Why we must keep drinking

The book of Acts in the New Testament is commonly referred to as the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the story of the amazing deeds of those first disciples, how they put God’s Word into action. But a closer reading of the text reveals a deeper story. It’s really the tale of the amazing deeds of the Holy Spirit, calling those early disciples out into something bigger than they could have imagined. The book should perhaps be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus hinted at the same idea in John 8: 37-38: “If any of you is thirsty, come to Me and drink. If you believe in Me, the Hebrew Scriptures say that rivers of living water will flow from with you.” Our first work is to come to Jesus and drink from the fresh water gushing forth from Him. But the promise is not just that our thirst will be slaked; it’s that water of life will rise to the brim and gush out of ourselves onto the lives of those around us. John explains this running over as the Holy Spirit at work (vs. 39).

But first we have to come and drink.

And then keep drinking.

What Jesus articulates here is found strewn throughout the Old Testament. The first work of God’s people was to come to him and rest, but they were often too busy, forgetting God and becoming self-reliant. Listen to the Lord’s frustration over this in Isaiah: “In returning and rest, you will be saved. In quietness and trust you will find strength. But you refused. You couldn’t sit still (3:15-16, The Voice). We are so much like those Israelites, too busy to drink from the fountain, too intent on getting the day’s tasks done, even good tasks for God. We can’t sit still.

But what does it look like to sit quietly and drink?

Recently, I gathered a few men to begin the adventure of drinking from Jesus together. After sharing our hearts, we each journaled about our struggles and wrote out responses to Psalm 23. I wanted them to drink from Jesus, but would He show up? As we shared our journals with each other, one man confessed his relentless busyness and deadness of heart. The call in the psalm to allow the Lord to lead him beside quiet pasture and still water struck him deeply. Another man who was initially fearful of journaling found the freedom to write out his thoughts in verse and rhyme like a song. In this simple act, something was released in his heart. A third man, going through a deep valley of privation, was stopped in his tracks after reading the first verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” We all walked out feeling as if we had been drinking from that living spring.

My hunch is that these men lived that day out of an overflow, ready to follow God in His work.

I know I certainly was.

Thank you, Jesus for being that spring of water, for the torrents of life and grace that gush forth from You, for always offering more than we could ever receive. You want to exchange our emptiness for Your fullness. We are humbled and overwhelmed at Your passion for our well-being. Teach us to drink until we overflow, and then to keep drinking. We always run dry. You never stop gushing forth. Thank you for all You will do in us and through us for Your kingdom and glory. 

Sample #2 of the next book "Divided"

With the release date of March 10 approaching, I wanted to post another brief sampling from the next book: Divided: When the Head and Heart Don't Agree. This one comes from the end of Chapter 2. 

"Ironically, the one place that offers a cure for the divided life can end up being a place that divides us further. The Bible presents the enticing possibility of a life without division or fragmentation, and points the way to get there, through the separation Jesus experienced. He was divided from His Father, torn in two on the cross, so that we don’t have to be. We are made whole by being brought near to God. The connection we feel with him now becomes the driving passion of our lives, healing our souls, shifting our motives, coloring our thoughts, altering our behavior.

Reading the Bible is a necessary start to understanding this possibility, but reading it in and of itself won’t heal the divide. Studying passages and memorizing verses is also no guarantee. Even being a teacher or preacher of the Bible is no sure cure. For the very way we read and interact with the Bible often reflects the divide rather than heals it. How do I know this? It’s the story of my life.

From the earliest days of my newfound love for Jesus, the Bible held a significant place for me. I tried to read it regularly throughout high school and college, even though there were lapses at times. But when I went to seminary, the importance of the Bible took on a new face. I clearly remember the first time I was able to read the opening of the book of John in the original Greek. I felt awe mixed with the excitement of entering the world of the Bible this way. I spent hours in my classes researching verses, diagramming sentences, writing out passages in Greek and Hebrew, reading commentaries. It became a place of endless intellectual stimulation. When I left seminary and entered the ministry, I would put hours of research into a sermon and then tack on stories and practical points to connect to my listeners. The result? I was applauded for my ability to teach the Bible, and that affirmation drove me to work at it harder. I was determined to get the Bible into the hearts of my listeners. It became a driving passion, a consuming quest. There was only one problem: I couldn’t do it to myself.

Despite all my best intentions, I struggled to connect to the God I so passionately proclaimed from the pulpit. I struggled even more to connect to my hearers. I was a lover of the idea of God, not of God Himself. I loved the idea of loving others, but actually feeling it, walking in it? That was another matter. This is exactly where I found myself as I gave the sermon that Sunday morning, wrapped in the gauze that had become a straitjacket, one that was now suffocating me. For my life had recently unraveled over a failed church plant that I had pioneered. Remember the vow I had made to myself long ago: I would never fail in front of others. And now my worst nightmare had happened—I had failed as a church planter. I was angry with God for not coming through and ashamed of myself for not succeeding. And I had no idea where my life was going to go. The emotional vertigo I experienced during that time left me disoriented, staggering. On top of that, my newborn daughter had medical issues that would require additional surgeries to correct, and my marriage was on the ropes. The inner turmoil and anger I felt seemed like a black hole to Heidi, and she felt herself being sucked into it. She pulled away from me, fearful and desperate herself. Even now it is difficult to describe the darkness of those days. I felt myself skidding into oblivion. There were even fleeting thoughts of ending my life. Despite my extensive knowledge of the Bible, it did not counter the black depression I had plummeted into or the crushing shame I felt. In fact, it only seemed to make things worse. I could teach all the truths that were supposed to help, but nothing seemed to help me. Something was terribly wrong, but what? What was the matter with me? Where was I to turn? How was I to keep from drowning in the void?

My personal quest to know and teach the Bible had come to a blunt dead end, yet I still desperately wanted to enter its truth. But I now found the doors locked and the keys thrown away. Despite my desperate banging, there was only silence. I was not going to enter that way. I was going to have to find another path, and that would require another quest, one that would change everything. It would require not just knowing truth but entering a story. It would mean facing things I had been running away from for a long time, things we all run away from.

But that takes us to the next chapter."

I hope you enjoyed it! The book can be pre-ordered by clicking on the banner at the top of the website.

How To Find Success and Fame in One Step

For years I have been on metaphysical merry-go-round, running after success and fame. I chased after it as a musician in my 20’s, as a minister in my 30’s, as a teacher and coach in my 40’s, and as an author in my 50’s. The endless striving comes out of my own story that left me hopelessly stained with a sense of failure and aloneness during my adolescent years.

As I got older, my mind could grasp how deceptive success could be and how ephemeral fame truly was, yet my heart still compulsively grasped after both, scavenging among the dry husks of the world for anything to ingest. My head and heart, so divided, became a source of enormous anguish for me, always searching and never finding, trying to kill my heart in the process and never succeeding even there (thankfully).

But in the past few years, Jesus has been persistently entering my turmoil and closing that terrible chasm. Just last week, I was thinking through John 15 and was struck again by His words, words that suggest how anyone can find both success and fame in one step.

Jesus declared it simply in vs. 4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” It’s as if he were saying, “You need to focus on one thing only: stay close to Me, make your heart’s home in Me, seek to stay in My presence. If you persist, I will come and make your heart My home, coaching you and walking with you all the way to the end.

But the really momentous stuff comes after this: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (vs. 5), and then again in vs. 8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.” The operative word here is much. If we stay yoked to Jesus, we will produce a bountiful harvest. In other words, we will become a success before Him, famous in His eyes, for we are known and favored by Him, and in the end, only His opinion of us matters. We truly play our lives out before an audience of one, whether we realize it or not.

As I have struggled to remain in Jesus, I have been feeling those eyes upon me, eyes that desire my company, and along with that His voice whispering: I know you, I understand you, I hear you. When I’m listening to HIm, I don’t even think about success or fame anymore. I’m just enjoying Him.

It's then I realize: The aching divide is closing. I’m not running anymore. 

That's the wonder of Jesus.

 

Why Do We Read??

As the books pile up in our house, we are now forced to get rid of some or resell them. The collection has multiplied over the years as our whole family has become inveterate readers. We are so content (even on vacations) to simply pull out our books and read. So it got me thinking recently: why do we all read?

Of course, we read to be entertained during the day and to calm our minds before bed at night. But there is more. I think most of us are looking for something as we read, searching and hopeful. I know I am always on the hunt with a book, but exactly what?

In my early years, I was after knowledge. I hungered to know about the world, about life, so that I could figure myself out. It was always a flight into high intellectual plains, one that I often charted alone. I remember walking into the Duke library (one of the largest university libraries in America) and feeling that if I could just read the major books here, perhaps I could solve the riddle of life, especially mine.

As I got older, I began to read, especially stories, because it awakened me in unpredictable ways. I was on the hunt to resurrect my heart from years of self-imposed quarantine. Here I found myself identifying with characters, like Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, or wanting to be like heroic ones, such as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. In the identification, I found that the stories helped clarify my own life story.

But recently, a new reason to read suddenly struck me: I read to connect to the writer himself, crossing barriers of time and culture. It’s to know and feel his pain and sorrow, his joy and wonder, so that I won't feel so isolated in my own world. Perhaps some of this has emerged as I have become an author. I recently read about Van Gogh’s longing to connect to others through his painting. Although he was not an author, I found myself suddenly weeping. Yes, I understood Van Gogh. I too long to connect through my writing, and I imagine other authors experience the same ache.

Perhaps all of this musing is an echo of the Lord himself, the great Author and Creator. He has left his fingerprints everywhere for us (even in books!), hoping that we will reach out and find him, for he is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). He longs for us to know Him and to feel known by Him.

So go ahead, open a book today and read. Who knows what may happen!