Surprise

anqi-lu-785412-unsplash

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

federico-gutierrez-664500-unsplash

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.

~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~   ~   ~  ~

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.”

Stranger in the House

Part 2

30 “The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.

31 You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus.

32 He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.

33 Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever,  and his kingdom will never end.”

34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’m a virgin.”

35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of

the Most High will overshadow you.

Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God.”

 

Following the Angel’s reassurance and encouragement to this frightened young teenager whose world is about to turn completely upside-down (vs.28-30), he goes on to give her some of the practical details.  She has no idea at this point what this Stranger in her house will say.

In one sentence,three points, (v.31) he presents the mission she has been asked to join:

  • Become pregnant;
  • Give birth to a son;
  • Name Him Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’d probably have tuned out after the first bullet-point.  It seems to have been true for Mary, as well. . . “How can this be?  I’m a virgin.” (:34)

The Stranger had moved right on to His most important subject….all the unfathomable descriptions concerning this Baby who was about to turn her world  upside down.(:32-:33)  But, Mary apparently was still stuck on the very first step of her future. . .

And to add to the complications, she was engaged.  But she probably wasn’t even thinking of what to do about that!

(:31)  “You will become pregnant….”

She asks, “How can this be?  I’m a virgin.” (:34)

God has the full plan….sees the past, future and present all at the same time.  Time and human limitations are not any problem for Him.  And His unending patience  is just part of how He continues to interact with  us.   His patience with Mary is so gentle!  The Stranger steps quickly into her questions and her shock.  There is no condemnation like, “Where is your faith?   Do you doubt me?  Do you doubt God???”….none of that.  So patiently and gently the Stranger takes a step backward to meet Mary where she’s become stuck.  He walks her through the process, from the start…

The Holy Spirit will come to you…the Power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

It would not be a physical interaction for this young virgin. It would be Spirit…the Holy Spirit….coming to her.  Then God’s Power would cover her….”overshadow”…. A shadow is not a being…there is no human tangible substance in a shadow.  You can see a shadow, you can be “in” a shadow.  But there is nothing to do with a shadow that is physical.  There would be the Power of God present, but that thought, hopefully, is one of wonder and awe…not fear.

The work would be all on God’s part.   Mary would only have to be willing to let Him do His work in her life.

Something so far beyond human understanding, yet brought to her with respect, gentleness, patience, and allowing her to ask questions and be answered in human terms that she could try to absorb.  No guilt.  No condemnation.  The pure nature of the Holy Spirit was so beautifully displayed through the Stranger in His interaction with young Mary.

Asking “How?” of God isn’t wrong.  We may not be able to absorb or fathom His “How’s”, but it isn’t wrong to ask.  And then hold on tightly each step of the way ahead.

 

Stranger in the House 

Part 1

“The angel went to a virgin promised in marriage to a descendant of David named Joseph.

The virgin’s name was Mary.

 When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said,

“You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.”

 She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant.

 The angel told her,

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.’”  Luke 1:27-30 GW

 First, a little Middle-East context:

  • It is the most common place for women and girls to be: In the house.  For a woman or young girl to be outside doing anythingalone is questionable…even dangerous.  It gives a sense of being unprotected, vulnerable, or even morally questionable.
  • Visitors and guests to a home are honored, and show honor. When a guest comes to the home, they make their presence known by announcing “Peace”….(Shalom!  Salaam!)  It puts the person inside the house at ease.  (no doorbells or intercoms!)
  • The greeting from the angel was different from any other throughout the history of the world. Within middle-eastern greetings, there are traditionally polite inquiries as to how family members are before getting down to the point of the visit.  That point may be further delayed by greetings from other family members or friends in the home.
  • This greeting appears to come quite quickly in the conversation. He did not ask first to speak with her father or mother.  This Messenger had information to share that needed to be said directly, without delay. “You are favored by the Lord!” “The Lord is with you.”   How kind the angel was to assure this young, unsuspecting girl that God was the One who was sending the message, and that it was ALL GOOD.
  • This Stranger called her by name.  He knew her name. Knowing a person’s name, and calling them by name breaks through many unspoken barriers. Knowing someone’s name is a big step toward singling out someone from the crowd.  My name identifies me as a unique individual.  It is the “title” of my identity.
  • “Mary” . . . was the Messenger’s way of making her realize that this conversation was very specific, unique, and within the context of a very personal one-on-one connection. She wasn’t just a random young girl.  He wasn’t just talking to the first available female in the house.  She had been pinpointed.  He, speaking for God, knew her by name.

God’s Messenger, carrying out to the detail what God had given him to communicate, includes such gentleness and sensitivity toward Mary:

  • He came to her….within her context…within her daily life; her most comfortable setting;
  • He respected her culture. I’m sure this isn’t the “normal” culture of Heaven;
  • He was sensitive to her mental and emotional reactions…especially fear;
  • He calms and reassures her first, so that she could even hearthe words He was sent to tell her.

This is how God, through His Holy Spirit, approaches us.  He “knocks at the door of our heart.”     He waits for us to open the door and invite Him in.   He does not barge in uninvited.  He calls us by name.  His Spirit – the Comforter – comes to us and oh so patiently begins to show us the Plans He has for my life, and unfolds more of the picture as we slip our hand into His and begin to walk the Path upon which He leads us.  One step at a time.   (to be continued)

“To” is Harder

“Mary said, ‘My soul praises the Lord’’s greatness!

My spirit finds its joy in God, my Savior,

 because the Almighty has done great things tome.

His name is holy.’ ”

Luke 1:46-47

I never get tired of the Christmas Story, nor of spending time contemplating its innumerable facets.  I’ve heard the story read at Christmas time since my earliest memories.

Today, as I read this familiar passage, I was struck by a tiny word that wasn’t the familiar version I had memorized as a child.  The little word “to” caught my attention.  I had always known it to be “for” me.  Today, it was different  –  “…the Almighty has done great things to me.” A tiny word can make a lot of difference.

Mary’s entire world and life turned upside down when she accepted the role of being the mother of the Messiah.  Throughout the ages since then, Mary has been honored, praised, and beloved.  Her change in status throughout history has been uniquely honored.  This would be the aspect that comes to mind when I read “…the Almighty has done great things forme.” Which is absolutely true.

But, while the miracle was taking place inher, and all the days of her life following the birth of Jesus, God was doing great things to her.   He was literally changing her body, her heart, her family, her community, and her future.  Much of those changes were painful, unpopular, and challenging.

It is far easier to embrace what God does forus.  But it is much deeper, more intimate, scary and life-changing when we allow God to do what He wants to us.  It is much more risky to invite Him into my life.   It will change not only my present, but my future.  And those life-alterations are not in our control.

It all comes down to a matter of choice. . . the choice to trust Him with my life, no matter what.  Or will I hold onto my life as tightly as I can?  Will I desperately hold onto His Hand, do what is hard, painful, seemingly impossible….simply because He’s asked me to?   Or not?