Posts Tagged ‘river of life’

Photo by Andrea Galluzzo

Photo by Andrea Galluzzo

Pollution is a hot topic. The word itself brings up images of oil-slick waters, trash-strewn woods, and smog-filled air. Pollution contaminates, infects, and even poisons. It moves a place, person, or situation from one state to another, and not for good. So, how is the “world” polluting me? What is this world?

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]

I’m sure there are reams of paper written by clerics and Bible students all over, and I don’t have the time or the inclination to study this topic. I just want to capture a gut reaction.

The world, in Christian circles, always has a negative context: it’s everything from R rated movies to street violence to foul language. It is sexy clothes and sex-filled images “everywhere.” It’s drugs and gambling and porno stores, it’s sexual orientation and alternate lifestyles. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t line up with the scriptures, according to the folks (and culture and sensibilities) who are reading them. The range of interpretation runs the gambit from the Amish’s “simple life” to left-winger “social justice.”

And there are plenty of scriptures that decry the world in some form or another: John 15:19; John 17:14-16; I John 2:15; Romans 12:2; I Peter 2:11-12; Galatians 3:22.

But perhaps, there’s another way to look at it that might clarify some things. Maybe it’s less important to figure out what the world is doing to us . . . to me . . . and more important to figure out what, in me, is being polluted. Certainly, there are things that I do to my physical body that are not good for me: diet, alcohol, lassitude and inactivity, sleeplessness, disease, etc. But is this my biggest concern or should it be the pollution of my soul? When I invited the Christ spirit to indwell me, then I was (and am) calling forth all that is good to reside within. I am uniting myself with God through Christ. That’s a light, a jewel, a radiance.

What pollutes my spirit? Evil and unproductive thoughts, judgments of others, NOT love, fear, and disdain. It is only the strength of my inner life that can repel the outer influences. Pollution is most dangerous when it seeps into the bone and marrow of a thing, when it permeates the insides. This is where my vigilance needs to be above all. Of course, there will always be controversy on the path that leads to my soul. I know that.

All the same. I’m tired of trying to discern who’s ‘world’ is worst. When I put on all the trappings of being a good Christian, when I followed all the rules, and when I kept myself away from the “appearance of evil,” I don’t believe I was any better off than I am today.

Instead, I want my spirit, my life with the Holy Spirit, to be so robust, that none of those things matter. It is in this way, that I can be neither “in the world” nor “of the world.” And so, I will return to the straightforward words of Jesus himself, “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” [Matthew 23:26b]

Read Full Post »

life deathJesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” [Luke 13:2-3]

I had to go back and read this verse in context. What was Jesus really saying here? And then I understood. He is reminding the people, again (and again) that the death of the body is one death, but the death of the spirit is far more serious. If the personal spirit is in relationship with the Holy Spirit, if the life force within is right with God, when the body dies, there is more.

Apparently, based on this scripture, death is not a reflection of one’s goodness or evil: death comes when it comes for other reasons. And “like a thief in the night,” [I Thess 5:2] we cannot know the time of death anymore than we can know the  time of Christ’s return. Most of us can’t even fathom an early death. Not really. Who expects a child to die in three days time? Who expects a sister to die in the lobby of a hotel in Europe? Who expects a husband to die in a car accident?

When I was in school, I remember how much I hated pop quizzes. You know why? Because I was a last minute studier. I’d pull all-nighters the day before a big test or when an assignment was due. But a pop quiz? That would show the truth of it. I wasn’t on top of my work. I wasn’t doing a little every day. I was a procrastinator.

But this technique doesn’t work so well in the things of God, in the things of the Spirit, in the things of becoming more Human (that is the real intent for human). That journey is outlined for us all in the scriptures and writings of the ones who have gone before us. What are we waiting for? Granted, if I follow the paradoxes (love your enemy, give and it will be given to you, etc.), and the surrendered lifestyle, I am promised that my life here and now will be better for it. But more importantly, it is the life within that really counts.

How many ways does Jesus (or really, any of the saints and Spirit-led) have to tell us that there is more to “life” than what we see, hear, feel, and touch?

Do you want more? Are you thirsting for more of that promise? I am.

Read Full Post »

Once upon a time, there was a river and on each side, a single tree stood bearing fruit and healing. The only way I can imagine it is as a great giant tree straddling the flowing waters. In a way, it makes a type of cross, the vertical tree whose limbs reach to the sky and roots into the ground, while the river acts as the horizontal uniting creation. Both are needed to heal our land, our souls, our earth.

Revelation 22:1-2
 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

A river is dynamic. It is constantly changing as it flows with new waters replacing old. It manipulates the environment, shaping the ground to its own plan. It appears to meander, curving through the landscape, but really, it’s just touching more and more of the earth. It’s in a constant state of flux. It cleanses itself. It is a type for love.

A tree is fixed. It doesn’t really walk about like the trees in the Lord of the Rings. It is solid within the parameters of its designated location. It can grow fatter, taller, and deeper. There is a stubbornness in a tree, quite similar to the stream. It does not give up easily. In my own yard, lightning struck and damaged a very old beech tree. The tree people came and sawed off all of the branches but one that stuck out awkwardly from the top of its mutilated trunk. And yet, it lives on, from season to season. It is a type for life.

Love and the will to live, two of the most powerful forces in the universe. These are both gifts from God and they will not be taken away from those who desire it. The key is to experience them both, for one needs the other, intertwined forever.

Read Full Post »

Art by Ed Unitsky

What does the Godly life look like? And why would it be, that a person who is following in the way of Jesus, living out righteous, faith, love and peace, why would that cause persecution? It’s another type of contradiction.

II Timothy 3:12
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, . . .

I have seen people hold this scripture up as a banner when their particular political cause or moral stand is shot down or watered down or disregarded in some way. Some people have a litmus test like abortion or birth control or the death penalty or gay rights, and anything outside of their view is perceived as persecution: “right” being attacked by some liberal/left point of view.

There is one sect of believers who are known for door-to-door evangelism to the extreme and if people are rude to them or shut a door in their faces, they report that “persecution” to the team-faithful. It’s to be expected they say; they are living the life.

But where do we see anything like this in the life of Jesus? Our Man/God was so comfortable in his skin that He could be anywhere and talk with anyone without harsh judgments. The truth was in Him, the Spirit close by and available, the ability to love and connect with everyone was apparent. His persecution came later.

His persecution did not really begin until he revealed his identity, an identity that challenged the traditions of authority.

The poor did not persecute Jesus nor did self-professed sinners. The hungry and the needy did not persecute Jesus. Only those who had an agenda that was jeopardized by the long-awaited appearance of a Messiah who would turn their world upside down. Actually, even the Romans did not persecute Jesus until He was dumped into their legal system.

Living the life is more like the first thirty years of Jesus’s life — the silent years. Did Jesus love less in those years than he did in his public ministry? Did he care less, speak less, understand less? Or did he wake each day with the Shema Yisrael and with mindfulness toward the presence of God, and thereby simply live and serve his immediate world.

So, is there persecution in my life? And if there isn’t any, does that mean I am not living a Godly life? Am I too homogenized into the cares of this world? Am I holding on too tightly to my comforts?

Oh, I suppose I could take a political stand about this or that; I could march in the streets for one cause or another, but in the end, I would still come home to my middle class life, my credit cards, and my steak on the grill.

The chorus of the song below was framed and given to me many years ago and, in its simplicity, this is the only way I can see how to “live the life” right now, today.

Read Full Post »

There comes a time when a person’s principles will separate him/her from certain friendships or situations, either by choice because the circumstances are unpalatable or by the pressure of others. The question is whether the separation is a wall or a space.

II Corinthians 6:16-17a
What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.

Even though Jesus supped and interacted with “prostitutes and tax collectors,” these folks were not his daily diet. He still had to seek out solitude and silence. He needed time with God, his heart’s true home. He also needed time with his close friends with whom he shared his himself.

This scripture reference has been used for centuries to justify the creation of exclusive “societies” in the name of holiness. Convents and monasteries became the ultimate separation and for years; they thrived until humanity called out for help and slowly they came out and brought their faith to the world around them. It was a difficult change, a time to learn balance between separation and service.

There are other ways to separate. Simply an attitude or affiliation can be a dividing wall. For some, it’s like a badge of honor to maintain a list of things they don’t do: watch R-rated movies, listen to secular music, dance to a beat, look at nude paintings or sculpture, drink wine, beer or any alcohol at all, send their children to public schools, take communion in a particular way, baptize in a particular way, pray in a particular way, and so forth. The walls become thicker and taller over time. Unfortunately, if anyone crosses over or digs a hole through the wall, he/she is considered a reprobate. The wall is fortified.

Some of the extreme examples are the groups who have created compounds in the name of “community” where rules dominate, families inter-marry, and women are considered chattel once again. There are churches where membership is a complex ritual. There are religious groups where the “shepherds” determine whether two people marry or not, or whether a family should buy a car, or how much should be tithed. Yes, these are extremes, but their is separatism all along this continuum. They become an oppression.

How or what people do in the name of God can be diverse. How an individual is led to worship and honor God is a choice. But when these practices become a source of intentional alienation, something is wrong.

It is my heart that my life would be a flowing stream that can break down walls but also create pools and coves of safety. I don’t ever want to become a stagnant pond in the name of “holiness.”

He [she] is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he [she] does prospers. [Psalm 1:3]

Read Full Post »

The holiness of Jesus was ultimately proven by his resurrection. That’s the first leap, the real miracle, in believing on this man-God. But what about us? Where is our holiness?

Romans 1:4
…and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

There were many prophecies in the Judaic texts that foretold of the Messiah, his birth, his suffering, his Godhead, his eternity. For Paul, this was the point. By his resurrected life, Jesus proved himself that Messiah and now, we are invited into this life with Him.

Before the day comes when our spirits are released from our bodies and we are joined with the Holy Spirit in that non-dimensional, non-time-anchored place, there is a promise that we can be more like Jesus on earth. I think some people translate that into outward behaviors only. And of course, behaviors can reveal the heart. But the focus, surely, should be on the spirit within. It is from there that the outward self manifests.

This is why we “ask Jesus into our hearts”… into our interior lives, so that we might experience holiness and transformation.

There is a place in Catonsville, Maryland called the All Saints Convent where I sometimes go for personal retreat. Some of the sisters there are blessed with artistic talent and create illuminated prayer cards, greeting cards, book marks, and the like. One of my favorites is a card that simply says, “Holiness is Wholeness.” This speaks volumes to me about the interior life.

This is the true goal of the united spirit to transform the soul and thereby, direct the body.

There are people who are working on holiness in a variety of ways, through a variety of religions, through a variety of practices. But, it is only the Christ, who guarantees the transformation, who guides without condemnation, who leads with grace and love, who unites with us on the way.

The human spirit longs for wholeness… for holiness. That is part of our nature.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal … [Philippians 3:13b-14a]

Read Full Post »

Acts 16:13a
On the Sabbath we [Paul and Silas] went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.

Philippi was a Roman colony and apparently had no synagogue. So, knowing this, Paul and Silas headed outside the city to seek out another possible prayer place where people would gather … by the river Gangitis.

Ezekiel writes [47:1-12] that a river symbolizes life. And certainly in any region (particularly a dry one) water is most precious and life giving. Rivers are flowing water and also represent cleansing, washing away dirt (and sin). Other religions also treat rivers as sacred (e.g., the Ganges or Kaveri in India, the Nile in Egypt, the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in former Mesopotamia, now Iraq & Syria).

And so the river outside Philippi was a natural place to go for a number of life-important activities and prayer was one of them. But this place was not just for individual prayer but for corporate prayer. It was a place of safety where people could meet without fear of reprisal (from the local authorities).

The Children of Zion Village near Katima Mulilu, Namibia in Africa is a children’s home that our church created and has supported since 2003. The property is on the beautiful Zambezi River. When the team [including my husband Mike] went to Namibia back in 2002 and walked the property for the first time, they also sat on the upper banks of the river to pray… a moment none of them will ever forget as they experienced a powerful presence of God.

Our small town is blessed to be at the mouth of the Susquehanna, an old lazy river that empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The town fathers were smart enough to build a beautiful promenade that hugs the water for about a 1/2 mile. It has become a place for prayer, for meditation, for contemplation as well as walking and fellowship. The water draws the people.

Until I read this scripture, I had forgotten how many significant experiences I have had at the water’s edge. It’s time to return.

So what is my point in all this? Nothing much, just a simple call for prayer: go to the river. Pray. If you have a river or creek nearby, go there… or a lake or an ocean or a fountain. Go to the water. Go with friends. Meet new friends. Plant your tree of prayer near the water and watch it flourish. I’m going right now.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: