Broken Wells

She was trying to avoid eyes that judged her, in crowds there were whispers, in the marketplace she was more accustomed to the back of heads than seeing friendly faces. When you’ve been hurt by so many failed relationships, sometimes you gain a reputation, making it easier to avoid others than to face their harshness.

As Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he was insightfully aware of this. His easy engagement with her, pushing through her attempts to “change the subject” he focused on water, a new water…. Living water.

Her question, quoted in the picture I’ve included today, is a haunting one. My friend David Smith shared it with me and the words jumped off the photo to me. Lots of people in our world have heard about this living water, without any idea of how to get to it.

Their efforts to discover that thing that will quench the need deep within them, have only resulted in a broken pump. They know it is there, for we can’t desire something so intensely if it didn’t exist, but they can’t reach it.

Wanting acceptance and love, a place to belong, someone to trust all that you are with… it has eluded our friend speaking to Jesus. She has tried multiple times, partners who are nameless but numbered, and now has agreed to live with one not her husband just so she has a place to be.  When her ears are teased with the notion of living water… she is intensely aware that she has no way to get to it.

Our “new song” that we’ve spent this year talking about… here it is described in a conversation about “living water”. Jesus sings the song of Good News about the acceptance of God for broken people who desire him. It isn’t about running to a mountain, or an altar, it is about a heart that worships God in spirit and truth.  Broken spirits, contrite hearts, genuine movement to God through Jesus, these are the things to which God calls us.

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Rejoice with Others, Even When Life is Tough

Working up the courage to act on faith is pretty daunting as a journey of faith begins. Oft times, such a step is begun out of desperation rather than raw courage.

A father informed that his daughter was sick to the point of death hurries to her bedside. As he travels toward her, he hears some people speaking of this great teacher who does wonderful things, healing the sick and those who are blind or crippled. The father now has a decision to make, hurry home or seek an audience with his healer, a new arrival to his city?

Jairus, a man of faith, a leader of the synagogue, approaches Jesus and implores him to heal his daughter. “If you could just lay your hands on her?” When your precious one is dying, despair trumps courage, Jesus agrees to go to his home to help.

Can you imagine the hope that would spring from your heart? A solution when everything seemed lost.

As often happens with Jesus, when word gets out about his coming to an area, a large crowd gathers. Frankly, their interest is in the meals that have been provided or the entertainment value that accompanies this great teacher. They don’t feel the pressing matter of a dying child. It must have vexed Jairus greatly as progress was impeded.

But, there was one in the crowd, equally vulnerable, with a different kind of courage. This nameless one had been spending all of her money on physicians who has been unable to stop the bleeding she had been enduring for the past twelve years. All of her money was gone, the “treatments” that she had survived are unimaginable. She believed if she could just touch the healer, there was hope for her. And as her hope became reality, Jairus was faced with a different reality. Word arrived, Your daughter has died.

Jesus encourages his faith, going to his home and raising his daughter from the dead.

My point today, while your struggles need the touch of Jesus, remember others have unseen crisis that also need him, and he is sufficient for all. Have hope and rejoice with others who find relief.

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A New Song

Janet and I spent Friday evening and Saturday at an acoustic jam in Oxford, KS. It is many of the same musicians that I meet at the Walnut Valley bluegrass festival in the fall. Think smaller venue, fewer observers.

I am not invited down for my guitar or fiddle playing, I will never have the skill set that many of the musicians have who attend. I get to go because I am a singer. Specifically, one of the longtime members said Friday night, “I like you because you sing story songs that make us want to cry.” (For whatever that is worth.)

Songs are designed to tell stories. The more powerful the story, the deeper emotion it can bring forth, the more meaningful the song. Think of old classics like, I Believe or Feelings. In churches, songs like Amazing Grace or I Come to the Garden Alone or How Great Thou Art have touched the minds and hearts of many generations. So, to be good, a song must tell a story and tug the heart strings.

Psalm 40:3 is one of the places where the concept of believers singing a new song is described.

He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see this and worship. They will trust the Lord.

In Revelation 5:9 the imagery is of God’s people surrounding Jesus with this “new song”. Then they sang a new song, “You deserve to take the scroll and open the seals on it, because you were slaughtered. You bought people with your blood to be God’s own.”

The task of God’s people from every time and covenant throughout history has always been to sing the new song.

We don’t fuss and fret over political agendas, we sing and rejoice about the salvation we find in God. Our song is unique to the experience of each follower, but all about Jesus.

 

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Like the Original

We don’t look anything like Christians of the 1st Century, and before that offends you… we shouldn’t. Their culture was different, entirely different. Even in the most modern of contexts they never experienced anything like the American culture. The pace was different, the expectations were different, and even their aspirations were different.

That is okay, because the task for the child of God is not to look like people of days gone by. The task is to think, behave, and honor like Jesus did. The example of what is God-approved is not so much early Christians (although they did God-approved things), but to live like Jesus. Paul told early Christians, “Be an imitator of me, in the same way that I imitate Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

We have to be people who make it our hearts’ desire to communicate the life approach of Jesus to those around us. That isn’t done through deep theological discussions (Jesus didn’t have many of those), but rather through demonstrating a loving respect of people in an effort to draw them closer to God.

The battles that some folks face will not be the same battles that you face. Some fight more with sins of the flesh, others may fight more the sins of the spirit. For some, lustful thoughts about others is the problem. For others, the thoughts might be more envy, or even disgust. Discounting others for the problems they face, because they are different than our own, is failing to recognize that we each are made in God’s image and are worthy of respect for no other reason than that.

This includes nice folks, and not so nice folks. We are told that we cannot bless God and curse those made in his image. There is no caveat that says, “unless they make us uncomfortable”. We are to return a blessing for a curse, obviously the one cursing us isn’t on our “favorites list”. Jesus treated with respect high priests, prostitutes, tax collectors, widows, demonic folks, the destitute, the rich, the strong and the ill. He didn’t allow a person’s background to restrict his acts of kindness to others. Lepers were as welcome to his attention as temple officials.

So, when we try to understand how God wants us to live, don’t look for ‘how you do church’, look for how you ‘touch others’. In doing so, you become much more like the original.

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He’s No John Glenn

Growing up in the 60’s we all wanted to be astronauts, but we’ve not really been to the moon. Many of you know the story of my trying to “launch” my brother Steve into orbit by tying two car inner tubes to a couple of elm trees and a couple of us pulling him back to the porch “launch platform.” As he clutched his knees, we began the countdown that would propel him between the trees, over the dirt road, soaring over the 3 strand barbed wire fence to land safely in the freshly plowed field. We had thought this through, discussed it at length, and decided that he being smaller than the rest of us gave him the aerodynamic advantage over us all.

Just as we counted down to zero, having moved past the point of no return, I took a step that landed on his foot. Unfortunately, I was standing on it when we let go. He was launched about 4.5 feet forward, but he wasn’t much over 4 foot tall. Severely dislocating his ankle, the mission ended in failure. I was blamed for the injury without ever having received credit for saving his life.  Steve is no astronaut.

Who are you? It is an important question and not one that you should answer by giving your name.

“Who are you” is not answered by names, where you went to school, who you grew up with, or sending a DNA sample to some AncestryDNA company.

Who you are is defined by your thinking and actions, the choices you make. Now, don’t fall into the trap of making idealized claims in places where you have no real world experience. You aren’t a writer just because you jotted a few notes for an unwritten novel. You can’t claim to be a painter because you have a half finished “paint by numbers” velvet clown painting in the closet.

Who you are is defined in calm and in crisis based on your thinking and actions. God’s people do things God’s way when it is easy and when it is difficult.

A few trips to Sunday school doesn’t make you any more qualified to be a Christian than Steve’s astronaut experience resulted in a call from NASA.

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Present in Crisis

The call came, “We have a problem and I could use some input.”

It isn’t unusual for me to get a call to walk alongside those who are struggling. I like it, volunteer for it, and feel privileged when I can serve in this way. At times it is a church leader, sometimes a family, other times someone who knows someone I’ve spoken with before. Lately, I’ve been speaking with the children of parents who spoke with me when they were small children.

I spoke with a church leader who was ministering to a family in crisis. Their preteen child had accidently been killed in a household accident. The unexpected nature of the event was devastating, the family, church and community were all reeling in grief.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I’m at a loss to know what to say at all.” I certainly understand. We would like our words to “fix things” but some things are “unfixable” short of the new heaven and new earth.

“What can we, as a church, do?” I suggested being there to listen, to pray, to hug, and to cry. Some might be better suited to cut the grass, wash the cars, or shine shoes. A covered dish, someone to label food, record the ones who stop by, and to answer the phone.

Often in this life, we cannot “unring the bell”, it can’t be as though it never happened. The story of Scripture is what happens on the other side of crisis. Jesus stopped a funeral procession and returned the dead son to a grieving widow. He, with the power of his presence, healed a woman who had been bleeding for years while doctors were unable to help.

For us, not having the power to reset the story, we simply try to be present in the crisis. We come alongside those who feel the ravages of physical pains and heartbreaking loss. We can’t remove the event, but we can be willing to care.

When people had struggles, hearing Jesus was coming brought hope. We want to be him.

 

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Making Christianity Pragmatic

Christianity is lived in day to day events. I am not always sure what to do about some things. I have a process, let me discuss it here and you can let me know how you would handle it.

First, I am God’s child in each and every situation I encounter. I also acknowledge that I am a man, with the accompanying failings of ego, selfishness, pride, and aggression. (I am sure you could add a number of other shortcomings, but that is not the purpose of this article.)

This week I made a second trip to Denton, TX to purchase a motorcoach. The first trip, the coach we went to see was not as it appeared, so we refused it. After that, we purchased a different coach. Instead of returning with it, there were a number of things to be checked out and repaired. We emailed and called, then made arrangements to pick it up on Saturday morning. I had Janet and CW travel with me the first week, and Ned returned with me to drive my pickup back this week. It wasn’t ready, they didn’t call.

Now, I need to manage anger, disappointment, frustration and feeling of betrayal. So, I am attempting to balance these feelings, speak to the sales staff, and watch Ned chuckle. I know that I will have to return again the following week, Janet will take more time off… just the hassle of it all.

“What will make this right? We will cover your expenses.” Now, I have to also keep in check my feelings of “making them pay”, vindication, retaliation, and greed. All of these things are running through my angry, frustrated mind, while I am constantly reminding myself that I am God’s child, that Ned has been a long time disciple and I need to set a proper example.

So, I promised to work through it and speak with them next week, when I drive all the way back down there. Now, I am contacting trusted people, of proven Godly character, gaining their counsel. When one is angry, Godly choices are not usually top priorities. I don’t want to be that kind of person.

So Ned and I talked, Janet and I talked, I spoke with CW, will be talking to Orrin and Meagan, spoke to Janet’s brother… It is important to balance my emotional choices with less involved Christian peers.

What else would you do?

Grace and peace,

Carl

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Where the Imagining Fails

I have a vivid imagination. When I read any story, the images come alive in my mind as I picture the events that I read about.

Sometimes the mental pictures move beyond what I am reading to take on elaborate scenes of their own. Over the years it has helped with my appreciation of historical events, like “watching in my mind’s eye” as Custer’s 7th cavalry retreated up the hill to make their final stand at the Little Big Horn. Or the small dank cell where Crazy Horse balked at entering before being quickly stabbed twice with a bayonet and slumping to the ground at Fort Robinson, NE.

I find it equally as easy to imagine Samson blindly reaching for the support pillars of the temple of Dagon before flexing his mighty shoulders and legs to push the pillars down, killing the enemies of God from Philistia.

I find imagining Jesus in the Garden, betrayed by a kiss easy. Shuffled between Annas and Caiaphas, then the Jewish Sanhedrin before standing before Pilate, Herod, and finally Pilate again all bring images to my mind.

The crucifixion brings images so gruesome it is difficult to think through, but imagining the stone rolled back and the disciples slowly coming to realize the implication can do nothing more than bring a smile to my face.

What I can’t wrap my head around, the place my mind can’t fathom, is the interval between the sealing of the tomb and the morning of the resurrection. The bewilderment, the magnitude of the loss, the unbelievable turn of the events leaves me speechless.

I appreciate the descriptions of Scripture as the heavens and the earth react to the death of the Son of God. How could light not fade from the sky and the bowels of the earth not erupt with anguish in the earthquake? But, for me to center my thoughts on the way the eternal order of the earth, an undying God, experiencing death for each of us… How can it be? Some things are so real, imagination is too limited to explore them.

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The Valleys Between the Mountain Tops

Scott Fitzgerald refers to it as “wasteland” in his novel, The Great Gatsby, a book about emptiness in the midst of great wealth and overindulgence. In Scripture the theme is “desert place,” that spot of being alone encountering both temptation and God. It is the place between the mountain tops of Mount Sinai and the Mount of Transfiguration, draining, tedious, and uninspiring. The landscape is endlessly the same, devoid of exhilaration, common, and ordinary in this empty place.

Spiritually, the journey has both mountaintops and deserts, but more of life is lived in the desert. We wearily move our feet, plodding along without awareness of our surroundings, lulled into a sense of sameness trying to achieve another spiritual high, frustrated in the failure.

Immature saints hope to find it in emotional moments, looking for the right song, the proper author or minister. Someone with pizzaz, someone with cute stories that bring the warm “fuzzies”.  Like Facebook memes, “Like this if you believe, Share if you are unafraid”, emotional highs do not produce spiritual depth. Sanctification is a process encountered through God’s Spirit in the desert places.

I believe it is why Jesus withdrew to the desert places, to quiet gardens and empty roadways. It wasn’t the exertion of healing powers at the end of teaching moments that emboldened his soul, giving him the strength to face the next challenge. His strength was found in the depths of the night, while others struggled to hold their eyes awake and he struggled with God’s plan.

Growing into the image of Jesus isn’t accomplished in revival halls, or tent meetings, or week-long mission trips, it happens before in the preparation in the desert, darkness of the night, or loneliness of a sickroom.

It isn’t “getting it right” it is “living it right”, right in the midst of despair or plenty. Your senses can be dull to his presence unless you seek it.

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When Words Become Holy

Words are powerful, be they gentle like the soothing sound of a mother’s soft cooing to a newborn, or a harsh rebuke that pulls us up short and redirects our steps. Words communicate the messages that we need to navigate through life.

I easily read tens of thousands of words per year. Some of them well planned, artfully crafted, while others are technical, cumbersome language that I wade through hoping to gain some information.

The magic happens when words move from a mix of vowels and consonants to voices that communicate the story. The despair in the words of Jesus as he anguished on the hilltop overlooking Jerusalem and pleaded that it change its course. The puzzled, fearful despair in the voice of Mary Magdalene as she reported to Peter that the body of Jesus had been stolen from the tomb. Then the transformation in the voice as Mary begs the “gardener” to tell her where the body was that she might move it, before Jesus speaks her name.

I remember well when I “heard” the voice of Nathan proclaim to David, “You are the one!” and the transition in David’s voice as he moves from anger at the heartless rich man to the conviction that his sin was known by God.

The conversations of Scripture must move from the flat unemotional words on a page to passion-filled descriptions between people discovering, appreciating and trusting the intervention of God in their crisis. As these holy discourses have been preserved for all of us, we learn to reverently listen in to incorporate them into our own circumstances.

Such things transform our prayers as we are shaped by the prayers and thanksgivings in Scripture to begin to pray in similar ways, with similar expectations of God acting in our own lives.

Eventually, the crisis we face in modern times, or the joy we feel in the moment, is filtered through these holy words to have an old familiar ring. We can look with fresh eyes at the ancient text and have confidence that the Spirit of God still speaks to our needs today.

 

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