Category Archives: Lessons from the Desert

Rise Up, My Love (264): Overcoming Trials

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”Are you feeling all clear and cheery today? No clouds in the sky of your heart? Or, are the clouds gone but you’re burning under the heat of the sun? You’ve laid your burden at the foot of the cross, but you’re still wandering through the wilderness?

Healing is always miraculous, and sometimes God heals us completely in a moment, but often giving our struggles to Jesus is like getting a cast on a broken leg. It begins the healing process, but it may take months before we can walk without a limp. Or, as in the case of Jacob who became a “prince” with God, we may limp for the rest of our lives (Genesis 32:31-32).

Whatever the consequences of our sins and trials may be… Jacob came through his wilderness experience as a prince, and so can we. In case you’re still struggling, let’s consider this verse again. We all have wilderness experiences in our lives. We all have times in our lives when we feel very alone, very lost, very betrayed…very hurt. We feel pain. Often we feel great loss…loss of love, loss of trust, loss of the presence of those we love.

Most of us have experienced the anguish of, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). Our whole world turns grey. Our minds race like rats running a maze, but all we can find are dead ends. There is no way out. There is no way of escape. We can run, but will that help? Which way is the right way?

I used to always want to run away from pain, but I’ve learned over many years that running away doesn’t work. Yes, there are some types of physical pain that can be avoided by running, but we can’t run away from spiritual and emotional realities. In the spiritual realm, we must learn to make the painful journey out of the wilderness—not by running wildly away from trouble—but by leaning on our Savior and finding all we need in him.

No matter how wonderful our spouse, family, and friends are, there are times when they will fail. No matter how much our parents love us, they can’t always be there for us. I am one of the very blessed ones. Some have no parents or spouse at all, or the ones they have are cruel and wicked. Some people have no friends or family at all…good or bad! They are alone in this world…not just part of the time, but all of the time. What then?

No matter what the circumstances of your life are today, if at some time you have come to the Lord repenting of your sins and asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior, then you are a child of God and a part of the family of God and bride of Christ. In that case, whatever the wilderness…he is with you. How shall we escape? “How shall we then live?” By leaning on the everlasting arms of our Savior. By looking into his eyes and sensing his love…by being filled with his peace and presence. By following his example and walking beside him.

What is the wilderness? Most of the time it is the sense of emotional desolation we feel when we are disappointed by the circumstances of life. Really, it is the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1), and at its heart—the wilderness of our own sin, created by looking inward and feeling sorry for ourselves instead of looking upward and rejoicing in God when we are suffering tribulation.

Yesterday (fifteen years ago!) I called a former pastor’s wife whom I knew was suffering with vision problems and bruised ribs from a fall in the bathtub. When I asked her anxiously, “How are you?” expecting to be empathetic with her pain, she responded with incredibly cheery faith, “Oh, I’m just rejoicing in the Lord.” Wow! What a testimony to the realness of her comfort in God’s grace. This is the true secret of overcoming!

Just today (while editing this), I talked to a friend wh0 just come out from anesthesia after a hip replacement. I asked her, “How are you feeling?” to which she replied, “Oh, we had a fun day. They wheeled me into the wrong surgical suite, but they figured it out before they took out my appendix, and we all had a good laugh.” What a great attitude!

During the biggest test of my life, I “failed of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Under the torch of God’s hot refining fire, I gave up in many ways. I gained fourteen pounds in six months. I lost all desire to live and just wished I could die and go to be with the Lord, “which is far better”(Philippians 1:23), more absorbed by my own pain that moved by the needs of those around me.

Have you been in the wilderness? Have you come to the foot of the cross? Have you found the way out? Please take the time to read Hebrews 12 slowly and carefully. In my (Scofield) Bible, the heading for this chapter is “The walk and worship of the believer-priest.” That’s you and me! Don’t forget our calling and responsibility. What are we to do? Look up, and know that God is all wise, all powerful, and present everywhere…even here this minute.

Understand that not one sparrow falls without his consent, and not one person falls without his consent either. We may feel alone, but we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us through terrible suffering…perhaps similar to our own…perhaps even worse. Most of all, “Consider him [Jesus] that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3). Trust Jesus. Lean on him. As soon as you can, stop crying and wipe away your tears!

Eventually it’s possible to find peace and joy again—even after terrible trials—and feel like being alive once more. It’s possible to come up out of the wilderness. I know. It happened to me.

Rise Up, My Love (263): How to Survive Heartbreak

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” This is a magnificent verse. It is speaking—of course—of the bride. From whence is she coming? The wilderness. How is she coming? Is she alone? No, not at all. She is coming in the company of her beloved, enabled by his support.

This is a verse that gleams like a gem lying openly atop the burning desert sands of life…no digging to understand what’s meant, just scoop it up and it’s yours! Better yet, it’s like the glitter of light reflecting from an artesian well, marking an oasis in the desert of life…no need to dig the well, just draw out the water and be refreshed. You know what the verse is saying…just meditate on it…”chew on it” for a while and allow its truth to become your own experience!

Have you ever been in the wilderness? About fifteen years ago, I lost my mother after ten long years of her suffering with Alzhiemer’s, and shortly thereafter I learned that one of my dearest friends had betrayed me in a most devastating way. I felt desperately lonely and heartbroken…I believe it was the lowest point in my life, and my husband was totally unhelpful. (He is now very supportive, just for the record.)  At any rate, it took me many years, but I learned a very painful lesson. When we’re in the desert, we’re never going to survive unless we start taking one small step at a time…putting one foot in front of the other even if we’d really rather die and go to heaven. Nobody can do this for us. God wants us to lean on our Savior and walk out of the wilderness with him, but there are certain steps we have to take or we’ll never really get out.

*We have to confess our own failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

*We have to forgive those who’ve injured us: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

*And then, we have to consciously refuse to think about the past hurt, just as our dear heavenly Father does: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  *Finally, we have to start walking up and out of the wilderness, like someone who’s trying to recover from a broken leg (or for us older folks—a hip or knee replacement), leaning heavily on our beloved spiritual husband, Jesus Christ, for support. Slowly but surely, without even realizing it, we’ll start to heal and find joy again, but it comes from leaning on Jesus and communing with him with an iron-clad resolution to refuse looking back.

Will you take time to stop for a few minutes and sort through your life relationships? Are there injuries that rumble like thunder through the back of your mind and send a bolt of jagged pain ripping through your heart when you remember them? If so, how about taking a few moments to visualize something with me. Imagine gathering up all these terrible memories one by one as if they are billowing black clouds that you can reach up and pull down into a bundle. Imagine taking the bundle and bringing it to the foot of the cross, giving it entirely to Jesus so that it is no longer yours. Confess and forgive: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (Luke 11:4).

Have you given your burden to the Lord? If so, it is his. You don’t own it any more. Don’t try to take it back; don’t open the bag; don’t try to sort through the memories anymore. They belong to Jesus, and he wants you to choose to “remember them no more.” That chapter is finished. Over. Done. Look forward.

One night while our family was leading worship at our local rescue mission, a big, handsome, fierce-looking African-American man with dread locks came to the front of the room at an altar call carrying a long knife, which he lifted over his head, holding one end with each of his hands. For a moment we all held our breath, not perfectly sure what he intended, because carrying concealed weapons was strictly forbidden at the mission, and no one had known that he was armed with such a deadly knife.

However, when the man reached the front where my husband was standing, he kneeled down and laid his weapon on the floor. This is just what we need to do with those killer thoughts that we’ve kept hidden within us! Lift that lethal bundle over your head, come straight to the cross, and lay it at the feet of Jesus.

“This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing” (Isaiah 28:12). “Casting all your care upon him: for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7).

Lisa’s Diary of Israel: Day 5—Lotta Masada

We got a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call today so we could get an early start to travel from Jerusalem to Masada.  We stopped in En Gedi early enough to see Nubian Ibex
(an animal listed in the Bible).  They graze and visit before they tour buses come through,
and then scatter to the hills of the wilderness.  We had stayed near the Jaffa Gate (oldest gate) in Jerusalem. The drive from Jerusalem through the Judean wilderness to Masada took about two hours, and went we from +250 meters to -300 meters below sea level.  We traveled early to escape the heat of the day, and it was still 105 degrees F.  Masada is in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

We’re still getting used to seeing the amount of automatic weapons in the hands of young adults, since the Israelis are compelled to be in the military after graduating from high school (boys for 3 years, girls for 2 years).  Even when they’re not training, they still have their weapon with them.

So if they’re on a break,
you may see people in shorts and flip flops carrying their weapon.  We all took a cable car up, because the Snake Path walking trail was closed due to high temperatures.  Masada (Hebrew metsudhah) means stronghold.  King Herod the Great built the city and palaces for protection
between 37 – 31 BC.  75 years after Herod’s death, during the Great Revolt against the Roman Empire, the Zealots (Jewish rebels) ran away to the desert. It was a good place to hide because of the challenge for the Romans to follow. (There were no stairs then!) 960 Jewish people hid in Masada and used Herod’s stores of food.  Herod had employed Roman architecture for the bathing rooms – cold room (frigidarium), warm room (tepidarium), hot room (caldarium) like our sauna.  Everything below the black line is original archaeology.  King David may have used this stronghold when fleeing enemies
– but didn’t have stairs for access.  The columns and colors are original, over 2000 years old!

Psalm 59:9, 16 (HCSB) -“I will keep watch for You, my strength, because God is my stronghold.  But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning.  For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.”

(Even the birds find shelter in the stronghold.)  Psalm 62:1-2 – “I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.”  Mosaic floors were popular in Jewish art of the Herodian period.  Byzantine West Gate  Artifacts and archaeology
tell much of the sad ending of Masada, when the Jewish people chose mass suicide
rather than being captured by the Romans.  It’s sobering to consider in whom or what we take refuge.Where do you and I seek our strength?”  (Overlooking the remains of the synagogue.)

Psalm 62:5-8 (HCSB) – “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken.  My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.  My refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge. Selah [pause, and calmly think of that].”

(Guest author: Lisa Walkendorf. All photos and materials are hers and used by her permission. Thank you, Lisa! If you want to learn more about Israel, you can access all her trip notes here: WalkendorfsinIsrael.weebly.com

War Rooms and Prayer Saunas

Lavish dinnerEvery day was a feast in France, and not just because our hosts were good cooks!Discussion Every day was a spiritual feast too. FriendsOur purpose was to aid in work among North African refugees,Sunrise over French Alps around Grenoble but although we served from dawn ’til setting sun, Sunset in Grenoblewe’d come to the end of each day with a feeling of deep joy and thankfulness
for all the blessings we’d experienced as we tried to bless others. Rainbow over GrenobleTruly, you can’t out give God! Friends gatheringAfter a hard day’s work, we’d often have a marvelous evening meeting friends, Table Hockeyhaving fun together, eating, and hearing stories of redemption…Discussing Great Literaturemost often how God has worked to bring good out of tragic circumstances.Dinner PartyIn France, dinner parties last several hours, and it was often 10 pm by the time we’d head out for our return walk to the youth hostel where we stayed. Last rays of sun in French AlpsIn Grenoble, the sun sets about 9:30 in June, so our walk would be through the deepening shadows of twilight, and I’d be ready to hit the hay for sure! Setting SunNot so my cohort! We ended every night in what affectionately became known as the prayer sauna. We’d meet in the hostel’s library for a sweet hour of prayer.Panorama(This attempt at a panorama shot gives you a little feel:
It was stifling hot and humid in there, and we were tired, thirsty, exhausted
…maybe not even quite all there anymore! 🙂   ) LibraryThe amazing thing to me was that even though I’d be so sleepy I’d feel like I was going to pass out or fall asleep some nights (and yes, sometimes I actually did), Prayer Saunaby the time we were finished, I felt a surge of contentment and joy that perked me up until I really could get washed up and crawl into bed! Paul and ShannonAlso, I am convinced that more of the fruit of our labors resulted
from sweating it out in the prayer sauna at night than from working hard all day.Rainbow in FranceAre you flagging and in need of a blessing? Take it to the Lord in prayer!

 “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

“Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

“Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!”
(William W. Walford, 1845)

Precious Transports

Teacups from EuropeBeing a good Brit, Alan loves tea. And tea cups. Teacup CollectionOur souvenir of choice, wherever we roam, is a teacup, and whenever I roam without my beloved, I try to bring him home an exotic new cup.

Carpet ShopSeveral years ago, after valiantly evading Istanbul’s 5 million carpet hawkers lining the entrance into the Grand Bazaar, we searched for “the perfect” Turkish tea set. The options were myriad. Alas, I got sidetracked by jewels, and after using our stash or lira on amber and various other pieces of genuine fake jewelry, we gave up our quest for tea cups and settled on a hand-painted bowl instead. Seula Shopping CenterBut, we often recalled that dazzling day and pined for a Turkish tea set, so you can imagine my flush of pleasure on spying a similar set for a song in Tunisia last summer! I bought it instantly and could hardly wait to present my prize to Alan. Shattered MirrorSadly, I did not oversee how the shop keeper packaged the treasure, and the beautiful mirrored, enamel tray splintered beyond repair in my luggage before I returned to America. Living Room Tea cups                                                        Alan was still pleased,
and our tea set occupies a space of distinction in our living room, Venetian Water Glassesbut I remembered back to the time Alan graciously hand-carried a set of water glasses home from Venice for us. They all survived in tact and are still as good as new today. Exotic Tea CupsIt occurs to me that in transporting things we truly treasure, we should personally oversee the entire process. Sound right? Did you know that once we put our trust in God and become his child, we become His treasure, bought with the price of his Son’s precious blood, and God personally oversees our transport to heaven?Tea Cups It says in the scripture that we are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, who is the unseen Presence guiding us, leading us, and carrying us from this life to heaven. Precious Comforter of God! Like a tea cup inside a box flying over the ocean, we may not see the Hand that carries us, but He will deliver us safely at the end into God’s Kingdom of Light, where God will take joy in us (and we in Him) forever!

“God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.”Cross in Window“Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

“We should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12-14)

 

Lessons from the Desert: Bloom Where You’re Planted?

What else can I do beyond praying for the healing of this broken world?
Cactus in Tunisian wildernessWhile in Tunisia, I was struck more deeply by the significance of the admonition Cactus in Gardens  “Bloom where you’re planted” as I observed the ubiquitous cacti. Dry River Bed. Tunisia I don’t usually think of cacti as something that blooms
or is even intentionally planted, Tunisia. Cactus Fencesbut in Tunisia, cacti are planted in long rows to form hedges around crops. Tunisian Cactus and potThey are planted in gardens and used to adorn courtyards.Cactus FencesI suppose this is largely because they can survive drought
when most other plants would die out. Tunisia Cactus Flowerering Now, you might argue that most of the world’s cacti (and perhaps most of the world’s plants and people) aren’t “planted” but rather grow wild Tunisia Cactus flowers and trash…and if we’re a cactus,
we can hardly be expected to bloom in a barren wilderness! Tunisia. Cactus starting to flowerI beg to differ. Goat herder. TunisiaI believe that those of us who appear to be wild varieties
have still been planted by God, Herding Goats. Tunisiabased on David’s testimony that God was leading him no matter where he went, Wilderness through Tunisiabe it heaven or hell (Psalm 139:7-10).Wilderness of TunisiaAfter staring listlessly out the window at nothingness for hours on end,
I would say that the wilderness of Tunisia fits on that continuumBarren Land. Tunisia…possibly near the end. Tunisia Cactus everywhereFurthermore, I believe we are all encouraged to bloom,
regardless of our circumstances. Wilderness Road in TunisiaOn my trip, seeing a cactus punctuate the landscape gave me singular delight, and when I found some that were actually blooming, I was all agog! Blooming Cactus in TunisiaSo, even when we’re feeling as prickly as a cactus living in a desolate wasteland, let’s try to bloom.  Cactus. TunisiaWe might be one of the only plants tough enough to survive in such trying circumstances, and our little blossoms will doubtless bring joy
and encouragement to others. Cactus Flower. Tunisia“Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”
(1 Corinthians 7:24)

The Value of Salt: Pink vs White or What? شط الجريد‎ Šoṭṭ el-Jarīd

Pink River in TunisiaHave you ever seen a pink river? Chott el Djerid. Tunisia Pink River I saw one flowing into “Chott el Djerid” in Southern Tunisia. Salt Flats in Southern TunisiaIn Star Wars, Chott el Djerid is the setting for the Lars Homestead. Chott el Djerid. Tunisia in SummerWe visited in June, when temperatures sometimes soar to 122°F (50°C),
causing intense evaporation so that the lake becomes a great salt flat. Chott el Djerid. Tunisia 1In fact, Chott el Djerid is the largest salt pan in the Sahara Desert:
5,000 square kilometers (2,700 sq. miles)! Beautiful Pink Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaOne of the most fascinating aspects of Chott el Djerid is that the water
is tinged with iron oxide, giving the salt a beautiful pink tint! Pink Himalayan SaltIt reminds me of the pink Himalayan salts that have become popular in America, famous for some 80± trace minerals
and touted by health food enthusiasts as particularly beneficial.  Iron Oxide in water Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHowever, I can’t find any peer-reviewed scientific research to verify this. Salt crystals Chott el Djerid. Tunisia In fact, analysis reveals that some of the Himalayan salts also contain trace elements of radioactive substances like uranium, radium, and polonium,
not to mention substances that can be poisonous, like thallium. Colored SaltsIt seems the scientific stance is that these trace elements—good and bad—
are too insignificant to be helpful or harmful,
so it appears you can choose pink or white—or whatever—as your palate pleases. Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHowever, keep in mind that white table salt is often enhanced with iodine, which is a particularly good thing for those of us who live in areas like the Great Lakes, where iodine deficiency has historically been a problem. Desert Roses Chott el Djerid. TunisiaIf you go pink, consider adding more dairy, soy, and ocean-harvested foods
to your diet, or find another good source for iodine. Mining Pink Salt. TunisiaWhatever you choose, you gotta love salt, right? Lake Chott el Djerid. TunisiaWhere would we be without salt to bring out the flavor in our foods?! Largest salt pan in Sahara Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHow about in our spiritual lives? Got any salty friends? How about you and me? Pink Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaAre we salty?  I wonder what trace elements we’re carrying…
I hope nothing radioactive or poisonous! Salt Crystals 2 Chott el Djerid. TunisiaFather, please refine us and enhance our spirits
so that we promote health in those around us.  Grains of salt Chott el Djerid. Tunisia“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50).

(All the photos were taken in Southern Tunisia last summer, except for the 2 photos of various salts, which were taken at my local grocery store here in Michigan.)

P.S.—If you want more information about this amazing salt flat, you can find it here:  http://www.anothermag.com/design-living/9549/the-cosmic-pink-lakes-of-the-tunisian-desert