Eye of the Storm

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

You preserve my life.”

Psalm 138:7

Sometimes in life, it seems that trouble is apparent on all fronts.  Whether self-created, others-created, or “just happens”….those are times when we can feel the most alone.  And sometimes that sense of being alone is the most intense and painful in the midst of those times of trouble.  It feels like you have somehow stepped into “the eye of the storm,” and it is overwhelming and scary.

In the early years of my “desert life,” I was in the market area when I noticed a sudden scrambling of women gathering their children and rushing toward their tents. The shopkeeper directed my attention to the horizon, where a massive, dark “mountain range” had appeared out of nowhere.  But the “mountains” were moving, rapidly, towards us.  I had never seen anything like it – a massive sandstorm was coming. Immediately, I rushed out the door to head back to the building in which I was staying.  Windows were shuttered, curtains drawn, water bottles readied, team members gathered, and prayers for protection began frantically being voiced.

I could not imagine the tents and shanties withstanding the power that would soon be upon us.  Darkness covered everything as the powerful “mountain-range” rolled over us, dropping sand, stones, debris and even scorpions it had picked up as it had rolled across the desert.

In the midst of that dim, dusty air, there appeared at the door, a woman.  She was carrying a gift which she quietly presented.  Saying nothing, she turned and disappeared into the storm.

Our room was silent. Who? Why? How?  We had no answers.  But her presence in that moment quieted our fears.  She had come in the midst of the storm.  A sense of calm and reassurance filled the dim, dusty room.

God brings His Comfort in most unexpected ways.  Our visitor’s courage to come to us “in the midst of the storm” helped our own faith to grow.  Her example reassured us that this was not an impossible situation.

We sensed that God had sent her, reassuring us  that He was indeed with us, “in the eye of the storm.”

 

A Final Journey

 “When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem,

 he took the twelve apostles aside

 and said to them privately,

“We’re going to Jerusalem.

There the Son of Man will be betrayed

to the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings.

They will condemn him to death and hand him over to foreigners.

They will make fun of him, whip him, and crucify him.

But on the third day

he will be brought back to life.”  

Matthew 20:17-19

It is nearly impossible for me to imagine this scene.  Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for the last time.  He had known for eternity that this earthly moment would come.  Now it was here.  And the weight of the world rested on His shoulders.

It boggles my mind to imagine how Jesus, in His Divine Perfection…having never experienced sin, was about to experience it for the whole world.

Yet, in the midst of purposefully moving toward Death itself, He pulled His dearest followers aside to clearly spell out what was ahead.  Like a mother who  is about to go through surgery in order to be well.  She pulls her child near and tries her best to prepare him, telling him the primary things she will have to experience, trying to lessen the fears. But the most important point is that, after the surgery, she will be well.  All the pain that had led up to this point would be finished. Life will change.

He spoke as if He was talking about someone else.  It was a description of what His chosen humanness would experience. . . the humanness He had chosen for the Love of the whole world, including us…now.

Each step…each moment on that final journey walking toward Jerusalem was His choice to give His life, not for His benefit, but for theirs.  The love behind each word He spoke to them was moving toward the ultimate act of love that would forever change them, and the future of the whole world.  He was specific.  The description was solid, without any pull for sympathy.  With no regrets.  With an intentionality that would change all of eternity.

Did they hear Him?  Reading of those last days of Jesus’  human experience, it seems they didn’t.  And He would have known that.  But He told them anyway. . . out of love.

 

 

Fisherman to Fisher of Men

“Because of this, make every effort to

add integrity to your faith;

and to integrity add knowledge;

to knowledge add self-control;

to self-control add endurance;

to endurance add godliness;

to godliness add Christian affection;

and to Christian affection add love.

If you have these qualities and they are increasing, it demonstrates that your knowledge about our Lord Jesus Christ is living and productive.”

2 Peter 1:5-8

Dear, honest Peter!   This earthy, hard-working fisherman was quite the character….before and during his time with Jesus.  Fishermen are pretty tough.  They understand fish.  They understand the feel in the air…the effect of the wind….and the sense of “they’re bitin’….let’s get out there!”   And they like old, ratty clothes and often smell bad.

When Jesus disrupted Peter’s life, he had a lot of struggles trying to contain his “fisherman ways” as he was learning to walk with Jesus.  And he learned – changed – SO much.  Here we read an amazing list of what Peter had been learning and experiencing.

I’d like to reverse the order of his words, in a way of looking at why one characteristic needs the other.  I have a feeling these were all coming from his own life experience as He learned to follow and walk with the Good Shepherd Jesus, and to see Jesus’ Divine Nature begin to reflect in his own old fisherman’s nature:

  • Faith needs Integrity: Integrity grounds and solidifies Faith…Integrity keeps Faith honest;
  • Integrity needs Knowledge: Knowledge adds factual substance to upright character;
  • Knowledge needs Self-Control: You can know a lot, but without self-control, it may not be lived out in the day-to-day of life.  Knowledge needs to translate into real life.
  • Self-Control needs Endurance: It’s easier to control one’s self on those “good days”, but it becomes harder in the long-haul;   (“I’ve given up chocolate” days)
  • Endurance needs Godliness: “I can…I can…I can…” can be all about ME, not about God, or the people in my life.
  • Godliness needs Christian Affection: Living “in the spiritual clouds”  or in “righteous ways” can lose touch with the human needs for affection and emotional connections;
  • Christian Affection needs Love: ..emotional connections… can go off in wrong directions rather quickly.  Love is not an emotion….it’s the choices and actions that put the “other” above my own needs and priority.  Love lays down one’s own life for the “other.”

Peter’s list is wonderful.  They’re all good things…greatly needed to be lived out in this world.

Three Questions

“…Jesus asked Simon Peter,  ‘Simon, son of John,

Do you love me more than the other disciples do?”

Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus told him, ‘Feed my lambs.’

Jesus asked him again, a second time,

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’

Peter answered him,

‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’

Jesus told him,

“Take care of my sheep.”

Jesus asked him a third time,

“Simon, son of John,

Do you love me?”

Peter felt sad because Jesus had asked him a third time,

“Do you love me?”

So Peter said to him,

‘Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.’

Jesus told him,

“Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17

Jesus was alive again, and for a third time was with His disciples.  He had made them breakfast.  They knew who He was.  Then, Jesus asked Peter, specifically,  an important question, three times.  Why 3 times?  Where was Peter’s head each time?  What is it about something repeated three times that makes a difference?

First time:    A question comes in the midst of “something else” going on….my mind is focused on something at hand…things bombarding my mind at the moment the “new” topic comes up.   Distracted.  Focused elsewhere.  Experiencing something else at that time.

Watch children, for example.   “Seth…come here and _________.”   Didn’t even hear me.  Fully absorbed in his present moment.  

Second time:   “Seth….you’re not listening to me.  Come here and ________.   RIght now!”       Now he’s aware of the conflict he’s feeling.   He wants to keep doing what he was already doing.  I’m pulling him / his thoughts away from something else that has captured them.  Awareness begins…a choice is being required.  Continue what he’s into or choose to change his focus….probably to something that will require some kind of change in his actions.   An internal struggle begins.  He’s going to have to make a choice. 

Third time:  “SETH!”   Seth has not yet given his focus to me.   I must go to him, put his little face in my hands and require him to look into my eyes. It’s the only way I can truly get his attention.  His eyeballs are still going all over the place…avoiding looking in my eyes. That requires a “connection”  with me.  He is going to have to make a choice….either continue his own way, or give in to obedience to me.

What happened with Peter?  He was a fisherman.  His “catch” didn’t require long-term, 24/7 care.  Fishermen don’t develop a relationship with the fish.  One hard whack on the head – done!   Peter knew how to do that.  He knew fish.

What Jesus was asking him to do would require his life.  24/7.  Challenging, tireless, physically demanding, time and life-sacrificing.  It would require being away from home and comfort for months at a time.  Lonely. And Peter didn’t know how to do it. Fishing he knew.  Feeding sheep he didn’t.  It required a completely different skill set and temperament.  It would require everything.  It would require his life.

What is happening in my own life, my own heart as Jesus is asking me that same question?

THE END POINT:    IF YOU LOVE ME, FEED  MY SHEEP.  It’s about “the others”….no matter how bedraggled, skittish, dirty, wayward, flea-ridden, head-butting, stubborn, needy, troublesome, sickly,  funny, odd, disobedient or loveable.

This is the whole goal of a good shepherd….find food so that they can eat, and make them feel safe enough to be able to eat.  Whether it means months away from home so that they can be in good pasture, or whether the good pasture has been prepared for them right at home…

Loving Him must play out as “feed My sheep.”  It will require everything.

 

Family Resemblance

Family Resemblence

 

“God had Christ, who was sinless,

take our sin

so that we might receive God’s approval

through him.”

2 Cor. 5:21

 

Have you ever met a child or close relative of someone who is/was dear to you, and instantly recognize your dear one in the face of the stranger before you?   When that has happened to me, there is an almost automatic affinity that I feel towards them.  Without even knowing this new person, I immediately am reminded of the person with whom I’d had a relationship, including the emotional joy or delight or sweet reminders of their relative.

It’s a frail human example of what may hint at God’s response when he looks at one of His earthly creations…..anyone who has chosen a personal relationship with Jesus, and God sees His Dearly Beloved’s face in ours. What a thought!  Does His Heart leap in joy…love…delight when He recognizes Jesus in us?

Though we have fallen so far short of who we were created to be, so frail in our earthly, human condition, God’s desire and love for us never changes.  Encountering Jesus, and choosing to walk with Him throughout our days, changes us . . . and changes the way God sees us.  No matter the mud we’ve been splattered with, the darkness we’ve lived with, the dust and rust that has settled on and in us, and the brokenness we carry, our sinless Jesus draws us to Himself.  He dusts us off, washes away the mud, gives us brand new clothes, transforming us inside and out.  And we begin to look like Him.

In the desert, in my early years of being among the people there, the few of us who would come were the first Jesus Followers they had met.   One day, a beautiful young woman who was sitting beside me noticed that the room had cleared of any other people.  It was just the two of us.  She leaned in, and in a hushed voice whispered, “Do you know Jesus?”  I wasn’t sure if this was some sort of “trap” or not, but I nodded in response.  Her eyes immediately lit up, and she whispered, “Tell me!”   What followed was a life-altering hour of telling her stories of Jesus, and of how He had become the most important relationship in my life. How did she know?  Family resemblance, I believe.  Over the years this has happened time and time again. If God has put His thumbprint on every soul He created, it should be no surprise that people can sense that Spirit in one of His Family, even if they don’t know what it is. 

Through the miraculous transformation that only Jesus can bring about in our lives, we begin to reflect Him in the way we live out our days on this earth. We need to hold tightly to His Hand, walk closely, listen carefully, talk with Him daily, and allow His transforming Presence to continue to change us to be more and more like Him.

May the Family resemblance become so evident that we can respond in delight when it is noted by another.  Especially by our Father.

Anything but Cowards

“God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit

but a spirit of

power,

love,

and good judgment.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Cowardly:   Fearful, unwilling to stand  against opposition, ‘runs from’ rather than ‘stands for.’

God does not want this to describe nor define the spirit He has given each of His children.

The Spirit He has given us, designed to live within us, is very different:

      Power,   (controlled strength, focused on a clear objective needing change)

   Love,    (patient, kind, not self-focused, …1 Corinthians 13 list.)

and  Good Judgement  (clear thinking, accurate perceptions and decisions).

What does that look like?   What is the interplay between those three words?  They’re each uniquely different, yet allgiven within the very spirit of each person who is one of His Children.

All three are powerful words, yet under control, and employed to the benefit of “the other person.”   It’s not about personality….isn’t tied to being a quiet or a loud person.  Introvert or extrovert.  It’s deeper within than that, and impossible to contrive or fake (at least not for very long!)

Those who think that a God-follower is weak, or a person who needs “a crutch,” don’t have any accurate understanding of the very Spirit He has placed within those who are His.  These are leadership qualities.  They describe people who make a difference in their circles of relationship.  ..people of influence.  These are those who have impact and are catalysts of change in their personal world and beyond.   And notice there is no distinction of male or female here.

When God’s Spirit is invited into someone’s life, impact and influence will be a direct outcome  if we cooperate with the Spirit He has given us…put inside of us.

Every tiny or grand corner of our world needs this.

So pull up those bootstraps and…. BE!

Let His Spirit BE within you!