Bending Down to Listen

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice,

my pleas for mercy.

            Because He bends down and listens,

            I will pray as long as I have breath!”

Psalm 116:1-2

I have a quiet voice.  (Although my family might beg to differ about that at times.)   I’ve heard that complaint of, “Speak up!  I can see your lips moving but I can’t hear anything you’re saying!”

I think that is why I love  this verse.  To picture the God Who made me, quiet voice and all, caring enough about what I have to say (or whisper) that He would “bend down and listen,”

It’s such a loving, kind thing to do.

Typical human reactions to someone with a quiet voice are often more like:

“Please speak up!  I can’t hear you!”

“Say it again!”

Maybe a smack to the back of the head with a “Speak up!”

“Maybe my hearing’s going out, but I can’t hear you!”

“WHAT are you saying?”

Or…. being simply ignored.

Take a moment to visualize God’s response to someone who is normally quiet, or in a crowd where the quiet voice is drowned out.  Maybe the quiet one doesn’t have the status or stature of those with the louder voices.

Maybe it is a child.   Maybe it is you.

Whatever the case, in this verse’s particular circumstance there is a hesitant, perhaps fearful “plea for mercy” involved.

How do you picture God’s listening posture toward you?  Do you try to make yourself small?  Does shame or guilt muffle the words in your mind and heart?  Are you afraid of what He might say to you?  Do you think that His attention passes right over you, focusing on those voices that

are far more powerful than yours?   More important  than yours?  Do you believe that you must first get yourself into a better….higher….more worthy position before you should even use your voice with Him?

The writer of these words is pleading for mercy for something going on in his life.  It’s someone who feels very unworthy of God’s attention or help.

Yet, God has “bent down” to listen for that quiet voice.

He loves to hear your voice . . . especially talking to Him.   So, be that child…imperfect language, imperfect grammar, imperfect mind and heart.

He is leaning in to hear you telling Him what is in your heart. . . and on your mind.

 

 

Schlepping Thru the Desert

“Your clothes didn’t wear out,

and

Your feet didn’t swell . . . “

Deut. 8:4

I bet you’re thinking…”WHAT??!!   Is that in the Bible?”

Well, not the schlepping word exactly, but I have been focusing on the incredible stories of the 40 years journey of God’s people in the desert. I’m contemplating the former Hebrew slaves of Egypt, God’s people, “schlepping”  through the desert, learning Who God is, who they were, what it meant to be free, and what it meant to become a nation. (‘Schlepping’ is an old Yiddish term that just seems appropriate to use in this context.  It’s kinda walking, trudging, dragging along on foot.)  They could have completed their “desert experience” in a year, but their desert “classroom” period lasted 40 years…..  They had a lot to learn.

A million people, having lived as slaves for centuries, had a lot of hard work to do to begin living an entirely new life as a nation… as free people.  It would have been a tremendous challenge just to change their mentality in becoming free after centuries of forced slavery.  But to become a nation . .regaining their identity as people, as a nation  . . . yikes.  That’s a LOT of emotional, mental, and relational adjustment.

But these were God’s own.  He was there from the Beginning.  His Plan had not changed.  The desert years were His Time with His people.  The former slave nation needed to learn what it was to be God’s People. . . to learn what life as a nation and as a Family would be.  He gave them the “Family Rules” – 10 of them . . . the guiding principles for how they would live with Him and each other as His Family.

Imagine your entire extended family traveling through a desert together.  Even for a day, much less 40 years!   The bickering, the whining,  the “pit stops” in the middle of nowhere,  an extremely limited food selection – SAME THING EVERY DAY!  No shade.  No map.  No Kwik Trip. “I’m HOT!”…”Yeah….Live with it!” No showers.  No air conditioning.  Every day the same. . . pick up the blanket, drag it along, find the sandals, find the kids, eat the manna, spare the water, check on Gramma,  drag the “stuff” you’d grabbed on your way out of Egypt.  Argue again about “why did you have to bring that!? You carry it then.”   “I’m sure we passed that same rock 3 months ago!”   “Who’s reading the map???”   “Is there a map?”   and “If Gladys tells me that same story one more time . . . I’m gonna smack her!”

All of this going on day in, day out.  Weeks…months….years….  And they were going around in a massive circle, basically.  Lots of grumbling about that, too !!!

But recently, re-reading that ancient story, I noticed a sentence I’d never caught before.

Deut. 8:2  “Remember that for 40 years the Lord your God led you on your journey in the desert . . (:4)Your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t swell these past 40 years.

(Note:  SWELL … not “smell.”)  

Those little details spoke volumes to me.  God’s kindness and attention to details that matter to us is so sweet . .so personal . .so practical. . . so loving.   I can definitely relate to the detail of swollen feet from schlepping through hot sands every day.  Trying to find a stable surface to put my hot, swollen feet and ankles up against to try to relieve the effects of gravity was a constant longing.   Without enough water to drink, it seemed a dream to use precious water on my feet. . . or clothes.

For many of us, the thought of wearing the same thing EVERY DAY sounds horrible.  But despite the circumstances, their clothes lasted.  Miraculously.  40 YEARS!   (I realize that for most of us, even if we’re crazy about a piece of clothing, we don’t get excited about it lasting for 40 years!)

God, Who was caring for a troublesome nation He dearly loved, had all the major, national needs covered for all those years.  Despite their complaints, rebellions, and failures, He still attended to the details of their everyday struggles.  It gives a glimpse into His love and intimacy toward His People…His Family.  He was “in the details.”

As we schlep along through our days, may we take note of all those kind details that He cares about in our daily lives, too.  And be grateful.

Night Song

“The Lord commands His Mercy during the day, 

and at night,  His Song is with me –

A Prayer to the God of my life.”

Psalm 42:8

When my grandchildren began coming into my life, my favorite time was putting them to sleep.  A simple, little lullabye had woven its way into my mind, nothing I’d heard before.  But it became “the lullabye” for my grandchildren. Each baby heard it, and most would almost immediately start nodding off when, cradled in my arms, I’d begin humming the song.  It was an experience I treasured with each of them.   Some of them still remember it.

God has His own Song that He sings over each of us.  It is especially sung at night,  when weariness has come,  and energy has gone. The pressures of our days, the pace of our lives, the burdens we carry, the fears we try to suppress, fill our days.  His Mercy is desperately needed, especially in the times in which we are currently living.  So much is filling our lives … our world … our thoughts.  It seems completely out of control.  Frightening.  Dreadful.

During these days, God’s Mercy is near, by His command.  In the midst of the “terrible,” He is near, holding back the “too much to survive.”  Though it may seem too much, His Mercy is near.  It’s for us to grab onto.  He knows.  He sees.  He is near.

But it’s in the night time . . . when the darkness comes, enveloping our minds and hearts . . . that He comes as a Song.  His Song.  A tender communication from God.  There’s something special about a song, more than words alone that come into our minds and are processed through our logical brains.

He sings His Song to us in the night.  Gently.  Softly.  I would call that a Lullabye.  Simple enough to sink into the heart of a child.  The words are not the most important piece.  It’s the sweet, gentleness of the melody that penetrates beyond words. My “babies” could not yet even understand the “words.” They  recognized my voice and the simple melody…..the familiar tune that seemed to have an almost immediate effect on their emotions.

God’s Song in the Night is meant to go to that deep place which words usually cannot touch . . . outside of our logic or knowledge.  It touches our very spirit.   Allowing His Song, His Voice to come into my heart, my spirit, quiets me.  As I listen to His Song, it becomes a prayer,  and my heart responds back to Him.

You are His child, held in His Arms, near His Heart.  May you listen to His Song,     bringing Peace and sweet Rest.

Racism

“There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.”   

Galatians 3:28

As I write this, overt public actions and words throughout my nation are exposing a whole new level of racism.  It’s nothing new, most unfortunately.

Racism was alive and powerfully active even in the times when Jesus walked this earth.  No one was immune to being labeled by others, and treated badly.  (Jesus was of the “race” that was often brutalized by the powerful ruling Romans.)  But the example Jesus lived out while here was clearly not one that accepted racism.  He blew through all those labels and walls, and consistently related to humanity with respect and dignity.  That is what comes out of Love.  That is what comes from the heart of God.

By the time Paul came on the scene, even those who claimed to be followers of Jesus were carrying attitudes and actions of racism.  Paul gives us a broad glimpse of what was going on.  His broad “catagories” of racism were:

  • Jews – Paul’s own race and religion
  • Greeks/Romans – The “occupiers” of Paul’s homeland, Israel. Their “gods” were many, . . . they even worshipped themselves (physical strength and beauty.)  Wealth, political positions, political power, and moving in the top circles of government were part of being “at the top” in that world.  Paul knew that world well…  he had personal experience as having been part of it in his years before encountering Jesus.
  • Slaves – Under the Greek and Roman occupations, most of Paul’s people (Israel) were divided into  two categories. . . either slaves or free people.  Slaves had no rights, nor freedoms.   They were often not even treated as humans.  Their only value was in doing whatever their masters / owners demanded.
  • Free – In occupied Israel, the Jews still lived under the control of Romans, and then Greeks.  Their “freedom” was extremely limited and conditional.
  • Male or female – If you were a Jewish man or woman living under Romans or Greeks, you were still not free.  Life was still precarious, as those in power controlled the Israelite’s homeland by the rule of the occupying nation.  Men had much more “position” in daily life . . . family life.  But women came “under” male authority across the board.

Paul had experienced a position of power personally, within the occupying political power of his time.  So, he knew what that life was like.  He knew what it was to be  a privileged authority with his own people.  He also knew what his core identity of being a man had afforded him.

But when Paul encountered Jesus, everything changed.  His thinking . . . his activities . . .  his priorities . . . his attitudes . . . his realities . . .his interactions. Paul’s heart and thinking   CHANGED.   The entire direction of his life changed.

That is what happens when Jesus comes into a human life.  The Change begins very soon, and will continue to deepen and broaden as we begin walking in a New Life with Jesus Christ.  And others will notice the change in the daily life.  The “change” will more and more resemble Jesus’ life example while on earth.

Paul’s checklist of the racism of his day is only different from our days in the specific nations listed.

If we, as people of God, followers of Jesus, hold any attitudes inconsistent with what Jesus lived out when He walked on  Earth, our own identity in Christ is in question.

May we view and treat “others” with the same foundational truth that Paul addresses and Christ lived out.

 

 

Clouds  (II)

“See, He comes with clouds.”

Rev. 1:7

I do not like to fly.  This is a very unfortunate reality, considering the Assignment that God planted deeply in my heart happens to be in North Africa and the Middle East.

One of the “jumping off points” to my final destination is Spain.  An early morning flight began a long day and night of flying.  On the drive to the airport, I was dreadfully aware of the early morning horizon, and the massive wall of storm clouds between my plane and my destination.  My stomach was churning with dread.  I knew there would be turbulence at the least.  Ugh!

I carried the knot in my stomach throughout the next few hours of airport lines, checks,

lines, more checks, etc.  All the while, I was rehearsing the “final” message I would send to my dear ones at home (internet access pending!)  [God…couldn’t You have given me an assignment somewhere that I could just drive?]

The plane rumbled down the runway, and my stomach knots grew.  My eyes were glued on the mountain of clouds into which we were quickly ascending.   White…white…white.. ….Bumps…harder bumps….rattles….thoughts of my funeral service.

And then, quiet.    Blue skies.  Billowing Pillows of white below us.   I was still alive.

As I looked down, I heard The Whisper . . . “I’ve got you, Jan.  (Was that a bit of a British accent I heard?)   You’re sitting in My Hand.  No matter what comes, I’ve got you.  Always.”

Whatever was happening on the earth below me…. be it thunder, lightning, rain, wind…. I was in the middle of peaceful blue skies.  The clouds were far below me, and He was carrying me to the desert and the Saharawi people He and I love so much.  Going through the clouds brings anxiety and fear to my vulnerable heart.  But sitting in His Hand, I am safe.  It’s the safest Place to be.

He often uses Clouds to give us a visual of Himself . . . His Presence. . . His Power.  But the safest Place to be is sitting smack-dab in the Palm of His Hand.

Clouds

“Look!  He comes with clouds.”

Rev. 1:7

 Remember looking up at the sky as a child and seeing different forms clouds create far above on their blue canvas? Especially the “thunderheads” we called them.  I loved watching them as a child, and loved having moments with my little boys…often chuckling at what they were “seeing.”   Now, it’s grandchildren looking up with me, and it’s still delightful  to hear what they see.

As with our moments of looking up at the sky to watch the clouds, we live with the reality of different “clouds” in our lives.  The  clouds  come between us and our blue sky . . . our happy moments when the shadows are gone and we can see the sunshine and clear blue stretching above our lives.

Often, throughout the Bible, God is depicted with a Cloud, because His Power and Radiance would be too much for a human to see and survive the experience.  Just as looking directly at the sun would be blinding to a human eye, our human eyes and minds could not handle direct contact with Him.

But when God’s Presence is with the clouds, it is life-changing.

I remember a day during a very painful season of my life.  I was about to leave a building to go to my car.  As I opened the door, I literally gasped at the sky.  The deep colors of pinks, purples, blues, greens, and many shades of each were breathtaking.  I had never seen anything like it.   I slowly walked to my car, looking up.  Even as I drove out of the parking lot, I could not stop watching the sky.  I do not remember ever seeing such a beautiful sunset.

I had hardly left the lot when I got one of those “Whispers” . . . “Go back…and just watch.”   I knew it was a God-Whisper in my mind.  I turned around and went back to my parking place, and just watched, facing the sunset.   As the gorgeous horizon of colors continued, I realized that the sky canvas was being painted above me, and continuing to spread all the way behind me, filling the entire sky to the horizon behind me.

I sat in the silence, watching the beauty unfolding all around me.

Then The Whisper . . .  “Keep watching . . . just stop, and watch.”

Then,  “Look at the colors . . . all the rainbow colors. . . . What is catching and displaying all those colors?”

I saw.   “The very bottom layers of the clouds are where the colors are.”

The Whisper,  “Haven’t you been saying you feel like you’re ‘under a cloud, and cannot get out from under it’?”

My silent “Yes” hung in my thoughts.

“Without the ‘clouds’ you would not be watching this sky of Beauty right now.   I do some of My very best Work using Clouds.  They’re the Canvas.”

 Tears began running down my cheeks.  I kept watching, and the colors continued stretching, catching and moving the beauty from horizon to horizon.

And the “clouds” that had seemed to only cast shadows and sadness in my life began to take on a new meaning in my mind and heart.  The glimpse of His Artistry, using the ‘clouds’ covering my life, began to reflect a whole new perspective and significance.

Clouds continue . . . but so does His beautiful Work.

 

 

 

 

 

POPULARITY?… NOT !

“MY SPEECH AND MY PREACHING

WAS NOT WITH ENTICING WORDS.”

1 CORINTHIANS 2:1-5

Paul would have never been asked to give seminars or conferences on “How to Grow a Church” or  “Who Put the ‘P’ in Popular” or  “Laugh Your Way to…. Anything.”   He was hardcore.  He had been busy hunting down Christians,  terrorizing and killing them.   Then came the day he was literally knocked off his horse by the One Whom he had been so viciously working to destroy the memory of. . . Jesus.  And everything changed.

Paul was the guy who made things happen.  He was brilliant.  He knew how to powerfully influence people (especially successful at hunting down and killing Christians.)  He had become a famous man in his country, having not only his own Jewish identity, but he had learned well the mentality, beliefs,  culture and even literature of both the Greeks and Romans who had gained power in his nation.  He understood how they thought and how they lived.  He had moved into places of power within the “New Order” of government that now controlled his nation.

At the height of his success, he encountered Jesus, as dramatically as he was living his life.  Literally blinded by “The Light” and knocked off of his horse, he was called by his birth name with a question that went straight to his heart: “Saul!  Saul!  Why do you persecute Me?”  From that moment, everything changed….even his very identity . . . now Paul.

The passion and brilliance with which he had made his mark on his nation . . . hunting and killing those who followed that “dangerous” Jesus, now turned completely around.  All of his knowledge of how his world “worked” was now put into operation to introduce and influence that world to come under the Lordship of Jesus in their lives.  The passion with which Paul had fought against Jesus now was turned to presenting Him, literally, all over the map.  It became what he lived and breathed.

His was not a popular message.  When Paul wasn’t traveling throughout his world of many nations, he was often in chains . . . imprisoned . . . alone.  He experienced a lot of forced isolation, in very tough situations.  Still the words flowed, often on paper.

If Paul was with us now, I wonder what he would think of us . . . Christ followers.  How we think, what we believe, what we talk about, how we live our lives as followers of Christ.   What ignites our passion?  How do we live out our faith in our current world…tasting an isolation we’ve not known before?  Our town?  Our neighborhood?  What consumes our thoughts?  How abandoned are we to speak about the One we have personally encountered?  The One we have come to know.  How do our lives reflect Him?  How uncomfortable are we willing to become for His Cause to be presented in our world?  What has it cost us?

We have this time of global “isolation” to deepen our own faith, for the purpose of telling others, as did Paul.

Let us not waste this season in our lives.  May we listen more closely, think more deeply, pray more often, and not hold back on introducing the Light of Jesus we’ve encountered. . .  to a very dark world.

 

 

Running for Your Life

“Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith,

we must get rid of everything that slows us down,

especially sin that distracts us.

We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up.”  

Hebrews 12:1

Who inspires you?  Who have you watched live out their own personal faith?  Perhaps it’s someone in your own family who has encountered serious struggles, but has never turned away from their own love and commitment to their faith.  Perhaps it’s a friend that you have watched walk through great loss or heartbreak, yet they have only tightened their grip on God’s Hand.   Maybe it’s someone to whom you are not even personally connected, watching from a distance as they have come through great tragedy. Yet they’ve held even more tightly to God, trusting Him with each step as they keep moving through experiences you could never imagine surviving.  They have been your examples of faith.

Sometimes the greatest losses and tragedy can be used to bring a new page in our life . . . things we had carried in our lives that had actually served to slow us down, or distract us from where our heart was longing to fly.  They may have been very good things in our lives . . . perhaps wonderful people we would have never wanted to be without.   But, for whatever reason, the void left in their absence has provided you a new opportunity to step into the Race of your own life in a deeper or more focused way.

The Race is your Life.  No one else is running your Race.  It’s between you and God alone.  Others may run beside you for a time, but they are not running your race.  They are running theirs.

How have you been running?   Are you just standing on your mark still trying to get your shoe tied?  Are you focusing on hearing that gun go off, on your mark, ready to go?  Or are you looking at the crowd to see who’s watching you?  Are you still adjusting your running suit?  Does it even fit?  Are you focusing on the finish line, or are you just checking out the runner beside you?  Comparing his/her physique to yours?   Do you even know where the finish line is?  Or are you just running because it’s what everyone else is doing?

Have you intentionally connected to runners who have been proven over time?  They have run their race with consistency and focus.  They know exactly where they are going, and have been running for a long time.  Who is in your life that you know has wisdom and proven experience that can help you improve your running….your technique….your focus….and your outcome?

Whether you intentionally joined the Race, or just wandered onto the field, you are in it.  It’s up to you how you run it.   Who are you looking at?  People who’ve proven they  know how to run their own race? Or do they merely have all the knowledge of how it should be done?

Focus on the Finish Line.  And run for your Life!

My Trinity in the Sky

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky displays what His Hands have made.”

Psalm 19:1

Today was a rough day.   Disappointments seemed to be having a party, and I was the honored guest.  I would have much rather not been invited!

I decided to just get out and take a drive, ending up in  my son’s driveway, facing a beautiful sunset.  For some reason, watching sunsets over the fields  surrounding his home are unusually lovely, and seem to last a long, long time.  The clouds far across the fields hold the light and colors for almost an hour, subtly changing as the light slowly moves beyond the horizon.

I simply watched for a long time.  In the past, I have tried to capture the sunsets there on my phone’s camera.  But the colors never look as beautiful on the photo’s as they do to my watching eyes.  Mesmerized by the changing beauty, my thoughts were also focused on some disappointments today, and my sadness of handling life on my own for the past few years.

After watching for a long time, I got out of my car and  looked at the surrounding skies.  While I had been focused on the beautiful, moving sunset, I hadn’t realized that behind me was a huge full moon, softened by a hazy glow.  Looking back to the colorful sunset, and then at the beautiful moon, the double display seemed to be suspended.  I sensed God’s Spirit’s whisper….

“I Am here.  I was with you in all those disappointments today.  You have been watching what I can do with everyday air…every day, whether you are watching or not.”

“And with a simple turn of your head, you see the beauty of the moon… reflecting the Sun’s light all night long.  In the darkness of Life, the blackness of night, I extend My Light.  It is how I bring the sun’s powerful light into a gentleness through which you can sleep.”

 Then, I heard an unexpected sound to the north, many miles away on my right.  Fireworks!   Some small country town was having their celebration a day early.  The loud, powerful explosions of earth-bound sparkles and colors had joined the celebration taking place in the heavens.  All three were happening at the same time.  I was surrounded!   I sensed God’s un-capturable and indescribable, lasting Presence in the sunset, creating beauty “out of thin air.”   Then the soft, gentle glow of the full moon gave it’s peaceful comfort in the darkness, where fears lurk and thoughts trouble.  In the fireworks was a happy celebration as He dances over us in Love.

I had been given a glimpse of His Heart for me:

Beauty in the fading light of day…

His gentle Peace  reflected even in the darkness of night,

and the Joy He gives as He dances over me.

He surrounds me with His Love.

Show and Tell!

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky displays what His Hands have made.

One day tells a story to the next.

One night shares knowledge with the next.”   

Psalm 19:1-2

Did you realize how much celestial communication is going on all around us . . . day and night?

We’ve got the heavens shouting about God,   the sky showing off His artistry,

Each day telling stories of its day to the next,

And each night passing  to the next night all that it knows!

And I’ve just been enjoying looking at the moon, stars, clouds and birds!  (with thoughts of  how it might affect my plans…)

Our world is full of people who wish they could know God….hear from Him,  understand Him.   We tend to point people to read, or study, or take in written and spoken words to gain knowledge and understanding of God.   All of that is good.  Helpful. Enlightening.

But God has also designed a way of communicating beyond spoken and written language.  It’s something that is  accessible to every human being on this globe.  If we only focus on words, we are missing a galaxy of communications that God set in place to help us know Him.

So the next time you are thinking about God, or wondering about what is happening on this earth, or are struggling with questions about life, don’t forget to step outside . . . day or night . . . and look up.  Listen to the Conversations going on in the Heavens.  It may not involve spoken or written words.

It may simply go straight to your heart.