Archives

Running on Empty

Have you ever felt as if you were running on empty?  It seems the holidays fall upon us earlier every year, and my battle to keep from drowning grows proportionally more intense.  Although I have reasonably good organizational skills, I cannot possibly juggle all the items slung onto my plate.  Life seems to grow continually more complex and frenzied.   Once I asked God, “How can I ever hope to run with the horses, when I cannot even handle the foot soldiers?”  (“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5)  In response, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “The pace and demands of life will not change.  YOU need to change.”  Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with His response to my desperation!

Years later, I still find myself regularly “running on empty.”  I consistently re-evaluate my schedule and re-assess my priorities.  I actually say “no” to people at times (something I NEVER used to do!).  However, my life is chronically on overload.   Suddenly, I realized that, in a way, I am exactly where God wants me.  For Him to function more fully and freely in my life, it is imperative that I arrive at the end of my own energy and resources.   I need to become desperate for a Source of life beyond myself.  He longs for me to admit to Him that I need re-fueling and that my personal fuel tanks are completely depleted.

God wants me to be emptied of myself — my own strength, talents, abilities, resources, and confidence.  Instead, He wants me to be re-fueled with HIS strength, talents, abilities, resources, and confidence.  God longs to fill me to overflowing and top off my tank with HIMSELF.  “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.  His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:28-31)   I thank God that He desires to fill me with His presence and empower me with His strength to do the things He has called me to do.  He delights to abundantly provide for every need.   His vitality and stamina are without limit.  His fuel tank NEVER runs dry.  

Thank You, Jesus, for allowing me to acknowledge the limits of my personal resources.  Thank You for enabling me to recognize my need for You!   Thank You for re-filling and re-fueling me for Your work!  Thank You that I am aware I am running on empty and ready for a fresh infilling of Your Presence!   Fill me up and top me off!  Let me overflow with You.   Teach me a new way to run the race set before me.

An Open and Shut Case

As another year has evaporated and a new one is beginning, I find myself once again trying to resist being mired in nostalgia.  Our youngest child just moved several states away, and the other four are also already established in their adult lives.  Having five children who are making their way in the world is indeed cause for rejoicing, but I instead am resisting a tidal wave of nostalgia that borders on sadness and could very well end in self-reproach, if I allow the undertow to drag me there.  However, Jesus has set before me an open door that no man can shut (Isaiah 22:22).  I can choose, if I like, to remain in a former season of my life, but my desire to dwell there does not change the fact that it is over.   The lights are out in that room of my life; I am no longer a mother of five young children, five young adults, or even one college student.   The end of that era has arrived.  I can shed tears over stories I didn’t read and games I didn’t play because I was busy washing dishes or folding clothes (the business of survival as a mother, which clouds legitimate priorities such as game-playing with one’s children), or I can believe what God says about me:  that I, too, am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that He knows everything about me (Psalm 139:3), and that, what’s more, He still LOVES me (Jeremiah 31:3). 

God has opened another door, a door into a new season, and He has turned the lights on, HIS light, in that new place.  He urges me to enter through that door and “Come up here” (Rev. 4:1).  However, the choice is actually mine.  I can choose to stay in the old place, which is no longer filled with the daily routine of tending my children and feathering my personal nest; it is now filled with treasured memories, which will be tainted by acute pangs of regret over things I did or did not do, should I choose to dwell in a hollow room and refuse to walk through the door God has provided into this next season.  The Lord cautions us against remaining too long in the womb before allowing Him to birth us into the new place (Hosea 13:13).  From the baby’s perspective, every birth feels like a death until the light of the new place is fully experienced. 

Do I want to stay in the darkened room and begin to believe my own opinions of myself (I didn’t do this or that right; I didn’t love my children enough; I wasn’t a loving and tender wife and mother; I was too labor-oriented, etc.)?  — OR, would it not be better to take a step through the door into the light of this new season God has ordained and experience, together with my husband, grown children, grandchildren, and precious friends, the delights and challenges He has appointed for me?  I don’t want to miss anything for wallowing in the past (with or without regrets that may or may not be unfounded).  The fact is, if I allow myself to be mired in the pit of regret and sorrow (nostalgia gone bad), I am calling God a liar, for yielding to the undertow means I reject the Truth of His love and His Word, the truth of what HE says about me.   Now THAT is a serious place to be. 

Father, I choose to walk through the open door You have provided for me into this new year and this new season of life.   I choose to believe the truth of Your love and care for me.   I choose to believe that You empower me to bear fruit that remains, in spite of my inadequacies and failings.  I choose to believe that You are more than able to compensate for any and all mistakes I have made, for You love my family far more than I do.  I thank You, Father, that You sent Jesus as the Door to ALWAYS being in Your Presence.  I embrace You, the Truth, and invite You to carry me over the threshold into whatever You have chosen for me to do!

“I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it;”  Revelation 3:8aimagesCAI2R0S0

Wholly Holy or Hollow?

plw[1]The Christmas sales and marketing machine seems to crank into action earlier every year. Unlike the first Christmas, its onset is not obscure or hidden in a cave. Instead, we have substituted glitzy packaging, neon lights, frenzied shopping, and blaring music for the Real Deal, who came at no cost to us but at a great price to Himself. Oddly, in spite of the annual clamor, the glitz and hoopla from Christmases past have evaporated from my memory. What remains is nostalgia for the sweeter, quieter moments I treasured from year to year: a steaming mug of hot chocolate in a darkened room by the glowing lights of our family tree; candlelight service at church with everyone singing “Silent Night” after the organ fell silent; the anticipation of snow; ample tastes of my mother’s spritz cookie dough; special times of opening the gifts together as a family.

Oddly enough, although my father worked for a premier manufacturer of high-quality ornaments and our tree was laden with beautiful decorations (and plenty of not-so-beautiful homemade ones we children had fashioned), one of my favorite decorations was a centerpiece my mother put on the dining room table every year. It featured deer in a snowy forest, and, to me, it was magical. As an adult, I was shocked to see the deer centerpiece recently in a closet at my parents’ home: the base was made of plaster of Paris, the deer were plastic, real twigs had been inserted into the plaster base to resemble trees, and the entire creation had been sprayed with white paint and silver glitter. It was far from the magical snow scene I had remembered from my childhood. Two lessons from these memories have distilled over the years in my heart. First, the things that captivate us are often not what we think they are; what appears valuable, or even magical, may ultimately disappoint us. Secondly, the things that are dearest in our memories are not those things that are have the greatest financial worth.

This year again, as I contemplate the holiness and gravity of what happened that first Christmas — the entry of Jesus the Messiah, Immanuel (God-With-Us) in such a simple package, an animal’s feeding trough –, the hollow cacophony of commercial holiday clamor contrasts sharply with the ultimate miracle: God in human flesh, born to die for all of us, while we were completely unaware of His entrance. I pray that I will “prepare Him room” and will be increasingly aware of the Presence of the Bread of Life in the manger of my heart. May our holy-days not be hollow; may the One who fills all in all (see Ephesians 1:23) deliver us from the emptiness of marketing mania and refresh us with Himself!

Home for the Holy Days

ImageThree of our now-grown children were home for the Thanksgiving holiday.   This morning, they have all returned to their respective homes to resume their separate lives.   That is, of course, how it should be.   That is what we raised them to do.   However, as each one departed, a piece of my heart walked out the door, and I was overcome by a wave of longing that only that particular child can fill.  Over the weekend, the house had been filled with their presence.   We did not plan any special entertainment.  We did what we do every Thanksgiving:  invite a variety of guests for Thursday’s holiday dinner and spend the rest of the weekend decorating the house for Christmas.   However, the atmosphere of our home was enriched immeasurably by the unique contribution each family member makes to the lovely palette of our household.  It happens every time.   The only thing that prevented the weekend from being completely perfect was the absence of the three older children (not to mention the grandchildren!).

As I contemplated this feeling of simultaneous fullness and emptiness  that always accompanies the comings and goings of our children, I remembered the years we lived in Norway when they were small.  We would fly home to the Midwest to descend on our families for an annual visit of a few weeks (it probably seemed like a few months to my mother, who did all the laundry and cooking for us during those visits!).  There were always tears on both sides as we all waved good-bye to one another when we boarded the plane back to Norway.  At that time, although I always felt extremely sad at the moment of departure,  I only understood those moments from the perspective of a grown daughter with a life and family of her own.  After all, I had my own life in another country.

As a parent of grown children who have ventured out to map their own lives, I am delighted that they have their own passions and dreams.   I would not want it to be otherwise.   However, nothing replaces their presence in our home.  Each one’s unique personality touches me at a profound level that is simply inexplicable.   Each one brings me joy — not for what that child does or does not do, but just for who that child IS.   Each one’s presence adds a dimension to our family that no one else could contribute.

THAT is, no doubt, how our Daddy God feels about each one of us.   He doesn’t care what I do for Him.  He has positioned me in this world to lead a life He Himself calls me to lead.  However, He longs for, delights in, and revels in the gift of my presence.   He can’t ever get enough of me!   His heart aches when I neglect to acknowledge Him or forget to discuss something with Him.  He bursts with pride when I walk out the door and move in confidence in areas He raised me to conquer.   His love is unchanging, and I am ALWAYS welcome on His knee.

Somehow, I think I just got a glimpse of holiness over the Thanksgiving holy day.   God gave me a little insight into His very own heart as a Father.   How grateful I am that He gave me the gift of motherhood on this earth; He has helped me understand His love for us.

“What’s the point?,” you might ask.  Just as I missed the children who couldn’t come home, our Father longs for those who have yet to come home to Him.   Whom could we invite to His table next?  Ask Him!  (See Luke 15.)

Who Are the Widows & Orphans? — They Are All Around Us!

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27

For years, I didn’t really connect at the heart with this verse, as I hadn’t met any orphans or widows.  My friends, for the most part, had two parents.   One or two had been adopted, but everyone had parents. During my growing-up years, I assumed that my friends liked their parents and had happy homes.  By the time I entered college, I was beginning to discern flaws in my assumptions.  Although many of my university friends lived only forty miles from the school (as did I), several of them complained about going home.   Apparently, they didn’t have the positive associations I had with being “home.”  A generation later, after raising five children of our own, my husband and I are painfully aware that we were uniquely blessed with parents who loved us and were concerned about our well-being enough to invest heavily (in tangible and intangible ways) in our future as adults.

Moreover, since I had grown up in a home full of visiting relatives and friends, with lots of entertaining and delicious home-cooked meals, I never once considered NOT welcoming others to our home after I myself married.  My husband and I thought it perfectly normal to host all manner of people at all manner of events.  Since we wanted to know where our kids were, we made certain they knew they could always bring friends home — and they did!  It was not always convenient, and we often suffered from sleep deprivation, but our home was noisy and happy.  In the process of hosting all these young people, we heard their stories.   Some of them had already faced significant challenges in their young lives, especially in terms of family relationships.  One young man even informed us that we were “weird,” or, at the very least, highly abnormal.  When we asked him why he thought so, he explained that it was rare indeed to have five children living together in the same family with their same two parents who still loved each other.  With this young man’s observation, I began to appreciate our family situation, which I certainly did not deserve and had often taken for granted.

It has been 16 years since that remark jarred my perceptions of the realities around me.   In that span of time, our society has continued to witness the breakdown of traditional concepts of family, and many adults, as well as children, are without relational moorings.   Many have never known stability in relationship with another person; stability and commitment have never been modeled for them, and quite naturally, they have no concept of how to develop trust-based relationships with anyone else.  It is impossible, indeed, to give love and faithfulness when you have never been on the receiving end of real love or trust.   As a culture, it seems we are to some degree emotionally and relationally bankrupt.  Most of us, myself included, have lost the sense of neighborhood that a few of us remember from our childhood.  Neighbors come and go, locked in the busyness of soccer practices, school, and work.   Real friendships have been replaced by circumstantial bonding born of necessity (helping with our child’s classroom party once or twice a year, or serving on the same rotation at work). 

When Jesus related the parable of the good Samaritan, his point was that the Samaritan man, the one the Jews had been trained to hate, is the one that acted as a neighbor and friend to the wounded man who had been brutally assaulted.   Moreover, the injured man never asked the Samaritan for assistance; instead the Samaritan noticed the needy man’s plight and made a conscious decision to be significantly inconvenienced to help him.  (See Luke 10:29-37.)  By contrast, those who logically would have been expected to help their injured neighbor had passed by on the other side of the road.

I often ask myself if I, too, have failed to recognize the widows and orphans along my path, just as the unhelpful “neighbors” in the parable passed by that assaulted man in the ditch.  More and more, God is exposing the relational widowhood and the orphaned condition of the desperately lonely people around me.  Many people may be married, but in name only; they lack the intimacy and genuine friendship that a healthy marriage should provide.   Many children (even adults) are, in fact, relational orphans; they were never truly parented and have never been affirmed by any authority figure in their lives.   I meet people all the time who have never once been told they are of value.   This emotionally orphaned condition is no respecter of persons; it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries and is of epidemic proportions in our American culture. 

Recently, God began to challenge me regarding how far He will reach to touch people’s hearts.  Our community is teeming with people who have never experienced real love, the kind of love that is completely unconditional.  Many have had parents who suffered with various addictions or were otherwise incapacitated in terms of being able to demonstrate genuine love and affection to their children on a consistent basis.  These motherless, fatherless people are all around me.   All I have to do is ask God to show them to me.   Sometimes I must go to them and make a concerted effort to get to know them; they rarely come to me.  Psalm 68:6 states that “God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing;but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”  Surely God wants me to demonstrate HIS heart to other people, that He might pour His love out on them. 

The other day I heard a moving account of a young Christian American family who sold all they had and uprooted their three young children to move to China (for no logical reason other than obedience to what they perceived was God’s call).  After a season of trials and challenges, they now run an orphanage dedicated to caring for handicapped and disabled children that no one else wants — the lost and the “throwaways.”  They assert that these children teach them tremendous lessons about the unconditional, persistent love of Father God for us.   These parents have risked all the wealth and position they could have had in their comfortable life at home to love children who can never pay them back, children for whom there may never be education or careers or position, children whose job is simply to receive their love.  (For their story, see http://www.loavesandfishesintl.com/)

Although not all of us are called to abandon ship and move to a foreign nation to love those the world has cast aside, we ARE all called to demonstrate the power of God’s love to a lost and dying world, in a personal way.   As a result, I am testing the waters in our community and reaching out to a part of the population that is motherless, fatherless, and friendless — in this case, victims of human trafficking.   Can I solve all their problems?  Certainly not!   Am I willing to be inconvenienced, to listen to their stories, and pray with them?   Absolutely.   They are already changing my life;  God is using these “orphans” and “widows”to show me more of Himself.  In spite of our cultural differences and vastly disparate backgrounds, I recognize MUCH of myself in these precious captives.   Apart from the fact that my family actively showed me love and kindness, I am realizing that, at heart, they are not so different from me after all.   Their captivity has just taken a different form.   Jesus died to save the lost, and He was willing to be extremely inconvenienced for me  (to say the least!) in the process.  Certainly God must long for me to  allow myself to be a little inconvenienced for the sake of reaching one of these precious ones He desires to touch.  (At least God hasn’t required me to move to a faraway nation…..yet!)

O God, open my eyes to see those who need Your love — and make me willing to demonstrate Your love to them however You would have me do it!   Make my baby steps in this area count for Your Kingdom purposes!

Rahab’s Refrain — My Song of Redemption

The story of Rahab’s protection of the spies who came to Jericho has always touched my heart.  In order to risk her life to protect these strangers, she must have sensed a profound presence of God upon them.  Had her duplicity been discovered by the government officials, she could have been incarcerated or even put to death for her crime.  I have always admired her discernment and her courage.  However, more recently, I have come to realize that I actually identify with her in her life of prostitution.

In a spiritual sense, all of us have been harlots to some degree.  We struggle to consistently honor Jesus first in our hearts and reject the innumerable distractions of our busy lives.  Sometimes we inadvertently allow other people and other concerns to shove Him off the throne of our hearts.  We are easily consumed by the pace and intensity of our responsibilities and routines, only to temporarily forget the One Who is the Giver and Arbiter of true peace in our soul.  Mercifully, He stands always ready to receive us back to Himself when we acknowledge our missteps and repent.

However, only recently have I realized that, but for His unfathomable and boundless mercy, I could easily have led the life of a real prostitute.  As it was, God blessed me with parents who emphasized the importance of education and even paid for me to earn a university degree.   They taught me that I had value and abilities waiting to be tapped.   They taught me to set my goals high and to have confidence in the dreams of my heart.  They also taught me to love Jesus.  After college, I married my husband, who has proven to be a generous man with a strong work ethic and a heart for God.  He has loved me, encouraged me, listened to me, and believed in me.  He has been a wonderful father to our five children.  The fact is, however, that I am increasingly aware of the blessings I have always enjoyed but never deserved.  Had I been born to a family rife with incest, addictions, ignorance, and indolence, I would not have been equipped for the very basic demands of life.  If no one had taught me to value what God put in me, no amount of intelligence or talent could have pulled me out of the mire of generations of torpor.  In fact, I shudder to think what I would have been willing to do to put food on the table for my children in the absence of a loving husband and without the advantages of higher education.  I must confess that I would doubtless have been willing to steal, lie, and even prostitute myself for the sake of my children.  That is the truth.

Therein lies the key to compassion — not simply getting a taste of someone else’s sorrow and feeling sad about it (“Those poor people!”), but actually identifying with them and understanding that you or I could quite easily have been in that person’s situation, given a simple shift of circumstances or opportunities.  I could readily make the same wrong choices anyone else has made.   Without Jesus, I am fully capable of all manner of wrongdoing, bad choices, and wickedness.   The fact is, even WITH Him residing in me, I have made some not-so-stellar choices, and He has been faithful to cover me and heal me!

Compassion that identifies with the one who is the object of compassion is the essence of the Gospel.   Jesus didn’t just feel sorry or sad for our sin and cooperate with His Father’s instructions to save us.  Instead, He actually BECAME sin for us; He identified with us sinners and paid in full for our sins with His own blood. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

As a result, I realize that Rahab’s story of redemption and inclusion in the line of the Messiah is actually my story as well.   She responded to truth, and God was ready to make room for her.   Her name in Hebrew actually means “road,”  “path,”  or “room,”  as in “making room for.”   God made room for the harlot in His royal line, and He thereby made room for me as well.    As I recognize myself in her, I confess my own potential for waywardness and realize God has had mercy on and redeemed the Rahab in me.  I look forward to meeting the Rahab who hid the spies in person one day, for her song of redemption is mine — our merciful God has made room for me, and His banner over me is love!

Giving and Getting — Uh,…I mean Giving and Receiving

Image

For years I have made a serious effort to “walk my talk” in the area of giving and receiving.   Acts 20:35 is very familiar to us, where Paul quotes Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”   I also have taken very seriously the warning in Luke 12:48b:  “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”  These verses have governed the rationale for my behavior in so many areas for my entire life.  As a young teenager, I was acutely aware that God had blessed me, and that I had done nothing to deserve His favor or blessings.   I knew I had been given much, and that I had a proportionally great responsibility to be a good steward of what God had given me.  Although, like most people, I love receiving presents, I have always felt that I should try my very best to remain on the giving end of relationships.

As I examine this issue, I must concede that I don’t have as much difficulty receiving material gifts as I do receiving gifts of service — particularly if someone is offering to do something that I view as my personal responsibility.   Somehow, I have ended up regarding the legitimate process of receiving acts of kind service as “getting” something.   For me, “getting” smacks of entitlement or laziness, so it feels uncomfortable to me — or even unappealing.

However, God WANTS us to receive from one another; if that were not so, why would He emphasize the importance of GIVING?  By definition, in order for giving to take place, there must be a recipient.  If I insist on always being on the giving end of a situation, then I am in danger of controlling the relationship and hindering others from giving (which they also are commanded by God to do!).  Giving and getting are NOT opposites, as getting implies some procurative effort on our part.  On the other hand, giving and receiving are opposites and create a lovely relational balance when exercised in a reciprocal manner in a relationship (even though it IS more blessed to give than to receive!).

The attention-getter for me with this issue of receiving was proposed to me by one of my young adult children who asked me:  “Mom, if we always want to give and are reluctant to receive, how can we ever expect to understand and receive the fullness of what Jesus died to give us?”  THAT thought hit me like a brick.  Indeed, the Lover of my soul died to give ME forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, and a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.   He even said, “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  I think I need to brush up on my receiving skills!  Father, enlarge my capacity to receive the fullness of Yourself and all You desire to give me!

On Beyond Zebra and the End of an Era

On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss, serves as a great testimony to the mysteries and surprises of life!  The main character in this supposedly nonsensical tale is a boy who contends that there are many more letters in the alphabet than we commonly use.   He proceeds to describe these letters (that follow after  for zebra) and the phantasmagorical creatures whose names begin with said letters, such as the letter wum for wumbus.  This book serves as the expression of my journey with our heavenly Father!

On Friday, our fifth and youngest child will graduate from college.  Since we have had one, two, or even three children in college for fourteen years, this graduation truly marks the end of a significant era in our lives.  Although our budget is looking forward to relaxing a little, we actually are experiencing nostalgia rather than jubilation as the day approaches (along with a tremendous surge of gratitude!).  There was a time when I feared I would never have any children.   Then I was afraid that, although I knew I would LOVE them, I might not LIKE them.  Miraculously, against all apparent odds, I conceived and even had five beautiful babies.   Again, quite amazingly, I actually LIKE our children!  I enjoy their quirks and idiosyncrasies, their sometimes off-beat likes and dislikes, and I love talking with them about their lives.    We were naturally concerned about their education and managed to pray our way through public school, private school, and even home school (which I had sworn I would never undertake and ended up loving!).  We watched sporting events and piano recitals and ballet performances, participated in various experiments and proofread a multitude of term papers.  We navigated the turbulent rapids of life on our family raft and hung on with prayer and a few squeals of fear and delight in the process.   Suddenly, that era is now drawing to a close, and we are truly done with child-rearing.  

However, as I look back over the years, I feel as though God has absolutely gone “on beyond zebra” in His outpouring of goodness and grace toward us.  I could never have dreamed I would have so many children or enjoy them so very much.  I could never have imagined how we could help all of them through a university-level education on one income (not mine!) and survive the purported perils of the teenage years (one of my favorite seasons, as it turned out!).  I never imagined that it would even be possible to have the privilege of being so proud to have five faith-filled children of character who are concerned about the integrity of their walk with Jesus Christ.  Moreover, I KNOW I did NOTHING to deserve this storm of blessings that we have received — other than grab God’s Hand!  His love is beyond our wildest dreams in length, breadth, height, and depth (Ephesians 3:18-19).   We cannot possibly conceive of the things He has prepared for us (I Corinthians 2:9).

The really magnificent part of this story is that God is not finished with us yet.   Yes, Friday evening marks the end of an era for us as a family, but it also marks the beginning of yet another era — a new season of experiencing His grace and glory in our lives, in spite of our mistakes and weaknesses.   Just as a baby must ultimately leave the womb and be birthed into a new world, we know that God is birthing us into a new season. We look forward to what He has in store.   It will certainly continue to be “on beyond zebra.” 

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” — Ephesians 3:20-21

Unlimited Free Refills

When I was a kid, all forms of soda were a treat.   Occasionally, my mother would buy a six-pack of Fresca or Tab, which was always marketed in bottles.  When I was in junior high, I was only allowed to drink one 10-ounce bottle after school.  My mother was not being stingy — drinking soft drinks on a regular basis was simply not something that most people did.   Soda was considered a luxury. 

I remember my first Burger King meal at age thirteen, when Burger King was new in St. Louis.  I marveled at the “flame-broiled” hamburgers and was entranced by the hamburger, fries, and Coca Cola.   When we purchased the Coca-Cola, we received one cup full of sparkling, bubbly Coke.   We would never have considered asking for a refill, as that would have cost more money.

Years later, I had the opportunity to live in France, Germany, and Norway.   Soda of any kind was expensive, and ice was not abundant.  In Paris, I remember ordering a Coke to go with a pizza.  I was appalled at the narrow glass of room-temperature Coke the garçon whisked in front of me with a grand flourish.  I stared at it and quickly flagged him down; politely, I requested ice.   He grabbed the glass of warm Coke, placed it deftly on his serving tray, disappeared, and swiftly returned with the glass.  Stupefied, I stared at the ONE small cube of ice floating in the Coke.  The French way of drinking soda was certainly different from the American!  Of course, there was no discussion of refills, unless I wished to pay another two dollars, which in the 1970s was an astronomical price for a glass of Coke. 

Years later, we moved from Europe to Texas and were happily surprised to discover that we were residents of the land of unlimited free refills.   We could sate ourselves to our hearts’ content with Coke, Diet Coke, Minute Maid Orange, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and numerous other varieties of soda.   In fact, I ultimately found myself placing limits on the number of  refills my children consumed with their Happy Meals.  Moreover, the size of the soft drink cups had increased exponentially over the years.  When I was a child, no one would EVER have considered drinking 32 ounces (nearly a liter!) of Coke or Pepsi.  Suddenly, gas stations were offering 32-, 44-,  and even 64-ounce cups of soft drinks for unbelievably low prices.  To this day, our children laugh about the rare occasions when we relented and bought them a 32-ounce cup of soda, only to have someone (usually our daughter) spill it in the van.

In Texas these days, most customers assume that the purchase of a soft drink at a restaurant entitles them to unlimited free refills.  We expect to be allowed to overindulge ourselves in something that is not a healthy habit.  We are convinced that, if we have paid two dollars for a soda, it is our right to gulp down as many glasses of our favorite beverage as we can possibly hold.

One of  the many wonderful things about God is that He exceeds our wildest expectations.   He is the One who INVENTED unlimited free refills!   The best part is, we don’t even have to pay ANYTHING for them!  Those refills come with being part of His family.  Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:38)  Jeremiah tells us that God Himself IS the Fountain of Living Waters (Jeremiah 2:13).  A fountain continues to bubble and sparkles with life.  It doesn’t ever go flat or stagnant, as it continues to move.  John 4:14 assures us that “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  In Revelation 21:6, Jesus promises:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”  Clearly, this fountain of living water is something we don’t even have to pay for!  It doesn’t even cost two dollars, and it is readily available to all who believe!  Paul urges us in Ephesians 3:19 “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  He also encourages us in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled, and keep on being filled, with the Spirit of God.  God delights to give us an abundance of Himself.  He calls us to drink fully and freely:   “Hey there! All who are thirsty,  come to the water!  Are you penniless?  Come anyway—buy and eat!  Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free!” (Isaiah 55:1, The Message) 

When I feel discouraged and disappointed by this world, these words remind me that NOTHING in this world will ever truly satisfy my thirst.  Unlimited free refills of Diet Coke may sound good, but Coke really does not quench my thirst; it also chips away at my budget and erodes my health.  On the other hand, God offers the water of life in abundance.  His fountain never runs dry; His refills are readily and freely available, at no cost to me.  All I need to do is ASK Him.   His fountain is full of life, healing, hope, joy, peace, delight, and wholeness.   His refills are alive with His very Presence.   Why would I ever consider drinking from any other fountain?

Hypothetical Sacrifice

A song by Jeremy Riddle entitled “What Can I Bring” has been on my mind all week.  For me, the most riveting part of the song is the little bridge section.  The words are as follows:  “Had I riches, I would bring them.  Had I kingdoms, I would lose them.  Had I the world, too small a gift would it be for You.” Years ago, when I first heard this song, that refrain gripped my heart and has continued to grip my heart ever since.   I viewed it as a promise to God that I would be willing to give Him everything of value that I have, IF I ever were to have those things.   The mere consideration of  the impact of that declaration would bring me to tears as I sang the song.   I was certain I would be willing to give God everything, absolutely everything, if only I had it.

Suddenly, this week, as I was preparing to use that song in a worship set for a meeting, a bit of incisive revelation dropped into my soul:   I DO have riches; I DO have kingdoms; I already have far more of this world in me than is healthy.   Am I willing to completely surrender those precious things to Jesus?   If I am honest with myself, I already have an abundance of riches:  I have a jewel of a husband, five children who are treasures to me, an extended family I cherish, and friends I hold dear — not to mention books to read, a home, a clean bed, food in the pantry, and innumerable material goods that have no real eternal value but which make life pleasant.  I get concerned about the people I love and occasionally allow my thoughts to follow pit-in-the-stomach kind of thinking that borders on unholy worry.  Although I prefer not to admit it, I DO have “kingdoms” over which I attempt to rule:  my overloaded schedule, my authority to make decisions for myself in certain areas of my life, and my own abilities in specific realms I regard as “my” areas of expertise.  Regarding “the world,”  I am probably more steeped in the trappings of this world than I am willing to recognize. 

The truth is, Jesus wants us to give him the riches we already have!   He is not asking us to give Him something we do NOT have.   He wants me to yield to Him every concern about my children, my husband, and all the people I hold close to my heart.  He longs for me to offer Him my schedule, my plans, my dreams, and every area I think I “rule.”   He desires to continue to purge me of the baggage of this world that profits nothing.  Revelation 2:4 states that He wants to be our FIRST love:  “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”

Father, I do bring You my riches, my kingdoms, and the pieces of the world I cling to, and I choose to offer them to You.   However, I need YOU to empower me to actually release them to You, as sometimes I grip them too tightly!  You are eminently faithful to work Your purposes in me; help me to trust You with all “my” riches, kingdoms, and all the things of this world, and help me to make them Yours!  “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)  God is a far better steward of riches, kingdoms, and the world than we could ever be!

Father, I have riches; I will bring them!  I have kingdoms, I will lose them!  I have the world — too small a gift even THAT is for You!