Tuesday, August 31, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - River of Life

Last week, I read a passage in Ezekiel that brought to mind a song that I learned when I was in Junior High. The song is called "River of Life" and the words are:
I've got a river of life flowing out of me.
Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see.
Opens prison doors sets the captives free.
I've got a river of life flowing out of me.

Spring up O well (splish splash)
Within my soul.
Spring up O well (splish splash)
And make me whole.
Spring up O well (splish splash)
And give to me
That life abundantly.

If you were apart of a youth group in the late 70's, early 80's this would have been a top ten. Probably because of the splish splash part. There were hand motions that went with it. Something like a sprinkler. I hadn't thought of this song in years until I read Ezekiel 47. It is titled, The River from the Temple. It begins verse 1 and goes to 12.
1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side. 3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?"

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea. 11But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."

As I read this, it drew a picture of the life we have in Christ Jesus. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19 "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;" We are now the temple where the Spirit of God now dwells.

Jesus said in John 7:38, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." As soon as we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, immediately the Holy Spirit takes residence and out of Him we receive the living water. The very same "living water" that Jesus spoke of to the woman at the well (John 4:10-12). Ezekiel 47:9 said that wherever the water flows, everything would live.

In this passage, the water that flows from the temple actually changes the salt water into fresh water and not only can all kinds of fish thrive in it, but the Word says that fruit trees will grow along the banks. I believe the swamps and marshes could represent the sin in our lives. Those places that we are not to go back to because of the "salt" it is a place of bitterness that we are to walk away from. In verse 12 it says that fruit trees of all kinds were growing on both sides. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. Another picture of a life in the Spirit. Galations 5:22-26 says,"22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." The fruit of the Spirit should continue to reproduce each day and should be producing more and more as we mature in our faith.

There are two verses in the Old Testament about the tree planted by the river. The first one is Psalm 1:3, "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." The second is Jeremiah 17:8, "He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."

What a picture of who we have become when we follow Jesus. When Ezekiel had this vision, he said he stepped in water ankle-deep. I believe this reflects the new believer. But as he went along, the water got deeper and deeper. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, we should eventually become like the river that was too deep to walk across, but swim across. The words we speak should bring life to many and be words that bring healing. Instead, there are many Believers who are still knee-deep. They've been there for years. They are deep enough so they can say they are in it, but not submerged.

I remember being at the Jordan River. (Pictured above) I couldn't wait to see it. It has had so much meaning for me. It is one of the reasons my daughter's name is Jordanne. When we arrived it was this beautiful tree covered river. The pictures I took looked like post cards. There were ducks and birds above the surface and catfish below the surface. When I called Jordanne to tell her I was there, at the place she was named after, I told her about the birds and fish. She replied, "Well mom, you know I love animals and God did make the animals on the fifth day and I was born on the fifth of May." That's a girl who knows the Word. After I hung up, I just couldn't wait to step in. Several people in our group wanted to be baptized. We didn't sign up earlier and now regret we didn't. But as I stepped into the water, ankle-deep, the catfish began nibbling at my toes! I just couldn't stand it! There were people waist-deep and it didn't seem to bother them. My brother-in-law Tim was one of those getting baptized and when he went under the water all I could think about was all those fish nibbling on his head. Yikes!

Isn't that an interesting picture of an average Christian's life? We step in and as soon as those fish begin, not even biting, just "kissing" our toes, we get spooked. It paralyzes us not to go any farther. What was interesting about the the line of people being baptized, was the pastor had to stand in the water the whole time as each person was being baptized.

The river that flowed from the Temple in Jerusalem was full of fish. Life was being given to the trees along the banks. The water was filtering out the salt and making it fresh enough to drink. What kind of "water" flows from your life? Is it salty water that is "bitter" to others? Does the living water not produce the fruit of the Spirit in your life like it should? Is the well of water inside of you shallow because it is not being nourished by the Word of God and purified through prayer? The kind of prayer where the Holy Spirit intercedes or filters out the unnecessary things. Is Jesus reigning enough in your life to fill you up?

Take sometime to do an acid level check of the living water that flows from your life. The water should produce the fruit of the Spirit continually and bring healing to those around you. Your leaves should not wither under the pressure of life. The Living Water (the Holy Spirit) that flows from the Temple (the Believer) should be life giving. So spring up O well, within my soul, and make me whole. And give to me, that life abundantly!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Bloom Where You Are Planted

A little less than two weeks ago we moved from Irvine to Mission Viejo. Yesterday I was reading the passage from John 15.

This particular passage is very precious to me as it was something the Lord spoke to me in 2006 when we were at the International Foursquare Pastors Conference. It was at that time, I was still grieving the closure of our church New Horizons that we had planted in Irvine. The Lord was gracious to place us at Cornerstone in Anaheim so that we would not have to move. In my heart, I truly felt the Lord had called us to Irvine and was so confused as to why our church did not survive.

While sitting in an evening session, I was listening to a pastor speak on Joel 2 and the greater days ahead. As I looked down at my name badge, it had written on it, “Jayme Hamilton, Irvine, CA”. Apparently, those in administration had not changed our location to Anaheim yet. As I looked at that, my heart ached because even though I lived in Irvine, our assignment to pastor there was no more. It was at that moment the Lord spoke to me, “Jayme, spell Irvine.” As I proceeded to spell it, all of the sudden I realized, “I R – vine.” The Lord said, “I R vine, U R branch, apart from me you can do nothing. Continue to bear fruit.” The Lord was telling me to continue to do what He had called us to, even though our church location was different.

It’s now August of 2010 and as of last week, I no longer reside in Irvine. The name of the city alone reminded me of my purpose. First of all, change is very difficult for me. I’m not one who transitions easy. Not to mention, this particular move has been incredibly difficult. Moving to Irvine seemed so smooth and yet this move just 13 miles south to Mission Viejo has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not only in location, but it seems as though Mission Viejo is resisting us. We can’t get our mail, we’ve had a hard time getting our children registered for school, not to mention many other challenges.

Yesterday, I opened up the special devotion Pastor Jeff has asked us to do this week which was in John 15. John 15:1-8 says, “‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’”

The verse that particularly spoke to me was verse 2 about cutting off the dead branches and even cutting off the fruitful branches. If you are familiar with gardening, the branches that die on the plant or vine, literally suck the life away from the plant. It’s kind of a gardening oxymoron. The dead branches have to be cut off if the plant is going to survive. On the other hand, the branches that do produce fruit or flowers have to be cut back so that they will produce more the next time around.

This move to some degree has been like that for me. I’ve had to purge so much of me in this move, not just materially, but emotionally too. I currently am feeling lost and as though I am bare. My heart seems to be empty and the dreams I once had for Irvine I’ve had to let go. But in reading John 15, verse 7-8 were comforting. As long as I stay connected to Jesus, I will live and new desires will be planted in my heart. His promise is that I will bear much fruit and the Father will be glorified.

Gardenia’s are my favorite flower. A month before we moved, I bought a gardenia plant and put it in a pot. It did not bloom for the whole month that I had it while I lived in Irvine. Three days after we moved into our new “temporary” home in Mission Viejo, that plant bloomed its first flower. That was no coincidence. That was God telling me, I’m still connected to Him and that I can still bear fruit. Since then it has sprouted new growth and another flower. I need let Him prune “me” so that I may bear more fruit. I need to bloom no matter where I’m planted.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Climb Every Mountain

Last Friday would be marked as one of the most "unknown" day's of my life. Most of you know we are in the process of moving. This move has not been particularly smooth. It has been the longest local move. It has taken 2 weeks to move 13 miles. As I said to someone the other day, the mountain seems to be getting higher and higher and now I'm at the place where the air is thin. I actually found myself taking deep breaths. I'm not a mountain climber and I know why. I don't like heights and I don't like the unknown. Jeff is more adventurous. He chose to climb Masada when we were in Israel rather than take the tram.
(See photo: Jeff is in the red shirt. It was 112 degrees that morning)

Without going into too many details, let's just say that last week we became scattered, literally. We had been taking boxes over to the rental house. Last Friday was supposed to be the day I would clean and begin unpacking. We had packed up a trailer with furniture that was headed to the new home. After a few short hours, some news came that caught us off guard and seemed to paralyze us. It all happened before the trailer load arrived so when it got there, we stopped everything we were doing and asked our friend if it would be possible for him to take the trailer home for the rest of the weekend. My heart dropped to my feet and my emotions were frazzled at that moment. Jeff told me to go home. As I walked into my home, an emptiness filled my heart. I was standing in an empty living room in the home that God surprised us with 3 years ago. Some furniture was missing from other rooms, but boxes still lined my hallways. My life seemed to be at a stand still. Nothing for my family seemed stable. Like climbing a mountain with loose rocks. My son tried to console me by saying "Mom, remember all the stories have a struggle, but remember the endings are always good." I turned to him and said, "I know look at Cinderella, Snow White, and Pinocchio." He said, "No mom, the stories in the Bible!" Needless to say, it was a sleepless night. The mountain seemed to get taller.

Saturday morning as I opened my chronological Bible for some hope, it was no coincidence that I was at Jeremiah 29. When I looked at my reading plan that Jeff had put together for the church at the beginning of the year, the reading plan for Saturday was Jeremiah 29! God wanted me to read this!

Jeremiah 29 holds a promise that many of us hang on to. It is verse 11 that says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Those words are like oxygen to my spirit. I read this passage over and over. The first 10 verses prior to 11 say so much more as to why 11 is so important. You see, this was a promise to the exiles from Jerusalem who were in Babylon. God wanted Jeremiah to let them know things were going to be good for them. That although they had no idea what their future held, the Word of the Lord was a promise that their future was going to be hopeful.

The Word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon, spoke to me as well. This process in finding a home in south Orange County has not been easy. It has been more like climbing a mountain. After five months, I'm exhausted and worn out. But it was what the Lord said beginning in verse 5 that settled my spirit as to where He was leading us. It says
"'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:5-7) The past 11 years have seemed very temporary. He's now showing us where He wants to plant us.

Sunday Pastor Jeff explained what Babylon represents. It represents the world's system and way of thinking. As I have thought about this over the last few days, I realized that in a spiritual sense, we as children of God are like the captives in Babylon in the world today. Ephesians 2:19 says, "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." Like Jeremiah, we have been set apart. Jesus said, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:19) Like God's people who were in captivity to the Babylonians, God told them to go ahead and "live" their lives. We as children of God need to do the same. So many times we separate ourselves from the world. Instead we need to be out there living and climbing every mountain because God is leading us. I know I find myself in isolation, especially when I'm "climbing a mountain." I put my life on hold because it's all I can do to focus and breathe. But it is better to climb the mountains of life with others. We need to climb with Believers so they may encourage, and with unbelievers so they might discover God in the journey.

No matter how much adversity we face today, tomorrow's hope is that it rests in the hands of God. His promise is that if we pray to Him, He will hear us. If we look for Him with all of our heart, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:12-14) Whatever challenges you might be facing or mountains you might be climbing, know that God knows the plan. God does have a sense of humor because the city He chose for us has a very mountainous terrain. I like the way the Message Bible translates Jeremiah 29:11 and I will close with this, "I'll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. " Don't be afraid to climb the mountains, they are only as high as His feet.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Joy to the World

Now that we are in the book of Jeremiah, every time I read his name, I start singing that oldie, "Joy to the world, all the boys and girls..." No, Jeremiah wasn't a bull frog, he was a prophet and from what I can tell, he wasn't spreading much joy to the Israelites. In fact, the more I am reading about the prophets of the Old Testament, rarely were they bringing good news to the people. It seems that most prophets were loners in life. God even told Jeremiah that from the beginning of his existence that he was set apart and appointed a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)

Not only is Jeremiah a loner, but he is known as the weeping prophet. Not a very joyful title either. Jeremiah's purpose was to warn the people that if they would not turn from their evil ways, they would be taken captive by the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It was under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar that Solomon's Temple was destroyed and the Holy articles of the Temple were taken to Babylon and defiled. I imagine Jeremiah being like Robert Redford in that movie from the early 70's "Jeremiah Johnson." I don't remember much of that movie except that Jeremiah was a scruffy man, living off the land and was faced with many challenges and had to endure them alone.

Often Jeremiah would stand at the city gates speaking the Word of the Lord. Jeremiah 7:1-11 says that the Lord told him to proclaim some, not-so-good news to the people. It says this, "The L
ord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 2 “Go to the entrance of the Lord’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the Lord! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! 3 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: “‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. 4 But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” 5 But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; 6 only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. 7 Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever. 8 “‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! 9 Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, 10 and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? 11 Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord , have spoken! " (New Living Translation)

Just the other day, while I was out I passed by a building that had been a church for many years. At times there were two churches meeting in that location. On this day, as I passed by, no church was to be found. Instead a false religion that worships other gods and burns incense to them. I was suddenly reminded of this passage in Jeremiah. No longer is that building a place of worship to the Living God. Little by little the foreign gods are beginning to over take our land like what happened when Babylon took over Jerusalem. I believe Jeremiah's words spoken then are relevant for today. It would seem that today we Christians are in the same place God's people were then. Subtly we are conforming to the ways of this land. We are like "a frog in boiling water." We don't even recognize our little compromises and disobedience.

No longer do we live under the Old Testament covenant. Jesus brought the good news that he came that we might have life and have it to the fullest. (John 10:10) Jesus came to bring the good news that if we know the truth then the truth will set us free. (John 8:32) That if the Son, sets us free, we are free in deed. (John 8:36) No longer are we destined to be captive to the things of this world. Why is it then we live like captives? I know I do at times. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the One who sets us free so we can be the Church, full of grace and truth with love. We need to keep each other encouraged because we are the Church. No longer does the Lord's Spirit dwell in a building, but in people who are followers of Jesus. Ephesians 2:22 says that we are being built together to become a dwelling place for God's Spirit. I realized that the difference between the prophets and apostles was that the apostles had Good News to share. Our purpose as followers of Jesus (in contrast to Jeremiah assignment), is to spread the Good News that Jesus came to bring joy to the world.