IN THE NIGHT

“All that night the Lord drove the sea back.”  

Exodus 14:21

I don’t usually think of “the night” as my favorite time of day.  I love the “sleep” part (though that is not often successfully accomplished.)  It’s often the time when worries and fears surface in the quiet darkness.

But God created night time just as intentionally as day time.  Since He never sleeps,  He’s got it covered.

I try to imagine the nation of not-so-recently freed slaves – God’s People who had spent 400 years as slaves to Egypt.  They were only days away from that dark period in their history  when they came face to face with the Red Sea.  Everybody was there….old, young, babies, sick people, animals, and all the stuff they could grab and carry in their rushed departure.

Pharoah’s highly-tuned, VERY powerful army was at their back, headed full-bore to wipe them out on the shores of the sea.

Then, God said (through Moses), “Go!”  As one brave man took his first steps into the water, the Sea moved to the side, until every last Hebrew slave had reached the other shore.  It took all night.  But God was there, actively providing a safe road along the bottom of the Red Sea.  When the last foot stepped onto the shore, God let go, perfectly timed to take out every enemy soldier, horse and chariot, soon buried on the bottom.

God was there, on active Guard duty, until His people safely stepped onto their new Path into the future.  All night.  No one was checking out the strength of that Wall of Water, nor calculating safety factors, nor referencing any “wall-building” blueprints, nor setting up “fleeing plans.”   God, via Moses, said “GO!”  And He did the rest.

God has a loooooong His-story of working in the night.  The darkness of night is often where the Enemy of our Souls tends to work overtime.  He likes darkness.  It’s his favorite domain.

But God is there, quietly holding back the darkness.

Two Mountain Tops. . .  and a Hill In-Between

 

Mountain tops . . .with their breath-taking views,  the freshest of air,  and the quiet of being far above the noise of our daily world.  Without the distractions of our busy homes and surroundings, our senses are sharpened.  We see things that are overlooked in normal life.  The beauty silences us, because it is so far beyond anything Man could create.  God seems so near.   It’s tough, and scary, making the journey to the mountain top, but the perspective from the top can be life-changing.

Now, getting to the top and back down were the most scary parts for me,  especially in a car with my husband driving and 3 young boys who thought hairpin curves were best experienced at increased speeds.  Having been in the car with such a group changed my perspective to one of closely studying the floor between my two feet, screeching, “We’re gonna die!  Slow down!  We’re gonna die!”  This only added to the delight of the boys.  All four of them.

But, back to the Mountain Top, there are two stories from Jesus’ time on earth about when He climbed to two different mountain tops.  The first was witnessed by three of His closest followers (Peter, James, John).  They saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah…  As if that was not enough of a shock, a brilliant Cloud came down, and a Voice like none other came from the Cloud, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I Am well pleased:  Listen to Him.”  Needless to say, the three friends were knocked right down to their faces.   They were terrified!  The next moment, Jesus was there with His reassuring Touch, telling them to not be afraid, and to get up.  Their eye-witness story has carried through the ages.  [Note: That mountain is believed to be the mountain in Israel whose snow melts down to fill the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee…the life-sustaining waters for the Land of Israel…significantly symbolic.]

Fast forward three years, and Jesus was again with His same three friends, as well as a far larger crowd of friends.  They had all been through so very much together….Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and many days of being with Him, back from the grave and fully alive.  This time, before their very eyes, they watched Jesus rise right up from the mountain top and disappear into the Cloud, reassuring them that He would return.  On the second Mountain-top, Jesus gave the world a glimpse of Who He truly is, and where He truly belongs.  He promised to be representing us, in all of our flawed humanity, to His Father.

But in-between those two mountain-top experiences was another history-altering moment.  The “mountain” was much smaller, referred to as Mount Calvary.  Before that mountain-top experience, Jesus had walked through His earthly world teaching and living out what God is like, and giving us a picture of the “perfect human life.”  If He had gone back to Heaven from that first mountain-top, we would have been left with the story of “perfect man.”  But He came back down that transfiguring mountain for our sake.

It was that small mountain in-between where the Purposes of all that was from the beginning, and all that will be for the future, was forever altered.  On that small mountain, Jesus opened a Door,  the Door that opens into an eternity in Heaven, where He waits for us.

Heartburn

“Did not our hearts burn within us?”

Luke 24:32

Have you ever had an experience that unexpectedly ignited something deep inside of you?  In your core?  Seemingly in your very heart?   An experience like that is difficult to put to words.  It is beyond a logical explanation.  You just KNOW that it is very real.  It has by-passed your logic, even your imagination, but you know that  Truth has come to the core of your being.  It is God-style heart-burn.

We catch such a moment taking place between some men walking together down a road heading away from Jerusalem.  They had been through their worst nightmare and needed to get away.  They’d been close followers of Jesus, Who now lay in a tomb.  Dead.  As were the beliefs and dreams they had shared together with Him for the past three years.  It was over.

Then, in the midst of their conversation replaying what they had gone through together, Jesus joined them on the road.  The friends did not recognize Him.  They were discussing how they had gotten word that very morning that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Some of their friends were insisting that they had seen, even talked to Him….ALIVE.

Jesus joined the friends, walking…listening to their conversation.  He was even invited to share a meal with them.  Not until later, when this Stranger repeated something He had done with them the last time they had been together (the night before He died) that they began to realize Who was breaking the bread and serving them.  Then He was gone.   And they were left with “burning hearts.”  What their minds had failed to grasp, their hearts did.

I have come to believe that God’s Spirit often has to by-pass our human logic and go directly to our hearts when He draws us to Himself.  Often, His “drawing” does not make human sense.  Who He draws…how He draws…even “why” He draws is often notbased on human logic.  It might even defy logic at first, tho’ over time it can make perfect sense.

From my experience, God’s orchestration of His Calling my heart to the desert people who now reside deeply in my heart, made NO human sense.  I just knew that it was something He was putting in my heart….it certainly wasn’t of my own thinking.  Yet, I can now look back and see how my life, my story, my temperament, are clearly suited to the desert nation to which He has tied my heart.

He gave me “heart-burn” for them.    And I am deeply grateful.

 

 

Adjusting the Focus

“Baruch, this is what the Lord says:

‘I will destroy this nation that I built.

I will uproot what I planted.

Are you seeking great things for yourself?

Don’t do it!

But don’t be discouraged.

I will bring great disaster upon all these people,

But I will protect you wherever you go.

I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Jeremiah 45:4-5

God has a looong history of orchestrating attitude adjustments to the inhabitants of this old Earth.  He especially seems to focus on the people who have chosen to follow Him through Life.   In this present moment, the whole world is dealing with a “plague” like most have never personally experienced.  Unexpected, life-altering, scary, and destructive.  Our own mortality is in our faces.

But within this global “Disruption” have come changes of attitudes, changes of perspective, and a lot more time to “be.”   It’s been beyond our human control to end it.  Most have experienced a realization that we cannot just “fix” this.

Earth has a long history of world-changing events…and often these have been part of an awakening to God Himself.

In the prophet Jeremiah’s time, his world was also experiencing a serious “shaking.”  There was fear, a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, …all that had been was changing.

God’s perspective is far different from our human perspective.  He does not focus on all the “stuff” of life on this planet.  He is focused on hearts…on values…on how we value Him and the place we give Him in our daily lives.

God spoke to a man named Baruch, whose world was on the brink of devastation.

Baruch had been writing down the things the old Prophet Jeremiah spoke…which was a lot!  He was not very happy about it, either…nor of the compensation for all his work.  (Prophets tend to be “loner’s” and financially living on the kindness of others. And they talk a lot, so we can imagine what his “secretary” lived with.)

The people had taken their world into their own hands, disregarding the God who had made them a nation and had cared for them as His Own.  Prophet Jeremiah likely had a LOT to say about all of that.

Baruch (which means “Blessed”, but AKA “The Secretary”) had God’s attention.  We are given a glimpse into God’s warning to him about one thing:  “Do not seek great things for yourself.”

We, as the people of God, are blessed…if for no other reason than His choosing us to be His Holy Nation…His Family.  The greatest risk to that relationship is turning our focus on “me…myself…and I.” 

In the desert refugee camps, a moment that is stamped on my mind was when I saw a scruffy little girl receive a gift from one of our group.  She quickly opened it and pulled out a doll.  Her shriek of  joy quickly turned into a dash out of the tent, shouting,  “Look what WE got!   Look what WE got!”  as she waved the doll over her head.  Her little friends came from all directions, joyfully gathered around the new doll.  There was no “I…my….mine” in the mix.  The gift was for all of them, in that little girl’s mind. 

The best place for us to be is focusing on God, rather than on ourselves.  The focus of “me” and “mine” can dissolve in a moment.  But keeping our focus centered on God is the safest place to be.

 

 

 

Where’s MY  tent?

“He moved on to the hills east of Bethel,

and he put up his tent

—with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.

He also built an altar to the Lord there and worshiped the Lord.”     

Genesis 12:8

 Abraham was on the move.  That’s just part of living in a tent!  There’s a whole culture tied to tent-living:  Moving often, a sense of “temporary” to life, a sense of vulnerability to elements of nature as well as to the people who may cross your path.  It’s the typical housing of shepherds, herdsmen, and people who enjoy “camping” in the heart of nature.

But as Abraham journeyed into the new world of following God, he had to continually make adjustments….he was perpetually in a learning mode.

This time, he was settling into a region where he’d not been before,  among a people and culture that was not his own.

The details of places named in Bible stories are significant, though we in 2020 rarely catch the significance of those details.  Yet the details are there for a reason:

Bethel:  One side of where Abraham set up his tent-home.  Bet= house  El= of God

Ai:    On the other side of him, representing things of the world, but apart from God

Abraham set up his tent between the two places.  Then he built an altar, where he would worship the One God he followed.  He would make sacrifices on that altar as a regular act of worship.

Isn’t it similar to the place in this world where we live?   We live out our ‘tent’ lives between the God Who has come to us and drawn us to Himself, but always in sight of this earthly world which demands that our attention be drawn away from God.  Both are in our sights, and we daily have to determine which we will be drawn to….belong to.  Our ‘tent’ is to be held loosely…tents are not permanent.

Altars are built of rocks.  They are meant to last.  They’re not disposable nor dispensable.  Altars stand as reminders of Who we worship…Whose we are.  And long after we’re gone, the altar of our worship stands, a testament of the One Who called us and made us His Own in this world.

So….. where is your tent?

Darkness

“As the sun was just about to set,

a deep sleep

-a dreadful, deep darkness-

came over Abram.”

Genesis 15:12

Abram had just experienced an amazing time with God.  He had promised Abram some life-changing events that were in his future….glimpses of what He had planned for him.  God had sealed those promises with a private ceremony….just between Himself and Abram.   Then, midstream, Abram experiences “a dreadful, deep darkness.”

Have you ever had those bright, shining moments….only to be followed by the opposite extreme?   I know that sometimes I’ve felt like a ping-pong ball….being batted back and forth between two opposing circumstances.  The “shining moment” becomes a “dark cloud” that has come out of no-where.

Sometimes, the “LIGHT” of God surrounds us in moments that are almost blinding.  Then the “shadow” hits.  The contrast is so confusing!  Frustrating!

What if . . . God’s Hand is creating the shadow.  What happens in the shadow?  On this earth, when the sun hits us full-force, it becomes too much to bear.  We look for shade.  We head toward a shelter that will give us some relief from the blazing light and heat of the powerful sun.  God describes Himself as Light, and speaks of the “shadow of His Wings.”

When God’s own Hand casts a shadow on our lives, there is always a purpose.  It is not cruelty, or just  playing with our minds and hearts.  That is not Who He is.

When I am in the desert, the sun can be absolutely unbearable.  Finding a shadow is crucial, and remaining in that shadow is the best place to be.  With the blazing heat of the sun so near, I need . . . want to remain in the shadow.  Further physical activity must pause.  Time, slowly ticking moment by moment,  becomes the perfect setting to think….to listen.   

Abram was learning this. He was learning how to listen to God.  God continued to speak to Abram even tho’ he was in a darkness that God had allowed.  His Promises continued.  His plans continued to unfold, but in a way that He had Abram’s full attention.

When the Shadow comes, don’t run… don’t scramble to create your own light.  Be still. Wait.   Listen.   God is in the Shadow with you.                                   [read all of Genesis 15]

Things That Tick God Off

[The Lord Invites Israel to Turn Away from Sin ]

 “Wash yourselves!

Become clean!

 Get your evil deeds out of My sight.

Stop doing evil.

 Learn to do good.

Seek justice.

Arrest oppressors.

Defend orphans.

 Plead the case of widows.”  

Is 1:16-17

Wow!!  Although the note before these verses calls this an invitation, I read it as a strong challenge!  I think the Writer…the Lord (via Isaiah)…sounds pretty ticked!   There is strong emotion in his words.

He begins with the challenging list that speaks to the reader’s own personal condition…sin!  It’s a short list of heart issues…attitudes….things hidden in our own hearts, but blatently clear to God.  He hates sin.  It ruins us, ruins our relationship with Him, and wreaks havoc on the  people in our lives.

It’s as if God is taking our faces in His Hands….”Look at Me!  Listen!!”  These commands have to do with our own choices. . . things we need to do ourselves.  I hear passion and emotion in His heart towards this pointed list.

Then, there comes a short list of behaviors that should be outcomes of the work we need to do in our own hearts and attitudes.  They have been placed in a catagory that focuses on “others.”

Seek Justice:

  • Arrest oppressors
  • Defend Orphans
  • Plead the case of widows

Justice involves setting the “wrong”….right.   The three examples listed are such a common part of life in our world.  These are not descriptions of people in a certain part of a city, or some other country……they’re often right in our own neighborhoods and circles of relationship.

Arrest oppressors:   Oppression involves using power to push others down.  Vulernable people are easy to see.  And it’s a fair assumption that those in a position of greater strength or power in the life of “the weaker” have used that strength or power to push someone else down….or out.  Whether it’s a matter of oppressing someone’s  life circumstances, or their emotional vulnerability,  their financial poverty, physical or mental limitations, or tough circumstances of life that have put them in a place of weakness, the people who take advantage of that become “oppressors.”  The implication in this verse is that there may have even been illegal actions that have pushed those who are already “down” even further down.  Arresting means putting a stop to what is going on….perhaps even legally.   God’s heart is always soft towards those in vulnerable, weakened, broken conditions.  His Heart is for the humble….humbled.  Shouldn’t ours be as well?

 Defend orphans:  We do not have “orphanages” in our American world, but we still have orphans.  Broken families are everywhere.  Children abandoned by a parent, or parents, are often put into a legal system that allows for moving children from home to home.  Millions of children have lived with no sense of stability, safety, emotional attachment or commitment from either their birth parents nor the temporary care of others who may or may not have a love or commitment to the child in their care.   God’s Word often specifies His Heart for orphans….He

cares for them.  He sees them, and looks to us to get involved in such a way that we add to their sense of being safein this dangerous world.  The Bible often refers to God as “FATHER”

because we ALL need a father.

Plead the case of widows:   Widows in ancient times stood a good chance of losing everything if their husband died.  They became terribly vulnerable.  Having lost a husband, they also lost their sense of safety…protection…having that husband who had stood between them and the things of this world that would hurt them.  They had no voice.  They were “easy targets” for those who would use them for their own benefit.  Without the one who had been their protector, the widow now takes the brunt of what this world throws at women who have lost so much, on so many levels.  No matter how strong the widow, when the “two” becomes “one”, life is forever changed.  It is often still true today.  A wife who loses her husband experiences repercussions that continue for the rest of her life.

For God to name these two specific catagories of human reality through Isaiah, matters.  His Words are strong.  This isn’t a suggestion.  His challenge began with heart issues, but ended with practical action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHILDLIKE

“Ask and you will receive.

Search and you will find.

Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Everyone who asks will receive.

The one who searches will find,

And for the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Mtt.7:7-8

It helped me to rearrange the order of these six lines a little, connecting the lines that applied to each other….

“Ask and you will receive.

(Everyone who asks will receive.)

Search, and you will find.

(The one who searches will find,)

Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

(and for the one who knocks, the door will be opened.)

Mtt.7:7-8

I love the way that each instruction that Jesus gave to us (bold lines above), was followed with the assurance of what God’s response would be.  The statement following each instruction puts more strength behind the words, and more clarity of what God will do in response to our ask…..our search….our knock.

What if I don’t ask?    What if I don’t search?   What if I never knock on that door?   God’s clear responses listed here are firm statements.  There is such reassurance concerning His reaction to our various human movements toward Him.  It’s childlike….simple….human….everyday kind of engagement with God.

I remember when I was about 3 years old, my mom was lying on the couch holding her hand over her ear.  She was in a lot of pain, and I had not seen her like that before.  I went close to her and asked why she was crying.  She said, “Oh!  Mommy’s ear hurts so much! . . . Would you pray for it?”    Without hesitation, I put my little hand on her ear and said, “Jesus, please make Mama’s ear stop hurting.”   I don’t think I even said, “Amen.”   Within a minute, my mom said, with dismay, “Honey!!  The pain is all gone!   It’s gone!”

I think we make our interactions with God far more complicated than necessary.  The Bible talks about childlike faith.  Children interact with Him with such simplicity….a purity of belief.  They have not yet learned to view life with mistrust.

May we learn from them…and give the children in our lives no reason to learn to distrust……

 

Learning to Initiate

“Ask, and you will receive.

Search, and you will find.

Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

 Everyone who asks will receive.

The one who searches will find,

and for the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”    

Matt. 7:7-8

I am not an initiator.  Unfortunately, I have lived my life with an underlying sense of not wanting to “be a bother.”   I know I have missed out on a lot of life because of that underlying belief.

But this verse is one that gives me courage.  It challenges any thoughts of “being a bother” to God.  He challenges me….us…..to interact with Him with determination….by choice….by His Invitation.   I hear that Invitation in these Words.  ASK.  SEARCH.  KNOCK.   There’s no shadow of asking us to step into the background from Him.  No sense that He sees us as “a bother.”

I remember as a little girl, seeing things I would have liked, but my own insecurities held me back from asking and receiving.  I missed out on a lot because of that underlying fear of “bothering” anybody.

In the desert (my second family), it is not culturally common for people to “ask”….even tho’ as refugees, they have great needs.  It’s almost like a guessing game to catch the very tiny hints of the needs they keep hidden from guests and friends.  Yet, I think that most friends and guests would be very happy to be asked to step into their need.  So often those needs are hidden, and the opportunity to help is lost.

In this passage, God (Who knows EVERYTHING already) still encourages us to ASK….SEARCH…..KNOCK.  There’s something in our own hearts that causes us to hold back in our approach to the God Who created and loves us.  HE knows exactly what “that” is, and wants us to get past it.  Some wrong perception or belief about God Himself makes us hesitate or refuse to directly approach and interact with Him in honesty and confidence in His Love for us.

What is “that thing” in your heart?

God invites you to step past it, come to Him,

and ask, . . . search . . . and knock.    

He is patiently waiting.

Watching the Hand

“Behold,

As the eyes of servants look unto

The hand of their masters,

So our eyes wait upon

The Lord our God.”

Ps .123:2

Have you ever been in a room with Royalty?   Or a high-level leader?  A respected person with power?   Familiar imagery  is that of the “Leader” or “Master” surrounded by other people who are there just to provide whatever may be requested by the most important one in the room.

I had never caught this detail before:  “…eyes…look to the hand of their master.”  It may be a slight movement that activates the response of the watching servant.  If the servant is not paying attention to his master’s hand, he loses trust of his master.  He/she is more preoccupied with other things going on in the room, or in his own mind.  The initial message is non-verbal…just a move of the hand.  It is wordless communication which has been learned through experience.

I imagine it requires great focus for a servant to keep his eyes on the hand of his Master.  He needs to be in the room.  He/she needs to block out all the distractions going on around him/her, though significant they may be.  When the hand moves, the response must come.  Focus on that hand could affect trust, necessary actions, relationship and confidence.    It means that everything else going on in the room becomes secondary.  Everything else in the life of that servant takes a step back from the priority of watching that hand and responding appropriately.

Whoever we are, if we have become servants to our Master, “the Lord our God”, we need to follow this example in the Psalms.    Am I available?  Am I paying attention?   Am I willing to respond?  What are my distractions?  What has my higher focus?  Are my eyes on Him to the point that I would even notice that His Hand has moved… signaling something to me without words?

His Hand carries deep scars.   For me.  For you.  Out of Love that is far beyond human capacity. If I focus on His Hand, whatever He does with it, it embodies the Greatest Love, and Highest Calling.