pools of dead energy: Acts 19

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It wasn’t until I moved that I discovered my old apartment had been full of pools of dead energy.

“Why are you moving,” people asked.  Their question bewildered me.

“I don’t need all the space,” I would say.  “I’m almost an empty nester.  My daughter’s at boarding school.  My son’s heading off to college.”  They would remain silent, perhaps nod.  My answer didn’t seem to satisfy them.  I would try again.  “The maintenance sky-rocketed because real estate taxes in New York went up.”  Again, they would look unconvinced.  I wasn’t sure why.

And then I moved.  My new apartment is snazzy and shiny.  The previous owner is a gifted decorator – and my new best friend – and I gave away everything and anything that didn’t seem as snazzy and shiny as her kitchen and bathrooms.  If I hesitated about whether I really needed something, I gave it away.  My daughter and I have a “love it” rule when we go shopping together.  Unless we both love it, we don’t buy it.  I tried to apply the same rule to setting up my new apartment.  If I didn’t love something, out it went.  I told myself someone else would love it.

As a result, the new apartment has only things we cherish.  Everywhere I turn are only needed things.  Each shower has one shampoo, one conditioner and one soap.  Each closet has only clothes we wear.  Each shelf has only shoes that fit.  Each medicine cabinet has only unexpired antibiotics.  The pantry holds only food we actually eat.  Each shelf has only phone chargers for phones we actually still own.

One of my first visitors pointed out I might have overdone it.  He walked in and discovered the living room was down to a single lowly love seat.  “You sure you didn’t give away TOO much,” he asked.

But here’s the thing.  When you clear out the clutter, two things happen.  First, you discover that what’s left appears new.  And second, you’ve made room for something else, something better, something you’ve always wanted.

Because I discovered that the old apartment had collected what my friend Christina Culver calls pools of dead energy all over the place.  I hadn’t known it.  I hadn’t realized it.  I hadn’t even felt the stagnant waters until I moved to dryer ground.

And yet on some level I must have felt it.  Hadn’t I wanted to move, after all?  Perhaps the reason my friends seemed unconvinced by my explanations was that they sensed in my voice a hidden reason, a deeper reason.  Had I needed to let go of the past?  Had I needed to shut the door on old memories to make room for the new?

Or perhaps I had needed to remove all the what ifs from my life.  I love shows on hoarders because their excess – open the door and out spills so much junk they can’t even turn around – reminds me of myself on a smaller level.  I am the Queen of What Ifs.  What if ten teenagers decide to sleep over?  I have ten pillows.  What if there’s a hurricane?  I have an LED lantern.  What if we revert to the time before electricity?  I have six boxes of matches.  You don’t even want to know how overstuffed my suitcases are when I travel.

But God doesn’t call us to a life full of back up plans.  He calls us to a life of immediacy.  He wants us to live with joy.  That means He wants us to dwell in a place of beauty and love which can only be achieved by depending on Him every moment of every day.  The bottom line is: God wants us to rely on HIM to meet our needs.  When Jesus becomes the air we breathe, we discover anything else feels like trying to survive on carbon monoxide.  We can’t  smell how deadly it is, but we sense we’re not getting what we need.  God calls us to abandon all the what ifs.  Instead, He asks us to rely on Him for the what is.

The things in our lives we cling to – all of our what ifs and maybes and just in cases – hold us back from the life of joy and peace God longs to give us.  Like the crowd who gathered round Demetrius in a rage in Acts 19, most of us don’t even know why we collect these things around us that weigh us down.  As Demetrius put it – even though he was trying to make the opposite point – idols made by human hands are not really gods at all.  By definition – how can they be?  We’re not God.  So if we made it, it can’t help us.  Worshipping manmade things only diminishes us.

And more than our possessions, there are worse things we hold onto.  We cling to past hurts.  We nurse our wounds.  We remember the lies people have told us about ourselves.  We hear the sneering voices that told us we weren’t good enough, lovable enough, or just plain enough enough.  Instead, we like the new believers in Acts 19 can make a pile of all our contingency plans and bad habits and false beliefs and burn them up.  We can cast out the old on a collective bonfire to make room for the new.  We can instead accept God’s truth.  We can hear the voice say that God loves us just as we are.  God knows us and loves us still and He will meet our every need and satisfy our every desire.

And the reason God can do this for us is that God Himself stepped into the deepest pool of dead energy of all.  Jesus went to hell – and back – for us.  He stepped in over his head in order to lift us up to dry ground.  Jesus covers our every flaw.  Jesus heals our every wound.  The cross covers our every imperfection with the perfection of Christ.  We are not enough — and yet in Christ we are more than enough.  He completes us in a way nothing in our hearts or our closets ever can.

God knows that we can’t just give things up.  He knows we will merely replace the old bad habits and thoughts with new ones – and cling to those just as tenaciously.  Instead, He asks us to step out of the pool of the dead and into the river of life.  There we will find a light that fills us to overflowing, enabling us to love others the way God loves us.  The only way to pure joy and peace is to walk hand in hand with the One who made us, who loves us, and who longs to fill us with His Holy Spirit.  All we have to do is listen to the joyful voice that calls us to let go and surrender.

And grace like rain will fall down on us, transfiguring the old, just as the light in my new kitchen transfigured the blue glass bowl in the picture above that my mother gave me years ago, that her grandfather had given her in turn.  I’ve always loved it but I never had a place for it before.  Just so, God makes a new place for us.  He redeems all the broken things of our past and makes even our scratched up selves glow like pools of living water.  It’s the miracle of a new life, of a new home, of moving to a place where God can make even the handkerchiefs that touch our skin heal us and others of every disease.

That’s why we move.  We move because we listen to that silent something in our hearts that says: it is time.  It is time to search for the river of life and dive in headfirst.  It is time to believe that God made our hearts to yearn for His light, His love and His Way.  He makes all things new every day – even our dried up stagnant hearts.  He asks that we abandon all anxiety and instead live in a new home with Him, a home full of trust and thankfulness and Love.  He wants us to depend not on other flawed humans, or on controlling our surroundings, or on ourselves but on Him and Him alone.  And in Him, we dwell in safety.

posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on January 8, 2013

on seduction: John 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

read John 4.   Flirting is fun but it has a dark side.  We’ve all seen the aging actresses who look like caricatures – applying too much make-up in a vain attempt to recapture the days when men whistled when they walked by.  But is this problem restricted to aging actresses?  Or is it all too easy to become dependent on our ability to seduce others; to think we’re nothing unless we’ve got suitors; to be so eager to please, we lose sight of ourselves?

Is this the kind of thing someone like Jesus understands? Have a look at these words of Jesus to the woman at the well:  “You’re right when you say you’re not married.  You’ve had five husbands and the man you’re living with now is not your husband.”  Anytime we’re tempted to think the Bible isn’t relevant, passages like these remind us that it’s far more relevant than we care to admit.

The woman’s answer sounds, to me at least, flirtatious:

“Oh, sir.  I can see you must be a prophet.”

You can almost hear the flap of her eyelashes as she compliments the Son of God.  You can’t blame her.  She probably only has one way of relating to men – trying to seduce them.  It is significant that when she returns to her village she says that Jesus has told her “everything she’s ever done” – that’s probably because in her eyes, seducing men is all she thinks she’s ever done.  She’s probably good at it; the five husbands suggest she was an Elizabeth Taylor in the making.  She might have once been beautiful.  She might still be beautiful.  She might have had an absent, abusive or distracted father and have spent the rest of her life trying to get her father’s attention through seducing other men.  She might have had a critical mother.  Who knows.  There are many pathways to becoming the woman at the well, but it only leads in one direction: a constant thirst for more empty adulation.

No wonder the woman at the well responds when Jesus tells her: “those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  John 4:14.  This woman knows what it is to be thirsty.

We all want a life in which we have something we can count on to feel “good.”  We want a life with a fresh bubbling spring within us, on which we can draw anytime we thirst.  We don’t want to be dependent on things outside ourselves.  But if feeling good is dependent on the reaction of other people, we will always live in insecurity.  Like vampires, we will always thirst for more.  If seducing is our game – whether literally, or just getting people to smile when they see us, or to say, “beautiful” when we walk by, or to turn a head – we can never rest.  Two texts are never enough – we need four.  When we get four, we need eight.  One date a week feels like a failure.  When we have two dates, we wonder what to do the other five days.  Being dependent on the reaction of others is just another form of addiction.

The woman is “surprised” Jesus talks to her because she’s of a despised race.  John 4:9.  The disciples were “shocked” to find him talking to her because of her gender.  John 4:27.  But when we see this woman’s addiction, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Jesus calls her “dear woman” – but it’s not because he buys into her seduction game.  It’s because to Jesus, no matter how many husbands she has had; no matter how many men she has lived with outside of marriage; she is “dear.”  He loves her in a way no man has ever loved her, or could ever loved her.  Jesus loves her in the way she has always wanted.  He loves her because He is love.

And so Jesus reveals His identity to her.  He removes His fig leaf, as it were – to a person of a despised race and gender.  He tells her “I am the Messiah.”  Removing your fig leaf is the very definition of intimacy.  Why does Jesus tell her who he is?  He gives her Himself for the sole reason that she wants Him.  He satisfies her because she is thirsty.  Her thirst meets His provision because that’s what God does.  The woman at the well thirsts for true intimacy – and so she gets it.  She’s removed a lot of literal fig leaves in her life, but this is the kind of fig leaf we really want – Jesus removes His mask.   When this chapter opens we see Jesus in his full humanity:  He is “tired” from his long walk.  He sits “wearily” beside the well.  It is “noontime.”  But the moment the woman at the well affirms her faith in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus reveals himself as fully God.  It is, in its own right, a kind of personal transfiguration.  Jesus takes off his humanity and reveals himself as the Son of God to a lonely woman living with a man not her husband.

In other words, Jesus “gets his shirt wet” here.  He puts his words into action.  He has said on the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are those who “know” their need of God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  Matt. 5:3.  Blessed are those who are “hungry” now, for they shall be “satisfied.”  Here he meets someone who knows her need of God: “I AM the Messiah.”  John 4:26.  In revealing Himself to someone who says she is looking for the Messiah, He lets her “see” God; he satisfies her hunger by giving her Himself.

The woman goes running.  She tells everyone in the village those haunting words: “come and see.”  John 4:29.  The people come “streaming” from the village to see him.  They beg Jesus to stay, and after listening to him for two days they affirm: “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves.  Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”  John 4:42. This is the evolution for every believer – we hear the testimony of others; we go to see for ourselves; and then we have our own experience of the living God; we “know” He is the Savior of the world.

The experience of coming to faith, in other words, is a kind of “seduction” – a completely satisfying one.  We hear, see and taste for ourselves the “goodness” of the Lord – and we are hooked.  But unlike other forms of seduction, which steal our identity because we become dependent on something outside ourselves – this seduction restores our identity because it fills us from the inside out.  God gives us the love we’ve always wanted but have never been able to find in our fellow humans.

The key to the difference between God’s love and all other kinds of love lies in Jesus’ first words to the woman at the well: “Please give me a drink.”  John 4:7.  The words are a foreshadowing of Jesus’ words on the cross: “I am thirsty.” John 19:28.   God became thirsty so that we would never thirst again.  The reason God can fill us is because God took on our emptiness.  He thirsted so streams of living water could flow form our hearts.  He experienced thirst on the cross, in order to satisfy us.  He went to hell so we could go to heaven.

And through thirsting, Jesus is able to restore us to satisfying relationships.  The moment the woman at the well meets Jesus, she returns to her village, and is received positively.  Later in the chapter, the father who believes when Jesus tells him to go home to find a healed son – he “and his entire household” believed in Jesus.  When we enter into true intimacy with Christ, we discover that He enables us to have more intimacy with the humans around us.  The new intimacy comes not through seducing them with our own charms, but through sharing the love of Christ – a love that is a “just because” love.  We find a new intimacy that comes not through masking our imperfections with charm, make-up, fluttering eyelashes, easy compliments and seductive undertones, but that comes despite our own imperfections.  The intimacy comes through sharing the grace, mercy and love of the only Perfect One.  We begin to learn how to lay down our pride.  We become, in a very real and profound sense, brothers and sisters with those who share this love.  We find in Christ, and through Him in others, the love we’ve always wanted.  We dip into a well that runs deeper than we can fathom, a well that will fill our every bucket to overflowing, so that we discover we need to find new buckets because our old ones break from the overabundance of fresh, bubbling, exciting, satisfying, consuming, giving, receiving and fulfilling love.

posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on April 5, 2012