgusted with the manner of life in the valley. I remember an individual telling me the valley was “toxic to his soul.”

I picked this up pretty quickly when I moved here back in 2001, people and their hurried lives, and the chaotic day to day of work and life after work. I remember laughing to myself and vowing that I would not allow “The Borg” of the valley to assimilate me. Keep in mind “The Borg’s” ultimate goal is “achieving perfection.” Well, I lost. Somehow personal boundaries and the care of my soul got pushed to the back of the line and I eventually became overwhelmed to the point of “burn out.”

In doing “the work of the ministry” I was distracted from caring for my own soul. Well, isn’t that what a “good” servant of God is supposed to do? Neglect your needs for another. I won’t go into the why I did what I did but part of it was to impress others. I’ve struggled with deep feelings of inadequacy most of my life so that drove my need to “impress.”

Here is a brief passage from a book I read many years ago that hit the nail on the head for me. Peter Scazerro, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “…work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail…our experiential sense of worth and validation shifts from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ to our works and performance…our activity for God can only properly flow from a life with God.”

Now let me say there were times of refreshing throughout that period of life but it was never enough. I felt as if I was always trying to catch up on missed sleep. Somehow that never happens.

Through the neglect of my soul, my ability to be fully present to others, to myself (self-awareness) and to God was compromised.

As followers of Jesus, we live in a time where there are so many things to keep us from “the better place” (Luke 10:42). So many of us struggle to physically and emotionally keep our head above water. There are many distractions, and I’m not just talking about technology but so many other things that prevent us from having a self-awareness that leads to greater emotional health.

Author Andrew Sullivan wrote a great article that addresses what I’m writing about in this blog. If you have time give it a read: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-my-distraction-sickness-and-yours.html

Here is a great quote from his article: “There are books to be read; landscapes to be walked; friends to be with; life to be fully lived… this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.”

Upon reading this the Spirit reminded me of Jesus warning in the gospel of Mark 8:36, What good is it for a man or woman to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Focusing on just my spiritual life and not all the other things that contributed to my loss of soul I “had lost the plot.”

Fortunately, Jesus gives us a wonderful model, a way of living that helps us to flourish in the busyness of life and yet somehow I lost sight of that model in my busy, distracted life.

Let me set this up for you; Jesus gets baptized and then is led into the wilderness by the Spirit. In the gospel of Luke 4:2 it says, “…where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” The devil tempts him with food, attempts to get him to question His identity as a son and then offers power to rule. Jesus does not fall for the devil’s ploy but acts out of a place of strength to stand against the devil’s temptation.

I’ve read this story numerous times and have never, ever thought of this wilderness, this quiet, lonely, solitary place to be a place of empowerment. But, that is what Jesus models for us.

All throughout the gospels, we read that Jesus often went to lonely places to pray. In Mark 1:35-38, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

Jesus, having achieved celebrity-like status the day before where he taught in the synagogue and amazed the people with His authority, then drove out an impure spirit, healed Simon’s mother in law of a fever, and that evening, people brought to him the “sick and demon possessed.” Then wakes up very early in the morning to pray. While he is doing this people are already gathering to meet with him. They want more of the signs and wonders of the previous day. Presented this opportunity by his disciples to build on his popularity, Jesus, full of the Spirit is focused on what is next for him and says no to the opportunity.

How many of us need that clarity, empowerment and ability to say “no” to things that aren’t what God has for us? Maybe it is time to rethink this idea of spiritual discipline?

People come to The Healing Path (an eleven-week healing group) and other groups I lead and want a magical prayer or some powerful insight to find healing. When I talk about “silence and solitude” they get this look on their face that tells me they want something easier. It seems most of the time I mention “spiritual disciplines” they view them in very negative ways. Perhaps its because we see it as a place of wasted time, frustration and emptiness rather than empowering. This is why we pursue the quick fix of another glass of wine or a few more episodes of whatever’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime or hours spent watching silly YouTube videos or porn. We seem to prefer escapism versus engagement. It seems we will do anything to avoid silence and solitude out of fear that we might come face to face with our pain, deep-rooted anxiety or feelings of inadequacy within that we’ve repressed.

My problem was I always approached the disciplines as a legalist and viewed them more like a duty, hoping to impress God with my obedience.

Alas, the discipline of “silence and solitude” requires intention. You begin with small steps of learning how to “be still.” Hopefully, five minutes turns into ten, ten turns into fifteen and so forth. For some of you, five or ten minutes might be all you have so don’t feel like you need to do more. Make sure you have your journal with you just in case you feel the nudge of the Spirit. This practice opened up a whole new season of healing for me.

Radical Dependence in the Face of Worry

While I was having lunch with a friend who is also single, we began to talk about the difficulty of remaining in Silicon Valley because of rising rents, gas prices, health insurance, car repair and those unannounced financial issues that arise every now and then.

I mentioned an article I read in CNN Business that said many tech companies in San Francisco were having difficulty-hiring janitors because most of them can’t afford to live within a 1-2 hour commute of their workplaces. The article reported, “The skyrocketing costs show no signs of slowing.” Gulp!

We both had seen this coming for a while. Faced with these issues about finances and my future I’ve developed a low-grade anxiety that doesn’t seem to stop simmering. As I commune with God, I wonder, “Do you want me to stay, enter into a different living situation or are there new fields to sow into far from this place?”

As part of a monthly challenge at our church to be more intentional about our relationship with Jesus, I committed to reading a chapter of Matthew a day to more deeply connect with God. Jesus words from a passage I read in Matthew 6 ring in my ears as I consider my future, “Do not worry about your life…”

Jesus unpacks the futility of worry and tells us not to worry about what we will eat; what we will drink, or what we will wear. He then tells us to look at the birds of the air and how our heavenly Father feeds them. He follows that with two great questions, “Are you not of more value than they?”And, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

I believe that most of the time, worry reveals what we worship. If we worry about finances, we may worship financial security, if we worry about reputation, we may worship status. If we worry about not having control in all situations, we may worship control.

When Jesus uses the word the Bible translates as worry he uses the Greek verb merimnao and he uses it six times in this passage and interestingly that word can be translated in a positive sense as caring about something in a good way. But in this passage the words negative usage is employed and it means, quote, “internal disturbance at the emotional and psychological level that disrupts life,” another way of translating the word could be “an anxious endeavor to serve one’s needs.”

Jesus tells us how to deal with worry. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). He is telling us that if we live out the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) we are seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. In doing so, worry will not be an issue for us.

When our treasure is in God, when our eyes are clear, so to speak, and we make the decision to serve the true Master rather than money, what is there to worry about? When Jesus says, “All these things will be added to you,” it’s not a promise of basic provision but an assurance that we can become a type of person that is free from worry. We can become a person that values the things that can’t be taken away because our treasure is found in God.

Jesus ends this passage with these words, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let me remind you, he once told his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The whole context for this passage is we’re going to have trouble but don’t worry. So what’s the point? Worry won’t stop trouble it’s about what we treasure; what we care for.

Dallas Willard says it so well, “People who are ignorant of God live to eat and drink, and dress…for such things the ‘gentiles’ seek,” and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety, anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare. By contrast, those who understand Jesus and his Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always seeking ‘first the kingdom.’ That is they place top priority on identifying and involving themselves on what God is doing.”

My other commitment to being “intentional” was to tune out from media the last two hours of the evening. Turning off all the lights in my apartment and attempting to hear God’s still, small voice, God reminded me of His character. He reminded me of His relentless mercy and unlimited grace towards me during these times of listening. Trusting in God’s character and loving-kindness towards me began to loosen worry’s grip on me. This union revealed to me His love that at times I’ve struggled to fathom especially when worry comes knocking at my door. God was proving Himself to be enough for me in this season of my life.

To continue to live somewhat worry free will require of me a “radical dependence” on God in this season of possible transition. I believe the words from Matthew 6 give us a blueprint for a radical lifestyle of trusting God for the ordinary things of life while devoting ourselves towards the Kingdom mission. In choosing to live out these words, God becomes more real in our lives and we learn to trust in God’s profound affection for us.

When Jesus says, “Do not worry,” it’s not a suggestion, it’s a command.

Will I Survive the Flood?

We live in a time where it is difficult to keep up with all the information that is available for us to read, listen to or watch. The question I ask my friends is what are you doing with all that information? Most of them reply, “nothing.” Our heads are “stuffed” with information and I find that many of us are trying to “think” our way towards transformation without acting on the information received. Information alone doesn’t equal transformation.

I recently enjoyed a sermon I heard about the Sermon on the Mount. Here is what I gleaned from that message. Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with a series of warnings. Here is the final one before he ends perhaps the most important sermon ever.

Matthew 7:24-27, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Puts them into practice” in the Greek is translated “acts on them, follows, obeys.” We are told this is what the wise person does. The foolish person does not act on them, obey or follow.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this passage and just skipped through it because of my familiarity with it. Upon deeper reflection, I realize there is a wise person and a foolish person. And that Jesus does not contrast good and bad in this story but thoughtful and foolish. Lastly, “house” is really a metaphor for life.

A wise person builds their life on the foundation of Jesus teaching and puts it into practice. The foolish person hasn’t thought about life all that much but hears Jesus words and doesn’t do anything with this information. Maybe these folks are too busy amusing themselves to death, trying to climb the corporate ladder or attempting to earn another degree.

Here are some questions I asked myself. Where am I in this story? Am I the wise person, the foolish person or somewhere in the middle? And where am I at in “practicing” His teaching from this sermon? I’m told to be salt and light, not to murder, or to commit adultery, love my enemies, give to the needy and not to worry. That last one along with a few others might be a problem. And, lastly, what happens when the flood comes?

The flood is a word picture of some kind of hardship. For example, the loss of a job, a negative diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, prolonged anxiety or depression, or a long-term relationship that ends in separation.

The flood will come! Yet please notice that the wise person and the foolish person will go through it. It will reveal what your life is built on.

It would be good to ask our selves is my life built on greed, materialism, achievement, being popular and well liked or my appearance? Is life only about how many likes you get on Facebook? All this as the Scripture tells us will fall with a great crash!

Early in my tenure here at The River Church Community, I began to slowly unravel and fall into a depressive state. I had forgotten that transition could lead to emotional upheaval in one’s life. Not sure if it was homesickness or unresolved grief but I wasn’t doing well emotionally. Leaving home was like leaving my whole identity behind. I was starting all over and at least from my perspective, it wasn’t going well. I didn’t know anyone and it felt like no one appreciated my gifts and talents.

Although it was a step forward developmentally for me the people I was surrounded by seemed to be at a higher level of understanding than me. My self-esteem was floundering and that which I had built my identity on was shaken.

The people I had trusted for safety and security were no longer available. I had to draw on internal resources and three different men who I barely knew. They helped me challenge the negative, self-critical thinking that so frequently accompanies depression. Challenged in my relationship with Jesus I pressed into His word and into Him.

I survived the rain, the rising of the stream and the powerful wind. Drawing on that inner resource of truth I had ingested all those years of following Jesus, seeking out others for the life-giving community I needed and sharing with them honestly how I felt helped me persevere and survive the flood. My foundation was rocked but somehow I survived. You should know that as a people pleaser I was always “fine” and never shared any negative feelings or emotions with others. So this was a huge breakthrough for me to be vulnerable to another.

This story about the wise and foolish person hopefully produces within each one of us a healthy fear to at least think about what our life is built on.

One of the things I noticed about the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus begins and ends with the word practice. Matthew 5:19 Jesus tells us, “…Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Same word as Matthew 7, which means, “act on them, follow, obey.”

As we “ask, seek and knock” Jesus animates us to live this out. This takes more than listening to a sermon once a week and singing some songs. Remember, information alone doesn’t bring about transformation.

Your house is your life and everybody builds a life.