Just A Pile Of Elephant Dung

This past week I’ve been in the bush in Africa.  There’s been no TV, radio, or wifi, (hence the delay in getting out this blog) and no news of the outside world.  I’ve loved it!  Today we flew by bush plane to our next destination.  Therefore, I have opportunity for a little wifi before tomorrow morning when I’m back to the bush for more adventure!

This past week we’ve been up close to elephants, lions, leopards, wildebeests, zebra, hyenas and jackals.  Oh, what an amazing adventure God is allowing me to have.  Several nights I have awoken to a crunching sound.  I sat up in bed, peered out the mesh widows of my tent, and what did I see?  Zebras and wildebeests all around!  It was a full moon so I could watch them grazing and moving slowly about.  I was careful not to move so as not to make any noise.  I didn’t want to scare them away.  Those moments in the night were breathtaking for me.  I could never have imagined having such an experience.

The other day I had a new experience, too.  I was walking around our campsite after a long hot day of searching for various animals.  As I stretched my legs I noticed something in the distance.  My heart began to race.  Was it a jackal hunched down in the grass? One of the other team members came over and suspected it could even be a lion; but upon further investigation, lo and behold, it was just a pile of elephant dung.  What a laugh we had.  It has now become a standing joke.

By contrast, our guides are remarkable in their ability to scout an animal and identify its whereabouts.  They spy lions sleeping atop rocky cliffs when my untrained eyes only see rocks.  They take note of leopards straddling tree limbs when I only see the leaves.  My lack of practice thought I saw a jackal when it turned out to be elephant dung.  These guides have studied and practiced a long time to be so skilled.

I have reminded myself that it’s the same in our spiritual worlds.  How often have people claimed that God wasn’t helping them, when actually they just couldn’t see that He was waiting for perfect timing to bless them to the full?  How many times have people believed God had abandoned them, when actually He was sending all manner of help to comfort and aid them?  They just coudn’t recognize it.

So many times in my life I’ve heard people blaming God for all sorts of things when I knew that in reality, the person giving blame, rarely took time to commune with God or to listen to Him.  If we don’t give time to getting to know God, then it stands to reason that we will not adequately recognize His ways.  Developing spiritual eyesight doesn’t come over night.  It takes time and practice, like guides in the African bush.  If you and I don’t give adequate time to developing our spiritual eyesight, we’ll see something, say it’s God, and all it will be is an equilavant to a pile of elephant dung.

Cultural Adjustment

I have had the pleasure and adventure of spending a lifetime in different cultures.  Things Asian are different than things European.  Things European are different than things American.  Things American are different than things African.  No two countries are alike, even if they speak the same basic language.  Foods are prepared uniquely to every country.  Modes of transportation can vary greatly.  The way one dresses is most always different from one country to another.  Even the way one perceives something and makes a decision is vastly different from country to country.  It’s absolutely fascinating; sometimes it has made me laugh while at others times it has made me cry, but it’s still fascinating.

I have always found it the wisest decision to consciously adapt to the culture one lives in.  Learn to prepare  and eat the foods.  Learn what is offensive and avoid doing or saying it.  Dress appropriately as the nationals dress.  Make attempts to learn something of the language even if your attempts murder it.  People of any country will appreciate your endeavor to fit in with how they live.  These undertakings make life easier for the visitor to any country.  Feelings of being at home come more quickly until one day it dawns on you that you really do belong.

Although I have lived and adjusted to life in many places, there is one particular culture that I’m still making conscious efforts to adapt to even though I’ve never been there.  I am a citizen of heaven.  I am the child of a Father I’ve never seen.  I have a home being prepared for me that I can’t fully imagine what it will look like.  Heaven.  As the song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”  Although I have never seen my future and eternal home, I know a few things about it.  It will be a place of no more tears, no more sickness, no more fears, no more broken relationships, no more grief, no more pain of any type.  It’s a place where poverty doesn’t exist, pride does not control, greed is no more, and sickness has no hold.  The older I get, there is a stirring inside me; I can hardly wait!  I hope those reading this are citizens, too, just passing through this present world, yearning for the next to come.

“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.  And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior.  He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own, using the same power with which He will bring everything under His control.”  Philippians 3:20-21

Warthog Alert!

I have just spent an absolutely wonderful month in Zimbabwe and South Africa.  Two days ago it was time to leave and continue my African adventures in other places on this amazing continent.  Working with animals here has exceeded my hopes and expectations, etching a memorable place in my heart.

As I was on the aircraft in the capital city of Bulawao, Zimbabwe, ready for take-off, it had been explained to me that, before every departure, airport officials will get in their jeeps and drive ahead of the aircraft.  They are on the lookout for something in particular — warthogs!  Evidently, warthogs stampeding across the runway is an occassional occurrence that can cause havoc if it collides with an approaching aircraft.  Such an incident would not be a happy one for the plane or the warthogs!  Hence, the jeeps go first in order to give adequate warning to the pilot if a stampede seems imminent.  I was greatly amused by this.

Warnings or alerts are valuable in all sorts of occasions; it’s especially important in our spiritual worlds.  Have you ever found yourself headed in a certain direction, but something inside was causing you to hesitate?  Perhaps you have nearly said something to someone, or behaved in a particular manner, but that something inside, once again, caused you to hesitate, to reconsider.  What a wonderful alert system we have with the Holy Spirit being resident in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit is our teacher, our counselor, the One who speaks a warning into our hearts when we’re about to do or say something that would not be either God honoring or helpful to ourselves.  When we deliberately ignore these warnings from the Holy Spirit, we put ourselves on a runway to chaos, in danger of colliding with warthogs of disobedience.  The consequences will not be pretty.  

I love the reminder in Isaiah 30:21, “Your own ears will hear Him.  Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”  What a wonderful alert system.  How loving of the Holy Spirit to always want to lead us in the way best for us.  Our Heavenly Father absolutely adores us.  He always wants to see us walking in safety.  It’s this tremendous love that keeps the Holy Spirit constantly looking out for our welfare.  The Lord doesn’t want to see us hurt; that’s why we have such a fantastic and perfect alert system.  Let’s keep a prayer on our lips that says, “Father, help me to always listen, to hear you when you speak.  Help me to behave, to speak, and to go in the ways that you lead me.  I trust you.  Thank you.  Amen.”

I Heard It In the African Night

The day has been hot, but as night comes there is a definite coolness in the air. I’m sitting around a fire pit, orange flames sending warmth to my hands and face. A thousand stars glitter in the black sky overhead; the Milky Way appears so vivid, in a clearness I have not seen before. Not so far away lions are roaring, communicating their messages to one another. I smile in wonder and pleasure as my senses are caressed by Africa.
Then, what’s that? A sound I cannot distinguish. Have I ever heard it before? It comes again and I ask if anyone knows what it is. “It’s a bird,” someone answers, “a Fiery Necked Nightjar.” I have never heard of such a bird. I’m thrilled again at yet another discovery of wildlife in Africa.
It was further explained to me that the Fiery Necked Nightjar is not remarkable in appearance. In fact, I was told, some would say it’s a rather dull looking bird, but it’s sound makes up for its lack in beauty. The sound is clear and sweet, filled with melody that touches me deeply.

As I thought about the description of this bird — unremarkable in appearance, I thought, that’s how many people feel about themselves. They feel unremarkable, nothing special, lacking in many areas, not standing out in a unique manner. Have you ever felt that way? Probably at some time in our lives, we have all felt like we just don’t measure up. We feel — unremarkable.
When those feelings come, remember, it was God who put the song in the Fiery Necked Nightjar. It is God who puts His song into all of our lives — if we let Him. We can know the darkest of days and yet sing God’s own song of beauty and cheer because He put His song in our heart. We can feel like we’re nothing wonderful, and yet, when we remind ourselves of God’s love for us, that song of His surfaces again. It’s a sweet song of love and tender caress to our troubled minds. God’s song lifts us up when our own feelings seek to pull us down. 

 Let’s not rely upon feelings alone but let us put our deepest trust in God’s own words.  Look at what He says in Psalms 40:2-4, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.  He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what He has done and be amazed.  They will put their trust in the Lord.  Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord…”

No matter how unremarkable you may ever feel, remember, it is the Lord Himself who gave His song to the Fiery Necked Nightjar, and it is the Lord Himself who put His song into your heart, too. 

When The Poor Can Be Rich

Having the privilege to have spent my entire life traveling, I’ve naturally seen differences in cultures, variances in landscapes, exotic and unusual fruits and vegetables, and I’ve listened to different languages being spoken.  There is one common thing that I’ve observed in all the countries in which I’ve traveled, and that is the poor.  I see no difference in the poor in spite of culture or food or language.  

One has only to look deep into their eyes to see a hopelessness, a quiet despair, a resignation of their fate.  Currently traveling around Africa, it is the poor that never escapes my attention.  They spread their personal belonging along sidewalks hoping someone will purchase them.  They walk from car to car in cities, knocking on windows to sell bags of fruit.  It’s the same everywhere I go — the poor are existing rather than living.

Observing the poor does two things for me:  It reminds me to be thankful for all that I have because in the eyes of so many, I am rich.  Then, it reminds me that, beyond the physical world in which we live, anyone can be rich spiritually.  I love the verse in James 2:5, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?”  In my travels I often ask the Lord to please help me to be aware of opportunities to share His riches.  His Kingdom is available to all who want it.  Imagine, an eternal Kingdom of love and peace, and joy unspeakable, all for the asking.  

Whoever comes to Him, rich or poor, Jesus accepts them all.  The poor can be changed into princes and princesses when Jesus takes up residence in their hearts, sealing them with the promise that — one day they will inherit His Kingdom.  His is a Kingdom that will never fall.  It will stand forever.  As the song says, “Oh, what a glorious day that will be when at last I shall see the One who saved me.”

What is the road that takes us to this Kingdom?  John 3:16.  May the rich and the poor discover that narrow path that leads to God’s eternal Kingdom.  May you and I remain aware of opportunities to point the way to others.

Trying Not To Laugh

You know how it is when you’re in a public place and something funny happens, but it’s inappropriate to laugh?  Well, that happened to me the other day.  I’m on a bus traveling from one African city to another.  That in itself is a first for me.  

After the passengers were seated, the conduct0r asked for all our attention.  He explained how many stops there would be along the way.  He told us to stay in our seats and not make a habit of walking around the bus.  Then he pointed out that there was a toilet for our use in the back of the bus.  I can remember his instructions verbatim.  They were as follows:  “Please, if you need to use the toilet, it’s in the back of the bus; but please, only use it for number one.  If you need to do number two, please come forward and alert the driver who will pull to the side of the road.”  

Well, that got my tickle box turned right over.  In my imagination I could picture some poor soul having to walk the aisle of embarrassment to tell the driver that he or she needed to do a number two — and everyone on the bus would know!  I could feel my shoulders shaking and rising up and down.  I tried holding my breath but that only made my eyes water.  A snort escaped my mouth so I pretended to have a cough.  This scenario was just hilarious to me.

I knew, too, that in future days, this memory would come to me at the most inconvient of times.  I could be walking down the street, or driving my car, or even be sitting in church when this memory would turn my tickle box over again!  Oh, but it’s good to laugh isn’t it.

The Bible tells us that God made us in His image.  Therefore, it stands to reason that He laughs, too.  I love the verse in Proverbs 17:22 that says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”   I have thanked the Lord often in my life for the ability to laugh, and for good friends to laugh with, on many occasions.  A good guffaw really can change the downcast look into a smile of gladness.

I’ve often felt that it’s a good thing to laugh everyday, at least once.  To everyone reading, may your days be filled with laughter and with the joy of the Lord who is your strength.

When Eagles Fear 

I am having an amazing time this week as I’m somewhere in Africa enjoying volunteering at a wildlife hospital.  For the last two days I’ve been given the responsibility of giving antibiotic injections to a beautiful Bachelor Eagle who has wounded his leg.  It’s swollen and infected; hence the antibiotics.  

Twice a day I meet with its keeper and together we get the job done.  He has to remove the eagle from its cage to restrain it for me to give the injection.  As you can imagine, the eagle is not pleased with this arrangement.  The keeper wears thick gloves and drapes a towel over the bird to remove him.  Then the majestic eagle is restrained to the table.  It only lasts a moment, but for this bird, it is not a happy ordeal.  

“We’re helping you, you lovely bird,” I spoke gently to him as if I thought he could understand me.  His piercing eyes met mine with no small amount of hostility in them.  He just wanted the entire episode to be over.  I couldn’t blame him because this bird had no understanding that what we were doing would bring health and happiness back into his world.

I thought to myself as the day wore on — don’t we do that, too?  We get wounded in our worlds.  We’re hurt and upset.  We feel alone and perhaps trapped in a situation.  We feel there’s no way out.  Like the wounded eagle, we remain in a cage of distress; but then, what happenes? Our Heavenly Father opens the cage of our worry and hurt and begins to administer His balm.  His dealings with us are always for our good, although sometimes the way forward seems not so pleasant.  Perhaps, like the eagle, we protest to our Father and beg for another way.  Another way?  Can there be anything better than what our Father plans for us?  

Upon whatever path we travel, rocky or clear, we will get wounded, but our Father is always there to administer the healing medicine needed for our weary souls.  As Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me everyone who is weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  The eagle did not understand what we were doing.  We don’t always understand the ways of God.  How can we?  We’re merely human.  Even so, as the eagle is made stronger with our help, so are we when we bring our wounded selves to our Father.

Dead Or Alive

Today I went on a beautiful walk in the countryside with a friend of mine.  We had her dog with us who was happily running up and down the pathway.  We walked past a field of sheep and crossed a bridge over a narrow river.  The sun was shining; it was truly a beautiful day.  As we walked along, a particular tree caught my attention.  I remembered seeing this tree on past walks along this same route.

The tree seemed to be split and yet it was clearly one.  The right side of the tree displayed its leafy branches.  The left side, in contrast, displayed a few clumps of leaves here and there, but it was obviously without some life.  This tree was like this a year ago.  Therefore,  I was amazed that it had any life left, but as I said, the right side was thriving in beauty.

When I returned home after our walk, I could not get the image of the tree out of my mind.  The verse in Romans 6:11 came to my mind.  “Consider yourselves to be dead unto the power of sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  I thought to myself that our lives are not unlike the tree.  We come to know Jesus and we are made new, clean, forgiven of every sin.  Just as we had a choice to invite Jesus into our lives, we also have a daily choice to follow Him or not.  We can learn more of Him.  We can talk to Him.  We can learn to listen to and hear Him.  We can be like the side of the tree that’s full of life, bearing its leaves of luscious green beauty or we can be like the side of the tree that lives like it’s dead.  

Even though we have the Holy Spirit within us, we have the freedom to make the saddest of choices — the choice to ignore Him.  We can let the ungodly things of the world creep in and choke the spiritual life out of us or we can grow tall and strong and beautiful in Him.  What a lovely and very important choice we have to make.  We must make it daily.  

What kind of tree do we want to be?  As if we are dead or knowing that we are alive.

Blind Faith

I was watching America’s Got Talent last night.  My mother and I have enjoyed viewing each week as the aspiring contestants showcased their talents in hopes of winning the grand prize.  The acts are varied; all ages represented.

One act was a man and his wife on the trapeze.  He would stand high on a platform and literally throw his wife into the air.   He would hold her hands or feet and swing her back and forth, back and forth, gaining momentum.  Then, into the air she was hurled!  Along with the studio audience, I caught myself holding my breath; at times, my hands cupping my mouth in fearful anticipation of what might happen if he missed!

He caught her each time to the applaud of all.  Then, the judges and audience stared incredulously, as the man blindfolded his wife.  Grabbing her hands, he swung her back and forth, then tossed her high into the air!   She flipped and began quick descent.  What happened?  She just stretched out her arms and he caught her!  Several times this blind endeavor was repeated.  One time he caught her by the ankles.  She just flipped, descended and waited to be caught.  I began clapping in my living room along with the TV audience.  What an amazing act of faith on his wife’s part.

How could she do it?  How could she trust that he would catch her each and every time?  (By the way — they had no safety net!)  As I turned the situation over in my mind, wondering how she could exhibit such blind faith, I concluded that it must be because:  she had spent enough time with her husband to know his skill, to know his firm touch, to know he would be there with hands outstretched to catch her.  She had to know him so well, that it would be unheard of for her not to trust him, evenly blindly.  He had never missed; why would he miss now?

Oh, I was so challenged by this act!  I contemplated that, if this woman could blindly trust in her physical world, where mistakes do happen, then why can’t you and I blindly trust in our spiritual worlds where our God never gets anything wrong?  How can we strengthen our faith?  Like the woman with her husband, we, too, must come to know our Father so well that we know His skill in dealing with life’s troubles.  When we spend time getting to know our Father, we come to a point where we recognize His touch; we know of a certainty that His hands will be outstretched to catch us lest we fall.

This man’s wife had to practice a lot to learn to trust that her husband would catch her. We need to practice, also, spending time getting to know our Father, cultivating our own faith to know that He will never let us go; He will always be there to catch us.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10