I Am Hidden In Christ

Hidden Under His Wings

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust!” … He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you make seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. Psalm 91:1,4

I grew up in a big city, and it took moving to a bush village in West Africa to familiarize me with chickens.  They were suddenly a huge part of my life – always pecking around underfoot, crowing before the sun even thought about rising, getting all suicidal by running in front of my truck.  African friends gave me dozens.  Poultry was the accepted “thank you” gift, even if all I was being thanked for was a visit and a nice, long chat.

Mostly, I just endured my new feathered annoyances … I mean friends.  But, the one thing I loved about them was watching a mother hen with her fluffy little brood of chicks.  At night, she’d snuggle them down under her wings.  They’d disappear – hidden under her body.  How safe and secure those little ones were. Nothing was going to get them that didn’t go through Mother Hen first.

I loved watching that because of these verses.  Finally, I could picture it – God, snuggling me under His wings, protecting me from predators that would love to dine on my downy weakness.  God, hiding me in his vastness.

That isn’t to say that physical harm won’t assail me.  Jesus made it clear that often, following Him will bring us into danger.  But, those perils can only destroy my body.  My soul, the true me, is safely hidden with God, whether I dwell on Earth or in Heaven.

And Satan’s firey darts, the doubts and fears and faith-snatchers he hurls at me?  If I stay hidden under God’s wings, those things can’t hurt me.

My God is a shield and bulwark for me.  How thankful I am to be hidden in Him.

I have direct access to God

Never an Orphan

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:16-18 NAS

I just wanted to talk to my Mommy. And I couldn’t. At. All. She was in Florida, and I was in West Africa. The nearest reliable internet connection was a nine hour drive from my hut. I could get to a phone 45 minutes away, but it only worked about 10 percent of the time. Cell phones? Ha. We didn’t even have running water, much less a cell tower.

I ached to hear my parents’ voices. The separation – it was a tangible ocean of loneliness. When I had said goodbye to them in that airport, it had really been goodbye. Although I was not an orphan, I felt every bit of one. My mother later told me that she mourned me as though I had died.

That same deep, indescribable pain of separation must have crept upon the disciples as Jesus told them He was leaving them. And Jesus knew it. That’s why he spoke these beautiful words.

“I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you,” he told them. How? Through the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who would abide with them and be in them.

God with me. God in me. Never, ever, for one nano-second, am I separated from Him. And so, even as I pray, the Holy Spirit in me helps me, “for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

My prayers are too often pitiful ramblings of a confused heart. And yet, the Holy Spirit takes those inefficient words and speaks them eloquently to God the Father. He can do that because He is inside of me, examining my heart, expressing what my words cannot. A member of the Trinity, pleading on my behalf to another member of the Trinity, never leaving me or forsaking me. I’m not doing a very good job of describing the awe I feel as I try to wrap my brain around this.

I don’t think I understand it well enough to turn it into words. But I am so thankful I live it, connected, to Him.

I am forgiven

The Price of Forgiveness

If his gift is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male. … He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. Leviticus 1:3,4

Every Friday for about a year, I met under the stars with about six African women to tell Bible stories.  We sat in the shadows of their mud huts often until midnight.  It was the only time they had free after a day full of working in their fields, hauling well water, chopping fire wood, and cooking dinner over open fires.  Those dark hours were quiet – except for the occasional donkey throwing a braying fit – so we were able to weave our way through the Old Testament.

My African partner and I explained the Jewish sacrificial system to them, and we told them about this verse – how, by laying a hand on the sacrificial animal’s head, the sinner’s sin was symbolically transferred to the animal.

Friday after Friday, we worked our way through the Bible until we reached the stories of Jesus.  The women were non-literate, and they had never heard the stories before. I was amazed at the spiritual truth they could mine out of the Biblical passages.  Unschooled does not mean un-smart.  Some of them were enthralled with this Jesus. Some just came to listen out of curiosity.  One, I’ll call her “Jill,” was a skeptic.  She asked wickedly astute questions, but it was obvious she didn’t believe anything we were saying

The full moon bathed the whole group in silvery light the night we told the crucifixion story.  I asked a question: “Why do you think Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ as he hung on the cross?”

I watched Jill’s face, and I saw the Holy Spirit reveal it to her.  She spoke slowly.  “Because that was the moment that God laid his hand on Jesus’ head and put the sins of the whole world on him.”

Indeed. 

This forgiveness I enjoy?  It came at a terrible price.  Jesus became a sacrifice – a bloody heap of physical suffering. But when uttered those anguished words, he was separated from God himself. Spiritual suffering.  He’d never been separated before.  And why?  Because my sin had just been laid on his head.  It had just rolled off of me and on to him.

He died in my place.

The wages of sin is death.  Death is separation.  Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.  Jesus endured them both. For me.

So I could be forgiven.

May I never cease to be awed.

I am a stranger in this world

Strangers Look Weird

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed, if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” Hebrews 11:13-16 NAS

“Look! It’s a white person!”

I heard it often as I did my shopping in West African markets, sidestepping puddles, bargaining for fabric and shooing flies off the tomatoes I wanted to buy. The cry never failed to bring a crowd. You’d think only kids would do this, but I drew my share of gawking adults, too. “Wow, look … a real, live white person!” the crowd buzzed. Mostly, I ignored it, because it became the norm for me. Sometimes, when I was feeling sassy, I’d let my eyes get as wide as theirs, look over my shoulder and say in their language, “Really? Where? I don’t see her.”

And then, when my husband and I would travel deep into the bush, we’d encounter villagers who had never in their lives seen a Caucasian. Quite frankly, they didn’t know what we were. Little children have burst into tears at the mere sight of me. More than one woman has dropped her basket and run in terror.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind: I was a stranger in West Africa. My accent was thick, my hair unruly. I couldn’t perform the simplest of feminine chores: winnow rice, chop firewood, pound millet.

And often, when the heat and frustration would roll over me, I’d long to return to the States. That was when God would whisper to my heart, “America is not your home. Heaven is.” Indeed. I was in Africa as a stranger, as an exile, but not of the United States. I was a displaced heavenly citizen. I had a home town alright. It was the city God is preparing for me.

Well, I’m back now. Typing in Texas, I am. And you know what? God was right. America is not my home. I am a stranger and exile here, too. My home is heaven. Oh, people don’t stop and stare at me anymore, but I’m weird just the same. I don’t follow U.S. patterns of thinking on a whole host of issues. And I am still called to make sacrificial choices, choices that advance God’s kingdom instead of my own. It’s just that it is harder to do it here, with materialism whispering in my ears and society telling me I’m wrong.

I’m not at home in the U.S.A. I wasn’t at home in Africa. The place I feel the most “fit”? Anywhere other Christians are gathered, worshipping our savior, serving him together. When I get together with other exiles and we can talk about home, yearn for home together, and work to show others the way to our home – well, that’s puts my homesickness at bay. That’s when I’m acting on who I really am …

A citizen of heaven, not of any country on Earth.

I am a stranger in this world

I Am a Stranger in this World

I am a citizen of heaven, an ambassador to Earth

Now everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”  2 Cor. 5:18-20 HCS

From Susan

I lived in a traffic-strangled capital city in West Africa.  The dust and heat rolled off the streets, through my windows and into my living room.  Nothing was pretty there – not my house, nor anyone else’s.

One day, my kids were invited to a playdate by a woman whose husband was the second-in-command at the U.S. Embassy. I walked through her gates and into paradise.  Her swimming pool was sparkling blue, her grass lush green. Tasteful furniture adorned rooms that could accommodate a crowd of hundreds.  As my toddler gleefully dove into her treasure box of toys, I just sat and stared.  I had been years outside the States, and I had forgotten what luxury looked like.

“You have a beautiful home,” I managed.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile.  “It’s yours.  It belongs to the American people.”

Her gracious answer stunned me for a moment, until I considered who she was.  Her whole reason for being in that country was to represent the United States of America.  She didn’t consider her home her own.  It was owned by the Embassy, a tool to do her job. Her entire life was about ambassadorship.

And so shouldn’t ours be?  We are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth. Our reason for being here is to represent His kingdom to this foreign land, Earth.

What does that mean in practical terms?

From Jen

In practical terms, it means that my view on life needs shifted into a fresh light.

I remember having a talk with a couple of junior high girls several years ago. Bright, pretty girls chalked full of potential—leadership, popularity, and a good start in Biblical understanding. But they weren’t acting like the princesses I knew they were called to be. I remember telling them, “you have ‘Jesus’ stamped on your foreheads, and the way you are acting doesn’t make Him look very good.” (Several years later, I’m happy to share they have both become lovely young women, inside and out. Praise God, and keep praying.)

This verse beckons that memory. I live in a small town, and I’m a very active member of our church, so everything I do in our community is noticed. So, when I’m in the store, in a hurry and in line at the speedy check-out, how do I respond to the sweet gal in front of me who has decided to write out a check with careful script, meticulously subtracting her deduction from her checkbook register? Do I huff with impatience, roll my eyes at the checker who glances to me with an apologetic look? Or, do I offer to help the woman with her bag?

When I coach little girls’ softball, and the ump makes a call I don’t agree with, do I throw a fit? Or, do I cheer my girls on, telling them life is like that sometimes and we have to just keep swinging away?

Or how about when I am walking with my kids and my gum has lost its flavor. Do I spit it in a yard that is clearly unkempt, because it wouldn’t matter anyway? Or do I respect the property that is not my own as if it were mine, because another human being made in the image of God lives there?

An ambassador of Christ shows who God is to a godless world. They carry the emblem of the King, saying, ‘this is not my home, I am a citizen of a land far away, but I have been entrusted to bear His name in a foreign land.” They view the things in their lives; home, finances, children, and toys as things they are placed over as stewards, not as owners. They view their days as new opportunities to call out to the lost with the very way that they live.

An ambassador lives as an alien in a foreign land on purpose and with purpose. What impression will I leave today?

I am secure

I am Secure in the Storm

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on a rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded the house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded the house, and it collapsed, and its collapse was great!” Matt. 7:24-27 HCS

My husband and I took our baby and fled the civil war in the West African country we loved. All the doctors left the bush country, too, and looters stripped the pharmacies. Then, an epidemic hit our village. The illness, undiagnosed and incurable without modern medicine, killed dozens of children, including the 4-year-old daughter of my best friend, Clarice.

“See?” another African woman told her. “Your Christian faith didn’t save your daughter. The ancestors are punishing you for not worshipping them anymore.”
Clarice straightened her back. “God’s word says the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. Many children of non-Christians died, too. I will not desert my God.”

In her deluge, Clarice was secure.

How can I say that? Her daughter died. Her country was at war. The answer: Clarice was secure in Jesus—not in anything on this earth. She was a woman who truly knew who she was in Christ.

There is a myth in Christianity, I think, that says something like, “If I follow God, he’ll give me a safe, happy, secure life.” But in Matthew 7, Christ made it clear that trials will storm down on us whether we follow Him or not. Jobs will be lost. Relationships will end. Tornados will tear up towns. And civil wars will take 4-year-olds away from their mothers.

Jesus did not promise secure circumstances. He promised a secure foundation – Himself. If we build our lives on Jesus, constructing them with obedience to his commands, when the trials come – and they will – we will stand, secure in the storm. But, if we build our lives on anything else, those same troubles will crush us. I so need to remember this right now, during a difficult season in my own life.

“Blessed is a man who endures trials, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that He has promised to those who love Him” James 1:12 HCS

I sure hope I get to attend the awards ceremony in heaven when Clarice’s receives hers.

I am secure

I am Secure: A Joint Post

 

“My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of my hand” ~John 10:27-28 HCS

From Susan

My husband, Steve, carrying two porcupines but no warthog, walked back to the village outpost, which was nothing more than a couple of mud huts and a watering hole.  He and his West African hunting buddies sank into bamboo chairs in the shade under a rice-sack lean-to.  They’d have to wait until evening to try again.  The conversation died down, and a few of the men drifted off to sleep.

Steve was awake, though, when two flocks of sheep arrived at the watering hole from two different directions, each led by a Fulani man carrying a shepherd’s stick across his shoulders.  Sheep from both flocks melded together in one bleating, thirsty mass.  The shepherds spread out their mats under a mango tree and brewed tea over a little fire while the animals drank and milled around.

About an hour later, one of the shepherds stood to leave.  He didn’t even glance at the sheep.  He just took out a tin can and beat a rhythm on it as he walked away.Fulani Shepherd

Half the sheep scrambled, pushed and even climbed over others in a frantic effort to follow him.  The shepherd chose a path next to Steve’s lean-to, and the sheep, many running to catch up, did too.

The other half of the sheep? They just hung out at the watering hole, unfazed.  Their shepherd still sat beneath the tree.

From Jen

As Christians, we may mingle and blend with another flock, but the sheep who belong to the Savior follow His voice. In Him we have safety. In Him we have everything we need.

Sheep need the care of the shepherd. Left to their own, they overgraze their food source, and have a tendency to get themselves in difficult, life-threatening situations. They simply need the overseeing protection of one who is wiser and who can meet the needs they are unable to meet on their own.

No wonder God often uses the image of a shepherd and his sheep. Left to our own, we take the good in front of us and misuse it to our destruction, we let ‘blessings’ over come us until we cannot stand under the weight of it all, and we love to see how far we can stretch the boundaries until we find ourselves in difficult, sometimes life-threatening situations.

We need His care. His protection.

Security comes from the shepherd. He tends His flock with wisdom and love. He leads us to green pastures and guides us to calm waters. He meets every one of our needs.

And all I need to do? Simply follow His voice.