Adjusting the Focus

“Baruch, this is what the Lord says:

‘I will destroy this nation that I built.

I will uproot what I planted.

Are you seeking great things for yourself?

Don’t do it!

But don’t be discouraged.

I will bring great disaster upon all these people,

But I will protect you wherever you go.

I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 45:4-5

God has a looong history of orchestrating attitude adjustments to the inhabitants of this old Earth.  He especially seems to focus on the people who have chosen to follow Him through Life.   In this present moment, the whole world is dealing with a “plague” like most have never personally experienced.  Unexpected, life-altering, scary, and destructive.  Our own mortality is in our faces.

But within this global “Disruption” have come changes of attitudes, changes of perspective, and a lot more time to “be.”   It’s been beyond our human control to end it.  Most have experienced a realization that we cannot just “fix” this.

Earth has a long history of world-changing events…and often these have been part of an awakening to God Himself.

In the prophet Jeremiah’s time, his world was also experiencing a serious “shaking.”  There was fear, a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, …all that had been was changing.

God’s perspective is far different from our human perspective.  He does not focus on all the “stuff” of life on this planet.  He is focused on hearts…on values…on how we value Him and the place we give Him in our daily lives.

God spoke to a man named Baruch, whose world was on the brink of devastation.

Baruch had been writing down the things the old Prophet Jeremiah spoke…which was a lot!  He was not very happy about it, either…nor of the compensation for all his work.  (Prophets tend to be “loner’s” and financially living on the kindness of others. And they talk a lot, so we can imagine what his “secretary” lived with.)

The people had taken their world into their own hands, disregarding the God who had made them a nation and had cared for them as His Own.  Prophet Jeremiah likely had a LOT to say about all of that.

Baruch (which means “Blessed”, but AKA “The Secretary”) had God’s attention.  We are given a glimpse into God’s warning to him about one thing:  “Do not seek great things for yourself.”

We, as the people of God, are blessed…if for no other reason than His choosing us to be His Holy Nation…His Family.  The greatest risk to that relationship is turning our focus on “me…myself…and I.” 

In the desert refugee camps, a moment that is stamped on my mind was when I saw a scruffy little girl receive a gift from one of our group.  She quickly opened it and pulled out a doll.  Her shriek of  joy quickly turned into a dash out of the tent, shouting,  “Look what WE got!   Look what WE got!”  as she waved the doll over her head.  Her little friends came from all directions, joyfully gathered around the new doll.  There was no “I…my….mine” in the mix.  The gift was for all of them, in that little girl’s mind. 

The best place for us to be is focusing on God, rather than on ourselves.  The focus of “me” and “mine” can dissolve in a moment.  But keeping our focus centered on God is the safest place to be.

 

 

 

WHAT A MESS!

“I will climb up into my watchtower now

And wait to see what the lord will say to me

And how He will answer my complaint.”

Habakkuk 2:1

Habakkuk (imagine the nicknames!) was living in a very messed-up world.  A string of wicked leadership had left his world, and his people, under oppression, lawlessness, and immorality.  People were living in fear.  What had this done to them as a nation?  Would they ever get past what life had become?  Their “new normal” was far from what life used to be.

Habakkuk, a Prophet of God, needed to get away.  He longed to get perspective…. God’s Perspective.  He had poured out his complaints to God, and needed to hear back.  People looked to him for answers, for help…anything they could grab onto to get through these very tough times.

But first, Habakkuk  needed to hear from God.

I was married for 36+ years to a “prophet”….who had courage to speak Truth, whether popular or not.  When times were especially troubling, he would head out the door wearing his rattiest old hunting jacket, an old holey pair of jeans, hiking shoes, and his favorite old hat.  One look at him told me that he was going to the woods, and into an old tree stand.  What was designed to watch for deer became his “watchtower” to get perspective…a higher view of realities.  God had placed him in the role he carried, and he needed to be attuned to His Voice.  He felt closer to God up there, more focused, and tuned his ear to hear whatever God had to say.

Habakkuk headed to the watchtower.  It had been built so that any danger to the people of the region could be detected as early as possible.  From its higher view he could see  any threats to God’s people that were undetectable from the ground.  For this prophet of God, it enabled him to see many things more clearly…to identify the nearby dangers, and gain clearer perspective.  Demanding and fearful voices of those under his care were not usually accurate.

Habakkuk waited with expectation to SEE from a higher perspective what God would say, and to HEAR the Answer …. What was TRUE….in the midst of all the mess.  He waited for God’s Word to him first, personally.

After my husband went “Home”, I moved into the 3rd floor of my youngest son and his wife’s old Victorian home.  The day my furniture was to come, I took time to walk to each window and pay attention to the full view.  As I slowly moved from window to window, I realized that from that place I could see most of the key points of Bill’s and my story together.   The park of our first “date” where he kept throwing me into piles of Fall leaves….The university parking lot where passionate new Believers would gather to pray before going out onto College Avenue to talk to a lot of troubled  youth about finding new lives;  the “Office” we used for the growing street outreach that had been birthed from his heart … the Salvation Army space where young people crowded in every Friday night to celebrate their new life with Jesus…The first church building the thriving new group of young Believers would use to gather for weekly Sunday worship.  The park beside the river which had been the favorite one for our 3 boys.  And the beautiful old cemetery along the river beside  which he had often spent time praying…and which had become his final earthy resting place .

As I moved from window to window….memory to memory, God was right there with me…reminding me of the Story He had written through our life together.  He had set me in a place that would be a constant reminder of His faithfulness…still actively with me each day…each moment…always.

My unexpected “watchtower” was truly a place of God’s Peace, His Presence, and His Perspective throughout that very tough season.   He was there.  And now I live beside that river, bordering the park where our family played together, adjacent to that same old cemetery.  From my 3rd floor window I can always see that steady river, flowing north, reminding me always that the course of this life goes on (often in uncommon ways), and that God surrounds me with His Love and Presence.  He sees….He knows….I can rest in that.

May we look up for God’s Perspective in our troubled days,  and listen.

FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM – Part 2

JOHN the Baptist

 “You yourselves can testify that I said,  ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’  The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”   John 3:28-30

[NOTE:   John, one of the 12 disciples, is telling this story…it includes a story of John the Baptist (JB),  and his (JB’s) encounter with Jesus near the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry on earth.)

 John the Baptist knew who he was.  Before he was even born, his mother Elizabeth, with John in her womb, had been not only Mary’s aunt, but an unlikely mentor to her.  Both miracle baby boys, cousins, had “met” before they were born…still in their mothers’ wombs.  John became a famous prophet, a one-of-a-kind proclaimer of the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus.  John courageously, fearlessly spoke of the Messiah’s arrival on earth.  He grabbed his world’s attention,  announcing the One Who had stepped onto this planet to fulfill the Plan God had set into motion “in the Beginning.”

 John understood who Jesus was.  He also knew who he   was, and lived out his part in the Plan that was unfolding before his eyes.  John embraced his assigned work with his whole heart, mind and strength.  John also understood and embraced his role of being the “friend of the Bridegroom.”  Though he had drawn many followers through his powerful message, John was waiting and listening for Him [the Messiah]… the Bridegroom who was about to step into the spotlight.  

 Then came the day when Jesus asked John to be His “Baptiser”, as John had been for all who had heard and believed his message to repent and turn to God.  John baptized Jesus.  The Holy Spirit of God visited the event, appearing as a dove, announcing that Jesus was God’s ‘beloved Son, in whom He was very pleased.’  John had always known who Jesus really was.  But in that moment, God’s audible Announcement began the turning point of John’s life. 

Jesus, the Bridegroom, had come.  John had been waiting … listening…and preparing.  At that moment in time, John stepped into the role of “Friend of the Bridegroom,” and embraced it with great joy. There was no sense of resentment, competition, jealousy, or disappointment.  John embraced his role, stepping into the background to watch the Groom bring His Bride to Himself.

 John proved to be the perfect “Friend of the Bridegroom”….stepping aside, out of the limelight of the spiritual fame he had been given throughout Israel.  John had been worthy of God’s choice of being “friend of the bridegroom.”  He had the Bridegroom’s trust, as he had powerfully prepared the way for the hearts of the people – “The Bride” – to turn to the Bridegroom when He came on the scene.   John had faithfully set the stage for the Bridegroom to arrive and gather His Bride.

When that moment came, John  gracefully and intentionally moved into the shadows as  Bridegroom Jesus  stepped onto the Stage of Earth with the Good  News that He was ready to take His Bride into the Kingdom of God,  paid for by His own Blood, laying down His life for His Beloved. 

 Are you a Friend of the Bridegroom?  Has He entrusted His heart…His commitment, His Love to be communicated to His Bride through your life?  It is a precious responsibility He has entrusted to mere mortals to be His trusted friends.  As the Wedding Day approaches, are we listening intently, staying near to the Bridegroom, and actively involved in relaying His Heart to His Bride? 

 May we, the Bride of Christ, be ready – “without spot or wrinkle” – when our Bridegroom comes for us.   He has been preparing our Home…..His coming could be at any moment. 

  

Friend of the Bridegroom – Part 1

 “The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom.  The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice.”  John 3:28-30

[NOTE: John, one of the 12 disciples chosen by Jesus, described well the key people and roles involved in ancient weddings.  It also gives us an insight into the first “wedding”…in God’s Garden.]

God was the first Wedding Planner.   He created the Garden setting (Perfect!), the Groom (Adam…handsome “model man,” I’m sure, although he was missing a rib), and the Bride (Eve…an absolutely divine creation!)   

It was perfect!

At that moment in Time, God Himself stepped into the role of Friend of the Bridegroom.   In ancient times, this role was very important.  The Friend of the Bridegroom acted as the go-between for the Bridegroom and the Bride.  Plans, details, and any other important communications between the Bridegroom and the Bride were carried out through the Friend of the Bridegroom.  The Bridegroom and the Bride did not have any contact before the wedding.  All information was passed between them by the Friend of the Bridegroom.  He had weighty responsibilities to carry out between the Bridegroom and his Bride, and had to be completely trustworthy.   In that first love story, God conducted the wedding ceremony.

Fast forward in time… God chose a man named Moses to be His Friend.  God had chosen His Bride (the people of God), through whom He would bring the Messiah.  They had been in slavery for 400 years and had lost much as a result.  The generations who had known God were gone.  It was as if God had to press a “re-set” button to prepare His Bride, reminding her of who she was,  Whose she was,  Who God was,  and how to relate to Him as well as to each other.  Their centuries of slavery had changed them.  God had to lay new groundwork for this nation of slaves (His Bride) through whom He would create His Own Nation…a Family.

God chose His “Friend of the Bridegroom”….a man who was of God’s own People, yet had been raised and trained in the most powerful Pharoah’s own home.  His name was Moses.  His leadership and scholastic training was from the best.  Moses had been trained in leadership skills necessary to rule a mighty nation, the mightiest on earth at that time.  Yet Moses had also spent 40 years out in the middle of nowhere “leading” sheep.  It was his time to personally encounter God, and to learn to be a shepherd of “not too bright” sheep.  The drastically different skill sets of an Egyptian Prince and a desert shepherd would all come into play for the mission the Bridegroom (God) had for Moses to carry out for Him.

Once God had His chosen Bride’s full attention, having walked down the aisle of a parted sea,  the Bridegroom was ready to communicate with His Bride about how their life together would work.

Moses (Friend of the Bridegroom) went to meet with Bridegroom, God, on the mountain top, and began writing down what the Groom was laying out as the foundation of their new Family, a chosen nation.  In 400 years of slavery, they had lost much of who they were.

The Friend of  the Groom (Moses) would come down the mountain to relay what the Groom said….how their family would function….how their marriage would work…how they would live together as a Family.  He had written it down….in stone.   The Bridegroom trusted His Friend Moses with this history-making responsibility which was intended to last throughout the entire history of the family/nation  He and His Bride would establish.

The first version did not go so well.   The “document” literally  broke apart.

The Friend of the Groom returned to the mountain top meeting place, and the Groom again dictated to His Friend Moses all the foundational agreements (10 Commandments) that were necessary for this Family to succeed, to last.  No longer slaves, they had to learn how to live in freedom.

They had to learn how to live as a family…and as a nation.

Moses spent a lot of time with The Bridegroom on that mountain top.   He made a lot of trips up and down the mountain on the Groom’s  behalf.   But Moses kept the Bride’s focus on the Groom, not on himself.   He knew that he was in the shadow of the Groom, and his role was to faithfully and truthfully represent the Heart of her Groom, continuing to help her know Him in all of His Truth, Faithfulness and Love.  The Groom had entrusted His Name, His Reputation, and His Heart to His Friend Moses.

Moses remained the faithful Friend of the Groom for the rest of his life.  He represented The Groom well.  Moses led the Bride to the Land that was to be her Home…the Home she would share with her Groom.

At last, Moses stood at the Doorstep of that Home, the Land of Israel, and watched the Bride walk through the Door with her Groom.

Then Moses rested.

 

 

Family Resemblance

 23 “May the God who gives peace make you holy in every way.

May He keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—

blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes.

24 The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do this.”

Paul is talking to us through a prayer over us.  In a nutshell, he is asking God to make us “holy.”   On this earth, we live far from “holy.”   We don’t even have a human model to show us what that would look like!   It’s not something we can do out of our own heads.  Only God can do that.  To become holy would mean that we would look like Jesus, our only example throughout all of the ages of what a holy human would look like…act like…

Be like.  We would change in ways that would make us look more like Jesus…a family resemblance to Him.

Do we look like Jesus?  Is the family resemblance clear enough to be noticable to the people we’re with?  When we are in a gathering of people who have come into God’s Family, it’s not so obvious.  Most have similar characteristics.  But when we are in a situation where non-believers are the vast majority, does your Family Resemblance show, or do you just blend into the crowd?

You can’t create your own “family resemblance”….it’s just there.  So, when you’re simply hanging out in your daily world, do other people see anything that resembles the characteristics of Jesus?  A “family resemblance” is a natural part of being in your family.  It’s not something you can create.

The first time I visited the desert, I was truly afraid of being identified as a “Christian.”  It was a very unwelcome identity in that part of the world.  So on practical levels, I seriously tried to blend into their world.

The first day, I met a beautiful young woman who spoke English.  As we were becoming acquainted, she unexpectedly leaned in, and asked in a hushed voice, “Are you Christian?”   I hesitantly nodded.   She whispered, “Tell me!”

I had been careful to give no outward evidence of my faith.  No cards, tags, symbols, etc.  But the family resemblance had been noted…by someone who had never even been exposed to my Family.   It was nothing visible nor verbally identifiable.  It was simply part of my Family identityof the Spirit inside.  No person can make that happen.  We can try to make it apparent on the outside, but that will soon fail.  When Christ comes into our lives, the Family Resemblance becomes part of who we are, as a result of Whose we are.

The Spirit within us …the Holy Spirit…has one key evident Characteristic that shows up for others to identify:   A strong family likeness to Jesus Christ. 

 

 

Where’s MY  tent?

“He moved on to the hills east of Bethel,

and he put up his tent

—with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.

He also built an altar to the Lord there and worshiped the Lord.”     

Genesis 12:8

 Abraham was on the move.  That’s just part of living in a tent!  There’s a whole culture tied to tent-living:  Moving often, a sense of “temporary” to life, a sense of vulnerability to elements of nature as well as to the people who may cross your path.  It’s the typical housing of shepherds, herdsmen, and people who enjoy “camping” in the heart of nature.

But as Abraham journeyed into the new world of following God, he had to continually make adjustments….he was perpetually in a learning mode.

This time, he was settling into a region where he’d not been before,  among a people and culture that was not his own.

The details of places named in Bible stories are significant, though we in 2020 rarely catch the significance of those details.  Yet the details are there for a reason:

Bethel:  One side of where Abraham set up his tent-home.  Bet= house  El= of God

Ai:    On the other side of him, representing things of the world, but apart from God

Abraham set up his tent between the two places.  Then he built an altar, where he would worship the One God he followed.  He would make sacrifices on that altar as a regular act of worship.

Isn’t it similar to the place in this world where we live?   We live out our ‘tent’ lives between the God Who has come to us and drawn us to Himself, but always in sight of this earthly world which demands that our attention be drawn away from God.  Both are in our sights, and we daily have to determine which we will be drawn to….belong to.  Our ‘tent’ is to be held loosely…tents are not permanent.

Altars are built of rocks.  They are meant to last.  They’re not disposable nor dispensable.  Altars stand as reminders of Who we worship…Whose we are.  And long after we’re gone, the altar of our worship stands, a testament of the One Who called us and made us His Own in this world.

So….. where is your tent?

The Battle Continues

Part 2 

“For this reason, take up all the armor that God supplies.

 Then you will be able to take a stand during these evil days.

 Once you have overcome all obstacles, you will be able to stand your ground.”

Epheasians 6:13-17

Note of Warning:   The following is from a deeply female, mom perspective.   But I’ve peeked through my fingers at many movie battle scenes with knights, etc.   It is also acknowledging that half of the battle is in our own heads….

The Battle in this passage has moved from a 1-on-1 of “wrestling” to a full out armed battle.

Our Hope…our Light in the midst of the darkness, is God Himself, and all that He has  provided.  He wants us to be safe….to feel safe!   He has even provided armor to protect us and help us feel secure enough to fight.  He wants us to win….not to be victims to the dangers,  the evil of this world.   His Armor is offered.  Our part is to take it…and to put it on.  With His Armor,  we will be able to stand strong, without fear of what is happpening around us or what is to come.  He doesn’t throw us out on the battlefield of this life with a “Good luck.”

The opponents listed are daunting:

  • rulers, authorities and powers of darkness, and
  • spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.

The armor that God supplies for us to take and use includes:

The Sword of the Spirit :    God’s Word, which cuts and separates Truth  from lies                                                The Breastplate of Righteousness:   Protection for our hearts by all that is Right by God’s Design

The Belt of Truth:  Belts go around waists….pretty vulnerable part of our bodies.  Ever have a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach just thinking about something?   God offers to wrap His Truth around that queasy, emotionally affected part of us.  His Truth can protect our vulnerable worries and upsets that make us feel “sick” inside.

Shoes of the Gospel of Peace:  His Good News has been handed to us to carry it to others.  He’s given us Shoes that are meant to “go”….not sit under the bed.  We have Good News…the BEST News…to bring to a hopeless world.  Peace.  Peace of heart….peace of spirit….peace of mind….peace with others.   Where can you find that in this world?

Shield of Faith:   Faith is not physically visible.  But it is as real as anything tangible.  It is a force that can be present in the scariest of circumstances.  It is stronger than anything tangible.  Faith resides within us….takes the brunt of the blows of this world….regardless of what appears to be real.  It is an invisible, solid-as-iron link between me and Him that protects my heart and soul from all the Enemy throws at me;

Helmet of Salvation:  My brain….my “Thinker”….the core of WHO I AM….God puts His Helmet over that part of me, to protect my thoughts, my understanding, my beliefs.  It saves me from

Who I am if not for His intervention in my life.  That Helmet protects me from the troubled thoughts and wrong beliefs that would wreak havoc with me if not for His Truth penetrating that old Thinker.

Sword of the Spirit:   God’s Word, which He has given to us….we are privileged to hold it in our hands, read it with our eyes, put it into our minds, and allow it to sink into our deepest parts.  A SWORD is no small object.  It’s nothing to play with.   A sword is heavy. . .its weight has to be used with a strength that has built up. It’s as much a weapon of defense as it is offense.  A sword extends far beyond a hand’s reach.  It’s meant to cut….cut through all the lies and harm that comes at us  pointed at our minds, hearts, and body. Its use has to be up close to the Enemy…eye to eye…not at a distance. God’s Sword can cut through it all.  It is Truth.  But unless we hold it tightly in our hands and have learned how to use it, it is of no help to us.  God’s SWORD is not meant to simply be on display in a glass case or on a wall.

I had a friend who, in her own frustration with the life struggles that seemed to always be at her door said to me, “I see everyone else putting on all their pieces of God’s Armor, but I’m still struggling in my closet to even open the box!”

It’s worth the struggle!   No armor is “easy” to put on.  No armor feels good…it might hurt…it  may inhibit our sense of “freedom” to move.   Putting on armor takes time.  It takes time and practice to learn how to move about with it on….how to effectively…wisely… use it.

But when the battle comes, you will be deeply grateful you had it on.  It will save your life.

And we KNOW…. HIS SIDE WINS!