Being Watched

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.  Then you will be blameless and innocent. You will be God’s children without any faults among people who are crooked and corrupt.  You will shine like stars among them in the world as you hold firmly to the Word of Life. Then I can brag on the day of Christ that my effort was not wasted and that my work produced results.”

Philippians 2:14-16

Growing up in a pastor’s family, one of the consistent dynamics was that of “being watched.”  I hated that!   But it was a reality.  And tied to that was the “What would people think?!” theme.  UGH!  As a child, that awareness seemed like a curse.

But it is a reality.   Being watched was a reality in the days of Jesus, and in the lives of all of His Followers.  

Paul compares it to the global experience of seeing stars in the sky.  Every sighted person on earth, throughout time, looks at the stars in the night skies.   They show up in the darkness.  It’s a natural occurrence from catching the reflection of the Sun.

I remember, especially in my early times in the desert, total strangers commenting to me that they “see Light” in me.   Often it was followed with a remark of “darkness” being their common experience.   This was curious to me, as there was nothing intentional on my part to look like “light.”  I didn’t see it.  But they did.

Paul gives us some super practical suggestions on how it looks to “glow” in the darkness of our world:

“Do everything without complaining…

“….. or arguing.”

“…be God’s children without faults among people who are crooked and corrupt.”

“…hold firmly to the Word of Life.”

God gives us a tangible picture of how this looks:   Children.   Watch them.  Learn from them.  Children who are well loved, as we are by our Father, are notable in their responses to their parents and others who love them.  

As we walk through our days, the surrounding “darkness” is easy to see.  But there’s something wonderful that can only be seen in that darkness:   Stars.  Points of Light  become clear, bringing Light in the darkness, beauty that causes us to look UP, and a sense of Presence, Order, and Power that is far above anything this old earth could create.  They don’t have to work hard to generate their Light and Beauty in the darkness.

They simply reflect the Source.

When God Gets Pushy

“He guarded him  . . . 

like an eagle

that stirs up its nest 

and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

and carries them on its feathers.”

Deuteronomy 32:11

I tend to avoid pushy people.  They ruffle my feathers.  But when God gets pushy,  . . . I’ve learned that I’d best pay attention.   I know I’m not going to win that fight.

There’s a huge old gnarly tree about 3 miles from my house, and in it is a massive  nest,  Eagles.  Every year, the eagle pair adds to the huge thing, and soon I  begin seeing the babies being cared for by the attentive parents.  They truly do “hover” over their little ones, and continue to stay with them for the entire summer.  It isn’t that long before the young eagles are nearly the size of the parents, yet they continue all sharing that family nest until late Fall.  

God takes care of us that way.  Nurturing, protecting, and staying very near in our beginning stages of being His.  Then there’s a gradual “weaning” us off of our total dependency, and we have to learn some lessons from experience.  

When it comes time to begin strengthening our wings and learning to fly, God begins to get ‘pushy,’ like the eagle parent.  He starts moving us to the edge, and with a nudge…we’re out there.  Over the edge, flapping like crazy.  As the free-fall begins, He swoops in and carries us away from the pending crash.  Again and again, we get the nudge, without our permission, and freak out in panic.  Again and again, He catches us on His wings…and we grab onto His feathers, gradually learning how amazing it is to be flying with Him.  The landscape broadens . . . the sky beyond our branches is amazing, and the wonder of the ride draws us into venturing out on our own.  Scary, but we begin to learn how to “do it better” next time.  

If He didn’t love us, He wouldn’t push us.  And we’d sit out our lives in the big old picky nest.  Not much of a view.  

But He wants us to experience the wonder of soaring high.  Where He is.

What’s God nudging you to do?  For me it has seemed like that cycle has repeated many times in my life.  And I am the richer for it.  Though those flight lessons are scary, very scary, the View from above … seeing what He sees … doing it with Him,  has been worth it all.

And best of all, . . . . He is there.

Counting the Days

“Teach us to number our days so that we may grow in wisdom.”                            

Psalm 90:12 

Did you ever “number your days” . . . the days you have lived up until today?   I just did.   YIKES!   It was an incredible number, which I’m NOT telling you.    

Talk about a “jolt of reality!”    It helps me to understand a bit about the wisdom that can come from contemplating the “number of our days” so far. 

I also learned that Moses wrote this Psalm, making it the oldest of the Psalms.  When I consider all the life that Moses packed into his number of days, I am in awe.  Born into slavery and immediately marked for death simply because he was a baby boy, each day of his tiny, new life was in serious doubt.   He became Prince of Egypt, followed by being a shepherd for decades, far from anywhere.  Then, it was back to Egypt for a show-down with Pharaoh,  liberating and leading his people through a desert for 40 years. That’s adds up to a number of days that we could never match. 

As a virus has covered our world with an unimagined face of our own mortality, we have tasted a bit of what it’s like to “number our days.”  Questions have whispered through our minds:

  • What do I wish I’d done with my life?
  • What matters most to me?
  • Who matters most to me?   
  • What changes do I need to make with the time I have left here?
  • What do I hope my legacy will be?  
  • What needs to change, so that when my days have ended, I will hear the Words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. . .

“ I sense some Wisdom growing already . . .    

When It Just Gets Worse

Now you will see what I will do.”

Exodus 6:1

Moses had just walked into a lot of ‘hot water.’   He had done what God had told him to do, and everything was getting worse!   An enraged Pharaoh was now breathing down his neck . . . making threats, and heating up his cruelty to  God’s people.  Moses began  doubting God.   I can imagine his questions:  Did I hear God wrong?  Is this some kind of Divine joke?  I must have been crazy to go to Pharaoh and tell him to “…let my people go!”   

Everything just got worse.   God’s people  . . . slaves who had put trust in the reluctant Moses,  were now in a worse situation than before!

And what does Moses – their leader – do?   He goes to God with frantic questions, fear, and even accusations for the predicament they were all in now.  Not only was Pharaoh (with all the power of Egypt) against him, angry and breathing threats to Moses and all of God’s people, but  their whole nation-in-exile was angry with him as well.

God knew.  He saw exactly how this horrible situation had unfolded.  He was there.    And surveying the chaos, He said, “NOW you will see what I will do.”

Can you relate?   You have taken risks, stepped out of your comfort and onto a limb, because you believed that God had asked you to do so.   It may not have made a lot of sense to you, or to the people around you . . . those looking to you with trust.  Hope.  And then, . . . everything goes haywire.

And God says, “NOW you will see what I will do.” 

When I followed God’s Call to me to become involved with my desert nation, all Hell broke loose in my life.  There were vicious attacks on our church, on my reputation, on my husband and family.  Most devastating was that it came from Believers.  The Enemy of our souls does not want God’s people to move into the Darkness with God’s Light.  There will always be great resistance.

When we come to the end of ourselves … our confidence, skills, education,  passionate desire to do great things for God, He patiently watches it unravel.  And as we stand there watching all our great intentions, hopes and plans crumble, He Whispers, “Now!  See what I will do.”  

In my early years in the desert refugee camps, we came to them with great plans, with passionate hearts . . . and a lot of great people sacrificing time, skills, and their own comfort.  I’d submit the written, organized, agreed-upon “Plan” to God, asking Him to bless it and make it all happen.  I could swear that I would hear His Soft Chuckle, then crumpling it up with a wink and a smile He’d say, “Now!…Here’s what we’re going to do…“   

And it was ALWAYS far better than what we had come up with!  That realization may have taken some time to become clear to us, but His Plan was always the BEST!

When the King Comes

“John proclaimed: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 3:2

John the Baptist, earthly cousin of Jesus, had taken up his mission of life to prepare his world for their long, long-awaited Messiah King.  As ancient prophets of God had announced in the past, John was now the “voice” announcing that the time had  come.

About a decade ago, I had an experience of being in the midst of a preparation time before a nation’s king would be passing my way.  Of course, I had no idea what was about to happen, but from my 6th floor hotel balcony I saw crowds gathering along the road far below me.  “A parade!” I thought.  I stood on my balcony, watching all of the scurrying as the crowds gathered  along the road the “parade” would travel.

Suddenly, my room phone rang.  “Mrs. Lenz, you must come away from your balcony, and stay in your room.  Close your curtains, and do not peek out at all.  His Majesty the King will be passing.  Security forces are watching for any curtain movements, and you could be shot.   Thank you….and welcome to our country.  Click.”  

Well, that was a memorable parade experience for me, (of course I had to take the tiniest peek, down on the floor hiding as much as possible against the side wall.)  

Now I think of the mission John the Baptist carried out . . . preparing his nation for the arrival of their loooooong-awaited King-Messiah.  But in his mission of announcing Jesus’s presence on earth, the “Good News,” there weren’t parades, nor the thrilling anticipation of seeing the King of Kings.  Jesus looked like a common man.  No fanfare.  No military guard.  No opulence or finery.  No security hovering around Him.  No barriers.  It just wasn’t the way everyone thought it would be.  And most people missed it completely.  The preparation for His Presence was all about hearts.  

Are you peeking from behind a curtain, afraid you’ll be shot?  Or have you taken the steps to be as close to Him as you possibly can….bent  knee, bowed  head, and opened  heart to accept Him as your King, and all the changes to result  in your life.  His Kingship is absolute.  

Absolutely Good.

CONTINUE TO LIVE

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord,

You must continue to live in obedience to HIM.

Let your roots grow down into Him

And draw up nourishment from Him,

So you will grow in faith, 

Strong and vigorous in the Truth you were taught.

Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving

For all He has done.”

Colossians 2:6-7

In many ways, it seems like a massive “PAUSE” Button has been pressed in our nation…our world…our lives.  

Paul knew what that was like.  Sitting in a prison in Rome, he wrote this message to the Believers in Colosse. . . a city, it is believed, he had never even visited.  His world was a disconnected mess, and he wasted no time in writing letters of encouragement and challenge to the Christ-followers in that distant region.

Picture Paul as he writes these words.  NO prison is a nice or safe place.  Everything about a prison is foundationally a place of punishment and loss of personal rights.  Yet, here this man who, before his personal encounter with the risen Christ had been on a mission to kill Christians, was now writing words of encouragement to them . . . to be united in heart and purpose… to live for Christ and make Him known.  

Paul, once a man of privilege and position with the Romans who brutally occupied his nation, describes life as a follower of Christ like a plant growing in a garden.  Sitting in a wretched prison cell, his innermost being was like a  growing, thriving plant.  With chains on his body, filthy surroundings, cruel treatment inside the dark, dank, dangerous prison, his heart was fully alive.  He was thinking about  fellow Believers who he probably had never even met.

He was concerned for their faith.  He knew the dangers of the Truth of Christ getting watered-down by the world around them.

He drew a word picture for them of how their lives should look:

  • Christ’s Presence surrounding them, like the earth around a seed;
  • Their roots planted deeply into Him;
  • Everything they need to survive are in Him, and their tender roots draw the life-water and nutrients that will help them grow into the living plant coming from that seed;
  • Growing strong, well-watered, surrounded by all they need. . . all that the Gardener had intended for them to be.  Whether a flower, or a vegetable, or a tree. . . their life would come from being rooted in Him.
  • The plant would become one that is for the benefit of many…not for itself.

The critical start of that plant begins in the dark earth.  The Gardener watches the earth and rejoices as the tiny spikes of green begin to emerge, watching the daily growth, watering, weeding, and waiting for the time when the fruit of the labor is ready to be harvested and eaten . . nutritious and beautiful to enrich the lives of others.

Paul, in his miserable prison cell, saw his fellow Followers in this way.  In the Sunshine, growing, becoming life-giving food for spiritually hungry people.  Coming out of the darkness . . . from “death” into life.

May we take Paul’s vision to heart, and be those who are growing, strengthening, healthy, and bearing Fruit that will feed the spiritually hungry world around us…  no matter what else is going on in our harsh, challenging world.

THE PLAN . . . That Changes Mine: Mary & Joseph

“He (Joseph) traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him his fiancee, Mary, who was obviously pregnant by this time.  While they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, Because there was no room for them in the village inn.”  Luke 2:4-6

The young couple had made their plans.  Mary was now engaged to a young man in her village, with the blessing of her father.  Joseph had had his eye on her, asked for her father’s blessing to marry, and was in the traditional practice of preparing their future home attached to his father’s house.  It would normally take a year to get everything ready for their new family to begin their life together.

That’s when everything in their happy, traditional little world “blew up.”  Joseph had been working on their future home, Mary had gone to her beloved cousin Elizabeth’s home for six months of “women time.”  But when she had returned, it was obvious that she was pregnant…with no reasonable explanation.  Their dreams crumbled.  He was planning to end their marriage promise…she was now viewed as a shameful woman.  To make matters worse, the Roman military was forcing all citizens to go to their family’s birthplace and pay taxes to the government that had devastated their nation, and stolen their freedom.

Their sweet, traditional love story, and their lives, had literally fallen apart.

But God was right in the middle of their turmoil and heartache.  It was His Plan that was behind all of this upheaval.  And His Plans are always Perfect, even though we humans usually miss that part.

After God’s Messenger explained to Joseph the Plan God was orchestrating, the young couple headed to Joseph’s family’s origins, Bethlehem.  In the chaos of Rome’s occupation and very unhappy people forced to give Rome their sorely lacking tax money, they could find nowhere to stay.  They ended up in a cave shelter for animals. Mary was in hard labor with the birth of this Baby, Who was not even their own….He was God’s.  No Mom or Aunties with her at this “first.”  Having watched her cousin Elizabeth give birth to her “miracle baby” (John) months earlier, Mary at least had that experience to draw from. 

When God is “Creating” new realities on this earth, our human minds and perspectives usually see it as “disrupting”, “chaotic”, “upsetting”,  . . . it makes us want to scream, “God!  Where are You?!  This can’t be right!”   That’s when we have to cling to Him more tightly, look in His Eyes with more focus than ever, and hold onto all the Truth we know of Him with a steel grasp…no matter how out-of-control our personal world becomes.  His Ways are so far beyond our human understanding that we just have to keep walking forward, holding onto Him as tightly as we possibly can. 

And then, in the darkness, will be those moments when Light dawns . . . we glimpse what He has been preparing. . . and a quiet, “Oh…that’s why…”  will escape from our hearts.

The newly-wed new parents in Bethlehem may not have had “The Moment” while on this turbulent, dangerous earth.  But it’s the “Well done…good, faithful servants,” from the Father’s lips to our ears, that matters in the End.

THE PLAN that Changes Mine: Three Kings

“Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.  About that time, some wise men from Eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?  We have seen His star as it arose, and we have come to worship Him.”

Matthew 2:1-2

Scientists….astronomers…astrologers…Kings…. The three men were highly respected experts.  They studied the heavens, and understood the laws and patterns of the stars, planets, galaxies, and Time.  They knew  and understood the implications on earth.   They knew things that few humans knew, because they could read the heavens. . . celestial communications from God’s own Space.  It was all very scientific, and predictable.

Until one night, when a New Star appeared:  The Creator’s Own.

They had one decision to make:   Either focus everything to pursue it, or stay put where they had always been and continue in what they could learn from there.

They packed up their most essential tools, charts and supplies and began their journey to follow The Star.  But, because of what they were ‘reading’ in the heavens, they also packed three extraordinary Gifts:

 Gold . . . the gift befitting  a King

Frankincense . . . the precious spice that only the High Priest used for worshipping in God’s Presence

Myrrh . . .  the precious, costly spice used on the body of the highest royalty, for burial.

They had probably never imagined that at their destination, those priceless, precious gifts would be given to a tiny newborn King, not in a palace on a throne, but in a cave…a shelter for animals;  his cradle… a feeding trough.  

Their one-of-a-kind Star led them through the Great Desert to the tiny King who had come to Earth, the planet of Man.  He was the Only One who could be the Great Sacrifice through whom anyone … kings or shepherds, could find the Door to forgiveness and an eternity in Heaven.

Eva’s Gift

A surprise ‘condensed’ Bible was slipped into my purse by my 5 year old granddaughter.  A priceless Christmas gift!

THE PLAN that Changes Mine: Shepherds

That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly an angel . . “

Luke 2:8-9

Another night like all the rest…out on the hillside under the stars, a few miles outside of Jerusalem, where the outline of the Temple of God stood, the centerpiece of the city.  The weather-worn old shepherds, warming their hands by their small fire, were spending another night watching over their flocks of sheep. . . like every night.  They could see Jerusalem from their fields nestled between Jerusalem and the little village of Bethlehem, just five miles apart.  Bethlehem was famous for being the city of David, where their most famous King David had been born.

These sheep were special.  They needed the best shepherds because they needed the best care.  These were the sheep destined for sacrifice in the Great Temple in Jerusalem.   To qualify for sacrifice, they had to be in the best condition. . . as “perfect” as a sacrifice lamb could be.  The vigilance of the shepherds was essential.  It would be to their shame if a lamb was flawed in any way, and disqualified from being the sacrifice.

It was a night like any night, except for a one-of-kind, exceptionally bright “new”  Star that none of the shepherds had ever seen before.  They knew the sky well . . . it was their view every night.  They had memorized as very small boys the “map” in the sky.  It was essential to their survival and responsibilities  as shepherds, and their vigilance with these top-quality, “perfect” lambs.  

But this night, something occurred that had never, in all of history, taken place in that familiar sky.  The sheep were safely down for the night.  The “on-duty” shepherds were huddled around their small warming fires watching over their sheep, as they did every night.  A normal night, except for that one “new star” that was directly above them.  In the quiet, chatting together, an eye on the sheep and on the sky, it happened.

Suddenly, a brilliant Being appeared to them, with blinding radiance.  The  Angel spoke, reassuring the terrified shepherds that He was bringing the Greatest News ever sent from God.  

“I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior – yes!  The Messiah, the Lord, has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the City of David!  This is how you will recognize him:  You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”   Luke 2:10-12

Suddenly, the entire sky lit up . . .filled with a light show never seen before nor since.  The Armies of Heaven filled the entire sky, all singing a once-in-eternity Song to God:

“Glory to God in the Highest!  

And on Earth, PEACE!!!   Good Will toward Man!” 

“Unto us a Child is born…a Son is given!”  Luke 2:13-14

Then they were gone.

Those rugged, weather-worn shepherds were the first to see that tiny little Lamb of God in that humble manger, in a cave used for sheep.  They knew, more deeply than most, the destiny of any “lamb of God” . . . a Temple sacrifice for sin. They could see the Temple’s outline on the high place of nearby Jerusalem.  Simple, rugged shepherds responsible for all of the lambs raised for sacrifice, became the first to bow before that tiny Lamb of God, and to tell their world of the greatest News of all Time.