Fire or Blackberries?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In some odd way, our lives seem to be always getting interrupted by God. And it can happen a lot. We need to see the invisible. When we can, it can be quite amazing. Our night sky here in Alaska is wonderful. (And I’m a “sky guy”, it means I’m always looking up.) But the most phenomenal night skies were in Mexico, while camping on the beach. As I laid there I looked and the Milky Way was on full display. It really was as good as it could be. It seemed there was 10x more stars than ever before.

Once as I gazed up, a weird sort of fear gripped me, it was almost a panic. I started to tremble and shake. I got up and ran to our tent. I just couldn’t handle the incredible universe with no buffer. I was completely undone, and reduced a quivering speck of dust. I tried to tell my wife Lynn what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t. I was too scrambled. I couldn’t speak.

Reflecting on this, I realize now what I had experienced was “awe.” It was something much more common a few generations ago. There is a kind of existential crisis which we side-step in these more modern times. We rarely contemplate the night sky. We seldom, if ever, have seen fire in a bush.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It seems we have traded our awareness of an Almighty God, and in turn we get to pick all blackberries we can haul. We reason it out, and we feel that we have made a better bargain. But when we extricate this from our souls, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find that we have become spiritual paupers.

Maybe we should learn to see through things; each of us have the opportunity now to see the spiritual world that swirls around us. Why wait for heaven? Ask our Father to reveal His glory now in this present moment. Learn to see that which can’t be seen, but by faith.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made.”

Psalms 19:1, NCV

When God Leads You, [Surprises]

I’ve had several experiences with His presence. These are quite astonishing, and I really can’t minimize any of them. What the Father gives, I certainly accept.

#1, We were at language school, and broke. We had nothing extra to spend. My son, Benjamin came down with a fever. It was a formidable one. It was a 103 F or more. We didn’t know what to do.

I went up to his bedside, completely overwhelmed. And I laid my hands on him and prayed. It was a simple prayer, actually quite pathetic. But it was sincere. Ben was blazing hot, and I ventured into that. I prayed, and then took my hands off him. There was nothing significant about it all, just an overwrought father going through the motions. A few minutes later, I laid my hands on him and he was cool. I can’t explain it.  God touched Benjamin, and I simply can’t understand it.

#2, We were heading to Mexico, with a overloaded car without A/C. We were traveling from Texas to San Diego. It was terribly hot. We were travelling with another couple, from Canada. We sort of decided to convoy together. But somewhere in Arizona, we decided to split up. It was way too hot, and the Canadians could only go 40 miles per hour, pulling their trailer.

I looked back at my kids, and they were comatose. The heat had wiped them out. At this point, I decided to break up the convoy. We would now cross Arizona at 80 mph. Enough was enough.

I was very anxious. I was taking my family across the border, and I was quite intimidated. I remember praying a desperate prayer for guidance. It was short and simple, without any “flowery” language. It was just me, praying for help. I just want to make that clear.

After a night in a San Diego hotel, we went shopping for things we would need in Mexico. We then headed for the border crossing. I was still anxious and fearful. As we approached the border, there was several lanes. I chose a lane, and all of a sudden I heard a horn beeping. I looked back and saw our Canadian friends directly behind us! In that instant, I understood the Father’s care for my family. What we were experiencing was a million to one shot.

#3, While in Mexico I had decided that we would support the local  ministries whenever we could. A pastor pulled up, his car tank was quite empty. I went out to greet him, and realized I needed to give him gasoline. He pulled in and I decided to siphon from my car to his.

As I worked the hoses, I inhaled a great deal of gas. I started to choke, I couldn’t draw in any air. I remember falling to my knees in our trailer. My wife could only watch, as I struggled for air. I very well could have died. As I gasped for air, I realized His deep care for me. I realize now that He truly loves me. (But I did “burp” a lot of gasoline for several weeks.)

These three examples are quite intense. I suppose that I couldn’t fabricate any of them. Each of them is a drastic example of God’s goodness.  All that I have experienced I pass to you. Just know that God is very good, and He loves you. You belong to Him.

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Rip Tide Lessons

In the late 1990s, my wife Lynn and I were based in a mission station about 200 miles south of Tijuana, Mexico.  We would be working in Baja in the sleepy little village of San Telmo.  It was hard work, but we would take day trips to a beach on the Pacific Ocean.  One beach in particular, was a favorite place for surfers.

One day we headed out for some sand, surf and sea.  Little did I know that day, that I would almost drown.  Yes, the waves were bigger then usual, but we set up camp and our two children combed the beach, under our watchful eyes.  After a while, I gathered up my ‘boogie board’ and headed for the water.

I had caught several nice waves, and was having a wonderful time. But all of a sudden things got scary.  I was working the waves on the north side of the beach, when suddenly– I lost control.  The current began to pull me away from the shore.  I doubled my paddling efforts, but still I was being pulled out.

I became really afraid.  (Actually, I was panicking.) The beach was getting very small, and I still was being pulled out.  It was at this point, I began to pray.  I had never experienced a rip tide.  I really wasn’t sure what was happening.

In retrospect, I was being ‘schooled.’  I learned more in 20 minutes of stark terror, then in many months of classroom teaching.

1) I learned that I’m not in control of my life, there are things completely beyond me. I had zero control over what was happening. But often life is like that.

2)  God can take my life whenever He chooses.  He decides when I leave this earthly existence.  “My times are in His hands,” the psalmist declared.

3)  I needed to admit my profound ignorance of many things that are intensely important to know.  These gaps in my knowledge will often take me where I don’t want to go.

4)  Stay on your board!  Cling to it.  You WILL drown if you get separated from it.  You can also use it to rest on when your arms feel like they are going to fall off.

5) Start to swim parallel with the beach, NOT toward it!  The current is very likely 30-40 yards wide.  The rising panic will probably keep you focused on the  beach. You cannot overcome a riptide by trying to paddle harder.

6) If you make it through this, the beach is beautiful.  You will be exhausted.  Your friends will not grasp how close you came to drowning.  They have no idea what has just transpired, and you realize you can’t explain what just happened.  But all of a sudden, you have lost all enthusiasm for the board and the waves.

Often it feels like my mental illness is a massive riptide.  To fight it directly is disastrous, and pulls me away. I look back and realize that my experience has given me valuable things, an understanding that nothing can replace.

http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/overview.shtml

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Learning to Lean [Intimacy]

 

jesus-with-a-disciple“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”  

John 13:23, Amplified

 

“One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder.”  

John 13:23, The Message

 Good posture is one of those intangibles that parents are always trying to influence.  “Sit up straight” or the classic, “stop slouching”.  I’m convinced that this is purely genetics at work.  The apostle, traditionally John, is found sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples.  It is an intimate and relaxing affair as they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room.

John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor.  The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder.  And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior.  Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting.  I remember in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends.  I have heard that this is true in other cultures as well.

The intimacy between Jesus and John strikes us as a little weird.  But for Jesus it would have been encouraging.  He felt John’s love and perhaps confidence.  There certainly was no impropriety or anything suggestive.  It was an immensely precious moment, especially for the apostle John.  Artists always paint John with a sincere and peaceful countenance.  This moment most likely contributed to his serenity.

It was getting dark.  Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be.  We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted.  He is encouraged by our affection.

We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.

The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets.  They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God.  We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time.  I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence.  But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus.  Our savior is strong enough to carry our immense burdens and all of our loads.

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The Lord of My Greatest Fear

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“And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
you will look around and take your 
rest in security.”

 Job 11:18

“If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” 

Prov. 3:24

Bedding down in the ruins of an old adobe church gave me a great deal of apprehension.  I was anxious because at night all the scorpions, snakes and tarantulas do most of their exploring.  Now I have an uncommon fear of tarantulas, at night I have seen them come out and the ground was churning.  But as a missionary in rural Mexico and I guess I figured that I ought not shirk my expected routine.  But I was spooked. I am a true arachnophobiac.

Job and the Book of Proverbs combine to correctly identify the personal security issues for the believer.  We’re most vulnerable when we lie down to sleep.  When you think about it, that’s when we are most accessible and open to assault.

But there are promises that are given to believers that reassure us and secure us.  It is a remarkably basic promise, that we can lay down and God will stand watch over us as we rest.  But I contend that there other times, times when He watches us and guides us through a myriad of unseen difficult things.  He secures us, and then keeps us.

My time in the Mexican desert taught me some incredible lessons.  I must admit though, that sleeping on the ground was an ordeal.  I had to trust that the Lord would take special care over me as I lay defenseless.  I could not defend myself, so I trusted Him and slept. I ‘shut down’ my imagination and trusted Him who I could not see.  (I didn’t even bother to look for tarantula ‘tracks’ around my bedroll in the morning.)

We live in a time of complex danger.  Bad things have become increasingly routine and we have come to the point were we just can’t protect ourselves, or those we love.  Jesus warned us that this would happen.

Paul writes of this intensification of evil things.

We must trust Him who is unseen.  We are to be people that move toward ‘the wings’ to find shelter.  I believe this is a volitional decision.  We make a verbal commitment to our protecting One, that He will shield us from those who are evil and perhaps even deranged.

He loves us so much.  We can trust Him completely and fully. Even in the face of very big spiders.

“The only known antidote to fear is faith.”

Woodrow Kroll

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