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.

The Racer

  Messages from Messengers of Light – Part 3                             

My third (and last!) son was a very dangerous little guy.  I felt that I was saving his life daily, even before he entered the “terrible two’s.”    One day I had even called my husband at work, crying.  “I think Seth’s going to die today!  I just caught him trying to back into the laundry chute holding my biggest butcher knife!”

I was certain that God must have several guardian angels posted on this child, 24/7!

One day, the 2-year-old had escaped outside, and I heard a blood-curdling scream on the driveway.  Running out the back door, I saw that he had somehow rolled a two-wheel bicycle forward, with his little finger now stuck between the bicycle chain and the gear.  I could not roll the wheel forward nor backward to release his flattened little finger.  Screaming for anyone in the neighborhood’s help, I picked up the bike (with him and his finger attached) to try to get anyone’s attention on our short, dead-end street.  NObody seemed to hear, and Seth, the bike, and I were now hidden behind our huge pine tree in the front yard.

Suddenly, from the dead-end end of our street came the most professional bicyclist racer I’d ever seen in person.  He appeared from “no-where”, and rode right to us…the screaming woman and the screaming 2-year-old behind the big tree.  Unzipping his small, professional bag of bicycle tools, he quickly disengaged the wheel gears and released the flattened little finger.  Both Seth and I were crying . . . he with screams of pain, and me imagining my baby losing his finger.  When I looked up to thank the professional racer, he had completely disappeared.  Gone. I didn’t see him go, had no way to thank him, and could not imagine how a professional racer could be riding from the dead-end of a little one-block-long street in Little Chute, Wisconsin.  

Seth’s daddy arrived and we rushed to the ER, with his finger saved through the quick actions of a mysterious Stranger, never seen before nor since.  

Divine interventions were frequently needed in those early years of Seth’s life. . . 

(my last child!) and I definitely had a sense of Angels nearby.  (I think they must have had a rotation schedule just for Seth!)  

But for me, that professional, world-class bicyclist will always be an Angel in my book  (whether divine or not!)!

Angel in the Crowd

Messages from Messengers of Light
Part 2

“For He Himself is our Peace, 
who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, 
the dividing wall of hostility…”
Ephesians 2:4

I was a new bride, beginning what would be a very adventurous life with my new husband.  He had come from a troubled past of Darkness, and was fully immersed in a new Life in the Kingdom of Light . . . the Kingdom of God.   His troubled past added to the passion he had for people who were drowning in Darkness, often hopelessly entangled in drugs.  

His passion to reach out to drug-addicted youth had led us into looking for a safe place away from the city streets where the entanglements of drugs and the devastating downward spirals of that life-style were so easily accessible.   We had found a property away from the city, but would need the approval of the small community where that property lay.  A town meeting had been announced, and the date set.

As we entered the small town hall, we could feel the hostility of a standing-room-only crowd of local folks who wanted nothing to do with drug addicts, alcoholics, and troubled youth.   (They had no idea that our worst-case heroin-addict had grown up in their small town.)   My husband was led up to the official front table where the town’s governing committee would call the meeting to order.  I had found an open chair in the back of the now standing-room-only gathering.  My heart was already pounding.

As the meeting commenced, anger began to surface and mount in the large crowd of local citizens.  Angry words began to be shouted and joined by a growing number of individuals until the packed room erupted into yelling, gavel-pounding, and people literally coming out of their seats in rage.  The meeting had to be called to an end, for fear of a violent riot on the brink.  Everyone was on their feet shouting.  

I was trying to keep my eyes on my husband, at whom most of the crowd was directing their words and anger.  Tears began to well up, and fears began to overwhelm me.  I wanted only to find my  Bill and run.  

As I stood at my seat in the back, craning to keep my eyes on my husband at the front of the room, I was desperately asking God to get us out…to rescue us.   Then my eyes were caught by a woman’s eyes.  A stranger.  She was at the very front of the room, and our eyes locked.  It was as if a path opened through the angry crowd between the woman and me.  She began to walk directly toward me.  I could not look away, even though the hostile mass was continuing to shout and raise their fists toward the town leaders and, especially, my husband in the front.  

But my eyes were locked on hers.  No word was spoken as she wrapped her arms  around me in that turbulent, frightening mob.  Peace began to sooth the fear inside. . . Peace beyond my own understanding.  She held me, without a word, for mere seconds.  Then she looked into my eyes, again, without a word.  I glanced away for just a moment.  And then she was gone.  I had not seen her leave. I could not see where she had gone. I had never seen the woman before.  Nor since.  But that moment  left me with a sense of Peace and assurance that God was with me…with us…despite the circumstances, despite the outcome, and regardless of all the fears of that night or the future to come.  God knew.  God was there. . . always.  

He is our Peace.

The Dance

Messages from Messengers of LightPart 1

“Didn’t our hearts burn within us . . .”

( a night in the desert)

The room was hot and completely dark.   It was the dead of night in the Sahara Desert refugee camps.  None of the vast desert sky’s starlights were able to penetrate into the stiflingly hot room where we slept.  Eyes open or eyes shut made no difference in the darkness.  My roommate and I had fallen asleep, following a busy day of meetings and activities surrounding the Faith Dialogue event in which we had participated.  Our team was exhausted, the mattresses uncomfortable, the hot desert air merciless,  and the darkness impenetrable.

Earlier that week, some of our team had talked a little about stories of Muslim people encountering a glowing figure appearing in their rooms in the night, wearing Eastern-style robes, and exuding a Light from His Being in a way that they recognized Him to be Jesus the Messiah.  As I drifted off to my much-needed sleep, I wondered what that experience must be like.

Several hours later, I abruptly awoke from my sleep, my eyes focused on the foot of my bed.  There before me stood a man that I would describe as a very handsome, Western-World, royal- looking “Prince.”   His entire being was Light.  He was wearing a white tuxedo, complete with satin vest, woven gold braiding and buttons, and white gloves.  He even held a white top hat in the crook of His arm, against His chest.  His beautiful eyes looked into mine.  He gently smiled, and extended his right hand as if to say, “Come . . . dance with Me.”   

In that jaw-dropping moment, I glanced toward my roommate, wondering if she was seeing what was happening on my side of the room!  But when I looked back, the Prince was gone.  

In the moment I had looked away,  my Prince had disappeared.  I wished I hadn’t taken my eyes off of him.  

But it was as if He wordlessly answered my questions of why so many in the muslim world are experiencing visitations in the night of a figure wearing Eastern-style robes, glowing white from an internal Source of Light, and a silent invitation to believe and follow Him.  Their world is one of flowing robes.  Messages are often shared without words. . . a look, a hand movement, communication with the eyes.  My Western world is one of fine suits and waltzes…(I wish.)

My shining Prince had invited me to join Him in the Holy Dance that He has prepared for the World.

Left Out

“Thomas, one of the twelve, 
Was not with them when Jesus came.”
John 20:24

Growing up in a Bible-believing family, I was well taught from earliest childhood the Bible stories that are most well-known.  “Doubting Thomas” was one of those stories, and the focus was normally to not doubt the stories of Jesus.  Thomas’ story was usually presented as an example of the need to believe all that the Bible teaches us, without the unfortunate doubts that Thomas expressed.

But revisiting that ancient story recently, I am seeing it in a different light, and connecting to it in a new way.   

The followers of Jesus had experienced their world completely blowing up, with the horrific crucifixion, His death and burial outside of Jerusalem during their high holiday of Passover.  Not only were they thrown into their deepest experience of trauma and grief, but they feared for their own lives, being the most closely-connected circle of followers of the Crucified Jesus.  Quietly gathering under the cover of evening’s darkness, there was fear, turmoil, incredible trauma and sadness shared among them.  

Within circles of grief, there are those who are more aware of practical needs than others.  They are the ones who will be preparing a meal . . . gathering extra plates and cushions, making coffee for everyone, running to the local market, and simply doing the dishes.  They do it quietly, those un-planned acts of kindness that are their way of loving well.  

When my husband died, in those first days I was staying at my son’s home with family gathered all around.  A knock at the door signaled the presence of one of my most loved and respected ministry leaders and role-models.   Stuart and Jill Briscoe.  Following a precious time of loving, sweet conversations, I had to briefly turn attention to something else.  When I returned to my friends, I found Stuart, having donned an apron, washing the huge pile of dishes that had accumulated in the large kitchen sink.  He was simply living out something of which he often spoke:  The Ministry of Presence.  I will never forget that picture in my mind.

I suspect that Thomas may have been practicing that attitude.  He seems to have been quietly serving the larger group . . . going out to handle practical needs while the others were gathering together to talk . . . in shock, grief, and a need to simply “be together.”  So Thomas had missed the experience of the rest of his friends, that of Jesus’ visitation to their “hiding place.”    

But Jesus did come, and He gave that Moment to Thomas.  Very personally.  Intimately.  Without criticism or rebuke.  Whatever Thomas’ reason for being out of the gathering place, we can only imagine.  But Jesus gave him a very personal Moment that probably set the course for the rest of Thomas’ life. Jesus invited Thomas to physically touch the crucifixion wounds.  No rebuke. There was no hint of shame for having missed the moment that “everybody else” experienced. Jesus gave him that personal Moment…with an intimacy not noted with any of the others.  And Thomas spent the rest of his life spreading the Good News he had experienced to his world. . . all the way to us today.

Our Savior sees our sorrows and loss.  He knows our hearts.  And He tenderly gives us Moments with Him that will linger on forever.  

Hospitality to Strangers

“So He went in to stay with them.  When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them.
Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.”
Luke 24:29-31

Middle Eastern / Bedouin hospitality is ancient and amazing.  Not only do I have dear memories of experiencing it in the Saharawi camps in the Sahara Desert, but I have also experienced in the culture of Israel.  

Luke’s account of Jesus’ story of “the hospitality of strangers” as He traveled to Galilee after His crucifixion and resurrection is a clear picture of Bedouin hospitality.  He was on a main traveling road, (Emmaus Road) leaving Jerusalem and heading to His home region of the Galilee.  He began walking along with two strangers, who were talking about the things they had learned of Jesus’ crucifixion and reported resurrection.  Not divulging who He was, Jesus joined their conversation in such a way that the two travelers invited Him to join them for a meal at their home.  Jesus accepted, and that evening they realized Who He really was.

Bedouin hospitality still exists.  I have experienced it throughout the 20+ years of spending time with the Saharawi people in the desert.  I have never experienced a time when I was not warmly invited into a refugee home/tent, and treated like royalty.  No questions asked.  With absolute Grace, there was a hidden scramble going on . . . children being sent to neighboring tents to find plates, silverware, glasses, cups, and food items.  All for the strangers.  What was presented to us (after LOTS of rounds of tea), was a lovely, artistic display of food, love, and amazing hospitality.  It was years before I learned the truth of how much rushing and work was going on behind the scenes in order to treat their “strangers / guests” as was their culture.

Jesus enjoyed a large meal (with lots of men to feed on short notice!) in the home of Cleopas, speaking to all the men who gathered around the table to meet and hear this Guest.  His Guest was speaking Words of Life and Truth.  Life-changing Truth.

How are you doing in the area of welcoming and inviting Jesus “in” to your daily activity (like a walk along your road), and into your home?  Is He a Present Guest at your table?  Is He welcome when it’s “just the family”. . . or when it’s an evening with friends?  Does He have anything to say?  Are you poised to listen?

Cleopas was a man of influence and the head of his family.  He made the invitation for Jesus to come into his personal world.  And he included others as well.  

Jesus came.