Day 4: Feast

Fellow 31 day journeyers, as we take the huge risk to loving our zip code with integrity, we first are invited to come feast on Love ourselves.  In fact, it’s absolutely vital.

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“You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

 

Never walk out into the world hungry.

 

Ever walk the aisles of the grocery store around 5:30pm? You grab at the pretty packages, create half menus in your head, fill the cart with food memories and comfort, gasp at the price, and then wheel up to the trunk of your car with twice as much as you came looking for.

 

Never leave home hungry.

 

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The night before my wedding, my mama told me never to force my husband to walk the streets hungry for love. Fill that man before you send him out in the morning, she said.

 

And I would never dream of opening the door and pushing my nestlings out into the world empty of nourishment and love.

 

It’s just that I don’t often heed that same advice. I walk out the door without lifting my hands up, without the Scriptures open, without the listening and the dwelling. I haven’t spent time soaking in His Presence. I leave hungry. Empty. Searching. I find myself scooting up to another table and the price…goes…up.

 

I pay for it every time.

 

I walk out into the world glancing at every sign as if its fluorescent bulbs flashed with my answer. I walk up to neighbors hands open, demanding to be fed out of their emptiness.

 

When we give out of lack, we pump the empty soul and our giving does not spill out of love but need. We are a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal every time.

 

Because we can’t bless, break and multiply a lunch we haven’t gathered from His table.

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“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger; whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

 

He ALWAYS invites us home to a full spread. Always. We scoot up to the table still carrying in our earth-smeared hands our pain, our lack, our disappointment, our questions and our cracked mess of a life and we are always welcomed home. Like the prodigal son, we sit at the feast and with wild eyes we grasp that this is where we belonged all along. We tear the crusty bread, fill our mouths with the warm, soft center and piece by piece we eat the truth: I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.

 

We draw close, maybe even lay our head on His chest like the beloved disciple, resting, hearing His heartbeat pound for the rescue of the world. We memorize its cadence.

 

We taste and see that He is good.  Then filled, we turn toward the world, bless, break and multiply Him “for the life of the world.”

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Daily Action: Don’t just sample the love of God in small appetizers once a week, come to a daily full-table feast.

But let’s get practical. What does true feasting on the love of God look like for you? Here’s some of my suggestions and Facebook friend’s ideas as well.

(BTW, I’m Summer Gross from Loganville, GA on Facebook. @athirstforGod on Twitter. Lets connect there!)

Feast here, meditating on the Father Heart of God. So rich a meal.

Or perhaps you could feast here, like Adrienne. Classic:

Or here: The Life of the Beloved.

Or watch this. This father’s love is a beautiful picture of His love for us:

 

Or read here? How to be Still and Know that He is God

 

I’m often nourished feasting on the names and attributes of God. Get an immensely helpful PDF with this link here: Thank you Woodmen Valley Chapel.

 

Or just look for a hardy meal of bread through the Scriptures searching out a trail of manna. Start here in Zephaniah 3:17.

 

And you, friend, how do you dwell in His presence, sip long on His love? Do share and “join the conversation.”

 

We’re just 4 days into a 31 day writing journey through October, wanting God to make us lovers of our zip code. Want to come along? Slip your email in the CONNECT box on the front page. 

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When We are Confused by our Calling

word seeds

Welcome to Word-seeds dear friend.  This is where we pray the Scripture roots into every crevice and crack of our life, breaks up the hard ground.

Word seed is a Bible study that may take longer than a day. We wind around a thought, give questions for meditation and begin to open up the Scripture that you may be hearing this next Sunday. Feel free to stop at a picture question and come back later for a bit more time in the Scripture. This week we are on the rocky shores of the Lake of Galilee with the fishermen cleaning their nets for the day.  Read it in Matthew 4:12-22 before you read here?

(These word seeds will always correspond with the lectionary because I have a need to join others on our common pilgrimage.  Today’s post comes from the gospel, Year A, Epiphany 3)

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Pray that I don’t loose the hands of Jesus in my attempt to feed the poor.

Mother Teresa to Henri Nouwen

 

Kathy Sicard wrapped the scarf tight around my head and the world dimmed. With the second scarf I went blind.  I felt like I had walked into a movie theater late, groping for chairs, hoping I didn’t end up in someone’s lap.  Marie Diebold grasped my hands, facing me, walking backwards. Her voice was low and soft.

 

We were in her house for our Tuesday night inner healing study.  One Tuesday night we went through the lessons, the next Tuesday we gave it to others. It was our first year doing the 16 week Healing Care study by Terry Wardle.

 

Marie guided me slowly through her kitchen, around the butcher block island, the metal sink cupboard from the 60’s, the collection of hanging mugs by the window.  She talked me straight through the narrow kitchen doorway shuffling our feet from the wood floor of the kitchen to the oriental carpet in the living room.  “Walk straight. OK, a small step to the right, and there now, here’s the coffee table. Can you feel it against your legs. Ok stop. Turn left. Walk ahead two steps.” We wound through the downstairs of her farmhouse like this.

 

I do fine with trust exercises like this.  Not so much in real life.  I know God is guiding but  I find myself fumbling wildly for the wall, the doorways, begging to take off the scarf.

 

This scripture reveals my heart.  I’m the one walking in darkness.  I’ve seen the great light but much of the time the brightness doesn’t register.  Let’s just say I don’t spend enough time basking in the glow.

 

So much of my calling has seemed like a straight line. No, that’s not quite true.  There have been plenty of times of uncertainty, I have just repressed them.  I like straight lines. Receive calling. Go to seminary. Work in a church for ten years.

 

Every line looks straighter when looking back right?

 

The truth is that after ten years of parish ministry, I’m down to a congregation of three.  I’m a mom to three blondies with big blueberry eyes and small unwrinkled hands.  I fold them up onto my lap and smell their heads.  I’ve been smelling my children ever since they were born.  Primal, I guess.

 

They are beautiful and I struggle to be an intentional mother, wrapping them in truth and fuzzy blankets at night.  I spread pasta on our table like I’m asking them to take forkfuls of love.  I’m an Italian mama by osmosis after having been born there, I guess.  But my calling?  This is where I struggle.  I like adventure and large purposes.  I like to see where it is that I am headed.  I want to get my hands dirty in the fight. I want to climb in bed at night exhausted for more than just wrestling children into their jammies.

 

So I’m listening to His voice in the Gospel, looking for direction this week.  And it is His words that begin to open up a new way to see my calling inside our brick bungalow.

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Until now, I always saw Christ’s calling of the fishermen as Jesus sending them out on a quest.  Set down your ordinary life and I’ve got a new purpose for you. Something big. Something dynamic.  We’re going to go fish for people! I imagined the disciples going straight from cleaning that fishy smell off their hands to a brainstorming session.  But Jesus’ words indicate something quite different, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Some of the translations leave out the “come” but it’s right there in the Greek. Deute. Come hither. Come follow. The next time we see the verb spoken straight from Jesus’ mouth it is in Matthew 11:29, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” The literal translation of the Greek here is: “Come follow after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

So much of my calling feels like a groping in the dark instead of a knightly quest.  No gallantry. No coming home with the holy grail.

 

But “Come” makes all the difference in the world.  Come means that He is walking in front of me. “Come” means that He is present as I walk forward into the darkness.

 

We are not alone in our callings, we are following.

 

Just the definition of following calls us to walk forward with Someone growing big in our field of vision.  When we follow, He fills our focus.

 

Christ grows bigger as we follow closer.

 

I think over my mental landscape this past week, my mind twisting with that fear that I wasn’t enough, the tantrum at dinner time, the day spent wrapped up tight in disappointment.  How much of my mental landscape is consumed with the One I am supposed to be following?   Perhaps that is the unfortunate answer.

 

Perhaps what or who I am following takes up most of my mental landscape.  

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Marie walked backwards and held my empty hands and I grasped tight.

 

They were the same hands where I had placed the Eucharist bread that tasted of honey and fed us of Jesus. They were the same hands that had massaged my tired pregnant muscles and the same hands I held between mine before she went into surgery to get the cancer cut out.  That Tuesday night in the dark I grasped tight the familiar hands of a friend.  I grasped trust.

 

When they heard the call of Jesus, Andrew and Peter put down nets, families, lives, expectations.  They opened their hands to grasp a hold of His. They opened the tight fists of their lives, and everything fell through.

 

When we open our hands to follow Jesus, we drop the what for the Who.

 

grasp Him tight

 

We drop the tight-fisted control, the shiny magazine lives, the surge for self-expression when we follow the Call.  Following requires the hard purging.  Following requires repentance. Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.  It requires setting down  everything heavy.  It requires the healing of the fears that have us tangled in their nets.

 

But perhaps following is freedom, the first steps onto heavenly ground, arms empty, lifted in worship.

 

searching for big

 

I want to go back to school to get a counseling degree.  I want to write. I want to be a midwife to God’s redemption, do spiritual direction and inner healing prayer.  I want to get back into the life of the church.  Right now I feel shut out of all the callings that make me feel most at home.  But perhaps that’s the point.  This move is stretching me and stretching sometimes happens so fast it leaves scars.

 

I think Jesus understands the strangeness of being sent away from the comfortable.  After his desert temptation, Jesus was not welcomed home. His hometown of Nazareth had not been able to transform their definitions from Jesus the carpenter son of Joseph to Jesus the Christ.

 

Just like old times, on the Sabbath He had sat with the others in the Synagogue, rolled out the scroll, found the job description of the Messiah in Isaiah 61. These were the verses I imagine kept him awake at night. His mission.

 

THE mission that all other callings reflect back.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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But people don’t want to “know” their Messiah, their neighbor. They want celebrity and a charismatic Samson who will fight their enemies with the jawbone of a lion.  They don’t want their Messiah to be the boy that grew up on their front lawns.

 

And so Jesus found himself homeless with a mission still burning deeply. He was kicked out of the synagogues and into the streets.  But, again, perhaps that was the gift.

 

I found this in Barclay’s Gospel of Luke: “Jesus would go anywhere men would listen to him.” Then Barclay links us to John Wesley’s journey,

“Our [Methodist] societies were formed from those who were wandering upon the dark mountains, that belonged to no Christian Church; but were awakened by the preaching of the Methodists, who had pursued them through the wilderness of this world to the higheays and the Hedges—to the Markets and the Fairs—who set up the standard of the Cross in the Streets and Lanes of the Cities, in the Villages, in the Barns, and Farmers’ Kitchens…”

Barclay says in closing, “When the Synagogue was shut, Jesus took to the open road.”

 

Same mission. Different location.  Same purpose. If the mission burns within us, we proclaim it wherever we can. The kitchen table or the internet. We implant it as hope into a friend’s heart, or whisper it into our daughter’s hair.

 

We join His mission and it becomes our heartbeat: Proclaim. Release. Restore. Redeem.

 

Wherever we are.

 

calling not about us

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Would you like weekly Word-Seeds to be slipped into your email?  Slip your email address into the Connect button on the front page of “a thirst for God.” Let’s pray that the Word plants in all the crevices of our lives.

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Writing in community with the lovely Jennifer Dukes Lee here:

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Advent, Day 20: How to Have Beautiful Feet this Christmas

In October in Harrisburg, PA Felicia had walked the runway interceding…in their shoes.

 

She told the horrors of the stories of the more than 20 million trafficked simply by wearing a dress.  It’s a runway show called Unchained (click the link here to find out more) and Felicia is a co-founder (along with my beautiful sister, Stephanie!). 24 dresses designed by the acclaimed Project Runway designer Korto Momulo tells the story of the broken daughters: innocence stolen, the abuse and addictions of the trafficked, then hope, rescue, and redemption.

 

Compassion had been building for those just steps away from the trafficked as the stories of women who struggled to live free were shared.

 

And something had been born in Felicia as she walked that runway in the shoes of their story.

 

Or reborn.

 

 

Her own step-mom had squeezed her feet into stilettos every night, danced on a platform, wore the makeup so heavy no one could see the scars.

 

And she was also the one who pushed through the turnstile at a Billy Graham Crusade, who brought Felicia to hear about Jesus.

 

And if compassion is just love stored up,

 

then compassionate action is love spilled out.

 

Because we get them.  Don’t we? We all crave love.

 

And desire substituted and crammed down tight keeps the hunger pains down.

 

Most had their “no” robbed early, their glory carted away by the power gorging. And powerless, they grasped for power wherever they could find it, landing them here in the dark smoky interior of a strip club.

 

And every captive daughter needs a Rescuer.

 

And all the image-bearers need to feel the weight of their value, taste hope in order to walk out of the dark of hell.

 

It was through Harmony Dust’s work at iamatreasure.com that love started surging into action for Felicia.   Harmony, who was trafficked herself, has outreaches for those in the industry and trains women to do the same. On her site, rescued girls tell their stories of sinking into hell and the Rescuer who walked right in and found them there.

 

A few weeks ago Felicia’s love broke wide open with urgency.  She shared with her Ohio State campus church that she planned to gather Christmas gifts for the girls at a nearby club to begin an outreach. Hearts and wallets opened and gift cards for Bath and Body Works were brought to Felicia. Another member of the church, Shaytell Furman linked arms with her to share her mission.  With the gift cards for Bath and Body Works, she and Shaytell went shopping choosing the language of lotions to tell the girls that they have value and worth.

 

They prayed the girls would rub in truth every time they rubbed the lotion in deep. They hoped the salve of the gospel of peace would begin healing the wide open wounds.

 

 

Thursday night they wrapped the gifts up pretty in gift bags and she and Shaytell prayed for just the right girls, just the right club to walk into.  They had their sites on a big commercial establishment but as they pulled into the driveway, Felicia glanced off to the left at a small shady club. Felicia found herself driving up deeper into the unknown. They parked out front, prayed for courage and then pulled open the heavy metal door.

 

Once inside their eyes needed to adjust to the darkness, the covered windows, the few bright spotlights.  Music pounded out a techno beat and men sat at a bar laughing with a few mingling girls. The air was stale with smoke and alcohol.

 

As they walked up to the bar to ask for the manager, a few women sitting at the bar smiled brightly. Felicia was startled. Their demeanor was entirely incongruous.  They were bright August sunshine in the midst of the hard looks, hands wrapped around glasses tight.

 

When they announced to the manager their desire to bring Christmas gifts to the girls, the angry manager softened.  She pointed to the women at the bar with the wide smiles. It was then that Felicia noticed the Bath and Body Works bags sitting on top of the bar.

 

They were Christians on a love mission as well.

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How to have beautiful feet this Christmas?

 

1. Like Felicia, ask God for where your story and the need of the world meet.  Our testimony brings empathy which in turn will keep us focused when the journey seems long.  Understand that the relationship building that opens doors for the Gospel takes time, grace, and truth.  See this quote picked out by Harmony  from iamatreasure.com by Cloud and Townsend:

 

For God’s system to work, you have to have all three. Grace and time together, without truth, will make you comfortable in your stuckness. Truth and time together, without grace, will discourage and break you. Grace and truth together without time will give you a vision and then not have you reach the completion of that vision. They must go together.               

 

2. Ask God to build in you a love for the broken beautiful.

 

 

3. Do something tangible to show them you care…to share with them their true value.

 

4. Listen well.

 

5. Bring them into safe community.

 

6. Introduce them to the Rescuer slowly, how He runs to those who come home, forgives their sins, carts away their shame.  Then He wraps His robe around them tight, introduces them to His neighbors as His beloved child.

 

Check out this book…no good news giver sharing Christ should be without this short, insightful book.

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The two women greeted Felicia and Shaytell.  “We’ve been praying for you,” one of them whispered as she leaned over.

 

Felicia and Shaytell learned that the smiling women at the bar had been coming to the club for years every Thursday night, praying, and slowly getting to know the girls.  Now the leader was moving out of state and was afraid the ministry would be dropped.  “And here you are,” she said, hope spreading across her face.

 

 

Summer Gross

“How beautiful are the feet of them that bring the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15b)

And now for a much more “soulful” version of Handel’s “How Beautiful are the Feet.”

photos from the Unchained Fashion Show. Hear more about my response to the show here.

photos by Andrea Hoppel

Make-up provided by Maria Teresa Hair and Make-up Artist

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Advent, Day 10: When We Don’t Feel Worthy of God’s Call

Luke 2:8&9 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid”

 

 

We could balk at His choice.

 

We could imagine a more appropriate welcome committee for God’s touching earth. A grand procession maybe? Flowers flying, shofars blowing. Perhaps a declaration bellowed to thousands of eager fans.

 

This night God chooses the unlikely, the small in number, the uneducated forgotten.

 

He chooses to broadcast His birth announcement not to the playmakers, but to ragamuffin shepherds, the cowboys of Bethlehem.

 

And I love Him for that. These are Jesus’ people. He was born to bring salvation to the ordinary everyday, to the shepherds, to smelly fishermen, to the disgraced woman alone at the well at noon.

 

God does not need to seek out the powerful to fling His power, beg the famous to reflect His glory to the masses. Would they have rushed to a stable no matter how grand the invitation?

 

Here He picks the ordinary to be overwhelmed by His glory.

 

Then, He beckons them covered in the smell of a mass of sheep to visit the newly born, to tiptoe through the stable door, witness humanity’s Rescuer swaddled tight.

 

The chooses the humble transformed to go tell it on the mountains.

 

 

Still thirsty? Enter the mud and the mess and the glory of the Shepherds with Frederic Buechner here. Masterful.

We’re on a journey to the manger with Handel’s Messiah texts as a lectionary, his music to transport us.  Don’t miss a day. Slip your email in the CONNECT square on the front page and let’s continue this pilgrimage together.

 

 

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Encouragement, Love 101

We stood on the sidewalk, the runners turning at the 25.4 mile mark, and we grew hoarse handing out courage. “You can do this!” “You’re on the homestretch!” My children, myself and my parents, we all waved neon signs, scanning the runners for Matt, Stephanie, Andy, Felicia, Rachel. While we waited for our dear ones, we encouraged fellow runners, exhausted strangers, orange balloon archway finish line still out of sight. And yes, we all encourage in our own unique way:

They barely looked up, determination stretched their eyes forward unseeing, exhaustion weighing heavy. It was then that we learned to read names above numbers pinned to their shirts,

“Michelle, you are doing this.”

“John, you are finishing strong.”

We were strangers, dots in the cloud of witnesses, risking care. Hearing their name, they glanced up, breathing deep of hope.

It’s an upside down Kingdom. We think it’s the big things that matter, the filled amphitheaters, the google analytics numbers, but it’s the looking into the eyes…it’s the speaking of a name…it’s the sowing love one seed at a time down the same row of someone’s life.

Because life is a slow marathon, the miles pursuing the weary and we all need en-couragement, water in small cups refreshing us for the next mile.

Because when we put our head down checking off our never-ending to do lists, we think we are never enough and it is the small seed of authentic care that lifts our face.

 

Because sometimes like this daughter, we need someone to run with us. And like my precious friend, Teresa, you just can’t help yourself, breaking out of the crowd in your Toms, springing toward your girl. When you live encouragement, feed encouragement from plates at your kitchen island, whisper encouragement over the phone, the risk becomes easy.  Then when you see her tired slagging steps you can’t help but step off the sidewalk and take her hand pink placard and all.

When we practice encouragement, the leap to run beside no longer feels foreign.

 

Because maybe encouragement is just Love 101 when learning to give. And when we encourage, forgetting ourselves, running beside is just the next logical step. We are just following the Paraclete’s example, the Come-along-side-One.

 

And this is why I write, because I can see your faces headed toward the finish line, tired and not seeing victory yet. I wish I could hand you a small cup of gatorade, watch you drink the courage straight down.

 

Because I wish I knew your name, the story you’ve been growing in your heart. I wish I could whisper, “You might be exhausted by the end of the night, spent clean empty, but you are loved and I know you gave armfuls today. You bathed little ones, cupped water in your hands to pour over their heads and looked into their big eyes, whispering love. You nourished hearts, filled bellies and Mama, you did Jesus work today. Thank you.”

 

And to my sister friend who pushes paper and stares at felted cubicle walls and wonders if what she does matters: you rub shoulders with an office full of broken beautiful stories and God image bearers and my dear, the light shines bright from inside your makeshift walls. You are doing Jesus work today. Thank you.

 

And to you, the minister, who wonders if he/she is giving enough, living hard enough, reaching out enough, praying enough. You, my friend, are a Sower, throwing seed liberally. Keep giving out Jesus, throwing truth out to root. Elizabeth, you’re doing this. Chris, you are running with endurance. You are doing Jesus work today. Thank you.

 

And you too who work in a turnstile for the sick, check charts, feel pulses. When you enter a room, you hold the hand of Jesus and the Healer walks straight into the realms of the sick with you. That’s Jesus work. Thank you, dear one.

I wish I knew your name and could tell you, “Friend, you’ve got eyes just like your Father’s and that face, it is radiant, reflecting His light. And dear one, you are beautiful. Keep running. Together, you and He, you’ve got this.”

Summer Gross

And you friend, where do you need encouragement today?

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Linking with the talented storyteller, Laura Boggess here:

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Love Saturated Evangelism

 

Mark 1:29-42

Andrew and another disciple zigzagged with Jesus through the crowd to his home, perhaps a room at an inn, maybe a space on a rented rooftop able to feel the vibrations of a busy family below.  Their minds must have echoed the words of their own teacher, John the Baptist, who yelled out in a busy town square the day before as he saw Jesus come near, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him…I testify that this is the Son of God.”  Andrew and the other must have asked what treasures will pour out of a man on whom the Spirit rests or truly, will we even be able to understand His cryptic messages?  The mystery draws them on and then they sit, stay, listen to this man Jesus, this Lamb of God.  They soak words, eat bread and then soak up more Word in the Presence of the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator.  Then, Andrew impatient with joy jumps up, says he will returns and runs…straight for his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”

My commentary on this scripture said this: “it appeared that Andrew had been with Jesus that he was so full of him. He knew there was enough in Christ for all; and, having tasted that he is gracious, he could not rest till those he loved had tasted it too. True grace hates monopolies, and loves not to eat its morsels alone.

But, here is the question: How can we like Andrew point to the living God, go home and grab our brother when we have not tasted, have not seen God Himself, not soaked in His voice?  When we have only tasted God someone else has shown us, we have no desire to usher another into His Presence, drag them to the holy.  We’ve got a Roman road and a track and evangelism tools thrust in a box under the bed but we are so often leading people to an assent to ideas about God and not tearing off terra cotta roof tiles, lowering them down into the Presence of the One who sees their pain, but speaks straight to the source of what is festering in their heart, “Your sins are forgiven.”  They are released and Grace Himself heals.

If we have not been home with God and tasted the good news of life free from the twisted pain and shame of sin, free from the captivities which like cataracts layered, hold us blind, our “Come and See” is anemic, embarrassed, hollow.  It was only when Andrew had been in Jesus Presence, sitting at the feet of the one in whom is hidden all the mysteries of wisdom and revelation that his calling to his brother had any substance.

“We have found the Messiah,” Andrew told his brother.  Found.  He, the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, the Messiah the earth has been groaning to feel walk upon its dirt is Found.  And you, my friend, my brother, my sister, should come and see!

Summer Gross

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