Friday, November 21, 2008

Dining in the Desert

They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” Psalm 78:19

Devotional:

The news is bad on every hand. The headlines are filled with bad news. Recession. Maybe even depression? Millions of people have lost their jobs. Every day it seems another company announces thousands of layoffs.

Wall Street needs a bailout. Detroit needs a bailout. State and city governments cannot pay their bills. Millions of people have lost or are in the process of losing their homes. These are hard times. This is a desert situation.

Sometimes in our lives we have desert experiences. Dry times. Desperate times. Times when there seems to be no productivity. Everything is dried up. There is no rain, only famine. Sometimes we are not only in a physical or financial desert, but a spiritual one.

We are disconnected from God. We feel deserted. We feel like God has left us and He really doesn’t care. If He really cared, we ask, why would He let me be in this place?

After they left slavery and Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land, the children of Israel encountered the desert. They asked the question, “Can God spread a table in the desert?”

You might be asking the same question. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach and you don’t know how you’re going to put food on your table, much less a Thanksgiving spread or buy gifts for your children, you might ask, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” As you look at your finances and you have more month left than money to pay the bills, you might say, “Can God provide for me in the midst of a recession?” As you decide, 'do I fill up my car or fill my prescription' or when you cringe when the phone rings, knowing that it’s another bill collector trying to get money that you don’t have, you might wonder, “Can God make a way in the desert?”

Perhaps your finances are fine, but your relationships have dried up. Your husband has said, “I don’t want you anymore.” Your children are disobedient and distant. Your boss disrespects you. Your friends and folks at church who you thought were your friends don’t talk to you anymore, as a matter of fact, they’re talking about you.

Maybe you have lost your connection to God. The sweet communion that you once shared has been cut off. You question if he cares or maybe the cares of life—the disappointments of life or the rejection of those who should have embraced and loved you—have squeezed the life out of you and you’re too tired, scared or angry to reach out to God again.

You say, like the children of Israel, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” Can God really supply my needs? Does He really care?

The good news is that not only can God spread a table in the desert, but He can also make streams of water flow out of a rock. He can rain down manna from heaven and rain down meat like dust. He can provide for His people in the midst of a famine. He can refresh and revive you in the wilderness. You can dine in the desert.

You might have to eat bologna instead of steak. You might have to wear Payless instead of Prada. You might have to shop at the Salvation Army instead of Saks. You might have to cut the karate lessons for the kids or borrow movies from the library instead of going to the show. But God will give you what you need.

The desert can be a lonely place. But it also can be a place where you can see God clearer than you’ve ever seen Him before. When you go through the desert you can come out bitter or you can come out better. The desert can mold you and make you or it can break you. In the desert, God can burn away the pride and arrogance and teach you to depend on Him. Your trials and testing are leading to your triumph. Moses, David and Jesus all had their wilderness experiences. In the desert, they were prepared for their ministry.

If you’re in the desert, don’t give up. And don’t be like the children of Israel who had a spirit of complaining, bitterness and discontent. Instead of asking, “Can God spread a table in the desert?” ask yourself, “Is anything too hard for God?”

Reflection:

Are you in a desert financially, emotionally or spiritually?

How did you get to this place? Poor decisions, uncontrollable circumstances, bad planning, negative reactions?

Do you believe God can prepare a table for you in your desert situation?

Application:

· Evaluate: Where am I and how did I get here?

· Go Forward and Forgive: Is there any garbage that I need to get rid of? Am I engaged in relationships that are destructive that I need to leave behind? Is there someone I need to release and forgive for what they have done to me? Do I need to seek forgiveness for something I’ve done to someone else?

· Pray and Praise: Pray for God’s guidance, direction and presence in your situation. Stop complaining and start praising. It will help put your problems in perspective and help you to see who God is and that He is able to help you in your circumstances.

· Plan and Pursue: Make a spending plan. Make a plan to change your life. Do you need to go back to school, train for another profession or pursue your passion? Make a spiritual plan to spend time with God, read His Word and fellowship with other believers who can encourage you. Put your plan in action and don’t give up, even if you slip up. Work hard and trust God for the outcome.

Scriptures:


But my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19


And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8


And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. John 6:35


Be careful for nothing: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 6-7

Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:27

Prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for providing for me, even in desert situations. Let me come out of the wilderness better, not bitter.

Amen

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Running for My Life


Brother to Brother Column

Running for My Life

By John W. Fountain

It’s almost winter now. Sweat pours like rivers of water as I pedal on the Lifecycle, my white, blue-striped towel draped over the bar to catch at least some of my perspiration. My music rings in my ears and I am focused on the task at hand. This is my morning ritual.

I am joined at my local gym by other like-minded, middle-aged folks battling the bulge and seeking to extract from faithful exercise all of its health benefits. But inasmuch as I have come to recognize the regulars, I cannot shake from my mind and soul those who are not here, or the visions of those black men left behind—those brothers for whom life has become a swamp, or whom the scars of life, in many ways, has left debilitated or crippled.

I know I could be one of them. I know that in so many ways I am like them, a glaring statistic, whether on this side of the grave or the other. And I know that after having survived life in the ‘hood, and even after having laid hold on my slice of the American dream, I am still running for my life.

THE SWAMP

I am a black man in an unforgiving land—where we lead the pack in heart attack and stroke and in the shortness of lifespan. And I am still honing my plan for survival.

On the physical side, I have found a community of wellness—medical Web sites and public dossiers on nutrition, herbs and supplements, on the importance of getting a routine physical, of not smoking. But on the spiritual side, I have found no single relevant and credible source for what ails me as a black man in America, where the toll of slights, innuendo and systemic racial friction and discrimination that accounts for much of the stress that leads so many of us to alcoholism, drug abuse and ill health—to the swamp.

The swamp. It is the place where some black men lie, where some of us cry in alcoholic tears, or writhe with addiction and fears. A place of darkness, where we teeter or too often are trapped, in part, by our inability to confide, even to each other, our failings, faults, foibles and fears through which we might find some solace, if not also some measure of healing from a group of brothers more bent on love and grace than on condemnation, criticism and reminding us of our mistakes.

OUR HOPE IN GOD NOT MAN

Some would point me—us—toward “the church,” to the Lord’s House. It would seem a logical place for the healing of the souls of black men. But I—we—have gone there. Many of us were raised there. Saved there—and so many of us have come to find no balm there.

Even as I reflect over my 48 years, as the grandson of a Holiness pastor, I can recount few times that I found in my fellowship with men within the church the kind of nurturing, intimate, truth-sharing and real talk that might feed me in a spiritual sense beyond the platitudes and church-speak usually uttered in between half-sung sermons. And yet, I must hold fast to hope.

A hope that lies in the root of faith I saw in my grandmother and the church mothers whose prayers rose like the sun each morning; in my memories of their tenderness and also the love I felt when they stared into my brown eyes and saw all of my potential as a boy, as a man. It is a hope lies in having witnessed as a boy the fervent prayers of my grandmother answered and also in the truth that my hope—our hope, brothers—is in God, not in man.

So rather than leading you to “the church,” will you follow me—a sinful man, a brother with some issues, a brother with some struggles, a brother with some hurts, a brother who has made some mistakes in his life, a brother with failings, faults, flaws and fears—to the cross?

We need not go to church to do so. We need only to go to Him, down that short pathway toward repentance on our knees in prayer—in your closet, bedroom, living room—and beginning anew the journey of fellowship with God through His son Jesus Christ who needs not man nor building to heal us.

Inasmuch as my morning exercise is my physical medicine—part of my daily prescription against high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease—I know that it is time to return fully and completely to the cross for the most essential part of me. And I am running—back to the cross—for my life.

Brother to Brother is an occasional column on At the Well dealing with men and faith.

Sunrise Sessions

"In the morning O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." Psalm 5:3

I love waking up early in the morning. The house is still. The children and my husband are still fast asleep. The world is quiet. The hustle and bustle of the day has not yet begun. The sky outside is still dark and a there is peace in the stillness of my house.

These are the times when I think the best, when my thoughts are clearest. This is the time when I make myself a steaming hot cup of tea, open my bible and read. Sometimes though, the thoughts of all the things I have to do that day try to intrude upon this quiet time, but I fight try to push them aside. For this is my time to spend with God. It is my time to read His Word, to hear from Him and let Him speak to me. It is ’s my time to pray. I mean to really get on my knees and lay out all of my concerns, or just praise and thank Him for who He is.

I love when I wake up early in the morning. But my body does not like getting up out of the bed. Sometimes it’s a struggle to leave the cozy comfort of my warm bed. My body sometimes craveslongs for just one more another hour of sleep. Truthfully, I sometimes I spring from my getout of the bed just long enough to turn off the alarm and set it to ring again in an hour. But I’m always happy when I get up at 5:30 for my sunrise session with God.

When I’ve gone for days or weeks without our my morning meeting, I feel like something is missing. I feel a need to reconnect. It’s not that I don’t talk to Him during the day, while I’m driving, listening to the radio, watching the news, washing the dishes... I talk to Him at night when I pray with our children as I tuck them into bed. But when I miss my morning quiet time, I just feel like I’m missing quality time, one-on-one time, time that builds relationships and builds intimacy. When I start my day with him, it seems like I can hear Him so much clearer and I feel so much closer when I start my day with Him.

He speaks to me through His word. He challenges me. He makes me think. He makes me grateful. He gives me insight. He gives me wisdom. He gives me peace. He gives me joy.

So for me it has become a matter of mind over mattress. My body longs to sleep, but my soul needs a sunrise session with the Son.

I will be posting some of my thoughts from my “Sunrise Sessions.” How do you incorporate spending time with God into your day? Leave a comment.

Sisters in Christ

I attended the very first Ministers' Wives Prayer Breakfast many years ago in Kankakee, Ill., where I grew up in the small Midwestern town, about 60 miles south of Chicago. Since then, I have attended many. The Ministers' wives group started as a way to support each other. But through the breakfasts they sponsor each year, their spirt of fellowship has overflowed into the community. It's an event that women look forward to every year, not just for the breaking of bread, but for the power of fellowship and sisters praying together. The presentation below captures some of the sights and sounds of the event this past Saturday.

Scenes from the 21st Annual Prayer Breakfast in Kankakee County, Ill.

Spiritual Rehabilitation


“Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” John 5:8

My father recently had back surgery to address a back problem that has plagued him with pain for years. At the age of 75, the surgeon told him that the surgery would be painful, but that eventually the chronic pain that he had suffered from a basketball injury would be alleviated.

After weeks in the hospital recuperating from the surgery, my father had to go to another facility for rehabilitation. He had to learn how to walk again, how to go up and down stairs, how to put on his clothes. The nurses and physical therapists urged him to stay out of the bed, although the pain made him want to stay in the bed. He had to get up and move if he was going to get better.

Sometimes life can paralyze us. Fear or the pains and hurts of the past can leave us in a stagnant state like the man at the Pool of Bethesda who Jesus met in the fifth chapter of John. By the Pool of Bethesda there was an assortment of the lame, diseased and blind who were all hanging out waiting for an opportunity to be healed.

Hurtful words. Rejection. Physical and sexual abuse. Failure. All of these things can leave us lame, blind and paralyzed like that group by the Pool of Bethesda. We look fine on the outside, but on the inside we’re wounded. We are not walking in the purpose God has destined for us. We’re paralyzed.

Like the paralyzed man who said he didn’t have anyone to carry him to the waters when the angel came and troubled them, we can make excuses. And they might not be excuses. They could be real things that have happened to us to cause us to be in this state. Rape. Divorce. The death of a loved one. A tragedy. A disease. A real injury or trauma has occurred.

It may not be an excuse in explaining how we got there. But maybe we start to make excuses about why we stay. It’s easy to get stuck by the Pool of Bethesda. It gets comfortable, even though we don’t really want to be there. You have a lot a lot of company at the Pool of Bethesda. You may say, “No one will help me and I can’t help myself.”

But when you have an encounter with Jesus, he will help you and he has the power to heal you and restore you. But there is something you have to do.

The first question that Jesus asked the paralyzed man was, “Do you want to get well?”

Is there a desire within you to get better? Then you’re going to have to make the decision to do something.

Although the skillful surgeon had operated on my father successfully, if my father didn’t get up and out of the bed and go to physical therapy, he would not be able to walk. Rehabilitation was a part of his restoration. And sometimes we need spiritual rehabilitation. We have to learn how to walk and exercise our faith.

Jesus told the man, “Get up!”

Faith does not mean we don’t have to move. We have to move. We have to move, pick up our bed of excuses that we’ve been relying on for years and walk, having faith that God will give us the power to do what we can’t do. But we have to make the effort daily to try. God will not open up Red Seas in our lives if we don’t first stretch out our hands. He will not open up Red Seas if we are not willing to march across them.

What dream has died inside of you that left you lame? What hurt from your past has immobilized you? What pain in your present is paralyzing you?

Jesus has already said through his stripes, his sacrifice on the cross, you are healed. Now he’s asking, “Do you want to better?” Then he’s telling you today, “Get up!”

Reflection:

What pain from the past has paralyzed you?
What dream for your future has died?
What steps can you take today to move beyond that pain?

Application:

 Acknowledge the injury or pain from the past that has hurt you. Look at it and understand how it has affected you.
 Forgive the person (or yourself) that has caused you pain.
 Write a letter to the person who hurt you and forgive them. Write a letter to a person you have hurt and ask for their forgiveness. (It doesn’t matter if the person is alive or dead or whether you give them the letter or not. Just write it.)
 Meditate on and memorize scriptures about healing and forgiveness.
 Pray to God for wisdom to show you what steps you can take in your spiritual rehabilitation.
 Write down five things you can do to fulfill an unfulfilled dream. Or is there another dream that God is giving you to fulfill?
 Pray for a friend who can be a source of information and encouragement during your spiritual rehabilitation.

Scriptures:

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

He healeth the broken in heart,and bindeth up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; Jeremiah 30:17

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Prayer:

Dear God,
I want to get better. Give me the strength to get up and get moving. I know that by your stripes I am healed. Help to me walk in that reality.
Amen.

Join Our Mailing List