Crossing the Desert

My efforts at storytelling lately have been strained, even nonexistent. I know the Author of my stories has not changed or gone away. I only know that my own well of creativity has dried up and I am like the dry bones that Ezekiel saw in the desert. dry-bones-live

Sometimes we need to go through a desert to reach the land of milk and honey. That doesn’t mean that we stop searching for nourishment or that we lay down and weep until the dry bones become dust. No. The Giver of Life is still walking beside us, whether we feel him or not. My goal is to keep walking, keep seeking him, keep following him until it is time to cross the river to the land of Promise.

In seeking him, I have been reading others words and stories. The book I am reading now contains the story of the Israelites as they prepare to leave Egypt, bondage and the life they have always known. Before them is the harshness of the desert. Although it happened many thousands of years ago, it is still the story of my today. I need to find new ways to commune with my God. I need to deepen my faith and intensify my search, not because my God had gone anywhere, but because I have lost sight of the one who Loves me.

As I read, seek, and stumble my way across my own desert, I will choose to trust that My God, the God of Issac, Abraham, and Joseph, and the God of John, Peter, and Paul, will not leave me. Instead, he will see me through the valley of dry bones and lead me to the mountain top of his blessing.

sequoia national park - 3

Coming to Your House!

coming to your houseThis Sunday is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It is a time of reflection, joy and renewal. It is also a time when many of us gather for a special meal either with family, friends or both. Jesus shared a meal with his friends before he offered up his life. He shared a meal later as well before he was taken up to heaven on the clouds.

In fact, Jesus shared meals with his friends and followers many times through his ministry. His first miracle was performed at a wedding. Twice he fed thousands of people with food that would have been sufficient for one. He ate with religious leaders and social outcasts.

We often thinking of him teaching on the hillsides or in the temple, we think of his miracles and debates with the Pharisees. Jesus like to eat. He liked to hang out with friends and relax. It is a part of him that we often forget.

I have written my own imagined account of the day he met Zacchaeus, the short tax collector. I am offering it free for this Easter weekend. In it, you can meet Jesus just days before his final triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VB0PBR0

 

Balloon Busters

Oh shiny rubber wonder
Bobbing along beside me
Tugging at your tether
Longing to be free

Oh, bouncy balloon of delight
You hold the best
The brightest parts of me
Within your supple skin

The hopeful dreams of ‘someday’
The whispered bliss of ‘maybe’
The terrified promise of tomorrow
Swirl endlessly within

I keep you safe and silent
For the dreams you hold inside
Could shatter and die within
If I dared to give release

This week’s sermon dealt with finding your God-given dream. To find the passion that he laid on your heart and to go with it.

Well, I know my dream, I know what he has called me to do. Or I know about as well as any of us can truly know the heart of God. One of the few things on this earth that can really fire me up is an increasing ignorance of the Bible. More and more I come into contact with people, average American adults, who have no idea what is in the scriptures. Many of them don’t even know the most basic stories that were once common knowledge like Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath, to name a few. Or if they know the story, it is from a simplified children’s story or a blockbuster Hollywood film.

Yet there is so much more within those wonderful pages. The stories within are about real people, real events, and a very real God. My passion is to reacquaint today’s people with those people of long ago. To make their stories come alive and awaken the world to the God who loves them.

I have the calling. I have the talent (or so I believe). What I don’t have is the courage. Yesterday, the pastor spoke of turning away from the dream busters, the people who tell you that you are not good enough, not worthy, and you don’t belong. But what do you do when the biggest ‘balloon buster’ (I like the alliteration) is yourself?

I read the words of other authors and often think to myself; I could never write like that, I will never be that good, and other self defeating phrases. I could go on all day. Yet even with such negative ‘self-talk’ God keeps bringing me back to the computer to type another scene, another chapter, another section. Because like the prophet Jeremiah,

If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name’, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in, indeed, I cannot. Jer 20:9

I am no prophet, and my stories are not earth-shattering messages to God’s people, but there are stories within me that beg to be told. I have stories of God’s faithfulness and grace, of his love and provision for everyone and they burn to be told.

And yet, lack of faith holds me back. Faith in myself, in my words, and yes even in God. Even then, in my darkest place of despair, in that vast sea of hopelessness, He meets me there and encourages me.

Oh, faithless child
Your dreams are safe with me
Let go the chains that bind you
Yield them to my hand

Look close, you will see
That my dreams are also yours
I put the spark within you
To brighten up the night

So trust me, child
To lead you where you want to go
To feed your dreams of ‘someday’
And take you safely there

 

So while others may not understand the dream that I hold close and tight, a dream that I can barely speak of (unless it is couched in a joke) because it is too important to risk the attention of a ‘balloon buster’. I know that God understands the dream and the weakness that holds me back. And he will never bust my balloon, he is waiting for me to find the courage to release it so that He can make it come true.

In His Right Mind

content_5019426_DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAILI am fascinated by the stories in the Bible.

This wasn’t always the case, I was raised in the church so by the time I was a teenager, I figured I knew it all. Of course, most teens think so, but about the Bible it was surely true. It has been around for a long time and there is only so much new to find in it . . . or so I thought. After high school, I went to a Christian college where everyone was required to take at least one class in both Old and New Testament studies. Since I wanted to graduate, I did, I even learned some things, little details not taught in Elementary Sunday School.

I graduated, again knowing all there was to know, got married and had kids. Wanting to be a good parent, and because I enjoyed it, we went to church every Sunday. One day the pastor began telling a Bible story. Here we go again. I stopped myself from rolling my eyes but under my breath told the story right along with him. Until he changed it.

He didn’t change the core of the story. He added to it. The pastor painted a word picture telling about the heat and dusty roads. He told us what the person likely feeling in the middle of this crisis. It was only a few extra sentences, but suddenly the story was new . . . the people were real. People just like me.

I was hooked. The story the pastor told swirled around in my head for months until finally, in a slow hour at work, I grabbed pen and paper and wrote.

My first short story.

Since that day, almost ten years ago, I have written many stories and the rough draft of a novel. Not all of them are from the Bible, but most of them. Two years ago, I published five of them in The Other Side of Miracles through Inspiring Voices by Guidepost. That was a learning experience and since then I have learned and improved my storytelling craft.

Now I am publishing my stories as ebooks, hoping that others will find a new love for those old stories. My first ebook, In His Right Mind is now for sale on Amazon. A quick read, but an intense one. It is my version of what happened on the day that Jesus healed the man possessed by the demon Legion. I hope to have more ready to publish soon.

http://www.amazon.com/His-Right-Mind-possessed-Encountering-ebook/dp/B00LT5WAJE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405605207&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Miracles-Looking-miracles-ebook/dp/B008F1ZM7W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405605377&sr=8-1

Thomas’ Doubt Part two

124 Thomas walked without seeing. He did not stop until he was beyond the walls of Jerusalem. The road climbed under his feet and a sickly smell of decay made him lift his head.

Why had he come here to this horrible place? The upright sections of three crosses speared up into the darkening sky. The setting sun lit them with a fiery glow painting dark stains on the wood. Thomas forced himself forward to the foot of the middle upright as he had not had the courage to do when Jesus had hung there. Although three days had passed, the smell of blood and death lingered.

“Lord, You said you were going to leave us. You said we would know the way. But, Lord, I don’t know the way. Must I allow myself to be killed as you were?” Thomas reached out a trembling hand and touched the blood soaked wood. He realized he had been hoping for some lingering sense of the Lord. Something to give him direction and hope. But there was nothing. Nothing except an empty piece of wood. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me.

“How am I to trust, Lord? You are no longer here, You would not even allow us to fight to protect You. You said you had come to save the world, but I do not feel saved, Lord. I feel lost.” Thomas let his fingers fall away from the splintered wood. Jesus was not here, there was no reason to stay. He turned away and headed toward the nearby garden. His steps slowed to a stop still many paces from the tomb. The last rays of the sun had faded into darkness and the rising moon, just past full, had yet to reach this shadowed place.

Thomas found himself shivering although the night was not yet cold. The mouth of the tomb gaped wide like a giant’s hungry mouth. Thomas paused. The only sound was that of his own harsh breathing. Something rustled in the brush behind him. Thomas whirled, but nothing was there.

“Lord, are you there?”

Only when the words were spoken did Thomas realize that he had been hoping that Mary and John were right. Hoping that Jesus was alive. There was no answer in the darkness. He pulled his outer cloak tight around his shoulders against the chill night air. He watched in silence as the moon cast silver shadows through the quiet garden. He was watching still when dawn showed pink and gold in the East.

“Lord, are you here?”

There was no sound but that of birds singing their joyful greeting to the sun. Thomas rose stiffly from his seat. With weary steps he returned to the upper room. His Lord, his friend was gone.

Thomas raised dazed eyes, heavy from lack of sleep, to the occupants within the room. Gone were the sober expressions and tears of sorrow. In their place were songs and laughter, dancing and joy. Thomas stepped into the room, the crash of the door silencing the laughter.

“Have you all gone mad? Are you possessed that you can sing and laugh when your hearts should be grieving?”

“But we haven’t lost anything.” John rushed up and clasped Thomas in a close embrace. “My brother, Jesus is alive and I have seen him. Right in this very room.”

Thomas pulled away from the hug. His eyes scanned the room. Each face he saw stared back at him, glowing with happiness. “How can this be?”

“It is true. After you left last night, Jesus appeared in this room, even though the door was locked.” Peter came to Thomas and laid a strong hand on his shoulder. “If you had stayed with us, you would have seen him, too.”

Guilt and sorrow flooded Thomas’ heart. He had gone out and followed the path of Jesus’ last journey from cross to grave only to find emptiness. He shook his head. “No.” His voice rose in denial of the false hope. “No, I don’t believe it. Jesus is dead. Until I see the nail marks in his hand and place my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it!”

Thomas stormed to a dark corner of the room and pulled his cloak over his head. He did his best to block out the sounds of joy. Finally, tears wetting his beard, he fell asleep.

For the next week, Thomas kept himself apart from the others. He spoke to no one, turning away when one of the others tried to speak to him. When the Sabbath came again, Thomas had sunk deep into despair, made darker by the joy around him.

If only I was crazy, too. How I, too, long for words of comfort. The other disciples and followers of Jesus had gathered in the room and preparing to break bread together. They repeated the words that Jesus had spoken during their last supper together. Thomas unfolded himself from his corner. Do this in remembrance of Me. Thomas would remember with the others. Perhaps within memory, he could gain some measure of peace.

Suddenly the air was filled with strange perfume. Thomas looked up to see the other disciples faces light up with expectation. Thomas turned and looked toward the locked door. It remained closed. With a flicker of color, Jesus stood before him.

Bread fell from nerveless fingers. Thomas felt his jaw go slack as his knees gave way from under him. Jesus stood before him. Jesus was Alive.

“Peace be with you.” The words flowed over Thomas’s broken heart like a soothing balm. Jesus looked into his eyes and showed the scars in his hands. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”

Thomas winced, his own words piercing his soul like knives. He closed his eyes, attempting to shut out his humiliation. For a long time, no one spoke. When he opened his eyes once more, Jesus was staring at him. There was no anger or condemnation there. only love. Tears began to fall from Thomas’ eyes.

“Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus’ beloved voice echoed through the room. The power of it shivered through the air.

My Lord, and my God.” Peace rose up in Thomas’ heart. All the doubts and fears that had plagued him for days fell away.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Thomas bowed his head, accepting the gentle rebuke. All his life he had believed only what he could see with his eyes, touch with his hands and hear with his ears. Now, when he had not been able to believe, he was shown. but if his Lord, his God, could conquer the hold of Death itself, how could he not believe that anything is possible.

Now we know that Thomas did indeed stop doubting. After he received his portion of the Holy Spirit, he traveled far, preaching and teaching. Tradition tells us that he established Christ’s Church in India where he is still revered for his faith. From doubt, Thomas’ belief grew into a solid foundation, never to be shaken again.

 

 

 

Thomas’ Doubt

cloudscape1Bitterness coated Thomas’ tongue. He stood in the room where just days ago he and his friends had celebrated the Passover with Jesus. Although his Lord had seemed melancholy and spoke of betrayal and denial, Thomas would never have predicted later events. No one could have. Unable to be still, he paced from door to window and back again.

Andrew approached him, but Thomas turned away. He did not have the patience to hear the man’s gentle consolation again. For three years they had followed the man he had come to believe was the Messiah. Thomas had left a good carpentry business to follow Jesus’ calling. He had left his family and friends to wander homeless with a man who had challenged authority and flirted with death. Now the authorities and death had caught him and Thomas was an outlaw. He should never have left home.

Guilt seeped through the bitterness. No, he was glad to have left. No matter how badly things had turned out, he had seen things and done things that were beyond belief. He paused in his pacing and from the shelter of the shadows looked out the latticed window. A squad of Roman soldiers marched by in close formation, their spears and shield held ready.

Three days after laying Jesus’ body in the ground, the city still huddled in fear. People cleaning up the rubble left from the earthquake still stole glances at the sky which had gone dark for hours not so long ago. Pharisees and Sadducees refused to leave the temple or perform their normal duties. There were whispers of the Great Veil tearing from top to bottom and the Holy of Holies open to everyone’s view.  God was surely angry at the death of Jesus.

Cheerful humming broke into Thomas’ dark thoughts. He watched as Mary the Magdalene walked, practically danced, over to John and offered him a cup of wine. Thomas narrowed his eyes as the two shared a secret smile. It wasn’t right for John to humor her that way. The poor woman’s mind had snapped that morning .

The women hadn’t been able to do a thorough anointing of Jesus’ body before the Sabbath began. This morning, a group had gone to finish the job as soon as the sun rose. They had all come back shortly afterwards hysterical and raving about angels and His missing body. Peter and John had gone to the tomb and verified that the body was gone but were quiet when they returned.

Mary had come back much later, singing and dancing. She spoke of seeing Jesus himself, not dead, but alive. She claimed he had spoken to her and called her by name. Peter didn’t say much, still berating himself for denying Jesus during the trial. John sided with Mary, claiming that the Lord has risen. At least John didn’t claim to have spoken with a dead man. Thomas thought that the soldiers had taken the body and desecrated it further just to show they could.

Thomas stalked over to the two of them.  “You should not carry on so, it is not right to make light of others sorrow.”

“Thomas, what do you mean?” John looked puzzled. “Why should there be sorrow among us when our Lord has conquered Death itself?”

“He has not conquered death, He is dead. Let us mourn Him properly.” A muscle in Thomas’ jaw clenched. They were unreasonable.

“Jesus did conquer death. Were you not standing with us when he raised Jarius’ daughter, or the son of the widow in Nain? Did you not see our friend Lazarus when he emerged from his tomb?”

Thomas shrugged. “I saw those things , but it is one thing to be filled with God’s holy power and raise someone else from the dead. Elijah and Elisha also raised people from the dead. But no one can raise themselves.”

“But I saw Him, Jesus appeared to me in the garden and spoke to me.” The light in Mary’s face dimmed. “Why don’t you believe me?” she placed her hand on Thomas’s arm and her eyes pleaded with him to understand.

“You are deluded by your grief. You want Jesus back so badly, you imagined him speaking.” Thomas pulled away from her touch and unlocking the door, descended into the street. Wrapping his headscarf across his face he stalked away.

To Be Continued. . .

 

Prodigal Me

You know that story in the bible that Jesus tells, the one about the son who squanders his inheritance with wild living? Well, guess what;

I am a prodigal.

Ok, I never really did much wild living, I am an introvert after all and parties are not my thing. I have never done drugs or developed a taste for alcohol. All things considered, I prefer to spend my free time snuggled on the couch with a good book or sitting at my computer writing, playing games or generally wasting time. Many people would look at my life and wonder where the prodigal part comes in.

Well, let me tell you.

The story of the prodigal son is not so much about the wine, women and song that the young man spent his money on. Rather, it is about disobedience, disrespect and distance. The man publicly humiliated his father by asking for his inheritance early. In effect, he was saying

“Dad, I wish you would kick off so that I could get my cash now. See, my buds and me, we want to take off for California and hang out at the beach. That is where the real living is. So gimme what I got coming to me.”

The Dad would have been the laughing stock of the town. I can just see his neighbors shake their heads and whisper behind shielding hands about how they knew that boy would be trouble and how Dad had never been able to control him. What a shame.

But Dad let him go. He probably stared after the retreating back of his son until long after he disappeared into the distance. Every day, week, month and year that followed, Dad would stare down the road watching for his son. Maybe today would be the day.

Then finally, one day, Dad looks up. Maybe today will be the day. He peers down that long dusty road. Something is moving. Just a tiny speck. Is it a traveler passing through? Or a peddler on his way to the next town? Or maybe the road is crowded with travelers, it is market day and everyone is headed into town. Out of all those people, Dad sees something. A beggar is shuffling along the side of the road. No one else seems to see him stumble with weakness. He is walking hunched over, one arm wrapped around his belly as if he is in pain.

Dad recognizes him. There is no physical resemblance to the proud, strong young man who had walked away so long ago, but a father knows his children. Dad drops everything. He begins to walk toward that shambling figure. He walks faster and faster until he is running. His robe is hiked up around bony knees as his feet move faster than they ever have before. His heart is pumping with exertion but over the pounding of blood in his ears, Dad’s spirit is singing with joy. He is home!

When Dad reaches the filthy creature, he pulls the boy into a close embrace. Dad doesn’t care that his son is dressed in filthy rags. He takes no notice of the stench of the unwashed body, ripe with the odor of animal dung and sickness. He doesn’t see the smears of mud and worse that are transferred to his own fine robes. All he knows is that his son has come home.

So how am I a prodigal?

By society’ standards, I am not so bad. But I know the truth. I know how God wants me to live. I know that I should be making the most of the gifts of the Spirit; love, faithfulness, joy, self-control, gentleness, patience . . . the list goes on. Those are my inheritance. But do I use them consistently? Do I pray and strive to grow closer to the goal?

No, not so much. I am critical, selfish, moody, impatient, pessimistic and my self-control is sadly lacking. I squander my days with unimportant distractions.

I am so grateful that every time I turn aside from the path where God is leading me, He is always right there waiting for me to turn back. As soon as I do, He races to meet me. He loves me that much.

Amazing.

Lord, thanks for being patient with me. You know my weaknesses better than anyone, even me, but You never turn me away or lose hope. I often lose hope, as You well know, I am frequently ready to give up, but You keep cheering me on. It is a precious gift and one that I often fail to appreciate. Thank you for not giving up on me.                

Amen