The Light of the World?

I am on the Internet informational group, “Neighborhood.” On it people complain and express opinions and inform one another of local happenings—wrecks, town meetings, animals in the area, and thefts, for instance. It’s an informational page that is often a place to vent. I like the information it provides, and occasionally I look at the rants–they reveal the condition of our society.

Live a cheerful life, without complaining or division among yourselves. For then you will be seen as innocent, faultless, and pure children of God, even though you live in the midst of a brutal and perverse culture. For you will appear among them as shining lights in the universe, holding out the words of eternal life. Philippians 2:14-16a (TPT)

Yesterday, someone posted a story about a daughter who works in the restaurant service industry. A customer lambasted her. It was a Sunday, and the malicious people had obviously come from church. The young girl, who was working to save money for college, went home undone—broken. What a testimony to the love and grace of God!

Scripture teaches us that we, the children of God, His family, are lights in the world. We are to accompany God on Christ’s mission of offering grace and kindness, truth and mercy to a world that is covered in despair, darkness and deceit. Our best light pours from us as we are attached firmly to Christ in daily worship, the word, prayer, and loving, mutual intimacy with God. Abiding in Him produces fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the light we are supposed to shed. WE are to broadcast God’s beauty as seeds in a world trapped in darkness.

It breaks my heart when my precious Lord and His Family are defamed in these ways. Jesus said that light can’t be hidden. If we are full of light, we cannot hide it. It will shed abroad. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” That’s what happened in the early Church. They were full of loving testimony and a behavior that lit the universe. People wondered, “What kind of people are these who are turning the world upside down?” They were indeed, “shining lights in the universe.” However, if our light in the world is darkness, how dark are we? Are we in the light at all? Can a tree bear both good and bad fruit? If we are disciples of Jesus Christ, our light should be growing more intense as we reflect the beauty and glory of our magnificent Lord and Savior.

I know, we all sin. (At least I do.) Our hearts are impure, and we get angry and put out from time to time, but we can still attempt to make the world a kinder gentler place. We can seek God when we see the rottenness in our bones, and minds, and hearts. We can cry out for mercy and help. We can come before our loving Father and tell him our lives don’t reflect well on the Family. If we are guilty of contempt, impatience, cruelty or harshness, we can apologize and repent before God. And honestly, because our behavior reflects badly on Christ and his Bride, we must also repent to those we’ve sinned against—if we are made aware of it. O, dear Church of God, please let your light shine—not in rules and regulations, opinions and demands, but in Christ-like love, truth, and gentleness. Our world desperately needs this light.

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Incarnation—How Low Did He Go?

There is growing in me the awareness that I don’t have as much knowledge of God as I thought. Finite humans cannot grasp infinite spirit and mystery. I might stand in the ocean, and in that moment comprehend the ocean that touches me, but I don’t fully know the essence of the other 352 quintillion gallons in it (that’s 18 zeros). How can I ever boast that I understand God or how low he had to go to put on human flesh? I can only appreciate what he reveals, and any person who appears on the pages of scripture, was stunned by his presence whenever God showed up in glory. I can only embrace their faith or try to see through their eyes, and what I can see takes my breath away.

Nativity at Night by Guido Reni (1600’s)

Nothing I can write has enough luster to paint the appropriate images of the God who goes that low.

Perhaps this is one the greatest invitations to wonder that God offers: to consider and ponder these words for more than a minute—and then to stop, drop, and worship.

“He (Jesus) was in the beginning with God,” and “all things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.” (v.2-3) “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

That God should choose to walk among us as Immanuel, God with Us, in human flesh is absolutely stunning, and it’s one of the deepest mysteries and most intimate expressions of limitless love.

May we know him as fully as we are able to know him until we see him face-to-face! “Then, we shall be like him, because we will see him as he is, and whoever has this hope fixed on him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” I John 3:2-3

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How Barnabus Came to Live With Us

(We have had Barnabus for many years, but I wrote about this and never posted it.)

I swore off pets after our cat died a few years ago. One of the reasons is that I have friends and family with allergies. I want to be able to have them over—that, and the fact that we travel.

O well.

My husband, my daughter and my youngest son frequently asked for a pet—something not as wet as a goldfish and larger than a hamster—preferably a dog. We bought new furniture—untainted by pet dander, replaced old carpet, and bought a couple nice rugs. I refused to relent. Still, occasionally I’d hear whimpering, “Why can’t we have a pet?”

Over the past few years I’ve been spending time with people who have pets. I thought the visits would be a continual reminder that I didn’t want a dog—you know—slobber, stink, chewed furniture. I’ve enjoyed playing with them and participating in the joy and laughter. But dog ownership wasn’t for me. It was too much—well—dog.

I went to my friend’s farm and stayed the night. She and her husband had just adopted a blue-eyed puppy named Barnabus. He would be the third in a trio of rambunctious, hairy dogs. Hair. Yes hair. One common theme among most pet owners: dust bunnies made entirely of hair. Like I really need and want that.

O well.

So, Barnabus, (a name that means son of encouragement) and I became friends over night. His blue eyes, edged with black liner, and his soft cream-colored fur won me over. He was on a test-run at Paula’s house and was so feisty with her other larger dogs, that she feared someone was going to get hurt—probably the big dogs. That night, as this petite-fireball wreaked havoc on the deck, the dogs, and my feet, Paula decided he needed to go back to his former owner. He was simply too much work for her already over-filled schedule.

You know where this is going.

I had been feeling selfish for not letting the rest of the family own a pet. As Paula’s determination to remove the puppy from the premises solidified, I waivered. I started chasing puppies in my head. Dog. No dog. O my goodness, he was so cute.

So, by morning I thought I’d let my husband meet him, then, if he agreed, our daughter would get a new pet (my son had moved out). Duh. Love at first sight. I can never count on my husband to bring me to my senses in situations like this.

Paula had to leave to take her big dogs to be groomed, and while she was gone my daughter came to the farm.  Paula had told her she had a little gift for her. We sat down and played with Barnabus and waited.

Paula surged through the door carrying a bag full of doggie toys.

“Hey, how are you, Leigh Ann?”

“I’m great. I’ve really had fun playing with Barnabus. He’s so adorable.”

“He’s something, isn’t he?”

“Yep.”

“Why don’t you show her your little surprise?” I said as I winked and head-pointed to the bag of pet toys.

Quickly catching on, she handed her the bag.

Leigh Ann opened it up and saw squeaky stuffed toys and chew-things.

She smiled a huge grin and was genuinely grateful but confused. “They’re so cute,” she said as she pulled out a rubber ball, “but what are they for?”

Grinning impishly, Paula replied, “They go with the puppy.”

“What?” Her face beamed as she looked at me hopefully. “Really, Mom? I can have a dog?”

“Yes, your dad and I agreed to it,” I chuckled.

She laughed her jolly, down-from-the-heart laugh. I don’t think she could have been happier—even if we had bought her a pony. (Well, maybe if we bought her a pony.)

So, now we have a nipping, yelping, smart, furry, chewing, blue-eyed creature (part Australian Shepherd, part Border Collie) who has promised me that he will never be more than forty-one and a half pounds.  He’s already gained 7 pounds in three weeks—I think he may have lied.

He also promised he wouldn’t shed, but he lied about that, too. He has tinkled and pooped on the rug and carpet (more than once), wakes Leigh Ann to take her for a walk at 3:00 am, but he’s learning. Or maybe we are learning. Somebody’s doing something. We are exhausted, have new laugh wrinkles, nip wounds, and the living room coffee table is littered with shoes and puppy books.

O well.

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A Presence to Be Reckoned With

Jesus was often pursued by great crowds

Jesus was often followed. Crowds tracked him down seeking healing, truth, deliverance, and hope. It was hard to escape, and frequently he found himself surrounded by people simply wanting to touch him. He was, above all things, undeniable. He was a presence to be reckoned with. He still is. 

Brother Lawrence at work in the kitchen

Two of my heroes are Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach. Both sought to pray without ceasing—to always be aware of Christ’s presence in their lives. Lawrence’s little book, Practicing the Presence of God, is a must-read for all Christians. Whether peeling potatoes, scrubbing floors, or dealing with fellow brothers, he found a way to commune with God consistently and by doing so, it transformed his heart and gave joy for his journey. 

Frank Laubach

Laubach’s writings include two that are in the public domain: “Game with Minutes,” and Letters from a Modern Mystic. He found that by developing a practice of constant awareness of God’s presence, he experienced a transformed reality. They are worth reading. His life was amazing. He was consumed with literacy and developed a reading program (Each one Teach One). He was missionary to the Philippines. He was a very influential Christian mover in the early 20th Century, and he gave credit to God and his practice of unceasing prayer. Both of these men KNEW that being with Jesus—following him as closely as possible—was the best of all possible lives. It wasn’t legalism; it was unceasing joy and hope. Both of them knew that prayer was more than just words. It was companionship and presence. 

Here is a link that tells about Frank Laubach and some of his journey into companionship with Christ.

https://renovare.org/articles/living-each-moment-with-a-sense-of-gods-presence-frank-laubach

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The Unqualified “Yes!”

Lord, do I give you an unqualified “yes” to everything you ask? I know I choose you daily. I intentionally look at you in your word, sit with you in prayer, and notice when I have bad attitudes or resentful thoughts. I repent when I am aware of sin, I rejoice over many daily gifts, and I think I am giving you myself everyday to use me as you will…but is it an unqualified “Yes!”?

When all grows dark, help me say, “Yes!”

Help me, Father, to long for your kingdom, your love and grace, your hope and truth so much that the only thing that will satisfy me is to your Spirit ruling over the hearts and minds of others and myself. I want to be a gentle warrior. Let my sword be the truth of your grace and love, as well as the unyielding truths that flow always from your holy presence. Let my shield of faith be the faith of Christ—not just faith in him. He trusted you completely; I long for the same. Keep my mind safe as I wrap it in thoughts of your salvation—free and full—everyday in everyway for the rest of my life. As I put on your righteousness—that breastplate that keeps my heart from the accusations of evil, help it to be real—not just imputed—a righteousness that is full of your love, grace, and truth. And when I put on those gospel shoes—remind me that your Kingdom and all those things you did and said when you arrived 2,000 years ago is the best of all possible worlds. All the grace you granted on the cross, and the supernatural ways of a Spirit-filled life led by your wisdom and your grace is the most beautiful way to live, because you are a good and beautiful God. And, you are king, whether we bow or not.

To say, “yes,” I must listen for your instructions.

I see where I waffle. And it is in minor things. Those are the little traps that are set for me. They aren’t usually evil—just less than glorious. But I look at my little frail self, and I wonder if I can stand in your intensity, your burning fire of love for the length of a full day? For the length of an hour? A minute? A breath? Am I so impacted by this world that your supernatural fire is simply more than I can bear?

As I pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done, remind me that it is not so that I can be right, but so that your love and grace, your gentleness and kindness, your hope and your salvation will take over the heart of the world, beginning with your Church. 

Help me keep my eyes on you so that I will always and forever give you an unqualified, YES! 

 

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Fire in the Bones

When babies are baptized, they are often startled by the cool water and cry out. Much like us, we feel uncomfortable when God’s mercy falls in strange ways. On Pentecost the Spirit fell and all were stunned. When Christ promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them, they could only speculate what that might look like. John the Baptist had warned them that he (John) baptized with water but that one would come (Jesus) who would baptize with fire. Fire! Fire in the bones, in the heart, in the soul. 

uniteboston.org

However, I doubt that many were expecting winds, literal tongues of fire on their heads, and foreign tongues to be part of the scenario. I’m fairly certain they were astonished—not that Christ fulfilled the promise but that it happened in that particular way. They knew it was happening—all the way to their bones aflame with reality. They felt it. Spirit roared through them, empowering, enabling, and granting new courage. Any cowardice Peter might have showed when he denied Christ was GONE, burned up in the furnace of God’s grace, power, and love! 

So, there it was—new power to walk fearlessly obedient to God. This was no ordinary, limp, or legalistic faith anymore; it was a surge of holy glory, and these disciples—all 120 of them—were empowered for their new walk of life and love in Christ.  I often forget this as I try to live a supernatural life naturally. Jesus would say, “Please stop it. It is impossible to be like me apart from ME!”

So, walking with Christ is filled with surprises from birth to immortality. 

Water baptism surprises little ones. Walking aware of God’s Spirit in us, and that we are in Christ and children of God is astonishing–surprising, if you will. All of God’s grace is amazement—all the way to life everlasting. It is fire in our bones. 

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Invitations

Less than a month ago I was focused on finishing school. One of our assignments was to think about the future and how we will implement our spiritual direction plans. I did that, but I also felt an urge to work on beautifying my garden and straightening the chaos in my closets—things that have not been tended since the fall of 2019 when I began school. 

Flowers in Banff, Canada

I especially want to work on landscaping, but in the South that’s a job for early morning. Early morning conflicts with the patterns I’ve developed—rising, grabbing coffee, and going to my quiet space to spend time with God and to write. I am afraid to drop my habit or change daily patterns. I’m afraid I’ll fall off the edge into “project absorption.” Still, the garden is drawing me, but I am resisting the change. As I processed this inner conflict with my spiritual director, I began to see some things. 

First, the garden feels like an invitation from God. Any invitation from God is filled with promise—it’s like a father who comes in and says, put on some comfortable clothes, I’m going to take you someplace special, and it’s a surprise. God loves me too much to let me create distance between us. If anything, he is drawing me to himself. I’ve learned to discern the movements of my heart well enough to know when I’m missing significant connection with God; the Holy Spirit will help me. 

Second, as I shared, I imagined two strong arms opened, shoulder-length apart, keeping me in the middle of that loose embrace. His rod and staff, they comfort me. There is safety with God and his invitations. I don’t need to be fearful, but I can be wary of my own sin. I realize how legalistic I can become with my practices, and he is inviting me to just be with him—in my garden, as I clean my closets, as I play with grandchildren or go on a date with my husband. That is Christian liberty.

The third thing I saw was that the narrow way is often too narrow and of my doing. I have created how-tos, oughts and shoulds that bind me. To be sure, on the outside, before you’ve entered into a walk with Christ, the entrance is narrower than the broad super highway of the world’s ideas and systems, and inside, there are always measured choices that are different from the world, the flesh, and Evil. But, when you are on the inside of the “narrow way,” experiencing companionship with God, learning from him with joy, and becoming aware of your impossible position as a child of God, the Way becomes wide. It’s filled with flower-strewn rolling hills, mountains, shimmering lakes and curving rivers. On the inside there is beauty, even when Providence doesn’t seem to befriend you. You are always being led, held, and enclosed by a good and beautiful God. And within that way, God is constantly inviting us up and into deeper and wider knowledge and joy. The narrow way isn’t narrow at all. 

My director said something that is 100% true of me as well, “Because of what I have experienced and learned, I will never go back to what I knew before.” Yes! Yes, and yes! I want no other way but him and to experience him in my everyday life. And he has put that grace in me, and will keep me, and he will not let me get lost—wherever I may be.

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Burning Bushes

So Moses said, “I must turn aside and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burning up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am…” and God also said, “remove your shoes for the place you stand is on holy ground.” Exodus 3:3-4,5

If Moses had not stopped to look, and stayed to listen, and then obeyed, what would he have missed? What difference did his turning aside make to the world? To history?

He would have missed the privilege of emancipating Israel, the release of God’s people through miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies, the presence of God on the mountain when he gave the Ten Commandments, numerous military victories, and the daily presence of God in the tent of meeting. Because he stopped, looked, listened AND ultimately (after some arguments) obeyed the voice of God, God took this failure of a man (murderer hiding on the backside of the desert) and led him on an unplanned adventure that impacted eternity for good. 

Most mornings I turn aside to watch the bush burn, to take off my shoes, to listen to God’s word for the day, and to let it mold me. I pause and still my heart so I can hear. I silence the multitude of voices that clamor to be recognized. He said. She said. They said. I come before infinite holiness because I’m invited there. I come as one betrothed and fully known, yet loved. I come to that place to receive gifts of grace to live the day fully in love with him and to be a conduit of his love for the world around me. I can’t maintain that vision of hope apart from him. I need him like deserts needs rain or a distant trip needs a map. 

His invitation is always open, but if I say yes to burning bushes, he takes me on a journey, and it is a dangerous one. He takes me out of captivity, but it is also out of the safety provided by the world and the pleasures of its leeks and garlic. It’s unknown territory full of enemies, BUT, there will be daily manna, a cloud by day and a fire by night, and water from a rock that follows me. There will be fire and love and beauty, glory and wonder, excruciating love and deep mercy. 

When God invites us to turn aside to look at the bush, it’s an invitation to become who we are meant to be. He takes us from dryness and summons us to “wonder,” to take off our shoes in awe, to worship and pray in the presence of the Living God. 

It’s an invitation to be re-shaped into our intended glory—the image of God in Christ—and to participate in a much larger story where we are best friends of the Hero and traveling with him on an adventure together. 

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He Comes!

John declares during his ministry that, “One is coming after me the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Jesus comes to him, and John has to baptize him. I can’t imagine the honor and humility involved in that action. What is God up to? Coming to people in that way? In such an approachable form?

The Angel Appearing to Zacharias by William Blake

Then, I go back 30 years to the year surrounding John’s and Jesus’s birth, and I am a witness to stranger things. Zacharias is asked to trust that Elizabeth is going to bear a child, and he will be the one who comes to the Jewish people in the spirit of Elijah to make strait the way of the Lord. Zacharias couldn’t muster up the faith at that moment, but by John’s birth, we can tell he has arrived as he prophesies. “For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” He comes to us. 

Then there are Elizabeth and Mary—the first two believers. 

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth Carl Heinrich Bloch

When Mary is told that she was the chosen vessel for the birth of Messiah, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” God comes to Mary.

When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she responds, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”

Would come to me.” Even before Jesus was born he was “coming” to people. First he comes to Mary who willingly, though without understanding, welcomed the holy seed and the word of the Lord through the angelic messenger. Then he comes to Elizabeth and Zacharias as an unborn child. Then Joseph receives the revelation as the Lord comes to him in the form of an angel in a dream. And by faith he receives. 

Oh! The privilege of being so honored! 

But what am I saying? He comes to us over and over again. He comes in the first light of dawn on a frost-covered morning, or in the wide expanse of starlit evening sky. He comes in the kindness of a friend—and their grief. He comes in the fingers of a baby, or a poem or song. He comes in his word and by his Spirit. He comes and he speaks his nearness because he wants us to know him so that we can walk in the light of his truth. He comes because he loves us and we need his wisdom and love, and then, we welcome his truth or doubt it. 

I’ve often had the audacity to think that I would respond like Mary or Elizabeth rather than Zacharias. But few of us respond so quickly to Jesus coming to us. “Can this be?“ we ask. “Is this really true?” we question. “Can one whose shoelaces I am not worthy to untie actually come to me?” 

Yes! He can! Yes! He does. 

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Defy the Darkness; Embrace the Light

I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I love the songs, the sights, the smells, and the gatherings of friends and family. All those things make it feel like—well—like Christmas. It’s somewhat addictive. However, I hate the self-imposed, perfectionist demands in my pursuit of the perfect Christmas. There is little room in this high decibel scene for Jesus—and that’s outrageous since there is Christ in Christmas.

But more importantly, how do I celebrate this year when everything is different? I’m used to the trappings. But trappings have changed. I decorated less inside because Christmas will be outside. We will cook and serve outside, have a bonfire, and make s’mores. We will play pickle ball instead of Catch Phrase. We will distance, no one wants to.

But I want more. The trappings are never really enough. I want more of Christ. More peace on earth goodwill toward men. 

If you’re waiting for an answer, I don’t have one—except to be still and think on Christ. 

Thinking on the impossibility of the miracle of incarnation always leaves me breathless, humble and joyful. When I see the incomprehensible God becoming more comprehensible by entering humanity through the womb of a virgin, I am moved to worship and love. Eternal Glory wrapped himself in skin and invaded our broken world so he could do glorious things on our behalf and through us, as we love the world as he did. He is the best and most glorious pursuit we could ever have. He outstrips ornaments, trappings, traditions, fancy meals and other pursuits by eternity’s mile. 

So, my $.02 worth of advice is, as much as is possible, spend time in silence with the Lord. Meditate on the mercy of grace found in Christ. Bend your knees and worship, just a little longer. Give thanks a tiny bit more. Rest. Laugh, as you are able. Rest. Defy the darkness with your joy, for the Light has come into the world! Shake your fist at anger, disease, despair, fear, contempt, or the idols of Christmas Past. And even though it doesn’t seem possible (in the midst of all the sorrow and strife) in the end, all will be well. 

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