My Trinity in the Sky

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky displays what His Hands have made.”

Psalm 19:1

Today was a rough day.   Disappointments seemed to be having a party, and I was the honored guest.  I would have much rather not been invited!

I decided to just get out and take a drive, ending up in  my son’s driveway, facing a beautiful sunset.  For some reason, watching sunsets over the fields  surrounding his home are unusually lovely, and seem to last a long, long time.  The clouds far across the fields hold the light and colors for almost an hour, subtly changing as the light slowly moves beyond the horizon.

I simply watched for a long time.  In the past, I have tried to capture the sunsets there on my phone’s camera.  But the colors never look as beautiful on the photo’s as they do to my watching eyes.  Mesmerized by the changing beauty, my thoughts were also focused on some disappointments today, and my sadness of handling life on my own for the past few years.

After watching for a long time, I got out of my car and  looked at the surrounding skies.  While I had been focused on the beautiful, moving sunset, I hadn’t realized that behind me was a huge full moon, softened by a hazy glow.  Looking back to the colorful sunset, and then at the beautiful moon, the double display seemed to be suspended.  I sensed God’s Spirit’s whisper….

“I Am here.  I was with you in all those disappointments today.  You have been watching what I can do with everyday air…every day, whether you are watching or not.”

“And with a simple turn of your head, you see the beauty of the moon… reflecting the Sun’s light all night long.  In the darkness of Life, the blackness of night, I extend My Light.  It is how I bring the sun’s powerful light into a gentleness through which you can sleep.”

 Then, I heard an unexpected sound to the north, many miles away on my right.  Fireworks!   Some small country town was having their celebration a day early.  The loud, powerful explosions of earth-bound sparkles and colors had joined the celebration taking place in the heavens.  All three were happening at the same time.  I was surrounded!   I sensed God’s un-capturable and indescribable, lasting Presence in the sunset, creating beauty “out of thin air.”   Then the soft, gentle glow of the full moon gave it’s peaceful comfort in the darkness, where fears lurk and thoughts trouble.  In the fireworks was a happy celebration as He dances over us in Love.

I had been given a glimpse of His Heart for me:

Beauty in the fading light of day…

His gentle Peace  reflected even in the darkness of night,

and the Joy He gives as He dances over me.

He surrounds me with His Love.

Holding Hands

“Yet, I am always with You. You hold on to my right hand.”

Psalm 73:23

One of the most basic contacts between two human beings is the simple act of holding hands.   Putting words to that simple action creates quite a list:

  • I want you to be near me
  • Stay close to me
  • I like you
  • I love you
  • I want you to be safe
  • I want to know you are there
  • I don’t want you to step into danger
  • I want to be connected with you
  • I want you to be connected with me
  • I want us to “be” together
  • I want to keep you away from harm
  • I feel close to you . . . etc.

The writer of this Psalm verse is talking to God.  He had been regretfully describing actions that were far from proper, kind, loving, or cooperative.  He had made choices that were quite out of control, foolish, and just plain wrong.

As a mom of 3 boys, I can relate to the importance of “holding hands” with them.  With one, especially, it equated with keeping him alive.  He was so challengingly active that I actually tried one of those safety “leashes” while walking through a crowded Mall.  I had clipped the end of it to his pants, and  I held the “retractable” handle.  We practiced walking together before going into the crowded main foot-traffic area.

But as soon as we headed down the wide, crowded mall, ( about 5 seconds!) he had successfully wrapped his coiled “leash” around a lady stranger with whom he became immediately closely acquainted.

Back to the hand-holding for us!

In the part of the world where the Bible stories took place, the “right hand” is more honorable.  It’s the “clean” hand reserved for human – to – human touch.  The writer had obviously been making wrong choices and failing in relationship to God.  Yet, God was still there.  Still near. . . near enough to take him by the hand….by the right hand. Not in a shaming way, but in an honorable way.  Not in a frustrated way….or a “power” way….nor with a sense of discipline or punishment.

Rather, God initiates and takes hold of his hand. . . mercifully, kindly, honoringly….to bring him near so they can walk together without shame or distance.

This will be a walk that’s not just for a moment, not just to cross a road or to avoid danger.

This walk will be for always.

 

 

 

 

IN THE NIGHT

“All that night the Lord drove the sea back.”  

Exodus 14:21

I don’t usually think of “the night” as my favorite time of day.  I love the “sleep” part (though that is not often successfully accomplished.)  It’s often the time when worries and fears surface in the quiet darkness.

But God created night time just as intentionally as day time.  Since He never sleeps,  He’s got it covered.

I try to imagine the nation of not-so-recently freed slaves – God’s People who had spent 400 years as slaves to Egypt.  They were only days away from that dark period in their history  when they came face to face with the Red Sea.  Everybody was there….old, young, babies, sick people, animals, and all the stuff they could grab and carry in their rushed departure.

Pharoah’s highly-tuned, VERY powerful army was at their back, headed full-bore to wipe them out on the shores of the sea.

Then, God said (through Moses), “Go!”  As one brave man took his first steps into the water, the Sea moved to the side, until every last Hebrew slave had reached the other shore.  It took all night.  But God was there, actively providing a safe road along the bottom of the Red Sea.  When the last foot stepped onto the shore, God let go, perfectly timed to take out every enemy soldier, horse and chariot, soon buried on the bottom.

God was there, on active Guard duty, until His people safely stepped onto their new Path into the future.  All night.  No one was checking out the strength of that Wall of Water, nor calculating safety factors, nor referencing any “wall-building” blueprints, nor setting up “fleeing plans.”   God, via Moses, said “GO!”  And He did the rest.

God has a loooooong His-story of working in the night.  The darkness of night is often where the Enemy of our Souls tends to work overtime.  He likes darkness.  It’s his favorite domain.

But God is there, quietly holding back the darkness.

Two Mountain Tops. . .  and a Hill In-Between

 

Mountain tops . . .with their breath-taking views,  the freshest of air,  and the quiet of being far above the noise of our daily world.  Without the distractions of our busy homes and surroundings, our senses are sharpened.  We see things that are overlooked in normal life.  The beauty silences us, because it is so far beyond anything Man could create.  God seems so near.   It’s tough, and scary, making the journey to the mountain top, but the perspective from the top can be life-changing.

Now, getting to the top and back down were the most scary parts for me,  especially in a car with my husband driving and 3 young boys who thought hairpin curves were best experienced at increased speeds.  Having been in the car with such a group changed my perspective to one of closely studying the floor between my two feet, screeching, “We’re gonna die!  Slow down!  We’re gonna die!”  This only added to the delight of the boys.  All four of them.

But, back to the Mountain Top, there are two stories from Jesus’ time on earth about when He climbed to two different mountain tops.  The first was witnessed by three of His closest followers (Peter, James, John).  They saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah…  As if that was not enough of a shock, a brilliant Cloud came down, and a Voice like none other came from the Cloud, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I Am well pleased:  Listen to Him.”  Needless to say, the three friends were knocked right down to their faces.   They were terrified!  The next moment, Jesus was there with His reassuring Touch, telling them to not be afraid, and to get up.  Their eye-witness story has carried through the ages.  [Note: That mountain is believed to be the mountain in Israel whose snow melts down to fill the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee…the life-sustaining waters for the Land of Israel…significantly symbolic.]

Fast forward three years, and Jesus was again with His same three friends, as well as a far larger crowd of friends.  They had all been through so very much together….Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and many days of being with Him, back from the grave and fully alive.  This time, before their very eyes, they watched Jesus rise right up from the mountain top and disappear into the Cloud, reassuring them that He would return.  On the second Mountain-top, Jesus gave the world a glimpse of Who He truly is, and where He truly belongs.  He promised to be representing us, in all of our flawed humanity, to His Father.

But in-between those two mountain-top experiences was another history-altering moment.  The “mountain” was much smaller, referred to as Mount Calvary.  Before that mountain-top experience, Jesus had walked through His earthly world teaching and living out what God is like, and giving us a picture of the “perfect human life.”  If He had gone back to Heaven from that first mountain-top, we would have been left with the story of “perfect man.”  But He came back down that transfiguring mountain for our sake.

It was that small mountain in-between where the Purposes of all that was from the beginning, and all that will be for the future, was forever altered.  On that small mountain, Jesus opened a Door,  the Door that opens into an eternity in Heaven, where He waits for us.

Sharing the Yoke

“Come to Me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads,

And I will give you rest.

Place My Yoke over your shoulders, and learn from Me,

Because I am gentle and humble.

Then you will find rest for yourselves

Because My Yoke is easy

And My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-29

 A yoke is the old-time wooden collar stretching between two oxen to pull a heavy load.  It keeps them in step with each other as they pull together to plow fields for planting.  (Now known as rustic  wall decor.)

“Yoke” was  a term that also applied to a student being taught and trained by a teacher/mentor.

They were “yoked” together.

In day to day practical life, two oxen were ultimately working to provide literal food for people.  But in a teacher / student context, the student was being trained through practical daily life to ultimately be able to provide “knowledge or spiritual  food”to benefit others.

Jesus used this  word picture to describe being connected to Him in a similar way…  in a training way, His students would be walking along with Him, learning to be “in step” with Him.  To be yoked with Jesus meant that you would be going in the same direction beside Him.  Closely.  Not out ahead of Him nor lagging behind Him.  His student would be in step with Him,  lending his/her strengths in doing the work together.

But Jesus, as usual, put a new twist on the old familiar reality.

  • He made it a choice for the student to decide, no commanding or forcefulness being required. To “take” His yoke is on our part.  He doesn’t put it on us.  He offers.  He makes Himself available.  It’ up to us to respond..
  • The typical work in the fields was hard work.  Physically taxing.  Often prodded, shouted at, and smacked with a stick for not doing the job quickly enough.  That would be “normal.”
  • Jesus, the Master Teacher, described His “style” of teaching as gentle and humble. The effect would be a sense of rest.  [A big, long exhale is appropriate here.]  There was a gentleness and strength about His teaching, not force, or harshness, or demandingness.  No “headi-ness” or arrogance.  Who learns well under that kind of teaching?
  • “My Yoke is easy….” A Yoke is still a yoke, heavy and uncomfortable, and still needful in accomplishing the goal.  Otherwise, there would just be some poor farmer out there chasing after rogue oxen more interested in who-knows-what.  But Jesus’ Yoke will be an asset to the work that is needed, rather than a tool of punishment or cruelty.
  • “My burden is light.” Though the work still involves a “burden”…which is rarely a “joy” to carry, Jesus describes it as “light.”  Not gone, but not too much to carry.  No burden is weightless.

Anything that matters carries weight.  But the weight He invites us to carry with Him will be do-able.  His Strength will be there, bearing the  heaviness we could not bear alone.

As I contemplated these words this morning, a vivid image came to mind.  Thinking about what it looks like to share a “yoke” with Jesus, the mental picture that came was of me walking beside Him,

listening, asking questions, and catching glimpses of His Heart in His Words.  But instead of a wooden

Yoke between us, His Arm was stretched over my shoulder, as we walked down the path together. 

                                               I felt that I could listen to Him all day.

Only in the Dark

“Tell me what charges You have against me…”

Job 10:2

Hard times have a way of getting our attention, and this old world is going through a very dark time.  It becomes tempting to want to blame our hard times on somebody…something….often, questioning God Himself.

A good man named Job was going through an extremely dark time.  He had experienced sudden, tragic losses on many levels.  Life as he had known it had taken a serious nose-dive.  It was too much for him to understand.  With the input of his “friends” he had concluded that he was being punished somehow…punished by God.  In desperation, Job asked God directly what he had done to deserve the devastating losses in his life.  What had he done that was so wrong??  God was silent.  However, his “friends” had much to say, and it wasn’t good.

But being in the dark isn’t all bad.   It does have its moments: 

  • Fireflies (Do they only come out at night? Or do they only become visible in the dark?)
  • Stars (they are always up there . . . we just don’t see them unless it’s dark!)
  • Campfires still burn with warm glow and sparks in daylight. We just don’t see it with all its mezmerizing colors, brightness and sparkle unless it’s dark.

Much of the world has had life as we’ve known it dramatically altered.  It feels like a dark time.  In the midst of a pandemic that has affected the whole world, hearts and minds around the globe have been shaken, forced to re-evaluate our lives and consider what really matters.

Life on this planet is not kind.  But God is.  In His Goodness, He will use the bad things…tough things of life….and turn them around for Good when we hold onto Him.   He did that with old Job.  He has done that in my life, too.  In God’s Hands, the bad times…the dark times, will be used for good.   He has done that in the past, and I know He will do it in the future.

When I am in the desert…in the refugee camps…the nights become the backdrop for the most incredible light shows I’ve ever seen in my life.  Though the situation is wrought with tragedy, loss, heartache, and long-standing injustice, every night the vast black sky becomes the backdrop for a celestial “light show” like none other.  It takes effort to fall asleep, because the moving display lasts all night.  My heart can hear Him reminding me that He is Present, He sees me, and nothing going on in my life is beyond Him.  I don’t have to understand it. . . if I just keep looking up,  He is there.  He’s “got this.”

So in the dark nights, watch for the fireflies.  Look at the stars.  Take in the moon’s light.  Visibly shining only while you are in the darkness, these are God’s everyday,  global reminders that He is there.  He repeats that message to the whole earth in 24 hours, every day.  Those glimpses of His Light…perhaps in very unexpected moments, are to remind you that He is there.  He is the Light.

JUMP IN!

Part 2

John 21:15-19

‘After they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than the other disciples do?”

Peter answered Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus asked him again, a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus told him,  “Take care of my sheep.”

Jesus asked him a third time,  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter felt sad because Jesus had asked him a third time, “Do you love me?”   So Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.”

Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.

Was Peter remembering (was it only a week ago?), sitting at that warming fire outside the place where Jesus was being questioned…beaten…tortured… and his three denials of even knowing Him?  Three questions.  Three lies.  And now, three questions.  And three heartfelt true responses.  A second chance. . .

Then Jesus described some of Peter’s future, including Peter’s death.

(:19) “ After saying this, Jesus told Peter, ‘Follow me!’”

There was no condemnation of Peter’s  failures toward Jesus.  Forgiveness was extended, and another chance was being offered.  Jesus gave Peter an honest glimpse into the future as a true follower of His.  Peter had seen the reality of what it cost Jesus to be fully surrendered to God, and what it would cost him.

The fisherman was going to become a shepherd.  A fisherman does not have to give up his life for the fish.  He just focuses on catching them.  And eating them.  And counting them.  But a shepherd . . . that’s 24/7 and requires  tremendous, thankless dedication, watchfulness, and care.   Within that care comes laying down one’s own life.

Jesus had told Peter, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will catch people instead of fish.”

The fisherman did become a shepherd.  His powerful message carried throughout nations then, and continues now.  It did cost Peter everything…even death on a cross.

And this “Ewe” is so very grateful.

 

 JUMP IN!

Note:  The following event took place soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, with flashbacks of three years earlier.

 PART 1

“Later, by the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. 

This is what happened: 

Simon Peter, Thomas and Nathanael, Zebedee’s sons,

and two other disciples of Jesus were together.

Simon Peter said to the others,

‘I’m going fishing.’”

John 21:1-3

Like any good fisherman, when life gets tough, ya’ jump in the old fishing boat.   It had been an extraordinary, emotional week for Peter and his buddies.   Betrayal, crucifixion, fear, hiding, burial, earthquake, resurrection, forgiveness, . . . Peter had even lopped the ear off of a Roman Guard, which Jesus immediately re-attached.

He just needed to go fishing.

The Sea of Galilee borders many regions.  The shoreline that bordered the big, non-Jewish (Roman/Gentile side) city of Tiberias was called “Sea of Tiberias”, but is still the same body of water known as the Sea of Galilee.  Did Peter head to that Gentile shoreline because it was less associated with the region where he had spent so much time with Jesus?  Too many memories?  Was the Jewish side too likely to pose a run-in with people who would recognize him as being one of Jesus’ inner circle?  Jesus’ crucifixion was still fresh in people’s minds.

We can only imagine the emotional and mental trauma that Jesus’ closest circle of friends had just lived through.  Peter, especially.  He was a “feel-er”….many times letting his heart overrule his head.  Turning to what was most comfortable for him…where he felt most competent – fishing on his lake – made total sense.

So, Jesus met him there.

  • He was waiting with a campfire and cooking a fresh fish breakfast including bread on the side;
  • He had given Peter a great tip of where the fish were biting (netted 153!);
  • He invited the group of guys to share some of their fresh catch with His breakfast spread.

True to form, as soon as Peter realized Who was talking to them from the shoreline, he threw on his coat and jumped into the water, leaving the details of the overflowing boat and fresh fish to his friends.  His priority was getting to Jesus.

Was Peter remembering His first meeting with Jesus…was it only three years ago?! It had been a similar long night of fishing with not one fish to show for it.  There had been a huge crowd of people on the shoreline following this Man…a Teacher…and since Peter’s boat was empty, the Teacher got in, without even asking!  He just shlepped right in and told Peter to back the boat up a bit.  Then He started talking.  And the whole crowd was listening!   Peter had no choice but to listen…he was caught in his own boat.  And besides, everyone was looking at them.  Peter had ended up walking away from it all…the fishing, his boat, life as he’d known it.  Jesus had drawn Peter in, even telling him that He would make him a “fisher of men.”  Peter was “hooked.”   For life.

When the rest of the guys had finished securing the boat and the 153 fish (only a true fisherman would count them out, and writeabout it),  they joined Jesus and Peter at the campfire.  Jesus took the bread . . . and gave it to them.  Then the fish.   Was Peter remembering the last meal they had shared…in that borrowed upper room?  Jesus had taken the Seder bread, broke it, and gave it to them to eat.  But that night He had added something strange:  “This is MY Body, broken for you.  Take.  Eat.  …Remember.”

Only a few hours later Jesus had been “tried”….tortured…. while Peter stayed in the shadows.  He had denied being “with” Jesus three times, saying “No”…. he didn’t know Him.  As the words of his third denial still hung in the night air, the sound of a rooster’s crow broke into the darkness, just as Jesus had said.  

In Jesus’ simple act of serving breakfast to His fishing friends, He was communicating directly to their hearts:

  • “Peace” was between His Heart and theirs;
  • “Forgiveness” for any of the hurtful failures weighing on them for all Jesus had gone through
  • Restored relationship between them.

As far as we know from the records of this story, they had not even verbalized their regrets.   But Jesus was looking at their hearts.

***********************************************

I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as a little girl, any time I had done something wrong.  I wanted to hide.  I wanted to fix it.  I let shame be a cloud hovering over me, not knowing how to get out from under it.   But through the years, I have come to experience the continued kindness of God’s forgiveness, as lived out in all the stories of Jesus.  I don’t head to a fishing boat….but it might be to my garden, or a drive, or shopping, art, or TV.   And though it should come as no surprise, Jesus shows up, acting as if nothing has happened. His undeserved kindness, His goodness, interrupts and draws me back into His Presence.  

May my heart “jump in” to Jesus’ Presence in my life, no matter why I have jumped into my “boat.”  

TO BE CONTINUED….

Gracious Uncertainty

“It does not yet appear what we shall be.”

1 John 3:2

As our whole world walks through an unprecedented experience . . . a global plague, we have been shaken.  It is as if God has pressed a “Pause Button” on life as it was.  Nations, cities, communities, and families have been forced to consider the present and the future, knowing that something has changed “life” as it has been.

We don’t know how the future will look.  We don’t know how life will look.  For people who have chosen to follow God, this is nothing new.  The Bible is filled with the stories of individuals, families, and nations who experienced Divine Disruptions to Life as they had known it.

John wrote out of his first-hand experiences as one of Jesus’ twelve closest followers.  He was an eye-witness to Jesus’ time on earth, and fully qualified to write of it.  He had seen it all, went through the extreme highs and lows of following Jesus on earth, and then carried his experiences through decades after Jesus returned to Heaven.

John’s life ended as a very old man on an island.  Not on a retirement vacation…but in forced exile.  He would have deeply understood “social distancing” and being in “quarantine,”  but not for his benefit nor the benefit of others, nor for a temporary period of time.  He would die there.

Yet, from that place of isolation, he wrote, “See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for He allows us to be called His children, and we really are!”  and  “This is the message we have heard from the beginning:  We should love one another.”  I John 3:1, 11   And much, much more.

May we use this Time to let go of our “normal,” and let God draw us close.  May we listen to His Words of Love to us and through us…as did John.

***********

When my world “blew up” a few years ago, I experienced major losses… the man I dearly loved was gone, the home we had shared, as well as the work we had birthed and raised together for 35 years.  I  have tasted a bit of what John may have faced (no imprisonment nor forced exile here!).  But the dramatic sense of “being alone” has brought up thoughts and emotions I had never experienced before. 

My setting includes a shoreline of water, and an extremely quiet living quarters.  I think that I can relate much more personally to John now, as years worth of stories, memories, and lessons have the space and time to come to my mind.  I have the quietness to “listen” more, contemplate more, study and write more.  Life has become much more simple and basic. 

“Pause Button-pushing” is often not invited nor wanted in our world.  But when God allows it – especially on a global level, it is extremely likely that His has “pushed it” out of Love, and out of His desire to have our full attention.   

May the people of His Heart, especially, not waste the opportunity He has given us to look into His Face,  His Eyes, and draw closer to His Heart.

 

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.