A Parable

A Parable

All Who Are Thirsty

I need you to form a mental picture with me. Imagine a man. We’ll name him John. John is in a desert, on a long journey to a destination that he does not know. All he knows is that he must continue on. Of course, being in a desert, this man finds himself thirsty for water rather often. At various points along his way, he finds small bodies of water. Sometimes he even finds an oasis, with some green, shade, and cool air that gives him temporary relief in his journey. Still, at every point this water is always dirty and mucky and quite often carries some nasty stuff in it. Every now and then John finds himself sick from it. But hey, it’s what’s there. And when he’s thirsty, naturally he’s going to go to this water. After all, even if it doesn’t always leave him amazing, and sometimes even makes him worse off, it quenches that thirst of his; that ever-present thirst that never seems to go away for too long.

One day, John comes across a stranger in his travels. This stranger doesn’t look like much, but something about him intrigues our character. So John approaches the stranger and greets him. The stranger greets him in reply. This stranger has a gleam in his eye. John can’t quite place it, but there’s something welcoming and friendly about this guy.

After some conversation, the stranger points out the obvious. “You look a little parched man.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Have you looked around? This desert never seems to end. Who wouldn’t be thirsty here?”

“Yea, I can tell you, this journey isn’t exactly a short one. Sorry man. The water that you do find isn’t too great, is it?”

Slightly frustrated that this stranger is bringing up his chief point of annoyance in life, John replies, “I mean, it’s all pretty much the same. Not especially clean…and every now and then I get a little sick. But hey, it still feels great when it quenches my thirst and it’s not like there’s anything else.” The stranger smiles to himself about something as John is thinking of his exasperation, annoying John even further. “Is this amusing to you? Are you any better off out here?”

“Not amusing,” replies this stranger. “I’m just excited about what’s in store for you.”

“What?” asks John, somewhat incredulously. He goes on to make his lack of amusement clear. “What are you talking about? More desert? Oh yay.”

“Well, yes, there is more desert. Everyone’s got to make this journey. But I can help you out. I have this canteen here. It’s kind of mystical. You see, it always has clean water.”

“Well where do you get this water to put in it? Why can’t you just tell me where to get it?” inquires John, with his curiosity now piqued, but still somewhat annoyed.

“No, you don’t understand,” says the stranger, with a knowing smile. “You’re right where you get it. Just take the canteen from me and it will always have clean water. It will never run out. It will be better than what you have and you’ll have it more abundantly.”

Now John’s a little skeptical. If this is so great, why doesn’t everyone have it? Who is this guy to have this thing? Tentatively, John reaches out his hand to accept the canteen. He grabs hold of it and decides to check this thing out for himself. He takes a swig. “Wow. That really is some good stuff.” But still, he wants to see about this. It never runs out? Seriously? So he drinks more. The thing is still full! John can’t get enough. He pours it freely, with it overflowing past his mouth and down his chin.

“Pretty great stuff, eh?” comments the stranger. “Sorry, I just realized I never told you my name. I’m Judah.”

John pauses from downing the canteen and wipes his chin, “Excuse my excitement. I just haven’t ever had anything quite like this. Can’t say I ever expected to find something like this in this place either. I’m John.”

“Oh I know,” says the mysterious Judah character, with a twinkle in his eye. “Your journey will forever be different now. In a very good way, I trust. I’m glad I could sate your thirst and make this journey somewhat easier for you. Now, I must go and continue my mission to bring this mystery to others.”

“Who exactly is this guy really?” John wonders to himself. Shaking Judah’s hand, John bids him a pleasant journey and the two depart.

As he continues on, John thinks a lot about this encounter. It always leaves him a little bit in awe and amazement; how his life could change so quickly and in such a great way, from such a simple gift. Soon enough, it’s been weeks since John was thirsty. The journey still isn’t exactly peaches and cream. After all, he is still in the desert. But it is certainly better and easier. And what was it that guy said about everyone having to make this journey? What exactly lies at the end? “I don’t know,” John thinks to himself. “But I have a feeling it’s something good. That man seemed to hint at that anyways. He certainly seemed to know more about all of this than I do.”

Just as he’s thinking on this, John sees some green in the distance. An oasis! Pleasant respite. As he gets closer, he sees the body of water home to this oasis. This water actually looks really inviting. He hasn’t really drank any water from anything but that canteen in so long. Why not try something else? He approaches and dips his cupped hands into the somewhat murky water. He raises his hand to his mouth and drinks it. Not incredibly amazing, but it is certainly familiar. It just feels good to drink something here from the ground itself rather than that canteen water. After taking his fill, he sets up camp at this oasis and falls asleep for the night.

In the morning, John awakes and finds himself not feeling too great. “Ah, that water I drank must’ve had something in it. Not again. Oh well, it tasted good and I had to drink something,” he thinks to himself. Wait, it seems that John has forgotten entirely about Judah’s canteen. It’s deep in his bag. How does that even work? How does one just forget about something that changed his life so drastically and that he found so wonderful? Days go by, John drinks fills a bottle up at various watering holes, and the old life seems to be back. One day, he’s shuffling through his bag looking for something and finds that old canteen from Judah.

“Wow! I totally forgot about you!” John exclaims as he lifts the shiny silver canteen. “How did that even happen?” He excitedly drinks from the canteen, finding his thirst sated in a way that it hasn’t been in days. Our character determines that he will never let this canteen out of his sight again.

Before too long, it’s back in the bottom of his bag, he’s found a tempting oasis, and the whole process has repeated itself. Each time he comes back to Judah’s canteen, he can’t imagine why he ever let it go for so long. Sometimes, the time he goes without it is very long. Sometimes it’s only a day. Sometimes he sticks to the canteen alone for months. Sometimes only for days. But each time he rediscovers it, it’s as fresh as ever. Always there to satisfy his thirst when he needs it, no matter how long he’s foolishly left it in his bag. As time goes on, John forgets about Judah’s canteen less and less. One day he reaches the final destination of his journey. There he finds Judah and a paradise that he never could have imagined. With open arms, Judah welcomes John.

“Welcome home. I’m glad I could sustain you all the way through the journey, even if it was a little bumpy at points,” Judah says. “Now you will truly never thirst or hunger again. After all, I am the source of the water in that canteen. Let me show you the beauty of this new life.”

Let’s Break This Down

This story is the journey of a man whose life is not too much different than ours as Christians. We are all on a journey through deserts and oases in life. We all came to the One who said that we would never thirst again if we drank from his cup. And still, we somehow forget this fulfillment from time to time. We wander. We drift. We fill our lives with water besides that from the Fountain Himself. We forget entirely about this Fountain and find ourselves with empty bottles that we must refill with dirty water, pursuing all sorts of things besides God, when we have this continually full and clean canteen right there, already full.

Here’s the thing. We are made full in Christ. When we put him aside, we put aside that only fullness we have. Naturally, we will need to fill our lives (or water bottles) with something. And it will most definitely be worse for us than Christ’s ways and fulfillment, no matter how appealing it looks. It doesn’t work to merely go on and say no to the dirty water. We have to drink. We are people in need of some sort of fulfillment; some sort of pursuits and passions. This is what Christ meant when he called us to abide in him. He didn’t call us to morals first. He called us to abide and drink from his cup. After that, all things of Christ will come naturally. When you have that canteen in hand, suddenly that dirty water doesn’t look quite so appealing. Suddenly, our sin nature, the nature of this world, those natural and dirty ponds, they all seem clearly lesser than this new Source of sustenance available to us. So today my encouragement to you is this: Drink from the fountain. Don’t fight thirst with nothing but an empty bottle. Keep Judah’s canteen on hand. Don’t struggle through a desert without the Fountain of Life present with you. And if you don’t yet have Judah’s canteen, let’s talk. I know a guy.

(This blog has been based on Isaiah 55 and John 4. Check em out. They’re pretty great.)

What The Heck Am I Doing?

Proverbs 16:3,9
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

I graduate in basically three weeks. I keep worrying about life and how to dedicate my time. What to pursue primarily. Whether to work in the non-profit sector or business. At what pace I want to (or even can) grow my business. Should I momentarily take a break from Zima as I figure out the rest of life? What if I make the wrong decisions right now? Am I even supposed to stay in the US? Or am I supposed to be in Africa asap? Should I even work in the non-profit or business sector? What if I just work in ministry as a pastor or something? I could definitely see myself as a pastor. Should I look for some openings in that? Am I even qualified for that? I studied Global Development, not Theology… And then would I be able to leave my church for ministry in Africa at some point in the future?

Again, where does Zima lie in all of this? It’s really hard to start a business. I don’t feel adequate. I don’t feel like I know how to do this. But God can carry it if he wills, right? What if it isn’t his timing though? Then again, people are depending on me, on Zima. So many people across the developing world are already seeing hope and opportunity in Zima. And we’ve launched sales and operations. We can’t just put it on pause, can we?

Basically, over and over and over I enter into self-doubt throughout my day. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. But I read this passage and I find a certain peace.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

In my heart, I plan my course. I plan it over and over in a million ways. Sometimes I wish I had several lives to pursue several different careers and life paths. In one I’d be a missionary. In another I’d work my way up the corporate ladder. I’d have to use one life to pursue my passion for music and another to dedicate the time and practice to be a professional soccer player. Yet another life I’d spend as a pastor and author. Another I’d have to pursue would be life in the Air Force.

I know that the career I desire above all is to impact Africa through business and development and use that as a platform for missions, but as I approach graduation and begin applying for jobs and stuff, it’s really hard to see how I’m gonna get from A to B. I plan and plan and plan, trying to figure out how I’ll do this. But this verse reminds me that, hey, you really aren’t gonna be the one to make your life happen. If you’re committed to God through it all, he’ll carry you where he wills. And where he wills is better for you than anywhere else that you can be.

So Lord, here I am, committing it all to you. I’ll do what I can, but you take it and run with it. My prayer for myself and for the rest of you finding yourselves at different crossroads in life is that God will establish your steps and that you will find peace in that. As we try to “do life”, remember that God’s sovereign and has got your back. In fact, he created you for exactly whatever it is he’ll be guiding you to. So don’t worry too much about it. God’s gotcha. I promise, he’ll establish your steps.

Why So Surprised?

Short post today, but I’ve just really gotta get this off my chest.

Very few things upset/disappoint/sadden me as much as my fellow Christians exhibiting outrage when persecuted. There is no humility in outrage. There is no love in outrage. There is no witness in outrage. The only times outrage was clearly justified within New Testament Scripture were when God’s Church or temple were defiled (when Christ overturned the vendors’ tables in the temple, when Paul called Christians to excommunicate those among them bringing evil into the Body, etc).

People, this is what we committed to when we chose to walk with Christ. Christ warned us time and time again that, hey, if you choose to walk with me you’re gonna have a tough time at points. It’s to be expected that people who don’t know Christ will act as, well, people who don’t know Christ (1 Cor. 5:12). So why do we act so surprised and angry when we get some flak?

I yearn for a day when Christian culture in America realizes that we have no greater opportunity to be a witness for Christ than to respond to all forms of persecution with the love, humility, and grace first shown to us by Christ. Please, I implore you today to dare to try to be like the Lamb who didn’t even begin to protest when falsely accused, tortured, and crucified. Let’s show the world something radical: an unnatural love it cannot know outside of Christ.

Expectations

I’ll begin this blog with a bit of a status update for you all on my progress towards my soon approaching departure for 1.5 months of ministry in Nairobi, Kenya. God has been so incredibly good. Two and a half months ago I had about $5000 to raise for this trip. When I reached my original deadline on May 2nd, I was only at $1500. Needless to say, I was incredibly discouraged. I went to God that day with my frustrations and just vented to Him. “Yea God, sure, I trust you. It’s having to depend on your people to give that scares me. I mean, I guess you could just make the money appear out of nowhere if you need to…Technically…Since you’re God. Meh.” That was my prayer.

But God reminded me that He is the God of miracles and the Lord of His people. He will use those who are willing. He will do incredible things with them and will always meet our needs. That day, I received an anonymous donation of $500 with a short note. “May God bless you and use you this summer. All things come from God!” That was exactly what I needed that day. And God knew that. He used a beautiful heart to meet my needs. He does that stuff. But he took me to my limits first. He made me reach to Him in desperate prayer. He stretched my faith far. He grew me. That’s what life is all about. Growing alongside God and doing what we can to help others do the same. Over the next few days, thousands of dollars poured in from other hearts seeking to be instruments of God’s love. Now I am merely about $200 away from my end goal (and that’s after a rise in ticket costs lifted my expenses by about $500). Holy crazy, God blessed me with his people.

What I took from this experience was the beginning of an understanding of what it means to really trust God and to be a part of His Body. I began to realize that he will test us, take us through trials, and grow us in everything. I was reminded that God really does work all things out, and that His people are instrumental in Him doing so. This is what it means to be the Church, to be the hands, feet, arms, eyes, and ears of God’s Body. This fellowship and support of each other and the way we come through for God’s work in the end no matter what. However many problems and faults we have as the Body of Christ, we’re still His people and God will still use us. I was reminded of that. And that’s incredibly important for us to remember. It can be easy for us to just see all the faults in God’s Church, but we need to be celebrating the joys of being a part of God’s Kingdom here on Earth. We need to be appreciative of the place that we have this Body, this Kingdom, of our incredible God and Leader. We are all in this together, like it or not, and we need to depend on each other. We need to trust each other. We need to confess to each other and find refuge in this beautiful Body. The role of the Church in Scripture is one of the things that sets the Body of Christ apart from all other religions. It’s beautiful.

Today in my devotional, the author had some things to say about our expectations within this Christian life. My expectation when I began this journey was that God would meet all my needs with maybe a bit of a struggle; that this would be a fun experience that would give me a peak into my future career in missions and development in Africa. My expectation was that God would grow me, but I didn’t think I’d be pushed to the limits I have, especially before I’m even there in Nairobi. But our expectations rarely seem to line up exactly with God’s plans. Check out what the author of my devotional had to say about his time in ministry in Sudan:

“I found it discouraging that language leaders weren’t interested in saying the sinner’s prayer after two years of life on life with them. Neighbors were kind and hospitable, but not ready for a Bible study. Thoughts of Why am I here? and This isn’t what I signed up for started rapping in my brain…Why was life such a struggle? Why couldn’t I be content and satisfied?

Because I’d forgotten that it was my part just to obey, that Jesus is my just reward-that he can do as He sees fit with me, my family, and the work in Sudan…And only Jesus makes it worth it.

I didn’t expect God to bring me all this way to change what He saw in me. But he has. I needed Sudan more than Sudan needed me, and I didn’t expect that. I thought God was bringing me to Sudan to change Sudan…

What do you expect dying to self will feel like? Do you think it will be pleasant? Painless? Problem free? Do you expect people to understand, support you, praise you, clap for you? Do you expect the devil to cheer and every demon in hell to yield to your noble aspirations?…Or do you expect God to wring the self out of you in a painful and lengthy process using circumstance and shattered expectations-and then surprise you with how good it feels to have His image stamped deeply onto yours?”

It’s our part to obey. It’s not our responsibility to save souls, to change lives, or to bring revolution in society. God’s got that taken care of. When we assume responsibility for things like bringing the money needed, saving people, changing people’s attitudes and hearts, when we assume responsibility for doing anything other than loving God and loving people, we burn out. Taking on God’s responsibilities is an easy way to realize just how merely human we are and a surefire way to burnout and despair. But just saying, Here I am God. Do your thing, that takes so much less. That’s actually doable. Just trust God in what He’s doing. He won’t call you to failure. There is some purpose behind all things that God does. Now, not all struggles are even necessarily from God. We live in a world where evil is a very present reality. But “God uses all things for the good of those who love Him”. Remember that. Stop worrying and just live. Just love God and try to trust that He’s got all this stuff covered. 

Trust God. Ironically it’s one of the hardest things to do in life, but also one of the hardest things to live with a lack of.