In the deepest thicket of woods, on the remotest of walking trails, we can feel closer to God than any of the places we find ourselves in on a normal day. Somehow, by escaping the noise and the everyday places so familiar to us, we can experience God with more intensely.
Jesus realized this himself as the gospel authors mention many times when he left his band of disciples to be alone to pray, whether it be a few yards away from where the men slept or higher up on a mountain where he could be closer to his father. These getaways were so frequent, Luke specifically mentioned them in his gospel: “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16, NLT)
We can all understand the need for privacy, especially if we have younger siblings who keep barging into our rooms or interrupting our time to ourselves. But there’s something more here for Jesus than just privacy. The wilderness was Jesus’ creation, as Colossians 1:16 tells us:
“For through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”
The wilderness was Jesus’ best teaching tool and he referred to it in many of his parables.
Using Jesus as our example, we too should seek to find ways to be closer to our father. A walk around the block by ourselves or even a trail hike with friends can give us the serenity to feel God’s presence stronger, even if we aren’t entirely alone. What Jesus sought was closeness to the one hearing his prayers. That means simply taking a walk can be one of the best Christian acts we can learn to adopt.
This body once given to so many others
Now belongs to you.
This mind once confused and led astray
Now is rooted in your words.
This heart once was darkened
Now radiates your light.
This spirit overcomes me
Now I am renewed.
This world once demanding my acceptance
Now no longer carries any weight
This body offered up each day
Now is your sacrifice.
This path I walked unknowing
Now is guided by your will
This Savior I once ran from
Now leads me toward eternal life.
Three stones, Lord
Put them in my pocket.
A slingshot, Lord
Firm in my hand.
My giant sneers,
He mocks my faith.
Fill my heart, Lord
with your courage.
Give me spirit, Lord
Make me strong.
My giant overwhelms me,
Exposes all my flaws.
Root me in your word, Lord
Give me patience, steady aim.
Hear my prayer, Lord
Feel my faith.
My giant stands to fall,
A display for your might.
Let me stand upon his body, Lord
Wield his sword
A victor for the meek.
This morning I was searching through some old papers and found this journal entry. I wrote these words in May 2014, when I was at the beginning of my faith journey:
The voice began as a feeling. I had to still my life before I could hear it. For four years, I had been trying to heal the wounds of a broken marriage through a whirlwind of relationships. The path I was walking left me empty on the inside and hurt many around me. I was always a good father and involved in my children’s lives, but beyond that, I was not living for anything. The gifts I had been granted as a writer were languishing, as was my career. My life served no purpose. I was spiritually empty and I was not leading my children toward a future with meaning. So I closed down my world to focus on our quiet lives together. And then I began to hear something speak to me. I heard no words. I felt them … I felt them telling me I could be more than what I was. I went out and bought a bible for myself and one for the kids. My daughter began voraciously reading hers, and I mine. And I recognized for the first time the passion and divine talents of the various writers of the Bible. I knew the voice I was feeling was Jesus Christ. I knew I wanted to serve Him, give my life over to Him, and use whatever gifts I had to glorify Him. One afternoon, I sat with a good friend at my kitchen table, praying and accepting the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart. I agreed to live for him. And now I want to finalize this incredible conversion through the process of baptism, the same as Jesus Christ did.
When it seems no one in your life appears to be listening, it can be stunning to realize that the creator of the universe wants to hear what you have to say.
At times, you might feel your friends, your siblings or even your parents aren’t all that interested in what’s happening in your world. They all have involvements and challenges in their own lives that are fighting for their attention, so naturally your perspective might not always be first on their minds.
So how is it that God – the maker of your friends, your parents and siblings, and you and everyone else in the world – has the time to pay attention? The bible tells us that he hears all who believe in him:
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek him.”
In that verse, we learn that “faith” is the first key to God hearing our prayer. Secondly, we must believe that He is (or rather, that He exists and is who He says He is.) And lastly we see that if we accomplish those two important
First, we must have faith that God is … and second, we must have confidence in the Lord’s willingness to hear our prayers.
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
Prayer is an open line of communication between you and the creator of the universe.
Our father is always home. He’s always willing to take our call, no matter how we may have let him down. We should not be ashamed to let him hear our voice.
Have you ever met someone and gotten the feeling that they were going to play an important role in your life? Even before you got to know them, you just had a feeling they were going to leave some sort of imprint on the path you were going to take?
I’ve been blessed to meet a few people like that, and while I can’t tell you exactly what it was that gave me those thoughts, I still remember how it felt to welcome them into my life.
When we meet someone who we think is going to make a difference, we tend to remember our first interactions with them — and sometimes even the first words they speak to us. Do you remember when you first met Jesus and how he spoke to you?
The Bible gives us four first encounters with Jesus through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You know those names. They are the writers of the four Gospels. These authors give us first hand accounts of what it was like to walk next Jesus. The miracles he performed, the love he showed to everyone (no matter what their past involved), and of course the beautiful sacrifice he made for all of us to live lives free from sin. But the gospels also provide us our first “meetings” with Jesus.
These are Jesus’ first words in each of the gospels:
Matthew 3:15 – “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”
Mark 1:14 – “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Luke 2:49 – “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
John 1:38 – “What do you want?”
In the first statement above from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to John the Baptist who is about to baptize him. Here Jesus reveals that he has a plan to carry out on earth and it begins with ceremonial baptism. His mission will change the world forever.
Jesus’s words in Mark imply even more about his mission. We need to repent of our sins and negative ways and believe in him. The Good News is that through belief in him, we can be washed clean of our sins.
His opening statement in Luke was spoken to his parents, Mary and Joseph. After losing track of Jesus during the Passover festival, they finally find him in the temple teaching the religious teachers. Jesus seems astonished — or maybe disappointed — that his parents didn’t think to look for him in a place of worship. Jesus is always with the father, and if we want to find him, we should know where to look. He is in our hearts now. As is the father. As is the Holy Spirit.
And finally, his first words in John were spoken to his first two disciples who been following him. He asks, “What do you want?” Of course, his disciples don’t know yet that what they need is Jesus himself. His love, his spirit, his outlook and of course his forgiveness. When we pray, we also ask Jesus to fulfill our needs and sometimes our wants. Through Jesus, anything we want in this world can be fulfilled.
Our first interaction with Jesus immediately leave us indebted to him. Our lives become overwhelmed with his love and every moment with him becomes special. For many of us who have been Christians for years, we want to get back to the early days when we first met him and had his fire in our hearts. Jesus’ first words our way to get back to our first encounters with him. Or we can simply respond to his question: What do you want?
“We want you, Lord!”
Poetry and portraits,
Biographies and prophecies,
You speak of damnation and eternal hell fire,
While offering messages of love, forgiveness and grace.
The path to you is simple and humble,
Listening and loving with the heart,
Living with a clear conscience,
Trusting you with a sincere faith.
Your words are plain enough,
But where is the real you?
You give your gift free to us,
And yet it cost you the highest price.
Where are you in all this?
Three in one, father son and spirit,
Triune and triumphant.
Let your ancient parables teach us how to live.
Heart, soul, mind and spirit,
The deepest love
For the simplest of souls.
Moonlight soft and faint above the trees,
Casting a shadow of jagged curtains along the horizon.
The singing of birds riding sharp but muted on the cool spring air.
Resurrection Sunday dawn waits.
The details of this morning say it is true:
2,000 years before, the stone rolled away,
Angels in an empty tomb,
Our Lord and Savior mistaken for a gardener.
Today, in your name,
Broken spirits will file into churches,
To draw nearer to you.
Reborn, in your name and by your victory.
The world is made anew on Sunday morning,
As it always is.
Your message of grace as soft as morning haze
And your forgiveness as early morning birdsong.
My children do not regularly read my blog, so I share this story not for them but hopefully for you because it has brought so much joy to my life over the last week. (My kids are at ages now in which they would be mortified that I would share something as innocent as this with you, so if you have occasion to see them around town this week, I ask that you please keep this between us.) On Easter Sunday morning, I somehow managed to awaken my three children from their slumbers at the “ungodly hour” of 4 a.m. so they could accompany me to church for the 6 a.m. sunrise service – a very brave and therefore “godly” task for a single father to undertake, right? My kids are Jesus followers, but they are not ordinarily church fans on Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings, holidays or any other time we grace a place of worship together. For them to rise at an hour when the world is still dark and they have another 3-4 hours of solid weekend sleep ahead is a miracle unto itself. But rise they did, with only a few complaints, and we loaded into my truck and made the drive to church. The interstate was barren at 5:30, as was the parking lot, and we easily made our way through the mostly silent building to the outdoor “porch” area. In the cool 50-degree temps, we found seats up front and sat on long slabs of rock facing a small stage and a rise of stairs where the pastor would deliver his message. The seating accommodations felt as though we were stepping back into antiquity, to a temple or amphitheater, which seemed appropriate for an Easter message. The service opened with an acoustic worship session – just one man and a guitar leading us in song. Then, at the pastor’s request, a few of the congregants stood and shared their testimonies, telling how they’d seen Jesus at work in their lives recently. And, then the pastor read the entire final chapter of the gospel of Luke, which, if you’ll recall, is the account in which Luke shares the story of the risen Jesus appearing alongside a group of men walking to Emmaus after the events of the crucifixion. This is a long portion of scripture to sit through, even for many regular church-going adults, let alone three teenagers dressed in their Sunday best. I kept stealing looks at them (seated to my left) as the pastor read to see how they were following along. The scripture story tells us that Jesus somehow supernaturally keeps the men in the dark about his identity, and pretends not to know what has transpired in Jerusalem over the course of the Passover celebration. These men, in dire sadness, recount everything from Jesus’ ministry to his death on the cross – and with his death, the loss of the man they thought was to be their Savior. In response, Jesus explains to them how is was necessary for the Savior to be rejected and die a lowly death to fulfill the old testament prophecies surrounding him. Then the Bible begins to reveal to us a very playful side of Jesus when, after walking with the men for some distance, Jesus acts as though he’s going to separate from the men and go on with his travels. But being so set on fire by his words, they beg him to stay with them. It’s during dinner that night that Jesus reveals himself to the men, which sets them sprinting back to Jerusalem to tell Jesus’s followers that he has risen. When the men find the apostles, they begin telling their story when Jesus appears among them. His followers apparently need some confirmation that Jesus is risen into a new body and is not in fact a ghost, and so he asks them for a piece of fish to show them that only those with bodies need nourishment. I always personally found these details somewhat bizarre for reasons I’m not sure I can fully explain. Here is the risen Jesus standing among his followers for the first time since they’ve seen him tortured, spit on, humiliated, and hung on a cross, and he asks them … for food. During this final part of the story, I turned to my left to take in my children’s reactions to this specific detail, and it’s then that I saw the broadest, prettiest, toothiest smile on the face of my 13 year-old daughter. This is, indeed, a very amusing part of the resurrection story and it reveals to us what could be interpreted as a lighthearted side of our Lord and Savior. My daughter’s reaction brought a smile to my face in the moment, and it does now as I write about this (along with a few tears, quite honestly.) I have been guilty the last few months of a fate that befalls many of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. We seek to prescribe a deeper meaning to every word of scripture. With the best of intentions, we pour over Jesus’ words in hopes of finding in them something that can enlighten our perspective on a situation we are facing in our world, today. And we forget that there are moments like this, which of course are meaningful in a theological way, but also manage to make a little girl smile. They show his heart. They show his love. And they reveal to men like me where, unknowingly, we have closed our hearts to the best parts of our Lord.
On the first slope leading down toward the valley
is a limestone outcropping that marks a place I call Jerusalem.
The rocks warm here in the red dirt, seeming to draw the sun away from the surrounding hillsides.
In every direction, the prairie rolls on gently with the valley forest cutting a swath through its center.
Jerusalem, as I have deemed it, feels mysterious at the edge of the woods,
where travelers either emerge from the shadows or head directly into them.
This is a place where the ground feels alive — where miracles happen.
If the Spirit was poured out on these fields, it would be here,
On hills like the promised land,
Dry ground where travelers stand and see the walls of the ancient city first come into view.
The coyotes sing here at night over everything that is alive,
and it feels at that early morning hour like Jesus’ hour of doubt in the garden.
The animals and all of nature offer their sacrifices and hidden treasures
To this land from which life bursts forth,
where the Holy Spirit rises on the whim of the winds.