In the Waiting Space

After forty years had passed, 

An angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush

In the desert near Mount Sinai. . . 

Then the Lord to him,  

“I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. 

I have heard their groaning 

And have come down to set them free.

Now come, 

I will send you back to Egypt.” 

Acts 7:30, 33-34

He’d been born a slave, but all of his early memories were of living as a son in the palace of Pharoah.  Having run for his life from all that he had known, he had spent the last 40 years out in the desert with sheep. It had never been Moses’ desire nor plan. 

I’ve had dramatic changes in my life, but nothing as extreme as Moses lived.  Yet there are those times when I look around, thinking, “How did I get here?!  This isn’t the way I’d ever imagined it!”

Then, comes the “WHY?!” question. That answer will never fully come while I’m on this earth.. 

Little did Moses know what was ahead for him.  Dramatically going from the palace, living like a king, to decades in an unfamiliar desert with no survival skills must have worked in every aspect of Moses’ mind and heart.  The desert does that to you, especially when you’ve never lived in one before.   

When God Called me to the Sahara Desert in 1999, I had NO experience in desert life.  Having lived my life in Wisconsin, the dramatic (traumatic) experience of going unprepared into the Desert, I had no clue of how to handle life there.  But being there for extended times for decades changed my life.  It changed me.

I can only imagine what the desert years did to Moses.  From a palace to a shepherd’s tent . . . from royal banquet meals to goats’ milk, fire-grilled flatbread, meat of camels or sheep/goats, and water.  From servants at his beck and call, to being alone with  animals for months at a time in a vast desert.  The contrast was probably traumatic.  He must have had a million questions with lots of time to ponder.

His Royal training in national leadership was now the preparation  for leading, protecting, and feeding shaggy, wayward four-legged’s.  Little did he know that the four-legged’s would become a million 2-legged’s.  His birth-nation awaited.

When God intervenes in our lives in ways that shock us . . . scare us . . . nearly destroy us, we are forced to look UP.  When everything else is gone, we are compelled to grab on to Him as we never had to before.  We cannot re-create “what was.”  It is the time to focus on Who He Is, and begin the long journey of walking through each day with Him.  Grieving  “what was” slowly becomes “what is,” and a new step in a new journey begins.  Perhaps these are the hardest steps you’ve ever taken, with the least sense of clarity you’ve ever felt.  

Clasp tightly to His Hand.  Step with Him  (often carried by Him…) and learn the lessons all along the way. There is a Reason.  It took a 40-year “waiting space” for Moses to learn his desert lessons, with no knowledge of why.  

We are able to see many of the “Aha Moments” Moses may have never seen about his own life. “Huh???” may have been his theme.   From our vantage point in history, we can see how God used all those seasons in Moses’ life to prepare and shape him for what God had planned.  The Plan, unbeknownst to Moses, was historic.

He is doing the same in each of our lives.  We don’t have the Timeline He is following.  There is often more “Waiting Space” than “Aha’s!”   But they will come, in the end.  The Waiting Space will begin to unfold like the petals of your favorite flower.  Hold tightly to Him throughout the unknowns…the waiting.

You will come to love Him even more.

Following His Tracks

“ I can’t find Him because He knows the road I take. When He tests me, I’ll come out as pure as gold. I have followed His footsteps closely. I have stayed on His path and did not turn from it.”        

Job 23:10-11

In the Sahara Desert, following someone’s tracks is not easy!   When the imprint of the footsteps or tire tracks of the one you are trying to follow is in shifting sands, it can be impossible at times.  Driving between the Saharawi refugee camps can be quite the adventure.  There is no “road”… just that incredible sea of sand.  Often the driver is literally leaning out of his open door (while the vehicle is moving!) to find tracks of those who have gone before us.  The landscape is largely all the same, so there are not trees or buildings or road signs (or roads for that matter) to identify the way ahead.  Actually arriving at our destination is a reward in itself.

God doesn’t make it easy for us to find Him.   There is often a great struggle or pain or failure before the Path becomes clear.  He doesn’t make it easy, but after all, the Path along which He will walk with us is not easy, either.  So it is no surprise that the Path to meet Him is also difficult.  

Job (the writer here) had incredible hardship on the Path he walked with God.  He literally lost everything.  His wealth, security, family, friends, . . . everything was gone.  And he had been a very good man.  But through all of that, he continued to pursue God.   At his lowest point, all he had to cling to was that belief in God Himself.  Job found God to be worth the pursuit.  He had not waited until disaster hit to know Him. . . follow Him . . . prioritize Him in his life.  Job didn’t blame God for the disasters he had been through, because He knew Who God Is.  So when everything fell apart in his life, he already knew the One to Whom he would have to cling.

I have tasted some of what Job lost.  Many times, I wondered if I would ever be able to “breathe” again after losing my husband.  Would I survive it? . . . did I even want to survive it.   But there was never a question in my mind of Who I must hold on to. Hanging out of the old battered truck that had been my life, I had to focus on the shifting sand around me, searching for His Footprint.  And I would always, always spot it.  Just enough to assure me that He was there.  I was not lost.  I was not hopeless.  I just had to spot the next Footprint and follow it.  Step at a time.  Moment at a time.  

In those times, turning back is not an option.  Stopping and settling there is not an option.  Life depends on watching for His Print, and moving forward as it sets the direction, step-by-step.  There is just enough evidence of His Presence that I know He is going ahead of me.

And I can follow that.

Do you love Me?

“Jesus said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’”

John 21:17

Have you ever asked someone this question, or been asked?   Can you recall what the circumstances were?  Was it truly a question at face value, . . . because the one asking wasn’t sure of your love?  Or were they reminding you of your own words?

Jesus asked one of His dearest friends this question, three times.  And Jesus, being Who He was, of course knew the answer.  He knew Peter’s heart.  He knew that Peter loved Him.  The question was a reminder for Peter himself . . . a heart-check of what Peter needed to think about.  

I can almost picture Jesus, getting Peter’s attention, and asking the first question, “Do you love Me?”   For Peter, it was a “no-brainer.”  Peter’s quick response, “You know that I love You.”  They’d just eaten a literal boat-load of fish, and it must have felt like ‘old times’ again.  The horror of the crucifixion was over.  Jesus was alive. . . they were back on the seashore again.  Jesus responded back to Peter, “Feed My lambs.”

But Jesus asked again, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”   “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”  Jesus told him, “Take care of my sheep.”    Peter, the fisherman, was being asked by Jesus to do something he was not trained to do.  He knew fish.  He didn’t know lambs.  Lambs are cute little things, and their mothers take care of them.  Easy enough.

For a third time, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him.    Following Peter’s strong affirmative response, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.”  He continued on with an ominous note of the shadows and danger that lay ahead for Peter.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  Fishing days were over.  Peter would walk a very difficult, painful road in the years to come, and Jesus would not be physically with him.  

When God calls a person into full-out commitment in following Him, He does not offer promises that it will be easy, rewarded on this earth, nor even acknowledged along that path.  It will be difficult.  It will be painful.  The people with whom you began your journey will probably not even be with you.  As all of those changes and losses unfold, all that is left is the reverberating echo of His Words, “Do you love Me?   . . .  Follow Me.”   

That becomes the sole Foundation of His Call.  The sole reason for each step on that Path.  And, often, the sole reward for all it has cost you.

My Safe Rock

I love you, O Lord, my Strength. The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Savior, my God, my Rock in whom I take refuge, my Shield, and the strength of my Salvation, my Stronghold.

Psalm 18:1-2

Many years ago, while on a mountain top overlooking the Sea of Galilee, it was easy to imagine David there with his sheep.  Still quite “untouched,” carved-out rock troughs from ages past, rain-catchers for thirsty sheep remain on that grassy, high pasture.  

I noted a boulder that had a wide crevice, and decided to wedge myself into it, having always been curious about Bible passages that David sang of, being “hidden in the cleft of the rock.”    I wanted to know how that would feel.  It took some courage, as I don’t like bugs, and imagined there would surely be some hiding in that “cleft.”  

As I settled into my little ‘cleft of the rock’, I noted how  much more narrow my vision became, defined by the rock around me.  Then, I began to notice this rock that surrounded me, seeing tiny little green seedlings. . . even some brave little blossoms.  They had found enough grains of dirt to take root and even blossom, clinging to that solid rock.  The little bugs there didn’t even bother me . . . they were busy with their own tiny lives.   

I began to realize how very, very safe I felt within that great rock, which was the exposed top of a mountain covered by green pasture.  I knew that no danger could come to me as I sat in that safe crevice.  I was protected within the cleft of my rock.

My vision also narrowed.  All I could see was “my rock”, and only what lay directly ahead of me.  As I sat there looking at the narrowed view before me, I began to realize that there were other parts of my mountaintop in front of me, which also had the same crevices in line with mine.  It was like a great wound on that mountaintop.  They were perfectly aligned.  

Something earth-shakingly powerful must have happened long, long ago to create the “wound” in which I sat.  Only a God-sized power could create such an earth-shaking split.  The God-sized Scar was clear.

Then it struck me that Jesus is called “the Rock of my Salvation” . . . and that He was willingly wounded for my sake, for the world’s sake.  

The ‘cleft of the rock’ which had become my dear Safe Place had been formed by some powerful, earth-changing Event ages ago.  I was reminded that when Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the earth itself shook.  And His wounds made it possible for me to find my own safety within His scars of Love.  

I was surrounded.  I was safe.  He was there.  Nothing could touch me without first going through the cleft open before me.    

My Rock was beginning to feel like my Salvation.  My safety was in that cleft-wound. It was becoming the sweetest, dearest place on earth.  I wanted to stay there and memorize the safe place it had become.  But it was time to go.

The sweetest thing was that I didn’t have to leave my beloved Rock on that mountain top.  He is with me wherever I go.

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 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.