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.

Persecution

Per·se·cu·tion
pərsəˈkyo͞oSHən
noun
hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.

As Christians, why does persecution surprise us?

Why does it anger us and bring us outrage? Why do we demand to be treated better, often see our persecutors as opponents unworthy of God’s grace, and even sometimes retaliate or call for retaliation? Were we not told to expect this when we signed on with Christ? (2 Timothy 3:12) Were we not given directions in advance to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matt 5:43-48) Peter even says not to consider persecution “as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19). So why does our reaction to persecution of the Church today look so…well, typical? Predictable even?

My fellow Christians, God has a call for us. He is calling us to shower the world with Christ’s love. He is calling us to respond to persecution of ourselves and fellow believers not with hate or disgust for the persecutors, but with support for the suffering. Dare I say it, he is calling us to respond to the persecutors themselves with love and empathy for these lost people. He is calling for us to graciously accept anything and everything that the world throws at us or the rest of the Church. He is calling for us to turn the other cheek, to offer our tunic to those who rob us of our cloaks, and to surprise the world with how incredibly different we are. He even calls us to enter persecution knowingly and willingly.

Today, the Christian church is facing persecution of various degrees.

Tens of thousands of Christians were recently forcibly evicted from Mosul in Iraq, Christians across Syria are suffering at the hands of extremists, Christians have been imprisoned recently in Iran and Sudan, the Church continues to be persecuted to near elimination in North Korea, and Christians in Nigeria are suffering at the hands of Boko Haram. Overall, Christianity is illegal or physically dangerous in about 51 countries of the world. Persecution of a lesser degree has happened in the West, with some seeing certain political actions as persecutions of the Church and with parts of Europe being seemingly hostile to religion altogether. So yea, we’ve got some tough stuff going on. But let me tell you, we can use that hostility to turn the world on its head.

We’ve just gotta respond in a way that would turn heads.

Jesus says some pretty awesome stuff in chapter 5 of Matthew. Something he says about persecution specifically that’s always stuck out to me is Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Wow. Be glad about persecution? What? Um, Jesus, you do understand what persecution is, right? It kinda sucks… Huh, maybe he just doesn’t understand what persecution is like… Or maybe, just maybe, He plans to use our persecution to save others and to glorify His name.  In all honesty, I think many of us Christians today often respond to persecution in much the same way that anyone else would. We avoid it, detest it, and get angry about it. We march in protest, shout about our rights, and overall demand to be treated right. I can’t blame ya. Everyone deserves justice, yea? Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, yea? Isn’t that what Western society, democracy, and the modern world is all about? Equal rights for all and such gooshy stuff?

But what if we took a more humble approach?

What if, instead of spending time marching for our rights that are infringed upon, we spent that time ministering to the needs of those infringing on our rights? What if we considered others as more important than ourselves? (Phil 2:3) What if we chose to be wise not in the world’s way, but in God’s way. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18.

I will say, it is crucial and absolutely called of us as Christians to stand for justice. And we are meant to oppose wrongdoing and evil. But I believe we should oppose evil itself. Oppose the Evil One, not the ones he has deceived. Make it your priority in life to reconcile the lost to Christ, even when they persecute you or others. Let your heart break for those stuck in hatred rather than also being driven towards hatred by their actions. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12. Trust me, God will judge those who allow themselves to be instruments of evil and do not turn from their ways. No condemnation from us will even make a difference in the end.

But for us, love, above all things, is meant to emanate from our lives, absolutely regardless of anything going on in the world around us. I call you to pray for the persecuted, but to pray for the persecutors just as much (if not more). We can change the world through Christ, but we must consider ourselves nothing for the sake of others first.

Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

About a century ago, a band of brave souls became known as one-way missionaries. They bought tickets to the mission field without the return half. Instead of suitcases, they packed their few earthly belongings into coffins. As they sailed away, they waved goodbye to everyone they loved and all they knew, knowing they’d never return home. They gave up everything to leave for near-guaranteed persecution. One of those missionaries was A.W. Milne. He set sail for the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, aware that the headhunters there had martyred every. single. missionary. before him. But guess what. Milne didn’t fear for his life because he had already died to himself. His coffin was packed. He ended up living among the tribe for 35 years, sharing Christ and His love with people who had previously horrifically killed many of his brethren. When he died, they buried him in the middle of the village and inscribed the following on his tombstone: “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.” I wish to see more people thinking like that today. Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

See the world as God sees it.

I hope that we can all come to see the world as God sees it, a place full of people desperately in need of their Creator, beloved and beautiful, and in need of healing over their brokenness. In Ezekiel 18:23 and 27 God says, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?…Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live…if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.” I encourage you to do all you can in your life to help people turn to God and be reconciled to Him, so that their incredibly valuable lives will be saved.

I will leave you now with the passage of 1 Peter 3:8-18. This passage summarizes beautifully the focus that God hopes to see in our lives.
“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

The Most Difficult Love

I’m going to be vulnerable right now. I’m going to tell you something that God has put on my heart for myself to hear, but that I feel he wishes for me to share. Now, read this closely and carefully, or you will most definitely get the wrong message. I absolutely hate when people misinterpret what I’m trying to say, so pleeeease try not to do so.

But here, this is my confession: It is sometimes extremely hard for me to love God.

It’s not hard for me to like Him, to adore Him, to serve Him, or even to worship Him, but it’s honestly difficult for me to love my Creator with every ounce of my being. To add to the irony, it is often easier for me to love people than it is for me to love God. We love because He first loved us, yet it’s easier for me to show His love to others than it is for me to show that same love to Him. It’s crazy. And upon the beginning of my introspection, this discovery didn’t make much sense to me. I’m here in Africa right now with the purpose of serving and loving God and others. Yet, even in my ministry, I find it easier to minister to others, to display God’s love to the people of Nairobi, than to love God as He loves me. Despite my entire mission here being to glorify God, to live intimately with Him is still a struggle that surpasses many others in difficulty. When Jesus told us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” he knew that we were going to face a powerful struggle just to walk with Him. Following Him can be much harder than merely following His ways. So I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve realized some stuff.

Love is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational.

First of all, a loving relationship with God is different than any other loving relationship. And we should address it as such. The closest thing to it is the analogy of a romantic relationship, as shown in Hosea and countless places in Scripture in which we as the Church are referred to as Christ’s bride. A reality that many of us know is that romance, ironic enough, is filled with a more difficult love, despite being perhaps the richest love we can experience with another person. I wonder, is this because it’s more demanding? Is this because it encompasses more? Is this just because along with more opportunities to love also come more opportunities not to? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all of those. I mean, you can cheat on a spouse, but you can’t cheat on a friend. Yea, I think that the more all-encompassing a love becomes, the more challenges we will face to its integrity. I think this fact has a role to play. A romantic love is not one that is called to action on occasion. Rather, it is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational. It’s a love that lives and permeates everything. In the words of DC Talk, “Love is a verb”. We don’t try to refrain from actions that would hurt our significant other just because they’re wrong, but more because of the hurt that our actions would bring them. And merely not hurting them isn’t enough. If two people in a relationship never do anything wrong, it can still be dead. We also need to be active and intentional in our love to keep a relationship strong. All of this applies to our relationship with God too. The reality that we face in our human relationships also extends to our relationship with our Creator.

We can’t just follow God as a teacher of morals, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too.

To add to the struggle in this relationship though, our entire beings, our biology, our flesh (as Paul put it), is against God and His ways. Survival of the fittest, self-interest, human nature, it all dictates that we follow our way, not God’s. Even in religious spheres, we find ourselves wanting to do things in very specific ways that we’re most comfortable with. In the social sciences, this human nature is acknowledged by many (regardless of religious belief) as something that we all must overcome, but it takes on a new dimension when we think about this nature’s potential impact on our relationship with our Creator. Luckily enough, Christ has given us a new nature, capable of acting beyond our fleshly instinct. But we still have tendencies to revert back to our old nature.

Sadly, when we pursue the desires of our old ways over his, we aren’t aiming to hurt him, yet that’s often what happens. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30). We should be aware of that. To sin against God (and all sin is directly against God), given the analogy found in the book of Hosea, is to cheat on him. It’s tantamount to betraying a spouse and the intimacy of that kind of relationship. It’s really crazy. But loving God and not sinning against Him is so much more than just not doing things. It’s about actively doing things too. You could be getting all the morals right, but still be missing the message behind the morals. We have to make sure not to just follow God’s way in our religious beliefs, but to follow God’s way in our life and relationships too. We can’t just follow God as a teacher of law, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too. Dang, this love thing is complex!

It’s easier to display God’s love than it is to bask in it.

But it sure is rewarding. I’ve always found it ironic that so much within us tells us that we have better things to do than pray in God’s presence, get into Scripture, or spend time just…in relationship with God, when those very things are the most fulfilling, joyful, and peace-bringing activities we can engage in. In fact, that’s what’s at the heart of Christianity itself. In Matthew 22, Jesus says “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Everything in our faith stems from these two commandments. If we learn to be consistent and make that our lifestyle, it changes things for us. Yet, how easy it is to forget that joy, that peace, and that fulfillment. It’s crazy. It’s easier to go out and display God’s love than it is to bask in it. But the most difficult things are often the most rewarding. How greatly that applies here. I challenge you today to take a second to thinking about whatever you’re doing for God, to pause in your worship, service, or adoration, and reflect on whether you’re really loving God or not. I challenge you to pause as I had to do and make sure that you aren’t merely living a life for God, but that you’re living a life with God.

As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.

Metaphorically, are you the person who’s buying their kids anything and everything they could ever want, yet who never spends time in relationship with them? What those kids want most isn’t the stuff that they have plenty of. What they want most is their parent’s love. Those toys and goodies mean nothing if the parent giving them is nothing more than a stranger. So don’t be a stranger with God. He saved you to reconcile you to Him, not to just get you to do more stuff in His name. ‘Reconcile’ is a relational word. Remember that. Let us together strive to live out this difficult, but incredibly rewarding, relationship of love with God. As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.