I had to run out for a couple minutes today, so I grabbed the old car that gets parked under a tree, swept away the mountain of leaves that the weekend had left us, and hit the road.
As I rounded the corner, I gasped a little, because the sun hit my windshield and there, glowing like the most brilliant artwork, were imprints of all the leaves that had piled up on my windshield.
Imprints … stick with me for a minute.
Because then I saw the darker less artistic splotches – you know, those that the friendly neighborhood birds had deposited alongside those beautiful leaves. And it made me ask myself – what sort of imprints am I leaving behind? In the middle of this pandemic and social unrest? The day before a highly contentious election? How about the day after said election?
What do you see when the sun (Son) reflects off my life? We don’t get to choose many of our circumstances – but we do get to choose what we do with them.
We all leave a trails behind us – may ours be filled with beauty and grace and wonder
I stood there the other night and remembered… I remembered the day I ran away from it all.
The wind tickled my face as I stood at that outdoor concert and watched these three faithful men sing truth and proclaim the power of that truth. And my heart remembered.
I remembered a time when I almost lost my way. A season when nothing made sense and it was hard to know who or what to believe anymore. A time when choices danced before me like mirages and I couldn’t find solid ground.
I remembered the words pounding through my head as my feet pounded the pavement. “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” It feels like yesterday in my heart and soul.
“Creator of heaven and earth…” These thoughts crowding my mind – racing so fast, they can make you fear for your sanity sometimes. “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son our Lord … MY Lord!” How had I ended up here? Trying to escape the cycle of bombarding thoughts, walking the streets of Brugge, Belgium, simply because I didn’t know where to go or what to do? How to quiet the noise inside my head – screaming at me from the moment I woke up until I finally found escape in sleep? “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”
It had been a long journey to this moment. Months in Amsterdam, telling people about my Jesus – the One who promises freedom. All the while, crumbling inside from my own lack of freedom. Trapped in my insecurities, in my doubts, in the dysfunction I had come to see as “normal”. So I ran away to Brugge, and I walked those streets.
I remembered those days when I was a kid. Long Sundays in church, reciting a liturgy I thought was old and “dead”. They called this the “Apostle’s Creed” – it didn’t mean much to me back then – just words we said every week. “He descended into hell. On the third day, He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father…” I remembered sitting in that college cafeteria, telling a wise professor that I was beyond all that now. I was exploring new ways to worship. He didn’t say much, only gently reminded me to not forget those who had gone before me – “You are standing on over hundreds of years of history…”, he said.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal Christian) church” Suddenly the scrambled thoughts started slowing down. I found myself mouthing the words, savoring each precious morsel… “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting”
There are many ways to worship, but in this moment, walking those old cobblestone streets, God began to set me free from the tyranny of the new. He brought those words to life in my heart on that day in Brugge, Belgium, and I no longer had to figure anything out – I knew. And that simple knowing quieted the screaming voices in my head.
My God showed me that as long as I clung to what I knew was true, He would lead me through what I didn’t know. Though emotions may soar to great heights and plummet to sordid depths, nothing can shake the reality of this foundation. I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER – I wanted to shout it from the rooftops… and I still do.
Here is where I can plant my feet and not be shaken. In these days of confusion and fear around the world, it doesn’t take much to feel like a “wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6) Headlines scream terrifying news at us, the pundits on TV tell us what (and who) to believe, people are displaced, having to flee their homes, politicians ask us to put our faith in them – it’s hard to know who to follow and what to trust in anymore. “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened” (Lk 21:9) I still believe in God, the Father Almighty”
We are surrounded by the constant shifting shadows of life – today I choose to plant my feet on the one thing that will never change.I still believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord” “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt 24:35) I still believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting
And in the threatening waves, Jesus whispers, “Peace, be still”.
It’s not a great pool – it’s pretty little, just about 36 inches tall and about 10 feet across. Nothing you can cannonball into, and stuck on the end of my patio, it certainly doesn’t do much for curb appeal. Just a big blue blob that has served as a sort of lifeline to my kids on those oppressively hot summer days that wouldn’t seem to end.
I’ve watched that blue blob deflate all morning – and I’m feeling all sorts of conflicted.
It seems to mark an end to something – but to what? The end of summer? I’m really ok with that, since this summer was just plain hard. The end of the challenges of 2020 – I’d like that to be true, but am not that naive. Maybe it marks the beginning of something? A fresh season – I’d gratefully embrace that! But deep in my gut I know that although the weather is fresher and cooler, not much is really changing in my life yet. Still kind of wandering in this desert we call 2020.
Just another day – only today, we pack away the pool. And I find myself reminiscing.
I won’t drag you into all those convoluted places with me. Some bring smiles, some bring tears – so here I sit, trying to find the words. A couple months ago, I asked the Lord where I should read next in my Bible. I don’t often have strong leanings on this – I kind of stumble around in my Bible until I find something that ignites a fire in me. Well, this time I felt very strongly that He wanted me to go through the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy? Really? Have you checked your calendar God? I’m thinking I need something a bit more encouraging than Deuteronomy. Funny thing is, as I flipped on over to towards the front of the book, I find myself identifying with what I was reading a whole lot more than I thought I would. We find Moses reminiscing through the first few chapters. And it’s not pretty. There’s been alot of God performing great miraculous acts – and the people of Israel failing Him. Again and again.
I read through this list of failures, and I’m grateful I’m not as bad as they are. You know, with the grumbling and complaining and wanting to go back… Then that familiar nudge hits my spirit – like when the Holy Spirit seems to be squinting His eyes, tilting His head and saying, “really?” Maybe I need to read this again.
How many times have I found myself rolling my eyes at those forgetful Israelites who just wanted to go back to Egypt. Back to slavery? Really?! Don’t you remember how God got you out? Don’t you remember all those tears, the agony of a life lived in oppression?
Then I hear my own voice, bemoaning all the changes 2020 has brought to my life, and I’m saying “how soon can we go back to ‘normal’?” Now, there’s nothing wrong with “normal”, but what if it holds layers of oppression and slavery that God is trying to shake us free from? Maybe “normal” is code for “Egypt” in my life. If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t sound much different than those forgetful Israelites.
Maybe I don’t like the changes to my life in 2020, but the changes He has wrought in me are for good! What lies in the dust of the past that He is trying to move me out of? Sometimes it’s easier to do what we’ve always done rather than take the big steps towards change … but He has parted the Red Sea of our habits and brought us into a new way of living! I think of one of my favorite C.S. Lewis musings: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Do you find yourself longing for the mud pies? Let’s not lose this opportunity by constantly wanting to go back to our “normal”.
Then this verse hit me like a brick wall: “Now, when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, the Lord said to me, “Today you are to pass…” Finally moving on! But why now? Why did the Lord wait until the last one died before calling His people on up? I always thought it was about the lack of obedience that ran through them – and I know that’s a great part of it. But this time, as I read it, I realized that God is bringing the Israelites into a new world to fight new battles with men who have never fought a battle in their lives.They couldn’t depend on the strength or prowess of their army – they could only trust in the power of God.
I say I trust in God. But somedays it seems like I’m leaning on the things of earth a whole lot more. There are so many patterns in my full time ministry life that rely on the power of man – from fundraising to connecting with people around the country. And none of them have happened this year. At least not in the way we’re used to. It would be easy for anxiety to creep in. It would be easy for me to run ahead and try to figure this out. It would be easy to try to “fix this” in my own strength. And yet my God still stands as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.
Could it be that God is calling us out of our patterns and habits to each day look to see if the pillar is moving? Can you imagine how the Israelites lived for 40 years – peeking out of the tent each morning to see if the pillar has moved yet? Maybe we need a little more of this…
Rather than relying on the month of the year and what we “normally” do to keep life moving, maybe we should start looking to see where He is moving and wait in the shadow of His pillar. I find this altogether terrifying and exceedingly freeing at the same time. Because we’re really good at giving this concept lip service in the church, but how good are we at living it? I construct my to do list, and then I get frustrated with my kids when they interrupt my “progress”. Maybe the Pillar is moving in a different way today. Will I listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudge to simply go there? Without argument. Without complaint. Without my own agenda? Oh, it’s hard to unlearn a lifetime of self-sufficiency – thank you, 2020, for bringing me to this place!
And what about that manna?! My kids think it’s hilarious that the word “manna” simply means “what is it?” . Sometimes when God’s blessings show up in such strange and unexpected ways, you simply look out and say, “now, what would you call that one?” – kind of like a modern day “Whatchamacallit”. It seems this year has brought a daily supply of Whatchamacallits to my doorstep. But every. single. day. God’s provision shows up.
And I must confess – I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to my favorite things. I’m the one who will tuck my goodies away until they go bad rather than indulge in them all at once. I’m not proud of it. I just never want to run out of goodies. How I can relate to the Israelites on this one!
When you live in the daily insecurity of never knowing what the next day will bring, you want to hoard the familiar. The things you can depend on. What little control you have. And here God issues a resounding, “no”. He’s not giving into my whining. And when I overstep and try to take his provision into tomorrow, I find it has lost it’s flavor. Even turned rotten. I need to savor His goodness today, and expect fresh blessings tomorrow. “His mercies are new EVERY morning – Great is Your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3.
So these wilderness wanderings have me brought me right here. To this place of utter dependency. To a place of acceptance. To a place of peace. There is still plenty wilderness ahead of us – and battles to fight with untrained hands. But His pillar – it’s there! It leads us day by day. So let’s stop looking back. Let’s stop complaining about how life is different, here in this wilderness. Let’s start finding our manna.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11