Your Fragrance

If you were to describe your life’s fragrance, what would it be?   How would the  people in your life describe it?  Like a rose?  A lily?  Stinkweed? (Sorry!)

“Awake, north wind, and come, south wind!

Blow on my garden, 

That its fragrance may spread abroad.”

Song of Songs  4:16

The “Song of Songs” book of the Bible is a very sensual book.  (OK…how many of you have just put it on the top of your reading list?!)   It is full of examples of all five senses.  The writer here, a woman in love,  focuses on the sense of smell.   She invites a process that will change her life.

The process of capturing the fragrance of flowers involves cutting . . . crushing . . . drying to a crisp . . . burning, and a lot of waiting for the fragrance to be extracted from its beautiful  flower.  That process sounds like a lot of “pain” and “dying”, and “waiting”, doesn’t it?  But in the end, the very essence of that flower is captured.  It is then that it can be shared with others, and spread.

From my high window, looking over a park and strong, steady river, I now see hints of Autumn, with the subtly changing colors of leaves.  The coolness in the air is coming from the North.  Yet, the South Wind still breathes over my garden, and the flowers still bloom.  Their fragrance is at its finest, as if they know their blossoms will soon be gone, and with them, their fragrance.  

What fragrance do people catch from you?  Your life?  Do they wish they could “bottle” you?  Or cork you?  The process of capturing the fragrance of flowers involves cutting . . . crushing . . . drying to a crisp . . . burning, and patiently waiting for the fragrance to be extracted from its beautiful  flower.  

May we sense what our Creator-Gardener is working in our lives to draw from us a beautiful fragrance that is not only a delight to the people whose lives we touch, but may our Gardener be pleased and proud.

Training a Child

“Train a child in the way he should go, 

and even when he is old he will not turn away from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

I will soon be the grandmother of 12 (plus 2 in Heaven.)  I am the mother of 3.  All of them have become an integral part of my heart, my thoughts, and my emotions.  Each is so very unique, and it has been a wonderful highlight of my journey to see the individuals they have become, and are becoming.

This “Wisdom Verse”, so ancient, is yet so timelessly appropriate for parents today.

I was thinking about what is involved in “training”.   I remembered an experience

from my early adult life, when I worked as a sign language interpreter.  I was called to a welding business, which was an entirely new experience for me.  I was soon in the welding area with my deaf client and his job trainer.  After some introductory conversation, we all put on our “welding helmets” and then we had to lower our  dark face shields.   I heard the trainer begin his training, and within seconds realized that I couldn’t see a thing, except the shield-darkened welding fire.  My deaf client quickly realized he was in the same predicament, but far worse in that he couldn’t even hear what the instructor was saying.  Deaf people, having no hearing, rely heavily on their sight.  But here he was, without being able to hear the instructions, now  cut off from “seeing” the signed instructions as his sight was cut off by the dark face shield.  

The one being trained was completely “in the dark.”  He and I were soon doubled over in laughter as we realized our predicament.  We couldn’t even see to sign to each other.   The poor trainer (also literally in the dark) had no idea what was going on that we found so funny.  We had to re-group, and figure out a different way to “train” this man. . . a way that would lead to his understanding and success.

Everyone involved had “done it right,” but it did not work because of the one unique aspect of  the “trainee’s” reality.

It’s similar to training a child.  We (“the trainers”) have a God-assigned responsibility to train the child He has given us.  Children do not come pre-trained, and each one has so many unique characteristics to which we have to pay attention and adjust our training.  He/she is not like any other child.  He/she does not learn in the same way as another.  

But they always learn best by watching the living example of those into whose care God has entrusted them.

Christianity 101

“God so loved the world. . .”

John 3:16

In these present days, the world I’ve known has dramatically changed.  If someone had told me a year ago what my world would look like in 2020, it would have sounded unbelievable to me.   A global plague, unprecedented numbers of deaths . . .even in the most remote places on earth.  People jobless, homeless, and unable to even be together without risk.  Mob violence on the streets.  Our nation polarized . . . our “One nation under God” spiraling down to “Two Parties Under ???.”  (For me, there’s little “Under God” about it these days.)   And sadly, His People are part of it.

Perhaps the most powerful prophet of God in all of history, Isaiah was also living in a time of great turmoil.  God’s own people had turned their life focus on themselves and what they wanted, not looking to God for His Presence and Leadership in their lives.  

God wanted them back.

The governmental leader in Isaiah’s time is not even clearly identified. Governments come and go. It was the hearts and lives of God’s people He was talking to.  God can use anyone He chooses to use . . . even mules and birds.  

God’s consistent call is for His people to return to Him.  Jesus, in coming to our world and making the ultimate sacrifice for us, said, “God so loved the world that He gave His Own Son  . . .”  John 3:16  

As HIS PEOPLE….HIS CHOSEN [spiritual] NATION…His authentic followers around the globe, including those in my country, our highest mandate here on earth has nothing to do with a nation’s political leadership. 

It has everything to do with Whose we are.  That’s squarely on each of us to carry out, no matter what government is in the power seat.

Heart check.

Standing

 “….after you have done everything,

to stand.”

Ephesians 6:13

Paul was not one to just stand around watching life happen.   He was famous for being a man on the move.  His introduction to us in the Bible was in the context of being on a horse, in deadly pursuit of followers of Jesus.  He was on a “mission” . . . to stop these crazy followers of Christ from spreading their “Good News” about Jesus.  God literally “knocked him off his horse” to get his attention.  From that transformational moment in his life, Paul used all means of transportation to bring the Good News of Jesus to his world.  Except for his frequent prison stays, he was a man with a mission… a man on the move.

His words to the Believers in Ephesus (Ephesians) were written while in prison, because of his passion that pointed people in his world to knowing the Good News of Jesus.  But a prison could not keep him from sending his Message.  He even mentions in his letter that he was still speaking . . . to those inside and outside of his prison cell.

When I think of someone “standing,” there is still a sense of action . . . Paul wasn’t just sitting around, probably in terrible physical conditions, feeling sorry for himself. There is no sense of Paul having given up on his mission.  He was simply in a new setting… and continuing on with what he had been doing before this latest “disruption.” The mention of his imprisonment was one of the last notes in his message….as if it was an “Oh, by the way, the reason I’m sending this message is because I am in prison…(again!)”  He doesn’t even seem to take a breath.

When we find ourselves in a place of feeling “confined”…whether by natural circumstances, or by human actions, think of Paul.  Prison was like a little blip on his radar.  He barely even mentions it.

May our “confinement”  be like the heart of Paul’s.  Yes, there are limits of our physical movement, but may we take the opportunities at hand to speak encouragement and hope because of the Living Savior we follow.  Standing…alert, aware, poised to move!

*Written in the time of Covid.

Ancient Three-Point Checklist

“Give thanks to the Lord.

Call on his name.

Make known among the nations what he has done.”

1 Chronicles 16:8

We all have busy lives . . . even in the middle of a pandemic.  In the midst of so many changes to what had been our “normal,” it’s always good to “check in”  and see how we are doing.  This ancient checklist is just the thing, I think, for a heart-check that helps us to pause and check-in on how we’re doing in this new reality in life.  Though it’s thousands of years old, it’s surprisingly current! 

  1. Give thanks to the Lord.    How’s your attitude these days?  Are you able to pull your old head up out of the way your life has changed in 2020, take a step back and find some things to be thankful for?  Have you watched for God’s Fingerprint on your day?  It’s easy to see the things that are frustrating, disheartening, and downright scary.  Those are often knocking at our doors.  But where and what are the things that have actually been good in this new chapter in our lives?
  2. Call on His Name.   He is present.  He knows what is going on.  But whereas we mainly see the current realities, as compared to when things were better, He is   looking at all of the good things that He has planned for you including the sweet times that will come out of this world-changing season.   Talk to Him.  Ask Him to help you know He is near . . . He knows all the details…. He is fully capable to handle your heart and your life in the midst of all of this.  He knows you by name.  Talk to Him….one-on-one . . . by Name.
  3. Make known among the nations what He has done.   This world is as dear to Him  . . .  all the nations  . . . as is our nation to us.   Knowing Him, and His Presence in our lives, is not a shared knowledge nor experience in most of the world.  Yes His love for them is real.  At this moment, it is not even possible to physically “go” among the nations.  But our prayers can go.  Our hearts can go.  And God has brought “the nations” to us.  In our towns, our neighborhoods.  Having a conversation with someone from “the nations” is very possible.  Telling of His Goodness and Love is usually very, very welcome.  He will be right there with you. . . with His Loving touch to their spirits as well.

Where Are We Going?!?

“By faith Abraham . . . obeyed and went,

Even tho’ he did not know where he was going.” 

I was in an old car, late at night, being driven through the Sahara desert, returning to my “home” in the Saharawi refugee camps.   A friend and I had attended an event in a different camp, which had lasted long into the night.    The driver was new to me and did not speak English.  It was a very quiet drive.

The desert sky is spectacular in the night.  There are no electrical lights, nor cables or poles or trees to distract from the vast expanse stretching from horizon to horizon.  It’s just the brilliant moon and shimmering stars and galaxies filling the entire sky set against the black canvas.  I never tire of looking up, in awe of the display.

As I watched through my open window, the busyness of the day drained away, and soon I was nodding off.   Little did I know….my driver was having the same experience!

I don’t know how long I’d slept, but when I woke up, I noticed that the moon was shining through the opposite window from where I’d last seen it.   Strange.  After mentally rehearsing how to say in Hassanya,  “Where are we?”, I tapped the driver’s shoulder.   His head jerked up, and he began looking at the sky through his window.  Quickly stopping the car, he got out and stood looking up.  A  few moments later, he turned the truck around and headed a different direction, now extremely awake.   The moon was back in the place I’d seen it when I had dozed off.

He had fallen asleep!    No idea for how long, and I didn’t really want to think about that.   But that night sky was his map . . . no GPS necessary.  He knew his star map, and it worked the best in the dark!  (Most effectively with eyesopen!)

Abraham would have been following the same “map.”  Even though he “did not know where he was going,”  he at least knew, from his “sky map”, where he was and where he had been. God’s celestial map was in place, especially detailed in the darkness of night.  It was not Abraham’s job to plot the course, nor decide the destination.  That was God’s role.  But in His gracious kindness, God had provided (from The Beginning) an infinite expanse high above our earth-bound lives, affording us a visual Constant under which to live.  Especially in the dark.

“By faith . . . “   Abraham went.   Three wise men/kings went.   Prophets went.  Hagar went. Joseph and Mary, cradling their precious baby, went.  All of them, and so many more…went, because God told them to go into that vast desert unknown.  Nightly map provided.  His Presence provided.

That was what mattered most.

Rest

“Come to Me,

all who are tired of carrying heavy loads,

and I will give you rest.” 

When I picture an image of “rest”, I picture a sleepy child in the arms of someone who loves him/her.  It doesn’t really matter what had caused that child to end up on that lap.  But they had found it to be a place where they could become still, nesting within safe arms, their head near to a steady, beating heart.  Sleep came.

Our world is in the midst of turmoil and chaos, beyond what most of us have ever seen or experienced before.  Insecurity and fear has seeped into our homes. . . our families . . . and our hearts.  It becomes mentally, emotionally, psychologically exhausting.   We are “carrying heavy loads.”

But we have One Whose very make-up is Love.   He knows what life is on this old earth.  He experienced it.  His choice to take on human form and  experience ‘in His own body’ our daily realities is beyond my comprehension and reasoning.  He could have just “fixed” it, or ignored it. Instead, He chose to immerse Himself in this human experience.  There is a vast difference between gaining understanding through exposure versus  actually experiencing something personally.  On your own body.

Love does that.

So, in the stillness…in the quiet…when you allow yourself to feel the tiredness in your mind and heart, let His Words sink into your mind . . . into your heart.   “Come to Me….”   Let Him lift you up onto His lap, settle you in, gently press your head with all its worries and weariness, to His chest, where His Heart beats for you, and just let Him hold you.  Quiet your wiggles and words.  And in that quiet nest, hear His heart beating….for you.  Whispering your name, with love.

And rest. . . .

Bending Down to Listen

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice,

my pleas for mercy.

            Because He bends down and listens,

            I will pray as long as I have breath!”

Psalm 116:1-2

I have a quiet voice.  (Although my family might beg to differ about that at times.)   I’ve heard that complaint of, “Speak up!  I can see your lips moving but I can’t hear anything you’re saying!”

I think that is why I love  this verse.  To picture the God Who made me, quiet voice and all, caring enough about what I have to say (or whisper) that He would “bend down and listen,”

It’s such a loving, kind thing to do.

Typical human reactions to someone with a quiet voice are often more like:

“Please speak up!  I can’t hear you!”

“Say it again!”

Maybe a smack to the back of the head with a “Speak up!”

“Maybe my hearing’s going out, but I can’t hear you!”

“WHAT are you saying?”

Or…. being simply ignored.

Take a moment to visualize God’s response to someone who is normally quiet, or in a crowd where the quiet voice is drowned out.  Maybe the quiet one doesn’t have the status or stature of those with the louder voices.

Maybe it is a child.   Maybe it is you.

Whatever the case, in this verse’s particular circumstance there is a hesitant, perhaps fearful “plea for mercy” involved.

How do you picture God’s listening posture toward you?  Do you try to make yourself small?  Does shame or guilt muffle the words in your mind and heart?  Are you afraid of what He might say to you?  Do you think that His attention passes right over you, focusing on those voices that

are far more powerful than yours?   More important  than yours?  Do you believe that you must first get yourself into a better….higher….more worthy position before you should even use your voice with Him?

The writer of these words is pleading for mercy for something going on in his life.  It’s someone who feels very unworthy of God’s attention or help.

Yet, God has “bent down” to listen for that quiet voice.

He loves to hear your voice . . . especially talking to Him.   So, be that child…imperfect language, imperfect grammar, imperfect mind and heart.

He is leaning in to hear you telling Him what is in your heart. . . and on your mind.

 

 

Night Song

“The Lord commands His Mercy during the day, 

and at night,  His Song is with me –

A Prayer to the God of my life.”

Psalm 42:8

When my grandchildren began coming into my life, my favorite time was putting them to sleep.  A simple, little lullabye had woven its way into my mind, nothing I’d heard before.  But it became “the lullabye” for my grandchildren. Each baby heard it, and most would almost immediately start nodding off when, cradled in my arms, I’d begin humming the song.  It was an experience I treasured with each of them.   Some of them still remember it.

God has His own Song that He sings over each of us.  It is especially sung at night,  when weariness has come,  and energy has gone. The pressures of our days, the pace of our lives, the burdens we carry, the fears we try to suppress, fill our days.  His Mercy is desperately needed, especially in the times in which we are currently living.  So much is filling our lives … our world … our thoughts.  It seems completely out of control.  Frightening.  Dreadful.

During these days, God’s Mercy is near, by His command.  In the midst of the “terrible,” He is near, holding back the “too much to survive.”  Though it may seem too much, His Mercy is near.  It’s for us to grab onto.  He knows.  He sees.  He is near.

But it’s in the night time . . . when the darkness comes, enveloping our minds and hearts . . . that He comes as a Song.  His Song.  A tender communication from God.  There’s something special about a song, more than words alone that come into our minds and are processed through our logical brains.

He sings His Song to us in the night.  Gently.  Softly.  I would call that a Lullabye.  Simple enough to sink into the heart of a child.  The words are not the most important piece.  It’s the sweet, gentleness of the melody that penetrates beyond words. My “babies” could not yet even understand the “words.” They  recognized my voice and the simple melody…..the familiar tune that seemed to have an almost immediate effect on their emotions.

God’s Song in the Night is meant to go to that deep place which words usually cannot touch . . . outside of our logic or knowledge.  It touches our very spirit.   Allowing His Song, His Voice to come into my heart, my spirit, quiets me.  As I listen to His Song, it becomes a prayer,  and my heart responds back to Him.

You are His child, held in His Arms, near His Heart.  May you listen to His Song,     bringing Peace and sweet Rest.

Racism

“There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.”   

Galatians 3:28

As I write this, overt public actions and words throughout my nation are exposing a whole new level of racism.  It’s nothing new, most unfortunately.

Racism was alive and powerfully active even in the times when Jesus walked this earth.  No one was immune to being labeled by others, and treated badly.  (Jesus was of the “race” that was often brutalized by the powerful ruling Romans.)  But the example Jesus lived out while here was clearly not one that accepted racism.  He blew through all those labels and walls, and consistently related to humanity with respect and dignity.  That is what comes out of Love.  That is what comes from the heart of God.

By the time Paul came on the scene, even those who claimed to be followers of Jesus were carrying attitudes and actions of racism.  Paul gives us a broad glimpse of what was going on.  His broad “catagories” of racism were:

  • Jews – Paul’s own race and religion
  • Greeks/Romans – The “occupiers” of Paul’s homeland, Israel. Their “gods” were many, . . . they even worshipped themselves (physical strength and beauty.)  Wealth, political positions, political power, and moving in the top circles of government were part of being “at the top” in that world.  Paul knew that world well…  he had personal experience as having been part of it in his years before encountering Jesus.
  • Slaves – Under the Greek and Roman occupations, most of Paul’s people (Israel) were divided into  two categories. . . either slaves or free people.  Slaves had no rights, nor freedoms.   They were often not even treated as humans.  Their only value was in doing whatever their masters / owners demanded.
  • Free – In occupied Israel, the Jews still lived under the control of Romans, and then Greeks.  Their “freedom” was extremely limited and conditional.
  • Male or female – If you were a Jewish man or woman living under Romans or Greeks, you were still not free.  Life was still precarious, as those in power controlled the Israelite’s homeland by the rule of the occupying nation.  Men had much more “position” in daily life . . . family life.  But women came “under” male authority across the board.

Paul had experienced a position of power personally, within the occupying political power of his time.  So, he knew what that life was like.  He knew what it was to be  a privileged authority with his own people.  He also knew what his core identity of being a man had afforded him.

But when Paul encountered Jesus, everything changed.  His thinking . . . his activities . . .  his priorities . . . his attitudes . . . his realities . . .his interactions. Paul’s heart and thinking   CHANGED.   The entire direction of his life changed.

That is what happens when Jesus comes into a human life.  The Change begins very soon, and will continue to deepen and broaden as we begin walking in a New Life with Jesus Christ.  And others will notice the change in the daily life.  The “change” will more and more resemble Jesus’ life example while on earth.

Paul’s checklist of the racism of his day is only different from our days in the specific nations listed.

If we, as people of God, followers of Jesus, hold any attitudes inconsistent with what Jesus lived out when He walked on  Earth, our own identity in Christ is in question.

May we view and treat “others” with the same foundational truth that Paul addresses and Christ lived out.