Approximately 30 years ago, I begged God plz, plz, plz, take me along in your wondrous, matchless work— set people free. 20 years ago, hands full of laundry and littles, I wrestled...hard came away limping. How??? "Absorb," He said "Who I Am." 10 years ago, I bartered. If you give me a spacious place (to fold laundry and care for not-so-littles) I will keep working on that. Apparently, God was unimpressed by my terms. He did set me in a spacious place. And then began to set me free. jfig thanksbetoGod Sometimes it is meaningful to look back; to see what God was doing...when. Compelled by Isaiah 61, so much angst I experienced, in trying to make a difference, with what felt like limited internal resources for a global moment. All the while, God kept pouring in, filling the reservoir bit by bit with what (I did not know) I needed. Father, Son, Spirit—present and alive—abundant, full, overflowing in goodness. These verses: Isaiah 61; Luke 4:18-19; Psalm 18:1-3 are especially meaningful to me in the context of life purpose.
Luke 1:13b “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.
Read Luke 1:5-25 “Luke 1 (ESV) – In the days of Herod,.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 12 Dec, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/1/5-25/p1/s_974005.
Luke 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the lord.
Zacharias "Do not be afraid, Zacharias; your prayer has been heard..." Zacharias means 'Yahweh remembers.' Really? Manhood stretched. Quiver empty. Waiting for an heir. The fulfillment of purpose, appointment of his division, slow roll of lots. Waiting...for any of these to find him. Yahweh remembers. "Do not be afraid, Zechariah." Pinnacle priestly moment: fingers tremble light the incense The light explodes— into apparition? But wait... Do not be afraid, Zechariah Your prayer has been heard, AND... and...and...and...And. Elizabeth...Son John Joy and gladness Rejoice Greatness And... he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Legacy. Your God. Faithfulness, step by weighted, waiting step In spite of...the wait. Yahweh remembers, Zechariah, So do we. jfig 2021
Reflection questions: I interchange the forms Zacharias and Zechariah in this poem, quite simply, because I think there is something beautiful about the word form Zacharias. As if a human could be cast in different lights. It is Zechariah’s aura of faithfulness, upon which the spotlight briefly rests, scene I in the story of Christ’s birth. Is it this faithfulness, seed of God’s own image cast in beautiful bronze glow, which Yahweh remembers? It would be well beyond my credentials, to suggest that God chose Zechariah for his role, because of his faithfulness. But I wonder (after Z. got over being flustered, of course); if God reminded Zechariah, and Zechariah reminded God (because they were on journey together), where exactly they were headed.
“And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” Luke 1:6 When I read this story, I am struck repeatedly by the almost certain human impossibility of Zacharias and Elizabeth’s faithfulness. Surely such strength of character is improbable given a long wandering journey of grief. At least without some deviation of purpose, without resentment… Step after waiting faithful step, Zechariah’s footfalls echo Yahweh’s, a journey they have somehow, mysteriously pursued together, one reflecting the Other. How can this be?
In what way have you experienced God’s faithful presence in your season(s) of waiting? What would you like Yahweh to remember about your journey together?
It strikes me that Zechariah arrived at faithfulness, not just for his own sake; but as comfort and strength lent to his wife. For the sake of those he served as priest. As a foundation from which his son, Spirit-filled, would move? Is there some way in which you would like to invite Father, Son, Spirit to keep you company now as you pursue faithfulness? Who is waiting with you, for the coming of His Salvation?
Lord, God Almighty, we long for the company of Your Presence, as we wait, and wonder… and wander.
THANK YOU for your faithfulness that guards our very being and gives us hope. Your strength, Your unwavering purpose. We need all this, and more. We need the mystery of you giving us strength not our own. Like Zechariah, may your faithfulness find its reflection in us. As we walk in it, may heads and hearts turn toward you in readiness for your salvation. Amen
Isaiah 40:31 They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
2Cor. 2: 14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Trajectory Persistent ripples scribe the surface of Bagley lake evidence that life breathes, expectant, beneath the season's fleeting veil. Painstaking intent flows along ages-old trajectory. The Foundation of the world stretches ancient fingers toward the fullness of time.* Beginning to the end; the end itself—endless. Float, if you must beneath this moment's sky her sun not wasted. Nor is winter's gloom, though we tend to hasten time. Who knows where our Spirit God hovers?** jfig 9/2020 *Ephesians 1:4-10; **Genesis 1:2 Ephe. 1:3,4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
In August, my Covid19 hiking buddy and I made it to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area to circumnavigate the string called Bagley Lakes. Though not the most acclaimed hike in the area, its raw beauty still spoke volumes. Questions surfaced, just as they have in the past: are these really lakes, or just snowmelt puddles; and what is the difference? You can see right to the bottom – old logs and a dearth of fish. So what is the point, if you see the air for two of twelve months, with no trout nor tadpoles, and the rest of the time are covered up as if you didn’t exist by layers of ice and snow? Two things refuted my skepticism: Even though the water was crystal clear, the ripples were determined, not just from the wind, but from underneath. In its abbreviated season, the free-running water was determinedly going somewhere. And (2) in retrospect, we felt ourselves a part of the scenery, not merely observers. We could see where our footsteps had traced just 30 minutes prior; right there exactly. We were part of this day’s wilderness story, in a way that my companion visibly understood.
The reminder that any season, whether brief, seemingly benign, or harsh to the point of devastating, can still be part of God’s purposeful trajectory is hugely comforting to me. We don’t get to measure the seasons; they seem to take measure of us. But we can look across the valley to see where we have been; experience some surprise to see others who trudge there now. We can revisit the pages of story: how God’s triune company and unwavering intent have transformed us en route. I hope the thought that your story is not outside God’s trajectory, is comforting to you as well. Sincerely, jfig
Wrapped in tatters
ribboned remnants of
dignity’s sparse remains
One lies in the dust
(dung to be accurate)
Threads barely hide my private parts
let alone my thigh
Who carried me?
Prayer of my mother…
anguish of father
a neighbor who hoisted?
All turned deaf ears to my plea:
please…bear my shame in private…I beg you
Their compassioned angst
and mercy, carried me
Would that we could all escape down some private alley
to first fix ourselves before meeting the feet of Jesus.
it is Jesus we need
Lots cast, our stained hands
grasp his sacred robe.
We run toward
the one who barters for our souls.
Carry each other—to the cross.
to bear shame
toward one—burden bearer
powerful enough to carry
shame’s tangled sham away forever.
I am no longer ‘for sale.’
Jesus has paid the price.
I believe that Jesus has the power to transform one’s life in whatever way is needed. Isaiah 61 is a beautiful passage about his intent toward us: his gifts of freedom and the outcome of God’s power to renew us and give us a place of purpose in his kingdom.
Isaiah 61:1-3. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that he may be glorified.” You can read the entire passage here: “Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) – The Spirit of the Lord.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 15 Apr, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/isa/61/1/s_740001>.
1)This poem touches on topics of shame, which one experiences both because of choices that one has made, and as a result of what others have done. I believe that Jesus comes to the marketplaces of Gennesaret in our lives to set us free from either. This is my prayer for all of us.
Jesus Healer, this poem touches on places of pain in us: wounds that bleed, and heavy pulling scars. We believe you have the power to heal. Heal us we pray, from the pain and shame that we drag around with us. We have landed here at your cross, our only safe place for letting go. We love you. We trust you.
You invite us to sin no more. We acknowledge sin’s destructive power and ask for growing strength to be new Jesus-kingdom people, to grow in the righteousness and beauty of your healing intent. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
A few years ago, there was a TV series called “Burn Notice,” in which a spy is disclaimed by the US government. Burn Notice: “We have no further use for you… what did you say your name was?”
I have felt this way, related to my sin and failures: a deep burned-out despair in my gut that it is all over. A fear that I have failed to such an extent that there is no going back (or forward for that matter). I’m disappointed in myself, and certain of others’ utter disappointment in me, So I wallow in the ashes of burnt hopes and dreams….
But God doesn’t see it that way. He has a different version of burning coals. God offers Isaiah a dream job; to be his messenger. It is conveyed in the imperative, but still… The only drawback is that the circumstances seem no-win: provide public service to people who don’t want to be served. Instead, they want to be fed the apple. The same one that Eve wanted, and that I want and maybe you want on any given day: to be our own little gods, doing what we want, when we want, how we want; yet still miraculously fed and protected by God against all odds.
But instead of leaping at the opportunity, however poorly stacked, to advance his status; Isaiah looked at God, looked back down at himself, and asked, “How could someone as unholy as me, ever speak for someone as holy as you?” And God took – in the hands of a seraphim – a burning coal, touched Isaiah’s lips, and said, “I took care of that.” Really? Someone as holy as you, wants someone as unholy as me… to speak for you…on the world stage…because Jesus atoned, and that’s enough? (See Isaiah 6.)
So Isaiah, instead of wallowing in the burnt out ashes of his past and possible future failure, said, “I’ll do it.” Somehow, all he could see was God with the big G, and not the worrisome details about god with the little ‘g’. Burning coals were enough for him, and the claim that God could, and in fact wanted, to use him.
Then there’s Peter, rash and boastful. I cannot imagine what it felt like after…to betray the friend with whom he had walked and talked and witnessed do miracle after miracle. Peter is drawn in, by another disciple, to the courtyard of the high priest.
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”
The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them: they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
“John 18:15 (ESV) – Simon Peter followed Jesus and.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 17 Jan, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/18/15/s_1015015>.
What must it have felt like…to deny the friend with whom he had walked and talked and puzzled mind-bending questions; to have witnessed life and death miracle moments, and now be drawn in to another; only to conclude with a mutter, “No, I am not one who ever followed Jesus…anywhere…at all.
I can only imagine what Peter might have felt, from the despair I feel to fail the ones with whom I live and breathe every day; the ones who know how I have failed in the past, and that I likely will again. The ones who are still here anyway, thirty years later… I can imagine staring into the fire and wondering, with Peter, if one will ever feel warm on the inside, ever again.
But the burning coals of invitation, find Peter again:
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
“John 21:7 (ESV) – That disciple whom Jesus loved.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Jan, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/21/7/s_1018007>
And this time, Peter leaps. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and despair, Peter counts the invitation real: to bring himself (and all his baggage), his need to perform (anything), and the real offering to contribute. He comes to a breakfast of grace and hope and continuing purpose. An invitation to follow. See John 21:1-19.
Long into my own journey of following Jesus, following in close company with others; I can imagine staring into the fire with Peter. While I sometimes feel a twinge of desolation while I wait for the coals to really take hold; if I am willing to take the leap into the grace of Christ my Savior, there is hope.
One thought further… the burning coals of Jesus invite me – into purpose, into fellowship, into overflowing grace. The thing that holds me disconsolate, is the thought that I must somehow be perfect, or perhaps even deeper, that it is my right to be perfect, and to be seen as such. That somehow, along with Eve, I should be granted permission to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and therefore, be like God in this knowing. How I struggle to be in the right. Perhaps you do as well. The God of Isaiah, Jesus the friend of sinners, and the Spirit of the living God, invite us instead to be graced. These feel like ‘big girl’ thoughts. I invite your comments. And I close with a prayer for us all.
Jesus, we journey in places that test us; tripping headlong like Peter, often at the slightest provocation. Our fears pull us down fast. Help us to be willing to follow; to see in you, the burning coals of grace. Help us to move closer, to accept the searing definition of your purpose, and to watch, reassured, as moment by moment by moment you walk in the footprints of your Father’s will. Amen
I thought it would rain this morning… but at bus time, the clouds folded in, holding their breath, for one duck. One duck, center stage, danced across the canvas of the morning, the clouds holding their applause, while he plowed a wake.
We – woman, man, child- so want to make a difference; our clumsy attempts often piling up like refuse; sometimes leaving scars and scrapping our vows to ‘do no harm.’
The lake is near 400 ft deep in places, places right out there under the duck. It should take a dam; so it seems startling that one duck could plow such a wake, turning it at will. Apparently there is power in webbed feet and winged prayers.
Spirit of God, hold up my winged prayers. Lift them to the heavens and stretch their weight along the trajectory of your leaning. Only for you, do the clouds hold their breath. Only for you. Amen
photographer’s note: I left the power lines…one duck.