A Most Wonderful Opportunity

Just over 2000 years ago an incident took place that gives us a clear look into the heart of mankind.  There are different types of people; those who accuse others, rarely looking at their own shortcomings, and those who accuse themselves, unable to recognize or receive forgiveness.  Both need a revelation of love, an understanding of grace.

Many of you will already be recalling the story I’m referring to that is recorded in John 8.  The story tells of a woman who was caught in an illegal act.  She was reported to the town’s authorities; those whose duty it was to uphold the law of the land.  They made a decision that would prove to be a life changing opportunity for everyone involved.  They brought her to Jesus.

Standing before Him with the woman in tow, they revealed what she had done and asked what punishment He would recommend.  They already knew the law of the land.  They knew what the law required – death.  What would Jesus say?  It is most interesting to note that Jesus gave everyone present a glimpse into redemption.  He forced them all to take an honest look at themselves; an opportunity to reach out from a sea of darkness to a lifeboat of light that would save them from themselves.  In other words, Jesus was able to help them all realize that one was no better than the other.  They were all floundering in the same sea of darkness.  They all needed the same light to rescue them from the paths on which they were traveling through life.

Jesus did not refute the law but he required that the accusers look into their own hearts.  He did not accuse the woman but he required that she recognize the path she was on and change course.  He required that everyone present see their own darkened hearts.  He offered a way to be forgiven and to walk in the light of truth and love and freedom.  He offered Himself.  He would pay for everything that all of them had ever done.  It didn’t matter the depth of wrongdoing; it only mattered the height of love that would cover them all.

Nothing has changed all these years later.  Some of us accuse others while some of us wallow in self degradation.  No one has to live with a darkened heart.  Each person, without exception, has opportunity to reach out and receive eternal forgiveness for everything they have ever done.  Each person can receive love that is so pure and vast that it can’t be measured.  Each person can receive hope that will sustain them through all their days on earth; an abiding hope that promises a future world where no wrongdoing or self degradation exists.  Each person can receive Jesus.  Just ask Him to come into your life, to forgive you, to give you the strength to walk the path of life, leaving all darkness behind – forever!

The Love Gauge

Have you ever wished you could measure love?  Often in life we wonder how much we are loved by certain others in our lives.  We even question God’s love for us, making statements like, “If God really loves me, why does He allow difficulties in my life?  Why does He allow things that hurt me so much?”  In our relationship with God we can become consumed with questioning and wondering how much does God really love us?  Our gauge seems to depend on the ease with which we glide through life’s troubles.

There is a flip side to this question of how much we are loved by God; which is, how much do we love Him?  Seldom do we ask ourselves such a question.  We want God to do as we think best for our lives, giving us what we determine we need, when we determine we need it.  It’s not often that we take time to meditate upon the motives of our own hearts, daring to question, how much do we truly love God?

As far as that goes, is there even a gauge to measure one’s own love for God?  After all, we are an imperfect people.  We are in constant need of being molded into maturity as we go through life’s challenges, daily allowing the hands of God to hold us and shape us into His image.  Only as we permit God access into our existence are we then able to walk in His own courage and wisdom as we travel through the moments of our lives.

Still, how do we know that we  really love God?  Is there some meter to measure our own hearts?  This week a dear friend sent a book to me titled, Lord, Could You Hurry A Little?  This  collection of poems is written by Ruth Harms Calkin.   She writes the following in a poem called, The Infallible Test.

“Lord, often I have wondered if my love for you is genuine,  Or do I flippantly mouth it like a small child saying grace at the table?  But today as I read your Word I discovered the one infallible test: ‘The one who loves me is the one who obeys me.’  Lord, never again need I wonder.  You have made it plain enough.”

Yes, God has indeed made it plain enough.  Jesus was instructing His disciples when He said to them in John 14:15, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  His disciple, John, wrote in I John 5:3, “Loving God means keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.”

We must not forget that God’s instruction to us to obey Him is not Him being some control freak.  It’s God displaying His vast love for us.  You see, our ways are imperfect; His ways are without mistake; they are good and loving.  For us to walk in His ways is not to boost the ego of God, but to keep us safe through all our days, to keep us living in peace, behaving in wisdom, shielded from consequences of walking in our own foolish ways.

So the question comes:  How much do we love God?

The Eye Of A Storm

Like many of you, I have been keeping track of Hurricane Matthew, praying for the residents of Florida as they batten down the hatches to face the storm’s wrath.  It’s always interesting to me to note that in the middle of every hurricane, there is the center of the storm where everything is calm and peaceful.  The mighty winds, often full of destruction, circle around the eye of the storm.

Do you remember the story of Jesus walking on the water?  It’s recorded in Matthew 14 and also in Mark and John.  Can you imagine the scene?  The disciples, the men who Jesus was investing time in, teaching and showing them great lessons on earth that would help them through all their days, were in the boat.  Most of these men were fishermen.  Their fathers had been fishermen.  They grew up knowing the water and the weather.  Therefore, because of their knowledge, we know that the storm that swept upon them had to be potentially deadly, because they were frantic.

Imagine them on deck.  Waves are washing over the bow.  Wild water is spraying in their faces.  The wind is lashing against their efforts to pull in the sails.  The roar of the storm complicates their efforts to hear each other call out instructions.  They are soaked and cold and scared; this storm is a bad one.

In the midst of their desperate attempts to save the boat and their lives, something unimaginable happens.  Look!  Someone must have called out.  What’s that?  They peer across the darkness of the water.  The lightening cracks and a flash of light reveals something that takes their breath away.  Each of them grabs hold of something to steady them against the force of wind.  It’s, it’s…Jesus!  NO!  It’s a ghost!  Poor men.  There they are fighting with diminishing hopes to get back to shore, when another fear overcomes them. Of all things to deal with, they don’t need a ghost!  Suddenly, they hear something they recognize.  “Don’t be afraid!  Take courage; I am here.”  Can it be?  Is it really Jesus?  Did He just do the impossible, walking on water to get to them in the storm?

Yes, they would find out for certain in the moments to follow, that it was indeed Jesus.  Can you imagine the wonder and the thrill that must have come over them?  Jesus was a master teacher and what a visual aid He used to capture their attention. They would never forget that incident.

The good news for all of us is that Jesus still walks through the storms of our lives to come to us. Remember the times in life when perhaps you were in a difficult situation and you saw no way out?  Have you ever felt like you were failing in all areas of your life, so tired of hoping you could get a grip on things, only to fail in your own eyes time and time again?  Do storms of grief take hold of all your senses when your relationships rock with turmoil?  Does fear of job loss or financial uncertainty sweep over you like a hurricane churning up the water?  Does poor health take its toll on peace, ripping away courage like destructive winds exploding onto unsuspecting shores?

Never forget, just as every hurricane has a peaceful eye in its core, Jesus is always in our midst, too.  He still walks on water into our storm-filled lives, calling out to us, “Don’t be afraid!  Take courage; I am here!”  Storms only persist in our personal worlds when we try to battle the winds of discontent in our own strength.  No matter your personal pain, strain your ears to hear because His voice is always there, His love is ever present, His hope and courage never cease as He calls out to you, “Don’t be afraid!  I am here!”

Reaching The Destination

My time in Africa has been among the most amazing experiences of my life.  To be up close and personal with so many animals, working with fascinating people from around the world, experiencing life in the bush, trekking through the jungle, and bumping along the way (literally) but knowing of a certainty that the outcome will be so worth it all!  

I have had the pleasure of flying in a bush plane.  As we ascended, the plane lifted and fell, wobbled to the left and to the right, but when we reached our intended height, it became a smooth ride.  The ariel view of the African bush stretching for miles in shades of brown, gold, and cream was a fabulous sight.  What our eyes beheld was certainly worth the bumps.

I learned on many occasions just what is meant when someone laughs and shouts, “African massage!”   For miles our landrover would jump and bump over a million rocks and ruts in the road.  Every passenger bumped and jostled, too.  A rough ride but when we would reach our destination, perhaps trekking a lioness, or perhaps to sit and find zebras grazing, or hippos enjoying rolling in the water, it was spectacular in every instance.

A most exciting moment was reaching the Mara river in Tanzania to find hundreds of wildebeest gathering on the other side.  It was the time of year for the Great Migration.  To get to our viewing spot with the speed our driver took to get us there, was yet another wild “African Massage.”  We watched for a half hour and another half hour and yet another.  Finally, one wildebeest crept down the slope of the bank; then, a second and a third followed close behind. The three stood together watching the water.  Crocodiles are often waiting their chance for a meal.  When a fourth wildebeest came down the slope, a hundred, then a thousand and more descended down the bank, jumped with wild abandonment into the water, swam to the other side, ran up the waiting bank, and divided themselves to race around each side of our vehicle.  What an amazing moment of time!  For forty minutes we watched in wonder as 10,000 wildebeest migrated to the other side in a wild dash of great speed — and we were in the middle of it all!   What a terrific thrill and privilege to have witnessed this event.  It was worth every hard bump to reach that destination.

Trekking up the Virunga mountains in Rwanda has been amazing!  Our trekking guides were armed with machetes and literally had to cut paths for us.  Tall, thick, green foliage was all around.  A smell of damp lingered in the air mixed in with fragrances of wild flowers.  Vines tangled themselves around every piece of foliage.  My back and leg muscles began to ache with each step up and up and up.  At last, after many pauses for sips of water and resting for moments to catch our breath, we stepped into the presence of the Silverback Mountain Gorillas.  Every ache was well worth the journey, not to be traded for any comfort that would have otherwise been offered had we stayed at the bottom of the mountain.  Avoiding the bumps would have led to — nothing special. 

As we travel through life there are plenty of rough patches along the way.  Bumps and bruises come to us all as we climb our mountains of difficulty and challenge.  Even so, it’s the climb that makes us stronger.  Then, when our life’s journey is over, we slip from this life into our eternal destiny where our Father will welcome us home with words of, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Every bump and hardship will have been worth it all and the view that awaits us is promised to be breathtaking!

“He knows where I am going.  And when He tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.  For I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed His ways and not turned aside.”   Job 23:10-11

The way is not always easy, but don’t surrender to hardship; takes God’s own strength and press on!  The destination is out of this world!

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.