Whispers in the Darkness

“What  I   tell  you  in  darkness, 
Speak that  in light;
And what you hear in the ear,
Preach that upon the housetops.”
Matthew 10:27

As a child, I didn’t enjoy being in darkness.  My imagination would start “hearing”and “seeing” things that were scary, and I’d run to any light I could find.  

As adults, literal darkness isn’t quite as frightening to us as when we were children.  But we still experience “darkness” that brings fear to our hearts and souls.  There is a spiritual darkness that seeks to permeate our minds, our beliefs, our understanding, and sense of safety and peace.  Darkness is the substance of evil.  It fights the light.  

When we experience darkness in our lives, it goes beyond a literal absence of “light.”  Darkness seeps into our minds. . . into our thoughts. . . into our relationships . . . into our very beliefs and knowledge of Truth.  It works hand-in-hand with fear, and can become a powerful force – a bondage – in our lives.  

But it probably began as a whisper.

Jesus talked with His closest followers about the reality of being in darkness.  He is not afraid of the darkness, and purposefully steps into our darkness as The Light of the World.  He speaks to us in our darkness.  His words bring Light.  Whether our darkness is in our minds, or our beliefs, our relationships, our life choices, or our very souls, He Himself brings Light.  

What is your darkness?  “Speak that in light.”  Especially to Him.  Don’t hide.  Don’t fear that it’s too dark for Him to handle . . . to change . . . to dispel.  There is Good News.  He speaks in that darkness.  He doesn’t wait for us to change the “lightbulb” or “flip the switch” of our darkness to accommodate His Light.  We cannot do it.  

What has He spoken to you in your darkness?  He is not afraid of the darkness in your life.  The darkness that He deals with in your heart, mind, and life is not only Good News for you, but it is Good News for those in your life.  Live out… and tell of the Light that has dispelled the darkness in you.  Our dark world longs for Light.  It longs for the Good News that you carry and now live.  The secrets you held in your life have, in Jesus’ Hands,  become your Light, worthy of shouting with abandon from your rooftop.  It is Good News!  The Best News!

This is love… 

...not that we loved God, 
but that he loved us and sent his Son 
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
                                                              1 John 4:10

Think of the one person in your life that you love the most.  That’s a hard one, I think, for most of us.  There may be several . . . but I’m guessing that the “one” at the top is someone who has been in your life for a long time.  You’ve  probably invested immeasurable time and heart into the “one” you cannot imagine being without.  You may feel you have given that one all you have to give.

God understands that in the deepest way.  It is so far beyond my imagination to think of the Love of God for His Son, and the Love of God for us . . . so much so that He would sacrifice His perfect, sinless, absolutely selfless Son because of His Love for us, His chosen sons and daughters, all of whom would break His Heart.  He knew we would ALL fail Him, disobey Him, walk away from Him, and replace Him in our own hearts with “the foolish things of this world.”

We don’t deserve His Love.  We cannot earn it.  We cannot measure up to qualify for His Love, no matter what we could ever do.  We cannot take any credit for how much He has loved us.  

God’s Love involves sacrifice . . . on His part.   His sacrifice is necessary for me to be one of His own, not mine.  His daughter.  His son.   His Beloved.  His chosen ones.

That is Love.  That is Love beyond our own human understanding, earning, worthiness, experience or making.  His Love for us cost HIM. . . the Father for His Children.

Anything we perceive it costs us to return that Love is not really worth mentioning.  

Besides, He knows, and that’s all that matters.

Believer:  101

“Listen, Israel: [People of God]
The Lord is our God.
The Lord is our only God.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
With all your soul,
And with all your strength.’”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

We love to complicate things, don’t we?   That’s nothing new.   You can taste it in this ancient verse within the first five Books of the Bible.  I can almost hear that ancient voice leaning in, enunciating each word with perhaps a touch of frustration.  Making simple things become terribly complicated is nothing new.  It’s an unending human struggle, and it’s been the struggle of every Believer since the Beginning.  

But in its simplest terms, it boils down to acknowledging God’s very existence. 

Out of that ancient admission of God’s existence, comes the fact that He is the only God.  No other True God exists.  We may hold onto other fake gods in our lives, those things we don’t think we can live without.  But they’re not real.  Not true.   Certainly not worthy of owning our hearts.

What does God want us to do with our hearts?   Love Him. . . with my own heart. . . with ALL of my heart.  Not just a little piece of my heart.  Not a piece that is sad…. or needing love, …. or hurting . . . or having a moment of happiness.  All of it needs to love and embrace Him into our hearts. . . into the core of who you are.   

My soul will live on as my earthly body returns to dust.  The experience of God’s Spirit … His Essence, will carry me as my soul rises to be in His Presence…look into His Eyes….know, at last, the One Who first  . . . and always . . .loved me.

That sense . . . that taste . . . that hope provides the strength needed to walk through each day,  walk with each person, and walk through each situation that Life here presents.  Strength of mind, strength of hands, strength of backbone, strength of spirit . . . strength of heart and soul flows out of our knowledge and love for our God.  Believing Him as His People, who have all come out of the slavery of whatever “Egypt” we’ve been in.  And  we then step into God’s Promises, Love, and Freedom,  carrying His Living Presence to a world that waits . . . 

On the Heights of Zion

“They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
 they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord – 
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
 the young of the flocks and herds. 
They will be like a well-watered garden, 
and they will sorrow no more.”  
Jeremiah 31:12

It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to spend quite a lot of time in Israel.  Many favorite memories have been in the context of the Old City of Jerusalem, and on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. It is “ on the heights of Zion” that the present day Jerusalem sits.  Across from the heights of Zion, separated by a deep valley, is the Mount of Olives, a “well-watered garden” . . . an ancient olive grove.  Visitors flock to the garden, which is commemorated and may well be the place where Jesus spent time praying just before his arrest.  Tourists  make it a regular site to visit.

On one of my visits to the Mount of Olives, walking through the traditional garden of ancient olive trees, an old man approached me.  He was a stranger to me,  and said no word.  But he held a large ring of keys, and motioned for me to follow him.  With hesitation, and curiosity, I followed him across the narrow little road that wound from the top of the Mount of Olives, alongside the walls of the Garden of Gethsemane, and down to the base of the Kidron Valley, where tourists return to their  buses.  

The old man led me across the narrow, walled road to an old  wooden door that I had never seen opened.  He unlocked the door, and motioned for me to go inside.  It was a garden.  Far more humble than the tourist gardens, it had very old olive trees, simple  flower beds, and a worn path through the flowers.  He pointed to a small bench, invited me to sit down, and with a sparkle in his eye, walked back out through the old door, locking it behind him.  

I was doing exactly the things I would always caution our Israel trip groups NOT to do.  But there was a sweet peace in my heart, and I sat down on the bench and simply whispered a prayer that God had my full attention, and I was longing to hear Him speak to my heart whatever He wanted to tell me.  I was listening.  

Looking at the garden surrounding me, my gaze came to rest where it had begun. . . between my own two feet.  A simple little blue violet caught my eye, and I gently plucked it.  Having my focus, I noted the intricate details of this simple blossom. . . a little flower that would  easily go unnoticed  in the humble old garden.  As I held the fragile  blossom, God whispered.  He was there.  He had drawn me away from the crowd, reminding me through a  little flower of His  creation, that He was as aware of me as I was of the sweet  blossom  in my hand.  Simple words from His Heart to mine.  It was a precious Moment in time.  

I needed nothing more.

As His Presence, His simple Words, lingered in my mind . . .heart . . . soul, I looked at the little blossom in my hand, focusing on this Moment in Time.  A humble  garden.  A simple gardener.  A worn old door opened to remind me of His Presence . . . His Love . . . His Truth.  

The sound of the key in the old lock drew my Moment to a close.  The crowd was headed on its way to the next site.  

But the tiny blossom I held between my fingers, and the old gardener with the key would always be a treasured memory . . . a reminder of a sweet  Moment between my dearest Love  and me. 

The Countdown

“Teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of Wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

Do you remember as a child, counting down the days until something really special
was going to happen? A birthday, or Christmas, or leaving for some exciting
destination on a trip? You would check the boxes of the calendar, watching that
“star” box getting closer and closer. Excitement grew. The checklist of what had to
happen before the “GO” day was being ticked off and re-counted.

Others of you may think more about checking off the calendar days before something
you dread is going to take place. Completely different emotions begin growing as the
“D” Day (Dread Day) nears.

In either scenario, it is probable that your activities include preparations necessary
before that final day arrives, either good or bad. . . exciting or dreadful.

In our world, it’s easy to lose track of any “countdown” of days before an event is taking
place. Human nature typically thinks of the here-and-now far more than the actions
required in the days leading into the future. It’s natural. An ancient psalm-writer talked
about it. He offered a tool that, when used, would result in an internal treasure in our
very heart: Wisdom. The tool is simple enough that a child could use it: Number each
day. One day at a time.

Human nature moves through a lifetime one day at a time. But without a moment of
intentionality each day, Time becomes a blur. We find ourselves looking back, wishing
we’d made different choices . . . different decisions . . . We imagine different outcomes
“if only I’d . . .”

God has numbered our days. But we don’t know that number. We could number the
days we’ve already lived. That alone is sobering, because we wonder what we did with
all of those days. We regret making unwise choices with many of those days.

Each day counts. If you’re reading this, your days are not finished. It’s not too late to
make adjustments to how your coming days can be used in better ways than in the
past. Wisdom can become part of who you are . . . how you think . . . and how you use
your days ahead. The impact of your life in this world can be a taste of Wisdom that is
is desperately needed.

What to Wear….What to Wear….?

“Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ’s name have 
clothed yourselves with Christ. 
There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. 
You are all the same in Christ Jesus.”
Gal 3:26-28

When preparing for your day each morning, consider how much time it takes?   For me, I briefly think through what I’ll be doing, and the circumstances in which I’ll be doing them.  Then I head to the closet to choose appropriate clothes to wear.  It doesn’t  take a lot of time for the process, but it’s something I never skip.  (I do know some “guys” who only need about 60 seconds….and done.  No names.)

The first thing that Adam and Eve did after realizing they’d sinned, was to make clothes for themselves.

Paul uses a material example in his writing to which anyone could relate, beginning with Adam and Eve.  “What will I wear today?”

Paul notes the key identifier of who we are and are not, and most importantly, Whose we are.

Each of the categories of human identities Paul lists  have clothing types / styles closely associated with the ethnicity, status, and genders within which we live out our daily lives.  What we wear says a lot about who we are. Clothes often give an outer glimpse of the internal person wearing them. . .  values, status, gender, personality are all pieces of a larger picture of who we are.

Apostle Paul identifies the role clothing has in daily life.   It’s something to which everyone can relate.  Clothing has been woven into the human story ever since Adam and Eve had their first taste of sin from taking Satan’s bait, and suddenly realizing they were completely “exposed.”

Since that day, all those who have recognized that we’ve “taken the bait” instinctively want to hide that fact.  We scramble to the “closet” we’ve put together and search for the best choice of a cover-up.  And then we step into our world.

What do people see of us as we move through our day?  Past the clothes, the accessories, the hair and shoes. . . past the things we do.  .   .

Do they see Christ?

When the Door is Closed

“You, God, are my God.   
Earnestly will I seek You.  
I thirst for You.  
My whole being longs for You. 
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”    
Psalm 63:1

It was a very hot day in the desert, and it was only May.  In the coming months, it would only grow hotter.  I wanted to take a little walk to a nearby sand dune, fo a higher view of the refugee camps.  On such a hot afternoon, the main activity at this time is to try to sleep until the heat lessens.  It’s too hot to do anything but find shade and try to nap.  That’s what the rest of my desert family was doing . . . sleeping in the shade.

I went to the door that would open to the desert and the nearby sand dune, where I’d find a higher view of the camps.

But the door was closed. . . locked.

Finding a shady corner of the courtyard, I perched on some wooden planks, and took out my notepad and pen.   With no agenda nor topic in mind, I simply wanted to listen to what God might say to my heart.   It seemed an unexpected Moment He had orchestrated.  He had my attention.

Flies found me and began investigating my “melhafa” (the traditional women’s “dress” of wrapped fabric.)  They also were exploring my sandals and my feet.  They seem to thrive in the desert.

Then the “call to prayer” rang out over the blaring neighborhood speakers. . . calling to God.  Throughout the camps, people would be on their knees, faces to the ground in prayer.  

As I sat alone, I became aware of the sounds around me….flies buzzing, a disgruntled goat bleating, some chicken cawing . . . and quietness.  Everything stops in these long, hot afternoons.

And I stop . . . to listen.   It was the Voice I longed to hear. . .

“I love them.  I see them.  I Am here.  No borders keep Me out.  No war stops My Spirit.  No religion ties My Hand. . . nor My Mercies.

And I see you, young lady.”   

“Young?!” I ask.  “I feel like ‘the ancient of days.’”

“I see you as young,”   He said.     (I like that!)

I asked you to come here.  The only criteria was that you love them, and tell them what you know of Me. .  .  Who I’ve been to you.  Tell them that I see them.  I love them.  I want them in My Family.  

“I want them in My Kingdom.”   

My Kingdom, which is nothing like the kingdoms of this world . . . like the kingdom that has devastated their nation.  I want to save them. . . help them . . . comfort them . . . lead them. . .  My Spirit is near to the broken. . . the broken-hearted.  That is them.

                                                I Am here in this desert place.”

The door in my way was closed . . . locked.  But rather than that physical obstacle being a barrier to the plan I’d had in mind, the “door” of God’s Divine Perspective had swung wide open.

Manger Danger

“She gave birth to her firstborn son.  
She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger . . .”
Luke 2:7

 a rack for fodder, or a structure or feeder used to hold food for animals

Most of us have been exposed to the word “manger” since our earliest childhood.  Sweet, old Christmas songs that are so familiar to most of us continue to be heard and sung from early December until the globally celebrated holiday is past.  We see visual depictions of the “manger scene” throughout the month.  

In the field behind our house, we have a small barn.  In the barn we have a literal, functioning manger.  It’s the key gathering spot for the sheep of our field.  Every day, the sheep watch for any sign of the one who will put fresh hay into their manger.  This becomes a rather desperate scene of wooly sheep noisily pushing each other to find a spot where they can grab the hay between the wide, sloping bars of their feeding trough.  They all become very focused on that manger at the first sign of the human who will fill it with hay.  It is not a “silent night” experience.  It is not a “calm” scene.  It is not a “holy” experience.  It is not a sweet, peaceful moment to view.  

Our “manger scene” twice every day is one of shoving, noisy baa-ing, grabbing, and frantic mouth-filling.  Oh…and the sheep with the biggest head is usually already stuck between the bars, which makes her the first and last sheep in the manger everyday, waiting for the shepherd’s daily rescue.

Now picture that beautiful, sweet, peaceful Christmas manger scene of which we are all so familiar.  And imagine the manger itself . . .far more rickety and inefficient from the mangers of our day.  Realistically, “Peaceful” is the furthest description of that manger scene.  If there was any hay in the manger, it would be challenging to keep the sheep away…sheep very likely to be ear-marked for sacrifice in the nearby Temple in Jerusalem.  Then imagine a new-born baby being placed in it, on the hay. I think the immediate after-birth care that new mother needed was pressing enough to have to place the newborn baby temporarily out of her arms.   But fresh hay in a manger would bring immediate attention for the sheep anywhere near that space.  

Since Day 1 of Jesus’ physical presence on this earth, He was intentionally vulnerable . . . at risk . . . in danger. . . and at the mercy of a fallen human world.  He came in the most vulnerable human condition:  a newborn baby.  He was placed in the arms of two first-time parents, frightened young human beings who had no previous experience of personally birthing a tiny infant.  His first experience outside of the receiving arms of his humble new parents was a risky situation.  And always-hungry animals would not have been easy to keep away from the tiniest human presence in their feeding trough.  

Jesus came into our dangerous world by choice, before His first human breath.  The risks only increased throughout His time on earth.  He knew every moment that was to come.  Yet, He came.  For us.  For this dangerous, troubled world.  For the Cause of Redemption.  
Because of Love.

The Gate

Jesus emphasized, 
“I can guarantee this truth:
 I am the Gate for the sheep.”
 John 10:7, 9-10

We have a funny little morning routine at our home.  The “funny” part comes along with the flock of sheep we have in the field behind our house.  Every morning, the sheep gather along the fenceline and main gate that is nearest to our house.  They’re watching.  They’re looking at the windows along the back of our house, watching for any human activity to begin behind those windows.  Of course, our favorite ones are right there at the gate.  They know the routine.  The humans behind the glass will come out of the house, walk across the big backyard, and come through the gate.  

The baa-ing begins as soon as the first gawking sheep sees movement behind those glass windows.   Then all of the sheep look towards the house.  They know that their breakfast will be coming soon.  And they all start baa-ing, even if they don’t actually see the humans yet.  They know the shepherd will fill the feeding trough with some yummy hay, and make sure their water is available.  

But first, (a new addition to the routine)....the one sheep with the biggest head has once again spent the night stuck in the hay-feeder, because his wool is so thick on his big round head that he can’t back out of the feeder without help.  He isn’t content to eat the hay he could reach outside of the bars.  No!  He shoves his head through the bars.  Same routine every morning.  So, before the shepherd can re-fill the feeder with fresh hay, he has to help “Big Head” get out of the feeder.  And we know that he’ll get stuck again today. . . and tomorrow. . . 

But the sheep don’t go and stand at the feeder, waiting for the hay that they know they’ll get (except of course for the “Big Head”, who has once again spent the night stuck in there!).  They stand at the gate, watching for the shepherd who will feed them . . . water them  . . . “un-stuck” them. . . so that they will be able to lie down and digest their breakfast and rest.  They wait at “the gate”, because they know the “who” will come to them there. 

Jesus IS our Gate.  On the other side of the Gate is  fresh water . . . fresh nourishment  . . . safety from any predators, and pleasant spots to lie down and rest as the daily food digests.
But not only is He the Gate of our safe place,  He is the Living Water for our thirsty souls.  And He is the Provider of our daily Food.  He comes every morning.  Every evening.  Throughout the day He is aware . . . watching His sheep for any sign of fear or troubling behaviors or danger.  

His Presence with us always begins at the Gate.  

Walking on Together

“So the two of them walked on together.”
Genesis 22:8

The old, old man had put a large pile of sticks on the back of their donkey.  The old man’s young, strong son walked with his father, as two servants carried a pot of burning coals from their home fire. The odd foursome had been walking together for two days.  Then, the old man saw a very great hill in the distance.  He knew this was the place.  The old father stopped the small circle of travelers, handed the bundle of sticks to his strong son, and took hold of the pot of burning coals.  He tucked a large knife into his belt.  Father and son began the climb together.   With each step, the old man had to take care with his fiery burden.  Each difficult step forward, the father and son came closer to the place where both men’s lives would forever change.  

They carried the load of a sacrifice.  They both knew it.  And both knew clearly that no lamb  for the sacrifice was with them.  

Isaac, the treasured son for whom the old man had waited a lifetime, finally broke the silence, asking his father Abraham, “We have the burning coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  The old man simply said, “God will provide a lamb, Son.”  He had been through so very much since he chose to follow the God he had encountered long ago.  Through all those years, he had come to know God deeply.  Through all the twists and turns of life, he had come to trust God in ways that only the deepest of human pain can produce.  Now, his dearest treasure…his beloved son… hung in the balance between life and death.  Was he the sacrifice?

As the old father went through each detail of preparing a sacrifice, the reality of losing his precious son became more real.  He knew in his head that he was obeying God.  But what if . . . 
God doesn’t intervene? . . . God takes his son? . . . He had heard God wrong? . . . How could he go on?  How could his Sarah go on?  Is this “the end?”  Was his heart screaming out to God as each minute passed, preparing for the sacrifice?

Isaac had to trust his father as he had never trusted before.  How far would God go with this?    

We go through things . . . seasons . . . in our lives, when it’s  hard to simply breathe.  Our hearts and minds want to trust God’s goodness.  We know we will be able to understand when we are with Him after this life.  But as our very souls battle with fear, pain, and loss of hope on this earth, we don’t see the “end of the story.”   All we have left to hold onto is Him.  We are staring Death in the face.  It’s not in our power to change it.  We have to continue putting one foot in front of the other. . . breathing… hoping . . . yet drawing nearer to an “end” that we cannot control.

But there will be “...the rest of the Story…” 

We can read the rest of Abraham’s story, and how God intervened in this crisis situation.  He Himself provided what was needed, and Isaac’s life was spared.  The ram, God’s own Provision, took Isaac’s place.  It’s a story of Hope.  A story that played out in real human lives.  I’m sure that all the characters involved would have preferred less drama, les fear, a “near-death” experience.  But, even when it seems like we are at the very brink of death itself, God’s Chosen Lamb is already there…. Waiting to be all we need for Life itself in this world.   No matter where we are in the story of our lives, it’s not the end of The Story.