Silent Night

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

          There is magic here when you first come to the desert on a silent night. In the beginning life feels as limitless as the sky. I laid back and looked up at these stars and Orion danced across the sky until the bear came bounding along to chase him across the midnight canvas. I had hope then and nothing seemed impossible. Those long night hours flew away in fantasies of heroism, certain riches, and a woman to make it all worth-while. Glory, gold, and a girl. Night watches fly when you’ve got dreams to ride.
These sheep under my eyes should multiply by the hundreds. I could lead a revolt and throw off our oppressors, become a leader of men. Or I might save the sheep from disaster and catch the eye of my master and through him the hand of his daughter. Out here in my head my biceps were bigger, my courage stronger, and my intelligence a little greater than everyone else. One day I would catch my break and be a King. I hung onto those dreams for years.
Turns out it isn’t the shifting shadows, the weight of deep black, or the bumps in the night that terrorize the experienced. After a while you aren’t scared of anything anymore that might be there just out of sight. A grown man’s terror is that after a couple decades Orion stops dancing when you look up there. Big bear sits still in his place, no longer willing to move at the whim of your imagination. You realize that glory isn’t given to those who keep a couple dozen animals, that you aren’t big enough or tough enough to conquer an empire, and chicks don’t dig guys who stink like sheep.
Worse than hopelessness is the knowledge that life used to be so hopeful. The certainty of my teenaged promise doubles the pain of this middle-aged defeat. I could have been a hero. I might have made it big in the shepherd business. I should have been a good husband and a great dad, with a big house and horses to run. If only I had become that legend who had kept me company all those gloomy nights.
Instead I’m out here at dusk, too tired to make Orion dance, with twenty-three sheep and zero dreams. Would the world change for me if I looked up in time to glimpse Orion leap, or the bear’s nose lift to sniff in his direction? What good would it do if some tiny spark of future hope flickered over those far hills? Has hope ever held value year over year? And what could happen out here in this silence that made life matter at all?

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

M.B.

 

Feet

“Now before the feast of the Passover when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
John 13:1

You never said what I should be doing right now. You didn’t tell me whether I should stand and watch or stay away. I look up to you and at eye level I see the blood dripping off your toes. I don’t have the guts to keep looking at your suffering but when I shift my gaze I see my own dirty feet. My toes were clean a few hours ago, you washed them for me. Somehow it didn’t cross any of our minds in the moment to wash yours for you. You went to the garden with filthy feet and stood before Pilate on filthy feet. You walked on filthy feet to this place and now, bloody and exposed before the world, all I see is your feet and mine.
I don’t understand anything right now. You washed my feet, fed me and invited me to pray. Why did I spend those last few hours falling asleep? I can blame the drowsiness on all the food and the wine, but I feel terrible about it now. You did everything for me and my response was to wake up from an ill- advised nap and run away. I call myself “the one who Jesus loves” but my feet wouldn’t follow you when you most wanted a friend.
Why did you wash our feet? You knew what Judas was scheming and you knew Peter better than he knew himself. You must have known that when my feet got still in the garden that my head would begin to nod. You knew that when they came for you there my feet and my fear would carry me away. You knew then that when my feet finally found the courage to come back and stand at the foot of this cross they would already stink again.
We both have filthy feet and I don’t understand. Was there purpose in the washing? Or is the lesson in the dirt? What is the message you have for me? Should I look at the new dirt on my feet or at the blood and grime on yours? Why did you ever bother to wash me when you knew what a mess I would make of your work so quickly after you were done?
You told us you were here to redeem us, you came to seek and to save. You said they would take and kill you. We couldn’t tell until this Passover evening how those three were connected. We didn’t see that what, and how and when were linked so closely that redemption counted on it. I see it now in the blood dripping off your toes and mixing in the mud around mine. I see my redemption in this death on Passover, but I still can’t see why. If my feet didn’t even deserve the water you washed them in, why God, would you buy them with your blood?
You have put your terrible plan into action. This is what you meant to do all along. But I’m stuck right now. I don’t know whether I should step closer to you or to back away from the horrifying thought that you came up with this as the best way to save the world. My feet don’t have the courage to do either. My feet are scared to run away from you, you’ve always had the words of life, and my feet scared to run to you, your words brought you to this death. I’m stuck here in my tracks. I wish I could go back to the room and ask you so many questions, and I wish I had thought to wash your feet.

~MB

Walking On Water

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:28-30

Why can’t I keep my eyes on the one who never takes his eyes off me? I would much rather walk in the storm with you than sit with my fear until you get here. And I’ve seen enough to know that if you want me to, I can do anything at your word. But in spite of your command, and despite my faith and courage two steps later I am choking on sea water and screaming for help. My willingness, my faith, my courage, and my personal pride can’t overcome the shakiness of my legs. Wave dancing to drowning in an instant. Why can’t I hold eye contact even while you hold me upright?
It felt good to put a foot down on the top of the sea and feel it stop on the surface. It felt better to swing the other leg over the gunwale and stand with you in the middle of a storm. At your word I could defy the facts that I had known my entire life. Water isn’t wet, if you command it not to be.
Why don’t you ever look away? My legs, my heart, my little faith quit on you all the time and then I’m amazed that you step back in and pull me up to stand on my wobbly feet. You know what you are working with. It seems like you would find better raw material, somebody with some muscle tone to their thighs and balance to keep them standing when the surface shifts. It doesn’t make sense that one of these times you haven’t let me sink below the surface permanently. Yet somehow, you go from standing over there across the chaos, to instantly dragging me back upright beside you again. I’m not amazed anymore that you can, but I’m still astounded that you will.
You reach down for the one whose dreams are greater than the capacity of his backbone. You grab hold of the one who doesn’t have enough faith to trust you even in the middle of a miracle. You pull up the one whose courage lasts two steps at a time. Then you walk back to the boat beside my scrawny legs and let me try again tomorrow.

 

Laying It Down

This guest post is written by Matt Bulman. Matt works construction, spends time with his wife and three boys, and follows Jesus with the people at Harvest Bible Chapel in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

                When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. – God turning down David’s request to build a permanent temple for Israel to worship God.  II Samuel 7:12-13

“Lead me to the end of myself, take me to the edge of something greater.”  -Frontiers, Vertical Worship

 

You ask me to lay this dream down, this house I’ve wanted to build for you. You say you have another plan, something better for me, a bigger picture that I can’t yet see. You ask me to lay it down, to walk away from my good thing, my great gift for you. I know you say I can’t have it, but God you know how much this hurts. Forgive my hesitation, my unwillingness to trade the certain for the not yet. Let your patience hold you a little longer while I hold this dream as it breathes its last. I’m going to let it go but God you know this is hard.

Why can’t I see your bigger picture? What do I do when my dream looks better than your promise of potential blessing? How do I lay down this good thing I want when I can’t see what you promise in return? Why are the hard times all mine? Why do I get the tears, the agony, the blood and war and another gets the victory celebration?

You command me to walk away, to let another fulfill my dream. You demand my sacrifice, but reject my plan for how to make it. You desire my worship, but rip away my offering. You answered my prayers, saw my tears, fought my battles, and worked my miracles. You are my rescuer. My stronghold, my fortress, my rock, my deliverer, my defender, my shield. You were a forest fire of hope in the middle of the darkest nights. Every hard time you were there and I learned to trust you in the chaos. But why were the hard times all mine and the rewards destined to go to another? I know you say I’m on the edge of something greater, but forgive me, it is so hard to see that from where I’m standing. I just can’t see it and I don’t understand.

But I will lift my eyes to yours and call this back to mind, you are God of gods and Lord of lords and your steadfast love endures forever.  These battles were mine but the victories are yours and your steadfast love endures forever. The hard times were mine but you are the rescuer and the redeemer and your steadfast love endures forever. The tears were mine but you are the prayer answerer and your steadfast love endures forever. It is enough for me that your steadfast love endures forever.

Who am I that you would keep your eye on me? Who am I that you never turned away?  Who am I that you brought me here? And who am I that you would promise me anything? Your love for me is enough, and your steadfast love endures forever.