THAT Neighbor

“The commandments,  Never commit adultery; never murder; never steal; never have wrong desires;”  and every other commandment are summed up in this statement:  

                                 ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’

Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor. Therefore, love fulfills Moses’ teachings.”

Romans 13:9-10

She came riding up in a cloud of dust on her bicycle.  I’d never seen her before, and she was smokin’!   (Not a cigarette….it was more like coming out of her ears…)   I was new to the neighborhood, and wasn’t sure if this was a local custom of welcoming or what.  I greeted her with a smile and a friendly “Hello!”   She in turn, began shouting something about our chickens, her bird-feeder, and her sister’s dog.  Trying to push the image of the Wizard of Oz character on the bicycle out of my head, I gathered that our little brood of free-ranging chickens were visiting her birdfeeder each morning, scaring a small dog, and the rooster was announcing himself and his ladies far too early in the day.  

At the conclusion of her welcome-to-the-neighborhood speech, she climbed back onto her bicycle and disappeared into the cloud of dust from which she had come. (Heading to the house to report our ‘visitation’, I did give into the temptation to hum the little theme song from that bicycle scene in the movie.) 

It had been easy to “love the neighbor” directly next to us. So warm, friendly, hospitable.  But the Bike Lady was another thing.  

God doesn’t give exceptions to the Neighbor Rule.  In fact, that Rule sums up all of the Commandments and Moses’ teachings.  He provided a very basic practicum in living out all of those ageless Commandments. . . literally right next door.  

So next time you have a visitation from That Neighbor . . .  😉          

You get the Idea. . .     

Simple Faith

“If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; 

And it would obey you.’”

Mark 11:22-23

While Jesus was here in human form, He often stopped to point out very simple realities of daily life.  He liked to challenge His close followers to believe God more than they did.  The miracles He showed them were done in His human form.  He didn’t “transform” into a different being, but remained in the human form in which He came to us.  He used practical things of life, and modeled to His followers what Faith and Trust in God could be and do.  There was a simplicity in His actions.  But Divine reactions took place.

When I was around 3 years old, my mama was laying on the living room couch and holding her ear, in obvious pain.  I remember her calling me over and, in tears, saying, “Honey, would you pray for Mama’s ear?  It hurts SO much!”  I put my hand on her “owie” and simply said, “Dear Jesus, please make my Mama’s ear get better….amen.”  She turned her head, looked at me, and said, “It’s gone!!   The pain is gone!  Jesus made it all better!  Thank You, Jesus!  Thank you, honey!” 

I went back to whatever I was playing with.  But I learned that day that I could ask Jesus for help, and that He would hear me.  He was there.  Pretty significant truths to get into my little heart.

There are so many examples in the Bible of Jesus’ interactions with nature and with people, and miracles that took place as a result.  He used an earthly simplicity that even a child could see and mimic.  It was another way that He stepped into our human reality and made a difference.  He demonstrated the possibilities.

But a Key piece of the picture lies in my (and your) own heart.  Do I believe Him?  Do I trust Him?  Whatever happens or does not happen . . . am I His?   

The Greatest Commandment

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, 

with all your mind, and with all your strength.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

There is no other command greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31

I am curious as to why God’s Word [aka Jesus] lists four specific commandments, and then lumps the other 6 of the 10 into “every other commandment.”   Are those 4 the most common ones we break, or the ones most important to God?   I don’t know, but He sums up all of the rest into a command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”   That is the simply stated bottom line.

God knows us SO well….He knows that we tend to analyze, dissect, and complicate everything.

And we look for “loopholes” that will get us out of hot water.  

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is as simple and basic as it gets.  We all have a neighbor on a practical level.  There’s always that “somebody” in our lives who is near enough to us that they can be an annoyance, irritation, or worse.  Even if you live miles away from the nearest neighbor, there’s always someone in our lives.

Maybe God chose the “neighbor” to keep these primary Commandments real and practical in our lives.   Not just “some nameless somebody out there” in our excuses.  God makes it clear that He cares about how we practice LOVE in everyday life, someone right next to us.  Up close.  Maybe it’s even in the “neighboring room” at home.  

God makes it as basic as it can get to obey His 10 Commandments…..LOVE the one nearest to us everyday, and measure how well you’re doing it by comparing that to how you love yourself…

Basic.  Practical.  All day long and through the night. Food. Water. Comfort. Rest.  Friendship.  

His Kindness and Mercy keeps it clear and simple in this complicated world we humans have created.

How are you doing?

Sharing

“I can guarantee this truth:  

‘Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it 

will never enter it.’”

Mark 10:15 & Luke 18:17

Much of my daily life involves children.  I have 12 grandchildren from the ages of 13 to 1 year.  And they’re all within a half hour’s drive from me, four even right on the other side of the door.   I learn a lot from them.  I see myself in them.  And I often get to see the world through their eyes.  

Jesus said that we have a lot to learn from children. . . a lot about His Kingdom.  He made enough statements about this, that at least two of His twelve wrote it down in the same way.  From His Divine Perspective, He modeled and spoke of this “child model” enough to have it echoed by both Mark and Luke.  

So how does one “receive the Kingdom of God” as a little child?  If you don’t live with any little child, invite yourself to somebody’s home who has one.  Even better, bring them something you know they’ll like….(you can ask their Mom or Dad for a suggestion.)  It needn’t have a “Kingdom-level” price-tag on it to bring smiles and joy.  

Then, sit up and watch the “receiving” experience.    Do they:

  • Analyze it
  • Evaluate it
  • Calculate it’s value
  • Study through all the tiny writing on the box
  • Cross-reference its value from multiple sources
  • Wait to see if something better is coming
  • Immediately hide it so nobody can touch it
  • Etc.
  • ?

One of the most memorable child-gifting experiences I ever witnessed was in the desert refugee camps where a big chunk of my heart is.  Toys are pieces of sticks, rusted chunks of metal, stones, … you get the idea.   One of our teammates had brought a brand new doll for her host family’s little girl.  She was so excited to see what was in the package that she enthusiastically tore it open.  As she pulled the pretty little doll from the box, she immediately jumped up with shrieks of joy, ran out of the tent and into the open waving the doll and shouting, “Look what WE got!!!  Look what WE got!!!” to all her little neighborhood friends.  And they came running . . . 

I suspect this may have been the kind of reaction to which Jesus  was referring when He repeatedly spoke to us of “receiving the Kingdom as a little child receives it . . .”   

His coming to this earth was His Gift  . . . His Kingdom in human form.  It wasn’t meant for us to hide it in a closet, keep it to ourselves, analyze it to death, or refer to it as something for ‘someday.’  His Kingdom is something we are already part of if He is our King.  So much of our world is waiting to hear . . . wondering . . . fearing, and trying to do life without Him. 

Live it!  Share it!  Announce to your world, “Look what we got!”

Removing the Stone

“Deeply moved again, Jesus went to the tomb.

It was a cave with a stone covering the entrance.

Jesus said, 

‘Take the stone away.’”

There was a dead person behind that stone…a dear friend.  Jesus cared deeply…He wept.  But He also saw life for the dead one lying behind that stone.  And He was the One who could bring life again.

I think we’ve all probably experienced a major stone in life.  We’ve gone through something that caused  a part of our heart to die.  We couldn’t fix it.  We couldn’t heal it ourselves.  So we sealed it up and pushed a big old stone in its way, so that we wouldn’t have to see it, or feel the pain again.  We had to move on with life, somehow.

But there is One who knew not only of the “death” we experienced, but grieved with us.  Although He could have stepped in and prevented it, or “fixed it” before it was too late, He didn’t.

He allowed it to play out in our lives.  And He grieved with us.

But, as in this story of the death of His friend Lazarus, it wasn’t the end of the story.  Although it seemed to be the end, seemed to be too late…it wasn’t.  He came.  He grieved along with those who had suffered such a great loss.  He spoke words of love, kindness, and understanding.  And He wept.

But then, He gave a directive to “move the stone” that stood between those who were grieving the death, and the death itself.  It couldn’t have been easy.  Those big old tomb stones weren’t meant to be moved.  They were meant to be a permanent seal to prevent anyone from passing into the place of death.  The idea of the dead one ever coming out was not even a thought.

We all have experienced “death” . . . whether of a loved one or of places in our own hearts that were too painful to bear.  In our attempts to protect ourselves from the loss, the pain, and the finality, we have sealed up that big old open wound with a stone that will be quite impossible for us to move on our own.  

There is only One who can command the stone to be moved.  Only One has the Love and Power to bring Life out of the decaying remains of Death.  Only One has Heaven’s Authority to regenerate a dead heart . . . and to create a new heart in the human life.  Only One can give a dead soul, new Life.  Hope.  Peace. And even Joy.  He experienced the sadness that makes us weep.  He experienced death itself.

Whatever “stone” has come to your heart is not too much for Him.  He may pull in others to help with moving that stone.  But He is right there, and is the One Who can bring new life that awaits on the other side of that stone.

That Shining Moment

“Mary said,

‘My soul praises the Lord’s greatness!

My spirit finds its joy in God, 

my Savior!’ ”

Luke 1:46-48

When you look at the spectrum of your own life, what would you say was your “shining moment?”  What was that moment in time when you had a sense that what you were experiencing was extraordinary . . . unexpected, meaningful . . . probably life-altering in some way?  You sensed that this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.  Perhaps it was a literal moment, or a season in your life.  

Mary’s words erupted from her deepest place when she realized that the Messiah was coming, and that she would be the one to literally bring Him into this world.  Her words were an echo of another ancient mother, Hannah, who had also experienced a miraculous pregnancy and birth, that of the great prophet, Samuel.  

Mary and Hannah had been written into God’s Story as it has unfolded on this earth.  Their “shining moments” were specific to physically bringing two Divinely-appointed babies into the world.  Both sons’ lives  would impact their world and history itself.  

But what comes after the “shining moment” in life?  Do we try to hold on to it?  Make it last?

Mary’s life continued, with all of the realities of raising, caring for, teaching, and nurturing her son.  She was often there, but not in the spotlight.  Her quiet presence was noted many times.  Many significant moments she still shared with her Son, including His death, but those times were only an echo of her role of giving birth to Him.  From what we read of those events, she was a gentle presence.

How do you handle the after of your “Moment?”  Do you try to keep it alive?  Do you focus on what was?  Do you try to re-create it, or perhaps attempt to orchestrate a new Moment?

Or, can you let your “soul praise the Lord’s greatness,” not looking for personal recognition of how He has used your life?. . .  Can you let your “spirit find its joy in God, your Savior.”   Can His work and pleasure be enough reason to praise Him for what He’s done in and through you?  Or do you long for on-going praises from people?  Whatever He did through you was a way of showing Himself to others.  That kind of Revelation is what will stick with people, and hopefully inspire them to cooperate with God in however He chooses to use them.  Treasure your shining Moment…or Moments…but move forward praising Him, knowing His Ways are perfect, and He welcomes imperfect people to join Him along the way.

Better Than Laughter

“Sorrow is better than laughter,

Because a sad face is good for the heart.”

Ecclesiastes 7:3

This is NOT my favorite verse!   I’d much prefer beginning my day with a happy verse that can set me on my way to a happy day of sunshine and little happy birds flitting and twittering in my garden.  It’s January, very cold (-10 F), and I will have to go out there soon.  Not only that, but the new COVID strain is at its height where I live.  

So, here is the verse with which I begin this day.  It is part of a long list of verses that have a similar message.  Honestly, I’d prefer to crawl back into my warm, comfy bed and sleep until April.

BUT, I know these words are absolutely true, whether I like them or not.  Sorrow has become a part of my life, especially in the past five years.  Its entrance was part of drastic changes to every aspect of the life I’d been living.  And it’s made me have to hold to God more tightly, see Him more clearly, and know Him more deeply.

Picture a garden that has produced a lot of vegetables over the years.  It’s been happy, and fruitful.  At a certain time, the gardener decides it is necessary to plow up all the ground, exposing the rich earth below the surface.  The surface ground needs to rest and mix with the rich, deeper soil for a season.  A plow with sharp blades begins cutting into the garden’s soil, churning up the richer soil below.  It’s turned upside-down, now exposed to the sunshine and rain (and snow!) that will become part of its new season.  

Does the churned-up soil freak out?   Try to get back to where it’s been?  Get mad at the gardener?   Run from the big blade?  

No.  Sorrow is the tool that moves the ground in a way that the seeds that are planted will grow stronger, richer, and more healthy to provide the nourishment for those who will be fed from its fruits.  The intentions and purposes behind the process of the Gardener are all good.  The sorrow and the pain of this part of the process will bring about all good things in their season.  

So wait . . . because good things are to come.

“Waiting”   

Simeon’s Moment

“Then Simeon took the Child in his arms and praised God by saying,

 ‘Now, Lord, You are allowing Your servant to leave in peace as You promised. 

My eyes have seen Your salvation, 

which You have prepared for all people to see. 

He is a light that will reveal salvation to the nations 

and bring glory to Your people Israel.’ ”

Luke 2:28-32

One of the most treasured pieces of art on my wall is a picture of old Simeon, the priest in the Temple who held the tiny newborn named Jesus in his arms as he spoke the ancient words of dedication to God of God’s own Son.  It was the first picture on the wall of my little cottage home, and has the place of honor.

Why does it speak to my soul so deeply?   

Maybe it’s seeing the aged, weathered old man holding the tiny little baby boy, tears of unspeakable joy flowing down his cheeks as he recognizes Who this Baby is;


Maybe it’s the tiny, black-haired infant snuggled against the heart beating inside this old Man of God’s chest . . . he had been waiting his entire life with the impossible Hope of seeing his Messiah with his own eyes.  He could never have imagined holding Him in his arms;

Maybe it’s the subtle outline of the continents of the world woven within the fabric of the old priest’s robe…as the whole world continues to wait, largely without the awareness of what . . . WHO . . . they are waiting for;

Maybe it’s the deep awareness that this Baby Boy had come in the most fragile human state . . . for the sake of the whole world, for all of Time;

Or is it the gratitude that wells up in this old heart of mine for drawing my heart to His when I was just a small girl. 

With the deepest gratitude, I know the One for Whom I wait.  Now it’s just a matter of when I will see His Face, and run into His Arms.

The Gate

Jesus emphasized, 

“I can guarantee this truth: 

I am the gate for the sheep.”   

John 10:7, 9-10

When you have sheep, you KNOW that you’d better have a good gate.  And a good fence.   And a really good pair of running boots.  

When my son and daughter-in-law decided that they wanted to raise a flock of sheep, I was thrilled.  I’d always been fascinated with all the references to sheep in the Bible, and had studied the passages about sheep / shepherds  more than any other single topic.  I read books about it, taught Bible Studies on the subject, and felt a strong connection to the stories of both sheep and shepherds throughout my life.  

But I had never lived with sheep.   That fact has changed.

We chose the breed of sheep we wanted . . . “Baby-Doll” . . . and went to check out a local flock, hoping to buy 2 or 3.   A deal was struck, and a delivery date set.  As the date drew near, the seller decided to include the rest of her small flock . . . 4 ewes.  The day before the delivery, we learned from the seller that her one ram had apparently been visiting the ladies each weekend while the owner went to church. . . they were all now expecting lambs.   And it wasn’t long until those little lambs began appearing.

What alerted us to the arrivals in the middle of the night, was a phone call from our neighbor, who had awakened to the sound of coyotes howling in our field.   A lamb had been born, and rejected by it’s mother.  The cry of the little lamb had drawn almost 20 coyotes in the night, encircling the small pen in our field.  Their eyes glowing, they began howling and closing in on the tiny, bleating cry of the rejected lamb.  My son hurried out in the dark to the small shelter where the tiny, rejected lamb was crying.  Looking at the glowing eyes of the hungry coyotes closing in on the shelter was chilling.  A rifle in one arm and the tiny lamb in the other, he brought the fragile little black lamb to our house, where she stayed for several weeks until she could join the ever-growing flock of now 17 sheep.

We had not been prepared for the almost daily additions of tiny lambs.  The glowing eyes and chilling howls of the predators would have been the doom of the lambs if it weren’t for the “Gate” of my son’s presence with our small flock out in the field that night.   Not only did the sheep need that Gate to secure them safely inside the shelter, but the predators encircling the little flock had to be kept out.  The defenseless ewes and lambs would have surely been devoured.

Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, stands between us and the Enemy of our Souls who  prowls about us in the shadows of night. Jesus stands as the Gate of our souls. The fact of the matter is that our only true defense is our Good Shepherd, no matter how hard we work to create our own sense of safety.   That is His promise to us, His sheep.   

“I  Lub You”

My little 3-year-old Thaddeus often comes for a “‘nuggle” with these words.  He can’t say his “v’s” yet. Nor “S’s”.  We ‘big people’ would tend to want him to practice his “v’s” and “s’s”,  but I honestly wouldn’t want him to change a thing right now.  It’s his unique way of expressing his heart to me…for me.

Does our Father in Heaven have similar thoughts about our flawed but sincere expressions of our love for Him?  Does He require  well-enunciated, dignified words when we address Him as His child?

I think not.