Things That Tick God Off

[The Lord Invites Israel to Turn Away from Sin ]

 “Wash yourselves!

Become clean!

 Get your evil deeds out of My sight.

Stop doing evil.

 Learn to do good.

Seek justice.

Arrest oppressors.

Defend orphans.

 Plead the case of widows.”  

Is 1:16-17

Wow!!  Although the note before these verses calls this an invitation, I read it as a strong challenge!  I think the Writer…the Lord (via Isaiah)…sounds pretty ticked!   There is strong emotion in his words.

He begins with the challenging list that speaks to the reader’s own personal condition…sin!  It’s a short list of heart issues…attitudes….things hidden in our own hearts, but blatently clear to God.  He hates sin.  It ruins us, ruins our relationship with Him, and wreaks havoc on the  people in our lives.

It’s as if God is taking our faces in His Hands….”Look at Me!  Listen!!”  These commands have to do with our own choices. . . things we need to do ourselves.  I hear passion and emotion in His heart towards this pointed list.

Then, there comes a short list of behaviors that should be outcomes of the work we need to do in our own hearts and attitudes.  They have been placed in a catagory that focuses on “others.”

Seek Justice:

  • Arrest oppressors
  • Defend Orphans
  • Plead the case of widows

Justice involves setting the “wrong”….right.   The three examples listed are such a common part of life in our world.  These are not descriptions of people in a certain part of a city, or some other country……they’re often right in our own neighborhoods and circles of relationship.

Arrest oppressors:   Oppression involves using power to push others down.  Vulernable people are easy to see.  And it’s a fair assumption that those in a position of greater strength or power in the life of “the weaker” have used that strength or power to push someone else down….or out.  Whether it’s a matter of oppressing someone’s  life circumstances, or their emotional vulnerability,  their financial poverty, physical or mental limitations, or tough circumstances of life that have put them in a place of weakness, the people who take advantage of that become “oppressors.”  The implication in this verse is that there may have even been illegal actions that have pushed those who are already “down” even further down.  Arresting means putting a stop to what is going on….perhaps even legally.   God’s heart is always soft towards those in vulnerable, weakened, broken conditions.  His Heart is for the humble….humbled.  Shouldn’t ours be as well?

 Defend orphans:  We do not have “orphanages” in our American world, but we still have orphans.  Broken families are everywhere.  Children abandoned by a parent, or parents, are often put into a legal system that allows for moving children from home to home.  Millions of children have lived with no sense of stability, safety, emotional attachment or commitment from either their birth parents nor the temporary care of others who may or may not have a love or commitment to the child in their care.   God’s Word often specifies His Heart for orphans….He

cares for them.  He sees them, and looks to us to get involved in such a way that we add to their sense of being safein this dangerous world.  The Bible often refers to God as “FATHER”

because we ALL need a father.

Plead the case of widows:   Widows in ancient times stood a good chance of losing everything if their husband died.  They became terribly vulnerable.  Having lost a husband, they also lost their sense of safety…protection…having that husband who had stood between them and the things of this world that would hurt them.  They had no voice.  They were “easy targets” for those who would use them for their own benefit.  Without the one who had been their protector, the widow now takes the brunt of what this world throws at women who have lost so much, on so many levels.  No matter how strong the widow, when the “two” becomes “one”, life is forever changed.  It is often still true today.  A wife who loses her husband experiences repercussions that continue for the rest of her life.

For God to name these two specific catagories of human reality through Isaiah, matters.  His Words are strong.  This isn’t a suggestion.  His challenge began with heart issues, but ended with practical action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHILDLIKE

“Ask and you will receive.

Search and you will find.

Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Everyone who asks will receive.

The one who searches will find,

And for the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Mtt.7:7-8

It helped me to rearrange the order of these six lines a little, connecting the lines that applied to each other….

“Ask and you will receive.

(Everyone who asks will receive.)

Search, and you will find.

(The one who searches will find,)

Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

(and for the one who knocks, the door will be opened.)

Mtt.7:7-8

I love the way that each instruction that Jesus gave to us (bold lines above), was followed with the assurance of what God’s response would be.  The statement following each instruction puts more strength behind the words, and more clarity of what God will do in response to our ask…..our search….our knock.

What if I don’t ask?    What if I don’t search?   What if I never knock on that door?   God’s clear responses listed here are firm statements.  There is such reassurance concerning His reaction to our various human movements toward Him.  It’s childlike….simple….human….everyday kind of engagement with God.

I remember when I was about 3 years old, my mom was lying on the couch holding her hand over her ear.  She was in a lot of pain, and I had not seen her like that before.  I went close to her and asked why she was crying.  She said, “Oh!  Mommy’s ear hurts so much! . . . Would you pray for it?”    Without hesitation, I put my little hand on her ear and said, “Jesus, please make Mama’s ear stop hurting.”   I don’t think I even said, “Amen.”   Within a minute, my mom said, with dismay, “Honey!!  The pain is all gone!   It’s gone!”

I think we make our interactions with God far more complicated than necessary.  The Bible talks about childlike faith.  Children interact with Him with such simplicity….a purity of belief.  They have not yet learned to view life with mistrust.

May we learn from them…and give the children in our lives no reason to learn to distrust……

 

Learning to Initiate

“Ask, and you will receive.

Search, and you will find.

Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

 Everyone who asks will receive.

The one who searches will find,

and for the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”    

Matt. 7:7-8

I am not an initiator.  Unfortunately, I have lived my life with an underlying sense of not wanting to “be a bother.”   I know I have missed out on a lot of life because of that underlying belief.

But this verse is one that gives me courage.  It challenges any thoughts of “being a bother” to God.  He challenges me….us…..to interact with Him with determination….by choice….by His Invitation.   I hear that Invitation in these Words.  ASK.  SEARCH.  KNOCK.   There’s no shadow of asking us to step into the background from Him.  No sense that He sees us as “a bother.”

I remember as a little girl, seeing things I would have liked, but my own insecurities held me back from asking and receiving.  I missed out on a lot because of that underlying fear of “bothering” anybody.

In the desert (my second family), it is not culturally common for people to “ask”….even tho’ as refugees, they have great needs.  It’s almost like a guessing game to catch the very tiny hints of the needs they keep hidden from guests and friends.  Yet, I think that most friends and guests would be very happy to be asked to step into their need.  So often those needs are hidden, and the opportunity to help is lost.

In this passage, God (Who knows EVERYTHING already) still encourages us to ASK….SEARCH…..KNOCK.  There’s something in our own hearts that causes us to hold back in our approach to the God Who created and loves us.  HE knows exactly what “that” is, and wants us to get past it.  Some wrong perception or belief about God Himself makes us hesitate or refuse to directly approach and interact with Him in honesty and confidence in His Love for us.

What is “that thing” in your heart?

God invites you to step past it, come to Him,

and ask, . . . search . . . and knock.    

He is patiently waiting.

Watching the Hand

“Behold,

As the eyes of servants look unto

The hand of their masters,

So our eyes wait upon

The Lord our God.”

Ps .123:2

Have you ever been in a room with Royalty?   Or a high-level leader?  A respected person with power?   Familiar imagery  is that of the “Leader” or “Master” surrounded by other people who are there just to provide whatever may be requested by the most important one in the room.

I had never caught this detail before:  “…eyes…look to the hand of their master.”  It may be a slight movement that activates the response of the watching servant.  If the servant is not paying attention to his master’s hand, he loses trust of his master.  He/she is more preoccupied with other things going on in the room, or in his own mind.  The initial message is non-verbal…just a move of the hand.  It is wordless communication which has been learned through experience.

I imagine it requires great focus for a servant to keep his eyes on the hand of his Master.  He needs to be in the room.  He/she needs to block out all the distractions going on around him/her, though significant they may be.  When the hand moves, the response must come.  Focus on that hand could affect trust, necessary actions, relationship and confidence.    It means that everything else going on in the room becomes secondary.  Everything else in the life of that servant takes a step back from the priority of watching that hand and responding appropriately.

Whoever we are, if we have become servants to our Master, “the Lord our God”, we need to follow this example in the Psalms.    Am I available?  Am I paying attention?   Am I willing to respond?  What are my distractions?  What has my higher focus?  Are my eyes on Him to the point that I would even notice that His Hand has moved… signaling something to me without words?

His Hand carries deep scars.   For me.  For you.  Out of Love that is far beyond human capacity. If I focus on His Hand, whatever He does with it, it embodies the Greatest Love, and Highest Calling.

Life Numbers

“Teach us

to number each of our days

so that we may grow in wisdom.”  

Psalm 90:12

Lists have become very important to me.  I forget things!   Rather than considering it part of aging, I prefer to think of it as my brain moving closer to its saturation point.  There’s just too much up there!!

So, lists have become a daily activity.  And I try to prioritize my lists. . . most important and time-sensitive are nearest the top.  Top priority is #1. Anything without a number just naturally slides down the list…to the side…perhaps is completely lost in the shuffle.  But I also tend to prioritize according to my own preferences, comfort level, and capabilities.

In this Psalm, we read this request for God’s help in prioritizing our time on this earth.  Prioritizing our days on this planet.  Each day matters to Him.  He said that He had numbered our days.  But in this verse, the writer asks for His help in learning how to number our own days.  Numbering forces us to consider one thing at a time.  We have to see each day as one, rather than a vague blur of days sliding into each other.

What priorities has God set for our days, and to what do we need to give our best energies?  His Perspective is all-knowing. . . beginning to end.  We only see “now”  and “past,” with only limited understanding of those days.

But God knows exactly how many days we have, and how He has woven our lives…our days…into His Plan.  His priorities for our time on this earth are most likely quite different from our perspective on our priorities.

To learn from Him what He prioritizes for how we live out our days will always be best.  Wisest.  Most useful to furthering His Purposes on this planet.  Each day at a time.  Rather than thinking of our lives in terms of life seasons, or years, or as one long blur of time, let’s think of LIFE as one day at a time, knowing that God not only gives us each day, but He has a Plan that includes us, each day at a time.  He has numbered our days.  May we look to Him for how to use each one.

 

 

Writing in the Sand

“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Early the next morning he returned to the temple courtyard.

All the people went to him, so he sat down and began to teach them.”

John 8

The Mount of Olives….the place that looked over the City of Jerusalem from across a deep Valley.

The Mount of Olives….the backside of which was the town of His dear friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

The Mount of Olives….where olives grew in abundance, were harvested, and pressed three separate times in order to extract the olive oil which was so central in daily life.  Olive oil…for health…for healing.

Jesus was nearing the end of His time as a Man on this earth.  After His rest that night near His friends, He returned to Jerusalem, walking down through the deep Kidron valley that separates the Mount of Olives from the City.  After reaching the bottom of the Valley, it is a steep climb back up to the City of Jerusalem, passing through the ancient City of David and then climbing the slope leading up to the top of the Mountain, and walking up the ancient steps He would reach the top, where the Temple and its surrounding courtyards were alive with the daily activities around the Temple of God.  Money changers were there for all those coming from regions and nations of different currencies.  Selling and buying sacrifice-destined animals took place there, as well as the actual sacrifices of the animals. People passed through the ritual baths so that each could enter the courtyards of worship “clean.”  All of these activities were part of the daily life around the Temple Mount … the highest point in the heart of Jerusalem.

Jesus was there . . .  in the very heart of all the religious activities taking place.

(:2)…”all the people went to Him, so He sat down and began to teach them.”

In the midst of all of the vibrant, daily life of Jerusalem, this story takes place:  John recorded:

(:3-:6)    “The experts in Moses’ Teachings and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery.  They made her stand in front of everyone and asked Jesus,

 ‘Teacher, we caught this woman in the act of adultery.

In his teachings, Moses ordered us to stone women like this to death.

What do you say?”

They asked this to test him. They wanted to find a reason to bring charges against him.”

She had been caught.  Now her darkest secret was fully exposed.  She stood there, all alone, with everyone looking. Utterly humiliated. She knew what was coming.  This would be the place of her death.  The crowd around her, including men who may well have had their own secrets with her, would start looking for which rocks and stones they would throw at her.   She would fall to her knees to try to become her only shelter, until she would slowly become unconscious and die.

Realistically, how had she been “caught?”   The religious “experts” … the “we” in this story had caught her in the act. How did that happen???  The “we” arrive at her home (most likely not in a very good part of town)….at the same time….as well as at the same time that a man who was doing business with her…..the most intimate act occuring at the same time that a group of religious experts come it.  Witnesses.  Was it a mere “happening”?  All those parties “happening” to come together ‘at the moment of the crime.’  Or had it been planned. . . a trap?  It wouldn’t have been a “trap” targeting the woman for its focus….it would have been for the purpose of using her in a new way . . . to “trap” their bigger focus:  Jesus.

Everyone’s eyes were on one Man, awaiting His nod to begin.   But instead, he looked down on the ground, and began making marks in the sand.  No one could see what he was writing.  He spoke not a word.

Desert people often write in the sand.  It is the most easily accessible material to make notes, give an illustration, or play a game.  And it is also the easiest medium to erase.  One swift swipe of a hand, foot or stick, and the writing is gone.

(:7)  “When they persisted in asking Him questions, He straightened up and said,  ‘The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.’  (8) Then He bent down again and continued writing on the ground.”

A guilty conscience produces paranoia.  “What is He writing?”   “What if He’s writing names of people who have done business with this woman?”  “ What if He knows about me?”  “What if He’s writing my name?”  “How could He know?”  “Who else knows?”

(:9)  “One by one, beginning with the older men, the experts in Moses’ Teachings and Pharisees, left.  Jesus was left alone with the woman.”

Whatever was happening in the minds and hearts of the crowd, each quietly let his rock fall to the ground and slowly walked away.  The Temple area was their world.  It’s where they did most of their religious activities.

Jesus wasn’t staring at her, as everyone else probably was. Jesus continued to make marks in the sand, not looking up.  Finally, only two were in the center of attention:  the Writer in the sand and the woman kneeling there, waiting for the first rock to strike…yet hearing the slow shuffling of sandals moving away. And the silence.  No more shouting.  No more anger.  No more condemnation.  Just silence.

(:10)  Then Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Where did they go?  Has anyone condemned you?”   

(:11) The woman answered, ‘No one, sir.’ 

        Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either.   Go!   From now on don’t sin.”

Jesus spoke directly to her, asking her where her accusers were.  Gone.  Jesus wasn’t anything like the religious leaders.  He dignified her with his question, and listened to her answer.  Then, He said she could leave, telling her to “sin no more.”  The woman who was guilty had stepped into His Light.   And she walked away free…..free of the shame, the guilt, the shadows, the hiding, the abuse, and the darkness in her life.  She was Known to the One Who held the key to her freedom. . . to a new life.    Living in the Light.

(:12)  (at some point) …”Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again:

He said, ‘I am the Light of the world.

Whoever follows me will have a life filled with light

and will never live in the dark.’”   

They had watched her walk away.  She should have been dead.  That had been the plan.  They wanted to use her to get to Him… They had watched a completely different ending play out.  And she was gone.

Jesus watched her walk away as well.

Then, He turned His attention back to the Pharisees, who had watched it all happening.

“He said, “I am the Light of the World.”  (:12a)

This is the Name He carried.  Nothing . . . no one… is hidden from the Light.  No one in the whole world.  He declared His unique Name and Identity.  He spoke to our own reality, too.

In His declaration, Jesus gives a picture of identification of all those who would carry His Name.

(:12b)  “…Whoever follows Me will have a life filled with light and will never live in the dark.” 

He provided a practical means to know who else is part of Him, “living in light.”  Not in hiding.  Not in darkness. Not under the cover of religion or faith.  The woman who was guilty stepped into His Light.  And she walked away free….free of the shame, the guilt, the shadows, the hiding, the abuse, and the darkness in her life.   She was Known to the One Who held the key to her freedom….to a new life.  She had stepped into His Light.

Jesus watched her walk away as well.

He turned His attention back to the group again, who had watched all of this unfolding.

 “I am the Light of the World.”  This is the Name He carried.  Nothing . . . no one… is hidden from the Light.  No one in the whole world.  He declared His unique Name, Identity . . . the only One in all the world.

And in His declaration, Jesus gives a picture of identification of all those who would carry His Name,  and share His Identity.  He provided a practical means to know who else is part of Him, living in light.  Not in hiding.  Not in darkness.  The woman who was guilty stepped into His Light.  And she walked away free….free of the shame, the guilt, the shadows, the hiding, the abuse, and the darkness in her life.   She was Known to the One Who held the key to her freedom….to a new life.   Living in the Light.

He gave those who were judging the choice.  This group that had brought the woman they had hoped to kill were being given a chance to LIVE.   The ones who had been merciless with a woman they wanted dead, a woman who had had no choice.  Mercy had stepped into the story. . . for both sides of the story.

Jesus didn’t take sides.   He saw everyone’s hearts at the same time.  They all needed work.  Yet, He could expose hearts without condemnation.  He could do it with Hope.

The very ones who were judging had been judged. . . yet without condemnation.

He always did it with Hope.

 

 

Nadir

Today began with tears.   I received a message from the desert that a dear man had died.  This quiet, kind “man of peace” had been a long-time participant in the Dialogues we have held for the past 13 years in the desert refugee camps.  Nadir was not a refugee….he was a very successful businessman of the large city nearby the desert refugee camps.  He had built a home for unwed mothers in the camps….so well done, built with deep compassion.  He had also orchestrated a caravan of trucks of needed supplies for the camps, all at his own expense.

I am sure there were also many acts of love and compassion that I never heard about.  A quiet, gentle man, he was dedicated to the significance of the Dialogue, where he learned of the One

Who had given His life for all.

Then I began my morning quiet time, and read these words:

“Use the Truth to make them holy.  Your Words are Truth.”  John 17:17

What Hope!  Thousands and thousands of Words have gone out during the Dialogues through these many years.  Truth.  Absolute Truth.  Beautiful, hopeful Truth.  Words of The Word who became one of us to make Heaven possible for us.

Nadir was consistently there, sitting near the front.  Listening intently.  Quietly.  Respectfullly.  He was a man whose life reflected so much of the Words that he absorbed throughout those times together in the desert.

I hope I see him again.  I hope . . . pray . . . that I see many, many familiar, beloved faces from the desert when I am Home.   That is the heart of why I . . . we . . . go.

Tents

“Now we know that

if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,

we have a building from God,

an eternal house in heaven,

not built by human hands.”

2 Cor. 5:1

Tents are the homes of shepherds.  Made of woven goat hair, they repel water, yet allow the tent to “breathe” through its walls and roof.  Their “breathing” shade and shelter are perfect for herders, who must be on the move in their mission of finding good pasture for their herds.  They are designed to be mobile, and can  last a long, long time with proper care.  But they are also vulnerable.  (And smelly, if the goat’s hair fabric gets wet!)

I was in a family tent, enjoying a lunch with my desert family, when a sudden storm came.  Very rare. The wind was blowing in a circular way, and suddenly the entire tent began to lift up off of the ground.  All the men immediately ran to each corner and physically became “weights” to keep the tent from becoming airborne.  It was very scary for all of us!  I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable it was to live in a tent as a permanent home.

God’s promises to us concerning our physical “tent” – both our bodies and our houses – take on deeper meaning when we come face to face with their vulnerabilities.  Sickness, storms, the weakening that develops over time, all remind us of how vulnerable we really are.

What a wonderful comfort and reassurance we can draw knowing that God Himself has prepared our Forever Home, with  Him, in Heaven.  No storm, nor disaster, nor sickness or death will everbe part of what God has prepared for us after our time on this earth.

It will be absolutely perfect!

 

Doing Something New

“ The Lord makes a path through the sea

and a road through the strong currents.

Forget what happened in the past,

 and do not dwell on events from long ago.

I am going to do something new.

It is already happening.

Don’t you recognize it?

 I will clear a way in the desert.

I will make rivers on dry land.”

Is. 43:16,18-19

As I write this, on the final day of 2019, the poignancy of this passage brings tears as well as peace.  God’s people had been through incredible experiences. They had literally walked through an enormous sea, its powerful waters pushed aside, towering above them, as they walked through on dry land. Pharoah’s mighty army was close behind them with every intent to end their lives…God’s people…God’s nation.   What they were going through made no earthly sense.  They had no other choice but to move forward, tho’ that seemed like the final step toward a death that would surely come.

But in the midst of the impossibilities, God was there.  He was in the center of it all.  He was with them.  Tho’ His people did not think they would survive walking through a sea that surrounded them, looming all around them, waiting to completely destroy them at any moment, God was there holding it back until they had all passed through the incredibly impossible experience.

They had come through captivity….slavery….brutal human tragedy.  So much suffering.  So much loss.  So much death.  They had lost themselves as a nation.  They had lost so much of their faith.  They had lost so much of their identity.  And joy.

At the end of this impossible path through a raging sea, they had no idea what awaited them.  Would it be a beautiful land?  Would it be green?  Would it be safe?  Would they be free?  Would it be a new life of freedom and promise?

The desert that awaited was not, I’m sure, what they had dreamed about from their desert of slavery.  In God’s divine wisdom, He still had a lot of work to do in the hearts of this people that He had chosen to be His own.  They needed to learn how to be free.  They needed to learn how to become a nation.  They needed to know Him.  That takes time.  It takes a lot of pain, unfortunately.  But through pain and loss, the most powerful and deep changes come in our own hearts.  Through them, if we cooperate, God becomes most real.  Most clearly active in us…if we let Him.  In the midst of tragedy and loss, we can run from Him . . . or to Him.

Through the journey I’ve had in the past two years, I have come to know Him to a depth as never before.  Because of pain and losses like never before, He has shown Himself to me in ways I’d never experienced before. . . in ways I had never needed Him before.

For me, having to walk with God through a literal desert with an exiled nation I’d never known before 1999, and the personal tragedy and losses of the past 2 years, I have also experienced the unending Love, Kindness, Faithfulness and Nearness of this One Who drew me to Himself as a little girl.  I am seeing some of the “way in the desert” that He is creating….and dipping my toes into the rivers He is creating, in my own life and in the desert.

I don’t know what it will look like, but I know it will be the best, because He will be there.

Thankful

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving

 and His courts with praise;

 give thanks to Him

 and praise His name.”

  Psalm 100:4

When I think of times I have been the most thankful, it is often when I have been doing without something, and then the situation has changed to “doing with”.  Being withoutseems to make beingwithmore meaningful.

[For me, one example that springs to mind is that not a day goes by that I do not sincerely thank God for flush toilets. Really!  Having grown up with that wonderful invention in every place I’d ever lived, I never realized its value and blessing until I began spending time in desert places that have none.  (Without going into detail, they’re called “squatty-potty’s” …..I’m sure you can get the idea.  The acrobatics involved only add to the adventure, and my gratitude!)  The point is that gratitude springs up most when we experience something good that we’ve not experienced before.]

The first time I visited the ruins of the Temple in Israel where Jesus had literally walked, I was struck by the different courtyards designated for different groups of people.  The “court” nearest to where God’s Presence resided allowed for spiritual leaders, then further back more common folk (men), then women and Gentiles (non-Jews).  If I had lived in that time, I would have been waaayyy in the back.  The literal experience of being so far away from where the ancient spiritual Presence and worship took place struck me deeply.

Because of what Jesus did in giving His Life for us, all those old categories crumbled away, and He made it possible to “come near” to Him.  We can walk through that gate…and keep moving through all those designated “courts”…right into His Presence.   Men, women, children, no matter your ethnicity, “status” in life, or any of the other categories with which people are labeled.

He simply opens up His Arms and says, “Come!”