Keep It Simple

“You mortals, the Lord has told you what is good.

This is what the Lord requires from you:

to do what is right,

to love mercy,

and to live humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8   GW

I don’t know about you, but I think I hear a little frustration in this short message to us. We mortals have a lot of issues concerning how to “do life” on this planet, don’t we?   We love to make things so complicated…to try to understand all the details and implications as they will impact our lives.  We are our #1 concern, after all!

I almost chuckle as I read these key points that God gives us through His Prophet Micah.

“You mortals…”   Reminding us of who we really are…finite, tied to this earth, made from “dust”, having a beginning and an end in regard to this earth.  We are not God, though we tend to think that we are when it comes to who’s in control of our lives….

“…the Lord has told you what is good.”    God has told us in so many ways….through His Word, through His Spirit’s presence in our lives,  through nature itself,  and through the words of those who have gone before us, are currently with us. . . people who have experienced God and are much further down the road than we.

Here comes the simple, basic reminder of what we should already know: 

  1. “Do what is right.”  Actions….my actions….whether toward another person, or towards no one at all…  simply making choices, dwelling on thoughts, holding attitudes, or making decisions that perhaps no one at all will know about.  This focuses on the internal thoughts that lead to actions.
  1. “Love Mercy.”    Mercy is not dependent on being deserving, nor earning, nor “rights.” Mercy chooses to do good to another, whether known, seen or deserved.  Mercy is a heart condition.  Mercy holds my hand back from doing what may be deserved…what might be justified in the opinions of others.  Mercy bypasses reason and logic, and     comes from ones very heart in situations we face that, in the natural unfolding of events would result in a natural suffering of another.  Mercy chooses to withhold the “judgement” or natural consequences, and instead offer kindness, forgiveness, softness. 
  2. “Live humbly with your God.”   When we put God in His rightful place in our lives, we can take a step back from putting ourselves in what should be His rightful place in our attitudes, thoughts, and actions.   It’s remembering Who He Is, and who I am.

The perfect “3-Point Sermon”….keeping it simple, open-ended for personal applications, and easy to remember.   These are not points that are focused on the “me.”  It’s all for “the other.”

God knows all too well who He’s dealing with!

 

Something New Coming

“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.”                    

Isaiah 46:16, 18-19

Do you ever feel like you’re floundering in a sea, unable to make headway, fearing that you will be pulled under at any moment? Perhaps you’ve had tragedy, or past trauma that has power in your life which you can’t escape?  God has something wonderful to say about that in this ancient passage.  He has set a Plan in motion for your life. . . He is beginning a change for the future. Watch for it….pay attention.

First, He refers to something He did in the past….

“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.

 …..does it not sound like the miracle of parting the Red Sea, and the road His People were able to follow through that impossible, deadly situation?   Yet we do not have to only hang onto that!  He is still working…still doing the impossible….now.

In the Sahara Desert, where I have spent much time, I can look as far as the horizon, in all directions and see nothing but the sand.  Traveling through the sand is difficult at best.  The dangers of being lost are very real.  You long to see tracks of any truck that has passed through, but the winds quickly cover tracks.  You long for a path or road to follow, always with the nagging fears of the absence of any water.

In that reality….the harshness of a desert. . . the Promise of God in these verses is truly life-saving.  Not only does He provide a clear way, a road through the vast, unbroken desert in our lives, but He makes a river.   Not just a cup of water, or an underground well.  He promises to make riversthat flow on dry land.  What a picture!   What an impossibility by human effort.

What HOPE He gives us in our desert experiences of life!

~Janet

Good News

My beautiful young language tutor was helping me during my first visit to the refugee camps.  Suddenly, the busy room emptied.

Leaning in, she whispered, “Are you Christian?”

I nodded hesitantly.

“You know Jesus?”

Another nod.

Eyes sparkling, she whispered, “Tell me!”

As the Story of Jesus unfolded, there were many tears.     Why?

“Your words bring God so near.   We only know Him as far, far above us.”

Taking her hand, I prayed, “God, please come near to Aisha.”

One year later, she told me, “Every day we (family) pray that prayer.  We like this very much.

Surprise

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The young soldier came through the gate with books in hand.  He enjoyed the quiet, early evening hours in our schools listening lab to work on his already fluent English.

Stopping to greet me, we began to chat.  I have read the Injil (New Testament) five times.  It is very interesting to me,he said.  Curious, I asked him, What story have you found most surprising?”   It took only a moment for him to respond, The story of Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.   Anyone who has the power to do that.!”  

Power had infiltrated the evening air.

Come Closer…

toa-heftiba-270811-unsplashI leaned over his little sleepy form to kiss him good-bye.  My time in the desert was coming to an end, but his would continue for another week.  For the first time, my child’s children were meeting the S** refugees who have become so much a part of our family’s life.

He stirred, and opened his eyes.  “Won’t you come under my blankie, Omi?”  How could I resist?  Rubbing his back, his big dark eyes soon closed, and it seemed that he had fallen asleep.  I quietly began to move off of the simple mat, only to find that his little fingers had entwined into my scarf.

“Won’t you come close, Omi?” he whispered as he pulled me near. “Closer….closer…”

Each time I would move, thinking he had fallen asleep, he would whisper, “closer….closer…”

The sweetness of that one little word…that invitation…that request…brought tears to my eyes.   How precious to be asked by this dearly-loved little one to be near…to be close.   I love to be close to him.  But his whispered invitation made it all the more precious.

God, is this what you long to hear on the lips of your children?  On my lips?  In my whispers in the night?  In the darkness?  When I’m not even fully awake or consciously intentional?  That kind of spontaneity from my heart?

Me versus We

toa-heftiba-399392The four-year-old little Saharawi girl had just opened her gift from the American visitors:  a pretty baby doll wearing a blue dress.  With a squeal, she immediately darted out of the tent as fast as her little legs could take her, waving her new doll overhead.  “Look what WE got!!!!   Look what WE got!”  she announced to all her little neighborhood friends.  They came from every neighboring tent, all excited to touch and hold this treasure from a far-away land.

There was no fighting, no possessiveness.

There was only joy.

Joy to be shared by all.

A Governor

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He led the largest camp with quiet strength, wisdom and vision.  The previously struggling camp was transforming into a vibrant, productive community.  He worked tirelessly toward his goal:  If they can learn to thrive in hardship, they will flourish when they are back in their homeland of Western Sahara.

Often weary and overwhelmed, he would journey alone to the sand dunes and peer into the star-studded heavens.  There in the vast quietness, he would pour out his heart to The Creator. Perspective returned. Clarity.  Purpose.  Comfort. And he would return to his camp, ready to face another day.

Winter Warmth

dmitry-sovyak-454068-unsplashCharcoal embers glow in the blackened fire pot.  Wrapped in thick blankets and jackets, the circle of friends huddle close on an old worn rug, sharing the warmth this cold desert night.  Their hands cup the little glasses of hot, sweet tea with its added milk and spices. Sweet comfort.  It’s hardly enough to stave off the cold of the desert, but the gentle conversation, chuckles, and stories create a cushion of warmth among friends this dark winter’s night.  A million stars sparkle overhead…a vast umbrella arching above the sea of tents.

These refugees find warmth in one another.

Shepherds First?

“Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem.

They were taking turns watching their flock during the night.

An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them.

The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified.

The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you,

a message that will fill everyone with joy.

Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city.”Luke 2:8-11

In the West, we don’t really “get” the shepherd concept.  Shepherds are not in our frame of reference or experience.  But in the Middle East and North Africa, “shepherding” is

the ancient foundational occupation, and woven within the fiber of much of the Bible.

So, what is it about shepherdsthat God would bring them into the Story of Christmas as the first ones to be told by the angels that Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised One, had been born?  In human logic, it is confounding.  But it wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that God chose shepherds to be part of His Plan.  (Abraham, Moses, David,…)

Shepherding is a 24-hour, thankless job, dealing with truly “dumb” sheep that need a lot of care and attention.  Shepherds know the sky…using the stars to keep their sense of direction when far from home in open fields with their flocks for months at a time.  Sleeping with “one eye open” for any preying animal or thief.  It’s a lonely life.  They were some of “the least of these” in society.  They were not people of influence.

But they knew what it meant to “lay down one’s life for the sheep.”

So that night, as the world slept in their houses under sheltering roofs, something was going on in the Heavens that had never happened before nor since.  A Plan that had been in the making since (and before) Creation was dramatically unfolding, as the world slept.

The stars were pinpointing it.  The angels were announcing it.  God had put Himself into the smallest, most vulnerable human form to come to the earth so that mankind could have a glimpse of Him in a way we could begin to understand and know Him.

Perhaps the shepherds were the only ones attuned enough to hear.  Paying attention enough to see.  Humble enough to listen.  The Shepherd of all shepherds had come to a stable used to shelter sheep and other animals.  Perhaps shepherds were the only ones courageous enough to walk through the night and step into a dirty, smelly stable.  Whatever the reason, on that night of all nights, the shepherds were first to come and see….to come and worship the Good Shepherd when He arrived on this dark earth.

And I wonder . . . what would I have done?

Stranger in the House 

Part 3

36 “Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age.

People said she couldn’t have a child.

37 But nothing is impossible for God.”

38 Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.”

Then the angel left her.”

 

The Stranger (Angel) has been interacting with young Mary, giving her the news that her entire life was about to change, and a Path was being laid for her that no other human being had ever walked. Patience and gentleness was extended to this young teenager as they spoke together in her family’s home.  The Stranger had given her a brief glimpse of who this Child would be . . . in her body, her life, in her world, in history, and in the entire story of Eternity.  To say it’s a lot for a young girl to take in is the gravest understatement ever.

She would have to agree to everything the Stranger had told her.  It would be her choice.  Nothing would be forced upon her.  I wonder how many other young women had been approached with this invitation.  Had others encountered this Stranger, but been unwilling to hear?  Unwilling to consider the Proposal?   Unwilling to say “Yes”?  We don’t know….nothing is written of such a story.  But God has always used humans to carry out His Plans.   Some have said “Yes,” and we have all those stories to read in His Book.  How many were invited to join Him in His Plans, but knowingly or unknowingly refused to say, “Yes.  I will.”?

Mary did say yes.  She had no idea of the repercussions of that choice which would echo throughout time and all of history.

In this Story, the Stranger had one more thing to tell Mary:

36 “Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age.

People said she couldn’t have a child.

37 But nothing is impossible for God.”

What a Gift this was to Mary!   Her relative, Elizabeth, was six months ahead with her own miracle baby….who would be called John the Baptist.  Elizabeth was someone she knew.  Someone she trusted.  Someone her family would trust.

God, Who’s Timing is always perfect, had brought into being another child, one who would be among the greatest Prophets of God in all of history.  A miracle conception.  A miracle birth.  A Divinely-orchestrated Destiny that would be interwoven with the life of Jesus throughout His time on earth.

Mary would have many months with Elizabeth….watching the phases of pregnancy that she would soon experience, in a safe, loving environment. It would be away from the gossip and condemnation of the townspeople of Nazareth who knew Mary and that she was not yet married.

The babies would be cousins, both carrying the Message of God….John’s message focusing on the One Who would make it possible to know and be reconciled to God….Jesus being the Perfect Picture of God and the Great Sacrifice to make it possible for mankind to find forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God.

As young Mary spent her days with Elizabeth, all those conversations that Mary may have not been able to have with her own mother were safely shared with Elizabeth.  And all the experiences of each stage of pregnancy were shared together, including Elizabeth giving birth and those critical first weeks/months as a new mother. Mary had a close view of Elizabeth’s “new mother” experiences.  And Mary lived under the shelter and protection that Zechariah and Elizabeth provided.

Mary watched a miracle baby and his mother and father for 6 months, before returning home to Nazareth and all the life-changing experiences that lay ahead.  She could not have known that her own baby would be born in a dirty animal stall, in a strange town and only her new husband with her, not her mother.  Then their flight to Egypt through the desert with their baby boy.  Mary had learned what to expect in caring for a new baby through her time with Elizabeth.

God alone knew what was ahead for that young family.  He had it covered.  Not in a way that would have been humanly preferred nor planned.  But covered, nonetheless.

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How willing are we… am I… to say “yes” to something God is asking of me?  Without the full plan, the details, the purpose, strategy, financial impact, the “what will people think” considerations all thought through?  Though those things are valid, God does not seem to work on those terms.    I need  to simply trust that HE has all of that worked out, and it’s my most important role to put my eyes on Him, slip my hand into His, and say, “Yes.  I will.  I will trust You.”