Standing

 “….after you have done everything,

to stand.”

Ephesians 6:13

Paul was not one to just stand around watching life happen.   He was famous for being a man on the move.  His introduction to us in the Bible was in the context of being on a horse, in deadly pursuit of followers of Jesus.  He was on a “mission” . . . to stop these crazy followers of Christ from spreading their “Good News” about Jesus.  God literally “knocked him off his horse” to get his attention.  From that transformational moment in his life, Paul used all means of transportation to bring the Good News of Jesus to his world.  Except for his frequent prison stays, he was a man with a mission… a man on the move.

His words to the Believers in Ephesus (Ephesians) were written while in prison, because of his passion that pointed people in his world to knowing the Good News of Jesus.  But a prison could not keep him from sending his Message.  He even mentions in his letter that he was still speaking . . . to those inside and outside of his prison cell.

When I think of someone “standing,” there is still a sense of action . . . Paul wasn’t just sitting around, probably in terrible physical conditions, feeling sorry for himself. There is no sense of Paul having given up on his mission.  He was simply in a new setting… and continuing on with what he had been doing before this latest “disruption.” The mention of his imprisonment was one of the last notes in his message….as if it was an “Oh, by the way, the reason I’m sending this message is because I am in prison…(again!)”  He doesn’t even seem to take a breath.

When we find ourselves in a place of feeling “confined”…whether by natural circumstances, or by human actions, think of Paul.  Prison was like a little blip on his radar.  He barely even mentions it.

May our “confinement”  be like the heart of Paul’s.  Yes, there are limits of our physical movement, but may we take the opportunities at hand to speak encouragement and hope because of the Living Savior we follow.  Standing…alert, aware, poised to move!

*Written in the time of Covid.

Ancient Three-Point Checklist

“Give thanks to the Lord.

Call on his name.

Make known among the nations what he has done.”

1 Chronicles 16:8

We all have busy lives . . . even in the middle of a pandemic.  In the midst of so many changes to what had been our “normal,” it’s always good to “check in”  and see how we are doing.  This ancient checklist is just the thing, I think, for a heart-check that helps us to pause and check-in on how we’re doing in this new reality in life.  Though it’s thousands of years old, it’s surprisingly current! 

  1. Give thanks to the Lord.    How’s your attitude these days?  Are you able to pull your old head up out of the way your life has changed in 2020, take a step back and find some things to be thankful for?  Have you watched for God’s Fingerprint on your day?  It’s easy to see the things that are frustrating, disheartening, and downright scary.  Those are often knocking at our doors.  But where and what are the things that have actually been good in this new chapter in our lives?
  2. Call on His Name.   He is present.  He knows what is going on.  But whereas we mainly see the current realities, as compared to when things were better, He is   looking at all of the good things that He has planned for you including the sweet times that will come out of this world-changing season.   Talk to Him.  Ask Him to help you know He is near . . . He knows all the details…. He is fully capable to handle your heart and your life in the midst of all of this.  He knows you by name.  Talk to Him….one-on-one . . . by Name.
  3. Make known among the nations what He has done.   This world is as dear to Him  . . .  all the nations  . . . as is our nation to us.   Knowing Him, and His Presence in our lives, is not a shared knowledge nor experience in most of the world.  Yes His love for them is real.  At this moment, it is not even possible to physically “go” among the nations.  But our prayers can go.  Our hearts can go.  And God has brought “the nations” to us.  In our towns, our neighborhoods.  Having a conversation with someone from “the nations” is very possible.  Telling of His Goodness and Love is usually very, very welcome.  He will be right there with you. . . with His Loving touch to their spirits as well.

Where Are We Going?!?

“By faith Abraham . . . obeyed and went,

Even tho’ he did not know where he was going.” 

I was in an old car, late at night, being driven through the Sahara desert, returning to my “home” in the Saharawi refugee camps.   A friend and I had attended an event in a different camp, which had lasted long into the night.    The driver was new to me and did not speak English.  It was a very quiet drive.

The desert sky is spectacular in the night.  There are no electrical lights, nor cables or poles or trees to distract from the vast expanse stretching from horizon to horizon.  It’s just the brilliant moon and shimmering stars and galaxies filling the entire sky set against the black canvas.  I never tire of looking up, in awe of the display.

As I watched through my open window, the busyness of the day drained away, and soon I was nodding off.   Little did I know….my driver was having the same experience!

I don’t know how long I’d slept, but when I woke up, I noticed that the moon was shining through the opposite window from where I’d last seen it.   Strange.  After mentally rehearsing how to say in Hassanya,  “Where are we?”, I tapped the driver’s shoulder.   His head jerked up, and he began looking at the sky through his window.  Quickly stopping the car, he got out and stood looking up.  A  few moments later, he turned the truck around and headed a different direction, now extremely awake.   The moon was back in the place I’d seen it when I had dozed off.

He had fallen asleep!    No idea for how long, and I didn’t really want to think about that.   But that night sky was his map . . . no GPS necessary.  He knew his star map, and it worked the best in the dark!  (Most effectively with eyesopen!)

Abraham would have been following the same “map.”  Even though he “did not know where he was going,”  he at least knew, from his “sky map”, where he was and where he had been. God’s celestial map was in place, especially detailed in the darkness of night.  It was not Abraham’s job to plot the course, nor decide the destination.  That was God’s role.  But in His gracious kindness, God had provided (from The Beginning) an infinite expanse high above our earth-bound lives, affording us a visual Constant under which to live.  Especially in the dark.

“By faith . . . “   Abraham went.   Three wise men/kings went.   Prophets went.  Hagar went. Joseph and Mary, cradling their precious baby, went.  All of them, and so many more…went, because God told them to go into that vast desert unknown.  Nightly map provided.  His Presence provided.

That was what mattered most.

Rest

“Come to Me,

all who are tired of carrying heavy loads,

and I will give you rest.” 

When I picture an image of “rest”, I picture a sleepy child in the arms of someone who loves him/her.  It doesn’t really matter what had caused that child to end up on that lap.  But they had found it to be a place where they could become still, nesting within safe arms, their head near to a steady, beating heart.  Sleep came.

Our world is in the midst of turmoil and chaos, beyond what most of us have ever seen or experienced before.  Insecurity and fear has seeped into our homes. . . our families . . . and our hearts.  It becomes mentally, emotionally, psychologically exhausting.   We are “carrying heavy loads.”

But we have One Whose very make-up is Love.   He knows what life is on this old earth.  He experienced it.  His choice to take on human form and  experience ‘in His own body’ our daily realities is beyond my comprehension and reasoning.  He could have just “fixed” it, or ignored it. Instead, He chose to immerse Himself in this human experience.  There is a vast difference between gaining understanding through exposure versus  actually experiencing something personally.  On your own body.

Love does that.

So, in the stillness…in the quiet…when you allow yourself to feel the tiredness in your mind and heart, let His Words sink into your mind . . . into your heart.   “Come to Me….”   Let Him lift you up onto His lap, settle you in, gently press your head with all its worries and weariness, to His chest, where His Heart beats for you, and just let Him hold you.  Quiet your wiggles and words.  And in that quiet nest, hear His heart beating….for you.  Whispering your name, with love.

And rest. . . .

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.

 

 

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.

Only in the Dark

“Tell me what charges You have against me…”

Job 10:2

Hard times have a way of getting our attention, and this old world is going through a very dark time.  It becomes tempting to want to blame our hard times on somebody…something….often, questioning God Himself.

A good man named Job was going through an extremely dark time.  He had experienced sudden, tragic losses on many levels.  Life as he had known it had taken a serious nose-dive.  It was too much for him to understand.  With the input of his “friends” he had concluded that he was being punished somehow…punished by God.  In desperation, Job asked God directly what he had done to deserve the devastating losses in his life.  What had he done that was so wrong??  God was silent.  However, his “friends” had much to say, and it wasn’t good.

But being in the dark isn’t all bad.   It does have its moments: 

  • Fireflies (Do they only come out at night? Or do they only become visible in the dark?)
  • Stars (they are always up there . . . we just don’t see them unless it’s dark!)
  • Campfires still burn with warm glow and sparks in daylight. We just don’t see it with all its mezmerizing colors, brightness and sparkle unless it’s dark.

Much of the world has had life as we’ve known it dramatically altered.  It feels like a dark time.  In the midst of a pandemic that has affected the whole world, hearts and minds around the globe have been shaken, forced to re-evaluate our lives and consider what really matters.

Life on this planet is not kind.  But God is.  In His Goodness, He will use the bad things…tough things of life….and turn them around for Good when we hold onto Him.   He did that with old Job.  He has done that in my life, too.  In God’s Hands, the bad times…the dark times, will be used for good.   He has done that in the past, and I know He will do it in the future.

When I am in the desert…in the refugee camps…the nights become the backdrop for the most incredible light shows I’ve ever seen in my life.  Though the situation is wrought with tragedy, loss, heartache, and long-standing injustice, every night the vast black sky becomes the backdrop for a celestial “light show” like none other.  It takes effort to fall asleep, because the moving display lasts all night.  My heart can hear Him reminding me that He is Present, He sees me, and nothing going on in my life is beyond Him.  I don’t have to understand it. . . if I just keep looking up,  He is there.  He’s “got this.”

So in the dark nights, watch for the fireflies.  Look at the stars.  Take in the moon’s light.  Visibly shining only while you are in the darkness, these are God’s everyday,  global reminders that He is there.  He repeats that message to the whole earth in 24 hours, every day.  Those glimpses of His Light…perhaps in very unexpected moments, are to remind you that He is there.  He is the Light.

JUMP IN!

Part 2

John 21:15-19

‘After they had eaten breakfast, 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.

Was Peter remembering (was it only a week ago?), sitting at that warming fire outside the place where Jesus was being questioned…beaten…tortured… and his three denials of even knowing Him?  Three questions.  Three lies.  And now, three questions.  And three heartfelt true responses.  A second chance. . .

Then Jesus described some of Peter’s future, including Peter’s death.

(:19) “ After saying this, Jesus told Peter, ‘Follow me!’”

There was no condemnation of Peter’s  failures toward Jesus.  Forgiveness was extended, and another chance was being offered.  Jesus gave Peter an honest glimpse into the future as a true follower of His.  Peter had seen the reality of what it cost Jesus to be fully surrendered to God, and what it would cost him.

The fisherman was going to become a shepherd.  A fisherman does not have to give up his life for the fish.  He just focuses on catching them.  And eating them.  And counting them.  But a shepherd . . . that’s 24/7 and requires  tremendous, thankless dedication, watchfulness, and care.   Within that care comes laying down one’s own life.

Jesus had told Peter, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will catch people instead of fish.”

The fisherman did become a shepherd.  His powerful message carried throughout nations then, and continues now.  It did cost Peter everything…even death on a cross.

And this “Ewe” is so very grateful.

 

 JUMP IN!

Note:  The following event took place soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, with flashbacks of three years earlier.

 PART 1

“Later, by the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. 

This is what happened: 

Simon Peter, Thomas and Nathanael, Zebedee’s sons,

and two other disciples of Jesus were together.

Simon Peter said to the others,

‘I’m going fishing.’”

John 21:1-3

Like any good fisherman, when life gets tough, ya’ jump in the old fishing boat.   It had been an extraordinary, emotional week for Peter and his buddies.   Betrayal, crucifixion, fear, hiding, burial, earthquake, resurrection, forgiveness, . . . Peter had even lopped the ear off of a Roman Guard, which Jesus immediately re-attached.

He just needed to go fishing.

The Sea of Galilee borders many regions.  The shoreline that bordered the big, non-Jewish (Roman/Gentile side) city of Tiberias was called “Sea of Tiberias”, but is still the same body of water known as the Sea of Galilee.  Did Peter head to that Gentile shoreline because it was less associated with the region where he had spent so much time with Jesus?  Too many memories?  Was the Jewish side too likely to pose a run-in with people who would recognize him as being one of Jesus’ inner circle?  Jesus’ crucifixion was still fresh in people’s minds.

We can only imagine the emotional and mental trauma that Jesus’ closest circle of friends had just lived through.  Peter, especially.  He was a “feel-er”….many times letting his heart overrule his head.  Turning to what was most comfortable for him…where he felt most competent – fishing on his lake – made total sense.

So, Jesus met him there.

  • He was waiting with a campfire and cooking a fresh fish breakfast including bread on the side;
  • He had given Peter a great tip of where the fish were biting (netted 153!);
  • He invited the group of guys to share some of their fresh catch with His breakfast spread.

True to form, as soon as Peter realized Who was talking to them from the shoreline, he threw on his coat and jumped into the water, leaving the details of the overflowing boat and fresh fish to his friends.  His priority was getting to Jesus.

Was Peter remembering His first meeting with Jesus…was it only three years ago?! It had been a similar long night of fishing with not one fish to show for it.  There had been a huge crowd of people on the shoreline following this Man…a Teacher…and since Peter’s boat was empty, the Teacher got in, without even asking!  He just shlepped right in and told Peter to back the boat up a bit.  Then He started talking.  And the whole crowd was listening!   Peter had no choice but to listen…he was caught in his own boat.  And besides, everyone was looking at them.  Peter had ended up walking away from it all…the fishing, his boat, life as he’d known it.  Jesus had drawn Peter in, even telling him that He would make him a “fisher of men.”  Peter was “hooked.”   For life.

When the rest of the guys had finished securing the boat and the 153 fish (only a true fisherman would count them out, and writeabout it),  they joined Jesus and Peter at the campfire.  Jesus took the bread . . . and gave it to them.  Then the fish.   Was Peter remembering the last meal they had shared…in that borrowed upper room?  Jesus had taken the Seder bread, broke it, and gave it to them to eat.  But that night He had added something strange:  “This is MY Body, broken for you.  Take.  Eat.  …Remember.”

Only a few hours later Jesus had been “tried”….tortured…. while Peter stayed in the shadows.  He had denied being “with” Jesus three times, saying “No”…. he didn’t know Him.  As the words of his third denial still hung in the night air, the sound of a rooster’s crow broke into the darkness, just as Jesus had said.  

In Jesus’ simple act of serving breakfast to His fishing friends, He was communicating directly to their hearts:

  • “Peace” was between His Heart and theirs;
  • “Forgiveness” for any of the hurtful failures weighing on them for all Jesus had gone through
  • Restored relationship between them.

As far as we know from the records of this story, they had not even verbalized their regrets.   But Jesus was looking at their hearts.

***********************************************

I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as a little girl, any time I had done something wrong.  I wanted to hide.  I wanted to fix it.  I let shame be a cloud hovering over me, not knowing how to get out from under it.   But through the years, I have come to experience the continued kindness of God’s forgiveness, as lived out in all the stories of Jesus.  I don’t head to a fishing boat….but it might be to my garden, or a drive, or shopping, art, or TV.   And though it should come as no surprise, Jesus shows up, acting as if nothing has happened. His undeserved kindness, His goodness, interrupts and draws me back into His Presence.  

May my heart “jump in” to Jesus’ Presence in my life, no matter why I have jumped into my “boat.”  

TO BE CONTINUED….