This is love… 

...not that we loved God, 
but that he loved us and sent his Son 
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
                                                              1 John 4:10

Think of the one person in your life that you love the most.  That’s a hard one, I think, for most of us.  There may be several . . . but I’m guessing that the “one” at the top is someone who has been in your life for a long time.  You’ve  probably invested immeasurable time and heart into the “one” you cannot imagine being without.  You may feel you have given that one all you have to give.

God understands that in the deepest way.  It is so far beyond my imagination to think of the Love of God for His Son, and the Love of God for us . . . so much so that He would sacrifice His perfect, sinless, absolutely selfless Son because of His Love for us, His chosen sons and daughters, all of whom would break His Heart.  He knew we would ALL fail Him, disobey Him, walk away from Him, and replace Him in our own hearts with “the foolish things of this world.”

We don’t deserve His Love.  We cannot earn it.  We cannot measure up to qualify for His Love, no matter what we could ever do.  We cannot take any credit for how much He has loved us.  

God’s Love involves sacrifice . . . on His part.   His sacrifice is necessary for me to be one of His own, not mine.  His daughter.  His son.   His Beloved.  His chosen ones.

That is Love.  That is Love beyond our own human understanding, earning, worthiness, experience or making.  His Love for us cost HIM. . . the Father for His Children.

Anything we perceive it costs us to return that Love is not really worth mentioning.  

Besides, He knows, and that’s all that matters.

On the Heights of Zion

“They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
 they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord – 
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
 the young of the flocks and herds. 
They will be like a well-watered garden, 
and they will sorrow no more.”  
Jeremiah 31:12

It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to spend quite a lot of time in Israel.  Many favorite memories have been in the context of the Old City of Jerusalem, and on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. It is “ on the heights of Zion” that the present day Jerusalem sits.  Across from the heights of Zion, separated by a deep valley, is the Mount of Olives, a “well-watered garden” . . . an ancient olive grove.  Visitors flock to the garden, which is commemorated and may well be the place where Jesus spent time praying just before his arrest.  Tourists  make it a regular site to visit.

On one of my visits to the Mount of Olives, walking through the traditional garden of ancient olive trees, an old man approached me.  He was a stranger to me,  and said no word.  But he held a large ring of keys, and motioned for me to follow him.  With hesitation, and curiosity, I followed him across the narrow little road that wound from the top of the Mount of Olives, alongside the walls of the Garden of Gethsemane, and down to the base of the Kidron Valley, where tourists return to their  buses.  

The old man led me across the narrow, walled road to an old  wooden door that I had never seen opened.  He unlocked the door, and motioned for me to go inside.  It was a garden.  Far more humble than the tourist gardens, it had very old olive trees, simple  flower beds, and a worn path through the flowers.  He pointed to a small bench, invited me to sit down, and with a sparkle in his eye, walked back out through the old door, locking it behind him.  

I was doing exactly the things I would always caution our Israel trip groups NOT to do.  But there was a sweet peace in my heart, and I sat down on the bench and simply whispered a prayer that God had my full attention, and I was longing to hear Him speak to my heart whatever He wanted to tell me.  I was listening.  

Looking at the garden surrounding me, my gaze came to rest where it had begun. . . between my own two feet.  A simple little blue violet caught my eye, and I gently plucked it.  Having my focus, I noted the intricate details of this simple blossom. . . a little flower that would  easily go unnoticed  in the humble old garden.  As I held the fragile  blossom, God whispered.  He was there.  He had drawn me away from the crowd, reminding me through a  little flower of His  creation, that He was as aware of me as I was of the sweet  blossom  in my hand.  Simple words from His Heart to mine.  It was a precious Moment in time.  

I needed nothing more.

As His Presence, His simple Words, lingered in my mind . . .heart . . . soul, I looked at the little blossom in my hand, focusing on this Moment in Time.  A humble  garden.  A simple gardener.  A worn old door opened to remind me of His Presence . . . His Love . . . His Truth.  

The sound of the key in the old lock drew my Moment to a close.  The crowd was headed on its way to the next site.  

But the tiny blossom I held between my fingers, and the old gardener with the key would always be a treasured memory . . . a reminder of a sweet  Moment between my dearest Love  and me. 

The Racer

  Messages from Messengers of Light – Part 3                             

My third (and last!) son was a very dangerous little guy.  I felt that I was saving his life daily, even before he entered the “terrible two’s.”    One day I had even called my husband at work, crying.  “I think Seth’s going to die today!  I just caught him trying to back into the laundry chute holding my biggest butcher knife!”

I was certain that God must have several guardian angels posted on this child, 24/7!

One day, the 2-year-old had escaped outside, and I heard a blood-curdling scream on the driveway.  Running out the back door, I saw that he had somehow rolled a two-wheel bicycle forward, with his little finger now stuck between the bicycle chain and the gear.  I could not roll the wheel forward nor backward to release his flattened little finger.  Screaming for anyone in the neighborhood’s help, I picked up the bike (with him and his finger attached) to try to get anyone’s attention on our short, dead-end street.  NObody seemed to hear, and Seth, the bike, and I were now hidden behind our huge pine tree in the front yard.

Suddenly, from the dead-end end of our street came the most professional bicyclist racer I’d ever seen in person.  He appeared from “no-where”, and rode right to us…the screaming woman and the screaming 2-year-old behind the big tree.  Unzipping his small, professional bag of bicycle tools, he quickly disengaged the wheel gears and released the flattened little finger.  Both Seth and I were crying . . . he with screams of pain, and me imagining my baby losing his finger.  When I looked up to thank the professional racer, he had completely disappeared.  Gone. I didn’t see him go, had no way to thank him, and could not imagine how a professional racer could be riding from the dead-end of a little one-block-long street in Little Chute, Wisconsin.  

Seth’s daddy arrived and we rushed to the ER, with his finger saved through the quick actions of a mysterious Stranger, never seen before nor since.  

Divine interventions were frequently needed in those early years of Seth’s life. . . 

(my last child!) and I definitely had a sense of Angels nearby.  (I think they must have had a rotation schedule just for Seth!)  

But for me, that professional, world-class bicyclist will always be an Angel in my book  (whether divine or not!)!

Angel in the Crowd

Messages from Messengers of Light
Part 2

“For He Himself is our Peace, 
who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, 
the dividing wall of hostility…”
Ephesians 2:4

I was a new bride, beginning what would be a very adventurous life with my new husband.  He had come from a troubled past of Darkness, and was fully immersed in a new Life in the Kingdom of Light . . . the Kingdom of God.   His troubled past added to the passion he had for people who were drowning in Darkness, often hopelessly entangled in drugs.  

His passion to reach out to drug-addicted youth had led us into looking for a safe place away from the city streets where the entanglements of drugs and the devastating downward spirals of that life-style were so easily accessible.   We had found a property away from the city, but would need the approval of the small community where that property lay.  A town meeting had been announced, and the date set.

As we entered the small town hall, we could feel the hostility of a standing-room-only crowd of local folks who wanted nothing to do with drug addicts, alcoholics, and troubled youth.   (They had no idea that our worst-case heroin-addict had grown up in their small town.)   My husband was led up to the official front table where the town’s governing committee would call the meeting to order.  I had found an open chair in the back of the now standing-room-only gathering.  My heart was already pounding.

As the meeting commenced, anger began to surface and mount in the large crowd of local citizens.  Angry words began to be shouted and joined by a growing number of individuals until the packed room erupted into yelling, gavel-pounding, and people literally coming out of their seats in rage.  The meeting had to be called to an end, for fear of a violent riot on the brink.  Everyone was on their feet shouting.  

I was trying to keep my eyes on my husband, at whom most of the crowd was directing their words and anger.  Tears began to well up, and fears began to overwhelm me.  I wanted only to find my  Bill and run.  

As I stood at my seat in the back, craning to keep my eyes on my husband at the front of the room, I was desperately asking God to get us out…to rescue us.   Then my eyes were caught by a woman’s eyes.  A stranger.  She was at the very front of the room, and our eyes locked.  It was as if a path opened through the angry crowd between the woman and me.  She began to walk directly toward me.  I could not look away, even though the hostile mass was continuing to shout and raise their fists toward the town leaders and, especially, my husband in the front.  

But my eyes were locked on hers.  No word was spoken as she wrapped her arms  around me in that turbulent, frightening mob.  Peace began to sooth the fear inside. . . Peace beyond my own understanding.  She held me, without a word, for mere seconds.  Then she looked into my eyes, again, without a word.  I glanced away for just a moment.  And then she was gone.  I had not seen her leave. I could not see where she had gone. I had never seen the woman before.  Nor since.  But that moment  left me with a sense of Peace and assurance that God was with me…with us…despite the circumstances, despite the outcome, and regardless of all the fears of that night or the future to come.  God knew.  God was there. . . always.  

He is our Peace.

The Dance

Messages from Messengers of LightPart 1

“Didn’t our hearts burn within us . . .”

( a night in the desert)

The room was hot and completely dark.   It was the dead of night in the Sahara Desert refugee camps.  None of the vast desert sky’s starlights were able to penetrate into the stiflingly hot room where we slept.  Eyes open or eyes shut made no difference in the darkness.  My roommate and I had fallen asleep, following a busy day of meetings and activities surrounding the Faith Dialogue event in which we had participated.  Our team was exhausted, the mattresses uncomfortable, the hot desert air merciless,  and the darkness impenetrable.

Earlier that week, some of our team had talked a little about stories of Muslim people encountering a glowing figure appearing in their rooms in the night, wearing Eastern-style robes, and exuding a Light from His Being in a way that they recognized Him to be Jesus the Messiah.  As I drifted off to my much-needed sleep, I wondered what that experience must be like.

Several hours later, I abruptly awoke from my sleep, my eyes focused on the foot of my bed.  There before me stood a man that I would describe as a very handsome, Western-World, royal- looking “Prince.”   His entire being was Light.  He was wearing a white tuxedo, complete with satin vest, woven gold braiding and buttons, and white gloves.  He even held a white top hat in the crook of His arm, against His chest.  His beautiful eyes looked into mine.  He gently smiled, and extended his right hand as if to say, “Come . . . dance with Me.”   

In that jaw-dropping moment, I glanced toward my roommate, wondering if she was seeing what was happening on my side of the room!  But when I looked back, the Prince was gone.  

In the moment I had looked away,  my Prince had disappeared.  I wished I hadn’t taken my eyes off of him.  

But it was as if He wordlessly answered my questions of why so many in the muslim world are experiencing visitations in the night of a figure wearing Eastern-style robes, glowing white from an internal Source of Light, and a silent invitation to believe and follow Him.  Their world is one of flowing robes.  Messages are often shared without words. . . a look, a hand movement, communication with the eyes.  My Western world is one of fine suits and waltzes…(I wish.)

My shining Prince had invited me to join Him in the Holy Dance that He has prepared for the World.

Left Out

“Thomas, one of the twelve, 
Was not with them when Jesus came.”
John 20:24

Growing up in a Bible-believing family, I was well taught from earliest childhood the Bible stories that are most well-known.  “Doubting Thomas” was one of those stories, and the focus was normally to not doubt the stories of Jesus.  Thomas’ story was usually presented as an example of the need to believe all that the Bible teaches us, without the unfortunate doubts that Thomas expressed.

But revisiting that ancient story recently, I am seeing it in a different light, and connecting to it in a new way.   

The followers of Jesus had experienced their world completely blowing up, with the horrific crucifixion, His death and burial outside of Jerusalem during their high holiday of Passover.  Not only were they thrown into their deepest experience of trauma and grief, but they feared for their own lives, being the most closely-connected circle of followers of the Crucified Jesus.  Quietly gathering under the cover of evening’s darkness, there was fear, turmoil, incredible trauma and sadness shared among them.  

Within circles of grief, there are those who are more aware of practical needs than others.  They are the ones who will be preparing a meal . . . gathering extra plates and cushions, making coffee for everyone, running to the local market, and simply doing the dishes.  They do it quietly, those un-planned acts of kindness that are their way of loving well.  

When my husband died, in those first days I was staying at my son’s home with family gathered all around.  A knock at the door signaled the presence of one of my most loved and respected ministry leaders and role-models.   Stuart and Jill Briscoe.  Following a precious time of loving, sweet conversations, I had to briefly turn attention to something else.  When I returned to my friends, I found Stuart, having donned an apron, washing the huge pile of dishes that had accumulated in the large kitchen sink.  He was simply living out something of which he often spoke:  The Ministry of Presence.  I will never forget that picture in my mind.

I suspect that Thomas may have been practicing that attitude.  He seems to have been quietly serving the larger group . . . going out to handle practical needs while the others were gathering together to talk . . . in shock, grief, and a need to simply “be together.”  So Thomas had missed the experience of the rest of his friends, that of Jesus’ visitation to their “hiding place.”    

But Jesus did come, and He gave that Moment to Thomas.  Very personally.  Intimately.  Without criticism or rebuke.  Whatever Thomas’ reason for being out of the gathering place, we can only imagine.  But Jesus gave him a very personal Moment that probably set the course for the rest of Thomas’ life. Jesus invited Thomas to physically touch the crucifixion wounds.  No rebuke. There was no hint of shame for having missed the moment that “everybody else” experienced. Jesus gave him that personal Moment…with an intimacy not noted with any of the others.  And Thomas spent the rest of his life spreading the Good News he had experienced to his world. . . all the way to us today.

Our Savior sees our sorrows and loss.  He knows our hearts.  And He tenderly gives us Moments with Him that will linger on forever.  

Fitting In (with the Faith crowd)

“ . . . Yet God was not pleased with most of them, so their dead bodies were scattered over the desert.”
1 Corinthians 10:5

A rather unsettling verse, don’t you  think?   The “surprise ending” of that verse made me want to go back and read what came just before it.

Here’s what directly preceded this jolting verse written by Paul:

  • “They were united with Moses by baptism in the Cloud and in the sea.  
  • All of them ate the same spiritual food 
  • and all of them drank the same spiritual drink.  
  • They drank from the spiritual Rock that went with them, and that Rock was Christ.  
  • Yet God was not pleased with most of them, so their dead bodies were scattered over the desert.”   (personal comment:  What a zinger ending line!!! Hadn’t seen that coming!))

The wandering million of God’s people were finally free of Egypt’s slavery.  They were headed to their Promised Land, under the leadership of God’s Man, Moses.  They were all walking the same path. . . eating the same food . . . trudging through the same hot sand  . . . adhering to the same rules, customs and Laws, and hearing the same messages that Moses relayed to them from God Himself.  

By all appearances, they were all part of the same “group” . . . the same “family of God.”

They followed the same rules, walking the same route, under the same leadership.  They even all wore the same clothes (unfortunately for most of the women, I would imagine!)  And this went on for 40 years!!

As we know, they did eventually come to their Promised Land and became a Nation / a People of God Himself.  

But their story contains all of the raw realities of Sin’s influence . . . even in God’s own, beloved people. Even if you’re clearly part of the group.  They had left Egypt, but godless Egypt had not left their minds and hearts.  You may be blended in well with the People of God, but God isn’t so concerned with how well you are doing in the crowd.  He is looking at your mind and heart.  

Hospitality to Strangers

“So He went in to stay with them.  When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them.
Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.”
Luke 24:29-31

Middle Eastern / Bedouin hospitality is ancient and amazing.  Not only do I have dear memories of experiencing it in the Saharawi camps in the Sahara Desert, but I have also experienced in the culture of Israel.  

Luke’s account of Jesus’ story of “the hospitality of strangers” as He traveled to Galilee after His crucifixion and resurrection is a clear picture of Bedouin hospitality.  He was on a main traveling road, (Emmaus Road) leaving Jerusalem and heading to His home region of the Galilee.  He began walking along with two strangers, who were talking about the things they had learned of Jesus’ crucifixion and reported resurrection.  Not divulging who He was, Jesus joined their conversation in such a way that the two travelers invited Him to join them for a meal at their home.  Jesus accepted, and that evening they realized Who He really was.

Bedouin hospitality still exists.  I have experienced it throughout the 20+ years of spending time with the Saharawi people in the desert.  I have never experienced a time when I was not warmly invited into a refugee home/tent, and treated like royalty.  No questions asked.  With absolute Grace, there was a hidden scramble going on . . . children being sent to neighboring tents to find plates, silverware, glasses, cups, and food items.  All for the strangers.  What was presented to us (after LOTS of rounds of tea), was a lovely, artistic display of food, love, and amazing hospitality.  It was years before I learned the truth of how much rushing and work was going on behind the scenes in order to treat their “strangers / guests” as was their culture.

Jesus enjoyed a large meal (with lots of men to feed on short notice!) in the home of Cleopas, speaking to all the men who gathered around the table to meet and hear this Guest.  His Guest was speaking Words of Life and Truth.  Life-changing Truth.

How are you doing in the area of welcoming and inviting Jesus “in” to your daily activity (like a walk along your road), and into your home?  Is He a Present Guest at your table?  Is He welcome when it’s “just the family”. . . or when it’s an evening with friends?  Does He have anything to say?  Are you poised to listen?

Cleopas was a man of influence and the head of his family.  He made the invitation for Jesus to come into his personal world.  And he included others as well.  

Jesus came.

Being His Hands and Feet

“The Messiah also suffered for you, 
leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 
 [as it is written in Isaiah 53:7]:  

“Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;” 
and while being reviled, He did not revile in return;  
while suffering He uttered no threats, 
but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”   
1 Peter 2:21-23

I grew up hearing lots of sermons and Bible lessons about “being Jesus’ Hands and Feet” in this world.  Lots of examples of how to serve our families . . . neighbors . . . world, using our energy in Godly, practical ways.  The world can glimpse and taste the heart of Jesus through our lives.

But recently I have been taking a closer look at the stories of Jesus as He faced His own looming physical experiences of His human hands and feet  in going to the cross.  

It’s one thing to consider His hands and feet as He moved about on this earth:  Walking through the land of Israel . . . stony dirt roads that he traveled, visiting fishing villages around the Galilee, hostile towns in Samaria, or the annual trips from Nazareth to Jerusalem for festivals with his friends and family.  Stories of desert travel, navigating through hilly terrain along rocky, dusty paths, Jesus passed through villages, both friendly and not. He moved through the Land of Israel teaching about Life…Love…and His Father’s love and glory.  Seashores, mountains, desert, and unpaved, stony roads are the setting for so many stories of Jesus’ Words and miracles as well.  

Those stories inspire us to step out of our familiar routines and make time to interact with people in practical, caring ways.  Like Jesus did.

But I had never given much attention to the “hands and feet” accounts of what Jesus experienced  in the hours leading up to His death on the cross.   At least, not in the implications of how I may be Called upon to use my own hands and feet in ways that would physically hurt for the sake of others.   That’s a whole different level of “being His Hands and Feet” to my world.

Being inconvenienced to serve others is one thing.  But to go to the point of real physical discomfort or pain for the sake of others is not what is common in our practical experiences of following Jesus.  What He endured through His crucifixion, both before and during the Cross, is far beyond what we can imagine.  What His Hands and Feet went through was excruciating.  And beyond that, there was the lashing of His back, the huge thorns in His head, the psychological torment, and more.  The emotional torment of experiencing God’s “abandonment” throughout the whole physical torture would have been incredibly brutal in itself.  Extreme public humiliation was woven throughout His trauma.

It was all on our behalf.

The next time you sing a worship song about “being His Hands and Feet,” don’t take it lightly.  For the sake of our lost world, it may cost far more than simply “giving” and “going.”  

Are we willing to bear that?

In the Shadow

“Whoever lives under the shelter of the Most High

 will remain in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

Do you ever struggle with being “in the shadow” of someone else?  Do you wish that you were in higher demand?   Do you see others getting credit or honor, and wish you could have a little of that?   Do you long to be in the spotlight….just once!?

I’d be surprised if everyone has not had those moments of wishing to be more “seen”…more noticed for the value of your life . . . that pat on the back, that word of appreciation, that moment of someone speaking an encouraging word, gratitude, or thanks for something they noted in your life.  You may not like being in the shadow.

The writer of this Psalm presents a different side to the Shadow-life.  

He sees living “under the shelter”  and remaining  “in the shadow” as something to be desired.  Something to hold onto for a long time . . . “living” in that reality.  

It’s about being near to God . . . ”the Most High. . . . the Almighty” in an on-going way.  It’s not simply a “moment” in life.  It’s “living and remaining”  in that reality every day.

Under the Shelter…”   A safe place.  A place where you feel protected from whatever harmful situation is near.  A shelter is not a “shelter” unless it’s a safe place of protection from a storm, or a bomb, or a violent attacker, or any other dangerous threat that brings fear to the heart and soul of a person.  God – “the Most High” – offers to be that Shelter for each of us.  He offers Himself as our safe place from far more than the physical dangers and fears that threaten our lives.  His “shelter” encompases our very souls . . . our hearts . . . our minds. . . pushing back all of the dangers and evils that lurk with the intent to destroy us.  No human or physical “shelter” can provide that kind of escape and safety,  His is not a physical structure.  He offers Himself as our ultimate Shelter.

“In the Shadow. . . “    To be “in the shadow” of anything involves a choice.  Shadows move, according to the movement of the Light that illuminates the object,  creating the shadow beyond.  The Shadow creates a place of relief from the heat of the sun, or the brightness of the Light.  In the desert camps, finding “shade”, the Shadow breaks the intensity of the heat of the sun.  The Shadow provides immediate relief, and becomes a place where you want to stay for a long time.  The object that stands between you and the intense Light becomes a relief . . . a refuge from the burning sun.

God IS the Shelter Who provides the Shadow for our lives.  And when He moves, I want to move with Him.