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.

Being His Hands and Feet

“The Messiah also suffered for you, 
leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 
 [as it is written in Isaiah 53:7]:  

“Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;” 
and while being reviled, He did not revile in return;  
while suffering He uttered no threats, 
but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”   
1 Peter 2:21-23

I grew up hearing lots of sermons and Bible lessons about “being Jesus’ Hands and Feet” in this world.  Lots of examples of how to serve our families . . . neighbors . . . world, using our energy in Godly, practical ways.  The world can glimpse and taste the heart of Jesus through our lives.

But recently I have been taking a closer look at the stories of Jesus as He faced His own looming physical experiences of His human hands and feet  in going to the cross.  

It’s one thing to consider His hands and feet as He moved about on this earth:  Walking through the land of Israel . . . stony dirt roads that he traveled, visiting fishing villages around the Galilee, hostile towns in Samaria, or the annual trips from Nazareth to Jerusalem for festivals with his friends and family.  Stories of desert travel, navigating through hilly terrain along rocky, dusty paths, Jesus passed through villages, both friendly and not. He moved through the Land of Israel teaching about Life…Love…and His Father’s love and glory.  Seashores, mountains, desert, and unpaved, stony roads are the setting for so many stories of Jesus’ Words and miracles as well.  

Those stories inspire us to step out of our familiar routines and make time to interact with people in practical, caring ways.  Like Jesus did.

But I had never given much attention to the “hands and feet” accounts of what Jesus experienced  in the hours leading up to His death on the cross.   At least, not in the implications of how I may be Called upon to use my own hands and feet in ways that would physically hurt for the sake of others.   That’s a whole different level of “being His Hands and Feet” to my world.

Being inconvenienced to serve others is one thing.  But to go to the point of real physical discomfort or pain for the sake of others is not what is common in our practical experiences of following Jesus.  What He endured through His crucifixion, both before and during the Cross, is far beyond what we can imagine.  What His Hands and Feet went through was excruciating.  And beyond that, there was the lashing of His back, the huge thorns in His head, the psychological torment, and more.  The emotional torment of experiencing God’s “abandonment” throughout the whole physical torture would have been incredibly brutal in itself.  Extreme public humiliation was woven throughout His trauma.

It was all on our behalf.

The next time you sing a worship song about “being His Hands and Feet,” don’t take it lightly.  For the sake of our lost world, it may cost far more than simply “giving” and “going.”  

Are we willing to bear that?

In the Shadow

“Whoever lives under the shelter of the Most High

 will remain in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

Do you ever struggle with being “in the shadow” of someone else?  Do you wish that you were in higher demand?   Do you see others getting credit or honor, and wish you could have a little of that?   Do you long to be in the spotlight….just once!?

I’d be surprised if everyone has not had those moments of wishing to be more “seen”…more noticed for the value of your life . . . that pat on the back, that word of appreciation, that moment of someone speaking an encouraging word, gratitude, or thanks for something they noted in your life.  You may not like being in the shadow.

The writer of this Psalm presents a different side to the Shadow-life.  

He sees living “under the shelter”  and remaining  “in the shadow” as something to be desired.  Something to hold onto for a long time . . . “living” in that reality.  

It’s about being near to God . . . ”the Most High. . . . the Almighty” in an on-going way.  It’s not simply a “moment” in life.  It’s “living and remaining”  in that reality every day.

Under the Shelter…”   A safe place.  A place where you feel protected from whatever harmful situation is near.  A shelter is not a “shelter” unless it’s a safe place of protection from a storm, or a bomb, or a violent attacker, or any other dangerous threat that brings fear to the heart and soul of a person.  God – “the Most High” – offers to be that Shelter for each of us.  He offers Himself as our safe place from far more than the physical dangers and fears that threaten our lives.  His “shelter” encompases our very souls . . . our hearts . . . our minds. . . pushing back all of the dangers and evils that lurk with the intent to destroy us.  No human or physical “shelter” can provide that kind of escape and safety,  His is not a physical structure.  He offers Himself as our ultimate Shelter.

“In the Shadow. . . “    To be “in the shadow” of anything involves a choice.  Shadows move, according to the movement of the Light that illuminates the object,  creating the shadow beyond.  The Shadow creates a place of relief from the heat of the sun, or the brightness of the Light.  In the desert camps, finding “shade”, the Shadow breaks the intensity of the heat of the sun.  The Shadow provides immediate relief, and becomes a place where you want to stay for a long time.  The object that stands between you and the intense Light becomes a relief . . . a refuge from the burning sun.

God IS the Shelter Who provides the Shadow for our lives.  And when He moves, I want to move with Him.  

Measuring with the Wrong Stick

“… Until we all come unto the measure

of the stature

of the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:13

I have a friend who is from a different country, but lives here in the US.   He owns property in his homeland, and still loves to return there for time with family and friends…lots of good memories.  

With his repeated visits to his homeland, he decided to build a house as an investment as well as for his own use when visiting there.  But he did most of the decision-making concerning the new building via telephone with his contractor.  He had his plans drawn out and sent to his builder.   But there was one detail that they both missed, because they were each using the measuring system with which they were each most familiar.  For the builder, it was in metric.  For my friend, it was feet and inches.  Not the same!

Because the systems of measure of each man was such an assumed, usual daily practice, it was never mentioned that one was thinking in metric, while the other was thinking feet and inches.  

When my friend went to see his new house for the first time, he was shocked to find that it was a very large house….far bigger than he had planned and expected!   They had used common numbers, but the values of the measuring system of each was very different.  They’d both made their own plans using their own measuring system, never realizing they were entirely different systems.  Everything had been built according to the plan.  But the end result was NOT!

We all tend to measure the realities of our lives according to the measurements used by our own little world.  We may silently compare our own life details with those of others . . . our looks, our homes, our children, our spouses, our jobs, our income, and even our spirituality.  But we don’t realize that we are “measuring” all of those things with our own system of measurement.  We’ve learned to assess values, sizes, talents, and lives according to our own frames of references . . . our own experiences in life.  We believe that our “measuring system” is true and common to everyone around us.

But we’re not using the correct measuring tool.  We’re just using our own device, or the measuring devices used by the people of our personal world.

The only True Measure is God’s. . . the Creator of All.   If we miss that foundational fact, we’re making constant mistakes concerning what should be.   

God, the Creator of All that exists, laid out tons of measurements for His Creation to follow . . . concerning the realities of this Earth, and the human race and how it was intended to work.  When we turn away from His Measuring Rod – His One Absolute, and begin using a different system, everything goes awry.  All that was Planned comes out way off from the Plan. . . relationships, homes, families . . . the Earth itself.

Our only True Measure is Christ Himself.  

What measures are you using?    

The Final Conclusion

“God’s way is perfect! 

The promise of the Lord has proven to be true. 

He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him.”    

Psalm 18:30

David . . . what a guy!   In the broad stroke, we see him as a boy facing deadly predators to protect his flock of sheep.  Alone.  As an older boy, he faces down a terrorizing giant, and kills him with one stone.  Alone.  As a man, he was pursued by the King of his nation…who was intent on seeing him dead.  And all along the way, he was pursued by enemies, not the least of whom was the Enemy of his soul.

But from those early years of life, he came to know his God, and had learned to follow Him, communicate with Him, and experience Him in every aspect of his life.  Through the good times, but even more so through the bad times….terrifying times….unjust times….lonely times….fallen times….he continued to hold tightly to the God he had come to know very personally.  

Some things in life seem to become much clearer with time.  As our years go by, we can look back and recognize His Hand in our lives much more clearly than when we were walking through those years.  

What has been His Promise to you?  His Word is full of them.  And He quietly reassures us in the midst of the worst times . . . if we have listened.  At times, if we are paying attention, He assures us before and in the midst of “the worst.”  Times when we desperately need to hold to His Promises….stand or crouch tightly behind His Shield . . .and find our Safe Refuge in His Presence in our lives.   Sometimes, it is hindsight that brings us undertanding

In practical realities, David’s life was far from “perfect.”  He encountered devastating tragedies in the midst of becoming and being a King.  But through it all, he was able to look back and say. . . sing . . . these words:   “God’s way is perfect.” 

May our times of looking back help us see how God’s “Way” has been perfect in our lives as well.  Probably not “perfect” in the reality of the experiences, but perfect in how He has used them in our hearts and lives.

May our hearts sing His Song.

Walking on the Mountains

“The Lord Almighty is my strength. 

He makes my feet like those of a deer. 

He makes me walk on the mountains.”

Habakkuk 3:19

There is a place in Israel, out in the arid desert, where the waters from Jerusalem,  having traveled underground through layers of rock, come gushing out into a beautiful oasis.  Watching the sparkling waters spilling out of the rocky cliff and into a pool of refreshing water is breathtaking.  Often, there are deer drinking at its edges, and feeding on the grasses there.  

Along the rocky path through the steep slopes, the deer are often spotted in those high places.  It is amazing to see them at such heights, looking down on the challenged humans gingerly invading their space.  As we reach out to grab a ledge or a tree branch, they gaze at us struggling through the valley, slowly making our way to the pools of living water that flowed underground all the way from Jerusalem, through solid rock.

I wonder if Habakkuk had found refreshment in that place.  I’m quite sure that David wrote of it…  this green, peaceful oasis surrounded by the stark desert.  There are natural caves high on the steep slopes. . . possibly the cave David wrote about when he spared Saul’s life.

Our God . . . our Lord Almighty . . . sometimes leads us through the desert.  It’s harsh. . . it’s hot and seemingly endless.  The desert is not a pleasant place, and even the most basic of human needs – water – is almost impossible to find.  Watching a deer scamper up the rocky slopes as I struggle to find my footing on the narrow path, grabbing for something solid to hold makes me envious, and in awe of their graceful beauty in their ascent.  Being “made to walk on the mountains” is tough . . . exhausting . . . scary.  

Sometimes God “makes me” walk on the mountains . . . which includes the climb to get there.

It requires tricky footing all along the way.  But He is there.  With me.  And when I reach the heights, exhausted and relieved, the View takes my breath away.

In My Father’s House

“In My Father’s House are many rooms.  

If that were not true, 

would I have told you that I’m going to  

prepare a place for you?”

John 14:2

She had come toddling down the long hallway to my door, climbed up the big step and grabbed my hand.  I didn’t know what the little blue-eyed munchkin had in mind, but she was clearly on a mission.  She determinedly pulled me to my own great-grandmother’s rocking chair, patted the seat, and made it clear that I was to sit down.  Then, snuggling onto my lap, we had a little “rock-rock” together.  It wasn’t very long, but it was oh! So sweet!  Unplanned, unscheduled, just a minute . . . but it was a delightful way to begin my day.

And I wondered . . . 

Does Jesus get those heartwarming moments with me?  Does He delight in my moments of pursuing time with Him?  Just a simple closeness in the midst of my busy day?  My hand grabbing His Finger, patting the rocking chair seat, and simply crawling onto His Lap while He holds me?  As He pulls me close, near to His Heart, is it warmed by our quiet moment together?  Does He wish it could last longer?  

Jesus knew in those “last supper” moments with His nearest Followers that His Time with them was drawing to a close.  He would soon make the ultimate Sacrifice to secure our eternity with Him in His Father’s House.  

As a groom prepared the new home for his bride, as part of the home of his own father, 

Jesus knew the Sacrificial Work it would require, all for us, His Bride.  He knew the details of the Work He was about to carry out.  He knew the pain involved, as the Roman crucifixions were a common sight along the roads outside of Jerusalem.  

Yet, fully knowing the Price He would pay on our behalf, He chose to lay down His own life to secure our Home with Him in Heaven. . . in His Father’s House. 

May my heart draw near to Him, choose to be close to Him in many moments throughout my day.  May my hand reach out for His, and hold tightly to the Finger of God.  

    Not Alone

“The Lord your God is with you,

    the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you;

    in His love He will no longer rebuke you,

    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

Often,  when we are in the middle of doing something that we feel God has put in our hearts to do, doubts and whispers of discouragement come. . . seemingly out of nowhere.  A shadow begins to creep into your mind, bringing a sense of doubt about whatever step of obedience you are taking.  

As I write this, I am in the Sahara Desert, in a huge refugee camp that has existed here, waiting for justice, since the 1970’s.  It’s very challenging to be here, in every way.  As I read the words of Zephaniah this morning, they took on far greater meaning than ever before.

First, he addresses the feeling of being all alone.  Prophets were often literally all alone as they moved about announcing things that most people didn’t want to hear!  They led lonely lives. Imagine what it would be like to live with someone who was always getting Messages that no one else was hearing, and they were usually not messages anyone wanted to hear. . . bad news that shook  people who were on a wrong path, or warnings of coming judgment, or maybe messages that would describe the listener’s own demise.   Thankfully, my words are of Good News, and I am being loved well here!

The Enemy of our Souls loves nothing more than to mess with our emotions, thoughts, circumstances, and relationships, especially when we are determined to obey what He has asked us to do.  When our obedience ‘rocks the boat’ of people in our lives. . . people we want to please. . . people whose opinions really matter to us, it’s particularly stressful.  We need to know that God is with us.  

Look at Zephaniah’s list of the ways God showed him He is with us:  

  • “Mighty Warrior who saves”;  on the field, fighting the Battles alongside us, and saving us;
  • “He takes great delight in you!”   You bring a smile to His face…JOY in watching you do what He has asked, like a proud Daddy watching His child obeying Him, even when it’s hard.
  • Loving Words are spoken . . . not scolding or critiquing, as He sees you doing as He has asked;
  • Like a proud Father, He demonstrates His joy and delight as He watches you doing what He has told you to do, even when it’s hard.  He cheers you on…not taking His Eyes off of you as He watches you “go!”

Knowing that the Lord our God is with you . . . 

                                                         to Save you . . .

                                                                Delighted in you . . .

                                                                         Loving you without criticism. . . 

                                                                               Singing with joy over you.

That’s the image of God I want to keep in my mind and heart . . . especially in my “deserts of life”, . . . especially when the shadows come!

The Gift of Washed Feet

“Jesus loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the end.

… He got up from the table, … took a towel and tied it around His waist.  

Then He poured water into a basin 

and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel.”

John 13:3-5

It was July, and our travel thermometer read 130 F.  Unbelievable desert heat was taking a toll on our team of Wisconsinites, whose home state rarely breaks 100 in the summertime.  I had been bumping around in a tough old truck, having meetings and checking on the children’s programs our team was involved with in the Saharawi refugee camps.   Afternoon “siestas” were an absolute necessity, as our cool-weather team struggled to find any relief.

I had gone into a tent, leaned back on a pillow, and the next thing I realized was that someone was gently washing my feet, one at a time,  in a basin of water.  It was like floating in a dream.  One of our team ladies was on her knees, silently pouring water over my dusty, dry feet over a basin,  wiping away the fine sand that seemed to find its way into everything…even closed suitcases.  

I gently came out of the dream, wishing  I could have stayed there all day!  

The experience communicated care, love, tenderness . . . all in a simple, very practical act.  Walking around in a desert includes sand getting into everything…hair, ears, eyes, teeth . . . and every piece of fabric you are wearing.  So, washing someone’s feet includes addressing a very practical need, but also the tender, personal care given.

In a moment that Jesus knew would be His last personal time with His closest inner circle of friends, Jesus washed their feet.  This could have easily taken an hour or more, going friend to friend.  On His knees, His Hands would have taken their sand-weathered feet, one at a time, bringing each into the basin of water He placed before each man.  Rubbing away the tiny grains of sand that seems to find its way into every crevice and pore takes time.  With a gentle massaging motion, the clean water becomes cloudy as the sand loses its grip on the skin and nails.  The repeated changing of the water for each person adds to the unhurried time spent together.  There is time to speak with each other as the harshness of the earth slowly floats to the bottom of the bowl, and the refreshing sense of being cleaned and soothed by someone who has been on their knees, the position of a servant before you, leaves a lingering experience of the sweet, humble, personal care of a friend.

Jesus knew exactly what lay before Him in the coming hours.  He knew that this would be the last time they would share the Passover Meal together.  The circle of friends did not know what He was facing in the coming hours and days.  He chose to take the time to be with His twelve. . . to model very personally what He wanted them to be like as they carried on without His physical presence.  

Have you allowed Him to wash your feet?  Can you sit still long enough to let Him sit with you?  Look into each other’s eyes?  Can you allow Him to see, and wash away the things that cling to you as a result of where you’ve walked?  Can you accept His loving care for you . . . or are  you too embarrassed or ashamed to let Him come that close to the life you’ve been walking through?  Can you accept that His Purpose is to share His Table with you, having washed away all that Life has held, and held onto you?

You are invited.


“Your King is coming to you.  

He’s gentle, riding on a donkey, on a colt,

a young pack animal.”

Matthew 21:5

Picture this:  Jesus is preparing to make a very public entrance into Jerusalem.  His fame has been mounting . . . crowds have  been growing . . . everyone was talking about Him, both fans and foes.  It seemed He was at the height of public attention and popularity.  Jerusalem was buzzing with the stories of this Prophet’s miracles and words. 

His chosen transportation for this grand entrance?   A donkey.  A young, unbroken donkey.  Everyone knew that trying to ride a young, unbroken donkey was downright dangerous.  Impossible! 

But Jesus was used to pulling the most unlikely into His work.  That donkey hadn’t been trained, or officially licensed, or most likely even considered for providing transportation for any person … much less a Prophet being lauded as a King!  The Messiah, no less!

Yet, at Jesus’ bidding, that’s what took place.  That young, unbroken donkey carried the King of Kings through the crowds of people waving palm branches, shouting “Hosanna!!”, all the way down the mountain slope and up to Jerusalem, where the Temple glistened in the sunshine.

Imagine, for a moment, that unbroken, young donkey’s experience.  It’s natural instinct would have been to go crazy and do whatever it could to escape the whole situation. . . including making it impossible for the rider to hang on.  

Has Jesus pulled you into service for Him in ways that seem to go against everything in you?

Have you experienced being “broken” in order for Him to use you for His Purposes?  Have you found yourself wading into groups of people who you find terrifying to be with?  You’re not “trained” for?  Hadn’t ever considered serving in the ways you’ve been commissioned to serve?

You feel totally out of your element?  You’re unqualified.  You always thought you’d spend your life doing basic, fairly familiar tasks. . . nothing even close to being in the spotlight with the King of all Kings.

Jesus left a trail of unqualified, uncertified, unexpected, and most unlikely humans in His time on earth.  And He continues to use people who have simply accepted His invitation to follow Him.  His closest circle while on earth included men and women, people who had been simply going about their rather ordinary lives.  But at His Invitation … His Choice, He pulls us near to Himself.  

In that closeness to Him, we become broken, and useful for His Purposes.