Ride Through the Desert

“Sing to God; make music to praise His Name. 

Make a highway for Him to ride through the deserts. 

The Lord is his name. Celebrate in his presence.

 The God who is in his holy dwelling place 

is the father of the fatherless

 and the defender of widows.”  

Psalm 68:4-5

A camel race in the desert!   I was in the Saharawi camps (Sahara Desert) when there was an actual, competitive camel race . . . something that I will never forget.  The camels, decorated with traditional saddles, brightly colored fabrics, leather reins and tassels, were a stark contrast to the endless beige landscape of sands, blazing sun and clear blue skies.  The camel riders wore flowing white robes and black head-dresses, covering everything but their eyes.  I had not realized what was about to happen as I stood with a large gathering of people all around me.  

Then I heard a sound I’d never heard before.  The desert floor began to tremble and the crowd began to cheer.  All the women raised their voices in their ancient, spine-tingling sound of celebration,  exploding in high, piercing tones of excitement and joy.  I felt as if I’d stepped into the old “Lawrence of Arabia” movie!

The ground shook.  The sands created clouds of dust around the thundering camels with their colorful, intense riders shouting them on.  Goose-bumps instantly covered my whole body as I stood in absolute awe and wonder  of those powerful beasts thundered to the finish line.  The great burden-bearers were doing what they were created for….perfectly suited….to be able to withstand the intense heat of the blazing sun, their feet fitted to engage with the sand and push themselves forward with tremendous power and thunderous speed.  The thrill of the drama mixed with the awe of these powerful animals left me breathless.

The writer of this Psalm passage knew what it was like to experience the power of the desert beasts who were created to move through the ever shifting sands.  The desert Psalms (Songs)  have a role to play as God’s Spirit moves through that dry land.  Some of our earliest experiences in the desert refugee camps centered around listening to worship music during the long, unbearably hot afternoons.  The music carried words of Love from the Heart of God to that dry, thirsty land, and began to open a Road in the desert.  Built by the Spirit of Jesus,  the Road led to the Father of the fatherless….the Defender of widows, left alone by war to raise their fatherless, vulnerable children,  desperately longing for the Father-heart of God to come near. 

Even There

“He [God] found them in a desert land, 

In an empty, howling wasteland.

He surrounded them 

And watched over them;

He guarded them as His most precious possession.”

Deuteronomy 32:10

The first morning I pushed open the heavy old iron door, the incredibly hot blast of  burning desert heat literally took my breath away.  The light was blinding.  Having arrived in the dead of night, completely exhausted and disoriented, my waking exposure to this desert place was absolutely shocking.  Shielding my eyes, all of my senses were assaulted at the same moment, I remembered thinking, “What kind of hell is this?!!!  NOBODY should have to live here!”

I was in a massive refugee camp in the Sahara Desert of North Africa.  My home in my beautiful, green dairyland in the USA seemed as if it was not even on the same planet as this place I had landed in the night.  

Then, in the distance, I saw the black-covered figures . . . people leaning into the harsh wind, black robes blowing and faces covered against the stinging sands.  Black-robed figures,  a sea of tents and sand stretching as far as I could see.     I will never forget that shocking scene..

That place . . . those people. . . have been in my life, my heart, for over two decades now.  They have changed my life.    I am SO thankful.

It has changed the way I read God’s Word, too.  God, too, “found them (His chosen people) in a desert land…an empty, howling, wasteland.”  His love for them was deep, and His plan for them had been so different than this.  But God’s response was that of the Loving Father, “surrounding them. . . watching over them. . . guarding them . . . “   They were His most precious possessionthe “apple” (pupil) of His Eye, through which all that is  seen directly enters His mind.  

I, too, have tasted that from my Loving Father.  His lovingkindness stands out the most  when I am in the harshest of life’s “desert.”   How I got there, it seems, is secondary.  

As our own world moves through these most unusual times, “even there” He sees, He  knows, 

                                                         He is present.

                                                            Even there.

Advice of a Wild Man

“Be happy in your confidence,

be patient in trouble,

and pray continually.”  

Romans 12:12 

Paul, in my opinion, was a wild man.  He was straightforward,  brutally honest at times, passionate, and literally all over the map.  He didn’t do anything half-way, but threw himself fully, tirelessly, into whatever was on his heart and had captured his attention.  I have met a few of those in my lifetime.  Fun to watch, but can be exhausting to live with.  😉

 Back to Paul, considering how extremely active he was in carrying the Good News to many nations, he has boiled down priorities of living  Life to a few points:

  • “Be happy in your confidence”… Paul was in the middle of the Roman-occupied world, with its brutal, arrogant power on earth at that time. Rome had taken over his own country, especially thriving on brutalizing those who worshiped Jesus, Whom they had literally crucified.   Paul was addressing Romans who had become followers of Jesus at great risk of their lives.  For Paul to have and encourage “confidence” within that setting is incredible!
  • “Be patient in trouble.” …  Imagine what “trouble” looked like, not only for Paul, but for all those Roman Believers living in the center of a powerful nation that was actively trying to wipe Christ-followers off the earth. As I write this, my own world is in the middle of a pandemic that has changed everything. . . our world, and life as we’d known it.  “Be patient,” he says.  That’s tough.  We are having a very tough time being patient to  follow a new way of life for only a few months…

For the past 21 years, I have been privileged to personally watch a living example of a small nation (the Saharawi people) living under the effects of a conquering nation, as Rome was to Israel.  Brutally forced from their homes by an enemy nation, they have somehow retained their dignity, kindness, and integrity in spite of all they have suffered.  To be patient through a season of life is difficult.  But to be patient under decades of suffering, especially as the world looks away, is  extraordinary. 

Paul had grown up under Rome’s occupation of Israel and knew the powerful effects of that kind of experience.

  • “…and Pray continually.” We have troubles that  we cannot fix.  They’re beyond our control.  Paul has nailed the only absolute action we can take in the midst of the kind of “trouble” far beyond our repair.  It requires looking to God…    It means pouring out our hearts to Him, and humbly asking Him to step into the situation with us.  It means giving up our own control, and choosing to trust Him.

Paul could have had a very different life.  He had gained “success” in his nation.  Fame, respect, strong leadership, prominence, power, and all that comes with such a life was part of Paul’s story.

But after being literally “knocked off his high horse” when he encountered the resurrected living Jesus, all of that changed.  His new-found confidence in Christ became his driving force, “patience in trouble”…which dogged Paul for the rest of his life, became his new message to all those who had also come to follow the resurrected Christ.  And the necessity to “pray continually” became his lifeline.

Like a skilled attorney, he traveled his world presenting the Good News of the One he had spent so many years actively condemning.  And the articulate speaker who had worked so tirelessly to silence the  message of Jesus, became His relentless Follower, and voice.  Paul’s simple “Three Point Message” is as true for us now as it had been when Paul said it:

“Be happy in your confidence [what you know is true],

be patient in trouble [hard realities],

and pray continually.”  

Romans 12:12

 

 

Heartburn

“Did not our hearts burn within us?”

Luke 24:32

Have you ever had an experience that unexpectedly ignited something deep inside of you?  In your core?  Seemingly in your very heart?   An experience like that is difficult to put to words.  It is beyond a logical explanation.  You just KNOW that it is very real.  It has by-passed your logic, even your imagination, but you know that  Truth has come to the core of your being.  It is God-style heart-burn.

We catch such a moment taking place between some men walking together down a road heading away from Jerusalem.  They had been through their worst nightmare and needed to get away.  They’d been close followers of Jesus, Who now lay in a tomb.  Dead.  As were the beliefs and dreams they had shared together with Him for the past three years.  It was over.

Then, in the midst of their conversation replaying what they had gone through together, Jesus joined them on the road.  The friends did not recognize Him.  They were discussing how they had gotten word that very morning that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Some of their friends were insisting that they had seen, even talked to Him….ALIVE.

Jesus joined the friends, walking…listening to their conversation.  He was even invited to share a meal with them.  Not until later, when this Stranger repeated something He had done with them the last time they had been together (the night before He died) that they began to realize Who was breaking the bread and serving them.  Then He was gone.   And they were left with “burning hearts.”  What their minds had failed to grasp, their hearts did.

I have come to believe that God’s Spirit often has to by-pass our human logic and go directly to our hearts when He draws us to Himself.  Often, His “drawing” does not make human sense.  Who He draws…how He draws…even “why” He draws is often notbased on human logic.  It might even defy logic at first, tho’ over time it can make perfect sense.

From my experience, God’s orchestration of His Calling my heart to the desert people who now reside deeply in my heart, made NO human sense.  I just knew that it was something He was putting in my heart….it certainly wasn’t of my own thinking.  Yet, I can now look back and see how my life, my story, my temperament, are clearly suited to the desert nation to which He has tied my heart.

He gave me “heart-burn” for them.    And I am deeply grateful.

 

 

Adjusting the Focus

“Baruch, this is what the Lord says:

‘I will destroy this nation that I built.

I will uproot what I planted.

Are you seeking great things for yourself?

Don’t do it!

But don’t be discouraged.

I will bring great disaster upon all these people,

But I will protect you wherever you go.

I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 45:4-5

God has a looong history of orchestrating attitude adjustments to the inhabitants of this old Earth.  He especially seems to focus on the people who have chosen to follow Him through Life.   In this present moment, the whole world is dealing with a “plague” like most have never personally experienced.  Unexpected, life-altering, scary, and destructive.  Our own mortality is in our faces.

But within this global “Disruption” have come changes of attitudes, changes of perspective, and a lot more time to “be.”   It’s been beyond our human control to end it.  Most have experienced a realization that we cannot just “fix” this.

Earth has a long history of world-changing events…and often these have been part of an awakening to God Himself.

In the prophet Jeremiah’s time, his world was also experiencing a serious “shaking.”  There was fear, a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, …all that had been was changing.

God’s perspective is far different from our human perspective.  He does not focus on all the “stuff” of life on this planet.  He is focused on hearts…on values…on how we value Him and the place we give Him in our daily lives.

God spoke to a man named Baruch, whose world was on the brink of devastation.

Baruch had been writing down the things the old Prophet Jeremiah spoke…which was a lot!  He was not very happy about it, either…nor of the compensation for all his work.  (Prophets tend to be “loner’s” and financially living on the kindness of others. And they talk a lot, so we can imagine what his “secretary” lived with.)

The people had taken their world into their own hands, disregarding the God who had made them a nation and had cared for them as His Own.  Prophet Jeremiah likely had a LOT to say about all of that.

Baruch (which means “Blessed”, but AKA “The Secretary”) had God’s attention.  We are given a glimpse into God’s warning to him about one thing:  “Do not seek great things for yourself.”

We, as the people of God, are blessed…if for no other reason than His choosing us to be His Holy Nation…His Family.  The greatest risk to that relationship is turning our focus on “me…myself…and I.” 

In the desert refugee camps, a moment that is stamped on my mind was when I saw a scruffy little girl receive a gift from one of our group.  She quickly opened it and pulled out a doll.  Her shriek of  joy quickly turned into a dash out of the tent, shouting,  “Look what WE got!   Look what WE got!”  as she waved the doll over her head.  Her little friends came from all directions, joyfully gathered around the new doll.  There was no “I…my….mine” in the mix.  The gift was for all of them, in that little girl’s mind. 

The best place for us to be is focusing on God, rather than on ourselves.  The focus of “me” and “mine” can dissolve in a moment.  But keeping our focus centered on God is the safest place to be.

 

 

 

Family Resemblance

 23 “May the God who gives peace make you holy in every way.

May He keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—

blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes.

24 The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do this.”

Paul is talking to us through a prayer over us.  In a nutshell, he is asking God to make us “holy.”   On this earth, we live far from “holy.”   We don’t even have a human model to show us what that would look like!   It’s not something we can do out of our own heads.  Only God can do that.  To become holy would mean that we would look like Jesus, our only example throughout all of the ages of what a holy human would look like…act like…

Be like.  We would change in ways that would make us look more like Jesus…a family resemblance to Him.

Do we look like Jesus?  Is the family resemblance clear enough to be noticable to the people we’re with?  When we are in a gathering of people who have come into God’s Family, it’s not so obvious.  Most have similar characteristics.  But when we are in a situation where non-believers are the vast majority, does your Family Resemblance show, or do you just blend into the crowd?

You can’t create your own “family resemblance”….it’s just there.  So, when you’re simply hanging out in your daily world, do other people see anything that resembles the characteristics of Jesus?  A “family resemblance” is a natural part of being in your family.  It’s not something you can create.

The first time I visited the desert, I was truly afraid of being identified as a “Christian.”  It was a very unwelcome identity in that part of the world.  So on practical levels, I seriously tried to blend into their world.

The first day, I met a beautiful young woman who spoke English.  As we were becoming acquainted, she unexpectedly leaned in, and asked in a hushed voice, “Are you Christian?”   I hesitantly nodded.   She whispered, “Tell me!”

I had been careful to give no outward evidence of my faith.  No cards, tags, symbols, etc.  But the family resemblance had been noted…by someone who had never even been exposed to my Family.   It was nothing visible nor verbally identifiable.  It was simply part of my Family identityof the Spirit inside.  No person can make that happen.  We can try to make it apparent on the outside, but that will soon fail.  When Christ comes into our lives, the Family Resemblance becomes part of who we are, as a result of Whose we are.

The Spirit within us …the Holy Spirit…has one key evident Characteristic that shows up for others to identify:   A strong family likeness to Jesus Christ. 

 

 

Where’s MY  tent?

“He moved on to the hills east of Bethel,

and he put up his tent

—with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.

He also built an altar to the Lord there and worshiped the Lord.”     

Genesis 12:8

 Abraham was on the move.  That’s just part of living in a tent!  There’s a whole culture tied to tent-living:  Moving often, a sense of “temporary” to life, a sense of vulnerability to elements of nature as well as to the people who may cross your path.  It’s the typical housing of shepherds, herdsmen, and people who enjoy “camping” in the heart of nature.

But as Abraham journeyed into the new world of following God, he had to continually make adjustments….he was perpetually in a learning mode.

This time, he was settling into a region where he’d not been before,  among a people and culture that was not his own.

The details of places named in Bible stories are significant, though we in 2020 rarely catch the significance of those details.  Yet the details are there for a reason:

Bethel:  One side of where Abraham set up his tent-home.  Bet= house  El= of God

Ai:    On the other side of him, representing things of the world, but apart from God

Abraham set up his tent between the two places.  Then he built an altar, where he would worship the One God he followed.  He would make sacrifices on that altar as a regular act of worship.

Isn’t it similar to the place in this world where we live?   We live out our ‘tent’ lives between the God Who has come to us and drawn us to Himself, but always in sight of this earthly world which demands that our attention be drawn away from God.  Both are in our sights, and we daily have to determine which we will be drawn to….belong to.  Our ‘tent’ is to be held loosely…tents are not permanent.

Altars are built of rocks.  They are meant to last.  They’re not disposable nor dispensable.  Altars stand as reminders of Who we worship…Whose we are.  And long after we’re gone, the altar of our worship stands, a testament of the One Who called us and made us His Own in this world.

So….. where is your tent?

The Battle Continues

Part 2 

“For this reason, take up all the armor that God supplies.

 Then you will be able to take a stand during these evil days.

 Once you have overcome all obstacles, you will be able to stand your ground.”

Epheasians 6:13-17

Note of Warning:   The following is from a deeply female, mom perspective.   But I’ve peeked through my fingers at many movie battle scenes with knights, etc.   It is also acknowledging that half of the battle is in our own heads….

The Battle in this passage has moved from a 1-on-1 of “wrestling” to a full out armed battle.

Our Hope…our Light in the midst of the darkness, is God Himself, and all that He has  provided.  He wants us to be safe….to feel safe!   He has even provided armor to protect us and help us feel secure enough to fight.  He wants us to win….not to be victims to the dangers,  the evil of this world.   His Armor is offered.  Our part is to take it…and to put it on.  With His Armor,  we will be able to stand strong, without fear of what is happpening around us or what is to come.  He doesn’t throw us out on the battlefield of this life with a “Good luck.”

The opponents listed are daunting:

  • rulers, authorities and powers of darkness, and
  • spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.

The armor that God supplies for us to take and use includes:

The Sword of the Spirit :    God’s Word, which cuts and separates Truth  from lies                                                The Breastplate of Righteousness:   Protection for our hearts by all that is Right by God’s Design

The Belt of Truth:  Belts go around waists….pretty vulnerable part of our bodies.  Ever have a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach just thinking about something?   God offers to wrap His Truth around that queasy, emotionally affected part of us.  His Truth can protect our vulnerable worries and upsets that make us feel “sick” inside.

Shoes of the Gospel of Peace:  His Good News has been handed to us to carry it to others.  He’s given us Shoes that are meant to “go”….not sit under the bed.  We have Good News…the BEST News…to bring to a hopeless world.  Peace.  Peace of heart….peace of spirit….peace of mind….peace with others.   Where can you find that in this world?

Shield of Faith:   Faith is not physically visible.  But it is as real as anything tangible.  It is a force that can be present in the scariest of circumstances.  It is stronger than anything tangible.  Faith resides within us….takes the brunt of the blows of this world….regardless of what appears to be real.  It is an invisible, solid-as-iron link between me and Him that protects my heart and soul from all the Enemy throws at me;

Helmet of Salvation:  My brain….my “Thinker”….the core of WHO I AM….God puts His Helmet over that part of me, to protect my thoughts, my understanding, my beliefs.  It saves me from

Who I am if not for His intervention in my life.  That Helmet protects me from the troubled thoughts and wrong beliefs that would wreak havoc with me if not for His Truth penetrating that old Thinker.

Sword of the Spirit:   God’s Word, which He has given to us….we are privileged to hold it in our hands, read it with our eyes, put it into our minds, and allow it to sink into our deepest parts.  A SWORD is no small object.  It’s nothing to play with.   A sword is heavy. . .its weight has to be used with a strength that has built up. It’s as much a weapon of defense as it is offense.  A sword extends far beyond a hand’s reach.  It’s meant to cut….cut through all the lies and harm that comes at us  pointed at our minds, hearts, and body. Its use has to be up close to the Enemy…eye to eye…not at a distance. God’s Sword can cut through it all.  It is Truth.  But unless we hold it tightly in our hands and have learned how to use it, it is of no help to us.  God’s SWORD is not meant to simply be on display in a glass case or on a wall.

I had a friend who, in her own frustration with the life struggles that seemed to always be at her door said to me, “I see everyone else putting on all their pieces of God’s Armor, but I’m still struggling in my closet to even open the box!”

It’s worth the struggle!   No armor is “easy” to put on.  No armor feels good…it might hurt…it  may inhibit our sense of “freedom” to move.   Putting on armor takes time.  It takes time and practice to learn how to move about with it on….how to effectively…wisely… use it.

But when the battle comes, you will be deeply grateful you had it on.  It will save your life.

And we KNOW…. HIS SIDE WINS!

Wrestling?  ME?

Part 1

“This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent.

We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness,

and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.

Ephesians 6:12

For me, anything to do with “wrestling” is about appealing  as cleaning a fish.   When my eldest son took up the sport in high school, I spent most of the time covering my face and looking in the opposite direction, praying that he wouldn’t die.  It looked like one body with 4 arms, 4 legs, and 2 heads, one being my son’s.  And his head should not have been in the place  nor position it was poking out of. UGH!!

However, I have since come to appreciate the raw, human struggle that wrestling embodies.  My desert nation has the sport of wrestling in their ancient history, and I have come to understand the human struggle it demonstrates.   There is no distance  between the two wrestlers.   It is one of the most ancient and raw human means of physically struggling with another person.  Face to face, hand to hand, skin to skin.  Wrestlers do not have heavy armor for their matches.  They wear very little, actually.  Their defense and offense is purely physical.

In this passage, wrestling is used to exemplify the very real human struggle in which we are engaged during our time on earth.  It is not as tangible as a wrestling match with a human enemy.  Our opponent is not a physical, visible being.  It is much more sinister and evil.   But it is as real as anything physical…and always takes place in our own minds.  Our Wrestling match is against the Enemy of our Souls….the dark, deadly Ruler of this earthly world.

In the sport of Wrestling, there is no armor nor weapon.  It is hand to hand, face to face, and skin to skin combat.  Wrestling is one of the most ancient sports of combat that exists.  God describes our time on this earth as being a wrestling match between us as humans, and the spiritual powers of evil that cover our world.

In our “wrestling match” on earth, we are in a battle against the Evil One who dominates this planet.  God knows that we are not strong nor powerful enough to battle the evil forces on earth.

Evil has covered the earth, and had its way for far too long.  God is drawing us into this Battle, but not as a wrestler who has no weapons.  This Wrestling Match is not one of human to human.  This one is against evil itself.

Our Hope….our Light in the midst of the Darkness is God Himself, and all that He has provided.

….To be continued….

 

SIMPLE

“Arise and eat.”

1 Kings 19:5

Elijah was a drama magnet.  He never seemed to have just a “normal” day like the rest of the people around him.  Just in the chapter before this simple verse, he lived through dramatic extremes that no other man had experienced.  It was part of being “chosen” by God.

I have a dear friend born in the land of Israel in the year it became a nation (1948), who recounts the history of the Jewish people (God’s “Chosen People”) as well as their current history.  As a result, he often says, “God!  Can You please choose somebody else for a while!”

I think that Elijah may have had similar thoughts.  He was at the end of his rope.  He had nothing more to give….in fact he had sunk into a sense of hopelessness that made him want to die.  He had isolated himself.  He did not want to go on.  With the dramatic backdrop of the miracles God had used Elijah to carry out, a death threat from a woman hit him so hard that he literally wanted to die.

But God had been with him.  He was still with him.  God’s heart toward His dear servant remained as patient and faithful as always, even though Elijah was not feeling it.  In His great Compassion, God sent His angel to be with Elijah.  No judgement.  No quoting Torah verses.  No condemnation regarding the hopeless condition of His dear Servant Elijah.  Not even reminders of Elijah’s recent “mountain-top experience” with God.

“Get up and eat.”  God’s Presence was there.  Simply.  Practically.  Kindly.  No shaming or blaming to His dear servant.  No lecture.  God simply laid out fresh, warm bread and water, right where he was.

May we think of God’s Kindness toward His servant Elijah when we have become so depleted that we have nothing else to give.  May we see His Provision in those hopeless moments . . . the simple things of life . . . the bare necessities that He sets before us without fanfare nor shame.  And may we receive from Him those simple, everyday provisions that He offers us, trusting that He knows what is ahead and today’s provision…from His Hand….will be all we will need to step into tomorrow.