Little Black Lamb – II

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside peaceful waters

He restores my soul.”

Psalm 23:2

Our little Easter lived her first 2 days on a bed of grass in a cardboard box.  As she began to strengthen and stand, we took her to the little pen in the pasture where her mother and brother were.  Her mother continued to reject her, feeding and caring only for her brother.  Returning to her carboard box of hay with our family, she continued to thrive, soon joining a few other newborn lambs that had been born (unexpectedly for us!)  Easter began to become part of the little flock of orphaned or rejected lambs.  

All of our unexpected new lambs became their own little family.  Six orphaned / rejected lambs lived in a large pen in the garage until they were strong enough to go out into the real pasture.  The ewe-mothers were now in a large pasture of good grass, with a sturdy shelter with fresh water and hay.  Several had now given birth to more lambs (unbeknownst to us when they were purchased) and they were enjoying the spacious shelter and pasture of their new home.  

The ewes had been in a previous pasture where there was far less space and the winter snows had melted to black mud,  They now seemed very content in our grassy pasture.  They grazed, drank, and rested under the shade of trees or out in the open field of grass.  The lambs who had their mothers stayed close, while the orphaned lambs became their own little circle of playmates.  

Much to our surprise, we began seeing more and more newborn lambs appearing, not knowing that all of the ewes came to us already carrying their tiny ones inside.  

But the rejected and orphaned little lambs became their own little family, . . hopping and running through the grass together.  Their little happy hops always made us chuckle.  Easter joined right in with all of them.  Their energy and joy together was delightful to watch,  Bottle-feeding time was a scene of extreme competition to get their milk, noisily guzzling every last drop, pushing each other off of their bottles as if they were all starving.

Easter joined in with all the other orphaned lambs.  But afterwards, she would find me and stay near, even trying to nuzzle my fingers and make a soft purring sound.  

She would stand by the gate of her pasture, and if she caught sight of me, she would “Maaaa” 

as if calling for her bottle of milk to be delivered,  This would quickly alert all the other little orphan lambs to come to the gate and “Maaa” in a chorus that was comical and endearing.  Feeding time was a circus, as the lambs fought for their bottles, spraying each other and their human bottle-feeders with the sweet lamb’s milk in the process.  Once every drop had been drained from the bottles, the lambs would snuggle together in the grassy shelter and sleep.  

But Easter would stay near for more nuzzling and petting, until I’d slowly head back to the gate and home.  She’d follow all the way to the gate, watch me walk away, and often remain a while before returning to her little family of orphaned lambs.  

Words from so many favorite Bible verses concerning the Good Shepherd ran through my mind each time, This living demonstration of His own care and pleasure in seeing His abandoned lambs well cared for and loved brought so many verses from my childhood alive in new ways,   I was now personally experiencing the examples that my Good Shepherd had talked about.  My little Easter was now contentedly lying down for a peaceful, safe sleep in the well-protected shelter of loving care.  He was showing me in real time a picture of His Love for His lambs, of which I knew I was one. 

The Little Black Lamb

“The Lord is my Shepherd,

I have all that I need…”

Psalm 23:1

I peered into the bottom of the cardboard box and gasped.  Lying completely still was the first newborn lamb I had ever seen.  She seemed lifeless.  

Late in the night, (early on Easter morning), a mother ewe had given birth just after midnight. She had rejected this little one.  She was feeding the other…a healthy little black male.  We didn’t think this one was going to make it.  But we wanted to try . . .

This was a “first” for me.  I’d never been so near to a newborn lamb.  All I knew was that there was something about this tiny creature that had immediately captured my heart.  I was determined to see her survive.  I instinctively bgan whispering to her, gently touching her little black head.   She didn’t move, but I stayed there, lightly stroking her black, wavy fur.  Silently, I was asking God to let her live.  Little drops of water and whispers of care as I stroked her little head was all I knew to do.  When I finally went to bed, it was with  prayers of, “Lord, please let her live…”  He is the Good Shepherd,  and I believed that He still cared for even little earthly lambs.

Early in the morning, as Easter dawned, our little black lamb – named “Easter” by my granddaughter – was not only still alive, but standing on her wobbly little legs.  I delighted in watching her begin to show signs of life….drinking drops of milk, opening her eyes, standing up and moving around her little hay-cushioned box.  By the next day, she was beginning to readily drink from her lamb-bottle, and responding to the faces and hands of family members who had been cheering her on.

Although we tried several times to put her in her mother’s care, it never worked.  The ewe-mother had chosen Easter’s brother.  So we had chosen Easter.

Jesus is called “The Good Shepherd.”  We are the lambs. . . many of whom have been rejected, abandoned, left to fend for ourselves rather than being nurtured and lovingly cared for.  What “should have been” was not our story, and we were left to survive at the mercy of others, or of our own devices.  The Good Shepherd sees us in our sadness, abandonment, loss, and hopelessness.  He willingly steps into our sad reality and begins the loving care He holds in His heart for us.  It is not a “task” or a “job” for Him.  His heart of love for the lambs…whether part of His “pasture” or not, extends to each one.  He scoops us up and holds us near to His Heart as we begin to heal, strengthen, and find Life in His strong Arms of Love.  That’s simply Who He Is.

HOPE

“May God, the Source of Hope,

fill you with joy and peace through your faith in Him.

Then you will overflow with hope

by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

My world has changed.  Our world has changed.  Seemingly out of nowhere a dangerous virus is spreading.  At first it seemed a far distant danger.  Now it is at our door.  Every door.  Everywhere on this globe.  Nations, cities, and homes throughout the earth are being affected.

We have been taken by surprise.   We cannot fix this.   We must step into the Unknown, and walk a path we have not walked before.

There was a man named Paul, long, long ago who wrote of watching his world turn upside-down.  He was successful, brilliant, respected, and very powerful.  But in one blinding moment, his entire world changed forever.  All of his political power, affluence  and success came crashing down.

He had nowhere to look but Up.   Then,  a life-shattering encounter with God….and he would never be the same.

Paul went on to become a key writer for the Bible’s New Testament.   His prayer (above) has passed through the ages, and is as appropriate for us as it was for those to whom he had written  2000 years ago.  He knew very personally what it was to suffer physically, emotionally and mentally. . . directly because of his faith and faithfulness in following Jesus.

Yet, his new reality  became one of joy….peace….hope.   Only the Spirit of God can do that in a person.   Paul had experienced  The Source of Hope in the midst of becoming hopelesscompletely “undone.”   All of his affluence and power faded.  But out of that single encounter with Jesus, Paul experienced HOPE from its very Source…God.

 May we, in our present Moment, blinded and on the ground, LOOK UP.

Writing in the Sand

“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Early the next morning he returned to the temple courtyard.

All the people went to him, so he sat down and began to teach them.”

John 8

The Mount of Olives….the place that looked over the City of Jerusalem from across a deep Valley.

The Mount of Olives….the backside of which was the town of His dear friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

The Mount of Olives….where olives grew in abundance, were harvested, and pressed three separate times in order to extract the olive oil which was so central in daily life.  Olive oil…for health…for healing.

Jesus was nearing the end of His time as a Man on this earth.  After His rest that night near His friends, He returned to Jerusalem, walking down through the deep Kidron valley that separates the Mount of Olives from the City.  After reaching the bottom of the Valley, it is a steep climb back up to the City of Jerusalem, passing through the ancient City of David and then climbing the slope leading up to the top of the Mountain, and walking up the ancient steps He would reach the top, where the Temple and its surrounding courtyards were alive with the daily activities around the Temple of God.  Money changers were there for all those coming from regions and nations of different currencies.  Selling and buying sacrifice-destined animals took place there, as well as the actual sacrifices of the animals. People passed through the ritual baths so that each could enter the courtyards of worship “clean.”  All of these activities were part of the daily life around the Temple Mount … the highest point in the heart of Jerusalem.

Jesus was there . . .  in the very heart of all the religious activities taking place.

(:2)…”all the people went to Him, so He sat down and began to teach them.”

In the midst of all of the vibrant, daily life of Jerusalem, this story takes place:  John recorded:

(:3-:6)    “The experts in Moses’ Teachings and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery.  They made her stand in front of everyone and asked Jesus,

 ‘Teacher, we caught this woman in the act of adultery.

In his teachings, Moses ordered us to stone women like this to death.

What do you say?”

They asked this to test him. They wanted to find a reason to bring charges against him.”

She had been caught.  Now her darkest secret was fully exposed.  She stood there, all alone, with everyone looking. Utterly humiliated. She knew what was coming.  This would be the place of her death.  The crowd around her, including men who may well have had their own secrets with her, would start looking for which rocks and stones they would throw at her.   She would fall to her knees to try to become her only shelter, until she would slowly become unconscious and die.

Realistically, how had she been “caught?”   The religious “experts” … the “we” in this story had caught her in the act. How did that happen???  The “we” arrive at her home (most likely not in a very good part of town)….at the same time….as well as at the same time that a man who was doing business with her…..the most intimate act occuring at the same time that a group of religious experts come it.  Witnesses.  Was it a mere “happening”?  All those parties “happening” to come together ‘at the moment of the crime.’  Or had it been planned. . . a trap?  It wouldn’t have been a “trap” targeting the woman for its focus….it would have been for the purpose of using her in a new way . . . to “trap” their bigger focus:  Jesus.

Everyone’s eyes were on one Man, awaiting His nod to begin.   But instead, he looked down on the ground, and began making marks in the sand.  No one could see what he was writing.  He spoke not a word.

Desert people often write in the sand.  It is the most easily accessible material to make notes, give an illustration, or play a game.  And it is also the easiest medium to erase.  One swift swipe of a hand, foot or stick, and the writing is gone.

(:7)  “When they persisted in asking Him questions, He straightened up and said,  ‘The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.’  (8) Then He bent down again and continued writing on the ground.”

A guilty conscience produces paranoia.  “What is He writing?”   “What if He’s writing names of people who have done business with this woman?”  “ What if He knows about me?”  “What if He’s writing my name?”  “How could He know?”  “Who else knows?”

(:9)  “One by one, beginning with the older men, the experts in Moses’ Teachings and Pharisees, left.  Jesus was left alone with the woman.”

Whatever was happening in the minds and hearts of the crowd, each quietly let his rock fall to the ground and slowly walked away.  The Temple area was their world.  It’s where they did most of their religious activities.

Jesus wasn’t staring at her, as everyone else probably was. Jesus continued to make marks in the sand, not looking up.  Finally, only two were in the center of attention:  the Writer in the sand and the woman kneeling there, waiting for the first rock to strike…yet hearing the slow shuffling of sandals moving away. And the silence.  No more shouting.  No more anger.  No more condemnation.  Just silence.

(:10)  Then Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Where did they go?  Has anyone condemned you?”   

(:11) The woman answered, ‘No one, sir.’ 

        Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either.   Go!   From now on don’t sin.”

Jesus spoke directly to her, asking her where her accusers were.  Gone.  Jesus wasn’t anything like the religious leaders.  He dignified her with his question, and listened to her answer.  Then, He said she could leave, telling her to “sin no more.”  The woman who was guilty had stepped into His Light.   And she walked away free…..free of the shame, the guilt, the shadows, the hiding, the abuse, and the darkness in her life.  She was Known to the One Who held the key to her freedom. . . to a new life.    Living in the Light.

(:12)  (at some point) …”Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again:

He said, ‘I am the Light of the world.

Whoever follows me will have a life filled with light

and will never live in the dark.’”   

They had watched her walk away.  She should have been dead.  That had been the plan.  They wanted to use her to get to Him… They had watched a completely different ending play out.  And she was gone.

Jesus watched her walk away as well.

Then, He turned His attention back to the Pharisees, who had watched it all happening.

“He said, “I am the Light of the World.”  (:12a)

This is the Name He carried.  Nothing . . . no one… is hidden from the Light.  No one in the whole world.  He declared His unique Name and Identity.  He spoke to our own reality, too.

In His declaration, Jesus gives a picture of identification of all those who would carry His Name.

(:12b)  “…Whoever follows Me will have a life filled with light and will never live in the dark.” 

He provided a practical means to know who else is part of Him, “living in light.”  Not in hiding.  Not in darkness. Not under the cover of religion or faith.  The woman who was guilty stepped into His Light.  And she walked away free….free of the shame, the guilt, the shadows, the hiding, the abuse, and the darkness in her life.   She was Known to the One Who held the key to her freedom….to a new life.  She had stepped into His Light.

Jesus watched her walk away as well.

He turned His attention back to the group again, who had watched all of this unfolding.

 “I am the Light of the World.”  This is the Name He carried.  Nothing . . . no one… is hidden from the Light.  No one in the whole world.  He declared His unique Name, Identity . . . the only One in all the world.

And in His declaration, Jesus gives a picture of identification of all those who would carry His Name,  and share His Identity.  He provided a practical means to know who else is part of Him, living in light.  Not in hiding.  Not in darkness.  The woman who was guilty stepped into His Light.  And she walked away free….free of the shame, the guilt, the shadows, the hiding, the abuse, and the darkness in her life.   She was Known to the One Who held the key to her freedom….to a new life.   Living in the Light.

He gave those who were judging the choice.  This group that had brought the woman they had hoped to kill were being given a chance to LIVE.   The ones who had been merciless with a woman they wanted dead, a woman who had had no choice.  Mercy had stepped into the story. . . for both sides of the story.

Jesus didn’t take sides.   He saw everyone’s hearts at the same time.  They all needed work.  Yet, He could expose hearts without condemnation.  He could do it with Hope.

The very ones who were judging had been judged. . . yet without condemnation.

He always did it with Hope.

 

 

Nadir

Today began with tears.   I received a message from the desert that a dear man had died.  This quiet, kind “man of peace” had been a long-time participant in the Dialogues we have held for the past 13 years in the desert refugee camps.  Nadir was not a refugee….he was a very successful businessman of the large city nearby the desert refugee camps.  He had built a home for unwed mothers in the camps….so well done, built with deep compassion.  He had also orchestrated a caravan of trucks of needed supplies for the camps, all at his own expense.

I am sure there were also many acts of love and compassion that I never heard about.  A quiet, gentle man, he was dedicated to the significance of the Dialogue, where he learned of the One

Who had given His life for all.

Then I began my morning quiet time, and read these words:

“Use the Truth to make them holy.  Your Words are Truth.”  John 17:17

What Hope!  Thousands and thousands of Words have gone out during the Dialogues through these many years.  Truth.  Absolute Truth.  Beautiful, hopeful Truth.  Words of The Word who became one of us to make Heaven possible for us.

Nadir was consistently there, sitting near the front.  Listening intently.  Quietly.  Respectfullly.  He was a man whose life reflected so much of the Words that he absorbed throughout those times together in the desert.

I hope I see him again.  I hope . . . pray . . . that I see many, many familiar, beloved faces from the desert when I am Home.   That is the heart of why I . . . we . . . go.

Tents

“Now we know that

if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,

we have a building from God,

an eternal house in heaven,

not built by human hands.”

2 Cor. 5:1

Tents are the homes of shepherds.  Made of woven goat hair, they repel water, yet allow the tent to “breathe” through its walls and roof.  Their “breathing” shade and shelter are perfect for herders, who must be on the move in their mission of finding good pasture for their herds.  They are designed to be mobile, and can  last a long, long time with proper care.  But they are also vulnerable.  (And smelly, if the goat’s hair fabric gets wet!)

I was in a family tent, enjoying a lunch with my desert family, when a sudden storm came.  Very rare. The wind was blowing in a circular way, and suddenly the entire tent began to lift up off of the ground.  All the men immediately ran to each corner and physically became “weights” to keep the tent from becoming airborne.  It was very scary for all of us!  I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable it was to live in a tent as a permanent home.

God’s promises to us concerning our physical “tent” – both our bodies and our houses – take on deeper meaning when we come face to face with their vulnerabilities.  Sickness, storms, the weakening that develops over time, all remind us of how vulnerable we really are.

What a wonderful comfort and reassurance we can draw knowing that God Himself has prepared our Forever Home, with  Him, in Heaven.  No storm, nor disaster, nor sickness or death will everbe part of what God has prepared for us after our time on this earth.

It will be absolutely perfect!

 

Thanksgiving Story

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back,

 praising God in a loud voice.

 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him

—and he was a Samaritan.”  

Luke 17:15-16

Jesus was, as usual, crossing the cultural and religious “lines” of his earthly world.  He had chosen to take a route back to Jerusalem that went through Samaritan territory…..”shlepping” where Jews preferred NOT to “shlep.”  To make matters worse, Jesus passed through a “special area”  that was reserved for lepers – outcasts of the towns.  These were the “untouchables,” and had to declare themselves to anyone passing by, so travelers would not risk being contaminated by their leprosy.  Humiliating! Jesus did not seem to see all those “lines” that this world draws that are meant to separate people from each other.

The lepers saw Jesus and recognized Him as Someone who could help them.  They called out to Him…by name…asking for His help.  Jesus directed them to go to the nearby priest in the village, to have him check their skin.  They all headed to the village, their skin healing as they walked.  Imagine their amazement and thrill as they watched their skin becoming new.  No more living in pain….no more living as outcasts….no more separation from their families…their lives!   I can imagine that their walking soon became running.  It was a miracle!!!

BUT….one of them stopped.  He turned around, walking….running…back to the place where he had been suffering on so many levels for such a long time!

Jesus was there.

The man with the new skin threw himself at Jesus’ feet. He had tofirst thank this One who had heard their cries, stopped, and spoken Words that began the healing process that would change their lives. His life.

The other 9 had continued back to their village….homes….families…lives.  But this one, a Samaritan at that, went back, falling at the feet of Jesus.  He could not go home without thanking the One Who had stopped, heard, and given him a new life.

May our words and our lives be a thanks-giving to Him as well.

Like Babies

“Desire God’s pure word

as newborn babies desire milk.

Then you will grow in your salvation.

Certainly you have tasted that the Lord is good!” 

1 Peter 2:2-3

We can make things very complicated, can’t we?  I was awake at 4 am today, and my mind was quickly spinning, moving along from topic to topic as my conscious brain seemed to kick into high gear.  After about 3 hours, I was a mess.  Emotionally and mentally.   Then, I heard a little “ding” on my phone, and here was the “verse of the day” that I check every morning.  It seemed to bring all of the thoughts, worries, fears and emotions down to something very simple and basic.

I love babies.  I am fascinated watching them in their “awake” hours….how much they are taking in every moment, and learning.  I love holding them, engaging with them, and take delight in rocking them to sleep.  After repeating the same lullabye with each baby’s favorite rocking position – 14 in our family, including the first 3 baby boys who were my own –  I am kind of a “baby whisperer,”  and have moved into a whole new level by putting myself to sleep in the process!

In our complex lives, overly-stimulated minds, and daily bombardment of stressful realities, it is good to hit the “pause button” and be reminded of how our Father God sees us. We’re His “babies”…..like a mother often looks at her grown children but still glimpses her babies.

Peter seemed to “get that.”   Though a very energetic “act-before-you-think” follower of Jesus, he captured the picture of the simple, pure basics of knowing Jesus, remembering where we’ve come from, and Who’s we are.  Spiritually babies, just beginning to grow into a life that has been born anew into a child/father relationship with God.  Those early days of total dependency and safety in His Arms build the trust and security that we will need to live out however many years we have on this earth.  Remembering Who He Is, and Whose we are, is the Foundation we have for the rest of our lives.

Wilder-ness

[ A psalm by David when he was in the wilderness of Judah.]

“O God, you are my God.

At dawn I search for you.

My soul thirsts for you.

My body longs for you in a dry, parched land

 where there is no water.” 

Psalm. 63:1

Have you ever thought about the term “wilderness”? It looks like it sounds…”wild-er-ness.”   It’s “wilder” than the normal places of trees, “green” vegetation, and water.   It’s “wilder” than most people choose to live in.   Dry.  Harsh. Less of everything that would be considered “nice.”   Wilderness is a small step up from desert…minus the beauty.

Picture how David describes his wilderness…..

  • He is experiencing “wilderness” in a way that he needs to call out to God; he reminds himself of Who God is to him.   He’s been through a wilderness night, with all of its darkness, vulnerability, shadows, strange sounds, and the fears that swell in our hearts when we are utterly alone;
  • As the sky begins to lighten by the yet-unseen sun’s gentle glow, still beyond the horizon, the fears of the long, dark night begin to slowly dissolve.
  • Throughout the darkness of the night, he became aware of his thirst….for water, surely, but also a deeper thirst in his soul.The wilderness experience focuses our attention inward, and the deep dryness of soul is felt….without distraction….and without any way for us to bring relief to that deep place.
  • The growing thirst in our soul drives us to look for some relief… something to quench and ease the gnawing awareness of deep need of fresh water for our parched lips, dry mouth, dehydrated body and sad soul.

Whatever drew us to that wilderness place has only increased our need ….physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  We come face to face with our present reality, and it forces us to look up.  The night is over.

And God is there.

Getting the Best Advice

“The Lord advisesthose who fear him.

He revealsto them the intentof his Promise.

My eyes are always on the Lord. He removes my feet from traps.

Psalm 25:14-15

Where do you look when you need advice?   A mentor? A trusted friend?  A wise person in your life?   A parent?  A spiritual advisor?  The internet? Books?

How about God Himself?   Do you think of Him in that way?

An advisor is different from “materials.”   An advisor is an interactive resource…one who can listen to you, ask good questions, provoke your thoughts and help you see into the future a bit.   A good advisor has wisdom.

Thinking about God as my own Advisor adds a wonderful dimension to Who He Is.  Note the ways the Psalm writer describes Him:

  • He advises: Not demands, not commands.  We can go to Him with our needs, ask for His advice (with healthy respect), knowing that He is near, and aware;
  • He has already given us Promises, and He will help us understand the intent of those Promises.Knowing that He has made promises to us lays a beautiful groundwork for us to come to Him.  He will “go there” with us, helping us to understand the intent of those Promises.  He opens His own heart to us, willing to give us His Time and Patience as we ask Him to help us truly understand and clarify what His Promises mean in our lives.  He gives us permission to think, wonder, and ask questions.  There is a two-way relationship involved.
  • As the Psalm writer states, “my eyes are always on the Lord.” This One Who gave me life and made promises for my life is worthy of my conscious attention, always.  And there will be wonderful “Aha” moments throughout life when we see in new ways the loving and wise reasons behind His Promises and guidance.  (even when we have come precariously close to the traps along our path.)
  • When we step into one of those “traps”, His response is not to stand there saying, “I told you so!”, leaving us bloodied and unable to keep walking. He steps into that nasty, bloody situation….opens the trap, and removes my “foot” painful and gross as it is, freeing me from what I’ve blindly stepped into.
  • Best part: He’s never too busy, can always take my call, and He’s always right!