In My Father’s House

“In My Father’s House are many rooms.  

If that were not true, 

would I have told you that I’m going to  

prepare a place for you?”

John 14:2

She had come toddling down the long hallway to my door, climbed up the big step and grabbed my hand.  I didn’t know what the little blue-eyed munchkin had in mind, but she was clearly on a mission.  She determinedly pulled me to my own great-grandmother’s rocking chair, patted the seat, and made it clear that I was to sit down.  Then, snuggling onto my lap, we had a little “rock-rock” together.  It wasn’t very long, but it was oh! So sweet!  Unplanned, unscheduled, just a minute . . . but it was a delightful way to begin my day.

And I wondered . . . 

Does Jesus get those heartwarming moments with me?  Does He delight in my moments of pursuing time with Him?  Just a simple closeness in the midst of my busy day?  My hand grabbing His Finger, patting the rocking chair seat, and simply crawling onto His Lap while He holds me?  As He pulls me close, near to His Heart, is it warmed by our quiet moment together?  Does He wish it could last longer?  

Jesus knew in those “last supper” moments with His nearest Followers that His Time with them was drawing to a close.  He would soon make the ultimate Sacrifice to secure our eternity with Him in His Father’s House.  

As a groom prepared the new home for his bride, as part of the home of his own father, 

Jesus knew the Sacrificial Work it would require, all for us, His Bride.  He knew the details of the Work He was about to carry out.  He knew the pain involved, as the Roman crucifixions were a common sight along the roads outside of Jerusalem.  

Yet, fully knowing the Price He would pay on our behalf, He chose to lay down His own life to secure our Home with Him in Heaven. . . in His Father’s House. 

May my heart draw near to Him, choose to be close to Him in many moments throughout my day.  May my hand reach out for His, and hold tightly to the Finger of God.  

    Not Alone

“The Lord your God is with you,

    the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

    in His love He will no longer rebuke you,

    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

Often,  when we are in the middle of doing something that we feel God has put in our hearts to do, doubts and whispers of discouragement come. . . seemingly out of nowhere.  A shadow begins to creep into your mind, bringing a sense of doubt about whatever step of obedience you are taking.  

As I write this, I am in the Sahara Desert, in a huge refugee camp that has existed here, waiting for justice, since the 1970’s.  It’s very challenging to be here, in every way.  As I read the words of Zephaniah this morning, they took on far greater meaning than ever before.

First, he addresses the feeling of being all alone.  Prophets were often literally all alone as they moved about announcing things that most people didn’t want to hear!  They led lonely lives. Imagine what it would be like to live with someone who was always getting Messages that no one else was hearing, and they were usually not messages anyone wanted to hear. . . bad news that shook  people who were on a wrong path, or warnings of coming judgment, or maybe messages that would describe the listener’s own demise.   Thankfully, my words are of Good News, and I am being loved well here!

The Enemy of our Souls loves nothing more than to mess with our emotions, thoughts, circumstances, and relationships, especially when we are determined to obey what He has asked us to do.  When our obedience ‘rocks the boat’ of people in our lives. . . people we want to please. . . people whose opinions really matter to us, it’s particularly stressful.  We need to know that God is with us.  

Look at Zephaniah’s list of the ways God showed him He is with us:  

  • “Mighty Warrior who saves”;  on the field, fighting the Battles alongside us, and saving us;
  • “He takes great delight in you!”   You bring a smile to His face…JOY in watching you do what He has asked, like a proud Daddy watching His child obeying Him, even when it’s hard.
  • Loving Words are spoken . . . not scolding or critiquing, as He sees you doing as He has asked;
  • Like a proud Father, He demonstrates His joy and delight as He watches you doing what He has told you to do, even when it’s hard.  He cheers you on…not taking His Eyes off of you as He watches you “go!”

Knowing that the Lord our God is with you . . . 

                                                         to Save you . . .

                                                                Delighted in you . . .

                                                                         Loving you without criticism. . . 

                                                                               Singing with joy over you.

That’s the image of God I want to keep in my mind and heart . . . especially in my “deserts of life”, . . . especially when the shadows come!

The Gift of Washed Feet

“Jesus loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the end.

… He got up from the table, … took a towel and tied it around His waist.  

Then He poured water into a basin 

and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel.”

John 13:3-5

It was July, and our travel thermometer read 130 F.  Unbelievable desert heat was taking a toll on our team of Wisconsinites, whose home state rarely breaks 100 in the summertime.  I had been bumping around in a tough old truck, having meetings and checking on the children’s programs our team was involved with in the Saharawi refugee camps.   Afternoon “siestas” were an absolute necessity, as our cool-weather team struggled to find any relief.

I had gone into a tent, leaned back on a pillow, and the next thing I realized was that someone was gently washing my feet, one at a time,  in a basin of water.  It was like floating in a dream.  One of our team ladies was on her knees, silently pouring water over my dusty, dry feet over a basin,  wiping away the fine sand that seemed to find its way into everything…even closed suitcases.  

I gently came out of the dream, wishing  I could have stayed there all day!  

The experience communicated care, love, tenderness . . . all in a simple, very practical act.  Walking around in a desert includes sand getting into everything…hair, ears, eyes, teeth . . . and every piece of fabric you are wearing.  So, washing someone’s feet includes addressing a very practical need, but also the tender, personal care given.

In a moment that Jesus knew would be His last personal time with His closest inner circle of friends, Jesus washed their feet.  This could have easily taken an hour or more, going friend to friend.  On His knees, His Hands would have taken their sand-weathered feet, one at a time, bringing each into the basin of water He placed before each man.  Rubbing away the tiny grains of sand that seems to find its way into every crevice and pore takes time.  With a gentle massaging motion, the clean water becomes cloudy as the sand loses its grip on the skin and nails.  The repeated changing of the water for each person adds to the unhurried time spent together.  There is time to speak with each other as the harshness of the earth slowly floats to the bottom of the bowl, and the refreshing sense of being cleaned and soothed by someone who has been on their knees, the position of a servant before you, leaves a lingering experience of the sweet, humble, personal care of a friend.

Jesus knew exactly what lay before Him in the coming hours.  He knew that this would be the last time they would share the Passover Meal together.  The circle of friends did not know what He was facing in the coming hours and days.  He chose to take the time to be with His twelve. . . to model very personally what He wanted them to be like as they carried on without His physical presence.  

Have you allowed Him to wash your feet?  Can you sit still long enough to let Him sit with you?  Look into each other’s eyes?  Can you allow Him to see, and wash away the things that cling to you as a result of where you’ve walked?  Can you accept His loving care for you . . . or are  you too embarrassed or ashamed to let Him come that close to the life you’ve been walking through?  Can you accept that His Purpose is to share His Table with you, having washed away all that Life has held, and held onto you?

You are invited.

Unbroken

“Your King is coming to you.  

He’s gentle, riding on a donkey, on a colt,

a young pack animal.”

Matthew 21:5

Picture this:  Jesus is preparing to make a very public entrance into Jerusalem.  His fame has been mounting . . . crowds have  been growing . . . everyone was talking about Him, both fans and foes.  It seemed He was at the height of public attention and popularity.  Jerusalem was buzzing with the stories of this Prophet’s miracles and words. 

His chosen transportation for this grand entrance?   A donkey.  A young, unbroken donkey.  Everyone knew that trying to ride a young, unbroken donkey was downright dangerous.  Impossible! 

But Jesus was used to pulling the most unlikely into His work.  That donkey hadn’t been trained, or officially licensed, or most likely even considered for providing transportation for any person … much less a Prophet being lauded as a King!  The Messiah, no less!

Yet, at Jesus’ bidding, that’s what took place.  That young, unbroken donkey carried the King of Kings through the crowds of people waving palm branches, shouting “Hosanna!!”, all the way down the mountain slope and up to Jerusalem, where the Temple glistened in the sunshine.

Imagine, for a moment, that unbroken, young donkey’s experience.  It’s natural instinct would have been to go crazy and do whatever it could to escape the whole situation. . . including making it impossible for the rider to hang on.  

Has Jesus pulled you into service for Him in ways that seem to go against everything in you?

Have you experienced being “broken” in order for Him to use you for His Purposes?  Have you found yourself wading into groups of people who you find terrifying to be with?  You’re not “trained” for?  Hadn’t ever considered serving in the ways you’ve been commissioned to serve?

You feel totally out of your element?  You’re unqualified.  You always thought you’d spend your life doing basic, fairly familiar tasks. . . nothing even close to being in the spotlight with the King of all Kings.

Jesus left a trail of unqualified, uncertified, unexpected, and most unlikely humans in His time on earth.  And He continues to use people who have simply accepted His invitation to follow Him.  His closest circle while on earth included men and women, people who had been simply going about their rather ordinary lives.  But at His Invitation … His Choice, He pulls us near to Himself.  

In that closeness to Him, we become broken, and useful for His Purposes.  

Treasures of Darkness

“I will give you the 

Treasures

of darkness.”

Isaiah 45:3

The finest Lace is created in a dark room.  The intricate weaving of the fine threads takes place in a dark room. There is but one small window overhead through which the sun’s light beams onto the threads being delicately woven by hand.  Only the piece of lace emerging from the weaver’s fingers is illuminated.

There is a lot of darkness in life.  In the bigger picture, much of it is only momentary.  But there are those times . . . seasons . . . when the darkness seems to surround us.  We cannot see the path ahead.  We may not even be capable of seeing tomorrow.  We stumble over things on our way that we had not known were there.  We may not be aware of any others with whom we share the darkness.  The next step to take is not clear, and a sense of dread and fear begins to surround us, making its way into our thoughts . . . into our hearts.  

We long for some light.  We long to have a sense of ‘Where am I?”  “Where am I going?”   Fear begins its paralyzing work.

But God is there.  From the Beginning, He has brought His Light into our darkness.  It may seem like only a small flicker of Light, but it is enough to permeate the darkness, even if it seems but a little candle’s flame.  

When we find ourselves unexpectedly in darkness, the minutes seem to last longer.  Whatever we were doing slows or stops.  I stop.  Awareness of anyone else’s presence in the space becomes greater.  Interactions increase.  Focus changes.  

I’ll never forget sharing an elevator in a tall building with a deaf woman.  I barely knew her.  We had only nodded a simple acknowledgement to one another when we entered the elevator from the top floor.  The door closed, the descent began, …and all the power went out!  Elevator stopped.  Lights gone.  Utter blackness surrounded us.  And fear.  What was happening???    Then, her hand found mine, and we began fingerspelling into each other’s palms…Helen Keller style.  By the time the power returned, we’d made a very unexpected connection.  The moments of darkness created a moment of relationship.

The God of Light (“…in Whom there is no darkness…”) steps into our darkness and into our dark world, and “…then there is Light…”   The darkness makes us long for the Light.  

And He is there. . . intricately weaving the Threads that will create something very beautiful.

THAT Neighbor

“The commandments,  Never commit adultery; never murder; never steal; never have wrong desires;”  and every other commandment are summed up in this statement:  

                                 ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’

Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor. Therefore, love fulfills Moses’ teachings.”

Romans 13:9-10

She came riding up in a cloud of dust on her bicycle.  I’d never seen her before, and she was smokin’!   (Not a cigarette….it was more like coming out of her ears…)   I was new to the neighborhood, and wasn’t sure if this was a local custom of welcoming or what.  I greeted her with a smile and a friendly “Hello!”   She in turn, began shouting something about our chickens, her bird-feeder, and her sister’s dog.  Trying to push the image of the Wizard of Oz character on the bicycle out of my head, I gathered that our little brood of free-ranging chickens were visiting her birdfeeder each morning, scaring a small dog, and the rooster was announcing himself and his ladies far too early in the day.  

At the conclusion of her welcome-to-the-neighborhood speech, she climbed back onto her bicycle and disappeared into the cloud of dust from which she had come. (Heading to the house to report our ‘visitation’, I did give into the temptation to hum the little theme song from that bicycle scene in the movie.) 

It had been easy to “love the neighbor” directly next to us. So warm, friendly, hospitable.  But the Bike Lady was another thing.  

God doesn’t give exceptions to the Neighbor Rule.  In fact, that Rule sums up all of the Commandments and Moses’ teachings.  He provided a very basic practicum in living out all of those ageless Commandments. . . literally right next door.  

So next time you have a visitation from That Neighbor . . .  😉          

You get the Idea. . .     

Simple Faith

“If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; 

And it would obey you.’”

Mark 11:22-23

While Jesus was here in human form, He often stopped to point out very simple realities of daily life.  He liked to challenge His close followers to believe God more than they did.  The miracles He showed them were done in His human form.  He didn’t “transform” into a different being, but remained in the human form in which He came to us.  He used practical things of life, and modeled to His followers what Faith and Trust in God could be and do.  There was a simplicity in His actions.  But Divine reactions took place.

When I was around 3 years old, my mama was laying on the living room couch and holding her ear, in obvious pain.  I remember her calling me over and, in tears, saying, “Honey, would you pray for Mama’s ear?  It hurts SO much!”  I put my hand on her “owie” and simply said, “Dear Jesus, please make my Mama’s ear get better….amen.”  She turned her head, looked at me, and said, “It’s gone!!   The pain is gone!  Jesus made it all better!  Thank You, Jesus!  Thank you, honey!” 

I went back to whatever I was playing with.  But I learned that day that I could ask Jesus for help, and that He would hear me.  He was there.  Pretty significant truths to get into my little heart.

There are so many examples in the Bible of Jesus’ interactions with nature and with people, and miracles that took place as a result.  He used an earthly simplicity that even a child could see and mimic.  It was another way that He stepped into our human reality and made a difference.  He demonstrated the possibilities.

But a Key piece of the picture lies in my (and your) own heart.  Do I believe Him?  Do I trust Him?  Whatever happens or does not happen . . . am I His?   

The Greatest Commandment

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, 

with all your mind, and with all your strength.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

There is no other command greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

I am curious as to why God’s Word [aka Jesus] lists four specific commandments, and then lumps the other 6 of the 10 into “every other commandment.”   Are those 4 the most common ones we break, or the ones most important to God?   I don’t know, but He sums up all of the rest into a command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”   That is the simply stated bottom line.

God knows us SO well….He knows that we tend to analyze, dissect, and complicate everything.

And we look for “loopholes” that will get us out of hot water.  

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is as simple and basic as it gets.  We all have a neighbor on a practical level.  There’s always that “somebody” in our lives who is near enough to us that they can be an annoyance, irritation, or worse.  Even if you live miles away from the nearest neighbor, there’s always someone in our lives.

Maybe God chose the “neighbor” to keep these primary Commandments real and practical in our lives.   Not just “some nameless somebody out there” in our excuses.  God makes it clear that He cares about how we practice LOVE in everyday life, someone right next to us.  Up close.  Maybe it’s even in the “neighboring room” at home.  

God makes it as basic as it can get to obey His 10 Commandments…..LOVE the one nearest to us everyday, and measure how well you’re doing it by comparing that to how you love yourself…

Basic.  Practical.  All day long and through the night. Food. Water. Comfort. Rest.  Friendship.  

His Kindness and Mercy keeps it clear and simple in this complicated world we humans have created.

How are you doing?

Sharing

“I can guarantee this truth:  

‘Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it 

will never enter it.’”

Mark 10:15 & Luke 18:17

Much of my daily life involves children.  I have 12 grandchildren from the ages of 13 to 1 year.  And they’re all within a half hour’s drive from me, four even right on the other side of the door.   I learn a lot from them.  I see myself in them.  And I often get to see the world through their eyes.  

Jesus said that we have a lot to learn from children. . . a lot about His Kingdom.  He made enough statements about this, that at least two of His twelve wrote it down in the same way.  From His Divine Perspective, He modeled and spoke of this “child model” enough to have it echoed by both Mark and Luke.  

So how does one “receive the Kingdom of God” as a little child?  If you don’t live with any little child, invite yourself to somebody’s home who has one.  Even better, bring them something you know they’ll like….(you can ask their Mom or Dad for a suggestion.)  It needn’t have a “Kingdom-level” price-tag on it to bring smiles and joy.  

Then, sit up and watch the “receiving” experience.    Do they:

  • Analyze it
  • Evaluate it
  • Calculate it’s value
  • Study through all the tiny writing on the box
  • Cross-reference its value from multiple sources
  • Wait to see if something better is coming
  • Immediately hide it so nobody can touch it
  • Etc.
  • ?

One of the most memorable child-gifting experiences I ever witnessed was in the desert refugee camps where a big chunk of my heart is.  Toys are pieces of sticks, rusted chunks of metal, stones, … you get the idea.   One of our teammates had brought a brand new doll for her host family’s little girl.  She was so excited to see what was in the package that she enthusiastically tore it open.  As she pulled the pretty little doll from the box, she immediately jumped up with shrieks of joy, ran out of the tent and into the open waving the doll and shouting, “Look what WE got!!!  Look what WE got!!!” to all her little neighborhood friends.  And they came running . . . 

I suspect this may have been the kind of reaction to which Jesus  was referring when He repeatedly spoke to us of “receiving the Kingdom as a little child receives it . . .”   

His coming to this earth was His Gift  . . . His Kingdom in human form.  It wasn’t meant for us to hide it in a closet, keep it to ourselves, analyze it to death, or refer to it as something for ‘someday.’  His Kingdom is something we are already part of if He is our King.  So much of our world is waiting to hear . . . wondering . . . fearing, and trying to do life without Him. 

Live it!  Share it!  Announce to your world, “Look what we got!”

A Little Glimpse

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, 

and I will give you rest.”    Matthew 11:28

Is this a bit of what it’s like for You, God?   We’re Your children, Your busy babies.  So very busy exploring, touching, tasting, rarely pausing for a bigger picture than what is immediately at hand.

But soon something happens that gets in our way, blocks or stops us from what we were after.  We get frustrated . . . mad. 

We start to cry.  Then wail.   All we can feel is our frustration at not getting what we wanted.

But, loving Father that You are, You pick us up, wrapping Your Arms around us, and hold us close.  We feel immobilized. . . blocked.  Stuck.   

In reality, we’re being held in Your Arms.   Arms of love.  Near to Your Heart.  Snatched away from what we’d set our eyes on.  Away from what we wanted.  It takes a while to begin to stop fighting.  We only see restraint.  A barrier.  Watching what we wanted going out of our sight…out of our reach.   We try to pull free.  Sometimes with a lot of crying.  

But You see an over-tired child of Yours.  A child You love, and know that a nap is needed.  We struggle against Your strong arms of love wrapped around us.  You are unrelenting.  And we complain . . . and cry.   

After a while, Your child’s complaints begin to quiet.  The struggle to be freed weakens, and we begin to relax in Your strong Arms.  The weary little head begins to rest on Your chest.  Near to Your heart.  

Peace comes.

And at last, sweet rest.  Sleep.   

And you smile.

Thank You, Father, for loving us enough to make us rest.