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

Coming Soon!

I set myself a goal this week to finish painting the back porch.  I had begun this task some weeks ago but had to stop midstream due to some work being done on our house.  A few days ago, things came to a point that allowed me to begin my own labors once again.

My mother had some errands to run and would be gone for most of the day.  I saw my chance and took it, painting non-stop, so wanting to complete the porch as a surprise to her.  I could imagine the look on her face and her sheer happiness at thoughts of enjoying morning coffee on her freshly painted back porch, and with everything back in good order. It was a pleasure dipping the brush in the paint and pulling it across the wood.  She would be coming soon.  Anticipation of her arrival thrilled me.

In the midst of my painting, a thought came to my mind.  Jesus is coming back soon.  It could be any minute, or any day, or any month, or any year.  We don’t know when, but we know He is indeed returning for us who know Him.  We are encouraged throughout God’s Word to be ready.  What does that mean?  To see Him will either be an event filled with great joy or mixed with thankfulness at His return coupled with shame in how we have been living.  If we are found walking in His ways, having kept our hearts and minds steadfast on Him, we will be joyful at His return.  On the other hand, if we have ignored His leading, paid no attention to His commandments, given no thought to living in holiness, then we will be filled with great shame.

Let’s be ready for His coming!  Let’s determine, like painting the back porch, to keep our lives clean, our minds focused on Him.  After all, there’s no earthy joy to compare to it, and the thrill at His return will be immeasurable.

In Revelation 22:12, Jesus speaks to those who belong to Him.  He says, “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.”

Let’s be ready!  Preparing for His arrival is an anticipation of jubilation and triumph!

Do You Want To?

Have you ever thought about why God gave us the ten commandments?  I mean, surely He knew that no one could ever keep them all.  “Thou shalt not covet,” or “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” or “Thou shalt remember the sabbath and keep it holy.” “Thou shalt not steal,” or “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Who has kept all of the above, and that’s not even the  complete list.

The Bible tells us that God knows we are weak; He knows our frailties.  Why then give us such commandments when He knew all along that we could not keep them?  The answer?  Because He knew we could not keep them!   By attempting to keep the law, only to fail in the attempt, was designed to make us realize that we can’t do it on our own; we need someone who can do it for us.  Jesus is that someone.

To have relationship with Holy God, we must be cleansed of every sin.  Holy and sin do not go together.  Therefore, we are doomed to die in our sin, but here’s the wonderful thing: Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty for sin.  Isn’t that the most wonderful news?  If we accept His penalty as His gift of freedom to us, then, as Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  Jesus is the truth; the only truth.  There is no other way to have sin paid for in full and to walk away free.

So, how does a person come to Jesus?  Is it by learning more about Him?  No, education does not make one worthy of freedom from such a penalty.  Is it something emotional?  If I feel guilty and cry, does that make me ready to come to Jesus?  No, emotions change like the wind.  Then, what brings me to Jesus?  What sets me free?  The Bible tell us in Romans 10:13, “Whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It’s not education or our emotions; it is a matter of our will — whosoever will.  In other words, whoever wants to, can come to Jesus.  Tell Him you believe He paid your penalty.  Tell Him you are thankful and that you want to receive His forgiveness.  That’s it.

The only question to be asked is: do you want to?   Do you want a new life?  Do you want forgiveness for all the wrong thoughts and actions you have committed?  Do you want to be made into someone brand new?  Do you want to start over with a clean slate that stays cleansed eternally?  If you want all of that, then just call out to Him and tell Him.  He’s always listening.  He never sleeps.  He’s waiting.  He won’t force a decision.    It’s up to you.

Do you want to?

This question also applies to those who already know Jesus; who already have Him in their lives.  As a child of God we have available to us everything we need to get through anything at all.  Why then do so many  Christians walk through life in a continual weakened state when God’s own power is available to them?  Answer?  They fail to guard their heart.

The heart is the place where we number our priorities.  It’s easy to let the visible cares of this world crowd out the unseen power of God.  We can see what worries us in the situations connected with our lives, so we focus on the worry.  We can’t see the courage and wisdom that God has available for us, so we don’t focus on His provisions.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to, “Guard your heart above all things because it affects everything you do.”  Yes.  The focus of our hearts determines whether we flounder around in our circumstances or walk through them with the strength of God.  To flounder or to walk through. It’s really a matter of habit.  We can develop a habit to daily talk to Him, listen to Him, and take the wisdom He longs to whisper into our hearts.  The question is:

Do you want to?

To Speak Or Not To Speak

I have often contemplated the meaning of Colossians 2:8 which reads, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that comes from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.”  It’s increasingly difficult in our world where all manner of philosophy is out there.  It’s on our televisions, in our newspapers and magazines, and taught in our educational institutions.  Therefore, to discern between what the world teaches and what God teaches becomes blurred.

I find this to be so in the area of when to speak, sharing our hearts, or when to be silent, guarding those things that are hidden away.  James tells us in James 1:19, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”  Then there is that verse in Ecclesiastes 3:7, “…a time to be quiet and a time to speak.”  Oh, to have God’s own wisdom reigning in our minds rather than the philosophies of this world.

I have a dear friend named Lucy Shockney.  I met Lucy years ago when I had the joy of speaking at a Christian conference in France.  She and her family had been missionaries there for many years.  We have kept in touch ever since.  I have often benefited from the wisdom that God gives Lucy in a variety of matters.  Recently she wrote concerning transparency and honesty. I have asked her permission to share her thoughts with you.

“Had a great conversation yesterday. Here is what I discovered. In this day and age TRANSPARENCY AND HONESTY are valued above RELATIONSHIP. Trust me when I tell you that you need me to be genuine, you don’t need to know every little thing inside of me. Frankly you might not be able to handle the weightiness of what is going on inside me and it could wreck our relationship.
So I will be genuine but I won’t be transparent. That’s saved for people I trust and who love me. Honesty is for those relationships where we have forged the dark waters of hurt and came out ok on the other side. Otherwise my honesty can wait till we are in a stronger place.
This is not a compromise, this is an issue of maturity and timing.
Stop being TRANSPARENT 24/7 (and all over social media) and start being discreet and save your tender truths for someone who cares enough to keep them safe.”  Lucy Shockney

The world’s philosophy encourages us to share all in order to build relationship.  Jesus taught that it’s not wise to spill out everything to everyone called friend in an attempt to establish deeper understanding.  Our good intentions in speaking truth can turn around and bite us and the friend.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “…Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.”  Jesus was not actually calling people pigs; rather, He was teaching that, to pour out everything in our heart to everyone at any given time, is unwise.  What is in your heart is precious.  Some things need to stay hidden away, shared only with God.  It takes His own wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent.


Still Hanging On

Anyone who has spent time living in the southern U.S. states comes to realize that storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes are a natural and frequent part of life.  We had such a storm last Friday night.  There was heavy rain, great flashes of lightening, and ferocious winds.  Conditions were right for a tornado; sure enough, one hit our house.

It could have been so much worse.  As it happens, it broke two large, twenty foot limbs from one of our pecan trees, peeled back part of the tin roof over one end of the house, tore off a strip of vinyl siding from the back porch, and blew in the shed doors.  All these things are repairable.  Like I said, it could have been so much worse.  We remain thankful.

What has interested me in the days following the storm are the limbs that were broken from the pecan tree.  One limb was completely severed.  It lays stretched across the ground below.  Another limb is hanging straight down to the ground, but it’s hanging on by a sliver of bark.  Now, here is the interesting thing:  the limb completely severed is already dried out and the leaves have turned brown as if it were autumn.  However, the limb still attached to the tree, although only by the smallest fragment of wood, is as leafy and beautiful as the rest of the tree.  All the leaves are green; there is every evidence of life.

As I have observed these two limbs, it has occurred to me that the limbs are not unlike people in their relationship with Jesus.  Those who don’t know Him are like the dried up limb on the ground.  True and lasting life, full of the purest peace and joy in any storm, comes only through knowing Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.

Then, there are those who indeed know Him, but perhaps they feel spiritually dry, not unlike the limb on the ground.  Haven’t we all, at various times in our lives, felt empty?  Has your heart ever cried out like the Psalmist in Psalm 10:1, “Why do You stand afar off, Oh Lord?  Why do You hide in times of trouble?”  We know of a certainty, in our minds, that Jesus never forsakes us; but in times of trouble, we don’t always feel it.  We love feelings.  Who doesn’t smile at memories of the sweetness of God’s love wrapping around us?  We feel we can almost tangibly grasp hold of Him, such is the loveliness of His presence.  We want to feel those emotions all the time!  Why can’t we?

Perhaps the answer is, as the song, Through It All, by Andrea Crouch, states: “If I never had a problem, I’d never know that God could solve them.”   Like tornadoes swirling on the ground, wreaking havoc to everything in its path, we also get tossed about in the storms of life.  We are battered and bruised, but never forget — we are attached to the Lord Jesus!  We may feel we’re only hanging on by a sliver!  Be gladdened!  A sliver is enough!  A sliver still brings comfort and peace to a troubled soul.  What we feel is only a sliver, is the lifeblood of Jesus pouring into all our aching places.

Take heart, oh, slivered one, for you are not dying; you are hanging on to the One who will never let you go.