What I Need the Most

One day when our children were much younger, we piled the surfboards in the car and headed to the North Shore for a family day at the beach. The kids were excited to try out the new boards they had recently received for Christmas.

Towards the end of our day, we arrived at one final beach stop. The waves were good – not too big – and the beach was family friendly, perfect for younger kids learning to surf.

This particular beach consisted of two breaks: an inner break that was small and gentle and an outer break that was a little more challenging to navigate. What we didn’t know at the time was that an unseen channel existed between the two breaks which was known to have a very strong current.

It was well after 4pm when Gregg and our three oldest children journeyed into the ocean. They were having a lot of fun – that is, until the conditions changed.

Suddenly and without warning, the skies became overcast and ominous, and as the sun began to set, the gentle waves on the inner break suddenly turned more powerful, and the current became potent.

In fact, the current was so strong that it sucked my family into the danger zone. From the shore, I watched as the waves were breaking harshly on four of my family members, with the energy of the current dragging them further and further from shore!

I decided to do what I do very well – panic and freak out.

However yelling to them from the shore, while it created a lot of attention and drama, wasn’t very productive. They were stuck and unable to break away from the powerful surf on their own strength, so I enlisted the help of the lifeguards.

While Gregg saw the threat and didn’t know how he could lead them all safely to shore, my kids were having a great time and completely oblivious of the danger they were in.

As the lifeguards paddled out to save them, my kids were incredulous that someone would need to rescue them! In their opinion, they were perfectly fine and had everything under control.

Even today, if you were to ask my kids, they would ALL tell you they still consider those lifeguards a nuisance.

They would tell you the lifeguards were ruining their fun.

They would tell you the lifeguards were an inconvenience, interrupting their day at the beach.

They would tell you they didn’t need to be rescued.

Because they didn’t see their need for a savior.

When you don’t think you need to be rescued, the idea of a savior is a big “yawn”… a “sigh”… or maybe even boooooring.

For many people, this is how they view God. They don’t see their need for him. Their experience with Christianity and following Jesus has been from the perspective that Jesus is trying to interfere with their life and ruin their fun.

But for those of us who have experienced the pull of life’s current,

For those of us who have been beaten by the swell of the waves,

For those of us who have been pulled under and tossed around on the ocean shore until we’re exhausted and sinking –

We understand the Christmas story in a compelling way, with fresh perspective and sobering humility.

God came to do for us what we are powerless to do for ourselves.

God sent Jesus, to rescue us.

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2_10-11

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.              Luke 2:10-11

God sent a Savior. Not a helper, not a life coach, not more rules or rigid expectations.

A Savior.

But until you come to grips with the fact that you need to be rescued, the idea of a Savior is an inconvenience, a “yawn”, someone who’s just trying to ruin your good time.

But for those who have truly embraced their brokenness and are conscious of what Jesus truly did for them, our response is much different.

It’s not, “I have to…” or “I need to…” 

When we think of Jesus we experience an unfiltered joy and unsolicited devotion. There is an appreciation and gratitude that extends beyond obligation because…

He saved me.

And that, my friend, is really good news for all people.

 

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God’s Presence, the Best Present

Christmas season… The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. A time of thankfulness, a time of celebration, a time of gathering with those we love, and most importantly, a time of remembering what God has done for us.

It’s ironic how a season centered around a little baby on a peaceful night in a small town can easily become the busiest and most stressful season of the year.

If you go to the mall today, you’re probably not going to experience an overwhelming sense of peace. Same if you attempt travel anywhere during the holidays.

You can feel the stress in the air. You sense it on the roads, at the grocery store and in the shopping malls.

What I envision for the season – quiet nights at home sitting around the tree drinking hot chocolate with the family easily evolves into…

Stuff, fill, cram, shove, pack, hurry, rush, dash, run, stress, worry and strain to create the perfect Christmas for my family.

Instead of less is more, and “peace on those whom his favor rests” I find myself…

  • Overdoing
  • Overcommitting
  • Overscheduling
  • Overextending
  • Overeating
  • Overspending

…only to finish the holidays worn out, sick and exhausted.

Every year, I’m realizing more and more how

Hurry is the great enemy of my spiritual life and health of my soul.

When we hurry, rush, run, cram and do, even the things we love can become burdens and obligations. And when we live a loud, hurried life, the one thing that tends to get squeezed out is the thing our souls crave the most.

What God created us for – what our souls really crave – is space.

  • Space to reflect
  • Space to rest
  • Space to connect with God and other people

But when the volume and activity level is so loud it’s impossible to achieve the peace our soul craves.

As you go through the Christmas season and you begin to feel the stress and tension creep up on you, I encourage you to remember this one verse.

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David wrote,

…Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.
Psalm 62:1

It’s hidden in the presence of God where peace flourishes. It’s hidden in that space where we thrive because it’s how God created us to live.

You may think, “Life back then was simpler, easier, quieter. They didn’t have all the of the expectations, traffic, stress we have today.”

David had a lot going on. His life was busy, stressful, fast-paced and loud.

  • He was a warrior and military leader in Israel who had to hide in caves, and run for his life from a crazy king for about 15 years.
  • In fact, its said that David wrote this Psalm while someone was attempting to dethrone him
  • He was king of Israel and undoubtedly the most influential and affluent person around with a role that carried more responsibility than we could imagine.

Not to mention, David also had,

  • 19 sons and one daughter
  • At least 8 wives!

Can you even imagine how loud, busy, hectic David’s life was?! Yet somehow, with all of the demands on his time, all of the people needing his attention, all of the people demanding decisions, all of the children needing affection, David made the time to escape from the chaos and find rest in the presence of God.

He was intentional about it.

David had discovered the value of quieting his soul and coming into God’s presence. He didn’t see it as a duty or obligation. He didn’t demand anything from God.

He learned the value and necessity of intentionally creating space for his soul to rest in the presence of God. This is so important for us to get right.

David knew the outflow of his life came from the inner state of his soul.

David knew his ability to experience peace depended on his ability to create a peaceful soul.

David knew that peace isn’t something we can find, purchase or work to achieve.

David knew that true Peace is found in the presence of a Person.

If your soul is loud and stressed and chaotic, it will bleed into your relationships and all of the areas of your life.

Instead of imparting peace, you’ll impart anxiety. Instead of imparting a calm presence, you’ll impart chaos. Instead of connecting with others, you’re relationships will be strained.

If King David could develop a calm soul in the middle of the craziness and chaos of ruling a kingdom, I think there’s hope for you and me.

But how? David doesn’t give us “three easy steps to having a quiet soul”. He doesn’t teach on “five keys to creating peace in your heart”.

When we’re stretched and stuffed and over-scheduled and our lives are loud, we only see the “to-do” list. We can’t see anything beyond the chaos of our life.

Throughout Scripture, throughout Jesus’ ministry, He gives us an invitation. It’s an invitation to declutter our souls and come to Him. In the midst of the packed schedules and holiday craziness, God offer us an invitation. He asks us to make a choice.

This Christmas, don’t miss the invitation to come.

Receive God’s invitation to be present with him and find rest for your soul.

Give yourself permission to pause long enough to find rest in God and experience the refreshing that only comes through time in His presence.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:13-15

 

Flourish!

The temperatures are creeping up a bit and the trees are starting to bud and look alive again. Spring is just around the corner. After months of barrenness, everywhere you look there’s evidence of new life bursting forth.

Spring is a vivid reminder for me of the powerful work that God desires to do in my life. Even in the seasons where I feel barren and unfruitful, God is still able to work and fulfill His purpose.

While God created us to flourish, there will be seasons in our lives – sometimes even very long ones –when the heat is turned up, the rain of blessing is sparse, and everything around us seems dry and desolate.

Even then, in fact especially then, God says we can flourish.

When something is flourishing, it is thriving and growing luxuriantly. To flourish actually means to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way.

Doesn’t this sound like something we should to go after and pursue?

Most likely, you’d agree. You’re probably not hoping for a life that’s dry, desolate and filled with dead dreams. In fact, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that all of us want a life that’s growing and fulfilling – a life where we’re flourishing and thriving in the sweet spot God created us to live.

Imagine what a flourishing life would look like for you?

If this is something we all seem to desire, and it’s something God desires for us, what keeps us from experiencing it? What hinders us from really experiencing a growing life that is fruitful and flourishing?

Let’s look at this through the lens of the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is an Old Testament prophet who was speaking to the nation of Judah. These words from Jeremiah are called oracles – kind of like speeches given to the nation.

God was using Jeremiah to address the Jewish people about their continued tendency to look to other things and people as substitutes for their relationship with God.

He was warning them, calling them to repentance and preparing them for what God was about to do. They were living in the midst of political, social, financial, moral and spiritual decay. Babylon was rising in power and threatening to destroy Jerusalem, the temple and deport all of the Jewish people living in Judah.

The Jewish people were watching life as they knew it slip away and their hope for a future filled with health and prosperity for their children looked uncertain, even ominous.

God’s people were desperate, dominated by fear, worry, instability and uncertainty.

Jeremiah is letting the people know that although they’ve messed up, God still loves them and hasn’t forgotten them. In fact, he wants them to know that it’s not too late for them to return to him and follow him.

And when they do He promises to bless them and cause their lives to flourish. But in order for this to happen, the people of Judah are going to have to live differently. They’re going to have to have different priorities and make some different choices.

In this short passage, Jeremiah is giving the people the secret to living a flourishing life in the midst of desolate and desperate circumstances.

God is speaking through Jeremiah and making a contrast between two ways of living. God is saying, “You have two options to choose from. Two paths. Each has its own outcome. One will lead to a life despair and desolation; the other to a life of fruitfulness and flourishing.

Let’s start in Jeremiah 17:5-6…

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. 6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. Jeremiah 17:5-6 NLT

I doubt you’re thinking, “Sign me up for that! I want my life to be like a stunted shrub in the desert with no hope for the future!”

This is quite possibly why Jeremiah didn’t have many friends.

He clearly lacks social skills. But he gets his point across.

Nothing grows in a salty land. Nothing grows in a hot desert wasteland.

Thankfully, Jeremiah doesn’t end there and he doesn’t want the people of Judah to end there either. In fact, Jeremiah continues on…

Flourish

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

That sounds like a life worth living! That’s what I want for my life!

This is the modern day equivalent of an unlimited bank account, an orange tree that is always full of fruit, or, as my kids would say, great surf every day, 4-6’ glassy conditions with light trades.

The illustration Jeremiah is painting is one of an endless supply that never runs out.

Jeremiah is encouraging the Jewish people that although their life is going to be hard, they’re going to lose their homes, their possessions and their freedom, he is reminding them that…

The desert doesn’t have to be the place where you give up, wither up and die. Desolation is not how God created you to live.

Jeremiah is showing the people of Judah this tree that is growing and fruitful in an environment that should make health and growth impossible.

  • It’s hot but the tree stays green.
  • It’s the desert but the tree still grows.
  • It’s dry but the tree still bears fruit.

How is this possible? How can we bear fruit in an environment that is harsh and unwelcoming? How do we flourish in a season that is dry and seemingly barren? When we find ourselves in a foreign land of undesirable circumstances, how do we stay fresh and green?

When life turns up the heat, how do we keep from withering?

Perhaps an even better question to ask,

“When the heat is turned up, what comes out of my life?”

 The people of Israel had a choice to make. They had to decide how they were going to choose to live.

We have a choice to make as well…

Will we choose to live like a stunted shrub in the desert or as a lush, flourishing, fruit bearing tree? Will we wither away when the heat comes or will we flourish, staying fresh and green, and bearing fruit?

But how? How do we get our lives to the place where we’re flourishing and fruitful, even if everything around us is dead and decaying? How?

When you look at the references to flourishing in scriptures, they are almost always referring to some kind of plant and the way it’s cared for and growing.

There’s growth and promise. Planting, cultivating, budding, nourishment, growth, grounding, rooting, fruitfulness, health and vitality.

Nothing is stagnant. There’s activity. There are tangible results and it’s exciting.

Let’s go back to Jeremiah 17:7-8 and look at this a little closer…

Imagine what having this kind of strength in your life would look like for you?

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

The tree can flourish in any situation. It can overcome and thrive in the heat and drought. It’s not withering when things get tough. It’s not being blown away when the storm hits. Even when it’s dry, the tree is going to continue to stand strong.

It’s strong, standing firm, growing, flourishing and bearing fruit. But how?

Here are a few cues we can take to tap into a flourishing life.

  • You flourish when you press in to God (verse 7). The man referred to isn’t trying to do everything on his own strength. He is tapping into the strength of God.
  • Note this tree was planted near a life-giving water source. It’s not a wild tree growing in a random place. It takes work and intention. You don’t just wander into a flourishing life.
  • Jeremiah also tells us this is a tree whose roots reached deep into the water. A tree’s roots will determine the health and size of the tree. Strong, healthy roots will make a strong, healthy tree.

The roots – the unseen part of the tree – are the most important part because they deliver the nutrients to the rest of the tree. As Christians, to live a strong, healthy, vibrant, flourishing life, we must dig our roots down deep into God’s Word – not once in awhile, but daily.

When we consistently press into God, plant our lives near life-giving sources and dig our roots deep into God’s Word, our lives will flourish. Not because of the lush environment around us, but in spite of our circumstances.

The result will bring glory to God and cause others to wonder about the tangible power and presence of God working through your life. Your life will be marked with a peace that passes understanding and a quiet strength that demands explanation.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

When the heat is turned up in my life, what is the fruit that is being produced?

Dear friend, press into God and trust him. Plant yourself near life-giving sources and dig the roots of your life deep into God’s Word. Then, your life will flourish and never stop producing fruit.