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.

Fitting In (with the Faith crowd)

“ . . . Yet God was not pleased with most of them, so their dead bodies were scattered over the desert.”
1 Corinthians 10:5

A rather unsettling verse, don’t you  think?   The “surprise ending” of that verse made me want to go back and read what came just before it.

Here’s what directly preceded this jolting verse written by Paul:

  • “They were united with Moses by baptism in the Cloud and in the sea.  
  • All of them ate the same spiritual food 
  • and all of them drank the same spiritual drink.  
  • They drank from the spiritual Rock that went with them, and that Rock was Christ.  
  • Yet God was not pleased with most of them, so their dead bodies were scattered over the desert.”   (personal comment:  What a zinger ending line!!! Hadn’t seen that coming!))

The wandering million of God’s people were finally free of Egypt’s slavery.  They were headed to their Promised Land, under the leadership of God’s Man, Moses.  They were all walking the same path. . . eating the same food . . . trudging through the same hot sand  . . . adhering to the same rules, customs and Laws, and hearing the same messages that Moses relayed to them from God Himself.  

By all appearances, they were all part of the same “group” . . . the same “family of God.”

They followed the same rules, walking the same route, under the same leadership.  They even all wore the same clothes (unfortunately for most of the women, I would imagine!)  And this went on for 40 years!!

As we know, they did eventually come to their Promised Land and became a Nation / a People of God Himself.  

But their story contains all of the raw realities of Sin’s influence . . . even in God’s own, beloved people. Even if you’re clearly part of the group.  They had left Egypt, but godless Egypt had not left their minds and hearts.  You may be blended in well with the People of God, but God isn’t so concerned with how well you are doing in the crowd.  He is looking at your mind and heart.  

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!”

United Nations Fourth Committee*

The Question of Western Sahara

October 2021

Petitioner:  Janet Lenz

Honorary Saharawi Citizen

I was introduced to the Saharawi people in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria in 1999.  To say that they have changed my life is an understatement.  What I have experienced firsthand with the people in the camps has made it impossible to move through my days without the echo of their lives and words being ever present.

As we sit here today, in a clean, comfortable room, discussing their future, the Saharawi are likely in their tents, appreciating the cool, evening air.  Or perhaps circled around a small fire under the stars, quietly sharing news or stories of the day over their sweet, hot tea.. 

As we sit here in comfortable chairs with climate-controlled air, they are likely in their tents, on the ground, hopefully finding a reprieve from the day’s heat.  It’s the “month of the flies” now…adding to the scene.

We sit here today discussing their future with clean, bottled water to sip. The Saharawi are quenching their thirst with water collected from a neighborhood container from which all the neighbors had dipped their buckets to carry back to their tents.  

We made our individual journeys to this building, riding in vehicles that were clean and comfortable…streets paved and well-marked.  In the camps, walking through the sands with worn, open sandals or old boots is tough.  If a vehicle is available, it is likely old, and coated with sandy dust inside and out, its passengers jolting along because the shock-absorbers wore out long ago.  

As we sit here today discussing the present and future of the Saharawi people, there is

an array of delicious food outside the doors of this room.  Each of us has the freedom to choose whatever we like.  There will be plenty available.  We have the money in our pockets to buy and eat.  For most of us, it’s a part of life that we rarely have to think about.  But in the camps, couscous, rice and beans are the usual.  It’s cheap and can make the long desert journey in trucks to the refugee camps. 

We sit here wearing clothes and shoes of our choice. . .able to change our outfits easily.   In the camps,  clothes are shared, and often come in containers from far away places where they’d already been worn.

We came here today of our own free will, from states, cities, and nations where we chose to live.  The Saharawi dream of and desperately long for their rightful, beloved homeland, where their memories were created for generations.  It’s where the stories of their parents, grandparents, and their own memories originated.  It’s where their history was written.  

But it’s been taken from them.

As we sit here today, discussing the future of the Saharawi people….the Saharawi nation, they long for a seemingly impossible dream:  The ability to live freely in their own homeland, where their history took place…the land from which their family stories were passed down;  their homeland by the sea, the memories, traditions, and their history.  The older generation remembers the smell of the sea, the same ocean waters that touch the shoreline of this city.

We sit in this room today discussing “The Question of Western Sahara.”  For every Saharawi on this planet, in their heart of hearts, there is no “Question”  about it.  

                                    ASK THEM!  Give them the promised Referendum.

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.