Tag Archives: Religion

On Jordan’s Banks

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”  And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Mark 10:35-36

What a dangerous request. A moment ago he had “loved” the rich young ruler….to death.  Agape love, self sacrificing love.  He loved him with the truth, with the honest reality that he lacked the greatest thing in the world, that was a death to self and a life lived in the Messiah standing before him. Now the boys are pulling on their intimate attachment to the Rabbi, and asking for position, power and influence in eternity. I could feel the Master’s gaze upon them, seeing into and beyond the moment.  Loving them.

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Mark 10:38

The word baptized in the Hebrew that corresponds with this passage is only mentioned once, it is the world tabal, and it means to dip, plunge, to immerse oneself into.  It happens to be at the dark waters of the Jordan with Naaman the leper commander of the King of Syria.  Angry that a messenger was sent to tell him to take a bath in a muddy river he storms off in his self-righteous indignation talking to himself:

 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Jehovah his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper.  Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. 2 Kngs 5:11-12 NKJV

Humility is the theme of today’s devotion, and I have come to find it is the most elusive attribute and the costliest of all garments.  How often I have come to my Lord demanding attention to a need, or request of selfish gain and when he “loved” me enough to withhold the object of my desire, I pouted and stormed at His righteousness.  I have raged  with leprous pride ,ambition and envy.  Stumbling from the soreness in my flesh, longing to be free in my soul, yearning to know peace but refusing the unclear waters of the Jordan. Refusing the messenger of glad tidings from the heart of Father, because it didn’t come by direct revelation.  Because I didn’t approve of the wording, or the method of the messengers of grace.  I have been like the Zebedee boys and I have stormed off like Naaman, reciting the attributes of my own ways and means over the direct instruction of my God.  I have often refused to wash and be clean, and blamed my God for my lack of wholeness.

 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?  Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 2Kings 5:13-14 NKJV

The Spirit moved me to the banks of the Jordan to stare into the murky water.  The water of the ways of the mystery of God’s dealings with man.  So often shrouded in darkness, bathed in lightning, and trumpets and smoke, and mud. What does it mean to wash? I run my hands under the water of the Word and wait.

The word for wash in the above scripture is rachats.  It means to wash the whole or part of a thing, means wash basin, and there in its root form, it means trust. Like a servant who washes his master, trust.  Like a mother who washes her baby, trust. Like the way the healer washes our wounds, trust.  For the kindness to succeed, trust is the necessary response of the recipient.

I sat quiet for a long while staring at the invitations to the Jordan that have been extended time and again and my justifications that have kept me soul sick and ineffective.  It was always about trust.  I could feel Him Agape me.  Love me to the truth of the matter, the root of my leprosy was that I didn’t trust the nearness and goodness of God.

Oswald Chambers said that the root of all sin is the suspicion that God is not good. I was horribly suspicious of what I could not see.  The call to step into the muddy water in full trust of his goodness provoked terror.  I could feel the Spirit whisper to me:  “Would you be clean?”

Father, I wait on the banks of the unclear, unknown waters of your ways.  I declare my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts. I yield my prideful heart to you.  Wash me, and I will be clean. Save me, and I will be saved. Feed me and I shall eat.  Call me, and I will come. Make me whole precious Healer, as I place my trust in the goodness of your heart alone.oak_creek_fall

Bottle Broke

Mar 10:13-16

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”  And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

The encouragement for this time of devotion today is to :  become like a child.”  The text taken from the familiar passage in Mark 10 of Jesus cradling babies, and giving piggy back rides to the toddlers.  You can almost hear the contagious laughter of children echo on the way.

“Come on, Jesus is here, let’s play! Last one to the Rabbi is a rotten egg!”

The verse says he was greatly displeased as his disciples rebuked the parents for bothering the Master with such a trivial thing as holding their children, touching them, and blessing them.  They didn’t get it yet.  It is what we all need. To snuggle on the lap of our Abba.  It is what Jesus came to do, reconcile us, not to a set of traditions or rules, but to the lap of our God.

Psa 131:1-3

  A Song of Ascents; of David. Jehovah, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, Or in things too wonderful for me.
 Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with his mother, Like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in Jehovah From this time forth and for evermore.

David sings out over the kingdom the state of his soul. The place of contentment with his status in life.  His identity wasn’t wrapped up in positions, or titles, or honor. Whether Shepherd or King he had learned to quiet his soul and hope in his God.  He actually uses a very strong word…weaned, to describe his inner state of being.  No longer needing the breast and demanding to be fed when Elshaddi (which means many breasted one, incidentally, signifying the ability of God to provide for the needs of his people. All powerful, all providing) was near, but quiet and leaning for the simple sake of intimacy and companionship.   Weaning is a messy business.

I will never forget the day our littlest one experienced the horror of this reality of weaning.  It is a place of humor and fun now that our little Honey Bee is an adult, but at the time it was traumatic and world shattering.  The Gardener and I were in a hurry somewhere, and our car was packed to the max with car seats, diaper bags, groceries, and the volume was steadily increasing as the contents of her bottle were fading, she was demanding her ba ba be filled, and with one well aimed fling towards the back of her dad’s head, she made her point.  In one lightning move, The Gardener grabbed her bottle and promptly threw it out the window.  “All gone, your done!”

The look on her face has been frozen into my memory and still brings a chuckle to my heart.  Her eyes went from astonishment, to terror to anger in a fast progression. As she grasped the severity of the moment, her little lower lip was sucked under her front teeth, her eyes brimmed with tears, and she was not about to give us the satisfaction of seeing her cry!  She was mad.  But, that was the end of her bottle.  Soon the joys of sippy cups filled with juice, and straws filled with bubbly things replaced the desire for the powdered formula she had clung so tight to, delights that she never would have experienced without the intervention.

Abba knows there are times when we need intervention as well.  He knows that sometimes things, people, ministries, titles, that have become toxic to our growth can be taken away from us slowly, graciously, and at other times they must be ripped from our hands and hurled out the window if we are ever to move to maturity.  But, I have learned that as The Gardener did for the Honey Bee, God does for us.  That night when he tucked her into bed without her beloved bottle, he gave her something more precious than a substitute for comfort, he gave her the tangible presence of his love, the safety of his arms as he read her favorite story and reminded her of what a good, big girl she really was, even if she couldn’t see it for herself yet.

Whenever God withholds something from us, he always gives us himself. He never weans us without providing the place of intimacy and fellowship where we can run like David and learn to lean upon him. Finding that we long for the Giver, more than we do the gifts.  As paradoxes go, this one is pretty awesome in that once we have stopped craving the childish wants, we discover a world of delight has opened for us that we can only attain, by becoming a child.  Not a child of the flesh, but a child of the Spirit.  Leaping into the arms of Christ with simple faith that our needs will be met, our lives attended to because he is the Good Shepherd of our souls brings with it the very keys of the Kingdom.

Father, where I have grasped at power and position and fame of my own making wean me.  Throw out the pacifiers of selfish satisfactions and teach me how to rest upon your breast. Give me the yearning to know your heart above all other sounds, and to sit quietly and wait for the strength that is promised to those who know how to be still.Are-we-alll-gods-children

 

Between The Rock & The Cross

The Crucified Life is the theme of today’s Lent devotional.  As I turn to the familiar passages in Mark 8 I remember my story…OUR story, the Rock and I.

Mar 8:34  When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

I was done with  pretending.  The Gardener and I had duked it out verbally over the current condition of our existence for the last time and I was done.  I was cleaning toilets at the local hotel and he was gardening over an acre of our high desert, wind swept, hillside ranch land for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) we had started as a last ditch effort at “making it”.   It was 2008-09 and everything in the world that I could call mine had either been auctioned, sold, or re-possessed.  Our reputation, credit and place in community leadership was gone.  I was driving to work by the charity of my friends in a loaner two tone Geo Metro he had salvaged from the dump for a hundred dollars.  We jokingly called it the Crack car, thanks to being profiled by local law enforcement as one of the many drug runners to live between our village and the large resort town where I worked.  Working the midnight shift I must have been pulled over by every local, county and state officer around until they realized I was just a hotel maid working the late shift and they would wave at me as I passed their canyon pull out hiding spots.

Mar 8:35  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.

I was desperately trying to save my life.  We were less than broke.  Our thriving construction company within a matter of months of the stock market crash went from prosperous to bankrupt seemingly overnight, and somehow it became a muddy mess in my soul about the way abundant life was supposed to work out to those who were serving God with a pure heart.  Evidently I wasn’t or else this wouldn’t be happening.  Obviously, there is sin in my life, and if my husband was any man at all (so they told me) he wouldn’t be gardening he would be flipping burgers or doing what was necessary to -“by GOD provide for his family!”

“God has me here right now honey, I don’t understand it, I don’t know why, but he has me in the dirt.  He has my face down in the manure and the muck, fighting off the rattlesnakes and figuring out who I am and who HE is.  He is breaking this strangle hold I have had on my life, our life…it belongs to Him, we belong to HIM….We are going to be ok. It is going to be ok.”

Mar 8:36  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

I stared at The Gardener standing next to the sink in his ripped up blue jeans, his gloved hands holding his newest batch of seedlings  he had poured hours into coaxing to the surface.  Hours of tending and patience that I wanted, I needed, I felt I didn’t get….I wanted to crush them…I was jealous of plants.  The 800 sq feet of living space seemed to suck the air out of my lungs.  I needed space, my old life had space.  Four thousand square feet of Victorian home space, office space, money space, friends space…faith space. I was done pretending I was ok with this.  I screamed to know why my prayers had not been answered, why we had not been protected, didn’t God take care of HIS own?  We had done it all right by the standards:  Tithe, works, offering, volunteering, missions, hospitality, generosity, good employers,teaching-why were the heavens brass?  It was so silent.  We no longer had a church family to turn to, my closest friendships were shattered, and I had lost my faith.  I felt completely and utterly alone, inside and outside.

” I don’t know if I believe anymore that there is a God.  I don’t know if I believe there is anything else in this life but suffering, and sorrow, and pain and then….then you just die, and you are dirt and worms eat you and there is nothing more…I don’t even know if I can believe you, and really I don’t want to hear about a God who treats his people this way. ”

Mar 8:37  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

The Gardener put his seedlings on the table and turned to me with a fire in his eyes and a set in his jaw that I had come to know meant business.  He pointed to the door and said in a voice that was thick with resolution, and will and faith.

“Get out.  Get out of this house!  March your butt down to that garden, and you sit on that bank and you watch that sprinkler go around until you get an answer to this.  I don’t care if it takes you all night.  DON’T move, until you know what you believe.”

I was shocked.  How dare he talk to me like that and ORDER me to get out of my house!  He didn’t move.  I laughed sarcastically.  “Go watch sprinklers?!”  Yeah, that is the answer.  The room closed in tighter and I needed air.  “Fine.  I’ll go.  Hope I don’t get bit by a rattlesnake, it will be your fault if I die!”  and I stormed out the door, letting the hinges ring with the slam. I defiantly marched to the side hill threw myself down on the bank and dared God to move me.  “Here I am.  The Gardener seems to think you talk out here in the middle of snakes, and grass, and manure..so…TALK!”

Mar 8:38  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

I was ashamed of the way God had dealt with us.  I was ashamed to say I believed in ONE who seemed to throw his children under the bus when they needed him most.  I sat there and watched the sprinklers go around thinking how stupid this was, but it was better than fighting inside.  Click, click, click the sprinkler shot out the cool water, the plants opened their leaves, the dirt received and the process was repeated.

I don’t know how long I sat there watching the revolution of the water but as the hard dirt was being penetrated by the drops of water, my heart was beginning to soften and I was shocked to find tears flowing from my eyes.  A movement to my left revealed the Gardner had quietly entered through the lower gate and was slowly moving among the corn, fertilizing, pulling suckers, stealing glances up the hill to where I was sitting…tending me.  Tending my space.  Guarding me from intrusion so God could rain upon me, interceding for me.  Like the Great Intercessor does.

Something was different.  I looked around and noticed there was something new in the sound of the water falling on the dirt.  Below me in the terrace, the once hard, dry dirt was black with moisture.  I found myself smiling over how wet the plants had become…they received what they needed through no effort of their own. They were planted, tended, pruned and harvested by The Gardener, and they would do what God had designed them to do, bear fruit.  Familiar words began to whisper in my soul:

Joh 15:1 -5

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

“Without ME, you can do nothing!”  I suddenly knew that for the first time in months.

“Ok, I whispered, “what do you want me to do?”

“Die.  Let me have your expectations of who I am, and let me show you the truth.”

I could feel him begin to pry my hands off of my life.  The Gardener had moved up several terraces tending as he went.  He looked at me, and smiled at my teary face.  He knew.  He knew what I was just discovering. Our life was in the garden of our God, and He is the vine dresser, he is the planter and he is the one who enables the yield.  The secret to kingdom living is an upside down paradox of faith.  Lose to gain, die to live….This time between the Rock and the Cross was a gift to me, if I would surrender my life, my will, my rights to my own way and humbly cling to the Savior who made a covenant with me in the sacrifice of His life.  Letting him prune me from my flesh, and grow me in the Spirit.

I felt The Gardener sit beside me in the grass, as the sun was setting behind the hills, casting its shadow across the valley.  He placed his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close.  I loved the way he smelled of earth, and water and sunshine.

“I am so weak. I don’t know how to die! I don’t know how to let go and just believe.”  The Gardener pointed to the trellis at our feet holding the young tomato vines upright.

“He’s got you.  The Holy Spirit will lead you to the Cross.  That is His job.  You just need to be.  Let him do the work he promised to do in your life. Trust Him, He loves you.”

I grew to love our time in the desert.  I found that it is in the desert that God speaks the clearest, and the best place in the world to be is between the rock and the cross.  Here, the good work of the Kingdom is established in our lives.  This lesson in abiding love, in allowing my self to embrace the cross that I might truly live has become a theme and a value in my life.  The wind of the spirit blew around the word abiding and reminded me of it’s picture root.  One of the words for abiding in Hebrew is the word kul (pronounced ‘kool’).  The letters of this word are the kaf   k and the lamed, l. These letters paint this beautiful picture of the yoked life.

The kaf is the picture of the palm, open, releasing, vulnerable, giving, and the lamed is the shepherds staff, which speaks of leadership and authority. Together  these letters form a picture of abiding that means “to be tame for the yoke”.

Jesus tells us in Mathew 11: 29-30 to take his yoke upon ourselves, to learn from him.  Why?  Because. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.   He is our inheritance, and we are the joy that was set before him a Bride and a Body that the Father gave him.  We are to submit our will to his as he submitted his will to the Father.  Jesus was tame for the yoke, abiding in the knowledge that he was the Beloved of the Father, only begotten Son in whom He was well pleased.  When we abide in His yoke, we also have this as our testimony.

Father, help me to stay under the yoke of the cross.  Help me to yield to the pruning and not draw back when you shear away those branches that are sucking spiritual life from me.  I long to present unto you a life of abundant fruit, pleasing and satisfying to your heart. Help me not be afraid of the north winds of life, but use them to stir up fragrant prayer as incense before you.  May the comforting south winds of days of peace not be taken for granted, but may I steward my time wisely before you.

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.

Let my beloved come into his garden,

And eat his precious fruits. Song of Songs 4:16

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The Mad Shepherd

 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.  John 10:4-6

Sheep are stupid.  Cute, but stupid.  We tried sheep, the Gardener and I. Visions of nicely mowed grass, gentle wool waddling in the pasture tender lambs eating from my hand…yeah that.  In reality, our sheep did not know our voice.  They knew the old Shepherd’s voice.  No amount of bucket rattling, gentle cajoling or bribes of bread lured them from their escape route through the horse pasture, and out into the meadow.  Time and again we chased them hoping our investment didn’t have a heart attack before we could have lamb chops.  Finally we wised up and their pen became a fortress.  I know why sheep need a Shepherd, they follow the greenest grass, get lost easily, and have no compass of home-hmm, sounds too familiar.

As I read the encounters in scripture with shepherds, it seems to be a soft spot in the heart of the Eternal.  Shepherding is an occupation they takes personally and one they insist the stewards of the Kingdom become.  Moses’s qualifications to lead God’s people wasn’t found in the PHD of Pharaoh’s court, but in the dirty, messy reality of chasing around desert sheep.  David was a shepherd who became a king after God’s own heart, and it was those bands of shepherds who were the first to receive the greatest news in the world that at that moment, not too far from them was born, in the city of David, a savior who is the Great Shepherd.  The shepherds knew, and they ran to meet him, bowing low and worshiping.  But on the hill that day in our Lent passage of scripture, there was no running, no worshiping, only cries of blasphemy and rage.

I turn my gaze to John 10 and see the crowd surrounding Jesus in this pastoral scene.  Disciples, pharisees, blind, lame, healed, the lost and the found-all needing a shepherd.  Here he is offering to lead them out of religious bondage, out of darkness to lay down his life for them-but they couldn’t hear him.  They didn’t know his Shepherd voice.  They knew the sound of demons fleeing, eyes seeing, ears hearing, bread multiplying, but the call to enter the fold through the door left them blinking and afraid he was a mad man.

I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.  And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?”  John 10:14-20

I found it amazing that at the end of this day, the religious leaders were ready to “stone Jesus for identifying too closely with the Father.”  Here the Spirit stopped me.  “Now do you know?” A warm awakening happened inside. Ah, that is why.  I subconsciously rub my temples thinking of the times word-rocks have been hurled and fire-brand threats have shot towards me when I have dared to see myself as a companion of the heart of God.  A bride, a son, a friend.  To see myself as the delight of his eyes and the joy that was set before him has caused many angry breaks of fellowship. To be in love with God, and know he loves me and is conforming me into HIS image….is…Dangerous!

Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?”   The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” John 10:33

Oh how I need shepherding. How often my heart strays after pastures that if consumed would cause me to founder and die a slow death of gluttonous self.  I long to stay close to The Good Shepherd, to learn his voice deeper and richer in my inmost being to where only a gentle call, a simple whisper would be all it would take to move me to his hand.  I think of the words of Wesley:

 ‘Tis there, with the lambs of thy flock,
There only, I covet to rest,
To lie at the foot of the rock,
Or rise to be hid in thy breast;
‘Tis there I would always abide,
And never a moment depart,
Concealed in the cleft of thy side,
Eternally held in thy heart.

–Charles Wesley Hymn 228

I feel the wind blow as I gaze at my Shepherd.  Where was the first time he is known as Shepherd in scripture?  Shovel in hand I journey through the letters on parchment.  Back, back, back….to the beginning and there I am blown away all over again as I gaze at the first name He chooses to be called by.    From the dawn of creation a hidden treasure has rested in the eternal meaning of His name-Elohim.  Tracing the root of this name for God, Elohim, it means by definition: Deity, Supreme Strength, Chief Ram, Pillar, Tree, and Powerful as in a strong twisting.

“To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? Saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of His might, and for that He is strong in power, not one is lacking”.  Isaiah 40:25-26

It was not by chance that He predestined strength to be at the beginning of all things. He knows the weakness of our frame. He knows we are just dust, red earth limping without his breath.  He knew we would falter and strive in our own efforts to live a life only He could give, and so there, in his name we see the answer to the question of “how then shall I live?” (Ezekiel 33:10) .  He answers before there is a voice to pose the question:  “In me, in my strength, in my leadership, in my sacrifice.”  The promise in this introduction of Himself is that we would be caught up in him, twisted tightly into a three- fold cord, a living strand of unbreakable life. (Eccl. 4:12)

”for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; (Acts17:28  )

“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. “ (1Jn 4:13  )

   Here we turn from the standard definitions and begin to peer into the Ancient Hebrew pictograph.  A beautiful mysterious anticipation begins to unfold, that reveals the nature of our Creator to care for and nurture his creation with the heart of a shepherd.  As he would later tell Moses on the mountain that burned with fire- mercy is the first of His ways.

Exo 34:6  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

Elohim is spelled in Hebrew ALEPH* LAMED*HEY *MEM.  There are only consonants in Hebrew the vowel markings were added in later to help with pronunciations.  The first letter, ALEPH is also the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  In the ancient Hebrew pictographs,[ ALEPH is pictured as an ox head, and it signifies strength, strong first leader or authority.      This is the first letter of this name for God.  It can therefore be translated as: the Lord(God) is my strength.

The next letter is LAMED. This letter is pictured as a shepherd’s staff, and has the meaning of authority to lead or shepherd. The third letter in this name of God is HEY.  A whole volume could be written on the beauty and symbolism of this letter, however simply described it is a picture of a man with outstretched or open arms. It carries the meaning of awe, to behold, to look intently.  Its sound is the sound you make when you exhale (think the breath of God) and it means to stand beholding grace.

YOD the next letter in sequence is the picture of the arm from the elbow to the fist, and means my works, or my hand.  MEM is the last letter that makes up this name and it is the picture of waves of water, which symbolically stands for peoples/nations. When you put these pictures together you gaze into a familiar face from scripture that has comforted many in times of despair.

Here is the visual depiction of Elohim:

elohim imageThe LORD is my SHEPHERD by his GRACE he provides for MY needs I SHALL NOT WANT,(There is no lack)  he takes me by MY HAND and LEADS me by still WATERS.    These are the beautiful, familiar sounds of Psalm 23.  He is our strength, our strong tower, our refuge, our rock, he is also the Great Shepherd of the ages who desires to lead our souls in peace.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep,

if he has lost one of them,

does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country,

and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

And when he has found it,

he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

And when he comes home,

he calls together his friends and his neighbors,

saying to them,

‘Rejoice with me,

for I have found my sheep

that was lost.’

–Jesus

Lukes Gospel 15:4-6

Gentle Shepherd, lead me today.  Keep me close to your side, then I have no reason to fear.
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Dust, Ashes & Bread

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of the calendar for Lent, and I know nothing about this tradition.  Having relegated it to “those people” who worship “over there”, I find myself a long lost cousin three times removed at the family table.  Which fork goes with what dish?   I look at the family album of our common faith and marvel at the way the symbol of the ashen crosses on the foreheads of the penitent resonates in my heart.  Repentance, confession and mortality are  holy ground themes of personal burning bush encounters in my life, and I am strangely saddened that I had not participated with others of the ecclesia in this outward sign of an internal reality.  The reading from the Gospel of John 6:32-35/47-58 rivets my heart to the page.  There in the midst of a massive throng of people ready to “do the works of God” the religious “right things”, they ask The Bread of Life for a sign.

 Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD FROM HEAVEN TO EAT.'”  John 6: 30-31

He had just told them in the preceding statement that the only “work” of God was to believe in the ONE the Father had sent.  Here they are, “those people over there” not willing to accept the simplicity of the reality of the tabernacling God.  Not willing to believe that salvation could be so very simple.  “Those people” who if they weren’t so blind would have known He was the answer, the life, the light, the desire of the nations, the prophets promise.  “Those people” demanded that God prove himself on their behalf,  ” show us a sign and then we will believe”! I scanned the crowd on the hill horrified to find myself seated in their midst chomping on a loaf of bread nodding assent to the argument. Right!  Show me a sign!

How many times did I demand an outward sign of his love?  How often have I been “one of those people”  who failed to know him, to believe him, to trust that he was the one sent from the Father.  I have often failed to do the “work” required of God. I have often refused to believe.

Jesus catches my gaze in that crowd as the syllables of his declaration of being the Manna that came from heaven, not like in the wilderness of collective memory…greater, begin to pierce my heart.  I choke on the bread that seems stuck in my throat-

 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.  John 6:35

The crowd begins to mock, What?!  How can this man be manna?  How can we eat of his flesh?  I think back to Communion Sunday, the way the bread and cup had felt in my hands, tasted in my mouth.  ” Take eat” he would say the night before the cross, ” this is my body, broken for you…remember me.” I had held the remembrance of the greatest love a being could know, a laying down of life, in my hands. Did I savor the mystery?  The Manna?  Did I know the blood of the new covenant flowing in my veins? Did I walk away asking for another sign of his love?  Something more tangible than symbolic?  Was I one of “those people”?

The Spirit blew around my archeology gear and invited me back to the dig site with a question.  “What do ashes have to do with bread?”  Shovel in hand I turned the pages not surprised to find myself back in Genesis. He promises to declare the end from the beginning and here we find at the beginning of our family legacy of doubting the goodness of God the connection of bread and dust and ashes.

 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”  Genesis 3:19

The next mention comes from the man who bears the testimony of friendship with God.  Daring to bargain with his friend for the lives of the lost, a groan close to the heart of the ONE who gave himself as the Bread of Life to ALL who would hunger to eat.

  And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes: Genesis 18:27

Ashes.  The Hebrew word is epher.  I feel the moment joined with a holy presence.  I hear the delighted anticipation of the ONE who is about to bestow a great gift to someone who could never repay, is undeserving, yet because of HIS great affection is found worthy.  “Open it”  I pause at the packaging.  Knowing the moment will forever change me.  This is only day four and I hardly recognize the woman who stood at the start of this journey…”Go on, Open it”.

Ashes-

Epher,-

Aleph*Pey*Resh =The strong opened head.  It is a reference to grain.  I begin to smile as I nod in knowing. Yes, of course it is, the beginnings of bread.

The pictograph (A,E) is strength, strong (p) is a picture of an open mouth, the (r) is a picture of a head. Combined these mean “strongly open the head”. The heads of grains are scattered on the threshing floor, a smooth, hard and level surface. An ox is led around the floor crushing the heads, opening them to reveal the seed inside. (The aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet which symbolizes God is the picture of an ox.  Coincidence?  I think not.  This is a strong statement of who is doing this threshing all to reveal the seed!)  Bread is made from the crushing of the seed.  Our Bread, our Eucharist would go into Gethsemane which means…yes…the olive press….another stone wheel turned by an ox to crush the olives to produce the oil…to be crushed by the weight of our sins.

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.-Isaiah 53:10

There the “if” of the Messiah’s willingness stands so innocent.  There is no shadow of the tormenting midnight wrestle of the second if-“If it is possible take this cup”  There is no hint of the greater Adam’ s sweat that would fall as blood and the words that would ring through eternity, “nevertheless, not my will….but yours be done”.  There the bread of life whose name means salvation intercedes for me, for my salvation.

We see him in the pen on ink, the oil upon the canvas laboring in the travail of his flesh, surrendering his will to the Father.  But there were three companions of his heart who were invited to be eye witnesses of this fellowship of suffering, the first fruit pressing of the new covenant.  Three were invited to share in this bread of friendship on the threshing floor, and they slumbered through the grinding, their hearts heavy with sorrow.

What would we have known of suffering well, had they stayed awake?  “Those people” should have known better...those people….are…me!  What would the world know of the love of my God, the closeness of his fellowship to the hurting, if I had stayed awake through the Father orchestrated times of threshing in my life? Surrendering my will, and trusting the goodness of my God?

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.  He that loveth his life loseth it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.  If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will the Father honor.  John 12:24-26

My heart whispers in the shadows of Gethsemane…”Keep me awake, teach me how to pray, show me how to live, I am just dust and ashes, feed me with yourself, you the Manna of God, give me this bread that I might feast forever.  Help me to remember you and believe. That others might see the outward sign of the inward mark of a circumcised heart broken and poured out.  Adam Abram 2008

 

Opened Wide

   In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
 And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not.
John 1: 4-5

I have been slain by light. Drawn from the darkness of sin, and death into a glorious blinding in-dwelling life.  How can I even move?  How can I even speak?  Like Job I cry out from this encounter with you:  “my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you and I AM UNDONE”…

John 1:1, the Genesis of the New Covenant.  Here THE WORD leaps from John’s lips, leaps into the chaos, pitches his tent in the flesh, in the neighborhood, leaps into the darkest places of man’s hearts and drives his stake…his cross.  This one is MINE!

In my beginning was my Creator, fashioning me in the darkness of the womb.  Knitting a tapestry of variegated threads each a line in my story.  I was named upon his lips before there was a drop of water, a creature, a song.  The Star-Breather, who spoke all things into being, who is himself the light of creation, gave me to the earth for this time, this season, and he who gave me breath, sustains me every moment of the day by the word of his power. I place my hand upon my mouth.  How are these words even possible?

”  …who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  Hebrews 1:3″

The sages teach that when God spoke the world into existence the Word is still reverberating, creating, echoing through time.  God is still speaking.  They say that if God ever stopped speaking creation into being it would revert back to the nothingness of “before” the chaos into which the WORD spoke and life was.   So, what is this life that is the light of men, this Chai?   Shovel in hand I head to the deeper part of the word and stand at the edge of the dig amazed to find that life in Hebrew revolves around the stomach.

To the Ancient Hebrews life is seen as a full stomach while an empty stomach is seen as death. –Jeff Benner

How could the Lenten theme of denial, emptiness and fasting tie in to a full stomach? Do I have this all backwards?  I could hear the wind of God and I looked to where it blew the leaves of the pages, the rustling seemed to  whisper to me…”your are looking from the outside in” !  Rejoicing in the invitation to a treasure hunt, I brushed away the leaves, turned the dirt over to discover the connection-Appetite.

What am I hungry for?  What do I crave? My natural man reverberated with the aroma of my fleshly desires.  Praise, respect, notoriety, position, influence, beauty….With each acknowledgement I saw the way they left my soul empty, hungry, famished until I could feel the yearning cry resonate within:  “Nothing satisfies, I am hungry for you God.  I want to be satisfied with you.”

 “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.  For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.  Psalm 36: 8-9”

“How do I open my mouth to eat the abundant life?” No sooner had I asked, when the answer was in my mouth:

 ” I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.  Psalm 81:10″

Get out of Egypt.  Out of the darkness. Out of the world into the glorious light.  Out of death, into life.  Any place in my heart that is still in Egypt is a place of hunger, famine, and desolation.  Estranged from the provision of God, shriveled and weak.  My destiny is Canaan, I can’t live in Egypt.  There needs to be a crossing over, here on the shores of my Jordan, I invite his gaze.  Like a helpless baby bird, I am given the picture of my true condition.  Naked, without feathers, in a nest perched upon a precipice totally dependent upon the devoted care of the Watchful One, who neither slumbers nor sleeps. I can’t even feed myself, and I don’t know how to fly.

“Tell me Lord, what doesn’t belong to you?  What have I held back?  What idols are secretly buried under my tent? Where is there darkness in me?  Bring me into the light. Shine your light upon the dark corners of my heart that I might see the way, to everlasting abundant life.  Delighted and satisfied with good things”.Baby-Birds-Dinner-Time-3

 

The Father Revealed

Lenten Devotional Day Two:  Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“..to love the LORD thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days…Deut. 30:20”

Yesterday’s triumphant declaration of repentance (burning the house down,changing kingdoms) and love-filled vow to live this Lent season openly, transparent and vulnerable dawned into a day filled with failed expectations, fearful episodes of seeming disaster, a Monday morning pull the covers over my head start it all again kind of day.  And then there it is.  That verse staring at me as I think of how I chose moments of death today, instead of life.  Dead thinking, dead wisdom, dead works-

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.” Deut. 30:15

That was the problem….I wasn’t listening.  I was busy congratulating myself on the decision to be an arsonist, looking for the kerosene and cleaning rags, that The Beautiful One had to orchestrate a near chicken killing, dog biting, pup in my care getting hurt kind of morning all before the first cup of coffee, to show me again that HE IS MY LIFE.  Looking back at the morning, I recognized the still small voice telling me NOT to let the dogs out.  But, that was just me right?

I have come to realize the whispers are so much more important than the loud clanging charismatic proclamations men make in the name of God.  To hear (SHEMA) IS to obey in the Hebrew mind.  If you aren’t obeying, you haven’t heard, if you haven’t heard you aren’t obeying it is one and the same.  The reality is I sat today and repented of the true sin of not trusting his voice.  That sin that echoes back to the Garden, that leaves me naked and ashamed.  Father, forgive me, I didn’t believe you. I thought I could do it on my own, I thought I could run my own life.  YOU are my life, you….alone.

Tonight as I bandage the wounds of the pup, The Gardender bandages mine with a gentle “I love you honey, sorry this happened on your watch-” and I cleave to him, and he holds me and I hear the scripture come again to my heart …”cleave unto him….HE IS YOUR LIFE”

Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: John 11:25

I turn my gaze to the familiar word love, and again pick up the shovel, turning over the words before me….Aleph* Hey* Bet* = Ahav….LOVE.  The word picture is one of a man standing with arms raised as in beholding a great sight in the middle of the word for father…Abba…Love is the Father revealed.

“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ John 14:9 “

I could feel those words spoken over me, have I been so long with you, with YOU, that you don’t know me? I bow my heart and my head as I ask for a renewed love, a renewed understanding of the revelation of the Father to my heart.  A renewed reality that HE IS MY ONLY LIFE.  I don’t have alternative lives…I don’t have a Sunday life and a Monday life.  All life I experience flows from his hands…the good, the bad, the weird, the full, the empty.  To Him belong the fullness of my days, this is His life to live.  I surrender tonight Lord, the keys to the mansions of my heart. Every room is yours, nothing is off limits.  Come and take residence in the temple you died for, the temple you live for- I am yours.father-holding-hand

Hunting For Water

I opened my heart to the piercing rays of the Beautiful One this morning.  I didn’t mean to, it was just the way the choruses played during our Sunday morning reflection that lulled the guardians to sleep.  He slayed me with one glance of his affection, and that tender way of showing me what is distancing us from intimacy.  I could only look on as my heart listened to the passage from  Joel 2: 12:

Now, therefore, saith the Lord. Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and mourning.”

I couldn’t move, my eyes were misty riveted to the page.  The NASB says:  ” Return to me”…I know return.  It is a repentance that involves burning your old place of residence in the flesh down, down to the ground below the foundation.  Sowing salt upon that place never to return…leaving nothing to go back to, it is a changing of the kingdom. From darkness into light.  As the Immerser said that fateful day when THE lamb walked upon the shores of the Jordan…”Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

I needed a turning. I was desperately in need of  an exchange in addresses.  I could feel the old key ring jingling the ways to the old house. The house that rejection built.  A strong fortified place of the ” I will nevers, and the they will nevers, ” statements of the soul that  had kept me safe for a long season.  Safe?  I didn’t feel safe.  I felt cold.  That was my statement to the Gardener as we journeyed down the mountain on icy roads to attend an ecclesia that felt like ice to my soul in need of turning.  “I’m wrong inside, I know it, but I can’t fix it”.   His quick glace from the wheel, and gentle answer began a thaw in my posture-

“Faith arises out of our helplessness, faith begins when the grace of God comes, unmerited, unasked for-faith rises to meet that”

I moved further on the page and wondered at the way the light shone around the word ‘fasting’  I could feel the shovel in my hands grow warm as I began to dig past what my mind told me I already understood, furiously turning over the soil of my understanding, frantic lest I remain frozen forever and lose the trace of light promising freedom and restored intimacy with the Keeper of my soul.

Fast-a verb. To abstain from food.

Deeper-

Hebrew:  tsome, from H6684-a fast

As I dug deeper I found in the gallery of the Ancient Hebrew picture language the painting for the condition of my soul. It is the picture of a man laying upon the ground (on a hunt) and the picture for water…it literally means ” the hunt for water”.  To be extremely dry and thirsty is the root word that abstaining from food comes from.  I could hear the sound of the water brook as the doe who was being pursued racing to find the place to shelter her from the attackers, to hide her scent from the enemy and drink of living water. I could feel her heart beating in my chest-

“-As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.” Psalm 42:1

I was feeling thirsty again.  Hungry again.  Longing again to have nothing between us.  I would give up this old house,  this place I had built. I would be called out of UR.  I would journey onward longing for the City, not made with human hands. I would repent, I would receive forgiveness, I would give forgiveness. I would live transparent and vulnerable and I would pant for the water brooks of the river of my God.

This is how I turn.  Empty handed, exposed, helpless.  Faith rises to meet grace. I have only to ask a drink, and believe that living water is my portion.

deer waterbrook

Jesus answered and said unto unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. John 4:10