Dry Ground

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

“Lord, I just feel so dry, like the cracked ground of a desert,” I wrote in my prayer one day.  It was the best description of my life. My soul felt dry and my body was weary.  My spirit longed for Living Water.  In my parched state, I pleaded with God to send relief.

As He so often does, the Holy Spirit sent me on a “Biblical scavenger-hunt” to see what the Word has to say.  He took me to Exodus 14 where Moses, through the power of the Lord, caused the sea to part and the people crossed over “on dry ground.”  He took me to Joshua 3 where again the Israelites crossed the Jordan (at flood stage, mind you) by way of a divinely dried-up riverbed. They didn’t slug through mud and muck but walked on firm, dry land.  Then He took me to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord and dry bones came to life again, with tendons and flesh and the breath of Life.  Finally, He took me to Isaiah 53 and reminded me that Jesus was called “a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground,” (v. 2).

In all of these, He reminded me that dry seasons can be the gateway to the Promised Land.  They can precede a time of awakening and renewal, and they can actually become a place of growth.  I learned through these examples that surviving dry seasons requires perseverance, listening to the Word of God, and being humble and submissive before Him.  These are lifelines during these times when our hearts and our spirits are like a cracked desert.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, God will use even the dry seasons of your life to fulfill His plan and purpose.  You need not be afraid, but press in and press on.  There is Living Water in His Word and His Spirit.  He will send the refreshing you need.  Then “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (Isaiah 35:1). God will bring beauty to the desert, the wilderness, and your dry heart.

The Stranger at the Well

She was a woman with a reputation that shocked everyone, but also provided endless conversation around the well each morning. “She has another man.” “She didn’t even bother to marry this one.” She’s trash.” The woman may not have been standing at the well, but she knew what they were saying. She felt it to the marrow of her bones – and in her heart, she believed their words were true. She was trash. She never meant to live this way – she felt trapped by her bad choices. It was a hopeless, depressing life.

She wiped the sweat from her brow as she carried the empty water jug in the hot, noonday sun.  As she drew closer to the well she stopped, startled to see a figure seated on the edge of the rock wall. It was all she could do not to turn back and run. But if there was no water at the house, there would be another beating tonight. She marched on, determined to ignore the . . . Oh, my! She sucked in her breath – a RABBI! What in the world was a Jewish rabbi doing in Samaria, sitting on the well in the hottest part of the day? She wanted to run, but he had already seen her and was following her with his eyes.  She braced herself and approached the well, lowering her water jug, as much to defend herself as to draw water.

She heard his voice, “Will you give me a drink?” For a rabbi, she thought, he’s pretty dumb. Jews don’t associate with Samaritans and a rabbi would never speak to an unaccompanied woman – especially one with her reputation. “How can you ask me for a drink?” The man replied, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Living water?” she laughed. “Where is his water jug? Where is his magic well?” And why is he here at all? Don’t they have water in Jerusalem? Jesus doubtless knew her thoughts, and in His great heart I am sure He said, “I am here for you.”

Beloved, whatever your shame, whatever your sin, whatever your regrets and mistakes and failures – Jesus is here for you. To give you living water. To give you life everlasting. To give you hope.

(John 4)

The Tree at the Water’s Edge

Tree_At_The_Water“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I had a friend who owned several acres of land with a great catfish pond.  Many early Saturday mornings I sat on a stump beside his fishing pond, watching the bobber on my line for the slightest movement.  But even when I wasn’t fishing I loved to just sit by the water because it was bordered on three sides with lush, green trees.  I often took a book with me so that if the fish weren’t biting I could sit in the shade and get lost in a good story.  The drive down to the pond wasn’t as shady, the few trees along the path were not as verdant, and in one very dry summer, many of the trees died for lack of water, and the few that survived were scraggily and weak.  But when you rounded the bend to the pond, the trees were alive and full of leaves because they were nearest to the water.

In our key verse, Jeremiah compares the “the man who trusts in the Lord” with one of those trees by the edge of my friend’s pond, alive with green leaves and fruit.  The opposite would apply to those who do not trust in the Lord; they would be like the trees along the path in the dry heat of summer, dead, leafless and fruitless.  What is important to notice in the Psalm, just as at my friend’s property, is that both—trees and people—are subjected to the heat and the drought.  This is a truth we would do well to grasp – those who trust in the Lord and those who don’t will be confronted with many of the same life challenges.  Being a Christian does not exempt us from the difficulties of living in this fallen world.  Believers still get cancer, lose loved ones, have rebellious kids, car troubles, financial struggles, and many of the same trials that unbelievers experience.  It’s just the realities of life we all face.  Droughts and dry seasons will come.

Yet look at how the trees by the water endure these seasons of drought.  They push their roots down farther into the ground and find the water at the deeper levels.  They draw the nourishment they need from the deeper water.  Likewise the one who trusts in the Lord will press in closer to Him and push their roots down farther to tap into the deeper truths of God’s character and His Word.  It is a theme often repeated in Scripture, Psalm 1:1-3 says that the one who delights in God’s Word is like the tree planted by the water, never withered and always fruitful, and Psalm 92:12-15 promises that they will “still bear fruit in old age, staying fresh and green. ”

I find it especially encouraging that those trees—and believers—who drink deeply of the goodness of God “do not fear” and “have no worries” during these dry seasons.  They know that everything they need to stay vibrant, green and fruitful will be provided by their good and faithful Heavenly Father.  Jeremiah says we do not rely on our ability to stay strong, but our “confidence is in the Lord” our security in the drought, our hope in the trial is firmly rooted in God’s faithful, powerful, loving character.  And get this, when you and I set our confidence in the unchanging nature of God, we not only survive the drought, we thrive.  We “never fail to bear fruit.”  I’ve seen many saints of the Lord who endured hard, difficult times yet always bore the fruit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faith and love.  They faithfully served others despite their own pain.  They continued to love that rebellious child.  They were kind and gentle even when they were tired and weary. They patiently trusted God to provide when the rent was due and the money was gone.  Their peace shone through while they endured chemotherapy.  They were not afraid, they were not worried.  They dug their roots deeper and trusted that whatever they needed, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, God would provide.

My friend, are you like the tree standing in the middle of the dry, barren field far from the water?  Are your struggles draining you?  Do you feel withered and weary?  I encourage you to move to the water’s edge where your roots can tap into the life-giving stream of God’s goodness.  There you will be fed from underground streams that never run dry.  Streams of comfort and provision, hope and peace, joy and strength.  Streams of life.

Come friend to the “river whose streams make glad the City of God” (Psalm 46:4).  Drink deeply from the “living water” of Jesus Christ and you will never be thirsty again (John 4:10-14).

Holy Father, I want to dig more deeply into this marvelous living water; I want to be like the flourishing tree that has found the underground stream, drawing strength and hope from your unfailing love.  Amen.

Lessons from the Farmer

“Ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God.”  Hebrews 6:7

Today begins a new year, shining and full of promise and hope.  Like a blank page, this year has endless possibilities for us – new stories to write, new songs to pen, new images to draw.  Like a kid on the first day of a new school year, I love fresh and new beginnings.

I always look for a Scripture on New Year’s Day that is hopeful and ripe with expectation, so when the Lord brought our key passage to my attention, I wondered what He was saying to me. It seemed an odd verse to start the new year – but as I studied the words and prayed, I began to see that this is indeed a word of hope and promise.

For some of us, this New Year’s Day signals a grateful end to the old year – a year marked with struggle, disappointment, pain, sorrow, hardship – I’m sure you could add to the list from your own experiences in the past year or beyond.   Like many others, I have been through a long season of storms and turmoil – and I am ready for it all to end.  That is where this verse speaks to me and two words stand out – “rain” and “tilled.”

Do you feel as though you have been standing out in the rain-wet and miserable?  Do you feel as if life has “plowed” you over?  Please hear these words from God – the rain and the tilling are meant to make your life and mine fruitful – “to bring forth vegetation.”

God means for us to drink in the rain that falls on us, just as Jesus declared “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  Jesus offers us Living Water for our thirsty souls, and He has said those who receive it will be conduits of this life-giving water – “streams of living water will flow from within him” (v. 38).

If you know anything about farming, you know that the farmer plows the field to prepare the soil for planting; sharp blades and tines dig deep into the fallow ground.  This is what I wrote in my prayer journal this morning: “Lord, I feel like I have been through a long tilling season – and sharp instruments have cut through my life.  But I think you have been plowing to sever the roots of plants that are not fruitful and break up clods that make it difficult to sow seeds in my heart.”  Take comfort in knowing that the plowing doesn’t go on and on. The land is tilled only to prepare for planting.  Hear the words of Isaiah 28:24-25 – “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has levered the surface does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?”  Plowing and tilling doesn’t go on forever; eventually the seed is sown for a fruitful harvest. Fruit that will bless others as well as bless you and me.  Its God’s own promise, there in our key verse: The fruitful ground “receives a blessing from God.”

My friend, if you have endured difficulties in the past year, take heart – God has prepared you that He might bless you and bless others through you.  Nothing He does or allows is ever without purpose, even the hard things. Especially the hard things.

Holy Father, I look ahead into this new year with hope in my heart, taking Paul’s words as my own: “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13-14a).  Amen.

Just Give Me the Truth

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses; seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. Everything they do is done for men to see.”    Matthew 23:2-3, 5

I don’t like “fake.”  I have such distaste for pretense or anything contrived.  I especially dislike having someone play on my emotions or feign friendliness trying to get something from me. I know I am not alone in this.  Nobody likes to be lied to or deceived.

Jesus encountered many false people during His time here on earth.  He loved every person, because every man, woman and child is made by and in the image of God. Yet He saw through people as if they were transparent.  Matthew 9:4 says, “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’”

The woman at the well in Samaria was trying to hide her true self from Him because she was living a sinful life.  Jesus gently exposed her deception.  When she acknowledged what they both knew, He offered her Living Water and she drank deeply.  Her life was changed by truth, as were the lives of her neighbors who came to know Jesus through her. Truth had set her free.  (John 4:1-42)

Jesus also dealt with many fake, yet very religious people.    Matthew 23 records some of Jesus’ harshest criticism spoken to the religious leaders of His day.  Seven times in this chapter, Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23: 13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29)  He even called them “snakes” and “vipers”.  These were the religious folks!

What’s the difference between the Samaritan woman at the well and those religious leaders? She was living a lie and she knew it.  The Pharisees were living a lie, only they didn’t know it.  Jesus did.  It is impossible to deceive God.

In my prayer journal recently I wrote, “I don’t like fake in anyone – and I especially despise it in myself.  God, I don’t want to be the kind of person that is fake, manipulative, deceptive or pretentious.  I want to be genuine, real, and sincere.  I want truth God.”  Then the Jack Nicholson line from the movie: “A Few Good Men” popped into my head: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Do I really want to know the truth about myself?  Can I handle the raw, “natural” me?  Would I be shocked by my self-righteousness and judgmental nature?  Would my heart break at the lack of compassion and kindness in me?  Would I cringe to hear gossip and unkind words come from the same lips that teach the Word of God?  When I see my lack of faith, my tendency to anxiety, fear and doubt, would my tears flow?  Can I survive even a glimpse of my selfishness, sinful desires, impatience, laziness, and ingratitude?

Paul felt the same angst as he described his own struggle with sin in Romans 7.  Listen to verses 18 & 21: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  In verse 24 his self-condemnation hits a crescendo, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul asks the same question I ask of myself.  Is there any hope for me?

The answer rings with God’s truth – “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 7:25, 8:1) Paul goes on to say, “God [sent} His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  What wonderful news!  Rather than condemn me, He took all my sins with Him to the cross.  I know that I am a sinner, and I live a lie when I try to pretend that I am “good”.  Jesus shows me who I really am.  He bought my pardon on the cross.  He cleansed me, purified my heart, transformed my character and brought purpose to my life.   Ephesians 5: 8 says “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”  I am not who I once was.  Jesus Christ has written a new truth for me.

The truth is I am in Christ and His righteousness is mine. (Philippians 3:9)

The truth is I am God’s child. (1 John 3:1)

The truth is I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The truth is I am made holy by His blood. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

The truth is I have been set free. (Romans 6:18)

The truth is I am forgiven. (1 John 2:12)

The truth is I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me (Ephesians 1:19-20)

It is important for me to see both sides of myself.  I need to be aware of how “wretched” I am on my own, and I need to know the truth of who I am in Christ.  His truth keeps me humble and close by His side. I can hold my head up confident in my new identity.  I don’t have to live a lie any more, trying to appear good.  I only need to walk every day as the child of God that I am.

I pray that my life will always be filled with holiness, godliness, kindness, compassion, and faith in God.  I want to honor and glorify my Savior Jesus Christ as I write and teach. My heart’s highest desire is to stir in others a passion for God and for His Word. But like Paul, I am still encased in human flesh and prone to stumble.  I rejoice that I am in Christ. I no longer fear His wrath, nor need to hide my sin.   When I fall, my Father lifts me up and reminds me of the Truth of who I am, and most importantly whose I am.

“Lord Jesus, in love, You that took my sins to the cross and set me free.  In love, You gave me a new identity, a new future and a new hope.  When I look at myself through Your eyes, I see the beloved child I am.  Thank you.”      Amen.