Open Your Mouth

During a Sunday morning prayer service, the leader shared imagery of a river overflowing with life. We are rivers of life, she said. The implication is that we have great opportunity — perhaps responsibility — to offer abundant life from the depths of Christ’s love within us. That love enables us to influence situations and circumstances. To bring light into darkness. Life from death.

As we began to pray and worship, my ears started to tickle and I found myself metaphorically thumbing through scripture on my iPhone.  I was searching for Isaiah 43:19, where God says

“”Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.”

My focus and ensuing meditation was of God making rivers in the desert, in the dry places. Dry places may refer to the heart, the mind, or the natural and created world. Yet, I kept hearing the words, “open your mouth.” What does that mean? I wondered. My conversation with Father God continued in this fashion: “Open your mouth,” He’d say. I hear you, Father God, but I have know idea how this relates to rivers in the desert! Oh, how God must chuckle with me!

Open your mouth!With a little time, a little patience, a little more worship, and a lot of listening, His Word became clear.

I forget sometimes how God has blessed me to see and experience His presence around the world. Not just in my home, my church, or in my neighborhood, but around the world. In my young 11 years as a disciple of Jesus, I have compiled a chest full of stories and experiences of God’s transforming power. My chest is overflowing and God continues to fill it. I forget sometimes the gift I have in these stories. I didn’t play any significant part in transformation, but I am and have been strategically placed to collect stories. Though I marvel and share my collection with close friends, I forget to open my mouth to wider circles and share the majesty and wonder of God’s transforming work in the world. To share the new things, the new creations; the roadways He makes and the rivers He flows through dry places.

I have met Josephs and Daniels who were persecuted for their faith. Sometimes beaten and imprisoned. By grace, they found themselves in the audience of the king and other high ranking government officials planting seed for Christ.

I have met men and women who broke their bindings to other gods and “religions” after dreaming of Jesus or after a supernatural experience of His love.

I have visited some of the darkest places on earth and found the Light of Jesus present and available. In these places, God is transforming lives. He is breaking the influence of anger, murder, rape, violence (despite what we see in the news). He is raising up outcasts named ‘criminal’ and ‘convict’ as light bearers to influence the darkness. Yes, God still uses the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong, the base and despised things so that no one may boast (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

Open your mouth…and share with the world the new things I am doing. Share the new life I am creating. See and tell of the roadways in the wilderness and the rivers in the desert. I am building a garden of life and light; rivers are flowing. Do you see? Will you share?

What the world needs to know — is desperate to know— is that new things and new life outnumber old things. I believe the word God spoke to me is not for me alone. It is for all who know and taste the goodness of God. We have a voice greater than any government, news outlet, or angry mob. And we have the technology to share it around the world. What if we opened our mouths and saturated social media with praise for our great God instead of hatred for humankind?  What if we shared stories of transformation in Christ instead of our woes? Could we influence the media, the nation, the world? Could we influence our neighbors?

God has “given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to [His] chosen people” ( Isaiah 43:20). Why? So we will declare His praise! (Isaiah 43:21)

Open your mouth. Share of the good news and the new things God is doing.

The God Who Stoops

Lately, I find myself consumed with the “small” actions of God. I roll them over and over in my mind. On the surface, they seem rather menial. The God Who Walks. The God Who Runs. But my meditations are revealing new and beautiful depths of God. The kind of depths that draw praise from my lips and worship from my spirit and body. I am amazed by who He is and what He does and I am honored to share my recent meditation of The God Who Stoops.

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“The Shrine” by John W. Waterhouse

To stoop is to bend the head or body forward and downward. For example, one might stoop to pick something up or smell a rose. One might also stoop out of deference or submission descending from a superior rank, dignity, or status (Merriam-Webster). In modern language, we may be more apt to use ‘stoop’ to refer to lowering oneself morally, as in she stooped to adultery.

Interestingly, in my every day life, “stoop” is not a word I use or even hear. My first inclination when hearing the word was to apply it to the more derogatory definition. Naturally, when I read of God stooping, my curiosity piqued. Why did God stoop? Surely He never lowered Himself morally! He is the standard of morality. So, what does it mean when God stoops? If God stoops, should I stoop?

This meditation begins in the book of John, chapter 8, verses 1-11. I have always heard this passage referenced as the story of the adulterous woman. I’m neither a bible scholar nor a literary scholar, but I suggest this is a misleading title. At first glance, the reader (including me) presumes the following scripture verses are about adultery and the woman is the object or the antagonist of the story. In truth, as I dig into this passage, the woman plays the smallest role. The antagonist is religion. Jesus is the protagonist and grace is the theme. Perhaps this blog is better titled “The Grace of Stooping.”

At this time in history, the disciples are still struggling with Jesus’s identity as Messiah. To the world, Jesus has a reputation as a teacher. Unlike modern, western educators, ancient teachers in the east assumed a sitting posture to teach, though typically from an elevated platform. When I read this passage, I envision Jesus sitting in a slightly raised position in the temple when suddenly, religious leaders bring a woman into the court interrupting His teaching to initiate an execution.

I imagine the woman was terrified and feeling alone and isolated. All eyes focused on her. Perhaps there was pointing and murmuring as she faced her accusers and prepared for the worse. I can relate to feeling accused and isolated as fingers point and hurtful remarks are whispered. As the religious leaders demand this woman’s stoning, Jesus makes an interesting move.

He doesn’t hop on the condemnation bandwagon. Nor does He stand to protect or defend this woman from her accusers. Instead, He stoops. In silence. Jesus moves to a position lower than his students, lower than the religious leaders, and lower than the woman accused of stooping to adultery. I find this movement significant. From His conception — even before — Jesus lowered Himself from Heaven to elevate us into the Kingdom of God.

The first mention of Jesus stooping in this passage captures my attention and momentarily takes my breath away. It is a moment for awe as He physically demonstrates grace. The religious leaders didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ. The disciples weren’t sure, either. But I know. I know that at this point in the story, the Christ, the Majesty who created the heavens and earth, lowers Himself beneath all others. I do not believe this was an act of submission or deference, but of confidence in grace and truth (and perhaps a bit of shock and awe!). This descent also draws all eyes to Himself, away from the woman, away from the religious leaders. He is now the center of the story.

As the religious leaders look upon Jesus, dissatisfied with his response (or lack of response), they protest and demand a verbal answer. “What say you?”

In response, Jesus straightens. He returns to His original position — His teaching position. Perhaps He even stands and is face to face with the religious leaders. The Greek verb used to describe Jesus’s “straightening” refers to the body as well as the soul. Not only is Jesus’ physical posture raised, but so is His soul. In this posture — a heavenward posture— He challenges their religious motivation: ”He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). In other words, test yourselves against your own religion. Would you survive your own judgment and condemnation? This question has the power to knock me down on my best days. It demands truth and introspection, not condemnation. Jesus never condemns.

Jesus again stoops as the leaders inwardly search themselves. One by one, they walk away until only Jesus and the woman remain. He straightens to His heavenward posture and speaks directly to her for the first time. “Did no one condemn you. . .I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on sin no more” (vv. 10-11). Don’t look back! Focus on Me and walk forward.

I learned this kind of grace for myself from the letters of Brother Lawrence. He beautifully and aptly models how to forgive oneself, let go, and move forward. Only in this recent meditation have I discovered this was first the message of Jesus. I do not condemn you. Do not condemn yourself. Instead, sin no more and continue the journey with Me.

From the onset, Jesus embraced this woman with grace, while others sought condemnation. Jesus embraces us with the same grace today. It does not condone sin. To the contrary, grace offers life. “All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end” (Romans 5:20-21, MSG).

I love that God stoops to lift us up. Surely, in those moments when the woman felt her life was at stake, her sole focus was on Jesus. As He stooped, her eyes lowered to follow the form of His body and as He straightened, her gaze lifted and her soul elevated heavenward. I learned from my husband the importance of looking up. When all else fails, look up. Look at the night sky and see the majesty of God. Then mountains fall into their place and giants fall to the ground.

One question remains in my meditation. If God stoops, should I? If the Creator of all life stoops to elevate the ones He loves, then who am I to take any other action. Jesus does not place me in the seat of judgment. He works with me to love Him with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. So, when I stoop as Jesus stoops, I am at once demonstrating grace to my neighbor and surrendering judgment to Jesus, the King and true Judge. This is the woman I want to be. One who stoops, who loves without conditions, and sees beyond appearance and past actions. I want my life to be a reflection of Christ doing only what I see my Father in heaven doing, no matter how small the action may seem.

Holding the Door

It’s a new season! With every new year comes a renewed sense of goal-setting, excitement for new adventures, and curiosity for what the year might offer. There’s also the unique pleasure of turning our backs on the old year and brightly looking forward to the next. For many, the first day of the year brings the desire to spring-clean, release old (bad) habits, and start new things. It’s a time for change permanently marked by the calendar every 365 days.

What doesn’t ever change—no mater what day it is—is the constant, ever present, ever accessible presence of God. Sometimes that presence is thick and tangible. I like to refer to that experience as a God Encounter.

This morning I walked briskly through the cold to reach my office building. From another path, an older, white-haired gentleman emerged about 100-150 yards in front of me. Our destination was clearly the same, though he was bound to arrive before me. When he reached the door, he opened it—as expected—and waited. He turned toward me and watched me approach with a hospitable smile on his face. His pleasant voice shouted, “I must hold the door for you. It’s not in my nature to close it.”

I drew closer and crossed the threshold where we exchanged the normal pleasantries and bid one another a good day. But as I continued walking through the building the love of God warmed me from the inside out.

Scriptures suggest we may encounter angels in the faces of strangers (Hebrews 13:2). Although I cannot say if this man were angel or not, I can confidently confide in you the words of God, my Father, in that moment. “It is my great pleasure to not only open doors for you, but to hold them open until you arrive and cross the threshold.”

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It’s the first week of the new year and I am five days into it. Already, I am overwhelmed by the vast love of God as each day unfolds new evidence of His presence. Today, I receive a powerful addition to my faith, for God has clearly spoken and promised his great pleasure to hold the door for me. What a God Encounter!

God Desires

In my pursuit of Christ, it has not ever been a stretch to acknowledge what God is capable of. In short, anything! I have a track record and stories to confirm the magnificence of God and His ability. Nothing is impossible for Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). What could be more exciting or revelatory? What could be more assuring than knowing God can do it? Whatever it is, God can do it. But will He?

Over the last fews years, I have started a new meditation focusing less on what God can do and more on what God desires to do. I recall a key moment in my exploration of divine healing where my eyes were opened to this deeper Truth. Truth — the capital “T” kind — is remarkable. What makes it remarkable is the progressive revealing of its depths. I never doubted that God could heal, that he was able to heal. In fact, I almost took it for granted that God heals the sick, the lame, the deaf, the blind. Of course He does! He’s God. Yet, in all those years of nearsighted acceptance of this Truth, it never occurred to me that He wants to heal.

incense-smokeWhat a difference it makes to distinguish between the ability of God and the desire of God. This seemingly minor exchange of words—ability for desire—is radically transforming my meditations, my prayer-life, my understanding of healing, my relationship with Father God, as well as my outward mindset.

The deeper I dive into this new notion of God’s desire the more certain I am of God’s love for me and the stronger my trust in Him becomes. It is as if in this meditative dance, our embrace strengthens and the space between us lessens. And as our spirits mingle in the delight of God’s desire, I find myself craving not only more of Him for me, but more of Him for others. How my heart breaks for those who feel excluded from God’s blessing! Who confess God’s ability but fall short of recognizing His unrestricted desire. It applies to all. Just as a parent desires the best for their child, when well-behaving or misbehaving, so God desires.

His desire to heal, to create, to bless, to prosper, to speak, to dance, to inhabit praises, to be present must not remain a secret or unrevealed Truth. The difference between seeking God for what He can do and seeking God for what He desires to do, is knowing who He is: Love. He doesn’t heal because He can. He heals because He loves. He doesn’t create because He can. He creates because He loves. And so on and so on.

Now, when I pray, I pray with the growing confidence of God’s love for me and for others.  Instead of pleading with God, “God, I know you can do it so please just do it,” I thank Him. “Thank you, Father God, for your love and your blessing. Thank you that you desire my health, my healing, my provision, my (insert need).”

Lastly, as I meditate on God’s desire, I also meditate on an equally profound promise. He chose me, and appointed me that I would go and bear fruit, and that my fruit would remain, so that whatever I ask of the Father in Jesus name He may give to me (John 15:16). Because He loves.

Practicing Stillness

Have you ever practiced stillness? Those moments when you calm your body from movement and activity. You release your mind from all thoughts except for the most worthy, which is The Living God. Here you dwell focussing all energy and effort. Time fades away and the beauty of rest begins. The door to intimacy with God opens. Dare we step into the supernatural!

There is power in the Word of God. Some verses hold more than others depending on where we are in the journey. For me, as I continue a practice of stillness, Isaiah 30:15 has captured me most magnificently. “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” Straight from the mouth of God. Beautiful! I write these words on my heart.

As I learn to practice stillness, quietness, silence, my purpose is one-fold. Intimacy. This is my pursuit. As David sings,

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.

This is also my song.

On a more practical note, when I am a mature “still-lite” for Christ (I say that mostly in jest!), I do not think posture and such will be as important. By then, it will be part of my lifestyle, my being, if you will. For now, however, in the beginning, posture and location are important for me. They are boundaries that allow me to soar high. I find stillness hard to attain when sitting on my couch, for example. I prefer a floor cushion. I find even less success when reclining! It is far better when my posture is upright and my hands rest gently on my knees or in my lap. With this posture, I am less distracted in my endeavor. Does this sound like a Buddhist monk or Hindu yogi? Perhaps. I smile at the thought. Thankfully, God sees beyond the physical and into the depths of the heart. Here we dance and romance.

This is my journey, my pursuit: to “lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I pursue the One who first pursued me. Whatever it takes. Wherever He leads. I am in pursuit.