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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The Whole Earth Groans

One day during my time of meditation and prayer, I experienced God in a deeply joyful and excruciatingly sorrowful way. 

It began with a deep awareness of my union with God by faith in what God says in his word. This was joyful, playful, and exhilarating. Then, it was as if God invited me to peer over the edge of heaven to see the earth. In my mind and heart I saw scene after scene of pain and suffering. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my soul. 

Perhaps memorizing Romans 8 put this groaning into my heart. After this charged experience, I painted this. It is bad art, but deep heart. (See Rom. 8:20-23, 26.)

The Father and the Spirit hover with love over all that’s going on, while Jesus intercedes and holds the earth in his hand. I sit in Christ’s lap, lean against him, and look with sadness; my hands cover my eyes as I weep. It was for this Christ suffered and died. I suffer with him as I pray, longing for redemption. He waits for his Church to join with him in loving one another and the world. We begin by loving what’s at hand. Our church, our neighbor. Who is our neighbor—in Jesus’ parable it was the Samaritan. Who is our Samaritan? Usually, it’s the person who is different from us.  By this display of love for one another, the bleeding world, and the earth on which humanity lives, the world will know we are his disciples. 

To those who question the wisdom of unfettered love and humility, look at Christ.

Yes, there is sin and unbelief. But when has my heart ever changed by the judgment of another? Yes, there are power struggles on earth, but Jesus came as one humble and kind, with pity and mercy—eager to heal, with outstretched arms. He has not yet forced any knee to bow before him. We get to choose. ONE DAY, when we see him face-to-face, we will bow. He will not make us, but we will see and we will know, and we will bow.

All the darkness will NEVER put out the Light of the TRUE KINGDOM OF GOD. Shine. Shine. Shine. Love! Love! Love! Overcome the darkness, but not with evil, Christ says. This is my prayer. 

Scripture

: “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now, and not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons…in the same way the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words”  Romans 8:20-23; 26 NASB

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Clueless

Today my meditation was at the cross, Luke 23:34. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father, forgive them.
They don’t know what they do.

How many times have I done things, responded out of deep aches or wounds or operated from false paradigms and was clueless as to the impact my actions were having on others? And much of that impact was just earthly impact. The eternal consequence of choosing evil, siding with darkness, (even if I didn’t know it was evil) anchors me to something I don’t want to be anchored to,  and it influences unseen things.

I want to be held in place by Christ and give him all my allegiance. He keeps me moored in the storm and gives me truth that can hold me in place when things are confusing or frightening or simply annoying.

The weight of sin will drag me down into the depths of the darkness—even if I don’t know it is doing it. Daily I must choose to follow truth and live in obedience, as best I know it in his word and by his Spirit.  And that truth is WAY more than salvation—it’s a strong pulsing Spirit-life of love and hope where I choose to do things in Christ: love, kindness, forgiveness, hope, and even laughter (the right, delightful kind—not the mean-spirited mocking kind). If I am not following Christ, whom am I following?

More often than not, I am clueless about my junk. I often pray from Psalm 19:13,  “Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins and do not let them rule over me.”

Everyone justifies himself because everyone believes he’s right. If I’m not looking at Jesus with deep, unqualified humility, while seeking to imitate him and trusting in his power to transform my inner man: its longing and loathing, then I’ll never know for certain to whom I’m anchored. And even if I am seeking—my strong need to be right, may keep me from truth.

All true inner evaluation must begin with the idea that I might be wrong—that maybe over time and because of the flesh, and human and other spiritual influence, I might have built my paradigm on a wrong foundation and am operating from that. If I’m not willing to ask Christ, “What am I doing that I don’t know I am doing?” then I might continue to side with evil without even knowing it.

I’m trying to figure it all out, to learn to hear the voice of Christ in his word and his actions, but I’m certain (because of a history of changed opinions) that I’m doing and believing something wrong all the time.

Thankfully, Jesus has prayed that prayer, “Father forgive them. They have no idea what they are doing. They are clueless.”

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Hold You Me

When my son was little, he would come to me, hold up his tiny arms and say, “Hold you me.” Many things precipitated his appeal: longing for reassurance, wanting to feel a sense of safety or comfort, or simply desiring to be cuddled and enjoyed. Sometimes it was so he could peer into the pot I was stirring on the stove. He wanted something I could offer—myself. When I look back, I wish I had done more of that with all my children, for most of us need to be held by someone bigger than us. It assures us that we are safe.

As an adult, I am often smitten with a desire to be held by God—especially during difficulties. I hold up my arms and cry out in child-like faith, “Hold you me!” And while I’m being held, I look out and say, “Hold you him, and her, and them. Hold your forever family and teach us your loving ways, your forgiving heart, and your righteous paths. Hold you us, until we see what you see and feel what you feel, and walk in the divine love you offer to the world. Hold the world in its sorrows, “Hold you them,” we say, on behalf of the world.  

God has really big arms and a wide lap. He gives us the wonderful picture of fatherhood and children to impress upon us the truth of our condition. We are small; he is big. We are weak; he is strong. Jesus even says that unless we come to him like little children, we can’t enter the kingdom of God. Whoever, takes the lowly position of a child, he says, is the greatest in the kingdom. 

So, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hold You me. 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Mat 18:1-5 NIV

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Communion in Pandemic- Stunningly Beautiful

Image 8-9-20 at 11.31 AMThe man sat far left of me in our sparsely populated sanctuary. The elders passed communion — in a safe, combined peel and partake cup where the wafer and juice were tucked between two layers of thin plastic. I watched as he struggled to open the elements; then he wrestled with his mask to partake of the bread and wine.

There was something profoundly holy in that moment.

This man, who sat alone, socially distanced from others, had come to church with his mask on, sang and worshiped with his mask on, listened to the message with his mask on, and had now come to the table—as it was—and fought to let that holy communion, that bread and wine find its way to his mouth—all the while, trusting in Jesus to do with those common elements—whatever HE alone can do.

There were many thoughts that swirled in my head.

Image 8-9-20 at 11.34 AMFirst: It is stunningly holy that in the middle of pandemic, men and women, children and the elderly, gathered together 6-feet apart, wearing masks and shields to worship their Lord. It isn’t easy wearing those masks, yet there we were—obeying the Lord to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together—so deep is our longing for community within the Church.

Second: It is strikingly holy that this man was willing to struggle to partake of the bread and wine. It is awkward and feels odd to peel away the communion elements. Yet there we all were—feeling uncomfortable—but more desperate for Jesus and community than perhaps we’ve been in years. We are all longing for communion—the communion of the saints and the presence of Christ. We were there together seeking the balm of the Holy Spirit uniting us as one holy Church.

Third: It is soberingly holy that in order to take the elements, we had to remove our masks—spiritually speaking. We tugged at our sin, our sorrow, our suffering and sought to lay it all bare before the one who heals. And there, with open face—we ate. We dined on Christ, on hope, on faith, on trust, grieving and letting go of our common practices, and unmet dreams, and we chose to embrace what is—not what we hoped would be.

Finally, the Church is gloriously holy. It is set apart for Christ. It is meant for worship and encouragement, for building up, not tearing down. It is intended for service and love. Things are not what we wish, but one can still experience the communion of the saints as we sit together in the sacrifice of awkward worship and communion, pray for one another, and ask ourselves, how can I serve Christ and his beloved Church during this pandemic.

It is stunningly beautiful to do so.

 

(Our church has sought to provide the best of all safety practices, even putting in a new circulation system to care for the flock. We wear masks, socially distance, and are ushered in with great care. It’s not what it was, but it is what it is, and may the Lord help us through it all as we are faithful to him and to one another in love. Let’s find ways to serve the body, even as we socially distance.)

Please, if you feel unsafe to gather–don’t. This is simply the joy I felt to be with others–even though it felt awkward. 

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TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN

Henri Nouwen had four words that meant much to his life and ministry. The words are: TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN. I like them and think I’ll steal them for myself. I hope you will take time to actually think about these words–for they are about YOU, too.

These four words are spoken in communion. They symbolize the gift of Christ for us and how he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, then gave it to his disciples.

TAKEN: We have been taken into the heart of God and received by him because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Jesus took the bread, he also takes us. As he does, we are welcomed as children of God. Children! Of God!! Forgiven. Accepted. Received. This brings unspeakable joy.

Image 7-31-20 at 8.20 AM

BLESSED: Jesus blessed the bread. He lifted it, prayed over it and blessed it. He has
blessed us, as well, given us indescribable spiritual wealth in Christ. He has provided everything that is needed to live a life in him. He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” You are seated with Christ and in him. He is at your right hand and your left. He is your constant companion for life. Then there is the word of God and the promise of resurrection! We are gloriously blessed, and the blessings are eternal.

BROKEN: Jesus broke the bread to give it to his disciples. He himself was broken to be given away. We also experience brokenness. We see our sin and are broken by it. We experience suffering, like Christ, and we are broken by it. We understand the futility of life, its pain and its grief as we encounter disease, poverty of spirit and wealth, or health, injustice and pure evil. But being broken while understanding that we are first taken and blessed, makes the fourth thing possible.

GIVEN: When we understand that we have been taken by grace, blessed by grace, and broken for the sake of mercy, we are then given to the Church and the world. Our sorrows enable us to understand, give mercy, aid, comfort, and to pray more effectively for others. We have true compassion because we, too, have suffered. The ability to be given must follow the first three.

All suffering can become food for the world. But knowing we are taken by grace, blessed abundantly and broken for a purpose will help us see it all redeemed as we are given, also by grace, to the world.

 

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A Journey of Discovery

In Matthew 1, Joseph is told that Mary will bear a son, and that he should be called, “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Today I meditated on this name. Jesus, Yeshua, the Lord is my salvation. It’s funny how an understanding grows over time.

When I first became a Christian, salvation meant being saved from hell. It meant getting to go to heaven. That was a pretty good deal, and I took the free ticket. It wasn’t a deep understanding of things.

The next thing I became aware of was that he also saved me from the power of sin. Sin was no longer to rule over me, because I had been given the Holy Spirit to help me walk in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. When this dawning came, it offered me hope for getting rid of those cantankerous sins that overwhelm me and cling like the stench of a skunk. This was also good news.

The third “awareness” was that “salvation” meant many other things, too. It was used by Israel as God delivered them from their enemy. It was used by David, when he hoped to be kept safe from Saul and other enemies. It was used by God-fearing, “drowning” men and women over the ages. God was a place of safety and hope–of deliverance and rescue. He saved them from disease, war, traps, and intrigue. It was reflected in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil.”

But lately, I’ve become aware of another kind of salvation. It’s the salvation life in a real kingdom. The Kingdom of God begins here and now for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. It’s a salvation that sees the benefits of the goodness of God in the land of the living. It understands the glories of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. It comprehends that judgment and hatred are not helpful–but harmful. It is aware of the contempt found in politics, and editorialized opinions and understands that self-righteousness and pride have little to do with the Kingdom of God. This awareness abhors lust–not because pleasure is against God, but because lust, not desire, is always willing to take another person’s dignity to fulfill its passion. God has placed great dignity in man. To operate outside of that dignity defaces our glory in some way.

EQlIjMdnSIq4AG6fiA9bFg

‘The Kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) The spirit of this age hates, despises, judges, lusts, and is full of pride. It’s easy for any man or woman (including me), saved or unsaved to fall into this world system of judgment and condemnation. It’s easier to resist that if one gets a glimpse of the salvation God offers in the form of love, forgiveness, pity, truth, morality, and mercy. His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” is supposed to be filled with glorious light–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

The salvation in Christ that God offers is complete salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a salvation from the myopic views that this world system offers us, and into which we have been conformed. It includes salvation from the power of our sins, salvation from things we never even know we are being saved from (accidents, death, disease, temptation) and ultimately eternal life. But it also includes life today in a kingdom of love, mercy, and grace.

May it be! Come Lord Jesus, into this present darkness and deliver us from ourselves.

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Hope Completely

I don’t know about you but my flesh suit needs ironing. It’s like everything else I see around me. Stuff is falling apart, systems are failing, we’re getting older, or sicker, or worse. Many of us are anxious, and don’t know how to cast fear aside. We are uncertain during this pandemic and can’t regain stable footing. Some face horrible options—none looking like plans originally held. It rattles our peace.

As I prayed with a few other women through sections of I Peter 1, these things came to light and brought great hope.

I Peter 1:13 says, to “prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It also says, that we were born of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God which will never die. Something in us is imperishable.

Hope, in New Testament scripture, centers on things to come: resurrection, reward, restoration, revelation, and rest. After seeing the risen Christ, Peter understood hope. He was certain that things promised were going to happen. We aren’t able to see these things with our eyeballs. They are unseen, but real—more real and more permanent than what we do see—failing business, lost jobs, marriage problems, or death. We see now (if we didn’t before) that we can’t put our hope in the wrong places—world systems of all kinds.

Image 5-7-20 at 9.48 AM

In the eyes of the early saints, it’s as if the unseen has more substance and is heavier; we can anchor to it. All the New Testament was written to a persecuted and mostly poor church. The joy, celebration, and comfort they experienced had a great deal to do with what Christ had brought into knowledge—a kingdom not of this world and one they could begin to live in now through faith. There was more yet to come, but they were building an unseen kingdom of love, hope, justice, and human souls. It wasn’t the complete, but it was beautiful and filled with glory, nonetheless, even though it was often painful, grieving, and sacrificial. Immanuel was with them.

This meant that they could live in freedom with hearts of love and forgiveness, serving Image 5-7-20 at 9.59 AMone another—while actually storing rewards in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt. Because God had put on a human body to teach and show us invisible, kingdom things, those who were having their goods taken, or sent to The Coliseum, could rest in the fact that reward and restoration were coming, and at some point complete restoration would actually come through the Church, “which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:23 (Curious and curiouser)

Romans 8 offers even more hope, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God…the Spirit helps our weakness…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God who are called according to his purpose… nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wow! Just wow!

According to Christ, the poor and weak often have an easier track to the kingdom. They don’t have as much to lose and therefore can give their whole mind, soul, and body to eternal, better things. Those of us with plenty, have so much more to fear losing, so much more to grieve when we do lose them. Reports often come to us of poor Christians, in poor, oppressed nations being unbelievably happy in their faith. It’s basic. Unencumbered. They have nothing here; so they hope completely in a glory that is to come.

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Worship at a secret church in China

Will this present darkness impact me? Yes, tremendously. But if my house is built on the Rock, I won’t go down. Will I grieve? Yes, but not as without hope. Will I be afraid? Sure, we do live here, for now, and uncertainty rattles us. Will I serve? Yes, because I’m building an eternal kingdom. Can I even rejoice? Yes, because this isn’t my permanent home, and my hope is completely in Christ.

 

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