the stream is your soul…

The Psalmist wrote that blessed people are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season, and whose leaves do not wither; they prosper in all they do.  Your soul is like an inner stream of water that gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of life.

From Soul Keeping by John Ortberg…

I, and no one else, am responsible for the condition of my soul.

In my early 50’s I was given a sabbatical: seven weeks with nothing to do.  The elders at our church invited me to take it.  Actually, they insisted that I take it.  I needed it because I was becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient and preoccupied.

Are you frustrated, impatient and preoccupied?

I felt as if I had too much to do and not enough time or ability to do it.  I was obsessed with external things that needed to be done around me.  I was operating on the unseen assumption that my inner world would be filled with life, peace, and joy once my external world was perfect.  That’s a great recipe for a healthy soul, as long as you life in a perfect world.  You don’t.

During my sabbatical, it was easy to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life”, as my friend and mentor Dallas Willard had so wisely counseled.  I found myself thinking that I’m a better person when I’m on sabbatical than I am when I’m working for God at a church, and I knew I was just plain wrong.  I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.

There was only one place to learn about that so I drove back to Box Canyon to spend a day with Dallas.  I told him I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more.  I asked him was I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth.

Long pause … You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

Huh?

“No”, I corrected him, “I wasn’t asking about me.  I was asking about other people.  I was wondering what I need to make the church do.  I was thinking about a book everyone should read, a program everyone should go through, or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”

(do you feel it in his words?  do you feel the rush, the urgency, the “get something done”, the tyranny-of-the-urgent, the frustration?  He’s moving at 100 mph while his soul is moving at 5 mph)

“Yes, brother John”, he said with great patience and care.  “I know you were thinking of those things.  But that’s not what they need most.  The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give to God – is the person you become.  If you soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody.  You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders.  You, and no body else, are responsible for the well-being of your soul.”

“I’m trying,” I said.  “I learned long ago about the importance of having a quiet time when I read the Bible and do daily devotionals; I do my best to start each day that way.”

“I didn’t say anything about having a quiet time,” he gently corrected again.  “People in churches – including pastors – have been crushed with guilt over their failure at having regular quiet time or daily devotions.  And then, even when they do, they find it does not actually lead to a healthy soul.  Your problem is not the first 15 minutes of the day.  It’s the next 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day.  You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

“But how can I have total contentment, joy and confidence?  My work isn’t going nearly  well enough.  Lots of people are not happy with me.  I am inadequate as a pastor, husband and father.  Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.”

There it is again – do you hear his turmoil, his inner drive to perform, perhaps his need for validation?  He isn’t integrated.  His internal world is not functioning like an integrated system.  He’s fractured.  And much like a jet engine, when the parts fracture under stress, the engine eventually disintegrates.  He is dis-integrated.  I am too.

“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life.  It’s total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday experience of GodThis alone is what makes a soul healthy.  This is not your wife’s job.  It’s not your elder’s job.  It’s not your children’s job.  It’s not your friend’s job.”

The stream is your soul.  And you are the keeper.  How is your soul?

Quick creek stream bank

Clear river water. Quick creek stream bank

how is your soul?

You and you alone are responsible for the condition of your soul.  The world moves at 100mph.  Your soul is not designed to move that fast.

… you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life …

The Sower casts seed widely.  He’s divinely generous in the blessings He is offering.  The variable is soil (the soul) it lands upon.

Some of us have hardened our souls.  Your soul may be hard and dry and the seeds don’t have a chance.  Often these people have been hurt or disappointed.  They form a protective shell.  They become cynical, bitter or suspicious.  Or it can be fear – fear of being rejected, fear of looking foolish, fear of being hurt.

The world diverts the attention of your soul when it encourages you to think of yourself more as a victim than as a human.  You can be so wrapped up in the hurt you have received that you cannot notice the hurt you’re inflicting on others.

Do you know anyone like that?  Are you? 

What growth is going to occur on this path…

hard-path.jpg

Some of us have shallow souls.  Like a rocky path with a little bit of soil underneath, a seed can take root and it will grow but with no depth of soil underneath, whatever grows will wilt under the heat of the sun.  Many of us live shallow lives.  Yes we “know Jesus” but there is no depth to it.  He seems distant and far off except for when we appear at church but back in the working world, our attention is quickly diverted…

Frenzied?  Stressed?  Distracted?  Uncertain?  Confused?  Constantly comparing your life to others?  Overly focused on money or reputation or status or in getting your needs met?  Finding yourself looking for acceptance, acclaim, admiration?

This is a shallow soul and when the inevitable storms of life comes, you’ll wilt under the heat.

rocky soil

Most of us have cluttered souls“Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke the plants.”  It is the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth that choke off the good plants desiring to grow to produce fruit. 

“If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy because either way, your soul will shrivel.”

John Ortberg said, “Our world will divert your soul’s attention because it is a cluttered world.  And clutter is the most dangerous result because it is so subtle.  The busy soul gets attached to the wrong things because the soul is sticky.  The Velcro of the soul is what Jesus called “desire”.  It could be the desire for money or just “other things”.  Misplaced desire clutters our lives and even with some good soil underneath it all, the externals of the world – success, reputation, ceaseless activity, lifestyle, etc. – will choke off growth” and your life will look like this …

weeds-wheat1

So, let me ask you, “How’s your soul doing?”  It is hard and packed down, full of fear?  Is it shallow and lacking the depth to sustain you when the storms come?  Is it good soil but that is choked off by the craziness of this world?

You and you alone are responsible for the condition of your soul (soil).  Let us become men of good, deep, rich soil.  May we do the things we need to do to remove clutter from our lives and to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives so that we can be this …

good soil

hurry (takes a death)

EliminateHurry-032

Dallas Willard said, “Hurry is the great enemy of souls in our day.  You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Let that one sink in.

John Ortberg expands on this thought by saying, “Being busy is mostly a condition of our outer world; it is having many things to do.  Being hurried is a problem of the soul.  It’s being preoccupied with myself and what myself has to do that I am no longer able to be fully present with God and fully present with you.  There is no way a soul can thrive when it is hurried.”

No way.

Get that.  There is no way your soul can thrive when it is hurried.  Remember the record players and how some records were supposed to be played at 33 RPM and others at 45 RPM and still others geared to be played at 78 RPM?  Remember when you were a kid and you’d take a 33 RPM and switch the player to 78 RPM?  Remember what it sounded like?

Your soul is geared to run at about 4 RPM or 8 RPM or maybe 16 RPM.  This world you’re living in is constantly running at 78 or faster.  And you life disintegrates over this.  Your world has separated from your soul and if you’re lucky, your soul is quietly speaking to you.  It’s asking you to slow down.

It is only in the slowing down that your soul can connect with the Father, connect with the vine that nourishes and sustains you.  A disconnected soul is soon to be a withered branch tossed upon a fire.

Your soul is all you’re going to take with you into eternity.  You sure won’t take your body or your possessions or your checkbook.  Your reputation and your achievements will wither in the hot sun after you’re gone.  But your soul is what matters and you are the steward of your soul.  The world will not take care of your soul.  Only you can do that.

The starting point is being ruthless about eliminating hurry from your life.  Hurry suffocates the soul.  Your soul wants to breathe.  Your soul longs for connection with the Father.  Nourishment for your soul (your soil) will come from disconnecting from the Matrix and resting in the Father’s provision.

But to do this, it will take a “death”.  Much of where we’re heading will be around this thought of “it takes a death”.  The foundation of the Gospel is centered on a death.  To eliminate hurry from your life, some things are going to have to “die”.  You will have to surrender your agenda, your kingdom, your pace, your drivenness to achieve … surrender that, let it “die”(DIRT) … so that you can shift to, “Thy will be done”. 

Then you can stop the train, pause, rest and let your soul play at the speed it was intended to run.

it is part of your story…

The constant theme all winter as we’ve talked about the storms of life is that they become an integral part of our story.  We can’t see the reason why these things happen in the middle of the storms but later, after time passes, we can see how God was moving and what He has done with these storms to 1) shape us and 2) reach others for Him through them.

Yes, God will use your storm to reach others.  I’ll get to that at the end.

First, Erwin McManus said three things in the story of his prostate cancer …

If you’re not honest with yourself, you cannot be honest with anyone else.  When we close ourselves off from our inner pain and struggles, we inevitably close ourselves off to everyone in our lives as well.

I’m convinced that many people have lost their faith in God because they have confused source with process.  Yes, God is the source of all peace, and that source is available to all of us freely.  The process, though, requires struggle and resilience and does not come without a cost.

I stepped into my pain.  I walked through my pain.  You see, one thing I was certain of was that on the other side of my pain, there awaited my freedom.  So many of us experience pain as the boundary of our limitations.  When we experience pain, that’s when we choose to stop.   The way of peace is not without pain.  The way of peace comes only by walking through the pain.

We started this season off with the story of Katherine Wolf – the young mom who had a massive brain stem stroke six months after the birth of her first child.

She said – “I kept wondering if God had made a mistake.  Should I have died?  God clearly said to me more than once, Katherine, you are not a mistake.  I DON’T MAKE MISTAKES.  I know better than you.  I’m God, you’re not.  Remember that you were fearfully and wonderfully made in your mother’s womb, and that is when the AVM formed in your brain.  There is a purpose in all of this.  Just wait.  You’ll see.  There is no replacing you!  James could never have a Mom like you.  Think about what this will mean for his life.  Mommy’s stroke will always be a part of his story.  That is a gift to him.  It will inform his life.  Trust me.  I am working EVERYTHING out for your good.

Don’t doubt the truth just because you’re in the darkness now.  What’s true in the light is true in the dark.  I know you can’t fight this.  That doesn’t matter.  All you must do is be still and let Me fight for you.  I will complete the good work I began when I gave you new life.

My nature is to redeem and restore and strengthen.  This terrible season will come to an end.  You will suffer for a little while and then I will carry you out of this.  You will see my goodness in the land of the living.  Lean into this hope.  Most people will never go through this kind of hell on earth.   I have chosen you.  Live a life worthy of this special calling you have received.”

Think about that – little James’ Mom’s brain stem stroke will be an integral part of his life story.  Imagine how that little boy will be shaped by this.  Imagine what he can do with this story to reach others with the Gospel.  And remember this last word God gave her, “you will suffer for a little while” …

These light momentary afflictions are producing for you an eternal weight of glory

Remember – there is a purpose in everything we go through.  There is outcome on the other side.  We all have a role to play.  Life is not fair.  Some of us are born with gifts others don’t possess.  Some of us are born with disabilities that others will never have.  Life will take its turns against me in ways that you may never have to endure.

It is not for me to question “Why?”.  It is for me to ask, “What now LORD?”  Not why but what.

And then there is the song, “I Raise a Hallelujah”.  It’s become the anthem, the battle cry of Manschool this winter/spring.  It’s our song.  It so fits exactly with everything we’ve been working through.  Here is the back story to that song …

At the end of this video, Jaxon’ mom said, “This is part of our story now.  It’s part of Jaxon’s story – that the world will know that miracles happen.”

 

McManus, Katherine Wolf, Jaxon … the storm is now a part of my story.

 

The Pastor at Bethel said this, “This Gospel is not haphazard.  It’s not a guessing game.  It’s the absolute nature of God revealed in His goodness and kindness.  What is necessary is that His people rise to the occasion to face the impossibilities of life with the confidence of God’s character, His nature and His power.  There is no other option.  We are called to this.  It is our responsibility.  It is our privilege.”

The Pastor said this so very well — “it is necessary that His people rise to the occasion to face the impossibilities of life”.  Read that = we have a choice to make.  Will I shrink back into defeat or will I choose to step UP into the battle?  And then, “with the confidence of God’s character, His nature and His power”.  The storms will come.  We must first decide how or if we’ll even fight and second, we will choose not to blame God or think He has abandoned us rather, we will shift the narrative into believing Who He says He is!

Last point … this story of Jaxon is a miracle.  They don’t all turn out that way.  Whether Jaxon made it or not, a song was born out of this horrific storm.  A song that is being sung all over the world today.  A song that has had millions of downloads.  A song that has become the battle cry for so many.  A song that has come at just the right moment for so many – right before the marriage ended, right before she walked out, right before a life was taken, right before a decision was reached to give up.  People have heard this song and done an about face and said, “No, I will fight.  I will praise YOU in the middle of this storm” and the enemy has fled.

all from the suffering of an innocent child.  PRAISE GOD.

Shattered – into the Potter’s hands

When you get knocked off your high horse and smack down face-first into the DIRT, does your life feel like this?

grog

Lysa Terkhuerst had colon surgery that almost killed her.  Shortly thereafter she learned of her husband’s affair.  Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. All within two years.  I will assure you, her life was shattered to pieces.

She says, “He sometimes will allow more and more and more.  Grief upon grief.  Hurt upon hurt.  Heartbreak upon heartbreak.  Addiction upon addiction.  Diagnosis upon diagnosis.  Disappointment upon disappointment.  The world is filled with people who are dealt more than they can handle.

God doesn’t expect us to handle this.  He wants us to hand this over to Him.  He doesn’t want us to rally more of our own strength.  He wants us to rely solely on His strength.

If we keep walking around thinking that God won’t give us more than we can handle, we set ourselves up to be suspicious of God.

When the questions came of “Why me? Why this? Why now? Why me?”, I seriously contemplated running away to Montana to hide from my life.  But the cancer would follow me.  The hurt would follow me.  Even my wrestling with whether or not I could trust God would follow me.

I couldn’t escape my realities.  I had to face them.  I had to walk through them.  Maybe if I changed my thinking, I could trust God in the midst of them.

Had things not blown up with my husband last summer, I never would have put life on pause to get a mammogram.  I would have put it off. But because I had a mammogram at the exact time I did, the doctors caught a cancer that needed to be caught.  And because they caught it, I have every fighting chance to beat this cancer.”

We’ve talked in here about DIRT or dust as Lysa likes to say – that God uses the dirt/dust to reshape us to accomplish His purpose in our life.

She says this, “When we place our dust into God’s hands and He mixes it with His living water, the clay that is formed can then be made into anything.  Wise potters not only know how to form beautiful things from clay, but they also know how important it is to add some of the dust from previously broken pieces of pottery to the new clay.  This type of dust is called “grog”.

To get this grog, the broken pieces must be shattered to dust just right.  If the dust is shattered too finely, then it wouldn’t add any structure to the new clay.  It isn’t shattered enough the grog will be too coarse and make the potter’s hands bleed.

But when shattered just right, the grog dust added to the new clay will enable the potter to form the clay into a larger and stronger vessel than ever before.  And it can go through fires much hotter as well.  Plus, when glazed, these pieces end up having a much more beautiful, artistic look to them than they would have otherwise.”

Think about this – we go through these storms. Sometimes we are shattered into fragments.  Sometimes, God has to let us be ground down into dust.  God can take those pieces and reshape us, reform us.  Now, we are stronger than before.  Now, we are able to withstand even hotter fires.  Now, we can withstand even stronger storms.

She continued, “A broken shard of pottery can lie on the ground and be nothing more than a constant reminder of brokenness.  It can also be used to continue to scrape us and hurt us even more when kept in our hands.

Or, when placed in the Master’s hands, the Master Potter can be entrusted to take those shards of pottery, shatter them just right, and then use it in the remolding of me to make me stronger and even more beautiful.

When I understood this, I saw that in all my circumstances God was keeping me moldable while adding even more strength and beauty in the process.”

So, where are you right now?  Are you shattered?  Is life crushing you?  Have you made such a mess of your life that there is no way you can put the pieces back together again?  Pray this…

Take this Lord and shatter it just right, so I can be made stronger, more beautiful, and able to withstand fires as never before.  I believe that You see things I cannot see.  And You have eventual good in mind.  Hands turned up saying, “Thy will be done.  Your Kingdom, not mine.”

And here is a song for you…

remember the mercies

Each day will have its own troubles.

God’s mercies are new every morning.

John Piper said those two verses have been a core part of his daily faith for decades.  He reminds himself of them both, daily.  Why?  Because as we’ve discussed, the storms will come.  When they do, it helps to remember God told us the troubles would be coming.

Likewise, it is a blessing to know HIS mercies are coming each day.  We need to remember that because it is so easy to forget in the madness of this frenetic world.  You can be so busy, so perplexed, so hard pressed on every side … that … you forget HIS mercies are coming to you today.  Look for them.

Beau Hughes got this devotional this morning after Manschool.  See how it fits in with what we worked through today …

We lose the Story every day.  It is continually being stolen from us by the Evil One – the ultimate deconstructionist.  He twists and spins and pulls apart the Truth until the fragments we have left are unrecognizable,  Or we lose it ourselves in the marketplace of Vanity Fair.  Bombarded by thousands of messages each day, every one of them marked urgent, we leave behind the truly important things, the only refuge for our heart.

The reality that on every single morning brand-new mercies greet us is not the things that grip our minds as we frenetically prepare for our day.  But it should.  When the alarm goes off in the morning, don’t reach for your phone to see the emails waiting — instead — lay there and say, “FATHER. (breathe that word out) FATHER… What is it YOU have for me today?  Show me Your mercies.  Bless me.  Grant me favor today.  Show me who I can minister to today.  Restore me and let me feel the favor of being YOUR beloved son.”  Then get out of bed!

Step into today looking for God’s mercies and then, most importantly, don’t forget them.  The mercies come but you’ve got to be open to receiving them.  Helen Keller said this…

Every day, God tries to put things in our hands but they are clinched so tight, we can’t receive them.

 

it is well. look for the mercies today…

Let this song wash over you.  Storms will come, mountains of impossibility will rise up in front of you … even still, it is well with my soul.

I can make no sense of the recent tornado that ravaged our region.  I can make no sense of this picture of a 23-year old girl and her 18-month old child (Way too close to home – we have a 23-year old daughter with an 18-month old child whose house was hit by the storm) looking at this girl’s destroyed home knowing she just lost her husband…

How can we make sense of it?  We want to shout, “Meaningless!”  Those seemingly meaningless events are going to happen to you.  Even though they will come, it is well with my soul.  Say that to yourself.  PREACH it over you and your home.  Remind yourself that while each day has enough trouble of its own, HIS mercies are new every morning.

They are.  Truly.   But, you’ve got to look for them.  Craziness is coming at you today.  This world is frenzied in its pace.  Faster isn’t fast enough.  You’ve got to move even faster than you are just to keep up.  The world’s goal and the enemies is to convince you that you MUST keep up or you’ll be left behind.

It’s a lie.

Your soul is not meant to run at the pace you’re running.  It’s insanity.  So, you’ve got a choice to make.  Will you step off the crazy train and reorient your soul to the Father?  Perhaps your only chance today will be in your car for 7-8 minutes between meetings or on the way to the soccer field or on your drive home to stop, rest, disconnect from the madness and connect to the Vine that feeds your branch.

IT IS WELL.  Play that song today.  Let it wash over you.  Be healed.  Be restored.

Challenge – starting today, if you have a journal, put a page in there entitled, “Today’s mercies” and write down when a mercy comes your way.  If you don’t have a journal, pull out notepad and use that!  Mercies?  It can be a compliment, the laughter of a child, the sunset tonight, a break in a tense situation, a turn in the environment at work or home, the chance to pickup limbs at a neighbors house.  Find the mercies God gives you.  WRITE THEM DOWN.

Next week, I’ll ask you to share the mercies the Father poured out on you in the midst of your storm.