Desert Days

I love to hike and spend time in the "wilderness." I like to imagine that I'm some type of urban "Survivor Man" although I freely admit that I'm very careful to prepare for my trips and pack all the essentials to make sure I'm comfortable, safe and well-fed. Still, there is something truly inspiring about getting away from the civilized world and spending time outdoors in the deep woods or atop a lofty mountain. It's an adventure, a test of one's stamina, resolve and courage. It's also a time to let go of the day-to-day concerns of  life and commune with Nature and its Creator. A good hike, whether for a day or a week is a way to hit the "reset" button on my spirit. I come back from my outdoor excursions a much more rested, renewed and balanced individual.

God has a purpose for His people when He calls us to spend time in "desolate places." Whether we're in an actual wilderness or not almost doesn't matter. Often, we find ourselves in a place where we go deep into that dark and deserted place inside us where we hear the voice of the accuser whispering to our inner ears that we're a failure, full of falsehood and destined for a life of mediocrity and unworthiness. Many times that accusing voice is our own, built up by years of mistakes, sin and selfishness.  For the most part we avoid shutting down the busyness of our lives and going to that inner chamber because we're afraid of what we might hear and afraid to face what we perceive as the awful truth of who we really are.

Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness just prior to starting His earthly ministry. There He was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger; to throw Himself down from the temple and allow the angels to bear Him to the ground; and to claim all the earthly kingdoms in exchange for bowing His knee to the Prince of the Air. Yet, each time the tempter tried to sway the Savior with quotations from Scripture, Jesus answered with the Word of God in order to put the great deceiver in his place. (See Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus was a man who was completely at home in the wilderness, for it was there He could meet with His Father and gain strength for the days ahead. He had no skeletons in His inner closet, no fears or failings to have to face with trembling. He knew His purpose and found Himself more in touch with that purpose when He went alone to those lonely places to pray. (Luke 5:16) 
Just because Jesus is God and we are not doesn't mean we can't explore our own internal wildernesses in order to come to terms with God's plan for our lives. Psalm 139 is a wonderful song of self-examination, one that can help us to appreciate our connection to the God who knit us together in our mother's womb. Here, the psalmist lays his life before God, acknowledging his total dependence on the One who knows him so intimately that he is overwhelmed by the power of His eternal presence. In this blessed communion, he knows that there is no place to go to get away from God, and that all his inner turmoil and darkness is not hidden from the One who is Light and Love itself! In that sweet surrender of sacred fellowship the struggles and strivings give way to a love so powerful that it casts everything outside the realm of God's presence with a holy hatred and washes over the psalmist in a flood of grace. It is so wonderful that leaves him calling for God to search out all his inner rooms to eliminate anything that will come between the Lover and the Beloved. 

That is the power of our Desert Days! Don't be afraid of getting real with God, of walking into the darkness and desolation of your self-centered soul. Let Him cleanse you and free you to continue the journey toward home! As you read Psalm 139 below, take the words to heart and make them your own. Let them be your prayer to close this devotional today!

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139 ESV)

 

Coming Home to the Sea: One Couple's Experience of Eastport, Maine

There’s something about the sea that speaks to the soul and awakens the heart to new horizons and new points of view. Now I won’t pretend that I’m a man of the sea or that I fully understand that majestic voice that calls men to venture out onto the waves; nor can I mirror the character of those who choose to make their home by the shore. Still, I feel drawn to the changing tides and the ebb and flow of the ocean, and when I’m there, I’m a different man.

For our 25th anniversary, my wife and I embarked on a little seaside adventure to the Northeastern coast in the little harbor town of Eastport, Maine. We chose the location on a whim; we wanted to find a place that was peaceful and undisturbed, a haven apart from the crowds and confusion of our everyday lives. We had no idea what we would find there or even how we would fill our time in this quaint little fishing village, but nevertheless we made our plans and off we went. Maybe we were looking for renewal; maybe we just wanted to catch our breath and forget the troubles and turbulence we had left behind.

When we arrived at The Milliken House, our bed & breakfast, we came as strangers to Mary, our host, but soon found ourselves caught up in her simple charm, her motherly care and her gracious hospitality. The old home seemed to welcome us as well, carrying us back to a simpler time and bidding us to surrender to the slower pace of life. We were struck by the quiet and the calm, as if this monument to better days with its large rooms and period furnishings was whispering to us its silent secrets and assuring us that we were safe and secure within its walls. Our room was spacious and appealing, a harbor of comfort for the end of each day; our breakfasts were bountiful and beautiful, served to us on elegant china plates at the large linen-draped dining room table. There was always tea for us when we came home from our adventures and Mary was always ready to greet us with tales of the history of Eastport and stories of colorful local characters she had come to call friends. Like a port in a storm, we soon came to see that this house was our refuge from the weary world that had battered and buffeted us for far too long.

Our first day was spent exploring the town, and we wondered what attractions might be available. There were none of the typical touristy variety, no high-tech, slick-looking shops with crass commercial trinkets for sale, but still, there were treasures everywhere. Here was a close-knit community of like-minded souls, a family of people who loved their town and sought to bring out the best in one another. Every shopkeeper and waitress was more than happy to point us in the direction of another business or restaurant. Instead of chain stores there were cooperatives where local artisans sold their wares, antique stores offering the old, and shops selling custom items innovative and new. My wife was especially enamored with the local Moose Island Bakery where they sold the most delicious creampuffs she had ever tasted, and I have to admit that I wasn’t disappointed with the local lobster roll at the Happy Crab.

Perhaps the thing that struck us the most was that Eastport, though it had seen so many changes over the years, was still a place with a unique character that spoke its timeless story and wonderful wisdom to every heart that took the time to listen. I remember one evening, listening to our server share stories of the long history of The Landmark Restaurant where we were enjoying a wonderful dinner. She told us how this old edifice had undergone a number of transformations over the years, each unique and some even unusual. As I looked around at the old brick walls, the careworn original floors and the majestic columns and archways decorated in an eclectic style for this its latest incarnation, I could almost sense that this venerable building was somehow grateful and quietly content to be useful still, and even proud of its long heritage of service to the town and the people who had built and maintained it all these years.

On another day, we ventured out from Eastport, across the border into Canada to Campobello Island. We marveled at the well-maintained summer cottage that was once home to the Roosevelts. We had to laugh to ourselves at how this and the other lovely “cottages” in the area were so much larger than our own home. We took time for lunch at The Fireside, one of the wonderful restaurants on the island, and traveled to The Quoddy Head Lighthouse to wait for low tide so that we could make our way across the rocks for a visit. We capped off our visit with a hike along the seaside trails near the Roosevelt Cottage and a stop at Herring Cove Beach to walk along the shore and sit in silence before the soothing sea. In all we saw, the thing that we found the most captivating were the breathtaking views of the ocean, whether from the shoreline behind the Roosevelt Cottage, the deck of the Fireside, the hills upon which the old lighthouse stood or that deserted beach where we were all but alone with the waves and the soft gray sand. The sound of the water making its way to the shore, the occasional soaring of a seagull, and the fog moving in like misty spirits answering the mystical call of the ocean spoke to our spirits and calmed the clutter in our minds as we were taken into the embrace of the moment. Slowly and quietly we began to forget ourselves – or rather, we remembered ourselves as we had been and were truly meant to be. It drained the tension from our bodies and drowned out the noise of our busy lives, and we rediscovered that deep hidden spark of youthful romantic love that had drawn the two of us together so many years ago.

There was excitement as well, an adventure that came in the form of a whale watch with Wind Jammers Whale Watching Tours in Eastport. Our host, Butch, took our group out in his lobster boat to view the beautiful minke fin whales that had finally made their way back home to these northern waters for the summer. It was exciting to watch these majestic mammals rise up out of the water for a breath of air, arch their backs and then dive into the depths to explore their ocean home. It was equally amazing to view over 50 harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks near the shore and to see bald eagles perched atop tall trees surveying their lofty domains. It was both a spectacular event and a simple pleasure, something extraordinary and yet so much a part of the everyday life of this faraway place at the edge of the world.

It was really the little things that mattered the most: a pot of tea and a game of Scrabble before retiring for the evening, a walk along a quiet sandy beach to search for sand dollars and sea glass, or a stop along the road to capture photographs of a sunset too beautiful for words. It brought out such a child-like excitement within our hearts, and one might have thought it silly to see two adults holding bits of sand-smoothed glass in their hands as if they were diamonds or standing in awe of the flight of cormorants or the pinks and purples of the setting sun after an ordinary summer day. But these events and objects, sights and sounds were truly treasures to hearts being reawakened to what is most important in life: the power of a moment, the making of a memory, and the rekindling of the spirit of eternal youth.

 We’ve since returned to our everyday life, but we’ve brought with us a little bit of that seaside town, the soul of its population, and the shining shores of Maine. And because of that, it’s hard to imagine how we’ll ever be the same again. What began as an uncertain journey has become a part of who we are. What was meant to be a “getting away from it all” has turned out to be a true coming home. Like the tide that washes onto the shore, only to slip back into the vastness of the ocean, we’ve come to see how our lives are really about returning to the place inside us that is as deep and mysterious as the sea and as timeless and unchanging as the rocky shoreline of a faraway place, that for a short time, we came to call home.

Let There Be Light: A Message from Genesis During the Dark Days of Winter

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In the beginning, from ageless eternity, Almighty God looked down upon the formless void and willed creation into being. Where there was nothingness, there would be life. Where there was disorder, there would be order. The perfect, infinite love of God hovered above the shapeless sea of emptiness that was the cosmic chaos and spoke His life and light into being.

God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light. He simply spoke and the light came to be. He breathed His laughter and love into the void and the perfect, pure light of His grace and goodness burst forth upon the nothingness and brought life. Like a beautiful scroll, the story of His love was opened and stretched out upon the universe, revealing awesome truth and seamless harmony. The light stood in contrast to the darkness; and everything that would come into being would be touched with the light of the Creator’s presence. God’s perfect thought breathed the universe into existence and brought wholeness where there once was formlessness, the sound of coherence where all was separation and obscurity. The light gave a voice to the forces of the universe as they took their place in the celestial order of creation. The earth would form and be suspended in space. There would be distinction between the seas and the land, the waters above and the waters below, the darkness and the light. Day was born and began the dance of the hours with the night. In speaking the light into being, order and grace filled creation and set in motion the story of God’s eternal, joyful song.

The first day of creation describes what is essentially indescribable. It is only in the poetry of the words that we gain a sense of the beauty and perfection of God’s creative power in speaking everything into being. The inspired author takes us back to the beginning to teach us the awesome truth of who God is. In attempting to define what cannot be fully comprehended, he shows us a God who is first and foremost, all-powerful. In the creation stories of the ancient world, the earth came into being through the violence of the gods, through conflict and battle, death and destruction, as one god defeated another and out of the ruin brought the order of the universe. This is a distortion of the true manner in which God brought forth His creation. He stood alone, with no one to challenge Him. He existed in eternity, in timeless perfection, and spoke all of creation into being with the breath of His word. There was no effort, no struggle to conjure up the cosmos. God simply kissed it into being with a puff of His Spirit, His “ruah” – His breath. Like a holy sigh of love, God made all that was and is.

Creation begins with light. Genesis was written with the fall of humanity in mind. In a universe cursed by the darkness of sin, God stands as the light. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness represents incomprehension, confusion, and veiled thinking. Light represents the brilliance of perfection, order, and clarity of all thought and being. The day and the night were separated to present a contrast between God’s perfect light of love and the destructive influence of hatred and sin. Because sin would eventually come into the world, God set up the light and separated it from the darkness as a great sign of His divine purposes for the universe. Genesis stands as one bookend with Revelation, with all of Scripture in between, punctuating the truth that the perpetual light of the resurrection will one day eliminate the darkness, and there will no longer be a need for sun and moon, day and night, for all will be light once more.

The passage speaks of God hovering above the “waters” of the deep. Water has a powerful meaning in the Word. It represents the swirling chaos out of which new life emerges. Noah and his family were shut in the ark and taken through the overwhelming waters of the flood, when all the wrath of heaven and earth burst forth in judgment upon the earth. They were brought through the dark storm to the dawning of a new day, where light and life would be renewed. Moses and the Israelites passed from the darkness of Egypt to the light of the Promised Land through the waters of the Red Sea. In faith, they made the passage through the mighty wall of water to come out of the place of slavery and subjugation to the place of freedom and provision. Jesus was dipped into the Jordan and rose to face the dark forces living in the desert, armed with the light of the Word of God! He brought His light to bear upon the Prince of the Air, and through His life, death and resurrection, opened the way for humanity to come out of the darkness into the dawn of a new creation in Him. The early Christians plunged men and women into the waters of Baptism where they were buried to the old sinful ways and raised to new life, cleansed and healed. In this new life, they were graced with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to live as children of love.

It is the light of God’s Spirit that brings life and order from the watery chaos. At the end of the first day, God calls the light “good,” and evening gives way to morning. His creative act is not for some selfish end, but for His glory and our good. The weight of His presence overwhelms us and brings us the light of salvation, freedom, safety and peace; for that is what glory really is – the overshadowing power of God’s love being brought to bear against the frailty of our own existence. It is only in the light that we find salvation. As God installs creation at the beginning, forming everything out of nothing, so too, does He restore us from the emptiness of sin through His Son. In Jesus, the Light of the World, we are once more made “good.”

The power of the first day of creation finds fulfillment and understanding in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. Like God’s light that overwhelms the chaos of the deep, so too does the light of Jesus overcome the darkness of sin and lead us to a new paradise, as we become new men and women in Him. Like the powerful breath of God that spoke creation into being, God’s love has spoken His final Word into the world. Jesus is that Word and Light. He has come to overwhelm the darkness. The darkness cannot comprehend the perfection of love that manifested itself in the person of Jesus. John continues this wonderful theme throughout his Gospel, as the images of Word, Light, Water, and Love spill out onto the pages through the wonderful stories he narrates. John’s Gospel is the expression of the new creation we experience in Christ!

We who know Jesus are called to live out those sacred signs of water and rebirth. Like Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, we must be born from above, born of water and Spirit. Though we cannot enter our mothers’ wombs a second time to be born again, we can be healed by the creative Word of the Gospel, buried with Christ in Baptism and breathed with the new life of the Holy Spirit as we live out our lives day to day in His name. As we put aside the old ways, drowning them in the watery chaos of our submission to God’s powerful breath of life, we are made new and given a new path to walk, with the light of God’s grace guiding us evermore on the path to heaven.

The signs of God are all around us. We cannot see the wind that blows, but we feel its influence. We did not witness the first moment of creation, yet we see its beauty and witness the working out of the order of the universe around us. Every stream, every river, every lake, and every ocean are reminders of the depth of God’s love for us. Though water can be a powerful force to flood the land and swallow ships at sea, we know that to God, all the waters of the earth are a drop in the vast ocean of His perfect love. Each day, as the dawn greets us once more, we are reminded of the hope we have that in God’s perfect time there will come a perpetual day, where darkness will be banished forever, where our sins will be thrown as far as the east from the west, and where we will live in everlasting joy in the light of God’s eternal presence. From the first moment of creation, God had all of this in mind. In His perfect plan, He spoke creation into existence, knowing that we would all come together in the perfection of his creation when the purposes of His great love would find their fulfillment in Christ.

One day, there will be a new heavens and a new earth. The old order of things will pass away. Creation, which has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth from the sinful fall of humanity, will be reborn in a baptism of fire, in a powerful cleansing that will remake all of creation once more into the perfect reflection of the Creator. Until then, we have been blessed with the beauty of all that is around us. The sun and moon are signs that God is in control of creation and is bringing His plan to completion as the cosmos ticks on like a divinely wound clock. The waters of the earth that are held at bay by the mighty arm of God are signs of the refreshing and sustaining power of rebirth that is ours in Christ. The Word that ever speaks into the world the Good News of the One who came as Light in the darkness, is our guide and our power for daily living and purposeful outreach to a lost world. As you experience God’s light this day, let it draw you closer into His presence and bring you His joy, His peace, and His love!